Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 September 15-31

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Forget Romney's 47/53 Divide, the Real Split is Over the Role of Government

Improbably enough, there was a kernel of truth at the core of Mitt Romney's much-derided comment about 47 percent of Americans paying no income taxes and, therefore, being bound to serve as Barack Obama's government-dependent minions. That bit of discussion-worthy data is that there is a divide in the country — a philosophical one — over the role of government and the kind of country Americans want to live in. That divide is tellingly revealed in the latest Reason-Rupe poll, which took a somewhat more sophisticated view of the matter than did Romney when he was chatting-up fundraisers.

Some key questions, and their answers, from the survey:

Do you think the federal government has too much influence on your life, not enough influence, or about the right amount of influence on your life?

Too much: 55%

Not enough: 7%

About the right amount: 36%

Don't Know/Refused: 2%

Total: 100%

Would you like to see Congress pass more laws, fewer laws, or about what it’s doing now?

More laws: 27%

Fewer laws: 45%

About what it's doing now: 21%

Don't Know/Refused: 7%

Total: 100%

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Once You’ve Lost One of the Biggest Warhawks in Congress, It’s Time to Bring the Troops Home

C.W. Bill Young, an 81-year-old Republican congressman from Indian Shores, Fl., has turned against our continued military involvement in Afghanistan. I defy anybody to find a better barometer of how over-it-all America is of efforts to stabilize Afghanistan or push back the Taliban or train their police force to stop shooting us or whatever reason we’re giving today for still being there after the “surge” ends.

Young, America’s longest-serving congressman (21 terms!), has supported every single war from the Vietnam War onward, explain Alex Leary and Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times. He has voted repeatedly against troop withdrawals and even against setting timetables for withdrawals.

But Young got an e-mail over the summer from Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sitton explaining how much danger American troops in Afghanistan are in from constant exposure to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). And then Sitton was killed in August by one of them. Young’s had enough:

The 81-year-old congressman announced this week that he now sees the war in Afghanistan is no longer worth the costs. He wants the troops to come home immediately, a dramatic departure not only from his past views but also from the views of most Republican leaders.

Because Young chairs the House defense appropriations subcommittee, he had a committee staffer read Sitton's email to his colleagues Thursday to drive home a point about the growing threat of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that are killing or wounding troops at alarming levels.

"I can't find a whole lot right about what's happening in Afghanistan," Young said after the hearing.

The 33,000 “surge troops” have finished pulling out this week. There are still 68,000 American troops out in Afghanistan. Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have supported a plan to get them out by 2014. That’s two more years of constant worries of IEDs and “inside attacks.”

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Homeschooling is So Boring, Even Hip Brooklyn Parents Do It

It's been official gospel for a while that homeschooling is no longer the domain of religious weirdos, a la Weavers on Ruby Ridge, or even the lesser-known breed of unschooling hippie types. Because, if home education were limited to those archetypes, how could there be endless trend pieces about how homeschooling is totally a normal thing now?

To be fair, "The Homeschool Diaries," part of  a section on "New Ideas for American Schools" in The Atlantic's October issue, is refreshingly narrow. And though it's easy to mock Newsweek and other mainstream glossies that seem to incessantly just discover that within the rising ranks of homeschoolers (somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million of 'em these days) "normal people" are taking over, it's still nice to learn that the homeschooling bug has jumped from fringes, to suburban averages, to oh, so cool arty New York City parents: Ya know, the kind of who publish articles in The Atlantic. 

Writer Paul Elie describes a learning method that is not dramatically different than what is socially accepted. Yes, they leave the house, for one.. Elie and his wife teach their 5th grade sons some things like math, they send them to other groups of folks for the all-important socialization and they take advantage of the amazing art and architecture and all that good New York City stuff. Elie also notes that in the family's local homeschooling circle there are also the more out-there unschooling types, whose methods of learning are, according to one small study, maybe not as effective as more "traditional" homes education. 

Elie goes through a laundry list of the benefits of teaching the kids at home as well as the long list of encouragement for homeschooling in New York City, which includes dodgy safety issues and endless district realignment and confusion for public, budget slimming for Catholic, and jaw-dropping price tags for private schools (27-40k a year are figures mentioned). The takeaway for those who might even have better local options for their kids, is that what the hell is wrong with teaching your kids in the way that they — ideally — will learn in college? What's remotely artificial, restrictive, or sheltering about using the world around you to teach your kids what you want them to learn?

Our older boys are now in the fifth grade. They know their way around the Museum of Natural History and Yankee Stadium; they are versed in the exploits of Huck Finn and Jack Sparrow. This spring, they’ll take the required state Regents exams—the tests that determine New York City students’ options for middle school. But they, and we, hope to continue homeschooling. Meanwhile, when they sit down at the table with protractors or head to a museum, it is college I am thinking about. Not just because a university education is our unquestioned aspiration for our children, but also because it seems to be the closest model for the education we are now trying to provide. Tightly focused class sessions; expert presentations complemented by individual instruction; hands-on learning in areas that vary from day to day and year to year; education undertaken in the wider world—these aspects of our so-called homeschooling are basic to postsecondary learning. Higher education in America may be very different by 2022, when our twin sons would enroll, but I like to think that they will have had a taste of the university already.

Read the rest here.

Bonus: most awful objection to homeschooling that I have seen in a while.

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How the Justice Department Transformed an Amish Feud Into a Federal Hate Crime

Yesterday Samuel Mullet Sr., the leader of an Amish sect in Ohio, and 15 of his followers were convicted of federal crimes in connection with a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Amish with whom Mullet was feuding. Why was this a federal case? Because Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, argued that Mullet picked his victims "because of" their "actual or perceived religion." Specifically, Mullet had said the attacks (which he denied ordering) were punishment for failing to respect his authority as a bishop, including his excommunication orders against those he deemed insufficiently pious. Federal prosecutors said that religious motivation made the attacks hate crimes.

Is that really all it takes to make a federal case out what would otherwise be run-of-the-mill state crimes (albeit with a quirky Amish twist)? No, there are a couple of other elements that prosecutors had to allege. Since the federal hate crime statute applies to offenses involving actual or attempted "bodily injury," they had to argue that shorn whiskers and hair qualify for that description—a bit of a stretch. While it's true that such forcible makeovers are especially humiliating for the Amish, who consider long beards on married men and long hair on women religious requirements, this infliction of extra emotional distress does not change the physical reality of the act.

The government also had to cite an "interstate nexus" to justify federal prosecution. You might think that would be a challenge, since all of these crimes occurred within a single state. But hey, look, Dettelbach says: The "Wahl battery-operated hair clippers" used in the assaults "were purchased at Walmart and had travelled in and affected interstate commerce in that they were manufactured in Dover, Delaware." The defendants also used "a pair of 8'' horse mane shears which were manufactured in the State of New York and sent via private, interstate postal carrier to [a retailer] in Ohio for resale." They took pictures of their victims with "a Fuji disposable camera from Walmart" that "travelled in and affected interstate commerce in that it was manufactured in Greenwood, South Carolina." They used "an instrumentality of interstate commerce" (i.e., a highway) to reach victims in Trumbull County, Ohio. (They never actually left the state, but they could have.) The indictment also mentions a letter (carried by the U.S. Postal Service!) that was used to lure one of the victims. An embarrassment of interstate nexuses, in more ways than one.

It seems safe to say that policing internecine squabbles among the Amish was not the sort of thing members of Congress had in mind when they voted for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the 2009 law that expanded the Justice Department's power to federalize crimes motivated by bigotry. Among other things, that law added gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the list of victim selection criteria (which previously was limited to race, religion, and national origin) and eliminated a requirement that the victim be engaged in a "federally protected activity" such as voting or education. The law was named after two murder victims who were targeted because of their sexual orientation and race, respectively. The focus on the murders of Shepard and Byrd as a justification for federal intervention was puzzling, since state courts proved perfectly capable of bringing their killers to justice. And as with state hate crime laws, the federal statute essentially punishes people for their beliefs by imposing extra punishment for crimes motivated by bigotry. But at least these paradigmatic cases fit the conventional understanding of hate crimes as attacks on despised minorities. Not so the assaults allegedly ordered by Mullet, which were a far cry from beating a gay man and leaving him to die or dragging a black man to death behind a pickup truck—not just in terms of severity but also in terms of motivation.

By the legal logic applied in this case, any religious leader who uses corporal punishment to discipline wayward followers is guilty not just of assault but of a federal hate crime. Likewise a Hassid who slugs another Hassid after getting into an argument about who the next rebbe should be, two Catholics who come to blows over the merits of the Latin Mass, or two Mormons who tussle after one condemns the other for drinking caffeinated soft drinks. In each of these cases, the victim is selected "because of" his religion in the same sense that Mullet et al.'s victims were. Indeed, although the trial judge rejected the argument that bringing this case violated the First Amendment rights of Mullet and his co-defendants, they are effectively being punished for their religious beliefs, since they would not have been prosecuted under federal law if their motivation had been nonreligious. Under the Justice Department's reading of the law, an assault is a hate crime if it is driven by disagreements over religious doctrine but not if arises from political, scientific, philosophical, or aesthetic disputes. 

In what sense does federal prosecution amount to additional punishment? The hate crime conviction carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment (since it involves kidnapping—i.e. the forcible restraint of the victims). The defendants were also convicted of conspiracy and concealing or destroying evidence, enhancing the likelihood of stiff sentences. The New York Times says they face the prospect of "several decades" in prison. Under Ohio law, by contrast, aggravated burglary and kidnapping are first-degree felonies carrying penalties of three to 10 years. Furthermore, Ohio prisoners can hope for parole, which is not a possibility in the federal system.

But why choose? Several of the same defendants were also charged with burglary and kidnapping under state law, and thanks to the doctrine of "dual sovereignty" they can be punished for those crimes as well, even though the underlying actions are the same. Dual sovereignty also means they could be acquiited in state court, then tried again in federal court (or vice versa), notwithstanding the constitutional ban on double jeopardy. This case illustrates once again how the 2009 hate crime law enhanced the Justice Department's already broad power to federalize what used to be considered state offenses, thereby impinging on state authority, triggering serial prosecutions, and arbitrarily meting out extra punishment based on political considerations.

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Romney Releases Returns, More Protests in Pakistan, Counter-Protests in Libya: P.M. Links

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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J.D. Tuccille on the Obama Administration and Indefinite Detention

Perhaps it's all for the best that the Obama administration oversaw the scrubbing of civil liberties vows that graced the 2008 Democratic Party platform from the 2012 edition, writes J.D. Tuccille, managing editor of Reason 24/7. It's one thing to promise to end practices implemented by your nefarious political opponents; it's quite another to commit to eventually putting an end to abuses you yourself have practiced without restraint. Under the circumstances, credibility suffers. And, on the long list of civil liberties violations that the current occupant of the White House has learned to love, indefinite detention—the practice of holding suspects without charges or trial, and with no certain end to their imprisonment—features prominently.

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Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews The Master

Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews The Master in today's Washington Times

It’s tempting to call “The Master” a revelation, except that I’m not quite sure what, if anything, this elusive and elliptical tale of character, will and power actually reveals. But it’s certainly a confirmation of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s status as one of the most fascinating and visionary directors working today.

Also one of the most difficult.

Mr. Anderson is the director of five previous features, including at least one masterpiece, 2007’s “There Will Be Blood,” a dark and sweeping story of oil discovery in turn-of-the-century California. Like that film, “The Master” is an American period piece that deals heavily with religion and worldly success, and a power struggle between two towering figures locked in a surrogate father-son relationship.

The first of those figures is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a rootless World War II Navy veteran who arrives home and takes a series of odd jobs before inadvertently ending up in the company of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man known to most as the Master. Dodd is the leader of the Cause, a burgeoning, cultlike group with pop-psych self-help overtones and quasi-religious undertones. He takes Freddie on as a sort of test-subject to help him perfect the techniques of mental mastery he’s developing. Between them lies a third power, Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), Dodd’s young wife, and a quiet but not-so-subtle influence on his movement.

It’s clear that Mr. Anderson, who also wrote the script, based the Cause on Scientology, and Dodd on its founder, L. Ron Hubbard: Both use psychological techniques to achieve mental control, and both have a mystical element tinged with sci-fi outlandishness. It’s just as clear, however, that Mr. Anderson has little interest in any kind of straightforward debunking or expose. Scientology is not the movie’s subject but the springboard for Mr. Anderson’s considerably more abstract ideas.

Read the whole review.

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Disgusting: Retired Denver Cop Tony Ryan Speaks in Favor of Legalizing Marijuana, Prohibitionists Call Him a "Pro-Pot Rent-a-Cop"

Retired Denver Police Lieutenant Tony Ryan served Colorado residents for 36 years, during which time he was shot in the line of duty, responded to the massacre at Columbine, and won numerous awards for his service. Yet because Ryan spoke yesterday in favor of Amendment 64, the Colorado ballot initiative to legalize marijuana, the amendment's leading opponent had the gall to call Ryan a "pro-pot rent-a-cop" in a press release.  

