Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 November 15-31

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Were Those Reasonable Teamsters Really the Bad Guys in Hostess Fight?

Here’s an interesting Hostess liquidation counter-narrative: Though the Teamsters appeared to be trying to be the voice of reason in this union battle with the snack manufacturer, is it because the truckers had a nice little protection racket the bakers union was paying the price for?

Holman W. Jenkins at the Wall Street Journal wrote a column suggesting that the minority union was paying the price not just for bad management and pension underfunding, but for Teamster-friendly expensive distribution regulations:

Union-imposed work rules stopped drivers from helping to load their trucks. A separate worker, arriving at the store in a separate vehicle, had to be employed to shift goods from a storage area to a retailer's shelf. Wonder Bread and Twinkies couldn't ride on the same truck.

Hostess has spent eight of the past 11 years in bankruptcy. As the company explained to its latest judge, the Hostess brands "have not been able to profit from many of their existing delivery stops and have been unable to enter potentially profitable markets, such as dollar stores, vending services and movie theaters."

None of this had much to do with the bakers union:

Under pressure on Monday from Judge Robert Drain to back down from their strike aimed at forcing the company to liquidate, the bakers themselves pointed to "what everyone in the baking industry knew: Hostess's production costs were neither excessive nor out of line with the market but its distribution costs were—to the tune of between $80 million and $130 million annually."

One could always ask about the wisdom of a labor-law structure that causes companies like Hostess to drag on for decades without adapting to their marketplaces. One might question whether the bakers are acting in true and brotherly solidarity. But given the circumstances that actually exist, the bakers might well prefer to hold back further concessions, let the company liquidate, and try their luck with a new owner or owners who might materialize for its bakery operations.

(Hat tip to James Peron of the Moorfield Storey Institute)

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Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn Wants Citizens to Do … Something? … About State Pension Crisis

Of all the screwed over state pension funds in the U.S., Illinois is widely argued to be the most screwed over. Its current unfunded liability is $95 billion. It has the highest percentage of its pensions unfunded in the nation – more than half of it (or up to 70 percent based on some calculations).

Clearly, something must be done. Gov. Pat Quinn agrees. So he’s put together a website to encourage citizens to get involved and demand something be done. But nothing in particular. Something.

They even filmed a video describing the history of Illinois pension fund (and the history of pensions in general). They manage to describe the urgency of the problem without presenting anything resembling any sort of solution. But he an actor does try his level best to act terrified of Kaa from The Jungle Book, moonlighting as a symbol of the “pension squeeze” being put on the state’s budget:

The site encourages citizens to get involved in this nebulous something:

You bring some attitude…we’ll bring some volume! Let the Springfield politicians know that you get it and it can’t wait. If you speak up now by posting on Facebook , tweeting, emailing, etc – we’ll make sure Springfield hears it…in your own words! Stay tuned for the details…

HINT: you’ll be able to see and hear your messages shared with the legislators in Springfield via pictures and video (think web cam!) on the Facebook page. ...

Join the dialogue at one of our Online Town Hall Meetings. The town hall meeting is a time-honored tool of direct democracy. Dating back to New England in the 1630s, the town hall meeting was a forum where every voice could be heard…and every public official had to sit there and listen!

This dusty institution is given new life via the Internet. “This is My Illinois” will host a series of “Online Town Hall Meetings” focusing on the Illinois Pension Crisis. Here’s your chance to understand the problem, and how it will affect you and future generations. It’s a chance to share your ideas on how to solve the SQUEEZE. It’s your chance to speak directly to those who will work to fix it.

Yeah, get to work, citizens! Let those politicians know you’ve got an attitude about all this! You have very strong feelings about the pension squeeze. They should fix it right now! Somehow! With something!

Corrected because that wasn't Gov. Quinn in the video.

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Want to Save Health Care Costs? Then Subsidize Smoking

I was provoked to bring up this topic one more time by a report in today's Washington Post that describes various ways in which the Obama administration is fiddling with health insurance as the age of Obamacare dawns. In particular, the Post reported:

...the law permits insurers to set their premiums for tobacco users 1.5 times higher than those for non-smokers.

It is well established that, on average, the amount spent on smokers' health care is less than that spent on people who watch their weight and regularly visit the gym. For example, back in 2008 the New York Times reported the results of a Dutch study in PLoS Medicine:

The [lifetime] cost of care for obese people was $371,000, and for smokers, about $326,000....Ultimately, the thin and healthy group cost the most, about $417,000, from age 20 on.

Basically, the smokers and the fatties died much younger and saved both private and government insurers a lot of money.

OK. Higher premiums might be justified on the grounds that before the smokers and the hefties shuffle off this mortal coil, they may increase the costs of an individual health insurer in advance of enjoying the delights of Medicare. But for those folks who are forever insisting that the whole country adopt a single payer (government) plan because it will allegedly save money, the evidence suggests that they really might want to look into subsidizing cigarettes and carbs.

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Why Libertarians Might Not Take Israel's Side in the Latest Gaza Skirmishes

As a ceasefire is announced today in Gaza, John Glaser at Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog offers some reasons a libertarian might take special care to not take Israel's side in that (hopefully squashed for now) conflict.

Excerpts:

As things stand, and as everyone knows, the US is not a neutral player in the conflict. Israel receives over $3 billion in aid from Washington every year, not including the mountains of military hardware and expertise that the Israeli Defense Forces are now unleashing on the Palestinians....

Israel’s violence and abuse of the Palestinians – supported with unparalleled US backing – is immeasurably greater than Palestinian violence towards Israel, and therefore rightly attracts far more criticism. Secondly, Americans are supporting and giving sanction to Israel’s violence towards Palestinians, and therefore a simple moral calculus leads us properly to focus on that violence, as opposed to any that we are not directly responsible for...

Just what is America supporting? Well, for 45 years Israel has militarily occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza, while using unqualified support from the United States to block the wildly popular political settlement based on the borders set in 1948...

 Not only has the occupation continued, but Israel has been slowly seizing more and more territory. In the West Bank, Israel has been demolishing Palestinian homes that have rested on that land for generations and building up Israeli settlements in their place, paid for by the Israeli state which also subsidizes Israeli citizens willing to live there...

Gazans have some legitimate reasons to feel aggrieved by the Israeli state:

Israel unilaterally withdrew its military forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005. This has led many Israeli leaders to claim they made a major concession to the Palestinians, without much in return. In a free election, which was heavily monitored by international organizations, Gazans elected Hamas to power in 2006. Israel decided they voted the wrong way and proceeded to impose an economic blockade on all of Gaza, for what they described as security reasons. The blockade has been devastating. Israel uses the coercive power of the state to block the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza and it has resulted in severe poverty and suffering.

Israel claims the economic blockade on Gaza is in place for security reasons, but it includes purely economic and humanitarian resources as well as other non-military items including children’s toys....

In a January 2008 secret Israeli document released in a recent court case, Israel decided to allow Gazans to eat 2,279 calories worth of food each day, as if they were dogs in a cage. They estimated therefore that they would allow 1,836 grams of food per person, per day. The policy was summed up by Dov Weisglass, an adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, years before the document was written. “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,” Weisglass said, claiming the hunger pangs are supposed to coerce Palestinians to force Hamas out of government.

These realities, and many more that I don’t have the space to explain here, are what motivate libertarians like me to emphasize Israel’s crimes over those of the few Palestinians in Gaza who launch rockets into Israel...

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Hamas, Israel Fighting Ends, Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Career Ends, Hostess’ Future Ends: P.M. Links

  • Hamas and Israel have agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said “more forceful action” may be used if the truce doesn’t hold.
  • Ill. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s political career ends with a whimper, and likely a federal investigation. He submitted his letter of resignation today.
  • Mediation between Hostess and the bakers union failed, so back into liquidation the company goes.
  • Can we get rid of at least one stupid, meaningless political tradition? The governor of Iowa wonders if the state’s pointless but highly publicized presidential straw poll is worth keeping.
  • The National Labor Relations Board will likely not have the time to determine before Thanksgiving whether the Black Friday (to the extent that it’s still on Friday) walk-out threat by workers is essentially illegal picketing.
  • A police officer who wrote a $2,500 ticket to an Oklahoma woman because her 3-year-old son peed in their own yard has been fired. Of course, he will probably appeal and get his job back.

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Greg Beato on Black Friday Shopping

Like Thanksgiving and Christmas, Black Friday celebrates bounty and benevolence, writes Greg Beato. But because Black Friday is so deliberately bacchanalian, a suburban Mardi Gras where the beads have been upsized into brightly colored boxes filled with children’s toys and the goal is to test the absolute load-bearing capacity of today’s all-plastic shopping carts, it’s natural to focus on its most negative aspects—the deaths that have occurred when crowds got out of hand, the lesser acts of mayhem that sometimes take place as shoppers get swept up in the scrum of the housewares aisle.

Ultimately, though, Black Friday is more about accord than chaos—witness the increasingly the frequent invocations about Black Friday as a cherished “family tradition.” Indeed, Black Friday is not just a highly inclusive holiday that draws participants from all creeds, colors, classes, and political persuasions—it’s a holiday that does so in shared public spaces. And outside of jury duty and events like St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras, Beato writes, where does that happen anymore? Thanksgiving and Christmas are largely private affairs, celebrated at home with only select invitees in attendance. Black Friday is for anyone who wants to show up.

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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Challenge to New Deal Agricultural Regulation

It’s shaping up to be a very interesting term for the Takings Clause at the U.S. Supreme Court. As I noted last week, the justices have already heard oral argument in one case dealing with whether government-induced flooding counts as a compensable taking of property under the 5th Amendment (read my reporting on that case here) while oral argument has been scheduled for January in another case centering on property rights abuses by Florida officials. Now we have a third case to add to the list. As David Savage of the Los Angeles Times reports,

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear an appeal from Fresno raisin growers Marvin and Laura Horne, who contend that the federal marketing program that can take nearly half of their crop is unconstitutional.

Their case poses a significant challenge to the New Deal-era farm program that seeks to prop up prices by keeping part of the crop off the market.

It also raises questions about the limits of the government's power to regulate commerce, an issue that sharply divided the justices in the major healthcare overhaul case decided in June.

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Correction of the Week, SCIENCE!! Division: All Roads Lead to the Age of the Earth, Sen. Rubio!

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)  set himself up as the star of a pointless media/politics kerfuffle this week, drawing the ire of all sorts of fans of President Obama for, just like President Obama, not wanting to needlessly annoy people who rely more on religion than science for their personal opinion on the utterly unimportant to anyone trivia question: how old is the Earth?

Rubio started his response with the totally true "I'm not a scientist, man" and then waffled around the sensibilities of religious voters and, I'm sure he hoped, secular ones, though the secular ones as represented by media and social networking were not mollified.

Why, as every reasonable person of sound mind knows, it's precisely 4.54 billion years, give or take some other enormous number you are likely to forget 10 minutes after reading this, unless you know you have to win an argument with some goddamned neanderthal Republican creationist at a party. (It's 50 million!)

I suggest that, unless you are in fact a paleontologist or geologist, amateur or pro, who really has grappled with all the facts and reasoning that has gone into this not-to-be-forgotten fact, "knowing the age of the Earth" (read: knowing the proper answer to that question to avoid those around you disdaining or mocking you) is less a matter of scientific acumen and more a matter of learning how to get along with the people around you, in classic tribal fashion.

And a Slate article taking Rubio to task had an amazing correction showing that both author and editors were working not from an actual detailed understanding of all the "whys" behind that question, but merely frantically spouting arguments from authority, sounding like nothing so much as LaRouchite cultists listing all the sciences that their Master has mastered:

This article originally suggested that sociology, linguistics, anthropology, and other sciences indicate that the Earth is billions of years old. Those sciences establish that Earth is much more than a few thousand years old, but other sciences established the precise age of the Earth.

Yes, the question of "what should be taught in government schools?" is a different question, one best answered by eliminating the government schools.

130 years ago, by the way, the only answer that made you a non-idiot was the precise age established by science of 15-200 million years.

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What's Next For Libertarians

The election postmortem has been heavily concentrated on where the Republicans go after a second straight presidential race defeat, as well as what the legacy building term for the Obama administration will look like. But after Gary Johnson failed to reach the popular vote one percent threshold, it is also worth asking where libertarians go from here.

Reason's Anthony Randazzo recently sat down with New York-based nonprofit 92nd Street Y to discuss the future of the libertarian movement following the 2012 election. Despite the way Johnson loss, Randazzo has a positive outlook, and argues that the near future of libertarianism is not based in electoral politics but in grassroots and education based focus on expanding ideas of liberty. On the flip side, libertarians are not hopeful that a balanced budget can be accomplished, as Randazzo details his own failed efforts to find a way to a balanced budget through a round table of people with different political ideologies.

Approx 3:50 minutes

For more coverage on this topic see Can the Libertarian Party Get 1 Percent of the Vote?Why Mitt Romney Lost—and the GOP Will Continue to Lose, and Success, Libertarian Party-Style (Or, the Glory of Low Expectations).

Also see Damon Root's video discussing libertarian views of the Constitution with the 92nd Street Y and their "Campaign for the American Conversation" from July.

Where do you think the libertarian movement will go from here?

Why Black Friday is My Favorite Holiday

With Thanksgiving less than a day away, and the long weekend to follow, I thought I’d offer a brief appreciation of my favorite American holiday. No, not Thanksgiving, which is perfectly enjoyable but merely serves as a calorie-packing warm-up for the main event: Black Friday.

Sure, it’s not officially a holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it might as well be. In many ways, we already treat it like one. Schools and the federal government are closed. Tens of millions of Americans have the day off. And millions of those Americans participate in an exuberant, ritualized annual event: a multiday holiday shopping marathon marked by some of the year’s most aggressive retail sales.

The reason I love Black Friday so much is that it’s an unapologetic celebration of capitalism and commerce — not as sideshow, but for its own sake. There's something wonderful about the outburst of trade, and the enthusiasm to which both retailers and purchasers bring to the event. It’s a day to spend buying and selling, picking and choosing, finding out what you want and trading to acquire it, figuring out what others want and how to sell it to them. It’s a day that highlights the energetic joys of the mass marketplace, and reminds us of both its thrills and virtues. It invites everyone who's interested to experience the vast universe of amusing, interesting, and even life-improving goods and products available for purchase, and to participate in the complex web of barter, decision, sale, and production that is the market economy.

Part of what's great about Black Friday is that everyone enjoys it in their own way: Some arrive early to grab a deal they know they want. Others sleep in late and then window-shop for what looks interesting. Some people power through the entire weekend like its an athletic event. Others are drive-by deal-finders, arriving to pick a single item off the shelf. There are casual shoppers and hardcore retail warriors. Everyone customizes their own experience, and their own level of participation. 

A critic might argue that unlike other holidays, Black Friday is essentially selfish, about acquisition and objects rather than people and relationships. But that misses the point. Sure, there are plenty of personal purchases on Black Friday. But with Christmas around the corner, it’s also true that many of the purchases are intended as gifts. Which just serves as a reminder of the way that markets help us show our fondness for others — and hopefully make their lives better in the process. Want to show your love for someone else? Markets can help you do that.

