Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2013 November 22-31

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Sheldon Richman on Iran: It's Not About Nuclear Weapons

Credit: US GOVTCredit: US GOVTIf you want to understand the U.S.-Iran controversy, know this: It is not about nuclear weapons. You’re thinking: Of course it’s about nuclear weapons. Everyone says so. But Sheldon Richman says one must look at the leading opponents of the agreement: Israel and Saudi Arabia. For overlapping reasons, both would hate to see the 34-year-old cold war between the United States and Iran come to an end.

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Occupy Thanksgiving!: A Shot of Cranberry Schnapps to Clear the Drowsing


Here's Reason TV's Thanksgiving release from 2011. It's less than 30 seconds long and goes down like a chill shot of cranberry schnapps, which we sincerely hope does not exist. And it's a testament to however quickly contemporary memes come and go, old movies with high-pitched kids who sound like Towelie from South Park are forever.

Original writeup follows. Go here for links and downloadable versions.

In a time of 9 percent unemployment, a faltering global economy, toxic levels of political rancor, and the release of Twilight: Breaking Dawn, is there anything left to be thankful for?

Reason offers a message of hope, redemption, and dada.

About 30 seconds. Produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie.

Key moments in Thanksgiving history:

1621: Pilgrims in Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts and Wampanoag Indians celebrate a harvest feast that is generally acknowledged as the precursor to Thanksgiving.

1675-1676: About 40 percent of Wampanoag tribe killed by colonists and other Indians during King Phillip's War.

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New York City May Ban Vaping Because It Looks Like Smoking

FIN e-cigarette adFIN e-cigarette adThe New York City Council is considering a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes in bars, restaurant, and other "public places"—not because there is any evidence that the devices pose a hazard but because they look too much like regular cigarettes. Councilman James Gennaro, a sponsor of the proposed ban, tells The New York Times, "We see these cigarettes are really starting to proliferate, and it's unacceptable." Why is it unacceptable? According to the Times, "Mr. Gennaro said children who could not differentiate between regular and electronic smoking were getting the message that smoking is socially acceptable."

So it is not the product that bothers Gennaro as much as the message it supposedly sends. Presumably he would have the same complaint if people started wearing T-shirts proclaiming that "Smoking Is Cool," although banning those would be constitutionally problematic. Might there be a way to address Gennaro's concern about the impact that the sight of vaping has on impressionable young minds without resorting to the use of force? I'm just spitballing here, but maybe parents could explain to their children the difference between e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in a propylene glycol vapor, and conventional cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in a cloud of toxins and carcinogens generated by burning tobacco. Even if Gennaro does not trust people to educate their offspring about such matters, surely a measure short of a total ban could accomplish the goal he has in mind. How about taking a page from the city's regulations regarding toy guns by restricting e-cigarettes to bright fluorescent colors, so they can be readily distinguished from the real thing? 

Some might question Gennaro's premise that children should never see adults doing something (or seeming to do something) that children are not supposed to do. If kids must be shielded from the sight of vaping because it looks like smoking, perhaps they also should be shielded from the sight of drinking—not just of alcoholic beverages but of any drink that resembles an alcoholic beverage. After all, how does an innocent child know the difference between O'Doul's and Budweiser, or between a Coke that contains Jack Daniels and one that does not?

Gennaro's rationale for banning vaping in bars and restaurants actually is similar to the motivation for banning smoking in bars and restaurants. The official rationale for such laws is protecting employees, and their popularity can be explained by the simple fact that most people find tobacco smoke distasteful, whether or not they actually worry about the long-term health consequences of sitting in a smoky bar for 30 years. But from a "public health" perspective, the real payoff, in terms of reducing morbidity and mortality, is deterring smoking by making is less convenient and less socially acceptable. Gennaro worries that e-cigarettes will undermine that goal.

That seems rather implausible, since the main selling point of e-cigarettes is that they eliminate tobacco, its combustion products, and the health hazards associated with them. Although the Times says vaping in public remains legal thanks to "a loophole" in New York's smoking ban, the truth is that vaping remains legal precisely because vaping is not smoking. By seeking to equate the two, control freaks like Gennaro may achieve the opposite of their avowed aim, increasing rather than reducing smoking-related illness. As Craig Weiss, president of the e-cigarette company NJoy, tells the Times, "If you make it just as inconvenient to use an electronic cigarette as a tobacco cigarette, people are just going to keep smoking their Marlboros."

Yesterday Zenon Evans noted that Chicago also is considering a ban on vaping.

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The Pope Can Make All of Us More Thankful Today, Says Shikha Dalmia...

...in the Washington Examiner, by stopping his yammerings against capitalism.

In a speech this week he went on yet another anti-capitalistic rant, claiming that the “opinion” that “economic growth, encouraged by the free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness” has “never been confirmed by the facts.”

This shows, notes Dalmia, that the Pope pays no attention to Bono, which is a sign of good taste.

His judgement, however, is another matter. It seems the Pope hasn't put down his copy of Das Capital to actually look at the world around him in quite a while. If he had, he'd not only notice how it has raised living standards in countries where it has (sort of) been tried (and these don't include his native Argentina and his new home, Italy). He'd also notice how these (semi) capitalistic countries keep the Catholic Church and its charitable mission going. She writes:

Capitalism puts more discretionary income in the pockets of people to devote to charitable pursuits. It is hardly a coincidence that America donates over $300 billion annually toward charitable causes at home and abroad, the highest of any country on a per capita basis.

The church itself is a big beneficiary of this capitalist largesse, with its U.S. wing alone contributing 60 percent to its overall global wealth. Some of this money comes from donations, but a big chunk comes, actually, from directly partaking in capitalism: The church is reportedly the largest landowner in Manhattan, the financial center of the global capitalism system, whose income puts undisclosed sums into its coffers.

So the new pope needs to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds his institution and its work. Otherwise, neither he nor the poor in whose name he is speaking will have much to be thankful for.

Go here for the whole thing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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If You Were Out Shopping on Thanksgiving, You Wouldn't Be Reading This Right Now

[OK, granted, you could be reading this on a phone or something.]

Here's the lede from my latest column at Time.com, which went live just yesterday:

If there’s one thing even more uniquely American than choking down mouthfuls of turkey no one wants, green bean casserole no one admits to preparing, and pumpkin pie that no one remembers buying on Thanksgiving, it’s going shopping all the time. For god’s sake, George W. Bush counseled a nation still reeling from the 9/11 attacks that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. “Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed,” he said. Forget baseball—shopping is the national pastime.

Given that, I’m genuinely amazed at the pushback against plans by Walmart, Target, and other major retailers to open their doors on a day that everyone has off but no one has anything to do. Being disgusted by the willingness of stores to open for business on, what, the 10th or 20th most solemn day of the year isn’t just incomprehensible, it’s positively anti-American.

As Calvin Coolidge put it famously to a bunch of newspaper editors back in 1925, “The chief business of the American people is business.” Just as you can’t have Thanksgiving without a meal that fully no one actually enjoys (and a guest list that always seems only slightly less arbitrary, resentful, and ill-mannered than the manimals in The Island of Dr. Moreau), you can’t have a functioning free-market economy without massive amounts of shopping. Every day is “Buy Nothing Day” in North Korea and look where that’s got them.

Please check out the whole thing.

Please note that this column in no way is a call for mandatory shopping or opening of stores on this or any other holiday. But it is an argument for unfettering markets even on this hallowed day (wait, is this Gettysburg sesquicentennial?).

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Ramez Naam on the Futility of Digital Censorship

rust-bucket-Foter-CC-BY-ND.rust-bucket-Foter-CC-BY-ND.Ramez Naam shares an excerpt from his novel, Nexus, which takes a fictional look at governments’ desperate efforts to restrict the flow of information on the Internet. The story dramatizes the futility of government attempts to stop the spread of a new drug once the knowledge of how to make it gets on the Internet. The drug in question allows human beings to link their minds together.

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Andrew Napolitano Asks: What if Thanksgiving Exposes the Government?

White HouseWhite HouseAndrew Napolitano has a number of questions for us to mull over on Turkey Day. What if another Thanksgiving Day is upon us and because of the government we have less to be thankful for than we did at the last one? What if at every Thanksgiving liberty is weakened and the government is strengthened? What if Thanksgiving's warm and breezy seduction of gratitude is just the government's way of inducing us to think we should be grateful for it? And, what if we have the right to pursue happiness no matter what the government says?

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Brickbat: You Call That a Quiche?

Australian Capital Territory health officials have banned parents from selling homemade foods containing meat or dairyat school fund-raising events. A government spokeswoman said the rules are aimed at reducing food poisoning. The government has no data on how frequently people get food poisoning from eating things they bought at school fund raisers.

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Thanksgiving ReasonTV Replay: The Pilgrims and Property Rights

A ReasonTV leftover worth reheating. Happy Thanksgiving!

Here is the original text from the Nov. 23, 2010 video: 

The Pilgrims founded their colony at Plymouth Plantation in December 1620 and promptly started dying off in droves.
As the colony's early governor, William Bradford, wrote in "Of Plymouth Plantation":"That which was most sadd & lamentable was, that in 2. or 3. moneths time halfe of their company dyed."
When the settlers finally stopped croaking, they set about creating a heaven on earth, a society without private property, where all worked for the common good. Everything was shared. Especially bitching and moaning about working for the common good. Bradford again:
"Yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompense....And for men's wives to be commanded to doe service for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brooke it."
With nobody working, everybody was suffering. And in case you think nobody was working simply because they couldn't understand a damn thing Bradford was saying, chew on this: In 1623, Bradford and the other leaders
"Assigned to every family a parceel of land...this had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more torne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente."
In no time at all "any generall wante of famine hath not been amongest them since to this day."
America would never go hungry again. So this week, before you drift into your annual tryptophan-induced coma, don't forget to give thanks to the true patron of this holiday feast: property rights.
Approximately 2.30 minutes.
Produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie. Voices by Meredith Bragg and Austin Bragg.

Go here for more links, resources, and downloadable versions of this video.

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China Sends Its Only Aircraft Carrier to South China Sea After US Breaches “Air Defense Zone” No One Really Takes Seriously

The long-simmering dispute between China and Japan and, because why not, the United States over a group of uninhabited but resource-rich islands in the South China Sea continues to simmer. 

NBC News reports:

China has deployed its one and only aircraft carrier after two unarmed American B-52 bombers flew over a disputed island chain and through what China insists is restricted airspace.

U.S. defense officials told NBC News that the Chinese had not engaged in a provocative act or made any demands against American or Japanese military in the region. Japan and China both claim the island chain, in the East China Sea.

Internet users in China have reportedly taken to mocking the ruling Communist Party as a laughing stock for declaring an “air defense zone” and then having it breached almost immediately, though the Chinese Internet being a highly censored and controlled place, such mocking may be a set up to justify more action.

Never fear, though, Joe Biden is on it. So maybe everyone can find some common ground by laughing at something else.

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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Crime Rate in Camden, NJ Going Down After Unionized Police Force Sacked

meet the new guys, kinda like the old guys, kinda notCamden CountyLast year, the city of Camden decided to can its unionized police force in favor  of ununionized county cops who hit the streets this April. The decision came about because the police union would not budge on the highly lucrative contract they had, even by police standards. Camden cops, for example, got a 4 percent bonus for working the day shift, and a 10 percent bonus for starting at 9:30am. On any given day, 30 percent of the force was absent because of the liberal sick policies. The city has been run exclusively by Democrats for several generations, and some local leaders openly worried that Camden, which already had the highest crime rate per capita last year, would get worse. But it hasn’t. In fact, crime’s gone down, as Fox News Latino reports

The reorganization increased the amount of police on the streets and incorporated cutting edge technology such as ShotSpotter rooftop monitors. The initiative has already gotten results, according to city leaders.

Over the summer months this year, the murder rate fell by 22 percent and crime overall was down 15 percent, according to data provided by Camden County officials.

Cities like Detroit, which is now in bankruptcy court in part thanks to onerous union obligations and whose police department does not know how many employees it exactly has or what they do, ought to take note.

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When Possessing Pot Is No Crime, Can the Smell of Marijuana Justify a Search?

Two years ago, in Commonwealth v. Cruz, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the odor of burning marijuana is not sufficient reason for a police officer to order a motorist out of his car. The court noted that under Question 2, an initiative that Massachusetts voters approved by a large margin in 2008, possessing up to an ounce of marijuana is a citable offense rather than a misdemeanor. "To order a passenger in a stopped vehicle to exit based merely on suspicion of an offense," the court ruled, "that offense must be criminal." Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley nevertheless is asking the court to uphold a car search triggered by the smell of marijuana. Among other things, he argues that such an odor counts as probable cause because possessing small amounts of cannabis remains a crime under federal law. In an amicus brief filed last Friday, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws urges the court to reject that argument (citations omitted):

The appellant asks this Court to reverse its holdings in Cruz and its progeny by empowering state law enforcement to ignore the state decriminalization law and enforce instead federal prohibition law. The appellant would enable federal law to justify police searches otherwise illegal under state law....

Enforcing federal prohibition—against the will of a compelling majority of state's voter rejection of that policy in adopting decriminalization by initiative—violates fundamental principles of federalism and the state constitution's separation of powers....

State law enforcement derives its authority from state law, its constitution and statutes; the power of local police to detain and arrest, within the outer limits of federal Constitutional civil rights law, is derived from and determined by state law. 

Local police cannot evade state law constraints in state court prosecutions by wishing they were federal deputies and pretending their arrestees can be brought to federal courthouses. Allowing state law enforcement to disregard state law, by preferring federal policies rejected by popular initiative and this Court, eviscerates the sovereignty of the people and federalism's protection of state sovereignty. 

The case involves a motorist, Anthony Craan, who was pulled over in June 2010 by state police at a sobriety checkpoint. Trooper Scott Irish claimed to smell "the strong odor of fresh, unburned marijuana coming from the passenger compartment." After Irish mentioned this, Craan admitted that he had a plastic bag of pot in his glove compartment, which led to a car search that revealed additional marijuana, MDMA pills, and four loose rounds of ammunition. But at the point when Irish decided to search the car, all he knew was that Craan possessed less than an ounce of marijuana, which in itself is not a crime under Massachusetts law.

In addition to seeking refuge in federal law, the prosecutors argue that Irish had probable cause to charge Craan, who admitted that he and his passenger had recently smoked marijuana, with driving under the influence, in which case going through the car would have been justified as a search incident to an arrest. The government also argues that the presence of a little marijuana raises the possibility of more—perhaps enough to count as a misdemeanor under state law. That last argument, like the one based on the federal Controlled Substances Act, would justify a car search whenever a cop smells (or claims to smell) pot, even though possessing up to an ounce has been decriminalized in Massachusetts. He would not even need a dog.

[via Boston magazine]

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Los Angeles Considers Ban on Publicly Feeding Homeless People

Despite government agencies, such as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, spending $82 million per year to help the city's homeless, Los Angeles has the second-highest homeless population in the country at 53,800 individuals.

Ed Yourdon/FlickrEd Yourdon/FlickrSo to help mitigate the problem, organizations like the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition serve nightly hot meals to long lines of hungry residents in mobile food trucks parked at various parts of the city. The GWHFC, which has been operating for 27 years staffed by volunteers, prides itself on providing up to 200 meals per night, as well as offering emotional support and "specific, practical help" to its patrons when possible. Their motto is "I Am My Brother's Keeper."

Not everyone is pleased with the charity's presence though.

Two members of the Los Angeles City Council recently proposed an ordinance that would ban private charities and individuals from feeding homeless people in public. The politicians behind the legislation, Tom LaBonge and Mitch O'Farrell (both Democrats), have said they are responding to concerns from residents who are uncomfortable with the homeless spending lots of time around their homes. 

One such resident, Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives two blocks from the popular bread line, told the New York Times: 

If you give out free food on the street with no other services to deal with the collateral damage, you get hundreds of people beginning to squat. They are living in my bushes and they are living in my next door neighbor’s crawl spaces. We have a neighborhood which now seems like a mental ward.

Essentially, Councilman LaBonge argued, the charitable food line is creating a public nuisance. "[It] has overwhelmed what is a residential neighborhood," he told the Times. "When dinner is served, everybody comes and it’s kind of a free-for-all."

Opponents of the ban have expressed their frustration at what they consider heartless, overreaching legislation. 

“This is an attempt to make difficult problems disappear,” Jerry Jones, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless told the Times, adding, “It’s both callous and ineffective.”

Debra Morris, a patron of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, said that the organization is “helping human beings,” as she was seated in a wheelchair enjoying the evening’s offering of pasta with tomato sauce. “I can barely pay my own rent.”

If Los Angeles enacts the ordinance, the Times reports, it will join more than 30 other cities "that have adopted or debated some form of legislation intended to restrict the public feeding of the homeless." Last year for instance, Mayor Bloomberg banned food donations to the homeless in New York City on the grounds that the city couldn't assess the food's salt, fat, and fiber content. In Orlando, Florida, police have arrested volunteers feeding homeless people in parks for violating a city ordinance. The National Coalition for the Homeless calls the trend the "criminalization of homelessness in U.S. cities."

In the Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger writes:

These laws...look like attempts to push the homeless out of public view. If a city can't get rid of these people, in other words, maybe it can get rid of the activities that so visibly attract them.

If the purpose of the legislation is to reduce the presence of homeless people in public though, then why don't cities ban homelessness outright? It turns out that politicians actually tried just that in Los Angeles in the early 2000's. The city passed an ordinance that made it illegal to sleep on the street. However, a judge eventually overturned it as unconstitutional. 

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Bitcoin Value Tops $1,000, Joe Biden Is Our Man in Asia, Judge Orders Hot Sauce Factory to Stink Less: P.M. Links

  • Just think of all the drugs you can buy!Credit: antanacoins / Foter.com / CC BY-SAThe value of a bitcoin topped $1,000 at Mt. Gox for the first time today.
  • To ease tension between China and other Asian nations over disputed ownership of some South China Seas Islands, the United States will be sending … Joe Biden.
  • A judge has ordered a Sriracha chili sauce factory in California to stop whatever operations are causing neighbors to complain about the smell, but stopped short of ordering the whole thing shut down.
  • A British couple has lost its fight with the UK Supreme Court to deny a room to a gay couple at their bed and breakfast because of their religious objections to sex outside of marriage. They were ordered to pay damages.
  • Three have been killed in Sao Paoli, Brazil, after a crane collapsed at one of the stadiums being built for next summer’s World Cup.
  • A Democratic Colorado state senator targeted for recall over her vote for the passage of gun control laws has announced her resignation. If she fought the recall and lost, Democrats would have lost control of the state senate. This method will allow Democrats to choose her replacement until the next election.

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J.D. Tuccille on Sex, Drugs, and Sociology

Credit: ScreencapCredit: ScreencapJ.D. Tuccille reviews Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy. The book is a memoir of sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh's years spent penetrating New York City's vast underground economy, with an emphasis on cocaine and sex. Black markets have always existed to provide goods and services that people want and that governments don't want them to have, says Tuccille. Floating City is a fascinating glimpse at just how adaptable and real those markets are.

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Biden To Visit Asia Amid Heightened Tensions

Credit: Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer/wikimediaCredit: Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer/wikimediaOn December 2, Vice President Joe Biden will head to Asia. The news of the visit comes amid rising tensions between China and Japan regarding sovereignty over a group of small uninhabited islands. The ongoing dispute over the islands, referred to in China as the Diaoyu Islands and in Japan as the Senkaku Islands, recently intensified when China announced the introduction of an air defense zone that covers the islands. According the BBC, the Chinese government has said that any planes within the zone “must obey its rules or face "emergency defensive measures."

Since the introduction of the zone two unarmed American B-52 bombers have flown over the disputed islands. The Chinese defense ministry has said that the planes were monitored.

Commercial Japanese planes defied the rules relating to the newly introduced zone, ignoring Chinese authorities while flying through it.

The BBC has a map outlining the extent of the new Chinese defense zone, shown below (the Chinese Defense Ministry and the EIA are credited):

Credit: BBCCredit: BBC

Yes, the islands that are the cause of all the recent fuss are so small they cannot be seen on the map. Put together, the islands have an area of less than three square miles. 

More from Reason.com on China here

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Ill. Lawmakers Reach Deal on State Pension Crisis

Expect to be surrounded by union protesters in 10, 9, 8 ...Credit: Foter.com / CC BY-SAIt’s too soon to see if there’s anything for Illinois taxpayers to be thankful about, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Democrat-controlled Illinois have announced a deal to manage the state’s massive unfunded pension liabilities. From the Chicago Tribune:

Top Illinois legislators said today they’ve reached agreement on a plan to deal with the state’s worst-in-the-nation unfunded public pension liability and expect to vote on it next week.

Details of the measure were unclear today and its prospects of passing remained  uncertain. But both Democratic and Republican leaders said they agreed on a proposal, the first such sign of progress in more than two years of discussions spurred by a continued downgrading of the state’s credit rating.

The debate has centered on how to reduce costs while balancing the legal protections to public employee retiree benefits laid out in the state constitution. The public employee unions have repeatedly threatened to challenge in court any pension proposal that lacked their support, and they were quick to criticize today's announcement.

Though the Tribune doesn’t have full access of the deal’s contents, here’s what they were told:

[Senate Republican leader Christine] Radogno said the proposal would save about $160 billion and the goal is to fully fund the pension system over the next 30 years.

The proposal would raise retirement ages, create an optional 401(k)-styled plan and scale back the cost-of-living increases.

Increasing the retirement age, now set at various levels based on the type of work, would impact the youngest workers the most. Younger workers could see up to five years added to their retirement ages, Radogno said.

The cost-of-living adjustments would be altered “to be sure that the lower-paid, longest-serving employees have the biggest protection,” said Radogno.  It would be largely patterned after a provision she pushed and was included in a bill that Speaker Michael Madigan passed in the House.

Union officials, despite not knowing what’s in the full plan yet, put out a statement that the proposal was unfair and unconstitutional. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn supports the plan.

There will be a special one-day session on Dec. 3 to vote on the proposal. The Tribune notes that the date of the vote comes the day after the filing deadline for the March 2014 primary. Suggested, but not stated outright: Democrats will know if they’re going to face union-funded primary challengers before they vote.

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E-Cigarette Ban Proposed in Chicago

planetc1 / Foter.com / CC BY-SAplanetc1 / Foter.com / CC BY-SAChicago is on its way to becoming the first major U.S. city to ban electronic cigarette use in public and to place other regulations on the product.

In December, the city council will vote on a proposal to amend and expand a current tobacco ordinance. Backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aldermen Will Burns and Ed Burke, this measure would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, require retailers to gain a license to sell e-cigarette products, force them to sell these products behind the counter, and – despite the fact that e-cigarettes contain no tobacco – apply the same public prohibitions to them as tobacco products. The Chicago Sun-Times explains that this means “adults would be prohibited from that smoking e-cigarettes in virtually all of indoor Chicago except private homes and vehicles, hotel rooms designated for smoking and at least 10 feet away from building entrances.” If it passes, the ordinance will take effect in January 2014.

All of this, city officials assure, is aimed at protecting children. Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair told the Sun-Times that it's not enough that “we’ve seen a decrease [in youth smoking], then a plateau. We really need to break that plateau.” Choucair hopes to stamp out youth use of both cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

Erika Sward, vice president of the American Lung Association, voiced approval for Chicago's planned ban, saying, "We don't want to have people now exposed to e-cigarette second-hand emissions until we know more about them."

But can government officials actually convince people to stop smoking cigarettes while also preventing them from utilizing alternatives? Reason's Jacob Sullum has extensively covered e-cigarette issues and has noted that e-cigarettes are not a gateway to tobacco use, rather, “because e-cigarettes more closely simulate the experience of smoking than nicotine gum, patches, or inhalers do, they may be more effective in helping smokers quit.” Likewise, addressing concerns about safety, he has pointed out that “the health hazards of vaping pale beside those of smoking,” so the decrease in tobacco use that has coincided with the rise of e-cigarette use in young people “might signal successful harm reduction.”

Other cities considering e-cigarette restrictions include New York City, Oklahoma City, and Beverly Hills.

ReasonTV's Tracy Oppenheimer addressed a number of e-cigarette issues in the video below:

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Libertarian Party Wars in D.C.: The "Take Who We Can Get" Folk vs. the Neo-Professionals

The Washington, D.C., Libertarian Party gets the kind of detailed in-fighting reporting in Washington City Paper that third parties (and indeed even local and state branches of major parties) rarely get, with news about how a Party with newfound ballot access in D.C. sees conflict between those who are happy to get the Party rolling with anyone and those said to be seeking a higher level of professionalism.

Thanks to Bruce Majors winning the L.P. relatively trouble-free ballot access by earning 6 percent in the 2012 election for D.C.'s non-voting House member (Eleanor Holmes Norton kept the gig), the L.P. needs to collect merely a couple of signatures to get candidates on the ballot for local elections--literally just a couple, representing one percent of the number of registered Libertarians in D.C.

Now Majors is working hard to get other Libertarians to run for local office:

So far, his candidate slate—all white men and [Sara] Panfil, a white woman—doesn’t do much to disprove the stereotype of Libertarians as a party for nerdy white people. Majors has had trouble convincing people of color to take a trip to the Board of Elections, even when, in an attempt just to get another candidate on the ballot, he promises that their campaign work would be limited to signing a few papers and appearing on the ballot.

In other words, Majors had to promise potential candidates they would not win.

Still, Majors hopes to find a more diverse roster before his party’s primary. “Not that I think of these people in that way, but the media and the electorate will, so I have to also,” he says.

Conveniently for his plans, he’s setting the bar low. When out trawling Libertarian gatherings for candidates, Majors says he’s just looking for someone intelligent and presentable—and, of course, willing to run for office.

But casting a wide net has its downsides, especially with a party known for dislike of being told what to do. Before meeting his candidates at the Board of Elections, Majors sent out a press release declaring that [Frederick] Steiner would be running for Council chairman; he decided to run for the at-large seat instead.

Steiner’s on to something. Because of Home Rule Act requirements, two of the Council’s four at-large seats have to go to a candidate who’s not a member of the District’s majority party—in other words, now and forever, the Democrats....

The significance of the set-aside seat isn’t lost on John Vaught LaBeaume, another would-be Libertarian candidate recruiter. While Majors will sign anyone with a copy of The Road to Serfdom and a pulse, LaBeaume is trying to recruit local business owners to run for the at-large spot. If he succeeds, his candidate will be going up against Majors’.

“Just me personally, I’m not going to work without a really solid candidate,” LaBeaume says....

And like the old saying goes, find two Libertarians and you'll find at least two factions:

In a nod to their cantankerous party, Majors and LaBeaume give each other a wide berth. Majors described LaBeaume to LL [Loose Lips, the columnist writing this] as “my parallel person,” but declined to give LL his rival’s name. (Fortunately, the paucity of Libertarians in D.C. politics meant LL didn’t have to look far.)

Majors contrasts his candidate-heavy approach with LaBeaume’s criteria, which he describes as “anybody more famous than me.” He says he has only occasional contact with LaBeaume—an impressive feat, since, as Steiner jokes, you could accommodate the District’s entire Libertarian Party membership at a very large dinner party.

LaBeaume spoke in my feature on the Sarvis campaign aftermath, and wrote his own Reason piece on the L.P.'s future.

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Online Obamacare Enrollment for Small Business Delayed. Again.

SHOPHealthcare.govNot that it's a huge frigging surprise, but small business online enrollment in Affordable Care Act-compliant health insurance, which was already delayed from October 1 until December 1, will be pushed back a full year, until November of 2014. Like a floundering big budget movie production announcing just before the Fourth of July weekend that a few scenes have to be reshot, so the resulting mess should be hitting screens...eventually, the Obama administration rolled out this particular turkey the day before Thanksgiving.

According to David Morgan at Reuters:

The Obama administration on Wednesday announced a one-year delay in online health insurance enrollment for small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time workers that could qualify for subsidized coverage under Obamacare.

It was the latest in a series of delays that have diminished the scope President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The administration has faced implementation challenges before and since the troubled October 1 rollout of the federal website HealthCare.gov.

Robert Pear of the New York Times, perhaps growing a bit justifiably cynical, points out, "The announcement of the delay, just before Thanksgiving, is reminiscent of the way the White House announced, just before the Independence Day weekend, a one-year delay in the requirement for larger employers to offer health insurance to employees."

Actually, if you go to the small business section of Healthcare.gov, the site tantalizingly announces that "The SHOP Marketplace is open for business!" Not so much. If you click on "apply" you're prompted to pick your state, before being instructed, "You enroll in SHOP coverage directly through an agent, broker, or insurance company."

That's helpful.

No matter how it's done, expect a good bit of insurance shopping to become necessary, since the Department of Health and Human Services itself estimated in 2010 that 49 to 80 percent of small employer (under 100 workers) plans, which cover 43 million people, would lose their grandfathered status. That would require the sort of cancellation notifications that have raised so many eyebrows, and blood pressures, in recent weeks among individuals. Unless the president once more unilaterally orders the temporary suspension of the requirements of the law that he himself championed.

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Silvio Berlusconi Expelled From Italian Parliament

ReasonReasonFormer Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been expelled from parliament by the Senate because of his tax fraud conviction, and could face arrest over other cases now that his immunity has been lifted.

Berlusconi said that today is a "day of mourning" for democracy.

From the BBC:

The Italian Senate has voted to expel ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from parliament with immediate effect over his conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi, who has dominated politics for 20 years, could now face arrest over other criminal cases as he has lost his immunity from prosecution.

He told supporters in Rome it was a "day of mourning" for democracy.

Ahead of the vote, he vowed to remain in politics to lead his Forza Italia in a "fight for the good of Italy".

Berlusconi told supporters gathered outside his Rome residence that "no political leader has suffered a persecution such as I have lived through".

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Judging From His Clemency Record, Obama Likes Turkeys 10 Times As Much As People

The Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly notes that President Obama "has pardoned almost as many turkeys as drug offenders," which is pretty appalling but actually understates how bad Obama's clemency record is. All of the 11 drug offenders pardoned by Obama had completed their sentences years before, while the 10 turkeys he has pardoned (counting the two today) escaped their "sentences" entirely. Obama has not done anything comparable for any human beings, and he has shortened the sentence of exactly one drug offender, even though he and his attorney general concede that thousands are serving unfairly long prison terms.

If we limit the analysis to offenders whose punishments have been reduced by Obama, his ratio is 10 turkeys to one person. Another enlightening comparison: Attorney General Eric Holder's recently announced change in charging practices, if fully implemented by federal prosecutors, could result in shorter sentences for about 500 drug offenders each year. That's just 2 percent of all the federal drug offenders who are sentenced each year, but it is still 2,500 times as impressive as Obama' commutation record.

Reilly also gives the president too much credit when he says "Obama has granted the fewest pardons of any modern president." The truth is the Obama has pretty much the worst clemency record ever. He granted fewer pardons and commutations in his first term than any other president, except for George Washington (who probably did not have a lot of applications during the first few years of the nation's existence) and two presidents, William Henry Harrison and James Garfield, who died shortly after taking office. This year he issued 17 additional pardons. But judging from numbers compiled by P.S. Ruckman Jr., a professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois, that did not improve Obama's standing. Compared to other presidents who served two terms, he is still doing abysmally bad. He makes Richard Nixon look like a softie.

Obama still has three years to redeem himself. National Journal's Ron Fournier urges him to try. Fournier, who like Reilly uses the turkey pardons as a peg, focuses on Weldon Angelos, who is serving 55 years for possessing a gun during three small-time marijuana sales. There are many other potential beneficiaries of clemency, including federal prisoners serving absurdly disproportionate life sentences and all the crack offenders who were sentenced under rules that Obama and almost every member of Congress have recognized as unjust.

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John Stossel Says We Should Be Thankful for Private Property

The Embarkation of the PilgrimsRobert Walter WeirThe Pilgrims started out with communal property rules. When they first settled at Plymouth, they were told: "Share everything, share the work, and we'll share the harvest." The colony's contract said their new settlement was to be a "common." Everyone was to receive necessities out of the common stock. There was to be little individual property. They nearly starved and created what economists call the "tragedy of the commons." But then, after the colony's governor, William Bradford, wrote that they should "set corn every man for his own particular," they dropped the commons idea. He assigned to every family a parcel of land to treat as its own. The results were dramatic, writes John Stossel. Much more corn was planted. Instead of famine, there was plenty. Thanks to private property, they got food—and thanks to it, we have food today.

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Obama Will Pardon Turkeys But Not a First-Time Offender Like Weldon Angelos?

The National Journal's Ron Fournier has a heartbreaking story about Weldon, Angelos, a first-time offender caught selling potm that makes all those ha-ha-funny stories about presidential pardons of turkeys positively obscene. Read on, but prepare to be outraged.

If a turkey deserves a second chance, why not Weldon Angelos?

Angelos was sentenced in 2004 to 55 years' imprisonment for possessing a firearm in connection with selling small amounts of marijuana. He didn't brandish or use a weapon, nor did he hurt or threaten to injure anybody. And yet the father of young children and an aspiring music producer was given an effective life sentence because of a draconian federal law requiring mandatory minimum sentences.

Even the judge on his case, Paul G. Cassell, found the sentence "cruel and irrational." While urging Obama to reduce Angelos's punishment, the Republican-appointed judge wrote, "While I must impose the unjust sentence, our system of separated powers provides a means of redress."

More than almost any president, Obama has failed to exercise that "means of redress" inscribed in the Constitution, the presidential clemency.

Fournier notes that the Obama admin is rethinking its position toward clemency (and he cites work by Reason's Jacob Sullum). That's great and all, but it doesn't help Angelos or thousands of other in similar situations.

What is to be done? Fournier suggests that

After granting Angelos's petition, Obama should grant clemency to inmates sentenced under the old crack-powder guidelines. He also should eliminate the Justice Department's sole authority to review clemency petitions and make recommendations to the president. It's an unacceptable conflict of interest to have DOJ prosecutors reviewing the petitions of people jailed by the DOJ.

A smart suggestion from Osler: follow the example of President Ford, who created an independent panel to review clemency petitions from the Vietnam War. Via the Presidential Clemency Board, Ford granted 1,731 pardons to civilians (those who evaded the draft) and 11,872 to military personnel (who went AWOL). The board inoculated Ford from political fallout. "No one remembers Ford doing this," [law prof and former prosecutor Mark] Osler said, "and draft evaders weren't exactly popular back then, just like drug sellers aren't now."

Read the whole thing here. And please forward this post to folks who think that turkey pardons are newsworthy.

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If You're (Not) Traveling by Air Today, Here's How to Fix America's Fugged-Up Air Traffic Control System


If you're traveling by air today, well, good luck to you. A storm is paralyzing a good chunk of the Northeast and once airports in Boston, Philly, New York, and Newark get even a little bit backed up, the ripples fan out like a cannonball hitting a fat guy in the stomach in super-slow-mo.

As you're cooling your jets in airports (which approximate homeless shelters on the holidays), consider this: It's not just weather that screws up air travel so much. The simple fact is that, as Reason Foundation's Bob Poole says in the video above, "The air traffic control system in the United States is technologically obsolete. This model is basically the same model that we have used since the beginning of air travel."

Click above to watch "Your Flight Has Been Delayed...And It's Washington's Fault." Click here for downloadable versions and more links and resources.

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Obama Administration Proposes Rule to Limit Political Activity by Non-Profits, But Will It Affect Pro-Obama Groups?

like debbie did dallas?OFACriticized by its own Inspector General earlier this year on the IRS targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny, the Treasury Department appears to be doubling down, proposing a new rule to restrict political speech by non-profits. The Washington Post reports

Under the proposed rule, groups such as Crossroads GPS, co-founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, and the Democratic-allied League of Conservation Voters would no longer be able to claim some of their routine activities as part of their work as “social welfare” organizations.

Instead, the new Treasury Department regulation would define things such as distributing voter guides, registering people to vote and running ads that mention elected officials close to Election Day as “candidate-related political activities.” The rule would substantially roll back the level of political activity open to “social welfare” groups.

Unmentioned by the Washington Post is one of the biggest 501(c)4s  of them all, Organizing for Action (OFA, former Obama for America), which still operates the website barackobama.com and the president’s Twitter feed.  OFA has been very active since the 2012 election in promoting President Obama’s and the Democrats’ agenda. See some of their, uh, “social welfare” work here.  

Other non-profit groups have gone to bat for Obama’s policies too, sometimes under the guise of being non-partisan yet specifically tailored in support of a distinctly political agenda. Capital City Project reports, for example, that Families USA, a “non-partisan” non-profit focusing on “affordable health care for all Americans” received a $1 million grant to collect pro-Obamacare stories. Capital City Project points out those stories then get picked up by media outlets who source them to an “independent” or non-partisan group, even though it’s a group whose mission lines up neatly with the title of the president’s signature legislation. 

It’s a safe bet non-profits that support the agenda of the ruling party (for now Democrats) won’t be as negatively affected by the proposed rule and other attempts at government regulation as non-profits challenging those in power. The IRS’ targeting of Tea Party and “patriot” groups speaks to that. Money facilitates speech, and in this country at least, the exercise of speech is free. The Treasury Department ought to be disengaging from the practice of regulating what amount to groups exercising free speech, not proposing new rules to further restrict political speech it doesn’t favor.

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Los Angeles Schools to Try Not Treating Children Like Criminals to See How That Goes

They're not out for the holidays; they all have court hearings.Credit: Rsinner / Foter.com / CC BY-NCLos Angeles Unified School District has stumbled upon a revolutionary concept in disciplining young schoolchildren: Maybe don’t treat them the way the police department treats parolees? That is to say, LAUSD is pulling back on responding to common child misbehavior with police citations. From the Los Angeles Daily News:

Starting Dec. 1, elementary and some middle school students in Los Angeles Unified will no longer receive police citations for most misbehavior.

According to the new policy, Los Angeles School Police will refrain from writing criminal citations for infractions such as fighting and writing on desks, instead turning students to school officials for campus-based punishment that is more in line with their age and nature of the violations.

“This is an important step, but it also raises concerns that there is more to be done,” said Manuel Criollo, director of organizing for the nonprofit Community Rights Campaign, an L.A. group that has lobbied for the decriminalization of many school-based offenses. “Some of this should be common sense, and the next thing is to expand it in the middle schools. Thirteen- and 14-year-olds should also be covered by this.”

This “new policy” smells remarkably old actually, like how schools handled discipline when those of us who are adults now attended school. Officials have finally realized that treating students like criminals discourages them from doing things like attending school (important, because that’s how school funding is determined):

The directive from LAUSD Police Chief Steven Zipperman asks school-based officers to look at misbehavior of students under the age of 13 as a teaching opportunity rather than a reason to hand out citations that could discourage them from attending class altogether.

If a ticket is issued, officers should have an articulated reason for doing so, as well as the permission of a supervisor. The policy does not cover possession of contraband.

The Community Rights Campaign calculated that school police have handed out more than 4,700 citations to students under the age of 14 for the 2012-13 school year.

Banning Doorknobs, Frat Parties, and "God Bless America" Signs?! Nanny of the Month (‘13-11)

"Banning Doorknobs, Frat Parties, and 'God Bless America' Signs?! Nanny of the Month (‘13-11)" is the latest video from ReasonTV. 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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Season of the Assassins

If you thought all those assassination anniversary posts would end after November 22 was over, think again: We're just moving on to another assassination. Look what happened 35 years ago today:

Moscone dead, Milk dead, Feinstein in power—a triple tragedy.

On November 27, 1978, the ninth day after Jonestown, Daniel James White, ex-cop, former paratrooper, and superjock, an All-American Boy from everybody's favorite city, strapped on his police special .38, loaded his pockets with extra hollow-point bullets that explode upon impact, and went to San Francisco City Hall to settle some political differences.

That's from Warren Hinckle's great piece "Dan White's San Francisco," published in the libertarian magazine Inquiry in the wake of White's murder of Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk. The double assassination would be followed by one of the most infamous psychiatric legal arguments of recent history -- the "Twinkie defense," in Paul Krassner's famous phrase -- and by a verdict of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. And then there came the White Night riots, when the city's gay community reacted to the jury's decision.

The whole Hinckle article is worth a read. If you need a soundtrack while you peruse it, here is the Dead Kennedys' (*) response to the White verdict:

(* You just can't escape the JFK references.)

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A. Barton Hinkle on (Non)Voter-Shaming

VoteSteve Serrao got a report card in June. It listed him as a non-voter. His wife, Renee, who teaches government, strenuously disputes that. “We’re contacting you and your neighbors today to let folks know who does and who doesn’t vote,” the report card says. “As you can see below, your neighbors who have voted are concerned about the community’s well-being. Are you?” Nancy Meacham of Roanoke got a similarly ominous audit from the group in November—as did others around the state. Many of them felt, quite rightly, that the mailings amounted to rank voter intimidation. As A. Barton Hinkle writes, public shaming of this sort is nothing new; it has been used often throughout history—usually by exceedingly undemocratic and illiberal regimes, such as ancient Rome, Puritan America, contemporary Iran and 20th century communism.

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Obama's Approval Rating Now Lower Than "Crack-Smoking Mayor" Rob Ford's

According to the latest polling data, Rob Ford, Toronto's notoriously inappropriate mayor, is more popular among his constituents than President Obama is among Americans. 

Rob Ford and Barack Obama/Wikimedia CommonsRob Ford and Barack Obama/Wikimedia CommonsA CBS News poll released last week found that Obama's job approval rating has hit 37 percent, the lowest of his presidency yet and a nine-point drop since October. By comparison, a Forum Research survey of 1,049 Toronto voters found that 42 percent support Mayor Ford's job in the city. 

The CBS poll found what may be the most significant contributing factor to Obama's dismal ratings: strong disapproval of Obamacare. From CBS News:

A rocky beginning to the opening of the new health insurance exchanges has also taken its toll on how Americans perceive the Affordable Care Act. Now, approval of the law has dropped to 31 percent - the lowest number yet recorded in CBS News Polls, and a drop of 12 points since last month. Sixty-one percent disapprove (a high for this poll), including 46 percent who say they disapprove strongly.

President Obama has also taken a hit on views of his honesty. During the presidential campaign last fall, 60 percent of voters said Mr. Obama was honest and trustworthy, but just 49 percent of Americans think that today.

Obama's disapproval rating is also at a record high of 57 percent. 

Rob Ford's approval rating remarkably dropped by only two percentage points from earlier this month (since he made lewd sexual remarks in a live press conference, trampled over a Councilmember during a city hall meeting, and was caught on video shouting about wanting to kill a man), and is actually three percentage points higher than it was last year (before he admitted to smoking crack in a "drunken stupor.") 

The Telegraph reports, "The result suggests that Mr Ford could still be competitive in next year's municipal election, although only 33 per cent of those polled said they would vote for him in 2014." 

In addition to the CBS poll, Gallup's daily poll measuring three-day averages shows Obama's approval rating today as equal to Ford's at 42 percent. 

Congress meanwhile, is pulling a 7.5 percent approval rating according to a Huffington Post poll. 

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Ken Silva on the the Man Who Faces Prison Time for a Secret Car Compartment

PoliceElijah BosleyThe bizarre and terrifying case of a Georgia man arrested in Ohio for an empty storage compartment continued yesterday in Oberlin Municipal Court. Despite early reports, it's not clear why police searched the car for a hidden compartment. And, writes Ken Silva, it's certainly not apparent why Norman Gurley, an out-of-state resident, faces charges and prison time over a peculiar local law that criminalizes...empty space.

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NSA Likes Watching Radicals Watching Porn

Adult entertainmentFilippo ParisiWhat do you have to hide? Why would you want to keep your distance from the creepy window-shade-peepers of the National Security Agency? Maybe...Because the NSA is actively monitoring the Internet-usage of people it doesn't like so it can embarrass them by revealing all at opportune moments. Specifically, the spooks watch radical Muslims to see if they have a taste for Internet porn, so they can then be portrayed as hypocrites.

Write Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document. The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, identifies six targets, all Muslims, as “exemplars” of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target's credibility, reputation and authority.

The NSA document, dated Oct. 3, 2012, repeatedly refers to the power of charges of hypocrisy to undermine such a messenger. “A previous SIGINT" -- or signals intelligence, the interception of communications -- "assessment report on radicalization indicated that radicalizers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent,” the document argues.

Among the vulnerabilities listed by the NSA that can be effectively exploited are “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls.”

Now, rumor has it, nobody loves a good donkey show as much as James Clapper and his buddy, General Keith Alexander. Especially the Clerks II variety. But we don't get to monitor their online habits the way they monitor ours, and that creates a distinct imbalance of power.

NSA documentNSA

Because there are plenty of things that we might do, and view, and read in our everyday lives that harm nobody else but might be awkward if they became public knowledge. There are groups and people with whom we might deal but with whom we prefer to not be openly associated. This is really quite normal in life, since most of us don't parade around as if we live in glass boxes, but maintain public appearances as well as private lives. And that divide potentially provides a basis for blackmail. Your sexuality, your associations, your politics, your religious activities, your cultural tastes—these could get you fired, or ruin friendships, or torpedo politial campaigns, if revealed in a calculated way by people ill-disposed towards you.

We might not have any sympathy for radical religious fanatics fomenting violence. I assume very few of us do. But the surveillance and smear tactics used against them can be wielded against anybody with a private life who displeases the wrong people. And, in fact, the NSA has reportedly targeted some radical, but non-violent Muslims, who just say offensive things about Westerners and the U.S.

So long as the NSA is out trawling for embarrassing tidbits, you don't know who will be targeted next.

Although the people doing the snooping can probably safely continue to watch their donkey shows.

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American Who Renounced Citizenship: "My bank down the street is not an offshore account"

||| Citizens for Tax JusticeCitizens for Tax JusticeBy now it's not a new trend, but this McClatchy article about middle-class Americans turning in their passports to avoid intrusive IRS probes into their bank accounts is a usefully detailed example of how cheap legislative populism against the 1% ends up screwing everyone else:

Born in Oklahoma, [Ruth Anne] Freeborn has lived in Kingston, Ontario, for more than 30 years as an American expatriate, with a Canadian husband and 22-year-old son.

But a U.S. law passed in 2010 that will require international financial institutions to provide the Internal Revenue Service with information on their U.S. account holders forced her to weigh her citizenship. Her husband, a $51,000-a-year electronics technician and the family's sole income earner, strenuously objected to having his financial data shared with a foreign nation.

"My decision was either to protect my Canadian spouse and child from this overreach or I could relinquish my U.S. citizenship," she said. "It was with great sorrow I felt I had to relinquish, but there was no other choice for me and many like me." [...]

"My husband cannot understand why Americans are so offended by having their personal emails and phone calls monitored by the NSA yet are very comfortable requiring a Canadian to hand over their bank account data, which is far more sensitive," Freeborn said.

The number of citizenship renunciations has surged from 742 in 2009 to more than 1,854 so far this year, according to the State Department. [...]

"The rich can afford expensive tax attorneys," Freeborn said. "The poor and the middle class cannot. My bank down the street is not an offshore account and I'm not hiding money."

But don’t worry, the Treasury Department knows that the Freeborns of the world are just freeloaders:

"Individuals that have used offshore accounts to evade tax obligations may rightly fear that FATCA will identify their illicit activities," says a Treasury web posting. "Yet a decision to renounce U.S. citizenship would not relieve these individuals of prior U.S. tax obligations, and might well create additional U.S. tax obligations for certain citizens and long-term residents who give up citizenship or residency."

Read the full article for more outrages. Reason on the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) here.

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A.M. Links: Unions Said To Get Special Obamacare Treatment, Officials Say CIA Turned Some Guantanamo Prisoners Into Double Agents, Judge Orders Sandy Hook Shooting 911 Calls Released

Credit: Peter Weis/wikimediaCredit: Peter Weis/wikimedia

  • The Obama administration is accused of giving unions special treatment under Obamacare.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party have agreed to the terms of a coalition agreement.
  • Current and former U.S. officials claim that the CIA turned some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay into double agents.
  • A Connecticut judge has ruled that the 911 calls relating to the Sandy Hook shooting be made public by December 4.
  • The Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem has rejected an appeal by a woman fined $140 a day for not having her son circumcised. The court levied the fine after the woman’s estranged husband demanded the procedure.
  • Canada is to appeal the World Trade Organization’s ruling that the European Union’s ban on seal products is justified.

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Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget to sign up for Reason’s daily updates for more content.

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Kurt Loder Reviews Oldboy

Hilary Bronwyn GayleHilary Bronwyn GayleSpike Lee’s remake of Oldboy is every bit as brutal as the 2003 South Korean cult film on which it’s modeled. Lee’s movie retains the carefully muted color design of director Park Chan-wook’s original; and while it elides a few of Park’s most startling scenes (there’s no hammer dentistry here, and no octopuses are eaten alive), Lee replaces them with some grisly inventions of his own. The story, inventively adjusted by screenwriter Mark Protosevich, remains a very nasty piece of work, says Kurt Loder.

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"Every day is 'Buy Nothing Day' in North Korea—and look where that’s gotten them"

In my latest Time.com column, I bravely take a stand in favor of shopping on Thanksgiving Day:

Just as you can’t have Thanksgiving without a meal that fully no one actually enjoys (and a guest list that always seems only slightly less arbitrary, resentful, and ill-mannered than the manimals in The Island of Dr. Moreau), you can’t have a functioning free-market economy without massive amounts of shopping. Every day is “Buy Nothing Day” in North Korea and look where that’s got them....

And yet we encounter stories denouncing “the war on Thanksgiving.” Haven’t you heard, bellows Dean Obeidallah at The Daily Beast, that “thousands of [people] will be compelled to leave their Thanksgiving celebrations to go to work” because down-on-their-luck chains such as K-Mart are opening as early as 6 a.m on Thursday. “Stand up for the real meaning of Thanksgiving,” opines T.J. McCormack at Foxnews.com, and “skip the shopping on Turkey Day.” Facebook pages such as Boycott Black Thursday and Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Day are easier to find than the cans of jellied cranberry sauce you bought last year after worrying the supermarket would be sold out by the time you remembered to get some this year.

Enough already. The only thing worth getting bent out of shape over is that it took the nation’s retailers so long to move the nation’s biggest sales day, Black Friday, up by 24 hours and give us all one more reason not to watch the Detroit Lions get shellacked on TV. We’ve already been going out to the movies in greater and greater numbers over the years, so why not also pick up a Star Wars Trooper T at the Gap (open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at most locations, by the way)?

Read the whole thing.

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Jacob Sullum on Misconceptions About the Sandy Hook Massacre

FacebookFacebookLast December, less than a week after Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the New York Post described his "eerie lair of violent video games," where he "obliterated virtual victims…until the virtual became a reality." The Post reported that the troubled 20-year-old "was enthralled by blood-splattering, shoot-'em-up electronic games."

The official report on the massacre, released this week by State's Attorney Steven Sedensky, paints a more complicated picture. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says the report casts doubt on the significance of Lanza's gaming habits as well as several other theories about why he did what he did or how he could have been stopped.

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Brickbat: Who'll Stop the Fire

Officials in cities across the nation say they were caught off guard by a recent ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency that fire hydrants must meet new stricter lead-content rules for plumbing fixtures. Officials say that means that hydrants and hydrant parts they have already bought can't be installed after Jan. 4, and manufacturers say they'll have to completely change the way they make them. The new rules are supposed to reduce lead in drinking water, but city officials and manufacturers note that water from fire hydrants is rarely used for drinking.

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Pot Smokers to Denver City Council: Stay Off the Porch

Jacob SullumJacob SullumThe latest version of Denver's rules for marijuana consumption eliminates the widely derided "smell test," which would have made pot smoking illegal when other people can smell it, even if you do it on your own property. It also omits a ban on mere possession in parks, which Councilwoman Susan Shepherd worried would deter marijuana consumers from walking and biking. And although it still covers marijuana consumption "in any outdoor location" where it is "clearly observable from a public place," it exempts consumption on "private residential property" by owners, tenants, or guests. But The Denver Post reports that at least six out of 13 city council members still want to ban marijuana consumption in front yards, and there may yet be a seventh vote:

Charlie Brown, a swing vote, said he is conflicted. He has been a staunch property-rights proponent but understands the problem [Councilwoman Jeanne] Robb is trying to resolve.

"I don't want to see a bunch of pot parties on front yards," he said. "The city's image is at stake. I'm torn between [that concern and] my stance that a man's front yard is his castle."

Mason Tvert, who co-managed the campaign for marijuana legalization in Colorado, tells Westword that Robb's proposed amendment is approved, he could end up with no place to legally smoke pot:

They are still trying to prohibit the use of marijuana by adults on private property. It's currently legal for adults to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes on their porches or balconies, so we fail to understand why it should be illegal to use a far less harmful substance there....

I don't have a private backyard; the backyard is a common area. And if my building were to decide people can't use marijuana inside their units, for whatever reason, I wouldn't have anywhere I could legally use marijuana as an adult.

Aspen recently approved marijuana regulations that do not restrict consumption on private property. According to The Aspen Times, that means "it is OK for people to smoke in the comfort of their own yards, fenced or not, as well as their balconies, rooftops and patios." How come?  "At this point," the Times says, "the city doesn’t believe the pot users, whether locals or visitors, will get out of hand."

Update: Last night the Denver City Council gave initial approval to a bill that includes Robb's amendment, which prohibits marijuana consumption "in any outdoor location on private residential property" where it is "clearly observable from a public street, highway or sidewalk." Brown voted against the amendment, saying, "I can't support it. I believe in individual private property rights." It nevertheless got the requisite seven votes. Another vote is scheduled for next Monday.

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Julian Assange Probably Safe from the Zealous Department of Justice. For Now. Probably.

Realizing that attempting to throw Julian Assange in prison for leaking classified documents through WikiLeaks would put the federal government inevitably in a collision course with America’s own media, the Department of Justice appears to be pulling back, for now. From The Washington Post:

The Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, according to U.S. officials.

The officials stressed that a formal decision has not been made, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled, but they said there is little possibility of bringing a case against Assange, unless he is implicated in criminal activity other than releasing online top-secret military and diplomatic documents.

The Obama administration has charged government employees and contractors who leak classified information — such as former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning — with violations of the Espionage Act. But officials said that although Assange published classified documents, he did not leak them, something they said significantly affects their legal analysis.

A former spokesman for the DOJ said they could not see any way to prosecute Assange for what he’s done without having to prosecute journalists at places like the New York Times or The Washington Post.

Read the full story here.

I imagine we should be glad that they didn’t just decide the opposite and start prosecuting the journalists, too, the way the Department of Justice has been operating these days.

A statement sent out from WikiLeaks in response to the story suggests they’re not buying it:

The anonymous assertion that Julian Assange may not be indicted for publication of classified documents, even if true, only deals with a small part of the grand jury investigation. That investigation has been primarily concerned with trying to prove somehow that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were involved, not merely in publication, but in a conspiracy with their sources. There is also the question as to the status of the DoJ investigations into WikiLeaks involvement in the Stratfor and Snowden matters.

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Ahistoric, Unscientific Papal Prejudice Is Okay When It’s About Capitalism, Anyway!

Jesus Christ. |||Pope Francis's Evangelii Gaudium about the "new tyranny" of "unfettered capitalism" might just be the biggest thing to hit the lefty blogosphere since Mitt Romney uttered the instantly immortal, irrelevant phrase "binders full of women."

"It's about time," says Daily Kos diarist Egberto Willies. "Great Pope or Greatest Pope?" wondered Wonkette's Commie Girl. "Pope Francis Strafes Libertarian Economics," celebrated Slate's Matthew Yglesias. It's like that time Sinead O'Connor ripped up a picture of the Pope, only this time the Pope is Sinead O'Connor, and the picture is capitalism! Yay!

I don't wish to stand in the way of people enjoying other people's prejudices, but Francis's hyperbolic rants about the role and allegedly dictatorial power of free markets are embarrassing in their wrongness. Cheering them on is like donating money to a Creationist Museum, only with more potential impact. To take one papal passage out of dozens:

Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

"Without any means of escape," the man said. ||| The EconomistThe EconomistMore people have escaped poverty the past 25 years than were alive on the planet in 1800. Their "means of escape" was largely the introduction of at least some "laws of competition" in endeavors that had long been the exclusive domain of authoritarian, monopolistic governments. Here's The Economist:

In 1990, 43% of the population of developing countries lived in extreme poverty (then defined as subsisting on $1 a day); the absolute number was 1.9 billion people. By 2000 the proportion was down to a third. By 2010 it was 21% (or 1.2 billion; the poverty line was then $1.25, the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines in 2005 prices, adjusted for differences in purchasing power). The global poverty rate had been cut in half in 20 years.

The country that cut poverty the most was China, which in 1980 had the largest number of poor people anywhere. China saw a huge increase in income inequality—but even more growth. Between 1981 and 2010 it lifted a stunning 680m people out poverty—more than the entire current population of Latin America. This cut its poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to about 10% now. China alone accounts for around three quarters of the world’s total decline in extreme poverty over the past 30 years.

And don't forget Africa and India!

In Africa, inflation-adjusted per capita incomes rose by an astonishing 97 percent between 1999 and 2010. Hunger in India shrank by 90 percent after the country replaced 40 years’ worth of socialist stagnation with capitalist reforms in 1991.

I actually like the new guy, otherwise. |||To look upon the miracles of this world and lament the lack of "means of escape" is to advertise your own ignorance. To call it a "tyranny" is to do violence to any meaningful sense of that important word (much like Francis's predecessor did with his silly "dictatorship of relativism" crack). And to make such absolutist statements as "everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest" is to admit up front that you are not primarily interested in spreading truth, but rather in exciting popular passions. Which I suppose makes sense.

It's a free world; Pope's gonna Pope & all that. I don't go to the Vatican for global economics, and Catholics probably don't seek out Reason for spiritual guidance. And the new kid in the Vatican actually seems pretty good to my outsider eyes. But prejudice against global capitalism isn't some kind of twee affect coming from the mouth of one of the globe's largest religious institutions. It's an out-and-out attempt to rewrite measurable history to fit theological imperatives. Liberals who congratulate themselves on mocking creationists while co-signing factually laughable claims about the world they actually live in are not exactly demonstrating a consistent adherence to the Scientific Method.

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White House Still Trying to Spin Obamacare, EU Wants Spying Protection, Judge to Rule on Detroit Bankruptcy: P.M. Links

  • A lovely celebration of complete economic failurememories_by_mike / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDRealizing the national news media is no longer cooperating with positive coverage about the Obamacare rollout, the Obama Administration is turning to local news media instead. They are also working to coordinate a media strategy with health care groups. They still seem to think that the their messaging is the problem, don’t they?
  • The European Union is seeking stronger protection against U.S. surveillance and the right to sue if their data is abused. Ha ha ha! Like Americans can currently sue if their data is abused.
  • A judge will rule on Dec. 3 whether to allow Detroit to declare bankruptcy.
  • A federal judge will allow a lesbian couple in Illinois to get married ahead of the actual day their new recognition law takes effect because one of the women is terminally ill.
  • Following the negotiations in Iran, Obama is now asking for the release a former FBI agent who disappeared there in 2007.
  • The Obama Administration is calling for a crackdown on political campaigning by tax-exempt non-profit groups. So Organizing for Action is closing its doors when?

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Matthew Feeney on Scrapping the Welfare State and Giving People Free Money

The Swiss are set to vote on whether their country should introduce a basic national income of 2,500 Swiss Francs ($2,800) a month for every adult, regardless of their salary or net worth. Although the particular proposal in Switzerland may not be ideal, that does not mean, Matthew Feeney argues, that libertarians should shy away from proposing something similar. Being morally comfortable with some degree of government wealth redistribution might be contrary to anarchism, but it is not contrary to libertarianism. Were libertarians to argue for replacing the current welfare system with a basic national income we would be better positioned to highlight that libertarianism is not the heartless and selfish philosophy it is commonly portrayed as, and it would allow for a more humane and effective way to deliver welfare than the current system on offer.

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Woman Claims Corrections Officer Sprayed Mace On Her Vagina

Credit: Scott Davidson / Foter.com / CC BYCredit: Scott Davidson / Foter.com / CC BYThe Huffington Post’s Radley Balko has highlighted the case of a New Mexico woman who claims that a corrections officer sprayed mace on her vagina almost two years ago. The ACLU is filing a federal lawsuit on the woman’s behalf.  

The woman, Marlene Tapia, was reportedly strip searched after being arrested for a probation violation related to a drug case. It was during this search that Tapia claims her vagina was sprayed with a substance which Executive Director of ACLU of New Mexico Peter Simonson says was mace.  

From KOB4:

According to court records, police arrested Tapia for a probation violation tied to a previous drug case.  While at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Tapia said two officers strip searched her and asked her to bend over at the waist.  That’s when they noticed a plastic baggie protruding from Tapia’s vagina.

Instead of taking Tapia to a doctor to have the baggie removed, she said one of the officers – Blanca Zapater – sprayed a chemical agent directly on her genitals twice.

Simonson said the chemical agent was mace.

Tapia said she suffered “severe pain that lasted for several weeks including burning, swollen genitals and painful urination,” according to the court records.

As Balko rightly states:

And so this is where we are with the drug war. Government officials are shoving fingers, tubes, and cameras up rectums, sticking hands into vaginas, and spraying mace on genitals, all to protect us from ourselves -- to stop us from getting high. Feel safer?

For more from Reason.com on police brutality and the drug war click here and here.

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SCOTUS Will Hear Religious Challenges to Obamacare's Contraceptive Mandate

Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that challenge Obamacare's contraceptive mandate as a violation of religious freedom. Last year the Court upheld the requirement that individuals obtain government-approved medical coverage by treating it as an exercise of the tax power. This will be the Court's second opportunity to assess the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In one of the cases the court plans to hear, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, David and Barbara Green, who own the Oklahoma-based chain together with their three children, argue that forcing them to provide their employees with health plans that cover certain forms of contraception violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Greens specifically object to four kinds of contraception—Ella, Plan B, and two IUDs—that work by preventing implantation of fertilized ova, which they view as morally equivalent to abortion. 

RFRA, which Congress passed almost unanimously in response to a 1990 Supreme Court decision that loosened the restraints on laws that limit religious freedom, says "government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless the burden is "narrowly tailored" to serve a "compelling" interest. Last June the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that the contraceptive mandate probably fails this test, especially since it already exempts as many as 100 million health plans, including those offered by churches and other nonprofit religious organizations. The court also noted that the Greens have no religious objection to 16 of the 20 contraceptives covered by the mandate.

The other challenge to the contraceptive rule, Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, involves a Pennsylvania cabinet company owned by the Hahns, a Mennonite family. The Hahns, like the Greens, object to contraceptives that prevent implantation rather than fertilization. But in July the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit rejected their RFRA claim, concluding that their business is not covered by the statute because it is a for-profit corporation and therefore does not qualify as a "person." The Court held that "a for-profit, secular corporation cannot engage in the exercise of religion."

The 10th Circuit rejected this distinction. "It is beyond question that associations—not just individuals—have Free Exercise rights," it said, quoting a 1984 Supreme Court decision: "An individual's freedom to speak, to worship, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances could not be vigorously protected from interference by the State unless a correlative freedom to engage in group effort toward those ends [was] also guaranteed." If people do not lose their religious freedom when they exercise it through nonprofit corporations (such as churches) or for-profit businesses that are not incorporated, the 10th Circuit asked, why should they sacrifice this right when they combine the corporate form with a profit motive? For example, "Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?" The 10th Circuit noted that the Supreme Court, in the 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC, overturned restrictions on political speech by both commercial and nonprofit corporations, recognizing them as tools that individuals use to exercise their First Amendment rights. 

In a 2007 Reason article, I explored RFRA's implications for religious rituals involving prohibited drugs.

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Texas High School Student Tased by School Resource Officer/Sheriff’s Deputy, Now in Medically-Induced Coma

tased by copattorney photoTasers are meant to be a non-lethal way for police officers to force targets into compliance, but more than 500 deaths have been attributed to Tasers since 2001, largely due to cardiac arrest. At one Texas high school, the use of a Taser by Randy McMillan, a sheriff’s deputy/school resource officer, on 17-year-old Noe Niño de Rivera has resulted in the student being put in a medically induced coma. The family has filed a lawsuit against McMillan, the school district, and the county, and alleges Rivera was tased after trying to break up a fight. Via YNN Austin:

The court document says the teenager began to walk backwards with his hands up when McMillan shocked him with the Taser.

Rivera fell to the ground and hit his head on the floor, causing permanent injury to his brain. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital where it was determined he had suffered a severe a brain hemorrhage and was put into a medically-induced coma.

Last week officials with the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office said Rivera was acting aggressive before the Taser was used. They say the two officers ordered the teen to back off, but he ignored their commands, according to a county spokesman, prompting McMillan to use the Taser.

Still, the lawsuit says Rivera “posed no imminent threat of death or serious injury” to McMillan and the deputy was unlawful in his use of force.

The court document also says McMillan used a Taser on another student one year ago, and says the school district and the county sheriff’s office failed to discipline him correctly.

The family is seeking a jury trial. About a hundred students walked out of class last week to protest Rivera’s tasing. KVUE reports the family’s attorney claims to have cellphone video corroborating the family’s story, but did not share it with the TV station. The KVUE story also includes one parent voicing support for McMillan. "I find it hard to believe that an officer of that standing would ever do anything that he didn't have to actually do. If you're not there you really can't judge," she said.

McMillan has been moved from the school to patrol duty for the time being.

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I Want My 23andMe or, The FDA Took My DNA Away!

I've got a new piece up at The Daily Beast that riffs off the recent, sad, insulting, and doomed attempt by the Food and Drug Administration to put the kibosh on "personal genetic services" such as the one offered by 23andMe.com, which Ronald Bailey wrote about yesterday.

Here's my column's opening:

In its infinite wisdom, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has forbidden the personal genetic testing service 23andMe from soliciting new customers, claiming the company hasn’t proven the validity of its product.

The real reason? Because when it comes to learning about your own goddamn genes,the FDA doesn’t think you can handle the truth. That means the FDA is now officially worse than Oedipus’s parents, Dr. Zaius, and the god of Genesis combined, telling us that there are things that us mere mortals just shouldn’t be allowed to know....

The FDA is seriously claiming that you might learn you have a possibility of developing breast cancer and then insist on having the potentially cancerous body part lopped off. And that you'll be able to find a doctor or hospital or taxidermist who will do any or all of that without doing further tests and followups. They don’t provide a single instance of this happening nor do they specify any possible medical world in which this might happen, but that’s enough to shut down 23andMe for the foreseeable future. (The company has issued a short statement about how they will work to meet the FDA’s demands.)

The FDA is now apparently taking policy cues from The End, a 1978 comedy starring Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise. In that groaner, Burt is convinced he is going to die soon and sets about offing himself. Spoiler alert: Hilarity doesn’t ensue. It’s a Burt Reynolds-Dom DeLuise showcase after all....

Read the whole thing here.

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Thousands of Ohio State Students Defy Police Orders, Storm Barricades

Credit: ltenney1225 / Foter.com / CC BY-NCCredit: ltenney1225 / Foter.com / CC BY-NCCiting frustration with overzealous safety rules, thousands of Ohio State University students defied police orders and stormed through barricades to participate in an annual school tradition on Monday.

Once a year, Ohio State students show their mettle by jumping into the frigid waters of a pond called Mirror Lake. This raucous custom, which last year drew 15,000 people, had gone largely undisturbed for two decades. This year, however, university officials decided a major overhaul was needed after one student died following an unrelated, isolated drowning incident in August.

The university's newspaper, The Lantern, details the extent to which administrators went to deprive the event of any spontaneity or danger and make it more like Soviet breadline than a night of collegiate camaraderie:

OSU officials had announced there would be increased safety and security efforts for the Mirror Lake jump... Fences were installed surrounding Mirror Lake with one designated entrance spot and multiple exits. Students, whether jumping or watching, were set to be required to wear a wristband issued to those with [student identification] only for admission to the area.

University police also used their squad cars to act as additional barricades around the perimeter.

School officials overestimated the students' complacency. Campus Police Chief Paul Denton told the school paper over the weekend that he didn't anticipate students resisting the planned protocol, but said the police were prepared to handle it if they did. Vice President for Student Life Javaune Adams-Gaston said, “I know that change is difficult and people have the right to have views about that change, but I also know that our student population is one that is spirited and not disruptive,”

The Columbus Dispatch states that despite the presence of several dozen officers guarding the area, the collegians knocked down the six-foot fences and jumped in defiance of the restrictions. Reports vary on how many students participated in the protest last night, but the newspaper ballparks it in the thousands. Once the students began flooding in, the police declined to stop them.

One student told the Dispatch that defying the administrators was her “way of protesting the university telling me when, where and how I should jump.”

“We wanted a night that is unregulated and something the students can own and can continue a really fun and really great tradition,” another student told the school paper.

Ironically, the attempt to micromanage the situation could have backfired for the school, the Dispatch notes:

And there’s an odd angle to Ohio State trying to control the jump, said at least one lawyer. The university could be increasing its liability if a student were to get hurt once wristbands are required, said Gerry Leeseberg, a Columbus lawyer who specializes in wrongful-death and personal-injury cases. “The more control they exert, the further the risk they take,” he said.

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US, Japan Criticize Chinese Air Defense Zone Over Disputed Islands

ReasonReasonBoth Japan and the U.S. have said that they will not recognize the new Chinese air defense zone that includes uninhabited islands claimed by both Japan and China.

From Voice of America:

Japan's defense chief said Tokyo is working closely with Washington following China's establishment of an air defense zone over disputed waters in the East China Sea.

The U.S. and Japan have vowed not to recognize the air defense identification zone, under which Beijing wants all civilian and military aircraft to identify themselves and obey its orders.

Earlier today, a Pentagon spokesman said that two B-52 bombers had flown over the disputed islands.

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Does Edward Snowden Have a "Doomsday" Cache of Super-Secret Documents? Let's Hope So.

Edward SnowdenThe GuardianAmerican and British intelligence officials are reportedly in a tizzy about a supposedly vast "doomsday" cache of extremely sensitive and potentially damaging intelligence files Edward Snowden has hidden away as an insurance policy. If you're one of those people wondering why the internationally famous whistleblower hasn't been snatched or snuffed for revealing the extent of National Security Agency-led surveillance on the American people and the wider world, this is likely the reason. If he goes down, the thinking goes, he'll take his tormenters with him. Very powerful, very amoral tormenters who now lay awake at night wondering what he'll do.

According to Mark Hosenball of Reuters:

British and U.S. intelligence officials say they are worried about a "doomsday" cache of highly classified, heavily encrypted material they believe former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has stored on a data cloud.

The cache contains documents generated by the NSA and other agencies and includes names of U.S. and allied intelligence personnel, seven current and former U.S. officials and other sources briefed on the matter said.

The data is protected with sophisticated encryption, and multiple passwords are needed to open it, said two of the sources, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The passwords are in the possession of at least three different people and are valid for only a brief time window each day, they said. The identities of persons who might have the passwords are unknown.

This cache supposedly contains documents separate from the extensive information Snowden supplied to journalists around the world. That data detailed surveillance operations that he (and many of us) found morally reprehensible. The "doomsday" data is believed to contain names and persona details of intelligence officials.

Whether or not Snowden actually has secreted such sensitive information, to be released if anybody moves against him, it's the sort of precaution that makes enormous sense for a man in his position. It makes enough sense that officials probably have to assume that he has created such a safeguard, even in the absence of strong evidence. He obviously has sensitive documents and a serious bone to pick with the intelligence community. Their security was breached. Why wouldn't he hold something in reserve?

It is, after all, almost certainly what the likes of James Clapper and General Keith Alexander would do, to protect their own backs.

There is a wonderful irony in an intelligence community whistleblower using the threatened release of information to shield himself from retribution by government spooks who make their living by digging up everybody else's secrets. Hoist by their own petards, they have to gamble that he'll release just enough sensitive data to hurt them and force policy changes they oppose, or else risk the complete unveiling of exactly the sort of compromising intel they've dedicated themselves to unearthing about others.

Just for the record, the drinks are on me, Mr. Snowden, if we ever meet.

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Dilbert's Scott Adams Wishes a "Long, Horrible Death" to Assisted Suicide Opponents

Scott Adams, the self-described "pro-death ignorantselfishertarian" Dilbert creator, wrote on his personal blog this weekend that his father was dying a slow and painful death and that he wishes for people who've done anything to help maintain the prohibition on doctor-assisted suicide to experience the same pain and suffering:

If you're a politician who has ever voted against doctor-assisted suicide, or you would vote against it in the future, I hate your fucking guts and I would like you to die a long, horrible death. I would be happy to kill you personally and watch you bleed out. I won't do that, because I fear the consequences. But I'd enjoy it, because you motherfuckers are responsible for torturing my father. Now it's personal...

...I'm okay with any citizen who opposes doctor-assisted suicide on moral or practical grounds. But if you have acted on that thought, such as basing a vote on it, I would like you to die a slow, horrible death too. You and the government are accomplices in the torturing of my father, and there's a good chance you'll someday be accomplices in torturing me to death too.

He continues on to caution readers not to "misconstrue this post as satire or exaggeration," emphasizing that the raw emotion of the situation is fueling his anger. The post was followed by outrage and disgust from pro-life activists. Adams' father has since died.

While National Review helpfully points out that Adams' wrath targets approximately half the US population, that number should be weighed against the 62 percent of Americans who believe in a moral right to suicide when the patient is "suffering great pain with no hope of improvement." This could indicate that most Americans believe in the right to control your own life and death, but that a portion of them fear that doctor-assisted suicide might be susceptible to abuse. In fact, Adams addresses this concern near the bottom of his post:

I know that many of my fellow citizens have legitimate concerns about doctor-assisted suicide. One can certainly imagine greedy heirs speeding up the demise of grandma to get the inheritance. That would be a strong argument if doctor-assisted suicide wasn't already working elsewhere with little problems, or if good things in general (such as hospitals and the police) never came with their own risks.

For an example of some of those places where doctor-assisted suicide is working without rampant elder abuse or other horrific consequences, watch the Reason TV video below, which examined the fight for legalization in Montana.

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Gene Healy Warns: Nobody Wins When You Go Nuclear on Filibusters

US GOVTUS GOVTWith only three Democrats defecting, on Thursday, the Senate, led by Harry Reid, changed the rules to prevent filibusters of virtually all presidential nominees except Supreme Court justices. By a simple majority vote—rather than the two-thirds that Senate rules require—Reid changed the rules mid-game, to prevent minority-party “obstruction” of the president's nominees. Gene Healy warns that serious political movements shouldn’t try to knock down all the barriers to power whenever they temporarily enjoy it, because nothing is permanent in politics save the drive for more federal power, and the weapons you forge may someday be detonated by the other side.

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When the Press Perceives a Crime Trend, Turn On Your B.S. Detector

I've seen people blaming this SNL sketch for the "new" "trend." No, really.In his 1999 book Random Violence, which I recommend highly, the sociologist Joel Best points out that "criminologists usually doubt claims about crime waves. Crime waves, they say, are really waves in media attention: they occur because the media, for whatever reason, fix upon some sort of crime, and publicize it." Genuine spikes in crime do occur, of course, but the press has a habit of spotting patterns that aren't there.

I recycled that last paragraph from a blog post I wrote in January. Back then the alleged crime wave involved mass shootings. Now the press is focused on "knockout," which my colleague Jacob Sullum wrote about here yesterday. This time the alleged crime wave does not involve guns and is being blamed on black people, so the skeptics tend to be on the left and the hysterics tend to be on the right. (I like to think of Reason as a place where we're skeptical about all the bullshit crime-trend stories.) But the statistical support for the idea that there has been a surge in random attacks on bystanders, whether or not those assaults are a "game," is absent. The only thing that is spiking for sure is media attention, and that has less to do with the number of crimes than the presence of a storyline that the press can plug those crimes into.

Fun fact: In 1989, many reporters became convinced that there was a crime trend called "wilding," which (naturally) involved random assaults on strangers. This was a byproduct of the Central Park jogger case: A police officer apparently misheard a reference to the Tone Loc song "Wild Thing" as "wilding" and the media ran with it, without bothering to say to themselves, "You know, 'wilding' is kind of a dorky word. Are a bunch of hardened thugs really going to use it?"

Addendum: Down in the comments, GILMORE argues that I should have turned on my own B.S. detector before repeating that story about the origins of the word "wilding." I'd link directly but the threads are kind of tangled; search for his handle and you'll find it.

Addendum #2: With this clip, GILMORE convinces me to ditch the Tone Loc story. Wherever the police picked up the phrase, it probably wasn't a garbled fragment of a song.

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Orlando Generously Allows Residents to Slightly Control Their Own Yards

"Marijuana? No, no, that's mint."Credit: looseends / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SALast week, Zenon Evans passed along the story of Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll, who are fighting the city of Miami Shores, Fla., for the right to grow vegetables in their front yard. They are suing with the help of the Institute for Justice.

Head north, though, and the City of Orlando has magnanimously decided to allow homeowners their home-grown vegetables, though they’ve packaged it within a whole host of other regulations controlling what people do with their yards. From the Orlando Sentinel:

On Monday, the City Council gave preliminary approval to rules that would allow veggie gardens to cover as much as 60 percent of a home's front yard. But they could not be planted in the public right-of-way along the street, and would have to be screened with fencing or shrubs, and set back at least three feet from the property line.

It's more garden-friendly than city planners' first attempt, which restricted gardens to no more than 25 percent of the front yard, required 10-foot setbacks and sought height limits on tomatoes and other plantings.

As in Miami Shores, the fight started when the city demanded a couple, Jason and Jennifer Helvenston, remove their vegetable garden or face fines. The city’s efforts were short-circuited when it was discovered the city didn’t actually have any rules about vegetable gardens.

So really, the new rules aren’t giving residents more freedom to decide what to do with their yards. It’s actually taking it away. The new rules require a shade tree on every lot of every new home construction – and for anybody attempting to add to their property. It also has a list of “approved” shrubs and trees and regulations for irrigation timers.

Read the whole story here.

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Senators Call for Halting Unconstitutional NSA Spying on Americans

NSA spyingEFFIn their cogent op-ed, "End the NSA Dragnet, Now" in the New York Times today, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore), Mark Udall (D-Colo), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) argue in opposition to an authoritarian bill proposed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that would actually ratify the power of the National Security Agency to spy on Americans. To their great credit, the three senators have proposed legislation that would go a long way toward restoring American's Fourth Amendment privacy protections against NSA surveillance. From the op-ed:

THE framers of the Constitution declared that government officials had no power to seize the records of individual Americans without evidence of wrongdoing, and they embedded this principle in the Fourth Amendment. The bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records — so-called metadata — by the National Security Agency is, in our view, a clear case of a general warrant that violates the spirit of the framers’ intentions. This intrusive program was authorized under a secret legal process by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so for years American citizens did not have the knowledge needed to challenge the infringement of their privacy rights.

Our first priority is to keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism. If government agencies identify a suspected terrorist, they should absolutely go to the relevant phone companies to get that person’s phone records. But this can be done without collecting the records of millions of law-abiding Americans. We recall Benjamin Franklin’s famous admonition that those who would give up essential liberty in the pursuit of temporary safety will lose both and deserve neither.

The usefulness of the bulk collection program has been greatly exaggerated. We have yet to see any proof that it provides real, unique value in protecting national security. In spite of our repeated requests, the N.S.A. has not provided evidence of any instance when the agency used this program to review phone records that could not have been obtained using a regular court order or emergency authorization.

Despite this, the surveillance reform bill recently ratified by the Senate Intelligence Committee would explicitly permit the government to engage in dragnet collection as long as there were rules about when officials could look at these phone records. It would also give intelligence agencies wide latitude to conduct warrantless searches for Americans’ phone calls and emails.

This is not the true reform that poll after poll has shown the American people want. It is preserving business as usual. When the Bill of Rights was adopted, it established that Americans’ papers and effects should be seized only when there was specific evidence of suspicious activity. It did not permit government agencies to issue general warrants as long as records seized were reviewed with the permission of senior officials.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, Americans now know that the NSA and other federal police and spy agencies were in the process of constructing what could easily have evolved into what former NSA cryptanalyst William Binney described as a "turnkey totalitarian state."

The time to stop it is now. Readers who are so moved can make their concerns known by contacting their members of Congress and the Senate.

The whole New York Times op-ed is well worth reading.

See also reason.tv's "What We Saw at the Anti-NSA 'Stop Watching Us' Rally" in Washington, DC below:

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Cathy Young on Doris Lessing's Impatience With Political Correctness

Doris LessingElke WetzigThe tributes to Doris Lessing, the novelist and Nobel Prize laureate who died on November 17 at 94, have given scant attention to one aspect of her remarkable career: this daughter of the left, an ex-communist and onetime feminist icon, emerged as a harsh critic of left-wing cultural ideology and of feminism in its current incarnation. Her trenchant critiques, writes Cathy Young, which some on the left would like to brush off as mere contrarian “crankiness,” should be heeded by anyone truly concerned with justice for all.

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Vid: If You Like Your Plan You Can Keep It: The Rap (w/ Remy)

"If You Like Your Plan You Can Keep It: The Rap" is the latest collaboration from Remy and ReasonTV. 

Watch above of click the link below for full text, links, downloadable versions, and more. 

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A.M. Links: John Boehner Signs Up For Obamacare, All US Troops Could Leave Afghanistan Next Year After All, Bitcoin Black Friday a Thing

  • firstSpeaker's OfficeSpeaker John Boehner signed up for Obamacare; he’ll see his monthly premium double even with a federal contribution. A special election for a vacant House seat in Florida could provide an example of how voters will react to Obamacare.
  • All US troops could be leaving Afghanistan next year after all, as the Afghan president is declining to sign a security agreement that would keep some of them there after the planned combat troop withdrawal in 2014.
  • A group of bipartisan senators is drafting legislation on new sanctions against Iran, just in case.
  • An actress from Texas accused of sending ricin to President Obama and other public figures in an attempt to frame her husband will take a plea deal from prosecutors.
  • The commander of the Free Syrian Army says the rebel group will not join January peace talks in Geneva. He wants weapons for his fighters instead.
  • Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have seized portions of several state buildings in month-long demonstrations against Thailand’s prime minister.
  • A UN deputy secretary general warned that the Central African Republic is descending into "complete chaos." France will send 1,000 troops for a planned UN mission in the country.
  • Bitcoin Black Friday is a thing this year.

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The Boys Who Cried "Munich"

I shit you not. ||| Breitbart.comBreitbart.comWas it really only 55 days ago that the world—including the part inhabited by Republicans—rolled its collective eyes at U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bizarrely mischaracterizing the decision whether or not to bomb the regime in Syria as our latest "Munich moment," referencing the deservedly infamous 1938 Neville Chamberlain/Edouard Daladier hand-over of Western Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler without Czech input and despite the fact that Paris was a military ally of Prague? Go ahead, watch Kerry haunt our consciences with the warning that the eventual outcome of the August/September Damascus deliberations would amount to "appeasement":

As conservative Rod Dreher asked at the time,

If American cruise missiles don't fly into Damascus, will Assad annex the Mideast equivalent of the Sudentenland? I am aware that he is a nasty piece of work, but I am not aware that he is an expansionist whose desires for Syrian lebensraum threatens America's vital interests.

Not even two months later, Munich is back with a vengeance, and this time it's conservatives leading the charge against the six-country deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

I'm sure she thought temporarily lifting economic sanctions from Iran was worse than letting Hitler swallow her homeland. ||| WikipediaWikipediaIn The Wall Street Journal, uber-hawk Bret Stephens declared the agreement somehow "Worse Than Munich," based on a sliding scale that takes into consideration the comparative weakness of Britain and France. (As long as we're doing historical comps here, it's worth noting that 2013 Iran is to 1938 Germany what a flea is to a Tyrannosaurus Rex.) You can calibrate Stephens's precise level of foreign policy seriousness with this passage:

After World War II the U.S. created a global system of security alliances to prevent the kind of foreign policy freelancing that is again becoming rampant in the Middle East. It worked until President Obama decided in his wisdom to throw it away.

Over at Breitbart.com, Ben Shapiro also produces a "Worse Than Munich" verdict, which suggests that the next Mideast crisis two months from now will generate such interventionist headlines as "Twice As Bad as Munich," or for the space-conscious, perhaps "Munich Cubed." Here’s Shapiro's Shaperiousness:

[I]n truth, the west's appeasement of Iran is significantly worse than its appeasement of Hitler in 1938, for a variety of reasons. First, as of 1938, Hitler had not yet made clear his plans to exterminate European Jewry. He was still attempting to ship European Jews out of Europe; the Final Solution was not formally adopted until 1941. Iran has made clear its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Its current leader, supposed moderate Hassan Rouhani, has refused to acknowledge the Holocaust as historically accurate, participated in a rally calling for Israel's destruction, and according to Iranian press reports, stated, "The Zionist regime is a wound that has sat on the body of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed." Yet the Obama administration wants to pretend he is a moderate.

Sure, Hitler demanded—successfully!—that whole swaths of other countries be ceded to him without their consent, and yes, if Iran tried that with a neighbor it would be blown to smithereens by history's most powerful military, but that Rouhani character participated in a rally!

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Ron Bailey Says: Watched Cops Are Polite Cops

Credit: lewishamdreamer-cc-by-ncCredit: lewishamdreamer-cc-by-ncThis summer, after a civil suit challenged the New York City Police Department's notorious program of patting down "suspicious" residents, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan imposed an experiment in which cops in precincts with the highest reported rates of stop-and-frisk activity would be required to wear video cameras for a year. Ron Bailey asserts that requiring law enforcement to wear video cameras will protect your constitutional rights and improve policing.

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Brickbat: The Knockout Game

Michael Fisher, a teacher at Willie Ray Smith Middle School in Texas, has been fired after knocking out a 12-year-old boy. Reginald Wells made a joke about Fisher's favorite football team, and Fisher hit him in the shoulder. Wells pushed him back, and the teacher punched him twice in the face. Police say they plan to file a charge of injury to a child against Fisher.

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San Antonio Cop Charged With Handcuffing, Raping Teenage Girl He Pulled Over, Had Faced Similar Accusation Before

cop accused of rapeSAPDAnother cop whose alleged actions and history of misconduct make the case for zero tolerance for police officers.  Officer Jackie Len Neal of the San Antonio Police Department was arrested for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman he pulled over at 2 in the morning. Neal allegedly told the woman her car was reported stole (she produced a sales slip), ordered her to get out of the car, and patted her down despite her request for a female officer. He allegedly then handcuffed her, placed her in the back of his patrol car and raped her. Neal will continue to be paid until he is indicted, and was released on $20,000 bond. The police department should have the power to dismiss him immediately as they see fit; even the perception of impropriety or criminality can make an officer unfit for service. What’s more, Neal had been the subject of sexual assault complaints before. Via My San Antonio:

Police Chief William McManus said a different woman made a similar complaint against Neal a few years ago. The date of that incident was not immediately available.

McManus said that woman later refused to cooperate in a police investigation, so it wasn't pursued. There were no consequences for Neal at the time.

McManus said he has asked officers to go back to that woman to see if she would be willing to help in the new investigation.

Neal was suspended in September for three days for dating an 18-year-old member of the Police Explorer program about two years ago. The program is meant to encourage young people to consider a career in law enforcement.

Officers are forbidden from fraternizing with members of the program for people 14 to 21 years old.

The San Antonio Police Department should not have been hampered by a union contract from dismissing Neal after the initial rape complaint or after the clear violation of policy with regards to the youth program.

The SAPD should be commended for moving to act quickly on the latest complaint, and for their attempt to revisit the prior allegation. It doesn’t always happen that way, with prosecutions of cops being both notoriously rare and late. In Kentucky, for example, it took nineteen years and a seven-year-long state police investigation to get to this week’s arrest of two former Oak Grove cops for the 1994 murder of two local prostitutes whose madam publicly accused corrupt cops of the killings. Oak Grove’s mayor called the charges the “tip of the iceberg,” pointing out that other police officers may well have known what happened.

And just today, the schools superintendent in Steubenville, Ohio was charged with obstructing an investigation into the rape of a teenage girl by three high school football players, a rape that would’ve likely remained uninvestigated were it not for the attention given to it by online activists and local bloggers, one of whom may face more prison time than the alleged rapists he exposed,  and another who successfully fought off defamation charges related to her coverage of the case. Reason TV interviewed her attorney earlier this year, which you can watch below:

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Who Will Treat Those New Medicaid Patients From the Obamacare Exchanges?

MedicaidU.S. GovernmentHealth care providers are showing a certain lack of enthusiasm about the Affordable Care Act. Because of low reimbursement and bureaucratic headaches, both state and national surveys showing physicians unenthusiastic about seeing patients who get coverage through the Obamacare exchanges. And that's for private insurance. But Healthcare.gov and the state exchanges have been more successful so far at signing people up for Medicaid than private plans—and many Medicaid patients are already having trouble finding doctors. So...Who is going to see these new Medicaid enrollees?

When it announced the underwhelming Obamacare enrollment figures (PDF) to-date on November 13, the department of Health and Human Services said that 106,185 people had "selected a Marketplace Plan," but that 396,261 persons had been "determined or assessed eligible for Medicaid/CHIP" (Children's Health Insurance Program).

That's a problem. A 2012 survey (PDF) by Jackson Healthcare, a medical staffing company, found that, while 64 percent of physicians nationally are taking new Medicaid patients, "A majority of physicians across many specialties said they could no longer afford to accept new Medicaid patients due to declining reimbursements. States where physicians were least likely to accept new Medicaid patients were New Jersey, California and Florida."

In fact, last week, the Courier-Post, a south New Jersey paper, reported that Medicaid patients in that state may be signed up for medical care, but they're having serious problems finding providers:

Midway through her third pregnancy, Grace Ewing spotted a disturbing notice on the counter at her obstetrician’s office.

Her Advocare doctor could no longer accept the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan as of Oct. 1, since the Medicaid managed care organization terminated its contract with the provider network.

Like 25,000 other Advocare patients in New Jersey, the practice told her she would have to find a new provider — and quickly.

But it was no easy task. For the next several weeks, the 28-year-old called obstetricians listed on the managed care company’s website. She wanted to find a female doctor within a reasonable distance from her Bellmawr home, who could deliver her baby at Virtua.One office worker after another told her the same thing: “We used to accept it, but we don’t anymore.” ...

Nearly 1.3 million New Jerseyans — about 15 percent of the state’s population — are enrolled in Medicaid, most through plans administered by four managed care organizations.The number of people covered by NJ FamilyCare is expected to swell next year, as an additional 300,000 uninsured residents will be eligible for free coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

The article adds that 54 percent of doctors in the state don't take take new Medicaid patients. Not surprisingly, low reimbursement is cited as a major reason. There is already a doctor shortage before the expected influx of new Medicaid patients.

None of this should be a surprise. Physician dissatisfaction with Medicaid is not a new proble, Pharmacies, too, were refusing Medicaid patients years ago because of rock-bottom reimbursement. Soon after the Affordable Care Act passed, health experts pointed to Medicaid as a major vulnerability in the law—coverage without providers is no coverage at all.

And yet... Here we are.

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New York Police Departments Get Military Vehicles

Credit: U.S. Army Materiel Command / Foter.com / CC BYCredit: U.S. Army Materiel Command / Foter.com / CC BYEight police departments in the state of New York recently added Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles to their fleets.

MRAPs, which were specifically designed for guerilla combat during the Iraq War, are being distributed to local police forces throughout the country as part of Department of Defense's “1033 program.” The latest recipients of these 18-ton, behemoths, each of which bears a retail price tag of about $500,000, are Albany, Warren, Jefferson, and five other counties and villages throughout upstate New York.

Albany County sheriff Craig Apple assured the Associated Press (AP) that his department is not becoming militarized. Neverthless, Apple, whose fleet already operates four other military surplus vehicles, giddily stated his approval of the MRAP: "It's armored. It's heavy. It's intimidating. And it's free.” To ensure that no confusion arises over its function, part of the refurbishing process will include changing the MRAP's paint job from “military sand” to “civilian black.”

In nearby Warren County, Undersheriff Shawn Lamouree explained more bluntly, “We live in the North Country. It’s very common for people to have high-powered hunting rifles.” He noted a past situation in which the MRAP could have been useful to overcome barricades. The AP notes that the Lamouree also suggested “it could be used occasionally by the emergency response team, which has used armored vehicles to serve drug warrants.”

Although it may be the easiest means for the Pentagon to relinquish itself of surplus equipment, many are critical of the increasing trend of police militarization. The American Civil Liberties Union has repeatedly warned that militarization can curtail freedom and foment violence. Former Reason staffers Radley Balko and Mike Riggs discussed in a recent interview the multiple ways in which domestic police are becoming more militaristic.

There are also practical problems with MRAPs, some of which Reason covered when Ohio State University received one earlier this year. Domestic roads and bridges are not build to accommodate these vehicles. Even if police can get one onto a major roadway, the MRAP top out at 65mph. This makes them unlikely to beat standard police vehicles to a crime scene. Additionally, although the police departments received the MRAPs for free, they are responsible for the cost of refurbishing, fueling, and attending to their specialized mechanical issues. Also, these top-heavy vehicles, for which the military requires unique training and licensing to drive, are prone to rolling over especially on mountainous terrains. 

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Members of Congress Beg US Attorney to Stop Calif. Medical Marijuana Raids

Jacob Sullum has noted that despite new policies by the Department of Justice to pull back on prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries that are operating within their state’s laws, Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, is doing nothing of the sort.

Haag’s unwillingness to listen to the her own agency, not to mention the city leaders where she’s trying to shut dispensaries down, has prompted four members of the House of Representatives, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Sam Farr, and Eric Swalwell (all California Democrats) to send Haag a letter begging her to stop. The letter reads in part:

It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward dispensaries. Moreover, it appears to directly  counter the spirit of Deputy Attorney General Cole’s memo, and is in direct opposition to the evolving view toward medical marijuana, the will of the people and, by now, common sense.  Additionally, the State of California has also received legislative direction and guidelines from California Attorney General Kamala Harris on responsibly delivering medical marijuana. 

It is our view that the intent of the Justice Department is to not enforce its anti-marijuana laws in conflict with the laws of states that have chosen to decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational uses.  California understands the urgency toward putting together a statewide regulatory system, and we can all be helpful in that regard, but some municipalities, including Oakland, have already done an extraordinary job regulating medical marijuana.  California is moving in the correct direction in a measured manner, and should be given the opportunity to do so.

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It Is Now Illegal To Smoke In Your Own Home In San Rafael, California

In a unanimous decision, members of the San Rafael City Council have approved the strictest type of smoking ordinance in the country. Effective last week, Assembly Bill 746 bans residents of apartments, condos, duplexes, and multi-family houses from smoking cigarettes and “tobacco products” inside their homes.

Moonfall Pix/FlickrMoonfall Pix/FlickrIntroduced by Assembly Member Marc Levine and pushed by the Smoke-Free Marin Coalition for over seven years, the ordinance applies to owners and renters in all buildings that house wall-sharing units for three or more families. The purpose is to prevent second-hand smoke from travelling through doors, windows, floorboards, crawl spaces, or ventilation systems (i.e. any conceivable opening) into neighboring units.

San Rafael has joined a growing number of cities, such as Belmont, CA, that have implemented similar bans.* 

Levine said the bill is motivated by his desire to ensure that "Californians [can] breathe clean air in their own homes." He continued, "In apartments or condominiums, whenever a neighbor lights up, everyone in the building smokes with them."

Rebecca Woodbury, an analyst at the City Manager’s office who helped write the ordinance, explained some of the bill's specifics to ABC News. "It doesn't matter if it's owner-occupied or renter-occupied," she said. "We didn't want to discriminate. The distinguishing feature is the shared wall...I’m not aware of any ordinance that’s stronger."

The bill's proponents cited scientific evidence that shows cigarette smoke is able to travel through the ventilation systems of apartments. Some of this evidence was produced by two CDC studies, which found that roughly 45 percent of apartment dwellers claimed to have been exposed to second-hand smoke in their homes in the past year.

Some anti-smoking groups, like the American Lung Association, have expressed their support for the legislation. The President and CEO of California's division said the ordinance is "groundbreaking" and called for a state-wide ban. 

The ordinance is not without its detractors, however. 

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California Judge Sends High-Speed Rail Plan Careening Backward Into the Station

Somebody make a "Nope nope nope nope nope!" GIFCHSRACalifornia’s High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) can’t even spin this one: A state judge in Sacramento, in two separate rulings, has taken the business plans for the state’s bullet train outside, tossed them in a rusty barrel behind the courthouse, and set them on fire. As Reason has repeatedly noted across several years, the CHSRA’s runaway rail plan was wildly different, more expensive, and simply not in compliance with what was approved by voters in a ballot initiative in 2008. Today Judge Michael Kenny agreed with opponents that the state could not push forward with its plans as they are. From the Associated Press:

Judge Michael Kenny rejected a request from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to sell $8 billion of the $10 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2008, saying there was no evidence it was "necessary and desirable" to start selling the bonds when a committee of state officials met last March.

He said the committee was supposed to act as "the ultimate `keeper of the checkbook'" for taxpayers, but instead relied on a request from the high-speed rail authority to start selling bonds as sufficient evidence to proceed.

In a separate lawsuit, Kenny ordered the rail authority to redo its $68 billion funding plan before continuing construction, a process that could take months or years. He had previously ruled that the authority abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law. The judge said the state failed to identify "sources of funds that were more than merely theoretically possible."

Proposition 1A, which voters approved in 2008, required the rail authority to specify the source of the funding for the first operable segment of the high-speed rail line - a 300 mile stretch - and have all the necessary environmental clearances in place. Kenny had said the agency did not comply with either mandate in approving the start of construction from Madera to Fresno, about 30 miles.

Technically and politically, the ruling doesn’t kill the plan, but the blow is pretty devastating. The state does not have the money to build a full 300-mile stretch of the $68 billion boondoggle. Despite blinkered claims by progressive that California’s economy is recovering, it is wallowing in huge amounts of debt, unfunded state pension liabilities, and rapidly expanding health care costs. And there’s little sign of additional federal subsidies coming unless the Democrats win the day in 2014 and take back the House.

Nevertheless, CHSRA is trying to act like they expected a judge to order them to start the process over the whole time:

"Like all transformative projects, we understand that there will be many challenges that will be addressed as we go forward in building the nation's first high-speed rail system," authority board Chairman Dan Richard said in a written statement.

Going backward instead is quite the challenge to your efforts to go forward.

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6 Misconceptions About the Sandy Hook Massacre Debunked by Prosecutor's Report

FacebookFacebookToday, nearly a year after Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the state's attorney managing the investigation of the massacre, Steven Sedensky, issued a report that refutes or casts doubt on several theories about Lanza and his horrifying crimes. A few highlights:

1. Did Lanza have a grudge against the school?

"The shooter indicated that he loved the school and liked to go there....As best as can be determined, the shooter had no prior contact with anyone in the school that day. And, apart from having attended the school as a child, he appears to have had no continuing involvement with SHES....The evidence clearly shows that the shooter planned his actions, including the taking of his own life, but there is no clear indication why he did so, or why he targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School."

2. Did mental illness make him do it?

"The shooter had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others [including social awkwardness and a lack of empathy that his mother described as Asperger syndrome]....What contribution this made to the shootings, if any, is unknown....The shooter’s mental status is no defense to his conduct as the evidence shows he knew his conduct to be against the law. He had the ability to control his behavior to obtain the results he wanted, including his own death."

3. Could he have been stopped if only people had paid attention to warning signs?

"Those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior....[Investigators] have not discovered any evidence that the shooter voiced or gave any indication to others that he intended to commit such a crime...[In high school,] he was not known to be a violent kid at all and never spoke of violence....Despite a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, he displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies."

4. Did obsessive playing of violent video games warp his mind?"

"He played video games often, both solo at home and online. They could be described as both violent and non-violent. One person described the shooter as spending the majority of his time playing non-violent video games all day, with his favorite at one point being 'Super Mario Brothers.'...The shooter liked to play a game called 'Dance Dance Revolution' (DDR)....He regularly went to the area of a theater that had a commercial version of the DDR game in the lobby. In 2011 and up until a month before December 14, 2012, the shooter went to the theater and played the game. He went most every Friday through Sunday and played the game for four to ten hours."

5. What about drugs?

"No drugs were found in the shooter's system....Reportedly the shooter did not drink alcohol, take drugs, prescription or otherwise, and hated the thought of doing any of those things."

6. Could a better background check system for gun buyers have stopped him?

"All of the firearms were legally purchased by the shooter’s mother. Additionally, ammunition of the types found had been purchased by the mother in the past, and there is no evidence that the ammunition was purchased by anyone else, including the shooter."

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Colorado Obamacare Enrollment Even Worse Than Worst Case Projections, Anti-Smoking Groups Oppose Obamacare Tobacco Penalty, Texas Man Still in Prison Despite Having Conviction Overturned in 1980: P.M. Links

  • smokingHelga Weber/Foter.comEnrollment through Colorado’s insurance exchange is barely half the projected worst case scenario, which officials say will make it difficult for the state “to deliver on promises made to Colorado citizens” and jeopardize the program’s revenue stream. The American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, both supporters of the Affordable Care Act, nevertheless oppose Obamacare’s tobacco surcharge, arguing it will push smokers out of insurance policies and make it even more difficult for them to quit.
  • National Security Advisor Susan Rice is in Afghanistan, where she is expected to meet with Hamid Karzai to discuss the post-2014 security pact between the two countries.
  • The U.S. government reportedly turned a larger profit on student loans,$41.3 billion, than all but two companies worldwide, Exxon Mobil and Apple.
  • State police in New York have acquired 32 SUVs so that troopers can more easily peer into cars to catch drivers who are texting.
  • A Texas man has been in prison for more than 30 years despite having his conviction overturned and a new trial ordered in 1980.
  • A couple in the Florida Keys were mistakenly shipped 11 pounds of marijuana to a rental property in Louisiana. They turned the marijuana in to local police in Florida, who say the couple could’ve been arrested had cops discovered the marijuana while the couple was unknowingly driving it back to Florida.
  • Microsoft acknowledged a “very small number” of customers purchased Xbox Ones with serious disc reading issues. No blue screens reported.

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Ira Stoll on the Early Obamacare Advocate Who Is Missing as the Program Flounders

US Govt CCUS Govt CCPeter Orszag was the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget for the first year and a half of the Obama administration. Other than President Obama himself, he’s the person most identified with the argument that health reform was necessary to save the government money. Ira Stoll wants to know why Orszag has gone so quiet since the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov and Obamacare.

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Why Are Republicans, Israeli Officials Upset About the Iran Nuke Deal?

Credit: Zxctypo/wikimediaCredit: Zxctypo/wikimediaRepublicans are not happy about the deal relating to Iran’s nuclear program that was announced over the weekend. The deal includes, among other things, Iran halting uranium enrichment above 5 percent and neutralizing "near-20% enriched uranium".

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has expressed concern about the enrichment allowed in the deal, saying “Loosening sanctions and recognizing Iran’s enrichment program is a mistake, and will not stop Iran’s march toward nuclear capability.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) has a statement on his website that reads in part:

By allowing the Iranian regime to retain a sizable nuclear infrastructure, this agreement makes a nuclear Iran more likely. There is now an even more urgent need for Congress to increase sanctions until Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says that he agrees with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the deal “a historic mistake.” A statement from Sen. Cruz begins:

According to the interim agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program that was reached this weekend in Geneva, not one centrifuge will be destroyed. Not one pound of enriched uranium will leave Iran.

So, what is all this fuss about uranium enrichment, and why does it matter?

Less than one percent of natural uranium is uranium-235, the isotope needed for nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Enriched uranium is uranium that has had the percentage of uranium-235 increased, which can be done by using centrifuges.

Low-enriched uranium (3.5 percent to 5 percent) can be used for nuclear power. In order to develop a nuclear weapon highly enriched uranium (about 90 percent) is needed. With this in mind, it initially seems that the requirements that Iran halt enrichment at 5 percent and dilute or convert uranium enriched at 20 percent greatly reduces the risk of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

However, the deal only requires Iran to not install any new centrifuges, not have them destroyed. This means that Iran could renege on the deal and work towards a so-called “nuclear breakout.” According to David Albright, president of the U.S. Institute for Science and International Security, once the enrichment conditions of the deal are met “the breakout time - how long it would take Iran to produce sufficient highly-enriched uranium for one atomic bomb - would lengthen from at least 1-1.6 months to at least 1.9-2.2 months if the Iranians used all their installed centrifuges.”

The New York Times has a good graphic illustrating the deal and its impact on uranium enrichment, which can be seen here

The fact that Iran could still develop a nuclear weapon through aggressive uranium enrichment once the new deal is implemented is what has Republicans, not to mention Israeli officials, concerned. An unnamed official from Netanyahu's office summarized the concerns as follows, “The agreement makes it possible for Iran to continue enriching uranium, permits Iran to keep centrifuges that would allow it to create fissile material for nuclear weapons." 

Yesterday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that his country would never seek a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu and some Republicans may not be happy with the deal, which has not eliminated the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon. That said, the diplomats involved in the deal deserve some praise for managing to come up with any deal at all given the far from ideal relationship between Iran and the West, particularly the U.S. 

It should not be surprising that Netanyahu isn't a fan of the recent deal. It is very unlikely that there are any conditions under which Israel and Iran would realistically be able to meet to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, especially given that Netanyahu has said that Israel is willing to “act alone” to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and has called President Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

That Republicans are critics of the deal should not be a surprise, there is a Democrat in the White House. As Fred Kaplan has rightly pointed out, “Had George W. Bush negotiated this deal, Republicans would be hailing his diplomatic prowess, and rightly so.”

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Will U.S. Deal with Iran Make Israel and Saudis Become Allies?

So the U.S. (by which we mean Germany, France, England, Russia, China, and the U.S.) and Iran are striking a deal about nuclear development in the Peacock Kingdom and U.N. sanctions.

One odd byproduct? An aligning of interest between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are hardly friendly to one another. Yet both countries - along with a number of other Sunni-majority states in the Middle East - are absolutely opposed to the United States cozying up to Iran.

The Saudis now fear Obama may be tempted to thaw ties with Tehran by striking a deal to expand inspections of its atomic sites in return for allowing Iranian allies to go on dominating Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. That such a bargain has never been publicly mooted from within the Obama administration has not stopped Saudis voicing their concerns.

"I am afraid in case there is something hidden," said Abdullah al-Askar, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Saudi Arabia's advisory parliament, the Shoura Council. "If America and Iran reach an understanding it may be at the cost of the Arab world and the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia."

More here.

As Ed Krayewski noted earlier today, Israel - or at least its elected leader, Benjamin Netanyahu - is apoplectic at the deal. And as Matt Welch wrote, hawkish elements in the American GOP are trying to wrap any deal with Iran in the mantle of appeasement and Munich Redux. Given that a majority of Americans are interested in seeing the United States play a more limited role in disputes around the globe, it's going to be tough sledding for hawks to push the idea that we need to be bombing Iran even as we negotiate with the country. Funny how a decade-plus of failed foreign wars have made everyone but neocon hawks rethink U.S. foreign policy, isn't it?

Which isn't to say that Obama is a good spokesman for American interests. He's a trigger-happy character himself, who tripled troops in Afghanistan, tried to stay in Iraq past the original withdrawal date (something he's succeeding at in Afghanistan incidentally), unconstitutionally dispatched American forces over Libya, and was all set to bomb Syria until wiser, cooler heads won the battle of public opinion.

And then there's John Kerry, our secretary of state. As Hawkeye Pierce once said of Col. Henry Blake, the hapless commander of the good ol' fashioned M*A*S*H 4077 in that awful TV series that lasted five times longer than the Korean War, I honestly believe John Kerry could get held up via the mail. 

Is Iran a trustworthy negotiating partner? Kind of a weird question coming from people in a country that was bugging the phone of Angela Merkel and other allies, but no, Iran isn't trustworthy. Which doesn't mean you don't negotiate with them - it just means you trust but verify, as Reagan counseled with the Soviets.

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NSA Director Offered to Resign Over Snowden Revelations: Should Have Been Fired Instead

Keith AlexanderNSAThe Hill, citing a behind the paywall Wall Street Journal story, reports that National Security Agent director Keith Alexander offered to resign over the Edward Snowden revelations that Alexander had overseen a massive warrantless surveillance program aimed against American citizens. From The Hill:

The National Security Agency's director, Gen. Keith Alexander, offered to resign from his post shortly after Edward Snowden began leaking classified government documents, according to The Wall Street Journal.

According to the report, the Obama administration rejected his offer.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, began disclosing documents detailing the agency’s surveillance programs in June.

Top administration officials' confidence in Alexander was shaken, the Journal reports, because he oversaw the agency during the security lapse, an unidentified former senior defense official told the paper. 

But an Alexander resignation, the official added, would indicate Snowden won, and wouldn’t solve the security problem.

Certainly wouldn't want to be seen as admitting to violations of the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans to remain secure in their persons and papers against unreasonable search and seizure.

Rather than merely accepting Alexander's resignation, President Obama should have fired him and that bald-faced liar to Congress, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. Frankly, it appears that President Obama doesn't fire incompetent and mendacious minions out of fear that it will make him look weak. Actually, the opposite is true. In addition, the president should immediately pardon Edward Snowden.

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Ronald Bailey Contemplates the Inconclusive Conclusion to the Warsaw Climate Change Conference

Warsaw LogoRonald Bailey"For the third year in a row the (member) countries have found a new way to say absolutely nothing," asserted Oxfam director Winnie Byanyima, as the U.N.’s annual climate change conference limped inconsequentially to its end on Saturday in Warsaw. The 19th Conference of the Parties (COP-19) to the U.N. Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) was supposed to set out a roadmap toward completing a global treaty that would bind all countries to some kind of commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions after 2020 at the Paris COP-21 in 2015. No commitments were made and no clear roadmap was adopted at the Warsaw talks. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey looks forward to achieving similar results when the U.N. climate change conference convenes next year in Lima, Peru.

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Is the Knockout Game a Hate Crime? Is It Even a Game?

ABC NewsABC NewsAmrit Marajh, the 28-year-old accused of sucker-punching Shmuel Perl, a 24-year-old Orthodox Jew, in the side of the head on Friday in the Borough Park neigborhood of Brooklyn, has been charged with assault, which makes sense, and aggravated harassment as a hate crime, which is harder to figure out. Leave aside the question of whether a criminal should be punished extra severely* when he is motivated by bigotry. (He shouldn't.) According to ABC News, Perl said he "heard his alleged attackers daring each other to punch him out minutes before one actually assaulted him." Hence the assault has been described as the latest example of "the knockout game," a pastime supposedly sweeping the nation in which young assailants dare each other to knock out randomly selected targets with a single punch. But if the victims are picked at random, as the knockout game reportedly requires, can they also be selected based on their ethnicity or religion? ABC does not mention any anti-Semitic slurs or other evidence that Marajh was looking for a Jew to attack, and neither do the accounts in The New York Times, the New York Daily News, or The Jewish Press. So why the hate crime charge? The Daily News story suggests that Perl just happened to be walking down the street at the wrong moment:

Amrit Marajh, 28, had just left a bar on McDonald Ave. on Friday with four friends and was talking about boxing when the knockout game came up, police sources said. 

"You can't do that," one member of the group said as they came upon Shmuel Perl, 24, according to a source.

Marajh allegedly said, "Yes I can, I'll do it to this guy right now!" before punching Perl in the face, leaving him bruised.

Marajh's lawyer, by contrast, told the Daily News "this had nothing to do with the knockout game." Also in dispute: whether the knockout game is actually a thing. "Police officials in several cities where such attacks have been reported said that the 'game' amounted to little more than an urban myth," the Times reports, "and that the attacks in question might be nothing more than the sort of random assaults that have always occurred." For example:

Much news coverage of reported knockout attacks includes 2012 footage from a surveillance camera in Pittsburgh of James Addlespurger, a high school teacher who was 50, being swiftly struck to the ground by a young man walking down an alleyway with some friends. Yet the Pittsburgh police said the attacker insisted the assault was not part of any organized "game."

"This was just a random act of violence," Police Commander Eric Holmes said in a televised interview last year. "He stated that he was just having a bad day that day." The assailant saw Mr. Addlespurger, the commander said, "and decided this was a course of action he was going to take."

Once such crimes are relabeled, of course, young thugs who are inclined to attack people for no particular reason may start using the new terminology, thereby retroactively validating it. If Marajh and his friends really were talking about "the knockout game," they were probably discussing what they'd heard from news outlets hyping this supposedly new trend.

*Addendum: Marajh's allegedly anti-Semitic motivation makes a big difference in the penalty he faces. Because he is accused of striking Perl, he presumably was charged with aggravated harassment in the second degree. Ordinarily that offense is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. Charging it as a hate crime knocks it up to a Class E felony, punishable by 18 months to four years in prison. 

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Senators Still Pushing Iran Sanctions Even With an Actual Deal on the Table, Reluctant Warmongers Want War

head strong, dead wrong?ABC NewsNegotiators from Iran and Germany, France, and England (the E3), and later also the US, Russia, and China (the E3+3, or P5+1) have been working on-and-off for more than seven years on a deal about Iran’s nuclear program, which the West insists is actually about acquiring nuclear weapons. After a deal appeared just out of reach in a round of negotiations earlier this month, some US senators, most notably Bob Menendez, the Democrat chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pushed for more sanctions, to show the Iranians the US was not as interested as they were in reaching a deal, a silly argument of which Secretary of State John Kerry was nevertheless unable to disabuse senators interested in a more hostile policy toward Iran.

This weekend, the latest round of talks actually produced a deal, with Iran agreeing within the first six months to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent, and to downgrade or eliminate its uranium stockpile that’s at near 20 percent enrichment. In exchange, the Western powers agree to a limited lifting of sanctions. As the White House explains, “the overwhelming majority of the sanctions regime, including the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions architecture, remains in place.” That’s not enough for Senate hawks, Democrat and Republican, who are starting to push, again, for more sanctions. This time, Menendez wants to work on sanctions legislation that somewhat incorporates the recently reached deal—it would “provide for a six month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran, but will at the same time be immediately available should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement.” Armchair (dais?) tough guy to the last.

Republicans are even more eager to show voters they’re tougher than the president on Iran. Marco Rubio, for example, sees an “even more urgent need for Congress to increase sanctions until Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.” Establishment Republicans aren’t just interested in showing they're more headstrong than President Obama, they may also be trying to isolate non-interventionists in their own party, most notably Kentucky senator and likely future presidential candidate Rand Paul.

It’s a bizarre move by establishment Republicans, and Democrats. As recently as late September, 75 percent of Americans favored direct negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue (even as Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted). That number included a full 68 percent of Republicans. The argument that direct negotiations need sanctions to work is specious, as I made the case earlier this month. Attempts by senators to jump the gun on sanctions now, as talks are moving forward, destroy the good faith  it was so difficult for negotiators on all sides to build. Americans, too, are weary of war, something the White House has not shied away from pointing out would be the direction increased sanctions and failed talks would push US policy toward.

this closeUNBill Kristol takes issue with this, calling it a “smear” to identify politicians pushing policies that would lead to war as “reckless warmongers.”  He follows this, in typical embellished fashion (the battle of Gettysburg makes an appearance), by noting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have the “burden of history” hanging over him as he decides whether to launch military action to “thwart” Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Polling last year showed fewer than 20 percent of Israelis supporting a unilateral strike. As negotiations have begun to show progress, and Netanyahu has continued to push the argument that the US is wrong to negotiate with Iran in the fashion it has, those numbers have reversed. One poll earlier this month showed 52 percent of Israelis now supporting a solo strike now, with 65 percent opposing the ongoing talks with Iran. Israeli columnist Shlomi Eldar questions the depth of Israeli support for war with Iran. “Israelis should be asked if they are for or against an attack in Iran that could develop into a war with hundreds of casualties,” he writes in Al Monitor. “Would 65% of Israelis still vote in favor? I doubt it.” The argument of pro-war supporters in Israel, the US, and everywhere in between hinges on how close Iran is to developing a nuclear weapon (Years! Months!), even though intelligence analysts have been predicting Iran being close to the development of a nuclear weapon since at least the late 1990s. Instead of the burdens of history, self-professed reluctant warmongers should consider the burdens of proof.

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Black Power Republicans and Blackstone Rangers

A postscript to my earlier item about John McClaughry and the Republicans of the 1960s: I wasn't kidding when I said the "moderate" wing of the GOP contained multitudes. Check out this passage from Geoffrey Kabaservice's fascinating 2012 book Rule and Ruin, which comes after Kabaservice describes McClaughry and his then-boss, Illinois Sen. Charles Percy, forging an alliance with David R. Reed, a Chicago civil rights activist who led a group called the New Breed Committee. Reed, who ran for Congress as a Republican, supported local control of schools, opposed centralized public housing plans, and wanted to replace traditional welfare programs with something similar to Milton Friedman's negative income tax (in part because the Chicago Democratic machine "used threats of welfare cutoffs to keep the poor in line"). He also put Percy's office in touch with some folks who wouldn't usually turn up in a Republican rolodex:

Young Republicanshe introduced McClaughry and other Percy assistants to the 3,000-member Blackstone Rangers, Chicago's most powerful and feared black street gang. Reed's work with young people brought him into contact with some of the Rangers. Members of the New Breed approached the gang to try to get them not to harm Reed's workers in the district, particularly white volunteers and people on loan from the Pecy campaign. Some members of the New Breed believed that the Rangers could provide access to voters in the housing projects, while others hoped to channel the gang's energies away from violence and into political activism. Reed became a liason between the gang and the Republicans working for his campaign, which led to meetings with the gang's charismatic kingpin, Jeff Fort, and late-night basketball games with gang members. For a while, McClaughry was optimistic about a possible Republican-Ranger entente. "There is no doubt in my mind at all that Jeff [Fort] could go to City Council or even further, with his ability and magnetic leadership," he wrote to Reed. "If the Rangers get the message, there could really be a revolution within people, as well as within the district." McClaughry later recalled that "The Blackstone Rangers were at war with City Hall and the Democratic power structure, and so were the Republicans, so there was some interest in this group. The Republicans put out a tentative feelers, because if these people actually voted, or if they intimidated whole neighborhoods into voting, they could be a powerful voting bloc. But this was risky business, since the Rangers were criminals."

File that idea under Paths Not Taken: "In the end, the Republicans decided the risks of working with the Rangers outweighed the benefits." But the gang didn't leave politics behind: They soon got some grant money from LBJ's Office of Economic Opportunity. Fort eventually found a new patron, name of Muammar Qaddafi.

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FDA Shuts Down 23andMe: Outrageously Banning Consumer Access to Personal Genome Information:

23andMe23andMeFor a couple of years, I have been warning all my friends and colleagues to purchase $99 personal genome testing from 23andMe before the Feds banned it. Well, now the Food and Drug Administration has banned it sending the genome testing company a warning letter:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is sending you this letter because you are marketing the 23andMe Saliva Collection Kit and Personal Genome Service (PGS) without marketing clearance or approval in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act). 

This product is a device within the meaning of section 201(h) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 321(h), because it is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or is intended to affect the structure or function of the body. For example, your company’s website at www.23andme.com/health (most recently viewed on November 6, 2013) markets the PGS for providing “health reports on 254 diseases and conditions,” including categories such as “carrier status,” “health risks,” and “drug response,” and specifically as a “first step in prevention” that enables users to “take steps toward mitigating serious diseases” such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and breast cancer. Most of the intended uses for PGS listed on your website, a list that has grown over time, are medical device uses under section 201(h) of the FD&C Act. Most of these uses have not been classified and thus require premarket approval or de novo classification, as FDA has explained to you on numerous occasions.

The FDA says it is concerned that consumers would misunderstand genetic marker information and self treat. For example, the agency cites the company for testing for versions of the BRCA gene that confers higher risk of breast cancer worrying that women might get a false positive test leading "a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions...."

What the test results would actually lead patients to do is to get another test and to talk with their physicians. The FDA also cites the genotype results that indicate the sensitivity of patients to the blood-thinning medication warfarin. Again, such results would be used by patients to talk with their doctors about their treatment regimens should the time come that they need to take the drug. In fact, in 2010 the FDA actually updated its rules to recommend genetic testing to set the proper warfarin dosages for patients.

It is notable that the FDA cites not one example of a patient being harmed through the use of 23andMe's genotype screening test. Nevertheless the agency orders that...

...23andMe must immediately discontinue marketing the PGS (Personal Genome Service) until such time as it receives FDA marketing authorization for the device.

The FDA bureaucrats think that they know better than you how to handle your genetic information. This is outrageous.

For more background, see my 2011 Reason article on my own genetic testing experience here and go to SNPedia here for even more information on my genetic flaws.

Update: The folks at TechFreedom have just launched a petition at Change.org to FDA Adminstrator Margaret Hamburg urging her to reverse this ridiculous ban.

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From Moderate Republican to Green Reaganite

"Let the Workers Control the Means of Production"—OK, John, I'll read this tonight.I've known my share of libertarian Reaganites and I've known my share of libertarian greens. But John McClaughry, the founder of the Ethan Allen Institute and a contributing editor at Reason, might be the country's only libertarian Reaganite green: The same decentralist impulse that led him to take a job as a Reagan speechwriter also made him the chairman of the E.F. Schumacher Society and got him interested in worker-managed enterprises. (*) The mix of concerns reminds me of Karl Hess, but while Hess started his career as a Goldwaterite, McClaughry began in the un-Goldwater camp: the "moderate Republican" sector of the '60s, which evidently contained multitudes.

McClaughry is now serializing his memoirs at the Front Porch Republic site. The first chapter, which covers those moderate-Republican years, is valuable both as a glimpse into that forgotten milieu and as a look at what happens when the government tries to get into the business of promoting "voluntary" behavior. The young McClaughry was heavily influenced by a libertarian text of the day, Richard Cornuelle's Reclaiming the American Dream, which celebrated the "independent sector" of voluntary associations for mutuai aid. The political class responded to Cornuelle's ideas by co-opting them, with Cornuelle's assistance; Murray Rothbard mocked their efforts at the time, writing in The Libertarian Forum that

a "central theme" of the new [Nixon] Administration will be a nationwide drive to stimulate "voluntary action" against social ills. It adds that Secretary George Romney is "in charge of planning the voluntary action effort." This concept needs to be savored: government, the quintessence of coercion, is going to plan a nationwide "voluntary" effort. George Orwell, where art thou now? War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Voluntary Action is Government Planning.

