Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 October 22-31

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Greg Beato on Bringing Back the Flophouse

“New York City’s housing codes have not kept up with its changing population, and currently do not allow an entire building of micro-units,” declared a press release issued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office in July. Not to worry; the mayor has a plan: Developers have been invited to submit proposals for new residential construction on a Manhattan parking lot owned by the city. For this particular project, the city will waive zoning regulations that require all new apartments be at least 400 square feet. The new development will consist mainly of “micro-units”—studio apartments that combine general living space, a kitchenette, and a bathroom into a total footprint of just 275 to 300 square feet.

In the days before extensive housing codes and zoning laws, observes Greg Beato, when developers had relatively free rein to meet the needs of the market, New York City’s housing stock, like those of many other metropolitan centers in the U.S., was far more diverse. If we want to revolutionize housing for today’s singles, Beato writes, we should look to the past.

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Reason TV Replay: Why Democrat vs. Republican is the Wrong Way to Look at the 2012 Election

With Democrat and Republican ads seemingly everywhere, it's good to remind ourselves that the distinctions and importance of the two major political parties are becoming less and less relevant.

Here is the original text from the April 12, 2012 Reason TV video:

"We had a non-Obama president recently, his name was George W. Bush, it wasn't all puppy dogs and rainbows," says Reason's Matt Welch. "Being Republican is not enough to counter Obama. Mitt Romney is not offering an alternative to Obama," adds Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie.

From Newt Gingrich's inexplicable campaign chatter about a taxpayer-subsidized colony on the moon to Mitt Romney's refusal to discuss any specific spending cuts he would implement as president, Republicans continue to offer no real substantive alternative to President Obama's spendthrift economic policies.

Welch and Gillespie, the co-authors of "The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America," hosted the discussion "Why Democrat vs. Republican is the Wrong Way to Look at the 2012 Election" at Reason Weekend, the annual donor event held by Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website).

Runs about 30.41 minutes.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher, shot by Josh Swain and Fisher.

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Sheldon Richman on Why Americans Should Reject Obama-Romney Foreign Policy

If we needed evidence of the impoverishment of American politics, writes Sheldon Richman, the so-called debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney gave us all we could ask for. We normally expect a debate to highlight some disagreement, but in American politics disagreement is reserved for minor matters. The two parties—actually the two divisions of the uniparty that represents the permanent regime—agree on all fundamentals. If you need proof, observe how the establishment media treated Ron Paul, who challenged the permanent regime’s basic premises on foreign policy, civil liberties, and monetary control. He dug too deep.

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Damon Root on How the Supreme Court Stacked the Deck Against Economic Liberty

When it comes to the protection of individual rights by the U.S. Supreme Court, some rights are more equal than others. If a government regulation infringes on freedom of speech or the right to vote, for example, the Court presumes the law to be unconstitutional and forces the government to justify its actions. But if a government regulation infringes on economic rights, the Court takes the opposite tack, presuming the law to be constitutional and therefore requiring the regulated party to shoulder the burden of proving why the law should be struck down. Senior Editor Damon Root reports on a major federal price-fixing case that highlights this troubling judicial deference to government regulation.

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Celebs Pledging to Serve Barack Obama: 2012 Update

In 2009, celebrities inlcuding Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and dozens more made a video in which they pledged to "serve" Barack Obama in ways big and small.

Reason TV tried checking in with some of the stars to see how those promises are going. 

Click above to watch the 1.20-minute-long vid now or click below to watch on a page with downloadable versions, more links, and other resources.

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Baylen Linnekin on Food Policy and the 2012 Presidential Election

In his latest column, Baylen Linnekin of Keep Food Legal asks 10 leading food scholars, attorneys, authors, advocates, and others about important food-policy issues they'd like to see discussed in the presidential campaign and implemented in the future. One common theme running through their answers is that our nation's food policies cannot and should not continue to consist of a combination of high subsidies and tight regulations that, in tandem, promote the primacy of some food choices over others.

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North Carolina's War on Free Speech About Diet Goes Beyond Just the Paleo Case

Sara Burrows at Carolina Journal had done some great digging into the practices of the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition.

They are, regular readers of Reason might remember, the villains in the case of Cooksey v. Futrell et al., in which they tried to censor the website of a blogger advocating the "paleo" diet, for diabetics and other living humans. The Institute for Justice helped Mr. Cooksey file suit in defense of his First Amendment rights, though a federal court so far has shot them down. They do plan an appeal.

Well, as Burrows found, their officious nonsense goes beyond paleo bloggers. Some lowlights:

the board...has investigated nearly 50 people or organizations over the past five years, including athletic trainers, a nurse, a pharmacist, a spa, and even Duke Integrative Medicine. All have been accused of the same crime — “practicing nutrition” without a license..... 

 The board, which represents licensed professionals working in the field of diet and nutrition, is interested in anyone who gives advice about what people should eat, whether it’s a medical doctor, a gym trainer, or a man on the street. 

And how do these bits of allegedly illegal advice come to their attention? Why, through the public spirited busy-bodyism of those who see themselves in "competition" with such advisors (talkers), natch.

Registered dieticians file complaints against providers of nutritional advice on a regular basis, and the board — which was established to protect their professions (along with public safety) — is “obligated” to launch full-fledged investigations of every complaint. 

If the accused is found guilty of “assessing” someone’s dietary needs and “counseling” that person as to what she should eat, the party is told to stop. Refusal to do so could lead to misdemeanor criminal charges, which could result in fines or even jail time. 

The Board's director Charla Burill tells the Carolina Journal that it's cool to make general statements about what people in general should eat, but if you tell a specific diabetic she should eat less sugar, or a specific overweight person he should eat fewer carbs, that becomes something only a licensed (by them) pro can do.

And it's not just a matter of proving you are savvy enough not to harm the public to avoid the officious eyes of the Board, as the Journal points out:

Holistic nutritionist Liz Lipski has a Ph.D. in clinical nutrition and 30 years of experience in the field. She is board certified in Texas and California. She is the director of doctoral studies at Hawthorn University, author of Digestive WellnessLeaky Gut Syndrome, and other nutrition books, and founder of Innovative Healing, a wellness company. She has designed and taught nutrition courses and trains medical doctors, dieticians, and nutritionists to use clinical nutrition in their practices. 

But because she fails to meet far lesser educational requirements prescribed by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition, she cannot practice her occupation in any capacity in the state. In order to become licensed in North Carolina, Lipski would have to return to school at the undergraduate level for several semesters. Instead, she chose to move to Atlanta.

The public, duly protected (from anyone competing with state-approved advisers). The state: generally bad for your health.

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Rolling Stone Continues Proud Tradition of Kissing Barack Obama's Ring

Back when Rolling Stone interviewed President Barack Obama in 2010, I had a little fun at the expense of ageless/deathless interviewer Jann Wenner, because his first three questions to the most powerful man on earth were about how awful those damn dirty Republicans are ("When did you realize that the Republicans had abandoned any real effort to work with you," etc.).

Not that this was such a far cry from Wenner's 2008 interview with Obama ("What do you think went wrong with the Bush administration? How did things get so bad in these last eight years? What happened to us?"), but at least that version had a lot of cheerfully pointless talk about Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, and the Dead. We should expect nothing less (or more) from Jann Wenner.

But what about Douglas Brinkley, superstar pop historian and all-around serious man of letters? Surely he would bring the hard-hitting gravitas to Rolling Stone's 2012 interview (which was previously blogged here by Ed Krayewski and Brian Doherty)? Maybe follow up on Obama's 2008 promises to Wenner about ending "the revolving door that's been created between people in government and K Street," or "shifting the paradigm" on the Drug War?

Er, no.

Here are the first five questions that Hunter S. Thompson's literary executor asked a sitting president of the United States on behalf of the sixties' most famous living counterculture magazine:

Let's start with how the campaign has been going. Ever since the first debate, Romney has abruptly shifted his position on a whole host of issues, from his tax plan to financial regulation. 

Many observers have commented on how Romney has misrepresented or even changed his positions in this last leg of the campaign – that he's been like a chameleon on plaid. Do you feel that he has lied to the American people? 

Where were you when you first saw Romney's speech in Boca Raton about the 47 percent? What was your first reaction? 

What has surprised you the most about the Republican campaign this year? 

Do you have any fear that Roe v. Wade could be overturned if the Republicans win the presidency and appoint another Supreme Court justice? 

A later question begins with the statement, "The auto bailout helped rescue states like Ohio from economic disaster." And though Brinkley didn't have time to get to all that droney, druggy, civil-liberties stuff that Rolling Stone readers would presumably be interested in, he did end on this important note:

Halloween's coming up. If you could have Mitt Romney dress in a costume, what should he be for Halloween? 

I don't know a good answer to that, but I do have a costume suggestion for Douglas Brinkley and Rolling Stone: Next time, dress as a journalist.

Defining Radical Down

As the presidential race tightens, Democrats and their supporters are working vigorously to define radical down. In his Bloomberg View column today, for example, Jonathan Alter warns that even if GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney seems moderate now, he won't possibly govern that way. That's because radical Republicans in Congress wouldn't let him. "The Republicans have become the most extreme major political party in generations," he writes. "They are tolerating Romney’s heresies this month only to gain power." Including Maine Senator Susan Collins and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who may not win reelection, Alter argues that "the moderate Republican caucus in Congress might include just two senators, plus three or four House members. That’s it." 

Alter isn't the only one pushing the line that today's GOP is too extreme to govern. You can find former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich making an extremely similar argument, saying that "today's Republican Party is more radical and extreme than it's been in more than 80 years." Democratic operatives are pushing the same line about various GOP targets. A spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee told CNN that Tom Smith, a Republican Senate Candidate in Pennsylvania whose race is currently tied according to Rasmussen, "is a radical tea partier in the mold of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock." Here's how radical Smith is on the high-priority issue of Medicare:

Obama's campaign has worked hard to paint Romney as a super-scary political radical, with senior campaign adviser David Axelrod warning that Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan share "extreme" views on government, and arguing that the two share politival views that are way outside the mainstream. It's silly for a number of reasons. It's not just that Romney is clearly not some red-eyed radical but instead a managerial technocrat who, among other things, worked hard to pass a state-level version of ObamaCare. It's that the administration is making this argument at the same time that the president's key line of attack on the GOP contender revolves around a gimmicky bit about "Romnesia," in which Romney can't really be trusted because he doesn't have any principles. So which is it? Is Romney some crazy ideological firebrand? Or is he an unprincipled political striver with no particular attachment to principle? 

One response might be that it doesn't matter if Romney is an extremist because his willingness to go where the political winds blow will make him a puppet of radical Republicans in Congress. The same radicals, presumably, who have spent the last three years declaring their opposition to President Obama's Medicare cuts, who proposed a balanced budget plan so strict that exempted Medicare and Social Security, and who offered a debt deal so apocalyptic that it called for federal spending to continue to rise. And the same radicals who have rallied around Romney, who is so serious about spending cuts that he has promised to cut federal subsidies to the National Endowment for the Arts and Planned Parenthood, which would save a little less than $500 million out of a $3.7 trillion budget. 

Even if you buy this idea, however, it's essentially moot if Republicans fail to win a majority in the Senate. It's not impossible that the GOP will gain control of the upper chamber, but I wouldn't bet on it, because right now the polls are stacked against them

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Obama Campaign Now Raffling Off Election Night Rally Spots for Donations

On the heels of news Mitt Romney and Republicans hold a $45 million advantage over Obama and Democrats going into the last twelve days of the campaign, the campaign is raffling off tickets to the president’s downsized election night rally in Chicago.  Obama campaign manager Jim Messina writes with “some bad news”:

I'm asking you to dig a little deeper, Edward:

We just found out that Mitt Romney and the Republicans outraised us in the first half of this month, putting us $45 million behind during these crucial final days.
The math here is pretty simple: With that cash advantage, they can outspend us by $4 million per day, every day, for the final 11 days.

We know what that means -- more and more misleading, negative ads trashing the President, you, me, and everything we've accomplished together over the past four years.

And we know what we have to do…

After a year and a half of building and fighting and getting ready for Election Day, we cannot allow ourselves to be outdone at the very end. 

On November 7th, when this campaign is behind us, you'll be glad you stepped up now.

Here's the good news: Any donation you make today automatically enters you for a free trip to Chicago where you'll meet the President and have front-row tickets to his speech on Election Night.

Please make a donation right now:

https://donate.barackobama.com/Close-the-Gap

More soon,

Messina

Previous campaign missives hereherehereherehere,  here,  herehere and here

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Mitt's Divorce Testimony, Barry Is No Objectivist, Hurricane Sandy Targets the East Coast: P.M. Links

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

The updated Reason app for Apple and Android now includes Reason 24/7!

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

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J.D. Tuccille on Ballot Initiatives That Revive Federalism

There's an important constitutional issue on ballots across the country next month, but it's not labeled by its name anywhere that it appears. That issue encompasses concerns traditionally considered both conservative and liberal, even if it is embraced oh-so-selectively by its new-found friends. That's right, says Reason 24/7 Managing Editor J.D. Tuccille, federalism is back, though you'll find it labeled “marijuana legalization,” “health care choice,” or even “state sovereignty.” In all cases, the ballot measures are criticized as symbolic or futile challenges to federal policy—but, as such, they also represent tests of just how much free rein the states retain in a country increasingly dominated by the behemoth on the banks of the Potomac. And, hell, if you don't tweak D.C. from time to time, you're just not trying.

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Four Horrifying Facts About Our Overcrowded Federal Prison System

The number of people incarcerated by the federal government has increased roughly 500 percent since the 1980s, from 42,000 in 1987, to 218,000 in 2011. But according to a recently released GAO report titled "Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure," the capacity of the federal incarceration system has failed to keep pace. Facilities are now 39 percent overcrowded and growing more so by the day.

Overcrowding is making the prison experience--bad enough under normal conditions--exponentially worse for offenders of all stripes: those with families on the outside; those who will one day have to seek gainful employment and a new life outside the prison industrial complex; and those who will spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Here are four awful consequences of prison overcrowding highlighted by the GAO.

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Federalism and the 2012 Election

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, David Rivkin and Elizabeth Price Foley highlight a major issue that has received little attention in the presidential race. They write:

In the presidential debates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ranged across dozens of topics, but an important one didn't come up: federalism. And no wonder.

The idea that the Constitution grants only limited and enumerated powers and leaves the remainder to the states is foreign to those who believe that the national government should or even could address voters' every concern. But contrary to the view widely shared by the political class, Washington—in particular, Congress—does not have the power to pass any law it wants in the name of the "general welfare."

Politicians should take heed. Voters are increasingly focused on the proper role of government in society: Witness the rise of the tea party and unease over the massive debt caused by entitlements and other government handouts. The continuing loud objection to ObamaCare's takeover of health care shows that voters want to preserve the Constitution's architecture of limited federal power.

Read the rest here.

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World Bank Urges Africa to Embrace Trade and Lower Restrictions

The World Bank recently released a report showing that Africa would be able to feed itself if trade barriers were reduced.

From the report:

A new World Bank report says that Africa’s farmers can potentially grow enough food to feed the continent and avert future food crises if countries remove cross-border restrictions on the food trade within the region.

According to the reportAfrica Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples Africa has enough fertile farm land, water, and favorable climates to feed itself, yet it is forced to import ever-larger amounts of food from outside the region to keep up with rising demands from families across the continent.

It’s good to see that the World Bank is arguing for fewer restrictions and self-reliance in Africa. There have been encouraging figures on African poverty recently, and a reduction in restrictions would only make progress in the region more impressive. The World Bank estimates that there were significant declines in poverty rate in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2005 and 2008:

For the first time since 1981, less than half of its population (47 percent) lived below $1.25 a day. The rate was 51 percent in 1981. The $1.25-a-day poverty rate in SSA has fallen 10 percentage points since 1999. 9 million fewer people living below $1.25 a day in 2008 than 2005.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done before Africa can reach its economic potential. Africa has fifty percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, yet only contributes to two percent of global trade. It would be great to see what Africa would be capable of without the restirctions the World Bank report is referring to.

