Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 August 29-31

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Obama to Seek Congressional Authorization for Intervention in Syria, Says He Doesn’t Need It, Or Any Other Kind

tick tockReasonPresident Obama spoke at the Rose Garden today, announcing he had made the decision to take military action in Syria based on the use of chemical weapons, a violation, he said, of an international standard. He said he believed he had the authority to act, but preferred a vote in Congress first, something polling indicates an overwhelming majority of Americans want.

From Politico:

President Barack Obama has decided to use force against Syria, but he will first seek congressional approval, he said in a Rose Garden speech Saturday afternoon.

“I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” Obama said.

Obama said he has decided using force against Syria is necessary and does not require cooperation from other nations.

UN inspectors left Syria today, and will be testing samples they collected. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, disputed the notion that Assad would provoke a Western intervention by using chemical weapons.

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The World Is a Rorschach Test

I have a piece about pareidolia in The Wall Street Journal today. Here's an excerpt:

On 9/11, a Brooklyn, N.Y., photographer named Mark Phillips climbed to his roof and snapped photos of the burning World Trade Center, which were then distributed by the Associated Press. Later he learned that people were seeing an unexpected image in one of the photographs. When he examined the picture he saw it, too. "The image I saw was distinct," he later wrote. "Eyes, nose, mouth, horns." There, in the contours of the smoke, he found the face of Satan.

Search online and you'll see still more 9/11 pictures in which people have perceived the shapes of demons. There is no shortage of theories about what the faces mean, from the Christian conspiracist who said they were a glimpse of the devil boasting to the Muslim writer who declared they were a warning from God "that the use of terrorism is never permitted in Islam."

This is only a test.Then there is the explanation I prefer. The faces are the result of apophenia, the process of projecting patterns onto data. More specifically, they are pareidolia, in which those patterns are perceived as meaningful shapes or sounds. It is pareidolia that allows us to see a man in the moon, to hear a satanic incantation when "Stairway to Heaven" is played backward, or to conjure the image of your subconscious choice while taking a Rorschach test. Indeed, pareidolia makes the whole world a Rorschach test.

The article is adapted from my book The United States of Paranoia. And speaking of that:

The Globe and Mail has just reviewed the book, declaring that it has "so many tasty morsels of historical marginalia that it nearly bursts with weirdness." My kinda blurb.

• W. Joseph Campbell has cited the book while explaining how an upcoming PBS program might get the tale of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds wrong.

• If you're going to be in the D.C. area on September 11, you should come see Sam Tanenhaus, Gene Healy, and me discuss the book at the Cato Institute. Admission is free but RSVPs are a must; to let Cato know you're coming, click here.

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Ed Krayewski on Microsoft's Reversals in the XBox One Roll Out

one comes after 360MicrosoftSony recently announced the Playstation 4 would be released on November 15, and Microsoft is reported to be considering a November 8 release date for the Xbox One to pre-empt Sony. The eighth generation of video game consoles have been making news, however, since they were first unveiled earlier this year. Sony and Microsoft hadn’t released a new game console in about seven years, and that period has seen technological advancements gamers were excited to see implemented in the latest game consoles. Not every new idea, though, writes Ed Krayewski, has been well-received.

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Baylen Linnekin: Small Farmers Revolt Over FDA’s Proposed Food Safety Rules

Credit: Library of CongressCredit: Library of CongressEarlier this month a federal judge ordered the FDA to speed up the process for adopting rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act. But as Baylen Linnekin observes, that is exactly the opposite of what the agency should do. The FDA's very deliberate deliberation over the proposed rules foreshadowed the fact the agency lacks the ability to come up with clear and fair rules. As things stand now, the proposed regulations will impose costly and inapt new requirements on small farmers. Big government fails again.

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Double-Leg Amputee Suing Nebraska Police for Harassment During Apparently Unwarranted Traffic Stop

double amputee roughed up by copsLa'Terria DuffieLeroy Duffie, who is a pastor and a double-leg amputee, alleges that police used excessive force on him during an apparently unwarranted traffic stop in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska Disability Rights, which is helping Duffie, says police broke his teeth and tore his rotator cuff and that Duffie also needs treatment for trauma resulting from the police encounter. The Huffington Post reports:

According to the suit, Duffie was pulled over for no apparent reason, and police with guns drawn demanded that he exit the van with his hands up. Duffie explained that his two prosthetic legs prevented him from raising his arms and getting out at the same time.

Police insisted, and Duffie tumbled out of the captain's seat, losing his legs while smashing his head and shoulder against the pavement. Cops jammed their knees into his back and handcuffed him as he cried out in pain. Without reasonable suspicion, the suit contends, police searched his van while other officers teased him, allegedly calling him a "cripple crawling around."

After 30 minutes and a search that yielded nothing, police finally uncuffed Duffie and let him crawl under his van to retrieve his legs, according to court documents.

Duffie is suing for violation of his civil rights and diminished income earning capacity, and the city won't comment because the matter is pending litigation.

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With Attention on the NSA, the CIA Snaps Up One-Quarter of the Intelligence Budget

Reason 24/7ReasonAmidst all of the chatter over the National Security Agency, you have to wonder if, maybe, the CIA feels like a neglected sibling, forgotten as everybody focuses on a naughty brother or sister. A neglected sibling, that is, who helps himself to the cookie jar while attention is turned elsewhere, and then renditions a few unlucky bastards to Shitholistan.

Well, we are talking about the CIA.

From Voice of America:

A newly leaked document from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden shows the increasing role that the country's Central Intelligence Agency plays in American spy operations.

The document disclosed Thursday by The Washington Post reveals that the government has a $52.6 billion "black budget" for spying, covert military actions and intelligence gathering for the year ending in September. More than a quarter of that goes to the CIA, surpassing spending for any of the other 15 U.S. spy agencies, including the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.

A national security expert at the Federation of American Scientists, Steven Aftergood, told VOA that the role of the CIA has expanded in the 12 years since al-Qaida's September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S. from intelligence gathering to clandestine battlefield attacks. As a result, he said, the CIA is claiming a bigger share of the U.S. intelligence budget, up perhaps from about 10 percent in the 1990s.

It's not necessary to totally oppose intelligence gathering to be somewhat wary of the CIA. Good intelligence has the potential to head off tragedy before it happens, and perhaps to make bloody military action unnecessary. But, like the NSA, the CIA has a tradition of sliding over into domestic surveillance. It also has a recent history, documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross (PDF), of engaging in "torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees. A military judge, rather controversially, imposed a gag order on the detainees who suffered this treatment, to prevent them from disclosing those rather inconvenient (to the U.S. government) personal experiences during their trials.

A quarter of the $52.6 billion intelligence "black budget" can buy a lot of bamboo splinters.

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Judge Rules No-Fly List Doesn't Fly Without Due Process

Surprised the feds didn't argue it's because their bodies contained more than 8 ounces of liquid.Credit: matt.hintsa / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDIn June, J.D. Tuccille took note of a federal judge who seemed quite skeptical that the federal government's opaque, bureaucratic no-fly list was operating just fine and people don't actually have a fundamental right to fly anyway. That was the argument the feds used in response to a lawsuit by the ACLU, representing 13 people on the no-fly list who didn't know why they were on the list and couldn't get off it.

This week that same judge ruled that those who want to fly have a constitutionally protected right to due process. From the Associated Press:

U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown of Portland, in an opinion released late Wednesday, rejected the government's assertion that people on the no-fly list can travel by other means, and that being on the list does not deprive them of their liberty. She said it ignores "the realities of our modern world."

"This decision is a critically important step towards vindicating the due process rights of Americans on the no-fly list," said Nusrat Choudhury, the ACLU lawyer representing the plaintiffs. "For the first time, a federal court has recognized that when the government bans Americans from flying and smears them as suspected terrorists, it deprives them of constitutionally protected liberties, and they must have a fair process to clear their names."

Brown's decision, however, is only a partial one. She asked the government for more information about its redress procedure to help her determine whether it satisfied due process requirements for the plaintiffs.

"We're very confident that the court, when it gets this information, will rule in our favor," Choudhury said. "And that's because the government has a policy of not providing any explanation to people who are on the no-fly list about why they were put on the list."

The redress procedure involves filling out an online form with the Department of Homeland Security, crossing your fingers, and possibly burying a turnip under an ash tree during a new moon or perhaps sacrificing a goat. There's a possibility of a judicial review should the passenger be rejected again, but not one where any evidence is presented that the passenger can actually respond to or even grasp why he or she is being denied the ability to fly.

Steven Chapman wrote about the lawsuit in April, noting, "The ACLU is not dreaming big here. It doesn't ask that the government take these individuals off the list. It doesn't insist that they be exempt from monitoring. The only request is that they be told why they are deemed so dangerous and have the chance to show why they really aren't."

