Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 February 15-31

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Detroit Property Owners Voting with Their Middle Fingers

Detroit is a "full-on Monet."Source: WikitravelAlmost half the property owners in Detroit aren’t paying their tax bills. The Detroit News went through the city’s property records and did the math:

Nearly half of the owners of Detroit's 305,000 properties failed to pay their tax bills last year, exacerbating a punishing cycle of declining revenues and diminished services for a city in a financial crisis, according to a Detroit News analysis of government records.

The News reviewed more than 200,000 pages of tax documents and found that 47 percent of the city's taxable parcels are delinquent on their 2011 bills. Some $246.5 million in taxes and fees went uncollected, about half of which was due Detroit and the rest to other entities, including Wayne County, Detroit Public Schools and the library.

Delinquency is so pervasive that 77 blocks had only one owner who paid taxes last year, The News found.

It’s easy to imagine progressives seizing on this information as some sort of proof that Detroit’s disastrous financial problem is due to those selfish property owners not paying their due to keep the city running. But really it appears to be a self-perpetuating cycle of dissatisfaction with the services – or rather the lack of services – property owners are getting from the city:

Many of those who don't pay question why they should in a city that struggles to light its streets or keep police on them.

"Why pay taxes?" asked Fred Phillips, who owes more than $2,600 on his home on an east-side block where five owners paid 2011 taxes. "Why should I send them taxes when they aren't supplying services? It is sickening. … Every time I see the tax bill come, I think about the times we called and nobody came."

Oh and furthermore, not only are they getting no service from the city, they’re being overcharged on their property taxes, too:

Detroit has the highest property taxes among big cities nationwide and relies on assessments that are seriously inflated. Many houses are assessed at more than 10 times their market price, according to new research from two Michigan professors.

A state review team has declared Detroit to be in a state of financial emergency, but is currently recommending against declaring bankruptcy.

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The Minimum Wage: A Little Light Empiricism on a Heavy Subject

Today here at Reason, Steve Chapman reminded policymakers in the context of raising the minimum wage that we generally understand it to be a rule at the heart of economics that other things being equal, increasing the cost of something will lower the demand for it. In it he quoted New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, generally a fan of modern Democratic Party policies, and indeed a fan of raising the minimum wage to $9 as President Obama wants, admitting back in 1998 that indeed increasing the price of labor may lessen the demand for it.

The modern Krugman thinks, in this case, that economic logic must bow to empirical reality, and says that it is a settled matter than in this instance, raising prices will not decrease demand.

There is a reason why economics as a science coalesced around coming up with logical regularities that likely underlie the buzzing, blooming confusion of reality where so many countervailing forces and influences are at work to reach any real world outcome that it would be remarkably easy to be fooled about what is causing what, and what is not having any effect.

That's good science: looking through appearances to find underlying regularities. Thus, there is a reason why one should be super extra skeptical about empirical science that seems to contradict an underlying law on which so much of the discipline depends.

That said, some bits and pieces of countervailing empiricism and thoughts on the question of whether raising the minimum wage costs people jobs.

*Robert Murphy thinks he's got some numbers indicating higher minimum wages have some measurable effects on teen employment (likely to be the sort of unskilled worker whose value-added to a company might be less than minimum wage):

First of all: Notice how high the teen unemployment rate is, across the country. If minimum wage laws have no effect, why should this be so?....if we look at the 19 states that have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum, the average unemployment rate among teens is 25.2%. In contrast, if we look at the 31 states that have either no state-level minimum wage or one that equals the federal level, the average teen unemployment rate is 21.5%. A pretty big difference, and this is from sample sizes of 19 and 31....

But beyond the arithmetic averages is the clustering of the states, in their respective groups, when you rank them from the highest to lowest teen unemployment rates. The most striking result to me: If you look at the top 5 and the bottom 5, you find: Four of the top five states have higher-than-federal minimum wages, while only 1 out of the bottom five does. I’m not sure how to set up the statistical problem, but I think that would be an incredibly unlikely result, if minimum wage laws had nothing to do with teen unemployment rates.

Furthermore, if you look at the top and bottom 10, you get: Out of the top 10, six of them have higher-than-federal minimum wages, while out of the bottom 10, only 1 does.

Murphy does not seem to be adjusting for different price levels in the states to get a "real" minimum wage.

Commenter Walter Wessels in Murphy's thread brings up what strikes me as an interesting point and a good start into understanding why "just looking at the facts!" isn't always the best way to tease out the effects of an action in a complicated, complicated world--when you aren't sure what facts are the relevant facts:

Most labor economists dismiss using the unemployment rate as a measure of the effect of the minimum wage. Why? Because economic theory says the minimum wage should reduce employment, so you should look at the employment rate. The “unemployment rate” does not measure the number of people who lost their jobs due to the minimum wage (or anything else, for that matter. It measures the number of persons actively looking to work. As Jacob Mincer showed, a minimum wage could increase the unemployment rate if it caused more people to want to look for work (which he called the “pull” effect. Alternatively, the minimum wage could reduce unemployment if the lack of jobs and turnover discouraged workers from looking for jobs. What is worse, an increase in unemployment could, but need not, be consistent with the minimum wage increasing the value of looking for a job, thus making all workers better off, and alternatively, a decrease in unemployment could (but need not ) be consistent with a minimum wage lowering the value of looking for a job (making everyone worse off). To put it another way, the effect of minimum wage on unemployment tells us nothing, at least without other data. So once again, one can become labeled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as unemployed without losing a job, and one can lose a job, leave the labor force, and not be “unemployed” at all.

*It does not appear, though, that the minimum wage is the prime causal factor in general unemployment. (Nor is their any reason on free-market logic to think it should be.)

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Toothless Asset Forfeiture Bill Draws Fire From Georgia Sheriffs

Great Beyond Foter.com CC BY-NC-SAGreat Beyond Foter.com CC BY-NC-SAThe Georgia Sheriff’s Association is worried that a bill purporting to reform the state’s asset forfeiture laws would cripple law enforcement’s ability—nay, will—to fight crime.

From the Newton Citizen:

"I can categorically say that the provisions of this bill will only benefit criminals and the lawyers who represent them," wrote [Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, president of the Sheriffs' Association]. ... “If it is passed, it will literally demoralize the law enforcement community to a point where we will see little public benefit in enforcing the law when it comes to drug dealers and other criminal entrepreneurs."

Speaking of the law, Sheriff Sills' department has not released the annual forfeiture reports that Georgia law requires—despite hauling in $1 million-plus over the course of his tenure. Sadly, that’s all too common. Only 58 of the 628 law enforcement agencies in the state filed a report for 2011 according to a recent study by the Institute for Justice,* a libertarian public interest law firm.

But back to HB 1, the bill in question, which would so demoralize police. The sheriffs interpret it to mean the profits from forfeited property would go to municipalities—earmarked for law enforcement purposes—instead of going directly to the agency that seized the property. By my reading, however, the sheriffs are just wrong. Instead, the bill seems to leave the present arrangement—virtually all proceeds go to law enforcement—mostly intact but for a proviso allowing, but not requiring, municipalities to take control of seized houses and land.

The bill does not fix any of the main problems with asset forfeiture in Georgia: the government can take property without convicting anyone of a crime, law enforcement can keep what it seizes, and reporting requirements are vague and frequently ignored.

The bill does increase the government’s burden of proof (from preponderance of the evidence to clear and convincing). But that only helps property owners once their case reaches court—most don’t. Often the forfeited property is worth less than the cost of a lawyer.

According to IJ’s study, the average value of seized property reported by law enforcement agencies is $1,300. The median value of the same is a mere $647. This innocent owner spent $12,000 on a lawyer, though a minimal amount of actual investigation would have revealed the confiscated property was earned legally.

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

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J.D. Tuccille on Radio's Alan Nathan Show at 6:50 pm ET

I'll be appearing (sounding?) on the Alan Nathan show on a radio station near you at about 6:50 pm eastern time. We'll be discussing light topics that may include media bias, sequestration cuts and "assault weapons" bans. So crack out grandpa's crystal radio set and tune in!

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Colorado Task Force Says Visitors Should Be Allowed to Buy Marijuana

Jacob SullumJacob SullumThis week the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force decided to recommend that visitors as well as Colorado residents be allowed to buy marijuana at the state-licensed pot stores that are supposed to start opening next year. The task force's recommendation to the Colorado General Assembly acknowledges the concern that "opening recreational sales to out-of-state residents could attract greater federal scrutiny and the displeasure of our neighboring states." But it suggests that issue "could be addressed through labeling and education"—for example, by "providing point-of-sale information to out-of-state consumers reminding them that marijuana cannot leave the state" and putting up "signage at airports and near borders reminding visitors that marijuana purchased in Colorado must stay in Colorado."

Deputy Attorney General David Blake, a task force member, was not happy. "The out-of-state tourism is exactly what I don’t want," he said. "I don't want Colorado to become the pot-tourism mecca of the country." Yet it is hard to see how banning residents of other states from pot shops can be reconciled with Amendment 64, which allows "persons twenty-one years of age or older" to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, without reference to where they live.

"It is clear that under current state law out-of-state residents may possess less than an ounce of marijuana without penalty," the task force says. "Forbidding those from out-of-state from purchasing the marijuana that they may lawfully possess in Colorado would thus encourage straw purchases and unauthorized resale to out-of-state residents." Furthermore, Amendment 64 specifies that the Colorado Department of Revenue, which is charged with regulating marijuana producers and sellers, "shall not require a consumer to provide a retail marijuana store with personal information other than government-issued identification to determine the consumer's age." If a customer presents, say, a U.S. passport to show he is 21 or older, the retailer will not be able to determine where he lives, and requiring the customer to produce a form of identification showing his address would be unconstitutional.

That problem casts doubt not only on a rule making residence in Colorado a requirement for buying marijuana but also on any attempt to limit how much people buy based on where they live. Blake argued in favor of allowing visitors to buy no more than one-eighth of an ounce at a time as a way of discouraging people from reselling marijuana in other states. Christian Sederberg, a representative of the Yes on 64 campaign, said such a rule would not be much of an obstacle for a serious trafficker, although it might deter an "opportunistic tourist" like "the guy who says 'all my frat brothers at the KU frat house would really like it if I brought home some pot.'" In the end, the task force rejected Blake's proposal, leaving the issue of how much pot visitors can buy to be settled by the General Assembly. But even if legislators decide a limit lower than an ounce is appropriate, it will be difficult to enforce given Amendment 64's restriction on the information that can be demanded from pot purchasers.

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Talking About Preppers on the Radio

I'll be on Jerry Doyle's radio show tonight, starting circa 7:30 eastern time, to discuss my recent article about preppers. Check here to see if a station near you will be airing the interview.

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The Failed Promise of Electronic Health Records

Credit: Tim Martin | Dreamstime.comCredit: Tim Martin | Dreamstime.comHealth care only got two mentions in President Obama’s first inaugural address: One was a declaration that “our health care is too costly,” the other was a promise to “wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs.”

A few weeks after giving the speech, Obama would follow through on the promise by signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the $833 billion law commonly known as the stimulus.  The stimulus included about $20 billion in funding for incentives designed to spur the adoption of electronic health records.

The hope was that converting the nation’s health records to electronic systems would make health care cheaper and more efficient. Analysts at the RAND Corporation estimated that adoption of the new computerized systems could save about $80 billion over a decade. Similar studies concluded that not only would adoption of the new systems result in savings, they would promote health by enabling better preventive care and chronic disease management.

But four years later, the projected benefits have failed to materialize. Earlier this year, RAND researchers released a follow up study concluding that the savings just aren’t there.

One big problem: Small practices, older practitioners, and specialists have been slow to adopt the systems, despite the existence of taxpayer-backed incentive payments of up to $44,000. Simply installing those systems—which can be quite expensive, costing even more than the incentive itself—isn’t actually enough. In order to get the incentive payment, providers must meet “meaningful use” standards. And according to the New England Journal of Medicine, fewer than 10 percent of specialists and 18 percent of primary care providers were using the technology well enough to get the federal bonuses.

Another problem is that a lot of doctors don’t seem to particularly like the new systems. Among the doctors who are using new records technology, many complain that it actually slows them down or makes it harder to interact effectively with patients because they’re stuck typing on keyboards and staring at computer screens.

Interoperability, or rather the lack of it, is also a big problem—and perhaps the biggest snafu of all.

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Noah Berlatsky on America’s Imperial Ad Men

Credit: Library of CongressCredit: Library of CongressThe art of communicating with the people—public relations—is a notoriously messy business, involving a mixture of persuasion and selective editing, if not outright deception. The art of communicating with foreign publics—sometimes called public diplomacy—is even more fraught. The inherent contradiction in promoting freedom through propaganda is at the heart of Justin Hart’s new book, Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U.S. Foreign Policy. As Noah Berlatsky explains in his review, Hart’s book is a story of good intentions producing bad results.

