Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 October 29-31

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Swedes Ship the Unemployed Off to Norway (Watch Out, Canada)

Open, as I am, to creative innovations from elsewhere, color me impressed by the crafty Swedes. Rather than keep a nagging problem at home, where it drinks all the beer and leaves dirty dishes in the sink, Mikael, Lisbeth and friends shipped it off to a neighbor. Specifically, national and local officials are paying some of the jobless in the more afflicted regions of the country to take a hike to Norway.

From the London Daily Telegraph:

Under a scheme organised by the local authorities in the town of Soderhamn and by Sweden's national employment office, anyone aged between 18 and 28 can volunteer to take a "Job Journey" to Oslo and attempt track down gainful employment.

Those who sign up get a ticket to the Norwegian capital and are put up in an Oslo youth hostel for a month, with Soderhamn council picking up the £20 a night bill. The package also includes on-the-spot guidance on how to get a job in Sweden's northern neighbour.

Soderhamn apparently has an unemployment rate of 25 percent which does seem a bit stiff. Old-fashioned countries might ease labor and business regulations so that it's easier to start new firms that create jobs and are willing to take a chance on hires. But why change anything when you can hand out train tickets to your at-loose-ends labor?

Based on that outside-the-box reasoning, I can think of a host of truly challenging problems that could be resolved through the purchase of bus tickets to Mexico City or Toronto. In particular, there are a couple of shiftless political types wandering the landscape who we could put out of our misery by sending them out for some poutine.

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Liberty for All SuperPAC Vows to Create a "Free NC" to Topple Warmongering, Anti-Civil Liberties Republicans

They unfortunately avoid the word "libertarian" for being "loaded." Still, the principals behind what everyone else would call the libertarian-leaning "Liberty for All" SuperPAC, gave a very refreshing interview to Jonathan Karl of ABC News.

From Yahoo! News' print account of the interview, in which Karl stresses the youth of John Ramsey (22) and Preston Bates (23), who run and largely fund the PAC, which has existed for seven months and raised $3 million:

"We're purging the Republican Party of the war-mongering, anti-civil liberties, socially intolerant neo-conservatives," says Ramsey. "We see these people as just as dangerous as the socialists that make up the Democratic Party."

So, what's the PAC's track record? Ramsey and Bates point to the primary election victories for three of the Republican candidates they supported: Tea Party-backed Congressional candidate Thomas Massie in Kentucky, Congressional candidate Kerry Bentivolio in Michigan, and Senate candidate Jeff Flake in Arizona.

They say they are building in contrast to the DNC and RNC a "Free NC" a 50-state strategy to give Ron Paul supporters "something to believe in, something that's real, an institution that wins." They vow to aim their money to help topple a prominent U.S. Republican Senator who they won't name til after the November election, though they strongly hint it might be South Carolina's awful Lindsey Graham, up for re-election in 2014.

They refuse to say it matters much to them whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins the presidential election.

See full video here. I first blogged about Ramsey and the Liberty for All PAC back in May. The story of the Ron Paul movement out of which this project arose told in my book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

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Scalia Wonders Why on Earth Police Would Want a Dog That Lets Them Search Anything They Want

In today's second Supreme Court case involving police dogs, Florida v. Harris, the justices seemed much more inclined during oral arguments to side with the government. Unlike in Florida v. Jardines, where Antonin Scalia joined some of the more left-leaning justices in questioning the constitutionality of bringing a drug-detecting canine to a suspect's doorstep without a warrant, even the liberals were wary of establishing rules for assessing the reliability of a dog's signal as grounds for a search, while Scalia was transparently hostile to the idea.

The argument offered by Gregory Garre, the lawyer representing Florida in this case as well as Jardines, was pretty straightforward: Trust us. "The handlers themselves are going to be in the best position to know the dogs and evaluate their reliability," he said, "and they have a strong incentive to ensure the dogs are reliable." So if a cop trying to justify a search vouches for the reliability of a dog whose alert supposedly justifies that search, why should anyone question him?

Garre argued that "the most important thing" in judging a dog's reliability "is successful completion of proficiency testing." How does a judge know a dog has successfully completed proficiency testing? Because the police say so. When training is done by "actual police departments," Garre said, "this Court ordinarily would presume regularity." And what constitutes "regularity," especially in a state that, like Florida, has no uniform standards for training dogs or their handlers? "We would ask whether or not the dog successfully completed training by a bona fide organization," Garre said. "We don't think it's an appropriate role for the Court to delve into the contours of the training....You would have to accept it...on its face."

And why wouldn't you? After all, Scalia observed, "if the reasonableness of a search depended upon some evidence given by a medical doctor, the court would not go back and examine how well that doctor was trained at Harvard Medical School." Then again, Harvard Medical School, unlike a police department's dog training program, is accredited, based on uniform national criteria, by the American Association of Medical Colleges, and its graduates must satisfy objective, transparent tests to be licensed and certified in their specialties. Plus, unlike police dogs, doctors can talk, which means they can testify and be cross-examined regarding their qualifications and the reasons for their conclusions. 

Scalia seemed genuinely flabbergasted not only by the idea that a dog might be inadequately trained but also by the suggestion that police might exaggerate a dog's reliability. "Why would a police department want to use an incompetent dog?" he asked Glen Gifford, the assistant public defender urging him to agree with the Florida Supreme Court that merely asserting a dog has been trained is not enough to establish its reliability. "What incentive is there for a police department?" Gifford patiently explained that "the incentive is to acquire probable cause to search when it wouldn't otherwise be available." Scalia deemed that suggestion patently absurd:

Officers just like to search. They don't particularly want to search where they're likely to find something. They just like to search. So let's get dogs that, you know, smell drugs when there are no drugs. You really think that that's what's going on here?...They like to search where they're likely to find something, and that only exists when the dog is well trained.

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Man Fired from Wells Fargo for Minor 50-Year-Old Crime Offered Job Back

Back in July, 68-year-old Richard Eggers from Des Moines, Iowa was fired from his job at a Wells Fargo call center for putting a cardboard dime in a washing machine in 1963.

Since the initiation of new federal banking regulations in May 2011 thousands of employees like Eggers have been fired for minor infractions. The regulations forbid financial institutions from employing anyone convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, breaches of trust, or money laundering. Said guidelines are designed to protect consumers from executives and higher-level bank employees guilty of transactional crimes. However, as they carry noncompliance fines that can total millions of dollars, they are increasingly been used to terminate employment at all levels in order for companies to protect themselves.

Richard Eggers has since received a waiver from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) and was subsequently offered his old job back on October 12. Eggers said he wouldn’t accept the job offer unless Wells Fargo changes its company policy towards background checks.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), commenting on the firing, said in a statement 

By all accounts his firing made zero sense. However, the regulations that led to his firing are still in place. Many other bank employees around the country are in the same situation. The FDIC still needs to answer for the regulations that are leading to the firing of employees who don’t pose any risk to financial consumers.

On granting Egger his waiver request the FDIC noted that, in the 49 years since his arrest for fraudulently operating a coin-operated machine with a cardboard dime, he had demonstrated “satisfactory evidence of rehabilitation.”

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"Let me show you what happens to people who do not listen to the police," Cop Says Before Tasering Little Boy

Courthouse News reports that the guardian ad litem for a 10-year-old Santa Fe resident is suing New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Motor Transportation Police Officer Chris Webb for an absolutely irresponsible use of his Taser:

Guardian ad litem Rachel Higgins sued the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Motor Transportation Police Officer Chris Webb on behalf of the child, in Santa Fe County Court.

Higgins claims Webb used his Taser on the boy, R.D., during a May 4 "career day" visit to Tularosa New Mexico Intermediate School.

"Defendant Webb asked the boy, R.D., in a group of boys, who would like to clean his patrol unit," the complaint states. "A number of boys said that they would. R.D., joking, said that he did not want to clean the patrol unit.

"Defendant Webb responded by pointing his Taser at R.D. and saying, 'Let me show you what happens to people who do not listen to the police.'"

Webb then shot "two barbs into R.D.'s chest," the complaint states.

"Both barbs penetrated the boy's shirt, causing the device to deliver 50,000 volts into the boy's body.

"Defendant Webb pulled the barbs out [of] the boy's chest, causing scarring where the barbs had entered the boy's skin that look like cigarette burns on the boy's chest.

"The boy, who weighed less than 100 lbs., blacked out.

"Instead of calling emergency medical personnel, Officer Webb pulled out the barbs and took the boy to the school principal's office," the complaint states.

Salon reports that Webb "claims he accidentally discharged the Taser" and "was given only a three-day suspension."

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Scalia Seems to Agree That Drug-Sniffing Dogs on Your Doorstep Are Trespassing

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Florida v. Jardines, which raises the question of whether using a trained dog to sniff for marijuana at the doorstep of a house constitutes a search that must be justified by probable cause. The case involves Joelis Jardines, who was arrested for growing marijuana after Miami-Dade police brought Franky, a drug-sniffing Labrador, to his home based on an anonymous tip. In previous cases, the Court has said probable cause is not necessary for canine inspections of luggage at an airport or the exterior of a car during a traffic stop, on the theory that "a 'sniff test' by a well-trained narcotics detection dog" is minimally invasive, revealing nothing but the presence or absence of contraband. But Fourth Amendment protections are at their strongest in the home and the area immediately surrounding it (the "curtilage"), and this morning Jardines' lawyer, Howard Blumberg, argued that "when a police officer goes up to the front door with a narcotics detection dog" he has "physically trespassed, because there is no consent to do that, onto a constitutionally protected area, the curtilage of the home, and performed a search." 

That argument seemed to be crafted with Antonin Scalia in mind. In U.S. v. Jones, the January decision in which the Court ruled that tracking a suspect's car by attaching a GPS device to it amounts to a "search" under the Fourth Amendment, Scalia's majority opinion emphasized the physical trespass required to install the device. "If you...follow the test set forth in Jones and apply it to what happened here," Blumberg said, "it is a trespass." Scalia signaled that he was receptive to this approach even before Blumberg got up to speak, telling Gregory Garre, the lawyer representing Florida:

Police are entitled to use binoculars to look into [a] house if the residents leave the blinds open....[but] they're not entitled to go onto the curtilage of the house, inside the gate, and use the binoculars from that vantage point....Why isn't it the same thing with the dog?...

It seems to me crucial that this officer went onto the portion of the house...as to which there is privacy and used a means of discerning what was in the house that should not have been available in that space....

Police officers can come there to knock on the door...[but] when the purpose of the officer's going there is to conduct a search, it's not permitted...

He's going there to search, and he shouldn't be on the curtilage to search.

Scalia also wrote the majority opinion in Kyllo v. U.S., the 2001 case in which the Court held that using a thermal imager to measure the heat radiating from a home—evidence of high-intensity lamps used to grow marijuana—requires a warrant. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read to Garre a passage from that decision, which she suggested applies to drug-sniffing dogs as well:

We think that obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical intrusion into a constitutionally protected area constitutes a search, at least where, as here, the technology in question is not in general public use.

Garre argued that "Franky's nose is not technology," since he is merely "availing himself of God-given senses." But in its natural state, Franky's nose does not tell police when molecules of certain chemicals are floating through the air; that requires human intervention aimed at turning a descendent of wolves into a law enforcement tool. It would be odd if the constitutionality of using a smell detection tool hinged on whether it was made of metal or flesh and blood. The main point, it seems to me, is that Franky, like a thermal imager, enables police to find evidence they could not detect with their own unaided senses. (There is a dispute as to whether Jardines' growing operation was "in plain smell," as Assistant U.S. Solicitor General Nicole Saharsky, arguing for Florida's side, put it. One officer claimed, after the dog alerted to Jardines' door, that he could smell the plants too, but the dog's handler said he smelled nothing.)

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Sandy Recovery, Greek Utility Privatization, Asset Forfeiture Abuse: P.M. Links

  • New York area airports are reopening post-Sandy. New York City’s subway system will reopen on a limited basis Thursday.
  • Meanwhile, an organization in Syria is saying that Hurricane Sandy was created with advance technology by “heroic Iran.”
  • A sign of sanity in Greece? The parliament narrowly approved a law freeing up the government to privatize public utilities.
  • Afghanistan has announced presidential elections in April 2014, a few months before pull out of the country.
  • The Department of Justice has shut down the Bal Harbour, Fla., asset forfeiture program and is ordering them to return $4 million. The tiny police force is accused of using the money to pay for cross-country flights and to grease the palms of informants.
  • N.J. Gov. Christ Christie is postponing Halloween until Monday in the state, though technically it’s not a government holiday and he has no say in the matter.
  • Have a news tip for us? Send it to: 24_7@reason.com.

