Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 April 22-31

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Anchorage to Consider Weakening the City's Taxi Cartel

Assembly members in Anchorage, Alaska are considering legislation that would open the city’s taxi market up to more competition by adding 10 permits a year for the next 10 years. Those permits now cost $150,000 on the secondary market—a steep barrier to entry that current permit holders enjoy.

Residents and policymakers say it's difficult to catch a cab in neighborhoods like Eagle River and Chugiak and that wheelchair-accessible cabs are too scarce. Moreover, there aren't enough cabs to go at closing time, tempting downtown bargoers to drive drunk.

Via the Anchorage Daily News:

If passed, the ordinance could result in the taxi permit owners filing a lawsuit against the city for something close to $20 million for that loss in value, said Jim Brennan, a lawyer and spokesman for the Anchorage Taxicab Permit Owners Association.

But Debbie Ossiander, a former Assembly member who stayed on the project after her term expired, said her interest in making the changes lies with customers of taxicabs, not with the permit owners.

"The long-range goal is to open up the market. I really don't see that we're served by controlling those and limiting those," Ossiander said. "It seems to me, particularly because there is a demand in specific markets, the best way to address that is to allow more."

Opponents of Ossiander's plan have called the rewrite yet another move to "deregulate" the taxi industry. In 2008, Anchorage voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have made permits cheaper and easier to get, with roughly 65 percent voting against the proposal.

It took a ruling from the Alaska Supreme Court to get that initiative on the ballot. Reason covered that story in 2007:

Ryan Kennedy was an undergraduate at the University of Alaska-Anchorage when he learned about the city's cab cartel. His microeconomics professor had intended it to be a simple lesson in fettered markets. Kennedy decided to try to unfetter them. He roped his professor, a few fellow students, and some members of the local Libertarian Party into a coalition he calls Anchorage Citizens for Taxi Reform. The group says any qualified person should be able to get a permit for the $875 application fee. It has collected thousands of signatures to force a vote on the issue.

Current permit owners, many of whom live out of state and lease their rights to cab operators, are not pleased. They say their livelihoods depend on keeping competition to a minimum, and they argue that allowing freer entry would constitute a "taking" because the value of their permits would plummet. "We paid top dollar," one complained to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. For his trouble, Kennedy says he has had his tires slashed and his car windows smashed and been shadowed by "some guy dressed like something out of The Sopranos."

The city initially refused to put the taxi initiative on the ballot, convinced it would have to compensate the permit owners for whatever hit they took when competition increased. Kennedy and his pro bono legal team sued. The state Superior Court bought the permit owners' takings argument, but the Alaska Supreme Court rejected it on appeal.

According to the Anchorage Press, the city has only added 15 permits since 1994, when Assembly members last changed the city's taxi regulations.

Peter Suderman on Whether the GOP Is Serious About Limiting Government

Credit: FreePressPics / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: FreePressPics / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAAfter the 1994 mid-term elections, Republicans took over the House of Representatives for the first time in four decades. In the wake of President Bill Clinton’s failed attempt to overhaul the nation’s health care system, they vowed to cut government down to size. But as Peter Suderman observes, any foray into small-government seriousness was temporary at best. These days the budget situation is messier than ever, so it’s no surprise to hear Republicans once again talking about the need to cut spending and reform entitlements. Are they serious this time?

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Sheldon Richman on Liberty, Security, and Terrorism

Credit: FBICredit: FBI“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

It would be nice if Benjamin Franklin’s famous aphorism were as widely believed as it is quoted, writes Sheldon Richman. But the increased calls for government surveillance after the Boston Marathon attacks suggests we should not count on it. As Richman notes, we must be ever vigilant against the predictable efforts of politicians to exploit the attack in order to aggrandize their own power.

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Sports Cronyism: The NFL and Other Pro Leagues are Tax Exempt

Yesterday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced legislation to kill off a particularly ridiculous bit of corporate welfare that allows professional sports leagues to dodge millions in taxes. The National Football League, National Hockey League, Pro Golfers Association, and the Ladies Professional Golf Association all claim tax exemptions by operating as non-profits.

From ThinkProgress:

Since 1966, the tax code has allowed leagues to classify as 501(c)(6) charitable organizations—a classification used by trade and industry organizations—under the assumption that the leagues were promoting the general value of their sports. But Coburn’s amendment asserts that the leagues … are businesses interested solely in the promotion of their business; that is, the NFL isn’t so much concerned about promoting the general sport of football as it is concerned with promoting NFL football, because it is the NFL brand and the NFL teams and logos and products that make it a profitable business. The NFL, for instance, didn’t seem interested in promoting the general spread of football when a competitor league, the United States Football League, was formed in 1983.

In his 2012 “Wastebook,” Coburn estimates that the NFL and NHL saved $91 million by avoiding taxes on dues paid by teams to the leagues in 2010.

From Nonprofit Quarterly:

As a tax-exempt entity, [the NFL] doesn’t pay taxes on the income that it earns. The NFL has managed to keep its income earnings a little on a low side by paying its top executives corporate-level salaries—eight NFL execs took home compensation of $51.5 million in 2010. The teams get to write off their NFL membership dues, roughly $6 million per team, for the privilege of belonging to this unusual trade association, and that money is put into a stadium fund that provides interest-free loans to teams so long as they get taxpayer financing on stadium construction and improvement costs.

The Properly Reducing Overexemptions for Sports Act (or Pro Sports Act), would put an end to the shenanigans.

Earlier this week, Reason contributor S.M. Oliva called for putting an end to the NFL draft. Steve Chapman, on the other hand, sees the end of the NFL entirely.

Adam Thierer on Evgeny Morozov

Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here effectively pricks the bubble of irrational exuberance that has always accompanied new digital technologies, Adam Thierer reports. But Morozov refuses to quit while he’s ahead. Instead, he unsuccessfully labors to convince us that the very concept of “the Internet” holds no inherent meaning and that we have all been suffering from a sort of mass delusion about its existence. Worse yet, he offers only a limited and sometimes contradictory roadmap for building a better world and integrating new information technologies into it.

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Baylen Linnekin on the Government’s Looming Crackdown on Raw Milk Cheese

Credit: Zeetz Jones / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDCredit: Zeetz Jones / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDEarlier this month reports emerged that the FDA had detained a U.S.-bound shipment of mimolette, a French cheese. Mimolette, which has been imported into the U.S. for decades, is beloved and is unusual because its rind contains microscopic cheese mites. The FDA also recently held up a shipment of another such French cheese, Salers. As Baylen Linnekin explains, this is more than just a small regulatory intervention against foods you’ve never heard of. The agency crackdown is part of a larger and very troubling FDA attack on artisanal cheeses—especially those made with raw milk.

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Scott Shackford on The Tony Stiles Show Saturday Morning, 9 A.M. EST, Talking CISPA, Boston, What Have You

Saturday morning is a perfectly lovely time to recap this past week in news, so check me out on The Tony Stiles Show, airing on The Mighty 1290 in lovely Omaha, Neb., doing just that at 9 a.m. EST (8 a.m. Central). You can listen online here and check out Tony’s show site here.

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Psychedelic Science: Still Hassled by the Man

Wired reports from the meeting last weekend of various scientists and researchers interested in the possibilities of illegal psychedelic drugs.

Truckers Getting LSD for the RoadPhoto credit: The Rocketeer / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

After a predictable swipe at Timothy Leary (who to my mind deserves praise for taking, mostly, the non-Mandarin road toward the public discussion of these drugs' possibilities and not keeping them the secret plaything of an elite, but who the serious science folk see as ruining it for the rest of them by taking things too far too fast and too public in the 60s years leading up to the 1966 national banning of LSD), the story notes that psychedelic research remains a fringe thing, but not one that's going away.

Excerpts:

From its inception in 2010, the Psychedelic Science meeting has brought together an interesting mix of people. A record 1,800 of them attended this year.  Brad Burge, the communication director for MAPS [Multidiscipinary Association for Psychedelic Studies]....acknowledges there’s a tricky balancing act involved in hosting a forum for scientists who want their work to be taken seriously without excluding those who use psychedelic drugs recreationally. Even so, “we’re trying to get around the idea that there has to be a separation,” he said.

After all, this latter group helps fund much of the research through their donations to MAPS and other private organizations like the Heffter Research Institute and Beckley Foundation. Government funders like the National Institutes of Health are still skittish about psychedelic research.

The article discusses various recent attempts to link ayahuasca and mushroom use to specific brain activities as measured by fMRIs and the like and notes the seem to dampen something brain scientists call the "default mode network" in ways that may make them relevant to curbing depression. It also notes a survey of "1,600 recreational psilocybin [users that] found that 40 percent ranked the experience in their top five most personally meaningful."

As one scientist quoted in the story says, “The illegality of these drugs has profoundly distorted research and continues to do so....It’s one of the greatest scandals in modern research.”

I review a bio of Leary; Reason interviews him in the swingin' 70s.

A list of recent clinical trials of psychedelics and related illegal drugs:

♦ Ayahuasca Depression: Brazil (upcoming)

  • Psilocybin Depression: UK (pending),Smoking cessation: US (ongoing)
  • MDMA PTSD: Switzerland (completed), Spain (completed), Israel (ongoing), US (ongoing), Canada (upcoming)
  • LSD End of life anxiety: Switzerland (completed)
  • Ibogaine Addiction: Mexico, New Zealand (ongoing)
  • Source: MAPS/Psychedelic Science conference
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Baby Formula Ranks as Top Smuggling Demand in Hong Kong

Remember that scandal years ago when hundreds of thousands of babies got sick from Chinese-made formula and six died? The people of China and Hong Kong sure do. It’s creating a black market for imported baby formula big enough to displace the typical drug trade.

Business Web site Quartz reports:

In almost two months, authorities have arrested more people for smuggling milk powder than for trafficking drugs in all of last year. Officials seized 8,841 kilograms of formula and arrested 879 people between March 1, when Hong Kong started limiting outbound travelers to two cans of formula each, and April 23. Almost half of that came from a syndicate that was hoarding about HK$1.1 million ($141,700) worth of milk powder.

By comparison, in 2012, Hong Kong arrested only 430 people for smuggling “dangerous drugs” worth HK$1 million, according to government data. (The most trafficked drugs in Hong Kong are ketamine, heroine, and cocaine.) However, the jump in milk formula smuggling also coincides with a fall in the amount of drugs being seized, presumably because there is less flowing through Hong Kong. The former British colony has been making a concerted effort to crack down on the narcotics trade. In 2011, Hong Kong was taken off the US list (paywall) of major drug transit centers.

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Raising the Smoking Age Won't Necessarily Raise the Age at Which People Start Smoking

CigaretteAssef ElweterWhen New York City officials floated their we-know-what's-good-for-you proposal to hike the age at which people can legally purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21, their assumption was that people would then actually start smoking at a later age than they do now. But the evidence from drinking age laws doesn't support this assumption. In fact, Americans are now starting to drink at a younger age than they were before the federal government mandated everybody's 21st birthday as the legal gateway to bust-free booze consumption.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "In 2003, the average age of first use of alcohol was about 14, compared to about 17 1/2 in 1965." The age is up by a few months (PDF) from its status twenty years ago, but it's down by over three years from where it was before controlling access to alcohol became such a big policy priority.

Back in the 1960s, states set their own drinking ages without federal strong-arming, and the result was a range from 18 to 21, enforced with varying degrees of severity or disinterest, depending on local conditions. Ages in many states dipped during the 1970s, when it became clear that politicians considered teenagers trustworthy enough to handle M-16s. But the National Minimum Drinking Age Act ended the fun in 1984, denying a percentage of highway funds to states that refused to hike their drinking ages to a uniform 21.

Enforcement was stepped up, too, from the "if you can reach the bar" standard that I remember prevailing in New York around 1980, to the ultraviolet lights and magnetic scanners intended to detect fake IDs that Boston watering holes were strongly encouraged to install in the 1990s. Since then, we've seen a technological arms race between booze-law enforcers and fake ID vendors that has become fodder for both comic movies and news stories.

And, as mentioned, despite alcohol restrictions becoming a national priority, the average age at which people have their first drink has dropped by over three years.

Is there any good reason to expect a different result from hiking the legal age to buy cigarettes?

Don't miss Reason TV's video documenting young New Yorkers' reactions to the smoking age proposal:

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CO Legislators Look to Repeal Marijuana Legalization, Shadow Economy Helping Keep the US Afloat, ICE Deports American Citizens: P.M. Links

Credit: smokershighlife / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: smokershighlife / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

  • Activists warn that legislators are putting together a measure that would repeal marijuana legalization in Colorado. 
  • According to analysts the $2 trillion shadow economy may be keeping the unsteady ship that is the American economy afloat.
  • Americans have been deported from the U.S. thanks to the incompetence so many of us have come to expect from federal agencies.
  • Memories of the fiasco in Iraq are hanging over the debate on what the American response to the possible use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces should be.
  • The pledge of allegiance could become mandatory in Texas charter schools if a state representative gets her way.
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) says Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev stopped cooperating with investigators after a federal magistrate judge read him his Miranda rights. 

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Are Big City Newspapers Inevitably Liberal Due to Market Forces?

No more spin!, says, uh, The Daily Kos. ||| No seriously, this ad, or one like it, reportedly ran in the L.A. Times itself.No seriously, this ad, or one like it, reportedly ran in the L.A. Times itself.Garance Franke-Ruta, a smart senior editor for The Atlantic, has an interesting piece about the recent news that Koch Industries is sniffing around the upcoming sale of the Tribune Company's eight newspapers. (David Koch, Charles's brother and frequent partner in business, politics, and philanthropy, is a trustee of the Reason Foundation, which publishes this website.)

Instead of focusing on the Kochs, who have become the left's favorite bogeymen-billionaires, Franke-Ruta concentrates on the underlying economics and politics of big-city newspapers:

There are several reasons regional newspapers are an awkward fit for anyone looking to counter-program what they see as liberal bias in the news media.

The main reason is that all major U.S. newspapers are based in cities. Cities in America are in the main run by Democrats, because they are populated, by and large, with Democrats, and very often also surrounded by Democratic suburbs. And because cities are run by Democrats, and populated by not only by Democrats but, very often, by liberal, minority, and immigrant Democrats, they tend to have laws on the books that at least formally signal a desire to serve the interests of these voting groups -- their residents, let's call them.

Newspapers, which are businesses, are subject to the employment and other laws of the cities in which they are based. Because they are based in cities, and because cities are often at the forefront of progressive legislating, newspapers tend to work under employment laws and answer to regional communities that have distinctive views about what a just society looks like. Conservatives are right to call these views liberal, but it's just as important to recognize them as the product of representative democracy within defined urban spaces....Newspapers, like other businesses, have to follow the local laws -- such as those protecting out gay employees -- or risk getting sued. And, historically, they had to appeal to urban or urbanizing local residents if they wanted any subscribers.

It's a nifty theory, with the added benefit of containing plausible-sounding market elements. But is it true?

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Vice Magazine Co-Founder No Longer Sure We Should Legalize Marijuana

TwitterTwitter"I am obviously still incredibly high," Gavin McInnes writes toward the end of his latest piece for Taki's Magazine. "I’m so high, in fact, that I no longer see legalization of marijuana as such a no brainer. The debate has shifted to, 'Should we legalize a really, really heavy drug?'"

McInnes not only helped found Vice, he built his reputation on being a very naughty boy. So why's he having second thoughts about legalizing marijuana? Because he tried some of the stuff people are growing these days, and he didn't like it:

I spoke to some young pot-smokers, and they all agree things have gotten out of hand. An intern named Dan told me he has to dilute his joints with 75% tobacco. Another said that she had to give up joints and that even one small puff of a one hitter can be too intense.

