Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 December 1-31

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Appeals Court Rules “Off-Label” Drugs Marketing is Free Speech

According to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act it’s illegal to sell prescription drugs for any other purpose than what’s written on the label. Consequently, Orphan Medical sales rep Alfred Caronia was criminally prosecuted for making “off-label” promotional comments about his pharmaceutical companies’ drug Xyrem, a drug specified as a treatment for Cataplexy (weak and/or paralyzed muscles found in narcolepsy patients.)

Caronia, in a conversation taped by undercover government agents, told a doctor that the drug could also be used to treat other muscle conditions such as Restless Leg Syndrome and Parkinson’s. In addition, he told the doctor that the drug could be used in patients under 16, notwithstanding the black box warning on the drug that highlighted that FDA standard safety has not been established for the drug in under patients under 16.

The information provided by Caronia was truthful. Despite this, he was prosecuted for breaking the law. Mr. Caronia successfully appealed the conviction this week arguing that his First Amendment right to free speech was wrongfully and illegally restricted by the drug law. 

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Americans Don't Need Higher Taxes. But They Do Need an Honest Appraisal of their Choices.

The title of Ezra Klein’s latest Washington Post column announces that “Yesterday’s tax revenues can’t support tomorrow’s America.” The piece makes the case that tax revenues will have to increase from their historical average of about 18 percent of GDP in order to support higher health costs and an aging population.

But you could just as easily make the argument in reverse: An honest look at the history of America’s federal revenues strongly suggests we can’t afford the same level of health and retirement benefits into the future. To put it another way: Historical tax revenues can’t support projected increases in entitlement spending.

The core of Klein’s case is that the growing senior population and the rising cost of health care means that continuing to provide entitlement benefits roughly equivalent to today’s will require greater revenue:

Projected deficits are driven by two factors: health-care costs and old people. The coming years will bring more of both. Today, the elderly make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. By 2050, they’re expected to be 20 percent. There’s no way that the tax receipts of the 1980s will support the demographics of the 2020s or 2030s. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t taking the numbers seriously, or is planning cuts to Social Security and Medicare that dwarf anything that has been openly discussed in Washington.

Out on the basic outlook, Klein and I agree on quite a bit: What the nation is doing now with regards to tax revenues and entitlements is not sustainable in the long term. But Klein thinks that overall tax revenue levels will have to rise, because the alternative would be cutting Medicare and Social Security far more than any legislator is actually talking about.

Yet the same is more or less true when it comes to taxes: Continuing to provide entitlement benefits at today’s levels will require far higher levels of taxation than most of today’s elected officials are willing to admit. 

This is what the Congressional Budget Office has been telling people for a long time. Leaving entitlement benefits at roughly their current levels would require raising federal revenues “significantly above their average share of GDP” since World War II. Yes, it’s “possible to keep the policies for those large benefit programs unchanged,” the budget office says, “but only by raising taxes substantially, relative to current policies, for a broad segment of the population.”

Klein is right that politicians haven’t been keen to discuss the kind of entitlement cuts that would be necessary to put the budget on a sustainable path. But neither has the political class embraced the kind of broad tax hikes—tax hikes that would have a noticeable effect on large swaths of the middle class—that would be necessary either.

Right now there's not much appetite for a major overhaul of the entitlement system. But there isn't a lot of support for a large tax hike on the middle class either. 

The real problem here is that the public isn’t getting the sort of honest appraisal it deserves. Republicans tend to focus on tweaks to the entitlement system that won’t produce big savings. Democrats heavily emphasize tax hikes on the wealthy that won’t come close to providing the sort of fiscal course correction the federal government needs. But neither side talks seriously about the fundamental budgetary challenges the country faces—or the kinds of policy solutions that addressing those challenges might require.

Yet what the CBO has made clear over and over again is that what we need are big changes, the kind that won't be easy: “Making policy changes that are large enough to shrink the debt relative to the size of the economy—or even to keep the debt from growing—will be a formidable task.” Right now it’s a task that neither party is up to. And that goes a long way toward explaining why we're our current impasse. We don't necessarily need higher taxes to resolve our budget woes. But we do need politicians willing to level with the public about the scope of the policy changes that will eventually need to be made.  

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Fiscal-Cliff Talks Drag On, FEMA Unprepared for Sandy First-Responders, Hazmat Response to a Thermometer: P.M. Links

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Scott Shackford on the Libertarian Gay Marriage Paradox

“The government shouldn’t be in the marriage business,” is a common refrain from libertarians whenever the debate turns to the issue of government recognition of same-sex marriage. The conclusion, while compelling, does nothing to actually advance any strategy for doing so. Scott Shackford argues that the solution—embracing recognition of gay marriage—may feel contradictory to many libertarians, but it will provide ammunition to the argument that families don’t need the state to oversee or regulate them in order for them to thrive.

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Donate to Reason! Because We'll Keep Talking About Cutting Government Until Some of These Sonsabitches Start Listening! And Even Afterward!

You may think that we here at Reason have a curious fondness for printing up special issues about cutting government that feature comical death-figures wielding murderous knives. And you'd be right!

Subscribers and donors–hey, wouldja donate to Reason already?–are already enjoying our special COOP-illustrated "Apocalypse 2013" issue, filled with tales of infuriating woe about just how badly mismanaged the nation's finances have become. But let's turn the clock back to an even more infuriating time, and an even more gruesome sight–Katherine Mangu-Ward's terrible hand, wielding a threatening knife in 3-D, to illustrate our November 2010 issue "How to Slash Government Before it Slashes You."

This was before the November 2010 mid-terms, before Rand Paul was in the U.S. Senate, before Republicans even paid lip service to maybe thinking some day about cutting government. My editor's note shows a glimpse of that world gone by:

In July, while publicizing his new book To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was challenged by NBC's Matt Lauer to name federal government programs "you would be willing to cut right now to cut deficits." After some throat clearing about his record in the 1990s, Gingrich offered up this weak sauce: "I would start and I'd go through this budget pretty dramatically and I would eliminate a great deal of federal bureaucracy. I would reform unemployment compensation. I would reform workman's comp at the state level. I would have a very pro-jobs, very pro-savings, very pro-take-home-pay policy." [...]

The interview got worse. "Would you make cuts in Social Security and Medicare?" Lauer asked.

Gingrich: "No, no." [...]

In July NBC's David Gregory put the same question to two allegedly rock-ribbed Texas conservatives, Rep. Pete Sessions and Sen. John Cornyn: "Name a painful choice that Republicans are prepared to say we have to make."

Sessions went first: "Well, first of all, we have to make sure as we look at all we spend in Washington, D.C., with not only the entitlement spending, but also the bigger government we cannot afford anymore. We have to empower the free enterprise system."

An exasperated Gregory tried again with Cornyn, who replied: "Well, the president has a debt commission that reports December the first, and I think we'd all like to see what they come back with."

Bzzzzt!!!

At Reason, which is published by a 501(c)3 nonprofit that depends on your donations the way that Rocky depends on raw eggs, we are constantly and consciously pushing politicians and thought leaders to grapple with the always timely fact that if we allowed the federal government to grow since 2000 merely at the rate of inflation plus population growth, we'd be talking about surpluses right now. And that you can (and should!) produce economic growth by cutting government. And that reducing government reduces societal tension by reducing the amount of our money spent on activities we personally abhor. And that it makes us more free.

We talk about this stuff practically or philosophically, at the federal or state or local level, on Fox or MSNBC, criticizing Republicans or Democrats, and we do it every living day of the week.

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What Follows Assad Still Far From Clear as Syrian Conflict Enters Final Stages

The recent revelation that the Syrian military is preparing chemical weapons is the latest indication that the situation in Syria is slipping increasingly out of Bashar al-Assad’s control. Fighting in Damascus has intensified, the USS Eisenhower is off the Syrian coast, Turkey is ready to defend itself, Russia is withdrawing its support, and the international community has promised an “immediate response” if Assad decides to use chemical weapons.

Some are arguing that the conflict in Syria is in the endgame stage, with the preparation of chemical weapons an indication of Assad's desperation. 

From the Saudi Gazette:

Put bluntly this is a writhing serpent in its death throes, which is still capable of spitting out its venom, in one final despairing assault on its enemies. The Free Syrian Army has been making considerable headway in recent weeks, overrunning military bases and airfields. Indeed the FSA currently claims to have surrounded another government airbase in Damascus. This has not only robbed the regime of key installations, but it has also allowed the insurgents to arm themselves with heavier weapons, including tanks.

The situation is not looking good for Assad, and those who have been putting pressure on the regime must be prepared for the aftermath of the civil war.

Although many will welcome Assad’s downfall it is far from obvious that whatever government follows will be able to ensure stability. The Syrian rebels are not a homogeneous group, and some of the more worrying elements of Assad’s opposition are motivated by holy war, oftentimes with American weapons.  Militants with links to Al Qaeda have dismissed the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and have called for the creation of an Islamic state in Syria. Once Assad falls these Islamic extremist groups will almost certainly cause problems for whoever takes over.

Although the civil war in Syria is often portrayed as a conflict between a brutal Assad regime and an oppressed opposition the reality is that the conflict involves unpleasant groups on both sides in a situation U.S. policy makers would do well to avoid. 

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Supremes Will Take Up Gay Marriage Cases After All

Picking up an opportunity that many people though was slipping away, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear not one, but two gay marriage cases. The justices will weigh in on California's contentious Prop. 8, with which a slim majority of that state's voters sought to toss away any advantage on tolerance and civil liberties the Golden State might have to offset its hideous tax and regulatory environment. The Supremes will also decide the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act, which apparently sought to preserve the institution by keeping it small and select for the purposes of federal recognition.

Says the Washington Post:

In addition to the questions about whether the laws are constitutional, the court has asked the parties to respond to questions about "standing," a constitutional limit on who can bring a case before the court because of a constitutional limit that courts only can hear actual "cases and controversies." If a party doesn't have standing to bring an appeal, the court cannot hear an appeal.

The specifics of the DOMA case before the court are particularly poignant, since they involve a woman, Edith Windsor, who was forced forced to pay more than $350,000 in estate taxes after her wife passed away. The money wouldn't have been owed by the survivor of a marriage recognized by the feds. That's a pretty effective rebuttal of those who think legal recognition is either unimportant or a step too far.

Both Prop. 8 and DOMA have been, rightfully, I believe, slapped down by lower courts. The Supreme Court will have the final say.

This issue has personal importance for my wife and me, because we have close gay and lesbian friends who suffer the consequences of legal exclusion of their relationships. I count myself among those who'd like to see the state out of marriage entirely, but failing that, treating same-sex relationships on an equal basis strikes me as a no-brainer.

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Essential Benefits or Health Industry Handouts?

ObamaCare lays out 10 categories of "essential benefits" that health insurers in the individual market must cover under the law. But in regulations published in the wake of the law's passage, federal authorities left states a fair amount of leeway to determine which services, exactly, will meet the law's broad criteria for essential benefits.

So how do state officials determine which health benefits are truly essential parts of a person's health insurance coverage? In part by listening to health industry interest groups. Who are not, shall we say, entirely objective observers. Earlier this week, The New York Times noted the push by interest groups like chiropracters and acupuncturists to ensure that their services were required by law. 

Most of the roughly two dozen states that have chosen their essential benefits — services that insurance will have to cover under the law — have decided to include chiropractic care in their package. Four states — California, Maryland, New Mexico and Washington — included acupuncture for treating pain, nausea and other ailments. It is also likely to be an essential benefit in Alaska and Nevada, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“To me, six is huge,” said Ms. Kang, an acupuncturist in Los Angeles, who helped coordinate the lobbying effort.

The main goal of the health care law has always been to guarantee medical coverage to nearly all Americans, but as states finalize their benefits packages, it is becoming clear that what is received will depend partly on location.

According to proposals that the states have submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services, insurance plans will have to cover weight-loss surgery in New York and California, for example, but not in Minnesota or Connecticut. Infertility treatment will be a required benefit in Massachusetts, but not in Arizona.

Over all, the law requires that essential health benefits cover 10 broad categories, including emergency services, maternity and newborn care, hospitalization, preventive care and prescription drugs. But there is room for variation in those categories. Whether insurance will pay for hearing aids, foot care, speech therapy and various medications will vary significantly by state.

ObamaCare's individual mandate wasn't simply a requirement that most everyone get some kind of health insurance. It was a requirement that most everyone that get health insurance that meets certain criteria defined by federal and state authorities. Inevitably, that means that health care providers end up lobbying to be included in those criteria. And in many cases that will mean that individuals end up paying for benefits they neither need nor want. 

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How Many Government Agencies Does It Take To Dispose of a Beached Whale?

Feels like a trick question. A forty thousand pound, forty foot long dead whale washed ashore in Malibu on Monday, and is still there four days later. Government officials aren’t sure what to do about it or, for that matter, who should be doing it. From the LA Times:

The lifeguards stationed at the beach said they were game [to deal with the beached whale], but weren't sure what to do. The city of Malibu said the county would probably take care of it, but the county insisted Little Dume is a private beach, which it is not. Then local officials said the state might take care of it, but the nearest state property appeared to be nearly a mile to the southwest.