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Government-Mandated Broccoli: Food Truck Edition

As noted earlier today at Reason 24/7, The City of Madison, Wis., is considering whether to require food trucks serve vegetarian options. Based on the Wisconsin State Journal’s reporting, it doesn’t look like a decision is pending or even likely, but you never know with those government types:

The city's Vending Oversight Committee, as part of its annual review of food carts, on Wednesday will discuss whether carts must offer vegetarian menu items.

Although the idea is on the agenda for discussion, there is no formal proposal for the requirement and the committee will not be voting on the matter Wednesday.

The suggestion came from a city food cart reviewer who is a vegetarian, street vending coordinator Warren Hansen said.

"I always tell new applicants to include at least one vegetarian item because there's a demand for it," Hansen said. "It's just good business."

But actually requiring the option is probably impractical, Hansen said.

Well, if only practicality were a consideration with most government regulations. A shame Hansen doesn’t realize it’s also inappropriate, and if there were enough market demand for vegetarian items from food trucks, the food trucks wouldn’t need the government to tell them to provide them.

To me, the more remarkable part of the story is that the city has food truck “raters” to score the carts on some point system based on “food, apparatus, and originality.” This is not a health code score or something that serves any sort of government function. The city is scoring the quality of food served by food trucks and then advertising a rankings list. The City of Madison is essentially in the food review business. There are even bonus points for “seniority” to provide that extra government-at-work touch.

(Hat tip to Reason 24/7 reader Matthew Begemann)

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2012 Election Fundamentals: Incumbency, the Ground Game and Ohio

A week out from the election, everyone seems to be a pundit with a conventional wisdom about election fundamentals. My elderly neighbor, a long time Democrat, asked me today who I thought would win the election. I guessed Mitt Romney, telling him the odds are longer for him so it’s the gutsier prediction to get right. Nevertheless, we both agreed Obama’s the favorite, however slightly. My neighbor gave three reasons for an Obama advantage, mostly right.

The first is incumbency: presidents tend to get re-elected. While three presidents (Bush, Carter and Ford) lost general elections in the last fifty years, the last incumbent president to have been elected to the office, not beaten an incumbent himself and not faced a serious third party challenge to still lose his re-election bid was Herbert Hoover in 1932.

The second is the ground game. While enthusiasm for Mitt Romney’s grown significantly since the first debate, the Obama campaign still has one of the most formidable ground operations in recent memory. It could net the president at least two percentage points on election day and is credited for bringing states like North Carolina, Indiana and Virginia into Obama’s column in 2008. My neighbor jokingly called them “shock troops,” and Democrats, at least, are trumpeting early voting turnout as a favorable sign for them.

The third reason my neighbor gave was Ohio. Ohio has certainly been the closest thing to center stage in this presidential election campaign. No one state voting differently in 2008 would’ve swung the election, but 2004 hinged on the results in the Buckeye state. John Kerry shared stories about voting irregularities with Hamid Karzai when the Afghan president was threatened by a run-off. The conventional wisdom seems to say 2012 will rest on Ohio too, but I’m not sure how important Ohio will be in a race with as many battle ground states as even conservative estimates indicate (five or six) and both candidates about the same amount of states less one or two away from 270.

Here’s an electoral map where Romney wins Ohio (and Virginia and Florida) and still loses the election:

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Post-Sandy Price Gouging by Uber?: Econ 101, in Twitter Form

Mass transit is shut down in New York City thanks to Really Big Rainstorm Sandy, and getting around town is much tougher than usual. Luckily, Uber—a cool service that lets people summon black cars from their smartphones—is up and running. The company always uses variable pricing, which means that at times when demand is high, like New Year's Eve, you pay more for a car. The company instituted "surge pricing" in the city today since demand is unusually high.

Users complained about the price bump, accusing the company of "price gouging," but Uber responded with some sensible economics.

And Uber is not alone in dropping some Econ 101 on the storm weary populace. The Wall Street Journal asked readers to "Hug a Price Gouger" this morning. Heck, even generally lefty blogger Matt Yglesias went on the record with his "Case for Price Gouging" during storms as a way to allocate resources. 

But then Uber backed down. Here's the rest of that exchange:

In an email to TechCrunch, which also grabbed the tweets above, the CEO of Uber said the company would still be doubling drivers' fees, just not fares.

“There are huge losses for the business in doing this initiative, but will do it as long as we can today while we figure out more sustainable ways to keep supply up while the city is in need.”

But raising prices is the sustainable way to keep supply up. Uber knows this. Uber's whole model is built on this insight. What a shame that they think good P.R. requires them to deny basic economic fact.

That said, you can't blame the company for choosing not to fight this fight. They've had a rough year. The New York taxi cartel has done its darnedest to put the squeeze on Uber, which operates in 20 cities, including blocking the part of their service that allowed users to hail yellow cabs as well as the black for-hire private cars. D.C. has tried similar crackdowns on the black car service. But as Reason TV producer Jim Epstein learned the hard way, the D.C. taxi commission doesn't mess around:

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The Production Value of Drug War Propaganda Takes a Nose Dive

The Drug Free America Foundation has released a strange, strange video in which a character named Evangelina Holy (reminiscent of Dana Carvey's Enid Strict) lectures us about the dangers of drugs before interviewing someone who is supposedly George Soros.

It is, in a word, bad:

Via Tom Angell.

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Endnote of the Year

A quick postscript to my review yesterday of Daryl Johnson's Right-Wing Resurgence: The book gives the impression of being extremely well-documented, with multiple endnotes for what seems like almost every paragraph. But when you turn to the actual notes, you see things like this:

I don't think I could have gotten away with that in the seventh grade, but evidently it's acceptable at Rowman & Littlefield.

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Virginia-Style Hurricane Relief: Occupational Licensing for Public Insurance Adjusters

Just in time for Hurricane Sandy, Virginia will require all public insurance adjusters to obtain licenses from the state starting January 1, 2013. Governor Bob McDonnell (R)—who launched an initiative to identify and eliminate unnecessary regulation last week—signed the bill, which passed both houses unanimously, into law in April.

When home and business owners make a claim, insurance companies send out adjusters to determine the extent of the loss. Property owners may hire their own adjusters to negotiate reimbursement with the insurance company. Virginia becomes the 45th state to license public adjusters.

Were consumers clamoring for the law? No. According to a legislative impact statement, there were “very few” consumer complaints about adjusters, but the measure “has the support of the insurance industry as well as the two associations representing public adjusters,” the American Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (AAPIA) and National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (NAPIA). From a NAPIA newsletter:

“I fully support NAPIA’s efforts to rid our profession of those that work without licenses or have no regard for compliance….Companies that provide our services without proper licensing do nothing but hurt those most in need, and that is unacceptable to me. If you are aware of any unlicensed individuals or firms please bring it to…[my] attention.” – Ronald Reitz, NAPIA President

The law requires adjusters to pass an exam, pay a $250 fee, obtain yearly continuing education credits, and maintain a $50,000 surety bond. According to a NAPIA white paper, the unlicensed practice of public adjusting poses a grave threat to consumers, who might hire someone unscrupulous. The paper identifies precisely zero incidents of harm or fraud (other than operating without a license, to the extent that is fraud).

AAPIA and NAPIA also lobbied for a licensing bill in Alabama this year after an April 2011 tornado that caused more than $2.2 billion in damages and resulted in more than 117,000 claims. No consumers complained about public adjusters, however, and the bill died in committee.

According to a report by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, Virginia has the eighth most burdensome and 11th most extensive licensing requirements in the country for low- and middle-income occupations.* According to the Dictionary of Occupation Titles, median wages for adjusters in 2011 was $59,320.

*Disclosure: I am a former employee of the Institute for Justice, and I worked on the report cited.

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Ron Bailey on the Paradox of Energy Efficiency

Automobile manufacturers have been working for decades on improving fuel efficiency. So why aren’t the cars we drive today getting dramatically better gas mileage? Underlying that question is a fascinating paradox about energy consumption writes Ronald Bailey.

The money saved from driving a fuel-efficient car, for example, may now be spent on flying to a Caribbean beach vacation. Compounding rebound effects throughout the economy can lead to so much additional energy use that the net result of improved efficiency is higher consumption.

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Why Republicans Can't Harness Indian-American Patel Power

Mitt Romney might not have baptized any dead people lately, but 10,000 miles away in India a Hindu priest recently concluded a yajna on his behalf. A yajna is a nine-day prayer ceremony that, in this case, involved 16 local participants who poured 16 kgs of pure ghee on a sacred bonfire while chanting Sanskrit mantras and offering 100 kgs of barley to the Tantaric deity Bagula Mukhi.

Kannubhai Patel, an Indian émigré, who moved to the United States 20 years ago and quickly acquired (guess what?) a chain of motels, paid for the entire event because he is a die-hard Republican and wanted to do something to help swing the polls in poor Mitt’s direction. So he called his friend and priest in his native village and instructed him to conduct the yajna to enlist Goddess Mukhi on Mitt’s side. When queried about the neck-and-neck results after the latest debate between Obama and Romney, the priest confidently predicted: “There is still time. The result will be favorable.”

But Patel is clearly an outlier in the 2.85-million strong Indian community, 84% of whose members voted for Barack Obama in 2008 -- second only to the 95% support that Obama drew among blacks. Even without Obama’s star power, 65% of Indians generally vote Democratic.

At first blush, this is surprising given that neither class interest nor social values would make Indians, the richest and the most educated minority in America, a natural Democratic constituency. As AEI scholar Sadanand Dhume -- an India native -- has pointed out:

In 2010, median household income for Indian-Americans was $88,000, compared to the national average of $49,800. Seven in ten Indian-Americans have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to three in ten in the general population. Only 9 percent live in poverty, compared to the national average of 12.8 percent. And even if you step away from the doctors and software geeks, the archetypal Indian-American figure is a striver: A motel owner in Florida, a newsstand worker in New York, or a taxi driver in California. To put it bluntly, this is not the natural constituency for the party of food stamps, affirmative action, and welfare without work…

What about social values? The Pew survey finds that a minuscule 2.3 percent of Indian-American children are born to unmarried mothers—compared to 37 percent of children nationwide. More than nine out of ten Indian-American children live with married parents, compared with the national average of about six in ten. If the GOP is the party of the nuclear family—a Pew survey finds that 88 percent of Republicans say they have "old-fashioned values" about family and marriage, compared with just 60 percent of Democrats—then should it not also be the party of Indian-Americans?

So what gives?


Vid: 3 Reasons U.S. Drone Policy is Freakin' Scary!

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may not agree on much, but they are both totally into using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, as a major way of conducting foreign policy and military action.

Whenever top Democrats and top Republicans agree, something has gone horribly wrong. "3 Reasons U.S. Drone Policy is Really Freakin' Scary" is the newest video from Reason TV. Click above to watch or click on the link below to watch on a page with links to all claims made in the video, credit details, downloadable versions, and more.

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Now That Disney Owns Star Wars, Will Han Solo Shoot First Again?

Disney made a surprise announcement yesterday that it had acquired Lucasfilm, and its stable of characters, from owner George Lucas. Among high-profile properties Disney will be acquiring is the rights to the Star Wars universe and characters, and along with the purchase, Disney announced that a new Star Wars film would hit theaters in 2015. Lucas will reportedly stay on as a "creative consultant," but at this point it's Disney's show. 

The announcement led to a lot of predictable grousing from Star Wars fans about how Disney's goliath corporate interests would ruin a franchise that has, until now, been controlled by its visionary creator. 

I'm as fond of the Star Wars universe as anyone (OK, maybe not this guy), but on this one I side with the Empire. Lucas' management of the franchise over the last couple decades has not exactly been stellar. I waited in line for hours to see each of the Star Wars prequels, and even dressed in a homemade costume for the first. But, like the majority of viewers, I came away pretty disappointed with all of them.

