June 12th, 2014

Brickbat: Are You a Goer? Are You a Sport?


Parents of a girl who attends California's Woodland Park Middle School are upset about one classroom exercise that called on her and other students to stand under signs indicating how far they have gone sexually on a date. The signs read "smiled at, hugged, kissed, above the waist, below the waist, and all the way." The school's principal told a local TV station that they got the idea from a local clinic and have been doing the exercise for several years.

Andrew Napolitano on Rampant Progressivism


The dastardly philosophy of government known as progressivism was brought into the American mainstream 100 years ago by a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, and a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson. Its guiding principle is the belief that government—not individuals—is the chief engine of human progress.

Progressives believe the federal government can regulate any behavior, right any wrong, tax any event, and curtail any freedom, subject only to the express prohibitions in the Constitution. But this view of American government contradicts the Constitution, Andrew Napolitano argues. And with President Obama, most congressional Democrats, and many congressional Republicans these days behaving as ardent progressives, we had better beware. 

View this article.

The Chamber of Commerce vs. Libertarian-Leaning Republicans


Paid for by an a-hole! |||Oh, those libertarians! Always shilling for Big Business! Except, um, when libertarian-leaning Republicans are actually in power, in which case the Chamber of Commerce agitates to replace them with more traditional GOP types. Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz rounds up several examples in this helpful Daily Beast column:

Why, for instance, did big companies spend so much money to defeat a Republican Georgia legislator last month? Apparently Rep. Charles Gregory was just too libertarian for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the companies like Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, Georgia Power, and AT&T, who suddenly set up a the "Georgia Coalition for Job Growth" to oppose him and other tea party legislators. It's not the only example this primary season.

In Kentucky, business leaders lobbied hard though unsuccessfully to persuade Steve Stevens, head of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, to run against Rep. Thomas Massie. Massie, a businessman himself, is a strong fiscal conservative, but some local business leaders don't like what they see as his stand-off approach.

A Washington business consultant has moved to northern California to challenge anti-earmarks Rep. Tom McClintock, because he "thinks representatives should deliver for folks back home," in the words of a local reporter. [...]

In Michigan business leaders are funding financial consultant Brian Ellis’s primary challenge to Rep. Justin Amash. [...]

In an interview with the Weekly Standard, Ellis strikingly dismissed Amash's principled, constitutional stand: "He's got his explanations for why he's voted, but I don't really care. I'm a businessman, I look at the bottom line. If something is unconstitutional, we have a court system that looks at that."

Plenty more at the link. Brian Doherty wrote yesterday about the challenges of making the Republican Party more libertarian.

A.M. Links: Hagel Admits Mistakes Were Made on Berghdahl, Rand Paul Pushing Immigration Reform, N.J.


  • talking about practiceSecretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says mistakes were made in the deal to swap Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Guantanamo detainees.
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is joining the push for conservatives to participate in immigration reform.
  • The gunman who killed two police officers and another person in Las Vegas last night was shot and killed by police, not his partner.
  • New Jersey is offering $82 million in tax credits to get the Philadelphia 76ers to practice in Camden.
  • Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, would like the U.S. to conduct airstrikes against insurgents in the country.
  • Ukraine’s new president says he’s ready to talk to opponents in eastern Ukraine, is pro-Russian separatists lay down their arms.

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Global Temperature Trend Update: Third Warmest May in Satellite Record Might Portend Record-Setting


Global temperaturesEvery month University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report the latest global temperature trends from satellite data. Below are the newest data updated through May 2014:

Global Temperature Report: May 2014

Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.14 C per decade

May temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.33 C (about 0.59 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.33 C (about 0.59 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.33 C (about 0.59 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May.

Tropics: +0.17 C (about 0.31 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May.

Global Temperature Trend

The University of Alabama in Huntsville release comments: 

May 2014 was the third warmest May in the 35-year satellite-measured global temperature record, and the warmest May that wasn’t during an El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. The global average temperature for May was 0.33 C (about 0.59 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than seasonal norms for the month. The warmest May was in 1998, during the “El Niño of the century.” Temperatures in May 1998 were 0.56 C (about 1.0 degrees F) warmer than normal. May 2010 — also an El Niño month — was second warmest at 0.45 C (0.81 degrees F).

While May 2014 was not officially an El Niño month, indications are that an El Niño is forming in the eastern central Pacific off the equatorial coast of South America. Even if that El Niño is nothing spectacular, it might become a record setter simply because it is getting a warmer start, Christy said. “The long-term baseline temperature is about three tens of a degree (C) warmer than it was when the big El Niño of 1997-1998 began, and that event set the one-month record with an average global temperature that was 0.66 C (almost 1.2 degrees F) warmer than normal in April 1998.”

January through August of 1998 are all in the 14 warmest months in the satellite record, and that El Niño started when global temperatures were somewhat chilled; the global average temperature in May 1997 was 0.14 C (about 0.25 degrees F) cooler than the long-term seasonal norm for May.

“With the baseline so much warmer, this upcoming El Niño won’t have very far to go to break that 0.66 C record,” Christy said. “That isn’t to say it will, but even an average-sized warming event will have a chance to get close to that level.”

Go here to see maps showing global temperature anomalies.

With Rand Paul's Endorsement, You Can't Count Immigration Reform Out


Sen. Rand PaulOne popular takeaway from Tuesday's primary loss by (soon to be former) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to newcomer David Brat is that immigration reform—any effort to create an eased path to legal residency and citizenship—took a big hit. That's because Brat, aside from being a market-minded economics professor, is also something of a border warrior who opposes expanded immigration. But that may not be the case with libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) apparently joining forces with an immigration reform group.

Paul has walked something of a fine line on the immigration issue, which is a sensitive one for the Republican Party. Many GOP hardliners on the issue seem absolutely committed not only to making it harder to legally enter the country, but to offending those who have already arrived. Paul hasn't taken it that far, but he has risked giving offense anyway without committing himself to a clear position. His website says:

I do not support amnesty, I support legal immigration and recognize that the country has been enriched by those who seek the freedom to make a life for themselves. However, millions of illegal immigrants are crossing our border without our knowledge and causing a clear threat to our national security. I want to work in the Senate to secure our border immediately. In addition, I support the creation of a border fence and increased border patrol capabilities.

But yesterday, the Partnership for a New American Economy announced "Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) Joins Grover Norquist to Address Need for Immigration Reform." The press release from the business-oriented immigration reform group is short on details about Paul's specific take, but Paul reportedly told participants “the ball is moving forward" on immigration reform.

The Partnership's release adds, "Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) joined Grover Norquist to talk about immigration reform and the Senator's ideas to strengthen border security, reform existing immigration laws for employers and attempt to find common ground on smaller immigration related matters."

How that shakes out in terms of legislative votes and policy proposals we'll have to wait to see. Last year, he voted against a major immigration reform proposal.

But Paul is a potential serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He's already chastised his party over the Voter ID issue, saying it's offending people who might otherwise consider supporting the GOP. The shift on immigration reform might well be part of his larger effort to improve his own appeal—and that of his party.

Brian Doherty yesterday explored just how libertarian American politics can actually get, even at a "libertarian moment" that creates an opening for people like Rand Paul. In this case, it could be that the moment is pushing one prominent libertarian-leaner even further toward personal freedom.

Hey Republicans: If You Reduce Cantor's Loss to Immigration Reform, You Will Keep Losing


As Peter Suderman pointed out yesterday, one of the major fauxplanations for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning primary loss to David Brat is that Cantor was "soft" on immigration. Exactly what that means is anybody's guess, given that Cantor wanted a militarized, wall-defended border with Mexico and got a 100 percent rating from the anti-immigration group FAIR.

As I argue in this Daily Beast column, Cantor's sins against the ideals of limited government are long and numerous. Fact is, since taking office in 2001, he never missed an opportunity to vote for every major expansion of government power he was given, as long as a Republican was in the White House. No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, extension of the Patriot Act, TARP, auto bailouts, endless war: It's all there in his record. As a self-styled (read: sad and pathetic) "Young Gun," he also pushed the GOP's Path to Prosperity budget, which would grow annual spending over the next decade from about $3.7 trillion to $5 trillion. On top of that, of course, he hit all the sour notes possible on social issues: He was dismissive of marriage equality, loved the drug war, and anti-abortion all the way. 

In other words, Cantor represents big government conservativism in its most fulsome manifestation. And it's this package of B.S., not anything related to immigration, that has driven voter identification with the GOP down to 25 percent according to Gallup. Until Republicans understand that they cannot mix libertarianish rhetoric about reducing the size, scope, and spending of government with a massive buildup of spending and regulation and a buttinsky, intolerant attitude toward social issues, they will keep losing elections.

Either own the fact that you are in favor of slightly less spending than Democrats and want to marginalize social outgroups or start living up to your rhetoric. Voters, it seems, are neither stupid nor receptive to lies.

