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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The War on Drugs Is a Failure

The war on drugs has failed. And it's high time to replace an ineffective strategy with more humane and efficient drug policies. This is the central message of the report by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy we presented to the public recently in Rio de Janeiro.

[Commentary] AP

A soldier stands next to packages containing marijuana at an army base in Cali, Colombia, August 2008.

Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven't worked. Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade remain critical problems in our countries. Latin America remains the world's largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis, and is fast becoming a major supplier of opium and heroin. Today, we are further than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs.

Over the last 30 years, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort where the benefits were not proportional to the resources invested. Despite the country's achievements in lowering levels of violence and crime, the areas of illegal cultivation are again expanding. In Mexico -- another epicenter of drug trafficking -- narcotics-related violence has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the past year alone.

The revision of U.S.-inspired drug policies is urgent in light of the rising levels of violence and corruption associated with narcotics. The alarming power of the drug cartels is leading to a criminalization of politics and a politicization of crime. And the corruption of the judicial and political system is undermining the foundations of democracy in several Latin American countries.

The first step in the search for alternative solutions is to acknowledge the disastrous consequences of current policies. Next, we must shatter the taboos that inhibit public debate about drugs in our societies. Antinarcotic policies are firmly rooted in prejudices and fears that sometimes bear little relation to reality. The association of drugs with crime segregates addicts in closed circles where they become even more exposed to organized crime.

In order to drastically reduce the harm caused by narcotics, the long-term solution is to reduce demand for drugs in the main consumer countries. To move in this direction, it is essential to differentiate among illicit substances according to the harm they inflict on people's health, and the harm drugs cause to the social fabric.

In this spirit, we propose a paradigm shift in drug policies based on three guiding principles: Reduce the harm caused by drugs, decrease drug consumption through education, and aggressively combat organized crime. To translate this new paradigm into action we must start by changing the status of addicts from drug buyers in the illegal market to patients cared for by the public-health system.

We also propose the careful evaluation, from a public-health standpoint, of the possibility of decriminalizing the possession of cannabis for personal use. Cannabis is by far the most widely used drug in Latin America, and we acknowledge that its consumption has an adverse impact on health. But the available empirical evidence shows that the hazards caused by cannabis are similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco.

If we want to effectively curb drug use, we should look to the campaign against tobacco consumption. The success of this campaign illustrates the effectiveness of prevention campaigns based on clear language and arguments consistent with individual experience. Likewise, statements by former addicts about the dangers of drugs will be far more compelling to current users than threats of repression or virtuous exhortations against drug use.

Such educational campaigns must be targeted at youth, by far the largest contingent of users and of those killed in the drug wars. The campaigns should also stress each person's responsibility toward the rising violence and corruption associated with the narcotics trade. By treating consumption as a matter of public health, we will enable police to focus their efforts on the critical issue: the fight against organized crime.

A growing number of political, civic and cultural leaders, mindful of the failure of our current drug policy, have publicly called for a major policy shift. Creating alternative policies is the task of many: educators, health professionals, spiritual leaders and policy makers. Each country's search for new policies must be consistent with its history and culture. But to be effective, the new paradigm must focus on health and education -- not repression.

Drugs are a threat that cuts across borders, which is why Latin America must establish dialogue with the United States and the European Union to develop workable alternatives to the war on drugs. Both the U.S. and the EU share responsibility for the problems faced by our countries, since their domestic markets are the main consumers of the drugs produced in Latin America.

The inauguration of President Barack Obama presents a unique opportunity for Latin America and the U.S. to engage in a substantive dialogue on issues of common concern, such as the reduction of domestic consumption and the control of arms sales, especially across the U.S.-Mexico border. Latin America should also pursue dialogue with the EU, asking European countries to renew their commitment to the reduction of domestic consumption and learning from their experiences with reducing the health hazards caused by drugs.

The time to act is now, and the way forward lies in strengthening partnerships to deal with a global problem that affects us all.

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Governors v. Congress

Debt-laden state governments were supposed to be the big winners from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. But at least five Republican Governors are saying thanks but no thanks to some of the $150 billion of "free" money doled out to states, because it could make their budget headaches much worse down the line. And they're right.

[Review & OUtlook] AP

The National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009.

These Governors -- Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Butch Otter of Idaho, Rick Perry of Texas and Mark Sanford of South Carolina -- all have the same objection: The tens of billions of dollars of aid for health care, welfare and education will disappear in two years and leave states with no way to finance the expanded programs. Mr. Perry sent a letter to President Obama last week warning that Texas may refuse certain stimulus funds. "If this money expands entitlements, we will not accept it. This is exactly how addicts get hooked on drugs," he says.

Consider South Carolina. Its annual budget is roughly $7 billion and the stimulus will send about $2.8 billion to the state over two years. But to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to the likes of Head Start, child care subsidies and special education, the state will have to enroll thousands of new families into the programs. "There's no way politically we're going to be able to push people out of the program in two years when the federal money runs out," Mr. Sanford says.

The Medicaid money for states is also a fiscal time bomb. The stimulus bill temporarily increases the share of state Medicaid bills reimbursed by the federal government by two or three percentage points. High-income states now pay about half the Medicaid costs, and in low-income states the feds pay about 70%. Much of the stimulus money will cover health-care costs for unemployed workers and single workers without kids. But in 2011 almost all the $80 billion of extra federal Medicaid money vanishes. Does Congress really expect states to dump one million people or more from Medicaid at that stage?

The alternative, as we've warned, is that Congress will simply extend these transfer payments indefinitely. Pete Stark, David Obey and Nancy Pelosi no doubt intend exactly this, which could triple the stimulus price tag to as much as $3 trillion in additional spending and debt service over 10 years. But the states would still have to pick up their share of this tab for these new entitlements in perpetuity. Thanks, Washington.

Governors are protesting loudest over the $7 billion for unemployment insurance (UI) expansions. Under the law, states will increase UI benefits by $25 a week. The law also encourages states to cover part-time workers for the first time. The UI program is partly paid for by state payroll taxes imposed on employers of between 0.5% and 1% of each worker's pay. Mr. Barbour says that in Mississippi "we will absolutely have to raise our payroll tax on employers to keep benefits running after the federal dollars run out. This will cost our state jobs, so we'd rather not have these dollars in the first place."

The problem for these Governors is that they may be forced to spend the federal money whether they want it or not. Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina slipped a little-noticed provision into the stimulus bill giving state legislatures the power to overrule Governors and spend the money "by means of the adoption of a concurrent resolution." Most state legislatures are versions of Congress; they can't say no to new spending.

These five Governors deserve credit for blowing the whistle on the federal trap that Washington has set for their budgets. They stand in contrast to most of the other Governors, who are praising the stimulus as a way to paper over their fiscal holes through 2010. But money from Congress is never as free as it looks, as the banks can attest. Don't be surprised if two years from now states are still facing mountainous deficits. They will have their Uncle Sam to thank.

