Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 October 1-31

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(One) Exit Poll Shows Hugo Chávez Losing [Update: Poll is Wrong. Chávez Wins]

As polls close in a heavy-turnout election in Venezuela, a Spanish pollster is calling the race for challenger Henrique Capriles. 

Here's a report from Spain's ABC

Various bad translations are floating around of the poll by Variance (Venezuelan media were not allowed to conduct exit polls). Here's a cleaned-up one from the Daily Caller: 

The candidate of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), Henrique Capriles, is leading against Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in the presidential elections held on Sunday … according to exit polls by consultancy Variance prior to the closing of polling stations. The time set for the closing was 12:30 a.m. Spanish time, however, and because of the long lines in some of them, polls have remained open without a definite closure time.

GloboVision, the one Venezuelan TV network not controlled by Hugo Chávez' United Socialist Party of Venezuela, is offline. 

Update: And that was a whole lot of nothing. Chávez wins. Danny Glover's Toussaint L'Ouverture movie still greenlit. 

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Sheldon Richman on Who Benefits From Financial Regulation

There has been no shortage of financial regulation over the last 30 years. The much-faulted era of deregulation is a laughable myth. If anything can be said to have failed in the run-up to the current financial mess, it is the regulatory state. (Of course, much else also failed, including the Federal Reserve system and housing policy.) The idea that we suffer from a shortage of regulation is wrong. Therefore, writes Sheldon Richman, the idea that we need more regulation to prevent a repeat of the debacle is worse than wrong.

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Stephanie Rugolo on the Election in Venezuela

Hugo Chávez' presidency has been a disaster for the Venezuelan people, Stephanie Rugolo writes. Chávez' "Socialism of the 21st Century" changed Venezuela from one of the most prosperous and politically free countries in Latin America to one of the least competitive and most repressive countries worldwide. Venezuelans who go to the polls today will ponder many of the President’s policy failures, including a long list of Chávez' blunders in the last year alone. While Chávez may be a popular figure amongst many Venezuelans and even some Westerners, his policies speak for themselves. Hugo Chávez' leadership has made his country less prosperous, more dangerous, and much more repressive. Venezuelans who care about liberty and human rights will hope to see Chávez defeated in today's presidential election.

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Politico: Obama Is Risen, Truly He Is Risen

Should we be thankful that Politico's Glenn Thrush didn't call this article "How Obama got his groove back"?

Even with the more modest title "How Obama reset his campaign," the piece is one of the greatest works of unintentional (and uncomfortable) comedy since David Brooks got hot and bothered over the crease in the future president's pants, Chris Matthews objectively felt a thrill up his leg at the 2008 Democratic candidate's silky tones, or The New York Times tried to give an inspirational glow to President Obama's tardy and clumsy sellout of longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. 

Some samples: 

Obama charged that Romney is a different man than the guy he faced Wednesday. But it was the president who seemed to be a totally different guy on Thursday. Gone was the distracted, deer-in-headlights mumbler. In his place, suddenly, was someone doing a pretty good impersonation of Obama ’08…

But it wasn’t the joke that struck a top Obama adviser watching from stage right, it was the way the boss was gripping the lectern — left hand grabbing the front, right hand in his pocket.

“Look,” the person said, “That’s what he does when he’s really into it.”[…]

If Thursday’s Obama performance was any indication, he’s more likely to compensate for his shortcomings outside the debate hall — at rallies that fire up a base that had been less than enthusiastic earlier in the year and more recently has been inclined to believe he will trounce Romney…

That night, after a brief, terse chat with his advisers backstage at the University of Denver arena — “He had real clarity about what had happened,” one of them told POLITICO with a chuckle — Obama hopped in his limo, “The Beast,” and sped off to a nearby DoubleTree with wife Michelle.

He had had enough of politics for the night. 

I still expect (because I think an election is pretty much a mechanistic process on which the autumnal theater of polling, stumping and debating has little impact) that Obama will win. But am I the only one who gets a feeling of intense fremdschämen at this kind of inside-the-bunker credulity?

By the way, that "joke" Thrush refers to goes like this: “Thank God somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird… We didn’t know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit. … Elmo, too?” Even if it were funny, it came more than a day after the debate. It doesn't even qualify as Diderot's esprit d'escalier, the realization that you should have told your jerk store joke after it's too late. 

The saddest thing is this description of how the president laid out his bold new game plan: 

He huddled with his inner circle — David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Valerie Jarrett, Anita Dunn, Ron Klain and Jim Messina — and settled on the theme they hammered all of Thursday — a direct attack on Romney that accused him of out-and-out lying on his tax-cut claims and portrayed the former Massachusetts governor as a two-faced imposter willing to say anything to win.

First of all, hasn't Anita Dunn been gone from the Obama administration since, like, sometime during the Carter administration? That she's back is almost as ominous as the continued presence of Plouffe, Jarrett and the rest. Obama's problem is not stylistic. It's a disastrous presidency in which all of these knuckleheads are directly implicated. This is a reset? 

If you're keeping score at home, here's how the reset is going: 

Mitt Romney is now polling within two percent of the president. 

Romney has raised $12 million in the last week. 

Even Bill Maher said something funny, and it was at Obama's expense. 

A potential donor scandal is brewing. 

Much of this drama is standard issue for a campaign season, and I'd be surprised if Obama did not come on stronger in the next debate. But if this is his idea of a new look, the president is in worse shape than I realized. 

Noah Berlatsky on Gay Marriage

In his new book From the Closet to the Altar, Michael Klarman of Harvard Law School argues that the focus on the freedom to marry has pushed the gay rights movement away from employment discrimination laws and other goals that might have been easier to pass. Noah Berlatsky asks whether Klarman is missing the benefits of the marriage-focused strategy.

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Matt Welch Talks Growth of State with Free Domain Radio's Stefan Molyneux

 

At last summer's FreedomFest in Vegas, Matt Welch sat down for a riveting interview with Free Domain Radio's Stefan Molyneux about what Molyneux says is the "inevitable" growth of government over time.

Take a look above or click below for full links at Reason TV, more resources, and downloadable versions.

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NYPD Hits, Kills Suspect with Car, Charges Grieving Mother For Dent on Car

Tamon Robinson was hit by an NYPD car while being chased for allegedly stealing decorative stones (his mother’s admitted as much) from a housing project in Brooklyn. He entered a coma after being hit and eventually died. From USA Today:

Now his mom, Laverne Dobbinson, 45, says she's been ordered to pay the cost of repairing the police car that killed her son, the paper reports.

"We're still grieving, and this is like a slap in the face," Dobbinson said."They want my son to pay for damage to the vehicle that killed him. It's crazy."

A letter dated Sept. 27 and mailed to her son seeks $710 for "property damage to a vehicle owned by the New York Police Department," according to New York Daily News. It also threatens to slap the family with a lawsuit if the claim isn't paid.

The city’s medical examiner ruled the death accidental, but witnesses say cops deliberately hit Robinson and Internal Affairs is investigating that so, um, don’t hold your breath.

UPDATE: As noted by commenter P Brooks, the law firm that sent the letter on behalf of the city said it had dropped the effort and the NYPD has referred the matter of the letter to the Law Department, noting it does not send letters like this itself, according to the New York Times.

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Baylen Linnekin on Whether Fast Food Marketing Makes Kids Fat

Kids recognize the McDonald’s logo better than they do the FedEx logo. Kids are slightly more drawn to the former than to the latter. Obese kids are more drawn to the former than are healthy weight kids. These results are not patently obvious and have important policy implications.

These are some of the conclusions reached by researchers at the University of Missouri, Kansas City’s B.R.A.I.N. Lab, reports Baylen Linnkin, and not surprisingly, the report’s authors see the need for new regulations to combat this trend. But does food marketing really contribute to childhood obesity? Linnekin takes a closer look.

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Nothing Left to Cut: Italian Anti-Sandwich Patrols

Here's another reason Europe can't endure one more minute of austerity: Without ever-larger bailouts, there will be no money to pay for anti-picnicking cops in Rome. The Eternal City this week made it illegal for tourists to sit and eat near public attractions: 

Tourists will still be allowed to eat while they walk, but stop with a bag of chips in your hands or sit down while chewing on your panino, and you are eligible for a fine of 25 to 500 euros ($32 to $650). An Italian daily newspaper dubbed it the “War on the Sandwich.”

Dressed in their white and blue uniforms, local police officers Alessio Valentini and Magdi Adib were on patrol Thursday looking for anyone daring to flout the new law.

They shoved away a group of young Dutch tourists who sat next to the Colosseum to enjoy their pizzas. “Go, go,” Adib told the bemused boys, who didn’t know which crime they had committed.

The officers told NBC News they had fined seven tourists -- all foreigners -- since the morning. The standard penalty was 50 euros ($65).

Germany, which sends the second-largest number of tourists to Italy every year, must wonder sometimes what it's getting in exchange for bailing out the rest of Europe. Be of good cheer, Fritz: You're not just paying for rioters in Turin, parkour protesters at the Vatican and dumpster divers in Naples. You're also making sure the snack police are getting a living wage as they slap you with fines that (typically in a nation with one of the highest rates of tax evasion in the world) they expect you won't actually pay: 

“Most of them are foreigners, so I doubt they will pay the ticket before they go back to their countries," the officer said. "It’s more likely they’ll keep it as a souvenir."

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Mentally Ill American Citizen Deported to Mexico in 2008 Gets $175K for His Troubles

Even if there wasn't a whole bunch of reasons why immigration policy needed to be fixed already, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blog, here's another one. All the necessarily elements of government horror are here; mistreatment of the mentally ill, a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, and seriously, this is a perfect example of how someone being treated this badly, even if he had been "guilty" of the victimless crime of immigration, means that something is seriously wrong, policy-wise.  

Mark Lyttle, an American citizen with mental disabilities who was wrongfully detained and deported to Mexico and forced to live on the streets and in prisons for months, settled his case against the federal government this week.

Lyttle will receive $175,000 for the suffering he endured after being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who deported him despite ample evidence that he was a U.S. citizen.  The settlement comes after a federal district court in Georgia ruled in Lyttle’s favor in March, holding that the bulk of his claims against the federal defendants should not be dismissed.

The origin of the brush with law and order: 

Lyttle's entanglement with immigration authorities began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for inappropriately touching a worker's backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disorders. Despite having ample evidence that Lyttle was a U.S. citizen – including his social security number, the names of his parents, his sworn statements that he was born in the United States and criminal record checks – officials from the North Carolina Department of Correction referred him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico. 

The best part? Lyttle, who suffers from bipolar disorder, is not Mexican in the slightest, and doesn't even speak Spanish. He had never been to Mexico in his life until he was deported there after being held by ICE for 51 days. There, according to ACLU, he was forced to sign a statement admitting he was an illegal immigrant. He was also forced to defend himself without a lawyer. 

Once deported, Lyttle spent 125 days in the streets and shelters of Mexico, Honduras, and Nicaragua, without a passport or anything to identify him as an American citizen. An American embassy employee in Guatemala eventually helped him, and he returned home, though:

Even then, ICE officials at the Atlanta airport detained him for six days and attempted to remove him again.  Only after the assistance of his family and a lawyer was Lyttle released and the case against him terminated.

$175,000 seems pretty small after that, but good on the ACLU for suing. This is not the first time American citizens have been caught up in immigration snafus, and it probably won't be the last.

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Arizona's Public Pension Gap Twice as Big as Reported (and You're Next!)

Courtesy of Arizona's Goldwater Institute comes interesting news about the games governments play to minimize just how horribly underfunded their public pensions are, and what this means for Arizona taxpayers in particular. Writing on the institute's blog, Byron Schlomach, Director of the Center for Economic Prosperity, tells us:

[A]ctuaries assume a rate of return on all the money invested. The assumed rate of return, or “discount rate”, makes a big difference in how big current liabilities might be. For example, if you invested enough now to pay back a $100 debt in 10 years and you expected a rate of return of 5 percent each year, you would need to invest $61.39. But, if you expected an 8 percent return each year, you would only need to invest $46.32 today.

Arizona’s government pension funds use a discount rate of either 8 or 8.25 percent, considerably higher than the 5 percent they have actually earned over the last decade. Consequently, while Arizona’s unfunded pension liabilities are officially $16 billion, a huge sum, the unfunded liabilities using the actual rate of return of 5 percent are more like $37 billion. That’s $5,800 for every man, woman, and child in the state.

As edifying as I would find the sight of government employees sitting on street corners, shaking tin cans for their sustenance, to be, I don't think that's where this is going. I'll let you know when Governor Jan Brewer stops by to shake me down in person.

Here's a fun homework assignment ... Go check your state's public pension liabilities, and ask what discount rate is being used.

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President Obama's Broken Deficit Promises

The other day I noted that in the 2008 campaign, President Obama repeatedly criticized Republicans for running sky high deficits, and letting total federal debt hit $10 trillion. Obama didn't just attack his GOP rival and the Bush administration for their poor budgeting.

As Philip Klein of The Washington Examiner points out, he also made specific promises of his own, pledging "to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office" at a "fiscal responsibility summit" (LOL!) shortly after taking office in 2009.

Obama followed up that promise with assurances in 2010 and 2011 that his administration was on the path to meeting its deficit reduction goals. “When I took office, I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term," he said in February 2011. "Our budget meets that pledge and puts us on a path to pay for what we spend by the middle of the decade.” 

Needless to say, the actual path the budget took was not the one Obama promised it was on. 

Today, the Congressional Budget Office released its final monthly budget report for the 2012 fiscal year. For the fourth straight year, the annual budget deficit ran over $1 trillion dollars. At $1.09 trillion, it was equal to about 7 percent of the country's total economic output, and it was somewhat smaller than Obama's previous deficits, it was otherwise larger than any year since 1947. Not quite a personal best, in other words, but still a historic tally. 

And obviously not even close to the 50 percent reduction in the annual deficit that Obama promised. As Klein points out, Obama inhereted a $1.186 trillion deficit. The president managed to reduce that total by about 8 percent. 

When Obama made his pledge, he warned that it would not be easy. "It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we’ve long neglected," he said. "But I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay — and that means taking responsibility right now, in this administration, for getting our spending under control.” Instead, Obama refused to take responsibility for making those tough decisions. 

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Tim Cavanaugh on Labor Strikes by Classical Musicians

The future of longhair music is, yet again, threatened by a rising crescendo of labor disputes with musicians. Tim Cavanaugh writes that ensembles all over the country are fighting over managers' efforts rein in, and in some cases reduce, salary and benefits for players. Musical performance raises some fundamental questions about labor economics, but the current round of strikes doesn't get to the real problem. In one sense, classical musicians are a model of legitimate organizing power: They are superhumanly skilled and can actually shut down production just by not showing up. On the other hand, even superb skills are only as good as the demand for them, and classical players face a growing problem: Their performances cost more than they make. How do orchestras get out of a rigid structure based on generous compensation, minimum staffing levels and a business model that runs at a loss even when it is successful? 

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GOP Senate Candidate Endorses Washington’s Marijuana Initiative, Incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell Opposes It

Washington is one of three states (with Oregon and Colorado) which will have an initiative on marijuana legalization on the ballot in November, and as Reason 24/7 noted its Republican Senate candidate, Michael Baumgartner, became the first state-wide candidate to endorse the measure. Washington’s governor is not running for re-election, but both the Democrat and Republican vying to replace him oppose the initiative, with the Republican candidate, Rob McKenna, going so far as to say legalizing marijuana is not a states’ rights issue and that there’s “federal supremacy when it comes to laws like this.” Bizarrely, McKenna won’t even say what he’d do if the initiative passed, given his antagonistic stance, writing it off as not having a chance to pass. A poll taken in the state last month shows the initiative enjoying support from 57 percent of respondents.

 Baumgartner, meanwhile, is down some 20 points in the polls. His low-key campaign got some attention over the summer when he responded to an article linking his position on abortion to Todd Akin with a “fuck you” there’s a war going in Afghanistan response. The candidate is one of a growing number of Republicans opposed to the war, though any growing support among elected Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter) for marijuana legislation is still a long ways away, especially considering the conventional wisdom still believes higher youth turnout in favor of marijuana legalization ought to help the president, despite his clear status as a drug warrior.

In fact, Barack Obama’s supporters are pushing the delusion that he could very well end the war on drugs after his re-election, or even that he’s already begun to do so. This, of course, could not be further from the truth. So much for “empathy”. 

