June 20th, 2014

House Passes Amendment Ordering Actual Restraints on NSA Searches


Shut the back door.Tonight the House voted to approve an amendment to a defense appropriation bill shutting down the part of National Security Agency (NSA) "backdoor searches" that collects metadata on Americans without a warrant. The bill was sponsored by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains:

Today, the US House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill designed to cut funding for NSA backdoors. The amendment passed overwhelmingly with strong bipartisan support: 293 ayes, 123 nays, and 1 present.

Currently, the NSA collects emails, browsing and chat history under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, and searches this information without a warrant for the communications of Americans—a practice known as "backdoor searches." The amendment would block the NSA from using any of its funding from this Defense Appropriations Bill to conduct such warrantless searches. In addition, the amendment would prohibit the NSA from using its budget to mandate or request that private companies and organizations add backdoors to the encryption standards that are meant to keep you safe on the web.

The amendment was supported by a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, though more Republicans voted against it than Democrats. The newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) voted against it.

Vox.com offers some additional context:

By itself, prohibiting backdoor searches falls far short of the kind of sweeping NSA reforms some civil liberties groups support. But the vote represents the first time a house of Congress has voted to curtail the controversial practices revealed by Ed Snowden last year. It will give NSA critics renewed political momentum and may force President Obama to make further concessions to critics of the NSA.

In August, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) offered an amendment to last year's defense funding bill that would have shut down a different NSA program: the collection of Americans' phone records. That vote failed in a razor-thin 205 to 217 vote. But the surprising closeness of the vote was widely interpreted as a sign of congressional anger over the NSA's actions.

Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, argues that the vote is a rebuke to the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee. That body is supposed to serve as a watchdog over NSA surveillance, but in recent years it has more often acted as a defender of NSA policies. The vote, Sanchez says, "demonstrates pretty dramatically that the gatekeepers in the Intelligence Committee are out of synch with the sentiment of the broader House."

Sanchez also notes that similar language was stripped from the USA FREEDOM Act, legislation intended to rein in the NSA that wound up being substantially weakened during the legislative process.

UPDATE: Here is the actual text of the amendment.

Brickbat: Police State


Officials in Campbell, Wisconsin, have placed police chief Tim Kelemen on leave after he admitted using a Tea Party activist's name and email address to create accounts on pornographic, dating and insurance websites from both his home and work computers. Kelemen was apparently upset that Tea Party activists have protested and filed a federal lawsuit over the city's decision to bar political protests on a pedestrian walkway on Interstate 90.

Proposed Campus Crime Rules Require Reporting of Stalking, Dating Violence; Expand Hate Crime Catego


The U.S. Education Department has released new draft rules for how colleges must handle campus sexual assault cases and some other crimes. It's part of an ongoing effort from the Obama administration to make less of a mess of the "campus rape crisis." 

Released yesterday, the proposed rules are part of efforts to implement the 2013 Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, an update on the Jeanne Clery Act of 1990. The Clery act established for the first time that colleges must disclose information about crime on campus if they want to participate in federal student financial aid programs.

The Clery Act is one of two federal laws governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual assault, explains the Christian Science Monitor. 

The other key law is Title IX, which bans sex discrimination and requires action on sexual violence and harassment because they interfere with victims’ access to equal education. The Education Department has taken a number of steps in recent years to strengthen those aspects of Title IX.

The new Clery Act rules are open for public comment until July 21, with final rules scheduled for Nov. 1. Here are some of their key components: 

  • Require colleges and universities to report annual statistics on dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, in addition to sexual assault.
  • Define sexual assault as "an offense that meets the definition of rape, fondling, incest, or statutory rape." 
  • Change the definition of "rape" to match the FBI’s current definition, so it now will include sodomy and sexual assault with an object.
  • Define "hate crime" to mean a crime "that manifests evidence that the victim was intentionally selected because of the perpetrator's bias" against the victim based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability status and, now, gender identity or national origin. 
  • Provide domestic violence and sexual assault complainants with a written explanation of their rights and options. 
  • Establish "comprehensive, intentional, and integrated programming, initiatives, strategies, and campaigns intended to end dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking that are culturally relevant, inclusive of diverse communities and identities, sustainable, responsive to community needs, and informed by research or assessed for value, effectiveness, or outcome."
  • Require colleges to submit an annual report on their procedures for institutional disciplinary action in cases of alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

For the most part, it seems like the Education Department is merely setting up additional hoops for schools to jump through, with a few possibly more significant changes. The department declined to weigh in on the meaning of sexual consent, as "several negotiators strongly urged." Though earlier draft regulations had included language similar to those currently being considered in California, the agency has since removed it.

Kurt Loder Says Jersey Boys Was Better on Broadway


Anyone who saw the original Broadway production of Jersey Boys, or one of its many satellite offshoots, may have a problem with Clint Eastwood's attempt to turn this unusual musical into a movie. The problem is, you can't un-see the show. In the theatre, director Des McAnuff supercharged the story of the Four Seasons – the New York vocal group whose hits bridged the beginning of the British Invasion era – with sensational staging. In one scene, with the group performing live in concert, we saw the four members only from behind, facing the back of the stage, where spotlights and crowd cheers erupted and blasted past them out into the audience. It was a spectacular showbiz effect. Eastwood's movie contains faint echoes of McAnuff's theatrical flourishes, but that's all they are, writes Kurt Loder. It's a picture filled with faint echoes.

View this article.

A.M. Links: CDC Scientists Botch Anthrax Transfer, New York Approves Some Medical Marijuana


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

In Post-Soviet World, Town Pisses on Lenin with Irreverent Statue


Mediaite's Tina Nguyen reports on a district in Krakow, Poland that is celebrating the death of communism with an irreverent, neon-green statue of Lenin entitled "Fountain of the Future."

