Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 February 22-31

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Watch Matt Welch, Veronique de Rugy, and Kennedy on Stossel Tonight at 9 PM ET!

Tune into Fox Business Network RIGHT THE HELL NOW and you will see a terrific episode on the "Debt Bomb" featuring all of the above, plus Greg Gutfeld, economist David Henderson, and more!

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Bicycle Helmet Laws: Good At Keeping Kids Off Bikes

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research by Pinka Chatterji and Sara Markowitz indicates a way that bicycle helmet laws may be creating less bicycle-related head injuries: discouraging getting on the bike in the first place. From the summary:

In recent years, many states and localities have enacted bicycle helmet laws. We examine direct and indirect effects of these laws on injuries. Using hospital-level panel data and triple difference models, we find helmet laws are associated with reductions in bicycle-related head injuries among children. However, laws also are associated with decreases in non-head cycling injuries, as well as increases in head injuries from other wheeled sports. Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.

Read Nick Gillespie's Reason classic on the pathologies of "Child-Proofing the World."

Helmet tip for study pointer: Jonathan Grubb.

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The Canadian Supreme Court Explains Why Expressions of Intolerance Are Intolerable

Philippe Landreville/Supreme Court of CanadaPhilippe Landreville/Supreme Court of CanadaThe First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." That seemingly categorical language has been interpreted over the years to allow restrictions on various questionable categories of speech, including obscenity, "fighting words," and even "electioneering communications." All things considered, however, it has been an amazingly robust protection against attempts to censor or punish the expression of controversial opinions. To fully appreciate how effective the First Amendment has been, it helps to consider not only horrible tyrannies that routinely try to control what people think and say but also liberal democracies that pay lip service to freedom of speech yet often sacrifice it on the altar of competing values. Canada, for instance.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms supposedly guarantees "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication." But the section on "fundamental freedoms" is preceded by one that adds, in essence, "void when prohibited by law." Section 1 declares that "the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." Section 1 explains how it was possible for the Supreme Court of Canada to rule yesterday (unanimously!) that punishing a man for expressing disapproval of homosexuality is perfectly consistent with freedom of expression...subject to "reasonable limits."

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Obama Administration Sends Letter Opposing Prop. 8 (As Does Everybody Else)

The Obama Administration today decided that recognition of gay marriage in California is a federal issue after all. As the deadline approached for friendly parties to send amicus briefs, the Justice Department decided that it will weigh in and ask for Proposition 8 (which bans legal recognition of gay marriages in the state) to be struck down.

NBC News got the confirmation earlier today:

Administration officials say the Justice Department will urge the U.S. Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage to resume in California, wading into the protracted legal battle over Proposition 8 and giving gay-rights advocates a new court ally.

After first suggesting it would not get involved, the Obama administration will file a friend-of-the-court brief late today in support of the two gay couples who launched the fight over the issue four years ago, the officials said. Today is the last day for filing briefs in support of the couples' position.

The administration last year signaled it might stay on the sidelines. In May, when President Obama first said that "same-sex couples should be able to get married," he added that it was not a matter for the federal government.

A veritable flood of amicus briefs poured forth today. Of libertarian interest, the Cato Institute joined up with the Constitutional Accountability Center to file a joint brief, as has libertarian-leaning NFL punter Chris Kluwe with same-sex marriage activist and Balitmore Raven Brendan Ayanbadejo, and more than 200 companies.

Follow this story and more at Reason 24/7.

If you have a story that would be of interest to Reason's readers please let us know by emailing the 24/7 crew at 24_7@reason.com, or tweet us stories at @reason247.

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U.K. Doesn't Assassinate Its Citizens — It Strips Their Passports First

Monty Python tortureMonty PythonIn the United States, at least a few of us are a little curious about the Obama administration's claim of a right to assassinate people overseas — American citizens included — on its unproven claims that they're terrorists. I mean, who doesn't want an unchecked power to randomly snuff folks based on our own say-so that they're up to no good? But, as a matter of policy, there are a few downsides. Fortunately for our friends across the Atlantic, the government of the United Kingdom does not open its own citizens up to assassination based on politicians' allegations. No, as noted at Reason 24/7, the British government quietly strips accused terrorists of their citizenship first, and only then assassinates them. Or shoves red-pokers up their whatnots.

Reports The Independent:

The Government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – with two of the men subsequently killed by American drone attacks.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.

Critics of the programme warn that it allows ministers to “wash their hands” of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or “rendered” without any onus on the British Government to intervene.

Note that these aren't British "citizens" created by some legal loophole. "At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years."

No violators of the rights of Englishmen, are Britain's leaders. They're careful to un-English 'em, first.

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Efforts to Audit the Fed Gain Grassroots Support in Missouri

The St. Charles County Council in Missouri has approved a measure supporting an audit of the Federal Reserve. St. Charles is about half an hour away from the St. Louis Fed. The St. Louis Fed, like all other branches, is responsible for keeping a close eye on commercial banks in their districts and step in when those banks are unable to accommodate the needs of their customers.

Audit the FedCredit:r0b0r0b / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAPaul Curtman, a Republican from the 150th district in Pacific, Mo., has reintroduced HCR 9, a resolution to encourage Missouri’s Congressional Delegation to back the Federal Reserve Transparency Act. Curtman first introduced the legislation back in 2009 and since then has spoken at End The Fed rallies and sought support from the Audit the Fed Coalition.

Curtman has also found support among St. Charles County Council members who point to their local governments as an example. Reporter Michael R. Smith wrote that Council member Joe Brazil sponsored the resolution. He said that the county government undergoes financial audits and he believes the national bank should, also. He told Newsmagazine Network: "We audit every department...We do our due diligence. It’s our obligation to the taxpayer. This makes complete sense of me." 

An audit of the Fed seems unlikely given Congress’ current preoccupation and continued unwillingness recognize the risks associated with centralized currency. However, the Coalition offers a long list of Congressmen whom have co-sponsored bills in both the House and Senate.

The focus of the Coalition is two-fold: The first is to gather support for HR 459 (formerly HR 1207) & S 202, bills that require the comptroller general to conduct the audit and submit a detailed description of findings, conclusions and policy recommendations to Congress within 90 days of completing the audit. The second is to provide support to people, like Curtman, who are looking for help pushing the cause at local level. 

HCR 9 has been assigned to the Committee on Financial Institutions and has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

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Millions Losing Health Insurance Because of Obamacare, Bitcoin Doubles in Value, Round Trip to Mars Envisioned: P.M. Links

  • looks good on paperInspiration Mars FoundationMillions of people are losing their healthcare coverage due to Obamacare, according to the Heritage Foundation. The chocolate ration’s been increased.
  • It’s not just Bob Woodward; the White House has a history of throwing tantrums and threatening reporters.
  • Bradley Manning pled guilty to ten charges related to illegally obtaining classified government secrets as a private first class, and not guilty to twelve of the more serious charges, including espionage.
  • Bitcoin has doubled in value against the dollar over the last two months.
  • The government of the UK strips people of their citizenship before they’re targeted by American drones.
  • At least 23 people, including 3 police officers, are dead after violent clashes rocked Bangladesh over an Islamist leader being sentenced to death for charges including murder, torture and rape stemming from his actions in the country’s 1971 war of independence.
  • The reign of Pope Benedict XVI ended earlier today.
  • Dennis Tito, the world’s first space tourist, wants to send an elderly older couple on an all expenses paid (hopefully round) trip to Mars.

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The Most Openly and Transparently Thin-Skinned Administration in History

White House Flickr FeedWhite House Flickr FeedLast night, as Beltway types and political bloggers wondered which White House staffer had screamed at reporter Bob Woodward and then sent him an email telling him he'd "regret" challenging Obama's sequestration narrative, I started tallying all the stories I'd heard about this administration overreacting to journalists and gadflies doing their jobs. 

My first thought was of Valerie Jarrett, who the New York Times desribed in a September profile as having "a tendency to take political criticism personally, 'even when it would be more useful not to.'" In that same profile, the Times reported that Jarrett had attacked ACLU President Anthony Romero for criticizing this administration's atrocious handling of the War on Terror. "Great harm has been done," Jarrett wrote to Romero. "There has been a material breach of trust.” The Times also dug up this anecdote: After Cornel West called Obama the “black mascot of Wall Street,” Jarrett, in a creepy echo of the Bush years, called him "un-American." 

But as economic advisor Gene Sperling demonstrated by haranguing Woodward, it's not just Jarrett. This administration is obsessed with image management. Sometimes the focus on the president being portrayed a certain way results in cuddly stuff--Barack Obama slow-jamming the news, Michelle Obama doing the Dougie--and sometimes it results in the White House acting petulant, bizarre, and gross.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: U.S. Wages Have Yet To Recover from Recession

Good times are just around the corner, right? Well, maybe around the next corner. Jobs seem to be trickling back, however weakly. But wages are still below their pre-recession peak in 2007. Job losses may have been so deep that they weakened employee bargaining power, especially as demand for labor remains weak. But an Obamacare-induced shift to part-time work also seems to be killing take-home pay.

From Investors Business Daily:

As bad as the current job recovery has been — and it's by far the weakest since World War II — the recovery in wages has been far worse.

Five years after the recession began in December 2007, total wages in the economy have yet to fully recover in real terms, Commerce Department data show. In other words, the wage recession continues.

By comparison, the longest previous post-war wage recession, which began with the 2001 downturn, was over in 2-1/2 years, even though that jobs recession lasted four years.

Follow this story and more at Reason 24/7.

If you have a story that would be of interest to Reason's readers please let us know by emailing the 24/7 crew at 24_7@reason.com, or tweet us stories at @reason247.

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'Assault Weapon' Banners Still Can't Say What an 'Assault Weapon' Is

Testimony of William BeggTestimony of William BeggSen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was not happy with the gun control hearing that the Senate Judiciary Committee held on January 30, where two witnesses spoke in favor of her proposed "assault weapon" ban and three spoke against it. So she arranged another hearing before the same committee, which was held yesterday. It featured five witnesses who support her bill and three who oppose it, so Feinstein is now ahead by one witness. But critics of her legislation made up for their numerical disadvantage with substance. When you read the testimony of the two sides, the clearest difference is that opponents of the Feinstein bill, S. 150, know what they are talking about, while its supporters don't. 

The most sophisticated pro-ban testimony yesterday came from John Walsh, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, who concedes that the 1994 ban on "assault weapons," which was also sponsored by Feinstein and expired in 2004, "resulted in certain manufacturers producing and selling firearms of equivalent functionality and lethality." That was possible because the law's definition of "assault weapon" hinged on functionally insignificant features such as barrel shrouds and bayonet mounts. Walsh claims "current proposals under consideration substantially address the gaps in the 1994 statute," but he does not explain how. The new, supposedly improved "assault weapon" ban features a longer list of firearms that are banned by name; an appendix, comprising most of the bill, listing 2,258 models that are explicitly not banned; and a somewhat different list of forbidden features that still have very little to do with a gun's usefulness to mass murderers or other criminals. Walsh says "the key features of these weapons are the ability to fire at high velocities and to accept high-capacity magazines." Yet Feinstein's bill says nothing about muzzle velocity and exempts many guns that accept high-capacity magazines.

