Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2014 July 15-31

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Tonight on The Independents: MH-17, Israel-Hamas, Immigration Kids, Ending the Fed, Cigarette Chokeholds, Net Roots Comedy, Nanny-State Shopping Carts, John Bolton, Aftershow and More!

Civil. |||Tonight's live episode of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, with re-airs three hours later) features yours truly in the hosting chair (Mary Katharine Ham will fill in for Kennedy), so this blog post will be bullet-pointy.

* Michael Weiss of The Interpreter will talk all things MH-17.

* Patrick Byrne of Overstock.com will trash the Federal Reserve.

* Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton will assess U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Israel-Hamas fight.

* The co-hosts will talk about the role that cigarette taxation had in the police choking-death of Eric Garner.

* Party Panelists Jimmy Failla (comedian) and Noelle Nikpour (columnist/GOP strategist) will talk about the immigration crisis, lefty humor, and nanny state shopping carts.

Follow The Independents on Facebook at facebook.com/IndependentsFBN, follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN, and please tweet at us during the show. You can click on this page for more video of past segments.

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Biden to Putin: 'I Don't Think You Have a Soul'

Floyd BrownFloyd BrownVice President Joe Biden once got, like, this close ("a few inches from his nose") to Russian strongman-in-chief Vladimir Putin and do you know what he did?

"I said, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul,'" Biden assures he said in 2011. He recalled the encounter for The New Yorker's Evan Osnos, who today published 13,000 words on the vice president, with a focus on his role in the Obama "administration's handling of the most vexing national-security problems," like Ukraine and Iraq.

Reuters picked up the story and deems "Biden's assessment [to be] in stark contrast to that of former U.S. President George W. Bush, who famously said after his first meeting with Putin in 2001: 'I looked the man in the eye...I was able to get a sense of his soul.'"

Apparently, last year Biden also called it like he saw it again and told Ukraine's soon-to-be-ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin crony, that he looked "like a thug."

These lines are funny and seem worthy of a comic book (or The Onion), but they hit the ground with a big, fat so what? The second-in-command admits, President Obama "sends me to places that he doesn't want to go." None of his gibes or gambols helped him help Ukraine until after Yanukovych's kleptocratic policies had already driven the nation's economy into the ground and left the people desperate enough to stage a revolution. Biden's clairvoyant insight into Putin's heart couldn't stop Russia from invading and annexing Crimea and oppressing its minorities, or from facilitating a war in eastern Ukraine, where the wanton killing has become an international crisis.

WEFWEFOsnos's hype about 2016's longest-shot candidate is tempered, but if having a list of almost-got-ems in such a massive profile is the best Biden can muster, one needs to wonder little why he isn't a stronger candidate.

Osnos only indirectly questions the veracity of Biden's tales of calling out corrupt Slavic leaders, but he does touch on the vice president's career-impeding "record of … exaggerations and plagiarism" and excuses it as "the excesses of a man who wants every story to sing, even at the risk of embarrassment."

The writer more favorably suggests that Biden has been a cool, anti-war voice within the administration, "in favor of ending two wars, no matter how unresolved," which actually doesn't sound so admirable given the current deadly mess of Iraq. 

Here you can read all about the apparent difficulties Biden endures, like the "restrained splendor" of his private cabin on Air Force Two: There's only one proper guest chair in it. Alternatively, you can just read the top 15 Bidenisms Politico pulled out of the piece.

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Stay Indoors, Kids! Baltimore's Crazy Curfew Will Cost Parents $500 a Pop

KidsTup Wanders / FlickrBe warned, Baltimore-area kids: If you venture outside at night, you will be picked up by police—and your parents will have to choose between paying a $500 fine or attending parental guidance classes administered by the city.

It's all part of the city's new curfew law, the strictest in the nation, which takes effect next month, according to CBS Baltimore:

With the new law, teens under 14 years old have to be off the streets by 9 p.m. Those 14 to 16 years of age can stay out no later than 10 during the week and no later than 11 on the weekends and during the summer.

The law has the support of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who apparently believes the city's youth are out of control. Rawlings-Blake is hosting a forum on the subject tonight, and hopes to clear up "misconceptions" about what the law entails. The curfew will help the city identify parents who need help from the city raising their kids properly, she said. Whether it will actually succeed in keeping troublesome kids off the streets is another matter—but plenty of residents doubt it.

Civil libertarians have also raised obvious concerns. From The New York Times:

Critics fear that the curfew gives officers another reason to randomly stop youths, many of whom already mistrust the police, and ask anyone who looks young for identification.

“I’m not sure ultimately if the police should be riding around looking for children while they’re still looking out the other eye for criminal activity,” said Tessa Hill-Aston, the president of the Baltimore branch of the N.A.A.C.P.

Rawlings-Blake isn't particularly impressed by these concerns. She previously told skeptics of the law to "go live on a farm somewhere"—as if the expanding reach of the nanny/police state was something that only yokels would oppose.

As Reason's Jesse Walker wrote back in May, such a law is likely to bring innocent kids—as well as kids who could use some help—into constant conflict with the police. That can't be a good thing.

What a nuisance (the law, not the kids).

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Robert Kennedy Jr. Fights On Against a Phantom Vaccine Menace

Kennedy Post CoverWashington PostBack in 2005, Rolling Stone and Salon jointly published a lurid story, "Deadly Immunity," by Robert Kennedy Jr. in which he claimed that the mercury-based vaccine perservative thimerosal was creating an epidemic of autism and other neurological disorders among children in the United States. In 2011, Salon deleted the error-filled story.

In Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, Keith Kloor does a profile of Kennedy who is still insisting that thimerosal is causing neurological havoc in vaccinated kids. Numerous scientific and medical organizations have reviewed the data and have concluded that there is no evidence that the tiny amounts of thimerosal in vaccines causes neurological damage in children. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a list of studies that compared outcomes between children who received vaccines with thimerosal and those who did not. None reported any difference in neurological outcomes. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a timeline reporting the conclusions of various scientific and medical societies, e.g., the Institute of Medicine, with regard to the safety of vaccines containing thimerosal.

Kennedy refused to back down when his 2005 article provoked a firestorm of criticism from researchers, Kloor reports in his Post article:

The more Kennedy talked on the subject, the more his rhetoric became hyperbolic. During one 2011 segment on his Air America radio show, he accused government scientists of being “involved in a massive fraud.” He said they skewed studies to demonstrate the safety of thimerosal. “I can see that this fraud is doing extraordinary damage to the brains of American children,” he said.

Last year, he gave the keynote speech at an anti-vaccine gathering in Chicago. There, he said of a scientist who is a vocal proponent of vaccines and already the object of much hate mail from anti-vaccine activists that this scientist and others like him, “should be in jail, and the key should be thrown away.”

Last summer I reported on these inflammatory comments for the Discover magazine Web site, where I have a blog. (I write often about contentious issues in science.) I concluded that Kennedy “has done as much as anyone to spread unwarranted fear and crazy conspiracy theories about vaccines.”

Well, yes. Bemusingly, thimerosal was removed as a precautionary measure from all childhood vaccines in the United States except those for influenza in 2001. During that time the reported autism rate in the U.S. has soared. The CDC did not report autism spectrum disorder diagnoses until 2004 at which time it reported a rate in the range of 1 in 500 to 1 in 166 children. By 2014, the CDC reported a diagnosis rate of 1 in 68 children.

What do you call it when the alleged cause is removed, yet the effect gets worse?

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More Evidence Uber Keeps People From Drunk Driving

a graph depicting Uber usageEver since innovative ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft started gaining popularity, people have made the intuitive assertion that these services could cut down on drinking and driving. People will choose an affordable, safe alternative to drunk driving if that alternative is readily available. 

Just a few weeks ago, Pittsburgh resident Nate Good published a quick study that offered the first hard evidence that DUI rates may be decreasing in cities where Uber is popular. An analysis of Philadelphia's data showed an 11.1 percent decrease in the rate of DUIs since ridesharing services were made available, and an even more astonishing 18.5 percent decrease for people under 30. 

As everyone knows, however, correlation does not equal causation. Good's quick number-crunching was too simplistic to draw any overarching conclusions, but it did open the door for future studies. A recent, deeper analysis from Uber makes the case even stronger that ridesharing services may be responsible for a decline in DUIs.

The first thing Uber did was use its own data to see if people disproportionately called for Uber cars from bars in comparison to other venues. And indeed:

Requests for rides come from Uber users at bars at a much higher rate than you might expect based on the number of bars there are in the city. The fraction of requests from users at bars are between three and five times greater than the total share of bars.

Next, they used government data to find out when deaths from DUIs are most likely to occur. Fatalities due to drunk driving start to peak at midnight, are the highest from 12:00-3:00 AM, and happen much more often on the weekends. Uber then gathered their own internal data and found that Uber transactions spiked at the times when people are most likely to drink and drive (as depicted in the chart above).

There remains plenty of room for more studies on how Uber is affecting transportation trends. But early evidence for a positive impact—an impact that goes far beyond mere consumer convenience—is already compelling.

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Former State Trooper Maintains Innocence While Pleading Guilty to Stealing Cash, Jewelry From Dying Motorist

obviously didn't resign right awayNBC 12 ConnecticutAaron Huntsman, a former* Connecticut state trooper pleaded guilty to charges of larceny related to getting caught on his own dash cam video stealing cash and a gold crucifix from a motorcyclist involved in a fatal accident. Via the Connecticut Post:

Huntsman, who was the first trooper at the crash scene, walked over to where [John] Scalesse lay, bent down and picked up Scalesse’s gold chain from a pool of blood, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. He then took a roll of bills – $3,700 – that had been in Scalesse’s pocket. Later, Huntsman told Scalesse’s grieving father that he didn’t see any money on the victim, the affidavit states.

The cash was later found held with a rubber band under the front seat of Huntsman’s cruiser. State Police said Huntsman has maintained his innocence even after he was shown a video of him taking the money that was captured on the dash camera of his own police car.

Huntsman pleaded guilty under the “Alford Doctrine,” based on a 1970 Supreme Court case, North Carolina v. Alford, where a defendant in a capital crime argued he only pled guilty to avoid an automatic death penalty. It is a guilty plea wherein the defendant maintains his innocence.  Coupled with the Connecticut Post and other outlets describing Huntsman as a “state trooper,” the conditions of the plea brought up the question of whether it was an attempt to keep some kinds of benefits. After all, he wasn’t even being described as a former state trooper and I couldn’t find any news articles that talked about his suspension.

*I reached out to the Connecticut Department of Public Safety (DPS) last week about Huntsman’s employment status, and received a response today attributed only to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection that “Aaron Huntsman has resigned. He has no state benefits or state pension and no further connection with the CT State Police.” I’ve asked for details on when Huntsman resigned and whether he would be in any way precluded by DPS from future employment with them or local police departments in Connecticut and will update this post with a response if one is forthcoming.

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IRS Official Says Even More Employees Had Computer Problems, May Not Be Able to Comply With Congressional Subpoenas

C-SPANC-SPANWhen the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said that Lois Lerner, a former tax official at the center of a congressional investigation over targeting of conservative groups, could not produce an untold number of emails during a time-frame crucial to the investigation due to a hard drive failure, it seemed convenient, but entirely plausible. When it was later revealed that six more IRS employees could not produce certain records related to the investigation, at least one due to another computer failure, it seemed more than a little convenient. But still, these things happen. 

Now, it appears that there are even more records that the IRS may not be able to produce due to employee computer failures. In transcribed testimony today, IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane, the individual in charge of producing documents for congressional investigators, said that a number of additional tax agency officials "have had computer problems over the course of the period covered by the investigations and the chairman’s subpoena," according to a House Oversight Committee release this afternoon. Kane placed the total number as "less than 20." The group apparently includes Justin Lowe, an exempt organization technical advisor, David Fish, who was the manager of Exempt Organization Guidance and an "advisor to Lois Lerner" (who ran the tax exempt division), according to the Committee release. 

Details of what sorts of records can't be provided are still unclear, as are the particulars of the computer problems involved. But on the surface, this is pretty incredible. Yes, hard drives crash and computers malfunction, but increasingly, this strains credibility. Based on what we know, at least, this looks pretty bad for the agency, even if there was nothing particularly damning in the lost records and emails. The IRS appears, at minimum, to have a widespread problem keeping and storing records that might be of interest to congressional investigators. 

Or at the very least, senior officials do not have any idea how the data retention process works. The other interesting detail revealed in the Committee release is that some email backup tapes may still exist. When Kane was asked about a June IRS memo to Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) stating that "back-up tapes from 2011 no longer exist because they have been recycled," he responded hesitantly. There was "an issue" with whether the backup recovery tapes were actually destroyed, he said. "I don’t know whether they are or they aren’t, but it’s an issue that’s being looked at." 

That seems like the sort of thing that the IRS should have been confident, certain, and accurate about the first time around, and the conflicting stories—first agency officials are certain the records were destroyed, later they are not so sure—does further damage to their credibility. The most generous possible story here is that the IRS is massively sloppy and incompetent in its records retention processes, and as a result suffered some extremely convenient data losses. 

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Are We Doomed By Millennials Inheriting Cash? J.D. Tuccille Debates 'the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history' on HuffPost Live

Convertiblealdenjewell / FoterThe latest pundit to warn that millennials will doom us all is Robert Reich, who writes at the Huffington Post that "we're on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history" with those darned kids as the unworthy beneficiaries. He cautions that "the super rich have invested in businesses, real estate, art, and other assets," and that this is a bad thing that needs to be stopped lest it keep happening. Being Robert Reich, he wants to tax the hell out of it.