There’s a little bit of backstory to why this district is so happy that communism is over: Nowa Huta, an industrial community, was built by the Polish post-war government specifically to “combat the influence of what authorities deemed to be ‘bourgeois’ Krakow,” according to the Independent. (The town was such a propaganda village that a popular song was written extolling its Socialist virtues, and was literally titled “This Song Is About Nowa Hute”.) However, the plan backfired and Nowa Huta instead became a hotbed of dissent, with protestors attempting to blow up the bronze Lenin statue at least twice.

And now that Socialist Realism is dead, everyone in Nowa Hute wants to keep it that way. Artist Bartosz Szydlowski told the Telegraph that he wanted the world to see the town’s sense of humor, and also wanted to stir debate over what should take the place of the statue.

More here.

How do irreverent American leftists remember Lenin, the architect of one of the most oppressive regimes in human history? The folks at Mother Jones used to sell ha-ha funny "Bowlshevik" bowling shirts featuring Lenin dishing out a strike. Because nothing is hipper than a guy who knew how to pull off Red Terror and worse like a real pro.

Ed Krayewski on Inchon, Noah, and Faith-Based Filmmaking


1984In the October 1984 issue of Reason, David Brudnoy wrote that conservatives "have a grudge against Hollywood, and against movie critics, too." But they had failed to create a sustainable alternative. While some movies may contain clear liberal biases, Brudnoy noted, movies funded by conservatives didn't do well. 1982's Inchon, for example, was "the most phenomenal money-loser of all time."

What happened? Brudnoy wrote that Inchon was "virtually impossible to sit through, embarrassing even to those who liked its politics." Better movies, though, didn't necessarily do bigger business; Brudnoy cites 1983's The Final Option, which "stood forthrightly against the left and for the established verities" but bombed in the box office. Brudnoy suggested "the right wing doesn't attend the cinema," and that is part of why conservatism didn't have influence in Hollywood.

Thirty years later, writes Ed Krayewski, it's still possible to find antipathy toward Tinseltown among the religious right.

View this article.

Colorado's Cannabis Conundrum: Marijuana Everywhere, but Not a Spot to Smoke


For visitors to Colorado, legally buying marijuana is easy; legally consuming it, not so much. In my latest Forbes column, I explain why tourists in Colorado, where marijuana has been legal for recreational use since 2012, still have to smoke pot on the sly. Here is how it starts:

For cannabis consumers who are accustomed to the black market's meager selection and iffy quality, Colorado's dispensaries are a revelation: dozens of strains, each with a distinctive bouquet, fresh enough that you can actually smell the difference. Denver-area budtenders, who say tourists account for half or more of their business, are used to amazed reactions, reminiscent of the scene in Moscow on the Hudson where Robin Williams, playing a Soviet defector, encounters an American supermarket for the first time. But once a visitor  settles on a gram of Budderface or a quarter-ounce of Cinderella 99, he has a problem: Where can he smoke it? State and local restrictions have made answering that question a much bigger challenge than it needs to be.

Read the whole thing.

Friday A/V Club: Philip Marlowe in the French Revolution


History!Today is the 225th anniversary of the Tennis Court Oath, a key moment in the early stages of the French Revolution. To mark the occasion, watch one of the strangest movies ever made about the revolutionary period: Anthony Mann's The Black Book, a.k.a. Reign of Terror.

This came out in 1949, a time when Mann mostly worked in the film noir genre. The first time I sat down to watch it, many years ago, I wondered how Mann would adjust to making a period picture. I quickly got my answer: He treated it like it was just another noir. From the beginning this looks like an 18th-century Big Sleep, and after a few minutes it starts to sound like one too. By the time Robespierre shouts "Don't call me Max!" at 6:46, you know you're seeing something wonderfully weird.

The history is completely garbled, of course, but in a picture like this that only adds to the charm. Enjoy:

Bonus links: This isn't the only good French Revolution film floating around on the Internet. Marat/Sade is on YouTube, while Hulu Plus has Andrzej Wajda's 1983 picture Danton, with its deliberate echoes of the repression then ongoing in Poland. If you're looking for something lighter, you can watch Scaramouche or Start the Revolution Without Me. And then there's my favorite D.W. Griffith flick, the overlong but enjoyably insane Orphans of the Storm. As I wrote elsewhere:

If you'd like to peer directly into an artist's anxious psyche, you need only watch the two most powerful scenes in Orphans of the Storm. One is a decadent aristocratic bacchanal; the other is a chaotic riot. One is filled with resentment of the rich; the other, fear of the poor. It's like writing hysteria with Lightning.

For past installments of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

What Medicaid Fraud Looks Like: Mansions, Sports Cars, Klingon Battle Swords, and 30,000 Dubious Cla


Yesterday, I noted a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finding that, even after a decade on GAO's list of programs at high risk for fraud, Medicaid had made $14.4 billion in improper payments during the 2013 fiscal year.

Not all of that is outright fraud, but some of it is. And it's not all piddly scam-work either—minor billing tricks or other small-time schemes. Some of the fraud is really spectacular. 

For example: There's the recent case of Rehan Zuberi, who allegedly managed to defraud New Jersey's Medicaid program of about $8 million over a five year period, according to a report in yesterday's Star-Ledger.

Zuberi ran a network of diagnostic imaging centers, and allegedly paid other doctors a total of about $300,000 to send patients to his offices for scans that they didn't need. Zuberi charged Medicaid for the procedures, kept most of the money for himself, and tipped other doctors to keep referring additional patients in order to keep the scan-scam going. According to the state's Attorney General, Zuberi filed some 30,000 fraudulent claims to the program before he was caught.

During the time he is alleged to have been running the scam, Zuberi managed to live the high life: He resided in what the Star-Ledger describes as a 9,000-square foot mansion, and kept $100,000 in cash in his home. He used a $400,000 cashier's check to buy a brand new 2014 Lamborghini. The state AG's office also reportedly seized a Ferrari and a Rolls-Royce as part of the investigation this week. 