Westword has more

A 36-year veteran of the Denver Police Department, Ryan was joined at the Denver City and County Building get-together by fellow members of the national organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), among others. A statement from him released afterward offers a good sense of his sentiments. It reads: "Law enforcement officers know better than anyone that keeping marijuana illegal and unregulated means the gangs and cartels that control the illegal trade win, and the rest of us lose. Our current marijuana laws distract police officers from doing the job we signed up for -- protecting the public by stopping and solving serious crimes. They also put us at risk by forcing us to deal with an underground marijuana market made up of gangsters, cartels and other criminals."

Afterward, Roger Sherman, campaign director for Smart Colorado, the No on 64 organization, released comments of his own. They begin: "Today's endorsement by two out-of-state law enforcement organizations and a pro-pot rent-a-cop pales in comparison to the dozens of county sheriffs, chiefs of police, district attorneys and school resource officers that are publically opposed to Amendment 64."

Sherman's attack on Ryan and the other members of LEAP is disgusting on its face, but the charge of "out-of-state" influence is downright laughable: Sherman's organization, Smart Colorado, is being bankrolled to the tune of $150,000 by a Florida-based drug war profiteer named Mel Sembler

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Mitt Romney to Release 2011 Tax Returns, Consultants Report on His Tax History

For most of the year we've heard calls for Mitt Romney to release his tax returns going all the way back to the dawn of time. Romney's campaign still isn't quite giving those folks what they want (as I'm sure they will shortly let us know), but this afternoon, the GOP presidential candidate will release his complete 2011 tax returns along with a separate report providing an overview of twenty years (1990-2009) of Romney tax filings by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

A few details on the 2011 returns via the Official Mitt Romney Blog on the Internet:

  • In 2011, the Romneys paid $1,935,708 in taxes on $13,696,951 in mostly investment income.
  • The Romneys’ effective tax rate for 2011 was 14.1%.
  • The Romneys donated $4,020,772 to charity in 2011, amounting to nearly 30% of their income.
  • The Romneys claimed a deduction for $2.25 million of those charitable contributions.
  • The Romneys’ generous charitable donations in 2011 would have significantly reduced their tax obligation for the year. The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the Governor's statement in August, based upon the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13% in income taxes in each of the last 10 years.

And a campaign-provided highlight reel from the PWC report:

  • In each year during the entire 20-year period, the Romneys owed both state and federal income taxes.
  • Over the entire 20-year period, the average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%.
  • Over the entire 20-year period, the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate was 13.66%.
  • Over the entire 20-year period, the Romneys gave to charity an average of 13.45% of their adjusted gross income.
  • Over the entire 20-year period, the total federal and state taxes owed plus the total charitable donations deducted represented 38.49% of total AGI.

A couple of quick takeaways, not in bullet point form: 1) If Romney's 203 page 2010-filing is any indication, this year's return will confirm that the U.S. tax code is needlessly complex, not that this is a surprise to anyone. 2) Mitt Romney is a very wealthy man. 3) Romney's effective tax rate of 14.1 percent this year is lower than the effective tax rates paid by a lot of people who earn far less than him. In fact, as the campaign notes, Romney actually declined to take the full charitable deduction, and thus paid more than he had to. 4) Unless someone can prove that he is lying or breaking the law — and no, legal strategies designed to lower one's tax burden don't count — the details of Romney's personal tax history are far, far less important than the details of his plan to reform the U.S. tax code, which he has so far refused to specify

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Report on Greece's Attempt at Austerity Could be Delayed to Help Obama

Much of how the rest of the euro crisis develops depends on how inspectors of the troika (European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) judge Greece’s efforts to implement reforms and austerity measures. If the troika reports that the Greek government has been unable to make the necessary reforms then it is possible that the next bailout installment will be withheld, and Greece will almost certainly default on its debt.

It now looks like officials from Washington might be trying to delay reports on Greece’s austerity efforts because it might cause a downturn in the global economy before Election Day.

From Reuters:

A U.S. official said the United States had made clear to European officials that it wanted to avoid any "downside" economic surprises because of the fragile U.S. recovery, but denied that it had anything to do with the U.S. election.

Several sources in Germany described those conversations with their U.S. counterparts and said the message had been that the Americans didn't want surprises before the election.

Recent polling indicates that Obama is doing well, but a global economic shock like a Greek default and euro exit would have the potential to make the presidential race much tighter. It is worth remembering that most European politicians are hardly fans of Republicans.

From the same Reuters piece:

"As far as European leaders are concerned, they don't want Romney, so they're probably willing to do anything to help Obama's chances," said the source, an EU official involved in finding solutions to the debt crisis.

A Greek default and euro exit would almost certainly prompt a downturn in the global economy and potentially accelerate the euro crisis. Despite the negative effects this would have on most people Mitt Romney would stand to gain. It looks like this is an outcome some from Washington have already taken steps to avoid, at least until the election is over.

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Jacob Sullum on Bloomberg’s Big Beverage Ban

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

Given Bloomberg’s avowed goal of reducing New Yorkers’ waistlines by reducing their calorie intake, his soda scheme is indeed absurdly inadequate, as he inadvertently emphasizes every time he minimizes the extent to which it will restrict consumer freedom. Once we accept the premise that our weight is the government’s business, we open the door to meddling far more intrusive and oppressive than Bloomberg’s pint-sized pop prescription, which is bound to fail as an anti-obesity measure but could still succeed as a paternalistic precedent.

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Obama Tells Seniors They've 'Earned' Medicare and Social Security, Forgets to Note We Haven't Paid For Them

How can you tell that Medicare and Social Security aren't handouts? According to President Obama, it's because seniors have earned them, by paying into the programs. Via TPM, here's what Obama told the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) earlier today:

"There's been a lot of talk about Medicare and Social Security in this campaign, as there should be," Obama said. "And these are bedrock commitments that Americas makes to its seniors, and I consider those commitments unshakable. But, given the conversations that have been out there in the political arena lately, I want to emphasize, Medicare and Social Security are not handouts. You've paid into these programs your whole lives. You've earned them."

It's true that workers pay Medicare and Social Security taxes over the course of their careers. But have they "earned" them? Not in the sense of having paid into the system equal to what they get out.

A single man or woman who turned 65 in 2010 and earned the 2011 average U.S. wage of $43,500 will pay $58,000 in Medicare taxes and $294,000 in Social Security taxes, making for a total of $352,000, according to a 2011 report by the Urban Institute. 

But the average Social Security and Medicare benefits that single man will recieve will come to about $432,000. And the single woman will get benefits worth about $475,000 out of the system. 

This isn't a new development either. The same Urban Institute report shows that the average wage-earning man who turned 65 in 1980 would pay about $104,000 into the two entitlement programs, but get benefits worth $265,000. A single woman in 1980 would pay in the same amount and get benefits worth $330,000. Single earner couples fare even better. In 1980, they'd pay in the same $104,000 — and get an average of $512,000 in benefits. Today that single earner couple would pay $352,000 into the system and get $798,000 out. 

This isn't about "earning" one's own benefits. With Medicare, money being paid in isn't being held for the individual who paid for it. As the Associated Press reported last year, "Many workers may believe their Medicare payroll taxes are going for their own insurance after they retire, but the money is actually used to pay the bills of seniors currently on the program."

If more seniors knew this (not that either of our current president or his Republican rival likely to tell them), they might think differently about making changes to the program. The latest Reason-Rupe poll found that 68 percent of voters say they’d be willing to accept some cuts to their own Medicare benefits if they’re guaranteed to receive benefits equal to what they and their employers paid out.

The point, though, is that Medicare is a transfer program in which the federal government takes money from current workers and gives it to retirees. One might call that a handout. 

Social Security, meanwhile, certainly isn't a guarantee. Obama might consider the retirement program a "bedrock commitment," but the Supreme Court doesn't. The court has ruled on two difference occasions that citizens are not entitled to the dollars they pay into the entitlement. Money paid into the program can be used to fund other totally unrelated government activities, just like any other tax dollars. The commitment to the program is dependent on the whim of politicians who are legally allowed to tax you for one thing and use that same money to pay for something else. That — and nothing else — is what seniors paying into Social Security have actually earned. 

Reason's Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy covered a lot of this ground in their August cover story, "Generational Warfare."

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Minnesota Farmer Found "Not Guilty" in Raw Milk Case

A Minnesota farmer who volunteers at the Freedom Farm co-op, which distributes raw milk (along with many other products) to about 130 members, says no one has ever gotten sick from the milk he regularly picks up from local Amish farmers.

He was nonetheless charged with three misdemeanor counts of selling unpasteurized milk, operating without a food license and handling adulterated or misbranded food. After a three-day trial and more than four hours of deliberation, during which the city attorney argued that the purpose of anti-raw milk laws is to protect the public health, a jury found Alvin Schlangen not guilty.

While this victory sets no precedent, raw milk advocates were pretty pumped:

Schlangen's attorney, Nathan Hansen [called it] "it's a huge victory for food freedom."

"I think the jury read the statute correctly," Hansen said. "The Department of Agriculture reads a lot of things into the statute that just aren't there.

Schlangen is set to appear in court again in nearby Stearns County next month on similar charges.

Check out Reason TV on other raw milk providers who haven't been so lucky:

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Steven Greenhut on California’s Failed Status Quo

California residents are depressed about the economy and see little hope for change in the near future, yet as Steven Greenhut observes, they seem more reluctant than ever to change the current high-tax, union-dominated political course that has led to the struggling economy. If California voters are serious about moving the state away from its current political and economic trajectory, Greenhut writes, they need to quit supporting the failed status quo.

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David Simon Accuses Reason of Producing a "Shanked" Interview With Him. Decide for Yourself.

Yesterday, we released a 21-minute-long interview with David Simon (video and a transcript here), the creative force behind much great television, including The Wire and Treme, which starts its third season on HBO this Sunday.

After sending Simon the published video and text, he registered intense dissatisfaction with the editing we did of a longer, wide-ranging conversation that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. Specifically, he felt that our shaping of the material reduced his observations to "disjointed" and "unsupported" chatter that fails to do justice to his arguments.

We sent him audio of the full interview and he has posted a response on his personal website.

It reads in part:

Read through a the transcript of a videotaped interview I gave to Reason Magazine, the libertarian periodical, that is timed for the release of Treme’s third season.  My comments seemed disjointed, unsupported.  Arguments begin and cease abruptly, unaccompanied by any supporting logic or examples.  The interviewer’s comments are highlighted as punctuation, but many fundamental ideas and contentions never progress far at all.

I emailed those guys, asked them if I could listen to the whole interview.  They kindly agreed.

Sure enough, the editing is, at points, inattentive to the task of building on or even completing a complicated argument.  I begin with an assertion — that Wall Street undid the newspaper industry, or that government is the only viable agent for the maintenance of prisons, and then all or most of the reasons for making such an argument are gone from the edited interview.  Seems I spoke with this crew for about an hour and twenty minutes.  An hour or so of that is missing from the edited version....

I claim nothing sinister on the magazine’s part; they would not have given me the whole interview to review if they had shanked it for ideological reasons; but shank it they did, in my opinion.

Read his full critique here.

We stand by our edits of the material not simply as standard journalistic practice (as Simon himself notes, "unedited interviews seldom are" worth anyone's time) but as fully conveying both the complexity and depth of his takes on the various topics we discussed.

As Reason columnist Greg Beato wrote yesterday, we live in a "Golden Age of Fact-Checking," where it is easier than ever to resolve dueling interpretations of reality. In the spirit of transparency, here's a link to full audio of our conversation with him (two minor interruptions have been edited out with Simon's approval). We invite all readers to judge for themselves whether we have done violence to Simon's point of view in any serious manner.

For those particularly interested in uncut versions of Simon's discussion of the decline of the newspaper industry and his comments about the prison-industrial complex (two areas he mentions specifically in his response), go directly to the 32-minute mark and 1.10.30, respectively.

Readers interested in our general takes on those issues might be interested in the "We the Media" chapter of Gillespie's 2011 book The Declaration of Independents (co-authored with Matt Welch, whose essay on the decline of legacy media, "When the Losers Write History," is also worth reading). For an in-depth discussion of problems with the criminal justice system, especially as it relates to prisons, please read the July 2011 special issue of Reason titled "Criminal Injustice: Inside America's National Disgrace."

Simon ends his post by invoking the late Christopher Hitchens, writing:

...listening to so many issues stutter-step without going forward to any corroborative detail or to any sustained elaboration or debate, I’m reminded of the late, great Christopher Hitchens, who once attempted to make a modestly complicated argument to an interviewer ideologically opposed to that stance.  As the Fox commentator’s questions became longer and as Mr. Hitchen’s answers were more frequently interrupted, he finally managed the following:

“You must have me on your show again so you can tell me more of what you think…”

He then attempted to elaborate on the point he had previously raised, but was, of course, interrupted.

As it happens, Hitchens was a great friend to Reason over the years, appearing at various events (such as this 2007 "Very, Very Secular Christmas Party" in which he led the audience in singing) and contributing an introduction to our 2004 anthology, Choice: The Best of Reason. He wrote, "I find that Reason keeps my own arteries from hardening or from flooding with adrenaline out of sheer irritation, because in the face of arbitrary power and conformism it continues to ask, in a polite but firm tone of voice, not only 'why?' but 'why not'?"