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Greeks Plan to Protest Merkel's Visit, Will Propose the Impossible as an Alternative to Austerity

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit Greece next Tuesday to meet with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. It doesn’t look like she is going to receive the best of welcomes.

Many Greeks are unhappy with the German government, which is insisting on the Greek government making privatizations and reforms before receiving the next installment of their bailout (even though Merkel herself seems to be open to relaxing these conditions). German taxpayers are expected to contribute a huge amount to the European bailout fund and it is understandable that the German government would want to attach strict conditions to any assistance. Some Greeks think that recovery and membership of the euro is compatible without a drastic change is fiscal culture and will be protesting Merkel’s arrival:

But Greece's main labor unions were swift to call a protest rally outside Parliament on Tuesday against "the neoliberal policies of Mrs. Merkel and the European Union's core leadership," and a three-hour work stoppage in Athens to facilitate participation.

The unions said in a statement that "workers, pensioners and unemployed people can take no more of the European Union's punitive policies."

These policies continue to be strongly resisted by many Greeks, despite the fact that self-described socialist politicians such as Alexis Tsipras from SYRIZA (Greece’s left-wing coalition) have stopped strongly resisting the measures being imposed. From the World Socialist Website published by the International Committee of the Fourth International:

Since the election in June, Tsipras has sought to appease popular opposition to the cuts by raising a number of social demands, such as an end to austerity measures. However, a closer look reveals that his promises are empty.

Since the election campaign, he has abandoned demands such as the reversal of privatizations and previous austerity measures—demands that he cynically advanced while pledging to repay Greece’s debts to the financial markets and the European Union.

Unfortunately for those who plan to protest Merkel’s visit there is no way for Greece to say in the euro without a drastic change in behavior. It is just not politically possible for Germans and other more prosperous countries to bail Greece out without conditions.

According to Samaras, Greece has a little over a month before it defaults on its debt, after which euro membership is hard to imagine. If membership of the single currency is something that the protesters on Tuesday want they should learn to live with the fact that eurozone membership will be conditional on austerity measures. There is no way that the rest of Europe will continue to support Greece without changes. 

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Romney Surges in Swing States, Warrants for Blood Draws?, Friendly Fire May Have Killed Border Agent: P.M. Links

Have a news tip for us? Send it to: 24_7@reason.com

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Study: Regulations Meant to Lower Health Care Costs Don't

In 1974, Congress passed the Health Planning Resources Development Act, which required states to create (if they didn’t have them already) planning boards with veto power over health care providers’ business decisions.

To comply, states adopted Certificate of Need (CON) laws, which the American Hospital Association had been pushing for—purportedly to lower health care costs and improve quality of care by avoiding the duplication of services and overinvestment.

The federal mandate was repealed in 1987, but in the 36 states (and D.C.) that retain CON regulations, state agencies can (to varying degrees) prevent hospitals, outpatient clinics, and long-term care facilities from building or expanding facilities, offering new services, or purchasing equipment according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Now that 14 states have deregulated (to varying degrees), however, researchers can compare outcomes in states with CON laws and those without them. Lead author Vivian Ho, an economics professor at Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine has done just that, finding that, for heart bypass surgery:

states that removed Certificate of Need regulations experienced a 4 percent decrease in the average cost of patient care. These regulations are designed to prevent hospitals that do not treat a minimum prescribed volume of patients from offering open-heart surgery.

… Deregulation led to more hospitals building new facilities to perform open-heart surgery, which raises costs. However, the cost savings from lowering average costs per patient outweighed the additional costs of these new facilities.

Ho speculated that cost savings result from deregulation because competition encourages hospitals to deliver higher quality care. “The desire to attract more patients in a competitive market leads hospitals to offer higher quality care,” Ho said. “It may sound counterintuitive, but recent studies show that higher quality surgery lowers costs because costly hospital complications are avoided when one improves care.”

The study was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

See the Medical Care and Research Review for the full study, which relied on data from Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older (gated).

According to a 2011 study by National Institute for Health Care Reform, a nonprofit founded by the Big Three automakers and the United Autoworkers union, “the CON approval process can be highly subjective and tends to be influenced heavily by political relationships rather than policy objectives.”

Reason authors have sussed out then-Gov. Sarah Palin’s views on CON laws, tackled CON laws in Virginia, and compared CON regimes for people to competitive markets for veterinary care.

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Long-Simmering Dispute Over Alanis Morissette's "Irony" Definition Finally Goes To Court

It's been a while since we've heard anything from Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition (ANSWER), but the group's long battle over the right to hang posters in the District of Columbia has led to both greater freedom of speech and linguistic clarity. 

On the first point, ANSWER and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MASF) have been fighting the District over D.C.'s excessive demands for discovery in their case involving the right to hang posters on lampposts. ANSWER was dismissed earlier in the process, but yesterday MASF got a favorable ruling [pdf] from D.C.'s U.S. District Court. Much more importantly, a footnote in Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth's scathing opinion revisits one of the hot topics of the pre-9/11 era: 

Highlighting its own hypocrisy, in a section entitled “Argument,” the District asserts—without any real “argument,” just a conclusory sentence—that plaintiff failed to meet its burden for a protective order because plaintiff “relie[d] entirely on conclusory statements, with no specific facts or admissible evidence.”  Id. 3.  This, in fact, is the definition of irony.4...

4 Contra ALANIS  MORISSETTE,  Ironic, on  JAGGED  LITTLE  PILL  (Maverick Records 1995) (inexplicably defining irony as “rain on your wedding day”).

Following the iron law of usage nitpkicking, Lamberth makes a who/whom SNAFU elsewhere in the piece, but readers of a certain age will recognize his correction here as a new wrinkle in an old controversy: that Morissette's song "Ironic" contains a compendious list of items and events, none of which can be defined as "ironic" in the Aristotelian sense. 

I've always been inclined to cut the feisty songstress from the Great White North some generational slack on this point. The nineties were days of adventure and experimentation, when the term "irony" was used to embrace "sarcasm," "unexpectedness," "unintended outcomes" and many other concepts.

Morissette, a known Canadian, may or may not have standing to sue in an American court, and the Supreme Court has declined to decide the question of whether Dave "Cut-it-out" Coulier is the subject of "You oughta know." 

Helicopter Parents vs. Free Range Kids: Q&A with "America's Worst Mom" Lenore Skenazy

"Helicopter Parents vs. Free Range Kids: Q&A with 'America's Worst Mom' Lenore Skenazy" is 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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How the D.C. Transit Authority's Public-Safety Rationale for Rejecting an Ad Threatens Public Safety

Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), offers an overheated but nevertheless alarming account of yesterday's hearing in her case challenging the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's rejection of AFDI's pro-Israel, anti-jihad subway ad. The ad reads as follows:

IN ANY WAR BETWEEN THE CIVILIZED MAN AND THE SAVAGE, SUPPORT THE CIVILIZED MAN.

SUPPORT ISRAEL

DEFEAT JIHAD

WMATA initially accepted the ad, then changed its mind following the recent violent protests in Muslim countries by people upset about (among other things) Innocence of Muslims, the Muhammad-mocking YouTube video. The authority cited "security and safety" concerns, worrying that the AFDI ad might "expose passengers to terrorism." The task for WMATA lawyer Philip Straub at yesterday's hearing was to make the case that such fears constitute a "compelling governmental interest" and that banning the ad is "narrowly tailored" to serve that interest. Geller reports that Traub tried to escape this burden by arguing that the ad's message constitutes "fighting words," defined by the Supreme Court in the 1942 case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire as "those which, by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace." The "fighting words" at issue in Chaplinsky were epithets shouted directly at a city marshal, and the Court never again used this doctrine to uphold a conviction. U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer was not receptive to the "fighting words" argument, saying there is little evidence to support the idea that the AFDI ad would have an immediate effect like the one imagined in Chaplinsky. Geller notes that the ad has been displayed in New York and San Francisco "without incident," except for a single act of spray-paint vandalism in New York by Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy.

Although Collyer shot down Straub's "fighting words" claim, Geller nevertheless concluded that the judge (who did not rule yesterday on AFDI's request for an injunction) was looking for an excuse to uphold the ad ban. Geller says that when AFDI's lawyer, Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center, argued that the safety threat imagined by WMATA was purely speculative, Collyer replied, "No threat? Where have you been?" The implication—that riots in other countries can justify censorship here—is troubling, to say the least. According to Geller and Muise, the only evidence that the ad might provoke violence in the D.C. subway system is a single emailed threat. If that is enough to justify suppressing a political message, people who cannot abide speech with which they disagree have a very easy way to circumvent the First Amendment.

Even more troubling, Geller says Collyer suggested, contrary to the conclusion reached by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in New York, that the AFDI ad does not represent "core political speech." Here is Geller's quotation of Collyer: "I see hate speech. When you defend this ad as core political speech, I have a problem with that." If the judge said anything like that (I am waiting to hear from Muise and WMATA's press office regarding Geller's quotations [see update below]), her point is puzzling. There is no reason why the AFDI ad can't be both hate speech (because it supposedly denigrates Muslims) and core political speech (because it recommends a particular position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). In any case, as Geller notes, there is no "hate speech" exception to the First Amendment.

Geller, as seems to be her wont, overstates matters when she declares that "free speech is in its death throes." But her hyperbole should not distract civil libertarians from the very real threat posed by WMATA's rationale for rejecting her ad, which is similar to the new rule recently adopted by New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, barring messages that it "reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace." In both of these cases, the anticipated violent response of especially touchy people overrides the First Amendment rights of controversial speakers. Such a heckler's veto is not only open-ended, potentially justifying censorship of any speech deemed to be provocative; it is itself a threat to public safety, encouraging violence (or at least threats of violence) as a way of eliminating offensive messages.

Addendum: In the D.C. Circuit and the 2nd Circuit (which includes New York), the ad space overseen by WMATA and the MTA qualifies as a "designated public forum," meaning that content-based restrictions on the ads are subject to the highest level of constitutional scrutiny. The implication is that if the goal of preventing violence justifies censorship in these cases, it also could justify censorship in privately owned forums, such as signs on front lawns or in store windows, which might trigger a violent response from indignant passers-by.

Update: Muise confirms the gist of Geller's quotes from the hearing. He too was puzzled by Collyer's constitutionally irrelevant reference to "hate speech." He hopes to see an order from her today, and he worries about the message that upholding the ad ban would send to future hecklers-cum-censors, saying, "It really encourages the people who advocate violence."

Update II: Contrary to Pamela Geller's fears, Judge Collyer today issued a preliminary injunction ordering WMATA to begin displaying the AFDI ads by Monday. Collyer says she will issue an opinion explaining her reasoning soon.  

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Steven Greenhut on the Latest Scam from California’s Public-Sector Unions

If California voters grant the state government the massive income-tax and sales-tax increases that Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats have been demanding via November’s Proposition 30, those same officials will quickly squander the money by shoveling even more benefits to those already well-compensated government workers. For evidence, writes Steven Greenhut, let’s take a closer look at a police- and firefighter-union enrichment scam that just came within a whisker of becoming law.

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Jobs Report: Carping, Criticism, and Conspiracy Theorizing

As you may have heard, U-3 unemployment took a steep drop in September, from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent. This is the first time unemployment has dipped below 8 percent since February 2009, the first full month of Barack Obama's presidency, and matches the 7.8 percent rate that held when Obama was sworn in. 

Bloomberg's Alex Kowalski reports that the increase in employment will provide tons of neat stuff in terms of a Keynesian boost in aggregate demand. (Kowalski also uses the familiar adverb "unexpectedly" to describe the job numbers, but for the first time in recent memory to describe a strengthening job market.)  

The economy added 114,000 workers last month after a revised 142,000 gain in August that was more than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of 92 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an advance of 115,000. The jobless rate dropped from 8.1 percent and hourly earnings climbed more than forecast.

Improving employment prospects that lead to stronger wage growth provide workers with the wherewithal to boost their spending, helping cushion the economy from a global slowdown. 

The job numbers can be considered positive only in the context of a miserable half-decade of economic growth, and they are obviously convenient for President Obama, who suffered a humiliating defeat in his debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney Wednesday. Does that mean the numbers are cooked? 

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch seems to think so. "Unbelievable jobs numbers.." Welch tweets. "these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers."

This doesn't make a whole lot of sense: If the Obama administration was gaming the numbers, why didn't they do it before? And the BLS, while it is a division of the government and thus subject to political pressure, is staffed generally by career apparatchiks whose work, as I noted in a print column a while back, is extremely thorough and, by government standards, pretty transparent. Granted the Obama team's recent hanky panky with the Lockheed layoffs does not inspire much confidence in their ability to refrain from squeezing economic data, but if there's been an effort to cook the numbers we should see more smoke. 

Here's a good rebuttal to Welch's claim from Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, who points out that the most damning case against the Bureau of Labor Statistics' claim — that the economy only added 114,000 jobs in September, seemingly not enough to account for such a precipitous drop — doesn't mean much. Single-month discrepancies of this type are not uncommon. (Related: These monthly numbers are subject to frequent revision, so the steep drop may look less impressive over time.) Labor force participation is also up, so this is not another case of large numbers of workers just leaving the work force. And unemployment claims have been rising lately. So if we leave out the conspiracy, we still have a puzzlement: Where are all these newly employed workers working? 

The answer can probably be found in a combination of the unadjusted nature of the monthly data, and the fact that, this drop aside, the jobs picture is still an ugly piece of modern art. At the American Enterprise Institute, James Pethokoukis says you don't need to smell any rats to know that the labor economy still stinks: 

Only in an era of depressingly diminished expectations could the September jobs report be called a good one. It really isn’t. Not at all... 

Yes, the U-3 unemployment rate fell to 7.8%, the first time it has been below 8% since January 2009. But that’s only due to a flood of 582,000 part-time jobs...

Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by just 1.8 percent. When you take inflation into account, wages are flat to down.... 

The broader U-6 rate — which takes into account part-time workers who want full-time work and lots of discouraged workers who’ve given up looking — stayed unchanged at 14.7%. That’s a better gauge of the true unemployment rate and state of the American labor market.

The shrunken workforce remains shrunken. If the labor force participation rate was the same as when President Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 10.7%. If the participation rate had just stayed steady since the start of the year, the unemployment rate would be 8.4% vs. 8.3%...

The 114,000 jobs created would have been a good number … but for 1962, not 2012. The U.S. economy needs 2-3 times that number every month to close the jobs gap (which is the number of jobs that the U.S. economy needs to create in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while also absorbing the people who enter the labor force each month.)...

We are still on pace to create fewer jobs this year than last year. 

In any event, it would be several summers of recovery too late for Obama to take credit for what is still a high unemployment rate. The Keynesian economic rescue packages, which started before Obama took office, have been in place for many years to no (or actually negative) discernible effect. The members of Obama's economic brain trust are almost totally gone, replaced by humbler figures promising much less. To say Obama can take credit for the improvement in unemployment is like saying the plot to kill Hitler worked because eventually he died. 

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Ronald Bailey on the Misguided Fear of Consumer Genetics

"Sequence all the genomes!" That's the rallying cry heard constantly from the podium and in the hallways at the Fourth Annual Consumer Genetics Conference in Boston. Participants also listened to findings from recent studies suggesting that all the bioethical handwringing over how genetic testing results will only confuse and depress hapless consumers is a bunch of hogwash. However, as Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey reports, there is one group that is confused and depressed by genomic information: doctors.

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Immigration: The Most Important Economic Issue

Matt Yglesias at Slate speaks some important truths about a topic not touched on in the presidential debate: immigration.

Imagine a counterfactual history of the United States in which we had slightly different tax and budget policies over the centuries, and you're imagining an extremely boring scenario. Most likely, things would be about the same. But imagine a counterfactual history of the United States in which we never opened our borders to the ethnic "others" of the past—the Catholics and Jews of Eastern and Southern Europe, then more recently Asians and Latin Americans. That is a very different vision of America. Not a bad place, necessarily, but probably one that looks a lot more like New Zealand....

— Inadequate supply of workers with certain specialized skills. — Inadequate demand for U.S.-made goods and services. — Endemic malgovernment and lack of democracy in many countries. — Funding problems for the popular and successful Social Security system.
— Growing anxiety about America's ability to retain a strategic advantage vis-a-vis China.