Africa’s tragedy has never been its lack of resources but political mismanagement. Although the benefits of less regulation and the need for reform are apparent I won’t get my hopes up over the prospect of the African leaders managing to make much progress.

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British Won’t Go Along with Illegal Iran War Planning by Americans

How far a decade can go politically without going too far at all. Ten years ago, a Republican president and a Labour prime minister mobilized the Anglo-American alliance for an invasion of Iraq. Now, a Democratic administration has been rebuffed by the Conservative UK government (in coalition with the Liberal Democrats) in an attempt to secure a plan for invading Iran. As noted on Reason 24/7, the British government has been advised by its attorney general that complying with American requests to use U.S. bases on the British territorial possession of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and British bases in Cyprus in plans to strike Iran would violate international law, because Iran does not yet pose a clear and present danger. From The Guardian:

"The UK would be in breach of international law if it facilitated what amounted to a pre-emptive strike on Iran," said a senior Whitehall source. "It is explicit. The government has been using this to push back against the Americans."

Sources said the US had yet to make a formal request to the British government, and that they did not believe an acceleration towards conflict was imminent or more likely. The discussions so far had been to scope out the British position, they said.

"But I think the US has been surprised that ministers have been reluctant to provide assurances about this kind of upfront assistance," said one source. "They'd expect resistance from senior Liberal Democrats, but it's Tories as well. That has come as a bit of a surprise."

A contingent of British naval ships remain in the Persian Gulf, but the British continue to point to diplomacy:

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "As we continue to make clear, the government does not believe military action against Iran is the right course of action at this time, although no option is off the table. We believe that the twin-track approach of pressure through sanctions, which are having an impact, and engagement with Iran is the best way to resolve the nuclear issue. We are not going to speculate about scenarios in which military action would be legal. That would depend on the circumstances at the time."

Nobody wants a war (or “another Iraq,” as Romney put it at the debate) but it’ll stay quite on the table for all sides.

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Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews Cloud Atlas

Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews the Wachowskis' adaptation of David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas in today's Washington Times:

British author David Mitchell's “Cloud Atlas” is the very definition of an unfilmable novel: It boasts a complex, multipart narrative that unfolds in six separate eras from the 1850s through the present and far future, a large cast of characters, a slew of symbolic linkages, and multiple layers of linguistic invention.

And yet Andy and Lana Wachowski, the sibling directors behind “The Matrix” trilogy, along with “Run Lola Run” director Tom Tykwer, have gone and made a big-screen, big-budget adaptation of it anyway.

Or at least they’ve tried. Although they are more successful than one might have imagined, and their ambition is to be admired, they are not nearly as successful as fans of the book might have hoped. Like so many novel-to-screen translators before them, they have turned a great book into a mediocre movie.

Mr. Mitchell’s novel is an intricate novelistic clockwork, both in its language and its narrative structure, and much of the pleasure of reading it comes from appreciating his masterful work as a literary technician. The novel’s broader themes of kindness, freedom and generational connection are more conventional, but they work because of the author’s formidable skills as a storyteller and craftsman.

But the Wachowskis and Mr. Tykwer can’t replicate Mr. Mitchell’s distinctly literary fireworks on the big screen. Indeed, they barely even try. The movie keeps a bit of Mr. Mitchell’s futuristic patois, but only enough to make it sound silly. It ditches the book’s cleverly stacked narrative structure — in which each of the stories is told to its midpoint, then cut off, only to be finished in the book’s second half — for three hours of freewheeling narrative montage.

Read the whole review

Katherine Mangu-Ward Discusses Gaffes and the Phoniness of Polticians on Stossel

Reason Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward discusses whether politicians can be honest without making into a gaffe on Stossel. Airdate: October 25, 2012.

About 4.40 minutes.

Scroll down for downloadable versions. Subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to receive automatic notification when new material goes live.

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Unlearning Liberty: Censorship on College Campuses

This week Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), released his new book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of the American Debate. In a New York Times piece to mark its release Lukianoff highlights the threat colleges and universities pose to students’ First Amendment rights.

Colleges and universities are supposed to be bastions of unbridled inquiry and expression but they probably do as much to repress free speech as any other institution in young people’s lives.

His book catalogues over 11 years of abuses by universities across the country who utilize civility codes and ‘free speech zones’ to limit students’ freedoms to assemble, protest and debate. Recent evidence of such infringements can be readily found:

  • At Christopher Newport University students were forbidden from protesting against Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) rally. The “Freedom of Expression” rules of their student handbook did not allow exceptions to a regulation that stated that students must apply for a demonstration permit 10 days in advance- despite the fact that Mr. Ryan’s rally was only announced two days prior to his visit.
  • Jillyann Burns, a libertarian Ohio University student, was banned from putting a notice on her door that criticized both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney for being unfit for office. Residence hall advisers emailed students to tell them that “NO political posters/flyers should be hung in the hallways…until 14 days before an election.” Burns protest the ruling which has since been overturned.
  • University of Georgia student Hayden Barnes was expelled for using Facebook to peacefully protest the University’s plan to spend $30 million in student fees to construct new college parking garages. 

Lukianoff’s book delves deeper into these trends to highlight how such infringements have had hugely negative impacts on the educative experience of students. Commenting on the upcoming election Lukianoff is unsurprised by the expectation that voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds is expected to fall back to its usual low levels after 2008's unusual high. “Students can’t learn how to navigate democracy and engage with their fellow citizens if they are forced to think twice before they speak their mind.”

Reason on free speech and the work of FIRE

Video: Greg Lukianoff speaking to Reason TV about his book at July’s Freedom Fest 

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WHO Says Vaping Must Be Banned Because It Looks Like Smoking

Michael Siegel notes that the World Health Organization is urging countries to ban electronic cigarettes because they "undermine the denormalization of tobacco use." True, they do not contain tobacco, and using them does not involve inhaling any combustion products, so they are dramatically safer than conventional cigarettes. Still, they "are products resembling cigarettes," and that can't be good, right? Never mind that actual cigarettes would remain legal under the WHO's proposal. Siegel, a public health professor at Boston University who blogs about tobacco policy, underlines the utter obtuseness of this position:

The fact that vaping mimics smoking is precisely the reason why electronic cigarettes are such a promising strategy for smoking cessation....

What does the World Health Organization think that smokers who are using electronic cigarettes are going to do if these products are taken off the market? Quit smoking? Not likely. The truth is that if [e-cigarettes are] taken off the market, most ex-smokers who have quit by using electronic cigarettes are going to return to cigarette smoking....

The use of electronic cigarettes plays no role in normalizing smoking behavior. On the contrary, it helps many smokers get off of cigarettes and thus reduces smoking prevalence.

What the World Health Organization is saying is that electronic cigarette use is unacceptable because it "looks like" smoking. The WHO is willing to let this ideological obsession outweigh the tremendous potential for public health benefits and the saving of lives that electronic cigarettes offer....

The World Health Organization is telling countries that it is more important to discourage any behavior that looks like smoking than it is to save the lives of smokers. Better that smokers should die than that they should adopt a behavior that looks like smoking,

As I've said before, it is more than a little strange for anti-smoking and anti-tobacco groups to be mobilizing against a product that involves neither smoking nor tobacco, the use of which entails negligible health risks, especially when compared to the competition. This antipathy goes beyond their usual paternalistic collectivism, elevating form above substance and embracing a policy that is apt to increase tobacco-related disease rather than reducing it. It reminds me of the Drug Enforcement Administration's campaign against industrial hemp, which has involved not only opposing domestic cultivation but even trying to ban edible products made from nonpsychoactive hemp seed. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp contains negligible amounts of THC, and many other countries where marijuana is banned nevertheless have legal hemp industries. For the DEA, it seems, the problem is that hemp looks like marijuana, even though you can't get high from it. The WHO and other e-cigarette opponents are indulging in the same sort of mindless symbolism.

More on e-cigarettes here

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Will Michigan Create an Interior Design Guild?

Last month, Michigan state senators Judith Emmons (R-Clinton County) and James Marleau (R-North Oakland) introduced a bill that would force interior designers to obtain a license before performing any of the myriad services that constitute interior design for paying customers. (It will still be legal to shop for furniture, arrange pillows, recommend color schemes, and select ergonomic chairs for oneself.)  

The bill (S.B. 1325) creates a Board of Licensed Interior Design, which would ensure designers spend a combined six years attaining a degree and apprenticing experience before passing a national test. Not coincidentally, these are the same requirements that enable one to join the professional association, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), that is pushing the law in an effort to create a nationwide interior design cartel.

It isn’t the ASID’s first trip to Michigan—similar measures failed in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2009—after legislators specifically excluded interior designers from a law regulating other professions passed in 1998.

Via Michigan Live:

“Anyone in this state can claim to be an interior designer with no education, training, or experience putting the public at great risk,” said Linda Thomas, president of ASID’s Michigan affiliate, the Coalition for Interior Design Registration (in support of the failed 2007 bill).

There is a yawning, gaping, utter and profound abyss in place of empirical support for the claim that unlicensed designers threaten the public. The bill’s sole purpose is to endow a handful of designers, who don’t feel customers should be free to select less-credentialed competitors, with a regulatory cudgel to restrict entry into the industry.

If passed, the law would be Michigan’s most onerous—no other middle-income occupation faces a six-year licensing hurdle. (According to the Dictionary of Occupation Titles, median wages for interior designers in 2011 came to $47,620.)

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WaPo Columnist Samuelson Takes On New York Times' "Flat-Earth Theory of Job Creation"

Four days ago the New York Times ran a particularly obtuse editorial, "The Myth of Job Creation" which took both Obama and Romney to task for daring to say that the government does not create jobs. The Times' editorial writers huffed:

Except that it does, millions of them — including teachers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers, sailors, astronauts, epidemiologists, antiterrorism agents, park rangers, diplomats, governors (Mr. Romney’s old job) and congressmen (like Paul Ryan).

First, the basics. At last count, government at all levels — federal, state and local — employed 22 million Americans, with the largest segment working in public education. Is that too many? No. Since the late 1980s, the number of public-sector workers has averaged about 7.3 for every 100 people. With the loss of 569,000 government jobs since June 2009, that ratio now stands at about 7 per 100....

The government does not create jobs? It most certainly does. And at this time of state budgetary hardship, a dose of federal fiscal aid to states and localities could create more jobs, in both the public and private sectors.

Over at the Washington Post, superb economics columnist Robert Samuelson properly describes the Times' editorial as promoting a "flat-earth theory" of job creation. As Samuelson patiently explains:

Who creates most jobs? Hint: It’s not the government. Almost everyone seems to grasp that the private sector is the true jobs machine. But here’s a notable exception to the consensus: the editorial page of The New York Times....

And it’s true that, legally, government does expand employment. But economically, it doesn’t — and that’s what people usually mean when they say “government doesn’t create jobs.”

What the Times omits is the money to support all these government jobs. It must come from somewhere — generally, taxes or loans (bonds, bills). But if the people whose money is taken via taxation or borrowing had kept the money, they would have spent most or all of it on something — and that spending would have boosted employment.

Job creation in the private sector is mostly a spontaneous and circular process. People buy things they need and want. Or businesses and private investors take risks by investing in new products, technologies and factories. All this spending, driven by self-interest and the profit motive, supports more jobs. In a smoothly functioning market economy, the process feeds on itself. By contrast, public-sector employment grows only when government claims some private-sector income to pay its workers. Government is not creating jobs. It’s substituting public-sector workers for private-sector workers.

Samuelson caveats that he is not saying that private sector jobs are superior (although they are); not delineating a sharp line between private and public sector jobs; and is not debating "stimulus" vs. "austerity." He correctly concludes:

Understanding job creation has policy implications. If the private sector is the main source of jobs, then the incentives, disincentives and the general climate for firms to expand do matter...There’s a flat-earth quality to the Times’ argument. If government seems to create jobs, it must. We need to move beyond this primitive view.

Yes, indeed.

In my column, "Government Did Not Build Your Business," I reported research that finds that in fact that vast majority of new jobs are created by new businesses:

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Today in Awful Celebrity Pro-Obama Agitprop: "Forward" (the Song)

From the press release:

FORWARD, a new song performed by Grammy Award winning R&B singer-songwriter NE YO, THE GOO GOO DOLLS’ JOHNNY RZEZNIK, music legend HERBIE HANCOCK, DELTA RAE and NATASHA BEDINGFIELD was released today as a grassroots effort to motivate and inspire nationwide voter participation in the upcoming 2012 Presidential election.

The song was written and created by hit songwriters Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois of the The New Radicals, and Fred Goldring, who was behind the 2008 multiple award-winning grassroots music video YES WE CAN with will.i.am. Grammy Award winning producer John Shanks produced the record, and the powerful music video for the song was produced and directed by Graham Henman and his team at Hello and Company.

You may commence gagging.

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Jesse Walker on Violence, Popular Culture, and the Lessons of Columbine

After two high school students in Columbine, Colorado, committed one of the most notorious massacres of the 1990s, slaughtering 12 teenagers and a teacher, baseless speculation and scapegoating immediately clogged the airwaves. With no evidence but their prejudices, pundits and advocates blamed the murders on movies, music, video games, goths, gays, drugs, the Internet, the radical right, trench coats, even irony. The pundits weren’t reacting to Columbine so much as they were using it as an excuse to proclaim whatever they would be saying anyway.

Thirteen years later, writes Jesse Walker, those initial speculations have been discredited. Did anyone learn anything from the experience?

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Condoms, Porn, and The Most Bizarre Ballot Measure of 2012!

 

This November, voters in Los Angeles County, California will get to vote on whether actors in porn movies made in Southern California should have to wear condoms and practice safe sex onscreen.

Click above to watch the video or click below to go a page with the video, supporting links, downloadable files, and more resources.

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Medicaid: Now With Higher Costs and More Bureaucratic Confusion

Ah, bureaucracy. You might think that spending $11 billion on temporarily raising Medicaid rates to match Medicare payments would be relatively easy. You'd be wrong. As Kaiser Health News reports, even something as seemingly straightforward as a temporary increase in Medicaid payments — intended to smooth the transition to ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion by attracting more providers to the program — is beset by bureaucratic headaches:

--It's not completely clear which doctors can get the higher pay. Traditional primary care doctors, such as family physicians, internists and pediatricians, are assumed to be covered. But some specialists, such as pediatric cardiologists, also could be eligible if they provide a certain amount of primary care, according to a preliminary regulation released by the Department of Health and Human Services in May. There is also come confusion about what services are covered under the pay raise. The regulation said the raise will apply to "evaluation and management" of patients, not procedures or performing diagnostic tests.

--Medicaid managed care plans, which today enroll about half of the 60 million Medicaid recipients, are unsure how the additional compensation will be passed onto them and how they will compensate doctors paid a flat or capitated monthly fee.

--The federal government hasn't published its Medicare rates for 2013 so states say they can't tell doctors what the increases will be for Medicaid.

--Doctors are worried there is no deadline on when states have to reimburse them at the higher rates.

As the Kaiser report notes, this makes it hard to attract additional doctors into Medicaid, which was the point of the increase. 

Of course, there's a larger problem with this as well, which is that the temporary nature of the increase is almost certain to create pressure to make it permanent, or at least a permanent temporary increase. 

