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Tonight on The Independents: Red Meat Wednesday, With Ron Paul, Nick Gillespie, Dave Barry, Andy Levy, and...John Bolton!

You'll want to hear his answer tonight about publishing a 9/11 Truther. |||The Welch reign of error in the hosting chair ends on tonight's The Independents (9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, on Fox Business Network, with repeats three hours later). But that's not why you want to watch this program. You want to watch this program because it's Red Meat Wednesday, and that means hulking slabs of libertariany goodness, quivering and bleeding right there on the plate.

Like...Ron Paul! The gentleman obstetrician from Texas gives us his take on the Bundy conflict in Nevada, talks about his threat to defy the Internal Revenue Service's orders that his 501(c)4 Campaign For Liberty disclose the names of all its donors, and defends publishing at the Ron Paul Institute website a Paul Craig Roberts essay with this sentence:

The conclusion is increasingly difficult to avoid that elements of the US government blew up three New York skyscrapers in order to destroy Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah and to launch the US on the neoconservatives agenda of US world hegemony.

This picture, from 1977, gets a loving treatment on national television tonight. |||Reason heartthrob Nick Gillespie will be on to slag Enemy of Freedom Michael Bloomberg, who's making news this week by A) announcing a $50 million spend to defeat pro-gun control politicians, and B) giving this quote to The New York Times:

Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: "I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I'm not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It's not even close."

Do he and Ken Burns shop at the same follicle store? |||Best-selling funnyman Dave Barry has given two of the most memorable interviews in Reason history: One to Glenn Garvin in 1994 (sample quote: "I don't have any insight or understanding on anything about the government. All I think is that it's stupid—which is the one perspective that's almost completely lacking in Washington"), and one that was memorable mostly to me because it involved gashing my finger on a Budweiser can and actively sucking up blood while he answered questions. Barry's on to talk about his new book, You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About.

The Party Panel tonight is the odd couple of TV's Andy Levy (Red Eye, super-libertarian) and...former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton! The two will talk (natch) about smoking weed, the New York Police Department's termination of its Muslim-surveillance unit, Rand Paul's foreign policy beliefs, and the big new Al Qaeda party video.

And finally, the lovely and super-chill independent Jedediah Bila—who, it was announced today, will be a regular co-host on a new four-ladies-against-one-dude Fox show called Outnumbered—will share with the class what she's learned this week while subbing in for Kennedy. Who will be back Friday, the end.

Check out The Independents Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and click here for video of past segments.

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Rand Paul: Is Explicitly Threatening Nuclear War Necessary to Run for President?

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) , some say, is crippling his presidential prospects by not loudly announcing that he'd do anything, anyway, anywhere, anytime, to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons:.

Jennifer Rubin at Washington Post thinks the not preannouncing war on Iran thing will be political death for the younger Paul:

No GOP elected leader or 2016 contender would agree with him. In fact, no elected Democrat probably would, either. It has been the position of three presidents that a nuclear-armed Iran is intolerable. It is an existential threat to Israel. It is not simply that it is “not a good idea” for Iran to get the bomb. He is far, far outside the mainstream on this — and far to the left of President Obama.

• Hillary Clinton would eviscerate him on that point and win over a chunk of Republicans.... It reveals that he listens to no competent adviser. No knowledgeable foreign policy adviser would urge him to say such things. 

What it reveals is that so far, Paul is still at least slightly serious about offering a fresh perspective on our willingness to threaten and use mass-murderous force. Whether she's right about the electoral effects remains to be seen. (I'm afraid she might be. Americans don't care much about foreign policy when it isn't hitting them where they live, but can be all too easily roused to bloodlust by politicans and media in the short term.)

Rand Paul himself has tried to defend not letting every foreign threat real or perceived as sufficient to trigger a full-on war, a policy he's been trying to rebrand as a fiscally conservative, constitutional, and sane alternative GOP foreign policy for a while now, apparently with little success with the old school pundit class.

Paul tried to explain his current position at greater length in the Washington Post yesterday.

While many, including me, interpreted his comments before the Heritage Foundation last year, in which he praised George Kennan's attitude toward international communism as a viable foreign policy approach to radical Islam in which words like "contain" and "containment" were often quoted approvingly, as meaning Paul believed it was better to contain a nuclear Iran that start a war over it.

Paul now insists loudly he is not for containment.

Hm. Yet he is also not announcing he is for war. He's promoting pushing mysterious inscrutability as a non-negotiable foreign policy plus, and bringing Ronald Reagan into it to boot. Not terribly satisfying to this libertarian, but at least better than an unequivocal "we will absolutely start a war to stop Iran from getting nukes" statement.

Real foreign policy is made in the middle; with nuance; in the gray area of diplomacy, engagement and reluctantly, if necessary, military action.