Even more egregiously misleading was the testimony of William Begg, a Connecticut emergency room physician who emphasized the difference between .22-caliber handgun rounds and .223-caliber rifle rounds like those used in the Sandy Hook massacre. Above is a picture Begg included in his testimony, which according to The New York Times also featured "a video of two bullets being fired into beige, gelatinous material resembling flesh." As the Times describes it, "One was from a handgun, the other from an AR-15, a popular style of assault rifle. The footage revealed far more tearing and damage from the AR-15."

At the risk of stating the obvious, it should be noted that .22-caliber weapons can be used to kill innocent people; a Walther P22 was one of the two guns (along with a Glock 19) used to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, which was the second biggest massacre at a school in U.S. history. (The biggest one invoved explosives.) Still, Begg is right that, other things being equal, a larger projectile does more damage. But Feinstein's definition of "assault weapon" has nothing to do with caliber. It is simply wrong to suggest that the guns she wants to ban are distinguished from the guns she exempts based on the kind of ammunition they fire.

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Pension Reform Battles Get Underway in Illinois (UPDATED)

Stock art? No, this is actually how much Illinois has contributed to its employee pension funds.Credit: Andre Blais at Dreamstime.comWith Illinois’ new supermajority Democratic state legislature seated, it’s time for the state to try to face its massive public pension time bomb, widely argued to be one of the worst in the nation (worse than California’s even).

Today, the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank trying to encourage pension reform in their state (not unlike how the non-profit Reason Foundation, which publishes this site and Reason Magazine, is trying to encourage the same in California), held a presser to promote their own solutions (pdf). Their plan has been introduced as HB3303, sponsored by Assembly Rep. Tom Morrison (R-54), and would work to close the gap in funding for existing public employee pensions, level out pension payments, and – the biggie – push new hires into 401(k)-style plans rather than pensions.

Theirs is not the only plan. Another bill with bipartisan support would create a hybrid program for some employees, making a system of both defined benefits (pensions) and defined contributions (401(k)s). Reuters reports that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is trying to push some reforms of his own, increasing the retirement age for public employees, freezing cost of living increases, and requiring employees to contribute more to their own pensions.

But the big question is whether any public pension reform can happen in a state with such powerful unions. I spoke briefly with Jonathan Ingram, the Illinois Policy Institute’s director of pension reform, and they’re hoping heavily Democratic Rhode Island’s shift to hybrid retirement funds for new hires is a sign that change is possible.

“I think the day of reckoning is very close on the horizon,” Ingram said. “They’re realizing they have to cut education and public safety because pensions are crowding out the money.” A temporary income tax hike meant to help the state pay bills was instead used to pay pensions (and at least one Illinois Democrat wants to make the hike permanent for that very reason).

California has shown that if the state legislature is too beholden to unions to fix the problem, voters can force it with ballot initiatives, as they did last year in San Diego and San Jose. Ingram said Illinois’ ballot initiative system, though, is much weaker. Citizens there are more dependent on politicians facing down union interests. So, good luck with that!

UPDATE: The Illinois House utterly rejected Madigan's proposals.

Below, Reason Foundation Director of Policy Adrian Moore chats with former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio in our Reason office in Los Angeles about pushing pension reform in California:

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Piracy Not Really Hurting Game of Thrones, Most Pirated TV Show of 2012, Says Director

some people started watching because of this memeHBO/the internetsThe HBO show Game of Thrones was the most pirated television show of 2012, according to TorrentFreak, which explains most of the downloads (up to 4.28 million per episode) happened overseas, where access to the premium cable channel and the show is limited. By TorrentFreak’s account, the show is a particularly popular download in Australia. The subject came up in a panel down under featuring the show’s director. Via the Sydney Morning Herald:

Panel mediator Rosemary Neill noted Game of Thrones was the most pirated show of 2012 and that 10 per cent of the downloads came from Australia.

But [the director David] Petrarca shrugged and said the illegal downloads did not matter because such shows thrived on "cultural buzz" and capitalised on the social commentary they generated.

"That's how they survive," he told the crowd gathered at the University of Western Australia.

Network executives don’t share the sentiment. Piracy of television shows is apparently growing faster than music and even movies, and some executives are looking to mimic the campaign waged against piracy over the last decade by the record industry. But despite the RIAA’s contention otherwise, illegal downloads can actually fuel sales. One 2009 study showed people who downloaded music for free (legally or otherwise) were ten times more likely to pay for music and another study showed albums leaked online before their release enjoyed a (minor) sales benefit from that extra availability. Even the Wall Street Journal has explored the added value of piracy to the music business.

The creator of the long ago cancelled HBO show Carnivale, meanwhile, bemoaned the way copyright works in the television/film business. In an interview last week with the AV Club about how Carnivale would’ve finished (had HBO let him do something, anything, with the ideas to which they bought the copyright), Daniel Knauf explained:

But one of the things that makes me a little crazy about Hollywood is, they’re idiots when it comes to their contractual stuff. If I write a novel, it’s like Random House publishes the novel, copyrights it, but when you do business in Hollywood, they say, “Everything in this thing, in all forms, in all potential forms invented and uninvented…” The language is draconian! “…throughout the universe. We own everything in your head. We own everything.” And it’s like, “If you own everything, at least exploit those rights, please. Could you please exploit the rights? And if you’re not going to exploit the rights, can I at least have them back, so I can exploit them?” It’s just a silly way of doing business. They do it because they can, and that’s all. 

Let’s say I take a new-project idea to Sony, and they give me that language. I go, “You know, this whole copyright-influential-property thing, I’m not so hot on that. I’ll take less money if I can retain the copyright or the ancillary rights,” they’d say, “Take a fucking hike.” If I go, “Well then, I’ll take a hike. I’m going to go to Warner Bros.” And Warner Bros. has the exact same contractual language. It’s basically an illegal trust. It’s like the mob. Artists are first to give up intellectual rights to do business with Hollywood. But they’re not rights you give up in any other medium. It’s BS. 

Check out Reason TV’s Q&A with Jerry Brito on why copyright law is so Mickey Mouse in the first place:

h/t Mark Sletten

Video: Ron Paul Banned from DC! Roommates Banned in NY! (Nanny of the Month, Feb '13)

"Ron Paul Banned from DC! Roommates Banned in NY! (Nanny of the Month, Feb '13)" is the latest offering from Reason TV.

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

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Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell on Obama’s Lopsided Education Policy

Credit: Whitehouse.govCredit: Whitehouse.govPresident Obama has repeatedly promised to use an “evidence-based approach” for social policy—and when it comes to education, he has been true to his word: He has systematically promoted programs such as universal pre-school with little evidence of success and panned ones such as school vouchers with lots.

In his recent State of the Union address, the president—not for the first time—hectored Congress to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.” “Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,” he insisted. Actually, write Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell, “study after study” has shown the exact opposite—that publicly funded preschool programs make no lasting difference in a child’s life.

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White House Senior Official Blasts Top Editor for 'Spreading Bullshit' [UPDATED]

Lighten up, Francis! ||| Pete Souza, Whitehouse.govPete Souza, Whitehouse.govThe kerfuffle over Bob Woodward's spat with White House economics adviser Gene Sperling had already reached the meta-meta-meta stage by last night, but there is an underlying issue of interest here beyond the important original Woodward claim that the sequester originated with President Barack Obama no matter what Obama has said to the contrary. And that is, "threat" or no threat, this administration does seem particularly thin-skinned and badgery when it comes to reporters who criticize POTUS.

On that latter point, National Journal Editorial Director Ron Fournier has a new piece out detailing his fallout with a "senior White House official." Excerpt:

On Saturday, White House press secretary Jay Carney accused Woodward of being "willfully wrong" on a story holding the White House accountable for its part in a legislative gimmick called sequestration. [...]

I was struck by the fact that Carney's target has a particular history with White House attacks. I tweeted: "Obama White House: Woodward is 'willfully wrong.' Huh-what did Nixon White House have to say about Woodward?" [...]

[A senior White House] official angered by my Woodward tweet sent me an indignant e-mail. "What's next, a Nazi analogy?" the official wrote, chastising me for spreading "bull**** like that" I was not offended by the note, mild in comparison to past exchanges with this official. But it was the last straw in a relationship that had deteriorated.

As editor-in-chief of National Journal, I received several e-mails and telephone calls from this White House official filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase that Woodward called a veiled threat. "You will regret staking out that claim," The Washington Post reporter was told.

Once I moved back to daily reporting this year, the badgering intensified. I wrote Saturday night, asking the official to stop e-mailing me. The official wrote, challenging Woodward and my tweet. "Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron[.]"

Fournier, incredulous at "how thin-skinned and close-minded [Obama's] staff can be to criticism," characterizes this as "behavior that might intimidate less-experienced reporters, a reaction I personally witnessed in journalists covering the Obama administration."

Which are good things to keep in mind when reading output from the White House press corps.

UPDATE: I was wondering why former Clinton White House aide Lanny Davis was getting the pack-attack treatment on Twitter today; well, here's why:

Davis told WMAL that his editor, John Solomon, "received a phone call from a senior Obama White House official who didn't like some of my columns, even though I'm a supporter of Obama. I couldn't imagine why this call was made."  Davis says the Obama aide told Solomon, "that if he continued to run my columns, he would lose, or his reporters would lose their White House credentials." [...]

"He didn't take it seriously, because he didn't think that could ever happen.  He thought it was bluster," Davis told WMAL. "I called three senior people at the White House, and I said, 'I want this person to be told this can never happen again, and it's inappropriate.'  I got a call back from someone who was in the White House saying it will never happen again."

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Hawaiian Police: Officer Disciplinary Records Are Not Public Records

In 1995, Hawaii’s police union produced the video below to depict the harsh and frightening reality of a world where disciplinary records are not secret. It’s a world where the media reports on salacious allegations of misconduct but scrupulously fails to do any investigating. Falsely accused cops are afraid to do their jobs properly—even after they’ve been exonerated. Their children get beaten up in school.

The Honolulu Civil Beat dug up the video and released it this week as part of a massive investigation into the culture of secrecy at the Honolulu Police Department and the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.

Some highlights:

On March 29, 1994, nearly 500 police officers staged a show of force at the state courthouse in downtown Honolulu the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the islands before or since.

The huge demonstration was meant to intimidate a handful of University of Hawaii journalism students who wanted to know the names of Honolulu police officers who had been suspended or discharged for misconduct.

…Not only were the students already entitled to the information under the state’s public records law, but a Circuit Court judge and the Hawaii Supreme Court would later rule that the public has a "fundamental" right to know that police power is being kept in check.

The police prevailed, though, after legislators changed the law, shielding police from open records requirements. That’s kept situations like this out of the public eye:

In 1997, Honolulu police officer Russell Won went to federal prison for his involvement in beating an inmate at the Pearl City police station.

A year later, he was back in Honolulu—and back in police work. The federal prison sentence didn’t cause the Honolulu Police Department to fire him. Instead, he was put on leave without pay while he did his time.

When his sentence was over he was assigned to train new recruits at the academy.

Read the whole thing. Registration required (free and quick).

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Let Us Now Praise John Kerry: "In America you have a right to be stupid"

USAUSAI suspect that this may be about the only time I will ever agree with newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry, so I would like to underscore of the awesomeness of his recent comments to a bunch of German students in Berlin. Relevant snippets (rearranged by me), courtesy of Reuters:

"In America you have a right to be stupid - if you want to be," he said, prompting laughter. "And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be."

