"Hayek Institute's Barbara Kolm on the Eurozone Crisis" is the latest from Reason TV.
Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.View this article
George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee , died today at age 90. Jesse Walker wrote an appreciation of McGovern earlier this week and Nick Gillespie reviewed the former Democratic nominee’s libertarian hero status.
Here is George McGovern’s 1972 acceptance speech, delivered at three in the morning after defeating 30-some candidates, promising not to "concede a single state to Richard Nixon" (in November he lost all but Massachusetts):
"Why Expanding America's Military Strength Puts The U.S. at Risk" is the latest from Reason TV.
Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.
I eulogize the late senator and presidential candidate over at Bloomberg View. Snippets:
When you take a longer view of his career -- especially after he got bounced from the Senate in 1980 during the Republican landslide he helped create -- what emerges is a rare public figure whose policy positions shifted to an increasingly libertarian stance in response to a world that’s far more complicated than most politicians can ever allow....
McGovern believed that attempts to impose single-value standards were profoundly un-American and “that we cannot allow the micromanaging of each other’s lives.” But as governments at various levels expand their control of everything from health- care to mortgages to the consumption of soda pop and so much more, that’s exactly what’s happening.
In 1972, McGovern was out of step with the American public. Not anymore. Large majorities see the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the mistakes and failures they plainly were. And his criticism of paternalism is wildly popular with everyone but our rulers. An August 2012 CNN/ORC International Poll found that only 40 percent of registered voters want the government to “promote traditional values,” a finding that is down from 57 percent in 2008. CNN also found that “six in 10 say that government is doing too much that should be left to businesses and individuals.”
These days, it’s politicians of both parties who are out of step with the voting public. As the nation prepares to pay its last respects to George McGovern, we can only hope that our leaders will learn from his example and become less confident in telling us how to live our lives.
BEVERLY, Mass. — With her us-against-them rhetoric and calls for a stricter regulatory climate, Elizabeth Warren does not appear to be a Senate candidate for libertarians. But after a packed rally in this seaside Massachusetts town the Harvard Law Professor talked briefly with Reason about why libertarians should vote for her over Senator Scott Brown.
Warren’s response was unlike anything this journalist has heard when asking candidates of both parties across the country the simple question, “Why should libertarians vote for you?”
“I believe in contract law probably more than most people,” Warren said in a small classroom in the basement of a Baptist Church.
“I’ve taught contract law for 25 years and contracts are about private ordering, about parties and voluntary exchanges who engage in transactions that make all of us better off. I love contracts and I think it’s a core part of the libertarian principles,” said Warren.
“It is an important part. Libertarians believe in social ordering, right? That the social ordering is by private arrangement, so, that they ought to believe in contracts and in fact I think they do.
Warren had just finished speaking to a crowd of supporters about primarily veteran’s issues with former Senator Max Cleland and Congressman John Tierney. Warren left after speaking with reporters for approximately five minutes for an event in Hopkington with Cleland.
Brown campaigned with Senator John McCain and Tierney's challenger, Richard Tisei, in Melrose earlier in the day.
Defenders of the U.S. campaign say that militants in Pakistan threaten American troops in Afghanistan as well as Pakistani civilians. Of course, there is an easy way to protect American troops: bring them home. The 11-year-long Afghan war holds no benefits whatever for the security of the American people. On the contrary, writes Sheldon Richman, it endangers Americans by creating hostility and promoting recruitment for anti-American groups.
The official U.S. line is that America’s invasion of Afghanistan was intended to eradicate al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who harbored them. Yet the practical effect of the invasion and related policies, including the invasion of Iraq and the bombing in Yemen and Somalia, has been to facilitate the spread of al-Qaeda and like-minded groups.View this article
J.K. Rowling’s first book since the Harry Potter series features no wizards, dementors, or house elves. Instead, The Casual Vacancy uses local politics to explore the complex social web of a small English village. The novel takes a decidedly adult tone, with some of the village children engaging in self-harm, drug use, and sex while the adults engage in adultery and domestic abuse.
Since the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives won the last general election, in May 2010, Britain has been politically stressed, with frustrations erupting over the state of the economy. Rowling's book deals with these issues more capably than you may have expected, Matthew Feeney reports, and while it has its literary flaws, the novel manages to be more than simply a social commentary.View this article
WeAreChange.org, an independent journalism outfit, snagged a quick interview with Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, at last week’s presidential debate.
The National Defense Authorization Act, infinite detention, the prosecution of journalists and similar expressions of executive authority (none of which were actually brought up in the debate) are some of We Are Change’s pet issues. When they attempt to get Wasserman Schultz to talk about the NDAA she won’t bite. She’s obviously in the “spin room” to spin the debate in President Barack Obama's favor and certainly isn’t going to do something crazy like talk actual policy.
But when Luke Rudkowski brings up Obama’s “kill list” of terrorist targets he’s working to take out — due process be damned — the conversation turns amazingly, awesomely awful real fast. Wasserman Schultz purports to have no idea what this list even is. She may be playing dumb, but her facial expressions in the video lead me to believe that she thinks she’s being punked and that Rudkowski is some sort of Borat knockoff:
Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald, who has a lengthy rant over at The Guardian about what is either an amazing amount of dumbness or an amazing amount of deliberate partisan arrogance on display.
"Reason-Rupe Poll on Fixing California, Prop 30, and Rolling Back State Spending" is the latest from Reason TV.
Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.View this article
From the FDA’s foolish and destructive crackdown against the sale of raw milk to the USDA’s politicized labeling process for organic foods, there are many important federal food-policy issues that President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney have so far failed to address this election season. Baylen Linnekin of Keep Food Legal runs down the 10 most important federal food-policy issues the presidential candidates should be discussing before election day.View this article
That was fast.
Slate is reporting this evening that one day after the Internet (myself included) lost its collective mind with rage, Minnesota has backed off its announced ban on free online courses like the ones offered by Coursera and Marginal Revolution University.
Here's the new statement from Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education:
"Obviously, our office encourages lifelong learning and wants Minnesotans to take advantage of educational materials available on the Internet, particularly if they’re free. No Minnesotan should hesitate to take advantage of free, online offerings from Coursera."
He added that the 20-year-old statute in question clearly didn't envision free online classes from accredited universities:
"When the legislature convenes in January, my intent is to work with the Governor and Legislature to appropriately update the statute to meet modern-day circumstances. Until that time, I see no reason for our office to require registration of free, not-for-credit offerings."
Slate's calling it a victory for common sense and a pleasing example of government responsiveness. I agree. Looks like Minnesota is nice after all.
Remember kids: It's really terrible to "other" your political opponents. Except when it's not!
As I wrote during the Democratic National Convention, the Democratic othering of Romney and Republicans has become central to their identity, to the point where one of the biggest applause lines from the party's opening-night keynote speaker was that "Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn't get it."
Related: Buzzfeed asks 25 college Democrats to describe Republicans in three words. Here's one of my faves: "Ignorant, close-minded assholes."
They say happiness can't be bought. But that's not going to stop Medicare's payment technocrats from trying! The Wall Street Journal reports that the seniors' health program is tying a billion dollars worth of payments to making patients happy:
At Grady Memorial Hospital here, doctors are being taught to stop interrupting patients while they are speaking. Nurses recently got hand-held phones so patients can reach them instantly. New bedside comforts include cable sports channel ESPN and a menu featuring wild salmon.
Grady is making these changes in response to a shift in how the federal government pays hospitals for treating people on Medicare, the federal health-care program for seniors.
Nearly $1 billion in payments to hospitals over the next year will be based in part on patient satisfaction, determined by a 27-question government survey administered to patients. Hospitals with high scores will get a bonus payment. Those with low ones will lose money.
It's nice that Medicare's overseers are concerned with patient satisfaction, which is not trivial. But these sorts of fiddly payment schemes almost always end up raising more questions than they answer. Should we be paying for patient satisfaction? For doctor credentials? For efficiency? For health outcomes? And if so, what criteria should we use to measure the relative success of any hospital or provider organization at meeting these goals? Furthermore, how much should we actually pay for any of these things? How much is it worth to doctors? To medical administrators? To patients? The answer to most of these questions is: Who knows?
It's hard enough for local providers to determine market-clearing prices that balance services and costs in sustainable proportions. It's impossible for a centralized board of payment decision makers overseeing a vast federal bureacuracy to know. Organizing this sort of information about the overlapping interests of buyers and sellers in complex service environment is what markets are extremely good at. And for that you need price signals, not price and payment controls. But rather than figure out ways to allow markets to help balance these interests, the federal government has instead spent the last four decades experimenting with various payment tweaks like this one, most of which have failed.
The latest Reason-Rupe poll interviewed 696 Californians, including 508 likely voters, between October 11-15th and asked about several of California’s ballot initiatives.
On November 6th Californians will vote on Proposition 30, which increases taxes on higher-income Californians and the sales tax in order to raise $6 billion in revenue to allocate to K-12 education and higher education. Reason-Rupe finds this ballot measure is too close to call with 50 percent of likely voters in favor and 46 percent against, with a 5.1 percent margin of error. Nevertheless, this data reveals the race is tightening: although those in favor have remained fairly constant, there are an increasing number of those opposed. For instance, in mid September the Field Poll found 36 percent opposed the measure; a month later opposition has risen ten points to 46 percent.
Proposition 32 prohibits unions, corporations, and government contractors from donating to political candidates and from deducting money from workers’ paychecks to use for political purposes. This ballot measure is also too close to call with 48 percent of likely voters intending to vote no and 45 percent voting yes.
Some view Prop 32 as a method to significantly curb the power of public employee unions in the state. Despite divided support for this measure, Reason-Rupe finds a majority of California voters think public sector unions have too much power when negotiating their contracts, 67 percent think they get better retirement benefits than similarly employed private sector workers, and three quarters think taxpayers should vote on increases to public employees’ pensions and benefits.
Proposition 38 would also raise taxes for education and other programs, but would raise taxes on most Californians, rather than only upper-income households. The proposition is currently trailing 42 to 52 percent, and opposition may be increasing. Rising opposition may in part be explained by the presence of a competing tax ballot measure, Proposition 30.
Reason-Rupe found that 29 percent of likely voters plan to vote yes on both Prop 30 and Prop 38 and 33 percent plan to vote no on both. Eighteen percent plan to vote yes on Prop 30 but no on 38, and 12 percent plan to vote yes on Prop 38 and no on Prop 30. In other words, 59 percent support some kind of tax increase on some group of Californians.
California telephone poll conducted October 11th-15th on both landline and cell phones, 696 adults, margin of error +/- 3.8%. The sample also includes 508 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 5.1%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full methodology can be found here. Full poll results found here.
- The Transportation Security Administration is firing 25 employees and suspending another 19 for not properly screening bags at Newark’s airport. It’s the largest disciplinary action taken by the TSA since it was founded.
- A top security official and seven others were killed in a car bomb explosion in Beirut today. The violence makes Lebanon’s threat to sue television terrorism drama Homeland for making their country appear unsafe a bit awkward.
- An armed 12-year-old girl in Oklahoma dealt with a home intruder by shooting him through a closet door. The girl was not harmed.
- Chris Matthews thinks the Constitution protects the president from people being rude to him. To the president, I mean. Be as rude to Matthews as you like. Also: Be as rude to the president as you like.
- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she will not run for president in 2016. She should have that printed out on a card to hand out for the next four years because you know she’s going to keep being asked.
- The CIA wants even more drones. Turns out the Middle East and North Africa are just full of military-age males and it’s hard to terrify all of them.
Have a news tip for us? Send it to: email@example.com.
In 2009, Officer Edward Krawetz of the Lincoln Police Department arrested Donna Levesque for unruly behavior at a Rhode Island casino. While seated on the ground with her hands cuffed behind her, Levesque kicked Krawetz in the shin. Krawetz responded by cocking back his right leg and nailing Levesque in the side of the head, knocking her over. In March 2012, Krawetz was convicted of felony battery despite his claim that he kicked Levesque in "self defense." The 10-year sentence he received was immediately suspended, and Krawetz was ordered to attend anger management classes. But he wasn't fired from the Lincoln Police Department. Under Rhode Island law, the fate of Krawetz's job as a cop rested not with a criminal court, or even his commanding officer, but in the hands of a three-person panel composed of fellow police officers--one of whom Krawetz would get to choose.
Krawetz and cops like him across the county are able to keep their jobs and benefits—sometimes only temporarily, but always longer than they should—thanks to model legislation written and lobbied for by well-funded police unions. That piece of legislation is called the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, writes Mike Riggs, and its sole purpose is to shield cops from the laws they're paid to enforce.View this article
Ricky Gray has been in solitary confinement since 2006, despite having a violence-free prison record and no major disciplinary infractions.
Shane Bauer’s excellent Mother Jones article on solitary confinement—which tells Gray's story—is the latest addition to a long line of depressing indictments of the draconian methods practiced in California prison system. Bauer’s research suggests that nearly 12,000 Californian inmates are currently housed in some form of isolation, with 3,809 of these serving an indeterminate sentence. David Barneburg, the institutional gang investigator for California’s Pelican Bay prison, claims that segregating gang members through solitary confinement is the only way to keep prisons from being overrun by racial conflict and killings. Despite this the rate of violent incidents in California prisons has risen almost 20 percent in the 23 years Pelican Bay has been in operation.
In 2006 Ricky Gray was validated as a member of the Black Guerrilla Family (a gang classified as a ‘security threat group’ that, according to Californian prison officials, operates within the state’s prisons.) In order to make the official classification the state of California requires at least three pieces of evidence pointing towards gang membership with at least one of these showing a ‘direct link’ between the prisoner in question and a validated gang member.