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Big Bird Wants You to Eat Better, Theme Park Dumping Health Insurance for Some, Senator Gives Drone Kill Figures: P.M. Links

  • Would you take diet advice from this fat-ass?Source: Sesame WorkshopThe notably pear-shaped Big Bird has joined Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity Let’s Move campaign. Maybe they’ll suggest kids eat rocks to aid digestion like many birds do.
  • Not unlike taxpayer-funded sports stadiums, terminals for cruise lines get local subsidies, and people are questioning whether the alleged economic benefits actually outpace the costs.
  • Thanks to restrictive Affordable Care Act guidelines that ban coverage caps, Universal Orlando will be dropping health coverage for its part-time workers at the end of 2013. The ACA is also getting some of the blame for Planned Parenthood shutting down two abortion-providing clinics in Iowa.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham told a Rotary Club group that America has killed 4,700 people with drones. That number might actually be low because he may have only been talking about the covert drone strikes and not including the military’s use of them.
  • Illinois continues to keep pace with California’s economic ills by reporting terrible returns for its public pension funds for 2012.
  • Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claims 800,000 civilian defense employees will be furloughed if the sequester is triggered. It’s amazing how much of the government appears to be paid for with that one tiny, little chunk of spending that would be cut.

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

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Salt Lake Liberates Kids' Lemonade Stands, Jukeboxes, and More from Licensing Regulations

lemonade standCredit: jbcurioThe Salt Lake County Council slashed 150 pages of business regulations over the last year, eliminating dozens of license requirements and 45 different fees.

Here's the news from Salt Lake:

The council eliminated licenses for “amusement devices,” operating jukeboxes, circuses, carnivals, driving ranges, mini-golf, bowling alleys (a license formerly cost $15 per lane) and arcades, which used to cost $250 a year. Salt Lake County will no longer require a special business license for rooms where people play billiards, pool, and bagatelle, as well as “backgammon, cards, checkers or other games of similar nature, or any game played with beans, buttons, dice or similar devices.”...

Auctioneers, “automobile wrecking establishments,” florists, secondhand dealers, junk dealers and those hosting swap meets, flea markets, liquidation sales and parking lots, are also freed from licensing. Laundromats no longer have to pay $6 to register each coin-operated washer and dryer they own. Perhaps most fittingly, a $100 license to work is no longer needed to open an employment office.

The council also built in an exception for “lemonade stands and similar operations run by children” in language about licensing new businesses.


Via former Reason intern Nick Sibilla.

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“Photography Is Not a Crime” Prosecutor Fired for Abusing Position for Lap Dances

Future plotline for "The Good Wife"?Credit: Bruce Wayne Stanley at PINACMiami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Ari Pregen tried and failed last November to get “Photography Is Not a Crime” activist Carlos Miller convicted of resisting Miami police while attempting to cover officers breaking up an Occupy protest encampment.

Miller blogged about his own trial, the crux of which seemed to be based on the idea that Miller wasn’t a “real” journalist and didn’t kowtow to the police the way “real” journalists do. Here’s how Miller described Pregen’s argument:

A real journalist, he explained, was supposed to follow police orders without a second thought. A real journalist would never back talk to police. A real journalist would never question a direct police order as to why he was not allowed to stand on a public sidewalk.

That’s all bullshit, as Miller’s lawyer pointed out, and even got a Miami Herald reporter who had been at the scene (and was not arrested) to testify on Miller’s behalf. The jury freed him after all of 30 minutes of deliberation.

It’s amusing, now, to read Pregen’s lecture on appropriate professional behavior. He’s been fired for using his badge to get special treatment at a strip club. When getting lap dances. Via the Miami New Times:

Around 1 in the morning, Pregen lost his cool when he used his credit card to pay for lap dances. He was annoyed that Goldrush -- like all strip clubs -- wanted to collect a 15 percent surcharge for swiping his plastic. Anyone familiar with strip-club etiquette understands that obtaining bands for lap dances usually comes with a vig (or vigorish). That's why patrons in the know stop at an ATM before they step through the front door.

Clearly, Pregen didn't get the memo. [Club Manager Jeff] Levy alleges Pregen tried to intimidate the female employee who ran his credit card by stating "he is a state attorney and he dares her to charge him... Mr. Pregen goes on to flash his badge again to the female employee." The assistant prosecutor also claimed it was illegal for the club to take his fingerprint because he was a state employee. (To prevent allegations of committing credit card fraud, strip clubs will take a customer's fingerprint and driver's license.) …

The strip club manager decided to report Pregen because he was "highly upset that a person would abuse his power and position as a state attorney, demanding things for free and intimidate the working-class person."

This is actually the second instance of a prosecutor going after Miller getting canned, though, sadly, neither firing was because they abused their authority by going after him in the first place.

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Video: Should You Go to Jail for Unlocking Your Phone?

"Should You Go to Jail for Unlocking Your Phone? Derek Khanna on Copyright, the DMCA, and the Terrible Law Against Freeing Your Cellphone" is the latest video from Reason TV.

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

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Katherine Mangu-Ward on HuffPost Live Talking Post Office Privatization

This afternoon, Reason Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward talked about Post Office privatization on HuffPost Live with a bunch of people who really, really, really love the U.S. Postal Service. 

Run time: Approx. 30 minutes.

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Good Shotguns Are Used in Crimes More Often Than Evil 'Assault Weapons'

White HouseWhite HouseThis morning J.D. Tuccille noted Vice President Joe Biden's dubious advice to his wife about how she should defend herself against would-be home invaders. It is interesting that Biden's weapon of choice is a shotgun, which he contrasts with "an AR-15," one of the military-style semiautomatic rifles he wants to ban, supposedly because they are especially suited to committing mass murder and other crimes. Biden says an AR-15 is "harder to aim" and "harder to use," which makes you wonder why he believes it is favored by criminals. It also makes you wonder why aim matters when you are firing warning shots into the air, as Biden recommends.

If you are firing at a person, a blast from a shotgun is much deadlier at close range* than the intermediate-size cartridges fired by AR-15s and other so-called assault weapons. That fact might count in favor of shotguns as self-defense weapons, but it also makes them more dangerous in the hands of criminals. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) nevertheless shares Biden's affection for shotguns, listing hundreds that are exempt from her proposed "assault weapon" ban. A shotgun was also the weapon that President Obama picked to show he is is no gun banner (despite the fact that he wants to ban guns) in a widely mocked White House photo.

Contrary to the impression left by such favoritism, there is nothing inherently virtuous about shotguns, such that they can be used only for legitimate purposes and never to hurt or kill innocent people. On the same day that Biden lauded shotguns as the ideal weapons for home defense, a young man used one to murder three people in the Los Angeles area. In fact, shotguns are used in crimes considerably more often than the "assault weapons" that Biden and Feinstein say pose an intolerable threat to public safety. A 2004 study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice estimated that "assault weapons" (mostly pistols) were used in something like 2 percent of gun crimes before they were banned by a federal law that expired that year. By comparison, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, shotguns were used in 5 percent of gun crimes in 1993, the year before Congress passed the "assault weapon" ban. In a 1997 survey of state and federal prison inmates, 7 percent of those who had carried a firearm while committing the crime for which they were serving time said it was a military-style semiautomatic, while 13 percent said it was a shotgun.

Ordinary handguns are far and away the weapons most commonly used by criminals, including mass murderers. They are also the most popular weapons for self-defense, which illustrates the folly of trying to distinguish between good and evil guns.

[*I added this qualifier to clarify that I am talking about a scenario like the one imagined by Biden, where someone is confronting a home intruder.]

Former Compton Mayor Being Retried for Corruption Points to Corruption in Former Compton Police Department

past tenseDan's California Police Badges and PatchesOmar Bradley was the mayor of Compton from 1993 to 2001. He lost in 2001 to Eric Perrodin, a former police officer and deputy district attorney, and in 2004 Bradley was convicted of misappropriating public funds. He served a three year sentence in prison and a halfway home, and then last summer an appeals court overturned his conviction, ruling it hadn’t been proven he meant to break the law.

Now, Bradley suggests in the Los Angeles Wave that his prosecution was in response to his attempts to “take on” the Compton Police Department (which was disbanded in 2000):

According to a 95-page report of a confidential investigation conducted by the Internal Affairs Division… issued on Nov. 4, 1999 under the title of “Investigation of Missing Narcotics from the Narcotics Vault,” Bradley said he had no choice but to disband the city’s police force and contract with the County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services in Compton.

Mayor Bradley said he ordered the investigation by Internal Affairs because a Long Beach police officer, Bryant Watts, was shot by a gun that was later found to have been in the possession of the Compton police. While the investigation originally focused on the inventory of guns at the Compton Police Department, it quickly refocused on missing drugs, such as cocaine, PCP and marijuana that should have been destroyed at a Long Beach Burn Station…

The report singles out a specific case in which 60 kilos of cocaine had been seized by the Compton police in 1992, as well as property such as cars, motor homes, vans and other valuables.
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To Check the President's Power of Life and Death, How About a Court He Is Free to Ignore?

Georgetown UniversityGeorgetown UniversitySome critics of President Obama's "targeted killing" policy have suggested that a tribunal modeled after the court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) could help ensure that the right people get blown up. Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general after Obama named Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, thinks that's a bad idea, as he explains in a New York Times op-ed piece:

There are many reasons a drone court composed of generalist federal judges will not work. They lack national security expertise, they are not accustomed to ruling on lightning-fast timetables, they are used to being in absolute control, their primary work is on domestic matters and they usually rule on matters after the fact, not beforehand.

Even the questions placed before the FISA Court aren't comparable to what a drone court would face; they involve more traditional constitutional issues—not rapidly developing questions about whether to target an individual for assassination by a drone strike.

First of all, whoops! Didn't Katyal get the Justice Department memo declaring that shooting a missile at someone whom the president identifies as a threat to national security should never be called an "assassination"? As the DOJ white paper summarizing the legal rationale for killing American citizens suspected of ties to Al Qaeda or its allies explains, "A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination."

Exactly what counts as self-defense, of course, is precisely the issue, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggests in a recent Human Events essay:

If you’re launching a missile on U.S. troops, if you are launching a missile toward the United States, if you are hijacking a plane, if you are setting off a bomb, if you are leveling an AK-47 at any one of our soldiers—by all means and with great expedition, we will drop a drone bomb on you. No one is arguing against employing immediate and lethal force against anyone whose finger approaches a trigger.

President Obama’s drone killing goes a great deal further, however. Mr. Obama tells us that an "imminent threat" need not be "immediate."

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David Harsanyi on the GOP Sequestration Narrative

CapitolCredit: wallyg/FoterIt's been a while since the GOP held the upper hand in any skirmish, and the sequestration situation holds the special distinction of asking nothing of Republicans—a tactic that meshes well with their present skill set, writes David Harsanyi. No arguing over "revenue." No threat of a government shutdown. No default. No need for a protracted surrender.

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Gun Expert Joe Biden Advises His Wife To Illegally Discharge a Shotgun

Jill BidenSome White House shutterbugJoe Biden is the Obama administration's point man on the firearms issue. Back in December, he took charge of a task force given the responsibility of finding excuses for violating Americans' self-defense rights coming up with legislative solutions to address gun violence in the United States. So, how much of a firearms expert is Joe? And how well does this member of the Delaware Bar know the gun laws of his home state? Not so much, it turns out. At least, he's publicly dispensing advice that would leave people disarmed in dangerous situations, and could get them thrown in jail.

In a Facebook gathering hosted by Parents magazine, Vice President Biden was asked about self defense for women, and whether his proposed restrictions wouldn't leave them disarmed. He responded:

Get a double-barreled shotgun. Have the shells in the 12 gauge shotgun. And I promise you...as I told my wife...we live in an area that's in the woods and somewhat secluded. I said, 'Jill, if there's ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out and put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house. I promise you whoever is coming in is not going to...You don't need an AR-15. It's harder to aim, it's harder to use and in fact, you don't need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun, buy a shotgun.

The problem, U.S. News & World reports, is that his advised shotgun technique is illegal in the state of Delaware. As Steven Nelson writes for that magazine:

A sergeant with the Wilmington, Del., police department explained to U.S. News that city residents are not allowed to fire guns on their property.

The sergeant, who preferred not to be identified, said that Wilmington residents are also not allowed to shoot trespassers. "On your property you can't just shoot someone," he said. "You have to really feel that your life is being threatened."

Defense attorney John Garey—a former Delaware deputy attorney general—agreed, and added that several criminal charges might result if Jill Biden took her husband's advice.

"In Delaware you have to be in fear of your life to use deadly force," Garey said. "There's nothing based on his scenario alone" indicating a reason to fear imminent death, he noted.

Garey said that under Biden's scenario, Jill Biden could be charged with aggravated menacing, a felony, and reckless endangering in the first degree.

"You cannot use deadly force to protect property" in Delaware, added Garey.

"It is not uncommon" for people to be charged with crimes under similar circumstances, he said. "I've seen cases where lawful citizens have used guns outside their homes and they end up arrested."

Note, also, that our hypothetical frightened Jill Biden (that's her, pictured above) has just fired two loads of shot in the air, where gravity will soon take control and bring them back down to Earth — potentially on somebody's head. And, since hypothetical frightened Jill Biden has just fired two shells into the air from a double-barreled shotgun, she is now disarmed, and has to reload before she can defend herself.


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Patents vs. Innovation: 3D Printing Edition

2012, Wired reports, was

Not so fast!Fräulein Schiller / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDa breakout for desktop 3-D printing. MakerBot released two new models, Formlabs debuted the first prosumer 3-D printer to use high-accuracy stereolithography, and a slew of innovative, printed projects lifted awareness and desirability of additive manufacturing for the general public.

But the year ended with a legal hiccup. Formlabs will be dealing with a patent infringement lawsuit brought against them by 3D Systems, one of the biggest players in the industry. The hobbyist segment of the industry has been built on the back of expired patents, but as the Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out, many patents that will be required to advance the state of the art will not expire for years or even a decade.

