Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 January 15-31

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Ira Stoll on What to Expect from Obama's Second Term

If President Obama merely follows through on what he or his appointees have already either formally or informally proposed, he’d reform immigration in a way that removes obstacles to a free market in labor and free movement of individuals, cut both corporate and individual top tax rates to levels lower than in the George W. Bush or Reagan administrations, and adjust Social Security benefits to put the program, and the U.S. government, on sounder financial footing.

That’s the best-case scenario, writes Ira Stoll.

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Melissa Gira Grant on the War on Sex Workers

If we are going to call attacks on reproductive and sexual rights a “war on women,” then let’s talk about a war on women that has actual prisoners and a body count, says Melissa Gira Grant. It’s a war on the women engaged in sex work, waged by women who will not hesitate to use their opponents’ corpses as political props but refuse to listen to them while they are still alive and still here to fight.

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A. Barton Hinkle on the Myth of Free Medicaid Money

To hear the advocates of expanding Medicaid tell the tale, Virginia and other states would be dumber than a sack of hammers to turn the idea down. It is, proponents say, a win-win situation: The state gets to increase insurance coverage for tens of thousands of people—and hand the bill to the federal government. Throw in the savings from the economic stimulus from all that new money, along with offsetting cuts elsewhere, and the state comes out a clear winner.

But it’s a rare coin indeed that has only one side, writes A. Barton Hinkle. Flip this one over, and expanding Medicaid doesn’t look quite so wonderful. Here are three reasons why.

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Lupe Fiasco Causes One, Calls Out Obama at Pre-Inaugural Concert

As reported by Reason 24/7 News - your best source for everything that's happening, as it happens! Follow it on Twitter at @reason247

This is a truncated version of rapper Lupe Fiasco's performance from a pre-Inauguration show last night in D.C. The juice on Fiasco's performance was pulled after he went in to a rap that called President Obama out for various policies. 

What were organizers thinking? As the Daily Caller notes,

During an interview with CBS in 2011, he called the president a terrorist. Lupe said, “My fight against terrorism, to me, the biggest terrorist is Obama and the United States of America. I’m trying to fight the terrorism that’s actually causing the other forms of terrorism.”

More here.

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Matt Welch on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy

Like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Orwell, Václav Havel, and the very best of our political/literary heroes, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., led a life and left a written record monumental enough to inspire people who couldn't agree less with one another. For the president of the United States, King is a reason to embrace National Service. For the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the attorney general of Virginia, King is a reason to engage in civil disobedience against the president's signature law. He's a hero to military interventionists and anti-war activists; invoked in the cause of empowering Palestinians and fighting "for a secure Israel," and used by both sides of the current gun debate.

This fight over King's legacy is a testament to the rare power of his words, writes Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch. The texts we argue about most—the Bible, the Constitution, Orwell's wartime essays, MLK's civil rights sermons—are the ones whose force of enlightenment, poetry, passion, and morality have risen above the cacophany of human language to almost universally stir souls and inspire liberation. People don't fight over words that only apply to one side of most arguments.

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Austrians Vote to Keep the Draft

Sixty percent of Austrian voters decided yesterday to continue forcing 18-year-olds to perform six-month stints in the military. Some 22,000 men are conscripted each year. Thousands more do nine months of compulsory work in ambulances, senior centers, and other civilian-service jobs.

Via Reuters:

"I'm happier having people of all psychological types in the army, not just people who are really into it," said Andreas Gorbach, a 53-year-old advertising consultant who voted for the draft despite saying he did not enjoy his own time in the army.

…Many voters were swayed by warnings from emergency services organizations such as the Red Cross, who had said they would not be able to cope without the 14,000 young men who opt for community service each year.

Petra, a 39-year-old lawyer casting her vote in favor of ending conscription in Vienna on Sunday, disagreed.

"Community service clearly borders on forced labor," she said. "We should pay for this work more fairly and should only let it be done by those—men and women, and of whatever age—who actually want to do it and are interested."

Perhaps the Red Cross could contact its offices in Germany, Sweden, or Italy—which have all recently scrapped conscription into military and civilian service—to see how they are coping without coerced labor.

Other voters were concerned that moving to a professional army would be expensive. But, says Reason columnist Steve Chapman:  

The draft doesn't reduce the cost of carrying on a war. It merely shifts it from taxpayers at large to able-bodied males, a saving for the federal budget but an enormous burden on conscripts. That's why the journalist Nicholas von Hoffman once urged, "Draft old men's money, not young men's bodies."
[Moreover] it's a colossal waste to cycle large numbers of people, many of them poorly suited to military service, through the ranks for a couple of years just so they can bail out at the first opportunity. The all-volunteer force provides a far bigger return on training dollars, while enlisting men and women who want to do what soldiers do—including combat.

Voters in Switzerland will decide whether or not to keep the draft later this year. Click here and here for more Reason coverage of mandatory service.

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Steve Chapman on Pot Legalization Hysteria

As recreational drugs go, marijuana is relatively benign. Unlike alcohol, it doesn't stimulate violence or destroy livers. Unlike tobacco, it doesn't cause lung cancer and heart disease. The worst you can say is that it produces intense, unreasoning panic. Not in users, but in critics.

Those critics have less influence all the time, says Steve Chapman.

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Brickbat: Fly the Friendly Skies

Former Transportation Security Administration agent John W. Irwin has pleaded guilty to stealing $520 from a passenger at Norfolk International Airport. The passenger claimed he had a medical condition that would not allow him to go through the machine and asked to be patted down. TSA agents then selected the man for addtional screening in a private room. Irwin used that opportunity to hide cash the man had placed in a plastic bin. Irwin said he did it because the man "had given my fellow employees a hard time."

Vid: Obama Inaugural Rewind - Rhetoric vs. Reality

 

"And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."

Reason TV looks back at Obama's 2009 inaugural address to see how well his rhetoric compares to his first four years in office.

Produced by Meredith Bragg.

About 90 seconds.

Click above to watch now. Click below to go to full article, downloadable versions, and more links and videos.

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If You Know Too Much About Poppies, You Can Lose the Farm (and Go to Jail)

Last July the Kennewick, Washington, Tri-City Herald profiled Poppydog Farms, a new local business selling dried pods from poppies grown on 40 acres in Pasco. The operation had attracted 2,400 customers from across the country, including wholesalers as well as consumers. "Every single day we're getting new customers," enthused co-owner Ken French. "It's turned out to be a lot more successful than we ever dreamed." The paper explained that "crafters use the pods for ornamentation," while "florists grow red, pink and white-and-purple flowers with the seeds." French described the flowers as "stunningly beautiful." 

They are also sort of illegal, a point that police clarified when they arrested French and his wife, Shanna, for unlawful delivery of a controlled substance less than four months after their business was featured in the Herald. Although Papaver somniferum is commonly used in gardening, floral arrangements, and food, it is also listed on Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act as "opium poppy." That status usually means a substance can be produced and distributed only by people licensed to do so. But since the plant is widely grown in the United States by people ignorant of its identity as the source of opium, drug warriors generally do not bother with it. They made an exception in French's case after he allegedly told detectives with a regional drug task force that tea made from crushed poppy pods could be used to relieve pain or improve one's mood. Police say he also announced that he sold the pods strictly for "ornamental purposes," adding, "That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."

A few weeks after the Frenches were arrested, state prosecutors announced that they would not be pursuing charges against them. Although that sounds like good news, it may only have signaled that the feds were taking over the case. The Justice Department has moved to seize the couple's land, arguing that it is the site of an "ongoing drug enterprise," and their lawyer, Jim Egan, told the Herald he anticipates that if there are criminal charges, they will be filed in federal court. But Egan argued that the Frenches should not be held criminally liable for a business they thought was legal:

There's a plethora of evidence that Mr. Ken French [had] no idea this was an illegal activity. If he thought it was illegal, he probably would not have advertised on the Internet....He incorporated the business, got a business license and did all the things he was supposed to do in order to set up the business. He also talked to the Tri-City Herald...and said what a wonderful business it was. That's something that people who are trying to hide their criminal activities don't usually do.

Egan has a point, although the Justice Department has been known to target medical marijuana suppliers who likewise operated openly, complied with regulations, and believed their businesses to be legitimate. Then, too, the detectives' report of their conversation with French, assuming it is accurate, suggests he knew there was something potentially illicit about selling poppy pods, depending on the intended use.

The same sort of guilty knowledge proved problematic for Jim Hogshire, who did not merely acknowledge in passing the analgesic and psychoactive properties of poppy tea but wrote a whole book about it. The book, Opium for the Masses, figured prominently in the decision to arrest Hogshire in 1996, when Seattle police charged him with "possession of opium poppy, with intent to manufacture and distribute." The charges were ultimately dismissed for lack of evidence. 

[Thanks to Wally Gumboot for the tip.]

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A Drink Before You Order? Not in Utah

Utah law forbids restaurants to serve alcohol “except in connection with an order for food prepared, sold, and furnished” on site. Until December, that meant diners could order a drink before selecting a meal. Now it doesn’t.

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Compliance officers and the state’s liquor-control agency say they are warning owners that their employees are in violation of Utah law if they serve alcohol before diners actually request food. To back up the effort, authorities in undercover stings have issued citations to eateries for this type of violation, which in the past was rarely enforced.

In December alone, nine restaurants paid fines, compared with five who were cited during the 11 previous months and with only one the year before. None of the restaurants had a history of previous violations.

The stricter enforcement comes just before the opening of the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 17. Undercover officers will be patrolling restaurants that serve many of the tens of thousands of people from Utah and worldwide who attend the 11-day event….

A spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control says the enforcement effort is a reaction to restaurants becoming lax in their procedures, but those associated with dining establishments in the state contend there’s been shift toward a stricter interpretation of the law, evidenced by recent DABC warnings to all restaurant owners.

"There’s absolutely been a change in policy—a huge change," said attorney Rick Golden, who worked at the DABC from 1977 to 1988 and has since represented clients before the board that oversees the agency’s operations.

…While having a drink, patrons also were allowed to study the menu before deciding what to order, he contends.

New DABC compliance director Nina McDermott [wrote a] memo to trainers who instruct servers on alcohol laws: "I have heard from quite a few licensees (restaurants) that a patron may order one drink while reviewing the menu but no second drink will be served without an order of food. The law does not allow for a one drink exception."

…Lt. Troy Marx of the State Bureau of Investigation, whose agency conducts the undercover stings, said … that the majority of recent violations occurred after officers told servers they wanted only an alcoholic beverage—without any food.

Reason recently covered efforts to liberalize liquor laws in Kansas and the District of Columbia. Reason contributor Eric Boehm has encouraging news on that front from Pennsylvania

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Tom Clougherty on the Bank of England’s Flawed Monetary Policy

Canadian central bank chief Mark Carney, who will become governor of the Bank of England in June, caused a stir on both sides of the Atlantic when he appeared to endorse a new monetary policy based on nominal gross domestic product (NGDP) targeting. A fresh approach to the current policy, which has manifestly failed to guarantee macroeconomic stability, is certainly long overdue. But could NGDP targeting have really prevented the financial meltdown and the ensuing recession as its advocates claim? Unlikely, says Tom Clougherty. Central banks lack both the power and the knowledge needed to deliver stable economic growth.

