How Negative Will Clinton Go Against Sanders and Biden?

Sanders Raise Money Clinton Super Pac

Considering how dirty her 2008 campaign was against Obama, there has been speculation as to how negative Hillary Clinton will get against Bernie Sanders, and against Joe Biden if he decides to run. The New York Times notes that Clinton must be cautious in debating Sanders:

Over the next week, Mrs. Clinton and her aides will look for the best way to explain to viewers why she is a better choice than her nearest rival without sounding condescending to Mr. Sanders, or dismissive of his views, so she does not risk alienating his growing army of supporters.

“I’ve seen every attack people have thrown at him, and none of them have worked,” cautioned Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, who supports Mrs. Clinton.

Not all of them have been exactly subtle. In 2004, the Republican challenging him for his House seat sought to deride him as a political oddball. “Crazy Bernie,” an advertisement called him, “a holdover from the Woodstock days of reefer and flowers.” But Vermont voters did not seem to mind…

For Mrs. Clinton, debating Mr. Sanders poses a challenge reminiscent of the more troublesome one she faced in 2008, when Senator Barack Obama’s criticisms of her were widely characterized as fair, but Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to counter them and defend herself often were not.

Already, a “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Clinton showed the risks that can come if an unsuccessful attack on Mr. Sanders blows back. As The Huffington Post reported, the super PAC, Correct the Record, in a document that was intended to be off the record, drew a connection between Mr. Sanders and Hugo Chávez, the socialist president of Venezuela who died in 2013, because Mr. Sanders supported a deal to bring low-cost Venezuelan oil to New England. Mr. Sanders, calling it “the same-old, same-old negative politics,” seized on the report and raised more than $1 million in two days.

More on how Sanders set fund raising records in response to this attack here. Clinton’s dirty campaign in 2008 led many Democrats, such as Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy  to ultimately endorse Obama instead of her, and any dirty tricks from Clinton this campaign might have the same effect.

Clinton might try to attack Sanders’ views but this will be difficult because of how often he has been right on the issues and Clinton has been wrong. Clinton has often avoided discussing the issues in this campaign, and she did not do a good job on education. Alternet reports Hillary Clinton Delivers a Lame Attack on Bernie Sanders’ Free College Tuition Plan. Just wait until they talk about Iraq during the upcoming debate.

Clinton’s attacks on Sanders have generally come through surrogates. Politico reports on how Morning Joe is responding to the use of surrogates:

There’s a mandate on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: No candidate surrogates or spokespeople can appear on the show until the candidate agrees to be interviewed. And it all started with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“The rule was put in place for Hillary’s campaign because while just about every other candidate came on, the Clinton team kept trying to put out surrogates and staffers,” host Joe Scarborough told POLITICO. “We finally said ‘not until the candidate comes on herself.’ And then some suggested we have Jeb [Bush’s] people on a month or so ago, but we held to the same policy.”

Bush himself went on the show last week, meaning his surrogates and spokespeople can now appear as well. But Clinton, Ben Carson, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, none of whom has appeared on the show since they announced their campaigns, will have to wait.

“It applies to everybody. It just started with Hillary because her people were aggressive with getting pollsters and spokespeople on, but it applies to everyone,” Scarborough said. “That’s the fairest way to do it.”

While I often disagree with Joe Scarborough, this policy does sound like a good idea.

New York Magazine reports that Clinton’s usual hit-man, former Republican hit-man David Brock, will be leading the attacks on Joe Biden:

If Joe Biden jumps into the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton will be ready to go on the offensive. According to a source close to the Clinton campaign, a team of opposition researchers working on behalf of Clinton is currently digging through Biden’s long record in office to develop attack lines in case the vice-president runs. The research effort started about a month ago and is being conducted by operatives at Correct the Record, the pro-Hillary superpac founded by David Brock, which is coordinating with the Clinton campaign. According to the source, the research has turned up material on Biden’s ties to Wall Street; his reluctance to support the raid that killed Osma bin Laden; and his role in the Anita Hill saga as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The oppo-research project reveals how seriously Clintonworld is taking the prospect of a Biden candidacy. So far, Clinton hasn’t taken any direct shots at Biden herself. But behind the scenes, her loyalists are making moves to blunt Biden’s campaign should he run. “Even implicitly his campaign’s argument would be ‘I have integrity and you don’t,'” a Clinton ally said. “If that’s the message, this could be messier than Obama-Clinton ’08. At least Obama had the Iraq War vote and could make a case about generational change. This guy” — Biden — “is older than she is and just as conventional.”

