Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 September 8-31

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Watch Me Debate Super PACs With Stephen Colbert's Lawyer and George Soros' Son

Last Wednesday I participated in an Intelligence Squared debate about super PACs and campaign finance regulation. Although we did not exactly settle the issue, the level of conversation was far above what you typically see on TV or hear on the radio, especially when it comes to this topic, which tends to elicit a lot of passionate but ill-informed argument. In case you are interested in the subject but did not show up at the Kaufman Center in Manhattan or catch The Wall Street Journal's live stream, here is the unedited video:

 

My favorite tweet about the debate: "@jacobsullum is dressed in shades of yellow. Much different than the other debaters… What does that project?" My colorful personality, I hope, rather than cowardice.

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Peter Schiff: How Can Reinflating Real Estate Prices Be All You've Got?

The Federal Reserve Bank "has checked into the Roach Motel of monetary policy," says Peter Schiff in a new rant about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's latest harebrained scheme. 

Variously called Operation Twist, Quantitative Easing 3, and (by Schiff) Operation Screw, the new Fed plan to buy $40 billion worth of high-risk debt at low interest rates each month until morale improves is, Schiff says, the kind of thing that should make Bernanke a figure of fun for all Americans. 

"How can reinflating a housing bubble be all that you've got?" asks the investment broker and doomsaying financial commentator. "I mean how long did it take you to come up with this idea? How many brains at the Federal Reserve? Apparently there was only one guy that dissented. It was almost unamimous. Can you imagine everybody at the Fed sitting around this big table. 'How do we revive the economy? What's the plan?' And somebody comes up with, 'Let's create a housing bubble, so we can create a bunch of wealth, and people will go out and spend it, and we can get people to speculate on real estate prices because they're going up, and all this is gonna create jobs in the housing sector, it will cause more home building, more home remodeling, we'll be able to consume more.' Somebody came up with that, and then somebody else said 'Great idea!' Didn't they see that movie? Don't they know how it ends?"

Because I make fun of alarmist and apocalyptic language whe it is used by Keynesian interventionists, it's fair to point out that Schiff calls the QE3 decision "a day that will live in infamy," announcing that the Fed has "sealed its fate"  and put "the final nail in U.S. dollar and the entire American economy." I keep my deep longing for the apocalypse in check by remembering that central planners can hurt but not really control an American population that has been getting broker every year since 2007

But monetary expansion, whether it's done through QE, the fed funds rate or a handcranked printing press, was achieving one of Bernanke's goal's even before Thursday's announcement: It's making personal wealth formation impossible again. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis' latest monthly Personal Income and Outlays report [pdf] "Personal saving — disposable personal income less personal outlays — was $506.3 billion in July, compared with $516.2 billion in June. The personal saving rate — personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income — was 4.2 percent in July, compared with 4.3 percent in June."

Here's Schiff: 

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Obama Administration Argues That Blocking the NDAA's Indefinite Detainment Provision Will Harm the U.S.

When it comes to national security and steps towards a less dystopian United States, there was about five minutes of good news Wednesday when Federal Judge Katherine Forrest permanently blocked section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which — arguably, but it definitely doesn't not — allows for indefinite military detainment of American citizens connected to terrorism, even those captured on U.S. soil. 

Sadly less than 24 hours after Forrest blocked section 1021, the Obama administration appealed the decision. They are continuing the argument that the NDAA is simply redundant with powers already granted in the 2001 Authorization for Military Force Act. Forrest disagrees, and maintains that her ruling would not conflict with those powers, but that the NDAA unconstitutionally expands the category of people who can be legally detained. 

Under Judge Forrest's oddly unreported ruling, which came after her May temporary injunction in response to a lawsuit filed by seven civil liberties activists, the NDAA was dubbed to be a violation of the Fifth Amendment's right to due process, as well as having a distinct chilling effect on First Amendment rights. The latter argument was underlined by the fact that one of the plaintiffs, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges has interviewed members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda nearly a score of times. This made the NDAA's vague threat that someone who can be detained by the military is an individual "who was a part of or substantially supported Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces" seem more serious, and led to Forrest ruling that the plaintiffs indeed had standing to challenge NDAA.

The real threat of the NDAA, if not in practice for now, then definitely in precedent, was further strengthened by the fact that the government repeatedly refused to address Forrest's concerns and confirm that the NDAA can or cannot be used against journalists like Hedges. Hedges was joined in his lawsuit by rabble-rousers Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and other opponents of excessive government security state madness.

Today, under the shadow of massive riots throughout the Middle East, mostly directed toward America and its allies' embassies, the Obama administration would like to remind us all that the power to indefinitely detain people is vital to national security,

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Get Ready for Stories About How Cutting $1.2 Trillion in Future Spending is Responsible for Today's Government Failures

Now that the White House has released its massive sequestration report detailing the $1.2 trillion in possible cuts to future spending over the next 10 years, expect to read more headlines like the following from Buzzfeed:

Mandatory Defense Cuts Would Slash Funding To Security At Embassies, Report Says

You got that implication, kemo sabe?

Possible future trims in spending have something to do with what's going in the Middle East right now. Not that embassies are under attack now because of American foreign policy or world events or rotten security or whatever. Or that we can't defend our citizens and diplomatic corps right now despite record-high levels of spending on defense and military operations for most of the 21st century.

No, the real bad news is coming if and when the United States stops its 12-year long spending spree that has all but killed any chance of recovery and piled on the debt like Dagwood Bumstead loading cold cuts onto a sandwich roll.

Here's Buzzfeed's description of sequestration, or the automatic cuts that will kick in on January 1, 2013, if lawmakers can't get their act together to slice virtually nothing from the next 10 years' worth of anticipated spending:

Sequestration, which is scheduled to take effect at the end of the year and would cut roughly $1.2 trillion in spending, was approved by default after a Congressional "super committee" failed to reach an agreement to cut spending and reduce the federal deficit. Nondefense discretionary spending, which includes embassy security, will be cut by 8.2 percent, according to a senior administration official.

Politico quotes from the report thus:

“No amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts. Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument. It is not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction,” the Office of Management and Budget wrote. “”The report leaves no question that the sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions.”

This much is true: The planned cuts are across- the-board to particular programs including everything from defense to Medicare to education to you name it (that was the point, to share the costs).

And this much is complete bullshit: "sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions."

In fact, the cuts for 2013 amount to maybe a whopping $120 billion in an annual budget that is likely to run about $3.8 trillion. Out of the $120 billion, about $50 billion will come out of military budget that will be well north of $650 billion, including war funding.

Let's leave aside the mad rush by every part of the government to link its current failures to a future spending cut and instead point out the obvious: Sequestration in no way threatens any basic governmental function. Period.

Federal spending has ballooned since George W. Bush first darkened the door at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and was then succeeded by Barack Obama, who continues to max out the credit cards (both had the help of Congress). Over the next decade, the GOP's budget envisions spending around $40 trillion (in current dollars) and the president estimates spending around $48 trillion (in current dollars).

To pretend that shaving $1.2 trillion off either those totals means any government program anywhere is going to go begging is the biggest con in a long, long time. If we can't cut spending - or even hold it steady for a few years in a row, fer chrissakes - shouldn't we just give up now?

We are broke as a nation, having for way too long spent beyond our means. But we are not yet broke when it comes to basic common sense. I hope, anyway.

Related: How to balance the budget in ten years without raising taxes. Seriously.

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Was the Assassination of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya a Second 9/11?

A report in The Independent relying partially on anonymous sources suggests the United States had warnings about the Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the assault on the embassy in Cairo:

According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted.

The Independent paints a crisis as a result of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, reporting sensitive documents going missing, including lists of Libyans working with the U.S. and some related to oil contracts. None of the safe houses around the country are considered safe anymore. A link to Al-Qaeda is suspected:

Senior officials are increasingly convinced, however, that the ferocious nature of the Benghazi attack, in which rocket-propelled grenades were used, indicated it was not the result of spontaneous anger due to the video, called Innocence of Muslims. Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary at the State Department, said he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.

There is growing belief that the attack was in revenge for the killing in a drone strike in Pakistan of Mohammed Hassan Qaed, an al-Qa'ida operative who was, as his nom-de-guerre Abu Yahya al-Libi suggests, from Libya, and timed for the anniversary of the 11 September attacks.

Senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: "I am asking my colleagues on the committee to immediately investigate what role al-Qa'ida or its affiliates may have played in the attack and to take appropriate action."

And indeed, the brother of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri claimed credit for coordinating the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Tuesday. Demonstrations at and around the embassy continued for a third day, and were joined by protests, many violent, from Tunisia to Bangladesh. Islamists stormed the German embassy in Sudan, whose capital saw thousands of demonstrators. Three were killed trying to assault the U.S. embassy there. White House press secretary Jay Carney insists the “volatile situation” in the region is due to the anti-Islamic film, apparently being investigated by the FBI, and possibly produced by a former government informant. The protests could not be construed as against “the United States write large or United States policy.”

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Protests, Protests, Protests, Protests, Protests and Dancing: P.M. Links

  • The FBI is probing a set where parts of the Innocence of Muslims movie was filmed and has asked the set owner not to speak to the press about what he knows of the people behind the filming.
  • So far six have been killed at anti-American protests in Tunisia, Cairo, Sudan, and Lebanon.
  • Libyan Islamists are targeting U.S. reconnaissance drones with anti-aircraft weapons.
  • At a U.S. consulate in India, 86 protesters were arrested after smashing windows and trying to scale the compound’s walls.
  • In Maldives, where there were reportedly anti-American protests today as well, the government has banned dancing in public in a campaign to strengthen “Islamic values.”
  • The body of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens is being returned home and President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in attendance.
  • Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted he might strike Iran without America’s help. We’re a bit occupied right now, you know?

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

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Updated: Three American Universities Receive Bomb Threats Amid Escalating Violence at U.S. Embassies

So far today there have been two bomb threats at American universities. The first threat came via a phone call to officials at the University of Texas-Austin from someone claiming to be linked to Al Qaeda. The caller claimed that bombs had been placed all across the campus. All buildings were evacuated. The caller indicated that the bombs were set to go off at around 10am. At around 11:40am university officials reported that no bombs had been found. The identity of the caller remains unknown.

Another threat was issued to North Dakota State University. A website alert required all staff and students to evacuate university buildings after a bomb threat was received. The nature of the threat to NDSU remains unclear and so far no connection between the two threats has been confirmed.

The threats come on a day of increased tension for U.S. diplomatic missions around the world.  As well as attacks in Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, there have also been clashes in India and demonstrations in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The German embassy in Sudan has also been attacked.

Updates to follow:

  • 1:40pm: UT Austin buidlings can be entered at noon according to the univeristy's twitter page, classes are cancelled.
  • 1:51pm: The body of Ambassador Stevens is being brought home. 
  • 1:52pm: Three have been killed at the American embassy in Tunisia.
  • 1:55pm: North Dakota State University will reopen campus
  • 1:58pm: Deaths are being reported in Sudan and Lebanon
  • 2:03pm: A threat has been recevied at Valparaiso University
  • 2:11pm: Protests have started outside the U.S. embassy in London
  • 2:29pm: The BBC is reporting that protests have begun in the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
  • 2:47pm: An anti-American march in Bangladesh has been stopped before it reached the U.S. embassy. 
  • 3:36pm: A sniffer dog has found traces of explosives inside the car of a man calling himself a teorrist who walked inside a federal building in Kansas City, MO. 
  • 4:20pm: A peacekeeping force, part of the Multinational Force and Observers (which includes a U.S. contingent), has been attacked in the Sinai peninsula. Colombian nationals are among the wounded. 
  • 5:08pm: U.S. demands Arab Srping nations protect American embassies. 
  • 5:20pm: Protesters have torched a KFC in Lebanon
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You Know a Deportation Order Is Unjust When a Republican Congressman Sticks His Neck Out to Try and Stop It

If Immigration and Customs Enforcement pushes ahead with the deportation of Lundy Khoy, it'll be doing so despite the opposition of Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Northern Virginia. In a letter to ICE, Wolf wrote, "As you know, I don't often intervene in requesting a stay, however the compelling nature of this case is one in which I believe should be reviewed by ICE."

Khoy, 31, was brought to the U.S. as an infant by parents fleeing ethnic cleansing in Cambodia. Save for the 12 months she spent in a refugee camp in Thailand, Khoy has lived in the U.S. her entire life, and considers herself an American. 

Nevertheless, ICE plans to deport Khoy to Cambodia--which she's never even visited--for a drug conviction dating back to 2000, her freshman year of college. From Reason's story:

Khoy served three months and was released for good behavior. She moved back in with her parents, got a job, and enrolled in community college. "I began to accept, forgive, and believe in myself," writes Khoy, who is now 31. She also completed four years of supervised probation without missing appointments or failing drug tests.

In the spring of 2004, Lundy arrived at a regularly scheduled probation appointment to show off her college report card. When she stepped inside the office, she was greeted by her probation officer--and a slew of agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. They "instructed me to hand over my possessions and stand spread eagle against the wall," Khoy says. "As my probation officer silently apologized, they escorted me out of the office, handcuffed me and eventually took me to Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia."

What happened next would not have happened if Khoy had been born in the United States. But because Khoy is not an American citizen, she was held at Hampton Roads--without a trial--for nine months, while the United States attempted to deport her to Cambodia.

In a Kafkaesque twist, Cambodia refused to take Khoy, saying that because she was born in Thailand and has never visited Cambodia, she has no ties to the country. With nowhere to send her, ICE released Khoy. But the agency wasn't done just yet.  

In April 2012, ICE enrolled Khoy in its "Intensive Supervision Appearance Program," a detention alternative for immigrants ICE eventually wants to deport. ISAP involves closely monitoring immigrants using ankle tracking bracelets and frequent home visits. To top it all off, Khoy's caseworker told her that if Cambodia won't take her, she should just pick another country to be deported to.

Wolf's support for Khoy's story just goes to show how absurd it is that she's being targeted for deportation almost a decade after she completed her sentence for possession of ecstasy with intent to sell.

"Her entire family in the United States," reads Wolf's letter. "She has invested in her education and is a productive member of society. Her conviction, while serious, has not been a consistent problem. This is a typical story of someone who entered the United States as a very young child, made a mistake, has rebuilt her life, but, due to the fact she is not a US citizen, has serious repercussions to her conviction. In any other circumstance, her rebuilt life would be applauded."

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Our Intervention in Libya Has Unintended Consequences in Mali and Nigeria

The recent events in Libya have prompted renewed discussions about our foreign policy. Although validity of the narrative of this week’s events is far from obvious the fact remains that a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were murdered in a county that we had a part in liberating. While it is not yet clear what motivated those who killed Ambassador Stevens and three other consulate employees the attacks on diplomatic missions this week provide an ideal opportunity to reflect on the unintended consequences of our foreign policy.

In Libya the overthrow of Gaddafi has displaced mercenary fighters and militants outside of Libya where they have been inflicting misery on local populations for months.  

Throughout the Libyan conflict Gaddafi used mercenaries from neighboring countries such as Chad and Mali. These mercenaries included Tuaregs, nomads who live across numerous countries in northwest Africa. After Gaddafi’s defeat many of these Tuareg mercenaries started moving into northern Mali. From a News24 report at the time:

The repatriation of hundreds of fighters is "a serious worry", UN special envoy to west Africa Said Djinnit told reporters on Friday. The men arrived "in confusion, with big re-entry problems, which has increased the insecurity in the north of Mali".

He added: "Heavy weapons, missiles, convoys of hundreds of vehicles, including technicals [armed 4x4s] circulating freely ... are commonplace. There are potential buyers for these weapons: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [and] drug rings."

As Ed noted back in July, Al Qaeda elements within these mercenary groups did indeed begin to wreck havoc in northern Mali. These mercenaries and their supporters have been ensuring that Shariah has been harshly implemented in northern Mali. Militias have begun to emerge in response to the Malian government’s inability to defend the country from this sort of invasion and oppression.

It is not only in Mali that the unintended consequences of our intervention in Libya are being seen. In Nigeria a former president and government officials have said that the fall of Gaddafi helped arm Boko Haram, a particularly nasty jihadist group. Minister of the Interior Abba Moro made the following comments in July:

Government believes that part of the problems that we have today, the challenges of internal security stemmed from the activities in Libya.

It is indeed an open secret that even though, we did not share common border with Libya, arms and weapons have found their ways into Nigeria from that North African country.

The recent misery inflicted on Mali and Nigeria should motivate policy makers to be more wary of foreign intervention. However, given recent history and the two men running on the Democratic and Republic tickets, I don’t have many reasons to be optimistic.

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Kelo-style Eminent Domain Abuse Lives on in Denver

This week the Denver City Council authorized the use of eminent domain to seize homes and businesses for private development in the historic Five Points district. The vote puts 246 properties in the commercial corridor—including well-maintained Victorian homes dating back to the 1880s—under threat of condemnation for at least the next seven years.

Colorado lawmakers reformed the state’s eminent domain statutes in the wake of the Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London decision, which declared that seizing property for private development does not violate the Constitution. But they left an enormous loophole for local officials: blight, the statutory definition of which is so lax that nearly any neighborhood could fit the bill.

Accordingly, before authorizing eminent domain for private use, Denver officials commissioned a study to reach a predetermined conclusion: The neighborhood is blighted.

Here's some case law, courtesy of that blight study:  

The absence of widespread violation of building and health codes does not, by itself, preclude a finding of blight. According to the courts, "the definition of ‘blighted area’ contained in [the Urban Renewal Law] is broad and encompasses not only those areas containing properties so dilapidated as to justify condemnation as nuisances, but also envisions the prevention of deterioration."

Essentially, the existence of a few rundown but perfectly serviceable properties that are not generating code violations triggers eminent domain for an entire neighborhood. According to the blight study, the situation in Five Points is dire. Two (two!) properties are safety hazards and nine have serious issues.

The study consists, as these things too often do, of a consultant driving around and taking unflattering photos of whatever presents itself and wildly inflating the dangers of cracked sidewalks (“injurious to the public health, safety, morals, and welfare of the residents of the state”); peeling paint (“a social and economic liability”); and vacant lots and oddly-shaped parcels (“contribute to the spread of disease and crime”).

