Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 February 1-31

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Manifesto of Spree Killer Dorner: Work of Nut Job With No Connection to Reality

As Scott Shackford noted earlier today, the manifesto from Christopher Dorner, a disgraced former LAPD officer who has killed at least three people and is still at large, is the work of a deranged person. Dorner was bounced from LAPD for making false statements about a fellow cop and, judging from his writing, is no longer in contact with reality.

While various media outlets have posted excerpts from the document, the full text is online at Pastebin. It's a rambling catalogue of real and imagined sleights to Dorner, pro-gun-control statements, and shout-outs to and condemnations of a dizzying array of celebrities and public figures (Hat tip: Sooper Mexican blog).

Some snippets:

Mia Farrow said it best. “Gun control is no longer debatable, it’s not a conversation, its a moral mandate.”...

Willie Geist, you’re a talented and charismatic journalist. Stop with all the talk show shenanigans and get back to your core of reporting....

Revoke the citizenship of Fareed Zakaria and deport him. I’ve never heard a positive word about America or its interest from his mouth, ever...

…give Piers Morgan an indefinite resident alien and Visa card. Mr. Morgan, the problem that many American gun owners have with you and your continuous discussion of gun control is that you are not an American citizen and have an accent that is distinct and clarifies that you are a foreigner. I want you to know that I agree with you 100% on enacting stricter firearm laws...

Jennifer Beals, Serena Williams, Grae Drake, Lisa Nicole-Carson, Diana Taurasi, N’bushe Wright, Brenda Villa, Kate Winslet, Ashley Graham, Erika Christensen, Gabrielle Union, Isabella Soprano, Zain Verjee, Tamron Hall, Gina Carano, America Ferrara, Giana Michaels, Nene, Natalie Portman, Queen Latifah, Michelle Rodriguez, Anjelah Johnson, Kelly Clarkson, Nora Jones, Laura Prepon, Margaret Cho, and Rutina Wesley, you are THE MOST beautiful women on this planet, period. Never settle, professionally or personally.... 

Jeffrey Toobin and David Gergen, you are political geniuses and modern scholars. ...

The whole text is here.

If there is a message buried deep within Dorner's incoherent litany of recriminations, anger, and random name-checks, it's this: People who go on shooting sprees typically tell us very little about society at large. They are by definition far, far beyond the range of normal (or even abnormal) behavior and, as such, shouldn't be used to generalize about larger social forces at work.

For all the psychologizing about the causes of Adam Lanza's deadly rage and what it supposedly says about video games, popular culture, divorce, absent fathers, Asperger's, and a million other things raised by commentators, it's highly unlikely that anyone will be motivated to connect the dots between Dorner's pathology and the world around him. If guns did not exist, or had not been in wide circulation for hundreds of years in America, he might be a poster child for tighter gun restrictions. But given that he was a former cop - and pro-gun control - he would not even be the sort of person that would fall under the net of even the most draconian proposals to make weapons tougher to get.

We can learn precisely nothing from Dorner's wild thoughts and horrifying, evil behavior (the LAPD may draw a lesson or two about personnel and keeping tabs on employees it fires). Recognizing that won't provide any solace to the families of the dead, but it may help the body politic react less hysterically the next time a terrible tragedy like this unfolds.

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Challenging the Concept of Sex Addiction

If you're skeptical about the ease with which addiction diagnoses are handed out these days, this study may be up your alley:

This article takes a critical look at the recent history of the concept of sex addiction, an archetypal modern sexual invention. Sex addiction began as a 1980s product of late twentieth-century cultural anxieties and has remained responsive to those tensions, including its most recent iteration, "hypersexual disorder." Its success as a concept lay with its medicalization, both as a self-help movement in terms of self-diagnosis, and as a rapidly growing industry of therapists on hand to deal with the new disease. The media has always played a role in its history, first with TV, the tabloids, and the case histories of claimed celebrity victims all helping to popularize the concept, and then with the impact of the internet. Though it is essentially mythical, creating a problem that need not exist, sex addiction has to be taken seriously as a phenomenon. Rarely has a socio-psychological discourse taken such a hold on the public imagination—and proven an influential concept in academic circles too. We argue that this strange, short history of social opportunism, diagnostic amorphism, therapeutic self-interest, and popular cultural endorsement is marked by an essential social conservatism—sex addiction has become a convenient term to describe disapproved sex. Sex addiction is a label without explanatory force.

That's the historians Barry Reay, Nina Attwood, and Claire Gooder writing in the journal Sexuality & Culture. I'd like to do more than quote the abstract, but the rest of the paper is paywalled; I have not, as of yet, acquired a copy, let alone formed an opinion of all its arguments. But Tracy Clark-Flory has read it, and she has posted some more details at Salon.

Nick Gillespie: You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way Journalists Blow

It wasn't so long ago the nation's op-ed pages were filled with attacks on George W. Bush's shredding of the Constitution. So why are so many media liberals defending President Barack Obama's right to unilaterally identify and kill terrorists - including U.S. citizens - in the war on terror?

Drawing on the apologies penned by various journalists, Nick Gillespie argues that more than partisan flip-floppery is at work:

This isn't ultimately about ideological hypocrisy - of liberals changing their tune once their guy is in office - but something much more basic and much more disturbing. It reveals that for all their crowing about being watchdogs of all that is good and decent in society, when push comes to shove, too many journalists are ready and willing handmaidens to power - including the power to kill.

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If You Hated 'Assault Weapons,' You'll Hate 'Assault Magazines' Even More

Today the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force unveiled a "comprehensive set of policy principles designed to reduce gun violence while respecting the 2nd Amendment Rights of law-abiding Americans." What is the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force? A bunch of Democrats appointed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and led by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) with the assistance of 11 (!) "vice chairs." Their mission: to "reduce and prevent gun violence while also protecting the rights of law-abiding individuals without a history of dangerous mental illness to own legitimate firearms for legitimate purposes." Are the 12 chairs of the task force also the only members? Possibly.

To no one's surprise, the task force's recommendations look a lot like the president's, which look a lot like the measures that gun control activists have been pushing for decades. So rather than delve into the familiar details, I have performed a content analysis of the task force's 20-page report that may illuminate some broader themes:

Mentions of...

safe/safer/safety: 44

hunting/hunter/sports/sportsman/sporting: 22

children/family/families: 20

assault weapon/assault rifle/assault magazine: 16

rights: 14

Second Amendment: 12

threat/dangerous: 9

commonsense/sensible/reasonable: 8 (plus seven more in the press release)

law-abiding: 6

public health: 3 ("including public health crisis of epidemic proportions")

defense/self-defense: 3

logic: 0

An "assault magazine," by the way, is not a periodical you use to squash spiders; it is an ammunition feeding device that holds more than 10 rounds. Such illegitimate magazines, by their very nature, can be used only to attack people and never for self-defense, hunting, or sporting purposes. 

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In Search for Rampaging Former Officer, SoCal Police Declare War on Pickup Trucks

A former Los Angeles Police Department officer, clearly mentally ill and believing he had been wrongly dismissed from the department after reporting a fellow officer for allegedly abusing a suspect (she was ultimately cleared), posted an apparent manifesto online before beginning a rampage that has left three dead so far.

His target list is huge and focused on law enforcement, resulting in one huge manhunt across Southern California and Las Vegas.

It also, unfortunately, resulted in two cases of police just opening fire on trucks that looked like the vehicle the shooter, Christopher Dorner, had been driving. Via LAist:

The first officer-involved shooting happened at about 5:20 a.m. in the 19500 block of Redbeam Avenue in Torrance, according to the L.A. Times. Two women delivering newspapers in a truck were struck by gunfire by L.A. police detectives from the Hollywood division. One woman was shot in the hand and the other in the back, Jesse Escochea, who captured video of the victims being treated, told the Times. Both victims were transported to a hospital.

The Times describes the crime scene: "After the shooting, the blue pickup was riddled with bullet holes and what appeared to be newspapers lay in the street alongside."

The second incident occurred at Flagler Lane and Beryl Street about 5:45 a.m. and involved Torrance police. No injuries were reported.

They had no connection to the case. We’ll see if any disciplinary actions follow. That should be interesting, given a huge chunk of Dorner’s diatribe was about how the police abuse the citizens they’re supposed to protect. (Also, lots of arguments for gun control – using himself as an actual example)

The burned remains of Dorner’s truck have since been found in Big Bear, a mountain community east of the Los Angeles area known for ski resorts.

Watch Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman on CNBC With Larry Kudlow Tonight

I'll be on CNBC's Kudlow show tonight in the 7 p.m. ET hour talking sequestration, Obama's legislative agenda, and various related Washington shenanigans.

For a truly Reasontastic evening, watch Reason bossman Matt Welch on GBTV at 6 p.m., then watch me on Kudlow during the following hour, then take a disco nap and wake up to watch Welch again at 3 a.m. on Red Eye

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The Changing Face of Gun Control: More Respectful of Gun Rights, But More Successful?

Molly Ball at the Atlantic chronicles one of the greatest triumphs of the gun rights movement: making the gun control movement ameliorate (or camouflage?) its anti-gun agenda. She notes:

The group now known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was once known as Handgun Control Inc.; a 2001 book by the executive director of the Violence Policy Center was entitled Every Handgun Is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.

Contrast that with what you see today: Gun-control groups don't even use the term "gun control," with its big-government implications, favoring "preventing gun violence" instead. Democratic politicians preface every appeal for reform with a paean to the rights enshrined in the Second Amendment and bend over backwards to assure "law-abiding gun owners" they mean them no ill will. Even the president, a Chicago liberal who once derided rural voters' tendency to "cling to guns or religion," seeks to assure gun enthusiasts he's one of them by citing a heretofore-unknown enthusiasm for skeet shooting...

Many Americans' low opinion of old school gun control advocates was earned:

If the NRA today seems fixated on the notion that the left is out to undercut the Second Amendment, confiscate law-abiding Americans' legally acquired firearms, and instigate federal-government monitoring of all gun owners, that's because 15 years ago, gun-control advocates wanted to do all of those things.

After chronicling some of the ins and outs of intra-anti-gun-group squabbles, and noting that one of their rhetorical tactics is acting all respectful of gun rights, as long as it's for hunting (leaving vulnerable self-defense, the most important aspect of gun ownership, and sheer recreational fun of any sort, the answer to the annoying "Why would any one need.....?" question about any sort of gun or magazine), Ball concludes that in trying to make themselves less scary to those who don't want all private ownership of guns eliminated or made terribly inconvenient, the gun control folk have a better chance of succeeding in regulatory goals that don't involve prying all guns out of people's hands, of whatever temperature or sentience:

The Brady Campaign's president, Dan Gross, [said] "The message is now turned outward instead of inward, focused on engaging and mobilizing the latent majority of the American public that supports common-sense measures like universal background checks." Now, a representative email from a Colorado progressive group to its supporters is headlined, "No one is coming to take your gun."

When I was researching my 2008 book Gun Control on Trial, right after the Heller decision came down, enshrining an individual Second Amendment right to commonly used weapons for self-defense in the home in the "living Constitution" the Courts would actually respect, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center told me he considered the decision quite a victory for gun controllers.

Why, when his side filed an amicus brief arguing the other side of the case? The gun rights movement, he said, was pretty much running on the fumes of fear of total weapon confiscation. With that off the table thanks to the Court, they could now get down to fights he was sure the gun controllers could win, about the specifics of what sort of people could own what sort of weapon, what they had to tell the government when weapons changed hands, and the particular characteristics of weapons.

I thought he was just trying to put the best available spin on a bad decision for his side, but Ball's article is trying to make the case that a gun control movement that recognizes at least the minimal Heller level version of the Second Amendment will be a more successful one.

But I'm not sure how successful. Shortly before Sandy Hook, an article by me called "Gun Control RIP" appeared in American Conservative, and many correspondents seemed to think I was embarrassed by crummy timing and clearly wrong.

I still think the point the piece made holds, and that American public resistance to reacting even to tragedies caused by people with guns with enough political fervor to turn the gears of gun control forward is still strong. Now it seems even attempts to turn the hands back a decade to something like the "assault weapon" status quo of ten years ago--not exactly an amazing victory of gun control--are likely to fizzle

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There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, Because LAUSD Spent That Money on Sprinklers Instead

If you’re already feeling nostalgia over the recent ending of National School Choice Week, take heart – there’s always a new horror to uncover connected to the operations of our public education system.

Auditors have discovered that some of California’s largest school districts are skimming money meant to pay for meals for low-income students and spending it elsewhere. Via the Los Angeles Times:

The California Department of Education has ordered districts to repay more than $170 million in misused funds to their student meal programs, the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes said in a report issued Wednesday. L.A. Unified has been forced to pay back more than $158 million in misappropriations and unrelated charges that the district made over six years ending in 2011.

At LAUSD, the money has been diverted to non-meal-related costs such as sprinklers and to pay for salaries of employees at a district television station. The Orange County Register reports that the Santa Ana Unified School District used meal money to pay for roof repairs and to provide free meals and snacks for district officials (a district trustee disputes that the money for this food came out of the same fund).

School district officials are playing dumb, whining about how complex the rules are and about how hard compliance is, which just goes to show how the mind of a bureaucrat works: "Does it specifically say we can’t use this money for school lunches for poor children on sprinklers?" In any event, in both cases, the school districts had been warned not to divert the money in this fashion. An LAUSD employee eventually blew the whistle on the school district to state officials.

The most maddening part, and the part that is important to recall the next time any school officials argue that they need more money to provide better meals, is how they managed to conserve the money:

The state Senate report concluded that the eight California school districts examined dramatically understaffed school cafeterias and tended to serve processed foods rather than more expensive fresh foods. Consequently, they were able to hoard large sums of federal and state student meal money that they then diverted to illegal uses, the report said.

You can read the whole report here (pdf). Santa Ana Unified and Baldwin Park Unified were notably running huge surpluses in their food programs while this was going on.

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White House Done with Drone Revelations, Mexico, Ireland, Among Countries Lobbying for U.S. Immigration Reform, Gang Uncovered in LA County Sheriff’s Department: P.M. Links

  • The White House says it will provide the legal opinions underpinning the policy that governs killing U.S. citizens. Senator Ron Wyden wants those memos declassified, but the White House says no more information will be made public. The White House even resisted releasing even the white paper leaked earlier this week, rejecting a FOIA request for it less than two weeks ago. John Brennan's confirmation hearing for CIA director, meanwhile, was interrupted by a Code Pink protester trying to draw attention to drone killings.
  • The FAA has released the most updated list of local jurisdictions authorized to use drones; there are 81, including municipalities, colleges and even an Indian tribe.
  • Mexico, Ireland and several Central American countries are lobbying Congress as well as the White House for immigration reform.
  • New unemployment claims dropped by 5,000 last week, according to government statistics.
  • The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has found a gang among its deputies. No, not the whole department.
  • Two storm systems are converging on the Northeast, bringing the possibility of record-breaking snowfall.
  • Spray paint could heat up asteroids headed for Earth enough to alter their courses.

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Ed Krayewski: 5 Reasons to Grant Amnesty to Illegal Immigrants

Credit: The Georgetown BookshopCredit: The Georgetown BookshopImmigration reform returned to center stage in Washington last week with a proposal from a bipartisan group of senators that was promptly endorsed in principle by President Barack Obama. One of the lynchpins of the proposal is providing a “path to citizenship" for those who are currently in the country illegally, a concept that opponents were quick to label “amnesty.” Obama of course denies any talk of amnesty, saying instead that he wants illegal immigrants to pay penalties, pay taxes, learn English, and then go “to the back of the line.”

But what's wrong with granting amnesty to hard-working, tax-paying individuals whose only crime is their immigration status? Indeed, writes Ed Krayewski, amnesty is not only the best solution to our immigration problem, it is the only feasible solution. Here are five reasons to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants now.