We've uncovered 10 patents that could severely stifle innovation in the low-cost segment of the 3-D printing market and keep you from making colorful, smooth-finished figures and precise, articulating parts. These patents cover core technologies and ease-of-use features, and could take momentum from the upstarts and return it to the entrenched companies.

To read the full list of patents and patent applications, go here.

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2010 Albuquerque Police Shooting of Kenneth Ellis III Ruled Unconstitutional

shot by copJonelle EllisThe police department in Albuquerque, New Mexico came under investigation by the federal Department of Justice last November after there had been 17 fatal police shootings since the shooting of Iraq War veteran Kenneth Ellis III on January 13, 2010. That shooting has now been ruled as a violation of Ellis’ rights in a federal lawsuit the family is pursuing. From the local CBS affiliate:

In 2010 Albuquerque Police Department Officer Bret Lampiris-Tremba killed Kenneth Ellis Jr. outside a Northeast Heights convenience store.

Ellis, an Iraq war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was pointing a gun at his own head and negotiating with a crisis-intervention officer when Lampiris-Tremba suddenly shot him.

The city independent review officer ruled he should not have fired, but the citizen review commission later ruled the shooting justified.

However, at a hearing Wednesday on a lawsuit filed by Ellis' family, District Judge Shannon Bacon ruled that Ellis posed no threat to anyone and that the shooting violated his constitutional rights.

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Steve Chapman on the Minimum Wage

Man v Statetheqspeaks/ Flickr

Raising the minimum wage may indeed raise average worker productivity—not by inducing existing workers to work harder or smarter, but by inducing companies to get rid of less productive workers. If you raise the floor from $7.25 an hour to $9, employees whose work output is less than $9 an hour will be let go. Saying that a higher minimum wage would increase productivity, writes Steve Chapman, is like saying that banning anyone under 6-foot-10 will make NBA players taller. It will, but not because anyone will grow.

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Biofuel Mandate Destroys Grasslands

Congress mandates that gasoline contains 10 percent corn ethanol and the industry is pushing to boost this to 15 percent. The federal mandate contributes to higher grain prices as 40 percent of America's corn crop is poured into our gas tanks. Now the Washington Post is reporting a new study that finds that there is one other highly predictable consequence of the mandate: farmers are plowing up more land to grow corn thus reducing prairie grasslands inhabited and used by wild creatures. As the Post observes:

America’s prairies are shrinking. Spurred on by the rush for biofuels, farmers are digging up grasslands in the northern Plains to plant crops at the quickest pace since the 1930s. While that’s been a boon for farmers, the upheaval could create unexpected problems.

A new study by Christopher Wright and Michael Wimberly of South Dakota State University finds that U.S. farmers converted more than 1.3 million acres of grassland into corn and soybean fields between 2006 and 2011, driven by high crop prices and biofuel mandates (right). In states like Iowa and South Dakota, some 5 percent of pasture is turning into cropland each year.

It’s a big transformation in the heart of the country: The authors conclude that the rates of grassland loss are “comparable to deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia.” And those changes are already having plenty of impacts.

As I pointed out last week in my column on President Obama's new energy initiatives outlined in his State of the Union speech:

Billions in federal subsidies have conjured the bioethanol industry into existence, but scientists still debate whether corn bioethanol actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions. A recent life-cycle analysis of corn ethanol production found that its greenhouse gas emissions could be "roughly 25 percent more than the entire lifecycle emissions of petrol."

Feds just please stop interfering in energy markets - no mandates, no subsidies, no nothing! You're doing more harm than good.

Go here [PDF] to read the new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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A.M. Links: Hacking Drones, Dope Busts Kids Out of College, Asset Forfeiture for Everything

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Tax Cut, Sequester Hypocrisy Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry Full of Shit.

courtesy Red, White, & Bluecourtesy Red, White, & BlueWriting at Bloomberg View, Caroline Baum tosses out three recent examples of tax-cut hypocrisy:

- For over a decade, Democrats have disparaged the reduction in marginal and capital gains tax rates enacted under President George W. Bush as “tax cuts for the rich” -- at least until they were about to expire. Then President Barack Obama discovered that, lo and behold, the middle class had gotten tax cuts, too.

- Republicans want to reduce the deficit by cutting spending. They disavow the Keynesian notion that cuts in government spending have a contractionary effect on the labor market -- except when it’s defense industries that are facing cuts. Libertarians call them “Military Keynesians,” to highlight the inconsistency in their positions.

- The payroll tax cut in 2011 and 2012 posed a problem for both parties. Republicans oppose temporary tax cuts because empirical evidence suggests that they don’t have the desired effect. That’s because individuals make spending decisions based on theirexpectations of income over a lifetime. On the other hand, the GOP doesn’t like to stand in the way of any tax cut. Democrats supported the reduction in the payroll tax, which is regressive, on the grounds that it would help the ailing economy. That put them in a bind when they had to explain why tax cuts for everyone wasn’t a good idea for the same reason.

Read the whole thing.

Baum also has a column up about why she knows the sequester is going through. Read that here.

Here's what President Obama is promising will happen if the sequester goes through as he wrote it (yes, it was his idea, as a way of forcing a compromise):

"If Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness. It will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research," Obama warned in a speech at the White House, flanked by emergency workers. “It won’t consider whether we’re cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day.”

By Friday, expect him to be invoking plagues of frogs and flaming hail. As I noted earlier this week, the $85 billion figure that gets invoked is wrong; cuts in fiscal year 2013 will amount to $44 billion or about 1.2 percent of all federal spending. We've been hearing for a long time that sequestration alone would kill about 700,000 jobs.

courtesy J Pethokoukis at http://aei.orgcourtesy J Pethokoukis at http://aei.orgThat's a claim taken as gospel that is based on what can be called "ugly modeling" at best. Because virtually all government spending is counted by definition as adding to GDP, any cut thus means reductions in activity and jobs. Add to that the idea that projectionists routinely assign a multiplier of more than 1.00 to government spending, so that each dollar the feds spend magically creates more than $1 in economic activity.

The country's experience with recent stimulus spending should give pause to all of us (if it doesn't, watch this). When the stimulus manifestly failed to reduce unemployment by its own predictions, its architects and defenders in the press nonetheless pronounced it a success and claimed that it saved us from an ever bigger problem. The real problem, you see, was that the stimulus wasn't big enough. All it takes is a government failure for stimulatarians to channel their inner Andrea True.

Yet there's every reason to believe that stimulus spending has a multiplier that is well below 1.0, meaning that every dollar that's spent generated less than a dollar of activity, resulting in a net drain on economic activity. Think about it in a different context: Virtually everybody understands that when local governments shell out massive tax money on sports stadiums, the local economy doesn't see any net benefits. If you're lucky, existing entertainment dollars may be spread toward sports facilities, but nobody seriously believes any more that such spending grows the overall economic pie or stimulates anything other than owners' and players' bank accounts (in fact, simply having a major professional team in your metro area shaves about $40 per person per year). If building white elephant stadiums and museums with public dollars worked, Cleveland would be the hottest town in the country.

courtesy a simpler, dumber time in America.courtesy a simpler, dumber time in America.The recognition that stimulus spending doesn't work as advertised may not salve the hurt of the currently unemployed but it has the benefit of being more credible than the alternative. And in the context of sequestration, it suggests that if and when the $44 billion of cuts for 2013 happen, they won't crater a $16 trillion economy. Indeed, they might even help the economy by showing that the government, despite its Herculean effort to never, ever rein itself in, can be halted.

Which, of course, brings us back to Caroline Baum's insights on economic hypocrisy from Dems and Reps alike. All I can say is that it will be a great day when the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to bomb all the Solyndra factories.

For more on that, read this.

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George Will: Solitary Confinement Is Torture

|||In his Washington Post column today, George Will argues that the solitary confinement currently being forced on tens of thousands of prisoners in the United States "probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of 'cruel and unusual punishments.'" Excerpt:

Federal law on torture prohibits conduct "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering." And "severe" physical pain is not limited to "excruciating or agonizing" pain, or pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death." The severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.

Supermax prisons isolate inmates from social contact. Often prisoners are in their cells, sometimes smaller than 8 by 12 feet, 23 hours a day, released only for a shower or exercise in a small fenced-in outdoor space. Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds.

Will's conclusion:

Americans should be roused against this by decency — and prudence.

Mass incarceration is expensive (California spends almost twice as much on prisons as on universities) and solitary confinement costs, on average, three times as much per inmate as in normal prisons. And remember: Most persons now in solitary confinement will someday be back on America's streets, some of them rendered psychotic by what are called correctional institutions.

Reason on solitary confinement here. Watch Reason.TV's interview with James Ridgeway: "Is Solitary Confinement a Form of Torture?"

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Brickbat: Free Press

Universal PicturesUniversal PicturesThe principal of California's Bear Creek High School seized 1,700 copies of the school paper after it ran an article questioning school safety. The article quoted school officials decrying a lack of communication during recent reports of weapons on campus and cited an assistant principal's concerns that all the staff may not be familiar with the school safety plan. Principal Shirley McNichols said the story could provoke panic.

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Judge Napolitano on Pope Benedict

Giampaolo Macorig / photo on flickrGiampaolo Macorig / photo on flickrThe present pope is cognizant of the burdens of office and the needs of his enormous flock. The present pope is also a brilliant theologian whose pre-papal and papal published works have instructed the faithful and others in a manner and with a level of confidence and erudition that surpass his modern predecessors. Surely, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, no modern pope, not even the rock star who preceded him, who opened the eyes of millions to the Catholic Church's salvific mission, has written as many books, monographs and essays with the level of timeliness, encyclopedic knowledge, clarity and authority as Benedict.

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Don't Miss J.D. Tuccille on HuffPost Live Discussing Those Liberal Kids

Today, at 7pm ET, 4pm PT, some other time wherever the hell I am, I'll be appearing I appeared on HuffPo Live to discuss whether those crazy kids of today have learned to stop worrying and love big government. The New York Times says it's all over, folks! The youth of today aren't just socially tolerant — they dig the state, too.

Actually, though, Reason has done some polling on this issue. Our polling found that millennials are, overall, more comfortable with a large, intrusive government than their elders, and also more supportive of (in this poll) marijuana legalization. But while these views overlap, they aren't entirely held by the same people. As Emily Ekins wrote:

[O]nly 28 percent of millennials want to both legalize pot and strengthen government. Instead, 30 percent want to legalize pot and prefer free markets to a strong central government. Another 29 percent of young Americans want a strong central government but don’t want to legalize marijuana. Another way to think of this is that 50 percent of young Americans desiring drug reform also prefer free markets, and half of millennials who prefer strong government also oppose marijuana legalization. Only nine percent preferred free markets and wanted to ban drugs, a sample size too small to deeply evaluate.

So millennials are rather more mixed in their views than the Times would have us believe, and this is after years of Republicans making the small-government brand seem a bit ... icky.

On top of that, the 18-24 set is more opposed to an assault weapons ban than the oldsters. Interesting.

See the video below.

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ObamaCare Opponent Rick Scott to Proceed With Health Law’s Medicaid Expansion in Florida

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.com / CC BY-SAPhoto credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.com / CC BY-SALate this afternoon, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced that his administration would proceed with an expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare. It’s a dramatic reversal for Scott, a former health care executive and outspoken opponent of ObamaCare who spent an estimated $5 million of his own money trying to stop the health law before it was passed.

It’s also a reversal from what he promised his own advisers, says Michael Cannon, a Cato Institute health policy analyst who served on the health care task force for Governor Scott’s gubernatorial transition team.

During the transition period, Cannon says he “pushed hard” for the health care task force to recommend that Scott not implement any part of ObamaCare. When the time came to make that recommendation directly to Scott, Cannon says it didn't require a hard sell. Scott quickly declared that he had no plans to implement any part of the health law in Florida. “I didn’t even have to make the pitch. He was already on board,” Cannon tells me. “That makes this an even more dramatic flip-flop.”

In the years since serving on Scott’s transition team, Cannon has continued to argue that states should refuse to implement any part of ObamaCare. And he thinks Scott has made a big mistake.

“He knows that it’s going to cost his state $20 billion over the first 10 years. He knows it will add three million people to the Medicaid rolls, and that it will expand the constituency for higher taxes and more government. And yet he’s still doing it,” says Cannon.

So why did Scott fold? Cannon suggests that the governor is "doing it because he thinks it will help him get reelected.”

But there may be a more immediate payoff. On Wednesday, Scott was granted a long-pending request for a Medicaid waiver up for approval with the Obama administration. With the waiver approved, the governor can shift large portions of the state’s Medicaid population into privately run Medicaid “managed care” plans.

“There’s been speculation that he’s doing it in a tit for tat with the administration,” Cannon says. “If they approve his Medicaid waiver he’ll drop his opposition to the Medicaid expansion. But if that’s the case, then his Medicaid waiver would move everyone into managed care, which economists have shown increases enrollment and increases spending. So if he made a deal, the deal was: He’d support their Medicaid expansion if they’d support his Medicaid expansion.”

Governor Scott has previously warned that Medicaid is growing faster than the state can pay for it. “Revenues are growing because our economy is getting better, but Medicaid is growing faster,’’ he said in 2011.