These are problems that could be relatively easily ameliorated through better immigration policy. You start with the literally billions of people in the world suffering from malgovernment either in the form of lack of democracy (Russia, China), endemic corruption (India), poor macroeconomic management (Japan), rampant rent-seeking (Italy, Mexico), or lack of state capacity to perform basic governance functions (most of Africa)....

That's help on the supply side that becomes help on the demand side. Two demand side things happen when someone moves to the United States. One is that since their income rises, their volume of consumption rises. The other is that even in today's global economy, you're going to buy many more US-made goods and services if you live in Dallas or Denver rather than Dalian or Djibouti or Dominica.....

Our politicians talk, constantly, about how the United States is "the greatest country on earth" but they're oddly reluctant to pursue the policy implications of the fact that millions of people around the world agree with them about that. We treat the desire to migrate here with suspicion, as a problem we need to solve with better guards and biometric identity verification systems rather than as something that should be taken at face value. The United States of America is a much better-than-average place to live. Lots of people would like to move here. Taking advantage of that fact has, historically, been far and away the biggest contributor to American national greatness...

If you believe in ameliorating the lot of the less well-off in the world, you one-percent/99 percenters, and not just bettering your position vs. people richer than you, the most important thing you can do is be for more open immigration. 

Adam Ozimek at Forbes thinks that any economics writer who isn't stressing these points about immigration is guilty of professional malpractice:

It’s the most important economic issue of our time, far more important than tax reform, and it is a lever that could help improve a lot of problems we have in this country. We should be shouting this from the rooftops daily.

Reason's classic 2006 cover story, "Immigration Now, Immigration Tomorrow, Immigration Forever."

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Pro-Muslim Posters Show “Heckler’s Veto” Isn’t Needed

Oh, hey! It’s that famous solution to bad speech: more speech. Via the Huffington Post:

Two religious groups have produced pro-Muslim advertising campaigns to be unveiled in New York City's subway system. The ads are meant as a response to the controversial anti-Jihad posters recently introduced to the subway.

The New York Times reports the two groups, the Rabbis for Human Rights North America and the Sojourners led by Christian author Jim Wallis, and the MTA have confirmed the new ads will hang in close proximity to the American Freedom Defense Initiative's posters, which have been widely condemned as Islamophobic.

That’s certainly a much more useful way of responding to the poster than churlishly vandalizing one with spray paint. And it certainly sends a better message about our commitment to free speech than incentivizing violent responses in order to block people saying things some (or many! Or all!) may find offensive.

Here’s the ad from the rabbis:

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Politics in the 21st Century: World of Warcraft Edition

Ladies and gentlemen and hobbits and elves, I give you what must be the first political attack site dedicated to a candidate's fondness for an online role-playing game. The target is Colleen Lachowicz, a left-wing Democrat running for the Maine State Senate. Here is her portrait that appears on the site, over the caption "Colleen Lachowicz's self-created identity, Santiaga is a Level 85 Orc Assassination Rogue in the World of Warcraft":

Another sample from the site:

Another:

Along with the petty nerd-baiting, the site does feature some material that's politically relevant, such as the ideologically charged comments that Lachowicz posted at Daily Kos ("I may have to go and hunt down Grover Norquist and drown HIM in my bath tub," "Hmmmm....Krugman.... I miss him") and a post where she announces that she's "seriously slacking off at work today." She evidently needs to work a bit on her spelling, too. Reading through the page, my general reaction wasn't How horrying it would be to have a legislature filled with World of Warcraft players. It's How horrifying it would be to have a legislature filled with blog commenters. Uh, no offense.

[Via Kotaku.]

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Benghazi Attack: State Dept. Cut Security at Consulate Despite Pre-9/11 Attacks!

The Daily Beast's Eli Lake continues to dig into just what happened before, during, and after the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was killed in the attack along with three other Americans.

From the outset of the attack, Obama administration officials insisted that the attack was a spontaneous protest unleashed by the YouTube video "The Innocence of Muslims." For weeks after evidence piled up that the attack was in fact a terrorist action undertaken by a group with ties to al Qaeda, Obama spokesmen pushed the spontaneous protest line.

In previous, must-read reports, Lake showed that the administration knew otherwise within 24 hours of the attack (and that they had even gotten warnings about attacks). Now, he's writing an even more disturbing story: That the consulate itself and other Western targets had been subjected to attacks in the months prior to the 9/11 attack and that the State Department had reduced the security operation at the consulate.

On Tuesday, [Rep. Jason] Chaffetz (R-Utah) and the oversight committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), disclosed in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton details of an alleged April 6 bombing at the consulate. The letter detailed how in the run-up to the 9-11 assault there was an escalation of military-style attacks on Western targets in Libya’s second-largest city. The letter also said U.S. security personnel had requested, and were denied, additional security for the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and the consulate in Benghazi.

Chaffetz went further Wednesday, saying in an interview that the number of American diplomatic security officers serving in Libya had been reduced in the six months prior to the attacks. "The fully trained Americans who can deal with a volatile situation were reduced in the six months leading up to the attacks," he said. "When you combine that with the lack of commitment to fortifying the physical facilities, you see a pattern.”

Lake was not able to get a response about these new allegations from the State Department but he notes:

On Tuesday, Clinton wrote in a letter to Chaffetz and Issa that she intended to cooperate with the House committee’s investigation. But in the letter she did not promise to turn over all of the cables and documents requested by Chaffetz, saying she had empowered her own accountability review board to find out what had happened in Benghazi. “Nobody will hold this department more accountable than we hold ourselves,” she wrote.

The senior State Department official told The Daily Beast that on 9-11 there were five Americans serving as diplomatic security to protect Ambassador  Stevens at the consulate. But this official stressed that a group of former Navy SEALs and others with military training who were stationed less than half a mile away at a nearby annex factored into the security plan for the consulate. This official referred to this team as a “quick reaction force,” but also acknowledged that their job was not to provide protection for the ambassador.

Read the whole thing.

The whole thing is appalling. First and most important is that a U.S. ambassador and others were killed in a country that we supposedly helped liberate. Then comes the coverup on the part of an administration that seems totally at sea in terms of foreign policy (sadly, they are simply following in the Bush admin's footsteps in this), and now it looks like stonewalling will be the order of the day.

The next two presidential debates are supposed to include foreign policy, right?

There will be plenty to talk about. And between Barack Obama's demonstrated incompetence and willingness to scrap the Constitution (that's how we got into Libya in the first place after all) and Mitt Romney's cliched and played-out sabre-rattling and deference to the military-industrial complex, none of it will be pretty or make much sense.

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Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews Taken 2

Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman checks out Liam Neeson's very special skills in his Washington Times review of Taken 2:

If I have learned anything from watching the two “Taken” films, it’s this: Never go on an international vacation with Liam Neeson.

Sure, it’s only his family who have been targeted so far: In the first film, his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), was kidnapped in Paris; in the second, the baddies nab his lovely ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), in Istanbul. But let’s face it: If this sequel does well, more sequels, more family members, and more overseas abductions will be required. Family reunions in Rome are obviously begging for trouble, but that’s just the beginning. At a certain point, anyone located in Liam Neeson’s general vicinity will be at risk.

Still, it’s probably not worth worrying too much. The first “Taken” was something of a surprise: a satisfyingly brutal action showcase for Mr. Neeson, who used the film’s unexpected success to establish himself as a B-movie action star.

“Taken 2” is more of a missed opportunity. For one thing, there’s the title: Why not “ReTaken,” or “Taken, Again,” or, for those who prefer brevity, “Took”?

If one still insists on going the numbered-sequel route, there’s still the matter of the subtitle. It’s hard to justify making a movie about spousal kidnapping that’s a sequel to a film called “Taken” and not calling it: “Taken 2: Take My Wife, Please.”

Read the whole review


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A.M. Links: U.S. Unemployment Down to 7.8 Percent, Anti-Drone Protest Planned in Pakistan, Abortion Ship Docks in Morocco

  • The U.S unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent this  month, with nonfarm payroll employment rising by 114,000.
  • Police surveillance cameras are starting to pop up in residential neighborhoods in Michigan, a new ACLU report reveals.
  • A deputy sheriff in Colorado was arrested for menacing with a deadly weapon and domestic violence after allegedly holding a woman at gunpoint against her will earlier this week.
  • A former Pakistani cricketer turned politician is organizing a protest march against CIA drone strikes in his country, which have increased six-fold under President Obama.
  • Two Tunisians were arrested in Turkey in connection with the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11.
  • The Dutch NGO Women on Waves’ “abortion ship” has docked in Morocco after being blocked by its navy, the NGO says, but access is now being restricted to the harbor, 20 miles east of Tangier. 

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

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Kurt Loder Reviews Taken 2, The Paperboy, and Pitch Perfect

Taken 2 is even more frankly preposterous than its predecessor, writes Kurt Loder. Genre fans may enjoy seeing Liam Neeson reprise his role as retired black-ops agent Bryan Mills, but spoilsports will quickly realize they’ve seen all this Bourne-like action before. The Paperboy, on the other hand, Loder writes, is a swamp-gothic shocker filled with wild narrative jolts and juicy, whole-hog performances by Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, and John Cusack. It’s never dull, and it has a vintage B-movie scumminess that sucks you in. Finally, there’s the new pop musical Pitch Perfect. Even those with no interest in the world of collegiate a cappella competitions—or no idea that such a world existed—are likely to respond to the movie’s many pleasures, Loder says.

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Six Ways of Looking at Obama's Dismal Economic Performance

John Merline of Investors Business has put together six charts and an article that lay out an economic case against rehiring Barack Obama's for another term as president.

"President Obama has a simple and straightforward argument" for re-election, he writes

Things were terrible when I arrived, he says, thanks to Bush-era policies of tax cuts and deregulation. We stopped the decline, but the ditch was so deep that it will take time to get out. Still, we are making progress, even if it isn't as fast as everyone would like.

Merline notes that "more people continue to blame Bush than Obama for the current poor state of affairs" but argues persuasively that the current president is mostly abdicating his role in things. Here's an example:

Obama dismisses the slow and painful recovery by saying that he knew the road would be long. "I always believed that this was a long-term project (and) that it was going to take more than a year," he has said. "It was going to take more than two years. It was going to take more than one term."...

[But] Obama's first budget, released in February 2009, predicted "rapid growth" that would "push down the unemployment rate to 5.3% by the end of 2013." In March 2009, Obama boasted that "my long-term projections are highly optimistic."

In August 2009, his economists predicted economic growth rates above 4% this year and next. In April 2010, Vice President Biden predicted job growth of "between 250,000 and 500,000 a month."

It was only after the actual results starting coming in far below expectations that Obama started laying blame on the financial crisis and asking for more time.

And his claim that financial crises inevitably lead to sluggish recoveries is at least open to debate.

While some economists make that claim, others dispute it. A November 2011 paper by economists at Rutgers University and the Cleveland Fed, for example, concluded that "recessions associated with financial crises are generally followed by rapid recoveries."

Read the whole thing here or by clicking on the image above.

Regardless of the election's outcome, I'm hopeful that we'll start having a better discussion about the actual effects of the past three-and-a-half years of "bold, persistent experimentation" in terms of economic policy (to use Obama's favorite borrowed phrase of Franklin Roosevelt's). I think Merline's charts and analysis is generally right in implying that Obama's interventions didn't just fail in their intentions but that they extended and exacerbated the problems.

But here's something for Republicans to drill into their heads: It's also true the George W. Bush bears a good chunk of responsibility, both for pursuing policies that inflated the housing bubble at the heart of the recession and for going nuts in terms of his own bold, persistent experimentation, especially in the last year of his presidency when he infamously "abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system."

The 21st century (so far!) has been an unrelieved period of activist government and we're reaping the bitter harvest of that right now and, sadly, for a lot of years to come. Partisans will always use the rotten economy as a way of regaining power, but unless the eventual victors learn what's causing the long, painful slide we've been in and reverse course, we're never going to pull out of it.

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The NDAA Retroactively "Ass Covers" Some of the More Broadly-Applied Gitmo Detainments Says Lawsuit Plaintiff [Updated/Clarified]

Editor's Note: Due to several transcription errors, this post has been heavily edited. The previous quotes from Tangerine Bolen, which she objected to, have been replaced by quotes Bolen provided over email.

With 500-some pages of text, the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) covers a lot more than just section 1021(b), but the majority of the debates over the bill involve the very reason the four letters N-D-A-A have become shorthand for fears of government power finally crossing a Rubicon. Whether or not that’s really true, the caginess of the government with respect to whom it can indefinitely detain [pdf] is disturbing and demands a clarification that is not being offered. 

Section 1021(b) reads that someone who can be indefinitely detained is:

A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

The government says the controversial bit of the NDAA is nothing new, but seven plaintiffs, including Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, dissident writer Noam Chomsky, and journalist Chris Hedges, sued in January, arguing that they were under threat. Hedges in particular argued that his First Amendment rights are violated by the NDAA since he has interviewed numerous members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but now fears doing so.

Another plaintiff in Hedges v. Obama is activist Jennifer "Tangerine" Bolen, founder of the pro-whistleblower group RevolutionTruth.org. She worries that her organization's support of WikiLeaks and imprisoned soldier and accused leaker Bradley Manning might also make her or her allies applicable for detainment under the NDAA.

Section 1021(a) of the bill repeats the government's power to go after perpetrators (and those who harbored them, etc.) of the September 11th attacks (put in writing in the joint Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution) but 1021(b) does read an awful lot like it's expanding powers, even if the actual text of the NDAA and Obama administration officials claim it isn't changing anything. (For a good overview of the NDAA up until now, go check out this Young Americans for Liberty blog post.)

Bolen believes part of the subtext to these arguments is that the government wants an excuse to go after Julian Assange and Wikileaks. "They don't want to go after The New York Times," she says, "They’re willing to cherry-pick who they apply indefinite detention to." But once they can get to Assange, this power will "cascade downward" and then people like Bolen or Hedges could be under threat as well.

The government's initial argument was that the powers granted in provision 1021(b)  were exactly the same as those granted by the AUMF. Yet, argues Bolen, if the AUMF and the NDAA are the same, why is the government so desperate to stop this lawsuit? Why did they appeal less than 24 hours after Judge Katherine Forrest’s permanent block of indefinite detainment on September 13? Why do they claim that block could cause "irreparable harm" to the United States? Well, no harm done for the moment. On Tuesday afternoon, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, and a three-judge panel stayed Forrest's block until a final decision is reached in December. Until then, or until this hits the Supreme Court, indefinite detainment is back on.

The key point about the NDAA, says Bolen, is that it's a retroactive "CYA" — cover your ass. "We believe that the AUMF detention powers were over-broadly applied — subsequently sweeping up innocent people —and definitely people who had nothing to do with 9/11, or are members of Al Qaida or the Taliban — which is the definition of those powers."

In their Tuesday ruling, the Second Circuit judges wrote [pdf] that it was in "the public interest" to grant the government appeal a stay. Part of their reasoning was that the government finally clarified that the plaintiffs had no reason to fear detainment, meaning that they had no standing to sue in the first place.

When the government initially refused to offer assurances that the plaintiffs could not be detained back in March, this made Judge Forrest more sympathetic to the question of whether the seven individuals indeed had standing to sue. Later, in August, seeing that Forrest was indeed going to block indefinite detainment, the government did try to offer assurances that journalists who were independent were under no threat by offering a clarifying brief. This, according to Bolen brought up a lot of questions still for the judge. Bolen says Forrest asked, "Are YouTube videos independent? Are you going to form a panel to decide who is independent?" Forrest was still not satisfied, and in her 112-page ruling she expressed incredulity over the government's failure to make its case.  [Correction: updated language to reflect better accuracy in the timeline of the case.]

The wording in the government's response brief just does not satisfy any of the plaintiffs and opens up more questions over whether the government may actually be considering keeping an eye on journalists who are not seen as "independent."

Bolen, for her part, thinks that the case will make it to the Supreme Court. But it’s up to her and her fellow-plaintiffs to try to change public opinion to make sure NDAA gets thrown out.

"Obama is likely in a position whereby he feels he cannot suddenly deny himself powers on which two administrations have come to rely. He cannot afford a terror attack on his watch, and he is likely convinced he has no choice here. I think he believes that is the case and that he is stuck in a position of political realism that this country does not understand. That does not excuse his willingness to erode civil liberties and undermine human rights just like Bush did — I expected, and expect, him to do better."

