June 23rd, 2014

Brickbat: Wish You'd Stop Being So Good to Me, Captain

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Officials with the Cumberland County, North Carolina, school system say they are investigating complaints that an elementary school teacher forced students to walk on the track for two hours because they did not wear their uniforms on the final day of school. Several parents say children who didn't wear their uniforms were not allowed to eat breakfast and were not allowed any water while they were walking, even though temperatures reached the mid to high 80s by the time they ended their walk.

Steve Chapman on Obama's Deficient Student Loan Plan

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ObamaThe government normally doesn't care whether anyone accumulates large bills for home improvement, a new car, or exotic vacations. But Barack Obama feels no hesitation in concluding that the cost of higher education has placed "too big a debt load on too many young people." Therefore, something must be done.

Obama wants to let some five million borrowers cap their monthly repayments at 10 percent of their income and, after 20 years, be relieved of any remaining balance. But forgiving these debts would add to the expense inflicted on taxpayers without doing borrowers much good in the meantime, according to Steve Chapman.

Thinking that more federal aid will make college affordable is like believing that a dog can catch its tail if it goes faster. One reason colleges charge so much more today is that federal aid makes it easier for students to cover the bill. The more the government does, the less reason students have to demand cost control, and the higher tuition will climb, writes Chapman.

View this article.

Jacob Sullum on the Colorado Cannabis Consumption Conundrum

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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? Jacob Sullum says state and local restrictions have made answering that question a much bigger challenge than it needs to be.

View this article.

A.M. Links: Rand Paul Doesn't Blame Obama For Unrest in Iraq, John Kerry Arrives in Baghdad, U.S. Ti

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  • looking forwardSen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says he doesn't blame President Obama for the situation in Iraq but that he does blame the unrest in the Middle East on the Iraq War. Former Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed Paul as an "isolationist" and said U.S. meddling in the region was "essential." Meanwhile, Israel has launched retaliatory strikes in Syria after a missile attack launched from that country killed an Israeli teenager and injured his father, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continues to make territorial gains along Iraq's border with Syria and Jordan, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad to urge the Iraqi prime minister to form an "inclusive" government. 
  • Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he believed the Export-Import Bank, the federal government's export credit agency, was an example of crony capitalism and that its charter should be allowed to expire in September. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was one of its biggest supporters in Congress.
  • Several journalists in Egypt were sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges a day after John Kerry came to the country to announce the resumption of U.S. military aid.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says he wants "genuine dialogue" between the government of Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels in the east.
  • Portugal tied with the United States in World Cup play yesterday on the latest scored goal in the history of the tournament.
  • Researchers from the University of California-Davis suggest free will could be the result of background noise in the brain.

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Just What Indebted Students Needed: Hideously Expensive Luxury Dorms

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Taj MahalPrivate and public university dormitories keep getting nicer and nicer—and more expensive—courtesy of soaring tuition prices and generous support from taxpayers.

Students may be graduating $30,000 in debt, but at least they live in relative opulence for four, five, or six years. From the Associated Press:

Campus living for students today is a far cry from the cramped dormitories of generations past. New facilities are geared to handle laptops, smartphones and tablets and offer Wi-Fi connectivity and extra room outlets. Suites housing two or more people — with a shared bathroom instead of communal ones — are also popular, and some of the new halls feature computer labs, study centers, cafes and even a gaming room.

Fifty-two new residence halls at private and public schools to house 19,000 students opened last year or will open this year around the U.S., with a price tag of more than $2 billion, according to Paul Abramson, an analyst with New York-based Intelligence in Education who tracks college construction. Overall, the number of new residence hall construction is up from 40 that Abramson counted a year ago for his annual May survey.

The surge comes as U.S. schools are simultaneously trying to attract students with the comforts of home while fighting perceptions that tuition hikes and other expenses are putting college out of reach for a growing number of Americans. But even as costs go up, demand for updated residence halls and other amenities is motivating schools to keep spending.

Wichita State University provides a good example of what this means for students:

At Wichita State, a new $65 million residence hall and dining facility at the center of campus has a waiting list while openings are plentiful at the university's older, lower-priced halls. It'll cost between $10,000 and $12,000 a year (including meals) to live in the new facility, compared to $6,800 a year for older residence halls.

Nicer stuff is nice, sure. Infrastructure gets old and needs to be replaced. And campuses can certainly support a range of differently-priced living options.

All that said, the trend seems to be toward more opulent housing, even as students have fallen a trillion dollars into debt to get degrees that are less and less likely to guarantee jobs. Since the federal government's loan program helps students pay the cost of college up front—no matter how insane it is—colleges have every incentive to keep raising the price.

Now that so many graduates are having trouble repaying their loans, the government is considering a number of measures to reduce or forgive their debts. It's easy to see where this leads. Since the government made the loans, taxpayers take the hit.