We disagreed with Hitchens on many things, but we felt honored by his sense of solidarity with Reason as a journalistic enterprise and we're disappointed that David Simon feels that we in any way "shanked" our interview with him.

We remain great admirers of his work and wish him the best with the third season of Treme.

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ObamaCare's Health Insurance Rebates May Make Insurance More Expensive

The Department of Health and Human Services has taken to touting ObamaCare's alleged consumer benefits, and in particular the rebates insurers are now required to send customers thanks to the law's medical loss ratio (MLR) rule, also known as the 80/20 rule.

That provision requires health insurers to spend at least 80* percent of collected premium dollars on medical care. If not, they have to rebate the difference to the customer. This year, insurers rebated slightly over $1 billion, or about $151 per person on average. “Thanks to the law," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a press release discussing the provision, "our health care system is more transparent and more competitive, and that’s saving Americans real money.” 

Journalists covering the provision have often made similar points. ABC News reported this summer that the rule is "aimed at holding health insurance companies accountable for how they spend the money collected through premiums." On the same day the ABC News piece ran, CBS let the world know that the health law "requires insurers to spend premiums on patients — or pay rebates." USA Today published a news report that boreder on advertorial under the headline "Health insurance rebates may keep premiums down for everyone." 

Or they may not. Not one of these articles noted that the provision is actually likely to make health insurance premiums more expensive. For that, you'll have to turn to the folks at NPR's Planet Money. Reporter David Kestenbaum called six health economists. "No one thought the provision would do much good,"reports Kestenbaum, "and several thought it could be harmful." That list includes one of ObamaCare architects and supporters, Jonathan Gruber. 

Why are economists so sour on the provision? The worry is that rather than look for ways to control costs, insurers will simply let spending balloon, leading to higher premiums — and bigger profits. It's easier to cover someone's health costs on 80 percent of $1,000 than it is on 80 percent of $100. And because insurer profits and other administrative costs must come from the remaining 20 percent, there's a larger pool from which to draw profits and business expenses. 

But as the administration surely knows, a check in the mail is easier to see than cost restraint, and lower premiums, in the absence of those rebates. Indeed, the administration has worked to ensure that customers know exactly where those rebate checks are coming from. Health insurers sending out rebates this year were required to include a letter stating in the first paragraph that the rebates are required by ObamaCare.  

I'm glad to see that Planet Money is giving this provision some of the scrutiny it deserves, though I wish more attention would have been paid to it before now. For that, you would have had to look here, herehere, here, here, here, and here

*Changed to say 80 percent, not 20 percent. 

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Obama Spokesman Concedes Libya Attack Was Terrorism, Obama Not So Much

After more than a week of improbable claims, the Obama Administration now characterizes the deadly September 11 attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya as a terrorist act. But President Obama himself cautioned that protests against the unseen film Innocence of Muslims are "natural." 

"It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," White House spokesman Jay Carney told Reuters. "Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that's self-evident."

From the Los Angeles Times

The new evaluation came as congressional committees met in closed session to press Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with top intelligence and law enforcement officials, on whether the diplomatic outpost was adequately protected by a force of mostly Libyan guards.

Libyan officials allowed FBI investigators to visit the burned-out compound only early this week, officials said, a delay that could hamper the team in gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses.

Carney...said some of the heavily armed men who stormed the consulate in Benghazi and killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans "may have had connections" to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of the terrorist network that is active in eastern Libya.

Elsewhere around the world, a pan-Islamic "Day of Love" was marked by violence, arson, and flag burnings: 

* In Pakistan rioters burned down movie theaters and at least three people have been killed.

* In Sri Lanka, protesters burned Obama in effigy.

* In Indonesia, the U.S. embassy has been closed and an imprisoned terrorist told Indonesians they should imitate the Libya attack. “We should hold our anger if we’re being insulted,” Abu Bakar Bashir said. “We should forgive. But if the one that was defamed is Allah, the Prophet or his Shariah, death is the punishment. The Prophet is much more precious than our souls.”

* In Malaysia, protesters burned American flags outside the U.S. embassy.

The president, meanwhile, seems to be stepping back from Carney's characterization. From the L.A. Times again:

Asked later about the Libya attack during a town hall meeting in Coral Gables, Fla., President Obama appeared to fall back on the administration's earlier description of the assault — that it was sparked by anger over an amateur film, made in California and posted on the Internet, that ridiculed the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

"I don't want to speak to something until we have all the information," Obama said. "The natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests."

In his comments to Reuters, Carney maintained the administration's claim that there is no evidence the Libya attack was premeditated, a claim that seems to contradict eyewitness accounts, intelligence estimates, and warnings from Chris Stevens, the American ambassador who was killed in the Libya attack. 

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Ice Cream Bank Alarms Pennsylvania Regulators

In which Wall Street Journal correspondent John W. Miller describes a Pittsburgh business with what might be a unique combination of services:

State banking officials want to put the freeze on the owner of an ice-cream parlor who opened a community-bank alternative that pays interest in the form of gift cards for ice cream, waffles and coffee.

Ethan Clay, 31 years old, opened Whalebone Café Bank seven months ago in his shop, Oh Yeah!, a year and a half after he was hit with $1,600 in overdraft fees from a local bank where his account was overdrawn by a series of checks.

Mr. Clay says he wants to offer an alternative banking experience, and has accepted small deposits and made small loans. He claims he isn't subject to banking rules because his operation is a gift-card savings account.

"It's a strange case, we don't have the authority to go close an ice-cream store," said Ed Novak, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking. "But we are going to do something. You can't mess with people's money."

Read the whole article for the details of how the ice-cream bank works, and also for unintentionally hilarious quotes like this one:

Oh Yeah! does not have depositors insurance. "If a bank goes under, the depositors get their money back," said Mr. Novak. "If the ice-cream store goes under, who knows what happens?"

[Via Rad Geek.]

Obama Leads Romney 52-45 In New Reason-Rupe Poll; In Three-Way Race Obama Leads Romney 49-42, Johnson Gets 6 Percent

A new national Reason-Rupe poll of likely voters finds President Barack Obama leading Republican Mitt Romney 48 percent to 43 percent in the presidential race. When undecided voters are asked which way they are leaning Obama’s lead over Romney grows to 52-45.  

President Obama holds large advantages among women (53-37), African-Americans (92-2) and Hispanics (71-18). Fifty-two percent of likely voters view Obama favorably, while 45 view him unfavorably. In contrast, 49 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable view of Mitt Romney and 41 percent have a favorable view of him. 

In a three-way presidential race, Obama drops to 49 percent among likely voters and Romney falls to 42 percent as the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson gets six percent of support. Johnson is already on the presidential ballot in 47 states.

The Reason-Rupe poll conducted live interviews with 1,006 adults, including 787 likely voters, via landlines  (602) and cell phones (404) from September 13-17, 2012. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percent, 4.3 percent for the likely voters sample. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the Reason-Rupe poll.

Government’s Role and Influence 

As the presidential candidates debate the role of government, the Reason-Rupe poll finds 55 percent of Americans believe the federal government has too much influence over their lives, 36 percent say the amount of influence is about right and just 7 percent say the government does not have enough influence.

Over two-thirds, 67 percent, of likely voters say it is not the government’s responsibility to reduce income differences between Americans, while 29 percent say it is the government’s responsibility.  Similarly, 61 percent of likely voters tell Reason-Rupe that today’s levels of income inequality are an acceptable part of America’s economic system, 35 percent say income inequalities need to be fixed. 

Today, 59 percent of voters believe all Americans have equal opportunities to succeed, whereas 39 percent do not believe everyone has equal opportunities.

When asked if they are better off than they were four years ago, 44 percent of likely voters feel they are better off, 41 percent say worse off. 

Taxes

A majority of Americans, 57 percent, support raising income tax rates on incomes over $250,000.  However, the very same number—57 percent—says the top 5 percent of earners shouldn’t have to contribute more than 40 percent of the total federal income taxes paid to government. In 2009, the top 5 percent of earners contributed 59 percent of total federal income taxes paid.

Medicare

When it comes to future Medicare benefits, 68 percent of voters say they’d be willing to accept some cuts to their own Medicare benefits as long as they’re guaranteed to receive benefits equal to what they and their employers pay into the system.  When presented with the basic details of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, 61 percent of voters think out-of-pocket health care costs would go up for seniors as a result of the plan. Yet, despite assuming out-of-pocket costs would rise, voters prefer Medicare reforms built around giving seniors a credit to purchase health insurance over reforms like President Obama’s, which include a payment board to help determine which medical treatments are effective and covered. By a margin of 47 percent to 38 percent, voters favor a Medicare credit system over a payment board system.  

Audit the Fed

Just 16 percent of voters approve, and 77 percent disapprove, of the job Congress is doing. And though many pundits say this has been a “do-nothing” Congress, Americans think that’s a feature not a bug. In fact, 45 percent of Americans wish Congress would pass even fewer laws than it does now, while 27 percent would like Congress to pass more laws. There is, however, one law Americans would overwhelmingly like to see: 70 percent tell Reason-Rupe they are in favor of auditing the Federal Reserve. Twenty-one percent are opposed to a congressional-led audit of the Fed.

Full Poll 

The complete Reason-Rupe survey is online here and here.

 This is the latest in a series of Reason-Rupe public opinion surveys dedicated to exploring what Americans really think about government and major issues.  This Reason Foundation project is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.

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Univision Gives Obama First Serious Grilling on Drug War, Holder, Fast and Furious

So apparently the way to get presidential candidates to talk seriously about issues is to put them on Spanish-language TV. First there was Republican challenger Mitt Romney getting a spinal tap over his shifting immigration views, if you can be married and gay at the same time, and whether he was wearing brownface

Now President Obama must also be wondering what happened to the good old days when all you had to do was print up some "Adelante" flyers and say a few words in halting Spanish on the stump. 

Speaking with Univision co-hosts Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, Obama got tough questions on his State Department's complete unpreparedness for the September 11 embassy attacks and other topics.

But the high point came when Salinas and Ramos turned to Obama's catastrophic ramping up of the war on drugs and the deadly Fast and Furious operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). 

Referring to the 65,000 people who have been killed in drug violence in Mexico, Salinas asked, "How many people have to die before the strategy changes?"

"The United States can focus on drug treatment and prevention and helping people deal with addiction, making sure young people are not getting hooked on drugs," the former Choom Gang leader asserted. "If we can reduce demand, that means less cash flowing into these drug cartels. And we have actually beefed up our investment and support in prevention, because we have to treat this as a public health problem in the United States, not just a law enforcement problem." 

While it wasn't a very serious response, this is the first time Obama has replied to drug-policy questions with something other than japery. And the talk got even more grim when Ramos turned to the Department of Justice Inspector General's report on the Fast and Furious operation in which the ATF intentionally provided weapons to drug cartels, an initiative that apparently netted no useful information and led to the death of border agent Brian Terry in December 2010. Here's the transcript, courtesy of the Daily Caller

Ramos: You told me during an interview that you and Mr. Holder did not authorize the Fast and Furious operation that allowed 2,000 weapons from the United States into Mexico and they were in the drug trafficking [cartels'] hands. I think that up to 100 Mexicans might have died and also American agent Brian Terry. There’s a report that 14 agents were responsible for the operation but shouldn’t the attorney general, Eric Holder, he should have known about that and if he didn’t, should you fire him?

MORE »
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A.M. Links: France Ends Intolerance With a Ban on Protests, Barry Scoops Up Cash, Californians Unenthusiastic About Tax Hikes

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

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Kurt Loder Reviews The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Teen anomie is such a heavily trafficked film genre that you wouldn’t think it could still offer new directions to explore. Which is what’s surprising about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, says Kurt Loder, a movie that makes teenage isolation and high-school torment seem like fresh subjects again. The film’s careful structure allows the story to keep surprising us, right up to the end; and its three lead performances, by Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson, mark notable advances in these young actors’ careers.

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Obama Admin's Libya Story Continues to Unravel

Over at The Daily Beast, Eli Lake reports on why the Obama administration's initial assertion that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was a spontaneous act and not a planned-out terrorist operation. The American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed.

Noting that the administration now calls the attack a terrorist job, Lake cites an unnamed former CIA official who says of the early assertion: 

“I think this is a case of an administration saying what they wished to be true before waiting for all the facts to come in."

Lake notes that U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice was mischaracterizing the security detail on last Sunday's talk shows:

One other aspect of the administration’s story appears shaky as well. Speaking to ABC News on Sunday, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice responded to allegations that there wasn’t enough security at the embassy by saying, “Tragically, two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security. That was their function. And indeed, there were many other colleagues who were doing the same with them.”

Rice was referring to two ex-Navy SEALs, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who died during the violence.

But two former special operators and a former intelligence officer, two of whom had worked with Doherty, told The Daily Beast that Doherty and Woods’s job was not to protect Ambassador Chris Stevens. That job falls to Regional Security Officers or RSOs. During the fighting, some RSOs who were supposed to protect the ambassador apparently became separated from him.

“Glen died for Tyrone and Tyrone died for Glen,” one of the former special operators told The Daily Beast. “They fought bravely, but they did not die protecting the ambassador.”

More here.

Reason on Libya here.

