Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 September 1-31

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A Failed Governor Talks Up a Failed President

If I were Jennifer Granholm, I’d crawl under the desk and not come out for a good, long while. Her performance last night at the Democratic convention was so bizarre that an amused and bemused Nolan Finley of The Detroit News speculated that she was either possessed by the ghost of Joe Biden -- “or maybe she had a squirrel up her pant leg.” Cartoonist Henry Payne, editor of Michigan View, thought that maybe she was channeling “Arsenio Hall on crack.” Me? I think she got drunk on her own clever lines. (Her quip that “Mitt Romney’s cars take the elevator and workers get the shaft” was admittedly a hoot.)

But even more bizarre than Granholm’s convention appearance was that she was invited to make one in the first place. She was arguably the worst governor of her time who, during her eight-year term, took Michigan’s teetering economy into her firm hands and gave it a good, hard push off the cliff.

On her watch, the state's ranking in per capita GDP plummeted to 41st place from 24th. Michigan became the only state to suffer a net out-migration during the past decade, and its credit rating was repeatedly downgraded.

But since unemployment is the topic of the day, how was Granholm’s job-creation record? Worse than Katrina-struck Louisiana’s. Unemployment jumped from 6.8 percent when she was elected to 14.1 percent at its peak in 2009 – although some believe it reached as high as 15.2 percent. Consider this (generously inaccurate) chart from The Daily Caller comparing Michigan’s unemployment rate with the national average:

Michigan’s unemployment figures would undoubtedly have looked even worse if its residents hadn’t hit the exit doors. But none of that prevented Granholm from brazenly writing a grand paean to herself titled: A Governor's Story: The Fight for Jobs and America's Future.

Granholm, then, has long practice pretending that she has saved jobs that she has actually killed – which, of course, is precisely Obama’s campaign theme. Consider his jobs record:

In other words, Granholm understands Obama’s dilemma better than anyone else on the planet and the kind of political pole dances that must be performed on convention floors to keep people distracted.

And the loss of dignity is just a small price to pay for a future Cabinet position.

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Tim Cavanaugh Talks Fact Checking on HuffPost Live

How many facts can a fact checker check

Are Americans too dumb to be trusted with their own news preferences? 

Is this type of thing too disturbing for viewers to see without media filtration? 

How about this

Why won't the unbiased media objectively admit the demonstrable truth that everything Paul Ryan says is a lie?

Where's Pat Moynihan to shed a Jameson-infused Irish tear for the way our society has defined fact-checking down

I appeared this afternoon on something called HuffPost Live, discussing the new fad for freelance fact-checking. Host: Mike Sacks. Other guests: David Westin, Lorraine Devon Wilke and Zach Carter. 

Here's the link

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Jobs Figures Cast Shadow Over Obama's Moment, State Department Employee Owes Damages to Sex Slave, Feds Help Themselves to Gold Coins: P.M. Links

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

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Matthew Feeney on How Iceland Provides a Blueprint for Surviving Bank Failure

Taxpayers in Europe (and the United States) who have been terrorized since 2008 by government officials warning about economic armageddon, catastrophe, and pestilence should look to tiny Iceland for a taste of how little there is to fear when the experts can't save the people. 

In the last few years the small island in the north Atlantic has managed to shrink its deficit, reduce unemployment, and allow its economy to grow. Assistant Editor Matthew Feeney examines how those working in mainland Europe's institutions and governments could learn from Iceland's recent history if they would like to see similar results. 

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Obama Brags About His 'Extensive Process' for Deciding Who Will Die

In an interview this week, Jessica Yellin, CNN's chief White House correspondent, asked President Obama how he decides who will live and who will die. "I've got to be a little careful here," Obama replied, because "there are classified issues." But he was able to assure the American people that "our criteria for using [drones] is [sic] very tight and very strict": The threat must be "serious and not speculative," capture has to be "very difficult," and the risk of "civilian casualties" must be minimized. How does the government make sure these criteria are satisfied?

We have an extensive process with a lot of checks, a lot of eyes looking at it. Obviously, as president, I'm ultimately responsible for decisions that are made by the administration. But I think what the American people need to know is the seriousness with which we take both the responsibility to keep them safe but also the seriousness with which we take the need to abide by our traditions of rule of law and due process. 

All of this is done secretly, of course, and all of the "eyes looking at it" belong to people who work for the president, so you kinda have to take Obama's word for it. In his view, the executive branch is checking itself, so there is no need for judicial oversight. And he should know, right? He used to teach constitutional law. But doesn't this arrangement effectively give one man the power to kill anyone he identifies as an enemy of the state? Yes and no:

I can’t get too deeply into how these things work. But as I said, as commander in chief ultimately I am responsible for the process that we've set up.

Obama conceded that singling people out for death dealt at a distance is "something that you have to struggle with, because if you don't it's very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules, thinking that the ends always justify the means." What a relief to know that the president is not bending the rules when he orders the summary execution of people he considers threats to national security.

Obama closed the exchange by flattering his interviewer. "It's very important for the president and the entire culture of our national security team to continually ask tough questions," he said. "Are we doing the right thing? Are we abiding by the rule of law? Are we abiding by due process?" Yellin asked those tough questions, and she got her answer: yes. The rest is classified.

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With a Straight Face, Taxi and Limo Trade Group Warns of the Dangers of Car-Hailing Apps Like Uber

San Francisco start-up Uber has a simple concept, use their phone app and they will help you find a car. Usually it's a vehicle that's a little nicer than a regular old taxi, but the point is still the same, a legal, licensed limo, cab, or towncar will come pick you up. 

Uber exist in 20 cities, including Washington DC, Toronto, and New York. Once again, it hooks consumers up with licensed, regulated cabs, towncars, or limos. Uber does not drive, it does not do anything except help its users use services that already exist. So why is the Taxi, Paratransit and Limousine Association (TPLA) acting like Uber consists of a fleet of Flintstones-esque vehicles, driven solely by child molesters and serial rapists? Why is Uber, and lower-priced like-models such as Get Cab and Ground Link, a "rogue service" where "the passenger is placed at-risk for personal safety, uninsured accident claims, fare gouging and other illegal activity"?* 

Because the free market ain't free, and the the transportation industry is a great place to find this demonstrated in particularly unsubtle fashion. Take New York City, where yellow cab medallions turn out to be better investments than gold. In order to acquire a medallion (which allows drivers to pick passengers off the street when they hail), as of June 2012, you must pay $700,000. Who is benefiting from that kind of restriction? Obviously the people already driving cabs or owning companies. Though 100 or so New York City drivers out of 13,000 are now trying out Uber, it may not be legal at all.  The head of the Taxi and Limousine Commission's current word on Uber is that drivers who use it to find passengers could have their licenses revoked or suspended. 

Absurd restrictions on the most basic of transportation modules is not just a New York thing. Pittsburgh, a city of 300,000 has 300-odd cabs (mostly Yellow); none of which can be hailed from the street, and many of which don't bother to show up except for pricey trips to the airport. Of course this has lead to the steel town having a burgeoning, illegal jitney cab industry, which mostly serves the black and lower income communities. This should come as no surprise, because the procedure for starting a new company in Pittsburgh is basically having to convince the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and existing companies that your new company will not compete with the already comfy cab business. A few years back, I called a spokeswoman from the PUC, who oversees taxi companies for Pittsburgh and surrounding counties. She admitted that lack of cabs were a problem in Pittsburgh, but that they encouraged consumers to "try to use licensed cabs." She also pleaded that whenever the state government has floated the idea of lifting barriers of entry into the market, lobbyists for the cab companies made such an outrcry that it was just never going to happen.

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Draghi's Plan Has Pleased the Markets, But the Same Old Concerns Remain

There seems to be some good news from Europe. Markets have reacted well to European Central Bank president Mario Draghi’s speech yesterday and the euro is at a two month high. Draghi’s speech yesterday introduced a new bond buying mechanism that aims to lower the borrowing costs for countries like Spain and Greece.

Austrian school economist Detlev Schlichter has outlined why the optimism could be short lived:

The markets’ initial response is somewhat silly, in my opinion, albeit not entirely surprising. Equities are rallying hard, in particular bank stocks. So does government debt. The euro is stronger versus other paper currencies because the risk of breakup has allegedly receded. But breakup looked unlikely even before.

In fact, no response was needed. Nothing material has changed. Like the central banks in Britain and the US, the ECB will now actively and directly support government debt with the printing press but this was sooner or later inevitable anyway.

Schlichter also highlights how removed central banks and governments are from the economic laws that govern most people’s lives:

It is a matter of logic that anybody who habitually spends more than he earns and borrows the difference puts himself at the mercy of his creditors. When those lose faith in him, he will be unable to roll over his debt or borrow more, or may only be able to do so at punitively high rates. That is the flipside of living constantly beyond your means, of going ever more into debt. You need somebody to fund such extravagance. When your lenders lose trust in your ability to repay, it is ‘game over’.

But in our system of unlimited fiat money this does no longer apply to banks and governments. For these two entities it doesn’t matter what the investors and depositors  – ‘the market’ – think or feel. In these cases, the central bank bureaucracy assumes the role of ultimate decision-maker.

As well as the economic worries, there is also a political reality to consider. The new mechanism requires that the countries that want their borrowing costs lowered implement austerity measures. Austerity measures might be hard to sell to citizens of the most affected countries. Graeme Leach, Chief Economist at the London-based Institute of Directors, summarized this concern succinctly:

The ECB's decision to enter secondary bond markets could be the game changer the IoD has long argued for. But there's a hitch. ECB action is conditional and depends on countries such as Spain signing up for even more austerity. The key question is whether more austerity is politically possible with 25pc headline and 50pc youth unemployment.

For all of the initial optimism it still looks like a euro crisis is as far away as ever from a comprehensive solution.

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Reason TV's Anthony Fisher on HuffPost Live Talking DNC with Eliot Spitzer

Reason TV producer Anthony Fisher appeared on HuffPost Live alongside Fmr. Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) and others for a wrapup discussion of the Democratic National Convention.

Here's a link to the segment, where Fisher challenged Spitzer's characterization of "crazy libertarians," and even got the former governor to agree that the Democratic Party has abondoned it's earlier commitment to civil liberties and that political speech before an election is nothing to fear.

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Romney Vows to Fight Marijuana Legalization 'Tooth and Nail'—Unlike His Opponent?

This clip of Mitt Romney talking about marijuana at an appearance in New Hampshire is about a month and a half old, but I don't think anyone has noted it here yet. It is interesting for the way it reflects the basic difference between Romney and Barack Obama when it comes to drug policy, which is a matter of style rather than substance. Asked about legalizing marijuana for medical use, Romney gives the standard prohibitionist response:

I would not legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, and the reasons are straightforward: As I talk to people in my state and at the federal government level about marijuana and its role in society, they are convinced that the entry way into a drug culture for our young people is marijuana. Marijuana is the starter drug....The idea of medical marijuana is designed to get marijuana out in the public marketplace and ultimately lead to the legalization of marijuana overall. And in my view, that's the wrong way to go. I know that other people have differing views. If you'd like to get someone who is in favor of marijuana, I know there are some on the Democratic side of the aisle who will be happy to get in your campaign. But I'm opposed to it, and if you elect me president, you're not going to see legalized marijuana. I'm going to fight it tooth and nail.

In short, medical marijuana is bad because it leads to recreational marijuana, which is bad because it leads to crack and heroin. Romney's reply got applause, so he apparently knows his audience, although recent polls indicate the general public is more likely than not to support marijuana legalization. Romney's reference to Democrats reinforces the notion that Team Blue is more tolerant than Team Red when it comes to people's drug choices. While it's true that the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act has more Democratic than Republican co-sponsors (18 vs. two), the numbers are tiny on both sides of the aisle, nothing like what you might expect based on the popularity of this policy change. More to the point, President Obama, the guy Romney is running against, is every bit as opposed to marijuana legalization, as he emphasizes when he isn't laughing at the very notion. Furthermore, contrary to his campaign promises, he has presided over a crackdown on medical marijuana more aggressive than his Republican predecessor's. The difference is that Romney is candid about his anti-cannabis absolutism, while Obama pretends to be more enlightened and compassionate.


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Democratic Party Bigwigs Avoid the Tough Question: Is Romney Ready to Handle the Presidential "Kill List"?

Gawker hounds various Democratic Party bigwigs and, while one would think they are out to slam Romney on any issue, finds that most of them want to evade the question: Can we trust Mitt Romney with the presidential kill list?

Some literally evade it, others bring it down the real key issue: abortion. Radio host Bill Press, bless him, gives what he admits is the wrong answer for a Democrat to give: no president should have a kill list. (Americans? That's the right answer.)

Video: Michael Moynihan on the Politics of Travel Guides

"Michael Moynihan on the Politics of Travel Guides" is the latest from Reason TV.

Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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As Pension Reform Is Hammered Out in San Jose, Heroic Police and Firefighters Rush to Declare Themselves Injured

If the open worship of union employees – both public and private – at the Democratic National Convention seemed jarringly out of step with the experiences regular shmoes actually have out in their own states and cities … wait, why did I start this sentence with “if”? Via Bloomberg Businessweek:

Police officers and firefighters in San Jose, California, are rushing to join a program that lets them claim disability and retire in their 30s and 40s -- and that allows them to get tax-free pensions while taking new jobs elsewhere.

The benefit also allows retired police and fire employees in California’s third-largest city to change their pensions to claim the tax break.

“It’s certainly double-dipping,” said Mayor Chuck Reed, 64. “Disability retirement should be for people who are seriously injured and can’t work. Those people obviously can still work and apparently weren’t seriously injured.”

More than half of San Jose’s retirement payments to police and fire retirees were related to disability claims, higher than most large cities in California, Alison Vekshin reported.

San Jose is one of the two cities in California where voters approved pension reform ballot initiatives in order to try to keep costs from bankrupting the cities (the other being San Diego). The measure passed with 71 percent of the vote, but unions are obviously trying to stop the changes. One change would stop this expensive little “disability” trick:

San Jose voters in June approved a ballot initiative, Measure B, that will limit public-safety disability retirements to those who can’t do the job they did before or any other work in their department.

It also will replace the board of four current and retired police and fire workers and five other members, who now consider the applications, with an independent panel of medical experts.

“The problem lies not in the fact of whether people are injured or not, but where that line between an injury and a disabling injury is,” San Jose Councilmember Pete Constant, a non-voting retirement board member and a former police officer on disability retirement, said in a telephone interview.

There are currently 143 disability retirement applications under review in San Jose. The board approved 94 percent of all applications for the past decade, Vekshin noted. Her lengthy analysis of the system bears a full read-through when you have time.

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DNC Attendee Prefers Tennis To Obama's Speech

CHARLOTTE – Last night, I wandered through the deserted concourse of the Time Warner Cable Arena between Vice President Biden and President Obama’s speeches in hopes of finding some straggling dignitary. Instead I found a middle-aged woman from Virginia watching a quarter-final match of the U.S. Open on a big screen TV.

“Look at that! Look at how intense it is! He was like, down 5-3 and now he is, like, winning!” she told me leaning back in some folding chair.

A handful of cops and security guards looked on bewildered at this odd spectacle. The concession workers nearby were all but ready to close shop. The woman, the wife of a Virginia delegate, declined to identify herself but said she drove to Charlotte to support her husband.

“He’s over there and enjoying it,” she said motioning to the arena.

She’s tired of hearing the president speak and the whole convention, for that matter.

“I’ve heard him so many times. Last three days I’ve heard the same thing over and over,” she said rolling her eyes.

Her husband got her a pass for all three days of the convention but it relegated her to the extremely steep nosebleed sections of this poorly designed modern arena.


Serbian Novak Djokovic had just won a set with a crushing serve against Juan Martin Del Porto, an Argentine.

Djokovic is her favorite tennis player.

"I just like him. He was down for much of the summer and I felt sad for him. Now he’s playing good so I am enjoying it," she said

But what about the president’s speech? Doesn’t she care about what he has to say at all?

"The president is OK but honestly, looking at it from all the way back there it’s not for me,” she said.

"I like my tennis.” 

Djokovic won 6-2, 7-6, 6-4. 

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The Stunted Vision of the Democratic Party

There was a moment at this week's Democratic convention that seemed to encapsulate the party's stunted vision. It came during the remarks of Maria Ciano, a Colorado woman who presents herself as a former Republican distressed by the modern GOP. "I still believe in small government, but I no longer believe in the Republican Party," she said. "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want the government to have a say in my family planning. They want employers to decide what kind of birth control coverage I have -- or if I can have it at all."