I debated the point on HuffPost Live with Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America's Future, and the Huffington Post's own Zach Carter. I made the point that income mobility is still strong, and that the folks at the top in one decade aren't necessarily those there 20 years later, which makes for an awfully short-lived "permanent aristocracy." And there's nothing wrong with leaving your money to the kids, since it's not stolen from a pot that would otherwise be shared with everybody else.

I also suggested that we clear away regulatory hurdles to entrepreneurship and avoid discouraging investment, so that everybody has a chance to piss off Robert Reich.

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Pro-Russian Rebels Returning Bodies By Train, Detroit Won't Shut Off Water Yet, Tony Dungy Wouldn't Have Drafted Michael Sam: P.M. Links

  • Michael SamMark Schierbecker / Wikimedia CommonsThe pro-Russian separatists believed to be responsible for the crash of a Malaysian Airlines flight last week have agreed to hand over the bodies of the deceased and allow investigators to scrutinize the wreck site.
  • Detroit officials delayed plans to shut off water for thousands of citizens who have not paid their bills. People will have 15 more days to pay before the city cuts off their water.
  • Tony Dungy, an NBC sports analyst and the first black NFL coach to win the Super Bowl, told the Tampa Bay Tribune that he wouldn't have drafted Michael Sam, the first openly gay national football player. "Things will happen," he said.
  • Azamat Tazhayakov became the first person to be convicted of crimes related to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Tazhayakov, a friend of bombings suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, attempted to dispose of evidence that could incriminate the brothers.
  • President Obama signed an executive order instituting new and vigorous workplace protections for LGBT employees.

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Ira Stoll on Andrew Cuomo’s Corporate Welfare

Credit: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Wikimedia CommonsWhich high-tech material will be the silicon of the future: silicon carbide, gallium nitride, or some other substance yet to be discovered?

No one knows for sure. But Governor Andrew Cuomo just bet $135 million of New York taxpayer dollars on backing GE’s silicon carbide manufacturing efforts and IBM’s gallium nitride efforts. Ira Stoll explains why Cuomo’s foray into corporate welfare and crony capitalism is bad news for the Empire State.

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County Sheriff Ditches "Cool" Orange Jump Suit for Retro Black and White Stripes

not coolChannel 4The sheriff of Saginaw County, Michigan, is ditching orange jumpsuits for prisoners at the county jail in favor of black and white stripes because, he says, he's trying to adapt to the culture. MLive.com reports:

"It's because as you see shows on television, like 'Orange Is The New Black,' some people think it's cool to look like an inmate of the Saginaw County Jail with wearing all-orange jumpsuits out at the mall or in public," [William] Federspiel says, referring to the Netflix drama. "It's a concern because we do have our inmates out sometimes doing work in the public, and I don't want anyone to confuse them or have them walk away.

"We decided that the black-and-white stripes would be the best way to go because it signifies 'jail inmate,' and I don't see people out there wanting to wear black-and-white stripes."

Federspiel insists he sees a trend, at least in Saginaw County:

"I don't want them to not be easy to spot," he says. "That's scary. With the amount of people — it's not all across the country, but it's here in Saginaw. I see a lot of people wearing all orange, and they think it's cool. And some people even put 'Property of the Saginaw County Jail' on the back of it. I've seen that. It's like, 'What are you doing? Really?'"

The new jumpsuits cost less than $12 and are being phased in according to the sheriff.

In recent years pink jumpsuits have become popular among some jailers. Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio dyed prisoners' underwear because he said they were being smuggled out of the jail for their logos while a jail in South Carolina faced a lawsuit, thrown out, over using pink jumpsuits for prisoners who engaged in sexual misconduct. A sheriff in Mason County, Texas, claimed in 2007 that he reduced the number of inmates at his local jail by 68 percent by putting them in all pink gear.

Semi-related: This WikiHow on dealing with prison time includes both orange and black and white jumpsuits.

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Raw Milk Vending Machines May Hit U.K.

justeimages/Flickrjusteimages/FlickrThe U.K.'s Food Standards Agency (FSA) said consumers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be given "wider access" to raw milk and proposed allowing its sale in vending machines. Currently raw milk can only be bought directly from farmers, as is common in American states where raw milk sales are permitted. 

A briefing paper about the proposed change suggests that vending machines would be the best way to make raw milk more widely available, since they make it easy to tightly control temperature. The FSA is still not recommending that raw milk sales be permitted in supermarkets.

The FSA will vote on the proposals Wednesday; if approved, the new rules will go into effect immediately. The changes to the rules wouldn't apply in Scotland, where all raw milk sales are banned. 

The agency had launched a four-month consultation on the raw milk regulations in January, which found consumers were largely in support of widening raw milk's availability. "In light of consultation responses," the FSA began working on a change to its raw milk policy, it says. Is it sad that I'm amazed to find the UK's food policy body so responsive to what the people it governs actually think and want?

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American Farmers Just Love Their GMOs and You Should Too

Biotech CornBiofortifiedThe U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its latest data on farmers planting of crops genetically enhanced to tolerate herbicides (HT) crops and to resist insect pests (Bt).

HT soybeans went from 17 percent of U.S. soybean acreage to 94 percent in 2014. Plantings of HT cotton expanded from about 10 percent of U.S. acreage in 1997 to 91 percent in 2014. The adoption of HT corn reached 89 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2014.

Plantings of Bt corn grew from about 8 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 1997 to 80 percent in 2014. Plantings of Bt cotton also expanded rapidly, from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 84 percent in 2014.

See the chart below for the trends.

USDAUSDA

Why are modern biotech crops so popular with farmers?

Earlier this year, U.S. News reported the views of Illinois farmer Katie Pratt:

According to Pratt, her family uses GMO crops because of the clear value they bring to their family business. They have greatly reduced the amount of insecticide that needs to be sprayed, and they only need to treat the weeds at one point, not several times over a growing season. Her soil has now improved, because she and her family don't have to tromp through the fields as often. The family also uses less fuel, because they spend less time in the tractor. “No one is more aware than the farmer of the impact we have on the environment, in addition to the urgency to feed and fuel a growing population, while reducing our footprint on the planet,” she maintains.

And remember folks, biotech crops are not only good for the environment, eating them as caused not so much as a cough, sniffle, sneeze or bellyache. For example, a statement issued by the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest scientific organization in the United States, on October 20, 2012 point blank asserted that “contrary to popular misconceptions, GM [genetically modified] crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply. There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.” The AAAS Board concluded, “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”

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Benjamin Netanyahu Had to Tell John Kerry "This is Not Vietnam"

well, there isn't a literal connection, dudeStateThe New Republic has a longish piece on how John Kerry got the latest iteration of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process restarted and how it fell apart around him. It involved a lot of talking and self-importance on all sides. The article includes a lot of reporting on the details of conversations between John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and other Israeli and Palestinian officials. Among the reported conversations is this one that started about Palestinian incitement:

Kerry pressed on: "When I fought in Vietnam, I used to look at the faces of the local population and the looks they gave us. I'll never forget it. It gave me clarity that we saw the situation in completely different ways."

"This isn't Vietnam!" Netanyahu shouted. "No one understands Israel but Israel."

Kerry tried explaining himself again: "No one is saying it's Vietnam. But I've been coming here for thirty years, and I'm telling you, what's building up in the Palestinians has only gotten worse. I've seen it. It doesn't matter if it's right or wrong; it just is. It can't be solved if you can't see it how they see it."

Read the rest of the rather unsurprising way Kerry's peace process unfolded here.

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The Illogical Basis of That $23 Billion Award Against R.J. Reynolds

WikipediaWikipediaOn Friday a jury in Escambia County, Florida, decided that R.J. Reynolds should pay $23 billion in punitive damages to Cynthia Robinson, the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996. It is not the largest award ever in a case involving a single smoker, but it's close. And like a California jury's 2002 award of $28 billion to a smoker who sued Philip Morris (a sum that the judge later reduced by a factor of 1,000), the case illustrates both the arbitrariness of punitive damages and the implausibility of claiming that tobacco companies managed to conceal the hazards of their products.

Although the main purpose of tort litigation is supposed to be making victims whole, so-called punitive damages explicitly aim to punish wrongdoers. That is usually the function of the criminal justice system, which therefore provides additional protections for defendants, including a higher standard of proof, stricter evidence rules, and penalties prescribed by statute. Attorneys seeking punitive damages do not have to contend with any of those safeguards.

The very concept of punitive damages is oxymoronic, since actual damages (a.k.a. compensatory damages) are a measure of the harm caused by a tort. Punitive damages, by contrast, express a jury's outrage at the defendant's conduct and may be completely unmoored from the injury suffered by the plaintiff (who nevertheless gets the money). In this case, the punitive damages are about 1,400 times the actual damages, which the jury put at $16 million. That huge mutiple seems to violate Florida law, which caps the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages at 3 to 1 (or, in certain circumstances, 4 to 1) unless "the defendant had a specific intent to harm the claimant"—a description that clearly does not apply to a tobacco company with millions of customers, even if it prevented them from making informed decisions by hiding the dangers posed by its products. 

The latter claim, which is central to this sort of lawsuit, is hard to credit. The jury evidently was swayed by evidence indicating that R.J. Reynolds executives questioned the hazards and addictiveness of cigarettes in public while acknowledging them in private. There surely is nothing to admire in that sort of duplicity, but did it actually fool anyone? The first surgeon general's report linking smoking to deadly diseases came out in 1964, and the subject received a great deal of attention during the ensuing decade. By the time Cynthia Robinson's husband began smoking (around the age of 13, according to her testimony, which would have been 1973), every pack of cigarettes carried a warning stating that "The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health." In 1985 that statement was replaced by rotating warnings referring to specific risks such as lung cancer, heart disease, and ephysema. As for the addictive potential of tobacco, it has been widely acknowledged for centuries, as I show in my book on the anti-smoking movement.

Anyone who began smoking in the 1970s and continued smoking for the next two decades voluntarily assumed the well-known risks associated with the habit. Nothing R.J. Reynolds said or failed to say changes that reality, because it is impossible to conceal common knowledge, no matter how much the tobacco companies might have wished otherwise.

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Your TSA Security Fees Just Doubled, But Security Won't Improve

As if flying weren't costly enough, your next plane ticket is going to be more expensive, thanks to the federal government. Today the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) security fee rose by more than double.

CNN reports:

Until Monday, a passenger was charged $2.50 for each leg of a journey. For a nonstop round trip, the cost was $5. For a round trip with a connection each way, the cost was $10.

The fee was capped at two flights each way. That means you couldn't get charged more than $5 each way or $10 round trip, even if you took three flights to get your destination.

Now, passengers must pay a flat fee of $5.60 in each direction, no matter how many plane transfers are made to get from one city to another.

For passengers flying a nonstop round trip, that means the fee will increase from $5 to $11.20.

Passengers flying round-trip with a connection each way will see their fees increase $1.20 to $11.20 per round trip, versus $10 before the fee increase.

Domestic flyers will also get hit with an additional $5.60 if you have a layover that's four hours or longer.

"Business travelers who fly non-stop routes, and travelers in secondary markets requiring connections," suggests Fox News, "will see the biggest impact."

Airlines for AmericaAirlines for America"Due to new TSA fee hike, travelers will pay a billion dollars more per year in added taxes/fees," tweeted Nick Calio, the president and CEO of Airlines for America, an industry advocacy group.

The securirty agency, which operates with an annual budget of over $7 billion, gets a lot of flak. More than half of Americans believe all those pat-downs and invasive body scans are mere security theater that have no real deterrent on hijackings.  And those skeptics are right. Research on the 13-year-old agency shows it so far hasn't had a measurable effect on air travel safety.  

The "TSA estimates the hike will generate $16.9 billion more than current collections," explains USA Today. The heftier fee won't actually do much (if anything) to improve security, though. "Congress agreed to the increase in December to raise $12.6 billion to cut the deficit," and nothing will go to security improvement until that's paid. 

Airlines for America criticizes that the government treating "airlines and their passengers as its own personal ATM," though some members of Congress say they never intended for the TSA to charge this much. Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has contested that the TSA changed how defines a "round trip" flight in order to work around the cap Congress placed on the agency's fees.

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Peter Suderman on Dodd-Frank and the Age of Endless Regulation

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govFour years after the passage of Dodd-Frank, the sweeping financial legislation championed by President Obama and passed by congressional Democrats in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis, just half of its rules and regulations are finished. 

According to law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, which tracks implementation of the law, only 52 percent of its nearly 400 rulemaking requirements are complete. At the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is chiefly responsible for implementation of the law, just 44 percent of the required rules are finalized or close.

Welcome to the age of endless regulation, writes Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman. 

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America's Drug War is Indeed Responsible for the Unaccompanied Minor Crisis

I wrote last week that the unaccompanied minors from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador showing up at our doorstep are refugees of America’s drug war whom it would be immoral and inhumane to turn away. Many commenters in the conservative press and social media denounced this claim as the usual liberal claptrap which wants to blame America for everything.

Today, Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal — that bastion of left-wing, America-hating nutbaggery — elaborates the connection, citing the work of Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, perhaps the most authoritative source on the region. She notes:

Central America is significantly more dangerous than it was before it became a magnet for rich and powerful drug capos. Back in the early 1990s, drugs from South America flowed through the Border KidsNBCCaribbean to the U.S.

