Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 January 22-31

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Preparations for Presidential Election in Iran Begin with Media Crackdown, Claims of Sedition

The Islamic Republic of Iran will hold its tenth presidential election this summer. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won his second term in a contentious election with a brutal aftermath in 2009 is not eligible to run for a third term. Candidates for the presidency have to be approved by the Guardian Council, half of which is appointed by the supreme leader, the highest authority in Iran. Seeking to avoid a repeat of the chaos in 2009, Iran’s leadership has already begun to lay out the framework for this summer’s election, arresting more than a dozen journalists in the last two days. At the same time, calls for “free elections” are interpreted as acts of sedition. From Al-Monitor:

Commander Yadollah Javani, one of the most vocal members of the Revolutionary Guards and a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has written the lead article in the Guards’ weekly newspaper, Sobh-e Sadegh, by the name of “Is the Slogan of ‘Free Election’ the Code of Another Sedition?”

The article is alluding to statements made by a number of reformist politicians, but also moderate figures such as former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and even incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which they have called on people to be vigilant in order to ensure that a “free election” is held for the Islamic Republic’s presidency this summer.

The suggestion that the election will not be “free” was very quickly rebutted by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as numerous other conservative political figures, and deemed an effort on the part of hostile elements to instil doubt among the populace with respect to the future election’s fairness and trustworthiness.

In the editorial (portions of which are available through the Al-Monitor link above), Javani actually describes the bloody aftermath of the controversial 2009 elections “ the biggest and most complex conspiracy against the Islamic Revolution” in Iran.

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Boy Scouts May End Ban on Gays, a Victory of Culture, not Government

As noted a little while ago on Reason 24/7, NBC News has an intriguing scoop: The Boy Scouts may soon be ending its infamous ban on gay members, at least as national policy. It will instead allow local troops and sponsors to decide the matter for themselves.

The ban has survived years of external pressure and a Supreme Court decision from 2000 that allowed the exclusion of gay scouts under the First Amendment. But now pressure is being applied much more firmly from within – not just from gay members, but from whole chapters and corporate sponsors:

Two corporate CEOs on BSA’s national board, Randall Stephenson of AT&T and James Turley of Ernst & Young, have also said they would work to end the ban. Stephenson is next in line to be the BSA’s national chairman. …

About 50 local United Way groups and several corporations and charities have concluded that the ban violates their non-discrimination requirements and have ceased providing financial aid to the Boy Scouts. An official of The Human Rights Campaign, an advocate for gay rights, said HRC planned to downgrade its non-discrimination ratings for corporations that continue to give the BSA financial support.

“It’s an extremely complex issue,” said one Boy Scouts of America official, who explained that other organizations have threatened to withdraw their financial support if the BSA drops the ban.

This would be a huge cultural domino to tumble if the ban is actually lifted, second possibly only to the Catholic Church reversing its opinion on gay relationships, were that to ever happen.

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Modern Twists on the History of Friedman, Hayek, and Mont Pelerin

Over the weekend I reviewed here at Reason Angus Burgin's excellent new history of how free-market ideas got more libertarian over the course of the history of the Mont Pelerin Society, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression.

While Burgin's book was a history, with little to say about either ideology or reality since the heyday of Milton Friedman, it had some interesting elements, and interesting lacuna, of interest to those embroiled in now-age libertarian world history and controversy as well.

One of the more interesting new developments in attempts to embed libertarian thinking in the political philosophy academy has been the self-conscious branding of many libertarian and libertarian-ish thinkers as "Bleeding Heart Libertarians," and Burgin's book provides much evidence of recent historical pedigree for that notion. 

Modern bleeding heart libertarians will be buoyed, perhaps, by some details about first-generation Chicago school founder Henry Simons. Simons lamented that "we old fashioned liberals have, at best, a hard time avoiding popular classification as reactionaries" and hoped that market advocates would "talk in what is recognized to be 'progressive' language" in 1939. Simons lamented how huge corporations made arguing for economic liberalism difficult in the public eye.

Hayek, as Burgin points out, also in the early Pelerin days “found particular values in those who could speak in a language persuasive to the Left.” (One wonders why believing in freer markets than one's compatriots or competitors in intellectual discourse makes you the intransigent one, as in one pungent references to Mises in Burgin.) The Pelerines in Burgin’s read (not that it did them any good) “were also quick to distance their ideas from reactionary sentiment and to associate them with the forward-looking language of progressivism.”

Even Milton Friedman, who Burgin paints as the radical who shifted the general Pelerin consensus toward more radical and doctrinaire laissez-faire, liked to restructure the terms of the debate over market freedom by stressing the well being of the poor and “the establishment of a broad-based prosperity.” Friedman also liked to emphasize how state actions hurt the poor and uneducated, often in order to prop up the well-to-do and well-connected, and the virtues of individual choice for all, not just elites.

Still, the early Pelerines were mostly not afraid to be anti-democratic—not, as Burgin too blithely notes, because they saw freedom strictly in economic terms, but because (at least in this case) they saw freedom in freedom terms, not in terms of social decisionmaking processes for governing.

For those embroiled or fascinated by the intra-libertarian debates over who is properly hardcore and who is a sellout (always fun for those who find fun in that sort of thing), they will find outsider historian Burgin at times sounding like the most angry modern Misesian in blaming weak-tea libertarianism on a desire for more widespread appeal. Between and even sometime in the lines Burgin indicates that the Pelerines disdain for pure laissez-faire had elements more strategic than intellectual. They “were acutely aware that if they were going to persuade others to adopt their worldview, they would need to differentiate their perspective from an uncompromising adherence to laissez-faire,” he notes.  Walter Lippmann condemned Mises for, as Burgin concludes, being too hardcore in defense of a traditional liberalism that “did not present a viable option to those in positions of academic or political power.” 

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Ira Stoll on the Conscious Capitalism of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey

John Mackey, the cofounder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, has a flair for well-timed entries into public policy debates, as readers of his 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking Obamacare may recall.

Now Mackey is back, writes Ira Stoll, along with a co-author, Raj Sisodia, with a new book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. The book is bristling with ideas just as provocative as the ones Mackey arrayed against Obamacare a few years back, Stoll reports.

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Feds May Keep Targeting Motel, High-Speed Rail Fight in England, Minimum Wage Increase Mulled in New Jersey: P.M. Links

  • U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is considering appealing a judge’s ruling that the federal government can’t seize Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, Mass., just because customers engaged in illegal behavior there. She’s got time to spare since one of her other cases ended prematurely due to the defendant committing suicide.
  • Destructive high-speed rail proposals: Not just for California. Tories in England are opposing a “rushed” train plan there that would carve through the British countryside.
  • Gov. Chris Christie is proposing a $1 increase in the minimum wage in New Jersey, phased in over three years. He vetoed legislation for a larger increase that also tied future increases to the Consumer Price Index.
  • In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA introduced new maps that added 35,000 properties to flood zones, double the number in the area affected.
  • An Arizona county attorney wants to push their medical marijuana law all the way up to the state Supreme Court for a ruling on its legality. He, of course, is trying to block its implementation.
  • Iran launched a monkey into space. Uncooperative journalists are probably next.
  • Police have arrested three in the deadly weekend Brazil club fire that killed more than 200.

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International Concern Over Islamic Militants in Syria Increasing

Things are looking increasingly grim for Assad’s regime. Russia, one of the Syrian government’s closest allies, recently evacuated many of its citizens from the war-torn country, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Assad’s chances of staying in power are “slipping away” at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos. Although the Syrian government is losing support Assad’s potential downfall leaves the international community with some concerns.

Assad’s opponents include Islamic militants, some of whom have links to Al Qaeda. There are worries that a post-Assad Syria could provide an ideal theatre in which these Jihadist groups could operate. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently voiced these concerns. From Reuters:

Addressing the opening of a conference in Paris with senior members of the Syrian National Coalition, Laurent Fabius said the meeting must focus on making the opposition politically and militarily cohesive to encourage international assistance.

"Facing the collapse of a state and society, it is Islamist groups that risk gaining ground if we do not act as we should," he said. "We cannot let a revolution that started as a peaceful and democratic protest degenerate into a conflict of militias."

Officials in Israel are also concerned. Iron Dome defense systems have been deployed to northern Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent national security adviser Ya'akov Amidror to Moscow for talks on the situation in Syria. One of the main concerns is that chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic militants. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom has said that Israeli air strikes could be used to stop chemical weapons being acquired by either Al Qaeda-linked militants or members of Hezbollah fighting for the Assad regime.

Israeli strikes on fighters sympathetic to Assad could result in Iran getting involved. A few days ago an aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that an attack on Syria would be viewed as an attack on Iran. While the conflict in Syria is being portrayed as a civil war the reality is a little more complicated. Last month, The Independent reported that fighters from as many as 29 countries are involved in the Syrian conflict. The involvement of fighters from so many countries only adds to the unpredictable nature of the conflict, as does the increased potential involvement of Iran and Israel. Considering the complex international situation in Syria and the fact that Israel and Iran have already mentioned intervention it would be best not to send additional support to the Syrian opposition, despite what Sen. John McCain (R-AZ.) might think. 

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Tancredo Breaks Pot Promise but Remains Pro-Choice

Former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, who endorsed Amendment 64, his state's marijuana legalization initiative, was so sure it would fail that he made a bet with Adam Hartle, a documentarian covering the issue. If this thing passes, the conservative Republican told Hartle, I will smoke pot for the first time in my life. Amendment 64 won by a 10-point margin, and last week Tancredo said he intended to follow through on his promise. But now ABC News reports that Tancredo, "under pressure from his wife and grandchildren," is reneging. Even while backing out of the bet, saying he does not want to send the wrong message to the youth of America, Tancredo highlighted his libertarian turn on drug policy:

My conservative friends just believe what I'm doing is encouraging people to smoke it. I don't think people should. That decision is up to an individual. An adult, in this society, is not something the government should have any control over. 

Similarly, when he announced his support for Amendment 64 in a September 21 op-ed piece published by the Colorado Springs Gazette, Tancredo not only cited the futility and cost of marijuana prohibition but also said this:

In addition to the economic and public safety arguments for ending marijuana prohibition, I also support Amendment 64 for a much broader, philosophical reason.

Marijuana prohibition is perhaps the oldest and most persistent nanny-state law we have in the U.S. We simply cannot afford a government that tries to save people from themselves. It is not the role of government to try to correct bad behavior, as long as those behaviors are not directly causing physical harm to others.

Tancredo has been moving in this direction for years. As a member of Congress from 1999 through 2008, he repeatedly supported legislation aimed at denying the Justice Department funding for medical marijuana raids. Seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he described his position as a matter of federalist principle:

It's not about marijuana, it's about states' rights. The federal government has no right to interfere when a state makes that kind of decision...The federal government should stay the hell out of it.

Tancredo and Ron Paul were the only Republican presidential candidates that year to receive an A+ grade from Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana. The following year, in a speech to a Colorado Republican group, Tancredo questioned the war on drugs in general, saying, "I am convinced that what we are doing is not working." He voiced support for marijuana legalization on pragmatic grounds that same year. Nowadays, even if he declines to smoke pot, Tancredo is defending the right to do so for explicitly libertarian reasons that apply to all illegal drugs, not to mention myriad other things that are restricted or prohibited on paternalistic grounds.

Tancredo is chairman of the Rocky Mountain Foundation, which includes a Center for Individual Liberty that criticizes the war on drugs. Tancredo's stance on immigration, as you may recall, is a bit less libertarian. 

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Federal Agencies Hit By Budget Cuts Object to Budget Cuts

Shocker of the day: People who manage federal agencies aren't happy that the sequestration might reduce funding for federal agencies. As I noted earlier, The Washington Post looked into what might happen to various agency budgets and programs should the sequestration process actually kick in. Turns out that reducing planned spending might actually mean cutting out a program or two, and the folks who run those programs don't want that to happen. And neither do the private contractors and researchers who rely on public grants to fund their projects.

I'm sympathetic, actually: It's no fun at all to see your program discontinued or your job cut back, and of course everyone has arguments for why their program is valuable and shouldn't be cut. But that's part of what can happen when relying on taxpayers to pay the bills. Public funding inevitably means a politicized funding process, one that's subject to the shifting whims of Congress.

You can see that in the complaints the article notes about how agency managers have had to plan for sequestration: 

“Across the system millions of dollars were spent in shutdown procedures and gearing-back-up procedures,” said Joan Anzelmo, a park superintendent from Colorado who retired four months later.

This time around, a frustrated senior executive at the Department of Homeland Security said he and his staff have spent countless hours remaking budgets for every contingency.

“First we were told not to develop plans” for sequestration, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly. “Then we spent seven days a week coming up with them and [the cuts] got postponed. Now we’re doing it all over with new targets. It’s taking away from what we need to get done.”

Office of Management and Budget spokesman Steven Posner declined to comment on the planning costs. But Jeffrey Zients, the OMB’s acting budget director, warned lawmakers last summer that any planning “would necessarily divert scarce resources” from other important missions and priorities, “to say nothing of the disruptive effects this exercise would have” on federal workers and contractors. 

If one of the biggest problems with the possibility of sequestration is that federal agencies might have to plan for how to deal with sequestration, then there's probably not that much to worry about. 

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Purging the Ghost of Bill Clinton's Economics From the Holy Spirit of Barack Obama

One of the more interesting and regrettable ideological developments over the past eight or so years has been the Democratic Party's repudiation of Bill Clinton's economic policies (a repudiation, fortunately for Clinton, that does not require rejecting the Big Dog himself, nor renouncing credit for his economic successes).

What form does the Clintonomics-purging take in our current political context? In complaints that President Barack Obama's economic policies are being guided by Clinton deficit-scold holdovers who do not sufficiently understand that deficits don't matter right now. Here's Jim Tankersley, writing in The Washington Post:

[Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert] Rubin espoused an economic philosophy that would dominate Democratic policy circles through the Great Recession: one that favored opening global markets, deregulating Wall Street and limiting federal budget deficits. [...]

For all its success in the 1990s, much of Rubin's philosophy took a beating in the following decade. The financial crisis spurred a move back to stricter rules on Wall Street institutions and financial products such as derivatives, which Rubin had advised Clinton against regulating. The disappearance of millions of manufacturing jobs in the face of technological change and foreign competition cast the downsides of free trade in a harsher light. [...]

But the Rubinesque focus on the deficit, if anything, is stronger in the Obama administration than it was in Clinton's. Even before his first inauguration, while the economy was in a job-shedding, recessionary free fall, Obama's advisers were discussing an eventual pivot to deficit reduction. Now, by tapping Lew as Timothy Geithner's successor at Treasury, the president is signaling clearly that budget negotiations with congressional Republicans will dominate economic policymaking in his second term.

Tankersley's canned history of the last two decades omits a crucial word: spending. (Except for this sentence: "Protecting federal spending on education and innovation is an attempt to keep the middle class from slipping even further, but it's nowhere near the fundamental overhaul in skills training that many economists believe is necessary....") Federal spending, in fact, has doubled since Bill Clinton left office. At least some of the economic thinkers who Tankersley disagrees with believe that jacking up government spending produces the very economic sluggishness he aims to combat, and that cutting spending would spur growth.

Democrats talk differently about spending than they did four years ago. Then, the president who had campaigned on a "net spending cut" was promising that "the hard decisions" on long-term entitlement promises would be "made under my watch, not someone else's," because "we are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick [the can] any further." Now, the president has reportedly declared that "we don't have a spending problem," a motion quickly seconded by the liberal commentariat.

What about debt and deficits? Well, back in July 2008, candidate Obama called George W. Bush's record of adding $5 trillion to the national debt "irresponsible" and even "unpatriotic." The Democratic Party platform that year vowed to "not mortgage our children's future on a mountain of debt." But now it's common to hear that the deficit/debt problem is not much of a problem after all.

Here's Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Tim Geithner says, correctly, that we're actually pretty close to fixing our long-term deficit problems.

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Is the GOP Getting Serious About Spending Cuts?

After a year or so of warning that the defense spending reductions scheduled to occur as a result of the sequestration process the followed from 2011 debt ceiling deal were just too dangerous to our nation’s safety and economic security, Republican legislators in Congress have come around to a new perspective.

Sure, they say, the combination of defense and discretionary spending reductions in the sequester aren’t ideal, but they’re better than nothing. We’ll take what we can get.

That's a real change in the party line. Last summer, GOP House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan could be found telling rally-goers on the campaign trail that Republicans were going to have to “protect jobs in Virginia and America” by dealing with the “devastating defense cuts president Obama is promising.” Now Ryan is saying that Republicans are ready to let the full $1.2 trillion sequester, which is divided roughly evenly between defense and discretionary cuts, go through. “We think these sequesters will happen because the Democrats have opposed our efforts to replace those cuts with others and they’ve offered no alternatives,” Rep. Ryan said on Meet the Press.