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Watch Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman Talk Obama's Second Inaugural on MSNBC Today at 4:30 P.M.

Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman will appear on MSNBC at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon as part of the Brain Trust panel with host Craig Melvin. Topics to include: expectations for this week's inaugural speechifying and the politics of President Obama's second-term. Tune in! 

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Nassim Taleb Talks Antifragile, Libertarianism, and Capitalism's Genius for Failure

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a former trader and hedge fund manager, a best-selling author, and a groundbreaking theorist on risk and resilience.

His new book is Antifragile: Things that Gain with Disorder, which argues that in order to create robust institutions we must allow them to build resilience through adversity. The essence of capitalism, he argues, is encouraging failure, not rewarding success.

Nick Gillespie's interview with Taleb is the latest offering from Reason TV. Watch the interview above and click below for full text and links.

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Sheldon Richman on the Burden of Corporate Welfare

Manipulating the tax code to benefit particular interests has obvious appeal for politicians—it's a source of power and influence—and a code that did not permit such manipulation would be much less attractive to them. Outright cash subsidies from the taxpayers, while not unheard of, smacks too much of cronyism and is more likely to alienate taxpayers. But complicated exceptions written into the tax laws can be presented as creative governance on behalf of the public interest. But, writes Sheldon Richman, it is cronyism as offensive as outright subsidies.

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Nick Gillespie Talking Guns, Fiscal Cliff on Fox News' Tom Sullivan Show Tonight at 7pm ET

I'll be on the Tom Sullivan Show tonight on Fox News, talking gun control, fiscal cliff, and more.

Go here for more details.

The show airs tonight at 7pm ET and 10pm ET and again tomorrow at 7am ET and 7pm ET.

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Curt Schilling Loses Shirt (and Rhode Island's, too), Will Sell Sock

As reported by Deadspin, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is selling off his baseball memorabilia collection to pay back personally guaranteed loans given to his failed video game company, 38 Studios. While Schilling lost millions in the doomed enterprise, the taxpayers of Rhode Island are now on the hook for more than $100 million thanks to a crony capitalism boondoggle engineered by Fmr. Gov. Donald Carcieri (R-RI).  

The most noteworthy of the items up for auction is the famous "bloody sock" from the 2004 World Series, which had previously resided in a display case at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and which many assumed was the bloody sock from the 2004 American League Championship Series, where Schilling helped stage a historic comeback from a 3 games to none deficit against the New York Yankees. That inarguably more valuable sock was "unceremoniously discarded in a Yankee Stadium dumpster."

Earlier this month, Reason TV released the short documentary "38 Studios: Curt Schilling's Crony Capitalism Debacle." Video below:

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John Ross on Washington’s Civil Forfeiture Racket

Jerrie Brathwaite was not in her car when Washington, D.C. police seized it in January 2012. She had lent her 2000 Nissan Maxima to a friend, and that friend was pulled over, searched, and found to be in possession of drugs. A year later, Braithwaite—who has never been charged with a crime—still doesn’t have her car back, and no one from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will return her calls. Under civil forfeiture, police can seize property from people who are never convicted—much less charged with—a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where the government must prove property was used in the commission of crime, civil forfeiture law presumes an owner’s guilt.

Brathwaite's situation—and the MPD's behavior—are not uncommon, reports John Ross. Civil forfeiture is a national problem. Law enforcement agencies seize millions of dollars worth of property each year with little or no due process for owners. In all but six states property owners are considered guilty until proven innocent. State law typically allows law enforcement to keep most or all of the proceeds from forfeiture—an enormous incentive to police for profit.

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Tate Watkins on Foreign Aid in Haiti

After an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, foreign governments and agencies such as the World Bank sent aid and advisors to the country. In The Big Truck That Went By, the AP's Jonathan Katz reports that the money has largely gone to outsiders operating with limited local, language, and cultural comprehension, with few positive outcomes for the island itself. Tate Watkins reviews the book.

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3D Printing and the Future of Shopping: Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen

"3D Printing and the Future of Shopping: Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen" is the latest video from Reason TV.

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

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Baylen Linnekin on the FDA’s Pathetic Food Safety Proposal

Earlier this month the FDA released drafts of two highly anticipated food-safety rules. The agency has billed the proposed regulations as key tools for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act, the biggest FDA food-safety update in more than seven decades, which President Obama signed into law in January 2011. The new rules would cost about half a billion dollars per year.

Will the proposed rules make America’s food supply—already quite safe and getting safer thanks to concerned farmers, producers, and sellers of all sizes, vigilant watchdog groups, and eagle-eyed food-safety lawyers—any safer? Baylen Linnekin of Keep Food Legal takes a closer look.

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Mom-and-Pop Tax Prep Firms Defeat IRS!

This just in from the Institute for Justice:

A federal court today just struck down the IRS’s new licensing rules....

Three independent tax preparers—Sabina Loving of Chicago, John Gambino of Hoboken, N.J., and Elmer Kilian of Eagle, Wisc.—joined forces with the Institute for Justice in filing suit against the IRS in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. 

Late today, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg ruled against the IRS and in favor of the tax preparers.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for hundreds of thousands of tax preparers across the country and the tens of millions of taxpayers who rely on them to prepare their taxes,” said Attorney Dan Alban of the Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocate for the rights of entrepreneurs. “This was an unlawful power grab by one of the most powerful federal agencies and thankfully the court stopped the IRS dead in its tracks.  The court ruled today that Congress never gave the IRS the authority to license tax preparers, and the IRS can’t give itself that power.”

The court enjoined the IRS from enforcing its new licensing scheme for tax preparers, which was poised to put tens of thousands of tax preparers out of business. ...

Judge Boasberg further recognized that the IRS recently did a “flip-flop” with regard to its ability to license tax preparers, declaring for years it did not have the authority to do so but only recently claiming that it did have that power. 

The IRS can appeal this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

Here's a quick reminder of the stakes in this case, which pitted small tax prep firms against a raft of unauthorized new rules from the Internal Revenue Service that would have put many of them out of business:

At the end of last year, I blogged about new Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules that require small-time tax preparers to pay annual fees, take IRS exams, and obtain 15 hours of expensive continuing education.  Attorneys and certified public accountants are exempt from the requirements, and big tax firms like H&R Block actually backed the regulation, which will put many of their seasonal competitors out of business.

The economic litigation firm, Institute for Justice (IJ), filed a suit in March on behalf of several tax preparers with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. But the new rules kicked in while they were still waiting for a ruling.

That leaves up to 350,000 mom-and-pop operations with an uncertain future. It is too late for them to comply with the law’s continuing education requirements. But the court could rule any day, making it theoretically possible for them to accept clients this tax cycle.

 

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How the Feds Turned Revenge Against Cheating Husband’s Mistress into Act of Terrorism

Carol Anne Bond, of Landsdale, Pa., was sentenced to six years in federal prison for burning her husband’s mistress’ thumb. The Supreme Court today decided to hear her court challenge, which argues that her case should have been handled by local authorities, not the feds.

Why are the feds involved? Because Bond allegedly spread deadly chemicals around her enemy’s house. If Bond had just tried to shoot her, she’d be dealing with local attempted murder charges. But her use of chemicals caused Bond to run afoul of federal anti-terrorism laws. The Associated Press describes:

Her argument is that the case should have been dealt with by local authorities, as most crimes are. Instead, a federal grand jury indicted her on two counts of possessing and using a chemical weapon. The charges were based on a federal anti-terrorism law passed to fulfill the United States’ international treaty obligations under the 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.

Now, clearly the intent of the law is not to go after women who engage in Law & Order-ready revenge plots against the pregnant mistresses of their wayward husbands. The feds got involved because the victim called the U.S. Postal Service as her mailbox was also poisoned. Bond was subsequently arrested by postal inspectors.

Reason's Jacob Sullum detailed the case back in 2011. Bond’s case has already been before the Supreme Court once just to get permission to appeal, which federal prosecutors fought. Now the Supreme Court decided to hear her actual challenge.

Her case has primarily been approached as a 10th Amendment matter. Reason Contributor Ilya Somin wrote in 2011 that the Bond case was an important example of how federalism is meant to preserve individual liberty and that the 10th Amendment didn’t just refer to state’s rights.  

It’s appropriate, then, to keep tabs on this case in the wake of the angry responses to Aaron Swartz’s federal prosecution and his subsequent suicide. The federal government clearly has no legitimate interest in getting involved in Bond’s case. So we’ll have to see if the current Supreme Court rules that this law overstepped the boundaries between federal and state authority.

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Glider Pilot, 70, Arrested and Questioned by FBI and DHS for Flying Over a Nuclear Power Plant

Meet South Carolina glider pilot Robin Fleming, age 70. In the course of an ordinary glider flight last July, Fleming would wind up in custody, locked in a cell for over 24 hours with 11 other inmates. He was questioned by a special agent from the FBI and an aviation security inspector from the Department of Homeland Security.

The charges, which he only learned after a night in the pokey, were for breach of the peace. The crime: flying his Rolladen-Schneider LS8-18 sailplane over the H.B. Robinson Nuclear Generating Station, which is not marked as a restricted zone on aviation maps.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has the (insanely detailed) report and a great (non-embeddable) video:

No airspace restrictions were printed on sectional charts; no notam marked the area off-limits. When a woman at Hartsville Regional Airport relayed over the Unicom that law enforcement wanted him to land, he had flown to that airport and landed, greeted by a swarm of law enforcement vehicles.

Local law enforcement officials and the Federal Aviation Administration don't think Fleming broke any rules. Because gliders rely on air currents to maneuveur, they often circle and can't land quickly—the two behaviors that alarmed certain authorities:

A better knowledge of aviation issues among law enforcement officials may have produced a better result for Fleming. Griffin said she had to tell the officers on the scene to clear out the runway, and one officer talked about commandeering the airport. “He was running around, the one guy that was commandeering everything, saying, ‘We were going to shoot him down,’” she said.

On the other hand, Griffin said that pilots from the Chesterfield County Sheriff flew the department’s helicopter to the airport, but left when they found out what was going on. “They pulled out a chart and they said, ‘Look here, … nothing in this chart says you cannot fly over the nuclear plant,’” she said. “’Nothing.’”

Via tallyho.

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Anti-Gunners Say Obama's Moves Come Too Late, West Point Warns of Advocates of Individual Freedom, Sarasota Cops Go 'Bum Hunting': P.M. Links

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Jesse Walker on Dick Morris

Eight days after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Dick Morris presented President Bill Clinton with a proposal to take advantage of the blast by using it to link the Republican Party to "extremists." Nearly two decades later, the same man has coauthored a book called Here Come the Black Helicopters! Jesse Walker doesn't think it's hard to understand what changed.

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Rep. Israel Says He's After the Result of 3D Printed Weapons, Not 3D Printing Itself

I noted this in my December article on the brouhaha over 3D printing of "WikiWeapons," but Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who targeted plastic 3D weapon printing at a press conference set at a airport security post in Long Island, goes on the record at length with Forbes about what he is, and isn't, trying to do. He swears he isn't targeting the printing technology, merely a certain set of its products.

From the interview--the bold are Forbes's questions:

And you’re not talking about some kind of digital rights management or other restrictions on 3D printers either?