But when a U.S. interdiction strategy in the Caribbean raised costs, trafficking shifted to land routes up the Central American isthmus and through Mexico. With Mexican President Felipe Calderón's war on the cartels, launched in 2007, the underworld gradually slithered toward the poorer, weaker neighboring countries. Venezuela, under Hugo Chávez, began facilitating the movement of cocaine from producing countries in the Andes to the U.S., also via Central America.

In a July 8 essay in the Military Times headlined "Central America Drug War a Dire Threat to U.S. National Security," Gen. Kelly explains that he has spent 19 months "observing the transnational organized crime networks" in the region. His conclusion: "Drug cartels and associated street gang activity in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which respectively have the world's number one, four and five highest homicide rates, have left near-broken societies in their wake." He notes that while he works on this problem throughout the region, these three countries, also known as the Northern Triangle, are "far and away the worst off."

With a homicide rate of 90 per 100,000 in Honduras, and 40 per 100,000 in Guatemala, life in the region is decidedly rougher than "declared combat zones" like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the general says the rate is 28 per 100,000.

How did the region become a killing field? His diagnosis is that big profits from the illicit drug trade have been used to corrupt public institutions in these fragile democracies, thereby destroying the rule of law. In a "culture of impunity" the state loses its legitimacy and sovereignty is undermined. Criminals have the financial power to overwhelm the law "due to the insatiable U.S. demand for drugs, particularly cocaine, heroin and now methamphetamines, all produced in Latin America and smuggled into the U.S."

The whole column is well worth reading here.

Bonus material: Reason.tv's award-winning documentary by Paul Feine, America's Longest War: A Film About Drug Prohibition

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Affirmative Action = Discrimination Against Asians, NYC Schools Edition

KidShayan Sanyal / FlickrNew York City politicians—including Mayor Bill de Blasio—want to change the admissions system for the city's nine highly-selective premiere public high schools, including nationally-renowned Stuyvesant High School. The schools currently use a single exam, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, to determine admittance. Less than three percent of applicants are admitted to Stuyvesant.

The problem, in the eyes of some, is that black and Latino students are increasingly underrepresented at the elite schools. So are white students. When a test score is the only criteria, it seems that Asian Americans are more likely than other racial groups to gain admission to Stuyvesant.

Is that a problem? A coalition that includes de Blasio and teachers unions says that it is, according to Bloomberg:

“I do not believe a single test should be determinative, particularly for something that is as life-changing for so many young people,” de Blasio, who would need to persuade the state Legislature to amend the law, said last week. “We have to determine what combination of measures will be fair.”

The mayor would like the schools to consider other factors—such as grades and extracurricular activities—that would theoretically give non-Asians a better chance.

Writing for The New York Post, Dennis Saffran—an attorney and former GOP city council candidate—explains why that's not such a great idea. It's very difficult for low-income 13-year-olds to cobble together appealing resumes, he writes. In fact, moving away from an objective test might further decrease the enrollment of poor black and Latino students, while also hurting Asian enrollment, since kids with wealthy parents are the ones best equipped to build portfolios of volunteer work and extracurricular activities:

A Chinese student like Ting Shi who has to help out in his parents’ laundromat is not going on “service” trips to Nicaragua with the children in de Blasio’s affluent Park Slope neighborhood. The LDF’s suggested admissions criteria — student portfolios, leadership skills and community service — are all subject to privileged parents’ ability to buy their children the indicia of impressiveness.

Ironically, eliminating the SHSAT would magnify the role of what progressives call “unconscious bias” — the idea that we have a preference for those who look like us and share our backgrounds. Subjective evaluation measures like interviews and portfolio reviews are much more susceptible to such bias than is an objective examination.

Sure, the decision makers will do their best to admit a few more black and Latino kids (especially those from the same upper-middle-class backgrounds), but the primary beneficiaries will be affluent white students who didn’t study hard enough to perform really well on the test but seem more “well-rounded” than those who did. As always, the losers in this top-bottom squeeze will be the lower middle and working classes. Among the applicant pool for the specialized high schools, that means Asians.

As Saffran's critique makes clear, attempting to engineer admissions to produce some politically desirable racial mixture is both dubious and difficult. On the latter point, whose to say that a reformed admissions system won't cause further problems? It could exacerbate the very discrepancies it's attempting to resolve. It could also incidentally result in the admission of unqualified students—something administrators expect to happen if the test is no longer the focus—harming the rigor of the schools.

While I can understand the desire to assist groups that aren't making the cut for selective public schools, it doesn't seem fair—or morally justifiable—to stack the game against Asians seeking admittance merely because other Asians have fared well.

Of course, this is exactly what universities practicing affirmative action have done for years, using ethnicity-based admission systems that grade Asian applicants on a much higher curve. Should students be judged on their own merits or against the expected accomplishments of other people who happen to look like them?

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VA Health Care Still Sucks (Huntsville, Alabama, Edition)

VeteransMark Sardella/FoterThe main investigation into the house of horrors that is the Veterans Health Administration continues to focus on scheduling shenanigans and the denial of care to ailing veterans thereby. But those who actually get on a waiting list and then make it to the front have plenty of reason for complaint, too. A Veterans Administration Inspector General's report released last week found that an outpatient facility in Huntsville, Alabama, is the latest disappointment the VA has to offer—with "disappointment" meant as a euphemism for shoddy care delivered with an abusive attitude.

The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) Office of Healthcare Inspections conducted an inspection to assess the merit of allegations concerning the quality of care provided by a primary care provider (PCP) and staff safety at the community based outpatient clinic (CBOC) located in Huntsville, AL. The CBOC is associated with the Birmingham VA Medical Center (facility).

We substantiated the PCP did not consistently document opioid medication management, did not consistently document and respond to patients’ abnormal test results, and on one occasion, entered a derogatory comment in the electronic health record (EHR).

That's only the beginning. While the report could not substantiate all of the complaints made about the provider and the facility, it did find the provider performing procedures "which he/she was not privileged to perform," mismanagement of non-VA medical records, and a lack of policies for pain management and mental health emergencies.

Granted, every organization has its failures, but the the Department of Veterans Affairs has a history of sub-standard care. Its failures have been documented by journalists as well as its own Inspector General.

Veterans may be languishing on the VA's waiting list, but making it to the front of the line is no treat.

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You're Paying for That War in Gaza

Your taxes, but not your war budget.War Production Co-Ordinating CommitteeOf all the ways to frame America's role in the latest war between Israelis and Palestinians, the most bizarre might be the Bloomberg headline "Will the U.S. Get Involved in Israel-Gaza Conflict?" What do you mean will, folks? The U.S. has been deeply involved with this war from the beginning, because the U.S. is underwriting it.

Sen. Rand Paul has been pushing a bill to eliminate America's aid to the Palestinian Authority. I have seen no comparable attempt, though, to remove the much more substantial assistance that the U.S. gives to Israel: more than $3 billion a year, almost all of it for military purposes—about a fourth of Jerusalem's military budget. Bloomberg's video segment acknowledges the aid, yet somehow the site's editors came up with that headline, instead of, say, "The IDF's Biggest Benefactor Mulls What to Do Next."

You can read a detailed breakdown of where that aid goes in the Congressional Research Service's April report on the subject. Some critics of Israel's actions in Gaza might be tempted to parse the document for which sorts of assistance they approve of and which they don't, distinguishing a defensive project like Iron Dome from the weapons currently killing civilians. But money is fungible, and every sheqel that Washington donates to an anti-rocket system frees up a sheqel to be spent elsewhere. (Israel could certainly afford Iron Dome on its own.) The most relevant figure is the total amount.

You hear two sets of arguments for the aid packages. The first is the one you'd expect: With some exceptions, which we'll note in a moment, people who back Israeli policy tend to want America to fund it. The second comes from the folks who feel the aid gives Washington leverage that it can use to work for peace. America's checks do give D.C. a greater ability to insert itself into the conflict, a fact that has led a number of Israel's supporters as well as its critics to call for ending American aid. (Needless to say, that doesn't mean they'd want the money to stop while the war is in progress.) Despite that power, Washington's ability to tamp down the tensions has been, shall we say, rather limited. As my colleague Shikha Dalmia wrote a few years ago, "If money could buy peace, Israelis and Palestinians would now be holding hands and singing kumbaya." Instead we've been subsidizing war.

I have my own notions about what a just peace in the Levant would entail. But I have no illusions about Washington's willingness or ability to impose such ideas, and I know that positive developments that last are most likely to emerge from the actions of people who actually live in the region. The best thing we can do to encourage that is to pull our fingers—and our funds—out of the conflict.

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Missouri Is the Only State Not Tracking People's Prescriptions

12th St David/Flickr12th St David/FlickrMissouri is the only state in America without a prescription drug database, which The New York Times describes as "the primary tool the other 49 states use to identify people who acquire excess prescriptions for addictive painkillers and tranquilizers," as well as the doctors who overpresribe them. In 49 states, the government is keeping track of what prescription medications you take. 

That's a little disconcerting, no? While these databases are touted as ways to combat prescription painkiller abuse and trafficking, most states require doctors and/or pharmacists to report prescriptions for any number of medications, including AHDH and anti-anxiety drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Xanax. This database then can, and sometimes must, be consulted by future physicians prescribing drugs. 

Missouri state Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-District 34) and a small group of other legislators have been fighting against pressure—from medical groups, "members of Congress from neighboring states," the White House, and drugmakers—to institute such a database. Schaaf, a family physician, says allowing a government database of prescription drug records is a privacy violation.

"There’s some people who say you are causing (painkiller addicts) to die—but I’m not causing people to die. I’m protecting other people’s liberty," Mr. Schaaf said in a recent interview in his Senate office. "Missouri needs to be the first state to resist, and the other states need to follow suit and protect the liberty of their own citizens."

Mr. Schaaf’s steadfast opposition has come under sharp criticism from fellow Republicans, including a United States representative, Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky, one of eight states on Missouri’s 1400-mile perimeter. "It’s very selfish on Missouri’s part to hang their hat on this privacy matter," Mr. Rogers said. "The rest of us suffer."

That is some pretty warped logic: We're all supposed to happily give the government access to our private health records in order to help them "save" prescription painkiller addicts (which, for all the talk of a painkiller epidemic, are likely not as prevalent as drug warriors and public health officials would have you believe). But what do government officials do when they find out someone has multiple painkiller prescriptions? They arrest, fine, and often inprison them. We're supposed to give up privacy to help further enable to the police state and prison industrial complex in this country? (No thanks!)

MORE »
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Mom Leaves Daughter in Car, Daughter Survives, Mom Dies in Bank Robbery

StocktonWikimedia CommonsDuring a terrifying bank robbery in Stockton, California, last week, three robbers entered the Bank of West Branch with handguns and an AK-47. They took three women hostage and sped off. Two of the women survived after being flung from or jumping out of the moving SUV. The third, Misty Holt-Singh, a 41-year-old mom, was used as a human shield. She died.

There is no good side to this story, but there is one thing to note: Holt-Singh had been running this errand with her 12-year-old and allowed the girl to wait in the car. In other words, she did exactly what so many public service announcements—and busybodies and cops—tell parents not to do. She left her daughter unsupervised in a car.

Her daughter is alive today.

Just one week before this tragedy, a mom in Bristol, Connecticut, was charged with leaving her 11-year-old daughter alone in the car while she ran an errand. The rationale was that the child was in danger. What if she got abducted or died of heatstroke? What if? is the rationale behind arresting parents who let their kids wait in cars.

free-range-kidsBut tragedies are extremely unlikely to happen while parents run errands. The vast majority of kids who die in cars—up to 40 each year—do so because they are forgotten all day, not waiting while mom picks up the pizza or runs to the bank.

What happened in Stockton should serve as a reminder that we just can't predict tragedy. We shouldn't be arresting parents under the assumption that outlandishly unlikely dangers are always just around the corner. You could prohibit parents from leaving kids in cars and then have them die in bank robberies! Both dangers are extremely rare and impossible to predict—why have laws that assume lightning is always about to strike?

There is risk in everything in life. Punishing parents who make rational decisions just because something bad could happen is not going to change that. Something bad could always happen.

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Remy: What are the Chances? (An IRS Love Song)

"Remy: What are the Chances? (An IRS Love Song)" is the latest from Reason TV. Watch above or click the link below for full lyrics, links, downloadable versions, and more. 

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A. Barton Hinkle on Why Immigration Is Good for the U.S. Economy

Credit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: jonathan mcintosh / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAImmigration hawks make many weak arguments, so it is hard to pick the weakest. But one contender you see a lot asserts that immigrants hurt the economy. In fact, writes A. Barton Hinkle, immigrants are an economic boon. They not only work hard, they start businesses of their own and create new jobs. We should let them in.

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Celebrate the Anniversary of the Moon Landing by Repudiating 'Moonshots'!

YEAH, RIGHT! |||Forty-five years ago yesterday, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to put their boots on the ground of the moon. For many, the U.S. space program has been kind of a letdown ever since. Alas, not for statists and speechwriters. As I wrote in the February 2012 issue of Reason,

Three weeks after Neil Armstrong announced that "the Eagle has landed," President Richard Nixon declared that "abolishing poverty, putting an end to dependency—like reaching the moon a decade ago—may seem impossible. But in the spirit of Apollo we can lift our sights and marshal our best efforts." Not only is the American landscape still blemished by poverty and dependency on government, including sickening amounts of dependency by the rich, but the War on Poverty launched by Nixon's predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, turned out to be one of the great launch failures in policy history.