When it comes to immigration specificially, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is right that Republicans have become "trapped" by their rhetoric on the topic, especially regarding the concept of "amnesty."

"We've been somewhat trapped by rhetoric and words, and amnesty's a word that has kind of trapped us," he said, adding that some people think it means giving undocumented immigrants a right to vote, while others say it means allowing them to obtain legal status without a penalty....

Paul is no champion of open borders or even last year's Senate immigration-reform bill (he explains his vote against the plan here). But he is already being attacked by "real" Republicans for even talking about immigration in less-than-apocalyptic terms, especially by people who are quick to say Eric Cantor got crushed because he was "soft" on immigration.

As it happens, 64 percent of Republicans nationwide favor immigration reform. They are joined by 71 percent of independents and 78 percent of Democrats. Within Cantor's own district, a large majority of voters (as many as 72 percent) favored immigration reform.

If the Republicans decide that being virulently anti-immigrant and immigration reform is a way to succeed, they will be on the losing side of not just that issue but history.

Even though polls routinely show that immigration is actually not a particularly important issue for voters, hostility to immigrants confirms in many people's mind a vision of the Republicans as mean, intolerant, and white. That simply doesn't play well in an increasingly diverse and globalized America.

More to the point, large numbers of voters—including 65 percent of the independents who decide all national elections—think that government "has too much power." A majority of voters (55 percent) think the "government is doing too much." These are not new findings or recent turnarounds. Voters have been saying the government does too much and spends too much for a long time.

The Republican Party, especially its doltish leadership, keeps saying, "Yeah, yeah, we hear you, we're on your side, shrink the state, stop spending, we get it." And yet when it is power it cranks up spending and regulation like LBJ's bastard child. And when it is in opposition, it still proposes to spend more money in the future and refuses to abide by its attractive libertarian rhetoric by going on and on about abortion, drugs are bad mmkay, gays need fixing, immigrants scare me, and all the rest. Think about it, Republicans: Large majorities of Americans keep saying they want a government that spends less and does less. Large majorities are also favorably disposed to immigrants and immigration. And you're seriously fixating on keeping immigrants out of country as a successful electoral ploy while laying out budgets that increase spending by at least 35 percent over the coming decade? Run the numbers again, pal.

As much as a single person could personify everything that sucks about the contemporary GOP—a patently fake commitment to small, limited government, a lack of social tolerance, and uncritical support for a military-industrial complex that has lost the last two wars it foisted on Americans—that person was Eric Cantor. Good riddance.

Republicans who sound like him and legislate like him won't be any more successful come this November or in any other future elections either.

News flash: Voters dislike Republicans (and Democrats, too) not despite their policies and the way they wield power but because of their policies and the way they wield power.

Legal Weed: Where Are We Now?


It's a weird weed world out there these days. While the federal War on Drugs—including medical marijuana—persists, we're starting to see cracks. Congress is well on its way to forbidding the Drug Enforcement Agency from interfering with medical marijuana operations in states where it's legal. And FBI Director James Comey says the agency needs to be able to hire pot smokers for some positions. Meanwhile, culturally, we're seeing all sorts of interesting experiments in legal marijuana: Cannabis cafes; weed-friendly symphony concerts; organizations that grow free marijuana for vets; food trucks for cannabis edibles

In February, Reason published a state-by-state guide to marijuana legalization and decriminalization. Since then, some states have seen pro-pot successes, some have seen failures, and some new bills and initiatives have cropped up. Elizabeth Nolan Brown looks at the state of state marijuana laws circa summer 2014.  

View this article.

Steven Greenhut on Kids Triumphing Over Teachers Unions


TeacherEducation reformers and their teachers union foes seemed equally stunned on Tuesday by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling that found California’s teacher tenure system—which makes it nearly impossible for public schools to fire teachers—to be an affront to the equal protection clause in the state constitution.

This may be just the first step in a long legal process that pits a group of poor kids and reformers against the state, the powerful California Teachers Association, and its allies in the legislature, but this was big national news—and the latest volley in an ongoing debate about education reform, writes Steven Greenhut.

If the ruling is upheld, the legislature will need to defy the CTA and revisit teacher dismissal laws. But real change needs to come from the grassroots, argues Greenhut with the public demanding that the state start putting the education of kids above the job security demanded by the unions representing those kids’ teachers.

View this article.

Obama: 'The World Is Less Violent Than It Has Ever Been.' He's Right!


At a White House press event yesterday, President Barack Obama dropped some real wisdom on the youts during his answer to the last question from the crowd of Tumblr users (starting at around 49 minutes): 

The truth of the matter is that for all the challenges we face, all the problems that we have,...if you had to choose any moment to be born in human history, not knowing what your position was going to be, who you were going to be, you'd choose this time. The world is less violent than it has ever been. It is healthier than it has ever been. It is more tolerant than it has ever been. It is better fed then it's ever been. It is more educated than it's ever been.

Terrible things happen around the world every single day, but the trend lines of progress are unmistakable. 


Just ask Steven Pinker, who wrote a whole book about the decline of violence and the rise of tolerance and learning in human history, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker spoke with Reason's own Ronald Bailey a couple of years ago about the thesis of his book:

reason: Let's go through some of the reasons and processes by which the world became less violent. It began with what you call the pacification process, which involved the creation of states.

Pinker: The first states seemed to have in their wake a massive reduction of death in tribal raiding and feuding, basically because it's a nuisance to the overlords. So you have things like the Pax Romana, the Pax Islamica, the Pax Sinica, in China, where the emperors would much rather have the peasants alive to stock their tax rolls and armies, and be slaves or serfs. So they had a selfish interest in preventing too much internecine feuding among their subject peoples and basically kept them from each other's throats. Not that it was a life that we would consider particularly pleasant. You're substituting a lot of violence among tribes and villages and clans for a lesser amount—but still a brutal form of violence—from the state against its citizens. 

The next transition, after you have the government preventing people from committing violence against each other, you now have the problem of preventing the government from committing violence against its own peoples. And that was, basically, the advent of democracy and the various reforms of the Enlightenment.

reason: The next reduction in violence occurred as a result of what you call the civilizing process.

Pinker: It's a term that I borrowed from the German sociologist Norbert Elias, in his book by that name, where he figured out—even in the absence of quantitative data —that Europe had become a less violent place in the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. We now know that he was right, now that historical criminologists have gathered the quantitative data. But he had noticed it just from narrative accounts of what daily life was like. Just people cutting off each other's noses, stabbing each other over the dinner table in response to an insult—there seems to be less now than there was then. He had an immediate explanation and an ultimate explanation. The immediate explanation was a psychological change. Namely that people exercise more self-control and more empathy. They counted to 10 and swallowed their pride rather than lashing out with a dagger when they'd been insulted. They tried to get inside the heads of other people in general, to figure out what they wanted. 

Or check in with another Reason interviewee Lenore Skenazy as she advocates giving kids more freedom and responsibility in her great Free-Range Kids blog and book. One objection she often hears is that the world is more dangerous for kids than it used to be. But that's just not true, says Skenazy in this post from 2012 (and over and over on her blog):

This is the first time in 45 years that homicide is not among that top 15 causes of death in America. Put in Free-Range Kids terms: The murder rate was higher when most of us parents were growing up than it is now, for our kids. And since I know someone will say, "So what? That just means kids are safer because we are keeping them inside, or GPS'ing them, or making sure they are supervised at all times!" let me quickly note that murder is down among adults, too, and it’s not because we are helicoptering them. Moreover, the murder rate is lower than it has been for almost two generations, which means it is lower now than even before parents began hovering....

Our parents didn't feel guilty or terrified when they let us play outside and the murder rate was higher. Today's kids deserve the even-less-risky chance to enjoy a Free-Range childhood. 

As for being better fed, here's Bailey again, reviewing Ramez Naam's The Infinite Resource

Take agriculture. 10,000 years ago it took an average of 3,000 acres to feed one hunter-gatherer; farmers today can feed one person using less than one-third of an acre. "Our innovation in farming technology has multiplied the value of a plot of land by nearly 10,000," Naam notes. If crop yields per acre had remained stuck at their 1960 level, half of the world's remaining forests would have been plowed down by now.

Obama frames this good news as a plea against cynicism. Reason prefers a spin that makes the broader case for individual freedom and human ingenuity. But good news no matter which way you slice it. 

Steve Chapman on Not-So-Scary Marijuana


JointColumnist Maureen Dowd of The New York Times recently showed the dangers awaiting middle-aged scribes who sample Colorado's newest local specialties. She had a scary paranoid reaction after scarfing a cannabis-infused candy bar in her Denver hotel room. But maybe Dowd is doing it wrong. A marijuana dispensary security guard dressed in shorts and a T-shirt told Steve Chapman he likes working there. "I worked in a psych ward before, and this is a lot easier," he said. Ever have trouble with customers? "The only problem we have here is people coming in drunk."