He’s not the only Republican singing this tune. Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake told National Journal last week that "the only thing worse than the sequester is no sequester. We have got to hit those budget targets....If we can do it another way, fine, but if not, we’ve got to have that hammer.” In the FT Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said that allowing sequestration to occur “is a much better outcome than suspending or eliminating the sequestration, so if that’s what has to happen, so be it.”

So is this a sign that the GOP is finally getting serious about spending cuts? I'd say it’s a start—and encouraging mostly for what it says about the GOP’s longstanding insistence that defense spending can never, ever be reduced.

But it’s only a start. And as much as anything, it’s a sign of how warped Washington’s conversation about spending cuts has become.

You can learn plenty about the depressing politics of federal spending just from looking at the way that coverage of the sequester describes the cuts.

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Denver Suburb Requires Pot Growers to Install Equipment While Forbidding Them to Bring It Home

Last week I noted that Greenwood Village, a Denver suburb, had passed an ordinance purporting to ban marijuana possession on city property, including streets and sidewalks, even though Amendment 64, the ballot initiative approved by Colorado voters in November, says possessing or transporting up to an ounce is "not unlawful and shall not be an offense under Colorado law or the law of any locality." Reason Foundation research assistant Andrew Livingston points out that Ordinance 43-12, which bans public possession of "marijuana accessories" as well as marijuana, conflicts not only with Amendment 64 but also with another anti-pot ordinance that the Greenwood Village City Council is on the verge of passing.

Since December 10 it has been legal for Colorado residents 21 or older to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use or to share with friends. Alarmed at that prospect, the city plans to "restrict the indoor cultivation of marijuana to ensure the safety of Greenwood Village residents and mitigate negative impacts to neighbors and the surrounding community." Toward that end, Ordinance 1-13, which received preliminary approval on January 7, restricts the size and location of marijuana grows as well as the equipment used in them. It also requires "a ventilation and filtration system designed to ensure that odors from the cultivation are not detectable beyond the property line...and to prevent mold and moisture and otherwise protect the health and safety of persons residing in the residence."

But Ordinance 43-12  prohibits what Ordinance 1-13 requires, since it bans public possession of "marijuana accessories," defined to include "any equipment, products, or materials of any kind" used to grow cannabis. That means home growers cannot legally install the ventilation system the city says they must have, since doing so would require using Greenwood Village's streets to transport its components. The city's residents also cannot legally transport seeds or seedlings, soil, fertilizer, lights, or anything else they might need to cultivate the plants they are allowed to grow in their homes under Amendment 64.

It seems safe to say that Greenwood Village, which does not allow medical marijuana dispensaries and has pre-emptively banned the recreational cannabis stores that are supposed to start opening in Colorado next year, is not a very pot-friendly place. Leslie Schluter, the city council member who introduced the ban on public possession and the prohibitive restrictions on home cultivation, notes that most Greenwood Village voters opposed Amendment 64. But these two ordinances go beyond the local leeway allowed by Amendment 64, which says municipalities may ban marijuana sales within their borders, to attack personal possession and home cultivation, both of which are now explicitly protected by the state constitution.

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Kim Jong Un Vows Retaliation Against United States for Sanctions as Reports Emerge of Parents Eating Their Children

North Korea’s December missile launch eventually yielded condemnation and new sanctions (levied against the North Korean space agency) from the United Nations, just last week. The condemnation was responded to, predictably, with more bluster from the regime in Pyongyang; North Korea threatened “all out” action against the United States and acknowledged what the world already knew, that there was indeed a military intent to the missile launches. While even North Korea’s only ally, China, urged restraint, North Korea continued to blow hard. From the New York Times:

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, has ordered his top military and party officials to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures” to retaliate against American-led United Nations sanctions on the country, the North’s official media reported Sunday.

North Korea did not clarify what those measures might be, but it referred to a series of earlier statements in which Mr. Kim’s government has threatened to launch more long-range rockets and conduct a third nuclear test to build an ability to “target” the United States.

In the meantime, the people of North Korea continue to starve, with the latest reports being of filicide. From the Independent:

Reports from inside the secretive famine-hit pariah state, North Korea, claim a man has been executed after murdering his two children for food.

The grim suggestion that North Koreans are turning to cannibalism were reported by theAsia Press, and published in the Sunday Times.

They claim a 'hidden famine' in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae has killed 10,000 people, and there are fears that cannibalism is spreading throughout the country…

In one particularly disturbing report, a man was said to have dug up his grandchild's corpse. Other lurid reports included the suggestion that some men boiled their children before eating them.

The original Sunday Times of London article, behind a paywall.

Last month Reason TV talked to Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born and spent his entire life in a North Korean labor camp, the infamous Kaechon #14, before escaping at the age of 23:

Motel Caswell Owners Defeat Federal Forfeiture Based on Guests' Drug Offenses

After seeing my column about the Motel Caswell forfeiture case from the February issue of Reason, I realized that the follow-up post I wrote last Thursday never went live. So here it is again:

Great news from Massachusetts: Russell and Patricia Caswell, owners of a Tewksbury, Massachusetts, motel that the federal government tried to seize because some people who stayed there committed drug crimes, have beaten back this land grab in court with help from the Instiitute for Justice. Today [January 24] U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein, who heard evidence in the case last November, rejected the forfeiture action, saying the Caswells qualify for the "innocent owner" defense under federal law:

The evidence was undisputed that Mr. Caswell did not know the guests involved in the drug crimes, did not know of their anticipated criminal behavior at the time they registered as guests, and did not know of the drug crimes whilethey were occurring. Not only did Mr. Caswell testify to these facts, but also the law enforcement witnesses confirmed that they had no reason to doubt the veracity of Mr.Caswell’s statements....

Mr. Caswell did not have prior knowledge of the limited number of drug crimes committed by transient guests over the course of an extended period of time, and the police did not advise him of those crimes. Moreover, this Court finds that the Government has failed to establish that drug crime was so blatant and pervasive at the Motel that Mr. Caswell had "actual knowledge" that drug crimes were likely to occur frequently at the Motel....

I also find that Mr. Caswell did not engage in “willful blindness” from which the court can infer consent to the drug transactions.

Dein also ruled that "the Government has not met its burden of proving a substantial connection between the Motel Caswell and the forfeitable crimes, and, therefore, has not met its burden of proving that the Property is forfeitable." Institute for Justice attorney Scott Bullock calls the decision "a complete victory for the Caswell family and for the protection of private property rights." Ray Caswell adds:

I couldn’t have fought this fight without the help of the Institute for Justice. It is hard to believe anything like this goes on in our country, but the government goes after people they think can’t afford to fight. But with IJ’s help, we put up a heck of a fight and have won. The public needs to stand up against these abuses of power.

Dein's decision is here. Previous coverage of the case here.

Update: U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz says she may appeal Dein's decision. 

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Jacob Sullum on Asset Forfeiture Abuse

At the Cosmopolitan, a luxury hotel and casino in Las Vegas, “just the right amount of wrong” is the naughty fun you get for $200 a night. At the $57-a-night Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, just the right amount of wrong is what the federal government says it needs to take the business from the family that has operated it for 57 years.

As Jacob Sullum reports, during a November trial before a U.S. magistrate judge in Boston, a federal prosecutor cited one heroin overdose and 14 incidents in which guests or visitors were arrested for drug crimes at the motel from 1994 through 2008—a minuscule percentage of the 200,000 or so room rentals during that period—to show the business is a “dangerous property” ripe for seizure.

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Europe's Eroding Press Freedom

Britain, last year, let a bunch of long-time, would-be control freaks exploit a scandal about press (and police) conduct to impose an inquisition into the news media under the guidance of an authoritarian aristocrat. The predictable result of the Leveson Inquiry was a call for government regulation of the press, with Prime Minister David Cameron in the unlikely role of somewhat principled delayer of a rush to censorship. But even before our friends across the pond hash out what this all means in application, and how tightly the leash on journalists should be held, a leading participant in the Leveson Inquiry already suggests the effort didn't go far enough, and maybe they should think about curbs on this whole Internet thing. And quick thinkers across the Channel are way ahead of the game, calling for tight, Europe-wide regulation of the media in all forms.

Robert Jay, the lead counsel for the Leveson Inquiry, traveled to that free-speech sanctuary known as Singapore to dispel rumors that he and his colleagues were blessedly ignorant of the existence of the online world. According to the Times of London:

Internet service providers could be sued for allowing their customers to read defamatory comments online, under a new law proposed by the lead counsel to the Leveson inquiry.

Robert Jay, QC, who led the questioning of key witnesses including David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch, has suggested a solution for regulating the internet after Lord Justice Leveson largely ducked the issue in his 2,000-page report.

Acknowledging that he was “entering a hornets’ nest that Lord Justice Leveson wisely avoided”, Mr Jay said that increasingly imaginative solutions were needed to make dissemination of defamatory content online subject to civil law.

In a speech to the Singapore Academy of Law, he said: “One possible way forward is to seek by statutory provision to bring ISPs (internet service providers) within the scope of publishers for the purposes of the law of defamation, even if provision would need to be made for resultant claims to be served out of the jurisdiction.”

Anybody who has ever had a run-in with the UK's rather interesting and celebrity-friendly laws of libel and defamation understand that this might be a tad ... problematic. Read "problematic" as yet another huge poke in the eye for free speech within British jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the European Commission's High-Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism (Orwell wasn't secretly Belgian, was he?) has issued its final report, A Free and Pluralistic Media to Sustain European Democracy. The document insists "a fair legal regulation is necessary, balancing the new dimension of freedom of expression and the justified rights and interests of other citizens."

The document includes some nice reassurances about press freedom, but always within the context of "European values" and "the public function of the media." The document then goes on to recommend such gems as:

To ensure that all media organisations follow clearly identifiable codes of conduct and editorial lines, and apply the principles of editorial independence, it should be mandatory for them to make them publicly available, including by publication on their website.

and

All EU countries should have independent media councils with a politically and culturally balanced and socially diverse membership. Nominations to them should be transparent, with built-in checks and balances. Such bodies would have competences to investigate complaints, much like a media ombudsman, but would also check that media organisations have published a code of conduct and have revealed ownership details, declarations of conflicts of interest, etc. Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status. The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values.

Note that "removal of journalistic status" would seem to require licensing of journalists so that they would then have something that let them do their jobs that could be stripped from them by those media councils. That would be among the "real enforcement powers" that media councils could wield against journalists and media entities that piss them off by violating standards and values as defined by bureaucrats.

Overall, it would seem to be a really good time to start writing an elegy for European press freedom — or at least for media outfits on the other side of the Atlantic to consider moving their Web servers to the United States.

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A. Barton Hinkle Says It’s Time to Get Judgy About Incompetency

Politics is fleeting, but life’s great mysteries are eternal. Let's contemplate a few. For starters: Why do we “write down” a phone number but “write someone up” for an infraction? When completing a task, why do we say “finish it up” instead of “finish it down”? It doesn’t make sense, if you stop and think about it.

"Language should foster communication," writes A. Barton Hinkle. "Unfortunately, it often is used to prevent communication by obscuring truth." 

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Shikha Dalmia on Immigration Reform

A group of bipartisan senators is planning to beat President Obama's scheduled appearance in Las Vegas this morning by laying out their own vision for immigration reform first. Their intention is to make our current immigration system less of a living hell for American employers and foreign workers. The only stumbling block is anti-immigration Republicans—who have killed every recent reform effort. But before those GOP restrictionists get their knickers in a knot, writes Shikha Dalmia, they should consider that the status quo they are defending is a creation of Big Labor and completely antithetical to their bedrock commitment to a free market.

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Immigration Reform: How to Tell Whether McCain, Gang of Eight is Serious

Politico is reporting some details on what had been anticipated for a while: a Senate-based framework for so-called comprehensive immigration reform. Read some as vague. Politico says it looked at a five-page outline which it characterizes thus:

The sweeping proposal — agreed to in principle by eight senators — would seek to overhaul the legal immigrationsystem as well as create a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s roughly 11 million illegal immigrants. But establishing that pathway would depend on whether the U.S. first implements stricter border enforcement measures and new rules ensuring immigrants have left the country in compliance with their visas. Young people brought to the country as children illegally and seasonal agriculture industry workers would be given a faster path to citizenship.

The broad agreement by the influential Gang of Eight senators amounts to the most serious bipartisan effort to act on the highly charged issue since George W. Bush’s comprehensive measure was defeated in the Senate in 2007.

It remains to be seen if Obama will embrace the Senate effort, or how closely his own proposal hews to the Senate one. But the Senate proposal is expected to take precedence on Capitol Hill, given that bipartisan backing will be crucial to getting anything through the Democratic-controlled Senate — let alone the Republican-controlled House.

There's probably less here than meets the eye. The GOP is looking to fix some of its image problems with the Hispanic population (since the the 2004 presidential election, when George W. Bush pulled somewhere between 40 percent and about 45 percent of the Hispanic vote, it's all been downhill). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tells the Sunday morning shows, "We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours, for a variety of reasons, and we’ve got to understand that." He's right about that, but there's no reason to expect Republicans to do either the smart thing or the right thing. Long considered pro-immigrant, McNasty himself espoused stupid and anti-immigrant ads during his 2008 presidential bid, obviously in the hopes of securing the Minuteman-style voter.

Exactly where the Obama White House is on this is unclear. As Politico notes, "It remains to be seen if Obama will embrace the Senate effort, or how closely his own proposal hews to the Senate one." Except that we have a pretty good sense of where President Obama has been on immigration: He has deported record numbers of them and continues to spend record amounts of money on the agencies that harass them and employers who hire them. His election-year conversion to a humane policy toward children brought here illegally by their parents was a small sop to Hispanic voters against Mitt "Self-Deportation" Romney, who managed to drive John McCain's abysmal share of the latino vote even lower (Romney scored a pathetic 27 percent; McCain managed 31 percent).

Besides McCain, the Senate's "Gang of Eight" includes Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Michael Bennett (D-Colo). So there's some firepower there in terms of big deals. Senate newcomer Jeff Flake has a long history of pushing good immigration policy as a congressman from a border state (Arizona) and places such as Colorado and Illinois are massive magnets for newcomers, so that's all to the good. But there's also plenty of room for disaster (Menendez is facing mounting interest in his apparent dalliances with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, Schumer couldn't get along with newborn puppies, Lindsey Graham is no idea of a statesman, etc.).

To me, the biggest problem is even the way the vaguer than vague framework above is crafted: Path to citizenship (a.k.a. amnesty in the noxious phraseology of nativists), yes, but only after amping up border security. What does that even mean? The number of Border Patrol agents has doubled over the past seven years and deportations continue despite significant reductions in the number of people entering the country illegally. The feds spend more on just the policing efforts of the border than they do on all other federal law enforcement operations combined. Stricter border security? It's already here, amigo, so let's get on with the normalizing of folks who may have been living here for years and paying Social Security, Medicare, income, property, and sales taxes in high percentages. (About 60 percent of illegals pay income taxes and about two-thirds pay payroll taxes; they aren't undocumented - they have fake documents that funnel money to the government that they will never get back). We've already absorbed the 11 million or so illegal immigrants living in the country. They work among us, they pay taxes, and the families of those who don't already speak English learn our mother tongue (the one forced on us by Great Britain) at the same rate as past immigrants. Apart from schooling for kids (many of whom are actually American citizens) and emergency medical care, immigrants (legal and otherwise) are barred from most welfare programs, and they tend to break the law at lower rates than native-born Americans.

I think the most interesting indicator of how serious the senators are will revolve around their rhetoric. If they spend a lot of time talking about border security and employer-verification systems (reportedly a big part of any deal going forward), don't hold your breath for anything approaching reform. The government doesn't want to admit it, but except in totalitarian countries, they don't run the border. People come and go based on large-scale dynamics that simply overwhelm most nations' ability to control in-flows and out-flows of people. E-verify systems are a nightmare filled either with error rates that will harass thousands of innocent people and businesses or else be so porous all they will do is add a drag on hiring legally. If the senators start really working the Sunday shows and their constituents about how immigration benefits our economy and is the right thing to do from a historical and moral perspective, that will be the sign that they're meaning to take this across the finish line.

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A.M. Links: Obama Meeting With Police Chiefs from Mass Shooting Towns, Milwaukee County Sheriff Urges Gun Ownership, Berlusconi Praises Mussolini

  • trains ran on timepublic domainPresident Obama will meet with police chiefs in Aurora, Oak Creek and Newtown, towns where mass shootings occurred last year. The Milwaukee county sheriff, meanwhile, explained in his latest PSA that when calling 911 isn’t enough you should get a gun.
  • Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin won’t be seeking re-election to the senate in 2014.
  • Two barges hit a railroad bridge in Vicksburg, Mississippi, causing oil to spill into the Mississippi River, according to the Coast Guard.
  • Silvio Berlusconi explained on Holocaust Memorial Day that while Mussolini shouldn’t have passed anti-Jewish laws, he was otherwise a good leader.
  • Mohammed Morsi declared a state of emergency in three Egyptian towns enflamed by riot after death sentences were handed down for a deadly soccer riot in Port Said last year, and wants talks with opposition leaders about the unrest.
  • An aide to Iran’s supreme leader warned this weekend that an attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Iran. Iran is also claiming it sent a monkey into space.

