Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 October 8-31

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Reason TV Replay: Barack Obama Wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Many have taken issue with the Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award the European Union this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Reason TV was on hand to report on a similarly questionable recipient back in 2009.

The original text from the Oct 9, 2009 video is below:

If the world was stunned to learn that President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, it will be even more amazed by all the awards that are still coming his way.

A Reason.tv Rapid Response video. Approximately two minutes.

Written and produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie.

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Arlen Specter, R.I.P.

Arlen Specter, the longtime Pennyslyvania senator who left the Republican party in 2009 to join the Democrats but then went on to lose his 2010 Senate reelection bid, died this morning at his Pennsylvania home.

From the New York Times obit:

Hard-bitten and tenacious yet ever the centrist, Mr. Specter was a part of American public life for more than four decades. As an ambitious young lawyer for the Warren Commission, he took credit for originating the theory that a single bullet, fired by a lone gunman, had killed President John F. Kennedy.

In the Senate, where he was long regarded as its sharpest legal mind, he led the Judiciary Committee through one of its most tumultuous periods, even while battling Hodgkin’s disease in 2005 and losing his hair to chemotherapy.

Yet he may be remembered best for his quixotic party switch in 2009 and the subsequent campaign that cost him the Senate seat he had held for almost 30 years. After 44 years as a Republican, Mr. Specter, who began his career as a Democrat, changed sides because he feared a challenge from the right. He wound up losing in a Democratic primary; the seat stayed in Republican hands.

One of the few remaining Republican moderates on Capitol Hill at a time when the party had turned sharply to the right, Mr. Specter confounded fellow Republicans at every turn. He unabashedly supported Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, and championed biomedical and embryonic stem cell research long before he received his cancer diagnosis.

When he made a bid for the White House in 1995, he denounced the Christian right as an extremist “fringe” — an unorthodox tactic for a candidate trying to win votes in a Republican primary. The campaign was short-lived; Mr. Specter ended it when he ran out of cash. Years later, he said wryly, “I was the only one of nine people in New Hampshire who wanted to keep the Department of Education.”

Matt Welch on Specter's party switch here. Brian Doherty on others abandoning the GOP here. Lots more from Reason on Specter here

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David Boaz on the Empty Case for Big Government

The movement for smaller government must really be doing well, considering all the attacks it has generated of late. Journalists decry “austerity” and “slashed” government spending from Athens to Albany. President Barack Obama seems to think he’s running against people who wish that (as he put it) “everybody had their own fire service.” And now two new books, from a leading Washington pundit and a bevy of elite professors, are bravely standing up for active government in this era of “free-market fundamentalism” and a “radical form of individualism that…denigrates the role of government.”

All this while big government has been chugging right along. Federal spending has doubled in the past decade, and the national debt has tripled. The Supreme Court just upheld a vast expansion of federal control over health care. Washington is working overtime to sign up more food stamp recipients, and it has actually taken ownership of such once-proud companies as General Motors and AIG. You’d think big government wouldn’t need much of a defense. As David Boaz explains, it’s an encouraging sign that its advocates disagree.

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Short Skirts and Bear Markets: An Interview with Stock Market Analyst Robert Prechter

"Short Skirts and Bear Markets: An Interview with Stock Market Analyst Robert Prechter" 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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Sheldon Richman on Bill Clinton’s Legacy

The former president is treated like an elder statesman whose tenure in office was so good that even some Republicans look back fondly on it. On the surface his economic record looks good, but it would be rash to credit Clinton. The information revolution took off despite him, and Congressional Republicans forced him to accept spending restraints. If there's one piece of policy for which Clinton actually deserves credit, writes Sheldon Richman, it's that he sowed the seeds of the Great Recession by helping to inflate the housing bubble, a key part of the financial debacle of 2007.

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Damon Root on Three Supreme Court Cases to Watch

"Damon Root on Three Supreme Court Cases to Watch" 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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Thaddeus Russell on Blackface

The latest addition to our evolving understanding of blackface is Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen's book Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy From Slavery to Hip-Hop. The authors focus on the many, largely unknown, African Americans who performed in blackface from before the Civil War to the middle of the 20th century, but they also rescue white blackface performance from the simplistic moralizing that normally greets it. "If you dismiss [minstrelsy] as simply 'demeaning,'" they write, "you miss half the picture."

That might sound surprising, but as Thaddeus Russell notes in his review, it's in line with a lot of recent scholarship on the subject. Some early blackface minstrel performance was clearly little more than anti-black parody, but many historians see the songs and dances of T.D. Rice, Dan Emmett, Dan Rice, and other originators of the genre as something more: an expression of envy and an unconscious rebellion against what it means to be "white." 

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Journalist Andrew Malcolm On Embracing New Media

"Journalist Andrew Malcolm On Embracing New Media" 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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Baylen Linnekin on Letting Individuals Take Responsibility for Their Own Food Choices

A controversial online video released this week by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, The Real Bears, is making waves for the way it portrays what the group says are the health risks of sweetened beverages like soda. The video, an obvious parody of a series of well-known Coca-Cola ads, features polar bears that grow more obese as they consume soda after soda. As the video progresses, they lose teeth, suffer from impotence, and fall victim to diabetes (which necessitates a leg amputation by chainsaw).

Coca-Cola, for one, is not pleased. “This is irresponsible and grandstanding and will not help anyone understand energy balance,” says Coca-Cola spokeswoman Susan Stribling in a USA Today piece on the video. “It also distorts the facts while we and our industry partners are working with government and civil society on real solutions.” But as Baylen Linnekin of Keep Food Legal explains, despite the backlash, the video is actually very attractive for several reasons. Most important, through words and visuals, the video argues that individuals have both the power and responsibility to make changes to their own diets and to those of their families.

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Aaron Sandusky Convicted in a Trial Where State Marijuana Law Couldn't Be Mentioned

Aaron Sandusky, the owner of the G3 Holistic medical marijuana enterprise in California's Inland Empire, has been found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and intent to distribute. The jury is deadlocked on four other counts. He is in custody awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for early January.

While Sandusky's plan of defense depended upon convincing jurors that he was in compliance with state law and that statements from federal officials led him to believe that the Feds wouldn't interefere, Federal Judge Percy Anderson cut off Sandusky's lawyer, Roger Diamond, at every turn.

The final day of the trial began with the bad news for the defense that Judge Anderson would not allow Diamond to make an "entrapment by estoppel" case, as outlined in an earlier post. Essentially, Diamond hoped to use public statements by President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as private conversations between Sandusky and an FBI agent whom he assisted in prosecuting a corruption case, to prove that authorized government officials had given Sandusky erroneous advice leading him to reasonably believe that his actions were legal. Judge Anderson denied Diamond the opportunity to introduce any evidence or argumentation related to President Obama or Attorney General Holder.

"Unless it was a face-to-face meeting with President Obama or Eric Holder, it's not going to be admitted into evidence," Anderson said. 

But the truly devastating blow to Diamond's case came when Anderson refused to allow any testimony related to Sandusky's conversations with the FBI agent. Diamond seemed to be in disbelief that the judge was making this last-minute ruling on the final day of the trial and asked for a trial postponement. The judge denied this request. At this point, Sandusky put his head in his hands and then glanced at his fiancee, who was by this time in tears. His look said it all: Game over.

Diamond was forced to change his defense strategy once again and focus on the government's key witness, John Leslie Nuckolls. Nuckolls is a longtime friend and associate of Sandusky's who helped him start G3 Holistic. He also turned out to be a government informant. Because of his close relationship with Sandusky, Nuckolls provided some of the more damning testimony in the trial. Diamond attempted to discredit Nuckolls who, the previous day, lied on the stand about the terms of his written agreement with the government. He also tried to make the case that Nuckolls had been setting up Sandusky from the very beginning.

In the end, the drama with Nuckolls seemed besides the point. The federal government was successful in quelling any discussion of medical marijuana laws, federalism, or jury nullification--all of which were specters looming over the case when they discussed it in open court while jurors were not present. In closing statements, the federal prosecutors were sure to emphasize to jurors that personal feelings, political beliefs, and morals do not matter. The law is the law. 

One prosecutor instructed the jury "not to debate the law, but to apply the law." If there was one important takeaway from the prosecution's closing, it was this phrase, emblazoned on one of their presentational slides: "Factual determination, not moral judgment."

Diamond did not make any mention of state law and the legal ambiguities surrounding medical marijuana in his closing statement. Instead, he was constrained to pointing out technical faults in the prosecution's case. Was there really a formal agreement amounting to "conspiracy"? Had the prosecution really proved that Sandusky had handled the marijuana and therefore technically been in "possession" of it? But even while making these arguments, he conceded to the jury that he knows such technical loopholes rub people the wrong way and that it's simply his duty to make every argument possible for his client, even ludicrous-sounding ones. It was kind of like watching a stand-up comic finally give in to a relentess heckler, throw up his hands, and say, "I got nothing."

When the jury was dismissed, Judge Anderson did grant one request: The prosecution's request to add an extra two sentences to the written jury instructions: "Congress has defined marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance, making it illegal under federal law. You must disregard any state or local law to the contrary."

After the jury went into deliberation, I talked to Sandusky for a few minutes. As often seems to be the case, he seemed unusually cheerful given his circumstances. But he didn't seem to be in denial about what the likely verdict would be and seemed less-than-optimistic about Judge Anderson's sentence.

"I think he's going to throw the book at me," Sandusky said. "He can't wait to get his claws into me."

Sandusky also said, if convicted, he plans to file an immediate appeal based on the evidence that Judge Anderson denied. 

So that's where we are with the drug war in California where, it bears repeating, medical marijuana is legal. Agents of the federal government are well aware that the tide of opinion has turned against marijuana prohibition, and prosecutors are reduced to devoting the majority of their closing statements not to convincing jurors that defendants are a danger to society but to admonishing jurors against daring to think about the moral justifications behind the law. Your job is not to consider right and wrong. Your job is to convict violators of the law. And that's exactly what they did today.

Sandusky faces a minimum ten years and the possibility of a life sentence. 


Aaron Sandusky's fiancée emailed to ask that I include a link to his legal defense fund to recoup attorney fees and plan for his appeal. It is here if you are interested.

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EU Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Today the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the supposedly prestigious award to the EU for having,  

…contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.

It shouldn't really come as much of a shock that the EU won the prize. Past winners include the President, Henry Kissinger, Yaser Arafat, the International Atomic Agency, and perhaps most ironically, the UN. 

As Jesse has pointed out, setting up an international organization is a great way to win a Nobel Peace Prize, even if such an organization has its own dubious record of the promotion of peace.   

Some have praised the pick, with David Schrieberg saying that:

Isn’t it a joke to the record numbers of the unemployed throughout the member states, or an exercise in cynicism to the bankers hoarding their cash rather than incur the risk that comes with sustaining businesses of all sizes struggling to survive in these horribly difficult times?

Yes, really. In fact, absolutely a great day. Because for anyone with a whit of memory, the Peace Prize recalls the vision, hope and optimism that has underpinned this extraordinary experiment since it was a glimmer in the eyes of the visionaries from countries that for centuries devoted themselves instead to ripping at each other’s throats.

"This extraordinary" experiment that Schrieberg is referring to is the organization that has diluted national sovereignty, stifled economic growth, and made the economic situation in Europe worse through fiscal activism and a dogmatic attachment to European integration.  

Schrieberg is making a mistake in his analysis that Daniel Hannan has written on, namely that the EU is a symptom, not the cause, of peace in Europe. 

The eurosceptics are understandably outraged, with the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage calling the EU's win "an absolute disgrace." While euroscpetics might feel especially disheartened today, they are being slowly but surely vindicated by the situation gripping the eurozone.