If necessary? And when is it necessary? A real presidential candidate, Paul implies, like a gentleman, never tells. Like Kenny Rogers' titular gambler, he will tell us that when it comes to foreign policy, we gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em; but he cannot and will not tell us when that might be.

Daniel Larison on how the real problem Rand Paul faces, if he actually wants to avoid war with Iran, is reframing the debate so people realize that a non-nuclear-weaponed Iran can be achieved with means like negotiation and diplomacy, not necessarily threats and/or war.

Reason on Rand Paul and foreign policy.

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Vermont Poised to Become First State to Demand GMO Labeling

Science in action!credit: rfduck / photo on flickrAnti-GMO fearmongering may have won the day in Vermont. The state’s senate voted 26-2 in favor of legislation demanding labeling of food that contains genetically modified ingredients. The labeling requirement would not go into effect until 2016. The governor has indicated he’s likely to sign the bill, according to the Burlington Free Press. From the newspaper:

Many foods, including an estimated 88 percent of the corn crop in the United States, contain ingredients that have plants or animals that were genetically modified, typically to increase disease resistance or extend shelf life. Opponents argue that the process may be harmful to humans. Supporters contend there is no evidence of that. Sixty countries, including the European Union, require labeling.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, noted as he introduced the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday that questions remain about the safety of the genetically modified foods because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relies on testing done by the food producers rather than independent sources.

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not the sole source of information about genetically modified food, and note the “you can’t prove it’s not harmful” positioning of the argument. There have been plenty of independent studies showing the lack of evidence of any dangers with genetically modified crops. Making note of the labeling requirement in Europe doesn’t counter a report from the European Commission that determined, “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are no more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies.” More recently a study noted the lack of difference between the biochemical makeup of genetically modified and conventionally bred tomatoes, other than the intended changes to the ripening process for the GM version.

The Vermont bill also includes the creation of a fund to pay for the legal bills should food manufacturers sue the state to block it. And they will. The legislation creates significant compliance costs (how appropriate that the Senate worries about being sued but doesn’t worry about those affected by the legislation being sued) and is a deliberate effort to scare people against buying certain goods in the absence of any scientific evidence they should be concerned.  

The House version of the bill (pdf) claims that there “is a lack of consensus” regarding the safety of GMOs, which isn’t really true, and actually claims the labelling requirement will “create additional market opportunities” for foods that aren’t classified as “organic” but nevertheless don’t use genetically modified crops. This is outright saying that this law exists partly for the purpose of shifting consumers from one type of product to another. They know full well it will push some people away from these foods. That is the actual intent of the law. Of course they’re going to get sued.

The Burlington Free Press story also unfortunately highlights a problematic truth about politics and activism and fearmongering. Few outside business and farming interests directly affected by the law care enough to lobby against these labeling mandates. A couple of senators noted that they had negative opinions about the label mandate, but were inundated with calls and emails from fearful constituents to pass it.

Reason’s Science Correspondent Ron Bailey, currently on leave writing a book about, appropriately enough, how science shows life on Earth is getting better, not worse, has written frequently about the anti-scientific opposition to GM foods. Read his February Reason magazine piece about anti-GMO activism in Hawaii here.

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Elizabeth Nolan Brown on America's Prostitution Precrime Laws

Support Monica Jones/FacebookSupport Monica Jones/Facebook

Last year, student and activist Monica Jones was arrested on charges of "manifesting an intent to commit or solicit prostitution." It's a misdemeanor crime in Phoenix, with a minimum penalty of 15 days in jail. What does "manifesting prostitution" look like? According to city code, engaging in conversation with passersby, waving to passing cars, or inquiring whether someone is a cop will do it. 

Phoenix's statute is one of the most broad. But in cities and states around the country, it's illegal to "loiter for the purpose of engaging in prostitution." Elizabeth Nolan Brown explores these laws—which have been struck down as unconstitutional by several state supreme courts—and the way they're enforced. "It is not a violation of the law merely to look like a prostitute might," wrote an Oregon judge overturning a loitering for prostitution conviction. But effectively, in many places, it is. 