Florida led the Supreme Court challenge to ObamaCare, and Scott is arguably one of the law’s most prominent elected critics. So could Scott’s decision prove a bellwether, to be followed by other holdout states deciding to proceed with the Medicaid expansion? Cannon doesn’t think so. “A lot of states are looking at this and saying ‘we don’t have the money,’” he says. “What one governor does is not going to change that.”

More from Cannon on Scott's flip-flop at Cato's blog here

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Iowa Woman Who Didn’t Break Allergy Pill Limit Law Charged with Crime Anyway

Wal-phed: Decongestant of the DevilWalgreensThe Des Moines Register’s Reader’s Watchdog tells the rather predictable tale of anti-meth zealotry run amok, as a 50-year-old farmer’s wife faces trial for buying too much pseudoephedrine at a Walgreens in the small town of Ottumwa, Iowa. Of note, even though she bought a lot of allergy pills, she actually didn’t break Iowa law. Yet she could still face a 25-year sentence for a conspiracy “with one or more persons to manufacture, deliver or possess with intent to deliver ... a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine.”

Lee Rood of the Register notes the details:

This case began when members of the southeast drug task force obtained a warrant to search the state’s database of pseudoephedrine purchases for those suspected of “smurfing” for the cold and allergy drugs in the area.

Smurfers use power in numbers, taking turns buying meth’s key ingredients, while prepping for a planned cook.

McGee said that last fall, task force investigator Mark Milligan called her and asked her to come over to Ottumwa to explain her purchase of 32 allergy-drug packages since late 2010 — all but a couple at the Walgreens in Ottumwa.

She said she tried to explain that she has severe allergies, especially when she is out in the fields, and that she was in the habit of picking up some Wal-phed when she made the more than hourlong road trip to Ottumwa from Lovilia and back.

McGee did buy a lot of pills, Rood reports, but McGee’s total purchases of pseudophedrine were still within the limits of Iowa law.

Also snatched up in this alleged meth ring were McGee’s sister and the wife of the mayor of the tiny town of Lovilia, Iowa, population 538. According to Rood, their lawyers have told the ladies not to talk. McGee told Rood she’s now afraid that somebody is going lie on the stand and say she gave them pills.

Rood decided not to let the story go. She ran an initial story on Friday and then followed up again on Saturday with more information. In her follow-up column she explores an all-too-familiar component of these drug ring busts, getting police informants to name names in exchange for dropping or reducing charges. McGee figured out how her name and the names of her friends could have gotten dragged into the proceedings:

Then there were others in the alleged ring whom McGee said she barely knew or had never heard of: Sean Crawford, Scott Merrill, Melinda Schultz, Shawn See, Kevin Tangie and Robert Tangie.

The person who does stick out in the alleged conspiracy is Douglas Maddy, McGee’s cousin.

McGee said she knew her cousin had a drug history. And she knows his girlfriend, Teresa Denherder, also had been arrested on drug charges.

But McGee claims that neither she nor her husband have had anything to do with drug activity in the area, and that she is tied to Maddy through her favorite aunt, who has dementia.

She said she didn’t know until I told her that Maddy had been convicted in 2005 of pseudoephedrine possession. “Until I was questioned, I didn’t even know Doug’s girlfriend’s last name,” she said.

Rood spoke with a local defense attorney who has dealt with similar cases (but not McGee’s) and said McGee is absolutely right to worry that somebody could have given authorities her name in exchange for a reduced sentence, regardless of any actual involvement.

Both of Rood’s pieces are worth a read. She goes on to investigate and point out that the drug log method used to keep track of pseudoephedrine purchase in Iowa has done little to curb the meth lab problem because meth manufacturers simply adapted and changed the formula again. Always bet on the black market.

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Chris Christie Says Just a Few More Changes Needed to Legalize Online Gambling in New Jersey

the big kahunaNJ Governor's Office/Tim LarsenNew Jersey could imminently become the first state in the union to legalize online gambling. The state senate first passed a bill legalizing online gambling in 2010 but faced hurdles put up by Governor Chris Christie, who vetoed the most recent version of the bill earlier this month.  The legislature is now working on a revised version and the governor promises this time he could sign it the same day (“depending on how my day is going”) if it contained the additions he sought. Ante Up Magazine explains Christie’s demands:

His conditions within the 31-page veto included a change to the tax rate listed in the bill from 10 percent to 15 percent, with a portion of this revenue to go to entities that work to help treat people with compulsive gambling problems and addictions. This was one of his issues with the bill he vetoed last year.

There’s also a part of the bill listed as Section 33, which addresses the issue of interstate commerce through the gaming act... This could open the door for offshore online gaming, depending, of course, on the future rulings by the DOJ and government.

Another notable point in the veto is the requirement that this online gaming law be set to expire in 10 years, unless it’s overridden by another law (state or federal).

While a poll last May showed 58 percent of voters in New Jersey opposed to online gambling in the state, Christie is enjoying a record high 74 percent approval rating, which ought to help in making legalized online gambling palatable in New Jersey.

Check out Reason TV’s “The Politics of Poker: Why It’s Time to Legalize Online Gaming”:


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SCOTUS Will Hear Challenge to Federal Limits on Political Contributions

ALGOP.orgALGOP.orgIn the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court upheld limits on contributions to political candidates, saying they did not impinge on First Amendment rights as much as limits on spending by candidates, which it overturned. Yesterday the Court agreed to hear a case, McCutcheon v. FEC, that may give it an opportunity to revisit that questionable distinction, which has become increasingly difficult to defend in light of decisions rejecting other campaign finance regulations, such as the restrictions on independent spending by unions and corporations that the Court overturned in the 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC.

The lead plaintiff in the new case, Shaun McCutcheon, is Republican activist in Alabama who would like to donate more than the aggregate federal limits on contributions, currently $46,200 over two years for candidates or their authorized committees and $70,800 for other recipients (such as party committees). Combined with the limits on contributions to particular candidates ($2,500) or committees ($30,800), the overall ceilings mean a donor can give the maximum contribution to no more than 18 federal candidates and no more than two national committees. McKutcheon argues that the $46,200 aggregate limit on contributions to candidates is "unsupported by any cognizable government interest...at any level of review," while the $70,800 aggregate limit on other contributions is unconstitutionally low. Last September a special three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., disagreed, saying the aggregate limits are justified as safeguards aimed at preventing evasion of the limits on contributions to any one candidate or committee:

Eliminating the aggregate limits means an individual might, for example, give half a million dollars in a single check to a joint fundraising committee comprising a party’s presidential candidate, the party’s national party committee, and most of the party’s state party committees. After the fundraiser, the committees are required to divvy the contributions to ensure that no committee receives more than its permitted share, but because party committees may transfer unlimited amounts of money to other party committees of the same party, the half-a-million-dollar contribution might nevertheless find its way to a single committee’s coffers. That committee, in turn, might use the money for coordinated expenditures, which have no "significant functional difference" from the party’s direct candidate contributions. The candidate who knows the coordinated expenditure funding derives from that single large check at the joint fundraising event will know precisely where to lay the wreath of gratitude.

This anti-evasion rationale, of course, hinges on the legitimacy of the per-candidate and per-committee limits, which McKutcheon is not challenging. But note that a similar argument could be made regarding independent spending, which under Citizens United cannot be restricted based on concerns about corruption. It is hard to believe that a candidate's gratitude to people who help him get elected hinges on the presence or absence of explicit coordination. But if it doesn't, what remains of the justification for restrictions on direct contributions?

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Why We Should Welcome Our New Robot Overlords/Worst Fight Scene Ever

courtesy Gene Rodenberry's repressed mind.courtesy Gene Rodenberry's repressed mind.Luddites, like Ziggy, the Buffalo Bills, and Hamilton Burger, never seem to win. Thank god. But people freaking out about technology - whether it's President Obama arguing that ATMs and ticket kiosks at airports put people out of work or silly folks such as Kirkpatrick Sale literally raging against the machines - are a feature not a bug of civilization.

Here's Brookings Institution's Scott Winship setting the record straight on how technology helps make humans richer and more robust:

Technological development will surely eliminate some specific jobs. But there is little reason to think that the future will look any different from the past in this regard. Productivity gains in manufacturing and other sectors will lower the cost of goods and produce more discretionary income, which people will use to pay other people to do things for them, creating new jobs. Mass leisure will also create other kinds of jobs, such as those devoted to entertaining and informing each other. To the extent that the least-skilled need help, we will be in a much better position to afford safety nets, and our main concern will be the age-old one of discouraging dependency. To the extent that technology increases inequality much of it will be to reward innovators for finding ways to drive our workweek and retirement age down or to induce some to keep working 40-hour weeks.

Whole thing here.

I was going to post a clip of Star Trek's Capt. Kirk besting a computer by forcing it to "feel," but then settled on this fight scene, which makes a strong case for robot overlords that wouldn't allow this sort of thing.

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Supreme Court Limits Police Power to Detain Incident to a Search

Writing at the blog of the Cato Institute Ilya Shapiro highlights the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday in Bailey v. United States, a major Fourth Amendment case. He writes:

In Bailey, the Court rejected the argument that police should be able to detain someone anywhere at any time if they see that person exiting a location for which there’s a valid search warrant.  Instead, by a 6-3 vote in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court ruled that the power to detain incident to the execution of a search warrant – established in the 1981 case of Michigan v. Summers – is limited to the “immediate vicinity” of the premises to be searched.  

The police may want broader detention powers, but none of the justifications for the Summers exception to the normal probable cause requirement – officer safety, facilitating the search, preventing flight – remain in cases where police detain someone beyond that immediate vicinity. In Bailey, police saw the defendent leave a home they were about to search and, rather than detaining him there and executing the search warrant, followed and subsequently stopped him nearly a mile away.

Ira Stoll on Obama's Failing Plan to Provide a "College Scorecard"

Credit: Whitehouse.govCredit: Whitehouse.govThe Obama State of the Union line that’s attracting the most attention is the $9-an-hour minimum wage. But as Ira Stoll observes, the policy initiative that’s most illuminating in a certain way is the college scorecard. President Obama apparently thinks that the federal government should enter the college guide business to compete with the private sector players who are already there. Where in the Constitution this power is enumerated is anyone’s guess.

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Sequestration Doomsday Isn't So Doom-ish, American Exec Savages French Work Ethic, Diamonds May Be Forever Gone: P.M. Links

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Intern at Reason This Summer!

Courtesy of ReasonCourtesy of ReasonThe Burton C. Gray Memorial Internship program runs year-round in the Washington, D.C. office. Interns work for 10 weeks and receive a $5,000 stipend.

The job includes reporting and writing for Reason and reason.com, and helping with research, proofreading, and other tasks. Previous interns have gone on to work at such places as The Wall Street JournalForbes, ABC News, and Reason itself.

To apply, send your résumé, up to five writing samples (preferably published clips), and a cover letter (the last of which should be in the body of your email--not an attachment) to intern@reason.com, with the subject line: Gray Internship Application. The deadline is March 26.

If your portfolio is not available in digital form (we really, really prefer digital), you can snail-mail a physical application to 

Gray Internship
1747 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Internship dates are flexible; the March 26 deadline for applications is not. Apply now! 

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The Republican Future: Maybe It Has to Be About Ideas, Not Just Technology

Alex Saitz-Wald at Salon writes an entertaining "let's you and him fight" story contrasting two Tea Party Senate leaders, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.

Some excerpts and comments:

The National Review notes that “Cruz is rapidly becoming one of the most public faces of the [Tea Party] movement,” a status he had earned even before even getting elected. Last summer, he was feted in a massive arena-filling, Glenn Beck-headlined, Freedomworks-sponsored rally for his election in Dallas. “There is a great awakening that is sweeping this state, that is sweeping this country,” Cruz told the assembled masses. “New leaders who will stand and fight for liberty.”....

The rapid ascent of the well-spoken Cruz has pleased many conservative activists hungry for more. “We salute you, Senator Cruz, and we’re calling for backup,” a much-shared RedState post read.

But it may not put any smiles on the face of Sen. Rand Paul, who is himself trying to become the de-facto leader of the very same movement and who helped get Cruz where he is today.

Endorsements from the Kentucky senator and his congressman father, Ron Paul, were critical in a primary race where the GOP establishment lined up against Cruz and behind Texas Lieutenant Government David Dewhurst, an arch-conservative whom the Tea Party nonetheless made out to be a moderate. But Cruz didn’t return the favor by endorsing the elder Paul’s presidential bid....

And while other Paul-endorsed candidates like Utah Sen. Mike Lee have kept a fairly low profile after getting to Washington, Cruz has been eager to upset the apple cart, threatening to upstage or even supplant the man who helped bring him there. He’s been called the Ivy League Marco Rubio and the Republican Barack Obama, but perhaps a better epitaph would be the Purer Rand Paul.

Cruz is certainly trying to fill a specific space in Republican media/fan culture, the belligerent loudmouth against whatever the Enemy (the Obama administration) is for, for war and giving it to immigrants good and hard.

That's a great radio space and will doubtless earn Cruz many fans. But contra Salon, while that makes him a "pure" something or other, but not "purer" than Rand Paul about that quaint concept Cruz is quoted as standing for--"liberty" or even a part of liberty Tea Partyers are supposed to value, shrinking government size and expense. Given the expense of war and immigration enforcement--especially the cost in liberty of needing your government-issued papers to get  job--Rand Paul is purer on any actual ideals that supposedly attach to the Tea Party label, if not the often unfortunate sociological team playing sometimes attached as well.