There are few areas in which the Republican and Democratic parties are more alike than in foreign policy and military intervention. Indeed, despite suspiciously timed partisan swings depending on who holds the White House, both parties tend to be in favor of playing the role of globocop. Hopefully the presidential debate dedicated to foreign policy will raise questions about why we're in Libya in the first place.

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Gary Johnson Shoots Campaign Ad with Zombies

After a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson took time to shoot an ad with the NH LP on the steps of the State House in Concord that featured Republican and Democrat zombies. 

In the ad Johnson walks down the stairs and shouts to the zombies.

"We're not mindless zombies in this country! We're not mindless!" he declares.

The ad is still being edited but it should be out soon according to people with the NH LP. 

Video from NHPatch here.

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Auburn Censors Ron Paul Poster, Gives Student Bigger Platform

The latest video from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is produced by Reason TV alum Ted Balaker and details the case of the censored Ron Paul poster.

From FIRE's writeup:

In November 2011, Auburn University student Eric Philips was required to remove a banner supporting Ron Paul's presidential campaign from the inside of his dormitory window. Philips documented numerous examples of other students not being asked to do the same. In this video, Eric Philips fills you in on the details of Auburn's efforts to censor his viewpoint and how you can fight back against censorship on your own campus.

More info here.

HT: Instapundit.

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Chip Bok on Libya

Remember when an Obama advisor described the President's response to the Arab Spring with an unflattering metaphor? Chip Bok sure does. 

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Brickbat: McGruff Never Did This

Mang Dieke stepped outside the Fayetteville, Georgia, Walmart for a work break. That's when a Belgian Malinois jumped out of an SUV parked nearby and attacked him. Dieke tried to get away, but the dog clamped onto him, so he dragged it back into the store, where the dog's handler, a Fayette County sheriff's deputy, finally noticed the commotion and pulled the dog off. Dieke suffered deep bites to his chest, stomach and groin. Sheriff's officials say they don't know why the dog attacked Dieke.

Brickbat Archive

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Fast and Furious Report Exonerates Holder; Rogue Agents Done the Deed. Right.

I have to admit that, while I have a copy of the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General's Fast and Furious report, released yesterday, I have yet to read all 512 pages of obfuscatory goodness. What's fascinating to me is that the extensive and, just from the report's conclusions, rather damning document is immediately being spun as an exoneration of Attorney General Eric Holder. Because, really, in a deadly, multi-year gun-running scandal inolving federal officials, that's the most important issue at hand.

As the White House's Eric Schultz told Government Executive magazine:

"Today’s report affirms the problem of gun walking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the previous administration, and it was this administration’s attorney general who ended it," he said. "Nevertheless, The Justice Department has taken strong steps to ensure accountability and make sure this does not happen again, including important administrative, policy and personnel changes."

The official take-away is that this was a rogue operation, run entirely by Kurtz-like federal employees, gone native and driven mad in the blinding sun and pervasive heat of the Arizona jungle desert. As Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz today told (PDF) the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

We concluded that both Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious were seriously flawed and supervised irresponsibly by ATF’s Phoenix Field Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, most significantly in their failure to adequately consider the risk to the public safety in the United States and Mexico.

And no way, no how, did the squeaky-clean bureaucrats of Washington, D.C. get their hands dirtied by this irresponsible rogue (did I say "rogue"?) operation.

Former Attorney General Mukasey became Attorney General after investigative activity in Operation Wide Receiver was concluded. We found no evidence that he was informed that ATF, in connection with Operation Wide Receiver, was allowing or had allowed firearms to “walk.” ...

We found no evidence that Attorney General Holder was informed about Operation Fast and Furious, or learned about the tactics employed by ATF in the investigation, prior to January 31, 2011. We found it troubling that a case of this magnitude, and one that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General.

Oh, the horror. The horror.

This may sell in Washington, D.C., where journalists know who rubs their bellies, but it's already getting some strong reactions in the Copper State. Today, the Arizona Republic editorialized:

Justice Department's inspector general report released Wednesday is a predictable 450-page exoneration of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The report blames "misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures that permeated the ATF headquarters and the Phoenix field division, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and at the headquarters of the Department of Justice."

Fourteen people, employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Justice Department, face disciplinary action. But the report says Holder knew nothing. Nothing. Did anyone really expect the DOJ's watchdog to bite the DOJ's boss?

I don't think for a moment the denizens of the imperial capital care what does and does not pass the laugh test in the provinces, but the Republic raises some good points. The Inspector General may find it "troubling that a case of this magnitude, and one that affected Mexico so significantly was not directly briefed to the Attorney General," but some of us find it completely freaking preposterous. Either Holder (and Mukasey, before him) knew about these operations and are being given a thorough whitewashing in the report, or else the U.S. Attorney General has lost control of whole sections of his department — whole armed, tax-funded sections that are dealing in weapons and operating in neighboring countries.

An either-or choice between deceitful bastard and incompetent figurehead should not be read as an exoneration.

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Public University Seeks Land Via Eminent Domain

Writing at Insider Higher Ed, Kevin Kiley reports on Ball State University’s recent announcement that it may use eminent domain to acquire land for a campus expansion. He writes:

At a time when public university leaders regularly point to the advantages that private institutions have enjoyed over them in recent years – such as freedom from most state regulations, freedom to raise tuition, and often significant financial resources -- it’s easy to forget that the public universities still have one significant advantage. They are parts of the state, and that comes with a lot of powers.

Earlier this month, Ball State University’s board of trustees authorized the use of eminent domain – the power of the state to seize private property without the owner’s consent so long as the owner is compensated – to take a piece of property on which it plans to construct a hotel, conference center, restaurants, and dormitory for hospitality students.

If the university does follow through with the plan – and administrators stress that they are trying to reach an agreement with property owners to avoid actually using the power – it will be a rare example of a public university invoking eminent domain, and it could generate controversy, particularly given that the property wouldn’t be used for “traditional” educational purposes.

While public universities do enjoy an advantage on the eminent domain front by virtue of being part of the state, not every state government takes the public-private distinction as seriously as it should. New York, for example (as Kiley acknowledges in the story), happily wielded its eminent powers on behalf of Columbia University, an elite private institution, and the state’s highest court ultimately rubber-stamped the deal. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court declined its opportunity to review the constitutionality of the Columbia land grab, which doesn’t exactly discourage other states from taking property on behalf of their own prestigious private colleges.

Perhaps we should just be relieved to learn that eminent domain is rarely used by public universities. Here’s hoping Ball State isn’t spearheading an unfortunate new trend.

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Obama, Clinton Reprise Role as Movie Reviewers in Pakistan Ads Meant to Calm Protests

At this point, maybe Rotten Tomatoes should add Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to their list of top critics. As protestors continue to make noise outside the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, the embassy has purchased advertisements on Pakistani television stations to publicize our leaders’ condemnations of Innocence of Muslims. Via the Associated Press:

The television ads in Pakistan feature clips of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during press appearances in Washington in which they condemned the video. Their words were subtitled in Urdu.

"We absolutely reject its content and message," said Clinton in the advertisement.

The advertisements end with the seal of the American Embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

So are any of the Jewish faith out there repulsed by The Possession? Now’s your chance to demand the government weigh in on any act of filmmaking that offends you. Just go throw a rock at your local AMC theater and demand Kyra Sedgwick be punished for blasphemy.

This is fertile ground for parody – you listening out there, Saturday Night Live?

My search to find the commercial on YouTube was unsuccessful, but the description makes it sound like a clip show of all the speeches we’ve already seen and already been a bit horrified by. I did, however, track down some other videos mentioned in the story. The State Department managed to bother some bystanders somewhere (I’m assuming this is in D.C.) to give their “average American” opinions of the movie. Some of them, at least, made a stand for free speech, like this guy who says of the movie, “I don’t think they cause real harm. They should be ignored.”

But why ignore things when you can raise a huge stink in order to demand world leaders validate your faith?

And as I was writing this, President Obama has finally publicly agreed that Muslim extremists used the video as an excuse for an attack on U.S. interests. So we’re diplomatically compromising our nation’s promotion of free speech as a core value to what end, then? What does the State Department think the outcome of this commercial is going to be?

UPDATE: Here's the commercial. It's literally just parts of Obama's and Clinton's speeches following the Benghazi attack.

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Supporters Hope Amendment 64, Colorado's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Might Increase Safety, Increase Community Trust in Police

Today two national police groups, Blacks in Law Enforcement of America and the National Latino Officers Association endorsed Colorado's November ballot initiative, Amendment 64, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol; joining them are numerous other cops, clergy, judges, politicians, and other seemingly straight-laced folks including the NAACP. (Oddly enough, the Colorado Education Association recently came out in opposition to legalization.)

Amendment 64 is one of three full-legalization pushes for the 2012 election. Oregon and Washington state will also offer initiatives. Colorado's, however, might have the biggest reasons for optimism. Recently The Denver Post reported that support for Amendment 64 has passed 50 percent and is gaining.

Today Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) hosted a conference call with LEAP Executive Director Lt. Neil Franklin, a 34-year veteran of the Baltimore Police department andTony Ryan, a 36-year veteran of the Denver Police Department, now on LEAP's board, along with Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol advocacy director Betty Aldworth. 

Aldworth mentioned that marijuana prohibition leads to the arrest of "about 10 thousand Coloradoans each year, nearly 95 percent for simple possession," and Amendment 64 is looking to turn that around. It would also bring Colorado an estimated $60 million in revenue and savings, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. Ryan talked about his 36 years on the Denver force, mostly on street patrol. "Where marijuana is concerned, the only calls I remember getting for marijuana was because someone was mad at someone and wanted to turn them in for using it," he said. "“Far as I can see, people who use marijuana don’t cause any problems.”

Franklin read statements said earlier today from representatives of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America and the National Latino Officers Association.  Blacks in Law Enforcement of America's Ron Hampton, said:

"Keeping these outdated prohibition laws on the books accomplishes nothing to reduce marijuana use, but it does cause incredible damage to our communities of color. Even though African Americans use marijuana at a rate virtually identical to that of whites, people from our community are arrested, sentenced and jailed at a much higher rate. Passing Amendment 64, while it won't solve all our problems, is a great step toward ensuring equality for all under the law."

The statement from the National Latino Officers Association included a hope for increased cooperation between law enforcement and communities, which Franklin echoed later. NLOA's Anthony Miranda said: 

"Right now, communities of color see the police as aggressors rather than as protectors. People are unwilling to come to us, to give us information, even to report crimes, because they see us as the enemy. When Amendment 64 passes, we’ll be one step closer to rebuilding that community trust that allows us to effectively perform our jobs."

When Reason asked about how Amendment 64 might increase officer and citizen safety, Franklin dropped many topics familiar to regular readers. He also reiterated that the drug war has seriously decreased trust in law enforcement and perhaps for good reason, saying:

"Police are not well respected, and when police are not well respected, you have many opportunities for conflicts between citizens and police. Citizens do not trust police, they do not give them information. In Baltimore they had things like stop snitching campaigns. when we don’t have citizens working with police to get violent criminals off the steet..."

He also mentioned cartels and the violent criminals involved in drug trades. Franklin went on to say that another area where safety will be improved by legalization:

“These dynamic SWAT raids we use on a regular basis, they are very, very dangerous....” “People are getting hurt, innocent people are getting hurt. We are conducting raids on the wrong homes. Even in homes where there might be some illicit activity, marijuana, there is no violence…yet the raid itself is an act of violence."

When asked what backers of Amendment 64 anticipated the Federal response might be if they were successful in November, Aldworth said:

"We anticipate that when Colorado passes amendment 64, the federal government will work with us. The DEA has never made it its business to prosecute or investigate individuals for simple possession of marijuana. We don’t expect that DEA priorities will be shifted."

When pressed as to whether the DEA and/or Department of Justice might go after growers or retailers of marijuana, Aldworth mentioned the 10th amendment, and with some hesitation said “I hope that the federal government finds themselves in a position where they want to work with us on that.”

Reason TV's Nick Gillespie interviewed Franklin back in July 2011

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Greg Beato on Jonah Lehrer, Plagiarism, and Why We’re Now Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking

For the last several years, the universe has been kicking journalists. In 2012, they started kicking themselves. There was Jonah Lehrer and his fake Bob Dylan quotes. There was Fareed Zakaria and his purloined paragraph. There was a series of other offenses, so many that the Poynter Institute’s Craig Silverman ultimately dubbed these last few months journalism’s “summer of sin.” It was happening, many suggested, at least in part because journalism’s traditional quality control mechanisms were in deep institutional decline; the fact-checkers had left the building.

But as Greg Beato points out, the “summer of sin” didn’t happen because fact-checking doesn’t take place as much as it once did. It happened because fact-checking got democratized. True, it now largely occurs at a different and potentially problematic point in the process—after an article has been published. But fact-checking also happens far more transparently than it once did, and overall, it occurs more frequently too. Now, a single reader in his home office can do in 15 minutes what it might have taken the New Yorker’s entire squadron of legendary fact-checkers days to accomplish in, say, 1992.