"As a country, as a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance, whatever the religion, and political freedom and political tolerance, whatever the point of view," Kerry told the students in Berlin, the second stop on his inaugural trip as secretary of state.

"People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it's the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another," he added...."The reason is, that's freedom, freedom of speech. 

"And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that. Now, I think that's a virtue. I think that's something worth fighting for," he added. "The important thing is to have the tolerance to say, you know, you can have a different point of view."

GTAGTAMore here.

Kerry's comments represent a reversal of sorts of comments uttered by his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama in the wake of the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi. At that point, both Secretary Clinton and th president went out of their way to denounce freedom of expression and to lay the blame for violence on speech acts rather than, well, violent people. Indeed, as my colleague Matt Welch pointed out, Obama effectively called for a heckler's veto of any and all speech critical of Islam, Muhammad, or whatever. The father of one of the Americans murdered in Benghazi has charged that Clinton told him, "We’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video" ["The Innocence of Muslims"].

For the length of her public career, Clinton has rarely missed an opportunity to inveigh against the supposedly dangerous effects of video games and movies and the like on the real world. Her silliness on that score reached hyperbolic heights back in 2005 when the then-Sen. Clinton said, "Grand Theft Auto...encourages them [children] to have sex with prostitutes and then murder them."

Kerry is hardly a staunch defender of free expression - in the video below (around the 4.10 mark), he was all in during ridiculous 1997 hearings that led to the TV ratings system and the iplemenation of the V-chip - but here's hoping that as he continues his tenure as the nation's top diplomat that he reiterates the message he loosed recently.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: John Kerry Pledges $60 Million to Syrian Opposition Forces

sequester proofReason 24/7In the last few weeks, the White House has been engaged in a high-pitched fearmongering campaign over sequestration, one that went well beyond the facts. Sequester, according to the White House, could lead to slower emergency response, slashed healthcare, and people living in the street. One thing it won’t lead to? A less interventionist foreign policy. Money is no object for the heir to the Heinz fortune, and it’s no different in his new role as Secretary of State.

From the LA Times:  

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged an additional $60 million in aid to Syrian opposition forces Thursday, including food and medical support directly to armed rebels for the first time but turning aside their demand for weapons.

Kerry, on his first foreign trip as America's top diplomat, said that the extra assistance would help "the legitimate voice of the Syrian people," who have been trying in vain for nearly two years to topple President Bashir Assad. Kerry said Assad had "long ago lost his legitimacy...and must be out of power."

And we must not be broke yet. Small wonder most Americans aren’t worried about the sequester at all.

Follow these stories and more at Reason 24/7 and don't forget you can e-mail stories to us at 24_7@reason.com and tweet us at @reason247.

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Steve Chapman on Communism, Crime, and the Republican Eclipse

Five former presidentsCredit: Beverly & Pack / Foter.com / CC BYIf you're a football fan, you've seen it happen. A coach bursts into prominence by using offensive or defensive innovations to produce victory after victory, championship after championship. For a long time, he's regarded as one of the best. And then one day, he's not. As Steve Chapman points out, this phenomenon isn't just at play in football. It's also happening to the GOP. 

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How Sequestration and the Fiscal Cliff Went Missing in the 2012 Campaign

Glad we didn't have to talk about THAT! ||| Pete Souza, Whitehouse.govPete Souza, Whitehouse.govIs there anything worse than the political and journalistic discourse we've been hearing about tomorrow's sequester? Yes–it's the political and journalistic discourse we didn't hear about crucial fiscal issues during the interminable 2012 presidential election.

Consider the three 90-minute debates between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, in which more than 50,000 words were spoken (for perspective, Obama's State of the Union address this year clocked in at just over 6,400). With a deadline looming just seven weeks after the election, how many times did the candidates or interlocutors mention the looming "fiscal cliff"?

Zero.

OK, surely they mentioned the "debt ceiling," right?

Nope.

In fact, the word fiscal did not once pass through any participant's lips: Not the president who in 2010 said "we're facing an untenable fiscal situation," not the standard-bearer for the alleged party of limited government, not the newly emboldened, fact-checktastic press. Even long-term fiscal buzzkill Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) did not utter the F-word once during his debate with the equally reticent Vice President Joe Biden.

Sequestration may be all the rage this month, but it got mentioned in precisely one exchange during the presidential debates. Here it is:

Honey I'm laughing ALL the time! ||| Pete Souza, Whitehouse.govPete Souza, Whitehouse.govROMNEY: [...] We need to have as well a strong military. Our military is second to none in the world. We're blessed with terrific soldiers and extraordinary technology and intelligence. But the idea of a trillion dollars in cuts through sequestration and budget cuts to the military would change that. [...]

Our Navy is older — excuse me — our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285. We're headed down to the — to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.

Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We've changed for the first time since FDR. We — since FDR we had the — we've always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we're changing to one conflict.

Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the president of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people. And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is the combination of the budget cuts that the president has as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my view, is — is — is making our future less certain and less secure. I won't do it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bob, I just need to comment on this. First of all, the sequester is not something that I proposed. It's something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen. The budget that we're talking about is not reducing our military spending. It's maintaining it.

These aren't the droids you're looking for. |||So the press never asked one debate question about the sequester, Romney demagogued it (inaccurately) as a crippling hit to the military, and Obama lied about not proposing it (that is, if you believe the reporting of Bob Woodward), while predicting, wrongly, that it "will not happen." And the next day's headlines concerning this exchange had to do with Obama's follow-up joke: "you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets."

That pretty much sums up contemporary Washington, D.C.

In the July 2012 issue of Reason I pre-emptively declared the presidential campaign as "Stupid Season." After the election, I marveled at how "economic policy did not dominate the campaign season," and made this observation about the fiscal cliff:

Although this deadline of doom went all but unmentioned during the general election, it is the public policy issue going forward. Two days after the election, a banner headline on the front page of The New York Times proclaimed, "Back to Work: Obama Greeted by Looming Fiscal Crisis." It would have been nice if the candidates (or the press) had talked about this impending disaster during the previous two years.

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A.M. Links: Americans Unpanicked by Sequester, DOJ Compliments Its Own Transparency, Ticked-Off Entrepreneur Introduces Encrypted Email

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Greg Beato on How the Government Turned Comic Books Into Propaganda

Courtesty of University of Nebraska-LincolnCourtesty of University of Nebraska-LincolnComic books, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham argued in a 1953 Ladies Home Journal article that preceded his 1954 best-seller, Seduction of the Innocent, were instruction manuals for everything from shoplifting in department stores to tween lust-murder. “If one were to set out how to teach children to steal, rob, lie, cheat, assault, and break into candy stores, no more insistent method could be devised,” he wrote.

Over the next decade, as critics like Wertham ramped up their campaign against the increasingly popular medium of comic books, the U.S. government itself published dozens of comics, a practice it continues to engage in, even today. As Greg Beato observes, if there was any entity that believed in the power of comic books to indoctrinate and instruct as Wertham did, it was the U.S. government.

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CBO's Unrealistic Revenue Projections Make the Future Look Pretty Swell!

Mercatus.orgMercatus.orgTake a minute from sequester panic - it's just like Sophie's Choice, but with cheetahs! -  to think about an even more profound scam emanating from Washington, D.C.: the ridiculous revenue projections that politicians of both parties are banking on to forestall the sort of serious changes to government spending.

Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy puts the revenue projections from the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) budget update in historical perspective. The figures in the chart are adjusted for inflation using 2010 dollars. 

You'll note something funny about the blue bars: They never go down. If that happens, it will be the first time is post-World War II history that real federal revenues have had such a sustained rally.

Mercatus.orgMercatus.orgIf current law remains unchanged, the CBO estimates...tax collection is projected to double from its 2012 levels to reach $4,961 billion by 2023. This is overly optimistic.

In a companion chart, de Rugy maps the annual percent change in revenue from 1950 through 2023 (the last year covered by the CBO's report). Between 1950 and 2012, the average percent change in revenue was 3.3 percent. For the period between 2013 and 2023, using current law and various rosy scenarios provided by the government, the CBO expects average year-over-year percentage growth to be 4.5 percent.

Magical thinking - it's not just for Joan Didion anymore!

De Rugy's whole take here.

Her Reason archive here.

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Judge Andrew Napolitano on Obama's Sequestration Claims

Government moneyCredit: 401(K) 2013/Foter.comThe reductions the sequesters require are reductions in the rate of increased spending from those originally planned by Obama and authorized by Congress. Since the federal government has not had a budget in four years, even though federal law requires it to have one every year, these are planned expenditures, not budgetary items, on which the president wants to spend more money. Congress does not feel bound to obey the laws it has written; hence it has disregarded the legal requirement of a budget. Without a budget, the president has great leeway as to how to allocate funds within each department of the executive branch of the federal government.

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Brickbat: I Think That I Shall Never See

BaseballBacks / photo on flickrBaseballBacks / photo on flickrIn Washington, the Clyde Hill Board of Adjustment ordered Bruce and Linda Baker to remove a Chinese pine and a Colorado spruce from their yard. Former baseball player John Olerud had complained the trees ruined the view from his house. Even though the trees were there when Olerud moved in, the board ruled that his property would be more valuable if they were removed, so it ordered them cut down.

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The Night Planet Liberalism Turned on Bob Woodward

The dream is over. |||It has been a special night on Twitter for those of us who take a perverse interest in the way that ideologically aligned journalists and politicos will pack-attack critics of a sitting American president. Seems that Washington Post investigative-journalism legend Bob Woodward crossed a bridge too far when, in talking about reaction to his narrative-debunking Feb. 22 piece pinning the origination of the sequester directly on a White House that had vociferously denied paternity, has now gone on to dish on a "senior White House official" (later identified as White House Economic Council Director Gene Sperling) who "yelled at me for about a half hour" about the op-ed, and warned that "I think you will regret staking out that claim."

Sperling's "threat" (if you can call it that) ranks a bit low on the things-to-be-worried-about totem pole, and Woodward is hardly an infallible source (here's my 2006 column comparing him to Judith Miller), but the reaction tonight from the leftosphere has been something to behold. A sampling:

Josh Marshall, TPM:

Who goes birther first, Scalia or Woodward?

David Plouffe thinks you swing like Bob Woodward, Michael Jack! |||David Plouffe, recently of the White House:

Watching Woodward last 2 days is like imagining my idol Mike Schmidt facing live pitching again. Perfection gained once is rarely repeated.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation:

Smart @thenation interns & young folks have no idea who Woodward is but dc establishment freaked about his critique of WH & sequester.

Neera Tanden, Center for American Progress:

My amateur advice: stop cooperating with Woodward in the first place.

Jason Linkins, Huffington Post:

I think Woodward will find people will stop yelling at him the very minute he decides to stop sucking so much at his job.

Dan Froomkin, Center for Accountability Journalism:

Telling egotist Woodward "I think you will regret staking out that claim" isn't a threat; it's just not realistic.

Matthew Yglesias, Slate:

Woodward's managed to make me suspect Nixon got a raw deal.

My February cover piece: "'The Truth' Hurts: How the fact-checking press gives the president a pass."

