Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 March 1-31

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3D-Printed AK Magazine Unveiled by Defense Distributed

Feinstein AK magazineDefense DistributedI'm an AK owner myself, so I admit that Defense Distributed's latest little offering appeals directly to me. The thought of printing high-capacity magazines in the privacy of my own home for my rugged, politically incorrect "assault weapon" just ... sits very right. I'm not the only one, I'm sure. So sit back and behold the (drumroll, please) Feinstein! Yes, the latest high-capacity magazine from Defense Distributed, soon to come to a 3D printer near you, is named after California's jolly ol' elf of a senator, Dianne Feinstein, who has done so much to encourage firearms sales and innovations in gun-related homebrew solutions.

Rock on, Defense Distributed. And Dianne? Could you see fit to try to ban, or at least severely restrict, pinot noir? I really look forward to a creative technical solution that lets me pour the stuff from my kitchen taps. A little nudge from you seems to go an awfully long way ...

When the plans for the Feinstein are available ("coming soon," promises Defense Distributed), you'll be able to download them from defcad.org.

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For Denver Cops, A Brutal Beating of a Illegal Left Turn Suspect That Costs the City $795,000 Won't Get You Fired

Not a brand-new story, but one that just came to my attention from a story in Denver's Westword a few weeks back.

The latest news was the federal Justice Department refusing to let a civil rights lawsuit go forward in the brutal beating of an African-American student, Alex Landau, after he was pulled over for an illegal left turn and pot was found on a passenger. But the background before that was awful enough. (The Westword story has some gruesome photos of Landau post-beating.)

From Westword's account:

As Joel Warner reported in detail for his 2011 feature article "Black and Blue," Landau was a nineteen-year-old Community College of Denver student when he was pulled over by police on January 15, 2009, allegedly for making an illegal left turn.

Marijuana was subsequently found on Landau's passenger, a fellow student named Addison Hunold, prompting the officers -- identified in the lawsuit as Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton -- to ask if they could search his trunk. Landau is said to have responded by stepping toward the officers and quizzing them about whether or not they had a warrant -- at which point they began punching him in the face. The attack caused Landau to fall, but the beating continued for several minutes, with one officer yelling, "He's going for the gun." (Landau was unarmed.) Once they finally stopped the assault, one officer reportedly put the following question to him: "Where's that warrant now, you fucking nigger?"

A lawsuit over the incident was filed in January 2011, and Landau eventually received a$795,000 settlement from the City of Denver for the damage done to him. But officers Nixon, Murr and Middleton still have not been punished for their actions in the incident. Murr was eventually fired for taking part in another high-profile excessive-force case involving Michael DeHerrera, and Nixon, too, was canned in connection with his role in an alleged assault on four women at the Denver Diner, also in 2009. However, he was later reinstated and remains on the Denver police force, as does Middleton.

From a statement by Landau:

"I was dragged across the grass and left on a police jacket to bleed. I wouldn't allow any medical treatment until I got photos and, because of that, went into shock on the way to the hospital. My witness was coerced into writing a false statement. I was falsely charged with felony criminal intent to disarm a police officer. Officers falsified testimony, evidence, and documents to try to cover up their actions. When I went to file a complaint with Internal Affairs, I was told to own up to my actions as a man and that it's not always a good idea to play the race card. My case has been mishandled from the beginning."

"I attended the first day of college with 45 stiches, a broken nose, a concussion, and a brain injury. But none of this is considered sufficient evidence by the Department of Justice or the FBI to bring civil rights violations against these officers who beat me almost to death and then laughed about it."

More Reason on police brutality.

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NIH Director Regrets Taxpayer-Funded Hatchet Job Linking Tea Party to Big Tobacco

UCSFUCSFAt a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said he was "quite troubled" by a taxpayer-funded study that tarred the Tea Party movement as a pawn of Big Tobacco. Collins called the study, led by anti-smoking activist Stanton Glantz, "an unfortunate outcome," saying, "We thought we were funding a different kind of research when those grants were awarded." Science Insider reports that Collins was responding to concerns raised by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) at a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee:

"They allege that somehow the Tea Party had its origin in the 1980s with tobacco funding, which is pretty incredible," Harris said. "Because I mean, I'm a Tea Party guy. I was there when it was established in 2009. I know the origins. I find it incredible that NIH funding is funding this," Harris said, adding that the study reflects "a partisan political agenda."

When the study was published in the journal Tobacco Control last month, one of Glantz's co-authors declared, "The records indicate that the Tea Party has been shaped by the tobacco industry and is not a spontaneous grassroots movement at all." As I noted at the time, Glantz et al. tried to make the case that the Tea Party was funded and largely created by Philip Morris but ended up arguing that anyone who disagrees with them on issues such as ObamaCare, smoking bans, and cigarette taxes is carrying water for Big Tobacco, even if he does not realize it. 

Glantz told Science Insider he was "very troubled" by Collins' comments. After all, when Glantz said in his grant proposal that he planned to study the influence of "third parties" funded by cigarette manufacturers, the NIH should have realized that included political hatchet jobs aimed at discrediting supporters of limited government as shills or dupes of Big Tobacco. It's not his fault that the people he attacked happen to be critics of the current president, which makes it look like the Obama administration is using taxpayer money to pay for opposition research.

[Thanks to Christopher Snowdon for the tip.]

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Is Fourth Try the Charm for Medical Marijuana in New Hampshire?

The New Hampshire legislature has tried three times to legalize medical marijuana. Each time the governor has vetoed the legislation. But the state has a new governor now who has declared support for medical marijuana with tight regulations, so here comes attempt four.

The Associated Press reports:

House lawmakers are advancing a bill to legalize marijuana for medical use after tweaking the language, most notably to block out-of-state patients from purchasing the drug at the five dispensaries sanctioned in the bill.

A House committee voted 14-1 Thursday to recommend its passage.

That tweak might satisfy Gov. Maggie Hassan, but we’ll just have to see.

Follow this story and more at Reason 24/7.

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John Yoo, Author of the Bush Torture Memos, Criticizes Rand Paul For Taking an Extreme Position on Drones

Photo credit: self / Foter.com / CC BY-SAPhoto credit: self / Foter.com / CC BY-SAAs a senator, Obama stated that he rejected the Bush Justice Department’s view that the president “may do whatever he deems necessary to protect national security.” But the connecting thread in virtually all of the Obama administration’s explanations of its drone policy is a refusal to set any limits on its own national security powers.

As Jacob Sullum pointed out last month, the leaked Department of Justice white paper explaining the White House’s legal rationale for drone killings lays out conditions that would be sufficient to kill someone with a drone. But it doesn’t say what conditions would be necessary. The paper argues that the president has the authority to order the death of anyone who presents an “imminent” threat to the United States, which is not much of a standard given that paper also argues for expanding the definition of imminence to the point where it has no longer has any useful meaning. The only thing that matters in determining whether someone is an imminent threat is that the administration has deemed the person to be an imminent threat. It is essentially a justification for using drones to kill anyone the administration deems worthy of killing.

The Obama administration is hardly the first administration to resist putting limits on its own power. The Bush administration was similarly disinclined to spell out the extent of its own power, much less clearly define its endpoint. Its efforts to assert unbounded executive authority were blessed by John Yoo, at the time an attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. 

So it’s hardly surprising to see Yoo, who is now a University of California at Berkeley law professor, join the chorus of hawkish Rand Paul critics who have dismissed the Kentucky senator's lengthy, drone-focused filibuster yesterday. "I admire libertarians," Yoo said earlier today, according to Mother Jones reporter Adam Serwer, “but I think Rand Paul's filibuster in many ways is very much what libertarians do, they make these very symbolic gestures, standing for some extreme position."

Extreme is in the eye of the beholder. As Serwer notes, Yoo once suggested during a defense of the Bush administration’s torture program that it might be legally permissible for the president to order that an interrogator crush the testicles of a subject’s child. It would depend, Yoo said, “on why the president thinks he needs to do that.” I’m sure that President Obama is delighted to have Yoo's moral and legal authority on his side.

Granted, Yoo is not totally on board with the Obama administration’s drone policy: His primary complaint is that the Obama administration thinks drone killings should be governed by due process (never mind that the White House apparently believes that secretly designating someone to be an imminent threat may be all the process that a target is due). But the differences are less important that where the two administrations converge: The Obama administration’s drone policy and Yoo’s defenses of Bush’s torture regime stem from a shared reluctance to acknowledge any limits, real or hypothetical, on executive authority in the area of national security.

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This Is How the Army Talks to Soldiers About Marijuana

While the rest of the nation is slowly but surely relaxing its stance on marijuana, the U.S. Army is here to remind soldiers that the ultra-conservative never goes out of style with a pamphlet titled Marijuana: Stone-Cold Stupid. It’s just one of many alarmist offerings from Prevention & Treatment Resource Press that is sure to make you nostalgic for your last midnight screening of Reefer Madness.

Here’s a typical passage that shows the lengths the writers have gone to demonize a substance that 50 percent of Americans believe should be legal:

Marijuana’s effects can be unpredictable. The effects that abusers are seeking include relaxation and giddiness. Pot smokers laugh at anything—funny or not. Many users become dizzy, have difficulty walking, and have red, bloodshot eyes. Terrible thirst—“cotton mouth”—and hunger—“the munchies”—are typical. Some people fall asleep when they use pot. Others experience anxiety or paranoia every time they use the drug.

There are also bullet lists of unsupported claims and cherry-picked factoids. For example:

  • Marijuana is the most commonly abused illegal drug, but it is not as common as you might think: About 80% of young people never use it.
  • Being in a room with marijuana smoke can cause a “contact high” from just breathing.
  • In one study, 33% of arrested reckless drivers tested positive for marijuana.
  • Possession of marijuana is illegal. Charges carry high fines and jail time.

I question that 80 percent figure in bullet one. The Organization of American States reported in 2008 that more than 102 million Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana in their lifetime. That’s 41 percent. And the study that the writers mention in bullet three failed to factor in all the reckless drivers who were clearly intoxicated by alcohol, skewing the percentage towards marijuana.

It’s a good thing, however, that the pamphlet highlights the fact that marijuana is illegal. That alone is what makes marijuana more dangerous to use—by the publishers’ own admission—than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana’s listed short term effects can’t hold a candle to those of alcohol (tough to beat coma and death!), and its long term effects are no worse than what a long-time cigarette smoker can expect.

The U.S. Army spends between 19 and 33 cents on each one of these pamphlets (there are tables overflowing with them at every base), and all they do is insult the intelligence of those men and women who have chosen to serve their country.

[Disclosure: The writer is a proud member of the U.S. Army Reserves.]

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Rand Paul's Filibuster: Its Historical Context, and Its Encouraging Friends

As noted on Reason 24/7 earlier, USA Today provided some nice historical context to Rand Paul's epic filibuster yesterday, the ninth longest in history. Some details:

Paul fell more than 11 hours short of the record set by Republican [sic--Thurmond was still a Democrat then, thanks to Michael Lotus for correction] Sen. Strom Thurmond, who protested the 1957 Civil Rights Act for 24 hours and 18 minutes...

According to the Senate historian's draft list, Paul will come in behind Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia. The Democrat protested the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 14 hours and 13 minutes.

Paul's filibuster attracted attention because it was only the second time in recent history that a senator commanded the floor to talk at length on a subject. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spoke for eight hours and 37 minutes in 2010 to protest tax legislation.

Both causes are far less noble or important than trying to clarify whether the executive can kill whoever it wants wherever it wants at whim. And amazingly, Paul's stand on principle won him some love from his Party in the currency that counts the most: currency.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee said Paul's filibuster generated thousands of tweets in support of his stance, as well as "donations in the high five figures."

Some more heartwarming examples of standing with Rand from today:

I admit I rarely listen to Rush Limbaugh lately, so maybe this is perfectly in keeping with his general ideology. But I certainly understood him to be a pretty solid "war on terror" guy, who could easily have stood with John McCain and Lindsey Graham in seeing Rand Paul as standing in the way of Our Leader's ability to defend America. Instead, he had Paul on today and was very supportive, as Daily Caller summed up:

“[T]he president goes out to dinner last night,” Limbaugh said. “The establishment, the parents, went out to dinner — Obama, McCain, Lindsey Graham-nesty, went out to dinner.  Obama, a 20-vehicle motorcade to go to a restaurant for dinner, a 20-vehicle motorcade to go to a restaurant, while the White House tours are shut down because of the sequester. … The establishment goes out, when they got back home they found all the furniture out on the front porch. The kids had gone crazy. The kids had thrown a giant party. …”

“The new kids in down captivated the nation talking to them about freedom,” he continued. “The new kids in town were, for the first time in I don’t know how long, actually taking it to Barack Obama, and showing how easily it’s done. … [Paul] just wanted Obama to acknowledge in a letter that Obama will not kill Americans sitting in a cafe minding their own business with a drone.  And the regime wouldn’t respond.”

Limbaugh also took a few shots at Paul’s colleague, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, for criticizing the filibuster.

“The freedom and liberty of the people of the United States was being defended against potential assault by the president of the United States, and the people of this country rallied like crazy,” Limbaugh said. “They did not get mad at Rand Paul. They loved him.”

And Code Pink, as Daily Caller also reports, “a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S. funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally, and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities," planned a gift-bearing visit to the Senate office of the libertarian-leaning Tea Party Senator to thank him for calling attention to out-of-control executive war powers.

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Holder's Worrisome Assurances About the President's Power to Kill Suspected Terrorists

Senate Judiciary CommitteeSenate Judiciary CommitteeHow hard would it be for the White House to say, in response to Rand Paul's probing and important questions about the president's license to kill, that the government does not have the authority to use lethal force against a suspected terrorist within the United States—regardless of his nationality—unless doing so is necessary to prevent him from killing innocent people? It would be quite easy, compared to the absurd evasions and red herrings the White House has offered so far. Hence the suspicion that President Obama wants to leave open the possibility of ordering a domestic hit if he thinks it's "appropriate," as Attorney General Eric Holder might put it. The administration's assurances so far leave some pretty big loopholes.

In his March 4 letter to Paul, Holder told the Kentucky senator "the U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so." But he added that "in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001," he "would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority." That phrasing suggests Holder is not talking about using force to defend against an attack, which clearly would be justified. If a plane were about to crash into the Capitol or the White House, there would be neither the need nor the time to "examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority." So what was Holder imagining when he raised this possibility? Only he knows for sure.

When Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked him a straightforward question: Is killing a suspected member or ally of Al Qaeda on U.S. soil constitutional if he does not pose an immediate threat of violence? Since the Justice Department says it is legal to kill such people in other countries, and since it ties this power to the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress approved after 9/11, which it says includes no geographic limits, Cruz's question was perfectly reasonable. Yet Holder repeatedly dodged it, to the point that Cruz gave up on getting a straight answer, complaining that Holder kept talking about the propriety of using deadly force against a suspected terrorist who is just "walking down a path" or "sitting in a café" (as in Cruz's hypothetical) instead of its constitutionality. At the very end of the exchange, Holder made a confusing statement that Cruz interpreted as a concession: "Translate my 'appropriate' to no. I thought I was saying no." No to what was not clear, since Cruz had phrased his question several different ways.