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Bloomberg Spends Big on Gun Control, Lavabit Loses Appeal, GM Wants to Bar Lawsuits: P.M. Links

  • Going for "Nanny of the Century"Credit: World Bank Photo Collection / photo on flickrFormer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is going to spend $50 million this year trying to get gun-control supporters to the polls. He’s so humble about his efforts to treat people like children! He told The New York Times in an interview, “If there is a God, when I get to heaven I'm not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It's not even close.”
  • Former Bell, California, City Manager Robert Rizzo was sentenced today to 12 years in prison in the massive corruption scandal where city officials were drawing out exorbitant salaries and misappropriating public funds. This is on top of a federal sentence of 33 months for tax fraud.
  • Edward Snowden’s former email provider, the now defunct Lavabit, lost its appeal against its contempt citation for resisting demands by the feds to hand over encryption data.
  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) destroyed water lines and tanks while it took control of the Bundy family’s property in Nevada last week. However, Fox News reports, the orders authorizing the BLM’s actions only authorize the seizing of cattle, not destroying any structures.
  • GM is going to court to try to bar any recall-related lawsuits from problems before it exited bankruptcy in 2009.
  • A 25-year-old man was arrested and faces felony charges in Boston following a phony bomb scare near the Boston Marathon finish line yesterday evening.

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

The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government

"All of life works on responsibility," says Philip K. Howard. "Everybody listening to this...has achieved what they've achieved in life because they took responsibility to make it happen. Government is no different than that."

In 1995, Howard wrote The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America, kicking off a national conversation about bureaucratic overreach and stupid regulations. In his new book, The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government, he extends and elaborates his analysis. It isn't bureaucratic gridlock or partisan polarization that's keeping Washington in perpetual mismanagement, argues Howard, but a fog of rules and regulations that has made it nearly impossible to figure out who is responsible.

Until civil servants can use common sense and practical judgement, he says, the government won't gain the flexibility needed for solving today's problems.

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With Anti-Personhood Measure, Democrats Prove They Can Pass Pointless Abortion Bills, Too

Nevit Dilmen/WikimediaNevit Dilmen/WikimediaFor years, Republican state legislators have been proposing and pushing pointless abortion measures. I say "pointless" because the bulk of these are rooted not in medical or legal necessity but in some combination of desires to prevent women from getting abortions, to incite culture-war ire, and to force challenges in court.

But why should GOP lawmakers get to have all the fun here? In Colorado, congressional Democrats have introduced a feel-good, do-nothing abortion measure of their own. 

The measure, Senate Bill 175, sounds lovely on the surface. Deemed the "Reproductive Health Freedom Act," it aims to promote "freedom from government interference in an individual's reproductive health decisions." To this aim, no state or locality in Colorado shall pass a policy that "denies or interferes" with such decisions. Additionally, all reproductive health policies must be rooted in "current evidence-based scientific data and medical consensus." 

Though the bill doesn't explicitly say so, it's at least partly a reaction to abortion measures that have passed in other states recently (kinda like the legislative equivalent of a subtweet). In Texas, for instance, women seeking abortions may be required to listen to a fetal heartbeat first, just for funsies. And 12 states require women to view an ultrasound image before the procedure. 

As you might imagine, I'm no fan of these laws, which add burdensome, costly, and medically unnecessary steps to abortion procedures in the name of attempted emotional manipulation. But no one is requiring these steps in Colorado, and no one is suggesting requring them. This is a bill intended to ban the possibility of future bills.

That's a futile endeavor, of course: Were SB 175 to go into law, a future anti-abortion majority in the Colorado legislature could simply repeal it and proceed to pass all the personhood measures it liked. "It's one of the worst bills that I've seen in terms of public policy," Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) told 9 News Colorado. "When the legislature puts something in statute, it's supposed to mean something."

"It doesn't create a crime and it doesn't cost money. What's the point of making this into law?" asked 7NEWS Reporter Marshall Zelinger, displaying a depressing but sadly accurate view of contemporary lawmaking.

Of course, state legislatures are frequently home to symbolic lawmaking. Politicians love to delcare the things they support in ways that can be easily referenced next campaign season. While a waste of time, these things are essentially harmless. But since I frequently complain when Republicans engage in this kind of abortion grandstanding, I figured highlighting this instance of Democrats engaging in similar silliness was only fair. 

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Los Angeles Wants You To Be Its Surveillance Spook

Telegraph screen capTelegraph screen capDo you want to be the Nancy Drew of Venice Beach? Well, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) has a deal for you. The law enforcement agency announced last week the launch of a program to get civilians to crowdsource the county's surveillance.

LASD has since November been working with tech companies Amazon, SendUs, and CitizenGlobal to develop the Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository or "LEEDIR," where people can upload images or video from crime scenes.

At a press conference at the time, then-Sheriff Lee Baca recalled the Boston Bombing. "Law enforcement requested the public to send pictures and video...to the FBI to assist in their investigation. Thousands of valuable pictures and video were sent, however it overwhelmed the service," he said, and that LASD's private sector partners were building LEEDIR to overcome this kind of challenge.

With the service ready to go, Commander Scott Edson said last Thursday, "This is a great opportunity for the public who really wants to catch those guys as badly as any law enforcement agency wants to catch them."

