Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 December 8-31

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Neil Cavuto Thinks Katherine Mangu-Ward Is Shady, Deserves Government Surveillance

During a discussion of new revelations about data sharing between government agencies on Fox Business yesterday, host Neil Cavuto agrees that Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward is a shady character. He's probably right.

Airdate: December 13, 2012.

About 3:30 minutes.

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CIA Slammed By Court in Khaled El-Masri Rendition Case

The case was formally against "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," but since that country acted as a proxy for the United States, everybody knew Khaled El-Masri's real beef was with the Central Intelligence Agency. Rightfully, then, the CIA plays a major role in headlines about Mr. El-Masri's victory in the European Court of Human Rights, which found that he was illegally detained, transferred and tortured at the behest of American officials.

The official announcement of the court's findings says:

there had been:

a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of the inhuman and degrading treatment to which Mr El-Masri was subjected while being held in a hotel in Skopje, on account of his treatment at Skopje Airport, which amounted to torture, and on account of his transfer into the custody of the United States authorities, thus exposing him to the risk of further treatment contrary to Article 3; a violation of Article 3 on account of the failure of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” to carry out an effective investigation into Mr El-Masri’s allegations of ill-treatment;

violations of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) on account of his detention in the hotel in Skopje for 23 days and of his subsequent captivity in Afghanistan, as well as on account of the failure to carry out an effective investigation into his allegations of arbitrary detention;

a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life); and,

a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

What led to this? Khaled El-Masri must be a threat to the United States, right? He must be a terrorist who had to be dealt with roughly to save lives. Except ... he's not. As the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a post on the case, Khaled El-Masri is a poster-child for why these policies aren't Jack Bauer-esque exercises in getting shit done, they're dangerous and abusive:

Mistaken for an Al Qaeda operative with a similar name, El-Masri was abducted at a border crossing while vacationing in Macedonia on New Year’s Eve in 2003 and held incommunicado for 23 days. He was subsequently transferred into CIA custody and, as part of the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program, flown to Afghanistan where he was secretly held, tortured and abused for four months.

The European Court of Human Rights goes into some detail on El-Masri's treatment, which is succinctly summarized at one point as involving him being "severely beaten, sodomised, shackled and hooded, and subjected to total sensory deprivation." Mr. El-Masri originally tried to sue the United States government directly, in its own courts, but rather than respond to his allegations, officials had the case dismissed on "state secrets" grounds in 2006. A New York Times story on that dismissal showed that officials weren't making any efforts to deny the case against them.

United States officials have acknowledged the principal elements of Mr. Masri's account, saying intelligence authorities may have confused him with an operative of Al Qaeda with a similar name. The officials also said he was released in May 2004 on the direct orders of Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, after she learned he had been mistakenly identified as a terrorism suspect.

Effectively, the official American attitude toward Khaled El-Masri has been: Yeah, we did it. Too bad for you.

El-Masri's compensation in this case amounts to 60,000 euros that Macedonia must pay him for the treatment he suffered. Maybe an apology from the United States would be in order, too. And a big, damned check.

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Matthew Feeney on the Top 5 U.S. Foreign Policy Screw-Ups of 2012

President Barack Obama came into office promising a foreign policy different from his predecessor, but after four years, writes Matthew Feeney, U.S. interventionism is no less common than it was during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Indeed, Feeney writes, from Libya to Syria to Egypt, U.S. foreign policy has been an embarrassment, disappointment, or worse. Although the instances listed here are just a sampling of this administration’s shortcomings, here are the 5 biggest U.S. foreign policy screw-ups of 2012.

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20 Children Killed in Connecticut, Other Things Nobody Is Paying Much Attention To: P.M. Links

  • A young man is suspected of killing 6 adults and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He was initially identified as Ryan Lanza and his body found among the dead. The media is, of course, awash in early speculation about what happened and engaging in irresponsible behavior like linking to a Facebook page of a guy named Ryan Lanza who wasn’t the same person. Also, the shooter might not even be Ryan Lanza. Media outlets are now indicating that the shooter is his younger brother, Adam.
  • In China, a knife-wielding man slashed 22 children at an elementary school there today. The details and extent of the injuries were not reported.
  • GOP Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to allow over-the-counter sales of birth control pills to help eliminate the argument that the Republican Party hates contraceptives
  • Ron Paul supporters played a significant role in the Occupy movement, at least among those who understood how the 1 percent benefited from government largesse.
  • Western countries rejected a United Nations treaty over management of the Internet because it gave too much authority to repressive governmental regimes (even more repressive than those of the Western countries).
  • Medicaid costs are big problems in trying to balance state budgets, which doesn’t bode well for efforts to expand coverage.

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Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting: 5 Rules for Coping with Tragedy

As new information comes in about the horrifying mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, here's a Reason TV video we released just after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in January 2011.

Original text:

Tragedies like the mass shooting in Tucson at a public event organized by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) are horrifying enough on their own, but they also have a way of bringing out the worst in reporters and politicians.

In fact, knee-jerk reactions often leave us with misconceptions and bad policies that stick around long after the healing has begun.

And so Reason.tv presents: 5 Rules for Coping with Tragedy

Approximately 2.45 seconds

Produced by Ted Balaker; written by Balaker and Nick Gillespie.

Scroll down for downloadable versions of this and all our videos, and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notification when new content is posted.

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In Wake of Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting, Some Sober Talk About Gun Control

Earlier today, a 20-year-old named Adam Lanza* entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and killed 27 people—six adults, 20 school children, and himself. He also killed his mother**. 

Americans are rightly horrified by the news, and many people are calling for a fresh debate about America's gun control policies. Reason has been participating in that conversation for decades.

(*Based on news reports, we initially and erroneously identified the shooter as 24-year-old Ryan Lanza. **The AP is reporting that Lanza's mother, who he also killed, was not killed at the school, and may not have actually been a permanent teacher there.)

Below are a collection of stories, editorials, and videos that address the most common arguments for gun control, and the case for preserving Americans' Second Amendment rights: 

Don’t Let the Aurora Shooting Curtail the Right of Self-Defense: Even if gun control could save one life—or a hundred—in one place, that would not justify putting other people at the mercy of criminals somewhere else.

- Futile Remedies for Mass Shootings: The urge to find a cure is powerful. As a rule, though, those that emerge are sugar pills. 

- Outrage Is Not an Argument: Politicians should resist demands to do something about guns in response to the Aurora massacre.

Controlling Guns, Controlling People: A new history shows how gun control goes hand in hand with fear of black people—and The People.

- The Second Amendment Goes to Court: Civil libertarians respond to D.C. v. Heller (featuring Jacob Sullum, Brian Doherty, Joyce Lee Malcolm, David B. Kopel, Randy Barnett, Glenn Reynolds, Alan Gura & Sanford Levinson).

- Civil Rights and Armed Self-Defense: Understanding Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the gun rights case McDonald v. Chicago.

- Gun Control, Ad Infinitum: Gun control is something Americans almost never stop talking about.

- Gun Control's Twisted Outcome: Restricting firearms has helped make England more crime-ridden than the U.S.

Reason TV on the gun control debate: 

"Guns, Laws, and Panics: How Fear, Not Fact, Informs the Gun Rights Debate"

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Mass Shooting at Connecticut Elementary School Leaves Dozens Dead

News outlets currently report between 20 and 27 have been killed by a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

We will update our Reason 24/7 feed regularly with the latest info.

UPDATE: If you're not around a television, Reuters is running a live local NBC news feed from the scene here.

UPDATE: The suspected shooter has been identied as Ryan Lanza, 24. His body is among the dead.

UPDATE: Several media outlets have pointed to a Facebook page of a Ryan Lanza as the suspect and a picture of him has circulated, but he has Tweeted that they've got the wrong guy.

UPDATE: Info from an official law enforcement press conference: 20 children dead. Six adults dead. The shooter is also dead. There is another person found dead at a second crime scene. Law enforcement are not formally identifying any victims yet.

UPDATE: Whether the shooter is actually Ryan Lanza is actually not confirmed as yet. Reports are now that the shooter is actually his younger brother, Adam.

UPDATE: The AP is reporting that the suspected shooter is indeed Adam. The confusion is apparently due to a law enforcement source accidentally mixing up the names while talking to the press.

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British Deputy Prime Minister Supports Drug Policy Review, Prime Minister Disagrees

Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, has called on the government to consider reviewing its drug policy. Unfortunately for Clegg, Prime Minister David Cameron has already rejected a committee’s recommendation to consider looking at other drug polices such as decriminalization.

Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, has had his fair share of disagreements with the prime minister, and oftentimes he takes the wrong side. This time he has not.

From the BBC:

"We can't be complacent, we owe it to the many many children in this country who still get snarled up by drugs, whose education chances are blighted by drugs, whose health is damaged by drugs, we owe it to them to constantly restlessly look for better ways of dealing with the scourge of drugs," he said.

"After all, this is a war, the war on drugs, in which over 2,000 people are losing their lives in Britain every year, in which one in five 11-15 year olds in this country now say they're trying drugs, where young people now are telling us that it's easier to get hold of drugs than it is to get hold of alcohol or tobacco.

"I think those facts alone suggest that, yes of course we should do the good work that we are doing as a coalition government, but we should also be open-minded enough to look at whatever alternative approaches help us help those children more effectively in the future."

Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition, also opposes drug decriminalization.

A recent poll indicates that 60 percent of Britons support a review of drug policy, as do 59 percent of those who intend to vote for the Conservatives. Considering that Labour is now polling 10 points ahead of the Conservatives and that the Liberal Democrats are polling below parties that don’t have any seats in the House of Commons, it might be worth the prime minister supporting a commission to at least have a look at alternative drug policies. 

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Obama on Marijuana Legalization: If Not Now, When?

President Obama's recent comments about marijuana legalization, noted this morning by Mike Riggs, hit a familiar theme: Going after newly legal recreational users in Colorado and Washington, he said, is not a good use of the federal government's scarce resources. He and his underlings have repeatedly said the same thing about medical marijuana users. But going after pot smokers has never been a "top priority"—or any priority at all—for the Drug Enforcement Administration, which eschews cases involving small amounts of marijuana. Those are handled by state and local police, who account for 99 percent of marijuana arrests. So leaving individual users alone does not suggest that Obama is any more enlightened, compassionate, tolerant, or rational than his predecessors. The new aspect of the policy announced by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder with respect to medical marijuana was that they promised prosecutorial forbearance not only for patients but also for their suppliers, provided they complied with state law. Obama has conspicuously failed to deliver on that promise, cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries more aggressively than George W. Bush. So even if he said it is not a good use of Justice Department resources to target state-licensed growers and retailers, you would have to take it with a shakerful of salt. In the event, he did not address suppliers at all in his ABC News interview with Barbara Walters.