"There have been some issues with jurisdiction," said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Quvondo Johnson.

Los Angeles Fire County Inspector Tony Imbrenda, meanwhile, tells local TV station KTLA that there will be meetings with beaches and harbors and that LA county lifeguard personnel are “going to formulate a plan to remove this whale from the beach.” What that plan is, KTLA reports, is unknown, with the “pretty significant state of decomposition” making towing the whale back into the ocean no longer a possibility. It’ll be days before the whale might be disposed of.

State officials were able to find out what happened to the fin whale, an endangered species. They cut it up and determined it was hit by a boat.

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Does the DOJ Have an 'Open-and-Shut Case' Against Marijuana Legalization in Colorado & Washington?

In a new Rolling Stone piece on "Obama's Pot Problem," Tim Dickinson observes that it is entirely in the president's power to refrain from interfering with marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington:

If Obama were committed to drug reform—or simply to states' rights—he could immediately end DEA raids on those who grow and sell pot according to state law, and immediately order the Justice Department to make enforcement of federal marijuana laws the lowest priority of U.S. attorneys in states that choose to tax and regulate pot.

That probably won't happen, Dickinson says:

Privately, both drug reformers and drug warriors believe the Obama administration is likely to take Colorado and Washington to court to keep them out of the pot business.

But neither Colorado's Amendment 64 nor Washington's Initiative 502 requires the state to get into the pot business, and this is no small detail. As I explained last month, both initiatives were written to specify the circumstances under which people will be exempt from state penalties for growing, possessing, and selling marijuana—something states indisputably have the power to do. State officials will not be involved in growing, selling, or even handling marijuana; they will merely certify when growers and sellers have met the conditions to avoid prosecution under state law. Those growers and sellers will still be vulnerable to federal prosecution, however. Because Dickinson elides this distinction, he exaggerates the chances that the Justice Department could persuade the courts to rule that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) prevents Colorado and Washington from legalizing the commercial production and distribution of marijuana:

Unfortunately for drug reformers, the administration appears to have an open-and-shut case: Federal law trumps state law when the two contradict. What's more, the Supreme Court has spoken on marijuana law: In the 2005 case Gonzales v. Raich contesting medical marijuana in California, the court ruled that the federalgovernment can regulate even tiny quantities of pot—including those grown and sold purely within state borders—because the drug is ultimately connected to interstate commerce.

In Raich the Supreme Court held only that the federal government can continue to enforce its ban on marijuana in states that allow medical use of the plant. That does not mean the feds can compel states to help them, let alone force them to enact or maintain their own bans. And contrary to Dickinson's implication, pre-emption by the CSA requires more than the sort of "contradiction" you have when a state chooses not to punish people for activities that the federal government continues to treat as crimes. It requires "a positive conflict" between state and federal law such that "the two cannot consistently stand together." The Supreme Court has said a positive conflict exists "when it is impossible to comply with both state and federal law." That is clearly not the case here, since anyone in Colorado or Washington can comply with both state and federal law simply by staying away from marijuana.

It is notable that in the 16 years since states began legalizing marijuana for medical use, the Justice Department has never tried to overturn those laws in court with a pre-emption argument, even though it has interfered with the distribution of cannabis to patients (which began in yet another state yesterday) in many other ways. Perhaps that is because, contrary to what Dickinson says, a pre-emption argument would be anything but an "open-and-shut case." Last month Alex Kreit, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law who has studied the issue, told the Drug War Chronicle "opponents of these laws would love nothing more than to be able to preempt them, but there is not a viable legal theory to do that." Yesterday The New York Times noted that Gregory Katsas, who headed the Justice Department's civil division in George W. Bush's administration, likewise "was skeptical that a pre-emption lawsuit would succeed."

The Justice Department may be mulling a lawsuit, and it may, as Dickinson's sources suggest, end up filing one. But that does not mean it will win.

A brief co-authored by Kreit addresses the pre-emption issue in more detail.

53 Percent Say California Public Universities Teach Political Bias in Classroom

The latest Reason-Rupe poll of Californians found 53 percent believe California public university professors present topics in the classroom in a politically biased way, 24 percent thought these university professors taught in a politically balanced manner.

Among the majority of California who believe the state’s public higher education system promotes political bias, 68 percent said it was a liberal bias while 8 percent thought it was a conservative bias. A fifth said “some other kind of bias” was taught in public university classrooms.

Most telling is that among the age cohort most likely attending California public colleges, 66 percent of 18-24 year-olds believe there is political bias taught in the classroom. Among those who perceive bias, 53 percent say it’s a liberal bias and 5 percent say it’s a conservative bias; 39 percent say its some other kind of bias. Although majorities of nearly every other age cohort also perceive a political bias, they are less likely than the college-age cohort.

Interestingly the more education respondents’ attain, the less likely they are to report political bias in public classrooms. It’s unclear whether this is a result of greater experience at public universities, or individuals’ conforming their values to their environment. For instance, among those with post-graduate degrees, 59 percent are Democratic or lead Democratic compared to 37 percent who are Republican or lean Republican.

Perceptions of political bias at California’s public campuses also vary by respondents’ own political beliefs. For instance, a plurality (43 percent) of self identified liberals do not believe there is political bias in CA university classrooms, but 82 percent of self identified conservatives think there is bias. Eighty-two percent of Republicans and 54 percent of Independents agree, compared to 37 percent of Democrats.

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Do We Need Politicians to Take a "No Debt Increase" Pledge?

As Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge seems to be losing its force, Jonathan Bydlak at National Review argues it was never enough:

Imagine if instead of pledging not to raise taxes, all those politicians had pledged not to raise spending....That’s why it’s important to do for spending what Norquist has done for taxes: create a means for voters to hold elected officials accountable when they break campaign promises of fiscal responsibility.

...Given our ever-mounting debt, it is incumbent on all of us who care about the future prosperity of this country to reexamine the completeness of Norquist’s approach. We have to look at more than the tax side of the equation.

Fortunately, some in Washington are taking aim at our political sacred cows. Doug Collins, Representative-elect from Georgia, and Ted Cruz, Senator-elect from Texas, both pledged to voters this cycle that they consider all items in the budget eligible for reduction. By signing the Reject the Debt pledge in addition to the taxpayers-protection pledge, they will vote against not only tax increases now but also spending increases that would amount to future tax burdens.

As one columnist recently wrote, “From now on, any politician who signs the anti-tax pledge without also signing the anti-debt pledge can be dismissed as a complete hypocrite.” The companion to Norquist’s no-tax pledge is the Reject the Debt pledge. Elected officials need to sign both.

Nick Gillespie from last week on why spending drives deficits.

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Why ObamaCare Will Make Health Insurance More Expensive

A chief selling point for ObamaCare was that it would lower the cost of health insurance. President Obama famously promised that the health law would lower premiums by an average of about $2,500 annually per family. That was never particularly plausible, but the law’s advocates have continued to dangle the possibility that ObamaCare might at least restrain the growth of health costs and, in turn, the premiums that health plan beneficiaries pay for their insurance.

Don’t bet on it. With or without the president’s health care law, insurance premiums were destined to rise. ObamaCare won't restrain this trend. It will probably make it worse. The law includes several provisions that are virtually guaranteed to make insurance more expensive, not less.

Start with the law’s annual “fee” on health insurers. This fee is little more than a tax on health insurance. And that means higher costs for you: Analyses from both the insurance industry and the government’s bean counters agree that ultimately the tax will be passed on to consumers.

The insurance tax doesn’t hit individuals directly. Instead, it’s a fixed-dollar amount that the major health industry players all have to pitch in to cover starting in 2014. The fee is set at $8 billion for the first year, and rises annually to $14.3 billion in 2018, after which point increases will indexed to the average growth of health insurance premiums. The amount each insurer has to pay is calculated based on the total volume of premiums each insurer collected over the course of a year, and allocated proportionally so that the largest insurers pay the biggest fee.

Charging health insurers rather than consumers is intended to disguise the fact that the effect is essentially the same. As the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) wrote last summer, “the fee on health insurance providers is similar to an excise tax based on the sales price of health insurance contracts.” And the likely effects on the insurance market are pretty clear. According to the JCT, those taxes “may be borne by: consumers in the form of higher prices; owners of firms in the form of lower profits; employees of firms in the form of lower wages; or other suppliers to firms in the form of lower payments.” The Congressional Budget Office came to the same conclusion, noting in 2009 that the fees “would largely be passed through to consumers in the form of high premiums for private coverage.”

In other words, the fee doesn’t simply hit insurers. Someone, somewhere down the line, has to pay.

How much will they have to pay?

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"Magic Mushrooms" Show Signs of Helping in Addiction, Cancer Anxiety

The always-interesting Maia Szalavitz at Time with the latest in research into the benefits of (illegal) psychedelic mushrooms:

In research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) scientists highlighted the latest findings on the use of psilocybin, the synthetic version of the active compound in “magic mushrooms,” as a treatment for anxiety in terminal cancer patients, in smoking cessation and as a treatment for alcoholism.

Some of the studies are not complete and have not yet been reviewed by other experts, but they provide new information on psilocybin’s effect....

In its ongoing program of psilocybin research, scientists at Johns Hopkins have treated over 150 volunteers in 350 drug trial sessions.  Although many participants experienced at least some type of anxiety reaction while on the drug, none of them reported lasting harm and 70% rated the experience as one of the top five most meaningful events of their lives, comparable to the birth of a first child or the loss of a parent....

UCLA’s [Dr. Charles] Grob studied 12 cancer patients with end-stage disease, aged 18 through 70, all of whom were highly anxious in facing death.  They were given preparatory therapy sessions so that they would know what to expect while under the influence of psilocybin, and then had two sessions a month apart, one with placebo and one with psilocybin.  The vitamin niacin was used in a high dose as the placebo, because it produces a physiological sensation of burning or itching on the face that is harmless but produces some “drug” effect....

“Nobody had a significant anxiety reaction or ‘bad trip’” Grob reported, citing data he published in the Archives of General Psychiatry on the research in 2011....

The studies on smoking cessation and on alcoholism have only just begun, but show encouraging results in a small group of volunteers. Says Paul Kenny, associate professor of neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, and a member of program committee for the ACNP meeting, “The potential beneficial effects of psilocybin on addiction is an important question that should thoroughly explored...."

Kenny goes on in a scientistic, "let's make an industry out of this" way to say it would be better if they can develop new drugs that mimic the "good" parts of the mushroom without the hallucinogenic part, though he acknowledged that might not be possible. 

Fitting that this article appears in Time as its founder Henry Luce enjoyed psychedelics himself.

Jacob Sullum and me from 2006 on earlier research into the spiritual uses of the mushroom.

Maia Szalavitz's work discussed at Reason.

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Doha Climate Change Conference Going Over the "Climate Cliff"?

The 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is supposed to have wrapped by now. Apparently, the negotiations are going to go into the weekend. The "climate cliff" phrase in the headline was coined by Bill Hare, the former Greenpeace climate change spokesperson, who put together a couple of weeks back, the World Bank's widely reported study, "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C World Must be Avoided," that warned that the world is catastrophically on track to warm by 4.0 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). The always objective Hare told The Guardian:

"We have a climate cliff … We're facing a carbon tsunami, actually, where huge amounts of carbon are now being emitted at a faster rate than ever. And it's that carbon tsunami that's likely to overwhelm the planet with warming, sea-level rise and acidifying the oceans."

As usual, the chief sticking point at the conference is how much money the rich countries are supposed to give the poor countries as climate change compensation. Back in 2009, at the failed Copenhagen climate change conference the Obama administration cobbled together a vague promise that the rich countries would give away $100 billion annually in climate compensation by 2020. At Doha, the kleptocrats who run poor countries want the rich countries to promise that the aid will be in the form of grants delivered directly to their coffers - loans and private investments will not be counted. 

Also still hanging fire at the conference is whether or not the world's only climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, will be continued. Already, Russia, Canada, and Japan have dropped out of it. The betting is that the European Union will let some weak version of it survive in order to avoid diplomat embarassment (and protect the jobs of bureaucrats that administer it). As background, the price for an allowance to emit ton of carbon dioxide has fallen from 20€ in 2008 to under 7€ today on the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme market.

Finally, at earlier conferences, negotiators agreed to negotiate some kind of "legally-binding" global climate change treaty that would encompass the emissions of fast developing countries like China and india by 2015 that would go into effect by 2020. Apparently, the Chinese are still trying to get out of that obligation.

Will update as (and if) news happens.

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Watch: LaHood Smacked Down over Calif. High-Speed Train Funding (and Lack Thereof)

California’s state Republicans failed in efforts to stop the funding for the initial leg of Gov. Jerry Brown’s $68 billion high-speed rail project. Not that they didn’t try, but Brown and legislative leaders sweetened the pot for skeptical Democrats with light rail upgrade funds for Los Angeles and the Bay area.

But because California currently has absolutely no money to pay for the project beyond the first phase, the battle shifts over to Congress and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Only $3.3 billion of federal funds have been committed to the project, and clearly, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wants more. But Congress has blocked any additional federal money from being spent to support California’s high-speed rail.