In his two-sentence letter to Paul today, Holder writes: "It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that question is no." Earlier today Brian Doherty noted that "engaged in combat" is ambiguous, especially because the Obama administration argues that the people it identifies as members or allies of Al Qaeda are engaged in combat even when they are driving down the street or sitting in their homes, far from any active battlefield. Furthermore, the question Holder chose to answer is restricted to targeted killings using "weaponized drones," leaving open the possibility that other methods could be used, and it applies only to U.S. citizens, leaving open the possibility that immunity from summary execution in this country hinges on nationality. 

Parsing Holder's statements this way may seem far-fetched, but he should not be allowed any wiggle room, given the way the administration has twisted language to justify what looks like assassination as an act of self-defense. In its white paper on targeted killings, for instance, the Justice Department redefines "imminent threat" so that it means no more than an asserted association with Al Qaeda or an allied group. As Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) noted at yesterday's hearing, "the white paper goes so far as to suggest that imminence doesn't really need to involve anything imminent," since its definition "does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future."

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Administration Concedes on Domestic Assassinations, Businesses Hold Back on Hiring and Investing, Cop Shoots Cop Dog: P.M. Links

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J.D. Tuccille on the Government's Fight for Taxes and Against You

Uncle SamUnited States GovernmentEach tax season, says J.D. Tuccille, Managing Editor of Reason 24/7, as the U.S. federal government's ongoing spending spree grows ever-more clearly uncontrollable, politicians' proposals inevitably turn to collecting taxes owed under the law, but never paid. Closing the so-called "tax gap" is an easy sell to the public because it sounds like simple fairness. But the IRS is already the envy of international tax collectors for its results.

The chance of the United States government collecting the tax revenue its official predictions now call for is about zilch. When government officials don't get what they want, they tend to escalate. That has happened with Prohibition, the war on drugs, efforts to stamp out Internet gambling — and tax enforcement. Tactics get nastier, and nastier, and — as they don't achieve the desired result — turn increasingly abusive.

So, as politicians and talking heads chatter on about closing the tax gap, keep in mind that they're talking about waging an unwinnable but still nasty war — against you.

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Progressive Dems Explain Why They Didn't #StandWithRand Against Drone Strikes

commondreams.orgcommondreams.orgThe Huffington Post's Luke Johnson and Sabrina Siddiqui asked a number of leading progressive Democrats in the Senate about their conspicuous absense during yesterday's epic filibuster orchestrated by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). With the exception of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Senate Democrats were scarcer than hen's teeth (and Durbin didn't join the filibuster so much as ask questions about the killing of Osama bin Laden rather than engage questions about the rights of U.S. citizens).

Here are some of the saddest responses from exactly the sort of bleeding-heart Dems who say they care about executive-branch overreach, sticking up for the little guy, you name it:

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio): "I don't know, there's a lot of debates I don't join that I agree -- I've got stuff to do and was doing a lot of other things."...

photobucket.comphotobucket.comSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt., who caucuses with the Ds): "I'm working right now on many, many, other issues."...

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.): "Everyone's got a lot of priorities and people are busy."...

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon): ""I'm not supporting blocking the opportunity for [up or down votes on presidential appointees]."...

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.): "We all were shocked Republicans were doing a real filibuster instead of a procedural filibuster."

Read the whole thing here.

Hat tip: Chris Moody's Twitter Feed.

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Police Shoot Passenger in Car, Considering Charging Driver with Felony Murder

cop involved in shooting has not been identifiedCity of HaywardPolice in Hayward, California were trying to shoot the driver of a car they say was aimed at that hit their patrol cruiser when a passenger was fatally shot twice instead. It happened at 3 in the morning on Sunday and a civilian was riding along with the police. Police say it was a tragedy, but procedures were followed and there was no ill-intent. Via the Contra Costa Times:

[Sgt. Eric] Krimm said the passenger's death was "tragic."

"Our policy does not prohibit shooting at a vehicle. In any shooting, officers have to consider and be aware of their backdrop and the potential injury to people who are not the intended target. It's tragic that he was shot in this incident because there was no intent to harm him," Krimm said. "At this point in the investigation, we have not found anything that we would have arrested him for."

The Times also reports that police are considering charging the driver of the car with felony murder for the death of the passenger. It’s the fifth fatal police shooting in the Bay Area since last Thursday.

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#StandWithRand: Rand Paul, Barack Obama, Drones, and Presidential Kill Lists

For almost 13 hours on Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) led a filibuster on the Senate floor that called attention to the Obama administration's refusal to share its case for why the president can target and kill U.S. citizens without oversight. Joined by about a dozen different colleagues throughout the event, Paul hammered home questions surrounding positions advanced by President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Obama's nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan. The entire filibuster is viewable at C-SPAN's website.

Here's a condensed version of the issues under debate, featuring Sen. Paul, President Obama, and actual drone surveillance footage.

Produced by Sharif Matar.

About 2:30 minutes.

Subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.

Read Reason's coverage of Rand Paul here. On drones here.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Administration Moves To Quash Challenge to NSA Surveillance

Never let a good crisis — or a really Kafka-eque court decision — go to waste. At least, that seems to be the attitude of the White House which, one week after the Supreme Court ruled that parties unable to prove they were subject to super-secret government eavesdropping have no standing to challenge such eavesdropping, has moved to toss an EFF lawsuit against NSA electronic surveillance on similar grounds. If it prevails, the government will have successfuly created and applied a legal regime under which Americans must prove that they are the targets of surveillance before they can mount a court fight, even as the government is free to keep its list of targets secret.

From Wired:

Citing week-old Supreme Court precedent, the President Barack Obama administration told a federal judge Wednesday that it should quash a federal lawsuit accusing the government of secretly siphoning Americans’ electronic communications to the National Security Agency without warrants.

The San Francisco federal court legal filing was in response to U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White’s written question to the government asking what to make of the high court’s Feb. 26 decision halting a legal challenge to a once-secret warrantless surveillance project that gobbles up Americans’ electronic communications — a program that Congress eventually legalized in 2008 and again in 2012.

In that case, known as Clapper, the justices ruled 5-4 that the American Civil Liberties Union, journalists and human-rights groups that sued to nullify the FISA Amendments Act had no legal standing to sue. The justices ruled the plaintiffs submitted no evidence they were being targeted by that law.

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Mother Jones Worries That Sequestration Will Hurt the Poor, the Environment...and the War on Drugs?

Mother JonesMother JonesThis week Mother Jones has been sounding the alarm about the deleterious effects of the automatic budget cuts that started taking effect last Friday. On Monday, for example, Erika Eichelberger counted "12 Ways the Sequester Will Screw the Poor." Yesterday morning, Zaineb Mohammed listed "6 Ways the Sequester Will Mess Up the Environment." In the afternoon, Andy Kroll warned us that "More Cocaine Could Soon Be on Our Streets, Thanks to the Sequester."

Hang on. One of these things is not like the others. You would expect a progressive magazine to defend welfare and the evironment. But the war on drugs? Isn't Mother Jones supposed to be against that?

Yesterday Nick Gillespie tweeted Kroll's piece, wondering if "@MotherJones really frets #sequester will lead to less drug interdiction." Mother Jones Co-Editor Monika Bauerlein replied: "More 'takes note that.' We try to keep our fretting to a minimum in general." In other words, Mother Jones, which frequently condemns the war on drugs, is making no judgment about whether de-escalating it would be a good or bad development. Is that really such a hard call? It seems obvious to me that less enforcement of drug prohibition, like less imprisonment of people whose only crime is living and working in the United States without official permission, should be counted as a benefit of sequestration. In their eagerness to decry allegedly draconian spending cuts, the folks at Mother Jones seem to have forgotten that they do not actually like everything the government does.

Contrary to Bauerlein's description, Kroll did not merely "note that" the Navy plans to cut back on its drug interdiction efforts in the Caribbean. He implicitly endorsed the idea that drug interdiction is an effective way of preventing Americans from obtaining psychoactive substances that politicians have arbitrarily decreed they should not consume. He worried that sequestration will result in "more cocaine on our streets" because "the Navy is pulling back from an operation that kept 160 tons of cocaine and 25,000 pounds of marijuana out of the United States last year." It is interesting that Kroll does not seem worried about more marijuana on our streets, which may have something to do with his own pharmocological preferences—a possibility I am just noting, without passing judgment one way or the other.

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Earth's Average Temperature Lower Now Than It Was 5,000 Years Ago

That's the conclusion of a new study, "A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the past 11,300 Years," being published in the journal Science today. But before drawing in a sigh of relief about the future of global warming, the researchers also point out that the rapid warming over the last century has essentially cancelled out 2,000 years of gradual cooling.

The researchers from Oregon State University and Harvard University came to their results by combining 73 different proxy climate records (assembled into what they call stacks) spanning the past 11,500 years. They report:

Our results indicate that global mean temperature for the decade 2000–2009 has not yet exceeded the warmest temperatures of the early Holocene (5000 to 10,000 yr B.P.). These temperatures are, however, warmer than 82% of the Holocene distribution as represented by the Standard5×5 stack, or 72% after making plausible corrections for inherent smoothing of the high frequencies in the stack. In contrast, the decadal mean global temperature of the early 20th century (1900–1909) was cooler than >95% of the Holocene distribution under both the Standard 5×5 and high-frequency corrected scenarios. Global temperature, therefore, has risen from near the coldest to the warmest levels of the Holocene within the past century, reversing the long-term cooling trend that began ~5000 yr B.P.

From the abstract:

Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time. Here we provide a broader perspective by reconstructing regional and global temperature anomalies for the past 11,300 years from 73 globally distributed records. Early Holocene (10,000 to 5000 years ago) warmth is followed by ~0.7°C cooling through the middle to late Holocene (<5000 years ago), culminating in the coolest temperatures of the Holocene during the Little Ice Age, about 200 years ago. This cooling is largely associated with ~2°C change in the North Atlantic. Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

The new study finds that changes in the amount of summertime sunlight striking the Northern Hemisphere due to changes in the Earth's orbital orientation toward the sun is chiefly responsible for the recent alternation between Ice Ages and warmer periods like the one we're currently in. From the study's press release:

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Southern Poverty Law Center Finds Fewer Militias, Hypes Militia Threat Anyway

Person of the year: You!The Southern Poverty Law Center has released its annual report on "The Year in Hate and Extremism," in which the organization estimates the size of the "extremist" threat. Since its count of hate groups has dropped since last year—the number went down from 1,018 to 1,007—the center is hyping a 7 percent increase in another category: what it calls "conspiracy-minded antigovernment 'Patriot' groups." The SPLC's definition of "Patriot" is pretty broad: The list ranges from the conservative websites WorldNetDaily and FreeRepublic.com to the Moorish Science Temple and its offshoots. The Moors, a black militant movement, are presumably included because they sometimes borrow ideas from the sovereign citizens and other folks often associated with the right.

For SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok, that 7 percent surge is a sign that a growing terrorist threat demands the Department of Homeland Security's attention:

Eighteen years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote then-Attorney General Janet Reno to warn about extremists in the militia movement, saying that the "mixture of armed groups and those who hate" was "a recipe for disaster." Just six months later, the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed. Today, with our country’s political polarization at historic levels and government officials being furiously demonized by Patriots, we may be approaching a comparable moment.

In the 1990s, warnings that might have averted some of the violence from the radical right failed to stick. Now, as we face another large and growing threat from the extremists of the Patriot movement, the country needs to do better. One important start would be to demand that the Department of Homeland Security, which gutted its non-Islamic domestic terrorism unit after unjustified criticism from the political right, rebuild its important intelligence capabilities.

A different story emerges if you study the list itself. For one thing, while the number of Patriot groups has gone up since last year, the number of militia groups has gone down, from 334 to 321. That doesn't necessarily mean that there are fewer people involved in militias: One quirk of the SPLC's decision to measure activity by counting groups is that if an organization splinters in a faction fight that shows up as growth, but if two smaller groups join forces it looks like shrinkage. But given that Potok invokes the militias in both the opening and the conclusion of his article, and given that the article makes a big deal of the increased Patriot count, it seems disingenuous not to mention that the militia count is actually declining.

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Peter Suderman Reviews Oz the Great and Powerful

Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews Oz the Great and Powerful, director Sam Raimi's sorta-prequel to The Wizard of Oz, in today's Washington Times:

Let’s start with the obvious: Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” does not even begin to compare with the timeless majesty of its 1939 predecessor, Victor Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz,” which still ranks as one of the great big-screen fantasies.

The good news is that Mr. Raimi’s movie doesn’t really try — and, indeed, often seems charmingly aware of its own relative shortcomings.  

Technically speaking, Mr. Raimi’s film is not related to Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz” at all: Instead, Mr. Raimi’s movie is based on public domain material from the works of children’s author L. Frank Baum.

Still, even if “Oz the Great and Powerful” is not legally a prequel, it serves much the same function, telling the story of how Oz (James Franco), a young magician and con-man from Kansas, ends up in a bright and mystical faraway world in need of saving. On his way, he meets a trio of witches (played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, andMichelle Williams), a flustered winged monkey (Zach Braff) and a tiny girl made out of china (Joey King). It’s an origin story — a tale about how the Wizard of Oz became The Wizard of Oz.

Mr. Franco is an enjoyable, if understated, presence as Oz, who he plays as a sort of disaffected stoner. But it’s Mr. Raimi who’s the real star. 

Read the whole thing

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Did Rand Paul Win? White House Says No Authority to Kill Noncombatants on U.S. Soil

TPM reports this morning:

The U.S. government cannot use a drone to kill an American citizen who is not engaged in combat on American soil, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday during his daily press briefing.

Carney said that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had on Thursday asked the administration if the president has the authority to use a mechanized drone against an American on U.S. soil who is not engaged in hostile activities. "The answer to that question is no," Carney said.

But who is a noncombatant? What constitutes engaging in hostile activities to the White House? Does this still leave the "we declare you a combatant" excuse? More clarity needed.

UPDATE: Via Politico, the complete text of a letter Attorney General Holder sent to Rand Paul today. In its entirety: "It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that question is no."

Still: what defines "engaged in combat" to you guys? Doesn't seem to actively apply to most victims of overseas drones. Does it mean, as Lindsey Graham suggested, just being a member of Al-Queda, a topic on which the White House will undoubtedly declare itself sole judge (and then jury, and executioner)? Also, the mechanism of the kill--mechanized drone--isn't the sole issue at point here. It's summary executive power to decide who to kill without charge or trial in a Forever War.

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Brian Doherty Talks Rand Paul Filibuster on Real TV

In the midst of Rand Paul standing and filibustering yesterday, I sat down in a chair in front of my computer and talked about Rand Paul filibustering with the folks at Real TV. Here's what happened:

 

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Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela: Cuba’s Paymaster and Vassal

military compoundEl CarabobeñoOver at the New Republic, Venezuelan journalist Francisco Toro writes about the relationship forged between Hugo Chavez when he was president of Venezuela and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who outlived the strongman 28 years his junior. An excerpt:

As the unquestionably senior member of their Cold War alliance, the Soviets treated Cuba as just another satellite state; Fidel's subjugation to a cold war superpower was always something of an embarrassment to him.