"As a politician," ABC News says, "Obama has always opposed legalizing marijuana." That's not quite true, since as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004 Obama told a group of students at Northwestern University that "we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws." That is literally what Colorado and Washington have done, removing all criminal penalties for possessing up to an ounce and for growing or selling marijuana in accordance with state regulatons. (Colorado also has decriminalized home cultivation of up to six plants and noncommercial transfers of up to an ounce.) It is not clear exactly what sort of decriminalization Obama had in mind, but presumably he meant at least that users should not be subject to criminal penalties. That position proved inconvenient during his presidential campaign, when he went back and forth on the question of whether he still supported marijuana decriminalization. At one point, a spokesman said Obama had "always" favored that policy and had accidentally indicated otherwise during a debate by raising his hand in response to a question he had misunderstood. A week later, he retracted that correction.

What does Obama say now?

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President Obama on White House Weed Stance: “We’re Supposed to Be Carrying Out Laws.” Oh Is That a New Thing For This Administration?

ABC News is airing a Barbara Walters interview with President Obama tonight where the president finally responds to the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado; the president indicated there were “bigger fish to fry” than small-time recreational users, but as Jacob Sullum pointed out last night the real issue is whether the federal government will pursue commercial marijuana growers and retailers. Marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington, but getting it into the hands of smokers in those states does require someone somewhere to break a law or two. So the following quote from tonight’s interview really stands out:

"This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," Obama said. "I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about, How do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal?"

In the words of Nancy Pelosi, “are you serious?” President Obama has played fast and loose with the laws before, so long as they fit his political agenda. Even as immigration enforcement ramped up during his first term, this summer saw him selectively stop enforcement of the law to prevent losing support in a key demographic. An even better example is President Obama’s approach to No Child Left Behind, also a law the executive branch is “supposed to be carrying out”. Yet under the Obama Administration, schools in more than half the country have been waived from its requirements. Those waivers were requested by Democrats and Republicans alike, yet in not one state was No Child Left Behind rejected by popular referendum. In Washington and Colorado, voters rejected the federal war on marijuana. For a constitutional law professor this ought to be a no brainer.

Vid: Marijuana Is Legal in Colorado…Now What?

"Marijuana Is Legal in Colorado…Now What?" is the latest offering from reasontv. You can watch above or click the link below for the full story and downloadable versions.

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Jacob Sullum on the War Over Weed

In November, voters in Colorado and Washington approved groundbreaking ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The measures immediately eliminated penalties for possessing up to an ounce and required state regulators to adopt rules for commercial production and sale by next July in Colorado and next December in Washington. Meanwhile, recent national surveys put support for legalization at 50 percent or more—the highest numbers ever recorded.

In this context of unprecedented public receptiveness to repealing cannabis prohibition, writes Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, four centrist drug policy specialists—Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon, Angela Hawken of Pepperdine, Beau Kilmer of the RAND Corporation, and Mark Kleiman of UCLA—have published Marijuana Legalization, a handy little paperback that aims to tell us “What Everyone Needs to Know” about the subject. Assiduously dedicated to a utilitarian, just-the-facts approach, Caulkins and his co-authors consider marijuana’s benefits as well as its hazards, the harm caused by prohibition as well as the harm it prevents, the impact that legalization is apt to have not only on pot smoking but also on drinking, and the fiscal advantages, in terms of new tax revenue and lower law enforcement costs, of treating marijuana more like alcohol.

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Police Officer Returns to Duty After Fatally Shooting Unarmed Man 11 Times

Yesterday attorneys for the family of Ernesto Duenez Jr. released graphic camera footage of the 34-year-old being fatally shot by Oakland police officer James Moody back in June 2011.

The patrol car’s dash cam recorded the incident in which Officer Moody ordered Duenez to get out of a truck in which he was a passenger. Duenez was wanted in connection with an incident of domestic-violence reported earlier the same day and officers has been stalking out the house for some hours. On exiting the vehicle Duenez was seen leaning back towards the cab. Attorneys for his family say his foot had become stuck in the seat belt and he was simply trying to free himself. The Manteca officer yelled at Duenez to put his hands up and “drop the knife now.” He can also be heard yelling "Hands up! Hands up, Ernie! Don't you move, Ernie, don't you move or I'll shoot you!" Moody then proceeded to fire 13 bullets in 4.2 seconds, 11 of which struck Duenez, including four once he was already on the ground. The victim’s wife can be seen running out of the house, screaming at the officer and subsequently crying over her husband’s body

An 8-inch “throwing knife” was found in the bed of Duenez’s vehicle however experts at the district attorneys office could not explain how the knife could have initially been seen and later end up in the truck bed. The family's attorneys claim that in the released footage Duenez is not seen carrying a weapon, and can also be seen struggling with his seatbelt on exit from the vehicle. Moody claims he saw a knife in Duenez's right hand and believed the suspect might charge him or throw it at him. San Joaquin Country District Attorney’s Office determined on Tuesday that Moody’s shooting was justified, but the video evidence was not released until after the decision had been called. Duenez’s family are now seeking federal prosecution on the back of the tape’s release.

Following his clearing on Tuesday Officer James Moody is back on active duty.

Video here

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Draft U.N. Report on Man-Made Global Warming Leaked by Skeptic of Catastrophic Climate Change

Every five years or so the United Nations agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), puts together a huge report that tries to foresee the future course of man-made global warming. The next report is due out this coming September. Now climate change skeptic Alec Rawls has posted a draft version the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) online at StopGreenSuicide.com. (which is apparently inaccessible at the moment). Rawls is highlighting statements (calling it a "gamechanger) suggesting that the effect of cosmic rays on cloud formation has a big influence on temperature trends.

New York Times' superb Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin points out that both skeptics of and believers in man-made global warming have been guility of leaking IPCC reports. In fact, he was the beneficiary of just such a leak from a believer:

That was the case in 2000, when I was leaked a final draft of the summary for policy makers of the second science report from the panel ahead of that year’s round of climate treaty negotiations. As I explained in the resulting news story, “A copy of the summary was obtained by The New York Times from someone who was eager to have the findings disseminated before the meetings in The Hague.”

More importantly, Revkin asks the right question with regard to scientific transparency:

Here’s a question I sent tonight to a variety of analysts of the panel’s workings over the years:

The leaker, Alec Rawls, clearly has a spin. But I’ve long thought that I.P.C.C. was in a weird losing game in trying to boost credibility through more semi-open review while trying to maintain confidentiality at same time. I’m sympathetic to the idea of having more of the I.P.C.C. process being fully open (a layered Public Library of Science-style approach to review can preserve the sanity of authors) in this age of enforced transparency (WikiLeaks being the most famous example).

I completely agree.

For the skeptical take on the signficance of this leak go to Watts Up With That. For a believer's take check out Skeptical Science.

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"Public Elves": The Absolute Worst Holiday Video Since Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!


The Mercatus Center's Rob Raffety - Reason TV viewers know him as Uncle Sugar - flagged what is surely (read: hopefully) the worst goddamned holiday video you will ever see this Christmas or any other.

Titled "Public Elves," it's a production of OMB Watch, a nonprofit that is dedicated to lifting a veil of secrecy about government - while kissing its ass at the same time.

Just remember: Anything good that happens to you over the next week (such as driving across non-collapsing bridges or eating non-toxic turkeys) is a direct result of government action. And anything bad that happens? Well, that's somebody else's fault.

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Kurt Loder Reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson is no George Lucas, Kurt Loder is happy to report, and his new Middle-earth prequel is no Phantom Menace. But the movie is a disappointment, and not only because it fails to equal the grand achievement of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of a decade ago. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wanders and slumps and generally fails to engage. It’s a welcome entrant in the annual holiday box-office scrum—big and busy and often beautiful to look at. But it’s not what you might have been expecting, or hoping for.

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A.M. Links: Kim Jong-Un Orders More Rocket Launches, NC Judge Commutes Death Sentences, Tax Bill Sent to Greek Parliament, Assaulted Fox News Contributor Not Seeking Police Help, John Kerry Likely Secretary of State Nominee

  • Kim Jong-Un has ordered more rocket launches after the success of the widely condemned launch earlier this week. 
  • A judge in North Carolina commuted the death sentences of three convicted prisoners after ruling that race played a role in jury selection. 
  • A tax reform bill submitted to the Greek parliament includes a new top tax rate of 42 percent on those earning more than €42,000 a year. 
  • Fox News contributor Steven Crowder has yet to ask police for help after being punched in the face during a right-to-work protest in Michigan. Crowder has said he would rather have an MMA-sanctioned fight with his assailant to settle the matter.
  • It is looking increasingly likely that Sen. John Kerry will be the next Secretary of State. 
  • The Muslim Brotherhood will be holding rallies in Egypt ahead of tomorrow’s referendum on a controversial draft constitution. 

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Obama Finally Responds to Legal Pot in Colorado and Washington: Feds Won't Go After Users; No Word on Suppliers

"It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal," President Obama tells Barbara Walters in an ABC interview that airs tonight. "We've got bigger fish to fry."

Do those "bigger fish" include licensed growers and suppliers of state-legal marijuana? Because that's the real issue here, as Jacob Sullum explained yesterday

The federal government, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the country's marijuana arrests, almost never handles cases involving such small quantities and does not have the resources to do so in any significant way. The real question is not whether the DEA will start busting newly legal pot smokers (even those who grow their own, as permitted in Colorado) but whether it will raid, close down, and prosecute state-licensed commercial growers and retailers.

Alas, Obama doesn't say whether he'll continue to go after licensed and regulated suppliers. More from his interview with Walters:

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Friday Funnies: Right to Work

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Brickbat: Dirty Laundry

The Great Neck, New York, village board has banned people from hanging laundry to dry in their front yards. Violators face a $1,000 fine and up to 15 days in jail.

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Ravi Shankar: The Hippie Hater

The death of the Indian sitar maestro, Ravi Shankar (and the illegitimate dad of singer Norah Jones) earlier this week at the ripe age of 92 is no doubt a huge loss for the Woodstock generation. But to Shankar that generation was dead a long time ago. He might have been an icon of the sixties hippies – for whom his ragas were like marijuana set to music – but his austere spiritualism had no use for them. In fact, Mick Brown points out in the Guardian, he regarded them as a somewhat repulsive and wretched lot whose adulation he didn’t much relish (although, I’m sure, the moolah they lavished on him was just fine). Writes Brown:

Shankar could be a fastidious man. The rock audiences who came to pay homage he haughtily dismissed in his autobiography as “these strange young weirdos”; while his appearances at the Monterey and Woodstock festivals – the great quasi-religious gatherings of the alternative society – were apparently painful ordeals, where the audiences were “shrieking, shouting, smoking, masturbating and copulating – all in a drug-crazed state… I used to tell them, 'You don’t behave like that when you go to hear a Bach, Beethoven or Mozart concert.’” Quite.

In fact:

For Ravi Shankar, for whom playing the sitar was a spiritual calling as well as a musical one, it was a cause of evident unhappiness to find the instrument he loved in lesser hands, and played in a bastardised form as a lazy musical shorthand for a wigged-out psychedelic experience. So distressed was he by the way his music was – as he saw it – misunderstood by pop audiences that after Woodstock he decided to “cleanse” himself by performing only in concert halls.

George Harrison should have realized he needed to hide his love away.

(My two cents: He might have been misunderstood–but he wasn’t overrated–by them hippies. He truly was a great sitar player.)