At a House hearing Thursday, LaHood squared off with California Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Fresno). Of note, after LaHood keeps complaining about the block on federal funding, Denham takes great pains to explain to LaHood how the House has not seen any sign of any private investors interested in the project. And much like a bank providing a loan, he wants a real, workable business plan for the train before the House authorizes more funds:

As we noted earlier this week, the “business plan” formulating to get private investment for the train involves courting pension funds and endowments. That doesn’t appear to be evidence that the business world has much faith in the train’s success.

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George Zimmerman Sues NBC Over Inflammatory Edits of His 911 Call

Yesterday George Zimmerman filed a defamation suit against NBC, accusing the network of deliberately editing the recording of his 911 call on the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin to make him look like a "racist and predatory villain." I am not a big fan of defamation lawsuits, since I don't think anyone has a right to stop other people from saying nasty things about him, even when they are not true. But NBC's claim that the editing was inadvertent is highly implausible, to say the least. This is how Zimmerman's conversation with the police dispatcher actually went:

Zimmerman: Hey we've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Here is the version that NBC broadcast on March 19, three weeks after the shooting, via WTVJ, its affiliate in Miami:

Zimmerman: There is a real suspicious guy. Ah, this guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something. He looks black.

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: OK, we don't need you to do that.

Zimmerman: OK.

In addition to making it seem that Zimmerman volunteered Martin's race, with the implication that it was one reason Zimmerman deemed him suspicious, this version immediately appends an exchange about following Martin that actually came after another minute or so of dialogue, heightening the impression that Zimmerman was stalking Martin because he was black. A report by Lilia Luciano that aired on the Today show the next day included this somewhat different but equally inflammatory cut-and-paste job: 

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good or on drugs or something. He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male.

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: OK, we don't need you to do that.

A March 22 Today report by Luciano featured these snippets:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black.

Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah, a dark hoodie.

Finally, a March 27 Today report by Ron Allen used just those first two sentences, again omitting the intervening 25 words:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black.

Allen was also the correspondent who claimed in a March 20 report that "when Zimmerman was calling the police the night Trayvon Martin was killed, he described the victim using a racial epithet." You can listen to the unexpurgated call here (scroll down); I think it is fair to say that you can hear a racial epithet only if you want to. The Mother Jones transcript renders the part of the recording that Allen apparently had in mind as "fucking [unintelligible]."

Since the racial angle on this story has been prominent from the beginning (whether or not it should have been), it beggars belief to suggest that no one at NBC recognized the implications of presenting the 911 audio the way it was in these four reports. Yet "when the omissions were noticed at the end of March," The New York Times reports, "NBC News conducted an investigation and concluded that the edits were mistakes, not deliberate distortions. Ms. Luciano subsequently left the network, as did a producer who worked with her. Mr. Allen remains at the network." Here is the statement that NBC News made at the time:

During our investigation, it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret. We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to viewers.

Whoops. As a public figure, Zimmerman has to show that NBC knowingly aired something that was not true or did so with reckless disregard as to its truth. Even if the impression left by the editing of his call was not calculated (as Zimmerman charges in his lawsuit), it certainly looks reckless.

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Update: Downtown Memphis Not Blighted (Yet)!

Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) members did not hold a vote yesterday on a motion to declare downtown Memphis and surrounding neighborhoods a slum. The designation would authorize the use of eminent domain for private development.

As noted on Tuesday, much of the proposed redevelopment area was razed in the 1950s during a previous experiment with urban renewal. Many of those properties remain vacant to this day.

From The Commercial-Appeal:

"You've got enough red tape as it is," South Main developer Cynthia Grawemeyer said after the meeting. She and her husband, Mark Grawemeyer, have been converting historic South Main buildings to restaurants and retail. "This is just another layer we've got to go through," she said.

She said a Wednesday night meeting of the South Main Association, which she leads, drew a crowd to discuss the plan. "The mood is, we're all against it, and that's why we're all here."

The Heritage Trail Community Redevelopment Plan would put over 4,000 private properties under the cloud of condemnation. Redevelopment Agency members envision raising over $100 million from tax-increment financing, which diverts property tax revenues in the project area to the CRA.

Read the original story here.

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Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on How Not to Fix Racial Preferences in College Admissions

The recent Sixth Circuit Court ruling overturning Michigan's ban on racial preferences in college admissions deserves a place of honor in the top-ten list of judicial sophistries, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her morning column in the Washington Examiner. But that shows that using courts to create color-blind campuses is neither workable nor desirable. She notes:

The best among bad options might be full-disclosure laws requiring universities that receive federal funding to reveal what admissions standards they use for which group -- minorities, alumni, athletes, donors -- along with their graduation rates. This will expose any admissions double standard whether toward minorities or rich white legacies, causing elite universities to risk their reputational appeal.

Go here for the whole thing.

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Steven Greenhut on Why Big Government Is Not Your Friend

Advocates for bigger government believe that government is the most efficient and humane provider of goods and services. The presidential election and ongoing debates in California illustrate this frightening phenomenon. Voters chose a candidate who has an undying faith in the power of government and, as Steven Greenhut observes, even the Republican candidate failed to clearly explain the most obvious lesson—why free enterprise is superior to government coercion. As for the Golden State, what do you call a bunch of lawmakers who seethe with hostility toward private firms and do little more than hatch plans to create new government programs?

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In Arkansas, Medical Marijuana Received 100,000 More Votes Than President Obama

By now you've probably heard that more Coloradoans voted to legalize marijuana than to re-elect President Obama--53,281 more Coloradoans, to be exact.

But did you know Obama also lost to medical marijuana in Arkansas, a state Mitt Romney won by a landslide? Here's the breakdown: Romney received 644,784 votes, a medical marijuana ballot initiative received 505,613 yes votes, and Obama received 392,401 votes.

While medical weed and Obama both lost in Arkansas, weed only lost by 30,000 votes; Obama lost to Romney by more than 252,000 votes. 

The fact that more than 100,000 Romney voters in the Upper South voted to legalize and regulate pot should tell Obama something, especially as he considers cracking down on legal pot in Colorado and Washington. 

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This Just In: Barack Obama Wasn't Actually Secretly Planning to End the Drug War

As my colleague Mike Riggs reported last night, the Obama administration is pondering ways to undermine the pot legalization laws that voters in Colorado and Washington state passed last month. Over at The Huffington Post, Radley Balko responds with a roundup of Obama boosters who assured us during the campaign that the president would back away from the drug war after he'd been safely reelected. Here's Lawrence O'Donnell in April, for example:

Although President Obama thinks it's entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether our drug laws are doing more harm than good, he has absolutely no intention of having that discussion in the United States until after he is reelected to a second term. With exactly 204 days remaining until the election, that makes possibly ending the war on drugs the 204th reason to vote for President Obama on November 6th.

That may or may not have worked as a get-out-the-vote drive, but as a prediction it looks like it was exactly backwards. Obama wasn't waiting for his second term to bring up an issue that's too hot for the voters. The voters themselves have shoved the issue onto the agenda, and second-term Obama is looking for ways to shove it back.

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...Because Reason is Your Voice in the Fight for Freedom! Please Donate to Reason's 2012 Webathon!

We're in the fourth day of Reason's annual webathon and we're looking for 800 donors to make tax-deductible donations to the nonprofit Reason Foundation that publishes this website, Reason magazine, and Reason TV.

Your contributions are a vital part of our operation. They fund everything we do and help us continue bring you the best libertarian news, analysis, video, and print commentary on the planet.

As Reason's publisher, Mike Alissi, has put it, there's a lot of reasons to support Reason, including:

  • Do you spend more time on Hit & Run than on Facebook? Donate!
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Beyond bringing you constantly updated news of the day with our great new aggregation at Reason 24/7, the best videos out there (recall our rebuttal of Samuel L. Jackson's Wake the Fuck Up! vid?), tons of free content every day at Reason.com, and 11 issues a year of the only magazine dedicated to "Free Minds and Free Markets," we strive to be your voice in public debates on politics, culture, and ideas.

Like this one I had with Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow earlier in the year over Fast and Furious and gunwalking (among other things).

 

That's part of what your donations fund: Reason's ability to get out there and mix it up with folks on the right, left, and center. To help change the conversation. To help create the next generation of libertarians. And in places such as Colorado and Washington state, to provide the sorts of information and analysis that eventually changes the world.

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A.M. Links: Obama Approval Rating Highest in Year and a Half, Unemployment Down to 7.7 Percent, Snow May Be Delaying North Korea Missile Launch

  • At 57 percent, President Obama is enjoying his highest approval ratings since Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden.
  • 146,000 new jobs were created in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, moving the unemployment rate down to 7.7 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2008.
  • Much hullabaloo over the first medical marijuana dispensary to open in New Jersey, three years after a law allowing it was passed. “I’ve got joint pain!”
  • Egyptians are pouring in to Tahrir Square to protest Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the draft constitution that will be voted on next week.
  • The battle for Damascus has been taken to the international airport, where rebels warn civilians and airlines to enter only at their own risk.
  • North Korea’s planned missile launch may be being delayed on account of snow.

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Kurt Loder on End of Watch and Deadfall

End of Watch is a tough little cop thriller with standout performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Unfortunately, writes Kurt Loder, writer-director David Ayer, who specializes in this sort of LAPD action item (he also scripted Training Day), has lumbered the film with a shaky cam gimmick that’s implausible, distracting, and altogether uncalled-far. Still, the movie is worth seeing.

Deadfall, meanwhile, which features Erica Bana, Olivia Wilde, and Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam, has most of the elements of a good tricky noir: sex, love, doom, death. But the movie is dogged by intermittent listlessness, and it never quite comes together. About halfway in, Loder reports, you can tell that the film itself is doomed.

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Kennedy: Guns, Football, Macho Culture Didn't Kill Jovan Belcher's Girlfriend. He Did.

Less than a week ago, Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and mother of his three-month-old daughter before killing himself

The horrifying event kickstarted a discussion about the causes of Belcher's horrific act, with commentators quickly pointing to various factors - head injuries, football's macho culture, guns - as the real triggerman in a senseless act of violence.

Reason TV's Kennedy has a different take: Jovan Belcher is responsible for the killings.

Watch above or click through link below to go to full story, with text, links, downloadable versions and more.

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Friday Funnies: Bush Tax Cuts

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Brickbat: That's Not Kosher

Poland's Constitutional court has upheld a law mandating that livestock be stunned before it is slaughtered. The law, in effect, bars traditional Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter, which require an animal to be conscious when its throat is slit. The government had exempted religious groups from that law, but the court's ruling makes those waivers illegal.

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Here's How the Obama Administration Is Considering Responding to Legal Pot in Colorado and Washington

The Obama administration is strategizing how to fight legal pot in Colorado and Washington, reports Charlie Savage of The New York Times. While "no decision" is "imminent," Savage reports that senior level White House and Justice Department officials are considering "legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives."

A taskforce made up of Main Justice, the DEA, the State Department, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy is currently considering two courses of action, reports Savage:

One option is for federal prosecutors to bring some cases against low-level marijuana users of the sort they until now have rarely bothered with, waiting for a defendant to make a motion to dismiss the case because the drug is now legal in that state. The department could then obtain a court ruling that federal law trumps the state one.

A more aggressive option is for the Justice Department to file lawsuits against the states to prevent them from setting up systems to regulate and tax marijuana, as the initiatives contemplated. If a court agrees that such regulations are pre-empted by federal ones, it will open the door to a broader ruling about whether the regulatory provisions can be “severed” from those eliminating state prohibitions — or whether the entire initiatives must be struck down.

Option one could possibly mean that Obama would break a campaign promise he's already split hairs over: That his administration will not go after people who smoke marijuana for medicinal reasons. Savage makes it seem as if there are people in Washington who are more than happy to take that route: Apparently some law enforcement officials are so "alarmed at the prospect that marijuana users in both states could get used to flouting federal law openly," that they "are said to be pushing for a stern response."  

UPDATE: Jonathan P. Caulkins, one of the co-authors of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, challenges my speculation that DOJ would necessarily go after a medical marijuana user: 

Why would it have to be a medical user?

The federal government could arrest someone possessing for personal use for non-medical reasons. Not everyone is a medical user. (In CO roughly 1 in 4 past-month users have a medical recommendation.)

They could also arrest someone who is growing more than personal consumption amounts or selling. Granted, to arrest someone licensed to do that, they'd have to wait until later in 2013 when the licensing and regulatory regimes have been set up, but it may well be that it's the licensing of commercial for-profit production and sale that is really what the DEA et al would object to.  After all, as far as I know, the Alaska SC rulings about what is protected under its privacy guarantees have not elicited an energetic federal response.

Duly noted! On Nov 12, Jacob Sullum answered the question, Can the Feds stop Colorado and Washington from legalizing pot? 

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Will Jim DeMint Bring a Libertarian Flavor to Heritage Foundation? Plus, This is Exactly Why You Should Donate to Reason!

As Matt Welch noted earlier today, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is leaving his post in the (self-proclaimed!) World's Greatest Deliberative Body to become the head of the very influential, very conservative D.C. think tank, The Heritage Foundation.