The moon's metaphorical record has only waned since then. In 1971 Nixon fired his rhetorical rockets on cancer: "The time has come in America when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease." Cancer has since taken some hits, but is still not beaten. Both Jimmy Carter, in his notorious 1979 "malaise" speech, and George H.W. Bush, in his less remembered 1992 State of the Union address, used Apollo as an almost desperate reminder to depressed Americans that they can still be great. "There's been talk of decline," Bush said. "Someone even said our workers are lazy and uninspired. And I thought: Really? You go tell Neil Armstrong standing on the moon."

There's no escaping the moonshot in contemporary political discourse. GOP presidential contender Herman Cain...used it in February 2011 as proof we can and must "secur[e] the border": "We put a man on the moon," he said, "so this isn't that hard!" Bill Clinton, in his exhaustive (and exhausting) post-presidency, has been fond of such formulations as "we need to make fixing climate change as politically sexy as putting a man on the moon." The whole thesis of the bestseller That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum is that the United States has lost its ability to do such great things as, well, you know what.

This issue is pretty sweet. |||Why is this a problem? Because politicians deploy the moonshot metaphor to make expensive, long-range promises. When those deadlines inevitably fail to get met, well, that's the next guy's problem. Meanwhile, just as predictably, moonshot enthusiasts fail to grok the more relevant lessons of Apollo:

[T]hese transparent attempts to glom onto JFK's glamour skip right over the 35th president's real-world pragmatism. Consider this passage from Kennedy's terse "Man on the Moon" speech: "This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread.…It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel."

Read Reason's whole private-space special issue from 2012, including Robert Zubrin's bracing examination of whether we have become too scared about astronauts dying. (Opening sentence: "If we could put a man on the Moon, why can't we put a man on the Moon?")

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A.M. Links: U.S. Builds Case Against Russia Over Malaysian Jet Attack, Death Toll Climbs in Gaza, Florida Jury Awards $23.6 Billion in Smoking Lawsuit

  • The Obama administration says that an “enormous amount of evidence” links both Ukrainian separatists and Russian forces to the missile attack that brought down a Malaysian Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine. The MH 17 crash site, meanwhile, remains under the control of pro-Russian separatists.
  • The Palestinian death toll in Gaza has climbed to 476 after heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas on Sunday.
  • “Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched in French cities on Saturday to condemn violence in Gaza, defying a ban imposed after demonstrators marched on two synagogues in Paris last weekend and clashed with riot police.”
  • According to a new report, the Obama administration was first warned about long wait times and other problems at Veterans Affairs hospitals in 2008.
  • A Florida jury has awarded $23.6 billion in damages to a widow who sued tobacco company R.J. Reynolds over her husband's death.
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Jacob Sullum on Adult-Enticing E-Cigarette Flavors

1ecigaretteblog.com1ecigaretteblog.comAt a Senate hearing last month, Jay Rockefeller noted that electronic cigarette fluid is available in a wide variety of flavors—conclusive evidence, to his mind, that e-cigarette companies want to hook children on nicotine. "I am an adult," the West Virginia Democrat said. "Would I be attracted to Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, Vanilla Dreams? No, I wouldn't."

Jacob Sullum calls it the Rockefeller Rule: If an e-cigarette flavor does not appeal to this particular 77-year-old senator, it could not possibly appeal to anyone older than 17. Yet as Sullum reports, survey data released last week show grownups prefer the flavors that Rockefeller insists are strictly for kids.

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Steve Chapman on the Truth About Violence in Chicago

ChicagoWikimedia CommonsRight now, Chicago is getting national as well as local attention for outbreaks of bloodshed, which reinforce its reputation as the murder capital of America. In terms of total homicides, it may be. But that figure fails to account for population, writes Steve Chapman.

In the overall rate of violent crime, Chicago ranks 19th—slightly worse than Minneapolis and better than Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Nashville. It has half as much violent crime, per capita, as Detroit or Oakland, California.

Taken as a whole, the city has not gotten more dangerous. It has gotten less dangerous—much less. Nor does it stand out among its peers. "Chicago's overall violent crime rate is not exceptional when compared to other large cities," writes Yale University sociologist Andrew Papachristos in a recent study.

None of this is any comfort to recent victims of crime or to the families of young people who are gunned down in the street. But it's crucial to understanding the nature and size of the problem. High levels of criminal violence are a terrible reality in some neighborhoods, but not in most, according to Chapman.

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Brickbat: A Good Defense

A Saudi court has sentenced attorney and human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair to 15 years in prison for "inciting public opinion against the government." Colleagues say he is being punished for his defense of human rights activists as well as his own personal call for the release of political prisoners and the expansion of rights for women.

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Pa. Cops Beat Up 17-Year-Old Girl Caught Out After Curfew

war on women?via WTAEA 17-year-old girl in Clairton, Pennsylvania says she was brutally beaten by cops after getting caught outside after curfew. Merceedez Wright says she and her friends were walking home from an ice cream parlor just a few minutes after the 10p.m. curfew when they were approached by police. Wright admits to running away from cops when they exited the car. "I was scared because of how he got out of the car. He didn't just walk out, he jumped out of the car and started chasing me, so my first instinct was to run,"  she told local news station WTAE.

WTAE describes the attack based on Wright's friends who witnessed it as well as a portion caught on surveillance video:

"(The officer) ran full force at her and she ran from him," said Destiny Hester. "They pounced on her, then started kicking her and pulling her hair."

"I hear her screaming, I run over there and she's on the ground. They're over there beating her up, kicking her, pulling her hair," said witness Bryon Clifford.

Surveillance cameras across the street from the scuffle show Wright and an officer run into view, before the officer grabs her, spins her around, and throws her to the ground.

What happened next is not clear because the officers and Wright are behind a car, but two minutes later police appear to stand the teenager up before a new struggle begins.

The video shows one of her arms had come free, not in handcuffs, and she seems to pull away from the officers before they take her to the ground again.

One minute later, they again try to walk her to their car, but she appears to resist and pull in the opposite direction. One officer then uses a forceful move to push her down. She then is moved out of the view of the surveillance camera.

Wright is now recovering in the hospital with injuries to her trachea, esophagus and neck, plus several cuts and bruises.

Wright admits to resisting the police too, saying she tried to free her arms to protect herself after cops knocked her to the ground.

You can watch the surveillance footage included in the WTAE segment here.

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Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution

"Former Sex Worker Maggie McNeill on Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution." Produced by Alexis Garcia. Shot by Garcia and Zach Weissmueller. Music by Lee Maddeford. About 30 minutes.

The original release date was July 14, 2014 and the original writeup is below.

"There is a very common form of rhetoric that's used against us ... that sex work isn't work. That it's a dodge. That it's a scam. That it's a form of exploitation," says Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker turned activist who blogs at The Honest Courtesan. 

"We still pretend that there's a magical mumbo jumbo taboo energy about sex that makes it different from all other human activities."

McNeill sat down with Reason TV's Thaddeus Russell for a wide-ranging interview where she responds to the feminist critique of sex work, explains why research on trafficking may not be reliable, and says why prostitution should be decriminalized.

"The problem is that there are already laws for these things," states McNeill. "We have a name for sex being inflicted on a woman against her will. We call it rape. We have a name for taking someone and holding them prisoner somewhere. We call that abduction. ... Why do we need [prostitution] to be laid on top of all these other things that already are crimes?" 

Produced by Alexis Garcia. Shot by Garcia and Zach Weissmueller. Music by Lee Maddeford. 

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Eric Garner's Arrest and Death About More Than Just a Chokehold

Begging for your life counts as "resisting"Cellphone image via New York Daily NewsThe brutal takedown and arrest of Eric Garner by the New York Police Department in Staten Island, which was quickly followed by the man's death, became top national news after New York Daily News released video of the encounter (check here for more info).

There was a rally about the incident on Saturday (with Rev. Al Sharpton in attendance) and Mayor Bill DeBlasio has said he was "deeply troubled" about the incident and called for more investigation.

The focus, though, seems to be primarily on the chokehold itself used to take Garner down. Two officers involved in the incident have been assigned to desk duty during the investigation. A sample of some headlines about the circumstances of Garner's death: "Death of New York man sparks closer look at police use of chokeholds" (Los Angeles Times); "Complaints About Chokeholds Are Focus of Study" (The New York Times). Nearly every headline surrounding the incident focuses on the chokehold.

This is not to say that the actual manner by which the police took Garner down should not be thoroughly explored. NYPD guidelines apparently forbid the use of chokeholds, yet The New York Times story notes that a review board has received more than 1,000 complaints of police using chokeholds going back to 2009. The Times also notes that one of the officers who has been plunked on desk duty has been sued twice in federal court for civil rights violations, including one case where he pulled over a vehicle for a broken taillight and then strip-searched its inhabitants on the side of the road.

We should be concerned that the reason why the police swarmed Garner in the first place is getting lost. He allegedly possessed "untaxed cigarettes." That is it. There is this press focus on how the police took Garner down, and the problem with that focus is the question, "Well, what do you do when a 400-pound man refuses to cooperate when you try to arrest him?" Or to put it another way: Would there be an objection to police using a chokehold to take down and subdue man who was engaged in violent activity harming others? Because you know that's going to be part of the defense of this behavior.

There needs to be more attention on the absurd reason that a pack of police officers was on top of Garner in the first place: black market cigarettes. It's a crime that only takes place because of the city's own oppressive taxation system. It's a crime that happens when the city makes it too hard for people (especially poor people, of course) to get what they want legally.

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Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela!

Friday was the birthday of the recently deceased civil rights hero Nelson Mandela. Two decades after the end of apartheid, however, it appears that Mandela's dream may be turning into a nightmare. In May of this year, Reason TV took a critical look at South Africa's current political scene.

"Life After Liberation: Triumph and Tragedy in South Africa," by producer Rob Montz. Approximately 10 minutes.

Original release date was May 5, 2014. The original writeup is below.

"This government—our government—is worse than the apartheid government."—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

South African voters are headed to the polls this week for the fourth national election since 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected president after the end of the apartheid regime.

Their country represents epic history in our lifetimes. After a decades-long struggle against brutal, state-run racial segregation, the black liberation movement emerged victorious in the early 1990s. Led by the transcendent figure of Mandela, South Africa swiftly dismantled the apartheid apparatus and, defying dour predictions of a bloody race war, peacefully transitioned to majority rule. Mandela's government ushered in pluralistic democracy on a continent long-defined by colonialism and autocracy. State officials established remarkably robust constitutional protections for individual rights.

Black South Africans would finally be afforded the economic and social opportunities they'd been denied for so long.

Or so everyone had hoped.

Two decades later, Mandela's promise of renewal has largely gone unfulfilled as Mandela's party, the African National Congress (ANC) has maintained its huge electoral majority. The beautiful dream animating the South African experiment is crumbling amidst ongoing corruption, violence, and failed economic policies. As Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu has said of the current regime, "This government—our government—is worse than the apartheid government."

"Life After Liberation," directed and hosted by Rob Montz, details the role played by political monopoly in South Africa's post-apartheid decline. The documentary shows how the ANC has grown corrupt and complacent—and how widespread resentment of the ruling political class is now fueling the rise of a populist demagogue, Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters, who is pushing precisely the sort of Mugabeist socialist policies that have ruined so many other African countries.

About 10 minutes.

Go here for links, downloads, and more resources about this video and South Africa.

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Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Punishing Prostitution Clients Isn't a Feminist Solution

Bosc d'Anjou/FlickrBosc d'Anjou/Flickr

A growing consensus around the world claims the sex trade perpetuates male violence against women, and so customers—but not sex workers themselves—should be held as criminals. This modern debate has roots in Victorian England, which branded prostitutes as wicked, depraved, and a public nuisance. Yet a shift in social thought throughout the era introduced the prostitute as victim, often lured or forced into sexual slavery by immoral men.

Today, we’re seeing a global shift in attitudes toward prostitution that looks startlingly like the one in Victorian England, argues Elizabeth Nolan Brown. Many areas have adopted or are considering what’s known as the "Nordic Model," which criminalizes the buying, rather than the selling, of sexual services. The Nordic model may seem like a step in the right direction—a progressive step, a feminist step. But it’s not, writes Brown. Conceptually, the system strips women of agency and autonomy. And while keeping prostitution illegal is done in the name of women, it only perpetuates violence against them while expanding the reach of the carceral state.  

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Would Six Californias Be Better Than One?

On July 15th, venture capitalist Tim Draper produced 1.3 million signatures representing voters who want Californians to consider a plan that would split the state into six smaller entities. Over the next few days Draper will deliver the signatures to officials in each of California's 58 counties. The campaign, called "Six Californias," has been largely funded by Draper and is expected to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Reason TV recently visited some northern California separatists who are sick and tired of Sacramento (and Washington, D.C.) politics. 

"Should Northern California Secede and Become the State of Jefferson?," produced by Alex Manning. Approximately 5:30 minutes.

Original release date was Jun 9, 2014 and the original writeup is below.  

Activists in Northern California, near the border with Oregon, are pushing to secede from the Golden State. They say they're fed up with taxes, regulation, and lack of representation. If they get their way, the country's 51st entrant would be called the State of Jefferson.

"The three major urban areas dictate politics for the entire state," says Mark Baird of the Jefferson Declaration Committee. "Our children are leaving, our economy is crashing, we are taxed, every breath we take is regulated, and we feel that a free state will cure that."