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Syria, Syria, Syria, Syria, and Syria (and Edward Snowden Leaks): P.M. Links

  • Hey, there are anti-war protesters after all. Should have remembered to check San Francisco.Credit: Steve Rhodes / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDPresident Barack Obama says he is considering a "limited, narrow" act against Syria to try to halt the government's use of chemical weapons on its own citizens. He promises that he will not send American troops into Syria for an open-ended commitment.
  • In making the case for a military strike in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry today said the Syrian government killed 1,429 people in a chemical weapons attack last week, 426 of them children.
  • Experts believe that bombing sites in Syria could ultimately end up releasing deadly chemical weapons by accident, thanks to incomplete intelligence.
  • Susan Rice is working behind the scenes to get support in Congress for a strike on Syria. Sen. John McCain is, of course, worried that the potential American response is not nearly combative enough.
  • Regardless of any potential military strikes, Russia is keeping its commitment to sell weapons to the Syrian government, part of a contract signed prior to the civil war.
  • The British government asked the New York Times to destroy information they've been given by Edward Snowden. Reportedly, the request was greeted with silence. (stunned silence, maybe?)

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Ed Krayewski on Which States Might Legalize Marijuana Next

only illegal if you get caught?v i p e z/foter.comThis week's announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice that it would not challenge states that legalized marijuana provided it was "tightly regulated" was taken as a welcome, if belated, sign by proponents of marijuana legalization, boosting efforts in other states.  As support for legalizing marijuana hits a majority in nationwide polling, grassroots efforts in states from Arkansas to Wyoming are hard at work. Reason 24/7 Associate Editor Ed Krayewski explains which five states could be next to legalize marijuana.

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France May Be Ready For Another Intervention, But Syria is No Mali

Credit: Jackolan1/wikimediaCredit: Jackolan1/wikimediaAlthough the British House of Commons voted last night against the principle of intervention in Syria in order to dissuade the Assad regime from using chemical weapons, the French President Francois Hollande has said that France remains prepared for a military intervention in Syria.

If the French do carry out a military intervention in Syria it will be their most recent intervention following their ongoing mission in Mali.

The French intervention in Mali, which began in January this year, has not resulted in what some feared, namely retaliatory domestic terrorism in France, and did succeed in removing Islamic militants, who hijacked a Tuareg rebellion, from their strongholds in northern Mali. French troops have begun withdrawing troops from Mali, the United Nations has taken over peacekeeping operations from African troops, and a presidential election was held without violence. Although Mali will probably remain at threat from Islamic groups and some internal instability for some time it seems that the French-led intervention in Mali succeeded in its goals with minimal immediate blowback.

However, Hollande should not think that a French intervention in Syria will be as successful as the intervention in Mali.

It is important to remember that while the French-led intervention in Mali may have succeeded in removing Islamists from captured regions they, as well as many rebelling Tuaregs, were only in northern Mali thanks to a situation created by the intervention in Libya. As Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan put it, Mali was collateral damage that resulted from the intervention in Libya, another lesson in the unintended consequences of an overarching foreign policy.

Unlike Mali, it is unclear that Syria who would be helped by an intervention. The Assad regime has committed atrocities, including a likely chemical attack, but its opposition includes fighters that have much in common with the Islamists that the French were trying to expel from Mali. As bad as Assad is, it remains unclear how Islamists within Assad’s opposition benefiting will be better for the region or for most Syrians. In Mali, while government forces have reportedly committed abuses, there was no realistic threat to the wider region or to most Malians in the areas captured by Islamists if the French intervention was successful.

Something that Hollande should seriously consider is that there is little international support for intervention in Syria. The British have rejected the possibility of intervention, the United Nations Security Council is unlikely to approve any resolution, and while many countries, such as Germany and Italy, have condemned the Assad regime they remain reluctant to get their militaries involved.

In Mali, the French intervention was unanimously backed by the U.N. Security Council, and ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) as well as the Malian government asked for some sort of military intervention, meaning that the French had the support of an international body as well as regional partners. In addition, Western nations such as the U.S., Belgium, Denmark, and the U.K. all supported the intervention by providing either logistic, military, or intelligence assistance. In Syria, the level of support for intervention comes nowhere close in comparison to the regional and international support that there was for the intervention in Mali.

As good as Hollande’s intentions might be there is no reason to think that an intervention in Syria will be as successful as the intervention in Mali, even if such an intervention is limited. The situation in Syria is far more complex that the situation was in Mali at the beginning of this year, and military intervention in Syria has almost no international support.  

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Ron Paul, on Chemical Weapons in Syria: ‘I think it’s a false flag’

Appearing Wednesday on Fox Business Network's Cavuto program, former congressman Ron Paul pointed a finger of chemical-weapons suspicion at Al Qaeda, posited that "Assad I don't think is an idiot—I don't think he would do this on purpose in order for the whole world to come down on him," and stated flatly that "It's a false flag, I think, really, indeed."

Watch the whole appearance:


That same day, his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), expressed skepticism to me about the chemical-weapons claim, asking "to whose benefit does this redound?"

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Adviser to UK Govt Says David Miranda Had Documents That Threatened National Security

ReasonReasonAn adviser to the British government claims that material seized at London’s Heathrow airport from David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, could threaten British national security and lead to “widespread loss of life.”

From Bloomberg:

Documents seized from the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald might threaten U.K. national security, damage the economy and lead to “widespread loss of life,” a government adviser said.

The information, taken from David Miranda on Aug. 18 at Heathrow Airport, “is highly likely to describe techniques which have been crucial in life-saving counter-terrorist operations” and could identify British intelligence agents abroad, Oliver Robbins, a U.K. national security adviser, said in documents released during a court hearing in London today.

Follow this story 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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Matt Welch Opposes Syria Intervention on CNN

Earlier this afternoon, just prior to Secretary of State John Kerry's brief for limited war in Syria, I appeared on CNN to defend U.S. military inaction in the face of heartbreaking video footage and chemical-weapons claims:

Hey Filmmakers! Deadline for Reason Video Awards is August 31, 2013!

The deadline for this is August 31, 2013!

The Reason Video Award (RVA) honors short-form, online video, film, and moving pictures that explore, investigate, or enrich libertarian beliefs in individual rights, limited government, and human possibilities.

Entries may consist of one to five pieces by the same filmmaker(s) but cannot run longer than 15 minutes total (including all titles, credits, and other indicia). Submissions can be narrative, dramatic, fictional, documentary, etc. but cannot be excerpted from longer works. Entries will be judged as a complete unit, so care should be taken in making sure all parts are of equal quality and build to a coherent effect.

The Reason Video Award application and judging process will be overseen the staff of Reason TV. Entries must have been published online between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013.

First prize will be $7,000, second prize will be $2,000, and third prize will be $1,000.

Full info and online submission form at http://reason.com/video-awards.

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John Kerry Issues a Brief for War in Syria

credit: cliff1066™ / Foter / CC BYcredit: cliff1066™ / Foter / CC BYThe American public doesn’t support it. Our closest international ally just voted against it. The United States military is skeptical about its potential effectiveness. And some 140 members of the U.S. Congress, including members of both parties, have urged the administration to get authorization from the legislature before proceeding with it.

Yet despite such cautionary pressure, it appears clear that the Obama administration is determined to take military action against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

No official decision to strike has been announced yet, but it’s virtually impossible to see any other message in the remarks made by Secretary of State John Kerry today. Kerry’s speech was nothing if not a call to war. He said that the U.S. had “compelling” evidence that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people, and declared that those weapons "must never again be used against the world's most vulnerable people."

Kerry specifically dismissed concerns from both the American public and the international community. "We know that the American people are tired of war,” he said. “Believe me I am too. But fatigue does not absolve us of responsibility."

As for the rest of the world, he said, “Let me emphasize: we believe in the United Nations.” But not enough to stay an attack. Because of "guaranteed Russian obstructionism" through the U.N. security council, he said, “U.S. cannot galvanize the world to act.” And so, it seems all but certain, the U.S. will.

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Ronald Bailey Argues for Police-Worn Video Cameras

AxonFlexTaser InternationalObliging police to wear video cameras turns the tables on functionaries of the surveillance state. It gives citizens better protection against police misconduct and against violations of their constitutional rights. And it protects good cops against unfair accusations, too. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey argues that requiring police to wear video cameras should be universally adopted sooner rather than later.

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Ed Krayewski on Liberty, Privacy and the Xbox One at the Libertarian Republic

console wars96dpi/foter.comI’ve got a column at the Libertarian Republic on some of the privacy and intellectual property issues with the roll out of the eighth generation of video game consoles. An excerpt:

A patent application Microsoft filed last year to use cameras to confirm users had paid for content, coupled with allegations Microsoft allowed the video-chat service Skype to be used for government spying made Microsoft’s vision for the Kinect’s role in the Xbox One hard for gamers to see the same way even before the avalanche of revelations about the NSA’s internet data collection programs and Microsoft’s participation in those (it was, for example, reportedly the first participant in the PRISM program).  Those disclosures eventually forced Microsoft’s position. Earlier this month, the company announced the Kinect would not be required for the Xbox One to be functional. That was, amazingly, not the first time Microsoft changed its plans to quell consumer concerns about the Xbox One.

Read the whole article here.