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Bradley Manning Finally Goes to Court in June

He's been behind bars for over 1,000 days, and subjected to such humiliating conditions, including being stripped naked during his confinement, that a State Department spokesman denounced his treatment (and then subsequently resigned). Yes, we're talking about Bradley Manning, the sometimes celebrated, sometimes reviled, whistleblower, who will finally get his day in court.

From CNet:

Out of sight, out of mind -- that's the way it might seem when considering the plight of Bradley Manning, who has been held for more than 1,000 days without a trial. But the jailed Army private is getting close to having his day in court. On Tuesday, a military judge refused to dismiss charges against Manning, a former intelligence analyst, who could face a maximum life sentence in connection with charges that he aided the enemy.

Suspected of being the source for WikiLeaks' massive document release of military and State Department files, Manning is being held at a military jail in Quantico, Va., outside of Washington, D.C. Manning's court-martial is slated to go ahead in June.

The prosecution maintains that Manning turned over to Wikileaks hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports related to U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department diplomatic cables while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010. His defense team sought to get the charges against the 25-year-old Manning dropped, but military judge Col. Denise Lind denied their motion.

Follow this story and more at Reason 24/7.

If you have a story that would be of interest to Reason's readers please let us know by emailing the 24/7 crew at 24_7@reason.com, or tweet us stories at @reason247.

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Public Pension Managers Shine Some Sunlight on Crisis with Hawaiian Vacation

For heaven's sake, don't invest in their rail plan!Credit: Photoquest at Dreamstime.comWhen all is said and done, a crop of public pension fund managers spending a couple thousand to go to a conference in Hawaii is nothing compared to the hundreds of billions of unfunded liabilities facing several states. Still, it raises the hackles. Via California Watch:

When the head of one of the state’s largest independent pension funds received an invitation recently for his staff to attend a conference in Hawaii, his response lacked the aloha spirit.

“I don’t plan on approving anyone to attend this conference given its location. … Hawaii is just not the right message to send at this time,” William Raggio, interim general manager of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions, warned in an email to his staff.

But other pension plans couldn’t resist. Four of the state’s 24 largest independent municipal retirement systems intend to send up to five board members each, a survey by California Watch has found.

They include the city of Los Angeles, as well as Contra Costa, Los Angeles and San Diego counties – which are short a combined $17.5 billion to pay promised retiree pension benefits, according to figures provided by the plans.

The event is the National Conference of Public Employee Retirement Systems. According to California Watch, about 1,000 people involved in various public employee pension systems are expected to attend. They note that the conference seems to know the setting is sending a bad message:

The conference website supplies board members hoping to shore up support for their expenses-paid trip a “2013 Attendance Justification Tool Kit.” The site also includes “7 Tips for Building Your Case for Attending the Annual Conference,” which suggests that trustees emphasize how the conference could help them “build a networking list” and identify ways to help “save your fund money.”

Asked why pension officials needed a tool kit to rationalize their trip to Honolulu, Hank Kim, executive director and counsel for the trade association organizing the national conference, said, “In hindsight, maybe ‘justification’ wasn’t the best choice of words.”

Conference participants defended the trip the way everybody always defends these kinds of all-expenses-paid vacations—networking and learning from each other. Maybe they’ll have a seminar on not using politics to guide pension investment decisions. Probably not, though.

Let’s hope they don’t turn to the Hawaiian government for fiscal advice. As Reason TV’s Sharif Matar and Zach Weissmueller discovered recently, that place is a mess.

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Violent Fighting and Suicide Bombing Reported in Mali

Credit: Pan-African News Wire/flickrCredit: Pan-African News Wire/flickrAl Jazeera is reporting that French troops are engaged in what French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has described as “very violent fighting” in northern Mali. Having pushed Islamic militants out of the territory they captured before the intervention French forces are now fighting in the mountains of northeastern Mali, where Chadian soldiers suffered casualties last week. 

The news of violent fighting comes amid news that a suicide bomber, who is believed to have targeting Tuaregs in the town of Kidal, killed seven people. 

It is not surprising that the fighting in Mali is becoming increasingly brutal, nor is it surprising that Islamic militants are adopting guerilla tactics and adapting to some of the technology being used in the conflict. Last month I wrote about reports from the Associated Press and Stratfor, a global intelligence company, which pointed out that Islamic militants have been preparing for a fight in the mountains and that Islamic militants would be changing the way they fight allies of the Malian government.

The increased violence makes a French withdrawal more difficult. Le Drian has said that despite the cost of the intervention it is too soon for a hasty withdrawal. The French chief of the defense staff and the French foreign minister have both said that a withdrawal could begin next month. 

France could withdraw from Mali next month, but it is hard to see if Malian officials will be in a position to safely secure their own country by then, even with the assistance of other African troops. It would not look good for the French to leave Mali only for militants to return and reassert influence, which is a possibility were the French to leave too soon.

The future of the French intervention and the humanitarian situation in Mali will depend on how quickly and efficiently Islamic militants can be dislodged from their current positions, including the mountains near the Algerian border. If recent violence is any indication the French will almost certainly have to be prepared to stay a little longer than expected before political stability can be ensured. 

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Forget the $10,000 Bachelor's—Get an Associate's Degree

A graduating class of Storm TroopersCredit: JD Hancock / Foter.com / CC BYWhen President Obama recently pushed for legislation that he hopes will curb the relentless escalation of college costs by “rewarding colleges that keep tuition down and punishing those that do not,” he was met with an apt criticism:

But such an approach “does smack of price controls,” a technique the public might view as intrusive, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education in Washington.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) had another idea, and has been “call[ing] on institutions in his state to develop options for low-cost undergraduate degrees” since late 2011. The now-famous “$10,000 Bachelor’s Degree” challenge may have started in Texas, but it has already spread to Florida and at least one online university: Excelsior College.

Joseph Rallo, president of Angelo State University in Texas, said: “The profile that we aim the degree for is the adult student who is interested in a broad degree…” Excelsior’s Bachelor program is similarly wide open and relies heavily on independent study and a student’s prior credits from other schools.

Cheap access to career-changing degrees seems an admirable goal—especially when taxpayers aren’t asked to subsidize the endeavor.

But a cheap, generic Bachelor's may be a red herring. Liberal Arts degree holders suffer higher rates of unemployment than the national average (although Fox Business still seems pretty high on them), and the U.S. economy is lacking in recipients of degrees that are already cheaper than $10,000.

CNN reports:

Only 10% of American workers have the sub-baccalaureate degrees needed for middle-skills jobs, compared with 24% of Canadians and 19% of Japanese, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports.

It’s not as if an Associate’s degree damns students to a lifetime of low wages. In fact, surveys show that community college students who earn an Associate of Science degree tend to earn starting salaries of about $11,000 more per year than graduates of four-year programs. The gap closes if a student attends a private four-year university, but does the price-tag (in both time and money) justify the “reward”—and are companies likely to hold a $10,000 Bachelor's degree in high enough esteem to pay commensurate wages?

The April 2013 issue of Reason Magazine will feature a host of views on how to fix our falling college education system. Pick up a copy.

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Is 'Free' Marijuana in Exchange for 'Donations' Legal in Colorado?

Colorado Springs IndependentColorado Springs IndependentOn January 30, the Colorado Springs Independent ran a story about a local business that was testing the limits of Amendment 64, the Colorado ballot initiative that legalized marijuana for recreational use. Although state-licensed pot stores are not expected to open until next year, it is already legal under Amendment 64 for adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, grow up to six plants at home and keep all the marijuana they produce, and transfer up to an ounce to other people who are 21 or older, provided the transfer is "without remuneration." The business model for Billygoatgreen MMJ was based on the ambiguity of that last requirement. Ostensibly, Billygoatgreen—which, despite the reference to medical marijuana in its name, served anyone 21 or older, not just patients with doctor's recommendations—was not selling pot; rather, it was delivering pot for free while inviting the recipients to make "suggested donation[s] towards researching [marijuana] and improving our cultivation operation." The suggested donation for a quarter-ounce of Sour Kush, for instance, was $55. Asked whether such an operation could be legal, Colorado Springs Police Lt. Mark Comte, who works in the Metro Vice, Narcotics, and Intelligence Division, replied:

If I show up at your house with less than an ounce of marijuana, I'm 21, you're 21, and I say, "Hey dude, it cost me 50 bucks in gas to get over here," and you give me 50 bucks for my gas, there's nothing illegal. I mean, you and I both know what's going on with it, but they know what the loopholes are right now. 

Yet the day before that comment appeared, The Denver Post reports, "two undercover Colorado Springs detectives organized a marijuana purchase from Billygoatgreen as part of an investigation into the service" that resulted in the arrest of three men running it, who now face felony charges punishable by long prison terms. No fair, says one of those men, Pritchard Garrett, who tells the Post that Comte "green-lighted this delivery business" in the Independent article, which he says sent potential customers a clear message: "Hey, the cops said this wasn't illegal, so call them up." Comte stands by his comments, saying Billygoatgreen delivered more than an ounce at a time to the detectives: 1.6 ounces on the first occasion, 2.1 ounces on the second.

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Supreme Court Mulls Voting Rights Act, Wonder Bread Saved, Canada Upholds Hate-Speech Laws: P.M. Links

  • Look for the comeback tourSource: Wikimedia commonsToday the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether a handful of Southern states still need to get permission from the federal government to change election laws as mandated in the 1968 Voting Rights Act.
  • Wonder Bread (and the rest of Hostess’ bread brands) has been saved and will be sold off to Flowers Foods Inc. It turned out nobody else even wanted to bid on it.
  • You don’t have to be a drug cartel kingpin to be obscenely rich and corrupt in Mexico. You can also be the head of the nation’s powerful teachers union. She was arrested Tuesday on charges of embezzling about $160 million to fund her lavish lifestyle.
  • No, Japan will not stop whaling, environmental activists.
  • Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that the contents of anti-gay pamphlets constitute hate speech.
  • Universities are looking to expand the use of drones for research purposes.

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

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Matthew Feeney on How Obama and Neocons Seem Aligned in Pushing for Problematic Syrian Involvement

Credit: FreedomHouse2/flickrCredit: FreedomHouse2/flickrThe Washington Post has reported that the Obama administration is considering a change in policy towards Syria that could include arming some of President Basher Assad's opposition. The possibility has President Barack Obama siding with policymakers like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has been arguing for more direct American involvement in the Syrian conflict. Matthew Feeney argues that the U.S. administration's involvement in Syria would be only the latest example of Obama's expanding interventionist foreign policy. This intervention in Syria would not make American interests any safer, especially considering the growing influence of jihadist fighters in the conflict, the volatility of the region, and the involvement of Syria's neighbors and allies.

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Chris Christie Not Worried About Not Being Invited to CPAC: “It's not like I'm lacking for invitations to speak around the country”

besties?White HouseNew Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s become a sort of persona non grata among some conservative circles since appearing prominently with President Obama just days before last November’s election. A massive hurricane had just hit the state, and Christie, like other governors in the region, jockeyed for as much money from the feds as possible. Even the Romney camp pointed to Christie’s embrace of Obama in the final hours of the election campaign as a reason their man lost. For his part, Christie explained that Romney lost because he didn’t get enough votes.

Christie himself has been mentioned as a 2016 contender since at least year, and while his embrace of the president might be a handicap, it hasn’t stopped his supporters on the right completely. The conservative Fox News host Eric Bolling, in fact, touted Christie as the one who could lead Republicans to victory in 2016 on the same day Christie announced he’d expand Medicaid as encouraged by Obamacare.

