Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 June 15-31

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E.U. Caps Bankers' Bonuses

Credit:ReutersCredit:ReutersThe Council of the European Union has voted to cap bankers’ bonuses, with only the U.K. voting against the proposal. The directive will limit bonuses to no more than twice bankers’ salaries and go into effect in 2015. The measure comes in response to public anger over continuing financial crises and a desire on the part of E.U. officials to reduce risk in the financial sector.

Business leaders and commentators have criticized the cap and believe the result will be to drive up base pay and reduce flexibility over remuneration in times of crisis.

Christopher Mordue, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, says: 

This European Union Council vote in favour of the bonus cap is no surprise and at least the banks have a clear timetable for reforming their bonus structures. The problem is that there are still some significant uncertainties about how the cap will work and who will be caught by it. Firms now face the difficult task of overhauling their remuneration practices in a short timescale without a clear picture of the final shape of the new rules.This is likely to result in broad brush compliance approaches, including increasing salary to mitigate the impact of the cap.

The removal of the ability of firms to reward their most successful workers will place E.U. financial centers at a competitive disadvantage when compared New York or Hong Kong. 

For some members of the European Parliament, the possibility of financiers relocating to these friendlier market centers is not a problem but a potential benefit.

From Bloomberg:

"If bankers and traders want to leave and go to other jurisdictions, it just shows that they do not have confidence in their own performance." Sharon Bowles, chairwoman of the [Economic and Monetary Affairs] committee, said in an e-mailed statement today."To those that would leave I say good riddance."

Because of the importance of financial services to the U.K. economy, British politicians have been the most vocal in their criticism of the move. London Mayor Boris Johnson has described the directive as “possibly the most deluded measure to come from Europe since Diocletian tried to fix the price of groceries across the Roman Empire."

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Sheriff's Deputies Beat and Jail Attorney For Comforting His Client

Reason 24/7ReasonWhen it comes to Third World-style thuggishness, there's nary a gold-bedecked generalissimo or a brigade of sociopathic enforcers haunting any of the jungles of the world who can hold a candle to Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, and his merry gang of loyal psychopaths. Their misdeeds range from jailing journalists who have rubbed him the wrong way to torturing a paraplegic, with numerous others worthy of mention, and litigation (prosecution is too much to hope for). You can add another one to the tally if yet another lawsuit pans out. This time, sheriff's deputies apparently beat an attorney half-to-death for daring to go a-lawyering in proximity to officers of the law.

From Courthouse News Service:

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's lawyer-hating deputies beat an attorney so badly his brain bled and his shoulder was dislocated as he tried to calm down a client at the scene of an accident, the attorney and client say in separate lawsuits.

Daniel Kloberdanz and his employee and client, Valarie Lingenfelder, sued Arpaio, Maricopa County, its Sheriff's Office and other county employees, in Maricopa County Court. ...

Kloberdanz says he "asked [Officer Joseph] Pellino, very politely, words to the effect, 'Can I please go over and try to calm her down, I'm the only person she knows here.'"

Pellino then asked Lingenfelder "words to the effect, 'Do you know this man?' Lingenfelder then said, 'Yes, he's my friend, [then a slight pause] and he's my attorney.'

Pellino then walked back towards Kloberdanz, and before Kloberdanz could finish a sentence again requesting to approach Lingenfelder, much to Kloberdanz's surprise, Pellino shoved Kloberdanz in his chest so hard it knocked him over," the complaint states. (Brackets in complaint.)

The complaint continues: "Pellino shoved Kloberdanz so hard it left bruises on Kloberdanz's upper chest below his collar bone. From the shove, Kloberdanz slipped on the gravel and rolled on the ground, avoiding hitting his head on the gravel. Once Kloberdanz got his footing back, he stood up.

"Kloberdanz did not do or say anything that might intimidate or aggravate Pellino, knowing he had a gun and short temper.

"Again, Pellino immediately approached Kloberdanz aggressively and began yelling words to the effect that 'I don't need you guys telling me how to do my job,' as he tackled Kloberdanz to the ground.

The injuries inflicted on Kloerdanz were ... mind-boggling. In addition to the brain injuries and dislocated shoulder described above, the deputies so brutally ground his face into the gravel that stones were forced under the skin. He ended up in jail too, of course, and without medical treatment, though charges were later dropped.

That's unbelievable, you say. But as Ray Stern writes at the Phoenix New Times:

One point that runs in Kloberdanz's favor, as far as we're concerned, is that Kloberdanz claims Deputy Steven Carpenter helped hold him down as Pellino beat him. As we've previously reported, Carpenter, in September 2012 -- about three months after the Kloberdanz incident -- went on a road trip to North Dakota to help another deputy ambush and attack a man.

This can't happen in America? Yeah. And the government can't listen to your phone calls, either.

You can read the full text of Daniel Kloberdanz's lawsuit here.

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How the Government Has Treated A Past Journalist It Connects with Espionage

As Edward Snowden is indicted (see Scott Shackford's report below), it's worth revisiting an interesting and detailed account from The Nation earlier this week about currently imprisoned journalist Barrett Brown.

Barrett BrownBarrett Brown

To simplify a pretty complicated story, Brown dumped the contents of an Anonymous-released dump of documents grabbed from Stratfor, a private intelligence/security company into a public wiki dedicated to investigative journalism he ran called ProjectPM, and began looking into a mysterious company called "Endgame Systems," an info-security firm with multi-million dollar yearly subscriptions services supposedly involving giving away info on how to exploit systems vulnerabilities in computers.

Then things got ugly for Barrett Brown.

Excerpts:

The FBI acquired a warrant for Brown’s laptop, gaining the authority to seize any information related to HBGary, Endgame Systems, Anonymous, and, most ominously, “email, email contacts, ‘chat’, instant messaging logs, photographs, and correspondence.” In other words, the FBI wanted his sources.

When the FBI went to serve Brown he was at his mother’s house. Agents returned with a warrant to search his mother’s house, retrieving his laptop. To turn up the heat on Brown, the FBI initiated charges against his mother for obstruction of justice for concealing his laptop computer in her house. (Facing criminal charges, on March 22, 2013, his mother, Karen McCutchin, pled guilty to one count of obstructing the execution of a search warrant. She faces up to twelve months in jail. Brown maintains that she did not know the laptop was in her home.)

The going after his mom part made Brown freak out, and he made an ill-advised video in which he discussed his drug problems and threatened to turn the FBI's justice around on them. He said in the video:

I know what’s legal, I know what’s been done to me… And if it’s legal when it’s done to me, it’s going to be legal when it’s done to FBI Agent Robert Smith—who is a criminal.”

That’s why [FBI special agent] Robert Smith’s life is over. And when I say his life is over, I’m not saying I’m going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids… How do you like them apples?”

Brown was suddenly a very bad man indeed to any media who might have been sympathetic, and since the Statfor dump included some credit card numbers, the FBI hit him with credit card fraud charges, and: 

Traffic in Stolen Authentication Features, Access Device Fraud, Aggravated Identity Theft, as well as an Obstruction of Justice charge (for being at his mother’s when the initial warrant was served) and charges stemming from his threats against the FBI agent. All told, Brown is looking at century of jail time: 105 years in federal prison if served sequentially. He has been denied bail.

Worth noting the guy who carried out the hack whose info Brown proliferatied is facing a max of 10 years.

As Glenn Greenwald remarked in the Guardian: “it is virtually impossible to conclude that the obscenely excessive prosecution he now faces is unrelated to that journalism and his related activism.”

And it isn't just the people who do the hacking or launch crowdsourced journalism into leaked/hacked data who have reason to fear:

In March, the DOJ served the domain hosting service CloudFlare with a subpoena for all records on the ProjectPM website, and in particular asked for the IP addresses of everyone who had accessed and contributed to ProjectPM, describing it as a "forum" through which Brown and others would "engage in, encourage, or facilitate the commission of criminal conduct online." The message was clear: Anyone else who looks into this matter does so at their grave peril.

And here we are.

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Feds Charge Edward Snowden with Espionage

Guess this is part of that "public discussion" on transparency?Credit: The GuardianThe man who told Americans (and the world) what their government is doing with their private data is being charged with espionage. The Washington Post reports:

Federal prosecutors have filed a sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of documents about top-secret surveillance programs, and the United States has asked Hong Kong to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant, according to U.S. officials.

Snowden was charged with espionage, theft and conversion of government property, the officials said.

The complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, a jurisdiction where Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is headquartered, and a district with a long track record in prosecuting cases with national security implications.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

So will this be The Pentagon Papers, Part II, or what? This is assuming the government can get its hands on Snowden. While Hong Kong does have an extradition treaty with the United States, there are complications:

The United States has an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and U.S. officials said cooperation with the Chinese territory, which enjoys some autonomy from Beijing, has been good in previous cases.

The treaty, however, has an exception for political offenses, and espionage has traditionally been treated as a political offense. Snowden’s defense team in Hong Kong is likely to invoke part of the extradition treaty with the United States, which states that suspects will not be turned over to face criminal trial for offenses of a “political character.”

Snowden could also remain in Hong Kong if the Chinese government decides that it is not in the defense or foreign policy interests of the government in Beijing to have him sent back to the United States for trial.

Snowden could also apply for asylum in Hong Kong, or attempt to reach another jurisdiction and seek asylum there before the authorities in Hong Kong act.

Our coverage of all matters Snowden-related is here.

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Anti-Food Truck Meddling Ends Up Ruining Miami Farmer’s Market

Anybody objecting to a gelato truck should be treated like the monster he isFacebookIn Cutler Bay, a town of about 40,000 in the Miami area, food truck regulations ended up ruining a nearby farmer’s market.

According to the Miami Herald, the Cutler Bay Farmer’s Market ran every Sunday for the past two years. A handful of food trucks came to event as well. Somebody anonymously complained to the city about unlicensed vendors (how would an average person know who was or wasn’t licensed to do business at a farmer’s market? Good question!). It turned out the town had an ordinance that prohibited allowing food trucks at the market, but it wasn’t being enforced. So the city sent the market’s volunteer manager warnings about it. Rather than booting the food trucks, he shut the whole affair down. The reason he did so is because the food trucks, even though there were only a handful of them, played a huge role in drawing people to the market:

“We don’t want to close down the market, but with taking out the food trucks, we are essentially doing just that,” said Vice Mayor Ernie Sochin. “If we want this Farmer’s Market to survive, we need to have the food trucks there.”

Joseph Gangi operates the MetroDeli food truck, which is one of several trucks that frequented the Farmer’s Market. He said this is another example of food trucks being unjustifiably ostracized.

“Food trucks get treated like lepers all over,” Gangi said, “even though we provide a more sanitary way to provide food for people, more so than the open vendors at these markets.”

Residents and council members, such as Sochin, said that without the food trucks there wouldn’t have been enough traffic for the market. The trucks, in essence, served as an advertising tool.

Here’s a defense from the kind of resident who doesn’t like those nasty food trucks (and also incorrectly thinks he understands how markets work):

Other residents didn’t want the market to rely on food trucks to attract patrons.

“If logistically it doesn’t work, then it’s a failed business,” said Alexander Volsiso. “We don’t want a food truck invasion.”

Who is this “we,” Mr. Volsiso? Obviously a significant number of Cutler Bay residents do want them because they’re going to the farmer’s market to give them money. Also, if you, for example, banned hamburgers in Cutler Bay, would you simply blather, “It’s a failed business,” when McDonald’s shuts its doors? A business that fails because of government intervention is not a good choice to express one’s knowledge of markets.

The farmer’s market has a Facebook page where a post from yesterday indicates it will be back this weekend. It does not state whether food trucks will be there.

(Hat tip to Justin Pearson of the Institute for Justice's Florida Chapter)

A Response to "Nick Gillespie’s Dishonest Daily Beast Article Discredits Him"

Earlier this week, I wrote a story for The Daily Beast titled "Nostalgia Act: The Great Sarah Palin Revival Tour of 2013." The story was reposted at Reason.com on June 20 as well. The thrust of the piece was that, despite recent comments by the former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate that were favorable toward libertarian ideas, Palin is not particularly libertarian. With particular reference to the speech she gave at last weekend's "Road to Majority" gathering of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, I argued that she is more of a populist than anything like a libertarian. On social issues, after all, she's against marriage equality and pot legalization, and in her recent remarks seemed dead-set against letting more immigrants legally enter the country. The politician she name-checked at the Faith and Freedom Coalition was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a Tea Party favorite who is also unambiguously against immigration reform and who just this week came out in favor of invading Syria (to grab that country's chemical weapons). Interestingly, Palin voiced support for NSA leaker Edward Snowden and reluctance to enter Syria, but did so in a way that seemed more partisan than principled (go here to check her various statements about Iraq, Afghanistan, and foreign policy more generally).

I noted as well that if the GOP is actually interested in capturing more independent and younger voters (as various official party spokesmen and members have said), they would do better to look toward libertarian-leaning House members such as Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). They, along with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) aren't down-the-line libertarians but they are not only smart, youthful, and self-evidently electable, they favor decentralizing power and cutting spending. When it comes to gay marriage, for instance, each believes in devolving the matter to the states or getting the government out of the certification business altogether. That's despite them all being believing Christians of various denominations (and all, like Palin, generally anti-abortion).

In my article, I questioned Palin's dedication to reducing government spending, citing a 2010 article for Reason in which I had written that

As a former governor of a state that receives about $14,000 in federal money per resident (only the District of Columbia gets more) and whose total spending increased 16 percent between 2007 and 2009, she is not very credible as a fiscal conservative.

That figure, along with the larger points of my Beast piece, elicited a response from Stacy Drake of Conservatives4Palin.com titled, "Nick Gillespie’s Dishonest Daily Beast Article Discredits Him." Labeling me a "hater" whose "disdain" for Palin links me to "a long list of leftwingers and BIG government republican’s [sic]," she particularly took issue with my characterization of Palin's spending as governor.

In fact, she argues, "Between 2007 and 2010, Governor Palin cut state spending in Alaska by 9.5%" (emphasis in original). Drake then links to a 2009 post at Conservatives4Palin that says the following:

Governor Murkowski’s last budget FY2007: $11,697,400,000

Governor Palin’s latest budget FY2010: $10,570,000,000

Total reduction in spending between 2007 and 2010: a whopping 9.5% or $1,127,400,000

Via Twitter, I sent Drake a link to this chart I generated at the site US Government Spending, which shows total spending by state and local governments in Alaska rising from $11.66 billion in 2007 to $14.52 billion in 2009 (in nominal dollars). Those figures are in turn based on Census data showing that state-only spending in Alaska rose from $9.2 billion in FY2007 to $10 billion in FY2008 to $11 billion in FY2009 to $11 billion again in FY2010. That comes to roughly a 20 percent increase in spending between 2007 and 2009 (my original benchmark in my 2010 story) and again in 2010 itself (for a chart of that, go here).

For an alternative accounting of spending in Alaska, I went to the state's OMB archives. There I found that in FY2007, total authorization to spend (including permanent fund) was $11.7 billion (line 47). In FY 2008, which would have been Palin's first budget, the figure came to $11.5 billion (line 54). In FY2009, total authorization to spend came to $12.9 billion (line 53). In FY2010, that figure dropped to $10.6 billion (line 57). That's about a 10 percent decrease in spending between 2007 and 2010.

I don't know what explains the difference between the Census data and the Alaska data, which show radically different results; I am adding a note about the disparity to the article. But Alaska's data shows a sharp decline in spending. Had Palin finished a full term instead of dropping out with 18 months to go, we'd have a better sense of whether the 2010 number was the beginning of an effort to consistently drive down spending over time.

Further notes on the reaction to my story:

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit dings with me a charge (I think) of "oikophobia," which he says is common among Palin's critics. As someone who has written about Palin a fair amount over the years - and someone who panned Joe McGinniss's vile biography of Palin in the Washington Post - I've always been taken aback by hostility that Palin evokes and I don't consider myself a "hater" towards her. By the same token, I see no reason to soften criticisms of her because her enemies all-too-often trade in lower-than-low insults.