You hear this sort of large-scale fraud story far too often in conjunction with the nation's two big governemnt-run health programs. In February, officials charged 20 people with operating multiple competing Medicaid fraud rings in the District of Columbia—including one woman who had been barred from participating in federal health programs, but went on to bill D.C. Medicaid for $75 million. 

These sorts of stories aren't limited to Medicaid. Medicare, the federal health program for seniors, made $49.9 billion in improper payments last year, up more than 10 percent from the year before. In 2011, the Justice Department busted a mob ring that had made $163 billion worth of fraudulent bills. Authorities took custody of a cache of weapons, including a replica of a Klingon battle sword.

In 2011 congressional testimony, a Texas concert-promoter turned Medicare fraudster explained how he fraudulently billed the government for $10 million over three years. It's "incredibly easy to commit," he said. "The primary skill required to do it successfully is knowledge of basic data entry on a computer." 

The is what health care fraud looks like: mansions and fancy cars, mob activity and weird weapons, and tens or hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent funding fraudsters who find the program incredibly easy to scam. 

Court Strikes Down Los Angeles Law Banning Living in Vehicles


I thought the homeless were Venice Beach's official city mascotHere’s what a law passed by the City of Los Angeles in 1983 says:

No person shall use a vehicle parked or standing upon any City street, or upon any parking lot owned by the City of Los Angeles and under the control of the City of Los Angeles or under control of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.

While the wording of the law may seem simple (regardless of how one might feel about it), a trio of circuit judges from the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday that the description of what behavior violates the law is so unclear that it was being used by police to (surprise!) harass homeless people who believed they were actually complying with the law.

The ruling (readable here) centers on the behavior of police in Venice Beach, a place with quite a few homeless people. Following complaints in 2010 about all the homeless folks around, police started cracking down, using this 1983 law as the tool. But as Judge Harry Pregerson noted in the ruling, the police were using just the existence of personal property or food in a vehicle as evidence that the law was being violated and even threatening homeless people who were sleeping in their vehicles on private property, like church parking lots, with the owner’s permission. One homeless plaintiff in the lawsuit had to resort to sleeping on a public sidewalk (which is legal) rather than in his car in order to comply with the law. He nevertheless was arrested and his vehicle impounded when police found him sitting in his car to avoid the rain. One woman was pulled over and cited for violating the law while actually driving her vehicle through Venice.

The judges ruled that the statute is a due process disaster because it is unconstitutionally vague and fails to provide adequate notice of the conduct it criminalizes. The ruling notes:

Plaintiffs are left guessing as to what behavior would subject them to citation and arrest by an officer. Is it impermissible to eat food in a vehicle? Is it illegal to keep a sleeping bag? Canned food? Books? What about speaking on a cell phone? Or staying in the car to get out of the rain? These are all actions Plaintiffs were taking when arrested for violation of the ordinance, all of which were otherwise perfectly legal. And despite Plaintiffs’ repeated attempts to comply with Section 85.02, there appears to be nothing they can do to avoid violating the statute short of discarding all their belongings or their vehicles, or leaving Los Angeles entirely.

Oh hey, I think the judge stumbled across the real goal of the statute at the end there. In conclusion, the judge ruled that the city was using the law specifically to harass homeless people for engaging in many of the same behaviors in their vehicles undertaken by many other people in Los Angeles each day, and the law violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The city attorney for Los Angeles told the Associated Press the city would not be appealing the ruling and will instead craft a new ordinance "that respects both the rights and needs of homeless individuals and protects the quality of life in our neighborhoods."

Steven Greenhut on California Democrats' Plan to Get in Your Bed


Democrats routinely accuse Republicans of wanting to put the government into the bedroom whenever they support limits on gay rights. So it's odd that California's Democratic leaders are advancing a bill that would literally insert the state into the most intimate bedroom moments, writes Steven Greenhut. S.B. 967 would require all California colleges and universities that accept state financial aid to adopt sexual-behavior policies that include a standard by which students must provide their "affirmative consent" before engaging in a wide range of sexual activity. And a simple "yes" might not suffice. As a senate analysis explains, the bill "requires consent to be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and authorizes a participant, at any time, to communicate that he/she no longer consents to continuing the sexual activity."

View this article.

Check Out the CIA's Demonic, Face-Melting Osama bin Laden Toy for South Asian Kids


There's no way to go about this other than to lay out all the weirdness at once: In the mid-'00s, the CIA developed an Osama bin Laden toy with a face designed to melt off and reveal a demon once in the hands of Pakistani and Afghan children. The code name for the operation was "Devil Eyes." 

Around 2005, former Hasbro toymaker Donald Levine—known for his work on G.I. Joe figurines—was asked to develop the toy for the CIA, according to The Washington Post. Levin's winning design? A bin Laden figure painted with a special material so that the normal face would peel away in heat, revealing a red and black demon-eyed face. (See the transformation here.) 

"The goal of the short-lived project was simple," the Post says: spook children and their parents into turning away from bin Laden.

There's a dispute over how many of the figurines, if any, were ultimately delivered. A person with direct knowledge of the project in China said hundreds of the toys—one of which was seen by The Washington Post—were made as part of a preproduction run and sent on a freighter to the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2006.

The CIA, while not disputing that it had commissioned the bin Laden figures, said the project was discontinued shortly after the prototypes were developed.

"To our knowledge, there were only three individual action figures ever created, and these were merely to show what a final product might look like," CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said. "After being presented with these examples, the CIA declined to pursue this idea and did not produce or distribute any of these action figures. Furthermore, CIA has no knowledge of these action figures being produced or distributed by others."

Regardless of how far the "Devil Eyes" project proceeded, it appears to have borne all the hallmarks of what are known in intelligence parlance as "influence operations." As part of its covert action programs, the agency has for decades tried to win the hearts and minds of local populations or turn them against a particular ideology.

