Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 January 1-31

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Vid: Feds Sentence Aaron Sandusky to 10 Years for Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana dispensary owner Aaron Sandusky was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday after being convicted of two felonies related to the production and distribution of marijuana in October 2012. Reason TV previously has covered Sandusky's case in great detail here.

"Aaron was in full compliance with California law, but the federal government says that California law is irrelevant," said Sandusky's lawyer Roger Diamond. Diamond is filing an appeal on Sandusky's behalf and hopes to take the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Percy Anderson presided over Sandusky's case and used the sentencing hearing as an opportunity to lecture the defendant on the "rule of law."

"I'm going to take a stand for the rule of law, is what I'm going to do in this case," Anderson said.

He also mentioned that he found "disturbing" Sandusky's "refusal to take responsibility" for his lawbreaking activities and that Sandusky had proven that he was "incapable or unwilling" to conform with the law or norms of society.

"He's kind of lost his way about what's right and what's wrong--his moral compass," Anderson said.

Sandusky also spoke in court, but he did not express any remorse for providing medical marijuana to willing customers within the legal framework established by the state of California. Instead, he apologized to the business partners who had been indicted alongside him (they all pled out), their families, and his own family and friends for all that the legal ordeal had put them through. He also took the opportunity to lambast the conduct of the federal government in prosecuting this case.

"There are no winners here. Not the state. Not the federal government. And not the [medical marijuana] patients," said Sandusky. "This is the federal government taking action against the will of the people."

After Sandusky spoke, the judge asked if there were any victims who wished to be heard. Nobody stepped forward.

Aaron Sandusky has requested to serve out his sentence at Victorville Federal Correctional Complex. He has also started a petition at whitehouse.gov and is hoping for a presidential pardon.

Watch Reason TV's full coverage of the day in the video above.

Approximately 4 minutes.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Music by Case Newsom. Additional footage by Tracy Oppenheimer.

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Matt Welch Talks Debt Ceiling, Al Gore, and Chuck Hagel on CNBC and Fox Business Network

On Friday, Jan. 4, I appeared on CNBC's great The Kudlow Report to participate in a free-wheeling discussion on the debt ceiling, Republican unwillingness to cut government, fracking, Al Gore's sale of Current TV to Al-Jazeera, and more. About a half-hour:

This morning, I appeared on Fox Business Network with anchors Dagen McDowell and Connell McShane to talk about the debt ceiling and President Barack Obama's controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense. About six minutes:

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Prohibitions Don't Work, And New Technology Makes That More Obvious

As I've mentioned before, the Ottoman Empire once punished tobacco use by death. That worked out so well, the law was rescinded a generation later amidst a cloud of fragrant smoke. Americans being slower learners, the war on drugs is a decades-old cliche in the United States, yet 42 percent of us have smoked grass and 16 percent of us have tried cocaine — the highest percentages recorded internationally by the World Health Organization. Likewise, gun controls have, as I've documented, met massive resistance for simple registration and laughable levels of compliance for confiscation schemes. Prohibitions have a wonderfully long track record of abject failure when it comes to eliminating, or even reducing the availability of, the things and behaviors at which they are targeted. And that's before we even get to the individually empowering world of new technology.

The popular prohibition movement of the moment has firearms in its ... err ... sights. Led by (really?) Vice President Joe Biden, a White House task force is apparently considering new gun laws that would restrict those scary-looking rifles known as "assault weapons," ban high-capacity magazines, track sales (maybe through registration?) and require whatever else the politicians in the group think will win them votes.

Meanwhile, a merry band of gun-rights activists known as Defense Distributed have been using 3D printing technology to develop the means of producing guns and related paraphernalia at home. Brian Doherty has already written about this development at length, and I've covered it myself. But as it happens, matters have moved forward, and Defense Distributed is now producing high-capacity magazines with 3D printers. The group's CEO, Cody Wilson, told Metro World News, "I have five people now making AK-47 magazines – they’re incredibly easy to reproduce."

That's in addition to the group's recent successes with producing actual gun receivers that work — even if the very first one broke after only six shots. Such success with a new technology is a clear sign of more to come as the technology, and expertise in using it, progresses. As Metro World News continued:

So how could the weapons be controlled? A spokesman for 3D print company Automaker said it is powerless; “we do not promote guns, but we cannot control the use of the product.” Neither can government intervene effectively, says Michael Weinberg, attorney specializing in emerging technologies for the U.S. Public Knowledge think tank. “When you apply anger over gun control to a general purpose technology there’s a lot of collateral damage”, he said. “It’s like if you regulate steel – a lot of productive areas would be lost. We don’t know enough about 3D printing to legislate the future.”

Basically, the cat is out of the bag. 3D printing means that prohibitions on mechanical devices — never successful in the past — are now more easily bypassed than ever.

Drugs, too, if a related technology known as chemical printing is any indicator. That technology is earlier in its development, but it holds promise for solving the orphan drug problem, and for making end-runs around drug prohibition. From the Huffington Post:

Recently, Professor Lee Cronin from the University of Glasgow has taken the idea of 3D printing a step further. He's using a $2,000 3D printer to print lab equipment--blocks containing chambers that connect to mixing chambers--and then injecting the desired ingredients into the chambers to produce organic and/or inorganic reactions that can yield chemicals, and in some cases new compounds. 

Just as early 3D printers were used for rapid prototyping, his new chemical printer can initially be used to rapidly discover new compounds.  And if you look at the development of 3D printers, it is not hard to see that in the near future you could print highly specialized chemicals and even pharmaceuticals. The team is currently working on printing ibuprofen, the main ingredient in popular painkillers. This, of course, raises a regulatory red flag, and it will be difficult to regulate what individuals in all parts of the world will do with access to the Internet and a 3D chemical printer.

Of course, anybody who has ever grown their own dope or made black powder for the hell of it (and then blown up a windowsill — sorry, Mom!) knows that you don't need high-tech to render prohibitions irrelevant. The Ottoman Empire's ban on tobacco failed because people ignored it, technology aside. Bans fail because enough people to whom the prohibitions apply refuse to obey them. Advancing technology just makes it easier to ignore laws with minimal effort and risk.

My own belief is that laws are relevant only for defining the penalties for engaging in acts that virtually everybody agrees are wrong. When prohibitionists sputter, "so ... so ... should we just legalize rape because some people still do it?" they're missing the point. Rape is rightfully and effectively illegal because almost everybody in our society agrees it's wrong and should be punished. It also has a victim who generally takes great exception to being abused and is inclined to seek punishment for the criminals. Take a victimless activity and add a constituency that thinks it's a good thing and that the law is what's wrong, and you have the perfect makings for legal impotence.

It's tempting to say that the age of prohibition is over, but in terms of practical enforcement, it really never happened at all. Politicians will sputter this year about guns and next year about something else that sticks in their craw. But those of us who don't want to be restricted won't be. And technology is making our quest for continued freedom ever easier.

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New Allegations That Qaddafi Helped Fund Sarkozy’s 2007 French Presidential Campaign

As noted on Reason 24/7 last week, new allegations are surfacing that former French President Nicholas Sarkozy received funding from the Qaddafi regime for his 2007 election campaign and afterward, this time from a Lebanese-born French businessman under formal investigation for allegedly taking illegal kickbacks for arms deals.  From the New Zealand Herald:

Documentary proof exists that France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy took more than €50 million ($78.8 million) from the late Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, a French judge has been told.

The claim, leaked this week, was made just before Christmas by Lebanese-born businessman Ziad Takieddine, who has been a fixer for legal - and allegedly illegal - dealings between France and the Middle East for 20 years…

The Lebanese businessman is himself under formal investigation for allegedly organising and receiving illegal kickbacks on arms deals over two decades. He admitted on Thursday that his allegations were part of a proposed trade-off with the French judicial system.

The claim was made most prominently by Saif al-Islam, one of Qaddafi’s sons, in an interview with euronews in March 2011, while his father’s regime was crumbling under fire from Libyan rebels backed by a foreign intervention advocated aggressively by Sarkozy’s France. Col. Qaddafi was captured, sodomized and shot less than six months later, with aerial support from a U.S. drone.

The Herald also notes the peculiar change in Sarkozy’s attitude toward Libya between his ascension into office in 2007 and the Libyan civil war in 2011:

Allegations of illicit dealings with Gaddafi are especially sensitive for the former French President. With British Prime Minister David Cameron, he organised and led the international support for the Libyan opposition which eventually led to Gaddafi's downfall and death in October 2011.

Before that, however, Sarkozy puzzled many of his own supporters by granting Gaddafi an obsequious and glittering state visit to France in December 2007. It later emerged that a number of contracts had been signed by France and Libya.

Sarkozy is separately under investigation for other alleged fundraising improprieties in his 2007 campaign. He was defeated last year by Francois Hollande, who has been pushing for a foreign intervention in North Africa of his own, in Mali.

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Dems Want $1 Trillion in New Revenue, Frank Withdraws Opposition to Hagel, NHL Ends Lockout: P.M. Links

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Ira Stoll on Obama's Latest Crony Capitalist

On the Friday before Christmas, President Obama announced that he was appointing Mohamed A. El-Erian, the CEO of Pacific Investment Management Company, as the chairman of his Global Development Council.

The announcement didn’t get much attention, but it should, says Ira Stoll. It exemplifies what’s wrong with Obama’s approach to economic policy, which amounts to: insult rich people as “fat cats,” raise their taxes, and then choose a favored few of them for special access.

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California TV Hero-Enthusiast Huell Howser, RIP

Sad news for Californians, as conveyed by OC Weekly Editor Gustavo Arellano:

Huell Howser--a California broadcasting legend for his various shows that have appeared on public broadcasting over the past couple of decades--has passed away, according to sources who spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity.

Howser, the longtime cornball gee-whillickers purveyor of large-microphoned homages to California's historical and cultural quirks, had retired in a shroud of mystery a couple of months back, triggering this perceptive if perhaps over-thought appreciation from fellow California one-of-a-kind, D.J. Waldie:

Howser—Tennessee-born, drawling elongated vowels, bursting with enthusiasms—chose not to leave. He has never, despite playing the part on television, been genuinely one of the "folks." For one, he's better off than most of them, thanks to his business skill and a natural parsimony. He's also fiercely unprejudiced. But the melancholy behind his fierce public niceness, the cheer that was supposed to make up for the regrets of the transplanted, still binds him to the "folks." And it was in their service that he went everywhere in California and embraced every quirk of local circumstance, all the while delivering warm gusts of wonderment that were only partially synthetic. He showed them the California that they had dreamed of—completely harmless but always interesting. He wanted them to fall in love with their state. If only they had loved California as much as he needed to.

Go to YouTube to see Huell in all of his glory. It is no disrespect to his great work to say that this is still my favorite Huell Howser vid:


Buy Guns, Drugs, and Porn Online with Bitcoin: Katherine Mangu-Ward Talks Stateless Currency on Stossel

Want to make Sen. Chuck Schumer really, really mad? Learn how by watching as Reason Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward discusses stateless currency and new concerns for Bitcoin on Stossel. Airdate: January 3, 2013.

About 6 minutes.

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French Judge Warns of Attacks on French Soil in Wake of Mali Intervention

A French judge has said that the planned intervention in Mali, which is supported by the French government, could lead to terrorist attacks in France.