Note: I had originally misidentified Drake as male and have changed the text. Apologies on that score.

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Cops Shoot German Shepherd in Front Yard, Tell Story Contradicted by Security Camera

shot by copfamily photoCops in El Monte, California shot Kiki, a German shepherd, after entering a front yard in the course of investigating, apparently, a runaway teenager; they were visiting the home on an appointment, an hour late. Police say procedures were followed. Via the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:

“They did go up to the front (gate)," the captain [Dan Buehler] said. "There was a beware of dog sign of the gate. They did what we always do as police officers. They shook the gate. They didn't see any dogs."

"They looked for any signs of dogs -- chew toys, dog mess, what have you," Buehler said, adding that they entered the yard after not seeing anything indicating a dog was present.

"They walked up to the porch. They rang the doorbell. They knocked on the door. That's when the first dog came around the house," he said.

But video captured by the security camera at the home (you can watch it below) don’t show the police officers doing anything of the sort before entering through the gate. One cop petted the family’s pitbull before returning to the gate to close it, and the other cop shot the German shepherd, though the shooting is off screen. The dog wasn’t killed by the gun shot but had to be euthanized at the vet. The family also claims police told her her dog was ok after it had been shot, and demanded licenses for all the dogs in the house before allowing the German shepherd to get treated. The family says it hasn’t even gotten an apology, and also points out there was a children’s party in a front yard across the street and several children in the home when the shooting took place.

Video below:

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Surveillance Sharing Between US and UK Goes Both Ways, Federal Employees Urged to Sniff Out Leakers or Else, FBI Denies Investigating Hastings: P.M. Links

  • Oh God, do we have to learn all their acronyms now, too?GCHQ logoThe British government isn’t just the recipient of the National Security Agency’s phone and Internet data collections. They do it themselves as well and send what they gather back over to the NSA.
  • The federal government has something called the Insider Threat Program that urges employees to report suspicious behavior by their coworkers that might indicate leakers. They also face potential criminal charges for failing to report such behavior.
  • The FBI has denied it was investigating journalist Michael Hastings, who died earlier this week in a car crash in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department has ruled out foul play.
  • As George Zimmerman’s trial for killing Trayvon Martin is set to open next week, a judge ruled that prosecutors can argue that Zimmerman profiled Martin for several reasons (age, clothing) but not over his race.
  • A Federal Aviation Administration panel was supposed to weigh in on whether airlines should ease restrictions on a host of mobile devices in flight, but their recommendations will be delayed until September.
  • France is looking to block Amazon from offering discounts and free shipping in the country because competition is evil, even (especially!) if it provides the state’s residents with cheaper goods.

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Bush-Era Whistleblower Russ Tice Claims the NSA Spied on Obama--and a Lot of Other Powerful People

Although The Guardian made the shocking revelation earlier this month that the NSA has been collecting meta data on millions of Americans, it may come as an even bigger surprise who was among those millions. Russ Tice, a former intelligence analyst, alleged in an interview with Sibel Edmonds' Boiling Frogs podcast (launched by former FBI staffer and National Security Whistleblowers Coalition founder Sibel Edmond) that the agency has been spying on some of the most powerful people in the U.S. government.

Approximately 48 minutes into the interview, Tice claimed that among the people his office surveilled was Barack Obama:

"Here's the big one ... this was in summer of 2004, one of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator for Illinois... You wouldn't happen to know where that guy lives right now would you? It's a big white house in Washington, D.C. That's who they went after, and that's the president of the United States now."

The whistleblower, who claims to have specialized in surveillance through satellite technology, said, “I literally had my hands on the paperwork for these kinds of things,” and, “I was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff.”

Tice was employed at various times by the Air Force, Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was employed by the National Security Agency until 2005, when he exposed unwarranted wiretapping committed by the Bush administration.

In the interview, which took place on Wednesday, Tice described the NSA as “ a rogue agency that has J. Edgar Hoover capabilities at a monstrous scale on steroids.” Regarding official statements that have been made in recent weeks that the NSA only collects meta data and does not use its authority to target individuals, Tice said, “There is abuse out there... they've gone after journalists and news agencies.” He speculated that his own on telephone conversation with the program could be recorded "word for word."

Throughout the interview Tice also asserted that the NSA “went after high ranking military officers, they went after members of Congress, both the Senate and the House, especially the intelligence committees, armed services committees, and judicial,” as well as lawyers, anti-war groups, and American businesses and banks that operate internationally.

Tice praised Edward Snowden's exposure of PRISM. He said, Snowden “brought forward information the American people need to know.”  

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Congressman Proposes Automatic Dismissal for Federal Employees Refusing to Answer Congress’ Questions; Good Luck With That!

you're fired! just kidding, here's a paid vacation insteadC-SPANSound like a good idea? Via the Hill:

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) on Thursday proposed legislation that would require federal workers to be fired if they don't answer questions from Congress.

The bill is a reaction to Lois Lerner, the IRS official who refused to answer questions about the IRS's targeting of conservative groups during a congressional hearing last month. Lerner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, "I have not done anything wrong," then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on the advice of her lawyers.

Lerner was asked to leave the hearing, but she left Republicans fuming and prompted calls for her resignation and the resignation of any official who refuses to answer questions from Congress. She is now on paid administrative leave.

Firing federal workers who don’t answer Congress’ questions would certainly be a better idea than providing them with a paid vacation. The bill would also allow three-quarters of a Congressional committee to fire a federal worker if they felt the worker provided willfully false testimony. You can read the 2 page (!) bill here (pdf). There are probably some Constitutional issues with members of the legislative branch firing employees of the executive branch, but the bill has very little chance of actually passing anyway. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see Congress hasn’t turned into a complete potted plant just yet. We'll see if this one goes anywhere.

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PolitiFact Rolls Eyes at Obama’s Claim of FISA Court Transparency

Up until now, PolitiFact had rated only seven claims by President Barack Obama as “Pants on Fire” lies, all but two of which were claims about political opponents. But not even PolitiFact could countenance the president’s ludicrous claim that the super-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court operates with any sort of “transparency,” a claim he made in a softball interview with Charlie Rose earlier this week.

PolitiFact ultimately determined:

Obama said that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court "is transparent." We don’t doubt that there are good reasons for secrecy at the court, but if you’re going to operate a mostly secret court, you also don’t get to crow about how "transparent" it is. The president can’t have his cake and eat it, too. We rate his claim Pants on Fire.

Perhaps a sign that the media fact checkers aren’t going to continue looking the other way at the things the president says? Matt Welch wrote about the trend in our February Reason Magazine cover story.

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Don't Want the NSA to Read Your Documents? Use This Font.

This is ZXX:

ZXXCredit: Walker Art Center

It's a font designed to be difficult for machines to read. Several different techniques are used, including camouflage patterns drawn from nature, crowding the letters with digital noise, and simply crossing out each letter. 

morning!Credit: Walker Art Center

The font is named after the Library of Congress code, ZXX, which labels a document as containing "no linguistic content." The goal is to make the contents of a document unreadable by text scanning software while still being intelligible to a human reader.

Here's how the font designer, Sang Mun, explains his project

As a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), these issues hit especially close to home. During my service in the Korean military, I worked for two years as special intelligence personnel for the NSA, learning first-hand how to extract information from defense targets. Our ability to gather vital SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) information was absolutely easy. But, these skills were only applied outwards for national security and defense purposes—not for overseeing American citizens. It appears that this has changed. Now, as a designer, I am influenced by these experiences and I have become dedicated to researching ways to “articulate our unfreedom” and to continue the evolution of my own thinking about censorship, surveillance, and a free society.

It's part awareness-raising art project, part useful tool. (Though how big a part optical text recognition plays in government spying is unclear. Because, you know, the whole thing is quite secret.)

(UPDATE: Since there seems to be some confusion on this point, I've tweaked the headline and I just want to highlight the sentences above. This would be most useful for attachments or other items that can be transmitted via email as images.)

Download the .zip file with the font here.

And don't forget to read Ronald Bailey's other tips for how to keep the government from spying on you. 

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Video: Cheese Lovers Fight Idiotic FDA Ban on Mimolette Cheese!

"Video: Cheese Lovers Fight Idiotic FDA Ban on Mimolette Cheese!" is the latest from ReasonTV.

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

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Ronald Bailey: Federal Regulations Make You $277,000 Poorer

RegulationsCredit: Filmfoto/dreamstimeThe growth of federal regulations over the past six decades has cut U.S. economic growth by an average of 2 percentage points per year, according to a new study in the Journal of Economic Growth. As a result, the average American household receives about $277,000 less annually than it would have gotten in the absence of six decades of accumulated regulations—a median household income of $330,000 instead of the $53,000 we get now. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey laments our regulatory poverty.

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President Obama Finds Cover in the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board He Neglected Through His First Term

President ObamaWhite HousePresident Barack Obama reportedly meets today with the executive branch's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board as public debate swirls around NSA surveillance of phone calls and the Internet, IRS targeting of the administration's political opponents and Justice Department snooping on journalists who have asked embarrassing questions. All in all, it's a lot like a serial philanderer caught in flagrante delicto dropping his butt into the front pew at church after a very long absence. And a very long absence it has been — the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board met for the first time in five years just last November, after near-total neglect during President Obama's first term (not that his predecessor was a fan of the institution, either).

Yes, President Obama did finally nominate three people to the board in 2011. But it's not clear that much other than a press release resulted from those nominations until almost a year later. On November 2, 2012, the Electronic Frontier Foundation trumpeted:

This week marks the first time in five years since the last Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) meeting. The board is an independent body within the President's office that is supposed to ensure privacy and civil liberties in the creation and implementation of US law and policy and executive branch actions against terrorism, but has languished for some time due to Presidential neglect.

The board, not surprisingly, had published nothing between November 2007 and October 2012.

That November meeting didn't exactly herald a flurry of activity. In February of this year, with the presidential election in the rear view mirror, the American Civil Liberties Union's Jay Stanley wrote a short blog post titled, "Small But Significant Privacy Oversight Institution Almost a Reality After Pathetic Story of Delay." Stanley pointed out that the "U.S. intelligence/national security establishment" had a combined budget of about $80 billion and a staff of 4,863,000, while the PCLOB, intended to keep that establishment from straying, had a roughly $1 million budget and no staff.

Of course, that was before Edward Snowden, House hearings, outrage from the Associated Press and Fox News ... President Obama is in need of some absolution.

It's going to take more than a little pew-warming, Mr. President. Go forth and sin no more.

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Another Liberal Writer Realizes Clarence Thomas Is Actually a Principled Legal Conservative

In his majority opinion this week in the case of Alleyne v. United States, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by the Supreme Court’s four liberal justices, strengthened the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury for a criminal defendant facing a federal mandatory minimum sentence. At Slate, the liberal writer Mark Joseph Stern surveys this opinion and several others by the conservative justice and declares, “Thomas is much more than a Tea Party mouthpiece.”

It’s yet another example of a left-of-center writer acknowledging that while Justice Thomas may be a legal conservative, at least he’s a principled one, and, moreover, sometimes that means he votes in favor of “liberal” outcomes.

So far so good. But I’m afraid Stern lets his animosity towards Thomas’ legal conservatism get the better of him in this regrettable passage:

More than any justice in history, Thomas is an originalist, ruling exclusively by the letter of what he views as the Founders’ original intent in writing the Constitution. Because the Founders, for example, condoned “public dissection” and the “embowelling [sic] alive, beheading, and quartering” of prisoners, so too does Thomas.

Neither the Founders nor Thomas “condoned” anything of the sort. In fact, in the opinion to which Stern refers, Baze v. Rees (2008), Thomas argues that the original understanding of the Eighth Amendment prevents punishments “designed to inflict torture as a way of enhancing a death sentence.” As an example of such intentionally tortuous capital punishments, Thomas points to the very methods quoted by Stern. In other words, Stern’s example proves the opposite of the point he was trying to make.

This unfortunate error aside, it’s a mostly fair piece by a liberal writer trying to grapple with Thomas’ views.

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Ex-Cops Vote to Exempt Themselves From New York's Seven-Round Ammunition Limit

Office of Martin GoldenOffice of Martin GoldenEarly this morning the New York State Senate approved a bill exempting retired law enforcement officers from a new seven-round limit on the number of rounds people are allowed to have in their guns. The exemption had already been approved by the New York State Assembly, so now it goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk for his signature. An earlier amendment to New York's SAFE Act, the package of gun controls that Cuomo pushed through the legislature in January, clarified that the seven-round limit did not apply to active-duty police officers, so this new exception cannot be defended even based on the argument that cops, given their line of work, are more likely than the average citizen to need those extra rounds. The amendment is simply about elevating one class of citizens above another, which is especially objectionable in this context because supporters of the exemption argue that the difference between seven rounds and 10 rounds can be the difference between life and death. Retired cops—who number about 200,000, 1 percent of New York's population—want to make sure their capacity for self-defense exceeds that of their fellow citizens, even though by their own account people may die for want of that advantage.

Office of Eric AdamsOffice of Eric AdamsWorse, defenders of the exemptions concede that the seven-round limit won't have any impact on crime. Here is how Norman Seabrook, president of the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, put it in January:

As a law enforcement officer for over 20 years, 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....The way the current legislation is drafted, it actually handcuffs the law enforcement community from having the necessary ammunition needed to save lives. We must not allow this to happen.

In other words, since criminals will ignore the seven-round rule, it would be reckless to make "the law enforcement community" follow it. But you regular citizens are on your own.

Still worse, the legislators pushing hardest to exempt retired cops are themselves retired cops. The sponsor of the bill approved this morning was Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), a former NYPD officer. Golden (above right) told his fellow legislators that ex-cops like him are "not a separate class of people...but they are an experienced class of people....They know how to deal with the criminal element, so if anybody deserves to have a 10-round magazine [we do]." Another leading advocate of the law enforcement exemptions is Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), a retired NYPD captain (above left) who explains that "you can't give more ammo to the criminals." These guys literally voted to put themselves above the law, unashamedly demanding a double standard that sends a clear message to their fellow New Yorkers: Our lives are worth more than yours.

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Leftist Party Leaves Greek Coalition Government

Credit: karpidis/wikimediaCredit: karpidis/wikimediaThe Democratic Left party has left the Greek coalition government because of disagreements over stopping broadcasts from state-run TV. If the party, which was the smallest in the coalition, decides to withdraw support for the government the parties in the Greek coalition government would have a majority of three seats in parliament.

From the BBC:

The withdrawal of the party will fuel fears of political instability hampering Greece's ability to manage its debt crisis, and leave a coalition that will be seen as far less representative, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Athens.

The Democratic Left is furious not to have been properly consulted over the decision to close ERT without notice last week to save money, our correspondent adds.

The party had two ministers in a cabinet that also included Mr Samaras's centre-right New Democracy, and the centre-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok). It has 14 deputies in the 300-seat parliament.

While the departure of Democratic Left does not cripple the Greek government it does increase political instability in a country that has been at the center of the euro crisis. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has said that his government was ready to continue on without Democratic Left:

The moderate leftist party's departure is a blow to the conservative Samaras, who now has a three-seat majority in parliament. In a televised address after midnight, he said he was ready to press ahead without the leftists if necessary.

"I want us to continue together as we started but I will move on either way," Samaras said. "Our aim is to conclude our effort to save the country, always with a four-year term in our sights."

However, as Simone Foxman over at Quartz explains, the departure of Democratic Left from government does not come at the best time:

Struggling to meet the terms of economic reforms, Greece’s government now threatens to upset its fragile political balance.

Not to mention that the IMF is now giving euro zone leaders an ultimatum, which the Financial Times reported yesterday (paywall): If they can’t come up with €3-4 billion ($4-6.6 billion) to meet a funding shortfall in Greece’s €172 billion plan by next month, then the fund will suspend its own aid payments.