Moreover, Colorado law only gives property owners 30 days to challenge a blight declaration in court. So five years from now, if city officials decide to seize a property that was declared blighted this month, it will be too late for the owner to argue that their clearly non-blighted property isn’t blighted.

Once known as the “Harlem of the West" and home to nightclubs that attracted legendary jazz acts, Five Points, like many inner city neighborhoods, is fitfully reviving after decades of disinvestment and urban flight. Old properties are being restored, luxury lofts are popping up, and new businesses are moving in.  Between 2000 and 2006, the population increased 48.6 percent, which is double the rate of other Denver neighborhoods. The Five Points Jazz Festival attracted over 10,000 people in 2011.

The cloud of condemnation threatens to put a stop to all that. Property owners uncertain if the wrecking ball is on the way are unlikely to invest in their homes and businesses—causing the very deterioration the blight designation was meant to prevent.

Take a tearful trip through Reason’s archives for more on bogus blight. Click here for pictures of Denver’s newest slum.

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Chevy Volt is on the Road to Nowhere Fast, Say Washington Post Editors

Yesterday, the Washington Post's editorial board published an tough op/ed basically mocking President Obama's pretensions (1 million all-electric vehicles on the road by 2015) about subsidizing an electric car industry into existence. The Post op/ed notes:

The Energy Department study assumed that General Motors would produce 120,000 plug-in hybrid Volts in 2012. GM never came close to that and recently suspended Volt production at its Hamtramck, Mich., plant, scene of a presidential photo-op. So far, GM has sold a little more than 21,000 Volts, even with the help of a $7,500 tax credit, recent dealer discounting and U.S. government purchases. When you factor in the $1.2 billion cost of developing the Volt, GM loses tens of thousands of dollars on each model.

Some such losses are normal in the early phases of a product’s life cycle. Perhaps the knowledge and technological advances GM has reaped from developing the Volt will help the company over the long term. But this is cold comfort for the taxpayers who still own more than a quarter of the firm.

The Energy Department predicted that Nissan, recipient of a $1.5 billion government-guaranteed loan, would build 25,000 of its all-electric Leaf this year; that car has sold only 14,000 units in the United States.

As these companies flail, they are taking the much-ballyhooed U.S. advanced-battery industry down with them. A Chinese company had to buy out distressed A123, to which the Energy Department has committed $263 million in production aid and research money. Ener1, which ran through $55 million of a $118 million federal grant before going bankrupt, sold out to a Russian tycoon.

No matter how you slice it, the American taxpayer has gotten precious little for the administration’s investment in battery-powered vehicles, in terms of permanent jobs or lower carbon dioxide emissions. There is no market, or not much of one, for vehicles that are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar-sized gas-powered alternatives — but do not save enough fuel to compensate. The basic theory of the Obama push for electric vehicles — if you build them, customers will come — was a myth. And an expensive one, at that.

In my 2010 column, "Revving Up Electric Cars with Government Cash," I reported about my visit to the brand spanking new Ener1 lithium battery plant in Indiana, funded by an $118 million grant from the Department of Energy.

As my colleague Tim Cavanaugh reported, the company went bankrupt last January. Cavanaugh also noted Obama's State of the Union doubling down on subsidized batteries:

In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world's leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled....

I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that's never been more promising.

Never been more promising? The Post called this a "myth," but it really seems more like a delusion.

See also my colleague Shikha Dalmia's take on the reports that GM is losing $50,000 per copy of the Volt.

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Greg Beato on Electric Bikes and the Future of Alternative Transportation

Remember when our car-free future was supposed to be powered by jet packs, transporters, and family-sized flying saucers? That happy postwar vision has long since devolved from Jetsonian utopia to post–peak oil apocalypse, a new Mad Max era of economic collapse and medieval brutishness. Thankfully, writes Greg Beato, we have a new generation of electric bicycles to ride. While electric bikes can’t quite match the autonomy and convenience that yesteryear’s imminent dream machines once promised, they do suggest a future marked by technological progress and greater individual freedom.

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Obama’s Highly Misleading Claim About Private Sector Job Creation

Recently, President Obama has taken to claiming that “our businesses have gone back to basics and created over 4 million jobs in the last 27 months —more private sector jobs than were created during the entire seven years before this crisis — in a little over two years.” This is technically true. It’s also highly misleading.

That’s because President Obama isn’t making a fair comparison. Instead, as the author of the Political Math blog handily explains, he’s carefully selecting date ranges that allow him to maximize the number of jobs he can take credit for creating while minimizing the number created under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama’s claim appeared at a June speech in Cleveland. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy did indeed add 4 million private sector payrolls in the previous 27 months. That takes us from March 2010 to May 2012. But why start the count there? Why not count all the way back to the beginning of Obama’s presidency? Probably because if you did that, you’d also have to factor in the massive job losses that occurred in the first part of Obama’s term. It’s a highly convenient way to count. Via Political Math, here's a graph showing what that figure counts and what it doesn’t:

OK, so it’s convenient. But maybe it’s fair. After all, the recession didn’t begin under President Obama. So perhaps it’s reasonable for a president to take credit for an eventual uptick in job creation if the economy was flagging during the first part of his term. You could say he engineered a turnaround out of a downward spiral.

Except that that’s not how President Obama’s comparison treats President George W. Bush’s private sector jobs record. The seven years before the crisis that Obama’s quote refers to encompass January 2001 through January 2008, which means that Bush is stuck with all the job losses that occurred during the first few years of his presidency. 


In other words, the statement is accurate enough. But Obama doesn’t give Bush’s private payrolls record the same benefit of the doubt that he gives his own. And it turns out that if you just compare the recoveries, they look remarkably similar. 

There’s another reason Obama uses the metric he does. It relies on just one measure of employment: an establishment survey that mainly relies on data culled from businesses. But BLS also publishes a second measure of employment that relies on surveys of individuals. And on that measure, President Bush seems to have done much better

When Obama took office, his first budget director promised that this administration would play it straight when it came to the numbers. "The president prefers to tell the truth," said Office of Management and Budget head Peter Orszag, "rather than make the numbers look better by pretending." Maybe that's what the president prefers. But you'd hardly know it by what he actually says. 

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The Obama Administration Pressures YouTube to Remove Video

This is what contempt for the First Amendment looks like:

Obama administration officials said Thursday that they have asked YouTube to review the video [that reportedly set off the embassy attacks] and determine whether it violates the site's terms of service, according to people close to the situation but not authorized to comment.

The primary reason to be appalled: The government has no business pressuring a website to take down this video.

A secondary reason: They're probably barking up the wrong tree anyway. There's a strong possibility that the video was just a pretext for the attacks, much as it pains the administration to admit it.

A tertiary reason: Remember how tech-savvy this White House was supposed to be? And now they think they can choke this off at the source?

Elsewhere in Reason: Joe Lieberman tried to do something similar to WikiLeaks.

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White House Can’t Conceive that Embassy Violence Might Be About More Than a Movie

As protests grow across several Middle Eastern nations, and evidence suggests the killing of an ambassador and three others in Libya was not the result of spontaneous reactions to an anti-Islam movie trailer showing the prophet Muhammad to be some sort of sociopathic gay pedophile surfer, Jay Carney told reporters this morning that, no, it’s totally because of the movie:

"This is a fairly volatile situation and it is in response not to United States policy, not to, obviously, the Administration, not to the American people. It is in response to a video, a film, that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting, that in no way justifies any violent reaction to it, but this is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at US policy, this is in response to a video that is offensive, and, to Muslims. Again, this is not in any way justifying violence, and we've spoken very clearly out against that, and condemned it."

I think it’s fair to say that certainly many of the protesters are actually angry about the movie, but that’s a pretty damned superficial way of looking at this situation in toto. The irony here is that the subtext of these comments has the administration buying into the “they’re all savages” argument of some on the “bomb them all” portion of the far right.

If a group of Americans got this violent and destructive about one particular incident, we would know better than to attribute it to just that one thing. Nobody thinks the Los Angeles riots of twenty years ago were just about the Rodney King trial verdict, do they?

Right before the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, the United States reportedly killed 10 civilians in Yemen in a drone strike. It received very little coverage in the West, but was almost certainly in the backs of the minds of the protesters who climbed the fence of our embassy there.

And it’s remarkable that the right is trying to paint Barack Obama as some sort of appeaser or apologist on Islamic terrorism, but that’s the administration’s own fault as well. I’m surprised Obama’s not campaigning on his drone strikes at this point. Whose vote would he lose?

If you’re looking to keep up with all the protest activities, the violence, and the political responses, check out our Reason 24/7 page, bookmark it, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

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Announcing the Finalists for the 2012 Bastiat Prize in Journalism

Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason.com, is proud to announce the following:

After receiving hundreds of entries from 34 countries, Reason Foundation is pleased to announce the six finalists for the 2012 Bastiat Prize, which honors the writers who best explain the importance of freedom with originality, wit, and eloquence. The finalists for the 2012 Bastiat Prize are:

  • Brent Batten, Naples Daily News
  • Caroline Baum, Bloomberg
  • Anne Jolis, The Wall Street Journal Europe
  • Matthew Kaminski, The Wall Street Journal
  • John Robson, Ottawa Sun
  • Adrian Wooldridge, The Economist

The winner and runners-up will be announced at Reason Foundation’s Bastiat Prize dinner in New York City on November 8, 2012. The Bastiat Prize winner will receive $10,000, second-place will collect $4,000 and third-place will receive $1,000. The top three will also be awarded an engraved crystal candlestick—a nod to  Frédéric  Bastiat’s most famous essay.

Previous Bastiat Prize winners include Virginia Postrel, Tim Harford, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Robert Guest, Sauvik Chakraverti, and Amity Shlaes.

This year's Bastiat Prize judges are:

  • A. Barton Hinkle (Columnist, Richmond Times-Dispatch)
  • Charles Kadlec (Columnist, Forbes)
  • Megan McArdle (Columnist, Daily Beast)
  • Russ Roberts (Professor, George Mason University)
  • Louis Rossetto (Founder, Wired Magazine)
  • Russ Smith (Founder, Washington City Paper and New York Press)

For more information about the Bastiat Prize dinner, please contact Cynthia Bell at (202) 986-0916 or cynthia.bell@reason.org. 

Go here for more info.

And go here to read Bastiat's Petition from the Candlemakers and more.

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New Hampshire Jury Acquits Pot-Growing Rastafarian

A few months ago, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed a bill declaring that "in all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy." Although the new law does not take effect until next January, a case decided yesterday in Belknap County illustrates the importance of the nullification power it recognizes. A jury unanimously acquitted Doug Darrell, a 59-year-old Rastafarian charged with marijuana cultivation, after his lawyer, Mark Sisti, argued that a conviction would be unjust in light of the fact that Darrell was growing cannabis for his own religious and medicinal use. More remarkably, Judge James O'Neill instructed the jury that "even if you find that the State has proven each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find the defendant not guilty if you have a conscientious feeling that a not guilty verdict would be a fair result in this case."

That is New Hampshire's model jury instruction on the nullification issue, but each judge has discretion whether to give it. In this case, since Sisti argued in favor of nullification and the prosecutor, Stacey Kaelin, argued against it, O'Neill agreed to clarify the law by giving an explicit instruction. The jury, which deliberated for six hours on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, twice asked to hear the instruction again. Sisti, who has been practicing law for 33 years, says this is the first time he has persuaded a judge to tell jurors they have the power to vote their consciences. He hopes the new law will make such instructions more common, if not standard.

Darrell was arrested in 2009 after members of a marijuana eradication task force spotted his plants from a National Guard helicopter flying over his home in Barnstead. Sisti tried unsuccessfully to have the evidence suppressed, aguing that the aerial surveillance was illegal because the helicopter flew below what the Federal Aviation Administration considers a safe altitude, thereby violating Darrell's reasonable expectation of privacy. The Belknap County Attorney's Office, evidently eager to get rid of a case that involved just 15 plants and no distribution, offered Darrell a series of increasingly lenient plea deals, culminating in an offer that entailed a misdemeanor guilty plea with no jail time or fine. Darrell turned all the offers down, Sisti said, because "he didn't think he was guilty of anything; it's a sacrament in his religion." Instead he went to trial on a charge of manufacturing a controlled drug, a Class B felony that carries a penalty of three and a half to seven years in prison. Darrell's first trial ended in a mistrial last November due to prosecutorial error. His second trial ended in yesterday's acquittal.

"Cases like this shouldn't be brought," Sisti says. "And when they are brought, I think that safety valve, that nullification safety valve, is very important. Other states had better start waking up, because without it, people are going to be convicted of very serious charges through hypocrisy. The jury's going to think they can't do anything else, and that's wrong."

[Thanks to Jason and Jared Bedrick for the tip.]

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Hecklers at Values Voters Summit Angry about Campaign Finance, Not Gay Marriage

So, what are lefty protesters angry about at the largest annual gathering of social conservatives?

Is it the Republican Party’s hostility to marriage equality? No.

What about the GOP's efforts to limit access to abortion in the event of rape or incest? Nope.

Maybe the party's insistence that religious freedom is under attack? Nah.

Lefty protesters at the Values Voters Summit today protested corporate money in politics.

Demonstrators from Take the Money Out of Politics and Act Up Philadelphia interrupted vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s late morning speech at the social conservative confab with shouts of “Get money out of politics!” and “Corporations aren’t people!” They were quickly shouted down with the now standard chant of “U-S-A!” while being escorted out of the hall by security and Secret Service officers.

Protesters handed out a press release that said that want the Romney-Ryan ticket to throw their support behind a constitutional amendment that would declare “corporations are not people and money is not free speech.”

Here’s a video of the aftermath:

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Should the U.S. Have Expected Trouble in Benghazi?

I note, with interest, growing evidence that the United States should have expected trouble at the consulate in Benghazi. No less a personage than the late ambassador, Chris Stevens sent the State Department a diplomatic cable in 2008 warning that the area was becoming a ground zero for dangerous lunacy. And the U.S. government reportedly had heads-up two days before the fact that attacks were being planned. The first report seems to be a given; if the second one pans out, somebody really screwed up.

From CNN:

Before he became U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens warned in a 2008 diplomatic cable of jihadist sentiment growing not far from Benghazi.

Stevens, who became ambassador to Libya this year,  was killed this week in an attack that U.S. sources tell CNN was planned by a pro-al Qaeda group of extremists. While it is not definitively clear whether this group, or what group specifically, is behind the attack, it's clear that Stevens expressed concern about a radical movement fomenting in the port city of Derna.

The cable was leaked in the trove that WikiLeaks released in 2010 and 2011, and CNN reported on it last year.

That earlier report said:

Derna even made it into U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks. A cable from 2008 describes it as a "wellspring of Libyan foreign fighters" for al Qaeda in Iraq. High youth unemployment, discrimination by the Gadhafi regime and the influence of veteran Libyan jihadists from Afghanistan all played a role in radicalizing a new generation.

"Other factors include a dearth of social outlets for young people, [and] local pride in Derna's history as a locus of fierce opposition to occupation," the cable said. "Most young men watched a mix of al-Jazeera news, religious sermons and western action films on English language satellite channels broadcast from the Gulf. The result was a heady mixture of violence, religious conservatism and hatred of U.S. policy in Iraq and Palestine."

Of more recent vintage, The Independent reports:

According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted.

This suggests that the Benghazi area has long been recognized as one in which special caution should be observed, and that American officials had good reason to anticipate the threat that resulted in this week's bloody tragedy. With recent reports that the Bush administration overlooked warnings in the months leading up to 9/11, it looks like the Obama administration may be emulating its predecessor even more than we suspected.

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Your Vote Can't Really Be Counted, So Vote as You Please

Since this is the "most important presidential election" of our lives (the tenth or eleventh such that I can remember), you're no doubt on the receiving end of escalating entreaties to use your vote wisely to save our nation from the dread clutches of that bastard — whichever bastard it might be. You need to vote for the "right" candidate, however imperfect he may be, and not fritter it away on somebody you actually find non-repulsive, or on oh-so-foolishly avoiding the polls at all out of naive disgust with the whole process. There are more than a few problems with this argument, but let's focus on one: Your vote doesn't make a damned bit of difference.

Leave aside the fact that, even in a (decreasingly so) squeaker of a presidential election, most of us are voting for electors in states where the outcome is already pretty certain. The fact is, even down to the level of most municipal elections, our votes are statistically insignificant even if they were being accurately counted. But in this imperfect world of ours, accuracy is a tough thing to come by. As the Seattle Times put it during the count and recount after the nail-biter of a gubernatorial election between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire:

Elections work fine when candidates win by a large margin. When victory comes down to roughly the capacity of a Metro bus, small errors — stray marks on ballots, punch cards that weren't punched properly and human mistakes — can cloud the final vote tally.

Like survey polls that try to show what people are thinking, elections have what statisticians call a margin of error.

Those margins of error vary from voting system to voting system, and even within voting systems depending on the diligence with which they're administered and maintained. But once you're past the level of a few friends picking a place to grab drinks, there's no such thing as winning a race by a single vote.

Even experts can't agree. It's not clear whether humans or machines are better at vote counting.

But in the end, the question may not matter. No election system is precise enough to determine who won a race this close, they say. Only 42 votes separate Rossi and Gregoire, out of the millions cast.

"It's closer than the technology and our capacity as humans to decipher," said Jeffery Mondak, a political-science professor at Florida State University. "You folks would do as well to flip a coin as to try to determine who actually won."

Just 42 votes out of millions cast is razor-thin, for sure. But just how much slop is there in the counting of votes? Turns out ... Quite a hell of a lot. Researchers say (PDF) that the average "residual vote rate" (that is, the percentage of ballots for which a valid vote couldn't be determined) across different voting systems was 1.8 percent in 2000, 2.0 percent in 2002 and 1.8 percent in 2004.

And those down-to-the wire recounts during which ballots are carefully scrutinized by hand to determine who really represents the will of the people? Well, ScienceDaily told us earlier this year:

Hand counting of votes in postelection audit or recount procedures can result in error rates of up to 2 percent, according to a new study from Rice University and Clemson University.

So, in those close elections, flip a coin to pick the "winner." And vote, or not, just to please yourself.

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An Exit Interview With Wayne Allyn Root

Wayne Allyn Root's departure from the Libertarian Party earlier this month was met with mixed reviews from Libertarians. 