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LeVar Burton "can't stay silent" on PBS defunding; James Doohan reserving judgment.

Former Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton is furious about Mitt Romney's comments on PBS funding at last night's debate. 

Burton, the beloved star of Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and by general acclamation one of the nicest guys in show biz, tells TMZ

I am personally outraged that any serious contender for the White House would target as part of his campaign the children of America in this fashion.

Educators across the country, as well as millions of children and adults know that the programming on PBS has been responsible for significant improvements in education, literacy, math, science and life skills for generations of our children... 

Defunding PBS directly punishes the less fortunate by removing this trusted and extraordinary educational resource available to all.

On behalf of America's children, I can't stay silent. I encourage you to join me in fighting this short-sighted and frankly mean-spirited attack on our children.

I have great regard for Burton. I particularly like the way PBS constantly plays reruns of Reading Rainbow, which Burton hosted for several centuries, in random order, so that Burton has become a kind of real-life Billy Pilgrim whose age and looks seem to change at random, unstuck from time or seasonal arcs. 

But the starship Enterprise's second most famous chief engineer is a few dilithium crystals short of a legitimate argument here. 

First, as Reason's Jesse Walker has noted, nobody is actually going to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The threat has been around for decades, and it's a cheap way for conservative politicians to burnish their images with social cons. But nothing has ever come of it, and nothing ever will. 

Second, whatever "educators across the country" say, there's no evidence that PBS programming is responsible for significant improvements in educational attainment. The number of high school graduates per 100 17-year-olds fell sharply [pdf] in the 25 years after the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created in 1967, and both verbal and math SAT scores [pdf] are lower now than they were in 1969, the year Sesame Street went on the air. Maybe in some less measureable sense television is making kids smarter than they were back in the 19th century, when 14-year-olds were able to improvise pages of Latin verse in imitation of Horace without consulting a library. But there is no basis for Burton's assertion. 

Third, Romney deserves criticism for threatening Big Bird, but not for the reasons Burton thinks. You could get rid of all federal funding for broadcasting, the arts, and so on, and the resulting dent in the annual deficit would so small it would not even count as a rounding error. Romney's needless reference to the defunding theater Walker described was a low point in a strong debate performance.

Finally, Big Bird doesn't need the taxpayers at all. Burton has worked at PBS, but he worked more prominently (and I would guess, for a lot more money) at Paramount. He should ask his former co-worker Dora the Explorer, or maybe the Little Einsteins over at Disney, how you can put out quality educational children's programming without public funding. Believe it or not, it's being done all the time. 

Burton's engine room predecessor James Doohan merged with the infinite in 2005, but you can never be sure death is final in the Star Trek universe. Presumably Doohan, a Canadian, would support continued federal funding for broadcasting.

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Obama Plagiarizes Own Debate Promises From 2008

Did you find yourself thinking, while watching last night's presidential debate, that some of Barack Obama's talking points sounded eerily familiar? That's maybe because they were.

Check out some of the similarities between President Obama's first 2012 debate performance, and candidate Obama's initial 2008 effort:

*

2012: I also want to close those loopholes that are giving incentives for companies that are shipping jobs overseas. I want to provide tax breaks for companies that are investing here in the United States.

2008: Let's just be clear. What I do is I close corporate loopholes, stop providing tax cuts to corporations that are shipping jobs overseas so that we're giving tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States.

*

2012: And so the question here tonight is not where we've been but where we’re going. Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes, skewed towards the wealthy, and roll back regulations that we’ll be better off. [...]

Are we going to double down on the top-down economic policies that helped to get us into this mess, or do we embrace a new economic patriotism that says, America does best when the middle class does best? And I'm looking forward to having that debate.

2008: Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down.

It hasn't worked. And I think that the fundamentals of the economy have to be measured by whether or not the middle class is getting a fair shake. That's why I'm running for president, and that's what I hope we're going to be talking about tonight.

MORE »
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Meet the Guys Calling Out Police’s Super-Sniffing Skills

Some time back, Jacob Sullum made note of the smell experts who defense attorneys have been calling upon to challenge police officers’ claims they could sniff out marijuana inside a person’s house from outside.

Both the police and the smell experts are still at it. The Chicago Tribune takes note of a recent case where police claimed they could smell marijuana that was sealed inside a mason jar, justifying a search:

Last week, a federal judge tossed the evidence — in part because the jar had been destroyed while in police custody. But [Jonathan] Stoffels' defense attorney had also raised an unusual challenge to the second reason for the search, that the officer caught whiffs of marijuana from Stoffels' car.

At a suppression hearing, a taste and smell expert on that skunky, funky weed testified that the odor was unlikely so strong the officer could smell it.

Defense attorneys who have had suspicions about the "strong odor of pot" justification for searches say it's a struggle to challenge the statements, claiming that judges tend to believe the officers and that it's hard to prove a negative.

Reporter Annie Sweeney gives a decent number of inches to James Woodford and Richard L. Doty, the two scientists who have actually researched how odor molecules do their thing :

Woodford is a chemist who specializes in odor molecules and how they can permeate barriers and how a smell dissipates in air. He has been called to testify on the issue numerous times over 20 years, often re-creating scenes to challenge officers' assertions that they could smell marijuana through packages, containers or car trunks. He said evidence in some of those cases was suppressed.

In Stoffels' case, Chicago defense attorney John A. Meyer challenged the officer's right to search the car by relying on the testimony of Richard L. Doty, who treats patients for disorders on taste and smell.

And although there were other problems with the evidence recovered in Stoffels' traffic stop, his defense attorney believes Doty's testimony was key.

"To this case, it was absolutely essential," Meyer said.

The case is a bit more complicated, and Stoffels is hardly out of the woods; he’s facing federal drug manufacturing charges not simple possession. Still, that the judge was skeptical about the officer’s claims is at least something:

[F]or Meyer and other defense attorneys, the ability to challenge the officer's claim with research goes to a broader issue about the Fourth Amendment. Even if illegal contraband is recovered, as it allegedly was in Stoffels' case, a search should be based on legitimate and defensible evidence by the police, they said.

Meyer said he wonders about the countless searches based on suspected marijuana odor in which police never find any contraband.

"People don't complain about it," he said. "This is just a fact of life that you might be stopped and searched. … It matters because the Fourth Amendment protects all individuals against warrantless searches, and once police start abusing that right, everybody is at risk."

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Facebook Milestones, Exit Polling Reductions, Execution of Innocent in Texas: P.M. Links

  • Facebook has reached one billion users. That’s a lot of baby pictures.
  • The Philadelphia officer recorded punching a woman at a street party has been suspended and the police commissioner intends to fire him. Let’s see if the union argues that he hadn’t been properly trained to not just go around punching people.
  • A Texas court has upheld the death sentence on a man that several judges agree is likely innocent. Why? Because the proper procedures were followed and no “constitutional violations” were determined
  • Authorities suspect a back pain steroid treatment is the culprit in an outbreak of meningitis cases in five eastern states. A fifth victim died today.
  • Election exit polling is being scaled back this year. Voter surveys will take place in only 31 states, not all 50.
  • Apparently, there had been 13 separate threats leveled against the Benghazi consulate in the six months prior to the deadly attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.
  • European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the bank is ready to start buying government bonds. The European Union now stands around staring awkwardly at Spain until it gets the hint.

Have a news tip for us? Send it to: 24_7@reason.com.

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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Peter Suderman on What the Debate Revealed About Mitt Romney's Core Convictions

There were moments in last night’s debate when you could almost imagine Mitt Romney being president, or at least playing one on TV. He was pithy. He was prepared. He was poised. He was very nearly presidential. But what he wasn’t, however, was specific—at least not in the ways that matter most. Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman writes that Romney’s performance was just that: a performance, designed to suggest what he might be like as president, but not what he would do. And yet it just might have revealed something even more important: who Romney hopes to be. 

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Gary Johnson Gets Endorsement From Barstool Sports

The publisher of the wildly popular and controversial Barstool Sports blog has announced his support for Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson. David Portnoy had largely avoided political commentary on his site until now, because he doesn’t vote and hates the two major parties.

Turns out, Portnoy is a libertarian. He just didn't know it. 

Portnoy:

So a couple weeks ago I tweeted out the following…

“What happens if I’m pro gay, pro choice, pro porn, pro small government, pro don’t get involved in shit that doesn’t involve you?  Am I just fucked?”

Well people universally called me a Libertarian which I didn’t even know existed. Apparently it means liberal social views and conservative financial views.  

Portnoy was finally swayed by the now viral video of Johnson crowd surfing at an event in Salt Lake City.

“I think I can get on board with this fucking guy. Yup it’s official. This is the first ever Barstool political endorsement. I roll with G Money.”

In addition to running the Barstool Sports sites, Portnoy organizes events at college campuses and nightclubs across the Northeast Corridor. In 2011 Portnoy faced major criticism for posting nude photos of Tom Brady’s baby coupled with lewd headlines. 

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Romney Would Repeal ObamaCare Only to Pass It Again At the State Level

One way to think of Mitt Romney's multiple, evolving personalities is as software iterations. Software companies often release a usable product, but then push out updates over time. So it is with Romney, who has been continually patched and upgraded over the course of the campaign.

The version of MittRom.ney that showed up last night was the best version I've seen so far: quicker, more responsive, more feature rich, less awkward and phony. He offered a convincing simulacra of presidential poise and was able to avoid many of the bugs that have plagued him in the past. It was a good demo, in other words, and I think it's pretty clear that he won the debate. (More on this in my column later today.)

But the latest update to the GOP candidates operating system still outputs problematic responses when it comes to health care. At the debate last night, Romney was asked how he would replace ObamaCare after repealing it, as he has promised he would do. In particular, he was challenged to explain what would happen to individuals with preexisting conditions. Romney, as his is wont, described his health care plan via a numbered list. The first item: "Preexisting conditions are covered under my plan." 

We've been through this before. And it's generally been clear that when Romney claimed to cover preexisting conditions under his plan, what he was actually doing was promising to keep in place protections that already exist in the law for those who have preexisting conditions but maintain more or less continuous coverage. 

But Romney added a new element last night. When Obama challenged Romney's assertion that he actually covers preexisting conditions rather than simply keeps existing law in place, Romney shot back with this interesting reply:

And with regards to health care, you had remarkable details with regards to my pre-existing condition plan. You obviously studied up on -- on my plan. In fact, I do have a plan that deals with people with pre-existing conditions. That's part of my health care plan. And what we did in Massachusetts is a model for the nation state by state. And I said that at that time.  

Romney is right to distinguish between federal and state plans. But the difference here mostly is a difference in degree, not in kind. And it is not much comfort for those who think that both plans are problematic. What Romney seems to be saying is that he would repeal ObamaCare, and its preexisting condition exclusions, and instead have states set up their own versions of RomneyCare, which has essentially the same preexisting condition regulations as President Obama's level. The only difference is that the rules would be enforced at a state level. And if that's the case, then that leaves more states open to an insurance mandate, just like the one in Obamacare, just like the one Romney signed off on in Massachusetts. Romney may want to repeal ObamaCare, but it seems very much as if he would prefer to replace it with a state-by-state version of the same thing. 

Romney, who reportedly chose his chief campaign strategist in part because he was the only one who said he could continue to defend the Massachusetts health plan, can't seem to let this one piece of his legislative history go. What we saw last night was, in many ways, an upgraded Romney. But on RomneyCare, he's still stuck at version 1.0. 

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Presidential Debate Ratings Are Up over 2008. No, Really.

Maybe us cynical political sourpusses need to find a new narrative, too. More people watched last night’s debate than watched Barack Obama and John McCain duke it out over our last most important election in the history of America. Via MediaBistro:

More than 58 million people watched the first Presidential debate last night between President Obama and Mitt Romney, up substantially from the first debate in the 2008 election cycle, which had 52.4 million viewers.

Fox News was the most-watched cable news network during the debate, and will likely be the most-watched network on TV, though final broadcast numbers will not be released until after 4 PM.

That’s interesting information, given that the ratings for both the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions were down compared to 2008. I may have to revisit my belief that this is entirely a "get out the vote" election.

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New Orleans Prosecutor Jason Cantrell Resigns After Joint Falls Out of His Pocket In Court

"A Tough Judge for Tough Times." That's how Jason Cantrell described himself when he ran for a judge's seat on New Orleans' Juvenile Court in 2009. On Monday, Cantrell, who has served as a New Orleans prosecutor since losing the judge's race, was arrested when a marijuana cigarette fell out of his pocket in court. 

"Cantrell was talking to an officer when the joint flew," The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. "Sources painted a comical picture of the incident, saying a pair of cops glanced at the joint on the ground, then at each other before making arguably the easiest collar in the annals of policework."

Thanks to legislation passed in 2010, New Orleans no longer tries low-level marijuana offenders in criminal court. Instead, it cites them and summons them to municipal court, where city attorneys like Cantrell--instead of district attorneys--serve as prosecutors:

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said the point of the new law is to free up local judges to handle more important cases.

"This is ultimately the goal: to bring the city attorney's in as the prosecutors of those cases, so I can bring my assistant D.A.'s who had to handle the municipal court cases -- the misdemeanor cases in municipal court -- back to criminal court," Cannizzaro said.

Cannizarro said the change provides a more efficient criminal justice system; not just for his office, but for police as well.

When Cantrell was running for judge in 2009, he promised to implement mandatory drug court for all first-time juvenile drug offenders. And we all know how wonderful drug courts are. I wonder if Cantrell will volunteer himself for one-to-two years of weekly rehab meetings and piss tests, as he proscribed for first-time juvenile offenders, or if he'll just opt for the $500 fine?

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Pictures of Afghanistan in the Fifties and Sixties Are Totally Depressing

"Given the images people see on TV, many conclude Afghanistan never made it out of the Middle Ages," writes Mohammad Qayoumi at Retronaut. "But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth."

Qayoumi's gallery of what the Graveyard of Empires looked like before it was brought into contemporary civilization by the Hippie Trail, Soviet modernization, Taliban discipline and American nation-building is at once endearing, heartbreaking and disturbing. Because it turns out pre-modern Afghanistan looked pretty, well, modern. 

There are Afghans of the Mad Men era going to the movies: 

...taking kids to the playground:

...shopping for decadent clothing: 

MORE »
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The Big Debate Loser: Fiscal Reality

Mitt Romney rightfully got the nod as the victor of last night's debate, but while he carried himself with style and poise while Barack Obama looked like he wished he could be anywhere but on that stage, neither major-party candidate seriously addressed the big issue of the moment: a federal government that's spending money it doesn't have on big-ticket projects it can't afford. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Military spending were all mentioned by the candidates in Denver, but not in the context of any serious plans to rein in the costs to a level the federal government might pay for on an ongoing basis.

Military Spending

Mitt Romney boasted, "I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America's military." In response, President Obama rightly dinged his opponent for promising "$2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for." But Obama didn't offer up any ideas for cutting military spending himself. And while, last year, Congress did pass a White House proposal for a paltry $500 billion in cuts over ten years, just weeks ago, Obama told a military audience, "There’s no reason those cuts should happen. Because folks in congress ought to come together and agree on a responsible plan that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong. That’s what needs to happen."

Social Security

President Obama insisted, "Social Security is structurally sound. It's going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill. But it is — the basic structure is sound." That's a laughable claim for a program that's circling the drain — and threatening to suck federal finances down with it. But all Romney had to offer in response was, "And with regards to young people coming along, I've got proposals to make sure Medicare and Social Security are there for them without any question." In reality, all his campaign has offered is that "the retirement age should be slowly increased" and "benefits should continue to grow but that the growth rate should be lower for those with higher incomes." That's ... not going to do it.

Medicare

Medicare is in worse shape than Social Security, but President Obama boasts "we went after medical fraud in Medicare and Medicaid very aggressively, more aggressively than ever before, and have saved tens of billions of dollars" — sums that are statistical blips for a program that spends unaffordable hundreds of billions every year. He also talks of a projected "$716 billion we were able to save from the Medicare program by no longer overpaying insurance companies by making sure that we weren't overpaying providers. ..." But, as Romney points out, that supposed savings comes from lower compensation for providers at a time when "15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take anymore Medicare patients under that scenario. We also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won't take more Medicare patients."