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Obama’s Unconstitutional Executive Power Grab

At the White House last Thursday, President Barack Obama announced his intention of re-nominating Richard Cordray to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the federal “watchdog” created to forbid “unfair, deceptive, or abusive” financial practices as part of the Dodd-Frank Act. In January 2012, stymied by Senate opposition to Cordray’s original nomination to that position, Obama openly bypassed the Senate and simply installed Cordray in power himself. “He wasn’t allowed an up or down vote in the Senate,” the president complained at the White House last week, “and as a consequence, I took action to appoint him on my own.”

Obama justified that one-sided action under his power to make recess appointments. Under the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the president may make temporary appointments to "fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session."

The problem here is that the Senate was not actually in recess at the time of Cordray’s "recess" appointment, it was in a pro forma session. Obama therefore had no legitimate authority to install Cordray without first obtaining Senate confirmation as required by Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. It appears the president ignored this inconvenient constitutional requirement in order to expedite his preferred political outcome, or as Obama himself put it, "I took action to appoint him on my own."

That disregard for the Constitution has now come back to haunt the Obama administration. On Friday the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a scathing decision which nullified three other equally suspect recess appointments made by Obama last year to the National Labor Relations Board. According to the majority opinion of Chief Judge David Sentelle, Obama’s unilateral approach “would demolish the checks and balances inherent in the advice-and-consent requirement, giving the President free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch, or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction. This cannot be the law.”

Indeed it cannot. To make matters worse for the White House, a separate lawsuit is currently underway challenging the constitutionality of Cordray’s recess appointment, which occurred on the same day and under the same questionable circumstances as the three NLRB appointments that have now been ruled to be unconstitutional. Friday’s decision by the D.C. Circuit will only add more legal force to this already strong case against the White House's executive overreach.

Every president wants Congress to fall in line behind his agenda and will complain bitterly if the legislative branch refuses to do so. But that feeling of frustration is no excuse for the president to trample on the separation of powers.

Steve Chapman on China Becoming Less Authoritarian

Autocratic regimes rarely leap at the chance to empower the citizenry. But the Communist government in China is not exempt from the powerful forces unleashed by that country’s transformative economic miracle. Because of the rise of capitalism in China, writes Steve Chapman, the country's people have gained a large measure of freedom—in such critical matters as where they work, where they live, and where they may travel. The sphere of personal autonomy is vastly larger than it was in the dark days of Mao Zedong.

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Brickbat: Hamming It Up

Montclair State University officials ordered Joseph Aziz not to talk about a fellow student on social media sites after he commented on a YouTube video that the woman's legs looked like a pair of bleached hams. But he mentioned the incident and the woman's name on Facebook, and the university suspended him for a semester. After media picked up the story, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education came to Aziz's defense, the university overturned the suspension.

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Feinstein's New 'Assault Weapon' Ban: Read It and Sleep

The full text of the new, supposedly improved "assault weapon" ban proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein last week is now available for your perusal. The 122-page bill consists mostly of Appendix A, which takes up 95 pages and lists 2,258 "Firearms Exempted by the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013." As I said on Friday, this list is redundant at best, since any gun that is not specifically named as an "assault weapon" and does not meet the more general definitions is not supposed to be covered by the law, whether or not it is explicitly "exempted." It seems the main point of Appendix A is to impress us with Feinstein's lenience. Look, she specifically allows 14 times as many gun models as she specifically prohibits!

As for the list of 157 guns that are banned by name, it is much longer than the list in the federal "assault weapon" ban that expired in 2004 (which Feinstein also sponsored), and its terms are broader. While the expired ban covered "copies or duplicates" of the 18 named firearms, the new one covers "copies, duplicates, variants, or altered facsimiles"—language that seems designed to keep lawyers busy. The references to "variants" and "altered facsimiles" suggest that a gun can be deemed an "assault weapon" even if it is not listed and does not have any  forbidden "military-style characteristics." Maybe that's one reason Feinstein tries to reassure gun owners with her lengthy list of exempted firearms. 

A story in Friday's New York Times claims Feinstein's bill would "ban certain characteristics of guns that make them more lethal." By describing the bill that way, reporter Jennifer Steinhauer endorses Feinstein's fraudulent premise that "assault weapons" are especially suited to mass murder or other kinds of gun crime. Here are the characteristics that, according to Feinstein, turn a semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine into an "assault weapon": a pistol grip or forward grip, a grenade launcher or rocket launcher, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel, or a folding, telescoping, or detachable stock. How exactly do these features—a threaded barrel, say, or a grenade launcher without (already banned) grenades—make a gun "more lethal"? They don't, which is why opponents of "assault weapon" bans object to such arbitrary, appearance-based distinctions. Some people at the Timesnotably, criminal justice reporter Erica Goode—understand this point. If Steinhauer had read and digested Goode's January 17 front-page story about the contentiousness of the very term assault weapon, she could have avoided the error (assuming that's what it was) of taking sides in an ostensibly evenhanded news story about Feinstein's bill.

New York Times reporters Thomas Kaplan and Danny Hakim made a similar mistake in a January 15 story about New York's new, stricter "assault weapon" ban, saying it would "bar semiautomatic weapons that have a single additional feature to increase their deadliness." Notably, that claim was excised from the online version of the story, which I took to be a sign that at least one editor at the Times recognizes the tendentiousness of such seemingly neutral descriptions. Maybe if there had been a correction at the bottom of the story acknowledging the change Steinhauer would not have repeated Kaplan and Hakim's error.

Steinhauer also claims Feinstein's bill includes "more explicit language on the types of features on banned weapons" than the old ban did. That's not true either. Feinstein fiddled with the list of suspect features (dropping bayonet mounts, for example), and she decided that one, rather than two, was enough to qualify a gun as an "assault weapon." The latter change made the ban broader, but it did not make it more "explicit," let alone "make it far more respectful of firearms for recreation uses," as a former Feinstein aide quoted by Steinhauer asserts. 

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M.D. Kittle on Senator Harkin's Fat Fatwa

You know what they say: The government helps those who won’t help themselves—or who will help themselves to seconds. Exhibit A: U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s fatwa on fat and individual responsibility, the Healthier Lifestyles and Prevention America Act, also known as the HeLP America Act. The bill, writes M.D. Kittle, is the latest in a growing line of big-government measures in obesity battle costing American taxpayers—morbidly obese and skinny alike—billions of dollars.

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Louisiana Milk Police Combat Prices That Are Too Reasonable

In Louisiana, it is illegal to sell milk for too much. It’s also illegal to sell milk for too little. It’s all a bit complicated, so producers are eligible for a milk subsidy.

Last week, state regulators cracked down on a grocery store that was engaging in a “disruptive trade practice,” selling milk at a price that could “injure, reduce, prevent, or destroy competition.”

From The Advocate:

State Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said Fresh Market violated state regulations by selling milk below cost as part of a promotion.

The supermarket routinely sells a gallon of skim, 1 percent, 2 percent or whole milk for $2.99 on Tuesdays, limiting the quantity to four per customer.

State law requires retailers’ markups to be no less than 6 percent of the invoice cost after adding freight charges.

The Dairy Stabilization Board oversees milk prices in Louisiana. The board was established after Schwegmann, a New Orleans-area grocery chain, launched a legal battle in the 1970s with the Louisiana Milk Commission to buy milk from out-of-state suppliers because it was cheaper.

…“They can sell it 6 percent over cost all day long. It’s when they sell it below cost that it becomes a problem,” Strain said.

…Strain said his office dispatched an auditor to the Fresh Market in Mandeville after receiving a complaint about the Tuesday promotion. His press office declined to identify the complainant.

…Strain said the regulations exist to keep the price of milk as low as possible.

Allowing a supermarket to sell milk below cost could drive competitors out of business, allowing the store to then increase the price of milk, he said.

It’s hard to see how a once-a-week sale on milk could drive other grocery stores to bankruptcy. But perhaps that’s best left to the Dairy Stabilization Board, which since 1974 has protected consumers from “disruptive trade practices,” “excessive prices,” and “inadequate supply.”

Click here for Reason coverage of federal price controls that inflate the price of milk.

H/T Radley Balko by way of the Daily Caller.

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Video: Lewis Lapham on Legalizing Drugs, Hating the Facebook, and Curating the Past at Lapham's Quarterly

"Lewis Lapham on Legalizing Drugs, Hating the Facebook, and Curating the Past at Lapham's Quarterly" is the latest offering from Reason TV.

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

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Sheldon Richman on Why World War II Spending Did Not End the Great Depression

Conveniently for most politicians, writes Sheldon Richman, a popular doctrine holds that government spending is good for the economy. According to this doctrine, when the economy needs to recover from a recession or even a slowdown, an increase in government spending is indispensable—even if huge budget deficits and a growing national debt result. Keep spending! is the battle cry. 

The advocates of spending think they have a killer piece of evidence: World War II.

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Bounced a Check? Go to Jail.

The Dallas Observer published a feature this week on folks who inadvertently bounce a check, which isn’t illegal, and find themselves faced with threats of prosecution.

From the Observer:

Julie Orr wrote a check for $91 at an Albertson's grocery store. A few days later, while reviewing her bank account, she noticed that the check had bounced. Orr headed back to Albertson's to make good on her payment. But she was told that the store had already placed her in collections….

A month later, Orr received a letter from the district attorney's office. It inexplicably accused her of intent to commit fraud, noting that she was now eligible for "up to one year in the county jail." The only way to avoid criminal charges: participate in the county's "voluntary" bad-check restitution program.

But the DA wanted more than Albertson's $91 back. Though California law restricts the penalty on bad checks to $25, the letter demanded $333.51, which included $175 for a "voluntary" financial-accountability class she'd have to take.

Orr called the 1-800 number in the letter, but, instead of the DA, she reached:

Corrective Solutions, a private company from San Clemente. According to its website, it handles bad-check cases for 140 district attorneys nationwide—jurisdictions that oversee 65 million people, from Colorado to Florida, Michigan to Washington.

…Instead of investigating bad-check complaints, prosecutors simply pass them along to Corrective Solutions. The company then uses official DA letterhead to threaten jail time if consumers don't pay up. Corrective Solutions also runs the "voluntary" financial-accountability classes, and prosecutors get a cut of the profits while barely lifting a finger.

Unfortunately, the entire system runs on a one-size-fits-all presumption of guilt. No one's bothering to investigate whether the check writer was working a scam or merely suffering from a momentary lapse of mathematics.

Read the whole thing here. One bone to pick: the Observer rightly excoriates the private companies involved, but then gives prosecutors a pass because DAs are, according to DAs, underfunded; they simply don’t have the resources to investigate each case. This scam doesn’t work, however, without the threat of government force. Prosecutors are renting that out, exposing thousands of innocent people to coercive threats.

Rather than being underfunded, DAs are overstretched. There would be much more room in the budget for prosecuting check fraud and other serious crimes if the government would stop focusing on victimless crimes.

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Video: National School Choice Week 2013 Kicks Off in Los Angeles

"National School Choice Week 2013 Kicks Off in Los Angeles" is the latest offering from Reason TV.

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

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Brian Doherty on the Mont Pelerin Society and Its Roots

With The Great Persuasion, Brian Doherty reports, historian Angus Burgin has produced a well-researched, well-written, and largely well-thought-out study of F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and the other academics, think tankers, and businessmen who comprised the Mont Pelerin Society. The book’s only overarching flaw is that Burgin at times seems confused about what ideology his book is a history of, conflating conservatism with libertarianism.

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Get Ready for National School Choice Week, Coming to a City Near You!

National School Choice Week officially begins tomorrow. Click above to learn details from Andrew Campanella, the head of the operation, about the thousands of events that will take place between January 27 and February 3.

It's the largest annual event celebrating the benefits of allowing all students and parents maximum choice in deciding where kids get educated.

This year, National School Choice Week is spearheading a whistle-stop train tour of the United States. Later today, Reason TV will post video from the start of the tour at Los Angeles's Union Station and on Monday, we'll have footage from an event in Phoenix, Arizona that features the Jonas Brothers (who were themselves homeschooled). Later in the week, we'll be checking in from Chicago and New York too.

Go here for details.

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Two Cheers for the Coming Collapse of the U.S. Economy!

"At some point, holders of Treasury securities are going to recognize that these unfunded liabilities are going to affect the fiscal capabilities of the government and then you're going to have the same situation that happened in Greece happening in the U.S.," says Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, who is a professor of economics at San Jose State University and the author of a recent paper on the consequences of a U.S. government default. "In the short run it's going to be painful, but in the long run it'll be a good thing."

Nick Gillespie's interview with Hummel, which took place at FreedomFest 2012, is the latest offering from Reason TV. Watch the video above or click below for full text and links.

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Baylen Linnekin on the Chicago City Council Banning Energy Drinks

Chicago Alderman Edward Burke may be the staunchest elected opponent of food freedom in America whose name you’ve never heard. In recent years, Burke has used his vast sway as the longest-serving and most powerful member of the city council, and chair of the council’s finance committee, increasingly to undermine the right of Chicagoans to make their own food choices, including proposed bans on foie gras, trans fats, and Four Loko. His latest target? As Baylen Linnekin reports, Nanny Burke has set his sites on popular energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster.

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Nick Gillespie Talking State Tax Policy on HuffPost Live 8pm ET

I'll be on Huff Post Live talking about the move among various governors to scrap income taxes and go with sales taxes.

Go here to watch.

Update: Below is a link to vid that should either work now or shortly (circa 8.36pm ET).

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Google, Yahoo Have More Respect for the Fourth Amendment Than the Feds

Maybe we should start rethinking those cyberpunk dystopian futures where evil megacorporations (Warning! TV Tropes link) control the government and violate our freedoms with their filthy corrupt cronyism?

Yahoo and Google – two online media and email monoliths – have told Wired that they require probable-cause court-issued warrants to reveal the contents of their customers’ messages to a greater extent than federal law currently mandates:

Yahoo demands probable-cause, court-issued warrants to divulge the content of messages inside its popular consumer e-mail brands — Yahoo and Ymail, the web giant said Friday.

The Sunnyvale, California-based internet concern’s exclusive comments came two days after Google revealed to Wired that it demands probable-cause warrants to turn over consumer content stored in its popular Gmail and cloud-storage Google Drive services — despite the Electronic Communications Privacy Act not always requiring warrants.

“Yes, we require a probable cause warrant for e-mail content,” said Yahoo spokeswoman Lauren Armstrong, in an e-mail interview. “That is more than ECPA requires.”

The nation’s other major consumer-facing e-mail provider — Microsoft — which markets the Hotmail and Outlook brands, declined comment for this story.

David Kravets notes that the companies aren’t getting any guff from law enforcement officials over denials and figures they don’t want to push the matter into the courts and risk a ruling that could prove most unpleasant to their investigation methods.

Read more about what information Google and Yahoo will provide without a warrant in Kravets' story.

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New York Gun Owners Flip the Bird to "Assault Weapons" Registration Law

New York Governor Cuomo the Junior may have rushed through his new gun control law with such speed that police will avoid its restrictions only through the blessed miracle of selective enforcement, but he may have a little trouble getting the state's firearms owners to attend his party. The new law requires owners of those scary-looking rifles known as "assault weapons" to register their property (amidst assurances that, oh no, the registration lists will never be used for confiscation), but gun rights activists are actively urging gun owners to defy the new mandate.

According to Frederic Dicker at the New York Post:

Assault-rifle owners statewide are organizing a mass boycott of Gov. Cuomo’s new law mandating they register their weapons, daring officials to “come and take it away,” The Post has learned.

Gun-range owners and gun-rights advocates are encouraging hundreds of thousands of owners to defy the law, saying it’d be the largest act of civil disobedience in state history.

“I’ve heard from hundreds of people that they’re prepared to defy the law, and that number will be magnified by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, when the registration deadline comes,’’ said Brian Olesen, president of the American Shooters Supply, one of the largest gun dealers in the state.

Dicker quotes a Cuomo administration official admitting, "Many of these assault-rifle owners aren’t going to register; we realize that." Which means that state officials were merely posturing rather than entirely ignorant of history when they penned the law and jammed it through. As I've written before, gun laws traditionally breed massive levels of non-compliance — even in places where you might think people have no strong history of personal arms, or of resistance to the state, When Germany imposed gun registration in 1972, the country's officials managed to get paperwork on all of 3.2 million firearms out of an estimated 17-20 million guns in civilian hands. Californians may have registered as many as ten percent of the "assault weapons" they owned when that state imposed registration in 1990 (though the New York Times put the figure rather lower, at about 7,000 out of an estimated 300,000 guns covered by the law).