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Romney Up by Seven in Florida, Turkey May Be Signaling No-Fly Zone, Clashes in Cairo: P.M. Links

  • A new poll shows Romney up by seven in Florida even as another says Hispanic voters prefer President Obama to Romney by a 3-to-1 margin. Lindsay Lohan also endorsed Romney, because unemployment is too high.
  • Meanwhile in California, two incumbent Democrats pitted against each other under the state’s new top-two system nearly started fighting at a campaign forum despite sharing most of the same positions. The crowd appeared to urge them on.
  • A secret service agent was found passed out drunk in Miami, became combative when asked if he needed help and was arrested. 
  • Turkey may be beginning to enforce a no-fly zone over the border region in Syria as it scrambled jet fighters after a Syrian military helicopter began bombing Azmarin, just five miles from the Turkish-Syrian border.
  • At least a hundred people were injured in clashes between supporters and opponents of the Egyptian President in Cairo. Mohammed Morsi has served a hundred days in office.
  • The Chinese author Mo Yan, this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, expressed hope that his fellow countryman, the dissident Liu Xiaobo, will be released from prison. Mo is a member of the ruling Communist Party
  • The French government supports an intervention in Mali. They’re willing to train and equip African forces but won’t commit troops of their own.
  • Prince Roy of the micro-state of Sealand died this week at 91.

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Matthew Feeney on How Conservatives Misunderstand the Euro Crisis

The contemporary rhetoric used by American conservatives when they are discussing Europe goes something like this: The Europeans spent too much, too quickly under the guidance of an over-centralized super-state and as a result are facing economic apocalypse; their future is ours if we don’t shrink government and cut spending. Reason's Matt Feeney explains why this conservative rhetoric is misleading, intellectually dishonest, and lazy.

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Is the Supreme Court Going to Vote Against Affirmative Action?

At the Volokh Conspiracy, George Mason University law professor David Bernstein highlights what may prove to be the most revealing exchange from this week’s oral argument over the use of affirmative action in undergraduate admissions by the University of Texas at Austin. In a key exchange between UT lawyer Gregory Garre and the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy made the following statements:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: So what you’re saying is that what counts is race above all.

MR. GARRE: No, Your Honor, what counts is different experiences.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, that’s the necessary — that’s the necessary response to Justice Alito’s question.

MR. GARRE: Well, Your Honor, what we want is different experiences that are going to — that are going to come on campus

JUSTICE KENNEDY: You want underprivileged of a certain race and privileged of a certain race. So that’s race.

As I’ve noted before, Kennedy is a long and consistent critic of the use of racial classifications by the government. Although he has said that “there is no constitutional objection to the goal of considering race as one modest factor among many others to achieve diversity,” Kennedy nonetheless dissented in the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger where the majority found the use of race in admissions by the University of Michigan Law School to be sufficiently modest. So there was already reason to think that Kennedy would vote against UT coming in to this week's case. But if it is indeed true that Kennedy finds the policy now under review to be about “race above all,” the University of Texas is in serious trouble.

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Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on ObamaCare's Rationing Board

Mike Huckabee has quipped that Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra. But Romney has found one that works both for him and the country. And that's his opposition to ObamaCare’s rationing board aka the IPAB.

As Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia explains in her debut column in the Washington Examiner this morning:

[T]he whole point of the board is to use price controls to discourage expensive treatments. Yes, it is possible that some good doctor will be willing to perform bypass surgeries for Medicare patients even when the board only allows, say, payment for aspirin. It’s also very unlikely. If the board decides to set payment for state-of-the-art dialysis at below cost, reasoning that the benefits of the procedure aren’t commensurate with the added expense, it isn’t rationing care directly. But it is indeed rationing care, because this would effectively consign patients to older treatments.

Go here for the full column.

VP Debate: Polls Find Mixed Results

As my co-panelist S.E. Cupp at theBlaze predicted yesterday, CNN’s vice presidential debate flash telephone poll concludes the debate was a draw. But a CBS News online poll of undecided voters found Biden the winner.

According to the CNN poll of 381 debate watchers, 48 percent of voters who watched the vice presidential debate thought Rep. Paul Ryan won, 44 percent thought Vice President Joe Biden won.  Ryan came across as more likeable by a margin of 53 percent to Biden’s 43 percent. Debate watchers also thought Ryan communicated more clearly, by a margin of 50 percent to 41 percent. Half of debate watchers said the debate did not impact their vote, 28 percent said they are now more likely to vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, 21 percent are more likely to vote for President Barack Obama. From this poll alone, it’s hard to say whether the debate merely reinforced viewers’ existing voting intentions, or actually impacted their votes. The CNN poll found equal numbers of Republican and Democratic debate watchers, unlike conventional polls which find more self-identified Democrats than Republicans. This difference in partisan composition may explain Ryan’s edge in the poll.

Perhaps more predictive of the debate’s actual impact is a CBS News poll of 431 undecided voters who watched the debate. Among them, 50 percent thought Biden won, 31 percent thought Ryan won. Eighty-five percent of these undecided debate-watchers thought Biden had a strong command of the issues, compared to 75 percent who thought so of Ryan. Before the debate 45 percent of undecided voters thought Ryan would be an effective president, 39 percent felt similarly about Biden. However, after the debate 56 percent thought Biden would be an effective president, while only 49 percent thought the same of Ryan. 

The two polls differ in sample selection, which impact the external validity of their results. The CNN poll interviewed respondents who on a previous national telephone poll said they planned to watch the vice presidential debate and agreed to a follow up interview. The CBS Poll interviewed respondents CBS previously asked to watch the debate, from a probability-based online panel. So arguably, not all the CBS poll watchers would have watched the debate without the prompting. Consequently, the CBS poll demonstrates what a representative sample of undecided voters would think of the debate had they chosen to watch, but not necessarily of the debate’s actual impact among those who chose to watch the debate.

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Kid Suspended from School After Mom Packs Kombucha in His Lunchbox

A school in Newport Beach, California—where you'd think they would know better—suspended an elementary school kid for the beverage his mommy packed in his lunch bag.

It was kombucha, a fermented drink made with tea and sugar that can contain trace amounts of alcohol. The increasingly popular beverage made headlines in 2011 when it (supposedly) caused a false positive on Lindsay Lohan's court-mandated blood alcohol testing. But the typical drinker isn't a blond alkie. Kombucha is a home brew favorite with the seitan-and-seaweed set, thanks to the a host of (unverified) health benefits some believe confers. (For the curious: This is what the tea looks like in process. Link is technically SFW, but totally gross.)

The California kid originally got fingered for the container his mom packed the tea in: a glass bottle protected by a foam sleeve. (Aficionados say the acidic tea shouldn't be packed in plastic or metal.) But when school officials found out what was inside the verboten receptacle, they freaked out. The kid spent the whole day in the school office. At one point they called in a police officer. The vice principal suggested that the kid may be required to transfer schools and tried to enroll him in alcohol abuse counseling course aimed at teens. Then the infraction was reported to the school district and the kid was suspended for 5 days. 

The kid's mom got wind of what was going on and wound up getting the suspension revoked, but it's on his record and the school district may yet choose to take action. 

It doesn't matter whether the tea is healthy or not, of course. Nor does it matter if I think it's a little bit gross. Just as with raw milk, the point it that people should be able to drink what they want—and make choices for their kids—without intervention by the cops, for crying out loud. 

(Kombucha photo by Laurie Neverman.)

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Florida Cracks Down on Unlicensed Telemarketers

Via the Bradenton Herald, more from the annals of occupational licensing run amok:

A Bradenton business owner was arrested Wednesday and charged with using unlicensed telephone salespersons.

Joseph Nicholas Harris, 44, of Bradenton, was charged with employing two telephone salespeople at his business who were not licensed by the state, a third-degree felony, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

The inspection targeted Harris' company, Tropic Air Conditioning, 1342 Whitfield Ave. in Manatee County.

In Florida, third degree felonies—such as battery of a police officer, burglary of an unoccupied structure, or cocaine possession—can result in up to five years in jail or a $5,000 fine. Last year, officials cited 12 businesses and 170 telemarketers.

The Florida Telemarketing Act requires businesses that solicit sales over the phone to pay an annual fee of $1,500 and an additional $50 for each telemarketer. If salespeople use a script, it must be submitted to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for approval beforehand. The Department’s Division of Consumer Services site lists 4,799 currently licensed salespeople.

The law contains 28 paragraphs of exemptions, for selling newspapers, certain financial services, food (less than $500) or for religious, charitable or political purposes. However, exempted telemarketers must still register with the state and keep the Department’s acknowledgement of exemption on hand for inspection.  

In May 2011, Republican senators shot down a bill that would have eliminated licensing requirements for telemarketers. H.B. 5005 would also have deregulated:

  • interior designers,
  • movers,
  • yacht & ship brokers,
  • auctioneers, talent agencies,
  • athlete agents,
  • persons practicing hair braiding, hair wrapping, or body wrapping,
  • professional fundraisers,
  • water vending operators,
  • health studios,
  • ballroom dance studios,
  • certain outdoor theaters,
  • motor vehicle repair shops,
  • and travel agents.

Florida also licenses martial artists (as well trainers, announcers, seconds, and timekeepers), barbers, cosmetologists, farm laborers, home improvement contractors, landscape architects, funeral attendants, massage therapists, makeup artists, and manicurists.

According to a study by the Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit law firm based in Arlington, Virginia, Florida’s licensing laws are the 4th most burdensome and the 7th most extensive for low- and moderate-income occupations nationwide. 

See Reason coverage of occupational licensing regulations for artists, movers, hair braiders, home improvement contractors, and interior designers.

Disclosure: I am a former Institute for Justice employee and contributed to the study cited.

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Tim Cavanaugh on Embracing Deflation

If you believe inflation is under control, then answer this: Where can you get a dozen eggs for a buck?

For decades economists have warned about the dangers of deflation, observes Tim Cavanaugh. The ongoing double-digit, multimarket decline in real estate prices should horrify us, we are told. Even our language has been edited to reflect this mentality; the phrase real estate recovery is a happy-sounding euphemism for a reinflation of housing prices. Yet everywhere you look, Americans are happy to do the deflation dance.

Deep-discount stores, usually with the word dollar in their names, are enjoying a boom that dates back to the turn of the 21st century but has been invigorated by the continuing credit unwind. Also expanding during the recession/recovery have been discount and second-run movie houses, which offer audiences big-screen thrills at the Reagan-era price of $3 a ticket. And although Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the Senate in July that “we would certainly want to react against any increase in deflation risk,” chain restaurants all over the country have drawn a 14-inch line in the sand in the form of the $5 pizza.

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12-Year-Old Girl Has Second Degree Burns From SWAT Flash Grenade Detonated During Wrong-Door Raid

A 12-year-old girl in Billings, Montana, is suffering first and second degree burns on half her body after a SWAT team dropped a flash bang grenade next to her bed during a wrong-door drug raid on Oct. 9. 

The Billings Police Department claims that the officer who detonated the grenade inserted it through the girl's bedroom window on a pole, and was supposed to detonate it while holding it up in the air. He mistimed the explosion however, and ended up dropping the live flashbang next to the girl's bed.

Jackie Fasching, the girl's mother, told The Missoulian that her daughter is in "severe pain." Fasching also told the paper that the officers didn't need to burn her daughter, or destroy her house, to conduct their investigation: 

"A simple knock on the door and I would've let them in," she said. "They said their intel told them there was a meth lab at our house. If they would've checked, they would've known there's not."

Mr. Fasching, the report says, attempted to open the door seconds before SWAT officers battered it down. After the raid was over, no charges were filed and no arrests were made. Taken together, this information suggests that the Billings Police Department made several mistakes, ranging from burning a child to raiding the wrong house. A spokesperson for the department, however, says they had every reason (and right) to do what they did:

"The information that we had did not have any juveniles in the house and did not have any juveniles in the room," he said. "We generally do not introduce these disorienting devices when they're present."

"Every bit of information and intelligence that we have comes together and we determine what kind of risk is there," St. John said. "The warrant was based on some hard evidence and everything we knew at the time."