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Obama's take on the drug war

By Neal Peirce

Fissures are suddenly forming along the edges of the giant iceberg of America's multibillion-dollar "war" on drug use, first formally proclaimed by President Richard Nixon in 1971.

But so much depends on what President Barack Obama decides to do with the issue.

This month a Latin American commission headed by former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia condemned harsh U.S. drug prohibition policies that are based, in Gaviria's words, "on prejudices and fears and not on results."

Fueled by Americans' drug appetite and dollars, drug-gang violence is engulfing Mexico, threatening the very stability of the state with massive corruption and close to 6,000 killings last year.

Brazil is afflicted with daily gun battles between police and gangs in urban slums. And despite years of intensive U.S.-backed efforts to eradicate Colombia's cocaine exports, official reports show they've risen 15 percent in this decade. A high proportion are smuggled into the U.S.

The drug war, the former presidents charge, is imperiling Latin America's democratic institutions and corrupting "judicial systems, governments, the political system and especially the police forces."

As both the world's largest drug consumer market and the lead voice in setting global drug policy, the United States, the Latin leaders argue, has huge responsibility now to "break the taboo" that's suffocated open debate about the wisdom of a clearly failed 38-year "war."

The leaders are placing hopes in Obama, who as a candidate said the "war on drugs is an utter failure" and talked favorably about more public health-based approaches.

Given that history, and given this president's openness to hearing diverse points of view, it's hard to believe he'll maintain the stony wall of indifference to drug policy reform that all his predecessors since Nixon have maintained.

Still, there are crucial issues of politics and timing. One can just imagine White House advisers telling Obama to steer clear of the drug issue, that it could be as perilous and distracting as gays in the military were for President Bill Clinton in his first year in office.

Against that background, the Latin leaders' statement itself may help move the compass. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, calls their manifesto (www.drugsanddemocracy.org) "a major leap forward in the global drug policy debate." One reason: these are conservative, highly respected leaders.

Gaviria, as president of Colombia in the early '90s, for example, worked with U.S. anti-narcotics agents to hunt down and kill Pablo Escobar, the cocaine kingpin.

But Gaviria and his fellow former presidents, along with Latin mayors, writers and other respected leaders joining in their declaration, say it's time to recognize that force and prohibition have failed to stop dangerous narco-trafficking.

It's high time, they propose, to focus on harm reduction and prevention efforts — following European models to change the status of addicts from drug buyers in an illegal system to that of patients cared for in a public health system. They also suggest considering decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal use — a step Obama recently indicated he's not ready to take.

And they say they'll be watching how the U.S. handles the meeting of a key United Nations-sponsored Commission on Narcotic Drugs which convenes in Vienna next month. The commission is to review the prevailing, harsh, U.S.-molded drug policies the U.N. General Assembly set in 1998. But there's the question: Will Obama (and Hillary Clinton's State Department) send reformers, or just bureaucrats who've soldiered in our blind-alley war on drugs? Drug reformers were disappointed when Obama recently passed over public health advocates to appoint a police chief — Gil Kerlikowske of Seattle — as the country's new drug czar (director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy).

But Kerlikowske does appear to have worked harmoniously with Seattle's cutting edge of drug reforms — well-established needle exchange programs, marijuana arrests declared the lowest law enforcement priority through public initiative, and a local bar association that's a national model in finding alternatives to drug prohibition laws.

So there are gleams of hope at the end of a long tunnel. And what better time than this wrenching recession to shift law enforcement to legitimately serious crimes, starting to discharge the hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders held in our bulging, cost-heavy jails and prisons?

Predictably, any shift will be tough. Many law enforcement agencies count on the jobs — and seizures of cash — that the drug "war" delivers. Our "prison-industrial complex," guard unions included, remains potent. And federal law actually prohibits the drug czar from recommending legalization of any proscribed drug, no matter what his personal judgment may be.

We have dug ourselves a deep hole. Only forthright and courageous leadership is likely to start us on a saner path. Can this be "the time?" Please, Mr. President.

Neal Peirce's e-mail address is nrp@citistates.com.

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Fox News "war games" the coming civil war

Bill Clinton's election in 1992 gave rise to the American "militia movement": hordes of overwhelmingly white, middle-aged men from suburban and rural areas who convinced themselves they were defending the American way of life from the "liberals" and "leftists" running the country by dressing up in military costumes on weekends, wobbling around together with guns, and play-acting the role of patriot-warriors. Those theater groups -- the cultural precursor to George Bush's prancing 2003 performance dressed in a fighter pilot outfit on Mission Accomplished Day -- spawned the decade of the so-called "Angry White Male," the movement behind the 1994 takeover of the U.S. Congress by Newt Gingrich and his band of federal-government-cursing, pseudo-revolutionary, play-acting tough guys.

What was most remarkable about this allegedly "anti-government" movement was that -- with some isolated and principled exceptions -- it completely vanished upon the election of Republican George Bush, and it stayed invisible even as Bush presided over the most extreme and invasive expansion of federal government power in memory. Even as Bush seized and used all of the powers which that movement claimed in the 1990s to find so tyrannical and unconstitutional -- limitless, unchecked surveillance activities, detention powers with no oversight, expanding federal police powers, secret prison camps, even massively exploding and debt-financed domestic spending -- they meekly submitted to all of it, even enthusiastically cheered it all on.

They're the same people who embraced and justified full-scale, impenetrable federal government secrecy and comprehensive domestic spying databases conducted in the dark and against the law when perpetrated by a Republican President -- but have spent the last week flamboyantly pretending to be scandalized and outraged by the snooping which Bill Moyers did 45 years ago (literally) as part of a Democratic administration. They're the people who relentlessly opposed and impugned Clinton's military deployments and then turned around and insisted that only those who are anti-American would question or oppose Bush's decision to start wars.

They're the same people who believed that Bill Clinton's use of the FISA court to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on Americans was a grave threat to liberty, but believed that George Bush's warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law was a profound defense of freedom. In sum, they dressed up in warrior clothing to fight against Bill Clinton's supposed tyranny, and then underwent a major costume change on January 20, 2001, thereafter dressing up in cheerleader costumes to glorify George Bush's far more extreme acquisitions of federal power.

In doing so, they revealed themselves as motivated by no ideological principles or political values of any kind. It was a purely tribalistic movement motivated by fear of losing its cultural and demographic supremacy. In that sense -- the only sense that mattered -- George Bush was one of them, even though, with his actions, he did everything they long claimed to fear and despise. Nonetheless, his mere occupancy of the White House was sufficient to pacify them and convert them almost overnight from limited-government militants into foot soldiers supporting the endless expansion of federal government power.