Another recent CIA influence op was revealed in April: developing a Twitter-like social network in Cuba that was secretly run and monitored by the U.S. government. (The CIA itself joined real Twitter earlier this month.) Meanwhile, the FBI is trying to fool us all into thinking anybody actually uses the acronym BTDTGTTAWIO— "been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wore it out." 

Paul Ryan Slams IRS Commissioner For Lost Emails: "I Don't Believe You!"


Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee today as part of the committee's investigation into the IRS for targeting conservative tax-exempt groups for extra scrutiny.

The appearance came a week after the agency informed congressional investigators that it had lost emails from Lois Lerner, a central figure in the investigation, in a hard drive crash, and could not produce documents from six other employees as well—despite having known that the records were lost since February. 

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was not pleased, accusing the IRS of a "pattern of abuse" with regards to the investigation. "I don't believe you," Ryan said. 

Watch the clip below. 

'Florida's Worst Cop' Finally Convicted of Something, May Be Headed to Jail


surprise, mug shot not readily availableYou couldn't make up a story, or a name, like German Bosque's, a Florida cop who was proud to have had his credentials threatened by disciplinary action more times than any other cop in the state. Via the Miami New Times:

Let us quickly recount the glorious career of German Bosque, Florida's worst cop. He was arrested three times and fired five times. He was probed more than 40 times by internal affairs, including 16 cases involving serious battery and excessive force. He tried to board an airplane with a loaded gun, got caught with coke and counterfeit cash in his police car, was charged with domestic violence, lied to his bosses, and made up police reports.

And through it all, he kept his job and avoided serious trouble. Until now! The Opa-locka sergeant was convicted last night of felony false imprisonment and witness tampering for assaulting a local youth counselor.

Bosque could receive up to 10 years in prison on the conviction, although the sentence, up to a judge, could be as low as probation—the judge didn't send Bosque to jail after his conviction yesterday, opting for house arrest instead. The prosecutor, too, called the conviction "bittersweet," telling the Miami Herald that "it's never a good thing when you have to take down a police officer."

Given Bosque's history, in this case it absolutely is. The Miami New Times recaps:

The greatest hits of his career read like a Training Day sequel treatment. He split open one handcuffed man's face with a vicious headbutt and spit in another one's face. He improperly chased a suspect until he crashed into a tree and then covered up his role in the wreck by doctoring police reports. He punched a teen suspect in the face three times and seriously hurt him.

But Bosque couldn't beat the latest case against him. In August 2011, he responded to a domestic dispute involving a city youth counselor named Korey Davis, who was sitting in his car with a baby on his lap after arguing with the child's mother.

Bosque may be one of the worst cops Florida law enforcement can offer, but he's not unique. He has not yet been officially fired after his conviction. Through the case, he insisted he would be acquitted, calling himself a "good cop."

USPS Wants to Attach Electronic Sensors to Your Mail, Not Sure Why Yet


The United States Postal Service (USPS) wants to slap an electronic sensor on your letters to grandma so they can become part of the buzz-wordy "Internet of Things," and the postal service is offering $100,000 to the person who can figure out how and why they should do that.

From the proposal, which came out Tuesday:

  • Research the current and near-future developments of the Internet of Things, provide a workable definition, major facts, trends and implications for the Postal Service;
  • Provide a vision for the Internet of Things applied to the Postal Service (the Internet of Postal Things — IoPT): a conceptual design of how new sensor and other data collection technologies could increase the ability of Postal Service infrastructure to create value to its business, customers and stakeholders through data;
  • Identify the components of the postal physical infrastructure that could lend themselves to the collection of new types of data. …
  • Identify possible areas of application for the data collected.

Computerworld (which, notably, just announced the end its 47-year print run) explains that "the postal service hopes that an integration of [information technology] and new sensor-based technologies can bring 'dramatic improvements' to postal operations in terms of new product offerings, better operational diagnostics, and insights into consumer behavior," but right now the federal agency is essentially just "fishing for ideas."

The agency already collects data on every letter and box you ship, so it's unlikely that this could make the USPS more intrusive in any meaningful way. 

Technological innovation shakes things up and brings down costs, which is great, but it can't get people excited about using something that's still slower and more expensive than email. It's a case of too little, too late for the Post Office. Headlines have for years been noting the federal agency's prolonged death rattle, and a digital tracker cannot turn around such titanic governmental inefficiency.

"With a net loss of $1.9 billion" in the second quarter of fiscal year 2014, the Post Office acknowledged in May, "this marks the 20th of the last 22 quarters it has sustained a loss." That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. Back in 2012, the USPS recorded net losses of $16 billion. The fact that it has also defaulted on billions of dollars of pre-funding for retiree payments in the last few years doesn't bode well either. 

The most optimistic spin the agency's chief financial officer, Joseph Corbett, can put on the situation is that "the financial hole we're in is so deep, we can't fill in this hole every year even when we return to profitability." He said that in an interview the same day the electronic sensor proposal came out.

What’s it Gonna Be, GOP? A Rand Paul Foreign Policy, or More of Cheney’s Dickishness?


Go Cheney yourself! |||I can't think of a more stark contrast between the possible directions that the mixed-up, shook-up Republican Party can take on foreign policy than the one demonstrated over the last few days in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. We spoke in this space earlier this week about Dick & Liz Cheney's reaction to the deteriorating situation in Iraq, but let's quote from the piece at more length:

Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change. Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history, and he goes golfing. He seems blithely unaware, or indifferent to the fact, that a resurgent al Qaeda presents a clear and present danger to the United States of America.

When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Rand off! |||Italics mine, for WTF? And yes, Dick Cheney just criticized an American president for engaging in recreational activities while bad things happen in the Middle East, the last refuge of the political hack. And note, too, the selective end points on the presence and status of "al Qaeda in Iraq," a force that just wasn't a factor in geopolitics before something very large and selective happened on Cheney's watch in the spring of 2003.

