Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 April 8-31

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Moisés Naím on the End of Power

Credit: AdamCohn / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDCredit: AdamCohn / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDPower is shifting—from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups, from presidential palaces to public squares. It has become harder to wield power and easier to lose it, and the world is becoming less predictable as a result. As people become more prosperous and mobile, writes Moisés Naím, they are harder to control and more apt to question authority.

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Sheldon Richman on Why the Free Market Is a Beautiful Thing

Credit: Library of CongressCredit: Library of CongressMarket advocates tend to respect the intellect of their fellow human beings. You can tell by their reliance on philosophical, moral, economic, and historical arguments when trying to persuade others. But what if most people’s aversion to the market isn’t founded in philosophy, morality, economics, or history? What if their objection is aesthetic? As Sheldon Richman explains, many decent people dislike markets because they find them unattractive. And they associate markets with other things they find unattractive besides money and competition: (rugged, atomistic) individualism, selfishness, and profit. In other words, Richman writes, advocates of free markets must demonstrate that markets are things of beauty. Fortunately, that is not hard to do.

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Obama Budget Calls for Privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority

TVATVAPresident Obama’s proposed 2014 budget includes an item free marketeers can rally behind: “reducing or eliminating” the federal government’s role in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the nation’s largest publicly owned utility.

Naturally, both of Tennessee’s Republican senators oppose the proposal.

Via Bloomberg News:

 “The odd thing is that a bunch of Rs are defending the most liberal, collectivist, state-managed thing ever undertaken in the United States,” said [Mike] McKenna, [a Republican energy lobbyist] whose clients include the Atlanta-based utility Southern Co. (NSC) that could benefit from a sale of the TVA, in an e-mail. “TVA was the brainchild of the near-communists in the Roosevelt administration.”

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who opposes government subsidies for energy production, called the proposal “one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas,” in a statement. He said the sale might lead to higher energy costs for his constituents without providing much money to the U.S. to pay down the debt.

…Consumers in Alabama and Tennessee, the TVA’s largest service areas, pay less for electricity than the national average, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.

…The TVA has 13,600 employees now, according the budget proposal. The workforce is expected to fall 2.2 percent to 13,300 next year.

The idea of selling the TVA has few supporters in Congress, said Representative Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, in an interview.

He and his Republican colleagues most often disagree on the “virtues of government.” That’s not so in this case, he said.

From the administration's proposed budget:

TVA’s power service territory includes most of Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia, covering 80,000 square miles and serving more than nine million people.

Jim Powell outlined some of the TVA’s greatest hits for Reason back in 2009 including: kicking 15,000 people out of their homes, flooding an area larger than the state of Rhode Island and generally being a taxpayer-funded boondoggle from the get-go.

H/T: Walter Olson.

Hugh Urban on Scientology

Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear is a balanced, thoughtful, and empathetic look at Scientology, Hugh Urban reports—a book offering not an "exposé" but an attempt to understand the effects of religious beliefs in people's lives, exploring the allure, the benefits, and the perils of involvement in this complex new religion.

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Peter Suderman Reviews Bioshock Infinite

Irrational GamesIrrational GamesBioshock Infinite may or may not be the single best game released for today’s video game systems, but it is without a doubt among the greatest. Like its 2007 predecessor, Bioshock, it is a gorgeous and involving triumph of interactive narrative and world building, rich in character and knotty political and philosophical ideas. The original made for a promising opening to the next six years of big-budget, mass-market video games; now Bioshock Infinite offers a fitting capstone to the console generation set to end this year. Senior Editor Peter Suderman writes that just as the first Bioshock became a touchstone in the ongoing arguments about whether video games can be art, Bioshock Infinite ought to close the door on any remaining debate.

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Baylen Linnekin on the Growing Movement for Food Freedom in America

Credit: Library of CongressCredit: Library of CongressAcross the country, academics are increasingly turning their attention to the study of food and food policy. And in an even more welcome development, writes Baylen Linnekin, many of those scholars appear to recognize and respect the fact that Americans increasingly want new laws and policies that give them more control over their food choices.

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Watch Matt Welch on Melissa Harris-Perry’s First Broadcast Since the Unpleasantness

|||Beginning at 10 am ET, I will be appearing on the MSNBC show of Melissa Harris-Perry, whose promotional video about "break[ing] through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recogniz[ing] that kids belong to whole communities" touched off a firestorm of criticism earlier this week. In response to the controversy, Harris-Perry has organized the discussion around the differences between negative and positive rights.

Bring some popcorn, and heckle me in the comments!

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Ron Paul: Bradley Manning Deserves Nobel Peace Prize More Than Obama

Reason 24/7ReasonIt's tempting to say, "well, who isn't?" when former congressman Ron Paul remarks that military whistleblower and current guest of Uncle Sam, Bradley Manning, is more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than is actual recipient Barack Obama. After all, olive branches tend to get a bit singed by missile exhaust when you try to mount them on killer drones. Manning, on the other hand, has done a nice job of exposing often-lethal government actions to deep and even embarrassing scrutiny.

From U.S. News & World Report:

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of providing an enormous stash of classified government documents to WikiLeaks for publication, deserves a Nobel Peace Prize more than President Barack Obama, according to former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

"While President Obama was starting and expanding unconstitutional wars overseas, Bradley Manning, whose actions have caused exactly zero deaths, was shining light on the truth behind these wars," the former Republican presidential contender told U.S. News. "It's clear which individual has done more to promote peace."

Manning was nominated for the award in 2011, 2012 and again earlier this year. Obama won the award in 2009.

The WikiLeaks documents Manning allegedly leaked "pointed to a long history of corruption [and] war crimes" and "helped motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements," according to the Icelandic, Swedish and Tunisian politicians who nominated Manning.

For his part, frequent critic of overseas adventures and authoritarian excesses, Glenn Greenwald, agreed with Paul's assessment, saying, "Bradley Manning epitomizes what the Nobel Peace Prize was supposed to reward, while Barack Obama is the antithesis of it."

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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Vid: Remy on "Jay-Z's Cuba State of Mind"

"Jay-Z's Cuba State of Mind" is the latest collaboration between Remy and Reason TV. Click above to watch the 2-minute vid about Jay-Z's controversial trip to Cuba or click below to view the vid, get the lyrics, and download versions.

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DC Reasonoids: Check Out Silver Circle, an Animated Movie About the Fed And More, Tonight!

If you're in the DC area, check out Silver Circle, an animated movie about anti-Federal Reserve activists.

At the center of corruption is the Federal Reserve who has gained enormous amounts of control over America’s economy, with disastrous effects beginning to show.

Standing opposite, is the band of Rebels who have vowed to take back the freedom they once knew…and they won’t go down without a fight.

Monetary mayhem. Explosions. Romance. Silver Circle plans to take indie animation to a whole other level.

More info here.

The movie is debuting in the DC area at the Regal Ballston and will be playing over the next week.

Go here for details.

Watch Matt Welch on MSNBC's All In w Chris Hayes Tonight, 8pm ET

Matt Welch will be on All In with Chris Hayes tonight at 8pm on MSNBC. The topics will include Sen. Rand Paul's outreach effort to black voters, and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Parry's controversial promo in which she stated that children "belong to whole communities." Harris-Perry will also be on the show.

Go here for more info.

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The Kermit Gosnell Abortion Trial, Gun Control and Heartbreaker Stories in the Media

gosnell/lanzaPublic Domain/NBCIn a column for USA Today this week, Kirsten Powers calls out the media silence on the trial of an abortion doctor in Pennsylvania accused of botching abortions and murdering infants after they’ve been born. The trial, ongoing since March 18, has received scant attention in the mainstream media. That lack of attention certainly supports the notion of a media with a liberal bias. After all, the Gosnell case, quite unsurprisingly, has yielded an emotional response that pro-life activists can use to draw sympathy for their cause.

Jezebel points out the obvious, writing that “Gosnell doesn't represent or stand for abortion care in any way. Abortion, done right, is a safe medical procedure.” But this idea of a high-profile case drawing an emotional response, and the attempt to use that emotional response to drive a policy debate, ought to be familiar. Jezebel’s statement, after all, could just as easily have read: “But Adam Lanza doesn't represent or stand for gun ownership in any way. Gun ownership, done right, is a safe practice.” Jezebel notes that "fewer than 0.3% of abortion patients ever experience a complication that requires hospitalization,” according to a pro-abortion rights group. But even according to anti-gun statistics, there were only 33,000 gun-related deaths in 2011 for 300,000,000 guns owned in the country (fewer than .00012 percent). The violent crime rate in the U.S., in fact, is approaching a historical low.

The case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, horrific on its own, is not helpful as a stand-in or argument in the wider debate about abortion and reproductive rights (because what he did is already illegal), just as the case of Adam Lanza, horrific on its own, is not helpful as a stand-in or argument in the wider debate about personal safety and gun rights (because what he did is already illegal).

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Texas Drought Not Due to Climate Change, Says NOAA Study

Texas DroughtCredit: Dreamstime - ArtbyallysonLast year Texas suffered through its worst dry spell on record. And lots of folks have been eager to suggest that it was at least exacerbated by climate change. Oh, the irony of a state proud of its oil production being laid low by the very climate its iconic crude disrupts. A new report by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has concluded that that's not so. From the AP:

Last year's huge drought was a freak of nature that wasn't caused by man-made global warming, a new federal science study finds.

Scientists say the lack of moisture usually pushed up from the Gulf of Mexico was the main reason for the drought in the nation's midsection.

Thursday's report by dozens of scientists from five different federal agencies looked into why forecasters didn't see the drought coming. The researchers concluded that it was so unusual and unpredictable that it couldn't have been forecast.

"This is one of those events that comes along once every couple hundreds of years," said lead author Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Climate change was not a significant part, if any, of the event."

Researchers focused on six states - Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Iowa - but the drought spread much farther and eventually included nearly two-thirds of the Lower 48 states. For the six states, the drought was the worst four-month period for lack of rainfall since records started being kept in 1895, Hoerling said.

He said the jet stream that draws moisture north from the Gulf was stuck unusually north in Canada.

Other scientists have linked recent changes in the jet stream to shrinking Arctic sea ice, but Hoerling and study co-author Richard Seager of Columbia University said those global warming connections are not valid.

Hoerling used computer simulations to see if he could replicate the drought using man-made global warming conditions. He couldn't. So that means it was a random event, he said.

The study was titled, "An Interpretation of the Origins of the 2012 Central Great Plains Drought," but when it comes to climate, you can be sure that there are always other conflicting "interpretations." The folks over at the left-leaning ThinkProgress blog cite a furious push back against the conclusion of the NOAA study by National Center for Atmospheric Research climatologist Kevin Trenberth. Among other criticisms, Trenberth notes:

In the experiments performed with climate models, no indication is given that the model used or the forecast results from several other models, have any skill or utility at the task set them. The distinctive La Niña pattern in 2011 giving extremes of dryness in Texas and wetness further north was not simulated or predicted either! In the lower 48, it has been distinctly wetter after about the 1970s in all seasons other than winter, but none of the models simulate this. Not one! The model biases are not dealt with and their skill, or lack of it, is not given. They are not shown to be appropriate to the task at hand. There is a complete failure to provide any reasons to believe the results. Moreover the experiments are woefully incomplete. SSTs [sea surface temperatures] were specified but no attempt was made to include soil moisture, snow cover anomalies, or vegetation health, for instance.

Models, models everywhere, and not a drop to drink (at least not in Texas).

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Korean Tourists and Gay Weddings: Adventures in Service Entitlement Mentalities

They even have their own buses? OUTRAGE.Credit: Nataraj Metz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAOne of the side-battles in the squabble over gay marriage recognition has been about public accommodations. Can the government force businesses to acknowledge and provide services tied to these relationships? Should a bakery, photographer or florist be forced by law to provide services for a gay wedding? In New Mexico and Washington State, the government is saying "yes." These private businesses are providing “public accommodations” and cannot engage in such discrimination, freedom of association (and market competition) be damned.

The outrage is annoying – who needs the government to deal with this when we’ve got Yelp and social pressures? I gave the subject matter some analysis last summer, but new cases keep cropping up. Last night, a completely different story highlighted how many folks have their own blinders when it comes to public accommodations. That is to say, people seem to care a lot more about public accommodations when they’re the ones being shut out.

Let’s head back to my old hometown of Barstow, Calif., population 22,000, in the middle of the desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. One might guess that such a community gets a lot of revenue from tourists passing through town on the way to Vegas and back. One would be absolutely correct. Barstow pretty much depends on it, along with civilian military jobs at the nearby Army post and Marine depot.

There are a handful of small businesses in Barstow that exist only to serve Asian – particularly Korean – tour buses that pass through town. Some of them don’t have conventional hours. They open up for the tour buses, feed them or let them shop there, and then close when the buses leave.

These Korean-targeting businesses have been there for years without any issue. But then one recently took over the location of a beloved community pizza parlor that shut down last year (that’s a doozy of a story as well about how the county government throwing money around artificially inflated commercial rents to the detriment of the community it claims to be helping, but I digress). When residents stopped by hoping to be served like a typical restaurant and found it to be closed or less than accommodating, well, some folks got upset.

