June 13th, 2014

Brickbat: This Just Smells Bad

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Matthew Heller returned to his truck after attending a concert to find someone had broken into it and torn it apart. He also found a note from the Tampa, Florida, police department claiming credit for the destruction. The cop who left the note said they notice a strong smell of marijuana coming from the truck, though they did not actually find any. A police spokesman said the search was perfectly legal.

J.D. Tuccille on the President's Price-Hiking Student Loan Scheme

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CollegeWhen he was a college freshman in 1983, writes J.D. Tuccille, average tuition, fees, room and board at private, nonprofit colleges added up to $18,143 in 2013 dollars. This year, that number has risen to $40,917. Public colleges are cheaper than their private counterparts, but they've seen similar soaring costs. You can expect more of the same, warns Tuccille, as President Obama commits the federal government to further subsidize student borrowing, thereby encouraging colleges to hike prices to match.

View this article.

Kurt Loder Reviews 22 Jump Street and The Rover

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Very cute. 22 Jump Street isn't just an improbable sequel to the smash hit 21 Jump Street of two years ago – it's virtually the same damn story. Oh, there are some piffling changes. This time, instead of being sent back to high school to bust a student drug ring, undercover cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) have graduated to busting a college drug ring. Kurt Loder writes that, nevertheless, the film is so skillfully wrought, and Hill and Tatum so nuttily attuned, you have to hope that no one involved will be moved to pursue an endless series of further installments. 

View this article.

A.M. Links: Iraq Falls Apart, Obama Weighs Military Action, More Clashes in Ukraine

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  • The news from Iraq keeps getting worse. On the heels of the insurgent takeover of Mosul, military experts now say that Iraq's Al Qaeda offshoot appears to have "grown into a military organization that is no longer conducting terrorist activities exclusively but is conducting conventional military operations." Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is considering a new round of military action in Iraq.
  • Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the captured U.S. soldier recently swapped for five Taliban fighters held at Guantanamo, is back on American soil.
  • Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists are battling in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently out promoting her new memoir, had an ill-tempered exchange with National Public Radio over her "evolving" views on gay marriage, including the uncomfortable fact that her husband, President Bill Clinton, signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. "I think you are trying to say that I used to be opposed and now I am in favor and I did it for political reasons," Clinton complained to NPR host Terry Gross.

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Do the French Want Edward Snowden?

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Oliver Stone may have purchased the film rights to Edward Snowden's life story, but it seems as if the French are aiming for the rights to Snowden's freedom by petitioning to grant him political asylum. 

Snowden's Russian visa is set to expire in July and it's unclear what will happen to him once this occurs. Leaving nothing to chance, French magazine L'Express has taken to the online petition site Change.org to put the pressure on President François Hollande to welcome Snowden as a political refugee citing France's history as a country "known for human rights and freedom of the press."

The petition, which was launched last week, is about 45,000 votes shy of its 200,000 signature goal, though some high-profile French figures have signed on to the document including former Prime Minister Michel Rocard, former member of the European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and author Caroline Fourest. 

In March, Reason TV caught up with Change.org founder Ben Rattray at the 2014 SxSW Interactive Festival and discussed the power of online platforms like Change.org to spur social change. 

Jacob Sullum on Banks' Cannabusiness Conundrum

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Last fall, Bank of America agreed to accept revenue from the license fees paid by marijuana growers, processors, and retailers in Washington. But Bank of America, like most financial institutions, does not accept deposits directly from marijuana businesses, which under federal law still qualify as criminal enterprises.

"The only way to really get banking is to not give the bank the entire story," one cannabusiness owner told Jacob Sullum. In "Marijuana Money in the Mattress," Sullum looks at how federal law leaves cannabusinesses with few financial options. 

View this article.

The Least-Liked Minority Group? Atheists.

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Atheist EvilAs I reported a couple of years back, research shows that believers trust atheists about as much they do rapists. A new study published in The Journal of Applied Social Psychology reports that atheists are the most disliked minority group. From the abstract: 

Prejudice against atheists is pervasive in the United States. Atheists lag behind virtually all other minority groups on measures of social acceptance. The sociofunctional approach suggests that distrust is at the core of anti-atheist prejudice, thus making it qualitatively different than prejudice against other disadvantaged groups. Accordingly, this research examined political bias against atheists, gays, and Blacks and the affective content accompanying such biases. Results indicated that atheists suffered the largest deficit in voting intentions from Christian participants, and this deficit was accompanied by distrust, disgust, and fear, thereby suggesting that the affective content of anti-atheist prejudice is both broader and more extreme than prejudice against other historically disadvantaged groups.

Distrust, disgust, and fear? Surely, that's a bit of an overreaction to intellectual smugness. As an out-atheist since my teens, I have, to my knowledge, never experienced any prejudice on account of my non-belief. (Well, there was this one dinner party at our house during which the wife of one of my wife's colleagues expressed considerable shock upon learning that I am an atheist. Apparently, I was the first atheist she'd ever met. On subsequent social occasions, she has never been in the same room with me again. Perhaps that's just a coincidence.)