Which is a point made in a WSJ op-ed today by longtime Cheney-family antagonist Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). Excerpt:

Today the Middle East is less stable than in 2003. The Iraq war strengthened Iran's influence in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. [...]

Saying the mess in Iraq is President Obama's fault ignores what President Bush did wrong. Saying it is President Bush's fault is to ignore all the horrible foreign policy decisions in Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere under President Obama, many of which may have contributed to the current crisis in Iraq. For former Bush officials to blame President Obama or for Democrats to blame President Bush only serves as a reminder that both sides continue to get foreign policy wrong. We need a new approach, one that emulates Reagan's policies, puts America first, seeks peace, faces war reluctantly, and when necessary acts fully and decisively.

Is it still 2004? |||The contrast is striking here not just in policy content but in tone. The Cheneys snarl about "appeasing our enemies," "abandoning our allies," and "apologizing for our great nation," as if it was the 2004 Republican National Convention all over again. Paul, with the exception of one somewhat intemperate paragraph asking "Why should we listen to them again?", approaches the question with an assumption of personal and national humility, a sense that American knowledge of (and power to shape) fluid events in the Middle East has limitations, as does American appetite for making the kind of commitments that the Cheneys of the world constantly seek:

Those who say we must re-engage in Iraq are also forgetting an important part of the Weinberger Doctrine: "U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a 'reasonable assurance' of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress." To attempt to transform Iraq into something more amenable to our interests would likely require another decade of U.S. presence and perhaps another 4,000 American lives—a generational commitment that few Americans would be willing to make.

This is a pretty clearly defined fork in the road for GOP foreign policy. As Rand Paul put it to me last August, when the elective war under debate was Syria, "We're losing, on a good day, 70/30 among the Republicans [in the Senate]. But we win every day among the grassroots, probably 80/20, 90/10." How—if at all—those numbers converge will tell us much about the fortunes of the Republican Party, and of the country.

A partial chronology from the voluminous Cheney vs. Paul file:

* National Security Republicans Go Gunning for Senate Front-Runner Rand Paul (March 17, 2010)

* Dick Cheney vs. Rand Paul (March 24, 2010)

* Why Rand Paul Is Backing the Sponsor of the Workplace Fairness Act Over Liz Cheney (July 15, 2013)

* Liz Cheney’s Failed Campaign Highlights the Declining Influence of GOP Hawks (January 6, 2014)

And below the fold, watch some discussion of the Iraq situation on Monday night’s episode of The Independents.

Ronald Bailey Critiques A Troublesome Inheritance


DiversityFormer New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade's new book, A Troublesome Inheritance, begins well enough, with a nice roundup of what genomic science has told us about human evolution and migration. But the author then proceeds to offer some highly speculative hypotheses about why different social, cultural, and economic practices appear among different human groups. Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey finds that Wade has outrun his data.

View this article.

Authoritarian Library Demands Censorship After Publication of Anti-Clinton Files


LibrarianProving once again that libraries are vestiges of Soviet thinking, an administrator at the University of Arkansas is insisting that a news outlet stop publishing files from university archives that paint Hillary Clinton in a bad light.

Earlier this week, the Washington Free Beacon published some Clinton audio files that it obtained from a University of Arkansas library collection. The files were located in a public library and freely handed over to the Free BeaconThey include a recording of Clinton joking about an accused rapist she once represented as a public defender and would seem to reflect poorly on the likely Democratic presidential candidate.

Many people are wondering if that's why the dean of of the university's libraries decided to retroactively ban Free Beacon staff members from using the facilities, charge them with "intellectual property rights" violations and "unauthorized publication" of library materials, and demand that they remove the recordings from their website.

The Free Beacon notes that the dean, Carolyn Henderson Allen, is a Clinton supporter who donated $500 to her 2007 presidential campaign. That makes Allen's cease and desist letter to the Free Beacon a hilarious blend of pure political retaliation and fealty to bureaucratic protocol:

I am writing to you to direct the Washington Free Beacon to cease and desist your ongoing violation of the intellectual property rights of the University of Arkansas with regard to your unauthorized publication of audio recordings obtained fro the Roy Red Collection in Special Collections at Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas, Fayettville.

Allen claimed she previously informed the Free Beacon's Alana Goodman that she would have to fill out a "permission to publish form" before publishing any of the material from the library. Since Goodman failed to do so, the Free Beacon is now banned:

I cautioned her that the failure to comply with this specific policy in the future would lead to the suspension of any research privileges with special collections. Accordingly this letter will now serve as formal notice that the research privileges for your organization and anyone acting on behalf of your organization are now officially suspended... based upon your willful failure to comply with the institution's policies and protocols.

But that's not all. Allen is also insisting that the Free Beacon take the audio recordings off its website, track down any copies that were made, and return them to the library:

To the extent you have copied and/or shared or distributed additional copies, you are hereby directed to take all necessary steps to retrieve such copies and provide them to Special Collections along with a certification of your efforts.

Allen is "very disappointed," she said:

The University, however, does not tolerate that blatant and willful disregard of its intellectual rights and properties.

Allen's properly-follow-proper-protocols approach to library policy is hilariously authoritarian. It's also quite clearly wrong. Free Beacon attorney Kurt Wimmer noted that the library handed over the files without any qualifications regarding their further dissemination. Additionally, the library has made no copyright claims on the files, so the accusation of intellectual property violation is dubious. Wimmer wrote in a letter to Allen:

At the outset, I find it stunning that you would seek to censor the dissemination of lawfully acquired information that is clearly in the public interest, given the historic role that libraries long have played in fostering free expression and the broad dissemination of information,” Free Beacon attorney Kurt Wimmer wrote. “In addition to being entirely inaccurate as a matter of both law and fact, your letter is a clear assault on the First Amendment principles that are fundamental to libraries and to journalism.”

