June 16th, 2014

Brickbat: Itchy Trigger Finger

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Attorneys for Nassau County, New York, have agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Iyanna Davis. In 2010, Nassau County cops were supposed to search the apartment below the one Davis lived  as part of a drug investigation. But officers mistakenly burst into her apartment and one accidentally fired his rifle. The bullet went through her abdomen and both of her legs. An internal investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.

Steve Chapman on How Long We Should Stay in Iraq

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BushWhen the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, Americans were told it would be a quick, simple project. When asked how long the war might last, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said airily, "Six days, six weeks, I doubt six months."

So what's the complaint today from those who advocated the war most vigorously? We left too soon.

Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte put out a statement the other day blaming the recent rout of Iraqi government forces on "President Obama's decision to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq in 2011." That final pullout came in December of 2011, or more than eight years after Rumsfeld expected our war to be over, write Steve Chapman.

We could also resort to air strikes, drone attacks or even ground troops. But if eight years of fighting by the American forces didn't save Iraq from chaos, another round is not likely to make much difference, argues Chapman.

View this article.

A.M. Links: Iraq Seeks Help from Iran, U.S. Evacuates Baghdad Embassy, Russian Tanks Enter Ukraine

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  • The situation in Iraq keeps deteriorating. Early this morning, ISIS fighters captured the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar. Meanwhile, Iran has reportedly sent troops to Iraq to help the government stem the insurgency. In Baghdad, the U.S. is evacuating staff from its embassy and strengthening defenses.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce one or more decisions today in argued cases. With the current SCOTUS term set to end on June 30, 17 cases remain undecided, including disputes over presidential power, warrantless cellphone searches by the police, and Obamacare's contraceptive mandate.
  • The San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat to win the NBA Finals.

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The IRS Says It Lost a Bunch of Lois Lerner’s Emails. That Deserves More Scrutiny

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On the surface, it doesn’t seem very plausible that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) managed to lose emails to and from Lois Lerner, who is at the center of the House Ways and Means Committee’s investigation into IRS targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

But that’s the explanation the IRS is going with: Despite the fact that the investigation has been going on for a year, and despite Lerner’s prominence in the story, the IRS, which has previously promised to comply with the committee’s documents request, claimed last week that it cannot produce an untold emails between Lerner and outside agencies like the White House that were sent before 2011, arguably the most important time period to the investigation, because of a computer crash.

The loss of a personal computer hard drive shouldn’t be able to permanently eliminate emails from a well-run workplace email system. Those emails are run through central email exchange servers, and backups are typically kept using those central exchanges. Add to that Lerner’s prominence in the investigation—she has repeatedly declined to answer questions before Congress, invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate—and the year it took for the IRS to inform the House Ways and Means Committee that the emails were lost in a crash, and the dog-ate-my-emails bit starts to smell rather fishy.

But accidents do happen, and I’ve had tech-savvy, right-of-center federal agency staff tell me that federal IT management is so shoddy and haphazard that it’s at least possible that the excuse is completely legit. Email systems break, or have odd glitches that result in personal email backups being stored on individual hard drives, even when they shouldn’t. In that situation, it’s conceivable that if there’s a crash, that’s it—the emails and other information really could be gone.

And let’s not forget that if there’s one thing that we’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that the federal government is not particularly good at IT management.

So although the excuse seems more than a little bit dubious, I’m willing to give the IRS the benefit of the doubt—but only tentatively. It’s possible that the emails really were lost in the world’s most convenient computer glitch, but possible is not the same as certain.

If a tax filer made a similarly convenient excuse to the IRS regarding lost documentation, the agency would probably want to dig in a bit. That's why I think this is the sort of thing that deserves additional questioning, and a more thorough investigation. It’s only fair.

Where to begin? Investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson has put together a useful list of the sort of questions that ought to be asked. Here's a sample: 

  • Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.
  • Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS’ disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.
  • Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why….
  • Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.
  • Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.

The computer-crash excuse from the IRS seems potentially outrageous, but it also seems like the sort of excuse that the IRS would want to avoid if they were hoping to avoid additional scrutiny; after all this sort of convenient tech trouble was bound to raise additional questions. It’s not possible to say what happened to those emails, at least not yet, but now that those questions have been raised, they should be answered.

Supreme Court Rules 9-0 for Susan B. Anthony List in Case Arising from Ohio 'False' Speech Law

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously today in favor of the conservative anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, allowing the group to proceed with a First Amendment challenge against an Ohio law criminalizing "false" political speech.

The case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus arose during the 2010 congressional elections when the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) announced its intention to oppose the reelection campaign of Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) by purchasing billboard and radio ads describing Driehaus' vote for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as tantamount to supporting "tax-payer funded abortion."