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See Matt Welch Today/Tonight on RT, GBTV, and Red Eye

Today at 4 pm ET, technology willing, I will be appearing on RT (check your local listings!) to talk about the foreign policy views of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). At 6 pm ET, I'll be on GBTV (check your local listings!) to talk about Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), drones, Iran, and entitlements. Then at 3 a.m. ET, I'll be on Fox News's Red Eye (check your local insomnia!) to talk about drones, cults, cops, racism, and Chris Rock, not necessarily in that order.

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Postal Service Ends Saturday Delivery, Still Has Big Problems

A faded USPS logoCredit: Kevin Dooley/Foter.comWith the announcement that the United States Postal Service (USPS) plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays after August 2013, Netflix subscribers and recipients of generous checks from Uncle Sam are understandably a little upset. It’s safe to say, however, that no one will mourn the death of the weekend credit card bill.

That the USPS is on its financial deathbed is no secret. Last year, the organization hemorrhaged $15.9 billion. By eliminating Saturday delivery, they project that they’ll save $2 billion per year through downsizing certain positions, reducing overtime, and otherwise cutting costs.

The union complains that a congressional mandate—which requires that 75 years worth of retiree health care benefits be fully funded before 2016—is overly-burdensome and the cause of most of the USPS’ stress. It has even been suggested that it’s all a GOP plot to ruin the proud and noble Postal Service. But this only represents a $5.4-5.8 billion annual expenditure, which means there’s still about $10 billion in losses that can’t be blamed on congressional meddling.

Or can they? Although the USPS operates mostly as a private company does, it is subject to far more legislative interference than your average American business. One example: Congress sets postage rates.

Largely as a response to the exorbitant cost of postage in the early 1800s, Congress standardized stamp prices in 1845 at 5 cents for a local letter and 10 cents for one addressed more than 300 miles away.

If we had allowed prices to increase with inflation, it would cost $1.19 to send a first-class letter; $2.38 if it were traveling more than 300 miles. Instead, it costs 46 cents flat.

Congress also mandates that the USPS service all areas of the country once per day—even the rural counties that are a perennially money-losing proposition. 

The federal government faces a choice: relinquish control of the USPS and allow it to function as other, less dysfunctional companies do, or just admit that this is a money-losing pet project and start shoveling taxpayer cash directly into the Post Office's coffers.

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The Doc Fix Is In?

I am generally skeptical about the prospects for a permanent "doc fix" — an end to the Medicare physician reimbusement formula that calls for doctor payment cuts every year, and that that Congress always overrides as a result. Members of Congress in both parties have long said that they want to ditch the formula, known as the sustainable growth rate (SGR), entirely. But the official estimated cost of doing so has always made that difficult. 

This week, however, a permanent fix got a lot easier. Because according to the Congressional Budget Office, it got a lot cheaper. Here's National Journal with the details:

In its budget outlook released on Tuesday, the CBO slashed the projected cost of a long-term “doc fix” by nearly half. That change means that if Congress wants to reverse the flawed and universally disliked 1997 Medicare payment formula known as the “sustainable growth rate,” it won’t have to come up with nearly as much money as previously expected.

The sustainable growth rate, or SGR, has been a perennial problem because it would pay doctors much less than they currently get for treating Medicare patients. Every year, Congress reverses the formula to keep payments from dropping, but only for a short period of time. In January, the latest one-year fix passed as part of the fiscal-cliff package.

This week, two proposals for reversing the SGR forever began circulating on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, Reps. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and Joe Heck, R-Nev., introduced a bill that would replace the formula with a temporary system of physician pay raises, to be followed by new payment methods that would reward more-efficient care.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say I think that a permanent doc fix is now likely. But unlike before, I do think it has a chance. 

For those who prefer transparent budgeting, that's a good thing: Congress was never likely to let the cuts go through, which means that the money was already going to be spent. A permanent fix would mean that future budget projections no longer include the implausible assumption that Congress will actually allow the cuts. It would also relieve doctors of the nagging worry that maybe, just maybe, Congress won't pass an ov

Still,  I remain skeptical that fixing the doc fix really fixes much of anything. For one, the CBO generated its newly lower price tag by assuming that we won't spend as much on Medicare in future years as previously thought, which is far from guaranteed. For another, Congress would replace the SGR with some other payment mechanism. And while it probably wouldn't create budget complications of the same magnitude, it would probably come with flaws and distortionary effects of its own. 

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New Jersey Supreme Court Rules That Using Drugs During Pregnancy Is Not Equivalent to Child Neglect

Yesterday the New Jersey Supreme Court struck a blow against irrational pharmacological prejudice, unanimously ruling that illegal drug use during pregnancy does not by itself amount to child abuse or neglect under state law. The case involved a woman, identified in court documents as "A.L.," who tested positive for cocaine on the day she gave birth to her son "A.D." Although the baby was healthy and there was no evidence that his home environment was unsafe, the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency concluded that A.L. was guilty of neglect, a finding that threatened her custody of A.D. and his 5-year-old brother. A judge and an appeals court upheld the finding of neglect, saying A.L. had jeopardized her baby's health, even though he was not in fact injured by her drug use. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed, saying the state had "failed to show actual harm or demonstrate imminent danger or a substantial risk of harm to the newborn child."

In reaching that conclusion, the court noted "dozens of published academic studies and reports" cited in "a comprehensive submission" from National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). The  amicus brief, backed by an impressive list of experts and medical organizations, describes "a broad scientific consensus that evidence of prenatal drug exposure, on its own, does not in fact establish harm or substantial risk of harm after birth." The brief notes that "the use of illegal drugs during pregnancy cannot, as a matter of science, be singled out from innumerable other actions, inactions, and exposures that pose potential risks to a fetus or to a child once born." The "crack baby" panic of the 1990s was largely due to conflation of all those factors, and today it is clear that "harms from prenatal exposure to cocaine have been wildly overstated." Despite common beliefs to the contrary, says the NAPW brief, "Research has consistently found no detectable or consistent increase in the rate or severity of birth defects associated with cocaine use during pregnancy."

The brief notes that "numerous other substances, conditions, and circumstances"—including various drugs that are prescribed for pregnant women, fertility treatments that result in multiple fetuses, and bearing children at age 35 or older—pose risks similar to or greater than the risk posed by prenatal cocaine use. To take two even closer examples, the evidence that prenatal cocaine use causes lasting harm to children is much weaker than the evidence that smoking or heavy drinking does. Yet women who smoke or drink during pregnancy are not automatically in danger of losing their children to the state. That sort of double standard can be explained only by the arbitrary distinctions enshrined in our drug laws.

The court's decision is here.

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Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's Most Powerful Tea Partier, Says Views on Marijuana Are "Evolving"

Ken Cuccinelli Gage Skidmore / photo on flickrLiberals and conservatives alike know Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for his opposition to government projects of all sizes—from Obamacare to public parks. But you can't really call him a libertarian, either, considering his opposition to gay marriage and support for barriers to abortion.

Complicating things somewhat, the Virginian-Pilot reports that Cuccinelli, who's running for governor, told a group of students at the University of Virginia this week that he supported the drug policy experimentation happening in Colorado and Washington

"I’m not sure about Virginia’s future [in terms of marijuana legalization]," the newspaper quoted Cuccinelli saying. "But I and a lot of people are watching Colorado and Washington to see how it plays out."

Cuccinelli's marijuana comments surprised U.Va. political science professor Larry Sabato, whose class Cuccinelli address.

Sabato noted "Cuccinelli stressed he wouldn't be recommending changes anytime soon. But he praised states such as Colorado for experimenting with marihuana legalization, saying this was federalism in action. He said twice his views were 'evolving" on the subject."

When will the rest of the Tea Party--and maybe Obama--follow suit?

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Syracuse Police Say Their Budget is a Secret

City councilors in Syracuse, New York summoned the chief of police to a public hearing yesterday to shed a little light on the department's use of asset forfeiture to fund its operations. They did not learn much.

From the Post-Standard:

Faced with a $1.3 million request from police to buy new vehicles, councilors sought information about the off-budget cash, cars or other assets that come to the police department after being seized from [alleged! -ed.] criminals.

…Police Chief Frank Fowler repeatedly told the five councilors at the meeting he would not publicly divulge information about vehicles or equipment obtained through asset forfeiture programs.

…The money is not accounted for in the city budget.

...“Most of this stuff is used in a covert fashion,’’ Fowler said. “We don’t want the general public or the bad guys to know what we possess.’’

Both New York and federal law allow local police to seize property from suspects and keep most of the proceeds. However, the law does not require the government to actually prove that a property owner committed a crime—mere suspicion can suffice. Unsurprisingly, that means police often rip off innocent people. And they would rather not tell anyone about it.

“I’m never going to talk about it in specific terms,’’ Fowler said.… "But there are some good things that are taking place within our community with asset forfeiture (funds), and they will continue.’’

...Fowler insisted that discussing details publicly—even divulging the number of asset-seizure cars—would put his officers at risk.

That is rank nonsense, and Fowler knows it. A simple accounting of forfeiture revenues would not jeopardize officer safety in the slightest. Or perhaps Fowler thinks that this publicly available spreadsheet somehow puts police in the District of Columbia in imminent danger.

Sadly, it doesn't appear city councilors called the meeting to explore ways to protect innocent people from forfeiture. Rather, they just wanted to know if maybe they could redirect a little of the money to the city’s general fund.

Good luck with that.

For more Reason coverage of asset forfeiture abuse, click here and here.

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Social Security Trust Fund a Tad Rockier Than Believed

With the certainty of a Hollywood doomsday asteroid, we know that the financial day of reckoning for Social Security approaches. But whereas giant rocks from space loom ever closer at a steady pace until Bruce Willis drops by to blast them to smithereens, Social Security's demise seems to be accelerating. At least, that's what Investor's Business Daily tells us after running the numbers.

Social Security's financial outlook took another hit this week, as the Congressional Budget Office hiked its estimate for cash deficits from 2013 to 2022 by $212 billion.

The wider deficits — mainly due to weaker revenue estimates — mean a quicker depletion of Social Security's trust fund, after which the program could only afford to pay about 75% of benefits.

Last year, IBD was on the money in predicting, based on CBO's 10-year outlook, that the Social Security Administration would move up the trust fund exhaustion date to 2033 from 2036. Now IBD finds that CBO's fresh estimates point to the trust fund running dry in 2031, though the retirement program's actuaries don't rely on CBO data.

The CBO's latest figures are here (PDF), by the way. You'll notice that the numbers show the Disability Insurance trust fund running out in 2016, though the document assumes that benefits will continue to be paid in full. That's because the law requires the CBO to make that assumption.

But, of course, pay no attention. There's nothing to see here.

Note: As pointed out in the comments, there is no Social Security trust fund, in reality. However, using the government's own phony-baloney assumptions, matters look not so good.

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Amazon Introduces New Currency: Should Bezos Replace Bernanke?

Yesterday, Amazon.com announced plans to introduce Amazon Coins—a new way for Kindle users to pay for their purchases—starting in May. Adding its own centralized payment method allows for all currencies to compete for ease of use by customers and developers alike.

Amazon Coins are similar to Nintendo Points and Microsoft Points. But they differ from the in-house currencies of these tech and gaming giants in one big way: convertibility. With Amazon Coins, one Coin is equivalent to one cent.

Longtime customers might be familiar with all of the changes Amazon has made in an effort to make paying for purchases easier. Like most retailers they offer gift cards and PayPal, but they also allow Discover Card users to pay for purchases with their bonus points and have integrated a “Buy now with 1-Click” button to condense the payment process and verify shipping information all on one screen. 

Amazon is promoting this new payment method with freebies:

When Amazon Coins launches in May, we will be giving out tens of millions of dollars worth of Coins to customers to spend on Kindle Fire apps, games, or in-app items.

Which is right in line with Jeff Bezos' vision for Kindle products:

Well, our approach to our hardware Kindle devices, Kindle Fire and our Kindle readers, is to sell the hardware at near break even, and then we have an ongoing relationship with the customer where they buy content from us—digital books, music, movies, TV shows, games, apps. And the reason that we like that approach is because we don't make $100 every time we sell a Kindle Fire HD, since it's near break even. Instead of making a bunch of money, then, we're happy if people keep using our products. We don't have to have you on the upgrade treadmill.

For more Amazon's vision, see Brian Doherty's "Amazon: A Loss for Them is a Profit for You!"

Amazon's goal is to keep customers coming back, while making life easier for app developers and content creators. But introducing a new currency into Amazon's slew of current payment options is also a neat experiment. Bezos is allowing several forms of currency to compete—dollars, points, Coins—with market participants free to determine which is most useful.

Here's something to dream about: What if Jeff Bezos replaced Ben Bernanke chairman of the Federal Reserve? If Amazon is any indication of what his leadership could look like, it's easy to image a world where F.A Hayek’s idea of denationalizing money and allowing currencies to compete actually sees the light of day.

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President Obama Had One Conversation With Leon Panetta on the Day of the Benghazi Attack

hem, hawC-SPANIn today’s hearing on Benghazi at the Senate Armed Forces Committee, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte asked about the president’s personal involvement, finding out that the president only had one conversation with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or General Martin Dempsey on 9/11, the day of the Benghazi attack. In that conversation, according to Panetta, President Obama told them to “do whatever you need to do to be able to protect our people”. The president didn’t, according to Panetta, ask for any specifics on what kind of response was possible. And, as Ayotte found out, the president never called to follow up. “The biggest problem that night… was that nobody knew really what was going on,” Panetta said.  Dempsey noted that follow up came from White House staff, “the way it would normally work.”

After a line of questioning about cyber security and some sort of cyber ROTC idea from New York Democrat Kirsten Gillebrand, Lindsey Graham picked up where Ayotte left off, confirming the president only had one conversation with Panetta and Dempsey on 9/11 about the unfolding attack in Benghazi. Further, he found out no defense assets were launched to respond to the attack in real time. Visibly upset, Graham asked Dempsey: “is there a saying in the military, when you go in harm’s way, we’ve got your back? …Don’t you think that saying’s been undermined here?”

Graham question Panetta’s assertion that “the president of the United States was concerned about American lives,” saying he didn’t consider it a “credible statement” if the president never called to ask if the Americans on the ground in Benghazi were being helped or what was happening to them. Nevertheless, Graham trusts the same president and government to judiciously kill American citizens.

Watch the hearing live here.

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Obama's Power to Identify Combatants Is the Power of Life and Death

Writing in The New York Times today, University of Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O'Connell notes her cameo appearance in the Justice Department white paper summarizing the legal rationale for killing Americans whom President Obama identifies as enemy combatants:

I was struck to find my name on Page 4 of the white paper, which summarized my argument that “the conflict between the United States and Al Qaeda cannot lawfully extend to nations outside Afghanistan in which the level of hostilities is less intense or prolonged than in Afghanistan itself."

The lawyers dismissed my view, arguing that "there is little judicial or other authoritative precedent" on the issue, since the nation is fighting a "transnational, non-state actor" where the "principal theater of operations" is not in a country in conflict with America.

These are more than legal quibbles.

Indeed. The question of what counts as a combat zone is closely tied to the question of who counts as a combatant and is therefore eligible for death by drone. Within the United States, the Obama administration treats terrorism as a crime, meaning that suspected terrorists have the same rights as other criminal defendants, including the right not to be killed without due process of law. But according to the Justice Department, if the suspected terrorist happens to be located in another country—in Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia, say—he is subject to summary execution. Since the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress approved after 9/11 "does not set forth an express geographic limitation," the white paper suggests, the president has the authority to kill people he believes to be members of Al Qaeda or allied groups wherever they may be found. O'Connell's analysis, which she developed in response to the "Global War on Terror" concept championed by George W. Bush, goes to the heart of such claims:

In an armed conflict, in the zone of hostilities, combatants may be targeted without warning or detained without trial. Such treatment is unlawful against persons engaging in violence in the absence of armed conflict. Armed conflict occurs when organized armed groups exchange protracted, intense, armed hostilities. The groups must be associated with territory. In addition to the concept of armed conflict, the concept of conflict zone is important. Killing combatants or detaining them without trial until the end of hostilities is consistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality, as well as general human rights, when related to a zone of actual armed hostilities. Outside such a zone, however, authorities must attempt to arrest a suspect and only target to kill those who pose an immediate lethal threat and refuse to surrender. Those arrested outside a conflict zone should receive a speedy trial on the basis of the evidence that has led to the arrest. There must be an evidentiary basis to charge a person with a crime—much more evidence than supports the right to detain an enemy combatant captured on an actual battlefield in a zone of combat.