The reason for this increase is that Medicaid's payment rates are so low that many providers either don't take Medicaid or limit participation in the program. In 2011, for example, about a third of physicians said they wouldn't take new Medicaid patients. With ObamaCare expected to expand Medicaid by somewhere between 10-16 million individuals starting at the beginning of 2014, the idea was to raise payment rates to match Medicare, drawing more providers into the program in order to handle the inevitable increase in demand. 

But as we've seen with Medicare physician payments, it's very hard to Congress to allow even scheduled reimbursement cuts to go into effect. Every year, Congress passes a doc fix to override large payment cuts to physicians. The cost of a permanent fix grows each time. And we end up with is essentially a permanent temporary policy. 

If providers flock to Medicaid as a result of the new payments, we may end up seeing a similar trajectory for this allegedly temporary payment increase. Or, if regulatory hassles continue, we might end in an even worse situation: Few new doctors serving Medicaid, but pressure to keep rates high anyway as a clunky, ongoing attempt to try to attract providers who don't want to deal with the program. 

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Glenn Greenwald on Media Bias

Glenn Greenwald knows the score:

Ample ink is spilled over debating whether the US media is biased in favor of Republicans or Democrats. It is neither. The overwhelming, driving bias of the US media is subservience to power, whoever happens to be wielding it.
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Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on the Bipartisan Protectionism On Display this Election Season

The only way that the President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney could distinguish themselves in the last presidential debate was by their decibel level, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her morning Washington Examiner column. On most foreign policy-related issues, especially trade, they spoke in perfect unison:

Both candidates agreed about the need for energy independence, fewer imports and -- above all -- more retaliation against Chinese currency manipulation.

They are both wrong. But Romney's shrillness on China is more troubling. Obama is only pandering to his party's base, but Romney seems at odds with his party's free-trade beliefs.

Romney, in fact, is the most protectionist GOP presidential candidate in living memory, she notes.

Go here for the whole thing.

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Gov. Jerry Brown’s Tax Proposal Slipping in the Polls

Several polls now show approval starting to dip for California Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which would increase income taxes for high earners and sales taxes for everybody to avoid billions in cuts to the state's education budget.

Our Reason-Rupe poll from earlier in October had the proposition barely ahead 50-46 percent (with 4 percent undecided). A new poll by USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times shows only 46 percent in support of the initiative, a drop of nine points in a month. A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California has it at 48 percent.  

In a press conference yesterday, Brown said he still feels Prop. 30’s chances are good:

He said "the God's honest truth" about Proposition 30 is, "It's hurt the schools or take a little money from people who can well afford it.

"It's so obvious that it is a little puzzling that the polls aren't a little higher," Brown said. "But they're in the ballpark. We're ahead, and I think from all the internal numbers that I've looked at, this can be won."

“Puzzling,” hmmmm? It tends to be difficult to try to guess at what voters do and don’t know about the state’s political maneuverings. Is it possible that these voters know that Brown is the very reason why the education cuts may happen and that he’s essentially trying to blackmail voters into approving tax increases? Is it possible that they know that if Brown had cut out billions from other parts of the state budget rather than education there would be no way in hell voters would approve a tax increase to fill the hole back in? Or maybe it’s possible they know that school staffing levels have historically made little difference in quality of education?

There’s a part of me that wonders if Brown isn’t secretly hoping the initiative fails in order to force public sector unions to really consider pension and benefit reforms. It would brilliantly savvy because Brown gets to shift responsibility for being the “bad guy.” But then Occam’s Razor kicks in and reminds me that he just signed a bill creating a state-managed pension fund for private-sector employees. Also, the whole high-speed rail thing. Brown is the last person who should find voters’ reluctance to approve more taxes “puzzling.”

Emily Ekins dissects more information from Reason-Rupe’s October poll of California voters here.

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Steven Greenhut on the Latest Shameless Tactics from California’s Police Unions

Many people were outraged this summer after a private investigator, with ties to a law firm that represents 120 police unions in California, made an apparently false report to the cops claiming that a councilman in the Orange County, California, city of Costa Mesa stumbled out of a bar drunk and was weaving all over the road as he drove home. The clear goal was to embarrass a councilman who had been leading the charge in his city for pension reform, outsourcing, and other reforms. Evidence later showed that the councilman had nothing to drink and did not stumble.

Despite the revelations, reports Steven Greenhut, police unions continue to behave as if nothing has changed, as they intimidate council members who refuse to go along with their demands for ever-higher pay and benefits, and protections from oversight and accountability.

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Hey Lena Dunham and Obamatrons, Reason Was Comparing Voting to Sex Like Eight Years Ago!

I'm sure I'm not alone among sentient beings in being put off by Lena Dunham's "First Time" pitch for Barack Obama. I'm not offended or disturbed that she likens voting to sex; it's that she participates in a pretty creepy cult of personality thing.

In terms of comparing voting to sex, I'd like to call attention to the fact that way back in 2004, Reason had already been there, done that. Literally. On our cover. And in a much-more serious and sophisticated and accurate way.

Here's the riff that introduced our first-ever survey of how people were voting:

Voting for president is a lot like sex—and not just because it takes place every four years in the solitude of a semi-private booth.

Both are intensely personal activities that nonetheless can have profound public consequences.

We might add that both often involve drug-and-alcohol-fueled delusions and morning-after feelings of guilt, shame, and recrimination.

Read the whole voter poll (which included staffers and characters such as P.J. O'Rourke and Camille Paglia and Drew Carey) here.

And then check out our 2012 survey, in which current staffers and contributors tell the world for whom they're voting and why. Which is, strangely, a real rarity among journalists, who are forever bitching and moaning about the need for transparency but are offended when asked to spill the beans on something as insignificant as their preferred presidential candidate.

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Police Kill Dog, Shoot Owner As He Attempts To Intervene

As the list of news reports of police officers shooting dogs with minimal provocation grows, I've been waiting, in a watching-the motorcyclist-hit-the-oil-slick sort of way, for a person to get drawn in as "collateral damage." A good many dog owners feel a strong, familial emotional bond to their pets. I know that I dropped a wad of cash and a lot of time on my dog, Max, when he tangled with a rattlesnake. A friend of mine called a business trip short, last week, when her pooch needed emergency surgery. I figured it was only a matter of time before a police officer drawing down on Fido triggered a protective reaction. And so it came to pass in Salem, Oregon.

This time, Steven Deleon only took a bullet in the foot when he jumped in, unsuccessfully, to save his "pit bull" (and let me note here that the term "pit bull" seems to be used by officials less as a technical breed name than as a description of any dog they shoot). According to the Salem News:

A Salem Police officer setting out to shoot a pit bull ended up shooting a man who apparently tried to place himself between the gun and the dog.

A Salem Police officer was firing at the pit bull, a spokesman says, when 38-year old Steven Deleon jumped in, apparently trying to intervene in the situation.

The Statesman-Journal reports that "officers had gone to the address to look for a wanted person. Officers Darren Buchholz and Travis Brossard were in the residence speaking with people when they were attacked by the pit bull." This means that the dog's owners were there in the room with the officers when the dog "attacked" them. Rather than let the owners deal with the dog, Officer Darren Buchholz drew his weapon in the midst of those owners and ended up shooting one of them as well as killing the dog.

Admittedly, there's a certain survival-instinct deficit in jumping in front of a firearm that's been drawn in anger. But that's the sort of thing that people do for their loved ones. I honestly don't know if I would do that for one of my dogs, though I suspect I would. I would certainly do it for my wife or son. I'm not surprised that somebody, on the spot, tried to save his pet and took a bullet for his troubles.

Here's a thought: How long will it be before somebody, standing over the body of his cop-shot animal, really loses his temper, with headlines to follow?

Perhaps realizing that matters canine and law-enforcement-ish have slipped out of hand, the Forth Worth, Texas, police department is retraining its officers to deal with dogs in a less permanent fashion. From KHOU:

Trainer Jim Osorio asks for a show of hands in the police auditorium. "How many people here think they can handle a dog encounter without lethal force? I think all of you can," he said.

Osorio, a former cop, tells them there are dogs in about one in three households — nearly 80 million in all. He says officers shoot about 250,000 dogs a year... often needlessly.

"I'm going to train them whatever they carry can be used on an animal," Osario explained. "Clipboard, flare... whatever."

He demonstrated techniques with his own German Shepherd, Coral. She barked angrily when he raised a short baton, then calmed down, reflecting his own calm demeanor as he spoke to her.

Osario said lethal force is the last resort.

The Fort Worth training comes after police shot a Border Collie belonging to Mark and Cindy Boling. The Bolings apparently extracted the new training regimen as a condition of not suing over the video-recorded incident, which occurred when officers mistakenly arrived at their door. That video is played during the classes.

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Reason Staffers Get Raspberry for Preferring 'The Presidential Candidate Who Would Destroy the Economy'

Bloomberg View columnist Josh Barro declares it "unfortunate" that most Reason staffers plan on voting for Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson, as revealed in our quadrennial vote-disclosure exercise (an exercise, I might add, that Bloomberg View has declined to emulate). Why is the pro-GaJo sentiment unfortunate?

[B]ecause Johnson has nutty economic policy views and would do tremendous damage to the global economy were he to somehow become president.

Johnson advocates severe near-term fiscal and monetary policy austerity. When we talked at (or rather, outside of) the Republican National Convention, he told me he would cut Medicare spending by 43 percent in the short term. He repeatedly insists that "we are in the midst of a monetary collapse" and says he favors returning the United States to a (deflationary) metallic currency standard. He says he would have opposed TARP and allowed systemically important banks to fail.

In other words, if Johnson had been president in 2008, he would have allowed the U.S. financial system to collapse and the country to fall into depression. And if he became president now, he would do his best to strangle the tepid recovery we are enjoying and turn it into another severe recession.

As I said two years ago when Andrew Sullivan made a very similar argument about the madness of TARP-opposing libertarians (who "drive us nuts with their utter disengagement with...political reality"), just about every worst-case, no-TARP scenario floated by then-President George W. Bush when he first tried to frighten Americans into line has actually come to pass. Similarly (and as predicted by many cuckoo-bananas libertarians), just about every worst-case, no-stimulus scenario floated by the Obama administration has, too, come to pass. The economy (or in Barro's memorable phrasing, "the tepid recovery we are enjoying") has relentlessly underperformed the projections made by economic interventionists for four years running.

Against that backdrop of failure, the only way to get behind the bailouts is to assert that without them "the U.S. financial system" would "collapse" and the country would "fall into depression." Like all good unknowables, this is both eternally useful and heavily contested (see David Stockman for one of the more detailed cases against). What makes Barro's deployment of the "collapse" hypothesis particularly fun here is that it comes in the service of busting Gary Johnson for hyperbole in talking monetary collapse.

I for one am allergic to hyperbole in both directions, though it's always more irritating when wielded in the service of power. In any event, the underlying question going forward hinges on whether you think cutting federal spending by 43 percent in one year (balancing the budget, in other words) would lead to "another severe recession" and be worse than the fiscal cliff currently scheduled for Jan. 1.

I am in the camp that believes cutting government spending has a positive, not negative, impact on the economy, as was the case in post-war America, 1980s New Zealand, and 1990s Canada. And that if we don't change the trajectory of government expenditure, particularly with trillions in entitlement and pension promises coming due, there won't be much room left over for other federal services, let alone a robust private economy.

Is that "nutty"? Probably. But enough about me–Josh Barro, show us your vote!

FREE: Kindle Edition of High Desert Barbecue, Oct. 27-28

That's right. On October 27-28, the Kindle edition of High Desert Barbecue will be free, gratis, no charge to all-comers. Already have a copy? Impress your friends by gifting them with copies that don’t cost you a  frigging dime. Hey, who’s to know you’re a cheapskate? I won’t tell.

High Desert Barbecue, a book of the month selection of the Freedom Book Club, was reviewed by Prometheus Unbound as:

Equal parts prose that Kurt Vonnegut would approve of, eccentricity like you might find in a Coen brothers dark comedy, and libertarian morals embracing the permissive side.

Ars Gratia Libertatis called it:

A great read. Filled with likable characters, tons of humor, and a nice sprinkling of libertarianism throughout, its breezy style makes it an easy story to pick up and get into.

Remember, the totally free Kindle edition will be available Saturday, October 27 and Sunday, October 28 here.

Because of High Desert Barbecue‘s participation in KDP Select, which makes this promotion possible, other electronic versions will be temporarily unavailable. However, the Nook, PDF and DRM-free ebook will be back with the new year.

The dead-tree edition remains wonderfully available, though.

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"Meet the Next Wave of Political Pundits," Featuring Nick Gillespie

Via Details comes a precis on "the next wave of political pundits":

The cable networks have new competition in their campaign for your election-coverage vote. When asked in August why the president favored People and Entertainment Tonight over the political press, Obama campaign adviser Stephanie Cutter told CNN that pop-culture media is now "equally important." So the networks have turned to a fresh crop of talking heads who operate as one-person polemical brands, as adept at stirring up controversy as they are at analyzing the candidates. Here are the major political pop stars to watch right now.

Among the various fresh young things (including familiar-to-Reason folks such as Alyona Minkovski, S.E. Cupp, Michelle Fields, Will Cain, and James Poulos) is one semi-mummified time traveler who actually remembers 20th-century America, when dinosaurs bestrode the Earth and the Yankees could still win playoff games:

Nick Gillespie

Age: 49
Editor-in-chief, Reason TV
Trending Now Because: The former Teen Machine magazine writer turned libertarian journalist and frequent cable-talk-show guest is famous for blasting liberals like Rachel Maddow for dismissing Obama's "Fast and Furious" gun scandal as a "conspiracy theory" and rankling conservatives with his pro-gay-rights position.
Prime-Time Moment: When Gillespie took Maddow to task for F&F on Real Time With Bill Maher, the MSNBC anchor blurted, "Listen, dude, I'm not even a Democrat!" Gillespie responded, "You will always take the side of a Democrat over a Republican."


Whole bit here.

The article gave rise to yesterday's Tweet o' the Day, via my colleague and collaborator Matt Welch, who wrote:

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A.M. Links: Romney Plan “Starving Obamacare Through Regulations,” West Virginia Dems Cold on Obama, Gary Johnson an Official Write-In Candidate in Michigan

  • Romney’s transition team, the “Readiness Project,” is reportedly preparing to move carefully at the beginning of a putative Romney administration, managing expectations on the economy and being pragmatic about Obamacare.
  • Mitt Romney himself, meanwhile, sang “America the Beautiful” with Meatloaf.
  • It’s all relative in West Virginia. The governor and the senator running for re-election in that state are both Democrats but neither has yet publicly endorsed Barack Obama.
  • The Libertarian Party has filed Gary Johnson as an official write-in candidate in case they lose their legal battle against Republicans to get Johnson on the ballot.
  • CNN founder Ted Turner offered to Piers Morgan that the rising number of suicides among military service personnel (more this year than the number of combat deaths) was a good thing because it brought attention to the war, but it’s only seemed to bring attention to the fact that Turner said it was a good thing soldiers were committing suicide.
  • A task force set up by Governor Rick Scott has recommended tuitions be adjusted to be higher at higher tier schools and within schools lower for science, technology, engineering and math majors. There but for the grace of government… 
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Kurt Loder on Cloud Atlas

For a movie so jammed full of stuff—nearly three hours’ worth of it—Cloud Atlas feels oddly empty, observes Kurt Loder. Written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International), the picture is both madly ambitious and ultimately banal. Viewers unfamiliar with the 2004 David Mitchell novel on which it’s based may also find it baffling.

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Brickbat: Valuable Lesson

Samantha Pawlucy, 16, says her geometry teacher ordered her out of the classroom when she saw the girl had worn a Romney-Ryan t-shirt to school on dress down day. Pawlucy said the teacher compared the t-shirt to a Ku Klux Klan shirt. The principal of that Philadelphia high school later read an apology from the teacher to students and said the teacher's remarks were meant to be "light and humorous." Pawlucy's parents say they are pulling all of their children out of the school.