Will anti-atheist bigotry abate in the future? As I have previously noted:

Time magazine in 2012 listed “The Rise of the Nones” as one of the biggest trends in the United States. It turns out that the fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. is Americans who list their religious affiliation as “none.” A 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 16 percent of Americans are unaffiliated with any religious group; about half of them could be described as secular unaffiliated. Twenty-five percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are unaffiliated with any particular religion. If this trend toward nonbelief continues, it’s going to be harder and harder for believers to continue to practice bigotry against atheists. Nonbelievers are their children, their relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

I suspect that "othering" atheists will fall out of fashion as growing familiarity with non-believers eventually breeds acceptance.

See also Reason TV's report on the biggest atheist gathering in history in March, 2012 below:

Sane Talk on Iraq

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A man who owes his presidency to his opposition to the Iraq war is now pondering a new intervention in the same country. Some of his foremost critics think the president is being too cautious, even accusing him of "surrendering." The debate over Iraq has gotten so risible that if Saddam Hussein were still alive, some hawks would probably be calling for Washington to "finish the job" by reinstalling him.

Fortunately, some people have kept their heads. One of them is The Monkey Cage's Marc Lynch:

Caption contest!The absence of U.S. troops because of the 2011 withdrawal is an extremely minor part of the story at best. The intense interaction between the Syrian and Iraqi insurgencies is certainly an important accelerant, but again is only part of the story. Nor is the U.S. reluctance to provide more arms to "moderate" Syrian rebels really the key to the growth of ISIS in Syria or in Iraq. It's a bit hard to believe that the jihadists who have joined up with ISIS would have been deterred by the presence of U.S.-backed forces—"Well, we were going to wage jihad to establish an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but the U.S. is arming moderates so I guess we'll stay home." In reality, the shift to an externally fueled insurgency and the flow of money and weapons to a variety of armed groups is what created the conditions that allowed ISIS to thrive in the first place.

The more interesting questions are about Iraq itself. Why are these cities falling virtually without a fight? Why are so many Iraqi Sunnis seemingly pleased to welcome the takeover from the Iraqi government by a truly extremist group with which they have a long, violent history? Why are Iraqi Sunni political factions and armed groups, which previously fought against al-Qaeda in Iraq, now seemingly cooperating with ISIS? Why is the Iraqi military dissolving rather than fighting to hold its territory? How can the United States help the Iraqi government fight ISIS without simply enabling Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's authoritarianism and sectarianism?...

I've long argued that the only thing that would force Maliki to change his ways would be his perception that his survival depended on it. When U.S. troops were fighting his war and securing his rule, he consistently refused to make the political accommodations that his U.S. advisers pushed upon him. After U.S. troops left, he enjoyed sufficient political strength and military security to strike the kind of political deal that could have consolidated a legitimate Iraqi order. Instead, he moved to consolidate his personal power and punish Sunni political opponents.

Read the rest here.

Addendum: Daniel Larison is making sense too. In a post at The American Conservative, he criticizes

the expectation that an American military presence gives the U.S. the ability to "shape" political outcomes in a significant and constructive way. This overlooks the fact that the U.S. was remarkably unsuccessful in influencing Maliki's behavior during the years when the U.S. was fully occupying the country. The assumption that an American presence would make it easier for different factions to compromise ignores that the eruption of sectarian bloodletting took place under U.S. supervision, and it also fails to take into account that opposing the U.S. presence served as a rallying point for both Shia militias and jihadist groups.

Read the rest here.

Uncle Sam Wants More Young Folks to Work for "Totally Hip" Bureaucracies

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Uncle SameKids aren't too keen on working for the government anymore and that has Uncle Sam worried.

With the portion of guys and gals under the age of 30 employed by the government hitting an eight-year low of 7 percent in 2013, government officials are concerned that without young tech-savvy talent, the public sector will fall behind.

Not to mention that about a quarter of all federal employees will be eligible to retire in September 2016 with cushy pension plans

So, why aren't the kids jumping at a chance to sell their souls to bureaucratic work? (Hint: It's not because government gigs are underpaid.)

According to a survey of college undergraduates by employer-branding consultancy Universum, student interest in federal work has declined over the last four years. 

It might be the government's un-cool image, according to Paul Light, a professor of public policy at New York University. A reputation of bureaucracy and hierarchy doesn't appeal all that well to the under-30 crowd.

Other recruiting problems:

  • Baby Boomers "hanging on," which limits job mobility for those looking to move up.
  • The hiring process is confusing, lengthy, and difficult with job titles that are shrouded in acronyms and jargon. 
  • Strict recruiting rules (read: no part drug use allowed) filter out promising prospects before upper-level managers can consider them.

The State Department is trying to reach the young crowd where you can find them the most—on their cellphones. The department released a mobile careers app in 2013. Other agencies are trying to bridge the generational tech-gap by connecting with the kids on Facebook and Twitter.

But the most amusing attempt comes from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) who jumped on the "Gangnam Style" fad of 2012 with its own parody video as part of a volunteer outreach project.

In the end, though, millennials may respond best to cold hard cash: It takes just 10 years of soul-crushing public service work to get your soul-crushing student loan debt forgiven.