To date, five county governments have signed on the plan and more may be joining up. 

"We can't afford to run a California style beauracracy, that is true," says Baird. "But as a small rural state, we don't want to. "

The idea of secession in California isn't new. During the Great Depression, folks started pushing a similar plan in the same part of the state, but threw in the towel after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Both California's state legislature and the U.S. Congress would have to approve the plan to make Jefferson more than a pipe dream. That's not going to happen any time soon, but Northern California's separatist movement is worth exploring as a way of pushing back against a distant and unresponsive government. 

Produced by Alex Manning. Additional camera Tracy Oppenheimer.

About 5:30 minutes.

Sheldon Richman on War, Peace, and Murray Rothbard

no alt-text till noon on sundaysWikimediaWith wars raging in the Middle East, it seems like a good time to revisit a classic work by Murray Rothbard (1926–1995), the economist, historian, and political philosopher who had a lot to do with the birth and evolution of the modern libertarian movement. His “War, Peace, and the State” is something that all peace advocates — not just self-conscious libertarians — ought to be familiar with.

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Peter Suderman on Obamacare's Phony Success Story

no alt-text till noon on sundaysReasonIn the first weeks after Obamacare's health insurance exchanges launched on October 1, 2013, almost nothing worked. The main federal exchange, which served as an insurance hub for 36 states, was down more often than it was up, and when it was online, it didn't work. Many exchanges run by state governments were in disarray as well. Millions of people with individual health insurance policies received letters indicating that their existing coverage would be canceled. The law's mandated small business exchange had been delayed, as had its Spanish language website. Thousands of applications were stranded inside the glitchy exchange systems. It seemed entirely plausible that between the cancellations and the website failures, Obamacare's expansion of insurance coverage-the main selling point of a $2 trillion overhaul of the health care system-might end up making no meaningful dent in the uninsured rate at all. It could have been worse, writes Peter Suderman in the August/September issue of Reason.

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You Won't Believe Just How Godawful This Elizabeth Warren Video Really Is

Robby Soave recently underscored Sen. Elizabeth Warren's rampant hypocrisy when it comes to supporting the Export-Import Bank, a pure crony-capitalism institution.

Here's something else to blame her for: The video above, titled "Run Liz Run," put out by the tone-deaf folks at "Ready for Warren." Here's the writeup:

Our campaign to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for President in 2016 is gaining huge momentum. Warren came to Netroots Nation in Detroit and #ReadyForWarren was there to greet her in style alongside thousands of grassroots progressives.

Americans of all stripes are calling for a leader who will fight for an America that works for all of us, not only the wealthy and the well-connected. Join us. http://ready4warren.com.

Filmed at Netroots Nation 2014 in Detroit, MI. Song written and performed by Jessie Murphy & friends. Video produced, directed, and edited by The Self Agency.

Related: "5 Other Fake Indians Besides Elizabeth Warren."

More Reason.com on Warren.

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Attn San Francisco Reasonoids: Meetup with Nick Gillespie, Sunday July 20, 1pm!

Calling all Reason readers in the Bay Area! I'm in town for the Lincoln Labs Reboot conference and some Reason.com readers have put together a meetup for tomorrow, Sunday, July 20. Here are the details:

Jamber Wine Pub
858 Folsom St. (between 4th and 5th)
http://www.jambersf.com/
1:00 p.m. Sunday (Note: that's when they open, so don't be early)

Come on out for conversation and company!

No RSVPs necessary, hope to see you there.

Thank you, PapayaSF!

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The Middle East Needs Capitalism!

doing god's workcwgoodroe/foter.comThe Centre for Policy Studies' CapX, a news service "for popular capitalism," has a piece up by Guy Sorman making the case that as a religion, Islam is a far more "pro-business faith" than Christianity (having been founded by a trader and lacking a so-called "idealization of poverty"), and that only popular capitalism can save the Arab world. Sorman rightly identifies the root of the "Arab Spring" protests of 2011:

[The Arab Spring's] true origins should never be forgotten: the economic frustration of the people. The hero  of the uprising was a young Tunisian student by the name of Mohamed Bouazizi who tried to start a modest business by selling fruits and vegetables on a street cart. After he was arrested by police for not showing the right bureaucratic authorisation, Bouazizi committed suicide by setting himself on fire.

Spontaneously identifying themselves with Bouazizi, young Arabs by the millions took to the streets all over the Arab world. The revolt was most acute in Egypt where, not by coincidence, popular capitalism happened to be the most severely repressed under Hosni Mubarak. A survey by the noted Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, before the Arab Spring,  revealed how opening a modest bakery in Cairo required two and a half years in order to obtain all the necessary legal documents, most of them delivered by petty and corrupt state bureaucrats. The creation of a larger business which might have a chance of competing with a state monopoly proved to be forbidden in Egypt. With varying degrees, this remains the prevalent situation in all Arab countries.

Sorman argues, correctly, that there can be no peace in the Middle East so long as the governments in the region repress people's economic ambitions.

The whole thing is worth a read here and provides an interesting perspective on what kind of relationship with the U.S. would most benefit the region (peaceful trade, hardly a component of "isolationism").

Via the Twitter feed of Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European parliament who represents a portion of England.

Related: Reason on occupational licensing.

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Los Angeles Shuts Down Marijuana Farmers' Market

Less than two weeks after the grand opening of Los Angeles' first ever marijuana farmers' market the city shut it down, claiming that the market doesn't comply with the city's medical marijuana laws. A hearing scheduled for August 6 will determine whether the market will be permanently closed.

Reason TV attended the grand opening of the marijuana farmers' market on the Fourth of July weekend.

"Los Angeles' First Ever Marijuana Farmers' Market," produced by Alexis Garcia. Approximately 3 minutes.

Original release date was July 8, 2014. The original writeup is below.

Thousands celebrated their independence over the Fourth of July weekend by attending the first ever marijuana farmers' market in the Los Angeles community of Boyle Heights. 

The California Heritage Market was organized by 22-year-old Paizley Bradbury, who also serves as the executive director of the West Coast Collective, a marijuana dispensary. Bradbury became concerned that patients were losing access to medicinal marijuana after Los Angeles voters passed Proposition D in 2013—a law which restricted the number of pot shops that could operate within city limits. 

"We don't have a lot of dispensaries in Los Angeles and that kind of limits the amount of growers that people have access to," states Bradbury. 

The concept proved popular with consumers—an estimated 2,500 people attended on the first day alone to purchase goods from over 30 vendors.

Bradbury maintains that the market is legal because the collective is grandfathered in under the Prop D law. To attend the market, patients must provide documentation that shows they are able to legally purchase marijuana in the state. 

"This is exactly the way the law is written," says Bradbury. "Patients are supposed to be getting their medicine directly from the growers within the collective and that's exactly what's happening here."

Bradbury plans to continue staging the market each weekend. 

Produced and shot by Alexis Garcia. Music by The Duckers.

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It's Too Bad We Couldn't Have Adopted Some of Those Migrant Children

More than 52,000 children have been caught crossing our southern border since October of last year, including several thousand children from Guatemala. Until 2007, more than 5,000 Guatemalan children were adopted by parents from other countries each year. Under pressure from groups like Unicef, however, Guatemala shut down intercountry adoptions. Today, the only way Guatemalan children can come to the U.S. is to cross the border illegally.

Reason TV took a critical look at Guatemala's intercountry adoption policies back in 2011.

"Abandoned in Guatemala," produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning. Approximately 20 minutes.

Original release date was October 6, 2011. Original writeup is below.

"If we shut down international adoptions, that's 5,000 kids a year whose lives we are ruining, whose lives could have been wonderful, and we're dooming them by shutting them into these institutions. So, to me, that's fundamental evil."

—Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet

In 2007, Guatemala's privately run system of adoption attorneys, orphanages and foster care providers helped nearly 5,000 abandoned children find homes with loving families around the world. But then the Guatemalan government shut down international adoptions, created a centrally controlled adoption agency and nationalized the orphanage system. The plan was to promote in-country adoptions, but that plan hasn't worked. Last year, only 35 children were adopted by Guatemalan families.

Why did the Guatemalan government put an end to a system that was giving thousands of abandoned children a chance at a better life? And what did UNICEF have to do with it? Reason.tv producers Paul Feine and Alex Manning went to Guatemala to find out.

"Abandoned in Guatemala: The Failure of International Adoption Policies" is a film about the promise of international adoption and the sad reality that international adoptions around the world are decreasing, largely due to the influence of UNICEF. It's also a film about a privately run system that worked and a state-run system that is failing. Most of all, "Abandoned in Guatemala" is a film intended to raise awareness about international adoption in the hope that in the near future more abandoned children will be placed with loving families, wherever they happen to live.

Approximately 20 minutes.

Produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning. Additional camera: Anthony Fisher. Graphics: Sharif Matar. Voice-over translations: Rin Palmer. Special thanks to Lissa Hanckel, Ana Isabel Maria-Gadala Centeno and Madre Ines. Music by Jason Shaw (audionautix.com) and Vate (www.vate.com.mx).

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Reason Spuriously Accused by Conspiracy Theorist of Institutionally Supporting Apartheid in the 1970s and ‘80s

This is what supporting apartheid looks like, according to Mark Ames. |||Mark Ames, the anti-libertarian conspiracy theorist with a history of generating apology notes and speedy take-downs among those journalistic outlets still reckless enough to publish him, ran a piece in Pando Daily yesterday alleging, among a variety of dot-connecting claims involving other libertarian-leaning people and institutions, that "Throughout its first two decades, in the 1970s and 1980s, Reason supported apartheid South Africa, and attacked anti-apartheid protesters and sanctions right up to Nelson Mandela's release, when they finally dropped it." The allegation, not surprisingly, is false.

How thin is Ames's case? Among his handful of supposedly damning citations, mined from a searchable archive that has dozens of other pieces about South Africa, is this glowing December 1980 profile of Leon Luow, who was an anti-apartheid activist. Here's the opening of that article, which Ames quotes as a gotcha:

It is possible that in the past decade no country has moved further toward a libertarian society than South Africa has. Yes—South Africa.

Provocative? Definitely. True? While I seriously doubt it, I have no earthly idea. You can quickly move long distances from miserable starting points; the government had recently issued a series of economic and racial decontrols (about which see more below), and author Patrick Cox did issue the qualifer "it is possible." More germane to the argument, was this evidence of pro-apartheid sentiment? It was the opposite, actually. Here's a longer excerpt from Cox's piece:

Because nothing says "supporting apartheid" quite like a guy who writes anti-apartheid books blurbed by Winnie Mandela! |||Many South Africans are aware of Louw only as a crusader for civil and economic liberties for blacks, who make up 70 percent of South Africa's population. Conditions for blacks have been improving dramatically but "not fast enough," says Louw. "I'm an abolitionist. What's wrong is wrong. Freedom is the first principle. You cannot justify restrictions by saying there will be uncomfortable effects during the process of change."

Black economist Walter Williams, who has visited South Africa extensively, says of Louw and the South African move toward a nonstatist society, "If you had to pick somebody on the continent that played a significant role, surely it would be Leon and the Free Market Foundation." The Foundation, says Williams, "is forcing people to view the problems of apartheid." [...]

The most powerful labor union leader in South Africa has started working with Louw and the Foundation and has come out against racially segregated unions and closed shop laws (a barrier to black employment). [...]

Louw says his biggest enemies are not Marxists, who are relatively easy to deal with once the issue of coercion is put on the table. The real enemies are those who say, "I am a capitalist, and in a capitalist society, you have to control morals. These are the most poisonous enemies," says Louw, because they say they're for free enterprise or freedom or libertarianism, but they're not.

Emphases mine. Read that final paragraph again, slowly, then look at this ludicrous Ames claim:

Majority rule and socialism were one and the same; for Reason, apartheid was the only thing safeguarding "liberty." The logic was insane; but it was accepted as a matter of faith in the pages of Reason.

Because nothing says supporting apartheid like naming Nelson Mandela one of your 35 Heroes of Freedom! |||If defending apartheid was a "matter of faith" in Reason during the '70s and '80s, you would expect editors and staffers and contributors to routinely make that case when the subject of apartheid came up. Instead, from the editor in chief to the writer of Brickbats to book reviewers to the anti-apartheid activists themselves, the South African policy of forcible racial discrimination was described as "bigoted," "repressive," "thoroughly racist," an "absurd anachronism," "an anathema," "bad for business," and worse. Essayists wrote treatises on "how to dismantle apartheid"; feature writers celebrated developments they hoped "ultimately destroys...apartheid," Editor Robert Poole asked Zulu leader Gatsha Buthelezi questions like "What's the best thing the United States government could do to help end apartheid?", and on and on.

Fuller excerpts and links are provided after the jump. I invite readers of all persuasions to mine the archive and assess for themselves.

The meat of Ames's case comes from three pieces by a single author, the South African Marc Swanepoel, in 1973, 1976, and 1977 (Swanepoel also wrote a relevant article in 1975). That two decades of an institution's journalism–let alone the content and motivation behind a political conference in 2014, which is the proximate target of Ames's fire–can be characterized, let alone discredited, by the work of a single foreign correspondent speaks volumes about the thin evidentiary reed we're on here. Still, there is plenty in those four pieces that stings our modern eyes.