In other words, students may not be able to afford a night at the Ritz Carlton University, but as long as the bill doesn't come for years—or gets sent to taxpayers instead—who will notice?

'Hot Felon' Illustrates Culture of State Supervision, Incarceration

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nttawwtThe booking photo of Jeremy Meeks became kind of a thing ("meme") on the Internet last week. Since then, his bail has been raised to $1 million. According to friends, Meeks' wife is upset with the attention his mugshot has gotten. "She's furious. Her man is in there and people are taking it as a joke, thinking it's funny talking about his looks, saying all kinds of crazy things," a friend told CBS Sacramento.

More interesting, however, is what led to Meeks being booked and what his arraignment hearing last week was about. Via CBS Sacramento:

Meeks was arraigned on eleven felony counts related to firearm possession, street gang membership, and violating his probation.

Stockton Police said he's not a good guy. Meeks is a convicted felon, having spent two years in prison for grand theft in 2002.

So the police label Meeks "not a good guy" based on a conviction more than a decade ago, for which Meeks has done his time. Now he is in the crosshairs of law enforcement largely because he has been before. None of the felony charges listed above are for violent crimes. Firearm possession is a Second Amendment right, street gang membership arguably a First Amendment right, while probation is largely a jobs program built on the backs of felons who have done their time but whom the state wants to keep under adult supervision anyway. One of the charges, not mentioned above, appears to be called "street terrorism." It's a dangerous perversion of the word "terrorism" to include not just politically-motivated violence by non-state actors but violent crime in general.

And yet in this case, Meeks is not accused of any specific violent crime, while Stockton apparently has a serious crime problem. The community may be better served if cops target suspects accused of specific violent crimes rather than engaging in the kind of pseudo-preventative law enforcement that leads them back to the same low hanging fruit over and over again while crime remains a problem.

Walmart Takes Red Pen to Typical NY Times Wage Gap Column

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Prices so low they'll drive progressives insane!Timothy Egan over at the New York Times opined in a poorly argued, talking-points-laden screed about how terrible Walmart is. Typically this would be dog-bites-man stuff. It contains stupid sentences like this one: "It's a sad day when we have to look to corporations for education, health care and basic ways to boost the middle class," as though the money the government grabs to attempt to (extremely poorly) manage these things would exist at all were it not for the marketplace that created corporations in the first place (and as if the extremely poor government management isn't what is driving up prices of health care and education as well).

But something different happened this time, causing a bit of viral buzz in conservative-libertarian circles. Walmart took a red pen to Egan's column and posted it on their site, with corrections. In response to Egan calling Walmart a drain to taxpayers, they argue they're the biggest taxpayer in the country. In response to him claiming the company forces employees onto public assistance, they point out that they are responsible for moving employees off public assistance. They even note that one piece of evidence of Walmart's bad behavior was debunked by Politifact. In response to a simplistic back-of-the-napkin mathematical claim by a Fortune writer that Walmart could increase the wages by all their employees by 50 percent with no consequences, Walmart suggests checking out the description of the company from a gentleman named Jason Furman.

Read the whole thing here. (Tip to Walmart's public relations folks: If you want people clicking on links, actually make them links, not images of site addresses that can't even be copied or pasted.)

Walter Olson over at the Cato Institute noted Furman is President Barack Obama's current chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and what he had to say about Walmart:

Wal-Mart's low prices help to increase real wages for the 120 million Americans employed in other sectors of the economy. And the company itself does not appear to pay lower wages or benefits than similar companies, or to cause substantially lower wages in the retail sector…

[T]o the degree the anti-Wal-Mart campaign slows or halts the spread of Wal-Mart to new areas, it will lead to higher prices that disproportionately harm lower-income families…

By acting in the interests of its shareholders, Wal-Mart has innovated and expanded competition, resulting in huge benefits for the American middle class and even proportionately larger benefits for moderate-income Americans.

As usual, during this poorly argued babble about the "income gap," what is left out is how much more the poor and middle class are able to get for their wages thanks to places like Walmart. It will not be the one percent flooding the stores come Black Friday buying television sets the size of dinner tables. It's interesting how the things that are allegedly becoming less and less obtainable for the poor and middle class (education and health care) have been heavily regulated and managed by the government.

Sen. Rand Paul: "The war on drugs has had a racial outcome...and I want to try to fix it."

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that a new voting rights bill he's working on would help him reach out to new demographics, especially minorities. Paul plans to introduce a bill that would restore the vote for people convicted of minor drug offenses. 

"Three out of four people in prison are black or brown for nonviolent drug use. However, when you do surveys, white kids are doing drugs at an equal rate, and they are a much bigger part of the population. So, why are the prisons full of black and brown kids? It is easier to arrest them. It is easier to convict them. They don't get as good of attorneys," Paul said.

Read the full article here.