That’s all fine and dandy, but to really understand how intense marijuana has become I can’t merely harass kids all day. I need to try it. So I had a friend of a friend hook me up with a very strong strain called “Master Kush,” and I’m going to smoke it right now.

A half hour has gone by and this is what happened. First of all. It’s very hard to type. I don’t think I could write with a pen. I had a big rip off a bong (I sound like a narc) and had a huge coughing fit that got so intense I honestly thought about calling 911.

I felt like I was going to throw up or maybe just have diarrhea so I went to the bathroom but nothing happened.

So, I come back to the couch and then things get really bad. I was panting and having a slow tortuous panic attack that made both my hands go numb with pins and needles. I took my shirt off and lay on the cold floor to cool down but then my feet went numb too. It was hell. And it kept getting worse. I was writhing around on the floor trying to find a position that didn’t feel like the world was going to end.

I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone, but I can't bring myself to feel bad for McInnes. He hadn't used marijuana in years, and yet he intentionally chose "a very strong strain" and to consume it by taking a "big rip off a bong," not in spite of his colleagues telling him pot is stronger than it used to be, but because they told him that. If he just wanted to take this new marijuana for a spin, he could've nibbled a bit of edible, taken a modest pull off a vaporizer, or bought a milder strain. Instead, he chose the equivalent of butt-chugging two shots of Bacardi 151, and then turned that bad decision into a disjointed screed against legalization, when really it's just a cautionary tale about over-doing it. 

His column is comparable to a slightly less dramatic story from another reporter, the Center for Investigative Reporting's Michael Montgomery. Two years ago, Montgomery, who covers marijuana policy and culture in California, was reporting on a brunch hosted by a medical marijuana provider who used the event to share samples of different strains.

The woman told Montgomery that some of the food was laced with pot, while some food was not. Montgomery says he got distracted while recording the scene and ended up eating some of the laced food, then having a panic attack at an airport a short time later (flying Virgin Airlines apparently didn't help).

Like McInnes, Montgomery had way more than he should have: two full pot brownies, as opposed to the quarter of a brownie that patients were advised to try their first time out (try--and then wait two hours before trying again). Consuming eight times the recommended dosage made him unpleasantly high and paranoid, but that's about it. Consider this: If he'd taken eight times as much Acetaminophen as he should've, he would've been on the cusp of liver failure.

The experience, which he talks about in the below video, led Montgomery to believe that medical marijuana should be much more heavily regulated than it currently is, and that more should be done to keep it away from teenagers. Somewhat ironically, he closes his tale by saying that his brownie experience makes him anxious to this day, and that nothing helps that anxiety like a martini.

I can't help but wonder what McInnes and Montgomery would say in an alternate universe where the former used marijuana responsibly and the latter used it intentionally. 

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Climate Sensitivity Trending Down: Is A Climate Apocalypse Becoming Less Likely?

As I have reported earlier, several recent studies are suggesting that climate sensitivity, that is, the amount of warming in response to doubling the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, is less than has been assumed by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As noted earlier, the IPCC reported:

With regard to climate sensitivity, in 2007 the Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that “climate sensitivity is likely to be in the range of 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement of models with observations is not as good for those values.” In IPCC parlance, likely means that there is a 66 percent probability that climate sensitivity falls between 2 and 4.5°C (3.6 to 8.1°F), with 3°C (5.4°F) as the best estimate.

Now a new paper in the Journal of Climate by statistician Nic Lewis suggests that "values substantially higher than 4.5°C" are unlikely and that any increase in average global temperature in response to doubled CO2 is likely to be constrained to a value of between 2.0°C and 3.6°C 1°C and 3.0°C.*

Over at the Cato Institute, climatologists Patrick Michaels and Paul Knappenberger have published a useful roundup of the latest studies on climate sensitivity. The chart below compares the various recent climate sensitivity ranges with the one assumed in the IPCC's latest draft of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

Michaels and Knappenberger add:

Take special note of the new findings (and their mean) in relation to the black bar at the top labeled “IPCC AR5 Climate Models.” Of the 19 state-of-the-art climate models used in the IPCC’s newest Assessment Report (which is still in its draft form) exactly zero have an equilibrium climate sensitivity that is as low as the mean value of estimates from the recent literature included in our Figure.

Based on the collection of results illustrated in our Figure, the future climate change projections about to be issued by the IPCC are off by an average of a whopping 70 percent.

No wonder the IPCC is reluctant to lower their best estimate of the actual value of the earth’s equilibrium climate sensitivity. If they did, they would be admitting that the collection of climate models they have chosen (there is choice involved here) to project the earth’s future climate are, well, how should we put this, wrong!

It will be fascinating to see how the final version of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report ends up treating climate sensitivity. If climate sensitivity is in fact lower than many climate models assume, that means humanity has more time in which to respond to whatever man-made climate change is going to happen.

*Many thanks to commenter Greg F for pointing out my error in reporting.

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Calling a Classmate a 'Fat Ass' Is Now a Courtroom Matter in New Jersey

Reason 24/7ReasonHaving turned harsh words between kids into grounds for formal legal action, New Jersey officials are now astonished that children and families on the receiving end of bullying charges are actually making use of the tools at their disposal to defend themselves. In application, this means that judges, attorneys and educrats are wasting time in court parsing the offensiveness of calling a classmate a "fat ass." Actual quote from the Ridgewood school board attorney during a courtroom proceeding: "There is no evidence she condoned being called a horse."

From the Star-Ledger:

The case is typical of a new type of legal phenomenon winding through New Jersey’s courts — one not entirely foreseen by many educators and legislators when the state enacted one of the most stringent anti-bullying laws in the country in 2011. The alleged bullies are filing appeals and their parents, often worried about a bullying charge staining a child’s school record, are getting involved in hearings before judges from the state Office of Administrative Law.
At least 16 students, parents or teachers have filed appeals with the commissioner of education since New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights took effect in fall 2011; two have been decided so far. An untold number of others — the state does not keep track — have challenged school bullying findings to their local school boards, the first step in the appeal process.

While the overall number may be a small percentage of the more than 12,000 instances of bullying reported in New Jersey schools in the law’s first year, a review by The Star-Ledger of appeals showed the issues can get complicated. Many cases involve social media or electronic communication; some pertain to events that did not take place at school. Incidents range from elementary to high school.

Question for legislators and public school apparatchiks: You really didn't see this coming when you put name-calling into the law books? Damn, you're stupid. Whoops! Good thing I'm not in a classroom.

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Vid: Why the GOP Should Embrace Science - The Conservative Future Project's Joshua Jacobs

"What has always alleviated our scarcity? What has always alleviated our environmental problems? Technology. What breeds technological dynamism? Economic success," explains Joshua Jacobs, co-founder of the Conservative Future Project.

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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Livestream Today, 2pm ET/11am PT: The Sounds of Capitalism, w Kennedy and UCLA's Tim Taylor

Come to Reason.com's Hit & Run blog today at 2pm ET/11am PT for a special livestream event featuring Reason's Kennedy (also a special correspondent for Fox Business' Stossel) and UCLA ethnomusicology professor Tim Taylor!

From the writeup of Taylor's The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture:

From the early days of radio through the rise of television after World War II to the present, music has been used more and more often to sell goods and establish brand identities. And since at least the 1920s, songs originally written for commercials have become popular songs, and songs written for a popular audience have become irrevocably associated with specific brands and products. Today, musicians move flexibly between the music and advertising worlds, while the line between commercial messages and popular music has become increasingly blurred.

The Sounds of Capitalism is the untold story of this infectious part of our musical culture. Here, Timothy D. Taylor tracks the use of music in American advertising for nearly a century, from variety shows like The Clicquot Club Eskimosto the rise of the jingle, the postwar rise in consumerism and the more complete fusion of popular music and consumption in the 1980s and after.

The livestream conversation will start right here at Hit & Run at 2pm ET/11am PT and run for about 30 minutes.

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New Study: During Past 2,000 Years Temperatures Trended Downward Until 1900

Nature Geoscience has published a remarkably interesting new article, "Continental-scale temperature variability during the past two millennia," by an international team of researchers using proxy temperature data from each continent. As LiveScience notes...

.. the researchers drew up temperature curves for large regions at seven continents, using 511 local temperature records. These were based on the analysis of tree rings, pollen, corals, lake and marine sediments, ice cores and stalagmites as well as historical documents. In most cases the data used were highly resolved, attesting to short-term variations over decades or less, rather than smoothing over centuries. In Africa, there were too few records to accurately determine long-term temperature changes for that continent.

The researchers found that, while some areas and eras had been warmer than the 20th century, there has been an overall 2,000-year global cooling trend that was reversed around 1900. As the abstract reports:

Past global climate changes had strong regional expression. To elucidate their spatio-temporal pattern, we reconstructed past temperatures for seven continental-scale regions during the past one to two millennia. The most coherent feature in nearly all of the regional temperature reconstructions is a long-term cooling trend, which ended late in the nineteenth century. At multi-decadal to centennial scales, temperature variability shows distinctly different regional patterns, with more similarity within each hemisphere than between them. There were no globally synchronous multi-decadal warm or cold intervals that define a worldwide Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age, but all reconstructions show generally cold conditions between ad 1580 and 1880, punctuated in some regions by warm decades during the eighteenth century. The transition to these colder conditions occurred earlier in the Arctic, Europe and Asia than in North America or the Southern Hemisphere regions. Recent warming reversed the long-term cooling; during the period ad 1971–2000, the area-weighted average reconstructed temperature was higher than any other time in nearly 1,400 years.

The chart below from the study compares their data with temperature trend data from other researchers.

LiveScience adds:

The most consistent feature across the regions over the last 2,000 years was a long-term cooling trend, which was likely caused by a combination of factors such as an overall increase in volcanic activity, a decrease in solar irradiance, changes in land cover, and slow changes in earth's orbit. This cooling only came to an end toward the end of the 19th century.

The warming during the last century has reversed this long-term cooling, the study found. It remained cold only in Antarctica. An analysis of the average temperatures over 30-year periods indicates that interval from 1971-2000 was probably warmer than any other 30-year period in the last 1,400 years.

Cooler 30-year periods between the years 830 and 1910 AD were particularly pronounced during weak solar activity and strong tropical volcanic eruptions. Both phenomena often occurred simultaneously and led to a drop in the average temperature during five distinct 30- to 90-year intervals between 1251 and 1820.

Warming in the 20th century was on average twice as large in the northern continents as it was in the Southern Hemisphere. During the past 2,000 years, some regions experienced warmer 30-year intervals than during the late 20th century. For example, in Europe the years between 21 and 80 AD were possibly warmer than the period 1971-2000.

While the study does not attempt to attribute temperature changes to natural or man-made factors, one of the lead authors, Northern Arizona University earth scientist Darrell Kaufman added:

“The pre-industrial trend was likely caused by natural factors that continued to operate through the 20th century, making 20th century warming more difficult to explain if not for the likely impact of increased greenhouse gasses."

Back in March, another team put together a contested global temperture trend analysis encompassing the past 14,000 years based proxy temperature data. That report also found a long-term cooling trend until 1900. However, the proxy data in that study turned out to be not sufficiently robust to resolve 20th century temperature trends.

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Ronald Bailey Applauds Bill Limiting Unwarranted Police Prying Into Electronic Documents

PrivacyCredit: Payphoto | DreamstimeOn Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendment Act, introduced by Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), on for consideration by the full Senate. The new law, if adopted by Congress, would finally extend Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure to all emails and other electronic documents stored on third-party electronic devices. Until now police assert that under current laws they can, after 180 days, inspect your electronic documents without bothering with a warrant. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey applauds this rare triumph of confidentiality over the constabulary.

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Western Intervention in Syria’s Already Started

damascus 2013Asitimes/Foter.comIt took Chuck Hagel 24 hours to reverse himself and agree with an Israeli intelligence assessment that indicated Syria had used chemical weapons against rebels in the two-year civil war in that country. U.S. intelligence, he said, had “some degree of varying confidence” that Syria used chemical weapons on a “small scale.” Not exactly the aluminum tubes and empty chemical warheads of the phantom WMD stockpile used to justify the invasion of Iraq ten years ago. Syria denies the claim and accuses Syrian rebels of using chemical weapons instead.

Nevertheless, chemical weapons constitute the red line Barack Obama and many Western leaders drew on intervention in Syria. John McCain and Dianne Feinstein are leading a bipartisan push for a “strong” intervention as a response to the chemical weapons allegations, echoing the call of the Western-backed rebel faction in Syria.

A “soft” intervention in Syria by the West’s long started, evidenced by the existence of a Western-backed rebel faction in Syria itself. Earlier this week, the European Union eased sanctions on Syria to permit the purchase of oil from rebels. The Socialist president in France, fresh off an ongoing military intervention in Mali, is leading the push in Europe to arm Syria’s rebels, and says his country will do so. The British government, itching too to provide more support to rebel groups in Syria, is nevertheless worried British nationals are joining extremists in the fight in Syria. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has joined too, which led to the CIA stepping up its role in Iraqi counterterrorism last month. Last week, the U.S. announced an additional $110 million in aid to Syria’s rebels (on top of at least $60 million pledged in February and $45 million last September, plus covert aid authorized sometime last summer).

The U.S. is also deploying troops to Jordan (price tag: $70 million) and has sent military advisors to the country in relation to the rebellion in Syria. Embattled Syrian officials warn increased American intervention and support for the rebels (which the regime identifies as terrorists) will lead to a “fire of terrorism” spreading around the world. 

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Shikha Dalmia in the Washington Examiner on Restrictionist Stupidity Post-Boston

No sooner was it revealed that the two Boston bombers were Russian emigres of Chechen heritage than Iowa's Sen. Charles Grassley declared that the attacks show that America needs to "beef up security checks," not let more newcomers in. Rep. Steven King, also a committed restrictionist from Iowa, demanded we pause and look at "the big picture" on immigration, as if seven years since the last failed effort at reform is not enough. Most disappointing was Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky's switcheroo. Last month, he distanced himself from his party's harsh anti-immigration rhetoric. This week he counseled that we rethink visas for foreign students, never mind that neither of the Brothers Tsarnaev ever obtained one.

But Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her morning column reminds us of the story about the drunk who loses his car keys in the forest but looks for them under a lamp post because that's where the light is. "Conservative calls to fight terrorism in the wake of the Boston attack by ditching immigration reform make just as much sense," she notes. "The difference is that the drunk's efforts were merely futile. Conservative efforts are also dangerous because they ignore the security threat that Big Government poses."

Go here to read the whole thing.

And, while you are at it, also buy Dalmia's new ebook, Humane and Pro-Growth: A Reason Guide to Immigration Reform, a super-timely compendium of how restrictionists  broke our immigration system and how it can be fixed. The book pulls together the best of work from people such as Brian Doherty, Mike Riggs, Greg Beato, Cathy Young, Ronald Bailey, Tyler Cowen, Kerry Howley, Carolyn Lochhead, Nick Gillespie and others. Every possible aspect of immigration is covered and policy solutions offered, all for the bargain price of $2.99!

Liberals Lament That FAA Waiver Shows Government Has Enough Money to Do Its Job

Over at Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler is torn up over the willingness of the Senate to pass a waiver to sequestration rules for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Late last night it took a break from its regular schedule of lacking 60 votes to shampoo the chamber carpet and unanimously passed a bill that will provide the FAA unique flexibility under sequestration — and thus halt the furloughs that have been causing travel delays around the country. Today the House will follow suit, and the White House has made it clear President Obama intends to sign it. Great if you fly. Bad, bad news if you’re on head start or rely on meals on wheels or otherwise aren’t a Priority Pass holder.

Aside the obvious iniquity, this is a big error.

