Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 March 15-31

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Covered at Reason 24/7: GAO Overrules Postal Service Cutbacks

Well, so much for the United States Postal Service’s own efforts to staunch some of the fiscal bleeding. The postmaster had declared in February that they would be cutting Saturday deliveries of first-class mail, despite not getting clearance from Congress first, in order to try to reduce its significant losses. The Government Accountability Office is not on board.

Bloomberg reports:

The service is bound by law to deliver mail six days a week, and is incorrect in interpreting that the temporary measure used to fund U.S. government operations released it from that requirement, the GAO said in a letter to Representative Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, who requested that the watchdog agency look at the matter.

The plan to cut delivery of letter mail while retaining package delivery on Saturdays “rests upon a faulty USPS premise,” GAO General Counsel Susan Poling said in the letter.

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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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New York Cop Explains How Quotas Encourage Unconstitutional Stops

Michael Fleshman / Foter.com / CC BY-SAMichael Fleshman / Foter.com / CC BY-SAThe trial in the main case challenging the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk practices, Floyd v. City of New York, began this week, and yesterday whisteblowing cop Adhyl Polanco testified about the quotas that encourage officers to stop people without the "reasonable suspicion" the Supreme Court has said the Fourth Amendment requires. Polanco, whose recordings of police roll calls caused a splash when excerpts from them were first aired by WABC-TV in 2010, said cops feel strong pressure from superiors and union representatives to issue at least 20 summonses and make at least one arrest a month. "I spoke to the C.O. [commanding officer] for about an hour and a half," says a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association delegate in a recording that Polanco made during a 2009 roll call in the Bronx. "Twenty and one. Twenty and one is what the union is backing up....They spoke to the [PBA] trustees. And that’s what they want. They want 20 and one." That requirement, Polanco explained in court, was "non-negotiable," meaning "you're gonna do it, or you're gonna become a Pizza Hut delivery man."

Polanco and other critics argue that such expectations drive officers to make unconstitutional stops in the hope of finding something that will justify a summons or an arrest. According to the NYPD's numbers, that happens in one out of 10 stops—a track record that suggests cops' suspicions are not very reasonable. In this context, it is easy to understand why officers might trick people into revealing marijuana they are carrying, then illegally bust them for having it "in public view," a misdemeanor that justifies an arrest, as opposed to mere possession, which is only a citable offense. The pressure to make arrests helps explain the huge increase in minor pot busts New York has seen since the mid-1990s. It also helps explain why so many people, overwhelmingly black and Latino, get hassled by the cops with so little to show for it—nine times out of 10, not even a bogus pot bust or a trumped-up ticket for blocking traffic.

Radley Balko covered Polanco's revelations and similar recordings by another officer, Adrian Schoolcraft, in 2010.

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Greg Beato on Mayor Bloomberg and Prohibition Lite

world bank flickrworld bank flickrBy making a legal but unhealthy product increasingly unaffordable, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his confederates have effectively nudged thousands of smokers and shopkeepers into criminal behavior. Now, writes Greg Beato, he wants to raise the stakes by increasing the penalties for the behaviors he’s induced.

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Microsoft Reveals Police Requests for Customer Data, School District Bans Hugging and Sharing Food, Legalization Brings Demand for Weak Pot: P.M. Links

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D.C. Really Does Not Want Want Me to Eat a Delicious Lobster Roll from a Truck

phowheelsCredit:PhoWheelsAfter much consideration, consultation with stakeholders, community meetings, and related dog-and-pony shows, Washington, D.C., is proposing a new regulatory scheme for food trucks. And it sucks quite a bit, reports the Washington City Paper:

D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs released the latest round of proposed food truck regulations. The rules would create special zones throughout the city that would limit how many trucks could vend where. A monthly lottery system would determine who gets the spots. Those who didn’t win or want a place in the so-called “mobile roadway vending zones” would have to stay at least 500 feet away in metered parking spots with at least ten feet of unobstructed sidewalk.

Want to guess what happened next?:

Several food truck owners say they are considering shutting down or moving their operations to Virginia, Maryland, or other states if the regulations prove too limiting.

And those "special zones"? Not all of them are equally special:

D.C. Food Truck Association chairman and Red Hook Lobster Pound co-owner Doug Povich says trucks could end up winning proposed locations with little weekday lunch traffic like Navy Yard, Historic Anacostia, Minnesota or Benning avenues NE, and Friendship Heights. Because they’ve spent $150 for the spot, they’ll likely go the first time. But if they’re losing money there, they may not want to come back the following weeks, Povich says. The result would be empty parking spots that nobody else could use for four hours.

Povich believes only five areas—Farragut Square, L’Enfant Plaza, Franklin Square, Metro Center, and Union Station—have enough traffic and congestion to warrant a zone, not 23. He says his trucks do half the business in a lower-traffic location like Friendship Heights or Navy Yard as they do downtown. Trucks that don’t have Red Hook’s 25,000 Twitter followers might do as little as 5 to 10 percent, Povich estimates.

The Daily Beast's Megan McArdle sums the situation up nicely:

To be sure, the food truck owners are undoubtedly overstating their case, since that's what business owners do in this sort of situation.  But that said, it's obviously going to make their businesses less viable, and there's no reasonable basis for that.  It hurts consumers and it hurts the food truck owners--scrappy entrepreneurs who are improving the quality of food in DC and creating jobs, and possibly building businesses that will become bigger in the future.  The only people who benefit are restaurant owners, and while I feel bad for them, they do not have a right to sell food to harassed office workers. 

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Colorado's New Gun Controls Promise Dubious Public Safety Benefits and Lurking Legal Perils

Independence InstituteIndependence InstituteYesterday Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills imposing a 15-round limit on gun magazines and requiring background checks for almost all firearm transfers. The magazine limit, which was raised from 10 rounds in the original version of the bill, takes effect on July 1, after which it will be illegal to obtain standard magazines such as the ones that ship with the Glock 17, one of the most popular handguns in America, or the AR-15, one of the most popular rifles. Since people who own "large- capacity magazines" before then will be allowed to keep them, Coloradans have been stocking up in anticipation of the ban.

Hickenlooper acknowledges that the magazine limit imposes a burden on law-abiding gun owners but argues that "the potential for damage seems to outweigh, significantly, the inconvenience that people would have." That judgment is based on the premise that mass shooters will kill fewer people because they have to switch magazines more often. "In certain circumstances," Hickenlooper says, "someone bent on destruction, even if they're slowed just for a number of seconds, that allows others to escape."

One cannot dismiss that possibility out of hand, and supporters of magazine limits cite two mass shootings—the 2011 Tucson massacre and Colin Ferguson's 1993 rampage on the Long Island Rail Road—that stopped when the gunman was overpowered as he reloaded. At the same time, however, extra rounds might make an important difference for people using guns in self-defense, especially if they face multiple attackers. In fact, the seconds it takes to switch magazines are apt to matter more for someone who is suddenly attacked by armed criminals than for a killer who carefully plans an assault on defenseless people in a school or movie theater. Furthermore, law-abiding people are more likely to be constrained by a legal limit on magazine capacity than people bent on mass murder.

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John Mackey on Whole Foods, Conscious Capitalism, and Life Beyond the Profit Motive

"John Mackey on Whole Foods, Conscious Capitalism, and Life Beyond the Profit Motive" 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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Nobel Prize-Winning European Union Acting Like USSR, Russian Prime Minister Says

back to the ussrsheikyermamiCyprus’ parliament on Tuesday rejected an effort by the European Union to impose a bank levy on Cypriot account holders to help finance a bailout of the country’s banks. In response, the European Central Bank told Cyprus it has until Monday to raise the money ($7.5 billion) or the $13 billion bailout is off the table. Last night, senior Eurozone finance ministers reportedly began to talk openly about Cyprus leaving the euro. A few short years ago talk of countries exiting the Eurozone was considered extreme. The EU Observer notes a 2009 legal study by the European Central Bank found that while a country could not voluntarily withdraw from the euro, it could be expelled. Finland began openly discussing contingencies for a break-up of the euro last year, with the country’s foreign minister suggesting that it might even “make the EU function better.” Switzerland’s more extreme (!) contingency of dealing with regional violence and refugees as a result of the euro crisis became public last year too.

A sizable portion of Cypriot accounts are held by Russians, making Russia especially interested in what’s happening in Cyprus.  Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev compared the EU’s actions to that of a “bull in a china shop” after Cyprus rejected the bank levy. “I can only compare it some of the decisions taken ... by Soviet authorities, who did not give a thought to the savings of the population," Medvedev said. The EU won the Nobel Prize last year, joining winners like Barack Obama and Al Gore. Cyprus and Russia are in talks today for a possible separate financial rescue and Cpyriot banks remain closed until at least Tuesday.

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Ann Coulter: Groupthink is Destroying Libertarian Pussies

Regular readers (and watchers of John Stossel's eponymous Fox Business show) may remember that back in February, Ann Coulter said "Libertarians are pussies." The occasion was a Stossel taping at the International Students for Liberty conference.

"Libertarians and pot!" says an exasperated Coulter. "This is why people think libertarians are pussies. We're living in a country that is 70 percent socialist. The government is taking 60 percent of your money. They're taking care of your health care, of your pensions, they're telling you who you can hire, what the regulations are gonna be...and you want to suck to your little liberal friends and say, 'Oh, we want to legalize pot. You know, if you were a little more manly, you'd tell the liberals what your position on employment discrimination is."

Well, if being a pussy isn't bad enough, Coulter is now accusing libertarians of suffering from groupthink. Here she is on the March 18 episode of the Dennis Prager radio show (as transcribed by The Daily Caller):

“I hate groupthink. And the libertarians have it every bit as much as the college liberals I speak to. I give a lot of college speeches and it was the same thing, you know where you all have to cheer together and you all have to boo the same stuff. And I guess when you’re young and insecure feeling like you’re part of a group is important to you. If I was ever like that, it would be gun-to-the-mouth time. But OK, I understand the psychology of it.”

Coulter counsels college-age libertarians to

to put down their pro-pot signs and read some Richard Epstein — probably the leading libertarian in the country,” she continued. “Also Richard Posner, they’re both at the University of Chicago, and Gary Lawson, a law professor up at [Boston University]. These are smart intellectual libertarians. There’s an awful lot of we need to be privatizing now. I am more libertarian than these whipper-snappers calling themselves libertarians. You know, how about privatizing the New York City subway system, the bus system?”

As it happens, Richard Epstein is hanging his hat at NYU and the Hoover Institution mostly these days (he's emeritus from Chicago) and Richard Posner is nobody's first-order idea of a libertarian. But Coulter's right that there's plenty of things that can and should be privatized. And she's wrong to imply that somehow a commitment to getting the government out of providing services better provided by the private sector means you can't also call for ending drug prohibition.

I recommend checking out my debate with Coulter, whose company I always enjoy, from last year's Independence Institute Founder's dinner.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Federal Revenue Suffers From Reliance on Small Group of High-Income Earners

Reason 24/7ReasonThe "one percent" get a lot of blame from certain sectors, and it turns out that they're also responsible for the federal government's revenue issues, too. Those bastards. Yep, it seems that as top income-earners have taken on the burden of paying an ever-growing share of income taxes, the take from those taxes has come to rise and fall based on the fortunes of that one percent. And top earners tend to have extremely volatile income, by comparison to salaried and hourly workers. That might mean soaring tax revenues when the economy does well, but it also means serious belt-tightening when business is bad.

From the Wall Street Journal:

What is shocking is the degree to which federal revenues have underperformed even for an underperforming economy; revenues have dropped by 2.7% of GDP since 2007.

Why? A more progressive tax code now leverages the negative impact of slow economic growth. The share of all individual income taxes paid by the top 1% has risen to 41.8% in 2008 from 17.4% in 1980—but almost two-thirds of the income from the top 1% comes from nonwage income, including capital gains, dividends and proprietor's profits.

Individual income taxes as well as corporate taxes are now far more rooted in the shifting sands of volatile business income and capital profits rather than in the terra firma of wage income that stabilizes payroll taxes. From 1960 to 2000, payroll taxes were never lower than in the previous year, individual income taxes dipped only twice, and corporate taxes dropped 11 times. Since 2000, individual income and corporate tax revenues dropped five times, while payroll taxes fell twice. Not only do revenues from individual tax returns drop more often now. They fall more severely, with recent collapses of 14%-20% versus the 3%-5% range before 2000.

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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Gabriella Coleman on Why Code Is Speech

Credit: Stian Eikeland / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: Stian Eikeland / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAFrom Reason’s April issue, McGill University professor Gabriella Coleman explains how computer hackers have been trying to write themselves into the U.S. Constitution by arguing that software and source code is a form of speech and also by mounting First Amendment challenges to intrusive government controls.

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"Liberty Movement" vs. GOP on Paul Ryan's Budget

Daniel McCarthy at American Conservative delivers some encouraging news for those who want a more fiscally conservative Republican Party:

Ten House Republicans voted against Paul Ryan’s budget today, including key liberty movement leaders Justin Amash, Walter Jones, and Thomas Massie. The other nays were Paul Broun, Rick Crawford, Randy Forbes, Chris Gibson, Phil Gingrey, Joe Heck, and David McKinley.

Amash and Massie were among the new crop of libertarian-leaning Republicans I interviewed in Reason's March issue.

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QEInfinity and the Stock Market: A Chart

The bracing doomsayers at ZeroHedge think they are seeing some price-inflation effects of recent monetary policy, in the stock market:

Past Future is no Result Guarantee of Performance, and all that, Dow 36,000 is always just a shot away, and by definition half of the stock brokers in the world deliver below average performance.

Federal Reserve strongman Ben Bernanke, like Ben Bernanke do, sees no bubble problem on the horizon with stock prices.

My advice is: buy if you wanna buy, sell if you wanna sell, just so long as you're happy. (Note: not a licensed financial advisor.)

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Andrew Cuomo Realizes He Mandated Gun Magazines That Don't Exist

Office of the GovernorOffice of the GovernorTwo months ago, you may recall, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo won the race to enact new gun restrictions following the Sandy Hook massacre, beating every other opportunistic, grandstanding politician in the country by signing a bill that was passed so fast legislators had no time to read it. One consequence of that unseemly haste, I noted a few days later, was that legislators forgot to exempt current and retired police officers from the new rule for magazines, which reduced the maximum number of rounds from 10 to seven (because, as Cuomo explained, "nobody needs 10 bullets to kill a deer"). The ensuing outrage at the lack of a double standard revealed not only that cops take their special rights for granted but also that they do not believe the magazine limit—which they support for "regular citizens"—will have any impact on criminals. Now Cuomo has noticed another problem: Before imposing his arbitrary ammunition limit, he did not bother to check on the availability of seven-round magazines. It turns out "there is no such thing as a seven-bullet magazine," he said at a press conference yesterday. "That doesn't exist. So you really have no practical option."

That's a slight exaggeration. Seven-round magazines do exist, just as three-wheeled cars exist, but they are not standard. Last month the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle noted that "gun manufacturers have not had much reason to make a magazine with fewer than 10 rounds, except for limited uses, because no state required it until now." Based on interviews with gun dealers, the paper reported that "there are no manufacturers planning to make special seven-round magazines to serve the New York market." The new magazine limit takes effect on April 15.

The governor's solution: change the law so that people are once again allowed to buy 10-round magazines but make it illegal to put more than seven rounds in them. I swear I am not making that up; it is already the rule for previously owned 10-round magazines, which are legal as long as they contain seven or fewer rounds. Putting in that eighth round is a violation punishable by a $200 fine for the first offense and a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, for a second offense if the magazine stays in your home; if you walk outside with it, that eighth round could cost you up to six months in jail for the first offense and up to a year for the second.

Richard M. Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, objects to Cuomo's proposed accommodation. "I think the governor and the Legislature got it right the first time," he tells The New York Times. "We don't want to have to tell the mother of a young man who’s just been shot and killed that he was killed with the ninth bullet."

Stephen J. Aldstadt, president of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, also perceives a flaw in Cuomo's proposal, which he calls "the most asinine thing I've ever heard." But Aldstadt's objection is somewhat different from Aborn's. "Any person who is going to go commit a mass shooting like Columbine or Sandy Hook is certainly not going to pay attention to a law restricting magazines to seven rounds," he says. "The only people who would possibly obey that law are legal gun owners, and they're not your problem."