But Fasching said the risk wasn't there and the entry created, for her and her daughters, a sense of fear they can't shake.

"I'm going to have to take them to counseling," she said. "They're never going to get over that."

A claims process has already been started with the city. St. John said it's not an overnight process, but it does determine if the Police Department needs to make restitution.

"If we're wrong or made a mistake, then we're going to take care of it," he said. "But if it determines we're not, then we'll go with that. When we do this, we want to ensure the safety of not only the officers, but the residents inside."

No arrests were made during the raid and no charges have been filed, although a police spokesman said afterward that some evidence was recovered during the search. St. John declined to release specifics of the drug case, citing the active investigation, but did say that "activity was significant enough where our drug unit requested a search warrant."

Happy Friday.

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Blaming Benghazi on Budget Cuts

Democrats seized on a cut in embassy security funding to deflect criticism of the administration’s poor handling of the terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11. The charge was brought up in a contentious congressional hearing on security failures in Benghazi and repeated last night by Vice President Joe Biden, who after saying they weren't aware of requests for more security in Benghazi, pointed out “the congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for, number one.  So much for the embassy security piece.”

Republican Jason Chaffetz, on the committee that held hearings on Benghazi this week, acknowledged voting to cut embassy security funding:

"Absolutely," Chaffetz said. "Look we have to make priorities and choices in this country. We have…15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have more than 6,000 contractors, a private army there, for President Obama, in Baghdad. And we’re talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces. When you’re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices. You have to prioritize things.”

The Heritage Foundation pulls the numbers for “worldwide security protection,” the budget for which went from $1.18 billion in 2008 (out of about $35 billion for the State Department and “other international programs”) to $1.59 billion in 2010 (out of about $52) before dropping to just under $1.5 billion in 2011. The Heritage Foundation explains:

Comparing FY 2011 actual funding versus the FY 2012 estimate, there appears to be a reduction in Worldwide Security Protection and Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance. But that reduction does not account for additional funding in FY 2012 from Overseas Contingency Operations funds amounting to $236 million for Worldwide Security Protection (p. 63) and $33 million for Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance (p. 467)... Together, there is a net increase.

In terms of people, the budget justification reported that Worldwide Security Protection had slightly fewer positions budgeted (1,777 in FY 2011 versus 1,707 in FY 2012) and Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance had the same number of positions budgeted (1,014 for both years).

In its budget request for FY 2013, the Administration requested significantly more funding for embassy security—mostly through the Overseas Contingency Operations budget—but retained the same number of positions, apparently on the assumption that security staffing was adequate. Regardless, that budget, even if approved in its entirety, would have entered into effect after the events in Libya.

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This Just In: Kids Can Organize Their Own Games

I'm not sure whether to file this under "refreshing" or "obvious," but a Canadian teacher who reads Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids blog has written in to report that

a few teachers at my school have decided to run a soccer house league during lunch hour for our students in grades 4-6. We have about 150 students in these grades. Typically, our extra-curriculars are very popular because most of our school population stays for lunch and we are a high needs, low-income area so free programs are usually filled quickly. My colleagues and I were very surprised that only 12 kids signed up! I asked my students why they didn't sign up. Did they not know about it? Are they going home for lunch now? Do they not have running shoes? "No," one of my students explained, "We'd rather go outside and play our own game of soccer." What??? "We don’t need a teacher to help us play a game."

That's right! My students are capable enough that they can find a bunch of kids, a ball, some grass, organize their teams and a code of conduct for scorekeeping. Imagine that! Kids organizing their own sports and games!
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Long Beach Defies State Law, Shuts Down Pot Clinics

Another nice reminder medical marijuana has yet to be raised as an election topic (outside of the Gary Johnson campaign, of course): While we were wondering how irascible Joe Biden would be and how wonky Paul Ryan would be in the vice-presidential debate, authorities were raiding another group of dispensaries in Long Beach. Details via the Long Beach Post:

In an effort to enforce the August ban on medical marijuana collectives in the City of Long Beach, the Long Beach Police Department—with the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the State of California Franchise Tax Board (FTB), the Long Beach Fire Department, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office—conducted an operation that shut down seven dispensaries throughout the city Wednesday afternoon.

According to police, the nearly simultaneous raids were conducted on locations targeted because they were those that the Police Department had received the highest level of complaints for from the community.

"Effective, August 12, 2012, any dispensary that continues conducting business in the City of Long Beach is operating illegally," said LBPD's Nancy Pratt in a statement.

During the operation, over 40 individuals were taken into custody and marijuana plants, processed marijuana, currency and other evidence were seized. Those arrested were booked for owning and/or operating a marijuana dispensary.

What’s particularly galling about the city’s action here is that it likely knows its own ban on pot dispensaries is  illegal and a violation of California’s medical marijuana laws. From an earlier story:

The City's ban may be on shaky ground to begin with, as since its February passage, two separate appeals courts—including the one with jurisdiction over Long Beach—have ruled similar bans to be in conflict with the Compassionate Use Act and thus violations of state law.

Just last week the City of Los Angeles reluctantly surrendered to the will of its own citizens (and state law) and rescinded its own (unenforced) ban on pot dispensaries. But in Long Beach, they’re shutting down businesses and actually arresting people for engaging in activities the state has determined are legal.

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Steven Greenhut on California’s Crony Capitalism Problem

In much of the country, the mere mention of the name, Jerry Brown, signifies the otherworldly nature of California politics. “You Californians are so weird,” the conventional wisdom goes, “that, in tough economic times, you re-elected that retread from the 1970s.”

Yet in this season of bill signings, vetoes, and elections, writes Steven Greenhut, Gov. Brown has remained the last bulwark against the truly crazy left-wingers who run the Capitol. Brown has rejected union enrichment schemes and other nonsense. And, despite his troubling push for higher taxes, the governor vetoed all six bills that were designed to resurrect, in one way or another, the redevelopment process he killed last year, thereby preventing a return of redevelopment’s blend of Eastern-European-style central planning with American-style crony capitalism.

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Our Stalwart Iranian Allies in the War on Drugs

In what is supposed to be a man-bites-dog story, The New York Times reports that (as the headline puts it) "Iran (Yes, That Iran)" is "the West's Stalwart Ally in the War on Drugs." It's true! Drugs (including alcohol) are illegal in Iran, where dealers (including liquor sellers) are routinely executed. Toward the end of the story, which is mostly about brave Iranian narcs fighting heavily armed opium and heroin smugglers, the Times notes that the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, whose local representative "showered the Iranians with praise—'because they really deserve it,'" is "under pressure from Western activist groups like Human Rights Watch, which have expressed alarm over the sharp increase in hangings of convicted drug dealers." The Times adds that "hundreds have been executed in recent years, making Iran the second leading country in the world in death sentences, after China."  

That's not the only way our stalwart Iranian allies go a little overboard. Here are some other things that are banned in Iran: blasphemy, romantic movie scenesbooks deemed religiously offensiveSimpsons dollstrendy hairstyles, coed squirt gun fights, dancing by kindergarteners, "improper" dresses, skiing by unchaperoned women, and female undergraduates studying English literature, computer science, or 75 other subjects. The determination to police people's bloodstreams and brains is not a way in which Iran is like the U.S. It is a way in which the U.S. is like Iran.

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Joe Biden's Benghazi B.S. (UPDATED)

Foreign Policy details how Vice President Joe Biden last night added to the growing mountain of Obama administration bullshit on Benghazi:

Vice President Joe Biden claimed that the administration wasn't aware of requests for more security in Libya before the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi during Thursday night's debate, contradicting two State Department officials and the former head of diplomatic security in Libya.

"We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there," Biden said.

In fact, two security officials who worked for the State Department in Libya at the time testified Thursday that they repeatedly requested more security and two State Department officials admitted they had denied those requests.

Whole thing here.

What makes Biden's blatant falsehood even more galling is that it came in response to a question about the administration's ever-changing storyline. Read the exchange in full:

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Porn Industry Wants Four More Years of Obama

The porn industry wants to do it one more time with President Obama.

Workers in the adult industry say they favor the current president over Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a five to one margin.

Industry news site Xbiz surveyed folks in the business about which candidate they wanted to see elected president. The results:

Of the 339 respondents, 68% say Obama, while only 13% favor Romney. Another 14% would like to see “someone else” in the White House, while 5% responded “I don’t care.”

The results of the poll did not come as a shock to at least two prominent industry kingpins.

Hustler founder Larry Flynt in September took out full-page ads in the Washington Post and USA Today offering $1 million in cash for proof of Romney’s tax returns and/or details of his offshore assets, bank accounts and business partnerships. Romney in late September did release his 2011 tax return and a brief summary of his returns from the previous 20 years. Flynt told XBIZ simply that he was “not surprised” by Obama’s favorite status in the industry.

Vivid Entertainment CEO Steven Hirsch agreed.

"The results aren't really surprising because most people involved with the adult industry have a liberal view of government and how it should work,” Hirsch said. “Social issues are more important than fiscal issues and they will support a candidate who shares their beliefs."

As Brian Doherty noted last month, it's clear enough why the industry is so opposed to Romney, who has declared that "current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced. 

But not all in the porn industry is satisfied with the two major party choices. Xbiz also talked to Reason Foundation supporter John Stagliano, who two years ago was put on trial for federal obscenity charges:

Evil Angel founder John Stagliano, who overcame a federal obscenity prosecution that generated nationwide attention in 2010, pointed to his support of another presidential hopeful.

“The only candidate who protects our right to do business is the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson,” Stagliano told XBIZ, referring to the former governor of New Mexico who has garnered the most support of any of the third-party candidates heading into this election. “He was the only person dealing with the real problems we have, like war, the debt, censorship and inefficient government.”

Link via The Washington Examiner. Watch Reason.tv on the trial of John Stagliano here:

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Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews Argo

Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews Ben Affleck's tense, smart thriller about how the Central Intelligence Agency attempted to rescue six Americans trapped in Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis by staging a fake movie production:

For a little while it looked as if Ben Affleck might try to be the next Harrison Ford: He starred in action movies like “Daredevil” and “Armageddon” and even briefly filled Mr. Ford’s old shoes in the role of Tom Clancy hero Jack Ryan in 2002’s “The Sum of All Fears.”

But Mr. Affleck’s career as a blockbuster leading man never quite soared, and in recent years his directing efforts, “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” have shown more promise than any of his gigs in front of the camera. “Argo,” Mr. Affleck’s third directorial turn, suggests a different path for his career: Following not Mr. Ford, but Ron Howard, the actor-turned-director who, with films like “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” often represents the epitome of major-studio competence.

Mr. Affleck’s sensibility is grittier than Mr. Howard’s and considerably more focused on violence, as well as the sociological factors that create it. But his confident work on “Argo” suggests that, like Mr. Howard, he is a director who can be counted on to deliver as a solid and engaging storyteller.

Part of the trick, of course, is selecting good material. “Argo” certainly qualifies. It’s the so-strange-it-could-only-be-true tale of a secret CIA mission to rescue six American diplomatic officers who managed to escape from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun to start the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.

Read the whole review in today's Washington Times

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A.M. Links: Voters Split on VP Debate Win, Pakistani Girl Shot By Taliban Offered American Assistance, Stacey Dash Bombarded By Abusive Tweets, EU Wins Nobel Peace Prize, U.S. Sold Faulty Protection in Afghanistan, Curiosity Finds a New Kind of Rock

  • Voters are split on who won the Biden v. Ryan debate, a stark contrast to how many viewed the first Obama v. Romney debate. Sarah Palin spoke out about who she thought won the debate, using typical Alaskan imagery
  • Stacey Dash is feeling the heat after endorsing Romney. The actress has been receiving a flood of racist and sexist tweets since her endorsement of the GOP presidential nominee. 
  • The U.S. has offered transportation and medical treatment for Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban. Pakistan has yet to respond to the offer. 
  • The European Union has won the Nobel Peace Prize. At least it wasn't the Nobel Prize for economics...

