June 10th, 2014

Brickbat: Do No Harm


The family of 80-year-old Shedrick Morris is angry that the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center released him sometime between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. without telling them. Morris, who relatives say has memory loss, was taken to the hospital by ambulance just a few hours earlier after complaining of chest pain. Relatives say police later found him wandering off of hospital property. A hospital spokesman says they thought he had a ride waiting on him.

Shikha Dalmia on Fading Anti-Immigrant Fervor


London UndergroundThe immigration wave of the last decade is making people in England more racist, according to a sensational new poll. If this were true, it would indeed be very bad news for those, like me, who favor less restrictionism and freer cross-border flows. Fortunately, it is not true. Indeed, if anything, widespread anti-immigrant sentiment is destined to become a relic of the past.

On the whole, writes Shikha Dalmia, emerging trends suggest that John Lennon might have been more right than wrong: A relatively borderless world that allows free movement of people will also be more—not less—tolerant. Why? Because contact with immigrants humanizes them, making it harder to scapegoat them for existential anxieties created by a fast-changing world.

View this article.

A.M. Links: Snowden Reportedly in Plea Talks, Bergdahl Fallout Keeps Growing, Friendly Fire Kills Fi


  • The fallout from the controversial Bergdahl prisoner swap continues to grow this week as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle sharply criticize the White House for failing to brief Congress on its plan to trade five Taliban fighters held at Guantanamo for captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
  • Five U.S. troops were killed on Monday in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.
  • Insurgents have taken control of key areas of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq.
  • Hillary Clinton's new memoir Hard Choices hits the shelves today. Critics have described the book as a "low-salt, low-fat, low-calorie offering" and a "newsless snore."
  • "During the Obama administration, according to the Pentagon, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft."

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Local Governments Are Going After Ride Services Like Uber & Lyft to Help Politically Connected B


Over at USA Today, Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. The Instapundit) provides a primer about "regulatory capture" and crony capitalism. He explains that the real reason local governments all over the place are going after new ride services such as Uber and Lyft.

Taxi commissions in cities from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. ostensibly work to regulate providers in the name of public safety. Commissions are there to make sure cab drivers are properly licensed, that the cabs are safe, etc., right?

In reality, regulators are often (always?) "captured" by the very business interests they are supposed to supervise and end up doing the bidding of existing business interests even when that screws customers or potentially innovative ways to deliver services.

Regulators — and the industries they protect — will try to tell you that all this regulation is in service of consumer protection. Why, if you use an unlicensed, unregulated car service, you might be robbed, raped or overcharged! As if those kinds of things never happen in ordinary cabs or limos. (Actually, I think services like Uber and Lyft are actually safer, since they keep a clear record of when, where, and by whom riders are picked up, and track the cars involved.)

The truth is that although occupational regulation is usually presented as a protection for consumers, it's usually demanded by the regulated industries themselves, and not by consumers at all. That's not surprising, because it's usually the regulated industries and the well-off people controlling them who benefit. In Chicago, a taxi medallion (license) costs $360,000 while the actual drivers — employed by the medallion owner — can earn less than minimum wage. And consumers pay higher taxi rates because of reduced competition.

Whole thing here.


This dynamic will not be new to readers of Reason or fans of public-choice economics (or of the socialist historian Gabriel Kolko, who famously argued that railroad "robber barons" approved of the Progressive regulation of their industry as a way of maintaining the lucrative-to-them status quo).

But the idea that regulators are often in cahoots with their regulatees needs more press. It helps to explain why so many regulations fail to achieve their stated goals and also provides a potent argument against the idea that every industry needs more and more rules that will make things safe, fair, and effective. 

As Milton Friedman told Reason's Tibor Machan in 1974:

The case for free enterprise, for competition, is that it’s the only system that will keep the capitalists from having too much power. There’s the old saying, “If you want to catch a thief, set a thief to catch him.” The virtue of free enterprise capitalism is that it sets one businessman against another and it’s a most effective device for control.

Keep that in mind next time you hear somebody saying that Amazon is beating up on poor, multi-national book publishing conglomerates that want YOU, dear reader, to pay more for books.

Here's a great vid from Reason TV on Washington, D.C.'s war on Uber:

Why’s This Sheriff Need an MRAP? Because the U.S. ‘Is a War Zone’


Ah, the Heartland. Amber waves of grain, apple pie, and mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. After all, assures Pulaski County Sheriff Michael Gayer, "the United States of America has become a war zone."

In case you couldn't hear him over all that shelling, the sheriff of a safe, rural, 13,000-person county needs a 60,000-lbs vehicle designed to weather asymmetrical attacks inflicted by Iraqis with roadside bombs because "it's a lot more intimidating than a Dodge." That's what protecting and serving is all about, right? Gayer goes on:

There's violence in the workplace, there's violence in schools and there's violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that's what I'm going to do.

Or, as the Indianapolis Star explains, "agencies with small budgets [are] turning to military surplus equipment to take advantage of bargains" on things like MRAPs, which proved to be too top heavy for the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan, and are now being sold cheaply or scrapped. That makes a little more sense, since violent crime in the U.S. has dropped to a 40-year low.

The Star describes Gayer as one of Indiana's "most prolific applicants for military surplus items." He's got so much winter warfare camouflage and night vision shit, you'd think Pulaski County was living out Red Dawn.

But what if Gayer and his men are busy doing boring, normal cop stuff when Grenada takes its revenge? Don't worry, as the Star documents, a bunch of other counties in Indiana have been collecting their own MRAPs and other toys.

Check out this Johnson County officer looking like a total warrior, driving his battle-mobile through the deadly combat zone that is rural Indiana. Are those Chechen mercenaries behind the corn stalks? 

Robot Cars Are a Moral Imperative


google carSo tweeted tech venture capitalist Marc Andreessen after the crash that injured and killed comedians traveling on a New Jersey highway with Saturday Night Live star Tracy Morgan earlier this week. More than 90 percent of all traffic accidents are the result of human error. The New York Times is reporting the recent findings by Virginia Tech researchers who are estimating how many fewer deaths and accidents would occur with enhanced driving technologies. From the Times:

But two studies by researchers at Virginia Tech — H. Clay Gabler, a professor of biomedical engineering, and Kristofer D. Kusano, a research associate — suggest how much safer robot cars might be. They found that even cars that are not fully autonomous but which automate some of the most dangerous aspects of driving could have as big an effect as seatbelts have had...

They found that lane-departure warning systems would have prevented 30.3 percent of the crashes caused by lane drifting, and 25.8 percent of the injuries. Rear-end and collision warning systems and automatic braking would have prevented only 3.2 percent to 7.7 percent of crashes, but would have reduced their severity. The number of people injured or killed would have declined in the range of 29 to 50 percent, the researchers concluded.

By comparison, seatbelts have reduced injuries and fatalities by about 50 percent, and are considered the most beneficial auto safety measure of all time, Mr. Gabler said.