In an email exchange with Reason, Root answered several questions about his time in the LP, why he's leaving, and what he thinks of LP presidential candidate Gary Johnson. (Root declined to be interviewed by phone.)

Editor's note: Aside from cutting the length of Root's responses, Reason has not altered this interview. 

Reason: So you're leaving the LP to join the Republican Party. Who are you voting for in the November election?

Wayne Allyn Root: Let's start with what I believe in. I believe in economic and personal freedom. I want government out of my life- out of both the boardroom and the bedroom. I believe in the limited government promised by the U.S. Constitution. I want government to get out of the way of small business owners like me- put fewer rules & regulations in our way, and allow us to keep more of our own money.

Under the Obama administration we have seen businessmen be denigrated, demonized, punished, smothered by 60,000 new rules and regulations, and attacked by the IRS. However, far too often the GOP has given only lip service to smaller government, individual rights, and the Constitution. Once elected, they ignore those ideas and grow government just like Democrats. Look at the spending under George W. Bush. Look at the 25,000 new rules and regulations under Bush (far better than Obama, but still terrible). Look at the growth of government and the rising debt under Bush. Look at the increase in compensation, pensions, and number of government employees under all GOP Presidents. This was precisely why I left the GOP.

But I believe with the birth and growth of the Tea Party, this is now changing. I was born to be part of the Tea Party. The Tea Party represents me. I believe in the Tea Party and I believe that with the right leader, the Tea Party can change the Republican Party…or certainly influence the GOP in a big way. So, for the first time in a long while, I feel good about the GOP and I’m happy to say I’m back! And I’ll be working hard to elect Mitt Romney the next President of the United States.

Reason: Do you think the differences between Romney and Obama are that significant?

Root: If you’re looking at social issues, or wars, or the Patriot Act, of course you can see some similarities. 

But I’m a businessman. What matters now above all else…the issues that are life or death…the only issues that matter to 90% of Americans...are the economy, creating jobs, lowering spending, lowering the debt and deficit, reducing taxes, and saving capitalism. Because if the economy collapses…or your personal economy collapses…what difference does any other issue matter? FIRST we need to get our fiscal house in order, then we can deal with all the other stuff. Without an economy, nothing else matters.

This election is NOT about Libertarian versus non-Libertarian. This election is about capitalism versus big government progressivism and Big Brother socialism. Ron Paul, Rand Paul, or Jim DeMint would be that. But they aren’t running. The only two candidates who can win are Mitt and Obama. Among those two the choice is clear. Mitt is a capitalist businessman, not a career politician. Above all else, I too am a capitalist businessman.  

Mitt Romney believes in the same things I do on a few key economic issues- keeping businesses free from government intrusion, allowing small business owners to keep more of their own money, and rewarding instead of punishing investors, innovators, and job creators. Mitt Romney understands, as President Calvin Cooledge once said, “the business of America is business.”  Because of my general agreement with Mitt Romney on these important economic issues…the ones that truly matter at this moment in time, I’m endorsing Mitt and I’ll be working day and night, traveling the country, appearing in the media, making speeches, to help elect Mitt as the next President of the United States.

Reason: What about Gary Johnson?

Root: Gary Johnson is a good man. He built a fabulous track record as the Republican Governor of a Democratic state (New Mexico). He cut spending, cut taxes (14 times), turned a deficit into a huge surplus, and led the nation in vetoes. He’s a great fiscal conservative leader. But he’s not going to win this election. Right or wrong, America’s political system is not set up for third parties. It destroys them. It holds them back. It keeps them out of the game. It's difficult and expensive to even get on the ballot. They won't let you in the debates. This election is between Romney and Obama. And you know where I stand. Let me repeat myself- Obama must be sent to the unemployment line, or all of us will wind up on the unemployment line.

My future plan is to win the U.S. Senate seat of Harry Reid in Nevada in 2016. I hope to join the “Tea Party Caucus” of Senators Rand Paul, Jim DeMint and Mike Lee. And I could see Gary Johnson winning a Senate seat in New Mexico in the future and joining us. I’d be honored to work alongside Gary. We’d all be fighting for the same things- smaller government, a balanced budget, dramatic spending cuts, the elimination of unconstitutional government programs, and a flatter, simpler U.S. tax system.

Q: What did you get out of your time in the LP?

Root: I will always cherish my time in the Libertarian Party. I will always love the LP. It has been a whirlwind last 6 years in my life with the LP. I started as a S.O.B. (son of a butcher), small businessman, home-school dad, Las Vegas oddsmaker, political newcomer and citizen politician. Against all odds, I was elected the Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee in 2008. The Bob Barr/Wayne Root Presidential ticket garnered the 2nd highest vote total in Libertarian history. During that election, I became a regular guest on Fox News and many hundreds of radio shows.

I was then elected to the Libertarian National Committee (LNC)- the governing Board of America's Third Party. I was also elected Chairman of the Libertarian National Campaign Committee (LNCC)- the equivalent of the RNC and DNC. I was honored to be re-elected this past May to both the LNC Board and LNCC Board. I was able to gain more media attention to the LP than anyone in our party’s history- with about 4000 media appearances in the past 4 years. I was also named by the Governor of Nevada to the Judicial Selection Commission in 2010, one of only two Libertarians nationwide to be given such an honor by their Governor.

I want to thank every Libertarian that voted for me in each of these elections. It was you who made this success possible. I will be forever grateful for the faith you placed in me. The Libertarian Party was very good to me…and I was good for the Libertarian Party.

But I see what’s happening to the economy…my businesses…my friends’ small businesses. So it was time to make a change. This is all much bigger than “Libertarian or not.” It was time to take a stand for my family, my four beautiful children, and my country. I’ll always love the Libertarian Party. I hope to work hand in hand with Libertarians like Gary Johnson and Libertarian Republicans like Ron Paul and U.S. Senator Rand Paul to move this country in the direction of smaller, less intrusive government, less spending, and lower taxes. But to effect change, I realized it has to be done in a party that can get people elected. That’s the Republican Party.

Reason: What is a Reagan Libertarian?

Root: YesI proudly call myself a REAGAN Libertarian. Again, you might be missing the point here. This is about economics. We desperately need a Ronald Reagan to save our economy. Reagan's policies turned a Jimmy Carter economic disaster (just like Obama's) into the greatest and longest economic boom in world history- leading to the creation of over 45 million net jobs; over $60 trillion in private sector asset creation; and the greatest increase in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in American history. Reagan's Bull Stock Market created more wealth for America's families than any boom ever. It all led to the greatest economic expansion in world history. These are all facts. It was all because of the largest tax cut in U.S. history- from 70% top rate to 28%. 

At this point in time Mitt Romney is our Reagan- with an exceptional added benefit. Mitt is also one of the most successful businessmen and turnaround experts in America. This is the last stand of capitalism. Our backs are against the wall. Mitt is the perfect man for the job at hand. Defeating Obama is simply more important than party loyalty, or worrying about whether our candidate is perfect, or whether we agree on every issue. The only issue that matters is the survival of our economy, our country, and the American Dream. 

Reason: What does it say about the Libertarian Party that its 2008 ticket is endorsing the Republican for president, not the LP candidate? 

Root: It says exactly what I’ve said for this entire interview. This election is bigger than “Libertarian or not.” It’s survival of business, or not. It’s survival of the U.S. economy, or not. It’s survival of capitalism, or not. It survival of my legacy to my 4 children. Businesses just cannot take 4 more years of Obama.

It also says that Wayne Root wants to work within a major party to move policy in a more Libertarian and fiscally conservative direction. That’s a noble cause. I want my children and grandchildren to know I actually made a difference. 

And I don't know how anyone can argue with that- it's the same decision made by Ron Paul, Rand Paul, David Koch (a former LP Vice Presidential candidate just like me), and even the founders of CATO. They all eventually left the LP. But they are all making a fantastic difference in American politics. We all have choices to make. Never forget that freedom of choice and free markets are what Libertarianism is all about. Never criticize someone just because they make a different choice than you. I believe that I'll be able to move the country in a more Libertarian direction by being a Libertarian Republican, than I ever could as a Libertarian.

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Steven Greenhut on How the Chicago Strike Shows How Unions Stifle Reform

Chicago’s public-school teachers went on strike over a modest plan to extend their work day and subject them to the type of standardized performance testing they typically administer to students. As Steven Greenhut observes, it was the latest reminder that teachers’ unions exist to expand the pay and protections of teachers, not to help “the children.” Unions protect their worst-performing members, which is why Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s testing plan caused so much angst.

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Obama Wears Boring Suits So He Won't Tweet Pictures of His Penis

From the epic Michael Lewis profile of Barack Obama in the latest issue of Vanity Fair:

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

Sound familiar? Maybe Obama read New York Times science columnist John Tierney's book, Willpower. Or maybe he checked out Reason's interview with Tierney, where Tierney describes that science and even offers the president free words of wisdom:

reason: You write about decision fatigue. I think we’ve probably all felt that. But can you describe what it is and how it works from a scientific perspective?

Tierney: Willpower—the popular idea is that it’s something that you use to resist temptation and to make yourself work. But they’ve also found that this same energy is used in making decisions, simply deciding what to have for lunch, what to do at a meeting; all these things deplete the same resource. After a while, when you’ve depleted this resource, it’s a state called ego depletion. You’ve got less self-control, you’re more prone to give in to temptation, it’s harder for you to work, and you tend to make worse decisions. 

In this state of decision fatigue you’re looking for mental shortcuts, and sometimes you do something really impulsive because you just don’t think things through. You basically say, “Sure, I’ll tweet that photo of myself in my underwear; what could go wrong?” The other thing you can do is just defer decisions; you basically just duck them all day. Since I wrote the book and it was excerpted [in The New York Times], I’ve stopped trying to do anything important late in the day. And people at the Times magazine that ran an excerpt of this said, “You know, we’ve got to stop having meetings after 4 o’clock.” 

reason: Since you brought up the esteemed Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and his underwear tweeting brought on by decision fatigue, let’s talk a little bit about the implications of this idea in politics. Lately there’s been a lot of “never waste a crisis” legislating. When our legislators rush to do big things at the last minute, are we getting high-quality decisions?

Tierney: George [W.] Bush famously called himself “the decider,” and that’s what these guys do all day long: They make decisions. If you just keep doing that all day long, eventually you start making really bad ones and trying to make a lot of them and trying to make them late at night. It explains why someone like Eliot Spitzer, whom we write about in the book, someone that disciplined, that ambitious, [who] knew the laws [and] knew the risk…how does he get to be governor and then finally blow it? And there are probably lots of reasons in his psyche why he did that, but it’s just the fact he’s sitting there as governor making decisions all day long and then at night: “Sure, why not call the call girl? Why not transfer from my own bank account so it’s traceable?” 

Decide to watch the whole thing, quick, before you run out of juice!

Tierney also has some bonus advice for the president:

reason: Should we ban politicians from going on diets or quitting smoking while they’re in office?

Tierney: You know, Obama should not be trying to quit smoking while he’s in office [laughter]. Or at least he should be doing lots of Nicorette. One of the rules for New Year’s resolutions is do one of them, because trying to quit smoking, trying to diet, trying to make a decent decision about the health care bill, these things all draw on the same source of mental energy, and you can’t do it all at once. You need to figure out which one to focus on. Successful people are actually the ones who tend to minimize their choices. They focus on one thing and they set up their lives so they’re not constantly drawing on this same source. 

Angelenos Block Ban on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries...For Now

"Angelenos Block Ban on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries...For Now" is the latest offering from ReasonTV.

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

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Religious Studies Prof Values Free Speech So Much That She Keeps Calling for Filmmaker's Arrest

In my Tablet column from yesterday, I mentioned that University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor of Religious Studies Anthea Butler had tweeted: "How soon is Sam Bacile going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now." USA Today asked Butler to revise and extend her remarks, and she came up with a humdinger titled "Why 'Sam Bacile' deserves arrest." A glimpse into the academic mind:

My initial tweet about Bacile, the person said to be responsible for the film mocking the prophet Mohammed, was not because I am against the First Amendment. My tweets reflected my exasperation that as a religion professor, it is difficult to teach the facts when movies such as Bacile's Innocence of Muslims are taken as both truth and propaganda, and used against innocent Americans.

If there is anyone who values free speech, it is a tenured professor!

So why did I tweet that Bacile should be in jail? The "free speech" in Bacile's film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam. It denigrates the religion by depicting the faith's founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers. [...]

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Jones on Wednesday to ask him to stop promoting Bacile's film. Clearly, the military considers the film a serious threat to national security. If the military takes it seriously, there should be consequences for putting American lives at risk.

While the First Amendment right to free expression is important, it is also important to remember that other countries and cultures do not have to understand or respect our right.

So if I'm understanding Butler correctly, we should factor in degree of teaching difficulty when figuring out when to criminalize speech, opinionated films are "not about expressing a personal opinion," the U.S. military is an appropriate domestic censor, and the importance of remembering that other countries don't respect the First Amendment means that we should weaken it. Why, if her professorship didn't automatically qualify her as a champion of free speech, I might suggest that she doesn't really understand the term!

I Liked Jennifer Granholm Better When She Was on 'The Dating Game'

Shikha Dalmia, an actual resident of Michigan, did not enjoy former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm's spirited speech at the Democratic National Convention as much as I did, for reasons she ably lays out here. However, I think all of America can rally around Granholm's 1978 appeaance on "The Dating Game":

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Benghazi: Everything You Knew Was Wrong

Robert Wright reminds us how much the Benghazi narrative has changed in the last few days:

Here is the narrative that pretty much everyone was buying into 36 hours ago: Crude anti-Islam film made by Israeli-American and funded by Jews leads to Muslim protests that boil over, causing four American deaths in Libya.

Here is what now seems to be the case: the anti-Islam film wasn't made by an Israeli-American, wasn't funded by Jews, and probably had nothing to do with the American deaths, which seem to have resulted from a long-planned attack by a specific terrorist group, not spontaneous mob violence.

In retrospect, the original narrative should have aroused immediate suspicion. If, for example, this lethal attack on an American consulate in a Muslim country was really spontaneous, isn't it quite a coincidence that it happened on 9/11?

And as for the funding of the film: The filmmaker was said to be describing himself as Israeli-American and volunteering the fact that "100 Jewish donors" financed his project. Well, 1) 100 is a suspiciously round number; and 2) If you were this "Israeli-American," would you be advertising that this incendiary film was a wholly Jewish enterprise?...Maybe one reason these questions weren't asked is because the original narrative fit so nicely into some common stereotypes--about crazy Muslims who get whipped into a death frenzy at the drop of a hat, about the backstage machinations of Jews, and about the natural tension between Muslims and Jews. (How many Americans had ever heard about intra-Egyptian tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians, which may well have been the impetus for this film? How many had even heard of Coptic Christians?)

I disagree with a small part of this: If the protest over the movie served as cover for a preplanned attack, that doesn't mean the movie "had nothing to do with the American deaths" (unless he just means that the movie isn't to blame for the deaths, in which case I agree). Otherwise I can't dispute Wright's passage. And I recommend reading the rest of his post, in which he suggests some other ways the popular understanding of the story may have to change.

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Taxpayers Are Morons, Says Journalist

if we don't throw money into the hole, who will build the roads?The OnionEsquire’s Charles Pierce strikes again, calling taxpayers a “dumb rampaging beast.” Does he call them that because they willingly pay into a system that spends more and more on policies they often disagree with? Nope. It’s because they have the audacity, in what's often called a democracy, to demand a lower tax burden. The statement from the “veteran journalist” came in a blog post supporting the Chicago Teachers Union strike. Pierce reminds those who criticize the teachers’ strike for being inconvenient that, duh, that’s the reason people strike. That show of solidarity, though, does not extend to taxpayers, largely also workers! As is fashionable these days, he skewers Grover Norquist’s “lunatic” no tax hikes pledge as well as California’s ballot initiative-driven restrictions on taxation and spending, blaming them for California being “largely ungovernable.” Expecting  what might be called, in the collective, a “dumb rampaging beast,” in, say, Sacramento or Washington, to abide by the wishes of voters (politicians sign Norquist’s pledge, obviously, because its good electoral politics for them) and restrict their urge to more taxation, apparently, is a ridiculous notion for taxpayers to have. Don't these taxpayers realize supporting less taxes is inconvenient?

This chart by economist Veronique de Rugy, which Nick Gillespie called “terrifying,” shows the growth of federal spending since the Carter administration, and is adjusted for both inflation and population growth:

just the spending sideMercatus Center

The last time Washington took a sober look at taxation, spending and debt was the Grace Commission, nearly two generations ago, which reported that “all individual income tax revenues are gone before one nickel is spent on the services which taxpayers expect from their Government,” in 1984, when the federal debt stood at $1.6 trillion, and more than doubled under Ronald Reagan’s terms in office, while since then its grown to top $16 trillion.

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Why is U.S. Foreign Policy Only Going to Get Worse?

The short answer: Because either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama is going to win in November.

Brush aside the brutally stupid and irrelevant press and politico chatter about whether it was right for Romney to criticize Obama regarding recent attacks on U.S. personnel in Libya and Egypt and whether it's honorable for Obama to party with Jay Z and Beyonce instead of rending his garments and wandering the White House chanting prayers for the dead.

That's theater, folks, and theater of the quality you might see at the Club Bene in South Amboy, New Jersey. It's the sort of bullshit that the press and political operatives love to talk about because absolutely nothing real is on the line. I know, because I spent a good chunk of last night doing exactly that.

The reality of not just the failure but the absence of anything resembling a coherent foreign policy emanating from either major-party candidate is staggering and dispiriting.

Romney is untested when it comes to conducting foreign policy and all indications are that he has little to no ideas about the subject. That is, apart from barking banal slogans such as "peace through strength," asserting that we should never apologize for American "values," and warning that defense spending needs to be jacked even higher despite a 70 percent-plus rise over the past dozen years. He has been quicker than lightning to criticize the bomb-and-drone-happy Obama for archetypal McGovernite "weakness" while offering no serious alternative. That his foreign policy team is heavy with George W. Bush retreads should be terrifying not just to other countries but to our children and grandchildren, who will bear the brunt of any repeats of Bush's manifest failures. All this and poorly guarded embassies and consulates will get you a bunch of dead bodies in far-flung, exotic locations around the globe.