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Latest News in California’s Skill at Revenue Projection: It Still Sucks

As noted earlier today at Reason 24/7, California failed terribly at projecting its November tax revenue. Income tax and corporate tax were both down from predictions. Altogether revenue was down $806 million from what the state projected, a 10.8 percent drop. Total tax revenue is up over 2011 for the month, except in the corporate tax category, which is down 160 percent. That's a nice little detail for anybody trying to argue that California’s tax environment is scaring away business.

The data is important because the $6 billion revenue promised by the tax increases in Prop. 30, which passed in November, are also projections. If the projections are off, well, Gov. Jerry Brown tied the school budget to that money.

And then there’s the matter of what the rest of state government is doing following the passage of Prop. 30, as Cal Watchdog notes:

State bureaucrats immediately ramped up deficit spending far beyond the $6 billion annual tax increase, with the Departments of Health Services and Developmental Services increasing this month’s spending by more than $1 billion versus last year.  The lower tax collection and higher spending drove the state’s deficit after the tax increase to $2.7 billion for the first 5 months of the 2012-13 fiscal year, which began on July 1.

The state’s bad record of revenue projection (which contributed to the nearly $20 billion deficit California had logged earlier in the year) is important to keep in mind when, say, a New York Times reporter points to deficit (and surplus) projections for coming years as evidence of the state’s recovery.

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Federal Arrests of Pot Smokers Are Not the Real Threat to Legalization in Colorado and Washington

The letter that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has sent to drug czar Gil Kerlikowske regarding marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, noted earlier today by Mike Riggs, is encouraging insofar as it indicates that a prominent senator of the president's party is concerned about possible federal interference with implementation of the new laws. But the one legislative solution that Leahy suggests—amending the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) "to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law"—does not make much sense as a way of ensuring these states can set their own policies in this area. That's because the federal government, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the country's marijuana arrests, almost never handles cases involving such small quantities and does not have the resources to do so in any significant way. The real question is not whether the DEA will start busting newly legal pot smokers (even those who grow their own, as permitted in Colorado) but whether it will raid, close down, and prosecute state-licensed commercial growers and retailers.

Leahy, who says he plans to hold a hearing on the federal response to the Colorado and Washington initiatives next year, does not ask Kerlikowske about the fate of cannabis entrepreneurs, although he does ask, "What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?" Such prosecutions seem unlikely for political as well as legal reasons. It is hard to believe President Obama wants to provoke the sort of confrontation with state officials that would occur if the feds started arresting employees of the Washington State Liquor Control Board or the Colorado Department of Revenue, the agencies charged with licensing and regulating pot shops in those states. Even if he did, what exactly would the charge be? Neither legalization initiative requires state officials to handle marijuana, let alone grow or distribute it; they are merely expected to certify when businesses have met the requirements to avoid prosecution under state law.

In his new Cato Institute paper about federalism and marijuana policy, Vanderbilt University law professor Robert Mikos concludes that performing this function does not in any way violate the CSA. The same issue came up in the litigation over Arizona's medical marijuana initiative. Although Gov. Jan Brewer explained her reluctance to implement the will of the voters by citing the alleged legal threat to state regulators, she never suggested a plausible basis for prosecuting them, while the Justice Department (via Arizona's U.S. attorney) disavowed any intent to do so. Around the same time, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former U.S, attorney, considered the risk that state officials could be prosecuted for implementing that state's medical marijuana law and deemed it acceptable. (New Jersey's first medical marijuana dispensary opened last week.) Oddly, Leahy does not mention the more plausible possibility of a DOJ lawsuit aimed at blocking state-licensed production and distribution, which could tie things up in the courts for quite some time, even if it ultimately fails (as it should).

In short, I am glad Leahy wrote the letter, but I wish he had zeroed in more precisely on the most important threats to state autonomy vis-à-vis marijuana. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, has a similar reaction:

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Susan Rice Out of Consideration for Secretary of State; Leon Panetta May Be Out as Defense Secretary Within a Month

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is no longer interested in being considered for the position of Secretary of State, which Hillary Clinton signaled an intent to vacate by next year, because partisan politics. From NBC News:

Embattled U.N. envoy Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments.

“Today, I made the decision that it was the best thing for our country, for the American people that I not continue to be considered by the president for nomination of secretary of state,” Rice told NBC’s Brian Williams.

“I didn’t want to see a confirmation process that was very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting and very disruptive because there are so many things we need to get done as a country and the first several months of a second term president’s agenda is really the opportunity to get the crucial things done.”

A putative Susan Rice hearing would likely be prolonged and politicized because of the prolonged manner in which the government laid out a narrative on the attack on the consulate in Benghazi and the narrative’s politicized nature.

With Rice officially out, John Kerry is probably feeling a lot more comfortable about his shot at the position, the coveting of which he hasn’t made much of a secret.

Kerry was (is?) apparently also in the running to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense, though Bloomberg is now reporting former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel at the top of that list.

Panetta is apparently not interested in serving under a second Obama term, though he hasn’t made any public statements about when he might leave. His replacement would become the third defense secretary under President Obama with the war in Afghanistan not much closer to an end than when Obama took office. George W. Bush, of course, had more stability at Defense. He kept Donald Rumsfeld for six years, despite Rumsfeld having offered his resignation on at least one occasion and the eruption of multiple scandals at the Pentagon (Abu Ghraib, for example) as well as an ill-conceived and mismanaged land invasion and occupation of Iraq. So staying the course is certainly not always desirable. Nevertheless, Panetta’s departure ought to be frustrating at the very least because of how much government money Panetta spent commuting between the Pentagon and his home in California, for a job he’ll end up keeping for less than two whole years during a period when America might have well blown its best opportunity to exit Afghanistan on its terms and not the Taliban’s.

Hagel, for what it’s worth, opposed the war in Iraq (like President Obama, who ended up trying to prolong it anyway). Hagel’s also said as recently as last year that it was time for America to “start heading toward the exits”. You should probably remain cautiously pessimistic anyway.

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In Wake of Colorado and Washington, Sen. Leahy May Push for Amending the Controlled Substances Act

In a letter to Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske regarding the feds' response to legal pot in Colorado and Washington, Senate Judiciary Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) says that "one option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law." 

Leahy offered up modifying the CSA after asking for "assurances" that the feds won't crack down on either users or state governments. 

Leahy's letter to Kerlikowske, which he published today on his website, marks the Senate's first response to the passage of marijuna ballot measures in Colorado and Washington.  

The full text of Leahy's letter is below: 

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Fed To Release $1 Trillion in 2013, Syria Regime Reportedly Near Collapse, Taser Wins Liability Case: P.M. Links

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Peter Suderman on Why Obamacare's Health Care Cost Controls Won't Work

There’s little question that what’s ultimately driving the nation’s long-term debt is entitlement spending—in particular spending on Medicare. Yet as the fiscal cliff negotiations have dragged on, many prominent Democrats and liberal analysts have made it clear that they oppose any and all reductions to Medicare’s benefit structure. They also argue that we ought to wait and see if a slew of promising health care cost-control measures passed in recent years work out, obviating the need for additional reforms. Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic, for example, recently asserted that such cost-cutting “is already underway thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” a law Cohn described as “arguably the most ambitious effort to reduce the cost of medical care in history.”

The most ambitious cost-control effort ever? As Senior Editor Peter Suderman observes, that’s a low bar to begin with. And at least one of Obamacare’s own authors has described the law differently. But what’s even more important, Suderman writes, is that we already have a fair amount of evidence about the efficacy of the Obama era’s cost-control measures. And so far, it’s not very promising.

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Why Copyright Law is so Mickey Mouse - And How to Fix It: Q&A with Jerry Brito

"Why Copyright Law is so Mickey Mouse - And How to Fix It: Q&A with Jerry Brito" is the latest offering from ReasonTV.

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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City of Chicago Wants to Vacate Ruling Against Cops' “Code of Silence”

Two top civil rights attorneys filed a brief to the federal court late Tuesday evening arguing against vacating a recent verdict condemning the City of Chicago Police Department’s “code of silence.” 

Locke Bowman and Craig Futterman argued strongly against efforts to vacate the recent ruling that blamed the beating of a female bartender by an off-duty officer on the “code of silence” that exists within the force.

A video of the incident caused widespread embarrassment for officers back in 2007. The now infamous tape showed off-duty officer Anthony Abbate beating bartender Karolina Obrycka when she refused to serve the clearly intoxicated officer any more alcohol. According to The Chicago Tribune Abbate had gotten into several other fist fights that evening and was even recorded shouting “Chicago Police Department!” whilst flexing his muscles to the camera. When Chicago police investigated the case they decided Abbate had only committed a misdemeanor offense, not a felony, and his fellow detectives had Obrycka sign statements to that effect. Following the event Abbate and another police partner are said to have made about 150 calls to other cops to help him bolster his story.

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"Occupy Ron Paul": The Libertarian Roots of the Occupy Movement

Michael Tracey writes in American Conservative on the links between Ron Paul-ism and the Occupy Wall Street movement, past and prospective:

One might say Ron Paul people played a more integral role to the inception of Occupy than conventional Democrats or liberals, many of whom scorned the inscrutable demonstration in its first weeks. The journalist Arun Gupta, who co-founded the Occupied Wall Street Journal in New York City and later embarked on a tour of Occupy sites across America, told me he’d see clusters of Ron Paul supporters and various libertarians virtually everywhere he went. Such folks “tended to be better represented and integrated in red states,” Gupta said–Cheyenne, Boise, Tulsa, Little Rock, Louisville, Charleston, etc.–while in “blue states” they typically formed enclaves that were “tolerated” by the wider group.

A fair number of Occupy people in those days either had no opinion of or actively disliked Ron Paul, but the undercurrents of support were nonetheless noticeable, ranging from individuals who would wield official campaign paraphernalia to others who would concede private support only for narrow aspects of Ron Paul’s platform upon intense questioning. One would more reliably come across vocal Ron Paul supporters at Occupy events than vocal Obama supporters. It was not lost on the Zuccotti Park crowd, for instance, that Ron Paul personally expressed a measure of support for the movement earlier than most any other national U.S. politician–aside from Sen. Bernie Sanders or Rep. Dennis Kucinich....

Signage bearing the Paul-derived “End the Fed” slogan was common around Lower Manhattan during those frenzied weeks. Stories of Paul-Occupy fusion emerged from around the country: in Los Angeles, a Ron Paul activist successfully added an anti-Federal Reserve amendment to OccupyLA’s working manifesto; an ultimately ill-fated “Ron Paul Tent” was established for a time at OccupyPhilly...

That a candidate who routinely inveighed against the military-industrial complex, “corporate fascism,” civil liberties infringements, and the George W. Bush administration’s lies about Iraq while championing Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, and the Occupy movement wound up attracting support from elements of the American left is not terribly surprising....

What seems more surprising (or at least disappointing) is that more support from the non-Democrat-beholden progressive left wasn't sent Paul's way, an issue I explore in my own discussion of Ron Paul, Occupy, and possible or potential libertarian/progressive congruence in my November Reason feature "Ron Paul: Man of the Left."