Teen Charged With Felony for Toilet Papering School Bathroom

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At least once a summer growing up, I went on a toilet-papering spree. I was far from some sort of hooligan (at least not yet)—these were adult-sanctioned outings, generally undertaken by one group of aunts and cousins against another group of aunts and cousins. We would wait until after dark, creep on to our target's front lawn, and gleefully wrap rolls of paper around trees and bushes and mailboxes. The point is, my mom and relatives saw toilet papering for what it was: a harmless prank. 

Of course, we could also twirl our pencils menacingly in class and bring sunscreen on class field trips then. Those were different times. In these times, a harmless prank like toilet papering could get you a felony record, as one 15-year-old in Pittsburgh is finding out.

The unnamed teen is clearly an idiot: Not only did he film himself toilet papering the bathroom at a local elementary school, he posted the "Toilet Paper Madness" video—in which he can be both heard and seen—publicly to YouTube. He also seems like kind of a jerk. 

But teen boys can be jerks. Most grow out of it. Maybe after being suspened for 10 days—which he was, in April—our teen toilet paper vandal would have thought twice before doing it again. Or maybe not. Who knows? But one of the most surefire ways to ensure a wayward/jerk kid doesn't grow out of it is to saddle that kid with a criminal record, and that's what this teen is now facing.

After school officials identified him in the YouTube video through his voice and shoes, "the police got involved," CBS Pittsburgh reports. The teen admitted everything. Now he's been charged with felony vandalism, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct.

"Senseless act," Lt. Thomas Kolencik told CBS about the toilet papering. Sure. But more senseless than charging an already-disciplined teen with a felony for clogging school toilets? 

Friday A/V Club: The Writer, the Serial Killer, and the Goddess of Chaos

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The true-crime author Sondra London achieved some fame in the 1990s by writing about serial killers, collaborating with them on their own writing, and—notoriously—getting romantically involved with one of her subjects. Her work with the Florida murderer Danny Rolling, to whom she was engaged for a while, led to a court case in 1997, and that in turn led to one of the most bizarre moments ever to air on Court TV.

First, here's some background on the case, courtesy of The New York Times:

Colin Wilson finds another outsider to write about.Judge Martha Ann Lott found that the collaborations of the writer, Sondra London, with Danny Rolling, who murdered five college students, were subject to a Florida law that bars convicted felons from profiting from their stories, artwork and autographs....

The Florida law under which the state sued Ms. London is a version of New York's "Son of Sam" law, named for the serial killer David Berkowitz, who signed his letters to reporters "Son of Sam."

Wednesday's ruling was the first to use such a law against an author collaborating with a convicted felon. The New York law was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1991, but the Florida law, retooled by the Legislature in the wake of that decision, has never been challenged in appellate court.

Judge Lott's written ruling found that Ms. London shared a unique and special relationship with Mr. Rolling and that the law could be applied to her just as it could to him.

The judge specifically mentioned contracts between the two, love letters they had exchanged, their one-time engagement and a marriage they conducted on the Internet.

One more thing about London: She was friends with Kerry Thornley, the co-founder of the prank religion Discordianism.

So here is the Court TV clip, which begins with a bizarre discussion of that "marriage they conducted on the Internet"—you may get the impression that in 1997, some people were still unclear on just what this cyberspace thing was—and then gets even weirder when the subject of Discordianism comes up:

Somewhere out there, there's somebody who stumbled on that while channel-surfing and still hasn't quite recovered.

Bonus links: For past installments of the Friday A/V Club, go here. And for a perhaps-more-lucid explanation of Discordianism, check out chapter nine of this book.

Washington's Looming Pot Shortage

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State-licensed pot stores are expected to start opening in Washington next month, but they won't have much pot to sell. As of Tuesday, the Washington State Liquor Control Board had issued 58 cultivation licenses; 2,585 applications from would-be growers were still pending. "There will be high demand and only a handful of people growing," says Scott O'Neil, whose store in Spokane is likely to be one of the first open for business in the state. "It's going to take at least a year to sort it out, get everybody up and running."

In addition to shortages, pot store customers will face taxes that are projected to make retail prices about 60 percent higher than they would otherwise be. Add to those factors the costs of establishing businesses that comply with state and local regulations, and the upshot, as I explain in my new Reason feature story about legalization in Washington, is that prices for legal pot will be substantially higher than current black-market prices.

How much higher? Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Jake Ellison, based on interviews with growers and retailers, estimates that "prices per gram will range from $15 to $25 (with some higher spikes and brief lows, possibly at $12 a gram)." Assuming a 30 percent discount for buying an entire ounce (which seems reasonable, based on prices charged by stores in Colorado), that range amounts to something like $300 to $500 per ounce. By comparison, the Price of Weed website, which collects data from cannabis buyers around the country, is currently reporting an average price of about $232 per ounce for high-quality marijuana in Washington. Looking at neighboring states, prices are a bit lower in Oregon ($209) and a bit higher in Montana and Idaho ($268 and $276, respectively). Another point of comparison: Denver dispensaries currently are charging medical customers around $10 per gram, 50 percent less than the low end of Ellison's range. Recreational customers pay more than that, but typically less than $15. Seattle dispensaries catering to patients charge $8 to $15 per gram.