In the Caracas-Havana axis, by contrast, the paymaster doubled up as the vassal. Venezuela effectively wrote a fat petrocheck month after month for the privilege of being tutelaged by a poorer, weaker foreign power.
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Fed Warns That ObamaCare Will Negatively Impact Hiring

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / Foter.com / CC BYPhoto credit: DonkeyHotey / Foter.com / CC BYA new report from the Federal Reserve suggests that ObamaCare may be negatively impacting employment. CNBC's John Carney reports on the Fed's latest Beige Book, a summary of anecdotal information on the economy collected by each of the district-level Federal Reserve Banks:

The Beige Book, which paints a picture of the economy by drawing on the contacts maintained by regional Fed banks with their local business communities, was prepared this time around by the Kansas City Federal Reserve. It's not usually considered to have any partisan tilt, although obviously the views it reports are those of the business sector (rather than, say, the labor unions).

"Employers in several Districts cited the unknown effects of the Affordable Care Act as reasons for planned layoffs and reluctance to hire more staff," the report says.

The Richmond Fed reports that employers in its area continued to point to the Affordable Care Act as "reasons for planned layoffs and reluctance to hire more staff."

The Dallas Fed contacts "noted concern that client companies are hiring the absolute minimum to get by due to uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act." 

It's not just hiring that is being hurt by Obamacare, according to the Beige Book. Sales are also.

"Many District contacts commented on the expired payroll tax holiday and the Affordable Care Act as having restrained sales growth," the report says.

Carney says he finds a little bit of good news in the San Francisco branch's report that health providers expect increased demand for services as the major provisions of ObamaCare begin to kick in. I'm less confident that adding a new layer of health-industry friendly subsidies to our already distorted health services sector is something to cheer. 

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Prof Tells Students to Lobby for Soda Bans to Get an "A"

John BanzhafCredit: banzhaf.netGeorge Washington University prof John Banzhaf assigned his students some unusual homework this week:

Some 200 undergrads will be asked to contact legislators in their home cities, counties, or states asking them to adopt legislation similar to that already adopted in New York City – and apparently to be considered in D.C., Cambridge, Mass, New York State, and perhaps elsewhere  – banning restaurants, delis, movie theaters and many other businesses from selling high-sugar drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. 

Banzhaf, the anti-obesity crusader who made a name for himself by having his students sue McDonald's for making people fat, fancies himself the scourge of soda. He's also a master of self-promotion—the prose above and below comes from a press release the man wrote and released himself.

It's cool, though. If the students happen to object to Banzhaf's proposal, they have other options: 

In response to critics, Banzhaf notes that the students will not have to lobby in favor of the NYC-type ban on large servings of sugary soft drinks, although most probably will choose that option.  They may also lobby for other ways to deal with the major impact sugary soft drinks have on obesity.  For example:
■ Ban the sale of sugary soft drinks entirely
■ Ban the sale of sugary soft drinks to children
■ Put a special tax on sugary soft drinks; e.g., to reduce consumption and/or to fund counterads
■ Don’t exempt sugary soft drinks from the ordinary sales tax
■ Prohibit the sale of sugary soft drinks in vending machines
■ Mandate per-oz. pricing of sugary soft drinks in venues like fast food restaurants and movie theaters (i.e., a 32 oz. serving must cost at least twice as much as a 16 oz. serving)
■ Limit the maximum size for sugary soft drinks in venues like fast food restaurants and movie theaters (e.g., a single serving can be no more than 16 oz.).

The homework assignment also permits the students to “ask the legislators to address another food-related problem other than obesity (e.g., food safety, availability, etc.).”

I'm gonna guess there aren't a lot of libertarians in his class.

If we're lucky, soon this Bloomberg PSA will air across the nation!

Via Walter Olson.

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Why Is Michael Bloomberg Screwing With New Yorkers' Coffee Orders? Because He Can.

StarbucksStarbucksThe New York Times notes that Michael Bloomberg's big beverage ban, which takes effect on Tuesday, will have some confusing results for coffee sellers and drinkers. While sugar-sweetened coffee in servings of 16 ounces or less will remain legal, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has imposed limits on the amount of sugar that can be added to larger servings before customers take possession of them. "If a customer orders a 20-ounce black coffee with sugar," the health department says in a flyer titled "New Beverage Portion Rule for Food Service Establishments: What You Need to Know," "the establishment can add as much as about three teaspoons of sugar to the drink." As much as about three! That's pretty generous, considering that the city has prohibited food carts, restaurants, and concession stands from selling more than a pint of other sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda and lemonade. And if three teaspoons of sugar does not make your venti Starbucks coffee sweet enough for your taste, no problem! "Real sweet tooths who want even more sugar can pour in as much as they like themselves," explains city spokeswoman Samantha Levine, refuting critics who complain that Bloomberg is arrogantly meddling in their lives.

Jamba JuiceJamba JuiceThe fact that the health department specifies black coffee in its example suggests that putting milk or cream in it reduces your sugar allowance. Unless you ask for so much milk that it constitutes more than 50 percent of your beverage, which makes it exempt from the city's serving limits, because according to the health department milk is good for you. The exemption for milk-based beverages means that, even though Bloomberg's avowed goal is "combating the obesity epidemic in New York City," Starbucks customers can order, say, a Venti White Hot Chocolate with whole milk and whipped cream (640 calories) but not a venti black coffee with four teaspoons of sugar (60 calories). A 20-ounce Coca-Cola, which is banned outright from food service establishments, has 243 calories. Fruit juice and smoothies, which often contain more calories per ounce than sugar-sweetened soda, can continue to flow freely.

StarbucksStarbucksAdding to the confusion, different businesses are responding to the city's drink diktat in different ways:

While the regulations stipulate that servers can add a limited amount of sugar to coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s will no longer do so. Customers will have to add the sugar themselves, from a condiment stand in Dunkin’ locations and with packets on the side at McDonald’s....

Then there is Starbucks, which interprets the rules as saying baristas can add sugar to large coffee drinks as long as the customer asks first; the city says the amount must be limited. Rather than spending money now on reprinting menus and retraining baristas, the company is waiting to make changes while officials gauge the response from city inspectors—and the outcome of a pending lawsuit against the rules filed by the beverage industry....

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John McCain and Lindsey Graham Declare War on Rand Paul

The anti-Rand Pauls, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, took to the Senate floor this morning to defend killing American citizens at presidential discretion. Graham is doing so live on C-SPAN2 right now, saying that everything you do is a danger to America no matter who or where you are, as long as the U.S. government has decided you have "joined al-Queda," whatever the hell that means.

Earlier John McCain said, as Business Insider reported:

"Calm down, Senator," McCain said, in an admonition to Paul. "The U.S. government cannot randomly target U.S. citizens." 

McCain argued that Paul's warning that the Obama could target would U.S. citizens in "cafes" on American soil, and his related "Jane Fonda" analogy, bring the debate into the "realm of the ridiculous." 

"If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids," he said. "I don't think what happened yesterday is helpful to the American people." 

The Republican Party is at war, folks, and let's hope Rand Paul and his troops win.

UPDATE: Sen. McCain was apparently quoting a crummy Wall Street Journal op-ed in the portion quoted above about "libertarian kids."

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As Debate over Drones Grows Louder, White House Wants to Expand War on Terror

Also potential targets: People who make really bad "drone" punscredit: U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie PrattDuring Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster yesterday he discussed President Barack Obama’s use of drones in the execution of U.S. citizen (and suspected al Qaeda recruiter) Anwar al-Alwaki and the subsequent killing of his 16-year-old son in Yemen. Paul has expressed concern about the lack of due process in this situation before, as Jacob Sullum has noted, but he doesn’t object to the military drone program. His stated goal is to make sure that the use of drones on American citizens is compliant with the Fifth Amendment.

Today Spencer Ackerman of Wired, whose coverage of drones Paul also read from the Senate floor yesterday, analyzes a Washington Post report that the Obama Administration is considering calling for changes to the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) document that launched the nation’s war on terror. The AUMF document tied the allowance of force to terrorism suspects who could be directly connected to the 9/11 attacks and those offering them assistance. With a dearth of suspects left to target, the administration wants to possibly expand the AUMF to cover other possible terrorist organizations with little connection to al Qaeda, like those believed to be responsible for the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Ackerman notes that it’s not as though the current AUMF has actually limited the Obama Administration’s actions in any way as it stands:

“The current AUMF already authorizes broad war powers to the president. As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) noted in his filibuster of impending CIA director John Brennan Wednesday, it establishes a “war with no temporal limits” or geographic ones. In Pakistan, the U.S. doesn’t just launch drone strikes and commando raids against core al-Qaida remnants, it also kills unknown individuals believed to fit a terrorist profile based on observed pattern-of-life behavior. The CIA and Joint Special Operations Command are also waging a campaign against al-Qaida’s Yemen-based affiliate, an “association” never mentioned in the AUMF, albeit against an organization that has unsuccessfully attempted to attack the U.S. at home. Even in Yemen, the U.S. also carries out so-called “signature strikes” against anonymous targets. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently said that the drone strikes have killed 4,700 people, orders of magnitude more than were involved in the 9/11 conspiracy and core al-Qaida.

But if these campaigns have strained the authorities underscored by the AUMF, practically no one in Congress has objected, either on legal or strategy grounds. In fact, as Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) pointed out in 2010, more than half the legislators who voted for the AUMF in 2001 are no longer even in Congress, yet the wars persist while the adversary morphs. Changing that dynamic to constrain the war will be a major test of the durability and influence of the civil-liberties coalition that Paul’s filibuster seemed to inspire.”

Ackerman adds that the Obama Administration originally resisted changes to the AUMF for fear that the House would expand the War on Terror. Now it appears they may be coming on board with the idea.

Reason didn’t get the name-checking Wired did from Paul yesterday (not that they don’t deserve it – we regularly link to their drone reporting at Reason 24/7), but you can read our drone coverage here.

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Jon Stewart Thinks Katherine Mangu-Ward Is Wrong About Universal Preschool

Last night, The Daily Show did a segment about opponents of universal preschool, including a quick hit from yours truly at the 5:45 mark:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

I was part of a montage of people referencing the federal government's own assessment of the efficacy of Head Start (and this earlier version of the same study) the closest thing we have to a pilot program for universal preschool. The findings of the study are pretty freaking bleak:

In summary, there were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children. 

Jon Stewart, who loves The Children, theorizes that we skeptics are looking at things backwards: The study demonstrates how much preschool rocks, he says—it's just that the rest of the public education system sucks so hard that it erases all traces of preschool gains. While that's not really what the (well-designed, well-respected) study shows, let's imagine for a second that he's right.

Which do you think is more likely?:

(a) We make preschool universal and that starts a cascade of awesomeness into the general public school system, or

(b) we graft a universal preschool entitlement onto the existing universal K-12 entitlement, and preschool starts to suck just as much as the rest of the system?

Call me a cynic, but I'm going with (b).

Jon Stewart also plays the "read the rest of the study" card, quoting passages about longer term gains from preschool. Actually, the government study doesn't actually offer insight on long term effects, since the kids in the cohort are only in third grade.

But it does have a quickie literature review embedded in it, which points to other, less robust studies. Those studies offer weaker evidence for possible "sleeper effects," in which gains disappear, but then reappear later in life in the form of higher rates of school completion, and other social and health benefits. That section boldly concludes that "research suggests that positive outcomes later in life are possible." 

Call me a kid-hating curmudgeon, but I'm not sure "possible" is a good enough foundation for hugely expensive universal entitlement.

Jon Stewart, I love you man. You are so funny, and—in this case anyway—so wrong.

Bonus: There's a hilarious interview with uber-physicist and man-about-town Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the end of the show. Come for the anti-preschool invective, stay for the Russian meteor jokes!

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Canada Wins, U.S. Fails to Get Ban on Polar Bear Trade

The United States has been trying to ban the international polar bear trade at a conference in Bangkok for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (to which the U.S. is a party with 176 other countries). Only Canada allows the export of polar bear furs and their parts, and the U.S. effort was opposed by the Inuits who hunt the polar bears as well as conservationist groups like the WWF, whose delegate at the convention said a ban would put special interests ahead of the science, and who say polar bear hunting is negligible factor in the survival of the species.

From the BBC:

A proposal by the US to ban cross-border trade in polar bears and their parts was defeated on Thursday at an international meeting.

The result marks a victory for Canada's indigenous Inuit people over their bigger neighbour to the south.

Delegates at the Cites meeting in Thailand rejected the proposal to change the bear's status from a species whose trade is regulated, not banned.

The U.S.-led effort to pass a ban was also supported by Russia, which said their polar bears were being hunted with Canadian permits.

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 Moderate Muslims

Quixotic54/FlickrQuixotic54/FlickrEuropean (and American) Muslims are not as rabid as they are commonly portrayed by their most vehement critics. Remember the uproar in 2006 after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Mohammed? There were riots by Muslims -- but in the Middle East and Africa, not Europe. When a German paper published the images, local Muslims responded with a shocking display of restraint. This is the rule, writes Steve Chapman, not the exception.

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Rand Paul Highlights Libertarian Legal Philosophy in Filibuster

Credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.com / CC BY-SACredit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.com / CC BY-SAThe central focus of yesterday’s epic filibuster by Rand Paul was on the Obama’s administration’s controversial domestic drone strike policy, but the junior senator from Kentucky had many hours to fill, leading him to touch on a number of related issues. Among them was the question of individual liberty versus majority rule, and whether the Constitution protects a broad range of unenumerated rights that are not subject to the whims of democratic decision-makers. On this point, Paul made a case drawn straight from libertarian legal philosophy.

Via South Texas College of Law professor Josh Blackman, here’s a portion of the unofficial transcript from hour two of Paul’s filibuster, where he turns his attention to these issues:

What I’m trying to say, though, is that the rights of the Constitution, the rights of the individual that were enshrined in the Constitution are important things that democracies can’t overturn. So when you get to the Lochner case, the Lochner case in 1905. The majority rules 5-4 that the right to make a contract is part of your due process. Someone can’t deprive you of determining how long your working hours are without due process. So President Obama’s a big opponent to this, but I would ask him, among the other things I’m asking him today, to rethink the Lochner case. Because the Lochner case is really what precedes and what the – the case Buchanan v. Warley is predicated upon. Buchannan v. Worley is a case from 1917. Interestingly, it comes from my state, from Louisville, Ky. There’s a young African-American attorney by the name of William Warley. He’s a Republican, like most African-Americans were in Louisville in those days. He was the founder of the NAACP. And like most founders of the NAACP, a republican. And so what they do in 1914 is they sue because the Kentucky legislature, by majority rule, by Democratic action, passes a law saying a white person can’t sell to a black person in a white section of town or vice versa.

So this is the first case the NAACP brings up. Morefield story was the famous – I think he was the first President of the NAACP famous attorney. Him and an attorney by the name of, I think Clinton blankey. But they go forward with this case and they win the case. It actually passes overwhelmingly. But interestingly, this case to end Jim Crow is based on the Lochner decision. So those who don’t like the Lochner decision, I’d say, go back, we need to reassess Lochner In fact, there’s a good book by Bernstein from George Mason talking about rehabilitating Lochner. The thing is, is that with majority rule, if you say we’re going to give deference to majority rule or we’re going to have judicial restraint and we’re going to say, well, whatever the majority wants is fine, you set yourself up for a diminishment of rights.