Christie’s most recent punishment for not being faithfully anti-Obama was a non-invitation from CPAC. Christie’s response, via the Star-Ledger:

The Republican governor said he didn't notice the snub to next month's annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee because he gets hundreds of invitations to speak at events, both local and national.

"Listen, I wish then all the best. They're going to have their conference, they're going to have a bunch of people speaking there. That's their call... It's not like I'm lacking for invitations to speak around the country."

Christie then said he had more important things to worry about.

"I can't sweat the small stuff," he said. "I've got a state to rebuild."

Last year, Chris Christie worked an emphatic groan out of the audience at remarks made at the Cato Institute when he described the crowd as “committed conservatives.”

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Watch Reason’s Baylen Linnekin Talk Big Government and Big Food vs. Food Trucks, Foodies, and Markets

On Thursday February 28 at 12:00 PM, the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC will host a panel discussion on the topic of “Big Government and Big Food vs. Food Trucks, Foodies, and Markets.” Among the panelists are Reason food policy columnist and Keep Food Legal president Baylen Linnekin. Here is the official event description:

If you like your food local, organic, or from a truck, government regulation might be your biggest obstacle. American restaurants lobby to choke off food trucks, and federal regulation of food safety leads to more consolidation in the industry. Moreover, farmers markets struggle to survive under the heavy hand of government.

What if food safety regulation is not about limiting the germs in our dinner, but is rather about limiting competition in America’s food industry? What if federal and local rules actually protect incumbent businesses instead of consumers?

Join us for a panel discussion about food competition, regulation, and safety catered by the BBQ Bus food truck.

Panelists:
Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Law School Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation
Baylen J. Linnekin, Keep Food Legal
Doug Povich, Food Truck Association and Red Hook Lobster Pound

Moderator:
Timothy P. Carney, AEI

Click here for registration information and other details.

Glenn Beck Begs/Harangues Libertarians to Accept Him & Others Who Are 'trying to honestly learn'

Is this a libertarian diagram? ||| Wikimedia commonsWikimedia commonsAnn Coulter's libertarians-are-"pussies" remark provoked a lengthy, rambling, and very interesting response recently from broadcasting provocateur/entrepreneur Glenn Beck.

I recommend you listen to the whole 18 minutes, in which Beck, who has been identifying more and more with the "libertarian" label, complains bitterly about being subject to withering philisophical "litmus tests" by skeptical libertarians and Ron Paul supporters (some of whom he calls "more fascist than anyone in the Republican Party"), declares his full-throated support for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) as a presidential candidate ("Rand Paul is your best shot right now"), apologizes for originally being in favor of the PATRIOT Act and warantless wiretapping ("Boy, what a fool I was"), mentions that he's been having plenty of off-air conversations about libertarianism with Penn Jillette, and above all beseeches libertarians to take advantage of their historic opportunity to change the direction of the country. This excerpt captures the spirit:

The existence of this makes me immediately like Glenn Beck more. |||Libertarians, I'm begging you, please: See the opportunity you have with about thirty percent of this nation; maybe sixty percent of this nation. They will come your way. They live in that space. Until you go and say, 'There's no other way but this way!' No one wants to hear that. You don't want to hear that from the people in Washington in the Republican or Democratic Party. Don't give us another choice where it is all or nothing [...]

And recognize that we're not always perfect. Some of us are coming a little late to the game. And we apologize that we're not as smart as you are.

Some of this comes as a response to an open letter last month written by Mediate's Andrew Kirell entitled "Dear Glenn Beck, Please Don't Call Yourself a 'Libertarian,'" and also to Students for Liberty President Alexander McCobin's  recent statement that "If Glenn wants to call himself a libertarian, I am happy to accept him as one…on the condition…that he comes here to our community and proclaim 'mea culpa' for his past defenses of social and neo-conservatism." Kirell has responded to Beck's comments here; McCobin here. Excerpt from the latter:

the substantive point I was trying to make was apropos: for more than a decade, you worked very hard and very successfully at branding yourself as a key figure in conservatism, not just economic conservatism, but also social and neoconservatism. Not only are these not libertarian positions, but to associate libertarianism with them makes it that much harder to introduce libertarianism to more people, especially young people who are turned off by conservatism. After you spent over 10 years denouncing libertarianism, actively working against our causes, and building up a certain reputation for yourself directly opposed to our ideas, I think it's reasonable for me and other libertarians to be skeptical when you suddenly claim to be a libertarian. I really hope you have changed your views and that you are committed to libertarianism (your segment on Friday included more renunciations of your past conservative positions than I have ever heard from you, which I admire). However, it’s going to take more than new window dressing for me and many others to believe that you're a libertarian. Show us that you're libertarian through the positions you take beyond conservatism, the groups you support, the people you invite to your show, indeed, even just in the conversations you are willing to have.

Some links before I add my own two cents after the jump: Greg Beato on "Glenn Beck's Experimental Melodrama"; Michael C. Moynihan on his "reductionist view of history"; Tim Cavanaugh defends "the sense that he's bringing you his findings as fast as they come in," I attack his "ridiculous misreading" of George Soros, and Nick Gillespie reports for Reason.tv on what he saw at Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C.

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Rep. Justin Amash: Any Sequester Deal Must Cut at Least as Much Spending, with No Tax Hike

 

Yesterday, Reason TV sat down with Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the firebrand libertarian congressman whose dedication to reducing the size, scope, and spending has earned him the ire not just of Democratic rivals but of Republican colleagues. Indeed, Amash was bounced from committee postings by GOP higher-ups for his consistent opposition to anything that smacks of big government (go here for more info).

When it comes to the sequester, Amash tells Reason that any deal to avoid automatic spending cuts on March 1 should reduce federal spending by at least $85 billion and that under no circumstances should taxes be raised. Amash says that as far as he knows, there are no talks going on between GOP leadership and the president to avert the sequester.

This is part of a longer interview with the man considered the likely heir to retired Rep. Ron Paul's role as the most libertarian member of the House of Representatives. Check back soon for the full conversation.

About two minutes. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Meredith Bragg, Todd Krainin, and Amanda Winkler, who also edited the piece.

Read Reason's coverage of Amash.

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Eric Holder and Prison Guard Unions Agree: Sequestration Would Do Too Much Harm to the Prison Industrial Complex

Courtesy of Tamms Year TenCourtesy of Tamms Year TenIn a letter sent earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made an argument you don't hear much from the Obama administration: automatic cuts to the Bureau of Prisons budget would be bad news for towns and private companies that rely on prisons for income.

In addition to reducing man power at prisons and reentry programs for prisoners, Holder warned Senate Democrats that sequestration would slow the "activation" of new prisons and prisons that are nearing completion. In turn, "communities surrounding the prisons would not benefit from the significant economic activity that a prison engenders. We estimate that sequestration will mean over 3,800 fewer jobs related to [new prison] activations that would be foregone, (including an estimated 1,500 private sector jobs)."

There's simply no other way to spin this: At a time when the U.S. has the highest prison population on the planet and a federal prison population that is a) roughly half drug offenders and b) expected to continue growing for the next decade, the Obama administration is extolling the benefits of "activating" more prisons. 

Yesterday, in response to Holder's promise of furloughs, the head of a federal prison union in Wisconsin asked why prisoners couldn't just take the full brunt of sequestration all on their own.

"We can cut back on education; we can cut back on recreations; we can cut back on visitations," Oxford Federal Correction Intitute union president Dave Dauman told WMTV in Madison, Wisconsin. "Why are the staff paying the price? Why aren't the inmates suffering more?" (For more insight on the contempt prison unions have for the people in their care, read Mother Jones' recent piece, Big Labor's Lock 'Em Up Mentality.)

Another member of the union said that assaults on staff are already a concern, and furloughs would increase the chances of a violent conflict


"For the last seven years we've been working at bare minimum staffing, skeleton crews, and now with sequestration we're looking at even deeper cuts. It's not going to be safe," said Oxford FCI's union vice president, James Salzwedel.

Salzwedel says sequestration would mean cuts of about 21 staff members to an already short staff for their nearly 1,300 inmates.

The Bureau of Prison's budget stands to lose $338 million, and staff members have already been told they'll be furloughed without pay for 14 days this year.

"Direct results are assaults on staff," said Salzwedel.

While the Oxford FCI union members and Holder aren't necessarily singing the same song--the union sees a choice between furloughing prison staff or reducing services like vocational training, visits from family, recreation, and re-entry programs, while Holder is claiming that both are going to happen--the two parties clearly agree that the solution of prison over-crowding is more prisons and more guards, not fewer prisoners. 

"Politicians may want to brag about job creation, but it shouldn't be in this area," reads a statement from Families Against Mandatory Minimum.

"The solution here isn't a bigger prison budget, but a smaller prison population. And for that, we need sentencing reform.  Mandatory minimum sentences have stuffed the Bureau of Prisons with nearly 40 percent too many prisoners.  If we got rid of mandatory minimum sentences, we'd see the prison population (and federal prison budget) shrink. Avoiding sequestration does nothing to solve the real problem: Too many federal prisoners serving too many mandatory minimum sentences." 

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Chuck Hagel Tells Soldiers to Expect Straight Talk on First Day as Secretary of Defense

Today was Chuck Hagel's first day as Secretary of Defense after a hard-fought confirmation battle. Speaking at the Pentagon Hagel emphasized how he intends to run the Defense Department and what he expects from soldiers. 

From The Washington Post:

Chuck Hagel appeared more at ease during his first day on the job at the Pentagon Wednesday than he did during his turbulent confirmation process, as repeatedly paid homage to a military that has been engulfed in war for nearly 12 years.

Hagel, who was sworn in earlier in the day, is the only Vietnam combat veteran to serve as defense secretary. In his remarks Wednesday, the former enlisted infantryman didn’t publicly dwell on his experience or the two Purple Hearts that he was awarded for wounds he suffered in combat. But his military service colored his pledges to the troops to “do everything I can to ensure the safety, the well-being, the future for you and your families.”

Follow this story and more at Reason 24/7.

If you have a story that would be of interest to Reason's readers please let us know by emailing the 24/7 crew at 24_7@reason.com, or tweet us stories at @reason247

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Elizabeth Warren to Ben Bernanke: Big Banks Should Pay for Being Too Big to Fail

not an end the fed-erC-SPANIt’s not quite “let them eat cake” to the “too big to fail” banks, but Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the newest member of the Senate Banking Committee, put the press to Ben Bernanke on the Federal Reserve’s implicit guarantee of a bailout to “too big to fail banks” at committee hearings this week. Warren pointed to a recent piece from Bloomberg that valued the discount big banks get to borrow at $83 billion a year. Asks Bloomberg:

So what if we told you that, by our calculations, the largest U.S. banks aren’t really profitable at all? What if the billions of dollars they allegedly earn for their shareholders were almost entirely a gift from U.S. taxpayers?

Granted, it’s a hard concept to swallow. It’s also crucial to understanding why the big banks present such a threat to the global economy.

Let’s start with a bit of background. Banks have a powerful incentive to get big and unwieldy. The larger they are, the more disastrous their failure would be and the more certain they can be of a government bailout in an emergency. The result is an implicit subsidy: The banks that are potentially the most dangerous can borrow at lower rates, because creditors perceive them as too big to fail.