Got that?, asks Chapman. At the cannabis dispensary, the people you have to watch out for are the drinkers.

View this article.

Did Republicans Kill Warren's Loan Bill Because They Hate Poor Kids?


Elizabeth WarrenRepublicans blocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) student loan bailout bill yesterday, and Democrats have already jumped on it as a campaign issue. That was probably the left's plan all along, given that the bill would have raised taxes on the rich and never had any chance of passing the House of Representatives.

"We have the broad support from the American people and that is going to play very well for us as we move towards November—and that's the bottom line here," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.).

Others echoed his comments, according to Politico:

"With this vote, we show the American people who we work for in the United States Senate: billionaires or students," Warren said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

And "instead of fighting for working families and college affordability, some members of Congress are fighting to keep their millionaire constituents from paying their fair share of taxes," National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said in response to the Senate's action.

Even President Obama seized on the Republicans-don't-care-about-poor-kids rhetoric:

"We want a Republican Party that can function and with which we can negotiate and compromise and help move the country forward," he said. "But unfortunately, that's not what we're seeing in Washington right now from the Republicans ... How could we not want to invest in these kids? ... Why wouldn't we want to make sure that college was affordable and that they weren't burdened with $30,000 or $50,000 or $70,000 worth of debt? Why wouldn't we want to create an economic environment in which in their first job, if they're working full-time, they're not living in poverty, and that they can save a little bit and they're getting a fair wage?"

Never mind that Republicans did work with Obama last summer on student loans, approving a bipartisan deal that indexed loan interest rates to Treasury bonds rather than the whims of Congress. The major thorn in the president's side back then was actually Warren, who didn't want to accept anything short of substantial debt forgiveness for student borrowers.

The trillion dollars of loan debt collectively held by students and graduates is an undeniably tricky problem. But wiping away that debt is a bad fix. Such a solution punishes taxpayers for the bad judgements of borrowers, encourages more reckless borrowing, and sends universities the message that they can raise tuition even higher.

Still, expect to see lots of Democrats campaigning on the notion that Warren's debt deal would solve all of millennials' financial problems if only those mean Republicans would back off.

Reality is of course a little more complicated. In a recent column, Bloomberg View's Megan McArdle explained why student loan debt is actually a problem of the privileged:

It's good to remember, as we discuss these plans, that people with college degrees are the best-off people in the U.S. They are a cognitive elite with substantially more earning power than almost anyone else, unless that someone else can throw a mean fastball, dunk or get their body fat down to less than 4 percent by the time their feature film is ready to shoot. It’s hard to see why we would take money from other people and give it to this group.

People with lots of student loan debt and low earnings are, of course, a particularly visible group to journalists, who cluster in expensive cities and know a lot of expensively educated people. It's not surprising that a huge number of articles get written about this problem. But it's still disproportionately a problem of the affluent. And the government already spends quite a lot of money on benefits for the affluent.

If we wanted a program to help the majority of the population, we'd offer loan guarantees to help poor people get access to reliable cars so that they could have a better shot at getting -- and keeping -- a well-paying job. I know you're thinking that sounds crazy, but if you spend any time listening to the problems of working-class people -- many of whom lacked the opportunity, the interest or the academic ability to get through college -- you'll get an earful about the problems of driving a beater that constantly breaks down. A small amount of capital could make a much bigger difference in their lives than extra student loan relief for middle-class college kids would.

I say "extra" because we already have a very generous income-based repayment system for student loans. The IBR program allows you to hold your loan payments to no more than 15 percent of your discretionary income and stretch out the payment term to 25 years, after which any remaining debt is forgiven. To be sure, you have to have a partial financial hardship to qualify -- but the "financial hardship" is that . . . your payments on the standard plan would be more than 15 percent of your discretionary income. As someone whose initial loan payments were closer to 50 percent of her discretionary income, I can testify that that’s a pretty sweet deal.

Cop Shoots Dog Hanging Out With Kids in the Face, Claims Self-Defense


shot by copPolice in Hammond, Indiana, say they got a report of a loose dog before a cop showed up at the home of the Maldonados and shot their pitbull Lily while she was hanging out in the yard during a barbecue. In fact, according to the mother, Norma, Lily was following behind two of her sons who had just grabbed some food when she heard shots fired. My Fox Chicago reports:

Maldonado begged the officer to tell her why he shot the dog.

“He said, 'because your dog was loose,” she said. “And I said no she's not there's an electrical fence, read the sign."

The police department told a different story. Through a statement they said the officer called to the family and the dog charged at the officer.

He ran back 15 to 20 feet and the dog lunged at him, so he fired the shot.

The statement continued: "The Hammond Police Department has determined that based upon the circumstances that the officer was justified in defending himself at the time of the incident."

Maldonado said her dog did not lunge at the officer, adding that Lily was shot at the edge of her home near a bush.

The home is a full car length from her invisible fence line.

"He had pepper spray, he had a Taser gun, he didn't have to use his gun with my kids in range," added Maldonado.

After cops shot her dog and cleared themselves of any wrongdoing, Maldonado will now have to go to court because her invisible electrical fence is prohibited in the neighborhood.

h/t Jimmy

What's a Gun-Loving Liberal to Do?


Bryan Schatz has an interesting article in the Pacific Standard about liberal gun owners, discussing how they get by in a world where one set of peers disagrees with them about weapons while another set disagrees about virtually everything else. Here's the opening:

Early Kathryn Bigelow. Basically a slasher movie, which may be why they cast Jamie Lee Curtis in it.

Sara Robinson of Seattle, Washington, is chatty, affable, and obviously liberal. For years the former writer for Alternet has been a member of a tight-knit community of activists who write and organize around progressive causes. Or at least she was a member, until her "tribe," as she calls it, effectively banished her in the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. "I was forced out," she says.

Robinson, a registered Democrat since the Reagan era, is also a life-long gun owner. And almost as soon as news of the massacre broke, her relationship with her left-leaning circle began to fall apart over the issue of firearms.

As she and her peers discussed the tragedy—with Robinson speaking as a reform-minded but unapologetic gun owner—email correspondence with her peers quickly devolved. Friends told her they would never allow their children into her home knowing guns were in the house—no matter how responsibly they were stored. Within weeks, she was pushed out of an online list of "tightly bonded peers" she had co-founded herself.

As the story progresses, we learn that gun-loving liberalism isn't that lonely a position. According to Gallup, there are around 16 million liberal gun owners in the U.S. They don't always feel comfortable in the NRA, but some of them have founded groups of their own:

Many left-leaning gun owners are finding a home in alternative groups like the Blue Steel Democrats—the official state gun caucuses of the Democratic party—and the Liberal Gun Club, an online forum and meet-up group for people who share an interest in guns and also respect each other's political beliefs. (Despite the group's moniker, politics vary widely among members.) It's a sort of Universalist Church of Gun Owners, where all are welcome.

Some people, Schatz reports, own guns for reasons directly related to their left-wing commitments:

I spoke to Marlene Hoeber, a transgender machinist living in West Oakland—not far from the original seat of the Black Panthers—who started her gun collection with a modern replica of a 19th-century black-powder revolver and is now "swimming" in firearms. She views her gun ownership as a political act....

[S]he owns firearms in part because she is not sure she can count on—or trust—the police. As a trans person, she knows that hate crimes happen, that some people would wish to do her harm, and that it might be up to her to protect herself.

Just a few years ago, it seemed like most of the radicals I knew who cared about gun control were opposed to it, because they associated it with racism and repression; the liberals, meanwhile, had backed off the issue, because they thought it had cost Al Gore the election. It's striking how quickly the landscape of a debate can change.

Bonus link: If the Liberal Gun Club is too squishy for you, try the Gay Communist Gun Club.

Is Obamacare's Insurer Bailout Legal? GOP Legislators Want to Know


Last month, buried in a 435-page regulatory filing from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Obama administration attempted to reassure the health insurance industry that, if necessary, federal officials would find money to make payments for Obamacare’s "risk corridors"—the temporary shared-risk financing system built into the health law that has been dubbed a bailout of the health insurance industry.

The regulatory filing reiterated the administration’s position that the program would likely be revenue neutral. But in the event that it's not, it seemed designed to suggest that insurers shouldn’t worry.

"In the unlikely event of a shortfall for the 2015 program year," the regulation said, "HHS [Health and Human Services] recognizes that the Affordable Care Act requires the Secretary to make full payments to issuers. In that event, HHS will use other sources of funding for the risk corridors payments, subject to the availability of appropriations."

On the surface, that seems pretty clear: If the risk corridors program, a symmetrical arrangement which requires the administration to cover half of insurer losses if claims expenses go beyond 103 percent of expected costs and insurers to pay in if costs come in at 97 percent of expectations, ends up costing the administration money, it will find a way to pay.

The complication comes from the final phrase: "subject to the availability of appropriations."

That could be a problem. Because according to a January memo from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), there do not appear to be appropriations available to make the payments. Although the health law does direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make risk corridor payments, the CRS memo explains that the legislation "does not specify a source from which those payments are to be made."