And even purchases made purely for personal enjoyment contribute to the lives of others. Black Friday got its name because the sales volume that many retailers finally went “into the black” for the year — making a profit that allowed them to keep operating, to stay open to sell again and to pay the salaries of their employees, the invoices of their business partners. Even the most selfish buyer does not make his purchase in a vacuum: There’s always a seller who benefits, as well as a network of producers who benefit whenever the seller does. Your purchase benefits you, yes, but it also benefits others; it's a way of negotiating what you want and what they want that can allow everyone to end up better off. Black Friday is a day-long public celebration of free exchange and gains from trade. 

Mass participation and anticipation only serve to amplify Black Friday’s raucous festival spirit. In a way it resembles a major sporting event, with masses gathered around the country to individually partake in a group experience. Except on Black Friday, the masses aren’t just watching. They’re participating.

These days, those who don’t always love the crowds can join in the fun too: Online shopping, complete with blowout sales, makes it possible to participate from home. That’s the thing about free and functioning markets. They do their meet you where you are, to give you what you want, in the way that you want it. Black Friday is a celebration of much of what makes markets great — and spirited annual reminder of how much better we all are because of them.

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Feds Worry That Legal Pot Will Be Too Cheap and Too Expensive

Since the Obama administration has not responded in any substantive way to the impending legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, we must look elsewhere for clues to its thinking. Judging from an October 2010 "fact sheet" about marijuana legalization prepared by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), thinking may be too charitable a description. The ONDCP warns that "legalization would lower price, thereby increasing use." As if that's a bad thing. A rational calculus would count greater consumer satisfaction and savings from lower prices as benefits of legalization.

In any event, by the end of the fact sheet the ONDCP has stopped worrying that "legalization would cause the price of marijuana to plummet" and started worrying that the price would be too high—so high that Mexican cartels, operating under the same legal and practical constraints they face now, could beat it. The ONDCP says "legalization would do little, if anything, to curb drug violence." One reason: "Under the most commonly proposed legalization regime—one that imposes high taxes on marijuana—violent drug cartels would simply undercut legal prices to keep their market share." So according to the federal government, the price of pot will plummet following legalization while remaining above the black-market level. Pot will be dangerously cheap yet dangerously expensive at the same time. So the Obama administration admits that marijuana legalization can do miracles.

[Thanks to Allen St. Pierre for the tip.]

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M23 Rebels Take Goma, United Nations at Work

A rebel group known as the March 23 Movement, comprised of army deserters, took over Goma yesterday, a Congolese city of about a million people in the Great Lakes region, with little resistance from government troops, who are poorly equipped and paid sporadically, or the United Nations forces there to provide the Congolese government support. The U.N. says it fired hundreds of rockets in failing to defend the city. The rebels, meanwhile, addressed residents and local government officials and troops at a soccer stadium, where they say thousands more defected to them.

The rebels are widely believed to be backed/influenced by Rwanda and/or Uganda.  Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has been president since 1986, fighting as a guerilla in the central African jungle since the 1960s. U.S. special forces are assisting the Ugandan-led counter-insurgency aimed at the warlord Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, but the Great Lakes region is plagued with rebel outfits. In July, the last time M23 rebels threatened to take over Goma, it was to Museveni that both Joseph Kabila, the president of the Congo since 1997, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon went in order to stop it.

Rwanda, meanwhile, has been backing rebel groups in the eastern Congo since the 1994 genocide of Tutsis by a Hutu-led provisional government following the mysterious plane crash of the long-time Rwandan dictator Juvenal Habyarimana. That government retreated to the jungle after the genocide, and Rwandan-backed rebel movements have helped fuel a succession of long-term regional conflicts, namely the First and Second Congo Wars. Rwanda is widely believed to be backing the M23 rebels, even being condemned by the United Nations for doing so, but its president denies it. The United States pulled $200,000 in military aid to Rwanda when the allegations hit the tipping point in July.

$202 million in foreign aid funding was requested by the State Department in the 2011 budget for Rwanda (with $438 million for Uganda and $228 million for the Congo). The U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the takeover of Goma has been criticized for not sanctioning the Rwandan backers in addition to rebel leaders. Rwanda joined the Security Council last month despite growing condemnation for its backing of rebels in the Congo. The presidents of Rwanda and Uganda have now joined Kabila in demanding the M23 rebels withdraw from Goma, as the rebels consolidate territory and look ahead to the capital Kinshasa.

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Amy Sturgis on Deadly Colonialist Fables

In her thought-provoking new study, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery, literary critic Annette Kolodny looks beyond Christopher Columbus and 1492 to wrestle with the question of the earliest immigrants to North America and what they found. Her search leads her to “contact texts”—for what they tell us about Norse contact with Native America half a millennium prior to the Columbian encounter, writes Amy Sturgis.

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TSA: Leave Your Weird, Fancy, Arty, Utterly Un-Dangerous Watches at Home, or To Jail You Go

Infuriating Transportation Security Administration (TSA) foolishness at Oakland Airport sends an arty guy with a funky homemade watch (described in many reports as "steampunk" though I'm not sure that's exactly what I'd call the aesthetic, but it doesn't matter) to jail, with no charges eventually pressed natch, as he hadn't done anything wrong, except confused TSA agents and cops with arty matters beyond their mundane comprehension. (The watch in question is pictured to the below right.)

The bare facts from an AP report:

Geoffrey McGann, 49, of Rancho Palos Verdes was taken into custody Thursday night after he tried to pass through airport security with an ornate watch that had switches, wires and fuses, according to Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department.

A bomb squad arrived within five minutes and determined there were no explosive materials in the watch, Nelson said. The checkpoint was closed while officers secured the area.

McGann was taken to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin where he was charged with possessing materials to make an explosive device, sheriff's officials said...

McGann told Transportation Security Administration officers that he's an artist and the watch is art, Nelson said.

While no actual explosives were found, McGann was carrying potentially dangerous materials and appeared to have made alterations to his boots, which were unusually large and stuffed with layers of insoles, Nelson said.

McGann was eventually released by the Alameda sheriff's office with no formal charges pressed.

Anti-TSA avenger Amy Alkon vents, with an editorial note from Lisa Simone noting credulous reporting from news sources:

 All over the country, news sources are printing and repeating irresponsible, misleading headlines. Examples: Man wearing ornate watch with bomb-making supplies arrested at Oakland airport, authorities sayGoeffrey McGann, ‘Artist’ carrying homemade ‘watch bomb’ with fuses and circuit board arrested in CaliforniaMan arrested after airport screeners see bomb-like watch; on and on. There were no “bomb-making supplies.” There were no bomb-making materials. There was no “watch bomb.” There was nothing “bomb-like.” The irresponsibility of the mainstream media is grotesque. -Lisa Simeone

Alkon says:

Will this be enough? Creative dudes getting arrested for having creative watches and funny shoes? What will it take before people start to realize they could be next? And that the degradation of our rights and the sheeplike, blinking acceptance of that paves the way for more and more degradation of our rights?

TSA's maddening official web spokesperson "Blogger Bob" says, hey, art is A-OK. It's all dripping with an awful "cool camp counseler" vibe, just remember, it's cool to be cool, just follow the rules (that we make up as we go along based on our officious foolishness)!

Anyway, guys, just remember when you travel not to do anything that might confuse our literal-minded "officers"!:

From comments I’ve read on the web, some think we overreacted to a piece of steampunk art, while others understand why we would be concerned.


Is this watch dangerous? Not at all. However, we didn’t know that until the explosive detection team arrived and cleared the item. You see, when something is considered to be a potential deadly threat, it is protocol not to open the bag.


Terrorists take everyday items and attempt to manipulate them to make improvised explosive devices. Our officers are trained to look for anomalies such as this one.
After clearing the watch, law enforcement officers (not TSA) made the decision to arrest the passenger. TSA officers do not have the power of arrest.


Please take a moment to think about what you’re traveling with and how it might appear to TSA. I happen to think this watch is pretty cool, and I’m a fan of all kinds of art and homemade DIY gadgets, however, they’re not always the best things to travel with. 

As if the arrest would not have happened minus TSA advice and over-reaction, and as if our liberties to move through the nation should be restricted to the narrow range of things an average TSA drone would understand. This is the country we have chosen.

Reason on TSA.

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Why All the Outrage Over Ron Paul's Secession Musings?

Ron Paul stirred the pot with comments addressing the post-election secession sideshow, and he's brought the usual suspects out of the woodwork to gasp with outrage that he's not also gasping with outrage because a few (hundred-thousand) petitioners are venting on a White House Website. To his credit, Paul didn't endorse the sour-grapes secession petitions, but confined himself to philosophically defending the idea of breaking-up a political union as an ultimate right and a check on government power. That's enough, though, to draw charges that he's entertaining "treasonous" talk on a "settled" question.

Wrote Paul:

In a free country, governments derive their power from the consent of the governed. When the people have very clearly withdrawn their consent for a law, the discussion should be over.  If the Feds refuse to accept that and continue to run roughshod over the people, at what point do we acknowledge that that is not freedom anymore?  At what point should the people dissolve the political bands which have connected them with an increasingly tyrannical and oppressive federal government?  And if people or states are not free to leave the United States as a last resort, can they really think of themselves as free? 

If a people cannot secede from an oppressive government, they cannot truly be considered free.

His critics acknowledge that Paul isn't endorsing the current round of secessionism fueled by post-electoral disappointment, but that's not enough to buy the good doctor a pass for even treating seriously the idea that the United States of America isn't forever and ever and ever.

Writing at the Christian Science Monitor, Washington Editor, Peter Grier, objects, "[F]or all practical purposes the Civil War did settle this question."

At U.S. News & World Report, Managing Editor for Opinion, Robert Schlesinger, fulminates:

Secession is a deeply un-American principle. It is a principle that posed the greatest existential threat to the United States of America and was vanquished by our greatest president. ... The bloodiest war in the nation's history was fought over the question of secession and the side which tried to destroy the United States lost. That settles it.

At Esquire, Charles P. Pierce is so offended that he feels moved to re-define the word "secession" to put Paul as far off the reservation as possible.

The country was not born through "secession" as anyone understands the word. The determination of the American colonies to leave the British Empire was not "secession." Secession implies that both sides entered into an voluntary arrangement that one side now chooses to leave.

For the record Merriam-Webster defines secession as "withdrawal into privacy or solitude : retirement" and "formal withdrawal from an organization." I don't know where in hell Pierce gets his definitions, but I doubt he does, either.

Look ... All nations are human creations subject to change and eventual demise. Ask the Assyrians, Romans and Ottomans how eternal their countries were. Ask the Austro-Hungarians or the Yugoslavs about the unassailability of their borders. Anybody betting on the United States of America to exist in unaltered form over the centuries to come better be putting down Confederate dollars.

This doesn't mean every eruption of secessionist sentiment is justifiable, or a good idea. It may even be a really stupid idea, especially if better alternatives (like just taking federalism seriously) present themselves. But the transformation of borders and the nations within them is inevitable.

As for secession being a "settled" issue ... The Civil War definitely settled the issue of who, between the Union or the Confederacy, could more effectively make its will stick on the battlefield in the 1860s. Hands down, after four years of bloody war, the Union settled that question. But questions that are "settled" by overwhelming force can be unsettled the same way. If those Texas secessionists had a couple of H bombs to add to their petition, this would be a very different conversation.

And you don't need H bombs. You just need the means to make your argument stick, and a lack of the same on the other side. Spain's constitution apparently does not allow for secession, but Catalonia, for better or worse, appears in spitting distance of making it happen.

Yes, the current flurry of secesssion petitions are a little over-the-top, though I think keeping your partners on notice in any relationship that your continued participation is conditional has a certain value. I'm not sure I'd be happier under a separatist Team Red regime than under victorious Team Blue, anyway. But there's nothing wrong with seriously discussing ideas like secession, or with revisiting, from time to time, the pros and cons of any political arrangement.

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Why Are a Record Number of Americans On Food Stamps? Hint: It's Not Just the Economy.

On the day before Thanksgiving, the news is awash in headlines about the record levels of food-stamp usage. As U.S. News & World Report has put it:

More Americans Will Use Food Stamps For Thanksgiving This Year Than Ever Before

...Usage of food stamps among low and no-income families has spiked since the collapse of the U.S. financial system four years ago. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, average participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp program, has increased 70 percent since 2007. And economists have warned that usage of food stamps won't go down until unemployment improves.

More here.

The most recent number for total food stamp beneficiaries is about 47 million people.

There's no question that the crap economy significantly gooses the number of people qualifying for free or reduced-price food.

But it's also the case that the increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistace Program (SNAP) is in large part due to the expansion of who qualifies. Under Barack Obama's stimulus spending, the number of people getting food stamps increased from 36.2 million in 2009 to to 42.2 million in 2010 - just a year later. As the left-leaning folks at the Economic Policy Institute put it back then:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed last year widened eligibility for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance so that more adults without dependents could qualify. The Recovery Act also increased benefits, providing additional relief to some of the country’s poor individuals and families...

EPI touted food stamps' stimulative value, too.

Politico points out how broadened eligibility plays out: 

The share of food stamp benefits going to American households with gross incomes over 130 percent of poverty has more than doubled in the past four years, according to the most recent data compiled by the Agriculture Department.

The 130 percent of poverty cap dates back to the early 1980s and recipients making more than that get a smaller payout than people below it. But the share of SNAP households that make more than 130 percent of the poverty line went from 2.3 percent to 4.7 percent; half of all states actually allow recipients to make more than 140 percent of the poverty line and still qualify for food stamps.

So as with all sorts of growth in goverment outlays, the historic rise in food stamp usage is not a clear-cut case of economic necessity. There's a huge amount of policy fudge factor too.

Indeed, consider this fact as well: Between 2000 and 2006, spending on food stamps doubled under George W. Bush. That's an odd statistic given the way the economy performed and the tech-bubble recession gave way to unemployment rates in the 4 percent range. And for those who remember Newt Gingrich's attempt to cast Obama as the "food stamp president," it's a reminder that as with most awful policies in place during this 21st century, it's bipartisan disaster all the way down.

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John Stossel on the Fiscal Cliff

Yikes, we're headed toward a fiscal cliff! It will crush the economy! Or so the media and politicians tell us.

The "cliff" is a series of tax increases and budget cuts that automatically go into effect Jan. 1 unless Congress acts.

The across-the-board cut, or "sequestration," was designed to be so distasteful that Congress would be moved to cut more deliberately. If it doesn't act, $110 billion in projected spending will be automatically cut—half from domestic spending, half from the Pentagon.

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Mapping Gay Marriage

Map of the day: The Economist shows what parts of the world have legalized gay marriage, what parts won't even allow gay sex, and where the other jurisdictions fall on the spectrum in-between:

The magazine's commentary is here.

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San Francisco Bans Public Nudity; "When Will They Ever Learn?"

The invisible walls on the open-air prison that is America get tighter as San Francisco's Board of Supervisors votes (by a skin-thin margin) to ban public nudity in its city--joining repressive brethren such as San Jose and even (now is the time for your tears) Berkeley.

This is the kind of thing I'm socialized to believe is already illegal everywhere; while aware people do sometimes walk naked on the streets of everyone's favorite city by the Ba-aay, I never assumed it was actually legal.

Apparently it was, and some defiant folk intend to make sure it stays that way, says the San Francisco Chronicle's account:

Attorney Christina DiEdoardo, who is representing several people opposed to the ban, said a federal judge could order an injunction to stop the law from taking effect during a hearing scheduled for Jan. 17.