A spokesperson for the Clinton campaign declined to comment.

Joe Biden might respond that while they voted the same on the initial Iraq vote, their views otherwise were quite different. Biden spent the next several months looking for alternatives to war while Clinton was one of the strongest advocates of going to war, including making false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. Biden often opposed Clinton’s more hawkish views as Secretary of State. Biden was pushing for Obama to “evolve” on same-sex marriage while Clinton was still opposed to it. Biden did not join up with the religious right while in the Senate as Clinton did. Biden didn’t spend his time in the Senate proposing to make flag burning a felony, or waging a war against video games as Clinton did. While Biden is not my first choice, he is certainly not as conservative as Clinton on social issues and foreign policy. Both Clinton and Biden have problems with regards to their ties to Wall Street and their hard line views on the drug war.

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The Second Republican Debate: Faux Controversies, Lies, And One Candidate Was Even Right Twice

CNN Republican Debate

The second Republican debate (transcript here), this time hosted by CNN, didn’t raise as much controversy as the first. Donald Trump was still a dominant force, but whenever the talk got to policy, Trump didn’t know what to say and was quieter. CNN did try to liven things up with having the candidates respond to comments about them from other candidates. This included both comments during the debates and often insults made to the media before the debates. While at times it was a good idea to have the candidates interact, often it was over matters far to trivial to really belong in the debate.

This did allow Carly Fiorina to have one of the better moments of the debate, and she was obviously ready to comment on this insult from Donald Trump:

TRAPPER: In an interview last week in Rolling Stone magazine, Donald Trump said the following about you. Quote, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Mr. Trump later said he was talking about your persona, not your appearance. Please feel free to respond what you think about his persona.

FIORINA: You know, it’s interesting to me, Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.

While candidates often exceeded their time, Fiorina responded perfectly with this brief comment.

It was overall a good night for Fiorina, who might have done more than anyone else to improve her position in the GOP race with her debate performance. Unfortunately doing well in a Republican race does not require telling the truth. She repeated previously debunked claims about her record at HP. While she sounded more forceful than Donald Trump in saying how she would deal with Russia and Syria, Ezra Klein pointed out how she got the facts wrong. Klein, along with Sarah Kliff also pointed out how she was wrong about the Planned Parenthood tapes. There was no scene such as the one she described:

FIORINA: I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

Of course most, if not all, of the candidates were also lying about Planned Parenthood during the debate. Even if they didn’t make a claim as blatantly false as Fiorina did, they repeated the debunked claims that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.

The biggest whopper came from Jeb Bush when he responded to criticism of his brother from Donald Trump:

TRUMP: Your brother — and your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster, those last three months, that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.

BUSH: You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.

Both Trump and Jeb Bush were wrong about Obama and George Bush in the above exchange, but it is Jeb’s comments which were the most absurd. The most destructive terrorist attack on the United States occurred on George Bush’s watch, with Bush ignoring intelligence reports which might have enabled the United States to prevent the attack. Bush then followed up the attack by foolishly getting us into the quagmire in Iraq.

Rand Paul is one of the candidates who was nearly forgotten. Donald Trump, who insulted so many of the other candidates that I thought he was preparing to fire one, even said:

TRUMP: Well, first of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage. He’s number 11, he’s got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here, there’s far too many people anyway.

While Paul is certainly wrong on many, many things, I noted he was right on two points during the debate.  For this group, just being right twice makes him stand out.

First he pointed out that military intervention is not always the best idea:

PAUL: I think this gets to the point of wisdom on when to intervene and when we shouldn’t. Had we bombed Assad at the time, like President Obama wanted, and like Hillary Clinton wanted and many Republicans wanted, I think ISIS would be in Damascus today. I think ISIS would be in charge of Syria had we bombed Assad.

Sometimes both sides of the civil war are evil, and sometimes intervention sometimes makes us less safe. This is real the debate we have to have in the Middle East.

Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, we have gotten chaos, the rise of radical Islam, and we’re more at risk. So, I think we need to think before we act, and know most interventions, if not a lot of them in the Middle East, have actually backfired on us.

Paul missed the point Obama successfully stepped back from the brink, but his overall point is correct about thinking before engaging in senseless military intervention.