In response, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission charging SBA List with seeking to spread political lies about him. Driehaus' lawyer also sent a letter to the billboard company, threatening a similar complaint. The company promptly refused to run the SBA List ads.

In the meantime, SBA List was hauled before the Ohio Elections Commission, which ruled against it on a party-line vote. By this point, with the congressional election impending, SBA List's political speech had been effectively suppressed by the state of Ohio.

So SBA List filed suit in federal court, charging the Ohio speech law with violating its First Amendment rights. In a surprise twist, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in favor of the state, holding that SBA List did not have standing to file suit because it could not demonstrate "an imminent threat of future prosecution."

Today, by a vote of 9-0, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled that decision and held that Susan B. Anthony List must be allowed its day in federal court. "The threat of future enforcement of the false statement statute is substantial," declared the unanimous majority opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas. What's more, Thomas wrote, "the specter of enforcement is so substantial that the owner of the billboard refused to display SBA's message after receiving a letter threatening Commission proceedings. On these facts, the prospect of future enforcement is far from 'imaginary or speculative.'"

The decision in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus is available here.

[VIDEO] Road Pirates with Badges Plunder Motorists to Fund Police: Don’t cops have better things to

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"Road Pirates with Badges Plunder Motorists to Fund Police: Don’t cops have better things to do?!" is the latest video from ReasonTV. Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more ReasonTV clips.

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Ralph Nader on Dave Brat: 'A Clear Populist Challenge by Main Street Against Wall Street'

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The American left's reaction to Dave Brat's victory over Eric Cantor last week sometimes seems to be taking place on two different planets. There are the people who simply recoil in horror that someone even more conservative than Cantor! could be heading to Washington, and there are the people who look at the libertarian and populist elements of Brat's message and see some conservatives taking a step in the right direction. Ralph Nader belongs to the second group:

"We followed him all day, boss, and this was the most incriminating thing we could find."among all the reasons for Cantor's fall, there were the ones encapsulated in the Nation's John Nichols' description of Brat as an "anti-corporate conservative." Repeatedly, Brat said he was for "free enterprise" but against "crony capitalist programs that benefit the rich and powerful." David Brat pointed out that Cantor and the Republican establishment have "been paying way too much attention to Wall Street and not enough to Main Street."

Brat supported "the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA" and other government agencies on constitutional grounds.

Professor Brat attacked the Wall Street investment bankers who nearly "broke the financial system," adding the applause line: "these guys should have gone to jail. Instead of going to jail, where did they go? They went to Eric Cantor's Rolodex."...

Brat is a mixed bag for progressives. But in that mix is a clear populist challenge by Main Street against Wall Street and by ordinary people against the corporate government with subsidies and bailouts that the Left calls corporate welfare and the Right calls crony capitalism. Therein lies the potential for a winning majority alliance between Left and Right as my new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, relates in realistic detail.

Read the rest here. Check out Reason's coverage of Brat's win here. For more on populism, go here, and for more on the intersection between populism and libertarianism, go here and here. To read Tim Carney's review of Nader's new book, pick up the July Reason at your local newsstand. And for Reason's recent interview with Nader, hit play:

Iraq: U.S. Embassy Evacuated, Marines Sent In, Manning Speaks Out

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Iraq is in a state of bedlam as the military battles with an insurgent group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In response to the situation, the United States announced yesterday that it is partially evacuating the embassy in Baghdad and that a small contingent of troops is being deployed for protection. Also, whistle blower Chelsea/Bradley Manning, who is in prison for leaking the infamous Iraq War Logs, spoke out this weekend about troublesome activity the U.S. military allegedly conducted off the battlefield.

The New York Times reported yesterday that "the exact number of people being evacuated from Baghdad—the American government prefers to say they are being 'relocated'—was not disclosed. But the embassy will remain open, and most of its staff will remain, according to the State Department."

Nevertheless, "the [Baghdad] embassy," which is the largest embassy in the world and employs around 5,000 people, "remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders—supporting them as they strengthen Iraq's constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats," department spokesperson Jen Psaki stated. She also noted that "additional U.S. government security personnel will be added to the staff in Baghdad."

The Army Times yesterday shed some light on what that would entail, writing that "a U.S. military official said about 100 Marines and Army soldiers have been sent to Baghdad to help with embassy security." Over the weekend, the Department of Defense ordered an aircraft carrier and a missile cruiser to the Persian Gulf.

ISIS today captured the town of Tal Afir, which has a population of around 200,000. Although previous estimates put the militia's manpower at 5,000-10,000, The Long War Journal suggests that because of "the scope of the operation, including the territory covered" there are actually "tens of thousands" of fighters.