For his part, Barack Obama has been tested and found wanting in ways large and small. Start with the small: His comments about whether Egypt is an "ally" or a client state with benefits show a leader who is lost in space and has little to no understanding of his role as leader of the United States. If the Arab Spring revolts turn into anything other than the turn in the continuing death spiral of the broadly defined Middle East, it will be no thanks to an administration that backed Mubarak until the very last minute, pushed to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a withdrawal plan agreed upon under George W. Bush, and unconstitutionally joined a bombing campaign in Libya while dithering over actions in Syria. And alienated Israel. And tripled troops in Afghanistan to pursue a mission whose objectives still remain unclear even to the people who are carrying them out. It was a big applause line at the Democratic National Convention that "Osama Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive." What a sad, cheap sentiment the portends even more disastrous actions if Obama wins re-election.

It remains a harsh fact that Americans gets the government we deserve. Well, when it comes to foreign policy, even the least-worthy among us deserve better than the lack of foreign policy projected by President Obama and Gov. Romney. We've got about two months before one of them is declared the next president of the United States. Let's do what we can to demand that they articulate a clear, prinicpled vision of America's role in the world, especially as it relates to armed conflicts that we ourselves have started, prolonged, or parachuted into. Is it so hard to ask these guys what are the principles they think should govern military intervention, defense spending, trade agreements, and more?

At least then we might evaluate what they stand for before heading into the ballot box and experiencing the existential despair that wells up in the body politic every four years.

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John Roberts vs. Antonin Scalia

Writing at The Atlantic, legal commentator Garrett Epps previews the Supreme Court’s upcoming term, which he dubs the start of “the post-Scalia era.” Epps’ main argument is that while Justice Antonin Scalia “has been an influence, perhaps the most significant one in the past three decades,” Chief Justice John Roberts is the new sheriff in town, the new conservative force to be reckoned with. This changing reality became most apparent back in June when Roberts sided with the Court’s liberals and saved the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from extinction.

When it comes to the big picture, Epps makes a number of good points. Scalia’s influence may indeed be on the wane and Roberts’ power is certainly on the rise. But when Epps goes into greater detail about these various practitioners of judicial conservatism, his arguments fly wildly off the rails. Take this passage on Scalia’s diminishing influence over his newer colleagues on the bench:

Roberts and Alito, at any rate, seem impatient with originalism and eager to move into new areas like libertarian economic thought. They are glad to get Scalia's vote, but less interested in his routines from old-time radio.

Libertarian economic thought! That’s a laugh riot. I would be very interested in seeing any evidence Epps might produce for this dubious assertion. I assume he’s referring to the fact that Roberts and Alito both agreed that Obamacare’s individual mandate exceeded congressional power under the Commerce Clause, an argument prominently advanced by libertarian lawyers such as Georgetown’s Randy Barnett. But of course that’s not an economic argument, it’s a legal one, rooted in constitutional history and applicable judicial precedent.

Epps’ take on Justice Clarence Thomas is equally suspect. According to Epps, Thomas is a “solid vote,” one “whose position is not in doubt. They tend not to influence others.” That’s in contrast to Scalia, who Epps calls an influential vote, one “who by force of argument gradually reshape whole areas of law.”

Scalia has had an impact, no doubt about that. But so has Thomas. In fact, we now know that Thomas has been a major influence on the Court, including on the votes of Scalia himself. As Jan Crawford reported in her superb 2007 book Supreme Conflict, which tells the inside story of the Supreme Court from the era of William Rehnquist to the appointments of Roberts and Samuel Alito, Thomas’ forceful arguments reshaped things from the outset. As she writes, “After Thomas’s very first conference, Scalia changed his mind to side with him in the Foucha case, and on several other occasions that term, Scalia switched his vote to join Thomas in dissent. But these maneuvers were unknown to outsiders and Court watchers.”

They are apparently still unknown to some Court watchers.

The changing face of legal conservatism, both on the Supreme Court and off, is one of the most significant legal stories of our time. So it’s important to get these details right.

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A.M. Links: Cairo Clashes Continue, Nigerian ex-President Blames Local Insurgency on Qaddafi Ouster, U.S. General in Afghanistan Denies Shilling for President Obama

  • The Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, urged Egyptians to protect the U.S. embassy in Cairo, calling it an Islamic duty to protect guests. Nevertheless clashes outside the embassy continue and U.S. embassies around the world are on high alert.
  • Russia says “I told you so” about the West’s 2011 intervention in Libya, pointing out that you can’t be surprised by lawlessness when you assist insurgents in extra judicially killing the authoritarian leaders of their country, while a former Nigerian president says the ouster of Col. Qaddafi fueled the Boko Haram insurgency there because his death caused a flood of extremists and weapons across North and West Africa.
  • On the campaign trail President Obama vows to get the killers of the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Meanwhile Libya says it arrested four men on charges of inciting the violence they say led to the assassination.
  • Lt. General William Caldwell denied to Congress he was a shill for President Obama amid allegations he delayed an investigation into “Auschwitz-like” conditions at Dawood National Hospital.
  • Minnesota’s former governor, the wrestler Jesse Ventura, endorsed Gary Johnson for president. No word if he told the Libertarian presidential candidate to “win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat."
  • The French magazine Closer published topless photo’s of Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife.

Follow Reason on Twitter and like us on Facebook. You can also get the top stories mailed to you—sign up here.

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Kurt Loder Reviews The Master

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film The Master has been preceded by much speculation that it would be an exposé of L. Ron Hubbard, the late concocter of Scientology. It does score a number of telling points in that regard and one can easily imagine Hubbard’s hyper-touchy heirs being ticked off. But the movie’s focus is firmly on Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell, a whackjob drifter who blunders into the orbit of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a bluff, jovial spiritual hustler whose book, The Cause—a declaration that all mental torments can be traced back into the womb, and beyond—is attracting many followers. The movie is set in 1950, the year that Hubbard published Dianetics, the root text of Scientology.

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The Badgering of Bob Dylan, Or, Tell Us You Love Obama, Bob! Please!

Rolling Stone features another of its many mega-cover story interviews with Bob Dylan--a character always valuable, or at least amusing, to listen to. (The interview is not yet online, but appears in the Sept 27 issue of Rolling Stone, with a riverboat gambler looking Dylan on the cover.)

Dylan talks about his new album, a bit about his apparent belief that the soul of a dead Hell's Angel named Bobby Zimmerman (Dylan's own birth name) took over his body in the 1960s (really, and I can't explain it either), Dylan's annoyance with people who attack him for using lines from other poets in his songs, and many other interesting things.

But around 10 percent of the interview is dedicated to a bizarre performance from interlocutor Mikal Gilmore seeming desperate to get Bob Dylan to say that he thinks criticism of Barack Obama is based on racism, say he voted for Obama, or say he really likes Obama.

Dylan leads into it with an impassioned and intelligent discussion of how the stain of slavery shapes this nation. "This country is just too fucked up about color....People at each others throats because they are of a different color. It's the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back--or any neighborhood back....It's a country founded on the backs of slaves....If slavery had been given up in a more peaceful way, America would be far ahead today."

This gives Gilmore his hook: didn't Obama change all that? And isn't it so that people who don't like him don't like him because of race? Gilmore takes five different swings at getting Dylan to agree. Some of Dylan's responses: "They did the same thing to Bush, didn't they? They did the same thing to Clinton, too, and Jimmy Carter before that....Eisenhower was accused of being un-American. And wasn't Nixon a socialist? Look what he did in China. They'll say bad things about the next guy too." On Gilmore's fourth attempt, Dylan just resorts to: "Do you want me to repeat what I just said, word for word? What are you talking about? People loved the guy when he was elected. So what are we talking about? People changing their minds?"

Gilmore then tries to get Dylan to say if he votes. Dylan won't, though he is browbeaten into a generic public service announcement declaration that "We live in a democracy. What do you want me to say? Voting is a good thing."

Then Gilmore gets more direct: what does Dylan think of Obama? Dylan first deflects with: "You should be asking his wife what she thinks of him." It's great Dylan--sly, human, trying to focus from the fuzzy big picture to what matters: man and woman, husband and wife. Then: "He loves music. He's personable. He dresses good. What the fuck do you want me to say?"

Gilmore wants you to say you love your president, Bob. Gilmore follows that up with: "Would you like to see him re-elected?" Bob: "I've lived through a lot of presidents. You have too! Some are re-elected and some aren't. Being re-elected isn't the mark of a great president."

Gilmore thinks he's got him. Dylan, on the night of Obama's inauguration, was performing and said from stage: "It looks like things are gonna change now." Remember that, Bob? Stop being such a churl! Admit you love Obama!!

Dylan won't have it. Sure, he said that, but: "Did I go down to the middle of town and give a speech?....I don't know what I could have meant by that. You say things sometimes, you don't know what the hell you mean....I'm not going to deny what I said, but I would have hoped that things would've changed. I certainly hope they have."

Gilmore gives up with a final: "I get the impression...that you're reluctant to say much about the president or how he's been criticized." That's the mark of a perceptive journalist!

It all feels peculiarly quasi-totaitarian--you must praise the Great Leader!--as well as sad and childish, like Gilmore can't get through a meeting with one of the major cultural forces of his time without getting that force to ratify Gilmore's political beliefs, like Dylan's his cultural dad whose approval must be sought for a political love that maybe even Gilmore is seeing is based in little concrete. (Jann Wenner also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get Dylan to endorse fear of global warming in a past interview.)

It's the kind of pigeonholing for a political cause Dylan has been resisting ever since 1965 or so, and it's amazing Gilmore didn't get that when it comes to praise for his president, it ain't Bob he's looking for.

I wrote a review essay for Reason in 2001 on the wonderful inauthenticity of Bob Dylan.

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Brickbat: Gang Symbols

Colorado's Weld County School system says students can't wear Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos jersey to school. School officials say Manning's No. 18 is one of several they have banned because police told them it was affiliated with gangs.

Brickbat Archive

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Opponents of Massachusetts Marijuana Initiative Accidentally Advertise a Spoof of Themselves

The official voters' guide that was mailed to every household in Massachusetts beginning last week includes a Web address for the No on Question 3 committee, which is urging voters to reject a ballot initiative that would legalize the medical use of marijuana and authorize dispensaries where patients can obtain it. The address, logically enough, is votenoonquestion3.org, but the committee settled on that name without bothering to register it. Whoops. On Tuesday a savvy satirist registered the URL, where you can now find Onion-esque items with headlines such as "FACT: Marijuana Is the Gateway Drug to Twinkies," "FACT: No Marijuana User Has Ever Been Successful" (above a collage of famous pot smokers' photos), and "Elementary School Counselor Speaks Out Against Medical Marijuana" (quoting Mr. Mackey, the guidance counselor on South Park). No on Question 3 spokesman (and former ONDCP official) Kevin Sabet told The Boston Globe, "It's funny and upsetting, I guess, at the same time." No, it's just funny.

Sabet's committee settled on a different URL, mavotenoonquestion3.com, making sure to register it this time. The official site seems like a pale knockoff of the satirical one, featuring headlines like "Teen Pot Use Linked to Later Decline in IQ" and "Protect Our Kids, Colorado Teacher Says." The corrected address is now listed in the online version of the voters' guide, but it was too late to fix the paper version. That's too bad for Sabet et al., because I suspect the voters they are most likely to persuade have a strong preference for paper. But if so, maybe they won't bother to check out the website.

The Globe notes that the No on Question 3 campaign has managed to collect all of $600 so far, compared to the $1 million or so that supporters of the initiative have received from Peter Lewis, a longtime patron of drug policy reform.

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Tune Into Fox Business Network's Stossel Tonight at 9 PM to See Matt Welch, Gary Johnson, and More!

Tonight at 9 pm Eastern I'll be on a special edition of Stossel that looks at (and interviews) various third-party candidates for president. You won't want to miss the Socialist, the Constitutionalist, and the Libertarian cross-examining one another on stage!

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Why Is the DEA Trying to Cover Up the Agency's Medical Marijuana Raids?

The Drug Enforcement Administration raided two medical marijuana dispensaries in California yesterday. The agency is now refusing to disclose any details of the raid, according to Redding.com

Federal drug agents Wednesday raided a pair of medical marijuana collectives in Anderson and Mount Shasta.

DEA agents served federal search warrants at the Green Heart locations in both cities, Special Agent Casey Rettig said.

However, documents relating to the warrants and the warrants themselves are sealed in federal court, Rettig said. She couldn't provide a court case number.

Owner Gina Munday was notified by her alarm company Wednesday morning, thinking someone had broken in, she said. The DEA officers had kicked in the door, she said.

"They broke all the windows, vandalized the inside of the building and took all of the medicine," Munday said. "We were so surprised."

As with dozens of other DEA raids on medical marijuana businesses, no one was arrested at either dispensary, yet all documentation concerning the raid--the warrant, inventory of seized assets, and the incident report--were sealed by court order at the DEA and respective U.S. Attorney's request. 

This is all part of a strategy that dates back to at least 2009. It goes like this: With permission from the U.S. Attorney's office, the DEA raids a dispensary, seizing marijuana but also cash and electronics; it makes no arrests, but asks a judge to seal every document pertaining to the operation and refuses to talk about it with the press. This has two effects: It implies that an investigation is ongoing (even if it's not); more perniciously, it makes it difficult to learn where and how often these raids are happening. 

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Federal Judge Permanently Blocks the Indefinite Detainment Provision of the NDAA, Because It's Unconstitutional, Obama Administration Appeals [Updated]

Remember way a few months ago when we were all freaked out by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and how it seemed its section 1021 allowed for the indefinite military detainment of American citizens, even those picked up on American soil, and we were basically all doomed? (The actual wording being the person who can be detained is someone "who was a part of or substantially supported Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces.")

Lately we've moved on to more important issues like the high stakes 2012 presidential election, starring the guy who signed the NDAA, with a weak, promise to not detain Americans, versus the guy who "would have" signed the NDAA.

In the meantime, a strangely awesome federal judge named Katherine Forrest has been busy trying to roll back the insane advances of the government of which she is technically part. In May, she agreed with plaintiffs who had challenged the law in March, and issued a preliminary injunction to block the detainment provision of the bill that dealt with American citizens, saying it had a "potentially chilling effect on free speech." Those plaintiffs included the American Civil Liberties Union, Daniel "Pentagon Papers" Ellsberg, journalist Chris Hedges, and lefty-scholar Noam Chomsky. 

Now, as Reason 24/7 noted earlier today, Forrest has made it official and declared that the detainment provisions of the NDAA are permanently blocked. Part of Forrest's reasoning was that the broad wording of the act might lead to the detainment of journalists who attempted to write about or interview members of or forces associated with Al-Qaeda, something Hedges has actually already done more than 15 times. This violates the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution (the "chilling effect"), and Forrest also believes the NDAA is in violation of the Fifth Amendment's right to due process. 

Notes the Huffington Post, in May Forrest found the:

language too vague, and repeatedly tried to get government attorneys to say that the reporters' fears were unfounded. The lawyers declined.

"At the hearing on this motion, the government was unwilling or unable to state that these plaintiffs would not be subject to indefinite detention under [section] 1021," Forrest wrote. "Plaintiffs are therefore at risk of detention, of losing their liberty, potentially for many years.

On Judge Forrest's Wednesday ruling, the AP noted:

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Watch Nick Gillespie on Fox Biz, CNBC Tonight

I'll be on Fox Business's The Willis Report tonight around 6.20pm ET, talking about all sorts of crazy, including foreign policy FUBARs and the newest White House initiative to make school lunches healthy! Details here.

And I'll be on CNBC's The Kudlow Report around 7.50pm ET, talking about Middle East mistakes and whether Obama or Romney can get a clue on how to handle foreign policy. Details here.

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The Private Currency and Swap Shop of Yellow Springs, Ohio

Philip Scranton's latest Bloomberg column looks back at barter during the Great Depression, a time that saw several experiments like this one:

Yellow Springs EternalYellow Springs, Ohio, issued a substitute currency, called scrip, and a goods-and-services exchange to ease barter deals. Through this mechanism, a farmer with 100 bushels of potatoes who needed barn repairs didn’t have to find an unemployed carpenter wanting potatoes, but could sell them to the exchange for scrip notes. The carpenter, paid in scrip, could purchase food and other products at the exchange. The exchange was doing about $1,000 worth of business a week, the New York Times reported in December [1932]. A similar exchange soon opened in Manhattan.

I've been curious about that Yellow Springs money ever since I saw a passing reference to it in the Illuminatus! trilogy. A trip to Google News produced this informative account of the arrangement in the St. Petersburg Times, dated March 6, 1933, and this briefer AP dispatch from the previous year. For a pamphlet describing the details of the system, go here. And to see the effort come to an end, read the August 1933 article here. Apparently, the guy who was running it was tapped to take over the Tennessee Valley Authority, and it folded when he left. I'll let the commenters debate whether that counts as an example of a federal agency squeezing out grassroots mutual aid.

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Attn, DC Area Reasonoids: Support Marriage Equality Event in Rockville, MD on 9/21

If you're interested in marriage equality and live in the DC metro area, you may want to check out this event, which be attended by two Reason contributors: Walter Olson of the Cato Institute and Baylen Linnekin of Keep Food Legal.

Some details:

What: Marylanders for Marriage Equality happy hour

Where: Baying Hound Aleworks nanobrewery in Rockville, Maryland. And food provided by DC's famous BBQ Bus.

When: September 21, 5pm to 7.30pm.

How much: $20 donation to MME, plus cash bar.

RSVP: this facebook event page.

Watch Reason TV's "Why Gay Marriage is Winning," featuring Kennedy:

 

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Maryland to Install New Cameras...to Monitor Its Traffic Cameras

Apparently, some people do not like Maryland's speeding cameras, at least judging by the fact that they have vandalized those cameras on multiple occasions, setting one on fire and shooting another with a gun. A man in Howard County apparently shot marbles at a speeding camera van this summer. There have been a handful of other indicidents as well. 

The can't-make-this-up response of Prince George's County officials to problems with camera vandalism? More cameras. To monitor the cameras. Really. Via WTOP:

Many people find speed cameras frustrating, and some in the region are taking their rage out on the cameras themselves.

But now there's a new solution: cameras to watch the cameras.

One is already in place, and Prince George's County Police Maj. Robert V. Liberati hopes to have up to a dozen more before the end of the year.

"It's not worth going to jail over a $40 ticket or an arson or destruction of property charge," says Liberati.