Nor is Lucas content merely to make mediocre sequels. His constant reworking of the original trilogy — adding new effects and scenes while changing key, character defining moments — has only made the first three movies worse. Indeed, Lucas often seems to take some a perverse pleasure in refusing to give the fans what they actually want, including something as obvious as a no-frills high-definition releases of the original trilogy in its original form, without any additional updates or edits, where Han Solo shoots first and there are no computer-generated song-and-dance routines, as it was meant to be.

But as Jonathan Last suggests, that may change now that there's a big corporation in charge of the franchise rather than a prickly creator:

For too long we’ve been held hostage to the personal artistic visions of George Lucas who, like Stalin airbrushing his enemies out of state photographs, carefully disappeared the original theatrical cuts so that Gredo could shoot first, CGI spectacle could muddle up Mos Eisley, and a young Hayden Christiansen could appear to Luke Skywalker and automatically make him realize that he’s his dad.

Now Disney’s corporate greed could give us the product we’ve always craved. All hail Disney corporate greed!

I even think there's even hope for the new Star Wars movie. Since buying Marvel Comics in 2009, Disney has proven quite adept at handling beloved franchises and characters, putting fanboy-fave Joss Whedon in charge of The Avengers, which turned out to be pretty great. There's obviously a place for personal artistic visions and work that challenges fans, but in the case of huge mass-market properties like Star Wars, big corporations probably have stronger incentives than wealthy individual creators to produce work that mass audiences really like. That obviously doesn't mean that they always follow through with a fantastic product. But as Lucas proves, individual creators don't always deliver either. 

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Newsweek The Daily Beast: Marijuana Can Kill You and/or Make You Kill Your Baby

Tony Dokoupil, a senior writer at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, emailed to say that this piece ran at the latter publication, not the former.

"The upsides of legalization have been wildly oversold, and the potential downsides blithely ignored," reads one of the most awful pieces Newsweek The Daily Beast has run about drugs in a long time, titled "Why Legalizing Marijuana on Election Day Might Not Be a Good Idea." In defense of author Tony Dokoupil, who says he is ultimately opposed to prohibition, the case his story makes is not only his case, but that of Mark Kleiman and the authors of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. 

But because it's published in a widely read outlet, we're going to address its inaccuracies and hyperbole, point by point:

Every year about 375,000 people end up in the ER with marijuana-related “averse reactions,” more than any drug other than cocaine. Some of those cases are the result of multiple drug interactions, where marijuana gets the blame while cocaine does the damage. But for many tens of thousands of ER visits marijuana is the only drug mentioned. And there’s even data suggesting that, as the authors of “Marijuana Legalization” put it, “marijuana can kill.” Between 1999 and 2007, the Centers for Disease Control, somewhat curiously, attributed 26 deaths to cannabis use—half in the subcategory “dependence.”

According to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), the 375,000 instances in which marijuana is noted in an ER visit are not necessarily instances in which marijuana caused an "averse reaction." Rather, the survey tells us that in those 375,000 cases, marijuana was "commonly involved in an emergency department visit." So, if you smoked a joint on Tuesday, and on Thursday you blew a tire in your work vehicle and careened into a guard rail, then had your blood drawn at the ER, marijuana was involved in your emergency room visit. While people do ocassionally get so high that they call for an ambulance, the NHAMC survey doesn't distinguish between people who go to the ER with drugs in their system, and people who go to the ER because of the drugs in their system.

Furthermore, marijuana is not the second most "involved" drug in emergency room visits. According to the NHAMCS and the CDC, it actually comes in fifth, after alcohol (involved in four million ER visits a year), pain relievers (595,000 visits), drugs to treat insomnia and anxiety (433,000), and cocaine (422,000). Again, those drugs are "involved" in visits, but their use wasn't necessarily the cause. Lastly, to cite statistically insignificant data as evidence that marijuana kills is simply bad journalism. Can't we get a frightening anecdote with that slop?

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New Greek Budget Projects an Huge Increase in Debt as a Percent of GDP

The Greeks have released their budget for 2013, and it’s a shocker. Included in the budget are the following figures:

  • Debt-to-GDP will rise to 189.1 percent in 2013 (revised up from 179.3 percent)
  • The government will target a budget deficit of 5.2 percent of GDP (revised up from 4.2 percent)
  • 2012 GDP will contract by 4.5 percent (revised up from 3.8 percent)
  • The government will target a primary surplus of 0.3 percent of GDP (revised down from 1.1 percent)

This budget is worse than the 2010 projections. Zerohedge put together a graph illustrating just how much worse the projections are two years on (budget released today in blue, 2010 projections in red):

The IMF had been hoping that the Greeks would manage to get their debt to GDP down to 120 percent by 2020. Considering that the newest budget projects a debt to GDP rate of 184.9 percent in 2016 it is unlikely that this goal will be reached. 

The budget comes ahead of a vote on the economic reforms being demanded by international lenders. Without the reforms being agreed to Greece will not receive its next bailout installment. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will be facing opposition from his own coalition partners to get the reforms passed. 

Greece's main union has already scheduled strikes for next week in protest against the austerity measures included in the reforms. 

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John Stossel on Ann Coulter's Defense of Romney

Mitt Romney tells people he won't fire federal workers or cut education spending. He says he'll spend more on the military. He sounds like a big-government guy. Or is he just pandering for votes?

Ann Coulter came on my TV show to defend Romney. "What you call pandering is called getting elected," Coulter said.

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Who's Getting The American Conservative's Votes?

Reason isn't the only media outlet that posts its writers' voting plans each election. There is also Slate, which has not yet revealed whether its staff's support for Obama this year will be unanimous or merely overwhelming, and there is The American Conservative, which posted its roundup today. By my count, the TAC writers are casting four clear-cut votes for Barack Obama and four for Mitt Romney. One writer is backing Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and between four and six are supporting Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. (Two of the Johnson supporters say they might write in Ron Paul instead, and one of those Johnson/Paul undecideds says he'll back Obama if the race in his state is tight.) Three are undecided, with two of those three leaning toward Romney and one not stating a preference. One man is writing in Rand Paul. Seven are not voting in the presidential race, though one of those seven says he'd back Goode if he were on the ballot in his state. And a few just don't say how they're voting. One of the last group, William Lind, suggests that we should greet Election Day with a prayer: "We beseech Thee, O Lord, once again to grant us a Godly monarch."

The oddest decision comes from the immigration restrictionist Peter Brimelow, who explains that the most important issue to him is immigration, notes regretfully that there are no restrictionist candidates on the ballot where he lives, and ends up endorsing Gary Johnson, who wants more immigration, on the grounds that he at least likes Johnson's foreign policy. Brimelow is balanced by Marian Kester Coombs, who spends her entry explaining that the Democrats and Republicans are a two-headed beast and "Only the Libertarians see clearly how to escape the death spiral," then says she'll vote for Romney anyway. (The most anti-libertarian entry comes from Stephen Tippins, who believes that there are always "two reasons to vote for the Republican presidential candidate," of which the first "is simply that any viable third party candidate is usually a libertarian.")

Jeremy Beer, who makes a sarcastic case for Romney, writes what may be the most entertaining passage of the survey: "If you're pro-life, Catholic, and of a conservative disposition, isn't it obvious that the Mormon/Randian ticket is the only choice? I mean, the only pragmatic choice? This is politics, people! It's all about compromise and getting your hands dirty. And I, for one, refuse to compromise my pro-life beliefs and dirty my hands by refusing to compromise my pro-life beliefs and dirty my hands. Even if that dirt is really blood." I also appreciated Johnson supporter Scott Galupo's closing remark: "In the end, I'm the kind of voter -- Republican-leaner in a critical battleground state -- whose support Romney needs. Whatever happens Nov. 6, I will derive satisfaction from the infinitesimal harm I will cause to his campaign."

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Medicare Reform: Not So Toxic After All?

As GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has caught up to President Obama in the national election polls, he’s also narrowed the gap between himself and the president on health care issues. Obama still leads Romney on all health care questions asked in a new survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation: By at least five points, respondents still say they trust the president to do a better job on women’s health issues, on determining the future of ObamaCare, on lowering the cost of health care, and on managing the future of Medicaid and Medicare.

But as Kaiser Health News points out, Obama’s advantage on the Medicare question has shrunk dramatically in recent weeks. In September, Obama led Romney by 16 points. Now he leads his GOP rival by just five points, which is not a statistically significant difference in the poll.

This isn't exactly great news for Romney, who is still losing in all the polled categories. But it's not great news for Obama either. And it suggests that warnings about the impossibility of winning on an entitlement reform platform might be overstated. Maybe proposing to overhaul Medicare isn't as toxic to a presidential campaign as many once believed? 

KHN notes that polls show that voters still oppose Romney’s (maddeningly vague) plan to transform Medicare into a voucher-style premium support system. And yet amongst seniors in the swing state of Florida, that hasn’t been enough to turn support against the GOP candidate. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “polls now show Mr. Romney leading among the state's elderly voters by 6% to 12%—a sign he may be weathering reasonably well the charges by Democrats that he and running mate Paul Ryan would undermine Medicare. Among all voters in Florida, Mr. Romney leads Mr. Obama by an average of less than 2%.”

There are a number of possible lessons to draw from this. One is that the GOP’s frustrating attacks on Obama for reducing Medicare spending as part of ObamaCare might have worked. Another is that Medicare may be declining in salience as an issue. Another is that when voters decide they might like someone for president, there are carryover effects : As potential voters warm to the idea of Romney as president, they’re also warming to the general idea of him making decisions about Medicare, even if they don’t like the particular plan he’s proposed.

But here’s what I’d say the two most important takeaways are. First, proposing Medicare reform is not necessarily a campaign killer, even if the specific plan doesn’t poll particularly well. It’s even possible to win seniors in swing states by a pretty wide margin with such a plan. Second, public opinion can and does change, sometimes rapidly, about big issues like Medicare where many assume that opinions are intractable. Voters may not be ready to give the thumbs up to a premium-support style Medicare reform plan. But they just might be ready to vote for a president who has proposed one. 

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Latest Survey Finds Most Colorado Voters Support Legalizing Marijuana

With less than a week to go before voters in three states decide whether to legalize marijuana, a survey conducted last week puts support for Colorado's initiative, Amendment 64, at 53 percent, up from other recent polls. In the survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 43 percent of likely voters said they opposed Amendment 64, while about 5 percent were undecided. By comparison, a SurveyUSA poll taken three weeks ago found support falling short of a majority, with 48 percent in favor (down from 51 percent in September) and 43 percent opposed. It looks like undecided voters may be shifting to the yes column.

Recent surveys in Washington found similarly strong support (54 percent and 55 percent) for I-502, that state's legalization initiative. Oregon's Measure 80, meanwhile, continues to trail, as it has all along. In an Elway Poll conducted from Thursday through Sunday, 49 percent of likely voters opposed the initiative, while 43 percent supported it. Two weeks ago, a SurveyUSA poll put those numbers at 43 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

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Here's What ObamaCare's Individual Mandate Tax Form Could Look Like

Barring repeal, ObamaCare's individual mandate will kick into effect in 2014. Under the provision, judged legal as a tax by the Supreme Court earlier this year, anyone who doesn't maintain qualifying health insurance will eventually have to pay of penalty of between $695 and $2085, an amount that will grow over time and depend on family size. And those who pay it will do so via their annual tax returns.

The folks at Americans for Tax Reform have mocked up a version of the tax form over at ObamaCareTaxForm.com. The eventual form published by the Internal Revenue Service will, of course, look different. But what's instructive about this one is that it highlights some of the information those who fill it out will have to provide. For example, ObamaCare requires that individuals maintain coverage for each month of the tax year in order to fully avoid the penalty, as well as information about their own insurance provider and, if different, their spouse's.

And while it doesn't appear on the form, ATR also notes that the mandate will be subject to the usual IRS penalties and interests if not paid. "Because the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty is a tax, the IRS will be able to assess interest and non-criminal penalties on those families who will not or cannot pay the tax."

You can see ATR's form after the jump. 

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A. Barton Hinkle on Public Subsidies for Baseball in Gwinnett, Ga.

County leaders in Gwinnett lured the Braves from Richmond by borrowing millions to build the team a spanking-new stadium. Residents were ecstatic over what the Gwinnett Daily Post termed the fulfillment of "Gwinnett's dream." A study plumped Gwinnett as "an ideal location" and "one of the strongest markets in the country" for a minor-league club. The paper said surveys showed "overwhelming support" for the proposal.