DiEdoardo said the surprisingly close vote gave her hope that one supervisor could switch his or her vote before the second reading of the bill.

"We only need one person to change their mind," she said. "It's a completely unjustified restraint on free speech."

The mayor hasn't signed the bill yet, and a second vote by the Board is necessary before it goes to him, so the naked truth may still win out. Even if passed, the new law is but light drapery, not a heavy burqa. It 

exempts nudity at private beaches, private property and permitted special events - like Bay to Breakers or the Folsom Street Fair - and doesn't apply to children under 5 years old. Violators would be fined $100 for the first offense and $200 for the second in a 12-month period. Convictions under the proposed law wouldn't result in a sex offense, but a third offense could bring a $500 fine or a misdemeanor.

Sure, one probably wants a little something to ward off the cold in those brutal San Francisco summers. But even on a warm San Franciscan night? When will they ever learn?

I wrote back in April 2001 about the eternal evolution of lifeways and mores in San Francisco; Tim Cavanaugh wrote recently about the city's dark 1970s.

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A. Barton Hinkle on Cutting a Deal on the Federal Budget

According to received wisdom, Washington needs to hash out a budget deal to avoid the fiscal cliff that is partly the result of another deal, the Budget Control Act of 2011, which imposed automatic spending cuts if the congressional super-committee on deficit reduction could not reach its own deal. Which, as things turned out, it couldn’t, writes A. Barton Hinkle.

Economists say letting the cliff’s cuts proceed at the same time the Bush tax cuts expire would be doubleplusungood, and Beltway officialdom appears to believe them. So we will soon find out if Chili Palmer was right in “Get Shorty,” when he said, “Sometimes you do your best work with a gun to your head.”

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Nevada City to Require Homeless to Have A Permit to Sleep Outside

Nevada City police chief James Wickham has come up with an unusual way of managing the growing homeless population in the city. The chief has asked council members to pass a no-camping ordinance, which essentially bans people from being homeless unless they hold a proper permit.

Speaking to CBS, Wickham clarified his proposals: "The goal is to start managing the homeless population within our city," he said. "It just basically means you can’t set up a tent. You can’t live in your vehicle. You can’t live in the woods in Nevada City."

The law will make only a few exceptions and give out a small number of permits that allow public sleeping. The ordinance aims to reduce the crime and trouble supposedly caused by the swelling homeless population. The police chief is to give out about 6 to 10 permits initially, and will look to review the program in 6 months to check whether it is working. Wickham has identified at least 60 homeless people in the immediate community and up to 500 countywide. Any homeless person found sleeping in public without a permit will be arrested.

Wickham claims the solution is ‘one-of-a-kind’ even though Colorado’s Denver City Council passed a similar “no camping” ordinance back in 2010.  The ACLU opposed Denver's move at the time deeming it “unnecessary, mean-spirited and potentially unconstitutional.” 

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A.M. Links: Docs Want Birth Control Pills Without Prescriptions, Cybersecurity Directive is Super-Secret, Hostess Still Doomed

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Kurt Loder on Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is an adaptation of an award-winning 2001 novel by Canadian writer Yann Martel. The core of the story concerns a 17-year-old Indian boy named Pi whose father runs a zoo in Pondicherry. When hard times come, he decides to relocate the family to Canada, along with all of the zoo’s animals. When the freighter transporting them on this journey goes down in a fierce storm, Pi alone survives, and finds himself stuck on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a nasty hyena, and a very large Bengal tiger. The hyena makes short work of the zebra and the orangutan; the tiger makes even shorter work of the hyena, and then begins eyeing Pi, who fashions a raft out of the boat’s life preservers in order to maintain a prudent distance. Many spectacular CGI events ensue. As Kurt Loder reports, the movie is more than just a rip-roaring boy’s adventure. Much more, unfortunately. And therefore quite a lot less.

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Brickbat: Punchy

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar apparently didn't like being questioned about some 1,700 wild mustangs being held in federal holding pens. Salazar threatened to punch a reporter from the Colorado Springs Gazette if he ever asked him questions like that again.

Brickbat Archive

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Rand Paul Says States Should Be Free to Legalize Pot

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) addresses drug policy in an interview with CNN's Jonathan Karl:

The legalization of marijuana is another issue that Paul points to as a way for the GOP to reach more young voters.

Paul himself does not favor legalizing marijuana, but he says individual states—such as Washington and Colorado, which both voted to legalize in November—should be allowed to make marijuana legal.

"States should be allowed to make a lot of these decisions," Paul says. "I want things to be decided more at a local basis, with more compassion. I think it would make us as Republicans different."

He also says legal penalties for marijuana should be relaxed.

"I think, for example, we should tell young people, 'I'm not in favor of you smoking pot, but if you get caught smoking pot, I don't want to put you in jail for 20 years,'" Paul says.

Paul's support for devolving drug policy decisions to the states is pretty bold in the current political context. It is the policy embodied in the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). How many of their fellow congressmen joined them? Nineteen, all but one (Dana Rohrabacher of California) a Democrat.

Rand Paul, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, has been advocating a federalist approach to drug policy for years. In October 2009, for example, he told reporters "most policies of crime and punishment should be and are addressed at the state level," adding, "I would favor a more local approach to drugs." The following month The New York Times reported that "Dr. Paul believes that federal authorities should stay out of drug enforcement." Both Trey Grayson, Paul's opponent in the Republican primary, and Jack Conway, his Democratic opponent in the general election, accused him of being soft on drugs. Paul faced similar charges after he took office, when he blocked bills aimed at banning fake pot, pseudo-speed, and the synthetc psychedelic 2C-E, arguing that the potential sentences were too harsh and that "enforcement of most drug laws can and should be local and state issues" (as his spokeswoman put it). For a Republican with presidential aspirations (which Rand admits having in the CNN interview), this is courageous stuff, even if Rand's hold ultimately succeeded only in avoiding a new 20-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Rand's opposition to long prison terms for smoking pot is not so bold, especially since people do not serve long prison terms for smoking pot, except in highly unusual situations. Until it was revised by an initiative passed two weeks ago, for example, California's "three strikes" law allowed a life term (with parole possible after 25 years) for marijuana possession charged as a felony following two convictions for "serious or violent" crimes. But that is hardly a typical scenario for the hundreds of thousands of pot smokers arrested every year, who generally do not spend significant time in jail (although they still suffer the humiliation, inconvenience, expense, and long-lasting ancillary penalties associated with a misdemeanor drug charge). Furthermore, most Americans (including Sarah Palin and Bill O'Reilly!) oppose putting pot smokers in jail for any length of time, and I've never heard even the hardest of hard-line drug warriors in the U.S. advocate anything like 20 years for simple marijuana possession.

Such a policy harks back to the marijuana penalties of half a century ago. In 1966, for instance, Timothy Leary got a 30-year sentence (ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court) under the old Marihuana Tax Act for crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. with a tiny amount of cannabis. Back then the states also treated marijuana possession as a felony, meaning pot smokers could be sentenced to years in prison for personal-use quantities. That is no longer the case, and reformers should not pretend it is; there is no shortage of draconian drug sentences to condemn without getting into the Wayback Machine.

Still, Rand has staked out a clear and consistent position in favor of less federal involvement in drug law enforcement and less severe penalties. With his father gone next year, he and Rohrabacher may be the only Republicans in Congress who are prepared to criticize the Obama administration for interfering with marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington (assuming that is the course the Justice Department takes). Given Paul's record, I was rather dismayed to find no criticism of the war on drugs in his new bookGovernment Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Feds. Perhaps in a future edition.

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Jacob Sullum on the Feds' Attempt to Seize a Motel Because Its Guests Committed Drug Offenses

During a recent trial in Boston, a federal prosecutor argued that the Motel Caswell in Tewksbury is a "dangerous property" ripe for seizure. She cited one heroin overdose and 14 incidents in which guests or visitors were arrested for drug crimes at the motel from 1994 through 2008—a minuscule percentage of the 200,000 or so room rentals during that period. As Russell Caswell, the motel's 69-year-old owner, explained to the Associated Press, "They are holding me responsible for the actions of a few people who I don't know and I've never met before, people who rent a room." Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of civil forfeiture, where property can be guilty even when its owner is innocent.

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Forget Drones, Beware of Killer Robots

In case you didn't have enough too worry about in terms of death raining down from the sky from remotely guided drones, now comes word that completely autonomous killer robots aren't just minions of Skynet, they're a likely presence in our near future. A new report released by Human Rights Watch cautions that "killer robots" (their words, not mine) could reach battlefields within the next few decades, and it strongly suggests that humans try to legislatively head-off that long-feared development.

In Losing Humanity, The Case Against Killer Robots, co-published by HRW and Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic, the authors write:

With the rapid development and proliferation of robotic weapons, machines are starting to take the place of humans on the battlefield. Some military and robotics experts have predicted that “killer robots”—fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without human intervention—could be developed within 20 to 30 years. At present, military officials generally say that humans will retain some level of supervision over decisions to use lethal force, but their statements often leave open the possibility that robots could one day have the ability to make such choices on their own power.

As that paragraph makes clear. the technology of "fully autonomous weapons" is highly speculative. To some extent, it seems to require that ever-elusive "artificial intelligence" that is either going to enslave us, or turn us all into scut-work-free philosopher kings, depending on your favorite science fiction writer. But it's obvious that military researchers are trying to move beyond the human-in-the-loop weapons that characterize remotely controlled drones in an effort to develop weapons that can select their own targets.

Military policy documents, especially from the United States, reflect clear plans to increase the autonomy of weapons systems. In its Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY2011-2036, the US Department of Defense wrote that it “envisions unmanned systems seamlessly operating with manned systems while gradually reducing the degree of human control and decision making required for the unmanned portion of the force structure.”

As an example of a deployed system that implements some autonomy, the report cites the U.S. Navy’s MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System which can sense and shoot-down incoming missilies and aircraft without human oversight. A land-based  Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar System (C-RAM), also American, features similar hands-off abilities. Israel's Iron Dome, which has played a major role in headlines in recent days, is also largely automatic in its ability to identify and intercept missiles. South Korea has deployed a robotic sentry system along the demilitarized zone, though it requires human permission to fire weapons.

Of course, Phalanx and Iron Dome are a hell of a long way from terminators wandering the landscape hunting for John Connor, but if Losing Humanity can't point to a lot of Ahnold-ready technology, it cites plenty of official intent to see if Skynet is a do-able, short-term goal.

The report concludes, convincingly to me, that "[t]o comply with international humanitarian law, fully autonomous weapons would need human qualities that they inherently lack." Basically, we might give weapons systems the ability to hunt and kill people, but we don't know of any way to give them human moral judgment.

Fair enough, but implementing the next step is ... trickier: "The development of autonomous technology should be halted before it reaches the point where humans fall completely out of the loop." Stopping development of weapons hasn't had such an impressive track record, so far. The best that's been managed is unleashing the likes of Stuxnet to slow down progress on forbidden weapons by nations that have yet to develop them. That doesn't prevent research, it just puts off proliferation a little longer into the future. Frankly, sticking a gun on a robot is going to be a lot harder to head-off than the construction of nuclear warheads.

Robot overlords may or may not be part of our future, but killer robots look increasingly likely.

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Former Drug Warriors Urge Attorney General Holder to Let States Legalize Pot

Today Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) delivered a letter urging Attorney General Eric Holder to refrain from interfering with plans to legalize marijuana under ballot initiatives approved by Colorado and Washington voters two weeks ago. The LEAP letter, signed by "73 current and former police officers, judges, prosecutors and federal agents," reads in part:

The great American political writings upon which this country was founded were based in John Locke’s concept of the social contract, which recognizes that the authority of police, and of all government, is derived from the people. And the people have spoken. To disregard the fact is to undermine the legitimacy of the ideas for which our forefathers fought and died....

One day the decision you are about to make about whether or not to respect the people’s will may well come to be the one for which you are known. The war on marijuana has contributed to tens of thousands of deaths both here and south of the border, it has empowered and expanded criminal networks and it has destroyed the mutual feeling of respect once enjoyed between citizens and police. It has not, however, reduced the supply or the demand of the drug and has only served to further alienate—through arrest and imprisonment—those who consume it.

At every crucial moment in history, there comes a time when those who derive their power from the public trust forge a new path by disavowing their expected function in the name of the greater good. This is your moment. As fellow officers who have seen the destruction the war on marijuana has wrought on our communities, on our police forces, on our lives, we hope that you will join us in seeking a better world.

So far the Justice Department's only response the legalization initiatives has been a boilerplate declaration that it will continue enforcing the Controlled Substances Act. As Mike Riggs noted this afternoon, Raymond Yans, the head of the International Narcotics Control Board, wants Holder to do more than that. A.P. reports that Yans "hopes [Holder] 'will take all the necessary measures' to ensure that marijuana possession and use remains illegal throughout the U.S." But that is clearly beyond Holder's power, since our Constitution precludes the federal government from forcing states to ban marijuana. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs—which requires each signatory, "subject to its constitutional limitations," to criiminalize the cultivation, possession, and distribution of cannabis for recreational use—does not change that fact.

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Have a Subsidized Thanksgiving, GOP Frets Over Libertarians, Unsafe Highway Safety Director: P.M. Links

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Ronald Bailey on the Petraeus Affair, the Police, and Your Privacy

If the private emails of the head of the Central Intelligence Agency aren’t safe from police snooping, how safe do you think yours are? The affair between CIA director David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell was uncovered when investigators from the FBI raided their email accounts. On what authority did the agency snoop? Largely its own. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey argues that it is way past time that law enforcement’s invasive surveillance powers be reined in by extending the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures to cyberspace.

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Feds Seize Over $2 Million from Retired Air Force Colonel Accused of Selling Synthetic Pot

Next week retired Air Force colonel William Oldenburg will go on trial for selling Spice, a synthetic marijuana product that he says police had told him was legal, at his two Boise, Idaho, stores: Pit Stop Express and Boise Beverage and Tobacco.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and local police raided the stores in May after a “multi-year” investigation of over a dozen tobacco stores and head shops in the Boise area. "Operation Not Fit For Human Consumption" netted 17 arrests.

Oldenburg, 65, along with a business partner, is also charged with selling drug paraphernalia, money laundering, and structuring transactions, a charge that contends he deposited money in amounts too small to trigger federal reporting requirements. Being convicted on the structuring charge alone could mean 10 years in jail and/or a $500,000 fine.

From the Idaho Statesman:

[Oldenburg] has no criminal record [and] estimates the government has seized more than $2 million in assets from him, including control of dozens of rental properties his lawyer says he acquired during his military service. He describes himself as a taxpaying citizen who follows the law. He’s out of jail awaiting trial, and his stores remain open.

“This is more of the government attempting to disrupt the hard work of a retired Air Force colonel than actually punishing somebody for selling drug paraphernalia,” said Oldenburg’s court-appointed lawyer, Dennis Charney of Eagle. “The government has taken somebody who was pretty well off and could have afforded an attorney and has instead required the taxpayers to pay for his attorney. It’s ridiculous.”

…According to court documents, federal agents bought Spice at several of the stores, including from Oldenburg. But Charney said the substance they seized wasn’t illegal—it was part of a new formula created in response to the Spice ban. Manufacturers simply change the formula to circumvent the new bans. The product often is sold as incense or potpourri.