Liberati is the Commander of the Automated Enforcement Section, which covers speed and red-light cameras.

Liberati, who is part of the county's Automated Enforcement Section, notes that it costs between $30,000 and $100,000 to replace a camera. This, he says, represents "a significant loss in the program." If saving money is the goal, however, wouldn't it be cheaper to simply remove all of the cameras rather than put in additional units, which are apparently quite expensive to install and maintain, and which create additional risks of vandalism-related expenses?

One also has to wonder about the logical end point of this approach. If someone shoots marbles or bullets at one of the new camera-monitoring cameras, will the state follow up by installing a third layer of cameras, to watch the cameras that were supposed to be watching the speed cameras? And what if someone destroys those? How many layers of expensive camera watching cameras will it take for the plan to be cost effective? This does not seem like a money saving plan. 

But perhaps saving money is not the real motivation for installing the cameras. The story also notes that "the Prince George's County Police Department decided it needed to catch the vandals, or at least deter them." It is not clear, however, why anyone who was already willing to destroy a state-operated speeding camera would not also be willing to destroy a state-operated speeding camera monitor camera. 

Liberati has a final reason for installing the new cameras. Speeding camera vandalism, he says, "takes a camera off the street that operates and slows people down. So there's a loss of safety for the community." Apparently he thinks it's safer for the state to not only operate cameras that attract gunfire and arson, but also to install additional cameras which may attract more such activity. 

One thing the state is absolutely not attempting to do is protect a revenue source. According to WTOP, "Liberati says the cameras aren't a case of Big Brother nor a cash grab, police are simply trying to keep the public safe from reckless drivers." Of course not.

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Drones Will Fill the Skies and Peer Through Our Roofs, Says Congressional Report

It's easy to get the impression that nobody in government gives a damn about our privacy. After all, our glorious elected representatives happily brush off any concerns we might raise about TSA agents pawing through our stuff and touching us in places that our mothers told us were supposed to remain unsullied by the hands of strangers. Those same tribunes of the people just signed off on a five-year renewal for the FISA Amendments Act, which lets the feds spy on us on a just-trust-us basis. But the prospect of a future sky crowded with flying robo-snoops is apparently still able to rouse a shiver of dread in even the occasional jaded bureaucrat. At least, the Congressional Research Service recently issued a report fretting about the threats to our much-battered privacy posed by using drones in domestic surveillance.

In Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses (PDF), Richard M. Thompson II, a legislative attorney, warns us that drones are on the verge of being a very big deal, indeed:

Although relatively few drones are currently flown over U.S. soil, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that 30,000 drones will fill the nation’s skies in less than 20 years.

These drones of the future "can be as small as an insect and as large as a traditional jet" and it isn't really clear yet how sticking cameras on flying robots and sending them into the sky to look at us in our sun-bathing glory on our patios — or to examine the contents of our gardens — really fits into the law.

While individuals can expect substantial protections against warrantless government intrusions into their homes, the Fourth Amendment offers less robust restrictions upon government surveillance occurring in public places and perhaps even less in areas immediately outside the home, such as in driveways or backyards.

That we're not yet sure of the legal limits on these things is a big deal, because they're getting ever-more robo-snoopy even as they become more common. Thompson points out that "UAVs carry high-megapixel cameras and thermal imaging, and will soon have the capacity to see through walls and ceilings." This kind of high-tech surveillance, beyond the ability of unaided human senses, is likely to invoke extra court scrutiny and require a warrant.

License-plate readers and facial-recognition technology raise similar concerns, but may not be resolved the same way in terms of Fourth Amendment protection since they essentially automate what people can already do, even if they make it a hell of a lot more efficient. Both are relatively uncharted legal territory even when not attached to drones.

Thompson suggests that increasing drone use could well erode what judges would consider a reasonable expectation of privacy. That is, if drones become common, we might be asked to assume that we're under surveillance with no warrant required. And they're not just likely to become common, but permanent.

[D]efense firm Lockheed Martin’s Stalker—a small, electrically powered drone—can be recharged from the ground using a laser. It now has a flight time of more than 48 hours. As this technology advances, it is reported that some drones could theoretically “stay in the air forever.”

Basically, drones are becoming more complex, more common and much more intrusive, and so raise a whole host of privacy concerns that the courts have yet to address, and the resolutions of which we can't hope to predict. Until lawmakers or judges weigh in, make friends with your inner exhibitionist — and give the sky a smile and a wave.

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Anthony Randazzo on How Quantitative Easing Helps Wall Street and Soaks the Rest of Us

The decision is in: Unlimited quantitative easing. That was the announcement from the Federal Open Market Committee this afternoon, launching a third round of purchases of securities in a bid to boost the economy and reduce unemployment. This time, Ben Bernanke and crew are pledging to buy $40 billion per month until the economy improves. The Fed's policy committee also extended its zero-interest rate policy until “at least mid-2015.” If QE3 lasts that long, the Feds will be printing at least another $800 billion to buy mortgage-backed securities.   

It won’t be a surprise to read conservatives lambasting this as unconventional monetary policy meant to help re-elect President Obama. And inflation hawks have already started screeching. But the loudest cry of “for shame,” writes Athony Randazzo, should be coming from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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Even More Quantitative Easing, Stevens Warned of Benghazi Radicals in 2008, States Challenge Feds Over Recreational Pot: P.M. Links

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

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Why Should I Have to Worry About Finishing This Post Before We Drop Below 10,000 Feet?

Since I'm not sure whether I'll be able to finish this post before a flight attendant tells us to turn off our electronic devices in preparation for landing, this seems an opportune time to note a recent Wall Street Journal piece that casts further doubt on the policy underlying such instructions. The authors, University of Illinois psychologist Daniel Simons and Union College psychologist Christopher Chabris, conducted a survey of 492 Americans who had flown in the previous year and found that "40% said they did not turn their phones off completely during takeoff and landing on their most recent flight," while "more than 7% left their phones on, with the Wi-Fi and cellular communications functions active," and 2 percent admitted "actively using their phones when they weren't supposed to." The actual numbers are probably higher, since people may be reluctant to confess such naughty behavior. But based on the survey results, Simons and Chabris write, "The odds that all 78 of the passengers who travel on an average-size U.S. domestic flight have properly turned off their phones are infinitesimal: less than one in 100 quadrillion, by our rough calculation. If personal electronics are really as dangerous as the FAA rules suggest, navigation and communication would be disrupted every day on domestic flights. But we don't see that."

The fact that routine flouting of the Federal Aviation Administration's rules regarding electronics on airplanes has not led to one disaster after another is hardly surprising, since there was never any real evidence that leaving cellphones, MP3 players, or laptops on interferes with navigation or communication:

The restrictions date back to 1991 and were motivated in part by anecdotal reports from pilots and flight crews that electronic devices affected an airliner's navigation equipment or disrupted communication between the cockpit and the ground. Over the years, however, Boeing has been unable to duplicate these problems, and the FAA can only say that the devices' radio signals "may" interfere with flight operations....

Why has the regulation remained in force for so long despite the lack of solid evidence to support it? Human minds are notoriously overzealous "cause detectors." When two events occur close in time, and one plausibly might have caused the other, we tend to assume it did. There is no reason to doubt the anecdotes told by airline personnel about glitches that have occurred on flights when they also have discovered someone illicitly using a device.

But when thinking about these anecdotes, we don't consider that glitches also occur in the absence of illicit gadget use. More important, we don't consider how often gadgets have been in use when flights have been completed without a hitch.

Last month the FAA announced that it plans to appoint a panel of experts charged with examining the empirical basis for its electronics policy, which effectively requires that devices be turned off at altitudes below 10,000 feet. The panel will have six months to study the issue, and even then it sounds like the best travelers can hope for is a slight loosening of the restrictions, which probably would not take effect anytime soon.

The New York Times notes that "the rule was first introduced to stop airborne cellphones from interfering with wireless networks on the ground." It says the FAA "is not considering lifting the prohibition on the use of cellphones [for calls] during flight."  

Made it! 

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Porn Industry Fears Mitt Romney's Desire to Suppress It (and Suppress Americans' Choices)

Susannah Breslin at Forbes talks to some people in the porn industry about what a Mitt Romney presidency might mean, including John Stagliano (who supports the Reason Foundation, which owns Reason magazine):

“They want to put me in jail, basically.”

That’s how porn director John Stagliano responds when I ask him what he thinks of the 2012 GOP platform, in particular one newly added sentence:

“Current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.”

Two years ago, Stagliano was sitting in a Washington, D.C., courtroom, charged with seven counts of distributing obscenity.

Today, he’s a free man, after federal court judge Richard J. Leon “dismissed with prejudice” several of the counts and for the remaining counts “granted the defendants’ motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29.”

But an anti-porn crusader says Mitt Romney has vowed if he’s elected president, he’ll ramp up obscenity prosecutions....

According to Patrick Trueman, who ran the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section at the Department of Justice under President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush and who now runs Morality in Media, an anti-porn organization, Romney intends to launch a war on porn.

In a meeting with Alex Wong, Romney’s foreign and legal policy director, Trueman says Wong told him, “Romney is sincere about this. He’s convinced this has now had a terrible effect on society, and he will enforce the law.”....

In 2007, Romney swore that if he were elected president, he would put a porn filter on every computer.....

This is the "small government" of Romney and too much of the modern Republican Party: a government big enough to violate the First Amendment blatantly and waste taxpayer money and lives trying to stop people from making and consuming products they enjoy. 

A Reason.tv interview from July 2010 with Stagliano about the Feds failed attempt to prosecute  convict him:

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Can a Vote for Gay Marriage Be Corrupt?

Yesterday, on the way to an Intelligence Squared debate about campaign finance regulation, I happened to read a story about Roy McDonald, one of four Republican state senators who last year voted for the bill that legalized gay marriage in New York. McDonald did so only after receiving assurances from gay rights activists who promised to help counter the expected backlash by raising money for his re-election campaign. The New York Times reports that they delivered on that promise:

New York was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage with the support of a Republican-controlled legislative chamber, and gay-rights advocates, who have showered Mr. McDonald with campaign contributions, fear that his defeat would discourage Republican legislators in other statehouses from bucking their party to support same-sex marriage....

The race between Mr. McDonald and [Kathleen] Marchione [McDonald's opponent in today's primary] is the most expensive legislative primary in New York this year. Mr. McDonald has raised more than $926,000 in this campaign cycle, thanks in part to help from supporters of same-sex marriage, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who donated $10,300. Ms. Marchione, by contrast, has raised more than $180,000.

While McDonald says he voted his conscience, Marchione argues that he betrayed voters by changing his position on gay marriage, essentially selling his vote for campaign cash. The question I posed to the audience at last night's debate (which was held at the Kaufman Center in Manhattan): Is McDonald's vote an example of the corruption that campaign finance regulations are aimed at curtailing? The average progressive, I think, would say no: Supporters of gay marriage are simply expressing their gratitude to McDonald and showing that legislators can benefit politically by doing the right thing. But what McDonald did arguably amounted to a quid pro quo arrangement in which he agreed to support a particular bill in exchange for campaign contributions. In form it is no different from voting against a cigarette tax hike based on promises of donations from tobacco executives or voting against environmental regulations in anticipation of support from Archer Daniels Midland's political action committee. The only difference is that, from a progressive perspective, McDonald voted the right way. 

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New York City Approves Large Soda Ban, So Drink ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em

They city that never sleeps won’t be able to rely on a late-night sugar rush for much longer: New York City’s Board of Health has approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on “sugary drinks” in containers larger than 16 ounces from being sold at certain businesses.

The number of exceptions to the ban makes the whole practice an absurd spectacle of pointless progressive authoritarian paternalism. Fruit juices and milkshakes are not affected by the ban even though both can have sugar content right up there with your Cokes and your Mountain Dews. The ban affects restaurants and movie theaters but not convenience stores, so New Yorkers won’t be able to get a 20-ounce soda at McDonald’s, but they will be able to get a 50-ounce Double Gulp from 7-Eleven. Furthermore, the ban shouldn’t affect diet or sugar-free drinks, but as The New York Times reports, establishments with self-service fountains will not be able to stock cups that hold more than 16 ounces. So essentially, thirsty people will want to avoid the targeted businesses altogether even if they’re drinking healthy.

One annoying outcome of this half-assed Nanny Statism is how it’s easy it’s going to be to spin an argument for an expansion of the ban regardless of the outcome. If the city’s obesity numbers drop, it will be an argument that the ban worked and it should be expanded. If the obesity numbers don’t drop, it means the ban obviously didn’t go far enough and should be expanded. The drug war’s arguments are on their way to the soda dispenser.

The ban doesn’t actually begin for six months, and soft-drink industry representatives vow to continue fighting it, according to the Times. Lawsuits, ahoy!

Various people have written extensively about this new frontier of Nanny Statism here at Reason.com. Catch up here. In May, Reason.tv declared Bloomberg “Nanny of the Month” for proposing the ban. Watch the video below:

 

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Glenn Garvin on Robert Caro’s Epic Biography of Lyndon Johnson

Over the past three decades, Robert Caro has been working on a planned five-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, tracing the acerbic politician's rise to power from the central Texas hill country to the U.S. Senate and finally to the White House. Each entry to date has been transfixing, writes Glenn Garvin, and the recently released fourth volume, The Passage of Power, is no exception. Its 712 pages cover only the years from 1960 to 1963: Johnson’s unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination against John F. Kennedy; the rancorous negotiations that led to Johnson’s inclusion on the ticket; his tormented internal exile in the vice presidency; and the first month of his tempestuous presidency. Caro’s fundamental aim is to show that Johnson, reduced to a sulky mope by serial humiliations at the hands of the Kennedys during his vice presidency, instantly rose to greatness in his handling of the difficult transition following the assassination in Dallas. As long as you don’t confuse greatness with goodness, Garvin writes, Caro makes a compelling and highly readable case.

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Ron Paul Roundup: He Might Get Electoral Votes From Defecting Electors, and the Right-Wing Demands His Support

Via Huffington Post, proof that the crummy way the GOP establishment treated Ron Paul fans and delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month may have real and quick aftereffects, including the loss of electoral votes for Mitt Romney:

At least three Republican electors say they may not support their party's presidential ticket when the Electoral College meets in December to formally elect the new president...

The electors – all are supporters of former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul – told The Associated Press they are exploring options should Mitt Romney win their states. They expressed frustration at how Republican leaders have worked to suppress Paul's conservative movement and his legion of loyal supporters.

"They've never given Ron Paul a fair shot, and I'm disgusted with that. I'd like to show them how disgusted I am," said Melinda Wadsley, an Iowa mother of three who was selected a Republican elector earlier this year. She said she believes Paul is the better choice and noted that the Electoral College was founded with the idea that electors wouldn't just mimic the popular vote.....

As Paul supporters fought for more prestigious delegate slots during state-level conventions this year, they also quietly accrued electors....

In Nevada, for example, Paul's forces seized control of the state convention and won a majority of delegates. They also placed four Paul supporters among the state's six electors.

The electors said they have had no organized discussion over how to cast their electoral votes and there have been no efforts by the campaigns to get them to vote for either Paul or Romney.

Nevada's electors are approaching their duties in different ways.

Jesse Law, an elector and Paul supporter, said he may have qualms with Romney but has always intended to cast his electoral vote for the party nominee.

"I just want to beat Obama," Law said.

But Ken Eastman may not cast his Nevada electoral vote for Romney, if the former Massachusetts governor wins the state. Eastman said he wants to explore options with Republican leaders in Clark County, a group now dominated by Paul supporters.

"I'm undecided at this point," Eastman said, adding that he's "pretty disgusted" with the national Republican Party and how it has worked to suppress Paul's grassroots movement. He said the GOP has not been open to an influx of people with different ideas.

Along with the three electors looking at alternatives, Nevada GOP elector Ken Searles said he may vote for Paul as a protest, so long as his vote wouldn't change the outcome of the election....

Nevada does have a state law requiring electors to follow the popular vote, but the law has no punishment prescribed. A Minnesota elector in 2004 voted for John Edwards for president rather than his top-ticket man John Kerry.

The Libertarian Party got a great jumpstart in its first presidential run in 1972 when Roger MacBride, an elector from Virginia, could not in good conscience vote for President Nixon and case his electoral vote for philosopher John Hospers and his running mate Tonie Nathan, who thus became the first woman in American history to receive an electoral vote. MacBride won the next LP presidential nod in 1976.

*Meanwhile, Richard Viguerie, one of the oldest advocates of what in the 1970s was the New Right, upbraids Paul for not being a better team player for the Grand Old Party:

A vote for Virgil Goode or Gary Johnson is the same as a vote for Barack Obama. The future of this country is more important than the personal slights and short term wins or losses that any candidate and his adherents might suffer. 

It is time for Congressman Ron Paul and his partisans to join the movement to beat Obama, and however grudgingly, give their support to Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Republican candidates for Senate and Congress. There will be plenty of opportunities to advance their agenda when Obama is gone, but very few if he stays.

*And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) revives last Winter's controversy over Ron Paul's office apparently doublecharging both Congress and a private organization, the Liberty Committee, supporting Paul for plane flights (to the tune, according to the Committee, of $20,000). This marks him one of the "most corrupt members of Congress," saith CREW. Worth noting in judging Paul's "corruption" that he returned over $141,000 of taxpayer money to the Treasury last year from his congressional budget, an increase over the $100,000 he'd returned the year before, and about 9 percent of his office budget.

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

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Fed Announces Open Ended QE3

This is a big deal: The Federal Reserve announced this afternoon that it would pursue a third round of quantitative easing, known as QE3. And unlike previous rounds, this one has no predetermined end date.

The central bank said that it will continue adding to its balance sheet by about $40 billion each month — essentially creating additional currency and adding it to the money supply — indefinitely. The Federal Reserve also made clear that it will extend its current "exceptionally low" interest rate on federal funds through at least the middle of 2015. Here's the key portion of the statement:

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability.  The Committee is concerned that, without further policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor market conditions.  Furthermore, strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook.  The Committee also anticipates that inflation over the medium term likely would run at or below its 2 percent objective.

To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate, the Committee agreed today to increase policy accommodation by purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month.  The Committee also will continue through the end of the year its program to extend the average maturity of its holdings of securities as announced in June, and it is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities.  These actions, which together will increase the Committee’s holdings of longer-term securities by about $85 billion each month through the end of the year, should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative. 

