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Preview: Brian Doherty: Reason Magazine articles.

Brian Doherty: articles.

Updated: 2016-10-21T00:00:00-04:00


No Pot Campaigning


It has been legal to run a medical marijuana business in Illinois since the start of 2014. But it has also been illegal for businesses in the industry to donate to a political campaign in the state, or for candidates to accept such a donation, either directly or via a Political Action Committee.

Two Libertarian Party politicians, Claire Ball and Scott Schluter, are now suing to challenge this law. As of press time they were waiting for a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to decide on their motion for summary judgment.

In that motion, they point out that the law bans "one class of political speakers…from engaging in the same sort of political association that is typically recognized and free from abridgement." This is supposed to combat corruption, but Ball and Schluter argue that it instead "silences emerging voices and hinders competitive campaigns by unorthodox candidates. Under the First Amendment, this cannot stand."

Individuals involved in such businesses can still donate under the Illinois law, but the plaintiffs argue that per the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a corporation or business "enjoys its own ability to engage in political free speech."

Democratic State Rep. Lou Lang, a lead sponsor of the bill, admitted to WSIU-FM last year that "conservative" and "hesitant" colleagues were supposed to be appeased into supporting medical pot by this First Amendment–violating rule.

The Libertarian Party's Very Good Year


(image) Nicholas Sarwark was elected to his second term as chair of the Libertarian Party's National Committee at the party's Orlando convention in May. At the same event, former GOP governors Gary Johnson and William Weld were chosen as the Libertarian presidential ticket; the pair were soon getting as much as 11 percent of the vote in some national polls. Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed Sarwark by phone in June about his party's potential banner year.

Q: What are some objective signs of the L.P.'s success?

A: Revenue is nearly double this year compared to the same time in 2012. [Dues-paying] membership numbers have risen around 46 percent. Our presidential candidate is consistently polling above 10 percent. They are receiving a level of media attention we just have not seen. The media are treating them like serious candidates, like on the CNN town hall where they got hit with a victim of the [Orlando nightclub] Pulse shooting and a mom whose kid was brain-damaged by heroin. That's what you have to expect if you're being treated seriously. Johnson and Weld are the most serious, credible, sane ticket available, with more executive experience than the major party candidates combined.

Q: At that town hall, Johnson gave an answer about legalizing drugs that didn't jibe with the party platform, saying he's only for legalizing marijuana. Was that a problem?

A: That town hall was for us to introduce ourselves to the American people. Johnson and Weld were not talking to Libertarians, but to everyone else, and in talking to non-Libertarian friends, that town hall was a great success. The impression people got was that these are the real deal, that this is not a bullshit ticket.

Q: How connected are the party and the presidential campaign?

A: We cooperate closely on ballot access. We have a shared interest in having them be on the ballot in all 50 states, and we are still on track to do it. But [the national party] does our own messaging, which is often in synergy with the presidential candidate but maybe not always. One of the party's biggest expenses is ballot access. About 20–25 percent of our take goes to jumping through hoops the major parties create to make things hard on challengers.

Q: Why does this seem like such a good year for the L.P.?

A: Our candidates are sensible and sane and have as a fundamental principle the idea "Don't hurt anyone and don't take their stuff," which resonates. But people won't change until the pain of the status quo is sufficient to allow [people] to consider change, and that's what the unpopularity of [Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump] is doing. After that first time voting Libertarian and the world hasn't ended and people aren't dying in the streets, it will be easier to vote L.P. again.

I keep hearing people say they're thrilled to cast a vote for something they believe in rather than just against someone. Coattails can go both ways. Having a menu of down-ticket candidates makes voters see an "L" in many races. It shows we are serious and makes it easier to pull the lever. We're not a one-shot or a cult of personality. We can even become the second party in lopsided states [where one of the majors doesn't compete in many races].

We have two sitting state legislators [in Nevada and Nebraska] who switched parties. This could be the first signs of an exodus to us [A third did so in Utah in July] when people realize a party that encompasses Rand Paul and Trump is not a real coalition—it's nothing. [Libertarian-leaning] Republicans are constantly looking to see if a knife is being put in their back by their own party.