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

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 Seven Psychopaths and Sinister

Seven Psychopaths is a movie so devilishly well-crafted that it’s nearly consumed by its own brilliance, writes Kurt Loder. The writer-director, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, is a master of nasty laughs and bloody comic violence, and he keeps them coming…and coming. There’s barely time to catch your breath. If movies could pick their own flaws, though, this would be the one to go for.

Sinister, on the other hand, is a genuinely creepy horror film, bless its scabby little head. It’s a deft assemblage of genre readymades—haunted house, slasher, found-footage—bound together in an atmosphere of bleak portents that sometimes recalls The Shining, among other, admittedly better, films. What sets it apart from less-enterprising fright flicks is its disturbing imagery. The stuff in Sinister stays with you.

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Chip Bok on the Politics of Killing

In his latest strip, Chip Bok has Obama run through a list of recent murders and the parties responsilble.

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Gary Johnson Officially On The Ballot In Pennsylvania

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s running mate Jim Gray may not have been in last night's vice presidential debate, but Johnson does have something to celebrate: He's officially on the ballot in Pennsylvania.

A nine week legal battle between Republicans and Libertarians over ballot access in the Keystone State has finally ended and Johnson’s forces have emerged victorious. Johnson’s ballot status had been in limbo for nearly three months before Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James G. Colins ruled on Wednesday that the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party filed more than the required valid signatures needed to get the entire slate of statewide Libertarian candidates on the ballot in the general election.

The LP's victory in Pennsylvania assures that Johnson and his running mate Jim Gray will be on the ballot in 48 states plus Washington, DC and Guam. Johnson’s campaign has exceeded the ballot access of the 2008 Libertarian ticket and matched that of the 2004 ticket.

State parties, whose leaders tend know the rules and regulations better than the national leadership, do most of the heavy lifting on ballot access. High-ranking Libertarians say that their regular success at getting on the ballot is one of the things that separates them from other third parties in the United States.  

In an emailed statement from the Pennsylvania LP, Johnson expressed frustration over the long battle but said he was pleased with the result.

"It is a travesty of the democratic process that Libertarians were required to endure such a drawn-out, expensive and unnecessary attack on their right to be on the ballot," Johnson wrote. "Voters in every state deserve real choices in this election, and it is clear that the Republican Party, not only in Pennsylvania, but in key states across the country, will go to any lengths to keep liberty, nonintervention and smaller government off the ballot."

State party chair Dr. Tom Stevens was a bit harsher in calling out Republicans.

“The rotten Republicans in their 800-dollar suits used every trick in their playbook to try to short-circuit the democratic process and defeat us. In the end, we beat them outright without even needing to wait for a favorable Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling on two outstanding legal issues,” Stevens wrote in an emailed statement to Reason.

Johnson lost ballot access fights in Oklahoma and Michigan earlier this year. More of my coverage on Gary Johnson’s 2012 presidential campaign here

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Brickbat: Transparent Government

A Justice Department attorney tried to kick a reporter out of a public meeting in New Iberia, Louisiana. Rachel Hranitzky entered a meeting being held on hiring practices in the city's fire department, which is under a federal consent decree, and announced that the meeting could not be recorded and she could not be quoted by the media. When a reporter asked what law allowed her to make those demands, she said it was Justice Department policy. She said if the reporter didn't follow her demands the Justice Department could call his editor and publisher.

Brickbat Archive

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Very Specific Malarkey: The 2012 Vice Presidential Debate

Here’s what we learned at tonight’s vice presidential debate: Not much. Biden grinned wide and laughed condescendingly. Ryan gave us his best sorrowful eyes and talked real slow. There was some convoluted disagreement about Medicare, and taxes, and abortion, a few zingers, and a lot of shouty crosstalk. Early on, Biden promised to be "very specific," and mostly wasn't. Ryan rattled off numbers and anecdotes, but failed to connect them in a meaningful way. Both sides were pretty much okay with war, if that’s what it takes to keep America strong, and were willing to talk over each other — loudly if necessary — in order to prove it. 

But mostly what we heard from the sidekicks on both presidential tickets was an echo, not an argument: Biden thought that President Obama had done a pretty good job, and didn’t deserve blame for the continuing mediocre state of the economy. Ryan thought the administration had blown it, and that Romney was “uniquely qualified” to do a better job, though he barely touched on what might make Romney unique. The candidates offered lots of details, but little useful information. 

It’s not unusual, of course, for political candidates to say nothing new, to simply talk their books and refuse to say anything interesting. But vice presidential candidates are somewhat uniquely handicapped — forced to talk up top of the ticket rather than straightforwardly defend their own ideas.

What we had, then, was a vicious proxy debate — a growl-off between two campaign attack dogs. They both drew some blood, for sure, but I’m not sure either made a convincing case for their masters. Biden’s case for Obama was that it wasn’t really his fault that the administration’s policies haven’t produced the desired results, and that Romney isn’t trustworthy. Ryan’s case for Romney was that Obama’s policies have failed, and that’s that. Both sides will likely claim victory, and most of what was said will be forgotten by next Tuesday's presidential debate. What we heard, to borrow one Bidenism, was a bunch of stuff. But, to borrow another vice presidential descriptor, most it was malarkey.

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Joe Biden: The Smirk Store Called; They're Running Out of Smirks.

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Reason Live Tweets the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate. Now!

Watch as Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan rip each other's faces off. Or perhaps civilly debate the issues. Either way, the Reason staff is here for you, live tweeting links, analysis, and snark to help you though the 2012 vice presidential debate. 

And here's Literally the Best Drinking Game in the History of Alcohol or Debates.

And when it's all over, join us for the second post-debate Google+ Hangout. This one is hosted by ThinkProgress.

Here's the Hangout:

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Literally the Best Debate Drinking Game In the History of Alcohol or Debates: Reason’s 2012 Vice Presidential Debate Drinking Game

Lots of political junkies live for presidential debates, but the truly addicted know that it’s the contest of wills between the vice presidential candidates that provides the purest form of political entertainment. 

In part that’s because the stakes are so much lower, relatively speaking. Tonight’s big question comes down to this: Who gets to follow in the footsteps of such political bright lights as Dan Quayle, Al Gore, and, yes, Joe Biden to become the next hapless understudy to the leader of the free world? But it’s also because even the friendliest VP candidates, free of the obligation to look respectably presidential, are frequently cast as campaign attack dogs. That means the vice presidential debates can be much meaner, and thus a lot more fun. 

Part of the challenge for these two particular potential veeps will be to appeal to working class voters who haven’t warmed to President Obama’s professorial style or Mitt Romney’s PowerPoint-ready business executive persona. Biden, who often talks of his working class background in Pennsylvania, will be competing with Ryan, a workout fanatic from Wisconsin with a thing for bowhunting, to appeal to voters in ways that their relatively aloof running mates cannot.

Which is why I’ve got my fingers crossed that Biden will show up to the debate in a freshly-sudsed 1984 Camaro and Ryan will arrive fresh from a workout wearing camo sweat pants, toting a gallon jug of protein powder, and sipping a Muscle Milk. And then the two can compete to answer trivia questions about professional wrestling.

But I’m not holding out too much hope for that outcome. More likely the contest will end up pitting a rambling, hilariously gaffe-prone former Senator who still thinks he has a shot at the Oval Office against a wonky-seeming, policy-factoid-obsessed current House member who probably does still have a shot at the presidency. Biden, the former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will try to outclass Ryan on international affairs. Ryan, the current Chairman of the House Budget Committee, will attempt to school his opponent on domestic policy.

Adding to the excitement, they’ll both be sitting down. Still, here’s hoping the showdown will be as uniquely amusing and hardcore as the candidates — the P90X of debates, literally.

And if not, you can always turn the evening into a drinking game. Here's what Reason's editors will be drinking to tonight. 

Take a sip any time...

  • Biden says “literally.” Take two double shots if he literally, literally uses the word twice in a row. 
  • Ryan references the Congressional Budget Office.
  • Biden accuses Ryan or Romney of lying about their plans. 
  • Ryan answers any question using two or more budget projections. 
  • Biden mentions his hometown of Scranton, PA. 
  • Ryan says the words “premium support.” Finish the bottle if he mentions “competitive bidding.” 
  • Biden says the Romney campaign is proposing a $5 trillion tax cut.
  • Ryan says they aren’t. 
  • Biden uses the word “Yo!” (with or without the exclamation point).
  • Anyone says the words “Simpson-Bowles.” 
  • Anyone mentions Big Bird. 

Remember: Reason encourages responsible drinking! How else will you know if the candidates are fudging the facts? 

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Detroit Schools Are Well-Funded, Terrible, and Parents Want Out

One of the big arguments against school choice wielded by fans of the we'll-all-sink-or-swim-together vision of public education is that alternatives divert resources from public schools, dooming them to starve and fail in their mission. It doesn't take much effort, however, to demonstrate that public schools aren't starving. In fact, they've been feasting — consuming growing resources by the year, with little to show for their efforts. Detroit's public schools spend well above the national average per-pupil, but the results are nothing less than catastrophic. It's no wonder that Detroit parents overwhelmingly want out of the public schools.

The Census Bureau reports (PDF) that Detroit Public Schools spent $12,801 per-pupil in 2009-2010. That's pretty impressive, since the headcounters also say "[t]he nation's elementary-secondary public school systems spent an average of $10,615 per pupil in fiscal year 2010." (The Mackinac Center for Public Policy claims (PDF) that Detroit actually spent $15,570 per pupil in 2010.) But with that money, the city's well-funded educrats achieved ... not so much. The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund found that 47 percent of the city's residents are "functionally illiterate." According to a local CBS affiliate:

WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with the Fund’s Director, Karen Tyler-Ruiz, who explained exactly what this means.

“Not able to fill out basic forms, for getting a job — those types of basic everyday (things). Reading a prescription; what’s on the bottle, how many you should take… just your basic everyday tasks,” she said.

“I don’t really know how they get by, but they do. Are they getting by well? Well, that’s another question,” Tyler-Ruiz said.

That's lots of dollars spent to turn out a population that can barely navigate the daily bureaucracy of modern life, let alone enjoy the advantages of full literacy. It should come as no surprise, then, to find that four out of five parents want to send their kids anywhere but the Detroit public schools. From the Detroit News:

The poll was commissioned by The Detroit News and funded by the Thompson Foundation, which has provided funds to charter schools in Detroit but was not involved in collecting data or asking questions in the survey.

Eight hundred residents were surveyed by land line and cellphone Sept. 22-25 by the Chicago-based Glengariff Group Inc. The survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, asked residents' feelings about leadership, schools, transit, quality of life and overall optimism.

Of the residents polled, 79 percent said they would choose an option other than DPS for their child's education, such as a charter school, a private school or a school outside Detroit.

So ... What to do? Let those parents seek an education for their kids elesewhere? Or fret that their departure will somehow lead the public schools to a worse fate than they've inflicted on themselves?

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Kevin Sabet and Ethan Nadelmann Debate Drug Policy and the Obama Administration

This week, Kevin Sabet of the Drug Policy Institute and Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance debate marijuana laws and policy.

Today's question concerns the Obama administration's drug policy record and the choice facing American voters in this year's presidential election.

How does the Obama administration's drug policy and enforcement stack up against those of other administrations? What changes should the U.S.A. pursue after the November election?

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Chicago Public Schools to Charter System: “Save Us!”

Since Chicago Public Schools ended the September teachers strike by partly capitulating and handing out pay increases it can’t afford, two rating firms have downgraded its credit status. Chicago and Illinois are notably (and predictably) struggling with trying to keep their powerful unions from having the full run of the field. The state leads the nation in unfunded pension liabilities. More than 70 percent of public employee pension commitments in the Prairie State are unfunded.

