Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 July 22-31

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Feds Seize $841,883 from Used Car Dealer Accused of—Well, Nothing

Reza Ella, an Iranian-American who owns a car dealership in Albuquerque, New Mexico, may or may not be a criminal. Federal prosecutors don’t know or won't say. But last September, they seized $841,883 from Ella anyway because the man deposited it in increments of less than $10,000.

Anyone depositing more than $10,000 in the bank has to file a report with the Department of the Treasury—because terrorism/drugs. Making deposits of less than $10,000 so as to avoid filing said reports—called "structuring"—is illegal and can trigger asset forfeiture whether or not there is any underlying criminal activity.

From the Albuquerque Journal:

The federal complaint against Ella does not allege that he is involved in a criminal enterprise.

According to the forfeiture complaint, Ella and one of his employees made approximately 223 structured cash deposits totaling $1,728,722.21 ... between Sept. 19, 2011, and July 3, 2012.

Each deposit was less than $10,000....

Of the approximately 223 cash deposits, 37 were same-day deposits at two banks totaling over $10,000 per day.

On seven occasions, same-day deposits were made at three banks totaling over $10,000 per day, according to the complaint.

[Ella's lawyer] said that during the same time period covered by the complaint, Ella did sign currency transaction reports more than a dozen times.

...The complaint also brings up the last time he was targeted by federal agents.

“Ella had previously engaged in illegal structuring of cash transactions between 2005 and January 2007, Ella had structured cash withdrawals at Wells Fargo Bank. On February 23, 2007, the FBI executed warrants on two accounts at WFB held by Ella totaling $489,732.02.”

The complaint doesn’t mention that all but $12,000 of that money was returned to Ella.

...“They ambush you,” he said. “They don’t tell you they are seizing your bank accounts. You find out when checks are returned.

“You go to the bank and everyone stares at you. They think you’re crooked.”

The latest case, he said, has left him exhausted and his business suffering.

Yes, Ella has been charged with structuring before. You’d think he’d have taken this particular bit of paperwork more seriously. Then again, if the feds want to nail someone, and it sure looks like it here, no amount of law abiding will forestall prosecution.

I’m sympathetic to the claim that sometimes prosecutors have to rely on financial crimes to put away bad guys whose real crimes cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But they’re not trying to put Ella in jail, and there isn't even an allegation that he's a bad guy. They’re just stealing his money.  

Ella's attorneys have requested a jury trial.

The complaint is below:

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New Orleans Man Arrested for Attempted Murder After Shooting Burglar

WWL-TVWWL-TVOn Friday a New Orleans homeowner was arrested for attempted second-degree murder after shooting a teenager who had climbed over his fence in the middle of the night. Merritt Landry, who works as a building inspector for the city's Historic District Landmarks Commission, said he believed Marshall Coulter, a 14-year-old with a history of burglary arrests, was about to break into his home. Awakened by his dog's barking, Landry went outside to see what was going on and saw Coulter in his driveway a few feet from his back door. Landry said that as he approached Coulter the teenager made a "move, as if to reach for something." Landry said he fired at that point, fearing that Coulter had a weapon. But police said Coulter, who was struck in the head and critically wounded, was unarmed and did not pose the sort of "imminent threat" that would justify the use of deadly force. Based on where they found blood and a shell casing, they estimated that Landry shot Coulter from a distance of about 30 feet.

Neighbors told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that Landry, who has a pregnant wife and a baby daughter, was merely trying to protect his family. Coulter's 23-year-old brother, David Coulter, admitted that Marshall had a history of "stealing stuff," calling him a "professional thief." But he said Marshall "would never pick up a gun, not in a million years." He added:

He's still a little boy. Who pulls a trigger on a 14-year-old? What if it was your little brother or your sister? How would you feel?

Landry, of course, was in no position to know Marshall Coulter's age, criminal history, or attitude toward firearms. And under Louisiana law, it seems he was within his rights to shoot the intruder. The Louisiana statute governing the "use of force or violence in defense" says "there shall be a presumption that a person lawfully inside a dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle held a reasonable belief that the use of force or violence was necessary to prevent unlawful entry thereto, or to compel an unlawful intruder to leave the premises or motor vehicle" if "the person against whom the force or violence was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering or had unlawfully and forcibly entered the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle" and "the person who used force or violence knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry was occurring or had occurred." A homicide likewise is considered justified "when committed by a person lawfully inside a dwelling, a place of business, or a motor vehicle...against a person who is attempting to make an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, or who has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, and the person committing the homicide reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave the premises or motor vehicle."

So why was Landry arrested? Det. Nicholas Williams asserted in the arrest warrant that Coulter was not trying to enter Landry's house when he was shot. But this "professional thief" had hopped Landry's fence at 2 a.m. and was a few feet from the back door. If he had closed that distance and put his hand on the door knob before being shot, would that have made Landry's use of force justified?

Louisiana, by the way, has a "stand your ground" law, adopted in 2006, and at least one change made that year is relevant in this case. The main change, as in Florida, was a provision stating that "a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force [when justified by a reasonable fear of death or serious injury] and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force." But even prior to 2006, the Times-Picayune notes, people facing intruders at home had no duty to retreat and were authorized to use force, including deadly force, if they reasonably believed it was necessary to "prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave the premises." The 2006 law, also as in Florida, strengthened the right to self-defense in the home by creating a presumption that the use of force is reasonable in that setting.

[Thanks to David Kervin for the tip.]

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GOP Hawks Reaching Breaking Point With Rand Paul

ReasonReasonEarlier this week Nick Gillespie highlighted comments the American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka made on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s attack on what he sees as the dangerous “libertarianism that's going through both parties right now.” When asked if Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was among those exhibiting this strain Christie replied, “You can name any one of them that’s engaged in this."

Christie is not alone in the Republican party when it comes to his thoughts on Paul’s non-interventionism and opposition to government surveillance. Politico recently published an article on how many of the GOP hawks are close to breaking point with Paul’s libertarian positions.

From Politico:

The Republican Party’s hawks are finally saying it out in the open: This aggression will not stand, Rand.

After three years of watching the GOP’s non-interventionist wing gather strength, there are mounting signs that a more combative set of national security conservatives have reached their breaking point. Now, prominent conservative leaders in what used to be considered the Bush-Cheney mold are increasingly taking the offensive against their intra-party rivals.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie publicly challenged libertarian Republicans Thursday to explain their skepticism about government surveillance to the families of 9/11 victims, declaring at a Republican Governors Association event: “I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation.”

Recent polling by Public Policy Polling shows that Paul is currently the GOP 2016 frontrunner. If the Republicans want any shot at taking back the White House in 2016 they should figure out how to live with the libertarianism Christie mentioned. It doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon.

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The Great Ryan Braun Freakout or, Why Sports Should Allow Doping Already

My latest Daily Beast column is about the suspension of the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun for using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). By all accounts, this is the first of many coming suspensions, which will likely include possible future Hall-of-Famer Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees.

A snippet:

The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy passed immediate judgment,pronouncing that, “In the pantheon of sports dirtbags, Ryan Braun goes down as one of the worst. He forever will be a baseball pariah.” “Who is Ryan Braun? He’s a cheater and a liar,” testified CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel. “Braun is one of the most cravenly selfish figures in American professional sports,”seethed Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi.

From all this, you’d gather that Braun had committed an actual crime that really hurt somebody. Murder, maybe, or rape, or failing to support his children—all things which athletes are known to do. But the worst thing he did—and it is pretty bad, for sure—was attack the integrity of a urine-specimen collector back in 2011....

Why not have an actual public conversation about how and why PEDs are used? Baseball players, who show a remarkable willingness to sacrifice their bodies in pursuit of beaucoup bucks and a few lines on a plaque in Cooperstown, and team owners, who rightly see players as investments worth protecting, might come up with a drug policy that actually has a chance of working without forcing grown men to pee into cups or lie to a disbelieving public.

Openly allowing PEDs might not sit well with sportswriters, who have to blow smoke on a semi-regular basis like old Chief Noc-a-Homa used to do at Atlanta Braves games. But I suspect that poor, suffering fans who genuinely seem not to give a fungo bat about how athletes manage their incredible feats would be fine with it all.

Read the whole piece at The Daily Beast.

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Sheldon Richman on the Economic Lesson Obama Needs to Learn

Credit: White House / FlickrCredit: White House / FlickrPresident Barack Obama is again turning his attention to the elusive economic recovery. His “pivot” will be for naught, however, writes Sheldon Richman, as long as he continues to ignore two important points: first, government is a major squanderer of scarce resources, and second, its regulations are impediments to saving and investment.

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Cathy Young on Media Misinformation and the Zimmerman Trial

Courtesty of the Orlando SentinelCourtesty of the Orlando SentinelMore than a week after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the fatal shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin, the backlash against the verdict continues. President Obama spoke some undeniable truths when he noted that the African-American community’s intense reaction to the case must be seen in the context of a long, terrible history of racism. But there is another context too, writes Cathy Young, that of an ideology-based, media-driven false narrative that has distorted a tragedy into a racist outrage.

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Undercover Informant Plants Crack Cocaine in Smoke Shop, Business Owner Saved by Tape

not quite sprinkling the crackYouTubeWho exactly is the victim when crack cocaine is found on someone’s person or property? Maybe the owner of that property? In Scotia, New York, local and county police decided they were suspicious of Donald Andrew’s smoke shop, one of many in Schenectady County but, according to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, apparently the only one owned by a black person. They sent an informant, someone facing jail time of their own, to, er, “investigate.” Here’s what happened, via the local NBC affiliate, WNYT:

The second time, [Donald] Andrews's attorney Kevin Luibrand does play by play that appears to show the informant planting, then photographing crack cocaine that led to Andrews arrest.

"He comes in," Luibrand narrated over video shot on in-store surveillance cameras. "Places the crack on the counter. Crack, which under federal sentencing guidelines, would get him 4 years in jail. Under New York State law would get him 2 to 7 years in jail."

There are seven cameras in plain view in Andrews small store. 

Andrews was arrested until he was able to show police the surveillance video exonerating him. WNYT reports the county sheriff admitted procedures were not followed and blamed the informant, who has apparently gone missing. Andrews is preparing to sue for his wrongful arrest.

You can watch the surveillance video in this WNYT news segment:


h/t Kevin S

New at Reason: Nick Gillespie Asks, What Did You Do During the War on Terror, Daddy?

Nick Gillespie writes:

The bipartisan effort on civil liberties being led by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is likely to win the longer struggle because it proceeds from deep-seated principle rather than lip-service politics. Years from now, when the fever over the threat of Islamo-fascism has broken and all the government’s abuses in the name of protecting Oklahomans from the imposition of Sharia and Floridians safe from exploding water parks have fully come to light, both President Barack Obama and Amash will have to look their kids in the eye and answer the question, “Daddy, what did you do during the War on Terror?”

One of them will be able to say without hesitation that he consistently stood up for transparency, the rule of law, and the idea that the government doesn’t have the right to watch you simply because it can. Who knows what Obama will say?

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Baylen Linnekin on a Small Victory for Hemp

Credit: North Cascades National Park / Foter.com / CCCredit: North Cascades National Park / Foter.com / CCEarlier this month, buried deep inside the bloated Farm Bill that passed the House thanks to GOP leadership, was a tiny seed of good news. Many seeds, in fact. This Farm Bill amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), “is meant to ensure that colleges and universities are able to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes in states where industrial hemp cultivation is already legal.” As Baylen Linnekin reports, it’s the latest good news in the movement to legalize hemp for sale.

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Ron Paul Revolution: GOP Aftermaths in Iowa and Nevada

Two accounts this past week of two ongoing aftermaths of the influx of Ron Paul people into state GOPs.

First, the bad news, from Nevada's Clark County as reported in the Reno Gazette Journal:

Clark County Republicans have ousted a Ron Paul supporter in favor of a more conventional establishment leader.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the approximately 600 voting members of the county GOP elected David McKeon as chairman Wednesday by secret ballot.

McKeon drew 319 votes.

Cindy Lake, a more libertarian politician who took over the position last year, lost with 276 votes.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has more on the contentious background to the battle over the Nevada GOP, and some date indicated that Lake didn't do that bad a job in growing the party:

In 2012, the county GOP was shunned by state and national Republican leaders after Paul supporters took control of the local party and the Texas congressman ran for president. At the Republican National Convention, Paul backers defied the rules and voted for their man instead of Mitt Romney, who was picked to run against President Barack Obama.....

The Republican Party has a big disadvantage in Nevada compared to the Democratic Party.

Registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in Clark County and statewide.

As of the end of June, 268,053 Republicans were registered as active voters in the county compared to 404,737 Democrats, or 30 percent compared to 46 percent of the electorate.

A year ago, right before the primary election, 231,784 Republicans were registered to vote in the county, or 34 percent of the electorate, compared with 307,673 Democrats, or 44 percent.

Statewide, registered Democrats now hold an advantage over Republicans, 530,752 (42 percent) to 432,824 (34 percent).

And from Iowa, Robert Costa of National Review reports on a supposedly bitter war between Ron Paul compatriots A.J. Spiker and David Fischer running the state GOP and its Republican Gov. Terry Branstad:

Confidants of both groups say the tensions have nearly crippled the party, which is known for hosting the Iowa Republican caucuses. Branstad doesn’t trust the co-chairmen, and the co-chairmen don’t trust the governor. Behind the scenes, they quarrel constantly over cash and politics, and many veteran Iowa Republicans fear the infighting will embarrass them, especially as presidential contenders start to fly in for appearances...

“If you’re a Branstad person, you’re donating to Branstad’s expected 2014 reelection campaign; you’re not donating to the party,” explains an Iowa Republican insider. “If you’re a Ron Paul supporter or an anti-establishment Republican, you’re donating to what should be the establishment, the state party, which is controlled almost entirely by your friends. That’s where we stand. The lines are drawn, and they’re unlikely to go away.”....

Hostility over the emerging 2016 Republican presidential field is another cloud that hangs over the cornfields. “All we hear is that the party has become a conspiracy to help Rand Paul get elected president,” says an operative who works with Spiker and Fischer. “It really pisses us off. Some of us may like Rand, but we’re not going to ruin the caucuses and our reputations to do that.”.....

Branstad says the Spiker-Fischer coalition focuses too much on purifying the ranks rather than building the party’s numbers, both in the legislature and at the bank....

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Democrats Want You to Wish Barack Obama a Happy Birthday

This “sponsored message” from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee came to a friend of mine via The Nation:

Guess what’s just around the corner? President Obama’s birthday!

Click here to sign our birthday card for Barack >>

no alt-text for you
We want to get as many of his supporters as we can to wish him a happy birthday.

Will you add your name?



Democratic Headquarters

Winning elections through hero worship!

A couple of previous weird campaign missives: Michelle Obama Wants You to Wish Barack a Happy Father's Day, Send Obama Cash In Lieu of Gifts For Your Friends.

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Washington Post Comes Around on Insider Trading, Realizes "What's the Big Deal?"

Echoing arguments made for years by nutsy-crazy libertarian types who want there to be verifiable harm to someone's life, liberty, or property before people get tossed in jail, Dylan Matthews at the Wonkblog of the Washington Post today realizes that laws against insider trading are silly, don't do any good, and ignore most of what they purport to be preventing by not cracking down on the "crime" of insider non-trading.

Some excerpts:

Insider trading is actually an active good. Markets work best when goods are priced accurately, which in the context of stocks means that firms’ stock prices should accurately reflect their strengths and weaknesses. If a firm is involved in a giant Enron-style scam, the price should be correspondingly lower. But, of course, until the Enron fiasco was unearthed, its stock price decidedly did not reflect that it was cooking the books. That wouldn’t have happened if insider trading had been legal. The many Enron insiders who knew what was going on would have sold their shares, the price would have corrected itself and disaster might have been averted.

