Changing A Bad Law

Kathleen Parker is a conservative columnist who sometimes irritates other conservatives by writing the truth. Today she comments on Michael Phelps:

Our marijuana laws have been ludicrous for as long as we’ve been alive. Almost half of us (42 percent) have tried marijuana at least once, according to a report published last year in PLoS Medicine, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

The U.S., in fact, boasts the highest percentage of pot smokers among 17 nations surveyed, including The Netherlands, where cannabis clouds waft from coffeehouse windows. Among them are no small number of high-ranking South Carolina leaders (we knew us when), who surely cringe every time a young person gets fingered for a “crime” they themselves have committed.

Other better-known former tokers include our current president and a couple of previous ones, as well as a Supreme Court justice, to name just a few. A complete list would require the slaughter of several mature forests.

This we know: Were Phelps to run for public office someday and admit to having smoked pot in his youth, he would be forgiven. Yet, in the present, we impose monstrous expectations on our heroes. Several hand-wringing commentaries have surfaced the past few days, lamenting the tragic loss for disappointed moms, dads and, yes, The Children.

Understandably, parents worry that their kids will emulate their idol, but the problem isn’t Phelps, who is, in fact, an adult. The problem is our laws — and our lies.

Obviously, children shouldn’t smoke anything, legal or otherwise. Nor should they drink alcoholic beverages, even though their parents might.

There are good reasons for substance restrictions for children that need not apply to adults.

That’s the real drug message that should inform our children and our laws, rather than the nonsense that currently passes for drug information.

Today’s anti-drug campaigns are slightly wonkier than yesterday’s “Reefer Madness,” but equally likely to become party hits rather than drug deterrents. One recent ad produced by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says: “Hey, not trying to be your mom, but there aren’t many jobs out there for potheads.” Whoa, dude, except maybe, like, president of the United States.

Once a kid realizes that pot doesn’t make him insane — or likely to become a burrito taster, as the ad further asserts — he might figure other drug information is equally false. That’s how marijuana becomes a gateway drug.

Phelps may be an involuntary hero to this charge, but his name and face bring necessary attention to a farce in which nearly half the nation are actors. It’s time to recognize that all drugs are not equal — and change the laws accordingly.

I agree with her ultimate conclusion that the law should be changed but, like Radley Balko, I disagree with the view that Phelps should be prosecuted because ” the law is the law.”

It’s easy to say “the law is the law,” but that ignores the reality that there are far more lawbreakers than there are resources to arrest and charge them all.

So law enforcement officials have all sorts of discretion. It’s precisely because Lott has limited resources and more important crimes to investigate that he could have blown this thing off. The county would likely spend thousands just providing security and logistics for Phelps’ court appearances.

Perhaps I overlooked something, but I’ve followed the case pretty closely, and I haven’t sensed any public pressure in the direction of arresting and charging Phelps. In fact, the first I heard of the idea came yesterday, when Lott himself volunteered the possibility. Even if Lott does arrest Phelps, the local prosecutor would still have the discretion to turn down the case and spend his resources prosecuting crimes that actually affect the public safety.

On the other hand, the spectacle of seeing a world class athlete like Phelps frog-marched in handcuffs, tried, and given a few days in the county jail might do wonders toward enlightening the public to the fact that the most dangerous thing about marijuana doesn’t come from smoking it, but from what the government will to you if it catches you.

Craig Crawford Has Figured Out How To Get Attention From Bloggers

Craig Crawford must be interested in having lots of bloggers link to him today, and realizes that one way to do so is to make a suggestion that is so insane that many bloggers will feel compelled to mock it. Crawford’s idea of a suggestion so off the wall that liberal bloggers could not ignore it is to suggest Newt Gringrich as Secretary of HHS:

Gingrich? Now before you lefties have a collective heart attack, think about it. Something as big as overhauling our entire health care system will be tougher to get done on a purely partisan basis. There are Republicans who want to play.

As much as it would infuriate liberals, picking Gingrich would be a hyper-bipartisan move. Would it confound the GOP into submission on health care? Maybe not, but it would be a bold move to change the political dynamics that have killed reforms in the past.

Obtaining attention in the blogosphere is the only conceivable reason Crawford would make such a suggestion. He couldn’t possibly be serious.

Choosing a Republican could have political benefits which might change the dynamics of the fight over health care reform. While he might be right on this, there are far better choices than Gingrich. I previously noted one more acceptable Republican choice here.

Electromagnetic Pulses and Smart Guns

At its worst the blogosphere leads to increased polarization between left and right with a tendency for each side to be pulled more to the extremes. At its best it has the potential to provide exposure to other ideas and present potential problems with one’s views which might be considered, along with sometimes going beyond the basic political disputes of the day. Eugene Volokh presents an example of the latter.

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of smart guns as a means of satisfying both the left and right on gun control. If the technology could actually be worked out, smart guns would allow only the owner of a gun to use them, potentially solving many of the objections to gun ownership commonly heard from opponents of guns ownership.

While this is certainly not a matter which is as urgent to today’s issues as many other topics under discussion in the blogoshere today, it is often interesting to hear such ideas on topics which might be more pertinent in the future. Volokh comes up with a potential problem with smart guns which I had never considered. He speculates that an electromagnetic pulse used in a terrorist attack might make smart guns inoperative. Such a terrorist attack would be precisely the time when individual ownership of guns might be most justifiable for personal self-defense.

This problem is potentially solvable such as by having smart guns revert to normal guns when the components which identify the user is inoperable, but this is a question which might be considered in any discussion of mandating the use of smart guns. Incidentally, getting back to the idea of using the blogosphere to transcend left/right divisions rather than amplifying them, I must also say that the rebuttal written by Matthew Yglesias to an earlier post on this topic is nonsensical and I agree with Volokh’s responses.