The reason for such reticence isn't hard to fathom. When gun owners charge that politicians can't be trusted to resist using registration lists for future confiscation, they're not being paranoid — New York City and California have both done just that.

Political officials might want to consider those experiences, as well as a recent poll finding two-thirds of Americans willing to defy tighter gun restrictions, before setting themselves up for public demonstrations of their impotence in the face of mass defiance.

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Many Brits Would Vote to Leave the E.U., But They'll Need a Tory Victory

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron offered the British people a referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union by 2017 at the latest if the Conservatives win the next General Election.

New polling suggests that the British would choose to quit the E.U. From AFP:

In the first major survey since Cameron pledged on Wednesday to hold a public vote on Britain's troubled EU membership by the end of 2017, 40 percent said they would vote to leave and 37 percent to stay, the Times newspaper said.

Stripping out the 23 percent who were undecided and taking into account how likely people said they were to vote, the survey conducted by Populus for the Times said the figures translated into a 53-47 vote in favour of quitting.

Polling from Yougov published today shows that Labour are ahead of the Conservatives by 10 points. What is also of note is that the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is only one point behind the Liberal Democrats, who are some of the U.K.’s strongest Euorphiles.

Given the current situation the 40 percent of the British public who would vote to leave the E.U. will only get to do so if Conservatives win the next election, which is far from a certainty.

Although more would vote to leave than to stay in the E.U. it is important to remember that David Cameron believes that the U.K. should remain part of the E.U., be it in a “renegotiated relationship.” In fact, it is also the opinion of the Obama administration that the U.K. should stay within the E.U.

A lot can change before 2015, and it will be interesting to see how many voters are tempted to vote for the Conservatives at the next General Election because of the promise of a referendum. However, given the history of British politicians making promises on referendums some British voters will probably be understandably skeptical.  

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Get a College Degree in Wisconsin Without Setting Foot on Campus

What if college diplomas certified that the person had actually learned something? That he had demonstrated mastery of material, rather than just logging the requisite number of hours sitting in a chair in a lecture hall?

That's the idea behind the University of Wisconsin's Flexible Option, which lets students who have received instruction from a variety of sources—including online providers of course material like Udacity, Coursera, or Marginal Revolution University—take tests to prove that they know their stuff. The University will issue these students a diploma that's indistinguishable from the standard sheepskin—probably at a much lower price. 

First up? Maybe Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who championed the program in his state:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has championed the idea, in part because he left college in his senior year for a job opportunity and never finished his degree. He said he hoped to use the Flexible Degree option himself.

"I think it is one more way to get your degree. I don't see it as replacing things," Mr. Walker said.

He's right that this is a cool option, but he's wrong that it won't replace more traditional paths for some people. University of Wisconsin may have just taken the first step toward its own obsolescence—or at least radical redefinition. 

Look, it's the obligatory nervous prof quote:

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media-studies professor at the University of Virginia who has written about the future of universities, called the program a "worthy experiment" but warned that school officials "need to make sure degree plans are not watered down."

Translation: I really like my job. Please don't take it away.

This could be the first step toward disentangling the many functions colleges and universities now perform. Some people will still want the four-year combination sleepaway-camp-and-drunken-TED-conference experience that is the current standard for undergrads. But other people—especially folks who are mid-career and busy being, say, the governor of a state or working at the nuclear power plant—would rather just learn the materials and then get a respected institution's stamp of approval.

Expect to see more of this in the very near future.

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Does Feinstein Think All Guns Not Specifically Permitted Are Prohibited?

The "Assault Weapons Ban of 2013," a summary of which Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) unveiled yesterday, features several glaring contradictions. It bans "157 dangerous military-style assault weapons" by name. It also bans rifles that accept detachable magazines and have one or more of these features: "pistol grip; forward grip; folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; grenade launcher or rocket launcher; barrel shroud; or threaded barrel." There are similar rules for pistols and shotguns, based on somewhat different lists of features. If these definitions capture the essence of what makes a gun an "assault weapon," why bother listing 157 specific models? If those models fit Feinstein's definitions, they would be covered even if they weren't on the list. And if they don't qualify as "assault weapons" by the criteria she herself has selected, why does she want to ban them? These puzzling details underline the fraud Feinstein is trying to perpetrate: the idea that the guns she wants to ban are especially dangerous or especially suitable for mass murder.

Feinstein brags that her bill "protects the rights of law-abiding citizens who use guns for hunting, household defense or legitimate recreational purposes." One way it supposedly does that is by excluding "2,258 legitimate hunting and sporting rifles and shotguns by specific make and model." If those guns are not on the list of specifically named "assault weapons" and do not meet the criteria Feinstein has laid out for that arbitrary category, why should they be mentioned at all? Feinstein seems to think anything not specifically allowed is prohibited, but that is not how laws are supposed to work in a free society.

Another way Feinstein "protects the rights of law-abiding citizens" is by graciously allowing current owners of newly defined "assault weapons" to keep them. She emphasizes that her bill includes "a grandfather clause that specifically exempts all assault weapons lawfully possessed at the date of enactment from the ban." But Feinstein and her allies have been assuring us for two decades that "assault weapons" have no legitimate uses. It is hard to reconcile that claim, which is central to the argument for banning these guns, with Feinstein's concession that they are used for "hunting, household defense or legitimate recreational purposes." Her bill would require buyers of grandfathered "assault weapons" to undergo background checks, but there is no way to enforce that rule unless all those guns are registered, and in any event it is not a very effective way of stopping mass shooters, who typically do not have disqualifying criminal or psychiatric records.

Similarly, Feinstein says her billl "bans the sale, transfer, manufacturing and importation of...all ammunition feeding devices (magazines, strips, and drums) capable of accepting more than 10 rounds." Yet it exempts "large-capacity ammunition feeding devices lawfully possessed on the date of enactment of the bill." The bill notionally prohibits the sale or transfer of those magazines (many millions of which are in circulation), but that edict, like the background check requirement for "assault weapon" purchases, is unenforceable.

"We must balance the desire of a few to own military-style assaults [sic] weapons with the growing threat to lives across America," Feinstein declares. "If 20 dead children in Newtown wasn't [sic] a wakeup call that these weapons of war don't belong on our streets, I don't know what is." I count four fallacies in those two sentences:

1. Mass shootings are on the rise. (They're not.)

2. Feinstein's bill would eliminate "assault weapons." (She herself emphasizes that it wouldn't.)

3. If mass murderers did not have "assault weapons," they would not be able to find equally effective substitutes.

4. The guns Feinstein wants to ban are "weapons of war," i.e., machine guns.

By the way, the text of Feinstein's bill still is not available, even though she supposedly introduced it yesterday. The press release announcing the bill says "bill text will be made public after the bill is introduced."

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Matthew Feeney on Libya, Mali, and the Reality of Unintended Consequences

Last week’s attack on an Algerian oil field resulted in the deaths of at least 39 foreign hostages, three of whom were American. Although the attack was seemingly sudden and unexpected, Matthew Feeney argues that it was an unsurprising consequence of the well-intended missions in Libya and Mali, providing us with yet another lesson in the dangers of foreign intervention. 

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DoJ Works on Gun Orders, Barack and Hillary Interviewed Together, Tina Turner Defects: P.M. Links

  • The Department of Justice has begun efforts to implement President Barack Obama’s executive orders on gun controls. First up is figuring out how to give local law-enforcement officers access to the FBI’s gun sale database.
  • Obama and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be participating in a joint interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday.
  • Tina Turner is well on her way to becoming a Swiss citizen. She has actually been living there since 1995.
  • More than half of self-identified Republicans said they’d be okay with a government shutdown in order to force spending cuts, according to a recent poll. Sadly, they didn’t separate the poll out for self-identified libertarians, who might have interrupted halfway through the question to say yes.
  • France has joined several European nations and Australia in pulling its citizens out of Benghazi over security and terrorism fears.
  • For 99 cents, you can read what Stephen King has to say about gun control. (Spoiler: He’s for it.)

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Rand Paul Peeves Fans of Ron Paul's Foreign Policy: "Any Attack on Israel will be Treated as an Attack on the United States"

As Nick Gillespie noted earlier today, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is being pretty sharp in at least defending proper constitutional prerogatives when it comes to decisions about when U.S. military might ought to be extended overseas.

But today he said something to Breitbart News that highly distresses those who thought his vision of when U.S. military might ought to be used would be similar to his father Ron Paul's: only in actual defense of the United States.

As reported in Daily Caller:

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul took what very well could be considered his most pro-Israel stance yet, saying in an interview that an attack on Israel should be treated as an attack on the United States.

Asked whether the United States would stand with Israel and provide it foreign aid if the Jewish state were attacked by its enemies, Paul went a step further.

“Well absolutely we stand with Israel,” he said in an interview with Breitbart News, “but what I think we should do is announce to the world – and I think it is pretty well known — that any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States.”

From Daily Paul, a sampling of some of the discomfited reactions of Paulites who thought Rand might follow his father's (and George Washington's) mistrust of entangling alliances and the dangers of war they create.

Paul has understandably and obviously been walking a line between keeping his dad's (not insignificant, 11 percent of the primary vote in 2012) base and reaching out to enough other Republicans to be a viable national winner down the line. But Ron Paul's fans are very easy to disappoint if you don't hew to what seemed strong and unique about him as a politician. My book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement he Inspired.

Video: Andrew Campanella on National School Choice Week 2013

Andrew Campanella on National School Choice Week 2013 is the latest offering from Reason TV. Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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This is What Rule by Decrees Looks Like

In a blog post titled “This is What Deportation Looks Like,The Nation’s Aura Bogado relays the story of Edi Arma, a father of three facing deportation after a traffic stop in 2009 put him on the radar:

Edi Arma, who’s lived in Phoenix, Arizona for thirteen years, is a Guatemalan immigrant fighting deportation. He was originally placed in immigrant detention after a traffic stop in 2009. Arma explained to officials that he’s afraid that his family will be killed if they return to Guatemala. Nevertheless, he was issued a deportation order, which he ignored because he wants to stay with his wife and three children—one of which suffers from severe asthma.

Arma’s case appears to fit the description for relief under the prosecutorial discretion memo issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. Issued in June 2011, the memo makes clear that agents can exercise broad flexibility when choosing to seek deportation. Arma’s supporters point out that he has no criminal history, he’s a breadwinner who cares for all his three children and he faces immediate danger if he’s sent to Guatemala—where his own brother was killed just a few years ago.  

It looks like Arma’s story is a good example, too, of the fundamental problem of a government that rules not just through law, but through policies, procedures, waivers and exemptions emanating from an ever-growing bureaucracy. President Obama excuses this by saying that Congress won’t work with him or that he can’t wait for Congress. John Kerry amazingly even deployed the excuse of Congressional gridlock as to why the president can go bomb wherever he pleases. But it’s the president’s job to work with Congress, not around it.

Of course, it’s been decades since comprehensive immigration reform last happened, and there’s blame enough for both sides. But President Obama appears to have had ignored legislative attempts at immigration reform in favor of ruling through the bureaucracy of the executive branch. Of note, too, is that Obama did his part to help sink the last attempt at comprehensive immigration reform, President Bush’s in 2007, when Obama “pulled off a trifecta: appeasing Big Labor while telling Latinos he supported the bill and blaming Republicans for its failure,” according to the Wall Street Journal. It should sound familiar.

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Bobby Jindal's (Almost) Radical GOP Reformism

Transom scribe Ben Domenech calls Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s recent speech to the Republican National Convention “as close to an encapsulation of libertarian populism” as he’s seen from an elected official. That’s not how I would describe it, but Jindal did manage to deliver a rare thing: a major political speech that’s actually worth reading.

Which is not to say it’s one I entirely, or even mostly, agree with. Jindal’s speech is admirably focused on getting away from a Washington-centric view of America and the economy. But he’s so determined to push the idea that government isn’t the be-all, end-all of American life that he ends up saying things like: “Balancing our government’s books is not what matters most.” Instead, it’s “a nice goal, but not what matters most.” He warns that “today’s conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits, the mammoth federal debt, the shortfall in our entitlement programs…even as we invent new entitlement programs,” and is clear that he thinks this monomania is a bad thing. His fellow conservatives, he says, should be focused on promoting a vision of growth, of economic success that has nothing to do with government intervention, of entrepreneurship and individual initiative. Instead, he says, they “have an obsession with bookkeeping.”

Judging by the actual governing record of Republicans in Washington, they aren’t nearly obsessed enough. It was under President Bush that federal spending climbed the most in both real and per-capita terms, that Congress nearly doubled defense spending and passed an unfunded expansion of Medicare benefits. President Obama took Bush’s inflated spending levels, topped them off, and has more or less made them permanent—but it was Bush who allowed federal spending to grow the most. That’s what happened when Republicans focused on growth rather than boring old budget math, and it’s part of why the budget situation is, as Jindal correctly notes, such a wreck today.

Nor is it clear that this GOP obsession has grown stronger in ways that matter. Republicans remain wary of talking about real cuts to spending: Just look at Mitt Romney’s detail-free campaign, or House Speaker John Boehner’s repeated evasions when it comes to offering specifics about spending cuts or entitlement reforms. In the last week, the GOP has hatched a plan to try putting together a budget that balances in a decade, but the boldest budget framework that Republicans have endorsed so far—the Ryan Roadmap—was a plan to balance the budget in about forty years. Today’s Republicans could probably stand to be a little more wrapped up in “solving the hideous mess that is the federal government”—especially since it’s a mess that yesterday’s Republicans helped create.

So why do I think it’s a speech worth reading? Because for all the griping about how Republicans are too focused on fixing federal failures, and too little focused on the campaign-friendly topic of jolting economic growth, Jindal hints at a refreshingly (almost) radical vision of federal reform:

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Honduran "Free City" Plan Might Be Alive Again

Intereting news for those interested in competitive governance, via the Central American Date website:

By a large majority (110 votes to 128), the Honduran Congress approved the modification of three articles of the country’s constitution, giving powers to Congress to create areas subject to special arrangements, referred to as "Model Cities" that were declared unconstitutional last October for being considered "states within a state."

Laprensa.hn reports that "The law consists of two approved articles. The first amending Articles 294, 303 and 329 of Decree 131 of January 11, 1982 containing the Constitution, which divided the country into departments. These 'are divided into autonomous municipalities administered by corporations elected by the people, in accordance with the law'.
Without prejudice to the provisions of the preceding two paragraphs, Congress can create areas under special schemes in accordance with Article 329 of this Constitution '.

I blogged about the initial rise and fall of this idea last year. Look for a Reason print magazine feature on the idea in the near future. Subscribe now!

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Silly Taxpayers! Only Government Should Invest in Gun Companies!

So, we've already established that the gun-hating government of New York has spent nearly $6 million in taxpayer money to subsidize the New York-based Remington Arms Co., which manufactures the politician-hated Bushmaster rifle used in the Newtown school shooting. We know that New York is part of a group of states (including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma) that has doled out more than $19 million in subsidies and targeted tax breaks to gun manufacturers over the past decade.

In between gifting gunmakers and trying to outlaw their products (or I should say, their competitors' products; we can always carve out exception for hometown factories, amirite Joe Lieberman?), politicians are now pressuring state-run pension funds to disinvest from gun manufacturers, and even using their bully pulpits to shame the banks that lend to them. From the New York Times:

Fresh from persuading a $5 billion pension fund in Chicago to divest from companies that make firearms, the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, on Thursday urged the chief executives of two major banks to stop financing companies "that profit from gun violence."

Mr. Emanuel sent letters to TD Bank, which provides a $60 million credit line to Smith & Wesson, and to Bank of America, which provides a $25 million line to Sturm, Ruger & Company, asking the C.E.O.'s to push the companies to "find common ground with the vast majority of Americans who support a military weapons and ammunition ban." [...]

New York State's big public pension fund and California's fund for teachers have already frozen or divested their gun holdings, and California's fund for other public workers, known as Calpers, is expected to take up the issue in February.

New York City's public advocate has put pressure on banks and investment firms by ranking their gun holdings by size and calling the companies with the 12 biggest stakes the Dirty Dozen.

"Elected leaders understand that this is a tool of government with huge ramifications," said the public advocate, Bill de Blasio, who is a trustee of the city's $45 billion pension fund.

This is precisely why we need to give the Bill de Blasios of the world smaller "tools." The more government takes, regulates, and manages your money, the more it is guaranteed to offend your values, often in the name of protecting them. And the more it is likely to squander the money in question.

As Jon Entine wrote in a prescient February 2009 Reason cover story,

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The 17 Habits of Somewhat Effective Assholes

Michael Brendan Dougherty lists 17 ways we argue in politics, including:

The Incredibly Faked Surprise of Partisan Scribblers Over The "Appalling" (But Commonly and Sincerely Held) Views Of Most Other People

The Ritual Slaughter Of The Kook Used Cynically As An Avatar For Views Held By Millions Of Sane, Educated, Civilized, Productive Citizens

The Single Most Heartbreaking Anecdote That Will Awaken Your Undying Rage Against A Third Tier Pundit

...and so on. Feel free to enter your additions to the list in the comment thread below. I'll start with a meta entry: The Outraged Announcement That Any Suggestion That These Habits Cross Party Lines Is False Equivalence.