That’s the argument of Henry Mannes, an economist at George Mason University who’s advocated legal insider trading for decades now. Referring to the Enron and Global Crossing’s scandals, he says, “I don’t think the scandals would ever have erupted if we had allowed insider trading because there would be plenty of people in those companies who would know exactly what was going on, and who couldn’t resist the temptation to get rich by trading on the information, and the stock market would have reflected those problems months and months earlier than they did under this cockamamie regulatory system we have.” And that’s months and months where investors could have allocated money toward more promising investments, increasing market efficiency.

More formal economic models reach the same conclusion. Christopher Matthews at TIME — no relation — points to a study by researchers at the Atlanta Fed, who surveyed a wide array of models and found that insider trading makes stock prices more informationally efficient. Then again, it would deter some kinds of uninformed investors from participating — but again, that’s a feature, not a bug.

What’s more, insider trading bans don’t actually stamp out insider trading. Illegal trading remains, of course, and may actually be growing, which puts law-abiding investors at a disadvantage. But the bans also exempt some equivalent behavior. Let’s say that instead of hearing that The Post will post a loss, I hear that it’ll post a profit, and thus don’t sell any of my shares. That kind of “insider non-trading” is totally legal, but basically equivalent to insider trading. Allowing one and not the other is bizarre and inefficient.

I disagree with Matthews that we should as a matter of public policy want to discourage individual investors in particular companies, which he seems to think. But given the immense amount of informational non-asymmetry built into a world where time and attention are scarce, it is silly to create a potemkin law that pretends to solve that "problem" when it comes to stock market transactions--a problem inherently impossible to solve at any rate. Everyone always knows different things, at all times.

I was saying the same things here back in 2002, tried to use a real-world thought experiment to expose another side of how bad the laws are (as they might apply to enterprising journalism), as was Michael McMenamin in an October 2003 Reason cover feature.

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Eyes on California as First Parent-Triggered Charter School Prepares to Open

Parents in Adelanto, Calif., fought teachers, the school district and even resistant parents to use the state’s “parent trigger” law to force the district to allow a charter program take over the operations of failing Desert Trails Elementary School.

Now called Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, it opens its doors on Monday as the first of its kind, and many education reformers (and opponents) are watching. Politico notes:

A grand experiment in letting parents seize control of their neighborhood schools is unfolding in an impoverished Mojave Desert town — and lawmakers as far away as Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan are watching, and pondering the implications for troubled schools in their own states.

Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in Adelanto, Calif., will open for the academic year on Monday as the first school in the nation to have been remade under a law that gives parents the power to take over a low-performing public school and fire the principal, dismiss teachers or bring in private management.

The law, known as “parent trigger,” passed in California in 2010 and has since been adopted by six other states — Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas — though parents have not yet taken over schools in any of them.

Teachers unions are resistant but Politico notes more and more Democratic politicians are coming out in favor of the parent-controlled option. The success or failure of Desert Trails is going to be used as ammunition by one side or the other.

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Matt Welch Criticizes Chris Christie's Anti-Libertarian Slap and the 'Sick' Habit of Using 9/11 Emotionalism to Stifle Debate

This afternoon I was on Fox News' Your World with guest host Eric Bolling talking about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's contention that libertarianism in the context of national security is a "a very dangerous thought." Fellow panelist Lisa Daftari did not agree. The exchange, covering the Constitution and our national culture of policy debate, was rather, ah, robust:

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Rebels in Syria Execute Pro-Assad Fighters in Latest Offensives

Credit: Voice of America News/wikimediaCredit: Voice of America News/wikimediaAccording to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights dozens of soldiers and pro-Assad militia fighters were killed earlier this week as rebels made advances in the north and south of Syria.

From Reuters:

Insurgents have focused on taking isolated army outposts, mostly in rural areas while forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have made gains in recent months around the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs.

One video, posted on YouTube on Wednesday by a rebel group calling itself the Supporters of the Islamic Caliphate, shows around 30 bodies of young men piled up against a wall. Blood is splattered on the wall and one corpse is smoldering.

"Tens of Assad's (militia) killed," says a man off camera. He said the footage was filmed in the area of the northern town of Khan al-Assal which was taken by rebels last week.

The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to arm rebels in Syria. However, exactly how these weapons will be delivered remains to be decided. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that, "We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action." One such unintended consequence could be American weapons being used by groups like Supporters of the Islamic Caliphate. How the Obama administration plans to prepare for the more unpleasant elements of Assad’s opposition getting their hands on American weapons remains to be seen. Given the chaotic situation in Syria it's hard to see how any plans could ensure extremist rebels in Syria don't receive American weapons. 

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Good News From L.A.: Despite Official Ban, Ride-Offering Services Still Function, Angering Taxi Cartel

Good news from Los Angeles: the City Council's attempts to shut down rivals to the taxi cartel are failing as a ban goes unenforced, mostly.

Details from L.A. Weekly:

Los Angeles declared war on ride-sharing on June 24, with a letter from City Hall ordering three companies — Uber, Lyft and Sidecar — to shut down or face criminal charges. On the same day, Yellow Cab and the other established taxi companies launched their own attack, declaring the startups to be "high-tech bandits" and announcing a taxi drivers' rally at City Hall.


One of the advantages of being an entrenched oligopoly is that your lobbyists can coordinate closely with regulators. The next day, the taxi industry packed the room at a City Council committee hearing. The ride-share companies were caught flat-footed. The lone Lyft supporter at the meeting — a driver with no official position with the company — was cross-examined and then dismissed as the council members vowed to press ahead with the crackdown.

Fortunately for Uber & co., however, often there is a wide gap between what the city says it is doing and what it does....And so the ride-share companies have continued to operate as before, blithely ignoring the decree from City Hall. Thus far, they have been unimpeded.

The new mayor, Eric Garcetti, has publicly praised the ride services as well. As the story goes on to detail, official taxi company attempts to emulate the phone-app model for summoning rides don't work nearly so well in L.A.

The Department of Transportation, which handles taxi regulations, has backed off its threat to arrest ride-share drivers. So far, LAPD is not enforcing the cease-and-desist order, and — despite rumors to the contrary — the L.A. Airport Police says its officers are not pulling over cars with pink mustaches. (In the last two months, the airport police ticketed two Uber drivers.)

Tracy Oppenheimer blogged about the feckless crackdown attempt when it was first announced.

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Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty Talks Chris Christie and Dangerous Libertarians on the Blaze TV Network, 6 p.m. EST

I'll be talking about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his fear of dangerous libertarians mucking up his GOP (see Jesse Walker blogging on this earlier) on the Blaze TV's "Real News" show tonight at 6 p.m. eastern.

(Could it have something to do with this poll Mike Riggs blogged about yesterday in which Rand Paul is beating him as a 2016 Republican presidential prospect?)

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College Republicans Deemed Security Threats, Barred from Obama Speech

Those meddling kids!Credit: White HouseCiting safety concerns, Pres. Obama's staff barred a group of College Republicans from attending the president's speech at the University of Central Missouri earlier this week. 

Security insisted that prohibiting the young Republicans from participating in the event was not done as a matter of politics, but out of concern for the well-being of the president. According to the College Fix:

The students, some of whom donned Tea Party T-Shirts and others who wore patriotic or Republican-inspired clothing, had protested the president earlier in the day on campus, but had put away their signs and said they were ready to simply listen to Obama when security shut them down – and even told them to leave the vicinity and stay several hundred yards away from the rec center.

James Staab, a political science professor at Central Missouri, lauded President Obama's visit as “an attempt to go public, directly to the American people.” The student Republicans insisted that they were deliberately singled-out of the crowd, and denied entrance despite having tickets. Additionally, the students stood in line outside the university's recreation center, where the speech was to take place, for two hours before they received the bad news. 

Courtney Scott, the state treasurer of the Republican student organization, was dismayed about how the situation played out. “A lot of us traveled several hours to watch the speech,” said Scott. “We were very disappointed not to be able to attend.”

The potential security threats had been staging a protest of the event earlier in the day. The College Fix asserts that “the students’ protest earlier in the day was a peaceful one, consisting of holding political speech signs and talking to passersby throughout the morning.” Furthermore, the College Republicans were restricted to the campus's free speech zone, “not anywhere near the rec center,” and out of “eyesight or earshot of people who were waiting in line."

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The Burka Avenger, Pakistan’s Newest Superhero

i shall become a bat, or notGeo TVA new children’s show called “Burka Avenger” premieres in Pakistan next month. It features a female superhero in a fictional northern Pakistani town, and two regular villains meant to reflect the reality in Pakistan; a corrupt government official and an evil magician styled to look and feel like a Taliban commander. The show was created by Pakistani pop star Haroon Rashid. Rashid explained the use of the burka as the costume, via the AP:

Rashid, who is certainly no radical Islamist, said he used a burka to give a local feel to the show, which is billed as the first animated series ever produced in Pakistan.

“It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes,” said Rashid. “Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn’t have worked in Pakistan.”

Each episode has a “moral,” focusing on issues like girls education and the problem with discrimination. The first episode, which was screened to a group of Pakistani orphans, focused on the evil magician and the corrupt politician working together to try to shut down the local girls’ school, where the Burka Avenger works as a teacher when she’s not a superhero. The show has the potential to push back against radical Islamists seeking more influence in Pakistan and provide a media role model of sorts for young Pakistani girls. The Burka Avenger is not the only superhero in Pakistan—there’s Commander Safeguard, created by an advertising agency to sell soap.

h/t Bardas Phocas

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As France Legalizes Insulting the President, Remember the Censorship Laws That Spurred Online Free Speech Culture

Le Grand SecretLe Grand SecretAs noted at Reason 24/7, France just legalized insulting the head of state, rescinding a stricture on free speech that dates to 1881 and continued to be enforced within recent years (though it was finally overruled in March by the European Court of Human Rights). As ridiculous as laws against lèse-majesté are, it's worth remembering that France's own speech-muzzling laws helped launch the Internet as a haven for free speech and an effective counter to censorship. It was in 1996, that primitive era of Internet development when we all used our steam-powered differential engines to access information sent our way through pneumatic tubes, that a French court banned Le Grand Secret, a tell-all about former French President Francois Mitterand. A cybercafe owner promptly scanned the book and placed it online. And that was pretty much it for banning books.

From the Los Angeles Times:

A Paris court Thursday banned a tell-all book by Francois Mitterrand's physician disclosing that the former French president who died last week kept secret his cancer for a decade and that he was too sick to serve for part of his second term.

Mitterrand's family had asked the court to block sales of "Le Grand Secret"--"The Big Secret"--by Dr. Claude Gubler, arguing that its publication Wednesday had breached the doctor's vow of medical secrecy and invaded the late president's privacy.

That ticked off Pascal Barbraud, manager of Le Web cybercafe. As the AP reported:

A banned book that reveals Francois Mitterrand lied about his health during his entire presidency can't be found in any French bookstore. But you can read all about it on the Internet.

Pascal Barbraud, manager of Le Web, a cafe for computer enthusiasts in the eastern town of Besancon, transcribed all 190 pages of "Le Grand Secret" into his Internet site late Tuesday.

"We are thumbing our nose at the censors and other sorcerers,'' he said. "Between banning a book and burning it, there's only one step.''

Of course, Barbraud was threatened with legal action. He promptly threatened to repost the book on Internet servers based in the United States and beyond the reach of French courts.  He didn't need to bother — free speech activists did exactly that, and not just in the US. Volunteers even translated versions into other languages, guaranteeing the revelations about Mitterand's health wider circulation than they would ever have seen in the original print form.

As an anti-climax, the ban on the book was overruled by the European Court of Human Rights in 2004. By that time, it had been widely available online for years, and in multiple languages.

Government officials haven't lost their censorship dreams. But they've lost much of their power to make those dreams real. And that loss of power was first demonstrated in a major way with Le Grand Secret.

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Lawsuit Alleges That Pittsburgh SWAT Team Engaged in Gang-Style Retaliation

A Pittsburgh woman filed a lawsuit earlier this month alleging that members of the Pittsburgh Police Department used a SWAT team to exact revenge against her husband, William Moreno, after he assaulted and injured an off-duty officer at a South Side bar. 

As with every lawsuit, this one should be taken with a grain of salt. While the AlterNet story currently circulating doesn't mention it, there's security video from a bar that shows Moreno attacking Officer Michael Murray, and it's pretty bad. According to local news, Moreno fractured Murray's skull and broke his leg, so there's no question he needed to be arrested. 

But if what the Moreno family alleges in their lawsuit is true, the Pittsburgh PD SWAT team essentially served the warrant for Moreno's arrest as if they were a gang striking back at rivals:  

In the early morning hours of December 7, 2010, William Moreno, husband of plaintiff Georgeia Moreno, was involved in an altercation with an ununiformed, off-duty police officer at a local veterans club. The off-duty officer was highly intoxicated. William Moreno was not arrested. He left the scene and returned home.

Defendant Morosetti obtained a warrant for the arrest of William Moreno and a warrant to search the plaintiff’s residence for the purpose of locating William Moreno. Defendant Morosetti had been informed that Moreno would voluntarily turn himself in to the police. Nevertheless, Defendant Tersak approved the use of the SWAT team to carry out the warrants. Defendant Englehardt planned the SWAT operation, including determining the number of officers to use to invade Plaintiffs’ home.

On December 7, 2010, at approximately 7:00 p.m., William Moreno, plaintiff Georgeia Moreno, and her step-father plaintiff Mark Staymates were in the family’s living room watching television. Plaintiff Darlene Staymates, who was ill, was asleep in an upstairs bedroom. Minor plaintiff Briseis Moreno was playing with her toys in another upstairs bedroom. Minor plaintiff Trentino Moreno was taking a shower in the upstairs bathroom. Georgeia Moreno’s adult son was in the kitchen.

Suddenly and without warning, plaintiffs heard a loud explosion followed by a series of bright lights, “as if grenades were going off.”  

Twenty-three (23) officers dressed in full swat gear including helmets and facemasks broke in the front and back doors to Plaintiffs’ residence. The officers stormed through the broken doors and entered the living area pointing assault rifles at plaintiffs and shouting obscenities.  

Defendant officers did not announce themselves and plaintiffs were unaware that the men invading their house were police officers. The defendant officers knew William Moreno by sight and Mr. Moreno produced his I.D. He was immediately apprehended, handcuffed and removed to the kitchen.  

After Mr. Moreno was secured, plaintiffs Georgeia Moreno and Mark Staymates were thrown to the floor, and kicked repeatedly. The officers placed their assault rifles against these plaintiffs' faces and their feet on their backs shouting “put your hands behind your back.”

Although they complied with the officers’ orders, both plaintiffs were forcibly handcuffed. Plaintiff Mark Staymates was handcuffed by Defendant Sarver. He sustained injury to his shoulder due to the handcuffing.

Georgeia Moreno’s adult son was handcuffed and forced to lie in broken glass on the kitchen floor.

Ms. Moreno pleaded with the officers repeatedly that she had young children in the house.

At least one of the officers stated, “You think you can get one of ours and we won’t get one of yours?”  

After William Moreno, Georgeia Moreno, Billy Moreno and Mark Staymates were handcuffed, some of the officers proceeded to the upstairs of the home while others roamed the first floor and basement, shouting obscenities, terrorizing plaintiffs and destroying the house and plaintiffs’ personal property.  

Ten-year-old Trentino Moreno was taking a shower. Defendant Burtt dragged him forcibly from the bathtub causing significant injury to both ankles.

He was then made to stand naked in the hallway with his sister. Eventually he was permitted to put on a shirt and sit on a bed with his grandmother and young sister while the officers continued their raid.