Not A Climate Scientist

Via Memeorandum I came across an article in The Los Angles Times entitled  California farms, vineyards in peril from warming, U.S. energy secretary warns. Initially I did not plan on linking to it as Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was only testifying on what has already been published in the scientific literature by climate scientists. As the article points out, Chu himself “is not a climate scientist.” He won his Nobel prize in another field which does not make him an expert on the subject, but does make him well qualified to testify on the scientific literature written by those who are experts.

What I found interesting in reviewing this at Memeorandum was the response by the conservative bloggers to this article. They concentrate on the line that “Chu is not a climate scientist.” I find this amusing considering that the right wing blogosophere tends to ignore the strong consensus of those who actually are climate scientists and regularly cites the work of those outside the field. Check out the conservative blogs by global warming deniers and you will see that they frequently quote meteorologists such as John Coleman, Joe Bastardi, Chad Myers, Patrick Michaels, and Mike Fairbourne. None of these are climate scientists but conservatives have no qualms about quoting them when they agree with their political views.

The Attacks on Caroline Kennedy

There remain many questions regarding the bizarre final hours of Caroline Kennedy’s attempts to be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. The information which has leaked out seems to show an attempt by Governor Paterson to discredit Kennedy when choosing someone else. The New York Times writes:

Indeed, much remains unknown about what happened between Mr. Paterson and Ms. Kennedy, especially in the final days of Mr. Paterson’s selection process. But, based on the public comments and interviews with people involved — who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject — a few essentials are clear:

One of the administration’s central claims to reporters was that Ms. Kennedy had, in the words of a person close to the governor, “a definite tax issue” and “a nanny problem” that “she didn’t want to become public.”

But that story was inaccurate. The governor and his aides now acknowledge that those issues — a tax lien of a few hundred dollars in 1994, and a lapsed visa for a foreign nanny who worked for Ms. Kennedy during the late 1980s — had been resolved years earlier and were never considered disqualifying during the vetting process…

According to advisers to the governor who were involved in the process, the leaks against Ms. Kennedy were coordinated by Judith A. Smith, a consultant who has been acting as the governor’s top communications strategist.

On Jan. 22, the morning after Ms. Kennedy withdrew, Ms. Smith spoke to Mr. Paterson, then went to the governor’s Midtown Manhattan offices, the advisers said.

There, she told at least two people to call major media outlets around the state. She instructed them to tell reporters that the governor had been dismayed by Ms. Kennedy’s public auditioning for the job, that he never intended to select her as senator, and that the tax and nanny issues had led her to pull out of consideration.

It is not clear how Ms. Smith would have known about those issues; she was not authorized to have access to Ms. Kennedy’s confidential application. Mr. Paterson was briefed on the application’s contents the night of Jan. 21, hours before Ms. Kennedy officially withdrew…

Ms. Kennedy, according to her advisers, had been promised by the governor’s legal counsel that access to her questionnaire would be restricted and that “all legally permissible steps” would be taken to keep the form “strictly confidential” — those words appear in boldface letters atop the document.

The administration also refused to release the information to reporters, saying it was protected by privacy exemptions in the Freedom of Information Law. The state’s Public Officers Law bars an official from releasing “confidential information” in order to “further his personal interests.”

In addition, the administration, in its media blitz, also told reporters that Mr. Paterson had never intended to select Ms. Kennedy.

But in the weeks preceding her withdrawal, Mr. Paterson had been hinting to people in her inner circle, and to some of his own closest allies and friends, that he was set on picking her.

With all the publicity surrounding Caroline Kennedy there was some political risk in turning her down. Paterson seems to have made the decision that he could not turn her down without giving the appearance than there was something in Kennedy’s background which would disqualify her from the post.

I  wonder if Paterson overestimated the risks of choosing someone else and underestimated the risks of attacking Kennedy in this manner. Paterson might have received some opposition for turning down Kennedy in any situation, but there were numerous reasons which could have been cited without resorting to such attacks which most people would have accepted. Many people would understand that Caroline Kennedy might not have been the best choice to be appointed to the Senate. Far fewer understand why Paterson would resort to such attacks on her.

The Imaginary Drop in Obama’s Support

Mark Halperin has made a career of taking right wing talking points and getting the media to repeat them as fact. You would think that others in the media would have caught on to his tactics by now. Steven Leser points out that Halperin has gotten away with this once again.

Yesterday Halperin picked up on a right wing talking point which was making the rounds of conservative blogs the last couple of days with a misleading post which said, “USA Today/Gallup poll shows 64% approve of the job the president is doing so far in office, down from a pre-Inauguration high of 83%.”  Leser writes that Chris Matthews and Anderson Cooper repeated this on their Friday shows. He also pointed out what was wrong with this claim:

What’s the problem? It combines information from two different polls that ask different questions and reaches an unsupported and erroneous conclusion.

The first poll deals with Obama’s transition. Gallup asked people “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his presidential transition?” http://www.gallup.com/poll/113824/Obama-Wins-83-Approval-Rating-Transition.aspx the final metric for this was that 83% of the country approved of then President-elect Obama’s transition efforts.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the question “How do you think President Barack Obama is doing his job?” is not the same question as “How is President-Elect Barack Obama handling his transition?”

The error gets even worse, because Halperin’s suggestion of a drop from 83% to 64% doesn’t even rely on unrelated polls from the same polling agency.

Conservatives would like to think there has been such a rapid drop in support for Obama, but the facts do not support this. Journalists should know better than to accept claims from Halperin without fact checking as taking something from Halperin is essentially the same as taking claims from Matt Drudge or the conservative blogosphere.