That’s a problem. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), it’s not enough for a statute merely to direct payment. It also must designate which funds are to be used. Both elements must be present in order for a payment to be lawful.

So where will the money come from? How will the administration shift the money around if they don’t have the authority to tap any particular funds? That’s what Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) of the Senate Budget Committee want to know.

The two GOP legislators have written a letter to newly installed HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell asking for an explanation of just how the administration believes it can justify the creative financing it has promised, should such spending become necessary.

Does Burwell agree with the legal analysis offered by CRS and GAO? Does HHS have a legal analysis of its own? Given the legal analysis stacked against the administration, these seem like basic, reasonable questions that should be answered and explained.

In confirmation hearings before being confirmed as HHS Secretary, Burwell suggested that she would be more open, transparent, and responsive to Congress than her predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, with regards to the health law. That’s a low bar. How Burwell responds will tell us something about whether she’s clearing it, and if so, by how much.

Read the complete Upton/Sessions letter below.

HHS Risk Corridors by PeterSuderman

Ukraine Says Russian Tanks Have Crossed the Border


The Ukrainian government says that the Russian military has crossed the nation's border with three tanks.

From Reuters:

"We have observed columns passing with armoured personnel carriers, other armoured vehicles and artillery pieces, and tanks which, according to our information, came across the border and this morning were in Snizhnye," Ukrainian Interior Minister Arseny Avakov told reporters in Kiev.

He said Ukrainian forces had destroyed part of the column and fighting was still under way, but gave no further details. …

He said the columns had come across the border at checkpoints seized by the rebels "despite the Russian Federation's statements that it welcomes the peace process and that the order has been given to strengthen border controls".

In a phone call between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, the latter "underscored the need for the swiftest halt by Kiev of its military operation ... agreement on terms of a ceasefire, a solution to acute humanitarian issues and ... real national dialogue on Ukraine's future structure," according to another Reuters report.

As The Washington Post highlights, Lavrov yesterday also "acknowledged for the first time an official relationship with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine" by which the latter group is receiving humanitarian aid. The Post also notes that one of the separatist leaders met with Vladimir Zhirinovsky, one of Russia's most notorious, authoritarian political leaders who has throughout the years called for a takeover of Ukraine.

Ukraine's new president, Petro Poroshenko, has not yet commented on the Russian tanks, but earlier stated that the "terrorists must lay down their weapons" for peace talks to proceed. "We do not need negotiations for the sake of negotiations. Our peace plan must become the basis for further de-escalation of the conflict." 

Below is a video purported to be of one of the tanks. Another video is here

Federal Appeals Court: Cellphone Tracking Requires a Warrant


Yesterday a federal appeals court took an important step toward reining in government snooping by ruling that law enforcement agencies need a warrant to collect cellphone location data. The case involved a robbery suspect, Quartavious Davis, who was linked to various crime scenes through data obtained from his cellphone company. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded that "cell site location information is within the subscriber's reasonable expectation of privacy" and "the obtaining of that data without a warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation."

The decision, U.S. v. Davis, is the first time an appeals court has directly addressed the issue of cellphone tracking in the context of a criminal prosecution, which helps explain why Davis did not succeed in suppressing the evidence against him. The appeals court ruled that the prosecution's use of his cellphone records was covered by the "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule.

The FBI obtained Davis' records through a court order authorized by the Stored Communications Act, which requires only "reasonable grounds to believe" that the iinformation sought is "relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation." A warrant, by contrast, requires "probable cause" to believe that a search will discover evidence of a crime. In deciding that the higher standard is appropriate for cellphone location data, the 11th Circuit relied on the "privacy theory" of the Fourth Amendment, which holds that the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches extends beyond evidence collection that intrudes on the target's property. Since 1967 the Supreme Court has used that theory to require warrants for wiretapping and other surveillance methods that do not involve a physical trespass.

By contast, U.S. v. Jones, the 2012 decision in which the Supreme Court held that tracking a suspected drug dealer's whereabouts for a month by attaching a GPS device to his car qualified as a search under the Fourth Amendment, emphasized the trespass on the vehicle. That decision left open the question of whether obtaining similar information through methods that do not require such a physical intrusion also implicates the Fourth Amendment. But as the 11th Circuit noted yesterday, at least five justices indicated in Jones that a trespass is not required because the crucial question is whether surveillance violates reasonable expectations of privacy.

If anything, the appeals court said, cellphone records are more revealing than the information at issue in Jones, which was limited to the location of the supect's car on public roads. "One's cell phone, unlike an automobile, can accompany its owner anywhere," the court noted. "Thus, the exposure of the cell site location information can convert what would otherwise be a private event into a public one. When one's whereabouts are not public, then one may have a reasonable expectation of privacy in those whereabouts....While committing a crime is certainly not within a legitimate expectation of privacy, if the cell site location data could place [Davis] near those scenes, it could place him near any other scene. There is a reasonable privacy interest in being near the home of a lover, or a dispensary of medication, or a place of worship, or a house of ill repute."

The 11th Circuit rejected the government's argument that "Davis did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy because he had theretofore surrendered that expectation by exposing his cell site location to his service provider when he placed the call." During Davis' trial a prosecutor conceded that he and an accomplice "probably had no idea that by bringing their cell phones with them to these robberies, they were allowing [their cell service provider] and now all of you to follow their movements on the days and at the times of the robberies." If so, the appeals court said, it is hardly reasonable to claim that Davis volunteered this information. Since people generally are not even aware that they are revealing their locations when they make calls on their cellphones, and since such information is revealed even when people answer calls from others, the court said, the idea that every cellphone user is voluntarily sharing his whereabouts with the world is implausible. Hence "Davis has not voluntarily disclosed his cell site location information to the provider in such a fashion as to lose his reasonable expectation of privacy."

Here the appeals court is trying to get around the Supreme Court's "third party doctrine," which holds that "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties." Under that doctrine, the government's access to a huge amount of highly revealing information stored on remote computers is completely unrestricted by the Fourth Amendment; it is subject only to statutory limitations such as those imposed by the Stored Communications Act. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested in Jones, a reconsideration of the third-party doctrine is long ovderdue. But since such a reconsideration is beyond the authority of an appeals court, the 11th Circuit instead argues that cellphone location information falls outside the doctrine because it is not shared knowingly and willingly.

The problem with this approach is that people are becoming increasingly aware, due partly to the publicity surrounding cases like this one, that using a cellphone creates a trove of information about their movements. Once that is a matter of common knowledge, will the constitutional analysis change? Does a reasonable expectation of privacy depend on ignorance of the ease with which privacy can be violated?

If so, I guess we are only making things easier for the government by reporting on this issue. Last year in Reason, Ron Bailey explained "how the surveillance state co-opted personal technology." More on cellphone tracking here.  

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But the Rolling Stones Should Be Banned From Trader J


Lyrics, schmyrics: That OUTFIT is a hate crime! |||Today's not-The-Onion headline comes from AlterNet:

Trader Joe's NYC Store Defends 'Racist, Sexist, and Misogynistic' Songs on Playlist

Even after Elliot Rodger's killing spree, Trader Joe's manager says the store will keep playing a famous song that demeans women.

Even after Elliot Rodger's killing spree! The nerve of these supermarket managers, not policing their Muzak to weed out songs that no one besides an AlterNet contributor could dream of linking to the Isla Vista massacre! Author Lynn Stuart Parramore goes on to describe her confrontation with store management over the misogynistic classic "Under My Thumb":

Why should I have to hear about a guy comparing his girlfriend to a dog while I'm buying vegetables?

I decided to ask Trader Joe's this question. Just so they would know I wasn't making things up, I printed out the lyrics to "Under My Thumb" and brought them into the store with me. I was directed to a young man named Kyle Morrison at the manager's station, to whom I explained in friendly terms that I was a frequent shopper and that I had heard a song playing over the sound system which, in the wake of the Elliot Rodger killing spree, made me feel uncomfortable. I told him the name of the song, and offered him the paper with the lyrics. [...]

Without looking at the page, Morrison's first response was to tell me rather smugly that art was a matter of interpretation. I asked him to read the lyrics, and let me know how he interpreted them. He said he didn't have time, so I read off a few for him.

"Do you think those lyrics are offensive to women?" I asked.

He looked uncomfortable. "It's just like the radio in your car," he argued. "There are all kinds of songs playing on different stations." [...]

I did manage to reach Trader Joe's customer service department and spoke to someone named "Nicki" (she refused to give her last name), who told me robotically that the music lists were set and Trader Joe's would not change them.

"Even if they are offensive to women shopping in your stores?" I asked. "No one ever complains," she said curtly. "I'm complaining," I replied.

Why yes, Lynn, you are!