There's a big point about Paul too many people miss, weirdly given his father Ron Paul's career: he's not just a super-right-winger; his libertarianism is a distinct thing, that sometimes matches standard red-meat GOP feelings and sometimes does not.

Seitz-Wald is at least intelligent in analyzing the Republicans' national 2016 future in ideological terms, even if he isn't always clear on what the ideas are. The New York Times on Sunday spent many thousands of words by Robert Draper talking GOP troubles and front ending it all about technology, and the Republicans' inability to swing Reddit and online ads effectively to their side.

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Death of Danish Jihadist Highlights International Makeup of Assad's Opposition

Credit: FreedomHouse/flickrCredit: FreedomHouse/flickrEarlier today, UPI reported that Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane, a jihadist fighter, had been killed in Syria. Many jihadists have been fighting and dying in the Syrian conflict, and the death of Abderrahmane is at first glance nothing particularly worth noting. However, Abderrahmane’s death highlights the international nature of the Syrian conflict and the different ideals motivating Assad’s diverse opposition.

Abderrahmane was a Danish national who was born in Denmark to an Algerian father and a Danish mother. In February 2002 Abderrahmane was arrested in Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he was detained until February 2004 (link to declassified chronological listing of Guantanamo detainees from the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants here). 

The Copenhagen Post reported that according to Danish domestic intelligence Abderrahmane was one of an increasing number of Danes going to fight against Assad in Syria.

The conflict in Syria is oftentimes described as a civil war, and while Syrians are the main belligerents in the fighting it is important not to forget that Syria has become a battlefield where fighters from across the world have come, only adding to the already high possibility of a destabilized post-war Syria.

In December last year Reuters reported that U.N. investigators had recorded fighters from 29 different countries coming to Syria to fight with Assad's opposition:

Most of the "foreign fighters" slipping into Syria to join rebel groups, or fight independently alongside them, are Sunnis from other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the U.N. investigators found, reporting on their findings after their latest interviews conducted in the region.

"They come from all over, Europe and America, and especially the neighbouring countries," said Abuzayd, adding that names from 29 states had been recorded so far. 

It is not only Assad’s opposition that is receiving help from abroad. The Syrian regime is supported by allies Iran and Russia, as well as by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.

Recently Obama said that he was open to reversing his previous position of not arming Syrian rebels. Given the international diversity of the rebels and the increasing possibility of international involvement in Syria it would be best for Obama to resist the urge to arm those fighting the Assad regime. If the rebels win no one can predict what might happen next or whether the U.S. will be safer as a result.

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NY Fed Rewards Half-Truths

Last week the Federal Reserve Bank of New York named the winners in its Financial Awareness Video Festivals. The winning videos were both vague and succinct. None of the videos made any mention of the role of government in financial decision-making.

Mrs. Moneybags Credit: Newtown Free Library/FoterThe annual contest is run in the tri-state area of New York/New Jersey/Connecticut and in Puerto Rico. The tri-state winners are students from LaGuardia Community College, whose video “Repair your credit -- Repair your life” aimed to remind young people that good credit allows for people to take advantage of opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Irony doesn't even begin to describe the Fed's involvement in any effort to inspire, encourage, or reward financial responsiblility.

As individuals when we experience a drop in our credit score we figure out why it happened and remedy the issue in an effort to restore the faith financial institutions have to lend to us. Why then, is the government not doing the same thing?

Instead our credit rating has been demoted twice, the bonds held by the lender of last resort are no longer looked at as a financial safety net, and the regional banks are just standing there.

But this is no surprise, during the Great Depression the Fed stood by and watched as banks were unable to accommodate large bank runsproving its inability to perform its sole task.

The idea that this institution can accurately judge what it means to be financially responsible was not depicted in the winning video or by any of the finalists. If no one brought this up, how helpful are these videos?

The video ended with a young man trading his chefs hat for a blazer and saying "It's worth it in the end because new doors opened up and new opportunities come along," but imagine if instead he said, “Ending the Fed is worth it in the end, we’ll know what our time and money are really worth.”

Individual responsibility is important, but the Fed recognizing only those who tell part of the story by just advocating for greater personal responsibility, and not leading by example, sends the wrong message.

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What Causes Government Spending to Go Down: Circumstance or Ideology?

courtesy Mercatus Centercourtesy Mercatus Center

Above is a chart prepared by Reason columnist, Mercatus Center economist, and my frequent co-author Veronique de Rugy. Using constant 2005 dollars, it shows annual spending per capita between 1945 and 2012. Inflation-adjusted, per-capita spending is arguably the single-most accurate way to account for government spending because it takes into account both inflation and population growth. De Rugy writes,

The first Truman budget spent $4,312 per person. Government spending per person decreased for the next two years and in 1948 hit a historic low of $1,918—a low that has not been matched in six decades. Today’s spending per person is more than five times this amount.

By the end of the Truman administration per-capita spending had risen back almost to the levels of Truman’s first budget, and it continued to increase under the next few presidents. Kennedy began his term by raising per-person spending to $3,790. Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton all began their presidencies with higher per-person spending than their predecessors had ended with.

George H. W. Bush oversaw a decline in per-capita spending, which fell from $7,326 to $7,147 over four years. He is the only president since Kennedy whose last budget spent less per capita than his first budget.

Read and view more charts here.

Real Clear PoliticsReal Clear PoliticsThis is an interesting chart for a lot of reasons (it also an extended and updated version of an earlier chart). Certainly, it challenges any notion that one party is better on spending issues. It also challenges any general understanding of presidents past and present. Who knew Nixon was such a tightwad (he managed generally flat spending by cutting defense heavily), that Reagan was so egregiously an overspender, and that H.W. Bush really gave back what used to be called "the peace dividend"?

The biggest surprise of all, of course, is that real, per-capita spending has not just flattened under Barack Obama but has actually declined. Let's get the qualifications out of the way: Part of 2009 spending, which was George W. Bush's final budget year, is rightly recognized as belonging to Obama; spending is likely to boost up this year from last year; and all of Obama's years are among the very highest in terms of real outlays.

Yet it's absolutely the case that spending has flatlined under Obama just as it did under Eisenhower, Nixon, H.W. Bush, and Clinton.

The question is: Why does spending flatten at some times and not others?

courtesy LA Timescourtesy LA TimesPart of the reason has to do with war. When wars end, spending goes down. 1945 wasn't just FDR's last budget year (due to his death) but marked the conclusion of World War II, an unprecendented effort in terms of mobilizing all national economic resources via the government. Truman was able to radically cut spending during his first years in office - and then cranked outlays up as the Korean conflict got under way (though it doesn't loom large in our collective imagination, the Korean War was a big deal in terms of troop size, money, and casualities). With Korea's cessation, Eisenhower was able to trim spending. Nixon may not have accomplished "peace with honor" in Vietnam, but he dialed back the U.S. presence and locked in our eventual withdrawal. As noted above, George H.W. Bush rebated the "peace dividend" that came with the end of the Cold War.

Part of the reason for spending restraint may have to do with divided government. Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, and eventually Clinton all faced Congresses run in whole or part by the opposing party. Cato scholars William Niskanen and Peter Van Doren concluded in a 2004 study that "the rate of increase in real federal spending since World War II was lower during administrations in which at least one house of Congress was controlled by the other party." Noting that the biggest fluctuations in annual spending are related to defense, they further argued

We find it hard to dismiss the implications of a nearly 200 year old pattern in which the American participation in every war involving more than a few days of ground combat was initiated by a unified government.  Divided government may have the lowest rate of growth of real federal spending per capita, in part, because it has been an important constraint on American participation in a war.

So perhaps the war and divided-government constraints are mutually reinforcing. That would help to explain spending under Obama: Not only is he facing a divided Congress but he's overseeing the winding-down of military adventures.

Yet it's clear that there's some limits to the divided-government thesis. The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress when Bill Clinton took office and yet his first two budget years were basically as lean as any that came later when the "Republican revolution" kicked in. The divided goverment facing Gerald Ford didn't stop government spending during his tenure. And then there's George W. Bush, who managed to reduce spending in just one of his eight long and terrible years in office. He had a full GOP Congress for budget years 2002 through 2006 and he spent like you'd expect. But in his last two budget years, he managed to massively drive up spending despite facing a Democratic Senate. The bipartisan panic related to the financial crisis clearly overrode any partisan antagonism.

The one thing that seems clear to me is that the role political ideology doesn't seem to explain much at all when it comes to spending. Ronald Reagan ran as a small-government guy but increased spending - even beyond military spending - massively. Ditto George W. Bush, whose small government rhetoric masked a Texas-sized spending habit. On the flip side, Bill Clinton ran as a liberal and so did Barack Obama; despite serious differences, both were willing to spend tax dollars. Yet their spending patterns betray no increase in spending year over year. Perhaps any given president's desires are simply overwhelmed by other factors well beyond anyone's control. Clinton burned a lot of time and energy in his first two years trying to pass a massive health-care overhaul that proved so contentious and unpopular that it led to the unthinkable: Republican majorities in the House and the Senate. Was the Clintoncare debacle so distracting the goverment simply forgot to ratchet up spending levels?

Obama succeeded where Clinton failed in terms of health care and he passed a massive stimulus bill upon taking the throne. But surely the inability of the government to pass a budget for coming up on four years has made it next to impossible to actually increase spending levels. Continuing resolutions, bless them, make it virtually impossible to raise spending levels. Add to that Obama's willingness to follow the Bush administration's timetable to bow out of Iraq and it all starts to add up to flat or even slightly reduced spending. The fascinating thing about the current moment, really, is that the president, Democrats, and Republicans all openly want to spend more money than we currently are dishing out (yes, even the Republicans). And yet they can't seem to make that happen, despite their best/worst efforts. Government, it turns out, really is incompetent even at wasting money.

Unfortunately for those of us who argue that large amounts of government spending and debt smother economic recovery and growth, the simple flattening of government spending over the past few years doesn't really add up to a true pro-growth austerity package. There is a massive amount of regulatory uncertainty in the air (Obamacare, Dodd-Frank) and no clarity on fiscal or monetary policy either. While January's fiscal cliff deal settled most Bush-era tax rates, Obama is already asking for more hikes, the world economy is in the shitter, and we've got yet another debt limit right around the corner.

As de Rugy has definitively shown, austerity packages work best when they are heavy on spending cuts, not a mix of small trims and tax increases. Attempts to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio - the U.S. is currently above 100 percent with regard to gross debt - work best when spending cuts are not only explicitly undertaken but are deeper than anything we've seen. Such measures help spur economic growth by reducing expectations of future tax increases and currency meltdowns. As de Rugy and I wrote for Bloomberg View, the most successful austerity programs - including recent experiences in Canada, Sweden, and Great Britain during the 1990s and America's own post World War II boom - were more substantial and conscious than the drift we've seen over recent years in D.C.

Even if the sequester goes through as written, we're still way, way off from a true pro-growth debt consolidation package. But who knows? Obama is already late (again) with his 2014 budget plan, there's no reason to think the Senate Democrats will ever cough one up, and the GOP plan stinks on ice. Maybe we'll get to meaningful levels of spending cuts not because D.C. wants to but because everyone involved in bankrupting the country is either too lazy or incompetent to start spending your taxes.

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Justice Memo: Assault Weapon Ban "Would Not Have a Large Impact on Gun Homicides"

AK-47Cpl. D.A. HaynesThe National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action is having a lot of fun with a National Institute of Justice memo on gun control strategies, and well it should. Of the big three proposals on the table in Congress, the memo says that even "a complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides," that restrictions on high-capacity magazines without grabbing the ones already in circulation "would nearly eliminate any impact" and that the effectiveness of universal background checks depends on requiring the impossible dream of gun registration and making it easy and attractive for people to comply. The memo also dismisses gun "buybacks" and recommends controls on ammunition sales — fears of which have already fueled a buying frenzy for ammo and reloading supplies.

The "Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies" (PDF) was penned January 4 of this year by Greg Ridgeway, the Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice, which is the research arm of the Department of Justice. With regard to the sort of mass shooting that set off the current jihad in D.C. against self-defense rights, Ridgeway writes:

On average there are about 11,000 firearm homicides every year. While there are deaths resulting from accidental discharges and suicides, this document will focus on intentional firearm homicides. Fatalities from mass shootings (those with 4 or more victims in a particular place and time) account on average for 35 fatalities per year.

The memo doesn't mention that the murder rate in 2011 was 4.8 per 100,000, and has been declining for decades. That's half the rate that prevailed during the Great Depression and down from a modern peak of 10.2 per 100,000 in 1980.


Vid: How Patent Trolls Kill Innovation

"My statement to someone that is the victim of a patent troll lawsuit is that you are completely screwed," says Austin Meyer, who is himself the target of a so-called "patent troll" lawsuit. Reason TV profiled Meyer in the video above.

"Too Many Patents: How Patent Trolls Kill Innovation" is the latest offering from Reason TV. For the full story and downloadable versions, click the link below.

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Jesse Walker on Preppers

|||It's always worthwhile to push back when a subculture gets stereotyped and scapegoated, whether it's Goths after Columbine or preppers today. Jesse Walker stands up for the survivalists.