But the state doesn't seem to have met this standard in Gray's case. A review ordered by a sympathetic warden found that many of the informants in Gray’s case didn’t even know Gray. Two alleged informants signed sworn affidavits documenting that they were never interviewed about Gray and hadn’t even met the guard who compiled the original statements.
But before action could be taken, the sympathetic warden in charge of Gray’s review moved on, leaving it up to the initial gang investigator to choose to overturn the validation status. After he refused to do so, Gray took the case to court where it was ruled that;
A prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongfully accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest.
Bauer suggests that this is merely another way of saying that "it is not illegal for prison authorities to lie in order to lock somebody away in solitary."
I admit to a weakness for anything that, intentionally or otherwise, sticks it to the man. And I really don't like automated traffic cameras that issue tickets to alleged speeders and red-light runners who are often driving at perfectly safe speeds and cornering on too-closely timed yellow lights. The damned things aren't just annoying, they're often optimized less for traffic safety than for generating revenue. So I'm tickled by a newly developed license plate frame that renders traffic cameras impotent.
Jonathan Dandrow has developed noPhoto, which renders the pix snapped by those revenue-generating robo-cams useless. The technology behind noPhoto is fairly simple. At the top of the gadget, which doubles as a license plate frame, there’s an optical flash trigger that detects the flash of the traffic-light camera. That trigger sets off one or both xenon flashes in the sides of the noPhoto, so when the traffic-light camera opens its shutter, there’s too much light and the picture of your license plate is overexposed. Big Brother can’t read your plate.
I'm going to take a wild guess that the powers-that-be won't be pleased by this latest technological development. That likely means a legal response aimed at prohibiting the sale of noPhoto on the open market. But once a technology is out of the bag ...
As noted on Reason 24/7 yesterday, third parties in Arizona are worried about Proposition 121, the “Open Elections/Open Government Act,” which would create a single primary for all candidates with the top two advancing to November. And then you have to pick between Kodos and Kang. The Tucson Sentinel reports the backers of the proposition say the system would encourage more “moderate” candidates. The proposition makes uniform the petition requirement for ballot access, lowering it for independent candidates while raising it for third parties.
California passed a similar proposition in 2010, after previously instituting an “open primary” system that forced the top two vote getters of the major parties on an open ballot to be the party’s candidates for the general election. The Supreme Court struck the system down in 2000, and California’s response was to strip the parties out all together in a “blanket” primary. A study by the Public Policy Institute of California, however, found the situation bleak for third party and independent candidates under the new system, which came into effect this year; only eight made it to November ballot and the three third party candidates were all write-ins with no other competition but the incumbent. The blanket primary also created competitive intraparty races in otherwise quiet districts. Such a race almost led to a fight in a debate last week.
Good thing your vote doesn’t count.
The Des Moines Register reports that for five years ending in February 2011, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission shook down landlords for "voluntary contributions" in exchange for dropping discrimination complaints. The Register obtained copies of 27 settlement agreements involving about $20,000 in contributions. Unlike money from fines, which end up in the state's general fund, the donations went directly to the commission, creating "the impression that justice is for sale," as state court administrator David Boyd puts it. The commission ended the practice after Winterset attorney Mark Smith questioned its propriety.
Smith tells the Register that a landlord he represented was the target of a sting operation in which a commission employee posed as a tenant who needed a "service dog" for anxiety and asked whether a pet deposit would be required. Evidently the landlord said yes, because the commission later sent him a transcript of the telephone conversation along with a proposed settlement agreement calling for "a voluntary contribution to the commission in the amount of $500."
"In my opinion," Smith says, "their conduct was grossly unethical." The Register reports that the Iowa Attorney General's Office initially "agreed that soliciting donations in lieu of fines was acceptable under Iowa law" but "revisited the issue early last year [i.e., after Smith's complaint] and concluded the practice is not appropriate."
[Thanks to Mark Lambert for the tip.]
UPDATE: This post originally said that the featured poster was produced by a group called Europe4All. In fact, according to Giedrius Sudikas, spokesman for the commission's office in Lithuania, the poster was part of a competition held by the Czech Council on Foreign Relations.
At first glance it looks like a happy-feely all inclusive tolerance plug, but on closer inspection a more sinister symbol can be seen amongst the crosses, star of Davids, ying-yangs, trisulas, and Torii gates, the hammer and sickle. Hannan remarks on the symbol of an atheist regime that killed tens of millions of people being among religious symbols in a poster promoting tolerance:
For three generations, the badge of the Soviet revolution meant poverty, slavery, torture and death. It adorned the caps of the chekas who came in the night. It opened and closed the propaganda films which hid the famines. It advertised the people's courts where victims of purges and show-trials were condemned. It fluttered over the re-education camps and the gulags.
Nauseating stuff. Whoever is responsible for the poster maybe should have considered the misery inflicted by the Soviet Union on countries that are now members of the E.U. While to ignorant left-wing westerners gripped by middle-class guilt the hammer and sickle might be some sort of pathetic symbolic refuge, to the people of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland it might have a different connotation.
All I want to know is who forgot the swastikas.
Shadow economies — black markets, underground economies, whatever you want to call them — provide a refuge for people overburdened by taxes and regulations. Businesses that can't navigate a byzantine maze of licenses, permits and red tape, or discover their profit margins can't survive the appetites of revenue collectors, can nevertheless find life outside the legal economy. But shadow economies not only offer life to entrepreneurs and workers, they can even keep whole struggling countries on their feet. Economists now warn that stamping out shadow economies, as so many politicians vow to do, could be suicide in places where the aboveground world is a less than completely fertile environment.
From The Economist:
Friedrich Schneider, a professor at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, has been assessing shadow economies for years. He reckons that much of Greece’s shadow economy, perhaps as much as half, actually complements activities in the official economy, adding to welfare and overall GDP. Stamping it out altogether might do more harm than good.
How is it that the shadow economy "complements activities in the official economy"?
A government has the challenge of deciding whether the shadow economy is a blessing or a curse. And, argues Mr Schneider in a paper he has been circulating, it may not have a great interest in reducing it, for the following reasons:
- Income earned in the shadow economy increases the standard of living of one-third of the working population
- Between 40% and 50% of these activities have a complementary character, which means additional value-added and an increase in overall output
- Foregone taxes may be moderate since at least two-thirds of the income earned in the shadow economy is immediately spent in the official economy
- People who work in the shadow economy have less time for other things such as going on demonstrations
Greece is of specific concern here. It's a country where the shaow economy equaled an estimated 25.1 percent of GDP last year. Unsurprisingly, Greece is ranked 119th in the world in terms of economic freedom, where "licensing requirements remain burdensome" and "[l]abor regulations are restrictive, with the non-salary cost of employing a worker high and restrictions on work hours rigid."
But there are lots of places in the world today that have created discouraging environments for aboveboard economic activity. Then, off-the-books work becomes a necessity, and "stamping it out altogether might do more harm than good."
Yeah. We're looking at you, California.
A new Reason-Rupe poll of 508 likely voters in California finds Obama continues to enjoy a significant lead in the state with 53 percent to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 38 percent. Just weeks ago, however, a Field Poll conducted Sept 6-17 found Obama with a 24 point lead, 58 percent to 34 percent. This suggests that perhaps Romney’s successful debate performance in early October cut Obama's margin from +24 to +15.
Fifty-five percent of Californians approve of the job President Obama is doing and 40 percent disapprove. Similarly, 59 percent of likely voters view the president favorably, with 38 percent viewing him unfavorably. In contrast, 49 percent of likely voters view Romney unfavorably and 42 percent view him favorably.
The poll also asked about Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. They garner 2 percent and 1 percent respectively. It is interesting to note that Gary Johnson’s number is so low despite the 20 percent of likely California voters who are arguably more closely aligned with his positions than either Romney or Obama. Consider this—20 percent of California likely voters say that “people would be better able to handle today’s problems within a free market with less government involvement” and “that too often, government regulation of businesses does more harm than good” andalso that “government should not favor any particular set of values.” These come from our classic questions for gleaning ideological predispositions. This particular combination of answers indicate a libertarian predisposition. Yet, among these voters, only 6 percent plan to vote for Johnson, 64 percent plan to cast votes for Romney, and about a quarter will do so for Obama.
In line with other polls aggregated on Real Clear Politics, Senator Dianne Feinstein has maintained her consistent lead over Republican opponent Elizabeth Emken, 60 percent to 34 percent.
California telephone poll conducted October 11th-15th on both landline and cell phones, 696 adults, margin of error +/- 3.8%. The sample also includes 508 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 5.1%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full methodology can be found here. Full poll results found here.
On Wednesday, October 17, I was privileged to participate in a conversation with C-SPAN's Susan Swain and New York Times' columnist Charles M. Blow about the upcoming election. We focused especially on economic and tax issues, along with generational warfare. Take a look and a listen by clicking above.
It's a fun and spirited discussion, helped along by the use of cell phone technology that allowed the audience to automatically vote on a series of questions, such as who they planned to vote for, what issues they thought were most important, and the like.
The event took place at Purdue University in Indiana and was sponsored by the school's Project Impact, which brings speakers to campus and hosts interactive debates and conversations.
"Do the Cops Know Your Info? A Conversation with the ACLU of Illinois's Adam Schwartz" is the latest video from Reason TV.
Last week, responding to an anonymous tip about a homeless man sleeping at a Jewish learning center in Brooklyn, police beat Ehud Halevy because he refused to leave, saying he had permission to be there. That turned out to be true. In any case, it is clear from the security camera footage, which was posted by Crown Heights Info on Sunday, that the police were the aggressors. The Raw Story's Stephen Webster describes the one-sided fight this way:
When the officers attempted to force his exit from the building, ignoring his claims that he was allowed to be there, Halevy resisted. That’s when one of the officers flew into a rage, putting his fists up like a boxer and launching a flurry of punches.
As the video rolled, Halevy sustained repeated blows from the male officer while a female officer stood by hitting him with a club, then pepper-spraying him. Finally, an upwards of 10 officers ran into the building to ensure the man could not resist any further, and he was taken away.
At a press conference on Monday, Rabbi Moshe Feigli, director of the Alternative Learning Institute for Young Adults (ALIYA), where Halevy had been sleeping on a couch for a month, said:
This person had permission to be there. Regardless, the behavior of the police department—of two individuals —is beyond comprehension. A very sad moment for me personally. I'm a great supporter of the New York City Police Department, and I continue to be a great supporter, but this behavior is unconscionable, and if not for the video camera to record what happened, we might actually believe that Ehud attacked the police officers, and he never did. He’s charged with felonies, he's charged with all kinds of crimes, and now I wonder how many other times New Yorkers are charged with serious crimes and there's no video camera to tell the story.
Crown Heights Info reports that Halevy was charged with assaulting a police officer, a felony that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, plus trespassing, resisting arrest, and harassment. Watch the video and judge for yourself who is harassing and assaulting whom. Feigli, Webster reports, "demanded that the New York Police Department identify the offending officers and fire them immediately."
[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]
At the Volokh Conspiracy, Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler argues that yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit invalidating Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, “provides a roadmap” for a future Supreme Court decision reaching that same result. He writes:
The key move in Judge Jacobs’ opinion is concluding that sexual orientation is a “quasi-suspect” class justifying intermediate scrutiny. This requires the federal government to show that its policy is substantially related to an important governmental interest. I am not sure existing precedent calls for such heightened scrutiny here, particularly as the Supreme Court in Romer and Lawrence avoided this step. Nonetheless Judge Jacobs makes a plausible case.
Once he’s taken this step, it is quite clear that the federal government is going to lose. While there is little question that DOMA would satisfy traditional rational basis scrutiny (as Judge Straub explains in dissent), it is hard to argue that the federal government has an important interest in refusing to recognize such marriages. Marriages, after all, are performed and legitimated under state law. Seeking uniformity in the federal definition of marriage or paying less in survivor benefits, and the like, are insufficient to justify intermediate scrutiny. (Indeed, due to the marriage penalty, it’s likely that federal recognition of same-sex marriages would actually increase federal tax revenues.) Insofar as the federal government appealed to other interests, such as encouraging a traditional definition of marriage or “responsible procreation,” it’s hard to see how such concerns are the province of the federal government, rather than the states.
Read the rest here.
Claiming that their truncheon-waving riot police are the ones actually in danger, Spain is drafting a law banning the photography or videotaping of police in the line of duty. Russia Today has some information:
Spain’s government is drafting a law that bans the photographing and filming of members of the police. The Interior Ministry assures they are not cracking down on freedom of expression, but protecting the lives of law enforcement officers.
The draft legislation follows waves of protests throughout the country against uncompromising austerity cuts to public healthcare and education.
The new Citizen Safety Law will prohibit “the capture, reproduction and editing of images, sounds or information of members of the security or armed forces in the line of duty,” said the director general of the police, Ignacio Cosido. He added that this new bill seeks to “find a balance between the protection of citizens’ rights and those of security forces.”
The dissemination of images and videos over social networks like Facebook will also be punishable under the legislation.
Here’s a lovely video showing Spain’s police at work in 2011 (fast-forward to the 2:00 mark for the good stuff):
A report at Global Voices highlights some of the claims of police abuse at the more recent protests over Spain’s pursuit of austerity:
Once again, the social networks were the most commonly used means of sharing impressions, slogans and material about the events. Indignation about the police brutality continues to be one of the most commented and criticized aspects. A multitude of videos show arbitrary arrests, the intimidation of journalists, and protestors being hit and chased, including inside Atocha train station. Besides home videos, devices allowing events to be streamed such as Toma la Tele played an important role.