But the bloom, as they say, is off the rose.

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Happy Halloween from Reason

With the presidential election now less than a week away, you've got plenty of reasons to be frightened. So to take your mind off the impending horrors of a second Obama or a first Romney administration, why not relax with this selection of Reason’s best Halloween-related writings. You’ll find ghosts, zombies, vampires, and other assorted eldritch terrors. Well, we warned you...

The Passion of the Pumpkin: Who killed Halloween? By Jesse Walker.

We the Living Dead: The convoluted politics of zombie cinema. By Tim Cavanaugh.

The Spook Racket: Magicians Todd Robbins and Teller take on the supposedly supernatural in their bloody off-Broadway sensation Play Dead. By Damon Root.

Let Your Kids Eat Poisoned Halloween Candy. And Take Pictures! By Katherine Mangu-Ward.

Season of the Regulator: The killjoys come out on Halloween. By Jesse Walker.

Interview With a Vampire Expert: Author Eric Nuzum surveys (and survives) the secret world of bloodsuckers. Interview by David Weigel.

Cthulhu and You, Perfect Together. By Tim Cavanaugh.

Satan’s Faces: The many lives of Lucifer. By Jesse Walker.

Why Buffy Kicked Ass: The deep meaning of TV’s favorite vampire slayer. By Virginia Postrel.

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Nick Gillespie on 3 Incredibly Stupid Responses to Hurricane Sandy - and Every Other Disaster You Can Remember

Writes Nick Gillespie:

Every time a disaster strikes - whether it's natural, man-made, or a combination of the two such as Hurricane Katrina - politicians, the media, and the public immediately start playing out a script that is every bit as threadbare as it is stupid.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, then we are never so nuts as when in the grip of a big storm, earthquake, accident, or attack.

The classic trilogy of ill-informed responses includes wholly unoriginal and unconvincing claims that the catastrophe will be great for the economy, that it proves that federal government needs even more power and authority, and that the event perfectly illustrates the pet theory of whoever happens to be weighing in.

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FEMA: Did Mitt Call for its Abolition? And Why Does Barack Want to Cut Its Funding?

Never let a good hurricane or "frankenstorm" go to waste, right?

The past few days have been awash not just in detritus from Hurricane Sandy's smashing the East Coast but in politically motivated attacks on decentralized government and fact-free championing of that great American institution, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

You've no doubt heard by now that once upon a time, Republican presidential contender called not just for the utter destruction of FEMA (best known for absolutely botching its early interventions into Hurricane Katrina and then compounding its incompetence by almost completely mishandling longer-term alleviation of pain and suffering along the Gulf Coast), but the slaughter of all its goats, chickens, and sheep.

As the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson has written,

Mitt Romney suggested that responsibility for disaster relief should be taken from the big, bad federal government and given to the states, or perhaps even privatized. Hurricane Sandy would like to know if he’d care to reconsider....

 “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction, [said Romney]. And if you can go further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

The Wall Street Journal (which is admittedly as in the tank for Romney as Robinson is in the tank for Obama) notes correctly that the response to Sandy is a triumph of local and state response to a weather-related disaster:

Citizens in the Northeast aren't turning on their TVs, if they have electricity, to hear Mr. Obama opine about subway flooding. They're tuning in to hear Governor Chris Christie talk about the damage to the Jersey shore, Mayor Mike Bloomberg tell them when bus service might resume in New York City, and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy say when the state's highways might reopen.

Energetic governors and mayors are best equipped to handle disaster relief because they know their cities and neighborhoods far better than the feds ever will, and they know their citizens will hold them accountable. The feds can help with money and perhaps expertise.

That's absolutely right and it's worth recalling that both Mike Bloomberg and Chris Christie were excoriated for incompetent responses by first responders during the blizzard that hit in December 2010. As they should have been.

Oh and what did Romney actually have to say in the debate that Robinson quotes above? Recall that last fall, the government was about to shut down over lack of funds (yet again) and $3.7 billion in FEMA funding was the conversation object that time around. Republicans said that cuts should be made elsewhere in a federal budget of almost $4 trillion to offset the cost. Democrats disagreed but eventually everything was all sorted out via more deficit spending (thank god!).

So in a Republican candidates debate, the moderator popped the question about federal spending and responsibilities using FEMA as a hook. After suggesting that pushing responsibility out of DC was a good idea, Romney continued:

"Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut—we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we're doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we're doing that we don't have to do? And those things we've got to stop doing, because we're borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we're taking in."

I'm not voting for the guy, but I like the sound of what he's saying right there.

The Journal also points to two important facts that have been left out of most of the FEMA cheering by partisans. First, President Obama actually calls for cutting spending on the agency in his latest budget. Second, the agency has been steadily increasing the number of storms it declares as national disasters for the past 20 or more years. FEMA declared about 90 disasters a year under Clinton, 130 a year under Bush, and now over 150 under Obama.

Why is that a problem? As former DHS official and Heritage Foundation analyst Matt Mayer points out in a must-read column, it socializes the cost of local events to taxpayers who choose to live elsewhere. "Disasters such as tornadoes, fires, floods, snowstorms, severe storms, and other small-scale events have little to no regional or national impact and, therefore, no justification for federal involvement," writes Mayer in the Orange County Register.

Mayer is no FEMA abolitionist. Rather, as a former high-ranking official in a cabinet-level agency, he's concerned about how mission creep destroys the ability of the feds to respond when they actually should be involved due to the size and scope of a particular situation:

As FEMA is burdened by administering more...new declarations per year, it doesn't have time or money to focus on being prepared for catastrophic events, which is why seven years after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA still lacks key capabilities, according to the Government Accountability Office.

At the same time, while FEMA nationalizes routine natural disasters and shifts the costs of those events from the states in which those events occur to the other 49 states, states have defunded emergency management. This approach to natural disasters makes no sense.

Read the whole thing.

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A.M. Links: Sandy U.S. Death Toll at 48, Mitt Romney Resumes Campaigning, Disney Working on Third Star Wars Trilogy

  • The U.S. death toll from Superstorm Sandy is up to 48. The New York City subway may take several weeks to several months to come back online after Hurricane Sandy. NASA, meanwhile, is working on hurricane drones, because the space agency now focuses on weather and clime almost as much as space exploration. And Mitt Romney resumed campaigning today because everything’s almost back to normal, except if the election is postponed.
  • Fresh off news that it’s bought LucasFilms, Disney announced a third Star Wars trilogy is in the works.
  • A former Democratic congressional candidate pled the fifth in his FEC filing.
  • A West Virginia lawyer who beat his client with a baseball bat will have to undergo psychiatric evaluation before he can get his license back.
  • Rioting in Kisumi, a Kenyan city near the birthplace of Barack Obama’s father, continued for a second day after a local candidate was assassinated.
  • Nine new species of tarantula have been discovered. Happy Halloween.

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Don't Break Out the Sparkling Apple Cider Just Yet or, Two Strong Scenarios That Point to an Obama Win

First, from The Hill's Mark Mellman, who notes that most of the "fundamentals" (such as economic trends, demography, etc.) all favor a Barack Obama win. Snippet:

The president retains more routes to 270 electoral votes than does Mitt Romney, making it more likely he will succeed in getting there. Pundits love to identify one state as decisive and, as is often the case, they’ve picked Ohio. As an Ohioan I am delighted with all the attention to the Buckeye State, but it’s overdrawn. Obama can win without Ohio, though Romney probably cannot. The good news: Just one of the last 11 polls in Ohio has shown a Romney lead, and the exception was the reliably Republican Rasmussen. While all these polls show the race close and even tied, the likelihood of Romney winning unless some other polls start to give him the lead is low.

Whole thing.

And here's RealClearPolitics' Sean Trende, who puzzles over the divergence in national polls (which are showing Mitt Romney up slightly over Obama) and state-level polls, which give Obama an edge. 

Given what we know about how individual states typically lean with respect to the popular vote, a Republican enjoying a one-point lead nationally should expect a three-to-four-point lead in Florida, a two-to-three-point lead in Ohio, and a tie in Iowa. Instead we see Romney ahead by roughly one point in Florida, and down by two in Ohio and Iowa....

If the state polls are right, even assuming Romney performs as well as Bush did in the states without polling, Obama should lead by 1.18 points in the national vote. Given the high collective samples in both the state and national polling, this is almost certainly a statistically significant difference. It’s also a larger margin than all but one of the polls in the national RCP Average presently show.

But what if my assumptions about the states without polling are incorrect? To double-check this, I turned to Drew Linzer’s “Votamatic” model. It provides estimates for all 50 states. While some of these seem a bit off (I would bet $10,000 of Mitt Romney’s money that he will win Tennessee by more than 10 points), it still gives us a nice uniform data set. The result: When weighted by 2008 voting patterns, these data suggest that Romney should lose the popular vote by 2.5 points -- more than any national poll is presently showing.

More here.

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Jacob Sullum on Obama and Romney's Bipartisan Disdain for Civil Liberties

During the final presidential debate, the moderator asked Mitt Romney about President Obama's policy of killing suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, with missiles fired from unmanned aircraft. "I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world," Romney replied. "I support that entirely." In other words, writes Jacob Sullum, Romney has no qualms about trusting one man with the power to order the summary execution of anyone, anywhere in the world, whom he deems "a threat to us." Sullum says this bipartisan disregard for civil liberties is the rule rather than the exception for the two major presidential candidates.

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SCOTUS Considers When Dogs Can Authorize Searches

Tomorrow the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two Florida cases that cast doubt on the routine use of drug-sniffing dogs to generate probable cause for searches. The cases give the Court an opportunity to reconsider what has until now been an excessively deferential approach to a law enforcement tool that is far less dependable than commonly believed.

Florida v. Harris raises the question of how much evidence is needed to establish that a dog is reliable enough for its "alert" to justify a vehicle search. The case involves Clayton Harris, whose pickup truck was pulled over twice in 2006 by Officer William Wheetley of the Liberty County Sheriff's Office, once for an expired tag and once for a malfunctioning brake light. On both occasions Wheetley walked a German shepherd named Aldo around Harris' truck, and on both occasions he reported that Aldo indicated the presence of illegal drugs by "becoming excited and then sitting" near the door handle on the driver's side. Wheetley searched the car both times without finding any substances Aldo was trained to detect. But during the first stop, he found 200 pseudoephedrine pills in a plastic bag, eight boxes containing about 8,000 matches, a bottle of muriatic acid, two bottles of antifreeze, and coffee filters holding iodine crystals. Charged with possessing pseudoephedrine with the intent of using it to make methamphetamine, Harris unsuccessfully sought to have the evidence suppressed, then entered a no-contest plea while reserving the right to appeal the legality of the search. Last year the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the search was invalid because the state had not shown Aldo's alert was enough to establish probable cause.

One difficulty in assessing this issue is that "probable cause" has never been precisely defined. In the context of a drug search, the Supreme Court has said it amounts to a "fair probability" or a "substantial chance" that contraband will be discovered. That does not mean a reliable dog must be right 100 percent of the time. But how high an error rate is acceptable? In a 2005 dissent, Justice David Souter cited examples from court cases of dogs with error rates of up to 38 percent, adding that "dogs in artificial testing situations return false positives anywhere from 12.5 to 60% of the time." Last year a Chicago Tribune study found that vehicle searches justified by a dog's alert failed to find drugs or drug paraphernalia 56 percent of the time. While that error rate might seem surprisingly high, the Court might nevertheless deem a 44 percent chance of finding drugs "fair" or "substantial." 

In Aldo's case, there is no field performance record to check, because police did not keep track of his errors. (After all, why would anyone be interested in those?) The state argues that Aldo's two unverified alerts to Harris' truck can be explained by traces of meth that Harris left when opening the door. In other words, the alerts were not, strictly speaking, false positives, because the dog really did smell meth, just not enough to be visible. Along with the possibility that drugs were hidden so cleverly that the cops could not find them, this "residual odor" explanation is a common excuse for apparent errors by drug-sniffing dogs. But it tends to undermine the argument that an alert provides probable cause. While it makes sense that a meth cook (and meth user) would have traces of the drug on his hands, such odors might also be left behind by passengers, passers-by, or even previous owners of the vehicle. If a car once carried a pot smoker or its trunk once contained several pounds of cannabis, for how long could marijuana's ghost be detected by a dog? Depending on how persistent and common residual odors are, they could play havoc with the argument that a dog sniff reveals nothing but the presence or absence of contraband.

