Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 October 22-31

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OFA Wants to Know What You Know About Obamacare

you know who else cared?OFAOrganizing for Action, formerly known as Obama for America and now a 501(c)4, wants to be on the frontlines of pushing Obamacare. Their latest missive includes a request to take a survey about the new healthcare law that includes questions about how well you “would… say you understand Obamacare,” whether you have health insurance, whether you know anyone who enrolled through the healthcare exchanges, whether you plan on it, whether you know anyone who plans it, and what questions you’re hearing about Obamacare.

The e-mail, which includes a link to the survey:

Edward --

In the midst of all of the debate around Obamacare, it's easy to lose sight of what the law really does -- and how millions of Americans are already seeing the benefits.

That's why we want to hear directly from you about your health care experience. 

This is super easy, and should only take a minute or two. Answer our short Obamacare survey today.

No matter what you hear from the talking heads, health care reform is much more than just a website.

Obamacare makes lifetime limits and pre-existing conditions a thing of the past. Several preventive health services are now available at no cost within most insurance plans. Many seniors are already saving hundreds of dollars a year on their prescriptions. Young Americans -- up to age 26 -- are covered under their parents' insurance.

And now millions of uninsured Americans have access to purchase affordable health care, many for the first time. Via phone, mail, in person, and online, people can shop among affordable health insurance options.

OFA supporters are going to spend the next five months making sure people have the facts -- and that the people who need insurance know how to get it. 

That's why we want to hear from you about your experience, and what you're hearing from friends and family members.

Fill out this quick survey today:

http://my.barackobama.com/ACA-Survey

Thanks,

Erin

Erin Hannigan
Health Care Campaign Manager
Organizing for Action

The e-mail comes with a please give $3 PS, naturally.

Related: What part of "screw you" don't you understand?

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UPDATED! "Yes, You Can Keep Your Health Plan" or, What Part of *Screw You* Don't You Understand?

Note: This post was updated at 8am ET on October 30. Scroll down for latest.

Via the Twitter feed of Matt Cover (and National Review's Jim Geraghty) comes a link to this 2010 blog post by then-Obama special assistant and now CNN Crossfire host Stephane Cutter:

Yes, You Can Keep Your Health Plan

...A key point to remember is that while the Act makes many changes to the individual market, it specifically allows those who want to keep their current insurance to do so.  Most of the Act’s protections apply only to new policies, allowing people to stick with their current plan if they prefer.  It is true that a few protections apply to all plans, both new and old, but these protections—like limiting the share of premiums that insurers can devote to administrative costs—are designed to help consumers and cut health care costs.

The bottom line is that the Act allows people to keep the insurance they have, while also providing more and better options for all.

How important was it to the passage of Obamacare that you could keep your coverage if you liked it? Pretty damn important, I'd wager, since it offered comfort to vast majority of folks who were happy with their insurance and rightly feared that the president's transformative, sweeping reform would wipe out a lot of stuff.

Which is exactly what's happening. Check it out, via CBS News:

People across the country are finding out they're losing their existing insurance plans under Obamacare because requirements in the law, such as prenatal and prescription drug coverage, mean their old plans aren't comprehensive enough.

In California, Kaiser Permanente terminated policies for 160,000 people. In Florida, at least 300,000 people are losing coverage.

That includes 56-year-old Dianne Barrette. Last month, she received a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield informing her as of January 2014, she would lose her current plan. Barrette pays $54 a month. The new plan she's being offered would run $591 a month -- 10 times more than what she currently pays.

Barrette said, "What I have right now is what I am happy with and I just want to know why I can't keep what I have. Why do I have to be forced into something else?"

But hey, Obama won the election. Get over it. What part of screw you don't you understand?

[Update: Mediaite reports on further reporitng by Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren and The Washington Post's Erik Wemple that complicates Dianne Barrette's story above. Barrette's insurance plan has in fact been dropped because it doesn't meet the minimum requirements for individual coverage under Obamacare. While it cost very little, it also covered virtually nothing as well and, in an interview on Susteren's Fox show, Barrette displayed effectively zero knowledge of her plan and what it covered. After factoring subsidies in, her premium costs would be around $200 a month. All of that was left out of the original CBS News report, which is not so much wrong as lacking in meaningful context.

For clearer, more-informed cases of how Obamacare has stripped people of existing plans in the individual market, read David Frum's "The Obamacare Ripoff" and the story of Sue Klinkhamer, an Obamacare supporter and former staffer to a Democratic congressman who has been forced to buy more expensive coverage for next year. End update]

And here is an NBC News report that argues

Buried in Obamacare regulations from July 2010 is an estimate that because of normal turnover in the individual insurance market, “40 to 67 percent” of customers will not be able to keep their policy. And because many policies will have been changed since the key date, “the percentage of individual market policies losing grandfather status in a given year exceeds the 40 to 67 percent range.”  

That means the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them. 

Nancy Pelosi be damned! It sure seems as if the O-Team knew what it was doing all along. And it had nothing to do with keeping your health plan if you liked it.

Time to bring in, you know, The A-Team to fix it all (watch this 15 second vid):

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Apparently, Secret Surveillance of Powerful People Is What It Takes to Make Sen. Feinstein Worry

"Surveillance for thee, but not for me!"Talk Radio News Service / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAFinally Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been told information that actually made her object to the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance superstructure: It’s being used against powerful and important people!

Following the news over the weekend that Germany’s Angela Merkel and other foreign leaders have been monitored in some unclear capacity by the NSA for years, the defender of all things surveillance has found a line she won’t cross. From a statement:

“It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community.

“Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.

“With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies—including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany—let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.

Note that the media has also reported the NSA collecting data on thousands of phone calls by foreign citizens in places like Spain and France who aren’t powerful world leaders. She doesn’t seem to care about those folks, though.

At least her presumption that she and her Senate Intelligence peers are being told everything the NSA is doing has been shattered. You’d think she’d have been more skeptical when she discovered that sometimes even the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court didn’t always know what the NSA was up to, despite being the primary oversight for the agency’s snooping.

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If Gallup Says Most Americans Want to Legalize Marijuana, Gallup Must Be Unreliable

Senate Judiciary CommitteeSenate Judiciary CommitteeAt the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last week, many attendees were excited about the recent Gallup poll finding that 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Writing at The Huffington Post, anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet tries to piss on this parade, but his aim is not so good. Sabet cites "at least three major problems with using Gallup as a reliable marker for marijuana attitudes in the U.S." Let's consider them one at a time:

1) "The poll asked about marijuana use, not sales and production." That's true, but surveys that ask about legalizing the marijuana business get similar results. In a Reason-Rupe survey last January, for example, 53 percent of respondents said "the government should treat marijuana the same as alcohol." In a 2010 A.P.-CNBC poll, 56 percent of respondents said regulations for marijuana should be either the same as or less strict than regulations for alcohol. A 2011 YouGov/Economist poll found a similar level of support (58 percent) for treating marijuana like alcohol. That is precisely how the successful legalization measures in Colorado and Washington, which attracted around 55 percent of the vote in both states, were described. Even in Texas, a recent Public Policy Polling survey found that 58 percent of respondents either "somewhat" or "strongly" supported "changing Texas law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol." As I noted a few weeks ago, the appeal of the alcohol model is so strong that legalizing the commercial production and distribution of marijuana counterintuitively can attract more support than merely legalizing use. In the Reason-Rupe survey, only 47 percent of respondents favored "legalizing marijuana for recreational use," while 53 percent thought marijuana should be treated like alcohol.

2) "Gallup has always shown more support for legalization than other polls, and there's reason to think it may be an outlier." That first statement is not accurate. In 2010, for example, Gallup found 46 percent support for marijuana legalization; A Newsweek poll and an ABC News/Washington Post poll that year got similar results: 45 percent and 48 percent, respectively. In 2001 and 2003, Gallup found that 34 percent of Americans favored legalization; a 2002 CNN/Time poll got the same result. And as Sabet himself notes (via a quote from The Guardian's Harry Enten), Angus Reid during the last few years has found stronger support for legalization than Gallup has. So it clearly is not true that "Gallup has always shown more support for legalization than other polls." What about this year? At least three 2013 surveys put support for legalization above 50 percent: Gallup (58 percent), Reason-Rupe (53 percent), and Pew (52 percent). Enten mentions two others that did not find majority support: Fox News (46 percent) and the Public Religion Research Institute (45 percent). So according to most of these polls (three out of five), most Americans support legalization.

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UN Planning “Asteroid Warning Group,” Coordination of Missions to Deflect Earthbound Asteroids

"never fear, the un's on it"ReasonThe United Nations is making plans for the possibility of a doomsday asteroid.

From Scientific American:

When a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February, the world’s space agencies found out along with the rest of us, on Twitter and YouTube. That, says former astronaut Ed Lu, is unacceptable—and the United Nations agrees. Last week the General Assembly approved a set of measures that Lu and other astronauts have recommended to protect the planet from the dangers of rogue asteroids. 

The U.N. plans to set up an “International Asteroid Warning Group” for member nations to share information about potentially hazardous space rocks. If astronomers detect an asteroid that poses a threat to Earth, the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will help coordinate a mission to launch a spacecraft to slam into the object and deflect it from its collision course.  

When NASA’s asteroid watch Twitter feed was shut down for the partial government shutdown, some people mistook it for an actual asteroid watch capability going down. NASA has no explicit responsibility to deflect asteroids headed for earth.

Lu, Scientific American notes, is the founder of a non-profit, the B612 Foundation, which is working on a privately funded infrared telescope to look for large Earth-bound asteroids.

Follow these stories and more at Reason 24/7 and don't forget you can e-mail stories to us at 24_7@reason.com and tweet us at @reason247

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Rand Paul Warns that Science, Abortion Leads to Eugenics

Rand PaulGage Skidmore: wikimedia“Are we prepared to select out the imperfect among us?," asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) while stumping for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli during a campaign event at Liberty University in Lynchburg according to the Associated Press. Specifically, Paul appeared concerned about the implications of new genetic testing: 

“In your lifetime, much of your potential — or lack thereof — can be known simply by swabbing the inside of your cheek."

Presumably if someone has a cheek to swab, they are well past the point of being able to be aborted. Setting that aside, the critical question should be: who decides who gets to be born? Parents or politicians?

As I earlier noted in a column on sex selection, I think Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu is right when he reminds us, "The Nazis sought to interfere directly in people's reproductive decisions (by forcing them to be sterilized) to promote social ideals, particularly around racial superiority. Not offering selection for nondisease genes would indirectly interfere (by denying choice) to promote social ideals such as equality or 'population welfare.' There is no relevant difference between direct and indirect eugenics. The lesson we learned from eugenics is that society should be loath to interfere (directly and indirectly) in reproductive decisionmaking."

Fortunately, there is a real libertarian running for governor in Virginia, Robert Sarvis. With regard to abortion Sarvis' campaign website observes:

I believe abortion is a politically intractable issue because we are divided not just on the political issue but on the metaphysical issue. Given that, I find it counterproductive to try to settle the matter through the coercive power of the state. Trying to do so has ruined our political discourse and radicalized our political parties.

As Governor of Virginia (and of all Virginians, including those on both sides of the issue), I will ask those on both sides of the issue to spend the next four years using moral suasion in their private lives to change others' opinions.

For more background see Reason TV's debate among libertarians on the issue of abortion below:

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Graham Threatens To Block Obama Nominees, Texas Abortion Restrictions Ruled Unconstitutional, Shaq Endorses Christie: P.M. Links

Credit: United States Senate/wikimediaCredit: United States Senate/wikimedia

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says that he will block votes on all of President Obama’s latest nominees until the Obama administration releases more information about survivors of last year’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
  • Ohio will be switching one of the drugs it uses for executions after the European manufacturer of pentobarbital banned the sale of the drug for use in executions.
  • Israel plans to release 26 Palestinian prisoners later this week.
  • President Obama has said that we can trust the new FBI director to balance law enforcement and civil liberties. 
  • A federal judge has ruled that new abortion restrictions passed by Texan lawmakers are unconstitutional.
  • Shaquille O'Neal has endorsed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
  • Penn State will pay $59.7 million to 26 young men sexually abused by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

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Ira Stoll on How the Baseball Experts Got It Wrong

Public DomainPublic DomainEnjoying the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals? Almost as entertaining is looking back at the pre-season predictions of the baseball “experts.” As Ira Stoll explains, back in March, the ESPN web site published the predictions of 43 baseball so-called experts on the 2013 season. Not a single one of ESPN’s 43 predictions had either the Red Sox or the Cardinals in the World Series. It’s a good lesson in why we should treat all “expert” predictions, whether they’re about sports or politics, with the skepticism they deserve.

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Are Most Scientific Results Bunk?

I recently enjoyed listening to Stanford University statistician John Ioannidis and University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek talk about how to make scientific evidence more reliable. Ioannides gained some well-deserved fame with his 2005 article in PLoS One, "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False," and Brian Nosek has just established the Center for Open Science which is offering its Open Science Framework that aims to improve the validity of scientific research.

In a recent article, "Evaluation of Very Large Treatment Effects of Medical Interventions," in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ioannid1s and his colleagues combed through 85,000 medical interventions collected in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews seeking to uncover highly effective treatments. What they found is that treatments that supposedly produce very large benefits (odds ratio greater than 5) were almost always found initially in small studies and that when they were replicated in larger studies the benefits became relatively modest. In the end only one treatment was found to provide a major benefit, e.g., supplying extracorporeal oxgyen to premature babies with severe respiratory failure. Last year, Nature reported the shocking finding that nine out of 10 preclinical peer-reviewed cancer research studies cannot be replicated.

Another big problem is the bias toward publishing positive results, while sticking negative results in the file drawer. In an interesting 2010 study published in PLoS One, University of Edinburgh researcher Daniele Fanelli found that as the science under consideration got "softer' the more positive results were reported. From the abstract:

This study analysed 2434 papers published in all disciplines and that declared to have tested a hypothesis. It was determined how many papers reported a “positive” (full or partial) or “negative” support for the tested hypothesis. If the hierarchy hypothesis is correct, then researchers in “softer” sciences should have fewer constraints to their conscious and unconscious biases, and therefore report more positive outcomes. Results confirmed the predictions at all levels considered: discipline, domain and methodology broadly defined. Controlling for observed differences between pure and applied disciplines, and between papers testing one or several hypotheses, the odds of reporting a positive result were around 5 times higher among papers in the disciplines of Psychology and Psychiatry and Economics and Business compared to Space Science, 2.3 times higher in the domain of social sciences compared to the physical sciences, and 3.4 times higher in studies applying behavioural and social methodologies on people compared to physical and chemical studies on non-biological material. In all comparisons, biological studies had intermediate values.

Last week, the Economist had a terrific article outlining the problems with lack of replicability and lax peer review in science, not least of which is that those problems mislead subsequent research efforts and is huge waste of money and talent. From the Economist:

The governments of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, spent $59 billion on biomedical research in 2012, nearly double the figure in 2000. One of the justifications for this is that basic-science results provided by governments form the basis for private drug-development work. If companies cannot rely on academic research, that reasoning breaks down. When an official at America’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) reckons, despairingly, that researchers would find it hard to reproduce at least three-quarters of all published biomedical findings, the public part of the process seems to have failed.

The whole Economist article is well worth your time. Nosek's Open Science Framework project seems like a promising way to nudge researchers toward greater transparency and less data dredging. Through the system researchers can obtain "badges" for project pre-registration, open data, and open materials. Presumably these badges will help persuade journal editors to be more likely to publish such studies and thus encourage better research practices. 

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Rifts Exist Among Democrats in State, Municipal Levels

Well, there's your problem. Those are tokens for Dave & Busters, actually. Credit: © Anankkml | Dreamstime.comOver at RealClearPolitics, Washington Bureau Chief Carl M. Cannon notices that while the federal infighting in the GOP is getting lots of attention, the Democrats are hardly a unified coalition, thanks to fiscal problems of states and their municipalities. To be more clear, the conflicts in Democrat-dominated cities and states are pitting executives versus legislators:

Typically, reform is being led by Democratic mayors. It’s being resisted by leaders of public employee unions, who are also Democrats. California state legislators tend to side with the unions over the mayors, preferring the status quo—and the campaign contributions from unions—to an intramural fight.

The problem, however, is that the status quo will not hold any longer. Detroit is virtually a one-party city. It has also filed for bankruptcy. These two facts are not entirely coincidental. Five decades’ practice of awarding generous pension benefits to city employees, even while Detroit was in the process of losing two-thirds of its population and slashing the workforce, has left the city with a budget in which 40 percent goes to paying former workers—with long-term obligations to these retirees approaching $44 billion.

Cannon reminds us that just as California was completing the transition to a single-party state, voters in San Jose and San Diego were overwhelmingly approving reforms to public employee pensions that reduced obligations moving forward. San Jose’s reforms are heading to court, while Mayor Chuck Reed is part of a small group of mayors putting together a state-wide ballot initiative to give municipalities more control over their employee pension rules.

Gov. Jerry Brown pushed some modest pension reforms through, which are being challenged by the state unions and threatened by federal sanctions if transportation employees are not exempted. Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for pension reform. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is trying to negotiate pension reform (but not very well). Despite conspiracies that public pension reform is a far-right plot, the battle is taking place in communities where virtually all the power has been consolidated among leftist factions.

Read Cannon’s whole piece here.

I would add that similar conflicts can be seen in pushes for more charter schools. Despite, again, conspiracies that it’s all religious nuts who don’t want their kids learning evolution or corporate greedheads who see a profit, in cities, the push for more parent power over the schools is coming from the left against the entrenched unions.

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Violent Dog Attacks and Wounds Child in Front of Cop, Cop Refrains from Shooting Dog...

....because it was his dog conducting a bizarre and pointless fifth grade exercise in educating/scaring them on "how cops find drugs on you."

Story out of Brazil, Indiana, via Raw Story:

Officers intended to demonstrate that drug-sniffing dogs can detect even the smallest amounts of an illegal substance on an individual. They assembled a row of students, planting a small amount of illegal drugs on one boy.

exfordy / Foter.com / CC BYexfordy / Foter.com / CC BY

Brazil Police Chief Clint McQueen told the Times that the dog, Max, and his handler, Ray Walters, have conducted these types of demonstrations uneventfully before.

“It was an unfortunate accident,” McQueen said. “Wish it hadn’t happened like that but it did. We are trying to evaluate (the incident) to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

The classroom demonstration was carried out ostensibly to educate the group of fifth graders “on drug awareness.”

As the dog approached the group of students, one boy abruptly flinched away from the dog, causing it to lunge and bite him on the leg.  

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David Cameron Threatens Newspapers Publishing Snowden Leaks

Credit: The Prime Minister's Office / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDCredit: The Prime Minister's Office / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDBritish Prime Minister David Cameron has made a scary statement about the publication of Edward Snowden’s revelations.

From Reuters:

Oct 28 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday his government was likely to act to stop newspapers publishing what he called damaging leaks from former U.S. intelligence operative Edward Snowden unless they began to behave more responsibly.

"If they (newspapers) don't demonstrate some social responsibility it will be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act," Cameron told parliament, saying Britain's Guardian newspaper had "gone on" to print damaging material after initially agreeing to destroy other sensitive data.

It is worth remembering that British officials already threatened The Guardian, which has been publishing stories relating to Snowden’s leaked documents, with legal action if servers containing copies of the information Snowden provided were not destroyed. Officials justified the move by claiming that Russia or China could hack into the servers and access the documents. Technicians from the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) oversaw the destruction of the servers last July, despite the fact that Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger had told government officials that copies of the information were stored outside of the U.K.

The news of Cameron’s comments come days after NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said that “We ought to come up with a way of stopping” reporters from “selling” secrets.

Thankfully, it is unlikely that any government action in the U.K. is going to stop the information leaked by Edward Snowden from being revealed. As Rusbridger told British government officials, copies of the information is stored outside the U.K.

The latest NSA revelations have damaged the Obama administration’s relationship with some Europeans. It has been reported that the NSA monitored tens of millions of Spanish and French phone calls and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone was targeted.

The reporting since the latest NSA news reveals that the U.S. government doesn't have its story straight when it comes to the NSA’s activities. After last week’s news relating to Merkel’s cell phone being targeted White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied that the Obama administration was targeting Merkel’s phone saying, “The president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor.” However, reporting from the German Bild am Sonntag newspaper, based on information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, suggests that Obama did know about surveillance on Merkel’s phone, but that he only found out about the snooping in 2010 after being personally briefed by Gen. Alexander.

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School Calls Cops and Suspends Girl for Unknowingly Having a Gun Locked in Her Car

Credit: foter-Stewf-CC-BY-NC-SACredit: foter-Stewf-CC-BY-NC-SAFor unknowingly having a gun locked inside the vehicle she drove to school, a Virginia high school student was recently confronted by the police and suspended for two weeks, compromising her academics and extra-curriculars.

Courtney Niles, a 16-year-old junior at Warhill High School, was unable to drive her own car to school on October 18. She borrowed her stepbrother's truck, completely unaware of the gun securely stowed inside. Because the vehicle lacked a parking pass, a school security guard was alerted. According to the Virginia Gazette, Niles “was pulled out of her second block class and taken to the parking lot,” where she was confronted by the police:

"They asked me if there was anything in the car I needed to tell them about and I said 'no,'" she said."They said 'can you open your driver's side door and look under the seat.' There was a gun there."

She said the gun was tucked between the center console and the seat, completely out of view unless someone looked in through a back window. She was suspended as of Oct. 18, and she'll be out of school until Nov. 1.

[…]

Niles said Warhill Principal Jeff Carroll told her he checked into the specifics of the required suspension to see if there was anything he could do given the situation, but indicated there wasn't.

Warhill High School has strict policies about weapons. The student code of conduct states, “Possession or use of a weapon, whether operable or inoperable … on school property, at a school-sponsored activity, or going to or from school, is prohibited.” The school ranks offenses from 1 to 4. Breaking rules related to weapons are necessarily “presumed to be deliberate, overt and destructive,” and the student is not only automatically suspended for 10 days, but also recommended for expulsion, and police are notified.

To put the punishment into context, Warhill High considers Niles' mistake, which had no victim other than herself, equal to or worse than fighting, stealing, committing vandalism, extortion, or sexual harassment.

Furthermore, one can question what lesson Niles is supposed to take away from her punishment. She is barred from attending the homecoming dance or participating in the district cheerleading championship. She told the Gazette that her biggest concern is that being out of school for two weeks is going set her back academically.

Reason's Ed Krayewski and Jesse Walker have recently highlighted similarly absurd cases of the failures of zero tolerance policies in schools.

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The White House Demo of Obamacare Was a Test Dummy

Healthcare.govHealthcare.govHow did the Obama administration allow HealthCare.gov launch when it was so obviously broken? Wasn't there a test-run for senior White House officials to see what the final product looked like?

The answer, according to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, is yes, except that the product demo White House officials saw over the summer wasn't actually a working product. It was a mock-up of the front-end interface with no functional back-end behind it. 

When CMS presented HealthCare.gov to White House officials over the summer, they displayed a demonstration version of the website composed of screen-shots of the real exchange and overlaid with interactive features.

That version re-created the user interface, but didn't include the underlying mechanics—such as identity verification and eligibility determinations—that have foiled the site's launch. Displaying such versions for demonstration purposes is common in the computer industry. But it left senior officials unaware of the more complicated and ultimately troubled workings of the exchange.

These sorts of mock-ups are common enough in the software industry. What's not common is mistaking them for a working product. It's the equivalent of an auto executive being shown a new car design without a working engine inside. 

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John McCain: Hillary Clinton Would Be a "Very Formidable" 2016 Candidate

ReasonReasonSen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said that Hillary Clinton would be "a very strong candidate" in 2016. McCain also praised Clinton's performance as secretary of state, the whole Benghazi fiasco aside. 

From Politico:

Sen. John McCain said Monday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be a “very formidable” presidential candidate in 2016.

Speaking in Chicago at an event with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Arizona Republican praised Clinton’s work as secretary, according to Bloomberg News.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Secretary Clinton would be a very strong candidate,” McCain said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt she has widespread support. Her work as secretary of state, with the exception of this issue of Benghazi — which isn’t going away — I think has been outstanding. I think she would be viewed by anyone, Republican or Democrat, as a very formidable candidate for 2016.”

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Margaret Sanger Was Anti-Abortion!?!? Peter Bagge on Planned Parenthood, Eugenics, and "Woman Rebel"

"Margaret Sanger Was Anti-Abortion!?!? Peter Bagge on Planned Parenthood, Eugenics, and Woman Rebel" is the latest video from ReasonTV. Watch above or click the link below for full text, links, downloadable versions, and more.

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Those Deadly, Dangerous Postage Stamps Still Live

Remember these things?USPSEarlier in the month, we were all outraged to discover the United States Postal Service was playing with the lives of children with a series of stamps showing kids engaging in terrifying, reckless activities like doing headstands without wearing helmets and skateboarding without kneepads.

Untold lives were saved when members of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition intervened and objected to some of the images presented on the “Just Move” stamp series. Initial reporting by Linn’s Stamp News said the whole stamp run was going to be destroyed.

But that is not the case, at least not yet. The stamps were not scheduled to actually be released until next spring, and now it’s been put on hold until they decide what to do. I talked briefly with Roy Betts, a spokesman for the USPS. He corrected the record that the stamps have not been destroyed, but production of them is on hold until a decision is made, sometime in 2014.

So for now, it is safe to expose your children to postage stamps to, you know, explain to them how we used to use them to send letters to our dinosaur pen-pals back in the olden days.

A. Barton Hinkle on Why Small Government Is the Cure for Voter Ignorance

Credit: wallyg / Foter.com / CC-BY-NC-NDCredit: wallyg / Foter.com / CC-BY-NC-NDMy fellow Americans, we are one ignorant bunch, writes A. Barton Hinkle. This is particularly true with regard to politics and government, subjects about which the public is a howling void of nescience. What’s the solution? Limited government. As Hinkle explains, a smaller state can do less damage, even in the hands of a chronically uninformed electorate.

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Seized Six-Month-Old Infant Returned to Michigan Parents Who Use Medical Marijuana, Child Will Have to be Submitted to Drug Tests

returned to parents, with conditionsFacebookChild Protective Services agents in Michigan, where medical marijuana was legalized by voter initiative in 2008, seized six-month-old Bree Green from her parents, with cops looking on, after a “referee” decided the parents were putting the baby in danger by having marijuana in the home. The house could, for example, be robbed, the referee suggested.

At an evidentiary hearing last week the judge expressed doubts about the allegations in the CPS petition for custody, and on Friday ordered that the child be returned to her parent’s custody. But the government did extract concessions from the Greens. Via USA Today:

"We said we're going to let the parents medicate (with marijuana) but not around the children, just what they've been doing all along, and allow some type of regular testing of the baby, maybe a mouth swab," to prove that Bree was not being exposed, [family attorney Joshua] Covert said.

As part of the order, the Greens will also be allowed to resume growing marijuana for their use, something they were facing felony charges for. Opponents of Michigan’s marijuana law (usually those whose job is to enforce laws) claim medical marijuana is a cover for drug dealers. “I’ve seen it first hand,” one local police chief insisted.

Nationwide statistics on how many children the government takes away from their parents are, unsurprisingly, not available, but it appears to happen regularly.

Bree’s father, Steve Green, says there’s been talk about introducing “Free Bree” legislation that would add protections to the medical marijuana law to stop cases like his, which drew statewide attention to the issue.

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Zombie Government Bodies Spread Nationally; Occasional Victories Require Difficult Budget Shot

Zombie bureaucratMartin SoulStealerWe all know how intrusive, bloated and expensive the federal government is—the not-really-a-shutdown provided us a glimpse of just how far the beast on the Potomac has extended its tentacles into everyday life. But local government often flies under the radar, spreading its reach, hassling its subjects and outliving its usefulness while we remain largely unaware of the growing problem. It's the attack of the zombie government agencies, and victories against them are rare and hard-fought.

At Bloomberg, Tim Jones and John McCormick write:

Across the country, there are 38,266 special purpose districts, or government units distinct from cities, counties and schools, each with its own ability to raise money. Since President Ronald Reagan declared in his 1981 inaugural address that government “is not the solution to our problem -- government is the problem,” their numbers have jumped 32 percent.

Among such bodies is "a mosquito abatement district in suburban Chicago that spends three-quarters of its budget on pay and benefits -- and more on pensions than insecticide. The districts have been around since the 1920s, when they were created to fight malaria." Illinois, overall, is tits-deep in these pointless but expensive local agencies, with "almost 7,000 units that tax, spend and drive up debt in a state struggling to pay off vendors and cover almost $100 billion of unfunded pension liabilities." The agencies often duplicate each other's efforts, sharing overlapping responsibilities and jursdictions—and still not accomplishing their assigned (and often archaic) tasks, while failing to do so with full staffing and spectacular costs.

Spectacular costs? The South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District spent $2.3 million last year, most on salaries, pensions and the like, with only $100,000 going to pesticide. The Wheaton Sanitary District pays its head $146,000 per year—more than Illinois' lieutenant governor, treasurer, or comptroller take home.

The special districts are almost impossible to kill, since they have entrenched defendes in the form of patronage hires and their own lobbyists, while most taxpayers don't know they exist.

These seemingly unkillable government bodies do take an occasional head shot.

In Lee County, Florida, the Lee Soil and Water Conservation District, established in 1947 as a New Deal-era effort to keep the Oklahoma dust bowl from replicating itself in...Florida? Anyway, decades later, it had been reduced to expending its budget on sprinkler inspections at a cost of $500 each. As a result, reports WINK News, "An agency in local government has abolished itself, because its directors realized: it had nothing to do. So, the Lee Soil and Water Conservation District has gone out of existence after more than 60 years."

Lee Soil and Water Conservation CommissionLee Soil and Water Conservation CommissionBut...There was more to it than that. More in the form of years of hard work as local libertarians worked to win a majority on the District board and to rein it in. Writing in the News-Press, one of those activists, Kim Hawk, describes the process:

It was springtime in 2004 when the federal, state and local budgets were spiraling out of control and Jack Tanner, at the tender age of 70, was looking for a way that even one person could make a difference.

He set his sights on the Lee County Soil and Water Conservation District board, got himself appointed to fill a vacancy. Come election time, he got elected and realized that after several 4-1 votes against the idea he needed help.

In the spring of 2006 Jack asked fellow libertarians Tom Clark and myself to join him and create a 3-2 majority. I was lucky to run unopposed and Tom won by a solid margin, setting the stage for the first big showdown. ...

As layers of government over the years rendered the districts obsolete, they became bureaucracies in search of a mission. Many districts, including Lee’s, decided their new mission was to offer “free” inspections of lawn sprinklers. No adjustments or repairs were allowed. Jack Tanner was furious when he realized the cost of each visit was $500, consuming $200,000 in taxpayer money in Lee County every year.

Jan. 11, 2007 dawned clear and cold. I was nervous and excited as I entered my first meeting and found the room full of important looking bureaucrats. The board moved quickly to the discussion of the termination of two employees and the sprinkler check-up service. Amid vehement protests and declarations of retribution we voted 3-2 to end the program.

You'll notice that victory was in 2007 and final dissolution came last month, in 2013. The years in between were spent returning money to taxpayers, successfully battling to end other sprinkler-inspection programs and fighting to have the District dissolved so nobody else could win control and restart the patronage machine. The whole process took nine years.

One down, 38,265 special purpose districts to go.

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Kurt Loder on the Underappreciated Genius of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Here’s a fun Vanity Fair video of Reason.com film reviewer and rock-journalism legend Kurt Loder talking up the phantasmagorical Chuck Barris biopic, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind:

 

Speaking of Loder, he has written (as you would expect) a fine remembrance of Lou Reed, who Jesse Walker and I eulogized yesterday.

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Greg Beato on Drinking for Charity

Credit: Shokichka / Foter / CC BY-NC-SACredit: Shokichka / Foter / CC BY-NC-SAAt the Oregon Public House, every sip of barrel-aged imperial stout and apricot-tinged hard cider takes the edge off a cold, harsh world. And not just because many of the craft brews served by the recently opened Portland pub boast a higher alcohol content than a bottle of Budweiser. Greg Beato reveals the world of the "philanthropub." Along with the brews, a variety of non-profits are on tap here, too. When you place your order at the bar, you don't just choose beer, wine, or food. You also choose an organization such as Friends of the Children or Friends of Trees, which gets the profit from your order.

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Beckett, Borges, and the American Psychiatric Association

We've written a fair amount here at Reason about the new edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But Sam Kriss at The New Inquiry has found an angle we missed: to review it as though it's an experimental dystopian novel. An excerpt:

Brave New EditionThe scene this prologue sets is one of a profoundly bleak view of human beings; one in which we hobble across an empty field, crippled by blind and mechanical forces whose workings are entirely beyond any understanding. This vision of humanity's predicament has echoes of Samuel Beckett at some of his more nihilistic moments—except that Beckett allows his tramps to speak for themselves, and when they do they're often quite cheerful. The sufferers of DSM-5, meanwhile, have no voice; they're only interrogated by a pitiless system of categorizations with no ability to speak back. As you read, you slowly grow aware that the book's real object of fascination isn't the various sicknesses described in its pages, but the sickness inherent in their arrangement.

Who, after all, would want to compile an exhaustive list of mental illnesses? The opening passages of DSM-5 give us a long history of the purported previous editions of the book and the endless revisions and fine-tunings that have gone into the work. This mad project is clearly something that its authors are fixated on to a somewhat unreasonable extent. In a retrospectively predictable ironic twist, this precise tendency is outlined in the book itself. The entry for obsessive-compulsive disorder with poor insight describes this taxonomical obsession in deadpan tones: "repetitive behavior, the goal of which is[...]to prevent some dreaded event or situation." Our narrator seems to believe that by compiling an exhaustive list of everything that might go askew in the human mind, this wrong state might somehow be overcome or averted. References to compulsive behavior throughout the book repeatedly refer to the "fear of dirt in someone with an obsession about contamination." The tragic clincher comes when we're told, "the individual does not recognize that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable." This mad project is so overwhelming that its originator can't even tell that they've subsumed themselves within its matrix...[T]he entire story is a portrait of the narrator's own particular madness.

Read the whole thing here.

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A.M. Links: Officials Claim White House Didn’t Know About NSA Spying on World Leaders, Kathleen Sebelius Testifying in the House Wednesday, Lou Reed Dead at 71

  • he could sleep for a thousand yearsdannynorton/flickrUS officials say spying on world leaders was mostly stopped after the practice was mentioned in an internal Obama Administration memo this summer, and claim the White House was unaware of it before then. Angela Merkel’s phone may have been monitored since 2002. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, defended the practices and insisted public information on them was misguided.
  • Kathleen Sebelius is set to testify Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the disaster that is Obamacare so far.
  • Federal authorities say they’ve seized 44,336 bitcoins worth $29 million allegedly belonging to Ross Ulbricht, who has been charged with drug dealing, money laundering, and other crimes related to his operation of Silk Road.
  • The FBI will investigate the fatal shooting by police of a 13-year-old boy who was carrying a pellet gun.
  • Syria has submitted a plan to eliminate its chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons four days ahead of the deadline.
  • Lou Reed, formerly of the Velvet Underground, died aged 71.

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Instapundit: Obamacare Simply Most Recent in Failed Federal Mega-Projects

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, writes in USA Today of the long list of federally funded mega-projects that go nowhere slow.... After riffing a bit on that theme, he writes:

The Olmsted Dam and Locks on the Ohio River were authorized by Congress in 1988, but a quarter-century later the project is only half-done. It has also overrun its budget by a factor of four.

Meanwhile, most of the interesting stuff being done in outer space are being done by private companies. (In fact, President Obama's space policy approach, which emphasizes private enterprise, is one of his greatest policy successes.)

As it's gotten bigger the federal government appears to have gotten less competent. Apollo was a success on its own terms, but the big government policies that followed -- the War On Poverty, the War On Drugs, the War On Cancer -- have all been pretty much failures, sometimes disastrous ones.

Read the whole thing here.

Note that the Olmstead Dam and Locks is the very project that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) got funding for in the bill that ended the government shutdown. So it should be back to full waste level very soon...

Steve Chapman on Demolishing Guns and Common Sense

Credit: xomiele / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: xomiele / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAIn the course of their duties, Chicago police come into possession of all sorts of contraband: jewelry, video games, bicycles, cars. They sell the stuff through online auctions that are open to the public. They also confiscate some 10,000 firearms each year, with an estimated value of $2 million. They sell them and put the $2 million through a shredder. Just kidding, writes Steve Chapman. It would be insane to shred large stacks of perfectly good money. What they actually do is destroy the guns. That way, there's no money to destroy. At a time when the city of Chicago has reduced the size of the police force because of budget pressures, Chapman notes, you'd think it would not lightly forgo such a handsome sum. But it does.

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Brickbat: Catfishing

The Cuyahoga County, Ohio, prosceutor's office has fired assistant prosecutor Aaron Brockler after he admitted posing as a woman online to try to get alibi witnesses to change their testimony in a murder case. Brockler posed as a former girlfriend of the accused on Facebook and told the two witnesses, both women, that he'd had a child with the man. He claims both women then recanted their stories.

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How Lou Reed Inspired Anti-Communist Revolutionaries and the Rest of Us

I think that's what Virginia Postrel calls "glamour." |||Since Lou Reed's influence was exponentially bigger, and his personality occasionally much smaller than, his music, it's worth remembering why the late Velvet Underground singer/songwriter was deservedly famous in the first place. Jesse Walker posts some of the evidence below, to which I would add that the span of decades has dulled us to how shocking and boundary-pushing much of his earliest and greatest work was in the context of his times. 

The Velvet Underground & Nico, now universally hailed as a classic, dropped like an Improvised Explosive Device into the pop universe on March 12, 1967. The number-one song in the country at the time was The Supremes' formulaic "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone"; it would be supplanted the next week by the saccharine nostalgia of "Penny Lane." The album charts were in the middle of a seven-month run of chart-topping dominance by The Monkees. Rock music was inventive and dynamic, but at the top it was still largely performed by attractive twentysomethings laying melodic vocals over love songs performed by top studio musicians.

VU, on the other hand, went both low culture and low-fi

As Nick Gillespie and I describe in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America,

One of the only music magazines to take contemporary note of The Velvet Underground & Nico called it "a full-fledged attack on the ears and on the brain." Legendary Rolling Stone critic Lester Bangs in 1969 called the band a "bunch of junkiefaggot-sadomasochist-speed-freaks who roared their anger and their pain in storms of screaming feedback and words spat out like strings of epithets." And he liked them. The songs were about heroin, hitting your girlfriend, scoring drugs, and the pathos of planning for the next Manhattan party. The drummer was a girl (no normal occurrence in those days), who played standing up, with mallets. "The real question is what this music is about—smack, meth, deviate sex and drugdreams, or something deeper?" wondered Bangs. "The most important lesson [about] the Velvet Underground," he concluded, was "the power of the human soul to transcend its darker levels."

None of which would have held more popular interest than bad collegiate poetry if the songs hadn't been so catchy, even occasionally sweet. The first song off their debut album, "Sunday Morning," could almost be a children's lullaby if it wasn't for the nagging suspicion that the singer probably hadn't slept since Friday:

"Sunday Morning" was the favorite VU song of Jan Macháček, the longtime lead singer of the Czech Republic's Velvet Revival Band, unquestionably the greatest of all the world's VU cover bands (this despite Macháček's almost impenetrable accent in the late '80s and early '90s, in which he was more likely to sing "Hah-row-ween" than "Heroin"). Lou Reed's connection to the overthrow of communism, it turns out, was as indelible as it was accidental. The Velvet Revolution took its name in part from the Velvet Underground, and when Reed finally met Václav Havel in 1990, he was startled to hear one of the 20th century's great freedom fighters say, "Did you know that I am president because of you?"

MORE »
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Jesse Walker on Hardhats for Peace, Students for War

Credit: Penny LewisCredit: Penny LewisJesse Walker reviews Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory, by Penny Lewis. The Hard Hat Riot of May 1970 has managed somehow to be both widely forgotten and universally remembered. The incident itself, in which rampaging New York construction workers beat up hippies and demanded that City Hall raise the American flag, is a piece of historical trivia. Most Americans born after it have little inkling that it occurred, and even the people who were around at the time are likely to be hazy on the details. 

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Lou Reed, RIP

Lou Reed has died at age 71. My colleague Matt Welch is writing a longer appreciation of his work; in the meantime I'll just say that at his best he was one of the greatest songwriters of the last half-century, a man with an almost unrivaled talent for wrenching something beautiful out of ugliness. Rest in peace.

And finally, something seasonal:

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Warrantless Surveillance Info to Be Used in Terrorism Case

Earlier in the year, the Supreme Court threw out a challenge to the expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's (FISA) secret programs, with the nicely tail-eating explanation that because the targets of surveillance were kept classified, nobody actually has standing to challenge the law because they didn't know they were being targeted.

Times have certainly changed since then, and now we know, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the targets include just about everybody.

Now, the Justice Department has announced it will be using information from warrantless surveillance as evidence in a case against Jamshid Muhtorov, accused of providing support to an Islamic terrorist group that was active in Uzbekistan. He had been living in Aurora, Colo., and was arrested in Chicago in 2012. The case will now likely give an opportunity for an actual legal challenge to the federal surveillance programs that will likely go to the Supreme Court yet again.

From The Guardian:

In the Muhtorov case, the FBI obtained email communications from two accounts that Muhtorov used, according to the court papers. The FBI also obtained communications originating from Muhtorov's phone lines. In one call, Muhtorov told an associate that the Islamic Jihad Union said it needed support, an FBI agent said in an affidavit filed in the case. The associate warned Muhtorov to be careful about talking about a founder of group, the affidavit stated.

The FBI also said Muhtorov communicated with a contact with the group by email using code words, telling a contact that he was "ready for any task, even with the risk of dying".

Muhtorov and another man, Bakhtiyor Jumaev, are suspected of plotting a terrorist attack planned by the Islamic Jihad Union, an FBI agent said in an affidavit. The group first conducted attacks in 2004, targeting a bazaar and police, and killing 47 people. The organisation subsequently carried out suicide bombings of the US and Israeli embassies and the Uzbekistani prosecutor general's office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Read the whole story here.

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Kathryn Ciano on the Rails to Trails Threat to Property Rights

Train tracksBeau Lawrence foter

Rails to Trails is a government program to convert abandoned railroad tracks to recreational trails. Sounds great, except that the tracks run over private property, and the private landowners haven’t been paid for this permanent land grab. In fact, the federal government is trying to turn conditional 19th century easements into permanent takings. A case before the Supreme Court this term, writes Kathryn Ciano, demonstrates the program’s problems. 

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Baltimore Police Take Steps to Avoid Wrongful Convictions

Credit: Baltimore Police DepartmentCredit: Baltimore Police DepartmentThree cheers for the Baltimore Police Department, which announced that it will henceforth present sequential double-blind photo lineups to witnesses during investigations. The practice guards against false identification.

According to the Innocence Project, “witness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful conviction nationwide.” False identification played a role in 73 percent of the 311 cases where DNA evidence ultimately led to an exoneration.

Criminologists and psychologists have long advocated sequential double-blind lineups—where neither the witnesses nor the investigators showing them the photos know if a suspect is included—because police can unintentionally influence witnesses. “Detectives are emotionally involved in the case as well as the victims,” Baltimore Deputy Commissioner John Skinner tells CBS Baltimore.

Moreover, instead of presenting multiple photos at once, police will present mug shots sequentially. Presenting images simultaneously can also lead to misidentification.

In addition to devastating the lives of the wrongly convicted, false identification can mean real criminals go free. So kudos to Baltimore police and prosecutors for admitting past mistakes and taking steps to ensure they won’t happen again.

Baltimore joins just a handful of cities across the country that conduct sequential double-blind lineups. Even though there is overwhelming evidence that the practice reduces error, police associations and district attorneys often oppose attempts to adopt double-blind lineups. In California, for instance, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed lineup reforms after law enforcement agencies objected.  

According to the Innocence Project, Dallas, Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Tucson, and Denver conduct double-blind lineups—as do police in New Jersey, North Carolina, and Connecticut.

Baltimore police have also begun to record interrogations, starting with cases involving serious crimes. See this Reason Foundation paper by Roger Koppl for more reforms that would improve the criminal justice system.

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Katherine Mangu-Ward: Kids Should Hack Their School-Provided iPads

Credit: Swansea_Photographer_FoterCredit: Swansea_Photographer_FoterIn recent weeks, Los Angeles distributed iPads to 50,000 students in the public school system as part of a pilot for a $1 billion citywide initiative. Kids quickly noted that they could bypass the district-installed security filter with two clicks, allowing them to access banned sites like YouTube and Facebook. Administrators are reprimanding the students, but Katherine Mangu-Ward believes we should encourage this kind of behavior.

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Jesse Walker Debunks Five Myths About Conspiracy Theories

It's easy to write off conspiracy theories as the delusions of the political fringe, a minor nuisance fueled by the rise of the Internet. Easy—and wrong. In an article originally printed in The Boston Globe, Managing Editor Jesse Walker clears away some of the myths that have attached themselves to the subject.

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John K. Ross on a Rare Victory Against Health Care-Strangling Red Tape

Credit: Yuya-Tamai-CC-BYCredit: Yuya-Tamai-CC-BYHealth care policy is an unholy, god-awful mess thanks to Obamacare, and was no picnic before it. The system is still saddled with the remnants of past attempts at central planning—a Gordian knot of bad incentives, powerful guilds, and anti-competitive rules. John K. Ross points to a telling example from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled this week that the state of Virginia may have violated the Constitution when it prohibited a doctor from opening shop simply to shield other businesses from competition.

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Obamacare's Medicaid Problem

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govThe Obama administration has pointed the relative success of state-based exchanges as a sign that Obamacare's health insurance exchange system can work in practice. But while it's true that several of the state-based exchanges appear to be functioning fairly well, those states may have another problem on the horizon: Many of the successful enrollments so far are in Medicaid, not private insurance. Via CBS News:

As the Obamacare website struggles, the administration is emphasizing state-level success. President Obama said Monday, "There's great demand at the state level as well. Because there are a bunch of states running their own marketplaces."

But left unsaid in the president's remarks: the newly insured in some of those states are overwhelmingly low-income people signing up for Medicaid at no cost to them.

Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, said, "We're seeing a huge spike in terms of Medicaid enrollments."

He says the numbers have surprised him and state officials.

CBS News has confirmed that in Washington, of the more than 35,000 people newly enrolled, 87 percent signed up for Medicaid. In Kentucky, out of 26,000 new enrollments, 82 percent are in Medicaid. And in New York, of 37,000 enrollments, Medicaid accounts for 64 percent. And there are similar stories across the country in nearly half of the states that run their own exchanges.

Maryland, another state running its own exchange, has enrolled about 80,000 people in Medicaid, but only about 2,300 in private plans. 

Medicaid was always supposed to be part of the mix, and the Congressional Budget Office even projected that Medicaid enrollment would be higher than private enrollment in 2014. But the numbers we're seeing so far are way out of proportion to what was expected. 

The issue here is that if states don't get high enrollment in private plans, and the enrollment mix isn't weighted enough toward relatively young and healthy beneficiaries, you end up with a small, lopsided private insurance pool made up mostly of older, sicker, and thus more expensive individuals. As former federal Medicaid chief Gail Wilensky tells CBS, "Either the private insurance enrollments come up somewhere around the expected amount or there's going to be a problem. ...You need a volume and you need a mix of people that are healthy as well as high users in private insurance, in order to have it be sustainable." It's possible that these early enrollment figures are just the products differing levels of enthusiasm between Medicaid eligible individuals and folks enrolling in private sector coverage. But if not, this could be a real problem. 

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Jacob Sullum on Your Spying Cellphone

Smartphoneawee 19 FoterIn July the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that police generally need a warrant to obtain information about the locations of cellphone users. Less than two weeks later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said just the opposite. The first decision was based on Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution, while the second decision was based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But those provisions are virtually identical, banning "unreasonable searches and seizures" of "persons, houses, papers, and effects." The crucial difference between the two decisions, writes Reason's Jacob Sullum, is the "third party doctrine," which holds that people have no constitutional right to privacy with respect to information they voluntarily share with others.

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Taxi Wars: How Govt Tries to Kill Innovative Ride Services Customers Want

If you've ever tried Uber, the innovative car service available in about two dozen U.S. cities, or have been stuck waiting for a cab, watch the video above.

Rob Montz and William Beutler's short doc captures attempts by established interests and politicians in Washington, D.C. to crush a service that only added to residents' transportation options at no cost to taxpayers. It's an incredible tutorial both in how markets, technology, and innovation can make our lives better - and why such improvements are constantly fought by people who benefit from the status quo. For more on the topic, go here.

And then read Brian Doherty's account of how drivers for Uber and another new service, Lyft, are getting screwed by West Coast regulators whose first loyalty seems to be to existing taxicab companies rather than residents who clearly benefit from a greater range of people selling safe rides. In fact, Lyft not only gives riders the ability to rate their experience and share it with others, it gives the same ability to drivers to flag riders who routinely pony up less than the suggested donation (Lyft technically solicits donations rather than collects fares).

In the information-rich world of Lyft, a driver can ensure if they wish that passengers with records of paying below any given percentage of donations won't have their ride requests received by the driver (though drivers can never know the specific payment records of specific passengers). [Lyft] driver Jess says “that little tidbit needs to be out there. Passengers should know that if they pay much less than recommended, they do hurt themselves.”

Read more here.

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Baylen Linnekin on California Loosening (Some) Food Regulations

CupcakesJoySome of America’s most innovative and important food trends have originated in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Yet the latter banned the construction of new fast food restaurants in parts of the city in 2008, and the former banished toys from Happy Meals in 2011. Statewide laws are no better. The state’s reviled foie gras ban took effect last year, and lawsuits enabled under Proposition 65, which requires ubiquitous warnings on products of all sorts throughout the state, have targeted grocers and restaurants across the state for years. But, writes Baylen Linnekin, against this significant backdrop of bad news is some good news for small food entrepreneurs in the state. The state’s cottage food law, which took effect earlier this year, appears by any count to be a tremendous success.

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Woman Forced Into Treatment Challenges Wisconsin Law That Allows Detention of Pregnant Drug Users

The New York Times highlights the case of Alicia Beltran, a pregnant Wisconsin woman who was locked up because she admitted to a physician's assistant that she had had been hooked on Percocet (oxycodone). Beltran had stopped using Percocet with help from a substitute opiate, Suboxone (buprenorphine), and she was no longer using either drug. The physician's assistant nevertheless recommended that she start taking Suboxone again. After Beltran declined, social workers and cops got involved, the upshot being a court order sending her to Casa Clare, a drug treatment center in Appleton, where she was confined until October 4. Beltran, who is currently about 29 weeks into her pregnancy, also faces a charge of negligence that could theaten her parental rights after her baby is born. 

All this was authorized by a 1997 Wisconsin law that allows detention and forced treatment of any pregnant woman who "habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered unless the expectant mother receives prompt and adequate treatment for that habitual lack of self-control." In Beltran's case, the expectant mother was abstinent, a fact confirmed by urine tests, so it is hard to see in what sense she was experiencing a "habitual lack of self-control." Furthermore, the drug that the government wanted her to take, buprenorphine, seems to pose a greater hazard to fetuses than oxycodone, the drug to which she had been addicted.

The FDA has assigned buprenorphine to pregnancy category C, meaning "animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks." Oxycodone, by contrast, is in pregancy category B, meaning "animal reproduction studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women OR animal studies have shown an adverse effect, but adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus in any trimester." So even if Beltran had not stopped taking Percocet, the existence of "a substantial risk" is highly questionable.

In an application for a writ of habeas corpus that they filed last month, Beltran's lawyers argue that Wisconsin's fetus-protection statute is unconstitutionally vague, inviting just this sort of arbitrary enforcement. They also argue that Beltran's detention violated her rights under the the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and 14th Amendments. One of Beltran's lawyers, Lynne Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), tells the Times, "This is what happens when laws give officials the authority to treat fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as if they are already completely separate from the pregnant woman." At the hearing that led to Beltran's confinement, she had no lawyer, but the fetus inside of her did. "I didn’t know unborn children had lawyers," she says. "I said, 'Where's my lawyer?'"

 Although Beltran has been released, Paltrow and their colleagues are seeking a federal injunction blocking enforcement of the law under which she was detained. NAPW says this is the first federal challenge to statutes like Wisconsin's. According to the Times, "Wisconsin is one of four states, along with Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, with laws specifically granting authorities the power to confine pregnant women for substance abuse. But many other states use civil-confinement, child-protection or assorted criminal laws to force women into treatment programs or punish them for taking drugs." In an article published last January by the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, president of NAPW's board, report that their organization has identified more than 400 cases between 1975 and 2005 where pregnancy was a critical factor leading to civil or criminal consequences such as arrest, detention, involuntary treatment, and enhanced jail or prison sentences. Such interventions are not only unjust but probably counterproductive, increasing risks to unborn children by scaring drug users away from prenatal care. 

Some state courts have rejected aspects of the crackdown on women who use drugs during pregnancy. In 2008, for example, the South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously overturned the homicide conviction of a cocaine user whose baby was stillborn. Last February the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that using illegal drugs during pregnancy does not by itself amount to child abuse or neglect under state law. By contrast, the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that child endangerment laws can be applied at any point after conception. 

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Five Philly Narcotics Cops Being Investigated for Allegedly Burglarizing Home, Stealing Teen’s Police Explorer Uniform

cobra commander?eBayFive cops from a Philadelphia police narcotics unit are reportedly on desk duty while being investigated (by Internal Affairs, not a criminal division) for allegedly burglarizing a home. There’s sure to be more to the story, which comes via NBC Philadelphia:

Police sources tell NBC10's Harry Hairston the officers allegedly broke into India Torres' home along the 2900 block of Hurley Street in the Kensington section of the city on Wednesday night.

Witnesses say they watched officers push their way through a window to get into the home.

Once inside, officers then swiped several belongings including a uniform for the Philadelphia Police Explorers program, according to sources. Torres says her 15-year-old daughter is part of the program.

The narcotics officers did not have a warrant and the woman was not home at the time of the incident, sources also say.

The department would not identify the officers under investigation, or even confirm that Torres initiated the complaint. In June, two other Philly cops were arrested and charged for allegedly stealing narcotics from drug dealers while on-duty. In May, another Philly narcotics officer was caught in an FBI sting allegedly planting drugs on suspects and stealing their money. At least six narcotics officers came under FBI investigation last year, resulting in more than 250 cases they were involved in being thrown out by the district attorney.

Earlier this year, the police chief in Philadelphia asked the Justice Department to review his agency’s policies on the use of force after Philly.com revealed cops shot at 52 people in 2012, killing 11, up from 35 police shootings in 2011. Last year, the Philly FOP president accused the police advisory commission, an agency meant to bring accountability to the police force, of being a “threat to public safety.”

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“There’s talk a lot of bad things”; Your Drug Fear Mongering of the Day From a South Carolina TV Station

drugs! children!Ano Lobb. @healthrx / Foter.comA guidance counselor at a high school in North Augusta, Georgia South Carolina reportedly set up robo calls to parents about the danger of prescription drugs, because she’s heard a lot of talking and seen teens behaving differently (because adolescents in the absence of some kind of drug are totally mood stable).

Here’s how the CBS affiliate sets up its fear mongering gem:

Down the halls and around every classroom corner .

There's talk a lot of bad things.

"You do hear a lot of things," says one teacher at North Augusta High.

And that talk has prompted administration to spread the word.

"A lot of parents, most parents, aren't going to believe their child, is one that would take a prescription drug," said Jane Kaplenski, the guidance director at North Augusta High.

But it's happening at there school. And maybe even at your child's school.

"It's something that we're concerned about and we want parents to know what to look for," said Kaplenski.

Kaplenski and a teacher at the high school that was also interviewed mention prescription drugs as the “big talker,” but don’t get any more specific than “like the drugs for ADHD.”

Jacob Sullum noted earlier this year in explaining the fuzzy language and thought process behind the campaign against “abuse” of ADHD drugs like Adderall that the condition “is a malleable concept based on subjective impressions,” one that about 20 percent of high school boys are labeled with.

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Study Finds Pro-Surveillance Bias in Major US Newspapers, But Inaccurately Describes Pro-Surveillance as 'Conservative'

According to a new study by the Columbia Journalism Review, major American newspapers have had a significant "pro-surveillance" bias in their coverage of the federal government’s spying programs.

U.S. Government/Wikimedia CommonsU.S. Government/Wikimedia CommonsThe study's authors, Albert Wong and Valerie Belair-Gagnon, said in the report they wanted to explore whether the media has been biased in its post-Snowden coverage of government surveillance programs because biased reporting could influence public perceptions. To do this, they analyzed coverage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for either pro- or anti-surveillance bias.

The study summary explains:

We did a LexisNexis search of four of the largest US newspapers by circulation: The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. [In each newspaper, we examined the prevalence of] 30 traditionally pro- or anti-surveillance terms.

The results, which surprised Wong and Belair-Gagnon, show significant pro-surveillance bias in all of the papers:

In all four newspapers, key words generally used to justify increased surveillance, such as security or terrorism, were used much more frequently than terms that tend to invoke opposition to mass surveillance, such as privacy or liberty.

USA Today led the pack, using pro-surveillance terms 36 percent more frequently than anti-surveillance terms. The LA Times followed at 24 percent, while The New York Times was at 14.1 percent. Even the Washington Post, where Barton Gellman was the first US journalist to break the news of the NSA’s surveillance, exhibited a net pro-surveillance bias in its coverage of 11.1 percent.

Addiitonally, the pro-surveillance bias they observed was generally covert, rather than overt, which the authors speculated would be make it more effective in swaying readers.

Ironically enough though, the study has clear biases of its own: The authors chose to equate the pro-/anti- surveillance dichotomy with modern political ideology. They said they wanted to "determine if there was an overall bias in either a pro- (traditionally conservative) or anti-surveillance (traditionally liberal) direction."

Why are they presenting surveillance as a left vs. right issue? Evidence clearly shows that opinions on NSA surveillance are not split along partisan lines. (The little bit that they are is in conservatives’ favor.) Among the public, a July Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 70 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans believe the NSA’s surveillance program intrudes on Americans’ privacy rights. A June Pew Research Center poll found that liberals and conservatives are nearly identical in their views on spying programs. When this poll broke down the subsets of each ideology, it found that Tea Party Republicans are actually the most likely to disapprove of government collection of telephone and Internet data.

Among politicians, Democrats have no better track record than Republicans in opposing surveillance. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who the National Journal ranked last year as one of the country’s most liberal politicians, has vigorously defended the NSA’s spying as a lawful way to “protect America.” President Obama responded to the leaks, not with embarrassment and a plan to stop the program, but with a whole-hearted defense of its necessity. 

So if the study’s authors meant for conservative to denote authoritarianism and liberal to mean freedom, as many social scientists do, they may want to re-evaluate. Conservative views are no more pro-surveillance than liberal ones. 

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Alabama Blogger Jailed, Apparently For Not Obeying Order to Stop Publishing Certain Information about Politician

Weird story out of Alabama, as reported by the Justice Integrity Project:

The prominent investigative blogger Roger Shuler was arrested and beaten by Shelby County sheriff's deputies at his Alabama garage upon returning home Oct. 23.

justice integrity projectjustice integrity project

Shuler faces a resisting arrest charge stemming from his refusal to obey a judge's order to stop writing adversely about Robert Riley Jr., a well-connected attorney who is part of Alabama's most prominent political family.

Shuler, shown in a jail photos with a swollen face from his beating, was being held on a $1,000 bond on his resisting charge. But the judge has declined to set bond on two contempt of court charges, thereby enabling authorities to hold Shuler for an undetermined period that could be many months at the judge's discretion...

At Fox Radio's site, Shuler is quoted from before the bust:

Riley is seeking to have us held in contempt of court for reporting last Thursday on the lawsuit he has filed against us in Shelby County Circuit Court. Riley claims we have violated a preliminary injunction, with which we have not been served and for which we were not a party to any hearing. Riley also seeks to have all posts about his extramarital affair with lobbyist Liberty Duke removed from Legal Schnauzer–and Riley wants all of this done in secret, with the case file sealed and no reporting allowed to the public. …

New court documents suggest Alabama Republican Rob Riley has filed a fraudulent defamation lawsuit against me in an intimidation campaign designed to clean up his record for a run at the U.S. House seat that Spencer Bachus is vacating....

Never mind that my wife and I have not been lawfully served with Riley’s complaint, so the court has no jurisdiction over us. We only found out about the case when Shelby County deputy Mike DeHart violated any number of federal and state laws when he conducted a bogus traffic stop in order to “serve” us with the Riley papers. Also, never mind that the “prior restraint” doctrine, which grows out of the First Amendment right to free speech, generally forbids preliminary injunctions in defamation cases.

Gulf Coast News Today reported last week on the traffic stop to serve Shuler papers he mentions above.

Hat tip: Melissa Brewer

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Anti-Surveillance Activists Actually Would Like To Be Watched at Rally Saturday

Under the banner "Stop Watching Us," citizens protesting the National Security Agency’s humongous, intrusive surveillance infrastructure will be taking to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where they will all likely be secretly photographed and identified with facial recognition software. Just kidding. The NSA already knows who they are.

Anyway, CNet has an interview has an interview with Rainey Reitman, activism director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation about the development of the rally:

Question: What is Stop Watching Us?

Reitman: Stop Watching Us is a coalition that came together right after the Snowden leaks began appearing earlier this summer. It's a coalition of more than 100 different organizations and companies from across the political spectrum, it's got everyone from EFF and ACLU to Reddit and Freedom Works.

Can you tell me a bit about the Stop Watching Us protest planned for this weekend?

Reitman: On Saturday, we are going to be gathering at noon at Columbus Circle and will march to the Capitol Reflecting Pool. It's going to be a historic protest against NSA mass surveillance. We are going to have speakers like Bruce Schneier and Representative Amash and Thomas Drake, as well as musicians like the indie-pop group Yacht. We are going to be delivering 570,000 petitions from people demanding an end to mass suspicion-less surveillance by the NSA.

Read the whole interview here. Reason TV will be in attendance at the rally on Saturday, so if you can’t make it out (or if you’re just afraid of who might be watching), we’ve got you covered.

Follow this story and more at Reason 24/7.

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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NSA Expert Report Delayed by Two Weeks, White House Promises to Fix Obamacare Website by End of Next Month, Connecticut Man Arrested For Allegedly Threatening New York Mets Over Social Media: P.M. Links

  • can't take it homespDuchamp/Foter.comA two week delay of the report from an “expert” review panel on the NSA’s spying practices has been blamed on the partial government shutdown. Leaked memos, meanwhile, show the United Kingdom’s intelligence service worrying about legal challenges in the wake of revelations about its cooperation with the NSA and its own surveillance practices.
  • The Obama Administration says it’ll have the Obamacare website “fixed” by November 30. An Obamacare subcontractor has been promoted to general contractor and charged with leading the effort. Democrats facing difficult re-election campaigns next year, meanwhile, are increasingly open to the idea of delaying Obamacare.
  • There is an all-time high of 1.2 million homeless students in US public schools, according to new government data.
  • Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. will sell his home to pay the fines associated with his corruption conviction. His two and half year prison sentence is set to begin November 1.
  • A Connecticut man was arrested for allegedly threatening the New York Mets over social media.
  • A mailman in Detroit fought a fire and saved a woman from the second floor of her house before returning to his route.
  • A bitcoin ATM set to go live in Vancouver next week may be the first like it in the world.
  • The mother of a blonde Roma girl seized from her presumptive parents in Greece was found to be a Roma woman in Bulgaria who says she left the child in Greece because she could not afford her.
  • A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the eastern coast of Japan earlier today, triggering a tsunami warning.

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David Harsanyi on Why You Should Root for Obamacare’s Failure

Credit: White House / Flickr.comCredit: White House / Flickr.comIn a news conference expected to feature a mea culpa for the Obamacare website fiasco, President Barack Obama turned the tables on his political opponents, scolding them for using their supernatural ability to transform the mere hope of failure into a reality. "It's time," he implored, "for folks to stop rooting for its failure.” Not so fast, says David Harsanyi. What’s wrong with rooting for a dangerous and misguided policy to fail?

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Petition Site Change.Org Launches Verified Account Feature for Politicians, Paul Ryan, Elizabeth Warren Among First Adopters

ye olde fashioned way of getting ignoredMichael @ NW Lens/Foter.comIf you want the chance to petition and be ignored by the president, there’s always We the People. But now the petition site Change.org, which says it has a user base of 50 million, is expanding its system to allow “decision makers,” like politicians, to sign up for verified accounts, with which they can respond to petitions on the site that have gathered enough signatures. Tech President reports:

Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.) are three early Congressional adopters of the tool. [Change.org’s director of external affairs Jack] Brewer says that they've just been sent their logins, so they haven't had a chance to respond to the dozens of outstanding petitions addressed to them that can be found on the site.

Politicians are the first broad category of public figures that are being given access to "Change.org for Decision Makers." Other sector leaders will include those in the world of business and non-profits.

Having just launched on Wednesday, it’s too early to tell how successful Change.org’s new feature will be. It won’t take too much responsiveness from the politicians who do sign up to outperform the White House’s petition site, and you won’t have to register with the government to do it.

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NSA Chief Wants There To Be a Way To Stop Reporters "Selling" Secrets

Credit: National Security Agency (NSA)/wikimediaCredit: National Security Agency (NSA)/wikimediaNSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said during an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog that he wants there to be a way stop reporters “selling” intelligence secrets.

Before making the comment on selling secrets, Gen. Alexander outlined his concern:

My concern is the revealing of these programs allow terrorists to know the best weapons that we have against them. It will cause irreversible and significant damage, and it means that terrorists now have an upper edge in conducting attacks probably in Europe and potentially in the United States, and our ability to stop them is reduced. And so when people die those that are responsible for leaking it are the ones that should be held accountable.

Later, Gen. Alexander says that “We ought to come up with a way of stopping” reporters selling documents:

I think it’s wrong that newspaper reporters have all these documents, 50,000 or whatever they have, and are selling them and giving them out as if these...you know it just doesn't make sense. We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that, that’s more of the courts and the policy makers, but from my perspective it’s wrong, and to allow this to go on is wrong.

Watch the interview below:

More from Reason.com on the NSA here

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Violent Crime Rate Bumps Up For Second Year in a Row

CrimeMonkeybusinessimages: DreamstimeEvery year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics publishes the results of its National Crime Victimization Survey. The latest one finds that the violent crime rate in 2012 (which includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault) rose from 22.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons in 2011 to 26.1 last year. In 2011, the violent crime rate rose from from 19.3 to 22.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older. That's up from the low point reached in 2010 when the BJS reported that the number of violent criminal victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 and older had declined from 17.1 to 14.9 victimizations per 1,000 persons between 2009 and 2010.

In 1993, the violent crime rate was 79.8 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older. So even with the increase last year, the violent crime rate is still nearly 70 percent lower than it was two decades ago.

Rand Paul Threatens To Hold Up Janet Yellen Nomination To Fed: Report

Rand Paul spokesman Brian Darling confirmed Friday that Paul will request a vote on his Fed transparency bill as part of Janet Yellen's nomination process.

"As part of Senate consideration of the Janet Yellen nomination to be Chair of the Federal Reserve, I will request a vote on my bipartisan Federal Reserve Transparency Act, S. 209," Paul said, per Darling. "The American people deserve transparency from the federal reserve and the federal government as a whole."

Read the full article.

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You Still Can't Keep (or Afford) Your Insurance Under Obamacare

Healthcare.govU.S. GovernmentAt America magazine, Robert David Sullivan takes me to task for writing "you probably can't keep" your existing individual-market health insurance* under the new Affordable Care Act rules. He objects, "31 million Americans were covered by directly purchased health insurance before Obamacare (in addition to the 171 million Americans who got health insurance through employers), so even hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters don’t translate to 'you probably can’t keep' your existing plan." Sullivan also points out that insurance under the new rules covers scads of cool new stuff, including mental health, and that's a good thing. Except...his points are side-step what I originally wrote, and dodge the very real problems at the core of Obamacare.

For starters, "hundreds of thousands" of cancellation letters (add in another 76,000 from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, in the D.C. area) weren't my sole evidence that many existing policies are noncompliant with the new rules. I also quoted health industry consultant Bob Laszewski to the effect that "about 85%" of existing individual health plans are not compliant and will have to be canceled. The CareFirst cancellations, above, cover about 40 percent of the company's customers in the area around the nation's capital. Florida Blue canceled about 80 percent of its customers' policies. Whether the letters have been sent yet or not, a lot of plans simply don't meet the requirements of the new law and won't survive the transition.

Yes, those new requirements include new coverage, including mental health care. Sullivan emphasizes Kaiser's report that "the new policies will offer consumers better coverage, in some cases, for comparable cost," but skips the line pointing out, "Some receiving cancellations say it looks like their costs will go up, despite studies projecting that about half of all enrollees will get income-based subsidies." The New York Times reports that high premiums on the exchanges is a particular problem in rural areas.

In fact, the requirement for subsidies to bring costs down, and the faliure, in many cases for those subsides to do anything of the sort, are part of the problem with Obamacare. Sold, in part, as a measure to lower the cost of health care, the Affordable Care Act appears instead to be increasing costs and then attempting to shift them around, with the idea that "young invincibles" can be conscripted into the system to bear the burden and subsidize premiums for others. Part of those increased costs comes from mandated coverage (between ten and 50 percent "depending on the state, specific legislative language, and type of health insurance policy" according to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance). The mental health coverage that Sullivan praises is especially costly.

If, despite those cost-shifting subsidies, consumers still experience sticker shock when they go shopping, that's going to drive them away no matter the penalty—especially the young invincibles who don't really want to pay the premiums anyway. That leaves a core of sick patients in the system, driving costs up even higher, which puts upward pressure on premiums... This is what Reason's Peter Suderman calls the "health insurance death spiral."

And you can see some of the evidence for that spiral in the cancellation letters, the mandated "fancy-pants" (as Sullivan puts it) coverage, and the resulting high prices at which customers balk.

*Yes, I know it's not really insurance.

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Grover Norquist Says Taxing Pot Is Not a Tax Hike

Gage SkidmoreGage SkidmoreGrover Norquist, who last month spoke in favor of legislation that would allow state-licensed cannabusinesses to deduct expenses on their federal tax returns, tells National Journal that politicians who vote for taxes on newly legal marijuana need not worry that they are violating the pledge promoted by Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform. The ATR pledge says, "I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes." But according to Norquist, marijuana taxes don't count:

"That's not a tax increase. It's legalizing an activity and having the traditional tax applied to it," he says.

He compares legalization to changes in alcohol regulation, as when a state legalizes the sale of liquor on Sundays or allows grocery stores to sell beer and wine where they previously couldn't.

"When you legalize something and more people do more of it and the government gets more revenue because there's more of it...that's not a tax increase," he explains. "The tax goes from 100 percent, meaning it's illegal, to whatever the tax is."

At 25 percent on three levels of sales (on top of the state's standard sales tax of 8.75 percent), Colorado's marijuana tax is significantly higher than its levy on alcohol, but it's all the "same zone," says Norquist.

If we were talking about the standard sales tax or income tax, Norquist's description would be accurate: Legalizing marijuana automatically makes it subject to taxes that apply to other legal industries. But the special marijuana taxes are another matter. Surely those count as new taxes. And even if you accept the general idea of "sin" taxes on politically disfavored products, the pot taxes in both Colorado and Washington are much higher than those states' taxes on alcoholic beverages, contrary to what Norquist implies.

The tax of "25 percent on three levels of sales" to which National Journal refers is actually Washington's scheme, not Colorado's. By comparison, Washington imposes the following taxes on alcoholic beverages: $8.08 per barrel (26 cents per gallon) for beer, 23 cents per liter for wine, and $3.77 per liter, plus 20 percent of the retail price, for distilled spirits. The tax on distilled spirits, by far the heaviest, raises the price of a $20, 750-milliliter bottle by about 35 percent. By contrast, the marijuana taxes will raise retail prices by about 58 percent, according to calculations by BOTEC, the consulting firm hired by Washington's cannabis regulators. 

In Colorado, where the legalization initiative proposed taxing marijuana "in a manner similar to alcohol," the disparity between alcohol taxes and pot taxes is even bigger than in Washington. Next month voters will decide whether to approve Proposition AA, which authorizes a 15 percent excise tax and a special sales tax of up to 15 percent. By comparison, Colorado imposes the following taxes on alcoholic beverages: 8 cents per gallon for beer, 7.3 cents per liter for wine, and 60.3 cents per liter for distilled spirits. Again, consider the impact of the tax on distilled spirits, the most heavily taxed alcoholic beverage. The tax adds about 45 cents to the price of a 750-milliliter bottle; assuming a starting price of $20, that's an increase of about 2.3 percent, or one-tenth the price increase that the Proposition AA campaign says will result from the marijuana taxes. I would not say Tax A is in the "same zone" as Tax B if Tax A is 10 times as high as Tax B. Would you?

Even if we say, as Norquist suggests, that Colorado and Washington are replacing a "prohibition tax" with excise and sales taxes, consumers still could see the equivalent of a tax increase if legal prices turn out to be higher than black-market prices. That seems likely in Washington, at least over the short term, and might happen in Colorado as well.

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Fear of a Liberal Pontiff

Writing in Buzzfeed, McKay Coppins and Hunter Schwarz describe evangelicals' uncomfortable reactions to some recent statements by the pope:

I give you a Jack Chick panel, and you ask for alt-text too? WILL NOTHING SATISFY YOU?Jack T. ChickIn a series of interviews earlier this year, Pope Francis repeatedly signaled a desire for his flock to disengage from the culture wars -- complaining that the church had become "obsessed" with issues like marriage and abortion, actively seeking common ground with atheists, and even appearing to flirt with moral relativism. While the new tone coming out of the Vatican has drawn plaudits from progressives, it has also driven a wedge into the powerful political alliance between conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians that's been instrumental in electing hundreds of Republicans over the past four decades....

From the start of their unlikely alliance, Catholics and evangelicals have always made for strange bedfellows. Before the 1970s, American protestants and Roman Catholics had been locked in a religious rivalry that sometimes expressed itself in nuanced theological debates and just as often devolved into pulpit-pounding sermons rife with fire and brimstone. Considerable swaths of each faith were convinced the other side was going to hell.

It wasn't until the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision -- and the sexual revolution that presaged it -- that the two religions were united in an awkward but enduring marriage of convenience. For the better part of 40 years, evangelicals and Catholics stood side by side battling the encroachment of secularism, the collapse of traditional sexual ethics, and the general rot of American culture. When Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority, he insisted that Catholics be among the leadership. And the coalition only became more focused and influential after the Soviet Union collapsed, when politically minded priests in the U.S. who had spent much of their energy railing against the evils of communism shifted their homilies to pro-life commentary.

That man needs to read his Bible.Jack T. ChickThe piece is filled with quotes from Protestants upset with the pope's path. (My favorite: "That man needs to read his Bible.") One topic it doesn't explore is the quieter seething coming from some conservative Catholics. At this point in American history, the division between socially liberal and socially conservative Christians is arguably much more intense than the division between Catholics and Protestants. If Francis continues to be perceived as one of the liberals, it'll be interesting to see how that plays out within as well as outside the American Catholic community.

Elsewhere in Reason: I discussed the right-wing Catholic/Protestant alliance in "The Accidental Modernist," and I noted some ways the liberals influenced the conservatives in "Beyond Pleasantville."

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UK Government Announces Raid on 3D-Printed Gun Factory, Uses Parts of the Printer as Evidence

The way the story of an illicit British 3D-printed gun factory played out, and fell apart, told well at the Giagaom site:

Police in the UK city of Manchester have seized a 3D printer and what they have alleged to be 3D-printed gun parts, during a raid on alleged criminal gangs. However, as an eagle-eyed reader has noted, the parts shown off by police are actually spare parts for a 3D printer....

gigaomgigaom

The UK has banned private handgun ownership since the 1996 Dunblane school massacre, so the approach there seems to be more crackdown than curiosity. Greater Manchester Police said on Friday that, the previous day, they had carried out a series of raids in the city. One of those operations turned up a 3D printer that they reckon cost around £1,200 ($1,950), together with what they said they suspected to be a “3D plastic magazine” and a “trigger.”

The magazine seems to be part of a filament spool holder and the trigger part of adrive block:

The police said they are now examining the components to see if they can really be put together to make a “genuine device”....In case you’re wondering, the street price of a real gun in Manchester is around £100.

According to a statement by Detective Inspector Chris Mossop:

“If what we have seized is proven to be viable components capable of constructing a genuine firearm, then it demonstrates that organised crime groups are acquiring technology that can be bought on the high street to produce the next generation of weapons.

“In theory, the technology essentially allows offenders to produce their own guns in the privacy of their own home, which they can then supply to the criminal gangs who are causing such misery in our communities. Because they are also plastic and can avoid X-ray detection, it makes them easy to conceal and smuggle....

second statement, released after it became clear the parts weren’t for guns, took the affair firmly into the realm of farce. After initially stressing that the Greater Manchester Police could not categorically say these were gun parts (the first statement was entitled “Component parts for UK’s first 3D gun seized”), Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood continued:

“Clearly the fact we have seized a 3D printer and have intelligence about the possible production of a weapon using this technology is of concern. It prudent we establish exactly what these parts can be used for and whether they pose any threat.

“What this has also done is open up a wider debate about the emerging threat these next generation of weapons might pose...

Some of the more hysterical initial reporting from Guardian and Sky News that took the initial police reports seriously, sent to me by my buddy and 3D printing-as-art-historical-preservation guru Cosmo Wenman, have already been taken down.

Cody Wilson, the apostle of 3D weapon printing and the subject of a profile feature by me in the December issue of Reason (subscribe now!) in an interview with Sky Net was quoted as saying:

I think countries like the UK...where your culture is schizophrenic, scared of itself, post-heroic and is unwilling to deal with the idea that people will have guns again - somehow like it's a feature of
Britishness.

I think that's absurd and I can show you that's disappearing.

I'm saying that your future will have these as a feature irrevocably from now to eternity and this is something that's bleeding into the present.

Wilson had a lot to say when I interviewed him for the Reason feature on the media and government's very real role as essentially the terrorists in this 3D-printed weapon debate.

Through events and reporting like this, and like breathlessly sending reporters on trains with plastic weapon parts, they are trying to create terror in the part of the citizens over a newly available technological opportunity. It's funny to watch, in its way.

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Ronald Bailey Goes In Search of Frankencorn in Hawaii

FrankencornRonald BaileyAnti-biotech signs and literature are festooned across the Hawaiian Islands. The islands are the epicenter of a ferocious anti-biotech campaign funded, in part, by mainland money that aims to shut down thousands of acres of biotech seed production farms. The activists have succeeded in frightening a couple of county councils into banning the growing of commercial biotech crops. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey went to visit Monsanto's Piilani farm on Maui to see for himself the Frankencorn that haunts the activists’ choleric imaginations.

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Harry Reid: Everyone’s Willing to Pay More in Taxes Except Congressional Republicans

who else met harry?ReasonHarry Reid knows what you want.

From the Weekly Standard:

Senate majority leader Harry Reid says that "Everybody" is "willing to pay more" taxes. He said so in an interview with a Nevada Public Radio host.

“The only people who feel there shouldn’t be more coming in to the federal government from the rich people are the Republicans in the Congress,” Reid told the radio host, according to Roll Call. “Everybody else, including the rich people, are willing to pay more. They want to pay more.”

People who want to pay more already can, unless they need to be told to do so?  Harry Reid insists taxation is a voluntary thing anyway. Failure to do so torpedoed his predecessor Tom Daschle’s nomination for Health and Human Services secretary, and the career of quite a few, but not all, politicians.

Follow these stories and more at Reason 24/7 and don't forget you can e-mail stories to us at 24_7@reason.com and tweet us at @reason247

Steven Greenhut on Data-Mining, Government Snooping, and Our Increasingly Dystopian Future

Credit: Flickr.com / Elvert Barnes / CC-BY-SACredit: Flickr.com / Elvert Barnes / CC-BY-SAAs with most futuristic movies, the plot from Minority Report seemed a bit far-fetched. Police psychics dispatched officers to arrest perpetrators of crimes before they actually took place. Eleven years after its release, however, writes Steven Greenhut, the movie seems remarkably prescient. That’s because police around the country are increasingly using a “Big Data” approach to fighting crime, relying on supercomputers to build profiles so that, as one police chief told a reporter, “you can logically predict where crimes are likely to occur the next day.”

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EU Leaders: Latest NSA Revelations Could Threaten Fight Against Terrorism

Credit: G8 UK Presidency / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDCredit: G8 UK Presidency / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDThe latest reporting on the documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveals that the NSA has spied on 35 world leaders, who have not been named.

From The Guardian:

The National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its "customer" departments, such as the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their "Rolodexes" so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately "tasked" for monitoring by the NSA.

The news comes days after the French newspaper Le Monde reported that the NSA spied on millions of French phone records, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the NSA hacked into the Mexican president’s public email account, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called President Obama over concerns that her cellphone was targeted by American intelligence.

The timing of these revelations is not good for the Obama administration. European Union leaders recently began their latest summit in Brussels, and unsurprisingly both the French and the Germans are pushing for a “no-spying” agreement with the U.S.

While the NSA revelations from this week make up only some of the latest embarrassing news facing the Obama administration, it is the only news that could have long-lasting diplomatic and national security implications.

Ironically, the behavior of the NSA (which is supposedly tasked with helping keep the U.S. safe) could threaten the fight against terrorism. A statement from the heads of state and government of European Union nations reads in part:

"Alongside our foreseen work, we had a discussion tonight about recent developments concerning possible intelligence issues and the deep concerns that these events have raised among European citizens.

The Heads of State or government underlined the close relationship between Europe and the USA and the value of that partnership. They expressed their conviction that the partnership must be based on respect and trust, including as concerns the work and cooperation of secret services.

They stressed that intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism. This applies to relations between European countries as well as to relations with the USA. A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering.

The Heads of State or government took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks with the USA with the aim of finding before the end of the year an understanding on mutual relations in that field. They noted that other EU countries are welcome to join this initiative.

It is worth pointing out that the NSA’s defenders have said that the agency’s behavior is justified because it prevents terrorist attacks. However, as Peter Bergen pointed out in CNN last June, traditional law enforcement investigations remain an effective means of preventing and uncovering terrorist plots:

Homegrown jihadist extremists have mounted 42 plots to conduct attacks within the United States since 2001. Of those plots, nine involved an actual terrorist act that was not prevented by any type of government action, such as the failed attempt by Faisal Shahzad to blow up a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010.

Of the remaining 33 plots, the public record shows that at least 29 were uncovered by traditional law enforcement methods, such as the use of informants, reliance on community tips about suspicious activity and other standard policing practices.

Members of the Obama administration and the intelligence community have both denied some of the latest reports. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said the recent reports of NSA snooping on French phone calls were "false" and "misleading." But remember, this is the same guy who lied to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) when asked, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

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What’s Worse: Banning Food Trucks or Subsidizing Them?

So is the government our friend or enemy today? Credit: ricardodiaz11 / Foter / CC BYCities haven’t been trying to regulate food trucks out of existence because they’re terribly unpopular, except with nearby restaurant owners. So the discovery that Michigan is actually subsidizing food trucks is a bit of a head-scratcher. But the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced this summer it’s handing out more than $75,000 to eight food truck start-ups because it’s a booming business. And if there’s anything that needs a government subsidy, it’s a business that’s already in high demand.

No, it makes no sense, though part of their development corporation’s press release gives a subtle hint as to why it picked out certain trucks: “Projects for consideration were those that offer easily accessible and unique food options to patrons in public spaces and contribute to the local economy by working with other local businesses and farms.” Emphasis added.

Michigan Capitol Confidential – the blog of the Michigan free-market think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy – made note of the subsidies, and the distortions it may have on the market:

"The government shouldn't give grants to promote any business,” said Mike Berschback, who co-owns the Green Zebra Truck, which operates in the Troy area. "[And] they certainly shouldn't pick individual winners and losers. If one's food truck is a viable business they shouldn't need assistance from the government, and if they do need it to survive then they won't be in operation long."

The blog goes on to point out the additional absurdity of subsidizing food trucks in a state where many cities are still waging a war against them. The Mackinac Center brought us the story last year of a 13-year-old in Holland, Mich., having his hot dog stand shut down by city zoning officials. One of the grant-winning trucks is based in Kalamazoo, which Mackinac noted “hands out only 10 licenses per year and prevents vendors from selling within 150 feet of a restaurant.”

Below, the Mackinac Center’s video about the travails of Holland teen Nathan Duszynski from last year. The boy was eventually granted a special permit to continue operating the stand after the story made national news:

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Obama Administration Continues to Dodge Questions About Obamacare

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govIf you want answers from the administration about Obamacare, tough luck. The federal exchanges have been open, and broken, for nearly four weeks now, but the White House and federal health officials aren't exactly being forthcoming with details.

A speech by President Obama earlier this week that was expected to address the online sign-up issues that have plagued HealthCare.gov came across more like an infomercial, complete with call-in number, for all the ways the administration says the law can work without the website.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeatedly referred questions about the health law to federal health officials. But federal health officials aren't much help either. As The Washington Examiner's Phil Klein writes, an "operational update" from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Communications Director Julie Bataille yesterday left a lot of unanswered questions.

We still don't know how many people have actually enrolled in health insurance yet. All the administration will say is that 700,000 applications have been submitted so far. But that just means that people have applied to shop around and determine their eligibility for subsidies, not that they have applied for or even seen specific plan options.

Moreover, that's a national number, across all the exchanges, including those run by the states. CMS won't say how many of those submitted applications came from the more deeply troubled federal exchange system that covers 36 states. Indeed, Bataille claimed not to know how many were from the federal system and how many were from state-run exchanges. That doesn't make much sense. In order to come up with the 700,000 applications figure, application data would have to be collected from the state exchanges. Anything on top of that would be the federal portion. It's not plausible that no one at CMS knows the federal/state split. 

Bataille also dodged questions about who, besides management consultant and former acting White House budget director Jeff Zients, is involved in the "tech surge" of IT-experts the administration is supposedly bringing in to fix the website problems. 

And she refused to say whether Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knew about the exchange's problems before launch. According to Klein, when Bataille was first asked about Sebelius, she responded to a different portion of the question. 

When pressed further on Seblelius, call moderator and HHS spokesman Richard Olague stepped in and said, “Next question, please.”

When asked about Sebelius one more time, Bataille said, “I don’t think any of us were able to fully predict the consumer demand that we would have seen on Oct. 1.”

Given that the problems go far beyond opening-day traffic volume, that still doesn't answer the question.

The evasiveness is not new. The administration has long been dodgy and secretive when it comes to the health law's internal operations. Senior officials insisted over and over again that it would work, and work on schedule, but never provided the kind of evidence or system previews they presumably would have if it had actually been working well. And they kept insisting that implementation was on track up to the very last minute, even as key tests were delayed, and then failed. 

So when Josh Barro, who is basically supportive of the law, writes that "there's no reason not to level with the public right now, unless the truth is so horrible and the website is so un-fixable that Obama administration officials can't bring themselves to discuss the matter publicly," I wonder if he might be on to something. Barro says he suspects that it's not the case that things are truly disastrous behind the scenes. But if there were positive developments to share, wouldn't someone be stepping forward to share them? Given the administration's history of both poor implementation and misleading communications about the status of the health exchange project, it's not clear to me why anyone ought to continue to give the administration the benefit of the doubt. 

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Internet Privacy Company, CryptoSeal, Hopes To Revive Service With Protections Intact

CryptoSealCryptoSealThe other day I wrote that CryptoSeal, a company offering virtual private network (VPN) services, joined the ranks of companies shutting down privacy-enhancing offerings for fear they'd be forced to surrender user data or even compromise their technology by order of the U.S. surveillance state. Ryan Lackey who, along with Tom Sparks, is one of the men behind CryptoSeal, tells me that there may still be hope for the company's consumer service.

In an email, Lackey wrote that the company is working on a way to be compliant with the law while still protecting user data to the extent possible—that is, to mimize whatever is surrendered under legal pressure.

The goal for the system to launch in 2014 is that the Government will be able to demand records on any user (under pen register), and will receive the bare minimum (ideally, a username only, in response to a username….so basically nothing), but realistically name and billing info, possibly anonymous or incorrect).  They can demand more under a warrant, and will receive similarly helpful levels of information (since we don’t retain anything).

Any changes made to the system will cause end-user-visible changes.  We’re still working on whether it’s “all or nothing” or “per user” — i.e. if changes made to a single user’s account will be visible to all users or just that one user.  This protects against both a pen trap order and a warrant (and NSL, and whatever else)

This stuff is all incidental to protecting users from insider threats (e.g. if one of our staff is forced by a criminal gang at gunpoint to subvert the system), but it happens to protect against governments as well, which might be a statement about government’s true nature…  Also protects against the company being sold, outside hackers, etc.  Hoping to do more than just a VPN with the technology.

The idea, then is to minimize the data the company possesses, so that full compliance with legal orders is minimally revealing. If this can be made to fly under the current legal regime, it should offer about the most confidence you can expect from a firm working subject to U.S., or any similarly intrusive, jurisdiction.

Lackey hopes, though, for legislative or judicial solutions to tighten up restraints on the government. He describes himself as "a bit more minarchist vs. anarcho-capitalist than I was in the past," so he's open to something in the form of a strong interpretation of the Fourth Amendment—much stronger than what we have now.

Meanwhile, as I've pointed out, snooping by the NSA and other U.S. government agencies creates an opening for overseas competitors. After my last piece, a representative of CryptoExpress, a British company, wrote me to say his firm "offers similar services" (though only at the corporate level) to those once offered by the American firms that have been shutting down, and that it "is not subject to the USA legal system." The company has a nonfunctional Website and a sparse online presence, so buyer beware. Not to mention that U.K. legal protections aren't necessarily any better than those in the states.

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A.M. Links: Snowden Documents Show NSA Spied on 35 World Leaders, Democrats in Uneasy Position Amid Obamacare Site Investigations, Twerking Banned at Maryland High School

Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography / Foter / CC BYCredit: Pink Sherbet Photography / Foter / CC BY

  • The latest reporting on the documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveals that the NSA spied on 35 world leaders.
  • The ongoing investigations into the screwups relating to the Healthcare.gov launch have put some Democrats in an uncomfortable position.
  • Twerking has been banned at a Maryland high school’s homecoming. Students and parents have had to sign a “dance contract” which says that students will be booted from the event if they twerk.
  • The ACLU and officials from the Ohio city of Defiance have come to a temporary agreement regarding the city’s ban on sidewalk messages. The ACLU is arguing that the ordinance in question violates free speech rights and should not apply to chalk messages.
  • Twitter is seeking up to $1.4 billion in its initial public offering.
  • Tennessee has scheduled its first execution in five years.

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Kurt Loder Reviews Blue Is the Warmest Color and The Counselor

Credit: SundanceCredit: SundanceBlue Is the Warmest Color arrives trailing clouds of buzz from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where even the French were agog at the movie’s extended lesbian sex scenes. It’s true that these scenes are unusually graphic—only millimeters away from full-on porn (thus the picture’s NC-17 rating). But, Kurt Loder believes the movie is more than just rote groan-and-grind. It’s a love story with a deep emotional charge. The Counselor, by contrast, takes major talent and creates from them something dull and jumbled.

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Video: The New (and Old) Attacks on Free Thought: Jonathan Rauch and John Tierney on the 20th Anniversary of Kindly Inquisitors

"The New (and Old) Attacks on Free Thought: Jonathan Rauch and John Tierney on the 20th Anniversary of Kindly Inquisitors" 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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What Side Are You on in the Uber Wars?

 

Uber is a car service that connects drivers and riders via a great smart-phone app. It's upended the way that livery service works in 20 countries and a couple of dozen U.S. cities. It's particularly useful for off-the-beaten-path parts of towns that often get shorted by conventional methods of transit.

Which means that taxi commissions, cab companies, and grandstanding politicians have tried to shut it down or regulate it unto to death all over the place.

Check out the vid above about how the powers that be tried to squelch Uber - and ultimately failed.

Go here for more details.

And read Brian Doherty's story about Uber, Lift, and other new ride-sharing services that are taking more heat than they should.

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Brickbat: Partying Prosecutor

Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Paul Howard has spent thousands of dollars of asset forfeiture funds making sure that he and his staff have a good time. According to a recent newspaper report, he's used it to buy tickets to see Cee Lo Green, to throw holiday parties and to fund an office softball team. He also spent $16,000 of forfeiture funds on security for his home.

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Scott Shackford Argues in Defense of Violent Video Games in The American Spectator

Nothing to fear hereGTA VI’ve got a contribution in the November issue of The American Spectator, participating in their point/counterpoint feature, titled “Ten Paces.”  This issue’s debate asks, “Should we worry about violent video games?” I argue no, while author and columnist Peter Hitchens argues that we should. A small sample of my thrust on the matter:

At the same time that video games have grown into a mainstream form of recreation, violent crime in America has dropped to the lowest it has been in decades. We can throw psychological studies at each other, but statistically, actual crime figures do not suggest a massive uptick in violence correlated with the explosive growth of video game popularity.

I just realized that I missed the opportunity for an Angry Birds reference. Ah well.

While The American Spectator posts magazine content online, it’s restricted to subscribers. The table of contents for the latest issue is here, and those who subscribe can log in and read. Otherwise, look for it on your local newsstands.

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Brooklyn School Bans 'Addictive' Rainbow Loom Bracelet Kits

The principal of a Park Slope, Brooklyn, elementary school is taking down the latest threat to kids’ learning: Rainbow Loom bracelet-making kits.

The Facey Family/flickrThe Facey Family/flickrThe bracelets -- bright and colorful rubber bands that kids string together, much like the classic friendship bracelet -- are popular among young girls and boys. Apparently, too popular.

“It’s an addiction,” said Eve Litwack, principal of Park Slope’s P.S. 107, to DNAinfo New York. ”It was like the kids couldn’t live without it. It was just getting to the point where it was really crazy.”

The Huffington Post reported:

Administrators at P.S. 107 said that loom band mania was getting in the way of learning. Litwack explained that kids were weaving bracelets when teachers’ backs were turned. She also said that some kids teased others for not having kits of their own.

Litwack also expressed concern that kids chose to spend their recess time weaving the bracelets rather than running around on the field.

The Department of Education told The New York Post that the agency has not issued a ban on Rainbow Loom bracelets, since these types of decisions are left up to the discretion of individual schools. However, Park Slope’s P.S. 107 is not alone. Earlier this month, the principal of an elementary school in Manhattan’s Upper West Side also banished the jewelry-making fad. This school, P.S. 87, took the ban a step further, prohibiting the bracelets as well as the kits, because their mere presence fostered worrisome tensions between the "haves and have nots". 

The official ban notice sent to parents read:

The children are playing with the bracelets during class without permission from teachers. [They] are playing with them at recess, and it is causing conflict between children. Therefore, starting immediately, your children are no longer allowed to bring any Rainbow Loom bracelets or the kits to school.

Some parents have expressed their frustration. “This is ridiculous. There is nothing illicit about Rainbow Looms,” one P.S. 87 parent said. The founder of DivaMoms.com appeared on Fox News to discuss the issue, saying, “If [teachers] feel it’s distracting, maybe the teacher at the beginning of the day should set a reminder. Set the rules.”

Rainbow Loom bracelets now join a rich history of seemingly harmless but trendy toys banned from school grounds, including: Silly Bandz, Slap-Bracelets, and Pokémon cards

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Maryland’s AG Attacked for Letting Teens Have a Good Time

What is the world coming to, guys! The attorney general for Maryland walked through a house full of partying teens in Delaware, met with his son, and then left without destroying anybody’s life or future.

The Baltimore Sun spills a remarkable amount of ink, not on Douglas Gander’s restraint, but his failure to stop young people from consuming beer:

When Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler arrived at a house party of teenagers in June, he pushed through the crowd, past youngsters dancing on a table and a smattering of red plastic cups. One of the revelers snapped a photo.

As the night wore on, teens at the South Bethany rental home posted tweets, photos and videos of a bash labeled the "eviction party" for its intensity — a celebration where underage participants later confirmed many were drinking alcohol.

Gansler, a Democrat who is running for governor, said this week that he stopped by the Delaware beach house to talk briefly with his teenage son and then left. He said he does not remember whether he saw anyone drinking. But even if he had, Gansler said, it was not his responsibility as a parent or a high-ranking law enforcement official to intervene.

"Assume for purposes of discussion that there was widespread drinking at this party," Gansler said. "How is that relevant to me? … The question is, do I have any moral authority over other people's children at beach week in another state? I say no."

Pearls were clutched in abundance. Can we live in a world where attorneys general are not actively trying to ruin the lives of teenagers? I’m not so sure. It would certainly be a brave new world.

Of course, these kids were all friends of his son’s. But I’m sure he’d feel the same way about a house party full of non-privileged youths as well, right? Right?

Read the whole story here.

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Seattle Seizes Private Parking Lot to Build New Parking Lot

Credit: Foter / CC BY-SACredit: Foter / CC BY-SACiting the need for more public parking, the City Council of Seattle made a unanimous decision this week to force a 103-year-old woman to sell a plot of land that is already a parking lot.

The Puget Sound Business Journal argues that the situation seems like a boondoggle. There is contradictory information that officials have not clarified about whether the city intends to turn Myrtle Woldson's 134-stall parking lot into a multi-level garage or if they simply want seize the lot and operate it themslves:

“It makes no fiscal sense to me to have the city condemn a parking lot to make more parking,” said Gary Beck, president of Republic Parking Northwest, which operates Woldson’s lot.

[...]

City Council spokeswoman Dana Robinson Slote said that Seattle doesn’t want to build anything on Woldson’s lot and plans to keep it a surface parking lot “for the foreseeable future.”

That contradicts city and state documents that call for building structured parking along the central waterfront, including specifically on Woldson’s lot. The entities have set aside $15 million to acquire existing garages or build new ones, where short-term parking is to be be offered at $3 to $4 an hour.

Woldson has repeatedly declined selling the lot. The city council issued the exasperated statement that “there are no alternatives” to providing the public with parking. The council's bill frames the situation in a way that suggests not only does the government, instead of the individual who paid for and developed the lucrative piece of property, deserve the first chance at making a profit, but also that the government will actually sustain a loss by not taking that property. “Without this legislation,” they write, Seattle's government “miss an opportunity to address the limited supply of public, short-term parking,” which “will result in lost revenue to the City.” Although the document dances around specifying the cost, it insists that tourism and commerce in the area will be suffer without the seizure of Woldson's land.

The city has not yet stated what they will offer Woldson, who still has the opportunity to challenge the decision in court.

The Freedom Foundation's Glen Morgan believes this is a case of eminent domain abuse. He writes that “in Seattle, central planning takes priority over people,” and that “The desire of the Central Planners for control is once again permitted to outweigh the people’s need for government to make rational decisions that benefit taxpayers and citizens.”

Both the Business Journal and Morgan expressed skepticism about the government's ability to even manage a parking lot. They pointed to the case of the Pacific Place parking garage that the city bought in 2011. Earlier this year, the city owed nearly $60 million ($10 million more than an appraisal deemed its value when Seattle bought it) on construction bonds and was steadily losing $30,000 every month to mismanagement and theft.

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Saudi Arabia Upset With Not Aggressive Enough US Foreign Policy, Not Taking Security Council Seat, Still Lobbying to Get on Human Rights Council

sike!screencapSaudi Arabia wants the US to know it’s been upset about its reluctance to act more aggressively on Syria, its intelligence chief telling European diplomats the country would no longer work with the US on covertly (secret!) arming Syrian rebels. The intel chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, also reportedly claimed the US was getting too close to Tehran and didn’t back Bahrain when it crushed anti-government protests in 2011. Both Syria and Iran are in a sphere of influence that competes with Saudi Arabia’s own. Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, are American allies, though Saudi Arabia appears now to be threatening to “scale back” its partnership with the US.

Saudi Arabia’s first public sign of displeasure in this diplomatic drama came last week when, after a year of lobbying it, the kingdom declined to take a seat on the UN Security Council, citing its disappointment that the Security Council hadn’t endorsed an intervention in Syria or dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The latter is largely rhetoric—Vali Nasr reported in his book that Saudi officials were much more interested in talking about how to contain Iran than resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when it came up.

Though Saudi Arabia is throwing a veritable hissy fit over the US’s perceived lack of interest in intervening militarily in Syria as well as recent progress made between Western powers and Iran over its contentious nuclear program, the Arab kingdom is hardly disengaging from the international system. In 1950, the Soviet Union boycotted the UN Security Council over its decision to award China’s seat on the body to the Republic of China in Taiwan and not the government in Beijing. That boycott ended when the UN Security Council, without the USSR there to veto it, passed a resolution authorizing the Korean war against communist forces on that peninsula. Saudi Arabia would have no veto power on the Security Council, so its boycott is far more low-stakes. Without US support, its diplomatic position on the council would be weak.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is continuing its campaign for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, even though the fact that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon wasn’t aware of its decision to decline a Security Council seat isn’t going to help. That political angle will probably carry more weight against Saudi Arabia’s campaign then its own human rights abuses, highlighted by the Human Rights Council itself just last week. Countries with spotty records like Venezuela and Kazakhstan, are on the council now, and Saudi Arabia has sat on it before.

Saudi Arabia receives just $9,000 in foreign aid from the US a year, though the US does sell it a lot of military hardware. In 2010, the US made the largest arms sale in its history, selling $60 billion’s worth of jets and attack helicopters to the Arab kingdom. Saudi Arabia is also a major exporter of oil to the US, though its highly unlikely OPEC would support a slow down or boycott over the kingdom’s political gripes with the US. Neither arms deals nor its status as an oil rich country should deter the US from responding in kind to Saudi Arabia and disengaging as that country’s ally and strongman in the region.

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Once Again, Pain Patients Must Suffer to Save Addicts From Themselves

The Food and Drug Administration, which for years has opposed new restrictions on prescription painkillers containing hydrocodone as an unacceptable burden on patients, has changed its mind. Assuming the Department of Health and Human Services approves this new position, which comports with what the Drug Enforcement Administration has long recommended, hydrocodone will be moved from Schedule III to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, which will make the medications harder to get, even for people suffering from severe chronic pain. Fewer practitioners will be allowed to prescribe hydrocodone, and prescriptions will last three months at most rather than six months, requiring more frequent doctor visits. Even for short-term use (after an injury or dental procedures, for example), doctors will not be allowed to call prescriptions in to pharmacies; patients will have to physically carry a written prescription to the drugstore (and woe to those who lose that magical piece of paper). Why did the FDA suddenly decide that it's OK to erect these arbitrary obstacles between patients and the drugs they need to make their pain bearable? Here is how The New York Times explains it:

[Janet] Woodcock [director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research] said that F.D.A. officials were aware that changing the prescribing rules would affect patients. She said, however, that the impact on public health caused by the abuse of the drugs as well as their medical use had reached a tipping point....

"These are very difficult tradeoffs that our society has to make," said Dr. Woodcock. "The reason we approve these drugs is for people in pain. But we can't ignore the epidemic on the other side."

Why do "we as a society" have to make these "tradeoffs" at all? Only because the government insists on getting between people and the drugs they want. The upshot is that bureaucrats like Woodcock act as if it is morally acceptable to magnify the suffering of people who use hydrocodone to treat pain because other people use the drug for nonmedical purposes and sometimes die as a result of their own recklessness. This sort of callous calculus makes sense only to a collectivist. 

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Congressional Rage Theater over Obamacare Site Disaster, Soros Wants Hillary Clinton to Run, Pirates Kidnap Americans near Nigeria: P.M. Links

  • Implements of domestic violenceCredit: Simon Wicks / Foter / CC BY-NCToday’s congressional hearing about the disaster of the Obamacare site rollout was itself was a fairly predictable disaster, full of partisan bickering and contractors pointing fingers back at the federal government for failing to adequately test Healthcare.gov before launch.
  • George Soros is joining forces with a super PAC that is urging Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016. Hooray for that Citizens United decision, eh?
  • After killing a teenage boy who was holding what turned out to be a toy gun, Santa Rosa, Calif., police say the boy pointed the gun at them when they told him to drop the weapon, and that’s why they shot him. But one witness claims they continued shooting at the boy after he was down on the ground.
  • Pirates have kidnapped two Americans from a ship off the Nigerian coast.
  • Florida police arrested a woman for shooting her boyfriend … with a water pistol.
  • What do you know? Some obese people really do have unnaturally slow metabolism. Research shows that the genetic abnormality occurs in less than one in 100, and it can usually be detected by obesity that develops in childhood, so don’t try to use it to explain your middle-age love handles.

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Lene Johansen Tries To Apply for Obamacare

Credit: ScreencapCredit: ScreencapObamacare was made for Lene Johansen, if she is to believe the President. She is self-employed, unmarried, has a pre-existing condition, and pays cash for health care. However, after days of attempting to sign up, her inner cynic wonders whether the $67 million granted 105 different organizations to help people apply for Obamacare, combined with a website that isn’t even ready for alpha-testing is a hidden make-work project to boost employment numbers.

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Matthew Feeney Discusses Obamacare and Other Current Events on The Tom Brown Show at 9pm ET

Credit: Pete Souza/wikimediaCredit: Pete Souza/wikimediaStarting at 9pm ET I will be appearing on the Tom Brown show on WEZS in New Hampshire to discuss Obamacare and other current events. 

Listen live here

Read Reason.com's coverage of Obamacare click here

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Dallas Cop Fired For Shooting Mentally Ill Man, Charged With Aggravated Assault

shot by copDallas PDBobby Bennett was shot by a cop in the middle of the day last week. Police claimed he was moving toward them aggressively with a knife when Officer Carden Spencer shot him, but surveillance video from a neighbor’s house contradicted that story.

Initially, Bennett, who survived the shooting, was charged with aggravated assault on a public servant. Now the tables have turned. Police have dropped the charges against Bennett, while Spencer has been fired and charged with aggravated assault himself. His partner, meanwhile, will be investigated by internal affairs.

Via CBS Dallas:

“What happened 10 days ago should have never have happened in the first place, and I want to make sure it never happens again,” said [family attorney George] Milner, who said Bennett was shot in “cold blood.”

“Officers are not above the law,” Chief [David] Brown [of the Dallas police] said as he began his nearly hour-long statement to reporters. “We are not going to look the other way. We are not going to sweep officer misconduct under the rug.”

Chief Brown also offered an apology to Bennett and his family, and explained why it took ten days to complete the investigation before the Spenser was fired and charged.

“What I have found to be true is rushed investigations and employment actions is wrought with mistakes, knee-jerk reactions and perceptions of partiality,” said Brown. “Rushed decisions…under this circumstances have led to not guily verdicts and employment actions being overturned.”

Last month, a cop in North Carolina who shot and killed an unarmed man that had crashed his car and was seeking assistance was charged with voluntary manslaughter the same day. Video also exists of that incident, via dashcam, but police in Charlotte have resisted calls to release it; the victim’s fiancée says the police chief had promised to release the video.

More Reason on police brutality here.

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That Molly Is the Shit—but Not in a Good Way

Paramount PicturesParamount PicturesLast year in Playboy, Frank Owen skillfully dissected the Legend of the Causeway Cannibal, explaining how people around the world came to believe that the synthetic stimulants known as "bath salts" caused one man to eat another's face, even though it turned out that the assailant had not actually consumed any of those drugs. In a new Playboy article, Owen and his wife, Lera Gavin, go "Chasing Molly," searching high and low for some decent MDMA sold under its latest brand name. Spoiler alert: They fail. Although MDMA-as-molly (powder in a capsule) is reputedly better than MDMA-as-Ecstasy (a tablet), Owen reports, it is vastly inferior to MDMA-as-adam, the compound that excited the psychonautical chemist Alexander Shulgin and his psychotherapist friends back in the late 1970s, before it became known as a party drug, prompting the Drug Enforcement Administration to ban it in 1985. Some of the molly that Owen and Gavin buy in Miami Beach and New York does contain MDMA, but it's mixed with a bunch of other things that consumers probably are not expecting: synthetic cathinones (a common ingredient in those "bath salts" that supposedly turn people into flesh-eating zombies), methamphetamine, even the narcotic painkiller oxycodone. Often the stuff sold as molly contains no MDMA at all:

According to the Miami Police Department, methylone and mephedrone, along with another synthetic cathinone called 4-MEC, account for the vast bulk of the molly seized by narcotics cops in the area. A DEA spokesperson told me that in the first six months of 2013, the DEA's Miami field office seized 106 consignments of molly, which contained 43 different substances, 19 of them so obscure even government chemists couldn't identify them.

It looks like many people who report MDMA-like experiences of openness and connectedness after consuming molly are providing further evidence of the powerful impact that "set and setting" (expectations and environment) have on a drug's perceived effects. Yet this interesting experiment drug warriors have set up has a cost: not just disappointment but potentially deadly hazards for consumers who get something different from what they thought they were buying, as tends to happen in a black market.

Prohibition not only makes drugs more dangerous by creating a situation where people are swallowing iffy pills and snorting mystery powders; it blocks attempts to ameliorate those hazards. Owen and Gavin note that music festivals such as Electric Zoo, which this year was cut short after two drug-related deaths, "refuse to allow organizations such as Dance-Safe to test molly on-site because organizers fear they will be accused of condoning drug use." Such accusations can trigger serious legal consequences, including forfeiture and criminal prosecution.

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Pakistani Officials Knew of, Endorsed US Drone Strikes

Credit: USAF Museum/wikimediaCredit: USAF Museum/wikimediaToday it was reported that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged Obama to end drone strikes in Pakistan during a meeting in the Oval Office yesterday.

According to data from The New America Foundation, the U.S. has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, hundreds of whom have been civilians.

Unsurprisingly, the American drone program is very unpopular in Pakistan and elsewhere around the world.

Sharif's comments to Obama were made on the same day The Washington Post reported that some senior Pakistani officials knew of and endorsed American drones strikes from late 2007 to late 2011.

From The Washington Post:

Despite repeatedly denouncing the CIA’s drone campaign, top officials in Pakistan’s government have for years secretly endorsed the program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts, according to top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos obtained by The Washington Post.

The files describe dozens of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal region and include maps as well as before-and-after aerial photos of targeted compounds over a four-year stretch from late 2007 to late 2011 in which the campaign intensified dramatically.

As well as highlighting that some Pakistani officials knew of and endorsed drone strikes The Washington Post’s reporting also points out the level of distrust that has affected the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan:

Some files describe tense meetings in which senior U.S. officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, confront their Pakistani counterparts with U.S. intelligence purporting to show Pakistan’s ties to militant groups involved in attacks on American forces, a charge that Islamabad has consistently denied.

In one case, Clinton cited “cell phones and written material from dead bodies that point all fingers” at a militant group based in Pakistan, according to a Pakistani diplomatic cable dated Sept. 20, 2011. “The U.S. had intelligence proving ISI was involved with these groups,” she is cited as saying, referring to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

One of the most interesting parts of the Washington Post's report is the section highlighting that the U.S. was not solely responsible for the selection of all drone targets in Pakistan between late 2007 and late 2011:

Several documents refer to a direct Pakistani role in the selection of targets. A 2010 entry, for example, describes hitting a location “at the request of your government.” Another from that year refers to a “network of locations associated with a joint CIA-ISI targeting effort.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, former Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has denied that he approved of any drone strikes while he was in office, despite the fact that a cable from 2008 released by Wikileaks includes Gilani saying the following about drone strikes, “I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”

It is important to note that Sharif began his most recent term as prime minister last July, after the events reported on by The Washington Post took place. Nonetheless, the recent news will no doubt prompt Sharif to make his opposition to drone strikes more vocal, especially given the unpopularity of the strikes in Pakistan. 

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You Can Keep Your Health Insurance Under Obamacare? Not So Much.

Obamacare ExchangeU.S. GovernmentPresident Obama (in)famously said, "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan" under the Affordable Care Act. As it turns out, not so much. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, it turns out, are receiving letters telling them that their existing coverage just isn't good enough to satisfy the strict rquirements of the Obamacare law, and that they'll have to sign up for new policies. Those new policies come with new stipulations, and new price tags. Which is to say, it doesn't matter if you like your health care plan, since you probably can't keep it.

From Kaiser Health News:

Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies.

The main reason insurers offer is that the policies fall short of what the Affordable Care Act requires starting Jan. 1. Most are ending policies sold after the law passed in March 2010.  At least a few are cancelling plans sold to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

What share of existing plans are getting the heave-ho? It varies, but a lot. "

Florida Blue, for example, is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people – about half of its individual business in the state.  Insurer Highmark in Pittsburgh is dropping about 20 percent of its individual market customers, while Independence Blue Cross, the major insurer in Philadelphia, is dropping about 45 percent.

In fact, writes, Bob Laszewski, of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, LLC, a health policy consulting firm, the vast majority of individual plans don't make the cut under new requirements, promises to the contrary notwithstanding:

The U.S. individual health insurance market currently totals about 19 million people. Because the Obama administration's regulations on grandfathering existing plans were so stringent about 85% of those, 16 million, are not grandfathered and must comply with Obamacare at their next renewal. The rules are very complex. For example, if you had an individual plan in March of 2010 when the law was passed and you only increased the deductible from $1,000 to $1,500 in the years since, your plan has lost its grandfather status and it will no longer be available to you when it would have renewed in 2014.

These 16 million people are now receiving letters from their carriers saying they are losing their current coverage and must re-enroll in order to avoid a break in coverage and comply with the new health law's benefit mandates––the vast majority by January 1. Most of these will be seeing some pretty big rate increases.

Grandfathered plans are those that existed before March 23, 2010 and "stayed basically the same." They're still subject to tight regulations (though not quite the same as newer plans) and many seem to fall afoul of the "stayed basically the same" requirement. A couple of tweaks, and subscribers get a letter. Along with those letters, and the new policies to which they point customers, are new bills. Again from Kaiser:

Some receiving cancellations say it looks like their costs will go up, despite studies projecting that about half of all enrollees will get income-based subsidies.

Kris Malean, 56, lives outside Seattle, and has a health policy that costs $390 a month with a $2,500 deductible and a $10,000 in potential out-of-pocket costs for such things as doctor visits, drug costs or hospital care.

As a replacement, Regence BlueShield is offering her a plan for $79 more a month with a deductible twice as large as what she pays now, but which limits her potential out-of-pocket costs to $6,250 a year, including the deductible.

“My impression was …there would be a lot more choice, driving some of the rates down,” said Malean, who does not believe she is eligible for a subsidy.

Regence spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham said the new plans offer consumers broader benefits, which “in many cases translate into higher costs.”

“The arithmetic is inescapable,” said Patrick Johnston, chief executive officer of the California Association of Health Plans. Costs must be spread, so while some consumers will see their premiums drop, others will pay more -- “no matter what people in Washington say.”

The new and unwilling health plan shoppers are, of course, funneled by their law-mandated letters of cancellation to the health exchanges that seem to be experiencing just a touch of difficulty at the moment. Once there, they'll find in most cases that premiums are rising dramatically, ad that access to doctors and hospitals has been reduced.

Enjoy your affordable care! Hope you "like your health care plan!"

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8 Things We Won't Miss When Pot is Finally Legal Everywhere

According to a new Gallup Poll, 58 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal. That's the latest indication that the federal war on weed, which got started in 1937, if finally drawing to a close. My latest column in Time lays out "8 Things We Won't Miss When Pot is Finally Legal Everywhere."

Snippets:

2. Ritual apologies by world-class athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps for smoking dope at a private party. Despite winning 14 Olympic gold medals and completely rewriting his sport’s record books, in 2009 Phelps promised his “fans and the public it will not happen again.”

3. Breath-taking personal hypocrisy by politicians such as Barack Obama who laugh about their own pot smoking (he’s not the only one, the last three presidents have tried it) while increasing funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and other drug-war operations. As a presidential candidate, he joked to a gathering of fawning journalists, “When I was a kid, I inhaled….That was the point.”

4. Long federal prison sentences for legitimate business owners like Aaron Sandusky.  He ran a medical marijuana dispensary in California that was in full compliance with state laws, but he still got busted by the Obama administration’s Justice Department and is now serving a 10-year stint.

Read the whole thing. Add more things in the comments.

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Sheldon Richman Asks: Does Obama Have the Courage to Pursue Peace with Iran?

Settling the nuclear controversy with Iran peacefully will require courage on President Obama’s part. Does he have what it will take to resist those who prefer war? While Obama has yet to stake out a promising unequivocal position, if he does, the obstacles would remain formidable. Sheldon Richman believes the two biggest nurdles are the U.S. Congress and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Video: LA County Sheriffs Hassle Photographer, Trample Constitution, Get Lauded by Bosses

"LA County Sheriffs Hassle Photographer, Trample Constitution, Get Lauded by Bosses" is the latest offering from Reason TV. Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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What's Weird About America?

I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm drunk.One of the best Reddit threads I've seen in a while asks non-Americans who have visited the U.S., "What is the weirdest thing about America that Americans don't realise is weird?" Among the answers: We eat a lot of pickles, there are ads for lawyers everywhere, the disclaimers at the end of our pharmaceutical commercials are freaky, and "Those huge-ass bikes with the RATATATATATA sound and tattooed bald people riding them. What's up with that?" There is also a lot of discussion of the way our public restrooms are designed. And best of all, there's this comment by a Redditor who was actually raised here in the States:

I teach and have a lot of international students. Since it's an anthropology course, one of their assignments is to go out and observe social behavior on campus.

One of my Chinese students told me, "I think Americans live very much in harmony with nature. There are so many trees and squirrels! When I first get here, I thought I was in a fairy tale movie."
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US Navy's First Supercarrier Sold For 1 Cent

ReasonReasonThe USS Forrestal, the U.S. Navy’s first supercarrier, has been sold in a 1 cent deal to a scrap metal company after the Navy’s attempt to the have the ship donated as a museum or memorial failed.

The ship, which was launched in late 1954, is estimated to have cost almost $2 billion in today’s dollars to build.

From Fox News:

Here’s a penny for your thoughts: One red cent could’ve landed you the Navy’s first supercarrier, the decommissioned Forrestal.

The U.S. Navy sold the 1,067-foot behemoth to a Texas company, All Star Metals, to be dismantled, scrapped and recycled, Navy officials announced. It's an inauspicious fate for a ship with a colorful — and tragic — history. It's perhaps best known for a 1967 incident in which stray voltage triggered an accidental explosion that struck a plane on the flight deck whose cockpit was occupied by a young John McCain. A chain reaction of blasts and fires ultimately killed 134 men and injured more than 300.

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Steve Chapman on Perpetuating Fiscal Excess

Credit: WhiteHouse.govCredit: WhiteHouse.govIn ending the rancorous impasse that led to the shutdown of much of the federal government, observes Steve Chapman, Democrats and Republicans agreed they need to sit down together and address the budget to avoid a repeat of the debacle next year. And they probably will reach agreement — to do as little as possible.

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Federal Agencies Warn Americans Not to Just Stick Things in Their Eyes

"Sexy Dhalsim" didn't exactly top anybody's list of favorite costumesCredit: kevin dooley / Foter / CC BYIn a press release that seems designed as much to direct business to licensed eye doctors as much as it is to invoke safety fears, not one, not two, but three federal agencies have banded together to warn us all about the dangers of sticking just any old colored translucent discs  we come across into our eyes:

With Halloween rapidly approaching, federal officials are warning the public about the dangers associated with counterfeit decorative contact lenses. Decorative and colored lenses are becoming increasingly popular, especially around this time of year.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are working to seize counterfeit contact lenses, illegally imported decorative lenses, and lenses unapproved by the FDA. This ongoing effort, which is being coordinated with the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, is being called "Operation Double Vision."

"Even though Halloween approaches, consumers shouldn't let a good deal or great costume blind them to the dangers of counterfeit decorative contact lenses," said HSI Executive Associate Director James Dinkins. "What's truly scary is the damage these counterfeit lenses can do to your eyes for a lifetime."

It’s scary enough for the feds to include a slide show featuring a few messed-up eyeballs, but apparently not scary enough to provide any actual data indicating the frequency or severity of actual injuries caused by “counterfeit decorative contact lenses.” I left a message for ICE’s media office, as it’s the agency hosting the press release, to see if I can get any actual statistics.

A quick Internet search leads to a report from 2010 that says contact lens-related injuries lead to 34,000 emergency room visits by minors every year, but the brief coverage doesn't indicate whether these are government-approved contacts or not.

What the feds want is for people not to stick $20 lenses from costume shops in their eyes, but rather to see a licensed eye doctor and get a valid prescription for whatever colored lenses the government has authorized them to wear. The FDA also offers a big screw-you to anybody engaging in anime cosplay for the holiday: “[C]onsumers should not expect their eye doctor to prescribe anime, or circle lenses, which give the wearer a wide-eyed, doll-like look, as these have not been approved by the FDA.”

So, Americans, don’t go sticking things in your eyes unless they’re expensive and the government approves it.

UPDATE: Skip Oliva tweeted me a link to a piece he wrote for the Ludwig von Mises Institute in 2011 looking at the federal government's aggressive regulation of decorative contact lenses. Read it here.

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Delaware Faces Lawsuit Over Campaign Finance Law That Targets Political Speech

trust emDelaware.govFree speech’ll cost you if you’re talking about politicians. Last year, Delaware passed broad new laws on campaign finance “reform” that politicians claimed would lead to more “transparent” government. Among the bills signed into law was HB 300, which aimed to require “[p]ersons who buy ads that do not use ‘magic words’” but “advocate indirectly for a candidate” to file the same disclosure reports as other purveyors of “electioneering communications.” The law’s definition, unsurprisingly, takes an expansive view of just what that means, “third party advertisements that refer to a clearly identified candidate and are publicly distributed within 30 days before a primary or special election, or 60 days before a general election.”

The measure has now yielded a lawsuit from the Center for Competitive Politics, filed on behalf of Delaware Strong Families, an affiliate of the Delaware Family Policy Council that puts out a “values voter guide” that lists the answers candidates give to questions ranging from the estate tax to Planned Parenthood funding. The Center for Competitive Politics claims the new law would force Delaware Strong Families to submit to “substantial regulatory burdens while violating the privacy of even their small-dollar supporters.” DSF says it won’t publish another guide in 2014 absent a judgment in their favor, and the CCP argues that “the government cannot impose extensive regulatory burdens, or violate the privacy of donors, where an organization does not advocate for any candidate,” pointing out that in its 1976 Buckley decision on campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court upheld disclosures only for groups that directly urged people to vote a certain way. In its synopsis, the Delaware bill quoted the recent Citizen United decision quoting a 2003 campaign finance decision quoting Buckley on helping “citizens make informed choices in the political marketplace.”

The lawsuit additionally notes that the Commissioner of Elections was supposed to disseminate new disclosure forms by January 1, when the law first went into effect, but more than ten months later those forms have not yet been published.