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Observed Rate of Global Warming Half of What the Models Predict

GlobalWarming?Image 191:dreamstimeThat's what an interesting new article in Nature Climate Change points out. The article, "Overestimated warming over the past 20 years," by members in good standing of the "climate community" compares model simulations from 37 of the climate models being used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to project future temperatures with the actual global temperature increase over the past two decades. The study (since it's behind a paywall I am linking to the version published online at the AGW skeptical website the Hockeyschtick) reports:

Global mean surface temperature over the past 20 years (1993–2012) rose at a rate of 0.14 ± 0.06 °C per decade (95% confidence interval)1. This rate of warming is significantly slower than that simulated by the climate models participating in Phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). To illustrate this, we considered trends in global mean surface temperature computed from 117 simulations of the climate by 37 CMIP5 models. These models generally simulate natural variability — including that associated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation and explosive volcanic eruptions — as well as estimate the combined response of climate to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, aerosol abundance (of sulphate, black carbon and organic carbon, for example), ozone concentrations (tropospheric and stratospheric), land use (for example, deforestation) and solar variability. By averaging simulated temperatures only at locations where corresponding observations exist, we find an average simulated rise in global mean surface temperature of 0.30 ± 0.02 °C per decade (using 95% confidence intervals on the model average). The observed rate of warming given above is less than half of this simulated rate, and only a few simulations provide warming trends within the range of observational uncertainty... (emphasis added). ...

The inconsistency between observed and simulated global warming is even more striking for temperature trends computed over the past fifteen years (1998–2012). For this period, the observed trend of 0.05 ± 0.08 °C per decade is more than four times smaller than the average simulated trend of 0.21 ± 0.03 °C per decade. It is worth noting that the observed trend over this period — not significantly different from zero — suggests a temporary 'hiatus' in global warming. (emphasis added).

The article concludes:

Ultimately the causes of this inconsistency will only be understood after careful comparison of simulated internal climate variability and climate model forcings with observations from the past two decades, and by waiting to see how global temperature responds over the coming decades.

It seems to me what the researchers are saying in so many words is that the current batch of climate models have not been validated using actual temperature trends. One possibility for the mismatch between actual temperature trends and the model projections is that the modelers have set climate sensitivity (response of the climate to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide) too high. As I have reported before, more recent research has significantly lowered estimates for climate sensitivity which suggests that future warming will also be lower.

In June, I reported data from University of Alabama in Birmingham climatologist John Christy in which he compared the 73 CMIP5 climate models with actual temperature trends from 1978 to 2025. See graphic below:

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Is Sweden a Supermodel for Economic Reform and Recovery?

C. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute in the Wash Post:

Sweden was the world’s third-richest country in 1968 but became a massive welfare state in the 1970s and 1980s and a prototype for how not to run an economy. It slid to No. 17 in the global income rankings and experienced a deep financial and real estate crisis in 1991, according to a 2012 study from the Research Institute of Industrial Economics. To its enormous credit, Sweden reversed course with consummate skill and political courage; it has become a paragon of sensible economic and social policy....

After its crisis, Sweden reduced public expenditures by 20 percent of its gross domestic product, slashing social transfers such as unemployment benefits and sick-leave compensation. It cut its public debt in half (its debt, as a proportion of the economy, is now about half that of the United States). It cut marginal tax rates and simplified its tax code so much thatnearly two-thirds of Swedes simply confirm by phone that the declaration automatically prepared for them by the tax authorities is correct. The banking system was thoroughly reformed and emerged unscathed from the global financial crises.

Structural reforms were also adopted. Successive governments deregulated one market after another and privatized as market conditions permitted. All children receive vouchers so their parents can choose private or public schools at public expense. Swedish social security became a true insurance system, rather than a pay-as-you-go one with huge unfunded liabilities as in the United States.

None of this is to say Sweden's famous social safety net was stripped bare.

Sweden remains a social welfare society, and government spending still accounts for half of its economy; it finances all education and health care, as is common throughout Europe. Sweden did not dismantle the social system but, in addition to drastically reducing its costs, adopted macroeconomic and structural reforms to make it sustainable and greatly enhanced its efficiency by privatizing the delivery of many educational and medical services. The country’s guiding principle is that a successful social welfare society must be fiscally conservative and administratively efficient.

More here.

Sweden is no libertarian paradise, but its bounce-back conforms to the ideas widely discussed here: Cut spending, liberalize all sorts of policies to create better austerity measures that right-size government and lay the groundwork for economic growth.

Back in 2010, Reason TV asked, Sweden: A Supermodel for the U.S.? Watch it now.

Steven Greenhut on the Shaky Case for High-Speed Rail

Credit: Steve Rhodes / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDCredit: Steve Rhodes / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDA superior court’s recent smack-down of California’s high-speed-rail project raises provocative questions not only about the future of the $68-billion-plus train, but about the integrity of the initiative process, reports Steve Greenhut. Do the guarantees in ballot initiatives mean anything after voters have approved them? Or do initiatives offer “carte blanche,” whereby officials can take the concept approved at the ballot box and do whatever they choose with it? The judge said the rail authority “abused its discretion,” but Gov. Jerry Brown declared that it was full speed ahead, despite the setback.

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U.K. Lawmakers Actually Vote on Waging War, an Example the U.S. Should Follow

British ParliamentU.K. ParliamentYesterday, something remarkable happened. The elected lawmakers of an English-speaking democracy considered a proposal by the head of government to wage war against another country. After debating the idea, they effectively told him to go pound sand, voting the idea down. Those deliberating legislators weren't American, of course — increasingly rarely does the United States do anything so quaint as setting Congress to the task of approving or disapproving warmaking. The contrast between the vote in the U.K. parliament and the lack thereof in Congress couldn't be more stark.

The increasingly unilateral nature of U.S. foreign policy — especially in its lethal aspects — has been something of a cooperative project in constitutional dysfunction. For all that presidents of both parties are loath to ask the legislative branch to exercise its power to declare war under Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, many lawmakers are equally resistant to being committed by an actual up or down vote in a way that might force them to take responsibility for the next bloody and unpopular fiasco. House Speaker John Boehner asked President Obama to “make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interest..." and whether action against Syria might require Congress to authorize more money, but he hasn't called for an actual vote. Pointedly, he hasn't signed on to Rep. Scott Rigell's (R-VA) letter (PDF) demanding that President Obama "consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria." That letter is now up to 140 signatures from lawmakers of both major parties, but that's still a minority of the membership of the House of Representatives.

President Obama, for his part, was once an enthusiastic believer in the idea that "[t]he President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." But that was before he took up residence in the White House and faced the possibility that Congress, like the U.K. parliament, might say "no."

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The United States of Paranoia in The Christian Science Monitor

The Christian Science Monitor has interviewed me about my book The United States of Paranoia. Here's a snippet:

If you find your name hidden on the cover, blink three times to establish contact.Q: What do we need to have in place for a conspiracy theory to develop?

A: Conspiracy theories emerge where three things collide.

The first is our natural tendency to find patterns and create narratives, to try to turn all these stray signals we receive into some sort of coherent order.

Second is a situation that we're suspicious of and makes us fearful.

And third is the fact that there are actual cases of people conspiring. There's a reason why there's a legal offense called conspiracy. It's not like being afraid of some supernatural monster that people talk about but never shows up.

In related news:

• The Iron Mountain Daily News (no, not that Iron Mountain) has reviewed the book.

• I talked about the book on WNYC in New York yesterday. You can listen to that conversation here.

• NPR's Scott Simon recorded an interview with me about the book earlier this week. It should air on Weekend Edition tomorrow.

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Man to Sue Police After Being Shot While Walking Home Holding His Shorts

gun?lyst.comIt’s a strange case, but James Weyant says he wasn’t disruptive or intoxicated, though he had taken his ill-fitting shorts off to smoke a cigarette, when a police officer shot him in an alley on his way home, according to a federal lawsuit he’s filing over the April incident in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He insists he was properly covered, when, via the Altoona Mirror:

Police Officer Mark Sprouse drove into the alley. Weyant said he changed directions to avoid the car, not initially recognizing it as a police cruiser.

The cruiser came to a stop next to him, and Sprouse got out of the cruiser with his gun drawn.

Weyant alleged that the officer gave no commands and that no words were exchanged. The officer then fired his gun, the bullet hitting Weyant in the right armpit and shoulder area.

The officer, it is charged in the lawsuit, threw Weyant against a fence and handcuffed him, then would not let him sit down even though he began to "bleed profusely."

Authorities, however, cleared Sprouse:

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio said in June that Sprouse was investigating the "suspicious actions of a civilian in a dark alley" when the officer was confronted by a man holding black underwear that appeared at the time to be a weapon.

The review of the case by the district attorney was followed by a similar review by Altoona Police Department Shooting Review Board, Freehling said. The board included representatives of the police department and the Fraternal Order of Police and found Sprouse had followed departmental polices [sic] and procedures.

You can add black underwear to the list of things cops might mistake for a gun. Weyant’s attorney say they are suing for violations of his Fourth Amendment rights

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45 Years, 45 Days: Ova for Sale

For 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 October 2006 issue, Kerry Howley told the story of how she “underwent general anesthesia, endured a minor medical procedure, and sold 12 ova to a pair of strangers for $10,000. Like thousands of other women that year, I joined in an assembly-line production of a human embryo.” In her article “Ova for Sale,” Howley explained the art of the deal in the gray market for human eggs:

Selling ova to another woman is at once impossibly intimate and wholly impersonal, a connected but highly distributed process of exchange. It is a transaction well suited to the Internet, which tends to provoke uninhibited sharing among strangers cloaked in anonymity. The Web sites I found, trolling through hundreds of Google hits for “egg donor,” were similar, placing heavy emphasis on the motivation of donors. They spoke of fulfillment, of “making a difference,” of “one of the most loving gifts one woman can give to another.” The pictures were of babies, clouds, building blocks. The site I chose was among the most thickly written, its invitation to donate dripping with hyper-feminized expressions of motherhood and generosity. It was the linguistic equivalent of a doily.