For instance, this bit near the close of Swanepoel's 1973 essay: 

Throughout this article I have remained uncritical of the apartheid situation and this may leave me open to some severe criticism from other libertarians. I consider myself to be in the position of someone who has to choose between a more severe or a less severe dictatorship. The dictatorship in this instance is unlimited majority rule. The less severe dictator is a group of 4 million mostly educated people. The more severe dictator is a group of 16 million, mostly ignorant people. The fact that the average person of the one group is distinguishable the average person of the other group is an accident of nature. The object of criticism should be the dictatorship, and not the colour of the dictator. Abolish the source of all the evil: omnipotent government, whether in black or in white hands! 

I (and I think history) disagree with Swanepoel’s "less severe dictator" prediction, and I wince at the description of "mostly ignorant people." But let's remember the central Ames accusation here–that "Reason supported apartheid South Africa," and that the apartheid=safeguarding liberty formulation "was accepted as a matter of faith." The lone relevant witness Ames calls to this prosecution considered the apartheid regime a "dictatorship," and called for the abolition of "omnipotent government, whether in black or in white hands." With "supporters" like these, no wonder the system was dead within two decades. And note, too, that Swanepoel (quite unlike Ames) knew enough about his audience to anticipate "severe criticism from other libertarians," which he indeed received in the form of dissenting letters to the editor.

More on South Africa from the Reason archive after the jump.

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Nick Gillespie: After Decades of Failure, Let's Try a Libertarian Foreign Policy

As Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and others who oversaw America's disastrous foreign policy in the 21st century attack anyone who suggests things haven't gone well, Nick Gillespie asks: "What would be a better foreign policy than what we’ve seen over the past 14 or so years?"

It’s tempting to say, Anything, anything at all. Certainly, at least this much makes immediate sense: The United States should in fact withdraw militarily for good from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially if those countries’ governments implore us to do so. And there are allies in both regions that we should continue to support not just morally, but materially and militarily.

All large-scale and long-term military engagements should actually be put to a specific congressional vote as dictated both by the Constitution and by common sense. The use of military force should be governed not by a set of infinitely expandable terms such as ensuring human rights and expanding democracy, but far narrower and less grandiose ideals of national defense.

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Greg Beato on Smart Apps vs. Obamacare

ReasonReasonHealth care costs in the U.S. have been rising so steadily for so long that containment barely seems possible. Even optimists don't dream of cutting the price tag. As its official name-the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act-suggests, Obamacare aims for affordability, not radical reduction. But at a time when we're all walking around with more computing power in our pockets than NASA used to send Apollo 11 to the moon, perhaps we should be setting our expectations higher. Is it really so hard to imagine, in 10 years or so, the advent of advertising-sponsored health care? Or at the very least, bulk-purchased cardiology readings for a Netflix-like $8.99 monthly subscription? The device that could potentially enable such scenarios, writes Greg Beato in the August/September issue of Reason, already exists

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The Flawed Progressive Scheme to 'Reclaim the Constitution'

Writing at The Washington Post, Yale University law professor Jack Balkin says it's time for liberals to "reclaim the Constitution." The modern right, Balkin contends, has hoodwinked much of the country into believing that the American constitutional tradition is the exclusive property of conservatives. In fact, Balkin asserts, "in some ways the radical conservative portrait of America promoted by today's tea party movement is almost an inversion of the country's actual history. It imagines a nation that never existed in order to attack the foundations of the one we actually have."

In Balkin's view, the constitutional tradition America actually has belongs squarely to the left. "The proudest moments of that tradition—including the expansion of voting rights and equality for blacks and women—are liberal and egalitarian," he declares.

Balkin's critique of the right is not without merit. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, has certainly been known to give short shrift to certain pieces of constitutional text and history. Nor is Scalia the only such offender on the conservative right.

But the trouble with Balkin's view is that he too is guilty of imagining a past that did not exist. For instance, to describe the struggle for racial equality as purely "liberal and egalitarian" ignores the fact that the avowedly "liberal and egalitarian" Progressive movement of the late-19th and early-20th centuries was largely hostile or indifferent to the plight of African Americans. Indeed, throughout the era of Jim Crow, Progressive egalitarianism went hand-in-hand with white supremacy at all levels of government. In effect, those Progressives wanted a welfare state for whites only. And for the most part they got what they wanted.

At the same time, classical liberalism—which ranks individualism above egalitarianism—was undeniably a guiding light for many prominent civil rights leaders, including Frederick Douglass, NAACP co-founder Moorfield Storey, and the indomitable Mississippi freedom fighter T.R.M. Howard. Such figures—whose views on issues such as property rights and armed self-defense now sound downright libertarian—simply do not conform to Balkin's tidy tale of left-wing uplift.

Meanwhile, in terms of women's rights, the senator who introduced the legislation (originally drafted by Susan B. Anthony) that became the Nineteenth Amendment, which established female suffrage, was none other than future Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland. In the 1930s, Sutherland would be denounced by the left as one of the Supreme Court's "Four Horsemen," the pejorative given to the four-member bloc of justices who regularly voted against Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. To say the least, Sutherland's record also refuses to fit comfortably inside Balkin's tale.

In truth, the American constitutional tradition contains liberal, conservative, and libertarian elements. Balkin's error lies in trying to shoehorn the whole thing into his preferred progressive narrative.

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Salvador Dali's Unapologetic Love of Commerce

"Selling Out with Salvador Dali," produced by Paul Feine. Approximately 4:30 minutes.

Original release date was July 16, 2014. The original writeup is below.

Salvador Dali attained international acclaim as a young artist in the 1930s. In 1933, curator Dawn Ames described Dali as "surrealism's most exotic and prominent figure." Surrealist poet Andre Breton wrote that Dali's name was "synonymous with revelation in the resplendent sense of the word." In 1936, Dali made the cover of Time magazine.

Dali didn't simply sit back and enjoy the acclaim. He exploited it. Dali was a shameless self-promoter and admitted to having a "pure, vertical, mystical, gothic love of cash." Ultimately, it was Dali's unapologetic drive for fame and fortune that proved to be too surreal for the Surrealists. Andre Breton, whose opinion of Dali soured over time, created an anagram of Dali's name: Avida Dollars ("greedy for money"). Breton and the other Surrealists, many of whom were closely allied with the French Communist Party, expelled Dali from their group in 1939. Dali responded, "I myself am surrealism."

Over the next several decades, Dali became increasingly flamboyant and controversial. He arrived at a lecture in Paris in a Rolls Royce filled with cauliflower. He did commercials for Alka-Seltzer and chocolate bars. He was thrilled when Sears sold his prints to the masses. He signed sheets of blank lithograph paper and sold them for $10 a sheet. As Dali became increasingly popular with the masses, however, his reputation among art critics suffered.

"There was an era when being a successful artist made you suspect, made your art suspect," says Hank Hine, executive director of The Dali Museum. "When I was going through school, we were not shown Dali. He was not part of the canon. Yes, we would buy posters, we could find his images, but largely he was not part of the serious discussion of values, which is what constitutes serious art. I believe that has changed." Others in the art world agree. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's Michael R. Taylor, for example, believes that "Dali should be ranked with Picasso and Matisse as one of the three greatest painters of the 20th century."

Reason TV recently visited The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, to learn more about how Dali the artist embraced the marketplace for art.

Approximately 4:20 minutes. Produced by Paul Feine. Additional camera by Zach Weissmueller. Music by Peter Walker.

Veronique de Rugy on the Crony Capitalist Machine That is the Export-Import Bank

Export Import BankExport Import BankCongress will soon debate the fate of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, an outfit that doles out money to favored corporations and foreign governments. For 80 years, the bank and the crony capitalists it supports have defeated every attempt to shut it down. But, writes Veronique de Rugy in the August/September issue of Reason, that may slowly be changing. In recent months a few Republican lawmakers-including Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Tom McClintock of California, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, and Justin Amash of Michigan, along with Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas-have been working to put an end to the boondoggle.

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Baylen Linnekin On France's Absurd New 'Homemade' Law

ChefJean-Christophe / Wikimedia CommonsFrance’s restaurants and French cooking are under attack. The enemy comes from within—and wears a white hat.

This week, a French food blogger was issued an absurd fine of more than $2,000 for publishing a negative review of a restaurant there.

But it’s the country’s controversial “fait mason” law, which also debuted this week, that best demonstrates the troubled state of the country’s restaurants, writes Baylen Linnekin.

The fait maison law, passed earlier this year, requires all restaurants throughout the country to put the word homemade—“fait maison”—on menus.

So just what constitutes “homemade” under the law? Food may be labeled as fait maison “only when it’s made in-house from fresh ingredients.”

That sounds simple—if costly and pointless. But it’s an annoyingly complex law, according to Linnekin.

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Tonight on The Independents: The Bright Side of Death

Been caught napping. |||What the hell, the news is so bad this week we might as well jump head-first into death. Tonight's theme episode of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, with re-airs three and five hours later) attempts to find the silver lining in the business of dying, or at least to imagine a future in which life-and-death (and post-death) decisions are no longer mangled by the state.

The show begins with Kenyon College Economics Professor David Harrington and Golden Gate Funeral Home Director and Ask the Undertaker star John Beckwith, who will discuss coffin regulations, tissue harvesting, the rise of cremation, and other hot funeral trends. Anti-aging visionary Aubrey De Grey then brings his beard and his wit to explain the whys and why-so-scareds of his death-defying research. Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee talks about the lived experience with dignified-death laws (like in Oregon), and why that isn't "assisted suicide." Then it's obviously time for a game of “Famous Last Words,” featuring as contestants serial ghostwriter (and Reason contributor) Michael Malice and Fox Business Making Money host Charles Payne.

So what happens when you die? We'll let viewers ask blue-eyed priest Father Jonathan Morris whether heaven really is a place where nothing ever happens. Then Malice comes back to talk about the emerging trend of super-duper fun funerals, and the show ends with the co-hosts imagining their own ideal exits from this mortal coil.

Follow The Independents on Facebook at facebook.com/IndependentsFBN, follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN, and click on this page for more video of past segments.

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U.S. Government Creates a Catchy Anti-Immigration Propaganda Song for Central Americans. It's a Hit!

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) has conjured up quite the catchy tune in an effort to dissuade any more immigrants from illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Daily Beast reports that the the CBP commissioned the creation of a song called "La Bestia," or "The Beast," which tells a tale of violence and death set to catchy upbeat music. The beast "refers to the notoriously dangerous freight train upon which thousands of migrants ride from Southern Mexico" to the U.S. border.

And it's a hit, too. People in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador call local radio stations to request the song. It's currently played by 21 radio stations.

Some of the lyrics translated from Spanish:

"Migrants from everywhere, entrenched along the rail ties. Far away from where they come, further away from where they go. They call her the Beast from the South, this wretched train of death. With the devil in the boiler, whistles, roars, twists and turns."

This is not the first time CBP has taken a melodic approach to propaganda. In 2004, the agency created a campaign "to spread awareness about the dangers of the Sonoran desert" though which many would-be migrants must pass. The campaign included distributing a CD of five songs to Mexican radio stations.

The agency recently announced plans to launch a new million-dollar campaign to discourage families from sending their children across the border.

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Overprotective Government, Overweight Kids?

The Round-UpWikimedia Commonsrecent study in the science journal PLOS One found that overprotected kids face a 13 percent greater chance of being obese than other kids, possibly because they aren't allowed to do things like play outside and walk to school:

[T]he evidence suggests that the physical activity of children has declined over time as rates of child overweight and obesity have increased. At the same time, there has been a shift in perceptions of safety for children, even though children arguably face the same or fewer risks today than in previous decades. Parents have become more risk averse and protective over time, and as a result children have enjoyed fewer opportunities for active free play and independent mobility.

The study, which was conducted in Australia, blames helicopter parents. Here in America, helicopter government is also making parents afraid to send their kids outside to play. While examples like Debra Harrell—the mom jailed for letting her 9-year-old play in the park—are rare, in my piece at the Weekly Wonk, I discuss a couple of other cases:

A man in suburban Pittsburgh dropped off his kids, age 6 and 9, at the park while he ran some errands. This sight was so unusual – children playing on their own – that a passerby called 911. The police came and charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment. This happened recently in D.C., too. …[And] One mom got a visit from Child Protective Services because her children were playing in the rain! It has become a radical act to let kids play beyond the living room.

If our cops, courts, and lawmakers absorb helicopter parents' wrongheaded belief that a child outside is a child in danger (even though crime is at a 50-year low), any parent who wants her kids to get some exercise and independence must worry about the possibility that she could be deemed negligent.

free-range-kids

That doesn't mean parents shouldn't let their kids go forth and frolic. It means the government should make it abundantly clear that parents who believe their children are fine outside, unsupervised—the way we were as kids—will not face harassment or charges.


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Water Your Lawn, Pay $500; Don’t Water Your Lawn, Pay $500

wiccked foterwiccked foterCalifornians are in quite a pickle over the drought that's been making the golden state a crispy brown since late last year. And now, different levels of government are guaranteeing to make the crisis even more difficult.

On Tuesday the California Water Resources Control Board announced that beginning August 1 they would begin fining individuals $500 a day for washing cars, hosing sidewalks, or watering lawns.

Also on Tuesday the city of Glendora, California sent a warning to Laura Whitney and Michael Korte: Water your lawn or pay $500.