As I wrote in January:

It is implausible enough to suggest that a criminal—who by definition has no compunction about breaking the law, who is not legally permitted to possess firearms to begin with (if he has a felony record), and who is highly motivated to obtain the tools of his trade—would be deterred from obtaining a 10-round magazine by the legislature's new dictate, especially since plenty of them will remain in circulation. It is beyond fanciful to suppose that, having obtained a 10-round magazine, a criminal would think twice about putting more than seven rounds in it because legislators said he shouldn't. 

But this is the sort of magical thinking that passes for reasoning among advocates of sensible, common-sense gun control.

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Is Reason's Foreign Policy "Morally Vacuous" and "Historically Ignorant"?

Over at the excellent site Mediaite, the right-leaning Noah Rothman (watch him in this Reason TV interview) lays into libertarians generally and Reason folks specifically for their/our foreign policy. By which he means our lack of out-of-the-gates bellicosity.

Rothman notes that it is precisely the libertarian wing of the GOP that has kickstarted necessary and proper debates within a Republican party that needs a thorough reboot. And yet he titles his post, "The GOP Must Not Adopt The Moral Vacuity And Historical Ignorance Of A Libertarian Foreign Policy." Here's a snippet:

Libertarianism as a governing philosophy does, however, have its limits. The nearly two-year-long humanitarian and geopolitical nightmare unfolding in Syria has exposed one of those limits. The brand of libertarianism that rejects America’s role in the world cannot be adopted by the Republican Party writ large. Why? Because it is incumbent on the United States to maintain the stewardship of a global order which has resulted in relative peace and stability since the end of the Cold War. The bulk of this great responsibility, which rests on the shoulders of America’s lawmakers, cannot be shrugged. Libertarians outside the closed-door classified security briefings, to which the nation’s elected officials are privy, do not have to confront the sobering reality of the many threats to global security. As such, they are free to proselytize for the most amoral, egocentric form of non-interventionism couched in the moralistic language common among peace activists....

This is a passingly strange paragraph to be writing on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq - and a dozen years into America's occupation of Afghanistan. And a bit on from the President Obama's plainly unconstitutional intervention into Libya. You can argue that the since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, things have been relatively stable in the world (and that's even kind of a stretch) but to pretend that things have been peaceful is a bridge too far, I think.

Two days ago, for instance, on the 10th anniversary of the invsasion of Iraq, Reason.com published a "libertarian forum on the lessons of the Second Gulf War." It pulls together a bunch of Reason staffers as well as other voices and in most ways, it doubtless confirms Rothman's negative assessment of what a libertarian foreign policy would look like. I won't speak for other participants, but in my contribution I stressed two things that are relevant to Rothman's take.

First, we are already forgetting just how piss-poor the Iraq War - now expected to cost $6 trillion! - was both conceived and executed. Who knows? Maybe a generally libertarian, non-interventionist foreign policy would prove to be as big a disaster as what we've experienced since the end of the Cold War under both Republican and Democratic regimes (I noted that Bill Clinton dispatched more troops more times than Ronald Reagan did). What we do know for sure is that precisely the sort of knee-jerk, reactionary foreign policy exemplified by both George W. Bush and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Barack Obama has been an abject failure in securing peace or stability in our time. Rather than pooh-poohing out of hand an untried alternative, perhaps Rothman would be better served by explaining exactly how a less-interventionist policy could possibly be worse than what we've seen over the past dozen years.

Second, the one national politician who is talking about the need to build a consensus for an actual framework for the projection of American power in the 21st century is Rand Paul, the libertarian Republican from the land-locked state of Kentucky and a suspected non-interventionist. Paul's February speech at the Heritage Foundation pointedly embraced the need for American engagement in the world but it stressed economic and cultural engagement over military actions (though it did not rule those out either). If such a common-sensical formulation - derived from Cold War theorist George Kennan's original containment theory - seems morally vacuous or historically ignorant on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war, I suspect that Rothman is simply not interested in having a serious debate about America's role in the world. Indeed, he shifts subjects quickly from Syria to potential threats from China and Russia, the better to boost the tempo of the drums of war.

When it comes to the Middle Eastern hotspot of the moment - the Syrian civil war - Rothman writes,

What is the libertarian response to this imminent and rapidly unfolding crisis? If one were to peruse the preeminent libertarian intellectual publication Reason Magazine as of this writing, the answer is nothing. Save for a few aggregated news reports regarding the disaster in Syria, that magazine’s stable of bright, capable, and deductive authors have yet to weigh in. Doubtless, like the intellectuals on the left, when they do get around to addressing the crisis, their focus would be on the potential pitfalls that Western intervention in Syria would present for the intervening power, and not the suffering inside Syria and the threat that nation’s civil war poses to the region as that conflict spills over Syria’s borders.

Reason's recent coverage of Syria - currently topped by a March 21 post titled "How America Will Enter the Syrian War" - is here. I leave it to individual readers to decide whether our coverage amounts to "nothing" (and as the editor in chief of Reason.com and something of a slave-driver, I will also rush to say that we can and should always be doing more and better work on every possible subject). Again, I won't speak for other Reason staffers much less all libertarians, but I'll note this much: I know that the Assad regime is evil and rotten; I know that many innocent people are being killed, tortured, and oppressed simply because they had the terrible luck of being born in the wrong time and the wrong place; I figure that many of the regime's opponents are true liberationists who are trying to create a better, freer Syria; and I'm certain that others would likely create a regime that would be even worse than the current one (this happened not so long ago in nearby Iran and places such as Cuba and Russia way back when). And I know that I don't off the top of my head have a workable idea of how to parachute into a foreign country and fix what's wrong with it and help it out in a way that doesn't ultimately cause more damage than good.

I suspect that even the nation's elected officials who are, Rothman observes, "privy" to "closed-door classified security briefings" don't have good ideas either. If they did, they probably would have tried them in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Certainly, when you hear supposed foreign-policy experts such as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and various folks at The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute attack Rand Paul as "wacko birds" and latter-day Neville Chamberlains, it's hard not to conclude that many in the GOP are more interested in maintaining the status quo than in producing effective foreign policy. As of this writing, the U.S. government has not even been able to communicate whether chemical weapons were used in Syria and by whom. Most news accounts stress that very little is known about the various factions jockeying for power in a post-Assad Syria, though everyone assumes that various Iranian, Russian, al Qaeda, and other agents are spread throughout the resistance. It's easy to moralistically castigate libertarians for not calling for immediate military intervention, but such sentiments seem both misplaced and cheap.

Recognizing the United States' impotence when it comes to fixing Syria via a military solution doesn't make me (or libertarians or non-interventionists on the right and the left) morally vacuous or historically ignorant. It does mean that on at least some occasions I bow to reality and recent events, including battlefields whose human wounds are still soaking the ground all around us. Which is far from the worst thing a journalist can do.

Related: Earlier today, in response to a New York Times op-ed, I suggested that libertarians are not nihilists.

David Harsanyi on GOP Strategy

Newt GingrichCredit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.comYou may not be surprised to learn, for instance, that a bunch of people find the Republican Party "scary," "narrow minded," "out of touch" and a party of "stuffy old men." Alas, the "perception that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates," states the report. This theme was in full display at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, as well. The GOP has to care more, a lot more.

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"Creative Class" May Help Themselves, But Not The Secret to Urban Success

Urban policy mavens Joel Kotkin and Richard Florida have been mixing it up at the Daily Beast over the key to urban success and growth. Florida is known for the thesis that, very roughly, appealing to a "creative class" is the way to urban growth for all.

Cabrini Green Housing ProjectPhoto credit: / Foter.com / Public domain

Kotkin yesterday said:

Florida himself, in his role as an editor at The Atlantic, admitted last month what his critics, including myself, have said for a decade: that the benefits of appealing to the creative class accrue largely to its members—and do little to make anyone else any better off. The rewards of the “creative class” strategy, he notes, “flow disproportionately to more highly-skilled knowledge, professional and creative workers,” since the wage increases that blue-collar and lower-skilled workers see “disappear when their higher housing costs are taken into account.” His reasonable and fairly brave, if belated, takeaway: “On close inspection, talent clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down benefits.”...

Kotkin says that rust belt cities trying to emulate a San Francisco/Seattle model are failing:

The most risible example of this may have been former Michigan Jennifer Granholm’s “cool cities” campaign of the mid-oughts, that sought to cultivate the “creative class” by subsidizing the arts in Detroit and across the state. It didn’t exactly work. “You can put mag wheels on a Gremlin,” comments one long-time Michigan observer. “but that doesn't make it a Mustang.”

Alec MacGillis, writing at The American Prospect in 2009, noted that after collecting large fees from down-at-the-heels burgs like Cleveland, Toledo, Hartford, Rochester, and Elmira, New York over the years, Florida himself asserted that we can’t “stop the decline of some places” and urged the country to focus instead on his high-ranked “creative” enclaves. “So, got that, Rust Belt denizens?” MacGillis noted wryly in afollow-up story last year at the New Republic.  Pack your bags for Boulder and Raleigh-Durham and Fairfax County. Oh, and thanks again for the check.”

Kotkin hat-tips to what is true in a "creative class" model:

Perhaps the best that can be said about the creative-class idea is that it follows a real, if overhyped, phenomenon: the movement of young, largely single, childless and sometimes gay people into urban neighborhoods. This Soho-ization—the transformation of older, often industrial urban areas into hip enclaves—is evident in scores of cities. It can legitimately can be credited for boosting real estate values from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Wicker Park in Chicago and Belltown in Seattle to Portland’s Pearl District as well as much of San Francisco.

Yet this footprint of such “cool” districts that appeal to largely childless, young urbanistas in the core is far smaller in most cities than commonly reported. Between 2000 and 2010, notes demographer Wendell Cox, the urban core areas of the 51 largest metropolitan areas—within two miles of the city’s center—added a total of 206,000 residents. But the surrounding rings, between two and five miles from the core, actually lost 272,000. In contrast to those small gains and losses, the suburban areas—between 10 and 20 miles from the center —experienced a growth of roughly 15 million people.

The smallness of the potentially “hip” core is particularly pronounced in Rust Belt cities such as Cleveland and St. Louis, where these core districts are rarely home to more than 1 or 2 percent of the city’s shrinking population. Yet the subsidy money for developers is often justified in the name of “reviving” the entire city, most of which has continued to deteriorate.....

And yet:

The sad truth is that even in the more plausible “creative class” cities such as New York and San Francisco, the emphasis on “hip cool” and high-end service industries has corresponded with a decline in their middle class and a growing gap between rich and poor. Washington D.C. and San Francisco, perennial poster children for “cool cities,” also have among the highest percentages of poverty of any major urban center—roughly 20 percent—once cost of living is figured in.

Kotkin's long and detailed piece goes on to explain that creative class enclaves are still hotbeds of poverty and/or are becoming less ethnically diverse, and less-family oriented, despite Florida's celebration of diversity. And if you want fast job growth, "the fastest job growth has taken place in regions—Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Omaha—whose economies are based not on “creative” industries but on less fashionable pursuits such as oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing."

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People Can’t Stop Giving Hateful Westboro Church the Attention They Crave

I'd be more worried about the Homeowners Association's reaction.CNNIf people hate the virulently anti-gay, anti-non-Christian, military-funeral-picketing Westboro Baptist Church (and the Phelps family members who constitute it) so much, why are folks so insistent on doing things that garner the church/family additional media attention?

The latest effort, as attention-seeking as it is pointless (just like the Phleps family), involves a gay rights supporter buying a house near the church in Topeka, Kansas, and painting it all rainbow-colored. CNN reports:

The house [Aaron] Jackson initially wanted was sold by the time he got around to buying, but luckily for him, there was another one, on the corner of 12th and SW Orleans streets that was perfect. He paid about $83,000 — a bargain, he’d say, for what he was trying to accomplish. This week, he and others from his nonprofit Planting Peace painted the house in rainbow colors that represent gay pride. …

He said he’ll use “Equality House” to raise money for an anti-bullying campaign. By Wednesday afternoon, Planting Peace had raised almost $22,000.

The Phelps family is obviously, predictably loving this. It means more sweet, delicious press coverage for their brand of lunacy:

“We thank God for the sodomite rainbow house,” said a statement sent to CNN. “It is right across the street from the only church that loves people enough to tell them the Bible truth about the filthy, soul-damning, nation destroying sin of sodomy … . The sodomite rainbow house helps shine a bright spotlight on this!”

At times, it’s as though the gay and gay-friendly obsession with the Westboro Baptist Church rivals the church’s obsession with gay men’s butts. It’s frustrating, because the members of the Phelps family are such cartoonish outliers in the very real debate over gay rights. They’re an easy piñata, but the effort spent whacking at them is time away from engaging opponents on gay rights issues who have actual power. There were probably more effective ways to spend $83,000, though no doubt Topeka’s housing market appreciates the investment.

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How the War in Iraq Gave Us ObamaCare

Foter.comFoter.comDid the war in Iraq make way for ObamaCare? The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein links the biggest foreign policy blunder of the Bush administration to the biggest domestic policy blunder of the Obama presidency:

In 2004, with the memory of the defeat of the Clinton health care plan still fresh enough in people's minds, the idea of a Democratic president passing universal health care legislation would have seemed like a distant liberal fantasy.

In fact, in the Democratic primary, even Howard Dean's health care proposal (that mostly built on existing government programs) was tame by today's standards.But by 2006, with sectarian violence escalating in Iraq, President Bush's approval rating had cratered and Democrats were able to take over both chambers of Congress in an election that was largely a backlash against the war. Exit polls showed that 56 percent of Americans who voted in that year's midterm elections opposed the Iraq War -- and 80 percent of that group voted for Democrats.

Suddenly, there was a change in what seemed politically possible. In 2007, as the Democratic presidential primary season got under way, emboldened liberal activists were able to convince all of the top contenders to release universal health care plans.

The 2008 economic collapse may have given the final boost to Obama's candidacy, but Americans' disillusionment with the Iraq War created the foundation for his call for change. Though there was little in the way of policy differences between Obama and his rivals, led by Hillary Clinton, one of the most significant factors that set him apart was that he had opposed the Iraq War from the beginning.

This allowed him to argue to voters that what he lacked in experience he made up for in judgment -- an argument that he'd continue to make in the general election against Republican Sen. John McCain.On top of Obama's 2008 victory, congressional Democrats were able to build on their gains from 2006, so that once all the votes were counted (and Sen. Arlen Specter defected) they had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. It was only the lopsided nature of the majorities that allowed a plan as ambitious as Obamacare to become law.

He goes on, but the gist is that disillusionment with Iraq caused a liberal backlash that made a large-scale health care. I’m not sure I would go quite as far as Klein, but it’s a compelling, provocative argument.

What I’d add is that the Bush-era focus on foreign policy, and on defending a war that steadily decreased in popularity, allowed the Republicans to coalesce around a wartime agenda that had little need for coherent domestic policy. The GOP invested an awful lot of energy in defending President Bush and the war in Iraq, and very little in innovative domestic policy ideas. Health policy wasn’t exactly ignored, but it wasn’t a major priority. There was no sustained push for market-driven reforms: Indeed, the Bush administration’s biggest health care push was an unfunded expansion of Medicare.

So when the time came to debate ObamaCare, Republicans showed up with nothing to offer except partisan opposition. ObamaCare is such a mess that the just-say-no approach almost worked. But the party’s efforts were almost certainly hampered by the fact that the bulk of the GOP had essentially ignored the details of health policy since the last time they united to oppose a Democratic president’s health care overhaul, the HillaryCare fight of the 1990s.

Republicans had used much of that time to defend a particular war of choice and an interventionist foreign policy outlook to support it. Democrats, on the other hand, had used the long interim period between health policy battles to build a huge policy advocacy infrastructure. They had intellectual support for a mandate-and-regulate style overhaul; they also had a just-barely-large-enough political coalition to support the push.

Basically, Republicans made war a policy priority at the expense of domestic policy, health care in particular. So when it came time to focus on domestic priorities, Republicans weren't terribly well prepared. 

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Judge Rejects Fort Hood Shooter's Guilty Plea

he's not a hippieReason 24/7Major Nidal Hasan was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder within a month of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting and arraigned in 2011. A trial was set for last year but has faced multiple delays, including when Hasan refused to shave his beard as required by military rules. Now the rules are prohibiting his plea from being accepted.

From the Washington Times:

The Fort Hood soldier charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder in the 2009 military post rampage cannot plead guilty, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The Associated Press reports that Maj. Nidal Hasan’s attorneys said he wanted to plead guilty. He’s barred, however, by Army rules. Military judges can’t take guilty pleas from defendants who face the death penalty, AP says. So attorneys tried to get the judge to accept a guilty plea for 13 counts of unpremeditated murder — to no avail, AP reports.

