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Zach Weissmueller
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Zach Weissmueller is a freelance writer and a producer for Reason TV. He lives in Los Angeles.

Entries by Zach Weissmueller

What If Governments Were More Like Tech Startups? How to Grow a City in Honduras

(0) Comments | Posted August 22, 2014 | 1:23 PM

Honduras is one of the most dangerous places in the world, boasting a murder rate almost double the next closest contender.

How do you fix a system that's so broken and corrupt that the citizens living under it go to lengths such as jumping aboard

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America's War on Drugs Ravages Central America -- And These Volunteer Paramedics Clean Up the Mess

(1) Comments | Posted June 26, 2014 | 2:48 PM

Guatemala is a major drug corridor between South America and Mexico. Narco gangs thrive in rural areas and along the southeastern border, while street gangs who profit from extortion, kidnapping and bribery, dominate the urban centers. As a result, the country's capital, Guatemala City, has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

This is the environment in which Guatemala's bomberos voluntarios -- a phrase that roughly translates to "volunteer firefighters" but really encompasses a group of first responders who act as firefighters, ambulance drivers, and paramedics -- operate every day.

Watch the above video for an intense look inside the world of Guatemala's volunteer bomberos, a group of men who on a daily basis save lives, race along treacherous roads where motorists are slow to pull over, and witness the results of cold-blooded executions on the city streets, all in a country with a government corrupted by organized crime, and all for little or no...

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Why We Don't Need a 'National Database of the Mentally Ill' to Control Guns

(37) Comments | Posted November 21, 2013 | 11:05 AM

In the days following the Sandy Hook shooting, NRA spokesperson Wayne LaPierre blurted out several ideas for what could prevent such tragedies in the future. He famously advocated for mandatory armed guards in public schools, blamed the media, and blamed video games. He also had this to say:

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Organic Raisin Farmers Fight Back Against Big Ag, USDA

(1) Comments | Posted July 22, 2013 | 2:50 PM

"They want us to pay for our own raisins that we grew," says Marvin Horne, an organic raisin farmer and owner of Raisin Valley Farms. "We have to buy them back!"

This is but one absurdity that Marvin and his wife Laura have faced during their decade-long legal battle with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), whose regulations tend to favor large, corporate agricultural packers at the expense of small, family-owned farms.

Every year, the Hornes plant seeds, tie vines, harvest fruit, and place grapes in paper trays to create sun-dried raisins. And every year, the federal government prevents them from bringing their full harvest to market.

It's called an agriculture marketing order. Depression-era regulations meant to stabilize crop prices endanger the livelihoods of small farmers across the country, but the raisin marketing order is particularly egregious. An elected board of bureaucrats known as the Raisin Administrative Committee decides what the proper yield should be in any given year in order to meet a previously decided-upon price. Once they can estimate the size of the year's harvest, they force every farmer to surrender a percentage of their crop to raisin packers. The packers then place the raisins in a "reserve pool," a special holding vat for raisins that cannot be sold in the U.S. Eventually, the packers can sell the reserve pool raisins overseas at highly discounted prices set by the government or funnel them into school lunch programs for next to nothing.

The farmers were always supposed to get a percentage of the money raised from the reserve pool raisins, but as profit margins dwindled over the years, so did the return to farmers. The tipping point came in 2003, when farmers received zero dollars in return for the 47 percent of the crop they had surrendered.

"You can't work for a whole year and then give 47 percent of what you made away and still keep that business afloat," says Laura Horne.

Frustrated and desperate, the Hornes started packing and selling their own raisins, which they believed would allow them to circumvent the marketing order. In doing so, they inadvertently sparked a small revolution, as other independent raisin farmers saw their initial success and began to pack and sell, too. The government wasn't happy, and neither was the major raisin cooperative Sun-Maid, which wrote a brief in support of the government's case in a classic case of the big guys squeezing out the small farmer.

The USDA saddled the Hornes with massive fines in addition to demanding payment for the raisins they had failed to surrender. Marvin Horne estimates his outstanding balance at close to a million dollars, a virtually insurmountable figure for a small, family-owned farm. The Hornes decided to fight back.

When the Hornes and a few other raisin farmers tried to challenge the USDA's seizure of their crop without payment as an unconstitutional taking of property in violation of the Fifth Amendment, the government balked and said that the issue should be heard in a Federal Claims court, as the case had nothing to do with the taking of property but instead was a matter of the Hornes violating farming regulations and being fined for doing so.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the USDA and declared that they had no jurisdiction in the case. Luckily for the Hornes, however, the Supreme Court took the case and ruled, in a 9-0 decision, that the 9th Circuit was mistaken and must consider the case on its constitutional merits.

And now, after nearly a decade of fighting, the Hornes must wait a little longer. This saga may well end in 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the next few months, or the Hornes may one day soon find themselves before the Supreme Court once again. A favorable legal outcome is far from certain, but the Horne's raisins--and the rights of small, independent farmers everywhere--depend on it.

Watch the video above for the full story.

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Will California Reform Three Strikes?

(0) Comments | Posted November 6, 2012 | 11:05 AM

The United States has the biggest prison population of any country on the planet. And in the country with the most prisoners, California is the state with more incarcerated people than any other.

California's prisons are so overcrowded that the Supreme Court found them in...

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Immigration Discrimination Is Another Hurdle Many Same-Sex Couples Face

(8) Comments | Posted October 10, 2012 | 11:58 AM

While the gay community can be heartened by the fact that President Obama publicly approved of gay marriage in May 2012 and that his administration has vowed not to fight legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), bi-national, same-sex couples still face unequal treatment under the law...

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