In 2012, more than 33,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in the United States. In April, the free-market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute issued a report reviewing the effects that regulation might have on the introduction of self-driving vehicles and warned:

Policy makers must remember that their actions can produce harm. If automated vehicles are demonstrated to be significantly safer than manually driven vehicles, any misstep, convoluted law, or rule that leads to unnecessary higher costs or delays translates to increased injury and death.

The next generation will be shocked at the carnage that we tolerated during the primitive era in which people were actually allowed to drive themselves down highways.

Slender Man Now Linked to Ludicrous Media Hysteria


I swear this is an actual headline:

I spotted that on the website of KMJ, a Fresno radio operation, but the article is circulating far more widely, since it's syndicated by ABC News. (And yes, it was ABC that provided the headline.) Here's the lede:

How do you stay so slender?A fictional horror creature popularized by Internet memes is now linked to three violent crimes.

A week after two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls allegedly stabbed their friend 19 times to honor Slender Man, more real-life connections to the spooky character are emerging.

A man accused of killing two cops and a civilian before committing suicide with his wife in Las Vegas on Sunday often dressed up in costume as Slender Man, a neighbor told KTNV.

And a Cincinnati mom told WLWT she thinks her daughter may have been inspired by Slender Man when she attacked her with a knife in their kitchen, wearing a hood and white mask.

At that point the piece calms down a bit with some quotes from Andrew Peck, a folklorist who's less prone to panicky language. Sadly, not all the coverage since last week's stabbing has had the benefit of Peck's pacifying influence. As Bryan Alexander writes at Infocult, this has become

a fearsome digital media story. Slenderman is a "demon creature" spawned by the internet, according to the Associated Press. An Australian site refers to "an internet horror-cult that almost caused a killing." That's probably the most extreme statement. Fox News dwells on the "internet monster". For NBC and the LA Times the internet meme "inspired" the stabbings....eCanada Now wades in further: "the girls in question became convinced the stories of Slenderman were true and were prepared to make a blood sacrifice of their friend in order to become proxies for the creepy thin man. Their plight is raising concerns about the impact of websites such as creepypasta.com which are the principal sources for information on the paranormal."

For the record: Creepypasta.com hosts horror fiction. Saying it's one of the "principal sources for information on the paranormal" is like calling H.P. Lovecraft the nation's leading authority on the occult.

Granted, the boundary between alleged fact and overt fiction can get pretty hazy sometimes. Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes how one local TV station covered the Wisconsin stabbing:

on "Studio A" on WITI, [Ted Perry] said the story will "chill you to the bone." But he probably wished he could take back speculation about whether Slender Man "really exists or not, I'm not sure at this point."

If you're not familiar with the Slender Man mythos, you should read Scott Shackford's Reason piece about it, published in the innocent days of 2013, before the monster came to life and started killing people became a media sensation. And be sure to check out the rest of Alexander's Infocult post, which explores how the character's roots in Web-based storytelling give him a particularly creepy feel. "These exist in a deeply social environment, getting shared, remixed, embedded, commented upon, edited, and spread around again," he writes. "There are no clear boundaries around the tale, as there would be for, say, a Hollywood movie or a novel, making the mythos more mysterious. Users participate in many ways, which is how myths and folklore have always spread. The digital architecture speeds up this process and renders both process and results far more accessible than oral stoytelling does. The internet platform or style which made the mythos successful also makes an anti-technology backlash more likely."

Finally, here's an argument that Slender Man has just been misunderstood:

Obama: We Have to Do Something About Student Debt and This Is Something


ObamaPresident Obama, keenly aware that he has to keep millennials on his side to prevent the Democrats from getting trounced at the polls in November, wants to confront the student loan crisis. But the current mess is itself the product of bad incentives engineered by government planning. Obama’s approach won’t plug the trillion–dollar debt sinkhole, and the one favored by Senate Democrats may worsen it.

Obama signed an executive order on Monday increasing the number of debtors who will be allowed to repay their federal Stafford student loans under more lenient circumstances. More borrowers can now enroll in a plan that obligates them to pay only 10 percent of their income every month as they work off their debts. After 20 years, the government writes off their debts entirely (or after just 10 years, if the borrower is working in the all-important field of public or government service).

Previously, only those who borrowed loans after 2007 were eligible for the repayment plan. It is now available to everyone.

The president also endorsed a bill sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), that would allow students to refinance their loans at lower interest rates. He called her proposal a "no-brainer."

"I'm only here because this country gave me a chance through education," Obama said. "We are here today because we believe that in America, no hard-working young person should be priced out of a higher education."

That’s a nice sentiment, albeit one that is completely at odds with what Warren’s bill actually does. When federal lawmakers forgives debts—in part or in whole—they reward students who borrowed recklessly.

They also incentivize universities to raise tuition prices. College administrators know that they can get away with demanding more money, because students will take out more loans, confident that the government will bail them out if they run into trouble—and the government will stick the taxpayers with the bill if the students aren’t able to pay.

Or, as the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey put it:

Making student loans cheaper, which includes indicating that Washington will always soften your loan terms if politically possible, mainly encourages students to demand more stuff, and colleges to charge more. They’re called "perverse incentives."

Keep in mind that public universities have shown zero interest in controlling their costs: Every year, they hire more administrators and build fancier dormitories and sports stadiums. But students will pay whatever they are asked to pay. They may never find jobs, but as long as they commit to decades of public service, their debts will eventually fall to someone everyone else.

This is what results from tackling college costs on the back end, rather than upfront. But, as seems to be the case with a chief executive who promised a "year of action" in 2014, the government just needs to look like it is doing something, even if that something is remarkably shortsighted and contributing to the very problem it intends to solve.

Something is always better than nothing, right?

Greg Beato on Creating Cash Awards for Safer Highs


"Dream with me for a moment," psychopharmacologist Ronald K. Siegel wrote in his 1989 magnum opus, Intoxication. "What would be wrong if we had perfectly safe intoxicants?" In Siegel's estimation, the desire to alter one's consciousness is a "fourth drive," a "natural part of our biology" that influences human behavior as much as hunger, thirst, and sex.

And if we can't suppress our desire to get high any more effectively than we can suppress our desire for breakfast, we should be trying to develop the safest intoxicants possible, Greg Beato argues. Imagine if, instead of trying to thwart the entrepreneurs behind products like "Bomb Marley Jungle Juice" and "AK-47 Cherry Popper," the federal government tried to actively incentivize them, by offering a billion-dollar prize to the first manufacturer who successfully produces the kind of safely domesticated mood enhancer that Dr. Siegel envisioned 25 years ago. 

View this article.

Supreme Court Rules Against Immigrant Children Who ‘Age Out’ During Visa Process


U.S. immigration law grants preferential treatment to the foreign relatives of U.S. citizens who are seeking visas. That preferential treatment extends to the children of those relatives. But what happens if the children reach adulthood (turn 21) before the visa process is completed? In a divided ruling issued on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court said federal officials may send those adult children back to the end of the line.

Writing for a plurality in Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, held that federal immigration officials were entitled to deference from the Court in their decision to interpret federal law in such a way that it prevented "aged out" children from "piggy-backing on a parent" in the visa process. Writing separately, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, concurred with that judgment.