No word on whether his attempted guilty plea might affect his rank or paycheck.

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 Our Fruitless Quest for Missile Defense

Sea Sparrow missile launchingCredit: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia CommonsForeign policy is often a form of theater, with elaborate rituals and pretenses that no one takes too literally. But rarely have the gimmicks of stagecraft been as obvious as in the latest standoff between North Korea and the United States. Lately, even more than usual. Steve Chapman discusses the posturing from North Korea and our president's response.

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Do Libertarians Really "Want a World Without Moral Judgments"?

On March 15 in The New York Times, liberal journalist and author Richard Reeves wrote an op-ed about the new plan in New York City to dramatize the many negative effects of teen pregnancy on girls who give birth before graduating high school and outside of a stable two-parent unit. Billboards and other advertisements around the city, for instance, point out that unwed teen mothers are twice as likely to not finish high school as girls who don't give birth before graduating.

With many smart qualifications, Reeves makes a case for shaming regarding teen pregnancy and other behaviors, and he does it from a liberal POV:

A society purged of shame might sound good in theory. But it would be terrible in practice. We need a sense of shame to live well together. For those with liberal instincts, this is necessarily hard. But it is also necessary.

My issue is less with Reeves' views on public shaming per se and more on an aside he makes about libertarians:

Libertarians might want a world without moral judgments, in which teen pregnancy carries no stigma at all. And paternalists might want the state to enshrine judgments in law — perhaps by raising the age of sexual consent or mandating contraception. True liberals, though, believe we can hold one another to moral account without coercion. We must not shy away from shame.

I submit to you that few statements are more wrong than saying "libertarians might want a world without moral judgments." From my vantage point, one of the things to which libertarianism is dedicated is the proliferation of moral judgments by freeing people up to the greatest degree possible to create their own ways of being in the world. To conflate the live and let live ethos at the heart of the classical liberal and libertarian project with an essentially nihilistic dismissal of pluralism and tolerance is a gigantic error. It's like saying that because religious dissenters want to abolish a single state church that they are anti-god.

As the anthropologist Grant McCracken argued in a 1998 Reason story called "The Politics of Plenitude," our world is characterized by a "quickening speciation" of social types and sub-cultures, a liberating reality that is typically mistaken for the end of the world and the end of all morality. McCracken notes that plenitude particularly aggrieves conservatives, because they mistake an urge to escape "a morality" for an attempt to abolish "all morality." He explains:

The right acts as if the many groups thrown off by plenitude harbor an anarchic tendency, that people have become gays, feminists, or Deadheads in order to escape morality. This is not the logic of plenitude. These people have reinvented themselves merely to escape a morality, not all morality. New communities set to work immediately in the creation of new moralities. Chaos does not ensue; convention, even orthodoxy, returns. Liminality is the slingshot that allows new groups to free themselves from the gravitational field of the old moralities they must escape. But liminality is almost never the condition that prevails once this liberation has been accomplished.

courtesy PBScourtesy PBSReeves is no conservative. He's a devotee of John Stuart Mill and, I rush to add, has said many positive things about Reason over the yearsBut his characterization of libertarians as uninterested in moral judgments proceeds from a very conservative - and very profound - misunderstanding of what I think we are all about. This sort of thinking typically emanates from the right - how many of us have had conversations with conservatives who equate ending drug prohibition with a case not simply for occasional use of currently illegal drugs but for an absolute embrace of never-ending intoxication and stupefaction? - but apparently it harbors a home on the left as well. (Go here to read part of a debate I had with Jonah Goldberg a decade ago on the same basic topic).

Shame is certainly not the first thing that most libertarians I know reach for in high-minded policy discussions or less serious conversations. On the narrow question of reducing teen pregnancy - which has in any case reached historic lows over the past decades - it's far from clear the role the sort of public shaming enivisioned by New York authorities will play compared to, say, frank discussions of the harshly reduced opportunities faced by young mothers. Certainly, it may make certain policymakers and politicians feel good, but that is hardly any ground by which to analyze the efficacy of a given policy (to his credit, Reeves calls for a cost-benefit analysis himself).

But it's time to start swatting away random accusations of libertarians as nihilists simply because we don't sign on to every given moralistic agenda that is proposed or enacted in the name of the greater good. No less a buttoned-down character than Friedrich Hayek once wrote that "to live and work successfully with others requires more than faithfulness to one's concrete aims. It requires an intellectual commitment to a type of order in which, even on issues which to one are fundamental, others are allowed to pursue different ends." The libertarian commitment to true pluralism and tolerance is not easy to maintain, but it remains exactly the sort of gesture that allows for differing moralities to flourish and, one hopes, new and better ways of living to emerge.

Reeves' official website is here.

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Federal Court Strikes Down Louisiana’s “Nonsensical...Economic Protectionism”

In October 2012 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a humiliating rebuke to the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. At issue was the board’s requirement that only licensed funeral directors be permitted to sell caskets within the state, a rule that applied even to those individuals who only made and sold caskets and never once came in contact with a dead body as part of their work, such as the monks of St. Joseph Abbey, who brought suit with the help of the Institute for Justice. “The great deference due state economic regulation does not demand judicial blindness to the history of a challenged rule or the context of its adoption, nor does it require courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth,” the 5th Circuit declared. Furthermore, because “it is unclear whether, under Louisiana law, the State Board has authority to regulate casket sales in and of themselves when such sales are not incidental to the seller’s provision of any other funeral services,” the 5th Circuit asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to determine if the state had been acting illegally under state law all along. If that turned out to be the case, then the 5th Circuit would let the law die in state court. But if it was not, then the 5th Circuit would rule against the board under the U.S. Constitution. Either way, the licensing law would be finished.

This saga finally came to a conclusion yesterday. Because the Louisiana Supreme Court “has declined our request to clarify this statute’s meaning,” the 5th Circuit was left with no choice but to strike down the “nonsensical” regulation. “That Louisiana does not even require a casket for burial, does not impose requirements for their construction or design, does not require a casket to be sealed before burial, and does not require funeral directors to have any special expertise in caskets,” the 5th Circuit declared, “leads us to conclude that no rational relationship exists between public health and safety and limiting intrastate sales of caskets to funeral establishments.”

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How America Will Enter the Syrian War

The thin red line. |||Last year, President Barack Obama declared that if Syria used chemical weapons against rebel forces the evil Assad regime would be crossing a "red line," after which there would be some kind of heightened retaliation by the United States, presumably involving miitary force. As Ed Krayewski pointed out yesterday, France has been saying since last summer that any chemical weapons usage should trigger Western intervention. At a press conference in Israel yesterday, Obama answered questions about murky chemical-weapons allegations by declaring that "Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer." It seems likely that no matter how war-weary Americans might be, we may soon be in another Mideast military conflict.

This illustrates, among other things, the perils of drawing "red lines" in an era of ever-lower bars for American intervention. Presidents volunteer, in the face of constant badgering from congressional hawks and the press, the line beyond which the U.S. will have to intervene. If it's in the context of a civil war, participants seeking American help (and outsiders cheering on intervention) will thus be incentivized to make sure that that line is or appears to be crossed. When that happens, hawks will make a lot of noise about "American credibility," and before you know it, here we go again.

Chemical weapons usage isn't the only red line available; the mere possibility of putting "chemical weapons" and "jihadis" in the same sentence will also suffice, as this roundup of hawkish commentary suggests.

Wait, Lindsey Graham was on Meet the Press? |||Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

I've never been more worried about weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorists' hands than I am right now. And I would urge the president and Republican leaders to openly embrace ending this conflict sooner rather than later with a post-Assad plan that focuses on securing these chemical weapons sites.

Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):

President Obama has said that the use of weapons of mass destruction by Bashar Assad is a 'red line' for him that 'will have consequences.' If today's reports are substantiated, the President's red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised. That should include the provision of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad's aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians and opposition groups. If today's reports are substantiated, the tragic irony will be that these are the exact same actions that could have prevented the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee:

If we know their intention to use these chemical weapons and don't do anything about that, that is a stain on our national character....So we've got a growing bloody conflict, you've got a regime that's under pressure, at least a high probability they have used most recently or in the past some amount of chemical weapons. This is the time to act. Don't wait until we have 5,000 dead. That's too late.

What the hell, Graham again:

I don't care what it takes....If the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem.

That last quote might be the most apt. Some interventionists literally don't care what it takes to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for determining world events. Dead Syrians, dead Americans, regional chaos, tax dollars down the sump hole, limitless deployment, unintended consequences, NO MATTER. What's important is to uphold the childish illusion that we can always just "cut this off," whatever "this" might be.

Read Reason's symposium on (evidently unlearned) lessons from the Iraq War.

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What Libertarians Think About War

War—huh! Yeah! What is it good for? 4600-word essays!

Anthony Gregory has published a mammoth bibliographical essay on libertarian opinions about war, covering conflicts from the American Revolution to the present and writers ranging from Mark Twain to our own Matt Welch. The piece is filled with links, and it goes out of its way to include perspectives the author disagrees with. Recommended.

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A.M. Links: Monday Deadline for Cyprus, Religious Riots in Burma, No Charges for Dad Who Legally Posed His Son With a Rifle

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

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Brickbat: Big Bullies

trix0r / photo on flickrtrix0r / photo on flickrEileen Parkman sprang into action when she saw several fifth-grade boys beating an autistic student at the elementary school she attended in Hawaii. Parkman, who was then in second grade, told them to stop. Instead, they knocked her down and stepped on her. That began a series of incidents in which the boys hit her or threw things at her. School officials didn't seem to be able to stop the boys, but they threatened to report her family to Child Protective Services if they removed Eileen from the school. The parents finally did take her out of the school, and the Maui Autism Center presented her with an award for bravery. The boy she tried to protect, however, is still in the school and still being bullied.

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Judge Napolitano on the Patriot Act's Gag Orders

20th Century Fox20th Century FoxLast week in San Francisco, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston held that the section of the Patriot Act that prohibits telling anyone about the receipt of an FBI agent-written search warrant and the section that requires asking and receiving the permission of the FBI before talking about the receipt of one profoundly and directly infringe upon the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. Andrew Napolitano argues that the government has known that all along. 

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When a Cop Claims a Murder Suspect Confessed, Ask for the Tape

The New York TimesThe New York TimesNew York Times reporters Michael Powell and Sharon Otterman tell the eye-opening story of how an innocent man was convicted of murdering a Brooklyn rabbi in 1990. Chaskel Werzberger, an adviser to the Satmar rebbe, was fatally shot by a would-be robber who stole his car while fleeing the scene of a bungled diamond heist. David Ranta, now 58, has been in prison since 1991 for the crime, based mainly on testimony from self-interested witnesses who later admitted they had lied and a detective's uncorroborated report of a confession that Ranta has always denied making. Powell and Otterman report that "four of the five witnesses in the first lineup did not identify Mr. Ranta." Furthermore, the eyewitness who should have gotten the clearest look at Werzberger's killer, the diamond courier he tried to rob, testified at the trial that Ranta was "100 percent not" the right man. The jury evidently gave more weight to other witnesses, including one who was 13 at the time and now says a detective told him to pick Ranta out of a lineup.

In 1996, five years after Ranta began serving his sentence, a woman testified that her husband, an armed robber who was identified by an anonymous tipster as Werzberger's killer shortly after the crime but died in a car crash a few months later, had confessed to her. But that was not enough to win Ranta a new trial. "I figured I was going to die in prison," he told the Times. Since then, Powell and Otterman write, "nearly every piece of evidence in this case has fallen away," including the testimony of a criminal who avoided a potential life sentence by claiming to have been Ranta's accomplice. This week Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, who was elected to his first term the year before Werzberger's murder, announced that he was recommending Ranta's release based on an investigation by a unit that Hynes created to uncover wrongful convictions. Powell and Otterman's story shows how the pressure to solve a high-profile murder, a criminal's incentive to lie in exchange for more lenient treatment, and a cop's determination to convict someone he's sure is guilty can combine to create a terrible injustice.

The weight given to undocumented confessions is further illustrated by the case of Debra Milke, who has been on Arizona's death row since 1990, when she was convicted of conspiring to murder her 4-year-old son. Like Ranta, she was convicted based on the testimony of a detective who said she had confessed. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit explains in a recent decision overturning her conviction, "The trial was, essentially, a swearing contest between Milke and Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate, Jr." Although "the judge and jury believed Saldate," they did not know about his "long history of lying under oath and other misconduct." That history included "a five-day suspension for taking 'liberties' with a female motorist and then lying about it to his supervisors; four court cases where judges tossed out confessions or indictments because Saldate lied under oath; and four cases where judges suppressed confessions or vacated convictions because Saldate had violated the Fifth Amendment or the Fourth Amendment in the course of interrogations." The prosecution "knew about this misconduct but didn’t disclose it," in violation of its obligations under Brady v. Maryland, the 1963 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that due process requires prosecutors to share potentially exculpatory evidence with the defense. 

Writing for a three-judge appeals court panel, Alex Kozinski highlights the trial judge's failure to comprehend the significance of this prosecutorial misconduct:

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Spaniards Shield Assets in Bitcoin To Avoid Bank Account Grab

Reason 24/7ReasonThe great Cypriot bank account grab of 2013 may or may not be off. Sure, Cyprus's lawmakers rejected a proposal that would carve a chunk out of the deposits of every depositor in the country, but officials are back for another try. The latest proposal would nationalize the country’s pension funds and steal a little bit less from bank accounts than was originally envisioned. Banks remain closed and funds frozen while the details are worked out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people well beyond the boundaries of the tiny island nation are scared shitless by the idea that government officials might just help themselves to private savings to pay ill-considered government bills. In just two days, the value of Bitcoins has risen 15 percent as Spaniards convert euros into the digital currency.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Since Sunday, a trio of Bitcoin apps have soared up Spain’s download charts, coinciding with news that cash-strapped Cyprus was planning to raid domestic savings accounts to pay off a $13 billion bailout tab. Fearing contagion on the other end of the Mediterranean, some Spaniards are apparently looking for cover in an experimental digital currency.

“This is an entirely predictable and rational outcome for what’s happening in Cyprus,” says Nick Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group. “If you want to get a good sense of the stress European savers are feeling, just watch Bitcoin prices.”

The value of the virtual currency has soared nearly 15 percent in the last two days, according to the most-recent pricing data. “One hundred percent of that is due to Cyprus,” says Colas. “It means the Europeans are getting involved.”

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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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Today Rand Paul and Pat Leahy Introduced a Bill to Fix Our Atrocious Federal Mandatory Minimum Laws

Gage Skidmore FlickrGage Skidmore FlickrYou may have heard recently that the number of people under correctional supervision in the U.S. has been steadily falling over the last few years--from 7.2 million in 2008, to 6.97 million in 2011. While that's true, it's also true that the decline is happening exclusuvely at the state and local levels. The federal prison system has only grown since 2008. Federal detention facilities are currently at 139 percent capacity, and, absent any reforms of federal mandatory minimum laws, are expected to grow indefinitely. Enter Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), and the "Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013," which was introduced today.

Here's why this bill is important: A guy--let's call him Weldon--sells pot to a government informant, who notices that Weldon has a gun strapped to his ankle. The next time the informant buys pot from Weldon, he notices a gun in Weldon's car. When police move in to arrest Weldon, they find guns in his house. Weldon has never fired these guns, never used them to coerce anyone. He has, however, sold pot three times* while in possession of a firearm, so prosecutors charge Weldon with "multiple counts of possession of a gun during a drug trafficking offense." He is convicted. What do you think Weldon's sentence is? Ten years? Twenty years? Try 55 years--five for the first gun-related offense, and 25 for the second and third. That's the mandatory minimum federal sentence for Weldon's charges, meaning the judge who sentenced him could not sentence him to less time--only more.  

Weldon Angelos is a real person, by the way, and the existence of a safety valve in 2004, the year he was sentenced, would've allowed the judge to sentence him to 18 years instead of 55 (that was the judge's preference). It would've meant Weldon, who was 24 at sentencing, would go free at age 42 instead of age 79. But because the federal system has mandatory minimums with no parole, Weldon will spend most of the rest of his life behind bars for selling several hundred dollars worth of pot while wearing a gun on his ankle.

The need for reform is all the more pressing when you consider how many other Weldons are behind bars at the federal level: 218,000 prisoners who doing time in a federal facility in 2011, and 48 percent were drug offenders. 