By contast, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) thinks combatant status is in the eye of the beholder—and that beholder is the president, no one else. "The process of being targeted I think is legal," Graham says, "and should reside in the commander in chief to determine who an enemy combatant is and what kind of force to use." Since the power to determine who is a combatant is the power of life and death, Graham is saying he trusts the president with an unlimited license to kill. If Obama decided tomorrow that Graham is a combatant and marked him for death, that would be A-OK in Graham's book.

Back in 2007, when Barack Obama was running for president, The Boston Globe asked him, "Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?" Obama's response:

No. I reject the Bush Administration's claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

Evidently, however, Obama does think the president has plenary authority to kill U.S. citizens, as long as he does not detain them first.

O'Connell's 2010 congressional testimony on "Lawful Use of Combat Drones" is here.

David Harsanyi on the Future of the GOP

Karl Rove, architect of the George W. Bush-era Republican victories, says he's sick of fanatics running his party into the ground. So he's devised a strategy to pre-emptively sink unelectable candidates early in the process. He's formed a new super PAC to implement this strategy. It's called the Conservative Victory Project, and it's led by a guy named Steven Law, who was the head of another super PAC, called American Crossroads, which went something like 0-7 in the 2012 election cycle. (Not that anyone's counting.)

Can Rove save the GOP from another embarrassing electoral defeat? David Harsanyi takes a closer look.

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Benghazi Senate Hearing: Cover Up the Big Problem, Not Lack of Resources, Jim Inhofe Says

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey are testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi. Doing his part to pass the buck, Panetta noted that “DOD does not have the primary responsibility for the security of U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world. We do work closely with the State Department and support them as requested,” saying that the president “ordered all available DOD assets to respond to the attack in Libya and to protect U.S. personnel and interests in the region.”

Senator Jim Inhofe, while acknowledging these may not be the right witnesses for the issue, did focus in his opening statement as ranking Republican on the official narrative immediately after the attack, saying: “We sit around all day long and talk about the resources that we should have and don’t have, not just here, not just in this part of the world, but all over the world, and that’s fine, I think we all understand that. But that’s not the big problem here. The big problem here is the cover up that nobody talks about and that’s the tragedy.”

Why lack of resources aren't really to blame for Benghazi.

Watch the hearing live here or below:

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Rand Paul Reax: 'bizarre,' 'one of the major foreign policy speeches of this still young century,' Just Like His Father, Not Enough Like His Father, etc.

Rand Paul's big foreign policy speech at Heritage yesterday (read it here; follow-up here) has drawn a lot of interesting and disparate reaction. Here's a sampling:

Washington Post political columnist Dana Milbank says that "Rand Paul is more like his father after all":

[T]he only military intervention Paul explicitly supported in his speech was attacking al-Qaeda in Afghanistan — a conflict even his father voted to authorize. Later, in a conference call with reporters, I asked Paul whether there was any other military intervention in the past 30 or 40 years he would have supported. That left a wide range of possibilities — Vietnam, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq, Libya — but he declined to name one.

The apple, it would appear, doesn't fall far from the tree. [...]

In his call with reporters later, he returned to a tone that sounded more isolationist — or, as modern isolationists call themselves, non-interventionists. "We supported a concept of radical jihad against the Soviets, and it came back to bite us," he said. "Some people argue keeping the shah in power ultimately came back to bite us." Calling for the United States to "be more hesitant," he argued that in Syria “we shouldn’t be arming one side or the other.” [...]

If this makes Rand Paul a foreign policy realist, so's his old man.

Antiwar.com's John Glaser, on the other hand, says "Paul tried to advocate a foreign policy of restraint, but couched it in the rhetoric of interventionists":

Paul suggested the United States reapply its Cold War strategies of engagement, aggression, and containment to the 21st century's version of a Soviet threat: "Radical Islam."

But does America really face such an overarching threat? [...]

Few Americans will be persuaded of non-intervention if they are constantly reminded of minor, indirect threats through the oversimplified rhetoric of politicians.

The Washington Free Beacon quotes a bunch of neoconservatives calling Sen. Paul naive:

Danielle Pletka, vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said Paul's speech failed to address the actual debates among foreign policy experts.

"I respect the thoughtful tone and the enthusiastic research that went into the senator's speech," said Pletka. "Unfortunately, the restraint that he calls for in addressing the challenges of the day is directed toward straw men. Who has suggested we invade Iran? Or Syria? Or anywhere else?"

The speech may have also set back Paul's outreach to the pro-Israel community.

One senior official at a prominent D.C. Jewish organization called it "frankly bizarre" and "outside the bipartisan political and policy consensus." [...]

"From looking at Sen. Paul's speech, we're not quite talking about the same ideas of containment," [said Lee] Smith[, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies].  "What containment means for him is the same as what it means for the most of the commentariat and probably most of the Obama administration. 'Containment' just means anything but the use of military force."

More reaction after the jump.

MORE »
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Global Temperature Trend Update: January 2013 - 2nd Warmest

Every month University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report the latest global temperature trends from satellite data. Below are the newest data updated through Janaury 2013.

Second warmest January in past 35 years

Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.14 C per decade

January temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.51 C (about 0.92 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for January.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.55 C (about 0.99 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for January.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.46 C (about 0.83 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for January.

Tropics: +0.38 C (about 0.68 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for January.

Notes: Globally, January 2013 was the second warmest January among the past 35, with an annual global average temperature that was 0.51 C (about 0.92 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 30-year baseline average, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. January 2010 was the warmest January, while January 1998 is now pushed to third warmest.

Go here to see the monthly satellite data from 1978 to the present.

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MSNBC's Touré: Killing Untried 16-Year-Olds Is OK, Killing Convicted Murderers Isn't

The Internet is making itself sweaty talking about Touré, the liberal MSNBC TV host, who, on Tuesday, defended President Obama's targeted killing policy to the disbelief of his MSNBC colleagues (and Twitter). In his own words, Touré's position

We're at war with al Qaeda right now, and if you join al Qaeda, you lose the right to be an American. You lose the right to due process. You declare yourself an enemy of this nation, and you are committing treason. And I don't see why we should expand American rights to people who want to kill Americans, who are working to kill Americans, who are committing treason. This is not criticizing the United States. This is going to war against the United States.

As the segment progresses, it becomes apparent that Touré isn't familiar with the nonpartisan criticisms of Obama's assassination policy. For instance, when Salon's Steve Kornacki asks him about the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the Denver-born 16-year-old son of radical (New Mexico-born) cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, Touré responds, "What do you mean what about the 16-year-old who was killed?" and then "We’re not talking about civilian casualties." And when his co-hosts continue to press him on the consequences of a small group of individuals determing who deserves to die without a shred of oversight, Touré dismisses them by saying, "Al Qaeda attacked this nation. We are attacking al Qaeda back." On Twitter Touré simply said, "He's the Commander in Chief." 

Touré's confidence in Obama's assassination policy is fascinating in light of his skepticism of capital punishment, which he revealed after the executions of Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer:

America is one of the last nations in the world to still employ the death penalty even though it cripples our status as a world moral leader and is barbaric and is not uniformly applied and is subject to bias and is rife with error and sometimes leads to the execution of people we’re not completely certain actually committed the crime. How could that happen? We’re just human and we need to end the death penalty and get out of the business of playing God.”

Emphasis mine. If we can't execute, with 100 percent certainty, someone who's had the benefit of a public trial and an extensive appeals process, where does Touré get off expressing confidence in a system as opaque and challenge-free as Obama's targeted killing doctrine?

The best rebuttal I've yet to read to people like Toure is from Reason's own Jacob Sullum, who argues that to accept the reasoning in the DOJ's targeted killing white paper

you have to put complete trust in the competence, wisdom, and ethics of the president, his underlings, and their successors. You have to believe they are properly defining and inerrantly identifying people who pose an imminent (or quasi-imminent) threat to national security and eliminating that threat through the only feasible means, which involves blowing people up from a distance. If mere mortals deserved that kind of faith, we would not need a Fifth Amendment, or the rest of the Constitution.

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A. Barton Hinkle on Obama’s Dismal Second Term

Nothing in the cosmic laws of the universe makes the halfway mark sacred. Nevertheless, we often treat that dividing line as more important than others: Victory in a democracy usually requires crossing the 50-percent threshold. All other things being equal, a 50-50 split is considered fair. The question dividing optimists and pessimists asks whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. We encourage others by saying, “You’re halfway there already.” Et cetera.

So with the Obama administration now at its halfway point, writes A. Barton Hinkle, perhaps it is worth noting the many ways the United States is approaching, or already has crossed, the halfway mark in fiscal and economic matters.

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A.M. Links: Cabinet Muzzled Over Cuts, John Brennan To Be Grilled, French Singer Slams Socialist "Mediocrity"

  • Cabinet officials say they've been told to keep their mouths shut about looming sequestration spending cuts unless they get clearance from the Office of Management and Budget. The Pentagon is exempt, though, and the resulting chatter has reinforced the impression that the cuts are all defense-related.
  • John Brennan is expected to face a few questions today about torture, drone killings and high-level leaks on his way to taking over the CIA and doing more of the same.
  • The Supreme Court ponders whether government agents will need a warrant to collect DNA samples from suspects (the new professionalism includes a cotton swab).
  • The alleged assailant in the shooting of a security guard at the D.C. offices of the Family Research Council entered a guilty plea.
  • In the latest development in government transparency, a Virginia bill would make government documents presumptively unavailable for public scrutiny.
  • A former LAPD officer is suspected in the shootings — one fatal — of three cops. He's already sought in the killing of the daughter of a former LAPD captain as well as the woman’s fiance.
  • Johnny Hallyday, the celebrated Gallic pop singer of such hits as ... Well, anyway, he slammed his country's Socialist government and the political Left in general for breeding mediocrity.

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

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66 Percent Say Technological Innovation Depends Primarily on Private Not Public Investment

According to the recent Reason-Rupe pollAmericans believe private not public investment primarily drives technological innovation. This does not mean Americans ignore public investment’s role, but that the economy’s technological engine is primarily fueled by risks and investments made by the private sector. Republicans are far more likely to say private investment primarily powers the economic 83 to 10 percent, as do Independents 72 to 21 percent. Only a slim majority of Democrats agree, with 51 percent versus 39 percent who think public investment is most important for technological innovation.

Among Americans who believe public sector investment is most important for innovation, 77 percent approve of President Obama and 18 percent disapprove. Fifty-seven percent of these respondents also “strongly support” increasing taxes on the wealthy to balance the budget. In contrast, those who say private investment is most important, 54 percent disapprove of the president while 41 percent approve, and 32 percent “strongly support” increasing tax rates on the wealthy.

Middle age is correlated with greater belief in private investment. For instance, 56 percent of 18-24 year olds and 63 percent of Americans over 65 compared to 71 percent of 35-54 year olds. Majorities of Caucasian (73 percent) respondents as well as a slight majority of Latinos (52 percent) believe private investment is most important; in contrast 53 percent of African-Americans think government investment is most important.

Although households connect private investment with innovation, the connection is less clear betweentax structure and investment, and thus taxes and innovation. The Reason-Rupe poll asked Americans whether raising taxes on wealthy households makes a significant difference in reducing the money available for investing in business start-ups, only 35 percent thought there was a connection. Likewise, only 26 percent thought raising taxes on high earners reduces the amount they work and invest. Consequently, it is less surprising that 73 percent thought raising taxes on wealthy households would have no significant impact on innovation. Read more about these results here.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted January 17th-21st 2013 interviewed 1000 adults on both mobile (500) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.8%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full methodology can be found here. Full poll results found here.

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Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Fields Talk Higher-Education Bubble on Next Generation TV

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit talks higher education bubble with Michelle Fields of Next Generation.

It's a sharp and concise explanation of why college costs have pumped up over the past several decades - and why the smartest students are increasingly turning a gimlet eye toward advanced degrees.

Click on image to watch. To watch/learn more about Next Generaton TV, an offering of Pajamas Media, go here.

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Judge Andrew Napolitano: Obama Gives Himself Permission to Kill

After stonewalling for more than a year federal judges and ordinary citizens who sought the revelation of its secret legal research justifying the presidential use of drones to kill persons overseas—even Americans—claiming the research was so sensitive and so secret that it could not be revealed without serious consequences, the government sent a summary of its legal memos to an NBC newsroom earlier this week.

The undated and unsigned 16-page document leaked to NBC refers to itself as a Department of Justice white paper. As Judge Andrew Napolitano explains, its logic is flawed, its premises are bereft of any appreciation for the values of the Declaration of Independence and the supremacy of the Constitution, and its rationale could be used to justify any breaking of any law by any "informed, high-level official of the U.S. government."

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Brickbat: Let Go of My Lego

Sheila Cruz says officials at Hyannis West Elementary School in Massachusetts reprimanded and threatened to suspend her 5-year-old son Joseph after he made a gun out of Legos. Barnstable Public Schools Superintendent Mary Czajkowski said the boy made other students uncomfortable. "The teacher and school principal acted in accordance with school and district policy," she said.

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The President is Neither Our Boss, Nor Our Dad, Thank the Deity of Your Choice

Bringing the usual clarity to an issue for which Hollywood celebrities are known, a gaggle of professional entertainers is lending their gravitas to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Comedian Chris Rock, for his part, tells us all we should support gun control because, well, President Obama told us to.

From NBC News:

"I am just here to support the President of the United States," Rock said. "The President of the United States is ... our boss. ... The president and the first lady are kind of like the mom and the dad of the country, and when your dad says something, you listen! And when you don't, it usually bites you in the ass later on."

Is it churlish of me to suggest that such sentiments are exactly why some of us plan to keep our guns, no matter what?

Politico has the glorious video, below.

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Can Early Voting Fix Long Lines?

President Barack Obama lost out on hundreds of thousands of votes in the 2012 election because of long lines at polling places. 

The president will weigh in on the issue during his State of the Union Address next week, but gave a taste of what is to come in his Inaugural Address late last month:

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

The longest lines are generally found in cities and urban dwellers tend to vote Democrat, so the issue of long lines for voting has become a partisan flashpoint.

Democrats suggest that the way to eliminate wait times on Election Day is to expand early voting. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, took a lot of flak for cutting early voting back from 14 to eight days in his state this cycle. Indeed, Florida voters suffered through the longest lines in the nation during early voting. According to The Huffington Post:

Lines were especially long in Miami-Dade County, where by 7:25 a.m. Saturday two of the county's 20 early voting stations were already suffering 5-hour wait times. Six of the locations listed wait times of six or more hours on Saturday afternoon, hampered perhaps in part by a hefty ballot that was 10 pages for most voters.

But early voting may not solve the problem. Fewer than 25 percent of voters chose to vote early in 2012. A few states—notably Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada—saw more than 50 percent turnout before Election Day, but they are the exception.

The focus of reform should be on making Election Day—and early voting—more efficient, not dragging it out.

Nobody should reading complex ballot questions for the first time inside the voting booth. Provide people in line with sample ballots and index cards so they can make their choices ahead of time. True, we send these to people’s homes, but few remember to bring them.

And if we want to prevent people from turning away from polls in frustration, we need more transparency about waiting times. Ironically, Florida seems to be leading the charge on this by posting waiting times at polls online.

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Kids to be Banned From Blowing Candles out in Australia, Chinese State Media Warns North Korea Over Nuke Test, Majority of Americans Think the Federal Government Threatens Liberty: P.M. Links

  • Australian children will be banned from blowing out candles on communal cakes thanks to new guidelines from The National Health and Medical Research Council. 
  • Chinese state media has called for a “heavy price” to be imposed on North Korea if the reclusive regime conducts a planned nuclear test. 