Paul also also criticized the drug war during the debate:

TAPPER: Many people on social media wanted us to ask about marijuana legalization. Senator Paul, Governor Christie recently said, quote, “if you’re getting high in Colorado today,” where marijuana has been legalized, “enjoy it until January 2017, because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana.” Will you?

PAUL: I think one of the great problems, and what American people don’t like about politics, is hypocrisy. People have one standard for others and not for them — for themselves.

There is at least one prominent example on the stage of someone who says they smoked pot in high school, and yet the people going to — to jail for this are poor people, often African-Americans and often Hispanics, and yet the rich kids who use drugs aren’t.

I personally think that this is a crime for which the only victim is the individual, and I think that America has to take a different attitude. I would like to see more rehabilitation and less incarceration. I’m a fan of the drug courts which try to direct you back towards work and less time in jail.

But the bottom line is the states. We say we like the 10th Amendment, until we start talking about this. And I think the federal government has gone too far, I think that the war on drugs has had a racial outcome, and really has been something that has really damaged our inner cities.

Not only do the drugs damage them, we damage them again by incarcerating them and then preventing them from getting employment over time.

So I don’t think that the federal government should override the states. I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.

Paul was generally right on two points, but neither are going to help him in a Republican primary battle. It is also rather sad that the Democratic front-runner has been wrong on both issues, with Clinton supporting both greater military intervention and being a hard-liner on drug laws.

Paul was more mixed on vaccines. He didn’t go along with Donald Trump’s claims about a connection between vaccines and autism, but also wasn’t consistent with the science:

TAPPER: Mr. Trump, as president, you would be in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, both of which say you are wrong. How would you handle this as president?

TRUMP: Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.

I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Because you take a baby in — and I’ve seen it — and I’ve seen it, and I had my children taken care of over a long period of time, over a two or three year period of time.

Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child, and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me.

Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.

Paul later responded:

One of the greatest — one of the greatest medical discoveries of all times was — were the vaccines, particularly for smallpox. And if you want to read a story, it’s called The Speckled Monster, it’s an amazing story, it was all done voluntary.

But people came in by the droves. George Washington wouldn’t let his wife visit until she got vaccinated. So I’m all for vaccines. But I’m also for freedom.

I’m also a little concerned about how they’re bunched up. My kids had all of their vaccines, and even if the science doesn’t say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines out a little bit at the very least.

The debate will probably not change the race very much but it is a good thing that the candidates were provided this opportunity to present their views to a national audience on a repeated basis. If only the Democratic National Committee would do the same this year and allow more than six debates total.

Update: The New York Times reviewed  Crazy Talk at the Republican Debate with Paul Krugman adding additional Fantasies and Fictions at G.O.P. Debate

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Obama Plans Clemency to Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Obama plans to free dozens of federal prisoners held on nonviolent drug offenses. The New York Times reported:

Sometime in the next few weeks, aides expect President Obama to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up on nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, he will probably commute more sentences at one time than any president has in nearly half a century.

The expansive use of his clemency power is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to correct what he sees as the excesses of the past, when politicians eager to be tough on crime threw away the key even for minor criminals. With many Republicans and Democrats now agreeing that the nation went too far, Mr. Obama holds the power to unlock that prison door, especially for young African-American and Hispanic men disproportionately affected.

It looks like a tiny step in the right direction. We also need repeal of the drug laws which place such people in prison, and an extension of this to the states. This is a tiny percentage of those held nation-wide for drug-related crimes.

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Hillary Clinton’s Insufficient Repudiation Of Her Previous Right Wing Views On Crime And The Drug War

Hillary Clinton Crime Speech

The recent events in Baltimore, leading to the indictment of six police officers, have demonstrated the failure of the war on drugs and overly-aggressive police action. Hillary Clinton gave one of her typical speeches based upon the direction the wind is blowing, lacking details or any real sense of conviction, and failing to go far enough. It is a good thing that to some degree she her repudiated previous views, but for most opponents of the war on drugs and the Clinton’s right-wing approach to crime, this was too little and too late.  Jacob Sullum, who covers “the war on drugs from a conscientious objector’s perspective,” wrote Why Hillary Clinton Lacks Credibility On Criminal Justice Reform.