The point of sequestration is supposedly to create just enough chaos that regular people — people with political clout, such as, say, business travelers — demand that Congress fix it. Or as the Democrats conceived it, to create the public pressure they need to knock Republicans off their absolutist position on taxes.

More here.

Having apparently missed out on the decades-old deregulation of airline-ticket pricing, Beutler implicitly equates the mundane act of flying with, I don't know, wearing monocles, lighting cigars with $100 bills, and other excresences of capitalism only available to the super-rich. This, despite the fact that over 80 percent of Americans have flown.

The original point of sequestration, or automatic, across-the-board cuts urged by Barack Obama, was to provide a spur to force Congress to come up with a specific (yet tiny) level of spending cuts that were agreed to as part of a barely remembered debt-limit deal. When that didn't happen - despite plenty of time and delays - the result is that around 1 percent to 2 percent of total federal spending is being trimmed in fiscal 2013. But don't worry: The feds are on track to spend more this year than last year even when you factor in sequestration. And for all the fretting over minor spending trims that are routinely described as barbaric and brutal and unconscionable, the long list of programs exempted from sequestration ensures that nobody is going to go hungry or naked due to cuts amounting to around $44 billion in this fiscal year. Sadly, that statement is also true for the Department of Defense and its contractors, who are taking the single-biggest hit but still doing quite fine.

So it turns out that the FAA has enough money in its cut-to-the-bone budget to keep planes flying as if nothing happened - all it has to do is shift dollars from a useless activity to one that actually has an impact. The ease with which the FAA apparently can do that underscores the real fear of sequestration opponents: People will realize that a federal budget of around $3.6 trillion - or roughly double the amount that was spent in nominal dollars the last year Bill Clinton was in office (and 50 percent more in constant 2012 dollars) - is plenty big enough to cover all core government functions even if you think the government should do just about everything. 

And in case you're wondering, air traffic control is not a core government function. Back in 2009, Reason's Bob Poole explained how the FAA is using ridiculously outmoded technology to direct flights, even as Canada has fully demonstrated that spinning off that function to the airlines is better and more efficient. Indeed, "commercializing" air traffic control even has the support of characters such as Al Gore:

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Graph on Drug Overdose Deaths Highlights the Inconsistencies and Stupidity of the War on Drugs

Below is a graph put together by Kaite Peek over at Popsci:

Credit: Katie PeekCredit: Katie Peek

The graph charts the number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. from 1999 to 2010 using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's WONDER database. A few things to note:

  • The graph puts methamphetamines, MDMA, and caffeine in the same group (Psychostimulants).
  • Marijuana and LSD only appear in the “Other” category (the tiny grey section at the top, which also includes opium, mescaline, mushroom, and overdose by assault).
  • The article below the graph includes a few caveats:

…if a person had multiple drugs listed on their death certificate, they’re being counted twice here. Also, the database doesn’t include nonresidents—either undocumented immigrants or U.S. citizens living abroad.

Despite grouping caffeine with meth and some data collection issues (potentially counting some people twice), the graph does a pretty good job of highlighting the fact that American drug policy is not motivated by a desire to reduce harm. Were American policies towards dangerous substances motivated by desire to reduce the number of deaths alcohol and cigarettes would be prohibited and regulations on pharmaceuticals would change. 

Watch Nick Gillespie discuss the war on drug with Stephen Colbert here and read more from Reason.com on the war on drugs here. 

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California’s Proposed Soda Tax Is for Your Own Good and Totally Not a Money Grab

Worse than opium densCredit: cobalt123 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAWhen two cities in California defeated a proposed tax on sugary drinks last November, I pointed out the foolishness of the effort beyond just the Nanny State manipulation. If passed, it would drive consumers to other nearby cities and ultimately end up hurting small businesses and grocery retail employees the most, people who tend to fall on the poor end of the economic spectrum.

So, obviously, California’s solution for such a problem would be to try to enact the tax statewide. A Senate bill by Bill Monning (D-Monterey) would add a tax of one cent for every ounce for any sweetened drink of more than 25 calories. The legislation passed a state Senate committee earlier this week.

In order to market this exorbitant tax, which, again, will affect the poor the most, Monning is also proposing a Children’s Health Promotion Fund and promising the taxes collected will go to child obesity prevention efforts and totally not to close the funding gap on state employee pensions or to reduce the state’s deficit cross-our-hearts-and-hope-to-die. Pay no attention to that last tax increase everyone was told would go to halt school cutbacks but might actually end up going to educators’ retirement funds instead. And pay no attention to the recent funding that was supposed to provide healthier lunches for poor students in public schools that was misappropriated and spent on other things while the kids were fed crap. Despite California’s lengthy history of money not going where Sacramento says the money is supposed to go, this will be totally different. That proponents are already estimating $2.6 billion in revenue for the first year is just to tell us how much good they can do with it.

Read the full Senate bill here.

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Sen. Gillibrand on Gun Control: Ineffectiveness + Redundancy = Synergy

Office of Kirsten GillibrandOffice of Kirsten GillibrandThe New York Times reports that supporters of new gun controls are quietly regrouping after this month's Senate defeat. Their task, according to an unnamed participant in a meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and gun control activists, is "demonstrating that it's safe to do the right thing and politically unsafe not to." Judging from recent poll results, that could be a tall order. But it should be easier than demonstrating that "the right thing to do" is good policy, the difficulty of which is illustrated by a leading advocate of building bipartisan support for a legislative response to the Sandy Hook massacre.

"Let's be honest," says Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). "Criminals aren't going to buy a gun and go through a background check." She nevertheless backs legislation expanding background checks for gun buyers. But since that bill will not impede criminals, the Times reports, Gillibrand also favors legislation that would "criminalize the shipping or transfer of guns to someone who is barred from possessing a firearm." That seems a bit redundant, since transferring a gun to someone you know or have reasonable cause to believe falls into a prohibited category is already a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Apparently Gillibrand wants to make it even more illegal, which she says is "complementary to background checks." There you have the theory underlying the gun controls favored by President Obama in a nutshell: None of these measures on its own will do anything to reduce crime, but if we pass them all together...well, they still won't do anything, but they will create the appearance of doing something.

Gillibrand's candor regarding the ineffectiveness of the background checks she supports reminds me of a remark that Norman Seabrook, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, made about New York's new seven-round limit on magazines. "As a law enforcement officer for over 20 years," Seabrook said in January, "I understand the importance of instituting a new policy on mandating the limits of bullets that a regular citizen can possess, but as a matter of fact the bad guys are not going to follow this law." Seabrook's concern was not so much that the magazine limit would have no impact on crime but that New York's legislators, in their haste to enact the gun controls demanded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had neglected to exempt retired and active-duty cops from the seven-round rule. Since criminals sure as hell were not going to follow that rule, Seabrook worried that he and other members of the law enforcement fraternity would be outgunned. What about the "regular citizen"? Screw the regular citizen. What has he ever done for Norman Seabrook?

Gillibrand likewise is completely unconcerned about the burden and legal risks that extending background checks to private sales would impose on law-abiding gun owners, who by her own admission are the only people who will worry about following the new rules. Her attitude is: Why not respond to the Newtown murders with a piece of symbolic legislation that could not possibly have prevented them and that will not reduce other kinds of gun violence either? What's the downside?  

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Jesse Walker: Stop Demonizing Preppers

Courtesy of the National Geographic ChannelCourtesy of the National Geographic ChannelIt's always worthwhile to push back when a subculture gets stereotyped and scapegoated, whether it's Goths after Columbine or preppers today. From our May issue, Jesse Walker stands up for the survivalists.

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CA State Assembly Votes to Remove Citizenship Requirement for Jurors

Credit: ReasonCredit: ReasonThe California State Assembly has passed a bill that would remove the citizenship requirement for jurors, allowing “lawfully present immigrants” to serve on juries. The bill, AB 1401, is now heading to the California State Senate. According to the Associated Press, if the bill is signed into law California will become the first state to allow non-citizens to be jurors. 

From US News:

The California State Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to remove the requirement in state law that jurors be U.S. citizens.

The bill, AB 1401, passed the state assembly with 45 votes in favor and 25 votes in opposition and now goes to the state senate.

The legislation allows the jury pool to be extended to "lawfully present immigrants." Potential jurors are pulled from state Department of Motor Vehicles records. The bill does not drop the requirement that would-be jurors speak English.

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George Jones, RIP

George Jones, one of the finest singers in the last six decades of country music—hell, of all popular music—has died at age 81. Here is my favorite of his hits:

When Dickey Lee and Steve Duffy composed that, they thought they were writing a funny song. And it's not hard to imagine a more wry singer, a John Prine or a Johnny Cash, doing a good job of taking it in that direction. But Jones turned it into something earnest and amazing: a tribute to how a performer's interpretation can transform what's on the page.

Of course Jones could be funny when he wanted. Here he is with Tammy Wynnette, his partner in music and in an infamously stormy marriage, singing "We're Not the Jet Set":

And since this is a libertarian website, I ought to include Jones' rockabilly-tinged tribute to moonshine, "White Lightning":

Jones' records with Wynette were his most famous duets, but he sang with many other performers as well. I'll wrap up with one of his best joint projects: Jones and Merle Haggard singing Willie Nelson's "Yesterday Wine." I grew up hearing Nelson's version—my parents played his records a lot when I was a boy—and I like that one well enough, but it wasn't til I heard Jones and Haggard's cover that I understood just how good the song could be:

Requiescat in pace.

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Caltrans Employees: Helping Californians Help Themselves

Fun gotcha TV news attack from CBS Los Angeles on a couple of CalTrans employees who are traced by TV cameras variously spending time at a Montessori school they own, going to a masseuse, shopping and taking kids to school, and moving hay in possible service of a side contracting job--while on the clock for the state and using a CalTrans truck. One is earning around $90K from the taxpayers, the other over $100K.

It's fun, but of course the real hit to the taxpayers comes not from CalTrans employees not doing their job, but from when they do, when that job includes building terribly expensive and not-terribly-useful "high speed rail."

Reason on CalTrans.

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It's Not Just Conservatives Who Are Concerned that ObamaCare Won't Work As Well As Promised

WhiteHouse.govWhiteHouse.govDemocratic legislators are also getting antsy, reports The New York Times

Democratic senators, at a caucus meeting with White House officials, expressed concerns on Thursday about how the Obama administration was carrying out the health care law they adopted three years ago.

Democrats in both houses of Congress said some members of their party were getting nervous that they could pay a political price if the rollout of the law was messy or if premiums went up significantly.

President Obama’s new chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, fielded questions on the issue for more than an hour at a lunch with Democratic senators.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, who is up for re-election next year, said, “We are hearing from a lot of small businesses in New Hampshire that do not know how to comply with the law.”

In addition, Mrs. Shaheen said, “restaurants that employ people for about 30 hours a week are trying to figure out whether it would be in their interest to reduce the hours” of those workers, so the restaurants could avoid the law’s requirement to offer health coverage to full-time employees.

The White House officials “acknowledged that these are real concerns, and that we’ve got to do more to address them,” Mrs. Shaheen said.

As Nick Gillespie noted this morning, premiums are set to rise in Maryland, one of the most Obamacare-friendly states in the country—and the state with what are arguably the strictest health care price controls in the nation. Meanwhile in California, another Obamacare-friendly state, regulators recently warned federal authorities about the possibility of "rate shock" as well as significant disruptions to the health care market when the law kicks in next year. Obamacare may not exactly result in a spectacular collapse, but its opening doesn't look like it'll be pretty. 

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The Myth of Obamacare's Health Care Cost Control

Photo credit: US Mission Geneva / Foter.com / CC BY-NDPhoto credit: US Mission Geneva / Foter.com / CC BY-NDOn Obamacare's third birthday last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius tried  to pin recent slowdowns in health spending on the president's health care overhaul. "What's already in place," she said in an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, "is really beginning to help people."

She went on to list a handful of the law's benefits and programs, and she finished with this: "What we're seeing," she said, "is costs really come down for the first time in a very long time. Medicare costs are significantly lower than they were. The cost trajectory is down."

It is. But probably not, for the most part, as a result of Obamacare. A study released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation notes that from 2009 to 2011, national health spending grew at its lowest rate since the actuary's office at Medicare began tracking such spending. But the report finds that about 77 percent of that decline in growth can be explained by the economic downturn. Some of the decline is a result of health system changes, not all of which are even necessarily part of the health law (the slowdown, after all, began in 2009 before the law was passed), but the vast majority of the slowdown is a result of the sluggish economy. 

As the report explains, "this has major implications for policy, since health spending growth is a major driver of federal and state budgets through the Medicare and Medicaid programs." The report expects spending to pick up again by the end of the decade. 

Obamacare, in other words, has not fixed the bulk of the health spending problem, nor resolved Medicare's financing woes. Which is perhaps why some of the same activists who originally told us that we should pass Obamacare because it would help control costs are now suggesting that, since we've passed Obamacare, it's now time to start thinking about how to control costs. 

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A.M. Links: Senate Passes Bill to Stop FAA Furloughs, Federal Researchers Shut Down HIV Vaccine Trial, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Moved to Federal Prison

  • automate itjglover/foter.comThe Senate passed a bill shifting funding back to the FAA to eliminate furloughs the White House has blamed on sequestration. It now heads to the House.
  • The economists who wrote a paper explaining how debt stunts growth write that vicious criticisms lobbed at them after a computational error was found was a “sad commentary on the politicization of social science research.”
  • Federal researchers shut down an HIV vaccine clinical trial when a panel found those receiving it were slightly more likely to contract the virus than those taking a placebo.
  • The 26-year-old who says Tamerlan Tsarnaev carjacked him last Thursday night tells his story. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who’s been charged in connected to last week’s bombing in Boston, meanwhile, was moved from hospital to federal prison.
  • South Korea is pulling its citizens from a factory complex it runs jointly with North Korea. It’s been closed for the last month and the North Korean regime did not respond to the South’s demands to talk.
  • Lebanon allowed the first opposite-sex civil union in a country that’s only seen religious marriages before.
  • Join Reason TV’s Kennedy for a conversation with UCLA ethnomusicology professor Tim Taylor about music and capitalism in a special livestream event today at 2pm ET/11am PT. 

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Kurt Loder Reviews Mud and Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

Courtesy of FilmNation EntertainmentCourtesy of FilmNation EntertainmentMatthew McConaughey’s mid-career resurgence is a glorious thing, writes Kurt Loder, and it continues with Mud, the new movie from writer-director Jeff Nichols, which mixes Southern Gothic with an undercurrent of Mark Twain. Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, meanwhile, is a new documentary about the most astonishing magician of our time. In it, we watch Ricky Jay ply his craft for the better part of two hours, often in close-up shots that would seem to afford no cover for deception. And at the end we still have no idea how he does what he does.

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Obamacare-Friendly Maryland's Insurance Rates Set to Skyrocket

Via Reddit's Libertarian subtopic comes news from health-care giant Kaiser of Obamacare's likely impact on insurance costs in Maryland, "an important state to watch because it has embraced Obamacare’s insurance reforms, setting up its own marketplace."

Some info:

The ACA [Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare] prohibits charging sicker members substantially more but allows plans to adjust premiums for age and other factors, within strict limits.

Taking those factors into account, CareFirst premiums for individual plans could rise as high as 150 percent next year for healthy young men and decrease slightly for someone older and sicker, Burrell said.

One current popular CareFirst plan with a $2,700 deductible costs “less than $115 per month” for men under 30, said Mark Hammett, a broker at Kelly & Associates Insurance Group in Hunt Valley, Md....

Which isn't to say that the people getting insurance under the new rates will be shelling out $288 a month for insurance premiums. The more expensive premiums will be heavily subsidized so we'll all be kicking in for the added costs. As a spokesman for Families First said,

“Some people may actually spend much less out of pocket… and end up with a much better product and a much better situation to protect their family from financial devastation from illness,” she said.