So how does the safety valve work? Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the chief consult on the Paul-Leahy bill, explains: 

Safety valves allow courts –in some circumstances –to sentence a person below the mandatory minimum if that sentence is too lengthy, unjust or unreasonable, or doesn’t fit the offender or the crime. For example, a safety valve allows the court to avoid unreasonable outcomes, such as a first-time drug courier getting the same sentence as a major drug kingpin.

You can read more from Stewart (and Grover Norquist!) in a recent op-ed for The Hill. In anticipation of concerns from prosecutors and tough-on-crime types, the Paul-Leahy bill has pretty strict guidelines for determing when the safety valve can be used: 

  • Judges are not required to use the safety valve.
  • Judges must base their below-minimum sentences on the criteria listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), then consider the sentencing guidelines, not merely substitute their own judgment for the dictates of Congress.
  • Offenders do not have a right to a sentence below the mandatory minimum.
  • If the judge gets the sentence wrong, the decision can be appealed and reversed.
  • Before judges apply the safety valve, the Justice Department has the right to argue that the mandatory minimum sentence is the correct one.
  • Judges must place their reasons for sentencing below the mandatory minimum on the record, in writing.

FAMM's report on the Paul-Leahy bill lays out the fiscal savings of implementing the safety valve, and includes more stories of people who received perverse sentences due to mandatory minimum sentencing. The bill isn't a panacea, but it is a long overdue step in the right direction. 

*This post has been updated to reflect that Weldon Angelos' sentence was a product of him having sold pot three separate times while in possession of a firearm.

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Top Calif. High-Speed Rail Mastermind Turns Against the Monster It Has Become

Everything in this image is subsidized. Even the clouds.CHSRAFormer State Senator Quentin Kopp founded the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) years ago, once served as its chairman, and pushed for the passage of the ballot initiative in 2008 that gave the state authority to issue about $10 billion in bonds to build it.

Now he’s trying to stop it.

Kopp is serving as an expert witness in one of the lawsuits against California’s rail projects, arguing that the train the state is actually attempting to build bears little resemblance to what the ballot initiative authorized. It’s a truth that everybody knows, but CHSRA seems intent on trying to ignore. Dan Walters at the Sacramento Bee explains how two recent decisions by the rail agency may be in violation of the initiative voters passed:

The authority's five-member board voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board to design a "blended" system in which local commuter trains and the bullet train would share rails on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Merging the two services is designed to placate project opponents in the high-income neighborhoods on the peninsula. But opposition remains and critics say that a blended system cannot meet the bond measure's requirement that the bullet train carry passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes.

The board also approved a request to state financial officials to issue up to $8.6 billion in bonds to provide construction money for the 130-mile San Joaquin Valley segment and future construction as needed. But that project, critics also allege, would not meet the bond measure's requirement that any construction be a "usable segment."

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A. Barton Hinkle on The Green-Car Blues

A plug in hybrid at an auto showCredit: AudeVivere/Wikimedia CommonsVirginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has drawn the fury of the environmentally minded by including in his transportation package a $100 annual fee on alternative-fuel vehicles, including electric cars and hybrids. The governor’s rationale is plain enough: People who use the roads should pay for them, but taxes on gasoline don’t adequately capture hybrids that burn less of it.

A. Barton Hinkle takes a sensible look at an issue that has both sides riled up.

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RIP, Harry Reems, Who Starred in Deep Throat with Linda Lovelace

Harry Reems, an ex-Marine who starred in Deep Throat, the most profitable porn movie - and maybe just movie movie - of all time, has died after battling various illnesses. He was 65.

From The Onion A/V Club obit:

In 1973, Manhattan Judge Joel J. Tyler famously deemed Deep Throat obscene, variously calling it a “feast of carrion and squalor,” “a nadir of decadence” and “a Sodom and Gomorrah gone wild before the fire.” In 1976, Reems—along with more than 60 other individuals and companies—was indicted in Memphis, Tennessee, and successfully convicted of conspiracy to distribute obscenity across state lines.

(Perversely, both [co-star Linda] Lovelace and [director Gerard] Damiano served as witnesses for the prosecution, having been granted immunity for their testimony. According to Reems, “Linda Lovelace just stood there, pointed, and said, ‘Yeah, that’s the actor I did the sex with in the movie,’ and the director stood up and said, ‘Yeah, that’s the actor I directed to have sex in the movie.’”)

Read the whole thing here.

Deep Throat may have grossed as much as $600 million. Reems was paid $100 for his efforts. He eventually left the adult movie biz, stopped drinking and drugging to excess, became a Christian, and went into real estate in Utah. The A/V piece includes the tidbit that Reems was originally cast to play the gym teacher in the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John film of Grease, but was bounced due to his clothes-shedding past.

Hat tip: Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner.

In 2005, Jesse Walker wrote about the documentary Inside Deep Throat and what he called "progress at the cineplex." Read that here.

And in 2010, Reason TV asked, "Should Obscenity be Illegal?"

Hat tip: 

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Why Do Liberals Keep Bugging Ruth Bader Ginsburg About Retirement?

Credit: Whitehouse.govCredit: Whitehouse.govIn April 2011, Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy published a surprising article in The New Republic urging Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer to stop being so selfish and to start thinking about the good of American liberalism by planning their early retirements from the bench. “If Ginsburg and Breyer abjure retirement and Obama wins,” he wrote, “the justices’ subsequent departures will be relatively harmless. On the other hand, if Obama loses, they will have contributed to a disaster.” Indeed, Kennedy asserted, “Their estimable records will be besmirched...if they stay on the bench too long.”

That piece was not exactly subtle in its partisan calculations, but it did make a certain amount of ghoulish sense: Ginsburg and Breyer were not spring chickens and Obama’s reelection was not guaranteed. Therefore, Kennedy concluded, the two geriatric justices should shuffle offstage for the good of the cause.

Obama won, of course, averting Kennedy’s feared “disaster.” So that means liberals have finally stopped bugging Ginsburg and Breyer about their retirements, right? Not exactly. Earlier this week, on the occasion of Ginsburg’s 80th birthday, legal blogger Kenneth Jost weighed in with a post titled, “At 80, Ginsburg Needs to Know When to Step Aside.” Here’s the crux of what he had to say:

To safeguard her legacy, Ginsburg must now make the right decision about when to retire from the court. She has spoken often — most recently to [journalist Jeffrey] Toobin — about wanting to stay until she is 82, the age at which her judicial hero Louis Brandeis retired from the court. Conveniently, she will reach that age in 2015, with Barack Obama, a civil liberties-minded Democrat, still in the White House....

Ginsburg told Toobin that she would stay on the court “as long as I can do the job full steam.” By her own words, however, her stamina is not the only relevant consideration. Ginsburg’s legacy will depend in part on whether she makes the right decision about the best time to step aside.

By her own admission Ginsburg plans to stick around until 2015, which still gives Obama plenty of time to replace her. You’d think her purported admirers would give her a break until then.

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Drew Carey, Penn Jillette Talk Comedy, Politics, and Libertarianism

 Reason TV creator and entertainment legend Drew Carey stopped by Penn Jillette's Sunday School podcast recently for a wide-ranging conversation about virtually everything under the sun. Click below to listen to the whole thing (you can download it too) via Soundcloud.

Drew talks about his time in the Marine reserves, a suicide attempt, his standup career, his love of the board game Monopoly, the changes he brought to The Price is Right, how to win in Vegas, and his role in creating both Reason.tv and our news aggregation feed, Reason 24/7.

And there's this great bit on what it's like to be a libertarian (around the 44-minute mark):

If you're a libertarian, every election you're sad. Every election, if you're a libertarian, you're going to feel like you were playing Monopoly and you got up to go to the bathroom for five minutes. And when you came back, everybody made a trade and fucked you out of the game.

 Listen now!

To check out Reason TV videos featuring Drew Carey, go here.

To check out our archive of Penn Jillette offerings, go here.

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Colo. Governor Signs Gun Law, Iraq Citizens Not Feeling the Liberation, Bell Officials Found Guilty of Corruption: P.M. Links

  • Did they check that dome for snipers first?Source: Colorado State Web PortalAs expected, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed into law gun control efforts expanding background checks for gun purchases and limiting the size of ammo magazines. Opponents have called the law unenforceable, some sheriffs across the state have said they’ll refuse to enforce it anyway, and a magazine manufacturer in the state has threatened to relocate.
  • Meanwhile, Colorado’s prison chief was shot and killed answering his door. There was no sign of a robbery or break-in.
  • As the 10th anniversary of Iraq’s “liberation” results in a lot of navel-gazing by Western nations, the actual people in Iraq are not seeing much of the benefits of the country’s growing oil exports.
  • In 1991, David Ranta was found guilty of murdering a rabbi in Brooklyn and sentenced to 37.5 years in prison. Now, a prosecutor believes Ranta is innocent and is asking for his release. He may be out as early as Thursday.
  • The former mayor of Bell, Calif., and four former council members were found guilty today of several corruption charges. The former city manager, who officials claim masterminded the misappropriation of city funds to line their pockets, faces a separate trial later this year.
  • Because New Mexico’s marriage law does not specify the sex of participants, the mayor of Santa Fe is attempting to argue that gay marriage is legal there and is trying to get county clerks to issue licenses to same-sex couples. 

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

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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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Peter Suderman on Why Price Controls Won't Fix American Health Care

Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos / Foter.com / CC BYPhoto credit: Alex E. Proimos / Foter.com / CC BYRather than push for a government-run, single-payer system—what liberals often term “Medicare for all”—some left-leaning health experts are talking up a technocratic alternative known as all-payer: Instead of the federal government serving as a universal insurer, as in single payer, the government would set payment rates for the entire system, public and private, eliminating price discrepancies for different payers.

In other words, price controls. This is the great new idea that has gripped liberal health wonks as health costs have continued to rise: to simply have the government declare that prices must be lower. But in reality, writes Senior Editor Peter Suderman, it’s neither a new idea nor a particularly great one, and there’s little reason to think it will result in meaningful restraint of health care cost growth.

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ObamaCare Could Cost This Bakery Half Its Annual Profits—or Nearly Half Its Full Time Workforce

Photo credit: kevin dooley / Foter.com / CC BYPhoto credit: kevin dooley / Foter.com / CC BYWhat sort of costs will ObamaCare impose on small business owners? A New York Times story on San Diego bakery Baked in the Sun offers a hint.

Under the law, employers with more than 50 employees must either offer qualifying health insurance to all full time employees or pay a fine of $2,000 per worker each year. Currently, Baked in the Sun does not offer health insurance to 90 of its 95 employees, which means that owners Rachel Shein and Steve Pilarski face a difficult choice: They can offer health insurance to their employees and figure out how to finance the additional cost; they can pay a fine for not offering health insurance; or they trim their full time workforce below 50 employees so that they can avoid both the cost of offering insurance and the cost of the penalty.

Baked in the Sun’s owners estimate that the cost of offering insurance will run about $200 per employee per month, or about $216,000 per year to cover all 90 currently uninsured employees, of which the employer will pay half and the employee would pay the rest. Their annual revenues are $8 million, but because food service is extremely low margin, only about $200,000 of that is profit, meaning that financing the $108,000 employer half of the additional coverage could cost them half of their yearly profits.

Still, it’s clearly a more attractive choice than paying the $2,000 per-worker annual fine, which would actually cost them more than offering the insurance. According to the article, even with an exemption for the first 30 employees, paying the penalty would still cost about $130,000 a year.

If they choose to offer the insurance, they have to find a way to pay for it. Instead of dipping into their profits, the Times notes that the owners could also hike their prices by an average of about 4 percent, passing the costs along to their buyers. But not only does that raise prices, it puts them at a competitive disadvantage with other bakers who employee less than 50 people—and who thus do not have to provide coverage or pay the penalty. “It’s ironic that our success meant we could grow,” Shein tells the Times, “and now we will be competing against smaller companies, with 50 employees or fewer, who will be able to charge less per item because they don’t have the financial burden of health insurance.”

Which is probably why Shein says she’s contemplating a more drastic possibility: cutting her bakery’s full time workforce back to fewer than 50 employees in order to avoid ObamaCare’s costs entirely. Doing that, she says, would mean outsourcing some jobs and eliminating others entirely, as well as converting some current employees to independent contractors. 

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NYT Says Energy Drink Is Still a Monster, Even in the Soft Drink Aisle

Monster BeverageMonster Beverage"For a decade," writes business reporter Barry Meier in today's New York Times, the manufacturer of Monster energy drinks "sold its products as dietary supplements, apparently as part of a strategy to convince consumers that they were different from beverages." As Meier previously has informed us, that strategy was misleading, because, aside from the caffeine they deliver, energy drinks' special ingredients don't seem to do much. Meier also has worried that energy drinks "marketed as supplements do not list the amount of caffeine used." So now that Monster Beverage has decided to sell its products as soft drinks rather than dietary supplements and list caffeine content on every can, you might think Meier would be pleased—but only if you have not been following his series of alarmist stories about energy drinks, which he portrays as a deadly threat foisted on naive consumers by conniving, callous corporations.

In Meier's mind, companies like Monster can do no right. Hence he warns in the second sentence of his story that Monster's switch "will bring significant changes in how it is regulated." For instance, the company "will no longer be required to tell federal regulators about reports potentially linking its products to deaths and injuries." Meier adds that "the company's recent move, which follows a similar regulatory makeover by another brand, Rockstar Energy, comes amid intensifying scrutiny of energy drink safety"—scrutiny prompted largely by his own scaremongering.

To his credit (or perhaps his editor's), Meier notes in his fourth paragraph that "a 16-ounce can of Monster’s most popular energy drinks will contain 140 to 160 milligrams of caffeine, compared with about 330 milligrams in a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee." Ounce for ounce, in other words, energy drinks contain less than half as much caffeine as coffee. Yet caffeine is the ingredient that worries Meier, who says it might just kill you. He has never explained why the same stimulant that is so worrisome in energy drinks is no big deal in coffee, which contains a much higher dose of it.

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Albuquerque Promises Taxes Won’t Go Up After $10.3 Million Judgment in Police Shooting Case

shot by copJonelle EllisA federal judge last month ruled the January 2010 shooting of Iraq war veteran Kenneth Ellis III by a detective from the Albuquerque Police Department was unconstitutional and last week a jury awarded Ellis’ family $10.3 million in court. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the city attorney says the judgment won’t be put on the property tax bill. Instead, it’ll come from the city’s “risk management” fund (self-insurance), meaning taxpayers will be on the hook anyway.

The city’s police department has been under investigation by the Department of Justice since last November. There have been at least 17 fatal police shootings since Ellis was shot and killed.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Louisiana Monks Keep Right to Sell Caskets

Sorry, Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, your casket licensing (and monopoly) scheme appears to be heading to its grave. Damon Root reported in October that the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had struck down a rule attempting to block a group of monks from selling their own handmade caskets.

Today a panel within the court upheld the decision. The Associated Press reports:

A federal appeals court says Benedictine monks may keep selling caskets from their monastery in Louisiana.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in favor of St. Joseph Abbey and against the state board of funeral directors' rule that only state-licensed funeral directors can legally sell caskets in Louisiana.

A judge wrote there was no “rational basis” for the restriction.

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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It Looks Like Shifting the CIA's Drone Program to the Pentagon Won't Change Much

Credit: david_axe / Foter.com / CC BY-NCCredit: david_axe / Foter.com / CC BY-NCYesterday the Daily Beast reported that the White House is preparing to transfer the CIA’s drone program to the Pentagon. From the Daily Beast:

The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency. Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations. “This is a big deal,” says one senior administration official who has been briefed on the plan. “It would be a pretty strong statement.”

While the unnamed senior official might think that the move “would be a pretty strong statement” there are reasons to think that not much will change. As Spencer Ackerman over at Wired’s Danger Room explains, reforms to the drone program require political will, not institutional changes:

If the Obama administration decides to give the U.S. military control of the CIA’s drone effort, the institutional changes to the controversial global drone strikes will be minor. That’s because the important leverage points over the drones — and the global, targeted-killing program they support — are political, not institutional.

Daniel Klaidman at The Daily Beast reports that President Barack Obama is nearing a decision to divest the CIA of its lethal drone fleet. According to Klaidman, the CIA will “remain involved in lethal targeting,” but uniformed personnel will pull the trigger from now on. “It looks like the White House may now be preparing to launch a campaign to counter the growing perception — with elites if not the majority of the public — that Obama is running a secretive and legally dubious killing machine,” Klaidman writes. 