Debating the Death Penalty

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The American Spectator, a conservative magazine, recently invited me to debate William Tucker about the death penalty. Our point/counterpoint, which appeared in the July/August Spectator, is now online. Here's how my side of the dispute begins:

Old school.The typical conservative is well informed about the careless errors routinely made by the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Service, and city hall. If he's a policy wonk, he may have bookmarked the Office of Management and Budget's online list of federal programs that manage to issue more than $750 million in mistaken payments each year. He understands the incentives that can make an entrenched bureaucracy unwilling to acknowledge, let alone correct, its mistakes. He doesn't trust the government to manage anything properly, even the things he thinks it should be managing.

Except, apparently, the minor matter of who gets to live or die. Bring up the death penalty, and many conservatives will suddenly exhibit enough faith in government competence to keep the Center for American Progress afloat for a year. Yet the system that kills convicts is riddled with errors.

To read the rest, follow the link.

Tucker, meanwhile, points out that murder rates rose after the death penalty was abolished nationwide and fell after "states started executing people in significant numbers in the 1990s." But states that do not have the death penalty have also seen murder rates decline in the same period—indeed, they've enjoyed a somewhat greater decline—so I'm not convinced he's found the reason for the rise and fall.

He also offers an argument about incentives:

It's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."For a criminal pulling off a holdup—or a rapist, or a "surprised" burglar caught by a homeowner—there's a very simple logic at work. The victims of your crimes are also the principal witnesses. They will call the police the minute you depart. They can identify you. They will probably testify at your trial. There's a very simple way to prevent all this: kill them.

The purpose of the death penalty is to draw a bright line between a felony and felony murder. If the penalty for rape or robbery is jail time, and for murder is more jail time after that, there isn't a huge incentive to prevent you from pulling the trigger.

I didn't mention it in my Spectator piece, but I have invoked that same bright line elsewhere to show why, if there is a death penalty, it should not apply to any crime less serious than murder. If a criminal can be executed for, say, kidnapping, he may well decide that he might as well kill people to evade capture, since arrest already means a strong possibility of being put to death. But while that bright line makes sense as an argument against a particularly poor way of applying the death penalty, I don't think it works as well as an argument for the death penalty itself. The same incentive, after all, applies to a murderer: He might decide to kill more people to evade capture too.

At any rate, you can read both Tucker's full argument and mine here, and then you can join the debate yourselves in the comments.

Tax Carbon or Innovate to Save the Climate?

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NoCarbonEnergyIn Sunday's New York Times Bush administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Jr. published an op-ed advocating the adoption of a carbon tax as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and stimulate low-carbon and no-carbon energy production technology innovations. Paulson has joined with former New York City major Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund mogul, now climate warrior, Tom Steyer to found the Risky Business Project that aims to quantify the costs of future climate change to the economy. Their report will be issued later this week. In his op-ed Paulson argues:

I’m a businessman, not a climatologist. But I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with climate scientists and economists who have devoted their careers to this issue. There is virtually no debate among them that the planet is warming and that the burning of fossil fuels is largely responsible...

We need to craft national policy that uses market forces to provide incentives for the technological advances required to address climate change. As I’ve said, we can do this by placing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Many respected economists, of all ideological persuasions, support this approach. We can debate the appropriate pricing and policy design and how to use the money generated. But a price on carbon would change the behavior of both individuals and businesses. At the same time, all fossil fuel — and renewable energy — subsidies should be phased out. Renewable energy can outcompete dirty fuels once pollution costs are accounted for.

But will a carbon tax actually stimulate the invention of new no-carbon energy technologies? Theory suggests yes, but high gasoline taxes in Europe that are nearly the equivalent of a $500 per ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions have not led to the invention of cars powered by electricity generated by nuclear power plants and solar panels.

A June 13 op-ed, "Carbon Pricing Won't Solve Climate Change. Innovation Will," in the Christian Science Monitor by analysts at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation argue that directly subsidizing research and development aiming to make no-carbon energy technologies cheaper than fossil fuels is a better way to go. Why? First, because a carbon tax that would be sufficiently high to encourage no-carbon energy R&D is politically infeasible. Consequently, they argue:

The primary goal of both national and international climate policy should be to make the unsubsidized cost of clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels so that all countries deploy clean energy because it makes economic sense. This means a fundamental focus on innovation, including substantially more public investment in clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D), and reforms of clean energy deployment policies so that subsidies incentivize the development of better technologies. International climate negotiations should also address innovation by offering high-income and emerging economies the option to gradually increase clean energy RD&D investment as a complement to an emissions reduction target. To start, a modest 0.065 percent target would increase global investment by $26 billion per year.

Points in favor of R&D subsidies: (1) they would be much cheaper for consumers and producers than imposing a broad carbon tax, and (2) if they do end up producing cheaper-than-fossil-fuel energy production technologies, the process of imposing costs on people would be replaced with one in which people enjoy benefits instead.