Hmm. So we're likely to see massive premium increases for some people while others get better programs that cost less money to the actual users of those programs? Isn't that sort of disconnect between the consumer and the costs they generate one of the main reasons health care costs keep rising?

CareFirst owns about 70 percent of the individual insurance market in Maryland and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon, especially since Obamacare did essentially nothing to create more competition among health-care providers in a given state (indeed, the reform actively discourages it in at least two ways: first, by disallowing shopping for coverage across state lines and second by capping premiums and mandating minimum-level coverage plans). It's also likely that people looking for insurance in the state-run exchange will increase if and when employers drop coverage since it's generally cheaper for them to pay associated fines than keep covering employees.

What about small-employer plans that will be offered via the exchanges next year? The Kaiser article notes that Maryland already caps premiums for small businesses.

Premiums for CareFirst’s small employer plans to be offered on the exchange next year are proposed to rise about 15 percent, Burrell said, mainly because of the rising cost of health care....

Besides CareFirst, Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, Coventry Health and Evergreen Health Cooperative all filed to offer about 50 individual or small group plans on the exchange.

An Aetna spokesman said proposed premiums for Maryland small group plans would rise between 12 and 16 percent next year. United proposed average small group increases of from 15 to 28 percent, but premium changes could vary widely depending on the plan, said company spokesman Matt Stearns.

Again, recall that deep-blue Maryland is "an important state to watch because it has embraced Obamacare’s insurance reforms, setting up its own marketplace."

Maybe you can't put a price tag on good health. But in Maryland, the cost is going up by double and possibly even triple digits next year.

Read the whole thing.

Related: "Will Obama Tell Young People He's Screwing Them Big Time?"

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Brickbat: Have You Ever Been in a Turkish Prison?

The Guide IstanbulThe Guide IstanbulA Turkish court has given classical pianist Fazil Say a 10-month suspended sentence for defaming Islam on Twitter. One of his tweets, for instance, mocked the rapid call to prayer at a local mosque, with Say asking if the announcer had a woman or an alcoholic drink he was in a hurry to get to.

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Saying Privacy Is 'Off the Table,' NYC Police Commissioner Demands More Surveillance Cameras

Reason 24/7ReasonFrom the Department of Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste comes word that New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly thinks that now is a great time to install even more surveillance cameras hither and yon around the Big Apple. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the Tsarnaev brothers were famously captured on security camera footage and thereby identified. That just may soften up Americans to the idea of the all-seeing glass eye. "I think the privacy issue has really been taken off the table," Kelly gloats.

From WNYC:

Could more cameras in New York City help prevent attacks like the one at the Boston Marathon? That's what Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says the NYPD is looking into.

The department already uses so-called smart cameras that hone in on unattended bags, and set off alarms.

Kelly dismisses critics who argue that increased cameras threaten privacy rights, giving governments the ability to monitor people in public spaces.

 “The people who complain about it, I would say, are a relatively small number of folks, because the genie is out of the bottle,” Kelly said. “People realize that everywhere you go now, your picture is taken.”

Surveillance cameras helped authorities find the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing — giving more fuel to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s argument that the more cameras exist, the better.

The NYPD is touting its use of the so-called smart cameras that have been used for nearly a decade in Lower Manhattan to identify potential threats such as unattended bags left for too long.

As Reason's own Brian Doherty has pointed out, surveillance advocates conveniently forget that it was private security cameras from which footage is shared with authorities only in emergencies, like the aftermath of the bombing, that did the honors in Boston. Cautions Doherty:

The public spaces of Boston were already filled with enough private cameras to close the net on the suspects. Ubiquitous public cameras—watched always by officials with power over us—raise obvious problems, as the American Civil Liberties Union has noted, of criminal abuse, institutional abuse, personal abuse on the part of officials, discrimination, and rampant voyeurism.

Of course, what Kelly wants is public cameras — specifically, an expanded network of police-controlled "smart" cameras watching the city and responding automatically to perceived dangers. With the public frightened and in no mood to consider that surveillance cameras pose their own dangers, he just might get his wish.

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Obama Ends the War on Drugs...Again

I had a look at the Obama administration's latest drug control strategy yesterday but did not see anything new or interesting that was worthy of comment. Apparently I missed some big news. Here is how NewsOne, which provides "Breaking News for Black America," headlined its story: "Focusing on Prevention and Neuroscience, President Ends Reagan's War On Drugs." The author, Paul Shepard, reports that "the White House announced a new direction in the War on Drugs, where stopping drug use before it starts and treating drug addition as a health issue will now be priorities." The White House has been announcing this new direction since 2009, when drug czar Gil Kerlikowske first declared an end to the war on drugs, but in practice it has carried on pretty much as before, in some ways (e.g., Obama's promise-breaking crackdown on medical marijuana) with even greater zeal. Although no one should be fooled anymore by Obama's pseudoscientific, quasi-medical, faux-compassionate rhetoric, it seems that some people are still desperate to believe he is as enlightened and progressive as his reputation.

Shepard, for example, considers this quote from Kerlikowske to be evidence of a real breakthrough: "Drug policy should be rooted in neuroscience, not political science." What Kerlikowske means is that consuming certain drugs (coincidentally, the ones that happen to be illegal) changes people's brains in such a way that they are no longer capable of making decisions for themselves, thereby justifying government intervention. Kerlikowske's idea of enlightened drug policy is forcing drug users to choose between a treatment slot and a jail cell. As Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance observes:

The Administration says drug use is a health issue but then advocates for policies that put people in the criminal justice system. Until the Drug Czar says it is time to stop arresting people for drug use, he is not treating drug use as a health issue no matter what he says. I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don't get better.

By describing drug use as a disease—as something that happens to people against their will, rather than something they choose to do—Obama and his underlings seek to persuade us that using violence to stop people from consuming certain substances does not interfere with liberty at all. To the contrary, such coercion promotes true liberty by freeing people from the slavery of their addictions. Seems pretty fucking political to me.

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By All Means, Let’s Try to Start Another Flu Panic

Waiting for a comebackCredit: Lynn Kelley Author / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAA new strain of bird flu has killed a handful of people in China, and while Western reporting on the situation has been fairly mild so far, The Sydney Morning Herald captured a World Health Organization (WHO) official in China trying to describe the strain in as fearful a way as possible:

On Wednesday Keiji Fukuda, who is leading researchers for the World Health Organisation in China, said they were still trying to understand the virus but it appeared ''unusually dangerous''.

''This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen,'' said Dr Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security. ''We think this virus is more transmissible to humans than H5N1,'' he said, referring to the strain which WHO estimates has killed more than 360 people since 2003.

There have been 108 cases and 22 deaths since the beginning of April, which seems like a lot if you don’t consider the quarter- to half-a-million deaths worldwide WHO attributes to influenza each year.

Most recall the panic over swine flu back in fall 2009 (random hand sanitizers everywhere may serve as a permanent artifact). The number of confirmed deaths due to swine flu ended up being much less than predicted, less than 20,000 according to WHO and Centers for Disease Control estimates (though experts believe there may have been many, many more deaths in third-world African and Asian countries that weren’t counted due to lack of access to health care).

It seems a bit early for researchers to be pulling out superlatives like “most lethal” and “more transmissible,” particularly when comparing it with a strain of flu that has killed just a hundred more people over nine years than a collapsing building in Bangladesh did just yesterday.  

In 2009, Jesse Walker analyzed how the swine flu panic fell a bit short in actual citizen panicking.

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Obama Asks Supreme Court to Uphold His Controversial Recess Appointments

In January 2013, the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sparked a legal firestorm by ruling that President Barack Obama’s three purported recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board violated the Constitution because they did not actually occur when the Senate was in recess. According to the D.C. Circuit, Obama’s actions “would demolish the checks and balances inherent in the advice-and-consent requirement, giving the President free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch, or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction. This cannot be the law.”

In a brief submitted today, the Obama administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that decision and place its stamp of approval on Obama’s use of executive power. “The court of appeals’ decision would dramatically curtail the scope of the President’s authority under the Recess Appointments Clause,” the administration's brief states. “It would deem invalid hundreds of recess appointments made by Presidents since early in the Nation’s history.  It potentially calls into question every order issued by the National Labor Relations Board since January 4, 2012, and similar reasoning could threaten past and future decisions of other federal agencies.”

The Supreme Court is likely to take the case. In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld President George W. Bush’s similar use of the recess appointment power, meaning the federal circuits are split on this major constitutional issue. In addition, as the Obama administration observes, a year’s worth of NLRB actions have been thrown into doubt by the D.C. Circuit. It won’t be easy for the justices to avoid entering the thicket on this one.

(Thanks to SCOTUSblog for the link to the Obama administration's brief.)

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Boise Police Seize Children of Marijuana Activists

Moms for MarijuanaMoms for MarijuanaThree marijuana advocates in Boise, Idaho, had their children taken by Child Protective Services this week after police found marijuana in one of the family's homes. 

According to an item posted today by one of the parents on Compassionate Idaho, a medical marijuana site, Lindsey Rinehart and her husband Josh Rinehart went hiking with friend Sarah Caldwell earlier this week. When they came back, their kids had been taken. 

Officers with the Boise Police Department had arrived at the house while they were gone to conduct a "Well Child Check," allegedly at the behest of a school administrator. (I've requested information from the BPD, and will update this post when I hear back.) "The BPD intimidated our babysitter/friend and gained access to our home," Lindsey Rinehart wrote. "Upon entering, and seeing that the house was Fine, the kids are Fine, they decided to go to my room." That's where police found the marijuana that Rinehart uses to treat her MS, and decided to call Child Protective Services.

CPS took 10-year-old Laustin Rinehart and 5-year-old Elijah Rinehart, as well as Sarah Caldwell's children, 11-year-old Thomas Andrew and 6-year-old Kyle. Their parents are now desperate to get them back. All three are well-known marijuana activists: Lindsey works for Compassionate Idaho, Josh is the director of Idaho NORML, and Sarah Caldwell works for Moms for Marijuana International. 

"The crying doesn't stop," Rinehart wrote on her blog. "The heartache doesn't stop. You look around your house and their toys are there, and their/our dogs are here sad with us, their clothes are here. Fuck, CPS didn't even take their Tooth Brushes."

Marijuana activists are rallying behind the families. According to a donation page set up to help cover their legal fees, "there is a dependency hearing for the children that is pending, and possible criminal charges relating to Marijuana might arise in the future."

I've also reached out to Moms for Marijuana International founder Serra Frank, and will update when I hear back. 

Update: Russ Belville, a marijuana activist and radio host, interviewed Lindsey Rinehart and Serra Frank on his show. It's heartbreaking: 

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CISPA DOA in the Senate, For Now

where's the cispa go?jurvetson/foter.comA representative of the Senate committee that would have to hold hearings on the cybersecurity bill CISPA, passed last week by the House, said the committee won’t be taking the legislation up, according to U.S. News. President Obama has threatened a veto, though the Democratic chairman of the committee Jay Rockefeller, certainly echoes the administration when he says CISPA is nevertheless important.

The White House’s veto threat, meanwhile, isn’t couched in a call to limit federal power, nor even in a defense of privacy, but to make sure corporations are “held accountable.” The White House is satisfied that the legislation charges the federal government with protecting privacy, essentially policing itself, but also wants corporations to be required to remove certain personal information from data shared with the federal government.

But the problem with CISPA is the sharing of data itself; terms of service govern the privacy of data shared voluntarily between consumers and corporations. As supporters of CISPA claim those corporations want this legislation, the solution would seem not to require it. Companies are free to include provisions in their privacy policies allowing for data sharing with the governments, just as consumers are free to reject them. As for the companies themselves, their cybersecurity would seem to be their responsibility, not an excuse to extend federal powers into the private sector. Hacking and other cyberattacks are already federal crimes after all.

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Jerry Brito on How Government Regulations Distort the Television Airwaves

Courtesy of AereoCourtesy of AereoOf all the distortionary federal regulations in existence, writes Jerry Brito, few are more patently inefficient and convoluted than those governing the television airwaves. Aereo, a new startup backed by media mogul Barry Diller, is looking to blow it all up by offering a subscription service that lets you watch your local broadcast television channels over the Internet via a dime-sized antenna that picks up over-the-air signals. For their part, broadcasters accuse Aereo of pirating those signals. But as Brito explains, so far the courts have approved of Aereo’s ingenious method of complying with the letter, if not the spirit, of the law.

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CISPA May Be Shelved, Possible Blowback from Syria, Record Numbers on Food Stamps: P.M. Links

  • Ew, we didn't know you were into that particular fetishCredit: paulswansen / Foter.com / CC BY-NDThe Senate seems likely to shelve the controversial Cyber Information and Sharing Protection Act (CISPA), despite recent passage by the House. The White House threatened a veto of the act, but then President Barack Obama’s administration recently took steps to essentially put some of its policies into place via executive action anyway, so who even knows anymore?
  • A senior Syrian official is warning that the United States could face additional terrorist attacks for supporting rebels in his country. This isn’t a threat that Syria’s government would attack the U.S., but rather Islamic fundamentalists who are participating in the rebellion eventually would.
  • George W. Bush’s Presidential Library and Museum opened today in Texas and President Obama, along with former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, stopped by to praise his work in Africa as president.
  • A record number of families – one in five – are on food stamps.
  • The State of Michigan is considering a registry for people convicted of animal abuse.
  • Two representatives have introduced legislation to allow judges to get around mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes.

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Should the Benefits of Legalizing Pot Be Measured by Tax Revenue?

Jacob SullumJacob SullumAccording to a new report by researchers at Colorado State University, the tax revenue generated by marijuana legalization won't be the windfall some people may have been expecting. The report, produced by the university's Colorado Futures Center (CFC), estimates that annual excise tax revenue will fall far short of the $40 million for school construction anticipated by Amendment 64, the initiative that made marijuana legal for recreational use. They estimate that the 15 percent excise tax authorized by Amendment 64 would instead yield something like $22 million a year, while a special sales tax of 15 percent, as contemplated in a bill the state legislature is considering, would produce $91 million in revenue, on top of $18 million from the regular state sales tax of 2.9 percent. The total of $130 million or so (which does not include revenue from local sales taxes) obviously would not have much of an impact on Colorado's overall budget, which totals more than $20 billion a year. "After meeting the obligations for BEST [the school construction program] and funding the regulatory and other public health and safety budget demands," the report concludes, "revenue from marijuana taxes will contribute little or nothing to the state's general fund."

That conclusion does not trouble me, since I have never been a big fan of the tax-revenue argument for legalization. The ban on marijuana (and other drugs) should be repealed because the government has no business trying to dictate what people put into their bodies, not because prohibition represents a missed opportunity to take people's hard-earned money. In fact, to the extent that revenue comes from special "sin" taxes on marijuana, as opposed to the standard sales and income taxes, I think the right target is zero, since this is just a milder way of punishing people for behavior that violates no one's rights. Still, the assumptions that went into this fiscal analysis, several of which are questionable, raise some interesting issues.

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Was Unarmed During Hour and a Half Long Stand-Off in Backyard Boat, Shots Fired Anyway

on a boatMassachusetts State PoliceThe FBI’s not saying what led police to fire on the boat where Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding, as they reveal he was unarmed while hiding in the boat during a stand-off that lasted an hour and a half. His older brother, who officials say said he wanted to die for Islam, died after a firefight with police. Officials say he may have been run over by his own brother, Dzhokhar, who they say fingered him as the mastermind of the bombing. During the initial chase, cops also fired on a state police vehicle they thought the suspect was driving.