After all of the individuals in the house had been secured and William Moreno had been identified, Defendants Reddy, Epler, Nicholas, Friburger, Gorham, Novakowski, Kolarac, Hairston and Marabello entered the residence, searched plaintiff’s home and questioned plaintiffs.  

Defendant Reddy told Ms. Moreno that she was lucky they found her husband at home because otherwise they would have killed him.

If one of the SWAT officers really said, “You think you can get one of ours and we won’t get one of yours?," and if the officers really destroyed the family's home and terrorized the children therein after having secured a suspect who volunteered himself for arrest, then they are no better than criminals. 

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David Harsanyi Says Republicans Are Blowing It on the Economy

Republicans have a problem. Pres. Obama says things such as "the basic bargain of this country says that if you work hard, you can get ahead ... build a secure life for your family and know that your kids will do even better someday," and all Republicans can think of is to demand that the Senate pass a job training program? It's quite a feat to be staler than the president, writes David Harsanyi, but it seems the GOP is up for the challenge.

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GOP Split Over Government Shutdown To Block Obamacare, Holder Promises Not To Execute Snowden if Russia Sends Him Back, Feds Celebrate Washington Pot Legalization With Raids: P.M. Links

Did you write about liberty between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013? Reason welcomes you to enter this year’s Bastiat Prize for Journalism, with a total prize purse of $16,000.

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Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) Makes Me Ashamed to Be an American and Proud to Be Descended From Immigrants

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has never been shy about discussing immigrants in the crudest, most vile terms possible. Back in 2006, for instance, in a discussion of a border fence, he talked up the benefits of electrifying it, because we "do that with livestock all the time."

As noted at Fox News Latino via Reason 24/7, he's up to old tricks, admitting that, sure, some immigrants - even illegal ones! - aren't born criminals. But "for every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

Mmm, cantaloupe.

The original interview is with Newsmax and here's the longer passage:

"Some of them are valedictorians — and their parents brought them in. It wasn't their fault. It's true in some cases, but they aren't all valedictorians. They weren't all brought in by their parents.

"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," King tells Newsmax. "Those people would be legalized with the same act."

courtesy Georgetown Book Shopcourtesy Georgetown Book ShopHe also goes on to argue

"There isn't anyone that can fairly characterize me as anti-immigrant," the Iowa Republican tells Newsmax. "That's a label that the open-borders people have tossed around. They're conflating the terms anti-illegal immigrant and anti-immigrant as if it were the terms healthcare and health insurance."

Hmm, so how many legal immigrants does he want then? Curiously, he doesn't talk so much about creating new venues for legal immigration. He has managed to rack up 100 percent ratings from anti-immigration (legal and illegal) groups FAIR and USBC, got an A+ rating from another closed-borders group ALI, and has pushed legislation making English the official language of the United States and ending birthright citizenship.

He's also insisted"My comments are anything but ignorant. They may have been the best informed in the entire United States Congress."

I think there are many legitimate reasons to be against the comprehensive immigration reform bill kicking around the Senate these days. But it is not worth having discussions with elected officials who talk about immigrants the way that King does.

To call him a moron is really an insult to morons and simpletons everywhere. Some of them can't help themselves - they were just born dumb. I suspect that King doesn't want to help himself. Are you really supposed to take a congressman seriously who makes such wild and erroneous claims about criminality among illegals and also makes bizarre physiognomic comments? I don't think so.

Not that the facts seem to matter much in discussions of immigration, but if you're interested, pick up a copy of Humane and Pro-Growth: A Reason Guide to Immigration Reform. It's full of our best coverage over the past few years and shows how open borders greatly benefit all of us.

Watch the recent interview with Grover Norquist we just posted today for a refreshing alternative perspective. And watch this great talk about immigration policy and history by the Wall Street Journal's Jason Riley. It's from a 2009 Reason conference.

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From the Makers of Nervous Legislators, Now a Canadian 3D-Printed Rifle

The GrizzlyDefCad/CanadianGunNutAs I've mentioned before, developments in 3D printing of firearms continue on a distributed basis around the world, with many of the projects being discussed on the DefCad forums. The latest breakthrough is a single-shot, .22 rifle developed north of the border. Dubbed "The Grizzly" after Canada's take on the Sherman tank, the rifle split along both the barrel and receiver during the initial test, but the developer is already discussing improvements with other participants on DefCad.

The test firing can be seen below in a video uploaded to Youtube.

By the way, the Bundeskriminalamt — Germany's Federal Criminal Police — actually purchased a 3D printer to test how easily guns can be made and the potential threat this poses to the Vaterland.

My question: Given the cool designs being openly discussed shared and critiqued on public forums, what sort of developments do you think are going on privately? Please ponder that, especially if you're a government official prone to anxiety.

Update: I plan to start teaching my son to shoot this fall, and a perfected version of The Grizzly could be an excellent "my first boomstick."

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Peter Suderman on How Video Games Have Gotten Better Since 1968

Credit: x-ray delta one / Foter.com / CC BY-SACredit: x-ray delta one / Foter.com / CC BY-SAWhen the first issue of Reason was published in May 1968, hardly anyone knew what a video game was. But that was about to change. That same year, inventor Ralph Baer patented the interactive television device that would go on to become the world’s first home video game console. The very first computer game, Spacewar!, was conceived by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student just seven years before that. As Reason evolved into something bigger, so did interactive entertainment. Today, video games have leveled up to the top of the home entertainment heap. They’re a $67 billion global business, and roughly half of Americans say they play them every week. Peter Suderman reviews how video games have just kept getting better and better since 1968.

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UC Davis Pepper Spray Cop Wants Workers Comp for “Psychiatric Injury,” Court Orders School to Identify Other Cops Involved

make sure your psyche can handle itReason 24/7The image of a UC Davis police officer pepper spraying peaceful student protesters in 2011 quickly went viral, and now the cop who was fired over the incident wants a pay day because his identity became public.

From the AP:

The former police officer who pepper-sprayed students during an Occupy protest at the University of California, Davis is appealing for worker's compensation, claiming he suffered psychiatric injury from the 2011 confrontation.

John Pike has a settlement conference set for Aug. 13 in Sacramento, according to the state Department of Industrial Relations' website.

Pike was fired in July 2012, eight months after a task force investigation found that his action was unwarranted.

Meanwhile, a court has ordered UC-Davis to release the identity of the other police officers involved.

From the Daily Californian:

A state appellate court ruled Tuesday that the University of California must disclose the names of all police officers who were involved in the Nov. 18, 2011, UC Davis pepper-spray incident.

The 1st District Court of Appeal, ruling in favor of the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee, contended that the Federated University Police Officers Association, citing confidentiality concerns, had failed to demonstrate that police officer identities were excludable from disclosure under the California Public Records Act.

h/t sloopy inca

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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Cops Shot an Innocent Guy at the Wrong House Because It Was Dark, Say Fort Worth Police

Jerry and Kathleen WallerFamily Photo

As Scott Shackford noted at the time, Fort Worth, Texas, police shot 72-year-old Jerry Waller to death on his own property in May while responding to a reported burglary across the street. What they were doing on the man's property was an open question. Now, from a search warrant affidavit police wrote up to allow them to gather evidence that they had plugged the guy that they had just plugged, we know that the cops say they were lost because it was dark. And, there are a few questions about the veracity of their version of events.

From the just-released search warrant affidavit (PDF):

On Tuesday May 28, 2013, at approximately 0051 hours the Fort Worth Police Department Communications Division received a Residential Burglary Alarm originating from ADT Security Systems at 409 Havenwood Lane.

Fort Worth Police oficers, Officer B.B. Hanlon, ID 4080, and R.P. Hoeppner, ID 4066, assigned to the East Patrol Division were dispatched at approximately 0051 hour and arrived on the scene at approximately 0058 hours. Due to poor lighting conditions and officers attempting to arrive on the scene undetected by potential criminals and the need for officer safety confitions, Officers Hanlon and Hoeppner inadvertently began searching 404 Havenwood Lane, directly across the street from 409 Havenwood Lane.

Officers approached the west side of the house near the garage that is located on the southwest corner of the home with the knowledge that there was a possible burglary in progress. There is no lighting around the home and the officers had only the use of their flashlights.

As the officers approached the garage they encountered a subject who was armed with a handgun standing near the corner of the home. Officers identified their selves as police officers and ordered the subject to drop the handgun. The subject failed to comply and pointed the handgun at Officer Hoeppner and Officer Hoeppner fired on the subject fatally wounding him.

Note that the affidavit asserts that Kathleen Waller, Jerry Waller's freshly minted widow, "has possession of and is concealing evidence of a homicide." That homicide presumably being the killing of her husband by Forth Worth police. This is probably standard phrasing for these legal documents, but still ...

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PBS Explains Why Biotech Crops Are Really Good for People and the Environment

killer tomatowikimediaNovaNext, the web journalism site for the long-running PBS science series Nova, has published a superb article, "GMOs May Feed the World Using Fewer Pesticides." The article carefully explains why biotech crops are good for both people and the environment. It opens by describing recent efforts by Cornell University plant breeder Walter De Jong to create a virus resistant potato variety. It's really good reporting and well worth your time. To whet your appetite I provide a few selections from the article below:

Between 1996 and 2011, Bt corn reduced insecticide use in corn production by 45% worldwide (110 million pounds, or roughly the equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools). ...

“There is not a single documented case of anyone being hurt by genetically modified food, and yet this is a bigger problem for people than pesticides, which we know have caused harm,” [Idaho potato farmer Duane Grant] says. “I just shake my head in bewilderment at the folks who take these stringent positions that biotech should be banned.”

In the decade after Monsanto pulled their GM potatoes from the market, dozens of long-term animal feeding studies concluded that various GM crops were as safe as traditional varieties. And statements from science policy bodies, such as those issued by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the European Commission, uphold that conclusion. Secondly, techniques to tweak genomes have become remarkably precise. Specific genes can be switched off without lodging foreign material into a plant’s genome. Scientists don’t necessarily have to mix disparate organisms with one another, either. In cisgenic engineering, organisms are engineered by transferring genes between individuals that could breed naturally. ...

I first encountered De Jong on April 4, when he sat on a panel about GMOs in New York City hosted by the advocacy groups GMO Free NY and the Wagner Food Policy Alliance. The modest awkwardness that endears him to farmers didn’t charm the audience. As De Jong explained how scientists create GMOs, they began to murmur, lost amidst De Jong’s scientific jargon and meandering delivery.

De Jong did, however, liven up during a discussion in which Jean Halloran, a member of the panel from the Consumer’s Union, suggested that farmers in the developing world could ditch pesticides, not use GMOs, and increase yields. “We favor a knowledge-based approach rather than a chemical-based approach to increasing production,” Halloran had said.


Zimmerman Juror Put Her Head Above Her Heart

ABC NewsABC NewsUnlike Juror B37, who spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper shortly after George Zimmerman's acquittal, Juror B29, who spoke to ABC's Robin Roberts this week, did not sit in shadows. You therefore can plainly see that, contrary to press reports (including mine!) saying the jury did not include any blacks, the women who found Zimmerman not guilty included at least one whose complexion is darker than President Obama's. Juror B29, whose first name is Maddy (she did not want her last name publicized), identifies herself as a "black Hispanic," a label that also could accurately be applied, based on American racial conventions, to Zimmerman himself, since he had an Afro-Peruvian great grandfather. These details complicate the black-and-white narrative favored by critics of the verdict, including Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Maddy, who initially voted to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, apparently was much less sympathetic to him than Juror B37. She nevertheless agreed that race played no role in the deliberations, saying, "I never looked at color." She also agreed that the jury had no choice under the law but to acquit Zimmerman, even though she believes he is morally responsible for Trayvon Martin's death. "I stand by the decision because of the law," she said. "If I [made] the decision because of my heart, he would have been guilty."

Contrary to observers who keep insisting that the right to stand your ground could have played a role in Zimmerman's acquittal, even though it played no role in his defense or prosecution, Maddy said nothing about the duty to retreat. Instead she focused on the elements required to prove second-degree murder or manslaughter. Some of what she said was not quite right. "As the law was read to me," she said, "if you have no proof that he killed him intentionally, you can't say he's guilty." But Zimmerman has never denied that he deliberately shot Martin in the chest; the question was whether the shooting was justified by self-defense. Regarding the manslaughter charge, Maddy said "we had to prove that when he left home, he said, 'I'm going to go kill Trayvon Martin.'" That sort of intent is not required to prove manslaughter, which is an unjustified killing without the addtional elements necessary for murder. What Maddy describes sounds like first-degree murder. In any case, it is hard to imagine how Zimmerman could have planned to kill someone he had yet to meet. 

Although Maddy may simply have misspoken during the interview, these statements make me wonder if she misunderstood the jury instructions. Either way, the dilemma she describes was one that several jurors faced: They wanted to find Zimmerman guilty of something, because they believed (correctly) that Martin would still be alive if Zimmerman had not deemed him suspicious and followed him. But they also concluded (correctly) that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense at the moment he fired his gun. "A lot of us had wanted to find something bad, something we could connect to the law, because for myself, he's guilty," Maddy said. "I would like to apologize [to Martin’s parents], because I feel like I let them down. We just couldn't prove anything....I know I went the right way, because by the law and the way it was followed was the way I went. But if I had used my heart, I probably would have [created] a hung jury."

Video: Grover Norquist on Open Borders and Historically Racist Immigration Policy

"Grover Norquist on Open Borders and Historically Racist Immigration Policy" is the latest video 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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The Greatest Obamacare Typo Ever?

As someone who has made numerous Obamacare-related typos myself, I sympathize with the poor soul over at The Washington Post behind this (already corrected) headline goof. But it's just too good not to share:

Washington PostWashington Post

Via Byron Tau's Twitter feed. 

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Ronald Bailey on the Royal Baby and Genetic Privacy

Royal Baby BloombergEarlier this week, much of the world was thrilled by the birth of George Alexander Louis to the couple William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor and Catherine Elizabeth, nee Middleton. Given his instant celebrity, he has not much hope of a private life. This was well-illustrated by a publicity stunt in which the London Times published in June a front-page story reporting the results of a genetic test that had revealed "the Indian ancestry" of his father. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey explains that genetic privacy is no big deal and why it shouldn't much bother you to learn your ancestry from a newspaper story.

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Defender of Failed Interventions, Surveillance State Attacks Rand Paul, Justin Amash

Here's the American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka praising Chris Christie for slagging non-interventionists who also worry about the domestic surveillance state:

Why is it that so many Republicans (and quite a few Democrats, too) believe the state is out to get them? The answer, for the most part, is that this administration and its predecessors in the Bush administration did a terrible job briefing Congress, looping Congress in, and helping Congress understand what exactly the federal government is up to. No surprise that those suspicious of the government for whatever reason might wonder if no one is bothering to actually read them in. That’s the administration’s fault, and it must be rectified.

Then there’s Rand Paul, his father, and their acolytes. These are the fringes. That they have managed to latch onto the mainstream is an indictment both of the administration and those of us who believe in internationalism and understand what is necessary to fight terrorism.

The fact that almost half of the House Republican caucus voted for the Amash amendment to effectively shut down the NSA’s terrorist surveillance program is a flashing red light on the dashboard — and we’d better take heed.

Whole thing here.

There's a huge helluva lot packed into just those three paragraphs. Among other things, the idea that in any way limiting NSA use of data is the equivalent of shutting down "terrorist surveillance" is a bald misstatement.

But let me focus on the subtext of Pletka's post: This sort of attack on growing majorities of Republicans ("and quite a few Democrats, too"!) along with "the mainstream" for being skeptical about abuse of state power is a sure sign that something like sanity may be returning to foreign policy and security concerns. No wonder neo-cons and interventionists are so irritable.