Quantitative easing is frequently described as "unconventional monetary policy," but the open-ended nature of this bond-buying commitment is unique even by the standards of previous actions. It brings the Federal Reserve closer to a policy idea that's become known as NGDP (Nominal Growth Domestic Product) targeting, in which the Fed basically says it will continue buying bonds until the economy reaches a certain target level of inflation and growth. This new round of QE isn't pegged to any sort of economic target, but it does commit the Fed to printing money until, well...whenever it feels like stopping. But taking this idea on its own terms, the Fed's announcement might undermine the way NGDP targeting is supposed to work. The idea is that the Fed provides both confidence and clarity: It will print money until certain well-established targets are met, and boost demand and economic activity as a result. But without a defined target, the uncertainty still exists. 

Did the last round of QE work? Experts weren't so sure when the policy was announced. And they were even less sure after it finished. Here's Steve Chapman with the case against tight money policies. And here's Anthony Randazzo and James Groth on the failures of quantative easing

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Q: Why Are Chicago Teachers Striking for the 1st Time in 25 Years? A: Because They Usually Got Everything They Could Dream Of?

Lots of stories about the Chicago teachers strike point out that this is the "first strike in 25 years" or some variation on the theme.

To recap so far: Windy City teachers walked off the job earlier this week after rejecting a three-year contract that proposed an average 16 percent increase in pay over four years. The city had upped its offer from 8 percent but the big sticking point is reportedly the desire to increase the role of standardized test scores in evaluating teachers for merit pay.

Why have teachers struck so infrequently over the past 25 years? Simply put, it's because they've gotten sweetheart contracts most of the time. Consider the contract that just expired:

The Chicago teachers' previous contract...gave teachers a total wage increase of 19% to 46% over the contract period from 2007 to 2012, according to a fact finders report issued in July. Chicago's average teacher salary is now $71,000 a year, according to the city.

Read more here. And note that the average salary is sometimes reported as $76,000.

I happen to think that an average boost of 16 percent in salary over four years is a pretty good deal. But I guess compared to up 46 percent over a similar timespan, it's really chicken feed.

Today is #schoolchoicefacts day on Twitter. Check out that hashtag and if you're so inclined, send around this video that explains a semi-obscure fact: the K-12 education system in not fundamentally about teaching kids. It's about making money for all sorts of folks.

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David Harsanyi on Why No One Is Going to Close Any Tax Loopholes

The problem with Mitt Romney's tax plan is that keeping it revenue-neutral on paper can be achieved only by closing tax loopholes. Which loopholes? We don't know. Romney, as vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan explained, believes "the best way to do this is to show the framework, show the outlines of these plans and then to work with Congress to do this. That's how you get things done."

This might be solid political reasoning, writes David Harsanyi, but in reality, it's not going to happen. And the problem isn't that wealthy oil barons or special interest lobbyists love loopholes (they do); it's because we do.

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Buckyballs vs The Consumer Products Safety Commission

"Buckyballs vs The Consumer Products Safety Commission" is the newest offering 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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Arlington Cracks Down on Food Trucks, Delicious Tacos and Cheesesteaks Bail Out

There's a high density of foodie types in the inner Washington, D.C., suburb of Arlington, Virginia. You know, the kind of people who would love to "discover" a great new hole in the wall or food truck. Too bad the county is doing its darnedest to chase away would-be vendors.

In recent week, Arlington police have started enforcing the previously ignored 60 minute limit on curbside idling time. An hour might seem like a long time for an ice cream truck to hand out cones or a hot dog cart to dish up some half smokes. But some of the more enterprising mobile chefs need a little more time:

What's most difficult for the food truck vendors is that their one-hour limit is up by the time they're able to successfully park, heat their grills and get the operation in order, said [Doug Maheu, who operates the Doug the Food Dude food truck].

The trucks must then "shut down and move with customers in line," Maheu said, or face action from the Arlington County Police Department.

"We need a minimum of three hours to be able to successfully operate," he said.

But who would be complaining about exciting new eating options? Oh right, the competition:

[Maheu] said he thinks the increased enforcement has to do with complaints from restaurants.

"I'm guessing they may be trying to squash their competition," he said. Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, which represents many Arlington County restaurants, said she has heard county restaurant owners complaining about the trucks. 

Some food truck owners are responding by bailing out, such as Bada Bing food truck owner Nicholas Terzella, who makes pretty great cheesesteaks:

“Police have been staking trucks out. When I was parked in Crystal City a few weeks ago, an Arlington County police officer sat across from Chic fil A for over an hour. In this time, multiple cars pulled up to 2200 Crystal Drive and double parked (this happens daily). None of these cars are EVER ticketed. The officer sat there for 1.5 hours and ticketed us.”

“This is the first time in my 2 years of business that I have ever received a ticket,” he continued. “I admit, parking in those particular locations is AWFUL!! That’s why we can’t just leave after the 60 minutes and just grab another spot. This rule ends our lunch service early and makes staying in Arlington impossible. We have to change it now or Arlington will soon be a food truck wasteland.”

Others are choosing not to expand, such as Osiris Hoil, owner of District Taco, a trailer that sits on a Rosslyn sidewalk:

"At first, we had a small budget and couldn't afford a food truck," Hoil said. "But now, with this problem, we have no plans to get one. This rule is not fair. ... It doesn't make any sense."

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On Day 36, "90 Days, 90 Reasons" Runs Out of Reasons to Re-Elect Obama

We've told you before about 90 Days, 90 Reasons, the website launched by literary darling Dave Eggers. Today, we're laying the project to rest.

Ideologically, 90 Days, 90 Reasons was a mess from the very beginning. Eggers praised Obama for being a peacenik, even though that is not true. Shortly thereafter, film critic Roger Ebert submitted the patently false claim that "President Obama faced down the GOP and the health industry to finally reform American healthcare."

Things went further awry when Jesse Eisenberg reported that he was being held captive in Mongolia. This was really troubling for Eisenberg, because if it were up to him, "I'd never leave my apartment and, more specifically, the bedroom area." However, his captors were nice enough to put him up in a yurt with a wireless connection and a Michelin rated tapas place downstairs, from which Eisenberg hunt-and-pecked this gem: "I think Barack Obama is a good leader for our diverse country because he's seen how the world lives." 

Things got more surreal from there. Eggers recruited a rock star to write: "Finally!!! Sweet justice! A real live person is our president! Who has a real live family and a loving relationship with his wife! A president that does not seem like an evil robot!!!"

Until recently, I was willing to say this for the project: Every entry prior to the above was, at the very least, distinct from the inane bullshit that came before it.

Now, 90 Days, 90 Reasons is simply recycling previous days' affirmations. 

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Virginia to Use Licensing Scheme to Shut Down Abortion Clinics?

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who ran on cutting unnecessary regulation, does not seem to mind singling out certain small businesses for some new, ruinously expensive red tape.

In 2011, McDonnell signed a bill directing the Board of Health to impose new licensing requirements on abortion clinics. The rules, which the Board will consider when it meets tomorrow, would force the state’s clinics to abide by 46 pages of design requirements for new hospital construction.

Existing hospitals and outpatient facilities that perform similarly invasive procedures would not have to upgrade.

To comply, clinics would have to move to new buildings or undertake costly and pointless renovations to guarantee hallways are of proper width and height, that waiting rooms have water fountains, that exam rooms have at least 80 feet of clear floor space, that new ventilation systems are installed, and that front entrances are covered. According to the bill's language:

The intent of this regulatory action is to promote and assure the safety of patients who receive first trimester abortion services… The standards are required to include those for construction and maintenance; operation, staffing and equipping; qualifications and training of staff; and infection prevention, disaster preparedness and facility security.

Moreover, the new licensing rules require that abortion providers would be forced to turn over sensitive records about patients and clinic owners to the state with no assurance that the information will be kept confidential.

So-called TRAP laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, are thinly-veiled attempts to regulate abortion out of existence—without making it illegal—by imposing cost-prohibitive rules that have no rational connection to health and safety and that do not apply to other health facilities.

Nevertheless, supporters of the new licensing rules, such as the Family Foundation, contend that state-mandated water fountains are simply reasonable measures to ensure patient health and safety. And they can make that claim with a straight face because the courts have not called them on it.

Judges are generally reluctant to scrutinize regulation once it has been deemed necessary to protect health and safety by the legislative or executive branches. This is a legacy of progressive, New Deal-era judicial philosophy that grants wide latitude to the government to regulate our lives. See occupational licensing, food restrictions and eminent domain.

As Reason’s A. Barton Hinkle argued last month, TRAP laws reveal that both sides of the aisle are happy to deploy the full arsenal of the Nanny State—they just disagree about when to do so.

In June, former intern Melanie Kruvelis described the battle over TRAP laws in Michigan.

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Reason Writers at Tablet Magazine: Matt Welch on Accusing a YouTube Video of 'Incitement'

Writing at Tablet, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch argues that acceding to the "heckler's veto" is like wearing a huge "kick me" sign. Excerpt:

Neither prophylactic apologies nor self-censorship, it turns out, seem to mollify religious fanatics. 

Not that many in America’s political class seem to notice. It’s a modern marvel to witness how thoroughly the country’s journalists and commentators have, over the past decade, internalized false notions about Muslims, violence, and free expression. For instance, that depicting the historical figure of Muhammad is untenable blasphemy (see the Muhammad Image Archive for a repository of rejoinders); that the mere discussion about the proposed portrayal of a cartoon Muhammad bear-suit should be avoided at all costs in order to avoid a potential spasm of Mideast violence; and that retreating so abjectly from the defense of free speech will somehow make the world a safer place.

No, American writers, reporters, and artists won’t touch the Prophet Muhammad with a 10-foot pair of kid gloves. Provocateurs who luxuriate in the death of God leave Allah the hell alone. Western countries without a First Amendment prosecute “blasphemers.” Even free-speech heroes like Penn Jillette will acknowledge that his act won’t tackle Islam “because we have families.” An alt-weekly cartoonist felt impelled to go into the witness protection program in order to avoid retribution from murderous Islamists unsatisfied with her apology for proposing an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” Meantime, professional free-speech organizations say little.

So, it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that now, after Tuesday night’s savage murder of four Americans in Libya, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, a sector of the American commentariat is calling for the heads of … lunatic Florida Pastor Terry Jones and a bizarro-world filmmaker who goes by the names Sam Bacile and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

Read the whole thing here.

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Ron Paul's Former Political Director Jesse Benton to Work for Sen. Mitch McConnell's 2014 Campaign

Politico reports:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hired a loyal aide to Rep. Ron Paul and fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to run his 2014 reelection bid -- the latest sign of how the wily leader is already preparing to head off any tea party insurgency and Democratic challenge....

"We're committed to running a presidential-level campaign in Kentucky and that starts with a presidential campaign manager," McConnell said. "Jesse is literally the best in the business at building and organizing conservative grassroots movements and I'm thrilled he's chosen to return to Kentucky to lead my campaign."

Since Rand Paul defeated McConnell's hand-picked Senate choice in the 2010 primary, the leader has worked to win over the younger Paul, giving him political advice in that campaign, allowing him to operate independently in the Senate and touring the state with him back home....

Benton had McConnell connections already through Paul campaign advisor Trygve Olson, who reportedly first entered the Paul camp when sent, reportedly at McConnell's request, over from the National Republican Senatorial Committee to work with Rand Paul's 2010 campaign for McConnell.

Benton managed Rand Paul's 2010 Senate campaign; McConnell had initially wanted Paul to lose the primary, though the two camps have, as Politico notes, become friendly since Paul's Senate victory.

For those who trust Benton's liberty bonafides, this is a great step in the spread of Paulism throughout the higher reaches of the GOP. The folks at the Daily Paul are reliably anti-Benton in their comment thread on the news, seeing his move as a sign that he was never fully dedicated to Paul's libertarian principles in the first place.

The story of Benton's presidential efforts for Ron Paul told in my book Ron Paul's Revolution.

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If Political Parties Are Like Soft Drink Brands, Why Isn't Gary Johnson Polling 15 Percent?

One of the great pseudo-hardboiled statements you can make about American politics is to shake your head with resignation and sigh that the major party candidates are no different than Coke and Pepsi

But while the underlying assumption – that people can only be tricked into passionately supporting one or the other indistinguishable party through constant marketing and advertising – may be correct, the  truth is that we'd be much better off, and enjoy much greater diversity of political representation, if America's politics were more like its cola markets. 

A breakdown [pdf] of soft drink brand names shows that neither Coke nor Pepsi has the kind of iron grip on public attention that the two factions of the political duopoly have exercised for at least as long as every American voter today has been alive. 

Even robust third-party challenges like John Anderson's in 1980 (6.6 percent of the popular vote) and Ross Perot's in 1992 (an astonishing 18.9 percent of the popular vote) have never brought the Republocrats' share below one-third each. The graphic above is from 2001, when the internet was still black and white, but a 2010 report shows continued diversity: 

 

It is true that in the last ten years the Coca Cola Company has taken a decisive lead in the soft drink wars, with all its combined brands now holding 42 percent of the market to PepsiCo's 29 percent. (And it goes without saying that we don't have any subsidiary choices like Democrat Zero or Republican Free.) That still leaves a level of diversity in third-tier brands that you rarely see in politics and never in presidential elections.

If Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were truly Coke and Pepsi, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, the standardbearer for the country's third largest party, would be polling above 10 percent right now. In fact, he is polling around 3 percent – which is an excellent showing by historical standards. In 2008 Libertarian candidate Bob Barr brought in just 0.4 percent, behind Ralph Nader's 0.56 percent, and all minor-party votes combined came to less than 2 percent. If you've been following Garrett Quinn's coverage of Johnson's ballot-access Iliad, you know these low percentages reflect intentional choice-reduction tactics by the major parties more than they do the will of the voters. 

Am I saying that the soft drink market is perfect? I am not. In my view more people should appreciate the reliable taste and reasonable price of Shasta, and I tremble for my nation when I reflect that we have such little regard for RC Cola, which has great taste and made the best cola commercial of all time back in the 1980s: 

Those were bolder days, when America had a real president who knew that you respond to an attack on your embassy by selling arms to the attackers. But even today, some sharp marketing executive could easily persuade hipsters that "Royal Crown and Crown Royal" is a swanky successor to your father's rum and Coke. I'd doubt that kind of ingenuity would make a difference in our choiceless politics

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Steve Chapman on Obama's Auto Fairy Tale

At the DNC Convention, we were told Barack Obama didn't just rescue GM and Chrysler, he preserved a million jobs. He saved the entire auto industry. He invented a catalytic converter that churns out rainbows. Hosannas came from nearly every speaker, particularly former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, whose antics fell just short of the standards required for involuntary commitment in North Carolina. But the whole story, writes Steve Chapman, is not quite so simple or rosy as you might conclude.

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Terrifying: Increases in Real Per Capita Federal Spending Over The Past 35 Years

The above chart put together by my frequent collaborator Veronique de Rugy is, simply put, terrifying.

It shows the growth in inflation-adjusted federal outlays per capita. So what you're looking at is a trend line that accounts for population growth and inflation.

Two things stand out: George W. Bush was god-awful. And Barack Obama looks to be even worse (note: fiscal 2009 includes spending attributable to both adminstrations).

A third observation: The Republicans seem to be the ones who ratchet up spending while the Dems solidify that amount. Which party will grow into being the crew that brings spending down to something that is affordable?

This is no way to run a country. But it might a great way to wreck the economy. Because government spending crowds out private investment and the "debt overhang" inevitably used to pay for open-ended government spending reduces future economic growth. At least in the 21st century, neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party has shown the slightest interest in actually reining in government spending. They've got slightly different reasons for keeping the cash flowing, but it will absolutely end with the same result: a broke-down and bruised body politic with a rotten future.

For more, read these two pieces by de Rugy and me: "The 19 Percent Solution: How to Balance the Budget without Raising Taxes," and "Generational Warfare: Old-Age Entitlements vs. the Welfare State," 

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A.M. Links: Anti-American Protests Sparked by Bad Movie Spread, Germany Cautions Israel Against Aggression, Pension Crisis Still Unaddressed

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

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Judge Andrew Napolitano on the Possibility that November Changes Nothing

What if the principal parties' candidates for president really agree more than they disagree? What if they both support the authority of the federal government to spy on Americans without search warrants? What if they both support confining foreigners, uncharged and untried, in Guantanamo Bay? What if they both believe the president can arrest without charge and confine without trial any American he hates or fears? What if they both believe in secret courts—kept away from the public and the press—that can take away the rights of Americans? 

In other words: What do we do, asks Judge Andrew Napolitano, if the biggest difference between Romney and Obama is how they spell their names?

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Protesters Storm Embassy in Yemen

As noted on Reason 24/7, violent protests over a poorly-produced film mocking Islam have now spread to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo released a statement when protests first started there that they condemned "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." The statement was disavowed by Washington and has now been completely scrubbed from the Embassy website. Nevertheless, while condemning the killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other staffers the president noted that "we reject all efforts to denigrate the religious belief of others."

The Yemeni demonstrators are not protesting the still officially mostly secret drone war in their country, so coverage of what's known about that drone operation in U.S. media can continue without worry it'll be condemned by some U.S. officials for inciting a riot in Yemen. At least for now.

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Brickbat: Blackboard Jungle

Police officers forced students at Horizon High School in Texas to strip down so they could photograph any tattoos the kids were sporting. Parents did not give their permission for the photos, and school officials say the police did not tell them they would be taking photos of students. Police Chief Michael McConnel says the department has destroyed the photos.

Brickbat Archive

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Neuro-Pretensions: Attacking the Science of Pop Neuroscience

Steven Poole in the New Statesman has a fun and feisty attack--very appropriate in the memory of Thomas Szasz, one of the great warriors against the scientistic pretensions of our knowledge of the human mind--on pop neuroscience books, for grossly overstating the value of fMRI evidence, burying truistic speculation under the guise of cutting-edge science, and sheer hand-waving silliness, among other intellectual crimes.