The hunt for a suspected bomber may have been something new for the media, but the indiscriminate shootings shouldn’t be. In Ohio late last year, cops fired 137 shots in about 20 seconds into a car after a chase that started because one cop thought he heard a gunshot. No guns were recovered and the driver and passenger were both killed. And in February, during another manhunt, for ex-cop Christopher Dorner, the LAPD fired more than a hundred times into a truck that was a different make and model than Dorner’s. The two women in the car, a mother and daughter aged 71 and 47, weren’t seriously injured. The LAPD settled for $4.2 million earlier this week, an uncharacteristically quick resolution for the department.

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WA Cop Accused of Lying About Beating That Caused a Man's Death

Credit: ReasonCredit: ReasonA Second police officer from Spokane, Washington has been accused of lying to investigators about the death of Otto Zehm, who died after being beaten by police officers in 2006.

Officer Timothy Moses is accused of lying to FBI agents and federal prosecutors about what Officer Karl Thompson told him about Zehm’s beating. Thompson was convicted of lying to investigators and using excessive force against Zehm in 2011.

From the Associated Press:

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - A second Spokane police officer has been accused of lying about the 2006 beating death of a man who was wrongly suspected of stealing money from a convenience store ATM.


Officer Timothy Moses was charged last week in Spokane Municipal Court with making a false statement. Arraignment is set for May 3.


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Senate Moves Toward Making Your Electronic Documents Safer From Police Prying

PrivacyCredit: Payphoto | DreamstimeThe Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to send the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act on to the full Senate for consideration. As The Hill explains:

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Thursday that would require police to obtain a warrant before accessing emails, Facebook messages and other private online content.

The bill, which is sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), was approved on a voice vote and now heads to the Senate floor.

Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, police only need a subpoena, issued without a judge's approval, to read emails that have been opened or that are more than 180 days old.

Additionally, PC World reports:

“Americans are very concerned about unwarranted intrusions into our private lives in cyberspace,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and main sponsor of the bill. “There’s no question that if [police] want to go into your house and go through your files and drawers, they’re going to need a search warrant. If you’ve got the same files in the cloud, you ought to have the same sense of privacy.”

Well, yes.

It's a good day when confidentiality wins out over the constabulary. Both Houses of Congress need to approve this legislation as quickly as possible.

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Chuck Hagel's Amazing Overnight Transformation on Syria's Use of Chemical Weapons

Chuck HagelU.S. GovernmentWas it really just yesterday that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said there was no credible evidence that Syria's rather nasty government was using chemical weapons on its own people? What a difference a day can make. Now Hagel says Syria is using chemical weapons on its own people, after all. The difference seems to be intelligence reports sourced in the United States as opposed to intelligence reports sourced in Israel, and maybe a little (or a lot) of pressure from U.S. allies who had already decided that the Assad regime is using sarin gas, and it's about time that somebody American do something about it. Of course, it's good to be open to changing information — so long as we remember that the U.S. government has a bit of a history with intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction, and with using them as the basis for military action.

From a USA Today story that ran yesterday:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday cast doubt on an Israeli general's conclusion that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against its own citizens.

Any U.S. response to Syria will be based on American intelligence findings, Hagel said in his first public remarks since an Israeli official alleged Monday that the Syria government had used chemical weapons.

"Suspicions are one thing," Hagel told reporters traveling with him. "Evidence is another."

From an AP story running today:

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Syrian regime has likely used chemical weapons on a “small scale.”

Hagel was speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi. He says the White House has informed members of Congress that, within the last day, U.S. intelligence concluded with “some degree of varying confidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons — specifically sarin gas.

Hagel says, quote, “It violates every convention of warfare.”

Note that Hagel is still dressing himself out of the same packed bags he had with him when he voiced skepticism of the chemical warfare reports. The guy has been traveling in the Middle East, peddling weapons to the various potentates in the region (so ... can I put the UAE down for 25 F-16s?) and discussing security concerns that might raise the need for ... ummm .... buying U.S. weapons.

This is not to say that Assad and company aren't using chemical weapons. The Syrian regime has proven itself to be brutal and it would be a bit of a shocker if sarin gas proved to be a bridge too far after what that country's rulers have already done to their own people. And it's entirely possible that new evidence has come to light that demonstrates that chemical weapons have been used. Politicians in France and Britain have made it pretty clear that they share Israeli concerns on the issue.

But the U.S. has been down this path before, when reports of chemical weapons were used as a justification for invading Iraq. It'd be encouraging to think that this report of WMDs is a little more certain than the last one, especially since the Obama administration has already described the use of chemical weapons as a "red line" that would require a U.S. response.

Update: Syrian officials are now threatening (they would say "warning," I'm sure) that U.S. intervention in the country will lead to September 11-style terrorism. So, high stakes, indeed.

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Shikha Dalmia in Bloomberg View on the Gang of Eight's Plans to Screw Up the High-Tech Visa Program

No one in their right mind would expect the current round of immigration reforms to fix everything that’s wrong with America’s byzantine and broken system. But it is not too much to expect that these reforms at least not make matters worse. That, however, is exactly what the Gang of Eight’s reform proposal would do with respect to high-tech immigrants. In the name of protecting American jobs, it basically hands control of the H-1B program to Department of Labor bureaucrats — and their union bosses — to pummel employers who dare hire foreign techies. Explains Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her latest Bloomberg View column:

Since 1998, “H-1B dependent” employers — those with 15 percent or more of their workforce on H-1Bs — have had to attest that they are hiring foreign nationals only after making a good-faith effort to recruit qualified Americans. This includes advertising through channels prescribed by the Labor Department and interviewing a requisite number of candidates.

The employers must also be prepared to justify the discharge of any American worker 90 days before or after hiring an H-1B employee. They have to demonstrate either that the employee’s departure was voluntary or caused by poor performance or unacceptable behavior. A company that is found to be willfully violating the law can be barred for three years from hiring foreign workers and slapped with thousands of dollars in fines.

Instead of freeing companies from such mandates, the Gang of 8’s plan would impose them on every company that hires even a single H-1B visa holder.

But that's just the tip. It gets worse. Much, much worse.

To find out how, go here.

And go here now to buy a copy for just $2.99 of Reason's new guide to "Humane and Pro-Growth" immigration reforms that features its best coverage over the last seven years, including pieces by Kerry Howley, Nick Gillespie, Ron Bailey, Mike Riggs and Shikha Dalmia.

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ENDA Returns for the Umpteenth Time, But Has Society Already 'Evolved' Past It?

Maybe switch the colors to green this time?HRCToday the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was reintroduced to Congress for consideration. The legislation would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of ways to try to get your supervisor fired categories in which hiring and workplace discrimination is forbidden. The law provides exemptions for religious organizations and businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

The legislation has been introduced to Congress regularly since the 1990s (transgender protection is a relatively recent addition) but hasn’t passed even under a Democrat-controlled Congress, even with some modest bipartisan support. With the speed of “evolution” on gay marriage recognition by politicians in 2013, it may get its moment soon.

The Wikipedia page for the legislation is amusing in that libertarians are the only people listed as potential objectors to ENDA who aren’t conservative Christians. A 2010 essay from David E. Bernstein published at the Cato Institute (which somebody linked to the Wikipedia entry) defends libertarians against accusations of racism or homophobia (and other bias claims) by pointing out exactly how much power these laws give the government over the citizenry:

[S]upporters of antidiscrimination laws typically focus on laws banning racial discrimination.  They do so because opposition to race discrimination has great historical and emotional resonance in a nation that had institutionalized racial oppression, including chattel slavery, for hundreds of years.  However, federal antidiscrimination laws also apply to discrimination based on religion, sex, age, disability (including one’s status as a recovering drug or alcohol addict), pregnancy, marital status, veteran status, and even military recruiters.  State and local antidiscrimination laws cover everything from sexual orientation to political ideology to weight to appearance to membership in a motorcycle gang.

The proliferation of antidiscrimination laws explains why libertarians are loath to concede the principle that the government may ban private sector discrimination.  There is no natural limit to the scope of antidiscrimination laws, because the concept of antidiscrimination is almost infinitely malleable. Almost any economic behavior, and much other behavior, can be defined as discrimination. Is a school admitting students based on SAT scores? That is discrimination against individuals (or groups) who don't do well on standardized tests! Is a store charging more for an item than some people can afford? That is discrimination against the poor! Is an employer hiring only the best qualified candidates? That is discrimination against everyone else!

The obvious retort is that antidiscrimination laws should be limited to “real” discrimination.  But there is no consensus as to what constitutes “real” discrimination, nor, not surprisingly, does there appear to be any principled definition that legislatures have followed.

One can, for example, define discrimination as treating the alike unequally, but antidiscrimination law does not always follow this definition. Federal antidiscrimination law, for example, requires employers not simply to treat disabled and non-disabled alike, but to make costly “reasonable accommodations” for the disabled.  Employers have the same legal obligation to their religious employees.

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Stoned Driving Measure Revived As Part of Colorado Pot Shop Bill

KIROKIROYesterday I noted two bad amendments that were added to Colorado's pot shop bill at the behest of police organizations: a ban on out-of-state investors and an extension of the rule requiring retailers to grow at least 70 percent of the marijuana they sell. It gets worse. The cops, joined by Colorado Attorney General David Blake, also demanded an amendment creating a "permissible inference" of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) for marijuana consumers with THC blood levels of five nanograms or more per milliliter. Yes, this is the very same measure that was approved by the state House of Representatives on April 5 and killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee  just three days ago. The amendment is based on the same THC cutoff that the state legislature has repeatedly rejected because it is not a good indicator of impairment. Although it still isn't, yesterday the House State Affairs Committee approved it as an amendment to H.B. 1317, the bill laying the groundwork for regulation of state-licensed marijuana stores. Blake's office said he would not support the bill without the amendment, while some police chiefs wanted an even lower cutoff. "It's an important matter of public safety," said Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver), chief sponsor of H.B. 1317.

Presumably Pabon meant that preventing accidents caused by people who are too stoned to drive is an important matter of public safety. It does not follow that allowing DUID convictions based on nothing more than a five-nanogram reading is a fair or sensible way to do that. Under current law, drivers can be convicted of DUID based on evidence of impairment, including but not limited to blood test results. Is there any reason to think this approach is inadequate? Perhaps legislators are hoping that an official benchmark for DUID based on THC in the blood will have an additional deterrent effect. The problem is that individual reactions to marijuana are so highly variable that any such standard will make sense only for some drivers. While novice or occasional pot smokers may be dangerously impaired at five nanograms, regular consumers, including patients who use marijuana as a medicine, may exceed that level all the time, even when they are perfectly capable of driving safely. As Teri Robnett of the Cannabis Patient Action Network told the House State Affairs Committee before it approved the DUID amendment, "Patients like me...will continually maintain a blood level far above five nanograms and without any impairment." A five-nanogram standard unjustly exposes people like Robnette to the risk of being treated as a public menace whenever they get behind the wheel.

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Congress Looks for a Way to Exempt Itself From Obamacare Exchange Requirement

WhiteHouse.govWhiteHouse.govAnd lo was Obamacare passed, and lo did members of Congress and their staffs find out what was in it: a provision requiring legislators under 65 and their personal staffers to get their insurance through the law’s health exchanges. And it appears as if many legislators—including some Democrats—are dismayed by the requirement.

“Secret talks” are underway between both parties in Congress to do away with this requirement, according to Politico. Proposals have been submitted to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which manages congressional staffer benefit options. According to Politico's story, “One proposal exempts lawmakers and aides; the other exempts aides alone.”

The fear amongst Hill offices is that the requirement will mean that congressional staffers have to purchase insurance from the exchanges using after tax dollars, without the subsidy that they now receive for insurance acquired through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). “If they lose that subsidy,” Politico reported in March, “it’s like getting a pay cut of several thousand dollars.” OPM has yet to rule on whether that subsidy will still be available once staffers have to go through the exchanges. But the worry on the Hill is that the compensation cut and the requirement to get insurance through the exchanges could lead to a “brain drain,” in which talented staffers or potential staffers avoid working in congressional offices.

So here’s what’s not happening: Congress is not attempting to exempt itself from Obamacare entirely.

But here’s what is happening: Members of Congress are looking for a way to get out of the part of the law that affects them most—and avoid the health insurance exchanges that are intended to serve as the primary vehicle for the law’s health insurance expansion.

This is not simply a minor technical issue, nor just a little glitch (although ObamaCare does seem to be rather full of glitches). Instead, it’s a telling illustration of one of the largest problems with the law, which is that at the micro level, it’s extremely poorly conceived—confusing, irritating, and difficult to implement or plan for as written and passed. Even, it seems, for those who voted to pass it.

And, of course, also for the Republican legislators and staffers who didn’t vote for it. Obamacare critics are already warning GOP House Speaker John Boehner that they will react angrily if his office, which is apparently participating in the bipartisan talks, is complicit in allowing Democrats to avoid consequences of their own law.

But I’m a little tempted to argue the reverse: Boehner could join hands with Democrats to pass a fix that lets members of Congress and their staffers out of the exchange requirement. He could say that Republicans remain opposed to forcing ObamaCare’s bureaucratic burdens on any American. In other words, let congressional Democrats go on record as voting to exempt themselves from complying with every feature of their own law—and then remind them of that as often as possible.

Tempting as that is, however, I like the suggestion offered by Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute even better: Push to expand the exchange requirement to more members of the federal government, starting with the administration. “It is vital,” he writes, “for these individuals to experience, first-hand, how Obamacare’s costly mandates and regulations will drive up the cost of health insurance.” They passed it. They’re finding out what’s in it. And now, like the rest of us, they ought to have to live with it.

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David Harsanyi on Michael Bloomberg's Authoritarian Instincts

World Bank FlickrWorld Bank FlickrNew York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is an authoritarian. He's not an authoritarian in the way Josef Stalin or Pol Pot was authoritarian, but every instinct tells you he's a man who would use any power given to him to govern every aspect of public and private life whenever necessary -- or, more precisely, whenever he finds it necessary, which is frequently. All said, argues David Harsanyi, he's exactly the type of person who makes the Constitution a necessity.

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Florida Professor Claims Boston Bombing Was “Mass Casualty Drill,” Also Thought Sandy Hook Shooting was Staged

untenuredReason 24//7In theory, tenure is supposed to ensure intellectual integrity and protect professors who might hold unpopular opinions or find themselves at odds with authority. In practice, American academia is woefully lacking in ideological diversity, something even largely liberal social scientists are starting to get wise to. Nevertheless, tenure remains an attractive perk.

From Fox News:

The nutty Florida Atlantic University professor who suggested the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged is at it again, blogging that the Boston Marathon bombing was some sort of government drill.

James Tracy, a tenured associate professor of media history and analysis studies, posted his latest conspiracy on his personal blog, claiming that the bombing attack that killed three and injured nearly 200 was a “mass casualty drill” planned by the government.

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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British Prison Governors Want Prohibition-Based Policy for Heroin, Meth, Other Drugs Reviewed

Credit: Hendrike/wikicommsCredit: Hendrike/wikicommsThe British Prison Governors Association (PGA) has called for a review of a “prohibition-based” drug policy for Class A drugs, arguing that the current British drug policy increases the number of prisoners and victims of crime.

From the BBC

PGA president Eoin McLennan-Murray said it believed "a substantial segment of the prison population have been convicted of low-level acquisitive crimes simply to fund addiction".

"The current war on drugs is successful in creating further victims of acquisitive crime, increasing cost to the taxpayer to accommodate a higher prison population and allowing criminals to control and profit from the sale and distribution of Class A drugs," he said.

"A fundamental review of the prohibition-based policy is desperately required and this is why the Prison Governors Association are keen to support the Count the Costs initiative."