As I've noted yesterday in response to a piece by the Washington Post's right-wing blogger Jennifer Rubin, the geniuses behind Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and more have poisoned public opinion not because most citizens are Hate America Firsters but because we're not stupid. A decade-plus of wasted lives, money, and resources is no way to endear you to the Great Boob Public. The same goes for overkill on things ranging from presidential kill lists to secret and ubiquitous trapping of phone call records and drone strikes on American citizens.

Pletka's willingness to ascribe the waning of hawkishess to bad messaging is sad and misguided. Fact is, the stuff both Bush and Obama administrations have been up to internationally and domestically couldn't be discussed openly - even in Congress! - because it's bad policy. Congress, like the American people, wouldn't have gone along with it. That's why two successive adminstrations did such a terrible job of "looping Congress in."

To get a better read on Pletka's general viewpoint and the slow-boiling anger at the end of the Pentagon's blank check, read this 2010 Washington Post col she co-authored. When you're reduced to accusing Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of being insufficiently patriotic when it comes to the Pentagon budget, you're pretty much out of ammo.

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HHS Cancels Obamacare Fraud Audit, Blames Budget Cuts

credit: American Life League / Foter / CC BY-NCcredit: American Life League / Foter / CC BY-NCWill Obamacare's exchanges protect the privacy and data security of those who use them? Perhaps not — and we might never know.

The Health and Human Services Department is canceling a planned HHS Inspector General's audit of the exchanges, according to The Washington Post, which describes the nixed project like this:

A planned audit into computer security at state marketplaces — known as exchanges — that will sell individual health-insurance policies under the health-care law. The inspector general’s office said that “time pressures” to get the exchanges running by Oct. 1 may increase risks that states will fail to shield private medical information from “hacker exploits, unauthorized data access and data theft or manipulation.” In addition, the OIG document said, about $3.8 billion in grant money to develop the exchanges is “potentially at risk for wasteful spending.” Seventeen states are planning to run their own exchanges, while the rest will be operated by the federal government or in state-federal partnerships.

The Post also reports that the health department will forgo a study of shady medical equipment dealers, and an examination into fraud and abuse in state-run and privately-contracted Medicaid programs. 

The official excuse is that the projects are on the chopping block due to budget pressures, which have limited funding for the Office of the Inspector General. But HHS hasn't been shy about shifting money around to implement Obamacare when it wanted to. Earlier this year, HHS moved more than $450 million out of its prevention and public health fund in order to pay for the cost of setting up and marketing the law's exchanges. Building the health law's exchanges is apparently a priority. Catching fraud within them apparently isn't. 

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Dreaming of a Court That Says No to the Government's Surveillance Requests

SCOTUSSCOTUSThe lead story in today's New York Times suggests that Chief Justice John Roberts has been stacking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) with government-friendly conservatives. Charlie Savage reports that "86 percent of his choices have been Republican appointees, and 50 percent have been former executive branch officials." The corresponding figures for Roberts' two predecessors, William Rehnquist and Warren Burger, are 66 percent and 39 percent, respectively. "While the positions taken by individual judges on the court are classified," Savage writes, "academic studies have shown that judges appointed by Republicans since Reagan have been more likely than their colleagues to rule in favor of the government in non-FISA cases over people claiming civil liberties violations." He notes that critics troubled by the chief justice's FISCal power have proposed changing the way the judges are appointed.

Although it is plausible that the shift Savage identifies has produced a court somewhat more deferential to the Justice Department's requests, the effect may not be apparent in the day-to-day work of the court, where the government's nearly perfect record probably is due to the weak standards created by Congress. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, James Carr, a federal judge who served on the FISC from 2002 to 2008, notes that the standard for approving surveillance under FISA is lower than in ordinary criminal cases:

To obtain authority to intercept the phone and electronic communications of American citizens and permanent residents, the government must only show probable cause that the target has a connection to a foreign government or entity or a foreign terrorist group. It does not have to show, as with an ordinary search warrant, probable cause that the target is suspected of a crime.  

While "critics note that the court has approved almost all of the government’s surveillance requests," Carr writes, it is "the low FISA standard of probable cause," as opposed to "spinelessness or excessive deference to the government," that "explains why the court has so often granted the Justice Department's requests."

That factor, however, does not explain why the FISC has endorsed controversial legal interpretations that give the government much more leeway than the law seems to allow (or the law's authors intended). Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, for instance, allows the government to seek an order demanding "any tangible things" it deems "relevant" to a terrorism investigation. That is a pretty loose standard (looser even than the one for intercepting Americans' communications), but how can it possibly encompass records of every telephone call in the United States, as the FISC has said it does, unless we read "relevant" to cover any piece of information the government thinks might one day be helpful? That is no standard at all.


Steven Greenhut: The Case for Prison Reform

California’s massive prison system spends nearly $50,000 a year to house each inmate. Californians may be accustomed to outrageous displays of fiscal profligacy, writes Steven Greenhut, but it’s time for them to stopping grinning and bearing it. It’s time for genuine prison reform.

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The Terrible, Bad, No-Good Plan to Boycott Stoli Vodka over Russia’s Vile Treatment of Gays

Drink up!Credit: StolichnayaRussia is a pretty terrible place to be right now if you’re gay. They recently criminalized anything remotely gay, outlawed gay pride events, and banned adoptions by foreign gay couples. Russian nationalists are using social media to lure out gay teens and torture them on video. Gay people in Russia are being publicly physically attacked with no consequence; indeed, the police and government seem to be cheering it on.

It’s difficult to watch such a large, developed nation treat people so terribly, and so Westerners are mulling over what we could possibly do to influence Russia to change its behavior.

Inevitably such talk leads to calls for boycotts. It is the most logical choice. We have no real influence over Russia’s politics as citizens. The overwhelming political approval of anti-gay legislation in Russia indicates internal resistance is going to be extremely difficult and dangerous. In this situation, a refusal to contribute to Russia’s economy is probably the only way an average Westerner can respond.

There was some chatter about trying to boycott the Sochi Olympics in 2014, but that seems extremely unlikely. The latest call is to boycott Russian vodkas, and gay bars across the country have started to come on board.

One of the big targets is Stolichnaya Vodka, and here’s the boycott starts running into problems in this big world full of global corporations and international trade. The Stoli we drink here in the states is not made in Russia. It’s actually made in Latvia. It is actually a different vodka from what is sold within Russia. Russia seized the internal brands and renationalized them back in 2001. There is a big, nasty battle between Russia and the private Stolichnaya company and its owner, Yuri Scheffler.

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45 Years, 45 Days: Love Canal, The Truth Seeps Out

For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.

Writing in Reason’s February 1981 issue, Eric Zuesse exposes the truth about one of the most notorious environmental catastrophe stories of the time: Love Canal. Here’s a snippet:

You’re about to be untricked. If you believe that the guilty party in the Love Canal tragedy is the Hooker Chemicals & Plastics Corporation, which the Justice Department is suing, rather than the Niagara Falls Board of Education, which bought the dump from Hooker in 1953; or if you believe that Michael Brown’s famous book that has become the popular authority on the whole mess, Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals, sets out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Love Canal, then you’ve been snookered. In fact, as I’m going to show, hardly ever has there been a more blatant example of Big Brother successfully hiding the skeletons in his closet or of a gullible investigative reporter and compliant major media going along with the cover-up so that a bunch of bureaucrats can pass the buck to some bewildered private interest. The irony is that the target of this particular smear, Hooker Chemicals, may very well have botched others of its many chemical dumps, but not Love Canal, the very site that has brought the company so much adverse publicity and a flood of government and private lawsuits.

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Putin is 'Determined' Snowden Case Will Not Hurt Russia-US Ties


Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly determined that disagreements over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will not harm Russia-U.S. ties. Snowden, who is currently at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, is facing espionage charges back in the U.S.

Today, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the U.S. will not seek the death penalty for Snowden.

From Reuters:

(Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined not to allow a spat over Edward Snowden to hurt ties with the United States, his spokesman said on Friday.

However, the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Putin was not involved in talks over the fate of the 30-year-old former U.S. spy agency contractor, who is wanted by the United States on espionage charges and has been stuck at a Moscow airport for more than a month.

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IRS Union: Don't Put Tax Collectors Into Obamacare's Health Exchanges!

credit: alykat / Foter / CC BY-NCcredit: alykat / Foter / CC BY-NCThe Internal Revenue Service is responsible for enforcing multiple provisions in Obamacare, including a slew of revenue-raising taxes and fees, the individual mandate, and the disbursement of insurance subsidies for insurance purchased through the exchanges. But an almost too-obvious ironic twist, its employees don't want to buy insurance through those exchanges themselves. The National Treasury Employees Union, a labor group that represents IRS workers, has set up a form letter for union members to send to their congressional representatives urging legislators not to pass legislation proposed by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Michigan) that could shift tax workers out of their current federal benefits and into the exchanges. 

The best case you can make here is the one that's been made with regard to congressional staffers, who have also voiced complaints about a requirement in the health law that could shift them out of their federal benefits and into the exchanges. Their argument is that it's unfair to create a special class of workers who have to drop their current, employer-provided insurance and go through the exchanges. 

Even framed this way, however, this does not exactly inspire great confidence in the law. How appealing can it be if the government workers charged with managing many of its operations are so worried about having to participate in its key feature? And what about the 7-8 million individuals the Congressional Budget Office expects will be shifted out of their current, employer-provided health coverage as a result of the law? If it is concerning that IRS workers might lose their employer-tied insurance and be moved into Obamacare's exchanges, then surely it is also concerning that those other individuals, most of whom do not work for the IRS, would end up making a similar transition. 

But that's not what you're hearing from the IRS union, which is only concerned with itself. The revenue agency's workers are happy enough to enforce the law's provisions on others, but worried enough about having to participate in its biggest component that they are organizing complaints against the very possibility of being required to do so.

One obvious solution (though I am certain the law's supporters won't embrace it) would be to eliminate all requirements for anyone to participate in any part of the law by repealing it entirely. But if the law is to go forward, then federal workers should be required to participate in it whenever possible, even, and perhaps especially, if it is an inconvenience. 

(H/T Joel Gerhke at The Washington Examiner.)

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Auburn Cop Fired for Resisting Quotas Gets Online Support; City Officials Deny Deny Deny

Wednesday’s ReasonTV video “Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas” is making waves, with over 150,000 YouTube views in 24 hours and a top link on Drudge Report.

The piece features Justin Hanners, a former member of the Auburn, Alabama police department who refused to keep quiet about "contact" quotas that began after the arrival of Chief Tommy Dawson in 2010 (neither Hanners nor Dawson currently work for the police department).

In response to the video, one viewer made a Facebook group in support of Hanners. The group already has 6,000 members. Another viewer set up a fund for donations to help with ongoing legal proceedings. Hanners' email account has been flooded with support and offers to send groceries and job-placement services. Media outlets are swarming him for interviews and he reports he is happy for the aid and attention.

The police department declined my requests to talk during the making of the documentary. And now the city has now made a statement that there is not a quota system in Auburn:

Chief Register, as well as former Chief Dawson, have made it clear that they do not require quotas in the Auburn Police Division. If any Auburn Police officer is unclear on the expectations of the Chief or his supervisor, Chief Register, Public Safety Director Bill James and I all have open door policies and will be happy to hear their concerns and make our expectations clear.

Hanners kept copies all of his correspondence throughout his grievance process, including a response from the Public Safety Director Bill James specifically addressing Hanners' discomfort with the quotas. James said:

To make 100 contacts, which include among others, traffic stops, issuing warrants, field interviews and arrests, requires about two contacts per shift hour. Making two contacts per hour is not unreasonable and still seems to leave a lot of time to perform other duties that are detailed in your job description. Your supervisors as well as I have an expectation that each employee needs to be productive during their time on shift.

James continues:

This production is measured using different matrix’s, including numbers. This is not any different than quantifying miles of streets paved or number of fire hydrants painted.

I asked Hanners to respond to this claim.

"Streets and fire hydrants don’t have Constitutional rights. They don’t pay taxes. They don’t vote. We’re supposed to protect and serve the citizens,” Hanners said, “They’re not to be looked at as inanimate objects that we have to keep rank and file like our streets being neat and our fire hydrants being painted.”

The city's statement also says that Hanners' claim that he was fired for violating a gag order is unsubstantiated. But they "cannot comment in detail on the specific basis for the termination." Hanners walked me through his grievance process and the internal affairs investigation:

"Well, the day my grievance was over, I get called into the Chief’s office, and was told that some evidence I presented was from an internal affairs investigation and the gag order had been placed and I wasn’t supposed to have it. So then the Chief, who is the suspect in my grievance, now starts an internal affairs investigation into me and my partner to see if we somehow compromised his own investigation into his own wrongdoing where he had found he had done nothing wrong. So in this investigation, they found that we had violated a gag order and that I had violated the city’s reporting policy by reporting these people.  And they ultimately fired me for it and suspended my partner who gave me a statement that said everything I was saying was true."

Auburn Assistant City Manager James Buston is also saying that Reason did not do our journalistic duty:

“They did not even offer us the opportunity to respond before they put it together. It’s a pretty shoddy news organization, I would say.”

Actually, I have an email response from the police department, with the public safety director copied, declining my interview request.

Here's the video, "Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas":

Update: Assistant City Manager Buston was unaware of my email exchange with the Auburn Police Department and graciously apologized for his statement upon learning about it. 

Debbie Nathan on Feminism and Moral Panics

Carol Dyhouse's Girl Trouble shows that women's progress has always been met with noisy, obsessive, and in hindsight often nutty fretting about girls' behavior and bodies. Feminists themselves, meanwhile, sometimes promoted moral panics in order to achieve their goals in a conservative, male-dominated milieu. Dyhouse's focus in Great Britain, but as Debbie Nathan notes in her review, variations on the panics she describes have also emanated from the United States.

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How the IRS Can Share Your Bank Info With Security Agencies

Hands off my bank accounts, NSA! ||| NewlySwissed.comNewlySwissed.comYour banking information is an open book, if, like me, you are one of many millions of Americans who has money deposited in a foreign financial institution. That's due to a terrible 2010 law called the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act, or FATCA (such restraint there in not adding the "TS" at the end!), which opens up Americans' foreign holdings to microscopic scrutiny and even seizure by the Internal Revenue Service.

I have written previously about how the law is making it nigh on impossible for many of the estimated 6 million Americans living abroad to have a basic bank account, since overseas institutions rightly do not care to work for the IRS. Now Reason Contributing Editor Michael Young, who lives in Lebanon, explains FATCA's relationship with the ongoing National Security Agency spy scandals:

FATCA is even worse than the already invasive collection of telecommunications metadata being carried out by the NSA. Metadata is information pertaining to communications, but does not include the actual content of conversations. FATCA is a look into the content of accounts, and would almost certainly have provoked outrage had it been implemented in the United States. 

Can the information gleaned through FATCA be shared with other government agencies, especially those seeking to uncover terrorist activities? According to the Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists, the answer is yes. A closer examination of the US tax code, the ACFCS has argued, proves that anyone who actually "believes that his or her problems with US agencies from disclosure of non-US accounts will be limited to tax issues is mistaken."

Feel the patriotism! ||| KPMG.comKPMG.comTitle 26, Section 6103 of the tax code opens doors that allow US government agencies, including intelligence agencies, and even Congress, to gain access to information obtained through FATCA. For instance, ACFCS notes, Section 6103 "permits disclosure of 'return information' to certain Federal officers and employees and law enforcement agencies for purposes of combating terrorism."

Here FATCA intersects with the logic behind the NSA surveillance programs, allowing federal agencies to share the private accounts of individuals in criminal investigations. But while there are legal safeguards to protect the rights of such individuals, the reality is that when it comes to terrorism, the tendency of judges is to give the benefit of the doubt to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Whole thing here.