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Colorado Legislative Committee Votes Against Pot Protectionism

Jacob SullumJacob SullumThis week the joint (heh heh) legislative committee working on implementation of Amendment 64, Colorado's marijuana legalization initiative, struck a blow against pot protectionism by rejecting a requirement that retailers grow at least 70 percent of what they sell. That rule, supposedly aimed at preventing diversion of marijuana to illegal sales, currently applies to medical marijuana suppliers, some of which lobbied to keep it. The Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to advise the legislature on regulation of the newly legal recreational market, recommended retaining the 70 percent rule for at least three years, at which point the legislature could revisit the issue. The task force also recommended protecting current medical providers from new competitors for the first year. But on Monday the joint committee—which is headed by state Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver), who also chaired the task force—rejected that recommendation, saying pot stores should be allowed to buy as much of their inventory from growers or wholesalers as they choose. Under the committee's proposal, retailers still could grow their marijuana, but cannabis entrepreneurs could choose to specialize in growing, wholesaling, or retailing. The committee also voted to shrink the "grace period" during which current operators would have a lock on the market from the year recommended by the task force to 90 days. Assuming the Colorado General Assembly goes along with the committee's recommendation, this is good news for consumers, new competitors, and the current marijuana suppliers who support a more flexible approach.

 Mike Elliott, president of the Denver-based Medical Marijuana Industry Group, argues that the 70 percent rule "makes sure that if you're growing it, you have a legal way of selling it." Yet there is no such requirement in other industries where diversion is a concern. Pharmacies do not have to make the drugs they sell, and liquor stores do not have to distill the whiskey they stock. Jessica LeRoux, proprietor of Twirling Hippy Confections and a vocal opponent of the 70 percent rule, says it would benefit large marijuana sellers at the expense of their smaller competitors. In a letter to legislators, LeRoux warned that mandating vertical integration would mean that "only the most well-funded current medical entities from the big city will be able to expand into new locations." In an interview with Denver Westword's Michael Roberts, Warren Edson, an attorney who represents cannabis businesses, elaborates on the difficulties created by the approach that Elliott favors:

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Deception on Drone Strikes, Giffords Returns to Lobby for Gun Regs, Global Warming Didn’t Cause Drought: P.M. Links

  • Mother Nature needs to moisturizeCredit: Tomás Castelazo / Foter.com / CC BYThe Obama Administration’s insistence that drone strikes are being used in Pakistan to take out high-level al-Qaeda targets is utter nonsense.
  • Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is heading back to the Hill, this time to lobby for gun control regulations.
  • For those who didn’t realize that comic actor Jonathan Winters was still alive, he’s dead at 87.
  • North Dakota is building the first new oil refinery the United States has seen since the ‘70s.
  • If you don’t know why references to a Philadelphia abortion doctor named Kermit Gosnell currently on trial for murder is now suddenly showing up in your favorite social media venues, here’s some info.
  • A federal study says last year’s massive drought was not caused by global warming.

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

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Some Malians Wary of French Withdrawal From Mali

Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon/wikimediaCredit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon/wikimediaEarlier this week the French began withdrawing troops from Mali. The French sent around 4,000 troops to Mali in January to dislodge Islamic militants from their strongholds in the north of the country. The French plan keep a permanent force of 1,000 troops in their former colony and handover more responsibilities to a United Nations peacekeeping force. While the French have succeeded in removing Islamic militants from most of the areas they captured there are concerns that Islamic militants could return and that suicide attacks like the one today could be seen more often as the French withdraw more troops.  

Voice of America has reported on how some Malians in the town of Gao are feeling about the French leaving: 

The French have done most of the heavy lifting in this war. Only time will tell whether those air strikes and desert sweeps have rooted out most of the insurgents or simply sent them underground to bide their time until the big guns leave.

The Malian army has struggled to fend off the small groups of jihadists who have been sneaking back into Gao to mount attacks since the city's liberation on January 26.

Gao residents, like Imam Hama Maiga, say they are not sure the Malian army can keep them safe.

"We need to be able to trust our men, the Malian army. We need to cooperate with them…. And, whatever training it is that the French have, we want our army to have the same so that they can take over the security of this country," said Maiga.

In Gao, the Malian army is still working to win the trust of the local community, and vice versa.

The Malian military is not only less trained and less well equipped than the French military, it has been accused of abuses, with the International Federation for Human Rights saying that there is good reason to believe that Tuaregs and Arabs have been targeted and executed by Malian soldiers. Military trainers from the European Union are working with the Malian military, but while they may be able to improve the skills of the Malian military this does not mean that abuses will necessarily end.

If Islamic militants do return as the French withdraw it will put the French government in an awkward position, and French officials may come under pressure to slow down their withdrawal.

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Ron Paul to Launch Foreign Policy Institute Next Week

Credit: David Carlyon/wikimediaCredit: David Carlyon/wikimediaFormer Congressman Ron Paul will launch the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity next week in Washington D.C. The institute will be headed by Daniel McAdams, Paul’s former Congressional foreign policy aide.

From the announcement:

The Ron Paul Institute will focus on the two issues most important to Dr. Paul, education and coming generations. It will fill the growing demand for information on foreign affairs from a non-interventionist perspective through a lively and diverse website, and will provide unique educational opportunities to university students and others.

The neo-conservative era is dead. The ill-advised policies pushed by the neo-cons have everywhere led to chaos and destruction, and to a hatred of the United States and its people. Multi-trillion dollar wars have not made the world a safer place; they have only bankrupted our economic future. The Ron Paul Institute will provide the tools and the education to chart a new course with the understanding that only through a peaceful foreign policy can we hope for a prosperous tomorrow. 

The Institute’s board of advisors includes Lew Rockwell, Andrew Napolitano, former Ambassador Faith Whittlesey, Rep. Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.), Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), and former Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

Read more from Reason.com on Ron Paul here.

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Vladimir Putin and Neil deGrasse Tyson Agree on Something: Everybody Panic!

vladmir putinWikimediaToday is the 52nd anniversary of the first human spaceflight. The lucky zero-gravity Russki, Yuri Gagarin, is honored every year with Yuri's Night festivities around the globe. (These generally involve a lot of nerds drinking novelty cocktails called things like Vostok Fuel or the Keppler 22b.)

Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is celebrating Cosmonautics Day—as it is known in Russia—in style this year, with an announcement of $52 billion in new space spending. (No word on what he will be drinking, but, you know, vodka probably.)

Focusing on the completion of the Vostochny cosmodrome, Putin highlighted the fact that the additional funds will mean that Russia will no longer do manned launches from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, from which Gagarin made his historic flight. 

He touted the economic benefits of the space spending to the area surrounding the cosmodrome in the far eastern part of the country:

Putin announced that the town being built around the new cosmodrome to house its engineers and families would be called Tsiolkovsky, in honour of the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky who pioneered rocket design in the early Soviet era.

neil degrasse tysonWikimediaThere are plenty of folks who want to see the U.S government follow suit, upping spending on space, including superawesome astrophysicist guy (and inventor of the Keppler 22b cocktail) Neil deGrasse Tyson:

The problem is that many people operate on the assumption that NASA should go to Congress every year with hat in hand and justify it every year. Well, I see it as the greatest economic driver that there ever was. Economic drivers don't need justification.

The president's 2014 budget allocated $17.7 billion for NASA, not a big change from the baseline. Which means the debate about the potential stimulative effects of space spending will rage on in the U.S.

But would another space race actually be a good thing for the economies of Russia and the U.S.? Instead of two rival powers spending billions on duplicative launch facilities and secret programs, imagine if they could just pay for (at least some of) those services from private companies and get the same results for a fraction of the price. That leaves more money for other projects (including, perhaps, deep space exploration) while creating real robust private industries.

Oh look! We don't have to imagine that! We are already contracting out some space services and many more private space companies will start selling passenger tickets and space delivery very soon. Let's skip the space race. Maybe Tyson and Putin can just start taking space vacations together instead.

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What Worries Small Business: Uncertainty and ObamaCare

Photo credit: kevin dooley / Foter.com / CC BYPhoto credit: kevin dooley / Foter.com / CC BYSmall business owners aren’t exactly hopeful about the future of the economy. According to a survey published earlier this month by the Chamber of Commerce, 79 percent say the U.S. economy is on the wrong track. The small business owners surveyed have lots of worries: 77 percent think higher energy prices are an immediate threat to their business, 52 percent think the tax code should be less complex, and 78 percent say they are concerned about federal debt and deficits. At the top of the list for the last two years, though, have been generalized concerns about economic uncertainty. In April, however, that changed: the requirements posed by ObamaCare are now the biggest concern for small business.

That’s hardly surprising given the tough choices many businesses will have to face. Starting next year, companies with more than 50 employees will have to either provide sufficient coverage to their employees or pay a per-employee fine.

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported on several businesses choosing to pay the law’s penalty for not offering insurance rather than comply with the law’s health insurance requirements. In some cases, that means dropping insurance for employees who already have it. The Journal story profiled Rick Levi, an Iowa business owner who run a cafeteria management service with 102 employees. Currently, he spends about $140,000 each year insuring 25 of them in managerial positions. But once ObamaCare kicks in next year, he expects to drop coverage for those employees, and pay $144,000 in fines instead. The alternative—complying with the law’s employer coverage requirement—would cost an estimated $500,000.

Levi isn’t the only small business owner facing tough decisions under the law. Last month, The New York Times reported on a San Diego bakery struggling to decide how to meet the law’s insurance requirements. Adding coverage for all of its workers would cost about half of its profits. Raising prices to cover the cost of insurance might make it uncompetitive with smaller bakeries not subject to the fine. That’s why the bakeries owners indicated they were considering reducing their 95 employee firm down below the 50-person mark—firing some workers and converting others to private contractors.

Other firms, meanwhile, don’t even know what sort of choices they face under the law. Last month The Washington Post profiled Virginia café owner Jody Manor, who employs 45 people—but still doesn’t have clear information on how the law might affect him, especially if he decides to expand. As the Post reported

If he brings in just five more, his business would soon be subject to new minimum coverage standards under the 2010 law — and he does not know whether his current health plan would meet this threshold of coverage or how his premiums might be affected.

“These changes are less than a year away, and I still have no information about how much our premiums are going to cost,” said Manor, owner of Bittersweet Catering, Cafe and Bakery. “It definitely gives me pause when thinking about adding another location.”

Nearly three years after the health-care law was passed, federal regulators have only recently begun to define its terms. Major pieces of the overhaul, such as state-run exchanges that will serve as marketplaces for qualified health insurance plans, have yet to take shape, and several rules remain unwritten. Consequently, the picture remains anything but clear for small-business owners, some of whom have been warned that their premiums may spike and that their current coverage may fall short. 

For employers like Manor, worries about ObamaCare and worries about uncertainty are one in the same. 

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Beware the Irresistible Siren Song of the Slots

Progressives catch a lot of crap, and rightfully so, for a lack of belief or support for personal agency and responsibility and a tendency to hold “society” responsible for people’s choices. But paternalism isn’t the only reason for misplaced blame. Sometimes losing a whole lot of money will do it.

From Courthouse News:

A candy wholesaler sued an Ameristar casino for $4 million, claiming it "enticed and enabled" a worker who embezzled the money and blew it on slot machines.

Colombo Candy & Tobacco Wholesale Co. dba Colombo Distribution sued Ameristar Casino Council Bluffs in Douglas County Court, Tulsa.

It claims its employee, Jane Doe, blew more than $3 million of the $4 million she embezzled at the Ameristar casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Courthouse News reports the employee has entered into a settlement with her employer admitting to the embezzlement and has a judgment against her for $4 million, which she doesn’t have, because she blew it all at the casino. So they’re arguing that the casino induced her to gamble by treating her like a VIP because she was giving them lots of money and therefore the casino should have to give the money back.

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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Dana Rohrabacher Introduces (and Justin Amash Cosponsors) the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act

Gage SkidmoreGage SkidmoreHours after his Republican colleagues in the House called for Pres. Obama to crack down on legal marijuana in Colorado and Washington, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Cali.) introduced H.R. 1523, a bill that would immunize from federal prosecution "individual marijuana consumers [as well as] medical and non-medical marijuana businesses operating in states in which they are legal," according to a Marijuana Policy Project announcement. 

"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states’ marijuana laws," MPP quotes Rohrabacher as saying. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don’t want it to be criminal."

The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act is co-sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Don Young (R-AK), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Jared Polis (D-CO). 

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Republican Congressmen Call on Obama to Stop Legal Pot in Colorado and Washington

hbimedialibrary / photo on flickrhbimedialibrary / photo on flickrThree Republican House members called today for President Obama and the Department of Justice to stop Washington state and Colorado from implementing tax-and-regulate schemes for marijuana, which voters approved in November.

"I don't see the DOJ suing these states for passing laws that are illegal under federal law," said Rep. Andrew Harris (R-MD.). "I don't see the administration going to the state of Washington or Colorado and saying, 'We will see you in federal court because the federal law preempts the state law and you have passed a law in clear contradiction to federal law.'"

Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) echoed Harris during today's appropriations hearing with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart (you can read her full remarks here). The exchange marks the first time members of Congress have openly called for the Obama administration to intervene in Colorado and Washington. Until today, the only members of Congress who had addressed marijuana legalization did so while introducing legislation that would repeal federal marijuana prohibition and create a federal tax-and-regulate framework.

Harris led the anti-pot charge, arguing that the Obama administration's failure to prosecute marijuana offenders--a claim contradicted by Obama's record of cracking down on more medical marijuana dispensaries than Bush ever did--was leading teenagers to experiment with harder drugs. 

"We have watched states preempt federal government on marijuana. We have decided not to change that at the federal law, and we to not enforce federal law on marijuana. You know as well as I do why these pill parties are happening. They're getting these pills out of their parents' medicine cabinets. What are their parents going to say, These are medicine for me, but bad for you?"

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Ronald Bailey on How Free Markets and Human Ingenuity Can Save the Planet

Infinite ResourceCredit: Naam“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so,” warned the famed British television naturalist David Attenborough in the January Radio Times. He added: “It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us.” Would-be prophets of disaster from Malthus to Paul Ehrlich have been preaching imminent ecological doom for centuries now. All such prophecies have so far failed. But is Attenborough right; is it different this time? Probably not, Ramez Naam argues in The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey investigates which one is right.

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Matt Welch and Radley Balko Discuss Rand Paul and GOP Libertarianism

This morning I appeared on HuffPost Live to talk about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), his appearance this week at Howard University, and whether the Republican Party should go more libertarian. Included in our big panel was beloved former Reasoner Radley Balko and anarchist pal Kmele Foster. Watch the full half hour below:

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Jay-Z Responds on Cuba, Denies (Dubiously) Politicians Ever Did Anything for Him

doing shit for politiciansInstafgramJay-Z responded to criticism from Florida lawmakers about he and his wife Beyoncé’s wedding anniversary trip to Cuba, releasing a new song, “Open Letter,” an early reference to being a “boy from the hood but got White House clearance” predictably yielded a lame response from the White House, with Jay Carney offering to reporters that "nothing rhymes with Treasury.” The Treasury department is responsible for licensing travel to Cuba, permitted only for cultural/educational activities. Though the Obama Administration has eased the licensing a bit, it remains difficult for Americans to visit Cuba legally. The Treasury Department, for its part, says it didn’t know it had cleared Jay-Z and Beyoncé for the trip to Cuba, claiming that the procedures for licensing “people-to-people” (cultural) trips doesn’t require the tour-organizer to provide a list of attendees, just an itinerary.  In his response Jay-Z rejected political connections, rapping “Politicians never did shit for me except lie to me, distort history.”

In taking umbrage at lawmakers targeting his trip to Cuba, in his song Jay-Z suggested to them: “let me commit a real crime, I might buy a kilo for Chief Keef, out of spite, I just might flood these streets.” But just like it shouldn’t be illegal to go to Cuba to celebrate your wedding anniversary, it shouldn’t be illegal to buy a kilo for $17k. Jay-Z, an Obama supporter who nevertheless has said “we need less government” missed an opportunity to highlight the absurdity of both the Cuban travel ban and the war on drugs.

Instead, he moved on to rebuffing critics of his divestment from the New Jersey Brooklyn Nets (“I made millions off it,” Jay-Z boasts). That profit, of course, would be impossible without the government being there to bulldoze anything in the way of getting the stadium (in which Jay-Z is also still invested) built. So Jay-Z boasts of the fruit of what politicians did for him in the same song he denies they ever did.

Watch Reason TV explore the big governemnt eminent domain abuses that made Jay-Z's Nets money possible:

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LAPD Cellphone Tracking Clarification Still Raises Concerns

Tagged animalPublic DomainIn my piece the other day covering courtroom revelations about the FBI's use of cellphone-tracking technology, often generically referred to as "stingray" after one manufacturer's product, I mentioned the Los Angeles Police Department's use of the same tools. Soon after, I received an official LAPD fact sheet that was prepared in response to an LA Weekly article I referenced in an earlier piece. The fact sheet helpfully clarifies not only the details of the LAPD's policy regarding cellphone tracking, but also the capabilities of the same. But I'm not sure that it necessarily settles concerns about how forthright the LAPD is being about the tracking technology it uses, since the department admits it's describing the technology to judges in a way that federal agents have been told is inadequate.

Stingray-type devices essentially emulate cellphone towers, pinging mobile devices within their range and thereby locating those devices. The LAPD fact sheet emphasizes that the location-finding ability of the technology is imprecise — this is why the FBI in the Rigmaiden case started with a stingray device, and then went to a shorter-range, hand-held device to find Rigmaiden.

Any electronic monitoring equipment/techniques utilized by the LAPD can only gather data regarding the cellular phones in the area of a particular cell tower and from a particular carrier at any one time. This data only identifies the cellular phone by its carrier (i.e. Sprint, Metro PCS, Verizon) and gives no information regarding the subscriber’s identity or their location.

The fact sheet than goes on to explain something that hasn't been clear before — that cellphones might be pinged, but they can't be identified without the cooperation of a phone company.

In order to identify a particular handset, it is necessary to have the cooperation of the cellular provider, which provides the necessary identifiers. This cooperation will only occur after being served with a signed court order. The cooperation of the cellular provider is governed by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (1994), which mandates cellular providers to modify the design of their equipment, facilities and services to allow law enforcement to conduct electronic surveillance.

That may not sound like much of a safeguard, given the deference most people display toward law enforcement and the legal requirements under which telecoms operate. But we recently discovered that many communications companies have been unexpectedly protective of their customers' privacy, or at least surprisingly uncooperative with federal agencies, to the point that both ICE and the FBI are upset. Cricket features in complaints by both agencies, but so do several other companies that resist over-broad requests for information and even ignore queries. So the extra step of having to go through a telecommunications company in order to identify the mobile devices pinged by a stingray does seem to add an extra layer of protection — especially for people who aren't specific targets and don't want their location information vacuumed up as collateral damage.

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Steven Greenhut on California’s Latest Environmental Boondoggle

Credit: Steve Rhodes / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDCredit: Steve Rhodes / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDIn Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” a priest recalls the words of a man who confessed: “The more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular.” Judging by California Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest plan to “save” the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, writes Steven Greenhut, he appears to suffer from a variant of the same condition. California’s Green Governor loves the Earth in general but he doesn’t seem to care about particular earthly environments.

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Syria Wants the UN to Acknowledge Jabhat Al Nusra's Links to Al Qaeda

Credit: de:Benutzer:Eborutta/wikimediaCredit: de:Benutzer:Eborutta/wikimediaThe Syrian government has urged the United Nations to classify Jabhat Al Nusra, a jihadist group fighting against Assad’s regime, as a group with links to Al Qaeda. The head of Jabhat Al Nusra recently pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda’s leader while distancing himself from reports that the group had merged with Al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq.

The U.S. labeled Jabhat Al Nusra as a terrorist organisation in December, a move that was not welcomed by some Syrian rebels. 

Were the U.N. to recognize Jabhat Al Nusra as a group with links to Al Qaeda then it could be subject to the sanctions outlined by the U.N.’s Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee.

From the BBC:

The Syrian statement refers to the UN resolution that established the al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee.

Under the UN's sanctions regime, those with links to al-Qaeda have their financial assets frozen and face travel bans.

The sanctions also imposed an arms embargo on al-Qaeda.

Yesterday, the Russian foreign minister said that Al Qaeda could use Syria as a base for future operations in the region. Russia, one of Assad’s few allies during the conflict, has been arguing for a political solution while the U.K. and France have both supported ending the European Union's arms embargo on Syria in order to arm some of Assad's opponents. 

That Assad’s opposition includes jihadist groups weakens the case for intervention as weapons given to rebels in the Free Syrian Army could end up in the hands of the extremist elements of the opposition. Such concerns have not stopped Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) from calling for increased American involvement in Syria.

While no one doubts that Assad’s regime has been committing crimes against innocent Syrians there are doubts about what a post-Assad Syria is going to look like. The diversity of Assad’s opposition means that whatever transfer of power that occurs once Assad is gone will not be without complications. 

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Newly Signed Idaho Law Places Restrictions on Police Drone Use

moreReason 24/7In January, reason.com reviewed bipartisan efforts across the country to pass restrictions on the use of drones by government authorities in the United States. Since then, Virginia passed regulations on drone use by police. It’s now joined by Idaho.

From Reuters:

Idaho's Republican governor signed a law on Thursday that restricts use of drone aircraft by police and other public agencies as the use of pilotless aircraft inside U.S. borders is increasing. The measure aims to protect privacy rights.

In approving the law, which requires law enforcement to obtain warrants to collect evidence using drones in most cases, Idaho becomes the second U.S. state after Virginia to restrict uses of pilotless aircraft over privacy concerns.

Of course government authorities won’t necessarily seek a warrant just because they’re required to (as we learned of the IRS earlier this week), and these types of legislation tend to leave a big loophole in the form of an “imminent danger” exception. The legislation won’t affect the cool things drones will eventually be able to do, though regulations on those kind of activities are unfortunately likely to be a lot easier to pass than restrictions on police authority. So it goes.

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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Veronique de Rugy: The Economic Case for Welcoming Low-Skilled Immigrants

Credit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAAs comprehensive immigration reform rockets toward the top of Washington’s to-do list, a surprising consensus has emerged around the idea that the United States can and should offer more visas to highly educated, highly skilled, and highly paid immigrants. But what about the relatively low-skilled, low-paid migrants who comprise the vast majority of the people who have actually washed up on American shores for the past 150 years? Veronique de Rugy makes the economic case for welcoming low-skilled immigrants.

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Stephen Colbert, Nick Gillespie Talk "America's Pot-astrophe" on Colbert Report

I was on Comedy Central's Colbert Report last night, talking about pot legalization, sentencing reform, and the host's fears that medical marijuana will give rise to "medical prostitution."

About 5 minutes and very good fun.

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What's Next for Weed? A Panel Discussion at Reason's DC HQ on Tuesday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m.

heady nuggetCredit: Capital City CareJoin Reason and America's Future Foundation on Tuesday, April 16 starting at 6:30 p.m. for a discussion about the war on drugs, featuring Reason Associate Editor Mike Riggs and the American Spectator's Matthew Walther.

  • What: What's Next for Weed? A discussion about the war on drugs.
  • When: Tuesday, April 16 from 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. (the panel discussion will begin at 6:45 p.m.)
  • Where: Reason's DC HQ at 1747 Connecticut Ave. NW, just North of Dupont Circle

Go here for more information and to RSVP. 

Beer, wine, and light refreshments will be served.

Read Mike Riggs on the drug war. 

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Talkin' SWAT on HuffPost Live

Last night I went on HuffPost Live to discuss "swatting" -- the potentially lethal practice of faking an emergency call so that a SWAT unit descends on a home where no crime is actually in progress. The other guests included a California state senator, a Florida SWAT cop, and a swatting victim. You can watch it here:

The conversation ranged a bit, but my basic role was to talk about another way SWAT teams are overdeployed: times when they're sent to the "right" house, but not in response to the sorts of dangerous situations that SWAT units were originally created for.

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Obama Wants to Fund Universal Pre-K Using Cigarette Taxes. It Won’t Work.

Photo credit: AMERICANVIRUS / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAPhoto credit: AMERICANVIRUS / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAPresident Obama’s new budget proposes paying for a $66 billion universal pre-kindergarten program by increasing the federal cigarette tax to $1.95 a pack. In theory, that raises about $78 billion over the next decade. Enough to fund the program—but not forever. The problem, as with all government programs funded under the kill-two-birds theory used to justify relying on smoking taxes as a revenue mechanism, is that cigarette taxes tend to discourage people from smoking. And with fewer people smoking, there’s less revenue to be raised from cigarette taxes.

As The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer points out you can see the expected decline within the president’s budget projections: Revenue peaks at $9.8 billion in 2015. But by 2023, the end of the 10-year budget window, it’s already down to $6 billion—and presumably would continue dropping from there, making it plainly unsustainable.

And that’s assuming that these revenue projections are accurate. States that have raised smoking taxes have found that they often aren’t. Between 2003 and 2007, states raised cigarette taxes 57 times. Yet according to the National Taxpayers Union, just 16 of those hikes brought in the expected revenue.

I don’t expect Obama’s pre-k proposal to go very far, but even still, there’s something perverse about even proposing to fund a program based on revenues raised by the perpetuation of an activity one claims to want to stamp out. Either you end up with a revenue source that isn’t sustainable, or you end up with a program that relies on the continuation of an activity you claim to despise in order to function.

Granted, that hasn't dissuaded legislators from this sort of thing before. Arizona got into budget trouble recently for relying on tobacco industry revenues to fund its Medicaid program. 

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Kurt Loder Reviews To the Wonder and Disconnect

Courtesy of Magnolia PicturesCourtesy of Magnolia PicturesSitting through Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder is like watching a stranger sorting through a packet of old photographs, observes Kurt Loder. To the photographer, the snapshots recall a story. To us they’re disconnected episodes in an unknown narrative. As a cinematic technique, this willful ambiguity, dispensing with the building blocks of plot and character, is trying, and we feel a tide of boredom rising. But it’s Terrence Malick, so we hang on.