In dissent, the unusual alliance of Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, and Stephen Breyer took the opposite view. "As judicious as it can be to defer to administrative agencies, our foremost duty is, and always has been, to give effect to the law as drafted by Congress," Justice Sotomayor wrote for those dissenters. And in her view, Congress plainly intended for "aged out" children to retain their "original priority date" in the visa process.

The decision in Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio is available here.

Vid: Are You Ready for 3D-Printed Pancakes? What We Saw at the Bay Area Maker Faire


"Are You Ready for 3D-Printed Pancakes? What We Saw at the Bay Area Maker Faire" is the latest video from Reason TV. Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

View this article.

Rand Paul: People are Calling for a "Libertarian Moment"


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) explains that the good people of the U.S. are calling out for a "libertarian moment."

His comments came during an address to the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas at the Texas GOP convention here. Liberty, he said, “infuses traditional conservatism with the excitement, the energy, the outreach that we need.” Libertarian views and traditional conservative values complement each other, Paul added.

“The interesting thing about it is, as I go around the country, no matter who I talk to, whether it’s the establishment — the wealthy who support our party sometimes — or the poor, people say it’s time, time for this libertarian moment, this liberty moment,” he said. “It’s no longer something that scares people, it’s what [makes] people say, we can’t run the same-old same-old, we’re not going to win with the same-old, same-old.”

He was speaking to a Republican Liberty Caucus group in Texas, where he talked about his outreach plans for non-traditional Republican types. 

He called for reforming the criminal justice system so it doesn’t disproportionately hit minorities and poor people; school choice; and promoting policies that help economic development in poorer areas.

“You have to show up, you have to show you care, people have to believe that you care and then we’ll win, be the dominant party,” he said. “In Texas you are, but we’re not nationally.”

Whole thing.

He's right that a GOP that becomes libertarian—more socially tolerant and inclusive and actually dedicated to limiting the size, scope, and spending of government—could become the dominant party nationally. It would also be a radically different Republican Party (and a better one).

We've written a thing or two about the Libertarian Moment here at Reason over the years. Though all signs are pointing to a Libertarian Era, amirite?

Another way of talking about this is to say, Libertarianism 3.0, you're ready for your closeup!

Hat tip: Veronique de Rugy

CIA Joins Twitter, Starts Off With a Groaner


everybody loves the cia right?The CIA joined the social media platform Twitter on Friday. It's already racked up 620,000 followers since then. Despite being a spy agency known for following people, it's only "following" 25 accounts on Twitter, mostly other U.S. spy agencies. What's the purpose of the CIA having a Twitter account? Even a spy agency needs to spend some time managing its image. Perhaps the CIA wanted to show off its lighter side. It's first tweet was: "We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet." HAHA, get it? Cuz the CIA is all about being clandestine and not being forthright with the American people.

Twitter, of course, is about neither of those things. Almost every tweet on Twitter is public, available for everyone to see. That model doesn't really lend itself to obfuscation. It lets public figures try to communicate with the public without mediation from mainstream media but the public itself can be just as harsh. A tweet can sometimes be worth a thousand words of controversy, especially for public figures and companies with poor social media management.

So what is the CIA going to do on Twitter? Don't expect it to start following foreign leaders, foreign spy agencies, or even terrorists and terrorist groups it is actively targeting. As you can tell from its first 25 follows, expect the CIA's Twitter account to be a collection of uncomfortable attempts at connecting with the younger generation and cheering on other government agencies; what most government Twitters do.

You can expect the CIA account to be a magnet for trolling too. WikiLeaks is excited about the CIA joining Twitter, tweeting that they looked forward to sharing great classified info about the CIA. It looks like the CIA's social media person (it is a government bureaucracy, it could be a whole unit) saw Wikileaks' tweet. The CIA's second tweet mirrored Wikileaks', saying it looked forward to sharing great unclassified info with its followers. Perhaps the best response to the CIA joining Twitter, and its horrible first attempt at humor, came from the New York Review of Books, which spent the next hour tweeting the CIA's greatest recent hits.

Gene Healy Asks, Who Would Hillary Clinton Bomb?


Judging by the early reviews, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's new memoir, Hard Choices, is a cautious, poll-tested tome, drafted with an eye toward 2016. But she says at least one interesting thing in the book. On her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq War, Secretary Clinton writes: "I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. ... But I still got it wrong." It's strange that she backpedals on this one, says Gene Healy, who highlights the fact that in her long career, Clinton has rarely met a war she didn't like—or a constitutional limit she deems worth respecting.

View this article.

Windsor Mann Says We Should Ignore Michelle Obama


Last month, Michelle Obama took an "unusual" step, The Washington Post reported, "by delivering White House remarks taking issue with makers of frozen pizza and french fries." I'll say. One scours in vain the speeches of Martha Washington and Eleanor Roosevelt for proclamations about pizza, frozen or otherwise. Obama said she spends every waking minute "thinking and worrying" about "our kids." What does she think and worry about? The same thing that all parents think and worry about: the nutritional value of school lunches. Question: Besides her motherhood, in what other way is this woman qualified to oversee, as she put it, a "major transformation of our nation's school-lunch program"? Windsor Mann's answer: Obama has zero qualifications, and so we should ignore her. 

View this article.

Universities Void Freedom of Religious Association in the Name of Tolerance


California State UniversityCampuses want to foster tolerant and inclusive environments, which is why many public universities have decided to restrict the rights of religious students to form their own groups. If that makes no sense to you, keep in mind that college administrators have very curious ideas about what tolerance requires.

At California State University, for instance, students will no longer be able to form groups where membership or leadership is predicated on support for the group's mission. From The New York Times:

At Cal State, the nation's largest university system with nearly 450,000 students on 23 campuses, the chancellor is preparing this summer to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that are refusing to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders. And at Vanderbilt, more than a dozen groups, most of them evangelical but one of them Catholic, have already lost their official standing over the same issue; one Christian group balked after a university official asked the students to cut the words "personal commitment to Jesus Christ" from their list of qualifications for leadership.

At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems. Hillel, the largest Jewish student organization, says some chapters have even elected non-Jews to student boards.

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith—in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

In theory, this could get rather ridiculous. What's to stop a conservative student activist from joining the College Democrats with the explicit goal of tanking the organization? Could the Squirrel Lover's Club be forced to recognize a club president who hates squirrels?

In practice, religious student organizations are the ones hampered by such a policy. As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones put it:

Apparently this was sparked by a court decision that ruled it was OK for public universities to deny recognition to student groups that exclude gays—including Christian groups. I'm fine with that. But requiring Christian groups to allow non-believers to lead Bible studies and prayer services and so forth? That seems pretty extreme. I have to admit that if I were a member of a campus Christian group, I'd have a hard time believing there were no ulterior motives at work here....

I can easily imagine a bunch of campus halfwits who think it would be the funniest joke in the world to join a religious group en masse and then elect an atheist president. These are 19-year-olds we're dealing with, after all.