In short, assuming Ellison's estimate is in the right ballpark, prices for marijuana sold by Washington's state-licensed stores could be nearly twice as high as the prices charged by dispensaries and black-market dealers. "We want to offer a wide variety of prices and quality that's affordable," one retail applicant tells Ellison. "I've had a lot of people tell me, 'We're just going to keep buying from the black market or from medical.' And that's what we don't want to see. I want to see this come out, and the retail be looked at, and [Initiative] 502 be looked at, as a good thing and a fair thing."

The LCB hopes to see state-licensed stores serving 25 percent of the market by the end of their first year (next summer, assuming licensing proceeds on schedule). Some critics (including me) see that goal as insufficiently ambitious, since supplanting the black market was one of I-502's big selling points. But given the meager initial supply and the hefty premium for legal marijuana, 25 percent may prove to be a pipe dream.

"The market, to really work and to really capture that 25 percent, will need to have consistent supply and quality supply," says Philip Dawdy of the Washington Cannabis Association, who has applied for a production license. "If you put up enough barriers for consumers, it discourages a certain percentage of them and sends them to another market. I think we're going to see that here. I think you'll see a lot of people in the beginning go to the stores just for the novelty of it. But at a certain point they're gonna say, 'Why the heck am I paying $20 a gram when Jimmy the pot dealer's gonna sell it to me for $13 a gram?' I think we're going to continue to have a black market for several years. I know pot dealers in my neighborhood in Seattle. They've all told me they're not worried a bit."

Steven Greenhut Says Fake Moral Outrage Threatens Online Poker

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Currently, online poker faces a prohibition in California. New legislation would legalize the game, but with myriad restrictions. The always cash-starved state wants to profit — and sees a potential $800 million in additional revenues by 2020, based on a recent study circulated by a pro-poker group. But an odd alliance has emerged as the California Legislature moves forward on a bid to legalize online poker. Various groups, from online poker companies to Indian casinos to a billionaire owner of a Las Vegas casino company, have been taking positions that they say are based on protecting the public. Steven Greenhut says they're feigning moral outrage to crush the competition. 

View this article.

Why Europe's Anti-Uber Protests Backfired: Jim Epstein in The Daily Beast

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The cabbies of Europe protest against Uber.As Brian Doherty noted at Hit & Run yesterday, the cabbies of Europe clogged the streets on Wednesday to demand that Uber, the high-tech car service that's upending the taxi business worldwide, be regulated or booted from their varous cities. I have a piece at The Daily Beast today looking at why the protests backfired—new Uber signups in London jumped 850 percent after Wednesday's action—and Europe's anti-Uber forces may have already lost the war.

First of all, the cabbies didn't even bother pretending that their objections had to do with anything other than turf protection. At least the taxi drivers of San Francisco and Chicago make an effort to pretend that their cause is really about passenger safety. Isn't it charming when a cabbie blocks traffic, bangs on his horn, or just drives very slowly, to make the point that the state should preserve his monopoly privileges?

While the cabbies say it's unfair that Uber is exempt from taxi regulations, the company is making a mockery of the notion that the testing and permitting requirements ubiquitous in European and U.S. cities serve any purpose other than to protect existing drivers. As I noted in the piece:

London mandates that its cabbies pass a 149-year-old exam called "The Knowledge" that requires them to master the city’s maze-like streets and know the precise location of museums, police stations, and theaters. As part of the test, they have to verbally recite detailed explanations of how best to travel from one location to another through the city’s roughly 25,000 arteries. Passing "The Knowledge" takes years of study, and most drivers fail at their first few tries. The test causes the gray matter in applicants’ brains to expand, according to one London researcher.

Perhaps the most compelling case for letting Uber thrive is that London’s brainy cabbies should devote their oversize hippocampi to contributing to fields like computer science and medical research. In an age of ubiquitous GPS devices, many of which also incorporate real-time traffic data, circling the city in a car is a profound waste of such exceptional minds. London may as well also require that cabbies master the art of saddling a horse and mending a harness.

Read the whole thing.

How Doctors Game Medicare's Billing System

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Today’s Wall Street Journal offers a revealing look at the dilemmas posed by government-run health insurance and centrally managed medical price setting. The story, headlined “Taxpayers face big Medicare tab for unusual doctor billings,” builds on a giant trove of recently released 2012 Medicare payment data to examine the more than 2,300 medical providers who got a $500,000-plus Medicare payout from performing many repetitions of a single procedure or service. Basically, they billed for the same thing, over and over and over again, in a way that stood out.

Now, why do you think would they do that? 

The story opens with a bit on Ronald S. Weaver, a Los Angeles doctor whose practice billed Medicare for $2.3 million in 2012—98 percent of which was from a single cardiac procedure. As the Journal story makes clear, Weaver’s reliance on the procedure is not typical. The red flags are pretty easy to spot.

The procedure is rarely used by the nation's heart doctors. Patients are strapped to a bed with three large cuffs that inflate and deflate rhythmically to increase blood flow through the arteries—a last resort to treat severe chest pain in people who can't have surgery.