Except he’ll still be running one. The CIA conducts armed drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, among other places. The U.S. military conducts armed drone strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, and has extensive airbases and support networks for drone strikes in east Africa and now in Niger. Military launchpads are often — but not always — launchpads for the CIA’s drones, too. And the CIA sometimes borrows the Air Force’s drone fleet. In short, the military infrastructure for the drone strikes is robust and global.

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Does Syria Have Chemical Weapons?

evidence according to syriaSANAThere’s a fresh round of allegations of chemical weapons in Syria’s two-year-long civil war, with the Syrian government and Syrian rebels in Aleppo accusing each other of using the same in the region.  The White House says there’s no evidence the rebels are using chemical weapons, while Russia said the rebels have. Israel said it was “apparently clear” the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, and  Syria’s main rebel group is demanding an investigation. The Syrian regime claimed in January that it was the rebels who could turn to chemical weapons in the conflict.

President Obama warned Syria about the use of chemical weapons last summer, and maintains there’s no reason to think Syria is using chemical weapons, even as the Pentagon has previously planned how a pre-emptive strike on Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile might look.  Israel may have hit a chemical weapons site in January, and last month U.S. intelligence sources suggested the Syrian regime was consolidating its chemical weapons stockpile. A Syrian defector said the regime would likely only use chemical weapons as a “last resort.”

France has cited the potential use of chemical weapons as a reason to intervene in Syria since at least last summer. One theory has Syria receiving all these chemical weapons in advance of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, hinged on Iraq’s possession of WMDs. Ten years ago France wouldn’t follow to where the U.S. was leading in Iraq, now some ask whether the U.S. is following where France is leading on Syria.

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Dumbest Headline of the Year: 'Bloomberg, champion of choice'

The Daily News of New York deserves raspberries not just for letting sports bloviator Mike Lupica try to write about guns, but for publishing a George Loewenstein piece with the subhed "Putting cigarettes behind the counter actually increases liberty." Just imagine how free we'll be when every addictive substance is banned!

Here's Jacob Sullum on the latter jackassery. Reason on Mayor Mike's indefatigable nannyism here.

Link via the must-follow Twitter feed of Glenn Garvin, who describes the piece as "so stupid that I'm rethinking my position on torture."

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Embrace the Libertarian Outlaw Future

Senator Charles SchumerDavid ShankboneI write a lot about people finding ways to live their lives, make a living and communicate with their friends without regard for the wishes of the control freaks who claim authority over us. Frankly, and happily, there's a lot of material with which to work. I'm convinced there's reason to be optimistic about a future that's reasonably friendly to libertarians — not because policy is necessarily moving in our direction (it is in some ways, and very much isn't in others), but because all signs point to a sizable portion of the population inclining to be free with or without cooperative government policies, and there's a growing arsenal of tools to help freedom-minded types achieve their goals.

Recently, I've written about the growing ranks of Americans slipping out of sight of tax man and regulators to make their living in the shadow economy, and about the long and proud history of defiance of gun restrictions. However people vote, it's clear that many of us like to hold on to what we earn, own the means to defend our lives and our liberty, and do as we damned well please in our off-hours. Good for us.

I've also covered new technologies, like 3D and chemical printing, that promise to make bans on guns, drugs and other physical items unenforceable, and encryption that can put phone calls and text messages beyond the reach of the snoopiest government officials. Throw in Bitcoin and  developments that have slipped my mind or have yet to surface, and the ability to ignore and even undermine the state is gaining some powerful weapons.

It's not hard to imagine a near-future in which a growing part of the population works part-time or full-time off the books, in businesses that don't officially exist, making payments in crypto currencies to fulfill orders made through encrypted connections. This parallel world will involve people enjoying easy access to illicit but popular goods and services and living much of their lives shielded from official observation. It's not hard to imagine that world, because it's an extrapolation of what has always existed, made more attractive by stupid and intrusive laws, and more possible by evolving technology. That's a largely libertarian vision by default, no matter the actual ideas espoused by its no doubt diverse participants.

This doesn't mean that this outlaw-libertarian vision will be perfect or risk-free. Operating in the shadows and under the radar, its participants will risk arrest and whatever escalating array of penalties the Charles Schumers and Lindsay Grahams of the future choose to inflict on their non-cooperative subjects in a never-ending societal game of whack-a-mole. But it's a game that the control freaks will ultimately lose, because they always have, as their grasping efforts drive more people out of their reach, and as technology becomes more liberating.

A better alternative would be a future that's free de jure as well as de facto, where policies are friendly to individual autonomy and tolerant of personal freedom. That future may come to pass, but the libertarian-outlaw future certainly will.

You don't need to wait for this libertarian-outlaw world, because it's already evolving around you. And you can extract some priceless entertainment value from that fact by simply describing its inevitability, in vivid detail, to a control freak near you. Have fun.

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If You Don't Support an 'Assault Weapon' Ban, You Hate Children and Want Them to Die

Daily NewsDaily NewsThe front page of today's New York Daily News(right) features photographs of the children Adam Lanza murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, tastefully arranged in a square around the headline "SHAME ON U.S.: Assault-Weapons Bill Is Dead." Because if you oppose the absurdly arbitrary "assault weapon" ban sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), you hate children and want them to die. Inside, under the headline "Spineless Pols Spit on the Graves of Newtown Victims by Not Pushing for Assault Weapons Ban," Daily News columnist Mike Lupica says "any fool knows that Lanza couldn't possibly have killed as many children as quickly as he did on the morning of Dec. 14 without an assault weapon in his hands." Lupica is right. That is what a fool knows, or thinks he knows. But is it true?

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Independence Institute Research Director David Kopel, a leading gun policy scholar, noted:

The murderer at Sandy Hook fired 150 shots over a 20-minute period, before the police arrived. In other words, a rate of fewer than 8 shots per minute. This is a rate of fire far slower than the capabilities of a lever-action Henry Rifle from 1862, or a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle from 2010. Indeed, his rate of fire could have been far exceeded by a competent person using very old technology, such as a break-open double-barreled shotgun.

So Lupica, like other supporters of Feinstein's bill, is simply wrong to think that Lanza needed a special sort of gun to fire as fast as he did. In any case, as Kopel pointed out, the criteria that legislators use to identify so-called assault weapons "do not ban guns based on how fast they fire, or how powerful they are." Rather, "the definitions are based on the name of a gun, or on whether a firearm has certain superficial accessories (such as a bayonet lug, or a grip in the 'wrong' place)." Feinstein's bill, for example, would ban the Bushmaster rifle that Lanza used by name while specifically exempting other rifles (such as the Ruger Mini-14, as long as it has a fixed stock) that fire the same ammunition just as quickly.

Lupica suggests that children's lives "could have been saved that morning if Adam Lanza had only been firing away with a handgun." In reality, handguns are the weapons favored by mass killers, including the one responsible for the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, at Virginia Tech in 2007. A handgun (a revolver) was also the weapon that San Francisco Supervisor Dan White used to assassinate fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. That is the incident that Feinstein, who was a supervisor at the time and succeeded Moscone as mayor, cites to explain her persistence in pushing an "assault weapon" ban. "At a Senate hearing last week," The New York Times notes, "Ms. Feinstein said that she still could not get out of her mind looking for the pulse of Mr. Milk, her colleague at the time on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the process 'putting my fingers in a bullet hole.'"

Feinstein was responding to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who had the temerity to suggest that her bill violates the Second Amendment. Dan White's crime is clearly irrelevant to the constitutional issue, and it does not even make sense as symbolism. Because White killed Milk and Moscone with a revolver, Feinstein was essentially saying, we cannot tolerate barrel shrouds on rifles. Presumably Lupica, who praises Feinstein as "tough" and "noble," thinks that is also something that any fool knows. But it is hard to see how someone who is not a fool could believe it. 

[Thanks to Michael Sohm for the tip.]

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John Stossel on The Public Education "Blob"

House Dem Flickr feedHouse Dem Flickr feedEducation reformers have a name for the resistance they encounter: the education “Blob.” The Blob includes the teachers unions, but also janitors and principals unions, school boards, PTA bureaucrats, local politicians, and so on. They hold power because the government’s monopoly on K-12 education eliminates most competition. Kids are assigned to schools, and a bureaucracy decides who goes where and who learns what. Over time, its tentacles expand and strangle attempts to reform. Since they have no fear of losing their jobs to competitors, writes John Stossel, monopoly bureaucrats can resist innovation for decades.

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Rand Paul: Could He Actually Win? Five Reasons Say "Yes"

The post-filibuster rise of Rand Paul from weirdo maverick to soul of the Republican Party continues as Politico asks the question: could this guy actually win his party's presidential nomination? And answers with a, we can't see why not!

The five reasons:

He has a stronger organization than any other Republican

Paul starts with a built-in base of libertarians that comprises at least 10 percent of the GOP electorate, and his boosters have made tremendous inroads in state parties around the country.

They may be a minority, but they are a devoted one. Paul supporters will drive farther and work harder than any other 2016 contender’s core backers. They also tend to be younger and engaged on social media and the blogosphere in ways that people who support someone of the older generation like, say, Jeb Bush are not....

He’s perceived as principled

Grass-roots conservatives in the early states loathe career politicians as much as ever. There’s a real appetite for someone who doesn’t always do the politically prudent thing.

The filibuster was a seminal moment not because it changed the conversation on drones but because it showed that Paul cared so deeply about something that he was willing to not urinate for 13 hours....

His dad’s nickname was Dr. No, and the younger Paul has a similar voting record. Paul consistently opposes spending bills, which means that he cannot be attacked in 2016 like Rick Santorum was in the 2012 debates for supporting earmarks. Paul backs a balanced budget amendment, term limits and even returned money to the treasury that he did not spend from his office budget.

He’s more cautious than voters realize

Paul often speaks carefully and gives nuanced answers. It’s an acknowledgment of sorts that if he wants to be a mainstream leader of the party, he needs to be careful about offending large swaths of Republicans.

His immigration speech is a case in point. An early draft obtained by The Associated Press prompted the wire to report that he would endorse a “path to citizenship,” but when Paul delivered his speech, he avoided that term...

On other issues, Paul takes a states-rights federalist approach. He thinks states should decide whether to allow medicinal marijuana, for example.

On CNN Tuesday, he talked up his support for “life” but dodged when pressed by Wolf Blitzer on what specific exceptions he supports for abortion. (He introduced a bill last week that would say life begins at conception.) At the same time, Paul has rankled some social conservatives with his position on gay marriage.

“I’m an old-fashioned traditionalist. I believe in the historic and religious definition of marriage,” he told National Review last week. “That being said, I’m not for eliminating contracts between adults. I think there are ways to make the Tax Code more neutral so it doesn’t mention marriage.”

He appears to have fewer skeletons than his father

.....Barring a surprise, opponents have nowhere near the volume of material on Rand Paul, a benefit of spending most of his adult life on the periphery of politics....

He can play the inside game in a way his dad never could

After introducing several bills during his first two years in the Senate that went nowhere, Paul has become a more savvy legislator.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the alliance he has formed with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who backed Paul’s GOP primary opponent in 2010. Paul’s campaign manager that year, Jesse Benton, is now running McConnell’s 2014 reelection effort.

After a rough start during his campaign, Paul has become adept with the media. He kept the buzz around his filibuster going for days with a series of interviews and events.

And he has taken pains to brand his foreign policy ideas as within the GOP mainstream. In a recent speech, he described himself as an heir to Ronald Reagan when it comes to national security — “a realist,” Paul said, “not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist.”....

This longtime libertarian movement watcher has an ingrained cautiousness about declaring the electorate at large is ready to embrace someone as libertarian as Paul. I detailed my own version of the challenges Paul faces on his way to national success last week.

I think the economy is key--the more the next 3 years indicate that Paulite fears of the real consequences of profligate debt and monetary policy are real, the more voters might be willing to embrace what would be, to most, a wrenching change in the direction of fiscal probity and government acting within its means.

That's a general election problem--as far as winning the GOP base, it feels better for Paul, especially since the Party will have no hometeam need to embrace ever-expansionist foreign policy as its own thing--like with the drone filibuster, they can be for peace and a return to a strictly defensive foreign policy posture and be against Obama and the Democratic Party. On all the other things Republicans are supposed to want, Rand Paul is solid.

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President Obama Visits Israel, Says Alliance is Eternal

things change things stay the sameWhite HouseBarack Obama is on his first visit to Israel as president, after insisting in his first term he’d only visit if he had something concrete to accomplish. Both he and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, are recently re-elected, and both would have likely preferred to be meeting with the other’s opponent. Nevertheless, the president said he was there “to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations, to restate America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security”, but, also!, “to speak directly to the people of Israel” (to go “over the heads” of its leaders, as some put it)

America’s alliance with Israel is eternal—lanetzach—the president said, and Israel branded the visit “Operation Unbreakable Alliance,” with the country in a high state of alert for the 48 hours Obama will be there. After Tel Aviv, the president will be in Jerusalem, which the Washington Free Beacon notes the White House did not identify as part of Israel on the itinerary. The Free Beacon also found discrepancies in the map of Israel used in a White House video (Jerusalem, northern Israel, and areas around the West Bank were not identified as Israeli territory).

Meanwhile, in Jersualem itself Deutsche Welle finds neither Israelis or Palestinians optimistic about what President Obama’s visit might accomplish. In 1898, the German broadcaster notes, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire prepared six months for the Kaiser’s visit to Jerusalem. Palestinians have set up a protest camp in a region zoned by Israel for settlement (E1) for President Obama’s visit. Obama began his first term pushing for a settlement freeze but has since settled for not saying anything about it. Arab hopes for Obama have steadily declined, reports the Guardian, since his 2009 Cairo speech. America, in fact, is less popular now in parts of the Muslim world than it was when George W. Bush was president.

Another big issue on the itinerary is Iran, which President Obama last week told Israeli news was only a year or so away from having a nuclear bomb. Estimates for when Iran would get a nuclear weapon have ranged from 2000 to 2015. On the eve of his trip to Israel, meanwhile, Obama released a video address to the Iranian people on the occasion of the Iranian new year, warning them the country faced increased isolation if its leaders continued to pursue a nuclear policy.

Obama’s arrival in Israel comes on the tenth anniversary of the war in Iraq, a war Netanyahu supported (and Obama wanted to prolong) that arguably strengthened Iran’s influence in the region. This time, in addition to the looming prospect of war with Iran is a two-year-long civil war in Syria. Israel fears spill-over from that conflict, and will reportedly ask the president for U.S. support for any potential strikes on Syrian weapons convoys headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon. And while Israeli officials have said it was “apparently clear” Syria has used chemical weapons against its people, the White House says there’s no evidence of that.

Obama looks likely to continue the tradition of American presidents visiting Israel in their second term, endorsing the U.S.-Israeli alliance, and then not accomplishing much else.

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Covered at Reason 24/7: French Hostage Killed in Mali

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have said that they have beheaded French national Philippe Verdon in Mali. A commander of AQIM claimed that Verdon was a French spy and also said that the killing was in response to the French-led intervention in Mali.

From Euronews:

Al Qaeda’s North African arm says it has executed a French hostage in Mali.Al Qaeda in the

Islamic Magreb (AQIM) said it beheaded Philippe Verdon in response to French intervention in Mali.Verdon was one of two French hostages kidnapped in the northern town of Hombori in

November 2011.

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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Firearm Instructor Home Night-Raided Over Facebook Photo of His Son Holding a Gun

In this age of gun control panic leading legislators to propose ineffectual and pointless restrictions of certain disfavored weapons, one firearms instructor and his family in New Jersey have learned a valuable lesson: don't offend the sensibilities of your neighbors when it comes to this contentious issue.

From a Fox Radio News report:

New Jersey police and Dept. of Children and Families officials raided the home of a firearms instructor and demanded to see his guns after he posted a Facebook photo of his 11-year-old son holding a rifle.

“Someone called family services about the photo,” said Evan Nappen, an attorney representing Shawn Moore. “It led to an incredible, heavy-handed raid on his house. They wanted to see his gun safe, his guns and search his house. They even threatened to take his kids.”

Moore was not arrested or charged.

This is the Facebook photo that led to the police raid.

This is the Facebook photo that led to the police raid....

“The department has a child abuse hotline for the state of New Jersey and anybody can make a call to that hotline,” spokesperson Kristen Brown said. “We are required to follow up on every single allegation that comes into the central registry.”

Moore, of Carneys Point, is a certified firearms instructor for the National Rifle Association, an NRA range safety officer and a New Jersey hunter education instructor.

He recently posted a photograph of his son wearing camouflage and holding his new .22 rifle. The child has a New Jersey hunting license and recently passed the state’s hunter safety course....