The application invited me to “investigate the possibility of impacting a loving couple’s life with the gift of egg donation.” It promised that sharing genetic material is “one of the most powerful and rewarding decisions a woman can make.” It demanded “a candid humanitarian desire to assist an infertile couple/individual in conceiving.” It asked for all the basic facts: height, eye color, hair color, allergies, and ailments.

The application also asked, “What is the least amount of compensation you will consider accepting for an egg donation?” Elsewhere, the agency stated that it would not accept requests of more than $10,000. So I typed in: $10,000.

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Bring On the Stop-and-Frisk Lawsuits!

Soon residents may be stopping and frisking the city's finance department employees.Credit: World Bank Photo Collection / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDNow that courts have ruled that New York City's stop-and-frisk search methods unconstitutional, and its City Council has given its residents the stamp-of-approval to sue (overruling a veto from Mayor Michael Bloomberg), here come the lawyers. From the New York Daily News:

A legally blind black man busted three years ago in Harlem became the first stop-and-frisk target to sue the city for false arrest since a federal court ruling against the practice.

Allen Moye, 54, alleged the NYPD arrested him on bogus charges as he waited for a friend on a street corner in September 2010.

“It was racial profiling, what they did,” Moye said Thursday. “... It’s a different Jim Crow. They try to put everybody behind bars to do their work.”

His lawsuit specifically cites Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin's decision as indicative of the NYPD’s disregard for the rights of minorities.

Moye claims he was detained by police for complaining about his stop. The story notes that he was charged with five counts of credit card forgery that were later dropped. His lawsuit claims the charges were fabricated to create evidence against him.

Given how many innocent people were caught up in this program, you have to wonder how many more lawsuits just like this one are coming down the line. The City taxpayers of New York may end up taking it on the chin with a bunch of settlements.

Remember how the mayor and Police Commissioner Ray Kelley said ending stop-and-frisk would result in a spike in crime? So, this week police statistics showed that stop-and-frisk searches have dropped more than 50 percent for the second quarter of this year. Yet violent crime in New York is still lower than it was during this same time last year. Without breaking stride, Bloomberg turned it around and said that this is still somehow proof that stop-and-frisk is effective. From the Associated Press:

"It's been going down because it's been effective" at lowering crime, so fewer stops are needed, Bloomberg said after an unrelated news conference Wednesday.

Now that takes some balls.

Below, Reason TV on the constitutional issues of stop-and-frisk:

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Poll Finds Overwhelming Majority Want Obama to Seek Congressional Approval for Syria Intervention

syriaslyReasonA new poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans would like to see a possible intervention in Syria first approved by Congress.

From USA Today:

Nearly 80% of Americans think President Obama should seek Congressional approval before taking any military action in Syria, according to a NBC News poll published on Friday.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents say they want the president to go to receive congressional approval before taking any action.

A vote in the British Parliament yesterday nixed that country’s plans to join the US and others in a strike against Syria. Nevertheless the White House appears ready to strike despite any concerns. Syria’s opposition leader says it’s a moral responsibility. Going to Congress for a vote would be the Constitutional one; the US Congress hasn’t declared a war since World War 2.

Follow this story 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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Peter Suderman Reviews The Grandmaster

The Weinstein CompanyThe Weinstein CompanyReason Senior Editor Peter Suderman takes a look at the American cut of Wong Kar-wai's kung-fu biopic, The Grandmaster:

American audiences will see a significantly shorter version of “The Grandmaster,” director Wong Kar-wai’s kung-fu biopic about legendary martial arts teacher Ip Man. The version now playing in U.S. theaters has been cut by more than 20 minutes, with some scenes chopped, others rearranged and fill-in-the-blanks cue cards inserted to clarify turns in the story.

I haven’t seen the longer cut, but reports generally indicate that the American version emphasizes the movie’s action at the expense of its love story.

The problem is that there’s not quite enough action to make this idea work. It wasn’t meant to be a fast-paced action epic, but a historical love story with kung-fu flavor. And so the movie feels imbalanced, as if it’s not quite sure what movie it wants to be. What’s left in this edit is a slow-moving muddle — a not-quite action movie that feels 20 minutes longer than it is.

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai has always been at his best portraying wordless feeling — the silent longing between lovers who cannot come together, or the dreamy air of traveling alone in a city. His movies have a rich, textured beauty to them, as if gently draped in sheets of gold and silk.

That works well in stories of unrequited love, like “Chungking Express” and “In the Mood for Love.” But his focus on mood and internal conflict is not as obvious a fit for a story like “The Grandmaster,” which follows the life of Ip Man (Tony Leung), the Wing Chun martial artist who became one of China’s most celebrated teachers — and who, most famously, trained kung-fu pioneer Bruce Lee.

Read the whole review in The Washington Times

Video: Gene Epstein: Murray Rothbard's Mixed Legacy

"Gene Epstein: Murray Rothbard's Mixed Legacy" is the latest offering from Reason TV.

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

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Is America Really An Imperialist Power Asks Shikha Dalmia in the Washington Examiner

As President Obama prepares to launch a military intervention against Syria, anti-war folks will go ballistic about American imperialism. But America is not so much an imperialist as it is a bumbling uncle trying to save his wayward nieces and nephews from their own ruinous tendencies, argues Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her morning Washington Examiner column. She notes:

Genuine imperialism involves exploiting others for one's own material interests. That's what British colonialists did when they took raw material -- minerals, fabrics, cash crops - from Indians at confiscatory rates for their factories back home.

Or when the Soviet Union transported Eastern European assets - coal, industrial equipment, technology, even personnel - to reconstruct the motherland after World War II.

The Soviets received a net transfer of resources from the rest of the Eastern Bloc roughly comparable to what "imperialist" America pumped into Western Europe under the Marshall Plan.

By contrast, America's post-Cold War efforts, with some notable exceptions such as Afghanistan, have been less about promoting its own vital interests and more about protecting others.

None of this means that American foreign policy is good or sensible, however.

Go here to read the whole thing.

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A.M. Links: UK Votes No on Action in Syria, Muslim Brotherhood Leader Arrested in Egypt, Study Finds Marijuana is Popular and Pain Killers Are Deadly

Credit: bisgovuk / Foter / CC BY-NDCredit: bisgovuk / Foter / CC BY-ND

  • The British Parliament struck down a motion supporting the principle of taking military action in Syria to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons by a slim margin of only 13 votes. Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged afterward that involvement in Syria may not be popular. 
  • Mohamed El-Beltagi, a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was suspected of inciting violence last month, was arrested in Egypt.
  • Marijuana is everyone's favorite drug, according to a first of a kind study in illicit drug use worldwide. The study also found that pain killers caused more than half of the drug-related deaths last year. 
  • Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning, is doing well in prison, says her lawyer.
  • Seven members of Detroit's building inspection department were charged with taking bribes.
  • America experiences canyon envy as one larger than the Grand Canyon was recently discovered under ice sheets in Greenland. 

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Kurt Loder Reviews Passion, Getaway, and A Single Shot

Courtesy of SBS FilmsCourtesy of SBS FilmsMurder, deceit, and treacherous lesbians – yes, after five years in the professional wilderness, director Brian De Palma is back. His new movie Passion has jacked up the story for maximum kink, reports Kurt Loder, who also reviews the Ethan Hawke car-wreck Getaway and Sam Rockwell's fine performance in A Single Shot.

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Kosovo War Architect Wesley Clark Says the Better Analogy Might Be Iraq in 1993. Which Is Terrifying.

Never forget! ||| Remember when Wesley Clark was going to be our next Democratic president? That was back when the donkey party felt like it needed to trot out tuff guys, and Clark qualified due to his leading role in the Kosovo War, a conflict that many are pointing to now as the go-to historical precedent for whatever President Barack Obama does next in Syria.

Clark, an interventionist who supports hitting Syria, says not so fast:

A better precedent is President Bill Clinton's strike against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's intelligence center in Baghdad with cruise missiles in 1993, in punishment for Saddam’s alleged plot to assassinate then-former President George H. W. Bush.

The missiles struck, without any significant collateral damage. The plot against a president was avenged.

Did the measured strike work as deterrence? Well, there certainly were no more assassination plots, at least not to our knowledge. On the other hand, Saddam remained defiant. A year later he deployed divisions to Iraq's southern border into the same sort of attack positions they had occupied prior to the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

In response, the U.S. prepared to deploy additional forces into the region, and the United Nations tightened the imposed no-fly zone south of Baghdad. U.S. military preparations focused ever more intently on an invasion of Iraq. The Republican Congress passed, with Democratic support, a resolution advocating "regime change." You can't always control the script after you decide to launch a limited, measured attack.