I go back to the – the discussion of the Constitution limits power that is given to Congress but it doesn’t limit rights. The powers are enumerated, your rights are unenumerated. The powers given to the government are few and defined. The freedoms left to you are many and undefined. And that’s important. And what does this have to do with Lochner? The case in Lochner is whether a majority rule, a state legislature can take away your due process, your due process to contract. Can they take away your life and liberty without due process. And the court rules, no. I think it’s a wonderful decision. It expands the Fourth Amendment and says to the people that you have unenumerated rights.

Here at Reason we’ve been making many of those same arguments for years. In 2007 I profiled Moorfield Storey, the libertarian NAACP co-founder and president who argued and won Buchanan v. Warley, while in 2011 I took President Obama to task for his historical illiteracy about the Lochner case.

Read more about Rand Paul’s filibuster here.

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Global Temperature Trend Update: February 2013 - Rapid Cooling

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


Global Temperature Report: February 2013

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

February temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.18 C (about 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.37 C (about 0.67 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.

Southern Hemisphere: -0.02 C (about 0.04 degrees Fahrenheit) below 30-year average for February.

Tropics: +0.17 C (about 0.31 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.

Notes on data:

Global average temperature anomalies that jumped almost three tenths of a degree Celsius from December 2013 to January 2013, fell by more than three tenths through February, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. The cooling was especially pronounced in the Southern hemisphere, where temperatures dropped from 0.45 C (0.81 degrees F) warmer than seasonal norms in January to 0.02 C (about 0.036 F) cooler than seasonal norms in February.

“On monthly time scales, apparently what goes up can come down,” Christy said.

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

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3 Takeaways from Rand Paul's #StandwithRand #Filibuster About Drone Strikes

courtesy us senatecourtesy us senateFor all of the late-night punch-drunkiness that eventually ensued on Twitter (well, at least on my feed), yesterday's 12-hours-plus filibuster led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is among the most electrifying and insipiring events in recent political memory. The point of the filibuster - which derailed a confirmation vote on John Brennan as Barack Obama's CIA head - was to call attention to the president's insufficient answers to questions about his policy of targeted killings via drones and, one assumes, other methods.

Here are three takeaways from yesterday's epic event:

1. It shows what one man can do to call attention to a hugely important issue that nonetheless is largley ignored by the mainstream media and the political establishment.

Elected in 2010, Rand Paul has rarely been the Republican - or the Democrat's - media favorite. He's been heckled big time from his own side (which initially worked against his election) and across the aisle as an irresponsible ideologue (he's a dirty tea-bagger don't you know!). Among a good chunk of his father's most devoted followers, he's been assailed as a neo-con war hawk who was willing to trim his libertarian bona fides to win favor with the D.C. party crowd. His sad-sack opponent in the general election the GOP primary, Jack Conway, set new lows with the infamous "Aqua Buddha" ad that accused Paul of everything short of devil worship; his general election opponent in the GOP primary, Trey Grayson, had already trotted out many of the same pathetic lines.

reasonreasonYet since showing up in D.C., Paul has been exactly what Reason dubbed him: "The most intersting man in the Senate" who has offered specific legislation and made extended arguments for a unified vision of limited government that is not only fully within some great lines of American political tradition but urgently needed in the current moment. Senators who pride themselves on their foreign policy expertise and have free-loaded for decades in D.C. haven't made a speech as thoughtful and out-front as the one he delivered a while back at The Heritage Foundation, for god's sake.

Rand Paul didn't speak or act alone yesterday, of course - and props to the dozen or so colleagues (including a Democrat or two) who joined him on stage or otherwise engaged him. But the opthamologist from Bowling Green, Kentucky almost singelhandedly brought the news cycle to a halt yesterday by insisting that the American government answer some basic questions about how, when, where, and under what circumstances it thinks it has the right to kill its own citizens.

2. It shows the power of transpartisan thought and action. Make no mistake: Despite the presence of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), yesterday's filibuster was a GOP-conducted orchestra. But what was most bracing and ultimately powerful thing about the filibuster was that none of the speakers exempted the Republican Party or former President George W. Bush, whose aggrandized view of executive power still roils the sleep of the Founding Fathers, from withering criticism and scrutiny. How else to explain that hard-left groups such as Code Pink were proud to #standwithrand yesterday on Twitter? The same with reliable Rand and GOP critic Eugene Robinson and many others who up until yesterday thought little of Rand Paul.

The filibuster succeeded precisely because it wasn't a cheap partisan ploy but because the substance under discussion - why won't the president of the United States, his attorney general, and his nominee to head the CIA explain their views on limits to their power? - transcends anything so banal or ephemeral as party affiliation or ideological score-settling.

The chills started early in the filibuster as Paul said things along the lines of, "If you're gonna kill people in America [as terrorists], you need rules and we need to know your rules," and "To be bombed in your sleep - there's nothing American, nothing constitutional, about that" (these quotes are paraphrases). Those are not the words of a career politician trying to gain an advantage during the next round of horse-trading over a pork-barrel project. They are the words of a patriot who puts his country first and they inspire accordingly.

reasonreason3. It ties a direct line between the abuses of power and the growth of the state.

Despite using various self-identifiers over the years (he's called himself a libertarian, a conservative, a constitutional conservative, etc.) Rand Paul has always been rightly understood as an advocate of sharply limited and small government. During his Senate race, for instance, he said questions about drug legalization should be pushed back towards the states, where different models could be tried in accordance with the wishes of the people most directly affected. He presented a budget that was heavy on spending cuts that would have balanced the budget in five years. He has called for either actually declaring war on countries such as Iraq and Libya or getting the hell out. What unites his positions is a default setting against giving the federal government a free hand to do whatever it wants irrespective of constitutional limits.

A year or so ago, we were debating whether the government had the right to force its citizens to engage in particular economic activity - that was the heart of the fight over the mandate to buy insurance in Obamacare. That overreach - and the fear that a government that can make you buy something can also theoretically make you eat broccoli - was at the heart of Rand Paul's opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court ruled that in fact, the federal government not only has the right to regulate commercial transactions that take place anywhere in these United States, it has the right to force them to take place.

And now, we're arguing over whether the president of the United States in his role as commander in chief in an ill-defined, barely articulated "global war on terror" has the right to kill U.S. citizens without presenting any sort of charges to any sort of court. In fact, it's worse than that, since the president won't even share his rationale for what he may or may not believe with the country's legislature.

By foregounding the issues of limited government, transparency, and oversight as they relate specifically to the most obvious and brazen threat to civil liberties imaginable, Rand Paul and his filibuster have also tied a direct line to a far more wide-ranging and urgently needed conversation about what sort of government we have in America - and what sort of government we should have.

Watch this March 2011 interview with Rand Paul by Matt Welch and me:

 

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A.M. Links: Filibuster Ends After Highlighting Civil Liberties, Holder A-OK With Swartz Prosecution, North Korea Threatens Nuclear Strike

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Rand Paul is Not Alone: 57 Percent Think Obama’s Assassination Program is Unconstitutional, 59 Percent Are Concerned Govt May Abuse Drone Power

Early Thursday morning, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) concluded his nearly thirteen hour-long filibuster holding up the confirmation vote of new CIA Director John Brennan. Paul used the filibuster to encourage the Obama administration to answer questions about the government’s drone program used to target American citizens suspected of being terrorists.

Rand Paul is not alone in his concern about the government’s drone program and the assassination of Americans without due process. According to a recent Reason-Rupe poll, 57 percent of Americans say it is unconstitutional for the president of the United States to order the killing of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists. Thirty-one percent believe it is constitutional. (Mike Riggs writes about these results here.)

Fifty-nine percent of Americans are also concerned the government may abuse its power when it comes to its use of drones to kill American citizens who are terror suspects.

Strong majorities of Republicans (65 percent) and Independents (64) agree it is unconstitutional for the president to order the killing of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists. In stark contrast, only 44 percent of Democrats agree, while 40 percent believe it is constitutional. This may explain why only one Senate Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden, joined Republican Senators Flake, Cruz, Rubio, Thune, Lee, Toomey, Johnson, Barrasso, and Scott on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Nevertheless, majorities of all political groups are concerned the government may abuse its power using drones. Sixty-five percent of Republicans are concerned, compared to 53 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Independents.

Young Americans are also far more likely to say it is unconstitutional for the president to order the killing of American citizens without due process. Eighty-two percent of 18-24 years olds and 62 percent of 25-34 year olds says it’s unconstitutional. However, only about half of those over age thirty-five agree that its unconstitutional while about 35 percent say it is constitutional. 

Nationwide telephone poll conducted February 21-25 2013 interviewed 1002 adults on both mobile (502) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.8%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results found hereFull methodology can be found here

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Judge Napolitano on the Right to Self Defense

The right to self-defense is a natural individual right that pre-exists the government. It cannot morally or constitutionally be taken away absent individual consent or due process. Kings and tyrants have taken this right away. "We cannot let a popular majority take it away," writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, "for the tyranny of the majority can be as destructive to freedom as the tyranny of a madman."

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Brickbat: The Big Sleazy

First Look StudioFirst Look StudioSidney Newman, 17, and Ferdinand Hunt, 18, were just hanging out on a New Orleans sidewalk, waiting on Hunt's mother to come back with something to eat. All of a sudden, about 10 men rushed at them, knocking them to the ground. The boys said they thought they were being robbed, but the men were plainclothes state troopers and one New Orleans police officer. The officers later said they were just trying to ID the boys. They released them after Hunt's mother, who is herself a police officer, returned.

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Is Rand Paul Still Talking? Alas, No

A job well done.

Sen. Paul himself and even some of his colleagues during this filibuster said more important things about limited powers, the Constitution, and the rights of Americans, and by extension the dangers of war powers that are unrestricted in time and place, than the Senate floor has heard in years. His stance today was historic, and I think will be long remembered.

Update: Didn't notice this earlier, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who started out as no friend of Rand Paul, reports Washington Examiner, said he'll keep the fires burning against Brennan in the next day's session:

“[A]t whatever point we get to a cloture vote to extend debate on the nomination of Brennan, it is my view that cloture should not be invoked,” McConnell said while participating in the filibuster on the Senate floor. “This is a controversial nominee. Should cloture be invoked, I intend to oppose the nomination and congratulate my colleague from Kentucky for this extraordinary effort.”

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RNC Chief Reince Priebus Says All GOP Senators Should Go Stand with Rand on Brennan Filibuster

It's almost like watching the Republican status quo change over the course of a day.

Support for Rand Paul's filibuster of the John Brennan CIA chief nomination over administration authority to kill Americans here in America just because they think they should has slowly increased and after a few solo hours he has been joined in various respects by Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Jerry Moran, Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Saxby Chambliss, John Cornyn, John Barrasso, John Thune, and Mitch McConnell, as Ed Krayewski blogged earlier.

Now Reince Priebus, the chief of the Republican National Committee--not a legislator but surely some bellwether of at least what he thinks the Party's members and supporters want--has tweeted:

Attention all Republican US Senators -> Please go to the floor and help out @SenRandPaul #StandWithRand


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Cop Shoots Another Cop* in Foot After Connecticut School Locked Down When Woman Reports Mystery Gunman No One Else Finds

Manchester Community College in Connecticut gets shut down for many hours today on a "shelter in place" emergency lockdown when one woman reports seeing a mystery man with a gun in his belt; cops flood the campus, a massive search finds no such man and no gun, but during the affair an officer shoots himself another officer in the foot.

Full story from the Hartford Courant

[Hat tip: Justin Barnett]

*Story updated with new details--an officer shot another officer in the foot, not his own, as previously reported.

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Rand Paul Is Still Talking: Twelve Hours of Filibuster

There's a website you can check to see if Rand Paul is still talking if for some reason you can't find the C-SPAN livestream.

The filibuster is now 12 hours long and has included "questions" from 11 other senators: Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Jerry Moran, Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Saxby Chambliss, John Cornyn, John Barrasso, John Thune, and Mitch McConnell. All are Republicans except Wyden, who appeared early on in the effort. Harry Reid checked in earlier to see if the Brennan vote might happen tonight and Dick Durbin objected to a request for unanimous consent to a resolution calling the use of drones to target Americans on American soil a violation of the Constitutional right to due process. 

#StandWithRand is still trending on Twitter in the U.S. and worldwide, and you should follow @reason247, where we're livetweeting the event.

The record for a filibuster in the Senate is just over 24 hours, when Strom Thurmond filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Though it's not over yet, it's already being documented on YouTube. Here are some highlights, including an Emergency Alert System test:

As Rand Paul's mentioned multiple times, he'd stop as soon as the President or the Attorney General tell him whether they believe the president has the power to kill Americans on U.S. soil.

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Reason's Sequestration Subscription Deal: We're Taking 2.3% of Our Already Low Price of $14.97!

In order to demonstrate the devasatating affects of automatic federal spending cuts, Reason is happy to offer a special Sequestration subscription rate. Depending on how you figure the cuts, the sequester will trim as much as $85 billion out of a $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal year 2013.

You already know how awful the sequester will be. Among its terrifying effects on a country still struggling after spending trillions of borrowed money on bailouts, stimulus, and dysfunctional fighter jets:

In solidarity, we are cruelly slashing 2.3 percent off our normal price of $14.97, which means we will receive 34 cents less per annual subscription. So you can now get a year's worth of Reason - 11 issues - for just $14.63! This rate is good for new subscribers, existing subscribers, and folks who want it via Kindle, Nook, Sony, and other e-readers.

This offer won't last forever - just like the sequester cuts, which the government is likely to reverse as soon as the Dems and Reps can come together in a face-saving, free-spending manner.

So don't delay - and make sure to use this special link to lock in your unconscionably cruel savings of 2.3 percent!

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Rand Paul Filibustering John Brennan with Support from Some Republicans, Others Dining at White House

let them eat cake, closed to toursWhite HouseRand Paul’s filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA began at 11:47am and has so far included questions from eight other senators: Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Jerry Moran, Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Saxby Chambliss and John Cornyn. Just a few minutes ago Paul read a note that said the White House was not returning his office’s phone calls. “If anybody knows anybody at the White House and wants to call, we are looking for an answer from the White House,” Rand Paul said. Several Senate Republicans, in fact, are at the White House having dinner tonight (to discuss the sequester; presumably their meals were not affected). Invited were: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Pat Toomey, Bob Corker, Ron Johnson, Saxby Chambliss, Tom Coburn, John Hoeven, Dan Coats, Richard Burr and Mike Johanns. Toomey and Chambliss asked Paul questions during the filibuster so maybe they’ll pass a message along.

h/t Daniel Horowitz

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Rand Paul: Congress Couldn’t Even Vote to End Iraq War After It Was Over

mr. paul in washingtonC-SPANIn his seven hours long and counting filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) brought up his failed attempt at revoking the authorization of the use of military force in Iraq after Barack Obama failed to postpone the end of the war. Paul tried to revoke the authorization by amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act in 2011—the amendment failed with only 30 yes votes (only three Republicans joined Paul; Jim DeMint, Dean Heller, and Olympia Snowe). Less than a year later, the fact that that authorization for military force remained in effect helped the administration redeploy military (special ops) forces  to Iraq without controversy or, for that matter, coverage. Spotted by the Nation, in the fifteenth paragraph of a contemporaneous New York Times article (below the digital fold):

Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

The last U.S. commander in Iraq before the troop withdrawal told a Senate committee last month that the situation in Iraq remains “fragile.” As Rand Paul reminded us today, the authorization of military force is still in effect, so the door to war remains always open.