Earlier this month, French President Francois Hollande said that the euro crisis is over. However, the political and economic situation in Greece suggests that the euro crisis is very much ongoing.

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Steven Greenhut on the Rapidly-Inflating Student Loan Bubble

Credit: this is bossi / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA-TMCredit: this is bossi / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA-TMAmericans are still talking about the recently deflated housing bubble, but there’s a new bubble in town. It’s the student loan bubble and when this one pops, it might dwarf the wreckage we’ve witnessed in the real-estate markets. In the latest news, the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors warned that soaring student-loan debt has “parallels to the housing crisis,” according to a May report in Bloomberg. As with housing, observes Steven Greenhut, free-flowing cash will lead to widespread default. Of course, it’s easier to repossess a tract house than to take back a potentially worthless degree.

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The Famous "McLibel" Leaflet Was Co-Authored by an Undercover Cop

Speaking of hiding behind masks...In the infamous McLibel case of the 1990s, McDonald's took two environmentalists to court under Britain's harsh libel laws for a pamphlet that charged the chain with various sins against workers, consumers, and nature. The company won a victory in court but not in the battle for public opinion: Not only was McDonald's widely (and rightly) seen as a censorious bully, but the debate ended up bringing far more attention to the very accusations the business was trying to squash. (This phenomenon, in which an attempt to censor speech instead spreads it further, would later become known as the Streisand effect.)

Now there's a new twist on the case. It turns out the leaflet at the center of the story was co-authored by a police infiltrator. The Guardian reports:

The true identity of one of the authors of the "McLibel leaflet" is Bob Lambert, a police officer who used the alias Bob Robinson in his five years infiltrating the London Greenpeace group, is revealed in a new book about undercover policing of protest, published next week....

Lambert was deployed by the special demonstration squad, a top-secret Metropolitan police unit that targeted political activists between 1968 until it was disbanded in 2008. He co-wrote the defamatory six page leaflet in 1986—and his role in its production has been the subject of an internal Scotland Yard investigation for several months.

The authors quote a "close friend from the time" who recalls that "Lambert was really proud of the leaflet. 'It was like his baby, he carried it around with him,' the friend said."

To read the rest of the article, go here. The book that revealed the story is called Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, and it was written by the same pair who produced the Guardian piece, Paul Lewis and Rob Evans.

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Anyone Who Thinks There Isn't More Govt Spending to Cut Should Watch This Freaking Video of "The Vice President and Dr. Biden in Trinidad"

 

I stumbled across this piece of junk video (uploaded May 29, 2013), "A 60 second recap: The Vice President and Dr. Biden in Trinidad" while doing actual work.

I realize that the time and money that went into creating this minute-long toothache (with a steel-drum band soundtrack, naturally, since it's set in the Caribbean) is miniscule, but it still puts the lie to the idea that we are in any way, shape, or form in an age of tragic, suicide-inducing austerity. Any government that is churning out stuff like this hasn't even scraped the frosting off the cake yet, much less starting digging into essential services.

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Syrian Rebels Claim They Have Received Anti-Air and Anti-Tank Weapons

ReasonReasonA spokesman for the Free Syrian Army has said that rebels have received anti-tank and anti-air missiles, adding that they come from “brotherly nations that support the Syrian revolution" and that acquiring these new weapons will mark a “turning point” in the Syrian conflict.

The Obama administration announced earlier this month that it was going to increase support for rebels in Syria, despite the fact that rebels in Syria include jihadists who have different ambitions to rebels fighting with the Free Syrian Army. 

From CNN:

(CNN) -- Syrian rebels have received heavy weapons -- including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles -- from "brotherly nations that support the Syrian revolution," a rebel spokesman said Friday.

Free Syrian Army political and media coordinator Louay Almokdad told CNN during a phone call from Istanbul that Free Syrian Army leaders believe the weapons "will be a turning point" in the war against government forces "and will definitely change the rules of the war on the ground."

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Does Massive New Spending on Border Security Mean “Immigration Reform” is Bullshit?

border surge em!Paul Garland/Foter.comRepublican lawmakers who understand the demographic challenges facing the party in the future know it’s time to get on board with immigration reform, and many have. A deal on a border security amendment may secure more Republican support. Chuck Schumer and John McCain are aiming for 70 votes in the Senate to get the kind of momentum they feel is needed to get the bill passed into law.

But what does the new spending on border security mean? If the Border Patrol is underfunded (big if), it’s because they have to pursue drug cartels and human traffickers operating along the border. Real immigration reform would mean liberalizing immigration laws to make it easier to enter the United States legally. Appropriately implemented, immigration reform should cut down significantly on human trafficking at the border. Once it is easier to go the legal route than to hire a coyote, the human trafficking problem should largely take care of itself. Regular readers of Reason know ending the war on drugs would go a long way to stripping drug cartels of their power. Who wants to deal with the Zetas if you can import your drugs from Legal Weed Inc.? But regular readers of Reason also know that’s not happening any time too soon. Fine. Yet even if the Border Patrol is mandated to pursue narcotraffickers and terrorists along the border, easing the demand for illegal entry (by lowering the cost of legal entry) ought to allow the Border Patrol to focus on those narrower problems.

The demand for massive new border security spending, then, suggests two things: that no one in Washington actually expects “immigration reform” to make it easier to cross the US-Mexican border legally, and that many Republicans are still enamored by big government when the money is thrown down their hole of choice. Lindsey Graham admitted as much when he said special interests “coming back for more” goodies in the immigration reform bill was a good thing.

A final version of the immigration reform bill is still not yet here, but you can read the current Senate version of the bill here (pdf). The Senate is expected to vote on the border security amendments and the full bill by the end of next week, but the House version isn’t likely to get voted on till September (DC loves its long summer vacations)

You can read my case for amnesty, which wouldn’t require a 1075-page bill, here, and Shikha Dalmia’s argument for liberalizing immigration laws, which also wouldn’t require a 1075-page bill, here.

And check out Reason’s latest ebook, Humane and Pro-Growth: A Reason Guide to Immigration Reform here.

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Survey Finds that 41 Percent of Small Business Owners Have Frozen Hiring Because of Obamacare

WhiteHouse.govWhiteHouse.govA new poll of business owners about how Obamacare has affected employment decisions is positively brutal for the health law. Via CNBC:

Forty-one percent of the businesses surveyed have frozen hiring because of the health-care law known as Obamacare. And almost one-fifth—19 percent— answered "yes" when asked if they had "reduced the number of employees you have in your business as a specific result of the Affordable Care Act."

The poll was taken by 603 owners whose businesses have under $20 million in annual sales.

Another 38 percent of the small business owners said they "have pulled back on their plans to grow their business" because of Obamacare.

Only 9 percent of the businesses surveyed thought the law would be good for business. Another 39 percent thought the law would not have much effect. More than half—55 percent—said they expected Obamacare to result in higher health care costs.

This tracks with other survey data. In April, a survey by the Chamber of Commerce found that the health law was the top worry for small business owners—edging out economic uncertainty, which had been at the top of the list for two years. We’ve also seen some economic evidence that the law is discouraging employers from hiring full-time employees.

And why shouldn’t small business owners be worried? The Obama administration recently delayed a key part of the law’s small business insurance exchange—essentially the only part that might provide small businesses some benefit. The law also imposes health coverage mandate on businesses with more than 50 employees. Firms that don’t comply end up paying a per-worker penalty. That’s already sparked concern amongst some employers who worry they might have to reduce full-time staff, and confusion amongst others who still don’t have a clear idea about what they will have to do to comply with the mandate. 

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LeBron James May Have Saved the Heat, But He Could Never Have Saved Cleveland

 

Basketball great LeBron James has led the Miami Heat to its second straight NBA title. In 2010, James garnered headlines and outrage when he left his hometown-area of Cleveland for parts down South.

But as this short video from 2010 shows, in leaving Cleveland, James was only doing what fully half of "the Mistake on the Lake"'s population has done over the past 60 years: He was moving to where there was more opportunity and better governance.

Check out the vid above and then watch our series, "Reason Saves Cleveland with Drew Carey," which shows concrete steps that Cleveland - and many other once-great American cities - can take to rebuild their economies and brighten their futures. All without relying on superstar athletes.

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J.D. Tuccille on RT Discusses the FBI Giving Thumbs-Up to All Its Agents' Shootings

As noted at Reason 24/7, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has done thorough investigations of the 150 shootings in which its agents killed or injured people between 1993 and 2011, and pronounced them all righteous. Sure, one incident resulted in the feds paying out $1.3M to Joseph Schultz, an innocent guy who had his face blown off by an FBI bullet, but it was still a good shoot.

Hey, the feds are pros. They don't make mistakes.

I went on RT to discuss this remarkable track record and the precedent it sets for how police departments around the country conduct their own scrutiny of shootings by police officers. I suggest that, perhaps, government agencies ought not be investigating their own actions.

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A.M. Links: James Comey Nearly Quit DOJ Over Eavesdropping, Court Orders California to Release Prisoners, Protesters in Brazil Number More Than a Million

  • tough for the muslim brotherhood to co-opt this oneRTPresident Obama’s expected pick for the FBI, James Comey, reportedly nearly resigned from the Department of Justice a decade ago over electronic eavesdropping. Nearly.
  • The FBI has deemed every agent-involved shooting between 1993 and 2011 as justified. Good shoot and all that.
  • The deputy director of the Department of Environment in Tennessee claimed unfounded complaints about water quality amounted to acts of terrorism. There oughta be a Godwin’s law.
  • A federal court ordered California to comply with a previous court order and begin releasing some prisoners due to overcrowding. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in places like Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and South Dakota are looking to lower the prison populations by easing sentencing requirements. Tough times for “tough on crime” baloney.
  • Absent more help from the West, Syrian rebels are manufacturing their own weapons. Wait till they get 3D printers.
  • Protests in Brazil over corruption, poor public services and government preparations for the World Cup and Olympics have spread to more than 100 cities and now include more than a million Brazilians. Tudo não é bem.

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Kurt Loder Reviews World War Z

Courtesy of ParamountCourtesy of ParamountWorld War Z is a real surprise, writes Kurt Loder. The movie’s release was preceded by tales of extensive script-whacking and panicky reshooting. But however desperate these measures may have been, they now seem justified – the picture flows smoothly from one sensational set-piece sequence to the next; it’s unremittingly tense and often very scary. It is a full-on zombie movie, Loder reports, but one that relies less on the usual gut-slurping gore and more on the gathering dread of a plausible apocalypse for its horrifying effect. It rises above its genre.

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Brickbat: Flying in My Taxi

Screen captureScreen captureAustin, Texas, cab driver Akbar Amir-Akbari has sued the city and five police officers after he was attacked by a drunk passenger. He says the officers forced him to drive the man home after he'd been kicked out of a bar for fighting and that the police regularly force cab drivers to take drunks home.

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What Gets a Bad Cop Punished? How About Intimidation, Abduction and Sexual Coercion?

Bad LieutenantAries FilmsIn a narrative that will have an image of Harvey Keitel's face hovering before your eyes as you read it, Tim Lynch of the Cato Institute's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project describes the crimes and subsequent punishment of Officer Julian Steele of Cincinnati, Ohio. As horrible and blatant as Steele's actions were, this story is actually happier than most such tales of law enforcement abuse of power, because it ends with Steele behind bars for a lengthy stay.

We pick up Lynch's story after a series of robberies yields a "clue" in the form of Alicia Maxton's license plate scribbed down by a concerned citizen:

Now Officer Julian Steele enters the picture.  When he finds out Ms. Maxton has children, he goes to their school and arrests all three.  To protect the identities of the minors, the Court only provides us with initials.  One of the minors is RM.  RM  is driven to the police station where he is interrogated.   Mom is not informed because Steele instructed the school people not to tell her what was happening to her children.

RM denies any involvement in the robberies.  Steele tells this minor that if he does not confess, his mom will be jailed and she will lose custody of his siblings.  Frightened, RM falsely confesses, and Officer Steele records the “confession” a second time.  RM is then charged with the robberies and is imprisoned.

The next day, Steele tells the school that he does not really believe RM was involved in the robberies.  Among other things, RM does not match the physical description of the suspect.

Keep in mind that R.M. is now in jail, even though Officer Steele has publicly admitted that he suspects the kid of nothing. So, is R.M. released? Not quite. According to the Ohio Supreme Court (PDF), which heard Steele's appeal of his convictions in the case:

Although R.M. did not fit the physical descriptions of the robbers, Steele took R.M. to the police station and interrogated him extensively, using threatening and coercive tactics, prior to any attempt to offer him his constitutionally guaranteed Miranda warning.

Let's go back to Lynch:

Over the next week, Steele arranges several meetings with Mom under the guise of discussing RM’s case. One such meeting is at Steele’s apartment and he tells Mom that he thinks he might be able to get RM out of detention because he can cut through all the damn red tape. And he wants to help out because he does not personally believe RM was involved.  Then Steele changes the subject (or tries to anyway) to sex.  Mom goes along with the overture because she believes Steele is the one who has the power to get her son’s release.

That's actually a bit delicate. The court says, "During one of Alicia’s visits to Steele’s apartment, Steele asked her to engage in sexual activity with him. Alicia testified that she complied with Steele’s requests because she believed that he had the power over R.M.’s release."

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‘Aaron’s Law’ Proponents Talk About Restraining Prosecutorial Abuse

After open access activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide while facing federal prosecution for downloading academic journals from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Rep. Zoe Lofgren began crafting “Aaron’s Law.”  The goal of the law was to amend the vaguely written Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The alleged “anti-hacking” law is written in such a way to allow for federal prosecutions and potentially large prison sentences for things like violating a web site’s terms of use.

Today at Wired, Lofgren and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced the final wording of the law and talked about their aims:

Vagueness is the core flaw of the CFAA. As written, the CFAA makes it a federal crime to access a computer without authorization or in a way that exceeds authorization. Confused by that? You’re not alone. Congress never clearly described what this really means. As a result, prosecutors can take the view that a person who violates a website’s terms of service or employer agreement should face jail time.

So lying about one’s age on Facebook, or checking personal email on a work computer, could violate this felony statute. This flaw in the CFAA allows the government to imprison Americans for a violation of a non-negotiable, private agreement that is dictated by a corporation. Millions of Americans — whether they are of a digitally native or dial-up generation — routinely submit to legal terms and agreements every day when they use the Internet. Few have the time or the ability to read and completely understand lengthy legal agreements.

Another flaw in the CFAA is redundant provisions that enable a person to be punished multiple times … for the same crime. These charges can be stacked one on top of another, resulting in the threat of higher cumulative fines and jail time for the exact same violation.

This allows prosecutors to bully defendants into accepting a deal in order to avoid facing a multitude of charges from a single, solitary act. It also plays a significant role in sentencing. The ambiguity of a provision meant to toughen sentencing for repeat offenders of the CFAA may in fact make it possible for defendants to be sentenced based on what should be prior convictions — but were nothing more than multiple convictions for the same crime.

The text of the legislation can be read here (pdf).

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John Stossel vs. Judge Napolitano On How a Big a Deal NSA Spying Is

what about a nuke in new york harbor?Fox BusinessJohn Stossel and Andrew Napolitano (both also Reason contributors, archives here and here) appeared on Fox Business’ Varney and Company to debate the NSA’s surveillance operations and how much of a risk to our rights those operations represent. John Stossel argued in a column last week that libertarians have better things to worry about than the NSA (like the war on drugs, which, he wrote this week, is worse, even though we’re more acclimated to it). Judge Napolitano, on the other hand, warned last week that the NSA’s spying, and complacency about it, is a betrayal of our country’s history and the principles on which it was founded.

Watch them duke it out here, and duke it out yourselves in the comments below.

Bonus link: Mediaite’s Andrew Kirell, a former employee of John Stossel’s, also respectfully disagrees.