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Public Divided on "47 Percent" Comment, Chris Stevens Feared an Attack, Jobless Claims Remain High: P.M. Links

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

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Video: David Simon on Treme, New Orleans, the Drug War, Obama, The Wire - And Disappointing Libertarians

Updated September 21: On his personal website, David Simon has accused Reason TV of producing a "shanked" interview with him. For links to his criticism, our response, and full audio of our hour-and-20-minute-long conversation with him that formed the basis of this video, go here now.

"At some point during the run of The Wire, I became a fellow traveler of the libertarians," says the acclaimed writer and television producer David Simon. "And then a great disappointment to them."

Reason.com Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie sat down with Simon last week to discuss Treme, the state of New Orleans, the drug war, President Obama, school choice, private prisons, the newspaper industry, and Simon's antipathy towards libertarians.

Watch above or links plus an edited transcript of the discussion click below.

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Mitt Romney is Proud to be the Godfather of ObamaCare, Which He Assures You He Wants to Kill

Last time the White House accused Mitt Romney of being ObamaCare’s godfather, the GOP presidential nominee responded with murder on his mind. “If I’m the godfather of this thing,” he said, “then it gives me the right to kill it.” Which I suspect most would agree is an unusual interpretation of what it means to be a godfather, but we’ll let that pass for the moment.

Recently, he’s addressed the godfather label in a way that comes across as a little less stabby. “I have experience in health care reform,” he said in Miami this week. “Now and then the president says I’m the grandfather of Obamacare. I don’t think he meant that as a compliment but I’ll take it.” A contradiction? A reversal? Maybe he’s just so proud of his legislative godchild/grandchild that he can’t wait to kill it?

It's more like another admission that Romney still really likes the health care plan he passed in Massachusetts, despite that plan’s role as the model for the president’s national health policy overhaul. And it's a sign, perhaps, that Romney would prefer to tweak ObamaCare than take it down.

Even though he doesn’t talk about it much, Romney’s love of his health plan has been a defining part of his campaign. As Noam Scheiber reported in The New Republic, Romney picked his top strategist, Stuart Stevens, in large part because Stevens was the only GOP campaign guru who didn’t advise him to disown the Massachusetts health care plan. Personnel is policy, and a candidate’s choice of chief strategist is a central decision in any major campaign. This tell us a lot about how he much he likes his health care plan: Romney was apparently willing to both ignore the advice of virtually every Republican political strategist and stake his campaign’s future on his abiding pride in RomneyCare.

Indeed, RomneyCare is one of the few policies that Romney has fought to defend throughout his campaign. That defense has been subtle; he doesn’t often talk about the Massachusetts system. But he’s consistently insisted on making the case for it, despite professional advice to the contrary, constant criticism from members of his own party, and a deep skepticism of the plan from the conservative base. It’s cost him a lot, in other words, and yet he’s stuck with it anyway.

Does this sound like someone deeply invested in repealing ObamaCare as president? Given the similarities between the plans and Romney’s multiple early suggestions that RomneyCare could be a model for the nation, I remain skeptical that he would make any signficant effort to repeal the law. Perhaps if it came to his desk he would sign it. But I also wouldn’t be shocked to find him working behind the scenes to postpone or even avoid repeal.

Part of his argument could be that that ObamaCare wouldn't be as bad with him in charge. Unlike Obama, he’d work closely with Republican governors and legislators to make the plan less onerous, more amenable to various GOP interests. That would be consistent with the approach taken by Romney’s transition team head, Michael Leavitt, who has spent the last few years telling states that they should set up the health insurance exchanges called for by ObamaCare — and then charging them to consult on exchange implementation once they agree. It would also be consistent with Romney’s promises to allow state-based waivers to ObamaCare until the point when, or if, a repeal bill arrives at the White House. There are serious problems with Romney’s plans to let states off the hook via the law’s waiver provision (namely that the law currently doesn’t allow state waiver plans to kick in until 2017). But I don’t doubt that a Romney administration would pursue implementation flexibly.

Indeed, a plan that relied on implementation tweaks would fit well with Romney’s general view of the Obama administration, which is not that the president’s policies were bad but that they were designed and managed poorly. And it would line up quite nicely with Romney’s recent declaration that "there are a number of things that I like about health care reform that I'm going to put in place.” I don't doubt that Romney is proud to be ObamaCare’s godfather. But I think he’d be even happier as its stepdad.

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Just About the Creepiest Pro-Obama Image of the Week (I Hope)

That's Jim Messina, the head President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, showcasing the new "For All" happy hands bit that Mike Riggs characterized as one more indication that Obama treats his supporters "like parishioners at the People's Temple."

You write Bobby Sherman's or Justin Bieber's or iCarly's name on your hand (when your 10 years old). If you're pulling that stuff when you're in your 40s (like Messina is), you've got a screw loose.

Check out "A Short Visual Tour of the Creepy Obama Cult" put together by Reason columnist David Harsanyi at Human Events.

I don't think it's simply my general dislike for politicians that makes me recoil from this sort of thing. Anything that smacks of idol worship rather than the promotion of general ideas or specific policies makes my flesh - my untattoed, unwritten-upon flesh - crawl. However awful politics will always be, it still shouldn't be about individual leaders or figures but about ideas and movements. That way madness lies.

If you want to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when kids were spontaneously bursting into song at the promise of Obama's first term, check out Reason TV's "Obama Kids: Sing for Change (Pyongyang Remix)." It'll rock your world.

And by spontaneously, I mean originally passed off as spontaneous but later revealed to be a project involving a huge amount of planning and the head of NBC Universal.

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A Modest Proposal For How GM Can Stop Being Government Motors and Thank Taxpayers

Former Government Motors CEO Ed Whitacre – who earned notoriety two years ago when he played a starring role in the company’s fraudulent ad campaign claiming that it had repaid its bailout in full – evidently no longer wants the government as a crony in his erstwhile capitalist venture. He is telling the Obama administration to declare victory, sell its outstanding shares in the company and get out. Now. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning he argues that government ownership is debilitating the company:

 TARP is funded by taxpayers, so there are many rules about how that money can and can't be used. The result: GM spends an awful lot of time checking in with the people who administer TARP over everything from hiring to executive compensation and management. For a global company, that adds up to a lot of distraction.

Seriously? How can that be? After all, didn’t President Obama -- whose “tongue,” Oprah assured, us “is dipped in unvarnished truth” -- personally, publicly and repeatedly state that he was a “reluctant shareholder” who had “zero interest in running the company.”

“Our goal is to get GM back on its feet, take a hands off approach and get out quickly,” the president said when he handed it tens of billions of taxpayer money.

And again: "GM will be run by a private board of directors and management team with a track record in American manufacturing that reflects a commitment to innovation and quality.”

Who’d have thunk it!

Whitacre is right of course that so long as TARP money is wrapped up in GM, the company will never shake its "Government Motors" image: “That label, as competitors and GM employees are keenly aware, is code for one thing: ‘GM is a failure.’”

Be that as it may, there is a slight problem with Whitacre’s proposal – namely that selling the government’s outstanding 26% equity in the company at the current stock price would translate into…. oh about $25 billion in losses for taxpayers, give or take a few billion. (This is not counting the illicit $15 billion tax writeoff the company got during bankruptcy.) Whitacre implies that there is no shame in the administration owning up to these losses. They are, after all, a small price for avoiding economic armageddon:

Since 2009, when the government stepped in with emergency funding, GM has gone from down on its knees in bankruptcy to solvent and standing strong. By that measure alone, Treasury's $50 billion gamble on General Motors has been a resounding success.

Millions of jobs were saved, along with the U.S. auto industry as a whole: GM is the backbone of the domestic vehicle business, so if the company had failed, other automakers and suppliers would likely have followed. The courageousness of that effort, which started under President Bush and continued in force under President Obama, can't be underemphasized.

But if anyone showed any courage here it wasn’t Bush or Obama but the taxpayers. So isn’t it time for GM to respond to their courage with some of its own?

Thanks to the bailout, GM, a company that was running on empty before the bailout, is sitting on $33 billion in cash reserves and has little debt – a luxury that its non-bailed out competitors who pay hundreds of millions in debt service costs annually don’t enjoy. So here’s what GM should really do if it wants to bury its label as “Government Motors” and prove that TARP has really helped it "stand strong": It should announce that it will compensate taxpayers for the losses they incur from the sale of their outstanding stock by “gifting” $25 billion of its reserves to the Treasury’s deficit reduction program. This still won't compensate them for their opportunity cost, but it'll be something!

If GM really is in good shape and has a credible business model for success, it should have no trouble obtaining a loan at competitive rates from private debt markets, just like all the other automakers are doing. If it can’t, after all the help it has gotten, then shouldn't it do the decent thing: get out of the car business?

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Washington's Riches: D.C. Area Now Boasts 7 of the Nation's Top-Earning Counties

Government is good business for those in and around the imperial city: Counties in the Washington, D.C. area increasingly rank among the highest in the nation in terms of household earning, reports The Washington Post:

The Washington region has emerged from the recession looking even more affluent compared with the rest of the country, boasting seven of the 10 counties with the highest household incomes in the nation, new census numbers show.

With a median household income surpassing $119,000, Loudoun County heads the list. Fairfax County, at nearly $106,000, is second. Both have held the same positions for several years running.

...The stability of an economy built on the pillars of the federal government, its legions of contractors and a flourishing high-tech sector is evident in the income rankings.

In 2007, before the recession began, five counties in suburban Washington made it into the top 10. By 2010, there were six. The seven in the latest ranking is an all-time high.

This gives a bit of a sense of how economically disconnected the nation's capitol city is from much of the rest of the country. It also highlights how much money is flowing into the Washington area, where the economy is largely built around supporting the functions of the federal government. And it tells you something about where American businesses invested during the recession: in political influence and power. Which reveals who actually benefits from economic recovery measures and massive regulatory overhauls. When Washington's power grows, so does the value of K Street, and, in turn, so do real-estate prices in the surrounding area. 

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Changing Story on Embassy Attacks Shows How U.S. Policy is Turning Into Shiite

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is giving closed-door testimony to the House today about the ongoing attacks on U.S. embassies. Given the tenor of the State Department's recent comments, we can expect the secret meeting to focus on such hot topics as whether Innocence of Muslims or YouTube itself is to blame, and whether the Charlie Hebdo cartoons would have been less insulting to Mohammed if they'd been rendered in manga or franco-belge style. 

But the Obama administration's handling of the embassy attacks has been an absurd combination of fecklessness, obfuscation and misdirection. 

The administration's claim that the deadly attack on the mission in Libya was not premeditated is contradicted by both eyewitnesses and warnings provided by the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, who gave ample alerts that al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists were planning an attack and even noted that he was himself on a death list. 

The administration also apparently gave erroneous accounts of what the two Navy SEALs killed in the Libya attack were doing at the embassy, and its explanation for why there was not sufficient security in Benghazi amounts to legalistic hair-splitting. If you're going to maintain diplomatic facilities (and I agree with Gary Johnson that you shouldn't), it's gross negligence not to protect them. 

The Obama foreign policy team does appear to be edging toward an admission that the Libya attack (at least) was a terrorist episode, and this is a welcome development. But it certainly creates new complexities for the administration. Attacks on embassies have been viewed as acts of war since the beginning of the republic. They have not always been responded to as such, and the president's domestic political opponents will no doubt make the technical point that there has been an attack on U.S. soil during President Obama's watch. But it's not cricket to lie about the circumstances of a deadly attack just because it might give ammunition to Mitt Romney. 

All of this comes after more than a week of claims by team Obama that the embassy attacks – which have been taking place over an area of more than three million square miles and for one of which (the mob attack in Cairo) the brother of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is claiming credit – are a spontaneous reaction to a film nobody has seen, and that the problem could be solved if there were more effective means of censoring media that insults Muslims

This explanation would be fishy even if we didn't have a very plausible one – that the September 11 attacks are a new offensive by a Sunni terror movement that is not nearly as dead as we were led to believe – right in front of us. I hope that isn't the correct answer (and haven't we spent trillions of dollars over the last 11 years to get better answers to just that question?), but it's beyond infantilization for the administration to refuse to entertain it. 

I've been saying "Obama" and "the administration" despite my conviction that American foreign policy is more or less consistent (and consistently bad) no matter who the president is. So here's what I'm wondering: If we are going to stay in the Great Game of trying to force outcomes in the Islamic world, why are we not leaning toward the Shiites, who are outnumbered nine-to-one and whose quest for a nuclear weapon is perfectly understandable given their international position? Didn't we just fight a massive war in Iraq, the apparently unintended result of which was to strengthen political Shiism? Why throw that advantage away? 

The first principle of power diplomacy is that you back the side that can't achieve total victory. Yet right now, amid Sunni attacks on American assets everywhere from Indonesia to North Africa, the main policy question being considered by the D.C. establishment is why we're not at war with Iran and Syria, and the only action the United States has taken against a foreign state that could be construed as an act of war – the introduction of the Stuxnet virus – was against Iran. It would be naive to expect straight answers, but I'll ask anyway: How does any of this make sense? 

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States Cracking Down on Unlicensed Home Improvement Contractors

Occupational licensing boards in seven states launched a sting operation last week, catching 157 unlicensed contractors looking to work without a state permission slip. Officials in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Utah responded to internet ads for carpeting, plumbing, HVAC, and other home improvement services, luring would-be workers to home sites where investigators waited.