But now, only four weeks into the presidency of Barack Obama, they are back -- angrier and more chest-beating than ever. Actually, the mere threat of an Obama presidency was enough to revitalize them from their eight-year slumber, awaken them from their camouflaged, well-armed suburban caves. The disturbingly ugly atmosphere that marked virtually every Sarah Palin rally had its roots in this cultural resentment, which is why her fear-mongering cultural warnings about Obama's exotic, threatening otherness -- he's a Muslim-loving, Terrorist-embracing, Rev.-Wright-following Marxist: who is the real Barack Obama? -- resonated so stingingly with the rabid lynch mobs that cheered her on.

With Obama now actually in the Oval Office -- and a financial crisis in full force that is generating the exact type of widespread, intense anxiety that typically inflames these cultural resentments -- their mask is dropping, has dropped, and they've suddenly re-discovered their righteous "principles." The week-long CNBC Revolt of the Traders led by McCain voter Rick Santelli and the fledgling little Tea Party movement promoted by the Michelle Malkins of the world are obvious outgrowths of this 1990s mentality, now fortified by the most powerful fuel: deep economic fear. But as feisty and fire-breathing as those outbursts are, nothing can match -- for pure, illustrative derangement -- the discussion below from Glenn Beck's new Fox show this week, in which he and an array of ex-military and CIA guests ponder (and plot and plan) "war games" for the coming Civil War against Obama-led tyranny. It really has to be seen to be believed.

Before presenting that to you, a few caveats are in order: There is nothing inherently wrong or illegitimate with citizens expressing extreme anger towards the Government and the ruling political class. There isn't even anything wrong or illegitimate with citizens organizing themselves into a movement that -- whether by design or effect -- is threatening to entrenched elites. If anything, we've had too little of that. In fact, it's only a complete lack of fear of a meek, passive and impotent citizenry on the part of political and financial rulers -- a certainty that there will be no consequences no matter what they do -- that could have given rise to the endless corruption, deceit, lawbreaking, destruction, and outright thievery of the last eight years. A political and financial elite that perceives itself as invulnerable from threat or consequence will inevitably vest itself with more power and more riches. That's what we've had and, largely, still have.

But this Rush-Limbaugh/Fox-News/nationalistic movement isn't driven by anything noble or principled or even really anything political. If it were, they would have been extra angry and threatening and rebellious during the Bush years instead of complicit and meek and supportive to the point of cult-like adoration. Instead, they're just basically Republican dead-enders (at least what remains of the regional/extremist GOP), grounded in tribal allegiances that are fueled by their cultural, ethnic and religious identities and by perceived threats to past prerogatives -- now spiced with legitimate economic anxiety and an African-American President who, they were continuously warned for the last two years, is a Marxist, Terrorist-sympathizing black nationalist radical who wants to re-distribute their hard-earned money to welfare queens and illegal immigrants (and is now doing exactly that).

That's the context for this Glenn Beck "War Games" show on Fox News this week -- one promoted, with some mild and obligatory caveats, by Michelle Malkin's Hot Air. In the segment below, he convened a panel that includes former CIA officer Michael Scheuer and Ret. U.S. Army Sgt. Major Tim Strong. They discuss a coming "civil war" led by American "Bubba" militias -- Beck says he "believes we're on this road" -- and they contemplate whether the U.S. military would follow the President's orders to subdue civil unrest or would instead join with "the people" in defense of their Constitutional rights against the Government (they agree that the U.S. military would be with "the people"):

They don't seem very interested in bipartisanship and in transcending ideological divisions.

Immediately prior to that segment, Fox viewers were warned (as usual) that the unruly, uncivilized, violent Muslims are coming, and only Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to subdue them with a massive attack:

In one sense, all of this drooling rage is nothing more than the familiar face of extreme right-wing paranoia, as Richard Hofstadter famously described 45 years ago:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)

But it's now inflamed by declining imperial power, genuine economic crises, an exotic Other occupying the White House, and potent technology harnessed by right-wing corporations such as Fox News to broadcast and disseminate it widely and continuously. At the very least, it's worth taking note of. And I wonder what would happen if MSNBC broadcast a similar discussion of leftists plotting and planning the imminent, violent Socialist Revolution against the U.S. Government.

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How can state leaders still cling to death penalty?

Dan Rodricks

The death penalty in the hands of politicians: Few things seem as twisted and as troubling as the matter of state-sponsored executions authorized by men and women with large nameplates pinned to their lapels. While in the ideal they might be devoted to public service and to representative democracy, what most of them seek, first and foremost, is name recognition and re-election. And in a nation as violent as ours, re-election has required being tough on crime, and being tough on crime has required support of capital punishment.

That has been the instruction in American politics for a generation; even alleged liberals Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton supported the death penalty. When he was running for president in 1992, Mr. Clinton stepped away from his campaign long enough to return to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a brain-damaged killer named Ricky Ray Rector. Grandstanders - Democrat and Republican, senators and state's attorneys - have used the death penalty to earn tough-on-crime bona fides. The death penalty has served the political class at great expense to the greater society; it has sapped resources that could have been better spent for public safety.

People are hip to this now, and the grandstanders are becoming more apparent and isolated. In Maryland, a Gonzales poll in January found that public support of the death penalty had fallen by nearly 10 percentage points in eight years, and 65 percent of us now believe life in prison without parole is an acceptable alternative.

National surveys reveal that growing numbers of Americans see the problems of an entire system: a failed war on drugs, the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world, prisons with revolving doors, and, at last count by the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, 130 innocent men placed on death row in 26 states over the last 36 years.

Dan Rodricks Dan Rodricks Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
This broken system has been kept in place by entrenched politicians, such as those who run the Maryland General Assembly.

Now Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has been in office but two years, comes to the state Senate to demand repeal of the death penalty, armed with a report that should settle the issue. The report, from the commission headed by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti, is based on what appears to be an objective assessment of capital punishment here over the last 30 years. It bristles with information, analysis, logic and integrity - imagine that! - and it makes the following conclusions:

•Disparities exist when the race of the defendant and the race of the victim are taken into account; killers of white victims are 2 1/2 times more likely to face the death penalty than killers of African-Americans.

•With so much prosecutorial discretion, county by county, capital cases are vulnerable to jurisdictional disparities beyond reform: "The fact that similar capital offenses perpetrated by similar offenders are treated so differently depending on where the crimes are committed renders the administration of capital punishment irretrievably inconsistent, nonuniform and therefore unfair in Maryland."

•The death penalty has been a waste of money. Sixty-two of 77 death sentences have been reversed. Add to the costs of those cases and their post-conviction appeals the cost of keeping inmates on death row, estimated at $68,000 annually. "There are other areas in the Maryland criminal justice system where such resources could be applied and significant results could be expected."