In Disconnect, on the other hand, first-time feature director Henry Alex Rubin looks at the dark downside to the ubiquitous presence in our lives of laptops, iPads, smartphones and such, meaning it offers little in the way of hot cultural news. But the movie is nevertheless gripping, filled with rich performances by a top ensemble cast and powered by a script that punches home its points with memorable detail.

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A.M. Links: Senator Doesn’t Want Fox to Air NRA-Sponsored NASCAR Race, JFK Assassination Artifacts to Go on Display, Cartels Getting Cheap Cocaine

Credit: Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News/wikimediaCredit: Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News/wikimedia

  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has written a letter to Rupert Murdoch asking that Fox not air a NASCAR race sponsored by the NRA. 
  • Some artifacts from the JFK assassination that have never been displayed before are to be part of exhibitions at the Newseum in Washington D.C.
  • A woman in North Carolina has won a settlement after she was arrested for filming a traffic stop from her front yard. 
  • Obama has said that North Korea must stop its “belligerent approach.”

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Brickbat: Bring Your Camera

WorldnowWorldnowFor many years, barns across the South sported ads for Rock City, a tourist attraction near Chattanooga. When Ben Morris bought an old barn near Cumming, Georgia, he was delighted to find a faded sign reading "See Rock City." So he slapped another layer of paint on it to bring out the letters and preserve a bit of history. Now, he's being threatened with fines for violating Forsyth County's 10-year-old ban on roof-top signs.

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Los Angeles May Back Down on Fast Food Paternalism

Matt Welch and Reason TV have previously reported on the City of Los Angeles’ paternalistic treatment of South L.A.’s residents by banning the opening of new fast food restaurants.

Now it’s possible that the city may scale back on its regulatory meddling. Via CBS Los Angeles:

Dozens of South Los Angeles residents Thursday were expected to attend a hearing about a plan that opponents fear could crowd the city with fast-food restaurants.

Officials with the city Planning Commission are scheduled to consider a draft of the West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Park Community Plan that would exempt the 10th Council District from a ban on new fast-food eateries that has been in effect since 2008.

Love the framing of that first paragraph there. Not banning the construction of fast food restaurants is the same as creating a huge eruption of them everywhere, right?

The story notes that a study from the National Institutes of Health determined that the density of fast food restaurants in Southern Los Angeles is not out of line with other neighborhoods. As somebody who lives in mid-L.A. and drives through that area to get to our lovely new Reason offices every day, I can anecdotally declare that there is absolutely no difference with the fast food density there compared to other places.

But that didn’t stop William McCarthy, a professor at the UCLA School of Public Health, from giving this remarkably revealing and insulting soundbite regarding the general public’s personal choices:

However, McCarthy said personal responsibility for dietary choices is only one factor involved in the health issues raised by allowing more fast-food restaurants into the neighborhood, and that lawmakers can, and should, be doing more to protect the public.

“It’s more than that because people are influenced by visual cues and by other influences that they’re not totally aware of, so there is a role of government to help nudge them in the direction of healthier choices,” he said.

Below, watch Reason TV analyzing L.A.’s food police in 2011:

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Police Shoot Dog and Actually Compensate the Family

Pit bullDnheinsdorfFor everybody tired of hearing about police officers shooting family dogs for no good reason, here's a story about ... police officers shooting family dogs for no good reason, splattering a little girl with her beloved pets' blood — and then actually paying damages. That's right, the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $225,000 to James and Aisha Keten, though only after a judge suggested that officers came a tad too close to plugging a toddler in the process of handling a search warrant very, very badly:

From The Journal:

Officers on April 13 were conducting a search warrant, looking for an assault rifle they believed was used by James Keten’s brother Lamont to shoot a woman eight days earlier.

Officers were warned that four potentially aggressive pit bulls were in the home, and also that children would be present.

First, one officer shot a 60-pound pit bill mix named Kano. The officer testified that the dog charged him.

Keten alleges that officers hand-tied him and beat him, but a hospital could find no bruises or injuries to Keten.

Another officer, Chad Fuchs, went into the kitchen where the couple’s 3-year-old daughter was eating breakfast. The Kenten’s allege that Fuchs fired several shots close to the girl, including ones that killed a 40-pound pit bull-German Shepard mix named Remy. Remy was sitting near the feet of the girl. Remy’s blood splattered on the girl’s pajamas, and the girl has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She regularly sees the therapist.

Aisha Keten attempted to rush into the kitchen to grab her daughter, but police restrained her in the bathroom, where she had been getting ready for work.

In terms of the timing of the dog-shootings, an earlier Minneapolis Star-Tribune story points out that the warrant the police had required them to knock, but they barged in instead and "[a]s soon as the officers entered the house, they shot and killed one dog, Kano, in the living room, then moments later fired 'multiple, hollow-point rounds towards the kitchen table, killing another of the Keten's dogs,' Remy, that was lying beneath the table."

That earlier story suggests that police staged a dynamic raid specifically intending to shoot the dogs. It also notes that the city acknowledged that Fuchs, who killed the second dog, could see the three-year-old girl sitting at the table her dog was under, and fired anyway.

They never found the rifle they were looking for, by the way, and the Ketens faced no charges.

Note: That's neither Kano nore Remy pictured above (I couldn't find photos of them), but another example of the scary breed supposedly represented by those dogs.

(H/t Enough About Palin)

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North Korea: No War Today

you're breaking my ballsKCNAThe seemingly never-ending drama that is North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling continued today with the totalitarian regime pointing one of its missiles up. The U.S. and South Korea believe its “highly likely” North Korea will launch a missile. The country has conducted three missile tests since Kim Jong Un took power about a year and a half ago. The U.S. announced last week it was deploying missile defense systems to Guam while Japan deployed Patriot missiles in Tokyo this week.

And what of China, North Korea’s only real ally on the planet? The Chinese foreign ministry took umbrage to suggestions by American politicians it wasn’t doing enough to restrain North Korean threats, saying its maintained a consistent position supporting peace, stability and dialogue on the peninsula. In fact, China’s recent rhetoric would indicate the world’s largest communist country’s lost patience with its tiny neighbor. It would be practically impossible for North Korea to start a sustained conflict with South Korea (or 21st century Red Dawn style, with the U.S.) without the support of China, which is infinitely more interested in flexing its economic muscle than being sucked into North Korea’s shenanigans, which could be helping the U.S.’s strategic stance in the region at the expense of China’s.

Meanwhile, North Koreans in Pyongyang, which would get pummeled with bombs if the country started a war, appear more concerned with preparing for a national holiday on April 15th than the threat of war. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the missile launch came on that day, the birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim il Sung, given the regime’s penchant for symbolism and numerology.

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Take Xanax, Lose Your Guns?

The SAFE Act, the gun control law hastily passed by the New York legislature in January, included a provision requiring physicians, psychologists, registered nurses, and licensed clinical social workers to report any patient they deem "likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to self or others." The report goes to a county mental health official, who, assuming he agrees with the clinician's assessment, passes it on to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which determines whether the patient holds a firearms license. If he does have such a license, which is required to legally buy a handgun in New York, the DCJS must notify the local licensing official, who must suspend or revoke the patient's license and instruct him to surrender all of his firearms, including rifles and shotguns. If he fails to do so, police are authorized to seize them.

Which is how David Lewis, a 35-year-old Amherst librarian, was stripped of his guns and his Second Amendment rights. Except that state police now say it was all a big misunderstanding, and Lewis is expected to get his guns back. The precise cause of this mistake is hazy. Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs, the local licensing official, says he got bad information from the state police. "Today we all look like fools," he told WIVB, the CBS affiliate in Buffalo. "They did not do their due diligence; they did not appropriately and fully investigate this to make sure it was the right person."

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Obama Approval Down to 47 Percent, Republican Congress Highly Unlikely to Fund Obamacare, Massachusetts Cops Whine About Medical Marijuana: P.M. Links

  • pre-existing condition?NetflixA new poll shows President Obama’s approval rating dropping 6 points since election day, to 47 percent.
  • The Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to fund Obamacare but, well, never say never.
  • The House Intelligence Committee approved CISPA by an 18-2 vote, stripping the cybersecurity bill of privacy protections in the process, natch.
  • Cops in Massachusetts are complaining the medical marijuana law is allowing for too much marijuana. 
  • Meanwhile, Nick Gillespie will be on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report at 11:30pm to talk about more marijuana legalization.
  • An ATF document shows the gun store where Adam Lanza’s mother bought her guns had over 500 violations in an inspection done two years ago. It was recently closed just months after the massacre in Newtown.
  • LA’s new schools superintendent is starting to fire bad teachers.
  • Illinois wants to borrow $2 billion to pay for its Medicaid bills. When they can’t pay it back will they blame the banks that offered the loan, like Detroit’s doing?
  • The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten says those tramping the dirt down in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s death are loathsome.
  • A U.S. appeals court ruled that yes, police did use excessive force when they killed an unarmed, naked college student, meaning the family can sue.
  • Francois Hollande wants to lead France on a war against tax havens.
  • Turkey is converting the Church of Hagia Sofia at Trabzon, a museum, into a mosque.

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Katherine Mangu-Ward on Teachers Unions and Virtual Learning

kid computermacattck / flickrIn 2012, education technology firms attracted $1.1 billion from venture capitalists, angel investors, corporations, and private equity—an order of magnitude more than the industry was pulling in 2002. But gains for the industry could easily be wiped away by politicans. While Wall Street’s interest in online education may bode well for entrepreneurs and students, writes Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward in Slate, bullish investors and parents would do well to listen to war stories from weary education policy wonks.

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Shikha Dalmia: 5 Reasons Why Low Skilled Immigrants are Good for the Economy

"Shikha Dalmia: 5 Reasons Why Low Skilled Immigrants are Good for the Economy" 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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Minnesota Attorney Is Just One Victim in Police Database-Snooping Scandal

Reason 24/7ReasonA couple of months ago we heard that Florida cops were abusing driver and vehicle databases to gain information on a fellow officer who had the nerve to arrest one of their own — as well as for other run-of-the-mill, unofficial creepiness. Now we discover that misuse of databases by police is a problem in Minnesota, too. One of the more prominent targets of data-trawling is a former police union attorney, who was the subject of hundreds of unauthorized inquiries.

From The Pioneer-Press:

Brooke Bass spent her legal career looking out for the best interests of police officers.

They were looking out for her, too, her lawyer says -- but in a different way.

In the past eight years, more than 100 entities across Minnesota -- nearly all of them law enforcement -- accessed Bass's private driver's license information more than 700 times, her attorney said.

That would make her the subject of the biggest privacy breach to date in the state's increasingly broad and increasingly expensive license-data debacle.

As the article makes clear, the problem doesn't begin and end with Bass. In fact, it's so widespread that "at least one law firm has placed an ad in a newspaper in southwestern Minnesota seeking claimants." There's certainly more to come, since the Legislative Auditor's office "found more than half of Minnesota law enforcement personnel with access to driver's license data might have made inappropriate searches."

Note that IRS agents have been caught entertaining themselves with similar searches of the sensitive records at their disposal, for both fun and profit. But as government agencies acquire and store ever-more information about our finances, guns, health and many other matters, they're sure to get it right eventually? Aren't they?

Yeah. Right.

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Uh-Oh! Building ObamaCare’s Health Exchanges Has Already Cost Double the Expected Amount

Credit: WhiteHouse.govCredit: WhiteHouse.govHere’s another ominous sign for ObamaCare’s future: The Department of Health and Human Services admitted yesterday that setting up the law has cost twice as much as expected so far. And you can't really blame Republican opposition for the overrun: That’s just accounting for the cost of building exchanges in states that said they want to run them.

Here’s The Hill with the report:

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) said in budget documents Wednesday that it expects to spend $4.4 billion by the end of this year on grants to help states set up new insurance exchanges. HHS had estimated last year that the grants would cost $2 billion.

The department also is asking Congress for another $1.5 billion to help set up federally run exchanges in states that do not establish their own.

Just because HHS is asking for the money, of course, doesn’t mean it’s going to get it. So if not, then what? The HHS has promised it will, er, do something—something!—to make it all work. But it won’t say what. At least not yet:

HHS Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources Ellen Murray punted Wednesday when asked about the consequences if Congress also denies the new request.

The department is "determined to make them work," she said of the exchanges.

A big chunk of the grant money doled out so far went to California. It has reportedly received $909 million in federal funding to build its exchange. But even with the hefty funding it's not going smoothly. The state's insurance regulators have warned that residents should expect "rate and market disruption" when the state's health insurance exchange opens. 

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Cathy Young on Obama’s Sexist Double Standard

Credit: zennie62 / Foter.com / CC BY-NDCredit: zennie62 / Foter.com / CC BY-NDThe kerfuffle over President Barack Obama referring to California Attorney General Kamala Harris as “the best-looking attorney general in the country” at a San Francisco fundraising event has ended with the president apologizing to Harris for “creating a distraction.” Too bad, writes Cathy Young. The apology was due from the self-righteous zealots who blew up an innocuous comment into an offense against womanhood—to the detriment of both women and men.