Brickbat Archive

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Prop. 19 Documentary Legalize It Screened in Long Beach

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition held a benefit Wednesday evening to provide a screening of Legalize It, a documentary about California’s Proposition 19 — the failed 2010 effort to legalize and regulate marijuana — and to honor the leaders behind it.

The gathering brought together a number of anti-drug war activists familiar to anybody following the movement closely here at Reason. Gretchen Burns Bergman from Moms United was in attendance, as was Belen Ascencion of the Caravan for Peace, which crossed the nation this summer to draw attention to the failures of the drug war and its deadly impact on both American and Mexican citizens. Judge Jim Gray, Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate and member of LEAP, was on hand as well. The benefit and screening took place, interestingly enough, in Long Beach, where law enforcement officers recently shut down several pot dispensaries, enforcing a city prohibition that likely violates state law.

Attention now is on Washington State and Colorado, where similar initiatives are showing close numbers in the polls. Legalization is also up for consideration in Oregon, but the poll numbers there aren’t as positive.

“What we’re doing today in Colorado is standing on the shoulders of Prop. 19,” Gray said when asked how Proposition 19’s efforts have influenced these new attempts.

“If those two pass it’s historic,” said Diane Goldstein of LEAP. “We don’t believe we would have made it to this moment. We would never have had this effort,” without the experiences from fighting for Proposition 19.

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Romney Is (Just Barely) Leading the National Polls, But Obama Is Still the Favorite to Win

Mitt Romney has a had a great month. On September 30th, the RealClearPolitics presidential polling average showed him losing to President Obama by 4 points. Now it shows him ahead. At just 0.7 points, it’s not a big lead. But he’s led the president in RCP’s average for the last two weeks. And his rise is confirmed by other polling analyses: Pollster.com’s aggregate poll number shows a similar rise over the past several weeks, and also currently has him in the lead, albeit by just a single tenth of a point. 

Yet despite the tight race, Obama remains the slight favorite to win on election day. That’s because even though Romney seems to be holding a very small lead in the national polls, Obama has a solid Electoral College advantage. This has obvious implications for the race. It’s also going to shape the way the next president governs.

Polling in battleground states, as well as various election-prediction models, all suggest that President Obama will have a somewhat easier path to Electoral College victory than Mitt Romney. Most analyses suggest that there is a very strong chance that the election will hinge on Ohio. If Mitt Romney loses Ohio, he’ll have to come very close to sweeping the table in the rest of the swing states. And right now, most polls show that Obama has a narrow but consistent lead in the Buckeye state. Of the three Ohio presidential polls published yesterday, Obama led in two (Time and SurveyUSA) and was tied with Romney in one (Rasmussen).

I would say we’ll have to wait until election day to find out, but we might not even know then. As ABC News reports, if it does come down to Ohio, and the race there is quite close, it may take a week or more to sort of the final tally:

The year, Ohio’s Secretary of State office decided not to wait for people to request absentee ballots and instead sent the applications to 6.9 million of the state’s 7.9 million registered voters. So far, more than 1.4 million voters have requested absentee ballots and more are expected to be received before the Nov. 3, deadline.

So far, 618,861 absentee ballots have been cast. That number will of course increase as election day nears, but more than 800,000 ballots are still at-large.

If voters have been sent an absentee ballot, but don’t return it by Nov. 5, they can still go to the polls and vote on election day, but they’ll be given a provisional ballot. And under state law, these ballots cannot be counted until Nov. 17.

In 2008, there were more than 200,000 provisional ballots to be counted.

The other reason for a potential delay in Ohio is a function of the calendar. Ohio’s absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 5, but they can arrive as late as Nov. 16 and still be counted. This means that votes will likely still continue to trickle in after Election Night, and if the results are very close, those ballots could also shift the outcome. 

The closeness of the race suggests some intriguing possibilities. It’s possible, for example, that we’ll end up with an Electoral College tie. It’s also possible that, as in 2000, the candidate who wins the popular vote will not win the Electoral College vote. Both of these would inevitably complicate the next administration's ability to pursue its own agenda. 

But even if the candidate who wins the popular vote also wins enough electors to take the White House, it’s going to be very, very close unless something unexpected happens. Indeed, it may be so close that the actual outcome of the election is decided by Ohio college football teams. Which means that the next president isn’t going to be able to easily claim to have a mandate, a clear stamp of public approval on his policy agenda. Instead, he’ll have eked out a huge victory on a tiny margin, with roughly half the public having voted for his opponent, and, judging by most reports, his own supporters more relieved that the other guy didn’t win than thrilled about their candidate taking the prize. For now, in other words, it’s a political horse race. But pretty soon it’s going to be a governing complication.

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Bernard von NotHaus, Awaiting Sentencing for Competing with the Federal Reserve with a Hard Money "Liberty Dollar"

Bernard von NotHaus, maker, seller, and advocate of metal rounds under the name "Liberty Dollar" for them that might want to own metal rounds, continues to be persecuted by the U.S. government, and his tale makes the New York Times today. Excerpts with commentary:

Bernard von NotHaus...is a professed “monetary architect” and a maker of custom coins found guilty last spring of counterfeiting charges for minting and distributing a form of private money called the Liberty Dollar.

Described by some as “the Rosa Parks of the constitutional currency movement,” Mr. von NotHaus managed over the last decade to get more than 60 million real dollars’ worth of his precious metal-backed currency into circulation across the country — so much, and with such deep penetration, that the prosecutor overseeing his case accused him of “domestic terrorism” for using them to undermine the government.

if you ask him...he will give a different account of what occurred.

“This is the United States government,” he said in an interview last week. “It’s got all the guns, all the surveillance, all the tanks, it has nuclear weapons, and it’s worried about some ex-surfer guy making his own money? Give me a break!”....

At 68, Mr. von NotHaus faces more than 20 years in prison for his crimes, and this decisive chapter of his tale has come, coincidentally, at a moment when his obsessions of 40 years — monetary policy, dollar depreciation and the Federal Reserve Bank — have finally found their place in the national discourse.

Indeed they have, thanks to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) who understands as von NotHaus does that metals have a better track record at maintaining longterm value than government fiat paper. (See my book Ron Paul's Revolution.)

I'm surprised the Times's reporter apparently got von NotHaus to use the word "coins" since whether or not these were meant to emulate U.S. coins was such a sticking point in his legal travails. He would always insist to me when we spoke that his Liberty Dollars were to be called "rounds," and were a “voluntary private barter currency,” a phrase that appeared on the rounds in later mintings.

Details on how vonNotHaus ended up in legal trouble, which shows that it was having anti-government attitudes and "links," not his alleged "crime," behind the prosecution/persecution:

Mr. von NotHaus placed a toll-free number and a URL address on the currency he produced. If people mistakenly got hold of it, they could mail it back to Evansville and receive its equivalent in actual dollar bills.

Now jump ahead to 2004. A detective in Asheville, N.C., learned one day that a client of a credit union had to tried to pass a “fake coin” at one its local branches. An investigation determined that some business acquaintances of Mr. von NotHaus were, court papers say, allied with the sovereign citizens’ movement, an antigovernment group.

Federal agents infiltrated the Liberty Dollar outfit as well as its educational arm, Liberty Dollar University.

In 2006, with millions of the coins in circulation in more than 80 cities, the United States Mint sent Mr. von NotHaus a letter advising that the use of his currency “as circulating money” was a federal crime.

He ignored this advice,and in 2007, federal agents raided the offices in Evansville, seizing, among other things, copper dollars embossed with the image of Mr. [Ron] Paul.

Two years later, Mr. von NotHaus was arrested on fraud and counterfeiting charges, accused of having used the Liberty Dollar’s parent corporation — Norfed, the National Organization for Repeal of the Federal Reserve — to mount a conspiracy against the United States.

Von NotHaus, still free awaiting sentencing, has a warning:

“The thing that fires me up the most,” he will say, “is this is what happens: When money goes bad, people go crazy. Do you know why? Because they can’t exist without value. Value is intrinsic in man.”

When the initial raid on von NotHaus' operations happened, in mid-November 2007, an ounce of silver was worth around $14.50 in "real" U.S. currency. Today, $32.14. Gold was worth around $790; today, $1711.90.

The dollar of 2007, meanwhile, according to this inflation calculator, is worth just 93 cents now. Just sayin', as the kids just say.

I have written previously here at Reason about von Nothaus' doings and travails, including the initial raid and his conviction,

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The Cognitive Dissonance of Drug Courts

The Washington/Madison County Drug Treatment and Diversion Court in Arkansas recently received a $925,000 federal grant for its drug court program, to be doled out over three years. At a press conference announcing the grant, Drug Court Judge Chadd Mason said this:

"The grant targets the defendants that are placed in our program, thereby requiring their compliance with the justice system, compensation to victims, paying for treatment costs, paying their way, so to speak. That's an important part of what we do is encouraging and requiring that accountability."

"This grant will allow us to further our efforts in providing resources and effective tools for these target defendants, so that they can make changes in their lives that can address the issues that ... caused them to engage in criminality in the first place."

Targets. Defendants. Criminality. Those aren't the words Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske uses when he tours the country talking about the importance of drug courts. Rather, he says that “[D]rug addiction is not a moral failing on the part of the individual. It’s a chronic disease of the brain that can be treated." Kerlikowske has also said that the goal of the federal push for drug courts is to “lift the stigma surrounding those who suffer from addiction.”

So, does it matter that the guy in Washington making the case for drug courts has a totally different opinion of drug offenders than the people who actually run drug courts?

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Cannibal Cop, California Taxocalypse Looms, Powell Endorses Obama: P.M. Links

  • Well, Dexter has a plot for next season: FBI agents have charged a NYPD cop with plotting to kidnap, cook and eat more than 100 women.
  • California’s fiscal desperation is palpable. In addition to the state tax increase proposals on the November ballot, there are 230 municipal votes to try to increase revenue through increasing taxes or selling bonds.
  • Speaking of terrible things about California, did you know that state legislators in California can change their votes on a bill after the outcome has been finalized, as long as it doesn’t alter whether the vote would have passed or failed? Something to keep in mind when trying to assess a legislator’s performance.
  • The guys behind the effort to build a working gun through the use of a 3d printer are back at work, this time with the support of an unidentified defense firm.
  • The man who walked into anti-gay activist group Family Research Council’s D.C. office and shot a security guard has been indicted on terrorism charges.
  • Gen. Colin Powell has again endorsed President Barack Obama, prompting an angry response from Sen. John McCain, obviously still smarting about losing out in 2008.
  • Police in Fort Worth will actually get training on dealing with dogs after a high-profile Border Collie shooting.

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

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Greg Beato on Speed Limits and High-Tech Surveillance Technology

Imagine a highway where the speed limit bumps up to 85 MPH on days when it’s sunny and windless and there are few cars on the road. Or drops down to 55 MPH on Saturday nights between midnight and 3 AM, because that’s when a high number of fatal accidents occur. Next, imagine that the speed limit on that highway is designed to encourage positive behavior rather than penalize bad behavior, for example by offering drivers a weekly $25 reward to comply with speed limits. As Greg Beato notes, the increasingly omniscient surveillance technologies that are already being deployed on roadways across the U.S. don’t need to be so unilaterally oppressive.

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Mount Vernon, New York, Insufficiently "Pretty," Says City Council. Eminent Domain Abuse Ensues.

Yesterday the Mount Vernon, New York, city council declared nearly eight acres of the city, which borders on New York City, blighted. The designation means officials can create an urban renewal plan for the south side neighborhood—which is 90 percent African American according to census data—and use eminent domain to seize property for private developers. In fact, a private developer, MVP Realty Associates, which intends to build a “transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, intergenerational mixed income destination,” paid for the blight study.

Via the Mount Vernon Daily Voice:

“This is exactly what we need to move forward,” said Council President Roberta Apuzzo. “...It’s not safe, clean or healthy and the only way to get the drug addicts out of the community is to make the place pretty.”

Of the 67 properties included in the blight study, the consultant found 38 to have a “blighting influence.” Half are either owned by the city or controlled by MVP Realty. Nine of MVP’s 10 properties were found blighted by the consultant and some have previously been declared uninhabitable by the city.

Some private owners dispute that their properties warrant the label:

I reviewed the blight study, and I don't think 'poor' is the proper word for a wall that needs to be repainted," said Bishop William Ewell, associate minister of the New Hope Cornerstone Church, whose property was found to be in “poor condition.” 

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Gary Johnson Launches First TV Ad Touting His Dovish Foreign Policy

With less than two weeks remaining until the presidential election, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson is airing an ad in select markets touting his dovish approach to relations with Iran. In the ad Johnson speaks over a computer simulation of a drone strike before speaking directly to the camera, imploring viewers to “Be Libertarian with me for one election.”

Johnson’s campaign wouldn’t specify how much the ad buy is costing them but did say they have another ad that does not deal with foreign policy that will go up in select markets in the coming days. According to Johnson spokesman Joe Hunter, the late ad buys aren’t because of a sudden surge in campaign cash but are part of their long term campaign plan.

The Johnson campaign bought air time in the libertarianish mountain west states of New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, Montana and Idaho, as well as more left leaning territory like Vermont and Washington, D.C. Only Colorado is considered a swing state

The ad was created by Evan Tweed, Johnson’s ad man from his gubernatorial runs in the late 90s.

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58 Percent of Californians Oppose Eliminating the State Income Tax, 36 Percent Favor

Somehow Nevada, Texas, and Florida get by without collecting state income taxes. However, Californians are not ready to follow suit with the state’s nearly $16 billion shortfall. According to the latest Reason-Rupe poll, 58 percent of Californians oppose eliminating the state income tax, 36 percent favor doing so.

Only a few groups reach the majority threshold supporting the elimination of the state income tax, including Republicans (61 percent), households making between $75,000-$90,000 (54 percent), and small business owners (52 percent).

Instead, Californians are considering further state tax increases with Prop 30, currently  too close to call, but slightly in the lead, and Prop 38, currently trailing. However, if those tax increases fail to close the deficit, three quarters of Californians say spending cuts must be next.

Sixty-two percent of Californians favor cutting down the size of the state government workforce to help balance the budget. They also favor  (77 percent) asking public employees to contribute more toward their pensions and health care benefits. Moreover, 56 percent favor rolling state spending per capita back to their 2000 levels, adjusted for inflation.

Californians are also open to privatizing some state government functions to help deal with the budget deficit. For instance, 59 percent favor allowing private companies to operate state parks. At the local level, 63 percent favor selling government assets like golf courses, convention centers, and parking lots to private companies, and 60 percent favor outsourcing services like trash collection and road maintenance to private companies.

Californians don’t want to lower taxes but are hesitant to raise them as well. Although Californians are concerned about spending cuts that could harm education, they are open to reforming the public sector work force, and outsourcing some government services to private companies to balance the budget.

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.

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Obama Thinks Ayn Rand is For Teens (For Predictably Childish Reasons)

President Obama is asked perhaps the most important question he could ever be asked by Rolling Stone: what does he think of Ayn Rand? After saying that "sure" he's read her, his answer:

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we're considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that's a pretty narrow vision. It's not one that, I think, describes what's best in America. Unfortunately, it does seem as if sometimes that vision of a "you're on your own" society has consumed a big chunk of the Republican Party...

Reducing Rand's message of liberty and achievement to one of a narrow "you're on your own" individualism shouldn't be a surprise coming from the president, though it's still sad that the leader of the nation that attracted Rand to escape the Soviet Union at some risk would say such a thing.

There is nothing "narrow" about Rand's vision except in that it created moral boundaries in which most of the functions of Obama's government would be seen as illegitimate, because they use threats and violence against non-aggressors to achieve social goals. As Rand summed up her own philosophy once, it really amounts to: "Gentlemen, leave your guns outside!"