Charney says Oldenburg, aware of the controversy surrounding the product, met with Boise police months before the investigation began and showed them the substance marketed to him as potpourri, and they told him it was legal.

Reason’s Mike Riggs has the story on Spice, or K2, which was created with federal funding by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Click here for more Reason coverage of criminal structuring.

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Republicans, Hollywood, Lobbyists Freak Out Over Copyright Entitlements

trolls as old as piratesLibrary of CongressA memo released by the conservative Republican Study Committee on Friday engaging copyright as an entitlement and an abused constitutional power was quickly withdrawn by the RSC after making too much news.

Nevertheless, Republicans were among the first to dump support for SOPA, and libertarian ones like Ron Paul opposed those kind of severe copyright enforcement measures from the get-go. The appeal copyright reform would have for Republicans among young voters shouldn’t be underestimated. While the Hollywood Reporter asks if copyright reform would be a revenge fantasy for Republicans, even the RSC, after pulling the memo, admitted that it presented a view some conservatives share. The memo, in fact, was written by a young staffer at the RSC and Ars Technica notes the generational divide the kerfuffle over the memo represents.

The debate over copyright law in Congress is currently playing out with the Internet Radio Freedom Act, which would lower the royalties paid by internet radio stations for the songs they play. It was sponsored by Republican Jason Chaffetz and Democrat Jared Polis, both of whom also opposed SOPA.  That legislation faces stiff opposition from the recording music industry, which relies on copyrights granted by government for its entire business model. In an editorial opposing the bill, David Israelite, the president of the National Music Publishers Association explains:

While I strongly believe H.R. 6480 is bad policy and would set a disastrous precedent, my bigger concern is how this Congressional effort stands to undermine the value of music.  

The music business is complicated in part by multiple copyrights: one for music compositions (belonging to songwriters and often owned by music publishers) and another for the recording of that composition (represented by record labels). These two separate and distinct copyrights are treated very differently under the law, have very different histories and business practices, and at times can even have conflicting interests.

Rather unsurprisingly, a plain reading of the relevant constitutional clause reveals no conflicting interests, just the promotion “of the Progress of Science and useful Arts” to help “authors and inventors” for “limited Times”. Just no progress past Mickey Mouse.

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United Nations Official Calls on U.S. Government to Challenge Legal Pot in Colorado and Washington

The head of the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board is calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to legally challenge marijuana ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington. The AP reports that 

Raymond Yans says the approvals send "a wrong message to the rest of the nation and it sends a wrong message abroad." He hopes Attorney General Eric Holder "will take all the necessary measures" to ensure that marijuana possession and use remains illegal throughout the U.S.

The U.N. drafted an anti-drug treaty in 1961, called the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The U.S. is a signatory. According to the treaty, signatories may legalize cannabis for industrial and "horticultural" uses (hemp), but agree to "adopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in, the leaves of the cannabis plant." 

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Top Credit Agency Downgrades French Credit Rating

In September of this year, French President Francois Hollande unveiled a budget proposal designed to cut the country's annual budget deficit down to 3 percent of gross domestic product from its current 4.5 percent.

The main mechanism for closing the gap? Tax hikes on businesses and the wealthy, including a 75 percent tax on anyone earning over a million euros annually, as well as additional taxes on capital gains and dividends. The budget cut little in the way of public spending, however, and didn't make signfiicant reductions in the public sector workforce. 

Top credit ratings agency Moody's isn't impressed. It just cut France's top credit rating, according to Bloomberg:

France lost its top credit rating at Moody’s Investors Service, which also maintained a negative outlook for Europe’s second-largest economy, citing what it called a worsening growth outlook.

France was cut to Aa1 from Aaa, the rating company said yesterday. The Moody’s downgrade follows one by Standard & Poor’s in January and increases pressure on President Francois Hollande to find ways to bolster growth.

“France’s fiscal outlook is uncertain as a result of its deteriorating economic prospects, both in the short term due to subdued domestic and external demand” and “structural rigidities” in the longer term, Moody’s said in a statement in Frankfurt.

Standard & Poor's kicked France's credit rating down a notch in January, so this isn't entirely unexpected. It is, however, a reminder of the dim prospects for growth in France, where unemployment is currently higher than it's been in more than a decade. Via The Guardian:

Defending the downgrade, Moody's stated: "France's long-term economic growth outlook is negatively affected by multiple structural challenges, including its gradual, sustained loss of competitiveness and the long-standing rigidities of its labour, goods and the service markets.

"France's fiscal outlook is uncertain as a result of its deteriorating economic prospects, both in the short term, due to subdued domestic and external demand, and in the longer term due to the structural rigidities noted above."

Officially, French public debt hit 91 percent of GDP this year, which is the level at which many economists say that debt has the potential to becomes a serious drag on a nation's economy. The U.S. is on track to follow, with public debt projected to hit 90 percent of GDP in the next decade under the Congressional Budget Office's alternative fiscal scenario. 

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Federal Government to Spend $1.5 Billion on Hawaii Rail Project Currently in Litigation

Fiscal cliff? What fiscal cliff? America’s most senior senator, Daniel Inouye, just scored $1.5 billion for a high-speed rail project in his home state of Hawaii. He’s happy the funding was secured before his retirement, because, he says, it's been talked about most of the time he's been in Congress. The project’s billed to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in Oahu, serious stuff for Washington. But it’s not as simple as that. The project has faced opposition at home in Hawaii, with the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling the city of Oahu broke state laws in moving the project forward and a federal judge setting a hearing for December in another lawsuit, as reported by the Hawaii Reporter, which notes:

Cliff Slater, one of Hawaii's leading transportation experts and one of seven plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit against the rail project, said… "Senator Inouye's press release congratulated everyone involved in helping 'build a system that will alleviate traffic congestion, lessen our dependence on imported fossil fuels.'

"The only problem with those two elements of the statement is that neither one of them is true. The rail project would do little to relieve traffic congestion and rail will use twice as much energy per passenger mile than TheBus. As the City itself has written, "traffic congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today."

Preventing “deeply destructive” [non] cuts from happening’s next on Washington’s agenda.

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If Defended Borders Make a Nation, Then the U.S. Has a Pretty Short History

David Friedman, author of the anarchist classic The Machinery of Freedom, has some history lessons for those who believe that a zealously defended border is necessary to make a nation:

A commenter on my previous post wrote that "Having open borders renders the entire concept of a country meaningless." ....

1. Ellis Island was only established as a federal immigration point—the first such—in 1890.

2. The first federal restrictions on immigration were passed in 1875; they excluded criminals, prostitutes, and Chinese contract laborers. Congress passed the first general law restricting immigration in 1882, banning immigration from China. In 1917 the restriction was extended to immigrants from other Asian Pacific countries. Numerical immigration quotas only came in in 1921, but did not apply to immigrants from Latin America until 1965.

3. While it is hard to be certain, it does not sound as though there was any effective mechanism for enforcing restrictions in the early period. That was obviously true for immigration across land borders, and I do not think there was any enforcement mechanism covering all ports that would have prevented someone from simply walking off a ship and blending into the local population—easy to do anywhere with a significant group of the immigrant's ethnicity.....

My conclusion is that if the concept of a country is meaningless without at least nominal restrictions on immigration, the U.S. only came into existence about 1875. If the restrictions have to be real—i.e. effectively enforced—the U.S., if it exists at all, has been a country for only a few decades....

It used to be, in general, a passportless world. It is always good to return to Reason's classic 2006 cover package story "Immigration Now, Immigration Tomorrow, Immigration Forever."

Vid: Roderick Long on Race, Gender, Equality and Libertarianism

"We don't have the right to subordinate other people to our ends or treat them as objects for our uses," says Roderick Long, professor of philosophy at Auburn University and President of the Molinari Institute. "And that is a fundamental kind of equality that I think is at the heart of libertarianism."

Reason TV's latest offering is "Roderick Long on Race, Gender, Equality and Libertarianism." Watch the video above, or click the link below for the full story and downloadable versions.

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FHA Finances Collapse as Agency Leadership Insists Everything is Just Fine

As expected, an independent audit of the Federal Housing Administration, which currently insures more than $1 trillion worth of U.S. mortgages, released last Friday showed the agency in a massive financial trouble: Legally, the agency is required to keep capital reserves equal to 2 percent of the total book value of its single family mortgage insurance program, contained in the MMI Fund. But Friday’s report indicates that reserves have in fact dropped below zero, to negative 1.44 percent

The biggest factor? Bad loans made prior to 2010, and especially those made between 2007 and 2009, as the economy flailed and the housing market tanked. The volume of bad loans on the books is almost impressive: More than a quarter of the loans made in 2007 and 2008 were seriously delinquent as of this summer, as were 12 percent of 2009 loans. An independent estimate by Edward Pinto of the American Enterprise Institute says that more than 17 percent of all of the agencies loans were delinquent by the end of September.

It’s not as if this news should come as a shock. Back in 2009, the agency’s capital reserves were hovering near zero, and well below the statutory requirement, at just 0.53 percent. Since then, the total fund value has increased from $685 billion to $1.1 trillion. And reserves have dropped into negative territory.

Yet as The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page reminds us, FHA leadership has been insisting all along that it’s doing fine. Worries about its finances were “just plain wrong,” according to Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who oversees the FHA. "I can say undoubtedly that the FHA fund is playing a key role in the housing recovery and poses no immediate risk to the American taxpayer," he declared in 2009. 

It’s certainly a risk now. The agency is raising premiums in an attempt to avoid asking the Treasury department for a bailout. A Secretary Donovan is still dismissing worries that a bailout is inevitable. The reserve balances, he writes, do not “directly imply the need for any assistance from the U.S. Treasury.”

That’s only because the report actually understates the FHA’s balance sheet problems. As The Washington Post notes in an editorial:

The FHA’s predicament is worse than the $16.3 billion figure suggests. If interest rates remain low, more high-quality loans will be refinanced out of the FHA’s portfolio, leaving the agency with the dregs. No one can predict these flows with precision, since the FHA also has a program to retain good-quality, refinanced loans. But the actuarial report suggests that protracted low interest rates could drive the FHA’s capital reserve shortfall above $30 billion. 

Donovan is like the ship captain standing at the top of the mast who continues to assure passengers that even though the vessel has taken on more water than it was ever designed to handle, the boat is still afloat—when in fact, the leak in the hull is bigger than anyone's willing to admit. 

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The Law According To Reddit: Crowdsourcing Policy Advice

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calififornia) is harnessing the power of the Internet to help her write new Internet-related policy. Lofgren is planning to crowdsource the writing of proposed legislation intended to deal with how domain name seizures are handled in the U.S., particularly in relation to cases of copyright infringement and accusations of libel and obscenity. 

In a statement on her website Lofgren praised Reddit’s dedication to freedom of speech and internet expertise:

During SOPA I saw firsthand the Reddit community's strong dedication to free expression. Because of that dedication, I thought I would attempt an experiment: crowdsourcing a legislative proposal on Reddit…Although I am considering introducing a bill on domain name seizures for infringement, that does not mean I accept the practice as legal or Constitutional. Nonetheless, since these seizure actions are occurring, I thought it worthwhile to explore a legislative means providing appropriate protections for free expression and due process. While I promise to carefully consider all recommendations, I can't, of course, promise that every suggestion can be incorporated into a bill I'd introduce.

The goal is to develop targeted legislation that requires the government to provide notice and an opportunity for website operators to defend themselves prior to seizing or redirecting their domain names. The focus would be on government domain name seizures based on accusations that a website facilitates copyright infringement and not, for example, accusations of obscenity or libel. Feedback and input should also take into account any legitimate concerns that notice or delay might reasonably lead to destruction of evidence, threats to the physical safety of an individual, or other unintended negative consequences. So, Internet policy experts and free speech warriors: How, specifically, would you suggest accomplishing these goals? I look forward to reading your thoughts and input!

So, expect input into potential policy decisions from users of the Website that gave us this, this and who could forget, this

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Gene Healy on Let's Hear It for Scandal!

"I can't abide the sort of Beltway scold who looks down his nose at political scandals as distractions from 'the business of governing,'" writes Gene Healy. "Ringside seats at the latest --'gate are among the few redeeming features of life in this miserable company town."

At a minimum, Healy argues, scandals serve as a useful reminder that we're usually led by people of questionable competence, miserable judgment, and a flexible relationship with the truth. At their best, they can even provoke much-needed reforms.

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Bill Intended to Secure Email Privacy Now Does the Exact Opposite (Updated: Leahy Responds)

In 2011, Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act, which would require authorities and law enforcement to get a search warrant to access private electronic communications.

The bill is now finally up for possible vote next week. In the year since the bill was first introduced, there have been some significant revisions. Declan McCullagh at CNet explains:

Leahy's rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies -- including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission -- to access Americans' e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.

It's an abrupt departure from Leahy's earlier approach, which required police to obtain a search warrant backed by probable cause before they could read the contents of e-mail or other communications. The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant."

So apparently the Department of Justice objected to having to take the time to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Fourth Amendment and claimed it could have an “adverse impact” on investigations. Rather than responding, “Yes, that’s the point,” Leahy capitulated.

Among the others agencies that could potentially get access to your private emails and documents are the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as the Federal Reserve.  

Update: Via Twitter, Leahy's office tweets: "Ideas from many sources always circulate b4 a markup 4 disc., but Sen.Leahy does NOT support such an exception for #ECPA search warrants." The feed reiterates Leahy's intent to require search warrants.

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Alaskan Island Village Boasts New Planeless Airport and Boatless Harbor. Guess Who Paid?

The Aleutian Island village of Akutan, Alaska (pop. 75) has garnered some national attention for its airport, a facility that cost $75.5 million and is accessible only by hovercraft. Which is badass, but not practical. About three-quarters of the cost of the airport was covered by federal funds.

To be fair, the area is home to a seafood processing plant that attracts 1,000 seasonal workers. But after Peninsula Airways canceled the only scheduled air or mail service last month there are no regular flights, though occasional charter flights do come in and out. Renovations made it impossible for the aircraft that previously served the island, a WWII-era amphibious plane, to take off.

Not satisfied with just one major piece of useless transportation infrastructure, however, Akutan now boasts a non-functioning port as well:

For now, the harbor is mostly just a big hole in the ground. While the construction team has finished its work, there’s still no electricity, no running water, and no floats. There’s also no road from the village, which is two miles away, so the only way to access the boat harbor is by boat. That means the harbor is cut off from the village’s grocery store, post office and fuel dock. Steve Boardman is head of the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil projects division. He says transportation situation is unusual.

“Yes. It’s not normal. And it has prevented the construction of harbors in the past, when that supporting infrastructure is not there.”

Raise your hand if you're surprised by this piece of the puzzle:

Boardman adds that it helped that the project was ‘shovel-ready’ when $29 million of federal stimulus money became available in 2009.

A road to the port, which "is being contemplated," would require blasting through the cliffs around the Akutan Bay, at a cost of about $11 million per mile.

And in case you're wondering where Akutan is, it's here:

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Want to Rob People for a Living? DHS Will Pay You $106k a Year to Be an "Asset Forfeiture Specialist"

"Do you desire to protect American interests and secure our Nation while building a meaningful and rewarding career?" If so, the Department of Homeland Security is looking for an asset forfeiture specialist to work for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in its New Orleans office. The job pays between $68,000 and $106,000 a year, depending on how much experience you have legally robbing people. 