Video: Sex, Violence and Satan: 6 Unbelievably Dumb Congressional Hearings

"Sex, Violence and Satan: 6 Unbelievably Dumb Congressional Hearings" is the latest offering from Reason TV.

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

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If You Need an Oblivious Defense of Municipal Money Grabs, the L.A. Times Is There for You

After ReasonTV’s Tracy Oppenheimer and Kennedy explored Santa Monica’s efforts to regulate and foist additional taxes onto fitness trainers who hold classes in their parks, our lovely, brilliant commenters here at Hit & Run were able to immediately see what was really happening. It was obviously a municipal money grab disguised as an alleged need to keep fitness buffs from overwhelming the park.

So when the Los Angeles Times editorial board easily accepts the city’s argument without any sort of critical analysis, are they just being willfully ignorant or simply serving as typical Nanny State lapdogs? Or is that a false choice? Anyway, of course their editorial position is in favor of regulation:

Angelenos are resigned to grappling with gridlock on our streets. But we don't expect to encounter traffic in our parks.

Unfortunately, though, some parks have become nearly as congested as our thoroughfares. Instead of cars, we're dodging yoga mats, hand weights and the exercisers who wield them. Santa Monica's signature Palisades Park, an expanse of grass and leafy trees that runs along Ocean Avenue from Adelaide Drive to Colorado Avenue, has become a mecca for fitness boot camps, private yoga classes, weight trainers and all manner of exercise groups.

What’s most amusing about this opening metaphor is the slide show accompanying the editorial, featuring trainers and classes in session in the park. The photos are all beautifully shot, and in several of them you can see plenty of lovely unused park space. The park stretches 1.5 miles long and is 26.4 acres in size. The Times notes 73 group classes take place there over a given week. That’s 10 per day. Fundamentally that’s not a lot of classes, though I’m going to guess they end up clumped up at certain times to accommodate work schedules of the customers and such. But even if all the classes happened at once, there’s a lot of space.

Here’s an infuriating paragraph:

Santa Monica may move in that direction as well; it's considering raising existing user and permit fees and limiting class sizes as well as hours of operation. After all, a trainer doing business in a well-groomed public park is reaping the benefits of a place tended by municipal workers. There is already a litany of regulations in Santa Monica governing recreational use of parks, including restrictions on hours, athletic equipment, noise levels and where a dog can be off-leash. It would not be unreasonable to add regulations on exercise classes. Among other things, no instructor should be allowed to tell other park users to move.

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Louisville Cops Mistook Purple Heart Recipient for Vagrant, Harassment Ensued, Lawsuit Alleges

Donald Settle, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and a recipient of a purple heart and two bronze stars, is suing the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky for an incident last year where he claims police harassed him at the mall after they mistook him for a homeless person. Settle suffers from a brain injury sustained in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. His account of the incident, from the local NBC affiliate:

Settle said he was getting a gift card at Mid-City Mall in the Highlands when he said an LMPD officer asked him to leave the mall.

"I said 'have I done something wrong?' He said 'well, there's no pan-handling in here,'" Settle said.

Settle said he was wearing a sweatshirt and sweat pants with a Wounded Warrior logo and an arm cast. A portion of his clothing was dirty with drywall dust.

"He said 'you need to get your hands up out of your pockets up in the air where I can see them.' When I looked back, he had his taser up in my face," said Settle.

Settle said five or six officers then forced him down to the ground and used excessive force against him. He said the officers asked him all sorts of questions, but he had trouble answering because of his brain injury. He said he tried to explain to them he was a Fort Knox soldier.

"It's probably the greatest challenge that I'm going through right now," Settle said.

Settle filed a complaint with the police department but he and his lawyer said not enough was done in response, so he’s filed a lawsuit. What did the police department said it did? “A complete and thorough investigation was conducted. As a result of that, LMPD has been working with the officials at Fort Knox with their Wounded Worriers program. Also, during the 2013 LMPD in service training for officers, a block of instruction for traumatic brain injuries will be advanced," according to a statement from the department.

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Federal Court Rules Obama’s Labor Board Appointments to be Unconstitutional

A 3-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handed the Obama administration a major defeat today, ruling that President Obama’s appointment of three members to the National Labor Relations Board last year violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, which says that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.”

Here’s a key section from Chief Judge David Sentelle’s majority opinion:

The [National Labor Relatinons] Board conceded at oral argument that the appointments at issue were not made during the intersession recess: the President made his three appointments to the Board on January 4, 2012, after Congress began a new session on January 3 and while that new session continued. Considering the text, history, and structure of the Constitution, these appointments were invalid from their inception.  Because the Board lacked a quorum of three members when it issued its decision in this case on February 8, 2012, its decision must be vacated.  [Citations omitted.]

The case stemmed from a canning company’s challenge to a NLRB ruling, but the implications stretch well beyond one particular labor dispute. If the Supreme Court lets the D.C. Circuit’s ruling stand, either by upholding it or refusing to hear the inevitable appeal from the Obama administration, nearly a year’s worth of NLRB decisions will be rendered worthless.

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Steven Greenhut on How Big Government Undermines Freedom and Prosperity

During the early days of the labor movement, the hard leftists never made much headway because of that deep-seated idea that, no matter how humble one’s beginnings, an American can make it big some day. But something has changed, writes Steven Greenhut, even as our society has become wealthier. Somewhere we’ve shifted from honoring success to envying it, from viewing government as a limited tool to achieve a few necessary things (infrastructure, enforcing the rule of law) to seeing it as the be-all and end-all of our society.

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Under New Law, Three Strikes Offenders Released With $200, But No Hope for a New Life

Under California's old "three strikes" law, many repeat offenders were sentenced to life terms after their third felony--regardless of whether that felony was stealing laptops or killing someone. In November, Californians passed Prop. 36, a ballot intiative that prohibits judges from giving out life sentences for minor felonies. As a result, roughly 3,000 California inmates are eligible for early release.

Naturally, there's already a problem. After the language for Prop. 36 was set in stone, California legislators decided to shift the burden of supervising nonviolent offenders from the state government to local governments. The Contra Costa Times reports on the problems those decisions are creating: 

In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state's tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison "gate money" and the clothes on their backs.

"I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing," said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.

Because of the way the state's complex sentencing laws work, many of those strikers have already been locked up longer than their newly calculated terms and usual period of parole, leaving many to fend for themselves without supervision or assistance once they are released.

Under California's realignment of its criminal justice system, the role of supervising most nonviolent offenders is shifting in stages from the state to county probation officers. But neither the realignment statute nor the Three Strikes Law made provisions for monitoring released strikers.

Three strikes alumni aren't being funnelled into shelters, halfway houses, employment programs, or drug treatment--all of which have been shown to reduce recidivism. Instead, they get their old clothes, $200, a criminal record, and the implicit promise of readmission if they don't make the best of their newfound freedom. 

Sadly, we should expect more problems like these as the U.S. slowly steers away from decades of over-incarceration. South Carolina, to take another example, passed a sentencing reform bill in 2010 to reduce its prison population. While that population is indeed shrinking, the probation and parole population--because reducing penalties is not the same as eliminating them--is now growing

Agents at the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon services now are supervising 1,409 more offenders than they were two years ago. Each probation agent supervises an average of 97 cases, far above the national average of 50 cases.

To help, Gov. Nikki Haley wants to give the agency $1.2 million in additional money next year to hire 25 new probation agents. It is part of the probation department’s three-year plan to hire 156 new agents to bring the average caseload down to 80 cases per agent.

State lawmakers have $263 million in “new” money – money that should recur in future budget years – to spend in the 2013-14 budget. But nearly all of that will be gobbled up by the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and disabled, and increases in the cost of state employees’ health insurance.

Shortsightedness on the part of legislators is one problem. The fact that state and local governments are loathe to spend money "helping" criminals is another (also see drug courts, which receive the bulk of their funding from federal grants). But the biggest problem is that none of the "Smart on Crime" or "Smart Justice" strategies currently en vogue involve repealing prohibition, which is the underlying driver of prison growth. 

(H/t Dara) 

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Global Extinction Rates Have Likely Been Exaggerated

A new study in Science finds that global extinction rates of species has likely been exaggerated. As LiveScience reports:

Concerns that many animals are becoming extinct, before scientists even have time to identify them, are greatly overstated, according Griffith University researcher, Professor Nigel Stork. Professor Stork has taken part in an international study, the findings of which have been detailed in "Can we name Earth's species before they go extinct?" published in the journal Science.

Deputy Head of the Griffith School of Environment, Professor Stork said a number of misconceptions have fueled these fears, and there is no evidence that extinction rates are as high as some have feared.

"Surprisingly, few species have gone extinct, to our knowledge. Of course, there will have been some species which have disappeared without being recorded, but not many we think," Professor Stork said.

Professor Stork said part of the problem is that there is an inflated sense of just how many animals exist and therefore how big the task to record them.

"Modern estimates of the number of eukaryotic species have ranged up to 100 million, but we have estimated that there are around 5 million species on the planet (plus or minus 3 million)."

Good news indeed. Some years ago I testified at an oversight hearing before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. The topic of the hearing was on the impact of science on public policy. I focused on various failed apocalyptic environmentalist predictions, one of which was the allegedly imminent extinction of a huge percentage of the Earth's species. Specifically I reviewed a number of earlier such predictions:

Let me close with a brief tour of past predictions about species extinctions. Again the predictions by concerned scientists were way off the mark. In 1970, Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, predicted that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct. That is 75 and 80 percent of all species of living animals would be extinct by 1995. In 1975, Paul Ehrlich and his biologist wife, Anne Ehrlich, predicted that "since more than nine-tenths of the original tropical rainforests will be removed in most areas within the next 30 years or so, it is expected that half of the organisms in these areas will vanish with it." It's now 29 years later and nowhere near 90 percent of the rainforests have been cut.

In 1979, Oxford University biologist Norman Myers suggested in his book The Sinking Ark that 40,000 species per year were going extinct and that 1 million species would be gone by the year 2000. Myers suggested that the world could "lose one-quarter of all species by the year 2000." At a 1979 symposium at Brigham Young University, Thomas Lovejoy, who is now the president of The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment announced that he had made "an estimate of extinctions that will take place between now and the end of the century. Attempting to be conservative wherever possible, I still came up with a reduction of global diversity between one-seventh and one-fifth." Lovejoy drew up the first projections of global extinction rates for the Global 2000 Report to the President in 1980. If Lovejoy had been right, between 15 and 20 percent of all species alive in 1980 would be extinct right now. No one believes that extinctions of this magnitude have occurred over the last three decades.

What did happen?

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Jeb Bush: 'It is not [immigration] law enforcement but the law itself that is broken'

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Goldwater Institute Vice President Clint Bolick have a new book out, called Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution. An excerpt in today's Wall Street Journal contains a point that somehow goes missing in most of our emotion-choked discourse on the issue: "The best way to prevent illegal immigration is to make sure that we have a fair and workable system of legal immigration." Who'da thunk?

Excerpt:

It is not law enforcement but the law itself that is broken. The nation has changed dramatically since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and that legislation has not held up well. It has been patched over so many times that it is hopelessly complex and incoherent. We need to start from scratch. [...]

There is no "line." Critics of comprehensive reform often argue that illegal immigrants should return to their native countries and wait in line like everyone else who wants to come to America. But unless they have relatives in the U.S. or can fit within the limited number of work-based visas, no line exists for such individuals.

For most aspiring immigrants, the only means of legal admission to this country is an annual "diversity lottery" that randomly awards visas to 55,000 foreigners. There are roughly 250 applicants for each visa every year. The absence of a meaningful avenue of access increases the pressure for illegal immigration.

Preach it, Brother Bush.

Sadly, the always-timely observation that over-criminalization breeds lawbreakers and thus should occasion re-writing the law, does not, for Bush/Bolick, extend to the Drug War:

The far greater border-security threat is paramilitaristic drug cartels that often are also involved in human smuggling, increasingly from Central American countries. The U.S. needs to coordinate closely with Mexico and focus its resources on defeating the cartels.

The cartels are indeed terrible, but organized crime always flourishes wherever the law forbids millions of humans from pursuing happiness how they see fit.

Read Reason's special August 2006 issue on immigration here.

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Have You Jumped on Assault Weapon Ban Wagon Yet?

Over at the Washington Times, Emily Miller - author of an excellent blog feature about legally buying a gun in Washington, D.C. after a home-invasion robbery - runs through Sen. Dianne Feinstein's latest proposal to ban semiautomatic weapons. Miller says that Sen. Feinstein (D-Calif.) is fudging the facts when she says that "assault weapons" that are currently legal are actually "guns designed for military use": 

The best illustration of this deception is Mrs. Feinstein’s placing of the “Armalite M15 22LR Carbine” on her list of items that she claims have the sole purpose “to hold at the hip if possible, to spray fire to be able to kill large numbers.” This particular weapon fires a .22 long rifle cartridge, which has one-tenth the power of the standard military round and is generally suited for plinking tin cans or hunting small varmints. It simply looks like a military rifle, which fits Mrs. Feinstein’s effort to eliminate items that look scary to her.

It isn't difficult to both feel sickened by the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut and recognize that the new ban proposed by Feinstein will have no effect other than to punish law-abiding Americans. Miller again:

In the eight years Americans have been free to buy any semi-automatic rifles, gun ownership has gone up while crime has steadily declined.

According to a survey conducted in 2010 for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 90 percent of the owners of modern sporting rifles use them for target shooting, 80 percent for home defense and 60 percent for hunting.

About 44 percent of owners are former military or law enforcement, who enjoy using a familiar rifle. The typical owner is over 35 years old, married and has some college education. These good Americans are the ones who will be affected by a ban, not the criminals who will continue to use whatever they want.

Read the whole thing.

Miller is also the source for the Reason TV video "Girls, Guns, and The Problem with DC Firearms Laws." Watch it here.

Related:

"4 Awful Reactions to the Sandy Hook School Shooting."

"What the Hell Is an 'Assault Weapon'?"

"Why Does Anyone Need an Assault Weapon? Because The Want It."

Watch "5 Facts About Guns, Schools, and Violence":

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LAPD Makes Routine Use of Indiscriminate 'Anti-Terrorism' Surveillance

The other day I wrote of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's efforts to make sure that a Massachusetts resident "accidentally" tracked when he was a passenger in a car to which a GPS device had been attached would be recognized as having legal standing to challenge the police surveillance. The EFF warns that such collateral subjects of official scrutiny are likely to become more common as far-ranging snooping tools are put to greater use. Now, Reason 24/7 tells us that the Los Angeles Police Department makes routine use of a technology that lets it determine the position of every cell phone within its wide reach.

From the L.A. Weekly:

A secretive cellphone spy device known as StingRay, intended to fight terrorism, was used in far more routine LAPD criminal investigations 21 times in a four-month period during 2012, apparently without the courts' knowledge that the technology probes the lives of non-suspects who happen to be in the same neighborhood as suspected terrorists.

According to records released to the First Amendment Coalition under the California Public Records Act, StingRay, which allows police to track mobile phones in real time, was tapped for more than 13 percent of the 155 "cellular phone investigation cases" that Los Angeles police conducted between June and September last year.

"Stingray" is actually a brand name that has stuck as a generic monicker for International Mobile Subscriber Identity locators. These devices masquerade as cell towers to ping all of the mobile devices on a given network within their range, so long as they're turned on, and so reveal their location.

The LAPD is being vague about the legal guidelines under which it uses stingrays. That's no surprise, since the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that the FBI and Department of Justice insist the devices don't require search warrants. Los Angeles police officials probably want to keep the technology subject to as loose a standard as possible. To do that, the LAPD is apparently presenting stingrays to judges as old-fashioned "pen register/trap and trace" long used to identify individual callers on landlines. The occasional jurist might raise an eyebrow (we can hope) upon discovering that stingrays are a tad more powerful.

Powerful, indiscriminate surveillance technology is coming soon to a law-enforcement agency near you! Or it's already there.

Kurt Loder Reviews Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a genial riff on the old German fairy tale. The movie nods in the direction of the well-known story—the evil crone, the gingerbread cottage, the oven-bound siblings—but it’s essentially a big 3D action film, packed with fights and chases and jokey anachronisms. It’s not awful, reports Kurt Loder, certainly not as stupid as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, or the even more definitively brain-dead Red Riding Hood of two years back. But those are very low bars to clear.