The government data show that out of the thousands of cardiology providers who treated Medicare patients in 2012, just 239 billed for the procedure, and they used it on fewer than 5% of their patients on average. The 141 cardiologists at the Cleveland Clinic, renowned for heart care, performed it on just six patients last year. Dr. Weaver's clinic administered it to 99.5% of his Medicare patients—615 in all—billing the federal health-insurance program for the elderly and disabled 16,619 times, according to the data.

In an interview, Dr. Weaver said he learned about the procedure by "reading lots of articles, studies and clinical trials" and decided to build his practice around it. There is no consensus in the cardiology community whether the treatment provides significant benefits. Dr. Weaver, who likens it to "exercise while lying on your back," says it improves his patients' health.

Weaver isn’t the only doctor with large, unusual bills covered in the story. Another one billed Medicare for $1 million for 1,757 instances of a procedures that "involves threading a scope up the male urethra to burn potentially cancerous lesions inside the bladder." On average, urologists in the Medicare billing database performed that procedure just 38 times in 2012. Another doctor mentioned in the article billed Medicare for $2.41 million for a rare radiation treatment, far more than the other two doctors who billed for the procedure.

What could be going on here? Perhaps these providers found an easy way to exploit Medicare’s easily exploitable billing system? Well, not according to the doctors. As the Journal story notes, "the doctors featured in this article say financial incentives play no role in their treatment patterns." Indeed, some apparently argued that their treatments actually save money by reducing hospitalizations.

If so, the article presents no evidence of systematic savings generated from these procedures. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of evidence going back for years that medical providers of all stripes rearrange their practices so as to make those most of Medicare’s complex, centrally managed billing and pricing systems. More expensive procedures are performed more often than similar procedures that pay less. Upcoding, in which providers choose a higher-value billing code to describe a procedure, is rampant in Medicare billing. Big hospitals game state-level medical payment schemes designed to equalize pricing discrepancies.

Payment incentives matter a lot, and it’s almost impossible to strip complex billing systems of bad incentives. We recently uncovered an extreme version of this effect in the Veterans Affairs administration, which paid bonuses for lower wait times. So staffers cooked the books to make wait times seem artificially low.

Some of this legally dubious, but a lot of it is just how the system works. When medical bureaucrats design payment systems, medical providers end up figuring out how to maximize their returns from that system, and not always in ways that provide obvious medical benefits: Weaver’s chest pain procedure is, as the Journal notes, of uncertain medical value.

These sorts of stories frequently result in calls for more policing of abuse within the system. But I think they raise more fundamental questions about the system itself. Should Medicare be paying for procedures of unclear medical benefit? Should Medicare be paying for a single doctor to perform those procedures over and over again? And if so, how much should Medicare be paying? How should the system’s overseers determine exactly what the right price is?

It’s what Arnold Kling has called “the socialist calculation problem,” and it’s not really possible to resolve.

Inevitably, medical providers end up reshaping their practices, sometimes in ways that are obvious and often in ways that are more subtle, to match the incentives of the payment system.

There is nothing inherently wrong with building a medical practice around a single procedure, nor is there an inherent problem with patients requesting or receiving a procedure for which there is no clear medical consensus. The problems arise when the public is paying for these procedures, and when, as seems probable, they are being performed primarily to maximize financial gains from a government-administered system. The system creates opportunities for exploitation. We should not be surprised when some providers choose to exploit it.

Cop Who Shot Cats in Front of Kids Now Shoots Raccoon in Front of Kids

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If you went to see Maleficent or Godzilla or some other fantasy film, and the antagonist, instead of being supernaturally evil, shot five kittens in front of a group of children and then later shot an already-trapped baby raccoon in front of another group of kids, you'd probably leave the theater rolling your eyes at how unrealistic and senselessly cruel the character was. Unfortunately, the real world features a lot of outrageous behaviour as well as a humane officer named Barry Accorti who has apparently never come across the word overkill.

The Chronicle-Telegram reported earlier this week on the latest animal executions by the SWAT-commander-turned-humane-officer in the sleepy suburb of North Ridgeville, Ohio:

"This isn't the Wild West, you don't just pull out guns and shoot them, especially not in front of kids," Tim Sherrill said about an hour after one of the city's animal control officers shot and killed a young raccoon on his neighbor's property.

Sherrill, who was at work, said two other boys, also believed to be 10 years old, reportedly witnessed the shooting along with his son, Jordan.

The children were playing on the neighbor's property with that man's grandson, when the shooting occurred Monday, according to Sherrill.

"I own a gun myself," Sherrill said. "I can understand this up to a point … that they have to put animals down, but you don't do it in front of kids. I'm an adult, and I don't want to see it."

Police Chief Michael Freeman offered a different version of events, maintaining the raccoon was not shot near any children or dwellings by Humane Officer Barry Accorti, who estimated he shot the animal at least 70 yards from any house.

It's the word of the chief of police against a resident as to what happened, but this wouldn't be the first time the neighborhood has complained about Accorti's apparent behavior. Almost one year ago exactly, the officer left a group of kids "screaming and crying" and found himself under fire for taking the same extreme measure when called to remove feral cats from a family's yard.

The fact that he chose to shoot them, said a representative of the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was "new ground for us. We've dealt with a lot of humane societies and animal control officers, but I can't imagine an officer from any county in Ohio shooting kittens."