Zero. We’re not going there. You want to download the blueprint, we’re not going near that. You want to buy a 3D printer and make something, buy a 3D printer and make something. But if you’re going to download a blueprint for a plastic weapon that can be brought onto an airplane, there’s a penalty to be paid.

Just for downloading it?

No, no, for actually manufacturing it. And we’re not even going after manufacturers, either, but lone wolves, individuals.

I just want to be clear. I’m not seeking to regulate or reduce the use of 3D printers at all. This isn’t about 3D printers. It’s about the use of a 3D printer to manufacture a weapon that can’t be detected by metal detectors....

Won’t the real sticking point for this law be its enforcement? The whole idea of Defense Distributed is that the production of these weapons is distributed to living rooms and garages around the country and there’s no centralized manufacturer to regulate....

There’s no one hundred percent guarantee of one hundred percent enforcement, and there’s never that guarantee with any law. What we’re trying to do is make it clear that if you choose to construct a weapon or weapon component using a 3D printer, and it’s homemade, you’ll be subject to penalties. It’s not a guarantee that everyone will be caught and prosecuted, but there has to be some penalty.....

One part of your legislation that you’ve emphasized a lot calls for a ban on the 3D printing of high-capacity magazines like the ones that Defense Distributed 3D-printed and tested in a video posted to YouTube over the last weekend. But there are lots of plastic magazines already for sale, and they’re not covered by the current Undetectable Firearms Act.

Right. We won’t go near those.

But isn’t it tough differentiate between 3D-printed plastic magazines and plastic magazines created and sold by the usual manufacturers.

....we’re talking to stakeholders, and working to create a distinction between that lone wolf and legitimate manufacturers of plastic clips. Plastic clips, I get that, I understand there’s an advantage to them. The law will not go near that. I confess this is going to require further conversations.

.....In 1988 when the Undetectable Firearms Act was passed, the thought of replicating a gun with a 3D printer was a Star Trek episode, when it lapsed in 1998, maybe it was possible on day. In 2003 when it was reauthorized, it seemed maybe, we’re close. Just in the past six months, six bullets were fired form a 3D-printed lower receiver and then 86 from a clip. So every week the technology gets faster, cheaper and more precise. And I just want to make sure we’re being proactive, and not having to explain why we didn’t act when something tragic happens.

That last statement of Israel's sums up sadly so much of the crummy legal processes of government that think acting with the motive of preventing tragedies covers a multitude of sins in logic, proportion, or constitutionality.

Reason on 3D weapon printing.

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Wherein Someone Asks About “Fast and Furious” in the Context of Federal Gun Control Efforts

During the president’s push for new gun control measures, not much has been said about “Fast and Furious,” a botched ATF operation that saw guns tracked by the agency end up in the hands of Mexican drug lords, at the scene of the death of a Border Patrol agent and at Mexican crime scenes. Apparently, at least one reporter asked the question at a conference call about gun control measures proposed by the White House this week. Via Yahoo! News:

-Was the so-called "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking scandal a factor in shaping the president's proposals? "It was not," said one official.

So that’s that.

Read more on “Fast and Furious” at Reason

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Kofi Annan Calls Mali "Collateral Damage" of Libya

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan has said that Mali is “collateral damage” of the conflict in Libya: 

Mali became, if I may put it this way, collateral damage of Libya. Quite a lot of the soldiers, Malian soldiers working and fighting for Gaddafi went back home with their heavy weapons and their training. There was already a revolution and rebellion in the north by the Tuareg group and of course Ansar Dine, the Islamist group, also joined in. When these people returned with their heavy weapons some of the Malian troops of the same tribe also teamed up with them.

The situation in Mali is only the latest lesson in unintended consequences of military interventions. NATO intervened in Libya to unseat Gaddafi, which contributed to Mali’s instability. The worsening situation in the northern Mali prompted France (with support from other nations) to intervene, which in turn has motivated terrorists to take hostages at an Algerian gas field.

As it stands the French and Malian militaries have been successful in pushing back the Al Qaeda-linked militants who had been advancing south. The Malian army has retaken the central town of Konna and the French remain confident that the intervention is going well. Nigerian troops are also joining the intervention, further adding to the catalogue of developments for the Al Qaeda-linked militants to worry about. 

While it might well be the case that the French-led intervention in Mali will push Al Qaeda-linked militants out of northern Mali it is very difficult to predict what the effect of the conflict will be on Mali’s neighbors or mainland Europe. All military concerns aside, Mali’s neighbors will soon be dealing with hundreds of thousands of Malian refugees. In Europe, there are justified concerns over potential terrorist reprisals, a French judge warned of the possibility of terrorist attacks in France before the intervention began, and the Taliban has warned of “disastrous” consequences.

U.S. officials had said that support for the French-led intervention would be limited. However, the U.S. now looks increasingly likely to get more involved in the region due to the hostage situation at the gas field in Algeria, where Americans have been taken hostage. It was recently reported that the Al Qaeda-linked group responsible for taking the Algerian gas field is offering to free two America hostages if some terrorists jailed in the U.S. are freed.

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Global Warming at a "Standstill" Admits Man-Made Warming Proponent Hansen

In a global temperature update through 2012 [PDF], James Hansen and his colleagues at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies report:

The 5-year running mean of global temperature has been flat for the past decade (emphasis added). It should be noted that the "standstill" temperature is at a much higher level than existed at any year in the prior decade except for the single year 1998, which had the strongest El Nino of the century. However, the standstill has led to a widespread assertion that "global warming has stopped".

But Hansen and colleagues argue that that the global temperature trend won't stay stopped:

... the continuing planetary energy imbalance and the rapid increase of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use assure that global warming will continue on decadal time scales. Moreover, our interpretation of the larger role of unforced variability in temperature change of the past decade, suggests that global temperature will rise significantly in the next few years as the tropics moves inevitably into the next El Nino phase.

We shall see. If this plateau in global average temperatures continues for a few more years, it will call the projections made by current computer climate models seriously into question.

Vid: Feds Hounded 'Net Activist Aaron Swartz, Says EFF's Parker Higgins

"The idea that an agent of the federal government would be able to pick out a person and threaten to ruin their life is not the kind of thing that we hope for in a justice system," says Parker Higgins, an internet activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Higgins was a friend and associate of the late Aaron Swartz (1986-2013), the computer programmer, hacker, and activist who committed suicide last week. Swartz helped create the web syndication process RSS, was important in the founding of the popular social media site Reddit, and instrumental in organizing the successful campaign against the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA). He was facing up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for downloading more than 4 million academic articles from the database JSTOR.

Watch the full interview above, or click the link below for downloadable versions and the full story.

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Go Ahead. Violate My Genetic Privacy. See If I Care!

An article in the current issue of Science reports that researchers at the Whitehead Institute in Boston have been able to combine online genetic data from the 1000 Genomes Project with genealogical data available elsewhere on the Internet to identify specific individuals. From the press release:

[Whitehead Fellow Yaniv] Erlich and colleagues began by analyzing unique genetic markers known as short tandem repeats on the Y chromosomes (Y-STRs) of men whose genetic material was collected by the Center for the Study of Human Polymorphisms (CEPH) and whose genomes were sequenced and made publicly available as part of the 1000 Genomes Project. Because the Y chromosome is transmitted from father to son, as are family surnames, there is a strong correlation between surnames and the DNA on the Y chromosome.

Recognizing this correlation, genealogists and genetic genealogy companies have established publicly accessible databases that house Y-STR data by surname. In a process known as “surname inference,” the Erlich team was able to discover the family names of the men by submitting their Y-STRs to these databases. With surnames in hand, the team queried other information sources, including Internet record search engines, obituaries, genealogical websites, and public demographic data from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Human Genetic Cell Repository at New Jersey’s Coriell Institute, to identify nearly 50 men and women in the United States who were CEPH participants.

Previous studies have contemplated the possibility of genetic identification by matching the DNA of a single person, assuming the person’s DNA were cataloged in two separate databases. This work, however, exploits data between distant paternally-related individuals. As a result, the team notes that the posting of genetic data from a single individual can reveal deep genealogical ties and lead to the identification of a distantly-related person who may have no acquaintance with the person who released that genetic data.

Yawn. Really, what is the big deal? If some portion of the public is spooked over the vacuous concept of "genetic privacy," researchers who listened to the ditherings of certain bioethicists have only themselves to blame. An accompanying policy article in Science does note:

The general expectations of the public about privacy and confidentiality may be subtly shifting as well. In addition to social media outlets (e.g., Facebook) that have led to more pervasive sharing of personal details, patient-centric organizations (e.g., PatientsLikeMe) now provide the means to share in-depth information about health status and to identify research opportunities for motivated individuals.

Well, yes. And there's lots more of that kind of genetic self-revelation and sharing coming down the pike. More and more people are realizing that concerns over genetic privacy are way exaggerated as I explained in my article, "I'll Show You My Genome. Will You Show Me Yours?" If you're interested, click on over to SNPedia and take a look at my many genetic flaws.

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Arizona Sheriff Won't 'Cooperate With Any Unconstitutional Order' On Guns

To my certain knowledge, county sheriffs in Alabama, Kentucky and Oregon have announced that they will not help to enforce laws and/or presidential orders that they believe infringe upon the right to keep and bear arms protected by the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment. To their ranks you can add Sheriff Scott Mascher of Yavapai County, Arizona, the 8,000-square-mile piece of turf where I make my own residence. In response to a query from me about this issue, his office forwarded the guidance that he gave his own staff, dated today.

I wrote Sheriff Mascher two days ago, when the first statements of constitutional concern by Sheriff Denny Peyman of Jackson County, Kentucky and Sheriff Tim Mueller of Linn County, Oregon, made the rounds. This is what I received from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office:

To: To all YCSO Representatives

Fr: Scott Mascher, Sheriff

For: Information

Re: GUN CONTROL

Date: January 18, 2013

I have received many questions and concerns from our public and YCSO staff about recent gun control issues.

As your Sheriff, I have taken an oath of office to support and uphold the Constitution of the United States, and to protect the people of Yavapai County. I take this oath seriously.

Now we have politicians that want to prevent millions of law abiding, honest Americans from owning certain firearms and magazines because of the mentally ill and violent criminal offenders.

I do not believe that extreme acts of violent criminal behavior should ever misguide a politician into enacting orders or laws that would take away Constitutional Rights and Liberties from law-abiding Americans.

As Sheriff, I refuse to participate or cooperate with any unconstitutional order that will infringe upon our 2nd amendment rights.

Mascher, by the way, is currently president of the Arizona Sheriff’s Association. While definitely good on the gun-rights issue, he's also a bit of a border warrior and opponent of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. But let's fight one battle at a time.

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Florida Cop Previously Accused of Rape Arrested on Felony Drug Charges

What’s more likely to get a cop arrested, .1 grams of cocaine and a couple dozen pills or accusations of rape? From the Tampa Bay Times:

John Nohejl, who was off duty at the time, was pulled over in a traffic stop at the corner of Deltona Boulevard and Keesler Street after a Hernando Sheriff and Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation showed he was using crack cocaine and prescription pills, according to a Hernando Sheriff's news release…

Deputies found a Hyrdocodone tablet on the driver-side floorboard and a bag of 27 more tablets on the side of the road where he had tossed it during the short chase, the release states.