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Vid: Reactions to Sen. Rand Paul's Speech at Howard University

"Reactions to Sen. Rand Paul's Speech at Howard University" 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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Watch Nick Gillespie on Colbert Report, Talking Pot Legalization, 11.30PM

I'm scheduled to be on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report tonight, discussing the recent embrace of pot legalization by a couple of states, a majority of Americans, and a smattering of politicians (even or especially among Republicans).

The Colbert Report airs at 11.30pm ET on Comedy Central. Go here for more details.

Here's my quick brief on legalizing weed:

 

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Calif. Bullet Train Proponents Tout Moderately Skeptical GAO Report

Keep begging China for money, Jerry. You'll need it.CHSRAIn response to critics’ worries that California’s bullet train plan relies on projections of costs, revenues, and ridership that are far too optimistic, proponents are seeking refuge under a new Government Accountability Office report that – er – worries that the plan’s costs, revenues and ridership projections are too optimistic.

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is all smiles and sunbeams about the report though in their press release:

 “The GAO’s audit report is extremely clear that the Authority’s processes and methodologies in estimating its costs, revenue and ridership are sound,” said Dan Richard, Chair of the Authority’s Board of Directors. “The Authority appreciates the GAO’s input and is already taking steps to incorporate those suggestions.”

No. That’s not quite right. Note the weasel words of “processes and methodologies.” In actuality, the full GAO report (pdf) determined that a significant chunk of the estimations are really half-complete and takes great pains to warn that because the United States has never embarked in a high-speed rail project of this magnitude before, the Authority really, really, really needs to be careful about the quality of its projections. The GAO also repeatedly expresses concerns about how the rail project could possibly get private investment when it can’t yet secure construction funding beyond the earliest stages:

Private-sector investment in the California high-speed rail project, if any, will ultimately be determined by the profitability of the system—that is, the extent to which operating revenues exceed operating costs. The Authority currently estimates an operating profit in the first and all subsequent years of operation. However, this estimate is only as reliable as the underlying operating cost and revenue forecasts. As discussed earlier, the Authority’s current ridership and revenue forecasts are reasonable for planning purposes, however, further refinements will be required as the project continues to evolve. The Authority’s current operating cost estimates will also need to be improved in the future. Accordingly, both cost and ridership forecasts will change before the initial operating segment is completed in 2022, making the future value of potential private funding uncertain at this time. [Emphasis added]

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Obama Campaign: We’re Fighting for Gun Control for Grieving Families, Give Us Money

msnbc actually put this on facebookMSNBCOrganizing for America, the Obama campaign’s post-election campaign apparatus, is lobbying in favor of new gun restrictions. Their latest missive follows the Obama gun control playbook pretty well, dismissing opposition as disingenuous and invoking the dead for an emotional response. The bulk of the campaign e-mail, from OFA’s executive director Jon Carson:

Edward --

This week, two U.S. senators, a Democrat and a Republican with "A" ratings from the NRA, introduced a bill to close loopholes in background checks for all commercial gun sales. 

Let that sink in for a minute. Millions of Americans have demanded action, and Congress is listening.

Now that we've got legislation, the next step is passing it. And no surprise here: Allies of the gun lobby are threatening to block a vote. You can be damn sure they're going to do the same thing if the bill makes it to the House, too.

OFA is taking the gun lobby head on. We won't stand by silently while the families in Newtown, Aurora, and Tucson grieve. So many people have worked tirelessly for congressional action.

We won't let Congress forget.

Chip in $3 today -- and let's get this done

Instead of standing silently by while families grieve, then, the Obama campaign is raising money. Earlier this morning on MSNBC, Joe Biden said the murder of children at Newtown was a “game changer” for gun control legislation. As Jacob Sullum has noted, however, the background checks referenced in the e-mail would have done nothing to prevent the massacre at Sandy Hook, and the Obama Administration’s case for gun control boils down to a parade of emotion-laden non-sequiturs. To paraphrase Carson, that’s for damn sure.

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Rand Paul vs. Ron Paul on the Meaning of the Constitution

During his big speech yesterday at Howard University, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) repeatedly highlighted the Republican Party’s central role in drafting and ratifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. While it’s not exactly a groundbreaking position nowadays to come out in favor of the 13th or 15th Amendments, Paul’s endorsement of the 14th is a more notable story.

Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment declares, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” That language empowers the federal courts to review the actions of state and local governments, and to strike down any such actions that violate fundamental rights, including those rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights. As Ohio Congressman John Bingham, the author of the words quoted above, explained in a speech to the House of Representatives, the rights protected by the 14th Amendment “are chiefly defined in the first eight amendments to the Constitution.”

Put simply, the 14th Amendment protects individuals against overreaching state and local governments. Here’s how Rand Paul summarized his views on that amendment yesterday at Howard:

Many Republicans do believe that decentralization of power is the best policy, that government is more efficient, more just, and more personal when it is smaller and more local.

But Republicans also realize that there are occasions of such egregious injustice that require federal involvement, and that is precisely what the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act were intended to do--protect citizens from state and local tyranny.

That position is consistent with the text and history of the 14th Amendment. But it differs dramatically from the interpretation of the same amendment favored by Rand Paul’s father, Ron Paul.

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Django Unchained Pulled From Theaters in China Mid-Premiere

the d is silentReason 24/7Last year, China raised the number of American films allowed into its market from 20 a year to 34 after box office revenue topped $2 billion in 2011. It’s a lucrative market for American filmmakers, who may even be willing to self-censor to secure access to Chinese movie-goers. This winter’s U.S. blockbuster about a freed slave’s rescue mission, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained,  actually made it past the censors and premiered Thursday. But it didn’t last long.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Just a few minutes after the lights dimmed and the credits rolled, Chinese censors on Thursday yanked Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" from cinemas around the country.

A Shanghai cinema company posted to its official Weibo account this morning that screenings of the film would be delayed indefinitely for "technical reasons." The cinema announced it would reimburse viewers who had already bought tickets.

China’s State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) is notorious for its heavy censorship, but filmgoers couldn't remember an occasion when a film was pulled during its premiere.

A previous Tarantino film, the martial arts revenge flick Kill Bill, was filmed in China but never released there. Django Unchained was the first Tarantino film to secure a release date in the communist country. 

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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Swatting in Hollywood

The New York Times notices a story that's been swirling around the Internet for a while. The subject is "swatting," in which people basically hack the police with calls directing SWAT teams to imaginary emergencies. The initial online coverage of the practice focused on people who use it to harass their enemies, but the Times discusses something else—pranksters swatting celebrities:

It's only fun until someone loses a life.What once was merely a police annoyance in Southern California—thrill-seeking pranksters filing a false report of a breaking horrific crime at celebrity's home, designed to provoke the dispatch of SWAT teams—has turned in recent weeks into a full-blown "swatting" epidemic, drawing expressions of concerns from police officials and victims alike, and the promise of a crackdown by lawmakers in Sacramento and at Los Angeles City Hall....

The [Ryan] Seacrest call marked the sixth time in a week that the police had scrambled to respond to a report of violence at the home of a Page Six-worthy parade of celebrities: Sean Combs last Wednesday, Rihanna on Thursday, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez on Friday and [Russell] Brand on Monday. Previous victims have included Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise and Miley Cyrus.

When they kick out your front door, how you gonna come?Police officials said the calls typically were punctuated with alarming real-time portrayals of what was supposedly taking place inside the victim’s home. "They give a very descriptive account, all the way down to the number of victims and the people screaming," said Sgt. Renato Moreno of the Beverly Hills police. "They paint a very horrific scene inside the house, describing a very uncontrolled scene."

The rash of hoaxes has put a strain on police departments already struggling with budget cuts. It also puts officers in danger as they race up the narrow streets in the neighborhoods where celebrities tend to live, or when they confront the armed private security forces that celebrities often hire.

One thing missing from the article is an awareness that there's a long history of wrong-door paramilitary police raids caused by errors rather than pranksters, with victims nowhere near as rich or famous as Selena Gomez or Tom Cruise. I say this not to downplay how terrible the Hollywood raids are, but to point out that there's a larger mess here. As California lawmakers ponder ways to penalize the people who make these calls, they should also look into the possiblity that a large, frequently deployed, and easily misled militarized police apparatus is itself a part of the problem.

For more on that problem, see Vice's recent interview with former Reasoner Radley Balko—author of the upcoming Rise of the Warrior Cop—on how "we started to see SWAT teams used on an almost daily basis." He also touches on the aggravating ways that the issue gets diverted into Red Team/Blue Team battles, as

Warrior cops for thee, but not for me.political factions decry police militarization when it's used against them, but tend to fall somewhere between indifferent and gleeful when it's used against people they don't like. Conservatives, remember, were furious over Waco, Ruby Ridge, and a host of BATF abuses against gun owners in the 1990s—and rightly so. Liberals mocked them for it.

Liberals were furious at the aggressive response to the occupy protests—and rightly so. And conservatives mocked them. Liberals are rightly angry about militarized immigration raids—conservatives don't much care. Conservatives were mad about the heavy-handed raid on the Gibson Guitar factory. Liberals blew it off. Just a few weeks ago, Rachel Maddow resurrected the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents in a segment about gun control—and was dismissive of people who thought the government's actions were excessive. Of course, Maddow was also fuming about the treatment of Occupy protesters.

Until partisans are willing to denounce excessive force when it's used against people whose politics offend them—or at least refrain from endorsing it—it's hard to see how there will ever be a consensus for reform.

Now I suppose we'll get to see the same dynamic play out among the fans and foes of Justin Bieber.

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Steve Chapman on Science, Sex, and Birth Control

Press ReleasePress ReleaseAmerica doesn't have a pro-science party and an anti-science party. It has two anti-science parties. That's the clear implication of the controversy over Plan B, the "morning-after" pill that is used to avert pregnancy after unprotected sex. The GOP and its anti-abortion allies have long decried it as an "abortion pill," disregarding scientists who say it isn't. But, writes Steve Chapman, President Barack Obama and his Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, have shown they too know how to close their ears to unwelcome facts.

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Was Margaret Thatcher Really Responsible for *Every* Song in '80s Britpop? And If So, Don't We Owe Her Big Time?

Via Reason contributing editor Michael Moynihan, now pushing pixels at The Daily Beast, comes this awful LA Times story about Margaret Thatcher's Yahweh-like influence on British pop music.

She was everywhere, don't you see, fulfilling Pascal's description of God as "an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere." When it came ot pop, there was just no escaping her, don't you see?

Writes Reed Johnson:

Much of the best pop music of the Thatcher years was a response to the perceived bleakness, and it expressed itself in different forms. On one side was the aggressively politicized engagement of groups such as The Clash and the early UB40 (whose name referred to a British unemployment benefits form). At the other end was the flamboyant, clothes-horse escapism of larky New Romantics groups such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club.

But all these forms could be interpreted, at least partially, as responses to a growing sense of anger and confusion, if not despair, about the transformations unleashed on British society by Thatcher...

So, in other words, all music produced during Thatcher's reign of terror can be attributed to Thatcher, whether it was political or not, punk or not, serious or larky, good or bad? As long as we're stuffing responsibility and causality into the Iron Lady iconic, oversized, Tinky-Winkly-like handbag, I want to blame her for Eric Crapton's '80s discography, Elton John's decline during her years in power, and David Bowie's slump neo-colonialist fantasies of "China Girl" and his slump into "Let's Dance" (it's an escapist dream innit, guv'nor, to put on your red shoes and dance while Maggie Mae's jackbooted thugs are closing coal mines that were supposedly awful places to work anyway, don't you see?). Can we also assume that Gary Glitter's irrepressible penchant for underage boys was a direct result of Thatcherite policies that led to an expanding economy and the valorisation of choice and rampant conumerism?

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Shikha Dalmia Debunks the Myth that Latino Immigrants are Welfare Queens in Bloomberg View

The Heritage Foundation and Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and a perennial anti-immigration warrior,  are trying hard to keep alive the mistaken belief that low-skilled immigrants strain America's welfare system. Sessions has repeatedly accused the Obama administration of “defying federal laws” and letting foreigners in without first showing they could support themselves, and the Heritage Foundation is preparing to release an updated version of a controversial study it did several years ago offering its own evidence of this claim.

But regardless of how much they spin the facts, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in the Bloomberg View, the truth is that letting more poor, low- skilled foreigners won't overburden America's social-welfare system. In fact, it might do the opposite: Stretch it out a bit more because these immigrants consume less welfare than the native born and they reduce welfare use by the native born. She notes:

Restrictionists regard the 1990s as the decade of mass migration, when immigrants supposedly flooded in and threatened American jobs and wages. But the country had low unemployment during many of those years. More to the point, the size of the underclass shrank overall. While the number of immigrant households living in poverty increased by 194,000 from 1995 to 2004, the number of American households below the poverty line declined by 675,000.