State senators who remain supporters of the death penalty, starting with their way-too-long-time president, Thomas V. Mike "If it's lethal injection, I'll insert the needle" Miller, need to be asked if they've read this report - and, if so, how, in good conscience, they can maintain the status quo in the face of it. Certainly, at this point, there is only the pathetic political consideration, the idea that, by voting for repeal, they would become vulnerable in re-election.

Those who cling to the death penalty in Maryland need to be held accountable. Clinging to the death penalty means clinging to a biased and unfair system that saps the state and local budgets of money that could be better spent to protect the public, and it means assigning to all of us the still-real risk of someday executing the wrong man.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Sundays on this page and Tuesdays in the news pages. He is host of the midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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Richard Shelby, Alabama Senator, Questions Obama's Citizenship

UPDATE: Richard Shelby's spokesman said the Cullman Times report in which he appears to question President Obama's citizenship is a "distortion" and that the Republican Senator mentioned that he hadn't seen the birth certificate only as a "throwaway line." However, the paper stands by the story. "We reported Shelby's comments on Obama's birth certificate accurately and completely," an editor tells Politico.

The Cullman Times reports that Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, in a meeting with constituents, appeared to give some thought to rumors questioning President Obama's citizenship.

Another local resident asked Shelby if there was any truth to a rumor that appeared during the presidential campaign concerning Obama's U.S. citizenship, or lack thereof.


"Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate," Shelby said. "You have to be born in America to be president."

According to the Associated Press, state officials in Hawaii checked health department records during the campaign and determined there was no doubt Obama was born in Hawaii.

Politico's Ben Smith says he has emailed Shelby's spokesman to ask if the Senator actually believes there's truth in the repeatedly debunked rumor.

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How Republican Governors are lying to the Unemployed

Submitted by jmeasley

ImageA major talking point of the Republican governors who are not going to take the unemployment funds in the stimulus bill is that it is a permanent tax increase, but by looking at the bill, it is clear that potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, and Mark Sanford are at best wrong, or even worse, lying.

Here is what Gov. Jindal (R-LA) said on Meet The Press today, “Well, it, it's--no. The $100 million we turned down was temporary federal dollars that would require us to change our unemployment laws. That would've actually raised taxes on Louisiana businesses. We as a state would've been responsible for paying for those benefits after the federal money disappeared… If you actually read the bill, there's one problem with that. The word permanent is in the bill. It requires the state to make a permanent change in our law. Law B--our employer group agrees with me. They say, "Yes, this will result an increase in taxes on our businesses, this will result in a permanent obligation on the state of Louisiana."

Gov. Barbour (R-MS) said on CNN's State of the Union, "There is some (stimulus money) we will not take in Mississippi. If we were to take the unemployment insurance reform package that they have, it would cause us to raise taxes on employment when the money runs out, and the money will run out in a couple of years. Then we'll have to raise the unemployment insurance tax, which is literally a tax on employment. I mean, we want more jobs. You don't get more jobs by putting an extra tax on creating jobs.”

Gov. Sanford (R-SC) said that the bill would require his state to cover part-time workers, "What we would be required to do would be, for the first time, increase the level of benefit for part-time workers. Right now, it's full-time workers -- increase it to part-time workers. We can't pay for the benefits already in the program, but to get the stimulus money, we've got to increase the program's size and scale."

Here is the text of the bill’s unemployment section, which can be found in Title VII of the bill, “For an additional amount for ‘State Unemployment Insurance and Employment Service Operations’ for grants to States in accordance with section 6 of the Wagner-Peyser Act, $400,000,000, which may be expended from the Employment Security Administration Account in the Unemployment Trust Fund, and which shall be available for obligation on the date of enactment of this Act: Provided, That such funds shall remain available to the States through September 30, 2010.”

First off, someone needs to tell Gov. Jindal that the word permanent does not appear in the text. The question is where are Republicans getting the lie that this is a permanent tax increase? The answer can be found in Section VI of the Wagner-Peyser Act, which says, “No State's allotment under this section for any fiscal year shall be less that 90 percent of its allotment percentage for the fiscal year preceding the fiscal year for which the determination is made.”

Jindal and the others are making a very faulty assumption here. They are assuming that the unemployment rate will stay high in 2010, and they also make the assumption that the federal government will not provide any additional funding. Their first assumption is possible, but the second won’t happen. It would be unprecedented for the federal government to cut funding while unemployment is high. No matter what party is in control, this doesn’t happen.

What is really going on here is that these governors are willing to put their own political ambitions ahead of the needs of the people of their state. All three of these gentlemen want to run for the Republican nomination in 2012, and they think that they will endear themselves to the GOP base by taking a hard line against the stimulus. If this means twisting the truth and hurting the unemployed in their states, so be it. Their position is based on cold political calculus, which may benefit them with Republicans, but would destroy them if any one of them were lucky enough to become the GOP nominee.

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Legalize It: Ammiano to Introduce Legislation Monday to Allow Pot -- and Tax It

By Joe Eskenazi in Breaking News


ammianoweed-little.jpg
The story SF Weekly broke on Friday is true: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano will announce legislation on Monday to legalize marijuana and earn perhaps $1 billion annually by taxing it.

Quintin Mecke, Ammiano's press secretary, confirmed to SF Weekly that the assemblyman's 10 a.m. Monday press conference regarding "new legislation related to the state's fiscal crisis" will broach the subject of reaping untold -- and much-needed -- wealth from the state's No. 1 cash crop.

Mecke said Ammiano's proposed bill "would remove all penalties in California law on cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase, possession, or use of marijuana, natural THC, or paraphernalia for persons over the age of 21."

The bill would additionally prohibit state and local law officials from enforcing federal marijuana laws. As for Step Two -- profit -- Ammiano's bill calls for "establishing a fee on the sale of marijuana at a rate of $50 per ounce." Mecke said that would bring in roughly $1 billion for the state, according to estimates made by marijuana advocacy organizations.

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Americans Growing Kinder to Bud

We all know that Michael Phelps was on something. But perhaps he was also onto something. Three recent polls show that Americans are more sympathetic to the idea of legalizing marijuana than ever before.

The first poll, conducted last week by Rasmussen Reports, has 40 percent of Americans in support of legalizing the drug and 46 percent opposed. The second, conducted in January by CBS News, has 41 percent in favor of legalization and 52 percent against. And a third poll, conducted by Zogby on behalf of the marijuana-rights advocacy group NORML, has 44 percent of Americans in support of legalized pot and 52 percent opposed.

That all three polls show support for legalization passing through the 40 percent barrier may be significant. I compiled a database of every past poll I could find on this subject, including a series of Gallup polls and results from the General Social Survey, and could never before find more than 36 percent of the population (Gallup in October, 2005) stating a position in favor of legalization:



Several cautions and caveats apply, however. Firstly, although support for legalization has grown, it remains the minority position. Secondly, although there has been a long, slow-moving upward trend in favor of legalization since roughly 1992, there is no guarantee that public sentiment will continue to move in that direction: support for legalization had grown to about 30 percent in the mid 1970s before dropping significantly during the Just Say No years of the 1980s.