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The TSA vs. Public Schools: Whose Safety Rules Are Dumber?

Jacob SullumJacob SullumHaving lost several pretty nice pocket knives at airports over the years because I forgot to leave them at home or put them in a checked bag, I was pleased to hear that I do not have to worry about that anymore, thanks to the Transportation Security Administration's latest decree concerning what you may and may not carry onto a plane, which Scott Shackford noted here yesterday. But then I checked the fine print: The blade of your knife can be no longer than 2.36 inches (six centimeters). I am looking at my Leatherman Juice S2 right now, and I have a ruler, but I still am not sure whether it will pass muster. Although the actual blade of the knife is almost exactly six centimeters, I am a little worried that a persnickety TSA agent will count the additional centimeter or so of unsharp metal at the base of the blade. Do they seriously plan to measure the blades of pocket knives, or just eyeball them? ("Yep, that looks like six centimeters to me.") And not to rock the plane now that the TSA, after more than a decade, has finally come to its senses on this issue, but the blade on my newly permitted pocket knife is about twice as long as the blade of my still-prohibited box cutter.

I would also welcome the decision to allow souvenir baseball bats (no longer than 24 inches, please) in airplane cabins, except that I did not realize until now that they were banned. Also OK as of next month: actual, full-size billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, and golf clubs (limit: two). Again, not to make trouble, but if real baseball bats are still banned because they can function as weapons, it is hard to see why these other long, hard objects, some of which people actually have been known to use against home invaders or fellow bar brawlers, are now considered unthreatening. Does the TSA have something against America's Pastime? (That is what they call baseball, right?)

Jacob Sullum (artist's rendering)Jacob Sullum (artist's rendering)I was planning to write a tongue-in-cheek post mocking the new TSA policy, but two things stopped me: Andy Borowitz already did that, and I read about the 7-year-old who was suspended for two days from Park Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, last Friday for allegedly saying "bang, bang" while holding a government-distributed, Pop-Tart-like pastry that he had chewed into a shape vaguely resembling a gun. As The Washington Post explains, there is some dispute about exactly what happened:

[William "B.J."] Welch [the boy's father] said an assistant principal at Park Elementary School told him that his son pointed the pastry at a classmate—though the child maintains he pointed it at the ceiling.

"In my eyes, it's irrelevant; I don't care who he pointed it at," Welch said. "It was harmless. It was a danish."

The Post notes that the boy's suspension is the latest in a series of questionable disciplinary decisions by school officials in the Washington, D.C., area (and elsewhere) who are determined to enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding gun-related whimsy. Other highlights include the arrest (!) of a 10-year-old boy for showing his friends a toy gun while riding on a school bus and the suspension of a 5-year-old girl who talked about shooting a classmate...with a bubble-blowing Hello Kitty gun. So for those who complain that taxpayers do not get much return for the money they keep pumping into public education, here is something amazing that government-funded schools are accomplishing: They are making the TSA look sensible.

Addendum: Katherine Mangu-Ward was first to blog the gun-shaped pastry, followed by the Reason 24/7 mention I noted and a post by Jesse Walker. Look for a special issue of Reason devoted to the subject next month.

[Thanks to Ron Steiner and Mark Lambert for the links.]

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Talkin' John Birch History Blues

Them Birchers they was comin' around/They was in the air/They was on the ground

I pulled an odd sort of double duty yesterday, getting quoted as a critic of the Southern Poverty Law Center in a CNN story about the group's annual report on American "extremism" on the same day the SPLC itself quoted me in an article by Don Terry about the John Birch Society. I'll have some harsh words for that extremism report in a later post, but for now I'll direct you to the Birch piece. While I can't say I agree with all of the author's conclusions, he quoted me accurately and gave me space to make my arguments.

The first of those arguments involves the legend that William Buckley expelled the Birchers from the conservative movement:

"Being banished from the conservative movement and being banished from the National Review-approved conservative movement are not the same thing," [said] Jesse Walker, who, as a senior editor at the libertarian-leaning Reason Magazine and Reason.com, writes about political paranoia among other topics. "John G. Schmitz ran a basically Birchite third-party presidential campaign in 1972 that got over a million votes. That's a lot of people who don’t take their marching orders from Bill Buckley," he said in an E-mail interview.

The second argument is my reaction to the idea that the Birchers are increasingly influential in the Republican Party:

Some of the longtime Bircher ideas and themes that have slipped into the conservative mainstream and now sound like Republican talking points include, according to [Chip] Berlet, the belief that big government leads to collectivism which leads to tyranny; that liberal elites are treacherous; that the U.S. has become a nation of producers versus parasites; that the U.S. is losing its sovereignty to global treaties; that the "New World Order" is an actual plan by secret elites promoting globalization; and that multiculturalism is a conspiracy of "cultural Marxism."

But Walker, the Reason editor, does not see the society as especially "influential in the inner circle of the GOP." The Birchers, Walker said in an E-mail, are often "deeply hostile to a wide range of policies the national Republicans have embraced."

"It's worth noting," he added, "that the JBS has evolved with the times; the modal Bircher of today and the modal Bircher of, say, 1964 would not see eye to eye about everything. It was interesting in the 1990s to watch as a group that we tend to associate with hawkish anti-Communists suddenly discovered its inner isolationism, opposed the first Gulf war, and generally moved toward a stance of skepticism toward military interventions abroad."

Before anyone rushes to correct me: I am aware that the Birchers' isolationist tendencies were there during the Cold War too, leading not just to their steadfast opposition to the United Nations but to a somewhat schizoid position on Vietnam. I think there's a difference between that and the full-scale anti-war positions they started taking in the 1990s, and that's the evolution I was alluding to.

Bonus links: I have more to say about the Birchers in a book that'll be coming out this August. Read about it here; pre-order a copy here.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Sen. Rand Paul Filibuster Successfully Delays CIA Vote

Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been on the Senate Floor for about six hours now filibustering the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director in order to object to the lack of transparency from the Obama Administration. He is demanding information about the use of drones for extrajudicial executions of terrorism suspects and more clarity about whether the Department of Justice believes it’s legal to kill non-combatants on American soil without the benefit of a trial.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attempted to bring about the end of the filibuster and failed. Paul is still talking and the vote won’t happen until tomorrow, at least.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan to push the chamber toward a final vote on John Brennan's nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency was blocked, at least temporarily, by a filibuster.

Mr. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, moved to end debate on the nomination earlier in the day, but Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) stalled the chamber as he expressed anger with the Obama administration after Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter Tuesday that the U.S. has authority to carry out drone strikes on American soil.

The filibuster caught Senate leaders by surprise. Mr. Reid had thought he could reach an agreement with Senate Republicans to vote on Mr. Brennan on Wednesday, early enough to allow lawmakers to adjourn before a winter storm was poised to hit. But Mr. Paul took to the Senate floor shortly before noon, promising to speak "for as long as I can hold up."

We started live-tweeting Paul’s Filibuster at the Reason 24/7 Twitter feed here. We’ll try to keep it up as it goes on. At least we get to sit down.

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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Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell on the Failures of Government-Funded Preschool

Credit: Whitehouse.govCredit: Whitehouse.govPresident Obama has announced a cure for the country's social ills: universal preschool. It would help children "read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own," and also reduce teen pregnancy and violent crime, he said in his State of Union address. As evidence for these remarkable claims he pointed to Oklahoma and Georgia, the early adopters of universal preschool. But as Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell report, the real evidence from those states suggests that preschool doesn't deliver on even its most basic promises.

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British Government to Send Military Aid to Syrian Rebels

Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/flickrCredit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/flickrThe British Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced that the U.K. will send armored vehicles and body armor to Syrian rebels. From Sky News:

In a statement to the Commons, William Hague said Britain would increase aid to Syrian opposition forces, including providing "new types of non-lethal equipment for the protection of civilians", after EU sanctions had been amended.

He said the UK, along with the National Coalition, was in the middle of trying to identify "the protective equipment that will be of most use to them and likely to save most lives".

"It will certainly include armoured four-wheel drive vehicles to help opposition forces move around more freely as well as personal protection equipment including body armour," he added.

Testing equipment to provide evidence of any use of chemical weapons by the regime and training for armed groups in international human rights and legal standards is also being sent.

Mr Hague said £3m had been allocated this month for the work with another £10m to follow - urging other countries to do the same.

Understandably some Members of Parliament are concerned about where this might lead.

The announcement comes on the same day that the Arab League released a statement saying that members are free to send weapons to the Syrian rebels.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently announced that the U.S. would not be providing Syrian rebels with military aid. From Middle East Online:

Kerry stressed there was no question of arming the Syrian opposition, even as his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal insisted on the right of Syrians to self-defence.

The United States will continue to work with its "friends to empower the Syrian opposition," Kerry told reporters during a joint press conference with Prince Saud.

Asked about reports of arms being sent to Syria's rebels from countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Kerry replied: "The moderate opposition has the ability to make sure that the weapons are getting to them and not to the wrong hands."

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Nick Gillespie: 5 Scenes from a Sequestered America

"We're not quite yet a week into the sequester," writes Reason's Nick Gillespie, who notes that just this morning he received an Obama fundraising email that called the automatic budget cuts that went into effect on March 1 "Devastating."

"It's not too soon, is it, to ask how things are going?," asks Gillespie. "Here are 5 scenes from a sequestered America. From a shuttered White House to a silenced Army band to the nation's airports to tinder-dry combustible cities to food programs aimed at poor kids and mothers, things are surprisingly...uneventful."

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Sen. Rand Paul Filibusters, Chicago Cops SWAT the Wrong Place, Venezuela's Military Digs Hugo's Chosen Successor: P.M. Links

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

Follow Reason 24/7 on Twitter: @reason247

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget to sign up for Reason’s daily updates for more content

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Sequester, Schmequester, Just So Long as the Government Gets to Spend More Money

And it does! Peter Klein notes that our media is largely failing those Americans who actually might care to understand what is actually happening with government spending, and why, and provides a tight explanation of the very basics everyone should understand, but doesn't seem to:

Bureaucracy illustrationPhoto credit: Harald Groven / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The Narrative is that sequestration imposes large and dangerous cuts — $85 billion, a Really Big Number! — to essential government services, and that the public reaction should be outrage at the President and Congress (mostly Congressional Republicans) for failing to “cut a deal.”....In virtually none of these stories will you find any basic facts about the budget, which are easily found on the CBO’s website, e.g.:

  • Sequestration reduces the rate of increase in federal spending. It does not cut a penny of actual (nominal) spending. 
  • The CBO’s estimate of the reduction in increased spending between 2012 and 2013 is $43 billion, not $85 billion.
  • Total federal spending in 2012 was $3.53 trillion. The President’s budget request for 2013 was $3.59 trillion, an increase of $68 billion (about 2%). Under sequestration, total federal spending in 2013 will be $3.55 trillion, an increase of only $25 billion (a little less than 1%). 
  • Did you catch that? Under sequestration, total federal spending goes up, just by less than it would have gone up without sequestration. This is what the Narrative calls a “cut” in spending!....
  • Of course, these are nominal figures. In real terms, expenditures could go down, depending on the rate of inflation. Even so, the cuts would be tiny — 1 or 2%.
  • The news media also talk a lot about “debt reduction,” but what they mean is a reduction in the rate at which the debt increases....

Reason, for all your sequester needs.

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Massachusetts Passes Health Care Price Controls. Costs Rise Anyway.

Photo credit: WBUR / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDPhoto credit: WBUR / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDWhen Mitt Romney made the case for a state-level health reform as governor of Massachusetts, he promised that insurance would become affordable and “the costs of health care will be reduced.” That didn’t work out so well. Costs continued to rise, and health insurance premiums in the state were among the nation’s most expensive. So last year, Romney’s Democratic successor, Deval Patrick, signed into law an ambitious cap on health cost increases. But now it appears that Patrick’s price controls may not work very well either.

Earlier this week, the Boston Globe reported that after a brief period of moderating growth “health care prices—and insurance premiums—may soon start accelerating again, exceeding a heralded cost cap set by the state last year.” The Globe points to several reasons why this is the case, including a wave of mergers, and some federal rule changes related to ObamaCare. But mostly it just appears that health care prices and utilization are outpacing economic growth.

“Health insurers in Massachusetts estimate the ‘medical cost trend’ — an industry measure based on the price of services and the volume of doctor visits, procedures, and tests — will rise between 6 and 12 percent this year,” according to the Globe. “That would be more than double the state’s anticipated rate of economic growth.” It is mystifying indeed to see that state-imposed price controls are failing to restrain cost growth. 

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Reason 24/7 Livetweets Sen. Rand Paul's Filibuster

You can catch our livetweet coverage here: @reason247

If you don't have access to a television, CSpan is covering the filibuster live on the Web.

In case you haven't been following the fun, Sen. Paul is filibustering the confirmation of John Brennan, President Obama's nominee to take the reins at the CIA. His main point of contention is the Obama administration's claim of authority to decide for itself when and why it may assassinate suspected terrorists, both within and outside the United States.

Our own Brian Doherty made some points out the filibuster here.

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Venezuelan Defense Ministry Pledges Army Support for Hugo Chavez Successor in Next Month’s Special Election

nada mas¡Que comunismo! / Foter.comHugo Chavez has been praised by Congressman Jose Serrano, former Congressman Joe Kennedy, various European leaders, and others. Amazingly, while eulogizing the Venezuelan strongman in The Nation, Greg Grandin, who apparently teaches history at NYU and is a member of the Academy of Arts & Sciences, lamented that Chavez wasn’t enough of one:

Chávez was a strongman. He packed the courts, hounded the corporate media, legislated by decree and pretty much did away with any effective system of institutional checks or balances. But I’ll be perverse and argue that the biggest problem Venezuela faced during his rule was not that Chávez was authoritarian but that he wasn’t authoritarian enough. It wasn’t too much control that was the problem but too little.

Intent, perhaps, on fortifying Chavez’s strongman legacy, the Ministry of Defense announced the army would be backing Chavez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro. Via the AP:

In a late night tweet, Venezuelan state-television said Defense Minister Adm. Diego Molero had pledged military support for Maduro's candidacy against likely opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, despite a constitutional mandate that the armed forces play a non-political role.

Related: Rand Paul is currently in his third hour of filibustering (now joined by Mike Lee as well as Ted Cruz) the nomination of John Brennan, during which he explained the protections that exist for rights and minorities in a republic but not a democracy.

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What Should Online Courses Do With Angry, Suicidal, Oversharing Teenagers?

math is hard!Credit: kovalvs / 123RF Stock Photo</a>If a student threatens to shoot his classmates (or himself) on the online message board for his physics class, does that count as a campus threat? 

That's just one of the many questions purveyors of massively open online courses, or MOOCs, are asking themselves. 