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Errol Morris Wants You to Vote. You Probably Shouldn't.

Super-famous documentary filmmaker Errol Morris wants you to vote. And he made a mini-documentary about it for The New York Times

Here it is:

Give Morris-as-documentarian credit: He perfectly captures the vague jumble of reasons that actually drive people to (or away from) the polls on Election Day. Click and watch as a charming group of unconventionally attractive young people ramble on about voting for 7 minutes at the behest of the director of The Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, and The Fog of War.

But Morris-as-voting-advocate gets a much lower score: Glossy videos showing purposeful celebrities making grand statements are a better bet for increasing voter turnout.

Below, an attempt at a taxonomy of the video's arguments:

* One gal in fashionably large glasses speculates about whether the likelihood that you will meet the love of your life at the ballot box cancels out the likelihood that you will kill someone in an auto accident on your way there. Another girl says she'd sell her vote for $150. Let's call this half-baked utilitarianism, where the decision to vote hinges on the likelihood of certain outcomes. This thinking is also at work in the tale of the overseas Floridian, who failed to cast her vote in that critical state in 2000 and has will be "spending the rest of my life making up for that."

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Swamped by Sandy, Tasing 10-Year-Olds, Irrelevant Newspapers: P.M. Links

  • Eight million homes stretching from North Carolina to the Canadian border are without power thanks to Sandy. New Jersey, where Sandy made landfall, is heavily damaged.
  • A woman was convicted of disorderly conduct for berating TSA agents patting down her teenage daughter and refusing to endure the humiliating procedure herself.
  • France wants to tax Google for linking to its newspapers unless it comes to an agreement with French media companies. Google responded that they’ll stop indexing French news stories.
  • Speaking of not caring about what media companies want, fewer Americans are reading newspapers these days, making their endorsements not particularly effective.
  • The $250 million stimulus grant given to bankrupt electric car battery manufacturer A123 Systems created all of 400 jobs.
  • Sanctions have proven effective in Iran in killing off their orchestra. Take that, Ahmadinejad!
  • A guardian is suing New Mexico after a state police officer allegedly Tased a 10-year-old boy for refusing to help clean his patrol car during a career day event at a school. Well, if nothing else, the officer has probably scared a bunch of children away from becoming police officers. Oh, who am I kidding? The other kids probably thought it was cool.
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Ronald Bailey on Why His Policies, Not His Race, Will Defeat Obama

Just 38 percent of Americans said that they would vote for a black presidential candidate back in 1958. Fifty years later, a black American won the presidency with 53 percent of the popular vote. Recent social science data suggests that ethnic political tribalism among Americans continues to wane. Consequently, Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey argues that if Obama loses it will be, for the most part, because the majority of voters disliked his policies, not his race.

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Mom Convicted of "Disorderly Conduct" for Refusing to Let TSA Pat Down Her Daughter

Last Tuesday, Andrea Abbott of Clarksville, Tennessee, was convicted of disorderly conduct for refusing to let Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers pat down her teenage daughter at Nashville International Airport in July 2011. Abbott faced a potential $50 fine and a 30-day imprisonment for her purported crime but instead received a year’s probation and a warning from the presiding judge to stay clear of trouble in the future. Abbott’s attorney remarked that her client was “disappointed in the verdict.”

Assistant District Attorney Megan King argued that Abbott’s behavior at the airport caused two security lanes to be temporarily closed turning a one minute security check into a 30 minute procedure. This action “prevented others from carrying out their lawful activities” therefore fulfilling part of the definition of disorderly conduct under state law. Commenting on the verdict, Abbott’s defense attorney Brent Horst noted, “Since 9/11 we’re losing a lot of freedom and we have to draw the line somewhere.”

Consumer advocate Chris Elliott, writing in The Huffington Post, suggests that it has become

Difficult to find a court in the land that is willing to stand up to the TSA, even on something as small as allowing the public to comment on regulatory rulemaking. Back in September, a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the electronic Privacy Information Center’s petition to enforce the court’s own order on requiring public comments about the full-body scanners. To some, it looked as if the court told the TSA it had to follow the law and then said, “Oh, never mind”

 TSA violations and complaints are a regular occurrence in the news cycle:

  • In October 2012 the TSA at Sea Tac Airport was accused of humiliating a leukemia patient by publicly forcing her to lift up her shirt and check under her bandages after she was refused a private search.
  • In 2010 it was found out that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was lying about the safety of X-ray scanners as records dating back to 1998 found that machines could be giving up to 100 people cancer every year.
  • In 2010 the TSA also claimed that no children under 12 years old were receiving pat-downs despite video evidence to the contrary.
  • Last week it was revealed that the TSA were quietly removing X-ray body scanners and replacing them with machines deemed to be safer.
  • This week a former TSA officer is facing sentencing on bribery charges for accepting cash in exchange for allowing illegal prescription painkillers to pass through airports undetected.

Reason’s TSA back catalogue highlights even more instances of abuses of power and violations of customers’ dignity. 

Video: Reason TV on the absurdity of the TSA:

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Gary Johnson Would Liberalize Immigration and Drug Laws; But Not Eliminate FEMA

BOULDER – With less than eight days to go in the 2012 campaign, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson made his final swing through the libertarian-leaning Mountain West with stops at college campuses in Idaho and Colorado. At his final rally of the day at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Johnson tied together the drug war and immigration policy, two highly charged issues here, before a crowd composed mostly of college students.

“So much of the attitude on the border has to do with border violence and border violence is a prohibition phenomenon. Ninety percent of the drug problem is prohibition-related not use-related, that’s not to discount the problems with use and abuse, but that should be the focus. We have 40,000 deaths south of the border over the last four years and these are disputes that are being played out with guns rather with the courts. Didn’t we learn anything when it came to the prohibition of alcohol?”

Earlier this year Johnson endorsed the Colorado ballot question that would legalize marijuana, Amendment 64. “Colorado has the opportunity to change worldwide drug policy by voting yes for (Amendment) 64,” Johnson said.

“I go around the country telling people, ‘Coloradans get it,’” he said.

Recent polls show the initiative has a chance of passing.

“How’s this going to work when it comes to the other states? Colorado being the first domino that falls, Colorado being the first domino that 49 other states follow and bring about rational drug policy? When everybody goes on an airplane to go to Denver for the weekend to chill out, that’s how it’s going to work,” he said.

Johnson also spoke about immigration while in Denver, a topic he's seldom addressed on the trail.

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Transforming the Electoral Map: Beyond Red and Blue

By October of a presidential election year, partisan tribal mentality has set in, and the news cycle is dominated by the horse race between the red and blue teams. America is divvied up according to whether a simple majority in each state says they plan to vote for the Republican or Democratic presidential candidate.

Here is the conventional electoral map from the 2008 presidential election. (For an up-to-date 2012 electoral map, visit Real Clear Politics).The following maps were created by Professor Mark Newman at the University of Michigan.


The first problem with the above map is that is overemphasizes acreage over population size. Dr. Newman makes use of a cartogram which rescales each state’s size according to its population.


However, coloring each resized state based on simple majorities overlooks the many Americans who reside in counties with different political views, like Austin, TX, or Orange County, CA.


Moreover, coloring each county based on simple majorities still overlooks the ideological composition within each county. The following cartogram uses shades of purple to indicate each counties’ vote intensity for the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate.


Transforming the Electoral Map

Adding just several nuances to the electoral map demonstrates the United States is far from polarized. Nevertheless, these improvements of the electoral map still leave out the fact that individual Americans’ beliefs are not necessarily reflected by the counties in which they reside, and also that a Democratic county in New Jersey is surely different than a Democratic county in Minnesota. But most importantly, Americans’ political views are not adequately characterized by only red, blue, or purple. The Reason-Rupe poll asks a series of questions about the role of government in social and economic affairs, which reveals nearly half of Americans don’t fit neatly into either conservative or liberal buckets. Instead about a quarter of Americans are fiscally conservative and socially moderate and about a fifth of Americans are socially conservative and fiscally liberal. This is also consistent with Gallup findings on political groups in America.

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U2's Bono Admits: "A Humbling Thing Was to Learn the Role of Commerce" in Development

Forbes reported last week on some lessons learned by Bono, lead singer of long-lived rock band U2, in his efforts as an advocate for more international aid.


The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

Nick Gillespie mocked Bono's attacks on the "brain-dead, heart-dead ideologues" who dared question international development aid here in May. I wrote about African development expert Dambisa Moyo's attacks on the development aid industry's efficacy back in April 2009.

That smart people concerned with ameliorating poverty have to go through long education and soul-searching to learn the "role of commerce" in development and wealth-creation is a sad commentary on the state of economic education and understanding of what free markets are really about and for, but all one can do is keep trying and remember Leonard Read.

U2's "A Sort of Homecoming" is still one hell of a tune, however:


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Violent Crime Rate Continues Two Decade Fall, Says FBI

The Washington Post is reporting today that the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation figures show that the U.S. violent crime has continued to fall:

Government figures released two weeks ago said that violent crime has fallen by 65 percent since 1993....

The FBI’s data showed that the South accounted for 41.3 percent of violent crime, while the West accounted for 22.9 percent. The Midwest claimed 19.5 percent of the cases and the Northeast, 16.2 percent.

Murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults reported to authorities all declined last year. According to the FBI’s data for last year:

—14,612 people were murdered, down 14.7 percent from 17,128 in 2007.

—83,425 people were raped, down 9.4 percent from 92,160 in 2007.

—354,396 people were robbed, down over 20 percent from 447,324 in 2007.

—751,131 people were assaulted, down 13.3 percent from 866,358 in 2007.

The FBI data derive from police reports of crimes. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice issued the results from its annual Crime Victimization Survey which found that violent crime had actually increased by 18 percent in the last year. It is generally thought that only about half of crimes are reported to the police. As the Post article explained:

Two weeks ago, the victimization survey reported that violent crimes jumped 18 percent last year, the first rise in nearly 20 years, while property crimes rose for the first time in a decade. Academic experts say the survey data fall short of signaling a reversal of the long-term decline in crime....

The victimization survey found that the increase in the number of violent crimes was due largely to an upward swing in simple assaults, which rose 22 percent, from 4 million in 2010 to 5 million last year. The incidence of rape, sexual assault and robbery remained largely unchanged, as did serious violent crime involving weapons or injury.

Think how much lower still the crime rate would be if the government would end its War on Drugs.

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Greece Reaches Bailout Deal With International Lenders, Many Unpopular Strings Attached

The Greek government has reached a deal on the next bailout installment with international lenders. The deal means that Greece can work towards receiving the next round of bailout funds, assuming that the Greek parliament approves the deal next week.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras welcomed the news, saying:

If this deal is approved and the budget is voted, Greece will stay in the euro and exit the crisis.

The deal will impose 13.5 billion euros worth of cuts as well as labor reforms, which will be strongly opposed by some in the Greek parliament. Although Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left-wing party Syriza, has said that austerity measures would deal a “final blow” to the Greek economy, he will not try force an election. Samaras and his colleagues should consider themselves lucky that Tsipras is not going to pursue another election, recent polling from less than two weeks ago suggests that Syriza would take more votes than Samaras’ New Democracy were an election called. 

The reforms that international lenders are requiring in order for Greece to access bailout funds include previously promised reforms that have yet to be implemented, such as the closing of some state organizations.

Given that almost nine in ten Greeks are dissatisfied with their government it is likely that there will be more strikes and protests if the deal is approved.

The approved deal will have diverse opposition. Left-leaning Syriza opposes the austerity the deal would impose for obvious reasons.

Other opponents of the bailouts, such as the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn, have different objections. To members of Golden Dawn the bailouts and the conditional austerity are an insult to Greek sovereignty and pride. Leader of Golden Dawn Nikolaos Michaloliakos expressed his thoughts on foreign terms being imposed on his country by foreign institutions back in May:

The resistance of Golden Dawn against the bailout dictators will continue. Inside and outside the Greek parliament. We will continue the battle for Greece. Free from the international speculators. For a proud and independent Greece. For Greece without the bailout slavery and the loss of our national sovereignty,

The Greek parliament may soon approve a deal that will be very unpopular. Unfortunately for opponents of austerity who want to keep Greece in the eurozone there are few other realistic alternatives.