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A Paternalist Worries About Paternalism

HarvardHarvardHarvard law professor Cass Sunstein, who advocates "libertarian paternalism" in his book Nudge (co-authored by University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler), worries about the consequences of inviting the government to protect us from ourselves in a recent New York Review of Books essay. Sunstein agrees with Bowdoin philosopher Sarah Conly, author of Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, that people are prone to cognitive biases that lead to decisions they regret:

For example, many of us show "present bias": we tend to focus on today and neglect tomorrow. For some people, the future is a foreign country, populated by strangers. Many of us procrastinate and fail to take steps that would impose small short-term costs but produce large long-term gains. People may, for example, delay enrolling in a retirement plan, starting to diet or exercise, ceasing to smoke, going to the doctor, or using some valuable, cost-saving technology. Present bias can ensure serious long-term harm, including not merely economic losses but illness and premature death as well.

But while Sunstein wants to help people achieve their own goals through relatively mild interventions, such as displaying fruit more conspicuously in cafeterias and making 401(k) participation automatic unless employees opt out, Conly believes sterner measures, including outright prohibition, are sometimes justified. She sees New York City's ban on trans fats in restaurant dishes as a model of effective paternalism, and she favors government-mandated limits on food portions. At the same time, she is "ambivalent" about preventing people from using food stamps to buy soda: "She is not convinced that the health benefits would be significant, and she emphasizes that people really do enjoy drinking soda." Her "most controversial claim," Sunstein says, is that the benefits of banning cigarettes would outweigh the costs. Sunstein is appropriately skeptical:

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ObamaCare's Parade of Bad News Continues: Some Employers May Self-Insure, Leaving Others With Higher Premiums

Credit: National Institutes of Health Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: National Institutes of Health Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAAnother week, another ObamaCare glitch—and another reason that it may cause some health premiums to spike: On Monday, The New York Times reported that state health insurance officials are concerned that businesses with young and relatively healthy employees might choose to avoid many of the law's regulations by self insuring.

The problem is that when firms with lots of young, healthy workers self-insure, other employers buying into group health insurance plans are left with a smaller, relatively sicker group of workers. And that translates into higher premiums.

Here's a simplified way to think about it: If a group insurance plan had covered 100 people, some older and sicker and some younger and healthier, and 15 of the youngest and healthiest suddenly choose to opt out in order to start their own separate insurance pool, that leaves the membership of the original insurance plan older, sicker, smaller, and more expensive. 

ObamaCare gives small employers with healthy workforces an incentive to jump ship and insure themselves. Via the Times

Experts say the law makes self-insurance more attractive for smaller employers. When companies are self-insured, they assume most of the financial risk of providing health benefits to employees. Instead of paying premiums to insurers, they pay claims filed by employees and health care providers. To avoid huge losses, they often sign up for a special kind of “stop loss” insurance that protects them against very large or unexpected claims, say $50,000 or $100,000 a person.

Such insurance serves as a financial backstop for the employer if, for example, an employee is found to have cancer, needs an organ transplant or has a premature baby requiring intensive care.

In a report to clients last year, SNR Denton, a law firm, wrote, “Faced with mandates to offer richer benefits with less cost-sharing, small and midsize employers in particular are increasingly considering self-insuring.”

Premiums will probably go up for a non-trivial number of individuals as a result of the way ObamaCare deals with employers who self insure. Given the double-digit premium spikes we're already seeing in states across the country, that's worrying enough.

The larger thread here, though, is that we're once again seeing that ObamaCare's design is pretty clunky, at best. From a purely practical perspective, the law looks like a mess. Every week or so we see another big report on some flaw or implementation challenge: The exchanges are hard to build, estimates of how many employers will eventually drop employee coverage have been revised upward, part time employees are seeing their hours limited, premiums are rising, states are declining to run the exchanges or participate in Medicaid, a number of big employers had to be given waivers in order to keep offering health insurance, the high risk pools were more expensive per beneficiary than expected and served fewer people, some insurers are warning that they may not participate in the law's exchanges—you get the idea. You don't, on the other hand, see a lot of things going especially well for the law, unless you count the victory at the Supreme Court. So sure, ObamaCare is surviving. But it's not exactly thriving. 

Mexican Immigrants are a Bargain for the Welfare State

One of the most potent arguments against relaxing U.S. immigration policies, especially toward countries south of the border, is the fear that importing poor foreigners will mean more strain on the welfare state. But a new Cato study using the most recent census data has found that compared to low-income native born, foreigners are a bargain. Conducted by Leighton Ku and Brian Bruen of George Washington University, the study finds: 

Low-income non-citizen immigrants, including adults and children, are generally less likely to receive public benefits than those who are native-born. Moreover, when non-citizen immigrants receive benefits, the value of benefits they receive is usually lower than the value of benefits received by those born in the United States. The combination of lower average utilization and smaller average benefits indicates that the overall cost of public benefits is substantially less for low-income non-citizen immigrants than for comparable native-born adults and children.

Go here for the whole study.

A couple of observations:

One: Although these findings are consistent with many previous studies, it is at odds with those of restrictionist outfits such as the Center for Immigration "Studies." Why? Because these outfits include naturalized citizens in their data. But if naturalized citizens use the same benefits as the native born, then that’s an argument against naturalization, not against immigration per se. (I am not endorsing this, just pointing out the logical limits of how far anti-immigrant organizations can stretch their case.)

Two: As foreigners move into the lower class, Cato's Dan Griswold brilliantly pointed out here, the native-born move into the middle class. Cheaper goods and services due to foreign labor boost the real-wages of all Americans, of course. But a foreign-born lower class also means that the native born no longer have to do backbreaking, menial work. That’s  because their native language and other cultural skills become relatively scarcer, hence commanding a better premium in the labor market. They get pushed up into supervisory jobs that require more customer interaction, for example. (I discuss this point at greater length here.) This expanded income mobility of the native born means that they consume less welfare too.

In short, it is far cheaper for the country to have a foreign born lower-class not only because it consumes less welfare than the native born, but also because it lowers the welfare use by the native born.

So, I say, let ‘em in: It’s a win-win-win.

Update: David Friedman just informed me that he made an argument identical to the one above about the foreig-born fueling the class mobility of natives in his Machinery of Freedom. Money quote:

The new immigrants will drive down the wages of unskilled labor, hurting some of the present poor. At the same time, the presence of millions of foreigners will make the most elementary acculturation, even the ability to speak English, a marketable skill; some of the poor will be able to leave their present unskilled jobs to find employment as foremen of 'foreign' work gangs or front men for 'foreign' enterprises.

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MSNBC Gets What It Needs: Obama Supporters and Spokespeople

Glenn Greenwald teases MSNBC because he doesn't love MSNBC, on two of its new hires, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama advisor and senior strategist David Axelrod:

I wonder: does someone who goes from being an Obama White House spokesman and Obama campaign official to being an MSNBC contributor even notice that they changed jobs?....

Impressively, David Axelrod left the White House and actually managed to find the only place on earth arguably more devoted to Barack Obama. Finally, American citizens will now be able to hear what journalism has for too long so vindictively denied them: a vibrant debate between Gibbs and Axelrod on how great Obama really is.

MSNBC, having branded itself very explicitly as the pro-government channel, will have some scrambling to do when regime change comes and they are required to not reflexively love everything the executive branch does or says.

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John Stossel on Obama's Awful State of the Union Speech

What America needs is a flexible economy that provides new jobs. For years, it had that. Workers who lost factory jobs found new work in the fast-growing service industry. Creating software, movies and medical innovation is just as valuable as manufacturing and often more comfortable for workers. 

Yet President Obama thinks he can use the government to reverse the fate of America's manufacturing sector, writes John Stossel. He should accept that making things is something the market does pretty well on its own. 

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How the DEA Got Doctors Under Its Thumb Through Creeping Bureaucracy

Yesterday, in my piece on Massachusetts doctors fretting over risking their medical licenses by recommending medical marijuana. I wrote, "[p]rescription powers are strictly regulated by the DEA." I was called on that statement by commenter, Robert, which surprised me, since my experience is that my wife has to provide her DEA number every time she deals for the first time with a pharmacy, which then keeps it on file. As it turns out, the DEA technically has authority only over prescriptions for controlled substances. In reality, though, the DEA number has come to be the Social Security number of the health care industry — a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, non-universal identifier required so widely that it's increasingly difficult to practice medicine in its absence.

Officially, the Drug Enforcement Administration is oh-so-opposed to the use of DEA registration numbers on prescriptions other than those for controlled substances. On its site, the DEA says:

DEA strongly opposes the use of a DEA registration number for any purpose other than the one for which it was intended, to provide certification of DEA registration in transactions involving controlled substances. The use of DEA registration numbers as an identification number is not an appropriate use and could lead to a weakening of the registration system. Although DEA has repeatedly made its position known to industries such as insurance providers and pharmacy benefit managers, there is currently no legal basis for DEA to prevent or preclude companies from requiring or requesting a practitioner’s DEA registration number.

In fact, as early as 1992, the Texas Medical Association complained about the practice of insurance companies requiring DEA numbers before they'd reimburse for prescriptions. In 1997, optometrists complained that they couldn't get any prescriptions filled without DEA numbers — and they weren't always eligible for DEA registration. Some state laws have been open to interpretation about whether DEA numbers are required for all prescriptions. Doctors in general continue to grumble about being hit it up for their DEA numbers for general prescriptions, but then they turn them over anyway.

How this happened, I don't know for sure. I can guess that insurance companies, having to track controlled-substance prescriptions by DEA number, found it easier to use those numbers as universal IDs than to play around with several different identifiers. Pharmacies followed suit to minimize checkout-counter debates with patients about reimbursement. And now medical practices require newly hired providers to have DEA numbers, because what's the point of employing a doc or nurse practitioner whose prescriptions won't be filled or reimbursed?

I'm sure there are still physicians, probably long-established, who get by without DEA numbers. They don't prescribe controlled substances. They deal with local pharmacies that know them and don't require DEA registration. And they let their patients worry about the tab.

But that has to be a vanishing breed.

This morning, I asked a pharmacist at a local branch of a big chain about DEA numbers. I got a hairy eyeball and fully expect to have to produce an ID the next time I buy toothpaste. He told me they "don't yet" require DEA numbers for non-controlled prescriptions, but the system is set up for it and he expects the requirement to come "any time now."

No law ever gave the DEA such wide authority over the medical profession. But it now has the ability to cripple medical careers by denying or yanking one simple number. Behold the power of creeping bureaucracy.

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Greenpeace Activism Kills Kids

Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, writes in his latest column, "A Golden Rice Opportunity," a terrific indictment of Greenpeace's homicidal activism against the development and deployment of vitamin-A enriched Golden Rice. Golden Rice is a genetically enhanced variety developed by Swiss researcher Ingo Potrykus and his colleagues with the aim of addressing the serious health problem of vitamin A defiency in poor countries whose citizens chiefly consume rice. Back in 2000, I asked, "Where is the Golden Rice?," and the answer was that it was being protected in grenade-proof greenhouses in Switzerland to prevent its destruction by anti-biotech vandals. As I noted 13 years ago:

Greenpeace is leading a global campaign against biotech crops, asserting that they are unhealthy and environmentally unsafe. A press release says that "Greenpeace opposes golden rice because it has all the risks of any [genetically modified] crop."

The lies and anti-science activism of environmentalist groups like Greenpeace have delayed for more than a decade the day when this life-saving crop could be offered to poor farmers in developing countries and the result is that millions of children have died who might otherwise have been saved by this technology. As Lomborg reports:

Three billion people depend on rice as their staple food, with 10% at risk for vitamin A deficiency, which, according to the World Health Organization, causes 250,000-500,000 children to go blind each year. Of these, half die within a year. A study from the British medical journal The Lancet estimates that, in total, vitamin A deficiency kills 668,000 children under the age of five each year.

Yet, despite the cost in human lives, anti-GM campaigners – from Greenpeace to Naomi Klein – have derided efforts to use golden rice to avoid vitamin A deficiency. In India, Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and adviser to the government, called golden rice “a hoax” that is “creating hunger and malnutrition, not solving it.”...

To be sure, handing out vitamin pills or adding vitamin A to staple products can make a difference. But it is not a sustainable solution to vitamin A deficiency. And, while it is cost-effective, recent published estimates indicate that golden rice is much more so.

Supplementation programs costs $4,300 for every life they save in India, whereas fortification programs cost about $2,700 for each life saved. Both are great deals. But golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency...

Now, finally, golden rice will come to the Philippines; after that, it is expected in Bangladesh and Indonesia. But, for eight million kids, the wait was too long.

True to form, Greenpeace is already protesting that “the next ‘golden rice’ guinea pigs might be Filipino children.” The 4.4 million Filipino kids with vitamin A deficiency might not mind so much. 

Shame, shame, shame on Greenpeace, Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein and all other anti-science fellow travelers!

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Fake Soviet Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Books

Wednesday fun link:

In Soviet Russia, robot own you!In 1987, an anonymous team of computer scientists from the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic wrote a series of children's books based on the popular Choose Your Own Adventure series. The books were hastily translated into English and a small number were exported to America, but the CIA, fearing a possible Soviet mind control scheme, confiscated them all before they could be sold.

Now declassified, the books have been lovingly converted to a digital hypertext format and put online for the English-speaking world to enjoy.

No, of course they aren't real. They're pretty damn funny, though. Here's how the first one opens:

You are a young girl from the Kyrgyz village of Tash-Bashat. You live your life in the traditional style of a Tash-Bashat child, which needs no introduction.

It is the night of a gibbous moon and your parents have wisely cautioned against entrance into the nearby woods. How do you proceed?