It is important to note the reaction of spontaneous support displayed on the net which has transformed the manager of a local bar into a hero. He prevented the police from entering his establishment where a group of protestors who were being chased had found refuge. Another widely circulated video on the Internet shows evidence of police infiltrators dressed as citizens. The video goes on to show a scene in which the riot police hit an individual and he identifies himself as a policeman shouting: “I'm a colleague, damn it.” This phrase later became a hashtag on Twitter. Amnesty International Spain announced that it will request an investigation by the Interior Ministry [es] to clarify what the infiltrators were doing there and whether their intention was to break up the protest. The police were also criticised for not wearing their identification badges.
So if the police weren't wearing badges and recording them violated the law, it would quite neatly make it impossible to hold abusive police accountable. Not that there appears to be much effort anyway.
Yesterday the Gary Johnson campaign filed its latest attempt to sue his way into the presidential debates. He has a novel strategy this time, not the (very unlibertarian) antitrust tactic he tried before.
His campaign is claiming that, by the standards that President Obama and Mitt Romney are judged against (their polling numbers against only one other contender) that he fully satisfies the official qualification requirement of polling over 15 percent support. He doesn't do so when matched against both of his major party opponents, but does, his suit claims, do so against Obama alone.
The suit asserts that in five different recently conducted polls in which Johnson is up against Obama alone, he exceeds 15 percent support. Johnson got as high as 45.8 percent in a late September Toluna poll (and as low as 25.9 percent in an early October Research Now poll, but still above 15.)
As the suit against the Commission on Presidential Debates argues, "Governor Romney was included in the debates based on polls that were head-to-head between President Obama and Governor Romney. Polls comparing Governor Johnson head-to-head with President Obama similarly meet the criteria."
The suit is seeking injunctive and compensatory relief and a jury trial. It claims, if I'm understanding the legalese correctly, that the Commission on Presidential Debates announcement of its criteria for candidate inclusion constitutes an implied contract that Johnson relied on in his huge campaign expenses in order to meet those criteria. Thus, the Commission's failure to include him is a breach of contract both specific and implied, as well as unlawful discrimination against Johnson because of his party affiliation.
The suit is demanding "specific performance" (that is, that the Commission actually allow Johnson in the last debate) and if that fails, the damages he seeks for being robbed of the exposure of the debates will, the suit says, be "likely approaching millions of dollars" since he is losing "several hours of prime time television coverage on all major American stations...tens of thousands of social media mentions, thousands of print articles and hundreds of radio station mentions."
The city of Stockton, California is bankrupt, following more than a decade of a Bacchanalian feasting on taxpayer dollars, including the creation of a lifetime medical benefit for city employees, and the provision of the most-generous “3 percent at 50” pension system to its highly-paid public safety officials. Yet as Steven Greenhut reports, Stockton city workers who attended the unveiling of a new report detailing the dangerous trends in public-employee compensation in California on Wednesday night complained about cuts in their compensation packages that are causing hardship for them and their city. Greenhut would like to remind those workers that the purpose of government is to provide services to the public, not enrich the people who work for it.View this article
While many conservative Republicans rightly sneer at Keynesian-derived stimulus spending as counterproductive, they nonetheless often create a loophole for something called "defense spending."
In thinking that government spending can generate long-term economic growth, they end up being similar to stimulatarians like Paul Krugman, who dings GOPpers on this inconsistency while entertaining his own bizarre fantasies of alien invasions, dreams of a World War to crank up economic growth, and misimpressions that flattening the World Trade Center was going to revive the building industry (seriously).
Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy provides some interesting charts that plot economic growth and military spending:
Politicians and pundits have often implied that reductions in defense spending would shrink the gross domestic product (GDP) and further weaken the already-weak economic recovery. Based on this week’s chart series, their concerns don’t appear to pan out. In fact, over the past 30 years, real economic growth has grown and shrunk irrespective of defense-spending levels.
Using data from the Office of Management and Budget, these charts highlight general trends between defense outlays and real GDP.
The short version of de Rugy's findings? Defense spending is no more super-fantastic than other sorts of government spending when it comes to goosing the economy. Here's her second chart:
And just to drive home the trifecta, here's one final chart:
De Rugy's full explanation of the above is here.
A round-up of eminent domain abuse all over New York.
Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, opened last month. Developer Bruce Ratner, who built the stadium and promises to erect affordable housing nearby, relied on eminent domain to acquire and raze 53 private properties. Officials declared the 22-acre neighborhood blighted in 2006 even though only one property—a publicly-owned rail yard—actually fit that description. According to Christina Walsh of the economic freedom litigation firm Institute for Justice:
“This was one of the most outrageous abuses of eminent domain in recent history—all for broken promises and an ugly arena that nobody wanted... Nobody will forget how Mayor Bloomberg, [Borough President] Marty Markowitz and their developer friends destroyed a much-loved piece of Brooklyn."
Last week, New York City Council members approved a redevelopment plan for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, which was bulldozed in 1967. Some 1,852 mostly-minority families were forcibly removed from their homes. Former resident Tito Delgado told the Observer:
“I was 15 when we were all evicted. We lived in a community that was poor, working class, and it was a mixture. It was real working class, the real lower east side. In my building, it was thirty units, we had 14 different ethnic groups and nationalities and that was reflective of the whole neighborhood. That was what was destroyed. It was more than housing. It destroyed a whole community of interaction of people and cultures. There was Irish kids that spoke Spanish. We danced to black music. They danced to Salsa. It’s what the Lower East Side really was and I think that’s why so many people are attracted to it but that all seems to be going now.”
The seven-acre site, which is at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge, has sat largely vacant for over 40 years—argued over by an array of community groups and officials with competing visions for redevelopment. The new plan calls for 1,000 apartments—half of them “affordable” (though there is some question about just how affordable they will be)—commercial space, a hotel, a park, and more to be determined.MORE »
Chrystia Freeland wrote an article about income inequality, making some decent points about cronyism, but also reflexively regurgitating talking points on class-warfare tax policy. What caught my eye, though, was this incredible assertion about government funding of education.Educational attainment, which created the American middle class, is no longer rising. The super-elite lavishes unlimited resources on its children, while public schools are starved of funding. …elite education is increasingly available only to those already at the top. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama enrolled their daughters in an exclusive private school; I’ve done the same with mine.
So “public schools are starved of funding”? That’s a strong statement. It implies very deep reductions in the amount of money being diverted from taxpayers to the government schools. So where are the numbers?....
As show in this chart, government spending on education has skyrocketed in recent years.
This data isn’t adjusted for inflation or population, but you can peruse this amazing chart put together by one of Cato’s education experts to see that per-pupil spending has skyrocketed even after adjusting for inflation.
Reason has written early and often on education spending.
Not exactly, but more closely than one might expect. The producers of Planet Money are running a terrific series in which they asked a panel of economists whose views span the political spectrum what policies they think the perfect presidential candidate should adopt. It turns out that a lot of them echo the policy proposals of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson. So what did Planet Money's panel of five economists agree on:
One: Eliminate the mortgage tax deduction, which lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. Gone. After all, big houses get bigger tax breaks, driving up prices for everyone. Why distort the housing market and subsidize people buying expensive houses?
Two: End the tax deduction companies get for providing health-care to employees. Neither employees nor employers pay taxes on workplace health insurance benefits. That encourages fancier insurance coverage, driving up usage and, therefore, health costs overall. Eliminating the deduction will drive up costs for people with workplace healthcare, but makes the health-care market fairer.
Three: Eliminate the corporate income tax. Completely. If companies reinvest the money into their businesses, that's good. Don't tax companies in an effort to tax rich people.
Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you're taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.
Five: Tax carbon emissions. Yes, that means higher gasoline prices. It's a kind of consumption tax, and can be structured to make sure it doesn't disproportionately harm lower-income Americans. More, it's taxing something that's bad, which gives people an incentive to stop polluting.
Six: Legalize marijuana. Stop spending so much trying to put pot users and dealers in jail — it costs a lot of money to catch them, prosecute them, and then put them up in jail. Criminalizing drugs also drives drug prices up, making gang leaders rich.
All right, Johnson doesn't endorse all of these proposals, but he certainly does favor eliminating the corporate and individual income taxes and the payroll tax. As part of the plan to flatten taxes for everybody it could make sense to get rid of the health insurance and mortgage interest deductions. Johnson is against a carbon tax (and cap-and-trade), but such a tax could again be part of the overall tax reform package that switches to consumption taxes from the current recondite system of income taxes. In fact, a savvy politician who wants to rein in the size of government might favor a non-revenue-neutral carbon tax that takes in less revenue than the income taxes being replaced. And finally, all five economists endorse Johnson's view that the Drug War is a complete travesty.
The Alfred Smith charity dinner, held by Catholic charities, has traditionally hosted major party presidential candidates since Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960. The dinner, though, hasn’t hosted an incumbent president since 1980, when Carter and Reagan attended. Presidential candidates traditionally use the event to roast each other, taking a lighter tone just weeks out from election day, which means despite its white-tie nature it tends to be an evening when the candidates maybe come off as almost genuine for once.
The president joked about his first debate (giving Chris Matthews a stroke instead of a thrill up his leg), about voters in Ohio, Florida and Virginia choosing the next president, wishing he could use his middle name like Romney did, but avoided any jokes at the expense of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York City’s archbishop, or the Catholic Church, given the tensions from the contraceptive mandate in ObamaCare.MORE »
You know what would be terrible? If someone figured out a way to make the very best college courses available for free online to anyone who wanted them.
Oh wait! Someone did! Coursera, a California-based startup, offers dozens of free courses from top American universities (think Stanford, Princeton, Caltech, Duke). They don't grant degrees. They just take material that was previously available to handful of uber-achievers who happen to have more than $100,000 to spend on tuition and make it available for free to everyone with an Internet connection. Here's what Coursera says about their goals:
We hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few. We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.
Naturally, they must be stopped.
Luckily Minnesota is on the case. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
The state’s Office of Higher Education has informed the popular provider of massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, that Coursera is unwelcome in the state because it never got permission to operate there.
The result is this notice in Coursera's terms of service:
Notice for Minnesota Users:
Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.
Well done, North Star State. I bet no Minnesotans will use their totally unrestricted (and basically unrestrictable) Internet access to take Penn's Neuroethics course or Stanford's six week series on Game Theory now. They are safe from free, super awesome online courses.
Tyler and I wish to be perfectly clear: unlike Coursera, we will not shut down MRU to the residents of Minnesota. We are prepared to defend our rights under the First Amendment to teach the good people of Minnesota all about the Solow Model, water policy in Africa, and the economics of garlic–even if we have to do so from a Minnesota jail!
California's Proposition 30 and Proposition 32 are too close to call, according to a new Reason-Rupe statewide poll of likely voters that finds 7 percent have already cast their ballots. Reason-Rupe finds 50 percent of likely voters intend to vote “yes” and 46 percent say they’ll vote “no” on Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s initiative to raise sales and income taxes.
As Prop. 30’s support slips, there are emerging signs that even California’s Democratic-leaning electorate has grown weary of the state’s tax increases and may be ready for some Wisconsin-like reforms.
Adjusted for inflation, California’s government spending increased 42 percent per capita from 2000 to 2010, but the Reason-Rupe poll finds that just 14 percent of likely voters believe California’s government spending over that decade improved the quality of life in the state. In fact, 52 percent say the increase in state spending actually decreased the quality of life and 28 percent feel it made no impact. As a result, 56 percent of Californians favor reducing state government spending to what was spent per capita in 2000 and 25 percent oppose going back to 2000 spending levels.MORE »
One understands Tyler Perry’s desire to step away from his money-gushing Madea movies, put on some pants, and channel his many talents in a new direction. Unfortunately, writes Kurt Loder, the area into which Perry has chosen to branch out—the cop-versus-killer thriller—is one for which he’s all wrong in just about every way. Even more unfortunately, he has placed himself in the hands of Rob Cohen, a sloppy action director whose last film, the 2008 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, was idiotic in just about every way. Alex Cross turned out to be just as awful.View this article
As I write, former presidential candidate George McGovern is dying in hospice care. The South Dakota senator was famous for suffering one of the most crushing defeats in election history, carrying only Massachusetts and D.C. against Richard Nixon in 1972. ("I wanted to run for president in the worst way," he later said, "and I sure did.") But for all the ineptness of that campaign and all the wrongheadedness of some of his positions, he was the only Democratic presidential nominee of my lifetime who I admire.
Former Reasoner Bill Kauffman profiled McGovern for The American Conservative a few years ago. Here's a passage from the piece that might get across what I liked about the man:
In the home stretch of the '72 campaign, McGovern was groping toward truths that exist far beyond the cattle pens of Left and Right. "Government has become so vast and impersonal that its interests diverge more and more from the interests of ordinary citizens," he said two days before the election. "For a generation and more, the government has sought to meet our needs by multiplying its bureaucracy. Washington has taken too much in taxes from Main Street, and Main Street has received too little in return. It is not necessary to centralize power in order to solve our problems." Charging that Nixon "uncritically clings to bloated bureaucracies, both civilian and military," McGovern promised to "decentralize our system."
In the clutter and chaos of the campaign, one discerns themes that place McGovern on a whole other plane from that drab anteroom of Democratic losers, the Mondales and Dukakises and Humphreys and Kerrys. George McGovern had convictions; like Barry Goldwater in 1964, he stood for a set of ideals rooted in the American past. He spoke of open government, peace, the defense of the individual and the community against corporate power, a Congress that reasserts the power to declare war.