For critics who have long argued that our criminal justice system puts too many people behind bars for too long, Clinton’s words of outrage were welcome. But they were also hard to take seriously given her history on this issue. While condemning overincarceration, she glided over her own role in promoting it and exaggerated her efforts to correct it. She referred only obliquely to the war on drugs, which has played an important role in sending nonviolent offenders to prison. And three decades after the prison population began the dramatic climb that she now considers shameful, Clinton offered almost no specific ideas for reversing it, which makes her look like a dilettante compared to politicians in both major parties who have given the issue serious thought.

As first lady in the 1990s, Clinton was a cheerleader for the “tough on crime” policies that produced the “era of mass incarceration” she now condemns. “We need more police,” she said in a 1994 speech. “We need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders. The ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.” The Clinton administration gave us all that and more, bragging about building more prisons, locking up more people (including nonviolent offenders) for longer stretches, opposing parole, expanding the death penalty, putting more cops on the street, and implementing a “comprehensive anti-drug strategy.”

In a 2001 report, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) noted that Bill Clinton “stole the ‘get tough on crime’ show” from Republicans by “consistently support[ing] increased penalties and additional prison construction.” The highlight of his efforts was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which subsidized cops and prisons, restricted gun ownership, expanded the use of the death penalty, created new mandatory minimum sentences, and added to the list of federal crimes, which were already too numerous to count. Looking at the results of the crackdown that Clinton led at the federal level and encouraged at the state level, JPI dubbed him “the incarceration president.” The total prison population grew by 673,000 during Clinton’s eight years in office, compared to 448,000 during Ronald Reagan’s two terms. The number of federal prisoners doubled under Clinton, rising more than it did during the previous 12 years under his two Republican predecessors.

By the end of his second term, Clinton seemed to be having second thoughts about this incarceration binge. “We really need a reexamination of our entire policy on imprisonment,” he told Rolling Stone in October 2000. “There are tons of people in prison who are nonviolent offenders.” Seven years later, while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton’s wife expressed similar qualms. “Mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate,” she said during a debate in June 2007, “but it has been too widely used.”

During another debate that December, Clinton was asked whether she regretted how “your husband’s crime bill…has affected the black community, or do you stand by that?” Both, apparently:

I think that the results not only at the federal level but at the state level have been an unacceptable increase in incarceration across the board, and now we have to address that….There were reasons why the Congress wanted to push through a certain set of penalties and increase prison construction, and there was a lot of support for that across a lot of communities because…the crime rate in the early ’90s was very high. And people were being victimized by crime in their homes, in their neighborhoods and their business. But we’ve got to take stock now of the consequences, so that’s why…I want to have a thorough review of all of the penalties.

As Dara Lind notes at Vox, Clinton nevertheless attacked her rival Barack Obama as soft on crime because he thought some of those penalties were too harsh. A month after Clinton decried “an unacceptable increase in incarceration,” her campaign tried to undermine Obama by citing his criticism of mandatory minimums.

Clinton’s position on her husband’s crime policies—that they were appropriate back then but maybe went a little overboard—rankles activists who were resisting the war on drugs when Bill Clinton was escalating it. Here is how Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, put it in a Huffington Post essay on Wednesday:

“Even as I rejoice at this outbreak of bipartisanship on a cause to which I’ve devoted my life, I must admit it also brings up feelings of anger and disappointment at the failure of Hillary Clinton, and other candidates, and so many other ostensible leaders to acknowledge that they were willing and even eager proponents of the very policies that produced America’s records-breaking rates of incarceration. The laws and policies we embraced back in the 1980s and 1990s, they’re all saying in one way or another, were the right thing at the time—but now we just need to roll them back now that times have changed.

“But the drug war policies of that era were never justifiable, and the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that they did far greater harm than good. No policy that results in the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and the highest in the history of democratic nations, is justifiable. And no policy that generated such devastating consequences for African American citizens and communities can or should ever be excused as a necessary response to the drug and crime problems a generation ago.”

Sullum noted Clinton’s lack of interest in reform as a Senator. I’d add that she was too busy collaborating with Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback, and others in The Fellowship. Instead of calling for reform of the criminal justice system, she was busy backing both the war in Iraq and the war  on drugs, and busy pushing to make flag burning a penalty and for censorship of video games. Of course it is not rare for Clinton, after years of being on the wrong side of an issue, to finally come around. Quite often she as learned from her mistakes, but not until long after the damage was done. While it is common for Clinton to be to the right of the Democratic Party, on this issue she is even to the right of some Republicans:

Clinton is late to this party, and endorsing reforms backed by Republicans such as Paul, Cruz, and Lee would highlight that fact. Paul’s office responded to her speech by noting that “Hillary Clinton [is] trying to undo some of the harm inflicted by the Clinton administration” and “is now emulating proposals introduced by Senator Rand Paul over the last several years.” The press release cited five criminal justice bills Paul already has introduced this session, addressing mandatory minimum sentencesasset forfeiturerestoration of felons’ voting rightsexpungement of criminal records, and police body cameras. “We welcome her to the fight,” it said.