It's an interesting sleight-of-hand that allowed Ciano to get from praising small government to defending a new government mandate in just three sentences. But that's not why I'm quoting her. I'm bringing her up because it's useful to think about why Ciano's employer would have a role in her birth control purchases in the first place.

The answer comes in two parts. First, because the law requires a woman to get a prescription before she can buy the pill, and it requires her to get an invasive and frequently unnecessary medical exam before she can acquire that prescription. Eliminate those controls, and insurance coverage would be beside the point; the pill would be cheaply available over the counter. Second, because changes to the tax code in the 1940s and '50s have channeled us into a system where Americans overwhelmingly get their health insurance through their jobs. Eliminate those incentives, and far fewer people would be dependent on their employers for insurance at all, substantially reducing the relevance of the boss's opinions about birth control.

It goes without saying that Barack Obama has displayed no interest in rolling back the FDA's birth control rules. Nor has he moved away from the policies that push people into employer-based health coverage, or, more broadly, from a system where so many medical services are purchased via insurance in the first place. Indeed, his signature accomplishment is a law requiring people who don't have health insurance to buy it.

If you can't afford to buy it, you may qualify for financial assistance. That's the Democratic Party's promise: We won't end the policies that empower big institutions and raise the cost of living, but when they send you the bill we might help you pay. You saw the same idea at work when various speakers this week invoked student loans: The Democrats will lend you money for college, but they'll do nothing to end the legally enshrined credentialism that makes so many professions off-limits without a degree. And if those subsidies end up inflating the cost of tuition and health care even more...well, then the pols will just call for more subsidies.

When Democrats invoked "equality of opportunity" this week, that's what they were talking about: government action to help people run through mazes that the government helped erect. I don't expect the Dems to stop looking for ways to offer assistance, but dammit, it would be nice if some of them would take on the mazes instead of hatching plans that'll make them more complex.

Last week the Republicans touted themselves as the party of I-built-that entrepreneurship while presenting corporate welfare queens like Boeing as business heroes. This week the Democrats touted themselves as the party of working Americans while praising policies that shore up the insurance industry and the collegiate sorting machine (and while offering an argument for the auto bailout that amounted to a trickle-down defense of corporate welfare). For the next two months, those parties' standard-bearers will tout this election as a stark choice between deeply different alternatives. Where are those factcheckers when you need them?

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Steven Greenhut on the Latest Power Grab By California Lawmakers

The main problem with the California Legislature is not that it spends money far faster than it comes in, or squanders it on absurd programs and on the enrichment of those Californians who work for the state, writes Steven Greenhut. Those are symptoms of the real problem, which is that the Legislature recognizes no natural limits on its power.

If a Golden State legislator doesn’t like something, expect a proposal to ban it. If a legislator likes a particular idea, expect plans to build a bureaucracy to implement it. The only issues off the table involve fixing those budgetary and governmental problems that the state government is legitimately tasked with handling.

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Reason on the Radio: Zach Weissmueller Talks Democrats and Choice on Cincinnatti's 55KRC

Reason TV Producer Zach Weissmueller appeared on The Brian Thomas Morning Show on Cincinnatti's 55KRC to talk about his experience discussing the issue of "choice" with Democratic delegates at the 2012 DNC. Thomas devoted a portion of his show to Reason TV's video before chatting with Weissmueller.

You can listen to the interview here.

And watch the video they discussed below.

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Boehner Wanted a Budget Deal So Much That He Did Not Want One at All

Bob Woodward can't be too pleased with the New York Times story about his new book, The Price of Politics, which details last year's failed negotiations aimed at a "grand bargain" on deficit reduction between Democrats and Republicans. "Last summer's bitter budget negotiations have been hashed over in several lengthy news accounts," sniffs Times congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman, "and Mr. Woodward's is the most exhaustive, although it is not clear how much new information, if any, he has uncovered." In case that does not make you eager to delve into Woodward's 448-page tome, Weisman poses an intriguing puzzle:

President Obama maintains that the speaker [John Boehner] never really wanted to cut a deal...

"I think John wanted to get a deal," Mr. Obama said in an interview with Mr. Woodward.

Whose contradiction is this? Obama's, Woodward's, or Weisman's? Is it worth $17.16 (marked down from $30 at Amazon!) to find out?

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Obama DNC Speech Reactions: He Played Football and Baseball, With No Meat

Associated Press
[Senior Obama adviser Robert] Gibbs says being a president is a ‘‘humbling’’ thing and Obama understands that ‘‘we still have a long way to go’’ to rebuild the economy.

Stu Bykofsky, Philadelphia Daily News
Obama's speech a hit, not a home run

Patrick Martin, World Socialist Web Site
When Obama claimed US manufacturing is on the upswing “not because our workers make lower pay” but because they’re more productive, he was telling a brazen lie. The auto bailout set the pace for wage slashing throughout corporate America, and against public employees as well.

Douglas E. Schoen, Fox News
As one of the advisers in the president's circle told me immediately after the speech, it was straightforward...and pedestrian. Meaning that there was nothing new, nothing bold and nothing in Mr. Obama's acceptance speech that will be remembered much past Sunday.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
[Discussing Obama's one-liner, "Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!"] That's a good riff. But it came early in the speech, and after a couple of pro forma sentences about tax cuts for millionaires (he's against them) Obama was off an entirely unrelated riff about common effort, shared responsibility, and bold, persistent experimentation. Then he was off to the car industry. Then energy. Then a throwaway line about global warming. And all of these riffs were just that: short collections of platitudes with no real meat behind them and no promise of what a second term might bring.

Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press
Detroit’s automakers played a prominent role throughout the Democratic convention, with speakers noting Obama’s decision to invest billions of dollars in General Motors and Chrysler, both of which are now profitable and automakers as a whole have added 160,000 jobs since June 2009. Though government still stands to lose $19-billion or more out off the total $82-billion put into the companies, Democrats repeatedly said through the week it may have saved a million jobs nationwide.

Andrea Saul, Romney campaign spokesperson
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will deliver a new direction that jumpstarts our economy and helps the middle-class families who have been left behind under President Obama.

Spencer Ackerman, Wired
By word count, Obama devoted twice as much of his speech to national security as Romney did last week. But Obama failed to articulate an agenda for America on the world stage over the next four years.

Greg Sargent, Washington Post
He mounted a spirited, extensive defense of the safety net, and of the moral imperative of prioritizing it over more tax cuts for the rich. Core Dem constituencies — women, minorities, young voters — tend to respond strongly to messages about protecting the vulnerable. And he attacked Romney for wanting to increase defense spending — not something Dems have historically done — and crucially, he cast it as fiscally reckless.

Michael Tomasky, Daily Beast
This was the rhetorical equivalent, forgive the football metaphor, of running out the clock: Obama clearly thinks he’s ahead and just doesn’t need to make mistakes. But when football teams do that, it often turns out to be the biggest mistake of all, and they lose.

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal
Four years later the shooting liberal star, as we called him then, has come down to earth. What should have been a buoyant recovery coming out of a deep recession was lackluster to start and has grown weaker. The partisanship he claimed to want to dampen has become more fierce. The middle-class incomes he sought to lift have fallen. These results aren't bad luck or the lingering effects of a crash four years ago. They flow directly from his "transforming" purposes.

Marc Anthony ‏@MarcAnthony
Será un gran honor cantar nuestro himno nacional hoy en el estadio lleno de partidarios de #Obama2002 en Charlotte. #DNC2012

Georgia State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), DNC delegate
The president laid out exactly what he’s going to do in the next four years. What excited me the most was his passion, sincerity and convictions for America and Americans.

Joe Scarborough, ‏@JoeNBC
The President said nothing in his speech tonight. But he said it so much better than Mitt Romney when he said nothing in Tampa.

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Kurt Loder Reviews Bachelorette and The Words

Although the play on which Bachelorette is based was running off-Broadway before Bridesmaids even started shooting, the new film inevitably recalls last year’s smash hit. Once again we have a group of thirtyish female friends coming together for the wedding of one of their number, and having all manner of zany and bracingly scabrous adventures. Here, stepping in for Kristen Wiig, is Kirsten Dunst, playing the level-headed maid-of-honor, Regan. Frustrating her earnest efforts to organize the big event are adorable ditz Katie (Isla Fisher) and sleep-around sourball Gena (Lizzy Caplan). As Katie pulls out a stash of cocaine she’s brought along and Gena casts a hostile/horny eye on her old high-school boyfriend Clyde (Adam Scott), who’s also on hand for the nuptials, the bride-to-be, jovial, heavy-set Becky (Rebel Wilson), grows increasingly uneasy. A lot of this, writes Kurt Loder, is very funny.

The Words, on the other hand, attempts to depict the interior struggles of a writer at work—the frustrations, the inspirations, the search for the perfect word. Unable to show us such mental exertions, the filmmakers are compelled to fall back on externalities—the writer biting his lip over a keyboard, feverishly shuffling through his notes, and so forth. Like any number of previous films in this genre (the dodgy old Lillian Hellman biopic Julia comes quickly to mind), The Words once again fails to adequately visualize creative labor. In a new wrinkle, though, Loder writes, this movie fails to do so in several different ways.

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A.M. Links: Obama Accepts Nomination, UK Wants to Track All Internet Users, Medical Marijuana Not Doing Well in New Jersey

  • Barack Obama accepted his party’s nomination for re-election and set a Twitter record doing it.
  • The government of Great Britain’s latest surveillance plan proposes tracking every web page accessed by British internet users. ISPs are understandably miffed. Wikipedia, meanwhile, says it can thwart Britain’s attempt to track internet use through encryption.
  • An American-style ban on indoor smoking went into effect in Lebanon this week. It’s opposed by many business owners and residents. 39 percent of Lebanese adults smoke.
  • The new regulations on medical marijuana in New Jersey are too vague and the fees too high according to critics of the initiative. Only 130 people have registered.
  • A military judge has ordered that Nidal Hassan, the suspected Ft. Hood shooter, cut off his beard. Hassan grew a beard for religious reasons while the government considers the shooting an incident of workplace violence.
  • Puerto Ricans will be voting for the fourth time in half a century on the status of their territory when they go to the polls this November.

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Brickbat: Banned with a Bullet

Officials with California's El Dorado Union High School District ordered Ponderosa High School to hide an advertisement for the Ammo Depot on its football stadium scoreboard. District officials say the sign isn't appropriate in a school setting. But owners of the Ammo Depot say they may sue for breach of contract.

Brickbat Archive

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The Religious Experience of Barack Obama

CHARLOTTE--After John Kerry lost the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush by a margin much larger than Democrats had contemplated, some liberals spent their Monday-morning quarterbacking agonizing over how they could possibly narrow the wide and growing gap among religious voters. Others washed their hands of the whole enterprise, drawing up "Jesusland" maps on the Internet that consigned vast swaths of the country to irredeemable superstition.

It's one of the many curiosities of two-party politics that Team A routinely mirrors or even adopts major personality traits of Team B within tidy eight-year cycles, but still the speed with which Democratic gatherings have become openly religious revivals is enough to induce whiplash. Aside from Bill Clinton (who must always be in a category by himself) speakers at the just-concluded Democratic National Convention who got the best response were those who most resembled–and sometimes were–pastors.

You probably didn't watch Emanuel Cleaver's raucous speech Wednesday, but it had the arena howling and delegates in the concourses stuck in their tracks, shaking their heads with a smile, talking back to the wide-screens with well-placed "That's right!"s. Delegates and other fans, some of whom were dressed in their Sunday best, responded most happily to the slow-building growl-and-shout, the Baptist-style call-and-response, the affirmation of both community and communities.

President Barack Obama didn't give a particularly good acceptance speech Thursday night, but for the thousands in the arena it didn't matter one bit. They were here to see him more than listen to him, to communicate their love to him (often by bursting forth with "I LOVE YOU!!"s) more than hear about his plans for the next four years. The last five minutes of the speech was a festival of hollering back, of responding not to Obama's frequently inaudible remarks but to the rising timbre of his voice. I think it's impossible to understand the ongoing appeal of this odd and embattled president without grappling with the notion that he is an essentially religious figure.

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Chuck Schumer Blows Off Drug War Questions

CHARLOTTE - When asked if he thought President Obama would change course on the drug war during his second term, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) declined to comment.

“I’m not gonna comment on that. I don’t know the details that you're talking about,” Schumer said in the concourse of the Time Warner Cable Arena.

What about the drug war? Do Democrats care about it?

“I am not gonna answer that,” he said, putting his hand near my face, waving me off.

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Michael Dukakis On Pot And California

CHARLOTTE - He doesn't support legalizing marijuana, but former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis is open to medical marijuana. He’s pretty excited about the direction California is headed in, too.

In an interview with Reason and other press members, Dukakis was baffled by the Obama administration’s drug policy, particularly its handling of medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I don’t understand what the hell is going on out there. We have a federal law that says that if you have a substance that is or could be addicting but may have medical value you do clinical trials," said Dukakis, who was defeated by George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential race. "You determine first and foremost if it does have medical value; and if that’s the case doctors, nurses and other authorized medical professionals can prescribe it. But we’ve never done that with marijuana.” 

Dukakis thinks Obama should have acted immediately after he took office to sort out the patchwork of state regulations.

“What I don’t understand is why the administration didn’t move immediately to change that classification, get clinical trials going, and tell us definitely does it have medical value. Instead you have 12 states, 14 states, 16 states legislating in violation of federal law,” he said.

Dukakis snickered about federal raids on dispensaries in Los Angeles and around the UCLA campus.

“When I left UCLA there were thousands of so-called dispensaries in Los Angeles, give me a break. These were not dispensaries,” he said.

California may have its problems with medical marijuana and, well, money but Dukakis likes what he is seeing in the state.

“I like what’s happening in California politically," he said. "I wish somehow that great state could deal with its fiscal problems, beause it’s a great place with great people."

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A Choice Between Two Different Futures? Or a Choice Between Two Different Parties?

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made their pitch to America’s voters: The theme of the night was choice — not just of candidates, but of governing visions on issues like the economy, deficits, and taxes. “When all is said and done - when you pick up that ballot to vote - you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation,” said Obama. "On every issue, the choice you face won't be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.”

But as we’ve pointed out so many times here at Reason, on so many major issues, the two major party tickets have awfully similar track records.

Romney passed a Massachusetts health care overhaul with a mandate, subsidies for regulated private insurance, and an expansion of Medicaid. Obama passed a national health care overhaul with a mandate, subsidies for regulated private insurance, and an expansion of Medicaid.

Barack Obama pared back Medicare payments by $716 billion over the next decade. Romney has promised to repeal those cuts, but Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman and the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, included those same reductions in his own budget plan, which was passed by a majority of Republicans in the House.

Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Obama passed an $800 billion stimulus. In the aftermath of President Bush’s $150 billion 2008 stimulus, Romney insisted that a second stimulus was needed, and later gave qualified praise to Obama’s stimulus, saying that it will “accelerate the pace of the recovery,” just not as much as if it had been designed differently.

Romney has praised the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the president who passed it, saying “President Bush and Hank Paulson said, 'We've got to do something to show we are not going to let the whole system go out of business.' I think they were right.” In 2009, Obama begged legislators in Congress not to scuttle the program.

The two tickets are not carbon copies of each other, but even where they disagree they are often closer than they pretend to be.

Romney, for example, has proposed to reform Medicare by converting it into a premium support system that relies on private competition. Obama opposes this plan in part because it would “end the Medicare guarantee.” But in fact, Romney’s proposal would keep government-run, fee-for-service Medicare as an option.

Obama wants to return to Clinton-era tax rates on income earned over $250,000, and Romney wants to lower marginal tax rates. But neither candidate is explicitly proposing to raise income tax rates on the bulk of earners.

A major part of the Democrats’ message this week is the argument that a Romney presidency would return us to the era of President George W. Bush. But what happened during the Bush years? Record spending, record debt, a slew of civil liberties abuses, a failed and expensive war on drugs, an impossibly complex immigration system and shameful treatment of immigrants, and a new health care entitlement in the form of Medicare Part D. And what did a change in White House power bring? Record spending, record debt, a slew of civil liberties abuses, a failed and expensive war on drugs, an impossibly complex immigration system and shameful treatment of immigrants, and a new health care entitlement in the form of ObamaCare. A clear choice? If so, it’s less a choice between visions than a choice between parties.

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Reason Staff Live Tweets the Final Day of the 2012 Democratic Convention Now!

This is it folks. The final day of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Reason is on the case, with a bunch of snarky/helpful/incomprehensible tweets for your reading pleasure. The evening's schedule is here, featuring Barack Obama at 10:00ish.