Obamacare Covers the Uninsured (and Some Who Weren’t)

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The headline news from last week’s Kaiser Family Foundation survey of people who enrolled in individual market health insurance was that more than half—57 percent—of those enrolled in coverage through Obamacare’s exchanges were previously uninsured.

That’s a marked improvement over previous outside surveys from McKinsey and RAND, which found that 24 percent and 36 percent of Obamacare-era enrollees were previously uninsured. The surveys were taken at different times, and they used different questions and different methodologies, which almost certainly accounts for some of the variation. But because the Kaiser report is the most recent, and because it relies on a randomized survey sample, it’s likely to be taken as the closest thing we have to a canonical number, at least for now.

Kaiser estimate represents a significant improvement over the previous estimates produced by McKinsey and RAND, and in that sense it represents good news for the health law’s supporters. Certainly, they will now be able to say that a majority of the people covered through the law’s exchanges were previously uninsured.

But even still, the survey results suggest the potential limitations of Obamacare’s coverage scheme.It’s not a precise instrument: More than 40 percent of exchange enrollees were already insured, suggesting that while Obamacare is expanding coverage to the uninsured, it’s also resulting in a fair amount of subsidized coverage going to people who already had coverage (the vast majority of exchange beneficiaries got subsidies).

Digging a bit deeper into the survey also hints at the difficulty in measuring who, exactly, counts as previously uninsured. If someone had health insurance up until a month prior to getting new coverage under the law, should that person count as uninsured? Probably not. What about six months before? Or a year before? These questions are legitimately difficult to answer.

Kaiser’s survey finds that the majority of previously uninsured lacked coverage for two years, and that 45 percent reported not having coverage for five years. Which means that more than half of the previously uninsured were covered at some relatively recent point.

Now, many of those people clearly were having difficulty getting coverage for some reason—perhaps as a ripple effect of the recession, perhaps because of some other factor. But many of them appear not to be completely uninsurable. These are not people who couldn’t get insurance under any circumstance. They’re people who didn’t have it for the last several years.  

Obamacare’s supporters would no doubt say that the law was designed to help those people just as much as it was designed to help those who never had coverage at all. That’s an entirely reasonable position. But when we talk about Obamacare’s coverage effects, it’s important to be clear about who is being covered: a sizable number of people who were already insured, as well as people who were both eligible for coverage and covered at one point, but had lost their coverage.

'Greenhouse' Plug-In Lets You See Where Politicians Get Their Money

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The Internet has birthed a new useful tool to keep tabs on politicians. It's a browser plug-in called "Greenhouse" and it lets users easily access information on where our public servants get their campaign donations.

For example, if you were reading recent news about Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her views on Obamacare, simply hovering a mouse over her name would bring up a political baseball card of sorts. Greenhouse lists the top 10 industries from which a politician receives money, and Pelosi's number one comes from health professionals. They gave her slightly over $200,000 in 2012 (see image right).

The software, which launched early in June for browsers Safari and Google Chrome and just last week for Firefox, also highlights what percentage of a politician's funds come from presumably grassroots supporters, those who make donations of $200 or less. For Pelosi, that comes out to a mere 4.8 percent.

Greenhouse's creator, Nicholas Rubin, explains on his website that "even though I am only 16 years old, not quite old enough to vote, I am old enough to know that our political system desperately needs fixing. I hope that this tool is one step in that direction."

Rubin says the name of his plug-in comes from a desire for transparency, like the glass walls of a greenhouse. One may also infer something about politicians and hot gas as well, but he doesn't explicitly make that point. The young coder gives some insight into his own political philosophy and mission:

The influence of money on our government isn't a partisan issue. Whether Democrat or Republican, we should all want a political system that is independent of the influence of big money and not dependent on endless cycles of fundraising from special interests. The United States of America was founded to serve individuals, not big interests or big industries. Yet every year we seem to move farther and farther away from our Founders' vision.

Technology blog Engadget critiques the fact that the Rubin's data is a few years old. He replied that "the information in the popup is from the last full election cycle (ending in 2012) because it is most complete data available." Rubin pulls his information from the Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets website, which tracks lobbying and campaign contributions, and "plan[s] to update the data in the popup itself later in this election cycle as 2014 contributions are more complete." 

Journalists and Filmmakers: Win Big $$ at the Reason Media Awards!

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ReasonAttention writers and filmmakers of distinction! Enter to win $$ at the 2014 Reason Media Awards!

  • The Bastiat Prize for Journalism  honors writers from around the globe who explain the importance of freedom with originality, wit, and eloquence.
  • The Reason Video Prize honors short-form video and film that explores, investigates, or enriches our appreciation of individual rights, limited government, and the free market.

First place for each prize is $10,000. The deadline to enter is July 31, 2014.