If you enter woods, turn to page 17.
If you remain quiety in bounds of homestead, turn to page 3.

And on page three:

You wisely adhere to parental strictures. No doom befalls you and you go on to live healthily.


You have completed this story in the optimal number of page turns. To claim your merit badge, write "I have done this" on a 76x127mm index card and post it to:

Building 34
7th Microdistrict
Bishkek, Kyrgyz SSR
Soviet Union

(Limit of first four hundred children to request merit badge.)

Explore the rest of Small Child in Woods here. Try book #2, Cow Farming Activities on the Former West, here. Enjoy the author's other work here.

[Hat tip: Bryan Alexander.]

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Damon Root on Originalism, the Living Constitution, and the Supreme Court

Credit: Mr T in DC / Foter.com / CC BY-NDCredit: Mr T in DC / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Is the Constitution a living document that should be read according to the evolving needs of modern society? Or should it instead be interpreted according to its original meaning at the time it was adopted? In his new book America’s Unwritten Constitution, Yale law professor and leading liberal academic Akhil Reed Amar offers something of a third way, a progressive twist on originalism that draws heavily from the tactics of living constitutionalism. From Reason’s March issue, Damon Root passes judgment on Amar’s idiosyncratic approach.

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Surprise: The Boehner/GOP Alternative to Sequester is More Spending!

courtesy ABC Newscourtesy ABC NewsSpeaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a strongly worded opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal denouncing President Obama's attempts to shelve the sequester in favor of more spending and tax hikes. Here's a snippet:

The sequester is a wave of deep spending cuts scheduled to hit on March 1. Unless Congress acts, $85 billion in across-the-board cuts will occur this year, with another $1.1 trillion coming over the next decade. There is nothing wrong with cutting spending that much—we should be cutting even more—but the sequester is an ugly and dangerous way to do it.

By law, the sequester focuses on the narrow portion of the budget that funds the operating accounts for federal agencies and departments, including the Department of Defense.... Should the sequester take effect, America's military budget would be slashed nearly half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. Border security, law enforcement, aviation safety and many other programs would all have diminished resources.

As I noted yesterday, this $85 billion figure is baloney. Only about $44 billion of the sequester's planned cuts would take place in 2013; the rest would take place in future years (if at all). To put that in perspective, $44 billion is roughly 1.2 percent of expected total federal spending in 2013, which will be higher than overall spending in 2012. The government is spending around $3.5 trillion a year, give or take a few billions.

It's worth asking Boehner a simple question: If "we should be cutting even more" spending than the sequester seems to do, why the hell does last year's GOP-approved budget plan increase year-over-year spending every year between 2014 and 2022? As table S-1 shows, after a small trim from 2013 to 2014, total annual outlays would grow (in current dollars) from $3.5 trillion in 2014 to $4.9 trillion in 2022.

courtesy Jennerjahn Reportcourtesy Jennerjahn ReportIn the Journal, Boehner tells the president that he's happy to come to an arrangement in which the sequester cuts are swapped for specifc trims. Indeed, he avers:

House Republicans have twice passed plans to replace the sequester with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect national security.

Whole Journal piece here.

This is at best misleading and at worst mendacious. The bills to which Boehner is referring are H.R. 5562 and H.R. 6684 (the latter being an updated version of the former). H.R. 6684 - known as "The Spending Reduction Act of 2012" - does exempt military spending from any cuts. But it doesn't reduce spending this year or next. Indeed, as the Congressional Budget Office reports, it increases spending by $48 billion in 2013 and $11 billion in 2014 before a number of slight reductions kick in during 2015-2022.

It also increases taxes ("revenues") by $98 billion over 10 years, something the tax-averse Boehner fails to crow about (he may not be confident of those revenue streams since they come from better "oversight and government reform," a catchall category that never seems to deliver on its promises). Go to page 2 of this document to check it all out.

H.R. 6684's fake spending reduction is the reason why Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) voted no, writing at his Facebook page, "Contrary to its title, the bill increases spending and debt by tens of billions of dollars."

It's a good thing that fewer and fewer people deny that "we've got a spending problem." Sadly, that recognition hasn't exactly swelled the ranks of those who are trying to do something about it.

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A.M. Links: Boehner Calls Obama Gutless, Joe Biden Recommends a Double Barreled Shotgun, French Troops to Begin Withdrawing From Mali Next Month

  • i recommend they all just stop itWhite HouseJohn Boehner called President Obama gutless for campaigning against sequestration but not offering any alternatives.
  • Joe Biden’s advice to gun owners is to get a double barrel shotgun for self-defense. Is that what law enforcement is limited to?
  • More than 250 drug cases have been thrown out in Philadelphia because six former narcotics officers were found to be liars. They no longer work in narcotics but, naturally, are still on the force.
  • In New Mexico, state employees can collect worker’s comp even if they were injured while drunk or high on the job.
  • The execution of the mentally retarded Warren Hill in Georgia was stayed by an appeals court just half an hour before it was scheduled.
  • France says its troops will begin to withdraw from Mali in the next few weeks, even as Islamist extremists continue to clash with security forces in the country.

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Glenn Reynolds and Russ Roberts Talk Politics, Technology, and Constitution

courtesty PJ Mediacourtesty PJ MediaThis week's must-snag podcast is an easy pick: The latest EconTalk from Russ Roberts is a conversation with Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law prof who is best known as the web's own Instapundit.

They're talking about politics, technology, and the Constitution.

Click here to listen and go here to download the podcast.

Jacob Sullum on Obama's Misguided Vision of Tax Reform

White HouseWhite HouseIn his State of the Union address last week, President Obama called for "bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform." But Obama's idea of reform, writes Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, seems to involve raising taxes by limiting certain deductions and pushing new tax breaks for people who behave as he thinks they should. This is not the sort of reform we need, Sullum writes, since it only compounds the mind-boggling complexity of the 4-million-word tax code.

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Brickbat: Canadian Humor

Sister72 / photo on flickrSister72 / photo on flickrThree police officers in Peterborough, Ontario, have been charged with neglect of duty and discreditable conduct after mocking and failing to help a man with a broken leg. William Lomoro says he approached the officers seeking help after he was beaten by bouncers at a local pub. Instead, Const. Isaac Teeple, Const. Eric Easterbrook and Sgt. Michael Jackson told him to walk off the broken leg and called him various names.

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Burning Man: Nevada Contemplates Localist Approach to Regulation, Hits Localist Approach to Money-Making

Nevada contemplates the frustration of being home to so much federally controlled land when it comes to the regulation of the Burning Man festival, the experimental art community that arises and disperses yearly around Labor Day on the Black Rock playa a couple of hours outside Reno. From the Reno Journal-Gazette, which reports that the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities and the Nevada Association of Counties are

asking local governments around the state to support potential legislation that upholds “the right of the local governments to ensure activities that occur on these lands is compliant with local land use, zoning, special event and public health and safety codes...”

On Wednesday, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell said the city should not support any policies that hurt Burning Man, which is a week-long arts and free expression festival. Burners on their way to the event often stop in the Reno-Sparks area to buy supplies, leaving behind an estimated $15 million in the local economy.

The move seems to arise from Pershing County, within whose borders Burning Man occurs, and currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the event's organizers over a special events ordinance the county passed:

Burning Man organizers argue the ordinance would violate their First Amendment rights. They also dispute the county’s ability to regulate the event because it’s already permitted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management....

Pershing District Attorney Jim Shirley said county commissioners “are in support of anything that gives the county more autonomy and discretion in regards to BLM land.”

Keeping the Burning Man gravy train running through Nevada is motivating potential counter political action:

Meanwhile, Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, has a placeholder for a potential bill that, “Prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances restricting events and activities on federal lands.”

Localized control can be a two-edged sword on market and personal freedoms, though the proliferation of powers and bringing decisionmaking closer to home is a good idea in general. That said, sometimes the more distant and larger power will make the decision more respectful of liberty. All bigthink aside, in this case I suspect that attempts to assert more local control in Nevada against the Feds when it comes to Burning Man will lose out on the grounds that there is too much local money made allowing the federal government to set the rules on what happens on the federal land encased in Nevada counties. And that's a lot of land--some estimates have nearly 85 percent of the state federally owned.

My earlier blogging on Burning Man's lawsuit against Pershing, and on their efforts to more intelligently lobby D.C.

My 2004 book This is Burning Man on the event's history and evolution.

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Medical Marijuana Raises Fears Over Reach of Occupational Licensing Laws

PhysiciansOlgaMedical associations are generally pretty control-freaky, and don't generally earn a reputation for advocating looser rules over anything. But the Massachusetts Medical Society is trying to get with this whole medical marijuana thing by oiling the bureaucratic wheels and developing standards and procedures for certifying patients as eligible to use federally disfavored plants for their medicinal qualities. But, in the process of submitting its written comments to the state Department of Public Health, the physicians' guild raised a bit of a kerfuffle with one little question. And that question has people wondering just how vulnerable people who have lobbied so hard to limit access to their trades with licensing laws might be if they buck their masters on this — or, potentially, any — issue.

In its submission, "MMS Comments Submitted to Department of Public Health’s Listening Session on Medical Marijuana," the med-o-crats ask:

May licensed individuals participate in the certification process without concerns regarding their licenses?

Hmmm ...

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Can California Survive?: Livestream w Carl DeMaio and Adrian Moore, Tonight at 7.15pm ET/4.15pm PT


Calling policy wonks, Golden State taxpayers, and all the ships at sea!

Reason is happy to bring you a livestreamed conversation about California's fiscal woes and how to move forward into a sustainable future.

Reason Foundation's Vice President of Policy, Adrian Moore, will talk with former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who pushed through S.D.'s historic pension reform plan last year, lost a close election to become mayor, and is now heading up Reason Foundation's California Reform Agenda.

The action starts right here at Hit & Run at 7.15pm ET/4.15pm PT.

See you then.

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UN Report Shows Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan Down, But It's Not All Good News

Credit: United Nations/foterCredit: United Nations/foterAccording to a report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan has dropped for the first time since 2007. However, the report also includes figures that should worry Afghan and American policy-makers.

Although the total number of civilian deaths is down, violence against women in Afghanistan is increasing. From Reuters:

But despite the good news, the United Nations said there had been a 20 percent increase in the number of Afghan women and girls killed or injured in 2012, with more than 300 women and girls killed and more than 560 injured.

"The sad reality is that they were killed and injured while going about their daily work, their daily business" said U.N. human rights director in Afghanistan, Georgette Gagnon.

The report also says that violence committed by “Anti-Government Elements” is increasing:

Anti-Government Elements increasingly targeted civilians throughout the country and carried out attacks without regard for human life.  UNAMA documented 6,131 civilian casualties (2,179 civilian deaths and 3,952 injuries) by Anti-Government Elements in 2012, an increase of nine percent compared to 2011. 81 percent of the total civilian casualties in 2012 were attributed to Anti-Government Elements.

The number of civilians killed by drone strikes has also increased. From the AP:

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said 506 weapons were released by drones in 2012, compared with 294 the previous year. Five incidents resulted in casualties with 16 civilians killed and three wounded, up from just one incident in 2011.

In his most recent State of the Union address the president reaffirmed his commitment to ending the American military mission in Afghanistan by the end of the year. Over a decade after the American-led intervention it is looking like American troops will be leaving an Afghanistan where violence against women, insurgent violence, and civilian deaths remain tragically familiar. 

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Science Fiction Is for Socialists?

china mievilleCredit: Ceridwen/WikimediaSF author China Mieville (The City, Embassytown) lists 50 science fiction titles of particular interest to socialists. Interesting to see the overlaps with what turns up on similar lists for libertarians.

A smattering of Mieville's picks and justifications below, with links to Reason's coverage of same.

Iain M. Banks—Use of Weapons (1990)

Socialist SF discussing a post-scarcity society. The Culture are “goodies” in narrative and political terms, but here issues of cross-cultural guilt and manipulation complicate the story from being a simplistic utopia.

ReasonWhat to Do When You Can Do Anything, by Peter Suderman, February 2013

Edward Bellamy—Looking Backward, 2000–1887 (1888)

A hugely influential, rather bureaucratic egalitarian/naïve communist utopia. Deals very well with the confusion of the “modern” (19th Century) protagonist in a world he hasn’t helped create (see Bogdanov).

Reason: Looking Back on Looking Backward: Edward Bellamy's famous utopian novel is set in today's America. Are we living his crazy dream? by Tom Peyser, August/September 2000

Octavia Butler—Survivor (1978)

Black American writer, now discovered by the mainstream after years of acclaim in the SF field.Kindredis her most overtly political novel, the Patternmaster series the most popular. Survivor brilliantly blends genre SF with issues of colonialism and racism.

Reason: The Parables of Octavia Butler: A science-fiction writer's rich libertarian legacy by Amy Sturgis, June 2006

Ursula K. Le Guin—The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)

The most overtly political of this anarchist writer’s excellent works. An examination of the relations between a rich, exploitive capitalist world and a poor, nearly barren (though high-tech) communist one.

Reason: Ursula LeGuin: Novelist by Jeff Riggenbach, December 1979

Ken MacLeod—The Star Fraction (1996)

British Trotskyist (of strongly libertarian bent), all of whose (very good) works examine Left politics without sloganeering. The Stone Canal, for example, features arguments about distortions of Marxism. However, The Star Fraction is chosen here as it features Virtual Reality heroes of the left, by name—a roll call of genuine revolutionaries recast in digital form.