Earlier this year, Matt and I interviewed DeMint and got him to say something that was nothing short of remarkable for a conservative politician from South Carolina who would later sign on to head up Heritage:

The primary function of the federal government is to defend our country. We need to make sure that we have the technology, the intelligence, the equipment to defend America from a lot of new threats. And if that is not doable with bases all over the world, we need to rethink how spread out we actually are. We have to demand that our allies actually pay a greater proportion of their defense. We're still in Germany; we were there after World War II. We're in South Korea. We're in a lot of places. We may need to be in some of those places for deployment and protection. But I think it's fair to say let's rethink that and make sure we're spending money in the right places.

DeMint is a social con's social con, but he told us that he was ready to put all spending on the table and negotiate with anyone who agrees that the government needs to balance its budget. Even more amazingly, he praised Rep. Ron Paul's libertarian influence on the GOP base and told us:

I think the new debate in the Republican Party needs to be between conservatives and libertarians. We have a common foundation of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government, and we can rationally debate some of the things we disagree on. I don’t think the government should impose my morals or anyone else’s on someone else, but at the same time I don’t want the government purging morals and religious values from our society. We can find a balance there. It really gets back to decentralization. The tolerance is going to come from decentralization and letting people make their own decisions, but we have to be able to put up with societal stigma of things we don’t like. 

Watch the interview above and read it here.

I hope that DeMint brings his understanding of decentralization of power and appreciation for a live-and-let-live ethos. In recent years, Heritage Foundation has been a huge supporter of growing defense spending as a fixed percentage of the economy, hostile to immigration and immigrants, and a reliable enemy of decentralizing decisions on things such as gay marriage and marijuana legalization to the state and local levels.

It'll be interesting to watch, for sure.

And let me put in a plug for Reason's annual webathon, which runs through next Tuesday. We're looking for 800 new donors to help us do what we do. The DeMint interview is a great example of how we talk not just with dyed-in-the-wool libertarians but reach across ideological divides to have meaningful conversations in search of common ground while acknowledging differences all the while.

If you find the DeMint interview interesting - it's one of over 150 we conducted in the last 12 months - please think about making a tax-deductible donation to Reason now.

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Successful Charter School Fights Off Anonymous Cheating Allegations

Oxford Preparatory Academy, a K-8 charter school in Mission Viejo, Calif., has been a smashing success in just a single year of existence. It received the highest score in its school district in academic performance scores.

It’s reward? Anonymously being accused of cheating and having to deal with an investigation. As we noted earlier today on Reason 24/7, the independent investigation concluded that there’s no evidence any cheating took place. The school is just that awesome. From the Orange County Register:

An independently run Capistrano Unified school being investigated for possible misconduct during state standardized testing in the spring has been exonerated of wrongdoing, the school district has announced.

Oxford Preparatory Academy, a K-8 public charter school in Mission Viejo, was cleared following an independent, two-month investigation, the district said Wednesday – a tacit admission that Oxford did, in fact, earn a near-perfect Academic Performance Index score of 993 out of 1,000 in its first year of operation

"Capistrano Unified is pleased with the exceptionally high API scores of CUSD students attending Oxford Preparatory Academy and other CUSD schools," district spokeswoman Beverly de Nicola said in a statement.

For once I recommend scrolling down and reading the comments at the end of the story.

Only one school in all of Orange County performed better, by two whole points (and that school also has a competitive application process).

So, since Oxford Preparatory Academy’s teaching methods seem to be so successful, it should be easier to let them start more charter schools elsewhere, right? No, of course not. Don’t be silly. Trustees at Carlsbad Unified School District unanimously rejected a proposal by Oxford Preparatory Academy Wednesday to start a charter school there, claiming “major deficiencies” in its plans. Carlsbad Unified School District currently has no charter schools.

Also of note: Oxford’s Preparatory Academy’s API scores beat every single school’s scores in Carlsbad Unified School District.

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Donate to Reason: Because We Don't Luxuriate in Warren Buffett's Oracular Musk!

If there is any publication that makes the journalism profession swoon, it's The New Yorker. Stable of cajillion-selling author Malcolm Gladwell and several score other staff writers, serial winner of National Magazine Awards, and provoker of Hit & Run commenter anti-beard/turtleneck wrath, this august publication in many ways reflects the aspirations of what many mainstream journalists want to become. I am a happy subscriber, but I'm also happy to edit a magazine that, for a rounding error of David Remnick's budget, manages to avoid some of journalism's most annoying cliches.

Such as gobbling down whatever tax-hiking corporatist Warren Buffett says about public policy.

Take a gander at this wholly credulous mini-profile of Buffett by New Yorker financial columnist James Surowiecki. Excerpt:

No longer just America's favorite investor, in recent years he's become a kind of public sage, a role exemplified by his crusade to get the government to raise taxes on the wealthy—a crusade enthusiastically invoked by President Obama both in last January's State of the Union address and in the recent Presidential campaign. Somehow, at a time when public hostility toward the super-rich has never been greater, he's become not only the second-richest man in America but also one of the most revered. [...]

Another crucial aspect of Buffett's public appeal is his unnervingly even persona. He's not placid—at eighty-two, he's a garrulous bundle of energy, his conversation punctuated by little bursts of laughter—but he projects an aura of profound cool. During the financial crisis, he was the human equivalent of one of those "Keep Calm and Carry On" signs. 

Reading the financial columnist of the nation's leading journalistic magazine (or the financial columnist of the nation's leading newspaper!), you'd think that sagely ol' Warren was just dispensing homespun morality out of the goodness of his heart in an age when such notions are out of fashion. Reason readers know better.

In our March 2012 issue, Peter Schweizer burst the Buffett bubble with a remarkable piece titled "Warren Buffett: Baptist and Bootlegger." In it, we learn that there were quite a few words on that "Keep Calm and Carry On" signs that Surowiecki left out:

[In fall 2008], Wall Street was on fire, and Buffett was running toward the flames. But he was doing so with the expectation that the fire department (that is, the federal government) was right behind him with buckets of bailout money. As he admitted on CNBC at the time, "If I didn't think the government was going to act, I wouldn't be doing anything this week." [...]

Buffett needed the TARP bailout more than most. In all, Berkshire Hathaway firms received $95 billion in TARP money. Berkshire held stock in Wells Fargo, Bank of America, American Express, and Goldman Sachs, which received not only TARP money but also Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) backing for their debt, worth a total of $130 billion. All told, TARP-assisted companies constituted a whopping 30 percent of Buffett's publicly disclosed stock portfolio. The folksy outsider with his home-spun investment wisdom, the Houston Chronicle concluded in an April 2009 investigative piece, was "one of the top beneficiaries of the banking bailout."

Buffett received better terms for his Goldman investment than the government got for its bailout. His dividend was set at 10 percent, while the government's was 5 percent. Had the bailout not gone through, and had Goldman not been given such generous terms under TARP, things would have been very different for Buffett. As it stood, the arrangement with Goldman Sachs earned Berkshire about $500 million a year in dividends. "We love the investment!" he exclaimed to Berkshire investors. The General Electric deal also was profitable. As Reuters business columnist Rolfe Winkler noted on his blog in August 2009: "Were it not for government bailouts, for which Buffett lobbied hard, many of his company's stock holdings would have been wiped out."

By April 2009, Goldman share prices had more than doubled. By July 2009, Buffett had already received a return of $2.5 billion from his investment.

In fact, as I wrote at CNN Opinion this February, the left's (and the media's) favorite billionaire might just be "the single most successful crony capitalist in the country." It's the kind of journalistic context that gets lost in the shiny awesomeness of having a rich guy agree with you for once.

As we hurtle through Day 3 of Reason's annual Webathon, here's a reason to consider giving a tax-deductible donation to the 501(c)3 nonprofit that makes our journalism possible: Because we are the fly in the media's ointment, the simple Hobbit striding defiantly into the MSM's Mordor, the [TERRIBLE MIXED METAPHOR REDACTED TO AVOID THE WRATH OF KATHERINE MANGU-WARD].

We disrupt and disprove popular narratives, whether about drugs, fiscal policy, or science, not for the sake of contrarianness itself, but because we have a natural instinct against alleged consensus, and a built-in skepticism of the state.

Do those value square with yours? Are you able to take the fruits of our labors and use them in pointed arguments with loved ones and frenemies? Then donate to Reason today!

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DeMint Suggests Replacement, Right-to-Work Bill Crafted in Michigan, Afghanistan Really, Really, Really Corrupt: P.M. Links

  • Right-to-work legislation is being crafted in Michigan, with the support of the state’s governor.
  • Sen. Jim DeMint is resigning to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation, and he’s encouraging South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to consider Rep. Tim Scott as his replacement.
  • U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who has earned praise for his pursuit of government corruption in Louisiana, is stepping down amid a probe of his staff, whose members are accused of anonymously criticizing public figures and commenting on cases on a newspaper’s website.
  • Afghanistan has been rated one of the most corrupt nations in the world, down there with North Korea and Somalia. Greece has been named one of the most corrupt in Europe.
  • Washington is celebrating the first day of the legalization of marijuana with some pretty chill parties.
  • So that’s what happened to Tiny Tim: A raid on a sweatshop in India uncovered a pack of children enslaved and forced to make Christmas decorations. (Hat tip to Reason commenter Brett L)
  • Support Reason’s 2012 webathon today.

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

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What Sort of Entitlement Reform Would Republicans Trade for Higher Tax Rates?

The Washington Post reports that "a growing chorus" of Republicans have urged GOP leaders in the House to accept higher tax rates on high earners — provided that they are paired with some form of entitlment reform.

The idea, the piece explains, is to use the leverage created by the fiscal cliff and the expiration of the Bush-era income tax cuts, to negotiate for changes that would hold down spending in our ever-more-expensive entitlement system:

Many GOP centrists and some conservatives are calling on House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to concede on rates now, while he still has some leverage to demand something in return. Republicans are eager to win changes to fast-growing safety-net programs, such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare and applying a less-generous measure of inflation to Social Security benefits.

After Dec. 31, tax rates for most Americans, including the wealthy, are set to automatically rise, and this could cost Republicans a key bargaining chip in winning changes to entitlements.

So what sort of trade would this chorus of Republicans consider? It's somewhat difficult to tell from the GOP officials quoted in the piece:

“I and some others are advocating giving the president what he wants,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio). But he stressed that this must be part of a package that slows federal borrowing and reduces the debt by $4 trillion to $5 trillion.

“Quite frankly, some people in this 2 percent who call me, they’re more worried about the fiscal cliff than about the rates going up a couple points. That has bigger risk for them,” said LaTourette, a close Boehner ally who is retiring in January.

Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.) added: “If there are truly real entitlement reforms that are going to preserve Social Security and Medicare for generations to come, it’s going to be very difficult for me to oppose” higher rates for the rich.

"Truly real entitlement reforms" are better than probably imaginary entitlement reforms, I guess. But what would count as "truly real?" The report suggests that raising Medicare's retirement age might be a possibility, but doesn't mention any other big changes to Medicare, the single biggest long-term driver of the debt. Raising the retirement age is a good idea, but it wouldn't save that much money. The Congressional Budget Office says it would save about $125 billion over the next decade. That's something, but in the context of $1 trillion deficits and $16 trillion and debt, it's hardly a debt-reduction game changer. Medicare itself is on track to spend roughly $1 trillion a year by the next decade. Yes, there would be bigger savings down the road, but even then the impact of raising Medicare eligibility age is fairly limited because the highest cost beneficiaries are the oldest. Raising the retirement sounds drastic and therefore serious to some because it affects a lot of people over the long term. But fiscally, removing the youngest and healthiest age cohort from the system is small potatoes, and probably shouldn't qualify as a "truly real entitlement reform." 

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Will Congress Let the Wind Power Tax Credit Die?

Congress remains sharply divided over decisions to extend the wind power production tax credit (PTC). Set to expire on December 31, the PTC currently grants wind power producers a tax credit of 2.2 cents/kilowatt-hour, in addition to a federal wind power investment tax credit. Last week Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a video urging Congress to extend the benefit contending that “it should be part of the effort in Washington here to get more Americans working.”

Grassley argues that without the PTC extension wind power would be the only energy source not subsidized by the federal government. American Energy Alliance president Thomas J. Pyle, speaking to The Daily Caller, replied to Grassley’s concerns “Senator Grassley complains that ending the PTC will mean that wind energy is the only source not receiving government support. That sounds like a good start to us.” This reiterates the Alliance’s letter to Congress urging them to scrap the PTC in which they argue “American consumers-not Washington lawmakers- should decide the future of American energy”

David Kreutzer, writing on The Heritage Foundation’s blog, agrees. The tax credit has “created an industry that produced overpriced, intermittent power,” he says, which will “continue to produce overpriced, intermittent power so long as there is a PTC to pay for it.” Kreutzer points to European examples of wind subsidy failures, including Spain, which dropped subsidies as soon as the economy began to nosedive, and Germany, which recently reduced subsidy commitments as a result of spiraling costs and unreliable energy outputs.