Universities have traditionally been asked to play many roles, and as the functions of those universities are disaggregated, the question of who picks up which pieces is a tough one. In truly massive online courses, like those offered by Coursera, Udacity, and huge public universities experimenting with online learning, teachers are not expected to read all the postings in a class message board. But students still act like students—fighting, falling in love, chattering about emotional problems, and generally acting in ways that would be considered inappropriate in other parts of grown up life.

Inside Higher Ed talked to some experts:

Scott Plous, a psychology professor at Wesleyan University, is preparing to teach more than 70,000 students who signed up for his class through Coursera, one of the popular MOOC providers. Plous, who worked at a Los Angeles suicide hotline before graduate school, is now trying to figure out how to monitor the message boards and deal with students who post hate speech or are threatening violence or suicide....

Plous is partially counting on self-policing by users, something he may talk about in his introductory lecture. For instance, if someone in a remote village in India is talking about suicide, Plous hopes other users from India can suggest places to go for help.

But some students (and parents) want more than that. Can online schools provide traditional student mental health services? Should they?

One thing I'm looking forward to is a disaggregation of the babysitting and educating functions performed by schools at all levels. If parents want someone to step in in loco to keep an eye on their volatile teenager, why not let them pay for that service separately?

For all the same reasons that it seems silly to pay someone with a master's degree $80,000 a year to supervise 5-year-olds at recess, it doesn't make a lot of sense to build psychological supervision into the job of a P.hD. economist trying to impart the principles of supply and demand to tens, hundreds, or millions of students. Why not try a model where 18-year-olds who want to get out the house while they pursue a degree shack up in hostels with cooks and counselors while getting their intellectual jollies from an entirely different purveyor? 

One bonus: Older students who want to enroll will not have to put up with the meddling of traditional campus institutions.

Via Tyler Cowen.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Lawsuit Alleges Chicago Police Terrorized Children in Wrong Door Raid

Last month Chicago named its first “public enemy number one” since Al Capone during the Prohibition Era. Even though Chicago named a Mexican drug lord this time, its political leaders are more interested in keeping drugs illegals and blaming guns than wondering how the drug war might fuel violence or contribute to an atmosphere of terror.

From Courthouse News:

Chicago police terrorized six children in the wrong apartment, demanding at gunpoint that an 11-month-old show his hands, and telling one child, "This is what happens when your grandma sells crack," the family claims in court.

Lead plaintiffs Charlene and Samuel Holly sued Chicago, police Officer Patrick Kinney and eight John Does in Federal Court, on their own behalves and for their children and children.

The six children were 11 months to 13 years old at the time. Plaintiffs Connie and Michelle Robinson are Charlene Holly's daughters.

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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Rand Paul Breaks Three Hour Mark on Filibuster of Brennan Nomination

Everyone should be enjoying the mellow tones of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) from the Senate floor as he gives props to Lysander Spooner, slams Oliver Wendell Holmes and Herbert Croly, praises Obama for saying he believed in curbing executive power and slams him, and his CIA nominee John Brennan, for believing in the power of summary execution of Americans. Sen. Paul is asserting boldly that the U.S. is not a battlefield worthy of martial law.

See it on C-SPAN2 now.

He will have to go on for nearly nine hours to beat a Bernie Sanders speaking-filibuster record for this century, though. Can he do it?

Paul admits, as he speaks to an empty floor and a nation in front of their computers and TV sets, that he's almost certainly not going to beat the Brennan nomination. But he's unique, alas, among modern politicians in believing that standing up for the rights of Americans to not be summarily murdered is worth doing, at whatever political cost.

UPDATE: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweets in apparent support of Paul's point, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) plans to join him on Senate floor--and in fact has as I type.

UPDATE II: Ted Cruz from Texas is also saying some great things about our natural rights, posed as questions for Rand Paul, right now.

UPDATE III: Reason 24/7 is now livetweeting the ongoing filibuster.

Also: israndpaulstilltalking.com? Yes!

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Implementing Pot Legalization in Colorado and Washington: Q&A with David Bienenstock and Harris Kenny

"Implementing Pot Legalization in Colorado and Washington: Q&A with David Bienenstock and Harris Kenny" 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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Can Obama Kill Some Dude Sitting in Starbucks? Holder Would Rather Not Say.

Senate Judiciary CommitteeSenate Judiciary CommitteeWhat exactly did Attorney General Eric Holder mean when he said, in response to questions from Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other senators, that he could envision "extraordinary circumstances" in which it would be "necessary and appropriate" to use lethal force on U.S. soil against Americans suspected of involvement in terrorism? Given a chance to clarify his position during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Holder resisted mightily.

In his March 4 letter to Paul, Holder said "the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001." This morning Holder elaborated on the latter scenario, citing President Bush's consideration of authorizing the Air Force to shoot down United Flight 93, the airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania on the way to Washington, D.C., after passengers fought back against Al Qaeda hijackers. But the moral and legal issue in that case was whether the lives of innocent passengers (who almost certainly would have died anyway) should be sacrificed to save potential victims at the White House or the Capitol. There was no question that using lethal force against the terrorists themselves, who posed a clear and imminent threat, was justified as an act of self-defense.

In any case, as The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf notes, Holder's letter suggests he did not have in mind the use of force against terrorists in the midst of an attack. "Were such an emergency to arise," Holder wrote, "I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the president on the scope of his authority." If Holder imagines he will have time to draw up a memo, he clearly is not talking about a threat like a plane that is about to crash into the Capitol. At today's hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) repeatedly pressed Holder to say whether it would be constitutional to kill a suspected terrorist on U.S. soil if he did not pose an immediate threat. Holder dodged the question again and again, allowing only that killing a suspected terrorist who was just "walking down a path" or "sitting in a café" (as in Cruz's hypothetical) would not be "appropriate." Cruz complained:

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Soothe Your Sequester Worries With a Job at the National Park Service

Smokey BearUnited States GovernmentYes, the United States government is on the verge of tumbling into the abyss due to the dire straits it finds itself in. How can a modern state be expected to to sustain itself on a scrooge-ish raise in annual expenditures from $3.538 trillion to $3.553 trillion (PDF)? But if all this fretting over national finances has you down, you can console yourself with the knowledge that the National Park Service is still hiring.

According to USAJobs, the keeper of all things employment-related for our friends in Washington, D.C., there are a good many positions open among the nation's federally managed wonders — and some of these openings were listed just today! A search for jobs at the National Park Service reveals such opportunities as:

Park Ranger (Protection), GS-0025-07, a gig (actually, two) paying $24.95 per hour (plus bennies) in San Francisco, with an "open period" for applications closing tomorrow.

If that's too tight a deadline for you, there are two openings for MAINTENANCE WORKER (WATER) that were listed just today and for which you can apply over the course of the next week. If you land one of these positions, you'll pull in $18.45 - $23.18 / Per Hour, plus any benefits the federal government may have to offer. If you already applied for the maintenance jobs in February, don't worry that the listing disappeared "when we were notified we needed to remove all vacancy announcements from USAJOBS.  We have been given the approval to advertise temporary positions again.  Individuals that applied when these positions were initially advertised, do not need to reapply."

The National Park Service is also hiring paramedics and masons, supervisors (at up to $74K) and guides. There are also a bunch of lifeguard slots, though it's not clear whether you have to provide your own Savage Steve Holland script if you land one. So don't fret that you lack an appropriate skill set. Whatever you can do, it's almost certainly good enough for government work.

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Matthew Feeney Discusses the Syrian Conflict on RT

I recently appeared on RT's Cross Talk show to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria. I was joined by Penn State's Flynt Leverett and Ed Husain from the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Watch below:

More from Reason on Syria here

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A. Barton Hinkle on Dennis Rodman and North Korea

North KoreaCredit: Kalleboo/Foter.comNorth Korea is a prison state where all TV sets are permanently tuned to state channels. Where the state has a Byzantine classification system that divides the citizenry into 53 categories of loyalty. Where there is no freedom of movement. Or the press. Or religion. Or, for that matter, anything else. It was to this world that former NBA star Dennis Rodman came last week, observes A. Barton Hinkle, where Rodman watched some basketball and yukked it up with North Korea’s new dictator, Kim Jong-un. “They had a grand old time,” according to the organizer of the trip. Rodman publicly told Kim that “you have a friend for life.”

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European Politicians Praise Venezuela's "Social Development" and Chavez's "Will to Fight for Justice"

Credit: ¡Que comunismo!/flickrCredit: ¡Que comunismo!/flickrThe president of the European Commission and the president of the European Council have praised Hugo Chavez for Venezuela’s social development.

In a joint message to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro both Jose Manuel Barroso and and Herman Van Rompuy said:

Venezuela has stood out for its social development and for its contribution to South America's regional integration

Barroso and Rompuy were not the only European politicians to express their admiration for Chavez. Socialist French president Francois Hollande praised Chavez’s "undeniable will to fight for justice and development," while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called Chavez’s death “a heavy blow.” 

Venezuelans have taken to the streets to mourn Chavez while Venezuelans living in the U.S. have cheered his death in the hope that reform might now be possible.

Of course cringe-worthy statements like those issued by European politicians are not only coming from across the Atlantic. As Nick mentioned yesterday, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) was quick to offer his own thoughts on Chavez:

President Chavez was a controversial leader. But at his core he was a man who came from very little and used his unique talents and gifts to try to lift up the people and the communities that reflected his impoverished roots. 

It is interesting that Barroso and Rompuy decided to praise Venezuela’s “social development,” especially when one reflects on the fact that Venezuela is the one of the most violent countries in South America despite not waging the war on drugs that Mexico is fighting, and that Chavez was no fan of free speech. Venezuelan government officials assumed during Chavez's presidency that inequality was fueling violence in Venezuela. However, despite managing to make Venezuela a more equal country (which is presumably one of the social developments Barroso and Rompuy were referring to) the crime rate increased. Al Jazeera spoke to a professor of criminology about Venezuela’s crime rate back in October 2012:

"The Venezuelan numbers are surprising," Andromachi Tseloni, professor of criminology at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, told Al Jazeera. "Inequality is [normally] highly correlated to murder rates. I haven't seen another country where inequality has dropped sharply and homicides have risen sharply."

Venezuela is now described as "upper middle income" by the World Bank, but it has a far worse murder rate than Haiti -the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

More from Reason on Chavez here.

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If You Love Dogs - But Believe in the Drug War - Please Read This Post About Medical Marijuana for Pooches.

courtsy SF Weeklycourtsy SF WeeklyIt has always surprised me that many human beings seem more moved by the suffering of animals - especially doggies and kitty cats - than by the suffering of, well, human beings. If Hotel Terminus is a disturbing, heartbreaking, rage-inducing story, then Hotel Terminus...For Dogs would simply be unwatchable!

This cross-species empathy plays out in all sorts of odd and disturbing (to me) ways, especially in drug war stories. Often, it means that public outrage is highest not when living, breathing people are shot or killed but when exactly the same sort of violence happens to puppys. When cops or a SWAT team commit homicide, folks may or may not be outraged. But when cops or SWAT teams commit puppycide, the outrage blows through the roof. The upside of puppycide, which even has its own topic tag at Reason.com? It reaches a part of the public that otherwise doesn't get too riled up about violations of basic rights and common decency.

And with that as an intro, let me direct you to the next front in the drug war: Medical marijuana for dogs.

Look, it's one thing if grandma's head is pounding due to migraines and cataract pressure or if Biff can't choke down meals due to wasting syndrome, but it's a whole other story when Sampson the Rottweiler gets the runs due to cancer:

Christine stumbled upon a controversial homemade herbal remedy that she credits with enormously improving her dog's quality of life. She's grateful that, in his final year, Sampson weighed in at a robust 106 pounds and lived free of the wracking pain that had haunted him. Whereas before Sampson had been too weak to walk, almost overnight he became a born-again youngster. "He was a puppy again, happy and playful," Christine recalls. "He'd trot around the house with his toys in his mouth, wanting to play fetch!"

The name of the controversial herbal remedy Sampson took? Cannabis.

courtesy Houston Pet Talk/Imageechef.comcourtesy Houston Pet Talk/Imageechef.comAnd yet, there are still vets who, just like doctors for humans, refuse to open their minds and their eyes to what's right in front of them. Don't they understand that most dogs aren't looking for a cheap high (not that there's anything wrong with that), they're just trying to do what works for them.

Despite mounting scientific evidence proving the herb's potent pain-relieving property - plus increasing anecdotal evidence from dog owners who've experimented with MM successfully - the veterinary mainstream wants cannabis weeded out, citing the risks of overdose and carcinogenic secondhand smoke.

As Ohio vet Neal J. Sivula explains, "I am very frustrated by veterinarians' seeming lack of interest in exploring this potentially very useful plant, Dr. Kramer being the exception. I am gathering that most veterinarians have not followed the changes in genetic strains of MM [medical marijuana]. Most think of MM only in terms of what might be purchased for illicit use and haven't done their research to know that strains have been developed with an eye toward pain control, nausea relief, and appetite stimulation with minimal reported side effects [in people]."

Although it's understandable why vets frown on sharing pot with pets for recreational purposes, when marijuana is administered orally via a tincture, in precise dosages prescribed by a vet with the goal of relieving unbearable pain, the smoke risk is eliminated, and the herb appears to do much more good than harm. Plus, cannabis doesn't adversely impact the liver, as many medications do. That's why, for every vet who opposes cannabis, there's another open to giving it a try - once it's legalized. 

Read the whole thing here.

Hat Tip: Veronique de Rugy.

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Nearly 20 Percent of Illinois’ Budget to Go to Pensions

The many moods of Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn"The Nightmare Before Christmas," Touchstone PicturesIllinois Gov. Pat Quinn appears to have given up in actually leading any sort of pension reform in his state and instead today is introducing a $35.6 billion budget that will boost pension spending to consume 19 percent of the budget in order to meet obligations. Via the Chicago Sun-Times:

[W]hile the Quinn administration forecasts $817 million in new revenues coming into state coffers during the budget year beginning July 1, all of that money and more — $929 million — will go toward paying for added pension costs.

The Sun-Times notes that while the education spending will increase $500 million, that money won’t go to actual school operations. Actual spending on the day-to-day operation of public schools and universities will drop by $400 million:

“These are not reductions the governor would like to see happen. He’d prefer we go the other way, but these are the direct results of inaction” on pensions, Jerry Stermer, Quinn’s budget director, told reporters during a Tuesday evening budget briefing.

While Quinn decries the lack of action by the legislature, he hasn’t exactly been a model for leadership. As I’ve repeatedly noted, what little pension reform California has managed on the state level involved a direct plan put forth by Gov. Jerry Brown. Quinn’s most recent (and very bizarre) proposal involved creating an unelected and unaccountable commission to deal with the pension crisis so that he doesn’t have to.

He may perhaps hope that presenting a budget like this will force the state legislature’s hand, but legislators (sadly) have much less of an incentive to stand up to the public employee unions than the governor. It’s harder for voters to observe and hold legislators accountable for state budgeting. Going against the unions is probably much riskier for a Democratic legislature candidate when the lower-turnout, get-out-the-vote-dependent primaries come around. It’s really hard to visualize public pension reform happening without strong state executive branch involvement.