The family’s trouble started Saturday night when Moore received an urgent text message from his wife. The Carneys Point Police Dept. and the New Jersey Dept. of Children and Families had raided their home.

Moore immediately called Nappen and rushed home to find officers demanding to check his guns and his gun safe....

With his attorney on speaker phone, Moore instructed the officers to leave his home.

“I was told I was being unreasonable and that I was acting suspicious because I wouldn’t open my safe,” Moore wrote on the Delaware Open Carry website. “They told me they were going to get a search warrant. I told them to go ahead.”....

The attorney said police eventually left and never returned.

“He has a Fourth Amendment right and he’s not going to give up his Fourth Amendment right or his Second Amendment right,” he said. “They didn’t have a warrant – so see you later.”

The government is, as usual, sure it did the right thing, and what are you gonna do about it anyway?

Brown told Fox News that it’s “prudent and wise to protect children.”

“In many cases we may follow up on something and we don’t find any problems and the case is closed,” she said.

But the person who reported the false allegations of abuse cannot be held liable, she noted.

“You can’t be prosecuted for making an allegation of child abuse –even if it’s false,” she said.

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Obama Justice Department Graciously Acknowledges that It Shouldn't Snoop Your Emails Without a Warrant

The Washington Post is reporting today that the U.S. Justice Department is finally giving up its unconstitutional claim that the Feds have the right to read your emails after 180 days:

The Justice Department has dropped its long-standing objection to proposed changes that would require law enforcement to get a warrant before obtaining e-mail from service providers, regardless of how old an e-mail is or whether it has been read.

“There is no principled basis” to treat e-mail less than 180 days old differently than e-mail more than 180 days old, Elana Tyrangiel, acting assistant attorney general in the department’s Office of Legal Policy, said Tuesday.

Current law requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before gaining access to e-mail that is 180 days old or less if it has not been opened. But prosecutors may obtain e-mail older than 180 days, or any e-mail that has been opened, with a mere subpoena.

Prosecutors can obtain a subpoena if they believe that the material sought would be relevant to an investigation. For a warrant, they need to convince a judge that the e-mail contains probable cause of a crime.

The department’s shift means that legislative efforts to amend the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act stand a better chance at succeeding. Lawmakers have drafted legislation that would impose a warrant requirement for all e-mail held by commercial providers.

Well, hooray!

For a depressing roundup of how our national security state secretly spies on you, see my Reason colleague Jacob Sullum's excellent column, "Obama's Cloak of Invisibility." See also my article, "Your Cellphone is Spying on You," for how law enforcement agencies track you using your cell phone location data.

Shikha Dalmia on How Democrats Are Preventing Immigration Reform

Credit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAOn immigration reform, Republicans are supposed to be the bad guys and Democrats the good guys. Republicans think only about their own political interests, Democrats only about poor immigrants and the country. The part about Republicans is certainly true. But the part about Democrats? Not quite. As Shikha Dalmia explains, Democrats could likely pass comprehensive immigration reform today without sacrificing any immigrant — legal or illegal, high-tech or low-skilled — if they'd simply give up their quest for a new vote bank.

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Why Congress Should Forbid Cyprus-Style Expropriation of Bank Accounts

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit gazes upon developments in Cyprus, where legislators came close to taxing bank deposits to foot the bill for an IMF bailout, and suggests:

an enterprising GOP member of the House or Senate would introduce a bill immediately to make such shenanigans illegal — and dare the Dems to oppose it....

[I]t is prudent to think of places to put your money where it will be harder for the looters to get at: Paying off debt, educating your kids, hard goods that you’ll enjoy, etc. People in third-world kleptocracies tend to buy real estate in stable foreign countries, which is why so many Venezuelans now own condos in Miami. But it’s not clear that this strategy is a winner for Americans.

The real concern is that when you get productive citizens thinking this way, you’re already a step further down the road to a third-world psychology, which is not conducive to economic growth. Which is, I stress again, why enterprising GOP legislators should be pushing a non-confiscation law.

Read more here.

After Cypriot lawmakers voted down a proposal for taxing bank deposits, the situation in the European Union remains unclear.

I think Reynolds is on to something, though I'd be happy to see legislators of either party start talking up the sort of bill he proposes. For years now, there have been rumors that 401(k) and other supposedly sacrosanct retirement accounts will became game for governments low on funds. However well-based or not those fears are, anything the feds can do to draw clear lines and hem in their future behavior would be a good thing, for all the reasons Reynolds suggests. Massive levels of political and legislative uncertainty have reigned supreme in the 21st century and fear of the future is a great way to strangle it before it begins.

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David Frum and the "Unpatriotic Conservatives"

There's a lot of nuggets to be mined from David Frum's self-serving memoir of the Iraq war -- Jon Schwarz points to a notable one here -- but it's just as interesting to look for the things the author left out. One piece of history that went unmentioned was an article Frum wrote for National Review called "Unpatriotic Conservatives," in which he attacked right-wing opponents of the war. Or more exactly, as Daniel McCarthy explains over at The American Conservative,

Alt-text confiscated. Report immediately to party HQ.only the first dozen paragraphs did that. The rest, about two thirds of the essay, rehashed roughly a decade's worth of right-wing squabbling that had little to do with patriotism, war, or foreign policy. Frum conflated critics of the war with paleoconservatives and conflated paleoconservatives with critics of neoconservatism. These categories overlapped but weren't identical even in 2003—Robert Novak was a stalwart of movement conservatism, not a paleoconservative rebel. Scott McConnell had worked for Pat Buchanan's 2000 presidential campaign, but his start in journalism came writing for Commentary, and he was still best known for having been editorial page editor of the New York Post. Frum included University of Michigan history professor Stephen Tonsor in his account of the origins of paleoconservatism, but Tonsor never adopted that label—he was a traditionalist, a 1960s National Review type—and he actually supported the Iraq War.

McCarthy's point isn't to rake the author over the coals (though I wouldn't say Frum comes off well here). It's to note that there was a time when those conflations were easy to make, since "the only organized opposition to the war on the right came from institutions that were distinctly, indeed definitively, paleo....There were dissident neocons, non-Rothbardian libertarians, non-paleo traditionalists, and mainstream foreign-policy academics who opposed the war but had no outlet. They were the sort of people who before the war would have published in First Things or National Review or, for that matter, The Atlantic rather than in paleo publications, which had their own tone and set of interests that were self-consciously—even defiantly—out of the mainstream."

I can't entirely agree with McCarthy about that—antiwar libertarians, many of them non-Rothbardian, published frequently here at Reason and in other libertarian venues. But I don't really consider the libertarian movement part of the right, though the two do intersect at certain points, so I think his basic argument is valid: A lot of antiwar conservatives lacked a highly visible outlet 10 years ago. And I agree with McCarthy's conclusion, which is good news for those of us who want to see skepticism about an interventionist foreign policy increase across the political spectrum:

When Frum wrote his essay "antiwar conservative" was nowhere near as strong a brand as "paleoconservative"—with all the additional baggage that concept carried. Today the reverse is true: there are all kinds of relatively well known "antiwar conservatives"—the label is less important than the core idea—and nobody would think that the antiwar perspective on the right could be discredited just by attacking the paleos.
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Progressives Won the Social Culture War: Can Libertarians and Conservatives Win the Economic Culture War?

Jonathan HaidtCredit: New York UniversityIn a smart analysis over in the journal Democracy, New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt sets out the campaign map for the looming war between Progressives and Economic Liberals. First, he declares that it's all over except for shouting in the decades-long Social Culture War between the religious right and secular liberals: 

Issues related to sexuality, drugs, religion, family life, and patriotism were particularly vexing, and many people over 40 can recall the names of battlefields such as Mapplethorpe, needle exchange, 2 Live Crew, and the flag-burning amendment. But the left won a smashing victory in the 2012 elections, including the first victories at the ballot box for gay marriage.

The Culture War has moved on to the Economic Theater in which the fight is over the size and cost of government. Using insights from his moral foundations theory which probes how people put their together moral beliefs based on six different foundations - Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation - Haidt delineates the battle lines for the culture war in the Economics Theater. To make a long story short, Haidt's data suggest that leftwingers chiefly rely on the first three moral foundations, Care, Fairness and Liberty, whereas folks with a conservative bent construct their sense of morality using all six. At stake are the hearts, minds and votes of the younger generation:

The millennial generation has been raised on a diet of tolerance, diversity, and a reluctance to make moral judgments...hey have little fondness for hierarchy and tradition, so it will be hard to woo them with appeals based on the Authority foundation. And they have no visceral sense of disgust at homosexuality, and have been socialized to be as inclusive as possible, so arguments about sexuality derived from Sanctity will fail to move them.

But the millennials also realize they are likely to get a raw deal when it comes to taxes and entitlements. They are well aware that previous generations borrowed heavily to subsidize their own retirement years, and left the generations to come holding the bag. They are likely to listen carefully to arguments about fairness, taxing, and spending from both parties.

How each side regards Fairness and Liberty defines the frontline in the Economic fight. Fairness comes in three forms. The first is procedural - are the rules impartial or rigged (think crony capitalism). Leftists and economic liberals differ over distributive fairness - who deserves to get what. Leftists insist on equal outcomes whereas libertarians and conservatives want to reward people in proportion to their contributions. Data from Haidt's moral foundations survey shows just how deeply the moral intuitions of Progressives and Economic Liberals diverge over distributive fairness:

For example, consider this item, which pits equality versus proportionality: “All employees in a job category should be paid the same, regardless of productivity.” Among subjects who call themselves “very liberal,” 30 percent agreed. But just 3 percent of our “very conservative” subjects did. Liberals had to think about it, but for conservatives it’s a no-brainer: Imposing equality of outcomes in the absence of equality of inputs is a violation of fairness as proportionality.

First thought: Liberals are kidding, right? Apparently not.

Of course, all Americans value Liberty. Libertarians and conservatives stress negative liberty which refers to the absence of obstacles that block human action. Progressives favor positive liberty which refers to having the power and resources to choose one’s path and fulfill one’s potential. Republicans are seen as the Party of Wall Street whereas Democrats come off as the Party of overweening Nanny-Staters.

Ultimately, Haidt's advice to Republicans and Democrats for winning over younger voters is for both parties to move in a more libertarian direction: Republicans should give up their opposition to gay marriage and agree to end the drug war; Democrats should back off on race-based affirmative action and agree to rein in the regulatory state. Sounds like good advice to me.

Haidt's whole essay, "Of Freedom and Fairness" is worth reading. See Haidt's recent talk in New York on why "It's Hard To Gross Out a Libertarian" on Reason TV:

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A.M. Links: Barack Obama Visits Israel, IRS Didn’t Calculate Cost of Obamacare Regulations on Small Businesses, Wisconsin Fighting White Privilege

  • white privilege in the classroom?WikipediaBarack Obama arrived in Tel Aviv today for his first visit to Israel as president.
  • The Office of Advocacy, an agency within the Small Business Administration, part of the Department of Commerce, says the IRS did not calculate how much Obamacare regulations would cost small businesses in dollars and hours, as required by a 1981 law. The IRS says small businesses aren’t required to provide healthcare coverage so the cost of the regulations wasn’t calculated.
  • Rand Paul supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, according to the AP, while his advisors say the story is wrong. The AP says though Paul omitted the point that appeared in the prepared remarks, he confirmed the position afterward.
  • Two presumptive 2013 Democratic candidates for New York City mayor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, are sparring over what the position of an Inspector General for the NYPD, and its powers, might look like.
  • The Department of Public Instruction in Wisconsin has been combatting “white privilege” in the classroom by explaining how white people are racist.
  • Malala Yousafzai, who the Taliban tried to kill in Pakistan last year, returned to school, in England.
  • An Al-Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility for bombings in Iraq yesterday that killed at least 65 people and wounded 200.
  • The Iraq War cost $2.2 trillion and there were nearly 200,000 people killed in it.

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Obama Finally Brings Growth — To the Shadow Economy

Stack of cashFBIIf as many Spaniards were out of work as official figures suggest, pointed out Victor Mallet and Guy Dinmore in a 2011 article in the Financial Times, "Spain would not be as peaceful as, barring a few demonstrations, it has so far been." Spain's unemployment rate has gone up since then, and while the country isn't exactly thriving, there's no rioting or mass starvation, either. Clearly, there's a huge gap between official data and what people are actually doing, and occupying that gap, they reported, are off-the-books jobs, untaxed businesses and lots of cash in an active shadow economy. As noted at Reason 24/7, Rick Newman of U.S. News & World Report has spotted a similar mismatch — this time in the United States. Income isn't rising. Neither, really, is credit-card debt. But consumer spending is marching along at a healthy clip. Once again, unofficial economic activity beyond the reach of tax collectors and regulators seems to be taking up the slack.

Writes Newman:

Household spending has held up surprisingly well in recent months, even though new taxes have reduced paychecks and other problems are holding back the economy. Incomes haven't risen by nearly enough to explain the entire boost in spending. Nor has the use of credit cards.

When your teenager starts wearing expensive clothes and flashing bling he couldn't possibly afford through his part-time job, you start to wonder where the money is coming from. Some economists are asking the same question about consumers who seem more flush than they ought to be. The answer may lie in the large "underground" economy that doesn't show up in official statistics.

He goes on to cite Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group, who recently wrote (PDF):

[S]evere recessions have historically driven jobless Americans into the shadow economy, and we suspect the destructive nature of the last downturn and the prolonged weak recovery pushed a record number of people into that murky world of cash transactions. Doing so allows them to earn money without reporting their income, leaving more available to spend. ...
Despite the sharp drop off in the labor force participation rate, consumer spending has nevertheless continued to surge. One explanation is that many of those who have left the labor force since the last recession have managed to earn income in the shadow economy and their spending still shows up in the official retail sales and personal consumption data.

Adds Newman:

That may help explain one troubling trend—a sharp decline in the labor-force participation rate, which measures the percentage of the adult population considered to be either employed or looking for work. The participation rate has dropped from a peak of 67.3 percent in 2001 to 63.5 percent today. The last time it was that low was 1979. Some economists think this reflects a worn-out workforce resigned to long-term decline. But it might show a migration of workers from the official economy to the underground one instead.

There's always a bit of a data lag, but income figures haven't looked good for several years. In September 2012, the Census Bureau reported that "[r]eal median household income in the United States in 2011 was $50,054, a 1.5 percent decline from the 2010 median and the second consecutive annual drop." Household income is actually down 5.7 percent since the "recovery" began, Sentier Research reported that same month.

And let's not forget that lovely New Year's gift we all got in the form of a payroll tax hike.

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Jacob Sullum on Obama's Cloak of Invisibility

White HouseWhite HouseBack in 2007, when he was running for president, Barack Obama criticized George W. Bush's expansive vision of executive power, saying, "I reject the view that the president may do whatever he deems necessary to protect national security." The day after taking office in 2009, Obama declared that "my Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government." Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says those two positions went together, because secrecy requires power and power thrives in secrecy, as Obama himself has been demonstrating for the last four years. 

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Brickbat: And You're Ugly, Too

paukrus / photo on flickrpaukrus / photo on flickrBritish police investigated Tim Loughton, a Conservative member of parliament, for six months after he described a constituent as "unkempt." Kieran Francis had written Loughton about some problems he was having with his local council. Loughton wrote him back, siding with the council. Francis said the term "unkempt" was obviously a racist insult, since he claims to be of Romany descent. Police ultimately decided not to file charges of malicious communication against Loughton.

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Reason's Brian Doherty Interviews Artist Chris "Coop" Cooper

Reason's Brian Doherty sat down with internationally renowned underground artist Chris "Coop" Cooper at Reason's LA studios to discuss everything from intellectual property and censorship to the inspiration for Coop's radical art project. Coop, who provided the cover illustration to the December 2012 issue of Reason, is one of the most prolific and provocative designers and artists working today. For more information, visit www.theartofcoop.com. Doherty is the author of This is Burning Man and, most recently, The Ron Paul rEVOLution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired

Approx. 25 minutes

Produced by Zach Weissmueller.

Scroll below for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.

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The Iraq War is a Reminder: These People Do Not Know What They Are Doing

Reason MagazineReason MagazineIf you haven’t read Reason’s symposium on the 10 year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, stop what you’re doing and read it right now. And then when you’re done, if you’re in the mood for some real rage, go read some of the bad old justifications for going to war—left, right, and center. Here, for example, is David Brooks poking fun at simpleton peaceniks in September 2002. Peace! How unserious. Here’s Thomas Friedman at his most dangerously vapid talking up the “terrorism bubble,” as if war is just another exercise in management by self-righteous corporate catchphrase. And here’s The New York Times’ Bill Keller, almost delightedly celebrating his both own surprise and his own moral superiority at discovering that he is a hawk who favors launching a war. In perhaps the most infuriating line of reasoning, Keller notes the multiple divergent justifications for going to war, but dismisses potential worries with the almost-funny assertion that “we are hard pressed to see an alternative that is not built on wishful thinking.”