Misogyny being a regrettable part of life; romantic struggle being the single biggest subject of pop/rock music, and art being art, we will always have songs that fail the Parramore Test. For instance, the sainted John Lennon would rather see you dead, little girl:

This is just one of many acts of Beatle-on-female violence; see "Fixing a Hole," "Getting Better" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," for starters. Move it up a decade and you've got a whole melodic genre seemingly dedicated to statutory rape: Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Clair," Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night," any number of songs with "sixteen" in the title. The '80s gave us misogynistic hair metal, the '90s introduced us to bitches and hoes, and even the most anti-misogynist artists of the era were capable of screaming out "Rape Me!" from time to time. (Also, the objectifying/power-tripping pop songs don't always flow in a male-to-female direction.) If I had a conversation with every store manager who had "Blurred Lines" play over the sound system last summer, there would have been no time left to shop.

I mean, what kind of virgin child's inhibitions WOULDN'T run wild? |||I find some of those songs (though not "Blurred Lines"!) grating precisely because of their lyrical P.O.V.; in other cases it's the seeming awfulness of the narrator that make a song more compellingly artistic. (Though I'm virtually alone in this assessment, I think Guns N' Roses' controversial "One in a Million" is a classic.) Point being, artistic taste is an individual thing, artistic intent is a slippery concept, and a world that's more willing to weed out potentially offensive songs is one that's going to protect people's ears from artists that Lynn Parramore, for one, actively likes.

Such as Lou Reed, whose death Parramore mourned in a Tweet last year ("You brought the soundtrack to my angst-ridden twenties"). "There She Goes Again," one of Reed's early hits, is about a guy taunting another guy about his loose girlfriend, climaxing in the memorable chorus-punchline of "You better hit her!" Or how about the truly brutal epic "Street Hassle," which revolves around the dilemma of what to do with the dead body of a young woman who overdoses on heroin after being penetrated by a "humpin' muscle":

Hey, that cunt's not breathing
I think she's had too much [...]

But you know it could be a hassle
Trying to explain this all to a police officer
About how it was that your old lady got herself stiffed
And it's not like we could help
But there wasn't nothing no one could do
And if there was, man, you know I would have been the first
But when someone turns that blue
Well, it's a universal truth
And you just know that bitch will never fuck again [...]

But why don't you grab your old lady by the feet
And just lay her out in the darkest street
And by morning, she's just another hit and run

Not for the faint of heart. |||Ah, but that's art, Lou Reed was playing a character. Sure. But maybe the same could be said about the Rolling Stones?

There are infinitely worse expressions of the censorial instinct than asking a supermarket store manager to consider the misogynistic content of a 48-year-old xylophone marimba song. Who knows, maybe a particularly sensitive food chain will come to prominence on the promise of filtering its Muzak of any potentially upsetting lyrics. 

But I hope that day never comes to pass. The "trigger-warning" culture of seeking protection from unwelcome content experiences will never be sated by mere self-censorship; those sensitive ears will end up trying to re-write the rules of expression where they can. And while I therefore worry about the rest of us, I'm actually more concerned in this case about them. Shutting out discordant notes is no way go through either life or art–how can you change for the better if you're not exposed to something that challenges your existing values? And, well, the Stones were a pretty good rock band back in the day. Even when singing about rape and murder.

Hat tip to Mark Hemingway. Click here for a deconstructionist treatment of "Under My Thumb" that floats the possibility of a non-misogynist reading. Click here on my recent column, "When the Left Turned Against Free Speech." Reason TV on trigger warnings below:

Another High-Profile Sex Trafficking Tale May Be Falling Apart


In 2012 filmmaker Megan Griffiths debuted Eden, the tale of "underage women conscripted into sexual slavery by a criminal enterprise from which there is seemingly no escape," as The New York Times review described it.  

"You may call me naïve," wrote reviewer Stephen Holden, "but it is deeply upsetting that Eden is set in the United States and that the organization’s boss, Bob Gault (Beau Bridges), is a law-and-order-preaching United States marshal. We imagine this kind of crime flourishing in the shadows of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But in the United States, with a backslapping good old boy running the operation? Could it be?"  

No. And it wasn't supposed to be, not exactly—Griffiths' film was not a documentary. But it did advertise itself as being based on a true story, that of Chong Kim, a Korean-American trafficked into sex slavery in the mid-1990s.

When the film came out, the real Kim made the media circuit telling her story: handcuffed to a doorknob for months by a man she thought was her boyfriend; held in a Vegas warehouse full of other teens; forced to work as a prostitute around the country; rising to madam; and escaping on her own two years later. 

As a public speaker, and activist, Kim had already told this story many times—here's her being interviewed for the 2011 book Not in My Town: Exposing and Ending Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery. She describes how she was kidnapped and trafficked as so:  

I had a gun to my head. The head person that does the trafficking was a consultant with the FBI in Las Vegas. So it was very corrupt. 

Though she was 18, Kim says she was forced to pretend to be 13 to appeal to an array of unsuspecting pedophiles. 

Um, it was an international criminal organization, but the majority of customers were white Americans. And the customers were anywhere between CEOs, lawyers, police officers, we've even had really high-echelon pastors, different types of men. They were high status; there were even political figures that were there that bought me.

Eden, the film based on Chong's story, premiered at the South by Southwest festival in 2012, nabbing the audience choice award for best narrative feature. Outside the festival, the film was heralded as "powerful," a "masterpiece," and "a sobering thriller that puts many human faces on an international crisis."

Women in Hollywood interviewed Griffiths at the time, leading in with this:  

We all think the sex trafficking occurs over there in countries far, far away.  But it happens here ALL THE TIME.  … The thing about trafficking is that it happens in plain sight and many people in the culture perpetuate it - even guys with daughters.  

It's a pretty good summary of the standard narrative on sex-trafficking these days: it's everywhere, all the time, and we don't even know it; the only way to combat it is to keep throwing cops and money and laws at it; and anyone who questions any of this is only aiding the evildoers. It's almost impossible to argue with people who buy this narrative, because the more evidence you present challenging sex trafficking's pervasiveness, the more they see proof that sex trafficking is so under the radar we need to throw more cops and money and laws at it.

As we've seen time and again, however, these tactics tend to under-produce on the stopping sex trafficking front and overcompensate by targeting consenting adult sex workers—either by arresting them or labeling them victims and sending them to things like "prostitution diversion therapy"—and their clients. The majority of genuine sex trafficking cases that are uncovered tend to be older teenagers—still terrible, but far from the horror stories we hear from anti-trafficking advocates, who insist throngs of young girls are being sold as sex slaves. 

And now we are seeing so many of these horror stories fall apart. First it was Somaly Mam, the activist whose own sex trafficking story, as well as those of some of her star "rescues," turned out to be false. After years of international support and acclaim, Mam—a favorite of The New York Times' Nicolas Kristof—was exposed by Newsweek as a fraud.  

Now Kim's story, too, may be coming apart. Last week Breaking Out, a nonprofit organization that fights human trafficking of all forms, posted the following message on Facebook:  

We regretfully want to inform everyone the results of a year long investigation by our highly experienced investigative unit, that Chong Kim whom has claimed to be a survivor of human trafficking is not what she claims to be.

After thorough investigation into her story, people, records and places, as well as, many interviews with producers, publishers and people from organizations, we found no truth to her story. In fact, we found a lot of fraud, lies, and most horrifically capitalizing and making money on an issue where so many people are suffering from. 

According to Breaking Out's founder, James Barnes, it and several other organizations were defrauded by Chong, who was collecting money in their names without actually passing any of it on. "We are ready with others supporting us to take full legal action against Chong Kim," Barnes' statement said.

Kim responded to Breaking Out in a Facebook post:

I don't appreciate you spreading lies about me … Whatever you claim to have I have the right to see it otherwise I will send you and your organization a formal complaint.

For the record, I reached out to Kim, with no response yet. Update: "I have my attorney on them," Kim told me. "We sent them a cease & desist letter Monday." 

In subsequent Facebook updates, Breaking Out elaborated on its allegations and said it was "working with a reporter to get an interview" with Kim. In an interview with Christina Parreira, Barnes—a private investigator for 15 years—explained that Kim approached him about working together. He agreed, but found parts of her story suspicious and began poking around.  

Earlier this week, Noah Berlatsky wrote at Salon about "Hollywood's dangerous obsession with sex trafficking." Berlatsky watched Eden and did not see the same poignantly realistic drama so many movie critics had. 

The familiarity here is the familiarity of exploitation tropes, which are clustered about so densely and insistently that it’s hard to believe anyone missed them. (...) The film isn’t badly made, as these things go—Jamie Chung as the lead Hyun Jae in particular is more talented than the script deserves. But that anyone took this clearly fanciful, clearly derivative fiction for fact is, in retrospect, somewhat shocking.  Even at the time, some folks saw through it; sex worker Mistress Matisse tried to convince David Schmader at The Stranger that the whole thing was bunkum. 