For additional perspective, The Arkansas Project asked Robert Steinbuch, a professor of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a freedom of information expert, whether Allen has a right to restrict access to the files. She does not, he said:

Documents donated to a public library for public review are public documents. Once those documents are public documents, the library cannot restrict access to them because they don’t like what the user has done with them.

It’s really remarkable that this person has public access before they made critical comments, but then didn’t have public access to these documents after he made critical comments…The archetype of government censorship is restricting access to public information to only those outlets that will write friendly stories.

Yeah, but... rules are rules! The Free Beacon probably didn't even have a library card, or anything.

Oakland Gets Ready to Legalize Pinball


When I wrote my history of game panics earlier this year, many readers were surprised to learn that New York City not only banned pinball but didn't get around to legalizing it until 1976. If you think that city took a long time to come to its senses, get a load of this:

Tommy also distributed this facegear to the city of Oakland's inspectors, so they wouldn't observe our violations of the law.Like thousands of cities across the United States, Oakland banned pinball in the 1930s because the machines—which then lacked flippers—were being used for gambling. People paid a nickel to play, and winners received cash payouts from a bartender, store owner or other proprietor....

Despite the bans, people still played pinball, just as they drank alcohol during Prohibition. Flippers were invented in the 1940s, and by the 1950s and '60s the game was more popular than ever. By then, most cities moved on to more pressing matters and the laws were largely forgotten.

But next week, the City Council's public safety committee is poised to reverse Oakland's law that bans pinball machines, as part of a broader look at gambling in the city.

In Oakland's case, the law is still on the books but hasn't been enforced for decades. There are other cities, however, where the local pinball regulations still have teeth:

Beacon, N.Y., about 40 miles north of New York City, shut down a pinball museum and arcade in 2010 because of its historical ban. In San Francisco, pinball is legal but owners need a permit from the entertainment commission.

It's still illegal in Alameda[, California]. The Pacific Pinball Museum had to register as a nonprofit and remove the coin slots from its machines to comply with the law.

To read more about anti-game crusades, go here.

The IRS Had a Contract With an Email Backup Company


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said it can't provide emails sent between 2009 and 2011 that were requested by congressional investigators because of hard drive crashes.

The agency said that emails stored on dead drives were lost forever because its email backup tapes were recycled every six months, and employees were responsible for keeping their own long-term archives. 

The IRS had a contract with email backup service vendor Sonasoft starting in 2005, according to FedSpending.org, which lists the contract as being for "automatic data processing services." Sonasoft's motto is "email archiving done right," and the company lists the IRS as a customer.

In 2009, Sonasoft even sent out a Tweet advertising its work for the IRS. 

The extent and exact details of the service that Sonasoft provided to the IRS aren't clear. But the company advertises its email archiving solution as "ideal for small and medium businesses, government agencies, school districts, nonprofit organizations using Microsoft’s Exchange Server." And a document posted on its website describing its services says that its system "archives all email content and so reduces the risk of non-compliance with legal, regulatory and other obligations to preserve critical business content." 

Sonasoft connection and IRS contract details first noted on Morgenr's Twitter account

Vid: Lies, Cheating, and Creativity - Q&A with Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely


"Imagine you have some kind of voice within you asking, 'Am I behaving morally or not?'" says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of the book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. "That voice sometimes is asleep."

Reason TV's Naomi Brockwell talked to Ariely at Tribeca Film Festival's Games For Change conference, where Ariely and his team set up a "Truth Box," a sort of confessional where participants could record themselves talking about a meaningful lie they'd told in their lives.

Watch the video above for a deeper discussion about cheating, lying, and what to do about it. Or click the link below for full text, associated links, and downloadable versions of this video. Subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel for daily content like this.

Approximately 7 minutes. Shot and Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Interview by Naomi Brockwell. Music by Podington Bear.

View this article.

Senate Considers Amendments Aimed at Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients From the Feds


After he was elected to replace the late Frank Lautenberg last fall, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said he looked forward to working with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on drug policy reform. In one of their first collaborations, the two senators this week introduced an amendment aimed at stopping federal interference with state laws allowing medical use of marijuana. The amendment, which the Senate could vote on today, uses the same language as a measure approved by the House of Representatives last month:

None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. 

Before the House vote, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), the amendment's chief co-sponsor, explained its aim this way:

This is essentially saying, look, if you are following state law, you are a legal resident doing your business under state law, the feds just can't come in and bust you and bust the doctors and bust the patient. It is more than half the states. So you don’t have to have any opinion about the value of marijuana. This doesn’t change any laws. This doesn’t affect one law, just lists the states that have already legalized it only for medical purposes, only medical purposes, and says, "Federal government, in those states, in those places, you can't bust people."

If the Senate joins the House in approving the amendment, it would be a powerful statement in favor of marijuana federalism. Still, it's not exactly clear how much protection the spending restriction would give medical marijuana growers and suppliers, since any given raid, prosecution, or forfeiture does not necessarily prevent a state from implementing its law. The feds can always say they are simply enforcing the Controlled Substances Act and portray any impact on the goals of state law as incidental. 

The Senate will also consider an amendment introduced by Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.), that aims to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana users. Walsh's measure would instruct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives not to pursue gun charges against people simply because they use marijuana as a medicine in compliance with state law. But the legislation does not change the Gun Control Act of 1968, so such patients still would be committing a felony simply by owning a gun. It also does not address the weapon charges that gun-owning patients face if the Justice Department prosecutes them for growing marijuana. The penalties for possessing guns while engaged in drug production or trafficking are draconian: a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the first offense, then 25 years for each subsequent offense, with the sentences to be served consecutively. 

David Harsanyi on Why Americans Won't Boot Incumbent Politicians


Even in the most catastrophic year for congressional incumbents, 90 percent of them will win re-election—and most of them will do so rather easily. Many of them, in fact, won't even have to run a campaign. In 2010, a year that saw one of the lowest re-election rates in decades after an eruption of anti-D.C. populism, 9 in 10 House incumbents won their races. After 2012, the Bloomberg Government Barometer found that 9 in 10 members of the House and Senate won their races as well.