Still, the position no longer holds the stigma that it once did. About as many Americans now support legalizing marijuana as do de-legalizing abortion. The past three Presidents have admitted, more or less, to marijuana use. Thirteen states have some form of decriminalization on the books, while fourteen permit medical use of the drug, although it is not clear how robust those provisions are as they are superseded by federal law.

The pro-legalization position may have some generational momentum as well. According to an AARP poll conducted several years ago, while just 8 percent of Americans aged 70 or older had ever tried pot, lifetime usage rates grow to 58 percent among 45-49 year olds.

This is probably not one of those issues, however, where Washington is liable to be on the vanguard. When Barney Frank introduced a bill last year to decriminalize pot, it got only eight co-sponsors, one of whom subsequently withdrew her name. And President Obama has steered clear of any suggestion that he might move to legalize or decriminalize pot, in spite of some earlier statements on his record to the contrary.

My guess is that we'll need to see a supermajority of Americans in favor of decriminalizing pot before the federal government would dare to take action on it. If the upward trend since 1990 holds (and recall my earlier caution: it might not), then legalization would achieve 60 percent support at some point in 2022 or 2023. About then is when things might get interesting. But I'd guess we'll see other some other once-unthinkable things like legalized gay marriage first.

McConnell Peddles Old GOP Lie About Small Business Taxes

mcconnell-peddles-old-gop-lie-about-small


In his first budget, President Obama apparently plans to keep his campaign promise to let the Bush tax cuts expire for Americans making over $250,000 a year. And just as during the election, Republican leaders are falsely claiming that Obama's proposal constitutes a tax hike on small business owners. This time, it is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoing John McCain and Joe the Plumber in spreading the lie.

McConnell's myth-making came during an appearance Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." (WMV and QT videos here.) There, he fired the first salvo against President Obama's plan to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans who need it least. Claiming that "a vast majority of American small businesses pay taxes as individual taxpayers," McConnell thundered:

"I don't think raising taxes is a great idea, and when our good friends on the other side of the aisle say raising the taxes on the wealthy, what they are really talking about is small business."

Of course, they're not talking about small business. As CNN concluded in October, "fewer than 2% of small business owners would pay more under Obama's plan."

As it turns out, McConnell is merely parroting the same fraud now that John McCain tried to perpetrate then. Last fall, then Republican presidential candidate McCain attacked Obama, wrongly asserting, "The small businesses that we're talking about would receive an increase in their taxes right now." As it turned out, McCain's human shield and faux small business owner Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher will receive a tax cut, and not an increase, under the just passed Obama stimulus package.

But in case there was any doubt the Republicans' deception on the point, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center quickly put it to rest. As the Obama campaign correctly claimed, 98% would see their taxes decline or remain the same:

Even using the broad definition of small business that McCain likes, very few owners would see their own taxes rise.

That's because the lion's share of taxable income comes from a small number of wealthy businesses. Out of 34.7 million filers with business income on Schedules C, E or F, 479,000 filers fall into the top two brackets, according to an analysis of projected 2009 filings by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

The other 34.3 million - or 98.6% - would be unaffected by Obama's proposed rate hike.

Of course, the complete falsehood of a statement is no barrier to Republicans uttering it. Now as in 2001, Republicans wrongly claimed that the estate tax led to the loss of family farms. When President Bush blasted opponents who say "the death tax doesn't cause people to sell their farms" with a mocking "don't know who they're talking to in Iowa," neither Hawkeye State farmers nor researchers could name one. As the New York Times concluded eight years ago, "Almost no working farmers do, according to data from an Internal Revenue Service analysis of 1999 returns that has not yet been published."

But just because it's a lie, doesn't mean Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party won't keep saying it.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Disappeared in the Name of National Security

Mohamed Farag Bashmilah

Mohamed Farag Bashmilah


From October 2003 until May 2005, I was illegally detained by the U.S. government and held in CIA-run "black sites" with no contact with the outside world. On May 5, 2005, without explanation, my American captors removed me from my cell and cuffed, hooded, and bundled me onto a plane that delivered me to Sana'a, Yemen. I was transferred into the custody of my own government, which held me -- apparently at the behest of the United States -- until March 27, 2006, when I was finally released, never once having faced any terrorism-related charges. Since my release, the U.S. government has never explained why I was detained and has blocked all attempts to find out more about my detention.

What I do know is that the Jordanian government -- after torturing me for several days -- handed me over to a U.S. "rendition team" in Amman, which then abducted me, forced me onto a plane, and flew me to Afghanistan. During this, and several other transfers between CIA prisons, I was subjected to a brutal and deeply humiliating "preparation" ritual. I was stripped naked, dressed in a diaper, shackled, blindfolded and hooded, and then boarded onto a waiting plane. I was forced into painful positions, often reeling from the blows and kicks of the men who had "prepared" me for flight.

During my detention, I agonized constantly about my family back in Yemen, knowing they had no idea where I was. They never once received information about who had taken me, why I was taken, or even whether I was alive. They were never contacted by the U.S. government or the International Committee of the Red Cross. My mother and wife were in such anguish that they had to be hospitalized for illness, stress, and anxiety. My father passed away while I was disappeared and I am still distraught thinking that he died without knowing whether I was dead or alive. I continue to suffer from bouts of illness that medical doctors attribute to the treatment I experienced in the "black sites." My physical symptoms are made worse by the anxiety caused by never knowing where I was held, and not having any form of acknowledgment that I was disappeared and tortured by the U.S. government.

I believe that acknowledgment is the first step toward accounting for a wrongdoing. The American public needs to face what has happened to those of us who were disappeared and mistreated in the name of their national security, demand accountability for those who committed torture and other crimes, and acknowledge the suffering of those who became victims. Today, a group of concerned Americans called on President Obama to take the first steps to do just that, by demanding that he establish an independent commission of inquiry into the treatment of detainees in the "War on Terror."

President Obama himself recently said that "democracy requires accountability and accountability requires transparency." If he establishes this commission, it would break the silence about what has happened and signal a real commitment not only to changing the practices of the past but also to ensuring that they do not happen again. Both the American public and the victims of these past policies need to understand what the CIA did in the name of U.S. national security. We need to find out where we were all held and who is still missing. And we need justice for the crimes that were committed in violation of our most basic human rights -- rights the United States has always claimed to uphold and defend. President Obama's recent order to the CIA to shut down its secret prisons was a significant step in the right direction, but it did not resolve the unfinished business of establishing accountability and restoring transparency.