Coordinated with help from the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (NASCLA), which seeks “better regulation of the construction industry to protect the health, welfare, and safety of the public,” the sting is the latest in a slew of enforcement activity aimed at unlicensed home improvement contractors nationwide.

NASCLA also helped conduct a sting in June that led to 15 investigations in Arizona, 31 investigations in Oregon, 23 citations in Nevada, and 100 arrests in California. In another operation in March, police arrested 111 other would-be workers in California. As of July, Maryland has over 80 cases pending against unlicensed workers. In Florida, over 70 contractors without licenses have been arrested this year—some of them in SWAT-style raids. From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

"How am I supposed to provide for my family with all the restrictions?" asked one cuffed worker, John Simms, 38, a father of four from West Palm Beach. "You tell that to my kids when I don't have the money to come home."

…Curbing illegal home improvements, officials say, has been an elusive goal in South Florida amid the downturn in the economy: Unemployed workers contract without a license as an easy way to make money. And some homeowners turn a blind eye to the unlicensed work for bargain prices.

…Homeowners who don't scrutinize whether someone is licensed may inadvertently invite a criminal inside their home, officials say.

New York City officials estimate that one in five home contractors is unlicensed. The city seized 72 vehicles from unlicensed home improvement workers over two months earlier this year. From ABC News:

"We are literally canvassing neighborhoods, pulling aside anyone we see doing work and making sure they are literally licensed," NYC DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz said.

Reason writers have written a thing or two about occupational licensing.

Click here for To-Catch-a-Predator-like coverage of unlicensed contractors in Portland, Or.  

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Romney's (and Obama's!) Limited Understanding of Dependency

The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney dings Mitt Romney for parroting "the mistaken liberal view that the growth of government mostly redistributes wealth downward."

Carney, a fierce foe of crony capitalism, notes that most of the dough flows into the pockets of the already-rich:

Romney was correct that a portion of America backs President Obama because they "are dependent upon government" and "believe that they are entitled." We even know these dependents' names: Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, General Electric boss Jeff Immelt, Pfizer lobbying chief Sally Sussman, Solyndra investor George Kaiser and millionaire lobbyist Tony Podesta, to list a few....

When government controls more money, those with the best lobbyists pocket most of it. The five largest banks hold a share of U.S. assets 30 percent larger today than in 2006. Also, as Obama has expanded export subsidies, 75 percent of the Export-Import Bank's loan-guarantee dollars in the past three years have subsidized Boeing sales.

Read the whole thing for a spirited attack on the idea that not paying taxes (Romney's definition of irresponsibility) is the same thing as feeling "entitled" to government support.

In 2010, Reason TV interviewed Carney (no relation to Jay!) about his book Obamanomics: How Barack Obama is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses. Take a look:

 

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David Harsanyi on Mitt Romney's "47 Percent" Comments

When Romney says he believes that 47 percent of voters don't pay income tax, "believe that they are victims," think "government has a responsibility to care for them" and will never "take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he is confusing the average voter with the average Democratic National Convention speaker, writes David Harsanyi. Most Americans, no matter what party they're in, do not aspire to be parasites, despite the best efforts of their elected representatives.

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Get the Scoop on the Zombie Drug Responsible for That Feeling of Impending Doom

Submit Infographics is proud of its new text-and-picture thingie about "The Bath Salt Epidemic," and with good reason: It crams an impressive amount of nonsense into a small space. Speaking of cramming, did you know that the stimulants sold as bath salts "can be consumed" both "rectally" and "vaginally"? It must be true, because look at all the government agencies that say so. Of course, vodka also "can be consumed" rectally or anally, although there is not much evidence that it actually is. However often people take their bath salts and shove them, the idea clearly tickled the folks at Submit Infographics, who illustrate these modes of administration with a stylized butt and crotch.

The infographic, on display at eDrug Rehab (which would be happy to create a tailored "treatment plan" for your bath-salt-abusing loved one), begins "the scoop on these dangerous designer drugs" with two dangling modifiers in quick succession:

Known to most as the "zombie drug," bath salt abuse is quickly reaching epidemic levels. Easier to obtain than most illicit drugs, as well as alcohol and tobacco, bath salt use is only going to continue increasing. 

Here's a fun fact that did not make the infographic: If bath salts are known as the "zombie drug," it's because a guy committed a crime so bizarre and horrible that people said he must have been under the influence of bath salts. Except that he wasn't.

An alert reader might notice that the infographic declares a "bath salt epidemic" in the headline, then immediately backtracks, saying the epidemic is not quite here yet. How will we know when it arrives, especially in the absence of numbers indicating how many people are using these drugs? What exactly does "epidemic" mean in this context? Do bath salts move surreptitiously from person to person, jumping up the noses of unwitting victims? Let's not get bogged down in the details; the main point is that "bath salt use is only going to continue increasing," so this is a growth opportunity for eDrug Rehab.

The infographic says "the effects [of bath salts] are similar to [those of] amphetamines, ecstasy, or cocaine." In other words, bath salt users "generally appear" "panicked," "delusional," "sweaty," "angry," and "twitchy." No wonder these drugs are so popular.

Having declared that people who consume bath salts (as well as amphetamines, ecstasy, or cocaine) usually experience negative effects, the infographic implicitly retracts that statement, warning us about what can happen "when a high takes a wrong turn": One young man slit his throat, then shot himself in the head for good measure. Your results may vary, but you might want to lock up the guns and knives if you plan to consume bath salts, just in case. You should also be alert to the "symptoms of a dangerous high," which include "extreme paranoia," "severe hallucinations," and "feeling a presence of 'pure evil' or impending doom." I hear you can avoid these symptoms if you take your bath salts rectally or vaginally.

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Political Ad: White Construction Worker Ponders Horror of Paying Welfare to the 47 Percent

Walter Matthau was not harmed in the filming of this 1972 commercial:

Link via Jonah Goldberg.

UPDATE: More on the ad from Sean Higgins, who might have found it first.

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Steve Chapman on Mitt Romney's "47 Percent" Comment

Mitt Romney's unguarded thoughts about the half of America that pays no income taxes—"who are dependent on government, who believe they are victims"—show a notable lack of empathy as well as political savvy. Maybe that's a surprise. But the big surprise, writes Steve Chapman, is how little he seems to comprehend about the federal budget or the tax system or American politics.

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The Right Is More Divided, Thankfully

Over at The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy explains "Why We Criticize Mitt." Excerpt:

Unfortunately, what happened [after 2008] was exactly what had given us George W. Bush in the first place: conservatives reinforced the GOP once more, as galvanized in opposition to Barack Obama as they had once been against Bill Clinton. And sure enough, history repeated, with a GOP this year nominating a candidate who, if anything, is worse than Bush: more reckless in his foreign-policy pronouncements, more statist in his governing record, and more detached from the concerns of the heartland. There is simply no evidence to suggest that Romney will be more conservative or, more important, a better president than Bush was. All the evidence points in the opposite direction.

So we are at the task we were at in 2002. It's not the election that matters, it's the conscience of conservatism: whether Romney or Obama wins, the country is in serious trouble. But how conservatives react to its trouble makes a tremendous difference: will they organize in opposition to Obama's wars and power-grabs, or will they overlook (indeed support) measures of exactly the same kind if they are enacted by Mitt Romney? Conservatives have to undertake the painful separation of philosophy from partisanship, otherwise they will wind up like Winston [from 1984]. The consequences for the country will be dire: it's not as if the left, which has never come to its senses since the end of the Cold War, offers the slightest alternative. A localist, federalist, prudent right is the only alternative to the welfare-warfare state. But building such a right, especially amid all the noise generated by partisan propaganda, is difficult. Yet it has to be done.

McCarthy's column (read his Reason archive here) embodies a fact that Frank Rich discovered in an interesting New York magazine article in which he immersed himself in the non-liberal media (including Reason) during the Republican National Convention: "Away from the convention stage and from the mainstream media's coverage of it, dissension of various stripes was rife throughout the GOP coalition."

The battle for the conservative soul is one of the most interesting things happening in modern mainstream politics, and there is no counterpart action on the left. Though you have to squint your eyes to get optimistic about where that battle might end up, the rude truth is that someone will have to have a set of policies ready for the day when the country's debt load and entitlement commitments become unbearable. Mitt Romney will not be that guy, but some of the non-Democrats currently pushing him around may eventually qualify for the job.

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Obama Campaign Unveils Another Creepy Get-Out-The-Vote Initiative

Once upon a time, there was a controversial political leader who asked his followers to pledge their devotion to him and his policies by making a certain hand signal. His name was Barack Obama

"There’s a new way to show that you’re voting for someone who represents us all. Choose one of your reasons for voting and write it on your hand, then pledge to vote. You can share a photo on Twitter and Instagram with #ForAll." 

Here's the image: 

Liberals find it detestable that Romney is running his campaign like a country club shareholders' meeting, yet they seem to have no problem with Obama treating them like parishioners in the People's Temple. Someone will have to explain that to me. 

UPDATE: David Freddoso links to this fascinating print, available in Obama's campaign store: 

I'm guessing that's the special flag Democrats are supposed to face as they pledge allegiance to Obama.

Another update: Reason contributor David Harsanyi assembles "A Short Visual History of the Creepy Obama Cult." 

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Good News About Kids' Proximity to Violence

The Bureau of Justice Statistics just put out a report on violent crime among households with children. The trend over the last two decades looks awfully good:

That chart, to borrow the sociologist Chris Uggen's description, "shows the percentage of households with children in which at least one member age 12 or older experienced nonfatal violent victimization (rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault) in the previous year." The period covered goes from 1993 to 2010, and as you can see, the total has been declining sharply and steadily. (The sudden spike in 2006 represents a change in methodology.) "These numbers still seem high to me," Uggen adds, "but I think it is because simple assault (which encompasses a pretty broad range of behavior) accounts for the bulk of the violence."

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A.M. Links: Obamacare Penalty To Hit Six Million Americans, Benghazi Attack Was Planned After All, $1.8T Tab for Federal Regulations

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

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Judge Napolitano on Romney's "47 Percent" Comment

A few months ago, at a private fundraiser, Romney spoke to supporters and contributors and observed that 47 percent of Americans do not pay any income tax, and thus his call for not raising taxes (though he wants to eliminate some familiar deductions, which is the functional equivalent of raising some folks' taxes) will not resonate with the voters in that group. Then he went on to say that this is roughly the same 47 percent who are dependent upon the government for part or all of their subsistence; and to that subsistence of food, shelter, education and clothing, the feds have now added health care. Then he referred to those dependent upon the government as "victims" (his word). Then all hell broke loose. The reason hell broke loose among most of the media is that Romney spoke a painful truth, argues Judge Napolitano, and often a painful truth is difficult to accept.

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Health Care Tax Penalty Investment Fee Will Hit Six Million People

The number of Americans who will suffer a severe financial penalty under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been lowballed by at least half, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). 

The CBO, which in 2010 projected 4 million people would be subject to an uninsured tax under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), yesterday raised that figure to 6 million. 

Obamacare's "individual mandate," which for the first ime in American history penalizes citizens for economic inactivity, will overwhelmingly hit the very people President Obama promised not to penalize in his 2008 campaign. From Associated Press' Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

The numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office are 50 percent higher than a previous projection by the same office in 2010, shortly after the law passed. The earlier estimate found 4 million people would be affected in 2016, when the penalty is fully in effect.

That's still only a sliver of the population, given that more than 150 million people currently are covered by employer plans. Nonetheless, in his first campaign for the White House, Obama pledged not to raise taxes on individuals making less than $200,000 a year and couples making less than $250,000.

And the budget office analysis found that nearly 80 percent of those who'll face the penalty would be making up to or less than five times the federal poverty level. Currently that would work out to $55,850 or less for an individual and $115,250 or less for a family of four.

Average penalty: about $1,200 in 2016.

"The bad news and broken promises from Obamacare just keep piling up," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who wants to repeal the law.

Starting in 2014, virtually every legal resident of the U.S. will be required to carry health insurance or face a tax penalty, with exemptions for financial hardship, religious objections and certain other circumstances. 

The individual mandate (which Reuters says will bring in between $7 billion and $8 billion in annual federal revenue), was the most controversial provision of Obamacare, with the administration's lawyers arguing simultaneously that the mandate was a penalty rather than a tax and also that the mandate was authorized under either Congress' interstate commerce powers or its taxation powers. In a convoluted ruling that undermined most of the administration's own arguments, the Supreme Court in June nevertheless upheld the individual mandate as a straight tax. Advocates of limited federal powers such as legal scholar Randy Barnett have argued that this was a victory for enumerated powers. Which won't help the millions of people (this writer included) who will be getting our pockets picked. 

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Brickbat: The House at the End of the Street

Tammy Cooper has sued the La Porte, Texas, police department and one of her neighbors after she was arrested for abandoning a child after letting her children, ages 6 and 9, ride their scooters in the cul-de-sac in front of their home. Cooper says she was sitting in her yard just a few feet a way but the neighbor reported the children were unsupervised. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges but not before Cooper spent a night in jail and spent $7,000 in legal fees.