Despite multiple protests, the department last year deemed Accorti's actions appropriate and didn't punish him.

What's not at issue so much is that Accorti has killed these animals—feral animals get put down all the time—but how he publicly handles the situations and that his supervisors are essentially unfazed. Unfortunately, the citizens who pay Accorti's salary have no way of knowing if their next animal nuisance situation will turn into an excessively violent display of police power. 

Ronald Bailey Asks: Are Conservatives Dumber than Liberals?

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Dunce CapConservatives exhibit less cognitive ability than liberals do. Or that's what it says in the social science literature, anyway. For example, a 2010 study using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that the IQs of young adults who described themselves as "very liberal" averaged 106.42 points, whereas the mean of those who identified as "very conservative" was 94.82 points. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey delves into the research and finds that there is one political tendency whose adherents are generally smarter than either liberals or conservatives. 

View this article.

Liberals and Conservatives Hate Each Other So Much They Won't Live Together? What's the Problem?

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Red vs. BlueHave you heard about the great political divide that sets red against blue—the national polarization touted by breathless news stories about an already pretty gasp-y report by the Pew Research Center? "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines—and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive—than at any point in the last two decades," according to Pew. And while I suspect the divide is at least as much about tribal identity as it is about actual differences in ideology, it doesn't take much more than that to get people thoroughly pissed at each other.

In fact, reports Pew, Team Red and Team Blue don't even want to live near each other. "People on the right and left also are more likely to say it is important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views." It's not just ideology—the kinds of communities the teams prefer are at odds, with liberals favoring walkable urban settings and conservatives favoring roomier suburban and rural communities.

Wait a minute. Frankly, this seem to be a problem that can easily solve itself.

The phenomenon of political groups congregating with one another and away from the opposition has been reported upon before.

"The places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do," Bill Bishop noted in his 2008 book, The Big Sort. In a country driven by personal choice, he claimed, one thing Americans have been choosing to do is to live among the like-minded—and at a distance from those holding opposing views.

The new Pew report suggests that this phenomenon continues, fueled by preference for different lifestyles that happen to line up with political tribal affiliations. Both Pew and Bishop warn of dire consequences as a result.

But...How is this a problem? If people with common preferences and values choose to live near one another, shouldn't that reduce friction? At least, this seems like an excellent way to minimize conflicts over policies, so long as most policy choices are made at local levels by all of these like-minded people clustering together.

On the other hand, centralizing decision making defeats much of the purpose of clustering together, since people inevitably get unwelcome policies foisted on them by those awful people who live incomprehensible lives elsewhere.

Political sorting is actually a solution to deep ideological divides—if that sorting lets people live the way they want. But if people go through all of that trouble of moving away from the opposition, only to find alien rules, laws, and taxes jammed down their throats, you can see why "partisan antipathy" might get a little heated.

Today, Ron Bailey noted that research finds libertarian-minded people to be exceptionally smart. Which may be why we're able to tolerate the foibles of our annoying liberal and conservative neighbors.

Squirrels

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Rand Simberg Says Congress Threatens To Anchor Private Spaceflight With Extra Costs

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With first SpaceX and now Orbital Sciences cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, it's been an exciting decade so far for commercial spaceflight, which has shown the way to dramatic reductions in cost over the traditional NASA approach. With the roll out a couple weeks ago of SpaceX's new manned version of its Dragon capsule, we seem well on track to replacing the costly Russian Soyuz flights (currently our only means of getting Americans to orbit) with much cheaper ones on American vehicles. This is particularly important, given Russia's recent threats to cut off our access to the station. But Congress, in its perversity and rent seeking, seems determined to keep us dependent on them. Rand Simberg details this problematic agenda. 

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Politics are Polarized but America is Not: Pew Study Misses Bigger Point

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J.D. Tuccille has written up part of the new Pew Research study arguing that Democrats and Republicans are more polarized than they have been in at least 20 years. Tuccille notes that there's nothing wrong with wanting to live among people who share your values and ideas. Some people even find such things the basis of, what's the word?, community.

I've got a new Time column up that takes a different look at the Pew Study (which is truly fascinating). I think the researchers are right that people invested in partisan politices are more at each other's throats than they were two decades ago. But it's vital to recognize that most of us aren't such Team Red/Team Blue dead-enders. In fact, we're evacuating politics precisely because it's an ugly battle, often over stuff that should be nobody else's business.

There’s no question that people are leaving the major parties in droves. Between the 2008 and 2012 elections, USA Today reports, more than 2.5 million voters left the Democrats and the Republicans. “Registered Democrats declined in 25 of the 28 states that register voters by party,” according to USA Today’s tally. “Republicans dipped in 21 states, while independents increased in 18 states.” As politics gets more viciously partisan, more Americans are saying no thanks.

Then there are the areas in which consensus already exists or is growing rapidly. As political scientist Morris Fiorina explains in his book Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, Americans actually generally agree on many topics that inflame political partisans. Consider abortion, gay marriage, gun control, and pot legalization. Research from Pew itself shows only “modest generational differences in views of abortion gun control.” Fifty-five percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage (up from just 42 percent in 2004) and 58 percent support legalizing pot (up from 34 percent a decade ago). When it comes to Congress, few topics seem to engender more rage than immigration, but it turns out that 71 percent of voters — including 64 percent of Republicans — support comprehensive immigration reform.