The easy libertarian take on the George McGovern of 1972 is that he was a sharp critic of the Vietnam War and a frequent wrote in 1992. "I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day." In more recent years, citing the same experience, he campaigned against new labor regulations.defender of personal freedoms but very statist in his economics. And that's basically true, though it's worth noting that later in life, after he acquired the leasehold on a Connecticut inn, McGovern came to understand the underside of the regulatory state. "In retrospect, I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business," he MORE »
Sure, Alex Cross is a terrible movie. But at least it's an honest terrible movie, writes Senior Editor Peter Suderman in his Washington Times review:
“Alex Cross” is a strictly by-the-numbers thriller — a detective on his way to a desk job takes after a sadistic high-profile killer, and things quickly get personal. There is something bracing and even refreshing about its honesty, though, in its willingness to execute tired cop-film cliches unapologetically, without any hint of a knowing wink.
It’s a movie that never pretends to be anything it is not. Here’s what I am, take it or leave it, is its message to the audience.
I’d leave it. The film’s self-confidence is admirable. The rest of it is not.
Based on James Patterson’s novel “Cross,” the movie follows Detroit police detective Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) as he tracks down a particularly violent and skilled assassin nicknamed the Butcher (Matthew Fox) who is targeting a group of wealthy foreign businessmen.
Cross is a burly, serious man who is good in a fight. He also is a psychologist who recently accepted a gig with the FBI as a profiler. He’s the kind of detective who has the spooky ability to get inside the minds of the killers he’s tracking, which turns out to mean he has the mysterious ability to intuit complicated plot points without nearly enough information.
Read the whole review.
- Mitt Romney’s plan to cap itemized deductions at $25,000 is expected to raise $1.3 trillion in revenue over ten years, according to the Tax Policy Center. Meanwhile, the Rev. Billy Graham will begin to run ads in support of Romney; the Reverend hasn't officially endorsed Romney but says he'll do all he can to help him win.
- The Obama campaign is planning to hold an election night rally at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago, a smaller venue than Grant Park, where Barack Obama spoke on election night in 2008.
- A teacher in Indiana apparently transferred nude photos of herself onto an iPad students were using, four have been suspended. The district says action was taken against the teacher but won’t specify.
- Police in Pakistan have detained relatives of a man suspected of shooting teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, but are still searching for the alleged assailant.
- The pianist Fazil Say was arraigned today in Turkey for insulting Islam with tweets including one asking whether Chivas Regal was available in hell and another pointing out that some of the most crooked and greedy people end up being the most outwardly pious too.
- Fidel Castro suffered a stroke and reportedly cannot recognize people and has trouble eating and drinking.
- India got its first Starbucks today.
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On November 1, 2012, a little talked-about Massachusetts law will go into effect that gives judges in the Bay State the power to determine whether a bank can foreclose on a home or must modify the mortgage. Signed on August 3 by Gov. Deval Patrick, the “Act Preventing Unlawful and Unnecessary Foreclosures” creates a series of new hoops for banks and other mortgage creditors must jump through in order to foreclose on borrowers who aren’t making their payments. In other words, writes Anthony Randazzo, Massachusetts has just created more problems than it's solved.View this article
President Obama suprised viewers (and saddened environmentalist) when he insisted during his second presidential debate with Mitt Romney that domestic oil production is up under his watch--moreso, even, than under George W. Bush. Henry Payne wonders if the president means it when he claims to love oil.View this article
In the new issue of Rolling Stone, amidst much wailing about how the media is ruining democracy for everyone and some ill-advised legal recommendations (restrict campaigning to six weeks, obligatory free TV time, and banning the publication of poll results--hey, the latter worked out great in Russia!) Matt Taibbi tells his readers an important but too-little-noted truth.
He thinks that if we instituted media central planner Taibbi's scheme (but that's not the important part), people would:
maybe even [be] stoked to get involved in their local races for county sheriff or D.A. (Such races would likely have more of an impact on their day-to-day lives: For the most part, when it comes to our daily routines, the president might as well be on Mars.)
Indeed. The stuff of life as it is lived for most of us has very little to do with the outcome of the presidential race. As I wrote back in 2004 in my essay "Not Voting and Proud":
actually doing something specific and practical to better your life, or your community, isn't as easy as casting a ballot once every couple of years. But it is more rewarding in the end than wasting even a second of your time and energy giving yourself a struck-by-lightning chance of maybe putting one particular guy in an office, where he'll do whatever he wants regardless of what you thought you were trying to support by voting for him. If you want to make a difference in the world, please try. But don't be fooled into thinking voting is a way to do so.
After a disturbing video turned up of military contractors in Afghanistan blotto on booze and ketamine (and what good is a war zone if there's no party?), I was invited on RT to discuss that matter and the tangentially related issue of corruption in the awarding of military contracts. If the discussion seems a little disjointed, it's likely because anchor Liz Wahl was having technical difficulties. I suspect she couldn't hear me at all, so I think she carried it off pretty well.
For most of the year, Gallup’s Tracking poll has found President Barack Obama leading Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. However, since the first presidential debate on October 3rd in Denver Romney has surpassed the president and has held on to the lead. Thus far, Gallup has detected little effect from the vice presidential debate. The effect of the second presidential debate, in which Obama is believed to have had the edge, remains to be seen.
Gallup’s cross tabs reveal Obama is losing substantially compared to 2008 among Southerners, college graduates, Protestants, men, and white voters. In 2008, the South voted equally for Obama and McCain; today, Romney has garnered a 22-point lead over Obama among Southerners. At the same time, Obama still leads in the rest of the country, but by smaller margins than he did four years ago.
Also in 2008, Obama won college graduates by 2 points and the postgraduate vote by 30 points. However, today Obama now trails Romney by 22 points among college graduates, and his margin among postgraduates has been cut in half. Men were evenly divided between Obama and McCain in 2008, but today Romney has a 14-point advantage among men. Obama continues to enjoy a 6-point margin among women; however, this is less than half what it was in 2008.
Obama lost the Protestant vote in 2008 by 6 points, but this trail has tripled to 18 points in 2012. While Obama has maintained his substantial lead among non-white voters, his support among white voters has declined since 2008 producing a 22-point deficit.
Obama continues to lead among young people, but has lost his lead among those 30-64. Although he won both these groups in 2008, he trails by 10 points among those 30-49 and is even with Romney among those 50-64.
In sum, the most dramatic shifts have been among Southerners, college graduates, and those 30-49 years old.
- Gallup now has Romney leading Obama by seven points nationally among likely voters, though that doesn't necessarily address big regional variations (guess who is leading by a lot in the deep South).
- The anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act was slapped down as a violation of the right to equal protection by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
- The U.S. ambassador to Turkey spilled the beans about an American offer to help with efforts against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Is there some kind of prize for meddling in the internal affairs of volatile countries? (H/T: Paul Scott)
- Greek police are skeeving out their co-citizens by developing close ties to the nativist, bigoted Golden Dawn party.
- The federal government and the various state governments spent a combined $1.03 trillion on welfare programs in 2011. No, that doesn't include Social Security and Medicare.
- San Antonio police officers responding to a call went to the wrong door and ... shot the family dog. The pooch lived, though it's suffering.
- Now that planets have been discovered there, a private group wants to send a probe to Alpha Centauri.
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Yesterday, after Mitt Romney and Barack Obama expressed mock horror that any business would want to leave the good, old U.S. of A., I wrote about how politicians' games with the money supply breed sticker shock for consumers, which drives manufacturers to other countries in search of lower costs so they can hold the line on prices. But there are more straightforward ways politicians push manufacturers out the door, such as with burdensome regulations. The federal government has been minting new rules for businesses to follow at an accelerating rate in recent years. It should come as a surprise to exactly nobody that the rising cost of complying with those rules is a great incentive to move operations to jurisdictions where they don't apply.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute tells us that the federal government has been churning out "a new regulation at the rate of one every hour and 55 minutes." Last month, CEI's Wayne Crews told the House Judiciary Committee:
For the broader "significant" category of rules (economically significant rules plus rules considered officially significant for other reasons noted in E.O. 12866), Obama has issued 22 percent more final rules in his first four years than President Bush did. That’s startling, considering 2012 isn’t finished and considering the costly rules being held back by the administration.
Those regulations carry a price tag in terms of compliance. That price tag grows as the regulations accumulate into a hard-to-navigate web of red tape. How much does it grow? A report from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation says:
Since OMB began compiling data on the cost of regulations in 1981, about 40,000 proposed and final regulations have been issued. Based on the data of cost and number of regulations, we estimate the current direct cost of compliance with “major” regulations (those with an estimated cost greater than $100 million) issued between 1993 and 2011 to be between $265 billion and $726 billion (in constant 2010 dollars) a year for the economy as a whole.
The graph below plots compliance costs in constant 2001 dollars. The Matterhorn-like growth is as important as the numbers, since it portrays a nearly unbroken escalation in regulatory costs in the U.S. — especially for business people planning their future efforts.
What are the biggest offenders in terms of expensive regulations? MAPI, again:
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposes the largest number of regulations on the manufacturing sector with respect to number of regulations (972 regulations in total, including 122 major regulations), followed by the Departments of Transportation (880 regulations in total, including 69 major regulations), Labor (214 regulations in total, including 27 major regulations), and Energy (106 regulations in total, including 17 major regulations).
- The EPA also imposes the largest regulatory burden on the manufacturing sector with respect to cost of major regulations ($117 billion in constant 2010 dollars), followed by the Departments of Transportation ($25 billion in constant 2010 dollars), Health and Human Services ($10 billion in constant 2010 dollars), and Homeland Security ($7 billion in constant 2010 dollars).
I should add that it doesn't matter whether you think any specific regulation is good or bad in terms of the deterrent effect the cumulative costs pose to anybody considering future investments. Compliance costs are enormous, and they make it attractive to look elsewhere when a company considers where to locate a factory.
China isn't stealing jobs and industries from the U.S.; American politicians are pushing them out the door.
A couple of months ago I said a "Good Samaritan" bill approved by New Jersey's legislature, aimed at preventing overdose fatalities by protecting bystanders who call 911 from prosecution for drug offenses, gave Gov. Chris Christie "a chance to show he is less mindlessly draconian than other drug warriors." He blew it. The Drug War Chronicle reports that Christie vetoed the bill because he worries that it might let drug dealers "off the hook." Here is how he explained the decision at a town hall meeting in Mount Laurel:
How about if they're not a Good Samaritan? How about if they're the [person] who supplied the drugs? That was my problem with the bill....
What I'm not willing to do is to give is to give people who commit harm to other people a free pass just because they picked up the telephone.
Is it better to let someone die of an overdose (which happened 1,000 times in New Jersey last year) because people are afraid to call for help? That appears to be Christie's logic, and it does not jibe very well with his avowed commitment to harm reduction.
The bill, which applies to charges for possessing or sharing drugs but not selling them, is similar to laws adopted by 11 states. Christie said he would be open to signing a revised version, but the most likely change—narrowing the immunity to drug possession—would put more lives in jeopardy by excluding people who buy drugs with friends or acquaintances.
More on Good Samaritan laws from Brian Doherty here.
President Obama and his Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney have spent a lot of time arguing over Medicare cuts and reforms this cycle. But the biggest difference between the two is in how they would deal with Medicaid, a health program for the poor and disabled that is jointly funded by federal and state governments.
President Obama’s health care overhaul currently has Medicaid scheduled for a massive expansion in any state that chooses to participate. Romney, in contrast, says he would sign a repeal of that health law if it came to his desk. He’d also push to transform the way the federal government finances its portion of the program by converting it into a system of block grants. Currently, the federal government provides essentially unlimited matching dollars to states for the program. Block grants would cap the federal government’s per-state spending, and gives states additional flexibility to manage their own programs.
To hear Obama’s defenders tell it, this sort of Medicaid reform would cut the program down to the bone and hurt the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable. But what they don’t talk about is that Medicaid is already a disaster for its beneficiaries. And as for the devastating cuts—well, they’re probably not really cuts at all.
Let’s start with Medicaid as it is today. In 2011, the federal government spent about $275 billion on Medicaid. In 2012, that number fell to $258 billion, and in 2013, it’s scheduled to come back up to $276 billion.
That’s what the federal government is spending now. And guess what? Both candidates would have the federal government spend more annually. The difference is that President Obama wants to spend an awful lot more.
Under the original version of President Obama’s health law, Medicaid spending was initially projected to hit $622 billion in 2022. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to let states opt out of ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, that number is now expected to be closer to $585 billion, though that could vary depending on how many states choose not to expand Medicaid under the health law.
Exact numbers for Romney’s plan are somewhat harder to pin down. But his running mate Paul Ryan’s plan to block grant Medicaid serves as a useful proxy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Ryan’s block granting proposal would allocate $332 billion to the program in 2022.
So spending would rise from current levels under both plans. It’s just that under a block granted system, it wouldn't rise as fast.
Critics of block granting describe this increase as a cut for two reasons.MORE »
A new SurveyUSA poll shows support for Colorado's marijuana legalization initiative, Amendment 64, slipping from 51 percent last month to 48 percent. Opposition, meanwhile, rose from 40 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent still undecided. The poll's margin of error is four percentage points.
Washington's legalization intiative, I-502, so far has retained majority support, with the latest poll, taken at the end of September, finding 57 percent of voters in favor. In early September a SurveyUSA poll found more oppostion than support for Oregon's initiative, Measure 80: 41 percent vs. 37 percent, with 22 percent undecided.