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Barack Obama is Getting Ready to Speak, But First Thank You and Also Could You Donate Money?

Barack Obama is set to accept his nomination at the Democratic National Convention shortly after 10:00pm ET tonight. So he made one last fundraising pitch before taking the stage, since he probably won’t make one on the stage itself:

Edward --
Before I go on stage to accept the nomination, there's one thing I need to say: Thank you.

It's because you've got my back that I'm here. And if we win this, it will be because of you, too.

Can you pitch in $3 right now?
… I can't tell you how grateful I am.


P.S. -- This is my last campaign, and knowing you're with me means everything. I can't do this without you.

I’d like to think my work keeping all these politicians honest is all the help they need, or something. You’re welcome nonetheless, Mr. President.

Previous Obama campaign missives herehere,  here,  herehere and here

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Connecticut First Lady Cathy Malloy Gripes About Her Car, Media, Seat Belt Laws

I've never really understood the whole tradition of the First Lady in a country where the Constitution won't even let us have a queen. But occasionally the job of Egg McMuffin-critic-in-chief leads to comedy.

At the Democratic National Convention earlier today, Cathy Malloy, wife of Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, decried the scrutiny powerful people and their families get from the media:  

“One of the things about public life, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, is that people do not appreciate people in public life the way they should. They beat their politicians up every day, and this is a huge problem. Not only do we get beat up, our children get beat up. It’s a tough business,” she said.

“In April I drove to work and I forgot to put my seat belt on, and I was pulled over by police. Of course, they had no idea who I was because I drive this really shitty car, and they didn’t believe that I was the governor’s wife in this shitty car. And I was driving myself, because of course, governor’s wives only get security when we’re with our husbands. We’re pretty second-class without them.

National news,” she said. “It’s just so bizarre. We choose to be in public life. We choose to run for office, so nobody should feel sorry for us. This is what we do.

“When people need to make the choice if they want to get into public office or not, they say, wow, do we really want to subject our children to this? Or our wives to this? Or our husbands? It’s a big decision because the media just won’t let up.”

Malloy made her comments at an Emily's List panel featuring one-time Star Trek: The Next Generation guest star Ashley Judd and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York). 

Unfortunately, even in the bosom of a political confab featuring some of the wealthiest and most well connected people on this planet, the Nutmeg State's First Clunker-Driver was not safe from the pitiless glare of the paparazzi. Much fun was made of Malloy's comments, and this afternoon she retracted her statement

"I was trying to convey a certain sentiment and I didn't do a good job of expressing what I really feel," Malloy said. "Although I don't always agree with what's written by members of the media, I do believe that they've been fair to my family and me."

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Nick Gillespie on Late-Night Stossel Tonight! Or, Another Reason Besides Obama's Big Speech to Stay Up Late!

I'll be on a very special late-night episode of John Stossel's eponymous Fox Business show tonight. So will Reason correspondent Kennedy (on location in North Carolina), Hadley Heath of the Independent Women's Forum, and Mark Meckler of Citizens for Self-Governance.

We'll be discussing President Barack Obama's big speech closing out the Democratic National Convention.

The fun starts at 11.30pm ET, right after Obama takes his final curtain call of the night.

Here's Stossel's writeup of the show:

We heard Romney's side. Now it's time for the President to make his case.

Our special correspondent, Kennedy, is in Charlotte covering the Democratic convention.

Our returning panel--Reason TV's Nick GillespieMark Meckler of Citizens for Self-Governance, and Hadley Heath from the Independent Women's Forum--will watch Obama's speech and discuss what it means for those of us who love liberty.

And if you're watching the convention coverage this week, please leave your comments and questions on my Facebook page. I'll read a few on the air.

Read more here.

Watch me and the panel discuss last week's speech by Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention by going here.

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In Politics, Surrender to the Higher Power of Your Choice

I guess I'm not a higher power kind of guy, and it doesn't matter to me who or what that higher power is. As much as I respect whatever others believe when they scrupulously apply it to their own lives, I've been consistently creeped out over the years by those who insist I bow down to some all-powerful supernatural being they claim is watching over us (even on the crapper?) as well as by those who insist that I tug my forelock to the all-powerful state that's watching out for us (even on the crapper?). My natural reaction is to insist that people should keep their prurient higher powers to themselves. I've found the last two weeks ... challenging.

As much as is made of the vast cultural divide that supposedly separates the Republicans in Tampa from the Democrats in Charlotte, I've seen little practical difference. Yes, the Republicans opened their convention with a Sikh-led prayer and closed with a blessing by a Catholic Cardinal and included a heavy sprinkling of the Mormon faith throughout. By contrast, the Democrats inserted a bit of God-bothering in their platform only clumsily and at President Obama's insistence. But that's understandable — they'd already invoked their higher power in the much-discussed video asserting, "the government is the only thing that we all belong to." That's a faith reasserted time and again in speeches that made the DNC sound, just a bit, like a public-benefits counseling session.

As I mentioned above, I wouldn't care one way or another about the beliefs of the speakers at these expensive demonstrations of political mutual-stroking if they were to confine themselves to living by the One True Faith on their own, while allowing those of us of differing views, or none at all, to happily marinate in the wages of our heresy. But there's no such luck, of course. The prevailing attitude in both major parties is that no good idea should go unlegislated. 

As Republican nag Rick Santorum once scolded, "This idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do ... that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn't get involved in cultural issues ... that is not how traditional conservatives view the world."

On the other side of the political divide, professional finger-wagger Elizabeth Warren claimed us all on behalf of the state-led Borg when she said, "You built a factory out there? Good for you — but I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for."

Come November, the two major parties may be offering us a sort-of choice. But no matter how the election falls out, we'll still be expected to submit to a higher power.

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Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro: Democrats Care About The Drug War

CHARLOTTE - Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-Connecticut) claims Democrats care about reforming the War on Drugs, but she is unable to name any evidence for this. When asked about the Obama Administration's drug policies, she changes the subject, insisting that voters need to look at the totality of President Obama’s time in office.

“Take a look at what Barack Obama has done since he took office. Taking a nation that was on its knees financially, something he had nothing to do with, the prior administration had a lot to with losing 700,000 jobs a month, trying to put the country back on track again was a very big undertaking,” she said when asked about the administration’s dismal record on drug policy reform.

DeLauro wasn’t particularly interested in talking about the specifics of Obama's drug policy, returning again to his domestic policy agenda.

“He did an incredible amount for the ability of kids to go to school, get their opportunity for an education," DeLauro said. "We passed a transformative piece of health care legislation. These are very, very big items. He signed the first bill that talked about paycheck fairness for women, all kinds of efforts that have been successful. Sometimes you can’t get to do everything that you stated you wanted to do. But people need to take a look at the direction that nation is going in and its economic stability and its growth for the future. That’s where they ought to make their judgment.” 

She rejected the suggestion that the Obama administration was a disappointment on drugs, saying “I don’t buy that, no.”

Obama's drug policy has been no less punitive than George W. Bush's. The president has repeatedly violated his own pledge to respect the will of voters in states that have allowed medical cannabis use, launching raids on dispensaries in Colorado, California, and other states. In forums where he speaks with the public, he is usually bombarded (despite very tight restrictions on participation) with questions about reforming America's draconian drug policy, but so far he has replied to all of these with ridicule or silence. 

DeLauro, however, assured me that reforming America’s drug policy is a high priority to the Democratic Party.

“Of course it is,” she said, before listing off reforms implemented because of Obamacare. 

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Selling Obama at the DNC

CHARLOTTE—The American economy may or may not be a victim of weak demand, but this week's Democratic National Convention has highlighted the existence of a booming local market in Obama-branded, well, everything.

If you can print an image of Obama's face on it, someone has, and they've brought it to Charlotte. I've seen buttons, mugs, calendars, posters, newspaper covers, framed photos, keychains, and a seemingly endless array of T-shirts.

And what's especially wonderful is that it's all for sale: Everywhere you walk around the convention area, you see commerce driven by Obama's celebrity and proximity. After the jump, a brief tour of the Obama-branded stuff for sale at the DNC. 

Most of the shirts for sale feature prominent images of Obama's face. But a few focus on his name. I don't think I've seen a single shirt that could be described as subtle. 

Obama is the focus. But his entire family gets the T-shirt treatment as well:

For those who aren't content to simply wear presidentially branded clothing, there are calendars and children's books:

And although it's not an Obama-branded product, the "99 Percent Granola" I found at a for sale at a snack table does show a certain genius for audience-specific marketing:

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The 2008 DNC's Republican Turncoat Was Promptly Appointed to Head Up the National Endowment of the Humanities, Where He Launched an "American Civility Tour"

CHARLOTTE–Tonight, the Democratic National Convention is scheduled to celebrate its version of what has become a staple at major-party conventions: the ideological turncoat. In Tampa last week, it was former Democratic congressman (and current Republican non-officeholder) Artur Davis. Tonight it's slated to be former Republican governor of Florida (and current unaffiliated non-officeholder) Charlie Crist, who was routed in a Republican Senate primary by Tea Party darling (and eventual senator) Marco Rubio.

So what happens to these turncoats after the last party logo gets nicked? National Public Radio last week had some fun at their expense, affixing the headline "For Party Defectors, A Warm Welcome (Then Maybe Siberia): There's a lot of glory in switching parties, but often not much future."

In fact, Charlie Crist's immediate predecessor, longtime North Dakota Iowa congressman Jim Leach in 2008, was quickly appointed by President Barack Obama to chair up the $154 million, 159-employee National Endowment for the Humanities. Whereupon he launched a three-year, 50-state, taxpayer-financed "American Civilian Tour." Before looking at the lowlights of Leach's forcible civility, let's recall why the leopard changed his spots in the first place:

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Forty Years Ago At the Democratic Convention: Democrats, War and Intervention

In 1972, Democrats nominated South Dakota Senator George McGovern for president. Though the war in Afghanistan is America’s “longest war,” American intervention in Vietnam predated the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident commonly used to mark the beginning of the “Vietnam War,” known as the American war in Vietnam. George McGovern opposed that war, saying at the 1972 convention in Miami Beach:

This is the time for truth, not falsehood. In a Democratic nation, no one likes to say that his inspiration came from secret arrangements by closed doors, but in the sense that is how my candidacy began. I am here as your candidate tonight in large part because during four administrations of both parties, a terrible war has been chartered behind closed doors.

I want those doors opened and I want that war closed. And I make these pledges above all others: the doors of government will be opened, and that war will be closed.

McGovern promised that if he won (he lost, spectacularly, to Richard Nixon, who felt the need to try to cheat to win that election anyway), he’d stick to principles, quoting one of America’s first modern interventionists, President Woodrow Wilson. Said McGovern:

Let us say to Americans, as Woodrow Wilson said in his first campaign of 1912, "Let me inside the government and I will tell you what is going on there."

Wilson believed, and I believe, that the destiny of America is always safer in the hands of the people then in the conference rooms of any elite.

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The DNC’s Catchphrase Politics

CHARLOTTE—“Let’s move America forward.” In the last few days at Democratic National Convention I’ve already heard some variation on this line so many times it’s beginning to resemble one of those insufferable Mike Myers catchphrases from the 1990s. Yeah baby! As campaign slogans go, it’s the emptiest since “Believe in America,” or maybe “hope and change.”

The relentless recitation of “forward,” as if the Democratic party has been suddenly overtaken by Keynesian drum majors, is only the most prominent of the slogans playing on repeat here at the DNC. The lineup also includes a chant about “growing the economy from the middle out, not the top down.” That’s frequently paired with the White House approved refrained that a second term Obama would create “an economy built to last.” Other speakers have declared that “we’re all in this together.”

Democrats don’t merely employ catchphrases to describe their own qualities. They also employ them to describe Republicans, who we’re told want to leave people “on their own” and give tax cuts to “millionaires and billionaires.”

Often these slogans are strung together, as in Elizabeth Warren’s speech, which, in the space of three paragraphs declared that “we know that the economy doesn't grow from the top down, but from the middle class out and the bottom up,” that Mitt Romney “wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires,” and that the Republican vision can be summed up as, "I've got mine, the rest of you are on your own." Others prefer to play mix and match, like North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, who told convention goers that President Obama has a “plan to keep building an economy that grows from the middle not, not the top down. That’s what we need. That’s how we’ll keep moving forward together.” The fill in the blanks nature of so many speeches can resemble a particularly boring game of Mad Libs at times. And many of the speeches are roughly as meaningful. 

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Montana Medical Marijuana Provider Gets Probation; His Partner Got Life

Today a federal judge sentenced Tom Daubert, a Montana medical marijuana activist, to five years of probation rather than the six and a half to eight years in prison sought by prosecutors. Daubert, the subject of the new documentary Code of the West, is co-founder of Montana Cannabis, a chain of dispensaries with a grow operation in Helena that was raided by the feds in March 2011. He pleaded guilty last April to a single charge of conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises, which was punishable by up to 20 years in prison but did not carry a mandatory minimum sentence.

"I do not believe this case warrants imprisonment," said U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen, citing "unique" factors, including the fact that Daubert had left Montana Cannabis before the raid and had lobbied for stricter regulation of dispensaries. Although Daubert would not have been allowed to discuss the legal status of medical marijuana in Montana during a federal trial, Christensen seems to have taken into account the fact that he openly provided the drug to patients in compliance with state law. The Missoulian notes that Daubert "routinely conducted greenhouse tours for lawmakers and law enforcement officers." 

Daubert's former partner, Richard Flor, was punished much more severely for his role in Montana Cannabis, as Lucy Steigerwald noted last week. Although he pleaded guilty to the same charge, Flor, a sickly 68-year-old with a litany of ailments (including diabetes, dementia, osteoarthritis, neuropathy, coronary artery disease, and chronic obstructive asthma), received a five-year prison sentence from U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell last April. Flor died one month into that sentence after suffering two heart attacks while waiting to be taken to a medical facility. At her TalkLeft blog, Denver criminal defense attorney Jeralyn E. Merritt has more on Flor's appalling treatment, including a recommended sentence of nine to 11 years that flouted his plea agreement. 

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Michael Steele Crashes the DNC, Talks Drug War and Libertarians

CHARLOTTE—Former Republican National Committee Chairman and current MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele was roaming the concourse of the Time Warner Cable Arena hours before the Democratic National Convention gaveled to order on Thursday. Steele, who said he could be described as a libertarian-leaning Republican, made the case that libertarians should vote for the Republican Party’s candidates and not the Democrats or Libertarians.

“I think the argument can be made honestly, looking at our libertarian roots in the party, that, ya know, government has its role, its purpose but it’s limited in its power,” he said.

Steele had to stop the interview frequently as conventiongoers repeatedly interrupted and wanted their picture taken with him. Steele took it all in stride.

He agreed that Obama has tossed aside his talk of softening the nation’s approach to the war on drugs but said that it’s just not a major issue.

“Put it in the proper context, it is not at forefront of people’s minds right now. When you’re unemployed it’s just not something you’re going to go to battle over and it’s not just the war on drugs, it’s abortion, and some of the other social issues,” he said.

When asked if either party takes the drug war issue seriously he simply replied, “No.”

Steele admires Gary Johnson but thinks the third party song and dance is tired because it’s just not realistic in the current electoral system.

“I do appreciate what he is doing to get his message out there but at the same time we need to put everything in the right context and recognize what the opportunity is here,” Steele said. 

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Kamala Harris Has Usefully Poor Memory of How Mortgage Settlement Was Spent

When it comes to sensible housing policies, don’t we all, as a nation, turn toward the direction of California and nod at all the wisdom the Golden State has to share about home ownership?

No? Well tough. The Democratic National Convention for some reason selected California Attorney General Kamala Harris to speak Wednesday night about “leadership” in the midst of our housing crisis:

When it comes to the housing crisis, the choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is clear. The fact is, we don't have to guess what Mitt Romney would have done if he were president. Because he told us. He said we should let foreclosures—and I quote—"hit the bottom" so the market could—quote—"run its course."

Run its course. That's not leadership. Doing nothing while the middle class is hurting. That's not leadership. Loose regulations and lax enforcement. That's not leadership. That's abandoning our middle class.

Here's what President Obama did: President Obama won Wall Street reform to prevent any more taxpayer-funded bailouts. President Obama won credit card reform so you don't get stuck with hidden fees and sudden rate hikes. President Obama stood with me and 48 other attorneys general in taking on the banks and winning $25 billion for struggling homeowners. (Emphasis added)

Politifact has already dinged Harris for her misleading characterization of Romney’s statement on foreclosures (leaving out the eminently logical part that hitting the bottom would allow the housing market to bounce back quicker than it is). And we’ll just let the market illustrate the unintended consequences of that “credit card reform.” That final sentence though is a misleading doozy of ignoring reality in favor of publicly stated intent, and Harris damn well knows it.

As Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation predicted back in February, a significant chunk of that settlement had nothing to do with struggling homeowners and is not being used for their assistance. It was a blatant money grab by the government from lenders.

The states all got their own portion of the settlement, and back in May The New York Times reported that states were using the money however they damn well pleased. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown initially proposed giving a good chunk of the $410 million California got on various state Department of Justice programs (how great for Harris!) but ultimately it appears most of the money is going to help plug the state’s $15.7 billion budget gap. Harris wasn’t happy about it, according to the San Francisco Chronicle:

Harris wants to use the money to pay an independent monitor she hired to make sure banks are complying with the settlement and for housing counseling, education and outreach. Her plan is to "set up an advisory committee and put out much of this money through grants" to existing housing agencies, a spokesman for Harris says.

Setting up committees and hiring more government employees is preferable to paying down the debt to her. It’s the familiar “Let us help you by helping ourselves first” standard of governance in California that really has the state going places.

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Convenient Jobless Numbers, Euro Bond Plan Response, Auto Unions in Decline: P.M. Links

  • Jobless claims are down, which is quite convenient information on the day President Barack Obama will give a big speech arguing for a second term.
  • Stock markets are responding positively to the European Central Bank’s bond-buying plan.
  • Auto unions may be a dominant force at the Democratic National Convention but elsewhere, not so much.
  • A mother and her three daughters are dead in Missouri in what authorities suspect is a murder-suicide.
  • California’s controller has noticed that school district executives get huge raises soon before they retire, jacking up their pensions.
  • A majority of LGBT students say they feel unsafe at school. Maybe if there were more competition for students, administrators would feel more pressure to crack down on inappropriate behavior?
  • Hacked e-mails allegedly from security firm Stratfor seem to indicate that the FBI knew about the NYPD’s surveillance tactics and knew that they’re illegal. Stratfor says some of the e-mails may be forged or altered.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget to sign up for Reason’s daily AM/PM updates for more content.

Katherine Mangu-Ward on Democrats, Republicans, and Firing Teachers

If you've been watching the Democratic National Convention this week, you may have heard that Mitt Romney likes to fire people. About a million times.

The full Romney quote, from a January speech, is “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I want to say, 'I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.’” He was talking about health insurance, but he could just as well have been talking about education.

But when it comes to firing teachers, asks Reason Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward, how much daylight is there between the two parties?

View this article
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A Preview of Obama's Big DNC Speech--and a Brief Review of His Presidency

President Barack Obama will take the stage in Charlotte tonight to make the case for his reelection. According to the Boston Globe, Obama's speech "will be about promise — the kind he'll say he has kept, and the kind of feeling he wants to stir once more. He will take people back to the start of his presidency to make a case why their lives are better, but his bigger imperative is to sell himself as better for middle-class America than Republican Mitt Romney."

If the Globe's preview wasn't clear enough, here's some plain English: Obama will not talk about the things you, dear reader, care about. Not the issues important to libertarians, not the issues important to anti-interventionists, not the issues important to transparency advocates or proponents of small government. While lesser Democrats may care about them, and the other promises Obama has broken, don't expect them to talk about them either between now and November.  

That's why we'll address a few of them here, on the President's behalf.

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New Youtube Video Asks: 'What if President Obama had called a real marijuana user?'

Echoing what Mike Riggs wrote on September 4, this newly-crafted video continues to savage the lazy, mocking, September 3 video where Barack Obama "calls" his favorite lying, lapdog actor and former Associate Director of Public Engagement for his campaign, Kal Penn. The gist of the official video is, if you missed it, is that a wink at stoner culture will get their vote, actual fact of the president's marijuana policy be damned. 

After two days of Democrats patting themselves on the back for loving women and gay people and America the mostest, while ignoring or lying about marijuana, spending, and drone wars, more of this kind of critique, please. Whoever the hell Sidepocket Images is, they're better at critiquing the president than most members of the mainstream media. This video is well worth watching in spite of the ending that urges people to tell the president to "earn" their vote by fixing drug policy.

By the way, as Reason 24/7 noted today, Obama's theme for the night is "promises kept."

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Can a 'Bad Batch' of PCP Explain the Murder of Two Children?

Police in Camden, New Jersey, speculate that "a contaminated batch of PCP" (as A.P. puts it) or "a virulent strain of the drug" (per the Philadelphia Inquirer) is responsible for two recent child murders in that city. Two weeks ago, police say, a 34-year-old woman named Chevonne Thomas cut off her 2-year-old son's head before killing herself. Police say she tested positive for PCP. On Sunday an intruder attacked a 6-year-old boy and his 12-year-old sister as they lay sleeping in their home, cutting both of their throats; the girl, who said she also was raped, survived, but the boy did not. Police say Oswaldo Rivera, the 31-year-old man arrested for those crimes, reported smoking "wet" (PCP-laced marijuana) before attacking the children. "Is there some type of alteration that's being done that has triggered this?" Camden Police Chief J. Scott Thomson asks.

Notably, Thomson does not think PCP itself, long reputed to transform people into irrationally violent monsters with superhuman strength, accounts for these horrifying homicides. Instead he suspects the formula was tweaked in some way that inspires users to cut children's necks—an oddly precise effect that is more reminiscent of a magical spell than a recreational drug. Although Thomson tells A.P. that "PCP has played a role in 10 homicides in Camden in the last four or five years," he seems vaguely aware that the veterinary anesthetic "does not live up to its reputation as a violence-inducing drug," as a review of the scientific literature concluded in 1988. The A.P. story reinforces that conclusion (emphasis added):

While [PCP] is not new to the area, emergency room doctors say they have seen an increasing number of patients on the drug in the past few years. Users can fall anywhere on a spectrum from agitated and aggressive to sleepy and incoherent, but are rarely aggressively violent.

Dr. Al Sacchetti, chief of emergency services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, said doctors treat at least one or two people each day on PCP.

Sacchetti said PCP users tend to engage in "non-specific aggressive behavior" and are often more of a danger to themselves than to others. PCP users are mostly vocally aggressive, Sacchetti said.

"These tragedies, the last couple of cases, are very unusual for what we're used to seeing," Sacchetti said. "Usually people hallucinate, but they're not that focused. You have to be very focused to cut someone's head off or find someone and slit their throat."

Dr. Matthew Salzman, an emergency room doctor and toxicologist at Cooper University Hospital, said he has never heard of anyone on PCP harming someone. But the drug does break down the connection between the mind and body, he said, leading to “yelling, thrashing and flailing,” as well as incoherent speech.

Hence the speculation about "a bad batch" or "potent form" of PCP. Maybe the drug Thomas and Rivera took really was significantly different from run-of-the-mill PCP. But unless they were the only people to consume this hypothesized substance, it clearly does not "cause" throat-cutting violence against children in any straightforward sense. As with the "Miami Cannibal" case (which turned out not to involve drugs at all), the rareness of these crimes undermines the theory that drugs made people commit them. Given the wide gap between the reputation and reality of PCP (and various other drugs that supposedly make people violent), it seems a bit rash to conclude that the murder of children can be reduced to a chemical analysis.

[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the tip.]

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Convention Vote Debacles Show Both Parties Hate Freedom

In a reminder of last week's suppression of grassroots delegates at the Republican National Convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the chairman of the Democratic Party's convention, yesterday overrode a popular uprising against the party's platform, prompting loud booing and shouting from the convention floor. 

Reason's Garrett Quinn and Emily Ekins reported on the DNC's corrupt platform vote, which was captured on video, along with Villaraigosa's blinking, unprepared response. Take a look, and tremble to reflect that one of America's great cities is in the stubby hands of this man: 


At issue: a boilerplate reference to God in the platform and an equally standard assertion that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Both these references were not in a version of the platform that passed a voice vote on Tuesday, and the Obama campaign hustled to restore them after a controversy erupted over their elimination. Villaraigosa (who has perversely retained his last name, a portmanteau of his original surname and that of his long-suffering ex-wife, despite the failure of the marriage) called the new vote in an unsuccessful effort to tamp down the public relations wildfire

It's unclear to me why control of a secular government requires shoutouts to the supreme being, who presumably won't be affected one way or the other. It's even less clear why an American political party is taking a position on the capital of a foreign country. (One election prediction you can take to the bank: No matter who wins, the actual U.S. position on the Israeli capital will not change.) The New York Post's John Podhoretz analyzes the political fallout:

You can argue that the booing came from delegates who believed their will was being thwarted, and therefore was about process and not about substance.

But their will was that the platform should not feature the word “God,” and that it should no longer declare that the Democratic Party supports Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

This is a country in which 84 percent of people claim a belief in God, and where 69 percent describe themselves as supporters of Israel. It’s nothing short of insane to place yourself on the wrong side of these numbers, which the Obama campaign understood.

It’s even worse to have created video footage of Democratic delegates actually booing that can be used and used and used again by the Romney campaign.

The convention seemed to be shell-shocked for hours afterward, as dull speaker after dull speaker made absolutely no impression at all.

My old friend Mike McGough at the Los Angeles Times explains how Republicans were using God and Jerusalem even before yesterday's dustup: 

The Jerusalem Omission (sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel) aroused the ire of the top man on the GOP ticket. “It is unfortunate,” Mitt Romney huffed, “that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.” By contrast, Republicans point out, their 2012 platform says: “We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states -- Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine -- living in peace and security.”

We have already done a few urinalyses of the issues involved when the GOP last week made sacrifices of Ron Paul supporters within the party. Presumably there are people for whom the details of that fight are as opaque and pointless as God and Jerusalem are to me. 

But if you look past the specifics of what the two parties and their zealots are saying and spend some time with their emotional torment (which is probably the best way to think about politics in a two-party context), I think you'll find a more hopeful story. 

Both the Red and Blue factions of the duopoly have done everything in their power to remove all chance and free speech from their conventions. Maybe it's nostalgia for the days of competitive politics that has inspired so many theater fans this year to buy tickets to The Best Man, the late Gore Vidal's play positing a national convention in which the presidential ticket has not yet been decided. 

But the parties can't even force their most shameless vassals – people who have nothing better to do on a work week than wear a funny hat and beg politicians for crumbs of their time – to shut up and do what they're told. The Republicans and Democrats are implacable enemies of democracy and free expression, and the story is out there for everybody to see. Both the RNC and DNC vote suppressions were discussed in the establishment media. 

Video: Democrat Debt Solutions: Tax the Rich, Spend More Money

"Democrat Debt Solutions: Tax the Rich, Spend More Money" is the latest from Reason TV's coverage of the Democratic National Convention

Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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Three Shots at Marijuana Legalization This Fall

The Drug War Chronicle has a helpful run-down of the drug policy initiatives that will appear on state and local ballots in November. The highlight: Voters in three states—Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—will decide whether to legalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana. All three states already allow medical use of the plant, but the new initiatives would go further, allowing production and distribution for recreational use. Under Colorado's initiative, Amendment 64, the state would license growers and retailers, and adults 21 or older also could grow their own (up to six plants at a time) as well as possess up to an ounce of usable marijuana. Oregon's initiative, Measure 80, would establish a seven-member Oregon Cannabis Commission to license and regulate producers of marijuana, which would be sold in stores run by the commission. The initiative is called the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which seems not strictly speaking accurate, since the revenue it generates would come not from taxes but from growers' licensing fees and pot smokers' purchases at state-run stores. But the name is (perhaps intentionally) ironic, since the 1937 law that effectively banned cannabis at the federal level was called the Marihuana Tax Act. Washington's ballot measure, Initiative 502, calls for private stores regulated by the state liquor commission, with sales subject to a 25 percent tax; it would not allow home cultivation, except by medical marijuana users. It would establish a cutoff for driving under the influence of marijuana: 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

Four other 2012 initiatives deal with medical marijuana. Initiatives in Arkansas and Massachusetts would legalize medical use of marijuana and authorize distribution by state-licensed nonprofits. A Montana initiative would overturn restrictions enacted by the state legislature last year that effectively banned medical marijuana dispensaries. A North Dakota initiative legalizing the distribution and use of marijuana for medical purposes also may qualify for the ballot.*

Another initiative, California's Proposition 36, does not deal with drug policy directly, but it would allow the release of many people who received life sentences for minor drug offenses under that state's "three strikes" law. Proposition 36 would require that a third strike, the conviction that triggers a mandatory life sentence (with parole possible after 25 years), be a "serious or violent" crime. Under current law, only the first two strikes have to fall into that category, while the third strike can be any felony, including "wobbler" offenses that are often charged as misdemeanors. The upshot is that someone who has already served time for two different burglaries can go to prison for the rest of his life after being caught with stolen property or even a bag of marijuana. "There’s a shocking number of people whose third strike is simple possession," says Stanford law professor Michael Romano, co-author of Proposition 36.

Under Romano’s measure, about 3,000 inmates who are serving life terms for nonviolent offenses could be resentenced, provided a judge determines that doing so would not pose an “unreasonable risk to public safety.” Prisoners who had previously been convicted of rape, murder, or child molestation would not be eligible. Those two safeguards make the initiative more politically palatable than a 2004 reform measure that lost by about five percentage points. That initiative also would have reclassified some burglaries as nonviolent crimes and modified the rules for enhanced sentences that apply after the second strike.

Romano says the narrower approach has paid off, winning "the support of some of the highest-ranking law enforcement officials in California," including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. A July survey by the California Business Roundtable found that 72 percent of voters were inclined to vote yes on the initiative, which Romano says "would restore what was the original intent of the three-strikes law."

*Update: As an alert reader, Rob Port, pointed out, the North Dakota initiative did not make the ballot. Due to fraud allegations against paid petition circulators, 7,559 signatures were rejected, bringing the total to 12,533, which was 919 fewer than needed. 

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Beleaguered Teachers Unions Still Exert Influence on Democrats Where it Matters

CHARLOTTE--President Barack Obama has occasionally received high marks from impressionable non-liberals for (in the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks) "tak[ing] on a Democratic constituency, the teachers' unions," in the process becoming "the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency." The evidence for these claims usually comes in a triptych: The president occasionally talks tough about teacher performance, he appointed the decently reformist education secretary Arne Duncan, and together they pushed through the "Race to the Top" initiative that encourages states to embrace reforms.

As I wrote in March 2010, there are some other contextual considerations:

He [also] poured an unprecedented $100 billion into the education status quo via the stimulus package alone, ensuring the exact opposite of what Brooks claims: keeping failed teachers in failing schools. He signed into law the absolutely gratuitous euthanasia of Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program. He proposed jacking up the federal education budget another 6.2 percent this year even in a time of profound fiscal crisis, and the main reformist element of his approach–the Race to the Top initiative, which incentivizes states to embrace charter schools and more closely link teacher evaluation to student performance–amounts to less than 5 percent of the education stimulus money, and may have its biggest impact in railroading through a single national academic standard for K-12 schools.

There has been much talk about education at the Democratic National Convention, including by some of the Democratic politicians who have been most vocal about taking on teachers unions. Meanwhile, the National Education Association alone has a reported 350 delegates at the convention. So who is winning this skirmish in what Tim Cavanaugh has called the DNC's "Laborgeddon"? From the perspective of publicly enumerated policy, I'm calling it a rout: The beleaguered teachers unions have locked in the rhetorical and policy status quo.

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Top Five Underrated U.S. Presidents

At Human Events, Jarrett Stepman presents his selection of the top five most underrated U.S. presidents. They are: Warren G. Harding, James K. Polk, Thomas Jefferson, William McKinley, and Ulysses S. Grant.

It’s a strange gathering. On the one hand, it’s nice to see Harding make the cut, since, as Stepman puts it, Harding “turned the economy around by introducing an economic program opposite of President Obama’s,” a program that included tax cuts, spending cuts, and the elimination of various government regulations. Stepman doesn’t mention it, but Harding also deserves credit for rolling back the wartime assault on civil liberties launched by his predecessor Woodrow Wilson. Among other things, Harding pardoned the socialist leader Eugene Debs, who had spent three years in federal prison for delivering an anti-war speech that ran afoul of Wilson’s notorious Espionage Act. Wilson steadfastly refused to free Debs even after the First World War was over.