Tracey wraps up by pointing out that the Paulite left advantage, such as it is, is likely to be squandered by those aspect of the Paulite/liberty movement that insist on further electoral work in the Republican Party even minus a candidate as hardcore as Paul himself.

As for Paul, Tracey notes, he "wisely plans to continue focusing on youth outreach in post-congressional life" and speculates (I think with some accuracy--Ron Paul in general as a very tolerant man, as his eccentric political career has required him to be) that "Perhaps the preponderance of eccentric characters in Ron Paul’s own flock made him more inclined to show the maligned Occupy movement a modicum of respect, back when doing so was not an especially advisable tactic."

My book on Paul's political careeer and the movement around him, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

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Dear Politifact: Your Analysis of Obama's Drug War Record Is Factually Wrong

Yesterday, Politifact, the Pulitzer-winning fact checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times, declared Romney's claim that Chrysler "is going to build Jeeps in China," its "lie of the year." But it's a PoliticusUSA story about Politifact awarding Obama its coveted "promise kept" label for his 2007 pledge to "send first-time nonviolent drug offenders to rehab if appropriate" that's on the front page of Reddit right now. 

PoliticusUSA's story is wrong, and it's wrong because the writer relied entirely on Politifact's poor assessment of Obama's drug court record. In the spirit of getting things right, I'd like to help the world's best fact checkers get their facts straight. 

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Forget DIY Drones, How About DIY Armed Drones?

Remotely piloted drones are all the rage these days, and have become must-haves for discerning government agencies at the local, state and federal levels. Our fearless public servants acquire them for purposes of snooping and tracking and, of course, for one-upsmanship on other agencies. Under current law, private domestic use of drones is severely restricted until 2015, although hobbyists have taken to them. Of course, the use of armed drones, which has become so controversial and lethal in government hands, will remain beyond the reach of private parties— Oh wait. No, it won't. In fact, armed drones (of a sort) have already been created by DIYers. At least, one has. And yes, it's cool.

The folks at Dangerous Information constructed a DIY drone with six rotors as so many hobbyists have done. Then, just to see if they could, they mounted a paintball gun on the drone that could be fired by the operator. In his video demonstration, "Milo Danger" shows the drone flying and firing at stationary targets. Jay Stanley, a senior technology policy analyst with the ACLU reports that "Milo" called into a radio show on which he was a guest:

Although not shown on the video, on the radio call-in “Milo” said that he had used it to shoot not only at stationary targets but also at live human beings. In response to a somewhat incredulous question from the host, he assured us that they were fully consenting volunteers. In general, he appears to be making an effort to spark awareness and discussion of the technology’s potential in a responsible manner.

Dangerous Information's drone is basically a proof-of-concept piece, but it's one that apparently works just fine, and points to a very ... interesting future.

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Why is Homeland Security Buying Vehicles for College Cops in Southwest Ohio?

I snapped this picture in my part-time hometown of Oxford, Ohio. Oxford is home to Miami University, best known these days as the alma mater of failed Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and bathroom Romeo Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) went there and so did President Benjamin Harrison. And Weeb Ewbank.

So why is Homeland Security buying vehicles for college K-9 cops in a small town in southwestern Ohio?

Because it's a colossal waste of money, that's why.

Go here for more details on a solid decade of high costs and low yield.

Go here for more sad tales of wasted DHS money.

And watch "3 Reasons to Kill the Dept. of Homeland Security":

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Silly Minority "White" Nation Meme Surfaces Again at the Census Bureau

Today's New York Times is reporting Census Bureau projections that the "white" ethnic group in the United States will be outnumbered by other ethnic groups by the middle of this century. From the Times:

The bureau predicts that by 2043 — which is a year later than it previously projected — there will be no single majority group in the country as a whole, as the share of non-Hispanic whites falls below 50 percent.

The population of non-Hispanic whites is expected to shrink both as a share of the population and in raw numbers, the bureau predicted: it is projected to peak in 2024 at 199.6 million, and then to fall by nearly 20.6 million through 2060.

The Hispanic population is expected to more than double during that time, to 128.8 million in 2060 from 53.3 million now. In 2060 nearly one in three residents will be Hispanic, up from about one in six now. (People who identify themselves as Hispanic may be any race.) The black population is expected to increase to 61.8 million from 41.2 million over the same period, with its share of the population rising slightly. And the Asian population is expected to double, to 34.4 million in 2060 from 15.9 million now, with its share of the population climbing to 8.1 percent from 5.1 percent.

Alas, the Census Bureau began collecting racial background information back in 1790 because under the Constitution slaves counted as only three-fifths of a person when it came to apportioning members of the House of Representatives among the states. Now the bureau justifies the multiplication of racial and ethnic categories on the grounds that...

Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State governments use the data to determine congressional, state and local voting districts. Race data are also used to assess fairness of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education and to plan and obtain funds for public services.

What's particularly irritating about the Census Bureau projections is the assumption that Americans 40 years from now will docilely continue to allow themselves to be pigeonholed into the Census Bureau's arbitrary set of racial and ethnic classifications. First of all, the Pew Research Center reported earlier this year that ethnic intermarriage rates are rising steeply which will make a mockery of the federal government's racial categories. 

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Greg Beato on Urban Renewal, Corporate-Style

In December 2010, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, an online retailer, announced plans to move the company's thousand-plus employees from an office park in Henderson, Nevada, to the old Las Vegas City Hall. In 2011, he leased 50 units in a luxury high-rise in the neighborhood, and he and some of his Zappos.com co-workers moved in. He’s hoping more will follow—Zappos.com employees and anyone else who wants to live in a lively, community-oriented urban neighborhood near his eight-acre worksite. It’s something he calls The Downtown Project, writes Greg Beato. 

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Canadian Makeup Artist Faces Real Trial for Fake Violence

This week the trial of Rémy Couture, the Canadian special-effects artist charged with "corrupting morals" by illegally combining sex and gore, began in Montreal. The evidence against him includes two short films depicting the crimes of a necrophiliac serial killer and various photographs of simulated torture and dismemberment that were posted on Couture's now-defunct website, InnerDepravity.com. The images were so realistic that Austrian police, alerted to the website by complaints from concerned citizens about six years ago, initially thought they were on the trail of an extremely indiscreet murderer. By the time the matter was referred to the Montreal police morality squad (yes, that is really what it's called) via Interpol in 2009, it was clear that no one had actually been harmed during the production of these icky images and that that Couture was merely showing off his skills with makeup and rubber guts. The National Post reports that Sgt. Detective Eric Lavallée nevertheless invented a ruse to lure Couture out of his apartment, "posing as a potential client seeking a mock gory photo session with his wife," instead of simply knocking on the door. Just to be safe.

The prosecution argues that Couture's work is obscene under Canadian law because "a dominant characteristic" of it is "the undue exploitation of sex" combined with "crime, horror, cruelty and violence." He faces up to two years in prison for this prohibited mixture, illustrated by exhibits such as these:

Classified on the site under such headings as “Hook,” “Burn,” “Sacrifice,” “Suicide” and “Necrophile,” the photos show half-naked women being tortured, mutilated and sexually assaulted.

In one series, a masked male killer slices off a woman’s nipple. In another, a woman victim has a knife inserted in her genitals. Some of the photos depict the attacker having sex with a corpse.

And these:

One of the films showed a muscular, tattooed man in a mask, appearing to eat a victim's intestines. In another, a barely dressed, blood-drenched woman was strapped to a bed with a large crucifix lying across her.

Not your cup of tea, probably. But are these fake felonies also a real felony? Yes, according to Crown Prosecutor Michel Pennou, who on Tuesday told the jury charged with assessing the artistic merits of Couture's work (his main defense) that his simulated mayhem was an assault on "fundamental Canadian values." Becauses Canadians are nice, I guess.

Yesterday, the Post reports, UCLA psychologist Neil Malamuth testified that "violent pornography 'can add fuel to the fire' when viewed by men who are predisposed to being sexually aggressive toward women." During a period when steady declines in violent crime have coincided with a surge in highly successful torture-porn movies, there is reason to doubt this sort of effect, if it exists at all, is very strong. But assuming Malamuth is right, should artists be held criminally liable for the hypothetical reactions of especially depraved people who happen to encounter their work? Twelve randomly selected art critics will decide.

Previous coverage of the case here and here. Couture's supporters defend his right to free expression here.

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The GOP Committee Purge: Not About Policy, But the "Asshole Factor"?

The GOP leadership in the House is selling a counterstory to the "brave anti-spending Republicans smacked down by craven leadership" story connected to the loss of committee assignments by four Republicans known for bucking leadership in a more small-government, small-spending direction. (They are Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) from the House Budget Committee, Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) from Financial Services Committee.) I have blogged about one of the purged, Rep. Justin Amash, fighting back publicly yesterday and last week.

The new story? It isn't that the purged were too conservative; they were just uncollegial assholes. Politico's take:

In an interview with POLITICO, one member of the Steering Committee called them “the most egregious a—holes” in the House Republican Conference.

The argument: This went beyond voting records. The members who were booted made life harder for other Republicans by taking whacks at them in public for supporting the team, according to Republican sources familiar with the Steering Committee’s decision.....

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a conservative who is close to party leaders, told them that "the a—hole factor" came into play in the Steering decision.

“He said that it had nothing to do with their voting record, a scorecard, or their actions across the street [meaning fundraising],” Westmoreland spokeswoman Leslie Shedd told POLITICO. “It had to do with their inability to work with other members, which some people might refer to as the a—hole factor.”

Shedd said her boss didn’t intend to call anyone a name and acknowledged later to her that “perhaps he should have said obstinate factor instead and wanted me to reiterate that he did not and would not call another member of Congress an a—hole.”

Politico goes on to point out that booting from committees is a pretty nuclear option for House leadership in recent times:

these were the first members pulled off committees as punishment for political or personality reasons in nearly two decades. Even Tom DeLay, the fearsome majority leader known for hardball tactics, drew the line there.

More from Roll Call

[Rep. John] Fleming [(R-La.)] said...[it is] becoming more apparent that the members were removed for actions that constituted “friendly fire,” or directing rhetorical barbs at members of their own party.

“There have been several members to stand up and say, ‘You know, I kind of agree with leadership. You said some things that was a problem for me,’” he said. “There have been members and leadership who feel that it’s one thing to vote and even message what you feel, but don’t hurt your colleagues and don’t hurt your leadership in doing that. In other words, don’t go out and use other members who are supposed to be part of your army and make them the target of your rhetoric as well.”

This "asshole" explanation isn't a distinct and different one from the "we were purged for being too serious about spending." It actually compounds the problem for those who are angry at leadership for a perceived lack of seriousness on spending.

This story says that, spending aside, actually trying to be a public voice pushing the party in a better direction on spending compounds the problem and makes you more worthy of being punished. It's not that "these are unpleasant people and bad colleagues and we don't want them around"; it's that they aren't just content to vote against bad stuff and then be quiet about it.

If the leadership thinks that this explanation is going to mollify the ideal Tea Party type who seriously see themselves as dedicated to making sure the Republican Party is good on spending issues, that seems highly unlikely. Such activists want their congressional champions to not only vote right, but to pressure their colleagues to do so as well. For those likely to care at all about the purged, the asshole factor is a feature, not a bug, as the kids on their computers say.