Find out more and enter at www.reasonmediaawards.com

Vid: How Pot Went Legit - Q&A with Weed Land author Peter Hecht

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"When you go from a product that has been illegal for generations and you legalize it—in this case, under the medical marijuana laws—you need rules and a framework...and California never had that. And it left not only the state vulnerable, but these individual businesses vulnerable to prosecution," says Peter Hecht, journalist and author of the book Weed Land: Inside America's Marijuana Epicenter and How Pot Went Legit.

Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller interviews Hecht at our Los Angeles studio for an internet livestream on Reason TV's YouTube Channel on Wednesday, June 11 at 7pm. Hecht discusses the economic, political, and social journey California has taken in the legalization of medical marijuana and compares its relatively unregulated and sometimes chaotic medical marijuana market to markets in other states, such as Washington and Colorado.

Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Alexander Manning and Carlos Gutierrez. Edited by Carlos Gutierrez. Music by The Custodian of Records. Run time: 37 min.

Click the link below for downloadable versions of this video, and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel for daily content like this.

View this article.

Now, Even Russia Has Drone-Delivered Pizza. Get With It, USA!

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The Cold War is heating back up and the Russians have an edge on The Land of the Free in one critical arena: drone-delivered pizza.

The Russian Federation – whether its restricting speech online, making work visas more difficult to obtain, or muscling ethnic minorities in the recently snatched Crimean peninsula – is not exactly known for its commitment to limited government. And yet, The Moscow Times reported yesterday on an activity that the Ivan Dragos of the world get to enjoy while the Rocky Balboas do not:

A pizzeria in the Komi republic's capital city of Syktyvkar has launched a helicopter drone-delivery service.

DoDo Pizza's first unmanned delivery was made on Saturday to much applause from witnesses in the city's main square. …

The drone was able to complete its task in just half an hour, and the pizzeria's owners plan to make drone deliveries a regular practice.

This is the Sputnik of 2014, people.

Why is it that Russians (and others worldwide) can get a quintessentially American dish delivered by an unmanned aerial vehicle, but Americans cannot? Regulations courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA is tasked with rolling out a set of regulations for commercial drone use in the U.S. by 2015, but in the meantime, they've left businesses in a sort of legal limbo. The agency has this year grounded operations of a beer delivery service, a flower delivery service, and even a volunteer search-and-rescue organization, because they don't conform to FAA rules (which aren't necessary legally binding). The agency made some progress earlier this month by allowing BP to become the first fully approved commercial drone operator, but that doesn't exactly deserve applause. Apparently, it took over a year to work that deal out, and it shows the FAA is more interested in picking winners and losers than simply allowing any business to adopt drone technology and become more cost effective for consumers. 

Of couse, you just might get pepper-sprayed by a drone in America. Read Scott Shackford's coverage of that here.

EPA Can Regulate 83 Percent of Greenhouse Gases Instead of 86 Percent, Says U.S. Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a decision in the case of Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency in which it more or less affirmed the EPA's power to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide so long as they are emitted with other pollutants that the agency has the authority regulate under the Clean Air Act. The EPA claimed that since it had the authority to regulate any facility that emitted more 100 tons of other pollutants per year, it could similarly regulate any facility that emitted more than 100 tons of carbon dioxide annually. More than 6 million such facilities including schools, big apartment buildings, hospitals, dairy farms, and so forth emit that much carbon dioxide. The agency concluded that regulating that many facilities would be "absurd" so it decided to "tailor" its regulations so that they applied only to facilities that emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to more than 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The Supreme Court ruled today that the EPA can regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases from facilities that emit 100 tons of the other pollutants that it already has Clean Air Act authority to regulate. Since, for example, big power plants, refineries, and cement factories emit significant amounts of pollutants like nitrogen oxides, particulates, ozone and so forth, the agency will have the power to limit to their greenhouse gas emissions as well.

As the Associated Press reported:

‘‘EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,’’ [Justice Antonin] Scalia said. He said the agency wanted to regulate 86 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from plants nationwide, and it will it be able to regulate 83 percent of the emissions under the ruling.

Will the ruling have any effect on the Obama administration's proposals to force electric power generating plants to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent? Not really. From AP:

The EPA and many environmental advocates said the ruling would not affect the agency’s proposals for first-time national standards for new and existing power plants. The most recent proposal aims at a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by 2030, but won’t take effect for at least another two years...

...David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the ruling was a green light for the administration’s proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. ‘‘There’s no adverse effect on EPA’s power plant proposal. In fact, it looks like the court is reaffirming EPA’s authority to set those standards,’’ Doniger said.

Given Republican obstructionism with regard to climate change policy, this is the sort of "second best" piecemeal regulation that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman feels forced to endorse today. 