Brickbat Archive

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Gary Johnson: "Let's Get Out of These Embassies Now"

DURHAM, NEW HAMPSHIRE—After the flurry of attacks on American embassies abroad, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took time to attack President Barack Obama for the official government response to the attacks, resulting in a setback to Romney's flailing campaign. Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson responded with a broad critique of American foreign policy and went so far as to say that we should reconsider having embassies in foreign countries.

“I maintain that because of our military interventions we have hundreds of millions of enemies to this country that, but for our military interventions, would not exist,” Johnson told a crowd of college students at the University of New Hampshire on Wednesday.

“Let’s get out of these embassies now. Let’s stop making ourselves a target,” Johnson said.

During his speech Johnson, who is at the beginning of a nationwide tour of college campuses, said that politicians use terms like “our vital American interests” as cover for violent military actions that cause more harm than good for the United States.

“Tens of thousands of innocent civilians that die in the countries that we militarily intervene, our men and servicewomen coming back in body bags, our men and servicewomen coming back with their limbs blown off, all in the name of what?” he said.

The recent uprisings in the Middle East have brought foreign policy, ever so briefly, back into the 2012 presidential campaign. To date, 52 people have died in events related to assaults on American consulates and embassies including the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

After his speech Johnson questioned why the United States has embassies at all.

“I questions having embassies in other countries, I really do. Everywhere! I understand American tourists and issues American tourists might have with passports but does that involve an embassy? Does that involve having an ambassador?” he said to Reason during an interview.

Johnson thinks that the embassies are raising the level of animosity some Middle Easterners may have for the United States.

“Let’s get out of those embassies now so we don’t provide some symbolic target—it’s more than symbolic, it’s real,” he said.

Johnson is scheduled to film some televisions ads with the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire later tonight.

He continues his college tour in North Carolina tomorrow.

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Dodd-Frank Financial Regulation: We'll Figure It Out When We Get There! Maybe!

When President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank overhaul of financial regulation in the summer of 2010, he cast the law's passage in explicitly historic terms: “These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” he said.

He had grand ambitions for the new rules and regulations, which he promised would, among other things, “rein in the abuse and excess that nearly brought down our financial system. It will finally bring transparency to the kinds of complex and risky transactions that helped trigger the financial crisis.” Also, the law would make borrowing contracts simpler, end taxpayer funded bailouts, and provide "certainty to everybody, from bankers to farmers to business owners to consumers." 

How, exactly, would the law’s many lofty goals be accomplished? Well, that was still yet to be determined. Initial counts indicated the law called for 67 new studies to be undertaken and for federal regulators to write 243 new rules. (Current counts have the number of new rules to be written at 398.) In other words, they had passed TBD legislation, and they would figure out how it all worked when they got there.

They’re still trying to figure it out. And it's taking a little longer than planned. The Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney points us to the Davis Polk consulting group’s latest progress report on the Dodd-Frank rule writing process. A couple of bullet points stand out:

  • Of these 237 passed deadlines, 145 (61.2%) have been missed and 92 (38.8%) have been met with finalized rules. Regulators have not yet released proposals for 31 of the 145 missed rules.
  • Of the 398 total rulemaking requirements, 131 (32.9%) have been met with finalized rules and rules have been proposed that would meet 135 (33.9%) more. Rules have not yet been proposed to meet 132 (33.2%) rulemaking requirements.

Is everybody feeling certain yet? Turns out rewriting the nation’s financial rules and regulations is a little bit harder and more complex than most folks expected. That includes at least one of the law’s key backers, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who earlier this year grumbled that the Volcker rule created as a result of the law was probably too complex. "The agencies tried to accommodate a variety of views on implementation but the results reflected in the proposed rule are far too complex, and the final rules should be simplified significantly," he said. But don't worry. Our effective and perceptive federal financial regulators will get it figured out eventually, just like they always do. 

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Romney and Obama: A Coupla Redistributin' Fools

I'd have a little more confidence in Timothy Noah's woolgatherer about President Obama's 1998 comments on redistribution if it were not so riddled with obvious errors that are even easier to check now than they were in the early days of the World Wide Web (the graphical and multimedia portion of the internet). 

Setting the stage for his discussion of then-State Sen. Obama's recently rediscovered comments at Loyola University, Noah describes Joe "Anonymous" Klein's novel Primary Colors (published in 1996), James Cameron's film Titanic (released in 1997) and the death of Princess Diana (in 1997) as 1998 events. And the word definitely is definitely not spelled "definitily." 

Noah makes the point that redistribution, like death, taxes, the poor and The New Republic, will always be with us: 

Every president is redistributionist in the sense that redistribution is what government does. It takes tax dollars and reallocates them elsewhere based on what it deems the public good. Part of the public good, the federal government decided long ago, is to help those least able to help themselves, if only (to quote Obama's words in 1998) "to make sure that everybody's got a shot" at economic success. Every president going back at least to Franklin Roosevelt has supported some version of this scheme, some more vocally than others.

There is one way Obama has succeeded as a redistributionist: His health care reform law, assuming it remains in place, will effect a great deal of income redistribution by extending health insurance to many people who couldn't previously afford it, especially through its expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income people. This is not a feature of the law that Obama has made much effort to emphasize, for fear of getting pounced on by Romney (who accomplished a smaller-scale redistribution in Massachusetts with his own health care law). 

This is pretty thin soup. It's true that the process of taxing people and then spending that money means it will get redistributed, more often than not to contractors who have been smart about playing the public choice game.

There's a good discussion to be had about the different ways the two candidates intend to make sure other people get your money, since neither has a very serious plan to let you keep more of your money than you do right now. 

But you don't need to go back to 1998 to find this argument. The two candidates have been working pretty hard over the last week to draw distinctions on this point. Mitt Romney has taken the 47-percent wave as a signal to hit the president harder for his Robin Hood antics. Obama, on the stump and on David Letterman, has ramped up his own econo-populism, held back only by the knowledge that openly vowing to take more money from productive people is hugely unpopular. 

The reality is that both candidates are plutocratic favorites, Romney at $50,000-a-plate fund raisers in sex-party mansions, Obama at Sun King-worthy soirées that literally feature towers of golden champagne bottles. (I suspect that at some point you can be so rich that socialism and capitalism look pretty much alike, and I hope someday to find out.) But there is a difference in their rhetoric, and even TNR-style sophistry can't entirely make it disappear. 

I also like how Noah dates redistribution back "at least to Franklin Roosevelt." This country had about a century and a half of history prior to FDR's ascension, most of it featuring no income tax, large parts of it featuring no central bank, and more than 100 years of it featuring the longest, strongest period of growth in U.S. history, which coincided with gradual long-term strengthening of the dollar. I'd suggest Noah look into it, but I'm afraid he might come back with a piece about how Warren G. Harding landed at Plymouth Rock in 1492, the same year Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows became the highest-grossing film in Bollywood history. 

Here's Obama's 1998 peroration:

Update: Reason Director of Communications Chris Mitchell points out this NBC story noting that the clip above leaves off another sentence in which the president-to-be talks about competition and the marketplace. Given the hubbub over some person's editing of the Romney 47-percent comments, it's fair to include Obama's complete statement. Edited material in boldface: 

I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot.  How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.

Damon Root on Protecting Property Rights from the Army Corps of Engineers

The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment provides that if private property is “taken for public use,” the government must pay “just compensation” to the owner. On October 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case that asks whether a series of recurring floods sanctioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers triggers that constitutional requirement. According to the federal government, it does not. In fact, the government argues that since the floodwaters ultimately receded, the damaged property was never actually "taken" in the first place. Senior Editor Damon Root explains what’s at stake in the case known as Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States.

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Mitt's Missing Minutes, Fast and Furious Blame, Clint Eastwood Waxes Philosophical: P.M. Links

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

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Greece Close to a Deal With Troika

According to a senior Greek finance ministry official Greece is close to reaching a deal with representatives from the troika (European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund). The announcement means Greece is closer to securing its next bailout package.

A draft of the austerity package includes pension cuts, welfare payment reductions, and cuts in healthcare spending. From The Wall Street Journal:

According to an earlier draft of the austerity program seen by Dow Jones Newswires, the cutbacks are likely to include EUR4.8 billion worth of cuts in pension and welfare payments, a EUR1.5 billion reduction in healthcare spending, and EUR1.5 billion slashed from the public-sector payroll, among other cuts. But, skeptical of whether the proposed cuts would hit targets, the troika has pressed Athens to accept an additional EUR2 billion worth of cutbacks in pension payments and public-sector payrolls and they are urging Greece to raise its retirement age--to 67 from 65 currently--to ease strains on the country's deficit-laden pension system.

Many of these measures will be very unpopular. There are already general strikes planned for next week, and getting the leftists in the Greek government on board will be a challenge. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is scheduled to meet his coalition partners on Thursday afternoon.

If the troika approves of the reforms and austerity measures agreed by Greece’s governing parties then Greece will receive about 30 billion euros, part of a wider bailout agreement worth 173 billion euros. Without the bailout Greece will have to default on its debt. The troika is expected to release its report on the Greek government’s attempts at austerity later this month or the beginning of October.

While it might be encouraging to see Greece making some effort at implementing spending cuts these attempts are only a means to a very expensive end, a bailout worth billions of euros.

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Gary Johnson Says "Waste Your Vote!"

NEW YORK—During an appearance at New York University, Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson put a unique spin on the wasted vote and spoiler accusations being thrown at him by Republicans.

“I’m going to argue not that I am the third choice in this election but that I am the only choice in this election. What happens if you all waste your vote on me? I will be the next president of the United States,” he said, drawing an ovation from the crowd.

As Mitt Romney’s campaign has struggled over the last three weeks the spoiler noise from the conservative blogosphere has grown increasingly loud. Republican-led efforts to knock Johnson off the ballot have mostly failed, but he is still in dire straits in Michigan and Oklahoma.

Johnson closed his speech saying, “I want to tell you, we can make a difference in this election. Waste your vote!”

A Reason review of previous versions of Johnson’s stump speech found he barely referenced the wasted vote or spoiler argument.

Johnson is on the ballot in at least 47 states plus Washington, D.C., and he could be the margin of difference between Romney and President Obama in some swing states.

He doesn’t mind the spoiler talk, however, because he thinks it’s better to be on the “radar screen” than not at all.

“Mitt Romney can bear total responsibility for his losing, if that’s what transpires. Obama, the same,” Johnson said in an interview.

Johnson thinks the lack of attacks from Democrats is because he is similar to Obama on social issues but has actually backed up his rhetoric, unlike the president.

“They are walking on eggshells. They recognize that any attention I get is going to be the Obama word music with an actual resume that would suggest carry through. I don’t think I could have said it any clearer. Obama, when it comes to the words. Wow! Wow! But the reality is just totally removed from the words,” Johnson said. 

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Reason Writers Around Town: Peter Suderman on the Politics of Judge Dredd in The Washington Times

He is the law! He is a big-screen action hero! And, from time to time, he is also a cartoony political metaphor. He is Judge Dredd, the 25 year old dispenser of comic-book justice. With a new Dredd film scheduled to hit theaters this weekend, Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman looks at the character's politics and history in The Washington Times:

John Wagner, who co-created the character in 1977 and has penned many of his adventures since, has said that he created Dredd as a response to the era’s rising British right wing. In the comics, Dredd plays judge, jury, and executioner as one of the Judges of Mega-City One, an overpopulated city surrounded by a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland.

“He seemed to capture the mood of the age,” Mr. Wagner told the BBC in 2002. “He was a hero and a villain.”

But despite the character’s left-leaning political origins, many of the early stories revolved around common conservative worries. Street crime, density, and joblessness haunt those tales, as do fears of mass madness.

To a great extent, the early Dredd comics are as much about Mega-City One, the sprawling future city he helps police, as about the character of Dredd himself. Many of the earliest Dredd stories can be read as dark comic riffs on lawlessness, economic despair and urban decay — the same fears and anxieties that helped launch conservative politicians like Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan into prominence in the 1980s.

Read the whole thing.  

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Hey Urban Outfitters: Che Guevara Was a Murderer and Your Poster Is Not Cool

A friendly reminder from Human Rights Foundation founder Thor Halvorssen to your neighborhood vendor of overpriced rags and tatty studio apartment decor: Posters of Che Guevara are not cool, even when they are on sale for $9.99 (originally $19.99!):

Although Guevara's image has appeared on countless items for consumption over the last few decades as a symbol of change for the better, Guevara's actual record is that of a brutal tyrant who suppressed individual freedom in Cuba and murdered those who challenged his worldview.

That's right, Urban Outfitters. By flacking posters of Che's beardy face, you're encouraging your customers to say: Hey, I like old records, three legged stools, and death!:

From 1959 to 1960, the new government carried out summary executions of at least 1,118 people by firing squad. Guevara himself presided over the notorious La Cabaña prison, where hundreds of the executions took place. For comparison's sake, the Batista regime was responsible for 747 noncombatant deaths between 1952 and 1959. The Cuban revolution under the direction of Guevara also saw the rise of forced labor camps which gave way a few years later to full-scale concentration camps. These were filled with dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Afro-Cuban priests, and anyone else who had committed "crimes" against the new moral revolution.