Maine Gets Naloxone


Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage seems to really want opioid users to die. After his state suffered 272 overdose deaths in 2015, the legislature sensibly and humanely passed a law allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone, a drug that can actually reverse opioid overdoses in process, without a prescription.

In April, LePage vetoed the bill. In his view, he explained, "Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose." This, he said, "serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction." But later the same month, the legislature overrode the veto by vast margins: 29–5 in the Senate and 132–14 in the House.

Naloxone is available from pharmacists without a prescription in 35 states. In recognition of its lifesaving properties—and of America's 200 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths this century—various interest groups, from patients to urban health officials, are urging the Food and Drug Administration to make it available over-the-counter nationally, with no need to deal with a pharmacist at all.

The Last Socioeconomic System on Earth


(image) The Fox Network sitcom The Last Man on Earth, wrapping its second season, started as a common childish fantasy: What if the world were ours to play with, no worries about how it affected anyone else? Will Forte as everylastman Phil Miller has fun with this premise, but very quickly the title becomes a misnomer as Forte's willful, envious, selfish character tries (and often fails) to build a healthy community with a wife and a bickering circle of companions.

Storytelling about a small band reforging civilization is always ripe for socio-economic theorizing. The most interesting lesson here is an unforced hallelujah to modern industrial capitalism. The survivors of the show's mystery plague manage to (improbably) continue thriving off the leftover wonders of our civilization, from packaged food to fuel and jet skis. The hidden message: The only way to survive outside the extended division of labor in markets is to still have free access to all it produced.

Academic Hackers


Last year the FBI gave computer-security academics an interesting lesson.

When researchers at Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute were poking around at the popular anonymity software Tor, they found vulnerabilities that allowed them to identify some Tor users who didn't want to be identified. At least one of them, Brian Farrell, was involved with a website known as "Silk Road 2.0" that arose after the feds took down the old Silk Road in 2013. Like its predecessor, this site served as an online black market.

That became more than academic, as revealed in a ruling from Judge Richard Jones during Farrell's subsequent prosecution. The FBI obtained Farrell's I.P. address via subpoena to Carnegie Mellon, Judge Jones revealed. That should put some fear into computer security researchers who would rather not help the government nab people striving for online anonymity.

Some have wondered if money the university received from the Department of Defense might have reduced its willingness to fight the subpoena. Carnegie Mellon wants the world to know that while it lawfully obeys subpoenas, despite the rumors, it does not get paid off by the government for doing so.

The Tor Project announced that the vulnerability discovered by the Carnegie Mellon team "was patched as soon as we learned about it."

Free the Shrinks!


In 2010, members of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists sent the state attorney general after a failed Republican state Senate candidate. As a result, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has now overturned parts of the state's occupational licensing laws.

When Mary Louise Serafine was running for office, her campaign website identified her as a "psychologist." But she is not a licensed psychologist in Texas, nor does she have a degree in psychology. When the attorney general sent her a threatening letter about using that term, Serafine sued, insisting the law she allegedly violated "infringed her political speech, commercial speech, equal protection rights, and right to earn a living."

In the Fifth Circuit's judgment, a state can't enforce laws "limiting the ability of individuals to dispense personal advice about mental or emotional problems based on knowledge gleaned in a graduate class." Since Serafine was communicating not to a client as a psychologist but to voters at large, the court found no supposed "professional speech doctrine" applies, and her statement was entitled to First Amendment protection.

Under the law as written, the court noted, prosecutors could conceivably target "leaders for [Alcoholics Anonymous], Weight-Watchers, or other self-help groups," or "someone who has taken graduate classes in psychology, fitness, or counseling and has written a marriage-advice column or parenting blog." That too, it ruled, violates the First Amendment.

The Good Lord Loves a Rebel


(image) Veteran graphic novelist Chester Brown's new book, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible (Drawn & Quarterly), presents comic-book versions of Bible stories involving prostitutes. The libertarian-leaning Brown is a partisan for the quasi-heretical belief among some outré Bible scholars that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a prostitute.