CPS hasn’t given up, though, trying to get around the Chicago Teachers Union and actually serve the students and parents who are supposed to be its customers. WGN reports that CPS leaders are approaching successful charter schools to take over underenrolled or underperforming public schools. There are reportedly more than 120,000 students in such schools. You can watch the segment below:

The Chicago Tribune reports that there are between 80 to 120 schools that could potentially face charter takeover:

District spokeswoman Becky Carroll said conversations with charters over moving directly into troubled schools remain "conceptual" but acknowledged CPS is exploring all possibilities.

"Given the daunting financial and academic challenges facing CPS, it's our obligation to explore options that can expand the district's reach in providing all students with the opportunity to access higher-quality school options and help them be successful in school and life," Carroll said in a statement.

If you’re wondering how a school district spokesperson says “Fuck you, teachers unions,” there you go.

Juan Rangel, CEO of a charter school group in Chicago, points out there is a waiting list of parents trying to get their kids into their programs and out of the public system. So from his perspective, obviously this transition would be what a lot of parents want. But the teachers unions are going to fight it, of course. And they’ll also fight school closures that are going to take place if the charter schools don’t take them over. Not grasping math obviously doesn't disqualify one from teaching it. (That reminds me: I should tell you all the story about my sixth-grade math teacher, who didn't know how to round numbers properly and didn't grasp that .47 and 0.47 were the same number. Math tests in that class were like playing the lottery, and the odds of winning were about the same.)

Just When You Thought the Administration's Benghazi Dissembling Couldn't Get Any Worse

Along comes Obama 2012 Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter:


And before you start nitpicking the difference between "administration" and "campaign," watch the damn video, and note the word "we."

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Another Drone Strike, Al Gore’s Crony Capitalism, Weapons Missing in Benghazi: P.M. Links

  • A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed 16 and injured six others. The drone hit a madrasa belonging to a member of the Haqqani network.
  • Vice President Al Gore has made millions off green energy investments that have been handed billions in federal subsidies by the current administration.
  • British diplomats withdrew from Libya earlier this year but left behind weapons and vehicles at the American consulate in Benghazi. And now they’re gone.
  • China’s state-funded (some would say “forced”) economic growth comes at a price: More and more Chinese citizens are being evicted and having their land seized for development.
  • Astronomers have discovered a planet that is a giant diamond. This would inspire an awesome Pinky and the Brain caper if they were still on the air.
  • What is this “free press” thing anyway? Media representatives in New Jersey are suing to block a law that forbids them from photographing or interviewing anybody within 100 feet of a polling location on Election Day.

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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America Speaks: VP Joe Biden is "Good," an "Idiot"

On the eve of tonight's debate between incumbent Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), it seems like a good time to check back over the September Pew Research poll that found Americans describing Biden most commonly as something akin to Gimpel the Fool:

Asked for their one-word impression of Joe Biden, more people use negative than positive words to describe the vice president. Many of the negative words disparage Biden’s competence and performance, with idiotincompetent and clown among the terms used most frequently....

Of those offering a word to describe Biden, 38% use negative terms, while 23% give positive words. About four-in-ten (39%) use neutral terms, with vice president among the most common, according to the latest national survey of 1,008 adults by the Pew Research Center and theWashington Post, conducted Aug. 31-Sept. 3, 2012.

Even Democrats, notes Pew, are pretty down on Biden when it comes to one-word descriptors. While 63 percent of Republicans predictably use negative words to characterize "Amtrak Joe," even Dems seem lukewarm on the guy, with 45 percent using neutral words (compared to 47 percent using positive terms).

More here.

Will this matter in the debate tonight? I'm not sure (and who knows how Paul Ryan, who can be petulant and wonky, a combination that hurt President Obama in the first presidential debate) but I do hope that the debate, which will cover foreign and domestic issues pores over the unfolding clusterfuck in at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, explains how a Romney/Ryan foreign policy would be less disastrous than Obama's, digs into exactly how the stimulus "worked," and why Ryan's voucher support proposal for Medicare has a snowball's chance of actually reducing the fiscal ruin of the nation.

Reason will be live-tweeting the VP debate (9pm ET-10.30pm ET) right here at Hit & Run, so come back to check out our coverage.

Once more, with feeling: "Joe Biden's War on Christmas"

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Oakland Sues Eric Holder, Challenging Forfeiture of City-Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Yesterday the city of Oakland, California, sued Attorney General Eric Holder and Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, challenging the Justice Department's forfeiture of the property that has been occupied by Harborside Health Center, the state's largest medical marijuana dispensary, since 2006. The city's complaint, prepared by the San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster, argues that the forfeiture action, initiated last July, exceeded the five-year time limit prescribed by federal law, since by that point the city-licensed dispensary had been operating for almost six years. More intriguingly, the city argues that the forfeiture is barred by the principle of estoppel because for years Oakland officials reasonably relied on the federal government's assurances that it would not target medical marijuana suppliers unless they violated state law. Based on that understanding, the city created a regulatory system for dispensaries with which Harborside complied, and now the feds are saying all bets are off.

Although I doubt the latter argument will fly in federal court, the lawsuit usefully highlights the glaring inconsistency between the Obama administration's intensified crackdown on medical marijuana and promises like these:

Barack Obama, March 2008: "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue."

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, May 2008: "Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice." According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "LaBolt also said Obama would end U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raids on medical marijuana suppliers in states with their own laws."

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro, February 2009: "The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws,"

Attorney General Holder, February 2009: "What he said during the campaign is now American policy."

Holder, March 2009: "The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law."

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, October 2009: U.S. attorneys "should not focus federal resources in [their] States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

Holder, May 2010: "We look at the state laws, and what the restrictions are....Is marijuana being sold consistent with state law?"

Holder, June 2012: "We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity...with state laws."

According to the Chronicle, Haag, the U.S. attorney going after Harborside, says the dispensary "is not complying with California's law because it is a large-scale operation that processes millions of dollars worth of business." Yet California's Medical Marijuana Program Act, which specifically contemplates "collective, cooperative cultivation projects" by patients and caregivers involved in "selling, serving, storing, keeping, manufacturing, or giving away" marijuana, imposes no size limit on such organizations, so this distinction seems to be Haag's invention. When she announced the forfeiture action, Haag argued that "the larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need." Maybe, but that is a matter for state and local officials to address.

The truth is that Haag, like the Obama administration in general, is talking out of both sides of her mouth. In a February 2011 letter to Oakland's city attorney, she declared, "We will enforce the [Controlled Substances Act] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law" (emphasis added). As a spokesman for her colleague André Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, admitted a year ago, "At the end of the day, California law doesn't matter." And neither do the president's promises.

Russ Roberts: Why Keynesians Always Get it Wrong (and Most Economists Too)

"Russ Roberts: Why Keynesians Always Get it Wrong (and Most Economists Too)" is the latest video 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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[Updated With Correction]: Forty Years of Drug War Failure Represented in a Single Chart

Via Drugsnotthugs.com and Reason's own Cynthia Bell.

UPDATE: A reader points out that the dollar amounts on the right Y axis don't add up to $1.5 trillion. The creator of the chart, documentary filmmaker Matt Groff, Tweeted the following in response to a question about where the $1.5 trillion figure comes from: "Short answer: chart shows only fed drug control, $1.5T refers to all costs assoc. w/ drug prohibition, blog on it shortly."

First off, I take the blame for not seeing the discrepancy. Shame on me.

But here's the funny thing: While the $1.5 trillion figure doesn't correspond to the numbers at right, it's actually low. In 2010, the AP put the 40-year tab of federal drug control spending at $1 trillion. But the massive federal drug control budget--for fiscal year 2013, it'll be $3.7 billion for interdiction, $9.4 billion for law enforcement, and $9.2 billion for early intervention--is actually a pretty small slice of the pie. States and municipalities have their own drug war expenses--investigating, trying, and locking up drug offenders--and those expenses actually dwarf what the federal government spends.

According to The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society, last published by the Department of Justice in 2011, enforcing illegal drug laws imposes an annual cost on the American criminal justice system of $56 billion; while incarceration of drug offenders imposes an annual cost of $48 billion.

That's $104 billion spent annually by states and cities on two aspects of the drug war (and doesn't include treatment, public assistance, and a slew of other costs), compared to roughly $21 billion spent by the federal government. For $1.5 trillion to reflect just federal spending, the federal drug control budget would need to have been $37.5 billion a year, every year, for the last four decades. It's only slightly more than half that this year.

So, yes: There is a huge problem with the chart, in that 40 years of federal drug control spending does not add up to $1.5 trillion (though minus the "$1.5 trillion" in the middle of the image, the chart does accurately represent the growth of the federal drug control budget and the relatively flat rate of addiction to illicit substances). But even if the chart were designed to reflect "all costs associated with drug prohibition" over the last 40 years, with the right Y axis reflecting the growth of state and federal drug control spending, it would still be wrong, because $1.5 trillion doesn't nearly cover it.

Update 2: Over at his blog, Matt Groff responds to concerns about his chart:

This graphic was initially not meant to stand on its own but rather illustrate an interviewee’s assertions about the costs and efficacy of drug prohibition. In a tight production schedule, I utilized a data set that I thought most accurately illustrated the nature and growth of the costs of the War on Drugs and that data is US federal drug control spending. But the $1.5 trillion figure, as mentioned by Jack Cole in his interview, accounts for many more costs, including state level costs, prison costs, lost productivity costs due to incarceration and others.

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Warren Shines On Women's Issues In Debate

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - When women’s issues were raised during last night’s debate between Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Scott Brown, Warren shined and Brown stumbled. It was the only real high point of the debate for Warren in an otherwise just-slightly above average performance.

"He has gone to Washington and he has had some good votes but he has had exactly one chance to vote for equal pay for equal work, and he voted no. He had exactly one chance to vote for insurance coverage for birth control and other contraceptive services for women, he voted no. And he had exactly one chance to vote for a pro-choice woman, from Massachusetts, to the United States Supreme Court, and he voted no,” Warren said.

“Those are bad votes for women. The women of Massachusetts need a senator they can count on, not some of the time, but all of the time,” Warren continued.

Brown, who desperately needs independent female voters on election day, has worked hard to cement his image as a supporter of abortion rights and a defender of women. But last night in Springfield he gave a clunky defense of his positions that relied heavily on personal anecdotes.

"We’re both pro-choice, we both support Roe v. Wade, there’s no secret about that. I believe, obviously, very much in women getting the same pay and benefits,” he said

Brown, never one to miss a chance to play up his strong “one of us” credentials, did note that he didn’t want to create conflicts for Catholics when it came to issues of contraception and abortion.

"I am not going to be pitting Catholics against their faith," he said.

Overall, his disorganized response to moderator Jim Madigan's question took away from what was otherwise a great debate for him. Brown's a moderate in a liberal state, and the abortion question is one he should have been better prepared to answer.

It’s too soon to tell if this crucial exchange will be a major factor in the race, but it did highlight one of the few areas where Warren really outshines Brown.

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Rasmussen: Calm Down, It’s Still a Close Race, Nothing Dramatic Has Happened

Rasmussen’s latest daily presidential tracking poll has Barack Obama at 48 percent and Mitt Romney at 47 percent, the first poll to show the president with any kind of lead since his poor debate performance last week. That performance was followed by a slew of unfavorable polls for the president, the most devastating of which was a Pew Research poll that Andrew Sullivan dissected to explain just how devastating the president’s debate performance was. In his analysis, Sullivan also noted he dismisses Rasmussen polls off hand. Perhaps he shouldn’t. From Rasmussen’s analysis of its latest presidential daily tracking poll:

We have reached the point in the campaign where media reports of some polls suggest wild, short-term swings in voter preferences. That doesn’t happen in the real world. A more realistic assessment shows that the race has remained stable and very close for months. Since last week’s debate, the numbers have shifted somewhat in Romney’s direction, but even that change has been fairly modest. Still, in a close race, a modest change can have a major impact. Over the past 100 days of tracking, Romney and Obama have been within two points of each other 72 times. Additionally, on 89 of those 100 days, the candidates have been within three points of each other.