According to Southern California Public Radio, the department's "disaster and recovery response teams" will also utilize LEEDIR.

To be fair, embracing civilian surveillance seems inevitable, given the proliferation cellphones cameras, as well as pragmatic, since it's more reliable than eye witnesses (and sometimes even valuable for catching abusive police.)

However, the LASD's first call to action—not for an earthquake rescue or hunting down terrorists, but finding more underage drinkers to arrest from a wild party last week at a college campus—may be indicative of the way law enforcement will typically use LEEDIR.

At BoingBoing Xeni Jardin warns that "large citizen protests like Occupy Wall Street" could become targets for previously impossible levels of surveillance.

Techdirt's Tim Cushing adds that contrary to official claims, "there's no real way to submit anything anonymously. You aren't required to input your name, but the app itself demands access to GPS data and any other communications-related metadata is likely hoovered up by LEEDIR when images and video are uploaded."

And, while the technology itself is totally neutral, the LASD isn't. They've got a scandalous record that should make anyone wary, and numerous law enforcement agencies have been caught misusing and abusing their access to civilians' data.  

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Clinton Leads Potential GOP Contenders in Early 2016 Polling

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govWe're still six months away from this year’s midterm election. But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start polling the public about potential presidential candidates for the 2016 race.

A McClatchy-Marist poll released yesterday did just that, and the findings are stark but not surprising: Hillary Clinton has a significant lead over any potential Republican challenger.

The former secretary of state rolled up support from majorities of voters when pitted against eight different Republicans. Though Clinton isn’t saying whether she’ll seek the White House, her supporters have been raising money and promoting her candidacy.

The race for the Republican nomination is a free-for-all, with five possible contenders in a virtual tie. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was virtually deadlocked with Clinton as recently as December, has regained some political strength after stumbling early this year but remains far behind the Democrat.

"Hillary Clinton is jogging around the track by herself as far as the Democratic field is concerned. Republicans are all in the starting blocks," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the poll last week.

Like I said, it’s not too early to start polling the contenders. But it is far too early to make much of the results. Presidential polls as this very early stage have essentially no predictive power regarding the final outcome.

Mostly what this tells us, then, is that with more than two years to go, Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady who is widely expected to be the eventual Democratic nominee and ran for the Democratic nomination once before, has much better name recognition than any potential GOP rival at this point. Notably, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who served as the GOP's VP nominee in 2012, fares the best against Clinton. 

But it does suggest one looming challenge for Republicans. Clinton may not go totally uncontested, but if she runs for the nomination, she’ll likely win without a whole lot of effort. That gives her a tremendous early advantage: She won’t have to go through any rough primary battles, won't have to spend much money fighting party rivals, have to make a name for herself with the public. Republicans, by contrast, will have to work to win over the party's base, establish themselves with the larger electorate, and avoid the sort of intramural squabbling that could drag everyone down.

The upsides for Republicans are that Hillary Clinton’s reputation is already pretty well established, and that she won't be able to deviate too much from the Obama administration’s policies or priorities. So if it turns out that voters want something different at that point, she’ll have a hard time changing how they view her. 

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GOP Rhetoric on Immigration in 2016 Will Be Different (and Better) Than it Was in 2012

Credit: Engle Janice, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/wikimediaCredit: Engle Janice, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/wikimediaU.S. News & World Report political reporter Lauren Fox wrote recently wrote an article with the headline "Jeb Bush Won't Be an Outlier on Immigration by 2016." Earlier this month Bush said that illegal immigration is often "an act of love."

While many Republicans may disagree with Bush's assessment, Fox's reporting highlights the reasons why Republican presidential contenders in 2016 may end up adopting less hard-line rhetoric when it comes to immigration than the rhetoric displayed in 2012 and 2011.

Fox quotes Republican strategist Lionel Sosa, who said that Republican 2016 contenders need to take Bush's lead on immigration:

"They should be taking Jeb’s lead if they want to win in 2016,” says Lionel Sosa, a Republican strategist who has worked on Latino outreach for a series of presidential campaigns. “I just don’t know if we will see the Republican environment changing in the immediate future. We may need to lose another election to get it."

In 2012 Mitt Romney received only 27 percent of the Latino vote.

Another Republican strategist quoted by Fox dismisses the idea that Republican 2016 hopefuls will need to move to the right in order to secure the nomination:

"Not only is the primary going to have a different tone in 2015, [but] if Republicans win the Senate, you might even see conservative members leading the charge on immigration reform,” says Alfonso Aguilar, a GOP strategist. “This idea that you have to move to the extreme right on immigration to win the primary in 2016 is bunk and nobody buys it."

Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a possible 2016 contender, has said that Bush "might have been more artful" when discussing immigration and added that "we can’t invite the whole world."