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Marijuana, Needle Exchange Programs, And Clinton’s Cultural Conservatism

Clinton Marijuana

Following recent posts about Lincoln Chafee talking about running for the Democratic nomination I began looking to see if there are any other issues where the two have major differences besides Clinton’s support for the Iraq war, which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. I was pleased to see that back in 2011 Chaffee called for a reclassification of medical marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substances, which puts states which have legalized medical marijuana at odds with federal laws.

Three years later, Martin O’Malley took this a step even further, signing a bill decriminalizing marijuana, while opposing outright legalization. Hillary Clinton, as would be expected from her overall cultural conservatism, has lagged behind the country, and the Democratic Party, on both legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana.

On a related issue, Clinton’s opposition to needle exchange programs, while certainly not a major issue, was also an early issue in the 2008 nomination battle which differentiated the political philosophies of Clinton from the more liberal Barack Obama. Martin O’Malley, who is also moving well to the left on economic issues, signed a bill allowing needle exchange in Maryland. Clinton and Obama also differed in 2008 on reforming sentencing for violation of drug laws. While Obama’s record on the drug war has certainly been mixed, I would hate to see a move further to the right under Clinton.

Clinton’s cultural conservatism and promotion of conservative causes has often been traced to her membership in The Fellowship while in the Senate. From Mother Jones in 2007:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection…

That’s how it works: The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward…These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right…

The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is “adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism.” Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups’ access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and “virtue” making a return to the classroom.

As noted in the above excerpt, Clinton’s affiliation with the religious right was seen in her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, along with her promotion of restrictions on video games and her introduction of a bill making flag burning a felony. Her social conservatism is also seen in her weak record on abortion rights, such as supporting parental notification laws and stigmatizing women who have abortions with the manner in which she calls for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

(Links to additional material added on April 19)

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Two Democratic Congressmen Propose Bills To Legalize Marijuana At Federal Level

It is probably only a matter of time until marijuana prohibition ends. Like gay marriage, we will reach a tipping point where conservative opposition loses its impact. Also, like marriage equality, the majority of Democratic politicians will probably lag behind the country in openly adopting more liberal views, but two House Democrats have introduced bills to end marijuana prohibition. Sam Stein reports:

Two congressmen filed separate House bills on Friday that together would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana at the federal level, effectively ending the U.S. government’s decades long prohibition of the plant.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s schedules, transfer oversight of the substance from the Drug Enforcement Administration over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and regulate marijuana in a way similar to how alcohol is currently regulated in the U.S.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, which would set up a federal excise tax for regulated marijuana.

The bills would not force states to legalize marijuana, but a federal regulatory framework would be in place for those states that do decide to legalize it. To date, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana (however, D.C.’s model continues to ban sales), 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and 11 other states have legalized the limited use of low-THC forms of marijuana for medical use.

During the Bush administration, the federal government would often raid medical marijuana facilities which were legal in the states the states where they were legal, and the Obama administration was slow to turn this around. With Obama going to be out of office in a couple of years, it is becoming more important to change federal law. Hillary Clinton has been to the right of most Democrats on this (as well as most other issues) and we cannot trust either Clinton or her likely Republican opponent to continue the liberalization finally seen under Obama. While unlikely to be accomplished in the current Congress, it would be preferable to take this issue out of the hands of either Clinton or a future Republican president.

Last year The New York Times argued for legalization of marijuana. Jeffrey Miron discussed the case for marijuana legalization in op-ed at CNN:

Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.

Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.

Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana’s legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized…

Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.

As long as marijuana is illegal at the federal level we will continue to have many of the adverse consequences of prohibition, including inhibiting the use of medical marijuana. This includes states where medical marijuana is legal under state law. Besides the previous problems of DEA raids, having medical marijuana illegal under federal law makes many physicians unwilling to treat patients who are legally using medical marijuana under state law.