The Pope Needs to Meet More Drug Users

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As prohibitionists typically do, Pope Francis conflated drug use with drug abuse when he denounced marijuana legalization on Friday. "Let me state this in the clearest terms possible," he said. "The problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!" But what, exactly, is "the problem of drug use"? Francis seems to have in mind a harmful, life-disrupting pattern of heavy use. "Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise," he said. "To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem." Even if we agree that "drug addiction is an evil," prohibition clearly magnifies that evil by consigning users to a black market where prices are artificially high, quality and potency are unpredictable, dangerous methods of administration are encouraged, conflicts are resolved through violence, and consumers are subject to arrest at any moment. It is debatable whether these costs can be justified by reference to the potential addicts they deter, especially since the burdens are imposed on people who do not benefit from them. In any case, what about drug users who are not addicts? Francis seems to think they do not exist.

Although Francis referred to "alcohol abuse" as an example of addiction, he did not condemn drinking per se (a dicey proposition, given wine's role as a Catholic sacrament). But he made no such distinction in connection with the currently prohibited intoxicants, which most people manage to consume without ruining their lives. That black-and-white attitude may not be surprising coming from a man with "years of personal experience ministering to addicts in the drug-laden slums of the Argentine capital," as the Associated Press puts it. Similarly, the work of the cops and addiction treatment specialists who welcomed the pope's remarks regularly exposes them to people with drug problems. It is risky to draw general conclusions from such skewed samples. To put it another way, Francis' encounters with down-and-out paco addicts in Buenos Aires tell us nothing about the merits of letting lawyers and schoolteachers in Colorado unwind with a little Cherry O.G. after a hard day at work.

#Winning: Record Low 7 Percent of Americans Have Confidence in Congress!

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Out of Gallup's regular list of American institutions, only the police (53 percent), small business (62 percent), and the military (74 percent) poll above 50 percent. And the military is actually down from a recent high of 82 percent in 2009.

For more information, go here.

Did NASA/NOAA Dramatically Alter U.S. Temperatures After 2000?

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hot enoughSome segments of the Internet are abuzz with the claim by climate change skeptic Steven Goddard (Tony Heller) over at his Real Science blog that NASA/NOAA have been jiggering the numbers so that they can claim that warmest years in the continental United States occurred recently, not back in the 1930s. Folks, please watch out for confirmation bias.

Via email, I asked Anthony Watts, proprietor of WattsUpWithThat, what he thinks of Goddard's claims. He responded...

...while it is true that NOAA does a tremendous amount of adjustment to the surface temperature record, the word “fabrication” implies that numbers are being plucked out of thin air in a nefarious way when it isn’t exactly the case.

“Goddard” is wrong is his assertions of fabrication, but the fact is that NCDC isn’t paying attention to small details, and the entire process from B91’s to CONUS creates an inflated warming signal. We published a preliminary paper two years ago on this which you can read here:  http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/29/press-release-2/

About half the warming in the USA is due to adjustments. We' received a lot of criticism for that paper, and we’ve spent two years reworking it and dealing with those criticisms. Our results are unchanged and will be published soon.

In his email, Watts also cites the strong criticisms of Goddard's earlier claims over at the Blackboard blog:

Goddard made two major errors in his analysis, which produced results showing a large bias due to infilling that doesn’t really exist. First, he is simply averaging absolute temperatures rather than using anomalies. Absolute temperatures work fine if and only if the composition of the station network remains unchanged over time. If the composition does change, you will often find that stations dropping out will result in climatological biases in the network due to differences in elevation and average temperatures that don’t necessarily reflect any real information on month-to-month or year-to-year variability. Lucia covered this well a few years back with a toy model, so I’d suggest people who are still confused about the subject to consult her spherical cow.

His second error is to not use any form of spatial weighting (e.g. gridding) when combining station records. While the USHCN network is fairly well distributed across the U.S., its not perfectly so, and some areas of the country have considerably more stations than others. Not gridding also can exacerbate the effect of station drop-out when the stations that drop out are not randomly distributed.

I note that Watts commented on the, hmmm, accuracy of Goddard's work over at the Blackboard as well:

Anthony Watts (Comment #130003)
June 6th, 2014 at 8:00 am

I took Goddard to task over this as well in a private email, saying he was very wrong and needed to do better. I also pointed out to him that his initial claim was wronger than wrong, as he was claiming that 40% of USCHN STATIONS were missing.

Predictably, he swept that under the rug, and then proceeded to tell me in email that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Fortunately I saved screen caps from his original post and the edit he made afterwards.

See:

Before: http://wattsupwiththat.files.w.....before.png

After: http://wattsupwiththat.files.w....._after.png

Note the change in wording in the highlighted last sentence.

In case you didn’t know, “Steve Goddard” is a made up name. Supposedly at Heartland ICCC9 he’s going to “out” himself and start using his real name. That should be interesting to watch, I won’t be anywhere near that moment of his.