Warren asked Bernanke why banks shouldn’t pay for this implicit subsidy, to which the Federal Reserve chairman responded “I think we should get rid of it.” He didn’t clarify, naturally.

Video below:

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The Tension in the Obama Administration's Approach to Health Care Cost Cutting

Credit: National Institutes of Health Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: National Institutes of Health Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAThe sequestration process is revealing an odd tension in the Obama administration’s approach to paying for health care. 

You can see it in the administration’s conflicted approach to Medicaid: The White House has been increasingly adamant in its refusal to allow any cuts to the joint federal-state program for the poor and disabled. In 2011, Jack Lew, the former White House Chief of Staff and budget head, somewhat famously demanded that the program be exempt from the sequester. And more recently the White House has declared that it will no longer discuss any cuts to Medicaid — even cuts administration officials had previously said indicated they would consider.

Yet at that same time, the administration has been waging a fierce legal battle to preserve the rights of states to cut Medicaid reimbursements as much as state officials want. The administration’s official position is that “there is no general mandate under Medicaid to reimburse providers for all or substantially all of their costs.” The White House is very clear, in other words, that states should be able to cut the program’s payments as they see fit.

You can see a related tension in the administration’s approach to Medicare, the federal health program for seniors. Unlike Medicaid, Medicare is not exempt from sequestration; it’ll face a 2 percent reduction, which will amount to about $11 billion next year. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, noting that the cuts will hit health and drug plans as well as other providers, has warned that this will “result in billions of dollars in lost revenues to Medicare doctors, hospitals, and other providers, who will only be reimbursed at 98 cents on the dollar for their services to Medicare beneficiaries.” And the White House doesn’t seem too pleased either: The Office of Management and Budget’s report on sequestration complains that GOP alternatives to the spending reductions are wrong partly because they “fail to address Medicare sequestration.”

Yet the White House’s whole theory of Medicare reform is built around cutting reimbursements to health providers: When President Obama talks about modestly reforming Medicare without cutting benefits, that’s exactly what he means. Obama has repeatedly called for cutting payments to drug manufacturers, and ObamaCare includes more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicare, which are distributed amongst the various big players in the health industry. The Medicare cost-control board that ObamaCare sets up is expected to focus heavily on reimbursement cuts.

The frictions here are revealing: The administration wants to protect Medicaid from any cuts, but it also knows that the combination of squeezed state budgets and the coming Medicaid expansion mean that some cutbacks will inevitably be necessary. It complains about the impact of relatively small cuts to Medicare providers, but also plans for hundreds of billions worth of reimbursement reductions to those same organizations.

In other words, the administration is being evasive and trying to have it both ways: It wants to allow Medicaid to be cut, but doesn't want to do the cutting. It wants to cut Medicare payments, but also gripe about problems that might result from other Medicare reimbursement reductions. It wants to cut federal health spending and reform the entitlement system. But not really. 

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Brian Doherty Talking National I.D. and Immigration Reform on the Thom Hartmann's "Big Picture" on RT

I appeared yesterday on Thom Hartmann's RT show "The Big Picture," talking about the grim possibility of a biometric i.d. requirement to work in these here United States arising from the latest pointless attempt at "comprehensive immigration reform." Fellow guest was Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Here's the video:

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Lynne Kiesling on Predicting Elections and Financial Markets

Credit: jdlasica / Foter.com / CC BY-NCCredit: jdlasica / Foter.com / CC BY-NCHuman beings naturally look for patterns in the mess of events and data that surrounds us. Groping for hidden architecture is an evolutionary response to a complex world. In general it serves us well, but we risk detecting patterns where none actually exist. Sometimes we can learn after the fact that our pattern-based predictions were incorrect, and we update and move on, ideally with more humility and an updated mental model for the future. But biases often persist even after correction, especially when the subject of our attention is something with deep emotional roots, like the predicted outcome of an election.

Given the power of pattern recognition and our inherent biases, how do we get it right? In a dual review of Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise and James Owen Weatherall’s The Physics of Wall Street, Lynne Kiesling investigates.

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How Even a 'Well-Trained Narcotics Detection Dog' Can Be Wrong 84 Percent of the Time

ReasonReasonIn my column today, I note that the Supreme Court, ruling for the first time that a drug-detecting dog's alert is by itself enough to justify a vehicle search, discounted the relevance of a dog's track record in the field, saying its performance in "controlled testing environments" is a better measure of reliability. One problem with that position is that such tests are often so poorly designed that it's impossible to say whether the dog is detecting drugs or reacting to its handler's cues. But even well-designed, double-blind tests grossly exaggerate a dog's ability to provide probable cause for searches in real-world conditions. As University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor Richard E. Myers explains in a 2006 George Mason Law Review article, the basic problem is that drugs are always present in the testing situation but rarely present in people's cars. So even a dog that is very good at finding drugs in a "controlled testing environment" will generate a lot of false positives when sniffing randomly selected cars. In fact, Myers says, it is easy to imagine how even a well-trained drug-detecting dog could generate many more false positives than true positives.

Myers asks us to consider a dog who performs well in testing, failing to alert in the presence of drugs just 5 percent of the time. Furthermore, when this dog does alert, it is wrong just 10 percent of the time. The latter number sounds like a solid basis for probable cause—which, according to the Supreme Court, requires a "fair probability" that evidence of a crime will be discovered. But if this dog works at a checkpoint where cars are stopped at random, and if 2 percent of cars contain drugs, he will alert erroneously much more often than he alerts correctly:

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Jacob Sullum on Diane Feinstein’s Confusing and Unnecessary Gun Bill in O.C. Register

Writing in the Orange County Register, Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum lays out the problems with Sen. Diane Feinstein’s latest gun control proposal. “Contrary to common belief,” Sullum writes, “the definition of ‘assault weapon’ is based on mostly cosmetic features that have little or nothing to do with a gun's deadliness in the hands of a criminal. Feinstein's bill is just the latest iteration of this long-running public policy fraud.”

Read all about it here.

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Flesh or Fantasy: Did Creepy “Cannibal Cop” Actually Intend to Eat Anybody?

"Stop resisting! It makes you taste gamey!"FacebookFor those who can look past the creepy and salacious details of the case of New York Officer Gilberto Valle, on trial right now for allegedly plotting to kidnap and eat women, there’s a question that may prove to be fundamentally unanswerable: Did he really mean it?

The Associated Press reports from the trial today:

Cheerful written exchanges between a police officer and women from his past appeared in a sinister new light when an FBI agent described at the officer's criminal trial how he talked on the Internet about killing and eating the women.

"I'm dying to taste some girl meat," Agent Corey Walsh testified Tuesday that New York Police Officer Gilberto Valle told one of the online friends he met who shared an appetite for human flesh.

The testimony came on the second day of testimony in federal court in Manhattan for the 28-year-old Queens resident charged with conspiring to kidnap women and illegally accessing a government database to research potential victims. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Valle’s defense was that he had absolutely no intent to actually kidnap or eat any women. This was all online fetish role-playing. Very, very thorough role-playing that involved offering to kidnap and deliver a particular woman to an alleged co-conspirator so that he could rape and kill her.

Is it possible to even answer the question of whether Valle intending to follow through with any of his crazy plans? My own prediction is that the allegations of illegally accessing the database to research victims, if it’s true, will be what puts it over the edge for Valle.

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'Rand Paul and Ron Wyden, Drone Odd-Couple'

Rand Paul ||| Wikimedia commonsWikimedia commonsSo goes the headline on this interesting Eli Lake article at The Daily Beast about an emerging bipartisan civil liberties working group in the Senate. Excerpt:

For some time now, Wyden and Paul—along with two other senators, Republican Mike Lee of Utah and Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado—have been working together to try to curb the broad authorities the Obama administration has asserted in the war on terror. The advent of this group, which calls itself the Checks and Balances Caucus, is certainly not the first time in political history that the libertarian right has allied with the civil-liberties-minded left. Yet at a moment when inter-party cooperation is almost nonexistent in Washington, any bipartisan alliance—especially one that includes some of DC's most committed ideological opposites—is both unusual and noteworthy.

Ron Wyden ||| Wikimedia commonsWikimedia commonsLee said the four lawmakers began to reach out to each other in early 2011. "Little by little, those of us who share a lot of these beliefs in common found each other as people who saw the issues in a similar way," he explained, adding, "We definitely have each other's cell phone numbers." Around that time, Lee and Paul were two of the only three Republicans to vote against reauthorizing the Patriot Act, while Wyden used the reauthorization to launch an (unsuccessful) effort to force the Obama administration to disclose what he said was a classified interpretation of the law. [...]

[N]ow, on the question of drones—specifically their demand that the Obama administration release more details on the drone program before Brennan's nomination is allowed to proceed through the Senate Intelligence Committee—they seem to have found an issue with legs. "I feel very strongly that the intelligence committee has to have any and all legal opinions related to targeted killings before there is a committee vote," Wyden said.

Read the whole thing here. Eli Lake wrote a Reason piece in June 2010 about a an issue that was largely ignored at the time, but getting some oxygen right now precisely from the Checks and Balances Caucus: the presidential blank check that is the Sept. 14, 2001 authorization of force.

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Why Did Democratic Party Operative and Pundit Donna Brazile's Insurance Premiums Increase?

Here's a tweet by Democratic Party operative and pundit Donna Brazile:

What's on your menu? Just got off the phone with my health care provider asking them to explain why my premium jumped up. No good answer!

— Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) February 27, 2013

Hat tip: Twitchy.

Here's a pretty good answer: The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.

Over the past couple of weeks, many insurance companies have provided guidance in their investor calls that premiums for insurance plans being sold in the individual market could go up as much as 50 percent on average....

ObamaCare requires insurers to offer benefit plans on the new exchanges that are relatively generous and would include coverage for maternity, prescription drugs and treatment of mental illness.  These are clearly important areas to cover....

A key reason why insurance premiums are going up is because insurance companies will no longer be able to turn away or charge people more with pre-existing conditions. Even more significant is that these companies would only be able to charge its oldest customers three times as much as their youngest.  

Read more.

And read Reason's Peter Suderman on how one of Obamacare's key cost-control provisions is actually working to jack up premiums.

I appeared with Brazile on Bill Maher's Real Time show in 2011. She's smart and fun and friendly - but she can't really be wondering why her premiums are going up, can she?

Here's the Overtime segment from our Maher appearance:

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Want Cheaper Food? End the Ethanol Mandate

Photo credit: Image talk:Walmart exterior.jpg / Foter.com / CC BY-SAPhoto credit: Image talk:Walmart exterior.jpg / Foter.com / CC BY-SAWalmart has not had a good year so far. In an email leaked earlier this month, the company’s vice president of finance and logistics grumbled that "February (month to date) sales are a total disaster... the worst start to a month I have seen in my... 7 years with the company."

Why is the nation’s largest retailer struggling so much? In today’s Wall Street Journal, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard notes the retailer’s sales problems and points to a couple of reasons why the company is having so much trouble. The expiration of the payroll tax cut, which for the last few years has reduced take home pay levels by about $80 per month for families making $50,000 annually, is probably one factor. But Karlgaard also points to the role of food price inflation:

Food prices are rising faster than overall inflation. Inflation is the great hidden tax, especially when it hits essentials like food. Core inflation is running at about 2%, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that food prices will be up 3%-4% in 2013. This will nip at Wal-Mart customers and Wal-Mart itself, which now gets half of its U.S. revenue from groceries. Will Wal-Mart eat the inflation and hurt its profit, or will it pass it onto its customers and risk driving them away? Food inflation presents no good choices.