The Associated Press (AP) explains that the city isn't pleased to see the couple's grass is dead, but it's dead "because of their conservation, which, besides a twice-a-week lawn watering regimen, includes shorter showers and larger loads of laundry." From the report:

"Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green," says the letter, which gives Korte and Whitney 60 days to restore their lawn. …

Local officials say conserving water and maintaining healthy landscaping are not mutually exclusive goals. They caution that even in times of water shortages, residents shouldn't have free rein to drive down property values, and they can use drought-resistant landscaping or turf removal programs to meet local standards.

San Jose MercurySan Jose MercuryHowever, the AP also notes that at least in one case, an Orange County resident "spent more than $600 on the changes as [a local] agency mandated she water and maintain her yard in 'a healthy green condition.'" 

This isn't the first time California's regulations have threatened to make the drought worse. As Reason's Scott Shackford pointed out earlier this year, the push to ban plastic bags (so far unsuccessful statewide, but in effect in plenty of cities) means that people have to buy reusable bags, which they then have to wash, which defeats the push to save water. 

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San Diego Cops Say Detaining, Photographing Strippers Just Part of Their Job

Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club San Diego/FacebookCheetahs Gentlemen's Club San Diego/FacebookSan Diego strippers are suing the city police department after cops allegedly detained them and forced them to pose for semi-nude pictures during routine licensing inspections. The lawsuit—brought by two strip clubs and 30 of their employees—was filed Wednesday and accuses the city's vice squad of violating dancers' Fourth Amendment right to avoid unreasonable search and seizure. 

In March, about 10 officers showed up at Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club "with guns and bulletproof vests," according to the lawsuit. The clubs say officers stuck around for several hours, detaining and photographing strip club employees. "They asked us for our licenses and then took down our Social Security and had us line up in the back of the dressing rooms and take pictures," stripper Katelynn Delorie told local TV station 10News at the time. Another employee said cops asked dancers to remove articles of clothing so they could photograph all of their tattoos. 

The cops, of course, say they were just doing their jobs as prescribed. From the Los Angeles Times

Nude entertainment establishments require a city permit, which gives police the right to make "regular inspections" and requires employees to show their identification cards, according to police spokesman Lt. Kevin Mayer.

Taking photographs of the employees, including of distinctive tattoos, is a routine part of the inspection process, Mayer added. Inspections are meant to deter the employees from engaging in illegal acts.

"The San Diego code mandates we make these inspections," Mayer said. "This is not a criminal matter, this is a regulatory matter."

Do employees at San Diego department stores have to regularly produce ID? Do SoCal Subway cashiers get routinely photographed by cops? What makes working at a strip club such an inherently different proposition that it justifies city officials keeping an ongoing photo database of employees?

Sure, I can see why vice cops might want to regularly visit and photograph semi-nude women, just like Hawaii vice cops want sleeping with prostitutes to be part of their job. But the pretense they've cooked up to do so—strippers are just criminals waiting to happen if not closely monitored—is offensive and lame.

A 2013 "Comic Con promo," according to Cheetah's Facebook pageA 2013 "Comic Con promo," according to Cheetah's Facebook pageSan Diego strippers are all required to get "entertainer's permits" (let's not even get started on that one right now) and the city apparently feels that regularly photographing entertainers—and any distinctive marks or tattoos they have—is just part of the permitting process. If so, that permitting process would seem to be pretty darn unconstitutional. Effectively, it allows cops to carry out a neverending general warrant against strippers. 

In a statement, a San Diego Police Deartment spokesperson said it "is currently conducting an internal investigation into allegations related to recent enforcement at Cheetah's Adult Nightclub" and "will not comment on this on-going internal investigation."

The clubs and women are seeking unspecified damages from the city and the police chief for "emotional distress and pain." Attorney Dan Gilleon told the Los Angeles Times that damages should be sufficient to "punish and to make an example" of the city and Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and to deter others "from engaging in similar conduct."

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Obama Calls for Cease-Fire in Ukraine, Study: Cellphone Driving Ban Doesn't Stop Accidents, Atlantic Coast to Open for Oil Drilling: P.M. Links

  • poniblog-CC-BY-NC-SAponiblog-CC-BY-NC-SAPresident Obama, among other world leaders, has called for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine following the deliberate downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane. Also, the president confirmed that at least one American citizen was on the plane. U.S. military and intelligence reports indicate that rocket-armed separatists were responsible for the attack, and that they trained with the equipment in Russia recently. So, maybe when people call them "pro-Russian," that shouldn't refer to the fact that they're in favor of Russia, but that they're professionals.
  • For the first time in four decades, the Atlantic coast will be open for oil and gas exploration, courtesy a policy change announced by the Interior Department today.
  • Using a cellphone while driving has been banned in California for six years now, but it hasn't shown signs of decreasing accidents.
  • CNN international correspondent Diana Magnay was pulled out of Israel after calling a group of Israelis "scum" on Twitter. To be fair, CNN acknowledges that the group "threatened and harassed" Magnay first.
  • The Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) is engaging in executions, rape, and forced child recruitment, according to a United Nations report, noting that this "may amount to war crimes." Way to take a hard line.
  • Elizabeth Warren made quite a splash at the progressivist Netroots Nation convention in Detroit yesterday. Then someone made a nauseatingly saccharine music video about it. 

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David Harsanyi on Obama's So-Called 'Economic Patriotism'

President Obama is once again appealing to "economic patriotism." There are many reasons to despise this rhetorical construct. Patriotism, after all, is the attachment to one's homeland. If a person not only resists things that are "patriotic" but opposes them, then logic dictates that the person is being unpatriotic.

If you oppose "economic patriotism", the president is really asking one question: Why do you hate America? But Obama's idea of economic patriotism is elastic, writes David Harsanyi. The contours of its philosophy are identical to the president's own left-wing economic policy proposals. 

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Florida City Cops Told Not to Force Women to Shake Their Bras

The lucky ladies of Lakeland, Florida, no longer have to shake their bras when city cops search them thanks to a new policy.

According to the city's chief of police, officers cannot ask women to shake their bras "unless the situation meets strict exceptions." It is not clear what those strict exceptions are.

The policy was changed in response to an incident in which a 29-year-old woman was pulled over by a city cop and searched for drugs

The report from State Attorney Jerry Hill details what happened to driver Zoe Brugger on May 21. Lakeland Police officer Dustin Fetz initially stopped Brugger and her boyfriend, Larry Fields, saying the Toyota they were in had a headlight out.

The investigation revealed that Officer Fetz suspected Brugger might have been carrying drugs, so he asked her to "pull her shirt up, pull her bra out from her breasts, and to shake."

A silent video of the search went viral, and the state attorney said the practice "was demeaning, ineffective and possibly dangerous."

After the initial review of the incident, the officer, Dustin Fetz, was not punished because requiring the woman to shake out her bra "did not violate police search policy or the law."

He did serve a one-day-suspension for "misusing recording equipment because he had his car camera turned on during the incident but not his microphone."

According to the State Attorney's Office report, the officer said having women shake their ta-tas "is a known technique that is used by some LPD officers" but they were never "formally being trained to do this."

Lakeland police are also now required to use an officer of the same gender to conduct body searches unless extreme circumstances exist. 

Those circumstances are:

- The suspect is thought to be carrying a weapon.

- The suspect is thought to be an immediate flight risk.

- The circumstances put the officer's safety at risk.

The city paid Brugger a settlement of $25,000.

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Elizabeth Warren, Hypocrite, Supports Ex-Im Bank

Elizabeth WarrenTwp / Wikimedia CommonsMassachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren—a leading progressive populist, possible Democratic presidential candidate, self-proclaimed champion of the poor, and enemy of greedy corporations (not really, as you will see)—supports the Export-Import Bank.

That's right: The woman best known for demonizing big businesses nevertheless wants to maintain an outlandishly generous subsidy package for them.

Warren's support for Ex-Im was revealed Friday after the Heritage Foundation reached out to her regarding a possible partnership on the issue. Libertarians and Tea Party conservatives are noted opponents of the subsidy, which they see as crony capitalism that helps politically-connected businesses cheat the free market. Liberty-inclined Republicans are working with the left on a host of issues, including NSA spying and marijuana legalization—why not make common cause with Warren on corporatism as well?

Looks like the joke is on Heritage. From Bloomberg:

“Senator Warren believes that the Export-Import Bank helps create American jobs and spur economic growth, but recognizes that there is room for improvement in the bank’s operations,” Warren spokesman Lacey Rose tells us in an e-mail. “She looks forward to reviewing re-authorization legislation if and when it is introduced.”

The irony of Warren rejecting an offer from the right to fight Ex-Im together was not lost on The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney:

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren loves to shoot barbs at Wall Street. She also enjoys forcing taxpayers to absorb Wall Street's risks while the banks pocket the profits.

... At Ex-Im's annual conference, one Wall Streeter described Ex-Im's loan guarantees to me as "free money." Is Elizabeth Warren really fine with free money to Wall Street?

Warren was in Detroit on Friday morning speaking at Netroots Nation 2014, where unaffiliated activists waved signs and led chants urging her to run for president. They even filmed this cringe-inducing music video (you can watch it here, but fair warning: you will beg for death before the end). Here are some of the lyrics:

Americans want our next president to be a woman. Hey babe, here's looking at you Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The planet is warming and the power is shifting. We need a leader who won't stand for all the corporate bullshit the lobby's grifting.

People think the system is rigged because it is. And it's time that we stand up. We need a leader who won't stand for all the corporate bullies and political phonies.

If they knew Warren supported Ex-Im, would they admit that she is a political phony who absolutely stands for all the corporate bullies? Yeah, I doubt it.

Thankfully, there are some politicians who do stand up to corporate bullies. Check out Reason TV's interview with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on his opposition to the Ex-Im Bank.

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Organic Crops Do Not Really Offer More Health Benefits

Fruits and VegetablesHarvardThe believers in the organic religion had a heyday earlier this week when a bunch of organic farming researchers published an article in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) that found, (gasp), that organic crops are more nutritious than conventional crops. Specifically, the researchers put together an meta-analysis of 343 studies that in some way related to the nutritional aspects of organically and conventionally produced crops. They found...

...organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants, lower concentrations of Cd [cadmium] and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic comparators across regions and production seasons.

Based on these results should you rush out to Whole Foods right now? Probably not.

This meta-analysis was doubtlessly undertaken to counter two earlier meta-analyses that found no signficant nutritional differences between organic and conventional crops. The first was published in 2009 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which reported:

On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced food-stuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

A larger study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2012 found:

The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

So did the new study find anything of consequence with regard to how consuming organic foods affects human health? Not really.

It is possible (probable even) to quibble with how any meta-analysis is put together. For example, the organic researchers in the new BJN study assert:

The main reason for the inability of previous studies to detect composition differences was probably the  highly limited number of studies/data sets available or included in analyses by these authors, which would have decreased the statistical power of the meta-analyses.

Well, maybe. Alan Dangour, a researcher associated with the earlier meta-analyses that found no signficant nutritional differences returns the favor of criticism:

The authors of this new systematic review that primarily aims to identify differences in nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced foods have brought together a large number of studies published over a 20 year period.  The quality of the available data varies greatly and it is therefore very surprising that, in their analysis, the authors decided to include all the data that they found, irrespective of their quality.  In fact the study authors themselves note that there are significant concerns with the consistency and reliability of some of their findings.  Mixing good quality data with bad quality data in this way is highly problematic and significantly weakens confidence in the findings of the current analysis.  It is a shame that greater care was not taken in trying to ensure that the analyses were based only on reliable and scientifically robust data from satisfactory quality studies.

So it goes.

Interestingly, many head-to-head comparisons in which organic crops are grown next to conventional ones find no important differences in nutrition. For example, a 2009 study comparing many of the same anti-oxidant compounds in the BJN study between organic and conventional wheat found "no statistically significant differences between the two farming systems." A 2011 study on tomatoes reported that "organically grown tomato is no more nutritious than conventionally grown tomato when soil fertility is well managed." On the other hand, a same farm study in 2010 did find that "organic management and fertilization have a positive effect on the accumulation of certain beneficial minerals and phenolic compounds in eggplant."

Given these sorts of contradictory findings, it is possible to cherry-pick your way to the results you want. Not that anybody would ever do that.

But let's assume the results are real. Do they have any appreciable health consequences for people? Consider, for example, a 2014 prospective study comparing women who regularly eat organic foods with those who don't that concluded:

In this large prospective study there was little or no decrease in the incidence of cancer associated with consumption of organic food, except possibly for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

A 2011 study of the risks posed by pesticide residues on conventional crops concluded that...

...(1) exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides ... pose negligible risks to consumers, (2) substitution of organic forms of the twelve commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risks....

What about the higher levels of toxic cadmium in conventional crops? Those levels tend to depend on the soils in which crops are grown, not the method of cultivation. The study does not appear to have controlled for such variations. In any case, a 2007 Belgian study found that organic crops can contain higher levels of cadmium than conventional ones.

Finally, the findings on anti-oxidant levels were the chief reason the study got the attention of the media. Do they matter with regard to human health? Charles Benbrook, one of the researchers in the BJN study acknowledges:

Our team, and indeed all four reviews, acknowledges that many questions remain about the bioavailability of plant-based antioxidants, how necessary they are at different life stages, and how inadequate intakes shift the burden of disease. But our view is that the weight of evidence supports linkages between higher antioxidant intakes and improved health outcomes, despite inability to quantity such linkages or predict fully which factors drive them.

Actually, the weight of the evidence strongly indicates that eating 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day - either grown conventionally or organically - provides significant health benefits, including those associated with the consumption of plant-derived anti-oxidant compounds. Interestingly, the BJN study found...