Manning, who served in Iraq before leaking the war logs, claims in a New York Times op-ed that he once "received orders to investigate 15 individuals" who "had absolutely no ties to terrorism" but were printing information for voters that was critical of the U.S.-backed Maliki administration. Manning warns that "the current limits on press freedom and excessive government secrecy make it impossible for Americans to grasp fully what is happening in the wars we finance."

Read more Reason coverage of Iraq here

Alaska Funding Free Pregnancy Tests for Bar Bathrooms

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This week in woefully misguided ideas: A state-funded initiative in Alaska will provide free pregnancy tests in bar and restaurant bathrooms. Researchers from the University of Alaska are running the program, in an attempt to determine if posters warning pregnant women against drinking are more effective when paired with free pregnancy tests than simply adorning bathroom walls on their own.

Advocates say the two year, $400,000 pilot program is part of a "war on fetal alcohol syndrome." According to the Anchorage Daily Tribune, Alaska has high rates of both fetal alcohol syndrome and female binge drinking.

The study underlines new and growing interest from state governments in using pregnancy tests as a prevention tool for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, said Jody Allen Crowe, founder of a Minnesota non-profit that has installed test dispensers in bars, convenience stores and a youth center in that state.

But why should state governments be in the business of preventing fetal alcohol syndrome in the first place? Or issuing anti-drinking propaganda to adults at all? Why do politicians believe they must act in loco parentis for grown women at bars? 

Alaska Republican Sen. Pete Kelly, who introduced the program, described his rationale thusly: 

Literally, you can go into the bathroom at the bar and test. So if you’re drinking, you’re out at the big birthday celebration and you’re like, 'Gee, I wonder if I ...?' You should be able to go in the bathroom and there’s that plastic, Plexiglas bowl in there and that’s part of the public relations campaign too. Is you’re going to have some kind of card on there with a message.

Crowe, who is assisting with the Alaska project, told the Tribune that she hopes taking pregnancy tests before drinking will one day become as common as using designated drivers. Ostensibly, she thinks taxpayers should pool the cost of this pregnancy testing, too. 

But if a woman has no reason to suspect she's pregnant, why take a test? And if a woman does have reason to suspect she's pregnant, why do lawmakers think she won't do so until nudged by the gentle hand of the state?

A. Barton Hinkle on the IRS Scandal and the Democrats

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The U.S. has a long and sordid history of presidents trying to sic the IRS on their political foes; that was even one of the charges of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Yet as A. Barton Hinkle explains, certain Democrats today have not only engaged in such tactics, they have bragged about it in news releases that drew the attention of the media. Now that's chutzpah!

View this article.

Iraq Is a Terrible Place to Succumb to Sunken Costs Fallacy

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This will not fix Iraq.When they say "The first casualty of war is truth" (source: nebulous, but often misattributed to Aeschylus), we may tend to assume the public's trust is what's being slaughtered in the justifications for war. But let's not forget how misguided foreign wars like our misadventures in Iraq sold the same lies to the men and women who actually put their lives on the line in the military.

As the slow collapse of Iraq that has actually been happening for months has sped up this past week, media outlets headed out to capture the certain non-plussedness of veterans who served rotations there. Yes, there’s bitterness. We’ve certainly heard about it before, but it’s getting another airing given the current situation. Here’s The Boston Globe:

"I'm not surprised that this is happening. I think it was somewhat inevitable," said Chris Lessard, a 36-year-old Newton firefighter who was a Marine machine-gunner in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. "But to see it's been pretty much handed over, it's disheartening."

Lessard said he believed in the US mission while he was fighting in Iraq, based near Fallujah. But now, with the Iraqi Army in disarray and Sunni and Shi'ite unable to work together, Lessard does not want the United States to reenter a centuries-old conflict that massive amounts of American money and military force could not resolve.

"This is Iraq's problem now," Lessard said. "I don't think we should even give them one round of ammunition. They need to govern."

Not every Iraq veteran is able to look back now and accept that the we are not the ones who will fix the country's mess. The Detroit Free Press found veterans who insisted that the United States must do something to help Iraq:

[Christopher] Kolomjec said there are no easy answers to the current situation. He said U.S. forces long struggled to win the support of the Iraqi people because they knew the Americans would eventually leave and the insurgents would remain. But the U.S. can't ignore the situation.

"The one thing we can't do is nothing," he said. "You can't just turn your back on them."

Kolomjec said he thinks the U.S. should provide air support to the Iraqi army as it attempts to hold off the insurgents, but putting American troops on the ground is a much more difficult issue.

"I don't think this country right now has the stomach for ground troops. That's my impression," he said.