Nohejl was arrested. Authorities later searched his house and found bags, pipes, scales and 0.1 grams of cocaine.

Nohejl, whose last post at the police department was as a master patrol officer, has a lengthy disciplinary record in the agency.

He was first investigated in January 2008 when, while working as a school resource officer at Gulf Middle, a MySpace page he had set up to connect with students was linked to sexually oriented websites, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The investigation did not result in any findings of wrongdoing.

He continued working at the school until that April, when a female acquaintance accused him of rape while off duty. Nohejl said the sexual encounter was consensual. Prosecutors could not confirm who was correct and did not file charges.

However, the Times reported, then-Chief Martin Rickus, wrote this to Nohejl: "It is clear that you could have handled yourself in a more appropriate and professional manner. I sincerely hope that in the future you will be more careful with whom you associate off-duty."

Do cops send strongly worded letters to civilians accused of crimes? Have you ever heard of such a thing?

The Tampa Bay Times provides more details of the cop’s history of internal affairs investigations. There is currently even one ongoing, though police did not disclose the subject. Nohejl is currently in jail on $110,500 bail, learning that the war on drugs may be more powerful even than the “professional courtesy” endemic among America’s police forces.

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Ron Bailey on Money and Happiness

Researchers have long argued, says Ron Bailey, that what really matters for a person’s overall life satisfaction is relative income. The implication is that if relative socioeconomic positions don’t change when everyone gets richer together, a country’s average happiness doesn’t increase. Getting ahead of the Joneses makes a person happier, but merely keeping up with them does not.

But in recent years, additional research has cast doubt on the concept. Maybe more cash makes people happier after all.

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Latest Video Game Violence Overreach: Rules that Have Already Been Struck Down

By a 7-2 margin, the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that video games are protected by the First Amendment and struck down a California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to children. It would be pretty stupid for any legislator to put forward a bill that attempts the exact same thing. Nevertheless, Rep. Jim Matheson (RD-Utah) has done exactly that. On Tuesday, he submitted H.R. 287, which would attempt to reinstate the ban nationally and also mandates content ratings labels on all video games.

The bill is a slightly amusing read (pdf) in the sense of how tone-deaf it is regarding innovations in game distribution. It requires content labeling on a conspicuous location on all outside packaging. I think it’s been maybe two years since I bought a video game that even came in a package, preferring digital distribution instead. (My console gaming has kind of fallen by the wayside, but even they are shifting more toward digital distribution models.) It’s the equivalent of passing a modern bill requiring warning labels on the physical packaging of porn.

In any event, much like the movie industry, the video game industry has a voluntary ratings program in place, developed in part to respond to complaints about violence. Though it’s voluntary, pretty much every major game is rated. Much like movie theaters refusing to carry unrated films, most stores will decline to sell unrated games, so there’s plenty of market pressure to provide information and get rated. I am going to bet that any game found in Adam Lanza’s room had a ratings label on it.

But he might have had violent, gory indie games on his PC that might not have had such labeling (we don’t know because he apparently destroyed his hard drive pre-rampage). That he may have had unrated games is not the “Ah, ha!” moment Nanny Staters might think it is. The video games market has blown wide in a remarkably uncontrollable fashion that would have been unfathomable even a decade ago. Nearly anybody who has the time and focus can create a video game now. It’s as accessible as making your own movies or music. Gaming platforms have had to develop special mechanisms and marketplaces for indie game content just to help consumers navigate the massive supply.

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Peter Suderman Reviews Arnold Schwarzenegger's Return to Action, The Last Stand

Sure he was defeated by public sector employee unions, but former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger still knows how to shoot holes in big screen bad guys. This weekend, the Reagan-era action icon returns to the genre that helped make him famous in The Last Stand, his first major role since leaving the governor's office. Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews in today's Washington Times:

The ‘80s are back. At the multiplex, anyway.

Over the next month, moviegoers will be treated to an array of ‘80s-action throwbacks: a new Sylvester Stallone flick, a new “Die Hard” movie, and — kicking things off this weekend — the return of Reagan-era action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first major role since ending his stint as governor of California. He always promised he’d be back, and with “The Last Stand” he dutifully delivers.

Dutifully, of course, does not necessarily mean imaginatively. “The Last Stand” is an exercise in both setting and meeting low expectations: This is an R-rated action movie with fast cars, big guns, bloody shootouts, attractive women, good guys, bad guys, and just enough of the former governor’s squinty-eyed tough guy shtick to keep nostalgic fans satisfied.

For better or for worse, then, it’s as close to an old school Arnold Schwarzenegger movie as one could hope for. The movie mindfully acknowledges Mr. Schwarzenegger’s legend but does not attempt to substantially embellish it. Instead, it sticks with the tried and true tropes of the sort of plodding, muscle-bound shoot ‘em ups that Mr. Schwarzenegger helped popularize.

At this point, Mr. Schwarzenegger has begun to plod somewhat himself. The former bodybuilder is still built like a bridge pylon, with arms the size of monster truck axles, but he’s aged since he last starred in a movie, and it shows.

Sure, he’s still got the best macho smirk in the business, but now it comes across more as an elderly affectation than a serious threat. He’s still big, but he’s also slower. At this point, Mr. Schwarzenegger is the great old granddaddy of action stars, with spiky hair that looks like unmowed grass, tiny eyes, and tanned, leathery skin that give him the appearance of a battle-weathered dinosaur. It’s a fitting look for another ancient giant trudging slowly through his old feeding grounds.

Read the whole thing.

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Cops Are Outraged That New York's New Magazine Limit Could Apply to Them

In my column this week, I asked why police officers should be allowed to have so-called high-capacity magazines if they have no defensive value. Since "no one needs" to fire more than X number of rounds before reloading (and assuming that "need" should define what people are allowed to possess), why not apply the same limit to everyone? It looks like the New York legislature, which this week reduced the state's magazine limit from 10 rounds to seven, did take an evenhanded approach—but only by accident. According to DNAinfo.com and WABC, the ABC station in New York, legislators were in such a rush to impose new gun restrictions that they forgot to exempt active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from the new magazine rule. Whoops.

Cops are complaining about the lack of a double standard:

"As a law enforcement officer for over 20 years, I understand the importance of instituting a new policy on mandating the limits of bullets that a regular citizen can possess, but as a matter of fact the bad guys are not going to follow this law," said Norman Seabrook, president of the correction officers union, the city's second largest.

"The way the current legislation is drafted, it actually handcuffs the law enforcement community from having the necessary ammunition needed to save lives," he said. "We must not allow this to happen."

Roy Richter, president of the Captains Endowment Association and a lawyer, said, "It puts retired officers in a position that the clip they were issued by the NYPD, carried for their careers and were fully trained on, is now considered contraband."

Michael J. Palladino, who is head of the NYPD's 6,000-member detectives union and president of the state's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents 50,000 members, joined in calling for Cuomo and the legislature to immediately amend the law.

"Gun reform must prevent criminals and the deranged from getting illegal weapons—not restrict law-abiding retired cops from protecting themselves and the public," Palladino said.

"I support the governor in gun reform, however the new legislation restricts law enforcement officers who retire, and that could jeopardize the safety of the public."

DNAinfo.com calls the absence of a law-enforcement exemption a "loophole in the law," but in fact it is the very opposite of a loophole: Cops are outraged at the possibility that they might be treated the same as "a regular citizen" under the law. One has to wonder: If, as Seabrook says, the new magazine limit will have no impact on criminals and if, as Seabrook and Palladino agree, more than seven rounds sometimes are necessary to "save lives," what justification can there be for imposing this arbitrary restriction not just on "law-abiding retired cops" but on law-abiding citizens in general?

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John Mackey Was Right the First Time: Obamacare is Fascism

No doubt with his marketing honchos standing over him, tapping blackjacks into their palms, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has been busy walking-back comments he made to NPR in which he described Obamacare as an example of a fascist enterprise. While still critical of the administration's controversial healthcare scheme, which is heavy on government mandates, he now regrets his choice of words. That's a damned shame, since he was dead-on with his original description.

NPR originally reported on Mackey's obviously thoughful, if harsh, assessment of Obamacare:

What he doesn't think is right is President Obama's health overhaul and the new costs that coverage requirements will place on businesses.

When Inskeep asks him if he still thinks the health law is a form of socialism, as he's said before, Mackey responds:

"Technically speaking, it's more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn't own the means of production, but they do control it — and that's what's happening with our health care programs and these reforms."

Mackey took a lot of flack from the usual suspects who strongly resented the linking of a policy they like to an ideology known for being a tad authoritarian. And no doubt Whole Foods, as a business that caters to a customer base that may be more Obamacare-friendly, on average, than Americans as a whole, is vulnerable to political push-back. So Mackey publicly reiterated his criticism of government-dominated healthcare while repudiating his word-choice. From the Whole Foods company blog:

I made a poor word choice to describe our health care system, which I definitely regret. The term fascism today stirs up too much negative emotion with its horrific associations in the 20th century.  While I'm speaking as someone who works hard to offer health care benefits to more than 73,000 team members, who actually vote on their overall benefits packages, I am very concerned about the uninsured and those with preexisting conditions.

I believe that, if the goal is universal health care, our country would be far better served by combining free enterprise capitalism with a strong governmental safety net for our poorest citizens and those with preexisting conditions, helping everyone to be able to buy insurance. This is what Switzerland does and I think we would be much better off copying that system than where we are currently headed in the United States.

I believe that health care should be competitive in the open market to promote innovation and creativity. Despite the criticism of me, I am encouraged that this dialogue will bring continued awareness and a better understanding of viable health care options for all Americans.

Fair enough. I get it that Mackey's main job is running a company and avoiding offending his customers. So spin away. But here's the thing: He was right the first time. Obamacare looks an awful lot like fascism — specifically, like the corporatist economics at the heart of the ideology. If anybody knew a little something about fascism, it was a fellow named Benito Mussolini. In 1935, Mussolini wrote in Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions:

The corporate State considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and useful instrument in the interest of the nation. In view of the fact that private organisation of production is a function of national concern, the organiser of the enterprise is responsible to the State for the direction given to production.

So ... Privately owned businesses under state control is what was envisioned by Benito Mussolini as fascism, and it is what John Mackey very accurately described in his discussion of Obamacare.

Too bad if that accurate description hurts some folks' feelings.

Steven Greenhut on Jerry Brown’s Pro-Union Budget for California

California Gov. Jerry Brown continues to pose as an iconoclast who is willing to make the tough choices necessary to keep California afloat, but as Steven Greenhut reports, the budget Brown released recently is more evidence that he remains the cat’s paw for the state’s public-sector unions. Despite overwhelming evidence that the state’s current system is unsustainable, Brown simply refuses to get serious.

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The Nightmare World of New York's School Bus Strike

You may have heard that there is a school bus strike in New York City, affecting 150,000+ children. What you might not have realized is how absolutely nightmarish the existing city contract with its kiddie-haulers is. New York Post columnist John Podhoretz sketches out a just hellish vision of city services gone horrible:

These workers aren't city employees. They work for private companies. The city's contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you're sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger. [...]