In the U.K. illegal drugs are classified as either Class A, Class B, or Class C. The penalties for possession as well as supply and production are outlined below: 

Credit: Gov.ukCredit: Gov.uk

Cannabis used to be a Class C drug. However, the British government decided to have it reclassified as a Class B drug despite Professor David Nutt, the British government’s senior drug policy adviser, saying that there was no empirical evidence to justify the change. Professor Nutt was later dismissed from his advisory position.

The British Home Office is currently conducting an international study on drug policy. Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected recommendations from some Members of Parliament to explore the possibility of drug decriminalization.

A spokesman from the Home Office responded to the PGA’s call for a policy rethink:

Responding to the PGA's call, a spokesman said drugs were illegal because "they destroy lives and blight communities".

"The government's drug strategy is clear and our balanced approach combines effective enforcement, efforts to reduce demand and the promotion of robust treatment programmes," he added.

Evidently the Home Office makes an exception for alcohol, which Professor Nutt has said is more harmful than heroin

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Rumors of a George W. Bush Revival

Darrell Hammond wuz robbed.George W. Bush's popularity has started creeping back up. Only 33 percent of the country approved of his performance when he left office, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll, but now the number is 47 percent. That's still less than the 50 percent who disapprove of how he did, but it's high enough to have some folks talking about a Bush revival.

I wouldn't put much stock in that talk. Gallup's figures are similar -- it had Bush's job approval rating at 34 percent when he left office and 47 percent now -- but it also notes that almost every ex-president starts to poll better in retrospect. Check out the other leaders' numbers here and see for yourself.

Here is Gallup's explanation for the pattern:

Nostalgia makes fools of us all.

Americans tend to be more charitable in their evaluations of past presidents than they are when the presidents are in office. Former presidents likely transcend politics when they leave office, moving into a more nonpolitical role compared with the highly political environment in which presidents operate. And Americans' retrospective views of presidents may focus more on their accomplishments as president rather than the day-to-day political decisions or the state of the nation that are big influences on their approval ratings while in office....

Evaluations of presidents may also be influenced by their works after leaving office, which tend to be charitable in nature -- such as the fundraising for Hurricane Katrina led by Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush -- or diplomatic, such as Carter's involvement in negotiations to secure the release of political prisoners.

Bush? No, no, he didn't do this. It was some other president who started with a "B." I think his name was Biden.

That's a sensible set of theories (though I suspect that Carter's strong numbers are influenced more by his charitable work, which most people admire, than his diplomacy, which is controversial). But there's something else here that has to be acknowledged, a byproduct of the apocalyptic strain in politics. When a president is in office, there's always the possibility that he'll be the one who finally blows everything up -- the man who launches a nuclear armageddon, oversees the complete collapse of the economy, or otherwise ushers in the endtimes. Once he's left the White House and we move on to worrying about some other executive, the old guy starts to seem comparatively harmless. The Bush years saw the biggest terrorist attack in U.S. history, a storm that had some people worried that New Orleans would disappear altogether, two wars, and the worst economic crisis in years. At the time that may have seemed like the end of the world, but now it's something we survived. When you look at that uptick in Bush's numbers today, you're seeing a sigh of relief.

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Steve Chapman on Americans' Tolerance for Risk

danfinkelstein / photo on flickrdanfinkelstein / photo on flickrAmericans are amazingly safe from terrorist attacks, which are rare and getting rarer. But as we grow more secure, writes Steve Chapman, our tolerance for any remaining risk, or even any potential risk, gets smaller.

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How Medicaid and Obamacare Hurt the Poor - and How to Fix Them

"How Medicaid and Obamacare Hurt the Poor - and How to Fix Them?" 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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NAACP Chief Says Criminal Justice Reform is a GOP Path to African-American Votes

NAACP president Benjamin Jealous writes for CNN that the Republican Party should take a cue from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and address the inequities of mass incarceration. A recent survey of 1,600 African-American voters indicates an opportunity for the GOP to begin to heal the rift with the African-American community by meaningfully taking on criminal justice reform and demonstrating a sincere commitment to civil liberties. 

Jealous notes that Paul received applause while speaking to a crowd at Howard University, one of the nation’s historically black colleges, when Paul contended: “We should not have drug laws or a court system that disproportionally punishes the black community.” Jealous suggests taking on the issue of criminal justice reform is “one issue where the GOP can connect with black voters.” Data from the NAACP survey provides empirical support.

First, it’s important to note the data indicate 55 percent of African-Americans don’t think the Republican Party cares at all about civil rights and equality, 32 percent think Republicans just say what minorities want to hear, whereas only 7 percent think Republicans are sincerely working hard to address civil rights and equality. In stark contrast, 71 percent of African-Americans think Democrats are working hard to promote equality and civil rights, only 18 percent think it’s just rhetoric, and only 2 percent think the Democrats don't care at all.

Likewise, about three-fourths of African-Americans view Democrats as working hard on issues of poverty, public education, health care, and job opportunities. Democrats score higher than Republicans by margins of about 60 points on these issues. However, only 30 percent of African-Americans think Democrats are “working hard to reduce mass incarceration.” Although Republicans don’t score much better (only 6 percent) there is only a 24 point differential.

Jealous points out:

As Paul demonstrated, mass incarceration is also a fundamental conservative issue. State spending on prisons has tripled over the last 30 years, reaching $70 billion in 2008. Federal prisons are at 139% capacity, often thanks to harsh mandatory minimum sentences. And who pays for all these guards, beds and three square meals a day? Taxpayers.

In fact, some red states have led the way on criminal justice reform. In Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, Republican legislatures have teamed up with progressives to increase options for parole and reduce mandatory minimums. In Texas, the NAACP and progressive activists worked with leaders of the Tea Party to pass a dozen reform measures. Last year, Texas scheduled the first prison closure in state history.

Rand Paul is not the first national Republican leader to speak up, either. Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush are both members of the conservative think tank Right on Crime. And in 2011, Gingrich joined Grover Norquist and other unlikely allies - including Mike Jiminez, the president of California's prison guard union -- to endorse the NAACP's report, Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate. The report revealed how the rise in prison spending has caused states to spend less on education.

These alliances should draw the attention of Republican leaders. Many Democrats shy away from talking about criminal justice reform, for fear of being labeled "soft on crime."

The NAACP report finds that African-Americans are considerably less enthusiastic about the Democrats in 2016 than they were in 2012. The survey also found that about 14 percent of African-Americans would be more likely to vote for a Republican who took a stand for civil rights and equality. Although this share may seem small, the African-American vote for President Obama exceeded his margin of victory in several key battleground states like Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, demonstrating that margins matter.

But most importantly, if one is not just concerned with winning votes but cares about people and cares about the ideas that improve people’s lives, then it makes perfect sense to take on these issues with a moral imperative. 

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A.M. Links: Pelosi Least Popular Congressional Leader, The New York Times Keeping “Illegal Immigrant,” CIA Put Tamerlan Tsarnaev on Terrorist Database 18 Months Before Boston Marathon Bombing

Credit: Lauren Victoria Burke/wikicommonsCredit: Lauren Victoria Burke/wikicommons

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the least popular Congressional leader, according to a recent Gallup poll. 
  • The New York Times is sticking with the use of the term “illegal immigrant,” despite the Associated Press cutting the term from their style guide earlier this month. 
  • The CIA added Tamerlan Tsarnaev to a terrorist database 18 months before the Boston Marathon bombing.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tenured Florida Atlantic University professor who claimed that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged has said that the Boston Marathon bombing was a “mass casualty drill.”
  • In an op-ed for CNN the president and CEO of the NAACP says that the GOP could learn something from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about how to win votes from African Americans. 
  • A woman was arrested in West Hempstead, N.Y. after giving an undercover cop a massage without a license.

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Meet Robert Lipsyte, A Pro-Steroid Sportswriter and ESPN's New Ombudsman

wikipediawikipediaChances are you've read something by Robert Lipsyte, the revered sportswriter, novelist, and cancer memoirist, even if you have no idea who he is.

His 1967 young adult novel about a black kid with hopes of becoming a boxing champeen, The Contender, quickly became a widely assigned book in junior highs around the country and introduced generations of kids to vodka-soaked fruit. He co-wrote Dick Gregory's searing 1964 autobiograhy Nigger, which opens with an archetypal "black rage" set piece that is the equal of anything written Richard Wright or even Frederick Douglass (Lipsyte's role in Nigger and other works about the experiences of African Americans led me to start wondering if one of the greatest living black authors of the 20th century wasn't a Jewish white guy from Rego Park, Queens). His early appreciation of Muhammad Ali as a cultural change agent whose influence ranged far beyond sport (summarized here) is representative of his thoughtfulness and insight (as is his 1966 book, The Masculine Mystique). His account of dealing with testicular cancer, In the Country of Illness, stands out in a crowded field of tomes covering similar experiences.

In June, Lipsyte will become the ombudsman for ESPN, the cable sports channel that's done more than its share to de-sacralize not just sports coverage but broadcasting and news-gathering in general. His appointment is fully in keeping with an organization that was never about good, old-fashioned jock sniffing, which is what 99 percent of sportswriting still tends to be: a virtually uncritical, at-face-value take on one of the most fascinating and exploitative markets in human flesh imaginable (years ago, in an ESPN debate about paying college athletes, he asked, "explain to me...why the players, the unpaid professionals, shouldn't get an honest, over-the table piece of their own action?"). Long before it became accepted or even tolerated to seriously interrogate the industry you cover, Lipsyte was on the beat asking tough questions about a sports culture that simultaneously mythologized "the level playing field" while stacking the deck in an infinite number of ways. It's fair to say that without him, ESPN wouldn't have been possible, much less newer outfits such as Deadspin, which blend a fan's intense, insane devotion with an unflinching critical apparatus.

Lipsyte is one of the journalists who has made all of us better, both as writers and readers. As he told The Nation, his job at ESPN will include "happily wading through the e-mail bag to find out what that audience is concerned about, complaining about, loving, questioning. Then I will try to explain the background of what happened, demystify the process (through reporting) and offer my take. Transparency. ESPN is the world’s great window on sports. I’m the window washer."

Here's a taste of Lipsyte, writing about Lance Armstrong:

Lance Armstrong...has done more good than harm in his life but should be penalized for breaking the rules for which he signed up.

There is something faintly sinister about the Anti-Dope Party, whether it’s campaigning through cycling, the Olympics, baseball, or football (where it seems to have pretty much decided to fail). Wasting funds, energy, and the attention of citizens, the anti-dopers generally stay a half-life behind the dopers, who are driven to keep giving us the bigger, faster, more spectacularly vicious thrills we demand. By now, even fantasy leaguers understand that performance-enhancing techniques don’t promise success, only the chance to heal faster from harder and more frequent workouts.

 As one who shoots steroids (a result of three cancer operations, a la Lance), I still can’t crush a fastball, much less ride up mountains at speed....But I do understand what doping can do, and done carefully it can be useful. In American sports, it has been generally available at least since the early Sixties. The promised reefer madness trail of death and twisted lives has never materialized, and certainly not on a scale of the damage caused by the conventionally encouraged violence of football.

Don’t cry for Lance Armstrong. That bully can take care of himself. Watch out for the righteous, wrong-headed anti-dopers, distracting us from more immediate and perilous concerns. Pedal hard. Take responsibility for yourself and be brave.

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Judge Napolitano on Giving up Freedom for Security

Surveillance camsSurveillance camsThe government's fidelity to the Constitution is never more tested than in a time of crisis. The urge to do something -- or to appear to be doing something -- is nearly irresistible to those whom we have employed to protect our freedom and to keep us safe. Regrettably, with each passing violent crisis -- Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11, Newtown and now the Boston Marathon -- our personal freedoms continue to slip away, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, and the government itself remains the chief engine of that slippage.

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Brickbat: Day of the Braindead

Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi / photo on flickrHelgi Halldórsson/Freddi / photo on flickrAbout 230 people at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently took part in a "Humans versus Zombies" role-playing game in which a team of zombies tried to tag members of a team of humans. The humans, in turn, could fight off the zombies with Nerf guns. Apparently, some students or faculty at Wisconsin can't tell the difference between a Nerf gun and a real gun, since police twice responded to reports of people carrying guns. A police spokesman blamed those playing the game for wasting police resources.

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To Ease Internet Snooping, Feds Promise To Ignore Privacy Violations

Barack ObamaU.S. GovernmentFederal law, codified in 18 USC § 2511, prohibits the interception of electronic communications under most circumstances without explicit legal authorization — like a warrant. But CNet's Declan McCullagh, working from documents provided by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, reports that the Obama administration is promising telecommunications companies that it won't enforce the privacy protections of the law if those companies will just play nice and vacuum up all that enticing data for the folks in Washington, D.C.

Writes McCullagh:

Senior Obama administration officials have secretly authorized the interception of communications carried on portions of networks operated by AT&T and other Internet service providers, a practice that might otherwise be illegal under federal wiretapping laws.

The secret legal authorization from the Justice Department originally applied to a cybersecurity pilot project in which the military monitored defense contractors' Internet links. Since then, however, the program has been expanded by President Obama to cover all critical infrastructure sectors including energy, healthcare, and finance starting June 12. ...

The Justice Department agreed to grant legal immunity to the participating network providers in the form of what participants in the confidential discussions refer to as "2511 letters," a reference to the Wiretap Act codified at 18 USC 2511 in the federal statute books.
The Wiretap Act limits the ability of Internet providers to eavesdrop on network traffic except when monitoring is a "necessary incident" to providing the service or it takes place with a user's "lawful consent." An industry representative told CNET the 2511 letters provided legal immunity to the providers by agreeing not to prosecute for criminal violations of the Wiretap Act. It's not clear how many 2511 letters were issued by the Justice Department.

The law does allow short-cuts by the Attorney General and even by the "principal prosecuting attorney of any State or subdivision thereof," but only if a very specifically defined "emergency situation" exists. Instead of trying to find a little more elasticity in that phrase than the courts might allow, EPIC suggests that the snooping program is instead drawing off an Obama administration executive order and an earlier Bush administration presidential directive. That's right — unilateral decrees.

Reports EPIC:

The documents concern a collaboration between the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and private companies to allow government monitoring of private Internet networks. Though the program initially only applied to defense contractors, an Executive Order issued by the Obama administration earlier this year expanded it to include other "critical infrastructure" industries. The documents obtained by EPIC also cited NSPD 54 as one source of authority for the program. NSPD 54 is a presidential directive issued under President Bush that EPIC is pursuing in separate FOIA litigation.

The looming, much-criticized Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is expected to legalize all this snooping and sharing of private information, but it's not yet law. So the Obama administration is apparently just ... pretending that it is.

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New Yorkers Win Right to Stop Having to Wave Desperately for Cabs

Also available at the press of a buttonThere’s a win this week for consumers of taxi services in New York City. A judge has ruled companies can move forward with creating mobile apps to allow people to hail a cab with a touch of a button.

The New York Post reports:

A plan allowing taxi riders to hail yellow cabs with their smartphones got a green light yesterday.

A Manhattan judge knocked down a lawsuit against the “e-hail” program, lifting a temporary hold placed on the plan last month.

Now the Taxi & Limousine Commission can review several apps that would flag down cabs with just the push of a button. Those that are approved could be used across the city.

An interesting twist on this case: Previous protection rackets have cast taxi companies as the bad guys, trying to block companies like Uber from entering their marketplace and creating incredibly expensive entry barriers to avoid new competition. In this case, though, livery companies (as in limos and other forms of paid transport) were trying to block the taxi companies from competing with them for customers, according to the Post.

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Scaremongerers Unite!: Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act Introduced in Congress

killer tomatoCredit: Attack of the Killer TomatoesIt's introduced today by a bipartisan group of Congresscritters on behalf of rent-seekers in the organic foods industry and anti-science mystificationists posing as consumer activists. Unfortunately, as the press release from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) notes, polls show that most Americans, spooked by anti-technology activist and organic commercial interest scare campaigns, want foods containing ingredients derived from biotech crops (nearly anything containing corn or soy) labeled.