So, a symbolic gesture of violence produces more hostility from the target, feeding into a series of events that leads to congressional authorization of regime change, and eventually the most disastrous U.S. war since Vietnam. And this is an argument for lobbing bombs into Syria?

Oh what a man I was. ||| Clark's closing argument manages to be both half-hearted and open-ended:

At a time when U.S. security interests are much broader than the Middle East, and we face numerous economic and political challenges at home, it is tempting to think of action against Syria's regime as a significant distraction. But President Obama has rightly red-lined the use of chemical weapons. The horrible pictures of hundreds dead and dying is a warning to all of us that some weapons are simply too inhuman to be used. Responding to Syrian use is not without risk. But as many of us learned during the 1990s, in the words of President Clinton, "Where we can make a difference, we must act."

Back in 2004, I included Clark in a round-up of what the Democrat architects of Kosovo were saying about the Republican project of Iraq, a piece with the prescient though sadly predictable title of "Temporary Doves."

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Brickbat: Plea Bargain

New London, New Hampshire, Police Chief David Seastrand has resigned and given up his certification as a police officer after a female college student said he offered to drop underage drinking charges against her if she'd allow herself to be photographed nude. The state attorney general's office says no charges will be filed against Seastrand.

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Ed Krayewski on KCRW’s “Which Way LA?” with Warren Olney at 7:00PM ET

or whatever internet tubes look likepublic domainI’ll be on the NPR show “Which Way LA?” with Warren Olney  on KCRW in the 7pm PT hour, talking about the Glendale, California school district’s decision to hire a company to monitor their students’ social media output for them, because bullying. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to mention data shows bullying and the fear of bullying in schools is down overall. I was in the segment with Kelly Corrigan, education reporter for the Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader and Slate’s Emily Bazelon joined us on the segment. You can listen if you’re in Southern California, or online here.

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IRS Rules That As Long As Gay Couples Are Legally Wed, State of Residence Doesn’t Matter

So now that nitpicking about the difference between legalizing gay marriage (a phrasing that makes certain people grind their teeth) and recognition of gay marriage has a purpose. As a result of the Supreme Court striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, the feds have announced that a gay couple who was legally married can file as a couple with the IRS even if they live in a state that refuses to recognize it.

From the Huffington Post:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced Thursday that when it comes to taxes, it will recognize same-sex couples' marriages even if they live in a state that does not.

The decision, which was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, marks the latest political progress for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Prior to this spring, the IRS did not recognize same-sex married couples pursuant to section 3 of DOMA. Once DOMA was overturned in June, the question became: What about same-sex married couples who moved to a state that didn’t recognize their marriage (a couple married in Massachusetts who moved to Arkansas, for example)?

The ruling is that the state where the officials signed off on the marriage is what counts, not where the couple lives. It makes sense, but certainly makes things complicated for some gay couples.

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UK Parliament Rejects Military Action in Syria; Enough to Pull US Back From Intervention?

will it matter across the pond?Adrian Pinkstone/Wikimedia CommonsDavid Cameron lost a non-binding vote in Parliament on British intervention in Syria, which nevertheless appears to have tied his hands on the issue; he issued a statement saying it was clear to him the British people did not want to see the United Kingdom intervene militarily in Syria.

In the United States, Congress does not return to session until September 9, and there are no plans to bring them back early to approve the military action against Syria President Obama is contemplating. 116 members of Congress, including 18 Democrats, sent a letter to the White House stressing that US military intervention in Syria without the authorization of Congress would be unconstitutional, as it was in Libya. The US intervention in Libya was initiated while Congress was out of session and the president himself was in Brazil. The Congress, however, failed to defund the mission in Libya or to pass any substantive measure asserting the violation of their authority in making war there. 

In 2011, the US was pushed into intervention in Libya largely by Great Britain and France. Will it be Europe that this time pulls the US out of intervening in Syria or will the latest news from the United Kingdom be inconsequential to whether Obama decides to pull the trigger on getting militarily involved? Interventionists suffered another blow when US intelligence officials insisted linking the chemical weapons attack in Syria to Bashar Assad himself was no slam dunk. A fifth U.S. destroyer is nevertheless headed to the eastern Mediterranean.

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Will Obama Free the Legal Marijuana Distributors He's Already Imprisoned?

The Obama administration's Department of Justice may finally be taking a step back from its all-out assault on legal marijuana sales with the issuing of a memo from Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. As Jacob Sullum reported earlier, the memo indicates that the feds will tolerate marijuana sales under certain conditions in states such as Colorado and Washington that have legalized it for recreational use.

Of course, anything in the memo is completely non-binding and can be revised at any time.

In a major shift in tone and policy, the DOJ has made it clear in this memo that the size, scope and profitability of a marijuana retailer should not affect enforcement priorities:

 ...in exercising prosecutorial discretion, prosecutors should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone as a proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department's enforcement priorities listed above.

What are those "enforcement priorities"? Preventing sale to minors, cutting off gang and cartel funds, stopping sales over state lines, cracking down on marijuana sales used as a cover for harder drug sales, prosecuting the use of firearms in the distribution process, preventing "drugged driving," eradicating growth of marijuana on public lands, and prohibiting use of marijuana on federal property.

So what about the hundreds of medical marijuana users and distributors that the Obama administration has already prosecuted, people who did nothing to threaten any of the "enforcement priorities" listed above? According to a NORML survey of court records, the Obama administration has prosecuted 80 percent more medical marijuana cases than its predecessor. And as we've documented here before, the stated enemy of the DOJ in many of these cases is, yes, profit.

Take the case of medical marijuana dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky. This is a man who complied with California state law, paid his taxes, even worked with the FBI to bring down the corrupt mayor of his town! But because he ran three successful, profitable dispensaries he became a target and was raided on multiple occasions. Sandusky refused to close up shop, believing that the Constitution afforded Californians the opportunity to make their own laws.

"This is a Constitutional battle, and we're going to defend our rights," said Aaron Sandusky in an interview with Reason TV. "If I have to go to jail for 20 years defending this, then so be it," says Sandusky.

And go to jail he did. Sandusky now sits in a federal prison in Texas (prisons being too crowded in California), eight months into a 10-year sentence. He's not locked up for selling to minors, or selling heroin, or running guns, or funding cartels.

Aaron Sandusky is in prison for the size and commercial nature of his medical marijuana operation.

The instructions for Presidential commutation of federal prison sentences are freely available online.

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Why Hindus Shouldn't Fly During Ramadan

Slashdot points toward a harrowing story of TSA and FBI hijinks involving Aditya Mukerjee. Though not Muslim, Mukerjee had trouble flying JetBlue during Ramadan. The whole thing is straight outta Kafka. 

"You can’t leave here."

"Are you detaining me, then?" I’ve been through enough "know your rights" training to know how to handle police searches; however, TSA agents are not law enforcement officials. Technically, they don’t even have the right to detain you against your will.

"We’re not detaining you. You just can’t leave." My jaw dropped.

"Either you’re detaining me, or I’m free to go. Which one is it?" I asked.

He glanced for a moment at my backpack, then snatched it out of the conveyor belt. “Okay,” he said. “You can leave, but I’m keeping your bag.”

Read the whole thing.

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Lawmakers Insist on Congressional Permission for Syria Strike, Beltway Insiders "Review" NSA Surveillance, Feds Won't Challenge Marijuana Legalization: P.M. Links

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J.D. Tuccille on 3D Printing Drugs

Makerbot ReplicatorJohn AbellaOrphan drug regulations are intended ease the regulatory process and lower barriers for medicines that address rare medical conditions. Otherwise, the costs of research, winning regulatory approval, and production could well exceed anything a pharmaceutical company could hope to recoup in an era when developing a new drug can cost a billion—or billions—of dollars. Bringing down regulatory costs is a necessary but elusive goal that may well require intervention by the federal policy fairies. But, as Reason 24/7 Managing Editor J.D Tuccille points out, both research and production look poised for a revolution, as 3D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds, and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project. Not incidentally, the revolution also promises to kneecap whatever is left of efforts to control recreational drugs.

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How Long Would Limited Strikes In Syria Stay Limited?

credit: PanARMENIAN_Photo / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDcredit: PanARMENIAN_Photo / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDWhat, exactly, would the White House hope to accomplish with an attack on Syria? So far, the answers from the administration have been pretty vague.

In an interview with PBS yesterday, Obama said that “if, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict” those actions might serve as “a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this.” Obama further suggested that the limited actions under consideration “may have a positive impact on our national security over the long term and may have a positive impact in the sense that chemical weapons are not used again on innocent civilians.”

That Obama will only say they “may” implies he knows that they may not. One reason to be suspicious is that it’s unlikely that the U.S. would be able to take out Assad’s chemical weapon stockpiles using the limited strikes that Obama has hinted at so far. Those stockpiles are often buried in protected facilities, making them difficult to destroy from the air.

And that assumes we can even find them. As the Associated Press reported yesterday, “Intelligence officials say they could not pinpoint the exact locations of Assad's supplies of chemical weapons, and Assad could have moved them in recent days as the U.S. rhetoric increased.” Which creates an additional risk. “That lack of certainty means a possible series of U.S. cruise missile strikes aimed at crippling Assad's military infrastructure could hit newly hidden supplies of chemical weapons, accidentally triggering a deadly chemical attack.”