I don't think Hank done it this way.The Post goes on to say that Romney, Secretary Finch, and the President "are devotees of the idea that vast and untapped energies of volunteers in an 'independent sector' can transform the Nation." Nixon endorsed the idea in 1965, and recently declared that "the President should be the chief patron of citizen efforts." And it turns out that last year, Secretary Finch was co-author of a book on the independent sector, with -- you guessed it -- Richard C. Cornuelle, the "godfather of independent action" and head of the Nixon task-force on independent voluntary action. Two major programs are emerging: a mixed public-private organization chartered by the Federal government to stimulate voluntary action drives, and a series of Presidental awards, like the World War II Navy "E" for Efficiency, to be bestowed by the President in person for outstanding voluntary efforts.

Cornuelle was eventually disillusioned with all this. (McClaughry quotes him: "I cannot imagine why I thought for a moment that the state could be persuaded to contrive its own undoing.") But the more interesting disillusionment is McClaughry's, and one of the pleasures of McClaughry's memoir is the opportunity to see a young Cornuellean getting fed up with the unfolding process. McClaughry's sardonic account hits its peak when he serves on Nixon's National Voluntary Service Action Council, chaired by "Frank Stella, a Michigan auto dealer whose qualifications pretty much began and ended with his chairmanship of Italians for Nixon." By this time, Nixon's vision of "voluntary action" was so stunted that the council's only concern "was the operation of the federal government's volunteer agencies -- VISTA, the Peace Corps, Retired Senior Volunteer Programs, the Foster Grandparents Program and several others." At the council's organizational meeting, it was decided that the new organization

The lost prophet of voluntarism.needed an "honorary chairperson," an epitome of caring, selfless service, and probity. With one heart and voice the Council found exactly the right choice: Mrs. Patricia Nixon. Approved by acclamation! Tongue in cheek, I moved that the staff be asked to compile a complete list of Mrs. Nixon's many contributions to voluntary service. Approved! (So far as I can recall, it was never produced.)

As the feds transformed quasi-libertarian ideas into a bureaucratic self-parody, McClaughry himself moved in the opposite direction, becoming more libertarian in outlook. His account of the National Home Ownership Foundation Act (NHOF), a McClaughry-conceived attempt to offer a decentralist alternative to urban renewal and public housing projects, shows the bill evolving further and further from its original form before being completely supplanted by LBJ's National Housing Act of 1968. McClaughry in turn evolved "from the 'government pump priming and assistance' model of the NHOF to the more libertarian 'get the hell out of the way and let people produce' model." For a sense of what that shift looked like in practice, compare McClaughry's summary of the National Home Ownership Foundation Act's provisions, which included a substantial role for federal dollars, with the ideas he was espousing in this 1978 Reason article. "What, then, should be the government's role in the housing industry?" the '78 piece concludes. "[O]ne is hard put to disagree with Elbert Hubbard's pungent phrase: 'Keep away from that wheelbarrow! What the hell do you know about machinery?'"

* Update: McClaughry writes to tell me that he doesn't like the "green" label these days, given the big-government connotations that the tag has taken on. He wasn't always down on the word—blurbing the book Green Politics in 1984, he wrote that the Green Parties' "appeal for protection of the environment, decentralization of political and economic power, nonviolence, and restoration of human-scale democracy needs to be heard both in the West and behind the Iron Curtain." But by now, he says, the word "has been absorbed in modern fascism and socialism."

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Barack Obama, Trustworthiness Plummeting, Claims He’s “Not a Particularly Ideological Person”

not ideologicalReasonPresident Obama is fast approaching lame duck status as the public’s opinion of him sours. Only four in ten Americans now think he can effectively manage the federal government,  and a majority (53 percent) don’t find him honest or trustworthy. But there is one thing Americans can still trust Obama to do, raise lots of money for Democrats running in elections next year. It may not matter what Obama says at these fundraisers (even if they’re attended by the 47 percent that still trust him) as it’s presumably his position as president that draws donors. He doesn’t just show up and smile, though. Sometimes he’s good for a laugh.

From Reuters:

President Barack Obama, on a fundraising swing in Seattle on Sunday, described himself as "not a particularly ideological person" despite ongoing political clashes with Republicans over healthcare, the economy, and immigration reform.

He’s not a socialist, he just thinks he’s always right. And everything that’s not is Republicans’ fault. That may not make him seem particularly ideological, but it does make him seem particularly partisan and petty.

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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Interventionists Attempt to Isolate Rand Paul Over Iran Deal

Only The Shadow knows.... ||| Al JazeeraAl JazeeraAt The American Conservative, W. James Antle III has a shrewd, pessimistic take on how GOP opposition to the Iran nuclear deal threatens to isolate intervention-skeptic Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky):

The most hawkish conservatives follow a simple script: Obama is an apologizing appeaser while Republicans are the muscular party of Reagan and anyone to the right of Jimmy Carter. That narrative is complicated by the fact that they often side with the Obama administration—when they aren’t divided among themselves—against the rest of the right on military interventions and civil liberties questions.

Iran brings the foreign-policy debate back to the hawks' comfort zone. The Iranian ayatollahs have been villains since at least the 1979 hostage crisis, much longer than Saddam Hussein was so perceived before the Iraq war. As a state sponsor of terrorism, it is not an undeserved reputation. [...]

Republican lawmakers, aided by Democrats like New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, are insisting on zero enrichment as a condition for relaxing any sanctions against Iran. Some would even like to authorize the use of military force. There are no partisan or opportunistic reasons for any Republican to resist such legislation.

In the Senate, Rand Paul—who has supported some sanctions—may be alone. If he decides to push back against Marco Rubio, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham this time around, it's hard to envision Ted Cruz or even Mike Lee joining him.

Whole thing here; Antle's 2010 Reason profile of then-candidate Paul here.

Interventionists recently seen stomping on Paul's Iran positioning include longtime critics Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post ("Rand Paul: Worse than Obama on Iran") and the Washington Free Beacon.

After the jump read what Paul told me in late August when I asked whether the U.S. has "moral standing" to stop nuclear proliferation in Iran and elsewhere:

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A. Barton Hinkle on Taxpayer-Subsidized Projects for the Elite

Credit: compujeramey-CC-BYCredit: compujeramey-CC-BYAs Richmond, VA considers a broad new redevelopment plan that includes a baseball stadium, A. Barton Hinkle recalls a quote. “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it,” Mark Twain advised, “lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again … but also she will never sit down on a cold one.” Hinkle says that Richmond should be wise enough not to assume the stadium project will be another hot stove lid that will leave everyone feeling burned. But the city also should recognize that the project has some parallels.

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Mayor Bloomberg Pushes for Ban on Styrofoam Cups

New York City elected Bill De Blasio as their new mayor earlier this month, but Bloomberg still has some time in office. Before he goes out, he wants to push a final, significant piece of legislation into law: banning plastic foam cups and plates. 

Rubenstein/Wikimedia CommonsRubenstein/Wikimedia CommonsBloomberg has supported the ban since it was introduced by Brooklyn Councilman Lewis Fidler this summer. Now, at Bloomberg’s request, the City Council’s Sanitation Committee will hold a hearing Monday to discuss the bill.

Bloomberg has said the ban is a no-brainer for environmental reasons. According to the New York Post, Bloomberg spokesman Jake Goldman said, "When polystyrene foam is used for food service it becomes a devastating pollutant that infects our parks and waterways while never biodegrading and has been classified a carcinogenic health hazard by the National Institute of Health."

The Post also reports that plastic foam food containers add 23,000 tons of trash a year to landfills.

Although Mr. Bloomberg is notorious for his Nanny State tendencies, the plastic foam bill is not as unprecedented as, say, the large soda ban. Many cities, including Seattle and Los Angeles, have banned the substance.

However, the bill’s opponents argue that the ban will be extremely costly for small businesses. The American Chemistry Council reports that replacing polystyrene cups and trays with the cheapest alternative will cost New Yorkers $91.3 million per year. MB Public Affairs found that for every $1 spent on polystyrene foam goods, businesses  will have to spend $1.94 on alternative replacements, effectively doubling costs. Their report finds that “this 94% is in effect an “environmental tax” far higher than any current sales tax or import duty rates affecting the cost of consumer products.” And given that most large chains in the city have already stopped using polystyrene, small businesses will be hit especially hard.  

Additionally, some trade groups and politicians have noted alternative approaches to reducing environmental harm. In California, 65 cities with a total population of around 8 million (similar to New York City’s) have polystyrene recycling centers. New York City’s recycling centers currently reject the material, citing prohibitively high costs.

Forbes’ Jeff Stier writes of Seattle’s problems with their polystyrene ban:

In coffee-loving Seattle, where styrofoam cups are already banned, they’ve been having a hard time recycling their allegedly green paper cups, according to The Seattle Times.

They’ve found that mills don’t want recycled coffee cups because the process takes longer, making cups more expensive to process than items like recycled cardboard boxes. And facilities that do accept the “mixed paper” that paper coffee cups and other food service items contribute to, only use it in a 1:10 ratio with higher-quality fibers. So there’s not much of a market for it, at least in the U.S.

Even if Bloomberg doesn't manage to get the ban passed, his successor may try. On his campaign website, De Blasio pledges to end government use of plastic foam. 

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Twitter Takes Steps To Frustrate NSA, Other Government Snoops

TwitterTwitterTwitter announced Friday that it's joining other tech companies in implementing "perfect forward secrecy." While many online services already encrypt user comunications and other data, this form of encryption ensures that snoops—we're looking at you, National Security Agency—who break through the encryption get access to only a snippet of data, rather than everything belonging to a user. Even where a warrant is involved, perfect forward secrecy has the potential to limit intrusions, rather than acting as an open-ended skeleton key.

From Twitter's Jacob Hoffman-Andrews:

As part of our continuing effort to keep our users’ information as secure as possible, we’re happy to announce that we recently enabled forward secrecy for traffic on twitter.com, api.twitter.com, and mobile.twitter.com. On top of the usual confidentiality and integrity properties of HTTPS, forward secrecy adds a new property. If an adversary is currently recording all Twitter users’ encrypted traffic, and they later crack or steal Twitter’s private keys, they should not be able to use those keys to decrypt the recorded traffic.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Parker Higgins describes how perfect forward secrecy works:

How can perfect forward secrecy help protect user privacy against that kind of threat? In order to understand that, it's helpful to have a basic idea of how HTTPS works in general. Every Web server that uses HTTPS has its own secret key that it uses to encrypt data that it sends to users. Specifically, it uses that secret key to generate a new "session key" that only the server and the browser know. Without that secret key, the traffic traveling back and forth between the user and the server is incomprehensible, to the NSA and to any other eavesdroppers.

But imagine that some of that incomprehensible data is being recorded anyway—as leaked NSA documents confirm the agency is doing. An eavesdropper who gets the secret key at any time in the future—even years later—can use it to decrypt all of the stored data! That means that the encrypted data, once stored, is only as secure as the secret key, which may be vulnerable to compromised server security or disclosure by the service provider.

That's where perfect forward secrecy comes in. When an encrypted connection uses perfect forward secrecy, that means that the session keys the server generates are truly ephemeral, and even somebody with access to the secret key can't later derive the relevant session key that would allow her to decrypt any particular HTTPS session. So intercepted encrypted data is protected from prying eyes long into the future, even if the website's secret key is later compromised.

Facebook also plans to implement perfect forward secrecy, and Google has had it in place since 2011. Google points out that "not even the server operator will be able to retroactively decrypt HTTPS sessions," meaning that companies that implement the security can't turn users' lives into open books, no matter the pressure they face.

As fuck-yous to the surveillance state go, this is both welcome, and effective.

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Yes, a Man in Ohio Is Facing Prison Time Entirely for Having a Secret Car Compartment

Nobody whose logo looks like this should be accusing anybody else of drug-related offensesCredit: Inventorchris / Foter.com / CC BY-NCNorman Gurley, whom I noted last week was arrested in northern Ohio for violating the state’s new statute prohibiting secret compartments in cars (if authorities determine they’re being used for transporting drugs) faces a preliminary hearing tomorrow at Oberlin Municipal Court. According to court documents, Ohio Highway Patrol officers weren’t kidding when they said they’d have nothing on Gurley if they hadn’t found the compartment. The one count of violating Ohio’s hidden compartment law is the only charge levied against Gurley.

Even though Gurley’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, Oberlin’s site does not list an attorney for the man to try to contact. Several commenters (and e-mailers) are curious as to how the troopers justified the search. You can probably guess, but if not, The Morning Journal of … somewhere nearby (dear small media outlets: Please indicate where the hell you are on your websites and not assume that visitors already know (Update: Lorain, Ohio)) got some comments from Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Michael Combs:

“The troopers noticed a smell of raw marijuana, which led them to perform a search of the car,” Combs said. “While searching, they saw some indicators that led them to believe a secret compartment may have been added to the car.”

So the officers were able to smell raw marijuana while standing outside the vehicle, but they weren’t able to find any during their search. Those are some strong noses. I bet they don’t even need police dogs up there in Ohio. Combs added that they found evidence that the car was being used to transport drugs, but the evidence is not detailed.

Violating Ohio’s hidden compartment law is a fourth degree felony, meaning a judge could sentence Gurley to up to 18 months in prison if convicted. If the defendant had been previously convicted (apparently not the case with Gurley) the crime becomes a third-degree felony, leading to a sentence of up to three years. If it turns out there are drugs in the hidden compartment, the crime becomes a second degree felony with a potential sentence of up to five years in prison.

Once Reason passed along the story on Thursday it spread fast and quickly on the Internet through social media. I’ll do my best to try to keep an eye on the case (from all the way out here in California), and when Gurley gets an attorney, I’ll see if he or she is willing to comment.

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How One of the Biggest Douchebags in Sports Made Basketball a Freer Market

Interesting piece over at Slate about the generally unsung role NBA/ABA great Rick Barry played in creating a freer labor market in professional basketball and sports more generally. As Dave Hollander points out, to know Rick Barry was pretty much to hate Rick Barry. He was a vain, egotistical, offensive jerk who rarely missed an opportunity to offend, either intentionally or not (he once referred to the African-American trailblazer Bill Russell as having "a watermelon grin").

Yet Hollander, who has a book out about the 1974-75 Golden State Warriors, argues persuasively that Rick Barry helped put a sledgehammer to the "reserve clause" operating in all major sports leagues. Due to a series of awful court rulings and legislative decisions made by idiot elected officials, the reserve clause essentially gave all power to owners and reduced athletes to the status of chattel (baseball's great emancipator, Curt Flood, explicitly likened the reserve clause to slavery).

In the late 1960s, Barry became the first NBA star to decide to jump to the upstart ABA. In order to do so, Hollander explains, he had to challenge basketball's reserve clause, which among other things forced a player to play for his current team for a year after his contract expired unless the team let him go. Barry filed a suit and eventually lost in court and had to sit out a year. Still,

The ABA had its first NBA player and a legitimate jumping off point to launch a bidding war. That bidding war gave players an option to choose between leagues. It increased their average salaries from $18,000 in 1967 to $110,000 in 1975. When the NBA wanted to stop the spending madness by merging with its rival league, do you know who blocked it? The NBA players. Why? To keep the salary war going.

Congress was considering an exemption to antitrust rules that would allow the rival leagues to merge and the players, led by Oscar Robertson, wanted to make sure that the new combined league would not simply be able to revert to old practice. He ended up appearing before the Senate and had this positively awesome exchange with Sen. Roman Hruska:

Robertson: I think it is terribly wrong for anyone to limit anyone’s ability to earn money no matter where it may be, whether it is in business or sports. I think any time you limit a person as to where he can go, such as the case was prior to the two leagues, I think it is terribly wrong.

Hruska: Is it wrong to limit the amount of money a man can earn?

Robertson: I think in America it is.

Hruska: Does the draft system do that?

Robertson: I think if you only had one league, that is true. As long as you have two leagues, there is no telling what a person can earn.

Hollander sums up:

Ipso facto the ABA was the death knell for the NBA reserve clause. Consider this syllogism: No two leagues, no end of the reserve clause. No ABA, no two leagues. No Rick Barry, no ABA. Therefore, no Rick Barry, no defeat of the reserve clause.

If you care about sports, capitalism, or comb-overs (another thing that Rick Barry pioneered), read the whole thing.

And read Matt Welch's 2005 classic, "Locker-Room Liberty," which looks at the various ways that Joe Namath, Dick Allen, and Robertson helped to create a sports world in which the folks actually putting asses in the seats got a bigger cut of the amount of money they were generating (for the time being, let's not hold them accountable for all the taxpayer dollars that are now propping up big-league sports).

And watch the great sportswriter Robert Lipsyste talk about how sports reflects society in good, bad, and ugly ways). Specifically, check out his comments about how tennis legend Billie Jean King was the single-most important figure in expanding athlete's paychecks in post-war America (around 26.30 minutes):

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The Kids No Longer Love Obama. Who Can Blame Them?

Writes Nick Gillespie:

A new Quinnipiac Poll finds that only 36 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 approve of the job the president is doing while fully 54 percent of the kids give him the thumbs down (10 percent didn’t know or care enough to respond to the topic). Back in March 2009, 62 percent of 18 to 29 years approved, compared to just 20 percent disapproving.

Millennials may be young, but they’re not stupid. As bad as Obama’s time in office has been for older Americans, nobody has taken it on the chin quite as bad as kids under 30, who are more likely to be unemployed, broke, and facing decades of sub-par wages if and when they do finally get a job.

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