Here are the "key" requirements: 

  • You must be a U.S. citizen to apply for this position
  • You must successfully pass a background investigation and drug screen
  • Males born after 12/31/59 must certify registration with Selective Service

Those are the most basic requirements for being an "asset forfeiture specialist," or any other type of federal bureaucrat, really. What ICE prefers to see in an applicant is

  • knowledge of asset forfeiture programs, policies, processes, and methods
  • skill serving as a technical expert on assignments requiring te application of new concepts, practices, and developments as related to the Asset Forfeiture Program
  • knowledge of law enforcement intelligence gathering techniques associated with asset forfeiture investigations
  • skill developing and recommending alternative solutions to unique and comples [sic] problems associated with the Asset Forfeiture Program
  • skill reviewing and analyzing various financial documents and preparing a variety of written reports as related to the Asset Forfeiture Program

I'd like to meet the person who knows that much about asset forfeiture and still wants to facilitate it. 

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James W. Moseley, RIP

I haven't read many memoirs as entertaining as Shockingly Close to the Truth!, James Moseley and Karl Pflock's account of their years in that great participatory postmodern science-fiction narrative that is the saucer-hunting subculture. The most refreshing thing about the book is how upfront the authors are about UFO hoaxes, including quite a few carried out by Moseley himself. That makes him an unreliable narrator: Once a writer admits that he likes to lie to people, you have to wonder how much of what he's telling you now isn't true either. Fortunately, that just makes the book more fun.

Moseley died last Friday, and the cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has posted an obit for him. Coleman reports that he first met Moseley

when he, John Keel, and I were speaking at a Fortfest in the D.C. area, in 1973. The most vivid memory I have of that time is sitting with these two gentlemen in the dark and shabby lobby of a motel, listening to the foremost scholars of ufology decide what they would do that evening. I recall politely excusing myself to finetune my next day's presentation, as they skipped off, by foot, across the multilane highway, to visit a nearby striptease joint. And thus I was introduced to the braintrust of ufology, and knew what the end would look like - some sort of cosmic mix of humor and nudity galore!

When I interviewed the Rev. Ivan Stang, co-founder of the Church of the SubGenius, for my upcoming book on political paranoia, he told me that Keel once came to a SubGenius book party. According to Stang, the old ufologist got drunk and confessed that his writings regularly fudged the facts: "I'm from a carnival background. You think that stuff's real?"

Moseley's memoir has that same carnival-barker flavor, with the added twist that he still insists, even as he describes his hoaxes, that there might be something to some of those other saucer stories out there. Or at least that's what he claimed to believe. Maybe he meant it, and maybe it was another gag. Once you start down this road, it's easy to get lost: At one point, Moseley writes, he was temporarily taken in by a story that turned out to be an echo of one of his own pranks, thus ever so briefly hoaxing himself.

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Q: Who the Hell Would Pay $22,000 For an Oil Portrait of Tom Vilsack? A: You Already Did!

Over at the Washington Times, Jim McElhatton has written a story about the exorbitant prices the federal government pays to memorialize cabinet members and other bureaucrats who do the people's work by commissioning paintings of themselves.

The Environmental Protection Agency spent nearly $40,000 on a portrait of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, while a painting of Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley will cost $41,200, according to federal purchasing records. The price tag for a 3-by-4-foot oil portrait of Agriculture Department Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack: $22,500.

All told, the government has paid out at least $180,000 for official portraits since last year.

Read the whole thing here.

You got that: $22,500 for a portrait of Tom Vilsack! Somewhere on this post is a picture of Vilsack and a rendering of the same photo done using a free online image editor to "portraitize" said picture into an "oil painting." Total cost to taxpayers: $0.00. And even at that price, we overpaid a bit, I think.

Cafe Press, the online retailer of cheap, personalized t-shirts, coffee mugs, and so much more, has written an open letter to the government with a plan for reducing official portrait costs by as much as 99 percent. Read it here. And if you want to buy a Vilsack-emblazoned work jersey - designed par moi! - go here.

For a government that spends nearly $4 trillion a year, of course, even spending $30,000 on paintings of former Bush admin USDA administrators is chump change. But these sorts of ludicrously overpriced - and unnecessary - bagatelles are of a piece with a government that has increased by nearly 50 percent real, per-capita outlays over the past decade with no sign of slowing up.

Brian Doherty on Milton Friedman

Lanny Ebenstein has edited a delightful collection of mostly un-anthologized essays by Milton Friedman, Brian Doherty reports. Friedman fans will enjoy what's here, scholars will appreciate having these far-flung essays gathered in one place, and those trying to understand the scope and evolution of libertarian thought since World War II will find this book illuminating. And there's another reason to read the book, though it isn't clear whether Ebenstein intended it. By arranging the essays chronologically within its two sections, the editor has presented the tale of a man whose beliefs got tougher, more comprehensive, and more libertarian with more thought and wider knowledge.

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Liberals Still Love John Roberts for His Obamacare Ruling

In an unsigned editorial published today, the editors of The Wall Street Journal give a Bronx cheer to “the media acclaim cascading over Chief Justice John Roberts” for his decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. As the Journal notes, Roberts is currently basking in the praise of both Esquire magazine, which named the chief one of its “Americans of the Year,” and The Atlantic, which hailed him as one of the “Brave Thinkers” of 2012, “by which they mean thinkers who agree with the Atlantic's liberal editors.”

I’m surprised the liberal love affair with Roberts has lasted this long, but then again the Supreme Court hasn’t yet issued any major decisions since handing down its Obamacare ruling in back in June.

Before the inevitable heartbreak strikes, I'd encourage the fawning editors at Esquire and The Atlantic to reread Roberts’ Obamacare ruling. “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,” he wrote. It would be a shame if the chief's liberal admirers were caught by surprise when he invokes that same principle of judicial deference to Congress and votes to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act or some other law they don't like.

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A.M. Links: Hamas Sticks Tongue Out at Israel, Federalist Efforts and Marijuana Legalization, TSA Drives Travelers Away from Airlines

  • The top leader of Hamas has dared Israel to invade Gaza. No word on whether he made chicken sounds or called Netanyahu a pussy.
  • Four men in California were charged with an international terrorism plot. One source in the case was paid $250,000 and was previously convicted of drug trafficking.
  • Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have introduced a bill that would alter the Controlled Substances Act in order to force the federal government to respect state-level legalization of Marijuana.
  • Despite growing support for medical marijuana and its legality in 17 states, health insurance providers rarely cover its purchase.
  • Thanks to how awful the Transportation Security Administration has made the process of flying, Americans are taking the more dangerous route of driving long distances in order to keep from dealing with them.
  • The Czech Republic has its own anti-austerity protests organized by the trade unions and opposing budget cuts and pension reform.

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

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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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Update on Idaho Teacher Who Allegedly Let Kids Draw on Slow Readers' Faces

Yesterday, I blogged a story about an Idaho teacher who apparently/allegedly let kids draw on the faces of slow readers as a form of rebuke (yes, it mangles the imagination to even make sense of that sentence).

Here's the latest update via Idaho's Twin Falls Times-News:

A formal complaint regarding a Declo, [Idaho] teacher’s treatment of students who failed reading goals has been filed with an Idaho commission on educators’ professional standards and ethics.

The Idaho State Department of Education’s Professional Standards Commission examines complaints against certified teachers and has the power to suspend or revoke teaching licenses.

Cassia County School District Superintendent Galen Smyer said Monday his district filed the complaint after fourth-grade teacher Summer Larsen allowed students to scribble with permanent marker on the faces of classmates who failed to meet reading goals.

“I’m really limited on what I can say because it’s a personnel issue,” Smyer said. “The investigation on this is also ongoing in the district.”

Don't expect a resolution any time soon: "It’s a long process," explained a Department of Education spokesperson. That's not a bad thing - charges this serious certainly demand a thorough and fair examination - but it also doesn't seem like the determination of basic facts should be particularly difficult to figure out and act on, either. At the very least, you've got to hope that the kids involved - both the ones drawn on and the ones doing the drawing - have received proper follow-up.

Read original Reason story here.

Hopefully Not Related: "How to Fire an Incompetent Teacher," by John Stossel. An illustrated guide to the miasma of New York City's public school bureaucracy.

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New Study Confirms MDMA's Effectiveness in Psychotherapy

A study reported online today in the Journal of Psychopharmacology finds lasting benefits from MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for people diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The researchers, led by South Carolina psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer, followed up on 19 subjects, mostly victims of sexual abuse or assault, who took MDMA (a.k.a. Ecstasy) during three sessions interspersed with drug-free psychotherapy. Initial results reported two years ago indicated that subjects who received MDMA were much more likely than subjects who received a placebo to show improvement on the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale. After that study, the eight controls were invited to use MDMA, and all but one agreed. The 19 subjects completed follow-up evaluations an average of three and a half years after the MDMA sessions.

"There was an enduring, clinically meaningful benefit from MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to PTSD patients," Mithoefer et al. write. "No subjects reported any harm from study participation and all of them reported some degree of benefit....These results indicate that there was a favorable long-term risk/benefit ratio for PTSD treatment with just a few doses of pure MDMA administered in a supportive setting, in conjunction with psychotherapy. Should further research validate our initial findings, we predict that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy will become an important treatment option for this very challenging clinical and public health problem."

Subjects' comments on questionnaires shed light on MDMA's function as a catalyst for productive talk therapy. "It increased my ability to stay with and handle getting through emotions," said one. "The MDMA provided a dialogue with myself I am not often able to have," said another, "and there is the long-term effect of an increased sense of well-being." A third subject said: “I was always too frightened to look below the sadness. The MDMA and the support allowed me to pull off the controls, and I...knew how and what and how fast or slow I needed to see my pain."

Before the Drug Enforcement Administration banned MDMA in 1985 because it had become popular as a party drug, Mithoefer and his colleagues note, "uncontrolled published reports suggested that [MDMA], when administered in conjunction with psychotherapy, could yield substantial benefits for those afflicted with a variety of disorders." Now, after decades of government-engineered neglect, the psychotherapeutic benefits of MDMA are once again coming to the fore, thanks largely to the efforts of the Mutidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which funded Mithoefer's study and guided it through the legal obstacles created by MDMA's Schedule I status. If MDMA does indeed become "an important treatment option" for PTSD, it will be a huge victory for the MAPS strategy of working within the system to gradually loosen arbitrary government restrictions on useful psychoative substances.

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Veronique de Rugy on Military Keynesians

It’s an article of faith among modern Democrats that employment and the overall economy depend on government spending. Although Republicans supposedly reject that premise, they make an exception in the case of military spending, writes Veronique de Rugy.

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Voters Give Gov. Brown and California Legislators One More Chance to Balance Budget

In the Orange County Register, Reason-Rupe Polling Director Emily Ekins writes

It's official: Democrats have supermajorities in both the state Assembly and Senate, meaning they can pass state tax increases without a single Republican vote. Voters got a head start on tax increases when they passed Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30, which raises the statewide sales tax as well as income taxes on upper incomes.

Some Democratic leaders are wisely trying to downplay some of their glee and promising newfound fiscal restraint rarely seen around Sacramento. "We have to make sure over the next few years that we pay our bills, we invest in the right programs, but we don't go on any spending binges," Gov. Jerry Brown said after the Nov. 6 election.

It's the first time since 1933 that a single party has controlled two-thirds of both the Senate and Assembly and the first time since 1883 the Democrats have had such majorities. "I promise that we will exercise this new power with strength, but also with humility and reason," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said. "I certainly don't intend to suggest to my colleagues that the first thing we do with our new power is to go out and seek to raise more taxes."

If Democrats don't tackle the real causes of the budget deficit – state spending, lawmakers may find something most would never envision: California voters calling for Wisconsin-like budget and pension reforms.

An October Reason-Rupe poll saw that Prop. 30 was leading and asked likely voters across the state: "Suppose these tax increases in Prop. 30 are approved but do not end up eliminating California's budget deficit, what would you like the legislature to do next?"

 Nearly three out of four, 74 percent, said they'd want the state to cut spending to balance the budget. Just 15 percent said raise additional taxes to eliminate the deficit and 4 percent said borrow more money.

Sure they want spending cuts, but how similar are California's voters to Wisconsin's? While Wisconsin is not as blue as California, the Democratic Party's presidential candidate has won Wisconsin in every election since 1988, and Wisconsin voters just elected Tammy Baldwin, who will be the first openly gay U.S. senator.

Earlier this year, just before Republican Gov. Scott Walker's recall election, which was prompted by organized labor's fierce reaction to cuts to government workers, the Reason-Rupe poll asked Wisconsin voters: "For new government employees who have not been promised pension benefits, would you favor or oppose shifting them from guaranteed pensions to 401(k)-style accounts?"

In Wisconsin, 69 percent of voters said they'd like to shift new government workers to 401(k)s. A few weeks ago, Reason-Rupe asked the very same question of California voters and got the very same result: 69 percent said shift government workers to 401(k)s. So before California's Democrats hatch any grand tax-and-spend plans, they should delve deeper into public opinion than just Proposition 30's success.

The full column is here and the Reason-Rupe California poll is here (.pdf).

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Reason Writers on TV: Brian Doherty on RT Talking Rand Paul's Stand For the 6th Amendment

Rand Paul wants his Senate colleagues to vote on an amendment to a defense authorization bill that would guarantee that, to quote the amendment:

A citizen of the United States who is captured or arrested in the United States and detained by the Armed Forces of the United States pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40) shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense...

The rest of the Senate does not seem inclined to want this vote to happen. I blogged about this last week, and talked about it on RT this afternoon:

 

From Roll Call today:

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., held up the defense bill last week, seeking a deal to secure a vote on a contentious amendment about jury trials for Americans detained as part of alleged acts of terrorism.

Without making an agreement with Paul, [Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid would have to file a cloture motion to even start the floor debate, which would burn valuable time. Other senators want to offer significant amendments, as well.

Matt Welch on how Rand Paul goes against the GOP grain on defense spending.

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U.K. Talks Deregulation While Americans Await More Red Tape

I'm not clear on when the United States so thoroughly lost its way as a relatively market-friendly nation, but when the British prime minister is making noise about slashing bureaucratic red tape while Americans are worried about a post-election "regulatory tsunami," I think it's fair to say that something went horribly off the rails.

From the Independent Online:

Britain's bureaucrats must summon the spirit used to defeat Hitler's Germany in order to stimulate sustained growth in the country's stuttering economy, Prime Minister David Cameron was to say Monday.

In a speech at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) - an influential business lobbying group - Cameron was to outline plans to cut through red tape, according to extracts released by his Downing Street office.

He was to blame pressure from lobbyists for creating “risk-averse” civil servants and explain his plans to get “Britain on the rise to compete and thrive in the global race.

“Over the past two and a half years I've worked with exceptional civil servants who are as creative and enterprising as any entrepreneur - and they are as frustrated with a lot of this bureaucratic rubbish as I am,” he was to say.

By contrast, Breitbart reported after the recent election:

President Barack Obama's administration deliberately held off implementing burdensome regulations that favored environmentalists, labor unions, and dealt with Obamacare in the month leading up to the election because they would be politically unpopular.

Before Obama won reelection, the backlog of regulations suggested to many industry experts that if Obama won reelection, his administration would be "publishing thousands of pages of regulations in the coming months." 