Amash and fellow purged Huelskamp talk about how they still have not had the exact reasons for their treatment explained to them, and more, on the radio with Sean Hannity. Some highlights from that: Amash says that his score on the still-mysterious scorecard used to judge and purge him by House leadership was, he was told by someone he won't name, a "zero." "Those who voted for more government were given positive scores," Amash believes. Amash says he's unhappy about the likely results of a leadership-approved tax and spending deal on the "fiscal cliff" negotations. 

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In Michigan, More Poor Families Taking Refuge in Charter Schools

While we’re all arguing about right-to-work in Michigan, there’s also a little right-to-choose battle going on with their schools.

Earlier in the month, 71 school district superintendents signed a letter fretting about those disconcerting “untested and unproven” education reforms that don’t yet have a “track record” like public schools do. This is meant to be a criticism of charter schools, not an endorsement, apparently. You can read here and marvel at their attempts to make charter schools look like a bad risk without providing any factual information to back up their fears.

But they do have one paragraph that made the nonpartisan, free-market friendly, Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy take note:

Instead, the choices we have created through market-based reform have produced cookie-cutter public school academies serving middle class students while creating a permanent underclass in our inner cities. Why? We believe that families struggling to maintain a roof over their head and food on their table simply do not have the resources to shop around for educational opportunity.

Have a good laugh at them criticizing charter schools as being “cookie-cutter.” Beyond that irony, there’s an actual factual claim in there -- The old canard that school choice allows those middle class families to flee and deprive poor students of the better education. But does it check out? The Mackinac Center runs the numbers in their Michigan Capitol Confidential and discovers it doesn’t. Not by a longshot:

But state of Michigan data for the 2011-2012 school year shows there is a higher percentage of free- and reduced-lunch eligible students in charter schools than in conventional public school districts. Charter schools had 69.8 percent of students on free- and reduced-lunch statewide while 46.2 percent of the students statewide in conventional public schools were on free- and reduced-lunch. That data is from the Center for Educational Performance and Information. Students qualify for free- and reduced-lunch based on their household income.

In response, one superintendent said they were referring to inner city poor kids. (that’s an interesting racially-coded argument, isn’t it?) Michigan Capitol Confidential drilled down to the data on just the school districts represented by the superintendents who signed the letter. The percentage of students in charter schools on free and reduced lunch was still higher than those in public schools.

In Detroit, the numbers were fairly similar – 78 percent for charter school students, 81 percent for public school students. Also of note: Only 7 percent of eighth-graders in Detroit’s schools are rated as “proficient” in reading. The national average is 29 percent. In case any superintendent wants to invoke the “inner cities” argument again, the average for other large cities is 21 percent (pdf). Why any public school superintendent would actually want to invoke “track records” when arguing against charter schools is quite the mystery.

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Steve Chapman on a New Home for Gun Rights

Tuesday, a federal appeals court said Illinois cannot maintain its flat ban on concealed-carry—a policy that makes it unique among the 50 states, writes Steve Chapman. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to have and use a gun for self-protection. Extending the logic of that decision, the appeals court said this freedom includes the right to carry a weapon outside the home.

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The Difference Between George Bush’s War on Terror and Barack Obama’s

A German Muslim mistaken for a terrorist suspect by Macedonian border authorities in 2003, kidnapped by the CIA and sent to a prison in Afghanistan scored his first legal victory this week. The European Court of Human Rights vindicated Khaled el-Masri’s account of events and ruling Macedonia responsible for the torture and abuse he faced. The Guardian summarizes what happened to el-Masri:

He was held incommunicado and abused in Macedonian custody for 23 days, after which he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and driven to Skopje airport, where he was handed over to the CIA and severely beaten.

The CIA stripped, hooded, shackled, and sodomized el-Masri with a suppository – in CIA parlance, subjected him to "capture shock" – as Macedonian officials stood by. The CIA drugged him and flew him to Kabul to be locked up in a secret prison known as the "Salt Pit", where he was slammed into walls, kicked, beaten, and subjected to other forms of abuse. Held at the Salt Pit for four months, el-Masri was never charged, brought before a judge, or given access to his family or German government representatives.

The CIA ultimately realised that it had mistaken el-Masri for an al-Qaida suspect with a similar name. But it held on to him for weeks after that. It was not until 24 May 2004, that he was flown, blindfolded, earmuffed, and chained to his seat, to Albania, where he was dumped on the side of the road without explanation.

Today the U.S. government claims it no longer performs such “extraordinary renditions" (wink wink). It may not matter that you share a name with a terrorist anymore either; the CIA doesn’t need a name in order to kill. And there’s no Court of Human Rights victims of drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen can exactly go to, if they manage to stay alive. Forward and all that.

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American IQs in 1900 Averaged 67 Points

Considering that people with IQs below 70 are today considered to be suffering from an "intellectual disability" that's a remarkable claim.* (Jargon watch: The intellectually disabled used to be called mentally retarded and before that they were called moronic.) So if these data are right, chances are that your great grandparents were morons. However, as New Zealand political scientist James Flynn points out in his new book, Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the 21st Century, average IQs have been going up at the rate of about 3 points per decade over the past century. Flynn identified this ubiquitous trend (now named the Flynn Effect) back in the 1980s when he realized that the regular renorming of IQ tests suggested that an American with an average IQ of 100 today would score 115 on a 1950s IQ test. 

In today's New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof summarizes Flynn's findings this way:

The average American I.Q. has been rising steadily by 3 points a decade. Spaniards gained 19 points over 28 years, and the Dutch 20 points over 30 years. Kenyan children gained nearly 1 point a year.

Those figures come from a new book by Flynn from Cambridge University Press called “Are We Getting Smarter?” It’s an uplifting tale, a reminder that human capacity is on the upswing. The implication is that there are potential Einsteins now working as subsistence farmers in Congo or dropping out of high school in Mississippi who, with help, could become actual Einsteins.

The Flynn Effect should upend some of the smugness among those who have historically done well in global I.Q. standings. For example, while there is still a race gap, black Americans are catching up — and now do significantly better than white Americans of the “greatest generation” did in the 1940s...

Flynn argues that I.Q. is rising because in industrialized societies we give our brains a constant mental workout that builds up what we might call our brain sinews...

But Flynn argues that modern TV shows and other entertainment can be cognitively demanding, and video games like those of the Grand Theft Auto series probably require more thought than solitaire.

In my column, "Are Smart Countries Richer or Are Rich Countries Smarter?," I reported some of the findings of American Conservative publisher Ron Unz that explored how the Flynn Effect has long been boosting the intelligence of various immigrant groups so that many now score higher IQ averages than the IQ average of "old stock" Americans. Among other things, Unz attributes rising IQs to the salutary effects on intellectual development of increased urbanization.

In addition, a Wired article last year pointed out that the smartest are also getting smarter over time. Surely, if you're reading Reason, it would suggest that your IQ score is at least two deviations above the current median, right?

*Perhaps this explains why some segments of the population were so stupidly attracted to Communism and Nazism in the early 20th century.

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The Year in Media Mistakes, Hoaxes, and Corrections

In one of the more entertaining best-of lists to appear at the tail end of 2012, Poynter looks back at the year in media mishaps, from this correction in The Australian...

Colonel Jehlani did not say: "It's not like 25 years ago. I was killing everybody." In fact, he said: "It's not like 25 years ago I was killing everybody. At that time too we tried not to have civilian casualties."

...to this bit of venting in The Rayne Independent that accidentally made it into print:

Read the rest here.

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A.M. Links: Fiscal Cliff Deal Unlikely Before Christmas, U.S. Will Keep Troops in Afghanistan, Too Early To Fear North Korean-Triggered Armaggedon

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Judge Napolitano on Government Spying

FISA gives the government unchecked authority to snoop on all Americans who communicate with any foreign person, in direct contravention of the Fourth Amendment.

Everyone in Congress, writes Judge Napolitano, has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, which could not be more clear: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects..." shall not be violated, except via a warrant issued by a neutral judge upon the judge finding probable cause of crime. If we let Congress, which is a creature of the Constitution, change the Constitution, then no one's liberty or property is safe, and freedom is dependent upon the political needs of those in power.

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Brickbat: D'Oh!

Turkey's Supreme Board of Radio and Television has fined CNBC-e 53,000 lira for airing an episode of "The Simpsons" which allegedly shows God taking orders from the devil. The agency found that the episode mocked God.

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Sure the Market Isn't Free, So Why Make It Even Less Free With Right-To-Work Laws?

My post criticizing right-to-work laws has, itself, come under considerable criticism, today. Over at the Competitive Enterprise Institute's OpenMarket.org, Ivan Osorio states that criticism succinctly, targeting arguments that I (and Gary Chartier, who I quoted) made that characterized right-to-work legislation as assaults on freedom of contract and association:

Chartier’s and Tuccille’s argument makes sense in a political vacuum, but not in the reality we live in. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which regulates all private sector labor relations in the U.S. (except for railroads and airlines), mandates closed shops, while allowing states to opt out of the closed shop mandate through right-to-work laws. So, under the NLRA, closed union shops can be either mandated or forbidden. Yes, making closed shops optional for employers would be a much better option, but until the NLRA is repealed, right-to-work laws remain the most viable palliative to compulsory unionism.

True, federal legislation does regulate labor relations in the United States. Right-to-work laws are certainly not intruding into a free marketplace for labor. Not only does the NLRA (also known as the Wagner Act) use government power to favor organized labor unions over businesses and independent workers, but the Taft-Hartley Act then limits labor actions and political speech.

That the Taft-Hartley Act was passed in 1947 as a response to the perceived excessive power that unions gained from the 1935 NLRA illustrates one of the problems with right-to-work laws — one that free-marketeers and libertarians are usually quick to point out. That is, the distortions in human life caused by intrusive laws always raise the temptation to patch over the problems with additional legislation. That additional legislation is likely to lead to more problems ... That's why we're always better off dumping bad laws than trying to "fix" them in a spiraling game of spackle-the-law books.

However, there is a group that benefits from responding to laws with more laws, and that group consists of politicians and government officials. Note that the long-standing positions of the major political parties are represented both in the federal legislation mentioned above and the current battle over right-to-work laws. With the NLRA, Democrats positioned themselves as advocates for labor, while Republicans responded to business concerns with Taft-Hartley. Republicans now champion right-to-work on behalf of beleaguered businesses, while Democrats tout their opposition to such laws to their union-member constituents. By intruding the state into labor-business relations, politicians elevated their own importance and power in a way that simply staying out of the matter, or repealing laws, never could,

Right-to-work laws at the state level "balance" federal labor legislation only by countering state intrusion with state intrusion. The result is certain to be a continuing effort to "fix" problems caused by earlier laws. And politicians will be at the center of it all, building their authority while playing the sides against each other.

A free market in which businesses and labor negotiate conditions on their own can be created only by actually freeing the market. It will also reduce the power of government and the role of politicians. Yes, that is more difficult than enacting ever-more legal spackle.