All in all, the city spends — again, are you sitting down? — $1.1 billion on school busing. [...]

[The 1979 contract] effectively ensured lifetime employment for unionized drivers no matter what private company they worked for. Contracts with the companies were renewed without competitive bidding. [...]

The then-head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 pleaded guilty to charges of bribery in 2006; he was a member of the Genovese crime family. Four city workers whose task it was to ensure safety for handicapped riders were sent to jail in 2009 for soliciting and receiving bribes in the tens of thousands of dollars — from bus operators looking for lucrative routes.

In other words, everybody in the system was profiting from the colossal streams of cash guaranteed by the 1979 deal.

That deal, as Podhoretz points out, was thrown together as the result of...a long strike. Here's hoping the city doesn't cave.

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'The Laws of an Alien Civilization'

Friday fun link: Ben Hecht -- best known for writing a ton of movies, many of them great -- began but never finished a biography of the infamous gangster Mickey Cohen. In 1972, Los Angeles magazine posthumously published a part of Hecht's text. I'm sure it's filled with exaggerations and lies -- the main source here is Cohen himself, so caveat lector -- but it's an amazing read.

Some excerpts:

At the age of 7 he became a bootlegger, making gin in the rear of a drugstore and peddling it to a grateful clientele. A hundred street corner fights marked the next three years, during which Mickey became a fixture in the First Grade of the Cornwall Elementary School. His education collapsed in the Second Grade. He was to remain unable to read, write or count beyond five until in his twenties.

And:

Lawlessness is the debatable word in Mickey’s early rise. He broke laws, but they were the laws of an alien civilization. What made him successful, actually, was keeping and enforcing the laws of the only society he knew, the underworld.

Plus:

After a dozen or more killings there were some experimental arrests by the police but no trials or convictions.

And then there's this:

Mickey is reminiscing with me now about his days in Cleveland. There was a girl there, a redhead named Georgia. A hundred and eighteen pounds, with a beautiful face and fine disposition. Mickey, the wild heister, had never held a girl in his arms, even for dancing. "How about whores?"

"I never entered a whore house, except to heist it," says Mickey righteously.

Hat tip: Steve Kaye.

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Leahy Slams War on Pot, Promises Forensics and Sentencing Reform in Georgetown Speech

In a Wednesday speech at the Georgetown University Law Center, Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) laid out what his committee will focus on in the 113th Congress. Here's the short version: Immigration reform, guns, increased funding for first responders, forensic reform, the Violence Against Women Act, privacy, mandatory minimums, government transparency, and weed. 

Once again, Leahy hinted that he's willing to be a thorn in President Obama's side, should the president disregard the will of voters in Colorado and Washington.

"I have a real concern for states' rights," Leahy said, adding

I am concerned that just because marijuana is illegal under federal law, that we're just going to ignore what states do and send law enforcement in there to enforce the federal law...I hate to see a great deal of law enforcement resources spent on things like the possession and use of marijuana when we have murder cases, armed robbery cases, things like that that go unsolved... It was also my feeling as a prosecutor. I found more important things to do... We have spent...hundreds of billions of dollars on this so called 'war on drugs.' Well, we've lost.

Leahy deviated from his prepared remarks (which you can read here, and watch here) to comment on marijuana policy. The statement was reminiscent of the letter he sent Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske last month, in which he asked

How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources, and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of marijuana?

What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?

In light, perhaps, of a spate of recent scandals--the newest of which you can read about in Radley Balko's latest investigation into the monstrously awful forensic analysis of Mississippi's Steven Hayne and Michael West--Leahy also spoke of reforming forensics.

"We must forge improvements that far more effectively identify and convict people guilty of crimes," Leahy's prepared marks read, "while avoiding the too-common tragedy of convicting the innocent." 

In addition, Leahy's committee will examine the "fiscal issues related to our high rate of imprisonment and mandatory minimum sentences to make sure that we are conserving law enforcement resources, while prioritizing approaches that most effectively reduce crime and target violent offenders."

Deviating from his prepared remarks, Leahy repeated his belief that federal enforcement of anti-marijuana laws are a waste of resources, and that states should be allowed to determine their own marijuana policies without federal interference:

H/T to the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell

UPDATE: Here's another line from Leahy's speech that Think Progress caught

There are too many people, too many young people, too many minorities, too many from the inner city who are serving time in jail for people who might have done the same thing but have the money to stay out and are not there. What I say is if you have a youngster in the inner city buying $100 worth of cocaine for example could end up going to prison for years. If you have somebody on Wall Street buying the same 100 dollars from their local dealer, if they’re caught, they’ll be reprimanded and they may even have to do on Park Avenue a week of public service. That’s not right.

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Shikha Dalmia on Republicans Becoming Big Labor's Willing Dupes on Immigration in Washington Examiner

President Obama is preparing to propose immigration reform. But before restrictionist Republicans get their knickers in a knot over whatever weak gruel the president offers, they should bear in mind that the status quo they are defending is wholly and solely the creation of Big Labor and is totally antithetical to their free market beliefs, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her morning column in the Washington Examiner. She writes:

In a free market, employer needs, not federal bureaucrats, would determine which and how many immigrants enter the country. Uncle Sam's role would be restricted to conducting security and health checks.

That is not how our system works now.

Go here to read the whole thing.

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GAO Says It's Unable to Audit the Government's Consolidated Financial Statements. Again.

Every year, the the federal watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office attempts to audit the U.S. government’s consolidated financial statements. I say “attempts” because for the last couple years, GAO’s report has essentially said: Sorry, no can do.  

Just like last year, the GAO reports that it is unable to provide a judgment on the government’s 2012 consolidated financial statements “because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations.”

The major problems that prevented an effective audit last year continued in 2012. Those problems include “serious financement management problems at the Department of Defense” making the agency’s finances “unauditable,” the inability of the federal government to “adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies” and its “ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.”

Still, the report does manage to a few opinions on the state of the U.S. government’s big-picture fiscal outlook. The GAO notes that its report is designed to help both policymakers and the public get a sense of both the trajectory of the fiscal situation and the urgency of any potential problems. On the question of trajectory, the report is quite clear: “The projections in this report indicate that current policy is not sustainable.” No surprise there: That’s the same word that the Congressional Budget Office uses to describe the country’s fiscal outlook.

And the big problem, of course, is debt. Here’s the GAO’s 75 year outlook on our debt build up:

Ouch, right? And, sadly, also not a surprise to those who've followed previous projections of debt-driven doom. But this is not just the same terrible trajectory we saw last year. It's worse. As the report also notes, in last year’s report, public debt was only expected to equal 287 percent of the economy by 2086. This year, they’re projecting that without changes it will rise to 388 percent of the economy.

As for the urgency of bending the debt curve, the GAO makes it pretty clear that sooner is better. The longer the delay, the bigger the surpluses necessary to stabilize — not eliminate, but stabilize — the nation’s debt. A fiscal reform starting next year would need to produce an immediate primary surplus equal to 2.7 percent of GDP, and keep it there for the foreseeable future. A budgetary overhaul that doesn’t kick in for a decade would need to generate a 3.2 percent surplus.

And that’s if you’re looking on the bright side. The report further warns that its estimates probably understate the cost of delay “because they assume interest rates will not rise as the debt-to-GDP ratio grows.” That’s the real worry, and where the GAO’s fiscal prognostications get seriously grim. If interest rates suddenly go up, the report says, that may result in a higher debt ratio, “potentially leading to the point where there may be no feasible level of taxes and spending that would reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio to its 2012 level.” That's a problem much worse than books too messy to audit.

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Inauguration Day Ticket Scalpers Worry Chuck Schumer

The Presidential Inauguration Committee wanted to use Ticketmaster to sell a limited amount of inauguration day tickets to potential buyers for $60 a piece. But Ticketmaster released the ticket a day earlier than expected, and they were quickly sold out. Now it’s helping to fuel concerns of “scalping.”

Senator Chuck Schumer, a member of the joint congressional committee on inaugural ceremonies (important stuff with $16 trillion in debt!), has already stepped in, getting eBay and CraigsList to remove listings for the inaugural tickets, which can fetch up to $2000. The inauguration shouldn’t be a chance to “make a quick buck,” Schumer said. But why not? This is still America, after all. Estimates for how much business the event could help generate reach half a billion dollars.  Vendors are sure to push Obama wares around the city, as some have been doing since 2007.

And if inaugural tickets are distributed for free, they’re bound to be made available by people who don’t want to go or who’d prefer some extra money in their pocket. Schumer says the event is a chance to “celebrate our democracy.”  But there’s nothing democratic about handing out tickets to those best connected to the levers of power. Scalping those tickets, on the other hand, seems a celebration of the free market spirit that’s helped enrich the country.

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"No Dope, No Hope" - Why Should Spectators Care About Lance Armstrong and "Doping" In Sports?

It's official. Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah last night that he "doped' his way to victory in the sport of cycling. So what? Well, the only reasonable objection is that he violated the rules; but other than that, why would any spectator care? Is the thrill of witnsessing a hard-fought competition thus somehow diminished? If enhancements undermine the competition, why not require cyclists to ride the same sort of bikes that were used in the first Tour de France in 1903? Surely the use of optimized light-weight bikes today is an enhancement?

Speaking of the 1903 Tour de France, "doping" was then an acceptable part of the race. At various points, cyclists evidently used ether, strychnine, and amphetamines to gain an edge. In 1998, a German rider told Der Spiegel:

For as long as the Tour has existed, since 1903, its participants have been doping themselves. No dope, no hope. The Tour, in fact, is only possible because - not despite the fact - there is doping. For 60 years this was allowed. For the past 30 years it has been officially prohibited. Yet the fact remains; great cyclists have been doping themselves, then as now.

Some people will argue that athletes must be protected against the temptataion to use enhancements because they could harm their health. However, athletes already take all kinds of health-harming risks just to play their games. Why shouldn't adults be able to make up their own minds about the risk/reward calculus of using biological enhancements? The best way that policymakers and sports officials can reduce the harm to athletes that might result from using enhancements would be to bring their use out of the shadows and let it be done with the benefit of medical oversight and good research.

A while back, I proposed an experiment in which sports leagues could be divided into the Naturals and the Enhanced. As I wrote:

Why not solve the future problem of gene doping and the current problem of steroid use in professional sports by creating two kinds of sports leagues? One would be free of genetic and pharmacologic enhancements - call them the Natural Leagues. The other would allow players to use gene fixes and other enhancements - call them the Enhanced Leagues. Let fans decide which play they prefer.

Why not indeed?

See my 2005 column, "The Loneliness of the Gene-Enhanced Runner," for the related issue of "gene-doping." Click below to watch Reason TV's "Lance Armstrong Cheated to Win. Is That Wrong?"

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Harper's Publisher Rages at Google for Not Understanding What He Means, Yells at Internet: "Hey! This Ain't a Library!"

John MacArthur, the publisher of the venerable Harper's magazine, which still resists free online content, is peeved at Google. And for good reason!

I had to cheer when I read the news the other week about a French company that’s selling an ad-blocking service on the Internet. Xavier Niel, the entrepreneurial owner of the web-service provider Free, is threatening to smash the advertiser-supported “free-content” model. That model has transformed Google’s Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt into media barons who make William Randolph Hearst look like a small-time operator. Niel, it seems, would also like to make the Internet “free,” but in a way that horrifies the so-called content providers — that is free of paid advertising.