Food price inflation is indeed complex, and there’s no simple way to prevent it. But there is a single step that government could take that would almost certainly significantly arrest the rapid rise in the cost of food: end ethanol energy mandates.

Photo credit: ~jjjohn~ / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDPhoto credit: ~jjjohn~ / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDThere’s very little question about whether or not ethanol subsidies and related mandates, which essentially pay farmers to grow fuel instead of food, drive up the price of food. Ethanol policy hits corn directly, but because corn is so integral to the rest of the food production process, a rise in the price of corn quickly results in a rise in the price of other farm commodities such as meat, poultry, dairy, and soy products. When the Congressional Budget Office looked at the impact of ethanol subsidies on overall food prices between April 2007 and April 2008, the nonpartisan scorekeeper found that 10-15 percent of the 5.1 percent rise in food prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, could be attributed to ethanol subsidies.

The CBO noted at the time that it was difficult to precisely estimate the impact of ethanol subsidies going forward. But in early 2011, corn prices spiked after a crop shortage, which many analysts expected to translate into higher food prices. And over the years, ethanol subsidies, along with a renewable fuel standard which pushes energy producers to include ethanol in their products, has resulted in what the Farm Foundation describes as a “persistent demand shock.” Some 40 percent of the nation’s annual corn crop is now redirected into ethanol production.

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Louisiana Health Inspector Destroys Venison Donated to the Homeless

A Louisiana state health inspector poured bleach on 1,600 pounds of venison donated to a homeless shelter last month because the health department doesn’t recognize the group that provided it.

Hunters for the Hungry has gathered extra game—that might otherwise go to waste—and donated it to the needy for nearly 20 years. Before it reaches homeless shelters like the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Group, the meat is turned over to a state-licensed commercial processor.

From CBS Houston:

“We didn’t find anything wrong with it,” Rev. Henry Martin told KTBS. “It was processed correctly, it was packaged correctly.”

The trouble began last month after the Department of Health and Hospitals received a complaint that deer meat was being served at the homeless shelter. A health inspector went out and told the homeless shelter that deer meat was not allowed to be served and that it had to be destroyed.

“Although the meat was processed at a slaughterhouse that is permitted by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture to prepare and commercially distribute meat approved from approved farms, deer are not an approved meet source…” the department said on its Facebook page.

That statement has been taken down and replaced with another:

Leaders and experts … are fully engaged in this issue with legislators and stakeholders to see how we can harmonize our procedures toward a program that allows game donations while ensuring health and food safety….

It’s good to hear leaders and experts are on the case. In the meantime, Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission, which relies totally on private funding, had to spend $8,000 to replace the venison with lower-quality meat.

See the full video here.

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John Stossel on Libertarians' Awkward Bedfellows

Coulter on the Stossel showCredit: from PatDollard.comOne might expect John Stossel to be a little bitter at being called a "pussy" in front of an audience of thousands while filming an episode of his own TV show, but he keeps it together and instead admits that "Coulter has a point." Libertarians and Conservatives need to find ways of working together on the many goals that they do actually have in common. Read on for Stossel's idea how to do just that.

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Politicians: Mild Spending Trims = Economically Devastating. Big Tax Hikes? No Problem!

So much better to listen to. |||As the nation girds itself for last-minute Sequester Hysteria Inflation, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on how statists have decisively revealed themselves these past two months. All you have to do is compare the blatant, coordinated politician-fearmongering in the run-up to Friday's statistically insignificant one-year trim in federal spending with the relative absence thereof in the face of the New Year's tax hike on 77 percent of Americans (by an average of $1,257).

The White House's "Seven Things You Need to Know About the Tax Deal" somehow managed to avoid discussing the negative impacts that the reduction in take-home pay will have on an already fragile economy. Yet here was President Barack Obama yesterday warning about the "hundreds of thousands of jobs" that will be lost due to the sequester cuts. The Obamaite Center for American Progress hailed the New Year's tax hike by saying "Of course, any new revenue is a step in the right direction." But if you take money out of bureacurats' pockets instead of taxpayers? "Sequestration Takes a Big Bite out of Economic Growth."

This is a basic, revealing conflict of philosophical visions. On one side are people, like these 350 economists, who believe that prosperity and jobs flow primarily from government spending. On the other side, the rest of us. When faced with having their fiefdoms inconvenienced, politicians will use our tax dollars on scaremongering where the emotional manipulation is right there in the headline: "Impact of...Cuts on Middle Class Families, Jobs, and Economic Security." When faced with inconveniencing taxpaying Americans, crickets.

Reason on the sequester here.

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Another Horrible Effect of Sequestration: Letting 'Noncriminals' Out of Jail

CCACCATo dramatize the crippling impact that the automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect this Friday will have on the federal government's ability to perform its most basic functions, the Obama administration has "released hundreds of detainees from [immigration] detention centers around the country in recent days," The New York Times reports. In response to complaints from Republicans such as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, who worries that "the administration is needlessly endangering American lives," a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) emphasizes that the people who are being released pose no threat to public safety because they are "noncriminals and other low-risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories." Which raises the question: Why were they locked up to begin with?

In addition to the needless loss of liberty and all the attendant burdens on detainees and their families, there are taxpayer costs to consider. According to the National Immigration Forum, keeping someone facing deportation proceedings behind bars costs $122 to $164 a day, compared to anywhere from 30 cents to $14 a day for supervised release. According to a private contractor that helps monitor detainees on supervised release, "96 percent of immigrants enrolled in ICE’s alternatives-to-detention program attended their final hearing in 2011." Immigration activist Carolina Canizales observes that "it shouldn't take a manufactured crisis in Washington to prompt our immigration agencies to actually take steps towards using government resources wisely or keeping families together."

Will sequestration force the government to free even more people who are locked up only because they dared to live and work in the United States without official permission? Surely that outcome is too horrible to contemplate. What's next? Will the government's financial desperation result in the release of federal prisoners serving long sentences for engaging in other consensual transactions that violate no one's rights? That would really be awful.

Jesse James Conto toured our scandalous immigration detention system in the July 2011 issue of Reason.  

Sequester Fearmongering from Obama Administration Goes Beyond the Facts

The Associated Press has an interesting take on how the sequester fearmongering from the Obama adminstration pretends to a knowledge of a scary tomorrow that it does not really have.

Highlights:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says teacher layoffs have already begun, but he has not backed up that claim and school administrators say no pink slips are expected before May, for the next school year...

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the money crunch means the national parks system will be hit with a "perfect storm."

But perish the thought of yellow police tape around Yellowstone. It's far from settled that parks would close. Officials said to expect reduced operating hours, fewer rangers, bathrooms that might be locked and trash that might not be collected as often....

And there is a lot of improbable precision in administration statements about what could happen: more than 373,000 seriously ill people losing mental health services, 600,000 low-income pregnant women and new mothers losing food aid and nutrition education, 1,200 fewer inspections of dangerous work sites, 125,000 poor households going without vouchers, and much more.

"These numbers are just numbers thrown out into the thin air with no anchor, and I think they don't provoke the outrage or concern that the Obama administration seeks," said Paul Light, a New York University professor who specializes in the federal bureaucracy and budget....

in practice, through all the layers of bureaucracy and the everyday smoke and mirrors of the federal budget, there is rarely a direct and measurable correlation between a federal dollar and its effect on the ground.

That has meant a lot of tenuous "could happen" warnings by the administration, not so much "will happen" evidence.

So it was in Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' letter to Congress laying out likely consequences of the spending cuts for her agency's operations. She said the sequester "could" compromise the well-being of more than 373,000 people who "potentially" would not get needed mental health services, which in turn "could result" in more hospitalizations and homelessness.

Duncan left himself less wiggle room. "This stuff is real," he said last week. "Schools are already starting to give teachers notices."

Asked to provide backup for Duncan's assertion, spokesman Daren Briscoe said it was based on "an unspecified call he was on with unnamed persons," and the secretary might not be comfortable sharing details.....

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Personalized Sequester Fearmongering: Slower Emergency Response, Slashed Healthcare, People Living on the Streets

white house staff won't face cutsWhite HouseStephanie Cutter’s done campaigning for a Best Picture win for Silver Linings Playbook and back to campaigning for the president, with some personalized sequester fearmongering:

Edward --

Prepare yourself for job layoffs, reduced access to early education, slower emergency response, slashed health care, and more people living on the street.

This Friday is the final deadline for congressional Republicans to stop disastrous automatic spending cuts (known as the "sequester") that will hurt everyday Americans -- including you.

These budget cuts will take a sledgehammer to the budget, and indiscriminately cut critical programs vital to economic growth and middle class families.
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Justice Stevens Tries to Rehabilitate His Unpopular Record

John Paul Stevens has kept busy since retiring from the Supreme Court in 2010. In addition to penning a memoir, he regularly travels around the country giving speeches on various legal topics, including defenses of his own judicial record and attacks on cases where he believes his former colleagues got it wrong. South Texas College of Law professor Josh Blackman has dubbed this the Stevens’ “rehabilitation tour,” and as Blackman notes, the latest stop came in Florida, where Stevens “directed his ire at Justice Scalia and his vote in McDonald v. Chicago, Chief Justice Rehnquist on the 11th Amendment, and for good measure Chief Justice Vinson and Justice Jackson on the 14th Amendment.” Blackman argues that Stevens is being disrespectful to his former colleagues, and concludes, “JPS needs to stop this chicanery.”

I confess to having my own special interest in Stevens’ rehab tour. That’s because the former Supreme Court justice was kind enough to make me a part of it. In a November 2011 speech at the University of Alabama School of Law (which I was not aware of at the time), Stevens responded to my criticism of his 2005 majority opinion in the Kelo eminent domain case, which I had described as an “eminent domain debacle.” Citing me twice by name, Justice Stevens offered a lengthy justification for his ruling where he argued “that Kelo adhered to the doctrine of judicial restraint, which allows state legislatures broad latitude in making economic policy decisions in their respective jurisdictions.”

I won’t repeat my criticism of Stevens’ Kelo decision here—you can read it for yourself in my review of his memoir—but I will say that the comments he made in defense of the ruling in Alabama continue to raise troubling concerns about Stevens’ commitment to the written Constitution.

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A. Barton Hinkle on Panhandling and Freedom of Speech

HomelessnessCredit: spyderracer393 / Foter.comCharlottesville, Virginia is just the latest in a long line of burgs that have tried to bring the hammer down on panhandlers. And like those other cities, Charlottesville has tried to defend its restrictions as a purely neutral measure meant not to silence speech but to achieve some other legitimate government end. A. Barton Hinkle investigates this effort to cloak censorship in the guise of public safety.

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Gun Control Laws Increasingly Irrelevant as 3D Printed Rifle Receiver Fires Hundreds of Rounds

3D printed lower receiverDefense DistributedOn Monday, with little fanfare and less comment — primarily because none was needed — Defense Distributed unveiled a 3D-printed lower receiver for an AR-15 that stood up to hundreds of rounds of fire. Succinctly, the video on Youtube was accompanied by the statement, "Does not fail from firing stresses. 600+ rounds." Just as important, and the purpose of all this effort, the group made plans for the receiver available for download by all and sundry at DefCad. Defense Distributed's video and 3D printer plans are a clever and powerful blow to politicians' efforts to restrict Americans' abilities to own the means of self-defense. They may also be a glimpse of a future in which human liberty is largely dependent on an ability to limit the reach of the state through technological innovation and grassroots defiance.

It wasn't long ago that Defense Distributed was getting some ribbing for the quality of its subversive efforts when its first attempt at a receiver fell apart after six shots. Then, the group unveiled a high-capacity rifle magazine that could be manufactured in a home workshop on a 3D printer. They named it "Cuomo" after New York's control-freaky governor. Not so much ribbing.

Now, within months of the initial experiments we have a rifle lower receiver — the legal "gun" part of an AR-15, so far as the government is concerned — that can handle hundreds of rounds and keep going. As Defense Distributed responded to New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel's announced intention to develop some sort of magical legal blockade to the home manufacture of firearms and magazines, "Good luck."

I'm not a believer that we're tumbling into some sort of dystopian future of totalitarian control. Well, not in the short term, anyway. I'm ecstatic that we've moved in a few, short years from "just say no" to fully legal marijuana in two states and national poll numbers that would support the same policy across the country.

Likewise, expanding recognition of same-sex marriage has given gays and lesbians access to the legal benefits that have been tied to that institution. It also makes them feel more like full citizens rather than a despised minority.

These are excellent developments for personal freedom.

But I can't help but notice that legal marijuana and gay marriage may challenge government officials' prejudices, but they pose no threat to the power of the state. Firearms ownership does. So does privacy. Yesterday's Supreme Court decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International made clear the legal contortions through which the state is willing to go to maintain and extend its ability to spy on us, snooping into our politics, our personal lives and our finances.

In the future privacy, like self-defense rights, will likely depend on our ability to ignore and subvert the state with technological protections including encrypted communications and alternative currencies. Communications services like Silent Circle (and its inevitable competitors) and anonymous or nearly anonymous currencies like Bitcoin may preserve the privacy that the state would like to deny us.

Defense Distributed is an inherently political effort, focusing as it does on the AR-15 rifle that is the focus of government officials' two-minutes hate. No clearer raised middle finger to government could there be in the current gun control debate. But we're going to need more such flipped birds in the years to come — more liberty-preserving innovations that say, "you pass the laws that you want, and we'll render them impotent before the ink is dry."

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Sequester is Just Like Sophie's Choice, But With Cheetahs!

courtesy National Zoocourtesy National ZooIn the next 48 hours to 72 hours (and beyond), get ready for sequestration horror stories about the monstrous depredations that will occur to the birds, the bees, and all God's chilluns with and without wings should the federal government go through with its unholy plan - agreed to by Dems, Reps, and the president himself back in August 2011 - to whack an entire 1 percent to 2 percent of planned spending out of the fiscal 2013 budget.

Here's an example from the Wash Post about the terrible choices facing one of the core functions of government, the National Zoo, where the director Dennis Kelly explains that his crew is already "to the bone" and sequestration-related cuts may mean that "the planned acquisition of cheetahs for the research facility in Front Royal" won't happen as scheduled. Worse still, he might have to shutter whole "modules" at the zoo.

“Please don’t make me chose among my children!” pleads Kelly, declining to speculate on which exhibit would be most at risk. “Those collections are big and stable and took years to build. If, God forbid, we have to shut down lions and tigers, it would take more than a year to find homes for them. And then if the money was found, it would probably take three years to start it up again.”

courtesy National Zoocourtesy National ZooNotice that they never threaten to shut down, I don't know, the Invertebrate Exhibit (which is already redundant given the fact of Congress).

But just to drive home the point of how unconscionable any cuts to any government program anywhere is, the Post story includes the requisite announcement by a selfless public-sector worker that, hey, they're not doing any of this because they get paid. They're doing it because it's their calling! Says one dedicated keeper:

“It’s become kind of a lifestyle,” she said. “We do it because we love the animals.”

And yet like most labors of love, the only way that taxpayers can truly show their appreciation is by continuing funding at current or increased levels. It's a confusing message and one that is routinely trotted out like a, I don't know, a lion or tiger or cheetah exhibit that just might have to be cut if anyone dare lay a finger on a budget line anywhere. (Hat tip: New Yorl mag)

Take it away, Chris Elliott, who answers the musical question, who sings for the lonely wildebeests?:

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A.M. Links: Hagel Confirmed, ISAF Admits to Data-Entry Error, Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced by Bipartisan Group of Representatives

Credit: Lauren Victoria Burke/flickrCredit: Lauren Victoria Burke/flickr

  • The Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense yesterday by a vote of 58-41.
  • Italian politicians are trying to put a government together. The recent election left the left-leaning bloc in control of the lower house but without control of the Senate. Markets did not react well to the election results, and a new election could be called if politicians are not able to form a governing coalition. 
  • ISAF accepts that their claim that violence committed by the Taliban in 2012 dropped 7 percent is incorrect, saying that a data-entry error is to blame. In fact, there was not any significant drop in “enemy-initiated attacks” in Afghanistan in 2012. 
  • medical marijuana bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The States’ Medical Marijuana Patients Protection Act would allow patients and dispensary owners to use and sell medical marijuana without interference from the feds. 
  • Three people are reportedly dead after a shooting at a wood processing plant in Switzerland. 

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Jacob Sullum on Searches Authorized by Dogs

South of Fraser Emergency Photos / Foter.com / CC BY-NCSouth of Fraser Emergency Photos / Foter.com / CC BY-NCImagine that a police officer, after taking it upon himself to search someone's car, is asked to explain why he thought he would find contraband there. "A little birdie told me," he replies. Most judges, suggests Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, would react with appropriate skepticism to such a claim. But substitute "a big dog" for "a little birdie," and you've got probable cause. 

Or so says the U.S. Supreme Court, which last week unanimously ruled that "a court can presume" a search is valid if police say it was based on an alert by a dog trained to detect drugs. Sullum says the Court thereby encouraged judges to accept self-interested proclamations about a canine's capabilities, reinforcing the alarmingly common use of dogs to justify invasions of privacy. 

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Brickbat: Tied in a Knot

reuvenim / photo on flickrreuvenim / photo on flickrOfficials at Colne Community School in Essex, England, placed Max Richmond in in-school isolation for one day for violating school rules. What did the 13-year-old do to warrant that punishment? He wore a regular tie instead of clip-on tie.

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Enjoy This Montage of People Refusing to Cooperate with DHS Checkpoints

Hat tip to TMan for posting this link. It was too fun to keep in the comments for an unrelated post on a different form of abuse of power. Here’s a crew of folks refusing to submit to questioning at Department of Homeland Security immigration checkpoints that aren’t actually at the border (and one case of a driver refusing to cooperate with one of California’s produce checkpoints as an employee hilariously thinks he can make him leave the state).

Video posted on YouTube by millsmost.

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Man Charged With Felony for Letting Go of Balloons

jailbase.comjailbase.comA 40-year-old man faces felony charges after releasing a dozen heart-shaped, helium-filled balloons to impress his sweetheart. Unluckily for Anthony Brasfield, a Florida Highway Patrol Trooper was also watching.

From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Brasfield was charged with polluting to harm humans, animals, plants, etc. under the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act.

Endangered marine turtle species and birds, such as wood storks and brown pelicans, seek refuge in John U. Lloyd State Park, about 1.5 miles east of the motel.

Between 2008 and 2012, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said there were 21 arrests statewide under the rarely used environmental crime statute. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Other third degree felonies include: aggravated assault, repeated drinking and driving, battery on a law enforcement officer, cocaine possession, and failure to return a rental car.

H/T: Instapundit.

Video: 5 Sequester Facts You Should Know Right Now

Barack Obama would have you believe that the impending $85 billion in spending cuts to the federal budget known as the sequester are the worst disaster since Seth MacFarlane hosted the Academy Awards.

But before you dive deep into depression, here are five facts that should take the sting out of the sequester.

Click above to watch the video here or click below to go to full page with transcript, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more.

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Politically Motivated Investment Guidelines Making Bad Public Pension Programs Worse

Public sector unions don't need guns to rob people when they've got pension fund managers.Credit: Horst Gossman at Dreamstime.comPoor returns be damned, California’s biggest public pension fund managers are taking a moral stand against the profitable world of gun manufacturing and selling off investments in Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. and Sturm, Ruger and Co.

Matt Welch noted in January similar politically motivated pension decisions in New York City and Chicago. Smith & Wesson’s stock value dropped in mid-December, but that drop was from a record high and it’s climbing its way back. The same holds true for Sturm, Ruger and Co. Looking at five-year charts shows them both go be good, solid investments.

California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) reported a dismal 1 percent return for the fiscal year that ended last June, but has since rallied, getting the numbers back up to 13 percent by the end of 2012. For the first six months of this fiscal year, they’re sitting at 7.1 percent, which is still below the 7.5 percent benchmark.

Steve Malanga at Public Sector Inc., a blog of the free-market non-profit think tank Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, took note of the many political guidelines that have hamstrung California’s public employee pension funds:

One of the funds' earliest divestments was of tobacco stocks, just before they began their long upward march. A 2008 Calsters report estimated the fund missed out in $1 billion in appreciation of shares it previously owned in the sector, according to this story. The funds also refused to invest in shares of companies in countries whose labor practices the board of Calpers didn't approve of, including China and India, missing out in growth in these rapidly developing economies.

Socially responsible investing is not just about what you divest, but what you buy with the freed up dollars. According to the Bloomberg story I link to above, Calpers and Calsters redirected some of their funds into California real estate in an attempt to bolster the homeland economy. That investing ramped up between 2004 and 2006, just as the California real estate bubble was inflating. Over time Calpers real estate bets went from bad to absurd. When the whole thing fell apart, Calpers real estate portfolio declined by whopping 42 percent, according to a Feb. 11, 2011 story in the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, it’s easy for government employee pension managers to moralize over where to invest the money. There’s no consequence for pension members if the funds lose money. States and municipalities (by which I mean taxpayers) are obligated to make up the difference. For those who manage their own retirement funds, there are a host of socially responsible 401(k)s. For those who wish to potentially reduce their potential gains in favor of avoiding certain industries, that’s their own call, not a pension board’s.

The Illinois Policy Institute reports that the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund lost more than $38 million last fiscal year, ultimately adding more than $800 million to the city’s unfunded liabilities. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is one of the politicians urging pension funds to divest from gun companies. That’s something to keep in mind when he talks about his city’s budget crisis and how to fix it.

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Jacob Sullum Debates Mandatory Liability Insurance for Gun Owners

Yesterday on on HuffPost Live, I discussed proposals for requiring gun owners to buy liability insurance with Don Taylor, an associate professor of public policy at Duke University, and Michael Barry, vice president of media relations at the Insurance Information Institute. As with the HuffPost Live debate about universal background checks a few weeks ago, none of the guests was all that enthusiastic about this gun control policy, which is basically a tax in disguise. Even the host, Josh Zepps, who did his best to play devil's advocate, ended up saying it did not seem like a good idea to him. You can watch the exchange here or below.