Defenders of forced inclusion say that the university can't provide official recognition—and the perks that come with it—to any group that practices any form of discrimination, even practical discrimination against members who don't share the group's interests or beliefs.

While students can still form unofficial groups, doing so cuts them off from facilities, funding (most universities require students to pay activities fees and then distribute the money among official groups), table space at recruitment events, and the right to use the university's name in promotional materials.

The policy might seem like a violation of at least the spirit of the U.S. Bill of Rights, which guarantees freedom of assembly, though a sharply divided Supreme Court has held that universities may impose such requirements on officially recognized groups. 

Unfortunately, tolerance at the modern American university is not about allowing people to disagree: It is about prohibiting them from doing anything deemed uncivil by the ones in charge.

NYPD Cop Accused of Rape, Assault, False Arrest—Might Be Gone Already If He Were a College Student


after date with copBronx resident Erica Noonan has filed a $150 million lawsuit against the New York Police Department and Officer Carlos Becker, accusing him of pulling her over because he found her attractive and then pressuring her into a date to help with her DUI arrest. On the date, via the New York Daily News:

Becker ordered Noonan a drink that made her feel groggy, she says.

She woke up in the officer’s bed the next morning with a black eye and almost no memory of the night, according to her lawsuit. Becker, the woman says, told her she had injured herself.

Noonan says Becker used his power and status as a cop to lure her into the romantic rendezvous.

"I am deeply saddened and hurt by the acts of Officer Becker against me," she said. "It is my sincere hope that the NYPD takes measures to ensure that another citizen is not violated, as I was, at the hands of a police officer."

Noonan's lawsuit accuses the officer and the city of excessive force, negligent training, assault, battery, false arrest, rape, libel, malicious prosecution, abuse of authority, harassment and other violations.

Becker also videotaped Noonan's rear end at the precinct after arresting her, but the official misconduct case against him was thrown out. From the Daily News:

Becker was cleared in December of misdemeanor official misconduct in connection with Noonan's arrest when a Bronx judge ruled that the cop's videotaping of the woman's backside was reprehensible but not an unauthorized use of a police function.

The judge said the officer committed several other acts that could have been characterized as misconduct but let Becker walk because Bronx prosecutors had built their case around the filming incident.

As the national conversation on sexual assaults on campus heats up—thanks in part to the Obama Administration encouraging a lower "preponderance of the evidence" standard (basically needing to clear 50-50 on whether someone might be guilty) in sexual assault cases—cases like this illustrate why encouraging a lower burden of proof makes more sense for government employees handed badges and guns and given free range than students on a college campus.

California Court Slams Teacher Privilege in Name of Student Rights in Vergara Decision


Somewhat amazing decision this morning out of California Superior Court in the case of Vergara v. California.

As I reported back in February:

Nine public school students, with the support of the educational rights activist group Students Matter...filed suit in May 2012 against California and several of its educational agencies. As the students’ lawyers stated in a court filing opposed to the defendants’ (failed) motion for summary judgment, the rules they are challenging “prevent California’s school districts from providing even a minimally acceptable education to some of California’s most vulnerable students because they effectively prohibit school districts from prioritizing, or meaningfully considering, the interests of their students when making critical teacher employment decisions.”

And this next part is important: “As a direct result…school districts are forced to place failing teachers—those who are often well known to be either unable or unwilling to perform their jobs in even a minimally satisfactory manner—in classrooms where they perform miserably year after year in teaching California’s students. Students taught by these grossly ineffective teachers are missing out on half or more of the learning that students taught by average teachers receive in a school year, leaving them far behind their peers and placing the quality of the rest of their lives in jeopardy.”

The Superior Court today decided for the students.

Judge Rolf M. Treu reasoned that the challenged teacher rules—regarding permanent employment status, dismissal procedures, and a "last in first out" rule for layoffs—do indeed damage California children's constitutional right (on the state level) to an education. He wrote that the challenged statutes "cause the potential and/or unreasonable exposure of grossly ineffective teachers to all California students" and "to minority and/or low income students in particular, in violation of the equal protection clause of the California constitution."

"Evidence has been elicited in this trial," the Judge writes, "of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience." He was convinced by expert testimony that bad teachers can cause over a million in lifetime earning losses for students, and cost them 9 months of learning per year compared to students with even average teachers. He estimate 2,750 to 8,250 inferior teachers active in California now.

"Plaintiffs have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that that Challenged Statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students."

The decision is stayed for now, pending the appeal by the state.

Students Matter, the activist group who sponsored the suit, announced in a press release today that:

“This is a monumental day for California’s public education system,” said Plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, Theodore J.  Boutrous Jr.  “By striking down these irrational laws, the Court has recognized that all students deserve a quality education.  Today’s ruling is a victory not only for our nine Plaintiffs; it is a victory for students, parents, and teachers across California.”....

During trial, Plaintiffs presented overwhelming evidence that California’s statutes dealing with teacher dismissal and permanent employment impose a real harm on students and their fundamental right to equality in education.  The evidence demonstrated that:

  • Permanent employment is granted in far too little time, resulting in grossly ineffective teachers attaining lifetime job protections;
  • The dismissal statutes are far too costly and time consuming, forcing districts to remain stuck with grossly ineffective teachers; and
  • The quality-blind layoffs resulting from the “Last-in, First-out” (LIFO) statute force districts to fire top teachers and retain ineffective ones.

Importantly, the trial showed that these statutes harm both students and teachers, and that they serve no necessary purpose.

Students and administrators alike cheered this blow to the teachers' position, also from the Students Matter press release:

“This ruling means that kids like me will have a real chance to get a great education and succeed in life,” said Plaintiff, and rising high school freshman, Julia Macias.  “With this case, we have shown that students have a voice and can demand change when we stand together. I am incredibly thankful to the judge for giving me and my fellow Plaintiffs the opportunity to present our case.”

Reacting to the decision, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said:  “This is a truly historic day for our education system.  Today’s decision is a call to action to begin implementing, without delay, the solutions that help address the problems highlighted by the Vergara trial. Every day that these laws remain in effect is an opportunity denied.  It’s unacceptable, and a violation of our education system’s sacred pact with the public.” 

Al Qaeda Splinter Grabs U.S. Humvees, Sends Them to Syria


American Humvees are in the hands of a militant Islamic force following a significant battle in northern Iraq. The vehicles, which the U.S. gave to the government of Iraq to quell insurgencies, have already been taken across the border to bolster the Syrian opposition.

CNN reports that an Al Qaeda breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), emerged victorious after "fighting that began five days ago" and "culminated with the militants taking control of security checkpoints, military bases and a prison" in Iraq's second largest city, Mosul.

"The first US humvees arrive in Syria, in the hands of ISIS. Captured in Mosul today," The Washington Post's Liz Sly tweeted with the picture at right. In an article, she explained that "the speed with which one of Iraq's biggest cities has fallen under militant control is striking and suggests the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces are even more vulnerable than had previously been thought."