....I’ve long objected to Google’s systematic campaign to steal everything that isn’t welded to the floor by copyright....

This for-profit theft is committed in the pious guise of universal access to “free information,” as if Google were just a bigger version of your neighborhood public library...

This is nonsense, of course. Google’s bias for search results that list its own products above those of its competitors is now well-known, but equally damaging, and less remarked, is the bias that elevates websites with free content over ones that ask readers to pay at least something for the difficult labor of writing, editing, photographing, drawing, and painting and thinking coherently. Try finding Harper’s Magazine when you Google “magazines that publish essays” or “magazines that publish short stories” — it isn’t easy.

A couple of years back, in the context of MacArthur's very progressive attempt to keep his staff from unionizing, I noted:

People whose intellectual lives began this century might know this venerable publication Harper's, available to most only on "paper," as but a dim memory. But trust me, as someone who has felt its intensely frightening weight in my very hands this very month, it's out there. And someday, you might find that out for yourself. (The New York article effectively mocks MacArthur's fear and hatred of using the Web as a way to communicate with readers, make money, or allow the world to know the mag still exists.)

I took on Harper's peculiar anti-market snobbery in the previous century.

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Anti-Gun Group Tries to Whitewash History

Rep. John Barrow of Georgia is a pro-gun Democrat who touts his support for the National Rifle Association and who voiced opposition this week to President Barack Obama’s proposal for a new federal gun control scheme. Not surprisingly, this stance has made Barrow a target for anti-gun activists, and as Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has just cut a new video juxtaposing Barrow’s statements in support of the Second Amendment with footage from the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Classy, right? But the hatchet job actually gets worse. As Galloway explains at his Political Insider blog:

Here’s the problem: The CSGV has done some selective editing in its video. In its version of the ad, Barrow displays a pistol and says:

“Long before I was born, my grandfather used this little Smith & Wesson here….”

It cuts the Augusta congressman off there. How did Barrow finish the sentence in the original, and what did the CSGV choose to omit? This:

”…to help stop a lynching.”

Around here, those five additional words make a big difference.

Indeed they do. Many civil rights activists carried and used guns for self-defense, including non-violent activists who allowed themselves to be beaten and harassed during the day as part of a sit-on or other protest, but then relied on guns in the night in case the Klan paid them a visit.

This is a part of American history that tends to undermine the gun control agenda. So it's both ugly and revealing to find a prominent gun control group trying to whitewash this history away.

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Kurt Loder Reviews Broken City and Mama

Nothing much changes in the asphalt jungle, that B-movie precinct of rancid lies and larcenous dreams, where thugs and politicians collude in the night, shady ladies lick their lips over endless cocktails, and the average joe has no idea what’s really going on. You remember the terrain, writes Kurt Loder. Broken City, starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, welcomes you back.

Mama, on the other hand, is a very stylish ghost story with more on its mind than the usual slash-and-bleed horror flick. It seeks to creep you out, and it largely succeeds. The movie is an expansion of a 2008 short by Spanish director Andrés Muschietti, who wrote that earlier film with his sister and producer, Barbara. That project came to the attention of fantasy specialist Guillermo del Toro, who signed on to executive-produce this bigger-budget elaboration.

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A.M. Links: White House Using Children to Push Gun Control, Aurora Victims Consider Suing James Holmes’ Psychiatrist, U.S. Recognizes Somali Government

  • The White House’s use of children as political tools for gun control continues, with a video released today showing children reading letters about guns.
  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta vowed to hunt down the militants responsible for a deadly raid on and ongoing hostage situation at a BP oil field in Algeria.
  • The push back against legalization in Colorado continues; one county’s commission voted to ban marijuana stores and farms in unincorporated portions of the county.
  • More handguns and pistol permits were stolen based on the newspaper list of registered gun owners on parts of Long Island.
  • More Republican legislators in states won by Democrats in recent presidential elections want electoral votes to be distributed proportionally to the popular vote rather than in the winner-take-all format prevalent now.
  • Victims of the Aurora theater shooting are considering suing the alleged shooter James Holmes’ psychiatrist, for negligence.
  • The U.S. has officially recognized a government in Somalia for the first time in more than 20 years, even though it has been dealing with this government before.

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J.D. Tuccille Appears on RT To Discuss the Persecution of Aaron Swartz

I went on RT to discuss the over-the-top prosecution of Reddit co-founder and online activist, Aaron Swartz, for downloading (a lot of) academic papers from JSTOR. He was entitled to do so, but his enthusiasm for making information available drove him well beyond the usual usage of the system. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, with her eyes on the Massachusetts governor's office, and her sidekick in excess, Stephen Heymann, saw an opportunity to pad their resumes with cyber-crime convictions, and brought felony charges that carried hard prison time. After an extensive and unsuccessful battle to convince the prosecutors to take a behind-bars penalty off the table, Swartz took his own life. I'm not the only one who thinks the prosecution was disgusting and that the law and prosecutorial abuses need to be reined-in.

Incidentally, just before Swartz's suicide, JSTOR announced that it's making millions of articles available, for free.

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White House Gun Policy: Like Ignorant Emotional Appeals From 8-Year-olds

It really has come to this: The president and vice president of the United States are trotting out the emotional appeals of ill-informed elementary school children in order to sell the administration's emotional, ill-informed policy response to the Sandy Hook school shooting. Is there a word that combines embarrassing, grotesque, unseemly, and kind of cute? Well, that would describe this campaign.

Lil' Hinna, for example, opines that "if there are no guns on the street, no one could get hurt" (just like in England!), and concludes her White House-posted video address with the plaintive, elementary school-style plea for "No guns, no guns, no guns, no guns":

Grant here thinks that people can own machine guns, and that "there should be a good reason for people to get a gun":

"P.S.–I know you're doing your best." Adorbs!

Meanwhile, Julia thinks "the only things" guns do are "harm or kill," and they should "only be used in the most horrible event where others will get hurt if they are  not." She is also no fan of the Constitution's separation of powers and 2nd Amendment--"I know that laws have to be passed by Congress, but I beg you to try very hard to make guns not allowed":

It is bad enough to make hasty and inappropriate legislation in the name of dead kids. It is bad enough to constantly formulate and sell policy via individual anecdote. It's bad enough to draft pre-Tween children for the purposes of political propaganda. But all three at once? The word that comes to mind is infantile

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Friday Funnies: Lance and Manti

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Brickbat: He Fits Right In

In 2002, the Roman Catholic Church defrocked Thomas Harkins because of allegations he molested two grade-school girls. Harkins was never criminally charged, but the church paid $195,000 to settle civil lawsuits. Four months after he was removed from the priesthood, Harkins was hired by the Transportation Security Administration to screen airline passengers at Philadelphia International Airport. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports he is still employed by the TSA, but he has been promoted and no longer pats down passengers.

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NYT Message on Energy Drinks: Be Afraid! Safe As Coffee!

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that the two prongs of New York Times reporter Barry Meier's journalistic crusade against energy drinks conflict with each other: In one story, he will warn that energy drinks contain so much caffeine that they might kill you, while in another he will debunk marketing claims about the supposedly energizing special ingredients in these products, saying all they really deliver is about as much caffeine as you get in a cup of coffee. Meier manages to hit both of these themes in two recent stories without noticing the contradiction.

Last week Meier noted a Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report on emergency room visits by people who had recently consumed energy drinks:

A rising number of patients, many of them young people, are being treated in emergency rooms for complications related to highly caffeinated energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster Energy and 5-Hour Energy, new federal data shows.

The number of annual hospital visits involving the drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011, the latest year for which data are available, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In 2011, there were 20,783 reported emergency room visits in which an energy drink was cited as the primary cause of or a contributing factor to a health problem, compared with 10,068 in 2007. Such problems, which are typically linked to excessive caffeine consumption, can include anxiety, headaches, irregular heartbeats and heart attacks.

In two-fifths of these cases, the patients had consumed other drugs (typically alcohol or stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin) as well. Still, 20,783 sure sounds like a lot. How does that compare to emergency room visits by users of other psychoactive substances? Meier does not say, but this DAWN report shows that in 2010 there were 687,574 visits related to alcohol, 408,021 related to benzodiazepines (such as Valium), 115,739 related to hydrocodone (Vicodin), and 105,229 related to antidepressants. Even marijuana—which does not cause fatal overdoses and has so few serious side effects that the Drug Enforcement Administration's chief administrative law judge called it "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man"—clocked in at 461,028. In this context, 20,783 seems less impressive, especially given the size of the energy drink market. Survey data from 2008 indicated that more than a third of 18-to-24-year-olds were regular consumers of energy drinks, and the market has grown substantially since then (which helps explain why the number of hospital visits has risen). By comparison, less than a fifth of people in this age group report past-month marijuana use.

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Can Outrage over the Zealotry of Federal Prosecutors Outlast Swartz Case?

So, federal prosecutors may have gone overboard throwing the book at Aaron Swartz in order to browbeat him into submission for the crime of downloading tons of academic journal studies at MIT without permission. As Reason readers know, overzealous behavior by federal prosecutors is hardly a new phenomenon.

Former Reason Editor Radley Balko, famous (but not nearly famous enough) for exploring misuse of authority by prosecutors in order to convict whoever is in front of their crosshairs, took a lengthy look at the many ways federal power is abused. He hopes the activism in response to Swartz’s suicide doesn’t end just with proposed changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act:

The federal government in particular seems to be getting less tolerant of challenges to its authority, and more willing to use more force and more serious charges to make an example of people who defy the law. You see this with the ridiculously disproportionate SWAT raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. No one seriously believes the people running these businesses are a threat to federal law enforcement officers. Sending the SWAT team is about sending a message. The government is sending a similar message when it conducts heavy handed raids on farmers and co-ops that sell raw dairy products, or when it sends paramilitary teams to raid the offices of doctors suspected of over-prescribing prescription painkillers. You see it when the feds throw the book at suspected copyright violators, or at the executives of online poker sites, threatening decades in prison. The goal in these cases isn't to stop and punish someone who is a serious threat to other people. It's to send a message to the rest of us: Defy the government as this person did, and here is what will happen to you.

George Washington University Law School Professor Orin Kerr followed up on his previous analysis of the case at The Volokh Conspiracy to evaluate the federal response. He concludes that it is certainly appropriate to try to punish Swartz’s illegal behavior in some fashion: He was engaging in an act of civil disobedience and knew it. He wrote his post before U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz publicly announced that the plea bargain offered to Swartz would have put him in a minimum security prison for six months, so Kerr was unable to evaluate the proportionality of what Swartz truly faced versus what was potentially possible. Observers have noted the Department of Justice’s own press release declared he faced up to 35 years. That was the possible penalty for having the audacity to defend himself by not taking the plea bargain and what makes Ortiz's response so insidious. Mercy was a reward for subservience to the state, not a response rationally applied due to circumstance.