Extending the PTC subsidies for just one year would cost the federal government $12.1 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Without the extension the Energy Information Administration estimates that wind generation will still increase 50 percent between 2012 and 2035. Standard & Poor also estimate that over $150 billion will be invested into renewable energy opportunities- largely wind-based- regardless of whether the PTC is extended.

America's Prison Population Is Finally Shrinking. Here's Why.

FlickrFlickrThe number of adults under some form of correctional supervision in the U.S. has fallen from a historic high of 7.3 million in 2007, to 6.98 million in 2011, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Expressed as a ratio, 1 in 34 adults last year was a probate, a parolee, or a prisoner; down from 1 in 31 in 2007-2008. That's progress. Barely.  

What explains the decline? The short answer is money. When the housing market crashed, cash-strapped states and cities were forced to take a hard look at their budgets. A lot of them realized they were spending insane amounts of money keeping nonviolent offenders in cages, so many increased funding for diversion programs like drug court and veterans court. Some states have also begun reducing penalties for parole and probation violations, which make up 75 percent of prison admissions in Texas, and cost Florida $100 million a year. 

But these policy changes don't amount to opening the gates, as demonstrated by the chart below: 

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Golden Spike: A New Private Way to Get Governments to the Moon

As warned on Reason 24/7 earlier this week, a big new announcement in privately operated space travel was imminent, and now it's here.

Wired has the detailed skinny on this new Golden Spike operation, less about private citizen space tourism or business, more about helping governments outsource their space programs:

A private enterprise named the Golden Spike Company announced today that they have plans to fly manned crews to the moon and back for a price of $1.5 billion per flight by 2020.

Golden Spike, whose board includes former NASA engineers and spaceflight experts, has been working under the radar for the last two and a half years to develop their mission architecture, and unveiled their company after several weeks of internet rumors. Their intended clients are not private individuals for a space tourism scheme, but rather governments....

Golden Spike will follow a model like that of the Russian spaceflight industry in the 1980s and ‘90s, when they charged money to take other nation’s astronauts to the Salyut and Mir space stations for scientific experiments...

“We can give countries an expedition to surface of the moon for two people,” planetary scientist and aerospace engineer Alan Stern, co-founder of Golden Spike and former head of NASA’s science mission directorate, told Wired. He added that the company is already in talks with several countries “both east and west of the U.S.,” hinting that China may be a possible customer. “Country after country, everyone will want to join the lunar club.”

Get to the moon for the price of a terrestrial airport!

Golden Spike estimates starting their entire operation will cost between $7 billion and $8 billion, “soup to nuts,” said Stern. “That includes developing, flight testing, and any rainy day funds.” He compared the figure to the cost of a major metropolitan airport, though airports are typically funded by governments.

The company said it can cut costs by partnering with other aerospace companies and using existing rockets or rockets already in development, needing to only build a lunar lander and a specialized spacesuit for astronauts on the moon. Among their partners are Masten Space Systems, which builds vertical take-off and landing spacecraft, for the lander and the Paragon Space Development Corporation, founded by Biosphere 2 crewmembers Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, for the suits and life support systems.

But will it work, or be cost-effective?

The private sector has definitely changed and challenged many existing models for rockets and spaceflight. But they have so far had a mixed record. Companies like SpaceX can be commended for accomplishing something that until now only governments have been able to do – orbiting a spacecraft around the Earth and docking it with the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, which is expected to begin testing next year, may further drive down the price of reaching space, but it remains to be seen exactly when and how cheaply they will deliver their product. Other commercial space businesses, like Virgin Galactic, have seen constant delays and broken promises with their flight hardware....

Golden Spike knows there are many challenges ahead and that, so far, they only have a plan. Based on the early speculation and rumors, Stern said that it seemed that people expected them to have constructed and filled a 50-story skyscraper in secret. “It’s much more like we’ve created the architecture for a new 50-story building we want to build,” he said.

The private science fiction visionary in me is hoping for the day when more than governments are willing to pony up for trips to the Moon, even if they are paying a private company to do it. Still, every attempt to prove there could be private profit in space is a potentially positive step toward our human future off-planet and to be encouraged.

Reason on private space travel. Our February 2012 issue had a cover package dedicated to private space travel.

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Golden Spike Company Announces Regular Trips to the Moon. Soon!

A new commercial venture will offer regular cheap(ish) trips to the surface of the moon by the end of the decade to anyone who wants to fork over the cash. The Golden Spike Company makes its official debut today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in just a few minutes.

From the press release:

Former Apollo Flight Director and NASA Johnson Space Center Director, Gerry Griffin, and planetary scientist and former NASA science chief, Dr. Alan Stern, will unveil "The Golden Spike Company" – the first company planning to offer routine exploration expeditions to the surface of the Moon by the end of the decade....

The Washington Post reports on the price of a ticket:

Stern said a two-person lunar mission, complete with moonwalking and, perhaps best of all, a return to Earth, would cost $1.5 billion.

“Two seats, 750 each,” Stern said. “The trick is 40 years old. We know how to do this. The difference is now we have rockets and space capsules in the inventory. . . . They’re already developed. . . . We don’t have to invent them from a clean sheet of paper. We don’t have to start over.”

As BoingBoing has noted, the board of directors is pleasingly eclectic. Here's a sampler:

  • Max Vozoff—Business development expert and former program manager of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft development
  • Esther Dyson—Director, NewSpace investor and venture capitalist
  • Homer Hickam—Former NASA engineer, acclaimed author and screen writer, (“Rocket Boys”/“October Sky”) 
  • Bill Richardson—Former U.N. Ambassador, former U.S. Secretary of Energy, former Governor of New Mexico, former U.S. presidential candidate, and commercial space advocate
  • Newt Gingrich—Former U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, U.S. presidential candidate, and commercial space advocate

The company says its goal is to be the transcontinetal railroad of space:

The Golden Spike Company is a US-based commercial space company incorporated in 2010. It is named after the ceremonial final spike that joined the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States, on May 10, 1869, and opened up the frontier to new opportunities. Similarly, Golden Spike intends to break new ground and create an enduring link to the next frontier, providing regular and reliable expeditions to the Moon at prices that are a fraction of any lunar program ever conceived of before.

UPDATE: Obviously, we're all very excited about this here at Reason.

UPDATE: Here's the lunar lander concept art:

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Is Western Intervention in Syria Imminent?

The NATO alliance announced earlier this week that Patriot missiles will be deployed in Turkey to respond to rockets launched from Syria. The USS Eisenhower was reported to have arrived in the area yesterday, off the Syrian coast in the Mediterranean. It holds 8,000 personnel and eight fighter bomber squadrons. The U.S. Senate, meanwhile, has voted for the Pentagon to present military options available on Syria.

Later today, Hillary Clinton is meeting with her Russian counterpart as well as the UN’s “peace envoy.” Russia, of course, has been keeping Assad’s regime running with needed cash infusions. Russia has also used its veto power on the U.N. Security Council to keep western intervention in check. Russia (and China) abstained facing the same kind of pressure for intervention vis a vis Libya. Syria is more important to Russia because it houses Russia’s only extraterritorial military installation. In 1971, the Soviet Union established a presence at Tartus (a Kaliningrad-on-the-Mediterranean of sorts), and Russia took over after the Soviet Union dissolved, maintaining naval personnel there since.

The United Nations, and so Russia’s support or at least non-opposition, is, as we well know, not required  for Western intervention. The intervention in Libya may have been sparked by the U.N. Security Council resolution, but it was prosecuted by NATO, which has the actual firepower to turn military intervention from a pipe dream of a diplomatic bureaucrat to reality.

Another troubling indicator of intervention in Syria: the U.S. is now claiming the Syrian government is preparing chemical weapons to use against its own people. Matthew Feeney noted yesterday both the president and Clinton have warned Syria against using those weapons. Weapons of mass destruction, of course, were the original M.O. for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. While those WMDs were never found, with Saddam Hussein testifying he was bluffing to keep his neighbors at bay, the idea that they made their way to Syria is still popular in some circles sympathetic to the invasion of Iraq.

In July, reports indicated the Obama administration told Syria’s rebels the U.S. could not offer more help until after the presidential election in November. Here we are just a month out from the election.

You can follow the latest on the ongoing situation in Syria at Reason 24/7.

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K-9 Police Officer Admits Planting Drugs on Random Vehicles To Train Dogs

Some months ago, Star Trek fan and filmmaker, Terrance Huff, uploaded a video to YouTube of a traffic stop he and his buddy, Jon Seaton suffered in Collinsville, Illinois. They were pulled over by K-9 officer Michael Reichert, allegedly for swerving between lanes on the highway. Huff denies any such thing in the dashcam video he eventually extracted from the local constabulary. But that hardly matters, since Reichert escalates to running his dog around the car, which animal then "alerts" to the presence of drugs amidst much encouragement by the officer. A pointless search ensues, resulting in a verbal dressing down of Huff and Seaton for having "shake"* on the floor of their car (which looks as messy as mine) before they're sent on their merry way. Now, a new video resulting from Huff's subsequent lawsuit shows Reichert being questioned by an attorney about his practice of randomly planting drug scent on cars in public parking lots in order to train his dog, Macho. He admits that the scent lingers, and could be detected some time later. Say, by a K-9 unit during a traffic stop.

Lodging in Collinsville, featuring Reichert's testimony:

Breakfast in Collinsville, with video of the original stop:

All in all, it's a fascinating insight into how the use of drug-sniffing dogs can be abused and manipulated. And, of how vulnerable we all are to police who don't like our looks, hold a grudge, or just have a quota to meet as we come by.

*Marijuana residue, like the loose bits of leaves that get caught in the fold of a double album when you're cleaning your dope. Ummm ... If you're old enough to remember LPs.

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Jim DeMint Quits Senate to Head up Heritage Foundation

As flagged earlier on the indispensible Reason 24/7, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), one of the most influential fiscal conservatives in the U.S. Senate, is exiting his final term two four years early to become president of the Heritage Foundation. From the Wall Street Journal write-up:

In an interview preceding the succession announcement, Sen. DeMint said he is taking the Heritage job because he sees it as a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public. "This is an urgent time," the senator said, "because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections." Mr. DeMint, who was a market researcher before he entered politics, said he plans to take the Heritage Foundation's traditional research plus that of think tanks at the state level and "translate those policy papers into real-life demonstrations of things that work." He said, "We want to figure out what works at the local and state level" and give those models national attention.

Mr. DeMint, an active conservative partisan often at odds with his party's leadership, says he will "protect the integrity of Heritage's research and not politicize the policy component. Heritage is not just another grassroots political group."

DeMint, a strong social con who said after the Tea Partytastic 2010 mid-terms that "you can't be a fiscal conservative unless you're also a social conservative," would seem a natural fit to a GOP-tethered, $80 million think tank whose current president celebrated those mid-terms by warning incoming Republican freshmen not to even think about cutting military spending. But as captured by this January Reason interview with Nick Gillespie and I, DeMint has been moving in a more libertarian-friendly direction. Excerpt:

reason: The defense budget is 20 percent of all government spending and has increased about 100 percent since 2000. How much of the defense budget can be cut without hurting American preparedness or the ability to protect American lives?

DeMint: I'm not sure what that number is. But I do know there's waste in Pentagon spending. We've identified waste not only in the Pentagon but all across the board....But we have to have a vision for what we want our military to do. And that's why in the last couple of weeks, I've said I want whoever our nominee is in the Republican Party to listen to some of the things Rep. Ron Paul [R-Texas] is saying. [...]

We do need to rethink the money we spend on military and defense. I think Ron Paul does make a good distinction: There's a difference between spending on military and spending for defense. 

The primary function of the federal government is to defend our country. We need to make sure that we have the technology, the intelligence, the equipment to defend America from a lot of new threats. And if that is not doable with bases all over the world, we need to rethink how spread out we actually are. We have to demand that our allies actually pay a greater proportion of their defense. We're still in Germany; we were there after World War II. We're in South Korea. We're in a lot of places. We may need to be in some of those places for deployment and protection. But I think it's fair to say let's rethink that and make sure we're spending money in the right places.

Reason on DeMint here. Watch the Reason.tv video of that interview below:

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Stop Scapegoating the "Extremists"

Earlier this week David Welch, a former research director for the Republican National Committee, had an op-ed in The New York Times that looked back with nostalgia to the days when William Buckley purportedly purged the John Birch Society from the conservative movement (*). Welch declared that the "modern-day Birchers are the Tea Party" and called on a new "Buckley-esque gatekeeper" to expel Tea Partiers from polite society. To do this, he added, "We need 'the Establishment.' We need officials like former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, operatives like Karl Rove and Republican Party institutions." There's more, but if you've read any of the other seven trillion articles (**) making the same basic argument you know pretty much everything Welch has to say.

Conor Friedersdorf, no apologist for the Tea Partiers, responds ably in The Atlantic:

None Dare Call It Scapegoating[T]he notion that the Tea Party is responsible for the right's woes is perilously wrongheaded, for it ignores the ruinous role the GOP establishment has played in recent years....