When it comes to larger questions of the role of government in everyday life, for the past four years about 55 percent of Americans believe the “government is doing too much” and only 38 percent believe it should be doing more. That generally skeptical view of government is borne out in the record high level of people — a whopping 72 percent — who agree that government poses a bigger threat to our future than big business (21 percent) or big labor (5 percent).

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I don't know about you, but when I hear America singing, the chorus is pretty harmonious. The sour notes are coming from partisans whose days are numbered, this being "a libertarian moment" and all.

Read the whole thing.

Speaking of sour notes, here's the Ramones with their anthemic "Something to Believe In," released back in a simpler America where everyone loved each other, even Ronnie Raygun and Tipsy O'Neill:

What Should Replace Race-Based Affirmative Action?

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University of Texas at AustinThe Supreme Court and the court of public opinion are both shifting against race-based affirmative action in college admissions. But that doesn't mean acceptance to a university will be based purely on merit any time soon.

In a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed, Georgetown University Law Professor Sheryll Cashin—author of the new book, Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in Americaargued that geographic considerations should replace racial ones:

Q: Could the places designated for affirmative action include those where the disadvantaged people are white? Could a college, for example, specify rural poor people (of any race) who live in low-income areas as people on whom to focus?

A: Absolutely, assuming the college does not focus only on the rural poor. There are deserving strivers in cities and struggling suburbs, too. A high-achieving student from a low-opportunity place (e.g., where more than 20 percent of their peers are poor) is deserving of special consideration, regardless of his or her skin color. No one deserves affirmative action simply because they have dark skin or because her parent is an alumnus of her dream school. In addition to helping high-achieving students who are actually disadvantaged, place-based affirmative action has the benefit of encouraging rather than discouraging cross-racial alliances among the majority of Americans who are locked out of resource-rich environs. 

Q: You note the backlash (legal and political) against affirmative action in its current forms. Do you think place as opposed to race would attract more support?

A: Yes, I do. In chapter five of the book, entitled "Reconciliation," I cite the example of the Texas 10 Percent Plan and the coalition of strange bedfellows that supports it. The plan guarantees admission to a public college to graduating seniors in the top 10 percent of every high school in the state. It was enacted by the Texas Legislature, after a temporary court ban on race-based affirmative action, with the support of blacks, Latinos and a lone rural Republican who realized that his constituents were not gaining entrance to the University of Texas. The law ended the dominance of a small number of wealthy high schools in UT admissions and it changed the college-going behavior of high achievers in remote places that had never bothered to apply to UT Austin. Of course, parents in wealthy school attendance zones have repeatedly attacked the plan as unfair, but in the Texas House of Representatives, white Republicans from rural districts, blacks and Latinos strongly support the plan and have insulated it from repeal. The end result is a successful public policy that enhances opportunity across the state and a more cohesive politics—at least on the issue of access to higher education. Percentage plans are not the only solution but this illustrates the type of transformative policies and politics that diversity advocates could achieve with fresh thinking.

Admissions systems based on "place, not race" are increasingly popular among people who want to promote diverse campuses in race-neutral ways. Expect geography-based affirmative action to become the default as state legislatures and courts continue to recognize mounting public opposition to racial preferences.

And though supporters of individual liberty should be glad to see the demise of race-based affirmative action, they should also demand that more be done to combat the widespread and unconscionable practice of  birthright-based affirmative action and influence-based affirmative action.

Poll Shows New Yorkers Don't Know What's Good for Them Want More Cops

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A new Quinnipiac University poll finds a curious attitudes among New Yorkers. In a twist on the old joke, city residents complain that the New York Police Department (NYPD) is terrible—and such small portions! 

In the poll, conducted June 5-9, Quinnipiac found that the NYPD's approval rating was at 59 percent, down from 68 percent in March. (Perhaps the spree of NYPD cops getting drunk and shooting at people in April and May had something to do with the decline.) Yet three-quarters of those surveyed support a city council proposal to hire 1,000 additional officers.

Additionally, 59 percent of respondents said the NYPD should resume patrols of public housing hallways in which anyone they encounter must show ID. 

"We can't ignore the likely impact of the highly-publicized murder of a child in a housing project elevator," said Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Maurice Carroll. "At least in this emotional time, the civil liberties spokespeople are out of touch with the people they speak for." 

Thank goodness they are.

As we all know, tragic events tend to produce feelings that we should Do! Something! For many, the best thing to do is always anything, because doing anything—no matter what, even if it doesn't work—demonstrates that we are Good People Who Care.

Good People Who Care obviously support more cops in public housing, because a) the vast majority of them probably don't live in public housing themselves, and b) even if the NYPD is terrible, what's the harm? If there's even a small chance that sending in more cops and curtailing civil liberties can prevent another child murder, we obviously should. 

But these people don't think about the unintended effects that essentially militarizing public housing can have—starting with what living in a police state does to a community's morale and attitudes (not breed goodwill, that's for certain). And increasing police presence in public housing won't just lead to the catching of more violent or serious criminals (if it ever does). More police presence means more arrests for administrative transgressions, such as unpaid court fees or failure to meet a probationary curfew, and minor drug possession.