Kerr goes on to make a similar argument as Balko. If people don’t like what the federal government was doing to Swartz, they need to be aware that this is actually very common behavior:

[T]he broader point is that if we think aggressive prosecution tactics such as this are improper, we shouldn’t be focused just on the Aaron Swartz case. Rather, we should be shining a light on the federal criminal system in its entirety. These sorts of tactics have been going on for years, without many people paying attention. If we don’t want a world in which prosecutors have these powers, we shouldn’t just object when the defendant in the crosshairs is a genius who went to Stanford, hangs out with Larry Lessig, and is represented by the extremely expensive lawyers at Keker & Van Nest. We should object just as much — or even more — when the defendant is poor, unknown, and unconnected to the powerful. To do otherwise sends an extremely troubling message to prosecutors that they need to be extra sensitive when considering charges against defendants with connections. We have too much of a two-tiered justice system already, I think. So blame the system and aim to reform the system; don’t think that this was just two or three prosecutors that were doing something unusual. It wasn’t.

Balko today has published over at the Huffington Post yet another amazing, heartbreaking story about Mississippi’s misbegotten forensics system and the parade of victims it has created in the state’s zeal to convict and close cases. Though this is a case of terrible mismanagement of justice on the state level, it is still deserving of the same level of outrage and national attention Swartz’s case has received.

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Stanley Cohen, RIP

Whenever you hear the phrase moral panic, you're hearing an echo of Stanley Cohen, the great sociologist and criminologist who just died at age 70. Cohen didn't coin the term, but he was the first scholar to use it systematically, sketching the standard course of a panic in his 1972 book Folk Devils and Moral Panics: "A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible." The book explores in fine detail the process by which panics emerge and scapegoats are marginalized, using the 1960s British uproar over the rockers and the mods as a case study.

How fortunate we are that nothing like that ever happens anymore.

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Nick Gillespie, Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds Talking "Disaster Socialism," Gun Control, Libertarianism

I talked with Glenn Instapundit Reynolds yesterday about Obama's "disaster socialism," gun control, libertarianism, and more.

Click on the image above to watch the vid or go here.

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Armstrong’s Olympic Medal Revoked, Aurora Theater Reopens, Pension Reform Survives in Florida: P.M. Links

  • Lance Armstrong has been stripped of the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Olympics in Australia. He has been ordered to return it.
  • Now that first-responders have publicly testified to what they witnessed at the deadly Aurora, Colo., shooting rampage, the city would like a judge’s gag order removed so they can talk openly about it. In the meantime, the theater at the center of the violence has reopened its doors.
  • The Algerian government has acknowledged that, yes, hostages have been killed in the military actions against Islamist terrorists at a desert gas plant.
  • Unlike his Democratic northeastern counterparts, Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he is not planning any new gun laws, citing his respect for the Second Amendment.
  • Also in Florida, the state’s Supreme Court has upheld a law requiring public employees to pay into their own pension plans.
  • Curt Schilling, reeling from the financial failure of his subsidized video game company, is selling off his famous bloodstained sock. But it’s not the famous bloodstained sock he wore when he helped the Red Sox march to its first World Championship in 86 years. That one got thrown away.
  • The federal prosecutor who went after programmer Aaron Swartz for downloading academic journal articles from MIT has said she had no intention of pressing for a large sentence against him. She said feds were offering six months in a low-security prison in their plea deal.

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Steve Chapman on Gun Control's Potemkin Village

Political trends come and go in response to events, says Steve Chapman. Gun control was the rage during the Clinton administration, but over the past decade or so it became an obsolete cause. After the horrific crimes in Newtown and Aurora, though, it's staging a comeback.

One thing hasn't changed: The agenda includes mostly measures that will have little or no effect on the problems they are supposed to address. They are Potemkin remedies—presentable facades with empty space behind them.

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Sheriffs Around the Country Say They Won’t Enforce Unconstitutional Gun Control Laws

Reason 24/7 noted a sheriff in Kentucky and two in Oregon who said this week they wouldn’t enforce any unconstitutional gun control measures coming from the feds. NBC News found the trend, reporting:

Police chiefs from around the country, who are appointed not elected, were on hand in Washington to support the president’s announcement. But a number of sheriffs, many of whom must run for office, were vocal in their opposition…

Dudley Brown, founder of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which considers the National Rifle Association too weak on gun rights, said he has gotten calls from other sheriffs around the country who say they won't cooperate with the feds.

"We'll see how many of them have the courage to do it," he said.

Could America use more sheriffs refusing to enforce unconstitutional laws?  2011 saw more Americans arrested for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined.

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Post-Sandy Hook Support for Gun Control Already Slipping

More grist for the argument that Obama has started a fight on guns he knows he's going to lose: CNN reports that post-Sandy Hook a CNN/Time Magazine/ORC International poll released yesterday shows support for gun control already slipping (though not yet below majority, but it hasn't been that long):

According to the survey, 56% support a ban on semi-automatic guns, but that's down from 62% in a CNN poll taken in the days after the shooting at Sandy Hook. The same is true for a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips - 62% in December, down to 58% now - as well as a requirement for all gun owners to register their firearms with the local government - 78% last month, down to 69% now.

"Those changes are likely due to the passage of time, as the initial shock of the Newtown tragedy has begun to wear off, and may indicate why the White House has put the gun issue on a fast track," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Alas, support for background checks on all sales -- the law change that will do the most to cut off perfectly innocent people's ability to practice a core human and constitutional right, and to bedevil Americans trying to just sell one of their possession -- are still overwhelming:

Americans are evenly divided on restricting ammunition purchases, but they strongly favor background checks at all levels - 92% want them at gun stores, 87% want them at gun shows, and 75% favor background checks even for person-to-person transactions between individuals.

An interesting and promising age-demographic detail:

 Two-thirds of women, for example, favor a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, while a majority of men oppose such a ban. Support for that proposal is nine points higher among people over 50 years old than it is among younger Americans. Those patterns repeat on many other gun proposals.

Emily Ekins analyzed December's gun-related polling.

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Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on the Gang Rape in New Delhi and India's Selective Outrage

New Delhi has been at a boiling point ever since the gang rape and death of the 23-year-old woman. The outrage is completely understandable. What’s not understandable, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in the Bloomberg View, is why there was not equal outrage 11 years ago when the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, allowed a pogrom and mass rapes of Muslim women. She notes:

 Modi, who has quelled restive minorities by allowing attackers to subject women to unspeakable horrors, has done more than any man to numb his prudish country to sexual violence. Yet he was elected to a third term last month and is the presumptive front-runner of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main Hindu opposition party, for prime minister in next year’s national elections.

So long as Indians keep rewarding politicos such as Modi, the country’s collective outrage after the New Delhi case won’t change the culture that makes such atrocities common in India.

Go here to read the whole thing.

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Rolling Stone Lists "Legalization's Biggest Enemies," Somehow Omits President Obama

While I appreciate Kristen Gwynne linking to something I wrote in her Rolling Stone article "Legalization's Biggest Enemies," I can't help but notice a pretty big flaw in her ranking scheme. See if you can figure it out:

Biggest enemies of legalization

1.) Kevin Sabet, former Office of National Drug Control Policy advisor, board member of the anti-marijuana group Project SAM.

2.) Geriatric drug-war profiteers Mel and Betty Sembler 

3.) DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart

4.) Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske 

5.) Blogger David Frum 

If you're going to make a list of legalization's biggest enemies, and there's only five slots, you should probably go with the people who are, you know, big. That's why it was smart of Rolling Stone to include Kerlikowske and Leonhart in its writeup, and absolutely outrageous that the magazine omitted President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, all of whom have exponentially more control over the execution of America's drug war than a blogger and his friends, and all of whom are on the record as being opposed to legalization. 

Of course, all of them are also Democrats, and the only mention Rolling Stone makes of political orientation is in its writeup of Frum, who

has the potential to use revamped rhetoric to reignite right-wing opposition to marijuana policy. While acknowledging that the old arguments about being "soft on crime" no longer resonate with Americans who do not want marijuana users to face arrest, Frum is offering anti-pot conservatives new language to fight back against the spread of marijuana legalization. And that's something we should all be worried about.

(If by "revamped rhetoric" Gwynne means "the drug policy Obama has been promoting since 2010," then yes, that is exactly what Frum is doing.) 

The work of Project SAM is indeed noteworthy, but the buck stops with Obama. Rolling Stone should get more comfortable admitting as much

The War on Fast Food: Can a D.C. Suburb Fight Fat with Zoning?

Maryland's Prince George's County council is considering a bill that would give it zoning authority to keep new fast food eateries out of its jurisdiction.

But is tackling obesity as easy as keeping cheeseburgers and fries out of people's hands?

Watch above to find out or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, and downloadable versions. 

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Islamist Raid on Gas Facility in Algeria Spillover from Regional Instability?

Yesterday, Al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants seized BP’s In Amenas gas facility in Algeria, about 20 miles from the Libyan border, in retaliation for the ongoing French-led military intervention in Mali. Initial reports indicated at least 40 hostages taken. The Algerian government attempted a rescue for which details are murky: Algeria claimed it freed 600 hostages in a rescue attempt while the Islamists claimed 35 hostages were killed. The United States, meanwhile, provided support  with surveillance from a drone deployed to the area.

Earlier this month, on the eve of the long-awaited intervention in Mali, a French “anti-terrorism” judge warned that it could lead to terrorist attacks on the homeland. One of France’s stated goals in the intervention was to push back against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM), the regional affiliate. The U.S. shares the view, seeing the fight against Islamists in Mali as crucial to stop AQIM from gaining “traction.” Islamists have a foothold in Algeria, though, where a fierce civil war between the government and Islamist rebels lasted from 1991 to 2002. And in Libya, Al-Qaeda affiliates and other Islamist groups have been able to gain a foothold as well since the Western-backed collapse of the Qaddafi regime. While the dictator Moammar Qaddafi initially blamed Al Qaeda and acid on the uprising against his unpopular rule, in the fallout from the 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Lt. Colonel Anthony Wood stated at a congressional hearing that Al Qaeda’s presence in Libya was “certainly more established than we are.” Qaddafi’s Tuareg fighters, meanwhile, helped fuel the unrest in Mali, a country considered “one of the most enlightened democracies in Africa” by the U.S. government until the March coup, the invasion by Islamist fighters and now the French intervention, which has brought out the worse of the Sahara. Reuters relays reports of the jihadist "kingpin" believed to be behind the capture ofthe oil field in Algeria:

A Mauritanian news agency, ANI, said the raiders were commanded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Saharan jihadist and smuggling kingpin. Here are some facts about Belmokhtar:

Linked to a string of kidnappings of foreigners in North Africa in the last decade, Algerian-born Belmokhtar has earned a reputation as one of the most daring and elusive Islamic jihadist leaders operating in one of the remotest corners of the globe - the vast Sahara desert. 

“He’s one of the best known warlords of the Sahara,” said Stephen Ellis, an expert on organised crime and professor at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands. He said Belmokhtar had also gained notoriety as a Saharan smuggler, especially of cigarettes.

French intelligence dubbed Belmokhtar “the uncatchable” in 2002.

800 more French troops, meanwhile, joined the fighting in Mali today.

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Greg Beato on How YouTube Saved TV

A half-dozen years ago, when the growing complexity of shows like Lost and 24 was making great swathes of prime time all but indecipherable to casual viewers, YouTube emerged as TV for dummies, a gloriously dependable source of old-fashioned cathode idiocy.