The GOP establishment made George W. Bush's nomination a fait accompli in the runnup to the 2000 primaries. The Bush Administration's ruinous foreign policy was presided over by longtime members of the GOP establishment. In Congress, it was establishment Republicans who pushed the Iraq War, gave us the K Street project, and signed off on a fiscal course that combined two costly wars, the budget busting Medicare Part D, and tax cuts paid for with borrowed money. The Tea Party arose in part as a response to some of those failures, along with the giveaway of taxpayer money to many of the people most culpable for causing the financial crisis....

There's an unhealthy habit in American politics to lay blame on perceived or actual "extremists" - libertarians and Randians are attacked today in sorta the same way anti-war protesters and "the angry left" were attacked during the Bush Administration - even though they've literally never wielded power. Meanwhile, moderates and centrists brought us the policies responsible for the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the financial crisis, every giveaway to lobbyists ever passed, and most recently a multi-country spree of extrajudicial assassinations carried out in secret with hundreds of civilian casualties. It's lucky for the centrists and moderates that they have oh so frightening "extremists" to distract us from their sometimes criminal misgovernance.

One problem with the Tea Party movement, Friedersdorf notes, is that "many of its members are too slavishly loyal in their partisan attachments." In other words, the party regulars have too much influence over their activism. That suggests that Welch has it exactly backwards: We'd be better off if the gatekeepers had less power, not more.

* A decade after the alleged excommunication of the Birchers, a third-party presidential candidate running on a basically Birchite platform got over a million votes. That's a lot of conservatives who don't take their marching orders from Bill Buckley.

** This is an exaggeration, of course. The actual number of articles making this argument is 4.2 trillion.

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D.C. Becomes 17th Jurisdiction to Legalize Sunday Liquor Sales Since 2002

This week the District of Columbia Council gave initial approval to Sunday liquor sales, a convenience that Americans in most jurisdictions take for granted. When I lived in Fairfax, Virginia, the District was the place with relatively liberal alcohol regulations (and lower prices), so it's a bit of a surprise to see it playing catch-up with Virginia, which has allowed Sunday liquor sales since last July (although you still have to buy distilled spirits from state-run stores, as opposed to the private retailers in D.C., because Gov. Bob McDonnell's privatization plans have not gone anywhere so far). Of the six states where I have lived, that makes three (Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia) where selling liquor on Sunday used to be illegal but is now allowed. It has always been legal in California (which has the added convenience of distilled spirits in grocery stores), and it remains illegal in South Carolina. Judging from the pattern so far, Texas will not legalize Sunday sales until I leave.

Despite their religious roots, laws prohibiting businesses from operating on Sunday have been upheld by the Supreme Court. In the 1961 case McGowan v. Maryland, the Court rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to a state law prohibiting the sale of most merchandise on Sunday. While such laws may originally have been aimed at honoring the Christian Sabbath and encouraging church attendance, the Court said, they also can be justified on secular grounds, such as the desire to prevent people from working too much. Notably, liquor store owners often oppose laws allowing Sunday sales, complaining that competition will compel them to open their businesses when they would rather keep them closed.

Although constitutional challenges to Sunday closing laws have not been successful, such restrictions have steadily dwindled over the years in response to changing social and economic circumstances. Liquor sales are a lagging indicator of this trend. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a dozen states still prohibit liquor sales on Sunday: Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.* Of the remaining 38, 16 allow local governments to ban Sunday sales, and four restrict Sunday sales (by state-run stores) to certain areas. In the last decade, 16 states (now plus D.C.) have lifted their bans.

[*Corrected: I mistakenly included New Mexico, a local-option state, and left out West Virginia, where Sunday sales are banned statewide.]  

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David Harsanyi on the Prospects for Debt Reduction

The "fiscal cliff" deal House Republicans and President Barack Obama are debating can be called many things—the "avoiding a political nightmare" deal or a "Yes, Mr. Obama, may I have another" deal—but please let's stop referring to it as a "deficit reduction" deal. We've yet to see a serious proposal on debt, says David Harsanyi.

When you cut through the coverage, in fact, you'll find that the second most pressing item on the president's agenda—after tax hikes on the wealthy and small businesses—is winning the unlimited authority to raise the country's debt limit.

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Military Makes Extensive Domestic Use of Drones, FAA Documents Reveal

You can find out the most fascinating things from government documents, especially from those that officials didn't really want to release. In particular, Federal Aviation Administration records pried from federal clutches by that legalistic jaws-of-life known as a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit reveal that the military is sending previously unknown flocks of drones into the American skies. While the main purpose of domestic flights appears to be testing and training, these drones do have sophisticated surveillance capabilities that could be deployed right here at home — and have been, if only for the purposes of operator practice and amusement.

This informational bonanza comes courtesy of requirements that the military get FAA permission to fly drones outside of restricted airspace, in the skies over almost the entire country. That the records exist means, therefore, that the military does exactly that. The data dump revealed flights by the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Says EFF:

The records show that the Air Force has been testing out a bunch of different drone types, from the smaller, hand-launched Raven, Puma and Wasp drones designed by Aerovironment in Southern California, to the much larger Predator and Reaper drones responsible for civilian and foreign military deaths abroad. The Marine Corps is also testing drones, though it chose to redact so much of the text from its records that we still don't know much about its programs.

Presumably, these aren't armed drones flying over our heads, but they do have impressive surveillance capabilities.

Perhaps the scariest is the technology carried by a Reaper drone the Air Force is flying near Lincoln, Nevada and in areas of California and Utah. This drone uses "Gorgon Stare" technology, which Wikipedia defines as “a spherical array of nine cameras attached to an aerial drone . . . capable of capturing motion imagery of an entire city.” This imagery “can then be analyzed by humans or an artificial intelligence, such as the Mind's Eye project” being developed by DARPA. If true, this technology takes surveillance to a whole new level.

EFF references a New York Times report from last summer that drone operators hone their skills by tracking random civilians who come within range. From a throw-away passage in the "paper of record's" piece:

It took a few seconds to figure out exactly what we were looking at. A white S.U.V. traveling along a highway adjacent to the base came into the cross hairs in the center of the screen and was tracked as it headed south along the desert road. When the S.U.V. drove out of the picture, the drone began following another car.

“Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?” a reporter asked. One Air Force officer responded that this was only a training mission, and then the group was quickly hustled out of the room.

Great. So, now we get intrusive scrutiny as an almost accidental byproduct.

Video: Censorship and "Unlearning Liberty" at College: Q & A with FIRE's Greg Lukianoff

"Censorship and 'Unlearning Liberty' at College: Q & A with FIRE's Greg Lukianoff" is the latest offering from Reason TV.

Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions and more Reason TV clips.

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Milwaukee Cop Who Punched Handcuffed Woman in Face Reinstated Thanks to Police Bill of Rights

Milwaukee Cop Richard Schoen was fired in May of this year after his superiors saw a dashboard-camera video that shows Schoen climbing into the backseat of his cruiser to repeatedly punch a handcuffed woman in the face. He's now getting his job back despite the objections of Milwaukee's police chief and mayor. 

According to a FOX 6 story published upon the video's release, Schoen arrested Jeanine Tracy for being “argumentative and us[ing] profanity” during a traffic stop. While in the backseat of the police cruiser, she yelled and stomped her leg, complaining that it hurt.

Upon arriving at the station, Schoen tried to pull Tracy out of the backseat of his cruiser by her shirt. When Tracy refused to move, Schoen went around to the other side of the car, climbed into the backseat, and began punching Tracy in the face. Schoen then dragged her out of the backseat of his cruiser by her hair. All of this was captured by Schoen's dash cam. (What was not captured, the department says, is Schoen kneeing Tracy in the stomach after getting her out of the car.) 

Department higher-ups wasted no time firing Schoen for his behavior. 

“The evidence was very strong and there was no reason to delay,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn told FOX 6 in May. “We took appropriate action, and now it will be in the hands of the review authorities.”

Ah yes, "review authorities." Wisconsin, like almost every state in the country, has a special bill of rights for cops (read more about Police Bill of Rights here). One of the privileges it provides officers is a mandatory review of their termination; in this case, by Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission. And do you know what that review concluded? That Schoen gets his job back.

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Steve Chapman on Bringing the Troops Home—From Korea and Germany

Going over the fiscal cliff may not be good for the economy, writes Steve Chapman, but it might have one valuable result: forcing Americans to reassess our enormous defense budget.

Taking $492 billion away from the Pentagon over the next decade wouldn't be hard to do if we forced other nations to take more responsibility for their own defense—and used the opportunity to reduce our overall troop strength. What's hard, and expensive, is our vast array of overseas commitments.

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Time to Shut Down the Federal Housing Administration

The Senate Banking committee is holding a hearing this morning to discuss the future of the Federal Housing Administration, after a November report revealed the government agency is in the red at least -$13.4 billion. Only Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (the department that oversees FHA) will be testifying today, but that shouldn't stop Senators on both sides of the isle from having plenty of time to Socratically expose FHA for the insolvent organization that it is.

FHA is like an insurance agency, for a fee it guarantees banks and mortgage investors that if ahomeowner misses his or her mortgage payments it will cover the bank's losses. It does not lend money directly to borrowers, but tries to help expand the amount of lending the private sector will do by back stopping their loans.

Secretary Donovan will say that all is well with FHA and no bailout will be needed. He is going to promise to raise the fee FHA charges lenders to guarantee they get paid if borrowers stop paying their loans. (Senators: "Why didn't FHA do that in 2008?") He is going to promise to raise premiums on existing borrowers. (Senators: "Why should borrowers currently making their payments chip in more to bailout an agency losing money because other homeowners are not making their payments?") He is going to promise to expand FHA's business and generate new money that way. (Senators: "Isn't that exactly what FHA has done since 2008, growing to 30 percent of the mortgage finance market, and yet they are still in the red?")

This morning I have an article in RealClearMarkets pointing out that no matter what FHA does it is going to be in the negative for a long time. At this point federal housing subsidy programs are like a half sunk Titanic, and no amount of bailing water is going to save the ship. We should just begin the process of shutting FHA down now:

the [FHA] 2012 actuarial report found that the housing agency's value has fallen $23 billion in the past 12 months primarily because of losses on mortgages it guaranteed from 2007 to 2010. And it is looking at a possible negative $93.7 billion valuation in the next five to seven years with those losses piling up.

About 25 percent of mortgages FHA guaranteed in 2007 and 2008 are seriously delinquent (90 days of missed mortgage payments or more), and more than 12 percent of 2009 mortgages are just a step away from foreclosure. (In normal times those numbers would be 5 percent or less.) FHA's own actuarial review estimates nearly $40 billion will flow out the door to cover losses related to these delinquencies.

What's more, notes Wharton School real estate professor Joseph Gyourko, FHA is currently leveraged 41-to-1 -- which is higher than either Lehman Brothers (31-to-1) or Bear Stearns (38-to-1) when they collapsed.

In case the Senators are a bit distracted by the fiscal cliff or a long Christmas shopping list, here are some more hard questions they can ask:

  • Is not true that we (Congress) have mandated that FHA reserve capital relative to at least 2 percent of the value of its portfolio? And doesn't FHA's recent actuarial report show its capital reserve is now negative 1.33 percent? Why should we not shut FHA down?
  • Didn't we learn in the crisis that bad lending standards were spread throughout the housing industry? And haven't many private firms have gone back to relatively more responsible lending practices (albiet plenty are still suspect)? And isn't FHA in contrast still guaranteeing loans with just 3.5 percent down payments, sometimes for borrowers with low credit scores and high amounts of pre-existing debt? So why should we trust FHA's promises to change now?
  • Why should current borrowers pay a cent more for their mortgages, when FHA is essentially an insurance agency for mortgage lenders and investors, who took the small but real risk that FHA might not be able to come good on its guarantee promises, and should be the ones one the hook for any losses FHA suffers? And while we are discussing fault, why should the taxpayers bailout FHA either? 
  • Isn't it true that in 2009 FHA promised that it would be worth a positive value in 2012? And isn't true that November's FHA actuarial report shows FHA is worth a large negative sum in 2012? And isn't it true that FHA now claims it will be back to a positive value in 2017? Wouldn't we be total suckers for believing you?

More from Reason on the failure of FHA here and here.

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How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Disappointed The New York Times

In the recently decided case of Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States, the federal government took the position that a series of destructive floods induced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should be automatically exempt from the Fifth Amendment’s requirement that just compensation be paid when property is taken for a public use because the flooding in question was temporary in duration, not permanent. That fishy argument failed to command even a single vote on the Court, which ruled 8-0 on Tuesday (with Justice Elena Kagan recused) against granting “a blanket temporary-flooding exception to our Takings Clause jurisprudence.”

Did anyone think the federal government had a decent case? The editorial board of The New York Times did. In an unsigned editorial published a few days after the October oral argument, the Times urged the Court to whittle away at the Takings Clause. “If [the Army Corps of Engineers] and other agencies that manage natural resources for the government had to worry about liability for takings for every management decision,” the paper declared, “they would lose the flexibility they need.”

It’s not everyday when The New York Times butts heads with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but Tuesday was such a day. Here is Ginsburg’s opinion for the Court rejecting the “flexibility” argument made by the federal government and its friends at the Times:

Time and again in Takings Clause cases, the Court has heard the prophecy that recognizing a just compensation claim would unduly impede the government’s ability to act in the public interest. We have rejected this argument when deployed to urge blanket exemptions from the Fifth Amendment’s instruction.