But other entries leave something to be desired. Although Stepman does stipulate that “each one of these five men had flaws and significant failures during their time as president,” his case for William McKinley comes up particularly short. Yes, McKinley had been moving slightly away from protectionism and towards a more free-trade friendly position by the time he was assassinated in 1901, but Stepman’s celebration of McKinley as “an effective war leader” is just bizarre. The Spanish-American War, which McKinley launched in 1898 in order to “liberate” Cuba from Spain, quickly spawned America’s long and bloody occupation of the Philippines, an undeclared conflict that lasted until Wilson’s presidency and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Filipinos as well as several thousand U.S. troops. Like the Cubans, the Filipinos only wanted out from under Spanish control. Instead they found themselves subjected to the rule of portly U.S. Governor-General William Howard Taft (among other American officials). I don’t see anything worth honoring about McKinley’s wars.

Finally, for my money, no list of underrated presidents is complete without old Grover Cleveland. Though he too had his shortcomings, particularly when he called out federal troops in 1894 to suppress the Pullman strike on dubious Commerce Clause grounds, Cleveland mostly stuck to the classical liberal side of things by supporting free trade, sound money, and non-interventionism. If only we could say that about either major party candidate today.

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Global Temperature Trend Update: August 2012

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

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

August temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.34 C (about 0.61 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.38 C (about 0.68 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.31 C (about 0.56 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August.

Tropics: +0.26 C (about 0.47 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August.

Notes on data released Sept. 5, 2012:

Compared to global seasonal norms, August 2012 was the third hottest August in the 34-year satellite temperature record, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. The last three Augusts have been three of the four warmest in the past 34 years, trailing only August 1998 — which was during a major El Nino Pacific Ocean warming event.

An El Nino warming event is still evident in the global temperature maps, stretching out across the tropical and southern Pacific Ocean from the west coast of South America, with temperatures in the tropics warming slightly from July through August.

The coldest and hottest spots on the globe (compared to seasonal norms) weren’t all that far apart in August: The “warmest” area was in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Argentina, where temperatures were as much as 3.43 C (6.17 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than season norms. The Antarctic winter continues to run colder than normal. Compared to seasonal norms, the “coldest” spot on the globe in August was near the South Pole, with average temperatures as much as 3.38 C (6.08 F) colder than normal for the month.

Go here to see the processed satellite temperature data.

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The War in Yemen; 100+ Drone Strikes Since May 2011

yea manCIA FactbookMedia reports of a drone strike in Yemen that killed ten civilians, including women and children, briefly brings the war in Yemen into focus. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Chris Woods, who covers the U.S.’s evolving war on terror, explains:

When news flashed of an air strike on a vehicle in the Yemeni city of Radaa on Sunday afternoon, early claims that al-Qaida militants had died soon gave way to a more grisly reality.
At least 10 civilians had been killed, among them women and children. It was the worst loss of civilian life in Yemen's brutal internal war since May 2012. Somebody had messed up badly. But was the United States or Yemen responsible?

Local officials and eyewitnesses were clear enough. The Radaa attack was the work of a US drone – a common enough event. Since May 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has recorded up to 116 US drone strikes in Yemen, part of a broader covert war aimed at crushing Islamist militants. But of those attacks, only 39 have been confirmed by officials as the work of the US.

The attribution of dozens of further possible drone attacks – and others reportedly involving US ships and conventional aircraft – remains unclear. Both the CIA and Pentagon are fighting dirty wars in Yemen, each with a separate arsenal and kill list. Little wonder that hundreds of deaths remain in a limbo of accountability.
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Former Vice Presidential Candidate Wayne Root Leaves the Libertarian Party

Wayne Root, the controversial 2008 vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, announces that he's leaving the Party and his position on the Libertarian National Committee and Libertarian National Campaign Committee to pursue his political goals outside of third parties. He intends to seek a federal Senate seat in the "near future" of the Tea Party persuasion, but within the Republican Party.

Independent Political Report runs his announcement. An excerpt:

Today I’m announcing the most important decision of my political career. Today I am stepping down from my roles in the LP, LNC, and LNCC . After six years of giving my heart and soul to our party, this decision does not come lightly. I leave with nothing but fond memories. I leave awed by the intensity, love, and loyalty of Libertarians, LP political candidates, LNC members, and LP leaders....

Like some of my political heroes who have fought the good fight for smaller government — Ron Paul, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Jim DeMint, and in earlier generations Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater — I have come to the conclusion that I’ll have more opportunity to elect good people and change the direction of this country outside of a third party.

It is the exact same decision that Ron Paul (our former LP Presidential nominee) and his son U.S. Senator Rand Paul made. It is the decision that many libertarians have made- from David Koch (our former LP Vice Presidential nominee), to the founders of CATO.....

But regardless of any differences there might be in matters of strategy, I will always have fond memories of my six years with the Libertarian Party. I salute all of my colleagues as heroes fighting for liberty. The hard work you do day in and day out is nothing short of remarkable. I remain amazed and stunned at your level of loyalty and work ethic. I leave with only positive things to say about my LP experience.

But I’m not really leaving. I am a Lifetime Libertarian Party member and will always call myself a REAGAN Libertarian, or Libertarian conservative. Just like a Congressman Ron Paul or U.S. Senator Rand Paul, I have simply decided to move my Libertarian beliefs and the fight for smaller government to a different battlefield....

To save our country and restore liberty, I have come to realize that I need to take practical steps to win office myself, so I can have a direct effect on the future of America. I plan to join Tea Party U.S. Senators like Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee in the near future, representing the great state of Nevada.

Root has been criticized quite a bit in these pages, for indulging in Obama college conspiracy mongering, praising Mubarak, and advising votes for Romney, among other things.

Matt Welch talked to Root for Reason.tv at FreedomFest in Las Vegas in 2011, talking (among other things) about how libertarians need to focus only on economic issues, not social ones:

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David Harsanyi on Democratic Delusions of Grandeur

Democrats like to claim that Ronald Reagan and William Buckley would be simply horrified if they saw the modern-day GOP; but please take a moment, writes David Harsanyi, to ponder the spectacular display of bonkers in Charlotte, N.C., this week.

Here you're free to imply or even say that a Republican is unpatriotic for conducting business outside the country. Here politicians celebrate the president's courageous ability to use taxpayer funds to bail out a company that can only avoid another bankruptcy (barely) on the strength of foreign sales. Here the head of NARAL argues that being allowed to have free abortions on demand is the high point of the American dream. Here Julian Castro, the charismatic mayor of San Antonio and a serious person, mocks the "magical" free markets that gave Bill Clinton the soaring economy he bragged about Wednesday night and America 25 years of unmatched prosperity.

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Video: Occupy vs. DNC: Are Dems Crony Capitalists?

"Occupy vs. DNC: Are Dems Crony Capitalists?" is the latest from Reason TV's coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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Axelrod on Obama's Drug Policy: Make People Safe, Healthy

CHARLOTTE – While leaving the Politico Playbook Breakfast, President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod, said that he wasn’t familiar with talk of Obama changing directions on drug policy in a possible second term.

When asked he if President Obama cares about the war on drugs he said, “I think what’s important is to make sure that people are healthy and to make sure people are safe and it’s important to move our economy forward and those are the goals that he’s going to pursue.”

Other Obama representives in Charlotte have been evasive when it comes to talking about the president's drug policy. 

Axelrod spoke to reporters for five minutes before departing by car. 

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Join Us Tonight (For the Last Time) as Reason Live Tweets the 2012 Democratic Convention

Four more years? Well, one more night at least. Join us for the final night of the 2012 Democratic Convention. Right here at 7:00 p.m. Be there or be...a person with better things to do.

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What's Happening on Day Three of the DNC

CHARLOTTE – The final day of the Democratic National Convention has been moved from Bank of America Stadium to the amazingly horrible Time Warner Cable Arena due to concerns about thunderstorms. Yesterday’s logistical nightmares that shut out hundreds of delegates and media will make the hurdles conventiongoers face today appear minor. President Obama is schedule to speak late in primetime today, assuring the tightest security this convention has seen all week.

Yesterday, former President Bill Clinton set a very high bar for Obama. Clinton’s speech overshadowed all others on the second night of the convention, particularly the less than exciting one from Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren.

Vice President Joe Biden is schedule to speak tonight, too.

So what’s on tap for the third and final day of the DNC?

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Austin Police Infiltrate Occupy Austin, Help Transform Misdemeanors Into Felonies

The Austin American-Statesman reports that city police infiltrated Occupy Austin last year, where they camped, marched, strategized, and

may have crossed a fine line in undercover police work: They helped plan and manufacture devices - often called "lockboxes" - that allowed Occupy members to tie themselves together during a protest in Houston, according to interviews and court records. The use of the devices, which makes it harder for police to break up human chains, resulted in Houston police filing felony charges against seven protesters who had attempted to block a port entrance in Houston on Dec. 12....

It's not clear who first proposed making the lockboxes. But during the hearing, attorneys and Austin Police Detective Shannon Dowell - who wore a long black beard and was known to Occupy members as "Butch" - disclosed that Dowell had purchased PVC pipe and other materials with Occupy Austin money and delivered the finished lockboxes to group members.

According to the newspaper, the felony charge relies on "an obscure statute that prohibits using a device that is manufactured or adapted for the purpose of participating in a crime." In other words, an undercover cop manufactured (and possibly proposed) the instruments that allowed prosecutors to charge protestors with a felony rather than merely a misdemeanor.

Another high point from the story:

During a hearing Monday, [the judge] expressed frustration at Dowell, who failed to bring records to court that [the defense attorney] had subpoenaed. Dowell said he lost a small computer drive containing photos when it apparently fell out of his pocket and into the gutter of a Houston hotel where he had stayed. He added that while he had sent and received emails related to the undercover operation from his work computer, they had been deleted.

Higher-ups at the Austin PD approved the infiltration effort but claim they weren't aware of the lockbox plan.

[Hat tip: Paul Krassner.]

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Bill Clinton Reactions: He Love You Long (Long, Long) Time

Lust, love and a little bit of loathing dominate the reactions to former President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention last night in Charlotte, North Carolina. Although reports that Clinton is still speaking this morning could not be confirmed by press time, many observers seem to have wanted even more of the nearly 50-minute peroration. Some reactions:

Jim Ridley, Nashville Scene
Were you watching former President Bill Clinton's nomination speech just minutes ago for incumbent President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention? More to the point, what were you doing while you were watching it? Judging from the humid torrent of tweets — and a peculiar similarity in the language and tone — we suspect nine months from now we'll be greeting the first generation of Clinton Boomers.
If you missed it, via the wonder of Storify, we present below: The Stages of Arousal During Bill Clinton's Speech. Dim the lights, put on a little Marvin Gaye, and let's get it on.

Dolph Ziggler, @HEELZiggler
WHAT A SPEECH! Im so turned on right now! @BillClinton for PRESIDENT 2012 #DNC #DNC2012

Associated Press
Clinton is counting on voters to recall the 1990s wistfully and to cast a vote for Obama in hopes of replicating those days in a second term. But Clinton leaves out the abrupt downward turn the economy took near the end of his own second term and the role his policies played in the setting the stage for the historic financial meltdown of 2008.

Josh Barro, Bloomberg
Clinton is the only living president who presided over a strong economic expansion. His sincere seal of approval on the Obama jobs record could go a long way with the “angry, frustrated voters” he was addressing.

Alexandra Petri, Washington Post
His speech went on for 50 minutes. It was like Return of the King, except that you kept thinking Return of the King was about to end, and the longer Clinton spoke, the more convinced you became that his speech wouldn’t.

John Podhoretz, NY Post
Like any fast-talking defense lawyer, he made the weakest parts of his case sound as plausible as the strongest part of his case — the idea that the economic disaster the president inherited was so severe, he couldn’t have cleaned it up in four years.

Molly Ball, Atlantic
Clinton evoked nothing more than a country lawyer earnestly trying to save his client, and willing to exhaust every argument at his disposal to do it.

Peter Suderman, Reason
The whole speech was a masterful bit of sleight of hand: He touted his own economic record, attacked the Republicans for their hypocrisies — and then concluded that the correct response is to vote for Obama. Essentially, he tried to transfer his own economic record to the current president.

Dori Toribio, @DoriToribio_Rne
Clinton: En tiempos dificiles, la confrontación puede funcionar en política.. pero no en el mundo real. Lo que funciona es la cooperación

Jim Geraghty, National Review
Clinton has a gift for making the unreasonable sound reasonable and making the reasonable sound unreasonable, and it worked for the first . . . ten to fifteen minutes or so. But somewhere around “partnership, not partisanship” — a sentiment completely at odds with every other speech given at this convention, and about 99 percent of the messaging from the Obama campaign and its allied super PACs — the speech became a bridge too far. And then it went on. And on. And on. Longer than Clinton’s much-mocked 1988 keynote address.

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Peter Schiff Goes Undercover at DNC, Pushes Popular Ban on Corporate Profits

Author, investment guru, and radio show host Peter Schiff goes undercover at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte to gauge support for a fictional ban on corporate profits.

From the original writeup:

Posing as an anti-business crusader, Peter Schiff found a number of DNC delegates and attendees who support explicitly outlawing profitability. We deliberately avoided speaking with the occupy protestors camping outside in tents to get a more "mainstream" Democratic perspective!

Listen to The Peter Schiff show live and free.
Weekdays 10am to noon ET on http://SchiffRadio.com

Reason TV followed Schiff as he talked to Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York last October. Take a long look at that.

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Organic Food Superstition Receives Yet Another Blow From Science

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines superstition as:

...a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.

Using carefully selected studies, the organic food industry's lobbying organization, the Organic Consumers Association, makes claims like ...

On average, organic is 25% more nutritious in terms of vitamins and minerals than products derived from industrial agriculture.

What can the hell can a phrase like 25 percent more nutritious mean? Never mind. A new comprehensive study, "Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?," published by researchers at the Stanford University in the Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM) that looked at 240 different studies concludes that the answer is: No. As the New York Times reported:

They concluded that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli.

The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats.

Conventional fruits and vegetables did have more pesticide residue, but the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits, the scientists said. The Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits at levels that it says do not harm humans.

“When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food,” said Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and the senior author of the paper, which appears in Tuesday’s issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. “I think we were definitely surprised.”

Surprised? That's kind of like being surprised when a voodoo ceremony doesn't cure the sniffles or a skin rash. A 2009 comprehensive review of the data comparing the nutritrional value of organic versus conventional foods in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition had earlier concluded:

On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

So if organic foods aren't more nutritious than conventional foods, perhaps they offer other benefits? As the Times notes:

Dr. Bravata agreed that people bought organic food for a variety of reasons — concerns about the effects of pesticides on young children, the environmental impact of large-scale conventional farming and the potential public health threat if antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes jumped to human pathogens. “Those are perfectly valid,” she said.

Regarding pesticides, the Stanford researchers found that 38 percent of conventional produce tested contained detectable residues, whereas 7 percent organic produce did. Does this matter? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors pesticide residues and its most recent report notes:

The pesticide residue levels found were well below regulatory standards. Results of baby foods tested in FY 2008 (and earlier years) also provide evidence of only low levels of pesticide residues in these foods.

The AIM study abstract noted:

Two studies reported significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets, but studies of biomarker and nutrient levels in serum, urine, breast milk, and semen in adults did not identify clinically meaningful differences.

What about the alleged environmental advantages of organic farming? As I noted in my 2002 article, "Organic Alchemy," a 21-year Swiss study found some benefits from organic farming compared to conventional, including including greater water retention by the soil and a higher presence of beneficial insects. However, these benefits must be weighed against lower crop productivity. As I noted:

One of the most frequent criticisms of organic agriculture is that it is not as productive as conventional farming. The Swiss scientists confirmed this: Their organic plots were on average 20 percent less productive than conventional plots. For potatoes, organic production was about 40 percent lower. The researchers also point out that "cereal crop yields in Europe typically are 60 to 70% of those under conventional management." Furthermore, they dispelled the notion that organic crops are superior food by noting, "There were minor differences between the farming systems in food quality."

Catch that last sentence? Minor differences in food quality. And lower crop productivity means that more forests and grasslands must be plowed up to produce food.

What about differences in anti-biotic resistant bacteria? As the AIM study's abstract notes:

Escherichia coli contamination risk did not differ between organic and conventional produce. Bacterial contamination of retail chicken and pork was common but unrelated to farming method. However, the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork (risk difference, 33% [CI, 21% to 45%]).

Conventional farmers often dose their meat animals with antibiotics as a way to boost their growth by preventing infections. This does speed the development of microbes resistant to the antibiotics used, and the concern is that such resistant microbes will infect people or exchange resistance genes with human disease microbes. Earlier this year, the FDA began the process of limiting the use of antibiotics as animal growth enhancers. However, the New York Times noted that...