I would argue that it's not the stomachs telling Americans no, but their heads. Despite the absurd arguments from the war-drum crowd that we needed to spend even more time in Iraq, we know that's not a rational response. The Iraqis are not children, and their factional issues are theirs to deal with, not ours. Additional actions in Iraq not only would cost more money that we really can't afford, but any sort of military action (even absent ground troops) can risk American lives. The perfectly reasonable resistance to further military action is a reflection of the grasp of sunken costs in Iraq. The trillions of dollars spent in Iraq and the loss of American lives and the permanent injuries so many have suffered didn’t liberate the country. There is no rational reason to believe that additional actions will result in a better outcome.

I can't even fathom what it must feel like to be in the position of these veterans, to have lost arms, legs and friends in Iraq and to watch what’s happening now. But we can't turn lies (the reasons for the Iraq war) into something noble by continuing to throw money and people at Iraq to "fix" it. I don't know how to fix the pain, emotional and physical, veterans must feel over Iraq's crumbling, but I do know that we can't make it better by spreading that pain to even more veterans. That would be the likely outcome of additional military action in Iraq.

On Game of Thrones Finale, Neoconservativsm Is Scrutinized

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Game of Thrones(Spoilers for last night's Game of Thrones season finale to follow.)

"Do you remember where the heart is?"

This is what a dying Sandor Clegane asks Arya. He is not asking her in the figurative sense. He is not asking, do you remember how to love? Do you remember how to feel? He is asking her if she remembers the precise location of the heart inside the chest. He is asking her to kill him, and quickly. The closest thing to compassion in the world of Game of Thrones is a speedy death.

Do you remember where the heart is? would be an apt question to ask anyone who has watched Game of Thrones through four seasons of brutal destruction. On the show, even the corpses of the dead find occasion to claw at the boots of the living, attempting murder. Losing oneself in Game of Thrones each week means losing oneself in an orgy of human misery.

It’s a realistic orgy, though (except for the fantastical elements). And it is one with parallels to our own world and time that are worth exploring.

Perhaps nothing in GOT resonates as well as Daenerys’s conquest of Mereen, which invites obvious comparisons to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this season, Daeny pledged to free the slaves, rescue a downtrodden populace from an antiquated social order, and rule the city as a wise and modern queen. Superior firepower (dragons) is not her only weapon: She also wields the weapon of rhetoric, couching her conquest in terms of liberation and good vs. evil. Her slogan, "Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons," might as well be a giant MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED banner.

But killing is simple. Living is the hard part. In the season for finale that aired last night, Daenerysfinds Mereen more easily conquered than ruled. The displaced former rulers, the Wise Masters, rightly feel mistreated. Many of the now former slaves don’t know what to do, and some even wish to go back to their chains. And most striking of all, Daeny encounters the Mereneese equivalent of a drone warfare victim: a father whose child was incinerated by death from above, an inadvertent casualty of Daeny’s efforts to remake the city.

Daeny has no choice but to hedge on some of her fundamental beliefs, and suddenly, the Breaker of Chains is reshackling her freed slaves, as well as the dragons she claims as her children.

At a time when more and more people are questioning whether U.S. forces can ever achieve their goals in Iraq, and a growing chorus of voices believes the war was a mistake, it is hard not to see our foreign policy foibles reflected in Daeny's story. (Read Lucy Steigerwald at Antiwar.com for more on this viewpoint.)

The Mother of Dragons is not the only person whose children are making trouble in the finale (indeed, it was titled "The Children.") In King’s Landing, Jaime, Cersei, and Tyrion all find ways to frustrate their father. Jaime disobeys Tywin by siding with Tyrion and freeing him. Cersei says she would sooner burn their family house to the ground than play the part she has been asked to play. And Tyrion actually walks up the steps to his father’s privy and kills the man.

The murder will be hugely consequential for the political reality of Westeros. Tywin Lannister, the man who won the war and united the Seven Kingdoms under his grandson’s reign, is now dead. This renews the hope that other political factions have to take the throne, and likely serves to tear the realm further apart in its immediate future—a future where an undead army, dragons, and a change of seasons are likely to play significant destructive roles.

Tywin’s death shows how political developments are divorced from practical considerations. The people who rise to the top in Westeros aren’t the ones most interested in defending the common people. In fact, the leaders most dedicated to the general welfare of the world are all gathered at the Wall, hundreds of miles from the Iron Throne. In contrast, the people who hover around the throne are the people interested in power for its own sake. And these people keep feuding with each other, and keep dying, further destabilizing the realm.

There was finally good news at the Wall, however, where Stannis’s forces arrived to put an end to the wildling assault. The wildlings want to cross the north’s giant border fence, but the Night’s Watch has balked at the idea of allowing them into the Seven Kingdoms. Would Jon Snow and Stannis be better served by a more lenient immigration policy? It seems clear that the wildlings’ primary aim is not war with the people of Westeros, but rather refuge from the hordes of zombies and ice demons. The Watch and the wildlings will need to negotiate some mutua peace in order to survive. Thankfully, Jon’s friendly relations with wildling leaders Mance and Tormund will likely come in handy in that regard.