I have seen many individuals who are taking medical marijuana legally under state law discharged from pain clinics which outright refuse to treat anyone using medical marijuana. This is both due to fears of violating federal law and due to personal biases.  I received a consult letter just last month from a pain specialist who opposed giving pain medications to a patient who was using medical marijuana, making arguments which are contradictory to the medical literature which demonstrates that using marijuana as part of a pain management regimen results in decreased opioid use and a decreased risk of overdoses.

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Federal Government Ends Prohibition On Medical Marijuana

The Los Angeles Times reports on a surprise in the recently passed spending bill–an end to the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana. The was passed with support of both Democrats as well as some Republicans who opposed raid by the federal government in states which have legalized medical marijuana on states’ rights grounds:

Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.

The bill’s passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.

Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so.

The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. But the measure approved as part of the spending bill, which President Obama plans to sign this week, will codify it as a matter of law.

Pot advocates had lobbied Congress to embrace the administration’s policy, which they warned was vulnerable to revision under a less tolerant future administration.

More important, from the standpoint of activists, Congress’ action marked the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics: Republicans are taking a prominent role in backing states’ right to allow use of a drug the federal government still officially classifies as more dangerous than cocaine…

Some Republicans are pivoting off their traditional anti-drug platform at a time when most voters live in states where medical marijuana is legal, in many cases as a result of ballot measures.

Polls show that while Republican voters are far less likely than the broader public to support outright legalization, they favor allowing marijuana for medical use by a commanding majority. Legalization also has great appeal to millennials, a demographic group with which Republicans are aggressively trying to make inroads.

Approval of the pot measure comes after the Obama administration directed federal prosecutors last year to stop enforcing drug laws that contradict state marijuana policies. Since then, federal raids of marijuana merchants and growers who are operating legally in their states have been limited to those accused of other violations, such as money laundering.

“The federal government should never get in between patients and their medicine,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland).

Tony Newman, Director of Media Relations, Drug Policy Alliance, added this to his list of More Nails in the Drug War Coffin.

In addition to ending fears of raids by federal drug agents, this should also alleviate the fears of many physicians who are currently afraid to treat patients with medical marijuana even in states where it is legal. Many physicians, including some pain clinics, have been unwilling to treat patients with chronic pain who are using medical marijuana out of fear of retaliation by the DEA.

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Police Are Taught How To Best Benefit From Legalized Theft

Civil asset forfeiture allows a police force to punish people by taking their property with no due process, no conviction, and possibly without charging them with a crime. It has become such a lucrative way for a police force to get money that they are becoming selective in which property they will seize. Police even go to seminars to teach them the best way to make money. The New York Times has recorded some of these seminars and reports:

Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces.

The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire in recent months, amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch. Despite that opposition, many cities and states are moving to expand civil seizures of cars and other assets. The seminars, some of which were captured on video, raise a curtain on how law enforcement officials view the practice.

The seminars teach which property to take to maximize their profits. They learn not to bother with jewelry as it is too hard to sell, or computers because everyone has one. Instead they are instructed to go after “flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.”

Much of the nuts-and-bolts how-to of civil forfeiture is passed on in continuing education seminars for local prosecutors and law enforcement officials, some of which have been captured on video. The Institute for Justice, which brought the videos to the attention of The Times, says they show how cynical the practice has become and how profit motives can outweigh public safety.

In the sessions, officials share tips on maximizing profits, defeating the objections of so-called “innocent owners” who were not present when the suspected offense occurred, and keeping the proceeds in the hands of law enforcement and out of general fund budgets. The Times reviewed three sessions, one in Santa Fe, N.M., that took place in September, one in New Jersey that was undated, and one in Georgia in September that was not videotaped.

Officials offered advice on dealing with skeptical judges, mocked Hispanics whose cars were seized, and made comments that, the Institute for Justice said, gave weight to the argument that civil forfeiture encourages decisions based on the value of the assets to be seized rather than public safety. In the Georgia session, the prosecutor leading the talk boasted that he had helped roll back a Republican-led effort to reform civil forfeiture in Georgia, where seized money has been used by the authorities, according to news reports, to pay for sports tickets, office parties, a home security system and a $90,000 sports car…

When discussed with law enforcement, they often made forfeiture sound like a useful tool to reduce crime, but in the end they were often found to be profiting from the practice. This makes it sound like the benefits they claim are just ways to rationalize what amounts to legalized theft.