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J.D. Tuccille on the Threatened State of Press Freedom Around the World

Is America the free press's last stand? It can feel that way when you look around the world, writes J.D. Tuccille, managing editor of Reason 24/7. English-speaking countries and Europe have traditionally been relative bastions for independent media in a world where political leaders have little tolerance for dissent, but Britain is on the verge of adopting explicit state regulation of the press and the European Union and Australia seem poised to follow. That's especially frightening when you consider that many European nations currently rank above the United States in terms of press freedom—but their collective advantage could be wiped away in a single legislative moment.

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LIVE: Lisa Snell Talks School Choice

Click above to watch Reason TV Live at 4:00 pm ET / 1:00 pm PT.

NOTE: Watch a recorded version of the conversation by clicking play above and fast-forwarding to the 5.00-minute mark after the commercial plays.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare policy at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this site. Snell is perhaps best known as the person who helped defeat a 2006 California ballot initiative for Universal Preschool. The new law, which was championed by moviemaker and actor Rob Reiner, would have cost over $100,000 per each new preschooler added while delivering no clear educational benefits.

Snell has a master's in communication from Cal State, publishes widely on school choice and foster care reform, and works with federal, state, and local officials to implement reforms designed to give more power to individual kids and parents. Read her bio here.

Snell will be interviewed by Reason TV's Tracy Oppenheimer live from our new studio in Los Angeles. The topics covered will include the Obama administration's national standards, pushback by teachers unions against school choice, the efficacy of letting parents and kids select their schools, and whether vouchers, charters, and similar reforms don't go far enough in challenging the educational status quo.

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#ReplaceSongTitleWithDrone Trending on Twitter in the U.S.

With this week’s leaked white paper on when drones can target U.S. citizens driving the drone war to the forefront of the news cycle, the issue’s hit Twitter, with #ReplaceSongTitleWithDrone among the top trending hashtags on Twitter in the U.S. right now. Some examples:

drone onTwitter

And a snippier one:

what about a white house petition?Twitter

Though who knows how effective calling your member of Congress considering some don’t have a clue about the kill list.

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The Folly of Residence Restrictions for Sex Offenders

The New York Times reports that 40 or so sex offenders in Long Island's Suffolk County live in two government-supplied trailers, one of them located in the parking lot of a prison, largely because residence restrictions make it almost impossible for them to find a legal home after they are released:

In New York State, laws prohibit sex offenders on parole or whose victims were younger than 18 from residing within 1,000 feet of schools or other child care facilities. In 2006, Suffolk [County] passed a law extending the distance for all sex offenders to a quarter mile. Southampton [a Suffolk County beach town] later stretched that to up to a mile. 

As I explained in a 2011 Reason article about sex offenders, there are several problems with such rules:

There is no evidence that residence restrictions prevent crime and little reason to think they would. Sex offenders are free to move around over the course of a day, and residence restrictions do not even notionally prevent them from finding victims more than 1,000 feet, a quarter mile, or a mile from their homes. Furthermore, data from the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey indicate that more than 90 percent of sexually abused minors are assaulted by relatives or acquaintances, not by strangers who happen to live near a playground or school.

Residence restrictions are indiscriminate. The rules are supposed to be aimed at people who pose a special threat to children. Yet New York's law applies to all sex offenders on parole, whether or not their crimes involved minors. Even a sex offense involving a minor, which triggers lifelong residence restrictions under New York's law, does not necessarily mark someone as a menace to children. An 18-year-old who had consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend, for instance, is not exactly a child molester. The same might be true, depending on the details, of  the Southampton trailer dweller who was convicted of "disseminating pornography among minors."

Residence restrictions promote recidivism. By effectively banishing sex offenders from most (sometimes nearly all) of a city or county and forcing them to live together in trailers, in cheap motels, in campgrounds, or under bridges, often far from therapy and employment opportunities, the restrictions impede reintegration and rehabilitation, making new crimes more likely. They also undermine the registration systems championed by the same people who support residence restrictions, since it is hard to keep tabs on homeless sex offenders.

Even some advocates of residence restrictions concede they have gone too far:

"When you propose a law restricting sex offenders to 1,000 feet from any bus stop, that's just not going to work," said Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center, who lives on Long Island. "You have to be reasonable."

Since their costs are clear and their benefits are unproven at best, it is hard to see how any residence restrictions count as reasonable. All they seem to offer is emotional satisfaction and a false sense of security.

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John Bolton on Obama Drone Policy: Entirely Sensible, Extension of Bush Policies

The former U.S ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton had some rare praise for President Obama, and specifically for his expansive drone war. Via Mediaite:

“It seems to me that the approach that the Obama administration is following is consistent with and really derived from the Bush administration approach to the War on Terror,” Bolton told [Fox News] host Jenna Lee. “And I think it is entirely sensible. Whether it is foreign citizens who are involved with Al Qaeda or American citizens, we are in a war. They have attacked us. We have a congressional authorization to use military force in response. And that’s what’s at stake here.”

Bolton, of course, is no fan of Obama, having previously accused the president of appeasing America’s nemeses the world over. Last August he said:

"We have a president who believes that our strength is provocative, only if we were less pushy, less American even," said Bolton during a speech before the Florida delegation at the Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort. "But it is American weakness that's provocative and we have a very provocative president in the White House."

By Bolton’s definition, the U.S. drone war, which may have killed more than 1,000 civilians and is in fact creating new militants isn’t provocative at all.

While Bolton may view Obama’s prosecution of the war on terror as derivative of George Bush’s, it also pushes the envelope further than Bush appeared to try.

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Rand Paul Is Running for President (IMO) and He Isn't His Father

I just got off a reporter/phone call deal with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), to discuss his foreign policy speech at Heritage earlier today. Some bullet-pointed comments he made:

* "The elected officials here haven't caught up with where the public is." Paul estimated that 70-80% of the public is broadly sympathetic to his more limited and humble conception of U.S. foreign policy, while "the reverse" is true both in the U.S. Senate and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he now sits.

* "If any part of these ideas become part of a national campaign...." Asked about his foreign policy's appeal to Democrats, Paul singled out for praise Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), stressed that "libertarian Republican ideas" may well have some sway among Democrats, independents, and voters on the coasts, and volunteered the notion of a "national campaign."

* "I do want to be part of the national debate and the international debate." Asked about his presidential ambitions, Paul did not say "I'm totally running," but...he's totally running.

* "I think the interesting thing about Kennan and containment is that it's not a passive policy." Part of Paul's obvious third-way triangulation here (between "neoconservatism" and "isolationism," as he put it in the speech) is to marry the complicated and non-conservative foreign policy thinking of George Kennan with the Cold War record of Ronald Reagan. Consistent with that is the notion that Kennan's anti-Soviet "containment," which Paul wants to apply to "radical Islam," can mean both active engagement and deep skepticism about boots-on-the-ground military action.

* "Part of what this speech is intended to do is to spell out where I am, and it isn't exactly the same [place], there are differences." Asked directly about how his foreign policy views differ from his dad's, Paul said that such a "separation" was one of the main ideas of his speech. He will not, he said, be spending the next several years saying which part of Ron Paul's foreign policy ideas he agrees or disagrees with, in part because "it doesn't exactly make for great Thanksgiving conversation."

* "Brennan we're very concerned about." Asked whether he would oppose the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, or support a filibuster to oppose it, Paul said he has not decided, and that "a lot of the debate for me is how much prerogative you give to a president to decide his cabinet." For example, he voted to approve John Kerry for secretary of state, even though he agrees with about "one percent" of Kerry's positions, either internationally or domestically. Asked what he thought about confirming John Brennan as CIA director, Paul became much more animated, railing against (and my notes here might not be verbatim) "one person sitting around with some flash cards and deciding who they're going to kill in the world."

* "We need to observe a process...." Asked whether there is any military action over the last 30-40 years besides the initial hit against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan that he would have supported, Paul dodged the question, and spoke instead about future engagements, and constitutional process.

* "We need to be more hesitant in getting involved...but that doesn't mean we shouldn't support freedom fighters [and] free market capitalists." I asked him about how a Rand Paul foreign policy would approach rhetorical support for those fighting oppressors around the world, given the suspicion that many anti-neocons have for such talk being the precursor to military engagement. He stressed that "so many of these situations are murky," named several such examples, but then also said that there are times for piping up. "I've stood in solidary in democracy workers both here and in Egypt," he said.

Here's a Reason.tv piece about Rand Paul from the 2012 Republican National Convention:

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Boy Scouts Delay Gay Vote. Should LGBT Community Be Angry or Patient?

The executive board of the Boy Scouts of America today decided to punt the issue of allowing gay members until May and allow some 1,400 voting members of their national council to help make the decision at their annual meeting:

After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy. To that end, the National Executive Board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting's membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers' work on a resolution on membership standards.

Demonstrating how far out of step I am with this gay community I’m allegedly part of, I thought this announcement was good news. Scout families delivered more than a 1 million signatures on Monday in support of allowing gay scouts. It seemed that there was a significant support by its own membership and that opening up the vote would increase the likelihood of change.

But what do I know? Folks are pissed. Here’s a response from the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation (GLAAD):

"An organization that serves youth and chooses to intentionally hurt dedicated young people and hardworking parents not only flies in the face of American principles, but the principles of being a Boy Scout," said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. "The Boy Scouts of America is choosing to ignore the cries of millions, including religious institutions, current scouting families, and corporate sponsors, but these cries will not be silenced. We're living in a culture where hurting young gay people because of who they are is unpopular and discriminatory. They had the chance to end the pain this ban has caused to young people and parents, they chose to extend the pain."

Y’all, it’s three months. Three. Months. I am curious as to why GLAAD thinks a vote taken today would be more likely to go in their favor? What if the executive board did vote today and the vote failed? How far back would this effort had been pushed then?

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Lindsey Graham Urges Colleagues to Support Targeted Killing, Protect Obama From "Libertarians and the Left"

Baby-faced statist and United States Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters today that his colleagues in Congress need to get behind Obama's targeted killing program, and protect the president from "libertarians and the left." Politico reports:  

“Every member of Congress needs to get on board,” Graham said. “It’s not fair to the president to let him, leave him out there alone quite frankly. He’s getting hit from libertarians and the left.

“I think the middle of America understands why you would want a drone program to go after a person like Anwar al-Awlaki,” Graham added.

“The process of being targeted I think is legal, quite frankly laborious and should reside in the commander in chief to determine who an enemy combatant is and what kind of force to use.” 

“If this ever goes to court I guarantee you it will be a slam dunk support of what the administration is doing. I think one of the highlights of President Obama’s first time and the beginning of his second term is the way he’s been able to use drones against terrorists."

It's odd that Graham would mention this "going to court," as the leaked DOJ white paper that everybody's talking about explicitly says, "[T]here exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional questions." Oh well! Graham will put his money where his mouth is by introducing a resolution next week commending Obama's murder of a 16-year-old boy.

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Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S. Speaks Out Against Drone Strikes

Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. has spoken out against American drone strikes in Pakistan, pointing out that they are illegal, create more militants than they kill, and violate national sovereignty.  

From Bloomberg:

Ambassador Sherry Rehman called the targeted killings a “direct violation of our sovereignty” and international law as well as a red line that Pakistani authorities are constantly urging the U.S. not to cross. While saying that her country has done all it can to eradicate terrorists and their havens, she said more strikes by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s remotely piloted planes may hamper security cooperation.

“We need to drain this swamp,” Rehman said yesterday, referring to pockets of violent extremism in her country. Still, U.S. strikes stir deep resentment and radicalize some, Rehman told journalists hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

It should come as no surprise that Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the U.S. A June 2012 poll from the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project highlighted the worrying trend in Pakistan of increased animosity towards the U.S. Additional research from The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project shows that American drones strikes in Pakistan have become increasingly unpopular, falling from an already low 23 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2012.

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America Less Popular in Parts of Muslim World Now than at End of Bush Term

In remarks at the Heritage Foundation today, Senator Rand Paul explained that while non-intervention alone won’t end the threat of radical Islam, intervention has the effect of fanning its flames. When President Obama first took office in 2009, he went to Cairo to try to reframe the relationship between America and the Muslim world. No amount of lofty words, however, could cover the fact that Obama largely extended and expanded upon George W. Bush’s controversial and polarizing counterterrorism efforts, even as he condemned them in Cairo. The lack of much substantive difference between Bush and Obama is reflected in polls. While perceptions of America saw a slight improvement across the Muslim world upon Obama’s election, they’ve not only been reversed but in some cases are worse than they were in 2008 (including in Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan). A Pew Global survey from June shows confidence in Obama down 9 percent, to 24 percent, in Muslim countries, while America’s favorability rating is down to 15 percent from 25 percent. In fact one of the few bright spots in the poll is an improvement in attitudes toward America in Russia, where favorability is up to 52 percent. More results:

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Live at 4pm ET/1pm PT: Lisa Snell Talks School Choice with Reason TV!

Please tune in to Hit & Run at Reason.com at 4pm ET/1pm PT to watch a live conversation with Lisa Snell, the director of education and child welfare policy at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this site. Snell is perhaps best known as the person who helped defeat a 2006 California ballot initiative for Universal Preschool. The new law, which was championed by moviemaker and actor Rob Reiner, would have cost over $100,000 per each new preschooler added while delivering no clear educational benefits.

Snell has a master's in communication from Cal State, publishes widely on school choice and foster care reform, and works with federal, state, and local officials to implement reforms designed to give more power to individual kids and parents. Read her bio here.

Snell will be interviewed by Reason TV's Tracy Oppenheimer live from our new studio in Los Angeles. The topics covered will include the Obama administration's national standards, pushback by teachers unions against school choice, the efficacy of letting parents and kids select their schools, and whether vouchers, charters, and similar reforms don't go far enough in challenging the educational status quo.

Please come back to Hit & Run at 4pm ET/1pm PT to watch the half-hour show.

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National Review Writers: Even Republican Presidents Should Not Summarily Execute Suspected Terrorists

At least two National Review writers have criticized President Obama's policy of summarily sentencing suspected terrorists to death by drone. Yesterday Charles C.W. Cooke tweeted: "In case my position isn't obvious: I am appalled by any president possessing the unilateral power to kill American citizens extrajudicially." This morning Jim Geraghty, after quoting Mother Jones writer Adam Serwer's criticism of Obama's license to kill, likewise conceded that such a policy would be cause for concern even if Mitt Romney had won the presidential election:

Of course, the hypocrisy of most liberals doesn’t get us off the hook on the need to have a coherent view on this. Okay, conservatives, big question now:  If this were President Romney, would we be shrugging, concerned, complaining or screaming? I think “concerned.” At the very least, you would want another set of eyes – the House or Senate intelligence committees, or some independent judges – taking a look at the presidential “kill list,” right? At least for the American citizens?...

Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, puts it rather bluntly: “Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.”

That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

No, it doesn't, and I have another big question for conservatives: If the party of the president doesn't matter, why does the nationality of the guy he marks for death? Don't people have a right to life even if they aren't U.S. citizens? Are you comfortable with letting the president kill anyone he deems an enemy of America, as long as that alleged threat had the misfortune to be born outside the United States?

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Obamacare Exchange Costs Up 29% Before Program Even Starts!

One of the big features of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. health-care reform or Obamacare) is the creation of exchanges where people can buy subsidized insurance plans if they don't qualify via the workplace. There's a raft of implementation issues as states try to figure out whether they want to set up their own exchanges or go along with federal ones. Here's something that only makes 2014, the year Obamacare fully comes online, even more dread-worthy: The estimated cost of subsidizing plans through Obamacare's exchanges has grown from $3,970 in 2010 to $5,510. Here's John Merline of Investors Business:

The CBO's new baseline estimate shows that ObamaCare subsidies offered through the insurance exchanges — which are supposed to be up and running by next January — will total more than $1 trillion through 2022, up from $814 billion over those same years in its budget forecast made a year ago.

That's an increase of nearly 29%...

Last year, the CBO said the average exchange subsidy for those getting federal help when ObamaCare goes into effect next year would be $4,780. Its latest estimate raised that to $5,510 — a 15% increase. All these numbers are up even more from the CBO's original forecast made in 2010, which had the first-year subsidy average at $3,970.