Charles Lister of the Doha Brookings Center told Sly:

Washington will be questioning how to move forward in terms of supporting the Iraqi army in its fight against terrorism. Every time ISIS captures territory, it's a reminder that it does so using weapons that have fallen into the hands of the forces the U.S. is trying to counter in the first place.

These development may also affect Congress's consideration of President Barack Obama's already questionable request for a $5 billion fund to support rebel fighters in Syria. 

Over 150 people have been killed and 50,000 have fled in the last few days of ISIS's assault. Iraq Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki today called on Parliament to declare a state of emergency.

Affordable Housing in New York City is 'Very Costly,' Says The New York Times' Josh Barro.


500 West 30th Street. |||

In a column posted over the weekend, The New York Times' Josh Barro wrote about 500 West 30th Street, a luxury building in Manhattan with two-bedroom apartments that go for around $7,272 per month—except for some units that rent for about $780 a month. The reason some lucky tenants get an almost 90 percent discount is that New York City cut a deal with developer Related Companies: In exchange for the right to build a larger building, the firm had to set aside a portion of the units for lower-income tenants at below-market prices. This arrangement is called "inclusionary zoning," and it's a key component of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's push to create about 80,000 new units of "affordable housing" over the next decade.

Barro calculates that Related Companies is providing an implicit subsidy of about $90,000 a year for each of the two-bedroom affordable units, and he writes that one of the "appealing facts about inclusionary zoning" is that "developers pay for it, so there's no direct fiscal cost."

Here Baro is buying into a common fallacy that New York City's real estate industry is all too happy to propagate. In practice, density bonuses are almost always just one component of a rich package of government perks that developers gets in exchange for building affordable housing. Housing lottery winners saving $90,000 a year on their rent have, for the most part, taxpayers to thank.

Let's consider the building Barro focuses on: 500 West 30th Street. According to a recent regulatory filing, Related Companies got three major perks in addition to the right to build a bigger building: a local real estate tax exemption that lasts for 20 years, $10.4 million in equity, and the right to finance the project with $163 million in tax-exempt bonds. These subsidies come through manipulating the tax code, so it's impossible to assign them a precise dollar value—which is one of the most insidious aspects of affordable housing policy. Voters don't get to weigh the benefits of subsidizing apartments in luxury Manhattan buildings against other priorities because the spending is hidden.

500 West 30th Street. |||The $10.4 million in equity came through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, in which state agencies give developers tax credits that they can then turn around and sell to banks in exchange for cash. Banks get to use these credits as a rebate on their federal taxes over the course of a decade. In other words, the money comes from taxes that otherwise would have been collected.

The subsidy that comes in the form of $163 million in tax-exempt financing is also money that otherwise would have been collected if the bonds had been fully taxable, which is impossible to tally. Likewise, you'd need a crystal ball to determine what the city would have made on 500 West 30th if it weren't for the local real estate tax exemption, because all New York City properties are reassessed an annual basis. These subsidies end up being rich enough that Manhattan developers will almost always seize the opportunity to build 80/20 (80 percent market and 20 percent affordable), such as with 500 West 30th Street, even when there's no density increase on the table.

Are your eyes glazing over yet? Keeping all the subsidies arcane and off budget is the foundation of New York City's crony-capitalist housing industry.

I wrote about inclusionary zoning and the city's affordable housing cartel for the New York Daily News last October.

The DEA's 'Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science'


Yesterday I noted the Drug Enforcement Administration's irrational opposition to hemp cultivation, which many countries manage to allow without legalizing marijuana. One of the DEA's main arguments against hemp is that it can be used to conceal marijuana—a fear that makes little sense when you understand that the last thing a marijuana grower wants is to ruin his crop's potency by allowing it to be pollinated by hemp plants. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) reviews five other examples of the DEA's science-defying positions: its decision to ban MDMA, its rejection of three petitions seeking to move marijuana out of the most restrictive schedule of the Controlled Substances Act, and its defense of the federal government's monopoly on the production of cannabis for research.

In 1984, just two years after the DEA became aware that MDMA, a.k.a. Ecstasy, had become popular as a party drug, the agency announced its intent to ban it. That decision became final in 1986, despite the objections of psychiatrists and psychologists (including Nathaniel Branden) who said MDMA had great potential as a psychotherapeutic tool and should either remain unscheduled or be placed in a category less restrictive than Schedule I, a classification that makes all use illegal. DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young agreed, recommending that MDMA be placed in Schedule III. DEA Administrator John Lawn overruled Young, arguing (as the report puts it) that "MDMA need not have caused any actual harm to be placed in Schedule I" because "the potential for abuse was sufficient."

That same year, Young issued another decision that Lawn rejected. In response to a petition that was originally filed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1972, Young recommended that marijuana be moved out of Schedule I, a category supposedly reserved for drugs with a "high potential for abuse" that have "no currently accepted medical use" and are so dangerous that they cannot be used safely, even under medical supervision. Calling marijuana "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man," Young said it did not fit the criteria for Schedule I. After Lawn overrode Young in 1989, the DEA rejected two other rescheduling petitions in 2001 and 2009, based on a loose definition of abuse potential and a strict definition of medical use. Since those terms are not defined by the CSA, the courts have given the agency a great deal of leeway in deciding where marijuana belongs. 

Even as the DEA cites inadequate evidence of marijuana's medical utility as a reason to keep it in Schedule I, it obstructs studies aimed at providing such evidence by restricting the supply of cannabis for research. The only legal source is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is stingy with its stash (unless you are trying to show how dangerous marijuana is) and cannot provide high-quality cannabis or a variety of strains. "No other Schedule I drug is available from only a single governmental source for research purposes," the DPA/MAPS report notes. "The DEA has licensed privately funded manufacturers of methamphetamine, LSD, MDMA, heroin, cocaine, and virtually all other controlled substances."

That situation, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner concluded in a 2007, makes no sense. "NIDA's system for evaluating requests for marijuana has resulted in some researchers who hold DEA registrations and requisite approval from [HHS and FDA] being unable to conduct their research because NIDA has refused to provide them with marijuana," she wrote. "I therefore find that the existing supply is not adequate." Bittner ruled in favor of a MAPS-supported application from University of Massachusetts at Amherst plant scientist Lyle Craker, who wanted permission to grow marijuana for research. Michele Leonhart—the same bureaucrat who rejected the third rescheduling petition, refuses to say whether marijuana is less hazardous than heroin, and views the flying of a hemp flag flew over the Capitol as the low point of her career—overrode Bittner's ruling. Shortly after that decision, which Leonhart made as acting administrator, Barack Obama appointed her to head the agency, a job she retains despite publicly criticizing her boss and resisting his policies.

The DEA does not simply make scientifically dubious decisions against the recommendations of administrative law judges. It takes its own sweet time in doing so:

The DEA took 16 years to issue a final decision to the first marijuana rescheduling petition, five years for the second, and nine years for the third. In two of the three cases, it took multiple lawsuits to force the agency to act. Similarly, in the case of a researcher seeking an independent supply of marijuana for research purposes, it took the DEA 12 years—and another lawsuit—to deny the request.