This suggests that as foreigners moved into the lower class, they pushed more native-born people into the middle class.

Go here to read the whole thing.

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A.M. Links: Banks Repay Federal Loans With Federal Money, IRS Illegally Spies on Email, Soda Bans Lead To Drinking More Soda

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Jacob Sullum on How Background Checks Threaten Gun Rights

Credit: Whitehouse.govCredit: Whitehouse.gov“To make sure those who would commit acts of violence cannot get access to guns,” President Barack Obama said in January, Congress should mandate background checks not just for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers, as current law requires, but for all gun transfers except those between relatives. Yet as Senior Editor Jacob Sullum explains, “universal background checks” are unlikely to stop mass shootings, and enforcing them would require the sort of surveillance that has long been anathema to defenders of the Second Amendment, exposing millions of peaceful people to the threat of gun confiscation and criminal prosecution.

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Judge Napolitano on Drones, Guns, and Obama

Defense Images FlickrDefense Images FlickrAs if to antagonize further those who believe the Constitution means what it says, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, the same president who says he can't reveal the legal basis for his targeted killing program wants to take away your right to self-defense against a killer, and he wants to prevent you from having the means with which to shoot at a tyrant should such a monster take over the government.

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Brickbat: Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Gloom of Night

Yoninah FlickrYoninah FlickrThe U.S. Postal Service fired carrier Richard Farrell in 2010 after he was caught burning mail he was supposed to deliver. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 120 hours of community service and three years probation. But it seems he may have stolen more mail, much more, than originally thought. Agents raided his Belfair, Washington, home recently and came away with 159 postal tubs filled with mail, containing perhaps 35,000 letters and packages.

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President Obama Wants Tax Hike on Cigarettes, Smoking a Pre-Existing Medical Condition Under Some Obamacare Health Exchanges

a bridge too farCamille Richez/Foter.comAmong President Obama’s half trillion dollars in tax hikes is a 94 cent tax on cigarettes expected to raise $78 billion over ten years. The president wants to spend it on early education.

Meanwhile, healthcare exchanges created by Obamacare are starting to classify cigarette smoking as a pre-existing condition, prohibiting insurance companies for charging more to customers who take a higher risk by smoking. In noting the most recent such decision, in the District of Columbia, the National Review points out the absurdity of the decision and how it serves to illustrate the bureaucratic morass Obamacare imposes on the health insurance market:

Obamacare was sold as a way to help poor people and sick people get health insurance, but, as the D.C. decision shows, the actual intent of the law is the abolition of health insurance. The notion of insuring a preexisting condition is an oxymoron; insurance is by nature concerned with that which may happen in the future rather than with that which already has happened. In very large groups, human health outcomes are predictable with a fair degree of precision: Given 10 million people, actuaries can make pretty accurate predictions about how many people are going to get lung cancer and how many are going to be in car accidents. Some factors are relevant to some conditions: Being 17 years old and getting in a car accident, for example, or smoking and heart disease, emphysema, cancer, etc. Insurance, which places a price on calculated risks, will take some of those factors into account. But you cannot in any meaningful sense insure somebody against cancer when they already have cancer.

Obamacare is designed to destroy the insurance market. Markets do not function without prices, and Obamacare ensures that prices will not be allowed to emerge. There is a medical price associated with smoking, but the District of Columbia has decided to suppress that price by law. Pretending that smoking has no relationship with health-care costs does not make it so — it is only a way to push costs around in a way that is agreeable to the likes of Barack Obama, converting a system that prices risk into a system of entitlements.

Smokers have actually been shown to cost insurers less (spoiler: they die younger) but they present a higher risk and identifiable associated costs. The treatment of cigarettes as a revenue source by governments at all levels shows that while government may not hesitate to suppress the cost of smoking on healthcare, it’s eager to impose costs on smoking of its own. The government’s love-hate relationship with cigarette smokers ought to be a stark warning of how perverse government incentives could become as it becomes more and more involved in the business of healthcare.

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China Prosecuting Former Bullet Train Head for Corruption

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown’s embrace of China’s infrastructure-building rush and construction boom this week just hit an embarrassing bump. China has charged that construction of its high-speed rail system was chock full of corruption, which has been a poorly kept secret.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Prosecutors say Liu Zhijun took bribes and abused his power when he served as the country’s railways minister, a job he held from 2003 to 2011.

The powerful ministry run by Zhijun has faced increasing scrutiny and last month the Chinese government said it would be reorganized.

Yang Yang, a professor at the Politics and Public Management Institute at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Associated Press that "it's not surprising to see such corruption in the railway system that was operated under a monopoly without proper regulatory monitoring."

Ah, but here in the United States we have all sorts of regulatory monitoring — monitoring that’s managed by people who have stakes in the project. Oh, I guess that’s a different type of corruption.

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John Stossel on When the Government Plays Favorites

White House FlickrWhite House FlickrPoliticians accuse people who advocate limited government of being heartless when they say that government should not protect us against loss. But government efforts to "protect" us, writes John Stossel, create a moral hazard that just makes our problems bigger over time.

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On Drug Policy, Rand Paul Is Not a Libertarian

CSPANCSPANAt Sen. Rand Paul's speech to Howard University students Wednesday, the first round of applause went to the two student protesters who stood in front of the stage and unfurled a banner that read, "Howard University Does Not Support White Supremacy." The first round of applause for Paul came 10 minutes or so into his prepared remarks, when the junior senator from Kentucky said, "We should not have laws that ruin the lives of young men and women who have committed no violence. That’s why I have introduced a bill to repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences." Finally: clapping!

The line revealed a neat overlap between civil libertarians and Howard's Democrat-leaning African American student body. It was also something of an exaggeration.

The bill Paul introduced last month--called the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013--isn't nearly so expansive as he led his audience to believe. While the act would 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," it doesn't require judges to deviate from the mandatory minimum, nor does it entitle offenders who fit the above criteria to an alternative sentence. If it had passed a decade ago, a bill like Paul's would've empowered a federal judge to sentence 24-year-old small-time pot dealer Weldon Angelos to 18 years in prison, instead of the mandatory 55 he received. In other words, people are still going to have their lives ruined by the drug war if Paul's bill passes. 

Don't get me wrong: The bill is a very big step in the right direction. But was it accurate for Paul to say, "I have introduced a bill to repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences"? No. And while I don't think that flub is anything to get upset about, it raises some red flags. Does Paul not understand the drug war? Or is he simply not as zealous as his civil libertarian supporters want him to be? Could both be true? 

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In Bureaucratic Bungle, Background Checks Missed Sheriff's Killer, But Catch Plenty of Innocent People

Sheriff Eugene CrumSheriff Eugene CrumAs Jacob Sullum has pointed out, the deal in the Senate expanding background checks to private-party firearms sales at gun shows or initiated through online ads, is not only poorly considered and largely unenforceable, it wouldn't have prevented December's Sandy Hook massacre. But the story behind the murder of Sheriff Eugene Crum of Mingo County, West Virginia, illustrates another problem with background checks: they rely on the efforts of government bureaucrats of the usual quality and competence to maintain and share records in an accurate and timely manner. Tennis Melvin Maynard passed a background check to buy the gun he used to kill Crum, despite being legally forbidden to purchase firearms, demonstrating that the system already doesn't work as advertised. Worse, background checks subject the rights of perfectly safe people to the same flawed process.

According to the Associated Press:

Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks said a breakdown in the reporting system enabled Tennis Melvin Maynard to purchase the gun used to kill Sheriff Eugene Crum on April 3 as the lawman ate lunch in a downtown Williamson parking lot.

"It appears the local dealer did what was legally required under the law," Sparks said. "The breakdown happened somewhere else. There was a delay in the reporting of the necessary information. Really, an inexcusable delay."

While Sparks wouldn't elaborate on why Maynard was barred from owning a gun, Maynard's father has said his son had mental problems and had previously been in an institution.

Federal law prohibits the sale of firearms and ammunition to certain individuals with a history of mental illness. States are required to share the names of mentally ill people with the national background-check system, which was established under the 1993 Brady Bill.

In West Virginia, such information is supposed to be automatically reported to the FBI, which conducts background checks through its Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg. CJIS Division spokesman Steve Fischer said the division doesn't comment on specific background checks.

So, the background check failed, because a bureaucracy moved at bureaucratic speed in transferring information from Point A to Point B. Astounding, that.

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Obama Wants Federal Workers To Pay More for Pensions, Many Smokers Won't Be Charged Extra Under Obamacare, Background Check Didn't Catch Sheriff's Killer: P.M. Links

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Scott Shackford on Why the Government Won’t Get Out of Marriage

It's all flowers and cakes until the government gets involved.Credit: Ivonne Wierink, Dreamstime.com“Let’s get the government out of marriage,” libertarians often say whenever the issue of same-sex recognition is raised. Privatize it! Then people can define their own relationships with each other and churches don’t have to worry about being told by the state what they do and don’t have to recognize. It could be used to simplify an absurd tax code that at times favors and at times penalizes adults on the basis of their relationships to each other. But as Reason 24/7’s Scott Shackford notes, there are significant problems with privatizing marriage when it comes to the American legal system. Two libertarian legal scholars warn against such extreme changes.

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White House Says It Will Compromise on the Budget By Doing Things It Has Already Agreed to Do

Credit: WhiteHouse.govCredit: WhiteHouse.govFor the past few years, the White House has previewed headline details about the administration’s budget plan ahead of the release of the actual budget document. Reporters from major news outlets have been provided with key details, and, naturally, the talking points that go with them. Last year, the preview arrived on a Friday, with the full budget appearing the following Monday. This year, the previews once again began to spread on Friday. But the full budget didn’t arrive until the Wednesday.

The one-two punch makes for a powerful messaging tactic, because it allows the administration to control the conversation about the budget for several days in advance of its actual release, and the longer the gap, the longer the administration has to spin. The administration gets to highlight what it wants about the budget, and because there’s no other information available, the press dutifully repeats what the administration wants highlighted. Political opponents, meanwhile, have a somewhat tougher time responding to a budget that they haven’t actually seen.

This year, the White House preview message seems to be that the administration is making a great effort to compromise with Republicans. The early information has highlighted President Obama’s willingness to agree to change the way Social Security benefits are calculated, as various Medicare savings, the $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction the administration claims to achieve, and the tax carve outs it says it wants to close. Sure, the pitch seems to be, we’re asking for additional tax revenue, but we’re also making a good-faith effort to take on entitlements. We’re compromising. Won’t you Republicans do the same? The press has picked up on the idea. When The New York Times reported the initial details at the end of last week, it described the new budget as an effort by President Obama to “embody the final compromise offer that he made to Speaker John A. Boehner late last year.”

So is the White House really making a meaningful effort to reach a compromise with this new budget? To answer in the affirmative, you have see some value in rehashing old policy offers. As the Times notes, the White House's offer here is basically just a rehash of what it's offered before. All the entitlement changes the administration has highlighted that could be considered compromises are policy ideas we’ve seen the administration put on the table before: The White House has previously indicated its willingness to accept reforms to Social Security’s benefits calculations, to negotiate lower prices to drug companies and change the way Medicare pays for prescription medications for seniors also eligible for Medicaid. These aren’t necessarily bad policies, but they also aren’t really new offers, so the administration’s affirmation that it is still willing to accept policies it previously said it would consider does not count for all that much.

Meanwhile, the administration has in recent months pulled back on entitlement changes it once said it would consider: Multiple reports have indicated that the White House has at various times said it might agree to raising Medicare’s eligibility age; that policy not only didn’t make it into the budget, it has been yanked from consideration entirely. And in February, the administration said that Medicaid reductions it once said it would discuss were no longer on the table. Despite what the messaging of the last few days has suggested, the White House isn’t really expanding what it’s willing to do to reach a deal with Republicans; if anything it is narrowing its list of acceptable compromises. 

Anthony Fisher Talks Montreal Instagram Arrest on Huffpost Live

Reason TV producer Anthony L. Fisher appeared on Huffpost Live this afternoon to discuss Montreal college student Jennifer Pawluck's arrest after she posted a photo to Instagram depicting "a wheat paste illustration of Montreal police spokesman Ian Lafreniere with a bullet wound in his forehead." 

The conversation centered around the chilling precedent of arresting someone for merely posting a pre-existing piece of art to social media, and whether that constitutes what the Montreal police have called "harrassment" and "intimidation."

Last year, Fisher produced a documentary for Reason TV on the Montreal student protests, the Quebec government's heavy-handed reaction to them, and an unusual peacemaker called "the Anarcopanda":

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WA Attorney General Filing Suit Against Florist Who Refused to Provide Arrangements for a Gay Wedding

ReasonReasonThe Attorney General of Washington has filed suit against a florist who refused to provide an arrangement for a gay wedding, saying that doing so is in violation of the Consumer Protection Act. The florist’s attorney says that the refusal stems from an objection to gay marriage, not an objection to homosexuality. 