The CBO also expects 7 million workers will lose their employer coverage due to ObamaCare, almost twice as many as it had previously said would be dumped. It expects tax penalties on individuals and companies who don't buy insurance to be $36 billion higher from 2014 to 2019 than it originally forecast.

Merline notes that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects that Medicaid costs to come down more than before, so it estimates that total spending on Obamacare will stay around the same. Read the whole thing here.

Yet given the track record of major health-care entitlements - which almost always cost much more than anticipated - we should all expect Obamacare's costs to spiral upwards.

Merline also points readers to this recent survey of insurers in five cities by the American Action Forum. The good news is that if you're unhealthy and/or old, your premiums will likely go down by about 22 percent on average. The bad news is for younger and healthier folks on individual or small-employer plans: You premiums will increase by 169 percent on average.

Back in 2010, Reason TV offered "3 Reasons Health-Care Reform Won't Cut the Deficit by One Thin Dime." Watch it now below and read the text here.

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Obama's Criteria for Killing People Are Optional

On Monday I noted several alarming aspects of the process by which President Obama marks people for death, as outlined in a Justice Department white paper leaked this week. All of them boil down to this: To be comfortable with the Obama administration's program of "targeted killings," you have to be confident that the president and his underlings, without the benefit of judicial review, are conscientiously and inerrantly identifying people who deserve to die and who pose truly imminent terrorist threats that can only be addressed by dropping bombs on them. This morning Jesse Walker noted an additional problem: Even if the targets are appropriate, they are not the only ones killed by American missiles. In addition to the Yemeni cleric he mentions, who had taken a brave stance against Al Qaeda, the same New York Times story cites a 2009 attack in which "American cruise missiles carrying cluster munitions killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children." Counts by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at City University in London indicate that drone strikes in Pakistan had killed somewhere between 474 and 881 civilians, including 176 children, as of last September.

The New York Times story also belies the impression that drones are targeting only "senior, operational leader[s] of al-Qa'ida or an associated force" who pose "an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States" and that they are used only when capture is "infeasible":

Several former top military and intelligence officials—including Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired general who led the Joint Special Operations Command, which has responsibility for the military’s drone strikes, and Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director—have raised concerns that the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen are increasingly targeting low-level militants who do not pose a direct threat to the United States....

In some cases, drones have killed members of Al Qaeda when it seemed that they might easily have been arrested or captured, according to a number of Yemeni officials and tribal figures. One figure in particular has stood out: Adnan al Qadhi, who was killed, apparently in a drone strike, in early November in a town near the capital.

Mr. Qadhi was an avowed supporter of Al Qaeda, but he also had recently served as a mediator for the Yemeni government with other jihadists, and was drawing a government salary at the time of his death. He was not in hiding, and his house is within sight of large houses owned by a former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and other leading figures.

A 2012 study by researchers at the Stanford and NYU law schools estimated that 2 percent of targets killed by drones in Pakistan could be described as "high-level." To be fair, the DOJ white paper makes it clear that the conditions it discusses—the target is 1) a senior, operational leader who 2) poses an imminent threat (which in practice is the same as the first condition) and 3) cannot be captured—are sufficient to justify the summary execution of an American citizen, which does not mean they are necessary, especially when it comes to foreign nationals. Attorney General Eric Holder likewise kept the president's options open in a March 2012 speech (emphasis added):

Let me be clear: An operation using lethal force in a foreign country, targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, would be lawful at least in the following circumstances: First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

I am happy to let Holder be clear, but he seems intent on obfuscating a crucial point: While the president claims the authority to order someone's death when these conditions are met, he also claims that authority when these conditions are not met. The white paper itself broadens the meaning of "imminent threat" so that it is not really a distinct criterion, dropping even the requirement (which was never really a requirement) that a target be "actively engaged in planning to kill Americans." Both that document and a close reading of Holder's speech make it clear that the president's license to kill is broader than all the talk of careful review and qualifying criteria might lead one to believe.

John Stossel on Big Government’s Latest Banning Spree

Consenting adults should be free to make their own decisions when it comes to gambling, watching mixed-martial arts, taking performance enhancing drugs, and anything else that nanny state regulators find distasteful. But as John Stossel observes, big government would rather tell us what we can’t do then step out of the way and let us make our own choices about our lives.

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Rand Paul on Foreign Policy: "Containment and Radical Islam"

At a major speech delivered at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) lays out a foreign policy that is neither imperialistic nor isolationist:

Reagan’s foreign policy was much closer to what I am advocating than what we have today.   The former Chairman of the American Conservative Union David Keene noted that Reagan’s policy was much less interventionist than the presidents of both parties who came right before him and after him. 

I’d argue that a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy, as it includes two basic tenets of true conservatism: respect for the constitution, and fiscal discipline.

I am convinced that what we need is a foreign policy that works within these two constraints, a foreign policy that works within the confines of the Constitution the realities of our fiscal crisis Today in Congress there is no such nuance, no such moderation of dollars or executive power.

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Sex and Punishment: Eric Berkowitz Talks 4,000 Years of Judging Desire

"Sex and Punishment: Eric Berkowitz Talks 4,000 Years of Judging Desire" 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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Katherine Mangu-Ward Discusses Obama's Drone Kill List on Kudlow

Reason's Managing Editor, Katherine Mangu-Ward, appeared on CNBC's Kudlow to discuss a Justice Department memo about the U.S. drone program. Mangu-Ward argues the drone program gives the president too much power with very little oversight. 

Air Date: Feb. 5, 2013

Approximately 5.30 minutes. 

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Will Sequestration Cause the Sky to Fall (Defense Edition)? Not even close.

Reason columnist and Mercatus Center analyst Veronique de Rugy has a sharp post up at National Review's The Corner. Despite the bipartisan pants-wetting from folks such as Democrats Leon Panetta and Barack Obama, the Heritage Foundation's James Carafano, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and others, de Rugy says that cutting defense spending by an estimated $55 billion will neither kneecap our national security nor crush the economy.

On the first score, de Rugy notes that previous defense drawdowns typically are much starker in absolute and relative terms. That is, when the U.S. cuts defense spending after wars, spending has typically declined by about 30 percent over 10 years. Not so in this case:

The CBO projections (see Table 1.3 here, or Table 1.5 in the new CBO projections) about the impact of sequestration show that in the worst-case scenario (if all the cuts are applied to the baseline in the law), there will be initial reductions between FY 2012 and FY 2013, but that defense spending will continue to grow in nominal terms for all years after. After sequestration, the FY 2013 defense budget will be comparable to its FY 2006 level (in real terms). Adjusted for inflation, over the next ten years, the spending is projected to remain relatively constant.

And recall that total defense spending has jacked up some 70 percent in the 21st century, so we're relatively loaded for bear when it comes to military power. It's also worth noting that the U.S. currently spends something like 40 percent of the planet's spending on defense. Finally, can defense hawks answer a simple question: Is there ever a legitimate time to reduce defense spending year over year? If the answer is no, then they are simply being dogmatic that spending must always increase (or at least stay at the same level). Talk about an empty argument. 

As for the larger economy: Will cutting $55 billion out of government spending between now and the end of the fiscal year in September crush GDP? The GDP figures include most (though not all) government spending, so GDP will take a hit whenever the government turns off the spigot. But it's a major mistake to think that government spending automatically helps grow the economy; much of it is simply a waste of dollars that needs to be covered by current or future taxes (or inflation). To this point, de Rugy quotes her Mercatus/GMU colleague Tyler Cowen from his recent New York Times column:

In the short run, lower military spending would lower gross domestic product, because the workers and resources in those areas wouldn’t be immediately re-employed. Still, that wouldn’t mean lower living standards for ordinary Americans, because most military spending does not provide us with direct private consumption.

Read de Rugy's whole thing here.

Sequestration is a stupid, blunt weapon. It slices spending across the board without any discrimination or cost-benefit analysis. Its very reckless nature is precisely why it was used as a threat to get Congress' ass in gear to arrive at more precise and surgical cuts. It didn't happen, so now Congress is stuck with it. Or at least, let's hope so. They've already postponed it once. And if they want to offer alternatives before March 1, they can always do that by calling for specific cuts that satisfy the $85 billion or so in total cuts to this fiscal year's budget.

Despite John Boehner's insistence that House Republicans have done so, they have not. The bill he touts as doing that, H.R. 6684 or The Spending Reduction Act of 2012, doesn't actually cut spending. As Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), one of 21 no votes on the measure, wrote at Facebook, "Contrary to its title, the bill increases spending and debt by tens of billions of dollars."

Indeed, H.R. 6684 not only exempts defense from any cuts, according to the CBO's scoring, it actually increases deficits in 2013 by $45 billion (see "Net Changes in Deficits" line on page 2). That's appalling, of course, but it also is one more example of how most bills do the exact opposite of their titles.

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Ailing Postal Service to Bypass Congress to Stop Saturday Deliveries

As noted over at Reason 24/7 earlier, the United States Postal Service will announce today that it is ending letter delivery on Saturdays in order to save money.

It is doing so without permission from Congress, which has oversight over the agency. The USPS has been trying for a while to get legislative approval for the move, but has been denied by Congress members.

Yes, a government agency has been begging Congress to let them save money, but Congress is refusing. Unlike most government agencies, the Postal Service’s budget is not unlike what you’d see from a private business. Its source of income is its customers; it does not get money from elsewhere in the federal budget. So if it is losing business (and it is – quite a bit) it has to cut back to balance its budget. The USPS reported a net loss of $15.9 billion last fiscal year and is projecting a loss of $7.6 billion this fiscal year. They’re hoping dropping Saturday deliveries will save about $2 billion.

The Postal Service appears to be trying to bypass Congress through semantics. Congress won’t let them close on Saturdays, so what they’re doing, according to the Associated Press, is continuing to deliver mail to post office boxes on Saturdays and will keep their hours of operation. They just won’t deliver mail to homes.

Representatives for their union are upset:

[T]he president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, said the end of Saturday mail delivery is "a disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers," particularly businesses, rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others who depend on Saturday delivery for commerce and communication.

They left out their own jobs that they're trying to protect, obviously. Latest numbers have the average postal employee making $83,000 a year in salary and benefits even as the volume of mail delivered by the USPS has dropped by about 20 percent over the past decade.

I have a short write-up about the sorry state of the USPS finances in the March 2013 issue of Reason, so check it out. Assuming it gets delivered.

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Who Says Assassination Targets Took Up Arms Against the United States?

Yesterday, in the course of defending the Obama Administration's policy of targeted killings of accused terrorists, including American citizens overseas, White House spokes-lackey Jay Carney vaguely cited "ample judicial precedent" for snuffing enemies of the United States. He did, however, gloss over a rather long and storied history of something called "due process" during the course of which the government is supposed to prove it didn't grab the wrong poor bastard, either by accident, or through malice. Here's how the exchange went:

Q    But let’s be clear.  This is giving a legal justification for killing American citizens without any trial whatsoever, without any evidence.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would point you to the ample judicial precedent for the idea that someone who takes up arms against the United States in a war against the United States is an enemy, and therefore could be targeted accordingly.  That’s I think established in a number of cases, and I’m not even a lawyer and I’m aware of that.

But how do we know the someone is being snuffed because he actually "takes up arms against the United States" and not because some facial recognition software went haywire or, worse, because he's inconvenient or offensive to U.S. officials in a way that doesn't legitimately command punishment? All we have is the word of the administration that enemies of the United States are being targeted for death. But the case hasn't been proven in any way that's open to scrutiny.

Yeah, due process is hard because you have to show your work and convince (supposedly) skeptical observers. It's supposed to be that way.

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Shikha Dalmia on Why America Needs More Immigration, Not Less

America's future problem won't be too many immigrants, but too few. A "gray tsunami" is coming as the global population simultaneously shrinks and ages, producing an acute worldwide shortage of working-age people. As Shikha Dalmia explains, immigration reformers must get over their parochial understanding of world trends and position America to effectively compete for foreign workers come crunch time.

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The Secret History of Muzak

As Mood Media retires its most famous brand name, Muzak, let's pause to recall that the operation was responsible for more than just the sonic custard that people associate with the Muzak label. Theodore "Arwulf" Grenier, host of an excellent jazz show on WCBN-FM, points out that

Muzak was one of many transcription services for which musicians—many of them now regarded as legendary jazz artists—regularly cut recordings that weren't peddled to the public in stores. The only time anyone heard these sides (which often exceeded the 3.5 minute limitations of the ten inch 78 rpm record) was when they were aired over radio waves as filler. Transcription recordings by Duke Ellington, Claude Thornhill and dozens more have been reissued and often represent some of the best material we have from that period (30s & 40s). I believe this was largely due to the fact that the A&R directors usually associated with commercial recording sessions were absent or "defanged" for the transcription sessions, which weren't geared towards selling units in stores.

That's right: The company that has probably received more sneers from music lovers than any other corporation not only recorded some of the greatest jazz artists of the last century, it often gave them more time and freedom than the major labels did. Arwulf goes on to describe Fats Waller's Muzak sessions, "which underline perhaps the most important and least recognized aspect of Thomas Waller—his subtlety." There's a link to one of Waller's Muzak recordings too. Read the whole thing.

Bonus link: In recent years, Muzak moved away from elevator music and into elaborate experiments with niche-targeted "audio architecture." David Owen describes the results here.

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Virginia City Outlaws Government Drones

Government domestic surveillance drones are rapidly moving up on the civil liberties agenda. Now one city has become the first in the nation to address this threat head-on: Charlottesville, Va. As Infowars reports:

Today we learn that Charlottesville, Va has passed legislation to outlaw the use of drones, making it the first US city to do so.

In a 3-2 vote, city councilors passed the anti-drone resolution Monday, echoing the State level effort to halt the use of drones for the next two years. There will, in effect now be a ban on the craft entering Charlottesville city limits, prohibiting any city agency from using the technology.

The council will urge the Virginia General Assembly and Congress to keep drones out of local air space.

The City Council's resolution reads:

“WHEREAS, the rapid implementation of drone technology throughout the United States poses a serious threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people, including the residents of Charlottesville; and

“WHEREAS, the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia have thus far failed to provide reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones within the United States; and

“WHEREAS, police departments throughout the country have begun implementing drone technology absent any guidance or guidelines from law makers;

“NOW, THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, endorses the proposal for a two year moratorium on drones in the state of Virginia; and calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court, and precluding the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices, meaning any projectile, chemical, electrical, directed-energy (visible or invisible), or other device designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being; and pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.”

Further good news from the Commonwealth is that both houses of the General Assembly have passed legislation that would also impose a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by government officials and agencies.

As Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia noted in a press release:

“Without new laws, drone technology will be used in a manner that will violate the fundamental right to be free from unreasonable searches and will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of Virginians to assemble peaceably and speak freely. Virginia is right to get ahead of the use of this technology to ensure our privacy rights and to prevent the Commonwealth from becoming a surveillance state in which every individual’s actions are tracked. The moratorium will allow us to work with law enforcement and other stakeholders to adopt reasonable regulations limiting the use of drones and assuring public participation in and oversight of their use.”

One hopes that other states and cities will soon follow this lead in protecting our civil liberties from further erosion.

Disclosure: I am a resident of Charlottesville.

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Bad: Memo Details Obama's Weak Justification for Killing People. Worse: It's Not Even the Classified Version.

As if the memo detailing President Obama's weak framework for killing suspected terrorists (including American citizens) isn't troubling enough on its own, Adam Powell of USC's Center on Public Diplomacy points toward an even more horrifying reality: It's not even the full story.

Obama is still keeping his "threat matrix" or whatever you want to call his decisionmaking process for offing people a secret from Congress. The memo released by NBC News is what Obama grudgingly sent to nosy senators last year. It's an unclassified document and its lack of details made the Senate pissed off enough to demand actual details.