The agency acts with a lot more alacrity when it wants to ban something, as illustrated by its decision to schedule MDMA. The report notes that the agency moved even faster to ban synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants in response to fears of ersatz pot and "bath salts." Is it possible that the agency in charge of prosecuting the war on drugs harbors a bias in favor of adding chemicals to the list of enemies? 

Based on the DEA's track record of "impeding and rejecting science," DPA and MAPS say "responsibility for determining drug classifications and other health determinations should be completely removed from the DEA and transferred to another agency, perhaps even a non-governmental entity such as the National Academy of Sciences." They add that "the DEA should be ordered to end the federal government's unjustifiable monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana available for federally approved research." While the first reform would require action by Congress, the second could be accomplished unilaterally by a president who supposedly is committed to disentangling science from politics.

Reason TV recently interviewed MAPS President Rick Doblin:

Jim Epstein on the Slow and Glorious Death of America's Worst School System


Camden, New Jersey is the poorest and most dangerous city in America. ||| Blake Bollinger/Creative CommonsCamden, New Jersey's public school system can't be saved—but it is on track to disappear. Every year, more students flee the city's dangerous and dilapidated schools, which spend a staggering $27,500 per pupil, for privately-run public charters that do a much better job at keeping them safe and preparing them for the workforce. In New Jersey, charters siphon money away from the traditional school system, which is one of their best features. Within the next decade, writes Jim Epstein, the Camden school district is on course to enter a death spiral, sending the city the way of New Orleans, which has almost completely replaced its traditional schools with charters.

View this article.

Catlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand Believed in the Objective Value of Cats; House-Training Them, Not So Much.


Ayn Rand on the objective (Objectivist?) value of cats, in a 1966 letter to the editors of Cat Fancy magazine.

Dear Miss Smith,

You ask whether I own cats or simply enjoy them, or both. The answer is: both. I love cats in general and own two in particular.

You ask: “We are assuming that you have an interest in cats, or was your subscription strictly objective?” My subscription was strictly objective because I have an interest in cats. I can demonstrate objectively that cats are of a great value, and the carter issue of Cat Fancy magazine can serve as part of the evidence. (“Objective” does not mean “disinterested” or indifferent; it means corresponding to the facts of reality and applies both to knowledge and to values.)

I subscribed to Cat Fancy primarily for the sake of the picture, and found the charter issue very interesting and enjoyable.

Via A. Barton Hinkle's Twitter feed and Business Insider.

Readers of Anne Heller's excellent Ayn Rand and the World She Made know not only of Miss Rand's predilection for felines but her apparent unwillingness to housetrain successfully. A Random House employee who visited Rand and her husband Frank O'Connor's apartment in New York reported that the couple's "unneutered male cat Frisco" had run of the joint, scratching furniture and "emitting a foul-smelling spray on furniture ands rugs. The stench was terrible and permanent."

Check out Reason TV's Ayn Rand playlist, featuring nearly 20 vids about the life and legacy of the author of Atlas Shrugged.

Virginia County Bans Charity Car Washes


From Boy Scout troops to sorority houses, many a group of would-be do-gooders have embraced the charity car wash. But in Arlington, Virginia, the possibility is no more. There, regulators are cracking down on car washes as part of a plan to limit water pollution.

Kim Coble, vice president of environmental protection and restoration for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told The Washington Post:

"If it was one carwash, we wouldn’t be having a conversation. But for every school group in every school in the entire watershed, that is thousands and thousands of carwashes, and it really is considered a problem."

The silliness stems from statewide stormwater permit rules, which were recently tightened under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From the Post:

Virginia and other states use permitting programs to mitigate the pollution flowing with stormwater into streams and rivers. Local governments, and some school districts, outline their plans for limiting pollution in their permit applications, which must be approved by the state.

The stormwater permits recently became more stringent, in response to Chesapeake Bay clean up requirements that affect the surrounding six states and the District of Columbia. Arlington was the first jurisdiction in Virginia to renew its permit under the tougher regulations last summer, and Arlington Public Schools was granted its own permit for the first time this spring.

Arlington may be the first of its neighbors to do so, but it seems all of Virginia and the surrounding six states face the same new environmental clean up requirements. Boy Scouts up and down the east coast may want to start plotting out other forms of funding field trips now.

I'm not quite sure how individuals coming together in one place to wash cars differs significantly, pollution wise, from folks individually washing cars at home. But perhaps we could just ban all car washing next. 

Eased Teacher Dismissal Puts California on Road to Less Crappy Schools


ClassroomSchool principals are often held accountable for student outcomes, but are limited when it comes down to making one of the most crucial decisions in determining student success—which teacher is in the classroom. Today, L.A. Superior Judge Rolf Treu struck down five teacher protection laws as unconstitutional, a decision which could make California next on a long list of states that have already reformed draconian teacher protection laws.

In the highly publicized California Superior Court case Vergara vs. California, nine public school students challenged several state laws and collective bargaining rules that severely inhibit principals' influence over school personnel, and oftentimes work against the best interest of students.

"School districts, like any other organization, need to be able to manage their workforce in a rational way with a primary focus on putting the highest quality teachers in front of students," said Students Matter attorney Theodore Boutrous during the trial's opening statements.

Under current law, California teachers are eligible for tenure, or permanent employment, after just 16 months on the job. Once granted tenure it is prohibitively costly and time-consuming to fire ineffective teachers in California, which encourages principals to instead shuffle poorly performing teachers to different schools. Usually, schools in low-income neighborhoods with the most disadvantaged students end up with these teachers.

Fortunately, this is not the case in many other parts of the nation. 

Just last year, North Carolina passed legislation that removes teacher tenure in 2018, replacing "career status" with one-, two- or four-year contracts contingent upon performance. Several other states and school districts have adopted employment laws that give principals autonomy over hiring and firing practices while, importantly, providing teachers the opportunity to work with principals on employment arrangements. For instance, instead of having a district office place teachers at schools, Colorado's mutual consent hiring requires that both the teacher and school principal agree that they're a good match. 

Unlike California—which currently doesn't have a process for identifying and excessing bad teachers—in 29 states teachers are held accountable for their performance and classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal. For example, in Florida and Oklahoma teachers are eligible for dismissal after two years of "unsatisfactory performance" rankings on their annual evaluations.

In the case of layoffs, California principals must give the boot to the newest teachers regardless of merit, whereas 22 states mandate seniority cannot be the only factor considered in making layoff decisions. Using a wider range of criteria, including how they perform in the classroom, places a higher value on quality teachers and allows principals to retain the best ones.

Research shows that getting good-quality teachers into all classrooms is the number one school reform we can make. A National Bureau of Economic Research study found that the most effective teachers improve student's long-term outcomes including the likelihood of going to college, earning a higher salary and living in a better neighborhood.

In his testimony last February, Harvard Economist Dr. Raj Chetty told the courts, "If we replace an ineffective teacher with a teacher of average quality the impacts would be on the same order as ending the financial crisis again and again and again, year after year. It would be a dramatic effect on the American economy in the long run."