From The Seattle Times:

The state attorney general has filed a lawsuit in Benton County Superior Court against a Richland florist who refused to provide flowers for the wedding of longtime gay customers, citing her religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

The state’s suit against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, came just days after the Attorney General’s Office wrote to ask that Stutzman reconsider her position and agree to comply with the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

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Will Hugo Chavez's Revolution End Saturday? Is It Ending Already?

past, future?JoseMa Orsini/Fotrer.comHugo Chavez died on March 5, just a few months into his fourth term as Venezeula’s president, triggering a new round of elections scheduled for this Saturday. Chavez’s (and Cuba’s) hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, faces Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in last year’s election by an 11 point margin. That was the closest of Chavez’s four electoral victories. While Maduro remains well ahead in the polls, Capriles, perhaps unsurprisingly, says he’s going to win. At Caracas Chronicles, Emiliana Duarte, who the blog notes has taken a leave to volunteer for the Capriles campaign, explains how the political atmosphere in Venezuela is changing:

First and foremost, Chávez is no longer (physically) present. Second, the oppositions’ tone has taken a marked turn for full-frontal, unabashed attacks on the personal and administrative fronts of the incumbent. Third, and consequently, the government’s candidate is himself a target for attacks, something we haven’t seen in a while.

…The fact of the matter is, a new breeze is flowing through Venezuela with regards to outward expressions of support or dissent; expressions that might seem trivial at first glance, but that taken in context reveal great significance.

Gone are the days, for example, when the MUD [Capriles’ electoral coalition] stifled its criticism of shady CNE [national elections commission] goings-on for fear that public outcries of foul play could dissuade voters from turning out on election day…

Vanished, also, are the feeble, impersonal reproaches that have in the past characterized Capriles’ discrepancies with the status quo. Capriles has done a complete 180-in-message. One that took us from “The President did some things well, but I will make them better,” to “Nicolás is inept, corrupt, deceiving, and driving our county to ruin.” (I paraphrase)
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Television After Television

The AP runs a trend piece on those households the Nielson company calls "Zero TV" homes -- not homes where people don't watch TV, but homes where they don't watch TV on their TVs. For example, "young people who move out on their own and never set up a landline phone connection or a TV subscription" and instead "make do with a broadband Internet connection, a computer, a cellphone and possibly a TV set that is not hooked up the traditional way."

...AND REPLACING IT WITH THE INTERNET! WHOO-HOO!The Zero TV segment is increasingly important, because the number of people signing up for traditional TV service has slowed to a standstill in the U.S.

Last year, the cable, satellite and telecoms providers added just 46,000 video customers collectively, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That is tiny when compared to the 974,000 new households created last year. While it's still 100.4 million homes, or 84.7 percent of all households, it's down from the peak of 87.3 percent in early 2010.

Nielsen's study suggests that this new group may have left traditional TV for good. While three-quarters actually have a physical TV set, only 18 percent are interested in hooking it up through a traditional pay TV subscription.

A decline from 87.3 to 84.7 isn't so severe, but it's easy to imagine the Zero TV group growing much larger—and disrupting broadcasters' business models as it expands. Even people who do have old-fashioned antennas or cable subscriptions still might find themselves using them less and less. I know I do most of my viewing these days on my laptop. The TV set is mostly a machine for watching live programs and for DVRing my daughter's shows.

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A. Barton Hinkle on Cognitive Dissonance on Gun Rights

Credit: Barack Obama / FlickrCredit: Barack Obama / FlickrIn political debates, most of us think we first study the issues and then reach the best conclusions based on arguments and evidence. Unfortunately, writes A. Barton Hinkle, research suggests people often do precisely the opposite. To a much greater degree than we would like to think, we choose up sides first. Then we align our conclusions with what our side thinks about a particular issue. Then we adopt the arguments that best support the conclusions our side favors — even if we dispute those same arguments in other cases. If you’d like an example, Hinkle says, take the current debate about guns.

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What the Hell Do Background Checks Have to Do With Sandy Hook?

Office of Joe ManchinOffice of Joe ManchinHere is how Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) explains the motivation for the background check legislation that he and Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) unveiled today:

Nobody here in this great Capitol of ours with a good conscience could sit by and not try to prevent a day like that from happening again. I think that's what we're doing.

By "a day like that," of course, Manchin means December 14, when Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The Manchin-Toomey bill would require background checks for people who buy firearms from private sellers (i.e., sellers who are not federally licensed dealers) at gun shows or anywhere else if the transaction is initiated online. Since Manchin describes that requirement as a response to the Sandy Hook massacre, you might reasonably surmise that Lanza bought the rifle he used in the attack from a private seller at a gun show or after seeing it advertised online. But you would be wrong, since the rifle belonged to Lanza's mother, who purchased it legally from a federally licensed gun dealer after passing a background check. And if Lanza had tried to buy a gun on his own, it looks like he also would have passed a background check, since it seems he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record, which is typically the case for mass shooters.

Hence it is hard to see a logical connection between the Newtown murders and the proposal offered by Manchin and Toomey. But that does not matter, because it makes them feel as if they are doing something to prevent such crimes. And isn't that what laws are for, to make legislators feel better? President Obama certainly seems to think so. Notice that Manchin implicitly endorses Obama's view that anyone who fails to support new gun controls does not have "a good conscience."

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Test-Tube Baby Pioneer Robert Edwards Dead at Age 87

British researcher Robert Edwards and his collaborator Patrick Steptoe developed in vitro fertilization which brought the first "test-tube baby," Louise Joy Brown, into the world back in 1978. Since then some 5 milion babies have been born by means of the IVF techniques he pioneered. As I explained in my column, "From Yuck to Yippee" on the occasion of Edwards being finally awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010:

The public (and makers of public policy) initially reacted to Edwards’ research with moral horror. However, once he and Steptoe had succeeded in producing a healthy baby girl, revulsion swiftly turned into wide approval and ethical acceptance.

In 2001, when Roberts was given the prestigious Lasker Award for medical research, biochemist Joseph Goldstein quipped, "We know that IVF was a great leap because Edwards and Steptoe were immediately attacked by an unlikely trinity—the press, the pope, and prominent Nobel laureates." Edwards’ scientific career traces out the ethical arc that characterizes reaction to much technological progress during the last century—initial fear and loathing followed by a warm embrace. Yuck followed quickly by yippee.

Edwards was a warm, wonderful and witty man. I had the privilege of spending time with him at a conference put on by one America's leading IVF clinics, Genetics and IVF Institute in Fairfax, Va. When I introduced Edwards to my wife, she quipped, "I hear that you're the wizard." Edwards charmed back, "Well, I hope that I am a good wizard." As indeed he was.

Ms. Brown, the first beneficiary of Edwards' research, generously observed to the BBC:

"His work, along with Patrick Steptoe, has brought happiness and joy to millions of people all over the world by enabling them to have children.

"I am glad that he lived long enough to be recognised with a Nobel prize for his work, and his legacy will live on with all the IVF work being carried out throughout the world."

Let us mourn the death of a great and compassionate man.

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Booze Laws Fuel Escalating Fake ID Arms Race

McLovinSuperbadThe other day, as noted at Reason 24/7, the BBC ran a suitably amused story about the vast fake identification industry that has resulted from America's weird and restrictive alcohol laws. According to the Beeb, New York is implementing some new generation of "unforgeable" drivers license technology that, officials claim, will finally put an end to this horrible business of 18-year-olds buying beer. Since most people around the world don't consider alcohol consumption by 18-year-olds to be a bad thing at all, the restrictive booze laws, and the ensuing identification technology arms race, are good spectator sport for the BBC's audience.

From the BBC:

New York state has unveiled new driving licences engraved with a "ghost image" that floats in a transparent window and, officials proclaim, is virtually impossible to tamper with or forge.

Similar cards have been issued in Virginia since 2009, and if they prove a success the other 48 states could follow suit. Given that it is virtually impossible to purchase alcohol in the US without being asked for ID, this would make it much harder to convince bar staff or grocery store staff that an under-age purchaser is over 21.

But the sheer prevalence of bogus identity cards like that carried by Madison suggests that efforts to circumvent the authorities' latest tactics are inevitable.

All the evidence suggests that acquiring phony identification is commonplace among huge swaths of otherwise law-abiding young American adults - especially those who have left home for the first time to study at university.

A 2007 University of Missouri study of Midwestern undergraduates found that some 32% of those surveyed owned a fake ID by the end of their second year.

There are reasons other than buying booze that fuel a market for fake ID, of course. Identity theft drives some small demand for documents, the restrictive immigration laws of recent years have also created a market for fake ID, and some people have always wanted the ability to duck into a new life. ID security advocates always raise terrorism as an issue, too, and there's likely some market for fake identification among the sort of terrorists who don't rely entirely on explosive underwear. But the vast industry producing fake drivers licenses was created almost entirely to satisfy the desire for young American adults to be able to purchase booze in bars and liquor stores.

MORE »

How the Anti-Bully Movement is Hurting Kids: An Interview with Bully Nation's Susan Porter

"How the Anti-Bully Movement is Hurting Kids: An Interview with Bully Nation's Susan Porter" 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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Sen. Rand Paul on the Republican Party and African American Voters

At a major speech delivered today at Howard University in Washington, DC, Sen. Rand Paul lays out why the Republican has always been the party of civil rights and explains what today’s GOP can do to win back the African American vote:

How did the party that elected the first black U.S. Senator, the party that elected the first 20 African American Congressmen become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote?

How did the Republican Party, the party of the great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race?

From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?

To understand how Republicans lost the African American vote, we must first understand how we won the African American vote.

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Background Check Compromise Would Close Nonexistent Online Gun Sale Loophole

Impact GunsImpact GunsToday Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) are announcing a deal on background checks for gun buyers that is expected to be incorporated into the main gun control bill under consideration by the Senate. According to Reuters, "the measure would expand criminal background checks for prospective gun buyers to include sales made at gun shows and online."

That gloss is misleading on two counts. The current background check requirement applies to sales by federally licensed gun dealers, no matter where they occur. Whether the sale is initiated in a store, online, or at a gun show, a licensed dealer has to do a background check. Conversely, someone who is not a licensed dealer does not have to do a background check, whether the sale is initiated at a gun show, online, or in his kitchen. But contrary to what anti-gun commentators such as New York Times columnist Mark Bittman seem to think, you cannot buy a gun online in the same way you can buy a book or a laptop computer. Direct mail-order sales of guns have been prohibited under federal law since 1968. Iif you find a gun online that you want to buy, you still have to complete the sale in person through a licensed dealer, who still has to conduct a background check. The only legal way around that requirement is to arrange a meeting with a private seller who advertises a gun online and lives in the same state as you. As the San Francisco Chronicle puts it, "Online sales anger gun control advocates because shoppers can use them to exploit a long-standing loophole in federal law that allows unlicensed private gun sellers to skip background checks on prospective buyers in their home state." But this is no different in principle from arranging an in-person private sale after seeing a classified ad for a gun in a newspaper. So far I have not seen any proposals to close the "classified ad loophole."

Manchin and Toomey propose requiring private sellers to conduct background checks (which requires the help of a licensed dealer) to sell firearms at gun shows or via online ads. Several states already require background checks for all sales at gun shows, and that rule is relatively easy to enforce: The shows are advertised, and they include licensed dealers who can arrange background checks for private sellers. But a rule requiring background checks for private sales initiated online will be a lot harder to enforce. These transactions are indistinguishable from other private sales, and just as inconspicuous, except that the buyers are attracted by online ads. Would the law require that any gun advertised online can never be sold without a background check? If not, how could the government prove that any particular private, in-person sale resulted from an online ad rather than a print ad, a flyer, or word of mouth? Such a rule would create hassles and legal uncertainty for people trying to sell their guns, but it is unlikely to be much of a hindrance to criminals, who for the most part already obtain their weapons from people who do not worry about complying with requirements imposed by Congress.  

Update: USA Today reports that the legislation backed by Manchin and Toomey "would not require private citizens to keep records of gun sales" and  "would specifically ban 'the federal government from creating a national firearms registry.'"

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Hakkens Back in US Custody; Children Returned to Grandparents

Joshua and Sharyn HakkenHillsborough County Sheriff's OfficeJoshua and Sharyn Hakken, who kidnapped their own two sons and then fled to Cuba, have been returned to the United States. The parents are now imprisoned while the children are back in the custody of the maternal grandparents. From the Associated Press:

Joshua Michael Hakken and his wife, Sharyn, were being held Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Jail on charges of kidnapping, child neglect, and interference with custody, according to the jail's website. Joshua Hakken also was charged with false imprisonment. His bond was set at $154,000. No bond information was listed for Sharyn Hakken.

Both are expected to make their first appearance Thursday in Hillsborough County Court, the sheriff's office said in a statement. It was not immediately known if either of the Hakkens has an attorney. The couple will not face federal charges, said David Couvertier, a spokesman for the FBI in Tampa.

The grandparents made a brief statement and are planning to make a longer public statement Thursday that might explain a little bit more about what is going on. Today’s Associated Press story doesn’t contain any of the “anti-government” claims about the couple that had been in previous reports. All that’s left is that the parents lost permanent custody of the children over a drug possession arrest in Louisiana (though it’s notable that the AP declines to specify that the drug was marijuana).