But Brown's larger message goes beyond just whether God can forgive, or even glorify, women who sell sex for moneythough Brown is sure He can. In a detailed prose afterword, Brown offers up evidence for his own esoteric take on scripture: From Cain and Abel to Job to Jesus' parables of the Talents and the Prodigal Son, Brown insists the Bible tells us that God admires and rewards those who don't follow the rules.

—Brian Doherty

Who Will Be the Third Man?


Three men stand behind presidential-looking podiums on a Fox News soundstage in midtown Manhattan. One is the former governor of New Mexico, who was the first major American politician to support legalizing marijuana. Another is a pioneer of antivirus software, whom Belize authorities still would like to question in connection with an unsolved murder. The third used to work in the building as a producer on the Andrew Napolitano–hosted show Freedom Watch, and is on record telling a hostile interviewer in 2015 that he swims in a "pyramid pile of pussy." It's March 29 in an already-weird election year, and a live studio audience of 50 libertarians is buzzing with anticipation. One of these three candidates will almost certainly be on the ballot across the country this November for the most powerful political job in the world, as the Libertarian Party (L.P.) nominee. In a voting cycle that finds more voters than ever alienated from the major parties, how will the Libertarians handle this unprecedented opportunity to break through? Not by playing it straight. When moderator John Stossel asks about gay marriage, the international fugitive, John McAfee, replies by relating his version of how he'd first encountered the former TV producer, Austin Petersen. "Austin and I met in a gay bar," McAfee says. "Marry who you please." Irreverent and direct, respectful not of politesse, but of liberty. Later in the conversation, the former governor, Gary Johnson, plants a wet one on McAfee's cheek. No matter which of these very different candidates (or any of their estimated 13 challengers) ends up winning the nomination, the core attributes and attitudes of the Libertarian Party appear likely to remain intact, in a year when more eyeballs than usual will be searching for a third-party alternative. McAfee, for one, hadn't even heard of the L.P. one year ago (or so he says: the software magnate has an avowed penchant for spinning tall tales to the media). And despite his self-tended reputation as a gun-toting former drug dealer who has burned through a hundred million bucks, he might just get the nomination. Petersen has his own coterie of online supporters, and 2012 nominee Johnson has the apparent advantage of being treated by The New York Times and other political outlets as the presumptive frontrunner. But Libertarian Party members don't tend to let the Times call their tune. Longtime L.P. activists see the 2016 election as a unique opportunity. Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News and America's foremost expert in third parties, said in late March that Republicans especially face the "sudden shocking realization" that their party is "having a terrible problem and therefore people are interested in looking for alternatives." At press time, America's major party presidential candidates seem likely to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both are historically unpopular: Clinton's aggregated disapproval rating as of mid-April was 55.6 percent, and Trump's was 64.4 percent. With Trump running on a blustery platform of protectionist "greatness," Republicans who are dedicated to the old GOP verities of limiting government, or just appalled by Trump's personal style, seem more ready than in the past to look beyond their party's candidate for something that reminds them of the things they used to like about being Republican. It's also a year of novelty and upheaval in national politics all around, symbolized not just by the rise of outsider Trump, but by the surprising challenge to Clinton's glide path to the nomination from independent democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Surely, many hope, this must be the year for that epitome of politics-not-as-usual, a third party, to shine. Now firmly established as America's largest third party, the L.P. is coming off its all-time highest presidential vote totals in 2012, when Gary Johnson earned[...]

Sinatra at 100


(image) With Sinatra: The Chairman (Doubleday), Fred Kaplan has completed one of the most wildly entertaining American biographies around. This second volume of what adds up to 1,600 pages on Frank Sinatra is the tale of a singer hovering near several centers of American power, from music to movies to organized crime to the presidency.

Contained within these lurid and fascinating tales of a life both sublime and depraved is an education in the expansive nature of postmodern American culture. Sinatra worried in the late 1960s and early '70s he'd made himself an anachronism by his association with seemingly obsolete song styles. But Ol' Blue Eyes' evergreen reputation even past his 2015 centennial year shows he was wrong. Seemingly antique styles retain luster precisely because they crystalize techniques with enduring independent value—not as nostalgia, but as a vital and lively part of the growing cornucopia of cultural choices.