It's long and goes a lot of places (and pokes fun and contempt at a lot of specific books, authors, and arguments), but here's some fun bits:

Today’s ubiquitous rhetorical confidence about how the brain works papers over a still-enormous scientific uncertainty. Paul Fletcher, professor of health neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, says that he gets “exasperated” by much popular coverage of neuroimaging research, which assumes that “activity in a brain region is the answer to some profound question about psychological processes. This is very hard to justify given how little we currently know about what different regions of the brain actually do.” Too often, he tells me in an email correspondence, a popular writer will “opt for some sort of neuro-flapdoodle in which a highly simplistic and questionable point is accompanied by a suitably grand-sounding neural term and thus acquires a weightiness that it really doesn’t deserve. In my view, this is no different to some mountebank selling quacksalve by talking about the physics of water molecules’ memories, or a beautician talking about action liposomes.”....

The human brain, it is said, is the most complex object in the known universe. That a part of it “lights up” on an fMRI scan does not mean the rest is inactive; nor is it obvious what any such lighting-up indicates; nor is it straightforward to infer general lessons about life from experiments conducted under highly artificial conditions. Nor do we have the faintest clue about the biggest mystery of all – how does a lump of wet grey matter produce the conscious experience you are having right now, reading this paragraph? How come the brain gives rise to the mind? No one knows......

And when no one knows, there is so, so much to be said....

In The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and his collaborator Daniel Simons advise readers to be wary of such “brain porn”, but popular magazines, science websites and books are frenzied consumers and hypers of these scans. “This is your brain on music”, announces a caption to a set of fMRI images, and we are invited to conclude that we now understand more about the experience of listening to music.... I hereby volunteer to submit to a functional magnetic-resonance imaging scan while reading a stack of pop neuroscience volumes, for an illuminating series of pictures entitled This Is Your Brain on Stupid Books About Your Brain....

One might humbly venture a preliminary diagnosis of the pop brain hacks’ chronic intellectual error. It is that they misleadingly assume we always know how to interpret such “hidden” information, and that it is always more reliably meaningful than what lies in plain view. The hucksters of neuroscientism are the conspiracy theorists of the human animal, the 9/11 Truthers of the life of the mind.

I wrote for Reason back in July 2007 the essay "'You Can't See Why on an fMRI'" on the pretensions of neuroscience as applied to courts and the insanity defense. Not much has changed in lay journalists' and readers' desire to think that science knows and has proven more about brain and mind than it actually has.

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Another John DoE Surfaces in Solyndra

Just when you thought it was safe to give half a billion dollars of other people's money to a fly-by-night green energy company, the dormant Solyndra scandal has erupted again. This time, a Department of Energy executive is trying to duck a subpoena from the House Committee on Oversight & Reform, and his efforts may point to a real-live cover-up. 

Like much of the most interesting Solyndra news, the story of DoE Director of Strategic Initiatives Morgan Wright originates with the Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens – whose work I have praised in the past and who continued digging away at the story of the failed solar panel company long after summer soldiers like me had moved on to fresh woods and pastures new. The oversight committee describes why they want to talk with him:  

E-mails show that Morgan Wright was involved in an organized effort within the Department to use his non-official e-mail account to discuss loan decisions as part of an intentional effort to avoid scrutiny and disclosures under federal transparency laws.  Wright was the recipient of one e-mail discussed in a Washington Post story from former DOE official Jonathan Silver. “Don’t ever send an email on doe email with a personal email addresses,” Silver wrote Aug. 21, 2011, from his personal account to Wright’s Gmail account. “That makes them subpoenable.”  E-mails from non-official accounts have offered important insight into the decision making process at odds with narratives offered by Administration officials. 

Wright's name is new to me, and his most prominent mention in DoE public documents is a disclosure statement [pdf]. But here's some background on Silver, who according to a Solyndra board member "championed the cause" of green energy loan guarantees and was especially active in pushing money out the door before he deserted the Obama administration to become a something at some think tank. 

It seems to me it's Silver who should be testifying before the American people. The story he gave the Post does not in any way comport with the text of his email [pdf] (where, by the way, he seems unaware that there's a "b" in "subpoena"). "I intended to advise my DOE colleagues to use their official email for official purposes and personal email for personal purposes," Silver told Leonnig and Stephens. "It was never my intention to avoid the requirements of the Federal Records Act."

Well in that case it must be completely innocent! 

Silver's message to Wright came as White House officials (but not the media or the public) were fully aware of the company's impending bankruptcy. (Solyndra, a Fremont, California, maker of tube-shaped solar panels, went down last September after burning through $527 million in taxpayer-guaranteed loans.) If there was a point when the original story of a shameful but manageable failure became a tale of an actionable cover-up, this was that point. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) is reissuing the Wright subpoena.

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The Last U.S. Ambassadors to Die in the Line of Duty

Media reports about the killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi mention it’s the first death of a U.S. ambassador in the line of duty in more than two decades. The last U.S. ambassador to die in the line of duty was Arnold Raphel, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, who perished in a plane crash in 1988, along with the then president of Pakistan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. As with much of politics in Pakistan, the event was surrounded by conspiracy theories. A variety of foreign powers were blamed. A 2008 Times of London article reported, however, that a U.S. investigation found that a “relatively common” mechanical problem known of the plane, a C-130 military transport aircraft, caused it to crash. It was a sensitive issue at the time because Pakistan was America’s closest ally, helping America funnel weapons to the mujahedeen who were fighting Soviet invaders in Afghanistan.

adolph dubsArlington CemeteryThe last ambassador, then, to be killed in the line of duty was Adolph Dubs, the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, in 1979. He was assigned the post in 1978, shortly after a Soviet-backed coup in the country (which preceded the invasion in late 1979). Dubs was definitely killed, being shot in an exchange of gunfire during an attempted kidnapping. He was the last U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan until 2002, after the U.S. toppled the Taliban regime that emerged after the civil war that followed the end of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1992. His assassination is considered by the State Department as a “Significant Terrorist Incident.” As for the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, after an assault on the consulate in Benghazi, the U.S. is investigating whether the assassination was a planned act of terrorism.

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Dutch Election a Good Result For the Two Main Parties, Disappointing for Eurosceptics and Xenophobes

The Dutch went to the polls today, and exit polls indicate that the center-right VVD will win 41 seats, just ahead Labour who are expected to win 40. Although the election comes during an important time in euro crisis negotiations it looks like euroscepticism has been rejected, with Geert Wilders’ xenophobic and eurosceptic Party For Freedom having lost seats.  

Both the VVD and the Labour party must now begin coalition negotiations, 76 seats are needed to form a majority government. For Labour the obvious coalition partners would be the anti-bailout Socialists, while the VVD will probably turn to their old coalition partners, the Christian Democrats. Both major parties view government spending as the solution to budget deficits, though the VVD is focused on infrastructure spending and Labour has been arguing for job creation programs.

Whatever coalition gets put together it will not be very strong, as both the VVD and Labour will need a substantial amount of support from smaller parties in order to reach the 76 seats required for a majority. The last Dutch government fell apart in large part due to unmanageable differences that arose during negotiations on austerity measures, something the larger parties will not want to see again.

Those who were hoping for a great eurosceptic pushback or some sort of referendum on the euro will be disappointed with these results and the German Federal Constitutional Court ruling earlier today. While the euro crisis has been a concern to the Dutch they seem to have been largely unpersuaded by the arguments for abandoning the single currency or leaving the European Union.

While many people from northern Europe have been expressing their exasperation with the behavior of countries like Greece this has yet to translate into tangible electoral successes. This might well be because many who would prefer a break from the European Union are put off by some of the unsettling rhetoric of eurosceptics. Even if there were a large surge of euroscepticism in Europe the electoral systems of most countries make any practical policy steps in the direction of serious reform of relationships with the European Union nearly impossible. 

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Does the Anti-Mohammed Film Exist? Does the Producer Exist?

Apparently I'm not the only one who finds the film Innocence of Muslims a little too bad to be true. It's unclear that the film — which was the cover for apparently coordinated attacks on the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya that left four peope dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens — even exists. The film's alleged maker may also be an invention. 

At The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg looks for the real "Sam Bacile" and finds bupkes. He does, however, get an interview with Steve Klein, a Riverside, California, insurance salesman and consultant on the purported film:

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know "Bacile"'s real name. He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California. "After 9/11 I went out to look for terror cells in California and found them, piece of cake. Sam found out about me. The Middle East Christian and Jewish communities trust me."

He said the man who identified himself as Bacile asked him to help make the anti-Muhammad film. When I asked him to describe Bacile, he said: "I don't know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He's not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the radical Christian Quran-burning pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign."

At ReligionsDispatches.org, Sarah Posner notes discrepancies in the reporting of Bacile's age and background, as well as conflicting stories of the movie's provenance:

But before the July 2012 upload of the film trailer to YouTube, under the user name Sam Bacile, you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of the existence a California real estate developer online. What’s more, if whoever made the film actually spent $5 million on it, the expenditure hardly shows in the content, acting, or production values. Amateurish doesn't even begin to describe the 13-minute trailer on YouTube.

Something notable about the production value is that it doesn't just appear amateurish but suggests the trailer is a collection of scenes cobbled together from different sources. Some of the ADR clearly changes the dialogue rather than just looping it. At one point a character writes "BT" twice as an abbreviation for "Islamic terrorist." The obvious green screen is actually the least jarring thing about the trailer, because it at least suggests a straightup religious satire made at a level of production comparable to, say, an episode of Kingsley's Meadow. My first impression of the trailer was that it was a Rickroll by somebody who noticed that "anti-Muslim film" was trending. The lack of any opening information, title, credits, or indication that there even is a complete film is not helping me walk back that impression.

It's bad enough that people think this is worth committing murder over. For me the real outrage is that in two days Innocence of Muslims has gotten a million times more publicity than Home Run Showdown will get until the end of time. But both of these injustices will be more infuriating if the film doesn't even exist.

Update: Buzzfeed also speculates that the film doesn't exist and puts together a highlight reel of the stuff I described above. CNN has some details on a possible U.S. response

Update 2: Gawker's Adrian Chen tracks down a cast member who says big chunks of dialogue were overdubbed. (For example, the script apparently reads "Master George" whenever "Mohammed" is dubbed.) There's also a statement from the "entire cast and crew" that reads, "The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."

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How Romney Understands Foreign Policy: Like a Corporate Consultant

Aside from vague calls for strength, resolve, and ensuring America’s permanent spot at the top of the global dog pile, Mitt Romney hasn’t offered much insight into his foreign policy views. One way to understand his approach to foreign policy is that it’s all political pandering: He’s against bad people, and voting for Obama. This view makes some sense in the context of his ill-advised late night statement attacking President Obama following riots in Egypt and Libya. The Romney campaign’s first instinct, it seems, was to repackage the event as a quick, simplistic political attack.  

It also suggests that Romney can be understood as something of a conventional GOP hawk. That's probably true to some extent. But I think it's a bit of a mistake to try to lump Romney wholly into any common foreign policy camp. Instead, I suspect the best way to describe how Romney understands foreign policy is that he thinks about it like a corporate consultant, with America, and its unique business model, competing with the rest of the world’s nations for dominance in the global marketplace. He wants America to be number one just like a CEO wants his company to be number one. Indeed, he sees this leadership as a crucial part of America’s brand. America has established itself as the market leader, and that's a valuable feature of its product line. 

This is exactly how Romney discusses America’s place in the world in his 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. As I wrote in my March magazine feature on Romney:

No Apology can be “understood as a sort of corporate strategy document. Except instead of focusing on a particular business, it offers a strategic vision for all of America. 

No Apology opens with a survey of the marketplace for global power. Romney describes the “four strategies to achieve world power.” There’s the Chinese strategy based on free enterprise and authoritarian rule, the Russian strategy based on energy authoritarianism, the Iranian strategy of violent jihad, and the American strategy, which prizes economic and political freedom. The presentation-ready, four-part schema all but conjures up a drop-down projection screen and laser pointer.

Romney outlines these countries’ operational strengths and weaknesses, their core missions and their potential as threats to the client’s front-runner status. Jihadism is a “strategy based on conquest and compulsion”; the Chinese are “an enormously practical and intelligent people,” but they lack the “rule of law and regulation that shapes free enterprise elsewhere”; Russia’s power is based on “energy and commodities” as well as “the strength of its science and technology sectors.” Later in the book, Romney widens his scope to examine industrial effectiveness in other countries, such as Japan, citing consultant’s reports on international differences in productivity.

Seen through Romney’s eyes, these are America’s competitors, each with its own business model and product line, organizational theories and distribution channels. He seems to conceive of his job as proposing a strategic vision that will help America compete and retain its position as global market leader. 

In Romney’s view, many of the world’s nations are not our neighbors, but our competitors, fighting for the same market share that America is trying to win. That implies a certain level of aggressiveness. And to hear Romney tell it, President Obama hasn’t been aggressive enough. As Michael Barbaro notes at The New York Times, Romney’s book also made a point of criticizing President Obama for reaching out to America’s “enemies,” and expressing sympathy toward their plight. To Romney, that's a firing offense.

The idea seems to be: You don’t coddle competitors, you beat them. And you certainly don’t ever back down when they challenge you. Which may explain why Romney, despite facing widespread criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for his response last night, chose to double down on that criticism this morning by repeating attacks on Obama—who, after all, is currently Romney’s chief competitor.

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Robert Herritt on What the Government Can Learn from the iPhone

During the 2008 election, the Obama campaign touted a vision for a more user-friendly federal bureaucracy they called “iPod government.” It was one of the many pieces of rhetoric that was unceremoniously discarded once the votes were counted.

But whether they knew it or not, writes Robert Herritt, Obama's team were onto something. And with today’s unveiling of Apple’s latest slate of products—including the iPhone 5—it’s worth considering what the policymakers in Washington could learn from the gadget mavens in Cupertino. For starters, individual choice should trump central planning every time.

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Embassy Assault Fallout, Illegal Drink Names, Chicago Strike Ultimatums: P.M. Links

  • So who is the guy behind the Ed Wood-esque anti-Muslim movie that led to the deadly assault on America’s embassy in Libya? His name is allegedly Sam Bacile, but now there’s questions about who he actually is.
  • A Libyan doctor who attempted to treat U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens following the attack on the embassy said he died of severe asphyxiation.
  • Protests against the movie and America have spread to the Gaza Strip.
  • As Washington, D.C., politicians denounce the way some Middle Easterners have responded to speech they deem offensive, officials ordered a bar in the very same city to stop serving a drink with a satirically offensive name meant to mock Marion Barry’s comments about immigrants.
  • Mitt Romney has criticized the way Barack Obama’s administration has handled the response to rioting and violence in Libya and Cairo. White House officials responded that Romney’s attacks were out of bounds in the midst of a diplomatic crisis. Hey, remember when everybody mocked Sen. John McCain when he suggested that the campaigning for the 2008 election should temporarily stop to hammer out our economic problems?
  • Chicago is allegedly throwing down the gauntlet in front of the striking teachers unions and will not back down on its teacher evaluation plans.
  • A poll shows 90 percent of all fliers giving the Transportation Security Administration fair or low marks. Presumably the other 10 percent enjoy being fondled in public.

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

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Will the Obama Administration Defend in Open Court DEA Agents Who Pointed* a Gun at a Little Girl's Head?

Reason has learned that the Justice Department will not appeal the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Avina v. the United States, the lawsuit in which Thomas and Rosalie Avina alleged that DEA agents used unnecessary force to restrain the couple's daughters, then ages 11 and 14, during a wrong-door drug raid at the family's California home in 2008. 

In June, the 9th Circuit overturned a lower court's summary judgement in favor of the DEA. In an email to Reason, a Justice Department staffer said the government won't seek further review. Now the only question that remains is this: Will the DOJ settle with the Avinas, or will it defend the DEA agents--and their actions during the raid--in open court?

Here's a brief recap of the alleged events of that raid

The agents entered the 14-year-old girl’s room first, shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl, who was lying on her bed, rolled onto the floor, where the agents handcuffed her. Next they went to the 11-year-old’s room. The girl was sleeping. Agents woke her up by shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl’s eyes shot open, but she was, according to her own testimony, “frozen in fear.” So the agents dragged her onto the floor. While one agent handcuffed her, another held a gun to her head.

Moments later the two daughters were carried into the living room and placed next to their parents on the floor while DEA agents ransacked their home. After 30 minutes, the agents removed the children’s handcuffs. After two hours, the agents realized they had the wrong house—the product of a sloppy license plate transcription—and left. 

The raid occurred in 2008 under the Bush administration, but Obama's Justice Department nevertheless defended the agents in May of this year, arguing in a brief to the 9th Circuit that "the DEA agents’ conduct was plainly reasonable under the circumstances." (The circumstances being that the agents thought they were raiding the home of a drug dealer who'd had prior run-ins with the police.) The 9th Circuit ruled thusly: 

"A jury could find that the agents pointed their guns at the head of an eleven-year-old girl, 'like they were going to shoot [her],' while she lay on the floor in handcuffs, and that it was excessive for them to do so," reads the Ninth Circuit's decision, which was filed June 12. "Similarly, a jury could find that the agents’ decision to force the two girls to lie face down on the floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs was unreasonable."

While the Avinas' request for a summary judgement clearly didn't go how they imagined when they submitted it to the lower court, the 9th Circuit's ruling, and the DOJ's decision not to appeal, means the Avinas and their daughters will have a chance to tell their version of the raid to a jury. According to Ray Buendia, the Avinas' lawyer, "[T]he trial court has already set dates to move the case towards trial."

*A reader has objected to the original headline, which said "putting a gun to an 11-year-old's head," because there was no evidence in the brief filed by the Avinas, or in the 9th Circuit's ruling, that the officer's gun touched the little girl's head. The reader insists that the most common reading of the expression "put a gun to my head" implies the barrel touches flesh. I'd rather be clear than right, so I've changed to "pointing at."

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Tim Cavanaugh on Obama’s Economic Failure

In the battle for hope, it’s no surprise that President Barack Obama has gained the highest ground. “The private sector is doing fine,” the president intoned in June. That phrase was immediately controversial, but it had the rare distinction of sounding even worse in context than standing alone. Obama’s real concern was for government employees facing “cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government.”

So is economic health returning? The short answer, writes Tim Cavanaugh, is no. The long answer is also no. The mortgage crisis has become so grave that some city governments are threatening to deploy their eminent domain powers to seize loans at high risk of default. Seven municipal governments, including three of the 50 largest cities in California, have declared bankruptcy. Wealth creation in America has become so difficult, and wealth destruction so common, that in many respects the recovery, which is not a recovery at all but a period of indefinite stagnation, has become worse than the “Great Recession” that allegedly ended in 2009.