Matisse, who has apparently been patiently poking holes in Chong's story for a while, is the one who pointed me to this story. "In the wake of the Somaly Mam scandal, people are suddenly examining the stories told by professional anti-trafficking activists more closely," wrote Matisse in an email. "Chong Kim’s story was never fact-checked or substantiated in any way, it has varied quite widely in the numerous tellings over the years, and it is falling apart." 

Back to Berlatsky on Eden:

To just point out the most obvious issue, the movie details a copious number of murders, several of them committed by the main character herself. This is standard issue for a Hollywood film, but in real life, this amounts to mass murder, including the killing of multiple law-enforcement personnel. That’s a major story—if this happened in anything like the way Kim said, where’s the massive investigation? Why is this being covered in an entertainment review, rather than on the front page?

The absense of any attempt at verification—from the authors who repeated Kim's story, the journalists who interviewed her, the organizations that brought her on as a speaker, or any of the myriad people behind the "based on a true story" Eden—makes it pretty clear that nobody wanted to find holes in Kim's story. We want victim narratives so badly that we refuse to listen to sex workers when they say they're not victims and leap at the chance to tell the stories, no matter how apocryphal, of those whose tales conform with our expectations.

"Moral panic deployed to appeal to outraged empathy, or sexploitation deployed to appeal to giggling prurience; they both function in much the same way," wrote Berlatsky. And with sex trafficking tales, we get a two for one. It's almost too good to resist. But let's try. 

Here's Kim on CNN in October 2013: 

Q for Rick Perry: If Homosexuality is Like Alcoholism, Does That Explain All the Anonymous Sex?


Rick Perry, who had pretty successfully repaired his image as a back-country doofus by donning a pair of smart-guy glasses, has stepped in it again. This time, while speaking in San Francisco of all places, he explained that being gay is like being a drunk:

"Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, ," Perry said. "I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way."

I can't wait until Perry speaks at Hazelden.

There's a lot to think about here. For starters, why the hell is a politician even talking about this issue? Is it really the proper role of the state to care what consenting adults get up to?

As it happens, the Texas Republican Party apparently believes that's exactly the sort of thing the state should be intimately involved with. Recently, the group did remove "decades-old language in the state party platform that states, 'homosexuality tears at the fabric of society.'" At the same time, though, the party added a plank about "the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle."

Explained a conservative delegate:

"The platform reflects what the people in the Republican Party have asked for, and that should be no surprise: family values, protection of marriage between one man and one woman and everything that goes along with that," said Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative group Texas Values and a convention delegate.

Let me go bold here and suggest that if you believe in limited government, as most Texas Republicans claim to, the only fucking you should be worried about is what the state is doing to taxpayers.

Back to Perry, though: If being gay is like being an alcoholic, why not suggest moderation management rather than abstinence? Count your drinks and your sexual episodes!

I get what Perry seems to be saying: Being predisposed to certain behavior or even being "born that way" is no excuse for any particular behavior; it doesn't mean you don't have responsibility for your actions. But then the analogy loses all meaning. You know why? Having a substance abuse problem is bad for the user and for the people around him (drunk driving and all that). Being gay, not so much. Sure, Mom and Dad may be disappointed and all you old girlfriends discomfited, but the externalities of being gay just aren't at all comparable to the worst externalities of being an alcoholic. Drunk drivers are rightly fined and jailed. Gay drivers don't run stop signs or plow into schoolkids (if they do, it's not because of being gay).

Remember back in 2012? The Republican Party got sidetracked when a couple of its candidates felt it was really important to talk about rape and fertility. Not a good idea from a pure-politics angle or from a conservative angle either. I don't think that equating homosexuality with alcoholism is much better. Especially in a country that no longer frets over gays and lesbians like a rerun of In Living Color. For god's sake, even the Texas Republican Party no longer believes that "homosexuality tears at the fabric of society."

Striking European Taxi Drivers Should Have Known: Letting Your Customers Even Know Uber Exists is Ba


Anyone lucky enough to live in a city where e-hailing smartphone apps like Uber or Lyft exist should be aware that they are really great and largely obviate the need to use taxis in any situations besides street hails in busy urban areas where an empty taxi is driving by every 45 seconds.

So arrogant European taxi drivers who decided they wanted to just mess up the use of the public streets for an entire city because they don't like competition should have guessed something like this would happen: as Techdirt reports, the publicity surrounding their planned day-ruining strike:

appears to have completely backfired on the strikers, with Uber signups in London jumping an astounding 850%. Basically, the "protests" have pissed off people at cab drivers and made them more aware of Uber....Uber had been hovering around the 100th most popular app in the UK over the past few weeks, but it has suddenly jumped to number 3.

Reason on Uber and Lyft and their many regulatory difficulties in these here United States of Cartels.

Ralph Nader: "We're not second-class citizens because we're a Green Party candidate or a Libertarian


"Everybody has an equal right to run for election. We're either all spoilers of one another, trying to get votes from one another or none of us are spoilers. We're not second-class citizens because we're a Green Party candidate or a Libertarian candidate....The brass of these two parties is they control the election machinery so they keep you off the ballot, harass you, file a lawsuit, delay you, exhaust you," Ralph Nader tells Reason TV.

Nader's latest book is Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

To watch the full hour-long interview and read a transcript go here.

The longtime consumer activist, recidivist presidential candidate, and several-time host of Saturday Night Live talks with Nick Gillespie about what he sees as a new libertarian-progressive attack on crony capitalism, whether GM cars were ever any damn good, and why the Democrats still wrongly insist that he cost Al Gore the 2000 presidential election. Oh yeah, and the article of his Reason published back in the early '70s!

Produced by Joshua Swain.

View this article.

ACLU Sues Mayor, Cops For Arrest of Twitter Parodist


Jim ArdisRemember Peoria, Illinois, Mayor Jim Ardis, who tasked local law enforcement with finding and destroying a Twitter account that insulted him?

The American Civil Liberties Union just filed a lawsuit against Ardis, other city officials, and the police department on behalf of 29-year-old Jon Daniel, the creator of the Twitter account that parodied the mayor.

Daniel's home was raided, his property confiscated, and his friend charged with marijuana possession. Authorities initially wanted to charge Daniel with falsely impersonating a public official, even though it was obvious that the Twitter account did not actually belong to Ardis. The state attorney general ultimately agreed and declined to prosecute.

According to an ACLU press release:

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court yesterday afternoon, charges that Mayor Ardis, along with Peoria’s City Manager, the Assistant City Manager, the Chief Information Officer, former Chief of Police and two police detectives violated Mr. Daniel’s First and Fourth Amendment rights by launching a police investigation based on his speech and then searching his home as part of that investigation.

... "Political parody is a great tradition in the United States — from Thomas Nast to Jon Stewart," said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois and the lead attorney representing Mr. Daniel. "In a number of public statements, the Mayor and Peoria officials have been unapologetic about their activities," added Grossman. "The only way to hold these government officials accountable is to have a federal court rule that their actions violated the fundamental constitutional rights of our client."

Ardis was excoriated by national news media for his actions. He doesn't think he did anything wrong, however. In fact, he thinks he is the victim, and his free speech was violated:

"I still maintain my right to protect my identity is my right," Ardis said in an interview with the Journal Star before the council meeting.

"Are there no boundaries on what you can say, when you can say it, who you can say it to?" Ardis said. "You can’t say (those tweets) on behalf of me. That’s my problem. This guy took away my freedom of speech."

Note to mayors: If you arrest people for saying things on the Internet, you are the ones taking away freedom of speech.

Obama Looking at 'All the Options' on Iraq, Bergdahl Returns, Who Will Replace Cantor?: P.M. Links


  • Iraq is in chaos. President Obama announced this afternoon that he's "looking at all the options" available to remedy the situation.
  • Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been at a military hospital in Germany, is returning to the U.S. today.  
  • Who will replace Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as House Majority Leader? It's looking like it'll either be House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).
  • The White House won't fire anybody over the big oopsy that revealed who the CIA's top agent in Afghanistan is.
  • The Pew Research Center conducted its largest ever political survey and determined that Americans are more polarized than ever.
  • Former President George H.W. Bush jumped out of a helicopter today to celebrate his 90th birthday. He's been doing a celebratory skydive every five years since he turned 75. 
  • The World Cup just started! Hopefully the cops are done teargasing protesters, but probably not.

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Family of Man Shot by Cop Suing City for Hiring Him Despite Problems at Previous Job


shot by copIn 2012 Officer Darren Moody of the Dothan, Alabama, police department shot and killed unarmed Christopher Jerome Thomas in his SUV after a 12-block pursuit that ended in a parking lot. The Houston County District Attorney ruled the shooting justified, pointing to Thomas' refusal to stop as the reason he died.

He also told the press Thomas had multiple bags of marijuana in his car and marijuana in his system. What he didn't say, but has now come out in a lawsuit by the family, is that Moody mistakenly believed he was pursuing a convicted felon, Jerry Jerome Hill, when he shot Thomas. 