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A.M. Links: Nebraska Lawmaker Goes After Drones, Big Win For Property Rights in Massachusetts, LAPD Used Anti-Terrorism Tool to Tackle Typical Crimes, Lautenberg Criticizes Booker, Abrams to Direct New Star Wars Movie

  • A Nebraska lawmaker has introduced legislation that would bar police from using drones to obtain evidence and would make evidence gathered by drones inadmissible in criminal prosecutions. 
  • A civil forfeiture action against the Motel Caswell was dismissed by a federal court in Massachusetts. Owners Russell and Patricia Caswell were cleared of any wrongdoing. 
  • The LAPD used a cell phone spy tool called StingRay 21 times over a four-month period is 2012. The tool is supposed to be used in anti-terrorism investigations.
  • Senior New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has criticized Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is rumored to be eyeing the Senator’s seat. 
  • J.J. Abrams will direct the new Star Wars movie. 
  • Egyptian youths clashed with police in Cairo on the second anniversary of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

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

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Rand Paul to John Kerry: Why is it OK to bomb Libya but not Cambodia w/o Congress's Approval?

 

Between the sniper fire drawn a few weeks back by the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for Defense Secretary and the kabuki theater surrounding outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's testifying about Benghazi, it's easy to forget that Sen. John "Reporting for Duty" Kerry (D-Mass.) is about to start calling the shots at State.

Above is a great conversation between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and the failed 2004 presidential candidate, who got his start in public life by (rightly) denouncing the Vietnam War in which he had served. Among the basic questions that Paul asks of Kerry: If the U.S. was wrong to bomb Cambodia without congressional authorization (and it was), then why was it A-OK for Obama to join in bombing runs over Libya?

Another excellent question raised by Paul: Why are we sending big fancy fighter jets to Egypt even as the leader of that country is going full Capt. Queeg, with a fixation on the Jews standing in for obsession about stolen strawberries?

This sort of common-sense exploration of the WTF that is U.S. foreign policy should be at the forefront of any American who gives a hell about limited, legitimate government and the Constitution.

Which helps to explain why Paul is about the only guy in the Senate making such inquiries: Most of the folks there couldn't care less about the Constution. That Rand Paul is so often alone in his line of thinking is sad and disturbing, but it's also one more reason why he is "the most interesting man in the Senate."

Hat tip via Hot Air (known as "Hot Gas" in Texas) and Allahpundit, who adds:

My one criticism of Paul here is his failure to press Kerry on his proferred excuse [about unauthorized bombing], that Obama had no time to ask Congress for action because Qadaffi was about to put thousands of Libyan rebels in Benghazi to the sword. Nonsense. Go look at the timeline leading up to the west’s military intervention. Protests against Qadaffi broke out in mid-February; by February 21, Libyan diplomats were asking the UN for a no-fly zone. A day later Hillary was issuing public statements denouncing Qaddafi and by March 1 the Senate had passed a non-binding resolution — unanimously — encouraging the UN to impose that no-fly zone. It wasn’t until March 15, however, that NFZ was finally approved and not until March 19 that France, backed by the U.S., began an air campaign over the country. Obama had nearly an entire month in which he could have asked for congressional approval but Kerry wants you to believe that his decision was made under some sort of emergency conditions, a la an invasion or nuclear attack, where the president had no choice logistically but to act on his own. Pitiful. He’ll be confirmed with 95+ votes anyway.

If you haven't felt sick yet today, read Ed Krayewski's "4 Things You Need to Know about John Kerry."

Cheer up by reading Reason on Rand Paul.

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Brickbat: Don't Take Your Guns to School

Officials locked down New York's Elmont Memorial High School after someone called 911 to report she saw a student carrying a lime green gun. Police searched the school and eventually find a green and yellow Nerf gun.

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Massachusetts Motel Owners Defeat Federal Forfeiture Based on Guests' Drug Offenses

Great news from Massachusetts: Russell and Patricia Caswell, owners of a Tewksbury, Massachusetts, motel that the federal government tried to seize because some people who stayed there committed drug crimes, have beaten back this land grab in court with help from the Instiitute for Justice. Today U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein, who heard evidence in the case last November, rejected the forfeiture action, saying the Caswells qualify for the "innocent owner" defense under federal law:

The evidence was undisputed that Mr. Caswell did not know the guests involved in the drug crimes, did not know of their anticipated criminal behavior at the time they registered as guests, and did not know of the drug crimes whilethey were occurring. Not only did Mr. Caswell testify to these facts, but also the law enforcement witnesses confirmed that they had no reason to doubt the veracity of Mr.Caswell’s statements....

Mr. Caswell did not have prior knowledge of the limited number of drug crimes committed by transient guests over the course of an extended period of time, and the police did not advise him of those crimes. Moreover, this Court finds that the Government has failed to establish that drug crime was so blatant and pervasive at the Motel that Mr. Caswell had "actual knowledge" that drug crimes were likely to occur frequently at the Motel....

I also find that Mr. Caswell did not engage in “willful blindness” from which the court can infer consent to the drug transactions.

Dein also ruled that "the Government has not met its burden of proving a substantial connection between the Motel Caswell and the forfeitable crimes, and, therefore, has not met its burden of proving that the Property is forfeitable." Institute for Justice attorney Scott Bullock calls the decision "a complete victory for the Caswell family and for the protection of private property rights." Ray Caswell adds:

I couldn’t have fought this fight without the help of the Institute for Justice. It is hard to believe anything like this goes on in our country, but the government goes after people they think can’t afford to fight. But with IJ’s help, we put up a heck of a fight and have won. The public needs to stand up against these abuses of power.

Dein's decision is here. Previous coverage of the case here.

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RNC Chief Reince Priebus Fends off Paulite Rebellion

As I reported here the other week, a 2012 Maine Ron Paul delegate Mark Willis had launched an insurgent campaign to replace Reince Priebus as head of the Republican National Committee. That campaign seems to have been neutered today, as per this Politico article:

By quietly wooing a handful of Ron Paul supporters and capitalizing on a rift in the libertarian ranks, the Republican National Committee’s chairman squashed a long-shot challenge for his job.

Reince Priebus’s reelection to another two-year term was guaranteed when a 5 p.m. deadline passed Thursday. His sole challenger, Maine committeeman Mark Willis, did not have the support required from three state delegations to get on the ballot for a formal vote on Friday.

As I reported a few weeks ago, the Iowa party, run by Paulite A.J. Spiker, decided to stay with Priebus. Politico reports that Willis never directly asked Spiker for support.

But Nevada, another largely Paulite state, was still in play. So:

Priebus flew to Las Vegas Monday for an evening sit-down with Nevada’s Republican state chairman and national committeeman. After these Paul supporters won control at a state convention last year, the RNC and Mitt Romney’s campaign largely bypassed them by funneling funds through a shadow party. Both sides express a desire to mend fences after the GOP got creamed in the Silver State in November.

“There were certainly some promises exchanged,” Nevada committeeman James Smack said of the meeting. “We’re not talking about money. We’re talking about promises, though, that he’s going to work on getting some doors open for us that have been closed by whatever means – whether that be through some of the casino owners or what have you.”

Paul folk never like to say die:

There’s an element of devoted Paul supporters who agitated for resistance, even if futile, to Priebus. Some plan a sign-waving protest Friday morning outside the Westin hotel where the RNC is meeting.

Jeff Larson drove with a group of like-minded Paul backers all the way from Texas to support Willis’ bid. He was a Texas delegate to last summer’s national convention but only a guest at this meeting in Charlotte. He feels Rand Paul will be a viable candidate in 2016, and he wants to stay involved to help shape the rules and lay the groundwork.

He worries that the establishment sees the Paul forces as obsessed with legalizing drugs and abortion. He thinks they can work together on fiscal issues.

“You’ll never see these factions merge, but you’ll see them cooperate in areas,” he said.

I reported back in August on Willis's efforts in the contested Maine delegation.

Willis's press conference announcing his now-moribund candidacy:

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What Illicit Police Snooping Tells Us About Government Databases

Government officials like databases. They force us to disclose information on our finances, our cars, our health, our firearms ownership, our encounters with the legal system and a host of other data grand and petty, and they record them for purposes clear and not so much. Having compelled us to cough up the gruesome details of our life, they give us smiles that don't reach their eyes and assure us that our information is secure. And then we find out that Florida cops have been dipping into motor vehicle records to stalk their dates and for purposes of retaliation. Thanks for the assurances, folks.

According to the Orlando Sentinel:

Florida's driver-and-vehicle database, the system that can help law enforcement identify victims of fatal crashes and decipher the identity of a suspect, can be a useful tool for cops.

But the system — known as D.A.V.I.D., for Driving and Vehicle Information Database — can also be easily abused.

Data obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show the number of Florida law-enforcement officers suspected of misusing D.A.V.I.D. skyrocketed last year.

At least 74 law enforcers were suspected of misusing D.A.V.I.D. in 2012, a nearly 400 percent increase from 2011, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Most of the violations seem of the creepy but routine variety that you would expect of government officials who have too much power at their fingertips and little fear of consequences that, theoretically, include criminal charges, sanctions or ill-defined "disciplinary action." Among these was an Oviedo police officer who "made unauthorized searches in D.A.V.I.D. to look up a local bank teller he was reportedly flirting with."

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Jerry Brown: California’s Back! Trader Joe’s: Nope!

Gov. Jerry Brown gave his State of the State address this morning, one which the Sacramento Bee characterized as “triumphant,” due to his insistence that the state budget is balanced after years of deficits. This is ignoring that the balancing of the budget is due to fairly optimistic projections and ignores that even as we speak the state is overspending. (Point of fairness: The recent deficit spending is due to assistance provided to local governments. Sacramento actually is spending less than budgeted on state operations. But it still can’t afford it.)

At the same time that the governor is saying that the state has “once again confounded our critics,” Trader Joe’s is increasing the price of its famous Two-Buck Chuck wine (actual name: Charles Shaw Wines) in California. The price has jumped from $1.99 to $2.49. A statement provided to ABC News by the store chain read, “In general, our retail prices change only when our costs change. In the case of Shaw in California, we’ve held a $1.99 retail price for 11 years.  Quite a bit has happened during those years and the move to $2.49 allows us to offer the same quality that has made the wine famous the world over.”

The Charles Shaw line of wine is indeed higher priced in other states. It costs almost $4 in Ohio!

Keep in mind that Proposition 30, which was billed as a tax increase on the rich, also raised sales taxes for everybody in California by a quarter of a cent. So everybody in California will be paying more for wine, no matter the price.

Brown went on to say this about California’s future budgets: "This means living within our means and not spending what we don't have. Fiscal discipline is not the enemy of our good intentions, but the basis for realizing them. It's cruel to lead people on by expanding good programs, only to cut them, cut them back when the funding disappears."

And then he reiterated his support for the $68 billion high-speed rail program, a project that currently only has enough funding for the first leg.

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Two Cheers for Lifting the Ban on Women in Combat

Women and men are entitled to the same rights, period. Discriminating against an individual solely based on his or her sex is wrong and if you do that you are not my friend. So my initial reaction yesterday to reports that the Pentagon was lifting restrictions on women in combat was: It's about time. I was confident that I could find data that would show that women and men would perform equally well in combat, so I went looking for it. To my surprise, I could uncover very little data comparing the physical capacities of female and male recruits.

The most comprehensive analysis of the issue that I could find is a 2011 paper by social scientist William Gregor in the School of Advanced Military Studies at the US Army Command and General Staff College located at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Gregor's study, "Why Can’t Anything Be Done? Measuring Physical Readiness of Women for Military Occupations," [PDF] looks at what data is available and finds significant differences in ability of female and male recruits to meet the military's physical performance standards.

Take, for example, Gregor's analysis of how well ROTC cadets have done on the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) that looks at about 75,000 recruits who were commissioned by the U.S. Army through ROTC between 1992 and 2009. The performance of all cadets is evaluated based on how fast they can run two miles and how many push ups they can do. Gregor shows ...

.. the distribution of cadet scores on the 2-Mile Run in 2000, the Push-Up, and the distribution of cadets by weight. The difference in performance is clear. Only 2.9 per cent of the women, 23, were able to attain the male mean score. The strength comparison is somewhat worse, 1.5 per cent of the women achieved the male mean. Given the difference in stature between the cadet men and women, the difference in absolute strength is very large. [The relevant charts are on pages 20 and 21 of the study.]

Gregor then looks at a comparison of the aerobic capacity of the ROTC cadets and reports...

...the aerobic capacity achieved by women regardless of their body composition is less than the capacity of men. ...there are a few, exceptional women who best the bottom 16% of men, but these rare women are four standard deviations above the female mean, fewer than 1 in a 1000. In this exceptionally fit ROTC Cadet population, considering 74,838 records, not one women achieved the male mean.

According to NPR, qualifying for combat positions will be based on gender-neutral criteria:

Will the standards be different for men and women?

At a briefing Thursday morning, Pentagon officials repeatedly stressed that there will be "gender-neutral standards" for combat positions. This could make it difficult for women to qualify in roles that specifically require upper-body strength.

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Sarasota Cop, Bus Depot Security Guard Testify in Trial of Homeless Man Slammed into Metal Wall

why are you injuring yourself?SCATThe ACLU says authorities in Sarasota, Florida are trying to harass the homeless out of town, based on a number of prominent incidents in the last few months, and the revelation that a pair of cops called each other “bum hunters.” The trial of a homeless man, Roger Fields, at the center of one of those incidents, caught on video (below), began today. It featured testimony from the private security guard at the bus depot where Fields was arrested and the cop seen on video appearing to slam him face-first into a metal wall.

First, the guard's testimony, via the Herald Tribune:

In court today, [Robert] Sauder  said, “He up and just spits in my face. Luckily I was wearing my sunglasses so I didn't get any in my eyes.”

Sauder described Fields' demeanor as “very agitated, didn't want to listen and smelled of alcohol.”

The 6-foot 4-inch, 290-pound security guard said he felt threatened by the 5-foot 8-inch, 143-pound Fields and forced Fields to the ground with a leg sweep. Sauder sat on top of him until police arrived, when Gilbert helped him up.

And the cop's:

Fields sat on a bench throughout most of his encounter with police, until [Officer Derrick] Gilbert walked behind him, withdrew his handcuffs and attempted to place them on the homeless man. Grabbing Fields by the arm, Gilbert quickly swung him face-first into the metal ticket booth, the video shows.

Gilbert testified that Fields “separated himself from me,” during the handcuffing.

“He pulled back. I had a grab of his wrist and elbow. He had blood on him. I didn't want blood on me. As soon as he didn't comply, my job was to put him to the ground,” Gilbert said. “Grabbing his right wrist and elbow, I tried to put him on the ground. He stands up and staggers and ends up hitting the ticket booth, injuring himself.”

Watch the homeless man injure himself, as the cop, on paid leave while internal affairs investigates, testified:

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UN Investigating Targeted Killings, Jobless Claims Down, SWAT Drill in Mass. School: P.M. Links

  • Guantanamo detainees want the CIA’s black sites preserved as evidence of torture. The United Nations, meanwhile, is investigating extrajudicial killings by the United States and other countries.
  • Initial jobless claims fell for the second consecutive week according to the Department of Labor.
  • Phil Mickelson apologized for speaking publicly about his increasing tax burden, calling his comments “insensitive.” The golfer said he was considering moving out of his home state of California, which Jerry Brown said today was bouncing back.  
  • A Colorado man says cops shot his dog after arriving at the wrong house, and told him to calm down because he could get a new one. The Adam County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  • Students in Silver Lake, Massachusetts were treated to a SWAT drill, to prepare. Mass shootings, though, don’t appear to be trending.
  • Officials in the European Union are worried an exit by the United Kingdom might induce more countries to leave. David Cameron warned European leaders at Davos Great Britain would have no part in forcing deeper integration.
  • David Purchase, who started the country’s first needle exchange program, in Tacoma, died at 73.

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Katherine Mangu-Ward on Robert Ingersoll, The Great Agnostic, in The Weekly Standard

Robert Ingersoll was fat. The Great Agnostic, as he was known in his day, was so portly that critics sighed over the “spectacular auto da fé” he would have made if set alight for heresy—as he surely would have been in an earlier era.

Speaking to sold-out crowds around the nation at the turn of the 19th century, Ingersoll argued against belief in God, poked fun at religious authority, and gently introduced a skeptical American public to the idea that humans might be related to apes. Along the way, the jurist and Republican party kingmaker revived the reputation of another great doubter, Thomas Paine, restoring him to his rightful place in the Founders’ pantheon.

Reason Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward reviews Susan Jacoby's new biography, which attempts to restore Ingresoll to his rightful seat in the freethought pantheon.

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Are Plastic Bag Bans Making Us Sick?

Are the bacteria living in reusable grocery bags making us sick? A new study finds that plastic bag bans may be causing an uptick in emergency room visits and even deaths from common foodborne bacteria like coliform and E.coli.

The bag bans, which are usually justified on environmental grounds, are increasingly popular around the nation and usually incentivize shoppers to replace plastic with reusable canvas or nylon totes.