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Knife Control? Canadian Crimes Trigger Fretting Over Blades.

Assailt knifeBerteun/Public DomainOnce upon a time, gun rights advocates warned that when the control freaks were done piling restrictions on firearms, they'd discover that violent crimes failed to evaporate and so next turn their attention to anything sharp or pointy. After all, people have committed mayhem on one another with blades ever since some long ago caveman realized that the sharp piece of flint in his hand looked like a good fit for an annoying neighbor's neck. Well, rest assured that the doomsayers were right: After a couple of nasty stabbings in Canada, knife control is on the radar north of the border.

To their credit, though, many people seem to realize that restrictions on sharp things may be even less enforceable than eternally pointless gun controls.

Knives are already more intrusively regulated than many people realize. As A. Barton Hinkle noted noted earlier this month, "The laws governing knives can be surprisingly restrictive—and in some ways even more restrictive than firearms laws." In his home state of Virginia, concealed carry permits are available for handguns, but not knives.

Knives are one of the world's oldest weapons, and they continue to feature in violent crimes. In 2011, 17.2 percent of American homicides were committed with a "knife or blunt object"—almost as many as were committed with long guns. In Britain and Canada, the number is closer to one-third.

On Tuesday, five people were murdered at a Calgary house party by a knife-wielding man in a crime police call "the worst mass murder in Calgary's history." The same day, four people were stabbed at a mall in Regina, Saskatchewan, and a student was stabbed at an Ontario high school.

Now Canadians are talking about—you guessed it—knife restrictions. Edmonton already considered banning "dangerous knives." Saskatoon discussed the same.

In the U.S., a Pennsylvania high school suffered a horrendous knife attack just last week, leaving 20 people injured. In contrast to Canada, that triggered little, if any, serious discussion of restricting bladed weapons. That may be for the same reasons that derailed the earier Canadian efforts and has some pundits admitting the limits of of any future legislation: Bans and restrictions really don't work, and knives are impossible to regulate.

In 2010, Glen Luther, a law professor at the University of Saskatoon, said about a proposed ban, "How can you ban knives without coming to grips with the fact that they’re used lawfully by people from all walks of life?"

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Entertainment Lawyer of the Year: Music Industry Didn’t See Digital Coming, Should’ve Made a Deal With Napster

listening to 4'33"?kT LindSAy/FoterAttorney Lee Phillips, named Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Beverly Hills Bar Association, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his nearly fifty year career as a music attorney. He told the entertainment industry trade magazine that record companies, in "typical" fashion, didn't see the "digital revolution" coming:

"There are always changes in the record industry," he continues. "Piracy has been around since the cassette, but when labels didn't embrace digital right away, it was too late. I was there at the beginning, representing Real Audio, who hired me to acquire content from the labels, and the negotiations dragged on for almost a year. But music has always been important and will continue to be."

Phillips talked about the music industry's well-publicized early 2000s fight with Napster, the file sharing program that ended up being not an isolated bad actor but the front of a wave of change in the way music and other media are distributed. Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter striking a deal with Napster "might have made more sense" for record labels rather than what they did, campaign to shut it down.

Phillips isn't worried about his business prospects. As artists detach themselves from record labels, demand for his services increase. Phillips also sounds excited about wresting control of copyrights from the record labels, a process called "termination" by which copyright for work reverts to the artist. He's waiting for the first musician that "dares to step forward" to claim ownership of their master records.

Are copyrights for music, though, even necessary in the digital world? Phillips certainly isn't saying so, but does point to developments like corporate sponsorship of artists and artists moving to distribute directly to consumers that might support the case against expansive copyrights.

While from SOPA to CISPA the entertainment industry continues to fight yesterday's battles, Napster and the revolution in distribution that it heralded didn't spell the end of music, as the music industry self-interestedly insisted. A 2011 study, in fact, found that the rise of easy piracy may have in fact increased the quality of music being produced. While that may be somewhat of a subjective conclusion, it was arrived at through fairly objective analysis and calls to question the need for copyright, meant to protect not just creators but the rate of creation, in the first place.

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Will Kathleen Sebelius Run for Senate in Kansas? Don’t Bet on It

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govForget Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary. How does Senator Sebelius sound? The New York Times reports that outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who last week announced her resignation from the cabinet post she has held since 2009, is "considering entreaties from Democrats who want her to run against that old friend, Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas."

I wouldn't expect too much to come of this. The report reads more like the product of wishful thinking on the part of Democratic backers who want to see her run than it does a sign of genuine interest on the part of Sebelius. According to the Times, a handful of Democrats named Sebelius as a potential challenger to Roberts.

But the closest it gets to a commitment from Sebelius herself is basically a whisper. "One person who spoke directly to Ms. Sebelius said that she was thinking about it, but added that it was too soon to say how seriously she was taking the idea."