Bonus reminder: U.S. efforts to infiltrate and degrade Swiss banking secrecy was one of the prime motivations for Edward Snowden.

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Joe Biden May Not Often Be Right, But When He Was It Was Pretty Astute; Noun-Verb-9/11 Still a Politician Favorite

hey joe what do ya knowTaraGiancaspro/Foter.comDid you hear the one about the guy in Washington who was arrested after doing exactly what Joe Biden recommended people do to scare off intruders (firing a shotgun into the air)? That happened; JD Tuccille noted when Biden first dispensed the advice that it very well could. The vice president’s sort of a big joke, but not in the endearing way The Onion’s version of him is. Nevertheless, Joe Biden was right once.

During a presidential debate in the run up to the 2008 Democratic primary season, Biden decided to look ahead and take a shot at Rudy Giuliani, who had about as much chance of winning the GOP primary as Biden had on the Democrat side. Par for the course for primary candidates to start with the attacks on their possible general election rivals. Biden said Giuliani’s entire campaign was “a noun, a verb, and 9/11”:

Four years later, Joe Biden would adopt Giuliani’s campaign style, repeatedly touting “Osama bin Laden dead, Detroit alive”. It shouldn’t be surprising, because using 9/11 and terrorists and the threat/fear of terrorism in lieu of rational arguments is just too easy for our rarely-thinking politicians not to do.

We saw it on display Tuesday with the vigorous defense of the NSA program by Republicans like Mike Rogers and Michele Bachmann (Democrats didn’t really defend the program on the House Floor, but it’s their president, right or, mostly, wrong, so 83 of them defended him when it came down to a vote). And we saw it again this week in the context of the 2016 election, as Jesse Walker highlighted last night, with Chris Christie calling the “strain” of libertarianism in the GOP (and the Democratic party?) dangerous, because he hasn’t forgotten 9/11.  There was no attempt at rational argument in his comments, just an appeal to emotion. Christie suggested Paul and others urging caution about the national security state go “sit across from the [9/11] widows and the orphans,” as if there were no families of the victims of 9/11 that believed differently from Chris Christie. So here we are America, in the early stages of the 2016 presidential election, with politicians using the same tired 9/11 fearmongering that started helping them get elected as early as Michael Bloomberg’s 2001 mayoral victory

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Marijuana Ad to Air at NASCAR Races

This weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, fans entering the Brickyard 400 races will see this ad on a jumbotron:

The video was produced by the Marijuana Policy Project, which notes in a press release that the spot is "scheduled to air dozens of times from Friday through Sunday." The screen isn't on speedway property, so NASCAR is pretty much powerless to stop it. Some Indiana-based reporter should park himself in the area and watch the crowd's reaction evolve as it becomes clear just what exactly is in rotation.

Elsewhere in Reason: "The Hippie and the Redneck Can Be Friends."

Friday Evening Update: The spot aired as scheduled today but is now being pulled, reportedly following pressure from the Drug Free America Foundation. Well, it was fun while it lasted. The New York Daily News' story on the reversal ends with a wry reminder of some relevant history:

Stock car racing in the United States traces its roots back to the Prohibition era, when bootleggers in Appalachia would attempt to elude police on mountain roads in souped-up versions of everyday cars.
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Bipartisanship Lives! McCain Working With Obama to Jack Up Defense Spending and Taxes

Would be so much happier if that was a bowl of peach slices. ||| Pete Souza, White HousePete Souza, White HouseTPM has published valentine to Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) for becoming President Barack Obama's best new pal in circumventing obstructionist Republicans:

[A]s the White House and members of Congress prepare for a potentially ugly battle to keep government open and continue paying its bills this fall, Democratic leaders see McCain as a pivotal figure in their effort to reach a compromise and force tea party conservatives to stop holding routine government funding and debt ceiling bills hostage.

I understand why Democrats and their fans would be tickled by these developments. I just wonder how they would have felt five years ago if you would have told them that they’d be cheering on a bipartisan deal between the then-presidential rivals to jack up defense spending:

"Senator McCain is the Senate Republican leadership's worst nightmare," said a senior Democratic aide, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. "He is very interested in fixing sequestration, he has railed against the tax loopholes, he is clearly not afraid to defy them when he thinks it's the right thing to do, and he takes 10 Republican members with him. We definitely see him as an important part of the path forward on a budget deal."

McCain's desire for a budget agreement is motivated by one of his biggest policy priorities: Protecting the Pentagon. The military budget is set to take a major hit due to the across-the-board budget cuts enacted in 2011, and pragmatists like him recognize that the only politically feasible way to undo the so-called sequester is to replace it with a mix of targeted spending cuts and new revenues. That's a key reason for McCain's alienation from the tea party, which has blocked a budget accord that includes so much as a penny in new tax revenue.

Emphases mine. As we have seen in sharp relief this week, there is a natural bipartisanship in Washington that elevates above all other values the writing of a blank check to the National Security State. Until there are more Justin Amashes and Ron Wydens, and fewer John McCains and Barack Obamas, we will continue seeing these kinds of grotesque contortions for the preservation of power.

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A.M. Links: Democrats Finally Call for San Diego Mayor's Resignation, Chris Christie Says Libertarianism is Dangerous, Lincoln Memorial Vandalized

  • dangerousStuck in Customs/Foter.comIt took a total of seven women coming out to accuse San Diego’s mayor of sexual harassment before local Democrats began calling for his resignation. Anthony Weiner, meanwhile, is hazy on just how many women he sent unsolicited pictures of his penis to. Pelosi opined that Weiner and San Diego’s Bob Filner should both seek therapy.
  • Chris Christie said the libertarian “strain” in the Republican party is dangerous, because 9/11.
  • The Egyptian military now says it’s holding the former president, Mohammed Morsi, on allegations of links to Hamas, also accusing him of plotting jailbreaks during the 2011 uprising.
  • The police chief in St. Louis has asked the FAA for approval for his department to use drones. He wants to use them for police chases and public surveillance.
  • The first 3D-printed rifle has been test fired.
  • A cop in Georgia who killed a 70-year-old man by ramming his squad car into the septuagenarian’s won’t be facing jail time. In Ohio, meanwhile, a cop is facing involuntary manslaughter charges for allegedly beating an elderly man to death.
  • The Lincoln Memorial was splashed with green paint yesterday, and will be closed until the National Park Service cleans it.
  • A firearms group in Ohio has raised $12,000 to buy George Zimmerman  gun and a home security system. 

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Kurt Loder Reviews The Wolverine

Courtesy of 20th Century FoxCourtesy of 20th Century FoxAt this point in the current summer of blockbuster doom, The Wolverine will be exceeding expectations if it doesn’t tank right out of the box. And it might not. As Kurt Loder reports, the movie is a serviceable superhero exercise that does a number of things right. Most wisely, it sets its story in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand, happily ignoring the existence of the piffling 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In Last Stand, you’ll recall, the grumpy mutant Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was forced to terminate the love of his life, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), after she succumbed to the dark side of her own mutant nature. Now we find him sleeping al fresco in the Canadian woods and marinating his sorrow in an ocean of whiskey. Soon enough, though, super-duty once again calls.

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Brickbat: Man's Best Friend

L'Hotel fer DogsL'Hotel fer DogsThe Statham, Georgia, city council has barred residents from owning more than three dogs. Anyone who wishes to own more will be treated as a kennel and subject to all the regulations and inspections that kennels must comply with.

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Chris Christie Attacks "This Strain of Libertarianism That's Going Through Both Parties Right Now"

Yesterday the House voted on Justin Amash and John Conyers' amendment to defund the NSA's mass collection of American phone records. The measure failed, but it failed by a surprisingly narrow vote, and that margin is making some Republicans nervous. One of the nervous Republicans, to judge from Aaron Blake's report this evening in the Washington Post, is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:

Yabba dabba do!"As a former prosecutor who was appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, I just want us to be really cautious, because this strain of libertarianism that's going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought," Christie said.

Asked whether he includes [Rand] Paul—a fellow potential 2016 presidential candidate—in his criticism, Christie didn't back down. "You can name any one of them that’s engaged in this," he said.

Blake notes that Christie "also praised the national security strategies of both President Obama and George W. Bush." You can add that to the evidence for something Glenn Greenwald wrote earlier today:

It's only a suspicion, mind you.One of the worst myths Democratic partisans love to tell themselves—and everyone else—is that the GOP refuses to support President Obama no matter what he does. Like its close cousin—the massively deceitful inside-DC grievance that the two parties refuse to cooperate on anything—it's hard to overstate how false this Democratic myth is. When it comes to foreign policy, war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, secrecy, and civil liberties, President Obama's most stalwart, enthusiastic defenders are often found among the most radical precincts of the Republican Party.

The rabidly pro-war and anti-Muslim GOP former Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, has repeatedly lavished Obama with all sorts of praise and support for his policies in those areas. The Obama White House frequently needs, and receives, large amounts of GOP Congressional support to have its measures enacted or bills its dislikes defeated. The Obama DOJ often prevails before the US Supreme Court solely because the Roberts/Scalia/Thomas faction adopts its view while the Ginsburg/Sotomayor/Breyer faction rejects it.

The worst policies to come out of Washington tend to have bipartisan support. Here's hoping Amash/Conyers is a step toward a transpartisan opposition.

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Poll: Americans Commit to Community Involvement Even as They Turn Against Government

Reason 24/7ReasonA new poll finds that Americans are turning away from government and the political process without (how could this be?) becoming disengaged from their communities. Instead, they see the best way of contributing to the world around them to be volunteering time and effort for a variety of charities and civic organizations.

From USA Today:

WASHINGTON — The American impulse to make a contribution to the community is strong, but the feeling that politics can be an avenue to do that seems to be souring.

A new USA TODAY/Bipartisan Policy Center poll finds that Americans by more than 2-1 say the best way to make positive changes in society is through volunteer organizations and charities, not by being active in government. Those younger than 30 are particularly put off by politics. They are significantly less likely than their parents to say participating in politics is an important value in their lives.

In terms of specific attitudes toward government, the "percentage who say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right":

  • Just about always: 4 percent
  • Most of the time: 17 percent
  • Only some of the time: 64 percent
  • None of the time (volunteered): 13 percent
  • Don't know: 2 percent

Helping others remains a priority among those polled but, quite rightly, they're willing to volunter their time through places of worship (45 percent), schools (45 percent), and to "help the needy" (41 percent) long before they'd consider writing a political email or letter (19 percent) or assisting a political candidate (18 percent).

And things are getting better. Only 39 percent of 18-29 year olds consider participating in the political process "most" or "very" important, compared to 53 percent of those 30 and older.

The one fly in the ointment s that there's evidence that distrust in government tends to breed larger government which builds even greater distrust — all the way down the rabbit hole. But that evidence seems based on a link between distrust in government and disengagement from the community, which the USA TODAY/Bipartisan Policy Center poll doesn't support at all.

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Spice up your blog or Website with Reason 24/7 news and Reason articles. You can get the widgets here. If you have a story that would be of interest to Reason's readers please let us know by emailing the 24/7 crew at 24_7@reason.com, or tweet us stories at @reason247.

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Rand Paul Asks FBI For More Information On Domestic Drone Surveillance, Internal Approval Process

doing congress' workscreen grabFBI director Robert Mueller last month told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing the the bureau has been using drones for domestic surveillance. Mueller, however, did not offer any specifics, promising instead that the usage was “very minimal.” Nevertheless, he told the committee he would submit more information later.

An unclassified letter sent by the FBI in response to questions sent by Rand Paul reports the bureau has used drones since 2006, in a total of “eight criminal cases and two national security cases.” The only specific case offered was that of the week-long hostage situation involving a six-year-old girl in Alabama earlier this year. The FBI also claimed the drones were not equipped with any kind of weapons nor were they conducting “bulk” surveillance.

While the FBI said it would seek a warrant to use a drone if it involved breaching a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” it said it had not needed to seek a warrant in any of its drone use so far, relying instead on internal legal advice (a favorite approval process of the executive branch). In a follow-up letter sent by Paul today, the senator asks the FBI for specifics on how the bureau defines a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and any “guidance documents,” like legal memos and field manuals, that would expand on what the FBI considers a reasonable expectation of privacy. You can read Paul’s full letter here

Watch Live at 7pm PT/10pm ET as Kennedy Talks Golden Age of MTV with Andy Schuon

Watch tonight as Kennedy broadcasts live from Reason's LA headquarters, where folks will gather to celebrate the launch of her new book, The Kennedy Chronicles!

At 7pm PT/10pm ET she'll be sitting down to reminisce about the Golden Age of MTV with her old friend, producer and media mogul Andy Schuon, who recently launched the Revolt music channel in partnership with Diddy.

Check back here tonight for the stream, which will also be available on Reason TV's Youtube channel.

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Shikha Dalmia in Bloomberg View on Why Constitutional Protections Won’t Mean Diddly for Detroit’s Labor Unions in Bankruptcy

A federal judge yesterday threw out multiple union lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing and declared his courtroom the exclusive venue for future proceedings. This is a setback for the unions’ legal argument that the filing violates the state constitution in not holding their pension benefits harmless. It is also a strategic setback because they no longer have the option for shopping around for friendly judges who they have helped elect to state courts.

Writes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in Bloomberg View:

Any way you look at it, unions have to accept the cold reality that their city is broke. At best they can use their constitutional protections to squeeze a marginally better deal in bankruptcy court -- not keep it out of that court. Furthermore, there is no way they can preserve all the promises to their retirees…

[T]he lesson from Detroit so far is that these protections are not worth a lot when a city, having systematically mismanaged its finances, is flat broke.

Go here for the whole thing.

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Mapping the Vote to Limit the NSA via Amash-Conyers Amendment

Over at Conservative Intel, David Freddoso has mapped yesterday's vote by district on legislation sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.). "Aye" votes would have limited the NSA's ability to collect data on Americans in America. Those votes are coded white, "Nay" votes are black, and non-votes are pink.

From the writeup:

In Wisconsin, just two members voted against — Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Ron Kind.  Colorado’s entire bipartisan delegation supported it (it was cosponsored by their Democratic colleague, Jared Polis). In Tennessee, all members voted to limit NSA spying except one — Democrat Jim Cooper. In neighboring Alabama, whose congressional delegation is also dominated by Republicans, the only Democrat voted no along with all Republicans but one.

Another thing that should impress you if you know a bit about members of Congress is how there aren’t too many common threads. The issue split each party down the middle, split members of the Black and Hispanic caucuses, and pitted both conservatives and liberals against one another. The vote is also likely to spur more conversations during primaries in the 2014 election cycle. For example, in Georgia, Reps. Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun and Jack Kingston are all running for Senate next year. Gingrey voted against the amendment, whereas Kingston and Broun voted for it. 

Read more.

Freddoso is giving the GOP too much credit here. The final vote count was 205-217, with 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voting for the amendment to limit the NSA. A majority of GOP members - 134 all told - voted against the amendment and were joined by 83 Democrats.

But still the map is fascinating and Freddoso's large point regarding a lack of "common threads" explaining the vote patterns is well-taken.

For comparison, he includes a map of congressional districts by party affiliation, with red meaning Republican and blue meaning Democratic:

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Those Feds Who Aren’t Reading Our Stuff Are Demanding Internet Companies Give Up Our Passwords

"Now who's being naive, Marge?"Credit: Arkadi Bojaršinov | Dreamstime.comPrior to the failed vote yesterday as Michigan Rep. Justin Amash attempted to restrain the National Security Agency to only collecting phone and email metadata about people who are actually valid crime suspects, security state lovers repeated their typical talking points. It’s necessary to fight terrorism, it has saved lives, Sept. 11! Sept. 11! Sept. 11! And, of course, those defending the mass collection of data say the federal government is hardly getting anything at all! Nothing truly private! They aren’t reading our e-mail!