These facts might be somewhat obscured lately, what with all the talk of a populist insurrection. But the impending revolution has been on a slow boil, writes David Harsanyi. This doesn't mean populist anger isn't real, that the distrust won't grow, or that there won't be change, he argues. It just means we rarely, if ever, blame our own. 

View this article.

P.M. Links: Pope Keeps Dopey Anti-Dope Stance, Paul Ryan Doesn’t Believe IRS Just ‘Lost’ Lerner Emai


  • Jeremy MeeksPope Francis
    his total opposition to drug legalization, or
    even decriminalization of marijuana. “Drug addiction is an evil,
    and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise,” he

  • IRS Commissioner John Koskinen
    before a House committee that the loss of
    emails belonging to embattled tax collector Lois Lerner was purely
    accidental, owing to a computer crash. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Ohio)
    said, "I don't believe it."

  • Some 400 drones have
    fallen from the sky
    and crashed into buildings and homes
    since 2001, according to a year-long investigation by The
    Washington Post.

  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
    former Vice President Dick Cheney for
    his continued support of the Iraq War. In a forthcoming Meet
    the Press
    interview, Paul criticizes the arguments of pro-war
    Republicans and says the American people are right to question
    their assertions.

  • The Internet is
    buzzing about
    Jeremy Meeks, a recently re-arrested felon
    whose good looks have made his mugshot extremely popular on
    Facebook and social media.

Report: California Illegally Sterilized Dozens of Female Inmates


Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) accused California of sterilizing over 140 female inmates between 2006 and 2010 without required state approvals.

One doctor, James Heinrich, was responsible for the two-thirds of the tubal ligation referrals during that period from the biggest offender, Valley State prison.

Asked by CIR about his startling record, Heinrich justified the money spent sterilizing inmates by claiming it was minimal "compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children—as they procreated more." He has since been barred from future prison work.

Following the publication of the 2013 CIR article, California lawmakers called for a formal investigation.

Yesterday, the California State Auditor published a report that confirms over a quarter of the 144 sterilizations performed on female prisoners between 2005 and 2011 were done without obtaining proper consent. The report only details female inmates who underwent the sterilization procedure of tubal ligation, commonly known as having one's "tubes tied."

In California, a tubal ligation may only be performed on an inmate after her doctor declares it to be medically necessary and the service is approved by two committees: one in the prison and the other at the California Receiver's Office headquarters.

However, according to the auditor's report, both committees approved only one of the 144 procedures performed.

In fact, the Receiver's Office wasn't even aware that inmates were being sterilized until January 2010, when a legal advocacy group called Justice Now began alleging that medically unnecessary sterilization procedures had been performed. 

Some additional findings of the California State Auditor's report include:

  • Prison medical staff failed to document what was discussed with the inmates about the procedure in all 144 cases.
  • Inmates' physicians did not sign the required consent form in 27 cases. A physician's signature is especially important in that it certifies that the patient appears mentally competent and understands the lasting effects of sterilization.
  • The sterilization procedure was performed before the required waiting period had elapsed in 18 cases. State law mandates a 30-day waiting period between when an inmate consents to the procedure and when the sterilization actually takes place so women don't feel rushed or pressured.
  • In six cases, there were violations related to both the consent form and waiting period.

These illegal sterilizations, and potential motivations of doctors who encouraged the women to consent to them, echo California's ugly history of sterilization abuse. In 1909, the state passed a eugenics law that allowed state officials to sterilize those considered "feeble-minded," prisoners exhibiting sexual or moral "perversions," and anyone with three or more criminal convictions. California's eugenics program was apparently so "successful" that in the 1930s, members of the German Nazi party asked California eugenicists for advice on how to run their own program.

Between 1909 and 1964, California forcibly sterilized roughly 20,000 people. In 2003, then–Gov. Davis issued a formal apology to victims of the grisly practice, which has been officially banned since 1979.

California legislators are currently considering legislation that would disallow all inmate sterilizations for purposes other than life-threatening emergencies and to cure physical illness. Last month, the state senate approved the measure. It is currently before the state assembly.

The Superwar Over Jack Kirby's Marvel Comics Heroes: To the Supreme Court?


A feature at Hollywood Reporter does a pretty good job summing up a long, tangled legal history of a case that just might (or, as always, might not) end up at the Supreme Court and have ripple effects through the law of intellectual property and the uses of popular culture: Lisa Kirby v. Marvel Characters.

The heirs of groundbreaking comic book artist and creator Jack Kirby are suing under a provision of copyright law to reclaim copyrights in certain characters they claim Kirby created (including Hulk, Thor, and X-Men) that they allege he merely conveyed to Marvel Comics. Marvel is insisting the characters were created as works made for hire by Kirby and belong to them (which now means Disney) perpetually.

Excerpts laying forth some of the circumstances, facts, and arguments:

In the past couple of months, there have been growing signs that the case might indeed be picked up at the Supreme Court for review. First, Kirby's petition for certiorari was discussed at a May conference. Then, the justices requested that Marvel respond after the studio initially decided to downplay the affair by staying mum about Kirby's petition. And now, in advance of Marvel's response, comes several friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to pick up the case.

The weight of one particularly amici curiae brief in particular shouldn't be underestimated.

It was authored by Bruce Lehman, former director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the chief advisor to President Bill Clinton on intellectual property matters. He writes on behalf of himself, former U.S. register of copyrights Ralph Oman (who served as chief minority counsel of the Senate's IP subcommittee during the consideration of the 1976 Copyright Act), the Artists Rights Society....the International Intellectual Property Institute and others....