Anthony Randazzo and Dean Stansel on the Mortgage Interest Deduction

The federal income tax code is riddled with loopholes, deductions, and credits designed to promote various social goals and benefit assorted groups of Americans. One of the largest of these is the mortgage interest deduction, which allowed taxpayers to claim benefits of $82.7 billion in 2010, the latest data available. Anthony Randazzo and Dean Stansel explore who would lose out on this subsidy if the mortgage interest deduction were to be phased out.

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25,900 People Want Obama to Pardon a Medical Marijuana Provider Facing Life in Prison. Will He?

A few weeks from today, Montana medical marijuana provider Chris Williams will be sentenced on four counts of "using firearms in furtherance of a drug crime," due to the presence of guns at Montana Cannabis, the dispensary where Williams worked, and which the DEA shut down in 2011.

As Jacob Sullum explained last month, Williams, who has refused to plea bargain, will face a sentence of at least 80 years under federal mandatory minimum guidelines: 

Specifically, prosecutors charged Williams, after he turned down a series of plea deals, with four counts of using firearms in furtherance of a drug crime, based on pistols and shotguns kept at the Helena grow operation where he worked. Federal law prescribes a five-year mandatory minimum penalty for the first such offense and 25 years for each subsequent offense. Furthermore, the sentences must be served consecutively. Hence Williams, who was convicted of all four gun charges, will get at least 80 years when he is sentenced in January, even though he was not charged with wielding the guns, let alone hurting anyone with them. In fact, having the guns around would have been perfectly legal had he not been growing marijuana.

Because he has refused to plea bargain (an option that has netted Williams' coworkers sentences ranging from probation to five years), Williams has one hope left: a pardon from President Obama.

To obtain that pardon, Williams' supporters started a petition on We the People, a site maintained by the White House. According to the site's rules, a petition must garner 25,000 signatures within 30 days in order for the White House to respond. Today is day 30, and the petition calling for Williams' to be pardoned has 25,900 signatures.

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Economists Warn Congress About Taxes, Stuff TSA Confiscates Gets Sold, Facebook Loses Some Privacy: P.M. Links

  • A group of 180 economists have signed a letter to Congress warning that tax increases to avoid the fiscal cliff will have a “significant, negative impact on the economy.”
  • If you’ve ever wondered what happens to the stuff the TSA confiscates at the airport (often with no good reason), it all ends up being sold on the cheap at state-run stores.
  • The United States is formally recognizing the Syrian opposition coalition as representatives of the will of its citizens, prompting criticism from Russia.
  • Soon you will no longer be able to block people from being able track down your profile on Facebook. Time to learn how to control who can see your Facebook posts if you haven’t already.
  • A filmmaker in Quebec is facing trial for gory artwork that “undermines fundamental values of Canadian society,” thereby corrupting morals, according to the prosecution.
  • A Panamanian woman allegedly tried to smuggle three pounds of cocaine into Spain in her breast implants.
  • Opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt is encouraging voters to say “no” to the country’s draft constitution

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Brian Doherty on What 3D Printing Means for Gun Rights

Last weekend New York Rep. Steve Israel last weekend called for the renewal of a 1988 law that might expire at the end of 2013, the Undetectable Firearms Act. Israel made his announcement at a security checkpoint at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport.

Joined by Suffolk County police chief James Burke, Israel expressed panic at the rise of 3D printing, a new technology that allows the creation of plastic objects via computer instructions using a home device. In particular, Israel fretted about the new technology’s supposed ability to make dangerous weapons out of plastic, in, as Burke put it, “our children’s bedrooms, in basements and in dorm rooms.”

Senior Editor Brian Doherty says that Rep. Israel has cause to be upset. Whether gun regulators or even the 3D printing community like it or not, guns are now on the verge of being truly available for everyone who want one.

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Greece Misses Bond Buyback Targets, Looks to Get Bailout Anyway

The results of the Greek bond buyback program are in. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Greek government has been unsuccessful in meeting its targets. The Greek government had hoped to buy back 31.9 billion euros worth of bonds at a reduced rate with 10 billion euros. However, the Greek government asked lenders for an additional 1.29 billion euros after it became clear that the target was not going to be met.

The International Monetary Fund had said that the next bailout installment was conditional on the successful completion of the buyback program. However, despite the Greek government failing to meet its targets IMF chief Christine Lagarde is pleased: 

I can only welcome the results that have been produced by the debt buyback,

If Greece is to receive aid from other countries sticking to conditions should be the least that is demanded of its government. Lenders have already granted Greece an extra two years to implement austerity measures. It is looking increasingly likely that the rules and conditions set by lenders means little to the Greek government. But why should Greek officials struggle to implement conditional polices? They seem to be getting aid regardless. 

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Justin Amash to Boehner: You Are Not Doing a Good Job, and Are Not Welcome in My State

The fight over the four congressmen (Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) from the House Budget Committee, Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) from Financial Services Committee) booted from committee positions for, they say, being uncooperative with the GOP on spending (wanting to cut it too much) is getting personal.

Amash tells House Speaker John Boehner that he is not welcome in Amash's Michigan:

“If Speaker Boehner wants to come back to my district, he’s not going to be met with very much welcome,” Amash told reporters this afternoon.

Amash, who was elected in 2010, was recently booted off of the budget committee by House Republicans. Amash blames Boehner for orchestrating his removal.

Amash added that he has little faith in Boehner’s negotiating tactics.

“I spent a lot of time saying, ‘Speaker Boehner is doing the best job we can do.’ I did that for a year, a year in a half. But we’re not doing the best job we can do,” Amash said. “We need people who are going to be bold, we need leaders.”

“This is about who’s fighting for the American people,” Amash said. “I want to speak out now because I want to encourage my colleagues to be more outspoken.”

The grassroots may be rising in their defense; conservative site RedState is rallying the troops to call/harass their congressmen to find out if they supported the demotions and to demand reinstatement for the Fantastic Four (if this name for them catches on, royalties please.)

These signs of not laying down on the part of these congressmen is heartening, but it does limn the fact that the Party as a whole is not only unreliable on fiscal discipline, it is prepared to punish those who are. We'll see how many phone calls change that.

I blogged the other week about Amash's first wave of anger over this.

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Should the Supreme Court Practice Judicial Restraint in the Gay Marriage Cases?

At The New Republic, gay marriage proponent (and frequent Reason contributor) Jonathan Rauch urges the Supreme Court to practice judicial restraint and refuse to give gay marriage a sweeping legal victory:

I tell my gay friends: imagine if the Supreme Court had ordered gay marriage this past June, at the end of its 2011-2012 term. November’s game-changing electoral victories would never have happened. Gay marriage advocates would be forever stereotyped as political losers who won by running to mommy. Our opponents would mock and denigrate our marriages as court-created, legalistic fictions. The country would never have shown how much it has changed.

If we have come that far in five years, imagine where we might be in five more. Imagine, then, the opportunities to extend and consolidate support that we will lose if the Supreme Court steps in now. Strange but true: a favorable Supreme Court intervention next year would make us weaker, not stronger.

There’s definitely something to be said for this argument. A broad 5-4 decision in favor of gay marriage, which might either recognize a constitutional right to same-sex unions or hold that the Equal Protection Clause forbids the government from banning them, runs a real risk of sparking a Roe v. Wade-style backlash by the American right. That’s the last thing gay marriage advocates need now that they’re winning popular electoral victories.

But just to complicate Rauch’s argument a little, keep in mind that the judiciary was not designed to be a democratic branch of government. Indeed, one of its central purposes is to protect the rights of unpopular minorities from the tyranny of the majority.

Here's another way to think about it: If a justice of the Supreme Court believes that the Constitution protects gay marriage, should he or she vote otherwise for political purposes?

Video: Judge Napolitano: How Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson Destroyed Constitutional Freedom

"Judge Napolitano: How Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson Destroyed Constitutional Freedom" is the latest offering from ReasonTV.

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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Something Eric Holder Should Read Before He Sues to Block Pot Legalization

Yesterday Attorney General Eric Holder, in response to questions after a speech in Boston, said the Justice Department will settle on a response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington "relatively soon":

There is a tension between federal law and these state laws. I would expect the policy pronouncement that we're going to make will be done relatively soon.

Before making that pronouncement, Holder (or one of his underlings) should read this new Cato Institute paper, in which Vanderbilt University law professor Robert Mikos explains the limits that the anti-commandeering doctrine imposes on federal pre-emption of state law under the Supremacy Clause. As Mikos puts it, this principle, derived from the constitutional division of powers between the states and the federal government reflected in  the 10th Amendment, says "Congress may not command state legislatures to enact laws [or] order state officials to administer them." In the 1997 case Printz v. United States, for instance, the Supreme Court held that Congress violated the anti-commandeering rule by requiring local law enforcement officials to perform background checks on gun buyers. What this rule means in the context of drug policy is that Congress may not compel states to enforce the federal ban on marijuana or to emulate it, since "the anti-commandeering principle protects the states’ prerogative to legalize activity that Congress bans."

To illuminate the interaction of federal pre-emption and the anti-commandeering doctrine, Mikos proposes a "state-of-nature benchmark": Congress has no power to override legislation that merely reverts to the natural state of things in the absence of government intervention. "State laws that exempt the possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes from state-imposed legal sanctions," for example, "merely restore the state of nature that existed until the early 1900s, when marijuana bans were first adopted." Mikos concludes that the essential provisions of the 19 medical marijuana laws that have been enacted since 1996 therefore "cannot be preempted," although the story would be different if states were actively involved in growing or distributing marijuana. "As long as states go no further" than lifting penalties for heretofore prohibited activities, Mikos says, "they may continue to look the other way when their citizens defy federal law." That point is unaffected by Gonzales v. Raich, the 2005 decision in which the Supreme Court upheld federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients on dubious Commerce Clause grounds, because that ruling dealt only with the federal government's authority to enforce its own ban.

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Connecticut DOT Punches Competition, Consumers in the Face

Rhode Island-based Coutu Bros. Movers will not be expanding into Connecticut next year because the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) is not satisfied that a new moving company would satisfy “public convenience and necessity.” The DOT denied owner Bob Romano’s application last spring, citing the “negative effect” a new business would have on two movers operating in the area Romano proposed to service.

From The Day:

Romano's original application had been opposed by two competitors, Atherton & Sons Moving & Storage in Pawcatuck and Barnes Moving & Storage in Mystic, whose owners cited a decline in their own businesses over the past few years. One of the businesses was planning to fight Romano's application again….

Romano said he spent more $6,000 to comply with DOT requirements and was shocked to learn that his initial application was denied by Connecticut hearing officer Sheldon Lubin, whereas Massachusetts approved his application for a license to do business in only 15 minutes.

…Several local officials, including former Republican state Sen. Pierce Connair, a Mystic real estate agent who had been prepared to lease office space in North Stonington to Coutu Movers, pointed out that the DOT decision seemed at odds with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's oft-stated promise that "Connecticut is open for business."

But DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said trying to paint the agency's decision as anti-business was a canard.