If they’re not, apparently it’s not from lack of trying. Tech privacy journalist Declan McCullagh over at CNet reports today that feds are asking Internet companies to divulge users’ passwords:

The U.S. government has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users' stored passwords, according to two industry sources familiar with these orders, which represent an escalation in surveillance techniques that has not previously been disclosed.

If the government is able to determine a person's password, which is typically stored in encrypted form, the credential could be used to log into an account to peruse confidential correspondence or even impersonate the user. Obtaining it also would aid in deciphering encrypted devices in situations where passwords are reused.

"I've certainly seen them ask for passwords," said one Internet industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We push back."

A second person who has worked at a large Silicon Valley company confirmed that it received legal requests from the federal government for stored passwords. Companies "really heavily scrutinize" these requests, the person said. "There's a lot of 'over my dead body.'"

Some of the government orders demand not only a user's password, but also the encryption algorithm and the so-called salt, according to a person familiar with the requests. A salt is a random string of letters or numbers used to make it more difficult to reverse the encryption process and determine the original password. Other orders demand the secret question codes often associated with user accounts.

McCullagh isn’t clear about the form these requests come in (subpoenas, national security letter demands, warrants, etc.). I tweeted him for more detail and his response was, “That would be a good question to ask the FBI or DOJ!”

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Matthew Feeney on the Benefits of Monarchy

Credit: Carfax2/wikimediaCredit: Carfax2/wikimediaThe idea of monarchy is understandably abhorrent to many Americans. The policies of King George III of the House of Hanover were the source of the complaints outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and his intransigence led to the Revolutionary War. But, Matthew Feeney argues, it's also true that a constitutional monarchy can provide a better check on political power than constitutional democracy. 

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DOJ Still Wants to Meddle in State Election Laws, Army Wants to Make Killing Kinder to Mother Nature, Graham Wants Sanctions on Snowden Hiders: P.M. Links

  • "I'm NOT from the government and I'm here to help."Credit: Zoom-zoom | Dreamstime.comThough the Supreme Court recently threw out one section of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional, the Department of Justice is going to use what’s left to go after states implementing policies they don’t approve of, like voter identification requirements.
  • The U.S. Army is introducing environmentally friendly bullets. Maybe they’ll start composting the bodies of the people they kill, too.
  • A majority of Americans see charities and volunteer organizations as the best way to improve society, not the government.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wants to the United States to formally sanction any country that offers asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
  • The Euro Crisis is over! Spain’s unemployment has dropped for the first time in two years. Yes, it’s down to 26.3 percent. Practically nothing!
  • In the wake of the embarrassing incident with the fake Asiana crash pilot names, KTVU-TV has fired at least three producers.
  • President Barack Obama says Republicans may not like his ideas, but the journalists he talks to do. Just sharing in the event nobody has called White House reporters lapdogs today.

Did you write about liberty between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013? Reason welcomes you to enter this year’s Bastiat Prize for Journalism, with a total prize purse of $16,000.

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45 Years, 45 Days: American Gestapo

For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.

From violent no-knock raids to racial profiling and stop-and-frisk searches, the use of abusive tactics by law enforcement is increasingly dominating the headlines. But as John D. Lewis, Jr. reported in Reason’s April 1980 issue, the problem is nothing new:

Silver Spring, Maryland, June 1971: Four government agents in plain clothes broke down the back door of the apartment of Ken Ballew, who was in the bathtub at the time. Ballew armed himself with a pistol and prepared to defend himself. He was shot by the agents and suffered permanent brain damage and paralysis as a result.

San Jose, California, June 1978: Twenty armed government agents raided a collectors’ show, for two hours allowing no one to leave. The agents photographed exhibitors and bystanders and forced everyone present to sign “warning forms .”

Charleston, South Carolina, January 20, 1977: Agents entered the home of Patrick Mulcahey and confiscated all his collectors’ items, valued at $15,000. Included were a gift from his grandfather when he was 11, the first item he purchased for his collection when he was 15, and an engraved piece worth more than $1,000.

Kirkland, Washington, October 1978: In a paramilitary-style operation, government agents invaded the neighborhood of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Tungren. A four-block area was sealed off, the neighborhood evacuated, and the Tungren home surrounded. Some of the agents ransacked their home, while others stood over the Tungrens with automatic rifles.

Hardened criminals? Not quite. Armed? Well, it’s true that the government agents were after firearms–but consider what kind, and the circumstances. The firearms of Ken Ballew, who assumed the intruders were criminals and so armed himself, were found to be properly registered and owned legally. The San Jose raid was at a gun collectors’ show, where enthusiasts display and trade antique and choice firearms–not the kind used by criminals. Patrick Mulcahey was charged by the government with illegal possession of firearms but was acquitted in court. (Yet the government still has not returned his collection, appropriated without compensation.) The agents found a few rifles and a .22 caliber target pistol in the Tungrens’ home–all properly registered. Yet those agents had come in “like a bunch of storm troopers,” as Mr. Tungren described it afterwards to the press.

And the agents involved? They belong to the federal government’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. A part of the Internal Revenue Service, BATF has existed in various forms for many years. After passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, the IRS’S Alcohol and Tobacco Division was given, along with bureau status, responsibility for enforcing firearms laws.

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Phil Mickelson Wins Tournaments, Loses 61% of Winnings to Taxes

Hey Phil, ya ever try sucking instead?Credit: zzazazz / Foter / CC BY-NCIn what ESPN described as “a most improbable win...completed in stunning, awe-inspiring fashion at treacherous Muirfield,” Phil Mickelson last week won the British Open. (The week before, he won the Scottish Open.)  These hard-fought battles earned the golfer a total of £1,445,000, or roughly $2,167,500. Mickelson gets to keep less than half that.

Forbes provides a breakdown. First, he'll forfeit over 44% to the United Kingdom, despite spending all of two weeks there. 

Then, U.S. tax collectors get in on the fun. Although Mickelson can avoid being double-taxed by writing off his gains as a foreign tax credit, he'll pay in other ways. Mickelson is still subject to a self-employment tax and a Medicare surtax. To the state of California, he's obligated to pay another 13.3% of his earnings. In total, one of the world's most successful golfer's is losing 61% of the money he made from the tournaments.

USA Today points out that if the governments gouging him of his gains are not bad enough, “that’s before Mickelson pays his caddie, pays for his hotel and expenses, pays his agent, etc,” and speculated that when all is through, Mickelson will be left with a meager 30% of his original winnings.

According to Forbes, some professional athletes avoid the United Kingdom like a sand trap:

The UK is one of few countries that collects taxes on endorsement income for non-resident athletes that compete in Britain (the US also does). The rule has kept track star Usain Bolt from competing in Great Britain since 2009, outside of the 2012 Summer Olympics when the tax was suspended as a condition for hosting the Games. Spain’s Rafael Nadal has also allowed UK tax policy to dictate his tennis playing schedule.

With a pay of $48.7 million, salary/winnings of $4.7 million, and endorsements adding up to an additional $44 million, Mickelson is ranked by Forbes as the 7th highest paid athlete in the world. Lefty caught flack earlier this year for complaining about the government siphoning off so much of his money. CNBC dismissed his claim made in January that his total tax rate added up to about 60%. 

Seven Surprising Truths about the World

"We often overlook the many good things that are happening in the world around us today," says Ronald Bailey, Reason's science correspondent. In the August/September edition of Reason Magazine, Bailey lists seven surprising pieces of good news about the modern world we live in.

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Thomas Massie's Amendment Limiting Military Engagements in Egypt Unanimously Passes the House

Credit: Thomas Massie/wikimediaCredit: Thomas Massie/wikimediaAn amendment to the House Defense Appropriations Act introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) that blocks the U.S. military being used in offensive operations in Egypt was passed by the House in a unanimous voice vote yesterday afternoon.

The amendment was cosponsored by Reps. Amash (R-Mich.) and Yoho (R-Fla.).

Read the full text of the press release from Massie’s office below:

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, Representative Massie’s amendment to the House Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2397) passed the House unanimously by voice vote. 

“I am pleased that the House of Representatives passed my amendment, and that my colleagues agree that the United States should not become further embroiled in the ongoing conflict in Egypt.  Since our national security interests in Egypt remain unclear, we must proceed cautiously to avoid providing taxpayer money and military assistance to our enemies.”

The amendment, cosponsored by Reps. Amash (R-MI) and Yoho (R-FL), prevents the U.S. Military from engaging in offensive operations in Egypt and prohibits the Department of Defense from providing new assistance to Egyptian military or paramilitary groups without congressional approval.

A recent National Journal poll found that only 16 percent (16%) of both Republicans and Democrats think America should escalate its involvement in Egypt, and nearly half of all those polled said the United States should either reduce aid to Egypt or eliminate it entirely.

Here is the text of the amendment:

Unfortunately, Amash's amendment to the bill, which would have restricted NSA data mining, was narrowly defeated.

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In Chicago, Obama’s Backyard, Former City Employees Spurn ObamaCare

Sure there’s a bit of stench of public union health care entitlement mentality surrounding this latest tiff, but it is darkly amusing to see retired city employees in President Barack Obama’s old stomping grounds rebelling against his signature achievement. Courtesy of the Fox News affiliate in Chicago:

Retired city workers are asking a judge to block Mayor Emanuel from making them rely on Obamacare for their health insurance. It could cost Chicago taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

This affects most city retirees and it underscores how, after decades of grotesque financial mismanagement, the only choices left are painful ones. A spokesman for the lawsuit was a retired cop, wounded several times in the line of duty. Public employee unions hope that angry taxpayers staring at a doubling or even tripling of City Hall's property tax will empathize with Mike Underwood.

He moves slowly these days, in part because of arthritis he blames on being shot once and stabbed twice during 30 years as a patrol officer, but what bothers Mike Underwood the most right now is City Hall's plan to make him and his wife rely on Obamacare for health insurance. He considers it a betrayal.

"When I was hired, we were promised by Mayor Daley, the first Mayor Daley, that we'd have health insurance for ourselves and our wives for life," Underwood says.

A city spokesperson insists they will indeed have health insurance through the health exchanges, but who knows what that’s going to look like?

Underwood and other retirees won't know until September at the earliest what Obamacare's cost to them may be. A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Insurance told FOX 32 News that six insurance companies have so far submitted 165 different plans, all now under review.

The 62-year-old cop who was once named a Shoreline Hero by a North Side neighborhood group said he now faces co-pays of $750 a month for his and his wife's health insurance. He doesn't want to pay more.

"The mayor doesn't know, nobody knows what Obamacare entails, what it's gonna cover, how much it's gonna cost," Underwood says. "Nobody knows. It's a question the President of the United States couldn't answer."

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Q: Why Has It Become "Fashionable" to "Take Whacks" at Military, Intel Agencies? A: The Last 12 Years.

"It is now become fashionable on both sides of the aisle to take whacks at the military and our intelligence agencies," sighs the Washington Post's "Right Turn" blogger Jennifer Rubin.

Yeah, a dozen years of disastrous occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, a rough doubling of military expenditures in nominal dollars and ongoing demands for ever-greater spending, disclosures about massive covert government surveillance of U.S. citizens in America, and secret presidential kill lists really puts the hurt on whatever faith and trust folks once had in such institutions. (And I should note that according to Gallup, about 76 percent have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the military; by which I suspect they mean rank-and-file soldiers more than the David Petraeus' of the world.)

Rubin is particularly bent out of shape by the near-passage of a bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have limited NSA surveillance of Americans here in the States (read all about here).

In letting the congressman who has stabbed leadership in the back countless times run through the House with scissors, leaders risked real damage to national security and to the image of the GOP as the more responsible party on the issue.

Stabbing in the back? What is this, Weimar Germany? The problem isn't Amash and his rag-tag band of howling commandos dedicated to due process and rule of law, it's leadership in both the Republican and Democratic parties that have been stabbing the Constitution in the face for the past dozen or so years.

Rubin is also pissed at the idea that there's something wrong with current procedures regarding rape and sexual assault in the military:

Over in the Senate, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) has teamed up with two of the most destructive and least well-informed Republicans when it comes to national security – Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) (who have become canaries in the coal mine of legislative foolishness) – to undermine the military chain of command in sexual assault cases.

Come on. If bashing this reform effort rises to the top of your to-do list, it's only because you don't want to grapple with the generally horrible performance of the military and American intel in the 21st century. Somehow, out bold gambit to play globo-cop has only reduced our standing in the world, increased our debt, and turned successive presidents into self-aggrandizing liars who use the cover of national security to do what they want. Oh yeah, and how's that Middle East working out for us? There's not a lot to be proud of but suggesting that reformers are the problem is not going to deflect the attention from where it needs to be.

Ful Rubin here.

Hat Tip: Veronique de Rugy. Read her Reason archive here and follow her Twitter feed here.

Marijuana Regulation Is Largely an Illusion in Denver Too, but So What?

Jacob SullumJacob SullumThe Justice Department's crackdown on medical marijuana has been notably less heavy-handed in Colorado than in other states. While the feds have shut down hundreds of dispensaries in California and continue to target businesses that supply cannabis to patients in Washington, John Walsh, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, has contented himself with sending threatening letters to 50 or so medical marijuana centers he deemed too close to schools. Hundreds of others continue to operate, unthreatened, unraided, and unseized. The usual explanation for this striking difference can be summed up in one word: regulation. While neither California nor Washington explicitly allows dispensaries, which operate in a legal gray area unregulated by the state, since 2010 Colorado has licensed them, laying out specific, picayune, and often cumbersome rules for their operation. But as a state audit released last March showed, Colorado's vaunted regulatory system is largely an illusion, strict in theory but unenforced in practice. A recent audit of marijuana oversight in Denver, which is home to more cannabis operations than the rest of the state combined and was regulating the industry before the state did, found something similar.

According to the report, which was released last week by Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher, the city's Department of Excise and Licenses "does not have a basic control framework in place for effective governance of the City’s medical marijuana program." Here are the audit's highlights:

1. The City’s medical marijuana records and data are incomplete, inaccurate, and at times inaccessible.

2. The Department lacks formal policies and procedures to govern the medical marijuana business licensure process.

3. The coordination between the City and the state for dual medical marijuana licensure has been poor.

4. Deadlines are either not established or not enforced for key steps in the medical marijuana licensure process.

5. The medical marijuana licensure process lacks management oversight, adequate staffing, and proper segregation of duties.

6. The medical marijuana licensure fee was established arbitrarily.

7. Key information has not been kept up-to-date as medical marijuana policies have evolved.

The Department's lack of follow-up on license applications, and in conjunction with State law, has allowed some medical marijuana businesses to operate in the City without a valid City license. Further, the Department does not know how many medical marijuana businesses are operating in Denver. Since recreational marijuana will be legal in the state effective January 2014 as a result of Amendment 64, it is critical that the City develop and implement a robust system for regulating marijuana-related businesses before the current problems are exacerbated by a new surge of recreational marijuana license applications. 

Opponents of legalization have latched onto the audit as further evidence that approving Amendment 64 was a huge mistake and that implementing it will be a disaster. But to me the real lesson here is that Colorado seems to be doing OK despite more than a decade of tolerating a legal marijuana industry, an industry that was officially unregulated for most of that time and to a large extent remains unregulated in practice. NORML's Paul Armentano makes this point in a recent interview with The Verge (even while regretting that the government so far has not delivered the regulation it promised). "We've been told that the reason we can't change [marijuana policy] is because if we do, the sky will fall," Armentano says. "The sky is not falling in Colorado. People that live in Colorado recognize that, and people outside of Colorado will recognize that as well."