Speaking to Le Journal du Dimanche anti-terrorism judge Marc Trévidic warned of how France could be perceived by some in the large Muslim population living in France. From Reuters:

Diplomatic sources have said a handful of French nationals had travelled to the Sahel region to train for Islamic jihad, or holy struggle. Trevidic said four investigations were open on what he called Malian "terrorist" cells.

"They are young, often dual nationals or who have links with sub-Saharan Africa," he said. "They get in either through Niger or Algeria, but many are Malians who can go and visit their families and don't need visas."

France has been a vocal supporter of plans for an international operation to try to wrest back northern Mali from Islamist insurgents, who hold eight French hostages in the area.

In December, the U.N. Security Council authorised a French-drafted resolution to deploy an African-led force to retrain Mali's defeated army and support an anti-insurgent mission, although no ground operations are expected until later in 2013.

"All the ingredients exist so that there are repercussions on our soil," the judge said. "France is backing those that want to intervene militarily in Timbuktu. So we are the enemy and are identified as such."

France’s large Muslim population and its history of colonization in North Africa make the intervention in Mali particularly sensitive. With an intervention so much culturally and geographically closer to home than recent French operations in Afghanistan French authorities should be especially wary of the unintended consequences of an intervention in Mali. Trévidic believes that the French must begin to get used to terrorism:

"We will have to accept this reality without deluding ourselves. It means we have to accept that attacks will succeed and there will be deaths."

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Watch Nick Gillespie on Red Eye, Talking Trillion-Dollar Coins, Ozzy Osbourne, and More!

Last Friday, I was on Fox News' Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld along with show regulars Andy Levy and Bill Schulz and guests Jedediah Bila and Michael Ian Black.

Click above to watch wide-ranging talk about trillion-dollar coins, airports named for Ozzy Osbourne, dangerously high levels of self-esteem among college freshmen, and so much more.

About 45 minutes.

Go here or click below for downloadable versions and way more videos.

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Biofuels: Starving Guatemalans to Feed Cars

The Sunday New York Times has a terrific article, "As Biofuel Demand Grows, So Do Guatemala's Hunger Pangs," detailing the unintended consequences of U.S. and European Union biofuels subsidies and mandates on poor people in Guatemala. Some excerpts:

Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel.

In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest....

In 2011, corn prices would have been 17 percent lower if the United States did not subsidize and give incentives for biofuel production with its renewable fuel policies, according to an analysis by Bruce A. Babcock, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University. The World Bank has suggested that biofuel mandates in the developed world should be adjusted when food is short or prices are inordinately high.

Instead of "adjusting" mandates, let's just eliminate them entirely. Of course, Reason has long been opposed to subsidies and mandates for the production of biofuels. (Reason is, in principle, against distorting markets by any subsidies, period.)

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What Fresh Horrors Await Californians in the Next Budget?

You can practically feel the progressive lawmakers vibrating in anticipation of what to do with their Democratic supermajority in Sacramento, despite giving some lip service to fiscal restraint. Gov. Jerry Brown will unveil his initial 2013-14 budget proposal on Thursday. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports:

Firmly in command of the policy agenda and controlling a state budget that is in its best shape in years, California Democrats are expected to push a broad agenda of fiscal and social change in 2013.

The vast list includes new taxes, revamping education spending formulas, gun control, health care, highway expansions and redefining Proposition 13, the landmark property tax protection measure passed by voters in 1978.

At the same time, Democrat leaders and many in the rank-and-file are urging self-restraint, knowing that voters could strip their supermajority powers in the next election if their reach is overly ambitious — particularly when it comes to taxes and spending.

“There will be tension,” said Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego. “Some members want to win the Super Bowl right away and immediately repair the damage that’s been done (by budget cuts). Most members realize we need to be careful — we can’t spend money we don’t have.”

As always, any reference to government “budget cuts” should be read as cuts in the amount of money agencies and departments requested versus what they actually received and not less actual government spending from year to year.

As I noted last week, the desire to redefine Prop. 13 will be Democrats' solution for “not spending money they don’t have” by, of course, trying to get more money. The spin has already begun to portray Prop. 13 as a loophole for businesses to pay less in property taxes compared to homeowners while ignoring the vast, costly regulatory burdens the state places on those attempting to engage in commerce.

Reporter Michael Gardner’s story also contributes to the narrative that California’s economy is improving based almost entirely on projections, which is a problematic way to look at the state’s future. The governor’s office is quick to point out that the state’s projected deficit has dropped from somewhere north of $20 billion to somewhere around $2 billion. But as Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters notes, the budget deficits have been covered through all sorts of tricks, loans, and deferrals. The state still has huge amounts of debt to pay down.

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NYT Science Reporter Sees Armed Guards in Violent Countries, Concludes More Guns = More Killing

In a "news analysis" headlined "More Guns = More Killing," New York Times science reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal says the National Rifle Association clearly is wrong when it argues that more guns in the hands of "good guys" would help reduce the number of people killed by "bad guys." How does Rosenthal know? She has seen it with her own eyes:

I recently visited some Latin American countries that mesh with the N.R.A.'s vision of the promised land, where guards with guns grace every office lobby, storefront, A.T.M., restaurant and gas station. It has not made those countries safer or saner.

Despite the ubiquitous presence of "good guys" with guns, countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Although a science reporter for a leading newspaper really should understand the difference between correlation and causation, it apparently never occurred to Rosenthal that ubiquitous armed guards might be a response to high homicide rates rather than a cause of them (as the headline suggests). And despite her assertion that the use of armed guards "has not made those countries safer or saner," she never presents any evidence to that effect.

Rosenthal is right that the countries she mentions have very high homicide rates—far higher than the homicide rate in the United States, which has gun control laws that Rosenthal no doubt considers absurdly lax. Here are the homicide rates per 100,000 people, based on the most recent data available from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime:

Honduras: 91.6

El Salvador: 69.2

Venezuela: 45.1

Guatemala: 38.5

Colombia: 31.4

United States: 4.8  

Rosenthal mentions that "many of these [Latin American] countries have restrictions on gun ownership," although she adds that "enforcement is lax." How does she know that enforcement is lax? Because "illegal guns far outnumber legal weapons in Central America." Yet that situation, far from indicating loose gun controls, is precisely what you tend to see in countries with relatively strict rules.

In fact, all of these countries have more legal restrictions on guns than the U.S. does, including national licensing of owners, a central registry of firearms, and bans on certain types of weapons. In Venezuela, where Rosenthal says the homicide rate "is expected to be close to to 80 this year," civilians are not allowed to possess pistols, revolvers, or carbines; they are limited to .22-caliber rifles and shotguns. Rosenthal also mentions Jamaica, where the homicide rate in 2011 was 40.9 per 100,000, more than eight times the U.S. rate. In Jamaica, according to GunPolicy.org, "the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law," "the private sale and transfer of firearms is prohibited," and licensed gun owners may purchase no more than 50 rounds of ammunition a year.

Using Rosenthal's logic, one might easily conclude based on this sample of countries that More Gun Control = More Killing. Then again, it is possible that legal restrictions on guns, like armed guards, are a response to high levels of violence rather than a cause of them. Because they do not control for all the relevant variables, simple comparisons like these cannot tell us much, except that in some places strict gun laws and armed guards coexist with extraordinarily high homicide rates.

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Matt Welch on How the Fact-Checking Press Gave Obama a Pass

If there was one overarching journalistic theme of the 2012 election, it was the alleged Republican war on science, math, and basic facts, as called out by a newly emboldened political press. A proliferation of “fact-checking” enterprises at various mainstream media outlets led the charge. The only thing missing, observes Editor in Chief Matt Welch, was any meaningful scrutiny of Barack Obama and his allies in the Democratic Party. Indeed, Welch writes, the fact-checking press gave the president a pass.

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Orlando to Fine Couple $500 a Day for Vegetable Garden?

Officials in Orlando, Florida ("the Greenest City in America") are scheduled to decide today whether to ding Jason and Jennifer Helvenston $500—a day—for growing a garden in their front yard. In September, a neighbor complained to the city, which ordered them to grow a regular lawn like everyone else.

From The New York Times:

Instead, Mr. Helvenston stood outside his polling site during the last election circulating a petition to change the current code, and then appeared on a local TV news station, telling the reporter and any city officials who happened to be watching, "You’ll take my house before you take my vegetable garden.”

…Orlando’s code … specifies that planted shrubs “shall be a minimum of 24 inches in height” and “spaced not more than 36 inches apart,” while berms “shall not exceed a slope of 3:1.” The code goes on to list no less than 295 approved and prohibited species.

[Jeff] Rowes [of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm*] argues that such strict rules are fine when instituted by homeowners associations, where residents "go in with their eyes wide open," but codification of a homeowner’s landscaping by local governments can be "oppressive."

City officials frequently cite public health and safety as the main reasons for zoning codes, but the underlying driver is often real estate.

The Helvenstons have launched a web site where they offer a free packet of seeds to anyone who will join them in planting a Patriot Garden to protest intrusive government regulation of front yards.

From an Institute for Justice press release:

When news of the story initially broke in early November, the city appeared inclined to help the Helvenstons navigate the city’s outdated ordinances while still being able to keep their garden. A special “task force” was created to consider amending the law to allow for front yard gardens. But as deadline after deadline was postponed, it has become evident that such tactics have simply allowed the city to delay its enforcement. Despite assurances from the city that the Helvenstons would be able to keep their garden or that the code would be updated to allow for some sort of compromise, there has been no official statement from the city that either will occur.

 * I am a former employee of the Institute for Justice.

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Recreational Pot Smokers "likely deluding themselves about how well they are managing their drug use," Says David Frum

In announcing his involvement with a group that seeks a "third way" for American drug policy, David Frum explains why he thinks marijuana should be unavailable even to people who can use it responsibly: 

The goal of public policy should be to protect (to the extent we can) the vulnerable from making life-wrecking mistakes in the first place.

There's a trade-off, yes, and it takes the form of denying less vulnerable people easy access to a pleasure they believe they can safely use. But they are likely deluding themselves about how well they are managing their drug use. And even if they are not deluded -- if they really are so capable and effective -- then surely they can see that society has already been massively re-engineered for their benefit already. Surely, enough is enough?


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Barack Obama: 'We don't have a spending problem'

The media portrayal of the fiscal cliff standoff (and the debt-ceiling talks from which it sprang) generally portrayed President Barack Obama and the Democrats as pragmatists attempting to negotiate with intransigent Republican ideologues. But as ever, the stance of non-ideological problem-solving itself is rich with ideological content. For the latest example read Stephen Moore's Wall Street Journal interview with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio).

What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: "At one point several weeks ago," Mr. Boehner says, "the president said to me, 'We don't have a spending problem.' " [...]

The president's insistence that Washington doesn't have a spending problem, Mr. Boehner says, is predicated on the belief that massive federal deficits stem from what Mr. Obama called "a health-care problem." Mr. Boehner says that after he recovered from his astonishment—"They blame all of the fiscal woes on our health-care system"—he replied: "Clearly we have a health-care problem, which is about to get worse with ObamaCare. But, Mr. President, we have a very serious spending problem." He repeated this message so often, he says, that toward the end of the negotiations, the president became irritated and said: "I'm getting tired of hearing you say that."

If this quote is accurate, it is both stunning and unsurprising. Stunning, because of this chart:

Note how federal spending, adjusted for inflation, zoomed between 2001 and 2010 on such non-health-related categories as military (70.5%), "other" (64.1%), and non-defense discretionary (55.9%). Overall federal spending has exploded, from $1.77 trillion in fiscal year 2000 to $3.72 trillion in fiscal 2010. If Washington had pegged federal government growth since 2000 to the rates of inflation and population growth, we would be spending well under $3 trillion today, and talking about what to do with the surplus.

At the same time, Obama's alleged quote is unsurprising, because a vast swath of Democrats well and truly believe that spending is not a problem.

Here's Steve Benen, at Rachel Maddow's blog: "Sorry, Boehner, spending isn't the problem." Or New York magazine's Jonathan Chait: "There really isn't money to be cut everywhere....The spending cuts aren't there because they can't be found." Or Mother Jones' Kevin Drum: "We don't have a spending problem. We have an aging problem."

Combine that with the widespread belief, articulated most recently by Robert Reich, that we have no entitlements problem either, and you get a clearer picture of how federal spending could almost double in a decade in the face of progressive complaints about "austerity": It's because Democrats are in denial about the true cost of their (yes) ideological commitments. If we taxed Americans enough to cover the cost (or even 90 percent of the cost) of what Democrats consider the minimal level of government, the result would be recession. That should, but won't, give big-government apologists pause.

And yes, as we've been reminding you for years, too many Republicans (and John Boehner in particular) have for too long effectively agreed with Jonathan Chait: There's nothing we can cut!

For an alternative view, read Reason's November 2010 issue on "How to Slash Government Before it Slashes You."

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A. Barton Hinkle on Dubya's Fourth Term

November’s presidential election was doubly historic: Not only did it ensure Barack Obama a second term, it ensured George W. Bush a fourth, writes A. Barton Hinkle.

This flies in the face of Obama’s rhetoric, which repudiated everything the Bush administration supposedly stood for. But Obama’s record repudiates much of his rhetoric.

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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge to Federal Milk Price-Fixing

In April 2012, libertarian-leaning Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit caused a stir by voting to uphold a federal price-fixing scheme for milk while simultaneously railing against the Supreme Court precedents that, in her view, mandated this unfortunate outcome. Thanks to a series of rulings dating back to the New Deal, Brown explained, economic regulations are granted extreme deference by the judiciary, an approach known to lawyers as the rational-basis test. “The practical effect of rational basis review of economic regulation is the absence of any check on the group interests that all too often control the democratic process,” Brown wrote. In fact, she declared in conclusion, “Rational basis review means property is at the mercy of the pillagers. The constitutional guarantee of liberty deserves more respect—a lot more.”

The case in question is known as Hettinga v. United States, and I am sorry to report that Judge Brown’s powerful complaints about the Supreme Court’s judicial surrender have gone unheeded. This morning the Supreme Court announced its refusal to hear the appeal filed by dairy farmer Hein Hettinga and his wife Ellen, who argue that the government’s price controls are not a legitimate health or safety regulation, but are instead a protectionist scheme designed to benefit certain large, politically-connected dairy firms.

The Hettingas have good reason to charge the government with malfeasance. As The Washington Post reported in 2006, “a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga's initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).”

This lobbying paid off. As I explained in a recent column on the Hettinga case:

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David Frum Joins Board of Anti-Marijuana Legalization Group He Promoted in Newsweek Column

On Dec. 17, Newsweek published an anti-marijuana column from David Frum in which the Republican pundit praised former Office of National Drug Control Strategy staffer Kevin Sabet for "forming a new group to find a third way" for U.S. drug policy. "[Sabet] deserves support," Frum wrote, "because young Americans deserve better than to be led to a future shrouded in a drug-induced haze."

We didn't know the name of the group at that time, but we do now: It's called Project SAM, which stands for "Smart Approaches to Marijuana." According to an Associated Press report that ran yesterday, Frum is on the group's board of directors. 

Considering Frum's endorsement of Sabet's work, and his own opposition to liberalizing America's drug laws, you'd think he would've announced by now that he's going to be a board member (along with Sabet) of a new anti-pot group being headed up by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy: 

Kennedy, 45, a Democrat and younger son of the late "Lion of the Senate" Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, is leading a group called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) that opposes legalization and seeks to rise above America's culture war over pot with its images of long-haired hippies battling law-and-order conservatives.

Conservative political commentator David Frum, a speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, is also a board member on Project SAM, which lends it a bipartisan flavor.

In an email, Sabet, who's risen to prominence as an anti-marijuana pundit since the election, confirmed that Project SAM was the group Frum wrote about in his column, but said that he had not been offered a role on the board at the time his column was published. 

Personally, I don't think it's problematic that Frum is on Project SAM's board, because I don't think it's problematic for journalists to have opinions. I do think it's interesting that a guy who so frequently accuses people he disagrees with of duplicity has yet to tell his readers about his new role in the drug war. 

UPDATE: Frum announced his involvement with the group in a column for CNN this morning: 

Last week, I joined the board of a new organization to oppose marijuana legalization: Smart Approaches to Marijuana. The group is headed by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and includes Kevin Sabet, a veteran of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama.

The new group rejects the "war on drugs" model. It agrees that we don't want to lock people up for casual marijuana use -- or even stigmatize them with an arrest record. But what we do want to do is send a clear message: Marijuana use is a bad choice.

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Read Reason’s Complete January 2013 Issue!

Our entire January 2013 issue is now available online. Don’t miss Matt Welch on how election 2012 ratified an untenable status quo, Veronique de Rugy on the fiscal cliff, Jacob Sullum on the war over weed, and Ronald Bailey on why half the facts you know are probably wrong, plus our complete Citings and Briefly Noted sections, the Artifact, and much more.

Click here to read Reason’s complete January 2013 issue.

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Fracking Amazing: US Carbon Emissions in 2012 Will be Lower than in 2007 Due to Fracking

Instapundit points to this bit of happy news culled from John Hanger, a Democrat who is running for governonr of Pennsylvania, where has been secretary of the state department of the environment and a commissioner of the public utility commission:

US energy related carbon emissions in 2012 will fall below 5,300 million tons or down about 12%, compared to the peak emissions of 6,023 million tons in 2007.  Through this September, carbon emissions have been down every month in 2012, when compared to each of the first 9 months of 2011 and 2010. No other country matches that record. www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec12_3.pdf/sec12_3.pdf/.

US GDP has grown every quarter since July 1, 2009, and today our economy is bigger than it was in 2007, the peak carbon emission year.  Yet, even with an economy in 2012 that is bigger than in 2007, our carbon emissions will be 12% lower than they were in 2007....

Only the USA has had a shale gas boom and only the USA has cut substantially its carbon emissions since 2006....the shale gas boom substantially decreased US carbon emissions.  Moreover, US electricity prices in 2012 have barely increased and natural gas prices have plummeted.

Hanger further notes that the U.S. is at around 1995 levels for energy-related carbon emissions. And note that lower emissions aren't simply an artifact of the rotten economy (which however bad it is is larger than in 2007).

The shale gas boom is a product of fracking, a technology which has not only been around for decades but has apparently been found to be safe in a controversial and not-officially-released analysis prepared for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has been sitting on the report while deciding whether to allow expansive fracking in the Empire State.

Back in 2011 - long before Matt Damon's anti-fracking movie Promised Land was even a glimmer in the bank account of eventual funders in the oil-rich UAE - Reason's Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey explained fracking (including how much greens used to love it until its success and safety record starting imperiling interest in subsidizing solar and wind tech).

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A.M. Links: Obama to Select Hagel for Defense, Brennan for CIA, Clinton Ready to Testify on Benghazi, Bank of America Settles with Fannie Mae for $3.6 Billion

  • President Obama is expected to announce Chuck Hagel as his next nominee for Secretary of Defense and John Brennan as his next choice for CIA director.
  • The State Department says Hillary Clinton is healthy enough and ready to testify about the 9/11 Benghazi terrorist attack. She’s officially back at work today.
  • Bank of America will pay $3.6 billion to Fannie Mae as part of a settlement over mortgage loans.
  • Google’s executive chairman arrives in North Korea.
  • Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed nearly two years of civil war in his country on “enemies of God and puppets of the West.”
  • Malala Yousafzai, a teen activist shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan, was released from Queen Elizabeth Hospital in England this weekend.

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Steve Chapman on Washington's Fiscal Evasion

When it comes to serious, lasting budget constraints, our leaders in Washington have the escape talents of Houdini. The ominous approach of the fiscal cliff put Democrats in a position to extract a lot more revenue and Republicans to force real spending cuts. Yet as Steve Chapman observes, that prospect drove the two sides to agree that the only reasonable option was neither.

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Brickbat: Criminally Insane

A patient walked away without permission from the Graylands Mental Hospital in Australia, so staff alerted the police. A few days later, cops brought a man matching the patient's description back the hospital, where he was given anti-psychotic drugs. Only after the man had an adverse reaction to the drugs did anyone figure out he wasn't the patient. The real patient returned to the hospital a few days later.

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Yaël Ossowski on How Disney Cashes In on Corporate Welfare

Generations of children and adults worldwide have grown up on Walt Disney comics and movies featuring Mickey Mouse and thousands of other characters, visited the sprawling and magical theme parks in Florida and California, and played with toys and games brandishing the familiar Disney logo.

But despite the illustrious international influence enjoyed by Mickey and the Disney Empire, reports Yaël Ossowski, it could not have been possible without substantial help from Uncle Sam. Disney is a major recipient of corporate welfare.

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Union Workers *Probably* Torched a Quaker Meetinghouse Over Christmas

Police say union workers "almost certainly" torched an under-construction Quaker meetinghouse in northwest Philadelphia four days before Christmas. The Chestnut Hill Friends had hired non-union labor for the project, which discommoded several construction unions.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Vandals with an acetylene torch crept onto the project's muddy construction site in the middle of the night. Working out of view in the meetinghouse's freshly cemented basement, they sliced off dozens of bolts securing the bare steel columns and set fire to the building crane, causing $500,000 in damage.

Police detectives deemed the attack arson because of a series of confrontational visits from union officials days before the incident. They say the torch could only have been operated by a trained professional, and believe it was almost certainly the work of disgruntled union members. The city has assigned extra investigators to the case and is working with federal forensic experts to track down the vandals, said Michael Resnick, the city's public safety commissioner.

…Trade unions dictate hiring at virtually all large construction projects in the city. Their dominance has had the virtue of ensuring that members receive good salaries and generous benefits, on par with those in New York. But it has also made construction exceptionally expensive here. Those high costs, real estate experts like Kevin C. Gillen at Econsult argue, have been a drag on the city's revival.

…Cross [the unions] by hiring nonunion workers or demanding more efficient work rules, and you can expect a giant inflatable rat at your door—or worse. The Post brothers, who are renovating a former factory into apartments at 12th and Wood Streets, learned the hard way in the spring when union protesters laid siege to their construction site, blocking deliveries for five months.

...It was not an easy decision, acknowledged Meg Mitchell, clerk of the meeting, the closest thing the non-hierarchial group has to a spokesperson. But after assuring themselves that [the contractor] was paying fair wages and that his company had maintained an excellent safety record, she said, the Chestnut Hill Friends dropped any lingering reservations.

Philadelphia Magazine has in-depth coverage (“brutish threats, expletive-heavy protests”) of the Post Brothers' dust-up with Philadelphia’s Building and Construction Trades Council.

Reason hosted a dust-up of our own over right-to-work laws last month.

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Sheldon Richman on Why Double Taxation Must Cease

One of the tax changes in the just-passed bill to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, writes Sheldon Richman, is a rise in the long-term capital gains tax for upper-income people (over $400,000 for single filers). During the George W. Bush years, the tax on capital gains (and dividends) dropped to 15 percent. Under the new law the tax will rise to 20 percent for those wealthier taxpayers. During the recent controversy over taxes, some people wondered why capital gains should be taxed at a lower rate than ordinary wages and salaries, the top rate on which is now 39.6 percent. Is this a favor to the rich or does the difference have a basis in sound economics?

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White House Won't Comment on Clemency Petition for Montana Medical Marijuana Grower

If you signed the petition you already know. In an email sent yesterday to 29,536 signatories calling for a presidential pardon of Chris Williams, the Montana medical marijuana provider who faced at least 80 years in prison, the White House explains it “can’t comment.”    

Reason’s own Mike Riggs noted on December 12th that the petition had exceeded 25,000 signatures, the threshold that triggers a response from the Obama Administration. But the Administration’s petition site (“Your Voice in Government”) invoked the terms of participation: “the White House may sometimes choose not to respond to petitions addressing certain matters.”

But, as Jacob Sullum wrote earlier this week, federal prosecutors offered Williams a rare post-conviction deal, reducing his sentence to as little as five years in return for waiving his right to appeal. Williams accepted on December 18th and will be sentenced in February.

In related news, Chris Lindsey, one of Williams’ business partners and the president of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, was sentenced yesterday to three months of house arrest and five years of probation after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises.

Frank Dikötter on Communism in Eastern Europe

In Iron Curtain, Frank Dikötter reports, Anne Applebaum shows how Stalin and his agents set out to destroy every form of freedom in Eastern Europe after World War II yet failed to create a new Homo sovieticus. "Human beings do not acquire 'totalitarian personalities' with ease," she writes. "Even when they seem bewitched by the cult of the Leader or of the party, appearances can be deceiving."

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Baylen Linnekin on How Menu-Labeling Laws Harm American Pizza

The Food and Drug Administration moved closer this week to implementing a proposed menu-labeling rule requiring certain restaurants and food sellers to list calorie counts and other information on their menus. As it’s now constructed, the rule would apply not just to chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Applebee’s but also to grocery stores and pizza restaurants—both of which oppose the FDA’s plans. In fact, writes Baylen Linnekin, complying with the proposed menu-labeling rule would be somewhere between costly and impossible for tens of thousands of pizza and grocery chains.

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Outgoing Czech President Vaclav Klaus Pardons Almost One Third of Prisoners

Almost one third of Czech prisoners have been granted amnesty by outgoing president Vaclav Klaus. The pardons will not affect prisoners serving sentences longer than 10 years.

Mr. Klaus defended the move saying, “This is a gesture aimed at giving a fresh chance to those citizens who may have broken the law but who are not repeat offenders.”

The mass pardon has prompted worry and confusion. The head of the supreme court has expressed concerns that the move undermines the rule of law, while Social Democrat politician Jiri Dienstbier described the decision as "unacceptable and incomprehensible."

Judges are preparing to work overtime to implement the pardon, which was partly motivated by the need to ease overcrowding in Czech prisons. The Czech Republic has a prison population of around 23,000 in a prison system that is designed to hold a little over 21,000, and has an incarceration rate of 219 prisoners per 100,000 people. The U.S. has an incarceration rate of over 700 prisoners per 100,000 people. 

Despite the move causing some worry in the Czech Republic perhaps American officials could take some inspiration from Klaus’ mass pardon.

Given that almost half of the inmates in our federal prisons are serving time for drug offenses, many of which involved no victim, I can’t help but think a mass pardon on this side of the Atlantic would do society some good.

However, as Jacob Sullum has pointed out, Obama's record leaves us no reason to be optimistic:

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.

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Are Stimulus Multipliers Higher During Times of High Unemployment? Not in the United States.

One of the arguments for additional fiscal stimulus over the past few years is that, sure, multipliers for deficit-financed stimulus are typically low enough that it's not worth doing. But when the economy is sluggish, like it is now, the multiplier effect grows larger, and the payoff for additional government spending becomes worth it. 

A trio of researchers from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the University of California, San Diego, economics department, and the Bank of Canada decided to look at the historical evidence in both the United States and Canada to see if this might be true. And what they found was that multipliers do appear to be higher during times of slack in Canada, but not in the United States.

The research team looked at gross domestic product data, government spending, population, and the unemployment rate from 1890 to 2010 in the U.S. and 1921 to  2011 in Canada. And they tracked the difference in multiplier effects for periods of high unemployment  — above 6.5 percent in the U.S. and above 7 percent in Canada — versus periods of unemployment below those thresholds. In Canada, the authors report that multipliers appear to be a good bit bhigher during periods of high unemployment: about 1.6 compared with about 0.44 for periods below the threshold.

But in the United States, the effect is quite different. Not only are multipliers always below the 1.0 threshold where a dollar of government spending results in a dollar of economic activity, they're actually very slightly lower during high unemployment, ranging from about 0.64 to about 0.64 versus a range of 0.63 to 0.78 when below the 6.5 percent unemployment threshold. 

Are these results just an artifact of the particular threshholds picked by the researchers? They tested other threshold measures and say the results are similar. No matter how they test, the conclusion is the same. The authors say they "find no evidence that multipliers are higher during periods of slack in quarterly U.S. data from 1890 to 2010."

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Iron Maiden Singer Bruce Dickinson: "Civil servants, on some level, are almost institutionally prejudiced against entrepreneurial activity and risk"

At The Wall Street Journal, Anne Jolis speaks to a tenacious British businessman battling against arbitrary government regulation: Iron Maiden singer and "serial entrepreneur" Bruce Dickinson, who recently opened the airline maintenance firm Cardiff Aviation Ltd. Here’s a snippet from her superb profile of the man who went “from heavy metal to heavy industry”:

"Clearly aviation is a highly regulated industry, and it does take time for the wheels to grind," Mr. Dickinson says carefully. At first glance, he almost blends in with the dark-suited bankers milling through the courtyard of the Royal Exchange. Look closer and you'll spot the rocker, his navy suit in pinwale corduroy, the hair a good two fingers longer than City standard.

While governments like to tout their courtship of skilled manufacturing jobs, in practice "civil servants, on some level, are almost institutionally prejudiced against entrepreneurial activity and risk," Mr. Dickinson goes on. "Of course nobody wants to return to the dark ages, no one wants to return to fundamentally unsafe work practices." But he warns that overregulation and the burgeoning "health and safety thing" add up to "an industry that is eating itself, that has been created and is creating an entire industry which will eventually consume manufacturing and retailing."

The result is that Cardiff Aviation, for instance, currently has "five million dollars worth of heavy engineering machinery—we have enough stuff in our hangar to build an airliner, let alone maintain it," says Mr. Dickinson. But the company is still waiting on its certifications for heavy-duty work, and in the meantime, "we can't afford to have people sitting around doing nothing."

Read the whole thing here.

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Obama To Be Sworn-In Twice, Biden Promises Gun Restrictions, Dancing Dinosaurs: P.M. Links

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J.D. Tuccille on Obamacare Taxes

In what was already an eventful year, Obamacare generated lots of buzz in 2012, first in the lead-up to the Supreme Court's much-anticipated ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and then in the chatter-heavy aftermath of the surprise decision upholding the law. After that, headlines focused on Medicaid expansion (which states would and which states wouldn't) and health insurance exchanges (which states would take the task on, and which would tell the feds to tackle the mess themselves). But, says J.D. Tuccille, managing editor of Reason 24/7, government regulations and new or expanded bureaucracies don't pay for themselves; they require tax-funding. And we have heard relatively little about the plague of taxes and tax changes that now sweep over us with the dawn of 2013.

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Nick Gillespie on Fox News' Red Eye With Greg Gutfeld Tonight!

I'll be on Fox New's Red Eye With Greg Gutfeld tonight, talking about fiscal cliffs, trillion-dollar coins, and airports named after Ozzy Osbourne (but not Randy Rhoads for some reason).

The fun starts at 3AM ET and ends shortly after, though the show continues until 4AM ET. Other guests include Jediadiah Bila and Michael Ian Black, along with Greg's repulsive sidekick Bill Schulz.

More info here.

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How British Control Freaks Exploited a Scandal To Impose Press Regulations

In a fascinating piece for the spiked review of books, Mick Hume finds strong clues as to the source not only of Britain's sudden push for press regulation but also the details of the rules proposed by the Leveson Inquiry. The road map is essentially laid out for him in a screed titled, Everybody’s Hacked Off: Why We Don’t Have the Press We Deserve and What To Do About It, by Brian Cathcart, who is a journalism professor and the founder of the Hacked Off campaign, a group that came together to press for media curbs in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that killed off the News of the World. As Hume describes, Cathcart has long been a champion of press regulation, and the high-profile fuss gave him and a small group of allies an opportunity to hand political figures a pre-packaged solution to a "problem" that doesn't really exist. And yeah, there's a lesson in there for everybody.

Britain's phone-hacking scandal involved real misbehavior on the part of both journalists and government officials, but that conduct was already illegal — and some police officials were themselves implicated. So the Leveson inquiry into phone-hacking, which morphed into an inquisition into journalistic practices, is now proposing further regulations and oversight to prevent activity that was already illegal, and which was enabled, in part, by the last batch of people meant to prevent it.

That's not the point of Hume's piece, though. He uses his review of Cathcart's book to explain how a demoralized press and defensive, unprincipled politicians were essentially rolled by a small group of radical advocates for media control.

In July 2011, the Guardian revealed that the News of the World had hacked the phone messages of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002. The resulting wave of outrage caused panic in high places, leading to the closure of the NotW. Cathcart describes how his little group, then effectively a two-man band, took advantage of this disarray by demanding – and getting – audiences with all the political-party leaders, taking the Dowler family with them. Hacked Off demanded, and got, a public inquiry. What is more, he says, they demanded that the inquiry should look into not just the phone-hacking scandal, but the entire ‘culture, ethics and practices of the press’. That was the exact brief that prime minister David Cameron gave Lord Justice Leveson when he appointed the judge to head the inquiry.

Once Leveson began his public hearings, the Hacked Off lobby was allowed to set the tone from the very start, with the first witnesses called being their high-profile and celebrity supporters such as [Hugh] Grant and [Steve] Coogan, to denounce the crimes of the tabloids they accused of creating a ‘culture of pure evil’. At the end of all this, Leveson produced a report based on the Hacked Off version of events and proposals centred on all of the demands listed in Cathcart’s book, for a new regulator underpinned by the law with the ‘clout’ to police and punish the press. The only real difference is that Cathcart wants a statute to ‘compel’ newspapers to sign up to the new system – an explicit form of state licensing of the press unseen in Britain for more than 300 years. Leveson instead proposed a statutory-backed regulator that could punish financially those that failed to submit – a sort of informal system of licensing by the back door. But his entire report was infused with the spirit of Hacked Off’s demands.

The whole thing was eased along by the lack of a strong lobby, in Britain, for protecting free speech and freedom of the press. Shami Chakrabarti, the head of Liberty, a sort of anemic, other-side-of-the-pond counterpart to the ACLU, actually participated in the Leveson inquiry. (Liberty is the sort of group that makes you really appreciate the ACLU, warts and all.)

Cathcart's own words, quoted from his book, offer an enlightening peek at the mind-set behind the push for controls on the press.

Cathcart’s discussion of the ‘public interest’ rather gives the game away here. What does this oft-cited concept mean? ‘Well’, says Cathcart, ‘to start with it is obviously not the same thing as what interests the public…. That would legitimise all kinds of gratuitous cruelty and dishonesty, reviving the morality that permitted bear-baiting and public executions’.

The latest candidate for press-regulator, by the way, is the Privy Council — a secretive, 800-year-old body that hasn't convened in decades and whose members are selected for life.

Read Hume's whole article for a scary insight into how easily fundamental freedoms can be undermined when their defenders lose heart (and interest) and their opponents are organized and prepared to exploit an opportunity (Hrumph ... hrumph ... Newtown ... hrumph).

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Rand Paul and John McCain: Odd Couple New to Senate Foreign Relations Committee

One wants to shrink the Pentagon's budget and keep America from being embroiled in more Middle Eastern Wars, the other thinks we should be intervening and supplying arms to rebels everywhere and is raring for war with Iran. One is willing to mention the reality of "blowback," the other thinks American righteousness in its use of force is unquestionable. Can these two men--Senators Rand Paul and John McCain--find fulfillment together on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to which they've both been appointed?

James Antle wonders at the Daily Caller:

McCain and Paul have differed on military involvement in Libya, arming Syrian rebels, the size of the Pentagon budget, warrantless surveillance and foreign aid. Paul also opposed the Iraq War and tried to revoke its congressional authorization. McCain was a staunch supporter of the war.

....tensions between Paul and McCain escalated during the NDAA fight.

“I find it disappointing that one member of the United States Senate feels that his particular agenda is so important that it affects the lives and the readiness and the capabilities of the men and women who are serving in the military and our ability to defend this nation,” McCain said of Paul’s NDAA filibuster....

“The right to due process, a trial by jury, and protection from indefinite detention should not be shorn from our Bill of Rights or wrested from the hands of Americans,” Paul said of the McCain-led conference committee report on the NDAA. “It is a dark day in our history that these rights have been stomped upon and discarded.”

Paul’s statement explicitly blamed McCain for the stomping and discarding....

Reason clips on Rand Paul and foreign policy.

The Jerusalem Post on Paul's planned trip to Israel next week. Of that Paul says:

 “If you want to be part of the national debate and hopefully part of the solution someday to what happens in the Middle East, having been there gives you more credibility with some folks.”

After meeting with Netanyahu and Peres, Paul is scheduled to travel to Jordan on Tuesday and meet with King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He plans toreturn to Israel on Wednesday and tour the Galilee.

The trip is sponsored by the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group that promotes fundamentalist Christian values. Paul will be travel along with approximately 50-100 evangelical Christians, including politically well-connected figures in South Carolina and Iowa, which will hold early 2016 caucuses and primaries.

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Flipping Off a Cop Is No Crime, Appeals Court Says

In May 2006, Officer Richard Insogna of the St. Johnsville, New York, police department arrested John Swartz. Why? Because fuck you, that's why. No, really.

Swartz, a retired airline pilot, was  passing through St. Johnsville in a car driven by his fiancée (now his wife) when he noticed Insogna using a radar gun to catch speeders. Angered by what he deemed a poor use of police resources, "Swartz expressed his displeasure at what the officer was doing by reaching his right arm outside the passenger side window and extending his middle finger over the car's roof," as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit put it in a decision issued yesterday.

Insogna responded by following Swartz and his fiancée to their destination and ordering them back into their car when they got out. After he checked the driver's license and registration, there ensued a conversation, the details of which are a matter of dispute, that ended in Swartz's arrest for disorderly conduct, a charge that was ultimately dropped after dragging through the courts for several years. Swartz sued Insogna and Kevin Collins, an officer with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department who participated in the arrest, for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. A federal judge dismissed the suit, concluding that Insogna's decision to pull the car over was justified and that the two officers reasonably believed the arrest was constitutional. The 2nd Circuit disagreed, highlighting the implausibility of Insogna's explanation for pursuing and detaining Swartz:

Insogna acknowledged in his deposition that he had not observed any indication of a motor vehicle violation. He stated, somewhat inconsistently, that he thought John "was trying to get my attention for some reason" and that he "was concerned for the female driver."

Perhaps there is a police officer somewhere who would interpret an automobile passenger's giving him the finger as a signal of distress, creating a suspicion that something occurring in the automobile warranted investigation. And perhaps that interpretation is what prompted Insogna to act, as he claims.  But the nearly universal recognition that this gesture is an insult deprives such an interpretation of reasonableness. This ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity. Surely no passenger planning some wrongful conduct toward another occupant of an automobile would call attention to himself by giving the finger to a police officer. And if there might be an automobile passenger somewhere who will give the finger to a police officer as an ill-advised signal for help, it is far more consistent with all citizens’ protection against improper police apprehension to leave that highly unlikely signal without a response than to lend judicial approval to the stopping of every vehicle from which a passenger makes that gesture.

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Jerry Brito on the New Copyright Alert System

In January, Internet service providers will begin sending notices to subscribers suspected of illegally downloading music or movies using peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. After five increasingly sternly worded warnings, subscribers’ Internet access will be slowed down or partially blocked. As Jerry Brito observes, this new “Copyright Alert System” is bound to raise the hackles of digital rights activists—but should it?

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David Cameron Will Offer a Chance to Change the UK's Relationship with Europe, But Not Now

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that British voters will be offered the chance to implement “real change” to the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union at the next general election. Asked in a radio interview for more details the prime minister did not elaborate, saying his proposals will be explained in his speech on the E.U. later this month.

The issue of Europe has been an irritation to Cameron, who has had to endure criticism from his own party and the increase in support being enjoyed by the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independenc Party.

Although many in the U.K. would like Cameron to offer an in/out referendum on British membership of the E.U. there is almost no chance that he will. Cameron believes that the U.K. should remain in the E.U., an opinion that is not shared by most Britons. A recent poll indicated that only 30 percent of Britons would vote for British membership of the E.U. 

The dilemma that Cameron is faced with is that he is in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, who oppose major changes to the U.K.’s relationship with the E.U. The partnership makes it difficult for Cameron to propose serious changes to European policy. It would be a comparatively safe move to promise only what the Conservatives will be offering in 2015, when the next general election is scheduled to take place. An in/out referendum now would not result in the outcome Cameron wants and could weaken the coalition government.

However, some do not think that offering an in/out referendum would result in bad consequences for Conservatives. The eurosceptic Member for the European Parliament Daniel Hannan thinks an in/out referendum would not be that bad: 

When the Conservative Party trusts the electorate on the question of the EU, its trust will be reciprocated. Conservatives will start getting the benefit of the doubt on other issues. Tory activists will be optimistic again, the decline in membership will be halted and Right-of-Centre newspapers will recover their enthusiasm. Everything will feel different. You'll see. 

As the 2015 election approaches, voters will focus on what Labour is offering. Do people really want to bring back Ed Miliband and Ed Balls – the men who trashed our economy in the first place? Do you feel reassured when you see either man on television?

Unfortunately for Hannan, it doesn’t look like there will be an opportunity to find out if he is right.

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The Secret War Against House Speaker Boehner: Led by Amash

National Review's Robert Costa has some from-the-House-floor gossip about the ultimately feckless, and apparenlty not diligently planned or executed, mini-revolt against re-electing John Boehner as Speaker of the House yesterday. I blogged yesterday about how Justin Amash and some other Ron Paul-endorsed, liberty-minded Congressmen did not vote for Boehner.

Highlights from Costa:

Members say the rebellion was mostly a project of the libertarians (Justin Amash of Michigan and Walter Jones of North Carolina) and a clique within the Jordan-affiliated RSC, especially members of the class of 2010 (Mulvaney and Labrador) and their allies. It was never something that involved widespread outreach. “I only heard about it from a reporter,” says Phil Gingrey of Georgia, a longtime figure in conservative circles. “That was a real mistake,” acknowledges a House Republican staffer involved with the coup attempt. “My boss didn’t say much to anybody beforehand. They were thinking that maybe they could help Eric Cantor or someone else find a way to win.” 

....The height of the tension came when the number of defections was at nine, and the number of abstentions or no-shows was at eight, meaning the magic number of 17 anti-Boehner votes [which would have lead to a second-round] was a possibility...

The plot against Boehner was promptly dashed when the conservatives who had missed the first roll emerged from the cloakroom. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a former presidential candidate, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, two members often seen on cable TV, slowly strolled down the aisle and waited for the vote to be called again — and they both voted for Boehner. That possibility of 17 suddenly disappeared...

Costa says that the rebels never consulted with Eric Cantor of Virginia, a likely possibility for winning if Boehner, embarrassed by the no-confidence, stepped down. And, surprise!, establishment folk like the whip and Paul Ryan, Costa reports, were annoyed there was any show  of defiance to Boehner at all.

Jones and Amash agreed that they didn’t really care about winning the gavel, but they wanted to bloody Boehner’s nose, and stick up for the libertarian wing of the House Republican caucus. Their votes weren’t even coordinated — Amash voted for Labrador, and Jones voted for David Walker, a former comptroller general.

Washington Post collates all the anti-Boehner rebels' votes.

I have an interview with three of the rebels, Amash, Ted Yoho (Fla.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.) in the forthcoming March issue of Reason.

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Hottest Year in U.S. of the Past 34 Years; Ninth Hottest Globally

Every month University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report the latest global temperature trends from satellite data. In their year-end roundup, Christy notes that 2012...

...was the warmest year on record for both the contiguous 48 U.S. states and for the continental U.S., including Alaska. For the U.S., 2012 started with one of the three warmest Januaries in the 34-year record, saw a record-setting March heat wave, and stayed warm enough for the rest of the year to set a record.

Compared to seasonal norms, March 2012 was the warmest month on record in the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Temperatures over the U.S. averaged 2.82 C (almost 5.1° Fahrenheit) warmer than normal in March; the warmest spot on the globe that month was in northern Iowa. The annual average temperature over the conterminous 48 states in 2012 was 0.555 C (about 0.99 degrees F) warmer than seasonal norms.

With regard to global average temperatures, 2012 was only the ninth warmest year amongst the last 34 years....

...with an annual global average temperature that was 0.161 C (about 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 30-year baseline average, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. 2012 was about three one-hundredths of a degree C warmer than 2011, but was 0.23 C cooler than 2010.

Eleven of the 12 warmest years in the satellite temperature record have been been since 2001. From 2001 to the present only 2008 was cooler than the long-term norm for the globe. Despite that string of warmer-than-normal years, there has been no measurable warming trend since about 1998. The long-term warming trend reported in the satellite data is calculated using data beginning on Nov. 16, 1978.

Although the warmest years have occurred in recent years, Christy pointed out last month that global average temperatures have been essentially flat since 1998: 


Vid: Ying Ma on Life Under Mao and China's Economic Miracle

"Ying Ma on Life Under Mao and China's Economic Miracle" is the latest offering from Reason TV. Watch the interview above or click the link below for the full story, associated links, and downloadable versions. 

About 8 minutes.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Josh Swain and Weissmueller. Additional camera by Sharif Matar. 

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Long Beach Pot Dispensaries Fight Back over Closures

In October, Long Beach authorities (with the assistance of the feds) raided and shut down a number of pot dispensaries in the city. Despite California voters legalizing medical marijuana, and despite court rulings declaring dispensary bans to be in violation of state law, the City of Long Beach banned dispensaries anyway.

Several dispensaries are now suing Long Beach, claiming the tactics used to shut them down were illegal. Nine collectives are involved. Courthouse News Service provides some details:

 "The defendants have systematically engaged in warrantless searches, warrants secured by judicial deception; administrative citations to the collectives and their landlords and other oppressive tactics, in an orchestrated scheme to close the collectives by any means in violation of the collectives' statutory rights," the complaint states.

At first, the city cited employees and owners for violating zoning laws, declaring the collectives are a public nuisance. When that failed to gain traction, the city raided dispensaries without warrants, or through warrants secured, in one instance, by representing that a collective was operating for a profit, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs cite more than a dozen raids, during which armed police officers arrested volunteers and seized marijuana, money, equipment and patient records.

The Long Beach Business Journal notes that there are 11 lawsuits against the City of Long Beach challenging its medical marijuana dispensary ban. They’ve been consolidated under one judge.  When I visited Long Beach in October for a screening of Legalize It, a documentary about California’s failed pot legalization ballot initiative, activists were also collecting signatures for a petition to overturn Long Beach’s law.

Below, watch Long Beach police step on the neck of a pot dispensary worker while arresting him and then destroy the store’s surveillance cameras during a raid last July:

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The Tough Politics of ObamaCare’s Cost-Control Board

IPAB—the Independent Payment Advisory Board created by ObamaCare to limit the growth of Medicare spending—was always going to be a tough sell. It’s not just that it attempts to enforce a limit on Medicare spending growth. It’s that it’s explicitly designed to circumvent Congress.

If IPAB works as planned, each year going forward, the 15 member board of health policy bureaucrats and experts will be given a target for the growth of Medicare spending. If annual spending goes over the target, the board members are required to come up with a package of cuts that slices off the excess. Once approved, that package of cuts becomes law automatically unless Congress acts in an expedited manner to block it. The rules say Congress can only block IPAB’s recommendations with either an equally large package of cuts or a three-fifths super-majority to override the cuts entirely.

IPAB is limited somewhat in terms of what it can propose: Nothing that explicitly “rations” care, no adjustments to Medicare’s benefit system, and no changes to the program’s eligibility rules. Which means that it’s pretty much left to technocratic payment tweaks: Pay more to one group of providers and less to some other group, or create payment incentives and disincentives designed to shift provider behaviors.

There’s a case to be made for this approach, given that Congress has historically been unwilling to make changes to Medicare that keep its costs down. But there’s also a real risk that it won’t work. Because even though IPAB is designed to route around Congress, it can’t—not entirely anyway.

For one thing, if an administration signed on, Congress could always pass legislation to repeal IPAB, just as Congress and the president passed legislation to create. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound.  House Republicans already voted last year to repeal the board entirely. But it wasn’t a strictly GOP effort. About 20 Democrats supported the basic idea, and only backed off when Republicans decided to combine IPAB repeal legislation with a malpractice reform plan that caps trial lawyer awards. In other words, the seed of opposition already exists within the Democratic party. And that seed may grow larger once Democratic politicians see what sort of cuts and tweaks IPAB cooks up—and which constituents are affected by them.

Still, repeal isn’t likely. However, it’s also not strictly necessary. Congress doesn’t need to get rid of IPAB to avoid seeing the board’s recommendations become law.

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Steven Greenhut on Protecting Freedom from Overreaching Government

This year’s Rose Parade in Pasadena, California featured the Department of Defense’s “Freedom Isn’t Free” float. While nothing is close to free when DOD is involved—the B-2 bomber that made a fly-by as parade-goers cheered cost more than twice its weight in gold—the rose- and carnation-covered replica of the Korean War Veterans Memorial offers a good opportunity to think about the state of America’s freedoms as we ring in the New Year.

Unfortunately, writes Steven Greenhut, the news isn’t particularly encouraging. Maintaining a free society involves more than standing up, militarily, to un-free ones. Many areas of our society are disturbingly authoritarian, and the voting public seems less concerned about freedom issues and more interested in the “free” stuff politicians promise them. Government grows at an alarming rate regardless of which party is in power.

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California Lawmaker Proposes "Homeless Bill of Rights" to Legalize Pissing on the Street

Reports the Sacramento Bee:

The heart of Assembly Bill 5 would give legal protection to people engaging in life-sustaining activities on public property. Among other activities, it specifically mentions sleeping, congregating, panhandling, urinating and "collecting and possessing goods for recyling, even if those goods contain alcoholic residue." [...]

[The] measure also would give homeless residents the right to sleep in cars that are legally parked, to receive funds through public welfare programs, to receive legal counsel when cited – even for infractions – and to possess personal property on public lands. Local officials could not force the homeless into shelters or social service programs. [...]

The bill states that homeless Californians have the right to safe, affordable housing and 24-hour access to clean water and safe restrooms, but Paul Boden, a spokesman for one of its sponsors, said the measure is not meant to require cities and counties to add new facilities.

Boden and other advocates of AB5 say that existing laws to sweep the homeless from public view are similar to Jim Crow laws of decades ago in the segregated South, and to "anti-Okie" laws of the 1930s that prohibited bringing extremely poor people into California.

No reaction yet from Twilight actor Bronson Pelletier. Link via the Twitter feed of Josh Barro.

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The Origins of Limited Liability in America

There's a short list—maybe not so short a list—of subjects that libertarians love to argue about among themselves. Some of these are major topics of public debate, such as abortion. And some of them are more arcane, such as limited liability laws.

The libertarian historian and economist Jeffrey Rogers Hummel tackles the topic of corporate limited liability in a post at EconLog, drawing on David A. Moss' book When All Else Fails. Hummel doesn't offer any policy conclusions, but he shares a lot of interesting historical data, including the surprising fact that the last state to adopt limited liability, California, didn't do so until 1931. Worth a look.

Bonus link: I touched on the issue of limited liability in this old piece.

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Illegally Grown Pot Is Bad for the Environment. What Should We Do About That?

Illegal outdoor marijuana grows on California's North Coast are sapping 18 million gallons of water a year from an Eel River tributary, according to the L.A. Times. That water consumption is threatening a salmon species that California has spent "millions of dollars to recover." In Humboldt County, growers are using rat poison mixed with human food to kill bears and fishers (a type of weasel), both of which animals threaten clandestine growing operations. Threats to salmon and weasels aren't the only problem: "Farmers have illegally mowed down timber, graded mountaintops flat for sprawling greenhouses, dispersed poisons and pesticides, drained streams and polluted watersheds."

Illegal indoor grows present their own environmental problems, as discussed in a 2011 study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (emphasis mine):

Specific energy uses include high-intensity lighting, dehumidification to remove water vapor, space heating during non-illuminated periods and drying, irrigation water preheating, generation of CO2 by burning fossil fuel, and ventilation and air-conditioning to remove waste heat. Substantial energy inefficiencies arise from air cleaning, noise and odor suppression, and inefficient electric generators used to avoid conspicuous utility bills.

The emergent industry of indoor Cannabis production results in prodigious energy use, costs, and greenhouse-gas pollution. Large-scale industrialized and highly energy-intensive indoor cultivation of cannabis is driven by criminalization, pursuit of security, and the desire for greater process control and yields. 

To its credit, the L.A. Times manages to pin-point why outdoor growers are loathe to run more environmentally friendly operations: "Because marijuana is unregulated in California and illegal under federal law, most growers still operate in the shadows." In this case, literal shadows: Growing pot in a dense forest is wiser than growing it in plain sight. The Lawrence Berkeley report also notes the incentives driving energy-consuming indoor grows: "air cleaning, noise and odor suppression, and inefficient electric generators used to avoid conspicuous utility bills."

Remove the threat of prosecution, and marijuana growers would have no incentive to obscure their operations in dense, hard-to-reach forests. They wouldn't need to mow down protected land to plant, and they wouldn't need to poison bears and fishers. They might also be more likely to comply with permitting processes for water use. 

Similarly, fully legal indoor grow operations could abandon fossil fuel generators, and use less energy attempting to eliminate plant odor. With the knowledge that police would prosecute theft and burglary of their plants, indoor growers might also spend less on security infrastructure.

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Florida State Trooper Who Pulled Over Speeding Cop Sues 88 Officers in 25 Jurisdictions

not an episode of reno 911dashboard camDid you hear the one about the state trooper who pulled over a cop car speeding at more than 120 miles per hour on the Florida Turnpike? (Full video here, excerpts below) The incident happened back in 2011; Donna Watts, a Florida state trooper, pulled over Miami police officer Fausto Lopez, who was off-duty and headed for a second job in his patrol car. His colleagues at the Miami Police Department jumped to his defense, with one union official calling the trooper’s actions “completely unprofessional and very reckless.” Retaliations began soon after. Almost a year later Officer Lopez was finally fired for the incident.

Now, the Orlando Sun Sentinel reports that the state trooper has filed a lawsuit related to the retaliation she experienced after the incident. From the Sun Sentinel:

Trooper Donna "Jane" Watts' 69-page lawsuit, filed in federal court Friday, seeks more than $1 million in damages. She is suing more than 100 police officers and agencies, and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The suit alleges 88 law enforcement officers from 25 jurisdictions illegally accessed her personal information more than 200 times, violating her privacy…

Other agencies have already settled with her and so are not named in the lawsuit, according to Watts' attorney Mirta Desir. Margate, for example, settled for $10,000 after two of its police officers accessed her private information, said Margate city attorney Gene Steinfeld. The two Margate officers each received a letter of reprimand as punishment.

More details on the kinds of retaliations alleged, ranging from sending pizza deliveries to her house to making threatening phone calls, in the Sun Sentinel article.

Video clips of the incident:

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Does U.S. Bloated Foreign Policy Provide Tangible Economic Benefits? One Empirical Test

Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy questions vague assertions that projecting U.S. power everywhere at crippling expense pays great dividends and finds some interesting things:

In the latest Foreign AffairsStephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth argue strongly in favor of "deep engagement."  They proffer a number of reasons why the U.S. benefits from current grand strategy -- but one of the more intriguing ones is that the U.S. receives direct economic benefits from its security arrangements... 

Brooks, Ikenberry et al. specifically talk about how the U.S. got Germany and South Korea to agree to economically beneficial policies by its security commitments. But Drezner says:

With respect to West Germany, it's certainly true that Washington was able to get Berlin to accommodate to U.S. preferences -- but only for a few years.  The Bretton Woods system ended in 1971 because the Germans finally said "Nein!!" to U.S. inflation.  So the economic benefit wasn'tthat great. 

The South Korea case is more intriguing, because it's present-day and there's a real, live policymaker quote there.  If a U.S. administration official asserts that the security relationship mattered, then it mattered, right? 

Well.... no.  We need to compare KORUS with something equivalent to provide a frame of reference.  If security really mattered that much, then the Korea-United States free trade agreement should contain terms that are appreciably more favorable to the United States than those contained in, say, the Korea-European Union free trade agreement, which was negotiated at the same time.  This is a great test.  After all, the U.S. is the most important security partner for South Korea, whereas the only thing the European Union could offer to Seoul was its large market.  So if Brooks, Ikenberry and Wohlforth are correct, the U.S. should have bargained for much better terms than the E.U.  Right?

After going into the specifics of the trade deals in some detail, Drezner concludes:

the U.S. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more, and the E.U. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more.  Both agreements are comprehensive in scope and contain roughly similar terms across most other sectors.  Indeed, both the Congressional Research Service and U.S. Trade Representative's office acknowledge the basic similaritry between the deals, as well as the areas where the Europeans did better.  So, in other words, America's ongoing security relationship with South Korea did not lead to any asymmetric economic gains. 

U.S. throwing its military weight around the globe surely provides economic benefits to the people employed to run (and to be apologists for) that brand of expansive foreign policy, and to those who sell weapons and services to our military complex. But that is a different matter.

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Environmentalist Admits He Peddled Anti-Scientific "Green Urban Myths" About Biotech Crops

Somewhat to the discomfort of his green comrades-in-arms, British activist Mark Lynas has been evolving in his views on various environmental issues lately. For example, Lynas now admits that he was wrong when declared that biotech crops posed significant risks to people and the natural world. In a speech delivered yesterday at the Oxford Farming Conference Lynas declared:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

Discovered science? Well, better late than never. Lynas goes on to admit:

...in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

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Lead Poisoning Causes Crime?

In the 1986 crime thriller, The Big Easy, two gunshot smugglers are said to be "Suffering from an acute case of lead poisoning." In his intriguing article, "America's Real Criminal Element, Lead" over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum argues that chronic lead poisoning produced America's mid-20th century crime wave.  Drum cites several studies that correlate crime and violence rates strongly with exposures to growing and then falling levels of the gasoline additive tetra-ethyl lead in the environment.

Drum begins by dismissing as inadequate various theories that supposedly account for the steep reduction in the U.S. crime rate over the past two decades, e.g., the broken windows theory of policing, higher incarceration rates, the burning out of the crack epidemic, fewer unwanted babies due to rising abortion rates, and so forth. Instead, Drum focuses on the analyses of econometrician Rick Nevin. In the 1970s, the U.S began phasing out leaded gasoline and it was no longer sold by the mid-1990s. Drum reports:

Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern [as lead emissions]. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the '60s through the '80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early '90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.

So Nevin dove in further, digging up detailed data on lead emissions and crime rates to see if the similarity of the curves was as good as it seemed. It turned out to be even better: In a 2000 paper (PDF) he concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the '40s and '50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

Of course, Drum recognizes that correlation is not causation. So he looks at the research of Jessica Wolpaw Reyes who compared the crime rates in states where leaded gasoline was phased out faster and found that their crime rates also fell faster. Is the lead/crime hypothesis biologically plausible? Drum details research that shows that lead exposure causes all kinds of neurological havoc.

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Bob Woodward on Fiscal Cliff: Pols Need to Kick Own Asses, Delegate Everything Else

Here's the Washington Post's venerable Bob Woodward, jabbering on about what went wrong with the fiscal cliff negotiations. Woodward starts his analysis by noting, not incorrectly that "the agreement on the “fiscal cliff” left the nation’s major economic problems — its federal deficit and debt, high unemployment and low growth — on the negotiating-room floor."

Of course, it's as accurate to say that at least the past three-going-on-four years has been one big clusterfudge when it comes to any and all matters related to budgeting, especially all the years in which the Senate Democrats have not even been able to produce a budget plan for public view, much less passage in the world's greatest deliberative body.

But in any case, Woodward reminds us how the fiscal cliff was partly created by the threat of sequestration, which was itself the product of an earlier failed set of negotiations over the debt ceiling in 2011. The debt-ceiling deal in August 2011 begat a "supercommittee" of legislative all-stars that was about as inspiring as the sad, old Justice Society of America. I mean, come on, the supercommittee was far heavier on Dr. Mid-Nites and Liberty Belles than it was on the Supermans and Wonder Womans of the world.

The supercommittee was charged with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years. To guarantee its success, Congress and Obama agreed on $110 billion in mandatory spending cuts that would take effect Jan. 1, 2013, if the supercommittee failed — cuts so odious that the supercommittee would not allow itself to fail. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and minority leader McConnell were fully on board with the plan. “The supercommittee is going to work,” Boehner told me in an interview last year. “I’ve got Reid’s and McConnell’s commitments.” It was a sure thing, they all agreed....

Let's pause to remind ourselves of just how "odious" it is to cut $110 billion from an annual budget that has been clocking in at somewhere north fo $3.5 trillion. The answer: not very odious at all as a matter of what Obama once called "arithmetic." Cutting $110 billion, including about $55 billion from defense spending, is a rounding error in a federal budget that has grown massively over the past dozen years.

Back to Woodward. He notes that high-level staffers of supercommittee members put together a bargain that would have forestalled sequestration but then overreached. Like Seinfeld's George Costanza, who once tragically tried to merge eating deli sandwiches with sex, this ragtag crew of dreamers flew too close the sun on wings of pastrami or something:

...five staffers struggled for a week. In my files is a one-page, typed document dated Oct. 23, 2011, showing that they essentially reached agreement. The Republicans had a total deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion and the Democrats had $1.24 trillion — a difference of $40 billion, not much.

Some staffers were ready to break out the champagne. They had a pipeline straight to the leadership in both parties. But the members of the supercommittee did not trust each other. Instead of adopting the staff agreement or a version of it, they decided to go big and craft a deficit-reduction package of up to $3 trillion. They were shooting for a “grand bargain.”

The record shows they overreached: The mandatory cuts of $110 billion were not forestalled; the Biden-McConnell agreement has postponed them, but only for two months.

Woodward says the real problem was that staffers were never "empowered" by the leadership they represented to actually hash out a real deal and that they should have been. To him, high level meetings between Obama and Boehner or other muckety-mucks just create more grief than solutions. If you're wondering what the hell Woodward is talking about, it gets worse: He ends his vague article (hey, what was in the deficit reduction plan, Bob?) with a non sequitur about how Reagan reacted after hiking taxes up the ying-yang in 1982:

Reagan White House aides told me at the time how the president responded when asked how a renowned tax-cutter such as himself could approve a tax increase.

Darn, Reagan said, did we do that? He then pivoted and rather elegantly picked up one of his feet and kicked himself in the rear. Everyone laughed.

Both Democrats and Republicans need to circumvent the vulture politics of the day that demonizes the opposition. Obama and Boehner need to create a climate in which all involved can adopt the stylish accommodation of Ronald Reagan, pivot elegantly, kick themselves in the rear end and declare, Darn, did we do that?

Read the whole thing.

In sort-of documenting the dysfunction of a government that can't even trim chump change from its petty cash drawer, much less write and pass a goddamned budget, Woodward manages to also illustrate why press solons are pretty useless in this whole process too. Sequestration cuts aren't odious, except to congenital pants-wetters on both sides of the aisle (such as the neo-con defense hawks at the American Enterprise Institute and Leon Panetta, who can't abide a single dollar ever being cut from any military budget, even after the Second Coming of Christ and the beating of swords into non-voting GM shares). We've been racking up trillion-dollar annual deficits for years now, and the idea of cutting $3 trillion from future deficits over a 10-year period causes things to explode? That shouldn't be a reach under any circumstances, but especially under one in which both parties agree that we need to stop spending money we don't have on things we don't need. If the leadership of both parties couldn't agree to $3 trillion in deficit trims over a decade in which they expect to spend between $40 trillion and $47 trillion, they weren't going to agree to cuts of $1.2 trillion anyway. That's the the real story, and it's one that need to be retold every single day.

Woodward's invocation of today's "vulture politics" and his by-comparison invocation of the good old Reagan days is ridiculously ahistorical, especially coming from one of the guys who presided over the past 40-plus years of American history. Today's political situation isn't unique in its "demonization" of the opposition. Jesus Christ, George McGovern likened Nixon to Hitler and Reagan was attacked in similar terms. As was Clinton (by Jerry Falwell, who credited the Man from Hope with multiple murders in Arkansas). And then there was also the Bushitler stuff and novels and faux-documentaries about Dubya's assassination. Somehow, both sides somehow managed to pass budgets (as awful as they were). The fact that Boehner takes a lot of man-tan heat and Obama is called a socialist is light fare by comparison. What is different is the inability of our top men to freaking complete the most basic tasks required of them: to hash out what they government is going to spend each year according to basic and simple-to-understand legislative rule.

In the end, that is not something mystical or overly complicated or tough because they belong to different parties. It's the easiest thing in the world to get done and while of course "staffers" will do most of the grunt work, Boehner and Obama - and Harry Reid, the hugely incompetent Senate leader who is arguably the single-most responsbile villain in the whole dramedy, need to be running the show.

And when it comes to kicking their own asses, our triumvirate of leaders - Obama, Boehner, and Reid - should get in line behind the rest of us. In the end, we pay their tab, so we should be at the front of the line.

Kurt Loder Reviews Amour and West of Memphis

What a difference a New Year’s Day makes. Over the last few weeks we’ve been endlessly jostled by contending blockbusters: Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miz, Django Unchained, Peter Jackson’s sprawling Hobbit opus. Now, suddenly, we find ourselves abandoned once more in the movie graveyard of January, traditional burial ground for pictures that all but announce their insufficiency.

So let’s focus instead, writes Kurt Loder, on two movies that are already out in limited release, and now in the process of expanding (at least somewhat) across the country. One of these is Amour, a soul-wringing film by the fearlessly difficult Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke. The movie has already won the top prize at Cannes, and is now Austria’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. Here, Haneke, a master of icy appraisal and the unflinching lockdown shot, closely contemplates an elderly Parisian couple at the very end of their lives. The other film, West of Memphis, might be seen as a summation of the events chronicled by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky in their Paradise Lost documentaries. That trilogy of films helped draw national attention to the fate of the West Memphis Three, a trio of hapless teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas, who were convicted in 1994 of the “Satanic” murder and mutilation of three eight-year-old boys. Two of the defendants, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, were sentenced to life in prison; the third, Damien Echols, was sentenced to death.

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A.M. Links: Newt Gingrich Questions House GOP Strategy, NASA Mulls Plan to Tow Asteroid Into Lunar Orbit, Flipping the Bird at a Cop Protected Speech

  • The U.S. economy added 155,000 new jobs in December according to government statistics.
  • Newt Gingrich questions House Republicans’ strategy to fight the debt ceiling, since everyone knows they’ll just cave in the end anyway.
  • NASA is mulling a plan to pull an asteroid into the moon’s orbit. What could possibly go wrong?
  • A federal court rules giving the finger to a cop is protected speech.
  • Al Gore may have rushed through the deal to sell Current TV to Al-Jazeera in 2012 to avoid higher taxes this year. He wouldn’t sell it to Glenn Beck though.
  • Switzerland’s oldest bank is closing after pleading guilty in U.S. court to helping Americans avoid their taxes.

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Friday Funnies: Three Stooges in "The Fiscal Cliff"

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Brickbat: Drive On

Rashad Lewis was a bit surprised to get a ticket for running a red light. He was in a New York City jail when a camera caught his Mercedes-Benz convertble running the light. It seems that someone who worked for the police department took his car for a spin while he was being detained on charges of possessing forged credit cards.

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Federal Judge Questions Obama's License to Kill While Upholding His Right to Keep Its Legal Rationale a Secret

Yesterday a federal judge upheld the Obama administration's refusal to disclose the detailed legal reasoning underlying its policy of using unmanned aircraft to kill people identified as members or allies of Al Qaeda. Two New York Times reporters and the American Civil Liberties Union asked for documents addressing that question, including a memo prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). While U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon determined that withholding the material did not violate FOIA, she expressed frustration that "I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret." In her ruling, McMahon, a Clinton appointee, elaborates on the "legitimate reasons" why "some Americans question the power of the Executive to make a unilateral and unreviewable decision to kill an American citizen who is not actively engaged in armed combat operations against this country."

The Fifth Amendment, for instance, says no person shall be "deprived of life...without due process of law." Last March, in a speech at Northwestern University, Attorney General Eric Holder asserted that President Obama's kill orders comply with the Due Process Clause, saying it does not necessarily demand judicial review. "The Constitution's guarantee of due process is ironclad, and it is essential," he said, "but, as a recent court decision makes clear, it does not require judicial approval before the President may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war—even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen." McMahon notes that Holder "did not identify which recent court decisions so held" or "explain exactly what process was given to the victims of targeted killings at locations far trom 'hot' battlefields." Those are among the details that the Obama administration continues to conceal.

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Mike Lee: Everything About Fiscal Cliff Deal a Failure, Only Had Six Minutes to Read It Before Voting

crossword puzzle clue?Fox NewsMike Lee, Utah’s junior Republican senator, joined Fox News’ Jenna Lee on Happening Now this morning to talk about his op-ed in the Washington Examiner about Washington's dithering along an unsustainable path of spending and debt. In the course of the discussion, Lee explained what he saw was wrong with this week’s fiscal cliff deal. “Everything about this bill was a failure,” the senator said, “what Congress did, how Congress did it and what Congress didn't do.” What Congress didn’t do includes reading the bill. Lee says Senators “were given a total of six minutes to read this bill before we had to vote on it," and said lawmakers had to insist on “the opportunity to read legislation before we cast a vote on it,” something he promised in his insurgent 2010 campaign (Lee defeated long-time incumbent Republican Bill Bennett to win the Senate seat).

Video below:

h/t to Connor Boyack, who adds that the way the bill was rushed through was “just like with the so-called ‘Patriot Act’.”

UPDATE: I originally linked to a different, older, Mike Lee op-ed. The op-ed being discussed was in the Washington Examiner not the the Washington Times.

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Gene Healy Lists the Five Worst Op-Eds of 2012

For three years running, Gene Healy has closed the Old Year with a seasonal burst of bile, his annual Five Worst Op-Eds column.

As before, this year's malicious listicle rewards bad arguments and bad writing, with extra points for warped values.

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Credit Agencies Want the U.S. To Try Harder, Pot Regulation Vexes Officials, Commercial Spaceflight This Year: P.M. Links

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Mali isn't the Only African Country with a Muslim Insurgency in its Northern Region

International forces with American support are preparing to intervene in Mali, where Al Qaeda-linked militants have taken control of the north. The African-led mission will be made up of 3,300 African troops who will be tasked with assisting the Malian military in their attempts to dislodge the militants. Most of the African troops will be coming from ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) members. The most influencial of the ECOWAS countries is Nigeria, which has its own problems with Islamic militants wielding unwelcome influence in its northern region.

The jihadist organization Boko Haram (which means, “Western education is sinful”) has been engaging in violence in northern Nigeria for years. Boko Haram has killed thousands during its years of operation, targeting religious minorities and western foreigners. The Nigerian military has struggled to put an end to the violence and has been accused of human rights abuses.

It seems a strange decision on the part of Nigerian officials to commit troops to a mission that aims to displace or defeat Islamic militants in Mali when they are facing jihadist violence in their own country.

Of course Nigeria is not the same as Mali. Defeating Boko Haram comes with many demographic concerns that do not apply to Mali. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with over 170 million people, and has a religiously diverse population. Mali has a population of a little below 16 million and its population is almost exclusively Muslim.

However, despite the logistic difficulties of intervening in Nigeria it seems that the humanitarian case for intervention is just as strong as the interventionist case for getting involved in Mali. Local demographic concerns have not prevented interventions in the past. 

The mission in Mali is not scheduled to begin until September this year. When it does begin it will be the continuation of a foreign policy that has been a disaster in the Middle East and in other parts of Africa, and it will still be unclear why some countries are chosen to be the targets of intervention over others.

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“Disposition Matrix” Sketched Out on How U.S. Decides to Kill Citizens

reviews work for actual kill list too?Rook FilmsAs noted on Reason 24/7, a federal judge has summarily dismissed FOIA requests by the New York Times and the ACLU for the legal justification used by the White House to order the killing of U.S. citizens. While officialdom is relatively silent on the workings of America’s drone war, the work to piece together how the U.S. might be operating based on what we know it’s doing continues.  At the Atlantic Daniel Byman and Benjamin Wittes, fellows at the Brookings Institution, put together a “disposition matrix” of how the U.S. might go about deciding which U.S. citizens it suspects of terrorism it could/should kill.

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Boehner Re-Elected House Speaker, But Loses Amash, Some Other Liberty-Leaning Support

In the forthcoming March issue of Reason, I interview four Republican Congressmen--three new, one second-termer--with libertarian-leaning bonafides and the endorsement of Ron Paul. They are Justin Amash (Mich.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Ted Yoho (Fla.) and Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.) A preview of them speaking out on the "fiscal cliff" appeared here last week.

Today, in John Boehner's re-election to House speaker, three of the four refused to vote for him. (One, freshman Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan, did. NBC reports 10 Republicans voted for people other than Boehner.)

Justin Amash, who has been publicly feuding with Boehner since last month when he was booted from the Budget Committee, voted for the guy sitting next to him, Idaho's Raul Labrador. Florida's Ted Yoho voted for Eric Cantor of Virginia (though Cantor himself, rumored to be the coulda-been next Boehner, voted for the existing Speaker), and Kentucky's Thomas Massie voted for Amash himself.

National Review's Robert Costa is tweeting that Rep. Walter Jones told him that Amash was the "quarterback" of the move to deny Boehner some votes.

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Fiscal Cliff Deal Cancels CLASS

Those hunting for a bit of good news in the fiscal cliff deal can look to a provision repealing a long-term care program attached to ObamaCare.

When the health law first passed, it included a $70 billion entitlement known as the CLASS Act. The Community Living Assistance Service and Supports Act was supposed to be a self-sustaining program that provided cash benefits intended to help finance long-term care. It was an optional program that workers could buy into at regulated rates that weren't allowed to take health history into account. The program was even supposed to reduce the deficit: It accounted for about half of ObamaCare's scored deficit reduction.

But after the law passed, further analyses warned that instead of a self-financing, deficit reducing benefit program, CLASS would instead be a fiscal disaster, unable to self-finance and resulting in a long-term increase in the deficit and sky-high premiums for many beneficiaries, according to researchers at Boston College. Eventually, even the Obama administration had to admit that it wouldn't work. “While the law outlined a framework for the CLASS Act,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told members of Congress in February, 2011, “we determined pretty quickly that it would not meet the requirement that the act be self-sustaining and not rely on taxpayer assistance.”

And so the administration closed the program. But it stayed on the books, which meant that, at least in theory, it could someday be revived.

No more: The fiscal cliff deal that passed in the House on Tuesday struck CLASS from the books for good. Which means that unless Congress passes new legislation, the program isn't coming back. Given its dormant status, CLASS wasn't likely to do much damage. But there were those who seemed interested in reviving the program — and attempting to "fix" its problems by making buy-in mandatory. Repeal takes that possibility off the table. 

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America Still Renditions Suspected Terrorists Whenever the Hell

In 2007, as he was firming up the anti-war, anti-Dick Cheney bloc within the Democratic Party, Barack Obama wrote a long essay for Foreign Affairs that included this paragraph:

People around the world have heard a great deal of late about freedom on the march. Tragically, many have come to associate this with war, torture, and forcibly imposed regime change. To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.

Though it was clear long before the 2008 election that Barack Obama would be nobody's anti-war president, some still held out hope that the guy who wrote the above paragraph would at least be better on spooky stuff like abandoning due process and pushing third-party countries to cooperate in the shadowy practice of rendition. But as the Washington Post reminded us this week, no such luck:

[T]he Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. [...]

"In a way, rendition has become even more important than before," said Clara Gutteridge, director of the London-based Equal Justice Forum, a human rights group that investigates national security cases and that opposes the practice.

Hauntingly, the Post chalks up some of the more extreme parts of Obama's Cheneyism to constant squabbles with an even more hawkish Congress on stuff like closing down Guantanamo Bay and trying terrorism subjects:

The impasse and lack of detention options, critics say, have led to a de facto policy under which the administration finds it easier to kill terrorism suspects, a key reason for the surge of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Renditions, though controversial and complex, represent one of the few alternatives.

Related: Wired's Spencer Ackerman (and/or his headline writer) declares "Obama's New Year’s Resolution: More Drone Strikes."

Reason.tv's "Three Reasons U.S. Drone Policy Is Really Freakin' Scary":

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David Harsanyi Asks: So What's Next, Mr. President?

As it turns out, raising tax rates on the "wealthy," the most pressing issue of the Obama Age, amounts to a mere $62 billion of new revenue, says David Harsanyi.

To put it in perspective, the deficit spending this year alone was more than $1 trillion. So the fiscal deal will supposedly bring in $620 billion in new revenue over the next decade, which is less than any year's worth of debt under President Barack Obama. If redirecting resources from private-sector investments to green energy subsidies feels like a victory, congratulations.

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Reason Writers on TV: Peter Suderman Talks Obama's Second Term on CNBC's Kudlow

What will top President Obama's second term agenda? Immigration reform? Gun control? Are spending cuts or entitlement reform of any kind even a possibility? On Wednesday, January 2, Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman appeared The Larry Kudlow Show to discuss these questions and more. 

Approximately 6 minutes. 

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Americans Embroiled in Criminal Justice System Numbers Actually Decreasing

We are still a largely over-arrested people, especially when it comes to "crimes" that harm no one except (possibly) the person committing them. But Keith Humphreys at the Samefacts blog draws our attention to a bright spot in our recent criminal justice system statistics: 

At the time of President Obama’s inauguration, the incarceration rate in the United States had been rising every single year since the mid 1970s. The relentless growth in the proportion of Americans behind bars had persisted through good economic times and bad, Republican and Democratic Presidents, and countless changes in state and local politics around the country.

If a public policy trend with that much momentum had even slowed significantly, it would have been merited attention, but something far more remarkable occurred: The incarceration rate and the number of people under correctional supervision (i.e., including people on probation/parole) declined for three years in a row. At the end of 2011, the proportion of people under correctional supervision returned to a level not seen since the end of the Clinton Administration.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics fact sheet on this from late November, noting that most of the decline came not from people literally behind bars, but in the probation system:

  • Adult correctional authorities supervised about 6,977,700 offenders at yearend 2011, a decrease of 1.4% during the year.
  • The decline of 98,900 offenders during 2011 marked the third consecutive year of decrease in the correctional population, which includes probationers, parolees, local jail inmates, and prisoners in the custody of state and federal facilities.
  • About 2.9% of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34 adults) were under some form of correctional supervision at yearend 2011, a rate comparable to 1998 (1 in every 34).
  • At yearend 2011, about 1 in every 50 adults in the U.S. was supervised in the community on probation or parole while about 1 in every 107 adults was incarcerated in prison or jail.
  • The community supervision population (including probationers and parolees, down 1.5%) and the incarcerated population (including local jail inmates and federal and state prisoners, down 1.3%) decreased at about the same rate in 2011.
  • The majority (83%) of the decline in the correctional population during the year was attributed to the decrease in the probation population (down 81,800 offenders).

Mike Riggs from October on four grim effects of prison overcrowding.