Romney’s lead in the RealClearPolitics average is down to 1.3 with the new Rasmussen poll but it’s still the best polling position he’s been in in a tight race so far. Though campaign polling has been described as “volatile,” the RealClearPolitics list of polling data tells a different story. Romney hasn’t lead by more than 2 points in any poll since the beginning of August until this week, and hasn’t had consecutive leads in polls since May. The president, meanwhile, has polled up to 9 points ahead in polls as recent as two weeks ago. You’d have to go to unskewedpolls.com to find any polls going that far in Romney’s favor. The race has certainly remained close and even tightened, but a close race is hardly a volatile one.

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Brian Doherty Reviews Atlas Shrugged Part II

Atlas Shrugged Part II, the sequel to last year’s first installment of the long-awaited film adaption of Ayn Rand’s classic 1957 novel, opens in theaters nationwide on Friday. In his review, Senior Editor Brian Doherty reports that in addition to the new cast and new additions to the screenwriting team, Atlas Shrugged Part II looks better and has a more interesting story to tell than Part I, and it tells it well. Part of that advantage, Doherty observes, is because of the events in Part II of the novel which the film tracks almost precisely, including Rand’s nightmarish depiction of what the world run according to the principles of state-enforced equality would actually look like.

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Obama Beer Summits Have Not Helped, Study Finds

Apparently it doesn't matter if the president drinks a whiskey drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink or a cider drink. He's losing the enthusiasm of America's most beer-drinking states. 

That seems to be the evidence from 247WallStreet.com's compilation of states with the highest per capita beer consumption. Here are the top 10: 

10. Delaware 
9.  Nebraska 
8. Texas  
7. Vermont  
6. Wisconsin  
5. Nevada  
4. South Dakota 
3. Montana  
2. North Dakota 
1. New Hampshire 

I'm surprised to see Vermont, the bluest of blue states, on that list because the last time I was there they had some kind of irritating bar regulation that prohibited service of more than one drink at a time, which not only prohibited boilermakers but forced hapless dipsomaniacs to chug their existing drinks before the barkeep would serve the next round. I hear the Green Mountain State has since repealed this rule, which might explain why its rate of per capita consumption has risen the fastest of any state. 

In any event, fully half of these states — Delaware, Vermont, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Hampshire — went for Obama in 2008. But according to Real Clear Politics' current map of electoral college polling, only Delaware and Vermont remain solidly for Obama, while Wisconsin, Nevada and New Hampshire have all moved into the "Tossup" category.

All five of the states that went for John McCain four years ago — Nebraska,  Texas, Montana, North and South Dakota — remain red. 

"The great point is to bring [voters] the real facts — and beer," said Abraham Lincoln, one of many chief executives who understood the importance of suds at the ballot box. Obama has clearly opted not to bother with the real facts, but he's running against a teetotaller and on one economic indicator — the beer affordability index — he has kept America at number one. Yet his old drinking buddies are forgetting about him. Maybe they've realized that a hangover only lasts a day but you have to live with an election result for four years. 

Watch this space for rules on the Vice-Presidential-Debate drinking game. 

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If You Demand a Good, Progressive Commerce Clause, You Also Get a Bad, Reactionary Commerce Clause

I recently finished reading Smoke Signals, a new "social history of marijuana" by Martin A. Lee. By and large, it is what you would expect from the co-author of the fine LSD history Acid Dreams: engaging and full of interesting details, even for people familiar with the subject. But some of Lee's legal analysis is a bit shaky. I was particularly struck by this passage on Gonzales v. Raich, the 2005 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce extends even to homegrown marijuana used by patients in states that recognize the plant as a medicine:

[Angel] Raich's attorneys framed the case in terms of states' rights and tailored their arguments to appeal to conservatives. Her legal team (which included her husband, Robert Raich) made a strategic decision to emphasize the Commerce Clause rather than other crucial issues such as medical necessity or the right to life. Federal drug laws are rooted in the Commerce Clause, which empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce. This provision once served as an important tool for promoting progressive federal policies from the New Deal to Civil Rights, but over the years it became an all-purpose excuse for Congress to meddle in virtually every aspect of human behavior. 

As much as Lee might wish otherwise, he is not describing two different legal trends. The Commerce Clause "became an all-purpose excuse for Congress to meddle in virtually every aspect of human behavior" because it "served as an important tool for promoting progressive federal policies from the New Deal to Civil Rights." If the Commerce Clause authorizes the federal government to punish a farmer for growing too much wheat, even when the extra grain never leaves his farm (as the Supreme Court held in the New Deal case Wickard v. Filburn), it is hard to see why it does not authorize the federal government to punish patients for growing and possessing marijuana, even when the drug never leaves the state. If, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 asserted, Congress can regulate any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, or soda fountain when "its operations affect commerce" (e.g., when an Alabama diner uses Idaho potatoes to make French fries), surely the feds can shut down medical marijuana dispensaries, even when their activities are purely local and authorized by state law.

Likewise, if the U.S. Justice Department can prosecute hate crimes based on the defendant's use of a weapon made in another state, almost any offense, including some that progressives might prefer not be treated as crimes at all (assisting suicide, say), can become a federal case. Defending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration argued (unsuccessfully) that Congress may force people to buy government-approved medical coverage because their failure to do so, taken in the aggregate, has a substantial effect on the national health care market. That theory sounds very much like "an all-purpose excuse for Congress to meddle in virtually every aspect of human behavior." 

The point is that a federal government big and powerful enough to achieve progressive goals is also big and powerful enough to undermine them. If you endorse an absurdly broad reading of congressional power to justify policies you like, you should not be surprised when that same rationale is used to justify policies you hate. Conversely, as I argued in the July issue of Reason, respecting constitutional limits on federal power may mean giving up on achieving certain progressive goals at the national level, but it opens up a wide space for achieving them at the state and local level. 

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David Harsanyi on Democrats, the Real Tax Policy Ideologues

Last year, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate's third-ranking Democrat, head of the Senate Finance Committee, accused Republicans of playing "slash-and-burn" politics, of "purposefully" undermining economic recovery while holding the American people hostage. This week, notes David Harsanyi, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York—yes, the Senate's third-ranking Democrat and the head of the Senate Finance Committee—held a news conference to pre-emptively oppose any bipartisan deficit reduction deal that would raise revenue by closing deductions, the kind of deal that was floated by the president's own Simpson-Bowles commission.

He wants to raise taxes, period.

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Tim Cavanaugh Talking Romney Campaign on Istook Live Now

Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh is talking about the Romney Campaign with former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Oklahoma) right now. 

At Istook Live! From the Heritage Foundation. 

You can listen live here

Sooners can listen to a recording of the show tonight on KPNS in Duncan, Oklahoma, tonight from 8 to 11. 

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Global Temperature Trend Update: September 2012

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

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

September temperatures (preliminary)

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

Northern Hemisphere: +0.35 C (about 0.63 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for September.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.33 C (about 0.59 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for September.

Tropics: +0.15 C (about 0.22 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for September.

Notes on data released:

September 2012 was the third warmest September in the 34-year satellite temperature record, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Three of the last four Septembers were warmer than September 1998, during the El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event “of the century.” The last September that was cooler than the 30-year baseline seasonal norm was in 2000.

Compared to seasonal norms, the coldest spot on the globe in September was (again) at the South Pole, where the Antarctic spring temperature averaged 3.31 C (almost 6 degrees Fahrenheit) colder than normal. The “warmest” spot was just north of Monbetsu, Japan, where temperatures in September averaged 3.72 C (about 6.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than seasonal norms.

Go here to see the processed satellite data.

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Steve Chapman on Getting Shafted by the Electoral College

Some 95 million people live in California, Texas, New York and Illinois -- nearly one out of every three Americans. But how many times has Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Paul Ryan or Joe Biden made a campaign appearance in any of them since the party conventions? Zero, or the same number they've made in Bavaria.

Obama and Romney don't seem to be running for president of the United States of America but for president of the Discontiguous States of Florida, Ohio and Virginia. At this point, only nine states, totaling less than a quarter of the population, writes Steve Chapman, are deemed worthy of attention.

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Join Us Tonight at 9 p.m. as We Live Tweet the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate

Tonight at 9 p.m., it's the contest you've all been waiting for: Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan will fight to the death. Just kidding. That would be awesome though, right? They're just going to debate instead. The staff of Reason will be here at Hit&Run, tweetering away.

Stay tuned for the official Reason 2012 VP debate drinking game, to be posted later this afternoon.

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Paleo Diet Lawsuit Dismissed By Court in Blow to Free Expression

Bad news in an important Institute for Justice-launched lawsuit defending the right of free speech on the Internet about matters of diet and nutrition.

A state licensing board in North Carolina tried to suppress a blogger who talked up and advised people on the health benefits of the "paleo" diet (that is, eating as we think cavement ate, no grains or processed foods), telling him directly what he could or could not say about his belief that the high-meat, low-carb diet helped him with his diabetes. The case was dismissed by a federal court late last week.

From the Institute for Justice's press release:

On Friday, October 5, a federal court dismissed diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey’s free speech lawsuit on standing grounds.   The case, which has received significant national media attention, seeks to answer one of the most important unresolved questions in First Amendment law:  Does the government’s power to license occupations trump free speech?

“In America, citizens don’t have to wait until they are fined or thrown in jail before they are allowed to challenge government action that chills their speech,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes.  “When the executive director of a government agency goes through your writing with a red pen and tells you on a line-by-line basis what you can and can’t say, that is censorship and the courts can hear that case.”

In December 2011, Steve Cooksey from Stanley, N.C., started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his diet blog to answer readers’ questions.  In January 2012, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informed Steve that he could not give readers personal advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics. 

The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with friends and readers were illegal.   Violating the North Carolina licensing law can lead to fines, court orders to be silent, and even jail.  

Steve’s case was dismissed October 5 on the grounds that Steve did not suffer an injury that gives him a basis to challenge the government’s actions.   The Institute for Justice plans to appeal and will argue that the government cannot single people out, tell them that their speech is illegal, and then plead in court that it has not chilled their speech.....

“We will keep up this fight until everyone in North Carolina is free to talk about important topics like diet without facing government censorship,” said IJ client Steve Cooksey. “We cannot let government licensing boards censor the Internet and chill our speech.”

This sort of insanely stringent attitude about "standing"--roughly that you have no right to challenge a law damaging your rights until you've actually been arrested or fined--was also at play in the history-making Second Amendment challenge Heller v. D.C., which I wrote about in my 2008 book Gun Control on Trial.

In that case five of six plaintiffs were kicked off a case trying to vindicate their ability to own a weapon in D.C. The only reason any of the plaintiffs survived is that one of them, Dick Heller, had had an attempt to file for a permit to own a weapon denied. The Court recognized a permit denial as an injury; having a core constitutional right denied, not so much.

Now, it is certainly a great thing that as far as I know there is no such thing as a "blogging permit" or permit of any sort to practice the First Amendment, but it means in this case there is no simple loophole to get around this frankly nuts standing decision.

However, IJ intends to appeal and is willing to fight this out, as they say, all the way to the Supreme Court, which really ought to weigh in on when occupational licensing trumps free speech. Word to my Justices: the answer is "never."

IJ's fact page about the case.

My short piece about the suit in the October issue of Reason, and my longer one about it when it was filed back in May.

Bonus Reason.tv: a talk with maverick diet science writer Gary Taubes on why so many libertarians love the paleo diet, among other matters of science, diet, and health, and how the government's overt love for carbs is bad for the nation:

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Unemployment Claims Fall + Prices Rise + Housing "Recovers" = Obama's October Surprise?

Two new Labor Department reports reach a stunning conclusion: Sit on it, Jack Welch! 