That alas is something Barack "drones away" Obama will never do.

Nathaniel Branden, Rand's ideological lieutenant in the 1960s, sums up well the problem with most people trying to blithely critique Rand as Obama does. It can be found quoted on page 542 of my book Radicals for Capitalism, which contains the story of Rand's life and achievements.

Branden noted that Rand's detractors rarely deign "publicly to name the essential ideas of Atlas Shrugged and to attempt to refute them. No one has been willing to declare: 'Ayn Rand holds that man must choose his values and actions exclusively by reason, that man has the right to exist for his own sake, that no one has the right to seek values from others by physical force--and I consider such ideas wrong, evil and socially dangerous."

My own 2005 take on what Rand actually stands for for her fans, "Yours is the Glory." Some key parts that Obama elides:

Despite common misunderstanding based on her use of the phrase "the virtue of selfishness" (used intentionally to shock), Rand's vision was by no means purely selfish in the sense that she wanted only herself to be happy. She was motivated by love and admiration for what she saw as best in humanity and her desire for a world that encouraged and rewarded that greatness...

Rand's critics who hear only hate and heartlessness in her are themselves tone-deaf to peals of glory. As Barbara Branden wrote, "In Ayn's presence, and in her work, one felt that command: a command to function at one's best, to be the most that one could be, to drive oneself constantly harder, never to disappoint one's highest ideals." As Rand herself put it, the "essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain." ....

That is the positive side to what is sometimes seen as libertarianism's purely negative vision of restricting the state. It is a valuable addition to the libertarian movement's "sense of life." The heart of Rand's appeal is not contempt but her passionate belief in the possibility of individual glory and greatness, and her burning admiration for it....

....her books will doubtless stay in print and continue to capture and thrill future generations—and, through her romantic evocations of heroic individuals, continue to lead a certain observant, thoughtful percentage of readers to really see, and really feel, how personal liberty and limited government are necessary for such heroic striving to reach its zenith.

Reason TV on Ayn Rand:

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Congress Kicks the Can: Katherine Mangu-Ward Talks Fiscal Cliff on Cavuto

"This is a Congress that can't even pass a regular budget. Just a run of the mill, ordinary, 'we have to pay this year's bills' kind of budget. Of course this Congress isn't going to be able to solve this enormous, difficult, looming crisis. No way, no how."

Reason magazine Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward talks about the federal legislature's ineffectiveness and inaction as the "fiscal cliff" approaches.

Aired October 24, 2012, on Fox Business's Cavuto

Duration 3:47

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Obama’s $4 Trillion 'Balanced' Debt Plan Is a $2 Trillion Plan That’s Mostly Tax Hikes

Here’s President Obama’s second term sales pitch to voters concerned about federal debt and deficit levels: A $4.3 trillion debt-reduction plan that he says is composed largely of spending cuts balanced by tax hikes.

Here’s what’s he’s actually offering: a sub-$2 trillion debt reduction package that is composed almost entirely of tax hikes.

In an interview with The Des Moines Register earlier this week, President Obama described what he thought were the prospects for a big budget deal in the early part of a potential second term. “It will probably be messy,” he said. “It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.”

The president went on to suggest that such a deal could help the federal government start digging its way out of the deep debt hole it’s currently in. “And we can easily meet — ‘easily’ is the wrong word — we can credibly meet the target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and even more in the out-years, and we can stabilize our deficit-to-GDP ratio in a way that is really going to be a good foundation for long-term growth.”

Here’s the thing. That $4 trillion debt plan he's offered so far? It doesn’t actually reduce deficits by $4 trillion. That’s because it’s packed with budget savings gimmicks.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) explains: “To reach his $4.3 trillion in savings through 2021, the President’s budget counts $1.6 trillion (excluding interest) of already-enacted savings. In addition, it includes two elements which the Fiscal Commission assumed in its baseline – a drawdown of the wars ($740 billion through 2021) and the expiration of the upper-income tax cuts ($830 billion through 2021).” Overall, the CRFB analysis says, Obama’s budget “falls well short of the $4 trillion in savings claimed by the [Simpson-Bowles] Fiscal Commission.” CRFB estimates that it would save a little less than $2 trillion instead. 

This isn’t a lonely opinion either. As The Washington Post's Fact Checker Glenn Kessler wrote in September, "virtually no serious budget analyst" accepts the president's $4 trillion deficit reduction figure. And when Obama’s campaign team has been asked about this, they’ve struggled to explain how their numbers actually work. That's hardly what I'd call "credible." 

What about the $2 trillion in deficit reduction the plan can claim to put on the scoreboard? It comes almost entirely tax increases. As James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute shows, the plan would result in about $1.735 trillion in tax hikes — and just $230 billion in spending cuts, the vast majority of which are cuts to health care provider reimbursements of dubious long-term value.

That’s Obama’s idea of a grand bargain. Not $4 trillion in deficit reduction weighted toward spending cuts, but $2 trillion worth deficit reduction produced almost entirely by tax hikes. Maybe that’s not surprising, though, from a politician who repeatedly promised deficit reduction in his first presidential campaign and then as president continued to insist that the country was on track to cut the deficit in half even while running record high deficits.

Over the last month, Obama has made much of GOP rival Mitt Romney’s flaky tax math and the dubious reliability of his opponent’s policy plans overall. And in a Rolling Stone interview released this week, he called Romney a “bullshitter.” Takes one to know one? 

Californians Think Half of Every Dollar the State Government Spends Is Wasted

The California state budget calls for spending $131 billion dollars this fiscal year. We asked 696 Californians in the latest Reason-Rupe poll for every dollar the California state government spends, about how many cents do they think are wasted. The average respondent said about half: the mean was 49 cents and the median 50 cents.

Different demographic and political groups perceive different levels of wasteful spending; nevertheless, nearly all groups reported an average somewhere between $0.39-$0.57 cents for every dollar the state government spends.

For Californians who think the state is on the right track and approve of Gov. Jerry Brown’s job performance, they think the state wastes 41 percent and 39 percent respectively of what it spends. In contrast, among those who think the state is on the wrong track and disapprove of the Governor’s job performance, they think about 53 percent and 56 percent respectively of government spending is wasted.

Not surprisingly, with a heavily Democratic state legislature (64 percent Democratic), Republicans think about 57% of California state spending is wasted. Democrats think the state wastes 43 cents on the dollar; although this is significantly lower than Republicans' perception, 43 percent is still a substantial share of spending. Independents represent the state’s average; they think 49 cents per dollar are wasted.

Women think over half of California state spending is wasted; men think a little less than half is wasted. Private sector workers think more government spending is wasted than government employees, 46 cents to 40 cents per dollar.

Increased levels of education are correlated with less perceived government waste. Californians with high school diplomas think 56 percent of spending is wasted. Strikingly fewer, post-graduates think 39 cents per dollar are wasted.

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.

Tom Bevan Talks Real Clear Politics and Election Polling

"Tom Bevan Talks Real Clear Politics and Election Polling" is the latest offering from Reason TV. Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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David Harsanyi on "The New Economic Patriotism"

Fear not; Barack Obama has an economic plan for America, and it's all in a glossy brochure, called "The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs & Middle-Class Security"—an antidote  to the vagueness of Mitt Romney's agenda.

This is what the president, according to a campaign official, believes will ensure that "every voter knows what a second term of an Obama presidency would mean for middle-class Americans." In other words, writes David Harsanyi, a shiny substance-free pamphlet is a metaphor for the Obama presidency—because these 11 pages of fluff make Romney's tax proposal look like an annotated edition of the Talmud.

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Colorado Cops Bust More Than 10,000 Pot Smokers a Year, Despite 'Decriminalization'

Less than two weeks before Colorado voters decide whether to legalize marijuana in that state, a new report highlights one important reason they should vote yes: Even though Colorado supposedly "decriminalized" marijuana possession in 1975, police there continue to arrest more than 10,000 pot smokers every year. That's because possession of small amounts (less than an ounce at first, two ounces since 2010) remains a crime, albeit a "petty offense." The report's authors, Queens College sociologist Harry Levine and Jon Gettman, a professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University, explain:

A person charged with possessing marijuana is issued a summons to appear in criminal court. The court appearance is mandatory and failure to appear is another crime, a Class 3 Misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a $500 fine....

Police departments have discretion as to whether they charge under state or municipal law, and in some municipal courts marijuana possession is punished more harshly than in county courts where state law applies. In the city of Lakewood, for example, possession of a small amount of marijuana can be punishable by $1,000 and one year in jail. In many cities, municipal courts typically impose fines of $300 or more for a first time marijuana possession charge. It is not unusual for municipal judges to place people on probation for up to six months, charge them $50 per month in probation fees, [and] require that they meet with a probation officer and submit to regular drug testing. Some judges send people to jail for several days for failing a drug test for marijuana....

Marijuana possession arrests create criminal records easily found on the internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards, and banks, erecting barriers to education, employment, and housing.

Levine and Gettman count 210,000 marijuana possession arrests in Colorado since 1986. Following a national trend, pot busts in Colorado have risen dramatically since the early 1990s, from less than 4,000 in 1992 to about 10,500 in 2010; the peak year was 2000, when there were more than 12,000 marijuana possession arrests. As in New York City and California, the arrests are racially skewed: Blacks are more than three times as likely as whites to be charged with marijuana possession, even though survey data indicate they are no more likely to smoke pot. More generally, the burdens of enforcing marijuana prohibition are arbitrarily distributed, landing on the unlucky few who happen to be caught. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that 10 percent of Coloradans consume marijuana every year, amounting to about 368,000 people. (The actual number is probably higher, since people may be reluctant to admit illegal behavior even in a confidential survey.) That means less than 3 percent of pot smokers are arrested in any given year. When a "crime" is committed each year by at least a tenth of the population, 97 percent of whom get away with it, it probably should not be treated as a crime, especially when it violates no one's rights and most people think it is not the sort of behavior that justifies an arrest.

In addition to legalizing possession of up to an ounce, Colorado's Amendment 64, which was supported by 48 percent of voters in the most recent survey, would authorize state-licensed pot shops. You could eliminate all the possession arrests counted by Levine and Gettman without taking that step, but only by accepting an egregious moral inconsistency: If consuming marijuana is not something for which people should be punished, how can it possibly be just to punish people for aiding and abetting that noncrime?

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Cato Publishes New eBook on The Libertarian Vote

Today, the Cato Institute is announcing the release of a new eBook called The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center, co-authored by Cato's David Boaz, FreedomWorks' David Kirby, and Reason Polling Director Emily Ekins. It's a compilation of the authors' research, polls, and op-eds on a portion of the electorate they estimate at around 15 percent. From the introduction:

So how do libertarians vote? Libertarians are increasingly a swing vote, and they are a larger share of the electorate than "soccer moms" and other micro-targeted groups.

Our data show that libertarians have generally voted Republican—66 percent for Ronald Reagan in 1980, 74 percent for George H. W. Bush in 1988, and 72 percent for George W. Bush in 2000. But they are not diehard Republicans. John Anderson and Libertarian Party candidate Ed Clark got 17 percent of the libertarian vote in 1980, and Ross Perot took 33 percent of the libertarians in 1992.

The libertarian vote for Republicans fell off in 2004 and 2006 in response to the Bush administration’s big-government agenda, and then grew again in 2008 and 2010 in light of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democrats.

How's the libertarian vote shaping up for Nov. 6? Check out this graphic from the Reason-Rupe Poll last month:

So even while Reason magazine types are currently polling at 68 percent Gary Johnson vs. 32 percent nobody, libertarians writ large as of six weeks ago were thinking 70 percent Mitt Romney, 14 percent Johnson, and 13 percent Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, conservative direct mail king Richard Viguerie is laying down the gauntlet: "Will Libertarians And Constitutionalists Re-Elect Obama?" From that:

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Barack Obama Calls Mitt Romney a “Bullshitter” Without a Hint of Irony

How fatuous our politics are. The president wouldn’t call his opponent a bullshitter himself, so why not put it in the mouth of a child? From Rolling Stone’s interview/profile of Barack Obama, via Politico:

“We arrived at the Oval Office for our 45-minute interview … on the morning of October 11th. … As we left the Oval Office, executive editor Eric Bates told Obama that he had asked his six-year-old if there was anything she wanted him to say to the president. … [S]he said, ‘Tell him: You can do it.’ Obama grinned. … ‘You know, kids have good instincts,’ Obama offered. ‘They look at the other guy and say, “Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.”’”

And the kids, they can’t tell Obama’s a bullshitter, because they’re too young to remember broken promises like closing Guantanamo Bay. There’s five pages of them on PolitiFact alone.

Romney may be a bullshitter, but only one of these candidates is the president already. And that he hasn’t been completely forthcoming with the American people on a range of issues (like, say, the Iraq War, one of his clarion calls for re-election) ought to be clear to all but the most beguiled of his supporters by now.

At least there's just two more weeks of this nonsense... and then four years.

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One DC Traffic Camera Generates $12 Million in Revenue!

Via Instapundit comes this Wash Post piece about an incredibly lucrative traffic camera in the District of Columbia:

[Here's what a] single speed camera on New York Avenue [accomplished] in 23 months.

Tickets issued: 116,734.

Fines levied: $11.6 million....

“We believe we have made an impact,” said Gwendolyn Crump, spokeswoman for the D.C. police. “There have been 16 fatalities in 2012, compared to 28 at this time last year, for a 43 percent reduction of traffic fatalities. There is great value in slowing drivers down not only for their own safety, but also for safety of all other traveling parties.”

Cameras that spew out tickets to errant drivers have been a game changer in the District and 13 states, which use them to nab speeders. In the District and 24 states, cameras are also used to snare red-light runners. They generate far more revenue than even a legion of police officers sitting beside the road could hope for, raising anger among some people who say they are more about money than safety.

DC's traffic-fine revenue is up 62 percent from two years ago. Read the whole story here.

It's far from clear that traffic cameras actually reduce accidents, much less fatalities, on an ongoing basis. Note that the figures cited above by DC police are for the city as a whole and that given the massive numbers of passenger miles driven annually in the area, the difference between 16 and 28 statistically approaches zero.

Reason TV talked with Los Angeles activist Jay Beeber, who successfully challenged the City of Angel's use of traffic cameras. Beeber argues that far from making driving safer, red-light cameras often cause more accidents than they prevent - and that cities use them as revenue generators. Watch that here.

Earlier this year, Reason TV reported on DC celebrity chef Geoff Tracy's efforts to route around a traffic-camera speed trap outside his restaurant:

 

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Photo IDs and Minority Vote Suppression - Not So Much, Says New Study

There has been a lot of teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over new voter ID laws.* Proponents claim that they want to prevent voter fraud and opponents assert that the real goal is to suppress minority votes (usually assumed to vote Democratic). Assuming the more pernicious motive is suppression, do they work? A new study in State Politics and Policy Quarterly by researchers from the University of Georgia says, yes, but that the suppression effect doesn't seem to accurately target racial or ethnic minorities. From the abstract:

Voter identification (ID) policies, especially those of the photo ID variety, have been hotly contested over the last few years. The primary concern surrounding these statutes amounts to lower turnout, especially among certain groups in the electorate, such as racial/ethnic minorities. In 2007, the way was cleared for Georgia to implement a new statute requiring registrants to present a government-issued photo ID to vote. Using population data on registrants from two election cycles coupled with information on a subgroup of registrants known to lack photo ID, we conduct a policy impact analysis of the Georgia voter ID law. We find that the new law did produce a suppression effect among those registrants lacking proper ID. Substantively, the law lowered turnout by about four-tenths of a percentage point in 2008. However, we find no empirical evidence to suggest that there is a racial or ethnic component to this suppression effect.