The study, by Jonathan Klick of University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Property and Environment Research Center and Joshua D. Wright of the George Mason University School of Law, found that in jurisdictions where plastic bags were banned saw ER visits increase by about one-fourth, with a similar increase in deaths compared with neighboring counties where the bags remained legal.

Basically people were schlepping leaky packages of meat and other foods in their canvas bags, then wadding to the bags somewhere for awhile, leaving bacteria to grow until the next trip, when they tossed celery or other foods likely to be eaten raw in the same bags.

Washing your bags reduces the risk, but let's be honest: who does that? 

To quote the study:

We find that the San Francisco County ban is associated with a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses. This implies an increase of 5.5 annual deaths for the county. 

In short: Plastic bag bans are killing Californians. You are next. Sorry.

For more on plastic bags, see Reason TV's video on L.A.'s plastic bag ban: 

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Looking Forward to Rand Paul vs. Hillary Clinton, 2016

Timothy Stanley, a British historian and author of the quite good bio of Patrick Buchanan, The Crusader: The Life and Tumultous Times of Pat Buchanan, that I reviewed for Reason in our June 2012 issue, is over at CNN analyzing Hillary Clinton's fight with Senate Republicans yesterday, and concludes:

the most impressive performance by far was from Rand Paul. He delivered a cool, withering statement that climaxed in this devastating paragraph (and you have to watch it to get the full effect): "I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think ultimately with your leaving that you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that. Had I been president and found you did not read the cables from Benghazi and from Ambassador (Christopher) Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it's inexcusable."

This performance might be -- and should be -- remembered well by the Republican base when the primary campaign of 2016 starts. Ever since the last president election, Rand Paul hasn't set a foot wrong. From his bridge-building visit to Israel to his opposition to the fiscal cliff deal, he seems well placed to become the tea party candidate.

And what an unusually satisfying choice Clinton vs. Paul would be.

It would be a genuine contest between big government liberalism and small government conservatism: Clinton's internationalism and support for welfare programs vs. Paul's anti-interventionism and opposition to pork.

The question of who could win such an unusual contest is difficult to answer. The Paul family has a tradition of winning votes from Democrats, but Clinton's new respectability could also pull votes away from the Republicans. One Kentucky poll found that in a head-to-head contest, she'd even beat Rand in his home state of Kentucky.

It would be a campaign that any elections scholar would relish.

I blogged on Paul v. Clinton yesterday, with video of the duel.

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ObamaCare: An Experiment in Federalism?

When ObamaCare first passed, most everyone assumed that every state would voluntarily create its own health insurance exchange. The law also required states to expand Medicaid, or face the possibility of severe federal penalties. Neither is true anymore: A majority of states have signaled that they will not create their own exchanges but will let the federal government do it for them. And following last year’s Supreme Court decision, which made the Medicaid expansion voluntary, at least 15 states have said or strongly hinted that they won’t expand Medicaid, while 11 more remain undecided.

Not surprisingly, many of the law’s supporters are unhappy with the lack of commitment: They’re aggressively pushing wavering states to expand Medicaid and build their own insurance exchanges, and shaming the mostly conservative governors who aren’t enthusiastically signing to implement the health law.

I’m not sure they need to be quite so upset. On Medicaid, for example, Aaron Carroll—who, to be sure, thinks states should agree to the expansion sooner rather than later—points out that when the program first came online, it took more than a decade to reach full adoption. Only 26 states participated in the program when it was passed in 1966, and the last state didn’t sign up until 1982. I’m not convinced that ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion is a good deal for states, as supporters claim; but if it is a good deal, then it will still be a good deal down the road, and holdout states will eventually join in the program.

Similarly, ObamaCare supporters have tried to stoke conservative anxieties about federal power by pointing out that if states refuse to run the exchanges, the federal government will do it for them, thus increasing federal power at the expense of the state. States have responded—correctly—that they don’t actually get that much flexibility or authority under the law, except to follow federal rules, but forget that for a moment: From the perspective of an ObamaCare supporter, would increasing federal power over the law really be so bad? I’d imagine that few of the law’s backers have serious problems with increasing the scope of federal authority over the law, especially when the alternative is to see parts of it set up and run by conservative state officials. Meanwhile, states that opt out now have the option to take over the exchanges down the road: If it’s obviously better to be running—and paying—for these insurance hubs, then states that don’t go for the expansion up front can step in later. (Interestingly, Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of both RomneyCare and ObamaCare, and a leading proponent of both laws, recently suggested that Florida should let the federal government run its exchange, at least for the time being.)

I’m no fan of ObamaCare, but we’re actually primed for a potentially interesting experiment in health care federalism: Some states will go ahead with full implementation. Others will decline to participate in either the exchanges, the Medicaid expansion, or both. And as a result, we’ll be able to see if it works, and how well. If it's worth doing, states that don't play along now will have clear incentives to do so down the road. 

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If It Makes Sense to Ban Adam Lanza's Gun, What About His Car?

Today (three weeks late!) Sen. Dianne Feinstein finally followed through on her threat to introduce a new federal ban on "assault weapons." Or so news reports claim. So far I have not been able to locate an actual bill, and The Washington Post reports that Feinstein was still fiddling with the text yesterday. There is no link to the bill on Feinstein's website, and the lines at her office are too busy for me to get through, presumably because many other people are wondering where the hell the bill is. So for now all I have to go on is the summary that her office posted in December, plus the details that her aides have divulged to the press.

The bill bans the manufacture and sale of more than 100 guns by name, including the Bushmaster rifle that Adam Lanza used to murder 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last month. That may seem emotionally satisfying, but it would have been equally logical to ban the car he drove to the school. After all, had he not been able to reach the school, the massacre never would have happened. Even if the particular model of car that Lanza used to commit his crimes had been unavailable, of course, he could have driven a different, equally effective car. Yet for people who think like Dianne Feinstein, it is inconceivable that such substitution might occur with guns as well as cars.

In addition to the specifically listed guns, Feinstein's bill, like the "assault weapon" ban that expired in 2004 (which she also sponsored), covers guns that accept detachable magazines and have military-style features such as pistol grips, folding stocks, and flash suppressors. But while a rifle needed two military-style features to qualify as an "assault weapon" under the old law, it needs only one under the new bill. That might count as an improvement if these features had anything to do with the ability to kill defenseless schoolchildren and moviegoers, but they don't. Judging from her office's summary, here are the features Feinstein considers especially menacing: pistol grips, folding stocks, thumbhole stocks, and grenade launchers (not very useful unless you have grenades, which are already illegal for civilians).

This sort of legislation makes sense only to people who don't understand what it does. The folks at CNN, for example, who put this headline on their story about Feinstein's press conference: "Feinstein Proposes New Ban on Some Assault Weapons." Since "assault weapons" are defined by law, how is it possible for the law that defines them to cover only some while missing others? In case that's not confusing enough, CNN adds that "not all of the weapons in the bill meet the technical definition of assault weapons." What "technical definition"? It can't be Feinstein's, since any gun covered by her bill is an "assault weapon" by (arbitrary) definition. Maybe CNN corresponents Dana Bash and Tom Cohen mean that Feinstein's definition is different from Connecticut's, which is essentially the same as the old federal definition; or California's, which is broader; or New York's, which is based on a somewhat different list of military-style features. More likely, they do not know what they mean. Evidence for the latter conclusion:

Supporters of more gun control acknowledge the constitutional right to bear arms, but argue that rifles capable of firing multiple rounds automatically or semi-automatically exceed the reasonable needs of hunters and other gun enthusiasts. 

It is amazing that, a quarter of a century after California passed the first "assault weapon" ban, journalists who cover this issue still think such laws are 1) aimed at machine guns, 2) aimed at all semiautomatics, or 3) both, as Bash and Cohen seem to believe. But maybe we should not be too hard on them. After all, President Obama, who supports Feinstein's bill, suffers from a similar misconception.

Even if you accept Feinstein's false premise that there is something especially assaulty or murdery about the guns she wants to ban, her bill would not actually get rid of them, since millions of existing "assault weapons" would remain in circulation. Feinstein says her aim is to "dry up the supply of these weapons over time." But guns are durable products that remain usable for decades, not a puddle that evaporates when the sun comes up. Feinstein claims her bill will "help end the mass shootings that have devastated countless families and terrorized communities." How exactly will it do that?

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Making Sense of Mass-Shooting Statistics

He wrote the book.Last month I wrote a post here casting doubt on the claim that the number of mass shootings in the United States has been increasing. One of the criminologists I cited was James Alan Fox, an expert on mass murders who teaches at Northeastern University in Boston. Another was Grant Duwe, who works for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. I also noted in passing a Mother Jones feature that came to a different conclusion than I did, and I linked to Michael Siegel's criticisms of the Mother Jones piece.

Now Fox has written his own critique of the Mother Jones article, arguing that the magazine's decisions about which crimes to count and which to ignore are "hard to defend." Duwe, meanwhile, has presented a count of mass public shootings. Looking back at 2012, he reports that there were more of these incidents than usual last year but also that this was preceded by a 12-year decline. (Both Fox and Duwe are dealing in raw numbers, not incidents or casualties per capita, though Fox does address the country's population growth in the comment thread below his essay.)

As I noted in my original post, clusters of these crimes occasionally occur close together, a phenomenon Fox attributes to a mix of copycatting and coincidence. It's too soon to tell whether Duwe's figure for 2012 represents a new trend or another cluster, but Fox offers a good reason to expect the latter:

What is abundantly clear from the full array of mass shootings, besides the lack of any trend upward or downward, is the largely random variability in the annual counts. There have been several points in time when journalists and other people have speculated about a possible epidemic in response to a flurry of high profile shootings. Yet these speculations have always proven to be incorrect when subsequent years reveal more moderate levels.

The year 1991, for example, saw a man kill 23 people at a cafeteria in Killeen Tex., and a disgruntled graduate student murder five at the University of Iowa, along with other sensationalized incidents. The surge in mass killings was so frightening that a rumor spread around the nation that there would be a mass murder at a college in the Northeast on Halloween. Fortunately, October 31 came and went without anything close to a massacre taking place.

Two years later, in 1993, the nation was shaken by a series of workplace shootings, which encouraged a number of syndicated talk shows to air special programs about "ticking time bombs at the office." Despite the sudden spike in workplace homicide, the incidence of workplace murders actually declined throughout the 1990s.

In his 1999 book Random Violence, which I recommend highly, the sociologist Joel Best points out that "criminologists usually doubt claims about crime waves. Crime waves, they say, are really waves in media attention: they occur because the media, for whatever reason, fix upon some sort of crime, and publicize it." Genuine spikes in crime do occur, of course, but the press has a habit of spotting patterns that aren't there. That's worth remembering in all kinds of contexts.

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Nick Gillespie on Hating Breitbart

The late online impresario Andrew Breitbart (1969–2012) was firmly on the right side of the political spectrum. But a new documentary about his life, Hating Breitbart, transcends his politics and instead captures the tectonic shift he helped bring about from the legacy media to newer forms of distributed news-gathering and opinion-making, writes Nick Gillespie.

The guy who once worked as Matt Drudge’s “bitch” (his term!) and who helped create The Huffington Post came into his own by striking out on his own, first with the aggregator sites Breitbart.com and Breitbart.tv and then with Big Hollywood (born in 2008), Big Government (2009), and all the rest. Like many on the right, he burned with resentment that the mainstream media disdained not just his perspective but his preferred ways of expressing it.

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North Korea Warns of “All Out Action” Against United States, Third Missile Launch, In Response to Latest UN Resolution

celebrate bad times come onKCNAOn Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved condemning North Korea’s December 12 missile launch and placing new sanctions on the country and its space agency. In response, the regime in Pyongyang announced its third missile test since Kim Jung Il died in December 2011 and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jung Un.

While allegedly intended to send weather satellites into space, the regime finally acknowledged the missile launches were aimed at the United States. From the statement by North Korea’s national defense commission, according to North Korea Leadership Watch:

We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people.

Meanwhile, the North Korean foreign ministry gave the view of the U.N. from Pyongyang:

The essence of the matter is the U.S. brigandish logic that a satellite launch for peaceful purposes by a country which the U.S. antagonizes should not be allowed because any carrier rocket launched by it can be converted into long-range ballistic missile threatening the U.S. The UNSC is a marionette of the U.S.

The UNSC "resolutions" adopted under the pretext of the DPRK's satellite launches are products of its blind pursuance of the hostile policy of the U.S. seeking disarmament of the DPRK and collapse of its system in violation of the universally accepted international laws.

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Celebrate National School Choice Week with Reason in DC!

Celebrate the latest developments in school choice with Reason on Tuesday, January 29 from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. Reason magazine Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward will take on the question of digital education in "Can Computers Replace Teachers?", an evening lecture at our Dupont Circle offices. 

  • What: National School Choice Week Event
  • When: Tuesday, January 29, 6:00 p.m. reception
  • Where: 1747 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20009 (map: http://bit.ly/VNnCa4)

Beer, wine, and light refreshments will be served. Space is limited and RSVPs are required. RSVP to Cynthia Bell at 202-986-0916 or to cynthia.bell@reason.org.

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Tom Tancredo Lost a Bet, So Now He Has to Get High

Before Coloradoans went to the polls in November, former Congress Tom Tancredo made a bet with the maker of a pro-Amendment 64 video that if Colorado legalized pot, he would smoke some. Is Tom Tancredo a man of his word? FOX News says yes

"Look, I made a bet with the producer of the film that if Amendment 64 passed (I did not think it would) that I would smoke pot," he said through his research and education institute, the Rocky Mountain Foundation. "I will therefore smoke pot under circumstances we both agree are legal under Colorado law. Hey, it's better than having to do a stupid dance as (Denver) Mayor (Michael) Hancock must perform as a result of losing a bet on the Broncos beating the Ravens.

One more question: Vaporizer, bong, or joint?

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Calif. Wants to Increase Penalties for “Swatting” Pranks, But They’ll Have to Catch Them First

Few would argue that large cities like Los Angeles shouldn’t have standing SWAT teams to handle hostage or crisis situations. A team responded to a hostage situation at a local Nordstrom Rack just earlier this month.

The militarization of the police force has resulted in numerous terrible consequences that we’re all dreadfully familiar with by now: An endless parade of unneeded and violent raids to serve search warrants (often at the wrong address); the frequent pointless murders of family dogs; the acquisition of powerful weaponry no police force (even in Los Angeles) would ever likely have a legitimate need for; and the tragic and unnecessary deaths of both innocent residents as well as police officers themselves. SWAT teams do have a legitimate purpose, even if they’re so frequently misused.

So it is a bit of a bitter pill that the one legitimate use of the SWAT team has led to the obnoxious “swatting” trend – where a prank caller contacts 911 and tells the operator that there’s a violent crime in progress at somebody else’s address. The police respond in full force, prepared for danger, only to find some very confused, harmless people.

Swatting is not terribly common, but there have been several high-profile incidents in Los Angeles in the past year. Since this is Los Angeles, “high-profile” means “celebrities.” Targets have included Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Tom Cruise, Ashton Kutcher, Simon Cowell, Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians. All our best and brightest! (Really, can you imagine trying to narrow down a pool of possible suspects for these?)

Anyway, California legislators, at the request of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, are proposing a bill to increase the penalties for Swatting. Via the Los Angeles Times:

[Mike] Gatto and [Ted] Lieu both propose that those convicted of making false 911 reports be liable for all costs associated with the police response. Such pranks are "a complete waste of law enforcement resources," said Gatto.

The Assemblyman's measure, AB 47, would also increase the maximum fine for conviction from $1,000 to $10,000 and make it easier to file murder charges if someone is killed in a swatting incident.

Existing penalties for false 911 reports include up to one year in jail, but an offender may get probation with no jail time. Lieu, a military reserve prosecutor, wants to set a minimum sentence of 120 days in jail.

The problem, though, as that they’ve only caught one swatter so far in these celebrity cases and he was a 12-year-old boy. Increasing penalties doesn’t do much good when you can’t catch the perpetrators.

Also, the Times is ignoring the lovely way prosecutors can throw the book at defendants. From their own previous reporting of a non-celebrity swatting prank, a teen was sentenced to three years in state prison in 2008. The prosecution tacked on a charge of “false imprisonment by violence” and he was ordered to pay $14,765 in restitution to the responding law enforcement agency. Arguably, increasing the penalty isn’t really necessary, and mandatory minimums are generally bad policy (even if this one is reasonably short).

The Times also reports that the LAPD is “recalibrating” their responses to 911 calls to try to react more quickly to possible pranks. They’re still going to send a full contingent of officers, though (imagine the potential liability if they decide a legitimate call is a prank).

Now, if only their concerns about accidentally injuring innocent people extended to the SWAT raids that don’t originate from calls to 911, the ones that the police departments themselves coordinate and are often completely unneeded.

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The Nude Scanners May Be Leaving, But TSA Scanning Still a Scandal

This is from last week, but only came to my attention today, via the Competitive Enterprise Institute (where I held a fellowship in 1999): Some interesting lack of enthusiasm for the kinda-good news that the Rapiscan body imaging machines are being removed by June from airport checkpoints by TSA, noted here at Reason 24/7.