The legislation would evidently force the Food and Drug Administration to mandate such labels even though the agency has heretofore only required labeling for science-based nutritional and safety information. To see why this legislation is a particularly egregrious abuse of science, see my article, "The Top Five Lies About Biotech Crops."

Frankly, ignorance looks like it's going to win, so food companies should just go ahead and slap labels on everything they sell reporting: "This product may contain ingredients derived from safe modern biotechnology."

For more background on why this labeling campaign traduces science to further what is just scaremongering for money and political power, see my article, "California Initiative Puts Profits Ahead of Science."

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Obama Tags Middle Class With Tax Hikes, Congress Wants Answers About Tsarnaevs, Colorado Cops Not Keen on Pot: P.M. Links

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Cops Demand (and Get) Two Bad Amendments to Colorado's Pot Shop Bill

Jacob SullumJacob SullumToday the Colorado House of Representatives is holding its first hearing on a bill establishing guidelines for regulation of the state-licensed pot shops that are supposed to start opening early next year, and already the legislation has been changed for the worse in response to complaints from cops. KDVR, the Fox station in Denver, reports that the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and the County Sheriffs of Colorado "were so upset over the initial draft of House Bill 1317 that the groups were threatening to write a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to intervene." Such a move would be an outrageous betrayal by officials who have a duty to enforce Colorado law, which now includes Amendment 64, the marijuana legalization measure that voters approved last November. Yet they were rewarded for threatening what ought to be a firing offense.  

KDVR says the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver), agreed to an amendment that would mandate vertical integration for at least a year, retaining a rule that requires medical marijuana centers (MMCs) to grow at least 70 percent of what they sell. By endorsing this puzzling policy, the cops are siding with the MMCs that claim it helps prevent diversion. Other MMCs favor a more flexible approach, arguing that the 70 percent rule benefits large urban operations at the expense of smaller competitors. The initial version of Pabon's bill, contrary to a recommendation from the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force (which he chaired), allowed but did not require vertical integration, leaving licensees free to specialize in growing or retailing. As Pabon points out, vertical integration and diversion are two distinct issues, which presumably is why the government does not see a need to make bars brew the beer they serve or force pharmacies to manufacture the drugs they sell. "We want to have seed-to-sale tracking," Pabon told Denver's ABC affiliate, "and if we can keep track of that, we think the public safety will be protected."

Pabon also agreed to clarify that residents of other states will not be allowed to invest in Colorado's recreational marijuana market. The original bill limited ownership of pot shops to people who have lived in the state at least two years but did not address financial backing by investors who do not take an ownership stake. "We absolutely will not have out-of-state investors in this industry, and the bill will be amended to address that," Pabon said. "It's vague in how it was written, but we will make it crystal clear to anyone who wants to invest in this business that they are not welcome."

The legislature does not have long to complete work on the bill. The current session ends on May 8.

[Thanks to CK for the tip.]

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Republicans Split Over Plan to Repurpose ObamaCare Funding

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.com / CC BY-SAPhoto credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter.com / CC BY-SAThere’s an interesting split developing between foes of ObamaCare right now. On the one hand, there are folks who want to work within the boundaries of the Affordable Care Act, at least for now, and attempt to pass legislative tweaks that might improve the law. On the other hand are those who will settle for nothing less than full repeal.

You can see this split today in the back and forth over the Helping Sick Americans Now Act. The bill, which is scheduled for a House vote today, would take about $4 billion from ObamaCare’s prevention fund and put it toward the law’s high risk pools—the Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP).

There are a couple of goals here. One is to put money towards the law’s high-risk pools, which earlier this year were shuttered to new entrants due to a lack of funding. Republicans are generally more sympathetic to the concept of publicly subsidized high-risk pools than to other types of health reforms, although it’s not clear that many are particularly big fans of the specific high-risk pools built into ObamaCare. (A number of Republican governors, for example, declined to participate in the program, deeming it a potential budget liability.)

Another is to take money away from the prevention fund, which is widely seen as a slush fund for funneling money to liberal causes—as well for potentially funding the implementation of the law’s health insurance exchanges. So the argument for the bill is that it would shift money from something Republicans don’t like to something they do like—or at least dislike less.

And in the process, some Republicans think they can perhaps embarrass President Obama by asking him to approve a funding shift that would help provide health insurance to as many as 40,000 additional people. If he says no, then what does that say about his commitment to helping people get health insurance? GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have already written a letter to the White House to this effect.

The bill’s opponents basically argue that it does little more than rearrange deck chairs on a sinking ship. “We’re shifting money from one part of Obamacare we don’t support to another part of Obamacare we don’t support,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) said today, according to NRO's Katrina Trinko. “That’s a non-starter for me.”

Conservative critics of the bill are worried that it will allow Obamacare’s liberal backers to accuse them of wanting to spend more on the part of Obamacare they like. And sure enough, earlier today ThinkProgress ran an item titled “Republicans to back bill expanding ObamaCare program.”

One question here is how much this sort of small-ball tweak really matters in the larger scheme of things. But what most Obamacare critics seem to be asking is whether or not it’s worth the hypocrisy charges, and the inter-coalition squabbling, to try to repurpose the money to the high-risk pools. A concern is that although the high risk pools may be more amenable to the GOP sensibility than most of the rest of the law, they are still deeply flawed. Per-beneficiary costs turned out to be much higher in the program than expected—so high that despite enrollment being far lower than expected (about 100,000 versus the 300,000 initially projected) the program had to close entry early.

It’s maybe not the best signal for the full-repeal crowd. And that’s what worries some of them. “Our first vote on Obamacare,” Indiana Rep. Tim Huelskamp told NRO, “will be an expansion of a failed part of the program that’s come in drastically over cost.”

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British Foreign Secretary: "Substantial Number" of Britons Fighting With Extremists in Syria

Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeCredit: Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeBritish Foreign Secretary William Hague has said in a letter to the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee that there are a “substantial number” of Britons fighting with extremist rebels in Syria, adding that they could be a threat to British national security in the future. Hague’s statement comes shortly after the European Union’s anti-terrorism chief said that many Europeans are fighting with rebels in Syria. 

Given that there are a Britons fighting with extremist elements within Assad’s opposition it is strange that the British government has been sending aid to rebels in Syria. Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the U.K. may veto a renewal of the arms embargo on Syria. However, in his letter to the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Hague says that no decision has been made regarding the embargo.

If the E.U.’s arms embargo on Syria is lifted the U.K. and France could begin sending weapons to Syrian rebels. Last month the French foreign minister said that the U.K. and France would consider sending weapons even with the EU’s embargo still in place. The embargo is up for renewal at the end of May. 

While it is the case that there are many rebels in Syria who do not have extremists sympathies there is no way to guarantee that whatever support rebels in Syria might receive from France or the U.K. do not end up in the hands of rebels who pose a threat to French or British national security.

The number of nationalities and ideologies involved in the Syrian conflict as well as its delicate diplomatic implications (particularly regarding Iran and Russia) make it different to other humanitarian crises. Both Assad’s regime and its opposition contain unpleasant elements that have the potential to further destabilize the region. Were European countries to send weapons to rebels in Syria, even ones that had been vetted, it is impossible to know where the weapons will end up and how they will be used.   

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Feds Waste $890,000 Per Year on Empty Bank Account Fees

empty-Mandie- / photo on flickrThe federal government maintains thousands of bank accounts with no money in them. Do you know what happens if you have no money in a bank account? Pointless fees! To be precise:

$65 active account fee times 13,712 empty accounts equals ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

According to The Washington Post, the federal government is currently paying at least $890,000 a year in fees on bank accounts have have no money in them. All the government would have to do to save almost a million bucks a year is close the accounts. 

The Office of Management and Budget has actually been warning agencies about this problem for a couple of years now. And their hollering has borne some fruit. Last year, the number of zero balance accounts was 28,000. So good work, I guess.

How did the feds end up with all these sad, empty accounts? The Washington Post breaks it down:

First, a federal agency gives out a grant. It doesn’t just write a check; it creates an account within a large, government-run depository. The grantee can draw money out from there.

Then, at some point, it’s over. The money runs out. Or the grant’s time limit expires. The agency is given notice: It’s time to close the account down.

But that takes work. An agency is first required to audit the account, to make sure the money was spent properly. (In rare cases, some money is returned to the grantee, and the dead account comes alive again.) That’s generally supposed to happen within 180 days.

If it doesn’t happen, however, there is no formal consequence. And so, sometimes, it doesn’t happen.

Right now, about 7 percent of the 202,000 total government grant accounts are devoid of money. These sit on the books, costing about $5.42 per month. The service fees are the same, whether an account is full or empty.

Which means the wasted $890,000 is really just a nagging reminder that there was probably lots of other misspent money in those grants, but no one has bothered to follow up on where the money in those zero balance accounts went.

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Still Waiting for That Pro-Gun-Control Groundswell

White HouseWhite HouseAfter the Senate gun control bill died last week, The New York Times said "Democratic leadership aides promised that the effort could be revived if a public groundswell demanded it." Claiming support from nine out of 10 Americans, President Obama and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) angrily urged the public to rise up in righteous fury and demand action. The results of a new poll by the Pew Research Center can be summed up as a three-word reply to such hopes: not gonna happen.

According to the survey, the share of Americans who reacted negatively to the Senate vote fell short of a majority, with 15 percent describing themselves as "angry" and 32 percent saying they were "disappointed." Not exactly a groundswell in favor of gun control. On the other side, 20 percent said they were "very happy" about the vote and 19 percent described themselves as "relieved." In short, even immediately after supporters of new gun controls bombarded the public with images of dead children and grieving parents, insisting that anyone who disapproves of mass murder has no choice but to vote for the president's policy proposals, there is only an eight-point difference between supporters and opponents of the legislation, and opponents seem to feel more strongly about the issue. Pew also found, in addition to a predictable partisan divide, that opposition to the bill was especially strong among those who said they were following the issue "very closely," 31 percent of whom said they were very happy the bill failed, compared to 22 percent who were angry.

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Complete 3D-Printed Handgun Just Weeks Away, Says Cody Wilson

Reason 24/7ReasonIf you think 3D printers have given would-be gun controllers the vapors already, just wait until you hear the latest from Cody Wilson, the head honcho of Defense Distributed. He told reporters at the Inside 3D Printing Conference in New York City that the group's latest project — a gun made entirely with 3D-printed parts (except for a metal firing pin) — is just weeks away from success. If Wilson and company can deliver on the promise, it would be an important step beyond their already impressive accomplishments in producing functioning AR-15 lower receivers and "high-capacity" magazines for AR-15s and AK-style rifles. It would also be an unmistakable message to government officials that gun control laws are becoming ever-more unenforceable.

From Mashable:

For Cody Wilson, the world's most notorious 3D printing gunsmith, it all started with a simple question: "Can you use a 3D printer to print a gun?" The answer to that question might come sooner than anybody expected, as Wilson says he will 3D-print an entire handgun in just a couple of weeks.

If Wilson does print an entire handgun, he will reach a milestone that many thought couldn't be reached so soon. And he will also throw a monkey wrench into not only the broader gun control debate, but also into recent legislative efforts to limit the use of 3D printers to make weapons.

Yesterday, the controversial founder and director of Defense Distributed, a non-profit that he launched to explore the possibility of manufacturing weapons with 3D printers, was in Manhattan to talk at the Inside 3D Printing Conference. After a panel on how copyright affects the 3D printing industry, he confirmed to Mashable what he had already hinted at before: that what was once unthinkable — a gun entirely made of 3D-printed parts — is actually right around the corner.

Will it work? Wilson thinks it will, and it won't be just a one-shot wonder it will be able to fire a few shots before melting or breaking.

Some critics of Defense Distributed's efforts have pointed to the limitations of the materials used by all but the highest-end 3D printers as imposing barriers to creating a full firearm, at least at the current state of technology. But CNet separately reports Wilson's claim that "he and others successfully fired 11 rounds through a 3D-printed gun barrel not long ago." The trick seems to be that Defense Distributed is creating an all-new design around the material (ABS plastic) rather than trying to print parts for an existing firearm design.

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Is This the Supreme Court’s Next Big Economic Liberty Case?

In its decision last month in the case of St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit struck down Louisiana’s requirement that only licensed funeral directors be permitted to sell caskets, handing a victory to the monks of St. Joseph Abbey, who now enjoy the right to build and sell their traditionally-made wooden caskets without unnecessary government interference. “The great deference due state economic regulation does not demand judicial blindness to the history of a challenged rule or the context of its adoption nor does it require courts to accept nonsensical explanations for regulation,” the 5th Circuit declared. “The funeral directors have offered no rational basis for their challenged rule and, try as we are required to do, we can suppose none.”

At the Appellate Daily blog, Michelle Olsen explains why this important case now has the potential to land before the U.S. Supreme Court:

In Powers v. Harris, the Tenth Circuit upheld Oklahoma’s casket-sale law, mainly out of deference to the legislature. The court was uncomfortable “substituting [its] view of the public good or the general welfare for that chosen by the states.” A bill to change the law had been introduced three times in the Oklahoma House, but not passed.

The Tenth Circuit found that sometimes states have legitimate reasons for preferring certain industries, for instance to attract business to the state. It is best to leave legislating to the legislators, the court concluded.

In March 2005, the Supreme Court declined to review the Tenth Circuit decision. Now, eight years later, with four new justices, it may have another chance with the monks’ Fifth Circuit win and a refreshed circuit split.

As Olsen notes, the Supreme Court declined to take up the 10th Circuit case from Oklahoma in 2005 despite a clear split between it and a 2002 ruling by the 6th Circuit against a similar casket-sale regulation in Tennessee. Unlike the 10th Circuit, which upheld the licensing scheme as a matter of judicial deference to lawmakers, the 6th Circuit actually bothered to examine the arguments made by Tennessee officials in support of their regulation. Having thus performed the basics of judicial review, the 6th Circuit was left with little alternative but to voice open contempt for the state’s flimsy position. “Tennessee’s justifications,” the 6th Circuit held, “come close to striking us with the ‘force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish.’”

Today’s "refreshed circuit split" is equally sharp, with the 10th Circuit’s judicial passivity standing in contrast to the 5th Circuit’s holding that Louisiana's casket-sale licensing requirement is “nonsensical” and possesses “no rational basis.” As Olsen notes, we may soon learn if the current Supreme Court has any interest in finally settling the matter.

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Cops Shot at State Police SUV During Boston Bombing Manhunt

watertown thursday nightAndrew KitzenbergCBS News reviews the “fog of war” during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and the misinformation that swirled in the media:

For example, an initial report issued police incorrectly claimed that the suspects robbed a 7-Eleven.

Another false report put out over the police radio said that the suspects had stolen a state police SUV.

The police radio dispatcher advised, "Lots of shots being fired, stolen SUV from state police, copy, stolen SUV from state police." The false report led to officers firing on a Massachusetts State Police SUV that was occupied by another police officer and an FBI agent. No one was hurt but the origin of the false report remains a mystery.

Then there was the Internet’s processing of pictures from the Boston marathon to find as many suspects in the photos as possible, two of whom were splashed across the front page of the New York Post despite not being suspected of anything. It wasn’t just the Post either. Last week The Atlantic broke down how so many media outlets (including them) ran with two names for the Boston bombing suspects on late Thursday night/early Friday morning based largely on speculation from Reddit and not on anything factual at all.

Could the feds be much better? Their case against the first Ricin suspect fell apart within days, while at least one Internet sleuth came to the same conclusion the FBI, with a lot more resources and manpower than her, originally did.