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President of ''Gay Cure'' Group Apologizes, Disbands Organisation

Credit: Think ProgressCredit: Think ProgressAlan Chambers—president of one America’s most prominent "gay cure" ministries, Exodus International—has posted a candid apology for the activities and mission of the ministry and confirmed that the organisation will be shut down.

I am sorry I didn't stand up to people publicly 'on my side' who called you names... I am sorry I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine. More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God's rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.

For close to 40 years, the Florida-based ministry had been one of the most prominent organizations promoting the idea that sexual reorientation was possible through reparative therapy. Chambers still believes homosexuality to be a sin. He equates it to sins such as pornography and adultery, which are in his view immoral but do not exclude the person from salvation.

I cannot apologise for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them. I cannot apologise for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek.

Chambers' increasingly tolerant stance homosexuality has not been without its critics. Last year he appeared on the Gay Christian Network arguing that gays who are celibate can still go to Heaven. Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, reacted to that statement by equating Chambers to green-on-blue attackers in Afghanistan.

Tonight on Our America with Lisa Ling Chambers will discuss his position in depth as well as apologize to those who have undergone Exodus International treatment and believed they were harmed by the experience. The apology has been greeted with scepticism by some. A former pastor who came out of the closet—identified only as Jerry—said:

"My cynical side would say it’s the re closeting ministry." He interprets the message as “We cannot change you, we cannot give you a happy life, but we can help you get back into the closet more comfortably."

The shuttering of one of the most prominent organizations in the "gay cure’’ movement will reinforce the view that this already minority position is drifting further to the fringe.

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Atheist Permanent Resident Told To Join Church Or Have Citizenship Application Rejected

Credit: Frydolin/wikimediaCredit: Frydolin/wikimediaI became an American citizen on April Fool’s day 2009 after having moved to the U.S. from the U.K. (for the third time) in 2000. While the authorities didn’t exactly make the process easy for me or my family I was very happy to stand with others from around the world to take an oath that made us all Americans after years of bureaucratic nonsense. Quite rightly, throughout the whole processes I was never told to join a particular religion, something I would have found particularly unpleasant considering that I’m an atheist.

Part of the oath to become a U.S. citizen includes promising to take up arms for the U.S. if called upon to do so by the government. Margaret Doughty, who has been a permanent resident for longer than I have been alive, is being told by officials that her application to become a naturalized U.S. citizen could be thrown out if she doesn’t join a church that forbids violence.

Doughty happens to be an atheist who is morally opposed to war, and so objects to the part of the citizenship oath that requires you pledge to take up arms if the government asks you to do so. Evidently, American authorities only accept objections to war as legitimate if your objections are based on religious beliefs.

Doughty has explained she is willing to serve in noncombat roles if asked to do so:

I am sure the law would never require a 64 year-old woman like myself to bear arms, but if I am required to answer this question, I cannot lie. I must be honest. The truth is that I would not be willing to bear arms. Since my youth I have had a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or in the bearing of arms. I deeply and sincerely believe that it is not moral or ethical to take another person’s life, and my lifelong spiritual/religious beliefs impose on me a duty of conscience not to contribute to warfare by taking up arms ... my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God ... I want to make clear, however, that I am willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction or to perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States if and when required by the law to do so.

It’s absurd that objections to warfare have be be grounded in a religion in order to become an American citizen. Thankfully, The American Humanist Association is threatening litigation.

H/T Reason Foundation intern Daniel Bier.

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Memo Reveals How Feds Use Domestic Intelligence, Aaron Swartz Inspires Legal Reform, iPads for the Kiddies (on the Taxpayers' Tab): P.M. Links

iPadApple

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Nick Gillespie: Is Sarah Palin Turning Libertarian?

Over the past weekend, writes Nick Gillespie, Sarah Palin was one of the main speakers at the Road to Majority meeting of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group of religious Republicans headed up by Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition. During her remarks, he notes, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate

sounded specifically libertarian notes, disdaining yet more intervention in the Middle East, giving absolution to Edward Snowden for leaking details of surveillance programs, and casting a pox on both Democrats and Republicans.... It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat sitting atop of a bloated boot on your neck. With bloated government, everyone gets infected, and no party is immune.”

Palin got her biggest applause when she finished that thought by declaring, “That’s why, I tell you, I’m listening to those independents, those libertarians, who are saying, ‘It is both sides of the aisle, the good ol’ boys in the party on both sides of the aisle, they perpetuate the problem.’”

Yet, argues Gillespie,

Yet there’s every reason to believe that Palin’s newfound libertarianism is deeply misinformed, cynically superficial, or some mix of both.

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Rand Paul One of Four Senators To Introduce Bill To Block Military Funds To Syria

Credit: Gage Skidmore/wikimediaCredit: Gage Skidmore/wikimediaSens. Tom Udall (D-N.M), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced legislation that would block military funds from going to Syria.

Text of the bill below, courtesy of Sen. Udall's office:

Title: To restrict funds related to escalating United States military involvement in Syria. 

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the “Protecting Americans from the Proliferation of Weapons to Terrorists Act of 2013”. 

SEC. 2. PROHIBITION ON FUNDS TO ESCALATE UNITED STATES MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN SYRIA.

(a) In General.—Except as provided under subsection (b), no funds made available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose of, or in a manner which would have the effect of, supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Syria by any nation, group, organization, movement, or individual.

(b) Exception.—The prohibition under subsection (a) does not apply to funds obligated for non-lethal humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people provided directly by the United States Government, through nongovernmental organizations and contractors, or through foreign governments. 

(c) Duration of Prohibition.—The prohibition under subsection (a) shall cease to apply only if a joint resolution approving assistance for military or paramilitary operations in Syria is enacted.

(d) Quarterly Reports.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every 90 days thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit to Congress a report on assistance provided to groups, organizations, movements, and individuals in Syria. 

(e) Non-lethal Humanitarian Assistance Defined.—In this Act, the term “non-lethal humanitarian assistance” means humanitarian assistance that is not weapons, ammunition, or other equipment or material that is designed to inflict serious bodily harm or death.

Assad’s opposition includes jihadists who are increasingly sidelining moderate rebels in Syria. Groups like Jabhat al-Nusra have connections to Al Qaeda and are hoping to establish an Islamic caliphate. While those who argue for intervention say that groups like Jabhat al-Nusra will not get their hands on whatever weapons the U.S. and other western nations send to rebels in Syria there is no way that this can be guaranteed.

Thankfully, there are at least four Senators who seem to realize that sending weapons to a region where Assad’s regime (with support from Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah) is fighting jihadist rebels as well as other opposition groups in a conflict that could overspill into Syria’s neighbors is not a good idea.

UPDATE: Looks like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) thinks the U.S. should locate Assad's chemical weapons, destroy them, and "get out."

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Two Men Charged With Building 'Death Ray' Machine

ReasonReasonTwo Americans, one of whom is reportedly a member of the Klu Klux Klan, have been arrested for building a remote-controlled ‘death ray’ machine that they hoped to use to target Muslims and other perceived enemies of the U.S.

The FBI described the device as a “mobile, remotely operated, radiation emitting and capable of killing human targets silently and from a distance with lethal doses of radiation.”

From Euronews:

Two American men have been arrested and charged with building a remote-controlled X-ray machine intended for killing Muslims and other perceived enemies of the U.S.

Following a 15-month investigation launched in April 2012, Glenn Scott Crawford and Eric J. Feight are accused of developing the device, which the FBI has described as “mobile, remotely operated, radiation emitting and capable of killing human targets silently and from a distance with lethal doses of radiation”.

Federal prosecutors stated that Crawford, who works as an industrial mechanic for General Electric, contacted an unidentified Jewish organization and asked to speak with a person “who might be willing to help him with a type of technology that could be used by Israel to defeat its enemies – specifically by killing them while they slept”.

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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Privacy Friendly Search Engine DuckDuckGo Sees Surge in Users After NSA Scandal

DuckDuckGo, a relatively small-scale search engine, has seen a sudden surge in activity. Although the site lacks image searches, maps, email services, and other bells and whistles common on sites like Google, DuckDuckGo makes up for its lack of window dressing by offering users something they won't find on a massive search engine: anonymity.

Thanks to the NSA scandal, Americans are once again thinking about privacy. DuckDuckGo recorded a 33% surge in users over the last two weeks, according to a CNBC Closing Bell report. According to an interview with the Independent, the site has also experience 69% growth in direct searches.

Gabriel Weinberg, the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, thinks he knows why people are choosing the stripped-down search engine:

"We always knew people didn't want to be tracked, but what hadn't happened was reporting on the private alternatives and so it's no surprise that people are making a choice to switch to things that that will give them great results and also have real privacy," 

DuckDuckGo's uptick follows recent revelations made about the National Security Agency. The government agency was exposed for operating a program called PRISM, which collects vast amounts of meta data on American citizens. One of the most disconcerting aspects of the scandal was that private technology companies, such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Verizon, complied with requests for user information. Weinberg explained why DuckDuckGo never got roped into the government program:

Basically, most tech companies store user information—like searches, email account data, searches on social platforms—in data warehouses, so that it can be accessed again. But DuckDuckGo opts to throw any of that information away and not to save it, Weinberg said. 

[…] "We had zero inquiries and the reason for that is because we don't store any data," Weinberg said. "So if they come to us—which they know because it's in our privacy policy—we have nothing to hand over, it's all anonymous data."

Although the company prides itself on privacy, the CEO did suggest his belief that users “are staying because they're getting a better search experience,” because “DuckDuckGo gets its results from over one hundred sources,” and there is “less clutter, less spam.”

Despite the recent surge and Weinstein's vision of a better user experience, DuckDuckGo is still small: “Our next milestone is to hit 1% of the search market share. We are about halfway towards that goal.”

Currently, the search engine's duck graphic links to the site “call.stopwatching.us,” which offers a petition to “end to the NSA's unconstitutional surveillance programs” as well as a phone number to call legislators and “demand real answers.”

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White House Touts “Saving Money” as a Reason to Pass Immigration Reform; Saving Money Makes an Even Better Reason to Cut Spending!

in dc immigration reform means a bigger fenceWikimediaThe latest missive from the White House, via the director of the domestic policy council, Cecilia Muñoz:

Hi, all!

This week, we got some big news about the immigration reform bill. It's a little wonky, but it's so great that I couldn't wait to share it with you.

The nonpartisan experts who estimate the financial impact of legislation for Congress concluded that because undocumented immigrants will start paying more in taxes for things like education and Social Security, the immigration proposal in the Senate will make the economy fairer for middle class families while cutting the U.S. deficit by almost $1,000,000,000,000 over the next two decades.

With every passing day, it’s becoming clear that we can’t afford not to act. Now we know exactly how much is at stake, and it's the kind of news that can help to change the policy conversation in Washington.

The e-mail continues with infographics it encourages readers to share. But what does making the process for entering and staying in the country legally have to do with the deficit?While Shikha Dalmia has explained the various economic benefits a liberal immigration policy provides and there’s nothing to suggest the CBO’s number is cooked, it’s not the whole story. The immigration reform bill being crafted in Washington doesn’t provide an amnesty or even simply liberalize immigration laws. Instead the bill is packed with new bureaucracy and spending, like billions to border security, as well as carve outs for special interests that Lindsey Graham says has them coming back for more (in a good way, he says!). A decree to be free it is not.

And if the White House was as excited about saving money as it says it is, it would’ve embraced the sequester as a starting point and demanded actual cuts on top of it, instead of crying doomsday over  mere reductions in spending increases.

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Video: Police Posing as Punks Bust Rockers: Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?!

"Police Posing as Punks Bust Rockers: 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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Pot Lobby Softball Team Smokes White House, 5-2

Credit: Chris McMillonCredit: Chris McMillonThe One Hitters, a Congressional Softball League team of marijuana reformers, continued their win-streak Wednesday night against the White House staff team with solid fielding and some choice hits. 

STOTUS (Softball Team Of The United States) fought to remain competitive for the first few innings, taking a one-run lead in the top of the second inning. The One Hitter bats responded with two runs at the bottom of the inning. Impeccable teamwork in the field kept the pot coalition on top for a final score of 5-2.

"The fact that it was a close, well-played game all the way through made the game more fun, and victory even sweeter," said Dan Riffle, director of government relations with the Marijuana Policy Project. The One Hitters were the favorites going into Wednesday night's game after ashing the White House staffers 25-3 in their previous contest. Team members speculated that after last year's drubbing, President Obama may have made the game mandatory for all interns with high school or collegiate athletic experience.

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Yes, the NSA Can Hoover Up Your Calls and Emails

Vacuum cleanerChePundits with near-theological faith in the veracity of government officials have declared the NSA scandal to be overblown. Over at The Week, editor-at-large Marc Ambinder references a soothing statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and declares, "[T]he upshot of the 2008 FISA amendments acts is that the NSA got expanded access to U.S. telecom switches and hubs in exchange for agreeing not to spy on Americans anywhere in the world without a FISA order. ... Doesn't matter where you are: If you're an American, you're protected by FISA." But ... That's not really what intelligence officials said. And Ambinder's conclusion doesn't follow.

The statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reads in full:

The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress.  Members have been briefed on the implementation of Section 702, that it targets foreigners located overseas for a valid foreign intelligence purpose, and that it cannot be used to target Americans anywhere in the world.

The key word here is "target." If the NSA follows the letter of the law (and it's far from the only agency engaged in snooping — I'm looking at you, FBI), it can't "target" Americans, but it can eavsdrop on their communications if they're participating in a conversation with a foreign "target." As the American Civil Liberties Union puts it:

Building off of statements like the one issued by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper—who said that the NSA can only target "non-U.S. persons located outside the United States"—officials have sought to give the demonstrably false impression that the government needs a warrant to read Americans' emails or listen to their phone calls under the FAA. ...

But all of these defenses ignore a simple, basic point: Communication is a two-way street. And if an American is communicating (however innocently) with a foreign "target" under the FAA, the law allows the government to collect, inspect, and keep the content of that communication.

Even assuming that officials are being honest about their activities, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (PDF) is actually chock full of wiggle room. It authorizes the targeting of "persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States," and insists that spying "may not intentionally target" Americans. "Reasonably" and "intentionally" are words that tend to have an enormous amount of elastic built into them. As the Washington Post reports, "Analysts who use the system from a Web portal at Fort Meade, Md., key in 'selectors,' or search terms, that are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s 'foreignness.' That is not a very stringent test."

And that's without even getting into the ease (and openness) with which the NSA hands off surveillance it's clearly not authorized to conduct to agencies that have such authority.

So, the surveillance programs revealed in recent weeks are only "intentionally" targeting people "reasonably believed" to be foreigners with "at least 51 percent confidence." That's the extent of your protection against domestic spying.

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Watch Out, College Kids: Sen. Schumer Wants to Take Away Your Adderall

InternetInternetHuman wet blanket Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told a CBS affiliate this week that he wants colleges and universities to crack down on Adderall use among students.

Adderall is an amphetamine-based stimulant that increases focus. Intended for people with ADHD, a lot of doctors will prescribe Adderall to just about anyone who claims to have trouble focusing at work or school. Minors use Adderall to get into the colleges their parents wish they'd gotten into. College kids use Adderall to cram for exams and bang out papers/bang out Powerpoint presentations/bang. 

Schumer thinks using Adderall to be better at something, as opposed to just be able to function, is "academic doping."

"There are better ways to pull an all-nighter and stay up," the senator told told CBS. "There's coffee, there's things like NoDoz." (But don't use the caffeine inhaler Aeroshot, because no one should be allowed to use drugs that Chuck Schumer himself did not use when he was a young man.)

Here's what Schumer wants New York schools to do:

For students diagnosed at a campus health clinic: Require formal contracts and follow-up diagnostics for that student; and require detailed medical, educational, and psychological history.