Reason: Anarchies, States, and Utopias: The science fiction of Ken MacLeod by Jesse Walker, November 2000

Philip Pullman—Northern Lights (1995)

Pullman let us down. This book is here because it deals with moral/political complexities with unsentimental respect for its (young adult) readers and characters. Explores freedom and social agency, and the question of using ugly means for emanicipatory ends. It raises the biggest possible questions, and doesn’t patronise us that there are easy answers. The second in the trilogy,The Subtle Knife, is a perfectly good bridging volume… and then in book three,The Amber Spyglass, something goes wrong. It has excellent bits, it is streets ahead of its competition… but there’s sentimentality, a hesitation, a formalism, which lets us down. Ah well.Northern Lightsis still a masterpiece.

Reason: A Secular Fantasy: The flawed but fascinating fiction of Philip Pullman by Cathy Young, March 2008

Ayn Rand—Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Know your enemy. This panoply of portentous Nietzcheanism lite has had a huge influence on American SF. Rand was an obsessive “objectivist” (libertarian pro-capitalist individualist) whose hatred of socialism and any form of “collectivism” is visible in this important an[d] influential—though vile and ponderous—novel.

Reason: All over the place.

Via io9.

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Rubio's Popularity Makes Him Conservative Front-runner for 2016, Says NYT's Nate Silver

Credit: Gage Skidmore via FoterCredit: Gage Skidmore via FoterThe New York Times' “FiveThirtyEight” blog boldly ventures that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) might be “The Electable Conservative” for 2016. Nate Silver’s write-up is not so revealing about Rubio (unless you weren’t already aware that he’s a conservative) but more so about the problem that plagues the Republican Party.

Aside from the fact that the GOP is little better—if at all—than the current administration when it comes to spending our money and allowing the government to get “all up in our bid-ness,” the Right suffers from a pretty substantial image problem. It’s just not cool to be a conservative.

And that’s exactly why Rubio is The NYT’s pick when it comes to electable conservatives. Although his Conservatism Score is solidly middle-of-the-pack (beating the current congressional average by only three percentage points), he’s not unpopular. And that's saying something. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), for example, has a favorability rating of only 32 percent, and he was only one election away from the White House.

On top of Rubio's likability, Silver points out that “Mr. Rubio is Hispanic and is from Florida.” As silly (if not discriminatory) as these qualifications would sound when interviewing for almost any other job in the world, these things actually matter when it comes to a presidential election.

Silver also touches on a couple other “ideologically similar candidates”—some of whom actually bring more to the table than a toe-the-party-line voting record and a persona that the public and media don’t dislike (yet).

Some of those candidates, like Mr. Ryan, can probably offer a richer intellectual defense of conservatism, or can claim to have been better vetted. Several others, like Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, have more executive experience.

None of that is going to matter down the line. Ryan was painted as a psycho when Mitt Romney picked him as his would-be-VP. And Jindal’s approval rating has been taking a nose-dive for the past three years, even in his home state.

This isn’t about who has the brightest ideas or who can communicate them clearest or with integrity. Winning the presidential election is largely about viral marketing. President Obama used that to his advantage, and it’s safe to say that Democrats will be employing (and improving upon) his methods for years to come. If the Republicans continue to support unmarketable candidates, they shouldn’t be surprised at all when they continue to lose.

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Obama Offers Very Long Path to Citizenship, Penn State’s Bribes for Prohibitionist Purposes, Drone Strikes Jump in Afghanistan: P.M. Links

  • Still less trouble than trying to become an AmericanCredit: New Line CinemaThe path to citizenship on President Barack Obama’s leaked immigration plan is a long and winding road that will take 13 years to travel.
  • In an eye-rolling display of paternalism, taverns and restaurant owners near Penn State have been bribed $5,000 each not to serve alcohol during a college event on Feb. 23. I’d take that money, rent a beer truck, and give the beer away for free.
  • Economist Armen Alchian, who used the concept of property rights to explore economic interactions and wrote a college textbook, has died at the age of 98.
  • South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius claims he thought his girlfriend was an intruder when he shot her. He is facing murder charges in her death.
  • The number of drone strikes in Afghanistan jumped 72 percent in 2012. At least 16 civilians were killed. Drone use is expected to increase in the country as troops come home.
  • Now that she’s no longer running the State Department, Hillary Clinton can join the paid-speaker gravy train. Her husband, Bill (remember him?), gets $290,000 per speech.

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

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Peter Suderman on the Democrats' Flawed and Contradictory Approach to Spending

credit: Talk Radio News Service / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAcredit: Talk Radio News Service / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAIt has been grimly amusing over the last few weeks to watch senior Democrats try to decide what kind of spending problem, if any, we actually have—as well as what, if anything, they might be willing to do about it. 

At the beginning of the year, President Obama reportedly told GOP House Speaker John Boehner that we don’t have a spending problem. Instead, he said, we have a health care spending problem. Last week, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was even more dismissive.  “It is almost a false argument to say that we have a spending problem,” she said. “We have a budget deficit problem.” A day later, White House press secretary Jay Carney offered a sort of clarification, or at least an update: “Of course, the president believes that we have a spending problem,” he said at a White House briefing. And that problem, Carney said, is “specifically driven by” health care spending.

Each of these professional Democrats is working from the same talking point playbook, writes Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman. But they’re not all telling quite the same story.

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US Provides Drones to Speech-Suppressing United Arab Emirates

The skies have ears in UAECredit: General Atomics AeronauticsFor those who might wonder why Americans fear domestic drones might be used to spy on them, look at who we’re selling surveillance drones to. Courtesy of Quartz:

At a weapons bazaar in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 18, defense officials for the United Arab Emirates announced the purchase of $1.4 billion in American military hardware, including $197 million in drones built by General Atomics Aeronautics, which supplies the US military with its Predator and Reaper drones.

While armed forces in the United Kingdom and Italy have purchased and fielded drones that include mounting points for missiles, the aircraft GAA will sell to the UAE will be only be capable of “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.” The UAE’s air force will have a good view—but not a view to a kill.

Writer Tim Fernholz makes brief mention of UAE’s human rights record, saying the nation has “pushed back against pro-democracy demonstrators.”

Human Rights Watch has a bit more detail in their report for the nation for 2012:

The UAE intensified its campaign to silence critics of its ruling elite. Authorities detained 61 human rights defenders and civil society activists without charge on the pretext that they aimed to harm national security. The authorities detained two prominent human rights lawyers, Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed al-Mansoori, and arrested, deported and intimidated foreign lawyers employed by the UAE law firm that offered legal assistance to the detainees. 

The report goes on to talk about issues of torture and the treatment of migrant labor and women. It concludes:

Key allies such as the United States and the United Kingdom have refrained from publicly criticizing the UAE’s crackdown on freedom of expression and repression of civil society, although US officials say that they have raised these issues privately. In 2012, the US signed a $3.48 billion dollar deal with the UAE to provide a missile defence system. In June, “industry sources” in Abu Dhabi cited criticism of the UAE in the UK press as one factor in a decision not to invite British oil company BP to tender for 2014 oil concessions.

In December, a British woman in Dubai went to police because she had allegedly been gang-raped by three men. They responded by arresting her for drinking alcohol without a license.

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ObamaCare-Friendly States Prepare For Health Insurance “Rate Shock”

Photo credit: SEIU International / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAPhoto credit: SEIU International / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAThe L.A. Times warns that even in states where politicians have enthusiastically embraced President Obama’s health care law, many officials — especially the young — are bracing for unexpectedly high health insurance premiums when the law’s major coverage provisions kick in next year:

Exactly how high the premiums may go won't be known until later this year. But already, officials in states that support the law have sounded warnings that some people — mostly those who are young and do not receive coverage through their work — may see considerably higher prices than expected.

That is because of new requirements in the law aimed at making insurance more comprehensive and more affordable for older, sicker consumers.

Insurance regulators in California, which has enthusiastically embraced the law, cautioned the Obama administration in a recent letter about "rate and market disruption."

Oregon's insurance commissioner, another supporter of the law, said new regulations could push up premiums for young customers by as much as 30% next year. He urged administration officials to slow enactment of the new rules.

A leading advocate for consumers in their 20s, Young Invincibles, sounded a similar caution, suggesting in a letter to administration officials that additional steps may be needed to protect young people from rising premiums. Young Invincibles mobilized in 2010 to help pass the healthcare law.

It is interesting to see state officials continue to support the law despite clearly acknowledging that it will raise some premiums and disrupt insurance markets. This suggests that Democrats, who sold the law on promises that it would lower health costs (or at least hold them in check) and allow individuals to keep plans and providers they already liked, are not actually all that concerned about those effects.  

Still, it’s not surprising considering how the law was designed. Higher premiums for many are baked into the law for a variety of reasons, including community rating rules that effectively force the young and healthy to subsidize the old and sick, coverage mandates that add to the cost of individual market policies, accounting requirements that incentivize insurers to charge higher up front premiums, a multibillion dollar new annual tax on health insurance that the Congressional Budget Office warned would be mostly be passed on to consumers.

The law’s supporters sometimes try to shrug off the hikes by noting that consumers will be paying more, but also getting more in return thanks to the coverage mandates and other regulations. No doubt some consumers will appreciate having more robust coverage. But others almost certainly won’t. ObamaCare offers the latter group very little. It institutionalizes a preference for more expansive, more expensive coverage. And many of those who don’t share that preference are going to have pay for it anyway. 

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41 Billion Reasons Not to Sweat the Sequester: 2013 Cuts Are $44 Billion, Not $85 Billion.

courtesy John B. Taylorcourtesy John B. Taylor

Note: Taylor's website has changed since the original posting of this piece. His work is now available online here.

Economist John B. Taylor charts what sequestration will look like when it comes to federal spending levels. The short version: A lot like federal spending levels absent sequestration, which is widely reported as reducing outlays in FY2013 by about $85 billion or so.

The first thing to note is that the $85 billion figure that gets bandied about overstates this year's cuts due to sequestration by about $40 billion. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in its February 2013 report on the budget outlook, "Discretionary outlays will drop by $35 billion and mandatory spending will be reduced by $9 billion this year as a direct result of those procedures [sequestration]; additional reductions in outlays attributable to the cuts in 2013 funding will occur in later years."

You got that? When President Obama scaremongers about national parks closing and TSA lines getting longer - and when Republicans bitch and moan about the military having to set up bake sales to buy bombers - they are already misstating basic facts. The sequester will slice $44 billion off this year's budget, not $85 billion.

CBO figures that total spending in FY2013 will come to around $3.55 trillion (see table 1-1), or roughly the same as FY2012, when it came to $3.53 trillion. In 2014, assuming the sequester happens, CBO figures total spending will be $3.6 trillion before it jacks up considerably to $3.8 trillion in 2015 and then up to over $4 trillion in 2016. As Taylor's chart (above, right) shows, this isn't that very much different at all than what would happen absent sequestration. Taylor favors keeping the sequester but add the sensible proviso that the president and the Congress should allow all affected agencies to the flexibility "to adjust their budgets within the overall sequester totals." That blunts the criticism that the sequestration is itself too blunt an instrument.

courtesy John B. Taylorcourtesy John B. TaylorYou'll note in Taylor's chart a line marked "pro-growth reform," which is substantially lower than the the CBO baseline or spending "without sequester." Taylor explains that's the amount of spending that would happen if the government pursuied a "fiscal consolidation strategy" that reduced the debt-to-GDP ratio in a way that would return spending as a share of the economy to pre-crisis levels. In work done with John Cogan, Volker Wieland, Tobias Cwik, Taylor simulates the effects of cutting spending on the larger economy and finds that

The positive short run economic effects occur even in the model with price and wage rigidities for several reasons including that the lower spending (as a share of GDP) can reduce expected tax rates and raise permanent after-tax income compared to what would be expected under current policy. This stimulates consumption. The gradual nature of the government spending reduction, which allows time for private spending to adjust, avoids the negative aggregate demand effects that traditional Keynesian models emphasize. 

How does cutting government spending spur consumption and growth? After all, if we count most government spending in GDP, significant cuts to government spending will by definition shrink the economy, right? Taylor notes the incremental but believable cuts in spending signal to businesses and consumers that massive tax hikes or truly disruptive reductions in spending are less likely to happen. As a result, economic activity proceeds. An added bonus is that misallocated resources - more likely via government spending than by private actors - get freed up as well. 

That gap on the right-hand side of the chart (Figure 1, above right) between "Baseline" and "Fiscal Consolidation Strategy" is essentially another way of marking the huge price exacted on future economic growth by high levels of government spending and debt. As Veronique de Rugy and I have noted in various articles (like this one and this one), research by Carmen Reinhart, Vincent Reinhart, and Kenneth Rogoff argues that maintaining levels of gross debt greater than 90 percent of GDP for five years at a time reduces future economic growth by as much as 1 percentage point a year for 20-plus years. We've been in such a "debt overhang" situation since 2008 and the cumulative effect over the coming years will likely be substantial. In the chart to the right, the blue line represents expected economic growth when gross debt is lower than 90 percent of GDP and the red line shows reduced growth due to debt overhang.

Who exactly is up for having 24 percent less stuff in, say, 2036? Start building it into your retirement plans, because that's where we're heading if spending and debt patterns keep going the way they're headed. As the CBO illustrates it, there's really no scenario under current trends in which revenue catches up to spending.