"The original denial was based on existing requirements, i.e., that the applicant must demonstrate that there is a need for additional household goods moving services in a specific geographical area of the state," Everhart said in an email. "It had nothing to do with Connecticut not being 'open for business' as the applicant claimed in the past."

Romano decided to cancel a rehearing scheduled for January after DOT staffers demanded additional financial information that was not part of the initial application process and after they lost paperwork. The staffers did successfully deposit the $177 application fee that was included in the same filing.

Take a spin through the Reason archives, where you can read about legal challenges to anti-competitive regulation of moving companies in Nevada and Kentucky and about the repeal of the same in Oregon and Missouri.

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Fed Adopts Employment, Inflation Targets

Welcome to the Era of the Fed: As Congress and the White House remain deadlocked in fiscal cliff negotiations, the Federal Reserve has announced a major new policy it says is intended to reduce unemployment. After commiting to an open-ended third round of quantitative easing (QE3) in September, the Fed now says it will continue to expand its balance sheet until the economy hits certain, predetermined targets.

In an announcement today, the Fed said that it plans to continue to keep interest rates low until unemployment drops to 6.5 percent, or until inflation hits 2.5 percent. In theory, then, there are controls either way: Too much inflation and the Fed will adjust rates accordingly; otherwise, rates will continue until unemployment drops to its target. Via Business Insider, here's the crucial bit from the Fed's statement: 

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored. The Committee views these thresholds as consistent with its earlier date-based guidance. In determining how long to maintain a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy, the Committee will also consider other information, including additional measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent.

The Fed also announced that it would increase its monthly bond-buying commitment, adding $45 billion per month in Treasury bonds to the $40 billion in mortgage bonds it was already purchasing as part of QE3.

With the first two rounds of QE, the Fed set end points, essentially saying: We'll trying this for a certain amount of time and see if it works. With the open-ended third round, the Fed's message was: We'll try this until it works. Now what the Fed is doing is defining what "works" actually means. In this case, it's 6.5 percent unemployment. 

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Massive Drug War #Fail No. 4,123: Smugglers Shoot Pot Into U.S. With Cannons!

Via Michelle Fields comes this CBS News story about the latest way around drug-interdiction efforts:

U.S. Border Patrol agents say smugglers have come up with yet another creative way to get drugs in the country — a cannon.

Authorities say 33 cans of marijuana were spotted Friday in a field near where the Colorado River crosses the U.S.-Mexico border. They believe the cans were launched about 500 feet into the U.S. using a pneumatic-powered cannon.

Next to drug users - who are generally unparalleled in their McGuyveresque ability to turn anything into a means of getting high - drug smugglers may be the most inventive group of people in this and any other universe. When full legalization comes, perhaps some of those smarts will be harnessed into positive economic activity. The CBS tale ends with this lotsa-luck finish:

Authorities say Border Patrol agents in the Yuma sector near the Arizona-California border are adapting and shifting resources as smugglers come up with new ways of transporting their contraband.

Given law enforcement's willingness to buy stories about butt-chugging, jenkem, and more, I'm pretty sure the smugglers will always be a couple of steps ahead of the cops. 

Whole thing here.

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When Right-To-Work Is Wrong and Un-Libertarian

I've been a union member — of the United Auto Workers, in fact, via the National Writers Union's odd connection with that organization — so I don't share the seemingly automatic bias against organized labor held by many "free-market" types who stray into pro-business territory, which ain't the same thing. In fact, I lost a consulting gig with one group for, basically, voicing the sentiments in the last sentence. I also consider the restrictions right-to-work laws impose on bargaining between unions and businesses to violate freedom of contract and association. So I'm not cheerleading for the right-to-work law just passed in Michigan, which bans closed shops in which union membership is a condition of employment. I'm disappointed that the state has, once again, inserted itself into the marketplace to place its thumb on the scale in the never-ending game of playing business and labor off against one another. (For discussion of how that thumb is already on the scale, please see, "Sure the Market Isn't Free, So Why Make It Even Less Free With Right-To-Work Laws?")

In an article for The Freeman after Indiana approved similar legislation, Gary Chartier stated the case well:

If employers choose to conclude union-shop contracts with unions, what gives the Indiana legislature the right to interfere?

Employers own the wages they will pay and the sites where work will be performed under such contracts. So it’s their right to dispense the wages and make the sites available specifically to union members, just as it’s their right, more generally, to trade with anyone they choose.

When a legislature interferes with voluntary employment contracts, it infringes people’s freedom to bargain with their own labor and possessions. Treating this kind of interference as acceptable means licensing arbitrary interventions into the market by politicians, who are ill-equipped to second-guess the decisions made by the real people making work agreements with one another.

Chartier went on to defend not only the right of businesses and unions to negotiate the terms of employment in a workplace, but also the (sometimes) value of unions. I agree with him when he writes:

Supporting a free society means embracing people’s freedom to form unions. And it means acknowledging that unions—and union-shop agreements—can offer both workers and employers something valuable.

Unions can help to secure workers predictable terms of employment and protect them against arbitrary dismissal. And a union contract can help make workplaces more predictable for employers, ensure that information is disseminated to workers, and reduce a variety of workplace transaction costs.

This is not to say that unions are always good. It means that, when the state isn't involved, they're private organizations that can offer value to their members. In fact, I found the NWU (and UAW) helpful for a while, primarily through the benefits the union offered and through the NWU's advocacy on the issue of electronic rights for written material at a time when the Web was first creating a host of new opportunities for writers and publishers alike. Eventually, the value of the benefits petered out for me, and then-union chief Jonathan Tasini's habit of veering into Albert Shanker-ish territory finally put me off enough to quit. But I can imagine re-joining a union under the right circumstances. I can also imagine resenting being forced into a union if I found out that it was a condition of employment in a desired job — but I also chafe against drug tests, sensitivity training, and some of the other conditions I've encountered over the years.

The ideal role for the government in business-labor relations is to stay the hell out of it and let the parties work things out themselves. I may prefer one outcome or another, but I don't have the right to enforce it by law, and that's what right-to-work legislation does.

Our own Brian Doherty wrote about libertarians' sometimes problematic relationship with unions last year.

Addendum: Some commenters point out that Michigan had earlier legislated in favor of unions. The economist Percy Greaves addressed this issue, writing, "the agitators for ‘right-to-work’ laws forget . . . that the problem is basically one of getting the government out of moral business transactions and not into them . . . . The economic answer is to repeal the bad intervention and not try to counterbalance it with another bad intervention."

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Bruce Schneier on Unsafe Security

Security is both a feeling and a reality, and the two are different things. People can feel secure when they’re actually not, and they can be secure even when they believe otherwise, writes Bruce Schneier. 

This discord explains much of what passes for our national discourse on security policy. Security measures often are nothing more than security theater, making people feel safer without actually increasing their protection.

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Can Eliminating Sports Welfare Help With the Fiscal Cliff?

Probably not a whole bunch, but that doesn't mean it isn't the right thing to do, and yesterday. Patrick Hubry rants about the sporting world's welfare queens over at Sports on Earth:

They're the team owners sitting in luxury boxes built with taxpayer dollars, charging PSL fees for seats constructed with the same. They're the athletes writing off fines for bad behavior. They're the multimillion-dollar professional leagues, Ozymandias-shaming college athletic departments and -- ahem -- charitable bowl games all enjoying lucrative and dubious non-profit status.  Their ranks include Tiger Woods, whose namesake foundation once received a $100,000 federal grant; the Baseball Hall of Fame, which pocketed $1.57 million in federal funds between 2002 and 2006; and the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame, which seven years ago was given $75,000 as part of a larger appropriations bill funding the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development. (Additional point of incredulous outrage: the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame doesn’t even include Jim Brown.) They are the underserving beneficiaries of inappropriate, unnecessary public subsidy, feathering their overstuffed nests of downy-soft private profit, adding to America's astronomical charge card bill all the while. They are the Welfare Kings (hi again, Jeffrey Loria!) and Queens (rest in peace, Georgia Frontiere!) of sports, crying poor while grifting and lifting society's collective wallet, perpetually grabbing for more, more, more. [...]

According to Harvard professor Judith Grant Long and economist Andrew Zimbalist, the average public contribution to the total capital and operating cost per sports stadium from 2000 to 2006 was between $249 and $280 million. A fantastic interactive map at Deadspin estimates that the total cost to the public of the 78 pro stadiums built or renovated between 1991 and 2004 was nearly $16 billion. That's enough to build three Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. Or fund, in today's dollars, 15 Saturn V moon rocket launches -- three more than the number of launches in the entire Apollo/Skylab program. It's also more than what Chrysler received in the Great Recession-triggered auto industry bailout ($10.5 billion), and bigger than the 2010 GDP of 84 different nations. How does this happen? 

An excellent question. Many more horrifying examples (including: did you know that the National Guard pays more than $20 million a year to sponsor a NASCAR team, or that the National Football League is classified as a non-profit in order to avoid taxes?) at the link, which I found through Will Leitch's Twitter feed.

Reason on sports welfare here.

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Bloomberg Takes Aim at the Fiscal Horror Show of State Employee Salaries

California paying a state psychiatrist $822,000 in total compensation for 2011 is the eye-popping number central to a six-part series Bloomberg is publishing to highlight “America’s Great State Payroll Giveaway.”

The series began yesterday with an overview of the various problems they’ll be exploring. Beyond the politics that led to the high wages, they’re analyzing how public pension fund managers cash in (even as pension systems are crashing), retirement spiking extravaganzas, and the many, many ways that public sector employees have managed to game the system to rake in even more bucks even as the economy tanked.

The series intends to explore more than just California, but their graph below does a very good job showing why they’re starting with the Golden State:

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Republicans Don't Want to Cut Spending Either

If you want to know why it’s so hard for elected officials to make a deal that begins to close the federal budget gap, look no further than a new poll by McClatchy-Marist. The results of the poll show that while many respondents say they would like to see a budget deal, there’s little support for any of the specific measures included in the survey. A majority of respondents opposed cuts to Medicare, changes to the program’s eligibility age,  cuts to Social Security, letting the current payroll tax cut expire, letting the Bush tax cuts expire on everyone, eliminating the tax deduction for charitable contributions, cutting spending on Medicaid, reducing the home mortgage interest tax deduction. The only proposal supported by a majority is raising taxes on the wealthy. This tells you a lot about why the fiscal cliff negotiations are moving so slowly, and why it's so difficult to for Congress come to agreement on a budget deal. 

What’s particularly revealing, though, is what you see when you single out the poll’s self-identified Republicans. Unlike the overall polling sample, a majority of the poll’s Republicans do not support raising taxes on the wealthy. But they don’t support any of the  spending cuts mentioned in the poll either. Not to Medicare or Medicaid, and not to the tax loopholes surveyed either. Republicans, in other words, don't support much of anything except leaving things the way they are now. Which is exactly what we can’t do.

Might there be some spending cuts that Republicans do support that just didn’t get included in this poll? Probably. Polls suggest that most voters are open to cuts in foreign aid. Cutting subsidies for public broadcasting usually plays well with the GOP base. But polls also tell us that voters consistently overestimate how much of the budget is spent on those sorts of things by a large margin: Surveys have shown that respondents estimate that 10-25 percent of the federal budget goes to funding foreign aid, and about 5 percent goes to public broadcasting. The reality is that only about 1 percent funds foreign aid, and only about 0.1 percent is used to subsidize public broadcasting.