Sean D. McMurtry, the chief of the forfeiture unit in the Mercer County, N.J., prosecutor’s office, said forfeiture contributes to only a small percentage of local budgets but it is a good deterrent and works especially well against repeat offenders, such as domestic violence perpetrators who repeatedly violate a restraining order. “We’re very proud of our forfeiture operation,” he said in an interview.

But in the video, Mr. McMurtry made it clear that forfeitures were highly contingent on the needs of law enforcement. In New Jersey, the police and prosecutors are allowed to use cars, cash and other seized goods; the rest must be sold at auction. Cellphones and jewelry, Mr. McMurtry said, are not worth the bother. Flat screen televisions, however, “are very popular with the police departments,” he said.

Prosecutors boasted in the sessions that seizure cases were rarely contested or appealed. But civil forfeiture places the burden on owners, who must pay court fees and legal costs to get their property back. Many seizures go uncontested because the property is not worth the expense.

And often the first hearing is presided over not by a judge but by the prosecutor whose office benefits from the proceeds, and who has wide discretion in deciding whether to forfeit the property or return it, sometimes in exchange for a steep fine.

Mr. McMurtry said his handling of a case is sometimes determined by department wish lists. “If you want the car, and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know — I’ll fight for it,” Mr. McMurtry said, addressing law enforcement officials on the video. “If you don’t let me know that, I’ll try and resolve it real quick through a settlement and get cash for the car, get the tow fee paid off, get some money for it.”

One criticism of civil forfeiture is that it results in widely varied penalties — one drunken driver could lose a $100,000 luxury car, while another forfeits a $2,000 clunker…

Prosecutors estimated that between 50 to 80 percent of the cars seized were driven by someone other than the owner, which sometimes means a parent or grandparent loses their car. In the Santa Fe video, a police officer acknowledged that the law can affect families, but expressed skepticism of owners who say they did not know their relative was running afoul of the law.

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Bruce Bartlett Argues That Obama Is A Republican

Obama is a Republican

There’s nothing really new here, but it will be interesting to see conservative response to Bruce Bartlett’s article in The American Conservative entitled, Obama Is A Republican. The article is a rehash of how Obama’s record is actually quite conservative, clashing with the conservative myth that he is a socialist. He started with mentioning other Republicans who supported Obama’s election, and next discussed foreign policy:

One of Obama’s first decisions after the election was to keep national-security policy essentially on automatic pilot from the Bush administration. He signaled this by announcing on November 25, 2008, that he planned to keep Robert M. Gates on as secretary of defense. Arguably, Gates had more to do with determining Republican policy on foreign and defense policy between the two Bush presidents than any other individual, serving successively as deputy national security adviser in the White House, director of Central Intelligence, and secretary of defense.

Another early indication of Obama’s hawkishness was naming his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. During the campaign, Clinton ran well to his right on foreign policy, so much so that she earned the grudging endorsement of prominent neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol and David Brooks.

After further discission of foreign policy, he went on to discuss economic policy and the deficit. The most important point is how the deficit has fallen under Obama and how fiscally conservative Obama has been:

With the economy collapsing, the first major issue confronting Obama in 2009 was some sort of economic stimulus. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose academic work at the University of California, Berkeley, frequently focused on the Great Depression, estimated that the stimulus needed to be in the range of $1.8 trillion, according to Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.

A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill—$291 billion—despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.

It’s worth remembering as well that Bush did not exactly bequeath Obama a good fiscal hand. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and one third of it was baked in the cake the day Obama took the oath of office. On January 7, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant deficits without considering any Obama initiatives. It estimated a deficit of $1.186 trillion for 2009 with no change in policy. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in November of that year that Bush-era policies, such as Medicare Part D, were responsible for more than half of projected deficits over the next decade.

Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch—just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited an projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study—but the improvement is real.

Screenshot 2014-10-20 12.59.16

Republicans would have us believe that their tight-fisted approach to spending is what brought down the deficit. But in fact, Obama has been very conservative, fiscally, since day one, to the consternation of his own party. According to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama actually endorsed much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations, but Republicans walked away.

Obama’s economic conservatism extends to monetary policy as well. His Federal Reserve appointments have all been moderate to conservative, well within the economic mainstream. He even reappointed Republican Ben Bernanke as chairman in 2009. Many liberals have faulted Obama for not appointing board members willing to be more aggressive in using monetary policy to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.