Addendum: Over at Salon, David Sirota argues that Amendment 64, combined with Gary Johnson's presidential campaign, could swing Colorado to Romney rather than Obama, as conventional wisdom holds. Sirota cites a new robocall message urging Colorado Democrats angry about Obama's broken promise of medical marijuana tolerance to vote for Johnson.
[via the Drug War Chronicle]
It’s surprising that Paranormal Activity 4 has turned out to be as scary as it is, writes Kurt Loder. Five years into this phenomenally profitable franchise, you might expect the picture to be an exhausted joke, wobbling around in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy territory. The simple formal elements of the series—the mostly static “found footage,” the numbered night scenes, the timecode counting down at the bottom of the screen—remain the same; and while the three previous films have grossed more than $500-million worldwide (on a combined budgetary outlay of slightly more than $8-million), the dedication to a low-budget aesthetic—no stars, no music, no flashy effects—likewise remains unchanged.
What has changed—or is changing—is the story. Given the huge profit margin involved, it might have been tempting to just keep remaking the exact same movie over and over again, with slight shock variations. But directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and cowriter Christopher Landon, all returning from the last film, have deepened the chill factor somewhat by expanding the series’ mythology, introducing an agreeably silly ancient-Hittite motif and sketching in the outline of an overarching pattern of evil. All very creepy, Loder writes, and still very effective.View this article
It has been 40 years since Random House published The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin’s immensely popular tale of submissive suburban robots, writes Senior Editor Jesse Walker. Thanks to the book and the film it inspired three years later, the word Stepford has entered the language, an easily recognized synonym for feminine docility and for conformity in general. The novel owed an obvious debt to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and other science fiction stories in which aliens impersonate or possess human beings. But the villains in this thriller didn’t come from outer space. They came from the other side of the bed.View this article
"Are We In the Final Days of Prohibition?" is the latest video from Reason TV.
According to The New York Times, Michael Bloomberg finds "the national political debate" to be "frustratingly superficial." Furthermore, New York City's billionaire mayor wants to "play a bigger role in combating more extreme forces in American politics." He therefore has formed a super PAC through which he will spend $10 million to $15 million on ads supporting "candidates from both parties who he believes will focus on problem solving," candidates "he regards as centrist and who are willing to compromise." His main priorities in deciding how to spend his money are "legalizing same-sex marriage, enacting tougher gun laws and overhauling schools." In other words, thoughtful, moderate, problem-solving politicians are the ones who share Michael Bloomberg's views about gay marriage, gun control, and education reform. I more or less agree with Bloomberg on two out of those three issues, and I certainly do not begrudge him his right to use his money to advance his political causes. But Bloomberg's equation of his own opinions with sensible centrism reflects the amazing egotism of a wealthy man accustomed to power and genuflection who is not quite as deep or smart as he thinks he is.
Consider two policies that embody Bloomberg's vision of nonideological, pragmatic problem solving: the federal "assault weapon" ban, which he wants to revive, and his 16-ounce limit on servings of sugar-sweetened drinks, which is scheduled to take effect in March. Both offend libertarian sensibilities, but they have something else in common: They are purely symbolic measures that accomplish nothing of practical importance. There is no evidence that the "assault weapon" ban, which arbitrarily targeted guns based on their scary, military-style appearance, had any impact on violence, and there is no reason to believe that Bloomberg's pint-sized pop prescription, which is riddled with exceptions, will have any measurable impact on New Yorkers' waistlines. In both cases the basic problem, from a prohibitionist perspective, is the same: The bans leave plenty of alternatives that are just as bad. These measures might make people who are repelled by guns and obesity feel better, but letting those attitudes drive policy is not simply, as Bloomberg seems to think, a matter of common sense. To the extent that they go beyond visceral reactions, those attitudes reflect beliefs (about the government's alleged duty to protect us from our own risky decisions, for example) that are not self-evidently true.
The Times claims "Mr. Bloomberg has built a brand of politics that eschews partisanship for blunt-spoken pragmatism, often taking unpopular positions, like restricting guns and soda sizes and supporting the construction of a mosque near ground zero." Where the Times sees "blunt-spoken pragmatism," I see incoherence. What on earth do these positions have to do with each other, except that they are all espoused by Bloomberg? They are not even all unpopular. Polls consistently find majority support for bringing back the federal "assault weapon" ban, probably because people mistakenly think it dealt with machine guns. And why is taking an unpopular stand a sign that you are pragmatic, let alone right? While Bloomberg deserves credit for bucking public opinion by defending freedom of religion in the controversy over the "Ground Zero mosque," that does not mean he should be praised for pushing his preposterous (and even more unpopular) ban on big beverages. There is a difference, after all, between defending someone's right to use his own property for religious purposes and insisting on your right to stop him from ordering a big soda.
Bloomberg's greatest consistency is his embrace of "public health" paternalism, including efforts to discourage smoking, overeating, and salt consumption. It makes sense that Bloomberg would be attracted to the rhetoric of public health, which allows him to pursue a moral agenda in the guise of neutral science. But one can also discern a broader hostility to freedom and civil liberties (with occasional exceptions), as reflected in his crackdown on pot smokers and his adamant defense of the NYPD's "stop and frisk" program, which dismisses constitutional objections as the quibbling of ideologues who do not understand the reality of crime on the streets. If this is what pragmatic centrism looks like, I'll take extremism any day.
Matt Welch, who analyzed "the banal authoritarianism of do-something punditry" in the December 2011 issue of Reason, considered Bloomberg's reputation as post-ideological problem solver in a 2010 essay.
Scott Adams, creator of the workplace cartoon strip Dilbert, is endorsing Mitt Romney because of President Barack Obama's medical marijuana prosecutions. Excerpt from the Dilberter's blog:
[Obama] is putting an American citizen in jail for 10 years to life for operating medical marijuana dispensaries in California where it is legal under state law. And I assume the President - who has a well-documented history of extensive marijuana use in his youth - is clamping down on California dispensaries for political reasons, i.e. to get reelected. What other reason could there be?
One could argue that the President is just doing his job and enforcing existing Federal laws. That's the opposite of what he said he would do before he was elected, but lying is obviously not a firing offense for politicians.
Personally, I'd prefer death to spending the final decades of my life in prison. So while President Obama didn't technically kill a citizen, he is certainly ruining this fellow's life, and his family's lives, and the lives of countless other minor drug offenders. And he is doing it to advance his career. If that's not a firing offense, what the hell is?
Romney is likely to continue the same drug policies as the Obama administration. But he's enough of a chameleon and a pragmatist that one can't be sure. And I'm fairly certain he'd want a second term. He might find it "economical" to use federal resources in other ways than attacking California voters. And he is vocal about promoting states' rights, so he's got political cover for ignoring dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal.
So while I don't agree with Romney's positions on most topics, I'm endorsing him for president starting today. I think we need to set a minimum standard for presidential behavior, and jailing American citizens for political gain simply has to be a firing offense no matter how awesome you might be in other ways.
Read former Reason editor Virginia Postrel's Q&A with Scott Adams from the February 1999 issue, plus some of our other Dilbertian content from the archives. And take time out of your busy voting (or non-voting!) schedule to re-read Jacob Sullum's classic October 2011 cover story "Bummer: Barack Obama turns out to be just another drug warrior."
Reason on the referenced Aaron Sandusky prosecution here, including this Reason.tv vid:
Perhaps the most intriguing moment of the second presidential debate came late in the contest when a rock-ribbed undecided voter asked both candidates, "What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate?" And really, this is the sort of compelling inquiry that makes these contrived town hall-style debates so worthwhile.
President Barack Obama began his answer with a strong statement: "I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world's ever known." David Harsanyi has no doubt that Obama believes he believes in free enterprise -- except in the case of health care policy, the auto industry, the housing market, education, banking, job creation, manufacturing, green energy and so on and so forth.View this article
This month marks the 25th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s failed attempt to confirm former federal appellate judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court, an event that largely set the template for every bitterly contested judicial confirmation battle that has followed. In a superb new essay in Commentary, Adam J. White tells the story of the Bork nomination and reflects on how it ultimately reshaped American politics. As White writes:
The changed course of future Supreme Court nominations was the Bork nomination’s most obvious legacy, but that was not its only legacy. Indeed, the Bork nomination’s most significant impact may be not the manner in which Supreme Court justices are selected, but rather the content of constitutional law itself. For while Bork himself was pilloried for embracing an originalist approach to constitutional law, his nomination’s failure laid the basis for originalism’s eventual success. The Bork hearings galvanized conservatives and challenged them to refine originalism to achieve greater political effectiveness....
Even more fundamentally, the Bork hearings forced originalists to reconsider, or at least further develop, first principles. Where Bork had defended originalism primarily as an inquiry into the Founding Fathers’ “intentions”—a seemingly subjective inquiry, irrevocably tied to the Framers’ politics and prejudices—conservatives eventually shifted their focus away from “intentions” and toward the more objective “original public meaning” of the constitutional text.
The title of White’s essay is “Bork Won,” and as the excerpted paragraphs above indicate, he makes a very compelling case to support this counterintuitive claim. As a founding father of originalism, Bork may indeed take a certain amount of satisfaction in the theory’s growing influence, which is visible both on the Supreme Court and in popular political movements such as the Tea Party. In fact, as White notes in the piece, nowadays even liberal legal scholars want to get in on the originalism game, with recent books such as Yale law professor Jack Balkin’s Living Originalism attempting to reconcile progressive political outcomes with the Constitution’s text.
Bork also played an important role in the rise and development of a distinctly libertarian legal movement, though his contributions in that realm occurred in more of a negative capacity. As libertarian legal scholars began honing their own theories about the meaning of the Constitution over the past several decades, they frequently pointed to Bork’s work as an example of the sort of thing they were arguing against.MORE »
As reported yesterday, the FBI arrested Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, of Bangladesh, for attempting to blow up a bomb outside the Federal Reserve building in lower Manhattan. It didn’t happen because the bomb was a fake, provided for him by the FBI. (Also, please tell me I wasn’t the only libertarian who worried at first it was some nut who had attached himself to the “End the Fed” folks)
Spencer Ackerman at Wired delved through the government’s complaint to get the details. Assuming the complaint is the truth, the guy’s intentions were legit, but his competence … well, maybe not so much:
The Justice Department alleges that Nafis came to Queens, New York, in January from Bangladesh on a student visa — and quickly began exploring his options for pulling off a terrorist attack. Only Nafis was so inattentive to keeping his operation a secret that he practically stood on a street corner and waved his arms until the FBI and NYPD took notice.
In July, Nafis crossed the radar of an anonymous FBI informant, according to the criminal complaint against him. When they initially spoke on a phone call, Nafis attempted to cover himself with a crude code: He was a fan of “O” (Osama bin Laden), a reader of “I” (Inspire, al-Qaida’s English-language webzine for DIY terrorism), and he wanted to pull off “J” (jihad). But the very next day, Nafis was so trusting that he openly discussed on Facebook “Islamic legal rulings” on the permissibility of bombing a country that granted him a student visa. Within a week, was ranting in person to the informant about killing “a high-ranking government official” and boasting of his ties to al-Qaida.
The informant did what informants in these cases do: snitch. He told Nafis that he knew a member of al-Qaida in New York. An excited Nafis attended a meeting with the al-Qaida agent in Central Park on July 24, where he allegedly gushed about wanting to pull off something “very, very very very big, that will shake the whole country, that will make America not one step ahead, change of policy… [but] that will make us one step closer to run[ning] the whole world.”
The “member of al-Qaida” was, of course, an FBI agent. Reason readers know full well that the FBI has a stellar reputation for creating terrorist activities to thwart, organizing plans and pushing hapless goons along for the ride before arresting them. Nafis doesn’t appear to fall in this category, but we’re only getting one side of the story so far.
Barack Obama was more assertive and combative in the second presidential debate Tuesday, but the inspiring orator of 2008 still had trouble painting a vivid picture of what his second term will look like. He wants to strengthen manufacturing and promote energy independence, but it's hard to find a grand theme or a sweeping vision.
"What a relief," writes Steve Chapman. "When politicians get colossal ideas, I get nervous."View this article
Zocalo Public Square hosted a forum on big and small political donations and their effects on campaigns. Here's a chunk of my take on the issue:
The CEO of Worldwide Acme Corporation and Joe Schmo from Ohio give to politicians for the same reason: They think their guy is going to get them something they want. What they want might be selfish (a tax break or a subsidy that benefits them directly) or it might be altruistic (more immigrant visas or transfers to the poor).
But more and more people think it’s worthwhile to drop some dough in the pockets of politicos because office holders have more and more power every year. Government continues to grow in size and scope, which means legislators, presidents, and city councilmen have more money to give away, more contracts to dole out, and more tax advantages to confer. Rather than putting people and companies in a position where they believe they have to support (or buy) a public official to get what they want, I’d rather see a scenario where government is smaller and people have to figure out other ways to spend their money to change the world.
Go check out the rest of the forum for donation-induced panic, pleasure, and everything in between.
- Obama won't give up on Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, even as those state appear to slip from his grasp into Romney's eager hands.
- Mitt Romney's scheme to cap tax deductions won't offset his proposed cuts, says the Tax Policy Center.
- Achtung! Neo-Nazi groups are now verboten on Twitter in Germany.
- The Boston Police Department denies that it is spying on the peaceful activities of local groups and interrogating activists. The ACLU has a data dump of documents from the local fusion center that say otherwise.
- Woodsman spare that tree! Newsweek won't need it; the magazine publishes its last paper edition on December 31.
- Greek workers are staging a general strike, to demand that taxpayers in other countries pay for their stuff.
- Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, accuses the U.S. of practicing murder and torture under the cover of national security. Ummm ... I got nothing.