I doubt she'll think about it for very long. A Senate race would be another tough slog after a rough tenure in the administration. Her reputation was severely tarnished by the botched rollout of Obamacare's exchanges last fall, especially amongst Republicans. And given the state's political leanings, she'd probably need to attract some moderate Republican votes in order to win in November. As Business Insider notes, no Democrat has won a Senate seat in Kansas since 1939, and President Obama won just 38 percent of the vote there in 2012. At the very least, then, she wouldn't be able to campaign as a Democratic partisan with close ties to the White House, which is a problem, because that's what she is.

Yes, Sebelius has had success in Kansas politics before, serving as the state's governor from 2003 to 2009. But she's not very popular there now. In a February poll of Kansas, Public Policy Polling found that if Sebelius were to challenge Roberts, she'd face a 14 point deficit, running at 38 points to his 52. Just 38 percent of the same poll's respondents said they viewed Sebelius favorably; 55 percent said they held an unfavorable opinion of her. 

And then there's the timing issue. Sebelius is expected to stay on as Obama's HHS Secretary until her successor, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, is confirmed. But that probably won't be for another month or two. The deadline to file for the Kansas Senate race is June 2.

It's always possible, I suppose, that Sebelius will decide to run anyway, if only to attract Republican campaign dollars away from other races. But it seems like a long shot at best. As the end of the Times story notes, "friends and Democrats who know her said that they seriously doubted she would follow through and mount a campaign."

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Earth Daze: John Stossel on Environmental Hysteria

USPS/WikimediaUSPS/Wikimedia"The heavens reek, the waters below are foul ... we are in a crisis of survival," said Walter Cronkite, hyping the first Earth Day, back in 1970. But we've survived since then, and most of life got better.

This progress has occurred despite most of the efforts from environmentalists, John Stossel argues. Time and again, environmentalists oppose things most likely to make the world cleaner and safer, and instead persuade politicians to spend billions of dollars on symbolism like "renewable" energy. Environmentalism is now more religion than science, and it even comes with built-in doomsday stories. 

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Heroin Epidemic? Not So Fast, Says Carl Hart

As has been amply covered here at Reason, there has been in recent months a spate of anxious news coverage about an allegedly "staggering" increase in heroin usage. On The Independents last night, Columbia University neuroscientist Carl Hart came on to put these stories in perspective, and debunk heroin's reputation as a uniquely hyper-addictive drug:

Reason on Carl Hart here, including this Reason TV video of a presentation Hart gave last year:

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NYPD Ends Mass Surveillance of Muslims

"They can't call it profiling if we spy on everybody!"J.D. Abolins / photo on flickrThe New York Police Department (NYPD) is finally ending its surveillance program snooping on Muslim communities (both inside New York City and in New Jersey). Their tactics of eavesdropping on conversations and building contacts and keeping information about what Muslim citizens were doing drew controversy and lawsuits but failed to generate a single lead to prevent any sort of terrorist activity. The New York Times reports that William J. Bratton, the new police commissioner, has already shut the unit down and reassigned the detectives involved:

The decision by the nation's largest police force to shutter the controversial surveillance program represents the first sign that William J. Bratton, the department's new commissioner, is backing away from some of the post-9/11 intelligence-gathering practices of his predecessor. The Police Department's tactics, which are the subject of two federal lawsuits, drew criticism from civil rights groups and a senior official with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who said they harmed national security by sowing mistrust for law enforcement in Muslim communities.

To many Muslims, the squad, known as the Demographics Unit, was a sign that the police viewed their every action with suspicion. The police mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals and documenting their lunch-counter conversations.

"The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community," said Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York. "Those documents, they showed where we live. That's the cafe where I eat. That's where I pray. That's where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community."

And, to repeat, uncovered absolutely no terrorist plots whatsoever. The Associated Press exposed the program in 2011 and the coverage was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Journalists Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman wrote a book about the surveillance.

Let's be clear, though: Just because they're going to stop the most intrusive components of engaging in surveillance of student groups and entire mosques, that doesn't really, truly mean the end of ethnic profiling entirely. The New York Times notes:

[T]he Police Department appears to be moving its policies closer to those of the FBI. Both agencies are allowed to use census data, public information and government data to create detailed maps of ethnic communities.

The FBI. is prohibited, however, from eavesdropping on and documenting innocuous conversations that would be protected by the First Amendment. F.B.I. lawyers in New York determined years ago that agents could not receive documents from the Demographics Unit without violating federal rules.

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What's Going on With Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance?

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govEarlier this week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its latest estimate of how much the health law would increase insurance coverage. The CBO estimated that, as a result of Obamacare, 12 million people will be insured this year who otherwise would not have been.