From the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report

In the week ending October 6, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 339,000, a decrease of 30,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 369,000. The 4-week moving average was 364,000, a decrease of 11,500 from the previous week's revised average of 375,500.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.6 percent for the week ending September 29, unchanged from the prior week's unrevised rate. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending September 29 was 3,273,000, a decrease of 15,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 3,288,000. The 4-week moving average was 3,279,250, a decrease of 7,750 from the preceding week's revised average of 3,287,000.

And from the September Import Export Price Indexes

U.S. import prices advanced 1.1 percent for the second consecutive month in September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, after falling the previous four months. The increase in each of the past two months was led by rising fuel prices. The price index for U.S. exports rose 0.8 percent in September following a 1.0 percent advance in August. 

That's a hefty price increase, and we've all been taught that inflation is the solution to every problem. The drop in new jobless benefits claims adds some support to last week's controversial drop in U-3 unemployment. And with this housing recovery we keep hearing about it, it would seem like the summer of recovery is getting here just in time for the November election. 

Or maybe not. Here are the Wall Street Journal's Sarah Portlock and Tom Barley with a detail from an unnamed Labor Department source: "However, the report may not be as positive as the sharp drop indicates. A Labor Department economist said one large state didn't report additional quarterly figures as expected, accounting for a substantial part of the decrease."

And here's Reason's Anthony Randazzo with a minority opinion on the housing recovery

In this era of politicized everything, it would be nice to know what that "large state" is. 

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A.M. Links: Does Obama Want To Win?, Venezuelans Consider Emigration, Ex-Feds Back Legal Dope

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.

Judge Napolitano: Let Gary Johnson Debate

Because Romney and Obama are different only in degree, Judge Andrew Napolitano wishes the cabal of former leaders of the two major political parties that runs the debates would permit former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson to participate. Without Johnson in these debates, the argument will remain how much the feds should regulate, rather than whether they should do so.

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Brickbat: In the Red

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, officials say the city's 2010 audit should be finished sometime in November. But they add that little work has been done on the 2011 audit because the city is late on payments to the firm hired to do that audit. The city is on track to run a $12 million deficit this year.

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Washington Initiative's Backers Seem Determined to Make Marijuana Legalization Boring

Behold the blandest set of law enforcement officials since Jack Webb teamed up with Harry Morgan:

That's the latest ad for Initiative 502, which would authorize state-licensed stores to sell marijuana for recreational purposes. The campaign's low-key, dull-as-dishwater approach may be just the ticket. A SurveyUSA poll in early September put support for I-502 at 57 percent, with 34 percent opposed and only 9 percent undecided. In a poll completed on September 30 by the same organization, the level of support was unchanged, making marijuana legalization more popular in Washington than President Obama.

Colorado's marijuana legalization initiative, meanwhile, still has a 10-point lead, with support at 50 percent and 10 percent undecided. Amendment 64's backers also are highlighting support from current and former law enforcement officials. Former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo endorsed the initiative last month, saying:

I am endorsing Amendment 64 not despite my conservative beliefs, but because of them.

Throughout my career in public policy and in public office, I have fought to reform or eliminate wasteful and ineffective government programs. There is no government program or policy I can think of that has failed in such a unique way as marijuana prohibition.

Tancredo, who as a Republican presidential candidate in 2008 endorsed a federalist approach to medical marijuana, has been moving in this direction for several years. In a recent piece about Amendment 64 for The Atlantic, Molly Ball notes that "in each of his 10 years in Congress, [Tancredo] voted for an unsuccessful amendment that would have denied funding to the Justice Department" for medical marijuana raids. Tancredo's evolution on drug policy seems similar to the conversion of former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, a conservative Republican who began to criticize federal interference with state medical marijuana laws in 2006 and eventually renounced his support for the war on drugs convincingly enough to become the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential candidate. (As Ed Krayewski noted last week, Washington's initiative also has attracted support from a prominent Republican: state legislator Michael Baumgartner, who is challenging Sen. Maria Cantwell, an I-502 opponent.)

Ball argues that that the arguments used by Amendment 64's opponents implicitly concede a lot:

It's a sign of how times have changed that the opposition relies not on a front group of concerned parents, as so often in the past, but on largely technical arguments on how the initiative is likely to get tied up in court if it passes. They don't really bother to argue that pot is dangerous; they contend that it's basically legal already, so why tinker with the sanctity of the state's founding document?

After years of referenda, "Coloradans are at this point not inclined to add anything else to the constitution," says Laura Chapin, communications director for No on 64. "Our constitution is cluttered enough already, we've got conflicting directives in it, and Amendment 64, as legislators have pointed out, most likely conflicts with another constitutional amendment, TABOR" -- the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, on the books since 1992, which requires voter approval of tax increases. Chapin says that's at odds with Amendment 64's directive that legislators levy an excise tax on marijuana.

Given that pot is already basically legal, Chapin says, voters won't see the need for a ballot initiative that will cause legislative confusion, put the state at odds with federal law and potentially damage the tourism industry by making Colorado the Amsterdam of America. "Anybody who's been to a concert can tell you nobody's actually being arrested for simple pot possession in Colorado," she said. "What does this get us that we don't already have?"

I discussed the prospect of marijuana legalization by ballot initiative in a column last month.

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Obama Thinks He Was “Too Polite" at Debate, Joe Biden at 39 Percent, Jack Welch Says He Was Right: P.M. Links

  • President Obama thinks he was too polite at the presidential debate last week. "It’s hard to sometimes just keep on saying and what you’re saying isn’t true," the president said.  The campaign is now accusing Mitt Romney of hiding his abortion position by saying he wouldn’t do anything to restrict abortion rights, while a campaign staffer was caught on tape apparently helping someone register to vote twice.  Joe Biden, meanwhile, is polling at 39 percent ahead of Thursday’s vice presidential debate.
  • Jack Welch says he was right to question September’s jobs number, that its always based on subjective assumptions, and that attacks on him seemed more fit for Soviet Russia or Communist China
  • The House hearing on security failures in Benghazi revealed an inept bureaucracy, with questions of who knew what when and the usual measure of partisanship, while Dennis Kucinich pointed to decades of intervention leading up to last year’s in Libya as to why there are security failures in Libya, asking how many more Al-Qaeda there were in Libya now than before the intervention and how many surface-to-air missiles remain missing since.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation is challenging warrantless wiretapping by the federal government in Massachusetts. The feds argue the state secrets doctrine means their actions are exempt from judicial review. A military appeals court, meanwhile, will decide whether to unseal records related to the ongoing prosecution of Bradley Manning.
  • Pakistanis protests against the attempted assassination of a teen activist and held vigils for her while schools shut down. She is expected to be okay after surgery. Five Pakistanis, meanwhile, are dead in a suspected drone strike in the border region a few days after protests in the country against the practice.
  • Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, said that Western sanctions have been ongoing on Iran since 1979 and wouldn’t stop irrespective of the country’s nuclear ambitions. He also said Iran’s economic prospects are better than Europe’s as the rial drops in value.

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Peter Suderman on Mitt Romney's Hero's Journey

These days nearly all major Hollywood productions follow a variation on the three act structure developed starting in the 1970s by screenplay theorists like Syd Field. It's a formulized pop variant on what mythologist Joseph Campbell called The Hero’s Journey, and it's the framework for just about every major blockbuster of the last three decades.

In the first act, we meet our hero in the midst of his everyday life. He has an opportunity to change his life which, after a bit of debate, he decides to pursue. In the second act, our hero is tested. Somewhere in the middle he experiences a great success, and the stakes are raised. But the victory is false, and things get progressively worse until the hero reaches his lowest point. Hitting bottom spurs a period of reflection that helps the hero to truly understand who he is, which eventually leads to a plan to achieve victory using all that he has learned—a plan which he successfully enacts in the third act.

In recent years, screenwriter Blake Snyder has divided the structure into a series of 15 necessary story points known as a "beat sheet." But the basic three act outline remains the same: Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis. 

And so far, writes Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman, Mitt Romney’s campaign seems to be hitting just about every major beat.

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Thornton Colorado Officials Approve Eminent Domain for Private Use

Last night Thornton, Colorado city council members unanimously approved the second South Thornton Urban Renewal Plan, which allows the city to seize private property via eminent domain for transfer to private developers. The original plan was active from 1982 to 2007 and had slightly different boundaries.

From a Reason post last month on eminent domain in Denver:

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

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

The city paid a consultant to produce a Conditions Survey to determine that the neighborhood’s 290 parcels qualify as a “menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare” based on Colorado’s very broad blight laws. Factors that trigger the designation include:

  • “lack of landscaping,”
  • “slopes or unusual terrain,”
  • “presence of billboards,” and
  • “cracked or uneven sidewalks.”

According to the Conditions Survey none of the properties had a “high crime incidence” or generated “high fire dept. call volume” but 11 (3.8 percent) had “vagrants/vandalism/graffiti,” which “while usually not a direct safety threat, can be indicative of unsafe urban environments.”

Threatened properties include a home, three churches, a nursing home, and five apartment complexes, as well as numerous restaurants, offices, and other businesses.

In addition to the Urban Renewal Plan and Conditions Survey, consultant Ricker Cunningham produced a County Impact Report for $26,000. Colorado cities typically spend between $15,000 and $40,000 for these reports according to Christina Vincent of the Thornton Office of Economic Development.

Officials envision raising $91 to $112 million for infrastructure improvements, which might in turn attract private development. According to council member Val Vigil, that spending “doesn’t guarantee that we’re going to be able to attract any developers to come down with the economy the way it is today. It’s going to be hard.”

Thornton City Council members will consider adopting the East 144th and I-25 Avenue Urban Renewal Plan later this month. The two plans join the North Washington Street Urban Renewal Plan, which was approved in 2003.

Reason has tackled eminent domain abuse before.

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Jack Welch Makes Good Points About Cooked-Job-Number Claim

Older readers may remember that last week, in a simpler, more innocent America, the 7.8 percent U-3 unemployment rate was supposed to reverse the stunning collapse of President Obama's re-election campaign. At the time, some spoilsports cast doubts on the surprising 0.3 percent drop in a month (which was unsupported by any discernable improvements in economic growth, increases in job creation or declines in new unemployment benefits claims), and the gloomiest Gus was former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, who accused the Obama Labor Department of fudging the numbers.

Welch got pilloried for that claim, but he's back with a more detailed defense. Although his Wall Street Journal op-ed starts out inauspiciously, by comparing his travails to Soviet show trials and Maoist re-education, Welch makes some interesting points about how the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics conduct their unemployment surveys:  

Some questions allow for unambiguous answers, but others less so. For instance, the range for part-time work falls between one hour and 34 hours a week. So, if an out-of-work accountant tells a census worker, "I got one baby-sitting job this week just to cover my kid's bus fare, but I haven't been able to find anything else," that could be recorded as being employed part-time.

The possibility of subjectivity creeping into the process is so pervasive that the BLS's own "Handbook of Methods" has a full page explaining the limitations of its data, including how non-sampling errors get made, from "misinterpretation of the questions" to "errors made in the estimations of missing data."

Bottom line: To suggest that the input to the BLS data-collection system is precise and bias-free is—well, let's just say, overstated.

Even if the BLS had a perfect process, the context surrounding the 7.8% figure still bears serious skepticism. Consider the following:

In August, the labor-force participation rate in the U.S. dropped to 63.5%, the lowest since September 1981. By definition, fewer people in the workforce leads to better unemployment numbers. That's why the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% in August from 8.3% in July.

Meanwhile, we're told in the BLS report that in the months of August and September, federal, state and local governments added 602,000 workers to their payrolls, the largest two-month increase in more than 20 years. And the BLS tells us that, overall, 873,000 workers were added in September, the largest one-month increase since 1983, during the booming Reagan recovery.

These three statistics—the labor-force participation rate, the growth in government workers, and overall job growth, all multidecade records achieved over the past two months—have to raise some eyebrows. There were no economists, liberal or conservative, predicting that unemployment in September would drop below 8%.