Today YouTube still mainlines a vast and indispensable stream of brainless, throwaway entertainment into our culture, but it also has become more focused and ambitious, says Greg Beato.

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NYT, Which Uncritically Refers to 'Assault Weapons' All the Time, Explains Why the Term Is Misleading

New York Times reporter Erica Goode deserves credit for digging into the concept of "assault weapons" instead of mindlessly parroting the term without thinking about what it means, as journalists (and politicians) typically do. Last month Goode put the issue in perspective by describing legitimate uses for the guns President Obama wants to ban and noting how rarely they are used to kill people. In a story on the front page of today's Times, she explains why the very term assault weapon is contentious, noting the difference between selective-fire assault rifles carried by soldiers, which can fire continuously, and semiautomatic rifles that resemble them but fire just once per trigger pull. She offers an unusually accurate and fair-minded summary of the controversy:

Advocates of an assault weapons ban argue that the designation should apply to firearms like those used in the Newtown, Conn., shootings and other recent mass killings—semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and "military" features like pistol grips, flash suppressors and collapsible or folding stocks.

Such firearms, they contend, were designed for the battlefield, where the goal is to rapidly kill as many enemy soldiers as possible, and they have no place in civilian life.

"When the military switched over to this assault weapon, the whole context changed," said Tom Diaz, formerly of the Violence Policy Center, whose book about the militarization of civilian firearms, "The Last Gun," is scheduled for publication in the spring. "The conversation became, 'Is this the kind of gun you want in the civilian world?' And we who advocate for regulation say, 'No, you do not.'"

But Second Amendment groups—and many firearm owners—heatedly object to the use of "assault weapon" to describe guns that they say are routinely used in target shooting and hunting. The term, they argue, should be used only for firearms capable of full automatic fire, like those employed by law enforcement and the military. They prefer the term "tactical rifle"or "modern sporting rifle" for the semiautomatic civilian versions.

They argue that any attempt to ban "assault weapons" is misguided because the guns under discussion differ from many other firearms only in their styling.

"The reality is there's very little difference between any sporting firearm and a so-called assault weapon," said Steven C. Howard, a lawyer and firearms expert in Lansing, Mich.

The piece, headlined "Even Defining 'Assault Rifles' Is Complicated," is reminiscent of an article by B. Drummond Ayres Jr. that the Times published in May 1994, during the debate over the federal ban enacted that year (which expired in 2004). The headline on that story was "In Gun Debate, Gun Definitions Matter." 

Still, Goode could have delved a little deeper. As I noted yesterday, Diaz wants to define assault weapon as any gun that can fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. That capability, unlike military-style features such as flash suppressors, pistol grips, and bayonet mounts, has real functional significance. At the same time, however, Diaz's definition would cover a much wider array of commonly used guns, and it is completely divorced from the original concept of "assault weapons" as civilian versions of military firearms. This slipperiness suggests that assault weapon is really just a synonym for "a gun we'd like to ban."

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Why Does Anybody Need an Assault Weapon? Because They Want It.

Apparently doing his best to piss off the people who work for him, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta went in front of  crowd of overtly Second Amendment-supporting U.S. troops at a military base in Italy to ask why anybody "needs" assault weapons or (oddly) armor-piercing bullets. It's a question that's become a bit of a mantra for would-be restricters of personal armaments who insist on knowing what possible justification gun owners could have for possessing semi-automatic rifles that have pistol grips, or for purchasing magazines that hold more than ten seven rounds. It's also a question that seems deliberately dismissive toward the underlying principles of a free society.

As the Washington Post reported, "Defense Secretary Leon Panetta fired off a strong defense of gun control legislation Thursday, in front of a decidedly skeptical audience." Panetta's comments came after he was asked what proposals the Obama administration had in mind that "don’t have to do with tearing apart our Second Amendment." Showing the tact for which he has become famous, Panetta answered:

“Who the hell needs armor-piercing bullets except you guys in battle?” Panetta told the soldiers at the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza in northern Italy. “For the life of me, I don’t know why the hell people have to have assault weapons.”

At this point, many self-defense activists respond that the need for guns has to do with the ability to defend against tyrannical government. Then gun controllers chirp, "but you can't defeat tanks and nuclear weapons with rifles!" thereby demonstrating that they don't keep up with the war in Afghanistan and skipped their history lessons about some difficulties the U.S. military ran into in a place called Vietnam.

But really, that's all irrelevant. Because in free societies, you don't have to justify owning things. You get to own them because you want them and have the means to acquire them. And you get to acquire more than just the basic necessities, if you so choose.

As I look around my office, I see a lot of stuff I don't need. There are two dogs aggressively shedding on the upholstery, a hat collection (panamas and vintage fedoras), CDs and DVDs, a shit-load of books ...If I owned only what I need, I'd be living in a spartan efficiency apartment, wearing a Mao suit and eating gruel. I have no interest in living that way.

My ability to acquire pets and stuff that I want without having to justify the acquisitions is an expression of my personal freedom. If I had to go, Stetson Stratoliner in hand, to some puffed-up bureaucrat to beg permission to purchase the boxed set of Firefly DVDs or a mutt rescue dog, I would very obviously be living in a state of severely constrained liberty. I would be unfree, even if that hard-working civil servant ultimately signed off on my acquisitions without extracting too hefty a bribe.

The appropriate answer to "Who the hell needs ... ?" is "hey, if you don't want one, don't buy it." The right to own stuff without an explanation is the right to be free.

Oh ... And Leon, all bullets are armor-piercing, depending on the armor. You might want to bone up on that, given that you're the Secretary of Defense.

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Obama Has Three Big Priorities This Term, and Ending the Drug War Isn't One of Them

Contrary to an unsourced report published before the election, President Obama won't be "tackling" the drug war in his second term. Instead, reports Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo, Obama's big fights will be over guns, immigration, and climate change: 

It may not be what Democrats expected to be the White House’s plan in November, but President Obama has repeatedly identified each of these areas as critical parts of his agenda since winning re-election. In addition to his upcoming skirmishes with Republican lawmakers over taxes and entitlements, Obama’s second term could end up being defined by his success or failures on these three domestic policy fronts. 

This is another great opportunity to revisit Marc Ambinder's unsourced report from July 2012, in which the GQ correspondent claimed that "if the president wins a second term, he plans to tackle another American war that has so far been successful only in perpetuating more misery: the four decades of The Drug War." That claim was followed by a report from The Huffington Post, in which another unnamed White House official said a second-term Obama would attempt to reinstate federal financial aid for Americans convicted of drug offenses. 

At this point--with the Obama administration reportedly torn between suing Colorado and Washington, and raiding them into submission--it looks like Ambinder got spun. 

Even if Obama does do something with the drug war—say, expands the federal drug court pilot program from three jurisdications to nationwide, or allows convicted drug offenders to borrow federally guaranteed funds for college—that's not the same as "tackling" the drug war. Not when you consider how complex Obamacare is, and the thousands of hours that went into crafting and debating and negotiating that legislation. Anything short of a major overhaul of the Controlled Substances Act, asset forfeiture policies, and our massive prison system simply doesn't count as a tackle. 

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NPR: Mental Health Professionals Pooh-Pooh New Gun Laws

NPR ran a story about the push for new, broader scrutiny of people suspected of mental illness and violent behavior. The consensus of the experts Jon Hamilton spoke with? Don't expect any of this to work in terms of reducing events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting.

Snippets:

"We're not likely to catch very many potentially violent people" with laws like the one in New York, says Barry Rosenfeld, a professor of psychology at Fordham University in The Bronx....

study of experienced psychiatrists at a major urban psychiatric facility found that they were wrong about which patients would become violent about 30 percent of the time.

That's a much higher error rate than with most medical tests, says Alan Teo, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan and an author of the study.

One reason even experienced psychiatrists are often wrong is that there are only a few clear signs that a person with a mental illness is likely to act violently, says Steven Hoge, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. These include a history of violence and a current threat to commit violence....

Whole piece, including audio, here.

On the flip side, you've got to wonder what the effect on run-of-the-mill interactions between mental health practitioners and patients might be. Those relationships are supposed to be based on trust and confidentiality, which will likely be harder to maintain if you think the person you're talking to just might be hitting the panic button under the table to alert the guys with butterfly nets.

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David Harsanyi on Guns and Obama's Abuse of Power

When Barack Obama implored Americans to "do the right thing" on gun restriction during a news conference this week, the "right thing" should have been obvious to everyone. Absolute moral authority—it's the only way to go, writes David Harsanyi.

If you fail to see the picture as clearly as the president, you may be an extremist or, more than likely, you're too feeble-minded to withstand the Jedi mind tricks employed by gun merchants or radio talk show hosts or the National Rifle Association or all those folks "ginning up fear" on the issue, according to a president who trots out 7-year-olds to shield him from debate.

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We’ve Raised the Debt Limit Many Times Before. That’s the Problem.

In summer 2011, after a long showdown, Congress agreed to raise the statutory limit on federal debt. It wasn’t the first time we’d raised the debt limit. And no one expected it to be the last. That’s the problem.

Under Ronald Reagan, we raised the debt limit 18 times. Under Bill Clinton we raised it eight times. Under George W. Bush we raised the limit another seven times. By the time Obama took office, it became routine. The 2011 debt limit hike raised the cap by about $2 trillion—to $16.4 trillion. Just 18 months later, the Obama administration is insisting on raising it again.

What the Obama team says it wants this time is a “clean” raise—a hike in the debt ceiling that’s paired with no significant changes. In other words, the president wants to continue the same old routine: raise the debt limit, spend more, borrow more—wash, rinse, repeat.

The White House argues that a clean hike is the only way to avoid a potential downgrade of the nation’s creditworthiness. If the GOP resists authorizing a hike in the limit, political instability will make creditors wary of further lending, raising the nation’s borrowing costs and destabilizing the global economic system.

Perhaps they should pay a little more attention to what the big credit rating agencies are actually saying. Earlier this week, Fitch put the U.S. government on notice: Yes, it wants the debt limit raised without a major fight, but it also warned that the fundamental strengths of the country’s creditworthiness “are being eroded by the large, albeit steadily declining, structural budget deficit and high and rising public debt.” Without a credible medium term deficit reduction plan, the agency says, a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating is likely by the end of this year. Fitch isn’t the only agency to sound this alarm about unsustainably high debt levels. As The Wall Street Journal noted this week, all three rating firms “have implored lawmakers to lower the country's debt relative to its economic output.”

So what this episode of our national debt limit drama needs to be about is figuring out, or at least beginning to figure out, a way to end the ugly cycle of debt buildup and debt limit hikes. It’s the refusal to do that—the stubborn insistence on continuing with spending and entitlement policies that have made debt limit hikes a routine in Washington—that’s the biggest problem.

President Obama should be sensitive to this. After all, in 2006, as a young Democratic Senator, he faced a vote to raise the debt limit from $8.1 trillion to $8.9 trillion. The deficit was much smaller then—less than $250 billion, compared to today’s $1 trillion-plus gaps—but Obama declared his opposition the debt limit hike anyway. “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure,” he said. “It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.…Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices