“The New York Times came out in favor of marijuana legalization. Apparently, someone told them that marijuana users are really into ‘buying papers.'” –Seth Meyers
“The New York Times came out in favor of marijuana legalization. Apparently, someone told them that marijuana users are really into ‘buying papers.'” –Seth Meyers
Republicans have always had a libertarian wing but their influence and willingness to fight for true freedom has varied over time. Far too often Republican talk of freedom turns into the freedom of businesses to ignore necessary regulations or the freedom to impose their social and religious values upon others. Limited government also far too often turns out to mean reducing the authority of the federal government in order to allow state governments to infringe upon the rights of minorities. With true defense of freedom being rare among Republicans in recent years, it was good to see a report from The New York Times that Liberals and Libertarians Find Common Ground in House.
The article lists several areas where some Republicans have crossed the aisle to work with liberal Democrats:
From abortion to electronic privacy to background checks for gun purchases, a strange thing has been happening on the floor of the House as it debates its spending bills for the coming fiscal year: the stirrings of liberalism.
The House on Thursday voted 221 to 200 to approve an amendment by one of its most vocal liberal members, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, to ban federal contracts for companies that set up sham headquarters in offshore tax havens like Bermuda. Thirty-four Republicans bucked their party to push it to passage.
That was only the most recent stirring of life on the House’s left flank. Democrats have long hoped they could find common cause on at least some issues with the Republican conference’s libertarian wing. That is starting to happen, fueled by rising distrust of government on the right, a willingness of Democrats to defy the Obama administration in some instances and a freewheeling amendment process on appropriations bills.
The article cites examples of liberals and libertarians working together on legislation to increase individual liberty, from medical marijuana to privacy protections:
The tally of left-libertarian legislation is growing, with the House at least on record voting to limit federal law enforcement actions, intelligence efforts and social policy reach. On May 30, 49 Republicans crossed the aisle to approve language barring the federal government from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.
“Some people are suffering, and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering, it is immoral for this government to get in the way,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, once one of the chamber’s most ardent conservatives, now a co-sponsor of the marijuana measure.
The day before, 76 Republicans joined Democrats to add $19.5 million to the federal instant background check system for gun purchases. The House Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to allow Peace Corps volunteers who become pregnant by rape to have a federally funded abortion and another measure limiting the federal government’s access to private email communications.
“By passing this amendment, the Appropriations Committee is taking a critical step towards ensuring all Americans are protected by the Fourth Amendment — their mail, documents on their desks at home, and now their private emails,” said Representative Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas and one of the measure’s authors.
On June 19, the House voted 293 to 123 to prohibit the National Security Agency and C.I.A. from placing “backdoor” surveillance technologies on commercial technology products and to end warrantless collection of Americans’ online activities. That amendment, passed over the White House’s objections with a veto-proof margin, was written by Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky and one of the House’s most outspoken libertarians, with the Democratic Representatives Zoe Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, and Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, a physicist.
An amendment by Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, reversed cuts to a Bill Clinton-era program that funds local police forces, a program long on the Republican target list. The liberal Democrat that Republicans love to hate, Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, convinced just enough Republicans to pass an amendment blocking the Justice Department from compelling journalists to divulge confidential sources. Another Democratic amendment clears a legal path for states to cultivate industrial hemp.
To be sure, Republicans note, plenty of amendments have driven spending bills to the right. Just last week, the House voted to block the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change on multiple fronts, including one amendment that prohibits any funding for any aspect of the administration’s “climate change agenda.”
Amendments also have passed to end the deferring of deportations of immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, to fund a Justice Department investigation of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of illegal immigrants and to block high-speed rail in California.
But, Mr. Massie said, the libertarian-liberal alliance is real and growing. He said he has been working with Ms. Lofgren on legislation that would repeal a federal law that makes it a felony to unlock a cellphone tied to a particular carrier, even after a contract is expired. Libertarians are also teaming with Democrats to change laws on federal mandatory minimum sentencing.
It would be helpful if left-libertarian goals were a higher priority from the executive branch. Obama had initially raised hopes that he would have governed as more of a left-libertarian, and Obama did receive some libertarian support when initially running for president. While he has been far preferable to George Bush on civil liberties, he has disappointed civil libertarians in areas ranging from continuing many of the Bush surveillance plans (even if seeking reform in some areas) to failing to keep his campaign promises regarding ending federal raids related to medical marijuana. While nothing is a certainty in politics, it looks most likely that Hillary Clinton, who has been to the right of Obama, is likely to win the 2016 nomination. This could leave it up to such a liberal and libertarian coalition in Congress to pursue liberal goals. There is hope for greater emphasis by the Democrats (and possibly some Republicans) on matters of personal freedom in the future as polls show that younger voters are more “determined to protect personal liberties from conservative moral constraint.”