Vid: Crowded Prisons, Unions, and CA Three Strikes

"Where other states are investing resources in, 'How do we help these people not come back into the prison system?,' California is not," says Adrian Moore, Vice President of Research at Reason Foundation. 

But with prisons overcrowding, recidivism high, and local jails facing troubles of their own, some sort of reform will need to happen, says Moore, though he doesn't expect a viable solution to be offered by the unions any time soon.

"Why We Can't Just Build More Cages: Crowded Prisons, Unions, and California Three Strikes" is the latest offering from Reason TV. Watch the video above or click below for the full story.

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Another Blow to the Cause of Honduran "Free Cities": Future Cities Development Organization Closing Up Shop

Future Cities Development, a company dedicated to helping create "free cities" within the nation of Honduras to demonstrate the business and social advantages of competitive governance, has folded.

From their announcement:

In July 2011, Honduras amended their constitution[1] to create the world’s first free city program.  Passing with a vote of 126-1, the RED[2] program was intended to create new cities on empty land with semi-independent governance systems[3] under Honduran and international oversight.

Because we share a deep passion for innovative governance, we responded by founding Future Cities Development in August of 2011.  We saw the historically unprecedented program as a compelling and urgent opportunity to improve economic prospects for Hondurans and put our principles into action.

Unfortunately, the early political momentum for the RED program faltered, and the program’s implementation suffered a number of setbacks and delays over the last year.  These culminated in the October 18th, 2012 ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court that the RED legislation was unconstitutional, by a vote of 13-2.

As a result, we no longer see any imminent development prospects in Honduras. Since our funding was contingent on making substantial progress within a year, we are winding down the company and returning our remaining funds to our investors. We thank them for their support of our work towards a better world for all.

While we are saddened that the RED program did not materialize, we are proud to have participated and learned much from the experience. We remain convinced that free city initiatives are the most promising strategy for alleviating global poverty

Even before the Supreme Court's bad decision, the immediate prospects for getting actual "free cities" moving in Honduras were seeming grim. The government, after its initial hugely popular vote to theoretically create a RED program, failed to define the actual boundaries or locations of such zones, or get moving with official appointments of either a Transparency Commission or an executive governor for the project.

I blogged about the initial bad Supreme Court decision putting the kibosh on the Honduran private city idea in early October; that decision was merely by a five-judge panel, and was upheld by the full court later in October. That post also discusses controversy over whether a Transparency Commission was or was not officially created. Charter cities guru Paul Romer thought there was one, and that he was running it, though the Honduran government disagreed.

I blogged about the launch of Future Cities Development back in December 2011. It was founded by Patri Friedman, grandson of Milton and son of David, and already a pioneer in experimenting with competitive governance through the Seasteading Institute. I wrote at length about Seasteading, in Reason back in July 2009. Friedman is writing a book on Seasteading for Simon & Schuster.

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Lucy Steigerwald on Putin vs. Punk

On February 21, four masked Russian women walked into Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior Church and sang-shouted a song called “Punk Prayer.” The lyrics include “Saint Maria, drive Putin away!” and “Holy shit, Lord’s shit.” The performance by the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot lasted under a minute, wites Lucy Steigerwald, but a few weeks later Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

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Gene Healy on Drone-War Doublethink

"Political language," George Orwell wrote in 1946, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable." When government action can only be defended by arguments "too brutal for most people to face," governments reliably brutalize the language, resorting to "euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."

The Obama team has lately added a new term to the doublespeak lexicon, "the disposition matrix." This soporific word-cloud replaces the admirably frank "kill or capture list," writes Gene Healy.

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New MoveOn.org Election Ad: 'I’m going to track down Mitt Romney and give him the world’s biggest cock punch.'

Here's what MoveOn.org and producer Michael Moore are up to this election cycle:


MoveOn.org began in the wake of the Clinton impeachment and eventually became rallying point for anti-war activists dissatisfied with the Democratic party during the Bush years. But it's had trouble flying the anti-war flag as high since President Obama took office, and so has resorted to attention-grabbing jabs like this.

One way to measure the group's decline is that you used to hear Republicans talk about how they'd like to create their own, GOP-friendly version of MoveOn.org. You don't hear that much anymore. Instead, for the last few years you've been more likely to hear about how liberals might want their own Tea Party. 

Reason-Rupe Asks Californians What Initiative They Would Place on the November Ballot

The latest Reason-Rupe poll of 696 California voters, asked respondents if there was any initiative or proposition not already on the California ballot this year that they wished were being put to a vote. Two-thirds of Californians did not wish to put an additional initiative on the ballot; a quarter had something they wished to add.

Among the quarter of Californians who would like to add a ballot proposition, the issue of same-sex marriage topped the list. Californians had previously put it to a vote in 2000 with Proposition 22 and in 2008 with Proposition 8, both limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Proposition 22 had passed as an ordinary statute 61 to 39 percent, but was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Proponents of banning gay marriage then introduced Proposition 8 in 2008, which passed 52 to 48 percent, and amended the California Constitution to only recognize marriage for opposite-sex couples. Although the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 in Strauss v Horton, US District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Prop 8 in Perry v Brown and issued an injunction. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Walker’s decision. Since then, proponents of Prop 8 have requested the US Supreme Court review the case; the Court has not yet responded.

Coming in a close second was the legalization of marijuana, many mentioning Proposition 215. In 1996, Prop 215 passed 56 to 44 percent, which legalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal medical use with a valid doctor’s recommendation. Problematically, marijuana even for medical purposes is illegal under federal law, and has led to federal raids of medical marijuana dispensaries in California. Back in April 2011 the Reason-Rupe poll found that 69 percent of Americans thought each state should be allowed to decide how it wants to regulate the use of marijuana and 27 percent thought states should not be allowed to have different rules than the federal government.

The next highest mention was taxation in California. Some respondents mentioned raising taxes on higher income Americans, others mentioned lowering taxes, and others specifically mentioned Proposition 13 passed back in 1978. Proposition 13 also amended the California Constitution which limited the tax rate for real estate and requires the legislature to reach a two-thirds vote before enacting a tax increase. Instead of annually reassessing property values, property taxes would be determined based on cost at acquisition (buying the house) and increases would be limited to an annual inflation factor of no more than 2 percent. (Homeowners over 55 can transfer the assessed value of their present home to a replacement home if they move within the same county).

After taxes, Californians mentioned a proposition to balance the budget each year or something related to cutting spending. Interestingly, California governor Jerry Brown previously expressed support for a balanced budget amendment in the 1970s.

Note: The above chart shows the top four issues Californians mentioned. Respondents answered using their own words and gave up to two responses.

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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Nick Gillespie on The Libertarian Case for Gary Johnson

In the third of three pieces outlining the libertarian cases for Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romey, and Libertarian Gary Johnson, Nick Gillespie makes the case that a strong showing by the former two-term governor of New Mexico will reshape electoral politics:

In a world in which voters are evacuating the traditional parties in record numbers, Americans are articulating a basically libertarian message of social tolerance and fiscal responsibility. That is precisely what Gary Johnson is selling as the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate. And he doesn't have to win in order to deliver the message to Democrats and Republicans that they can maintain or consolidate their standing by taking the choke collars off of us all and giving us more space and freedom to figure things out for ourselves....

That's the message that a vote for Gary Johnson will be sending if he pulls, say, 5 percent and the final spread between Obama and Romney is 2 percent. According to the Reason-Rupe Poll, support for Johnson pulls equally from Democrats and Republicans, so they would have no one to blame but themselves. And the candidates and their parties could start working to resolve the situation by changing what they stand for in time for the next election.

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Robert Poole on The Libertarian Case for Mitt Romney

In the second of three pices outlining the libertarian cases for Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romey, and Libertarian Gary Johnson, Reason's Robert Poole argues that the former governor of Massachusetts "would be significantly less bad than" a second Obama term.

Despite Gov. Romney being a long way from libertarian,  the differences between a Romney administration and another four years of Obama have major implications for liberty. They really do reflect two different conceptions of the role of the federal government, with the former focused largely on getting government out of the way of entrepreneurs and investors and the latter intent on government management of the economy. To be sure, a Romney administration might not govern consistently with its market-friendly rhetoric, but I cannot imagine it being less market-friendly than the current administration....

A Romney/Ryan administration would appoint far more market-friendly people to key agencies like the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and more. These people’s decisions have enormous consequences for the economy. It is at this level that rules and policy details are written, and the implementation of policies is often as important as the policies themselves.

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Mike Godwin on The Libertarian Case for Barack Obama

In the first of three pieces outlining the libertarian cases for Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romey, and Libertarian Gary Johnson, Reason Contributing Editor Mike Godwin argues that the incumbent is the lesser of "two big-government, Harvard-educated evils."

Regardless of your preferences, you're going to be looking at the inauguration of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama come January, so if you're a voter in swing state, you should give some thought to voting for Obama as the lesser of the two big-government, Harvard-educated evils....

It's no surprise to long-time Reason readers that I tend to vote for the Democrats, but according to the online quiz at isidewith.com, which correctly indicates I'm most in line with Obama (88 percent), I'm also pretty close to Gary Johnson (74 percent) on a range of policy issues. Where am I with regard to Romney? A bleak 24 percent: "no major issues" in common. I suspect many libertarians are in that last category.

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Hurricane Sandy a Huge Boon to the Economic Fallacy Industry

Libertarians on Twitter are sighing in frustration at this monstrosity of logic by Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland:

Disasters can give the ailing construction sector a boost, and unleash smart reinvestment that actually improves stricken areas and the lives of those that survive intact. Ultimately, Americans, as they always seem to do, will emerge stronger in the wake of disaster and rebuild better-making a brighter future in the face of tragedy. …

[R]ebuilding after Sandy, especially in an economy with high unemployment and underused resources in the construction industry, will unleash at least $15-$20 billion in new direct private spending -- likely more as many folks rebuild larger than before, and the capital stock that emerges will prove more economically useful and productive.

Regarding the latter, consider a restaurant with inadequate patronage -- its owner invests the insurance settlement in a new more attractive business. On the shore, older smaller homes on large plots are replaced by larger dwellings that can accommodate more families during the summer tourist season. The outer banks of North Carolina saw such gains several decades ago after rebuilding from a storm of similar scale.

Perhaps cognizant that people might scream at him about broken windows, he shifts the debate a bit to argue that insurance settlements will result in people rebuilding bigger and better. It’s not replacing – it’s real economic growth. Eventually.

Except as Ira Stoll pointed out yesterday, the insurance for those homes on the shore is likely subsidized by the federal government. The money spent from those insurance claims is hardly growth. It’s money shifted from one part of the economy to the other (or, you know, spending money we don't even have). So when those bigger and better buildings get destroyed in yet another hurricane a couple of decades down the line, guess who pays again?

In addition, here are some lovely stats from July showing where Americans stand on savings. The average American family has $3,800 in savings. About 25 percent of American families have no savings at all. I don’t know the economic situation of North Carolina decades ago, but I’m guessing they hadn’t been struggling through a decade of a recession.

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Shikha Dalmia on Romney’s Hostility to Free Trade

Mitt Romney is the most protectionist GOP presidential candidate in living memory, observes Shikha Dalmia. On issues ranging from China to the quest for so-called energy independence, Romney’s stated positions are wildly at odds with the Republican Party’s free-trade beliefs.

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A.M. Links: Mitt Slammed for Doubting FEMA, Japan To Try More Keynesianism, Sniper Takes Out Suicidal Teen

  • Federal fanboys see an opportunity, in the frankenstorm, to take Mitt Romney to task for suggesting that anybody other than the feds should respond to nature's curve balls. Cuz government is so uniquely excellent at the job.
  • President Obama says he's like to create a new Cabinet-level "Secretary of Business" if re-elected. That's right, Mr. President. You must first name what you would destroy.
  • The Bank of Japan is poised to feed the economy some more of that yummy Keynesian stimulus, since the country has stubbornly refused to emerge from its doldrums for about 15 years. This time will be the charm.
  • In the Netherlands, the Liberal and Labor parties have crafted a coalition that has already agreed to billions in spending cuts and plans to eliminate the government's deficit by 2017. Meanwhile, in the U.S. ...
  • Chicago is seeing growth in one of its traditional industries: homicide. The city has already surpassed its murder total for 2011.
  • A California law that heaps new burdens on third parties before they can appear on the ballot was blocked by a judge who cynically suggested that it might have been crafted to limit political competition.
  • After being called to the scene by a suicidal boy's parents, police in Cherokee County, Georgia, quickly dealt with the lad's woes — by taking him out with a sniper. Oh yes, they did.