Via WDHN in Dothan:

In the lawsuit it's alleged that Moody initially believed he was chasing someone other than Thomas. Radio transmissions in a video/audio of the chase obtained exclusively by WDHN/DothanFirst confirm that Moody thought he was chasing Jerry Jerome Hill, a convicted felon also known as "Booty Bop". Moody indicated he believed Hill had charges outstanding against him. 

Katherine Thomas claims her son was killed when Moody jumped from his car and began firing shots before giving Christopher Thomas an adequate chance to surrender.

Some witnesses claim Moody ran toward Thomas' car and fired at nearly point blank range with the officer never in the path of Thomas' vehicle. Other witnesses dispute those claims.

The lawsuit accuses the Dothan Police Department of being neglectful in hiring Moody, who it alleges had multiple personnel violations while previously employed at the police department in Pensacola, Florida. In its lawsuit, the family is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

SCOTUS Watch: Big Rulings on Executive Power, Police Power, and Obamacare Coming Soon


It's coming down to the wire at the U.S. Supreme Court. With less than three calendar weeks remaining before the justices depart for their summer break, 17 cases are still undecided. Among them are several of the term's biggest potential blockbusters, including major showdowns over executive power, police power, political speech, and the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Here's a rundown of the cases to watch as the Supreme Court's 2013-2014 term comes to a close.

National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning

The Constitution allows the president to make temporary appointments to fill vacant government offices when the Senate is in recess and is thus unavailable to provide the "advice and consent" mandated by the Constitution. Yet President Barack Obama flaunted that rule by making three "recess" appointments to the National Labor Relations Board when the Senate was not—according to its own rules—in recess. In fact, the Senate was then holding pro forma sessions for the very purpose of preventing Obama from making any and all recess appointments. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which ruled against the Obama administration in January 2013, Obama's approach "would demolish the checks and balances inherent in the advice-and-consent requirement, giving the President free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch, or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction. This cannot be the law." Judging by the recent oral argument, a majority of the Supreme Court may well agree with that assessment.

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 contains a provision commonly known as the contraceptive mandate. It requires most employers to cover birth control in their health care plans. Churches, however, are exempted from that requirement, and church-affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, are granted an accommodation. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a family-owned chain of arts and crafts retailers, says it also operates according to religious values, and should therefore not be forced to cover four methods of birth control that it deems tantamount to abortion. The Obama administration, by contrast, maintains that for-profit corporations should never be allowed to mount a free exercise challenge to a federal statute. During oral argument, however, that argument by the White House met with fierce resistance from the Court. "Take five Jewish or Muslim butchers," Justice Stephen Breyer told Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. "What you're saying to them is if they choose to work under the corporate form,” they lose access to the Free Exercise Clause. "Looked at that way," Breyer continued, "I don't think it matters whether they call themselves a corporation or whether they call themselves individuals."

Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus

It's a criminal offense in the state of Ohio to make "false statements" about political candidates. Who gets to decide what counts as false? A state agency, that's who. And that agency is staffed with political appointees wielding the power to silence their political enemies. The Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative anti-abortion group, would like to challenge this law on constitutional grounds. But a lower court threw out the case, arguing that the group lacked standing to sue, despite the fact that Susan B. Anthony List had already been hauled before the Ohio Elections Commission and accused of violating the law, suffering what our legal system normally recognizes as a justiciable injury. During oral argument, a majority of the Court appeared ready to give the conservative group its day in court. "Don't you think," Justice Anthony Kennedy told Ohio State Solicitor Eric Murphy, "there's a serious First Amendment concern with a state law that requires you to come before a commission to justify what you are going to say and which gives the commission discovery power to find out who's involved in your association, what research you made, et cetera?"

Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie

The Fourth Amendment protects our "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." There are, however, a few exceptions. For example, when the police place you under arrest, they don't need a warrant to search you for weapons or evidence. But what about the cellphone that you may be carrying in your pocket at that time? May the police also conduct a warrantless search of that phone, including the many private emails, messages, photos, videos, and GPS tracking data it undoubtedly contains? These two cases raise those very questions. According to the Obama administration, which has taken the side of aggressive law enforcement, "Although cell phones can contain a great deal of personal information, so can many other items that officers have long had authority to search, and the search of a cell phone is no more intrusive than other actions that the police may take once a person has been lawfully arrested." During oral argument, however, several justices appeared deeply troubled by the implications of that position. "Take an offense like failing to buckle up, even driving under the influence," observed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to California Solicitor General Edward Dumont. "It's your rule...that the cell phone is fair game no matter what the crime, no matter how relatively unimportant the crime." That, Ginsburg stressed, "opens the world to the police."

Ron Paul, Justin Amash Sound off on David Brat and the Intra-GOP Feud


On last night's episode of The Independents, Ron Paul argued that David Brat's victory was good for libertarians, and that the Bowe Bergdahl swap was on balance the right thing to do (unlike opening a Cuban prison camp in the first place). Watch:

Later in the show, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) talked about how Cantor's defeat affects his longstanding tussles with the GOP establishment, whether Brat will line up with the Liberty Caucus, and how Amash is faring in his primary challenge against a Chamber of Commerce-backed opponent:

See more past Independents video at this link.

School District Made Kids Clean the Restrooms If Caught 'Bullying'


RestroomShould misbehaving kids who attend Berkeley, California, schools be forced to scrub public restrooms as punishment? The parent of an 11-year-old boy who was given such a punishment says no.

Ishmael Perry was accused of using "bullying" language at an after school program, although the boy claimed he was merely an innocent bystander and it was a different child who made the remark. Nevertheless, Perry was given the choice of suspension or bathroom–cleaning duty.

Now, his mother is claiming that the punishment was inappropriate and made the boy sick. According to KCBS:

“Why is cleaning bathrooms an option? It should never happen,” said Magdalene Kingori, Ishmael’s mom.

Kingori said her son came down with whooping cough and missed four days of school.

“He was compromised. He was touching pee pee for a week,” she said. “And now he’s sick!”

She took her case all the way to the district superintendent, who said that discipline was inappropriate, and students will no longer be punished that way. But the district refuses to discuss the case with KCBS and considers the matter closed.

In fairness to the district, another parent disputed Kingori's account, telling local reporters that Perry was only made to pick up trash in the bathroom, not scrub it.

Is Dave Brat the "Elizabeth Warren of the Right"?


There’s no shortage of explanations for why Eric Cantor became the first House majority leader to lose a primary since the job was created in 1899. But while it’s useful to ask why Cantor lost, it’s also worth wondering about the flip side: Why did Dave Brat, Cantor’s barely funded, little-known challenger, win?

Obviously these questions are highly related, but they are not exactly the same. The first views the primary contest result through the prism of Cantor’s many weaknesses; the second views it through the prism of Brat’s strengths. To put it another way: It’s not just about what Cantor did poorly; it’s also about what Brat did well.

One of the most interesting possible answers to that second question comes from The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, who describes Brat as “the Elizabeth Warren of the right”—a populist crusader who targeted the wealthy, connected, and powerful rather than campaigning against welfare moocherism:

From what I’ve observed, Brat has not talked like a forty-seven-per-cent conservative complaining about how tax dollars are being shovelled to the undeserving poor (although maybe he does believe that and didn’t emphasize it in the campaign). He comes across, instead, like a ninety-nine-per-cent conservative who sees the real villain as corporate America and its addiction to government largesse. One of his biggest applause lines is about how bankers should have gone to jail after the 2008 financial crisis. Brat is the Elizabeth Warren of the right.

The divisions within the Republican Party since 2010 are not always obvious from the shorthand we commonly use: Tea Party versus establishment, conservatives versus moderates, outsiders versus insiders. Brat’s stump speech, inspired by the country’s top corporate-lobbying group, was notable for the clarity with which it defined these often opaque categories. Eric Cantor “is running on the Chamber of Commerce growth plan,” Brat told a small gathering at the Life Church in Hanover, Virginia, last April. “The Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable. If you’re in big business, he’s good for you. But if you’re in any other group, it’s not good for you.”

What Wall Street was asking from Washington was, “Just keep it stable for us so we can make profits.” Brat went on: “I’m an economist. I’m pro-business. I’m pro-big business making profits. But what I’m absolutely against is big business in bed with big government. And that’s the problem.”

It’s certainly possible to take the Warren analogy too far; Brat doesn’t have the same devoted following as Warren or her Ivy League academic prestige, and he lacks a parallel position within the conservative firmament. But it’s not a bad comparison, as far as it goes. And it touches on some of the ways that liberal populism and conservative or libertarian-tinged populism often overlap—the distrust of elites, frustration with those in power, and anger over the ways that big government and big business, so often assumed to be titanic opponents, work in tandem against the interests of the masses.