...organic meat contained considerably lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventionally raised animals did, but bacteria, antibiotic-resistant or otherwise, would be killed during cooking.

With regard to differences in the presence of microbes on conventional versus organic produce, a 2005 study of washed and unwashed spring mix salad greens reported:

The mean populations of mesophilic and psychrotrophic bacteria, yeasts, molds, lactic acid bacteria, and coliforms on conventionally grown spring mix were not statistically different (P > 0.05) from respective mean populations on organically grown spring mix. The mean population of each microbial group was significantly higher on unwashed spring mix compared with the washed product.

In other words, if you believe in the germ theory of disease, wash your vegetables. In any case, the Times is probably right when it observes:

The findings seem unlikely to sway many fans of organic food.

The question that organic proponents should ask themselves is: Is there any scientific evidence that would persuade you that you are wrong? If not, then you should just admit it's a superstitious preference and stop disparaging (lying about?) the safety and nutrition of cheaper conventional foods.

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The Party of Corporate Welfare vs. the Other Party of Corporate Welfare

The most audacious moment in Elizabeth Warren's speech last night:

Republicans say they don't believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends.

That's an accurate description of the people presently running the GOP. But it's a little rich coming the same evening Warren's party presented an extended ode to the auto bailout.

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Screw Clinton: Obama is Worst White House Spender Since Mary Lincoln. Or George W. Bush.

As Peter Suderman notes, Bill Clinton's widely hailed speech (transcript here) at last night's Democratic National Convention was a classic political nostalgia act: We had good times together as a country, didn't we?, cooed Bill Clinton, so vote for the guy I'm endorsing now. C'mon, you'll do it for me now, won't you, baby?

Whether that bait-and-switch works with undecided voters, Clinton's speech was least convincing whenever he invoked actual governing strategies and policies employed by Obama.

Clinton not only governed differently than Obama, he pursued substantially different policies as well. Part of this was the result of politics. After a disastrous first couple of years in terms of retail politics - largely due to his thankfully inept attempt to foist a terrible health-care overhaul on the country - Clinton found himself face to face with the unthinkable: a Republican majority in the House (the GOP winning the Senate was thinkable, if relatively rare).

So long, health insurance reform and all other grand plans! Hello, the "incredible shrinking president," the end of the era of big government, "is Clinton relevant?" headlines, and all that. Clinton had to work with the Republicans and did, but not simply out of convenience. On major matters - such as NAFTA and free trade more generally and on welfare reform - he shared Republican goals (and was often at odds with his own party).

Clinton was especially strong on budgeting. As the president who oversaw the production a budget in which outlays and revenues kinda sorta matched up, the Man from Hope can speak with great authority about balance sheets (and please spare me the crabbing about how it wasn't really a balanced budget; while I agree, there's no question that Clinton has the best record in terms of spending vs. revenue of any recent president). It's worth pointing out that if any recent president destroyed the idea that trying to keep revenues and outlays in line is a worthwhile pursuit, it was George W. Bush (whose veep famously crowed that "deficits don't matter").

Yet here's Clinton talking up Obama's fiscal rectitude:

Now, what has the president done? He has offered a reasonable plan of $4 trillion in debt reduction over a decade, with $2.5 trillion coming from -- for every $2.5 trillion in spending cuts, he raises a dollar in new revenues, 2.5 to 1. And he has tight controls on future spending. That’s the kind of balanced approach proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission, a bipartisan commission.

If this is supposed to show the seriousness of the Obama budget plan, you've got to be kidding (and that's leaving aside the fact that Obama has failed to finish a budget - and kick the Democratic Senate's ass into gear - in years). Obama is the worst spender (see table 1.3) to live in the White House since Mary Todd Lincoln. Or, same thing, since George W. Bush, that well-known big-government disaster.

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A.M. Links: Bill Clinton Spins a Tale for the Crowd, Budget Brinksmanship, Waterboarding Galore

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

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Elizabeth Warren's DNC Speech Falls Flat

CHARLOTTE—Elizabeth Warren may not get a bounce in the polls back in the Commonwealth from her highly anticipated speech at the Democratic National Convention last night but she will probably fill her campaign coffers. Whether it was her nerves or her inability to work the largest crowd she has been presented with since starting her campaign, Warren mostly stumbled in her formal debut to national Democrats in a political setting.

Clad in her customary blue blazer, the Harvard Law professor delivered a speech that was part biographical, part stump speech, and part praise for President Obama. She weaved it together with points aimed as much at the Massachusetts audience that is still warming up to her as at the convention hall and those watching nationwide that love her more.

“For many years now, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered. Talk to the construction worker I met from Malden, Massachusetts, who went nine months without finding work. Talk to the head of a manufacturing company in Franklin trying to protect jobs but worried about rising costs. Talk to the student in Worcester who worked hard to finish his college degree, and now he's drowning in debt. Their fight is my fight, and it's Barack Obama's fight too,” she said

Like nearly every politician at both major party conventions this year, Warren talked about her childhood and growing up on the “ragged edge of the middle class,” a phrase she has used nearly every day since she started campaigning.

“My daddy sold carpeting and ended up as a maintenance man. After he had a heart attack, my mom worked the phones at Sears so we could hang on to our house,” she said.

Fast-forwarding to her time building the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren played up the efforts that made her a darling on the national liberal scene.

“After the financial crisis, President Obama knew that we had to clean up Wall Street. For years, families had been tricked by credit cards, fooled by student loans and cheated on mortgages. I had an idea for a consumer financial protection agency to stop the rip-offs. The big banks sure didn't like it, and they marshaled one of the biggest lobbying forces on earth to destroy the agency before it ever saw the light of day. American families didn't have an army of lobbyists on our side, but what we had was a president…”

“We had you!” yelled somebody in the upper deck, echoing across the arena.

When Warren initially walked across the stage she blew the doors off the building without even speaking but somehow failed to feed off the crowd that so desperately wanted her to inspire them to new heights. Warren slogged through her speech and limped flatly to what should have been a dramatic finish.

“Joe Biden is ready! Barack Obama is ready! I’m ready! You’re ready! America’s ready! Thank you! And God bless America!”

Warren’s speech was an Us vs. Them argument even though her opponent, Sen. Scott Brown, is doing a better job of making it a non-partisan one-on-one contest. Indeed, Warren never mentioned Brown in her DNC speech. As a Republican, Brown has huge institutional disadvantages in Massachusetts that range from registration disparity to the stunning incompetency of the state party to organize at the hyperlocal level.

Rocketing to stardom after launching her campaign but struggling since, Warren has somehow managed to fail to meet expectations in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic. Her enduring a scandal about her reported American Indian heritage and often being outmaneuvered by the Brown campaign has not helped her either.

Brown avoided the spotlight at his party’s convention last week in Tampa, sticking to his campaign’s game plan of avoiding even the word “Republican” at all costs.

Warren's stumbles probably didn't matter as much as they could have because former President Bill Clinton took the podium shortly after her and proceeded to deliver a stemwinder that may have even overshadowed the sitting president. 

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Bill Clinton’s Nostalgianomics

You wanted a nostalgia trip? You got a nostalgia trip. Because that’s what Bill Clinton wanted too. His expertly delivered, substantially improvised speech at the Democratic convention played like a 2012 remix of a 90s greatest political hits album: balanced budgets, economic prosperity, job growth, work and welfare.

Clinton played all the characters that made him famous: bleeding-heart bubba, the relatable leader, the clever country-boy, and even the serious — but accessible! — policy wonk. Clinton spent the majority of the speech explaining and adjudicating a slew of economic policy debates. He has always had a keen nose for the political trends of the moment, and here the former POTUS was reborn as fact-checker-in-chief.

That’s not to say he got all of his facts right. On Medicare, for example, he argued that ObamaCare’s Medicare cuts extend the solvency of Medicare — which, as I noted recently, is only true if you double count the savings, using them to pay for both an extension of Medicare’s trust fund and ObamaCare’s new insurance subsidies. He went after Mitt Romney’s campaign for attacking the Obama administration’s assertion of new, legally dubious authority to grant waivers to welfare’s work requirements. “The requirement was for more work, not less,” he said. Not wrong, exactly, but not the best truth. The requirement was to move 20 percent more people from welfare to work — and an easy way to do that is to increase the program’s rolls, thereby increasing the number of people who successfully move on from the program. He bragged about the higher number of jobs created by Democratic presidents, a comparison that, as Ron Bailey noted last night, is less favorable depending on how you perform the count.

All in all, though, the speech was more substantive and policy-focused than any convention speech so far — and that’s at either convention. And some of Clinton’s attacks were dead on: He hit Romney for budget math that doesn’t add up, and it doesn’t. He knocked Romney’s telling lack of policy specifics, which is a legitimate problem. He called out GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan for attacking Obama’s Medicare cuts after proposing the same cuts in his own budget. Like so many modern media personalities, Clinton played multiple roles: the pundit, the explainer, the fact-checker, the arbiter of what is true and false — and he did it well.

But what Clinton’s speech gained in policy substance, it lacked in a compelling governing vision. The whole speech was a masterful bit of sleight of hand: He touted his own economic record, attacked the Republicans for their hypocrisies — and then concluded that the correct response is to vote for Obama. Essentially, he tried to transfer his own economic record to the current president.

You could see that most when it came time to drive home the case for Obama. In the final stretch, he had to rely on airy defenses of the status quo: Vote Obama “if you want every American to vote and you think it is wrong to change voting procedures.” Vote Obama “if you think the president was right to open the doors of American opportunity to all those young immigrants brought here when they were young so they can serve in the military or go to college.” Vote Obama “if you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American dream is really alive and well again and where the United States maintains its leadership as a force for peace and justice and prosperity in this highly competitive world.” Vote Obama, in other words, if you want to live in Bill Clinton’s America.

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Steve Chapman on Gas Prices and Political Mythology

If there is any issue you can be sure will come up during a presidential election campaign, it's gasoline prices. The posturing by partisan leaders may look hypocritical, and it is. But it also exposes something even more important: how little the conscious decisions of our elected officials affect this issue they invest with such importance. In this area, writes Steve Chapman, they are loath to admit that they are often unimportant and sometimes completely irrelevant.

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Bill Clinton's Truthiness: "Democrats Created More Jobs"

Don't have the actual quotation, but former President Bill Clinton in his Democratic Convention speech did make a comparison between Democratic and Republican administrations over the past 56 years. The claim is that Republican administrations created 24 million jobs while Democratic ones created 44 million. I believe that is a recycled and not so accurate claim. As I noted in a citing, "Partisan Economy," published in the December 2011 issue of Reason:

In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama crowed that “when Democrats have been in charge of the economy, the economy has grown faster, and it’s also been fairer in the sense that everybody benefits.” The other team’s record, he said, was not as strong: “When the Republicans have been in charge, the economy has grown slower, and there’s been greater inequality.” 

Obama’s claim was based on research by Princeton University political scientist Larry Bartels. But according to a recent study by State University of New York at Buffalo political scientist James Campbell, it’s not true. In fact, he says, Democratic and Republican administrations correlate with roughly equal economic outcomes once you adjust for the impact of prior administrations.

Writing in the April 2011 issue of the applied politics journal The Forum, Campbell says Bartels failed to take into account the fact that Democratic presidents generally have bequeathed economies that were in or near recession to their Republican successors. If anything, Campbell suggests, Democrats’ policies may have contributed to the poor economic conditions that led to their ouster. 

“Once the lagged effects of the economy in the six months leading into a year are taken into account,” Campbell concludes, “there are no significant differences in the records of Democratic and Republican presidents with respect to economic growth, unemployment, and income inequality.”

Alas, this sorry political season brings to mind the bitter observation of British historian E.P. Thompson:

“The foulest damage to our political life comes not from the ‘secrets’ which they hide from us, but from the little bits of half-truth and disinformation which they do tell us."

I can hardly wait for November.

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Ron Paul: His Future Will Not Be Third Party, But the GOP is Not His Party Either, and He Thinks Gary Johnson is "Wonderful"

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) appeared again on the Tonight Show starring Jay Leno last night. He seemed to authoritatively put paid to the dreams of some of his fans that even at this late date he might go third party.

Paul admitted his lack of a RNC speaking slot was probably because he refused to endorse Romney, and hinted that he agreed his son Rand's speaking slot was likely a political sop to Paul's fans (and over 2 million primary and caucus voters--Paul hinted that he knows many, many more people who would not vote in a GOP primary would likely vote for him).

Paul hit Romney's "nice" speech for ignoring foreign policy and the troops, even though Paul notes that the perceived peace candidate generally tends to win national presidential elections. (Paul notes Clint Eastwood got cheers for suggesting we should bring the troops home, as Paul would have himself.)

Then Leno asked the big question: Thinking about a thrid party run?

"No, not much," said Paul, joking about resting up for a 2016 run. Then: "The system is very biased; we talk a lot about democracy, we send our troops overseas...but democracy is not all that healthy in this country because if you're a third party you don't get into debates. The truth is if I tried in last several years to do what I have done in a third party I probably wouldn't have made it to your show...."

Paul then trails off noting that some might conclude there is no real difference between the two major parties, and that not even an enormous amount of money would have propelled him to victory right now, since "we are taking on a lot of special interests, the military-industrial complex, financial interests, Keynesian economics, we made pretty good strides but still have a little ways to go" in intellectual and ideological education of the public before a candidate like him would win.

Paul also told Leno he considers Paul Ryan's deficit hawk reputation fraudulent, and that though he expected to vote this year, he would not say who for.

The Leno video:

As far as Paul's party affiliation goes, Paul told Bloomberg News last week regarding the Republican Party that it "is not my party. I do not like politics at all. I think both parties are Keynesian economists, and support positions that I do not like. So, the party, in many ways is irrelevant.”

And then, who is this mystery person Paul will vote for? There is some reason to believe, even though he has not endorsed him, that it might be Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Paul told a Fox reporter he thinks Johnson "wonderful" in this pro-Johnson campaign clip full of Paul fans talking up Johnson's qualities:

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Remember Clinton's Booming Economy? Remember His Comparatively Restrained Government, Too

Tonight, former President Bill Clinton will make the case for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention. The gist of his message will be that President Obama has gotten off to a good start cleaning up the economic mess made by Republicans during the Bush era. Clinton has the credibility to make this case mostly because during his presidency the economy was undeniably strong. As Dylan Matthews charts at The Washington Post, unemployment dropped from above 7 percent when Clinton took office to below 4 percent when he left; economic growth averaged 3.8 percent, better than the majority of presidents after World War II; core inflation held steady around 2.6 percent; income inequality increased, but so did median income. Good times were had by all.

That’s the economic picture. But presidents don’t have direct influence over those metrics; a commander in chief can’t simply push a button to increase economic growth or decrease unemployment. Presidents do, however, have influence over the government’s finances. And under Clinton’s watch, they also looked pretty good. Yes, marginal tax rates were higher. But the size of government was kept in check relative to the rest of the economy. Total federal debt levels dropped as a percentage of America’s total economic output; annual budget deficits were almost nonexistant — by far the lowest of any president in the post-war era; by the end of Clinton’s presidency, federal spending accounted for just 18.2 percent of the economy. In 2011, by contrast, federal outlays equaled 24.1 percent of the nation’s total economic product.

In order for Clinton to make a case that Barack Obama can return us to the boom times of the 1990s, he needs to make a case that Obama would return us to the comparatively restrained spending, debt, and deficit levels of the 1990s. (This is not to idealize the Clinton years. Government's growth was masked in part by the tech boom, which is why I emphasize its size relative to the rest of the economy.)

Liberals will no doubt argue that we should also return to Clinton-era marginal tax rates. But that’s not enough. As Ezra Klein shows, analyses from groups on both the left and right of the political spectrum make clear that the great majority of the $12 trillion increase in debt that’s occurred since Clinton left office come from spending — spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the build-up of defense spending, on Medicare Part D, on  economic recovery measures of dubious value, on the ever-expanding interest payments on our ever-expanding debt.

But it will be tough for Clinton to make that case. Obama has run record deficits and piled on record debt. He has shown no interest in limiting the size and scope of government, no desire for what most Americans want, which is a government that does less but does it better. Speakers at this week’s Democratic convention have barely mentioned public debt levels, while calls for greater spending — sorry, investment — have been nearly as frequent as vacant promises to move the country forward. The question, of course, is forward into what? Even greater levels of spending and debt? In his speech tonight, Clinton will ask people to recall the thriving economy that accompanied his presidency. But what people should also remember is the relatively restrained government that went along with it. 