School leaders need to be empowered to make decisions about school personnel and the Vergara case shines a spotlight on this critical issue. The court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs is a huge win that will finally require California policymakers to reform the state's antiquated teacher protection laws. The Golden State could be the next to join the nationwide movement that gives local control back to schools, and demands all students have access to a quality education.

In Re Domestic Terrorism: 39 Cops Killed by Civilians, 316* Civilians Killed by Cops in 2013


not guiltyThe killing of two police officers and a third person by a couple in Las Vegas has led to renewed interest in demonizing right-wing ideologies based on the actions of isolated extremists. It’s also being used as evidence in favor of extending the “war on terror” to the domestic front, even though the paucity of both domestic and Islamist terrorism in the U.S. would suggest both can safely be treated as law enforcement issues.

As different special interest groups throw out different numbers to push the narrative of an increasingly dangerous America that needs increasingly militarized law enforcement to protect it, here are two numbers to keep in mind:

316. According to this Wikipedia entry, that’s how many civilians were killed by law enforcement in 2013. The list includes a significant number of bona fide criminals. Nevertheless, neither the FBI, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nor any other federal agency track what ought to be an essential number in gauging the state of law enforcement in the U.S. in any given year, so the crowd sourced list on Wikipedia is the most comprehensive one you’ll find of law enforcement casualties.

39. This is the number of cops killed in the line of duty by a civilian, be it by gunfire (30), stabbings (2), or vehicular homicide (7). This represents a bit more than a third of the 105 law enforcement officials who died in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial, which counts officers who died in accidents such as electrocution or from heart attacks as “officers killed.”

Reconciling Robert Heinlein's Ideological Range: A Coherent But Original Writer


Jeet Heer (who is a pal via correspondence and has done me a solid favor or three in the past, for disclosure's sake, as well as an accomplished historian of comics and culture) writes at the New Republic in review of the second volume of the (alas, recently deceased) William Patterson's huge estate-authorized biography of Robert Heinlein. This one is called Robert A. Heinlein, Vol 2: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better.

I wrote a mini-review of volume one for Reason back in 2011. Heer is very dissatisfied with the book, though mostly from the evidence in this review he's to begin with pretty dissatisfied with Heinlein and his work, especially in this later part of his life.

There's a lot to argue with, and even agree with, even for Heinlein devotees, in Heer's review. I'm going to leave alone his low opinion of Heinlein's later more self-indulgent work (which I still enjoyed, though recognizing they were a sort of self-fan-fiction and not for the mundanes) and the extent to which it's fair to judge Heinlein as a writer over how much one agreed with his viewpoints, even when his novels, as Heer justly notes, turned more and more toward exposition of those viewpoints.

I have not yet read volume 2 of Patterson so can't speak to Heer's specific thoughts on the book, except to make a sideways comment that huge biographies written by highly respectful fans of a subject (like Patterson) are bound to disappoint those who are not highly respectful fans (seems to be the case with Heer).

This makes such books disappointing, to be sure, to such an audience, but not necessarily a bad book or a bad (authorized) biography, which have their own known limitations and quirks.

Here's the one point I'm going to engage at length here, from Heer's review:

Heinlein’s books in his right-wing phase hardly add up to a logical worldview. How do we reconcile the savage authoritarianism of Starship Troopers with the peace-and-love mysticism of Stranger in a Strange Land? For that matter, how do those two books jibe to the nearly anarchist libertarianism of the Moon Is a Harsh Mistress? On a more practical plain, how could Heinlein have called for both limited government and a NASA committed to colonizing space (surely a big government program if there ever was one)? TANSTAAFL went out the window when a space or military program caught Heinlein’s fancy.

I'm going to be drawing from observations made in my 2007 Reason feature on Heinlein's centennial, since it focuses on Heinlein's interestingly peculiar, cover-the-waterfront style of libertarianism, which perplexes Heer. 

First, as Heer rightly notes, Heinlein had a solipsistic streak. He was a man in his own universe with his own ideas, not necessarily fitting comfortably into any ideological pigeonhole ready made. He was, at least up until the early '60s, an influence on modern libertarianism, not influenced by it. He was writing stories, like "Coventry," that seemed of the modern libertarian movement before it existed, with its society in which government was freely entered into and restricted only harming others.

Henlein was in his way an innovator and trailblazer, not flying an existing flag. (By Moon is a Harsh Mistress in 1966 he was being influenced by anarcho-libertarian educator Robert LeFevre, also the first libertarian teacher of the Koch brothers. See this blog post by me for Heinlein taking some far out anarcho-notions seriously, but as a storyteller, which he was. One would be wrong to pretend Heinlein wasn't playing with ideas he mostly believed in, but he was always at the same time a storyteller playing with ideas, so taking all the attitudes and stances in his fiction and striving to find light between them isn't necessarily a fair way of judging his mind.

At any rate, he held to no pre-set creed. As Heinlein once said, quoted in my 2007 article, "I'm so much a libertarian that I have no use for the whole libertarian movement." (He also joked that he made Ayn Rand look like a socialist.)

So, he's not going to come across as doctrinaire libertarian, liberal, Americanist, right-winger, or anything. He was sui generis, a Heinleinian, first but influential enough that he won't be last. He also lacked, for example, the economist-libertarians faith in the fecund powers of the free market; as he once told S.F. writer, libertarian, and fan J. Neil Schulman, again quoted in my 2007 article, "I don't think the increase in efficiency on the part of free enterprise is that great," Heinlein said. "The justification for free enterprise is not that it's more efficient, but that it's free."

And one can indeed make coherent sense of what Heer sees as a jumble above.

Heinlein himself, as I quoted him in my 2007 feature, explained precisely, in a letter originally to fellow S.F. great Alfred Bester, the idea that connected Troopers and Stranger:

to Heinlein, these dueling visions-a world of sinister alien bugs fought off by powerfully disciplined soldiers, and a beatific Man from Mars teaching humanity how to love freely-had the same message...: "That a man, to be truly human, must be unhesitatingly willing at all times to lay down his life for his fellow man. Both [novels] are based on the twin concepts of love and duty-and how they are related to the survival of our race."

So Heinlein was less pure ideologue than realist, or what he thought was a realist. He thought there were certain facts of reality about our roles as mammals and families and tribes, and about the harsh violence of both other men and potentially other creatures we might meet in space, that made the military organization in Troopers both necessary, glorious, and conducive to liberty. As Heer knows, a draft was always anathema to him, as was failing to do your duty as man and human. There was no contradiction between the Heinlein of Troopers, Stranger, and Moon: they all dramatized in different situations a coherent vision of a properly free man relating to other men, to government, and to mores in a universe with a specific nature.