From the AP via the Wash Post:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee likely will hold hearings on U.S. drone policy, an aide said Tuesday, and Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Bob Corker, both have quietly expressed concerns about the deadly operations. And earlier this week, a group of 11 Democratic and Republican senators urged President Barack Obama to release a classified Justice Department legal opinion justifying when U.S. counterterror missions, including drone strikes, can be used to kill American citizens abroad.

Without those documents, it’s impossible for Congress and the public to decide “whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the president’s power to deliberately kill Americans is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards,” the senators wrote.

It was a repeated request after receiving last June an unclassified Justice Department memo, which fell short of giving the senators all the information they requested.

First detailed publicly by NBC News late Monday, the memo for the first time outlines the Obama administration’s decision to kill al-Qaida terror suspects without any evidence that specific and imminent plots are being planned against the United States.

“The threat posed by al-Qaida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat,” concluded the document.

So Obama is not simply refusing to tell the general public how his team decides who gets killed and why. He's refusing to tell the U.S. Senate. All in the name of what, national security? This is deeply revolting spectacle, one that is acid to any and all principles not simply of the open government that Obama supposedly cherishes but to America's standing in the brotherhood of nations.

What is it that Marx said about history? That it repeats itself, "first as tragedy, and then as farce." For those who remember Bush administration justifications of "enhanced interrogation" methods and all the squirrely philosophizing by the likes of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales to justify an anything-goes approach to the War on Terror, the second coming of an unrestrained executive branch doesn't present itself as farce. It's simply a doubling down on tragedy.

In assessing "Obama's dicey license to kill," Reuters' Jack Shafer argues that the unclassified memo could have been leaked either by people who want to sink John Brennan's nomination for CIA director or by friends seeking to give "drone-architect Brennan a little breathing room by blunting the demands for the classified documents." Whoever leaked it, the Senate will be doing a disservice not simply to the United States but to the world if it refuses to confront Brennan - and Obama - over their assertions that, as Shafer puts it, that "U.S. citizens can be whacked based on hunches, suspicions, belief and patchy fragments of intelligence by unnamed, high-level officials."

In a supposed age of hyper-partisan polarization, here's hoping that senators of both parties can put aside differences to put a stop to a government that is destroying its legitimacy through evasion and secrecy.

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Creating Militants By Killing Militants

Winning hearts and minds:

Late last August, a 40-year-old cleric named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber stood up to deliver a speech denouncing Al Qaeda in a village mosque in far eastern Yemen.

It was a brave gesture by a father of seven who commanded great respect in the community, and it did not go unnoticed. Two days later, three members of Al Qaeda came to the mosque in the tiny village of Khashamir after 9 p.m., saying they merely wanted to talk. Mr. Jaber agreed to meet them, bringing his cousin Waleed Abdullah, a police officer, for protection.

As the five men stood arguing by a cluster of palm trees, a volley of remotely operated American missiles shot down from the night sky and incinerated them all, along with a camel that was tied up nearby.
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A.M. Links: John Brennan No Sure Thing for CIA Director, Janet Napolitano Considering 2016 Presidential Bid, U.S. Operating Drone Base Out of Saudi Arabia

  • John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for CIA director, was against enhanced interrogation techniques after he was for them. His confirmation appears far from a done deal anyway.
  • A federal judge is not blocking his injunction against regulating nonattorney, uncertified tax return preparers.
  • Janet Napolitano is reportedly considering a bid for the White House in 2016.
  • A former White House doctor, meanwhile, says she’s worried about potential 2016 candidate Chris Christie’s weight.  
  • The CIA’s had a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia for the last two years. Not a secret anymore.
  • A second grader in Colorado was for real suspended from his school for a make believe grenade.
  • Dick Morris, who predicted a Romney landslide, won’t have his contract renewed at Fox News. He is showing up on CNN’s Piers Morgan tonight though.

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Brickbat: Weekend with Sergei

Russian police arrested attorney Sergei Magnitsky four years ago on tax evasion charges, shortly after he claimed officials had taken millions of dollars in a fraudulent tax case. He died in prison a year later. His friends say he was beaten and denied medical care. Despite his death, prosecutors say they still plan to bring Magnitsky to trial. His friends say the trial is an effort to intimidate his defenders.

Jacob Sullum on the Perils of Pushing Pot Prohibition

Two months ago, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would settle on a response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington "relatively soon." But that response has yet to materialize, and there is no indication of when it will. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says this caginess may be a good sign, reflecting the Obama administration's awareness that interfering with these experiments in pharmacological tolerance would be politically perilous. Survey data released last week indicate that most Americans think marijuana should be legalized, while an even larger majority says states should be free to make that decision.

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Jacob Sullum Debates Gun Control With Adam Winkler on Bloggingheads.tv

In December, less than a week after the Sandy Hook massacre, I debated gun control with Bloggingheads.tv proprietor Robert Wright. I returned to the same forum last week for a debate on the same subject with UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, author of Gunfight:The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. This time Wright served as the moderator of the first-ever Bloggingheads.tv "triavlog," which I gather has something to do with three people talking on streaming video. Said video is now available here and below.

I think Winkler and I did not disagree as much as Wright wanted, but it was a polite and clarifying discussion. In other words, it's not for you if you are a fan of Piers Morgan

Reason.tv interviewed Winkler last year. Thaddeus Russell reviewed Winkler's book (which I also recommend) in the January issue of Reason. My colleague Brian Doherty, whose book Gun Control on Trial Winkler praises in his book, told the story of D.C. v. Heller, the historic Second Amendment case that is the focus of both books, in the December 2008 issue of Reason.

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President Obama Looking to Kick Can Down the Road on Spending Cuts, Seven Million Estimated to Lose Insurance Coverage Under Obamacare, PETA Criticizes Beyonce for Iguana and Python Skin Suit: P.M. Links

  • President Obama wants at least a short term delay in the sequestration’s automatic reductions in the growth of spending as well as “tax reforms,” while John Boehner says he won’t support higher taxes to avoid sequestration. House Republicans are also pressing the president for an actual budget.
  • Allowing patients to manage their own care leads to better outcomes, lower costs and higher patient satisfaction, a new report shows. In related news, the CBO estimates seven million people will lose their healthcare coverage under Obamacare. The chocolate rations have been increased.
  • French anti-terror police arrested four suspected Islamist militants in Paris.
  • The Falkland Islands will be Argentina’s within 20 years, its foreign minister said on a visit to London.
  • Beyonce is in hot water with PETA for donning an iguana and python skin outfit at the Super Bowl halftime show.
  • A strain of bacteria has been found to produce nanoscale gold nuggets. For survival.
  • The asteroid 2012 DA-14 will pass within 18,000 miles of the Earth, closer than the orbit of geosynchronous satellites.

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Meet Esther George, the Fed's Lone Dissenter

Last month, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to continue its bond-buying spree. The lone dissenting vote was the committee's newest member, Esther George.

George, the president of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, voted against policies which included the continued monthly purchases of $40 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities, $45 billion worth of long-term Treasury bonds, keeping their target for the federal funds rate between 0 and .25 percent so long as the unemployment rate is above 6.5 percent.

George says her nay vote was due to concerns that

the continued high level of monetary accommodation increased the risks of future economic and financial imbalances and, over time, could cause an increase in long-term inflation expectations.

Her worries are not new. In fact, her predecessor Thomas Hoeing was known for voting against similar actions all eight times in 2010. George joined the Bank in 1982 and was promoted to first vice president of the Bank in 2009, shortly before her appointment as president in 2011. George and Hoeing worked together through the Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s:

It’s hard for me to say I think about it very differently [from Hoeing], because Tom and I had some of the very same experiences coming through the ’80s and saw what caused banks to get into trouble.

I started [as a bank examiner] at a little bank in a strip mall in Oklahoma City called Penn Square Bank. That was my education.

I align pretty closely with Tom in thinking about how these risks can play out. We have watched for many years the funding advantage that has come from growing consolidation in the industry, so I wouldn’t paint myself very differently in terms of how I see those issues and the concerns.

While she doesn't believe that unemployment serves as the right target—she prefers to focus on inflationGeorge doesn't ignore its importance entirely:

Like others, I am concerned about the high rate of unemployment, but I recognize that monetary policy, by contributing to financial imbalances and instability, can just as easily aggravate unemployment as heal it.

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Crowdsourced “Aaron’s Law” Taking Shape to Restrain Overprosecution in Computer Cases

California Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) turned to Reddit for help in mid-January in crafting “Aaron’s Law,” federal legislation intended to change the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act so that simply violating a Web site or Internet service provider’s “terms of service” is no longer automatically considered a crime.

The law is named after Aaron Swartz, the open access activist and programming genius who committed suicide in January at the age of 26. He was facing federal charges and possible prison time by the Department of Justice for using his computer skills to download tons of academic journals from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Department of Justice attempted to browbeat Swartz into a plea bargain that would put him in prison for only a couple of months. But they held over his head 13 different felonies and, according to his lawyer, threatened him with up to 8 years in prison if he were convicted.

Lofgren is trying to take away some of the prosecution’s tools for abuse. After her first post on Reddit, Lofgren got feedback from the likes of Lawrence Lessig at Creative Commons and Marcia Hoffman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She now has a new draft of the bill up on Reddit and is seeking more feedback.

Read the bill here (pdf). A look at the changes indicates that her goal is to eliminate language that refers to users who “exceed authorized access” and require taking or altering information in violation of access rights in order to qualify as a federal crime.

Does Lofgren’s law have any legs? We’ll have to see. Several Democratic lawmakers (and one Republican in the form of Calif. Rep. Darrell Issa) attended a memorial for Swartz in Washington, D.C., Monday. Issa and Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden both spoke.

This isn’t Lofgren’s first effort to use Reddit to crowdsource legislation. Back in November, Reason Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern Rachel Moran took note of Lofgren turning to Reddit for suggestions on crafting legislation on dealing with domain name seizures.

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Wider Availability of Life-Saving Naloxone Saves Lives; Still Not Over-the-Counter Legal

Time's indispensable drug beat writer Maia Szalavitz with the lastest on the should-be-over-the-counter anti-opiate overdose drug naloxone:

Distributing naloxone and training people to use it can cut the death rates from overdose nearly in half, according to a new study.

Around 15,000 people die each year by overdosing on opioid pain relievers such as Oxycontin, a rate that has more than tripled since 1990. The government has tried numerous strategies to reduce the death toll, including imposing stricter regulations on prescribing the medications, prosecuting owners of “pill mills” who dispense the drugs without proper medical evaluations, and tracking databases to monitor prescribing and discourage “doctor shopping” among addicts.

But those policies have not had a significant effect on death rates from overdoses, according to the study’s lead author Dr. Alex Walley, the medical director of the Massachusetts Opioid Overdose Prevention Pilot at the state’s department of public health. So he and his colleagues wanted to study the impact that an antidote, the nontoxic and non-addictive medication known as naloxone (Narcan), might have on these rates.....

The new study, published in the BMJ, followed the expansion of Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution (OEND) programs in Massachusetts, a state where overdoses from opioids have killed more people than car crashes each year since 2005.  The programs were offered at emergency rooms, primary care centers, rehabilitation centers, support groups for families of addicted people and other places that might attract those at risk....

The study involved 2912 people in 19 different Massachusetts communities —  each of which had had at least 5 opioid overdose deaths between 2004 and 2006.  The participants were trained to recognize overdose, call 911 and administer naloxone using a nasal inhaler.  If the naloxone didn’t work, they were instructed to try another dose and perform rescue breathing until help arrived. The state’s OEND programs began in 2006 and were expanded throughout the study period, which followed the trained participants until 2009.

During that time, 153 naloxone-based rescues were reported, and in 98% of those cases, the drug revived the victim. Even more importantly, the study found that the high levels of participation in an OEND program was associated with lower death rates from overdose.  Communities in which 1 to 100 people were enrolled in the program per 100,000 in the population had an overdose death rate that was 27% lower than those without such programs.

But communities with 100 or more people per 100,000 who had been through an OEND program saw death rates fall by 46% compared to those with no programs.  The study controlled for population factors such as poverty and the presence of high numbers of “doctor shoppers” that could have skewed the overdose death rates when calculating the results.

There is no question this drug should be over the counter legal in this country; the ball is in the FDA's court.

Past Reason articles on naloxone.

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Does Sonia Sotomayor Respect the Second Amendment? Her Record Says No

On Monday Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report to promote her new memoir My Beloved World. It was a typical interview for the show, with host Stephen Colbert mostly staying in character as a right-wing blowhard while simultaneously lobbing softball questions at a friendly guest.

But things threatened to get genuinely interesting when Colbert brought up the Second Amendment, asking Sotomayor, “Do you believe we have the right to have any weapon we want?” Without missing a beat, Sotomayor replied, “Well, you’ll find out soon enough when a case comes up.”

Cue audience laughter. And it was a funny exchange, though it was also a somewhat disingenuous one. Unless Sotomayor has changed her views recently, she has already endorsed a sweeping gun control agenda and voiced her opposition to viewing the Second Amendment as a protector of individual rights.

In 2010, Sotomayor joined the dissenting opinion filed by Justice Stephen Breyer in the landmark gun rights case McDonald v. Chicago. At issue was whether the Second Amendment should join the First Amendment and other rights-protecting provisions from the Bill of Rights and become binding on state and local governments via the 14th Amendment. The majority held that the amendment should indeed apply against the states, and Chicago’s handgun ban was therefore nullified for violating the individual right to keep and bear arms. In his dissent, Breyer argued that not only was Chicago permitted to ban handguns, but the Second Amendment did not protect any sort of individual right to self-defense. According to Breyer's dissent, the private ownership of guns is open to almost unlimited control by “democratically elected legislatures.”

Sotomayor is right that the Supreme Court is likely to take up another big gun rights case in the near future, but I don’t think we need to wait until then to discover her views on the proper scope of the Second Amendment.

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We Need New Federal Gun Control Laws Because 'Youth Initiatives' Worked in Minneapolis

Speaking in Minneapolis yesterday, President Obama repeated his call for requiring all gun buyers to undergo background checks, limiting the capacity of newly produced magazines, and reinstating the federal ban on "assault weapons." Here is how The New York Times describes his speech:

In a city once called "Murderapolis" for its homicide rate in the 1990s, the president cited successful gun-violence prevention efforts here as evidence that new national laws are needed to reduce the number of shootings across the country....

In the 1990s, Minneapolis experienced an explosion of drug- and gang-related violence, which led to a series of local measures aimed at reducing gun violence that has brought down the city’s murder rate.

What sort of measures? The only example the Times offers is "programs directed at rehabilitating young people who have committed violent crimes." Or as Obama put it in his speech, "You launched a series of youth initiatives that have reduced the number of young people injured by guns by 40 percent." In what sense does the putative success of those initiatives reinforce the case for the gun control measures Obama is pushing?

For those who are not persuaded that we need a new, broader ban on "assault weapons" because "youth initiatives" worked in Minneapolis, Obama argued that "we don’t have to agree on everything to agree it's time to do something." But we do have to agree on something to agree it should be done, don't we? Maybe not: 

No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe. But if there's even one thing we can do, if there's just one life we can save, we've got an obligation to try....

The only way we can reduce gun violence in this country is if the American people decide it's important....

That's why I need everybody who's listening to keep the pressure on your member of Congress to do the right thing. Ask them if they support common-sense reforms like requiring universal background checks, or restoring the ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines....

And tell them now is the time for action. That we're not going to wait until the next Newtown or the next Aurora.  We're not going to wait until after we lose more innocent Americans on street corners all across the country.  We're not going to wait until somebody else's father or son are murdered....

If there's even one thing we can do to keep our children and our community safe, if there's just one step we can take to prevent more families from feeling what they feel after they've lost a loved one, we've got an obligation to take that step...

There won't be perfect solutions. We're not going to save every life. But we can make a difference. And that's our responsibility as Americans.

Obama never explains exactly how the laws he wants would prevent mass shootings. But if they would, he says, don't we have a responsibility as Americans to support them? And since "the only way we can reduce gun violence in this country is if the American people decide it's important," we will reduce gun violence if we decide it's important, no matter what harebrained legislation results from that sentiment. Above all, we must act now, before anyone has time to spot the president's logical leaps.