Of course, if you pay providers so little that they refuse your business, you may save money by default, but that seems an unlikely result of this scenario.

Romney does promise to introduce an element of choice into Medicare with a private alternative, but he also says, "I want to take that $716 billion you've cut and put it back into Medicare. By the way, we can include a prescription program if we need to improve it."

Medicaid

Obama charges that "Governor Romney talked about Medicaid and how we could send it back to the states, but effectively this means a 30 percent cut in the primary program we help for seniors who are in nursing homes, for kids who are with disabilities." A thirty percent cut would probably be a good start, in terms of fiscal sanity, but Romney counters, "Medicaid to states? I'm not quite sure where that came in, except this, which is, I would like to take the Medicaid dollars that go to states and say to a state, you're going to get what you got last year, plus inflation, plus 1 percent, and then you're going to manage your care for your poor in the way you think best."

President Obama's own plan seems to consist of hoping for the best: "[W]hen Obamacare is fully implemented, we're going to be in a position to show that costs are going down. And over the last two years, health care premiums have gone up — it's true — but they've gone up slower than any time in the last 50 years"

Overall, the debate gave us some broad differences in terms of rehetoric and stated philosophy of government, and big differences in style, but it didn't give us any serious proposals for digging the federal government — and American taxpayers — out of a deep financial hole.

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On Thursday They Were Terrorists; On Friday They Weren't

As of last Friday, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a formerly violent Iranian opposition group once allied with Saddam Hussein, no longer appears on the State Department's list of "foreign terrorist organizations" (FTOs). The delisting comes after years of lobbying, assisted by prominent political figures, and legal wrangling, culminating in an appeals court ruling ordering Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to act on the MEK's petition by Monday. Clinton's decision probably means the MEK's supporters, who include former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, do not need to worry about being charged with providing "material support" to an FTO by helping the group shed that label. Theoretically, however, they could still be prosecuted if it can be shown that they "coordinated" their advocacy with the MEK prior to Friday.

Over at Popehat, Los Angeles attorney Ken White, a former federal prosecutor, recalls that in 1999 he helped convict a man "for helping terrorists who now aren't terrorists." The defendant helped MEK members "secure legal residence in the United States through various forms of fraud, including fraudulent asylum applications." In addition to immigration fraud, his actions qualified as providing material support to an FTO—possibly the first conviction under that provision, White says. Looking back, he is ambivalent about his role in the case, recognizing the political considerations that determine which groups count as FTOs:

The six people the MEK killed in the 1970s are still dead. They were dead when the State Department designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization and they have been dead all the years since and they won't get any less dead when the State Department removes the MEK from its FTO list. The MEK is the organization that once allied with Saddam Hussein; that historical fact hasn't changed, although its political significance has. No — what has changed is the MEK's political power and influence and the attitude of our government towards it.

More generally, White says, the MEK's delisting shows how arbitrary the contours of the War on Terror are:

The scope of the War on Terror — the very identity of the Terror we fight — is a subjective matter in the discretion of the government. The compelling need the government cites to do whatever it wants is itself defined by the government.

The definition of the enemy then determines not only who can be charged with violating the ban on material support but who can be subject to warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, and summary execution by drone. But don't worry: The Obama administration is providing all the process it believes is due.

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The Next Time Someone Says Americans Should Be Nicer to Religious Fundamentalists, Tell Them These Stories

The next time someone suggests to you that Americans should sacrifice their First Amendment rights in order to placate religious fundamentalists half a world away, remind them that this is what happens in countries where religious authority supercedes individual rights:

Two Coptic children arrested for insulting Islam in the Upper Egyptian village of Ezbet Marco were released Thursday afternoon pending investigation, according to Ahram Online's reporter in Beni Suef.

The attorney general of Beni Suef told Ahram Online that he ordered the release of Nabil Nagy Rizk, 10, and Mina Nady Farag, 9, "due to their young age."

However the children have yet to be acquitted. A condition of their release, the attorney general explained, is that the "families signed documents confirming they will bring both kids to the prosecution whenever they are needed for questioning." Investigations are expected to take place on Sunday. 

The boys had been detained in the Beni Suef juvenile detention by order of the prosecution since Tuesday, after imam of their local mosque Ibrahim Mohamed Ali accused the children of tearing up pages of the Quran and filed a legal complaint. 

Nabil's father Nagy Rizk defended the action of the boys in a public statement, explaining that they are illiterate and therefore did not know the content of the papers which they found in a small white bag, as they were playing near a pile of rubbish in the street.

Another story from Ahram Online, yet to be published in English, says that Egyptian authorities detained a pregant Coptic school teacher for two days after a student in her class claimed she insulted Mohammed. According to Twitter, the student wasn't even at school the day his Christian teacher allegedly slandered the prophet.

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Some Follow-Up Questions for Mitt and Barack on Education Spending, Immigration, Marriage Equality, & Old-Age Entitlements

Here are three follow-up questions I would have loved to see get asked in last night's debate.

1. Obama touted his "Race to the Top" initiative that he says was really helping kids learn. He also pushed for even more teachers to be hired, despite the fact that the number of teachers per student in K-12 public schools is at an all-time high. Mitt Romney signed on with the notion that we need yet more teachers, but said the decision should be made at the state level. When asked about federal support for education, Romney said he wouldn't "cut education."

Since 1970, real expenditures per pupil in the nation's classroom have more than doubled; indeed, when you add in a truer accounting of costs that includes teacher benefits, school construction, and the like, expenditures have basically tripled (see chart below). Yet over that same time frame, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress - the so-called Nation's Report Card - shows exactly zero improvement in test scores among high school seniors.

The question: The federal Department of Education was created in 1980. Given the chart below, how can you justify the existence of the Department of Education and the $77 billion it spent on K-12 education in 2010? Is the only argument that performance would have been even worse absent large and growing amounts of federal dollars?

2. Here's a short video about a lesbian couple that lives in Los Angeles and runs a school for trapeze artists. The woman on the right is an American citizen who not only attended a military academy but served her country in uniform. The woman on the left owns the school and is a Canadian immigrant who works on a O1 visa granted "to aliens of extraordinary ability." She employs about 16 people but has not been able to score permanent residency or a path to citizenship. That means she regularly has to spend thousands of dollars and leave the country to comply with immigration law. She says in the video that she could marry a man - a prisoner even! - who is a U.S. citizen and get put on the fast track to a green card and citizenship.

Neither of you actively supports marriage equality at the federal level (though President Obama did acknowledge over the summer that he no longer personally believes it to be wrong), so she can't marry her partner of choice. Both of you have negative positions toward immigrants. Mitt Romney has called for "self-deportations" and increasing border security as a way of keeping immigrants out of the country. Barack Obama has deported record numbers of immigrants.

The question: Pretend these women are in front of you. How do you justify keeping them from marrying? How do justify immigration laws that make it more difficult for hard-working foreigners to come to the United States and create precisely the sort of small businessess that you both profess to love?

3. In last night's debate, President Obama asserted that Social Security was "structurally sound" and that Medicare was part of a trans-generational compact that Republicans would destroy via "premium support" and "vouchers." For his part, Mitt Romney responded that nobody anywhere near the age of retirement would need worry about changes to Social Security or Medicare, a program to which he is fully devoted to maintaining (indeed, one of the main Republican lines of attack on Obamacare was that it was paid for in part by "gutting" Medicare).

In reality, Medicare and Social Security present massive fiscal problems for the government's balance sheet. Those two entitlements accounted for 37 percent of all federal outlays in 2011. Absent significant changes to these programs (of the sort that are always waved away as politically impossible), that figure will grow to 44 percent of federal spending in 2020 and 50 percent in 2030. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security is already paying out more annually in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes and all of its trust funds will be spent by 2033 at current levels of taxes and benefits. By design, Medicare's payroll taxes were never designed to cover the full cost of the plan's benefits and currently account for about one-third of expenses. At current tax rates and benefit levels, its primary trust fund will be broke by 2024.

Beyond such pressing balance-sheet issues is one of fairness. Average wage-earners who retired in 2010 or later can expect to take less money out of Social Security than they paid into it (the amount paid in includes both the employee's and employer's payroll tax shares). For instance, a single man earning the average wage over his career who retired in 2010 would have paid in $300,000 in Social Security tax and can expect to receive just $266,000 in benefits. For women, the case is slightly better because they tend to live longer. But they too are still rooked and that imbalance will only grow with time. When it comes to Medicare, every beneficiary gets far more than they pay into the system, a structural problem that underscores its unsustainability (more evidence: Medicare costs per enrollee are expected to double over the next 30 years even as the number of enrollees will also double).

The question: How do you propose to fix Social Security and Medicare so that they neither bankrupt the country over the next generation nor suck up ever-higher levels of money from younger workers who will almost certainly never see any benefits from either plan? Would you even consider the possibility of ending old-age entitlements and replacing them instead with a safety-net system that helps the poorest and least-capable Americans on the basis of income and wealth rather than reaching a particular age? And if not, why should anyone under the age of 50 vote for you?

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Moving and Shaking: Lawsuit Filed to Break Up Nevada's Moving Cartel

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a national public interest law firm based in Sacramento, launched a lawsuit today on behalf of Maurice Underwood, a Reno man prevented from entering the moving industry by a state-enforced cartel. Nevada law erects a strict entry barrier for aspiring movers, who must obtain a “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” from the Nevada Transportation Authority (NTA) before offering their services to customers.

Applicants must prove that a new company would:

  • be consistent with the state’s effort “[t]o discourage any practices which would tend to increase or create competition,”
  • “not unreasonably and adversely affect other” moving companies,
  • “benefit and protect the safety and convenience of . . . the motor carrier business,”
  •  and “foster sound economic conditions.”

The law also allows existing moving companies to file protests against would-be competitors.

There are only two full-service moving companies in Reno (Nevada’s second-largest city), where Underwood would like to work. As PLF explains in its backgrounder on the case, Underwood founded Man with a Van Moving Services in 2004 but was cited for operating without a certificate in 2005.

“I used our savings to purchase the equipment needed to operate a moving company,” says Underwood, “and then to be told after paying for all the required insurance and equipment that, ‘Oops, we forgot to tell you, you need a special license issued by the state....’ Well, it just isn’t right.”

The law allows pack and loaders (who help pack and load but not drive a moving truck) to operate without a license, and Underwood has helped over 1,500 clients move in this way—but he wants to run a full-service motor carrier.  

PLF has had some success breaking up moving cartels in Oregon and Missouri. A similar suit is under way in Kentucky.

Oregon legislators eased entrance restrictions for movers in 2009 and, within in six months, 30 new carriers, many of whom had been operating illegally, formally entered the market. “I don’t think there’s been any sort of calamity resulting from a loss of business from some of the more established carriers,” says Gregg Dal Ponte of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

According to Adam Sweet of 2Brothers Moving, which was also represented by PLF, Oregon is now a much friendlier place for people who want to move:

[Consumers] are getting lower prices. The people that are bringing them service are doing a better job because they know that this customer can go write a review about their service and that the next customer who wants to move has a choice between not using them anymore—whereas before nobody had a choice because everybody was booked out for weeks, and you basically had to call whoever had an opening for you. It didn’t matter what the service was like.

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David Harsanyi on Obama's Ridiculous Tax Myth

Democrats regularly maintain that the George W. Bush administration's policies have driven the country into a metaphorical "ditch." Which policies, exactly, caused this wreck? Obama claimed in Denver, as he has often, that lower tax rates helped cause the recession. Now, writes David Harsanyi, blaming tax cuts for a recession is a contention so ridiculous that even a fake economic study doesn't exist to prove it.

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Play in the Public Domain, Win a Contest

The Prelinger Archive is a fantastic collection of public-domain motion pictures; the Free Music Archive is a sprawling library of public-domain music. They've joined forces to create a contest for fair use fans, in which you're invited to mix their video and audio into new works of art. Details here and here:

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Supreme Court Questions Federal Government’s Narrow Reading of the Takings Clause

The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires the government to pay just compensation when it takes property for a public use. Arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday morning in the case of Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler advanced a theory of the Takings Clause that was so narrow in scope it appeared to visibly trouble several of the justices. “I must be slow today,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Kneedler at one point in exasperation, because “I’m having a significant problem with your articulation of your test.”

At issue in the case is whether a series of recurring floods induced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that caused at least $5 million in damage to the property of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission amounts to a taking under the Fifth Amendment. Not only was it not a taking, Kneedler told the Court, but in fact no landowner unfortunate enough to live or maintain property downstream from a government dam could ever bring a takings claim when the dam floods. “Riparian ownership carries with it certain risks and uncertainties,” he told the Court. In other words: Floods happen and the government isn’t responsible. “It is in the nature of living along a river,” Kneedler said.

This argument seemed to be too much for several of the justices to swallow. “Your position seems to be that if it’s downstream, somehow it’s not the Government,” observed Justice Anthony Kennedy. But that’s like “the old moral of refuge that the rocket designers take,” Kennedy continued. “You know, I make the rockets go up; where they come down is not my concern.”

But Kneedler refused to budge, arguing that the Army Corps of Engineers “requires a broad ambit of discretion” when making flood management decisions, including the leeway to release destructive floodwaters downstream without incurring liability.

“The issue is who is going to pay” when the government builds a dam and releases flood waters as part of its management plan, declared Justice Antonin Scalia. “Should it be everybody, so that the government pays, and all of us pay through taxes, or should it be this--this particular sorry landowner who happens to lose all this trees?”

The sharpest criticism of the day came from Chief Justice John Roberts, however, who repeatedly interrogated the deputy solicitor general over his cramped reading of the Takings Clause. “If the government comes in and tells a landowner downstream that every March and April we are going to flood your property so that you can’t use it,” Roberts asked, “that’s not a taking?” Kneedler maintained that it was not.

While it’s unwise to read too much into an oral argument, it’s nonetheless difficult to imagine the deputy solicitor general feeling especially positive about the icy reception his arguments received. Judging by what I observed in the courtroom yesterday, the federal government’s case is on shaky ground.

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Massachusetts Drug Lab Scandal: It Looked Like Cocaine to Her

The Huffington Post reports that Annie Dookhan "was the most productive chemist" at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston, "routinely testing more than 500 samples a month, while others tested 50 to 150." Here is how Dookhan managed to be so efficient:

She sometimes would take 15 to 25 [drug] samples and instead of testing them all, she would test only five of them, then list them all as positive. She said that sometimes, if a sample tested negative, she would take known cocaine from another sample and add it to the negative sample to make it test positive for cocaine....

One co-worker told state police he never saw Dookhan in front of a microscope. A lab employee saw Dookhan weighing drug samples without doing a balance check on her scale.

In an interview with state police late last month, Dookhan acknowledged faking test results for two to three years. She told police she identified some drug samples as narcotics simply by looking at them instead of testing them, a process known as dry labbing. She also said she forged the initials of colleagues and deliberately turned a negative sample into a positive for narcotics a few times.

Dookhan was arrested last week and charged with obstruction of justice for lying about test results and pretending to have a master's degree in chemistry. The Post says "co-workers began expressing concern about Dookhan's work habits several years ago, but her supervisors allowed her to continue working." According to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, "the only motive authorities have found so far is that Dookhan wanted to be seen as a good worker." CBS News reports that "Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab." 

Radley Balko reveals the secrets of Steven Hayne, another remarkably productive forensic scientist.

[Thanks to Baked Penguin for the tip.]

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Honduran Private City Plan Shot Down by Its Supreme Court

A roadblock on a very interesting plan to create experimental, freedom-friendly governing structures down in Honduras, reported by Associated Press via CBS:

The constitutional chamber of Honduras' Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that privately run cities in the Central American country would be unconstitutional, threatening a project to build "model cities" with their own police, laws, government and tax systems.

The five-judge panel voted 4-to-1 in a ruling that goes against the Honduran government and the country's elite.

Because the decision was not unanimous, the case now goes to the full 15-member Supreme Court, which is expected to take it up within 10 days....

The investment group MGK and the Honduran government last month signed a memorandum of understanding on the construction of three "private" cities that supporters of the project say would bring badly needed economic growth to the poor country.

MGK was expected to invest $15 million to begin building basic infrastructure for the first model city near Puerto Castilla on the Caribbean coast. That first city would create 5,000 jobs over the next six months and up to 200,000 jobs in the future, authorities said. South Korea has given Honduras $4 million to conduct a feasibility study.