The CBO's estimate comes on the heels of a survey by the RAND Corporation, completed on March 28 of this year, which found that health insurance coverage under Obamacare rose by 9.3 million. 

At first glance, these might not seem to be wildly incompatible. CBO's figure is an estimate for the full year. RAND's figure comes from a survey that goes most of the way through March. In any case, there's going to be some amount of natural variation.

But RAND's survey finds that the vast majority of the increase came via a spike in employer-sponsored insurance; the findings suggest that, perhaps as a result of the health law's coverage mandate, a large number of people obtained employer coverage who did not previously have it. The CBO, in contrast, actually projects a decrease in employer coverage of 2 million by next year, and a further decrease of 7 million the year after that. It's hard to imagine a plausible, realistic scenario in which these two results are compatible.

Was RAND's unusual finding an artifact of fall open enrollment periods for employer coverage, or even just a fluke result? The study had a rather large margin of error, with the topline insurance figure subject to a 3.5 million over or undercount. There are other reasons to wonder about the survey results: Benefits manager Aon Hewitt found recently that there was very little enrollment growth amongst those eligible for employer health plans in the 2014 coverage year.

It's hard to tell what's actually happening here. RAND's survey results don't match up to what almost anyone expected, but unlike the CBO, which is crunching outside data to make a projection, RAND is relying on their own measurements taken on the ground. If RAND is right, though, then Obamacare's effects will look quite different from what anyone assumed, and the exchanges will be much less of a factor than the law's designers planned. I suspect it will be a while before this is all sorted out.

A. Barton Hinkle on the Dumbest Federal Policy You'll Read About Today

Credit: Leo Reynolds / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SACredit: Leo Reynolds / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAIf you are like most people, you probably wonder, "What is the absolutely worst environmental policy on the planet?" A. Barton Hinkle nominates a strong contender for the dubious honors. It's a policy that benefits special interests, raises prices on consumers, and harms the planet. What could be worse?

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NYPD Internal Affairs Chief Warns His Cops About Overtime. What About the Rest of Them?

yo joe!NYPDThe New York Daily News reports an exclusive on a curious memo from the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) chief at the New York Police Department (NYPD). Via the Daily News:

When Internal Affairs gets a tip about police corruption it will often make arrests or execute warrants — then question prisoners about the officer in question.

Reznick believes that too many recent arrests were examples [of] "collars for dollars," as the practice is known within the department.

"The reasons for enforcement were nonsense," the tough-talking Reznick says in a April 8 memo, which was sent out to the commanding officers of six groups within IAB in response to an explanation of recent overtime.

"Don't test me. Most arrests lacked quality and the end result was the same (no intelligence)," according to a copy of the memo that was obtained by the News.

The distinction between prisoners and officers in question indicates it's generally not the cops who are accused of wrongdoing that are arrested but other people involved in the allegations. The New York Post, meanwhile, gets a quote from a "police source" that suggests the memo isn't meant for the IAB officers who received it but for cops who may find themselves in the IAB's crosshairs:

"It really has nothing to do with abusing overtime," said the source. "Bratton is trying to show that he's not in line with the old regime."

Bratton, who served as NYPD commissioner under Rudolph Giuliani (R) before leaving for the Los Angeles Police Department, was appointed police commissioner in New York City once again by Bill De Blasio (D) after he took office as mayor.

Among Bratton's first moves was to sack Charles Campisi, the IAB chief for the last 20 years. The complaints against Campisi included that his bureau focused too much on "petty enforcement," like towing illegally parked police vehicles and trying to prevent NYPD parking placard fraud. A pair of lawsuits were filed against IAB last year by cops who accused the bureau's officers of arbitrary spying, racial discrimination, and sexual impropriety. The bureau's investigation into an off-duty cop beaten into a coma, meanwhile, earned the wrath of the police union.

Reznick, it should be noted, cost the NYPD $280,000 when the city settled a lawsuit with a detective Reznick labeled a "rat." 

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Enough About High Taxes! Let's Talk About Massive Spending!

OECDOECDSo Tax Day has come and gone, except for all of us who have filed extensions or are figuring out how to amend dashed-off returns.

It's useful to document how much we pay in taxes but it's always worth remembering that government spending is only loosely related to how much money a government takes in. For example, in 2009, the United States's tax burden at all levels of government came to just 23.3 percent of GDP. The average for all OECD (or "developed") countries was 33.6 percent.

But as Milton Friedman liked to remind people, the cost of government is best measured not simply by tax levels but by spending levels. And here the data tells a damning story of profligacy. In 2009, OECD data show that the United States came in slightly below average for "general government expenditures as a percentage of GDP." However, when you break that down on a per-capita basis (as is done on the right), a different picture emerges. The U.S. is suddenly among the biggest spenders, shelling out almost $20,000 per person (in 2009 dollars).