For students diagnosed outside of campus health clinic, and seeking to refill prescription: Require mental health evaluations with qualified health practitioner to verify diagnoses; and require parent, guardian verification of diagnoses.

Schumer also recommended offering short-term counseling, time management and procrastination workshops, and medication consultation to students with a prescription; instituting a program during freshman orientation informing students of the potential side-effects of stimulant abuse and its addictive nature and offering a list of community mental health professionals that can aid students in seeking the medication.

These rules are clearly meant to curb legal, responsible use. Why else require every student seeking an Adderall prescription to call their parents and see a mental health professional? Imagine if a college health center required female students to call their parents before they could get a prescription for birth control. Fewer female students would use it. The same would happen with Adderall. Students who have ADHD will be forced to jump through hoops; students who don't have ADHD will head off-campus or buy from the campus black market. 

For a thorough takedown of the mythology around Adderall (and who should be allowed to use it) see Jacob Sullum's April post, "An ADHD Diagnosis: The Difference Between Speed and Medicine."

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LAPD's Chris Dorner Manhunt Madness Officially Costs City $4.2 million

From CBS Local Los Angeles:

The City Council has signed off on a $4.2 million settlement with two newspaper delivery women who were fired on by officers in Torrance during the manhunt for accused killer Christopher Dorner.

Margie Carranza and her mother, Emma Hernandez, had reached a settlement with the city in April after filing claims for personal injuries, legal costs, medical bills and emotional damage.

The council approved the payout by a 10-0 vote on Wednesday, according to City News Service.

The multi-million dollar sum will be split between Carranza, 47, and her mother, 71.

The women were delivering newspapers around 5 a.m. on Feb. 7 when officers opened fire on their Toyota Tacoma without warning.

Hernandez used her body to shield her daughter and suffered gunshot wounds to her back. Carranza was injured from flying glass.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck later said the officers thought the truck was being driven by Dorner....

Well, at least they were thinking, huh? Bullets guided by the thoughts of officers always fly for justice. Except this time, I guess. (It is worth remembering that opening fire randomly even on an actual suspect doesn't really qualify as justice.)

This is a good data point for those who question the public policy relevance of random localized acts of police misconduct and criminality: they can, and ought to more often, cost we the people a bundle.

Reason's Dorner coverage.

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The New York Times Admits Its Reporting on the Trayvon Martin Case Has Been Fundamentally Wrong

Pool photo by Joe BurbankPool photo by Joe BurbankA New York Times story about jury selection in George Zimmerman's trial says the case is "spotlighting Florida's Stand Your Ground law." In the very next sentence, however, the Times concedes "that law has not been invoked in this case." As I have been saying since this story began attracting national press attention, Zimmerman's defense does not hinge on the right to stand your ground when you are attacked in a public place because he claims he shot Trayvon Martin during a violent struggle in which there was no opportunity to retreat. So why is "Florida's Stand Your Ground law" relevant? According to the Times, because it "was cited by the Sanford police as the reason officers did not initially arrest Mr. Zimmerman." But the provision cited by police, although it was included in the same 2005 bill that eliminated the duty to retreat, has nothing to do with the "stand your ground" principle.

The police said they did not charge Zimmerman right away because of a provision that prohibits a law enforcement agency from arresting someone who claims to have used deadly force in self-defense "unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful." In other words, the fact that Zimmerman killed Martin (which he has always admitted) was not enough; the police also needed reason to doubt his self-defense claim. We can argue about whether that is a reasonable requirement, but it is completely distinct from the right to stand your ground. Even a state that imposes a duty to retreat could still require police to meet this test before arresting someone who claims self-defense.

From the beginning press coverage of this case has routinely conflated these issues, implying that Florida's definition of self-defense is so broad that it gave Zimmerman a license to kill in circumstances that did not justify the use of deadly force. The New York Times has been one of the worst offenders in this respect, running one story after another that either obscured or misstated the legal issues while suggesting that both Martin's death and the delay in arresting Zimmerman somehow hinged on the absence of a duty to retreat. Now the Times is implicitly admitting that its reporting was based on a fundamentally mistaken premise.

Opening arguments in Zimmerman's trial are expected next week.

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Sign of the Conservative Times: National Review Bigwigs Praise Rand Paul and Libertarianism (UPDATED*)

Where Rand Paul and Ronald Reagan meet. |||National Review Editor Rich Lowry is, as he'll tell you, "far from a Rand Paul-ite." He is "not where Paul is on foreign or national security policy," and views Ron Paul's opinions on such as "toxic." But Lowry nevertheless devotes the rest of his latest Politico column on "The Rand Paul Moment" praising the Kentucky senator's intelligence, uniqueness, and sense of political timing, and predicting that "at least for some stretch of 2015, Rand Paul could well be the Republican front-runner." Excerpt:

It is a Rand Paul moment in the Republican Party not just because the headlines almost every day seem to reinforce his core critique of leviathan as too big, too unaccountable, and too threatening, but because he is smart and imaginative enough to capitalize on those headlines.

Paul has that quality that can't be learned or bought: He's interesting. [...]

Other conservatives in the Senate like to brag that they joined Paul's filibuster, but it was Paul who came up with the idea and executed it, in an inspired bit of political theater.

He taps into an American tradition of dissent not usually invoked by Republicans. At the Time magazine gala this year honoring the 100 most influential people in the world (he was one), he raised a glass to Henry David Thoreau. In his inaugural Senate address, he contrasted his Kentucky hero, the irascible abolitionist Cassius Clay with the more conventional Kentucky political legend, the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay.

His cultural affect is different, too, a little more Utne Reader than National Review. At a packed event at the Reagan Library he explained, "I'm a libertarian conservative who spends most of my free time outdoors. I bike and hike and kayak, and I compost." It might be the first positive reference to composting in the history of that fine institution.

After distancing himself from some of Paul's views and strategies, Lowry concludes:

But libertarianism is a significant strand on the right. It should be represented, and represented well. By and large, Rand Paul does that. Anyone underestimating him in 2016 does so at their peril.

Never forget! |||We done told you that Rand Paul was "the most interesting man in the Senate," and that he has bent the GOP in a more libertarian direction. And it certainly is interesting to watch a magazine that 10 years ago was publishing a book of War on Terror speeches by George W. Bush and thundering against "unpatriotic" anti-war conservatives now giving an enthusiastic hearing to the very political tendency that was in its crosshairs in 2003. More evidence of this shift can be found in a column last week by Jonah Goldberg asserting that "The libertarian idea is the only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years."

National Review, of course, is no stranger to libertarianism—founding father William F. Buckley described himself as a "libertarian journalist," and the modern conservative movement Buckley helped create was a conscious fusion between conservatives and libertarians. (For a deeper discussion of the complicated relationship between NR and libertarianism, see this 2006 Brian Doherty piece.)

But as Rich Lowry correctly notes, the headlines coming out of Washington this year are like a libertarian-creation machine, and meanwhile there has been an "evolution" in the GOP's foreign policy due to the party being "exhausted with the world for the time being." I remain skeptical that the Republican evolution/exhaustion cycle will continue in a libertarian direction under President Marco Rubio, but as always, I prefer people tacking more libertarian than not. Now if we could only get a "Ron Wyden moment" on the left....

Related: Nick Gillespie vs. Ann Coulter, and Jonah Goldberg vs. Matt Welch, on the modern possibilities (or lack thereof) of libertarian-conservative fusionism.

* UPDATE: Keeping the relationship ambiguous, the latest edition of National Review has a piece by Henry Olsen titled "Rand Paul's Party: It wouldn't offer much to conservatives."

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Cuts to Public Broadcasting in Europe: Good for Localism, Bad for Hollywood

Odd place for a lamp.As Greece prepares to radically restructure its government-run TV and radio operations, other European countries -- Italy, Spain, Germany, France -- are also cutting back their broadcast budgets. The Hollywood Reporter describes the results:

the ongoing economic crisis is pushing public broadcasters to tighten their belts. More often than not, that means shifting spending from U.S. movies to local news or home-grown productions. Since European public broadcasters are major buyers of U.S. dramas -- particularly high-end, or non-tentpole, fare -- when they cut their budgets, it is Hollywood that feels the pinch.

So: There's more local programming, and less tax money gets funneled to big American studios. It may fly in the face of the Stop the cuts! reaction that such budget reductions automatically inspire, but there really isn't a good reason for advocates of noncommercial broadcasting to think either of those are bad things.

Vaguely related bonus link: "With Friends Like These: Why Community Radio Does Not Need the Corporation for Public Broadcasting"

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IMF Paper: Government Jobs Crowd Out Private Sector Employment

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govWhat happens to private sector employment when public employment goes up? A new working paper from researchers at the International Monetary Fund points to global data showing that the public sector gains are private sector losses. The researchers looked at data from 194 developing and advanced countries between 1988 and 2011 and found “robust evidence that public employment crowds out private employment.”

The paper finds that statistically, it’s essentially a one-to-one relationship, when the entire sample is considered: “A public job typically comes at the cost of a private sector job, and therefore does not reduce overall unemployment.” The authors also point to previous research finding similar “full crowding out” in studies that look only at OECD countries.

This has potential implications for stimulus. While fiscal stimulus programs often attempt to push money into the private sector—witness the money spent on private contractors in the 2009 Recovery Act—studies looking at the U.S. experience have found that virtually all of the reduction in unemployment associated with increased government spending on labor markets comes through increased government employment rather than private employment. The conclusions offered by the IMF paper’s authors also jibe with research that has found that the stimulus program created or saved hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs at the expense of even more jobs in the private sector. 

Steve Chapman on Car Buyers Getting Hijacked by Crony Capitalism

Credit: Joeinsouthernca / Foter.com / CC BY-NDCredit: Joeinsouthernca / Foter.com / CC BY-NDGov. Rick Perry is fond of saying that Texas is "wide open for business." A couple of months ago he was in Illinois offering hope to local companies suffering from burdensome government regulation. "There is an escape route to economic freedom," he said, "a route to Texas." He had a point, writes Steve Chapman. His state offers businesses room to roam. But there is an exception, Chapman notes: Tesla, a maker of luxury electric cars, which has found that the road into the Lone Star State is a dead end thanks to crony capitalism.

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SCOTUS: Government Can’t Tie Subsidies to Positions Held by Recipients

This isn't actually what's happening, but I'm sick of those SCOTUS group shotsCredit: © Kornilovdream | Dreamstime.comToday the Supreme Court did not rule on the cases (gay marriage, affirmative action) everybody’s been waiting for, but they did rule for more free speech for corporations! That should really tick off the progressives!

Probably not, though. The court ruled 6-2 (Justice Elena Kagan did not participate) that the federal government cannot force organizations to publicly hold certain positions in order to qualify to participate in government-funded programs.

I wrote about Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society back in April. The case revolved around whether the federal government can require a nongovernmental health organization to take a position that prostitution should be illegal in order to qualify for federal AIDS and HIV-prevention funding. The majority here ruled no, arguing that doing so infringed upon the First Amendment rights of the groups involved. The majority decision (written by Chief Justice John Roberts) noted the line between monitoring the policies of a government-funded organization versus monitoring their positions:

The Leadership Act’s other funding condition, which prohibits Leadership Act funds from being used “to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking,” §7631(e), ensures that federal funds will not be used for prohibited purposes. The Policy Requirement thus must be doing something more—and it is. By demanding that funding recipients adopt and espouse, as their own, the Government’s view on an issue of public concern, the Policy Requirement by its very nature affects “protected conduct outside the scope of the federally funded program.” Rust, supra,at 197. A recipient cannot avow the belief dictated by the condition when spending Leadership Act funds, and assert a contrary belief when participating in activities on its own time and dime.

The Government suggests that if funding recipients could promote or condone prostitution using private funds, “it would undermine the government’s program and confuse its message opposing prostitution.” Brief for Petitioners 37.  But the Policy Requirement goes beyond preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that would undermine the federal program. It requires them to pledge allegiance to the Government’s policy of eradicating prostitution. That condition on funding violates the First Amendment

So it’s okay to demand that an organization not use federal money to advocate the legalization of prostitution. That’s tying funding to actual policies. But telling an organization it must pledge support for government laws against prostitution or prohibiting it from using private funds how it pleases is a First Amendment violation.

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Rape Camp at Texas Jail Alleged in Lawsuit

cage freeReason 24/7What can happen when you put some people in charge of putting and holding other people in cages, sometimes for consensual, nonviolent behavior?

From Courthouse News:

Texas jailers ran a "rape camp" where they "repeatedly raped and humiliated female inmates," and forced them to masturbate and sodomize male guards, and one another, two women claim in court.

J.A.S. and J.M.N. sued Live Oak County and its former jailers Vincent Aguilar, Israel Charles Jr. and Jaime E. Smith, in Federal Court.

All three guards were arrested in August 2010 and charged with sexual assault, the Beeville Bee-Picayune reported at the time. The newspaper did not identify the victims.

Smith and Aguilar are in Texas state prisons today, according to the complaint, which says defendant Charles is living in Bee County.

The union for Texas corrections officers pushed for a 14 percent pay raise this year. They ended up getting a 5 percent raise.

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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Which Bastard Stole My Social Security Number (The 'Skeleton Key' to My Life)?

Social Security cardPublic DomainI received a letter from an old employer, yesterday. I haven't worked for the company in a decade — it's no longer even in the same business in which I was employed. But the company kept something of me when I quit. My name and Social Security number were kept on a "storage device, which was no longer in use," and that device "was among several pieces of computer hardware taken from our facilities" by a thief. That's a little concerning, considering that Adam Levin at ABC News recently described the Social Security number as "a skeleton key, able to unlock a kingdom of untold riches for identity thieves."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center warns:

The widespread use of the SSN as an identifier and authenticator has lead to an increase in identity theft. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, identity theft now affects between 500,000 and 700,000 people annually. Victims often do not discover the crime until many months after its occurrence. Victims spend hundreds of hours and substantial amounts of money attempting to fix ruined credit or expunge a criminal record that another committed in their name.

Identity theft litigation also shows that the SSN is central to committing fraud. In fact, the SSN plays such a central role in identification that there are numerous cases where impostors were able to obtain credit with their own name but a victim's SSN, and as a result, only the victim's credit was affected. In June 2004, the Salt Lake Tribune reported: "Making purchases on credit using your own name and someone else's Social Security number may sound difficult -- even impossible -- given the level of sophistication of the nation's financial services industry…But investigators say it is happening with alarming frequency because businesses granting credit do little to ensure names and Social Security numbers match and credit bureaus allow perpetrators to establish credit files using other people's Social Security numbers." The same article reports that Ron Ingleby, resident agent in charge of Utah, Montana and Wyoming for the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, as stating that SSN-only fraud makes up the majority of cases of identity theft.

Famously, Social Security numbers were not supposed to be used for exactly the sort of universal ID purposes to which they're put, today. The Social Security Administration says, "in 1946, SSA added a legend to the bottom of the card reading 'FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PURPOSES -- NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION.' This legend was removed as part of the design changes for the 18th version of the card, issued beginning in 1972." By that time, of course, the assurance was already a joke.

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Julian Assange is Helping Edward Snowden Seek Asylum in Iceland

Credit: Author Espen Moe/wikimediaCredit: Author Espen Moe/wikimediaWikileaks founder Julian Assange is trying to put a deal together that would allow NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to be granted asylum in Iceland. Assange, who recently marked his one year anniversary at Ecuador’s embassy in London, has spent some time in Iceland, where he worked on the “collateral murder” video with Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who is now an Icelandic member of parliament.

From BuzzFeed:

Wikileaks is “in touch with [Edward] Snowden’s legal team,” Assange said, and they are “in the process of brokering his asylum in Iceland.”

Asked whether Snowden would be able to successfully travel from Hong Kong, where he has been since the leaks to the Guardian, to Iceland, Assange said “All those issues are being looked at by the people involved.”