Another city was planned for the Sula Valley in northern Honduras and a third in southern Honduras.

The project is opposed by civic groups as well as the indigenous Garifuna people, who say they don't want their land near Puerto Castilla to be used for the project. Living along Central America's Caribbean coast, the Garifuna are descendants of the Amazon's Arawak Indians, the Caribbean's Caribes and escaped West African slaves.

Authorization for the creation of private cities was passed by the Honduran Congress in January 2011 amid much controversy...

That vote in the Honduran congress had only one vote in opposition, by the by.

Fox News reported on the plan a couple of weeks ago, with some interesting details:

“Once we provide a sound legal system within which to do business, the whole job creation machine – the miracle of capitalism – will get going,” Michael Strong,  CEO of the MKG Group, which will build the city and set its laws, told FoxNews.com.

Strong said that the agreement with the Honduran government states that the only tax will be on property.

“Our goal is to be the most economically free entity on Earth,” Strong said.

MORE »

Video: Why U.S. Health Care Costs More Than Canada's: "A Mercedes Costs More than a Corolla"

"Why U.S. Health Care Costs More Than Canada's: "A Mercedes Costs More than a Corolla" is 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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Ronald Bailey on Virtual Children, Universal Genomic Sequencing, and More

Harvard University genetics guru George Church argues that everyone should have all three billion base pairs that make up their genomes sequenced now, not later. Princeton University biologist Lee Silver believes that creating virtual genomes of future children can help parents make better reproductive decisions. New York Genome Center’s Chris Dwan thinks that there will be no such thing as genetic privacy in the near future. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey sends in his first dispatch from the Consumer Genetics Conference in Boston.

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Steve Chapman on Mitt's Mormonism

Mormonism is a minority sect once persecuted by mainstream American Christians for its unconventional doctrines and practice of polygamy. It is still viewed by many as an odd cult. But a Mormon is the Republican nominee for president, writes Steve Chapman, and he can take consolation that if he loses, it will not be because of his religion.

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Nick Gillespie: Romney Won the Debate, But Will the Country Lose?

There's no question that Gov. Mitt Romney won last night's debate with President Barack Obama, writes Nick Gillespie.

Last night may have been the first night that many Americans - including diehard Republicans and possibly even the former Massachusetts governor himself - could really envision Romney occupying the White House and running the federal government. He was by turns charming, insistent, deferential, heated, and always on point....

But was the unexpected victory more about rhetoric than reality?

Debate moderator Jim Lehrer constantly drew attention to the notion that Obama and Romney were in fundamental disagreement over the size, scope, and function of government. That they had radically different visions for the United States when it came to the issues under discussion. The candidates gamely obliged, saying yes to each invocation of hard-core splits.

But such claims were nowhere to be found in what the candidates were actually talking about.

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Fifteen Hundred Plants Seized During "Biggest Outdoor Marijuana Bust" In Town's History Are Actually Just Daisies

American drug cops may be exceptionally savage, careless, and contemptuous of the law, but Canadian drug cops have them beat in the stupidity department

[P]olice still won’t admit the plants they seized in what was supposedly the biggest outdoor marijuana bust in Lethbridge history are plain old flowers — daisies, to be precise.

All police will concede at this point is the 1,624 plants torn from a suburban Lethbridge garden on July 30 isn’t marijuana, as first claimed after a phalanx of police marched in and starting plucking.

“This is a significant bust, given the size of this operation,” is how a senior officer put it at the time, while proudly displaying garbage bags full of the dastardly daises.

That same officer, Staff Sergeant Wes Houston, now admits the plant haul was a mistake.

“In any investigation, police count public safety as our top priority — our decision to seize the plants was made with the best information we had at the time,” said Houston, leader of CFSEU-Lethbridge.

Police were certainly convinced they had a huge haul of pot — and this was not the opinion of some lone rookie, frisky at the prospect of a big drug raid.

This was the judgment of veteran officers from the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team — supposedly the best drug squad this province has to offer.

Hat tip to Instapundit. 

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Obama-ites (Mostly) Concede President Lost, But Not That He Got Murdalized (Updated with Van Jones Piece and Chris Matthews Meltdown)

So the president sent me this email in the middle of the night: 

Friend --

I hope I made you proud out there explaining the vision we share for this country.

Now we need to go win this election -- the most important thing that will happen tonight is what you do (or don't do) to help in the little time we have left: 

https://donate.barackobama.com/Tonight

Thank you,

Barack

The donate link shows that Obama's $3 minimum suggested donation has now been inflation-adjusted to $15. Thanks a lot, Bernanke! 

As President Obama's taciturn panhandle indicates, Democrats seem largely to have acknowledged that last night's debate performance was a disaster for the incumbent. To give just one example, Intrade's "Barack Obama to be re-elected President in 2012" probability dropped to 65.4 percent from 79 percent two days ago.

There are a few efforts to paper over the disaster. The Think Progress fella in Reason's post-debate hangout seems to have been watching some other show entirely, while Newsday's exquisitely named Lane Filler says, "It does not seem Romney made any points that will change the spirit of the campaign," on the way to acknowledging that Romney won the debate. Others have been frantically shoring fragments against Obama's ruin. 

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A.M. Links: Romney Romps at the First "Debate," U.S. Becomes Less Enticing for Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Turkey and Syria Blast Away

Have a news tip for us? Send it to: 24_7@reason.com

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Did Mitt Romney Execute His Greatest Flip-Flop Yet at the Presidential Debate?

slide to the leftCafePressThe Mitt Romney that showed up to last night’s Denver debate was a distinctly different Romney from the one that campaigned for the Republican primary. Aside from the new tax plan, Mitt Romney identifying much of Barack Obama’s professed priorities as his own as well;  though he stuck to the “repeal Obamacare” rhetoric, he described how he’d reform it, not how he’d repeal it, he agreed with the president on prioritizing education “investments” and on protecting Medicare.  While the lack of many substantive differences between Obama and Romney did not surprise any avid observers of the process, it was a surprise to anyone expecting substantive differences who was actually listening.  When the two weren’t debating in the weeds, Romney was adopting  Obama’s priorities and goals and arguing that he could achieve them better.  The debate looked more like a discussion between a conservative Democrat and a moderate-to-liberal one than between two candidates who are supposed to come from parties that are substantively different. There were certainly two contrasting paths for America displayed last night, but both lead to the same place, bigger government and a more managed economy

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Judge Napolitano on the Failings of Romney and Obama

In his lust to build a new world order in the Middle East, a goal for which he roundly criticized President George W. Bush, Obama has unilaterally, unconstitutionally and unlawfully killed Americans and thousands of foreigners. Romney, meanwhile, supports all of Obama's killings in the Middle East, but claims he wants to control events there with a more muscular foreign policy. He cannot justify that view, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, along with the fact that it has failed and put us close to bankruptcy, to an electorate weary of wars 

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Brickbat: Bicycle Cops

Red Bluff, California, police set up a "sobriety checkpoint" one Friday night. They screened 240 drivers over a five-hour period and issued citations to two drivers for driving with a suspended license and two others for driving with a revoked license. They cited a fifth driver for an outstanding warrant. They didn't nab anyone for DUI, but they did cite one man who rode his bicycle into the checkpoint area for suspicion of riding a bicycle under the influence.

Brickbat Archive

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CNN Poll: 67 Percent of Debate Watchers Say Romney Won

Romney surprised many with a better-than-expected presidential debate performance. CNN surveyed 430 adult Americans who watched the debate and are registered to vote, 67 percent of them thought Romney won the debate, while 25 percent said Obama won. The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

These results are in stark contrast to expectations. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 59 percent of Americans expected President Obama to win the debate, 29 percent expected Romney to win. A Pew Research poll found 51 percent of Americans thought Barack Obama would win the debate and 29 percent said Romney. Early this month the CNN/ORC poll found 62 percent anticipated Obama would win, 32 percent thought Romney would win.

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Reason's Post-Debate Google+ Hangout, Feat. Roll Call, Think Progress, and the Christian Science Monitor

Wondering what just happened in the first presidential debate and why it matters? Check out our Google+ Hangout, where Reason moderates a discussion between Roll Call, Think Progress, and the Christian Science Monitor. 

You can check out the Hangout right here or over at our official Google+ page. We'll also be streaming at our YouTube page.

If you want to know about these kinds of special events, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow us at Google+? It's what all the cool kids are doing.

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Reason Live Tweets the First Presidential Debate. Now!

Welcome to Reason's live tweet feed. Reason staffers will be walking you through the debate, offering analysis, links, and snark of a semi-relevant nature. We'll be here from 9 to 10:30 p.m.

Don't forget to check out the official Reason drinking game!

After, why not stay with us?: Kicking off 15 minutes after the debate ends (about 10:45 p.m.), Reason will be hosting a Google+ Hangout where we'll be joined by folks from Roll CallChristian Science Monitor, and Think Progress to talk about the carnage we have just witnessed.

UPDATE: Here's the Hangout:

And hey! If you want to know about these kinds of special events, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow us at Google+? It's what all the cool kids are doing.

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It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Zing: Welcome to the Reason’s First 2012 Presidential Debate Drinking Game

Two men enter, two men leave. No, it’s not a steel cage match, it’s the first presidential debate of 2012, in which two men compete to become the leader of the free world by answering game show style trivia questions, delivering pithy one-liners, and trying really hard not to check their watches or roll their eyes

Representing the Republicans is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, the King of Bain, the namesake of RomneyCare, the grandfather of ObamaCare.

Representing the Democrats is Barack Obama, the sitting president, the former Senator from Illinois, the man who gave you the 2009 stimulus, ObamaCare, the Dodd-Frank overhaul of financial regulation, $6 trillion in new federal debt, and so much more.

Tonight is the domestic policy debate, so we’ll likely hear discussion of various big and wonky issues of the day: What would these two contenders do about the federal debt? About the nation’s unsustainable entitlement system? About the president’s unpopular and unworkable health care bill and the continuing problems with the American health system? About the harsh and deeply boring reality of congressional gridlock? Do either of them have policy plans worth a single solitary damn?

We’ll also get answers on the questions that people really care about: Will Mitt Romney get angry and Hulk out? Will Barack Obama act thin-skinned, imperious, and condescending? And for the love of the zombie ghosts of Reagan and/or FDR, will there be zingers?

Adding to the suspense is that both campaigns have worked so hard to set pre-debate expectations low enough that any candidate who manages not to show up drunk and wearing face paint and a clown nose (seriously, don’t ask) will be said to have beaten expectations, and thus won the evening.

In other words, we’re all going to need a drink or two to get through this. And as long as we’re drinking, we might as well make it a game. Here’s how you can play along with Reason’s editorial staff as we imbibe our way through tonight’s presidential mano-a-mano:

Take a drink, and click a link, if:

Be sure to check back in at 9 p.m. EST as Reason staffers offer live commentary on the debate right here on this very blog.

Remember! Reason encourages responsible budgeting and responsible drinking. We’ve already saddled the future with an unsustainable debt, no need to add a hangover too.

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CNN Poll Shows Majority of Americans Want Government to Do Less, Promote Fewer "Traditional" Values

Tonight Reason staffers will entertain you (hopefully while you play along with the official drinking game!) as we tweet the first head-to-head debate between two fans of big government; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and incumbent President Barack Obama (D). In honor of that debate — to be divided into six sections, half on the economy, the others on the role of government, governing, and health care — let us turn to a poll (posted earlier by Reason 24/7) released on Wednesday that reports for the first time since CNN started asking, a majority of Americans would like government to do less, and they would also prefer that it didn't promote any particular set of moral values.

The CNN/ORC International poll reported:

"The number of Americans who say that the government should promote traditional values has fallen to an all-time low, a finding that might benefit many Democrats," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

According to the survey, just four in 10 registered voters believe the government should promote traditional values, down from 53% in 2010 and 57% in 2008.

"Between 1993, when CNN began asking that question, and last year, a majority of respondents have always said that the government should promote traditional values. Now, for the first time, more than half say the government should not favor any particular set of values," adds Holland.

But the poll also indicates the belief that the government is doing too much is also near historically high levels.

Six in 10 say the government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses. That finding could favor Republicans.

(Republicans still favor government doing things like cracking down on pornography, but then, a majority of people are opposed to porn, according to Gallup.)

Of course, people are assuming that Obama is gonna win this thing, both the debate and the presidency, so the poll is maybe not the sure sign of a Republican win. (The CNN poll also predicted that Obama would win all the debates, but that GOP Veep nominee Congressman Paul Ryan would win that debate over VP Joe Biden; no surprise there).

The poll also confirms that the debate set-up makes sense in heavily favoring economic concerns. People are indeed more worried about the economy than other issue, even other serious ones such as foreign policy. (They're also much more worried it than, say, old videos of old Obama speeches, as Nick Gillespie noted earlier.) 

Said the poll:

Nearly half of registered voters questioned say the economy is the most important issue facing the country today - not surprising when nearly three quarters say the economy is in poor shape.

The economy is followed at a great distance by the federal budget deficit (15%), health care (12%), and education (10%).

"You have to get way down the list before any foreign policy issues appear, and fewer than one in 20 pick Afghanistan or terrorism as the number-one issue," says Holland.

So, yes, people are once again professing to lean libertarian in that they want less government and for the government they have to be less moralizing. This results are similar to what the Reason-Rupe poll found in September:

Please tell me which comes closer to your own opinion…The less government the better [or] 49% There are more things government should be doing 48%

Please tell me which comes closer to your own opinion… We need a strong government to handle today's complex economic problems [or] 49% People would be better able to handle today's problems within a free market with less government involvement. 49% 

Some people think the government(should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view? Government should promote traditional values 42% Government should not favor any particular set of values 55% 

But someone is going to win in November, even if you don't vote (because, it doesn't count, as Katherine Mangu-Ward noted in our November print issue) and that someone is going to, most assuredly, keep government big and, be it the drug war, or pornography, or the continued existence of the Defense of Marriage Act, that President will in some way keep the government of "traditional values" alive.

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Jesse Walker and Chris Hayes Talk Politics

MSNBC host Chris Hayes and I have just done a dialogue for New York about the upcoming debate, third parties, social movements, and -- in a sign that you can never really get out of 1992 -- ACT UP, Ross Perot, and Andre Marrou. Enjoy.

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Gary Johnson Goes Crowd Surfing

As noted in Brian Doherty's column earlier, Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson went crowd surfing at a campaign event in Salt Lake City last night. Yes, crowd surfing. Roll the tape...

Johnson has been locked out of tonight's debate in Denver but he is hosting a Google+ Hangout response event to answer the actual debate questions in real time. Details here

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Teachers Win Again as Won't Back Down Sets New Box-Office-Bomb Record

Capping a fall semester that has already seen a court throw out the pension reforms of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the Chicago Teachers Union deliver a serious beating to Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), public school teachers can claim a new victory against Hollywood (DD): The parent-trigger drama Won't Back Down, a prominent target of educator unions, has now entered the record books as Tinseltown's biggest box office failure.

From the Huffington Post's Cavan Sieczkowski

"Won't Back Down" took in a rough $2.6 million its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, setting the record for worst opening of a film that released in over 2,500 theaters. The flick beat Rainn Wilson's "The Rocker," Drew Barrymore's 2007 romantic drama "Lucky You," Luke Wilson's family comedy "Hoot" and Jennifer Aniston's "Rumor Has It" for the dubious honor.

"The Rocker" had been in the top spot since 2008...

"Despite the best efforts of its talented leads, 'Won't Back Down' fails to lend sufficient dramatic heft or sophistication to the hot-button issue of education reform," reads the Rotten Tomatoes review.

The theme of the film is not necessarily the issue. Other films about the education system, including "Stand and Deliver" and "Dangerous Minds" have been very successful.

Is the movie's failure a referendum on public school teacher unions? Probably not. Although the snippets at Rotten Tomatoes suggest some viewers did take offense at the film's labor politics, Katherine Mangu-Ward's kindly but lukewarm Reason.com review noted that Won't Back Down didn't offer a lot of entertainment value: 

The movie is well made, and quite painless, considering the genre. The necessary explainers are handled smoothly and with some humor (Gyllenhal’s character, the inappropriately clad Erin Brockovich of school reform, asks why her daughter's terrible teacher can’t be fired and then shouts, exasperated, “Oh yeah, ‘cuz she’s tenurized!”) And Davis’ dead-eyed stare when that same teacher pours herself the last of the coffee and then waltzes out of the teachers’ lounge without making a new pot is terrifyingly true-to-life.