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What's going on in Libya, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, is the unraveling of a value-free foreign policy and its unintended consequences. The whole reason that the streets in Libya are not safe and the country is ruled by roving gangs of militias is because the U.S. bombed the country last year. In an unconstitutional act of war, the president alone ordered the bombing. It destroyed the Libyan military, national and local police, roads, bridges, and private homes. It facilitated the murder of our former ally Col. Gadhafi and ensured the replacement of him by a government that cannot govern.View this article
In Utah, Stansbury High School principal Kendall Topham has apologized to students after dozens of girls were turned away from a dance because some faculty members deemed their dresses too short. School policy said the dresses should be "at or near knee length." But faculty members turned away girls whose dresses were as little as one inch above the knee. Topham said the policy was too vague and promised to clarify it.
Unlicensed Halloween costumes! Barber school monopolies! And fines for farm fixers! Read on for tales of excessive regulation.
Officials with the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced this week the seizure of $1,600 worth of colored contact lenses from a convenience store. Selling the Halloween-inspired contact lenses, even though they are just for aesthetic purposes, is regarded as the unlicensed practice of optometry and subject to a $10,000 fine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers cosmetic contact lenses to be medical devices and requires manufacturers to submit the lenses for pre-market approval. In Illinois, they can only be legally obtained with a prescription from one of the state’s nearly 2,000 optometrists.
From West Virginia:
State law requires barbers, cosmetologists, manicurists, and aestheticians to attend state-licensed trade schools before obtaining a license. According to the Charleston Daily Mail, only 314 of the 917 students registered at the schools received a license in 2010, just 34 percent.
The schools are expensive. Adam Higginbotham, the executive director of the Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists, estimates that the average cost of a cosmetology degree is $10,000—some schools charge more than $20,000. "You don't want to tell your students coming in the first day of school . . . 'Look at 10 of your other students. Six of you will fail and have thousands of dollars of debt and not have a career,' " Higginbotham said.
There are 14 beauty schools and only one barbering school in the state. In 2011, the board cited 38 people for holding themselves out to be a barber, cosmetologist, manicurist, or aesthetician without a license.
Governor Jerry Brown signed a law this week boosting penalties for unlicensed farm labor contractors, who recruit and transport farm workers. Contracting without a license is already illegal and punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, because filing criminal charges is costly to the state, few violators were being prosecuted. The new law allows the Labor Commissioner to levy civil fines directly—starting with a maximum of $10,000 for a first offense.
Licensees must pay a $500 fee and take eight hours of continuing education classes annually after passing a one-time four-hour examination and putting up a $25,000 to $75,000 surety bond (depending on payroll size).
Practically the first words out of President Obama’s mouth at last night’s debate were “your future is bright.” He was talking to a young man who asked about the tough job market for new college graduates. Obama assured him that he would help make sure that future stayed bright.
But the truth is that no matter who wins next month’s election, America’s future is hazy—and worryingly difficult to discern.
Indeed, last night’s second presidential debate highlighted the biggest problem with this year’s campaign: It’s a fight over the past, with little to say about the serious policy challenges the country faces in the coming years.
Think of the policy debates that have defined this election season: cuts to Medicare, President Obama’s health care overhaul, stimulus spending, defense spending reductions under the debt deal’s sequester, high deficits and mounting debt levels, income tax cuts originally passed by President Bush and extended under President Obama.
Romney has repeatedly attacked Obama on all of these areas. Obama, in turn, has defended his record.
That’s what we know about these candidates: that Romney is against what Obama has done, and that Obama is for it. And that’s the basic choice that they’re both offering. Like what Obama’s done? He’s your man. Disappointed by his presidency? Vote Romney.
It’s a fight over the last four years. But what we need is a serious debate over the next four—and the next forty.MORE »
What country has just sentenced a man to eight months in prison for wearing an anti-police t-shirt, and another man to three months in prison for telling an “abhorrent” joke on Facebook? Iran, perhaps? China? No, it’s Britain.
As Brendan O’Neill reports, something has gone horribly wrong in Britain in recent years. The birthplace of John Milton (“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience”), and John Stuart Mill (“Every man who says frankly and fully what he thinks is so far doing a public service”), has become a cesspit of censoriousness. Indeed, O’Neill writes, the frequency with which the police and legal system now throw into jail anyone judged to have committed a “speech crime” is alarming.View this article
- Gallup’s daily tracking poll has Mitt Romney’s lead increasing over President Barack Obama. He’s now ahead by six points.
- Schools in California are banning Flamin’ Hot Cheetos because of the lack of nutritional value. They are also forbidding students from bringing the snacks to school. Bring on the schoolyard black markets!
- The paleontologist at the center of a dispute over the origins of some dinosaur bones has been arrested and charged with illegally importing them.
- New Smyrna Beach in Florida rejected a food truck proposal. Two local restaurants had asked for regulations to be amended to allow them, but apparently economic freedom may lead to “unintended consequences,” according to the mayor.
- Vladimir Putin warns of terrorism risks as Russia plans to host major sports events like the 2014 Winter Olympics. And by “terrorism,” Putin means “disagreement,” as the Kremlin also arrested an opposition leader for “organizing disorder.”
- The chemist at the center of Massachusetts’ drug lab scandal was engaging in personal contacts with a prosecutor whose evidence she was analyzing. Her husband was worried they were having an affair. The chemist’s admission of mishandling evidence jeopardizes 34,000 drug cases.
- Larry King will be moderating a presidential debate open to third-party candidates.
Have a news tip for us? Send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last night’s debate was the first time I have heard President Obama mention self-defense in the context of the Second Amendment. Until now, as far as I know, he has always talked about the constitutional right to keep and bear arms in connection with hunting and target shooting, a weirdly constrained view that suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of this provision's purpose, which is to protect people against aggressors (including aggressors who work for a tyrannical government). Evidently someone told Obama he was not saying the right words to reassure supporters of gun rights, because last night he amended his Second Amendment lip service:
We're a nation that believes in the Second Amendment, and I believe in the Second Amendment. We've got a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people who want to make sure they can protect themselves.
If you watch video of the debate, you’ll see that last part was almost an afterthought. Still, Obama deserves credit for finally acknowledging that the Second Amendment is not all about outdoor recreation. (The 2012 Democratic platform, by contrast, affirms "Americans' Second Amendment right to own and use firearms" without specifying what they might be used for.) But Obama loses points for once again conflating "assault weapons," an arbitrarily disfavored category of military-style but semiautomatic firearms, with machine guns:
Weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets….Part of [my strategy to reduce gun violence] is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced….seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
As Mitt Romney noted, automatic weapons (i.e., machine guns) are already effectively banned for civilian use. Is this persistent confusion by Obama an honest error, or is it part of a deliberate gun control strategy that aims to mislead the public about the firearms covered by “assault weapon” bans? Until now I have been inclined toward the latter explanation, but Obama's belated, halfhearted acknowledgment of armed self-defense as a constitutional right suggests he just doesn't know much about this issue and does not care enough to educate himself.
In my column last week, I discussed the dispute over whether Mitt Romney’s tax plan, which he has not spelled out in detail, can meet the goals he has set: 1) reduce income tax rates by 20 percent, 2) abolish the estate tax, 3) repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, and 4) eliminate taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for taxpayers earning less than $200,000 without 5) reducing revenue, 6) increasing the burden on "middle-income familes," or 7) reducing the share of taxes paid by “high-income" households. During last night’s presidential debate, Romney added another requirement: "I want middle-income taxpayers to have lower taxes." Or as he also put it, "I want to get some relief to middle-income families." Did he merely mean lower rates, the financial benefit of which could be eliminated by cutting credits and deductions? No:
I am not going to have people at the high end pay less than they’re paying now. The top 5 percent of taxpayers will continue to pay 60 percent of the income tax the nation collects. So that’ll stay the same. Middle-income people are going to get a tax break.
I don’t see how Romney can reconcile all of these promises. Even if the tax reform he proposes (lower rates combined with fewer loopholes) substantially boosts economic growth, thereby yielding more revenue, it is not arithmetically possible for the share of taxes paid by the rich to “stay the same” while the nonrich pay less. If the total sum paid by “middle-income people” goes down but revenue remains the same, the share paid by “the top 5 percent of taxpayers" has to go up, not "stay the same." The Laffer Curve won’t get Romney out of that.
Maybe Romney assumes his tax changes will boost incomes among the nonrich, so their effective tax rates will be lower even if their tax bills remain the same. In fact, assuming a big enough payoff in economic growth, "middle-income people" (almost the entire population, according to Romney's definition) could end up paying more in taxes yet still a smaller percentage of their incomes. But bigger tax bills are probably not what most people imagine when they hear him promising "lower taxes." In any case, he really needs to define his terms and explain the degree to which his projections depend on assumptions about how tax reform will affect economic growth.
Addendum: A commenter says, "Of course he was talking about rates." But the question is how he intends to achieve lower effective rates. Romney wants to reduce marginal rates while limiting credits and deductions. Last night he said one approach would be to cap total credits and deductions, suggesting a possible ceiling of $25,000. The implication is that the nonrich will continue to claim all or nearly all of the credits and deductions to which they are accustomed while their rates go down, meaning they will see a net tax cut. That seems to me the most natural interpretation of Romney's promise, and it does not hinge on economic growth projections. But it does reduce revenue, meaning the share of taxes paid by the rich will have to go up to keep revenue the same. Alternatively, optimistic enough projections of economic growth could give "middle-income people" lower effective tax rates even if they lose most of their credits and deductions when the marginal rates come down.
While Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein was busy getting arrested for protesting her exclusion from last night's presidential debate at Hofstra University, Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson responded to the debate without mentioning his own exclusion:
America’s challenges and the crises we face demand a real debate — not dueling Phil Donahue acts carping at one another over who is worse.
I defy anyone who watched the debate to identify a plan from either the Republican or Democrat that will achieve a balanced budget. Behind the fuzzy math and the quibbling, there was nothing more than a commitment to continue the status quo — with at most a few minor adjustments. We don’t need adjustments. We need a fundamental reduction in the role and cost of government, and both Romney and Obama are fundamentally big-government guys.
We watched a blame game over immigration, while the problem festers with no solution in sight. We heard quibbling over whose government plan would have saved GM better, but nothing about why the government should be bailing out any company at all. And we heard cheap shots about government-run health care from two candidates who both support it. Where is the reasonable argument that government shouldn’t be running health care in the first place?
On the attacks in Libya, the debate we must have is not over what we call it or when; we need a debate over why we were there at all.
There are clear choices in this election, but they weren’t on the stage tonight.
Johnson attempted to sue his way into the debates, but so far those efforts have been unsuccessful. According to campaign press secretary Joe Hunter, the lawsuit is “pending.” On Tuesday Johnson will appear at the Free and Equal debate in Chicago with Stein, Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode, and Justice Party nominee Rocky Anderson. CNN legend Larry King will moderate.
Johnson and Stein are participating in a one-on-one live debate sponsored by IVN tomorrow. The two will participate via a Google+ Hangout while taking questions from each other and the general public.
While listening to the major-party presidential candidates come within an inch of declaring war on China during last night's debate, my first thought was that Beijing displayed admirable restraint by not sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier about two-thirds of the way through the posture-fest. My second thought, though, was of the inflation-fueled sticker shock my father displayed a year ago over the price of desert boots. Yeah, that sounds weird. But those two political candidates, and power-grubbers just like them, have helped create conditions in which it's very attractive for manufacturers to do everything they can to keep costs down, including moving factories to such terrible destinations as China.
First, to be clear, I'm not arguing that all of the incentive to move manufacturing overseas comes from inflation. There are good reasons to move manufacturing that have nothing to do with the eroding purchasing power of the dollar (although many of those reasons can also be blamed on politicians). But my father is a guy who spent much of my youth stomping around in Clark's desert boots. He's also an economically savvy guy who writes financial newsletters. And he balked at the price I'd paid for my own pair of desert boots even though that price was comparable to what he paid back in the day, adjusted for inflation.
My father, like many people, was blind-sided by inflation. The purchasing power of the dollar erodes, and even if manufacturers do nothing more than adjust for inflation, people complain about price-creep and insist they're being gouged. Clark's desert boots cost $12.95 in 1959. By standard measures, according to the American Institute for Economic Research's handy cost of living calculator, they should cost $100.87 today. They list for just about exactly that now, though you can usually find them on sale. But labor costs in in Britain have dramatically risen in that time, so the shoes are no longer made there — they're made in Vietnam.
Likewise, Levis 501 blue jeans have been a staple clothing item over the decades. They listed in the 1986 Sears catalog for $30.99 each. Sears currently lists them for $64.00 (which would exactly compensate for inflation), but has them on semipermanent sale for $47.99 — J.C. Penney just lists them at $45.00. That means 501s are actually cheaper than they were in 1986, once you adjust for inflation. U.S. labor costs have also risen in that time, so it's no surprise that Levis has moved production to Asia.MORE »
A few days after a Moscow appellate court upheld the conviction of three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot but released one of them with a suspended sentence, the women's lawyers are taking their claim to the European Court of Human Rights. The case, in which the singer/activists received two-year prison terms for a protest performance in an Orthodox cathedral, may have largely faded from the spotlight; but strong international support for the group continues.
Yet as Cathy Young observes, there are some dissenting voices from usually not Kremlin-friendly quarters on the right. The American Conservative's Rod Dreher and Pajamas Media's Rick Moran, for example, charge that the Pussy Riot lovefest is yet another example of how Christianity-trashing is glorified as artistic freedom—while attacks on Islam are decried as hateful. Such double standards do exist, Young writes. But in this instance, the claims of anti-Christian bigotry are off-base. The feminist punks’ activism has been directed entirely against the authoritarian Russian state.View this article
How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.