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

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FDA Attacks Menthol Cigarettes for Smooth Flavor

Credit:Tomasz Sienicki/wikimediaCredit:Tomasz Sienicki/wikimediaThe Food and Drug Administration has declared that menthol cigarettes pose a greater risk to public health risk than other kinds of cigarettes — entirely because of the way they taste.

From the BBC:

The agency said that while mint-flavoured cigarettes may be just as toxic as others, it was easier to start smoking them and harder to quit. Menthol cigarettes are one of the few growing areas of the tobacco industry. The FDA has commissioned further research into the subject.It is inviting input from the health community, tobacco industry and members of the public about the products. "Menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes," said the preliminary results of the FDA's study. It also found the cooling and anaesthetic qualities of the menthol made them less harsh — and more appealing — to smokers.

The comments echo a 2011 FDA report, which concluded that "removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." The report also warned of the blindingly obvious danger that would accompany the prohibition of menthol cigarettes: "A black market for menthol cigarettes could be created, criminal activity could ensue, and different methods might be used to supply such a black market."

The proposition, that menthol cigarettes require special restrictions or even prohibition is not based on the toxicity of menthol cigarettes but on their flavor. Menthol cigarettes, it is claimed, are easier to smoke, as they have a smoother flavor than regular cigarettes, leading to more people starting smoking and fewer quitting.  

Two former cabinet secretaries from the Carter and George H.W. Bush administrations condemned the lack of action on the part of the FDA in clamping down on menthols: "The failure of this administration to act undermines the public health and is particularly harmful to vulnerable young Americans and African-Americans." The push to regulate and possibly even prohibit menthol cigarettes would certainly have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. 70 percent of African-American smokers smoke menthols as opposed to 25 percent of white smokers.  

Government officials and anti-tobacco campaigners may view the restriction of menthol cigarettes as a potential victory for the health of African-Americans. However, the FDA's militant paternalism doesn't exactly treat them as human beings responsible for their own decisions.

The FDA is preparing a consultation on possible measures to restrict menthol cigarettes.

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Matthew Feeney Discusses Rand Paul and Intervention in Syria on RT

Yesterday, I spoke on RT about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and the arming of rebels in Syria.

Paul has been a critic of plans to arm rebels in Syria. However, despite the concerns Paul and some of his colleagues on Capitol Hill have about weapons potentially ending up in the hands of Al Qaeda-linked groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, it appears that the Obama administration will be moving forward with plans to arm rebels in Syria.

Watch below:

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Poll Finds Rand Paul to Be GOP Presidential Frontrunner for 2016, But He'd Still Get Aced by Hillary Clinton

A new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling finds Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to be the GOP frontrunner for 2016, closely followed by, well, everybody else: 

The numbers are: Paul 16, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Paul Ryan each at 13, Cruz at 12, Rubio at 10, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal at 4, and Susana Martinez at 2. Cruz has proven to be such a darling to the far right that he actually already leads among 'very conservative' voters with 20% to 18% for Paul and 17% for Ryan. Christie gets 24% with 'moderate' identifying Republicans but doesn't do better overall because he's at just 7% with 'very conservative' ones.

While Paul has a slight lead over fellow Republicans, PPP found that he has the worst odds against Hillary Clinton: 

She still leads all of the GOP hopefuls but in many of the cases it's by tight margins- 1 point over Chris Christie at 43/42, 2 points over Paul Ryan at 46/44, 3 points over Jeb Bush at 44/41, 5 points over Marco Rubio at 45/40, and 8 points over Rand Paul at 47/39. Obviously it's early but you can see a picture here that's been painted in many key Senate races over the last two cycles- the person with the most support from Republicans is also the weakest general election candidate.

What does it say about the electorate (or maybe PPP's polling?) that Paul Ryan would do better against Clinton than Paul? Maybe nothing. Still, color me surprised that a guy who's made absolutely no overtures toward personal freedom would do better than Paul against a Democrat. 

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Cops Tell Mom Her Son Was Murdered, Kill Her Dog for Good Measure

DogRubio campero

Note: This incident is apparently a year old, despite being dated July 23, 2013 on the newspaper site.

Police in Henrico County, Virginia, found 33-year-old Ricky Ellerbe dead (as originally noted by Mike Riggs), the apparent victim of a robbery that netted a cellphone and fifteen bucks. Officers then went to his home to deliver the bad news — and promptly killed the family dog. Really. This despite a growing awareness that police interactions with family pets are extremely problematic, a movement to pass laws to train police in better animal-management techniques, and official guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice cautioning that a majority of Americans view their dogs as members of the family.

From the News & Advance:

Henrico investigators swarmed the area with forensics technicians and tracking dogs, but no arrest had been reported Wednesday night. Ellerbe was one of five children; a brother, Gary, died in 2010 from a heart attack, three years after he'd been repeatedly stabbed.

And in a horrific turn of events, a Henrico police officer shot and killed the Ellerbe family pitbull, Tiger, as it charged toward the officer off its leash.

The unidentified officer and a detective had arrived at the home to notify family members that Ellerbe had been killed. His body was discovered shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday, face down near an alley.

The pitbull ran from the backyard of the home toward at least one officer, who pulled his weapon and shot the dog in the home's front yard, according to Ellerbe's sister, Latoya.

"They had told me my brother was dead and I'd come out back to cry on the porch and Tiger must have heard them. He ran into the front yard and the officer shot him," LaToya Ellerbe said.

For anybody who knows dogs (that's not the actual Ellerbe family dog in the photo, FYI), it's not at all unusual for them to run "from the backyard of the home toward" a stranger they've just discovered on their turf. That's natural behavior, not necessarily threatening, and generally really easy to deal with when the owner is standing right there.

Police departments generally respond to these incidents by insisting that officers felt threatened, but as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes:

Policies that require only that an officer “feel” threatened set a very low threshold for justifying the killing of dogs. In virtually all cases we have examined, internal reviews of dog shootings have ruled them to be justifiable under existing policies, even though several cases have resulted in substantial civil judgments against police departments for wrongful destruction. Such incidents not only jeopardize the lives of companion animals, but also undermine the reputation of law enforcement agencies in the community.

The ASPCA urges training for law-enforcement officers to teach them a "force continuum" policy for interacting with animals that doesn't require the automatic discharge of a firearm.

The national problem of police encounters with dogs elicited a formal report from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services last summer. The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters emphasized that "[a] recent poll revealed that approximately 53.5 percent of owners consider their dogs family members, another 45.1 percent view them as companions or pets, and less than 1.5 percent consider them mere property."The report offered helpful tips for identifying canine body language, and then went on to echo the ASPCA:

Shooting a dog should always be the option of last resort. The safety of fellow officers and bystanders is put at risk in such situations, and when a law enforcement officer shoots a dog that does not constitute a serious threat, community trust is eroded and the department is opened to potential lawsuits and other legal action.

It's difficult to imagine a worse public relations fiasco for a police department, pet-wise, than to enter private property to deliver horrifying news about the loss of a family member, and then to create a brand-new horrifying situation by killing another family member.

In response to incidents like this, Colorado recently mandated training for police officers in better ways of managing encounters with dogs. Forth Worth, Texas, adopted similar training after public outrage over a shooting.

On a side note, it's statistically amazing how many of the dogs shot by police officers turn out to be "pit bulls" — especially since research shows that the breeds usually identified as "pit bulls" are not especially aggressive or unmanageable. According to the the American Temperament Test Society, a national non-profit organization that uses uniform standards for evaluating the temperament of dogs and then breaks the results out by breed, 86.8 percent of American Pit Bull Terriers and 84.5 percent of American Staffordshire Terriers have passed the organization's temperament tests. Compare that to 80 percent of Beagles and 80.3 percent of Collies (but 90.8 percent of Irish setters!). So-called "pit bulls" tend to rank in the middle of the pack.

Yeah, maybe police are running into passels of poorly trained or abused pit bulls, especially since they're the scary dogs of the moment and popular among people seeking out more of a weapon than a pet. Or maybe cops are just taking advantage of that reputation to resort to a default label for every dog they shoot under embarrassing circumstances.

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Colorado's Second Biggest City Bans Pot Shops

Video via The GazetteVideo via The GazetteThis week Colorado Springs became the biggest city in Colorado to ban the state-licensed marijuana stores that are scheduled to start opening in January. By a 5-to-4 vote, the Colorado Springs City Council decided on Tuesday to join other nearby jurisdictions, including El Paso County, Monument, and Fountain, in just saying no to cannabis retailers, as local governments are authorized to do under Amendment 64, the ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in Colorado. It will remain legal for residents of the city to possess up to an ounce, grow up to six plants at home, and share up to an ounce at a time "without remuneration."

About two dozen local governments in Colorado have voted against pot stores so far. With a population of more than 400,000, Colorado Springs is the state's second biggest city. The biggest, with a population of more than 600,000, is Denver, where the city council last month overwhelmingly voted to regulate pot stores rather than ban them. Two-thirds of Denver residents voted for Amendment 64. The vote in El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs, was much closer. Still, the fact that Amendment 64 attracted majority support in the famously conservative county, which is home to Focus on the Family and the U.S. Air Force Academy, was pretty remarkable. "We won El Paso County, which is insane," says Mason Tvert, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign. "We won it by 10 votes, but if we lost by 5,000 I would still tout it as unbelievable."

The close city council vote reflected the closely divided electorate. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that "members of the Regional Business Alliance, retired military generals, school superintendents, leaders from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and representatives from the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau" all urged the council to ban recreational marijuana shops. The councilman who provided the fifth vote against cannabusinesses, Val Snider, said he was worried about the conflict between state and federal law, although the city already allows the sale of marijuana for medical use, which is equally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. He also argued that over-the-counter marijuana sales would "send the wrong message" to local teenagers. Mayor Steve Bach, who had threatened to veto any bill allowing pot stores to open in the city, said commercial distribution of marijuana for general use would be bad for business. To the contrary, said the council members on the other side, the tax revenue from pot sales would help make the city more attractive to business. Although I wish the vote had gone the other way, the fact that city councils are having this sort of eye-glazing debate about marijuana surely counts as progress by itself.

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Steve Chapman on the Military's Failure to Address Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a problem the military has in abundance. The Defense Department says about one of every three women in the services has been the victim of this crime -- about twice the rate in the civilian population. Men are also violated. An estimated 26,000 sexual assaults took place last year, the Pentagon says, but only 3,374 were reported. There were 302 court-martial trials and 238 convictions -- less than 1 percent of all the attacks. It's time, writes Steve Chapman, for military brass to take the problem seriously. 

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Bankrupt Detroit to Get New, Tax-Financed Hockey Arena: Insane Clown Posse Now Only Second-Biggest Area Joke.

Detroit may be bankrupt but it is rich in subsidies. Via ESPN:

A state board on Wednesday unanimously gave the go-ahead for a new Red Wings hockey arena in downtown Detroit to be paid for in part with $284 million in tax dollars even as the broke city works through bankruptcy proceedings.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and others defended against criticism that the $650 million project should be financed entirely with private money because the city currently can't provide basic services and retirees are facing cuts in their pensions. The 18,000-seat arena is designed to be a catalyst for more development and to link downtown and midtown, turning a blighted area into a business, residential and entertainment district.

"This is part of investing in Detroit's future," said Snyder, a Republican who blessed a state-appointed emergency manager's request to take the city into bankruptcy last week. "That's the message we need to get across. ... As we stabilize the city government's finances, as we address those issues and improve services, Detroit moves from a place where people might have had a negative impression -- although there are great things already going on -- to being a place that will be recognized across the world as a place of great value and a place to invest."

You know what? It's not investing in Detroit's future, it's simply extending its failed past legacy of pursuing negative-bang-for-the-buck big-ticket projects at the cost of actually keeping the city functioning.

All the Stanley Cups and all the baseball and football stadiums and "people movers" and fancy theaters paid for via tax dollars aren't going to save a city that's shed 1.3 million people since a peak population of almost 2 million in 1950.

If you want to be a mensch, use the $284 million in public dough to buy one-way bus tickets out of town for all who want to leave. And if you want to see Detroit thrive, never speak of publicly funded edifice-complex projects ever again until every kid is attending a school of choice, every pothole is filled, and just about everything else is outsourced.

HT: Prateik Dalmia.

Watch "Detroit's Tragedy and How to Fix It."

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Join Reason & Kennedy in NYC for a Book Party Celebrating The Kennedy Chronicles on 7/31 from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.!

Join Reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch and the rest of Reason's NYC-based staff for a book party celebrating The Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose Colored Glasses, the new book by Kennedy.

Before working to expose the horrors of government intervention to millions of viewers at ReasonTV, Kennedy brought the cutting edge of culture into our living rooms during the 1990s through her outrageous segments as an MTV VJ, host of Alternative Nation, and on-the-spot correspondent for MTV News. In The Kennedy Chronicles, she gives us a backstage pass to the cable network that defined a generation.

The legendary Kurt Loder will interview Kennedy about her book before Kennedy takes questions from the audience. We'll have food, drinks, and 90s tunes for you to enjoy throughout the night.  

  • What: Book Party with Kennedy and Reason
  • When: Wednesday, July 31 from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.
  • Where: Play Bar at The Museum of Sex in New York City  

Don't miss out on this great event. RSVP to reason.nyc@reason.org or online at http://reason-nyc-the-kennedy-chronicles.eventbrite.com

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Gay Marriage in the '80s

Over at Bleeding-Heart Libertarians, Sarah Skwire mentions a law in Indiana -- passed long ago but getting renewed attention today -- that says

Security!a person who "knowingly solemnizes a marriage of individuals who are prohibited from marrying" can be hit with a 180-day jail sentence or $1,000 fine....

[I]f my mom lived in Indiana she would be a felon.

Ordained by the Unitarian Universalist church in 1980, Mom performed same sex unions from the earliest years of her ministry, and so did nearly all of her colleagues. The same is true for many of Mom’s clerical colleagues of other faiths. Rabbis from the Reform Jewish movement have solemnized or blessed same sex unions for decades, as have ministers from a wide range of Christian traditions. Depending on how strictly one interprets the law’s use of the words "solemnized" and "marriage," every one of those ceremonies could have been a felony.

There is some discussion in the BHL comment thread about whether such ceremonies do in fact "solemnize" a marriage in the legal sense, and I think Skwire's critics make a strong case that her mother would not in fact be a felon in Indiana. But my reason for linking to this isn't the author's claim about the law; it's her comments about cultural history.

Skwire's memories of her mother underline a point that I've made frequently on this site: Contrary to the chatter you hear in some quarters, gay marriage was not invented by social engineers and imposed on an unwilling country. It was invented by gay people themselves, who started getting married without anyone's permission; their unions gradually gained acceptance in American communities and in the marketplace before state or federal governments were willing to recognize them. It is a classic example of grassroots social evolution, and it has a much longer history than even some supporters of same-sex marriage seem to realize.

Further reading: "The Long History of Gay Marriage," "All in the Gay Family," and "Disney Legalizes Same-Sex Unions."

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Campaign Finance Laws Ban the Hulk from Donating But Not Tony Stark; A Right is a Right is a Right

not the "real" iron man and hulkMental Balance/Foter.comOver at the Daily Caller, Zac Morgan and Joe Trotter of the Center for Competitive Politics (which represented the plaintiffs in the case that created Super PACs) explain the ridiculousness of Congress’ latest attempt to restrict political speech by using comic book superheroes. Via the Daily Caller:

Consider the strange case of Dr. Bruce Banner, the Hulk’s alter ego. In the film “The Incredible Hulk,” Dr. Banner is a researcher at the fictional Culver University working with the military on radiological experiments. Presumably, Banner was paid for this work by the federal government through a Pentagon contract. In doing so, Dr. Banner’s right to contribute was, well, smashed.