I know I'm not the only person hearing these numbers and saying, "Really? If all that's true, why are so many people I know still having such a hard time finding work? Why do I keep hearing about local, state and federal cutbacks?"

I sat through business reviews of a dozen companies last week as part of my work in the private sector, and not one reported better results in the third quarter compared with the second quarter. Several stayed about the same, the rest were down slightly.

If Obama can't trust General Electric CEOs, this country really is racist.

The BLS maintains six different measures of unemployment, and U-6, which measures part-time work, is the only one that didn't go down last month. I don't know whether that does or does not support Welch's hypothesis about babysitting accountants. Would the hanky panky come from shifting part-timers who would have counted toward U-3 into U-6?

The Census Bureau's 26-page questionnaire [pdf] tries gamely to comprehend the shifting, idiosyncratic nature of work, and the BLS and Census gather a wide range of nuanced information. The data-gathering certainly seems to be a pretty transparent process. (Caveat: I've never met anybody who's been contacted for an unemployment survey, but I've also never met anybody who's been contacted by Gallup and I've only met one person who's been contacted by AC Nieslen; I've also never seen a trapdoor in the ceiling of an elevator nor a loose floorboard which allows important items to be concealed, though I understand from movies and literature that these are ubiquitous.)

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis says top men are working on the unemployment statistics, but that doesn't mean the numbers couldn't be manhandled. Welch scores a nice hit by digging up a New York Times op-ed former Obama economic advisor (is there any other kind of Obama economic advisor?) Austan Goolsbee wrote back in 2003, when the genocidal G.W. Bush administration was sucking dry the marrow of the laboring classes with an unconscionable 5.9 percent unemployment rate. Money quote: "the government has cooked the books."

Besides the skepticism a reasonable person should have about Solis' Labor Department, Obama in 2009 moved to get the Census Bureau to report directly to the White House. This was widely believed have doomed one of Obama's celebrated efforts to "reach across the aisle," when Commerce Secretary nominee Judd Gregg dropped out of the running.

Welch still doesn't present any evidence of fraud. But the administration's dedication to accuracy on items that are more important than jobless numbers seems notably less fervent than its commitment to protecting America's lady parts and its wildly popular children's television characters from the mortal threat posed by Stacey Dash. Good on Jack Welch for keeping this question alive.

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Greece Used to Be an Economic Miracle, Then the Socialists Got in

I am lucky enough to be writing from the Cato Institute, which is holding a conference on the euro-crisis and the European welfare state today. One of the speakers, Aristides Hatzis, is a Greek lawyer who helps run the greekcrisis.net blog, which is well worth a visit. During his time to speak Hatzis laid out how extraordinary Greece’s economic achievements were in the years up to and following the brutal Nazi occupation. A copy of the arguments made can be found here.

From 1929 to 1980 the Greek economy’s average growth rate was 5.2 percent. In that time period Greece experienced dictatorships, occupation, civil war, and a military junta. It was only in 1974 that Greece began to resemble something like a liberal democracy. Some years later Greece was accepted into the European Community, as Hatzis explains: 

Seven years after embracing constitutional democracy the nine (then) members of the European Community (EC) accepted Greece as its tenth member (even before Spain and Portugal). Why? It was mostly a political decision but it was also based on decades of economic growth, despite all the setbacks and obstacles. When Greece entered the EC, the country’s public debt stood at 28 percent of GDP; the budget deficit was less than 3 percent of GDP; and the unemployment rate was 2–3 percent.

In 2011 Greece’s public debt reached 165.4 percent of GDP, the budget deficit was 9.1 percent of GDP, and the unemployment rate was 17.7 percent. What happened?

Hatzis’ theory is that the rise of the socialist PASOK party after the election in October 1981 is largely to blame. While in power PASOK established a bloated and inefficient welfare state, and while in power PASOK’s main opposition (New Democracy) was changed to the point that the differences between the two parties are few and far between. I would strongly recommend more of Hatzis' writings on the topic over at greekcrisis.net, where this argument is fully laid out.  

As per usual, Greece’s economic misery is largely the fault of government officials who managed to ruin what should have been a success story in development and recovery. It’s a shame that recent Greek protests are now aimed at those who understand that something resembling fiscal sanity will have to be in place for prosperity to be realized. It looks like the hangover from the socialist successes is a long way from over. 

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House Hearings on Libya Embassy

You can watch the House Oversight Committee's hearings on the Libya embassy attack on C-Span here

Short take: The more they talk, the more the story evaporates. Ambassador Kennedy is striving to make it sound like the now-retracted claim of a mob gathering prior to the attack wasn't so much a lie as a myth, or something. The best you can say is that the State Department's attitude toward protecting its assets was pretty, eh, laid back — a quality I wouldn't generally attribute to Secretary Hillary Clinton. 

Lowest point so far: Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee) bogarts the mic and tries to take pressure off President Obama by reading a list of Americans killed abroad during the Reagan administration. At least they're not blaming Bush this time. 

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Your Government: Making Rock Concerts Illegal, One Grateful Dead Tribute Band at a Time

Yesterday  Jimmy Tebeau, bass guitarist for The Schwag, a Grateful Dead tribute band, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and 200 hours of community service for tolerating drug sales during the music festivals he hosted at his southern Missouri campground. Under a plea deal that spares him a possible sentence of up to 20 years, Tebeau will also pay a $50,000 fine and forfeit his 250-acre property, known as Camp Zoe.

The federal charge to which Tebeau pleaded guilty, "maintaining drug-involved premises," applies to defendants who "manage or control any place" and "intentionally rent, lease, profit from, or make available for use, with or without compensation, the place for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance." Hence it did not matter that Tebeau neither distributed drugs nor profited from their sale. In fact, he could have faced the same charge even if people merely used drugs at his events, known as Schwagstock and Spookstock. Tebeau reserved the right to challenge the use of this statute against the operator of a concert venue, which has potentially sweeping implications for just about any musical performance where the scent of cannabis perfumes the air.

Brian Doherty discussed this case a few months ago. The Drug War Chronicle has more background here.

[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the tip.] 

Kevin Sabet and Ethan Nadelmann Debate Marijuana Legalization and the Nanny State

This week, Kevin Sabet of the Drug Policy Institute and Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance debate marijuana laws and policy.

Today's question concerns the push for more lenient treatment of marijuana in the context of a broader push for smoking bans, fatty food and drink restrictions, and other regulations ostensibly aimed at promoting public health. At the same time many states are pursuing more liberal cannabis policies, many are also becoming more strict on other health issues, including tobacco. Does this make sense?

Tomorrow, Sabet and Nadelmann will consider the Obama administration's drug enforcement policies.

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Homesteading on the Detroit Frontier

The Detroit Free Press reports:

In emptier parts of Detroit, some residents have fenced in the vacant lots next to their houses to create suburban-size parcels. They create gardens, children's playgrounds, parking for cars, toolsheds or other structures.

Some scholars who have studied the practice refer to these as "blots," a contraction of the words "block" and "lot." Over time, the practice is re-creating some Detroit neighborhoods with bigger lots more typical of suburban subdivisions. Only about 40% had been recorded in the city's assessor's office, a local expert has estimated.

The brief article also mentions another way Detroiters are using those abandoned lots, estimating that "there were more than 1,000 family, school and community gardens in the city in 2011."

Detroit isn't the only city undergoing a grassroots gardening boom. Rona Kobell (full disclosure: she's my wife) recently wrote about Baltimore's community gardens in the Chesapeake Bay Journal. In that case, she notes, the gardeners' improvements have been protected by the urban equivalent of a homesteading act: "a 'dollar-lot' policy, allowing community groups that have been using a plot of city-owned land to claim it for $1."

New York City did something similar in the '70s, but it wasn't willing to make the gardeners' property rights permanent. As Sarah Ferguson explained in a 1999 piece for the New Village Journal,

With so many gardens cropping up on city-owned land, in 1978 the city established Operation Green Thumb, which leases plots for $1 a year. Gardeners and greening groups had pressured for the program as a way of legitimizing their efforts. "They realized they were squatting and wanted some recognition of their right to be there," says former Green Thumb director Jane Weisman. But others saw it as a bureaucratic means to control the ad-hoc appropriation of abandoned land. From the start, the City made clear that all leases were issued on a "temporary" basis. In order to enter the Green Thumb program, gardeners had to agree to vacate their plots within 30 days if the land was ever selected for development.

Sure enough, it wasn't long before the eviction notices started arriving. Those evictions weren't always enacted in an above-board manner -- as Ferguson writes in another article, "dozens of gardens in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx were being disposed of as vacant lots, with Council members for the most part unaware of the true nature of the land they were voting on." Here's hoping the gardeners and blotters of Baltimore and Detroit don't have to fight any land grabs down the road; and if the fight does come, here's hoping they have the stamina to prevail.

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Anti-Jihad Ads Start Running in D.C.; No Terrorism Yet

This week, thanks to a federal injunction issued last Friday, controversial pro-Israel, anti-jihad ads sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) began running in the Washington, D.C., subway system. U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who said an opinion explaining her reasoning will be available soon, evidently was not persuaded by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's argument that the ads—which urge people to "support Israel" and "defeat jihad," thereby siding with "the civilized man" rather than "the savage"—might "expose passengers to terrorism." Since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has said WMATA's advertising space qualifies as a "designated public forum," this fear of violence would have to count as "a compelling governmental interest" that could be served only by rejecting the AFDI ads. But the only evidence WMATA offered to back up its concern, aside from protests in other countries by Muslims angry about a YouTube video mocking their prophet, was a single email message in broken English threatening a violent response to the anti-jihad posters.

Collyer was even less impressed by WMATA's claim that AFDI's message amounted to "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 ("damned fascist" and "damned racketeer") shouted directly at a city marshal, rather different from a controversial political ad. In any case, the Court never again used this doctrine to uphold a conviction, raising the question of whether it is still viable.

Yet the "fighting words" doctrine appears to be the inspiration for the ad rule adopted by New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) after it unsuccessfully tried to prevent the AFDI ads from appearing in that city's transit system by declaring them "demeaning" to Muslims. The new rule bars ads that the MTA "reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace." Contrary to my initial report (subsequently corrected), MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg says the AFDI ads "are in compliance with our revised standards," meaning that, notwithstanding what WMATA claimed in D.C., they don't "present an actual threat to our customers and employees." The question remains: What sort of ad would? Is this new rule purely theoretical, a cover for the MTA's embarrassing First Amendment defeat? If it has any practical implications at all, it can only empower violent protesters (and censorious MTA bureaucrats) by making freedom of speech hinge on the anticipated reactions of the touchiest bystanders.

Speaking of which,  the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muneer Awad, tells CNN, "We're trying to make sure MTA has policies to discourage hate speech," adding, "These hate ads are part of a larger problem." The AFDI, of course, disputes that its ads (which it says condemn violent advocates of jihad, as opposed to Muslims generally) constitute hate speech. In any case, the message of the First Amendment litigation in New York and D.C. is that public transit authorities, once they decide to sell space for political ads, have no business excluding messages they consider demeaning or hateful. As the MTA concedes in a press release, "A cost of opening our ad space to a variety of viewpoints on matters of public concern is that we cannot readily close that space to certain advertisements on account of their expression of divisive or even venomous messages." It adds that "in our enlightened civil democracy, the answer to distasteful and uncivil speech is more, and more civilized, speech." If only public officials did not need courts to remind them of this well-established principle.

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John Stossel on Mitt Romney, Big-Government Man

People who hope for smaller government as a way to expand liberty and create prosperity should be disturbed by what they heard last week, argues John Stossel. The GOP candidate painted himself as a big government man. "Regulation is essential....Every free economy has good regulation." He added the obligatory, "Regulation can become excessive," but showed no sign of understanding that free competition—unrestricted by government monopolistic privilege—is the best regulation. Nothing better protects consumers and workers than free choice in a competitive marketplace.

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