CEI's Marc Scribner thinks TSA scanning is still a scandal:

....What happened [last week] is that the TSA is ending its contract with OSI (parent of Rapiscan Systems), manufacturer of the original whole-body scanner, because OSI was unable to meet its deadline to come up with software capable of generating the newly required “gingerbread man” passenger depictions through its backscatter X-ray machines....

The core issues that TSA has repeatedly failed to address began with TSA’s flouting of the law that required them to conduct a notice-and-comment rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act. Public and expert comments were never solicited and never taken into account before the TSA began purchasing and deploying these machines. It remains to be seen if they are at all effective in reducing risks to air traveler safety....

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed suit against the TSA’s illegal deployment of whole-body scanners. A court later ordered that the agency was in fact in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and that it must open the required notice-and-comment rulemaking proceeding. A year after the court’s order, the TSA still had not complied. EPIC petitioned for a writ of mandamus in an attempt to force the agency to promptly begin the proceeding they are legally required to conduct. The Competitive Enterprise Institute led a diverse coalition supporting EPIC’s petition, filing an amicus brief on the coalition’s behalf. The court rejected EPIC’s mandamus petition, but in doing so effectively set a timetable for the TSA to begin its legally required rulemaking proceeding. The TSA is obliged to announce the proceeding no later than the end of March.

In August, former American Airlines Chairman and CEO Robert L. Crandall and I coauthored an op-ed explaining why the TSA’s use of scanners is both illegal and likely just another cog in the federal government’s growing apparatus of counterproductive aviation security policies...

....While it is true that the millimeter wave scanners coupled with the “gingerbread man” software are less intrusive than the backscatter X-ray machines they are replacing, the underlying problems with whole-body imaging such as the lack of sound, risk- and cost-based security policy and the TSA’s continued lawless behavior remain unaffected.

In October, the Supreme Court alas passed up a chance to decide whether airport scanners might violate the 4th Amendment.

TSA: Still a Menace, I wrote back in 2011.

Remember when it seemed possible to argue that merely asking for I.D. at airports might violate our rights? Ah, 2003!

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Steve Chapman on an End to Perpetual War?

When urged to intervene in Syria, according to a disapproving report in The Economist magazine, Obama's "response is to ask for evidence that such interventions would make things better, rather than satisfy the urge to 'do something' at the risk of escalating the conflict. His second response is to ask for the price tag."

Questions like those usually yield sobering answers, says Steve Chapman.

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Is DOJ's Silence on Marijuana Legalization an Encouraging Sign?

This week Washington Gov. Jay Inslee discussed marijuana legalization in his state with Attorney General Eric Holder for 45 minutes and afterward said he heard nothing to dissuade him from implementing Initiative 502. Inslee called the meeting in Washington, D.C., "very satisfying" and "a confidence builder," although it sounds like Holder did not say much, let alone commit to anything:

"We went in thinking we should continue with rule-making, and nothing I heard should dissuade us," Inslee said.

At the same time, he stressed that Holder said nothing about the federal government's intentions and whether it would crack down on Washington state or look the other way.

Inslee said he did not press Holder for a clearer signal, or position, because he considered their talk a preliminary meeting, with more discussions to follow.

Noting that the state is moving ahead with rule-making, Ferguson said he emphasized that the state would like answers soon. "We made it very clear that while we’re moving forward, some deadlines are coming up soon. I think Attorney General Holder understood that we’d need guidance in months to come," Ferguson said.

Inslee said several times the state would provide Holder with details about how it would prevent its legal marijuana from leaking into other states.

"We spent some time talking about how the initiative would work, how the regulatory process would work. He listened with great interest, and I appreciated that," Inslee said....

In case the federal government decides to oppose the law, Ferguson has a team of lawyers in his office preparing to make the best legal case for upholding I-502.

"I said we want to avoid a legal fight," Ferguson recounted during a news conference after the meeting with Holder. “We want to find a pathway forward. But if it comes to it, the Washington Attorney General’s Office will be prepared for a legal fight."

The U.S. attorney's offices in Colorado and Washington all decline to say how they will treat newly legal marijuana growers and sellers. Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for John Walsh, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, says he can only point me to his boss's December 10 statement that marijuana remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, that the Justice Department still has a responsibility to enforce that law, and that neither the executive branch nor the states "can nullify a statute passed by Congress." Joe Harrington, spokesman for Michael Ormsby, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, says, "I don't want to comment on what might happen a year from now." Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for Jenny Durkan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, says her office is waiting for guidance from the Justice Department, which is developing a "coordinated response." I have been trying for weeks to get an answer from Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre about when we can expect to hear the Obama administration's plan for responding to marijuana legalization, but she is not returning my calls.

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RomneyCare and the Return of Taxachusetts

On the campaign trail last year, Mitt Romney would sometimes attempt to combat the argument that RomneyCare, the health care plan he passed in Massachusetts, was essentially the same as the one President Obama passed nationally. Romney had a couple of points that he would make to distinguish the two plans, one of which was that his health care overhaul didn't raise taxes. 

That's true as far as it goes:Romney's Massachusetts health plan didn't raise taxes when he signed it into law. But Bay State officials have warned on numerous occasions that health spending is on a course to overshadow everything else in the budget. And now Governor Deval Patrick is proposing a budget that includes a $1.9 billion tax hike, including new taxes on sweets, sugar, and cigarettes. 

Patrick calls it a “growth budget,” which is a fun way to characterize a nearly $2 billion tax hike. But it’s accurate, in a way. As The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page notes, it seems to be designed in part as a step toward paying for the already significant growth of health spending as a portion of the state’s budget post-RomneyCare.

Mr. Patrick says the money will fund the usual array of liberal programs. But this is salesmanship to disguise that the state's real spending driver is the exploding cost of RomneyCare. That law was supposed to save the state money. But last August Beacon Hill was forced to impose new price controls and a cap on overall state health spending because "health-care spending has crowded out key public investments," as Mr. Patrick puts it in his budget.

He's right about that: Health care was 23% of the state fisc in 2000, and 25% in 2006, but it has climbed to 41% for 2013. On current trend it will roll past 50% around 2020—and that best case scenario assumes Mr. Patrick's price controls work as planned. (They won't.) In real terms the state's annual health-care budget is 15% larger than it was in 2007, while transportation has plunged by 22%, public safety by 17% and education by 7%. Today Massachusetts spends less on roads, police and schools after adjusting for inflation than it did in 2007.

This is, well, not promising. Post-RomneyCare, Massachusetts has seen premium hikes and price controls, tax increases and projections of unsustainable health spending to come. This is not so much a preview of things to come under ObamaCare as a mature version of what we’re already seeing: fights over rate regulations, big premium hikes, new taxes, and increasing warnings about rising federal health spending.

When President Obama said that ObamaCare was based on the Massachusetts plan and noted that Romney’s advisers said that it’s the same plan, he was right. That's exactly what should worry us.  

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Instapundit on Our "Ham Sandwich" Legal System [Updated!]

You know the old line about prosecutors and grand juries, right? A vaguely competent prosecutor can get an indictment on a ham sandwich.

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit and Univ. of Tennessee law prof, has a new paper called "Ham Sandwich Nation" Due Process When Everything is a Crime."

Here's the abstract:

Though extensive due process protections apply to the investigation of crimes, and to criminal trials, perhaps the most important part of the criminal process - the decision whether to charge a defendant, and with what - is almost entirely discretionary. Given the plethora of criminal laws and regulations in today's society, this due process gap allows prosecutors to charge almost anyone they take a deep interest in. This Essay discusses the problem in the context of recent prosecutorial controversies involving the cases of Aaron Swartz and David Gregory, and offers some suggested remedies, along with a call for further discussion.

Read more and download it here.

The Altantic's Conor Friedersdorf discusses the paper and related topics here and libertarian legal eagle Randy Barnett comments on it at the Volokh Conspiracy here.

The short version of it all? When everything is a crime, nobody is safe from the sorts of legal actions (or threats thereof) that choke off freedom of thought and action.

Related: Harvey Silverglate, author the must-read Three Felonies a Day, on "the peril of vague criminal statutes."

Update: "Gideon," the proprietor of the a public defender blog, writes:

The Atlantic piece – and by extension Reynolds’ brief – are a listing of the usual bad ideas – make the state pay the legal bills of acquittees, ban plea bargains altogether (NO! BAD DOG!) – thrown in with some good ones.

Read more here.

And Scott H. Greenfield of Simple Justice writes:

The first step in "fixing" overcriminalization is to stop the political aggrandizement that comes with demanding/applauding a new law to solve every ill that appears in the morning paper. We live under the crushing burden of redundant and ill-conceived laws and regulations, and yet the fact that prosecutors use them suddenly shocks us? 

The second step, nowhere to be found in the scholarly fixes, is to expect  judges, who exist to play the role of neutral in the great war, to be, in fact, neutral in their exercise of discretionary authority. Why do we look only to prosecutors to exercise discretion, when they are adversaries in our system? Yes, I'm familiar with Justice Robert H. Jackson's 1940 speech about the exercise of discretion by prosecutors to curb their awesome power, but the goodwill of prosecutors is hardly a basis for a viable criminal justice system. 

We have judges. Has everyone forgotten, or given up? They sit on high benches, well-equipped to toss duplicitous charges, to refuse to enhance sentences merely because a prosecutor smurfs an act into 37 offenses. They have the power of discretion and mercy, and yet no one mentions their duty to be parsimonious? 

More here.

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Congressman Henry Waxman to Introduce New Carbon Rationing Bill

At least that's the rumor. Hot on the heels of President Barack Obama's promise in his second inaugural speech on Monday to "respond to the threat of climate change," Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are evidently going to introduce a new version of the cap-and-trade scheme (Waxman-Markey) that passed in the House of Representatives in 2009, but which failed to get through the Senate.

The folks over at the free-market oriented American Energy Alliance are preemptively responding. Thomas Pyle, head of the AEA sneered in press release:

"The president had much to say about climate change in his inaugural speech this week.  And while his Press Secretary made clear that the administration's efforts in this area will largely bypass Congress, Henry Waxman deserves some degree of commendation for his persistence, however out of touch he is with the real problems facing everyday Americans. The American Energy Alliance looks forward to reviewing the latest installment in the failed cap-and-trade saga, now ostensibly known as Waxman-Whitehouse. And like any effort to increase the cost of energy for American consumers -- whether legislative, executive, or regulatory -- we will be prepared to fight, though I suspect this effort will have one of the shortest shelf lives of any legislative proposal in modern history."

For an analysis of the earlier Waxman scheme, see my column, "Cap-and-Trade Delusions." Will follow up once the new bill is unveiled.

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The Phrase 'Obama must declare war on the Republican Party' Was Analysis, Not Advice, Claims Journalist

In January 2009, as Barack Obama was preparing to take over the White House from George W. Bush, Slate columnist John Dickerson wrote a piece on rhetoric, with the subhed "When politicians declare war on something, it's not usually a good sign." The nut:

Politicians are fond of comparing things that aren't war to war. It's both an abuse of language and a rhetorical trick. [...]

Obama campaigned against Bush's use of fear as the justifying language of public policy. But he has almost matched his running mate Biden in his use of dire language to describe the severity of the economic stakes.

Well, that was then. Last week, Dickerson, who is also political director of CBS News, had a new piece out, headlined "Go for the Throat! Why if he wants to transform American politics, Obama must declare war on the Republican Party." His argument now:

Washington's partisan rancor, the size of the problems facing government, and the limited amount of time before Obama is a lame duck all point to a single conclusion: The president who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP. If he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat. [...]

Obama's only remaining option is to pulverize. Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to delegitimize his opponents. Through a series of clarifying fights over controversial issues, he can force Republicans to either side with their coalition's most extreme elements or cause a rift in the party that will leave it, at least temporarily, in disarray. 

Obama, Dickerson added, "has no time to waste."

Unsurprisingly, people in the crosshairs of Dickerson's proposed pulverization were not fans of the column. Or, as Daily Download media writer Matt Taylor snarked, "Of course, it didn't take long for aggrieved righties to come out of the woodwork."

Dickerson's response to the criticism was hilarious: "Conservatives despise my analysis of Obama’s second-term options. But it was analysis—not advice." Yes, you can always distinguish analysis from advice by the presence of such words as "must" and "should"....

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3 Incredibly Outrageous Evasions by Hillary Clinton About Benghazi

During a long day of testifying before House and Senate panels, outgoing Secretary of State - and presumptive Democratic Party candidate for the presidency in 2016 - Hillary Clinton batted away contentious questions from Republicans like Ted Williams at a Little League game. She also soaked up extreme adulation from Democrats (including a a not-so-coded call to run for president by Sen. Barbara Boxer, who said, "You will be missed, but I for one hope for not too long").

The scene reminded me of nothing so much as Oliver North's appearance before a joint Congressional committee investigating Iran-Contra back in the 1980s. Not because of anything Clinton said but the way that she carried herself and the ease with which she wrapped herself in the flag and tragedy to obscure the simple fact that she wasn't going to answer anything. North famously showed up to testify in a military uniform that had nothing to do with his day job of subverting the U.S. Constitution from the basement of the Reagan White House. Clinton couldn't repeat that fashion statement but she was able to pound the table and choke up at all the right moments to evade serious discussion not simply of major screw-ups, but major screw-ups that will go unaccounted for.

Three major evasions from her appearances yesterday include:

1. "I take responsiblity."

From a Fox News report of the Senate hearing:

During the opening of the hearing, Clinton said she has "no higher priority" than the security of her department's staff, and that she is committed to making the department "safer, stronger and more secure." 

"As I have said many times, I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right," Clinton said, later choking up when describing how she greeted the families of the victims when the caskets were returned.    

Taking responsibility is the classic dodge in Washington, where pols assume the mantle of leadership and them promptly do nothing to address the situation for which they are in hot water. What does it mean to take responsiblity for the absolute breakdown of security at a consulate where your ambassador gets murdered (along with three others)? Judging from Clinton's subsequent actions, nothing other than showing up when the dead are brought home. Worse still is Clinton's misting up over the tragedy. That makes her a little too much like the kid who kills his parents and then asks the court to take mercy on him because he's now an orphan.

2. "1.43 million cables come to my office."

ABC News reporting from the House hearings:

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, asked Clinton this afternoon why her office had not responded to a notification from Stevens about potential dangers in Libya.

"Congressman, that cable did not come to my attention," Clinton calmly told the House Foreign Affairs Committee hours after her Senate testimony this morning. "I'm not aware of anyone within my office, within the secretary's office having seen that cable."

She added that "1.43 million cables come to my office. They're all addressed to me."

Come on, already. The question is plainly not whether Clinton is reading every goddamned communication addressed to her but whether she's got the right people in charge of assessing risk and making sure resources are apportioned accordingly. Tragically, the answer was no, especially given the fact that State had cut security in Benghazi despite attacks prior to the deadly 9/11 one! This just ain't no way to run things.

3. "What difference at this point does it make?"

From a CBS News account of a confrontation between Secretary Clinton and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.):

“We were misled that there were supposedly protests and an assault spraying out of that and it was easily obtained that it was not the fact the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said.

“The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” Clinton responded.

Clinton's statement may set a new standard for politically motivated evasions of basic truth and decency. Seriously: What difference does it make? Just for low-stakes starters, there's a guy in California who was put in jail basically because the Obama administration said his stupid, irrelevant video trailer for "The Innocence of Muslims" was to blame for anti-Americanism in Libya and beyond. President Obama went to the United Nations and bitch-slapped free expression in front of a global audience on the premise that "Innocence" was the cause of the attack on Benghazi. Our own U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, took to the talk shows to peddle a line that was either wilfully misleading or simply totally wrong (Rice was the admin's point person in early appearances about Benghazi partly because, as Clinton explained yesterday, she doesn't like doing Sunday morning shows!).

Contra Clinton, it makes a great deal of difference because understanding how this all happened is the first step to making sure it doesn't happen over and over and over again.

Congressional grillings of outgoing cabinet members are not the best forum to seek truth and justice and too many of the GOP inquisitors seem determined merely to score partisan points. Then again, the Obama adminstration, at least when it comes to Benghazi, hasn't done much to be the transparent change it says it wants in all areas of government. After a blistering Senate report on the situation found "systematic failures," essentially nothing happened (at least that we know about). Two minor staffers have been booted as a result of Clinton's taking of "responsibility."

Worse still: As Hillary Clinton leaves the high-stakes world of international intrigue, she's set to be replaced by John Kerry, who somehow manages to be an interventionist and supposedly informed by the nation's experience in Vietnam at the same time.

So things can - and likely will - only get worse.

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A.M. Links: Paul Ryan Blames Loss on Bad Communication, NYPD Deploys Gun Scanners, Dogs Descended From Trash-Picking Wolves

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