Now that Obama won, some in the business community expect a "tsunami" of regulations that will burst through the dam because about 70 percent of regulations under review have been held for more 90 days, which is 30 days more than the customary 60-day limit. And these are regulations that have made it out of the various agencies. There are many more still on hold.

According to the National Journal, the backlog of regulations came about because "EPA staffers continued to finalize major environmental rules—but not to submit them to OMB for review. Industry lobbyists and environmental lawyers estimate that the EPA is currently sitting on about a dozen new major regulations, completed, and ready to roll out the door."

This isn't to say that the U.K. is a market-friendly paradise. Britons still leave the country to escape a relatively high tax rate. Then again, they can do that, since British taxes stop at the border. Americans, by contrast, have to ditch their citizenship to do the same thing.

But politicians in the U.K. are, at least, making noises about easing regulatory burdens on doing business and creating wealth, while American officials have been hiding just how much tougher they're about to make it to do the same thing. That suggests a major difference in emphasis by officeholders in the two countries. It'll be ... interesting to see where this all ends up in a few years. You'll know for sure if the Brits end up sending economic advisors to the U.S. to teach us how to re-create a market economy.

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President Obama’s Visit to Burma and What Happened to Human Rights

Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to ever visit Burma, called Myanmar by the military junta that’s ruled the country since 1961. The president lauded reforms over the last two years which opened the country to more foreign investments and included gestures like the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, an opposition leader under house arrest from 1989 until 2010. Her release was among the catalysts for rapprochement.  She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, after her party won 59 percent of the vote in Myanmar’s first multiparty elections in 1990. Obama, himself awarded the peace prize after being elected in 2008, made Burma an early project on democratization through engagement. But, as the Wall Street Journal notes, policy toward Burma under Obama was merely a continuation of Bush-era policy:

The Bush foreign policy placed a strong emphasis on human rights and instituted a multilateral effort to pressure the junta, using regional bodies like the 10-member Association for Southeast Asian Nations and international organizations like the United Nations. The Bush team also maintained sanctions against the junta's leaders and steered humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people as best they could.

When the Obama crew took over the State Department, they "reviewed" these policies for months—and then discovered that the status quo was quite appealing. "The results of that review," said Scot Marciel, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs said in 2009, "were first, to reaffirm our fundamental goals for Burma, that we want to see a Burma that is at peace, unified, prosperous, stable, respects the rights of all of its citizens, and is democratic. That hasn't changed."

Burma joined the Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997, shortly after the U.S. imposed sanctions on the country; those sanctions continued through the Bush and Obama Administrations. The U.S. began to lift sanctions only earlier this year.   

And what of ASEAN? Burma’s inclusion in the organization was supposed to help incentivize the Burmese regime toward reform and respect for human rights. As President Obama and Hillary Clinton visit Burma, leaders of the ASEAN member states are meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they’ve hammered out a human rights declaration (a favorite of regional and international organizations) that’s been characterized by rights activists “as a declaration of government powers disguised as a declaration of human rights.”

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Who Killed Hostess?

Once upon a time, Hostess’ products – particularly Twinkies and Wonder Bread – had significant amounts of cultural recognition. They were once part of the largest commercial bakery in the world. They were once indelibly associated with the very idea of snack foods for both the Baby Boomer and Gen. X youths.

But the market has changed and Hostess really hasn’t. They are no longer culturally relevant in any market other than nostalgia. And whether they’ll be around to change is going to be up to whoever ends up in control of what’s left of its assets. After two bankruptcies over the past decade and a strike by bakery union workers, Hostess Friday said it’s liquidating its assets and shutting its doors, a move that could lead to firing of nearly 18,000 employees.

A judge this afternoon urged mediation between Hostess Brands and its unions to prevent a shutdown, but the company’s future remains very unstable, to be sure. As the possibility of Hostess’ demise grew, analysts made with the pointing fingers, calculating who, where, and how the bakery had been murdered, not unlike a game of Clue (another mid-to-late 20th Century nostalgia reference of limited modern day cultural presence).

MORE »
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Our New National Health Crisis: Teenage Boys Are Exercising

After all these years of media scare stories trying to terrify readers with worries about how kids are too sedentary and don't eat well, I suppose it's comforting to find a scare story about how teen boys are obsessed gym rats who consume lots of protein and very little fat. The New York Times delivers the goods:

Take David Abusheikh. At age 15, he started lifting weights for two hours a day, six days a week. Now that he is a senior at Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn, he has been adding protein bars and shakes to his diet to put on muscle without gaining fat.

“I didn’t used to be into supplements,” said Mr. Abusheikh, 18, who plans on a career in engineering, “but I wanted something that would help me get bigger a little faster.”

Pediatricians are starting to sound alarm bells about boys who take unhealthy measures to try to achieve Charles Atlas bodies that onlygenetics can truly confer. Whether it is long hours in the gym, allowances blown on expensive supplements or even risky experiments with illegal steroids, the price American boys are willing to pay for the perfect body appears to be on the rise.

Here's the new data to justify the article:

In a study to be published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, more than 40 percent of boys in middle school and high school said they regularly exercised with the goal of increasing muscle mass. Thirty-eight percent said they used protein supplements, and nearly 6 percent said they had experimented with steroids.

Over all, 90 percent of the 1,307 boys in the survey — who lived in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, but typify what doctors say is a national phenomenon — said they exercised at least occasionally to add muscle.

Yes, the same paper that recently warned that overweight teens who don't exercise were at increased risk of diabetes and likened teen obesity to smoking, and which in 2009 published a lengthy piece on how teen obesity led to early death (sample expert quote: "We know that health behaviors are established early on in life.") is now concerned that large numbers of teenage boys are exercising, and experimenting with diets that will help them build muscle. 

Why exactly should we be so worried? 

“The problem with supplements is they’re not regulated like drugs, so it’s very hard to know what’s in them,” said Dr. Shalender Bhasin, a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. Some contain anabolic steroids, and even high-quality protein supplements might be dangerous in large amounts, or if taken to replace meals, he said. “These things just haven’t been studied very well,” he said.

So the problem with supplements and other muscle-boosters is that the government has left them alone and worried nannies have not yet determined if there are problems with them? 

No public health scare story would be complete without someone to blame. The New York Times points to television shows like Jersey Shore and Girls, which apparently feature muscled men who inspire admirers to spend time in the gym hoping to achieve a similar look. But The New Republic's Alec MacGillis has a different villain in mind: buff Beltway politicians like Paul Ryan: 

Before we lay all the blame on The Situation, it's worth noting that the muscle-head mindset has infected a more rarefied realm of American life as well: Beltway Washington.

There is, for instance, the 2012 Republican nominee for vice president, who is famous for leading sessions of the rigorous P90X workout regimen on Capitol Hill, who posed as your standard frathouse gym rat before the election and who prompted nine times more Googling of "Paul Ryan Shirtless" than "Paul Ryan Budget." And yes, he is pumping up musclehead business with the broader public

Truly these are dark days when America's youth look to politicians for exercise tips. 

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Israel Willing to Invade Gaza, More Drones for US Borders, Unhappy Cows in California: P.M. Links

  • Gaza bombing continues. Israel says it would prefer a diplomatic solution, but is prepared to invade if need be. Would invading result in more of fewer dead children and civilians?
  • U.S. Customs wants to expand the number of drones it has patrolling the borders, or at least give a large sum of money to a government contractor.
  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered a takeover of the U.S.-run prison at Bagram Air Base. He claims American forces are still detaining Afghans despite an agreement to hand them over.
  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has launched efforts to reform his state’s public employee pension system with a web site explaining how pension debt is consuming the budget.
  • President Barack Obama stopped to speak in Myanmar today, the first sitting president to have done so. He praised Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi and made note of the nation’s reforms.
  • Back at home, 58 percent of Americans think Obama is not going to be able to reduce the federal deficit any time soon.
  • Those happy cows are lying: Dairy farms in California are closing down or fleeing the state.

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

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Ira Stoll on Romney's "Gift" Remarks

Mitt Romney’s explanation of his election loss—that President Obama bought the election with “gifts” such as health insurance coverage and student loan forgiveness—may be closer to the truth than a lot of people want to believe, writes Ira Stoll.

Romney’s remarks were less than artfully phrased, and, by characterizing the gift recipients in terms of racial groups, did have the potential to be unnecessarily and unfortunately divisive.

The professions of shock, dismay, and outrage that greeted the Romney remarks are nonetheless exasperating.

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The Constitutional Case Against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Writing at The Washington Post, George Will makes the case against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal “watchdog” empowered to forbid “unfair, deceptive, or abusive” financial practices. As Will puts it, “judicial dismantling of the CFPB would affirm the rule of law and Congress’s constitutional role.” He explains:

The CFPB’s director, Richard Cordray, was installed by one of Barack Obama’s spurious recess appointmentswhen the Senate was not in recess. Vitiating the Senate’s power to advise and consent to presidential appointments is congruent with the CFPB’s general lawlessness.

The CFPB nullifies Congress’s power to use the power of the purse to control bureaucracies because its funding — “determined by the director” — comes not from congressional appropriations but from the Federal Reserve. Untethered from all three branches of government, unlike anything created since 1789, the CFPB is uniquely sovereign: The president appoints the director for a five-year term — he can stay indefinitely, if no successor is confirmed — and the director can be removed, but not for policy reasons....

Like the Independent Payment Advisory Board, Obamacare’s health-care rationing panel, the CFPB embodies progressivism’s authoritarianism — removing much policymaking from elected representatives and entrusting it to unaccountable “experts” exercising an unfettered discretion incompatible with the rule of law.

Read the whole thing here.

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Uruguay May Have Legal Pot Shops Before Colorado or Washington Does

Last week a bill legalizing production and distribution of marijuana was introduced in Uruguay's General Assembly. It is more liberal than the plan floated by President Jose Mujica last June, under which the government would have been the sole legal source of cannabis. The legislation would instead create a National Institute of Cannabis, which would license growers. The bill authorizes home cultivation (up to six plants) as well as cannabis clubs with up to 15 members each, growing up to 90 plants and producing up to 7.2 kilograms a year. Personal possession would be limited to 1.5 ounces, more generous than the one-ounce limits in the legalization measures approved by Colorado and Washington voters two weeks ago. The allowance for home cultivation is the same as Colorado's but more than Washington's (zero). It looks like the main difference is Uruguay's club-centered distribution system, although Sebastian Sabini, a legislator from Mujica's party who had a hand in the bill, told Reuters there will be retail outlets as well. "We haven't said whether that will be done by the private or public sector," he said. "The government will decide that." Colorado and Washington both plan state-licensed, priivately run pot stores, while Oregon's unsuccessful legalization initiative would have charged the state with selling marijuana.

Reuters reports that "Mujica's allies control both houses of Congress, so the bill is expected to pass despite resistance from opposition legislators," possibly by early next year. If the law is enacted, Uruguay will become the first country to legalize marijuana. (While Spain has quasi-legal cannabis clubs and the Netherlands tolerates "coffee shops," neither country officially allows cultivation.) With a population of just 3.3 million and a land area of 68,000 square miles, Uruguay is smaller than both Colorado and Washington, which have a combined population of about 12 million and occupy 175,000 square miles between them.

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Anarchist Defeats Minarchist in New Hampshire Election

When Ward 5 of Manchester, New Hampshire, elected a delegate to the state legislature this month, its voters rejected a Republican from the Free State Project who favors a minimal government. Instead they picked Tim O'Flaherty, a Democrat from the Free State Project who favors the abolition of government altogether. In the words of the Manchester Union-Leader: "O'Flaherty ran against a fellow Free Stater, housemate Dan Garthwaite, whom O'Flaherty called a statist."

Dear non-libertarians of Ward 5: This is how we feel when the major parties cough up Romney and Obama.

Bonus link #1: Meanwhile, in Vermont, voters in the town of Randolph have just made my left-anarchist friend Jessamyn West a justice of the peace.

Bonus link #2: The old, anarchic New Hampshire.

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Without You Meddling Libertarian Voters, Romney Could Have Lost By Only 2.7 Million Votes!

Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty takes to task those 1.22 million of us who voted for Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson. Excerpt:

I suspect that if you voted Libertarian this cycle, you're a pretty hard-core Libertarian, and unlikely to be won over by any half-measures the GOP might offer in the near future. Considering how there was little dispute that another four years of Obama would mean another four years of government growing bigger and taking a more active role in citizens' lives, and how no one really thought Johnson would win, it would appear that the 1.22 million Libertarian voters were content to "send a message" with their votes… a message that will now be almost entirely ignored in Washington.

It's their right; every vote has to be earned, and surely a Romney presidency would have offered its own disappointments to the Libertarian worldview. But it may be a continuing liability for the GOP that roughly one percent of the electorate believes strongly in limited government, but votes in a way that does not empower the GOP to do anything to limit that government.

A couple of notes in response:

* In not one single state did Gary Johnson's vote total exceed President Barack Obama's margin of victory over Mitt Romney. Speaking as one of the 42,542 votes for Johnson in New York, Obama's inevitable victory in that state (by more than 1.5 million votes) was definitely part of my decision-making calculus.

* As I mentioned in this Friday post on purported Libertarian "spoilers," in the only polling on the subject that I'm aware of (conducted by the Reason-Rupe Poll), likely Johnson voters said they broke down as leaning 53 percent Republican, 38 percent Democratic, and 10 percent independent. While that same poll also indicated Johnson with 6 percent support (when he received only 1), A) third-party candidates always poll pre-election higher than they'll receive, and B) Johnson's Democratic support there makes at least some intuitive sense given that the position he's most famous for is his support for legalizing marijuana.

* Speaking of which, let's think about one possible message that Washington will have received with the Nov. 6 vote -- that, with the votes in Colorado and Washington state, legalizing pot is now officially a winnable electoral issue.

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"No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Says Man Who Regularly Bombs Pakistan and Yemen

Speaking in Thailand Sunday, President Obama defended Israel's counter-assault on Hamas in the Gaza Strip by saying, "There's no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” More from MSNBC:

"Let's understand what the precipitating event here that's causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there's no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Obama said at press conference in Thailand at the start of a three-nation tour in Asia.

“So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians."

"Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory."

That is a very interesting thing to say at a time when the U.S. is regularly raining missiles down on Pakistan and Yemen. 

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Yaël Ossowski on Florida Banning Cell Phones in Cars and Public Meetings

To ban or not to ban, that is the question. As Yaël Ossowski reports, lawmakers throughout the state of Florida are weighing punitive new crackdowns on cell phone use. In one case there is a proposal to stop tech-loving drivers from picking up their cell phones while behind the wheel. In another, there is a move to ban cell phone use during public meetings. Though the details of each proposal vary, they all represent a growing push to legislate and regulate citizens’ relationships with their mobile devices.

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A. Barton Hinkle on the Case for a Carbon Tax

Washington should not be lavishing taxpayer subsidies on either renewable or fossil fuels; it should let market forces dictate which energy sources prevail. But doing so requires that prices reflect actual costs. A carbon tax applied to energy producers, who then pass it on to consumers, would help ensure they do, writes A. Barton Hinkle.

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It's November 19, and President Obama Still Hasn't Responded to Legal Pot in Colorado and Washington

On November 6, voters in Washington and Colorado legalized recreational use of marijuana and granted their respective state governments the power to regulate and tax sales of the drug. It is now November 19, and President Obama has yet to acknowledge that a massive shift in drug policy happened on the same day he was reelected. 

At Obama's first post-election press conference, reporters declined to ask a single question about marijuana. Executive branch agencies have issued non-responses. The D.C. offices of the DEA and the Justice Department said their responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act "remains unchanged." Seattle DEA Agent Jodie Underwood told Reuters, "The state law is not going to change how the DEA operates."

While the responsiblity for changing America's drug laws belongs to Congress, Obama has a role in that process. Without Holder and Obama, after all, the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine would have never been reduced. 

Furthermore, members of Congress--Republicans and Democrats both--have already responded to the ballot initiatives, by introducing legislation to exempt Colorado and Washington from the Controlled Substances Act, and by asking the Department of Justice, the DEA, and the White House to respect the will of Colorado and Washington voters. 

This isn't going away. Legislators in Rhode Island and Maine--states that already have medical marijuana--are introducing legalization bills in 2013. The 2014 election will likely see more marijuana-related ballot initiatives.

If a more nuanced response is in the works, Obama should not only say so, he should be the one to deliver it. And because it's never too late to lead from behind, we'll be counting the days until he decides to do so. 

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The UN's Coming Internet Power Grab

Next month, the World Conference on International Communications (WCIT) will be held in Dubai. At the conference, 193 member countries will gather to consider revising and updating a decades old teleccomunications treaty overseen by the United Nation's International Telecommunications Union. What might those revisions look like? The participants aren't all that interested in letting outsiders know: Proposals aren't officially released to the public. But thanks to WCITLeaks, an open-access run by Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado, two tech policy research fellows with the The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, we've gotten a peek at a few of the ideas that member nations are submitting for consideration. And what we've seen so far is both predictable and worrying: Nations with free-expressions-wary governments across the globe are hoping to use the UN process to firm up their control on the Net within their borders. 

At CNET, Larry Downes notes that this is a longstanding goal for many emerging countries: 

Proposals leaked earlier from Russia, China, Iran, and others would authorize member nations, with UN blessing, to inspect and censor incoming and outgoing Internet traffic on the premise of monitoring criminal behavior, filtering spam, or protecting national security.

Curbing the Internet is a priority for these countries that goes well beyond the WCIT process. China, for example, recently hosted its first annual "Internet Roundtable for Emerging Countries," attended by Russia, Brazil, India, and South Africa. According to observers of the meeting, the participants agreed that "The Internet must be managed by governments, with a particular focus on the influence of social networks on society."

Downes also points to a new Russian proposal that he says goes a step further than others that have leaked:

Currently, the ITRs [International Telecommunications Regulations] cover only international telecommunications services (PDF). But the Russians propose adding a new section to the treaty to deal explicitly with "IP-based networks." Bringing the Internet into the treaty in any capacity would represent a major expansion of the scope of the ITU's authority.

The leaked proposal would strongly endorse national control over those parts of the Internet that reside within a country's borders, including ISPs, traffic, and engineering. One suggested change to the treaty, for example, declares that "Member States shall have the sovereign right to manage the Internet within their national territory, as well as to manage national Internet domain names."

Russia barely makes any attempt to hide its goals. As Downes notes, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure last yearthat Russia was keen on the idea of "establishing international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capability of the International Telecommunications Union."

Americans have seen various attempts to assert somewhat greater regulatory over the Internet in recent years, but the real threat to open Net access is overseas, where there remains deep skepticism about unfettered Internet access. I've heard at least one senior diplomat from a Western nation talk candidly in private about the need to regulate social networks in order to keep tabs on extremist political movements. It's not surprising, really, that social networks would cause the greatest concern to the political class: They offer citizens one of the best opportunities to organize and communicate quickly and with minimal or no governmental interference. Which is why, of course, we see anxious political leaders across the globe looking for ways to keep tabs on them. 

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Barack Obama First President Re-Elected With Less Popular, Electoral Support Second Time Around

With just over 63 million votes this cycle and just under 70 million in 2008, President Obama became the first president to be re-elected to the office with less votes than he was first elected with since every state moved to deciding electors by popular vote. Prior to that, only George Washington got less votes in his re-election; he faced no opposition and only a few thousand people in a few states actually voted. Franklin Roosevelt, the only president to be re-elected three times, received less popular and electoral votes in his second and third re-elections.

President Obama is also projected to receive 33 fewer electoral votes. His 332 expected this year, along with his 2008 take, is still the highest count this century. Bill Clinton received 370 in 1992 and 372 in 1996. Those totals, on the other hand, were the lowest since Jimmy Carter in 1976. No president has won re-election with less electoral votes except Woodrow Wilson, who promised to “keep us out of the war” but still got 158 fewer electoral votes in 1916, when the field wasn’t split three ways. As for Obama getting us out of the wars; not true on Iraq and increasingly clearly not true on Afghanistan.

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Rand Paul: 'Portraying me as being against Israel...is as nonfactual as it is offensive'

There's an interesting back-and-forth over at Commentary magazine between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Jonathan S. Tobin over whether the libertarian-minded Tea Party senator will (in the formulation of Tobin's original headline) "hijack the pro-Israel GOP." I think Paul gets the better of what is an important argument; you be the judge. First, an excerpt from Tobin:

As Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast, the coming civil war among Republicans over foreign policy will putt two traditional rival camps — the neoconservatives and the so-called "realists" — on the same side against what could be a rising tide of Rand Paul supporters who believe their small government credo ought to mandate massive defense cutbacks as well as the withdrawal of America from its place on the world stage.

Up until now, this wasn't much of a contest because although Ron Paul could get throngs of his youthful libertarian crowd to applaud his absurd rationalizations of rogue regimes, such as Iran, or his belief that American imperialism helped generate anti-American terrorism, most Republicans weren't buying it. But with a leader who doesn't come across like everybody's crazy uncle, the libertarian faction has reasonable hopes of doing much better. [...]

Rand Paul will be far more of a force in the Republican Party in the coming years than his father ever was. That's a problem for conservatives who hope the GOP remains a bulwark of common sense about national defense and foreign policy. It will also mean that one of the party's most prominent spokesmen will not be someone who will be viewed as reliably pro-Israel.

Shot back Paul:

Israel is a strong and important ally of the United States, and we share many mutual security interests. I believe we should stand by our ally, but where I think sometimes American commentators get confused is that I do not think Israel should be dictated to by the United States. I think that has happened too often, and it has been to the detriment of Israel. Too often we have coerced Israel into trading land for peace, or other false bargains. When President Obama stood before the world in 2011 to demand that Israel act against her own strategic interest, I denounced this as unnecessary meddling. As I wrote in May of that year: "For President Obama to stand up today and insist that Israel should once again give up land, security and sovereignty for the possibility of peace shows an arrogance that is unmatched even in our rich history of foreign policy." [...]

Mr. Tobin speculates that calls by me and others within the Republican Party for Pentagon cuts somehow would hurt our national defense. It is always sad to see conservatives making liberal arguments. Cutting waste in our military would no more hurt our defense than getting rid of No Child Left Behind would hurt education. Every government agency can withstand a little belt-tightening, especially if we scale back on our overseas presence and focus more on true defense and security. [...]

Portraying me as being against Israel in any fashion, as Mr. Tobin's title implies, is as nonfactual as it is offensive. There are many differing opinions about both foreign and domestic policy within Israel. Any healthy, self-governing people necessarily must have robust debate. This is as true in Israel as it is in the United States. The notion that there is an unassailable consensus concerning Israel's best interests, within the Republican Party, the United States, and even Israel itself, is simple not true and never has been. It assumes too much and asks too little, to the detriment of both countries.

And from Tobin's response:

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Tim Cavanaugh on Unions vs. Democratic Mayors

When Chicago public school teachers started the fall semester by turning down a $400 million contract offer that would have boosted pay by 16 percent over four years, "my first concern wasn’t for the children," writes Tim Cavanaugh. "It was for the Democrats."

Sure, the walkout by Chicago Teachers Union members caused havoc for kids. "But I’ve been to public school," Cavanaugh continues, "and I can tell you they didn’t miss much."

The strike’s lasting damage was to the party that since at least the early 20th century has been labor’s best friend.

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Mythbusting: Federal Workers Are NOT Underpaid by 35 Percent

In my misspent youth, I took a job as an "economist" at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C. Yes, I was a bureaucrat for three whole soul-destroying years. But I certainly did not feel underpaid. I once asked one of my new colleagues at FERC who had just left an engineering job in the natural gas industry why he'd done it? "I like the pace of work in the government," he replied. Let's just say that the pace was not blistering.

Given my experience, I have ever since been annoyed whenever a report is issued claiming that federal bureaucrats are generally underpaid. Last month, the Federal Salary Council issued yet another such report asserting the bureaucrats are underpaid by 35 percent in comparison with private sector workers in similar jobs. That figure was a jump of nearly 10 percent over the previous year's number.

In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, American Enterprise Institute scholar Andrew Biggs, and Heritage Institute policy analyst Jason Richwine set the record straight:

If these figures are to be believed, federal employees are paid only 65 cents for every dollar received by nonfederal employees doing the same work. Put another way, the average federal employee who shifts to a job outside government would increase his salary by 54 percent.

The figures are implausible on their face. How could government pay employees more than one-third less than the going rate, yet keep employee turnover at only a fraction of the private-sector turnover rate? Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey show that, from 2001 to 2010, federal employees quit their jobs at less than half the rate of workers in large private-sector companies.

First, the pay agent doesn’t consider fringe benefits, even though benefits for federal workers are famously generous. In addition to a 401(k)-type pension with a handsome employer match, federal workers receive a traditional defined-benefit pension — for which they contribute less than 1 percent of salary — as well as retiree health coverage. A Congressional Budget Office study published in January found that the federal retirement package was 2.7 times more generous than what is paid by large private-sector firms. Federal workers also receive more paid vacation and sick days. Even if they endured a salary penalty of 35 percent, their benefits would make up much of the difference.

But federal salaries are not 35 percent below private-sector levels. All five outside studies reviewed this year by the Government Accountability Office found that federal pay is equal to or higher than those of comparable private-sector workers. This is consistent with three decades of academic research. According to our analysis of Census Bureau data last year, the typical private-sector worker who shifts to a federal job receives a salary increase, while federal workers who leave for the private sector tend to get a salary cut.

I am not saying that Federal workers are all shirkers; many do hard creditable work. But if some bureaucrats find the pace of Federal work too grueling or the salary too low, they can always seek a nice cushy sinecure in private industry.

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[UPDATED!] Do We Really Need More Teachers Who Have Kids Draw on Slow Readers' Faces With Permanent Markers?

Update (11/20): A formal complaint has been filed against the teacher allegedly involved but any sort of resolution won't be happening soon. "It's a long process," explains an Idaho Dept. of Education spokesperson. Go here for the latest.

Reason 24/7 News flagged this story a few days ago and I think it deserves a second post at the site. It's about a teacher who instructed some students to draw on the faces of others - in permanent marker! - as punishment for poor reading-test results.

From an AP account:

A teacher in the southern Idaho town of Declo is being criticized after she had her fourth-grade students use permanent markers to draw on the faces of children who failed to meet reading goals....

Cindy Hurst told The Times-News that her 10-year-old son came home from school Nov. 5 with his entire face — including his eyelids — scribbled on with green, red and purple markers.

"He was humiliated, he hung his head and wanted to go wash his face," Hurst said. "He knows he's a slow reader. Now he thinks he should be punished for it."

Larsen, who has taught at the school for six years, didn't respond to requests for comment. But District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer confirmed what took place in her classroom, though he didn't name Larsen.

And get this: Here's Smyer's take on the issues raised by this incident:

Although teachers are allowed some latitude in class, he said, this incident comes down to an issue of safety in the classroom and school environment.

"There are things there that we questioned," Smyer said.

Yeah, bub, it's a safety issue. Because those markers might be toxic? I'd say it's more of a sanity issue - and on that score, the teacher, the school, and the superintendent all deserve to get tattooed over this.

More here.

Bonus fear for the future: President Obama has called for the hiring of more teachers (even as the story above suggests we're already scraping the bottom of the barrel). Here's why we don't need more teachers.

This is precisely the sort of story that helps explain the explosive growth (documented here) in the school-choice movement.

We recently interviewed Salman Kahn, founder of the educational enterprise Kahn Academy and author of the excellent new book, The One-World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. We discussed lots of stuff but somehow drawing on slow-reading kids' faces with permanent markers never came up as a pedagogy of the future.

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A.M. Links: White House Denies Politics Influenced Benghazi Tale, Petraeus Lawyers Up, Model Reforms at Las Vegas Cop Shop

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!

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Steve Chapman on Our Losing Immigration Strategy

We don't need "comprehensive" legislation. What we need is realism: Accept that millions of foreigners are living here illegally and are not going to "self-deport"—and that we (and they) will be better off if they gain the protection of the law.

The draconian measures needed to get rid of them all are no longer politically possible, if they ever were. And they probably wouldn't work anyway.

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Reason TV Replay: Great Moments in Unintended Consequences, From Ethanol to Obamacare

Over the objections of governors, livestock farmers, and environmental groups, the EPA declined to relax current ethanol standards. Reason TV profiled the unintended consequences of ethanol regulations two years ago.

Here is the original text from the Dec. 8, 2010 video

Reason.tv presents Great Moments in Unintended Consequences!

All actions have unanticipated side effects, but government acting through regulation or legislation is particularly adept at creating disastrous unintended consequences.

Great Moments in Unintended Consequences takes a look at three instances of epic government facepalm: Osborne Reef, Corn Ethanol Subsidies, and a particular clause in ObamaCare that is already doing more harm than good.

Approximately 3 minutes.

Produced by Austin Bragg.

Noah Berlatsky on Captain America

Captain America isn't just another superhero: He embodies a national identity and geopolitical ideology. Or so says Jason Dittmer in his new book, Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero. Cap, according to Dittmer, is the prototype of the "nationalist superhero," a comic-book subgenre that uses superheroics to validate the nation-state and vice versa. His rippling muscles and equally rippling sense of morality reflect and fuel the myth of American exceptionalism and justice. Noah Berlatsky disagrees, arguing in his review that the nationalist superhero has become an object of nostalgia. Today's most popular fantasies—and nightmares—involve power without borders.

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Reason TV Replay: Why the Feds Banned Four Loko (And is your favorite drink next?)

While the Food and Drug Administration investigates Monster, Rockstar, and 5-Hour Energy, we look back at the fate of a similarly targeted beverage.

Here is the original text from the Dec 22, 2010 Reason TV video:

On December 21, Ramiro Diaz was arrested for selling eight cans of Four Loko to an undercover agent from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Diaz faces up to a year in jail for the offense, but just a few months ago Four Loko was perfectly legal. What happened?

The drink had been the subject of many media reports which suggested that Four Loko's mixture of alcohol and caffeine causes young people to engage in risky behavior. The drink was even dubbed "Blackout in a Can," and the story soon moved from newsrooms to Congress, where officials like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) demanded that it be pulled from shelves.

"We must protect children from the severe and deadly consequences of drinks like Four Loko," declared Schumer. The Food and Drug Administration agreed, and in November federal regulators banned Four Loko. The company promised to yank it from shelves by December and replace it with a decaffeinated version.

So do drinks like Four Loko pose a unique danger to America's youth or is this episode more proof that that mixing media and politics can be hazardous to your freedom?

"Why the Feds Banned Four Loko" is written and produced by Paul Detrick. Camera by Alex Manning, Hawk Jensen and Jim Epstein. Senior Producer is Ted Balaker. Music by Beight, DJ Cary, CrimsonFaced and Sophia Marie (Magnatune Records).

Approximately 3:30 minutes.

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Sheldon Richman on Republicans Reconsidering Immigration

Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama has so shocked the Republican Party that it now is willing to question long-held positions, says Sheldon Richman. If defeat prompts Republicans to abandon anti-freedom convictions, that’s all to the good—even if the abandonment is cynically motivated.

The party has long insisted on border security, which means an electrified fence, militarization, and even surveillance by drones. Only after the border is secure, Republicans and conservatives have said, should any change in immigration policy be considered.

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Greg Beato on Big Brother's Border Blindness

In America today, an expanding network of surveillance cameras tracks our bank deposits, our shopping expeditions, and our workplace trysts in the supply closet. When we venture online, hundreds of companies diligently note the websites we consume, the files we download, and the comments we make. Our smartphones are even worse stool pigeons than our computers, constantly keeping tabs on our precise geographic coordinates. If you grow weary of such oppressive attention, if you long for a little Waldenesque solitude outside the crosshairs of our panoptic culture, there is still one place you can go to get away from it all, writes Greg Beato: the borderlands of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

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Vid: Lance Armstrong Cheated to Win. Was That Wrong?

 

After months of bad press, the greatest competitive cyclist of all time has officially hit rock bottom: The Lance Armstrong Foundation has dropped the name of its eponymous creator and will now be known as the Livestrong Foundation. 

He may be a sanctimonious jerk whose doping denials are less convincing than a Lindsay Lohan rehab stint, but should he be pilloried for doing what all top cyclists - and increasingly, all of us - are doing: pursuing better living through chemistry?

Reason TV correspondent Kennedy defends performance-enhancing drugs from steroids to Viagra to that special memory pill we can't remember the name of...

About 3.30 minutes. Written by Nick Gillespie and Kennedy, and produced by Meredith Bragg.

Watch by clicking above or, better yet, click below to go to the full story, with text, downloadable versions, and links galore

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Kurt Loder on the Odd Fate of The Rolling Stones' Rawest Documentary

It must say something about something that Cocksucker Blues, the Rolling Stones’ never-released 1972 tour documentary, which has existed mainly as a salacious rumor for 40 years, was screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on Thursday night, as part of a Stones film retrospective.

Bootlegged bits of the movie have surfaced over the years, and the whole thing was illicitly posted a few months back on YouTube, where it looks cruddy. "So at MoMA," writes Kurt Loder, "I was expecting vintage junk. But seeing the picture on a big screen was, it must be said, a revelation."

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Baylen Linnekin on What a True Food Movement Looks Like

Last week the government of Denmark announced it would scrap a controversial “fat tax” the country enacted last year. The Danish government also announced it would not be moving forward with a planned tax on sugar and sugary foods.

Is this rejection of food sin taxes in Denmark part of a larger movement against laws that meddle with food freedom? "I think so," writes Baylen Linnekin, "but first let’s take a look at what made Denmark turn against its taxes so quickly."

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The Israel-Gaza Conflict, Egypt and the United States

Earlier this week, the Israeli Defense Forces began an air assault on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, in retaliation for mortars being lobbed into Israel from the strip. Rockets have been fired from Gaza for months, intensifying over the last several weeks.  Israel and Gaza’s Hamas leadership have had a tense and often violent relationship  since Hamas was voted into power in the Palestinian Authority in January 2006. Those elections, which saw Hamas trounce the long-ruling Fatah Party, were initially hailed as a step toward progress by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; her office, apparently, did not see a Hamas victory coming. Fatah refused to hand power over to Hamas, and after an internecine conflict the status quo of a Fatah-ruled West Bank and a Hamas-rules Gaza emerged. That summer Israel initiated its first military operation against the Hamas government in Gaza, followed by another in the autumn.

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Reason Writers on TV: Brian Doherty on RT Talking Ron Paul's Farewell

I appeared on the RT network yesterday evening via Skype, in a segment discussing Ron Paul's farewell address to Congress and the future of the Ron Paul revolution with Ron Paul off the field:

My book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

I blogged yesterday about Paul's refreshing approach to the concept of a virtuous and moral people in that farewell address.

Bonus Doherty on TV: discussing the election results last Wednesday on KCET with Los Angeles legend Patt Morrison and John Ridley.

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GOP Too Libertarian, Free-Market-y, Say Anti-Libertarian, Anti-Market Pundits

The Republican Party's pummeling at the ballot box earlier this month (which was less of a pummeling than a weak and uninspired failure to achieve expectations), can be laid at the doorstep of that party's doctrinaire, libertarian touting of smaller government and its embrace of hardcore free-market economics. Or so we're told by a couple of scribblers who aren't obviously penning an alternative-history novel. It's an intriguing premise, impaired only by the GOP's lack of enthusiasm for anything of the sort, and its thorough rejection of candidates who actually did espouse such views.

Jonathan Chait, that outstanding example of the progressive movement's success in mining a rich vein of humorless predictability, writes at New York:

It’s certainly true that libertarianism is a broad and varied enough ideology that there are some ways in which more of it may have helped Romney win. (Say, supporting more humane immigration policies.) But it seems obvious that, as even Goldberg concedes against ideological interest, Romney’s economic libertarianism was a millstone around his neck. His 47 percent comments reflected the Ayn Randian sentiment that has swept through the GOP, a phenomenon Gillespie has celebrated. ...

At a more practical level, Romney’s anti-government dogma left him unable to propose any concrete solutions for things most people regard as problems.

Right about now, you may be scratching your head and wondering, "wait ... Romney espoused anti-government dogma? When?" Strictly speaking, the GOP turned its back pretty early on the real skeptics of government power, driving Gary Johnson to flee to the Libertarian Party and marginalizing Ron Paul to the extent that the only Republican candidate with an enthusiastic and youthful following could be marginalized.

My personal take-away from Mitt Romney's campaign is heavy on "free trade with China is bad" and "protect Medicare." Free-market libertarianism ... not so much.

Paul Ryan was supposed to be the Ayn Rand acolyte, but campaign coverage was heavily salted with descriptions of him as a neutered "mini-Mitt." The most interesting part of his presence on the campaign trail was when he briefly endorsed federal respect for state-level marijuana policy — before backtracking.

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The Problem With Licensing Smokers: Too Much Individual Responsibility

Simon Chapman, an Australian anti-smoking activist, argues in PLoS Medicine that "new, creative, and radical efforts to achieve the tobacco control endgame" are "vitally important." Jeff Collin, a public health specialist at the University of Edinburgh, agrees, especially since "the attainment of a tobacco-free future, so critical to any global conception of health for all, remains elusive." But Collin objects to Chapman's proposal for a smart-card-based smoker's license, arguing that "effectively curbing this industrial epidemic is best achieved via actions that tackle the disease vector"—i.e., tobacco companies.

This is what passes for a debate in public health circles, where no one questions the government's duty to protect us from our own risky choices.

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Gather Ye Ding Dongs While Ye May, Benghazi Message Failure, Pack Your Bags for Mars: P.M. Links

  • Because striking unionized employees won’t return to work at bankrupt Hostess, it’s firing everybody and liquidating its assets. Its top creditor is the pension fund for its striking unionized employees.
  • David Petraeus says he has no idea why the White House said the attacks on the Benghazi consulate were a response to an anti-Muslim film and not a terrorist attack like the CIA told them.
  • As conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas gets worse, Egypt’s prime minister wants to try to negotiate a truce.
  • A fire at an oil-drilling platform off the coast of Louisiana has killed at least two.
  • Mars rover Curiosity has determined that human astronauts could likely survive the radiation levels there.
  • We hope you enjoyed your brief respite from political campaigning. Now pay attention as GOP governors start jockeying to stay on voters’ radars for the 2016 race.

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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Taliban Spokesman Accidentally Unveils Email List, Says Nothing About it on Twitter

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmedi, has accidentally revealed the names of his subscribers by CC'ing everyone on his mailing list.

The list has over 400 recipients and includes a journalist based in Afghanistan who is now understandably a little concerned about his safety:

"Taliban have included all 4 of my email addresses on the leaked distribution list," tweeted journalist Mustafa Kazemi, a prolific Kabul-based tweeter with more than 9,500 followers. "Quite reassuring to my safety."

Others on the mailing list include activists, legislators, and academics.

If you’re interested you can follow Ahmedi on twitter. At the time of writing he has yet to mention his mistake. 

Ahmedi is not the only fundamentalist Muslim using social media or email. A piece from the Washington Times highlighted two twitter accounts that might be of interest to those who like to keep up with news from the Taliban and Al Qaeda:@alemarahweb, a news source from the Taliban, and @Al_nukhba, an account that links to Al Qaeda messages from affiliated groups across the Middle East. For those who are interested in Somalia you can follow Al Qaeda allies al-Shabab

Quite how the accounts of Taliban fighters and spokepersons are even permitted considering how the Taliban interprets Shariah is unclear. Thanks to twitter any of us could ask. 

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HHS Extends ObamaCare Health Insurance Exchange Deadline For States

Facing pressure from Republican governors, the Obama administration has officially pushed back the deadline for state governments to declare whether or not they're setting up ObamaCare's health insurance exchanges, reports CBS News. States were supposed to tell the Department of Health and Human Services whether they would create the exchanges by today, but now they have until December 14 to declare their intentions. They can also wait until February to decide whether they want to set up an exchange in partnership with the federal government.

The Obama administration clearly wants as many states as possible to agree to bear the burden of setting up the exchanges. The federal government will build and operate exchanges in states that decide not to create exchanges on their own, or at least it will try, provided it can get the funding and overcome various legal challenges.

HHS is characterizing this move as an accomodation, telling CBS that the extended deadline is part of an "effort to be as flexible as possible."

If states actually want to preserve their flexibility, they should avoid building the exchanges at all. State-created exchanges would be subject to federal approval and oversight, giving the states few options for control, and leaving many crucial decisions up to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

As The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein recently pointed out, the text of the health law specifies that “the [HHS] Secretary shall, by regulation, establish criteria for the certification of health plans as qualified health plans," and also says that “an Exchange may not make available any health plan that is not a qualified health plan.”

"In other words," writes Klein, "Sebelius will get to decide what type of health care plans can be offered on these state exchanges." Sebelius will also get to make determinations about how health plans offered in the exchanges are rated, about language used to describe plan features, and about overall presentation of plan options. And federal rules will override conflicting state policies. ObamaCare states that “an Exchange may not establish rules that conflict with or prevent the application of regulations promulgated by the Secretary under this subtitle.” State control? Federal control? Either way, it's Washington's way. 

States, meanwhile, would bear substantial costs if they chose to set up their own exchanges. Running an exchange could cost a state anywhere from $10 million to $100 million a year, according to the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon, and ObamaCare's legislative language indicates that businesses in states that opt out won't be subject to the law's employer health insurance mandate, a $2,000 annual per employee tax on many employers who don't provide qualifying insurance. 

HHS wants to give states every opportunity to incur these costs themselves rather than leave the federal government to fund and manage those exchanges. So sure, it's attempting to create additional flexibility for implementing ObamaCare. But mostly for itself. 

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Catch Special Stossel Show on the Next Four Years with Nick Gillespie!

If you missed last night's Stossel show on Fox Business - dedicated to figuring out what the next four years under Barack Obama will look like and featuring yours truly talking drug policy - you can catch reruns over the weekend.

The episode will run on Fox News Channel on Saturday at 3pm and Sunday at 10pm and 1am. And it will be rebroadcast on Fox Business on Saturday at 9pm and midnight, and again on Sunday at 9pm (all times Eastern). Other guests on the show include Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), economist Russ Roberts, Judge Andrew Napolitano, former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, and Ben Friedman and Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute.

Go here for more details and video clips.

And click here to watch last week's Stossel, which featured Matt Welch and me talking about how independents voted.

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Peter Suderman on Superhero Subsidies

This summer’s most colossal box-office winner was writer-director Joss Whedon’s big-budget, big-screen adaptation of the classic Marvel superhero comic The Avengers, writes Peter Suderman. For the bulk of the street scenes, they relocated to a city not commonly mistaken for America’s most prominent metropolis: Cleveland.

Why Cleveland? The decision to film in the Forest City can be explained in two words: tax subsidies.

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Is There a Constitutional Right to Smoke in the Park?

Last week a federal appeals court rejected a constitutional challenge to an outdoor smoking ban in Clayton, Missouri, ruling that inhaling tobacco combustion products in public parks does not qualify as a "fundamental right." I tend to agree, although I am sympathetic to smokers facing unjustified restrictions on their freedom (the subject of my first book).

Arthur Gallagher, a Clayton resident who "regularly uses the City’s parks and 'ecstatically enjoys smoking tobacco products while doing so,'" argued that the ban violates the 14th Amendment because it is not "narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest," as required for restrictions on fundamental rights under substantive due process analysis. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit concluded that "Gallagher has failed adequately to demonstrate how the Ordinance would so threaten liberty or justice as to trigger strict scrutiny under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Although the Supreme Court has recognized a right to "bodily integrity" and a right to engage in certain "personal activities and decisions," the 8th Circuit said, "the alleged right to smoke in public is not so deeply rooted in the Nation's history and tradition, and it is not implicit in the concept of ordered liberty."

The court also did not buy Gallagher's alternative argument that the ordinance should be subject to "intermediate scrutiny" because “smokers are a quasi-suspect class due to discrimination and second class categorization." That left "rational basis" review, a standard so deferential that it virtually guarantees a challenged law will be upheld. Gallagher argued that the risk to bystanders from secondhand smoke in the open air is negligible and therefore cannot be considered a rational basis for Clayton's ordinance, which applies to "any property or premises owned or leased for use by the City of Clayton, including buildings, grounds, parks, [and] playgrounds." The city's Board of Alderman justified the ban on outdoor smoking by citing, among other things, Surgeon General Richard Carmona's 2006 declaration that “there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke"—which, as I pointed out at the time, is a more akin to a religious belief than a scientific statement. But that does not matter, according to the 8th Circuit, because the city's aldermen did not need any evidence to support their belief that outdoor tobacco smoke poses a hazard:

Although the Board could have engaged in "rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data" that outdoor secondhand smoke exposure harms health, the Board went further and relied on reports that "could...reasonably be conceived to be true." We need not determine whether outdoor secondhand smoke exposure  actually causes  harm. Because the  City reasonably could believe this to be true, the Ordinance survives rational basis review.

That gives you a sense of how demanding the "rational basis" test is.

I agree with Gallagher that the city's ordinance goes too far, especially given the dearth of evidence that his smoking in the park would endanger anyone's health. But I find government-imposed restrictions on smoking in privately owned indoor spaces such as bars and restaurants much more troubling than rules against smoking in publicly owned outdoor spaces. In the former case, the government is telling people how to use their own property, while in the latter case it is managing public property on behalf of taxpayers, who include smokers as well as nonsmokers. In this case the city did not balance the interests of those two groups very well (or at all, really), but that does not mean the Constitution requires it to try again.