The American public deserves to know what was done to people like me -- and I deserve to know why I lost nineteen months of my life -- all in the name of protecting their security. It gives me faith to see that Americans are standing up for my rights and calling for the truth to be exposed. It is my hope that the President will not only establish this commission, but that he will also direct the relevant authorities to investigate and prosecute those who broke American laws in ordering the torture and disappearance of people like me. Truth and justice are not in opposition; both are necessary, and both are the right of all Americans and the victims harmed in their name.

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Bloomberg's Tax Lesson

Let us now praise New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has learned a few things about tax rates and incentives.

New York state and city revenues are falling amid the collapse of Wall Street, and state lawmakers in Albany are considering income tax hikes for households earning between $250,000 and $1 million, who already pay 6.85% to the state. Meanwhile, the New York Post reports that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to increase the city's top tax rate of 3.68% for households earning as little as $297,000 (to 4.25%); those earning $532,000 to $1.2 million would pay 4.45%; and above that 4.65%.

But late last week Mayor Bloomberg was channelling these columns when he said that raising taxes on high earners could drive them from the city. "One percent of the households that file in this city pay something like 50% of the taxes," explained the Mayor. "In the city, that's something like 40,000 people. If a handful left, any raise would make it revenue neutral. The question is what's fair. If 1% are paying 50% of the taxes, you want to make it even more?"

This is a different argument than Hizzoner made in 2003, when he called New York City a "luxury product" and said people would gladly pay more to live there. But that was when the federal government was cutting tax rates, and Wall Street was set to boom. Now the financial industry -- which has provided about 20% of city and state revenues -- will emerge from recession smaller than before, and grand bonuses may not return for years.

New York's combined state-local tax rate of 10.5% is already well above New Jersey (8.97%), Pennsylvania (6.98%), Connecticut (5%), or Florida (0%). Which is to say that Mr. Bloomberg is right that New York's upper middle class has plenty of options if the politicians give them another reason to move.

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The Quiet American: How the World Sees Obama


By Joe Klein

At this year's U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, speaker after Muslim speaker had nothing particularly awful to say about the United States. The Muslims were, in fact, hopeful about, and slightly amazed by, the new American President. Some even wondered aloud what they could do to help him succeed. Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian opposition leader, listed the significant gestures that Obama had made toward the Islamic world, from the President's interview with al-Arabiya television network to the appointment of George Mitchell as Middle East negotiator. Obama had even made reference to "a hadith, which is something not many Islamic leaders do!" Ibrahim added, referring to the sayings of the Prophet that are not included in the Koran. Then Ibrahim went further: "But will the U.S. find credible partners in the Muslim world? ... How do we expect the President of the United States to solve our problems when we do nothing?" (Read "Talking to Iran: What Are Washington's Options?")

It was a rare slash of candor in the annual winter policy-conference festivities — the worthy caravan of world-class bloviation that migrates from the now soiled majesty of the economic wizards at Davos to the Cold War clutch of the Munich Security Conference, to the think-tanky but heartfelt attempts to reach across the cultural chasm at Doha. These conferences were not much fun for Americans during the George W. Bush years, when a solid plurality of the questions began with "How could you?" But the U.S. election promised a change, and I attended Munich and Doha this year to find out how the world was reacting to the new Administration. I found the world slightly nonplussed — mildly euphoric, if a bit nervous.

The nerves were rattled by the studied opacity of the official American speakers, who are awaiting the Administration's policy reviews on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan before venturing anything interesting. The clearest statement of American intent came from Vice President Joe Biden in Munich, in a speech so important that Biden read it word for word, without Bidenic huzzahs — he didn't say, for example, "Vladimir Putin, Lord love 'im!" He did say quietly startling things like "We will listen. We will consult." And "We will strive to act preventively, not pre-emptively." And "America will act aggressively against climate change." He offered an unclenched fist to Iran and a willingness to push "the reset button" with Russia. (Read "Europe: No Blank Check for Obama on Global Security".)

This clarion statement of international sanity had a curious effect on its audience: stunned silence, as the assembled Europeans and Russians were confronted with a terrifying new reality. They were out of excuses, especially our NATO allies. If the U.S. was done with thoughtless bellicosity, the peaceable Euros might have to respond more substantively to our requests for them to live up to their pledges in Afghanistan. This seemed the underlying tension in Munich — the split between countries whose troops actually fight in Afghanistan and those whose troops do not. It is a breach to watch, one that could cripple the alliance.

The tension splattered into full view once, in an indirect confrontation between the Defense Ministers of Germany and the U.K. The German, a Gandhian archetype named Franz Josef Jung, gave a ridiculously optimistic report about progress in Afghanistan. The British Defense Minister responded elegantly during the next panel, "We need more of a wartime rather than a peacetime mentality at NATO ... There's too much of an obsession with process and prevarication."

It has become clear that there's a bit of an obsession with process in the Obama Administration as well, but this is a necessary corrective. Rather than making peremptory judgments, pro and con, about foreign leaders, as Bush did, Obama seems predisposed to see every foreign policy problem in its global context — the decision to press the reset button with Russia, for example, could have a profound influence on the start of talks with Iran, especially if the Russians agree to help dissuade the Iranians from an illegal nuclear program (in return for a U.S. pledge to halt the antimissile defense system that Russia fears). Every decision will be evaluated for its synergy with other decisions: troop levels in Afghanistan will reflect, among other things, the level of tension between India and Pakistan.

As a result, Obama's foreign policy will move at the speed of diplomacy — slower than a sclerotic donkey — punctuated by the occasional laser whoosh of a Hellfire missile in Waziristan. His policies will be nuanced and will not please anyone overmuch — not the Muslims (nor the Israelis) nor our NATO allies nor those Americans seeking ideological clarity or consistency. This will make for a round of more argumentative policy conferences next year, but perhaps fewer "How could you?" questions directed at Americans.

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Holder: US a nation of cowards on racial matters


By DEVLIN BARRETT, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Eric Holder, the nation's first black attorney general, said Wednesday the United States was "a nation of cowards" on matters of race, with most Americans avoiding candid discussions of racial issues. In a speech to Justice Department employees marking Black History Month, Holder said the workplace is largely integrated but Americans still self-segregate on the weekends and in their private lives.

"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards," Holder said.

Race issues continue to be a topic of political discussion, but "we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."

Holder's speech echoed President Barack Obama's landmark address last year on race relations during the hotly contested Democratic primaries, when the then-candidate urged the nation to break "a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years" and bemoaned the "chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races." Obama delivered the speech to try to distance himself from the angry rhetoric of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Holder cited that speech by Obama as part of the motivation for his words Wednesday, saying Americans need to overcome an ingrained inhibition against talking about race.

"If we're going to ever make progress, we're going to have to have the guts, we have to have the determination, to be honest with each other. It also means we have to be able to accept criticism where that is justified," Holder told reporters after the speech.