This, combined with his inability to openly admit to and correct mistakes, is why I booted him from WUWT some years ago, after he refused to admit that his claim about CO2 freezing on the surface of Antarctica couldn’t be possible due to partial pressure of CO2.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/200.....a-at-113f/

And then when we had an experiment done, he still wouldn’t admit to it.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/200.....-possible/

And when I pointed out his recent stubborness over the USHCN issues was just like that…he posts this:

http://stevengoddard.wordpress.....reeze-co2/

He’s hopelessly stubborn, worse than Mann at being able to admit mistakes IMHO.

In his email to me, Watts details the sort of bureaucratic bungling that produces what he thinks is a significant artificial warming signal in the lower 48 temperature records from which he concludes:

It is my view that while NOAA/NCDC is not purposely “fabricating” data, their lack of attention to detail in the process has contributed to a false warming signal in the USA, and they don’t much care about it because it is in line with their expectations of warming. The surface temperature record thus becomes a product of bureaucracy and not of hard science...Never ascribe malice to what can be explained by simple incompetence.

See my earlier reporting on Watts et al.'s U.S. temperature data paper in my article, "Everyone Freaks Out About Two New Climate Change Studies." In response to criticism of that paper Watt and his colleagues have, as noted above, recrunched the data and will release a new paper soon.

Sotomayor Praises Affirmative Action and Legacy Admissions, Doesn't Realize Those Things Are Awful

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Sonia SotomayorThough the public has steadily turned against affirmative action schemes—and courts continue to limit their use—Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor remains a steadfast defender of race-based college admissions.

In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Sotomayor offered an interesting glimpse into her mindset on the issue. She maintained that race-based affirmative action was the only reliable way to ensure campus diversity.

Stephanopoulos asked her whether it made more sense for admissions offices to consider regional or economic background instead of race. Her answer was definitive:

Well, the problem with that answer is that it doesn't work. It's not that I don't believe it works, I don't think the statistics show that it works. It just doesn't.

But perhaps more shocking was that she defended affirmative action by likening it to legacy admission—a practice that virtually everyone who knows about it hates (some 75 percent of Americans, according to The New York Times), except Sotomayor, apparently:

Look, we have legacy admissions. If your parents or your grandparents have been to that school, they're going to give you an advantage in getting into the school again. Legacy admission is a wonderful thing because it means even if you're not as qualified as others you're going to get that slight advantage.

Is it "wonderful" that the scions of politically and financially well-connected families get to be judged on their last names, rather than on their academic merit? It seems like Sotomayor thinks legacy admissions are somehow helping the disadvantaged, when in reality they do the opposite.

This isn't abstract, theoretical, or even disputable. In 2009, Princeton accepted 40 percent of applicants whose parents were alumni, according to Inside Higher Ed. That was 4.5 times higher than the rate of admission for non-legacy applicants. People who didn't have famous parents got penalized when they applied to Princeton, plain and simple. That's the system Sotomayor just said was "wonderful."

Why should admittance to elite colleges be inherited like an aristocratic title? And why on earth would a Supreme Court justice whose ostensible concern is fostering diversity and assisting disadvantaged minorities be in favor of such a system?

Foes of inequality who criticize race-based affirmative action should demand the end of legacy admissions with equal fervor. It boggles the mind to think they would have Sotomayor against them in this fight, too.

Read Reason's Shikha Dalmia on why legacy preferences are the "original sin" of admissions policies.

DOJ’s Defense of Drone-Killing American Alleged Terrorist Without Trial: Because War

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Anwar al-AwlakiToday, in response to lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The New York Times, the Obama administration has finally released an important memo written by the Department of Justice explaining the legal authority to use drones to sometimes kill Americans without the benefit of a trial first. Anwar Al-Awlaki was an American citizen and also allegedly a terrorist organizer for Al Qaeda, killed in a drone strike in 2011 in Yemen.

The administration had been fighting the memo's release and losing. Today a redacted version of the memo was released. The ACLU has it posted here (the memo actually begins on page 67, following a lengthy court ruling). The "too long; didn't read" version: The Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that gave us wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gave the administration permission to pursue and capture or kill members of Al Qaeda; Al-Awlaki was a member of Al Qaeda; therefore, killing was legal.

Al-Awlaki's Fourth Amendment right to due process is brought up toward the end. The Justice Department argues here that capturing Al-Awlaki was infeasible, yet he presented a threat to the United States as "continued" and "imminent," therefore lethal force was justified.

What sort of continued and imminent threat did Al-Awlaki present from Yemen? Don't know. That part is all redacted. The justification of why the CIA pursued this course of action is also almost entirely redacted. Even with the memo, we actually don't learn anything new from a leak of a similar memo NBC published last year. We don't know why Al-Awlaki was considered to be an imminent threat and why this drone strike was the only way the Obama administration believed it needed to deal with him.