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Obama: Never Learn Not to Spend or, Can We Cancel Sequester Again?

You've got to hand it to Barack Obama: He's never afraid to say stuff that is appalling. Especially when it's got to do with potentially cutting government spending. 

Back in August 2011, when faced with a debt-limit showdown, Obama cut the following deal: For a $2 trillion increase in the amount of money the government could borrow, the government would agree immediately to $900 billion in trims on expected spending over the next 10 years and it would work to come up with another $1.2 trillion in similar "cuts" by the end of 2011 (cuts is in quotes because the recissions aren't actual year-over-year reductions but minor trims on a decade's worth of spending equal to around $44 trillion). If Congress couldn't agree to $1.2 trillion in future cuts by the end of 2011, then automatic, across-the-board cuts of the same amount would go into effect in January 1, 2013, mostly on defense spending and other discretionary spending.

So what happened? Nothing, of course. The sequestration cuts were pushed back to March 1, 2013. With that new deadline approaching, Obama is now calling for yet another incomplete:

“If Congress can’t act immediately on a bigger package, if they can’t get a bigger package done by the time the sequester is scheduled to go into effect,” Obama said in the White House briefing room, “then I believe that they should at least pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months until Congress finds a way to replace these cuts with a smarter solution.”

This is ridiculous, to say the least. We have a federal government that hasn't been able to pass a budget in years - not because of ideological gridlock but because of bipartisan incompetence. And every time a trigger date comes around, all sides work like hell to figure out how to worm a way around it. By most counts, sequestration will take about $55 billion out of the Defense budget (whose 2012 baseline was around $535 billion, not counting other add-ons that bring national security spending to a grand total of $928 billion). Another $35 billion or $45 billion will come out of other discretionary programs. Sequestration is a blunt tool - everything gets cut, across-the-board - but that was the whole idea of using it as a threat: It's so bad that the government would of course come to some agreement to avoid it.

Well, they haven't and Obama's proactive punting is yet one more sign that the adults left Washington some time during the second Washington administration (indeed, Obama is already late with this year's budget proposal). If Obama wants to avoid the blunt force wounds inflicted by sequestration, he can put a few of his best and brightest on coming up with more surgical cuts to programs that nobody really needs.

The Republicans should do the same, but don't hold your breath. According to the Washington Post, here's Speaker of the House John Boehner's idiot wind: “The president’s sequester should be replaced with spending cuts and reforms that will start us on the path to balancing the budget in 10 years.” Thanks, Speaker, that's really helpful.

Suffice it to be said: The federal government is expected to spend $3.5 trillion dollars in fiscal year 2013 (which ends on September 30). Cutting $100 billion from that amount should not be difficult. Between 2001 and 2012, inflation-adjusted spending increased by around 55 percent (see table 1.3). If the government cannot find the courage to hit the deadlines it imposed on itself, it will be up to voters - 75 percent of whom think the budget deficit is a major problem that needs to be addressed now - to force the issue.


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Michelle Rhee Says Screw You to Democrats, Endorses Vouchers

In her new memoir, Radical, former Washington, D.C., public schools honcho Michelle Rhee describes on her eureka moment about vouchers. She describes the parade of mothers who came to her after working the system as hard as they could to get their kids out of bad neighborhood public schools and failing and her sense of despair at being unable to help them:

Who am I, I thought, to deny this mom and her child an opportunity for a better school, even if that meant help with a seventy-five-hundred-dollar voucher? If they got a voucher, and her child could attend a really good Catholic school, perhaps, why would I stand in the way—especially since I don’t have a high-quality DCPS alternative?

I just couldn’t look mother after mother in the eye and deny their children the opportunity I wanted for my own children. It would have required me to say, “Gee, I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to suck it up. I know your elementary school is a failing school, and your child will probably not learn how to read, but I really need five more years to fix the system. And while I’m fixing the system, I need you and your neighbors to be really patient. Hang in there with me. Things will get better. I promise.”

If someone said that to me, I’d have said, “You may need more time to fix the system but my kid doesn’t have time. She has only one chance to attend first grade, and if she can’t learn to read by the end of first grade, her chances for success in life will be compromised. So with all due respect—heck no!”

Rhee has a reputation as a hardass, so it's telling that on this issue she appeal to emotion. She changes her mind because she feels like a jerk telling these parents to suck it up. And well she should. Democrats gave her hell for this decision at the time. She now runs the advocacy group Students First, which flights for school choice and against unions.

And here's Reason TV on D.C.'s voucher program:

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Is the CBO Skeptical that ObamaCare's Insurance Exchanges Will Be Ready on Time?

In theory, ObamaCare's health exchanges will be up and running, enrolling new people before the end of the year. Fewer than half the states will be running their own exchanges, and so the Department of Health and Human Services has stepped in to run the rest. In recent months, however, a number of health policy observers have openly questioned the ability of the federal government to get ObamaCare's health insurance exchanges up and running by the end of the year. That might explain why HHS has been so willing to waive and extend exchange creation deadlines for state.

HHS insists that the federally run exchanges will be online on time, but it has also continued to delay state implementation deadlines in a way that could suggest the agency is not quite as ready as it claims to be. That makes the following passage from the new federal budget baseline published by the Congressional Budget Office this afternoon rather, well, interesting:

CBO and JCT [Joint Committee on Taxation] have slightly reduced their estimates of the rates at which people will enroll in the insurance exchanges or Medicaid as the expansion of coverage is implemented—a process that had already been anticipated to occur gradually. That change reflects the agencies’ judgment about a combination of factors, including the readiness of exchanges to provide a broad array of new insurance options, the ability of state Medicaid programs to absorb new beneficiaries, and people’s responses to the availability of the new coverage.

So is the CBO skeptical that the federal exchanges will be ready on time? That certainly seems possible, although the report does not specify whether it's uncertain about the readiness of federal exchanges as opposed to state exchanges, nor does it clearly indicate what its readiness concerns are.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius seems a bit concerned about the pace of implementation herself. At a health policy conference in Washington, D.C., yesterday, she declared ObamaCare the law of the land and asked for help making it work: "My challenge to all of you today, and actually my plea to all of you...is help us speed up the rate of change.”

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Do You Agree With White House that Drone Strikes are "Legal," "Ethical," and "Wise"? You Shouldn't.

Jay Carney, the chief spokesman for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, wants you to know that President Barack Obama's controversial use of drones isn't just sort-of borderline defensible. Nope:

"These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise," Carney said. The government takes "great care" when deciding where and whom to strike, he added.

Read more here.

How much care does the White House take in assessing who it wants to bomb (often in countries with which the U.S. is not officially at war)? So much care that it doesn't feel a need to get legal authorization from either the judicial or legislative branches of the federal government. And in case you want to rest easy that Obama has top men on it, here's a summary of the process written by NBC News' Michael Isikoff, who leaked the confidential memo the administration didn't want you to see:

[T]he confidential Justice Department “white paper” introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described  by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches.  It refers, for example, to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.    

Instead, it says, an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American  has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is  no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.” The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.

Read more - including the memo itself - here

What else is in the news today regarding the most transparent administration in history? A report documenting that 54 countries around the globe have played along with the CIA when it comes to torturing suspects in such a way that the U.S. can pretend it doesn't do that sort of thing anymore.

There is a darkly comic aspect to this, I suppose: Here's a president who once taught classes in constitutional law and swore up and down that America doesn't torture, that he was against "dumb wars" waged by his predecessors, that he was more transparent than a glass of triple-filtered water, and who won a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize! And he turns out to be not just a little iffy when it comes to being constrained in his willingness to break all sorts of rules but downright godawful.

And his main mouthpiece is a former MSM drone whose babyface is quickly turning into a map of wrinkles brought on by working for an administration which has manifestly failed to live up to even the mediocre standards of the previous occupant of the White House.

If it wasn't for all the dead people scattered around the nations of the world, the incursions into basic rights of Americans, the torturing of innocents along with the occasional interrogation of actual terrorists, and the failure to accomplish much of anything other than adding to the store of human misery and suffering around, this all would be worth a few bitter laughs.

But it's not.

Watch "3 Reasons Drone Policy is Really Freakin' Scary":

Go here for more links and data about drones.

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The White House's Unsurprising Response to Leak of Drone Rules: "Legal, Ethical, Wise"

Here's White House Spokesman Jay Carney's response today regarding the White House's recently leaked rules on when the administration will kill American citizens:

Joel Gehrke is a commentary writer for The Washington Examiner.

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Matt Welch on Rand Paul's Foreign Policy

To see how far Rand Paul has gotten in his project to inject libertarianism into a GOP foreign policy debate long dominated by neoconservatives and other interventionists, think back to what official Republicanism looked like only 27 months ago.

Then, just one month before a new and different-sounding Tea Party wave of freshmen politicians (including Paul) flooded into Capitol Hill talking about cutting rather than limiting the growth of government, Weekly Standard founder William Kristol, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, and Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to fire a shot across whippersnappers' bow: Don't you even think about cutting defense, kids.

Now Republicans are poised to allow a $55 billion military spending cut by the end of the month, and Rand Paul is gearing up to deliver a major speech on "restoring the Founders' vision of foreign policy" tomorrow at Ed Feulner's old stomping grounds, the Heritage Foundation. As Editor in Chief Matt Welch observes, that rumbling you feel beneath your feet might be the first harbinger of a tectonic shift.  

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Senators Want Legal Opinions on Targeting U.S. Citizens in Drone War, DOJ White Paper Not Enough

The leaking last night of the Department of Justice’s memo on targeting U.S. citizens considered “operational leaders” of Al-Qaeda or “associated forces” revealed the disturbing contours of the White House’s drone wars; that strikes, even when targeting U.S. citizens, are not subject to review outside the circles of the executive branch. The white paper, while confirming much of the reporting on the executive branch’s use of drones, is nothing new for some members of Congress. Via Fox News:

It's unclear whether that will satisfy lawmakers' concerns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the intelligence committee, said in a statement Tuesday that the document was already provided to the committee last year. 

"The committee continues to seek the actual legal opinions by the Department of Justice that provide details not outlined in this particular white paper," she said.

With John Brennan’s confirmation hearing for CIA director coming up Thursday, Fox News notes Feinstein is not even among the eleven senators who sent a letter to the White House Monday warning of a “confrontation” if information related to the use of drones were withheld from them. They’re seeking the same legal opinions Feinstein refers to, which, needless to say, haven’t been leaked yet.

The senators signing the letter were Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) , Mike Lee (R-Ut.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.),  Mark Begich (D-Alaska) , Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Col.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).  The senators close by telling the president they want to give him the oversight he himself called for in 2009.

The full letter, via Politico, here.

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Domestic Islamic Terrorism Keeps Declining

When you're listing threats that aren't as large as they appear in the media, be sure to include domestic Muslim terrorism. Spencer Ackerman reports:

Let's have a war! It can start in New Jersey!According to data tracked by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in North Carolina and released Friday (.PDF), there were nine terrorist plots involving American Muslims in 2012. Only one of them, the attempted bombing of a Social Security office in Arizona, actually led to any violence. There were no casualties in that or any other incident. And the Triangle study tracks indictments, not convictions.

Terrorist incidents from American Muslims is on the decline for the third straight year. After an uptick in 2009, there were 18 plots in 2011 involving 21 U.S. Muslims. And it's not just violent plots: Fewer Muslim-Americans are getting indicted for money laundering, material support for terrorism, and lying to investigators. There were 27 people indicted on those terror-support charges in 2010, eight in 2011 and six in 2012.

According to the report, the total number of people killed by Muslim American terrorists after 9/11 is 33—and that includes the 11 murdered by the Beltway snipers in 2002. Meanwhile, all those indictments include plots that never would have gotten anywhere without infiltrators' assistance. "Informants and undercover agents," the Triangle Center paper notes, "were involved in almost all of the Muslim-American terrorism plots uncovered in 2012."

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NRO Falsely Stereotypes Hispanics and then Complains They Won't Vote for Conservatives

Anti-immigration conservatives are questioning whether extending amnesty to illegals would have any political pay off for the GOP among Hispanics. And if they keep conducting the discussion as if Hispanics are deaf, there certainly won’t be.

A case in point is last week’s National Review Online editorial that Matt Welch blogged here. It wrapped every half-truth and ugly stereotype of Hispanics into grammatical sentences and then insisted in its headline that amnesty would be (politically) “pointless.”

“Illegal immigration is one of the few domains in which the authorities entrusted with enforcing the law feel obliged to negotiate the most concessionary terms and conditions with those who are breaking it, as though law enforcement were an embarrassing inconvenience,” it averred.

How out-of-touch must the NRO writers be if they think that the power in the illegal-government relationship is on the illegals side? But setting aside the patently absurd notion that the Joe Arpaios of the world would negotiate with helpless Hispanics about anything, is amnesty some kind of exotic practice rarely ever used, as the NRO suggests? Not really. Amnesty has a long and honorable history in the service of all kinds of causes, not just immigration.

Amnesty was used in a big way after the Civil War when the victorious Unionists gave Confederate forces a pass from prosecution. In the 1980s, amnesty for tax scofflaws was a popular tool of state governments to encourage tax compliance. Kansas used it to get owners of banned pit bulls into compliance with the law. And governments elsewhere have used amnesty to prod their citizens to turn in their guns, including the British government with the Irish Republican Army.

To be sure, people have an obligation to obey the rule of law. But the rule of law also has an obligation to be rational. And the need for amnesty is often a sign that the law is broken because the cost of enforcing it becomes more costly -- both socially and monetarily -- than suspending it.

That’s why amnesty doesn’t strike most people as inherently wrong. It is no skin off their back if the legal standing of some people is restored when no one else is harmed. No one would support amnesty for murderers or rapists because that would mean withholding redress from their victims — and potentially creating more. But no Unionist was disadvantaged when Confederate soldiers were exempted from treason in the interest of national healing. Likewise, there is no downside to anyone of extending amnesty to illegals and giving them a chance to build stable and secure lives — which is why more than 60 percent of the public supports it. (And, no, it won’t be unfair to foreigners playing by the rules and waiting in line. Low-skilled immigrants, as opposed to every other kind, have no queue to wait in, as I noted here. That’s the real injustice)

But hyperventilating against amnesty was the kindest part of the NRO editorial. Here is what it said about Hispanics:

While many [Hispanics] are in business for themselves, they express hostile attitudes toward free enterprise in polls. They are disproportionately low-income and disproportionately likely to receive some form of government support. More than half of Hispanic births are out of wedlock. Take away the Spanish surname and Latino voters look a great deal like many other Democratic constituencies.

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Here Are the Two Pieces of Legislation That Could Forever Change Federal Marijuana Policy

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) have officially introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act and the Marijuana Tax Equity Act. The former bill eliminates federal prohibition of marijuana, and the latter bill establishes a tax structure for the production and sale of the drug, as well as removes it from the purview of the DEA. While the full language of the bills won't be released until after a 5 p.m. press conference, Polis has published specific provisions on his website

The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act follows Colorado’s model of regulating marijuana like alcohol by:

  • Removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act;
  • Transferring the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority to regulate marijuana to a newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, which will be tasked with regulating marijuana as it currently does alcohol;
  • Requiring marijuana producers to purchase a permit, as commercial alcohol producers do, of which the proceeds would offset the cost of federal oversight; and,
  • Ensuring federal law distinguishes between individuals who grow marijuana for personal use and those involved in commercial sale and distribution.

The Marijuana Tax Equity Act would create the following framework: 

  • This bill imposes a 50 percent excise tax on the first sale of marijuana, from the producer to the next stage of production, usually the processor;
  • Similar to the rules within the alcohol and tobacco tax provisions, an occupational tax will be imposed on those operating in marijuana, with producers, importers and manufacturers facing an occupation tax of $1,000/a year and any other person engaged in the business facing an annual tax of $500/a year;
  • Civil penalties will be imposed for failure to comply with taxing duties. Criminal penalties will be assessed for intentional efforts to defraud the taxing authorities; and,
  • The bill also requires the IRS to produce a study of the industry after two years, and every five years after that, and to issue recommendations to Congress to continue improving the administration of the tax.