In the speech, Holder urged people of all races to use Black History Month as a chance for honest discussion of racial matters, including issues of health care, education and economic disparities.

Race, Holder said, "is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation's history, this is in some ways understandable... If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us."

In a country founded by slave owners, race has bedeviled the nation throughout its history, with blacks denied the right to vote just a few decades ago. Obama's triumph last November as well as the nomination of Holder stand as historic achievements of two black Americans.

Holder told hundreds of Justice Department employees gathered for the event that they have a special responsibility to advance racial understanding.

Even when people mix at the workplace or afterwork social events, Holder argued, many Americans in their free time are still segregated inside what he called "race-protected cocoons."

"Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not in some ways differ significantly from the country that existed almost 50 years ago. This is truly sad," said Holder.

Matt Miller, a spokesman for Holder, said later the attorney general used "provocative words to be clear that Americans of all races should stop avoiding the difficult issues of race."

Andrew Grant-Thomas, Deputy Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, praised Holder's general message but said the wording of the speech may alienate some.

"He's right on the substance, but that's probably not the most politic way of saying it. I'm certain there are people who will hear him and say, 'That's obnoxious,'" he said, adding that what was missing from Holder's speech were specific examples of what painful subjects need to be addressed.

Hilary Shelton, vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the speech "constructively provocative."

"Nobody wants to be considered a coward. We've learned to get along by exclusion and silence. We need to talk about it. People need to feel comfortable saying the wrong things," said Shelton.

Holder is headed to Guantanamo Bay early next week to inspect the terrorist detention facility there. Obama has assigned Holder to lead a special task force aimed at closing the site within a year.

Holder's Justice Department will have to decide which suspects to bring to U.S. courts for trial, which to prosecute through the military justice system, and which to send back to their home countries.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rating Doctors Like Restaurants

Count us among those who would like to read a Zagat-like review of our doctors. We regularly check the company’s popular guide to New York City restaurants for hints as to whether the food is good or the service is lousy — at least in the opinion of others who have dined there. So why not get some guidance as to how patients view their encounters with various doctors?

As Milt Freudenheim reported in The Times on Monday, WellPoint, a big insurance company, has teamed with Zagat to survey the attitudes of its subscribers toward the doctors they have used. The patients rate their doctors in four broad categories, indicate whether they would recommend the doctor to someone else and can add comments if they wish. The end result, once enough ratings come in, will be a composite score for individual physicians indicating where they rank on a scale from poor to extraordinary.

The idea of patient-based ratings has some doctors in a tizzy. They insist that patients are in no position to judge which doctors are best and that some patients may respond to glib charm rather than professional competence. That sounds much like the complaints we heard when students started rating their professors, yet many universities now factor student judgments into their evaluations of the faculty. The Commonwealth Fund, a pioneer in evaluating health care systems around the world, relies in part on surveys of patients’ experiences.

And it makes us suspect that the doctors complaining aren’t the ones who welcome their own patients’ constructive complaints.

Who knows better than patients whether they have confidence in a doctor? Whether they like his or her bedside manner? Or find it easy or hard to make appointments? Or are dealt with on time or kept waiting for hours? Or find the staff helpful? These are the kinds of items covered in the Zagat/WellPoint survey, not anything to do with the quality of medical care provided.

A missing ingredient is Zagat’s pithy and witty summaries of the comments, a hallmark of its restaurant reviews. WellPoint subscribers, the only ones who can view the comments, are not apt to learn that a doctor’s “icy hands” and “crowded waiting room” made the examination “a downer.” WellPoint will simply publish subscriber comments in full.

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Personal Rights vs. Property Rights


by Daniel White

There is often a struggle to maintain a balance between personal rights and property rights. Neither one is absolute, and both tend to be handled differently in various states.

In general, property owners have a lot of leeway regarding who is allowed onto their property. It becomes a little more clouded when it comes to property that is generally open to the public, such as private businesses. A private business can, for example, disallow people from coming on their property if they are handing out fliers for the competition and can decide their employees are not allowed to wear t-shirts to work. They can't, however, make rules restricting race, religion, age, sex, etc.

Where is gets fuzzier is when it comes to gun rights. In Ohio, any business can put up a sign prohibiting people from bringing guns into their business. They can put up a sign for the parking lot, but there is no criminal penalty for violating a parking lot prohibition, unless you are asked to leave and you refuse. But, employers can still prohibit employees from having firearms in their personal vehicles while on company property.

The main issue at hand is that not only are employees being disarmed while at work, but the employee's Constitutional right to self defense are also denied to and from work, unless they're able to find a place to park off company property. It can even force a change in plans affecting their private life. For example, a person planning on going hunting or to the range on their way home from work is unable to do so.

The flippant answer to the issue is to say if they don't like it, they can always find another job. Of course, in this economy, that's easier said than done in many cases. Plus, we're not talking about banning chewing gum. The right to self defense is guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution. So, people are forced to choose between their lives and their livelihood, a decision they shouldn't have to make.

Numerous states, such as Florida, do not allow employers to put such restrictions on an employees personal, private vehicle. Ohio should follow suit. For that reason, this is one of the reforms being sought in 2009 by Ohioans For Concealed Carry.

While workplace violence is a very real issue, treating every gun owner as a potential mass murderer makes no more sense than treating everyone who has a prescription as a drug abuser. Not to mention that a person who decides to commit workplace violence isn't going to change his mind because guns aren't allowed on the property. Last I checked, violence isn't allowed either.

Property owners should have discretion over their property, but their property rights end where your right to life begins. If they do not want to assume responsibility for and protect you on your way to and from work, they should not be permitted to take away your ability to defend yourself during those times.

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The myth of the 'gun show loophole'

by Kurt Hofmann

I have stated before that the top firearm banning priority of the forcible citizen disarmament lobby will be so-called "assault weapons," with their second favorite target being .50 caliber rifles. I stand by that assessment, but I predict that even before they make a concerted effort to ban any guns, they'll go after gun sales--specifically, private sales at gun shows, and the mythical "loophole" such sales supposedly represent.

This goes beyond the fact that closing the "gun show loophole" is mentioned as an "urban policy" priority on the Obama administration's website, and that closing the "loophole" is a longtime priority of our new attorney general, who has stated that in his opinion, the Supreme Court's Heller decision poses no obstacle to such a measure. The myth of the so-called "gun show loophole" has become so pervasive that in our last presidential election, even the supposedly "pro-gun" (according to the NRA), Republican candidate has long taken a widely publicized stance in favor of banning private sales at gun shows.

"But," you might ask, "is that such a bad thing--aren't gun shows 'arms bazaars for criminals and terrorists'?" Well . . . no, actually.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report on “Firearms Use by Offenders” found that fewer than 1% of U.S. “crime guns” came from gun shows, with repeat offenders even less likely than first-timers to buy guns from any retail source.