Speaking of immigration, Arya elects to vote with her feet—at long last—and head for the Free City of Braavos. It's a surprisingly hopeful image to close out the fourth season. We don't know precisely what is in store for her, but we know it can't be worse than the world she is leaving behind.

Ed Krayewski on Libertarian Lessons in Game of Thrones

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The latest season of HBO's Game of Thrones ended Sunday. The show, which has garnered record-breaking ratings for HBO and has also become one of the most pirated TV shows of all time, follows the stories of the royal families and politics of Westeros, a fictional amalgamation of mostly medieval European states. Nevertheless, because the show—based on a series of novels by George R.R. Martin—focuses more on humans and the way they interact with each other than on magic (though there is plenty of that), it provides a jumping off point for conversations on issues like rape and radicalism. Because libertarian ideas are largely based on human action, there are some libertarian themes to glean from the show, too, writes Ed Krayewski.

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Jerry Brito on Setting Lyft and Uber Free

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TaxisTechnological innovation sometimes makes laws obsolete.

Consider the “Red Flag Laws” of the late 19th century, which required early automobiles traveling on roads to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag in order to warn others on horses of the vehicle’s approach.

Today, most states require cars traveling on roads to have a human driver at the wheel—a regulation that to our descendants will sound just as preposterous as flag-waving does to us.

And yet Virginia regulators seem determined to apply nonsensical rules to Lyft and Uber, writes Jerry Brito.

Rather than react defensively, regulators should allow for permission-less innovation while they determine if and how they will ultimately proceed, according to Brito.

View this article.

Does Using Drugs 'Even Just Once' Change Your Brain Forever?

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Last Friday Live Science reported the results of an unpublished study finding that "teens who have used drugs even just once in their lives have brain characteristics that are different from those who have never used drugs." That is the sort of finding that resulted in a mini pot panic a few months ago, after a study reported in The Journal of Neuroscience supposedly found that "marijuana re-shapes brains of users" (according to NBC News), that "even casually smoking marijuana can change your brain" (per The Washington Post), that "casual pot use impacts brains of young adults" (The Oregonian), that "recreational pot use" is "harmful to young people's brains" (Time), that "casual marijuana use" is "bad for young adults" (The Times of India), and that "even 'casual' marijuana use can knacker bits of your brain" (Gizmodo UK).

In both cases, the brain differences were measured by MRI scans at a single point in time, so it is impossible to say whether they were caused by drug use. It also is not clear whether the differences are permanent or, most important, whether they have any functional significance. But so far the newer study has not generated the same sort of sensational coverage (although that might still happen), possibly because the lead researcher, University of California at Davis graduate student David G. Weissman, says his findings probably reflect pre-existing differences among his subjects.

Here is how Live Science describes the results of Weissman's study, which involved 71 Mexican-American 16-year-olds:

Among teens who'd ever used drugs, a brain region known as the nucleus accumbens—which is thought to play a role in the rewarding feeling that can come with taking drugs—was more in sync with areas of the brain in the prefrontal cortex, compared to in teens who'd never used drugs. The prefrontal cortex is involved in decision making, planning and other behaviors that require complex thinking.

But the nucleus accumbens was less in sync with an area near the hippocampus, which is important for memory formation, in teens who had used drugs, compared with those who had never used. 

Weissman thinks these differences, rather than resulting from drug use, made the subjects more inclined to use drugs:

Weissman said he suspects that these brain differences existed before drug use, and underlie a tendency to take risks, which includes using drugs, he said.

Weissman said the level of drug use among the teens in the study was typical of teens that age —about half had used drugs before, and they did not use drugs very frequently.

"It's possible, but seems unlikely, that that level of use would produce significant changes [in the brain], but it's an open question," Weissman said.

Whichever direction the causality runs, making a big deal of Weissman's findings seems unwarranted. Among older teenagers, drug use is not aberrant; it is normal. Since survey data indicate that most Americans have consumed drugs (most commonly alcohol, tobacco, and/or marijuana) by the time they turn 16, perhaps it is abstinence that requires an explanation.

[Thanks to Ron Steiner for the tip.]

Obama to Ban Anti-Gay Discrimination by Gov. Contractors, SCOTUS Allows Third-Party Gun Buy Bans, Ru

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  • Did he get the munchies?The White House announced today President Barack Obama will sign an executive order prohibiting federal government contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay activists have been hounding the administration to compose such an order for years.
  • The Supreme Court ruled in a close decision, 5-4, that the federal government can ban third-party or "straw" purchases of guns, even if the final recipient of the gun is a legal buyer.
  • California lawmakers have passed a $156 billion budget that includes allowing Gov. Jerry Brown to use money from the state's cap-and-trade program to help pay for the $68 billion high-speed rail plan that just will not die.
  • Russia has cut off gas to Ukraine over unpaid bills, setting back peace efforts even further.
  • The Army has begun its formal probe to determine why Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan in 2009.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission Monday accused a hedge fund firm of retaliating against an employee who reported inappropriate transactions. Yes, that's right: Officials of the Obama administration are trying to protect whistle-blowers … as long as they're in the private sector.