Even as Californians voted in a Democratic supermajority into the legislature in November (just like Illinois), a Reason-Rupe poll from last year (pdf) showed state voters want to reduce government spending, reduce the number of government employees, and push state employees into 401(k)-style retirement funds to limit government liability. Even though voters went with Democrats, they still want pension changes.

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John Stossel on Surviving Sequestration

White House Flickr feedWhite House Flickr feedIf you're reading this, you've survived the "sequester" cuts! That may surprise you, since President Obama likened the sequester to taking a "meat cleaver" to government, causing FBI agents to be furloughed, prosecutors to let criminals escape and medical research to grind to a halt!

The truth, writes John Stossel, is that the terrifying sequester cuts weren't even cuts. They were merely a small reduction in government's planned increase in spending. A very small reduction.

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Sen. Rand Paul Filibustering John Brennan for CIA Right Now Over Domestic Drones

Watch it on C-SPAN2 now.

See Paul's inquiries to Brennan about domestic drones here, here, and here.

A excerpt from a Paul press release:

Attorney General Holder stated in a letter to Sen. Paul dated March 4, 2013: "It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States."

 "The U.S. Attorney General's refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening - it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans," Sen. Paul said.

 Sen. Paul also received a letter in response from Mr. Brennan, clarifying the CIA does not have the power to authorize such operations. Notably missing from Mr. Brennan's response are answers to the myriad other questions Sen. Paul posed to him in previous correspondence.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Georgia Town Could Make Not Owning a Gun Illegal

Since the Newtown tragedy gun control has been dominating much of the news, with many legislators speaking out in favor of making it more difficult for citizens to purchase guns. In one Georgia town a local councilman has introduced an ordinance that, if passed, would make it illegal for residents NOT to own a gun. 

From WSBTV:

NELSON, Ga. — Every homeowner in a local town could soon have to own a gun or break the law. It's a controversial new plan for the city of Nelson.


Leaders told Channel 2's John Bachman the reason they need the law is because the city straddles Cherokee county to the south and Pickens County to the north. 

That, they said, can lead to slower response times.

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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Holder in Senate Testimony Today: 'Still Considering' Response to Marijuana Legalization

Senate Judiciary CommitteeSenate Judiciary CommitteeAttorney General Eric Holder is still not quite ready, four months after voters in Colorado and Washington approved marijuana legalization initiatives, to say how the Justice Department might respond to that historic development. Testifying this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder was given an opportunity to say, for example, whether the Justice Department will try to prevent those states from allowing sales of marijuana for recreational use by arguing in court that their laws are pre-empted by the Controlled Substances Act, whether it will arrest and prosecute people who operate state-licensed marijuana stores or growing operations, whether it will target people who grow marijuana at home for their own use and to share with friends (as permitted by Colorado's law), or whether it will use the threat of civil forfeiture to shut down cannabis businesses that comply with state law. When the committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), asked him about marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, Holder said the Obama administration is "still considering" how to respond. Last week he promised a policy "relatively soon," the same phrase he used in December. Around the same time, Leahy said he plans to hold a hearing on the issue this year.

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Carrying Condoms is Evidence of a Crime, Says NYPD

Maddening account from Molly Crabapple in Vice magazine about vice law enforcement in New York, New York. Details:

The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her. 

She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She'd had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.

He arrested her for "loitering for the purpose of prostitution." On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.

When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network's Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I'd worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.

The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you're a middle-class white girl like me, you're probably safe. But say you're a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you're a  trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you've been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore.....

And yes, arrest is always a big deal, even if you don't end up convicted:

Arrest is always violent. The NYPD may or may not break your ribs, but the process of arrest in America is still a man tying your hands behind your back at gunpoint and locking you in a cage. Holding cells are shit-encrusted boxes, often too crowded to sit down. Police can leave you there for three days; long enough to lose your job. If this seems obvious, I say it because the polite middle classes trivialize arrest. They talk about "keeping people off the streets." They don't realize that the constant threat of arrest is traumatic, unless it happens to them or their kids.

There are two types of prostitution arrests. For "prostitution," the officer has to witness you making an offer, but "loitering for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution offense" requires only circumstantial evidence....

Read the whole thing, and also read Reason's great Melissa Gira Grant feature "The War on Sex Workers" from our February issue.

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Why is the White House Spending $277,000 a Year on Calligraphists?

Courtesy Open Data/SocrataCourtesy Open Data/Socrata

Above is a screen capture of a sort in Socrata's Open Data info about various things, including the White House employment database.

brillig.combrillig.comAs pointed out by The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper, the White House paid more than $277,000 for three calligraphers in 2012. That sort of position and price tag undercuts the idea that President Obama thinks there's a spending problem for sure. According to Wikipedia, the calligraphy crew is "responsible for the design and execution of all social and official documents at the White House." What is it that Candidate Obama used to say about creating "a new ethic of responsibility?":

Part of the reason this crisis occurred is that everyone was living beyond their means—from Wall Street to Washington to even some on Main Street. CEOs got greedy. Politicians spent money they didn't have....

We've lived through an era of easy money, in which we were allowed and even encouraged to spend without limits; to borrow instead of save....

Once we get past the present emergency, which requires immediate new investments, we have to break that cycle of debt.

Now, lord knows that the current crisis is still with us and that stimulatarians ranging from Paul Krugman to members of Congress to the president himself all believe we've got to spend more money to make more money, but I look forward to the day when the country is no longer putting 40 percent of its annual outlays on a credit card (i.e., the backs of kids barely born yet).

courtesy Wikipediacourtesy WikipediaLike all Americans, I want White House invitations and name cards to look as first-class as possible, especially when hosting the Queen of England (her card is pictured nearby) - and lord knows that Obama's 2009 gift to Britain's prime minister was a real POS.

But shelling out a quarter of a million bucks a year on three calligraphers gently reinforces the main point of Mike Riggs' great piece from yesterday about the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC).

That's the agency that was singled out for a 10 percent cut under sequestration - despite its having been shut down in June 2012, or almost a year before sequestration took place. Long recognized as a classic pork-barrel project (NDIC existed in the district of the late earmark king Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania), NDIC offered to trim its budget by a whopping 43 percent before finally getting axed altogether. Writes Riggs:

While the NDIC's offer to cut its $44 million budget by 43 percent failed to placate critics of waste and pork, the fact that the agency was able to come up with $19 million in savings is pretty instructive for the debate over sequestration. Even more instructive? When it came time for the DEA to absorb that part of the National Drug Intelligence Center most essential to collecting drug intelligence, it picked up just under 60 employees [out of 240 total workers].

Read Riggs here.

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Hugo Chavez: “May the ‘Revolution’ Die With Him”

Credit: Foter.com / CC BYCredit: Foter.com / CC BYWriting at The Daily Beast, Reason contributing editor Michael C. Moynihan dances on the grave of Hugo Chavez:

This was Chavez’s reign and his legacy; extralegal, vindictive, and interested in the short-term gesture rather than the more difficult, long-term solution. From his revolutionary comrades in Cuba, he borrowed the slogan “patria, socialismo o muerte”—fatherland, socialism, or death. The fatherland is a shambles, Bolivarian socialism has failed, and Comandante Chavez is dead. May the “revolution” die with him.

Read the whole thing here. Read Moynihan’s take on Chavez and his enablers from Reason's November 2007 issue here.

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National Security Letters Target Thousands of Google Accounts

Given the fact that the FBI's National Security Letters come accompanied by gag orders making it illegal to reveal to anybody that you are the very special recipient of an order to release information to the feds, it's a happy wonder that Google is providing even a glimpse into the company's experience with the things. According to a transparency report released yesterday, (most of) the world's favorite search engine has received fewer than a thousand such letters per year from 2009 through 2012, with between 1,000 and 2,000 American user accounts targeted every year but 2010, when 2,000 to 3,000 accounts were subject to FBI scrutiny.

Google national security lettersGoogle

Google is being coy about numbers because it's pressing up against the limits of what it's allowed to reveal by telling us this much. Writes Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security:

You'll notice that we're reporting numerical ranges rather than exact numbers. This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations. We plan to update these figures annually.

In terms of what Google is surrendering in response to these NSLs, the company's FAQ adds:

[T]he FBI can seek “the name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records” of a subscriber to a wire or electronic communications service. The FBI can’t use NSLs to obtain anything else from Google, such as Gmail content, search queries, YouTube videos or user IP addresses.

National Security Letters are peculiar things, not as far-reaching as full warrants in terms of the information they can scoop up, but laden with few safeguards, too. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center:

National Security Letters (NSLs) are an extraordinary search procedure which gives the FBI the power to compel the disclosure of customer records held by banks, telephone companies, Internet Service Providers, and others. These entities are prohibited, or "gagged," from telling anyone about their receipt of the NSL, which makes oversight difficult. The Number of NSLs issued has grown dramatically since the Patriot Act expanded the FBI's authority to issue them.

So ... What information does Google have on you?

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A.M. Links: Obama Approval Rating Down Precipitously, White House Tours Canceled, Hugo Chavez Dead

  • lonely heartsWhite HousePresident Obama’s approval rating is at 43 percent, down 7 points from two weeks ago, in the Reuters/IPSOS poll.
  • Google is now including information on the national security letters it receives and how many users they affect (between one and two thousand last year) in its Transparency Report, despite a gag order that comes with the letters.
  • White House tours have been canceled for the sequester.
  • Venezuelans in America cheered the death of Hugo Chavez and are cautiously optimistic about the country’s future.
  • The United Kingdom will be sending body armor and armored vehicles to Syria’s rebels, as the refugee population tops a million.
  • The European Union fined Microsoft $731 million over Internet Explorer. What is this, the 90s?

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Jacob Sullum on Obama's Puzzling Argument Against California's Gay Marriage Ban

erin m / Foter.com / CC BY-NCerin m / Foter.com / CC BY-NCFor many years President Obama said he supported equal rights for gay couples, except for the right to call their relationship a "marriage." That is exactly the policy he now says is unconstitutional. In fact, says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, a Supreme Court brief filed last week by the Obama administration argues that a policy of marriage by another name violates the principle of equal protection more clearly than a policy of withholding any legal recognition of same-sex couples.

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Brickbat: What Is Your Major Malfunction, Numbnuts?

Courtesy of Dan McIntyreCourtesy of Dan McIntyreAn eighth-grade teacher at Genoa-Kingston Middle School in Illinois ordered Michael McIntyre to turn his T-shirt inside out or face suspension. She said the Marine Corps T-shirt with interlocking rifles depicted on the front violated the school dress code. When a local TV station asked about the incident, Superintendent Joe Burgess said the T-shirt does not violate any dress code and if the teacher had taken the time to consult with the principal he would have told her that.

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Rep. Jose Serrano on Hugo Chavez: "a leader that understood the needs of the poor."

courtesy happylibertariancourtesy happylibertarianIn case you thought that only useful idiots like actor Sean Penn were willing to overlook the strongman Hugo Chavez's willingness to tyrannize his own people in the pursuit of "social justice" and self-aggrandizement, there's always Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who eulogized Chavez thus:

Hugo Chavez was a leader that understood the needs of the poor. He was committed to empowering the powerless.R.I.P. Mr. President.

— Jose E. Serrano (@RepJoseSerrano) March 5, 2013

Over at his official House site, Serrano writes

“President Chavez was a controversial leader. But at his core he was a man who came from very little and used his unique talents and gifts to try to lift up the people and the communities that reflected his impoverished roots. He believed that the government of the country should be used to empower the masses, not the few. He understood democracy and basic human desires for a dignified life. His legacy in his nation, and in the hemisphere, will be assured as the people he inspired continue to strive for a better life for the poor and downtrodden.”

courtesy runrun.escourtesy runrun.esIt's stunning what people will excuse if the right magic words are sprinkled over the repression. From Freedom House's 2013 take on Venezuela:

Politicization of the judicial branch has increased under Chávez, and high courts generally do not rule against the government....

Venezuela’s murder rate is among the world’s highest....

The increasingly politicized military has stepped up its participation in the delivery of public services. Foreign officials assert that the military has adopted a permissive attitude toward drug trafficking and Colombian rebel activity inside Venezuela...

Property rights are affected by the government’s penchant for price controls and nationalizations....

The formal and constitutional rights of indigenous people, who make up about 2 percent of the population, have improved under Chávez, though such rights are seldom enforced by local authorities....

Amnesty International's take:

Human rights defenders were threatened and politically motivated charges continued to be used against government critics. Accountability mechanisms to ensure justice or to act as an effective deterrent against police abuses remained weak. There were serious episodes of violence in the grossly overcrowded prison system leading to a number of deaths.

In 2011, after Chavez refused to allow President Obama's ambassador, Larry Leon Palmer, take residence, the Washington Post wrote,

Will the next nominee speak truthfully about Mr. Chavez's destruction of democracy, and about his ties to terrorists and drug traffickers? Let's hope Congress provides him or her with that opportunity.

It's easy to mock Chavez because of his outspoken anti-American attitudes but you know what? That wasn't the problem with Chavez. He was a thug and a dictator who, like all such despots, spent most of his time and energy destroying the lives of the people he was supposed to help. That's his real crime - not taking swipes at George W. Bush or attacking the U.S. during overlong U.N. speeches.

And that's why it's pathetic to see fools like Jose Serrano making excuses for a guy who first and foremost hurt the people he ostensibly cared about so goddamn much.

Update: As Instapundit points out, Hugo Chavez, man of the people, somehow amassed a fortune of $1 billion.

More Update: Sean Penn tells Hollywood Reporter:

"Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion." says Penn in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela."

Let's be clear: Most champions of poor people need not arrest political dissidents, create an unaccountable prison system, and otherwise scoff at limits on power.

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George Zimmerman Skips Self-Defense Hearing

18th Judicial Circuit, Florida18th Judicial Circuit, FloridaFor almost a year now I have been saying that, contrary to the impression left by press coverage of the case, George Zimmerman's defense against the second-degree murder charge he faces for killing Trayvon Martin does not hinge on the "stand your ground" provision that was added to Florida's self-defense law in 2005. That's because, according to Zimmerman's account, he was tackled by Martin and had no opportunity to retreat. The one 2005 change that could help Zimmerman, I said, was the right to a pretrial hearing where he could try to convince a judge that he reasonably believed shooting Martin was necessary to prevent death or serious injury. Now it looks like Zimmerman won't make use of that provision either. Today his lawyers announced that he has decided against presenting his self-defense claim to Seminole County, Florida, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson at a pretrial hearing scheduled for April. ABC News notes that by moving for dismissal of the case based on his self-defense claim Zimmerman would have "risked the possibility that the judge would reject the motion and the hearing would give prosecutors an opportunity to pick apart [his] testimony." 

ABC News says it is still possible that Zimmerman will opt for a self-defense hearing at a later date, giving him more time to prepare. His trial is scheduled for June 10. It is worth reiterating that the pretrial hearing is designed to save innocent people the burden of a trial in cases where there is strong evidence that their actions were justified. If the prosecution has enough evidence to convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt, it necessarily follows that the defendant could not meet the preponderance-of-evidence standard for a dismissal, which means he must show it is more likely than not that his actions were justified. 