The film even goes out of its way to give teachers unions their due—we hear all about about “Mr. Cooper” who would have lost his job for showing his kids Hair if it weren't for the union—but ultimately slots union fat cats as the villains. One particularly nice moment has a union bigwig, played Holly Hunter in a marvelously clichéd beige beret, trying to buy off Gyllenhaal with what is essentially a voucher—a scholarship to a private school where her dyslexic daughter will get special attention.

Whatever the movie's failure means, teachers are still winning against their real enemies: the students

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Most Americans Are OK With Drone Strikes, Rest of the World Mostly Unconvinced

According to Pew, most Americans approve of the United States’ drone war campaign. Sixty-two percent of polled Americans approve of strikes against suspected militants in foreign countries.

Although most Americans support the war America wages with UAVs, the rest of the world is mostly disapproving. Interestingly, disapproval is global, with people from countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, all expressing overwhelming dissatisfaction with America’s drone campaign. From RT’s reporting on the study:

In Greece, 90 percent of those surveyed condemn America’s drone strikes, followed closely by Egypt’s 89 percent.

Drone strikes are also condemned in Jordan (85 percent), Turkey (81 percent), Spain (76 percent), Brazil (76 percent) and Japan (75 percent).

The drone campaign being executed abroad might be enjoying popular support in the United States in part because of some commonly believed myths about the comparatively humane and accurate methods used in the strikes. While many might like to think that drones strikes minimize civilian casualties the reality is a sobering reminder of the contrary. A joint Stanford and NYU study on U.S. drone strikes found that the number of “high level” targets killed account for perhaps only 2 percent of the total casualties inflicted and act as powerful recruitment material for some rather unpleasant people (full report here):

The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised. The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%.[4] Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks.

It probably doesn’t help the cause of stability in the Middle East that the Yemeni president acknowledges that he approves of every drone strike carried out by the U.S. on his country. Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi might approve, but if the recent terrorist attacks against his government’s officials (often times in response to missions against Al Qaeda) are any indication the drone strikes are not achieving their objective.

In continuing drone strikes abroad the U.S. government has seemingly cast aside the battle for hearts and minds. In Pakistan, where many of these drone strikes occur, 74 percent of Pakistanis polled view the United States as an enemy. Turns out having a bombs dropped on your country and having fellow countryman killed by unmanned aircraft doesn’t help endear you to the United States.

The attitude Americans have about foreigners being harassed by drones is very different to the attitude we have about drones over our own heads. As Scott reported last week, slightly over a third of Americans “oppose” or “strongly oppose” police departments getting their own unmanned drones. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, right?

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Snoopy Fusion Centers Under Fire, Obama Video Surfaces, NYPD Pressed Over Photo Busts: P.M. Links

Have a news tip for us? Send it to: 24_7@reason.com

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

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New at Reason: Brian Doherty on Why Gary Johnson Should Win

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson did something amazing last week: got double-digits (10) in a September poll of Ohio likely voters. He’s simultaneously getting the usual smattering of positive press, the most popular of which has been Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic declaring that he intends to vote for Johnson. Friedersdorf explains that serious liberals should have serious problems with President Obama on war, civil liberties, and executive power, issues on which Johnson is superior.

Beyond that sort of principled iconoclasm, serious news sources such as NPR are declaring Johnson might likely sway the election in that third party role as “spoiler” for both Obama and Romney in swing states. Johnson told C-SPAN this week that his own polling has found that in New Mexico and Colorado, he takes more from Obama, and in North Carolina and Michigan he takes more away from Romney. A Reason-Rupe poll finds him taking equally from both nationally.

Still, the history of third parties and the sclerosis of American politics lead one to guess that no matter how necessary a Johnson victory is to the health of the country, he's still likely to falter.

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Public School Teacher Who Hired Hitman to Kill Colleague Should Have Been Fired 10 Years Ago

An economics teacher at Bloomingdale High School in Hillsborough County, Florida, has been charged with offering an undercover cop $2,000 to kill a fellow educator. Despite the severity of the charges against him, James Pepe is now on paid leave pending a decision by the school board to fire him. 

The source of Pepe's contempt for colleague Bob Meredith is a mystery. Meredith's lawyer told The Tampa Tribue that his client "doesn't have a clue why another teacher wanted him dead." Pepe told police that "He and Meredith were best friends and had a falling out. He also claimed Meredith was spreading rumors that he was a child molester." To quiet those alleged rumors, Pepe offered a friend $5,000 to kill Meredith. The friend instead contacted the police, who sent an undercover officer Pepe's way. Several taped phone calls and a reduced price later, Pepe was arrested for soliciting murder. 

Even more perplexing than his beef with Meredith is the fact that Pepe wasn't fired years ago. The Tampa Bay Times reports that: 

During teacher training at Tampa Bay Technical High School in 2001, [Pepe] railed about the administration. He was "hostile," "aggressive" and "extremely volatile." A colleague said she was concerned for her safety.

"They can't get me," Pepe had bragged. He called his principal a "pathological liar" when she addressed him. Coming after 10 years of erratic behavior, this seemed like the last straw.

But instead of firing Pepe, as then-Hillsborough County superintendent Earl Lennard recommended, the district sent Pepe to anger management classes and reassigned him to Gaither High School.

From there he moved on to three more high schools. At one, he accused the principal, faculty and maintenance staff of loading him up with the worst students, denying him equipment and deliberately cutting off the air-conditioning in his room.

Pepe's colleagues and supervisors in the Hillsborough County School System believed he posed a danger to them and to their students. The investigation into Pepe's hunt for a hitman--which revealed he considered hiring a former student with behavioral problems and was fine with the murder occuring on campus--proved them right. These revelations prompted Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson to ask,

What, exactly, does it take to get fired in this school system?

Short of allegedly offering undercover cops $2,000 to have another teacher murdered, I mean.

In the world where the rest of us live — a place with which Pepe doesn't seem to be familiar — he would have been handed a cardboard box years ago and told to hit the road.

In Hillsborough County, though, Pepe moved through five different high schools. He was pulling in more than $58,000 a year. That's a pretty nice wage, especially in this economy. That doesn't include more than $24,000 in back pay he received after he was reinstated following that 2001 meltdown.

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Eminent Domain for Private Use Approved in Somerville, Massachusetts

On Tuesday, aldermen in Somerville Mass. approved an urban renewal plan that calls for the use of eminent domain for private development in a 117-acre neighborhood over a 20-year period. The Union Square Revitalization Plan identifies seven blocks with 35 private properties to be acquired first.

Threatened properties include two homes; nine auto repair businesses; nine shops, warehouses, or offices; and a CrossFit gym. City planners envision moderate to high-density development on those blocks including retail, restaurants, residences, and office space—as well as a new transit station and public library.

Via the Somerville Patch:

“This project really concerns me. Eminent domain can be a really cruel and violent act,” said resident David Guss. The project is “a cloud of doubt that’s hanging over everybody’s head.”

J.T. Scott, owner of CrossFit Somerville, said, "I believe in the revitalization of Union Square. That's why I purchased the property." He said "the threat of seizure hanging over our head" would make investing in his business difficult.  

The city has yet to select a developer and state officials still have to OK the plan, which would be the third approved for the area since the 1980s. The goals of the previous urban renewal plans “were never realized.”

In August, the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA) declared the neighborhood “decadent” and “detrimental to safety, health, morals, welfare or sound growth.” The SRA cited:

  • “faulty parcelization,” meaning lots are too small for large-scale development;
  •  property owners that “have arranged by lease or other agreement to use one another’s properties in ways that may make sense for their businesses today but limit options for development;”
  • “incompatible land uses,” meaning existing industrial and auto repair businesses are inconsistent with the new high-end development officials desire;
  • and “deteriorated buildings and facilities.”

City staff surveyed the 482 parcels in the project area and found 164 (34 percent) to be in “moderate” or “severe disrepair.” Properties in moderate disrepair are in need of only “minor structural repairs,” so it’s impossible to tell how much real deterioration is going on because the two numbers are lumped together. It’s also possible that properties in severe disrepair are already publicly-owned.

The plan thus allows for the use of eminent domain to seize non-blighted properties because other nearby properties may be blighted under the very broad definition of “decadence” required by Massachusetts law.

After the Kelo v. City of New London decision, in which the Supreme Court declared private-to-private property transfers to be constitutional, 44 states reformed their eminent domain laws. Massachusetts was not among them. Reason has covered recent urban renewal schemes in Baltimore, Denver and Norfolk, Virginia.  

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John Stossel Tweaks Donald Rumsfeld on Military Spending

Reason columnist and Fox Business reporter John Stossel was called upon to introduce former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last night at a Washington Times 30th anniversary shindig and violated standard D.C. politesse by critiquing military spending. Mediaite reports:

Rather than heap the requisite praise upon Rumsfeld, outspoken libertarian...Stossel said he didn’t know why he was assigned to introduce Rumsfeld because “I’m very skeptical of our involvement in many parts of the world.”

“We’re going broke. Can we afford to keep spending 600 billion dollars on our military?” he reportedlycontinued on during the introduction. Stossel has long been a critic of bloated government spending on all things — from entitlements to the military to free golf-carts.

Rumsfeld for his part insisted that military spending is no problemo--it's just "entitlements" that we have to worry about, sounding very entitled on the part of the ever-growing and ever-hungry-for-more military machine.

It is difficult to say that programs that constitute around 20 percent of the budget and have almost doubled in the past decade in constant dollar terms, programs that provide almost nothing of actual value to the people of the United States other than killing people, making enemies, continuing outmoded alliances, and feeding the military-industrial complex, can be ignored when it comes to managing the federal budget.

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Jet Blue Says Live Free or Fly, If You Support One of the Two Major Parties, That Is

would you even recognize the symbols for the third parties?Jet BlueJet Blue's newest promotion enters you into a drawing to win a trip to the tropics, if your candidate of choice loses. Right now the website’s polling 57 percent for the Democratic candidate and 43 percent for the Republican (Jet Blue doesn’t  name them). At first glance the results don’t appear to show people voting for who they think is more likely to lose; Intrade has Obama’s chances of winning at 70 percent and Nate Silver has them at 84 percent. And if people aren’t really gaming the system to win, it’s a shame some of the third party candidates that’ll be appearing on most ballots across the country aren’t included, like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson (on the ballot in 47 states plus litigating access for the other three ) and Green Party candidate Jill Stein (on the ballot in 37 states, litigating for access in six more and an official write-in candidate in five). Tonight’s debate, as usual, won’t include any third party candidate, even though Johnson and Stein are both getting federal matching funds.

Via Michelle Fields

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Ron Paul Knows His Supporters Won't Reliably Be for Romney

Ron Paul talked to Fox Business about where the presidential vote of his fans might go:

Paul said, “Some will be angry at the Republicans for the way they retreated at the convention and they might not show up. Some may vote libertarian, some may go with Romney, and actually, some of the young people because of foreign policy, may even go with Obama. […] I know one thing for certain, that they’re not all going to the one place because they’re very individualistic and they don’t see the consequences exactly the same.”

For the former candidate, it goes back to frustration over the two-party system and why there are only two candidates who are debating tonight. Paul has not endorsed Romney, and in fact, he says he hasn’t decided who he is going to vote for. Though, he added, “I don’t think anybody thinks I’m going to vote for Obama.”

Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party would certainly like Paul's fans, and Paul's endorsement, though I suspect that the obvious choice on the part of the larger Paul political machine to infiltrate and shift the Republican Party makes such an endorsement unlikely. Paul has, though, said he finds Johnson "wonderful."

For the full story of the political career of Ron Paul and his supporters, see my book Ron Paul's Revolution.

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Daily Caller Race Vid? Huh? What Part of 8 Percent Unemployment Don't Republicans Understand?

The Daily Caller's front page is thick today with "Obama's Other Race Speech," an article that includes video and analysis of an address then-Sen. Barack Obama gave at Virginia's Hampton University in 2007. Here's how the Caller's Tucker Carlson and Vince Conglianese frame the super-fantastic import of the never-before-seen-and-exclusive-to-the-Daily-Caller vid:

The racially charged and at times angry speech undermines Obama’s carefully-crafted image as a leader eager to build bridges between ethnic groups. For nearly 40 minutes, using an accent he almost never adopts in public, Obama describes a racist, zero-sum society, in which the white majority profits by exploiting black America. The mostly black audience shouts in agreement. The effect is closer to an Al Sharpton rally than a conventional campaign event.

What's more, the most Rev. Jeremiah Wright is not only in the audience but gets a special "shout-out" from the future president as "my pastor, the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He’s a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country.”

The point of the expose? Write the Caller scribes:

Obama makes repeated and all-but-explicit appeals to racial solidarity, referring to “our” people and “our neighborhoods,” as distinct from the white majority. At one point, he suggests that black people were excluded from rebuilding contracts after the storm: “We should have had our young people trained to rebuild the homes down in the Gulf. We don’t need Halliburton doing it. We can have the people who were displaced doing that work. Our God is big enough to do that.”...

The solution, Obama says, is a series of new federal programs, including one to teach punctuality to the poor: “We can’t expect them to have all the skills they need to work. They may need help with basic skills, how to shop, how to show up for work on time, how to wear the right clothes, how to act appropriately in an office. We have to help them get there.”

Read the whole story and watch the whole video (not easily embedded on this site alas) here.

My reaction to this piece - and especially to the editorial bombast attending its release - is simply: What part of persistent 8 percent unemployment don't you understand?

I mean, seriously. Come on already.

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Sam Steiger, Arizona Sometimes-Libertarian, is Dead at 83

Sam Steiger died last week, mostly forgotten even by the political party that he helped put on the ballot. A true westerner, even to the extent of being a Jewish guy from New York who moved to Arizona because he liked the place (real westerners choose that status for themselves), Steiger served in the state legislature and Congress before winning a critical margin of votes as the Libertarian gubernatorial nominee in 1982. More an individualist than an ideologue, and the victim of a number of self-inflicted scandals over his lifetime, he was the sort of inconsistent, yet generally pro-liberty politician who actually wins office and, on balance, does more good than harm.

For Arizona Libertarians, Steiger's greatest value was as a former five-term congressman with a generally Goldwater-conservative-ish record (Wikipedia mentions he had "a zero rating [from] Americans for Democratic Action and a 100% rating from Americans for Constitutional Action") who brought a high profile to his race for governor. Five percent of the vote was needed to win an ongoing slot on the ballot, and Steiger won 5.05 percent, running on a hardcore-libertarian platform, including drug-legalization, in just-say-no-era Arizona.

Steiger backed off drug legalization when he returned to the GOP to run again for governor in 1990, though he'd count as a squish by modern standards. As the Phoenix New Times reported at the time, in addition to advocating "drastically reducing the number of state employees and dismantling local school districts while giving curriculum control to individual schools" he also "supports abortion rights and a paid state holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." As a congressman, he'd taken the Immigration and Naturalization Service to task for inflating the number of illegal immigrants to firm up its budget requests — a skepticism toward border warriors that wouldn't sell well in today's GOP. Despite recruiting Libertarians to re-register as Republicans to support him in the primary, he lost to Fife Symington.

The last act in Steiger's political life came when he was elected mayor of Prescott in 1999. Late in life, the one-time member of the League of Conservation Voters's "Dirty Dozen" list suddenly discovered a taste for slow-growth policies, as well as tax-funded preservation of open space, when the once-sleepy burg showed alarming signs of incipient prosperity. (It's a beautiful and lively town now, combining Old West nostalgia with good restaurants, bars and a little sophistication.)

Steiger is known for a few questionable, but very headline-worthy, judgment calls. In 1975 he was widely vilified for shooting two allegedly menacing burros. In 1986 he took it on himself to repaint a recently removed crosswalk from the county courthouse in Prescott to the Whiskey Row line of saloons. He faced trial for that, though jurors acquitted him in about the time it takes to walk in and out of the jury room. A more serious incident came in 1988 when he was convicted of extortion for attempting to coerce a vote from a pardons board member. The law under which he was convicted was found unconstitutional on appeal, and the conviction overturned.

Ultimately, as he himself would likely have admitted, Sam Steiger was kind of an asshole. But, from a libertarian perspective, he was usually our asshole. In the rough-and-tumble game of politics, that's a lot.