Also note that the memo is entirely only about the execution of Al-Awlaki. The United States has killed four Americans abroad with drone strikes, including Al-Awlaki's teenage son. The son was not purposefully targeted, but was killed two weeks after his father's death after running off to Yemen. He had no known connections to terrorism himself.

The ACLU, in a release, said it would push for more information to be made public:

"We will continue to press for the release of other documents relating to the targeted-killing program, including other legal memos and documents relating to civilian casualties." [ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel] Jaffer said.

"The drone program has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, including countless innocent bystanders, but the American public knows scandalously little about who is being killed and why."

Drone-Killing Memo Released, EPA Gets Gassy, Hard Look at Lerner's Hard Drive: P.M. Links

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  • David BarronA previously secret Justice Department memo justifying the drone assassination of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki was released today by a federal appeals court. The document argues that neither the law nor the Constitution prevented the president from ordering the killing. Its author, David Barron, recently won confirmation as a federal judge. Hmmm...Wonder whether he would have released the memo...
  • Fresh from claiming she and Bill were "dead broke" when they left the White House, Hillary Clinton now boasts that she pays taxes "unlike a lot of people who are truly well off." If she likes it so much, she can pay mine, too.
  • Despite trimming the Environmental Protection Agency's claims of authority just a tad, the Supreme Court largely let stand the EPA's efforts to regulate the emission of "greenhouse gases." So watch that spicy food.
  • Syria's government claims it has surrendered the last of its chemical weapons. Uh huh.
  • An island on Titan, a moon of Saturn, mysteriously disappeared over the course of just a few days. Astronomers say they hope J. J. Abrams has nothing to do with the explanation.
  • The odd fate of former IRS official Lois Lerner's hard drive, which reportedly crashed and ate two years worth of email, has taken on a life of its own in the investigation of the tax agency's treatment of small-government groups.

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Ira Stoll Warns That the Obama Presidency Is Far From Over

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ObamaNBC chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd recently declared, about President Obama, "the public is saying, hey buddy, your presidency is over."

The pronouncement was met with a banner headline on the Drudge Report. Senator Rubio, Republican of Florida, ratified the sentiment by telling Sean Hannity on Fox News, "I saw a commentator say that these polls, what they reflect, is that the Obama presidency is over, and I agree with that. I think it is, in general."

Alas, with all respect to Senator Rubio and Mr. Todd, and even more respect to Matt Drudge's shrewd news judgment, warns Ira Stoll, Yogi Berra had it right when he said "it ain't over till it's over."

View this article.

Bite My Shiny Metal—SUSPEND TRAIN SERVICE!

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i'll build my own train service, with blackjack, and hookersA child's abandoned school project led the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to suspend service on Metro-North, a commuter rail line that serves New York and Connecticut, for part of early Friday morning. The middle school student fashioned a cardboard box to look like head of Bender, a character in the animated series Futurama. The child said he accidentally left the project near the Unquowa Road bridge in Fairfield, Connecticut and meant to pick it up later.

Instead, it was spotted by a Department of Public Works employee who called police. Cops agreed the object was suspicious and called the MTA and a bomb squad from the state police. MTA then suspended service or, as Connecticut News put it, "the box forced Metro-North to suspend service."  The paper didn't seem to understand why not everyone would blame the box:

While Metro-North didn't have anything to do with the box, some commuters still blamed the railroad.

"I don't defend Metro-North any more," Joe Clyne, a Fairfield commuter for 16 years, said as he sat on the steps of Tomlinson Middle School overlooking the chaotic scene on the Unquowa Road bridge. "I used to say that Metro-North was better than the Long Island Railroad – not anymore."

Service was suspended for two hours while the cardboard box was checked out. Land of the free, home of the brave.

Tonight on The Independents: Peter Suderman on the IRS Hearings, Katherine Mangu-Ward and T

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Purple hair, purple hair. |||Tonight's live episode of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, with re-airs three hours later) will be filled with familiar Reason characters. Besides yours truly, there will be Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward, who will be one half of the Party Panel (along with former GOP congressman Thaddeus McCotter), and will talk about the administration's heavily redacted legal justification for assassinating U.S. citizens, the Republican foreign-policy split between Dick Cheney and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), the laughable notion by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) that when it comes to financial backers, the Democratic Party "doesn't have billionaires"; plus the lurid claims made in the new Clinton-Obama page-turner Blood Feud.

Are you watching the House hearings with Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinenon the missing IRS emails? Well, Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman probably is, and since he broke the relevant story about the IRS having a contract with an email backup company, he shall certainly add value. Remember the federal government's controversial Operation Choke Point that allegedly targets politically disfavorable businesses for prosecutorial sanction? Brian Wise from the United States Consumer Coalition will be on to discuss the latest developments, which involve cease-and-desist letters. And remember how international borders are crumbling to meaninglessness in the Middle East and in Russia's Near Abroad? Michael Weiss of The Interpreter will add his two cents.

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.