Just to be clear, Halvorssen (and Reason) thinks people who want to ban Guevera's smug mug are just as dumb as the wearers themselves. Because freedom of speech! And Urban Outfitters does describe the poster as a "conversation starter." So, conversation started, I guess. Let's see what the beret-clad Cuban has to say for himself: 

In a speech in front of the United Nations in 1964, Guevara proudly admitted that "yes, we have executed, we are executing, we will continue to execute." He boasted of murdering Eutimio Guerra, bragging in his diary how he "ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain." 

Plus, rocking some Che isn't exactly an original way to "let out a rebel yell" as Nick Gillespie explains in Reason TV's 2008 video, Killer Chic.

Headline inspiration from the "Che Guevara was a murderer and your t-shirt is not cool" Facebook group.

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Chicago Teachers Strike is Over But the Red Ink Will Continue Indefinitely

The Chicago Tribune reports that public schools in the Windy City will be open for class tomorrow. Here's the quick breakdown of the terms:

The contract would give teachers base salary raises of 3 percent this year and 2 percent in each of the following two years. They could receive another 3 percent raise if both sides agree to a fourth year in the contract.

Those raises are in addition to other salary bumps for experience and pursuing a graduate degree that would push the overall average pay raise for teachers to 17.6 percent over four years, according to CPS. The district did not offer an average raise estimate for three years.

The contract will not be official until the union's full membership votes to approve it in the coming weeks.

In case you're wondering, Chicago public school teachers average between $71,000 and $76,000 in salary right now and expenditures have ballooned by $1.7 trillion dollars between 2002 and 2011 despite losing thousands of students.

Oh, and the teachers pension system is broke:

Having skipped its pension contributions for many years, Chicago is supposed to start tripling them in another year under state law. But the school district has drained its reserves. And it cannot easily turn to the local taxpayers, because of a cap on property taxes. Borrowing the money would be difficult and expensive as well, because of a credit downgrade this summer. One of the few remaining choices would be to make deep cuts in other services.

If the incompetents running the show want to score a quick $130 million a year, here's one idea:

Many Chicago residents may not realize is that their school district also has been paying $130 million a year to cover most of the pension contributions required of the teachers, a practice known as a “pickup,” which became a flash point last year in the collective bargaining battle in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s public workers have agreed to make their own contributions, as a concession.

Read more about that.

Hat tip on the pension-woes story: Alan Vanneman.

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Illinois Cops Give Family Ten Minutes Between Delivery of Mysterious Marijuana Package and No-Knock Drug Raid

According to the Lake County News-Sun, last Friday a family in the village of Beach Park, Illinois was given a ten minute window between the postal delivery of a mysterious, unsolicited package — said to contain marijuana — and a no-knock drug raid that involved the family tied up, with guns pointed at their faces, while their home was ransacked by police.

Paul Brown, the source of the story, claims that the police destroyed property, and, says the article, "even pull[ed] out insulation in the basement." Brown, who lived at the residence with his wife, daughter, son-in-law, the son in law's brother, and Brown's 77-year-old mother-in-law says he was working in the basement when a loud noise startled him and he walked upstairs to find cops breaking into his home, in spite of his open garage door. Cops pointed their guns in his face, cuffed Brown, made him sit in a chair and refused to answer questions as to what they were doing. 

What police with the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group were doing, besides emptying drawers and "smash[ing] things and crash[ing] things" was assuming that the family knew about the apparently illicit content of the package addressed to someone who didn't live in the house. Brown says he didn't see the name, or even get a good look at the package which, says his son-in-law had the name "Oscar" and some other last name. The address was correct. Brown's son-in-law had just signed for accepted the package and left it, unopened, beside the front door. 

The cops apparently had a warrant for Brown's address, except that it was listed as Waukegan, which is one of the two townships that contains Beack Park. Waukegan is nearly five miles to the south of Beach Park, though, according to Google maps.

Says the Lake County News-Sun, Brown found the whole experience to be traumatic:

“It’s pretty shadowy and pretty bizarre for us,” he said of the two-hour ordeal that began around 4 p.m. Friday. “I was terrified. My chest was hurting and I am a diabetic and prone to heart attacks.”

Watching the officers fist bump and high-five each other as they tracked broken glass from the front door through the house also irritated him.

“I was basically held hostage,” he said.

His 77-year-old mother-in-law also lives with them and she was in the kitchen when the raid happened. Police gave her the search warrant to read instead of giving it to Brown.

“We live a very simple life,” he said, “We all work. No one does drugs here.” His son-in-law works in general construction and his brother works for a security firm.

“They were upset they didn’t find anything. When I asked them who was going to pay for the door they basically said, ‘Not us’,” said Brown, who noted the door on his luxury home was valued at $3,000 some 12 years ago and the lock set was another $130 from Home Depot.

Brown also says his mother's blood pressure has been high since the raid, and the whole family is having trouble relaxing. The family's call to the police department have gone unreturned, and they have gotten a lawyer who is is looking into filing a civil suit.

Calls from the Lake County News-Sun and from Reason have so far gone unreturned as well.

At first glance, this case is reminiscent of what happened to Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo who had a package of unsolicited marijuana delivered to his home in 2008. Calvo was encouraged by his grim experience, which included  police killing his two pet dogs, to start advocating for more accountability and oversight with the use of SWAT teams. The Prince George's County Police raid on Calvo's home was ruled legitimate.

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Afghanistan: When Will the U.S. Admit It's Time to Come Home?

James Joyner at National Interest lays out why it really finally ought to be over for the U.S. in Afghanistan:

Following the murder of six NATO troops in yet another "green on blue" attack in which Afghan soldiers supposedly fighting on our side killed NATO troops, the coalition has all but ended combined operations with Afghan army and police forces at the tactical level, requiring general officer approval for exceptions.

While spokesmen insisted that "we're not walking away" from the training and advisory mission that is the ostensible reason for continued Western presence in Afghanistan eleven years into the fight there, that statement rings hollow. As American Security Project Central and South Asia specialist Joshua Foust puts it, "The training mission is the foundation of the current strategy. Without that mission, the strategy collapses. The war is adrift, and it's hard to see how anyone can avoid a complete disaster at this point."

Three years after doubling down on an unachievable mission, trust between NATO and Afghan forces is at an all-time low. Already this year, there have been thirty-six of these insider attacks,killing fifty-one NATO troops, most of them Americans.....

Joyner ends raising the interesting political question: why the heck isn't this debacle an issue in the presidential election? Well, because when it comes to foreign policy there's barely a drone's worth of difference between the two parties, of course.

My short interview with Michael Hastings, author of The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan, the story of our out-of-control Afghan military operation, from our June 2012 issue. Hastings told me:

But you sit down with McChrystal or any of the top guys who supported nation building and ask them: There’s not popular support and there’s not political support, and we don’t speak the language, and Afghans don’t want our culture for the most part, and the terrorists we are after are not there, and yet you propose we spend more billions and years? I will never understand that. 

I think the answer is more inertia-based thinking than rigorous intellectual analysis, because any such analysis involving Afghanistan would tell you to get the fuck out and not have anything to do with that country.

As I wrote back in February, "It's Never too Early to Finally Leave Afghanistan."

Why Your Vote Doesn't Count, Obama's Failed Narrative, Four More Years of War!: November Reason Preview!

Matt Welch and Kennedy discuss what's in the new issue of Reason in the latest 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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Surprise: Colorado's Largest Teacher's Union Comes Out Against Marijuana Legalization

Denver's Westword reports that the Colorado Education Association will announce later today that it is opposing Amendment 64, the ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol: 

At an 11 a.m. press conference, representatives of the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, will announce their opposition to Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.

Backers of the measure portray it as pro-education, with proceeds from an excise tax earmarked for the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund. But the CEA sees a disconnect, says a 64 opposition spokeswoman.

"I think this puts to rest the proponents' rationale that you can fund schools with pot money, and that it will be acceptable to people," says Laura Chapin of Smart Colorado, the main No on 64 group.

According to Chapin, CEA president Kerrie Dallman and vice president Amie Baca-Oehlert will speak on behalf of the CEA. She points out that both of them have teaching backgrounds; Dallman is a high-school social studies teacher currently on leave from Jefferson County, while Baca-Oehlert is taking a similar leave from Adams County, where she works as a high-school counselor.

The CEA board voted to oppose Amendment 64 earlier this month. Regarding the reasons for this decision, Chapin says, "You've seen the multiple reports about the increase of marijuana use among kids in Colorado. And for teachers, something that basically legalizes recreational use on a broad scale is incompatible with the mission of educating kids."

According to Chapin, another reason for the CEA's opposition involves the measure's "whole mechanism for school funding -- an excise tax that has to be run through another ballot measure before it can even be applied." And even if such a tax is passed, she goes on, "their top concern is kids and the whole idea that you shouldn't be funding schools with pot."

So it's fine to fund public education with gambling proceeds, but not with a pot tax? Fascinating.

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Hate-Speech Cinema Presents "Flying Korans kill infidel Salman Rushdie with lightnings and fire" (1990)

 

As long as we're busy talking about hate speech and the need for censoring things that might give offense or result in hurt feelings, this seems like a good time to revisit the 1990 Pakistani epic, "International Gorillay (International Guerrillas)."

The clip above could really use a TCM-style Robert Osborne set-up, but in lieu of that, here's a YouTube writeup:

Description: Paranoid Lollywood fantasy about assassinating Salman Rushdie (circa 1990) complete with disco and batsuits. Salman Rushdie, played by Afzaal Ahmad, is depicted as plotting the downfall of Pakistan, the stronghold of Islam by opening a chain of casinos and discos in the country. The hero of the story, played by Mustafa Qureshi, learns of this plot and quits his day job as a police officer to recruit his brothers and create a mujahid (Gods soldiers) to pursue Rushdie and slay him. Rushdie is protrayed as a smug, bespectacled butcher in a double-breasted suit, living in palatial splendor on his own island, slaughtering his enemies with a huge blood-soaked sword. In the end, as the trio of brothers and their mother are being crucified by Rushdie, Allah frees them with bolts of lightning and attacks Salman Rushdie withy flying holy books (the Koran, Tawrat, Zabur, and Injil) that shoot laser beams into his skull until he bursts into flames, a scene that evoked shouts of approval from Pakistani audiences.

Hat Tip: Iowahawk, who would be required reading (if I believed in such a thing).

Related: Review of Salman Rushdie's new memoir.

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Dear Marijuana Reformers: Mitt Romney Thinks You're Stupid, Obama Thinks You're Easy

Last night, I received an email with this subject line: "Medical marijuana advocates: Obama's Colorado crackdown could swing entire election." 

The first line of text in the body of the email was "'Dude, Obama stole my weed?' Colorado edition"; the rest of the email was a copied-and-pasted story from The Daily Caller about the Justice Department's war on Colorado's medical marijuana dispensaries, and how it might affect Obama's returns in Colorado.

I get emails like this pretty regularly, but this is the first one I've received from an address ending in "@mittromney.com." Yes, that's right: a Romney campaign flack sent out a mass email yesterday attacking Obama's record on medical marijuana.

That's a novel event in and of itself, considering that Romney has said he'll fight marijuana legalization "tooth and nail." What's even more noteworthy is that The Daily Caller story circulated by the aforementioned Romney flack reiterates Romney's opposition to marijuana :

Last week GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, told KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs that states should have the authority to choose whether to legalize medical marijuana.

“Governor Romney has a long record of opposing the use of marijuana for any reason. Paul Ryan joined the Romney ticket and supports the Governor’s position,” Ryan press secretary Brendan Buck said in an email to TheDC when asked about Ryan’s position.

Does the Romney campaign think drug reform advocates are stupid? Or is it just delighting in the disillusionment of Colorado's liberal voters? If it's the former, is that better or worse than the fact that Obama thinks he can win back drug reformers with cheap jokes?

The cognitive dissonance doesn't end there. Yesterday, Lee Fang reported in The Nation that Mel Sembler, Romney's Florida fundraising chair, has bankrolled opponents of Amendment 64, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana, to the tune of $150,000.

Sembler is famous for having co-founded the militant and abusive teenage rehab company STRAIGHT Inc., which closed its doors in 1993 after investigators uncovered a trend of “unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse…and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting.” (Full disclosure: As STRAIGHT was shutting down, my sister was forcefully enrolled in a successor program started by one of Sembler's proteges, called SAFE, Inc. It followed Sembler's playbook to the letter, and closed its doors after a decade under a similar black cloud of civil suits and government scrutiny.) 

If Romney's ties to a drug war profiteer suggest to you that he'll be worse on drug policy than Obama, think again: Not only is Sembler fighting for Romney, he's also making bank off Obama's commitment to improving drug testing technology and the Office of National Drug Control Policy's anti-drug PSAs:

In 2010, taxpayers forked over $250,000 to a Sembler group to oversee a drug-free workplace program for the Small Business Administration. It also helps produce anti-marijuana literature and promotional campaigns.

And as bad as STRAIGHT was, rehab companies aren't exactly going hungry under President Obama. 

The similiarties between Romney and Obama on foreign policy and health care are well documented. In light of the above, as well as the RNC platform's embrace of the mandatory rehab model, it's time to add federal drug policy to the list of things that will stay the same regardless of who loses in November.