It also suggests the political power of this populist critique, even on the right. In recent years, liberals have successfully channeled anger against the joining of businesses interests and political power, but Republican politicians have not been nearly as effective in their attempts to do so, despite the current of anti-elite sentiment that runs through the Tea Party. There are many reasons why the GOP hasn't been as successful (its reliance on corporate donors, its professional connections with corporate lobbying groups, the fact that many of its candidates are themselves part of the business class), but one reason why is that criticism of business, big or small, is simply not part of the identity the GOP has built for itself over the last several decades. That’s not the language it speaks; the GOP is the party that represents business, not the party that criticizes corporate power.

Dave Brat, on the other hand, knew how to speak that language, and it turned out to be particularly effective against an eager, ambitious establishmentarian widely viewed as out of touch with the local interests of his constituents.

In the coming months, I suspect we’ll see more Republican politicians follow his lead and attempt to mount a similar critique of intertwined corporate and business power. That would be a positive development, in my view, for a party that has too often been narrowly beholden to large corporate interests at the expense of larger governing priorities.

But simply mimicking Brat’s rhetoric won’t be enough. Brat’s win showed the power of this approach as a critique, especially against a high-status business-friendly politician like Cantor, but what free-market populists and the ninety-nine-percenters of the right need is more than a critique; they also need an agenda. Brat so far seems to be surprisingly weak on even basic policy details: Asked about his position on the minimum wage yesterday, he declined to answer directly, begging off by citing lack of sleep. That's not the sort of sign that suggests firm legislative commitments, much less a clear and motivating agenda.

Elizabeth Warren’s influence and popularity have as much to do with what she’s for—both in the big picture and in terms of specific policy goals—as what she’s against. What Brat did well was critique his own party, and channel frustration with its current leadership. But for Brat or any other Republican to become the Warren of the right, they’ll need to offer more than a critique; they'll need to suggest a forward direction as well. 

Tesla Motors Opens Up Its Patents


no vroom right?The electric car company Tesla Motors has announced it would allow its patents to be used in good faith and not pursue legal action against those who do use them. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk announced on the company blog:

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.

Musk goes on to explain that Tesla collected patents despite his avowed aversion to them out of a (misplaced, he says) fear that big car companies would squeeze him out of the electric car business. Instead he’s found little interest in joining the electric car marketplace.

Another Elon Musk company, SpaceX, apparently holds almost no patents. In that case, Musk said filing patents would be “farcical,” as the company’s main competitors are in China, he believes “the Chinese would just use them as a recipe book.”

More Reason on intellectual property.

h/t Scott F.

Giving More Authors and Readers Freer Access to Each Other is "Reactionary," Because...Ayn Rand!


One of the more gross and annoying aspects of modern liberal intellectuals is how vital and proper they think it is to piss on every new technique that allows more people to accomplish more things, because, well, near as I can tell the dominant "thought" behind this is that it limits the cultural power of gatekeepers, which for some reason are dearly loved by people who a) see themselves as culturally "on the side" of the gatekeepers or at the very least not on the side of those making and using the techniques.

Or b), they just really get off on penning people in behind gates.

I've written on this phenomenon before as it applied to the New Republic's sneering at the terrible offense of Kickstarter (which allows people to easily and cheaply raise funds for their particular version of cool stuff) and the New Yorker being alarmed and annoyed by the "maker movement" (which encourages the use and spread of techniques and ideas that allow more people to, again, make more cool stuff). Anything that allows more choices and abundance outside a context that's political or that fails to enforce "social consciousness" just gripes some writers' guts a whole bunch. I genuinely don't get it—and neither do they get what they are complaining about.

The latest annoying example of this trend is from the U.K. Guardian, by Alan Skinner, titled "Self-Publishing is not Revolutionary--It's Reactionary" and sneers at the rise of the "authorpreneur."

Some excerpts w/arguments:

self-publishing is neither radical nor liberating. And, as revolutions go, it is rather short on revolutionaries. It is actually reactionary, a contracted version of the traditional publishing model in which companies, who produce for a wide range of tastes and preferences, are replaced by individual producers each catering to very narrow range.

No, in fact they are replaced by a wide range of individual producers producing whatever they want to for everyone in the world.

But while traditional publishing, in Skinner's read, is nicely and sweetly centralized by experts (and don't worry he writes—anyone can submit a book to a trad publisher! Well, not really), the ability for every writer to reach every reader is something much, much worse: individualistic.

By definition, self-publishing is an individualistic pursuit in which each writer is both publisher and market adventurer, with every other writer a potential competitor and the reader reduced to the status of consumer. Publishing then becomes timid, fearing to be adventurous and revolutionary lest it betray the expectations of its market. This is a natural tendency in traditional publishing but it is one restrained by the voices of its authors who are free to put their work first and entrepreneurship a distant second. With authorship and entrepreneurship now equal partners, the new authorpreneurs have thrown off the dictatorship of the editor to replace it with the tyranny of the market.

What makes an author able to put work first and entrepreneurship a distant second? Well, I guess mistakes made by editor and publishers, at times. A point that Skinner might find too vulgar to mention is that an author through trad publishing gets at best around 10-15 percent of the income from his work, as opposed to easily 4-5 times that through e-book platforms, so the amount any writer needs to sell to be recompensed for her work is actually far lower with self-publishing.

Cross-subsidies from commercial titles support poets, academics and writers of new and daring literary fiction who will never appear on bestseller lists. Such concerted action is impossible in a fragmented world where each writer pursues individual success.

One hears this a lot. He provides no evidence of it, specifically. The whole notion of "cross-subsidies" may happen on occasion, though generally when publishers print books that don't make a lot of money it's because they made a mistake, and generally a pretty cheap one, given size of most advances and lack of any expense on promotion, not because they are nobly supporting literature. The "support" that reaches writers in a self-published e-book market is enormously higher per reader/customer reached than in a traditional model.

But how do you know self-publishing is really wrong, when the weakness of assuming that traditional publishing will somehow find or distribute more great literature (presuming we are in a world where anyone is writing great literature) with more support to the author (as opposed to themselves) becomes obvious with about 10 seconds of thought? Because, Ayn Rand!

the individualism of the self-publishing authorpreneurs, is disturbingly close to Ayn Rand's Objectivism, in which the greatest goal is individual fulfilment. No wider context needs to be considered because these wider goals will take care of themselves if every individual pursues a personal objective without regard to anyone else. It is the philosophy of pure laissez-faire capitalism that rejects community and mutual responsibility.

No, self-publishing is the philosophy of "I write whatever I want, and I have the means to find out if anyone out there in the community wants it" rather than the philosophy of "God I hope I can fool an editor and a marketing board into paying me an advance far, far more than the book will ever earn back." The "wider context" he worries doesn't exist is one where authors are unfettered, get more for their work, and are recompensed based on how much the literary community writ large chooses to support them.

Better, thinks Skinner (and I hope there is no mass audience that was on his side), that authors be tended and managed by huge international conglomerates who will, as most authors who pay any attention know, take 85 percent or more of the income on your work for no consideration other than a loan (which they, kindly enough, generally will not try to dragoon out of you at any cost if it doesn't technically recoup) and are every step of the way more interested in maximising their income over gaining you either income or readers (note their general unwillingness to do or spend anything at all on promoting your work once they've paid the bills to print it and ship it to Amazon, and their desire to keep e-book prices as high as they think they can, and that's not to help the author.)

There is so little substance to his argument I can't imagine what would inspire him to write and publish this unless it's having big ownership stakes in French or German megaconglomerates. Because this guy nattering about community and attacking individualism and laissez-faire is doing so in service of arguments that don't help readers and don't help writers. They only help publishers.

I made fun of a similar gatekeeper attack on self-publishing for Suck.com back in the go-go 00s. As I wrote then and as most professional authors not at the tippy-toppermost of the poppermost know:

Indeed it is true that, as Bissell and Younce write, "without an editor, marketing or publicity, [a] book will enter the world with a silence that makes a tree falling in the woods sound like Chinese New Year in comparison." What they don't mention is that the great majority of books published by even Manhattan-based publishers with lovingly crafted colophons and well-situated offices face the same deafening disinterest. While these books don't qualify as "vanity publishing," the great majority of professional published authors will find their efforts to have been in vain.....

As a service sought out, gatekeeping is noble enough. As an impermeable barrier, it's a cultural crime. Only those afraid of what's out there, or convinced they can't defend themselves, crave impregnable gatekeepers. 

That said, the cultural and technological changes of the past decade have made it easier, though of course never actually easy, for any writer anywhere to reach any reader, and for communities of affinity and communication to arise and thrive that will provide each of us with self-crafted means of "gatekeeping" about what we might like or want to read.

These new systems don't involve paying high salaries and giving midtown Manhattan offices to a bunch of people who could not possibly care less about author or reader, and that's, um, a shame, I guess.

Bonus "disgusting examples of the intellectual twists people will go through to justify state action to restrict our possibilities" in this huge Nation think piece on how marketplace choice is objectively bad for us and needs to be stopped.