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Ira Stoll: Tax Fight on Right Turns Nasty

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The hottest fight on the center-right idea scene at the moment is over tax policy for Republicans in the years ahead. As Ira Stoll explains, the fight pits so-called reform conservatism, which advocates a larger child tax credit and other policies aimed at the middle class, against the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which describes the reformers' agenda as "a capitulation to the left's inequality and middle-class talking points."

View this article.

Stuck in Traffic? Thanks, Obama!: Feds to Regulate Waze, Google Maps, and Other Navigation Apps

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wazeThe Obama administration wants to cripple the navigation and traffic reporting apps on your smartphone. In the name of safety, of course.

Provisions in the proposed transportation bill—which Congress will look at in the next few months—would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to regulate apps like Google Maps and Waze, the crowdsourced traffic reporting tool. 

They're going to start with automobiles' built-in navigation devices, since regulatory authority is clearer there. Possible "features" include limiting inputs when the car is in motion, or making people click a button saying that they are a passenger.

But of course, if they make the onboard navigation systems in cars suck, people will just turn to their smartphones, right? So they had better regulate those too. 

The impulse to regulate against distracted driving has a long, not terribly glorious pedigree, dating all the way back to efforts to go after people who were changing the radio station while driving. In more recent years, talking and texting bans have failed to show clear positive results and may even cause harm.

Meanwhile, the courts are already working this one out

The underlying issue has already worked its way into the courts. In California, Steven R. Spriggs received a $165 ticket two years ago for using his iPhone while driving in stop-and-go traffic near Fresno. A highway patrol motorcycle officer rolled up alongside his car after seeing the glow from the screen on Mr. Spriggs's face.

"I held it up and said, 'It's a map,' " Mr. Spriggs said. He was not talking on the phone, which is prohibited by California law.

But the police officer would not budge. "He said, 'Pull over, it doesn't matter,' " said Mr. Spriggs, the director of planned giving at California State University, Fresno.

An appeals court ruled this year that it did matter, and Mr. Spriggs's conviction was reversed.

In other breaking news, a group beholden to Congress and run by a former top transpo bureaucrat totally thinks the government should act:

Safety advocates say regulators need to do more.

"We absolutely need to be looking at these nomadic devices," said Deborah A. P. Hersman, president of the National Safety Council, a nonprofit group chartered by Congress, and a former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Reason has covered the government's insatiable desire to regulate apps in the health care arena as well.

BTCDelta Is Leading the Charge to Bring Bitcoin to Mainstream Consumers

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a bitcoinCorporations and small entrepreneurs around the world are making Bitcoin more accessible and incorporating the digital currency into the market every day. A Bitcoin wallet, Coin Pocket, showed up on Apple's app store for the first time yesterday. Expedia just became the first major travel agency to accept Bitcoin last week. Now Delta Financial wants to bring the mainstream consumer a service that is essential to any capital market—savings accounts.

BTCDelta is a web service that allows you to invest both Bitcoin and U.S. dollars (USD). Interest rates will be in constant fluctuation, but there is a guaranteed minimum effective interest rate of 5 percent. The interest period is 24 hours, and the amount earned is paid to the investor at the end of every period.

BTCDelta also provides a marginal trading platform to help people make money by trading Bitcoin against the dollar. The system they have in place ensures liquidity, finds the best prices on reliable Bitcoin exchanges, and offers 5x leverage to individuals that are experienced in currency trading. Once a person makes a marginal deposit, BTCDelta will lend up to five times the deposited amount to that person for trading. The investor will then be able to take both short and long positions on the currencies, switching value in between Bitcoin accounts and USD accounts depnding on whether he or she thinks the Bitcoin price will go up or down. Euwyn Poon, co-founder of the company, told Coindesk, "So deposit accounts reward savers, and on the flip side, active margin traders can take out loans with up to five times leverage."

Following the disaster at Mt. Gox, where hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin mysteriously disappeared, people are wary of giving up control over their Bitcoin. After all, one of the most appealing aspects of the digital currency is its decentralized nature. BTCDelta says it is ensuring protection from theft by keeping most of the funds off-line in cold storage, using encrypted SSL (HTTPS), and allowing investors to use two-factor authentication for added security. 