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

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Only Big Government Can Save Us from Big Storms, Says The New York Times. Ummm ... Really?

As Matt Welch mentions below, as part of its ongoing effort to win Barack Obama another triumphant four years in the White House, during which time he can complete the task of raising the United States to the glorious heights of Great Britain circa 1975 take a moderate, restrained tone on matters of national import, The New York Times tells us that Mitt Romney is bad bad bad — and wrong — to suggest that anybody other than ginormous central government has any business responding to storms and tantrum-ish eruptions from Mother Nature. As it so happens, Mitt is bad bad bad — and wrong, but not on this issue. Even if he did squishily back off his point, a bit.

Editorialized The New York Times:

Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of “big government,” which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it. At a Republican primary debate last year, Mr. Romney was asked whether emergency management was a function that should be returned to the states. He not only agreed, he went further.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” ...

It’s an absurd notion ...

As it so happens, I've written on this issue before. So let me lazily quote myself rather than come up with something new. Specifically, I'm pulling from a piece I wrote for the Las Vegas Review-Journal after Hurricane Katrina.

FEMA apparently learned that thousands of people were waiting for rescue at the convention center from TV news reports. Local officials have little reason to boast; the already notorious New Orleans Police Department fell apart as soon as the storm hit. According to The New York Times, about a third of the force simply walked off the job. Local reports say that many officers used their badges and guns to join the ranks of looters. Says the on-the-spot Interdictor blog, "The people we've been talking to say they are not recognizing the NOPD as a legitimate authority anymore."

Even as they fumbled their own responses to the disaster, government officials found time to block private relief efforts. The Salvation Army was initially forbidden to send boats to rescue refugees sheltered in one of its facilities, one of the group's officials told the press. It seems the private relief organization's efforts didn't fit the government's schedule. Likewise, the American Red Cross said. Days after the storm hit, "The state Homeland Security Department had requested -- and continues to request -- that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane."

Aaron Broussard, Jefferson Parish president, put it best when he told interviewers, "Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy needs to stand trial before Congress today."

I do apologize for a mention in that column of "Road Warior" conditions in the Superdome, since we learned soon after I penned those words that the carnage was way overstated and not so carnage-y, after all.

But government officials really did prevent experienced private relief organizations and convoys of supplies from reaching people in need in the wake of Katrina. Police and bus drivers really did abandon their posts. And private companies really were ready to help. Somebody at the Times must listen to NPR, and just may remember a 2011 report in which that exalted media outlet told us:

Forecasters don't expect Hurricane Irene to make landfall until Saturday. But for nearly a week now, big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot have been getting ready.

They've deployed hundreds of trucks carrying everything from plywood to Pop-Tarts to stores in the storm's path. It's all possible because these retailers have turned hurricane preparation into a science — one that government emergency agencies have begun to embrace.

"Begun to embrace," because they're learning from companies like Wal-Mart, which was on the scene at Katrina with convoys of emergency supplies. Continued NPR in its nasty, right-wing way:

Mark Cooper is Walmart's head of emergency management. Before his current job, he was the head of emergency management for the state of Louisiana. But in 2005, he was an emergency worker from Los Angeles who was sent to New Orleans as a first responder after Hurricane Katrina.

"We were there a week after the levees broke, and actually it was a Walmart that I went into to get supplies for myself after we arrived in Louisiana," Cooper says.

It was one of the few stores still operating, he says.

Walmart is able to anticipate surges in demand during emergencies by using a huge historical database of sales from each store as well as sophisticated predictive techniques, Cooper says.

Maybe it's true that "disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of 'big government,'" But we should probably take that job away and let people who know what they're doing handle the heavy lifting.

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New York Times: 'A Big Storm Requires Big Government'

The Grey Lady trolls libertarians with this morning's editorial. Let's just focus on one sentence that–all political philosophy aside–is Exhibit A for how politics makes people stupid:

Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of "big government," which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it.

Which is why Romney wants to eliminate it. It's not that the GOP nominee thinks that federal disaster mitigation and response is frequently less effective than locally directed efforts. No, it's the opposite--because federal coordination is "vital," this Republican wants to euthanize it, because that's just how venal he and his party are.

This is the mirror image to the ludicrous right-wing claim that because President Barack Obama is the son of an anti-colonialist, he therefore governs with evident malice towards America. Rather than trying to understand why people might disagree with their public policy preferences, adherents of this rhetorical tack are instead trying to circle the wagons around their own tribe, consigning everyone else to the category of Evil or Stupid. This isn't an argument, it's an admission that you've given up arguing.

In the event, the Times' assertion about Romney's desire to "eliminate" the Federal Emergency Management Agency rests entirely on this exchange at a GOP primary debate last year:

As David Frum has advised,

Watch without prejudice, though, and you realize...he evaded a question from CNN's John King about FEMA by offering an answer that generically endorsed federalism without committing Romney on FEMA either one way or the other.

It's a familiar politician's trick. 

In a shock to no one who actually attempts to understand one of the two major-party candidates running for president in the United States, the Romney campaign announced yesterday that, no, he won't eliminate FEMA.

BTW, the federal government spends about $10 billion a year on disaster coordination and relief. So the New York Times is defending "big government" by sticking up for 1/380th of its annual cost. It's less than persuasive. 

Jesse Walker on "Extremism" and Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security's report on right-wing extremism set off a firestorm when it was leaked in 2009. Now the paper's author, Daryl Johnson, has written Right-Wing Resurgence, a memoir that aims to defend his work, settle some scores, and make the case that America faces a growing domestic terrorist threat. But what he has actually produced, Jesse Walker writes, is a meandering, repetitive, and unconvincing mess.

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Brickbat: Concealed Weapon

In Newton County, Georgia, 8-year-old Andrew Berry found he'd accidentally brought an unloaded BB gun to school in his backpack. So he immediately told his third-grade teacher. Bad move. The teacher told the principal, who suspended Berry for 10 days and filed a police report.

Brickbat Archive

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Announcing Reason's Chia Pet Presidential Predictor, a Bold New Political-Horticultural Experiment in Electoral Divination!

I'm happy to announce an unprecedented politico-horticultural experiment gone mad in divining the eventual winner of a presidential election: Reason's Chia Pet Presidential Predictor™ 

It has absolutely no basis in reality - or botany - which puts it fully in the mainstream of predictive techniques that typically cost more than twice as much.

Here's the background:

Last week, Reason's DC HQ received complimentary Chia Pet kits featuring busts of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, each emblazoned with the false legend, "Freedom of Choice."

The idea being, I assume, that you can have the head of any potential president's head covered in sprouts as long as it's of the liberal guy who supports the extra-legal use of drones, massive deficit spending, mindless prosecution of the drug war, mass deportation of immigrants, and reduced interest rates for government-sponsored student loans or of the conservative guy who supports the extra-legal use of drones, massive deficit spending, mindless prosecution of the drug war, mass deportation of immigrants, and reduced interest rates for government-sponsored student loans.

Given our libertarian sympathies and plucky DIY spirit, we repurposed an existing Chia Pet head of Abraham Lincoln into a Gary Johnson number by plastering a picture of the Libertarian Party's nominee on the front of the Railsplitter's terra cotta visage. (Why we happened to have an Abe Lincoln Chia Pet in the office is an ineresting but unrelated story that may well end up forming the plot of the next installment in the National Treasure film franchise.)

Last Friday afternoon, we (read: I) prepared the heads according to Chia's instructions and placed them in a makeshift greenhouse on a window sill, firmly convinced that the head with the greatest hair growth come November 6 will signal the eventual winner of the 2012 Election. What this method lacks in say, Scott Rasmussen's proven track record or Nate Silver's sabremetrically inspired weighting formulas, it more than makes up for in sheer simplicity.

We will continue to update the progress of Reason's Chia Pet Presidential Predictor on a daily basis through Election Day next Tuesday, when an official measuring of sprouts (or possibly in the case of the LP's figurehead, buds) will take place via livestream.

Though we should probably add that, just like most of the federal government in Washington, we probably won't be coming into the office tomorrow or Wednesday either. And geez, by then it'll already be Thursday, so we might as well just take the rest of the week off. And then when you think about it, we'll only be what, like two weeks and change from Thanksgiving, and then Christmas is just a month out from then and nobody really gets much done in D.C. during December anyway, so...

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Growth in Years of Education Didn't Seem to Equal Economic Growth

Garrett Jones at the Econlog blog reports that from 1960-2000, there is no evidence that increasing growth in years people spend in formal education has any measurable effect on economic growth--in fact there seems to be a slight decrease in growth associated with growth in education years.

But what of the grand investment in "human capital" associated with education we hear so much about? No evidence it exists on the national level in a way that is expressed in national economic growth. (The personal advantages in sitting in school all day are a different matter, one you should decide for yourself on your own dime.)

As Jones writes:

Some might look at these results and say, "Higher education actually is great for entire countries, but these studies just couldn't discern that greatness. After all, correlation isn't causation." 

But that claim creates its own puzzle: If raising education really is so fantastic for countries, why can't we find nation-level evidence of that?  We can easily find evidence that switching to faster money growth usually predicts higher inflation, that switching to more market-oriented institutions predicts faster economic growth.  The correlations show up just fine there--so why is data-torturing required when countries switch to pro-education policies?  

And if defenders of increased education want to claim that "We just need to do it right next time" then defenders of sound social science need to retort: "Then I'm sure you'll understand if we absolutely insist on solid, experimentally sound evidence, along with proof of scalability, before we sign off on a nationwide program that will cost a couple of percent of GDP."  

In a world of opportunity cost, "Let's give it a try: It can't hurt" should be a punchline.  

I blogged earlier this month on the lie of American education being starved of funding, and in 2009 about lack of correlation between education spending and even educational achievement, much less economic growth.

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It's a Wonderful Life (With Capitalism)


Here's a new video from The Fund for American Studies.

The group's writeup:

Oct 17, 2012 by 

Ever wonder what life would be like without capitalism? Join The Fund for American Studies on a journey to an alternate universe -- one where capitalism no longer exists. You may find it's not quite what you expected. For more information, visit http://www.LifeWithoutCapitalism.org.


Presented by The Fund for American Studies
Starring John Crowley and Steve Andrus
Also Starring Erin Brett and Seth Goldin
Written and Produced by Steve Andrus

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46 Percent of Californians Have Seriously Considered Leaving the Golden State

In the latest Reason-Rupe poll of 696 California voters, including 508 likely voters, 46 percent report they have seriously considered leaving the Golden State, 54 percent say they have not.

Among those who have considered moving out of California, the most likely reason given is the state’s high cost of living. California’s economic environment, including job opportunities, wages, and the business climate came in as the second most important reason. California’s high level of taxation was the third most mentioned reason.


Note: Respondents answered using their own words and gave up to two responses; consequently, percentages in the above chart sum to more than 100 percent.

Nearly two thirds of Romney supporters have considered moving out of the state of California, in contrast, nearly two thirds of Obama voters have not. Fifty-six percent of Republicans and Independent-leaning Republicans and 82 percent of pure Independents have seriously considered moving out of the state. In contrast, 62 percent of Democrats and Independent-leaning Democrats have not.

About a third of both Republicans and Democrats mentioned California’s high cost of living as a primary reason they considered moving. However, Republicans were more likely to mention taxes and Democrats more likely to mention jobs and wages.

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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Jacob Zuma, South African President and Former Alleged Rapist, Complains About Media Freedom

According to Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, who was accused of and subsequently acquitted of rape charges seven years ago (at trial he also claimed taking a shower after having sex with the HIV-positive woman helped protect him from the disease), media freedoms are something he believes in but “access to the media” is also a privilege, one the South African president appears to want to have the power to revoke.