Here is something upon which stimulatarians and fiscal hawks might agree: We cannot accurately price the cost of government if we are buying today's services on a super discount. That tank—or mortgage deduction—you're happy to pick up at a 40 percent discount may not seem so necessary if it was actually selling at retail.

Read more here.

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A.M. Links: Almost 300 Missing After South Korea Ferry Capsizes, Census Bureau Changes May Obscure Impact of Obamacare, O'Reilly Thinks Conservatives Won't Watch Colbert on The Late Show

Credit: AZRainman/wikimediaCredit: AZRainman/wikimedia

  • Three people are dead and almost 300 are unaccounted for after a ferry capsized off the coast of South Korea. Most of the passengers onboard were school students.
  • Bill O'Reilly thinks that Stephen Colbert will struggle to get conservatives to watch The Late Show on CBS after he takes over from David Letterman.
  • A column of six armored combat vehicles carrying Russian flags entered a city in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian activists. A man in one of the vehicles said that he and others in the column were Ukrainian soldiers who had defected.
  • Researchers say that the Census Bureau changing the way it calculates how many people have health insurance may obscure the impact of Obamacare. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, Americans increasingly prefer Democrats over Republicans when it comes to health policy.
  • Video has emerged of what appears to be the largest gathering of Al Qaeda in years.
  • Two bags were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, the anniversary of last year's Boston Marathon bombing that left three dead and 264 injured. A 25-year-old man has been charged with disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and possession of a hoax device.

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

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Veronique de Rugy on the Department of Commerce's Favor-Dispensing Machine.

White HouseWhite HouseWhatever the intentions behind the Department of Commerce and its disparate programs, the results are unimpressive at best and wasteful at worst. Veronique de Rugy writes that worse still are the systematic distortions they introduce into the market. Commerce grants and subsidies are nothing more than privileges bestowed to well-connected special interests. In this age of trillion-dollar deficits and public revulsion at crony capitalism, there has never been a better time to shut down the department. And if we have to destroy it piece by piece, the Economic Development Administration is a good place to start.

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Jacob Sullum on Unprincipled Republican Killjoys

Senate Judiciary CommitteeSenate Judiciary CommitteeMike Lee calls for "a new conservative reform agenda" based on "three basic principles," one of which is federalism." The biggest reason the federal government makes too many mistakes is that it makes too many decisions," the Republican senator from Utah explained in a speech at the Heritage Foundation last year. "Most of these are decisions the federal government doesn't have to make—and therefore shouldn't."

So why is Lee co-sponsoring a bill introduced last month that would ban online gambling throughout the country, instead of letting each state decide whether to allow Internet-assisted poker? Jacob Sullum says the contradiction illustrates one reason the GOP seems destined for permanent minority status: Too many of its members are unprincipled killjoys who do not understand that federalism requires tolerance of diversity.

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Brickbat: All This Science I Don't Understand

The Los Angeles Unified School District has suspended high school teacher Greg Schiller because the science projects two of his students were working on looked dangerous. The two projects, which officials describe as "imitation weapons," are designed to shoot small projectiles. Schiller teaches several classes, including two Advance Placement courses. He'd been sending in lesson plans to a substitute, but school officials ordered him to stop because it violated his suspension. He was also coach of the fencing team, which can no longer practice or compete because no one is there to supervise them.

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Tonight on The Independents: (Un)happy Tax Day, With John Stossel, Gavin McInnes, Sherrod Small, Dr. Carl Hart, Philip Howard, Plus a Woman Who Renounced Her U.S. Citizenship Rather Than Comply With FATCA

Happy Tax Day, humans! |||Tonight's live episode of The Independents (9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, on Fox Business Network, with repeats three hours later) will, like last night's, feature as fill-in host yours truly. As a result, like last night's, tonight's associated blog post will be brief. Oh–go to Facebook to decide what we're talking about in our second panel with Gavin McInnes and Sherrod Small: That new immigration study, or the standoff in Nevada.

Basically, we'll be kicking off the show with an extended slam on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, which fills me with a very special rage. Coming on will be Trisha Moon, a resident of Canada who tore up her citizenship because of the damn-fool law.

John Stossel will talk about Tax Day and Earth Day, Dr. Carl Hart will talk about the alleged heroin epidemic, Philip Howard will talk about deadbeat laws, and the aftershow is destined to be a delightful trainwreck. Go to foxbusiness.com/independents at 10 p.m. sharp, find us on Facebook at facebook.com/IndependentsFBN, on Twitter @ independentsFBN, and click on this page for video of past segments.

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