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Mars Mission Jeopardized By Germ Paranoia

A treaty nearly 50 years old that was ratified under President Lyndon Johnson and signed by some countries that no longer exist could severely curtail the Mars Curiosity mission. 

The Curiosity rover, which landed on the red planet on August 6, may be prohibited from using its drill due to concerns that a box of drill bits may have been contaminated by Earth microbes, reports the Los Angeles Times' Louis Sahagun. Engineers for the project apparently departed from procedure and ran afoul of something called a Planetary Protection Officer: 

Under the agency's procedures, the box should not have been opened without knowledge of a NASA scientist who is responsible for guarding Mars against contamination from Earth. But Planetary Protection Officer Catharine Conley wasn't consulted.

"They shouldn't have done it without telling me," she said. "It is not responsible for us not to follow our own rules."

[…]

The box containing the bits was unsealed in a near-sterile environment, said [NASA Program Executive for Solar System Exploration Dave Lavery]. Even so, the breach was enough to alter aspects of the mission and open a rift at NASA between engineers and planetary protection officials...

On Nov. 1, after learning that the drill bit box had been opened, Conley said she had the mission reclassified to one in which Curiosity could touch the surface of Mars "as long as there is no ice or water."

Conley's predecessor at NASA, John D. Rummel, a professor of biology at East Carolina University, said, partly in jest: "It will be a sad day for NASA if they do detect ice or water. That's because the Curiosity project will most likely be told, 'Gee, that's nice. Now turn around.'"

It's understandable that you don't want to introduce Earth-based life to Mars before you have a very high degree of certainty that the planet doesn't contain any life of its own. Otherwise you run the risk of contaminating your own research. 

Still, how does a Planetary Protection Officer get the authority to shut down such a costly and important part of this mission? Aren't there any Planetary Conquest or Pan-Galactic Colonization officers who can overrule Conley's decision? 

A surface mission to Mars is classed as a Category IV mission according to the Paris-based Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), which means there is a "possibility of contamination by Earth life." The 1967 Outer Space Treaty allows signatories to "pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination." COSPAR policy separates the surface of Mars into "special" and non-special regions, depending on the probability that "liquid water is present or may occur." (The risk is that thirsty microorganisms might grow if they get a drink of Martian water.) 

Curiosity's landing site in Gale Crater is non-special. The drill can be used unless Curiosity encounters water, which is unlikely. The dream of sizable H2O deposits on Mars has been fading more or less steadily for several centuries. 

One piece of good news in Sahagun's article is that life forms from good ol' Planet Earth are unexpectedly hardy. In 2005, lichens on a Soyuz rocket survived days of full-vacuum, ultraviolet and cosmic radiation exposure. Last year a plant pathologist determined that a bacterium had pretty decent odds of survival on Mars. This leads me to think we're approaching this the wrong way. Testing genetic material in hostile environments is the only way to learn how to bioengineer plants, animals and humans for space exploration. The next probe we send to Mars should be made of used syringes collected from a dumpster at a Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich franchise during flu season.

Update: Fly me to the moon with Ron Bailey's classic "Does Mars Have Rights?"

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Johnson/Gray Now On More Ballots Than Barr/Root In 2008

With the additions of Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, and Rhode Island, the Gary Johnson and Jim Gray ticket is now on more ballots than the 2008 Libertarian ticket of Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root. Johnson is certified in 47 states plus the District of Columbia while the Barr campaign only managed 45 states, minus D.C. The campaign is fighting legal battles in Oklahoma, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in hopes of obtaining its goal of nationwide ballot access.

In Oklahoma the Johnson campaign is facing its toughest fight as they failed to gain status as the Libertarian Party but still managed to get on the ballot on the Americans Elect line. They are being challenged by Republicans because Americas Elect did not host a national convention to nominate a candidate. Oklahoma is notorious for high ballot access hurdles and it’s unlikely the LP would be even fighting here if it weren’t for the now zombified Americans Elect corpse. If they lose their fight in Oklahoma on this issue, there is no chance Johnson and Gray will get on the ballot in time before Election Day.

Michigan has been a long-term thorn in the side of the Johnson campaign because it’s the only state that has actually gone to the mat on its “sore loser” law. Johnson has been tangled in lawsuits since he missed a deadline to remove his name from the Michigan Republican primary ballot by three minutes. In the event that their efforts fail, the Libertarians are using Gary E. Johnson of Texas as a stand-in on their ballot line. U.S. District Judge Paul Borman ruled against Johnson, denying him a spot on the ballot. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is refusing to place Gary Johnson of Texas on the ballot there because “no provision in of the Michigan Election Law authorizes a political party to nominate a contingent or stand-in candidate.” According to people close to the campaign they are gearing up for a fight in state court but if that fails they have organized a write-in campaign as a last resort.

The Keystone State appears as the least challenging of their three fights. Johnson’s signatures are facing a challenge from state Republicans on the grounds that some them, along with their paperwork, contain defects that should invalidate them. They are being challenged on three counts and if any of them fail then Johnson should make it on the ballot. In the event they succeed the Johnson campaign would have a week to get their house in order to get back on the ballot.

Fifty state ballot access isn’t out of the question for the Johnson campaign but these three states are making things difficult for them. The last Libertarian presidential ticket to make it on the ballot in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, a feat they have accomplished three times, was the 1996 campaign of Harry Browne. In 2000 the Libertarians were on the ballot in all 50 states but Neil Smith, not Browne, was on the ballot as the party’s presidential candidate in Arizona.

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David Suzuki Hates Fracking - Natural Gas Outcompetes Solar and Wind Power

In his article, "What's the Fracking Problem with Natural Gas," Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki comes clean on why he and other environmentalists hate fracking and the abundant and cheap natural gas it produces. Suzuki begins by citing some of the (minor) harms associated with fracking, but admits that "they don’t pose the greatest threat from fracking." So what is the biggest threat? Suzuki declares:

The biggest issue is that it’s just one more way to continue our destructive addiction to fossil fuels....

More than anything, continued and increasing investment in natural gas extraction and infrastructure will slow investment in, and transition to, renewable energy.

The chief reason that abundant natural gas will slow the transition to renewable energy? Because burning it to generate electricity is so much cheaper than deploying current versions of solar and wind power. How much cheaper? The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) calculated recently the levelized costs of 8 different technologies for generating electricity. Levelized costs take into account all capital, fuel, and financing costs. Here's what EPRI reported for 2015: 

In 2015, solar will be 4 to 7 times and onshore wind as much as twice as expensive as coal and natural gas electricity generation. What about 2025?

EPRI projects that by 2025 the costs for wind generation will get to within spitting distance of coal and natural gas generation combined with carbon sequestration and nuclear power. Solar thermal remains just a tad more costly, and solar PV is twice to three times more expensive. Of course, disruptive technologies could come along and make renewables economically viable, but then the world would not need scolds like David Suzuki to argue for taxpayer subsidies to favored technologies and restrictions on emissions.

For more background go here for my article on the environmentalists' "Natural Gas Flip Flop."

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Watch: Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama Speak on Embassy Attack

First, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s infamous “3 a.m. phone call” advertisement pays dividends (it’s interesting to watch that ad now with the Obama campaign essentially using the same attack on Mitt Romney). Anyway, notable quote: “Every day America’s diplomats and development experts risk their lives in the service of our country and our values, because they believe the United States must be a force for peace and progress in the world.”

 

Next up, Mitt Romney brings in the politics, saying, essentially, “This was terrible. Barack Obama’s foreign policy sucks. Vote for me and I’ll never apologize for America.” (That’s not a direct quote, but a summary of his talking points.)

 

RomneyBot’s programmers need to do something about that creepy smirk that keeps popping up at points. Of course, he’s being criticized for how quickly he responded, criticizing the administration before President Barack Obama gave his own statement.

And finally, President Barack Obama speaks, condemning “in the strongest terms” the attack: “We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.” He also claims America respects all faiths, and he rejects any “denigration” of other religions. But he doesn’t believe such behavior should lead to violence. That’s some pretty weak tea, and as Jesse Walker pointed out, leads to demands for government officials to denounce anything somebody doesn’t like. Clinton actually was a bit more adept at blending the ideas of “religious tolerance” while condemning violence.

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John Stossel on Puncturing the Myth of Bill Clinton

Today, he appears in an Obama commercial -- in full "I feel your pain" mode -- saying that Obama "has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up." When someone claims anyone can rebuild a society from the ground up, he's arrogant and delusional.

Clinton then tries to scare viewers by telling them that Republicans want to "go back to deregulation. That's what got us in trouble in the first place." Ah, the progressives' George W. Bush deregulation myth: Bush's anti-regulation crusade caused our problems. This is a lie that seems true because of constant media repetition. In fact, Bush talked deregulation but vastly increased the regulatory state. He hired an astounding 90,000 new regulators. Under Democrats and Republicans, writes John Stossel, regulation grows.

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Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, the Gitmo Prisoner Who Died September 8, Was First Cleared for Release in 2009

During then nearly 11 years that Guantanamo Bay has held prisoners of the war on terror, nine people have died there — six of which were ostensibly suicides. The ninth man who died on September 8 doesn't seem to have left the planet by his own hand, though the official cause of death has not been released.

Yemeni Adnan Farham Abdul Latif, though, was apparently sedated and depressed, and mostly left in solitary confinement. He made numerous suicide attempts during his stint in Gitmo, as well. So we'll have to see whether he finally succeeded, or whether the cause of his death was something else.

But it gets worse. Latif, who spent nearly a third of his life in Gitmo after being captured by Pakistani police near the Afghanistan border in December 2001, was first cleared for freedom...in 2009. 

NBC news reports that a unanimous panel of security experts had to approve the release, and they did so with Latif, a Yemeni citizen whose supposed ties to Al-Qaeda were also, in the words of U.S. Judge Henry Kennedy who upheld that finding a year later, "unconvincing." Notes Amnesty International, Judge Kennedy also noted:

Adnan Latif’s detention was unlawful, even under the broad authority claimed by the government, and that he should be released. The Obama administration appealed and in October 2011, the Court of Appeals overturned the ruling. In a meeting with his lawyer 11 days later, Adnan Latif said “I am a prisoner of death”. 

That Appeals decision can be found here. It is, however, chock full of redacted passages. The main question at play was whether the document from Pakistani police detailing Latif's supposed Al-Queda connections was enough to hold him in spite of the above mentioned decisions.

Latif went on hunger strikes throughout 2012, his last one ending in June. 

Amnesty International had intended to launch a campaign to free Latif. Their website also notes that the prisoner was denied a hearing aid that he needed for injuries sustained in a 1994 car accident.

In December, Jacob Sullum explained Latif's reasons for having been in the suspicious border area when he was arrested by Pakistani police. To put it simply, he said he was trying to cross to Afghanistan to seek medical treatment to treat lingering headaches and other complaints from that car accident, then he was trying to cross into Pakistan to meet a Yemeni man who had "promised to help him." 

There are 167 prisoners still detained at Gitmo, in spite of the 2008 ruling that found they had habeas corpus rights after all. Still, it seems the ability to challenge your detainment, and even expert conclusions that you're no terrorist are not enough to free you, if the U.S. governments says no.

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First Dibs on the Woolly Mammoth Ride at the Zoo

The X Prize Foundation is considering a "Jurassic Park Prize" (named after the Michael Crichton novel in which kindly paleontologists bring dinosaurs back to life for the enjoyment of the world's children) that has the goal of finding "a safe, repeatable, and reliable fashion to bring back extinct species to rebuild a population." Back in 2008, Pennsylvania State University geneticist Stephan Schuster told the New York Times that he believed that it would be possible to clone a woolly mammoth for just $10 million. At the time, Schuster was thinking that a lot DNA repair would be needed in order to recreate a mammoth genomes. Perhaps that won't be necessary.

The Associated Press is reporting that researchers have discovered frozen well-preserved fragments of a woolly mammoth in Siberia which may contain living cells. As the AP notes:

Russia's North-Eastern Federal University said an international team of researchers had discovered mammoth hair, soft tissues and bone marrow some 328 feet (100 m) underground during a summer expedition in the northeastern province of Yakutia.

Expedition chief Semyon Grigoryev said Korean scientists with the team had set a goal of finding living cells in the hope of cloning a mammoth. Scientists have previously found bones and fragments but not living cells.

Grigoryev told the online newspaper Vzglyad it would take months of research to determine whether they have indeed found the cells.

"Only after thorough laboratory research will it be known whether these are living cells or not," he said, adding that would take until the end of the year at the earliest.

Wooly mammoths are thought to have died out around 10,000 years ago, although scientists think small groups of them lived longer in Alaska and on Russia's Wrangel Island off the Siberian coast.

Scientists already have deciphered much of the genetic code of the woolly mammoth from balls of mammoth hair found frozen in the Siberian permafrost. Some believe it's possible to recreate the prehistoric animal if they find living cells in the permafrost.

If a relatively undamaged mammoth genome could be recovered, the genetic information might be inserted in an elephant's egg that then could serve as a gestational surrogate. Would this work? Back in 2011, Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada suggested at LiveScience that it might:

"We know African and Asian elephants can interbreed, and they're separated by 5 million to 6 million years," Poinar said. "Asian elephants are actually closer to mammoths than they are to African elephants — mammoths split from Asian elephants after Asian elephants split from African elephants — so if living elephants can interbreed, perhaps an Asian elephant can host a mammoth embryo."

Oddly, Poinar huffed:

"There is no good scientific reason to bring back an extinct species. Why would one bring them back? To put them in a theme park?"

Well, actually yes. And then maybe later let them roam free in Siberia, Alaska, and Canada.

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Pepperdine University Refuses to Approve Student's Internship With Drug Policy Reform Group

Pepperdine University's Statement of Academic Freedom states that "a faculty member should consider it a basic duty to encourage freedom of inquiry in peers and in students." If that's truly the case, the school has some explaining to do as to why it denied a political science major the opportunity to intern with the Marijuana Policy Project. 

According to MPP: 

Last week, the deans of Seaver College internship program at Pepperdine University officially refused to approve the application of sophomore political science major Victoria Stanzione to intern at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a national non-profit organization dedicated to reforming marijuana laws. Associate Dean Michael Feltner said “the internship is not aligned with the mission and purpose of Pepperdine University and I cannot approve the internship for academic credit.”

Feltner is a professor of sports medicine, according to Pepperdine's website. I've reached out to him for comment, as well as the university's PR office, and will update when I hear back.

MPP claims in its press release that Pepperdine, which is associated with the Churches of Christ, is not being very Christian-y. The group even got Rev. Alexander Sharp, former director of Protestants for the Common Good, to chastise Pepperdine.

While that's certainly one way to look at it, I think the academic freedom angle is more apropos. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education lists the below statements as part of Pepperdine's commitment to free expression: 

* The heritage of Churches of Christ has valued both free inquiry and an ecumenical spirit.

* This tradition--at its best--can sustain both openness to new and different ideas and the kind of diversity that Pepperdine seeks to nurture.

* This atmosphere, in which students are encouraged to explore faith and scholarship, is reflected in Pepperdine's affirmation statement, in which it says, "Truth has nothing to fear from investigation."

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HHS Fudges Estimates on ObamaCare Consumer Savings

In a press release yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) boasted that ObamaCare has already "saved an estimated $2.1 billion for consumers." HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made sure to give the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act full credit: “Thanks to the law, our health care system is more transparent and more competitive, and that’s saving Americans real money,” she said. 

But the law doesn't deserve full credit. In the release, HHS points to two provisions it says account for the savings: the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) rule, which requires insurers to spend 80 or 85 percent of premium revenue on government-defined medical expenses or rebate the difference to customers, and the law's insurance rate review provision, which allows HHS to review but not block health insurance rate increases over 10 percent. The MLR rule supposedly saved $1.1 billion. The review provisions were supposedly responsible for the other billion. Except that, well, they weren't, at least not entirely. As Politico points out today, an HHS official admitted yesterday that the estimates don't attempt to differentiate between savings generated by ObamaCare's federally managed rate review provisions and rate review operations that existed in the states before ObamaCare was passed. And according to the Government Accountability Office, 48 states had some sort of rate review in effect before ObamaCare, and 38 states reviewed all rate hikes. 

As for the MLR provision, it did indeed result in over $1 billion worth of rebates being sent out. But that doesn't necessarily mean that individuals are any better off. For one thing, many of those rebates were paid to employers rather than individuals. And in the long term, the MLR rule will likely generate pressure to increase health insurance premiums: Because insurers are limited in the amount of profit and overhead they can spend from every dollar, they have a strong incentive to increase total premium revenue in order to increase potential profits. Which means that even with the newly required rebates, it's possible that consumers will still be worse off than they would be without the MLR rule. 

One thing ObamaCare may be helping to save, however, is Sebelius' job. Politico also reports that if President Obama wins a second term, Sebelius is likely to stick around, partly because she's already worked on the health law, and partly to avoid what would certainly be a heated confirmation battle. 

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A. Barton Hinkle on Why the Decline and Fall of America Starts at the Bus Stop

There is a problem with how we treat The Youth of Today, writes A. Barton Hinkle. Thirty or forty years ago Mom and Dad did not have time to hang out at the bus stop and take Polaroids. By the time you left the house Dad had already been slaving away in the hellish furnace of the steel mill for several hours, and Mom was too busy doing all the manual labor needed to keep the household together. No Roomba vacuum for her.

Now look. America has gotten soft.

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The Cairo Embassy's Self-Defeating Statement on "Religious Incitement"

A quick footnote to Matt's excellent post about the Cairo embassy's comments on "religious incitement": In addition to being wrongheaded, these little announcements are self-defeating. When you issue such statements, you encourage the view that the government is somehow responsible for the speech you're condemning. Even if you succeed in calming the crowds—and to judge from what happened yesterday, you shouldn't expect to achieve even that much—any fringe film that you haven't anathematized can become the next cause célèbre. And if you think you can keep pumping out statements attacking every one of them, ponder what will happen if a mob decides to riot over the comments of a congressman, or someone else that a diplomat wouldn't want to officially denounce. Better to embrace free speech from the beginning than to lend support to the idea that your job requires you to sort acceptable expression from bad.