—Brian Doherty

Ross Ulbricht's Appeal


Last year Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison essentially for operating the Silk Road website, where people often used bitcoin to buy illegal drugs. In January, he filed an appeal. His lawyer, Joshua Dratel, maintains that Ulbricht's defense was unjustly hobbled because he was unable to present evidence about corruption charges against two federal agents investigating him.

The defense needed to raise reasonable doubt that Ulbricht was the pseudonymous "Dread Pirate Roberts" running the site at the time of the investigation and arrest. Dratel thinks the revelation that those investigators were busy trying to steal bitcoin would have raised doubts about the digital evidence against Ulbricht that they introduced.

The appeal also argues that the defense was unjustly prevented from cross-examining one witness over a theory of an alternative Dread Pirate Roberts, or from presenting witnesses who would clarify or complicate government witness statements on technicalities that Dratel thinks could have affected the jury's decision. It further suggests that some aspects of the government's searches of Ulbricht's digital life exceeded the statutory authority under which they were carried out and should have required a warrant.

On top of those arguments, Dratel believes Ulbricht's life sentence was "substantively unreasonable," since it considered deaths supposedly linked to drugs purchased on Silk Road and failed to adequately consider the site's potential effects in reducing harm to drug users.

Gender and Pay


In January, President Barack Obama announced rules requiring companies with over 100 employees to report data on their gender pay practices—part of a plan to equalize male and female pay. A new study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, conducted by two Cornell economists, delves into the latest data on, and provisional explanations for, such pay differentials.

It finds the measured gap has shrunk considerably: Female wages were roughly 64 percent of male wages in 1980, but that figure had grown to 82 percent by 2010. The gap narrowed more in lower wage percentiles than the top one, leading the authors to conclude that "developments in the labor market for executives and highly skilled workers especially favored men."

Because of the huge gains in higher education and work experience for women since 1980, the share of the wage gap that can be explained by men having more "human capital" had shrunk to 8 percent by 2010, compared to 27 percent in 1980. The particular occupation and industry choices women make (or are presented with) now explain half the existing gap.

Women are less willing to work very long hours, the authors find, which also plays a significant role. But parts of the gap remain unexplained by obvious factors like these, which "suggests, though it does not prove, that labor market discrimination continues to contribute to the gender wage gap." Since that unexplained gap is decreasing, that suggests, but doesn't prove, that such discrimination is decreasing as well.

Future Foreseen


(image) Faster-than-light travel or communication, A.I., humanoid android companions, time travel, force fields, and teleportation all continue to elude real-world scientists and engineers, despite what we were promised as 20th century readers of science fiction. (As for cyborgs and cloaking devices, we seem to be getting there.)

Brian Clegg's Ten Billion Tomorrows (St. Martin's) is subtitled How Science Fiction Technology Became Reality and Shapes the Future, but it ends up being more about how reality frequently fails to catch up to science fiction's core concepts.

Clegg's breezy, newspaper-column style only scratches the surface on both the science and the science fiction. But it delivers a fun contemplation of our attempts to model the inherently unpredictable future, and it suggests that even escapist fiction has independent value beyond preparing us for the actual future.

Fed Halts Party


Increases in the "federal funds" interest rate—that is, the rate at which banks lend each other money held at the Federal Reserve—tend to trigger rises in commercial interest rates. Since 2006, when it began a slow decline from a high of 5.25 percent, the Fed has kept that rate either stable or sinking. But in December, the central bank finally announced its intention to raise the targeted interest rate from zero to 0.25 percent and then on to 0.5 percent over the next few months, assuming inflation rates continue below their 2 percent target and employment remains satisfactory.

Sectors of the economy that came to rely on the past decade's extraordinarily low interest rates by racking up huge debt loads may face trouble. One of the biggest institutions dependent on super-low rates continuing is the highly indebted U.S. government itself.

Many analysts think the Fed's decade of cheap money has goosed the stock market in the last few years. In the five weeks following the rate-hike announcement, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 10 percent, after mostly rallying for five months.