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Catch J.D. Tuccille Discussing the NYPD's Pre-Crime Youth Tracking on RT

The New York City Police Department has developed a novel approach, identifying kids it sees as potential troublemakers and then essentally stalking them, bunny boiler-style. The cops show up at their doors, hail them when they're with their friends in the street, follow them on Facebook and Twitter through fake profiles, create dossiers on them and stop just short of actually stealing an undershirt to keep under the pillow. I hope.

As the New York Times reports:

“We are coming to find you and monitor every step you take,” said Joanne Jaffe, the department’s Housing Bureau chief. “And we are going to learn about every bad friend you have. And you’re going to get alienated from those friends because we are going to be all over you.”

I'll admit to finding this a less than convincing means of deterring a teenager from a killing rage. And I'm willing to bet they hired an old girlfriend of mine as a consultant. Although the idea of getting out of the patrol car and saying "hello" to the folks on the street has merit.

Anyway, check me out below to see what I had to say on the matter.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: TSA Caves to Swiss Army Lobby; Small Knives Allowed Back on Planes

The Transportation Security Administration has been seizing about 47 small knives a day just from Los Angeles International Airport, according to the department’s own numbers. That’s going to drop significantly. TSA administrator John Pistole announced today that airline passengers will be allowed to carry small knives, as well as some types of sports equipment, that is currently banned from carry-on baggage.

Fox News reports:

Starting April 25, passengers going through U.S. airports can bring on board Swiss Army-type knives -- specifically, ones with blades no longer than 2.36 inches. 

This marks the first time such knives have been allowed on board since security was heavily increased in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. …

"Frankly, I don't want TSA agents to be delayed by these," he said. 

The agency said the changes were made as part of its "overall risk-based security approach" and to align with the international standards and those of European countries. 

Box-cutters will still be banned. Not reported but personal prediction: Many TSA agents will continue to confiscate the knives regardless of the policy change.

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Totally Disinterested Drug Warriors Demand That Holder Stop Marijuana Legalization Before It's Too Late

Bensinger, DuPont & AssociatesBensinger, DuPont & AssociatesIn an open letter released today, eight former heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), four former drug czars, and assorted anti-drug groups urge the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to hear testimony from Attorney General Eric Holder tomorrow, to grill him about why he is not stopping Colorado and Washington from legalizing marijuana. Here are the questions they want Holder to answer:

1. Why isn’t the Department of Justice enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in Colorado and Washington? Do you still agree that under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, and long- and well-established U.S. Supreme Court precedent, federal law preempts state law when there is a conflict between the two?... 

2. What is being done to honor our international drug control treaty obligations, which require the United States as a nation to enforce the law prohibiting the distribution, sale and cultivation of marijuana?

The Justice Department, of course, has not stopped "enforcing the Controlled Substances Act [CSA] in Colorado and Washington." Not even the part dealing with marijuana, as a look at recent press releases from the U.S. attorney's offices in Colorado, the Eastern District of Washington, and the Western District of Washington will confirm. That does not mean the feds are going after everyone who violates the federal ban on marijuana, but they have never done that. Not even close. State and local law enforcement agencies are responsible for 99 percent of pot busts, which in turn represent just a tiny fraction of marijuana offenders. So what the former DEA administrators really want to know is why the Justice Department is not enforcing the CSA more. For example, now that it is legal for adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, and to grow up to six plants at home in Colorado, the Justice Department could try to pick up the slack by busting large numbers of pot smokers and small-time growers. Whether that would be a good use of Justice Department resources is open to debate, but there is no question that Holder and his underlings have the authority to make that call (leaving aside the dubiousness of the Commerce Clause interpretation that allows federal action against intrastate drug activity).

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Mike Riggs on the National Drug Intelligence Center and the Trick to Trimming the Federal Budget

White House FlickrWhite House FlickrThe National Drug Intelligence Center is back in the news, nearly nine months after it closed, thanks to the Office of Management and Budget's decision to include the center in a report about the impact of sequestration. While the National Drug Intelligence Center is not in danger of having its nonexistant budget cut, there are lessons we can learn from the scandal-plagued center's final years. Namely, writes Mike Riggs, how to force bureaucrats to trim their own budgets. 

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Former National Labor Relations Board Chairman: “Time to Pull Plug on National Labor Relations Board”

Writing at Roll Call, former National Labor Relations Board chairman Peter Schaumber has some harsh words for the current NLRB leadership, which is carrying on with business as usual despite a January federal court ruling which found three of the board’s five members to have been appointed unconstitutionally by President Barack Obama. Schaumber writes:

Continuing to issue decisions in defiance of the court decision undermines the rule of law that NLRB members are sworn to uphold. The D.C. Circuit is not any court for the NLRB. Any board decision can be appealed to that court as a matter of right. Consequently, Pearce’s board may continue to issue decisions, but they will be nullified on arrival at the courthouse ab initio — as if they had never been issued.

When board decisions are quickly followed by their judicial nullification, how can the public’s faith in the rule of law and the board’s legitimacy not be seriously undermined? Continuing to issue decisions under these circumstances forces parties to spend time and money litigating cases before a board that has been declared without authority to hear them. Workers whose vote for a union is upheld by the board will reasonably demand to know why their vote has suddenly lost all meaning....

It is time for Congress to consider transferring the board’s authority to a more neutral body, such as the federal judiciary.

For more on Obama’s unconstitutional NLRB appointments, see here and here.

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Most Americans Believe U.S. in Recession, LA Votes for New Mayor, Soviet Veteran Found Living in Afghanistan: P.M. Links

  • not randy blytheWarriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee/CISMost Americans believe the U.S. is in a recession and economic optimism is at a 15-month low. The president’s poll numbers are up, and above 50 percent, in the same set of poll.
  • Airports say lines are not up to 200 percent longer because of sequestration, something Janet Napolitano claimed just today. The TSA, meanwhile, may soon allow small knives back on flights.
  • The outgoing mayor of Los Angeles was third to vote in his precinct and was almost alone at the polling place. Voters are electing a new mayor today.
  • A former guard was sentenced to nine years in prison for trying to sell information to the Chinese about the consulate compound where he worked, which was being constructed at the time.
  • A veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan was found living semi-nomadically in the Herat province under the name Sheikh Abdullah.
  • A press conference about Hugo Chavez’s health was about how his “enemies” are causing his cancer.
  • Russia wants to cut its soldiers’ cigarette rations but fears a violent backlash.
  • Lamb of God front man Randy Blythe was acquitted of manslaughter in a Czech court.

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Eric Holder: Yes, Your Government Can Drone You to Death on U.S. Soil (UPDATED)

Don't worry! Assassinations will be safe, legal and rare. ||| Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govRemember how Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has been trying to get a straight answer about whether the United States government reserves the legal right to assassinate American citizens on U.S. soil? Well, Attorney General Eric Holder has just answered the question in a letter to Paul, partially reprinted by Mother Jones. Excerpt:

As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.

The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Whole thing here.

The Reason-Rupe poll found last week that 57 percent of Americans think assassinating Americans is unconstitutional. More Reason commentary on the topic here.

UPDATE: You can read the whole letter here.

UPDATE 2: Rand Paul responds here. Excerpt:

The U.S. Attorney General's refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening - it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.

Paul also received a response letter from John Brennan, whose nomination to CIA director Paul has been opposing, in which Brennan says the CIA "does not conduct lethal operations inside the United States." Sen. Paul's office comments: "Notably missing from Mr. Brennan's response are answers to the myriad other questions Sen. Paul posed to him in previous correspondence."

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Yet More Evidence That ObamaCare's Cost Reforms Won't Work

Credit: National Institutes of Health Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: National Institutes of Health Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SADuring the debate over ObamaCare, the law’s backers talked a lot about the promise of “delivery system reform”—health policy changes, mostly to the way providers are paid, that they hoped would reduce costs while increasing quality. You hear the phrase less often these days, but President Obama invokes the same concept when he talks about making “modest reforms” to Medicare: Rather than slashing benefits, Obama wants to tweak the incentives in the health system in order to produce savings.  The problem, though, is that these reforms turn out to rather difficult to implement successfully.

Here’s just one recent example: In today’s Wall Street Journal, Elliot Fisher, Stephen Shortell, and Mark McClellan, a trio of health policy scholars from Dartmouth, University of California, Berkeley, and the Brookings Institution, respectively, defend what is arguably the most prominent of ObamaCare’s delivery system reforms: the Accountable Care Organization (ACO), which is intended to create financial incentives for health providers to better coordinate care, hopefully saving money and improving patient outcomes in the process.

Critics have compared ACOs to 1990s-style Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), which they say only held down costs by being stingy with care and access, and which were deeply unpopular with the public. But the authors of the WSJ piece argue that health providers will have to hit new quality measures—quality measures that didn’t exist in the 1990s.

But the quality measures built into ObamaCare’s ACOs aren’t working so well yet either. Indeed, last week, virtually all of the health providers that Medicare has dubbed “Pioneer ACOs”—the program’s leaders and examples—sent a letter to Medicare officials overseeing the program in which they threatened to drop out. The reason is that the Pioneers feel that the performance and quality metrics aren’t up to snuff—and the data doesn’t yet exist to determine what the metrics should look like. As Inside Health Policy, which first obtained the letter, notes, "The Pioneer ACOs were supposed to be the few shining examples of organizations that could handle outcomes-based pay." Instead, they're threatening a revolt.

Health reformers had high hopes for ACOs, but so far the results just aren’t promising. Yes, the ACO model seems to work quite well inside a small number of high-quality medical systems—highly coordinated institutions like the Mayo Clinic, Intermountain Health, Geisinger Health System, and the Cleveland Clinic that provide fantastic care and hold down costs. These health systems were the models for the larger reform. But like so many successful localized health policy reforms, it’s proving very difficult to scale. Indeed, ObamaCare’s ACO rules were so poorly written that the model ACOs—the poster children for why ACOs would work—declined to participate in the Pioneer program, citing over-prescriptive rules and an excessively bureaucratic approach overall. This is what federally run delivery system reform actually looks like: a lot of failure and frustration. And it's why we should be skeptical that modest reforms will ever be enough.

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My Kid Learns More When He's Home Sick Than at School

You Wouldn't Want To Be a Sumerian SlaveScholastic BooksWe're on day two now of my son's stay at home with a creeping respiratory crud that's been tearing through our piece of the world. I only shook it loose from my own lungs after a course of steroids. While he's been home, aside from the fact that seven-year-olds bounce back a hell of a lot faster than forty-somethings, I've noticed that my kid sops up knowledge more quickly from a stack of books by his bed than he does from a lesson plan at his school.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not the kind of taskmaster who keeps my kid bent over homework when he's home with the sniffles. If he wants to watch Phineas and Ferb or play with his vast collection of toy soldiers, that's fine by me. But he has a natural curiosity, which he feeds with regular doses of some very well done children's books. In particular, he's long loved the You Wouldn't Want To be ... series and he's recently taken to the Who Was.../What Was ... series of biographies and histories.

The You Wouldn't Want To be ... series is a graphic novel-style presentation of historical subjects laced with enough gruesome images to excite the imagination of any kid. We own a few copies, but this week's favorite is You Wouldn't Want To Be a Sumerian Slave, borrowed from the local public library. It features historical tidbits, battle scenes and depictions of backbreaking labor. It's also a great introduction to ancient Mesopotamia and has reopened a continuing conversation about the concept of slavery and its prevalence through history.

Also a conversation starter was another library book, What Was the Battle of Gettysburg? The book's discussion of Confederate troops' relatively inferior armament led to Tony peppering me with questions about the comparative strengths of the Union and Confederate states, and the advantages that an industrial power has when fighting one that's primarily agricultural. Somehow, we then ended up in a discussion of the ethical implications of attacking hospitals and of disguising non-medical facilities as hospitals ... Anyway, you see how this works out. Of course, Tony has been reenacting Gettysburg with his toy soldiers.

This Who Was ... series of books also led us to buy tickets for a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, based on a biography of the man that fueled Tony's enthusiasm.

My wife and I discussed homeschooling, but we're not doing it for the simple reason that we both want to work at careers we find rewarding. But when I see my son's natural curiosity at work, and his ability to turn a decent starting point into ... not some dry lesson, but a learning experience, I marvel at the ability of schools, even decent ones like the charter we've chosen, to suck the joy out of absorbing knowledge.

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E.U. Pushing for Cap on Bankers' Bonuses Despite Objections From British Chancellor

Credit: conservativeparty/photo on flickrCredit: conservativeparty/photo on flickrBritish Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has told European Union finance ministers that he cannot back plans to cap bankers’ bonuses.

E.U. officials want to cap bonuses at 100 percent of salary, or at 200 percent if shareholders agree.  

Financial services in the U.K. contribute a huge amount in tax revenue, and unsurprisingly some in the City of London are concerned that the cap will turn away talent. 

Those working in the financial services industry in the U.K have already had to deal with the bank levy in a political climate where the “bankers caused the crisis” rhetoric is used across the political spectrum.

Unfortunately for those in the financial sector banking and capitalism will continue to serve as the whipping boys for governments all across the world as they are blamed for a crisis that was largely the creation of governments, not greedy bankers. Of course in a free market without bailouts and other protective government mechanisms those who behave badly get punished, not rewarded.

The E.U. proposal does not only highlight bad economics, it also highlights the absurd way that legislation is implemented within the E.U. Regardless of George Osborne’s protests the E.U. could still impose a cap on bankers’ bonuses. The BBC is reporting that the British government could invoke the “Luxembourg Compromise” under which a member of the E.U. can block a majority decision if a national interest is at risk.

The bankers’ bonuses cap is only the latest ill-advised piece of reform to be backed by the E.U. In January the E.U. finance ministers approved a financial transaction tax for 11 eurozone member states. It seems that many in Europe believe that capping income and taxing financial transactions will help restore economic stability and growth. What could possibly go wrong?

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Working Class Flees California

The buzz over California's ... interesting grab-bag of tax and regulatory policies has been about the nudge toward the exit they provide to wealthy residents like Phil Mickelson and on small and start-up businesses that see greener pastures elsewhere. But the data suggests that a large proportion of people heading for the exits aren't those who rank among the wealthy, but those who might hope for prosperity in the future — or, at least a shot at a decent living. Not surprisingly, they're following in the path of the jobs that sustain them.

From the Wall Street Journal:

During the Great Depression, some 1.3 million Americans—epitomized by the Joad family in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"—flocked to California from the heartland. To keep out the so-called Okies, the state enacted a law barring indigent migrants (the law was later declared unconstitutional). Los Angeles even set up a border patrol on the city limits. Soon the state may need to build a fence to keep latter-day Joads from leaving.

Over the past two decades, a net 3.4 million people have moved out of California for other states. But contrary to conservative lore, there has been no millionaires' march to Texas or other states with no income tax. In fact, since 2005 California has experienced a net in-migration of households earning more than $200,000, according to the U.S. Census's American Community Survey.

As it happens, most of California's outward-bound migrants are low- to middle-income, with relatively little education: those typically employed in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality and to some extent natural-resource extraction. Their median household income is about $40,000—two-thirds of the statewide median—and about 95% earn less than $80,000. Only one in 10 has a college degree, compared with 30% of California's population. Roughly 40% of the people leaving are Hispanic.

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