Obama’s other economic appointments, such as Larry Summers at the National Economic Council and Tim Geithner at Treasury, were also moderate to conservative. Summers served on the Council of Economic Advisers staff in Reagan’s White House. Geithner joined the Treasury during the Reagan administration and served throughout the George H.W. Bush administration.

There is certainly nothing new. Forbes pointed out a couple of years ago how Obama has been the most fiscally conservative president since Eisenhower.It is worth repeating considering how many people have been fooled by the Republican line that Obama and other Democrats, as opposed to the Republicans, are responsible for the size of the deficit.

Bartlett next discussed how Obamacare is based upon old Republican policies proposed by the Heritage Foundation and later Mitt Romney. He discussed at length how the individual mandate was originally an idea which was strongly promoted by Republicans. While Bartlett concentrated on Romney, many other Republicans shared this view.

Bartlett then had briefer discussions of several other issues–drugs, national-security leaks, race, gay marriage, and corporate profits. His argument for Obama being a Republican is weaker on social issues. While Obama took “two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so,” there remains a big difference between Obama keeping quiet on the issue and Republicans who actively promoted bans on same-sex marriage and Obama.

Bartlett concluded with:

I think Cornell West nailed it when he recently charged that Obama has never been a real progressive in the first place. “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit,” West said. “We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency.”

I don’t expect any conservatives to recognize the truth of Obama’s fundamental conservatism for at least a couple of decades—perhaps only after a real progressive presidency. In any case, today they are too invested in painting him as the devil incarnate in order to frighten grassroots Republicans into voting to keep Obama from confiscating all their guns, throwing them into FEMA re-education camps, and other nonsense that is believed by many Republicans. But just as they eventually came to appreciate Bill Clinton’s core conservatism, Republicans will someday see that Obama was no less conservative.

There is considerable truth to what Bartlett wrote, especially if social issues are ignored. However to be less progressive than Cornell West desires is not sufficient to prove someone is a Republican. Anyone who saw Obama as a candidate of the far left, as opposed to being more centrist, just wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying. Of course there is room for disappointment in some of these areas from the left, especially on drug policy and aspects of his foreign policy.

If Obama is said to be governing like a Republican, the key point which would need to be stressed is he is governing as a moderate Republican from the past–something which no longer exists. Obama certainly would not fit in with the Republican Party of today, which has moved to the extreme right. Bartlett is viewing Republicans from the perspective of his days as an adviser to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The reality is that today neither Reagan nor Bush would be sufficiently conservative to survive in the Republican Party. Therefore, while it is ludicrous to consider Obama to be a socialist, or even from the far left, those who share the extreme views of current Republicans are correct in not seeing Obama as one of their own.

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Study Shows Reduction In Opioid Overdoses By 25% In States Which Have Legalized Medical Marijuana

A major problem with narcotic pain medications is the risk of overdose. This problem has led to the DEA announcing last week that hydrocodone combination pain medications such as Norco and Vicodin are being reclassified as Schedule II narcotics, with additional restrictions being placed upon prescribing them. Any measures to help control chronic pain while reducing the incidence of overdose would certainly be welcome. The August 25, 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine presents a study of states which have legalized medical marijuana, showing a reduction in opioid overdoses by almost 25 percent:

Three states (California, Oregon, and Washington) had medical cannabis laws effective prior to 1999. Ten states (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont) enacted medical cannabis laws between 1999 and 2010. States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate (95% CI, −37.5% to −9.5%; P = .003) compared with states without medical cannabis laws. Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time…

The study did not indicate the cause of this association. It is speculated that some people with chronic pain might use less opioid when medical marijuana is available. More study is needed to confirm this, but considering the problems faced with opioid overdoses, marijuana should be considered as an alternative. At very least, when considering any potential adverse consequences to legalization of medical marijuana, it must be kept in mind that the currently used medications for chronic pain do have a serious potential for adverse effects themselves.

Marijuana is now classified as a Schedule I drug which prevents prescribing it. (In states where medical marijuana is legal, the change in the law protects those using it from prosecution but marijuana still cannot be prescribed). Many have already questioned the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug as it appears to show less risk of problems from overdose compared to current Schedule II and Schedule III drugs. This study suggests that marijuana might also help protect against some of the adverse effects of narcotics.

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