Lehman's brief challenges some of the conclusions of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided for Marvel:

not only citing Kirby's independence during the time he contributed materials to his primary client, but also because he thinks the 2nd Circuit disregarded legislative history on the meaning of the term "employer," ignored the Supreme Court's canon of statutory interpretation, and in particular, disregarded Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall's 1989 decision in CCNV v. Reid. That opinion dealt with a commissioned work of sculptural art and whether it could be considered a work-made-for-hire when the commissioning party played a big role in its creation. According to Lehman's interpretation of the CCNV opinion, "Justice Marshall rejected the Second Circuit’s 'instance and expense' test and endorsed the D.C. Circuit’s approach, concluding that 'the term ‘employee’ should be understood in light of the general common law of agency.'”....

"The court of appeal’s analysis conflicts with Justice Marshal’s analysis of the work for hire doctrine under the 1909 Act," he writes. "Jack Kirby’s works at issue fell into the category of 'commissioned works' which Justice Marshall concluded were 'convey[ed],' i.e., assigned. Furthermore, all of the evidence available to the lower courts supported that Kirby 'convey[ed] the copyright' to Marvel, not that Marvel owned Kirby’s work at creation. That is precisely the circumstance 17 U.S.C. § 304 is intended to address by giving authors or their statutory heirs the opportunity to terminate such copyright transfers."

He adds that the 2nd Circuit's "misinterpretation" would result in unfairly stripping freelance artists of their termination rights and provides an "unintended and unwarranted windfall to publishers."

The article notes that for the most part Kirby worked from home, was paid a page rate and not a salary, bought his own supplies, didn't have taxes withheld, and other indications of "not an employee." Marvel used to force those they paid via a declaration on their checks that endorsing the check—that is, actually getting paid—meant they were assigning to Marvel "any copyrights, trademark, and any other right....including my assignment of any rights to renewal copyright."

However, once:

in 1978, the new Copyright Act kicked in, with its looming termination provisions, potentially allowing authors to reclaim rights over their creation in the latter period of the copyright term. The new law also recited "work made for hire," meaning that it's the employer rather than the employee that should be considered the author of a copyrighted work.

Soon, Marvel changed the legends on the back of its checks to say that "all payee's work has been within the scope of that employment...and shall be considered as works made for hire."

This implies there was a difference between giving up a right that was the artists, in the old formulation, and never having had such a right at all—doing work for hire.

There has not, alas for the chances of this case at the Supreme Court, been any Circuit split yet; all lower courts considering these sorts of things have sided with companies over artists.

To the extent that intellectual property remains an eternal thing in these here United States, a decision for the rights of creators over the companies they may have assigned copyright to in the past will have some interesting effects, not just for the personal fortunes of artists and heirs, but for the vast majority of creators who might want to play with the characters once they are libertated from corporate control. One doesn't know exactly how open or closed artists or heirs will be about licensing or permitting the use of copyright-controlled characters, but its hard to imagine they'd be more restrictive than the likes of a Disney.

Tonight on The Independents: 'Immigration Nation,' With Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Grover Norquist


Tonight's theme episode of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, with re-airs three and five hours later) is dedicated to the always-contentious issue of immigration, legal and illegal.

Kicking off the show is a debate on the economics of immigration, between Dan Stein, president of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, and Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA. Then Kennedy goes to the border to inspect the fence between Mexico and the United States. Erika Andiola, an immigration activist who was brought to the U.S. illegally and remains undocumented, then talks about her family's experiences and the Obama administration's inconsistent record on deportation.   

Sheriff Joe Arpaio last year was named one of Reason's 45 Enemies of Freedom in part for his hysterical ongoing crackdowns against suspected illegal immigrants. He'll be on the show to talk about the ongoing crisis of illegal children being dumped in camps near the border, and how his approach toward law enforcement compares to that of law enforcement in states like Texas. Eric Liu, founding CEO of Citizens University and author of A Chinaman's Chance: One Family's Journey and the Chinese American Dream, comes on to talk about the Chinese- and Asian-American immigration experience (did you know, for example, that Asians now outnumber Hispanics in annual immigration to the U.S.?). Longtime reform backer Grover Norquist will give the current lay of the legislative land on comprehensive immigration reform. And Kmele Foster will detail his philosophical framework for approaching the immigration question.

Interested in the issue? Download Reason's e-book Humane and Pro-Growth: A Reason Guide to Immigration Reform. Follow The Independents on Facebook at facebook.com/IndependentsFBN, follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN, tweet during the show & we'll use as necessary. Click on this page for more video of past segments.

Cop Fatally Shot WWII Vet With Beanbag Round in Dispute at Assisted Living Center, Family Suing


survived nazis, shot by copThe family of a 95-year-old World War II veteran is suing six police officers from Park Forest, Illinois, including the one who fatally shot John Wrana with a 195 mile an hour bean bag round fired from close range.

The Chicago Sun Times explains what happened:

The situation rapidly deteriorated after Wrana [who was refusing treatment for what doctors believed was a urinary tract infection] turned violent, brandishing at paramedics a knife and a long shoehorn that was mistaken for a machete, according to police.

But instead of waiting outside Wrana’s room for him to fall asleep or making a less violent intervention, the officers burst into Wrana’s room, the lawsuit states.

And when a Taser fired by Baugh missed, Taylor fired the beanbag round from less than 15 feet away, in violation of the manufacturer’s instructions, the suit alleges, accusing the cops of acting “wilfully, wantonly, intentionally, knowingly, maliciously, in bad faith and with deliberate disregard.”

Park Forest Police did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday. It previously issued a statement in support of Taylor.

Taylor, in fact, is facing felony misconduct charges, although the Wrana family’s lawsuit includes five other cops, including the cop who ordered the beanbag round be fired and the police chief for not adequately training officers.

Meanwhile in Chicago, a 911 recording was released in the fatal shooting by an off-duty cop of his 86-year-old neighbor. The neighbor’s 91-year-old wife was also shot. She is charged with misdeamonr battery and aggravated assault of a police officer. The cop, who is not charged and whom the city will not name, says the 86-year-old man brandished a shot gun during a dispute between his wife and the cop’s wife.