As for N.A.S.A. and space travel, Heinlein was, before he was a fan of N.A.S.A., a prophet and advocate of private space travel, from "Man Who Sold the Moon" to Rocket Ship Galileo to the 1950 film he co-wrote, Destination: Moon. (I wrote about that movie in the book Science Fiction Film Reader.) He did believe in TANSTAAFL (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch)—a fact of reality that had moral implications, but not by itself a moral statement one was obligated to try to live by. We all just did live by it, like it or not, know it or not—but it's better to know it.

Heinlein believed, as he wrote in his essay "Spinoffs" reprinted in his book Expanded Universes, that even a government space program more than paid for itself in its spinoff products of technology to make the state money spent on it worth it, to have more than repaid the "free lunch" of government funding. So, no going out the window involved; just a nuanced and, Heinlein thought, scientific judgement of value returned.

You might disagree with him on that, as scientist, economist, or libertarian. But it did not make him a hypocrite or incoherent per se; just someone who wasn't as readily identifiable an ideologue as you might take him for, or as his influence on libertarianism might make you think he was.

How Pot Went Legit: Livestream with Weed Land author Peter Hecht on 6/11 at 7PT/10ET


In the early morning of September 5, 2002, heavily armed Drug Enforcement Administration agents descended on a marijuana garden that served as a medicinal and spiritual refuge for the sick and dying. The controversial raid on the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana kicks off journalist Peter Hecht's new book Weed Land: Inside America's Marijuana Epicenter and How Pot Went Legit, which chronicles a transformative time in American marijuana policy. 

Pulitzer Prize winner Dale Maharidge calls Weed Land “essential reading for anyone who is a fan of California’s most lucrative agricultural product.”

Tune in tomorrow evening for a live discussion of this exciting new book, which examines the latest clinical studies on the medical benefits of cannabis, the exploding marijuana marketplace, and the consequences of a federal crackdown on America’s largest marijuana economy. The interview will stream live from our Los Angeles studio on Reason TV on Wednesday, June 11 at 7PT/10ET. The video will be available below and on the Reason TV YouTube channel. 

We're Too Big and Disorganized to Comply With Court Orders, Says NSA


NSA headquartersYou know what's in the vending machines at the National Security Agency (NSA)? High-octane chutzpah, to judge by a recent court filing. In response to a court order that the spook agency preserve evidence as part of a long-running lawsuit, the NSA's shysters responded with a "so sorry, we're just too big to get with the program."

Just try that at home.

It's all part of the Jewel vs. NSA lawsuit, in which the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represents AT&T customers who want the snoops to stop pawing through their communications. As the EFF puts it, "Evidence in the case includes undisputed documents provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing AT&T has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA."

There's plenty more too, including testimony by NSA whistleblowers.

Apparently finding the claims in the case at least somewhat compelling, the judge ordered the NSA to preserve all relevant evidence.

No can do, says the NSA. The very next day, the NSA's attorneys filed a response complaining, "Assuming that the Court’s June 5, 2014 order requires an immediate halt to destruction of all Section 702 materials, that order creates an extremely significant operational crisis for the National Security Agency."

An extremely significant operational crisis? Do tell.

it may not be possible to comply immediately or in the near term with the Court’s order without shutting down all systems and databases that collect and store Section 702 communications data, which will have enormous adverse consequences for NSA's ability to perform its foreign intelligence mission. In the long term, NSA could not comply with this preservation mandate without violating Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)-ordered minimization procedures that are essential to the program's compliance with statutory and constitutional requirements, and without potentially severe operational difficulties that could jeopardize national security.

Basically, the NSA's argument is that preserving evidence that it is violating people's privacy would violate people's privacy because there's just too much to parse through to make sure the important stuff is preserved. And national security. Did we mention national security? National security.

Cuz we know the NSA just isn't in the business of hoarding and storing massive quantities of information. Uh uh.

"If the NSA does not have to keep evidence of its spying activities, how can a court ever test whether it is in fact complying with the Constitution?," asks Patrick C. Toomey of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He may be on to something there.

The NSA's headquarters, pictured above, actually is very big.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's Losing His Primary: No Politician is Safe! [UPDATE: He Lost!]


UPDATE: From Politico via Drudge, the raw vote totals on David Brat's surprising upset over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, 55.9 to 44.1 right now.


Talking Points Memo is reporting on early, and shocking, exit polls early results from Virginia in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's primary bid:

House Minority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) primary fight looked much more serious than many had thought.

With 52 percent of precincts reporting 41 minutes after polls closed primary challenger David Brat was leading Cantor, 57.9 percent to 42.1 percent.

Who is Brat? He is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College. Brat was regarded as a long shot candidate but Cantor's campaign still spent over $1 million on advertising to stress that the top House Republican is a "strong conservative."

The Washington Post rightly spotted some momentum from the Tea Party-affiliated Brat last month.

It ain't over yet, but no political establishment is safe, it seems.

UPDATE: Associated Press is calling it: Cantor loses!

Interesting money in politics point via Tweet from John M Donnelly of Congressional Quarterly-Roll Call: in official campaign dollars Cantor outspent Brat $5.4 million to $200,000.

UPDATE II: In a positive sign about what one might expect from Brat in at least some respects, see him valorizing Justin Amash and Thomas Massie as the best graded members of the House via an ad from Organize Liberty that he tweeted. (It might have been more about Cantor's bad grade. But still, a nice hat tip to some decent congressmen.)

And as commenter Raven Nation noted below, Brat also has written about Ayn Rand in an academic/scholarly way. (Not sure what he said about her, but he's interested.)

Brat on the issues.

Twitter feed of Zaid Jilani has lots about Brat's campaign manager, Zachary Werrell, who seems to be a libertarian movement-interested fellow of the LewRockwell.com variety--he describes himself as an "Austrian Economics geek" on his TwitterWerrell's LinkedIn.

Tonight on The Independents: Eric Cantor Shocker, Woe in Afghanistan & Iraq, David Boaz


Whoa. |||What the hell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) just got primaried? On tonight's episode of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, repeats three hours later), the great Yahoo News political reporter Chris Moody will come on to make sense out of what few people were predicting until, like, an hour ago. Was it all about "amnesty"? Was it also about crony capitalism, Fannie & Freddie, and TARP? We shall discuss.

The news in places where U.S. soldiers long fought has been terrible today, so radio host and military veteran Bryan Suits will be on to discuss. Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz will analyze Attorney General Eric Holder's recent moves in the direction of sentencing reform for non-violent drug offenders. Bill Gertz is reporting that federal prosecutors are in secret talks with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden over a possible plea deal, so we'll talk about that with Party Panelists Ellis Henican (Newsday columnist) and comedian Jimmy Failla.

Have you seen the year's best campaign commercial?

We'll talk to the star, North Carolina LP Senate nominee Sean Haugh, one of many Libertarians making a surprisingly strong showing in the South this year. And I may talk about the landmark (and sure-to-be-contested) tenure-shredding court decision in California today.

* Aftershow begins on foxbusiness.com/independents should begin a tad after 10; sorry about last night's tech debacle. Follow The Independents on Facebook at facebook.com/IndependentsFBN, follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN, tweet during the show & we’ll use the best of ‘em. Click on this page for more video of past segments.