Last night's townhall debate between Obama and Romney proved the truth of that bitter old joke on many levels. But let's just look at one assertion by Mitt Romney regarding Obama's energy production policies:
And the president's right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands, and in federal waters.
To which Barack Obama replied:
We've opened up public lands. We're actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my -- the previous president was an oil man.
With regard to permits, below is what I reported when I analyzed the Democratic Party's Platorm looking at its various scitech planks:
What about drilling? President Obama correctly claims to have opened millions of acres to drilling for hydrocarbons. But how does that compare with previous administrations? In its first three years, according to the Bureau of Land Management, the Bush administration leased 8.8 million acres for oil exploration and production, compared to 5.3 million for the Obama administration. The Clinton administration leased 11.4 million acres in its first three years.
What about the total number of new wells drilled on federal lands? The first three years of the Bush administration saw 9,276 new wells drilled, whereas under the Obama administration 9,693 wells were. Just as a comparison, during the global oil price run-up during the last three years of the Bush administration 15,095 new wells started producing. After the BP oil rig blowout, President Obama closed drilling on most of the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.
What about Romney's claim that oil and gas production is down on federal lands?MORE »
"Capitalist Pig on Why Hedge Funds and Ayn Rand are Great for the Economy" is the latest offering from Reason TV.
"I supported occupational licensing when I was a young consumer reporter," writes John Stossel in his latest column. "But now I've wised up. Now I see that it doesn't protect consumers. Competition and reputation are better protection. When you move to a new community, do you choose new dentists or mechanics by checking their licenses? No. You ask neighbors or colleagues for recommendations, or check Consumer Reports and Angie's List. You check because you know that even with licensing laws, there is quackery."View this article
In today’s Prime Minister’s Questions David Cameron was asked how he would vote in an “in or out” referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. The question comes after Education Secretary Michael Gove said that he thought the UK was “ready to quit” the Nobel laureate last week. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said that Gove’s sentiments reflect what many Tories feel about the UK’s membership of the EU.
David Cameron replied that he would not support a referendum on membership, but rather supported a referendum on a renegotiated settlement:
I am not happy with us leaving the European Union. I’m not happy with the status quo either. I think what the vast majority of this country want is a new settlement with Europe, and then that settlement being put to fresh consent.
Data does not support the Prime Minister’s view that the “vast majority” of Britons want a renegotiated membership. This month’s YouGov poll shows that 48 percent of British voters would vote to leave the EU altogether, and only 31 percent would vote to stay in. The poll seems to back up Hammond’s point that most Tories feel that the UK is ready to quit, with 65 percent of voters who intend to vote for the Conservatives saying that they would vote to leave the EU.MORE »
Much of last night’s debate prompted little more than eye rolls and sarcastic tweeting from me, but one comment from President Barack Obama did prompt me to actually open my mouth and mutter, “Are you fucking kidding me?” From Politico’s transcripts:
When he talks about getting tough on China, keep in mind that Governor Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China, and is currently investing in countries — in companies that are building surveillance equipment for China to spy on its own folks. [emphasis added]
Just a week ago, the Supreme Court declined to consider a case involving the American government eavesdropping on its own citizens without warrants and whether telecommunications companies could be held liable for providing the backdoors to allow it to happen. The Obama administration wants to quash these types of suits, invoking national security. Warrantless digital surveillance by the Department of Justice has skyrocketed in the last two years. That Obama would boldly go there in the debate – well that certainly wasn’t an attempt to grab the libertarian vote, was it?
The New York Times wrote about the company Obama’s referring to back in March:
In December, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government’s Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.
The Bain-owned company, Uniview Technologies, produces what it calls “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that enable police officials in different jurisdictions to share images in real time through the Internet. Previous projects have included an emergency command center in Tibet that “provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s Web site.
Such surveillance systems are often used to combat crime and the manufacturer has no control over whether they are used for other purposes. But human rights advocates say in China they are also used to intimidate and monitor political and religious dissidents. “There are video cameras all over our monastery, and their only purpose is to make us feel fear,” said Loksag, a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Gansu Province. He said the cameras helped the authorities identify and detain nearly 200 monks who participated in a protest at his monastery in 2008.
But that couldn’t happen in America, right? Our governments would never partner with a private company to produce a citywide surveillance system or stalk and intimidate a distrusted minority. That would be wrong.
There are less than three weeks to go before the election, writes A. Barton Hinkle, yet not once have the candidates brought up one of the gravest threats facing the nation: falling chicken parts.
A few days ago Cassie Bernard was on a horseback ride in Accomac, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, when she was struck on the head by a foot-long piece of raw chicken that fell from the sky. How could this happen? Explanations vary. An investigation also has been launched. Meanwhile, the authorities have arrived at some preliminary conclusions. Drawing on years of expertise – backed by two centuries of scientific progress and the collective wisdom of a regulatory agency with a $150-million budget – the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Milton Johnston feels confident in declaring: “We can’t have pieces of chicken falling out of the sky.”View this article
Mitt Romney has had a lot of trouble recently defending his proposal to reduce income tax rates, increase defense spending, close tax loopholes — and keep the whole thing revenue it neutral while working to reduce the deficit and eventually balance the budget. It's possible to do any of those things, but it's extremely difficult, at best, to do all of them together.
But Obama's big debt reduction plan, which he claims would reduce national debt by $4 trillion, is also highly problematic. It's packed with gimmicks, and what debt reduction it might achieve would mostly come from tax hikes. And pressed to defend the plan, Obama's campaign has serious trouble.
The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein went back and forth with Obama campaign spokesperson Jen Psaki in the debate spin room last night to highly amusing results:
In the spin room following the debate, I noted to Psaki that Obama’s math has its own problems. He preserves roughly 80 percent of the Bush tax cuts in terms of revenue and the taxes he raises won’t be enough to balance the budget or save Medicare or Social Security from cuts.
“President Obama is the only one who has a $4 trillion balanced plan, so part of that is $1 trillion in ending the Bush tax cuts,” Psaki said.
In response, I noted the the supposed $4 trillion deficit plan included $1.1 trillion in war savings and $1.2 trillion from the debt ceiling compromise that had already been signed into law.
“I think the important piece is that Mitt Romney has a $5 trillion plan,” Psaki began to reply.
I pressed her on Obama’s own plan, that keeps 80 percent of the Bush tax cuts without tackling entitlements.
Mitt Romney’s observation that parental involvement is critical to keep kids in school and off the streets has been skewered as being anti-single mom. Here’s what Romney said (in response to a question about AK-47s, no less):
We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids. Wherever possible the — the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that's not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that's a great idea.
Because if there's a two parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically. So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity, and bring them in the American system.
Then-candidate Barack Obama addressed the issue of youth violence at an address to the NAACP in 2008. He said:
I know that nine little children did not walk through a schoolhouse door in Little Rock so that we could stand by and let our children drop out of school and turn to gangs for the support they are not getting elsewhere…
…if we’re serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives, our own families, and our own communities. That starts with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV, and putting away the video games; attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, and setting a good example. It starts with teaching our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they are worth; and teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.
Another difference that largely isn’t.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama may have come close to brawling at yesterday's "town hall" "debate," but only one would-be president got arrested:
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and running mate Cheri Honkala were arrested outside Long Island’s Hofstra University ahead of tonight's debate.
After being denied entrance to the campus because they lacked credentials, the two candidates sat down in the street in front of the university with an American flag on their laps, the Long Island Report explains. They were led away by police officers after refusing to move.
Score one for Stein. If there's one thing I want in a president, it's a willingness to go to jail.
- Barack Obama's odds have inched up on online betting sites after last night's debate.
- The government-run Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas had seven advisors resign last week. They claimed that favoritism and abuse were plaguing the institute.
- The Oakland Police Department received more than a thousand complaints about police brutality during Occupy Oakland protests a year ago, and the internal affairs division identified 44 police officers that did something wrong. The police chief recommended two be fired, one demoted, 15 suspended, 23 given “written reprimands” and three sent to counseling.
- The ACLU warns police may want to turn information they have from license plate readers into easily accessed and searchable databases. For safety.
- To save its budget, the town of Nickerson, Kansas closed its police department. A vote to ratify the decision will be held in April.
- The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation condemned Western opposition to bans on hate speech targeting Islam. The OIC wanted the United Nation’s support for a ban.
- An Earth-sized planet has been found orbiting Alpha Centauri, four and a half light years away. It’ll have to be moved away from its sun and given time to cool before we can move in.
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Whereas Mitt Romney in the first presidential square-off was able to benefit from his steadfast, five-year refusal to detail any specifics about which big-ticket federal government programs or departments he would reduce or cut, that tactic backfired during Round 2 last night, writes Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch. It's not just that President Barack Obama was able to argue plausibly that Romney's tax-plan numbers don't add up—they don't—but rather that across a series of topics, from foreign policy to domestic spending to international trade, the GOP standard-bearer was unwilling and maybe even unable to articulate a truly competing vision that would prune back government omnipotence. It should not be this hard to defeat a floundering incumbent president.View this article
I watched last night's debate in a college setting, at a joint called Woody's in Ohio State's student union. The good news? The place was packed and though only three of nine TV screens were tuned to C-SPAN, the students not only followed the debate but were well-informed and vocal. More good news: They seemed sharply critical of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's various sketchy statements about all manner of things.
There's no question that Obama gave a better showing than he did the first time around. He was energized, no doubt, by his lackluster performance a coupla weeks back, the town hall format (which mostly is a showcase for bad questions coming from jes' plain folks), and moderator Candy Crowley's inability to let any real or imagined slight against the president go uncommented upon.
But the oddest thing about Obama's rap to me was that he was talking as if he hasn't been in office the past three-plus years. The way he talked about George W. Bush and the various situations he faced upon moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you'd think he just called up to the bigs for the playoffs or something. He invokes the years since 2009 as if he just came back from vacationing off-planet. Does anyone else remember all the crowing that went on after Obama's "historic" first year in office? This is a president who basically was able to get everything he wanted - stimulus, healthcare, the sorts of military actions he wanted, a free-hand in surveilling enemies here and abroad, and more - and he has still reaped a whirlwind when it comes to a vaguely decent economy and America's standing in the world. Indeed, the Dems took a "shellacking" (his term) in the 2010 mid-term elections because of his legislative record, not in spite of it. By his own litmus tests - especially the unemployment rate - he's been a huge and undeniable failure. When it comes to foreign policy, does anyone really believe he's done more than drive down U.S. standing from the already-low place that his predecessor left it? And when it comes to a variety of other issues - ranging from executive power to raiding medical marijuana joints in states where they're legal to immigration - he's simply been godawful.
The strongest case against re-electing Obama remains the one that Clint Eastwood made during his empty chair performance: Bam might be a good guy, but he hasn't gotten the job done, and so it's time to let him go. The strongest case for re-electing Obama shared the stage with him last night. Mitt Romney bungled questions on the Benghazi attack and follow-up (there's no doubt that the administration dissembled in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, which itself showcased inexcusable misjudgments in State Department security priorities) and he totally whiffed on issues such as gun control and immigration. Indeed, his signature flip-flopping was very much in evidence as he tried tacking away from clear positions (hey governor, maybe the reason gun crime and violence is way down is because virtually all states liberalized their gun laws and the Supreme Court started upholding the Second Amendment) toward some sort of mushy "centrism." Romney has more private-sector experience than Obama (who has exactly zero), but whatever free-enterprise bona fides he carried in his pockets stayed there in favor of rants against cheap Chinese imports and pledges to bring back manufacturing jobs (because nothing says first-world economy more than assembly lines, right?). Simply put, he doesn't inspire confidence that he would be a particularly effective and level-headed leader when it comes to domestic or foreign policy.
The flash polls I've heard about have Obama winning last night's tussle by about 7 percentage points, with as many as one-third calling it a tie. Which means maybe the presidential election will be tight right down to election day. Which is good for cable news, but bad for the large majority of libertarianish Americans who believe the government should do less in the economy and not promote a single set of traditional values. We just weren't represented on the stage last night and it seems unlikely that huge lack will be addressed not just before the next debate but November 6, 2012.
Next week Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are scheduled to meet for their third and final presidential debate, this time focusing on foreign policy. Although he will be on the ballot in at least 48 states on November 6, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party's nominee, was not invited. The reason, according to Senior Editor Jacob Sullum: The two major parties were worried that an actual debate about foreign policy might break out.View this article
Jessica Stirewalt says she got a call from her daughter Jesslyn's assistant teacher telling she'd cut the girl's hair because Jesslyn had gotten food in it. The Rowan County, North Carolina, mother wasn't pleased. She was less pleased when Jesslyn, who is 7 and has Down syndrome, got home. Stirewalt found that about eight inches of her hair had been cut. Stirewalt says she also got a letter from the teacher saying they cut the girl's hair because she would not stop taking it down.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
Here’s what Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said on Sunday, September 16th, on Face the Nation:
Bob, let me tell you what we understand to be the assessment at present. First of all, very importantly, as you discussed with the President, there is an investigation that the United States government will launch led by the FBI, that has begun and--
BOB SCHIEFFER (overlapping): But they are not there.