The Fed also announced in December that it intends to raise the rate it pays banks on excess reserves to 0.5 percent. Cato Institute economist Gerald O'Driscoll notes that that move will increase the "fiscal transfer from taxpayers to bankers," by upping the already $6 billion the Fed shells out in interest to banks for not loaning their money to customers.

What Is Congress Hiding?


Every fiscal year, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires the House and Senate to enact 12 separate discretionary spending bills, one for each appropriations subcommittee (Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security, and so on). They have failed to meet this minimum requirement since 1994. When Republicans re-took the Senate in November 2014, thus ensuring GOP control over both houses of Congress, they vowed to change all that. "One of my challenges is to try to convince some of my members that passing an appropriations bill is a good thing, not a bad thing," incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told The New York Times. "The Senate basically didn't do squat for years." Yet squat is still the order of the day. While the unified Congress did manage for the first time in six years to pass a budget resolution—the also-required, nonbinding baseline blueprint from which the appropriations bills are supposed to be carved—the appropriations process once again devolved into an ungainly, unreadable, last-minute mess of legislation called the omnibus. Clocking in at $1.1 trillion for Fiscal Year 2016, and stuffed with bills that even the relevant committee chairs had no idea were going in (see "The Last Honest Man in Congress," page 32), the best thing that can be said about the omnibus was that at least it wasn't another continuing resolution. Continuing resolutions (or C.R.s, as they are known in D.C.), keep the federal government funded for short stints while politicians continue arguing about the appropriations bills they refuse to pass. In practice, they increase the frequency of can't-miss deadlines—and, during periods when Congress is divided, round-the-clock headlines—after which money for all "nonessential" purposes runs out. That hypothetical was realized on October 1, 2013, when a cutoff to appropriate funds for the next fiscal year came and went without even the band-aid of a continuing resolution. House Republicans had passed a package that purposefully did not include money for the Affordable Care Act. President Barack Obama and the Democrat-led Senate refused to consider the bill. For 16 days the government went into power-saver mode, until a heavily criticized GOP gave in and passed a C.R. that funded Obamacare. Since that moment, Republicans—particularly their new House Speaker, Paul Ryan (R–Wis.)—have preferred that their white-knuckled deadlines come less frequently, and without the noisy arguments over a shutdown. In October, as Ryan was on the verge of taking the gavel from John Boehner (R–Ohio), the House passed a two-year budget deal to increase federal spending by $80 billion, remove the 2013 sequestration caps on military spending, and suspend the debt limit until March 2017. In one fell swoop, the comparative fiscal discipline imposed during the divided-Congress era of 2011–2014 was discarded. The main drama left was seeing how exactly lawmakers would divide up the spoils. Omnibus packages, which combine at least two and usually more individual spending bills, offer several advantages to members of Congress at the direct expense of their constituents. By combining so many disparate elements into one big legislative glop, representatives leave a much smaller paper trail against which they might be held accountable for their votes. By coming in a must-pass rush, the packages become ripe for gaudy earmarks and tailor-made rule-changes benefiting favored interests. In the eyes of the political press, the up-or-down vote becomes a referendum on legislative responsibility where the only wrong answer is no. The 2,009-page omnibus (along with an extra 233 pages of tax extenders) for Fiscal 2016 was introduced on December [...]

Israeli Indie Comics


(image) The conventions of Asaf Hanuka's graphic memoir The Realist (Archaia) will be familiar to American indie comics fans: An arty urban creative type, in this case a self-torturing cartoonist, copes with marital unrest and rising real estate prices while fretting over Facebook communication strategies and watching his youth's excitement and possibilities irretrievably pass.

But the story, told in one-page installments, feels exotic—and portentous—to Americans. Hanuka is a Tel Aviv resident of Iraqi extraction. His self-absorbed fretting takes on an unnerving funhouse-mirror quality as Hanuka copes with being singled out at security checkpoints, debates his barber about the likelihood his family will be annihilated by Iranian nukes, sees his young son's hands metaphorically bloodstained when playing with a soldier toy in a tub, solemnly watches many friends move out of the country for safety, and ironically notes his relief that—when it comes to the endless cycle of violence—"I'm with the good guys."