Five health care policy items today:
Goldman issued a report on how availability of health insurance allows people the option of retiring early (or as Republicans would put it, become takers) as opposed to waiting until they qualify for Medicare. The found that “the annual probability of retirement–i.e., what share of workers of a given age will retire within the next year–is on average between 2% and 8% higher when retiree health insurance is available.” Early retirement is seen more between the ages of 60 to 64, than in those who are age 55-59.
With Republicans blocking Medicaid expansion in twenty-four states, The Commonwealth Club looked at the healthcare differences in the two Americas:
The Commonwealth Fund’s recently released Scorecard on State Health System Performance, 2014, finds big differences between states on measures of health care access, quality, costs, and outcomes. What’s more, its authors warn that these differences could very well widen in the future. Many of the lowest-performing states are choosing not to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some also are discouraging eligible uninsured citizens from purchasing subsidized coverage through new ACA marketplaces, though some uninsured are signing up nonetheless.
The fact that so many low-performing states are spurning the ACA’s benefits, while high-performing states are rushing to embrace them, raises profound questions for the future of our country. What would it mean if different parts of the United States find themselves on radically different health care trajectories, with some enjoying progressively better health and health care and others falling further and further behind? In other words, what would it mean if the two health care Americas grow further and further apart over time?
This is unexplored territory for health care researchers and policymakers, but we know enough to point to some possibilities.
To begin with, we know that when people have health coverage they live longer, healthier lives. Widening gaps in rates of insurance coverage between low- and high-performing states will almost certainly lead to growing differences in life expectancy and health status. This is worrisome and regrettable, but probably only part of the story.
An equally important—but much less explored—question is whether differing health care trajectories also will lead to differing economic and social trajectories. All else equal (of course, it never precisely is), will regions with poorer health care and health status suffer economically and socially as well? Will they have less productive workforces, less productive economies, and, as result, lower quality of life overall? Will they become less attractive places to live, work, and do business?
Several lines of evidence suggest that diverging regional health care systems could lead to diverging general welfare. First, untreated physical and mental health problems increase workers’ time off from work, reduce performance while at work, and lower rates of employment. In the early 20th century, infections such as yellow fever, malaria, and hookworm greatly hindered the economy of the American South. In his memoir, Jimmy Carter recalls that, while growing up in rural Georgia, “almost everyone was afflicted from time to time with hookworm,” a parasite that causes anemia, malaise, and fatigue. Eventually, public health measures and improved living conditions brought this and other health problems under control, contributing to a burst of economic growth.
A century later, chronic illness is the equivalent of the infectious illness that once disproportionately taxed the economy of the American South. In the United States, annual productivity losses from diabetes and depression alone exceed $100 billion nationally. And we know this burden can be lightened through good primary and preventive care that will be less available in regions with large uninsured populations.
Second, health insurance boosts economies by protecting people against catastrophic out-of-pocket health care expenses. These costs can lead to bankruptcy, which raises the cost of borrowing for the rest of society as lenders take into account the risk that they will not be repaid. Those avoiding bankruptcy often incur substantial medical debt, with far-reaching consequences. A 2012 Commonwealth Fund survey found that 61 percent of uninsured adults ages 19 to 64 reported problems paying their medical bills or said they were paying off medical debt over time. Among these individuals, more than half said they received a lower credit rating as a result of unpaid medical bills, 43 percent used all of their savings to pay their bills, and 29 percent delayed education or career plans. The 2006 Massachusetts health reform, which has led to nearly universal health coverage, has also led to fewer personal bankruptcies and bills past due and improved credit scores, particularly for those with limited access to credit before the reform…
The report continued to discuss further differences resulting from differing access to health insurance.
Besides blocking Medicaid expansion, conservatives are reducing the number of insured with misinformation campaigns and campaigns to outright dissuade people from obtaining coverage in the exchanges. This has led many uninsured people to fail to obtain coverage through the exchanges to based upon misconceptions spread by conservatives, such as that the cost would be much higher than it actually is. Jonathan Cohn wrote:
About half of the people who McKinsey surveyed did not end up buying insurance—either because they shopped and found nothing they liked, or because they didn’t shop at all. When asked to explain these decisions, the majority of these people said they thought coverage would cost too much. But two-thirds of these people said they didn’t know they could get financial assistance. In other words, they assumed they would have to pay the sticker price for coverage, even though federal tax credits would have lowered the price by hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.
With a little education and outreach, many of these people will discover that insurance costs less than they thought. When next year’s open enrollment period begins, they are more likely to get coverage. But the idea was to help more of those people this year. And if the administration deserves some blame for this shortfall, its adversaries deserve more. Republicans and their allies did their best to taint the law—and, where possible, to undermine efforts to promote it. Without such obstruction, even more uninsured people would probably be getting coverage right now. As Sprung quipped in his post, “Those who deliberately spread disinformation about the ACA and actively encouraged the uninsured to remain in that blessed state of freedom can be really proud of themselves.”
Or as I put it in a recent post: Fox Lied, People Die.
The National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the effects of legalization of medical marijuana on drug use:
21 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws that permit marijuana use for medical purposes, often termed medical marijuana laws (MMLs). We tested the effects of MMLs adopted in seven states between 2004 and 2011 on adolescent and adult marijuana, alcohol, and hard drug use. We employed a restricted-access version of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) micro-level data with geographic identifiers. For those 21 and older, we found that MMLs led to a relative increase in the probability of marijuana use of 16 percent, an increase in marijuana use frequency of 12-17 percent, and an increase in the probability of marijuana abuse/dependence of 15-27 percent. For those 12-20 years old, we found a relative increase in marijuana use initiation of 5-6 percent. Among those aged 21 or above, MMLs increased the frequency of binge drinking by 6-9 percent, but MMLs did not affect drinking behavior among those 12-20 years old. MMLs had no discernible impact on hard drug use in either age group. Taken together, MML implementation increases marijuana use mainly among those over 21, where there is also a spillover effect of increased binge drinking, but there is no evidence of spillovers to other substance use.
If marijuana turns out not to be a gateway drug, this would be another reason to reevaluate current marijuana laws. Further discussion at Vox.
The Pentagon has contingency plans for any emergency, including the Zombie Apocalypse. It isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds as it is actually a model plan using a fictional situation, as reported by Foreign Policy:
“This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde,” CONOP 8888’s plan summary reads. “Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population — including traditional adversaries.”
CONOP 8888, otherwise known as “Counter-Zombie Dominance” and dated April 30, 2011, is no laughing matter, and yet of course it is. As its authors note in the document’s “disclaimer section,” “this plan was not actually designed as a joke.”
Military planners assigned to the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska during 2009 and 2010 looked for a creative way to devise a planning document to protect citizens in the event of an attack of any kind. The officers used zombies as their muse. “Planners … realized that training examples for plans must accommodate the political fallout that occurs if the general public mistakenly believes that a fictional training scenario is actually a real plan,” the authors wrote, adding: “Rather than risk such an outcome by teaching our augmentees using the fictional ‘Tunisia’ or ‘Nigeria’ scenarios used at [Joint Combined Warfighting School], we elected to use a completely-impossible scenario that could never be mistaken for a real plan.”
But do they have plans in case of a Dalek invasion?
Russell Brand has an op-ed in The Guardian arguing that “Philip Seymour Hoffman is another victim of extremely stupid drug laws.” Here is a portion:
Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise drug addicts.
If drugs are illegal people who use drugs are criminals. We have set our moral compass on this erroneous premise, and we have strayed so far off course that the landscape we now inhabit provides us with no solutions and greatly increases the problem.
This is an important moment in history; we know that prohibition does not work. We know that the people who devise drug laws are out of touch and have no idea how to reach a solution. Do they even have the inclination? The fact is their methods are so gallingly ineffective that it is difficult not to deduce that they are deliberately creating the worst imaginable circumstances to maximise the harm caused by substance misuse.
People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even remotely deterred by prohibition. What prohibition achieves is an unregulated, criminal-controlled, sprawling, global mob-economy, where drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem.
Countries like Portugal and Switzerland that have introduced progressive and tolerant drug laws have seen crime plummet and drug-related deaths significantly reduced. We know this. We know this system doesn’t work – and yet we prop it up with ignorance and indifference. Why? Wisdom is acting on knowledge. Now we are aware that our drug laws aren’t working and that alternatives are yielding positive results, why are we not acting? Tradition? Prejudice? Extreme stupidity? The answer is all three. Change is hard, apathy is easy, tradition is the narcotic of our rulers. The people who are most severely affected by drug prohibition are dispensable, politically irrelevant people. Poor people. Addiction affects all of us but the poorest pay the biggest price.
More from Aaron Sorkin here.
There was a time before the American conservative movement moved to the extreme right, with denial of any facts which contradicted their extreme views, when some conservatives could be on the right side of some issues. In recent year it has become rare for Republicans to take a position which is grounded in reality or ethically justifiable. Despite their rhetoric, Republicans have run up huge deficits and acted to prevent economic recovery for political gain while pushing for an increased role of government in the private lives of individuals. On foreign policy we saw Republicans push for war with Iraq based upon arguments which can only come from extreme incompetence or blatant dishonesty.
As the Republicans moved to the extreme right there was no choice but to vote Democratic, even if not always agreeing with the Democratic candidates, as even when Democrats compromised principles and moved to the center Republicans offered an even worse alternative. Suddenly the Republicans have become useful in providing votes against war with Syria but I do wish they were taking this position out of higher principles than opposing it because Obama is for it.
While there are exceptions, for the most part the right wing blogosphere remains a cesspool of Obama-hatred, opposing intervention in Syria only because of Obama’s support, and spewing ridiculous claims against Obama even if they are on the right side in this vote. The most absurd arguments from the right include blaming the United States for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. More from Steve M. on this right-wing conspiracy theory.
Beyond various foreign policy disagreements, the biggest disappointments from the Obama administration have been on drug policy. I expected Republicans to be at least as bad, and most likely worse, but maybe not. There was a surprise comment from John McCain at a town hall in Tuscon. While he took the expected ultra-hawkish view on Syria, he also suggested that maybe marijuana should be legalized: “Maybe we should legalize. We’re certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people.”
Of course there is a huge difference between a comment thrown out such as this and actually taking action, but it is a sign of how attitudes towards prohibition are changing that McCain would feel comfortable raising this idea before his constituents.
We now have information that the NSA may not have been the government agency which has snooped the most on Americans. The New York Times has revealed information on a previously secret operation by the DEA which began under George Bush and continued during the Obama administration:
For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.
The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.
The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.
The project comes to light at a time of vigorous public debate over the proper limits on government surveillance and on the relationship between government agencies and communications companies. It offers the most significant look to date at the use of such large-scale data for law enforcement, rather than for national security.
The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years.
Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.
The slides were given to The New York Times by Drew Hendricks, a peace activist in Port Hadlock, Wash. He said he had received the PowerPoint presentation, which is unclassified but marked “Law enforcement sensitive,” in response to a series of public information requests to West Coast police agencies.
The program was started in 2007, according to the slides, and has been carried out in great secrecy.
“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” one slide says. A search of the Nexis database found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.
The ACLU has reasonable speculation as to why this program was kept so secret: “I’d speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts.”
Yes, very hard to justify. Any potential benefits here are far less significant than NSA surveillance which at least (other than for some reported cases of misuse) is directed at al Qaeda, which is far more significant than the targets of DEA investigations. If anything, the DEA’s perceived need to violate the rights of Americans in this manner is just one more reason why the drug war must be ended.
The Obama administration finds this helpful, apparently without consideration of the civil liberties concerns:
The Obama administration acknowledged the extraordinary scale of the Hemisphere database and the unusual embedding of AT&T employees in government drug units in three states.
But they said the project, which has proved especially useful in finding criminals who discard cellphones frequently to thwart government tracking, employed routine investigative procedures used in criminal cases for decades and posed no novel privacy issues.
Crucially, they said, the phone data is stored by AT&T, and not by the government as in the N.S.A. program. It is queried for phone numbers of interest mainly using what are called “administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge but by a federal agency, in this case the D.E.A.
Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement that “subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations.”
Meet the administrative subpoena (.pdf): With a federal official’s signature, banks, hospitals, bookstores, telecommunications companies and even utilities and internet service providers — virtually all businesses — are required to hand over sensitive data on individuals or corporations, as long as a government agent declares the information is relevant to an investigation. Via a wide range of laws, Congress has authorized the government to bypass the Fourth Amendment — the constitutional guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that requires a probable-cause warrant signed by a judge.
In fact, there are roughly 335 federal statutes on the books (.pdf) passed by Congress giving dozens upon dozens of federal agencies the power of the administrative subpoena, according to interviews and government reports. (.pdf)
“I think this is out of control. What has happened is, unfortunately, these statutes have been on the books for many, many years and the courts have acquiesced,” said Joe Evans, the utility’s attorney.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that federal officials from a broad spectrum of government agencies issue them hundreds of thousands of times annually. But none of the agencies are required to disclose fully how often they utilize them — meaning there is little, if any, oversight of this tactic that’s increasingly used in the war on drugs, the war on terror and, seemingly, the war on Americans’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable government trespass into their lives.
That’s despite proof that FBI agents given such powers under the Patriot Act quickly began to abuse them and illegally collected Americans’ communications records, including those of reporters. Two scathing reports from the Justice Department’s Inspector General uncovered routine and pervasive illegal use of administrative subpoenas by FBI anti-terrorism agents given nearly carte blanche authority to demand records about Americans’ communications with no supervision.
There are known risks to privacy rights going beyond what Edward Snowden released regarding the NSA. This information came out in response to public information requests. How much information about other abuses is out there which nobody knew enough to request, and how much is kept secret and unavailable under such requests?