Bitcoin has maintained a position on the fringe of our economy for most of its existence, but services such as BTCDelta—along with Bitcoin wallets on smartphones and acceptance by prominent companies—will play an enormous role in the introduction of digital currencies into mainstream society. 

In Brown University Rape Case, Did the Media Have Any Interest in What Really Happened?

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Brown UniversityDid media outlets reporting the sexual assault allegations against Brown University student Daniel Kopin properly scrutinize the claims of his accuser, Lena Sclove? Over at Minding the Campus, Cathy Young argues persuasively that the accounts of the incident in both Salon and The Huffington Post contained inaccuracies that painted Kopin in an undeservedly poor light.

First, some background. Brown student Lena Sclove accused Kopin of assault after a sexual encounter at his campus residence last summer. Sclove said that Kopin forced himself on her and choked her. The police did not pursue charges, but university administrators determined that it was more likely than not that Kopin was guilty of "sexual misconduct."

But the story is much more complicated than it was portrayed in the media, according to Young:

None of the media accounts gave any details of Sclove's alleged assault. Both the Huffington Post and Salon claimed that the charges on which Kopin was found responsible included "sexual violence involving physical force and injury." In fact, the conduct board made no such finding; the official document a scan of which was featured in the Huffington Post article showed that the offense was described as "sexual misconduct that includes one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force, or injury" (emphasis added). Kopin was also found responsible for "actions that can result in or can be reasonably expected to result in physical harm" and "non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature."

... Aside from Brown's handling of the case, the most striking aspect of this story is the utterly pathetic performance of the media. No attempt was made to independently verify any of Sclove's claims. Most publications made no attempt to get Kopin's side of the story. No one thought to ask such basic questions as: If Sclove was indeed violently raped and strangled, why didn't she go to the police? Would Brown officials really readmit a known violent rapist after a brief suspension and run the risk of him reoffending?

Young interviewed both Kopin and his attorney, Harvey Silverglate, who was barred from attending the disciplinary hearing. Some previously unreported details:

* Sclove never alleged that there was physically forced sex; rather, the finding of non-consensual sex was based on the fact that, as she testified and Kopin confirmed, when they got to his place she told him she did not want to have sex with him. She claimed that Kopin continued to make physical advances which she did not resist because she was "in a fuzzy state" from drinking at the party and because she felt he was not giving her the option to refuse.

* According to Kopin, he told Sclove he was fine with her decision and even offered to walk her home if she wanted to go--but she refused. Sclove conceded that he made such an offer; she said she didn't leave because she felt unsafe either walking by herself or walking with Kopin, after the earlier choking incident (yet was willing to stay alone with him in his apartment). 

* Kopin claimed, shortly after telling him she didn't want to have sex, Sclove was the one who made sexual advances. (He also testified, with some corroboration, that she had a history of sending such mixed signals.) While Sclove denied this, she admitted that she asked Kopin to get a condom and agreed to give him oral sex--though, according to her, she did so only because it was the least "horrible" of her options.

* Kopin's three housemates, who came home during the alleged assault and saw Sclove moments later, testified in support of Kopin. The three, two men and one woman, heard the sounds of a sexual encounter from outside and knocked loudly to alert the pair; Kopin and Sclove collected their clothes and ran upstairs to his bedroom, from which Sclove shortly came down. According to the housemates' testimony, she seemed embarrassed but not frightened, traumatized or disoriented.

The notion that Kopin choked Sclove is especially dubious, given what Sclove said—or didn't say—about the matter. In an email to Kopin a week after the encounter, she did not mention choking and instead wrote that he had "crossed a boundary." She claimed to have been sexually harassed by someone else a few days before, and the way in which Kopin touched her "triggered" the memory of that harassment.

Given all that, it's not quite clear why administrators deemed Kopin guilty, even under the lesser "preponderance of evidence" standard. According to Silverglate, the decision not to expel Kopin from campus outright was an implicit acknowledgement that the case against him was weak.

Of course, this has not stopped countless media outlets and a lynch mob of Brown students and faculty from declaring a miscarriage of justice over the fact that Kopin was merely suspended for one year (he ultimately dropped out).

But there will always be injustice in campus rape proceedings as long as administrators continue to deprive the accused—at the unfortunate insistence of the federal government—of their due process rights.