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John Stossel on the Vengefulness of the Education "Blob"

TriStar PicturesTriStar PicturesJohn Stossel wrote recently how teachers unions, parent-teacher associations, and school bureaucrats form an education "Blob" that makes it hard to improve schools. In his latest column, he reveals how they take revenge on those who work around the Blob.

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Sex First, Then Arrest Hooker: Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?

"Sex First, Then Arrest Hooker: Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?" 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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Who Framed Elvis?

That Klinger! So wacky!2013 was the year terrorism discovered that standby of the sitcom hack, the A plot/B plot structure. You break up the main narrative with a secondary storyline, and if the A plot is on the weighty, depressing side, the B plot is where you stick the comic relief. Hawkeye learns a somber lesson about love or war or something, and meanwhile Klinger discovers the hoola hoop.

In America right now, the A plot is the Boston bombings and the B plot is a wacky tale about Elvis killing the president. But he isn't really Elvis, the president doesn't die, and—this is the latest twist—it's starting to look like Elvis might have been framed.

For those who came in late: Last week the authorities arrested Paul Kevin Curtis, an Elvis impersonator in Mississippi, for mailing ricin to the president, a senator, and a judge. (There were no casualties.) This week they dropped the charges against Curtis, and Hazmat-clad investigators searched the home of Everett Dutschke, a musician, insurance agent, tae kwon do instructor, and accused child molester who apparently has a beef with the previous suspect.

I should stress that the police have not accused Dutschke of anything, and that we may yet learn that an entirely different person was responsible for the ricin. Indeed, the charges against Curtis were dismissed "without prejudice," which means that officials reserve the right to file them again. But for now, Curtis is enjoying his freedom and his lawyer is pointing her finger at Dutschke. From a report in Talking Points Memo:

YOU SEE? ELVIS WAS WORKING WITH THE PRESIDENT ALL ALONG!

At a strange, celebratory press conference after the charges against Curtis were dismissed Tuesday, his attorney Christi McCoy, suggested he was freed because investigators have moved on to "another suspect." Though she did not name this other suspect, McCoy said she believed investigators were still at Dutschke's home. McCoy first connected Dutschke to the case earlier this week when she suggested he was interested in framing Curtis for the crime because of a longstanding argument between the two men.

Curtis provided further details about the feud at the press conference when reporters asked him about his relationship with Dutschke. He claimed he did not know Dutschke well, but had received angry messages from him and heard indications from others that Dutschke had a major grudge against him. Curtis implied Dutschke may have developed these negative feelings towards him when they studied taekwondo together or because of his career as an Elvis impersonator. According to Curtis, one of the messages he received from Dutschke was an email saying, "I've created a band called Robodrum and we're going to throw you off the national circuit."

Dutschke has also run unsuccessfully for the Mississippi legislature, and at one point, according to the AP, he threatened to sue Curtis for claiming to be a member of Mensa. Meanwhile—how did I get this far without mentioning this part?—Curtis claims to have uncovered a "secret shadow government" that exists to conceal an "illegal organ harvesting market." In 2011 he issued an appeal to former Reason reporter Radley Balko to protect him from the conspiracy.

You know what? The A plot is depressing. The B plot is quirky and unpredictable and doesn't actually involve anyone dying. I like it better. Give it its own series, ideally starring Nicolas Cage.

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Immigration Reform Done Right: Reason's New Ebook, Humane and Pro-Growth

lmmigration reform is one of the very hottest topics of the day - and something that Reason cares about deeply and brings a uniquely libertarian perspective to.

Our new ebook, Humane and Pro-Growth: A Reason Guide to Immigration Reform, is a super-timely compendium of reality-based data and analysis on the best ways to fix a system that is plainly broken. Costing just $2.99, it's available instantaneously in Kindle, Nook, and Apple formats.

Edited by Reason Foundation analyst Shikha Dalmia, Humane and Pro-Growth pulls together the best of work from people such as Brian Doherty, Mike Riggs, Greg Beato, Cathy Young, Ronald Bailey, Tyler Cowen, Kerry Howley, Carolyn Lochhead, myself, and others. Every possible aspect of immigration is covered and policy solutions firmly grounded in our "Free Minds and Free Markets" philosophy are laid out in clear, compelling prose.

The book is fiercely pro-open borders and provides reams of data and case studies to support the basic case that everyone wins when migration is not simply tolerated but embraced as an ideal.

Immigration restrictionists will find much of value in the pages of Humane and Pro-Growth, too. Indeed, they will encounter the most comprehensive set of arguments for letting more kinds of people and more kinds of workers freely enter, work, and live in the United States of America.

Go here now to buy a copy for just $2.99 - and for information on our volume of interviews with Christopher Hitchens, Ronald Reagan, F.A. Hayek, Thomas Szasz, and Timothy Leary.

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Fisker = Solyndra

Fisker carCredit: Boykov | Dreamstime.comThis afternoon the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing entitled, "Green Energy Oversight: Examining the Department of Energy's Bad Bet on Fisker Automotive," about the imminent bankruptcy of that would-be electric car maker. As all the world knows, the Obama Administration's minions shoveled billions in loan guarantees out of the Department of Energy in a bid to jumpstart a Clean Energy Revolution.

Then came the parade of bankruptcies: Solyndra, Beacon Power, Ener1, A123 Systems, Range Fuels, Abound Solar, and more. Yesterday, Reason 24/7 reported that the Department of Energy has seized $21 million from Fisker, the electric car company that received $192 million in federal loans that were suspended amid problems in 2011.

Today's New York Times reports:

Veering on the edge of bankruptcy, without a buyer in sight, Fisker has become — to lawmakers and others — the Solyndra of the electric car industry. Not only private backers but millions of dollars in government loans gave life to a company, some would argue, that was a shaky investment from the start.

No electric vehicle initiative backed by Washington seems more of a debacle than Fisker, which was given a $529 million federal loan in 2009 to advance the project. Two years later, after Fisker repeatedly missed production targets and other deadlines, the Energy Department suspended the loans.

Of course, the world-weary venture capitalists at DOE can explain it all away:

An Energy Department spokeswoman, Aoife McCarthy, said the loan to Fisker was one of only a handful of 33 clean-energy loans that did not prove successful. She asserted that its problems should not be considered representative of the Obama administration’s broader efforts to promote cleaner cars.

“There will always be an element of risk with investments in the most innovative companies,” she said. Major automakers like Ford and Nissan received billions of dollars in federal loans to produce electric cars and, so far, have succeeded.

Of course, when venture capitalists take risks with their own money, that's a bit different than when bureaucrats risk taxpayer dollars.

And Ford and Nissan have succeeded so far? That remains to be seen. In the case of Nissan, it's battery plant in Smyrna can manufacture 200,000 Leaf all-electric car battery packs per year, but since demand for the Leaf is running at 2,000 per month, it actually produces around 24,000 per year. By the way, the project is backed by a $1.4 billion federal loan.

The Times quotes Detroit-based corporate restructuring executive Van Conway:

“The government is playing in a space where they have to recognize their limitations."

Well, yes.

Maybe an argument can be made that the government should support basic and applied research, but the overwhelming evidence is that the feds do a terrible job when it comes to development and commercialization. 

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Calls to Delay Immigration Reform Because of the Boston Bombing Offer a Lesson in Political Argument by Headline

House.govHouse.govIt’s hard to see calls to delay consideration of the immigration reform bill because of the Boston bombing as anything other than convenient political excuse making. People who opposed the immigration bill before the Boston attacks say they want it delayed because...well, they don’t really say.  “We need to take a look at the big picture,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). “Just push it back a month or two,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana). These aren’t reasons at all. But these legislators opposed the bill before, and Boston offers an easy news hook on which to hang their opposition. It's political argument by headline: Whatever's making news must justify the position these legislators already held. 

Of course, it would be difficult to come up with a good reason to connect the two events. As Bloomberg View’s Evan Soltas points out, the Boston bombing and the immigration bill just don’t have much to do with each other. Calls to delay the bill don't really make sense. And neither, in turn, do calls to speed it up. Soltas talked to Edward Alden, an immigration policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations:  

"I don't think there's anything that could have been done through the immigration system that would have had any impact on this attack," Alden said. "And, conversely, I don't think there's anything in the immigration reform bill that would have any impact, either. It appears to be completely irrelevant, given the intelligence we have now on the Tsarnaev brothers."

"Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev emigrated from Russia to the U.S. with their parents at ages 8 and 15. Unless there's an immigration system that can detect potential for radicalization 11 years ahead," Alden said, "senators who bring up Boston are blowing smoke."

That's not to argue that the immigration framework is all great shakes. The push for workplace checks is worrisome, as is all the huffy chatter about increased border security. But anything that was worthwhile about the immigration overhaul before the Boston marathon bombing is still worthwhile. And conversely, problems that may have existed with the proposal before are still problems. But the Boston bombing provides no strong reason to slow down the process, or, for that matter, to speed it up.  

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L.A. City Council Takes Battle Against Unregulated Marijuana Shops to the Ballot

Must resist candy store jokesCredit: Peter Kim, Dreamstime.comMail-in ballots are arriving at Los Angeles homes for those who don’t want to trudge down to their local churches and elementary schools on May 21. The election includes the final run-off for mayor (a choice between which public unions will actually be running the office), a couple of other races, a stupid resolution objecting to the outcome of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, and three competing initiatives to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.

I was planning to put together a primer on the three initiatives – they are written in typical ballot initiative language and therefore are incomprehensible by average humans – but then it turned out Benjamin Gottlieb at KCET summarized them and pointed out the difference yesterday. He’s got all three of them here.

To quickly explain, though:

Proposition D was put on the ballot by L.A. City Council. It caps the number of dispensaries at 135, essentially protectionism for the first shops to open prior to a moratorium enacted in 2007. It also raises taxes on dispensaries by 20 percent and requires background checks for all dispensary workers. Gottlieb notes that California courts have taken a dim view on some of the distinctions proposed and have already declared them unconstitutional. The ballot initiative could ultimately be struck down by the courts. (You better believe, though, that the Department of Justice will be more than happy to use the measure as an excuse to go after all the remaining dispensaries regardless of the court’s ruling)

Ordinance E was pushed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and was mostly the same as Measure D, but the measure neglected to extract more taxes from the pot dispensaries. This is Los Angeles, not Texas, so once Measure D was crafted, Measure E’s supporters jumped ship and now support Measure D instead. For those wondering why the union is involved with this, they’ve worked to unionize several of those early dispensaries. The City-County Observer notes:

The 50-plus dispensaries with union ties would be allowed to stay in business, said Rigo Valdez, an organizing director with UFCW. One city councilman estimates there may be as many as 900 dispensaries now open in Los Angeles.

If the union-backed initiative is successful, it would put most of those dispensaries out of business and make the UFCW a dominant player in one of the nation’s most important markets for legal marijuana sales.

Ordinance F would prevent the city from implementing a cap, preventing the closure of all the other dispensaries. But it also mandates background checks, raises taxes on marijuana sales, and mandates the testing of marijuana for pesticides and toxins.

Ordinance F comes off as the market-friendliest of choices, while the other two manage to combine community fearmongering with business and union protection rackets.

Elsewhere in Southern California, feds raided more marijuana dispensaries in the San Diego area yesterday, even as their City Council is working on drafting ordinances legalizing them and the mayor said the city would stop prosecuting them.

Below: Reason TV on the history of L.A.’s efforts to defy the will of the public on medical marijuana.

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Justice Department Charges Lance Armstrong "Unjustly Enriched" Himself

dopeReason 24/7After years of denying it, championship cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drug and was stripped of his Tour de France titles. The Department of Justice is now following through on a lawsuit aimed at Armstrong and his use of taxpayer funds (the Post Office was a major endorser).

From the Washington Times:

The Justice Department filed charges against disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong on Tuesday, claiming he violated a contract with his former teammates and “unjustly enriched” himself with his drug-fueled Tour de France wins.
Mr. Armstrong admitted in January he used performance-enhancing drugs to help win all seven of his Tour de France trophies.

Read more Reason on Lance Armstrong here.

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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Enrico Letta Asked to Form Italy's Next Government

Credit: Author Enrico Letta/wikimediaCredit: Author Enrico Letta/wikimediaAfter months of political deadlock it looks like Italy may soon have a government. Today, Enrico Letta was asked by President Giorgio Napolitano to form a coalition government. Letta, the deputy leader of the left-leaning Democratic Party, now faces the unenviable task of putting together the government of a country that faces enormous economic challenges.

Letta will replace Mario Monti, who put together a technocratic government that included no elected officials after he was appointed prime minister in November 2011. 

Whatever government Letta puts together must include representatives from the Democratic Party and the right-leaning People of Freedom Party and pass a vote of confidence in parliament. Given the political awkwardness that putting the coalition government together will involve it is hard to see how much the new Italian government will be able to achieve.

Many governments across Europe have been implementing so-called austerity, much of it being imposed by Germany, which is providing a lot of money for bailouts across Europe. Thankfully, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently put the issue of austerity in perspective, saying that what everyone else is calling “austerity” is “balancing the budget.”

Since the euro crisis began there has been an ongoing debate on whether European government should be stimulating their economies or cut spending. Letta will have to now see which versions of these two options his new government will be able to implement. 

During Monti’s time as prime minister Italy did implement austerity measures, and how the new Italian government decides to deal with the ongoing euro crisis will be watched very carefully by investors and other governments. That the two major parties that will have to be part of the coalition government will have disagreements on how best to address Italy’s economic future means that any agreed upon economic policy will probably not be what Italians require in the midst of the euro crisis. 

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A. Barton Hinkle on Why Immigration Reform Is Falling Short

Credit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAThe comprehensive immigration overhaul plan unveiled by the Senate’s gang of eight has some commendable elements, writes A. Barton Hinkle, such as prioritizing merit-based visas and clearing the backlog of legal applicants. But it also has significant drawbacks, such as calling for another $7 billion in enforcement through drones, more fencing, an additional 3,500 federal border agents, a national employer mandate, and an entire new bureaucracy, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research. But the biggest problem may be that so many Republicans think the proposal is too lax when in fact it’s not nearly lax enough.

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A.M. Links: American Investigators in Russia to Speak to Family of Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects, LA Will Give Women Shot During Dorner Hunt $4.2 Million, Medical Marijuana Will Create Jobs in AZ

Credit: Laurie Avocado/wikicommonsCredit: Laurie Avocado/wikicommons

  • The city of Los Angeles will give two women who were shot by police during the hunt for Christopher Dorner $4.2 million.  
  • According to a recent study by the Regulated Dispensaries of Arizona Association, medical marijuana will create 1,500 jobs in Arizona. 
  • It doesn’t look like the Senate is that interested in CISPA, which was passed by the House of Representatives last week.
  • Tennessee State's Alan Gendreau could become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
  • Clashes in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have left 21 people dead, including suspected terrorists, police officers, and community workers.

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CISPA Not Going Anywhere in Senate Yet, Ed Krayewski on the Brian Thomas Show at 8am ET

I’ll be on The Brian Thomas Show on the radio on 55 KRC in Cincinatti at 8am to talk about CISPA, which passed the House last week but isn’t looking like it’s headed anywhere in the Senate just yet. You should be able to listen online here, so tune in!

Jacob Sullum on the Bogus 'Public Safety' Exception to the Miranda Rule

FBIFBIBoston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, captured last Friday evening, was not informed of his right to remain silent and his right to a lawyer until Monday morning, nearly three days after his arrest. The FBI said the delay was justified under the "public safety" exception to Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 ruling in which the Supreme Court said the now-familiar warnings are required to enforce the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against compelled self-incrimination. But Senior Editor Jacob Sullum argues that the public-safety exception itself is not justified, which he says becomes clear when you consider the 1984 decision that announced it.

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