Atlas Shrugged Part II: New Trailer Out!

Take a load off from the Democratic National Convention and check out the new trailer for the next installment of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. It's due out in theaters on October 12, 2012.

We've plugged in Reason TV's playlist above, so you can kick back and watch 18 vids related to Ayn Rand, her legacy, and meaning for today's America.

Click below for more videos and links to Rand-related materials.

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Reason Staff Live Tweets Day 2 of the 2012 Democratic Convention Now!

Here we are, tweetering away for the duration of the primetime 2012 Democratic Convention's Wednesday festivities. Click below to experience the magic.

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Forget the Democrats: The Real News Is No Junk DNA in Human Genome

Well, actually very damned little junk DNA in the human genome. Back in the 20th century as the human genome was being sequenced researchers were betting that it must take around 100,000 genes to make something as complicated as a homo sapiens. The official Genesweep bet eventually settled on around a mere 21,000. That's less than half the number it takes to make a corn plant. So most of the genome was thought to be filled up with "junk DNA" that kind of sat around cluttering up the place.

Since 2003, the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements or ENCODE project has been sifting through all those apparently useless base-pairs and it turns out that many of them are regulatory sequences that are largely devoted to telling genes what to do. From the press release:

...researchers linked more than 80 percent of the human genome sequence to a specific biological function and mapped more than 4 million regulatory regions (emphasis added) where proteins specifically interact with the DNA. These findings represent a significant advance in understanding the precise and complex controls over the expression of genetic information within a cell. The findings bring into much sharper focus the continually active genome in which proteins routinely turn genes on and off using sites that are sometimes at great distances from the genes themselves. They also identify where chemical modifications of DNA influence gene expression and where various functional forms of RNA, a form of nucleic acid related to DNA, help regulate the whole system.

“During the early debates about the Human Genome Project, researchers had predicted that only a few percent of the human genome sequence encoded proteins, the workhorses of the cell, and that the rest was junk. We now know that this conclusion was wrong,” said Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), a part of the National Institutes of Health. “ENCODE has revealed that most of the human genome is involved in the complex molecular choreography required for converting genetic information into living cells and organisms.” ...

“We were surprised that disease-linked genetic variants are not in protein-coding regions,” said Mike Pazin, Ph.D., an NHGRI program director working on ENCODE. “We expect to find that many genetic changes causing a disorder are within regulatory regions, or switches, that affect how much protein is produced or when the protein is produced, rather than affecting the structure of the protein itself.  The medical condition will occur because the gene is aberrantly turned on or turned off or abnormal amounts of the protein are made.  Far from being junk DNA, this regulatory DNA clearly makes important contributions to human health and disease.”  

Ain't science grand!?

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Floor Fights at the RNC and the DNC, A Video Comparison

CHARLOTTE—The Democrats, just like the Republicans last week, had a bit of a dust-up on the floor of their convention when they voted on actual party business. Democrats voted to amend their platform to include God and note their support for Jerusalem as Israel's capital. 

Let's get serious for a minute: The modern political convention is not about broadcasting the party's dirty laundry to the entire world. These are tightly scripted events that are all about promoting the party's candidates, particuarly the ones running for president. The national party brass wants no drama involving party activists on the floor of these conventions because it brings out their extreme elements. And if there's one thing swing voters in fly-over-counry hate, it's people with strong opinions. 

To get an idea of how the modern political party conventions are truly about nothing more than selling their candidates to the public, watch the following videos of the parties conducting "official buisness" in the hall.

Here are the Democrats acting slightly more, ahem, democratic than the Republicans.

Here are the Republicans just moving right along with their convention. Hell, they even had the outcome already displayed on the teleprompter.

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Young Voter Panel at DNC Ignores Obama's Abysmal Drug War Record

CHARLOTTE—During an Atlantic magazine sponsored discussion on the declining enthusiasm among young people for President Obama, the now infamous Harold & Kumar campaign video was shown but, as has been the case throughout the Democratic National Convention, nobody discussed the president’s drug war record. 

The crowd and panel, compromised of Kal Penn, America Ferrera, and Alfre Woodard, chuckled at the hapless stoners in the video as they laughed at their television after receiving instructions from Obama.

“There was no smoke there…the air was clean,” said moderator Chuck Todd after the clip finished.

“No, not in a political ad,” said Penn, who stars in the stoner comedies.

The crowd chuckled.

“We were just hungry because it was the morning,” continued Penn.

“Of course, Doritos and pizza,” said Todd, nodding.

The panel spent as much time talking about how to reactivate young people as activists for Obama’s reelection as it did with the problems those young people face. Penn took exception to Todd's suggestion that there is any kind of enthusasim gap in support for Obama from young people

The panel took three questions from the audience before leaving and were not available to the press at the event’s conclusion.

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One Way to Help Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil? A Recession

Here’s one way to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil: Let the economy dive into the deepest recession in decades. Remember that next time you hear a Democrat brag that, thanks to President Obama “America’s dependence on foreign oil is the lowest in two decades,” as Advanced Energy Economy Co-Founder Tom Steyer said at tonight's Democratic National Convention.

Steyer presents this factoid as part of a case for Obama, saying that at the GOP convention last week, “you didn’t hear any plans that would create jobs or a long-term plan for energy security.” 

It’s true, as Obama’s campaign has advertised, that the nation’s dependence on foreign oil is below 50 percent. But U.S. government energy figures show that it’s been declining since before Obama took office, and, as Politifact notes, the biggest drop happened in 2009 as the recession was at its worst. The economy isn’t the whole story, reports the Energy Information Administration; efficiency improvements and changes in consumer behavior also played  a role in the shift in demand. But according to the EIA, the decline does partially reflect "the downturn in the underlying economy after the financial crisis of 2008." There’s a correlation, in other words, between dependence on foreign oil and a struggling economy.

Still, expect President Obama to follow up on this line of argument when he speaks tomorrow night. Campaign aides have said that energy will be a focus of his Thursday night speech, and he’s long been obsessed with the idea of juicing the economy by subsidizing alternative energy schemes, even when his own senior economic advisers have told him those schemes aren’t likely to pay off.

Not for most of us anyway. But they might pay off for a few clever profiteers — like Tom Steyer. As he made sure to remind us, he’s not an environmentalist. He’s a businessman who has made the bet that “advanced energy is America’s future.” Which is another way of saying that he’s bet that publicly funded subsidies for unproven energy schemes are in his future.

Democrats, of course, aren’t the only ones immune to populist fantasies about dramatically reducing dependence on foreign energy. At the Republican convention last week, Mitt Romney made the utterly implausible promise to achieve North American energy independence by 2020

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DNC Chair Villaraigosa Declares Super-Majority Supports Party Platform Amendment Minutes After Failing To Actually Get Super-Majority

Although Democrats adopted a plank supporting the constitutional overturning of Citizens United for the sake of democracy, they managed to ignore their own party rules and delegate voices this afternoon when amending the party platform. DNC Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa announced the party required a two-thirds vote to amend the party platform. However, minutes after failing to reach the threshold after three separate votes, he awkwardly moved forward and declared the two-thirds threshold had been reached.

The party got itself into an earlier controversy when pundits learned the Democratic platform had changed in two significant ways from 2008. As CNN reports: 

“Democrats omitted the word "God" from their 2012 platform, a change from the party's 2008 document and a noticeable split from Republicans, who mention God ten times in their official party stance...The party also removed a 2008 reference to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a diplomatic flashpoint that Republicans decried as a slight to the Jewish state.”

As a result of the controversy, the Democratic Party aimed to amend their platform this evening, both to include a mention of God and affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

DNC Chair Villaraigosa read the two amendments to the Democratic delegates and led the vote.

Amendment 1

Page 32, Line 48: We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.

Amendment 2

Page 63, Line 26: Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

Villaraigosa announced that the matter required a two-thirds vote in the affirmative to be adopted into the platform, but was perplexed by the response.

“The matter requires a two-thirds vote in the affirmative. All those delegates in favor say ‘aye’ all those delegates opposed say ‘no.’”

Far from the two-thirds required, perhaps half the room yelled ‘aye’ while another half yelled ‘no.’ Villaraigosa didn’t notice at first and began to announce the motion carried...

“In the opinion of the-- ... let me do that again. All of those delegates in favor say ‘aye’ all those delegate opposed say ‘no.’”

Again, clearly half the room said no. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of the convention, Villaraigosa awkwardly smiled, and paused for what seemed like too long.

“um...I guess...I’ll do that one more time. All those delegates in favor say ‘aye’ all those delegates opposed say ‘no.’”

Again, the vote fell short of two-thirds, but this time a party leader came up to Villaraigosa to encourage him and he then announced:

“In the opinion of the chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative; the motion is adopted, and the platform has been amended as shown on the screen.”

It’s ironic that a party which professes such fervent dedication to democracy blatantly ignored considerable dissent within its own ranks, even on national television. 

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Sheldon Richman on Why Medicare Is Doomed

When Democrats accuse Republicans of wanting to “end Medicare as we know it,” they are right. But Democrats do too. As Sheldon Richman explains, “Medicare as we know it” is no longer an option. The program has tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities. It threatens working generations with a crushing tax burden. Because of the relative size of the Baby Boom generation, soon there will be only two workers to pay each retiree’s medical bills. Younger people might have other plans for their money. So something’s got to give, Richman writes, no matter which party is in power.

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Solyndra In the House at DNC

"I just want to help protect the president from anything that could result in negative or unfair press. If it's too late to change/postpone the meeting, the president should be careful about unrealistic/optimistic forecasts that could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall, files for bankruptcy."

You'd think President Obama would want to stay close to the supporter who wrote that wise but, alas, discarded warning. And you'd be right. Steve Westly, the California venture capitalist and sometime politician who wrote the above advice [pdf] to senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett on May 24, 2010, will be speaking shortly at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

And he's not the only player in the sad story of Solyndra LLC, a failed Fremont, California-based maker of tubular solar panels, who has been making the rounds at the DNC. Yesterday, Solyndra champion Steve "How [expletive] hard is this?" Spinner escaped through a guarded side door rather than face any questions about his involvement with the Department of Energy's half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to Solyndra. 

Spinner, a major Obama fundraiser and adviser to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, was called on by then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel in 2009 to put together a defense of Solyndra. His wife was a partner in Solyndra's law firm. In an August 28, 2009 email, Spinner urged a Department of Energy staffer to expedite an approval for the company from an Office of Management and Budget official. "What is he waiting for?" Spinner wrote. "Will we have it by the end of the day?"

In 2011, after high-level Obama officials had rearranged the terms of Solyndra's loan, the company went out of business, taking all of the taxpayers' investment with it. "It did turn out to be a bad decision," Michael Grunwald concedes in The New New Deal, his defense of the ARRA stimulus (and specifically of its green energy subsidies package), which I reviewed earlier today

After his Energy Department gig, Spinner ended up briefly at the Center for American Progress, but he moved on soon after Solyndra became a news thing instead of a subsidized clean energy thing. He still seems to be earning for the Democrats, however, and this week he has attended events for the National Finance Committee, a dream team of the Obama campaign's top donors. His badge that identifies Spinner as a "Finance Guest." (Those badges are gold.) 

Yesterday, during Brian Ross' hunt for quotes from big Obama donors, the ABC newsman tried to buttonhole Spinner, but the well-connected bundler was too quick on his feet.

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Tim Cavanaugh on The New New Deal’s Lame Defense of Obama and the Stimulus

The grand subject of Michael Grunwald’s book The New New Deal is Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Unfortunately, writes Tim Cavanaugh, Grunwald goes on for nearly half a thousand frequently repetitive pages of text, all explicating a convoluted set of theories. While the impulse to go beyond soundbites and catchphrases is admirable in some circumstances, the book's essential premise—that the stimulus will be viewed as a success in the long term—is too simple and the arguments in support of that premise are too rambling. In the end, Cavanaugh reports, Grunwald’s defense of the stimulus is a failure.

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Obama Takes His Speech Indoors, Clint Made an Impression, Even the Dead Are Represented in Nicaragua: P.M. Links

  • With rough weather in the forecast, President Obama's Thursday speech accepting the Democratic nomination will be moved from a 74,000-seat outdoor football stadium to a 20,000-seat arena. And if you turn off the sound, you should be ble to enjoy tonight's DNC appearances by Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Kerry Washington.
  • Clint Eastwood's conversation with an Obama stand-in chair is rated as the highlight of the Republican convention by those polled after the fact.
  • Former Senator Chris Dodd is in town for the Democratic convention — as a lobbyist for the MPAA. Hey Chris, I hear you can kill some time on Pirate Bay ...
  • The government of Honduras authorized the construction of three privately run cities that will operate with their own tax and legal systems. This could be interesting ...
  • The European Central Bank's latest scheme for solving the euro crisis is to buy unlimited quantities of government debt. All of Europe seems on-board with the plan, with the exception of Germany's Bundesbank, Gee ... I wonder why.
  • Nicaragua's Sandinistas must be having trouble attracting supporters for three puppet parties "competing" in the election; it turns out that many of the parties' candidates have been recruited from cemeteries.
  • When 40-year-old Diego Lerma suffered a seizure at a department store, last year, Nogales, Arizona police promptly responded — by tasering him. Yes, he's suing.
  • Last week, the sun shot a — in technical terms — humongous solar flare into space.

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

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Remember Back When Democrats Criticized Republicans for Exploding the National Debt?

CHARLOTTE–Democrats so far this year aren't talking much at their national convention about the country's $16 trillion debt, its ongoing 40 percent-plus budget deficit, nor its unsustainable trajectory on entitlements. But that's in sharp contrast to their 2008 convention, when fiscal recklessness was one of the most popular charges thrown at Republican nominee John McCain and then-president George W. Bush. A sampling of what Democratic rhetoric looked like back when Team Red held power:

Democratic Party Platform:

In this time of economic transformation and crisis, we must be stewards of this economy more than ever before. We will maintain fiscal responsibility, so that we do not mortgage our children's future on a mountain of debt. [..]

Our agenda is ambitious–particularly in light of the current Administration's policies that have run up the national debt to over $4 trillion. Just as America cannot afford to continue to run up huge deficits, so too can we not afford to short-change investments. The key is to make the tough choices, in particular enforcing pay-as-you-go budgeting rules. We will honor these rules by our plan to end the Iraq war responsibly, eliminate waste in existing government programs, generate revenue by charging polluters for the greenhouse gases they are releasing, and put an end to the reckless, special interest driven corporate loopholes and tax cuts for the wealthy that have been the centerpiece of the Bush Administration's economic policy.

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What Kathleen Sebelius Gets Wrong About the Romney/Ryan Medicare Plan: Almost Everything

You might expect the administration’s top health official to be able to launch an accurate attack on her opponent’s health care plans. But in a short speech at last night’s Democratic National Convention, Obama administration Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attacked the Medicare reforms put forth by President Obama’s GOP — and managed to get just about everything wrong.

Here’s the key paragraph from her speech

What's missing from the Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare is Medicare. Instead of the Medicare guarantee, Republicans would give seniors a voucher that limits what is covered, costing seniors as much as $6,400 more a year. President Obama extended the program's life by eight years while improving seniors' benefits, and strengthened the Medicare guarantee. (The president agrees with you: no vouchers!) 

Let’s take these lines one at a time.

“What's missing from the Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare is Medicare.”

This is wrong, or, at the very least, extremely misleading. Romney’s Medicare reform is frustratingly opaque on many of its specifics. But one thing he’s made clear is that it would leave a traditional, government-run Medicare fee-for-service option in place. The most recent version of Ryan’s plan, which was cosponsored by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, would also leave a government-run, fee-for-service Medicare option in place. 

“Instead of the Medicare guarantee, Republicans would give seniors a voucher that limits what is covered, costing seniors as much as $6,400 more a year.”

Also wrong. As The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff points out, that figure, touted by numerous Democrats last night, is based on an independent estimate of an older version of the Ryan plan that didn’t retain fee-for-service Medicare as an option. It’s not based on the current incarnation of the Ryan plan, and it’s certainly not based on anything that the Romney campaign has proposed. (Indeed, Romney's plan is evasive enough that it would probably be difficult to make similar estimates reliably.)

“President Obama extended the program's life by eight years while improving seniors' benefits, and strengthened the Medicare guarantee.”

Sebelius has made this claim several times before. But it’s dubious at best. As both the Congressional Budget Office and Medicare’s own chief actuary, Richard Foster, have explained, the only way that ObamaCare’s Medicare payment reductions will extend the life of the trust fund is if the savings produced by those reductions are not used to pay for new insurance subsidies. To say otherwise would be double counting. Yet the administration claims that the law both funds new insurance subsidies and improves the trust fund. As Foster has explained, that essentially amounts to a claim that the administration plans to spend dollars twice

As a side note, it’s also interesting that Sebelius chose to say that the administration “extended the program’s life by eight years,” which suggests that the program is headed for death by 2024, when the Trust Fund is currently projected to expire. If the life of Medicare is truly set to end in 2024, shouldn’t that be a pretty big deal? Regardless, a program with that short a lease on life doesn’t sound like it provides much of a “guarantee.” 

“The president agrees with you: no vouchers!”

Conveniently, so does the Romney-Ryan campaign.

Neither Ryan-Wyden nor the Romney campaign would overhaul Medicare via a voucher system, which would give seniors a fixed voucher to offset health insurance costs. Instead, both the Ryan-Wyden plan and the Romney campaign are proposing premium support systems that use competitive bidding to help set payment levels equal to the second least-expensive plan that above a government-defined floor for coverage. Those payments are made directly to insurers who operate through regulated exchanges — much like both ObamaCare and RomneyCare. There are similarities between vouchers and premium support systems, in other words, but crucial differences as well.  

But maybe it's not so surprising that Sebelius would mix up vouchers and premium support. She’s been confused about the difference before. Asked to explain the difference between the two in a congressional hearing last year, she declined to go into much detail, saying she’s “not as familiar” with premium support systems. Apparently not. 

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Why Excluding Third-Party Candidates From Polling is Stupid

In Colorado, says Public Policy Polling, the presidential race has tightened a bit. From a 49-43 margin in Barack Obama's favor, the race has become a 49-46 contest, with Mitt Romney gaining a little ground. But when Libertarian Gary Johnson is thrown in the mix, he polls at five percent, and turns the race into a 46-44 contest — nominally still in Obama's favor, but that's fuzzy in a poll that has a +/- 3.1 percent margin of error.

The polling firm phrases Johnson's inclusion a little oddly, saying, "We also tested an iteration of the race in Colorado including Libertarian Gary Johnson." But that's not a test — that's reality. A purely Obama vs. Romney contest is the hypothetical in most states, since Johnson is currently guaranteed a presence in 43 states, Green Party candidate Jill Stein is on the ballot in 33 states plus D.C. and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode is on the ballot in 21 states. In some of those states, the margin betwen the two leading candidates is too wide to be affected by a percent or two here and there for a minor candidate, but this race promises to be a squeaker in a good many locales.

As a former Virginia congressman, Virgil Goode is being discussed as a complicating factor in that state, with the Washington Post pointing out that "[j]ust 2 or 3 percent of the vote going to Goode could be enough to swing the contest." Johnson obviously plays a role in Colorado, and also in his home state of New Mexico, where two terms as a popular governor have him consistently polling in the double digits (though less as election day approaches) — and also pulling more from Obama than from Romney there. (Stein doesn't yet appear to affect the outcome in a tightly contested state, though she is polling at three percent in the Obama stronghold of Massachusetts.)

The latest national Zogby poll shows a dead heat — unless you include Johnson. Writes Keith Koffler:

In a survey of 798 likely voters conducted August 31 through September 3, Zogby found that if Johnson’s name was not mentioned, Obama and Romney were basically tied, with Obama receiving 43.8 percent of the vote, Romney getting 43.5 percent, and 12.7 percent undecided.

But throw Johnson’s name in and the numbers shift toward Obama is a way that could swing what is expected to be one of the closest elections ever.

Obama now gets 42.7 percent of the vote compared to 41 percent for Romney, with 4.3 percent backing Johnson and 12 percent unsure.

True, as all too many journalists and pollsters keep telling us in their self-fulfilling way, none of the third-party candidates are poised to seriously contest the presidency this year. But they are in a position to change the way some states fall in the allocation of their electoral votes. That's going to be easy to miss for polling firms who pretend there are only two horses in the race.

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Teen Entrepreneur Launches Mobile Shower Biz for Dakota Oil Workers, Isn't Shut Down

Evan Jensen, 18, and his brother Justin were looking for work in the oil fields of western North Dakota after high school graduation. 

The boom of temporary workers had attracted food carts and other mobile businesses, but the closest shower was a truck stop 60 miles away. The boys were sleeping in a pickup truck and getting pretty rank, by their own account. They didn't find employment in the oil fields, but Evan Jensen headed home with a big idea: mobile showers for filthy oil workers.

He pitched the idea to his parents back at their farm near Lake Preston in eastern South Dakota. His father and other relatives helped him convert a 53-foot semitrailer into a five-stall shower center with an office and laundry facilities.

A 6,000-gallon semi tanker alongside the trailer provides fresh water and collects the greywater.

Jensen paid for the renovation with $15,000 he earned in the past two years trapping muskrats, whose fur is sent to China to be fashioned into coats, slippers and earmuffs. Each pelt fetches about $10.

"That's a pile of muskrats," Jenson said after the construction was done.

Evan headed back to the oil fields in June and started hawking $10 showers to the grimy workers. Soap is included, washcloths are extra. Jensen says he made "several thousand dollars" this summer and recently put up a Craigslist ad offering to sell the business. This fall, he begins school at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota, and he's hoping the $95,000 asking price will cover his tuition.

But the guitar player may not be done with entrepreneurship:

"I brainstorm and think of what's in demand here," Jensen said. "I've got a bunch of ideas. All it takes is guts, really."

Evan Jensen's success story is pretty much the opposite of the sad story of 13-year-old Nathan Duszynski, who wanted to open a hot dog stand to help out his disabled parents. Nathan saved up to buy his hot dog cart—$1,200 in mowed lawns and shoveled snow funded his venture. His parents tried to help him get started, too, taking him to City Hall in Holland, Michigan, to check on the need for permits and licenses.

But 10 minutes after he started setting up on opening day, the city shut him down. Food carts were forbidden in the downtown business district, the mayor explained, because eight nearby restaurants paid extra taxes and were "reluctant to allow mobile vendors into the downtown area."  

While the squabble with the city dragged on, Nathan and his mother moved into a shelter. Nathan sold his business, but it was merely an effort to limit his losses, not the opening of an exciting new chapter in his life. Finally, he got a special exception to re-open—the person who bought his cart loaned it back to him for free—but his story ends on a much less optimistic note.

"For then to tell me what to do with my food, my hot dog cart, and my business—I don't think it's right."

The difference between these two boys' stories is government (or the lack thereof): the benign neglect of the authorities in western North Dakota and the lack of existing bricks-and-mortar businesses to gum up the works helped Evan Jensen's entrepreneurial shower venture become an exciting success, while the opposite doomed Nathan Duszynski's hot dog stand to failure.

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Democrats on Drugs: Fair but Tough!

The Republicans' 2012 platform lumps "repeat drug dealers" in with robbers, rapists, child molesters, and murderers as offenders who deserve "mandatory minimum sentencing." In the platform they unveiled this week, by contrast, the Democrats brag about "reducing racial disparities in sentencing for drug crimes" by passing the Fair Sentencing Act. That law, which shrank (but did not eliminate) the arbitrary sentencing gap between crack and cocaine powder, is the most significant drug policy reform we have seen at the federal level during the Obama administration. While the president deserves credit for supporting it, by the time he was elected crack sentencing reform had become a bipartisan issue. The Fair Sentencing Act was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate and by a voice vote in the House. Only one member of Congress—House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas)—spoke against it. In other words, Obama did not take much of a political risk by supporting this bill. More telling: With a single exception, Obama so far has been unwilling to use his unilateral, unreviewable clemency powers to shorten the draconian drug sentences he used to condemn.

Lest the suggestion that penalties can be too severe make them look soft on drugs, the Democrats also tout "increased funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program over the last four years." As New York Times columnist Charles Blow noted in 2010, this program, created at the end of the Reagan administration, "has become the pet project of Democrats" because it's "an easy and relatively cheap way for them to buy a tough-on-crime badge while simultaneously pleasing police unions." Obama is a longtime booster of the program, which has fueled the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders and funded the regional task forces behind racially tinged law enforcement scandals in places such as Tulia, Texas. In 2006 Obama, then an Illinois senator, warned that President Bush’s attempt to eliminate the Byrne grants (which Obama revived with a $2 billion infusion as part of his 2009 stimulus package) "gives criminals and drug dealers a break by taking cops off the streets." That was just two years after Obama, while running for the Senate, called the war on drugs “an utter failure." 

In the October 2011 issue of Reason, I explained how Obama has disappointed supporters who hoped he would de-escalate the drug war, especially in connection with medical marijuana, where he has delivered an intensified crackdown instead of the tolerance he promised.

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The Democrats Retreat on Civil Liberties

Here's Adam Serwer of Mother Jones comparing the 2012 Democratic platform to its 2008 precursor on the subjects of indefinite detention, warantless surveillance, the PATRIOT Act, Gitmo, torture, and the use of racial profiling in the War on Terror. The new document is, shall we say, a bit less fiery than its predecessor. Serwer's story is a useful summary, and it's good to see the Dems' retreat highlighted in a left-wing venue.

Video: Immigrant Protestors Arrested at the DNC, Feat. Rosario Dawson

"Immigrant Protestors Arrested at the DNC, Feat. Rosario Dawson" is the latest offering from Reason TV's coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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Dems Manhandle ABC News Crew, AFSCME Chief Beats Up Chair as Laborgeddon Begins

ABC News correspondent Brian Ross got threatened with arrest in Charlotte yesterday, and an ABC camera crew got slapped down by an important Obama fundraiser. Meanwhile, a government employee union president lost his marbles and assaulted an empty chair.

And despite costly efforts to bus in activists, labor rallies have been notably small around the Democratic National Convention.

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones says labor has been shafted by the DNC's organizers, while the Los Angeles Times' Alana Semuels says unions have been reduced to trying to make nice with their Democratic patrons in the right-to-work state of North Carolina. 

This year's DNC is as clear a picture as we're likely to get of the death throes of organized labor in the United States. Last year's rumble in Wisconsin ended in a complete route for government employee unions. Small but telling votes in California's off-season elections also demonstrated the public's desire to roll back union power in the only sector of the economy where it's still growing: government employment.

Here's the video of Ross and his crew getting the kibosh from Rajiv Fernando, an Obama bundler whose lack of credentials Ross highlighted a while back when Fernando was serving on something called the International Security Advisory Board. Fernando is not a labor figure, but he's an old Chicago hand comfortable with union-style use of force in exchanging ideas. To get a sense of the contrast, stick around after the DNC video ends to see Ross doing the same thing with big Romney donors last week. They're no more cooperative but a damn sight more peaceful. Ross has been chasing around plenty of labor figures at the DNC as well. 

Meanwhile, Lee Saunders, who was recently elected president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), did what any good speaker does when the audience starts to tune out: He got violent.

Descriptions of Saunders' antics differ, but all sources seem to agree he went ape on an empty chair. From JD Journal

The public worker’s union AFSCME’s newly elected president, Lee Saunders, led the event with some risqué humor, addressing an empty chair as if it were Clint Eastwood — an allusion to Eastwood addressing an empty chair as if it were Obama — and then grew irate and violent with the chair.

“He’s been sitting here listening to all the speaker before me, he’s been listening to me, I want you to give Clint Eastwood a round of applause,” said Saunders. “I brought him with me to learn some things, OK? To teach him, to educate him.”

After interrogating the chair, he said, “He doesn’t have anything to say.”

“Mitt Romney doesn’t have anything to say, Paul Ryan doesn’t have anything to say.”

Things took a dark turn when he then kicked and threw the chair, yelling “Dirty Harry, make my day! We’re gonna kick ass in November!” The crowd nevertheless, cheered him on.

The Washington Post's Kathleen Parker says it was meant to be a joke

“I’ve got a couple of questions . . . I want to ask Clint Eastwood. But first, buddy, what do you have to say for yourself? I didn’t hear you. . . . Clint’s been sitting here for the past hour. He doesn’t have anything to say for himself. Mitt Romney has nothing to say for himself. Paul Ryan has nothing to say for himself. We’ve got to make our voices heard. . . . If we do that, we will win in November. So I say to you, Dirty Harry: ‘Dirty Harry, make my day!’ ”

Whereupon Saunders knocked the empty chair off the stage. The ensuing thud was commentary. As they say, it isn’t so much the joke; it’s how you tell it.

And BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray conveys even more menace

Suddenly, the tone changed: Saunders, finishing his speech, began to kick the chair, threw it, and yelled "Dirty Harry, make my day! We're gonna kick ass in November!"

The crowd was cheering, and the humor had gained a palpable edge.

I can't find a video of Saunders' performance, but this sounds like the frustration of a man rendered impotent by events: 


JD Journal sheds more light on the particulars of union leaders' frustration: 

Perhaps not all the aggression was inspired by Eastwood, however. After all, Democrats stuck them out in the middle of North Carolina, a state that has right-to-work laws and therefore a weak union presence

“Charlotte wouldn’t have been our choice as a city,” Saunders said. “It’s in the right to work state, it’s tough to organize down here for private and public sector unions.

I lived in California too long to believe the Great Divorce between unions and their Democratic patrons is imminent, but clearly something has shifted. Even the selection of L.A.'s unimpressive Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the convention's chairman is not a straightforward win for government employees. (Except in the sense that Antonio Ramón Villar, Jr. is of course a government employee.) Although he organized mobs for United Teachers Los Angeles way back when, Villaraigosa has steered a course away from his old comrades while serving as mayor, at one point trying to manage a tranche of schools directly without union work rules, at other times encouraging charter schools, and finally denouncing the teachers union during one of his failed effort to become a statewide power. 

We're in the twelfth year of the 21st century, and this union shrinkage is long overdue. But don't expect labor honchos to go gently. They never have before. Also public safety unions are in most states the most powerful labor organizations. (Even in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker let discretion have the better part of valor when it was time to confront cops and firefighters.) So it's only a slight exaggeration to say they have all the guns. 

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After Starring In an Insulting Campaign Video, Kal Penn Lies About Obama's Pot Record

Actor Kal Penn and President Barack Obama were both raked over the coals yesterday for their collaboration on a campaign video teasing Penn's upcoming appearance at the Democratic National Convention. In that video, Penn reprised his role as Kumar from the Harold and Kumar movies, and takes a phone call from Obama while stoned, watching cartoons, and eating junkfood. The subtle implication is that marijuana users are easily swayed, lazy idiots. 

Reason, the Marijuana Policy Project, LEAP, and several others criticized Penn and Obama for the video, as Obama has utterly failed to live up to his promise to deprioritze federal prosections of medical marijuana.

In an interview with Chris Moody of Yahoo! News, Penn said

"I think that the president's been pretty consistent with that. He's not in favor of legalization, we should be open about something like that. But what the president has done is take a really smart look at the Department of Justice and said, given the fact that the federal government has limited resources, we should be allocating them toward violent criminals and not towards non-violent criminals. We can see that not just in things like marijuana but in things like immigration reform where he's going after and deporting violent criminals and making sure that if you're a Dream Act eligible student that you know that you can apply for your deferred status. Wherever the federal government has an appropriate role, I think the president's been very consistent in that. That's something that I think folks should know." 

Penn is very, very wrong about Obama "allocating" Department of Justice resources toward "violent criminals." Here's Jacob Sullum on the frequency of DEA raids in the beginning of Obama's presidency

Americans for Safe Access counts at least 41 raids on growers or dispensaries between Obama’s inauguration and the Ogden memo, almost five a month on average. As of late May, there had been at least 106 raids since the Ogden memo, nearly six a month. In fact, medical marijuana raids have been more frequent under Obama than under Bush, when there were about 200 over eight years.

In October of 2011, CBS reported that the Obama administration had given every medical marijuana dispensary in California 45 days to close, "or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property even if they are operating legally under the state’s 15-year-old medical marijuana law." 

Alas, it appears Penn only said the above because he was told to. When asked by Moody if federal marijuana laws were "appropriate," Penn said, "I'm not a marijuana expert. That's a weird question."

Not an expert, but definitely a stooge. 

Here's the video: 

John Stossel on What He Would Ask of Romney and Obama

The Republicans did some good things in Tampa, like showing two debt clocks and allowing speakers like Ted Cruz to say, “Rights are secure only when government power is restrained.” But then Mitt Romney spoke. He said nothing of significance. The Dems are worse. What do they stand for? They say they believe in a progressive, liberal society, but to them that means a giant government that pretends to solve problems, causes new ones, and then spends even more to appear to solve those problems.

Here's what John Stossel would have Obama and Romney do. 

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