Read Mike Riggs’ previous reporting of the Hakken family’s flight from the law here.  

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Obama to Propose More Than Half a Trillion Dollars in New Taxes Over Ten Years

no taxes applyReason 24/7The president’s proposed 2014 budget might be DOA, but not necessarily the tax hikes in it.

From Reuters:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday will issue a greatest hits list of ideas to raise $580 billion in new tax revenues over a decade, including a minimum tax on the wealthy and putting an end to some corporate tax breaks, administration officials said.

The president's 2014 budget proposal, expected to be released in full later on Wednesday, has no chance of moving forward in the divided U.S. Congress. But as lawmakers consider a revamp of the tax code and face a deadline on the government's debt limit this summer, some Obama measures could play a role.

Of course the federal government’s got a spending problem, not a revenue problem. And while the president focuses on more revenue, Republicans aren’t focusing on cutting spending. And as for sequestration, tax hikes this year are already twice as big as the reduction in the growth of spending.

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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Watch Rand Paul's Howard University Speech at C-SPAN.org

Beginning any minute Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) will be delivering a speech at the historically black Howard University, on the subject of how Paul's libertarian version of conservatism might speak to the African-American community. You can watch the proceedings live on your computer at C-SPAN.org, and let the comments fly below.

Read pre-coverage (and some prodding on the drug war) from Reason's Mike Riggs, who will be in attendance and Tweeting, then whet your appetite with a piece from National Public Radio headlined "Will the Future GOP Be More Libertarian?"

Reason on Rand Paul here.

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Shikha Dalmia on Why the GOP Should Become the Party of Immigration

Credit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAImmigration restrictionists are right when they argue that proposed “comprehensive” reform won’t do the GOP much good with Hispanics. But that isn’t because, as the restrictionists believe, Latinos are welfare-grubbing, government-loving Democrats who will never vote for the party that denies them free stuff. It’s more because, writes Shikha Dalmia, when it comes to immigration, Republicans don’t show them the nice side of limited government.

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Should You Be Busted For Blasting a Bear in Your Backyard? Asks J.D. Tuccille on The Sportsman Channel

Black bearRyan E. PoplinI'll appear (well, my voice will, by phone) on NRANews Cam & Co. on The Sportsman Channel at 5:15 ET today to discuss the case of Richard Ahlstrand, who faces a grab-bag of criminal charges after shooting a bear in his Auburn, Massachusetts, backyard. The bear was apparently attracted by a drum of birdseed, so he's been charged with "baiting" the creature. Ahlstrand's Firearms Identification Card had expired, so that paperwork violation has landed him two gun charges. And the local police chief thinks that bears are cute, cuddly, and not dangerous at all, so shooting the seven-foot tall, 300-400 pound creature has become a separate charge.

The conversation should be interesting.

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Al Qaeda in Iraq Merges With Jihadist Rebels in Syria Ahead of G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting

Credit: Jabhat al-Nusra/wikicommonsCredit: Jabhat al-Nusra/wikicommonsBritish Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that Syria will be on the top of the agenda during talks with G8 foreign ministers that begin today.

Two G8 countries, France and the U.K., have both previously called for the European Union’s arms embargo on Syria to be lifted, and the French foreign minister has said that the French and British could arm Syrian rebels despite the embargo. Russia, another G8 member, has warned against arming Syrian rebels.

Unfortunately for the British and the French recent news from Syria will undoubtedly raise concerns over who will end up with the weapons supplied to the Syrian rebels.

Jabhat Al Nusra, a jihadist group that has been fighting Assad’s regime and has been labeled as a terrorist organization by the American government, recently merged with Al Qaeda’s wing in Iraq to form The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

The possible use of chemical weapons in Syria last month intensified calls for intervention in Syria. While no one doubts that the Assad regime is committing horrific crimes against innocent Syrians it is important to be wary about the possibility of weapons finding their way to a newly formed jihadist group that will only contribute to destabilizing Syria once Assad is gone.

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Milton Friedman on How Francois Mitterrand (and Failed Lefty Economics) Helped Re-elect Margaret Thatcher

I have read so much drivel from this exact mindset over the past couple of days. Have you read that Russell Brand piece, for instance. Seriously, have you? People are like recommending it to me on Twitter, in all seriousness, as if it is a net contribution to the human condition. I have a four-year-old daughter who exhibits more critical thinking than Russell Brand, and is better with crayons, too. |||Yesterday I wrote a column about how Margaret Thatcher liberated Western Europe from the ills of Francois Mitterrand-style nationalization of industry, in part by "creating a world in which the French Socialist’s objections [to privatization] could be overcome."

Proving that people born on July 31 think alike, the Hoover Institution has reprinted a July 1983 Newsweek column from Milton Friedman making largely the same point, one that also has resonance to the American experience with Ronald Reagan. Excerpt:

France was suffering from the same ills when Mitterrand was elected president as Britain when Mrs. Thatcher became prime minister and the United States when Ronald Reagan became president—high and rising inflation, high unemployment and slow economic growth. Mitterrand's attack on those ills was precisely the reverse of Mrs. Thatcher's. On coming into office, Thatcher reduced taxes; Mitterrand increased them. Thatcher reduced controls over prices and wages; Mitterrand expanded them. Thatcher eliminated foreign-exchange controls; Mitterrand made them tighter. Thatcher moved to denationalize enterprises and reduce regulation, Mitterrand nationalized private banks and other enterprises and increased government intervention into the remaining private enterprise. Thatcher tried to hold down government spending, albeit with little success; Mitterrand went on a spending binge.

Had the Mitterrand policies succeeded, even if for only a year or so, Thatcher's opposition in Britain would have been enormously strengthened. The Labor Party would have had a real alternative to offer—one that was consistent with its ideological propensities and that had worked on the other side of the Channel. The cry that Thatcher's "monetarism" was a tragic failure could not have been dismissed as mere campaign rhetoric.

Instead, the Mitterrand policy was a clear failure. Inflation remained high. Unemployment went up. The government's budget deficit soared. So did the deficit in the balance of payments. The franc had to be devalued three times in the past two years, despite massive government borrowing in a vain attempt to prop the franc up. Worst of all for Thatcher's opposition, Mitterrand was forced to reverse course. The U-turn occurred across the Channel as the French government was driven to adopt the much-derided Thatcher policies.

Thatcher's opposition was left intellectually bankrupt. It had no credible alternative policy to offer. The claim that she was an irresponsible demagogue imposing unnecessary costs on the British people rang hollow. Her persistence in the main lines of her policy was perceived by the voters as a realistic recognition that there was no easy cure for ills that had accumulated during decades.

Reason on Thatcher here; on Milton Friedman here.

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A.M. Links: Biden Calls GOP Gun Control Filibuster Threats “Embarrassing,” Chavez’s Office to Be a Museum, EPA Admits it Released Personal Info on Farmers

Credit: SS&SS / Foter.com / CC BY-NCCredit: SS&SS / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

  • Vice President Joe Biden has called Republican threats to filibuster gun control legislation “embarrassing.” Yesterday, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that the first procedural vote on the gun control bill in the Senate will take place tomorrow. 
  • The EPA has admitted that it released personal information on potentially thousands of farmers.
  • Al Qaeda's branch in Iraq and a jihadist rebel group in Syria have joined forces. The new group is called The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. 
  • New York City will pay more than $365,000 to those who had their property damaged when the NYPD evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park in November 2011.
  • A mother in Vancouver is filing a complaint with Vancouver Police after her 17-year-old daughter had her arm broken while being arrested at a concert. 

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What to Expect in Obama's 2014 Budget: Spending and Disappointment

The president's budget has already set a record - for being late. It was due a couple of months ago. But, you know, there's that whole life-work balance thing. And lord knows, what with the sequester and all that, the White House is so broke it can't even host tours, much less keep a full staff on hand to do its core functions.

The whole plan should be out in a couple of hours, but in the meantime, here's CNN's summary:

The 2014 budget has some big top line numbers:

  • $3.77 trillion in spending
  • $744 billion deficit
  • $580 billion in net revenue from higher taxes on wealthy income earners
  • $50 billion in road repair and mass transit spending
  • $210 billion in savings from lower interest payments
  • $400 billion in health care savings, primarily through higher costs imposed on doctors, hospitals and drug companies
  • $200 billion in new discretionary spending cuts divided equally between defense and non-defense programs.

Read more here.

courtesy Mercatus Centercourtesy Mercatus Center

CBS News and other sources are reporting expected widespread annoyance at the budget plan. USA Today headlines an early morning story, "On left and right, Obama's budget anticipated as a dud."

We're on track to spend about $3.6 trillion this year. As a reminder, the House budget, prepared by the GOP majority, calls for spending $3.5 trillion in fiscal 2014 (which starts on October 1 of this year). The Senate budget, prepared by the Democratic majority, calls for spending $3.7 trillion (that's the first Senate budget proposal in four years). Both of those plans estimate $3 trillion in taxes and both grow spending substantially over the next decade, with the Reps ending up at annual spending of $5 trillion in 2023 and the Dems want to be pushing out $5.7 trillion annually by then.

In its latest projection of anticipated spending based on current law, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) anticipates spending of $3.6 trillion in 2014 (that figure assumes sequestration cuts hold firm on spending patterns). So Obama is coming in well north of CBO and his own party in the Senate.

All of this comes on top of a 21st-century spending spree that would have left even Mary Todd Lincoln speechless.

More details as they become available.

Jacob Sullum on Obama's Emotional Case for Gun Control

White HouseWhite HouseAs members of Congress consider President Obama's gun control proposals, he explained on Monday, they have to make a simple choice: "What's more important to you—our children, or an A grade from the gun lobby?" Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says this crass attempt at moral intimidation, contrasting Obama's benevolent motives with his opponents' child-endangering partisanship, is the essence of his case for new gun restrictions, which relies on emotional manipulation rather than logical argument.

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Brickbat: Acting Childish

Bus cameraBus cameraPort St. Lucie, Florida, police have charged Daneta McPherson with harrassing a five-year-old special needs student. Video captured McPherson, a school bus aide with the St. Lucie County school system, screaming at the boy, grabbing him, and forcing him into a seat, causing his head to slam into a bus window. In fact, police say five separate incidents were captured on video.

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Rand Paul Taking Libertarians Mainstream Possible Because Ron Paul’s Gone, Politico Misguidedly Claims

future imperfectGage Skidmore/FlickrPolitico ran a piece yesterday that argued that libertarians were ascendant in the Republican Party because of the receding importance of social issues and the growing importance of fiscal ones in the eyes of the electorate, and that libertarian Republicans had a chance to “rebrand their governing philosophy” with Ron Paul's "ride into the sunset". Yet even the article itself seems to present evidence to the contrary:

Perhaps the biggest opening for libertarians comes in foreign policy, where the traditionally muscular GOP doctrine is undergoing a sea change. Fritz Wenzel, who has polled for both Pauls, said the electorate has little appetite for international adventurism in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There will not ever be a single Republican Party ideology,” he said. “That said, there’s no question that the libertarian spirit of the Republican Party is growing in influence. That’s because [voters] feel there is a greater threat to freedom – to their individual freedoms and the freedoms of future generations.”

“They’re coming back to core values, and a lot of these core values are reflective of what has come in the modern era to be libertarian values – an emphasis on freedom, security and privacy,” he added.

This crew believes demographics will work to their advantage. They see a generation coming of age that was too young to fully experience the Sept. 11 attacks yet saw the effects of a major recession and two wars.

The libertarian message of self-reliance resonates with younger voters,” said another Republican strategist who has worked with the libertarian forces. “Ron Paul tapped into that.”

Ron Paul, of course, was for years not only the most prominent, but one of an exceedingly few number of anti-war voices on the right. He was one of only six Republicans in the House to vote against the Iraq War; by 2006 nearly two-thirds of Americans opposed the war. Brian Doherty has written about the next generation of Ron Paul-inspired Republicans in Congress.

Ron Paul’s departure from Congress arguably leaves more air in the room for other libertarian candidates to galvanize voters, but the post-Ron Paul evolution of libertarian Republicans is hardly a “rebranding” away from the messages Ron Paul espoused but a wholesale adoption of them. As Doherty chronicled in his book Ron Paul’s rEVOLution, Paul hasn’t changed his tune since first entering politics in the 70s. Libertarian ideas have become mainstream in the GOP partially/largely because of the success of Paul’s last two presidential campaigns in bringing those ideas into the mainstream. There wouldn’t be a Rand Paul to bring libertarians into the mainstream if there wasn’t a Ron Paul to build momentum for ideas that are increasingly relevant to the political and economic situation we find ourselves in.

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Feds Spent Millions of Dollars to Find Data That Was Publicly Available and Free

ReasonReasonIt turns out that the government department tasked with promoting economic growth and job creation has been charging government agencies millions of dollars for data that could have been found on Google. According to the Government Accountability Office, “The source that most often had the reports GAO was searching for was another website located at http://www.Google.com.”  

From The Washington Times:

Congress’s top auditor said Tuesday that the Commerce Department has been charging other government agencies millions of dollars for reports that the other agencies could just as easily have gotten online, for free.

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.