I should admit that at the time, and for several years after, I too tacitly supported the war. My only excuse (not a particularly good one) is that I was young, naive, and stupid, not yet out of college when the first bombs dropped and not confident that I could make a critical judgement based on the limited information I had; I didn't think the Bush administration's case for invasion was particularly convincing, but I assumed that in a matter as grave as war they knew more than I did, and wouldn't rush into a conflict on flimsy pretexts. Boy was I wrong. So were a lot of people. 

Reviewing the bipartisan justifications for war in Iraq should serve as a stark reminder to brash liberals, confident conservatives, and strong-government types across the political spectrum that government is a foolishly, frustratingly human endeavor, its projects marked by error and hubris, arrogance and incompetence. To put it bluntly: These people do not know what they are doing—and neither, as the fawning media coverage of Bush's war of choice reveals, does anyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact. They all believe fervently that they know exactly what they are doing, that their plans are foolproof, their designs magnificent, their will strong, their aims noble and historic and humanitarian. But what bloody follies like Iraq reveal is that so many of those tasked with either making or explaining the decisions that affect the lives (and deaths) of thousands or even millions are self-deluding fools, oblivious to the consequences of their own power, and their plans and intentions—whether good or bad or indifferent—do not matter when compared with their violent, ugly results. 

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Covered at Reason 24/7: NYPD Made 440,000 Pot Possession Busts Over a Decade

Reason 24/7ReasonWhen New York City cops aren't patting down kids on the sidewalk and spying on religious and political groups, whatever are they doing to keep themselves busy? Well, it turns out, according to a report prepared by Dr. Harry Levine, a marijuana-specializing professor of sociology at Queens College, that they're busting lots and lots and lots of people for simple marijuana possession. And, they're spending lots and lots and lots of time doing it.

I mean, it's New York City. What else are police going to do to fill the hours?

From the Drug Policy Alliance:

A new report released today documents the astonishing number of hours the New York Police Department has spent arresting and processing hundreds of thousands of people for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. The report finds that NYPD used approximately 1,000,000 hours of police officer time to make 440,000 marijuana possession arrests over 11 years. These are hours that police officers might have otherwise have spent investigating and solving serious crimes.

The report was prepared by Dr. Harry Levine, Professor of Sociology at Queens College and recognized expert on marijuana possession arrests, at the request of members of the New York City Council and the New York State Legislature.

Additionally, the report estimates that the people arrested by NYPD for marijuana possession have spent 5,000,000 hours in police custody over the last decade.  The report includes a compendium of quotes from academics, journalists, law enforcement professionals and elected officials attesting to the wastefulness, consequences and racial disparities inherent in these arrests.

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.

Gene Healy on the Iraq War's Unhappy Anniversary

IraqCredit: The US Army/ Foter.com

At about 9:30 p.m. on March 19, 2003, the shooting phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom began, with an unsuccessful "decapitation strike" aimed at top Iraqi leadership, including Saddam Hussein. Shortly thereafter, President George W. Bush told the American people in a nationally televised address that we'd gone to war "to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."

Ten years later, writes Gene Healy, the future of "Iraqi Freedom" is unclear at best, but it's evident that there wasn't much to disarm and that the world was never in grave danger.

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Maryland Senate Votes to “Decriminalize” Small Amounts of Pot

Marijuana plantCredit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Public DomainThe Maryland Senate voted today to “decriminalize” possession of up to ten grams of marijuana. Even a few Republicans supported the measure, which passed on a 30 to 16 vote.

GOP Sen. Nancy Jacobs, for example, said that her husband has cancer and that "if she needed or wanted to buy a small amount of marijuana for her husband, she would want to be able to do that."

Just because the law decriminalizes small amounts of pot does not mean there won't be any penalties at all for someone found with the drug. Those caught with less than ten grams of pot will still be cited and fined $100. 

Still, tickets and citations pale in comparison to the tragic consequences that thousands face each and every year as we continue to wage the longest war in American history.

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Ed Krayewski on Battle Line with Alan Nathan at 6:25pm ET

I’ll be on the nationally syndicated radio show "Battle Line with Alan Nathan" in about an hour to talk about GOP rebranding efforts (good luck!), the GOP and race (long answer), Rand Paul's immigration move (mostly good), and gun control laws (mostly bad).

You can check your local listings here or listen online here (any of the links at that link ought to work).

UPDATE: Not sure which of those links to listen online actually work, but I'm on now so tune in if you get the show in your area

Join Reason for a Discussion About New Media & Content Regulation LIVE Online & In Person Wednesday at 12 p.m.!

This Wednesday, March 20th, Reason is excited to host a special luncheon with noted First Amendment attorney Robert Corn-Revere, who represented CBS in its successful U.S. Supreme Court case against the Federal Communications Commission.

"Beyond the Seven Dirty Words: Protecting the Internet and New Media from Content Regulation" is the first of our Freedom in Media series, which seeks to explore the importance of the free-flow of information to our economy and culture. Dramatic changes in technologies for recording, transmitting and sharing information have broken down barriers to the production of content. Meanwhile, our consumption of that content is becoming increasingly fragmented across platforms. Is content regulation desirable or even feasible under such circumstances?

After a keynote address from Robert Corn-Revere, Reason Foundation Policy Analyst Steven Titch will host a panel discussion that will feature questions from the live audience, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and Google Hangout participants. Panelists include Pete Tucker, journalist and blogger on TheFightBack.org as well as Charles "Chuck Teezy" Stewart of Smack Time Entertainment.

For our DC-area supporters, we have a limited number of seats available on a first-come first-served basis. Lunch will be provided. This event is free of charge. RSVP to Preston Cornish at preston.cornish@reason.org.

If you are unable to attend in person, please join us online for a livestream on Reason TV, beginning at 12:00 p.m. ET. Post your questions on Facebook and via Twitter @reason with the hashtag #FreedomInMedia.

  • What: "Beyond the Seven Dirty Words: Protecting the Internet and New Media from Content Regulation."
  • When: Wednesday, March 20th. Lunch at 11:45 AM. Program begins at 12:00 PM.
  • Where: Reason's DC office. 1747 Connecticut Ave N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009. Metro accessible via Dupont Circle. 
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Supreme Court Rules for Book Reselling, Assault Weapons Ban Even More Doomed, Yoda Can Marry You Off in Scotland: P.M. Links

  • "Husband and wife, I declare you!"Credit: LucasfilmsThe Supreme Court has ruled that you do actually own the books you buy and are allowed to resell them without violating copyright law.
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons ban has apparently gone down in flames.
  • Russia is claiming that Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons to kill 16 people. The White House is saying they have not.
  • A hacker apparently gained access to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails connected to Benghazi and has distributed them to journalists.
  • Changes to marriage laws in Scotland will allow a Jedi to perform wedding ceremonies. Somebody is going to blame this on the gays any minute now.

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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Damon Root on the Federalist Case Against the Defense of Marriage Act

Credit: C-SPANCredit: C-SPANNext week the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in United States v. Windsor, the case arising from the legal challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). At issue is whether Section 3 of DOMA, which forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions that are permitted under state law, violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. But as Reason’s Damon Root explains, the case is also about federalism. Because DOMA exceeds Congress’ enumerated powers while trampling on legitimate state authority, the law stands on shaky constitutional ground.

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Savor the Richly Deserved Defeat of Feinstein's 'Assault Weapon' Ban

Senate Judiciary CommitteeSenate Judiciary CommitteeYesterday Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) revealed that her "assault weapon" ban will not be part of the gun control bill that Senate Democrats plan to offer next month. Although her bill still can be offered as an amendment, Politico reports, "its exclusion from the package makes what was already an uphill battle an almost certain defeat." At the risk of reading too much into this delightful development, I count it as a victory not just for the Second Amendment but for rationality in lawmaking.

As a comparison of the testimony pro and con readily reveals, supporters of Feinstein's bill never offered a plausible, let alone persuasive, explanation for the distinction she drew between the guns she deemed "legitimate" and the dreaded "assault weapons" she sought to ban. The closer you looked at the bill, the less sense it made, a fact that Feinstein tried to paper over by encouraging people to conflate semi-automatic, military-style rifles with the machine guns carried by soldiers. That flagrant fraud sufficed to win passage of the federal "assault weapon" ban that expired in 2004 (which was also sponsored by Feinstein), and it continues to influence public opinion. But this time around it was not enough to obscure the absurdity of Feinsten's attempt to distinguish between good and evil guns by reference to irrelevant features such as barrel shrouds and adjustable stocks. With no evidence or arguments to offer, Feinstein despicably invoked dead, "dismembered" children in a transparent bid to short-circuit logical thought. Her appeal to blind fear was familiar to anyone who has watched this authoritarian centrist rail against mythical drugs or kowtow to the national security state. I savor her richly deserved defeat.

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Rand Paul's Signaling Exercise on Immigration

Need to get a better picture! |||Have you read today's big immigration speech by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)? Go ahead, give it a look.

It is above all a political and positioning document, more than it is a policy proposal. But on policy, as foreshadowed, Paul wants to A) expand legal immigration now, emphasizing high-skilled labor; B) mandate "certified" border security (as determined by the Border Patrol and approved annually by Congress; C) set up a "bipartisan panel" (shudder) to "determine number of visas per year"; D) "admit we are not going to deport the millions of people who are currently here illegally"; E) specifically reject "a national ID card or mandatory E-Verify" system (yay!); and F) offer current unauthorized residents a "probationary" type of visa, allowing them to continue living and working in the country, while otherwise moving to the end of the immigration line, whatever that means in practice. They would not, as in other bipartisan immigration reforms currently being contemplated, have to pay a big fine.

Paul is not a member of the two bipartisan groups of congresspeople currently trying to hammer out comprehensive immigration reform, so his proposal as it relates to the current debate should, at most, be seen as an attempt to influence events from the outside, preferably in a direction that's lighter on the more punitive, database-driven direction that those talks are inevitably heading.

In fact, if I was a member of one of those groups, I might find myself irritated by Paul's solipsistic framing, such as: "Immigration Reform will not occur until Conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution. I am here today to begin that conversation." Why, it's almost as if conservatives haven't been talking about immigration reform!

But the man is running for president, an exercise both in ego and policy-personalization, so it's no real surprise that Paul's speech was more concerned with style and signaling than substance. He quoted Gabriel García Márquez and Pablo Neruda (!), made Seinfeld references, name-dropped Jaime Escalante, spoke the worst Spanglish this side of Michael Bloomberg, attempted once again to dress up his more libertarian approach in the mantle of Ronald Reagan (going so far as nicknaming his approach "Trust but verify"), repeated his recent warnings that the Republican Party needed to adapt or die, and sounded the kinds of pro-immigrant notes sorely lacking in the last two GOP presidential nominating seasons. Excerpt:

But is he illegal? ||| Sodahead.comSodahead.comRepublicans need to become parents of a new future with Latino voters or we will need to resign ourselves to permanent minority status.

The Republican Party has insisted for years that we stand for freedom and family values. I am most proud of my party when it stands for both.

The vast majority of Latino voters agree with us on these issues but Republicans have pushed them away with harsh rhetoric over immigration. [...]

That they have steadily drifted away from the GOP in each election says more about Republicans than it does about Hispanics. [...]

Somewhere along the line Republicans have failed to understand and articulate that immigrants are an asset to America, not a liability.

More after the jump, including a welcome section on education reform:

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Covered at Reason 24/7: TSA Forced Wounded Marine to Remove Prosthetic Limbs

Credit: ReasonCredit: ReasonRep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has registered a complaint after TSA agents forced a wounded marine to remove his prosthetic limbs while his wheelchair was examined at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport.

From The Washington Times:


Transportation Security Administration inspectors forced a wounded Marine who lost both of his legs in an IED blast and who was in a wheelchair to remove his prosthetic legs at one point, and at another point to stand painfully on his legs while his wheelchair was examined, according to a complaint a congressman has registered with the TSA.


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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California Chef Who Gives Away Free Foie Gras Gets Sued. Again.

foie grasFlickr/ulterior epicureIn compliance with California law, Ken Frank, chef and partner at Napa's La Toque restaurant, no longer sells foie gras. He opposed the ban, which kicked in last July. But he says he's willing to comply with the letter of the law.

He does, however, regularly give foie gras away to favored customers. For this act of culinary generosity, he has earned not one, but two lawsuits from animal rights groups. 

After beating back a suit by the Animal Protection and Rescue League (and having the court order the group to pay $12,000 in his attorneys fees) last year, Frank might have thought he was in the clear. Nope! On Thursday:

The national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit in Napa County Superior Court against Napa-based La Toque restaurant for violating the state ban on selling and distributing force-fed foie gras products. ALDF's undercover investigations reveal that despite the state ban, La Toque routinely sells foie gras products derived from force-feeding birds to enlarge the birds' liver ("foie gras"), in violation of California Health and Safety Code §§ 25982 and unfair business practices under California Business and Professions Code §§ 17200. 

angry duckflickr/will_wildlifeFrank explains

“And I don’t charge..." “Foie gras is not on the menu ... you can’t call up and offer me a $100 bill to include foie gras with your dinner. It’s provided on a spontaneous basis.

“I serve it every day on principle because I believe the foie gras I serve comes from ducks that are treated very well.”

The duck liver Frank gives away comes from New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras, “a farm that has put into practice a very impressive set of animal husbandry protocols. They are an open book ... they let the press come (on site) with cameras ... they have video feeds to make sure (employees) are doing everything right. I’m proud to serve their product.”

More Reason on the foie fight here

Vai Manny Klausner.

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Ed Krayewski on Huffington Post Live Talking Gay Rights and Religious Liberty

I’m going to be talking about gay rights and religious liberty in reference to this report from Political Research Associates on Huffington Post Live at about 2:35pm ET. The crux of the discussion, I’m guessing, will be what the government can force you to do if it subsidizes you or, alternatively, provides you with a tax credit. Answer: more than it should. Bonus: Freedom means being able to do whatever you want (that doesn't physically hurt someone else or abrogate their property, more or less). You can watch here.

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How About a Catalog of Which School Choice Options Are (and Are Not) Available?

Many years ago, I worked for an Arizona-based school choice organization that is no more (not to worry; its work is being done, rather more effectively, by other organizations). Among the benefits of that job was becoming very familiar with the impressive education options available in our state. In fact, Arizona has among the widest menu of schools, non-schools and creative approaches for absorbing information in the country. Even homeschooling, which is barely tolerated in some states, is relatively painless and free of red tape. (Although charter schools and traditional public schools are increasingly bogged down in regulation here, as they are everywhere). But finding out about some of these options can be challenging, since there's no source for one-stop shopping. Enter the Goldwater Institute, which has published A Parent's Guide to School Choice to close the information gap.

The guide breaks Arizona education options out into six categories:

  • Open Enrollment: The ability to enroll in any public school in the state, regardless of district boundaries.
  • Private School Scholarships: Businesses and individuals can make tax-deductible domations to funds that pay private school tuition to those who meet the fund's criteria.
  • Empowerment Scholarship Accounts: Part of the state's per-pupil education funding is available to be used for tuition, tutoring and other education expenses.
  • Homeschool: Technically, you're supposed to file a notarized affidavit with the local school district, just to let them know you're homeschooling.
  • Online or "Virtual" Schools: Public or private, offering a full education or in as a complement to classroom work or homeschooling.
  • Charter Schools: Privately managed public schools offering a wide variety of curricula and approaches.

The Goldwater Institute is calling for the state to start publishing its own school choice catalog:

A school choice catalog could be produced by the state at no additional cost to the general fund. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, Arizona receives almost $350 million every year to help children succeed through services like tutoring and increasing parent engagement (the funding source is known as Title I). The department’s production of an annually mailed school choice catalog would qualify for this funding as an effort to increase parent engagement in children’s education.

Frankly, though, I think a federally funded, state government-published, catalog will end up as a non-stop pissing contest over the proper presentation of each option and whether a certain phrasing disparages somebody's favorite choice ... And, to be honest, Arizona depends too much on federal funding already.

I think the school choice catalog is a great idea, and I'd rather see it remain in private hands — either with Goldwater or another private group that can use voluntarily raised funds to publish as it sees fit.