Vid: Citizenship Denied - DOMA, Immigration, and Gay Marriage

While President Obama theoretically endorsed same-sex marriage in mid-2012, the fact is that the Defense of Marriage Act still remains the law of the land. And when it comes to immigration policy, this law continues to put bi-national same-sex couples in a bind.

Click above to watch and click on the link below for full text, links, and more resources.

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New York Transit Authority Changes Rules on Ads, Embracing the Heckler's Veto

[Note: This post has been corrected. Material that has been revised is in boldface.]

As Tim Cavanaugh noted last week, New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has revised its guidelines for bus and subway ads after a controversy over an ad that urges the public to side with "the civilized man" rather than "the savage" by "support[ing] Israel" and "defeat[ing] jihad." The MTA had been forced to accept the Ayn Rand–quoting ad, sponsored by Pamela Geller's American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), when a federal judge ruled that the excuse for rejecting it—that it "demeaned" people based on religion, ancestry, or national origin—was constitutionally invalid. Although the AFDI ads have not been banned and will be running through this month, the MTA's new rule—banning ads it "reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace”—poses an even bigger threat to freedom of speech, embracing a heckler's veto by basing censorship decisions on subjective predictions of people's hostile reactions to controversial opinions.

In a July 20 ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer described the AFDI ad as "core political speech," expressing "a pro-Israel perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict" in response to "political ads on the same subject that have appeared in the same space." He noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit (which includes New York) has deemed the MTA's advertising space a "designated public forum," meaning that content-based restrictions are subject to strict scrutiny. Engelmayer concluded that the MTA's regulation—which banned ads that "demean an individual or group of individuals on account of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation"—failed that test:

Under MTA’s no-demeaning standard, an advertiser willing to pay for the privilege is today at liberty to place a demeaning ad on the side or back of a city bus that states any of the following: "Southerners are bigots"; "Upper West Siders are elitist snobs"; "Fat people are slobs"; "Blondes are bimbos"; "Lawyers are sleazebags"; or "The store clerks at Gristedes are rude and lazy." The regulation also does not prohibit an ad that expresses: "Democrats are communists"; "Republicans are heartless"; or "Tea Party adherents are barbaric." The standard would also countenance an ad that argues: "Proponents [or opponents] of the new health care law are brain-damaged." Strikingly, as MTA conceded at argument, its no-demeaning standard currently permits a bus ad even to target an individual private citizen for abuse in the most vile of terms. For example: "John Doe is a child-abuser"; "Jane Doe runs a Ponzi scheme"; or "My neighbors, the Does, are horrible parents."...

Under that regulation, an ad on a public bus may not call a person or group "savage" based on his or her religion or nationality, or because the person or group falls within the other seven proscribed categories delineated in the regulation. But such an ad may otherwise call another person or group a "savage" or "savages" on any other basis—because they are a neighbor, a family, a school, an employer, an employee, a company, a union, a community group, a charity, an interest group, a believer in a cause, or a political foe....

MTA does not offer any justification for selectively allowing demeaning speech to appear on the exterior of its buses, let alone demonstrate that its content-based restriction on transit advertising is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest, as is necessary to survive strict scrutiny.

Last Thursday the MTA's board unanimously replaced this arbitrarily narrow policy with an alarmingly broad one that empowers people who react violently to perceived insults. Instead of banning the AFDI ad because it demeans Muslims, the MTA will now reject any ad that, in the MTA's view, is likely to "imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace." In other words, the MTA is implicitly endorsing the "demeaning" message it tried to suppress, agreeing that people offended by the AFDI ad are apt to act like savages—by vandalizing the signs, for example. Indeed, the logic of this new policy suggests that people can get rid of speech they don't like by painting over or tearing down a poster or two, thereby triggering a system-wide ban, since such vandalism would be clear evidence that an ad tends to incite lawless behavior. [An MTA spokesman says the AFDI ads "are in compliance with our revised standards."]

It is hard to see how this new ad rule can be upheld, given the dim view that the Supreme Court takes of regulations that allow "a single, private actor to unilaterally silence a speaker even as to willing listeners." The MTA policy compounds the dangers posed by the heckler's veto because it does not even require an actual breach of the peace—just a supposedly "reasonable" prediction of one. The authority's judgments about which messages are unacceptably provocative are likely to be influenced by the political prejudices of the people making the decisions. 

The Washington Metropolitian Area Transit Authority (WMATA) also has rejected the AFDI ad (after initially accepting it), citing concerns about "security and safety" in light of violent protests against The Innocence of Muslims. WMATA worried that the ads might "expose passengers to terrorism and threaten their safety"—a rationale (the terrorist's veto) similar to the MTA's (the vandal's veto). Tomorrow U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer is scheduled to hear the AFDI's arguments for an injunction against WMATA's decision.

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If There's an Upside to Joe Biden's "Buried" Comment, Wash Post Will Find It

"How they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried in the last four years," a growling Vice President Biden, asked supporters in Asheville, North Carolina, yesterday.

The stumble-prone veep's comment immediately caught on with Republicans, as presidential candidate Mitt Romney tweeted, "Agree with @JoeBiden, the middle class has been buried the last 4 years, which is why we need a change in November."

"Unemployment has been above eight percent for 43 months," Biden's challenger for vice president, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) told a rally in Iowa. "Our economy is limping along right now. Vice President Biden, just today, said that the middle class, over the last four years, has been 'buried.' We agree."

"Thank you Vice President Biden," said former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who is described in news stories as a Romney "surrogate." 

Biden tried to walk back the comment with a tweet explaining that actually Mitt Romney has been president for the last four years: "'The middle class was buried by the policies that Romney and Ryan have supported." I think you'd need the proverbial heart of stone not to laugh at the way Biden tries to work himself into a righteous froth at the phrase "deadly earnest." 

But the Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez says Biden's gaffes may really be signs of Biden's "authenticity." It makes perfect sense: When you're looking for authenticity who else do you turn to but a vice president who sat in the Senate for 36 years and before that was a lawyer and a county councilman? 

As with most things that are bad in newspapers, this is mostly to blame on the copy desk, whose reflexive need to balance every "challenge" with an "opportunity" resulted in this headline: "‘Buried’ comment underscores risk – and reward – of deploying Biden on the trail." The actual story is more aware of how little value Biden brings. His most prominent quoted defender turns out to be his own son: 

The vice president’s defenders see things differently. They contend that the occasional slip of the tongue is to be expected from a candidate as candid and unscripted as Biden. They point to the vice president’s busy schedule on the trail – he has held more than 100 campaign events this year alone, in a host of battleground states – as proof that he is an asset to the Democratic ticket.

And they argue that Biden is spending his time doing what matters most – speaking directly to voters, particularly those in the middle class, in cities and small towns across the country.

“They usually don’t go after you unless you’re landing punches and this is about attempting to go after him in a way because he’s such an effective communicator for the middle class,” said Biden’s son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (D).

Still Sonmez beats on, borne back ceaselessly into the past, with an argument that Biden has been "playing an effective role on the trail" so tortured it must violate the Eighth Amendment. Somnez notes that Biden has not been assigned to host any fundraisers. (To his credit, the vice president apparently does volunteer to babysit his grandchild, but there's no indication that Beau has taken him up on the offer.) An analysis of campaign events Biden has been allowed to run is supposed to prove something, but I'm not sure what: 

Of the 25 events Biden has held since Sept. 6, 17 have been in counties that Obama won in 2008, while eight have been in counties won by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), according to a Washington Post analysis. Going back to results from eight years ago, the field tilts even more toward the GOP: 13 of the 25 counties were won by George W. Bush in 2004 while 12 went for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Was this trip really necessary? As either Sigmund Freud or Neil Kinnock said, sometimes a plagiarizing, gaffe-prone, hair-plug-wearing vice president is just a plagiarizing, gaffe-prone, hair-plug-wearing vice president: 

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John Stossel on Bogus Government "Job Centers"

Once politicians figured out that welfare creates dependency and hurts poor people, they (logically) assumed that employment services and job training would help. Job training does help, writes John Stossel--when employers do it. But government does everything badly.

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"Making Pie" - And Making the Case for Free Enterprise.

 

The 2-minute vid above is called "Making Pie" and involves the talents of Reason TV producer Paul Detrick (in the bowtie and suspenders) and Reason TV alum Ted Balaker (whose wife and business partner Courtney Balaker directed the short).

"Making Pie" is a finalist in the American Enterprise Institute's 2012 video contest, which asked contestants to create a 120-second segment that illustrates how

  • Free enterprise promotes earned success, which is the substance of lasting happiness.
  • Free enterprise promotes real fairness, based on merit and hard work.
  • Free enterprise does the most good for the most vulnerable by supplying both ample charity and unmatched opportunity.

The winner of the contest gets $40,000 and second and third-place finishers pull down $7,500 and $2,500 respectively. For more information and to watch all the finalist videos, go here.

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LA City Council Leaps Out of the Way of Medical Marijuana Juggernaut

As we noted yesterday afternoon on Reason 24/7, Los Angeles City Council is backing off on its illegal ban of medical marijuana dispensaries, voting 11-2 to rescind it. Via the Los Angeles Times:

After struggling for years to regulate storefront pot shops, the Los Angeles City Council retreated Tuesday, voting to repeal the carefully crafted ban on medical marijuana dispensaries it approved a few months ago.

The move shows the political savvy of the increasingly organized and well-funded network of marijuana activists who sought to place a referendum overturning the ban on the March ballot, when the mayor and eight council seats will be up for grabs.

It also leaves Los Angeles, once again, without any law regulating an estimated 1,000 pot shops, which some describe as magnets for crime and others call a source of relief for those who are desperately ill.

The Times accepts the city’s figures at face value and makes no mention of a recent UCLA report that says that actually there’s less than half as many pot dispensaries in Los Angeles than what the city claims.

But even if there’s one pot shop for every 3,800 residents of Los Angeles, City Council certainly knows full well there’s a demand. One of their own members, Bill Rosendahl, depends on them:

The council's 11-2 vote came after an impassioned plea from Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a medical marijuana patient who is fighting a rare form of cancer. Looking gaunt and speaking in a faint voice, Rosendahl asked his colleagues how sick patients like him would be able to acquire the drug if the ban remained in place.

"Where does anybody go, even a councilman go, to get his medical marijuana?" he said.

Of course, the struggle is far from over. As Mike Riggs noted last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration just targeted another 71 medical marijuana dispensaries in Southern California for shut down. Indeed, City Council member Jose Huizar said outright that the federal raids will solve the regulation problem for them.

And then of course, there’s the reminder that typically government officials believe that anything that is not authorized is forbidden and that anything that is authorized must be regulated so that it can be forbidden if need be:

Immediately after the vote, Councilman Mitchell Englander called on the city to prosecute medical marijuana businesses for violating zoning laws because they are not on the city's list of approved land uses.

That they’re on the public’s list of approved land uses is apparently not relevant to Englander.

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Early Reviews of Atlas Shrugged Part II

Last night, I attended the world premiere of Atlas Shrugged Part II (you can see our Reason.tv video of the event at this link, and embedded below the fold).

So how was the movie? At the screening, the universal reaction (one I share) was that it was much better than the original. Snappier dialogue, better actors, more believable villains, none of those odd, breathless cable-news reports about the laying of train track. Feels more relatable to our current moment (even winkingly so, with some of the protest signage, Fox News commentary, and famous-for-D.C. cameos). With the caveat that I've never finished the source material, I found both The Money Speech and Rearden's Defense to be well-edited highlights instead of buzz-killing cinematic soliloquies. And Esai Morales can sabotage my mines any day of the week!

Unscientific prediction: If you liked the first, you'll love the second. If you winced empathetically through I, you will be able to relax much more for II. If you loved or hated the deadline-beating original, you'll be feeling extra doses of the same.

Two other early reactions, beginning with David Weigel at Slate:

[The] casting change definitely works. Rearden has to deliver the big speech of Part II, when he's called in to a star chamber for selling his metal to a friend and violating the government's new "Fair Share" law. (In the novel, it's the "Equalization of Opportunity" law.) [...] Onscreen, Rearden/Beghe boils this down into a short defense of "job creators." And it works! The Rand-curious audience wants to stand up and cheer for this hard-working, word-chewing businessman who's just trying to pour some damn metal.

But that really is the high point. We get two action scenes—a plane chase and two trains colliding in the "Taggart Tunnel"—but the fullness of Rand's message can only be delivered through boardroom scenes and phone calls and meetings in Washington. Most of these scenes are deadly. Your fun, as a viewer, may come from an impromptu game of "hey, it's that guy!" The chairman of the Taggart board—Biff from Back to the Future. The "head of state" (not president)—Ray Wise, the evil dad from Twin Peaks. The talkative security guard—funny enough, that's Teller of Penn & Teller, protecting her from people waving "We Are the 99%!" signs.

And Jordan Bloom, at The American Conservative:

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Reason Writers Around Town: The Yale Forum on Climate Change Interviews Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey

The Yale Forum is part of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, run out of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The project says that it "provides original reporting, commentary, and analysis on climate change — one of the most important and challenging issues of our time. We strive to improve understanding of, and nurture better communication on, climate change … for the benefit of the public in arriving at sound individual and public policy actions." The Forum asked Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey to add his two bits. Below are a couple of excerpts from the interview:

First, on the odd and destructive affection of enviromentalists for open access commons:

...wherever you see an environmental problem in the world, it is a commons problem. The problem is occurring in an open-access commons. The problem is that with environmentalism most of the policies that are endorsed — by ideological environmentalists, I’ll call them — basically want to enlarge commons rather than restrict them. They want to increase access in certain ways. I think the good policies go in exactly the other direction. I think [environmentalists] are basically advocating policies that will destroy the resources they believe that they’re protecting....

Second, on what real intergenerational equity consists of:

We always hear about inter-generational equity, and the concern is that people should have, a century from now, essentially the natural environment that we have today …. Go into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scenarios, you look at their high-carbon emissions scenarios or economics. What you find is that in that world, the average incomes are somewhere around $100,000 a year in 2100, per capita globally. Then consider the Stern review out of England, which was very important and which looked at the economic stakes of carbon loading to the atmosphere over a long time scale. The worst-case scenario is that global warming would reduce incomes by 20 percent by the year 2100 — something like that. That means that instead of making $100,000 a year, people in 2100 would be making $80,000 a year. The current per capita in the world today is around $8,000 to $9,000. So how should people living at $8,000 to $9,000 sacrifice for people who are going to be making $80,000 one-hundred years from now? That’s inter-generational equity. Another way of looking at it is: How much should your great grandparents, who were making $2,000 a year, have sacrificed to have the atmosphere essentially 1.5 degrees cooler than it is.

The whole transcribed interview, "Reason Writer Ron Bailey's Libertarian Take on Climate, Free Markets," can be found here.

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Katherine Mangu-Ward Tries to Convince CSPAN Viewers That Their Votes Don't Count

This morning, Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward appeared on CSPAN's Washington Journal to discuss her cover story in the current issue, "Your Vote Doesn't Count." Callers remained largely unconvinced. Watch (and read) and decide for yourself!

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3 Reasons Why 1976 Was the Greatest Year Ever for Presidential Debates

Does anyone else here remember 1976, the country's bicentennial that seemingly went by in a blur of tall ships, awesomely groovy animated videos, and a final "Bicentennial Minute" that clocked in well under 60 seconds (in line with the diminished expectations of the period).

1976 also marked the first time since Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy that presidential candidates would spar on live network television.

What could go wrong? Well just about everything. Which makes the Bicentennial Year a great one for presidential debates. Here are three high points:

1. If the Medium is the Message, It Just Threw Up.

 

In the first debate, held in Philadelphia on September 23, the audio went haywire a few seconds in. As a result, incumbent Gerald Ford and challenger Jimmy Carter stood silently and unmoving like idiots for almost 30 minutes, inhabiting their lecterns like the figurative ghosts they were. It might have been the last moment when American politicians were fully believable. A shortened look is above.

The failure gave rise to a great Marshall McLuhan appearance the next morning on The Today Show. The communications guru proclaimed to a non-comprehending Tom Brokaw, "The glorious moment was the rebellion of the medium against the bloody message. The medium finally rebelled against the most stupid arrangement ever made in the history of debating."

2. Oh Soviet Bondage, Up Yours!