One thing it’s clear that limited strikes wouldn’t do is stop Syria’s dictator Bassar al-Assad’s regime from continuing to kill Syrian civilians. If the United States chose to respond, he told PBS, “that doesn’t solve all the problems inside of Syria, and, you know, it doesn’t, obviously end the death of innocent civilians inside of Syria.”

What so-called limited strikes would do, however, is put the United States on the road to further, not-so-limited military action. Obama says he does not want to get “drawn into a long conflict,” but what happens if there are further chemical weapon attacks—in Syria, or, eventually, somewhere else in the world? Presuming that chemical weapons were used in the most recent attack, and that they were used with Assad’s approval, then we know he has already risked international military reprisal once. There’s little reason to think that a round of limited strikes would convince him not to do it again. Assad would essentially be in the same position he was in before. We, meanwhile, would have taken military action—and picked a side in an ugly, bloody civil conflict. 

And if Assad deploys chemical weapons again, then what? Another round of "limited" strikes? And after that, another? How long before those limited strikes evolved into something more expansive? As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told NPR last month,  "Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid." The best way to do so is to stay out of the conflict entirely. 

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Reactions to DOJ Marijuana Memo: Dismay, Exuberance, Skepticism

CNNCNNThe Justice Department's newly announced policy regarding marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington must be pretty good, because Kevin Sabet, the former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer who heads the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, hates it:

This is disappointing, but it is only the first chapter in the long story about marijuana legalization in the US. In many ways, this will quicken the realization among people that more marijuana is never good for any community, which is what happened after the Ogden memo [recommending prosecutorial restraint in cases involving people who comply with medical marijuana laws] was issued in 2009. 

Here are some more-favorable reactions, in decreasing order of exuberance.

Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition:

This is the most heartening news to come out of Washington in a long, long time. The federal government is not simply standing aside and allowing the will of the people to prevail in these two states. The attorney general and the Obama administration are exhibiting inspired leadership. The message to the people of the other 48 states, to all who value personal freedom and responsible regulation is clear: seize the day.

Anthony Johnson, executive director of Portland-based New Approach Oregon, which is trying to get a legalization measure on that state's ballot:

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Cellphones Don't Cause Cancer, New Study Reports

cellphone cancerPhartisanEarlier this month, my number 3 pick for the Top 5 Bogus Health Scares was the claim that radio frequency waves from cellphones cause cancer. A new study in the International Journal of Epidemiology by Oxford University epidemiologist Victoria Benson and her colleagues adds more evidence that cellphone-induced cancer is bogus.

As the folks over at the American Council on Science and Health note...

...the British Million Women Study... followed nearly 800,000 women for seven years. The women’s cell phone use was assessed at the start of the study (1999 through 2005), and again in 2009. The occurrence of several types of brain cancer, such as glioma and meningioma was ascertained.

 During the follow up period, there were approximately 52,000 new invasive cancers overall, and of these 1,261 were brain cancers. When the researchers correlated the occurrence of cancers overall with the use of cell phones, they found no change in risk of cancers. When they examined specific brain cancers and compared their frequency in people who reported long-term use of cell phones with those of people who never used them, again there was no difference in risk.

The study concluded:

In this large prospective study, mobile phone use was not associated with increased incidence of glioma, meningioma or non-CNS cancers.

For more background, see my column, "Top 5 Bogus Health Scares."

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Syrian Forces Could Have Launched Suspected Chemical Attack Without Assad's Approval or Knowledge

Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr/wikimediaCredit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr/wikimediaYesterday Matt Welch spoke to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about the intelligence surrounding last week's massacre near Damascus and what could have motivated Assad to launch the alleged chemical attack given the predictable international outrage:

Reason: You're not satisfied by the intelligence so far?

RP: Well, it seems like there's some evidence that there were chemical weapons, I think we're sort of all coming around to agreeing with that—but even [then] I'd like to see some evidence. But then secondly I'd like to see what is the evidence of who set these off, you know? [...]

Pat Buchanan the other day asked in one of his essays, he said the Latin phrase cui bono, to whose benefit does this redound? I think it's a pretty important question. This is of absolutely no benefit to Assad. If you were Assad would you set off chemical weapons? No—the whole world now is interested in coming in and attacking him. It makes absolutely no sense from a logical point of view. There was no sort of major assault where he was getting ready to be wiped out. I don't know why he would use chemical weapons.

It does seem strange that Assad would have personally ordered the use of chemical weapons given that the use of chemical weapons looks likely to prompt the U.S. and perhaps some of its allies to carry out some sort of military intervention in Syria. However, aside from the possibility that Assad has lost most of his abilities to reason there is also the possibility that someone within the Assad regime ordered last week's attack without direct approval from Assad. Earlier this week Foreign Policy's blog "The Cable" reported that U.S. intelligence analysts are confident that the Assad regime was involved in last week's attack because of intercepted panicked phone calls from an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense and the head of a chemical weapons unit. 

So, it is possible for Syrian forces to have carried out last week's attack without Assad's approval or knowledge. However, the buck has to stop somewhere, and whether he was directly involved or not, Assad will be held responsible if it emerges that Syrian forces used chemical weapons. 

Although the British government believes it is "highly likely" that the Assad regime was involved in the attack last week and the Obama administration has concluded that chemical weapons were used by the regime U.S. intelligence officials have told the Associated Press that intelligence linking either Assad or his inner circle to last week's attack is no "slam dunk." However, as I pointed out above, this does not mean Assad will be exculpated if evidence conclusively links his regime to the use of chemical weapons. 

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Justice Department Gives Yellow Light to Marijuana Legalization

Today, nearly 10 months after voters in Colorado and Washington decided to legalize marijuana, the Justice Department finally responded with a policy statement that promises prosecutorial restraint as long as both states create "a tightly regulated market" with rules that address federal "enforcement priorities" such as preventing interstate smuggling, diversion to minors, and "adverse public health consequences." If Colorado and Washington fail to adequately address federal concerns, says Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a memo to U.S. attorneys, the Justice Department may yet decide to prosecute marijuana growers and sellers who comply with those states' laws or challenge the laws themselves in federal court. But in a partial reversal of a policy he announced in a 2011 memo, Cole says the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation will not by itself trigger federal prosecution.

The deal that Cole outlines is entirely discretionary and can be changed by the Justice Department at any time. But he strongly suggests that Colorado and Washington can avoid federal interference with their momentous experiments in pharmacological tolerance if their regulations and enforcement are strict enough:

The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests. A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice. Jurisdictions that have implemented systems that provide for regulation of marijuana activity must provide the necessary resources and demonstrate the willingness to enforce their laws andregulations in a manner that ensures they do not undermine federal enforcement priorities.

In jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana, conduct in compliance with those laws and regulations is less likely to threaten the federal priorities set forth above. Indeed, a robust system may affirmatively address those priorities by, for example, implementing effective measures to prevent diversion of marijuana outside of the regulated system and to other states, prohibiting access to marijuana by minors, and replacing an illicit marijuana trade that funds criminal enterprises with a tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked and accounted for. In those circumstances, consistent with the traditional allocation of federal-state efforts in this area, enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity. If state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust to protect against the harms set forth above, the federal government may seek to challenge the regulatory structure itself in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions, focused on those harms.

There is plenty of wiggle room there for the Justice Department, which can decide at any point that "state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust" and move to shut down state-licensed growers and retailers. The experience with medical marijuana, where promises of forbearance led to a "green rush" of cannabusinesses that prompted a crackdown, suggests no one should get too excited about the Obama administration's willingness to tolerate deviations from prohibitionist orthodoxy. Furthermore, no matter how intrusive the Justice Department turns out to be in practice, all bets are off in the next administration. Still, this wishy-washy yellow light for legalization is better than might have been expected based on Obama's broken promises regarding medical marijuana.

Cole has been invited to testify at a September 10 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee focusing on conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. Perhaps we will get a clearer sense then of how respectful of state policy choices the Justice Department is apt to be.

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Joining Federalism Surge, Missouri Prepares To Tell Feds To Stuff Their Gun Laws

Reason 24/7ReasonIf you want an indicator as to the growing policy divide between the federal government and the residents of many of the states of the union, a good place to look is the growth in state-level laws that overtly defy federal legislation. Constitutional questions remain about states' authority to go their own way on issues including marijuana and guns, and that's likely to be even more true now that Missouri lawmakers prepare to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that would nullify federal firearms restrictions and toss anybody attempting to enforce them into jail. Even so, it's increasingly clear that much of the American population feels quite differently about many issues than do federal officials. 

From the New York Times:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Unless a handful of wavering Democrats change their minds, the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature is expected to enact a statute next month nullifying all federal gun laws in the state and making it a crime for federal agents to enforce them here. A Missourian arrested under federal firearm statutes would even be able to sue the arresting officer.

The law amounts to the most far-reaching states’ rights endeavor in the country, the far edge of a growing movement known as “nullification” in which a state defies federal power.

The Missouri Republican Party thinks linking guns to nullification works well, said Matt Wills, the party’s director of communications, thanks in part to the push by President Obama for tougher gun laws. “It’s probably one of the best states’ rights issues that the country’s got going right now,” he said.

There's no doubt that much of the state-level defiance of federal law is constitutionally iffy — at least with regard to how the Constitution is currently interpreted. Arresting federal law enforcement officers is probably a bit too anti-imperial to fly in 2013. But legislators climb out on constitutional limbs for locally popular causes, and public opinion can nudge federal policy, eventually. Just today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it won't directly challenge state legalization of medical and recreational marijuana sale and use. That's at least a symbolic backdown, though evidence of a real change will be found, or not, in actual practice.

Missouri's stand against gun restrictions is unlikely to win similar concessions from an administration that just bypassed Congress to unilaterally tighten firearms regulations. Then again, the first medical marijuana law was passed by California voters in 1996, 17 years before today's memo. It takes a long time to get the federal government's attention, so maybe Missouri's nullification efforts will bear similar fruit sometime around 2030.

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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: 'If you were Assad would you set off chemical weapons? No.'

Campbellsville, KY—Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is not at all persuaded that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was responsible for deploying chemical weapons against his own people, the causus belli being used to prepare America for yet another Mideast war.

Outside an off-the-record meeting with religious leaders yesterday afternoon at Campbellsville University in Central Kentucky, Paul cited Pat Buchanan while expressing skepticism about the Obama Administration's chemical-weapons claims. Here is a transcript from our brief conversation:

Reason: On Syria, a lot of people who are supporting intervention are making not the Iraq analogy, but the Kosovo analogy, where you can do sort of limited bombing and create good outcomes from that. A) is that a decent analogy to what's happening now, and B) do you look at Kosovo as a success?

Rand Paul: Well you know, the precipitating events of people talking about intervening in Syria seem to be chemical weapons. I would think the first question you ought to ask is, who set them off?

Reason: You're not satisfied by the intelligence so far?

RP: Well, it seems like there's some evidence that there were chemical weapons, I think we're sort of all coming around to agreeing with that—but even [then] I'd like to see some evidence. But then secondly I'd like to see what is the evidence of who set these off, you know? [...]

Pat Buchanan the other day asked in one of his essays, he said the Latin phrase cui bono, to whose benefit does this redound? I think it's a pretty important question. This is of absolutely no benefit to Assad. If you were Assad would you set off chemical weapons? No—the whole world now is interested in coming in and attacking him. It makes absolutely no sense from a logical point of view. There was no sort of major assault where he was getting ready to be wiped out. I don't know why he would use chemical weapons.

So that's the first question you have to ask. Then there's the question of how do we go to war? Do you go to war simply through the unilateral, arbitrary authority of one person, the president? Or do you go to war the way our Founding Fathers intended, and that's through an open debate, and through a congressional vote? I think the Constitution's clear: You do it through a congressional vote.

If you decide you want to discuss the issue of Syria, there are two ironies you have to overcome if you want to be involved in that war. The first irony is, you're going to be supporting Islamic rebels against Christians. Two million Christians live in Syria, probably more than any other country [in the region], maybe other than Egypt, and they're allied with Assad. The second irony you have to overcome is we will be on the same side as Al Qaeda. I thought we were fighting Al Qaeda.

So, I think those ironies to me are pretty significant hurdles to wanting to get involved in the Syrian war.

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The Off-Key Stylings of Obama's Syria War Chorus

"This time it's different," say liberal hawks itching to lob missiles (and, eventually, you've gotta assume, troops) at Syria.

Yeah, not so much. But don't let that stop you, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times:

I strongly opposed the Iraq war and the Afghan “surge.” But in conjunction with diplomacy, military force can save lives....

Are we making too much of chemical weapons? Probably less than 1 percent of those killed in Syria have died of nerve gas attacks. In Syria, a principal weapon of mass destruction has been the AK—47.

Yet there is value in bolstering international norms against egregious behavior like genocide or the use of chemical weapons.

Kristof grants that Obama's invocations of "red lines" and general inaction has failed, so it's time for "a tougher approach" and the president "can’t just whimper and back down." Good luck with all that.

And with the approach to missile attacks bandied about by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who told the LA Times:

Obama needs "to find the right target set that will be punitive and that will have a strong deterrent impact on Assad's potential future use of chemical weapons," said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. "But at the same time it should not go so far beyond the instrumentalities of chemical weapons use that it appears we're trying to topple the regime."

Yeah, really good luck with that.

But then, maybe we don't have to do anything with regard to the "red line" of chemical weapons being used in Syria. As George Will points out in a must-read column, the State Department claims that the U.S. retaliated when the Assad regime supposedly used chemical weapons "a few months ago." But the State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, just doesn't want to say what we did:

We did take action. We did – we’re not going to outline the inventory of what we did. That remains the same as it was a couple of months ago. But the President acted. We crossed a redline. It did change the calculus, and we took action, and we have the opportunity, or the option, to do more if he chooses to do more.

As Will notes in his piece,

The administration now would do well to do something that the head of it has an irresistible urge not to do: Stop talking.

If a fourth military intervention is coming, it will not be to decisively alter events, which we cannot do, in a nation vital to U.S. interests, which Syria is not. Rather, its purpose will be to rescue Obama from his words.

It goes without saying: Good luck with that.

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Time Magazine Busts Myths About Angel Dust Now That It’s in the News Because of Aaron Hernandez

potential pcp use least of his concernsJack Newton/FlickrRolling Stone is reporting that Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end charged with murder, was a regular user of PCP, or angel dust, setting the stage for a good old fashioned drug  panic. PCP has been blamed by authorities for violent behavior and even superhuman strength. Time magazine’s Maia Szalavitz busts some of these myths in an exercise of relative objectivity about drugs rarely seen in mainstream media:

PCP leads to cannibalismdecapitations and eye gouging

Myth. Research suggests that, like alcohol, it mainly increases aggressive behavior in those already prone to it. The drug can induce psychotic delusions and paranoid behavior. But most users remain unthreatening in the face of these disorienting experiences, even placid.

PCP gives users superhuman strength — enough to break out of handcuffs

Myth. Police and emergency room personnel are familiar with the bizarre, unpredictable and violent behavior of some PCP users. Their failure to comply with orders and their resistance to being restrained creates the illusion that the drug makes them stronger; some officers have even claimed that the drug gives people the ability to break out of metal handcuffs.

But there’s no evidence that PCP actually increases muscle power— the single study done on the subject in mice found a drop in grip strength among animals given the drug. And, scientists say, there are no plausible mechanisms to explain how PCP could affect strength.

Read the rest of the article here.

Taking exceptional, and unrepresentative, cases of drug use and drug-induced behavior and treating it as if it’s the norm is standard fare for a media that’s always ready to buy in to the myth of drug as destructive force. It’s not true, but it makes for sensational stories. Check out Jacob Sullum on the 5 best drug scares of 2012 here, and Reason TV’s discussion with neuroscientist Carl Hart, who says misconceptions about how drugs affect people have created destructive and ineffective drug policies, below:

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Unlike Congress, the British House of Commons is Debating Intervention in Syria

Credit: UK Parliament/flickrCredit: UK Parliament/flickrThe British House of Commons, which was recalled from its recess, is currently debating military intervention in Syria.

The British government said today that it was “highly likely” that the Assad regime was responsible for a chemical attack near Damascus last week and that a military intervention could take place without the backing of the United Nations, a position similar to the one expressed by the Obama administration yesterday.

In today’s debate in the House of Commons Prime Minister made it clear that there was "no 100 percent certainty about who is responsible." Yesterday I wrote about an article posted on Foreign Policy’s “The Cable” blog, which mentions that the U.S. is confident that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack near Damascus last week because of intercepted phone calls between an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense and the commander of a chemical weapons unit made shortly after the attack.

In today’s debate in the House of Commons there is unfortunately a worrying level of support, as well as some hesitancy, regarding some sort of intervention in Syria. However, despite some of the worrying opinions expressed, it is nice to see the issue being debated.

On this side of the Atlantic there is little indication that Obama will ask Congress to authorize a military intervention. Obama’s lack of communication or consultation with Congress on the situation in Syria has upset some members of Congress.

Yesterday Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that it is Congress, not the president, that declares war and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio.) wrote a letter to Obama asking 14 questions about possible military intervention in Syria. In what is perhaps the most notable expression Congress’ frustration with Obama over a possible military intervention in Syria 116 Congressman (98 Republicans, 18 Democrats) signed a letter asking the president to "consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria." Read Reason’s Jacob Sullum’s take on the letter here.

It was recently reported that a fifth American warship is being sent to the Mediterranean, the latest sign that some sort of military intervention in Syria will soon begin. If a U.S. military intervention in Syria does take place it unfortunately looks unlikely that American legislators will of had a say in the matter.  

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45 Years, 45 Days: Hayek for the 21st Century

For 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.

Credit: The Library of the London School of EconomicsCredit: The Library of the London School of EconomicsIn 1944, with World War II raging and the fate of the Free World far from clear, Friedrich A. Hayek (1889-1992), one of the great intellectual heroes of reason, published his best-known work. The Road to Serfdom became a bestseller even as it challenged the conventional wisdom that extensive, top-down economic planning would result in a more just and more efficient distribution of goods and services.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Road to Serfdom in our January 2005 issue, Reason interviewed Bruce Caldwell, author of Hayek's Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F.A. Hayek, about the origins of The Road to Serfdom, its continuing relevance, and Hayek's legacy in the 20th century--and in the 21st.