I'd also like to see similar catalogs published everywhere, so that families can more easily see what options are available to them, and what options are not. Catalogs published in states with minimal choice could even offer side-by-side comparisons to what's available elsewhere, so that people would know what they're missing.

That's probably not a feature that tax-funded catalogs are likely to offer anytime soon.

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Reason's Brian Doherty Interviews Artist Chris "Coop" Cooper LIVE Online at 3:30 p.m. ET!

Live at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m PT join Reason's Brian Doherty in a live conversation with internationally renowned underground artist Chris "Coop" Cooper. Cooper, who provided the cover illustration to the December 2012 issue of Reason, is one of the most prolific and provocative designers and artists working today. For more information, visit www.theartofcoop.com. Doherty is the author of This is Burning Man and, most recently, The Ron Paul rEVOLution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired. Join them live at Hit and Run as they discuss everything from intellectual property and censorship to the inspiration to Coop's radical art project.

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ObamaCare's Free Preventive Services Aren't Free

Credit: National Institutes of Health Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: National Institutes of Health Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

As public support for ObamaCare slumps into a post-election decline, the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to convince people that they ought to like the law by noting that it’s already given free stuff to a whole bunch of people. An HHS news release this week brags that the “Affordable Care Act extended free preventive care to 71 million Americans with private health insurance” as well as 34 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries—free benefits the agency says are giving Americans “more value” for their health dollars.

The problem is that the benefits in question are neither “free” nor likely to produce valuable savings. ObamaCare’s rules eliminated individual cost-sharing for a number of preventive services, but, as the administration admitted a few months after the law passed, at the cost of higher insurance premiums on average. It’s like a gym that suddenly makes all the drinks and snacks at its café “free”—but raises the price of membership. It’s not free. You’re just paying in a different way.

It’s not cost-saving as public policy either, despite initial Democratic hopes that it would be. In fact, most evidence shows that it increases health spending. That’s because eliminating cost-sharing increases utilization of preventive services; when there’s no immediate price to pay for using a service, people tend to use more of it. And as the Congressional Budget Office reported back in 2009, “the evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall." In general, the CBO noted, researchers have found that “the added costs of widespread use of preventive services tend to exceed the savings from averted illness.”

For preventive services to have the largest benefits relative to costs, the CBO explained, the prevention efforts need to be narrowly targeted at only a few people who are likely to develop a particular ailment. The HHS claim that 105 million people took advantage of ObamaCare’s “free” services suggests that there was not much targeting involved. Instead, the law took a broad-brush approach that likely raised insurance premiums for many and perhaps most of the individuals affected. But I suppose “Affordable Care Act shifts costs and raises premiums for 71 million Americans with private health insurance” doesn’t make quite as good a press release.

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The Iraq War: 10 Years Later

The U.S. Army / Foter.com / CC BYThe U.S. Army / Foter.com / CC BYThis week marks the 10th anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. To mark the anniversary, Reason asked a group of leading policy analysts, scholars, and journalists to consider the lessons and legacies of the war, a decade after the launch of hostilities. What follows is a critical look at both the war abroad and its impact at home.

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Proposed Bank Raid in Cyprus a Sign of Things to Come?

oh no, the monopoly moneyalles-schlumpf/Foter.comEurocrats would like to put Cypriot savers on the hook for the rescue package the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have proposed for Cyprus, as Matthew Feeney noted here yesterday.

The $13 billion package will require Cyprus to raise $7.6 billion by taking it out of savings accounts in Cypriot banks. Many account holders in Cyprus are Russian and Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin called the proposed levies “unfair, unprofessional and dangerous.” A public outcry over the across-the-board levy (9.9 percent for accounts holding at least 100,000 euros and 6.75 percent for accounts holding less than that) led the Cypriot government to suggest an exemption for accounts holding less than 20,000 euro. That exemption, of course, doesn’t change the nature of the large-scale theft of savings being proposed.

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AIDS Group Behind LA Porn Condom Law Goes After First Studio

Mandated, for their pleasureCredit: Inna Ogando, Dreamstime.comThe AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the non-profit masterminds of Measure B, which mandates condoms on Los Angeles-area porn sets and rent-seeking in the form of mandatory HIV transmission training, is going after its first target. Via the Los Angeles Daily News:

In what could be the first test of the new Los Angeles County law requiring the use of condoms in adult film shoots, an AIDS advocacy group has filed a complaint against a Los Angeles porn company for allegedly filming actors having unprotected sex.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which was the driving force behind last year's Measure B, claims it received an anonymous letter alleging that Immoral Productions was producing adult content in which actors were performing in various types of sex acts without the use of condoms.

"Business activities occurring at Immoral Productions pose a substantial risk of bodily harm and life long disability," wrote Mark Roy McGrath, an analyst with AHF, in his complaint letter to the county health department.

The Foundation determined that the studio is not in compliance by visiting their site. McGrath’s letter, though, goes on to make other claims against the company that couldn’t possibly be determined by visiting the site, like failing to complete the mandatory training and failing to post signs on the set mandating condom use. Those must be the claims in the anonymous letter they’ve received.

Vivid Entertainment is challenging Measure B in federal court as a First Amendment violation.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is also suing the County of Los Angeles, claiming that the county is engaged in a retaliatory campaign against them through audits and by withholding funding, allegedly because the county doesn’t want to enforce the condom law. The audit from the county (pdf), dated last August, claims the Foundation overbilled Los Angeles County to the tune of $1.7 million.

Below, our Reason TV video about Measure B from October:

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Covered at Reason 24/7: Department of Justice Looking to Expand Online Surveillance Powers

hi fedsReason 24/7The Department of Justice has dropped its push for police to be able to access e-mails without a warrant, but would still like federal agencies to have those powers, and more.

From CNET:

The Obama administration has dropped its insistence that police should be able to warrantlessly peruse Americans' e-mail correspondence.

But at the same time, the Justice Department is advancing new proposals that would expand government surveillance powers over e-mail messages, Twitter direct messages, and Facebook direct messages in other ways...

Elana Tyrangiel, a former White House lawyer who's now an acting assistant attorney general, will announce the department's new policy positions at a congressional hearing that's scheduled to take place tomorrow morning.

Tyrangiel's written testimony says the current rules -- enacted during the pre-Internet era in the form of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 -- "may have made sense in the past" but "have failed to keep up with the development of technology, and the ways in which individuals and companies use, and increasingly rely on, electronic and stored communications."

But she also says that the department's civil attorneys investigating antitrust, environmental, civil rights and other cases -- and presumably other federal agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission -- should have warrantless access to Americans' electronic correspondence.

The crux of the federal government’s argument is that computers ought to be treated like landline telephones under the (pre-Internet) law.

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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Elizabeth Warren Attacks Republican for Being Soft on Pot

Liberal darling Elizabeth Warren takes aim at a potential GOP senator:

And if you think both beer and cars should be legal, you're probably in favor of drunk driving.At a St. Patrick's Day breakfast in South Boston this past weekend, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) took a jab at pro-legalization Republican State Representative Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk), who is currently vying for the Republican nomination for Senate in Massachusetts's upcoming special election.

Addressing the crowd, Senator Warren said, "I advise everyone to pay very close attention to Dan Winslow's platform. He has a 100 percent ranking from the gun lobby and he's for the legalization of marijuana. He wants us armed and stoned."

Let the record show that on Planet Warren, the only conceivable reason to support legal pot is to want everyone to get high.

Addendum: If you want to see Warren opposing legalization with a direct "no" rather than wrapping the sentiment in a St. Patrick's Day breakfast joke, go here.

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The $1 Million Dollar Bus Stop of Arlington, Virginia

From Arlington Now:

new bus stop on Columbia Pike cost more than $1 million to build, according to a county spokeswoman.

The new prototype “Super Stop” at the corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive cost $575,000 for construction and fabrication and $440,000 for construction management and special inspections, according to Arlington County Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel.

They got some Other People's Money, though, county residents, don't fret too much:

Of the $1 million cost, just over $200,000 was paid for by the county, with the rest coming from VDOT, Whalen McDaniel said.

Don't worry--future ones will cost less, they insist.

“Since this stop is the first of its kind, the cost is higher than your typical off-the-shelf bus shelter,” she said. “The costs will be greatly reduced with future stops moving forward, as the construction costs for this prototype included a number of first time design and set-up costs.”

“It’s too early to provide a cost estimate for the future stops, but it will be much less,” Whalen McDaniel said.

As a commenter in that Arlington Now story thread notes, this million-buck state of the art stop won't even keep those waiting for a bus dry in the rain.

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Where Higher Education Went Wrong

Where did the American higher education system go wrong? In the cover story from Reason’s April issue, a panel of authors, journalists, policy analysts, and education professionals, including Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Richard Vedder, Naomi Schaefer Riley, Lisa Snell, Nick Gillespie, and Alex Tabarrok, consider the failures and future of higher education.

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Comparing Spending in the House and Senate Budget Plans

Via Stanford University economist John Taylor, here's what you get when you compare proposed federal spending as a percentage of the economy in the budget plans put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan for House Republicans and Sen. Patty Muray for Senate Democrats: 

Courtesy John TaylorCourtesy John Taylor

Taylor notes that "the obvious differences between the plans are that the Senate would (1) tax more than the House by .7% of GDP, (2) spend more than the House by 2.8% of GDP, and (3) run a deficit larger than the House by 2.1 percent of GDP, where the percentages are based on 2023."

Both budgets would increase total federal spending. But if we adopted and stuck to the House GOP budget plan as presented (and yes, there are a number of missing details and some unrealistic assumptions built into its framework), it would keep its spending increases in check enough to zero out the annual budget deficit in a decade. The Ryan budget is far from ideal, but it aims for a sort of spending moderation that the Senate Democrats' doesn't remotely attempt. 

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American Military Aid to First World European Country Fighting War in Africa Increasing

Credit: Official U.S. Air Force / Foter.com / CC BY-NCCredit: Official U.S. Air Force / Foter.com / CC BY-NCThe U.S. military is increasing the level of support being given to the French as they continue to fight Islamic militants in Mali.

From the Associated Press:

Through last week, Air Force C17 Globemasters had flown 47 missions to Mali, ferrying 975 French troops and more than 1,200 tons of equipment and supplies to the fight against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb rebels for control of northern Mali, according to Defense Department figures.

The Air Force had also flown 83 refueling missions delivering more than 544,000 gallons of gas to French Rafale and Mirage attack aircraft in close air support of French and Chad troops.

In March, President Obama authorized $50 million in “immediate military assistance to Chad and France in their efforts to secure Mali from terrorists and violent extremists.” The State Department has also committed $6.6 million to support free elections in Mali.

The AP also reports that last week Army Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command said that U.S. aid given to the French for their mission in Mali would not include American forces being used in combat. Gen. Ham also said that American drone intelligence gathering operations launched from a base in Niger have been taking place in Mali.

Three days after the White House warned that the sequester would hurt ordinary Americans the president released $50 million dollars worth of military aid to Chad and one of the richest nations in Europe to assist with their war in Mali.

The increased U.S. support for the French-led intervention in Mali is only the latest example of how the president’s actions do not match his rhetoric. In a speech last month in Newport News, VA the president said the following about the sequester:

So these cuts are wrong. They’re not smart. They’re not fair. They’re a self-inflicted wound that doesn’t have to happen.

Now, the reason that we're even thinking about the sequester is because people are rightly concerned about the deficit and the debt. But there is a sensible way of doing things and there is a dumb way of doing things.

I can’t help but think that giving tens of millions of dollars to a first world country fighting militants in a third world country who are not a direct threat to the U.S. would qualify as not being a sensible approach to dealing with our deficit and debt. Yet, despite the rhetoric from Democrats and Republicans and our unfortunate fiscal situation American policymakers still feel the need to spend money on unnecessary foreign adventures. 

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A.M. Links: Support for Gay Marriage at Record High, Bill Introduced to Calculate Cost of Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, World Poverty Dropping

Credit: Lynn Friedman / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDCredit: Lynn Friedman / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

  • The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that a record high of 58 percent of Americans support gay marriage
  • Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) has introduced a bill that requires a calculation of the human and financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 
  • An Oxford University study says that many of the world’s poorest people are becoming less poor and that acute poverty in some countries could be eradicated within 20 years.
  • Dominican police say that three women were paid to claim that they had sex with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) for money in the Dominican Republic.  
  • Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has said that he would end oil shipments to Cuba. 
  • A former U.S. Army officer has been arrested in Hawaii for allegedly passing military secrets to China. 

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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Rand Paul: 'we aren't going to deport' 11 Million Illegal Immigrants

The junior senator from Kentucky and early candidate for the GOP's 2016 presidential nomination is unveiling his immigration plan today at a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The Associated Press has a preview:

He says his party must adopt a new face toward Hispanics and says conservatives must be part of it.

"Immigration reform will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution. I am here today to begin that conversation," Paul says.

"Let's start that conversation by acknowledging we aren't going to deport" the millions already here, he says.

In the first installment of his new weekly column in the Washington Times, Sen. Paul fleshes out some details:

Under my plan for comprehensive reform the US would begin with prioritizing Visas for immigrants with advanced degrees, the so-called STEM Visas and an immediate expansion of the work Visa program. These reforms would happen immediately.

But, as a matter of both national security and immigration policy, it is absolutely essential that we both secure our border and modernize our visa system so we know who comes and who goes on travel, student and other temporary visas. And it is vital all other reforms be conditioned on this goal being met.Only after wrestling down the jackalope of border security (at least to the satisfaction of Congress), would Paul begin normalizing unauthorized immigrants (by giving them temporary visas, and putting them in a long line) at the rate of 2 million per year.

Brian Doherty discussed Rand Paul's evolving views on immigration in May 2011 and November 2012.

We'll have other critiques of Paul's new plan later; my brief take is that it illustrates the folly of the whole "comprehensive" approach: When you have to cram every policy concern and cultural anxiety into a single unholy enchilada of "reform," you're bound to encounter stuff you can't swallow. For me, that includes the types of surveillance-state bells and whistles necessary to track each and every human entering the country (and that includes us, kemosabe). When you have a prohibition problem, you might want to first look to which ridiculous laws need to be relaxed, not tightened.

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Rep: Paul Broun: Paul Ryan's Budget Doesn't Cut Enough — Let's Get Rid of the Energy and Education Departments

Courtesy Rep. Paul Broun/House.govCourtesy Rep. Paul Broun/House.govWhen Rep. Paul Ryan released his latest budget proposal, he predicted that critics would label it an austerity budget—despite the fact that his budget merely slows the annual rate of federal spending growth from 5 percent to 3.4 percent. And of course he was right, and critics have gone after his budget for cutting spending even though it doesn't actually cut spending at all. 

So you can expect an even stronger reaction when those same folks see what Ryan's colleague Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) has to say about Ryan's budget plan in The New York Times today. The short version? Broun says he can't support it—because it doesn't cut spending nearly enough. 

Supporters of the “Path to Prosperity,” including many of my fellow Republicans, say that we have to stop spending money we don’t have, an idea I promote every chance I get. But under the proposal by Mr. Ryan of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, the federal government would continue to spend more than it will this year.

Spending would grow by an average of 3.4 percent annually, only slightly less than the rate under President Obama’s plan, which is 5 percent a year. After 10 years — Mr. Ryan’s target for eliminating the deficit — the “Path to Prosperity” will have spent $41 trillion, when the president’s plan would allow spending of $46 trillion. My party’s de facto position has become “we’re increasing spending, but not as much as the other guy.” That’s not good enough.

Just reducing growth in spending does almost nothing. We have to dig deeper and make profound cuts now. We cannot continue to assume that future Congresses will do our dirty work for us.

We ought to get rid of certain federal departments and agencies, stopping only to shift the role of governing back to the states, where it belongs. The Departments of Education and Energy, for example, are two bloated bureaucracies that we don’t need; their core functions would be absorbed by the states through block grants, saving taxpayers at least $500 billion over the next decade.

Note that Broun isn't proposing to eliminate every single function of the two agencies: Instead, he's proposing to let states manage energy and education regulation using block grants provided by the federal government. 

If you want an idea of what these sorts of federal agencies do (and spend), you can check out the Department of Energy's FY2013 budget request. The highlight document's introduction points to President Obama's 2011 State of the Union address, which, it reminds us, "called on us to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world as the United States faces 'our generation’s Sputnik moment.'” The price tag of continuing to shoot for that Sputnik moment? About $27 billion, up 3.2 percent from the previous year. 

And here's the Education Department's budget page, which notes that "it is important to point out th