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D-Day for Right-to-Work in Michigan

Today might be D-day for the Right-to-Work battle in Michigan. Emboldened by the defeat of the union-backed Protect Our Jobs constitutional initiative that would have forever banned Michigan from going RTW, Michigan Republicans – who control all the branches of government: legislature, governorship and the Supreme Court – are planning to introduce two bills that will no longer require public and private sector employees to pay mandatory dues as a condition of employment in union shops. Governor Rich Snyder, who had previously said that he would sign such bills if they come to his desk, is between a rock and a hard place now. All of last week, he pleaded with his fellow Republicans to drop their crusade. He seems to have failed. His official reason is that Michigan needs tax and regulatory reform first to bring its economy back on track ­– not a divisive RTW battle. The unofficial reason is that he is a self-avowed “nerd” who lacks Scott Walker’s testosterone to take on the unions.

And take on the unions he will have to.

In a taste of things to come, The Detroit News reported:

Anticipation of the controversial bill's introduction boiled over as several hundred union protesters filled the Capitol, and Senate Democrats briefly demanded bills be read in full — a filibuster-like tactic used to stall the swift passage of legislation. That prompted Senate leaders to lock down the chamber and prohibit anyone — senators, staff, media and onlookers — from coming or going.

No bill was introduced Wednesday.

Protests are expected to resume today and that may keep some right-to-work supporters home.

"It's intimidating to people," said Scott Hagerstrom, state director of the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which has brought conservative activists to the Capitol this week. "They don't want a confrontation at all."

Meanwhile, a group in support of a right-to-work law has launched a statewide radio and TV advertising blitz in a bid to sway public opinion on legislation that would outlaw the practice of requiring employees to pay unions a fee as a condition of employment in workplaces governed by collective bargaining agreements.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer vowed to invoke political and procedural maneuvers to derail other bills and make life under the dome "as difficult as possible" if the GOP pursues right-to-work legislation.

"If they declare war on the middle class … no one should be surprised if the whole environment at the Capitol changes," said Whitmer, D-East Lansing.

Incidentally, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which had prior to Protect Our Jobs, refused to take a position on Michigan becoming RTW has now come out four square for it. And Snyder, a former businessman himself, can hardly ignore them.

My own hunch? Right to Work is to Michigan Republicans now what ObamaCare was to Congressional Democrats three years ago. They regard this as the single biggest step that the state needs to take to break the chokehold of unions and bring manufacturers back to the state. (Not a single foreign automaker, with the exception of a Mazda plant in Flat Rock that later got bought by Ford, has ever opened a factory in Michigan even though its highly trained auto workforce, one would think, gives it a natural advantage.) If Michigan joins Indiana and many of its southern competitors in becoming an RTW state, it will give an instant shot in the arm to its moribund economy. And the political stars are never going to be aligned better so they’ll be damned if they don’t get it done. So, I think, Snyder is going to continue to press them to back off – and they are going to continue to refuse. And ultimately he'll have to go along or completely lose credibility in the party.

In any case, stay tuned because things are going to be very interesting for the rest of this not-so-lame duck session.

For a terrific account of the drama playing out in Lansing, read Washington Examiner’s Sean Higgins’ story.

My own previous columns on what RTW would do for Michigan’s economy here and here.

Update: Republicans have called a press conference for 11 am Eastern, presumably to lay out their next steps.

Update II: Firedoglake is reporting that the vote on the legislation, which will unveiled by Republicans with Snyder in tow shortly, might happen today!

Update III: Unions are apoplectic that Gov. Snyder is justifying his support for RTW now on grounds that it will expand the freedom to work in Michigan. They counter that the bill is not so much about freedom to work as it is about "freedom to freeload." Why? Because unions will still have to represent the non-dues paying workers in collective bargaining negotiations. Allow me to point out that this is a bullshit argument for three reasons: (a) The only reason that freeloading is even a possibility is because unions have written their exclusive bargaining rights into law. If unions would give up their monoply over bargaining, individual workers would be able to negotiate on their own behalf or form alternative unions. (b) Many states actually require workers to pay some dues to cover the costs of bargaining and, if I were the unions, that's what I'd be trying to get right now rather than using up my political capital to stalling the entire legislation. (c) If the choice is between Big Labor freeloading off the pockets of workers and workers freeloading off the pocket of Big Labor, I'd take the latter any day.

Update IV: 1.50 pm Eastern: This just in from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy: Gov. Snyder and his fellow Republicans have announced that they will introduce in the legislature today a bill dubbed "The Workplace Fairness and Equity Act" to make Michigan the 24th Right-to-Work state in the Union. Notes the Mackinac release:

The move comes less than a year after Indiana became a right-to-work state. Since that time, the Hoosier State has added 43,300 jobs, while Michigan has lost 7,300. Indiana’s manufacturing sector added 13,900 new jobs, while Michigan’s lost 4,200. Nationally, the numbers are even more telling. Between 1980 and 2011, total employment in right-to-work states grew 71 percent, while employment in forced unionism states grew just 32 percent. Employment in Michigan grew just 14 percent during that same time. Inflation-adjusted compensation over the last decade grew 12 percent in right-to-work states, but just 3 percent in forced unionism states.

Update V, 3:06 pm Eastern: The USA Today is reporting that the police arrested several protesters and sprayed mace into the crowd in the state Capitol as lawmakers discussed right-to-work. Says the story:

The protesters were arrested as they tried to rush the Senate floor, said Michigan State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk.

"When several of the individuals rushed the troopers, they used chemical munitions to disperse the crowd," he said. "It would be a lot worse if someone gets hurt and I failed to act."

Update VI, 4.57 pm Eastern: The Michigan House has passed the bill 58-52, although everything won't be wrapped up till next Tuesday, my sources tell me. Former New York Times auto reporter Micheline Maynard is tweeting that although the protests against the bill were intense, they were "nothing like days' worth in WI, IN or OH on collective bargaining." Partly, I believe, this is because of the speed with which things moved in the Wolverine State, leaving little time for the already war-weary unions to recoup and organize after their misguided battle for Prop 2.

Correction: The original post claimed that no foreign automaker had ever set up a factory in Michigan. Actually, Mazda did very brieflly buy and operate the Ford plant in Flat Rock before Ford rebought 50 percent of the plant. It operated as join venture until earlier this year when Mazda suspended all production on U.S. soil.

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Want Bill Clinton’s Tax Rates? OK. Give Us His Spending As Well.

The top item on President Obama's agenda in the fiscal cliff negotiations is a higher tax rate on top earners. If the election was about anything, Obama says, it was about his promise to raise taxes on the wealthy back to Clinton-era rates.

A big part of the president's campaign-trail case for raising taxes on top earners is that Bill Clinton did it, and it worked pretty well for him—and for the rest of the country too. On the campaign trail, President Obama often invoked his Democratic predecessor when arguing for higher rates: “If you make $3 million, then we’re going to go take the rest of it and tax that a little bit more at the rate we taxed it under Bill Clinton,” he said at an August campaign event in Colorado. Clinton’s economic plan, he told a rally in Wisconsin, “asked the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more so we could reduce our deficit and still invest in the skills and ideas of our people.” And that economic plan, the president would note, coincided with an economic boom: “I also want to ask the wealthiest households, including my own, to pay a little bit more on incomes over $250,000, the same rate we had when Bill Clinton was President, the same rate we had when we created 23 million new jobs, went from deficit to surplus, created a whole lot of millionaires to boot,” he said at a September event in Nevada.

The implication is that higher tax rates can pave the way to economic growth. The evidence on that question, however, is mixed. It’s true that many studies show that changes in taxes don’t have a big short term effect on the labor supply. But as Michael Keane University of New South Wales economist pointed out in a recent survey of studies on the issue, a sizable minority of studies show a large effect. Keane’s survey also reports that labor force participation by women is heavily affected by tax changes, which suggests that in the long term tax changes can matter quite a bit. Still, it’s hard to be too confident about any of this because we really don’t have a great idea of which policies tend to lead to economic growth, especially over time. One way to read a recent Congressional Research Service report on how taxes affect the economy is that nothing affects economic growth

But let’s put all that aside for now. Most of us can agree that the Clinton years, which saw growing median incomes as well as tiny deficits and steady economic growth, were economic good times, and we’d all like to see that sort of economic performance repeated. If that’s the case, then why should we limit ourselves to just replicating one tiny fragment of Clinton-era governance—higher tax rates on a fairly small number of earners? Why not replicate other aspects of Clinton’s policy mix as well?

Probably because that would entail mentioning something that Obama’s frequent invocations of the Clinton years always ignore: that Clinton’s spending levels were far, far lower than they have been for the last four years—or than President Obama has called for them to be in the years to come.

That’s true no matter how you measure it.

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Reasons to Give to Reason!

We're in the third day of our annual webathon, which will run through next Tuesday, December 11. We're looking for 800 donors to help us keep bringing you the very best in cutting-edge news, views, and video from a libertarian perspective. Reason is published by the 501(c)3 nonprofit Reason Foundation, so all donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

I'm happy to report that we're ahead of last year's pace. Through this morning, we've received over $28,000 from 165 donors. Check out the scrolling banner at the top of the site to see the names of the folks who have generously supported the nation's leading libertarian news organization.

You can scope out the various gift packages associated with different giving levels by going here now. We know it's been a tough few years and 2013 is looking to be dicey as hell, but please give what you can, whether it's $25 or $2,500 (if you give that much, we'll send you a T-shirt, a couple of gift subscriptions, a Reason bag, the chance to ask Matt Welch and me a question in our next Ask a Libertarian video series, a private lunch with Matt and me in Washington, D.C., and two tickets and VIP seating to the 2013 Reason Bastiat Award dinner next fall in New York).

What will your contributions help make possible? Reason's fiscal year closed on September 30 and here are some of our metrics from fiscal 2012:

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Your donations - tax-deductible to the fullest extent of a law that might well be changing in 2013! - help us to keep doing what we're doing. So please give what you can - and rest assured that your gift will go directly to helping us push even harder in 2013 for sane policies on taxes and spending, ending drug prohibition, celebrating free expression, and so much more.

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A.M. Links: White House Ready To Plunge Over Fiscal Cliff, Military Uses Drones in the U.S., Dope and Gay Marriage Legal in Washington

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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Jacob Sullum on the Rising Popularity of Marijuana Legalization

As of today, you can smoke pot legally in Washington, and you don’t need permission from a doctor. At midnight this morning that state's marijuana legalization initiative began to take effect, eliminating all state and local penalties for possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 or older. By next December, the Washington State Liquor Control Board is supposed to adopt regulations for marijuana growers and retailers.

Writing in The Daily Beast, Jacob Sullum notes that voters approved the Washington initiative and a similar one in Colorado by surprisingly healthy margins of about 10 points in both states, in contrast with a California legalization measure that lost by seven points two years ago. Sullum says a recent survey by Public Policy Polling suggests other states may be ready to follow Washington and Colorado’s example: It found that 58 percent of registered voters favor legalizing pot, the highest level of support ever recorded in a national poll. While the results of other recent surveys are less impressive, he writes, they also indicate that marijuana legalization is more popular than ever, reflecting a generational shift that politicians ignore at their peril.

View this article.

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Judge Napolitano on Republicans for Big Government

The Republicans in the House are largely more conservative than at any time since Wilson left office, writes Judge Napolitano. One would expect them to understand the intent of the voters who sent them there and thus say no to more taxes, no to more spending and no to more borrowing. Instead we have Republican leadership in the House that actually proposed raising more revenue by eliminating deductions on income taxes. They somehow claim that they are being faithful to their stated mission of fiscal conservatism by making you pay more money but at the present tax rates. They, too, have failed economics 101.

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Brickbat: The Latest Hairstyle

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is a hometown hero in Kerrville, Texas. So fellow Kerrville resident Christian Chavez, 17, took a barber up on an offer to cut a portrait of Manziel into his hair. But when Chavez arrived at Hill Country High School, the principal took one look at his hair and told him to go home and not come back until he had the portrait removed. Officials with the school system say school policy forbids hairstyles that could be distracting.

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Obama: Not Playing This Debt Ceiling Game Again

Last year, a faction of Republican fiscal hawks kept Congress from rubber-stamping a debt ceiling increase in the summer. The Congress eventually did raise the debt ceiling though, setting automatic reductions in spending growth that form the spending portion of the fiscal cliff. Many of those fiscal hawks have now been ousted from committee seats influential in the budget process. Two in particular, Michigan’s Justin Amash and Kansas’ Tim Huelskamp, voted against Paul Ryan’s budget in their time on the Budget Committee, now cut short. That budget passed committee 19-18, and was then passed by the Republican House. It set something like automatic debt ceiling increases for the next decade.

Now, the Obama Administration has proposed the president take the power to raise the debt ceiling into his own hands. Today the president told business leaders that negotiating over raising the debt ceiling next year, when it's going to be hit again, "<a href= _warns_gop_against_debt_ceiling_fight_i_will_not_play_that_game.html">is not a game that I will play.”