This confusion, and the unwillingness to face up to our actual long-term budgetary challenges, explains a lot about why the GOP’s last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, talked a big game about cutting deficits and reducing the debt, but when asked for specifics focused heavily on small-ball spending cuts. It also helps explain why Republicans now are so often wary of talking about overhauling the entitlement system. And it also speaks to a larger confusion within the party about what government should do and be: In theory, the GOP is the party of small government. But polls like this one suggest that it’s really the party of the status quo.

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John Stossel on Government Gone Bad

Politicians claim they make our lives better by passing laws. But laws rarely improve life, writes John Stossel. They go wrong. Unintended consequences are inevitable.

Most voters don’t pay enough attention to notice. They read headlines. They watch the Rose Garden signing ceremonies and hear the pundits declare that progress was made. Bipartisanship! Something got done. We assume a problem was solved.

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What Obama Can Do Right Now to End Outrageous Prison Sentences

In a moving front-page story about sentencing reform, New York Times reporter John Tierney highlights the heartbreaking case of Stephanie George, a single mother of three who received a life sentence without parole in 1997 because her boyfriend stashed half a kilogram of cocaine in her Pensacola, Florida, home. That offense, together with earlier convictions for a couple of small-time crack sales, triggered a mandatory sentence that U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, in a sadly familiar ritual, declared unjust as he was imposing it. "Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing," Vinson told George, "your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing, so certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence." Today Vinson tells Tierney:

She was not a major participant by any means, but the problem in these cases is that the people who can offer the most help to the government are the most culpable. So they get reduced sentences while the small fry, the little workers who don’t have that information, get the mandatory sentences.

The punishment is supposed to fit the crime, but when a legislative body says this is going to be the sentence no matter what other factors there are, that’s draconian in every sense of the word. Mandatory sentences breed injustice.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums, of course, has been making these arguments for more than two decades, but Tierney notes that they are finding an increasingly receptive audience among conservatives having second thoughts about the cost-effectiveness of mass incarceration and legislators facing tight budgets with less room for the wasteful spending reflected in numbers like these:

Half a million people are now in prison or jail for drug offenses, about 10 times the number in 1980, and there have been especially sharp increases in incarceration rates for women and for people over 55, long past the peak age for violent crime. In all, about 1.3 million people, more than half of those behind bars, are in prison or jail for nonviolent offenses.

A combination of fiscal and moral arguments has led to sentencing reform at the federal level (shorter crack sentences) and in states such as New York, Texas, Kentucky, and California. But much more needs to be done in those places and elsewhere, and any reform that is not retroactive cannot help prisoners like Stephanie George. "At this point," Tierney reports, "lawyers say her only hope seems to be presidential clemency—rarely granted in recent years."

That's an understatement. As an Illinois state legislator in 2001, Barack Obama declared, "We can't continue to incarcerate ourselves out of the drug crisis." As a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007, he lamented that "we now have 2 million people who are locked up...far the largest prison population per capita of any place on earth." He worried that "there does seem to be a racial component to some of the arrest, conviction, prosecution rates when it comes to these [drug] offenses," saying skewed criminal penalties are "not a black or white issue" but "an American issue," since "our basic precept is equality under the law." The following year, Obama's campaign said he believes "we are sending far too many first-time, nonviolent drug users to prison for very long periods of time, and that we should rethink those laws." It promised he "will review drug sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the blind and counterproductive sentencing of non-violent offenders, and revisit instances where drug rehabilitation may be more appropriate."

Yet as president, Obama has granted exactly one commutation so far. This allegedly progressive and enlightened man has been far stingier with pardons and commutations than any of his four most recent predecessors, which is saying something. Now that Obama has been safely re-elected, he has no excuse for failing to use his unilateral, unreviewable power to make our criminal justice system a bit less egregiously unfair.

For more on the costs of mass incarceration, see the "Criminal Injustice" package in the July 2011 issue of Reason. Back in 1999, I explained how John DiIulio, one of the tough-on-crime social scientists whose criticism of mandatory sentences Tierney cites, went from "Let 'Em Rot" to "Let 'Em Go." For more on how Obama disappointed drug policy reformers, see my October 2011 cover story.

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A. Barton Hinkle on Gun Control, Ad Infinitum

Gun control, writes A. Barton Hinkle, is something Americans almost never stop talking about. The trouble—from the liberal perspective—is that the discussion keeps going the wrong way. Despite the horror at Virginia Tech, in Tucson and Aurora and too many other places to list, Americans consistently decline to adopt sweeping gun-control measures. Just a week after the Tucson shooting, 69 percent of survey respondents still told CNN the episode had not changed their views on gun control.

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Imagining the World in 2030: “Driven by new technologies, nonstate actors take the lead in confronting global challenges.”

2030 or bustNational Intelligence CouncilThe National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report made news earlier this week for its forecast of a precipitous decline in America’s status as a sole superpower. From the report:

How the United States’ international role evolves during the next 15-20 years—a big uncertainty—and whether the US will be able to work with new partners to reinvent the international system will be among the most important variables in the future shape of the global order. Although the United States’ (and the West’s) relative decline vis-a-vis the rising states is inevitable, its future role in the international system is much harder to project: the degree to which the US continues to dominate the international system could vary widely.

The US most likely will remain “first among equals” among the other great powers in 2030 because of its preeminence across a range of power dimensions and legacies of its leadership role. More important than just its economic weight, the United States’ dominant role in international politics has derived from its preponderance across the board in both hard and soft power. Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of other countries, the “unipolar moment” is over and Pax Americana—the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945—is fast winding down.

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Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on What Big Labor Will Do Now that Michigan Has Become the 24th Right-to-Work State

In a piece on Bloomberg View, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia points out that even though right-to-work is now law in Michigan, this doesn't mean that it's all over. Big Labor is going to launch a long two-year war in which it will deploy every judicial and electoral weapon in its arsenal to overturn the law. She notes:

Labor has two options now that its ability to extract mandatory dues from workers as a condition for employment is gone. It can fight the law or try to persuade workers to voluntarily pay up.

Union bosses aren't accustomed to the second approach, so until the next elections in 2014 they can be expected to try everything to overturn the law and to stop the right-to-work fever from spreading to neighboring states.

Go here to find out what Big Labor's next moves are going to be and whether it is likely to succeed.

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A.M. Links: More Debt Buying, Money Creation From Fed, European Central Bank Poised to Gain New Powers, Gay Marriage Set for Legalization in Uruguay

  • The Fed will continue its economic intervention, purchasing more debt and printing more money.
  • Some Congressional Republicans are okay with the defense spending growth reductions set to kick in at the fiscal cliff. Shock. Awe.
  • Authorities in California are rapidly ratcheting up surveillance in public spaces.
  • Germany may be on board with giving the European Central Bank regulatory powers over all continental banks.
  • Uruguay’s lower house approved legislation legalizing gay marriage, with the senate likely to pass it too. The president says he’ll sign it.
  • Cuba slouches toward freedom.
  • Scientists have found seven habitable planets in the galaxy so far, but not Nibiru.
  • Last call for Reason's webathon!

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Eric Boehm on the Pennsylvania Judge Who Called Asset Forfeiture "State-Sanctioned Theft"

A Commonwealth Court ruling is being hailed as a victory for property rights and a small blow against civil asset forfeiture laws, which allow the state to seize private property that may be connected to a crime. In a decision filed last month, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini called the state’s civil asset forfeiture law “state-sanctioned theft” and ordered a lower court to re-examine a recent forfeiture case in Centre County. Though the state is expected to appeal the ruling, Pellegrini’s decision may set a new precedent for these types of cases, writes Eric Boehm, making it more difficult for the state to seize private property believed to have been used in a crime and guaranteeing defendants the chance to be heard in court before property is taken.

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Last Call for Reason's 2012 Webathon! Please Support "Free Minds and Free Markets"

Feedback hasn't sounded this good since Jimi Hendrix was humping amplifiers and you accidentally mixed Rohypnol with meth and chased it down with a bottle of absinthe!

Click above to watch me and Matt Welch answer reader questions and queries as part of Reason's 2012 Webathon, in which we're asking 800 folks to support Reason mag, Reason.com, and Reason TV by making a tax-deductible donation.

And by feedback, I mean that both literally and figuratively. The first five minutes of the video above features ear-splitting, brain-damaging feedback that may just be the greatest found recording of the past 24 hours. More important, your generous support so far in the Webathon has been outstanding! We're well ahead of last year's pace and may even break the $100,000 barrier if the donations keep coming in today.

Our giving levels and associated swag range from $1 to $99 (shout-outs at Reason's Twitter stream and on the banner above) to $100 (classic black Reason t-shirt and free sub to keep or gift) to $5,125 (grab bag of Reason products, two free subs, t-shirt, lunch with Matt and me in D.C., commemorative tile in our new L.A. offices, V.I.P. ticket to our Bastiat Prize dinner in N.Y., and more!).

If you like what we're doing - bringing you the most provocative libertarian news and analysis on an hourly basis, cranking out great videos (usually with great audio!), publishing 11 issues a year of what's been called "a kick-ass, no-holds-barred political magazine," and fanning out across the news stations and op-ed pages of the naton's media to spread the word about "Free Minds and Free Markets" - then please support us. It's tax-deductible and you'll see your dollars at work every day at Reason.com.

Nobody is doing what we're doing - creating a virtual community for libertarians, reaching peers in the media, generating 500-plus videos, a monthly magazine, conducting a national poll, curating the news on an hourly basis, and more - and your support is vital.

We know it's a tough economy and the political situation is a bed of nails, not roses. But that's precisely why Reason - and its true alternative to the tired old left-right, liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican ideologies - is needed more than ever. We don't just unmask the problems with top-down control freaks in the boardroom and bedroom, we propose new and better ways of letting people run their own lives (imagine that - people running their own lives!). We're happy warriors against all who limit your choices in the name of their vision of the good life. And we're bringing you a world of possibilities, of new technologies and experiments in living that point to a better world.

Freedom is winning, slowly but surely, in many areas: Drug legalization, lifestyle choice, free expression. It's also on the ropes in so many others: Economic interventions large and small, military interventions large and small, health care regulations. Help us in our fight - your fight - for a limited government and unlimited possibilities. For Free Minds and Free Markets. For a world you'll be happy to leave to your heirs.

Support Reason's 2012 Webathon!

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Jacob Sullum on the Emerging Majorities Favoring Legal Pot and Gay Marriage

Last Friday the U.S. Supreme Court agreed for the first time to take on the issue of gay marriage. No matter how it rules in the two cases it will hear next spring, writes Jacob Sullum, polling data suggest it is only a matter of time before legal recognition of same-sex unions is the norm throughout the country. Sullum notes that something similar is happening with marijuana, which became legal in Washington last week and in Colorado on Monday. With both pot and gay marriage, he says, familiarity is breeding tolerance.

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