Assange, who was granted asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London a year ago while evading sexual assault charges in Sweden and a Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks for the material it received from Bradley Manning, was on a conference call with reporters and with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake.

Assange wouldn’t directly answer whether he’s had personal contact with Snowden, “as a matter of policy.” He also wouldn’t talk about whether or not he had had contact with Snowden before the leaked material came out.

Snowden, who is currently in Hong Kong, will have to be in Iceland to apply for asylum, which may not be as easy as Snowden hoped considering that Iceland’s new prime minister may not be keen to foster his country’s reputation as a haven for transparency activists.  

While Snowden may want to head to Iceland his father recently urged him to come home to face justice and not face “treason,” a charge some experts think would be hard to pin on him. American officials have yet to formally charge Snowden with anything and have not filed any extradition requests.

Nick Gillespie on How James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano Changed America

James Gandolfini, the actor who played the lead character in the HBO series The Sopranos, is dead at the age of 51, of an apparent heart attack.

Nick Gillespie says that The Sopranos wasn't just one of the last great TV shows around which people rearranged their schedules, the show ushered in a bold new era in popular culture that features "not just morally ambiguous but morally contemptible protagonists." Where right-wing and left-wing critics champion didactic culture that teaches people how to be good people or citizens,

The Sopranos put the lie to all that by entertaining and challenging viewers not by forcing Tony Soprano to "grow" or by romanticizing and mythologizing him (as happens to Michael Corleone at the end of The Godfather) but by forcing us all to live for a while in a world without justice, pity, or even tidy endings. What took place on The Sopranos each week had no direct connection to our daily lives, but it enriched us by taking us to dark places that the best art illuminates.

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A.M. Links: James Gandolfini Dead at 51, Taliban Offer To Release American Soldier, Russia and China Not Happy About US Human Trafficking Report

Credit: US ArmyCredit: US Army

  • James Gandolfini, the actor best known for his portrayal of Tony Soprano in HBO’s The Sopranos, has died in Italy at 51.
  • The Taliban have offered to release U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held since 2009, in exchange for five senior operatives being held in Guantanamo Bay.  
  • Russia and China have both reacted angrily to a State Department report that categorized the two countries as some of the world’s worst offenders in their efforts to fight human trafficking.
  • Google’s chief legal officer has said that the company is not “in cahoots” with the NSA.
  • A group of women from Beverly Hills called “Marijuana Moms” say that smoking pot makes them better parents.

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Andrew Napolitano Asks, Where's Fidelity to the Constitution When We Need It?

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia CommonsWhen Snowden began his work for Booz Allen Hamilton, he took two oaths. The first oath was to keep secret the classified materials to which he would be exposed in his work as a spy; the second oath was to uphold the Constitution. Shortly after Snowden began his work with the NSA, he came to the realization that he could not comply with both oaths. He realized that by keeping secret what he learned, writes Andrew Napolitano, he was keeping the American public in the dark about what its government is doing outside the Constitution in order to control the public.

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Brickbat: Handgun

Married With ChildrenMarried With ChildrenOfficials at Washington's Marysville Middle School suspended Hunter Lance after he pointed his finger at several other students in a hallway and pretended to shoot them. Assistant Superintendent Gail Miller said Lance “frightened some children.”

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James Gandolfini, R.I.P

The Sopranos, HBOThe Sopranos, HBO

When we talk about the evolution of scripted television these days, we (understandably) tend to talk in terms of showrunners and the decisions they make. But actors matter a great deal too, and it's hard to think of any actor who did more to redefine what television could be than James Gandolfini, whose portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano on the HBO series The Sopranos is one of the greatest and most influential roles in the history of television.

A character actor who appeared in, among other things, a series of early 1990s Tony Scott films, including The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, and Crimson Tide, Gandolfini landed the the lead role in The Sopranos, which first aired in 1999. The show quickly became a TV milestone; many critics argued, compellingly, that it was the best show of all time.

Certainly it was among the most influentual, with its creators and core ideas still reverberating through so many of the high-quality dramas produced today. And that influence, and its continued power, has a lot to do with the way Gandolfini payed Tony: powerful but conflcted, angry and often menacingly violent but not wholly heartless, driven and determined yet fundamentally confused about what he wanted out of life. Was he a monster? Or just the man next door? Gandolfini's performance helped provide the only possible answer to that pair of questions: Yes. It was the perfect role, and he was the perfect actor for it. It's impossible to imagine The Sopranos without Gandolfini, and nearly as difficult to imagine the modern TV drama landscape — with its emphasis on brooding, sprawling serials led by aging male antiheroes — without his work on the show. Gandolfini died today while on vacation in Italy. He'll be missed. 

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Rand Paul: How Scary is He?

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic has a perspicacious look at how a couple of prominent modern-liberal writers or institutions have contemplated the terrors of the rise of Rand Paul.new republicnew republic

In Jonathan Chait's case, Chait in New York magazine takes Rand Paul's disdain for the excesses of pure democracy in which a voting class can override core individual rights--an idea built into this nation's very Republican structure and reasonably uncontroversial--as derived clearly from the scary Ayn Rand. The most sinister expression of this belief, which Chait paints as a sinister ideology that Rand Paul has been trying to conceal--but not from Chait's eagle eye?

Ayn Rand: "I do not believe that a majority can vote a man's life, or property, or freedom away from him." 

Remember: Chait thinks that that idea is a nightmare, and he expects his readers to agree. Now that's scary.

Friedersdorf goes on to analyze this week's New Republic cover profile of Rand Paul by Julia Ioffe, and notes that she is both gliding over some of the areas in which Rand Paul is more willing to bend to political reality than his more radical libertarian father Ron Paul (Rand is seemingly satisfied with keeping Social Security and Medicaid around for the long haul, despite mostly believing in keeping the government to its explicit constitutional limits) and for using the word "isolationist" to describe him, misleadingly. (A guy as for free trade and immigration is no isolationist--just not as eager to give away money and wage wars overseas as most politicians of both parties.)

Most importantly, Ioffe misleads her readers--particularly the presumably Democratic-liberal leaning readers of the New Republic--by not stressing Paul's most significant characteristic: he's about the best there is in Washington on a full civil liberties package of the due process, limiting executive power, ameliorating the Drug War, limiting indefinite detentions with no trial, don't wage war unilaterally, variety.

Now, while I don't expect a more successful Rand Paul--say, one who is a front runner in the 2016 presidential race--to stay as good on his libertarian background as his father did in his campaign, if he did, his consistency would indeed be frightening to the mass of readers of Chait and Ioffe, even if Friedersdorf sees a lot to admire. A consistent libertarianism is indeed still a frightening thing to the political and media establishment of both parties.

Matt Welch on the New Republic profile of Rand Paul (a profile in which I am quoted).

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Proposed Citizens United 'Fix' Strips Rights From Newspapers, TV Stations and Advocacy Groups

Reason 24/7ReasonCatering to the ongoing insistence by the usual suspects that the Citizens United decision spells DOOM for American democracy, Senators Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) proposed a constitutional amendment that would take away nasty corporations' ability to gum up the political process. "Montanans expect real people and their ideas — not corporations and their money — to decide our elections," Tester chirps in a press release. But, as written, the amendment does just a wee bit more. To be specific, it would literally define legally incorporated entities as un-persons, with a host of troublesome results.

From First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh's Volokh Conspiracy:

The proposed amendment would authorize Congress, states, and local governments to, for instance, (1) restrict what most newspapers publish, (2) restrict what most advocacy groups, such as the ACLU, the Sierra Club, and the NRA, say, (3) restrict what is said and done by most churches, and (4) seize the property of corporations without just compensation. (It might also allow restrictions on the speech of unions, depending on whether they are seen as “corporate entities.”)

Nearly all major newspapers and magazines are owned by corporations; the same is true of book publishers, movie studios, record labels, and broadcasters. Indeed, if you want such entities to be able to raise money for their operations through the stock market, you have to have them be organized as corporations. Likewise, most nonprofit organizations are organized as corporations — that, too, makes sense, since it makes sense to have the ACLU run as a corporate entity rather than as a sole proprietorship owned by one person, or a partnership owned by a few people. Churches are likewise often organized as corporations, sometimes with a special sort of corporate status.

Under the proposed amendment, all these groups — as well as ordinary businesses — would lose all their constitutional rights. Instead of "strict scrutiny" for content-based regulations of the press or of nonprofit advocacy groups, Congress and state and local governments would be free to impose any restrictions they "deem reasonable."

The problematic verbiage reads in part:

Section 2. The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

The point of this definition is that the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of "people," "persons" and "citizens," so narrowly defining those terms restricts the protections. Un-persons, indeed.

Whether this rather wide-ranging removal of protection for rights from any entity that might muster the resources to, say, effectively heckle senators is a bug or a deliberate feature of the proposed amendment is left to the reader to decide.

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American Medical Association: Call Obesity a Disease

"Buffets" will be reclassified as "Transmission Vectors"Credit: morrissey / Foter.com / CC BYYesterday I noted a recommendation by a council within the American Medical Association against calling obesity a disease, arguing that doing so undermines prevention efforts and doesn’t really impact treatment.

The American Medical Association voted and never mind: They’re calling it a disease. Via MedPage Today:

The vote -- approved by roughly 60% of the AMA's full House -- goes against the recommendation of its Council on Science and Public Health, which issued a report earlier this week saying that calling obesity a disease would be problematic.

The resolution was backed by delegates from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and the American Society of Bariatric Physicians.

"We felt it's time to take a stance and say we're going to identify this as a disease," AMA committee on public health member Douglas Martin, MD, told MedPage Today. "We think that's going to send a message not only to the public but to the physician community that we really need to make it a priority and put it in our crosshairs."

It’s not obesity in the crosshairs so much as insurance providers, as Forbes noted:

On Sunday, several doctors who testified at an AMA panel on public health issues said doctors needed to be compensated for treating obesity and a disease classification would help in that regard.

Dr. Virginia Hall, an obstetrician from Hershey, Pa., said the AMA should endorse declaring obesity as a disease so “insurers can stop ducking their responsibility” in paying for treatment of the obese.

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Former New Brunswick Internal Affairs Chief Indicted For Mishandling Dozens of Investigations

probitas arbitrariascoutnurse/foter.comIn five years as the head of the New Brunswick Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit, Sgt. Richard Rowe managed to thwart 81 investigations according to a grand jury indictment. The former New Jersey cop is accused of falsifying, hiding, removing, and destroying files related to the investigations. Rowe was being paid more than $123,000 when he was suspended without pay in March 2011; the alleged misconduct happened between 2003 and 2007. If convicted, Rowe could serve more than 20 years in prison and lose his pension. As for the police department, it promises to reform its Internal Affairs process so investigations are routed through the county prosecutor’s office for a rubber stamp before they’re closed.

According to New Brunswick Today the allegations were first made public in late 2011, just a few weeks after a New Brunswick police officer shot and killed an unarmed man, sparking protests in the city. The two officers involved in that shooting were investigated by Internal Affairs a total of nine times between them, going back to 2005 and Rowe’s tenure. A grand jury declined to indict those cops and one has since resigned instead of facing punishment for three procedural violations Internal Affairs found he committed. Instead he applied for a disability pension

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Monsanto Crop Biotechnology Reseacher is Among World Food Prize Laureates

World Food PrizeCredit: World Food PrizeToday, the World Food Prize Foundation announced the annual winners of its prestigious award. Among this year's three laureates is Robert Fraley, the Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto. The other two laureates are Marc Van Montagu, Founder and Chairman of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO) in Ghent, Belgium and Mary-Dell Chilton, Founder and Distinguished Science Fellow at Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc. 

In its announcement of this year's award, the Foundation noted:

The pioneering work of Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton, and Robert Fraley contributed to the emergence of a new term, "agricultural biotechnology," and set the stage for engineering crops with novel traits that improved yields and conferred resistance to insects and disease, as well as tolerance to adverse environmental conditions. Their work has made it possible for farmers in 30 countries to improve the yields of their crops, have increased incomes, and feed a growing global population.

Beginning with the first cultivation of staple transgenic crops in 1996 until the present, biotech crops have contributed to food security and sustainability by increasing crop production valued at US $98.2 billion and providing a better environment by reducing the application of significant amounts of pesticides worldwide. Today, approximately 12 percent of the world’s arable land is planted with biotechnology crops.

There have been dramatic increases in the total acreage planted. Corn, soybeans, canola, and cotton are the major biotech crops grown commercially on a large scale and have become an integral part of international agricultural production and trade. At the same time, a wide variety of useful genes have been transformed into a large number of economically important plants, including most of the food crops, scores of varieties of fruits and vegetables, and many tree species.

According to a recent report by ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications), 2012 marks the first year since the introduction of biotech crops that developing countries grew more biotech crops than industrial countries. This is contributing to enhanced food security and poverty reduction in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions. The report states: "In the period 1996 to 2012, millions of farmers in 30 countries planted an accumulated 1.5 billion hectares."

A record 17.3 million farmers grew biotech crops worldwide in 2012, with over 90 percent of them small resource-poor farmers in developing countries. Through their planting and harvesting of biotech crops, more than 15 million small-holder farmers and their families, totaling approximately 50 million people, were able to increase their incomes and reduce poverty conditions. In the Philippines alone, over one-third of a million small farmers benefited from biotech maize.

During the period 1996-2011, according to the ISAAA report, 328 million tons of additional food, feed and fiber was produced worldwide by biotech crops. As the world grapples with how to feed the estimated 9 billion people who will inhabit the planet by the year 2050, it will be critical to continue building upon the scientific advancements and revolutionary agricultural discoveries of the 2013 World Food Prize Laureates.

Congratulations to the winners. This recognition of their vital work is well-deserved.

Now will the activists please stop lying about crop biotechology. See my, "The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops." For those of you who enjoy zany activist antics, please see Reason TV's report on the "March Against Monsanto" last month in Los Angeles below.

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Libertarian Leads Effort for Gay Marriage Recognition in Arizona

Warning: Initiative does not promise gay weddings will be as pretty as stock photos suggestCredit: © Purmar | Dreamstime.comMarriage recognition is currently a man-and-wife only affair in The Grand Canyon State, thanks to a constitutional amendment passed in 2008.

But as gay marriage recognition is seeing increasing public support, there’s a new effort in Arizona to modify the state’s definition to allow for same-sex couples, and this new effort is being led by a libertarian and a Republican. Equal Marriage Arizona, co-chaired by libertarian blogger and business owner Warren Meyer and Arizona Log Cabin Republican caucus chair Erin Ogletree Simpson, filed their petition Monday and have begun collecting signatures to bring it to a vote.

The wording of the initiative is very simple: It changes the definition of recognized marriages in Arizona from a man and a woman to two people, gender neutral. An added section declares that religious organizations will not be obligated to solemnize or officiate at such ceremonies.

I spoke with Meyer briefly earlier today about his involvement. He said he worked with Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s campaign and had gotten involved with the Our America Initiative, the pro-liberty group Johnson formed prior to his run for president. Meyer said the group contacted him to see if he would be interested in taking on leadership of an initiative effort in Arizona, and he agreed. Johnson, too, has declared his support for the effort and is listed as an honorary chairman for Equal Marriage Arizona.

Asked whether Arizona’s conservative political reputation meant this push had a better chance succeeding if it came from the right, Meyer agreed, though emphasized this is a nonpartisan effort.

“This is an individual liberty issue, and we’re hoping to get to the point in Arizona that people are okay with this with addition of some liberty protection,” he said.