As background, read my colleague Katherine Mangu-Ward's insightful article on why you shouldn't bother voting anyway.

*Before anyone jumps on me, I favor same-day voter registration at polling places. For what's it worth, I am ignoring Katherine's advice and voting for Gary Johnson and in favor of a Virginia initiative that would amend our constitution to prevent the state and city governments from using eminent domain to take property from one private individual and giving it to another. And while I'm at it, I will complain that someone in the People's Republic of Charlottesville stole our Gary Johnson for President sign from in front of our house.

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Steve Chapman on Foreign Policy Surprises Ahead

Americans who watched Monday's debate learned that Mitt Romney wanted to sound like Barack Obama on major world issues and that Obama wanted to highlight the contrasts. They learned that Romney can be vague and Obama can be condescending. They learned that Bob Schieffer can't keep a discussion from veering off course.

What they didn't learn is what the next president's foreign policy will look like or whether to expect war or peace. That's not the fault of the debate. It's the fault of the candidates—not just these two, but pretty much all presidential candidates. Ultimately, it's the fault of voters, writes Steve Chapman, who repeatedly give their presidents a blank check.

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How Monopoly Became a Monopoly

I knew that Monopoly -- the board game, not the economic concept -- had evolved from a game designed to promote the ideas of the 19th-century radical Henry George. Now, thanks to a link in Christopher Ketcham's Harper's feature on the game's history, I've seen this site, featuring photos of the boards used in different versions of the Landlord's Game, as the Georgist version and its early successors were often known. Here's the original, drawn in 1903:

And here's an attractive edition from 1906:

Click through to the site for more boards and for close-up views. And take a look at Ketcham's story, too. The original Landlord's Game was patented, but despite that it evolved freely, with no authority stopping anyone from revising the rules or board to his or her taste. Ketcham explains how the game became the fiercely protected intellectual property of a single company.

Elsewhere in Reason: Nick Gillespie reviews Philip Orbanes' history of the game.

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Breaking Down the Reason Staff's Vote Disclosures From 2012, 2008, and 2004

Yesterday, we released our quadrennial survey of which presidential candidate Reason staffers, contributors, and other small-l libertarians plan to vote for. Of the 28 people surveyed, 17 said they'll be voting for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, two others said they'll probably vote for Johnson, eight said they won't be voting, and one declined to disclose.

After we conducted these exercises in 2008 and 2004, I winnowed each list down to just Reason staffers, contributing editors, regular contributors, and they'll-always-be-one-of-us emeriti, so that readers can most accurately target their ire, praise, and ridicule at our institution (which, amazingly, is the only journalistic outfit of any size this year to actually trust readers enough to show them our vote; we're still waiting on Slate).

For ease-of-use, and to see whether there is some interesting movement in voter sentiment, I will put the three elections' Reason-centric disclosures in one blog post below. Some of who were originally described as leaners or undecided in 2004 and 2008 have for these purposes been assigned to the candidates we later learned they voted for. Here goes:

2012:

25 total Reasonoids

15 Gary Johnson (with 2 leaning)

  8 nobody/not voting

2008:

18 total Reasonoids

7 nobody/not voting

5 Bob Barr (w/ 1 leaning)

3 Barack Obama

1 John McCain

1 anybody-but-McCain

2004:

13 total Reasonoids

3 Michael Badnarik

2 George W. Bush

2 John Kerry

2 undecided

2 nobody/not voting

2 none of your business

Conclusions? Draw your own in the comments. Then ask your other favorite journalistic institutions why their belief in transparency doesn't extend to themselves.

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A.M. Links: White House Dodges and Weaves Over Benghazi Emails, Johnson and Gray Will Try Again in 2016, Wikileaks Publishes Detention Policies

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

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Brickbat: That's Cold

Michael Nash has sued the Veterans Administration for $10 million, claiming that mistreatment caused him to have to have his penis partially amputated. Nash's attorney says that he went to a VA hospital in Kentucky for penile implant surgery. After the surgery, nurses kept ice packs on his groin for 19 hours to reduce swelling. That led to frost bite and gangrene on his penis, forcing doctors to remove part of it.

Brickbat Archive

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Judge Napolitano on Why Libya Should (but Won't) Cost Obama the Election

The final presidential debate earlier this week was a tailor-made opportunity for Mitt Romney to rip into President Obama's inconsistent, value-free and at times incoherent foreign policy. And it was also an opportunity for the president to explain his administration's material misrepresentations on the murders of our ambassador and others in Libya. Instead, voters heard silence from both of them on this topic.

One can conclude from this that the president uttered a silent sigh of relief when he dodged a bullet. And one can conclude that Romney wanted to look and sound presidential and emphasize his economic credentials and allay fears that he wants another war. Whatever the gain and whatever the strategy, writes Andrew Napolitano, this matter of American deaths in Libya is of vital importance to American voters.

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No Charges for Officer in Submachine Gun Killing; Promised to 'Blow' Victim's 'Head Off'

Officer Steve Gilley of the Downey Police Department will not face charges from the Los Angeles District Attorney's office for the October 2011 submachine gun death of Michael Nida in Downey, Calif.

The prosecutor who investigated the killing said that Nida ignored warnings from police, including one from Gilley who promised to "blow [Nida's] head off." From the LA Times:

Prosecutor Stephanie Sparagna, however, wrote that Nida repeatedly resisted arrest and ran from police three times. He also ignored warnings from police, including one from the officer that he would "blow his head off" if Nida did not show his hands.

Sparagna found that Gilley reasonably feared Nida and was armed and dangerous, even though he eventually was determined not to be the robbery suspect and was unarmed. Sparagna said Gilley was required to make a split-second decision.

"Given the rapidly evolving, dangerous situation that confronted Officer Gilley, we conclude that Officer Steven Gilley was justified in using deadly force to prevent Nida's escape," she wrote in the report released Tuesday.

The killing of Michael Nida, 31, led to protests at the site of the shooting and in front of the Downey city council. Reason TV covered the story in "Cops with Machine Guns: The Killing of Michael Nida."

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Greek Finance Minister Says Bailout Extension Granted, Then Backtracks

Earlier today Greek Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras said that a bailout extension had been negotiated with international lenders. This was news to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who claimed to be unaware that an extension had been agreed:

From the BBC:

Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Mr Draghi said: "The [latest Greek] review is not yet finished.

"I understand progress has been made, but some parts need to be defined, and I don't know anything more than that."

Stournaras had told CNN that the negotiations were “to a large extent finalized.”

However, Stournaras has now had to go back on his earlier comments after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that a deal would not be possible without a final report from the troika (European Commission, International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank).

Greek officials have been in discussions with the troika for weeks in an effort to finalize a spending and privatization program for the next bailout installment. Whatever gets approved will have to go before the Greek Parliament for approval.

The troika has been insisting on unpopular reforms. An unnamed Greek official spoke to The Guardian about the proposed reforms, the effect they could have on the U.S. election, and how politically difficult reforms would be to implement:

"Even if the troika give us a negative report, what are they going to do? Are they really going to not give us the instalment [to keep Greece's economy afloat] two weeks before the US elections, with everything that entails – default, bankruptcy, global market turmoil?" he asked.

"These labour reforms will turn our country into Bangladesh. They have no fiscal benefit and will actually derail the adjustment programme. The political system will collapse if we impose them.

"The troika is demanding that we commit suicide, which is why we believe this is a matter that should be solved on a political level by the prime minister and not with the troika."

Such sentiments are what are standing in the way of the reforms that are necessary to address the situation in Greece. Unfortunately, it looks like some Greek politicians are struggling to get their stories straight, let alone do what is necessary.

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Benghazi Email Disclosure and Arrest, Another Third-Party Debate Planned, When Sharks Attack: P.M. Links

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

The updated Reason app for Apple and Android now includes Reason 24/7!

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

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Damon Root on the Presidential Election and the Supreme Court

President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney sparred over matters large and small in this month’s three presidential debates, yet when it came to one of the most pressing issues in American politics, the two candidates were strangely quiet. There was not a single discussion about the president’s central role in appointing new justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That silence makes even less sense when you consider the demographic forces at work, writes Senior Editor Damon Root. Of the Court’s nine sitting members, four are now in their 70s. Libertarians in particular should give thought to the eventual retirement of 76-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy, Root says. Although he’s no card-carrying member of the limited-government movement—as evinced by his votes in favor of broad eminent domain powers and against letting states set their own medical marijuana policies—Kennedy is nonetheless the one justice currently on the bench who at least occasionally favors the basic libertarian mix of social and economic freedom.

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Federal Court Tears Apart Louisiana’s “Nonsensical” Case for Licensing Intrastate Casket Sales

For the past five years, the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey have been battling the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors over their right to make and sell handmade caskets within the state. Although Louisiana does not otherwise regulate caskets—indeed, it’s perfectly legal to build your own casket—the state board nonetheless declares that only licensed funeral directors may engage in the intrastate sale of caskets, and they may only sell those caskets to the public at licensed funeral homes. The nine member board, it’s worth noting, is made up by law of four licensed funeral directors, four licensed embalmers, and one additional member not affiliated with the funeral industry.

Charging that the state board violated their rights, the monks brought suit in federal court, represented by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm. In a strongly-worded decision issued yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit awarded the monks a major victory.

“The great deference due state economic regulation does not demand judicial blindness to the history of a challenged rule or the context of its adoption, nor does it require courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth,” the 5th Circuit declared. “That Louisiana does not even require a casket for burial, does not impose requirements for their construction or design, does not require a casket to be sealed before burial, and does not require funeral directors to have any special expertise in caskets,” the court continued, “makes us doubt that a relationship exists between public health and safety and limiting intrastate sales of caskets to funeral establishments.”

Moreover, the 5th Circuit took the more unorthodox step of asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to offer its own opinion on whether the board’s actions were legal under state law. “Specifically, to our eyes it is unclear whether, under Louisiana law, the State Board has authority to regulate casket sales in and of themselves when such sales are not incidental to the seller’s provision of any other funeral services,” the 5th Circuit wrote. In other words, if the state board has been acting illegally all along, there's no need for the 5th Circuit to rule on the issue of constitutionality. But if the Louisiana Supreme Court finds that the board did act within its authority under state law, then the 5th Circuit will strike down the licensing requirement for violating the Constitution.

Either way, this is a humiliating loss for the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors and its arbitrary licensing scheme.

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Happy National Cyber Security Awareness Month!

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month and official Washington seems a little too aware. Fleeting references to cyber security were made by both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney in the course of Monday’s third presidential debate. The issue remains a hot topic with members of Congress fearful of America’s vulnerability to cyber attacks and acts of terrorism. 

In August, Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-Conn) Cyber Security Act 2012 failed to move past a filibuster after Republican opposition on the grounds that proposed security standards would lead to costly regulations for businesses. Despite this stumbling block, Congress and the Obama administration are said to be continuing with a “race” to establish cyber security standards for what it deems ‘critical infrastructure providers.’

A White House executive order dealing with the issue is likely to instruct federal agencies, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to enforce mandatory standards upon the companies they regulate.

Lieberman suggests that “some of them will be forced to spend some more money than they otherwise are spending now to defend themselves.” Such executive orders and legislation won’t just regulate businesses behavior; they will also enable the extensive collection, monitoring, and use of personal data by both the regulated businesses involved and the Department of Homeland Security, amongst a network of other government agencies.

The use of an executive order to mandate such actions is a particularly scary prospect considering the upcoming elections. Romney has stayed fairly quiet on the issue of cyber security, but his election white paper commits to updating the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, the Bush-era legislation which granted the National Security Agency approval to wiretap Americans without the need for a warrant. Though the Romney white paper lacks specific details as to how Romney plans to update this he does continue to push for a ‘much more coordinated effort’ by the intelligence agencies and government departments. He’s apparently not been deterred by the failure of the hugely expensive, highly intrusive and wholly ineffective "fusion centers” that wasted billions of dollars creating networks of intelligence-gathering that actively invaded citizen’s privacy whilst failing to report or uncover any terrorist activities. 

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American Schools Go on Utterly Insane Hiring Spree Since 1950. Kids Shrug, Continue to Do Poorly on Tests

During Monday's presidential debate, Gov. Mitt Romney declared his undying affection for America's teachers:

Moderator Bob Schieffer chimed in: “I think we all love teachers.”

Indeed. 

But a new study from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice finds that it's not just teachers who are getting the love money, though they are getting plenty of it as well.

America’s public schools saw a 96 percent increase in students but increased administrators and other non-teaching staff a staggering 702 percent since 1950, according to a new study of school personnel by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice....Teaching staff, in comparison, increased 252 percent.

Even states that had actual decreases in enrollment often had major bumps in education hiring:

  • Maine had a decrease of 10.8 percent in student population yet increased its non-teaching staff by 76.1 percent.
  • South Dakota lost 3.9 percent of its student population yet increased non-teaching staff by 55.4 percent.
  • The District of Columbia lost 14.8 percent of its students yet increased non-teaching staff by 42 percent.

Here's the money math:

If non-teaching personnel had grown at the same rate as student population, American public schools would have an additional $24.3 billion annually. Scafidi’s report concluded that $24.3 billion is equivalent to an annual $7,500 raise per teacher nationwide or a $1,700 school voucher for each child in poverty.

And here's your handy abysmal performance vs. astronomical spending reminder:

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"Bread and Peace" Model Predicts Obama Loss - Only 47.2 Percent of Vote

While I've been delving into the social science literature to see if I can garner some insights into the dynamics of elections, I came across an intriguing article in the journal Political Science and Politics by former University of Gotheberg economist Douglas Hibbs in which the results his bread and peace model concludes that President Barack Obama is very unlikely to win in November. His model over a president's term of office combines a weighted (1) average of per capita disposable income growth and (2) the per capita number of casualties from wars of choice.

Hibbs thinks that war casualties will not play a big role in determining the results of this election, however, for Obama to win, his number crunching suggests that...

...per capita real income growth rates must average out at more than 6% after 2012:q2 for Obama to have a decent chance of reelection. If the US economy experiences an unanticipated reversal of fortune with growth surging to rates not uncommon in the initial robust phase of recoveries from deep contractions, Obama could squeak out a win, as implied by the last column of table 2.

Anybody around here seen 6 percent economic growth in the last couple of quarters? In likely scenarios, Hibbs' model projects that on November 6, Obama's "expected two-party vote share will be 47.2 percent."

The Hill is reporting that in Tuesday’s Gallup daily tracking poll of likely voters: 

Romney takes 51 percent support to Obama's 46 in the survey of likely voters. Among registered voters, Romney maintained his lead of 48 to 47 over the president.

Go here to download Hibb's article.

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Courting the Ron Paul Vote: Libertarian Gary Johnson and Constitution Party Nominee Virgil Goode Make Their Case

CHICAGO—Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode of Virginia are both looking to scoop up as many disaffected Ron Paul voters as they possibly can on Election Day. During the third party debate here they both made their own unique pitches that would appeal to Paul backers. Goode emphasized his paleoconservative positions on things like trade and immigration while Johnson pushed his libertarian credentials on things like ending the war on drugs and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Both, though, were reluctant to tell Paul voters in detail why they should for them. Goode declared that Paul voters should look at all the candidates but not vote for Mitt Romney or President Obama. Johnson said he thinks Paul voters should favor him because he doesn’t really want to tell them what do, but, he adds, his positions are the same as Ron Paul on nearly everything. Here in their own words are Goode and Johnson after the jump.

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U.K.-Funded U.N. Document Supports Online Surveillance — Just Like the Brits Want

Government officials don't generally need much encouragement to snoop on people, and they're not especially shy about the practice, either — just look at the Obama administration's continuing argument that legal challenges to domestic spying shouldn't be permitted because they'd expose "state secrets." But a little cover for preferred policies is always helpful, so that politicians can point to "expert" recommendations to justify what they were going to do anyway. That's where a recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime comes in, since it urges politicos hither and yon to impose closer scrutiny and tighter regulations on the Internet.