RICE: They are not on the ground yet, but they have already begun looking at all sorts of evidence of-- of various sorts already available to them and to us. And they will get on the ground and continue the investigation. So we'll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy
The qualifier of an ongoing (but at that point not yet on the ground) FBI investigation has been used to defend Rice’s statements, and the administration has insisted over the last few weeks her statements and the view of the administration in the days after the attack on the Benghazi consulate were informed by the intelligence available. Yet, as we noted here on Reason on September 14:
A report in The Independent relying partially on anonymous sources suggests the United States had warnings about the Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the assault on the embassy in Cairo…
The Independent paints a crisis as a result of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, reporting sensitive documents going missing, including lists of Libyans working with the U.S. and some related to oil contracts. None of the safe houses around the country are considered safe anymore. A link to Al-Qaeda is suspected…
The Administration latched onto the YouTube clip of Innocence of Muslims. The FBI was reported to be investigating its alleged creator within days. He was taken into custody late last month. Appearing at the United Nations less than two weeks after the Benghazi attack, the president condemned those who “slander the prophet of Islam.”
The link between the attack on the Benghazi consulate and America’s intervention in Libya’s civil war, brought up by former presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich at hearings on the Benghazi attack, has as yet to surface in either tonight’s debate or the Biden-Ryan debate that included questions on Libya.
Between Mitt Romney’s interventionism and Barack Obama’s interventionism, next Monday’s debate on foreign policy will leave those looking for an adult conversation on the architecture and consequences of U.S. foreign policy sorely lacking.
UPDATE: Via commenter Bam!, Candice Crowley admits Romney was "right in the main" but "wrong on the words" on the issue. The president and his administration's response in the weeks after the attack were muddled and often pinned to the YouTube video despite that not being the reality.
The Romney vs. Obama debate trilogy continues. This one is a town hall, so if the candidates don't drive you to drink, the citizens will!
And here's your obligatory post-debate Google+ Hangout, featuring Peter Suderman:
It’s a tie game, folks: With the first of three presidential debates down and the vice presidential sideshow over, the two men at the top of the major party tickets will face off once again in yet another 90 minute debate.
The last two weeks have been driven by Mittmentum: After a listless performance by President Obama in the first debate, GOP nominee Mitt Romney has picked up about three points in the polls, making the race essentially tied. So tonight’s big question is whether the president will be able to stage a comeback, or at least show up looking fully awake.
For tonight’s contest, they’re taking it to the regular folks: Tonight’s debate at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, will be conducted townhall style, with a gaggle of undecided voters lined up to ask the questions that are near and dear to their own hearts. “This is the one debate that belongs to the people,” Romney debate coach Brett O’Donnell told the Associated Press.
Granted, tonight’s debate will differ in a number of ways from a typical townhall meeting. The whole thing is as carefully controlled as a WWE smackdown: National polling firm Gallup painstakingly questioned and selected 80 truly undecided voters to question the candidates. Those voters have already been rehearsing in advance using “dummy questions” (feel free to make your own joke here).
And unlike most townhall meetings that I’m familiar with, this debate will be moderated by a brand-name national journalist: CNN’s Candy Crowley. Both campaigns have already questioned her role because Crowley has suggested she might not strictly follow the debate rules set by the two campaigns, which provide an extremely limited role for the moderator. Indeed, she has suggested that might even ask follow up questions intended to get candidates to clarify their answers. The horror!
Which just serves as a depressing reminder of what both presidential face offs are really interested in: Not answering potentially difficult questions, but putting on a carefully scripted show.
It’s enough to drive a person to drink. Fortunately, Reason has a handy drinking guide for those who want to coordinate their sips and shots with the candidates’ non-answers. Take a drink every time…
- Obama mentions “the 47 percent.”
- Mitt Romney promises to lower tax rates, cut loopholes, and maintain current revenue levels without explaining how.
- Obama says he has a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. Double shot if he says the words “balanced plan.”
- Romney mentions a five point plan, or any numbered list.
- Anyone claims to be defending, saving, or otherwise protecting Medicare.
- Either candidate mentions their own _____Care (RomneyCare for Romney, ObamaCare for Obama).
- Obama talks about immigration without mentioning that he has deported immigrants 50 percent faster than his GOP predecessor.
- Mitt Romney talks about building a border fence, or says “self-deportation.”
- Obama blames Hillary for security failures in Benghazi.
- Candy Crowley asks a follow-up question. Double shot if either candidate tries to weasel out of answering.
- Anyone says the word jobs.
- Anyone mentions Bill Clinton.
Be sure to check back in at debate time (9 p.m. EST) as Reason editors live blog the debate.
Rebels from the Farouq Brigades have set a marijuana field on fire and posted the footage on Facebook. Some think that the move betrays an ideological inclination. From Wired:
It’s because the Farouq Brigades, generally considered a competent and media-savvy rebel militia, is promoting its willingness to destroy a drug crop. That’s an action usually identified more with Islamic militant groups than secular ones. And it goes to show how little the U.S. still knows about the Syrian opposition, even as Washington debates directly arming the rebels.
The articles continues, highlighting how little analysts know about the group:
Both White and Joe Holliday, a research analyst watching Syria for the Institute for the Study of War, consider the Farouq Brigade “moderately Islamist” — that is, neither secular nor Salafi. They don’t employ the hardcore tactics of the jihadis, like suicide bombings or stuffing captured government soldiers into trucks filled with explosives. And while some of their fighters wear black headbands of jihadis and display “these types of jihadi symbols in their appearance,” Holliday says, “it’s hard to parse out whether that’s just the style right now.”
In Syria, even being a “moderate Islamist” group, whatever that actually means, isn’t necessarily a fixed position. It could just as easily be a branding of convenience for organizations seeking access to weaponry — from whatever source. “The question is, is that a cover for getting weapons and aid [from Gulf states], so they’re not really Islamist very much at all; or are they really Islamist and pretending to be moderate?” White says. “No one knows for sure.” And that’s after studying the groups’ actions and statements for months.
Such uncertainty about who exactly is fighting Assad should make policy-makers wary about sending them support. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. Mitt Romney has spoken in support of arming the Syrian rebels. In the Senate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have all called for American support for the Syrian rebels. That Al-Qaeda elements are active in the Syrian rebellion is no secret, and Pentagon officials have raised concerns about weapons proliferation in the area.MORE »
Two years ago, several cops were caught on camera beating up a University of Maryland student during a raucous celebration after a basketball victory. A year later, they were indicted on charges of assault and official misconduct. Those cops are currently on trial, and according to an internal affairs investigator, one of the cops involved in the beating, Officer James Harrison, actually said he “couldn’t actually identify himself” on the tape. According to the Washington Post:
In an interview at the internal affairs office in Clinton, Harrison “said he was a witness” and could not identify those actually swinging their batons, [internal affairs investigator Lt. Charles] Walls testified.
Walls testified that Harrison called him personally the next day and asked what equipment he would need to turn in, feeling his “suspension was imminent.” Even then, Walls testified, Harrison stopped short of admitting his role in the incident.
The cops’ defense, naturally, is that they were just doing their jobs:
Defense attorneys have argued that Harrison and Baker were merely doing their jobs, acting as “foot soldiers” trying to control a violent postgame riot in College Park. Walls’s testimony Tuesday at their trial in Prince George’s County Circuit Court was a key cog in prosecutors’ attempts to convince jurors that Harrison knew what he did was wrong and that he made some effort to cover up his conduct.
See, if the cop didn’t know there was anything wrong with wailing on a college student amid a crowd of rowdy college students, it would have been okay. The cover up’s a crime, too. The other cop on trial, Reginald Baker, maybe might’ve been remorseful:
Also Tuesday, Sgt. Dexter McKinney, a friend of Baker who was also working the night of the incident, testified that after he was interviewed by internal affairs detectives, Baker called him and “apologized for putting us through that.” Of the incident, McKinney said Baker acknowledged fully he was the one on the video and said he was “sorry it happened” and was “just not feeling good about it.”
“He wasn’t proud of it,” McKinney testified.
In their own questioning of McKinney, defense attorneys suggested Baker was apologizing not necessarily for his conduct that night but because his actions had thrust colleagues into an internal affairs investigation.
Those pesky cameras. Reason TV on government's war on cameras (not the ones it points at you, obviously):
What is it about the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that drives so many of its critics to make such ill-advised statements? As you may recall, one day after the Court issued its ruling, which struck down certain restrictions on political speech by unions and corporations, then-television personality Keith Olbermann declared on MSNBC that Citizens United “might actually have more dire implications than Dred Scott v. Sandford,” the notorious 1857 case that helped trigger the American Civil War.
Thankfully Olbermann's breathless prediction did not pan out, but it now appears that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would like to up the apocalyptic ante. According to The Oxonian Globalist, McCain told an audience at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Union that Citizens United was the Supreme Court’s “worst decision ever.” Take that Dred Scott!
To better understand why Citizens United is in fact not the worst decision the Court has ever handed down, or even a bad decision at all, read Jacob Sullum’s "You Are Now Free to Speak About Politics: Why do some people fear a less restricted debate?"
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in a case challenging the Drug Enforcement Administration's refusal to reclassify marijuana so it can be legally used as a medicine. Since 1970, when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana has remained on Schedule I, a category supposedly reserved for drugs with a high abuse potential and no accepted medical value that cannot be used safely even under a doctor's supervision. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) first challenged marijuana's legal status in 1972, eventually winning the support of an administrative law judge, Francis Young, who in 1991 declared it "abundantly clear" that the drug has "a currently accepted medical use." Young, who called marijuana "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man," was overruled by DEA Administrator John Lawn. In 1995 former NORML Executive Director Jon Gettman filed a second rescheduling petition, focusing on marijuana's abuse potential, which the DEA rejected in 2001. The latest petition, filed a year later by a coalition of activists, cited state laws allowing patients to use marijuana as well as recent research confirming its therapeutic value. As usual, the DEA dragged its feet, finally rejecting the petition last year. Now Americans for Safe Access is appealing that decision.
This is the first time in nearly two decades that a federal appeals court has heard arguments about marijuana's Schedule I status, which a group of researchers at the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research politely called "untenable" in a recent review of the literature. Perhaps more than any other policy, the Obama administration's continued defense of this classification, which puts marijuana in a more restrictive category than cocaine, morphine, or methamphetamine, belies the president's avowed commitment to sound, unpoliticized science. California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer notes that the DEA "summarily discounted substantial scientific evidence showing that cannabis has medical efficacy." He says the agency insists that "only expensive, 'Phase 3' FDA efficacy studies are acceptable, while at the same making such studies impossible by blocking approval of the necessary research facilities." Although other Schedule I drugs are produced by private, DEA-licensed labs, when it comes to marijuana the agency has refused to allow competition with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers' only legal source of the drug. That policy is also the target of federal litigation.
French President François Hollande proposed banning homework as part of a school reform package last week. French schoolkids already put in long school days: 8:30 to 4:30 or longer. But that's not Hollande's concern. In fact, he wants to extend the school week from 4 days to 4.5.
Instead, he is worried about the inequality factor—kids who get extra help at home have an unfair edge, he frets. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home."
He's right that homework sucks. But not for the reasons he thinks. Kids with involved parents will always have an edge, whether or not they have a pile of books to schlep home every day. But new research suggests that slamming kids with extra work may be counterproductive, especially for younger kids:
Inundating children with hours of homework each night is detrimental, the research suggests, while an hour or two per week usually doesn't impact test scores one way or the other. However, homework only bolsters students' academic performance during their last three years of grade school. "There is little benefit for most students until senior high school (grades 10-12)," Walker [says].
One solution to fixing the broken homework system that is gaining currency in U.S. circle is flip teaching, or flipping the classroom. Why not have kids work on problem sets, art projects, and writing assignments while they're in class, with access to extra help? Let them do the passive consumption part of their education—listening to lectures, watching educational videos, or reading textbooks—on their own time at home. Online learning tools make this a more viable option than ever.
Kids who quickly grasp a concept can speed through the tutorials, while kids who need to hear or see (or both) the explanation again can repeat it as many times as they want without slowing down other kids or fearing embarrassment. The result would be less homework overall and more flexibility for kids.
Even if we can't achieve this kind of radical reform, though, that's no excuse for giving a second grader three hours of homework. Free play time helps grow smart kids. Let the kids go!
Unfortunately, homework tends to come back into style when people fear that Americans are falling behind (ahem, winning the future, ahem, China, ahem), which means we're probably in for another uptick in homework, evidence to the contrary be damned.
Bonus: The kicker of The Washington Post's coverage of this issue won my heart.
His homework position is not original; some school districts in the United States did the same thing going back more than a century. Early in the 1900s, the influential Ladies’ Home Journal magazine called homework “barbarous,” and school districts such as Los Angeles abolished it in kindergarten through eighth grade. In fact, some educators said it caused tuberculosis, nervous conditions and heart disease in the young and that children were better off playing outside. The American Child Health Association in the 1930s labeled homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease.
- Mitt and Barry will likely chatter about the "fiscal cliff" tonight, but you're unlikely to hear much discussion about entitlements, which consumed $2.2 trillion of this year's $3.7 trillion federal budget, and are poised to swallow the whole works.
- Gary Johnson received the highest grade — a B — of any presidential candidate from the Secular Coalition. It's not total consciousness, but he's got that going for him, which is nice.
- France may ban school homework, because it's "unfair" that some kids get more help at home than others. Paging Harrison Bergeron ...
- Cuba will eliminate requirements for exit visas, though it still maintains some restrictions, including tight controls on trained and educated people who might actually do well elsewhere.
- In Canada, some political speech now falls under the punishable "bullying" umbrella, including advocacy against abortions.
- Sanctions against Iran have reduced oil exports by one-third, which should make them compliant and reasonable any day now.
- Call it, "Away From Home Alone": More kids are migrating to the U.S. unaccompanied by adults to escape violence in Central America.
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