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Obama Finds Friendly Audience in Berlin, Online Poker a Lifesaver for Pakistani Child, Hoffa Hunt Comes Up Empty Again: P.M. Links

  • "I call and raise you a kidney"Credit: Felix Hammer, Florian Thauer, Lothar May, Oskar Lindqvist / Foter.com / CC BY-SAIn a speech in Berlin, where they love him far more than Americans do, President Barack Obama defended the United States' surveillance program, proposed new talks with Russia to cut back on nuclear weapons, and promised to keep trying to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
  • Online poker saves lives! A friendship that resulted from two people playing online poker together eventually led to lifesaving surgery for one man’s young Pakistani son.
  • Outgoing LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he expects to run for governor of California. If the state’s Republican Party can’t put up somebody capable of beating him there truly is no hope.
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has become the third Republican senator to declare support for gay marriage recognition.
  • A documentary alleges a cover up at the National Transportation Safety Board obscured the real reasons behind the explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, in which 230 were killed. Former members of the investigation team have come forward to say the explosion came from outside the plane, not due to an internal accident.
  • The FBI has abandoned its latest effort to dig up the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.

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Peter Suderman on Obamacare's Absurdities

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.gov

Over the years, Obamacare’s defenders have made plenty of absurd arguments in service of the law, but perhaps the most absurd argument of all is that the language of the law does not actually mean what it plainly says. Yet that is essentially the argument that some of the health law’s defenders are making in public and that they are preparing to make in court.

The law expands health coverage by providing subsidies to people buying health insurance through government-run health exchanges—online marketplaces intended to allow people to compare and purchase health plans. But the text of the law clearly states that those subsidies are only available to individuals who purchase insurance in exchanges erected by states. The Internal Revenue Service, however, has ruled that the subsidies will be also be available in the 34 exchanges run by the federal government. 

Obamacare's backers now have to defend the IRS ruling, as a challenge to the tax agency's rule makes its way to court. It's no mere legalistic squabble. Senior Editor Peter Suderman writes that the outcome of this dispute could eventually determine whether the IRS has the authority to disburse some $800 billion in federal funds—the estimated value of the subsidies in the 34 states where the federal government has taken responsibility for creating the exchanges.

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"Why Democrats Love to Spy on Americans": The Late Michael Hastings' Last

The energetic and powerful young journalist Michael Hastings, most famous for his reporting on the follies of our Afghanistan intervention, who died yesterday in a car crash in Los Angeles went out with an interesting and iconclastic (especially for a guy known for his Rolling Stone reporting) piece for Buzzfeed attacking the Democrats on privacy issues.

revealed the entire caste of current Democratic leaders as a gang of civil liberty opportunists, whose true passion, it seems, was in trolling George W. Bush for eight years on matters of national security.....

Many....Dems — including the sitting President Barack Obama, Senator Carl Levin, and Sec. State John Kerry — have now become the stewards and enhancers of programs that appear to dwarf any of the spying scandals that broke during the Bush years, the very same scandals they used as wedge issues to win elections in the Congressional elections 2006 and the presidential primary of 2007-2008....

Now, we’re about to see if the Obama administration’s version of the national security state will begin to eat itself.

Unsurprisingly, the White House has dug in, calling their North Korea-esque tools “essential” to stop terrorism, and loathe to give up the political edge they’ve seized for Democrats on national security issues under Obama’s leadership....

Outside of Washington, D.C., the frustration that [Democratic Senators who have been properly alarmed] Wyden and Udall have felt has been exponentially magnified. Transparency supporters, whistleblowers, and investigative reporters, especially those writers who have aggressively pursued the connections between the corporate defense industry and federal and local authorities involved in domestic surveillance, have been viciously attacked by the Obama administration and its allies in the FBI and DOJ.

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Sushi Rice, Catfish, and Other Farm Bill Winners

sushiCredit: Michael Kappel / photo on flickrThe $1 trillion farm bill is working its way though Congress (well, it has been doing so for the last two years), and this round of revisions contains some new winners in the always-contentious race to gobble up taxpayer dollars:

Tucked deep in the 629-page U.S. House agriculture policy legislation is an initiative to guarantee prices for sushi rice. So too is insurance for alfalfa and a marketing plan for Christmas trees.

Catfish farmers also get a morsel in the proposal being taken up this week: profit-margin insurance. The products represent a tiny fraction of the $440 billion U.S. farm economy. Yet each is slated to receive special treatment—either through subsidized insurance, promotional programs or protections against imports—in the bill that carries an estimated 10-year price tag of $939 billion.

From the cellar.

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The Conquest of Northern Idaho

The High Country News has published an interesting article headlined "How right-wing emigrants conquered North Idaho." It's about a process comparable to the influx of hippies who pushed Vermont to the left a few decades back, or the effort by the libertarians of the Free State Project to do something similar in New Hampshire. In this case the migrants are conservative Republicans of the old southern California variety -- indeed, many of them used to live in southern California -- who have moved to Kootenai County, Idaho, quadrupling the place's population and transforming it into "the most Republican county in the most Republican state in the nation." (You can debate that status, but let's stipulate that it has few rivals for the title.) The piece is locked behind a paywall, unfortunately, but this should give some of the flavor:

Coeur d'Alene, Coeur d'Alene/Does whatever a spider cain'Southern California was struck by a series of disasters in the early 1990s -- a recession, an earthquake, race riots -- that together marked the beginning of an exodus. Between 1992 and 2000, excluding birth and death rates, California lost 1.8 million more people than it gained; collectively, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona gained 1.4 million more than they lost. More than half of the immigrants to Idaho in that period came from California. Of the top four counties that lost emigrants to Kootenai, three were in California -- San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange.

Like many other mass movements, this one spread by word of mouth. In 1990, the Coeur d'Alene Press reported that one Orange County family had convinced "half its neighborhood" to relocate to Coeur d'Alene. A pastor told me that "whole (evangelical) ministries" came north together. By the end of the 1990s, more than 500 California police officers had retired to North Idaho, among them Mark Fuhrman, who committed perjury in the prosecution of O.J. Simpson. One officer told the Los Angeles Times that he left Anaheim because "the narrow roads got wider, orange groves became tract homes and street gangs became too numerous to count." He went looking for "another Shangri-La," and found it in Kootenai County.

Till we have built New Anaheim/In Idaho's more pleasant LandIndeed, as the county's population soared above 100,000, it began to look less like Idaho and more like suburban California. The prairie was paved with curling cul-de-sacs and gridded with Starbucks, Del Tacos and Holiday Inns. The old Potlatch Mill on Lake Coeur d'Alene became a golf course, and another mill site, just past the outflow into the Spokane River, became an office complex and parking lot....
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Audit the IRS Rally: "Hey Boehner Try Growen a Pair!!"

I stopped by the Audit the IRS rally today at the Capitol Building in D.C. Here's part of what I saw.

I left before most of the speakers began, so I can't comment on that, but a lot of the crowd and signage seemed to be as geared toward questions about immigration reform as it was about reducing spending and the intrusion of government bureaucracy into the daily life of Americans.

That broadening in focus is unfortunate. As the website of rally organizer Tea Party Patriot attests, the group seems as exercised by pending immigration reform as by spending (the issue that actually sparked the tea party movement). As Matt Welch and I wrote in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, the power of rapid- and intense-response coalitions is directly related to their ability to target a specific issue and stick to it. As with the old rainbow coalitions of the left (where a rally about, say, the minimum wage would devolve into a general gripe session about vaccination, El Salvador, and the Christic Institute), the broader the set of issues engaged at any one time, the less impact you're going to have.

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Cameron Says UK Government Can Arm Rebels in Syria Without Vote in House of Commons

Credit: UK Parliament/flickrCredit: UK Parliament/flickrBritish Prime Minister David Cameron has said that his government reserves the right to arm rebels in Syria without a vote in the House of Commons, saying that not holding a vote will allow the government to act “very swiftly.”

Cameron’s comments are contrary to what was said by the speaker of the House of Commons, who has said that members of parliament will get a vote on any decision to arm rebels in Syria. Eighty of Cameron’s fellow Conservative members of parliament have signed a letter urging him to allow a vote on what action to take in Syria.

From the BBC:

More than 80 Conservative MPs have signed a letter calling for a full Commons vote before any decision to take action against the Assad government.

Asked about this demand, Mr Cameron said: "You are absolutely right to make the point that we make a big commitment to come to this House and explain, vote and all the rest of it, but obviously governments have to reserve the ability to take action very swiftly on this or on other issues."

The British government has been one of the most vocal in not only its opposition to the Assad regime but also in its support of increased involvement in Syria.

It is hard to see what would have to happen in Syria for Cameron to take swift action without first putting the issue before the House of Commons. British national security has yet to be compromised by the war in Syria, chemical weapons have been used, and Hezbollah and Al Qaeda-linked groups are already involved. What more would have to happen for Cameron to think increased involvement in the region would require swift action without a vote in the House of Commons has not been fully explained.

Taking military action without a vote in the House of Commons is not unprecedented. British forces entered Afghanistan without a vote in the House of Commons, unlike the invasion of Iraq. British members of parliament did vote to approve U.N.-backed action against Gaddafi in Libya.

While Cameron and others in the British government may want to take action in Syria he would do well to remember that the majority of the British public are against arming rebels, Islamic militants are increasingly sidelining moderate rebels, and a member of his own government says that there are no “palatable options” when it comes to dealing with the conflict in Syria.  

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Fed Says QE Infinity To Keep on Going, For Now

credit: Medill DC / Foter.com / CC BYcredit: Medill DC / Foter.com / CC BYNo real surprises from the most recent meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. Despite some talk in the press of possible "tapering," the Federal Reserve's governing board said today that it will continue with its existing, open-ended bond-buying program, at least for the moment.

From the press release:

To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate, the Committee decided to continue purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. Taken together, these actions should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative.

The Fed announced its open-ended bond-purchasing program—the third such round of quantitative easing (QE) it has undertaken since the start of the recession—back in September. The basic idea was that rather than pursue bond-buying programs designed to last for a set period of time, the Fed would continue to offer what it describes as "accomodative" monetary policy for as long as the Fed's governors thought it was necessary to help the support the economy. What today's decision to keep that program going tells us is that the Fed still thinks the economy is in weak enough shape that continued monetary support is necessary.

The Fed's statement, however, also suggests that it believes that such support might not be necessary for much longer. "Labor market conditions have shown further improvement in recent months, on balance," the statement says. The Fed's governing board also believes “downside risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as having diminished since the fall.” In other words, the FOMC thinks the risks of a major economic decline are smaller than they used to be. So although the Fed still believes the economy needs help, it might not need it (or need as much) for much longer. Maybe the taper's coming soon after all?

Registration Open for the Network of enlightened Women (NeW) National Conference

Next Thursday, June 27th the Network of enlightened Women (NeW) will kick off its Eighth Annual National Conference with a networking night from 5:30pm-7:30pm at the Heritage Foundation. Please RSVP by Thursday, June 20th here.

This is an excellent opportunity to meet, greet, and mingle with some of the top libertarian and conservative women in the liberty movement and learn more about NeW.

The National Conference continues on Friday, June 28 from 10am to 4pm at the Heritage Foundation. The keynote address will be given by Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. The event will include student speakers, an alumnae panel and a professional development training.

Register for one or both events by filling out this form by Thursday, June 20, 2013. For more information and pictures from the events last year, visit the NeW website If you have any questions, please contact Sarah Davis at sarah@enlightenedwomen.org. Please feel free to invite friends and colleagues who would be interested in learning more about NeW.

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Lindsey Graham, on Americans’ Relationship With Government: 'You have the right to come back for more'

Comprehensive immigration reform is being led by the Senate's Top Men. ||| AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, PoolAP Photo/Charles Dharapak, PoolThe Ryan Lizza-authored New Yorker article about immigration reform that I referenced last night in a post about John McCain's zig-zagging immigration politics contained several paragraphs that illustrate the unseemliness of Washington micromanaging and dealmaking. Two of my favorites:

An equally delicate set of negotiations, by Senators Bennet, Rubio, Dianne Feinstein, of California, and Orrin Hatch, of Utah, brought the agriculture industry on board. "In Arizona, we want workers to pick lettuce three months a year," McCain said. "In the Southeast, where they process chickens, they want 'em twelve months a year. In the Northeast, because of dairy, for some reason—I guess it’s .001 per cent of the economy—but, still, the dairy farmers need a certain kind of program as well. So you've got a disparate agricultural-jobs issue. [...]

As for high tech, several staffers involved with the bill started to notice that every time the Gang satisfied the industry its lobbyists returned with new demands. "They keep coming back for more," [Sen. Lindsey] Graham told me. But he didn't mean it in a bad way. "This is America I don't know how you say that in Latin. That should be on some building somewhere: You have the right to come back for more when you don't get what you want. The country where you can ask for almost anything!"

It's an old insight, but worth remembering in the context of the immigration debate: The more the federal government controls, regulates, and decides which micro-sub-category of human activity is legal or illegal, the more that succeeding in America will depend on one's ability to "come back for more" from Washington, D.C. No wonder the District of Columbia is a boomtown these days.

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Russian Duma Votes to Ban Gay Adoption for Foreigners

The lower house of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, has overwhelmingly voted to ban adoption not only for foreign gay couples but single foreigners from any country where same sex marriage is legal. The bill was passed by an overwhelming 443 votes to 0. The bill is widely expected to be confirmed in its third reading on June 21, where it will proceed to the upper house and be signed into law by President Putin.

The BBC:

The amendments to Russia's family code say those banned from adoption would include "persons in a marriage union between people of the same sex registered in a state where such a union is allowed, as well as citizens of such states that are not married"."Adoption of this bill de-facto eliminates the chance for foreign persons of so-called non-traditional sexual orientation to adopt Russian children," said one of the bill's authors, Yelena Mizulina, in televised remarks.

The rationale behind this move was explained by the deputy speaker of the Duma Sergei Zheleznyak: 

“If a child ends up brought up by a gay couple, the child of course is seriously traumatized and develops a distorted notion of the surrounding reality.”

This latest anti-gay spasm comes hot on the heels of a new law introducing fines of up to $3,000 for individuals who promote "non-traditional relations." These new laws represent a major setback for LGBT and civil rights campaigners. Gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseev expressed his outrage at the law:

"The State Duma is following a trend of the government trying to appeal to the illiterate, who are very homophobic."

The new laws demonstrate the increasingly incestuous  of the relationship between government and the Orthodox Church, as chronicledby Contributing Editor Cathy Young in Reason's January issue.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, however the Orthodox Church still seeks to prevent further reform to grant equality to homosexuals. In 2012, 40 percent of Russians disagreed with the statement ‘Homosexuals should enjoy the same rights as others in Russia.'

The negative attitudes towards homosexuality are rooted  in Russia’s recent history; the Soviet Union criminalized male homosexuality. The penalty for disobeying these laws could be a sentence of up to five years in a hard labor camp.

LGBT activists fear that the increasingly hostile stance of the government and wider society towards homosexuals may have contributed to a rise in the kind of homophobic attacks seen earlier this year.

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Gun Manufacturers, Retailers Set Record Sales with New Buyers

While Pres. Obama and Congressional Democrats promised to restrict gun ownership in early 2013, the opposite is happening. Not only are firearms sales on the rise, the industry is attracting customers who had never previously owned a gun. Fox Business News reports:

In its annual Firearms Retailer Survey Report, the National Shooting Sports Foundation said there is an upward trend in the number of first-time buyers purchasing firearms, while more women are frequenting gun shops and ranges.

[…] for the third year in a row, the number of female customers continued to rise. For 2012, 78.6% of retailers said more women came to their stores versus the prior year, compared to 72.8% in 2011 and just 61.1% in 2010.

From 2010 to 2012, the number of annual first-time purchases shot up from 20.8% to 25.8%. Furthermore, 10.1 million background checks, which are used to gauge firearm purchases, were processed through May. This sets the pace to outdo last year's total of 19.5 checks. As is often the case, the threat of new gun control laws has been a boon for major firearms manufacturers. Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. are reporting substantial profit growth:

On Thursday, Smith & Wesson (SWHC) said it expects fourth-quarter results to surpass previous expectations, now calling for a 38% increase in sales compared to the year-ago period. Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) reported first-quarter earnings in April, saying its profit raced 53% higher and sales were up 39%.