Blumenauer and Polis also released a lengthy report titled "The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy."

In announcing the legislation's introduction, the Marijuana Policy Project also announced that it's changing the name of its political action arm, from “MPP Medical Marijuana PAC” to the “Marijuana Policy Project PAC.”

“The re-naming of our PAC reflects the new reality in Washington, D.C.,” MPP's Steve Fox said in a press release. “Following the passage of the initiatives to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol in Colorado and Washington last November, there is finally significant momentum in Congress behind ending marijuana prohibition across the board at the federal level.”

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What If There's Nothing We Can Do About Mass Murders?

When unpleasant things happen, such as the Newtown shooting, people understandably call for "something" to be done, and politicians are happy to oblige — usually with legislative "somethings" that have been sitting on the shelves for years, waiting to be dusted off. But one of the sad facts of life is that some problems aren't fixable. There really are things that we just have to live with. In an interview with The Daily Beast's Megan McArdle, criminologist James Alan Fox raises the possibility that mass murders may be one such problem.

According to Fox, part of the problem with mass murders is that they are so rare. That makes them unpredictable, becuase they rise out of circumstances that almost never lead to people doing such things. There is a profile of the typical mass killer in the United States, but only in the broadest possible form.

I'm often asked if there is a profile of the mass murderer. Well, there is. Typically a white male who has a history of frustration and failure, who is socially isolated and lacking support systems, who externalizes blame onto others, who suffers some loss or disappointment perceived to be catastrophic, and has access to a powerful enough weapon (usually, but not necessarily a gun).

The follow-up question I usually get is whether we can therefore identify mass murderers in advance, and the answer is a resounding "no."

Although there is a profile, thousands of citizens fit the profile yet will never hurt anyone, much less kill a crowd of people.

Mass murders, despite the impossible-to-miss headlines, are also not on the rise. Mother Jones may say otherwise, but only by tweaking the data in unscientific ways. Says Fox, "If one examines the full range of cases--all shootings with at least four victims killed, the numbers have been trendless."

But whether they trend up, down, or remain continuous, mass killings are horrendous. So what is to be done? Will the mental health interventions favored by conservatives do any good?

[E]xpanding mental health services would be a good thing, even though it would have little effect on mass murder, because these guys typically see the problem in someone else, certainly not themselves.

Not only do mass killers not perceive themselves as having problems, he says, they generally don't have track records of mental health issues that stand out from the crowd.

What about further restrictions on gun ownership, as touted by many liberals?

[C]ertain sensible gun policy changes would take a bit out of ordinary crime, but at most a nibble out of mass murder.

That's because, he continues, "[t]hese are very determined and deliberate people who will almost always persevere no matter what impediments we place in their way."

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Gene Healy on Chuck Hagel's Farcical Hearings

Last week's confirmation hearing for Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel made clear it's past time to retire that hackneyed phrase "World's Greatest Deliberative Body," writes Gene Healy. Eight hours of questioning by the Senate Armed Services Committee allowed plenty of bloviating, grandstanding, and browbeating—but, apparently, not enough time for serious deliberation over key policy questions facing any new Pentagon chief.

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Three Flushes for American Capitalism!

The greatest city in the world - New York, New York - is home to 8 million souls, a magnet for 52 million tourists a year, and legendary for the grossest public toilets this side of a Turkish prison. That makes sense, since nobody really owns public toilets, leading to the ultimate tragedy of the commons.

Luckily, the city’s bookstores, coffee shops, boutiques, and other businesses welcome the full-bladdered with open stalls and scrubbed toilets.

Click above to watch the video, or follow the link below for full text, links, and downloadable versions.

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Don't Be Surprised When the GOP Cuts Defense Spending.

This story from Politico is typical of tales about the GOP and defense spending. That is, it asserts that:

The GOP is built on two core tenets — small government and big defense spending — and for decades, the two ideas co-existed peacefully. Republicans wanted to cut the federal budget — everywhere except the Pentagon. No more.

That sort of take confuses rhetoric and reality in two equal and opposite ways. First it assumes that the Republican Party, especially when it holds the White House, actually works to cut spending. That's just not true.

As Reason columnist and Mercatus Center policy analyst Veronique de Rugy documented last fall, when you look at inflation-adjusted per-capita outlays going back to Jimmy Carter, it turns out that a Republican in the White House means spending more, not less, money. Note especially what happened under George W. Bush, who had a GOP Congress until 2007. Spending cranked up under him across the board, only slowing briefly when the Democrats took the House and the Senate late in his second term. At the very end of his second term, Bush rammed through TARP and various other massive outlays that were then bumped even higher by Barack Obama's stimulus spending. Bush increased defense spending by about 70 percent, but he also increased Medicare and Medicaid by 75 percent, and non-defense discretionary spending by 55 percent. Look it up and be appalled.

There's a pattern that I recently christened "the Ziggurat of Doom": Spending ratchets up under Republican presidents and then the gains are consolidated by Democratic leaders. Real spending under Carter and Clinton was basically flat. After an initial giant leap at the start of Obama's tenure (a leap up that included some of the last-minute Bush hikes), spending has (so far) been basically flat. To be sure, the federal government's inability to produce a budget for going-on-four-years has surely stymied Obama's repeatedly stated desire to increase annual spending by $2 trillion over the next decade. The cheapskate Republicans - judging from Rep. Paul Ryan's plan - only want to increase it by $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Because well, you know, trillion-dollar deficits really shouldn't mean you have to hold spending down at all. But the failure to pass a budget can't be laid at the Republicans' feet. Most of the blame rests with the Democratically controlled Senate, which hasn't produced a budget proposal (as required by law) for years.

If Politico simply confuses rhetoric for reality when it comes to the GOP's dedication to "small government," it also fails to check the record on how the Gingrich Congress balanced the budget back in the 1990s. It certainly didn't do it by actually increasing defense spending, that's for sure. Defense cuts - what was called the "peace dividend" back in the 1990s - were central to controlling spending during the Clinton presidency. The cuts began under George H.W. Bush and continued throughout the Cllinton years, even after the GOP had gained control of both houses of Congress. Clinton spent most of his first two years in power trying to push through a national health-care plan. Maybe that preoccupied him and the GOP so much they forgot how to spend money on other stuff. In terms of inflation-adjusted spending on national defense, the U.S. was spending about 8 percent less in 2001 than it had spent in 1994 (go to Table 8.8 on page 178). Over the same period, total federal spending increased by about 10 percent. The point is that a GOP Congress readily signed off on reductions in defense spending under Clinton.

One of the basic problems with today's political discourse is that each of the major parties is pretending to be that which it is not. As the Politico story shows, the parties are helped along in this delusional masquerade by the media. The Republicans wrap themselves in the mantle of government cutters who only make an exception for robust national defense (and recall that throughout the 1990s, they also channeled their inner Robert Tafts, routinely questioning President Bill Clinton's promiscuous use of American forces every bit as much as his promiscuous use of interns). The Democrats are supposedly ready to cut spending on guns so they can jack up spending on social programs and other giveaways. Neither of these things is remotely true, it turns out, with the result that each party is talking past the other and, more importantly, the American people.

Defense spending - currently about 20 percent of the federal budget - is going to be cut for various reasons. First and foremost, it's a huge pot of money that is appropriated every year, so it's more vulnerable than the other big-ticket entitlement items such as Medicare and Medicaid. Second, it has risen dramatically over the past dozen years and the wars that have goosed its levels are coming to an unlamented end. (Let's leave aside that the much-heralded Obama withdrawal from Iraq followed the exact timetable put forth by the Bush administration and over the loud attempts by outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to keep us there longer. Or that Panetta, who has attacked any cuts to military spending via sequestration, has also called for prolonging our presence in Afghanistan.)

From a limited-government angle, it's always good news to read stories about spending cuts, but the biggest twist to the Politico story isn't that it's Republicans who are calling for defense cuts but that they are actually pushing for spending cuts in the first place. When you factor in all the costs related to defending the country, the U.S. spent something like $928 billion in 2012 (this includes a base defense budget $535 billion plus all other costs attributable to related functions). Defense spending, unlike, say, Medicare or Medicaid, shouldn't automatically scale up - that is, there in no inherent reason that defending 300 million Americans should cost more than defending 200 million. Which is one of the reasons why pollster Scott Rasmussen has found a large majority of Americans are ready and willing to cut defense spending. (Read more here).

If past if prologue, of course the GOP is ready and willing to cut defense spending. Indeed, the only question left is whether the Democrats will go along with it.

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What Do Iran, Belgium, and Thailand Have in Common? Complicity in CIA Torture

The Open Society Justice Initiative has released a report on the CIA’s extraordinary rendition and secret detention programs. The report lists 54 countries that participated in the operations. Involvement included helping capture suspected terrorists, hosting CIA prisons, actually “interrogating” suspects themselves, and allowing flights used for extraordinary rendition to pass through their airspace.

At the beginning of his first term President Obama signed an executive order that some thought put an end to the American use of torture. However, as the press release from the Open Society Justice Initiative Points out, this is not the case:

The Obama administration has not definitively repudiated extraordinary rendition. In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order disavowing torture and closing secret CIA detention sites, but the order was reportedly crafted to allow short-term, transitory detention prior to transferring detainees to countries for interrogation or trial. Current policies and practices with respect to extraordinary rendition remain secret.

Some of the countries listed by the report such as Iran, Zimbabwe, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are known for their own human rights abuses and helped “interrogate”, detain, or transfer suspects directly or indirectly to the CIA. Others on the list such as Denmark, Iceland, Portugal, and Ireland were complicit in allowing subjects of extraordinary rendition to pass through their air space.

John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director nominee, will be taking questions from Senators during his confirmation hearings on Thursday. Brennan has already refused to review or discuss a report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. Brennan did promise Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) that he would review the report before his hearing. Unfortunately, whether he answers questions on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program or not will have little impact on his chance of being confirmed as the next director of the CIA.

Read the list of countries implicated in the Open Society Justice Initiative report below the jump.

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About That Obama Administration Contraception Mandate Compromise

Last week, the Obama administration announced that it had compromised on the ObamaCare requirement that religiously affiliated institutions would have to pay for health insurance that covers reproductive services. The Washington Post explained:

Under this proposal, objecting nonprofits will be allowed to offer employees a plan that does not cover contraceptives. Their health insurer will then automatically enroll employees in a separate individual policy, which only covers contraceptives, at no cost. This policy would stand apart from the employer’s larger benefit package.

The faith-based employer would not “have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.”

In earlier my blogpost about this "compromise" I asked:

Is it really credible that health insurers won't simply boost the prices of their non-contraceptive policies to cover the "no-cost" contraception coverage? Does the Obama administration really think that believers can be that easily duped?

Post columnist Michael Gerson suggests today that the answer is no. He cites a succinct analysis from the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center's Yuval Levin:

“The religious institutions are required by the government to give their workers an insurer, and that insurer is required by the government to give those workers abortive and contraceptive coverage, but somehow these religious employers are supposed to imagine that they’re not giving their workers access to abortive and contraceptive coverage.”

Yep. That's exactly what the Obama administration is offering. Gerson points to further limitations on even this alleged compromise:

The administration has still made no attempt to deal with the hard cases. Is it right to impose the mandate on a for-profit religious publisher? On a non-religious pro-life organization or a Catholic television station? On a family-owned business with a highly religious owner?

Good questions. As I pointed out in my May 2012 column, "Separating Church and State Money," a real compromise would be to change the tax code so that employers could hand over the money they spend on buying mandated one-size-fits all health insurance policies to each employee. Then individual employees would be able purchase whatever health insurance they think fits their needs, including policies that pay for whatever reproductive services they want.

Disclosure: I am for allowing people to make all sorts of reproductive choices including aborting or not aborting, using or not using contraceptives, takng advantage of in vitro fertlization techniques or not, contracting with surrogates or not, and when the time comes, availing themselves of safe technologies to genetically enhance their children or not. Of course, they should pay for such choices themselves.

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The New American Majority: People Who Dislike/Distrust Goverment as Insurance Agent

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds points to the trend of more and more Americans disliking and distrusting the federal government. From his latest USA Today column:

Americans are out of sorts, and increasingly they're unhappy with the government. According to a Pew poll released last week, more than half of Americans view government as a threat to their freedom....

Add this to another recent poll in which only 22% of likely voters feel America's government has the "consent of the governed," and you've got a pretty depressing picture -- and a recipe for potential trouble.

What's driving the disaffection with government? Reynolds notes that as government gets bigger, more people are willing to do whatever it takes "to seize the prize" of increased power, wealth, and domination (he likes to use a Hunger Games metaphor to describe the way in which riches are flowing from the provinces into the Capital District).

That's true and it's no way to win the hearts or minds of citizens. A few weeks back, New York Times blogger Nate Silver suggested a related reason for growing disaffection: The government has morphed over the past 40 or so years from providing basic infrastructure and services to being the nation's insurance agent. That is, the portion that the feds spend on health care, welfare, and retirement pensions has steadily - and seriously - increased as a percentage of overall government spending and as a percentage of GDP.

Looking at the increase in relative and absolute spending on social insurance and the long-term declines in trust of government, Silver writes:

The declining level of trust in government since the 1970s is a fairly close mirror for the growth in spending on social insurance as a share of the gross domestic product and of overall government expenditures. We may have gone from conceiving of government as an entity that builds roads, dams and airports, provides shared services like schooling, policing and national parks, and wages wars, into the world’s largest insurance broker.

Most of us don’t much care for our insurance broker.

Glenn Reynolds notes that after the 2004 elections, liberals and Democrats started talking about taking the country back, which is similar to conservative and Republican complaints post-2012. He even suggests that if current trends persist, we might even hear calls for a Constitutional convention. I doubt that but I do hope that as support softens for the government (and as a majority continues to believe that government is doing too much), we'll see some real changes over the coming years.

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A.M. Links: Obama Administration Memo on Assassinating Americans Leaked, Over 50 Countries Involved in CIA Torture Program, Oregon Baker Being Investigated After Refusing to Make Wedding Cake for Gay Couple, Chadian Troops Enter Mali

  • The Obama administration’s memo on the assassination of American citizens has been leaked. You can be targeted if you are a “senior operational leader” of Al Qaeda or an “associated force” (whatever that means). According to the memo there does not need to be any actual intelligence that suggests targeted Americans are involved in a plot to attack the U.S. Read the whole document here
  • Civil rights lawyers are working on prohibiting the NYPD from spying on Muslim communities without any evidence that those being spied on have any connection to terrorism or any other illegal activity. 
  • An Oregon baker is being investigated after refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. 
  • Soldiers from Chad have entered the Malian town of Kidal, the last town under rebel control in northern Mali. 
  • The potential legalization of gay marriage is splitting the British Conservative Party. There are rumors that Prime Minister David Cameron could soon face a leadership challenge, with some Conservatives saying that he has abandoned conservative principles. 

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How’s That Government Working Out for Somalia?

Last year, Somalia came under the rule of the first internationally-recognized government in twenty years. Now it’s jailing women who accuse its security forces of rape. Via the AP:

A Mogadishu court on Tuesday handed down one-year prison sentences to a woman who said she was raped by security forces and a reporter who interviewed her. The judges decided the woman falsely claimed she was raped and had insulted the government…

Rights groups have decried the case as politically motivated because the woman had accused security forces of the assault. Rape is reported to be rampant in Mogadishu, where tens of thousands of people who fled last year’s famine live in poorly protected camps. Government troops are often blamed.

The woman’s sentence will apparently be delayed by a year, to let the woman care for her young child. Where would she be if not for government?

More Reason on Somalia

Bill Kauffman on the Mexican War

In A Wicked War, Bill Kauffman reports, the Penn State historian Amy S. Greenberg does a splendid job of vivifying the Mexican War by following the fortunes of five men and their families. Their lives teach us, in Greenberg's words, that "patriotism, in early 1848, required something other than mindless consent to an endless war."

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