Licensed gun dealers are required by federal law to jump through all the hoops--background checks, sales records, etc.--at gun shows that they do in their shops. The "problem," according to the forcible citizen disarmament lobby, is the private sellers, who can sell guns from their personal collections without all the red tape. According to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), these "unlicensed sellers" constitute 25-50% of the retailers at gun shows. This conveniently ignores the fact that a great many of the retailers at gun shows don't sell guns--they sell t-shirts, books, war memorabilia, etc.

Worse yet, ending private sales at gun shows isn't going to satisfy these people. After all, a private sale at a gun show is no different in principle from a private sale anywhere else. The Brady Campaign, in fact, no longer even bothers to hide the fact that the goal is a ban on all private gun sales, anywhere-"No background check, no sale, no excuses," as they endlessly spout.

They'll undoubtedly argue that they're not trying to ban private sales--they just want to require federal background checks. The problem with that "logic," of course, is that there is nothing private about a sale that can only proceed with government monitoring and approval, just as a phone conversation with one's spouse can hardly be considered private if the NSA is listening to it, in order to make sure that terrorist plots are not being hatched.

No free society can accept that standard of "privacy."

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New York Post Chimp Cartoon Compares Stimulus Author To Dead Primate

Sam Stein


A cartoon likening the author of the stimulus bill, perhaps President Barack Obama, with a rabid chimpanzee graced the pages of the New York Post on Wednesday.

The drawing, from famed cartoonist Sean Delonas, is rife with violent imagery and racial undertones. In it, two befuddled-looking police officers holding guns look over the dead and bleeding chimpanzee that attacked a woman in Stamford, Connecticut.

"They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill," reads the caption.

An email to Delonas and a call to the New York Post went unreturned. The cartoon appears both on the New York Post website and page 12 of the Wednesday paper.

At its most benign, the cartoon suggests that the stimulus bill was so bad, monkeys may as well have written it. Others believe it compares the president to a rabid chimp. Either way, the incorporation of violence and (on a darker level) race into politics is bound to be controversial. Perhaps that's what Delonas wanted.

2009-02-18-cartoon.jpg

UPDATE: Rev. Al Sharpton has weighed in on the cartoon in a statement:

"The cartoon in today's New York Post is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual reference to this when in the cartoon they have police saying after shooting a chimpanzee that "Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill."


"Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him it is not a reach to wonder are they inferring that a monkey wrote the last bill?"

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Obama unveils $75B mortgage relief plan

“All of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis,” President Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery at a ceremony announcing the program at a Phoenix area high school.

PHOENIX - Seeking to tackle “a crisis unlike any we’ve ever known,” President Barack Obama unveiled an ambitious $75 billion plan Wednesday to keep as many as 9 million Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure.

Announcing the plan in Arizona — a state especially hard hit by the housing crunch — Obama said that turning around the battered economy requires stemming the continuing tide of foreclosures. The housing crisis that began last year set many other factors in motion and helped lead to the current, widening recession.

“In the end, all of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis,” Obama said at a high school outside Phoenix. “And all of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to deepen.”

But while talking in broad strokes about the importance of the issue to the economy as a whole, the president took care not to miss the pain that the housing problems are causing in individual families

“The American Dream is being tested by a home mortgage crisis that not only threatens the stability of our economy but also the stability of families and neighborhoods,” he said. “While this crisis is vast, it begins just one house and one family at a time.”

More expensive than expected, Obama’s plan aims to keep between 7 million and 9 million people from foreclosure. Of the nearly 52 million U.S. homeowners with a mortgage, about 13.8 million, or nearly 27 percent, owe more on their mortgage than their house is now worth, according to Moody’s Economy.com.

Headlining Obama’s plan is a $75 billion Homeowner Stability Initiative, which would provide a set of incentives to mortgage lenders in an effort to convince them to help up to 4 million borrowers on the verge of foreclosure. The goal: cut monthly mortgage payments to sustainable levels, defined as no more than 31 percent of a homeowners income. Funding would come from the $700 billion financial industry bailout passed by Congress last fall.

Details of Obama’s plan
Details of President Barack Obama’s $75 billion plan to help up to 9 million families restructure or refinance their mortgages to avoid losing their homes to foreclosure.
Remove restrictions
Remove restrictions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that prohibit the institutions, both taken over by the government last year, from refinancing mortgages they own or have guaranteed when more is owed on a home than it is worth. The White House says this could reduce monthly payments for up to 5 million homeowners.
Source: Associated PressPrint this

Another key component would specifically help those said to be “under water” — with dwellings whose market value have sunk below the principal still owed on the mortgages. Such mortgages have traditionally been almost impossible to refinance. But the White House said its program will help 4 million to 5 million families do just that — if their mortgages are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan stressed that homeowners don’t need to be delinquent in order to get help.

“This is necessary policy. It’s smart economics. And it’s just and fair,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told reporters.

Asked why the cost had jumped to $75 billion from initial talk of a $50 billion effort, Geithner said, “We think that’s necessary to make a program like this work.”

And he said relief would be almost instantaneous, basically as soon as rules are published March 4. “You’ll start to see the effects quite quickly”, Geithner said.

Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, said previous efforts had largely flopped. “We’ve not attacked the problem at the core,” she told reporters. “We are woefully behind the curve.”

The biggest players in the mortgage industry already had halted foreclosures pending Obama’s announcement.

“The plan I’m announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly,” Obama said. “It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans.”

He issued a warning as well: “All of us must learn to live within our means again.”

He said the plan will not help those who took risky bets by buying homes to sell them, not live in them, or dishonest lenders who distorted facts for naive buyers, or buyers who signed on for loans they knew they could not afford.

“This plan will not save every home,” Obama said.

In tandem with the foreclosure plan, the Treasury Department announced it would double the size of its lifeline to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, seeking to bolster confidence in the mortgage giants effectively taken over by the government last fall. The government said it would absorb up to $200 billion in losses at each company, by using money Congress set aside last year, and will continue purchasing mortgage-backed securities from them.

The Treasury said the increased support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac didn’t reflect projected losses at the two companies. The two companies are currently projected to need a combined government subsidy of about $66 billion, well short of the new promise of up to $400 billion.

Asked about the doubling of the guarantees for Fannie and Freddie, Geithner said: “This is not a judgment about the expected losses ahead. It underscores commitment, and that is very important to help keep mortgage rates low.” Geithner said most not all of the money would come the financial bailout fund.

The president’s announcement came a day after he signed into law a $787 billion economic stimulus plan he hopes will spark an economic turnaround and create or save 3.5 million jobs.

At the same time, the administration was grappling with the darkening prospects for the U.S. auto industry.

Even as Detroit carmakers submitted restructuring plans to qualify for continued government loans, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC asked for another $14 billion in bailout cash.

© 2009 The Associated Press.

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