In fact, with $588 million in sales, Smith & Wesson saw a record setting year. It's not just manufacturers who are reaping the benefits of Americans' demand for self-defense.

Popular hunting and outdoor retailer Cabela’s (CAB) has also reported a significant benefit from firearm sales. Same-store sales climbed 24% in the first quarter but were up 9% excluding firearm sales.

Mark Malkowski, President and CEO of Connecticut-based Stag Arms, said his company has seen a “big increase in first-time buyers” during the last five years or so. He added that AR-15 rifles, which Stag Arms manufactures, are “turning into a staple” for those starting a collection of firearms.

Stag Arms is one of 34 firearms companies that Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) has invited to leave its restrictive home state and operate out of Texas, where legislation and culture are more receptive to gun rights. 

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FBI Using Drones For Domestic Surveillance

every breath you takeReason 24/7Not satisfied with how expansive and pervasive the surveillance state is in 2013? Put this in your pipe and smoke it, preferably somewhere out of sight of the authorities.

From USA Today:

FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged Wednesday that the agency has deployed drones to conduct surveillance in the U.S., and that the bureau was developing guidelines for their future law enforcement use.

Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the un-manned aerial vehicles, whose use by law enforcement has raised questions from privacy advocates and civil liberties groups, are deployed in "a very minimal way and very seldom.''

"Our footprint is very small,'' the director said. "We have very few.''

In addition to setting rules to govern the use of drones, Mueller also promises to provide the Congress with more information on how it collects (which definition?) and uses data, which he promises is narrow. Oversight in action!

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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Federal Watchdog Report Points to Trouble For Obamacare's Health Exchanges

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govWill Obamacare’s federally run health insurance exchanges be ready on time? In a report released today, the Government Accountability Office has weighed in on the question, and its answer is…maybe? But the federal watchdog can’t say for sure—and federal officials will face additional challenges between now and October, when the exchanges are scheduled to open for enrollment.

Under Obamacare, each state will have its own health insurance exchange, and 34 of those exchanges will be run by the federal government. (States will assist with some of the work in 14 states.) Those exchanges are supposed to start accepting enrollees on October 1 of this year, but for the last few months reports have suggested that federal officials may be having a difficult time with the implementation effort, and in particular with the database technology that is supposed to make up the heart of the exchanges. Health and Human Services representatives have continued to insist that the exchanges will be up and ready on time, and they still do today. But the GAO’s report isn’t exactly confidence inspiring.

“Much progress has been made,” the report says, “but much remains to be accomplished within a relatively short amount of time.” Medicare officials have a timeline in place that they say will allow them to open the exchanges on schedule. But that’s only if they can stick to the timeline. The agency has missed multiple deadlines so far, the GAO report says, and that could be a problem: “While the missed interim deadlines may not affect implementation, additional missed deadlines closer to the start of enrollment could do so.”

Meanwhile, the federal government is still relying on states to do some of the work, but the GAO report found that “many state activities remained to be completed and some were behind schedule.” Even with the contingency plans that federal health officials say they are developing, GAO concludes that it’s tough to say whether the federal exchanges will be ready on time. "Whether CMS’s contingency planning will assure the timely and smooth implementation of the exchanges by October 2013 cannot yet be determined," the report says.

There’s plenty that’s not finished on the federal side too. Federal health officials have “many key activities remaining to be completed across the core exchange functions—eligibility and enrollment, including development and implementation of the data hub; program management; and consumer assistance.” That’s a lot to not have finished with just a few months to go, especially since GAO reports that federal officials are already behind schedule on some of those activities, like consumer assistance planning.

Some of the key technological features of the exchanges haven’t been tested yet: Functionality intended to offer real-time verification of income, citizenship, and eligibility for insurance subsidies hasn’t happened so far, and the federal government told GAO it still needs to complete additional steps in order to do so. The plan is to have those steps completed by July. But, as previously noted, sticking to deadlines has proven difficult in the past. 

In other words, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and the conclusion one ought to draw from the GAO report is that it’s not entirely clear that federal officials can complete it all on time.

Nor is the GAO the only organization reporting that government officials setting up exchanges have a rocky road ahead of them. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published a report this month looking at exchange implementation efforts in three states: Alabama, Virginia, and Michigan. And it too found a variety of struggles with the process.

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G-8 Leaders: Apple, Others Should Feel Bad About Minimizing Tax Burdens

Credit: U.S. Embassy in the U.K.Credit: U.S. Embassy in the U.K.

World leaders of the wealthiest countries at the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland have new ideas to stop the flow of corporate profits toward business-friendly countries.

World leaders at the G-8 summit have declared that governments must work together to close loopholes that allow multinational companies to avoid paying taxes in their home countries.

Their collective statements on tax issues have focused on evasion, which is illegal in the United States, but the above statement and others have also attacked the practice of tax avoidance, which uses tax laws to minimize companies' tax burdens and is legal. 

The G8 called on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which advises rich nations on economic policies, to develop a template under which multinational corporations could be required to report profits and tax payments on a country-by-country basis, to tax authorities.

Tax campaigners had called for published country-by-country reporting to help shame companies into paying their fair share of taxes.

The G8 also said countries should change rules that let companies shift their profits across borders to avoid taxes.

The leaders of the world's wealthiest countries want to make successful private businesses feel bad about not paying more in taxes. Canada was reportedly the only holdout in opposing the initiative.

“We did not expect to see Canada as a holdout,” said Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Network. He said he believes Canada is being difficult for philosophical reasons, believing that competitive tax systems are important drivers of investment.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose not to embrace his country's free-market renaissance, but said instead that action would require the consultation of his country's provinces (still—when was the last time we've heard that on this side of the border?)

The new initiative against tax-dodging was foreshadowed in May when the U.S. Senate hauled Apple CEO Tim Cook into a hearing on the company's offshore profits in relation to its Irish holdings. Check Reason's coverage of the hearing here, what Katherine Mangu-Ward thinks of The New York Times' questionable comparison to the IRS scandal, and read J.D. Tuccille's piece on what to expect when tax collectors comefor all of us.

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The Quarter-Baked Plot to Bomb the New York Stock Exchange

House Intelligence CommitteeHouse Intelligence CommitteeAlthough the witnesses at yesterday's House Intelligence Committee hearing could not cite a single case where the NSA's phone record database was crucial in preventing a terrorist attack, they did describe a few cases where they said plots were uncovered based on information obtained by monitoring the communications of foreign targets under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Nick Gillespie recently explained the grounds for skepticism about two of those cases: Najibullah Zazi's plan to bomb the New York City subway system and David Headley's participation in a conspiracy to bomb the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. At yesterday's hearing Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce offered a fresh example, involving an alleged plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange:

Monitoring a terrorist in Yemen, the N.S.A. discovered that he was talking to a man named Khalid Ouazzani in Kansas City, Mo. After applying for a separate warrant for Mr. Ouazzani’s communications, they identified two additional conspirators and discovered they were "in the very initial stages" of the stock exchange bomb plot, he said.

Mr. Ouazzani pleaded guilty in 2010 to sending money to Al Qaeda but was not charged with any domestic plots. Later on Tuesday, law enforcement officials said Mr. Joyce had been referring to Sabirhan Hasanoff and Wesam El-Hanafi, two Brooklyn men who pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism.

A sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors contends that in 2008, "at the direction of a senior terrorist leader," Mr. Hasanoff conducted surveillance of the New York Stock Exchange and sent the leader a one-page report on it.

"The report was rudimentary and of limited use" for any terrorist operation, the memo acknowledges, while nevertheless contending that Mr. Hasanoff's willingness to conduct such surveillance bolstered the case for giving him a 20-year sentence.

At the hearing, [Rep. Mac] Thornberry [R-Texas] asked Mr. Joyce whether the stock exchange attack was a "serious plot" or just "something that they kind of dreamed about." Mr. Joyce replied, "I think the jury considered it serious, since they were all convicted."

Evidently Joyce forgot that the case was a matter of public record:

Joshua L. Dratel, a lawyer for Mr. Hasanoff, called Mr. Joyce's portrayal "astonishing" because none of the defendants was charged with the stock exchange allegation and there was no jury trial in any of the cases. 

As is often the case with the foiled terrorist plots highlighted by the government, this one does not even rise to the level of a half-baked scheme, so it is a bit of a stretch to count it as an example of how Section 702 saves Americans' lives.

Addendum: More than a bit of a stretch. Wired reports that "even the government's own sentencing memorandum shows that the defendants called off a proposed plot on their own, without involvement from federal authorities." Here is the relevant passage from the memo:

Hasanoff relayed that the New York Stock Exchange was surrounded by approximately four streets that were blocked off from vehicular traffic and that someone would have to walk to the building. The Doctor [an undisclosed high-ranking al-Qaida operative] revealed that, although the information provided by Hasanoff could be used by someone who wanted to do an operation, he was not satisfied with the report, and he accordingly disposed of it. (The report apparently lacked sufficient detail about New York Stock Exchange security matters to be as helpful as the Doctor had hoped.)

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For the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court To Be Transparent, You'd Need X-Ray Specs

X-Ray SpecsCurious GoodsRemember the advertisements in the back of comic books promising bulging muscles in no time, potato-shooting guns and other unlikely attractions? To my taste, the ads that promised the most and delivered the least touted X-Ray Specs, with the sometimes explicit assurance that they'd let you see through clothing. Sadly, they didn't. But a working model delivering true Supermanish sees-through-walls vision is what it would take to render the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court transparent, despite President Obama's empty assurances to the contrary.

As Jacob Sullum and Ed Krayewski have noted, President Obama sat down with Charlie Rose the other day to assure America that the surveillance state is a swell thing. Loss of privacy? Hey, everything is a tradeoff! Security!

And then, Charlie Rose asked about the process:

Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?

Obama: It is transparent. That's why we set up the FISA court.

As Jacob pointed out, "That would be the secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the decisions of which are shielded from public view." But just how truly physically shielded the surveillance court actually is was revealed by the Washington Post three years ago, when its new digs were constructed.

Wrote Del Quentin Wilber for the Post:

First, the workers encased the room in reinforced concrete. Then came the thick wood-and-metal doors that seal into the walls. Behind those walls they labored in secret for two years, building a courtroom, judge's chambers and clerk's offices. The only sign that they were done came recently, when biometric hand scanners and green "Restricted Access" placards were placed at the entrances.

What workers have finally completed -- or perhaps not; few really know, and none would say -- is the nation's most secure courtroom for its most secretive court. In coming days, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will move from its current base at the Justice Department and settle into a new $2 million home just off a public hallway in the District's federal courthouse.

If the federal government had hung a sign on the door reading, "Not So Transparent," it couldn't be any clearer that the court is not intended to be subject to public scrutiny. Biometric hand scanners, concrete walls and restricted access all scream "secret" as loudly as can be heard past the wood-and-metal doors.

The Post quoted U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth insisting that the new chambers were a demonstration that the court is no rubber stamp for the government, but it's hard to see how that can be true when we have no idea how it operates. What we do know is that the court rejected just 11 of the more than 33,900 surveillance requests received from the government over 33 years.

The gag orders that forbid surveillance order recipients from revealing that they've been ordered to surrender data to the government also suggest a little ... opacity in the whole snooping operation. Google is suing for permission to simply reveal how many such orders it receives. Not the details, mind you, just how often the feds come sniffing around with FISA orders.

If you want to know what sort of deliberations lead to a vanishingly small rate of refusal of surveillance orders that recipients are forbidden to discuss, well, you'll need X-Ray Specs to see how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court goes about its business.

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The NSA's Phone Record Database Is 'Essential,' but We Can't Cite a Single Case Where That Was True

House Intelligence CommitteeHouse Intelligence CommitteeAt a Senate hearing last week, Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said the NSA's mass collection of Americans' phone records via Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act has "helped prevent...dozens of terrorist events...both here and abroad." Later in the same hearing, he retreated from that claim, saying he could not "state unequivocally" that the phone record database "contributed solely" to preventing any particular attack. The equivocation continued at yesterday's House Intelligene Committee hearing, where Alexander paired the phone record database with monitoring of foreign targets' communications under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act:

In recent years, the information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world. FAA [FISA Amendments Act] 702 contributed in over 90 percent of these cases. At least 10 of these events included homeland-based threats. In the vast majority, business records, FISA reporting contributed as well.

Alexander is moving further and further away from answering the question posed last week by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who wanted to know "how many times phone records obtained through Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act were critical to the discovery and disruption of terrorist threats." So far neither Alexander nor any other administration official has cited a single case that fits this description. Even when phone records help to flesh out a lead obtained through other means, it is not at all clear why the NSA needs to collect everyone's information in anticipation of that possibility, as opposed to seeking specific orders as the need arises. Consider how Alexander responded to that question yesterday:

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John Stossel on Why the War on Drugs Is Worse Than NSA Spying

MashableMashableAs Americans obsess over NSA spying, abuse by the IRS and other assaults on our freedom, John Stossel can't get his mind off the thousand other ways politicians abuse us. Some of the things they do seem like bigger assaults on our freedom than NSA spying, he argues, although we've become accustomed to the older abuses. Take the drug war.

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Bill Ayers Says Obama Should Be Tried for War Crimes

ResasonResasonBill Ayers, the former University of Illinois professor and former member of the Weather Underground, has said that Obama should be put on trial for war crimes. However, Ayers insists that he still likes Obama on a personal level.

From The Huffington Post:

Bill Ayers, former University of Illinois professor and co-founder of the violent anti-war group Weather Underground, said Tuesday that President Barack Obama should be put on trial for war crimes, according to RealClearPolitics.

"Every president in this century should be put on trial," Ayers told Charlie Stone on RealClearPolitics' "Morning Commute." “Every one of them goes into an office dripping with blood and then adds to it. And, yes, I think that these are war crimes. I think that they’re acts of terror.”

Ayers, whose Weather Underground bombed police stations, the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon during its anti-Vietnam War crusade in the 1960s and 1970s, said he'd give Obama a failing grade based on his presidency's policy and politics. Nevertheless, Ayers said he likes the president.

"He's a curious person. One of the things I like about him is he's curious. He wants to know things. He asks questions, he's not just charming, he's also interested. He reads," Ayers said. "I liked him personally -- he's a really good guy."

It’s worth remembering that Ayers doesn’t have any regrets about his own history of violence, having claimed that he participated in the bombings of the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon during his Weather Underground years.

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UFCW Runs Ad Claiming That Privatizing Pennsylvania Liquor Stores Will Kill People

UFCWUFCWVia National Review comes this disgusting ad cut by the United Food and Commerical Workers of Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits Council, which is the public sector union that represents government liquor sellers. The ad is meant to dissuade lawmakers from privatizing liquor sales in Pennsylvania

For those who can't watch the video right now, here's the script:

Little girl: You'll never walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, or send me off to college. And you'll never even see me off to high school. A drunk driver took your life and changed mine forever. 

Female narrator: Thanks to current laws and the effectiveness of wine and spirit stores employees Pennsylvania has the lowest death rate associated with alcohol consumption in the nation. Tell your state senator to say no to liquor privatization. We don't want other children to lose their parents. 

As you can see on the Century Council's website, Pennsylvania doesn't appear to actually have "the lowest death rate associated with alcohol consumption." Though I think it's fair to say that it has some of the most tin-eared and shameless public sector employees in the nation. 

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Islamic Militants Are Sidelining Moderate Rebels in Syria

Credit: VOA/wikimediaCredit: VOA/wikimediaIslamists fighting against the Assad regime in Syria are increasingly sidelining other rebels, who in many cases are not as well equipped or as funded as jihadists like Jabhat al-Nusra.

In an article published today at Reuters Oliver Holmes and Alexander Dziadosz highlight the effect that that the increasing influence of jihadist fighters is having on the conflict in Syria:

(Reuters) - As the Syrian civil war got under way, a former electrician who calls himself Sheikh Omar built u