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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 ( "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

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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

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


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.

Original here