The concern of the The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes (PDF) is self-explanatory, and the document, funded by the British government, lays out specific details of how bad guys are exploiting the online world. Specifically, the report says terrorists use the Internet for propaganda, financing, training, planning, execution and cyberattacks. With the exception of cyberattacks, that's how everybody uses the Internet, so that's not much of a stretch.

It's interesting to note though, that the rote hat-tip to civil-liberties concerns inserted in this document is even less enthusiastic than usual, couching the "counter-terrorist" measures it recommends as protections for human rights.

Effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are complementary and mutually reinforcing objectives which must be pursued together. ...

As noted in subsection B.1(b) above, the proscription of incitement to terrorism may involve restrictions on freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is not an absolute right. It may be restricted, subject to satisfaction of strictly construed tests of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination, when that freedom is used to incite discrimination, hostility or violence. A key difficulty in cases of glorification or incitement to terrorism is identifying where the line of acceptability lies, as this varies greatly from country to country depending on differing cultural and legal histories. The right to freedom of association is similarly a qualified right, which may be subject to narrowly construed limitations and derogations.

Personally, I take that as a "screw-you" to civil libertarians, but maybe I'm over-sensitive that way.

Or maybe I'm not. Among its policy not-quite recommendations (they're couched as citations of what "some governments" have already done), the report discusses rather strict controls on speech and Internet access, and tight scrutiny of online activities.

  • "[T]he Security Council, inter alia, called upon States to criminalize the incitement of terrorist acts. ... Some countries have specifically criminalized acts of incitement or glorification of terrorist acts, while others rely upon on inchoate offences such as solicitation or conspiracy."
  • "Authorities will require the cooperation of telecommunications operators when undertaking electronic monitoring, wiretaps and similar electronic investigative technique. It is desirable that Governments provide a clear legal basis for the obligations on private sector parties, including the technical specifications required of their networks and how the cost of providing such capabilities is to be met."
  • "Some Governments have imposed specific duties on operators of Internet cafes for law enforcement purposes (including anti-terrorism) to obtain, retain and, upon request, produce to law enforcement agencies photo identification, addresses and usage/connection data of customers. There is some doubt about the utility of targeting such measures at Internet cafes only when other forms of public Internet access (e.g. airports, libraries and public Wi-Fi hotspots) offer criminals (including terrorists) the same access opportunities and are unregulated."

Data retention plays a major role in the UN report's policy discussions, such as a mention of how Chinese authorities "may order the submission by the Internet-service provider and Internet-communication
provider of relevant records and data, which they are required to retain by law for 60 days."

There is also a heavy emphasis on essentially deputizing the private sector to do the heavy lifting, including leaning on search engines and ISPs to either automatically exclude suspect content to else provide a means of flagging material (as YouTube aready does) for inspection.

It should be noted, by the way, that the British government has been pushing for massive, and expensive, online surveillance legislation. This UN document, which it paid for, would seem to support its efforts.

What a coincidence.

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How Do Changes to Montana's Self-Defense Law Explain the Decision Not to Prosecute Brice Harper?

Critics of "castle doctrine" laws are blaming Montana's for the decision not to prosecute Brice Harper, who shot and killed Dan Fredenberg last month during a confrontation over Harper's affair with Fredenberg's wife. But as with the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, it is not clear why the legal provisions cited by the law's detractors are relevant. According to Harper, an enraged (but unarmed) Fredenburg charged into the garage at Harper's home in Kalispell on the night of September 22 "like he was on a mission." In an October 9 letter explaining why he decided not to prosecute Harper, Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan mentions some details that were tellingly omitted from the New York Times account, which presents the case as an illustration of the dangers posed by strong self-defense laws:

While being escorted from the scene of the shooting by [Kalipsell Police Department] Officer Jason Parce, Brice stated: "I told him I had a gun, but he just kept coming at me." Heather [Fredenberg's wife, who witnessed the confrontation] stated to Officer Parce: "Brice shot him...he (Brice) told him he had a gun, but he just kept coming at him." A neighbor also reported to Det. Scott Warnell that she overheard Brice repeatedly state “he was coming at me."...

Heather observed Dan enter the garage and approach Brice as he was standing in the doorway to his residence, "walking up to him fast, cussing at him." Heather could not hear what Dan was specifically saying, but she could hear yelling and knew it was "angry."...

When asked by Det. Zeb Dobis if Dan ever got violent, Heather stated yes. [Corrigan observes that they were "were mutually abusive with each other."] When asked what she thought would have happened had Dan been able to get a hold of Brice, Heather stated she thought "he would have tried to kill him."...

Given the relationship between Heather and Brice which was known to Dan, the prior confrontation at Fatt Boys [a local restaurant], the manner in which Dan entered the garage, Dan’s obvious anger, Brice's belief that Dan wanted to "kick his ass," and Dan's refusal to stop when ordered to do so, Brice's belief that Dan intended to assault him was a reasonable one. Heather herself was of the opinion that Dan would have assaulted Brice had he been allowed the opportunity to do so.

It seems to me these details, if accurate, would have made the shooting justified even without the changes that the state legislature made to Montana's self-defense law in 2009. Prior to those amendments, the law said someone confronting an intruder in his home "is justified in the use of force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm only if the entry is made or attempted in violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner" and he "reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent an assault" or "the commission of a forcible felony." In 2009 the legislature removed the "violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner" language but otherwise left this provision essentially unchanged. The Times cites that excision as an explanation for Corrigan's decision not to prosecute Harper. But wouldn't Fredenberg's behavior qualify as "violent, riotous, or tumultuous"?

The legislature also added a provision saying that "a person who is lawfully in a place or location and who is threatened with bodily injury or loss of life has no duty to retreat from a threat or summon law enforcement assistance prior to using force." But according to a story about the case in the Flathead Beacon, there was no duty to retreat from home intruders in Montana prior to this change, which merely codified what was already the rule for such situations.

Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, says (as paraphrased by the Beacon) "the issue is not about the castle doctrine because Montana has allowed self-defense in an occupied structure for a long time...but rather about the presumption of innocence." The paper continues: "In any other crime, a person would be presumed innocent until proven guilty, Marbut said, but before 2009, anyone claiming self-defense had the burden to prove that innocence instead of the prosecution having to prove guilt." The 2009 legislation says: "In a criminal trial, when the defendant has offered evidence of justifiable use of force, the state has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's actions were not justified."

Although that provision may very well have influenced Corrigan's decision, this presumption of innocence seems only fair, and it is not unusual. According to Michael J.Z. Mannheimer, a law professor at Northern Kentucky University who discussed the issue in connection with the prosecution of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin, it is the rule "in virtually every state."

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Jury Nullification Keeps NJ Weedman Out of Jail; DEA Comes Calling

Last week, Ed Forchion, a.k.a. the NJ Weedman, was found not guilty of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute after being caught by cops in New Jersey with a pound of marijuana in his car. Formerly a perennial third party candidate in the state, the Weedman took his activism in support of legalizing marijuana to California, where he opened a medical marijuana dispensary. He was caught in New Jersey while visiting and wanted to use the trial to test New Jersey’s recent medical marijuana law, which requires registration and purchase from one of six dispensaries in the state.  A pound of marijuana, because it is a lot of weed, automatically yields a possession with intent charge. The jury found him not guilty.

His California dispensary, meanwhile, had been raided in December by the DEA and, relentless, Forchion opened another one.  The feds, though, have kept their eye on the Weedman. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s  Monica Yant Kinney explains his victory was short-lived:

"Two hours," Forchion gripes. "Two hours after I won, I got a call from the DEA in L.A. They had a 'Google Alert' on me. Sore losers."

…No federal charges were ever filed against Forchion, but the DEA still has his belongings. The phone call last Thursday was an invitation of sorts for him to stop by and pick up (some of) his stuff.

A day later, as Forchion remained in New Jersey, another DEA agent visited his new dispensary - the "United States Collective" conveniently located near the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

"I'll advise you to close by the end of business today," the agent reportedly said, "or we're going to launch another investigation and you'll be involved."

…I called the DEA Press Office in L.A. seeking comment, but Special Agent Sarah Pullen couldn't say anything about what she dubbed an "ongoing investigation."

"If Mr. Forchion wants to provide information, that is his choice."
Choice is one of Forchion's favorite words.

He chose to seek out an investor to open a second dispensary knowing the feds would come knocking and he could again lose everything.

He chose to put New Jersey's criminal statute up against the state's medical-marijuana law, to force jurors to question why a drug he can use legally in California to ease agony should cause him even more pain in the Garden State.

"You know," Forchion reminds, "I could still get 18 months in prison for being convicted of possession.

"I never denied that weed was mine. I admitted it."

You can’t vote for the NJ Weedman for president this year, but there are at least a couple of candidates on the ballot that have admitted to drug use, Barack Obama, who’s spent four years as president vigorously prosecuting the war on drugs, and another, Gary Johnson, who wants to end the war on, and legalize, drugs.

H/T Dan Pearson

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Jesus Christ Enters Presidential Campaign

A few months ago I wrote a piece contrasting the relatively small effect Mitt Romney's Mormonism has had on this campaign with the past popularity of wild anti-Mormon conspiracy theories. Even Robert Jeffress, the Dallas pastor who embarrassed Rick Perry by declaring that Romney is "not a Christian" and that Mormonism "has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity," wound up endorsing the GOP's nominee, explaining his decision with the line, "Jesus isn't on the ballot this year, so we have to make choices."

But Bill Keller won't be stopped by Christ's failure to get on the ballot. Keller, the most ferocious of the modern anti-Mormon voices quoted in my article, claims that 1,392,972 people so far have pledged to write in the reputed son of God rather than back either Romney or Obama. Here's his pitch:

If President Obama is re-elected, his anti-American, socialist policies will continue, as will his attacks on Christianity and Christian churches. He will continue to support abortion, homosexuality, the enemies of Israel. How can a true follower of Christ vote in good conscience for a man who has proven to be a true enemy of God and His Word and will continue to be so in his next term?

If Mitt Romney is elected, he will be the fulfillment of his cult's polygamist, pedophile, racist, con artist, murdering founder Joseph Smith's "White Horse" prophecy that Romney and all Mormon's believe. That prophecy says that the United States will facing great economic and social unrest, a Mormon will be elected President, declare a national emergency and set aside the US Constitution and enact a Mormon theocracy. That may sound impossible, but ever since he was at BYU, Romney was called by his inner circle "the chosen one" to fulfill their cult's prophecy....

So who is a Christian to vote for with a clear conscience? The answer is simple...JESUS!!!

I am encouraging true followers of Jesus Christ to say NO to satan and say YES to Jesus! This November, write in the name JESUS for President!

The punchline: Keller's a birther.

Reason Writers' 2012 Presidential Picks: Here's Who We're Voting For

"With the 2012 contest now just a couple of weeks away," writes Reason.com's Nick Gillespie,

We're happy to publish our third "Who's Getting Your Vote?" survey, along with some questions about other important races around the country and whether the United States is becoming more or less free. Nobody's required to participate, but we do this exercise in a spirit of transparency and openness that generally goes missing at other media organizations around election time. Journalists claim all sorts of moral and legal privileges for themselves (typically as a corrective to the supposedly rotten wages the profession offers), but the idea that readers shouldn't know for whom political commentators pull the lever is self-evidently ridiculous....

Beyond naming their presidential picks, the two-dozen-plus staffers and contributors dissect whether President Obama or Mitt Romney would be worse on a range of issues, what other races are most important in November, and whether Reason's vision of "Free Minds and Free Markets" is a real possibility or a pipe dream.

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Is Jeff Flake Too Principled on Earmarks to Win a Senate Seat?

That's the possibility raised by the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore, in a piece covering the hotly contested race to replace departing Sen. John Kyl (R-Arizona). In one corner stands former George W. Bush surgeon general (and independent-turned-Democrat) Richard Carmona; in the other stands the strongly libertarian-leaning Rep. Jeff Flake, famous (among other things) for refusing to accept earmarks for federal projects in his district. Writes Moore:

Flake—a six-term U.S. congressman—recently met behind closed doors with about a dozen leading businessmen in the state, including two powerful and respected CEOs: real-estate developer Mike Ingram and former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo.

Both businessmen supported Mr. Flake's opponent in the Republican primary (Mr. Flake won by 40 points), and both are pushing for federal financing of a road project that would stretch from Phoenix to Las Vegas. In the western part of the state, the 300-mile highway would bisect their 34,000-acre Douglas Ranch, where they have plans to develop a luxury hotel and upscale homes. A person who attended the meeting recalls that the two asked Mr. Flake: "We need to know. Are you going to be an Arizona senator or a U.S. senator?"

I'm told that Mr. Flake responded by saying that with the country facing a $16 trillion debt, dealing with that problem was his priority.

Good answer; wrong audience. The two CEOs still haven't endorsed Mr. Flake. In an interview Mr. Ingram confirmed the meeting and explained that the business executives in the room "worry that Mr. Flake may not support business compared to [Rich] Carmona," Mr. Flake's Democratic opponent. Mr. Ingram added that Mr. Flake is too often "a no vote on many economic development issues," including "transportation bills."

Arizona's Senate contest is testing the age-old question of whether bringing home the bacon is what wins elections.

FWIW, I was in Phoenix this past weekend, and the ad barrage in this campaign is off the charts. Carmona isn't hitting Flake on insufficient pork, but he is describing him as an environment-raping, special-interest lady-hater. And at least one Flake commercial I watched suggested heavily that Carmona is a deranged and potentially violent misogynist. Good times!

The two are running close to neck-and-neck, in a race that could have major national implications. Also running–and trashing Flake's libertarian bonafides–is Libertarian Party nominee and longtime local activist Marc Victor, whose polling has occasionally been greater than the margin between Carmona and Flake.

Here's Reason.tv interviewing Flake last year:

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Chutzpah Denied! Fired Bell, Calif., Police Chief Will Not Get $510,000 Pension

Randy Adams served the city of Bell, Calif., as police chief for a year before getting fired in the midst of a scandal that revealed city officials draining the coffers for exorbitant salaries.

Adams was drawing a $457,000 annual salary for leading the police in this Los Angeles County town of 35,000, more than the police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. After the corruption was uncovered and eight officials charged (Adams is not one of them), one might think Adams would have thanked his lucky stars he got what he got and quietly slinked away.

Don’t be silly. This is California! He sued to try to keep the pension spike he would get from that one year of employment at Bell. Fortunately, a judge denied him. Via the Los Angeles Times:

A judge has rejected an effort by Bell's former police chief to more than double his pension to $510,000 a year, saying that the City Council never approved his extravagant contract and that city officials tried to keep his salary secret.

Randy Adams, who was fired as the city was engulfed in scandal, would have become one of the highest paid public pensioners in California had his request been approved.

The cost of doubling Adams' pension would have fallen primarily on Ventura, Simi Valley and Glendale, where he spent most of his career. Ventura alone would have been on the hook for nearly $2 million of Adams' future pension, according to state pension officials.

The ruling leaves Adams with a $240,000-a-year pension, the eighth highest paycheck in California's largest public employee retirement system

So even after denying Adams the pension spike, he’s still in the top ten.

According to the judge, Adams was also conspiring to be granted a disability retirement so that his pension would be tax-free.  That little trick is very common in California. San Jose’s pension reform initiative passed in June attempts to curb some of this behavior.

Adams is also suing the city for severance pay, remarkably enough. The city is suing right back trying to recover his salary. As the judge noted, Bell’s City Council never even approved his contract.