...significantly higher concentrations of total carbohydrates and significantly lower concentrations of proteins, amino acids and fibre in organic crops/crop-based compound foods.

Somewhat amusingly, the authors observe:

The nutritional significance/relevance of slightly lower protein and amino acid concentrations in organic crops to human health is likely to be low, as European and North American diets typically provide sufficient or even excessive amounts of proteins and essential amino acids.

Of course, exactly the same thing can be said with regard to plant anti-oxidants among those Europeans and North Americans who eat their recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables however grown.

Let's conclude with some sage advice from Richard Mithen, research leader of the Food and Health Programme at the Institute of Food Research in Britain:

“The additional cost of organic vegetables to the consumer and the likely reduced consumption would easily offset any marginal increase in nutritional properties, even if they did occur, which I doubt.  To improve public health we need to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables, regardless of how they are produced.”

Big tip of the hat to Brad Plumer over at Vox whose links I shamelessly mined.

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Malaysian Airlines, Ukraine, and The Great American Intervention Machine

I was glad to hear Barack Obama suggest that he needed more information related to the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 before deciding on a cause of action. Perhaps this time, he'll involve Congress and the American people in whatever comes next.

Here's my latest Time.com column, which talks about the need for a serious national conversation about foreign policy.

Even with little in the way of concrete knowledge — much less clear, direct ties to American lives and interests — what might be called the Great U.S. Intervention Machine is already kicking into high gear. This is unfortunate, to say the least.

After a decade-plus of disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people (including almost 7,000 American soldiers) and constitutionally dubious and strategically vague interventions in places such as Libya, it is well past time for American politicians, policymakers, and voters to stage a national conversation about U.S. foreign policy. Instead, elected officials and their advisers are always looking for the next crisis over which to puff up their chests and beat war drums.

And there's this:

When the United States uses its unrivaled military power everywhere and all the time, we end up accomplishing far less than hawks desire. Being everywhere and threatening action all the time dissipates American power rather than concentrates it. Contra John McCain and Hillary Clinton, whatever happened in Ukrainian airspace doesn’t immediately or obviously involve the United States, even with the loss of an American citizen. The reflexive call for action is symptomatic of exactly what we need to stop doing, at least if we want to learn from the past dozen-plus years of our own failures.

President Obama is right to move cautiously regarding a U.S. response. He would be wiser still to use the last years of his presidency to begin the hard work of forging a foreign-policy consensus that all Americans can actually get behind, not just in this situation but in all the others we will surely encounter.

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L.A.'s Outsourced Parking Ticket Appeal System Smacked Down by Courts

Good news for those wanting to challenge parking tickets out of Los Angeles, via L.A. Weekly:

Foter.com CC BY-SAFoter.com CC BY-SA

James Chalfant of Los Angeles Superior Court, ruled tentatively that the city can no longer outsource its appeals review process....That could make it more difficult for the city to reject your objections:...

The judge wrote in his tentative ruling that ... "the statutory scheme requires the City as issuing agency to conduct the initial review, and it may not delegate that task to its processing agency, Xerox."

Xerox itself subcontracts out to a company called PRWT. According to winning plaintiff's lawyer Caleb Marker:

an employee [of PRWT] must review the motorist’s challenge, any evidence, the City’s rules, and render a decision in approximately three minutes or less. More troubling is Plaintiff’s contention that City rules require most initial reviews to be denied absent a few limited circumstances, and that some rules automatically deny the initial challenge, all without regard to evidence that a motorist may submit with the initial review, without ever disclosing to the motorist that his or her evidence was not actually considered. Naturally, most motorists give up and the City, through Xerox, collects millions of dollars.

 Marker told [the Weekly] that he believes the ruling will prevent City Hall from contracting out its review process. "Under the court's ruling the city will be required to start conduct initial reviews itself," he said.

....the judge will likely issue a writ by next month that orders the city to stop this practice....

The attorney believes the decision could apply statewide because it's based on California vehicle code. "We think this ruling has effect across California, not just in L.A.," he told us.

Blogging on a different L.A.-based suit challenging the very constitutionality of aspects of how fees are piled onto parking tickets.

I take you back to the misty glorious days when parking meters themselves were illegal.

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Texas Judge Pleaded to Cop Not to Arrest Her for Alleged DUI, "It’ll ruin my life"

sober as a judgebooking photoOn Saturday night police in McAllen, Texas, pulled over Nora Longoria, an elected appeals court judge. According to police, an officer pulled her over after seeing her Lexus going 69 miles an hour in a 55 mile an hour zone. The officer’s police report says Longoria appeared to be drunk and showed him a badge to tell him she was a judge. He says she failed a field sobriety test when he tried to arrest her and admitted to drinking five beers in the evening but not in the last three hours.

The Valley Morning Star reports:

When the officers told her that she was under arrest, Longoria became distraught and said, “Please let me go home. I live a couple of miles away … you are going to ruin my life. I worked hard for 25 years to be where I am today,” the court document states.

During the exchange of words, Longoria refused to let the officers place the handcuffs on her and told the officers that they would have to drag her to the patrol car. The police officers and the sergeant told the judge that if she kept refusing their orders they would charge her with resisting arrest, at which point she let them place the handcuffs in front of her and they took her to the police station where she refused to take a breathalyzer, court records show.

Longoria was released on her own recognizance the next morning, charged with a misdemeanor. Longoria might consider reading the case to abolish drunk driving laws. Then again, she probably has an election to win again at some point.

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Costs of Health Care Programs and Social Security Poised to Bust the Country

Peter Suderman reported the other day that the federal government's unsustainable spending spree continues apace, with debt expected to continue stacking up, "to a percentage of GDP seen only once before in U.S. history (just after World War II)," in the words of the Congressional Budget Office. The health care component of those expenses is getting the most attention, he noted.

Why is the health care component so talked about? Because health care and Social Security are projected to double in cost as a share of GDP. Let's quote the CBO again:

Federal spending for Social Security and the government’s major health care programs—Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and subsidies for health insurance purchased through the exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act—would rise sharply, to a total of 14 percent of GDP by 2039, twice the 7 percent average seen over the past 40 years. That boost in spending is expected to occur because of the aging of the population, growth in per capita spending on health care, and an expansion of federal health care programs.

Interest payments will also more than double, from 2 percent of GDP to 4.5 percent. By contrast, "total spending on everything other than Social Security, the major health care programs, and net interest payments would decline to 7 percent of GDP by 2039—well below the 11 percent average of the past 40 years."

SpendingCBO

Which is to say that spending on Social Security, Medicare, and other health programs is expanding at a rate that the federal government can't begin to afford. Servicing the resulting debt is also becoming increasingly spendy.

Getting the federal government to live within its means doesn't involve trimming a little fat. It's going to require strictly reining-in and reducing its role.

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Vote to Apply Sentencing Change Retroactively Could Let Nearly Half of Federal Drug War Prisoners Go Free Early

Last April the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved a change to the guidelines federal judges use in selecting penalties for drug offenders, reducing prison terms for about 1,300 defendants a year by an average of 11 months. Today the commission decided to make that change retroactive, which will have a much more dramatic impact. The commission originally estimated that retroactivity would make some 51,000 inmates—more than  half of the drug offenders in federal prison—eligible for sentence reductions averaging 23 months. But because it decided to delay retroactivity by one year, that figure will be reduced to about 46,000, with an average sentence reduction of 25 months. Many prisoners will go home years earlier than expected.

"Today seven people unanimously decided to change the lives of tens of thousands of families whose loved ones were given overly long  drug sentences," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "Making these new guidelines retroactive will offer relief to thousands of people who received overly harsh sentences under the old sentencing guidelines," said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Jesselyn McCurdy, who testified in favor of retroactivity. "This amendment received unanimous support from commissioners because it is a measured approach," said U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris, who chairs the commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety." 

Judges are not obligated to follow the sentencing guidelines, but they do so in 80 percent of cases. The change to the sentencing guidelines approved in April reduced the "base offense level" for about 70 percent of drug defendants by two, shortening the prison term at the lower end of the recommended penalty range. It did not affect mandatory minimum sentences, which are prescribed by statute, and it originally applied only to defendants sentenced on or after November 1, 2014.

Under the "delayed retroactivity" approved by the commission, new sentences will not take effect until November 2015. By then many of the prisoners who could have gone free immediately or within the first year will have completed their original sentences. But according to the commission's calculations, thousands of additional prisoners could be eligible for immediate release at that point. Another 25,000 could be released within the next five years, with the rest, more than 12,000, released "at various times over a period of more than 30 years." Unlike the beneficiaries of the last two major guideline revisions, which focused on crack cocaine offenders, the prisoners affected by today's vote were convicted mainly of crimes involving methamphetamine (28 percent) or cocaine powder (27 percent). Crack accounts for another 19 percent, followed my marijuana (14 percent) and heroin (3 percent).  

Judges are supposed to shorten sentences only for offenders who do not pose a threat to public safety. For those who still worry, the commission has some reassuring information about crack offenders who were released early due to retroactive application of a 2007 amendment to the guidelines: "There is no evidence that offenders whose sentence lengths were reduced pursuant to retroactive application of the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment had higher recidivism rates than a comparison group of crack cocaine offenders who were released before the effective date of the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment and who served their full prison terms."

FAMM notes that the number of people who will be eligible for shorter sentences as a result of today's vote is "the largest number of federal drug prisoners ever to benefit from a guideline amendment being made retroactive." But even with the reductions, they will still end up serving an average of nine years for engaging in consensual transactions that should not be treated as crimes at all. The Smarter Sentencing Act, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last January, would take another bite out of drug penalties, cutting the prison terms for some offenses in half and making statutory reductions in crack sentences retroactive.  

The commission received 65,000 letters urging it to make the guideline change retroactive, including this one from Lauren Galik, director of criminal justice reform at the Reason Foundation, which publishes Reason magazine and Reason.com. You can see a sampling of letters from other supporters of retroactivity, including members of Congress and federal judges, here.

[This post has been updated to reflect revised estimates that take into account the one-year delay in retroactivity.] 

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Adults Who Use E-Cigarettes to Quit Smoking Prefer Supposedly Juvenile Flavors

Vape LoungeVape LoungeThe New York Times reports that "more than 7,000 [e-cigarette] flavors are now available and, by one estimate, nearly 250 more are being introduced every month." Critics often claim this proliferation of flavors shows the industry is targeting children. In my latest Forbes column, I cite new survey data that show the critics are wrong to assume that nontobacco flavors appeal only to kids. Here is how it starts:

At a Senate hearing last month, Jay Rockefeller noted that electronic cigarette fluid is available in a wide variety of flavors—conclusive evidence, to his mind, that e-cigarette companies want to hook children on nicotine. "I am an adult," the West Virginia Democrat said. "Would I be attracted to Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, Vanilla Dreams? No, I wouldn't."

Call it the Rockefeller Rule: If an e-cigarette flavor does not appeal to this particular 77-year-old senator, it could not possibly appeal to anyone older than 17. Rebutting that claim, Jason Healy, founder and president of Blu eCigs, cited a customer survey that found "the average age of a cherry smoker is in the high 40s." Survey results released on Thursday by E-Cigarette Forum, an online gathering spot for vaping enthusiasts, reinforce Healy's point, showing that grownups prefer the flavors that Rockefeller insists are strictly for kids.

Read the whole thing.

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Ronald Bailey on the World of Plenty Ahead

Public DomainPublic DomainFour billion more people than the 7.2 billion now alive could be fed an adequate diet if current crop production devoted to nonfood uses, such as animal feed and biofuels, were switched to direct consumption. This is one the fascinating calculations made in a new article published in Science by a team of researchers led by Paul West, a researcher at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. West and his colleagues are looking for "leverage points" in global agriculture that would reduce humanity's impact on the natural world while at the same time providing more than enough food for the 9 billion or so people who will be alive in 2050.

West and his colleagues acknowledge that more work is needed to figure out how to get best practices that they identified widely adopted. But, as Reason science correspondent Ronald Bailey writes, the prophets of overpopulation doom and imminent global famine will likely once again be disappointed.

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Watch the NYPD Choke a Guy to Death Over Alleged Black Market Cigarettes

The city will get its pound of flesh, either through taxes or other means.Cellphone image via New York Daily NewsEric Garner, 43, said he was just breaking up a fight. New York Police Department officers said he was selling untaxed cigarettes and tried to arrest him. When he refused to cooperate, police jumped on the 400-pound Staten Island man, put him in a chokehold, and forced him to the sidewalk. He complained loudly that he couldn’t breathe as a pack of police kept him held down. Then, according to the police, he went into cardiac arrest and died at Richmond University Medical Center.

The arrest was caught on video and has been posted by New York Daily News, who also spoke to Garner’s wife. She and family members claimed he didn’t have any cigarettes on him at the time of his arrest:

Officials confirmed that NYPD Internal Affairs officers launched an investigation Thursday night.

Records show Garner was due in court in October on three Staten Island cases, including charges of pot possession and possession or selling untaxed cigarettes.

Esaw Garner said her husband was unable to work because he suffered from a host of ailments, including chronic asthma, diabetes and sleep apnea.

Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, 65, added, “I want justice.”

Watch the video here.

Reason writers have repeatedly made note that skyrocketing cigarette taxes have increased the size and scope of the black market for the little cancer sticks. Read about it here.