You see, while under present law, most Americans are permitted to give up to $2,600 to any candidate of their choosing, federal contractors are forced to forfeit that right.

Things are different for Iron Man, AKA Tony Stark, the CEO of Stark Industries. The fictional Stark Industries has boatloads of government contracts. In the first Iron Man movie, Tony Stark is captured in Afghanistan by terrorists shortly after demonstrating the effectiveness of a new type of missile—“the weapon you only have to fire once”—to the U.S. military. Earlier in the film, Tony boasts to a reporter for Vanity Fair about technological breakthroughs in medicine and “intelli-crops” funded by his company’s military contracts. But because Iron Man is not a sole proprietor, his constitutional rights are shielded.

Does it make sense to ban a gamma radiation researcher from contributing to members of Congress because of concerns about corruption, while allowing the CEO of a major contracting company to contribute? Of course it doesn’t.

Morgan and Trotter note Banner could face five years in prison for making a campaign contribution. Real life government contractors are suing against the arbitrary rule. Morgan and Trotter write that “[i]f they prevail, all sole proprietors will be able to share the right to contribute with the rest of America. Rules that pick and choose who get to maintain their basic constitutional rights on the basis of employment are incompatible with the First Amendment.”

Congress, of course, loves to demonize political speech that’s exercised in the form of campaign donations because Washington politicians are staked in the myth that “money corrupts politics” when, in fact, it’s power that corrupts politics. As I’ve written many times before, politicians don’t need corporations or corporate influence to succumb to corruption, their own personal greed for money and power is sufficient.

A 2008 documentary from Fox News, “Porked: Earmarks for Profit” provided several examples of this: congressmen like former speaker Dennis Hastert and Democrat Paul Kanjorski earmarked millions in taxpayer money that benefited not the project of any corporation or corporate donor, but their own personal coffers. The push to limit free speech by restricting campaign donations is an easy out for Washington’s politicians, as it may make it harder for Americans to participate in the political process but does nothing to curb the power of Washington’s politicians to spend the people’s money on their own personal financial enrichment. Corporate money is an easy scapegoat for politicians looking to divert responsibility for political corruption from themselves, where it actually belongs. The solution, then, to corruption in politics is to cut government spending, not your spending on politics.

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Obamacare Marketing: Celebrity Outreach Edition

credit: Rock and Racehorses / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDcredit: Rock and Racehorses / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDThe White House is convinced that the key to making Obamacare work is attracting a sufficient number of young, healthy enrollees into the law's insurance exchanges. Given that some portion of that demographic is likely to end up with higher insurance premiums than they have now, in some cases even after the application of insurance subsidies, that's could be a bit of a challenge. Which is why the Obama administration's latest health law outreach effort involves enlisting help from, er, Jon Bon Jovi.

He and a group of other left-coast celebs met at the White House earlier this week to talk about promoting the law. Via The Hill:

The president dropped by a White House meeting with singer Jennifer Hudson and actress Amy Poehler, as well as representatives for Oprah Winfrey, Alicia Keys and Bon Jovi, an administration official said.

Other attendees included officials from the Grammy Awards and the Funny or Die website, which is a brainchild of actor Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay. Representatives for several other TV shows and entertainment companies also attended.

All of the attendees have "expressed a personal interest in educating young people about the Affordable Care Act," the White House official said.

Also this week: The White House also enlisted the giant, stuffed Teddy Roosevelt suit that the Washington Nationals use as their mascot to star in an Obamacare promo video alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. 

Here are eight other ways that state and federal officials have said they might try to advertise Obamacare. 

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Daddy, What Did *You* Do During the War on Terror? Justin Amash Has a Great Answer. Obama, Not So Much.

courtesy Benjamin Lee's Twitter feedcourtesy Benjamin Lee's Twitter feedI've got a new column up at The Daily Beast. It's about how libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is leading the bipartisan defense of civil liberties in the House of Representatives.

As reported here yesterday, Amash's attempt, co-sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), to limit the scope of domestic NSA surveillance of Americans came within a few votes of passing. At the same time, amendments spearheded by Tea Party Republicans Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Trey Radel (Fla.) limited intervention in Egypt and Syria.


Amash—singled out by name by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as a “wacko bird” after Sen. Rand Paul’s epic filibuster over the Obama administration’s drone policy—has emerged as the leader of a pack of unapologetically libertarian-leaning Republicans who vote their principles rather than their party. Like Rand Paul—who has worked with liberal Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and other Democrats on specific issues related to civil liberties—Amash shows that bipartisanship is not only possible but that it doesn’t have to be an exercise in mushy, centrist, logrolling compromise. For Amash, it’s not about splitting the difference between a turd sandwich and a giant douche, it’s about bringing votes to your side by standing up for core beliefs. No wonder GOP leaders have taken to calling Amash and others like him “assholes.”...

The bipartisan effort on civil liberties being led by Justin Amash is likely to win the longer struggle because it proceeds from deep-seated principle rather than lip-service politics. Years from now, when the fever over the threat of Islamo-fascism has broken and all the government’s abuses in the name of protecting Oklahomans from the imposition of Sharia and Floridians safe from exploding water parks have fully come to light, both Obama and Amash will have to look their kids in the eye and answer the question, “Daddy, what did you do during the War on Terror?”

One of them will be able to say without hesitation that he consistently stood up for transparency, the rule of law, and the idea that the government doesn’t have the right to watch you simply because it can. Who knows what Obama will say?

Read the whole thing.

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Syria Death Toll Passes 100,000


United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said that the death toll of the Syrian civil war has passed the 100,000 mark. In the past the U.N. has said that its casualty figures are underestimated as many deaths are unreported.

The news comes a day after António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said that the U.S. could be one of the countries asked to take in some of the nearly 2 million Syrian refugees.

From the BBC:

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Syria, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said.

The latest estimate of the number killed is 7,000 higher than that issued by the UN only last month.

Mr Ban was speaking at UN headquarters in New York alongside US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Both men stressed the urgency of finding a political solution to the conflict. Mr Ban appealed for fresh efforts to convene a peace conference.

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Gallup: 67% of Americans Against Race-Based College Admissions

Via Inside Higher Ed comes news of latest Gallup poll showing stark differences among blacks, whites, and Hispanics on many topics.

Two-thirds of Americans believe college applicants should be admitted solely based on merit, even if that results in few minorities being admitted, while 28% believe an applicant's racial and ethnic background should be taken into account to promote diversity on college campuses. Three-quarters of whites and 59% of Hispanics believe applicants should be judged only on merit, while blacks are divided in their views.

Other recent results from Gallup show even bigger differences among black, white, and Hispanic attitudes. Asked "do you think the American justice system is biased against black people?," 68 percent of non-Hispanic blacks agreed while only 25 percent of non-Hispanic whites said yes. Compared to 20 years ago, many fewer blacks ascribe lower-than-average income and employment to racism, but a majority still is "unhappy with how blacks are treated in U.S. society."

And while majorities of all broadly defined racial and ethnic groups believe that relations among them are "very/somewhat good," it's clear that whites think things are smoother between them and blacks than do blacks or Hispanics. And blacks think things are better between them and Hispanics than either Hispanics or whites do (see table).

I'm not sure that it's worth reading too much into attitudes about things such as racial preferences based on the sorts of information gleaned form such surveys. But more frank and open conversation rather than less about race, opportunity, and pluralism might help to close what gaps there are. Of course, however difficult talk is, it's still pretty cheap compared to action. As Jacob Sullum has pointed out in his column about President Obama's high regard for racially charged stop-and-frisk guru Ray Kelly of the NYPD, support for policies that corrode ethnic amity is not always obvious.

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A.M. Links: Feds Raid Marijuana Dispensaries in Washington State, Bradley Manning Trial Coming to a Close, Majority of Voters Want Repeal of Obamacare

  • but the feds are a law unto themselvesfutureatlas.com/foter.comThe DEA raided several medical marijuana dispensaries in the Puget Sound region of Washington, despite that state legalizing recreational marijuana by initiative last year.
  • The Amash Amendment to the defense authorization act, which sought to limit the NSA’s collection of Americans’ data, failed in the House by a vote of 205-217.
  • Both sides present closing arguments in the Bradley Manning trial today.
  • 53 percent of voters would repeal Obamacare, according to a Fox News poll.
  • A friend of Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting target says the young woman was a committed Democrat who idealized Weiner even after he resigned from Congress in disgrace. The candidate insists he’s not dropping out of the race for mayor of New York City, saying it was “too important to give up.” In his pants.
  • House Democrats will hold a hearing on “a conversation on race and justice” to be chaired by Nancy Pelosi in response to the George Zimmerman verdict. Rand Paul, meanwhile, says no one in Congress “has a stronger belief in minority rights” than he does.
  • The family rescued by George Zimmerman from an overturned SUV has canceled a press conference and asked for privacy. They’re worried about hate being directed at them for saying anything positive about Zimmerman. 

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Judge Napolitano on Giving Up Liberty for Security

Roman emperors and tribal chieftains, King George III and French revolutionaries, 20th-century dictators and 21st-century American presidents all have asserted that their first job is to keep us safe, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano. In doing so, they are somehow entitled to take away our liberties, whether it be the speech they hate or fear, the privacy they capriciously love to invade, or the private property and wealth they salaciously covet.

View this article
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Brickbat: Safety First

A Boise police officer and two other people were injured when the officer's patrol car slammed into an SUV. The officer, who wasn't named by local media, was driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Police officials say he was responding to a call and had his lights and sirens on.

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Amash Amendment Fails 205-217, Along Bipartisan Lines

they can all just get alongscreen capThe House voted on the latest spending bill today (it passed), and with it several amendments that were only cleared by the Rules Committee Monday night. Among them was the Amash amendment, which sought to limit the NSA’s data collection to targets already under investigation. The amendment failed earlier tonight, by vote of 205-217. Among the aye votes were the bipartisan set of sponsors, Justin Amash (R-MI), John Conyers (D-MI), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as 91 other Republicans and 111 109 other Democrats. 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against the amendment. Twelve representatives didn’t vote.

A lot of the opponents of the amendment suggested there was a bipartisan consensus on the NSA’s surveillance programs. Those voting against the Amash amendment included Speaker Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Michele Bachmann and Darrel Issa. The White House urged a no vote earlier today.

But a bipartisan coalition also voted for the amendment, signaling they believed the NSA had overstepped its authority (New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, in support of the amendment, said the executive branch was conducting activities Congress never authorized). That coalition ended up including James Clyburn, who would’ve been the House Minority Leader had Nancy Pelosi stepped down from leadership as most outgoing Speakers have done, as well as James Sensenbrenner, one of the original sponsors of the PATRIOT Act, John Dingell, Congress’ longest serving representative, Keith Ellison, its only Muslim, freshman Mark Sanford, as well as Tim Huelskamp, Raul Labrador, Charlie Rangel and Henry Waxman.

See the whole roll call here.

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Rep. Issa Proposes Essentially Ruralizing Mail Delivery

We’ve all seen those packs of mailboxes all together on the side of some rural or semi-rural road where the postal carrier delivers mail to a group of neighbors. In attempt to try to handle the U.S. Postal Service’s fiscal collapse, Rep. Darrell Issa is proposing using this system everywhere. According to USA Today:

First, it was doing away with Saturday delivery. Now, door-to-door service could be coming to an end.

In an effort designed to cut costs at the cash-strapped agency by up to $4.5 billion a year, Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is proposing the U.S Postal Service phase out door-to-door delivery and shift service curbside and to neighborhood cluster boxes.

The proposal — due for vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday — would affect about 37 million residences and businesses.

Given they weren’t even able to make the Saturday cut happen, I can’t imagine this actually going anywhere. The Hill reported that Issa’s proposed reforms don’t have Democratic support.

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Spice up your blog or Website with Reason 24/7 news and Reason articles. You can get the widgets here. If you have a story that would be of interest to Reason's readers please let us know by emailing the 24/7 crew at 24_7@reason.com, or tweet us stories at @reason247.

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Amash Amendment on NSA Reform Being Debated on the House Floor Now

amashHouseThe House is currently debating the Amash Amendment to the latest defense spending bill, with a vote to follow. You can watch live here or follow Reason 24/7 live tweeting here.

Update: Amash amendment failed by a voice vote. Recorded vote to follow.

Update: Amash amendment fails 205-217. Blog post with the ayes and nays when they become available.

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Can Cops Invade Your Home Just Because You're Scared of Them? Could Be.

SWATDepartment of DefenseIn the wake of news reports of the invasion of Louise Goldsberry's home by US Marshal Matt Wiggins and a posse of 30 or so federal and local cops, Tom Lyons, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter who originally covered the case, asked a very good question: Was it legal for the officers to use Goldsberry's frightened reaction to having a gun pointed at her through her kitchen window as a pretext for searching her home? That's the sort of question more journalists should ask. But the answer is a bit murky, leaning toward unsettling.

Writes Lyons:

A Sarasota lawyer emailed me to insist that was an illegal entry, flagrant and simple. But the more I have read — and after asking the past president of the Sarasota County Bar, Derek Byrd — the more that became unclear.

Byrd says it sounds improper, and may well have been. But the big argument would be about why police thought a suspect was in that apartment. ...

From what Byrd can see, “they didn't have enough.” But he said it could depend on the information that brought them there.

An anonymous tip?

“That has zero credibility,” Byrd said.

But if the agent could provide more information to a judge, it might become more convincing.

Even so, there is the issue of Wiggins suddenly assuming he had the right door in the complex because of Goldsberry's reaction.

“Things can happen that legitimately arouse suspicions,” Byrd said, and police can act on reasonable conclusions.

The magic phrase here is "exigent circumstances," which is sort of a legal hex cast by law enforcement officers to make the Fourth Amendment go away. On a more serious note, courts let police enter premises if police have probable cause, or reason to fear loss of evidence or danger to people if they wait for a warrant.

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Is the NYPD's 'Stop and Frisk' Program Effective? Does It Matter?

In my column today, I note that President Obama, judging from his high praise for New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, does not seem troubled by the racially disproportionate impact of the NYPD's "stop and frisk" program. Kelly defends the program partly by arguing that blacks and Hispanics are its primary beneficiaries as well as its primary targets. Writing at StoptheDrugWar.org's blog, Dave Borden points out that even policing sincerely aimed at stopping violent crime in poor neighborhoods can end up generating arrests for trivial offenses such as marijuana possession, perpetuating the racially skewed results of drug law enforcement. That is in fact what seems to have happened in New York, as I mention in my column. Borden also questions Kelly's claim that stop-and-frisk tactics are effective, noting that University of California at Berkeley criminologist Franklin Zimring, author of the 2001 book The City That Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control, believes the value of "aggressive arrests and stops" is "not known." Zimring is more inclined to credit factors such as increased manpower and CompStat mapping of crime "hot spots."

The debate about the effectiveness of New York's stop-and-frisk program is interesting, but it should not be dispositive. For that matter, the demograpic profile of the people who are usually hassled by the cops, while it certainly should bother anyone who claims to be concerned about racial profiling or the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection, is not the most decisive argument against stop and frisk, which is the Fourth Amendment. As Mike Riggs noted yesterday, Kelly seems to think everyone detained by the cops must be guilty of something. "The notion anyone stopped has done absolutely nothing wrong is not really the case," he said on MSNBC's Morning Joe, because police "need reasonable suspicion to stop someone and question them." Kelly not only confuses reasonable suspicion with guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; he assumes his cops really do have a sound legal basis for every stop they make and every pat-down they perform. That assumption is hard to credit, given that stops result in an arrest or summons only 12 percent of the time and pat-downs almost never discover guns. If the stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional, as it appears to be, its putative effectiveness does not make it less so.