Reason has written plenty about the Bell scandal. Click here if you don’t feel like typing “Bell, California” in our search engine.

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65 Percent of Californians Say Legislature Drives Jobs From the State

According to the latest Reason-Rupe poll of 696 Californians, including 508 likely voters, nearly two-thirds of Californians think that laws and regulations passed by the state legislature make it more likely that businesses will move jobs to other states. Twenty-four percent think the California legislature helps create a business friendly environment.

Californians favorable of Gov. Jerry Brown’s job performance also have more confidence in the legislature; 38 percent think the laws and regulations passed in the state promote job creation. Among those unfavorable of the Governor, only 11 percent agree.

Eighty-eight percent of Republicans say the California legislature hurts job creation, 9 percent disagree; significantly more Democrats disagree with a third saying the legislature helps create jobs in the state. Nevertheless, half of Democrats and 70 percent of Independents think that the legislature drives jobs out of the state.

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.

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John Stossel on the Importance of Greed

The statist left says it's government's job to protect consumers and help poor people. But greed—more precisely, the pursuit of self-interest in the free market—would work better, writes John Stossel. The market (if not corrupted by corporate welfare and bailouts) harmonizes the interests of diverse people who don't even know each other and might not even like each other. It motivates them to work hard to serve customers.

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Will Rape Comments Cost Richard Mourdock an Indiana Senate Seat?

Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party favorite who is running as a Republican for Senate in Indiana, has started a controversy related to his restrictionist views on abortion.

In a debate last night, Mourdock, who believes that abortion should only be legal in cases where the mother's life is at risk, said

"The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother," Mourdock said. "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen."

Mourdock's opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly responded:

The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in, does not intend for rape to happen - ever," Donnelly said in a statement after the debate, using the nickname for Indiana residents. "What Mr. Mourdock said is shocking, and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape."

Mourdock's position is not based on fake biology (as is that of Todd Akin, the Republican running for Senate in Missour, who asserted that "legitimate" rapes never result in pregnancy), but on extreme logical consistency that's heavily informed by religious thinking.

As someone who believes in very broad abortion rights, I disagree with him but can see the logic of his position: If you believe that life begins at the moment of conception (a much vaguer moment than commonly thought), then it is wrong to kill a fetus/child due to how it was conceived. That's not a difficult line of thought to follow but it is a genuinely unpopular one in America.

As Gallup shows, support for legal abortion under at least some circumstances comes in around 77 percent. Only 20 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal under all circumstances. In a different set of questions, Gallup asks whether people think abortion should be legal under any circumstances (25 percent), legal under most (13 percent), or legal only in a few (39 percent). Given that Mourdock allows only one exception - when the life of the mother is at risk - it's not clear that he would even fit into the "only a few" category that carries a plurality of Americans. (There's plenty to question about Gallup's phrasing, to be sure.)

Mourdock's uncompromising stand certainly adds to a picture of Republicans as extremist on the abortion issue. Even Mitt Romney, who has endorsed Mourdock and started buying ads for the guy via various PACs, has distanced himself from Mourdock on this score. But Gallup also finds that only about 17 percent of voters insist that candidates share their views on abortion, with the vast majority of voters considering it either "one of many important issues" or "not a major issue" in how they decide to vote.

RealClearPolitics rates the race between Mourdock, who bumped off six-term GOP incumbent Richard Lugar in a primary, and Donnelly a toss-up as of today, but polls haven't yet captured what if any impact the debate might have.

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The New York Times Reveals That 18 Servings of an Energy Drink Might Be Excessive

In case you are not alarmed yet by the threat that insufficiently regulated energy drinks pose to the nation, The New York Times tries a new angle:

Among the latest entrants in the energy industry's caffeine race is a pocket-size squeeze bottle called Mio Energy. Each half-teaspoon serving of Mio, which is sold by Kraft Foods, releases 60 milligrams of caffeine in a beverage, the amount in a six-ounce cup of coffee.

Actually, depending on the type of coffee and how it is made, that six-ounce cup might contain twice as much caffeine as one serving of Mio Energy. But wait:

One size of the bottle, which users can repeatedly squeeze, contains 18 servings, or 1,060 milligrams, of caffeine—more than enough, health specialists say, to sicken children and some adults, and even send some of them to the hospital. 

Yes, and if you drink 18 espressos, you'll be ingesting something like 1,800 milligrams of caffeine. If you swallow all 60 caplets in a bottle of maximum-strength No Doz (scandalously available without a prescription), you'll get 12,000 milligrams of caffeine, which is 11 times as scary as the scenario sketched by the Times.

As I mentioned on Monday, the trigger for the latest outbreak of caffeine-related anxiety was a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 14-year-old girl with a genetic vulnerability who died of heart arrhythmia after drinking two 24-ounce cans of a Monster energy drink. Each of those cans contained 240 milligrams of caffeine, 90 fewer than a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee. 

Bruce Goldberger, a toxicologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, complains to the Times that the FDA's approach to energy drinks "has been laissez-faire" and wonders, "What is it going to take to cause them to take action?" I don't know. Maybe another media-fed panic, like the one Goldberger helped set off as a critic of Four Loko?

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Whatever Does Paul Krugman Mean By "Austerity" in the UK?

Over at the New York Times this morning, Nobel Prize winning defender of government spending Paul Krugman pulls out some charts to show that economic growth in the UK for the past few has been less than some people think they guess it might have been given the historical record. (That is, "the output path has now diverged below what a wide range of plausible historical projections might excuse," harumph.)

The Krug blames this on....don't cheat....

Gee, remember the enthusiasm with which the Cameron/Osborne turn to austerity was greeted by VSPs on both sides of the pond, with David Broder urging Obama to “do a Cameron”?

It always becomes the Nobel Prize winner to use the rhetorical dismissive "Gee." I believe they are instructed to do so in all their serious writing henceforth.

What Kruggy baby does not provide is any definition of or evidence for "austerity."

From the charts gathered at UKpublicspending.co.uk, if they are true, we find that from either 2007 or 2008 to 2011, UK government spending has gone up both in total numbers and as percentage of GDP.

From 2007 to 2011, 543.96 to 681.33 billion pounds total spending; from 2008, 575.97 to 681.33. The GDP percentage of total spending in 2007 was 38.69, in 2008 40.17, and in 2011 45.13. Population increase from 2007 to 2011 has been about 1.5 million. 

Possibly relevant subcatagories such as welfare have also seen rises in both terms of GDP (from 5.91 percent in 2007 to 7.46 in 2011) and raw numbers (83.09 billion in 2007 to 112.68 billion 2011). Transportation the same, rising from 18 billion in spending in 2007 to 19.86 billion in 2011, and from 1.28 to 1.32 as percentage of GDP from 2007 to 2011.

I know that to Krugman it's an article of faith that if growth is insufficient, then government spending has been insufficient. But if he's going to throw around the word "austerity" so much he should explain precisely what he means. I noted Krugman's unwillingness to actually give facts when speaking of European austerity back in May.

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The Semantics of Benghazi Don't Matter: Obama's Foreign Policy is a Failure

There's something bizarre coming out of the final (thank God) presidential debate: a righteous debate over whether President Obama called the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a terrorist attack the day after it happened.

Certainly, he talked about avenging "acts of terror" from the Rose Garden on September 12, even as his administration colleagues continued to very publicly push the line that the attack - which claimed the life of four Americans, including Amb. Chris Stevens - was a spontaneous reaction to the YouTube video "The Innocence of Muslims."

Focusing on a single, less-than-important utterance by the president is a great way of missing the bigger picture, which has been painted in terrifying detail by journalists such as The Daily Beast's Eli Lake. Lake has documented how jihadists had attacked Western targets in Benghazi months before the 9/11 attack, that U.S. sources realized the 9/11 attack was a planned operation long before the public learned that fact, that the ambassador feared for his safety, that security had been reduced, and more. Via CNN and other sources, we continue to learn more about the constant screwups and miscommunications plaguing our presence in Libya. What kind of world are we living in when politicians (including Republicans!) seem more fixated on a throwaway line in a speech rather than a serious investigation of why American diplomats are being killed?

The large point of this all is that regardless of what Obama might have might have meant right after the attack (it's not clear that his "acts of terror" comment on September 12 was a specific reference to Benghazi), his adminstration royally screwed up in Libya. It's totally clear why the Obama administration would be slow to acknowledge the truth of the attack - it undercut what they saw as the success of their containment of al Qaeda - but it's just ridiculous for the larger media and voting public to play along with fixation on minor details.

We can all agree, I assume, that the murder of an ambassador in a country we supposedly helped liberate just months earlier is a disaster. How does that horrible outcome reflect on the way in which the U.S. first got involved in the bombing raids that helped depose Qaddafi? And all that happened since then? Is the self-evidently failed security around the American consulate a logical conclusion from poorly conceived and executed policy or a tragic aberration from a sensible plan? Those are the sorts of questions that the presidential debates - and ensuing media colloquies - would be better off asking. And not just about Libya but the bigger question of U.S. foreign policy. Which, if Monday's debate was any indication, really doesn't concern South America, Europe, or vast portions of Africa.

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A. Barton Hinkle on the Unintended Consequences of Cracking Down on Payday Lenders

Four years ago, Virginia lawmakers cracked down on payday lending. They limited borrowers to one payday loan at a time, and doubled the length of time they had to pay the money back. It worked. Payday loans plunged more than 80 percent. A few lenders left the state completely. But it also didn’t work. The reforms created a vacuum being filled by a new form of short-term lending: car-title loans.

In a payday loan, the borrower writes a post-dated check to cover the loan amount, plus fees. In a car-title loan, the borrower puts up a vehicle as collateral. Since 2010 the number of car-title lending companies in Virginia has more than doubled. Last year, they made more than 128,000 loans, worth an aggregate $125 million. They also, notes A. Barton Hinkle, repossessed nearly 8,400 vehicles.

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America's Debt Problem Is a Health Care Financing Problem

If not for health care, the federal government would have virtually no debt. Over at McSweeney's, University of Michigan economist Robert Dittmar proposes a thought experiment to explain:

As a thought experiment, let’s suppose that medical expenditures had been self-financed since the inception of government health care in the 1960s. What would our debt and deficit look like today? To answer this question, I simply added the medical care expenditure deficit back into the total government deficit. The result is depicted in [the figure below[ and is astounding (at least to me). Outside of medical expenditures and revenues, the Federal government sometimes ran a surplus and sometimes ran a deficit from 1966 until 1980. Starting in 1980, and lasting until 1994, the government consistently ran a deficit outside of medical spending, but from 1995 until 2010, it consistently ran a surplus. In 1994, the cumulative excess spending would have reached a bit over $1 trillion. But by 1999, debt due to sources other than medical spending would have been completely eliminated by surpluses! The government wouldn’t have needed to borrow again until 2011.

Via John Goodman and the Incidental Economist

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Green Party's Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson Face Off in Third Party Presidential Debate

CHICAGO—The Free & Equal debate that featured the four primary third party candidates at Hilton Chicago last night wasn’t pretty but it sure as hell was more interesting than the three official presidential debates between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the only candidates present at the debate that are on the ballot in enough states to actually win enough electoral votes were the primary attractions and they frequently sparred but without calling each other out.

Johnson, a former New Mexico governor and Stein, a frequent candidate for public office in Massachusetts, agreed frequently on things like the war on drugs and reducing the size of America’s but differed immensely on public education.

While Johnson explained how federal subsidization of student loans has enabled the soaring costs of higher education, Stein countered that a college degree should be free to all who seek it.

“I think it is time to make public higher education free,” Stein said, noting that it has happened before in America with the G.I. Bill.

“Throughout the 20th century we provided a high school education for free to our younger generation. Why? Because it was essential for economic security and we owed it to our younger generation to give them a secure start in their economic lives. In the 21st century, a high school degree won’t cut it. You need a college degree in order to have economic security so it’s only right that we should now be providing that for free,” Stein said.

Virgil Goode, a former Virginia congressman and current presidential nominee of the Constitution Party, added that the country simply cannot affort to give more Pell grants and guaranteed student loans.

Like Johnson, Goode is jockeying for the coveted Ron Paul vote. Goode attracts the paleoconservative wing of the Paul vote but his support for the war on drugs could be a major deal breaker. 

There was a sizable Ron Paul presence in the debate hall and they expressed their displeasure with Goode when he voiced his opposition to legalizing drugs.

“Let’s be clear about my position on this: unlike Gary, unlike Rocky, and unlike Jill I am not for legalizing drugs. If you want that don’t vote for me,” he said.

When Johnson expressed his support for legalizing marijuana he drew thunderous applause from the crowd.

“I’ve drank alcohol, I’ve smoked marijuana. I don’t drink alcohol now, I don’t smoke marijuana but I can tell you categorically in no category is marijuana more dangerous than alcohol, and yet we are arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country on drug-related crime, we have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, 2.3 million people, half of what we spend on law enforcement and the courts is drug related, and to what end?” Johnson said.

Goode is on the ballot in approximately 29 states. 

Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City, aligned with Stein for much of the night and frequently with a more populist tone.

“We are on the road to totalitarianism," Anderson said when talking about the National Defense Authorization Act.

Anderson is on the ballot in 16 states and valid as a write-in candidate in several others. 

The debate opened on an odd note when co-moderator Christina Tobin asked a complex question about top two primaries, a voting system where party primaries are eliminated and all candidates are forced to compete in the same primary for the top two spots.

Stein, Goode, Anderson, and Johnson all answered the question but only Johnson made an effort to keep the debate focused on relevant policy instead of ballot access minutiae. The candidates were made aware of this question before they took the stage. In an interview after the debate Tobin defended her question and confirmed that this was the only question the debate participants knew of in advance.

A second Free & Equal third party debate is scheduled for October 30 in Washington, D.C. between the top two vote getters in their online post-debate poll. 

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It's Not a Kill List. It's a "Disposition Matrix."

Terrifying highlights from The Washington Post's new report on the Obama administration's drone-driven targeting killing program and the Obama-approved kill list — sorry, "disposition matrix" — that guides it:

We have a kill list with an Orwellian name: "Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the 'disposition matrix.' The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the 'disposition' of suspects beyond the reach of American drones."

The current list is intended as a starting point, and will be with us for a long time: "Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years."

We've killed a lot of people with drones already: "The number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years will soon exceed 3,000 by certain estimates, surpassing the number of people al-Qaeda killed in the Sept. 11 attacks."

We don't know how to stop killing people with drones: Counterterrorism experts said the reliance on targeted killing is self-perpetuating, yielding undeniable short-term results that may obscure long-term costs. 'The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,' said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counterterrorism adviser. 'You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.'"

We're building a big, entrenched bureaucracy around our targeting killing operations: "Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it."

President Obama attends frightening-sounding weekly meetings to discuss terror threats: "Obama approves the criteria for lists and signs off on drone strikes outside Pakistan, where decisions on when to fire are made by the director of the CIA. But aside from Obama’s presence at 'Terror Tuesday' meetings — which generally are devoted to discussing terrorism threats and trends rather than approving targets — the president’s involvement is more indirect."

Obama also approves the names on the kill lists personally: "The lists are reviewed at regular three-month intervals during meetings at the NCTC headquarters that involve analysts from other organizations, including the CIA, the State Department and JSOC. Officials stress that these sessions don’t equate to approval for additions to kill lists, an authority that rests exclusively with the White House."

Read the entire Post story here

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A.M. Links: Hamas Fires Rockets into Israel, Teenage Brothers Charged With Murdering Girl, Another GOP Senate Candidate Wades into a Rape Controversy, American Novel a Hit in North Korea, Syrian Government Will Observe Cease-Fire, Gold Hits Seven Week Low

  • Tea Party-backed GOP Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said that pregnancies from rape are intended by God. 
  • The Syrian government has agreed to observe a cease-f