Reason: The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944. How did the book come into being?

Bruce Caldwell: In the 1930s, Hayek was writing articles criticizing the economics of socialism. Most people then saw socialism as the middle way between failed capitalism and totalitarianism of the Soviet and fascist varieties. By the late '30s, Hayek felt that he needed to write a broad-based attack on socialism. In Hayek's Challenge, I mention [sociologist] Karl Mannheim in particular as a figure who argued that planning was the only way to avoid totalitarianism, but everyone was making a similar sort of argument. Hayek turned that on its head and said that extensive planning of the economy was in fact the road to serfdom, to less and less freedom.

He was engaging a widespread belief that socialism was not only more just but more efficient than capitalism, that it was the way to make the world work better. Not just economics should be planned. Science should be planned. Everything should be planned. There was an influential magazine around at the time called Science. Virtually every third or fourth week, they'd run an editorial that said we need to have scientists helping plan all sorts of things. Not just the war effort, but everything about the economy to make it work better. This is what everyone who was "intelligent" thought.

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116 Congressmen Note That Obama Does Not Have the Authority to Launch a War Against Syria

Yesterday evening 116 members of the House, including 18 Democrats as well as 98 Republicans, sent President Obama a letter urging him to "consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria." They note that "your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution [which gives Congress the authority "to declare war"] and the War Powers Resolution of 1973," which says "the President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities." As J.D. Tuccille noted last night, Obama as a senator and presidential candidate agreed that "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." He forgot about that when he unilaterally decided to intervene in Libya's civil war, but even then he did not question the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution, arguing instead that bombing the crap out of forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi did not amount to "hostilities." That claim, which contradicted the advice of Obama's own Office of Legal Counsel, was about as plausible as saying the entire population's phone records are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation. "If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute 'hostilities,'" the representatives who signed yesterday's letter ask, "what does?"

Since Obama says the point of military action against Syria is to deter further use of chemical weapons against opponents of the Assad regime, he clearly is not claiming his aim would be "stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama's opponent in the presidential campaign during which the latter defended the legislative branch's war powers, offers a different rationale. "This is the same president that two years ago said that Bashar Assad must leave office, and so where is America's credibility?” the avid interventionist said on Fox News. "Where is our ability to influence events in the region?" As I said in June, when Obama decided to arm Syria's rebels because Assad had crossed a "red line" drawn by Obama, the argument that U.S. forces should be deployed not to defend the nation but to protect "America's credibility" is a recipe for ever-escalating intervention aimed at vindicating bad decisions.

Update: The number of representatives signing the letter has risen to 140.  

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San Bernardino Allowed to Join Stockton, Detroit in Bankruptcy

Where's the "For Sale" sign?Credit: Amerique, Wikimedia CommonsDespite huge resistance from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), a judge ruled Thursday evening that she would grant San Bernardino bankruptcy protection.

From The Sun in San Bernardino:

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System had objected that the city didn’t qualify, charging among other things that the city was “languishing” in bankruptcy without meeting the Chapter 9 prerequisite of wanting to form a plan to balance its budget longterm.

But bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury took a dim view of that, saying there was no evidence the city didn’t intend to move forward — and that she didn’t see any alternatives for the city except bankruptcy and dissolving.

“If they (CalPERS) got all the money that they want under what they say is their contract and statutory right, who isn’t going to get paid?” Jury asked, rhetorically. “All the employees. I don’t know. How does that help CalPERS, if the employees don’t get paid?

The representative for CalPERS pointed out that it’s their job to protect the pension fund and worried about other cities simply rushing to declare bankruptcy without trying to fix their financial problems.

Their lawyer might have a stronger case if public employee unions didn’t sue to block every single effort at pension reform and declare that pension benefits cannot categorically ever be reduced, ever. CalPERS’ clients are one of the main reasons why California cities are finding themselves unable to fix their financial problems.

Not only does San Bernardino struggle with pension obligations (at least $143 million in unfunded pension obligations to CalPERS), but it has a special law in its city charter that requires that public safety employees be paid wages competitive with the averages of similar employees of nearby cities with similar populations in Southern California. San Bernardino is the poorest of those cities. When it comes to median incomes, the only metropolitan area worse is Detroit, according to census numbers. So the combination of the inability to rein in pension costs and the inability to control public safety salaries creates a significant budget challenge.

And so, interestingly, CalPERS’ lawyer might not actually be wrong that San Bernardino doesn’t have a real plan to balance its budget, but CalPERS’ clients played a major role in creating the situation.

Video: Family Farmers Fight Michigan Township For Their Animals

"Family Farmers Fight Michigan Township For Their Animals" 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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Opinion: the Drug War is Destroying MLK's Dream

ReasonReasonYesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. Unfortunately, as Tim Wigmore explains in the U.K.’s Telegraph, many African Americans are not free, having been placed behind bars for non-violent drug offenses thanks to to the United States’ morally bankrupt and economically absurd war on drugs.

From The Telegraph:

How would Martin Luther King feel if he were still alive today? Barack Obama may be President, but for millions of black Americans life is shockingly deprived: a black man today is more likely to be imprisoned than in apartheid South Africa.

The mass imprisonment of black people in America today has been described as “The New Jim Crow”. Blacks account for 13 per cent of drug users, but 37 per cent of defendants. They receive sentences that are 20 per cent longer than white men for identical crimes. And, while there is little medical difference in the effects of crack and powder cocaine, crack, traditionally associated with black people, has a federal penalty 18 times greater. So it’s little surprise thatone in every three black men go to prison over their lifetimes. And punishment doesn’t end at the prison gates, as former felons lose access to housing and other benefits of citizenship upon their release.

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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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A.M. Links: Russia Sending Warships to Mediterranean, Obama Still Undecided on Syria Action, NSA Analysts Spy on Love Interests Often Enough It Has a Code Name

nsa gives a whole new meaning to "secret admirer"20th Century Fox

  • Russia is sending warships to the Mediterranean, while China  is warning the US government not to conduct airstrikes in Syria. Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t think the Obama Administration has made the case justifying military intervention in the country. President Obama has reportedly not yet decided on the response to chemical weapons use in Syria, though he appears a lot more confident the Syrian regime gassed its own people than US intelligence officials, who don’t believe their case is a “slam dunk.” The United Kingdom announced it would release some of its own intelligence on chemical weapons use in Syria later today, while the French defense minister insists his country’s military is ready to strike. UN inspectors plan to be done with their own investigation on chemical weapons use in Syria by Saturday, although the State Department has signaled it won’t wait for the UN on a potential military strike against Syria. John Boehner, meanwhile, sent a letter to the president asking 14 questions about possible military intervention in Syria, while other members of Congress are taking the same stance Obama did as a senator; that the president requires Congressional approval before commititng to any military actions.
  • NSA analysts apparently use the tools at their disposal to spy on their love interests so much the practice has a code name in the agency: LoveINT, or Love Intelligence.
  • The IRS’ targeting of Tea Party groups has provided a boon in recruitment and participation for those groups.
  • Republicans in the Missouri legislature ought to have the votes to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would nullify federal gun laws.
  • Authorities in California are using a predator drone to conduct surveillance on the ongoing Rim Fire.
  • Kim Jong-Un’s ex-girlfriend was reportedly executed on porn charges three days after her arrest.

Follow Reason and Reason 24/7 on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.  You can also get the top stories mailed to you—sign up here. Have a news tip? Send it to us!

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Talkin' Conspiracies with PJ Media

Last week Ed Driscoll of PJ Media interviewed me about The United States of Paranoia, a book I may have mentioned a time or two on this blog. He has now posted both a podcast and a transcript of our conversation. Here's an excerpt:

The book, by contrast, costs a few bucks.Nina PaleyMR. DRISCOLL: Any hopes that The United States of Paranoia will put an end or at least reduce some of the conspiracy mongering?

MR. WALKER: Oh, no. I mean, I didn't write this as an attack on conspiracy theories, although I'm very open about it when I think something isn't true. And I didn't write it as a collection of conspiracy theories that I believe in.

It's just sort of me looking at the stories and at American history and culture through that lens. So I'm not even trying to stop it here. But it would be fruitless to try to stop it, because that's just the way people's minds work.

Like I said, we're always going to be seeing signals, seeing patterns, creating narratives, being suspicious of people. And there's always going to be some conspiracies that are real, so some theorizing is going to be justified. And that's just the way it is, you know?

I was on TV a few days ago, and someone said conspiracy theories were toxic to democracy. And all I can say is, I hope not, because that means you could never have a democratic society.
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Steve Chapman on the Cost of Symbolism in Syria

Credit: White HouseCredit: White HouseThe United States risks a lot by intervening in Syria. Says retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, "If you do a one-and-done and say you're going to repeat it if unacceptable things happen, you might find these people keep doing unacceptable things. It will suck you in." As Steve Chapman observes, once President Obama puts his prestige (and the lives of civilians and soldiers) on the line, he may find it hard to walk away.

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