There's also the fact that when you militarize a place under the express idea that it is a hotbed of crime that requires action, people tend to wind up dead—at the hands of the cops.

But, oh!, look at me being a silly libertarian thinking about silly things like unintended consequences and people's rights. In these emotional times...

David Harsanyi on America's Legacy in Iraq

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Earlier this week, Iraq's armed forces in Mosul—trained by the United States to secure the well-being of its people—reportedly dropped their guns, shed their uniforms, and surrendered to black-flag-waving Sunni insurgents in a mere four days. About a half-million civilians have left the second-largest city in Iraq to flee what is surely going to become a hotbed of beheadings and other assorted acts of jihad. And now the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" has almost complete control of Tikrit. 

Some will now argue that doing nothing would mean that more than 4,400 U.S. troops and over $700 billion was wasted in a war that ended but was not won. Perhaps, writes David Harsanyi. But a more important matter is this: Would the death of another 4,000 or 400 or four bring about a preferable outcome or a set of conditions that allow the United States to convincingly declare victory? If a decade of nation building brought us this, what could we possibly gain by seriously re-engaging?

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Airstrikes for Iraq?, Tea Party Freeze-Out, $500 Billion VA 'Fix': P.M. Links

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Would a Judge Allow 100 Gang Members to Show Up in Court in Solidarity With Killers?

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only one facing chargesProbably only if they're cops. Via the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

About 100 officers showed up at Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court today to support six officers charged in a police chase that killed two people after officers fired 137 shots at the fleeing car's passengers.

The six -- Patrolman Michael Brelo and five supervisors -- are appearing  for arraignments. All officers pleaded not guilty. Judge Lance Mason set bond for Brelo at $10,000. The supervisors were released on personal bond.

That chase was of two unarmed people who had committed no crime. The most charitable explanation of why police initiated that pursuit is that a cop heard an engine pop and thought it was a gun shot. The chase ended with 13 cops firing 137 rounds into the car of Timothy Russell, killing him and passenger Malissa Williams. Only one of the cops, Brelo, is being tried. He allegedly jumped on the hood of the car and fired 15 shots into the windshield.

Separately, in Nassau County, New York, a large number of officers came to court to support a Nassau cop facing charges in the beating of an unarmed 20-year-old during a traffic stop. They're proud of what he did.

3 Drug Scares Undermined by New Survey Data

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New data from the CDC's biennial National Youth Risk Behavior Survey contradict, or at least complicate, three drug-related narratives that have been sources of alarm in recent years:

1. Liberalization of marijuana laws "sends the wrong message" to teenagers, encouraging them to smoke pot. "Current" (past-month) marijuana use by high school students fell between 1995 and 2013, a period during which 21 states legalized marijuana for medical use and two of them legalized it for recreational use as well. Although the successful 2012 legalization campaigns in Colorado and Washington received a great deal of national attention, marijuana use by teenagers "did not change significantly" between 2011 and 2013.

2. The country is in the midst of a "heroin epidemic." If so, it is not reflected in the numbers from this survey, which indicate that the percentage of high school students who had tried heroin fell between 2012 and 2013. From 1999 through 2013 there was no significant trend either way. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which covers Americans 12 and older, did detect an increase in past-year use from 2011 to 2012 (the most recent year for which data are available), but it was not exactly explosive: The estimated number of past-month users rose from 281,000 to 335,000. And while that survey probably misses a substantial number of heavy users, even the highest estimates (based on indirect evidence) suggest that heroin addicts represent less than 0.5 percent of the population 12 and older.

3. E-cigarettes are a "gateway" to smoking for teenagers. The share of high school students who reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month fell by 43 percent between 1991 and 2013. That includes a drop from 18.1 percent in 2011 to 15.7 percent in 2013, despite an increase in e-cigarette experimentation during that period. The same study that measured an increase in e-cigarette use, the Youth Tobacco Survey, likewise found a continuing decline in smoking.

Tonight on The Independents: Obama Scandals Countdown!

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Most scandalous mugshot? |||What are the nine worst scandals of President Barack Obama’s 66-month tenure? We’ll be counting them down on The Independents tonight at 9 p.m. ET (6 p.m. PT) on Fox Business Network, using our proprietary measurement, the CBI Index (two of the letters standing for “Constitutionality” and “Impact”). It’s probably appropriate to pre-game the show by guessing in the comments which scandals will be included, and in what order (9 is least terrible, 1 is the worst).

Need a hint? Here are the guests who will be coming on the program: beloved Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman, Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst and Reason.com columnist Andrew Napolitano (who helped us pick #1!), National Review Online contributor Deroy Murdock, former Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, and Senior Editor of The Federalist Mollie Hemingway. Obviously, we’ll have a “Name That Scandal” game at the midway point of the program....

The Obama Scandals Countdown repeats at midnight ET (9 p.m. PT), then again at 2 a.m./11 p.m. Follow The Independents on Facebook at facebook.com/IndependentsFBN, follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN, please Tweet your insults copiously during the show! And click on this page for more video of past segments.