In 2006, Senator Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling, saying:"The fact that we are here today to debate raisingAmerica’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies."

Leadership failure and reckless fiscal policies. Sounds right.

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Mother of Four Who Got 12 Years for $31 in Pot Freed After Serving Two

Last week Patricia Spottedcrow, an Oklahoma woman who received a 12-year prison sentence in 2010 for two penny-ante marijuana sales that yielded $31, was released from prison and reunited with her four children. The cruel, twisted logic of the war on drugs dictated that Spottedcrow, who was charged with possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor, be punished extra severely for supposedly endangering her children, even if it meant hurting those children by separating them from their mother. The sentence was all the more appalling because a police informant initiated the "crimes" with which Spottedcrow was charged and because her mother and brother, who were charged in connection with the same transactions, received a suspended sentence and probation, respectively.

After the Tulsa World ran a profile of Spottedcrow last year, the case received wide attention (including a post here by Mike Riggs). Last January a new judge shortened her sentence by four years, and in April the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended her early release, which Gov. Mary Fallin approved after requiring Spottedcrow to serve three months in a work-release program. 

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

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Report: Obamacare Patients Likely To Struggle To Find Doctors

The big selling point of the Affordable Care Act — "Obamacare" to you and I — has been the extension of health-plan coverage to uninsured Americans. The implicit promise was that extending coverage would extend actual care. But yet another study suggests that these new medical customers, many of whom would be accommodated by expanding Medicaid, may not be able to find physicians willing to take them on.

Published October 12 in the American Journal of Medical Quality, the study with the patience-trying title, "Characteristics of Primary Care Safety-Net Providers and Their Quality Improvement Attitudes and Activities: Results of a National Survey of Physician Professionalism" surveyed "safety-net" physicians, so-called because they handle the bulk of uninsured and Medicaid patients, What the authors found is that these health-care providers are already reaching their limits even before expansion takes place.

The full text of the report is behind a paid firewall, but a handy press release about the study from Massachusetts General Hospital hits the high points:

The authors note that the concentration of care for Medicaid and uninsured patients among a limited number of safety-net physicians and the fact that 28 and 39 percent, respectively, of those physicians are not accepting new Medicaid and uninsured patients indicate that the current health care safety net may have reached its capacity. In addition, they note, safety-net physicians' interest in quality improvement and attention to health care disparities suggests that reported differences in the quality of care they provide probably reflect limited resources available to their practices or barriers to care within the local communities.

The authors of the study draw logical inferences for the expansion of demand for safety-net physicians — and even for insured patients who may already be running into difficulties finding doctors as some physicians become demoralized and even cut back or leave the field.

"This study raises very serious concerns about the willingness and ability of primary care providers to cope with the increased demand for services that will result from the ACA," says Eric G. Campbell, PhD, of the Mongan Institute, senior author of the report to be published in the American Journal of Medical Quality. "Even with insurance, it appears that many patients may find it challenging to find a physician to provide them with primary care services."

It's possible that alternative providers, such as nurse practitioners could help fill in the gap, especially on day-to-day care. But state-level licensing laws have stood in the way of exactly that for decades. Reports Stateline.org:

A 2010 Institute of Medicine report, “The Future of Nursing,” cited nearly 50 years of academic studies and patient surveys in concluding that primary care provided by nurse practitioners has been as safe and effective as care provided by doctors. But efforts to change “scope of practice” laws to give nurse practitioners more independence have run into stiff opposition.

Organized physician groups, which hold sway in most legislatures, are reluctant to cede professional turf to nurses. Arguing that nurse practitioners lack the necessary level of medical training, they insist that it is unsafe for patients to be treated by nurse practitioners without a doctor’s supervision.

So, if you have a medical provider you like, I recommend that you cling tight and hang on for the ride. The next few years should be interesting.

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Tomorrow Is Pot Legalization Day in Washington

Tomorrow marijuana legalization begins to take effect in Washington. Adults 21 or older will be allowed to possess up to an ounce for personal use and consume it privately, although they will still have to obtain it from illegal sources. Unlike Colorado's Amendment 64, I-502 does not permit home cultivation, and the Washington State Liquor Control Board has until next December to adopt regulations for marijuana farms and stores. The Drug Policy Alliance comments:

There were more than 241,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Washington State over the past 25 years at a cost to the state of over $300,000,000. In 2010 alone there were 11,000 arrests for marijuana possession.  A single arrest for possession costs from $1000 to $2000 and creates a permanent criminal record that can severely limit an individual’s ability to obtain housing, schooling, employment, and credit.  Tomorrow this waste of taxpayer dollars—and human potential—comes to an end.

Also taking effect tomorrow: Washington's controversial new standard for driving under the influence of marijuana, which makes it a crime to operate a motor vehicle with a THC concentration of five or more nanograms per milliliter of blood. In the next few months we should start to get a sense of whether this per se rule is unfairly penalizing unimpaired marijuana users and whether they are worse off than they were with the old standard, which required evidence of impairment for an arrest and evidence of consumption for a conviction. The new law requires reasonable suspicion of impairment before a driver's blood can be drawn for a test.

In Colorado, meanwhile, legalization of possession (also up to an ounce) and home cultivation (up to six plants) will take effect sometime during the next month, depending on when Gov. John Hickenlooper officially proclaims the results of the Amendment 64 vote, but definitely by January 5. The state Department of Revenue has until next July to write regulations for commercial cultivation and distribution.

Looking ahead to that prospect, Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr worries that the state might start licensing pot stores before his city has its own regulations in place. As a precaution, he suggests the city ban such businesses, as Amendment 64 allows. Last night the Boulder City Council rejected that suggestion (for now, at least). Councilwoman Lisa Morzel explained that "invoking a ban would be so nondemocratic and would provoke the wrath of the public to such an extent that it would not be a good idea politically."

Katherine Mangu-Ward Discusses the Fiscal Cliff Crisis on The Kudlow Report

Reason Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward discusses the ineffective back and forth in Washington between budget cuts and raising taxes on CNBC's The Kudlow Report. Airdate: November 29, 2012.

About 10.25 minutes.

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Ed Krayewski on 3 Issues Team Blue Can Resume Caring About Now That They’ve Re-Elected Obama

President Barack Obama's supporters naturally celebrated his election victory last month as an affirmation of Obama’s first term. But many also breathed a sigh of relief. Now that their man was safely returned to the White House, it was finally acceptable to start criticizing Obama in public again.

“I have been mostly holding my tongue about the president this past season,” admitted HBO host Bill Maher, one of the president’s staunchest boosters on the boob tube, “because I didn’t want to muddy the waters in a country where you only get two choices.” The New Yorker, a bastion of progressive thinking, proudly declared that it would now get tough on the president in his second term.

If Team Blue is truly serious about taking the president to task, writes Associate Editor Ed Krayewski, here are 3 issues where even liberals can admit Obama has been a failure, disappointment, or worse.

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U.S. Military Working on Mali Intervention as USS Eisenhower Moves off the Coast of Syria

The Obama administration has announced that the U.S. military is working with the African Union and ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States) on military action in northern Mali, where Islamic militants have moved in. 

From AP:

Officials from the State and Defense departments told senators that the United States was working with the African Union and ECOWAS, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, on a planned military action in northern Mali. But there are limits to U.S. involvement.

"We have sent military planners to ECOWAS to assist with the continued development and refinement of the plans for international intervention," said Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary for African Affairs. "Any attempt to militarily oust a AQIM from northern Mali must be African-led. It must be Malian-led," he insisted.

What is especially concerning is what U.S. assistance could look like:

Amanda Dory, the deputy assistant secretary for Africa at the Pentagon, told the subcommittee that the United States is considering support for countries that contribute troops to the mission. That possible assistance includes training and equipment, as well as additional planning and advisers.

What exactly an “adviser” is was not made clear. Nor was it made clear how long U.S. assistance would last.

The glaring omission to most of the discussions about Mali is that it was foreign intervention in Libya that caused Islamic militants to move into Mali in the first place. Ed has written on the issue here and here.

The announcement comes amid an escalation in posturing regarding Syria, with Obama and Clinton both warning the Syrian government not to use chemical weapons and NATO sending Patriot missiles to Turkey. Today, it was announced that the USS Eisenhower, which holds eight fighter-bomber squadrons and 8,000 men, is now off the coast of Syria.

Does anyone know where the left-leaning anti-war movement went?

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DHS Preps for Zombie Apocalypse, Dave Brubeck Dies, Union Video Promotes Class Warfare: P.M. Links

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

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

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Meet Congress' Favorite Bootlegger: Prohibition, Hypocrisy, and "The Man in the Green Hat"

"Meet Congress' Favorite Bootlegger: Prohibition, Hypocrisy, and 'The Man in the Green Hat'" is the latest offering from Reason TV.

Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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Diagnosing "Fedophilia" Among the Economists: Why We Don't Need the Government to Have Money

"Free banking" advocate and economist George Selgin takes on what he calls "Fedophilia" in his profession: an undue love for and deference to the Federal Reserve.

The Fed's actual

record can hardly be said, after all, to supply grounds for complacency, much less for the belief that no other system could possibly do better. (Indeed that record, as Bill Lastrapes, Larry White and I have shown, even makes it difficult to claim that the Fed has improved upon the evidently flawed National Currency system it replaced.) Further, as the Fed is both a monopoly and a central planning agency, one would expect economists’ general opposition to monopolies and to central planning, as informed by theirwelfare theorems and by the general collapse of socialism, to prejudice them against it. Yet instead of ganging up to look into market-based alternatives to the Fed, the profession for the most part has relegated such inquiries to its fringe.

Selgin explores some possible reasons for this, including a basic status quo bias based on the fact that the Fed directly subsidizes and distributes so much work by professional economists. Selgin also notes that a desire to distance themselves from various bad, inaccurate, conspiratorial with insufficient evidence, attacks on the Fed keeps economists who crave respectability from joining in.

But ultimately Selgin thinks supporters of free market money face the same failure of imagination that any kind of radical libertarian notion faces: when government has taken upon itself the power to do something and shaped reality by doing so, it requires an almost science fictional imagination to see how reality could be otherwise, even for economists who are supposed to at least roughly get the whole invisible hand/spontaneous order thing:

Regarding conventional beliefs concerning the need for government-run coin factories, which he (rightly) dismissed as so much poppycock, Herbert Spencer observed, “So much more does a realized fact influence us than an imagined one, that had the baking of bread been hitherto carried on by government agents, probably the supply of bread by private enterprise would scarcely be conceived possible, much less advantageous.” Economists who haven’t put any effort into imagining how non-central bank based monetary systems might work find it all too easy to simply suppose that they can’t work, or at least that they can’t work at all well.

....In classes in monetary economics...the presence of a central bank—a monetary central planner, that is—is assumed from the get-go, and no serious attention is given to the implications of “free trade in money and banking." Consequently, when most monetary economists talk about the virtues of this or that central bank, they’re mostly talking through their hats, because they haven’t a clue concerning what other institutions might be present, and what they might be up to, if the central bank wasn’t there.

Since monetary systems not managed by central banks, including some very successful ones, have in fact existed, economists’ inability to envision such systems is also evidence of their ignorance of economic history. That ignorance in turn, among younger economists at least, is a predictable consequence of the now-orthodox view that history can be safely boiled down to a bunch of correlation coefficients, so that they need only gather enough numbers and run enough regressions to discover everything worth knowing about the past....

Selgin then points out (as I pointed out here at Reason last month in a review of The Indispensable Milton Friedman) that former Fed lovers can learn better:

The good news is that Fedophilia is curable. Milton Friedman, for one, was a recovering Fedophile: later in his career he repudiated the mostly-conventional arguments he’d once put forward in defense of a currency monopoly. Friedman, of course, was a special case: a famous proponent of free markets, he had more reason than most economists do to view claims of market failure with skepticism, even if he’d once subscribed to them himself....

Selgin goes on to supply a reading list to help economist and layman alike learn some of the history that might help them understand that a government central bank isn't the only way to get a money supply, and you should read the whole thing.

I wrote for Reason in a feature back in November 2009 about the burgeoning Ron Paul-triggered anti-Fed movement

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OK Here Goes: Reason's Webathon-Telethon!

As foreshadowed below, Reason is having, or attempting to have, it's first ever Webathon-Telethon RIGHT THE HELL NOW, in order to rattle the tin cup for supporting libertarian journalism. You can tweet your questions & comments (preferably while indicating your giving level!) to our @reason account; do likewise at our Facebook page, send us an email at telethon@reason.com, or leave a comment on this thread. Here goes!

 

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Read Reason's Complete December 2012 Issue

Our entire December 2012 issue is now available online. Don't miss Matt Welch on the Obama administration's shoddy response to the consulate attack in Libya, Garrett Quinn on Gary Johnson's Libertarian campaign for the presidency, and Veronique de Rugy on Republicans who think defense spending will boost the economy, plus Nick Gillespie's interview with The Wire and Treme creator David Simon, our complete Citings and Briefly Noted sections, the Artifact, and much more.

Click here to read our complete December 2012 issue.