Before You Read Bill Kristol About ‘What to Do in Iraq,’ Read Bill Kristol in February 2002 About Wh

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Because if anyone knows how to overthrow a dictator and rebuild the modern Middle East.... |||Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and American Enterprise Institute Critical Threats Project Director (yes, these people give themselves titles like this) Frederick W. Kagan have a piece up entitled "What to Do in Iraq," which—spoiler alert!—advocates more U.S. military force, more boots on the ground. Excerpt:

This would require a willingness to send American forces back to Iraq. It would mean not merely conducting U.S. air strikes, but also accompanying those strikes with special operators, and perhaps regular U.S. military units, on the ground. This is the only chance we have to persuade Iraq's Sunni Arabs that they have an alternative to joining up with al Qaeda or being at the mercy of government-backed and Iranian-backed death squads, and that we have not thrown in with the Iranians. It is also the only way to regain influence with the Iraqi government and to stabilize the Iraqi Security Forces on terms that would allow us to demand the demobilization of Shi’a militias and to move to limit Iranian influence and to create bargaining chips with Iran to insist on the withdrawal of their forces if and when the situation stabilizes.

In a nod to their diminished reputations as armchair generals, Kristol and Kagan tack on this defensive ending:

Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011. The crisis is urgent, and it would be useful to focus on a path ahead rather than indulge in recriminations. All paths are now fraught with difficulties, including the path we recommend. But the alternatives of permitting a victory for al Qaeda and/or strengthening Iran would be disastrous.

It's never not time. |||It's never really the right time for neoconservatives to "re-litigate" their past mistakes, since the consequences from them are constantly filling the world with new Critical Threats. But that really shouldn't stop the rest of us.

Want to dislodge the rest of your lunch? Go back and read the entirety of Bill Kristol's February 2, 2002 testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the next steps in the War on Terror. Here's a section that's particularly poignant this week, given the awful news coming out of the Middle East:

The one point I would make is that I think in all the discussion of risks we have lost sight of some of the rewards of a reasonably friendly, reasonably pro-Western government in Iraq. It would really transform the Middle East. A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated. I think Syria would be cowed. The Palestinians would, I think, be more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel after this evidence of American willingness to exert influence in the region. Saudi Arabia would have much less leverage, if only because of Iraqi oil production coming on line, with us and with Europe.

Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power would  be a genuine opportunity, I think, to transform the political landscape of the Middle East. The rewards would be very great, and I would also say the risks of failing to do this I think are very great.

After the jump more jaw-dropping wrongness from Kristol (and friends!) 12-plus years ago:

Never, ever, ever not time. |||The Bush doctrine seeks to eliminate dictatorial regimes developing these weapons of mass destruction, especially such regimes that have a link to terror, and they all happen to do so. So there is an almost perfect correlation between terror-sponsoring regimes and regimes developing weapons of mass  destruction. [...]

As my friend Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post last week: The good news about Iran is that you clearly do have opposition to the regime. There is something of "a revolution from below" going on there. The question for us is how we can accelerate that revolution. One answer is "by the power of example and overthrowing neighboring radical regimes" would, I think, show the people of Iran, it would inspire the people of Iran, "show the fragility of dictatorship," show that dictatorship is not the inevitable way in the Middle East or in the Arab world. It would "challenge the mullahs' mandate from heaven and encourage disaffected Iranians to rise." As Krauthammer points out: "First Afghanistan to the East, next Iraq to the West, and then Iran." I think that is a reasonable strategic template, stipulating always the uncertainties of war and that one has to be ready for anything in this broad war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Flashback: Read the difference between the "Bill Kristol camp" and the "Nick Gillespie camp" during the near-U.S. war against Syria last year. Then read Reason's forum on the Iraq War, 10 years later.

Tonight on The Independents: Who Didn’t Lose Iraq? John Bolton, Michael Moynihan,

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Someone forgot to listen to Bill Kristol. |||As the world continues to burn, tonight's episode of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT) deploys an all-star Party Panel to explicate the fire: Reason Contributing Editor Michael C. Moynihan and filmmaker/TakiMag columnist Gavin McInnes. The Brooklyn duo will talk about the latest awful news from Iraq, including President Barack Obama's announcement this afternoon that he will be sending 275 new combat troops into the wrecked country to help defend the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Speaking of endless tours of duty, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton will help answer the question of just who got this war so horribly, horribly wrong.

Moynihan/McInnes will also discuss those suspiciously missing Lois Lerner IRS emails, plus why Americans (say they) hate atheists, and whether the new study did indeed prove that being cool in high school is bad for you.

Have you heard of Lucas Overby? He's the 27-year-old Libertarian Party candidate for Florida's District 13 congressional seat who is currently pulling a whopping 31 percent (and climbing) at the polls in his race to defeat incumbent Republican David Jolly.

Have you heard about the Internet apparition known as Slender Man, who is probably trying to make your teens murder people on the social media and whatnot? Fox News psychiatrist Keith Ablow will explain why he wants the Surgeon General to put a warning up on Facebook about the whole thing.

Sexy aftershow begins on foxbusiness.com/independents a few beats after 10. Follow The Independents on Facebook at facebook.com/IndependentsFBN, follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN, tweet during the show & we’ll use the best of 'em. Click on this page for more video of past segments.