Via Reason 24/7, Zuma today dropped a lawsuit against a South African cartoonist who drew the South African president preparing to rape the justice system (pictured right) Because Zuma is part of a growing cadre of world leaders confused about what a right is, Zuma claimed that the cartoonist violated his “right to dignity.” This right to dignity, apparently, doesn’t extend to what powerful politicians do to the people they wish to rule. In any case, Zuma was charged with corruption more than 750 times, so the amount of dignity he has left is a matter of debate.

Nevertheless, while dropping his lawsuit Zuma used it as an occasion to push more government controls on media. Via ABC News:

Zuma said his government's proposed Media Appeals Tribunal is designed to assure those rights [to dignity and “privacy”] in South Africa, where the president's complaints against some in the local press have brought this tension into sharp focus.

A media tribunal would "strengthen, complement and support the current self-regulatory institutions" such as the press council, said Zuma, speaking to the Foreign Correspondents Association Monday.

There is some he said-he said about why the lawsuit was dropped, and the cartoonist, of course, would have preferred to go to court:

Zuma said he agreed to drop that case after the newspaper conceded it had defamed him. The Sunday Times said over the weekend that Zuma's lawyers agreed to withdraw the case without conditions and to pay half of the newspaper's legal costs.

Zuma said he still would like an apology from the newspaper, even though he is not demanding it.

Shapiro, whose professional name is Zapiro, said he had "mixed feelings" about Zuma's withdrawal of the case "because I would have liked to go to court and I believe we would have won hands down," according to the Sunday Times.

A reminder about free speech

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China Restricts Export of Rare Earth Minerals. Companies Figure Out Other Places to Get Them. Surprise!

Remember a couple of years ago when China started restricting exports of rare earth minerals?

Small amounts of minerals like Europium are vitally important to making gadgets like night vision goggles, smartphones, and the batteries in hybrid cars. It's hard to find big, mineable deposits of some of the substances, so when China ramped up extraction dramatically over the last few years prices fell. Some companies moved their factories to be closer to the source of these important minerals and competing operations elsewhere closed up shop.

Then China clamped down and EVERYBODY PANICKED!

Governments whined to the World Trade Organization:

The United States, the European Union and Japan filed a World Trade Organization complaint alleging that China was using its monopoly over the minerals as a political and economic weapon—for instance, to punish Japan over its claims to contested islands in the South China Sea and to entice companies to relocate factories inside China by offering a cheaper supply of rare earth materials.

But meanwhile: 

Colorado-based Molycorp...reopened a rare earth mine in Mountain Pass, Calif., that had been shuttered a decade ago because the supply of the minerals coming from China was so cheap....

[Plus,] the company recently acquired China-based Neo Materials and with it the technology needed to provide the more purely refined rare earth oxides used in computer, defense and telecommunications equipment.

Similar developments have occurred in North Carolina and elsewhere. Turns out that when the price of something goes up or access to it becomes uncertain (or both) people figure out other ways to get that thing, and more people try to figure out way to supply that thing. Neat!

Koshi Okamoto, executive director of New York-based Hitachi Metals America, explained what happened in a very no-nonsense way: “Reliable sources of supply are clearly one of the top priorities.”

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Sandy Says “Hiiiiiiiiiii!”, Forbidden Marches, More Islam Ad Bans: 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!

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget to sign up for Reason’s daily updates for more content

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Ira Stoll on Expanded Flood Insurance Subsidies for Beachfront Homes

Four months before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, President Obama quietly signed legislation expanding the federal program that offers taxpayer-subsidized flood insurance to ocean-front homeowners.

The extension of the flood insurance law was a textbook example of how the system in Washington works, or doesn’t work. Though billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives were at stake, the extension got virtually no mainstream press attention. It was covered extensively, however, in Insurance Journal, a trade publication that caters to the industry with headlines such as “Agents, Insurers Cheer Congress OK of Flood Insurance Reform Bill.”

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“Dodd-Frank Is a Gift to Big Banks”

Writing in The Weekly Standard, C. Boyden Gray and Adam J. White argue that Mitt Romney was correct during the first presidential debate when he described the Dodd-Frank Act as “the biggest kiss that’s been given to...New York banks I’ve ever seen.” They write:

If Romney touched a nerve, it was not because he was contrarian, but because he was correct. As many analysts and officials have explained, Dodd-Frank subsidizes large, influential Wall Street financial institutions, while imposing disproportionately heavy burdens on Main Street banks and the communities they serve. Even if we take President Obama, Senator Dodd, Representative Frank, and the rest of Dodd-Frank’s supporters at face value when they protest that they actually intended to rein in Wall Street banks, the laws they passed accomplish the opposite result. Intentional or not, a kiss is still a kiss.

Read the while thing here.

Click below to watch Reason.tv's "Too Big To Regulate: Barron's Gene Epstein on Dodd-Frank."

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Is the Local War on Marijuana Ebbing?

The FBI's latest figures for drug arrests, noted by Mike Riggs earlier this afternoon, indicate that marijuana busts fell significantly between 2010 and 2011, from about 854,000 to about 750,000. That's a drop of 12 percent, compared to declines of 3 percent from 2008 to 2009 and 0.5 percent from 2009 to 2010. Marijuana arrests had been rising more or less steadily since the early 1990s, from about 342,000 in 1992 to a peak of 873,000 in 2007. During that period this is the first time there have been three successive years in which total pot busts fell, and last year's decrease is the biggest single drop since 1992. In 2011 marijuana accounted for half of all drug arrests, which have been falling since 2006; last year's total, 1.5 million, was about the same as in 2002 and more than twice the number in 1980.

Have tight budgets encouraged a refocusing of police resources? Are the priorities of state and local law enforcement agencies (which are responsible for 99 percent of marijuana arrests) finally reflecting growing public tolerance of cannabis? Maybe. Let's check back around this time next year.

[I have reformatted the chart so you can see the trend more clearly.]

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Former FEC Chair Brad Smith on 'why this libertarian plans to vote, with enthusiasm, for Mitt Romney'

Former Federal Elections Commission chairman and steadfast champion of free political speech Brad Smith has reacted to Reason's (still-lonely!) vote-disclosure exercise by explaining "why this libertarian plans to vote, with enthusiasm, for Mitt Romney." Excerpt from Smith's eight-point (and multiple sub-point) list:

3. Entitlements and Spending. [....]

Beyond the possibility of repealing the massive entitlement of Obamacare if Romney is elected, Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, has been a congressional leader in attempting to reform entitlements. No, he is not the Randian that the Democrats wish to make him out to be, much as many libertarians wish he were. But let's be clear. No politician is going to be elected President in the near future on a pledge to abolish the entitlement state.

The Romney/Ryan plan for entitlement reform is the closest thing we have to a meaningful first step at reform – indeed, it is meaningful reform. There may never come a time when a majority of Americans are prepared for more radical reform, let alone an end to entitlements. If this is the reform we can get, it is necessary and good, and consistent with libertarian values. If an end to entitlements is one's goal, successful, incremental reforms are probably a necessary step toward reshaping Americans' mindset.

Obama currently stands as the single biggest obstacle to any consideration of entitlement reform. Romney and Ryan have taken on the issue in as strong a manner as any presidential ticket since Barry Goldwater in 1964. Libertarian voters need to reward such politicians, not ignore them because their proposals are deemed insufficiently libertarian. 

Whole thing, including an enthusiastic Supreme Court analysis ("I have no doubt that Romney's appointees will be MUCH better than Obama's") here. Smith's kicker:

Romney may not be a libertarian, yet Romney not infrequently launches wonderful verbal defenses of hard core libertarian views. I can scarcely imagine another major party presidential candidate who would take on leftist hecklers about the rights of individuals organized using the corporate form; or defend the value of being able to fire people for incompetence; worry openly about individual dependency on government; or demand that voters "take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

I interviewed Brad Smith for Reason.tv back in 2008:


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Greek Orthodox Priests Bless Office of Increasingly Popular Racist Party

The current economic situation in Greece has prompted a resurgence in nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric. Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-nazi party, has enjoyed electoral successes. In May 2012 the party won twenty-one seats. In the most recent election Golden Dawn lost three seats, meaning that they now have 18 seats less than a year after starting with none.  

Since enjoying recent success Golden Dawn has done little to establish a professional reputation. Its members have assaulted political officials on TV, read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion aloud in parliament, held Greek-only food handouts, organized Greek-only blood banks, and demanded landmines on the borders. 

Recent polling shows that Golden Dawn is enjoying 14 percent support, despite having only received almost seven percent of the national vote at the most recent election in June. This level of support makes Golden Dawn the third most popular party in Greece. Some of Golden Dawn’s popularity is a reflection of dissatisfaction with the current Greek government, with 81 percent of polled Greeks saying that the country is on the wrong track.

Some members of the Greek Orthodox church are now showing support, with priests blessing a new Golden Dawn office in Coritnth.   

Rod Dreher, Senior Contributor at The American Conservative and Orthodox christian, reflected on the recent ordination:

There is, of course, an ugly history of Christian churches collaborating with fascists (e.g.,the Croatian Ustase and Roman Catholicism). Golden Dawn represents the rule of the mob, and rule by brute force. However rotten the Greek left and even the Greek mainstream parties may be, Greek fascism must not be allowed to contaminate the Church.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we can expect Golden Dawn's popularity to fall any time soon. Long term economic decline is a breeding ground for Golden Dawn's politics, and good news coming out of Greece is hard to find these days. 

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Video: Eugene Jarecki on His Drug-War Doc The House I Live In and Why Prohibition is Doomed

"We've been at this war for 40 years, we've spent a trillion dollars on it, we've had 45 million drug arrests, and what do we have to show for it? It's a failure on every level," says filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, whose new drug war documentary is called The House I Live In.

Reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch sat down with Jarecki to talk about the making of the film and why he thinks a growing, cross-partisan consensus is poised to bring the drug war to an end.

You can watch the interview above, or click below for links and more.

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The Fine Line Between Belligerence and Tumultuousness in the Shooting of Dan Fredenberg

Last week I questioned the suggestion that a specific 2009 change to Montana's self-defense law explains Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan's decision not to prosecute Brice Harper for killing Dan Fredenberg last month during a confrontation over Harper's affair with Fredenberg's wife. The law used to say that deadly force may be used to prevent an assault by a home intruder only when he enters "in violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner." Although The New York Times cited the elimination of that language as a reason for Corrigan's decision, I said, the details of Harper's encounter with Fredenberg suggest that the latter's behavior was "violent, riotous, or tumultuous": According to Harper and Fredenberg's wife, Fredenberg angrily charged into Harper's garage, cursing at him, and continued to advance even after Harper brandished the gun and warned him away. Salon's Emily Bazelon says Fredenberg was "belligerent, maybe, but not actually violent." Well, Corrigan concluded that Harper reasonably believed Fredenberg was about to become "actually violent," and his manner can fairly be described as "tumultuous," i.e., "noisy and disorderly" as well as "violently agitated."

According to Bazelon, "Corrigan said the key for him was that the law used to give people the right to shoot to kill intruders only if they entered in a 'violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner,' but the new version of the law deleted the 'violent, riotous, or tumultuous' part." Corrigan did not say that in the New York Times story or in his four-page letter explaining why he did not pursue charges against Harper. He did say this to the Times:

You don’t have to claim that you were afraid for your life. You just have to claim that he was in the house illegally. If you think someone’s going to punch you in the nose or engage you in a fistfight, that’s sufficient grounds to engage in lethal force.

But that was true before the 2009 revisions to Montana's law, when deadly force against a home intruder was considered justified if a resident reasonably believed it was necessary "to prevent an assault" or "the commission of a forcible felony" (provided the intruder entered in "violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner"). In other words, you did not have to claim that you feared for your life (although Harper did claim that).

The legislature in 2009 also added language explicitly saying that a homeowner in this situation has no duty to retreat, and Bazelon emphasizes that Harper could have run into his house, locked the doors, and called the police rather than choosing to confront Fredenberg in the garage. But if that provision merely codified what was already the rule in Montana (as the Flathead Beacon reports, citing the president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association), it does not seem crucial in this case either. As I said, another 2009 amendment, requiring the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant's use of force was not justified (once he has provided evidence suggesting it was), seems like it would be a more significant factor for a prosecutor weighing charges against Harper.