Saturday, March 21, 2009

Palin Fires Back at Obama for Special Olympics Joke

by Benjamin Sarlin

Sarah Palin

Alex Wong / Getty Images
The Alaska governor tells The Daily Beast that she was none too pleased with the President’s gag line on The Tonight Show.

You knew this was coming.

In the wake of President Obama's gaffe on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno yesterday about Special Olympics athletes, Gov. Sarah Palin, whose son has Down syndrome, is blasting him for disparaging the special needs community.

“I was shocked to learn of the comment made by President Obama about Special Olympics,” Palin said in a statement. “This was a degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world."

She added:

“These athletes overcome more challenges, discrimination and adversity than most of us ever will. By the way, these athletes can outperform many of us and we should be proud of them. I hope President Obama’s comments do not reflect how he truly feels about the special needs community.”

Obama's office has tried to clarify his remark since the initial blunder and the President apologized to Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver. Meanwhile, Palin has come under fire this week for refusing stimulus money slated to help special needs education programs. Her stance on funding for such programs as governor led to attacks during the campaign as well.

Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for

Original here

School officials turn to Legislature to save stimulus funds


FRAN DURNER / Anchorage Daily News /

Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau reacts to news that Gov. Palin is not planning to accept all of the federal stimulus money available for education. "Yeah, I'm really disappointed," she said.

Anchorage Daily News

Alaska superintendents are already lobbying legislators to reverse Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to reject $172 million for Alaska schools.

Their reactions to Palin's decision have ranged from dismay to panic, superintendents said Thursday.

Much of the stimulus package money for education -- about $74 million -- was designated for poor schools and special-needs kids. It was to be spent over the next two academic years.

Most of the other money is meant to help prevent cuts to classrooms, staff and critical services.

"This is the kids' money, not our money," said Lower Yukon superintendent John Lamont.

Palin's team warned the cash could balloon budgets and unintentionally inflate future state spending.

Many of the state's 53 superintendents are drafting a joint letter to the Legislature, asking lawmakers to override Palin and accept the money, Lamont said.

"Even if it was a two-year package, our students are in dire need," he said.

Lamont's district, which is spread over 22,000 square miles in Western Alaska, has a dropout rate that is more than twice the national average. He had planned to use the $2.2 million he thought his district was getting to hire math and reading specialists.

The news may have come as more of a surprise because the state Department of Education held a teleconference with superintendents this week about the stimulus funding. Superintendents were given estimates of how much they would be receiving, for at least some portions of the money. They were told the governor had some reservations about the money and didn't want frivolous spending, but not that Palin might turn away all the school money, said Kenai Peninsula Borough Schools assistant superintendent Steve Atwater.

Nancy Wagner, superintendent of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, said the federal money could pay for things the district will eventually have to spend money on anyway, like training or materials.

"We wouldn't want to commit to something that we know we couldn't sustain ... it would free up some funding for us to use later," she said.


Palin budget director Karen Rehfeld defended the governor's announcement. "I don't think the implication is that they would waste the money," she said. The governor's concern, Rehfeld said, is that $172 million is a big number and when the money dries up in two years, there could be an outcry and expectation for the state to replace it.

"We've seen that in many programs, that when federal funds go away, the tendency is for the state to come in and try to backfill and keep things going -- and that's the concern," she said. "Particularly when we look at the (state) revenue picture.

Anchorage School Superintendent Carol Comeau heard the news when a frenzy of calls between superintendents began ringing across the state early this afternoon.

"I was very surprised and disappointed," she said.

Anchorage schools were slated to get at least $26 million for special education and Title One schools, which are in the city's poorest neighborhoods. One idea was to use some of the money to expand pre-kindergarten to more low-income children, Comeau said.

While the impact on the Anchorage School District, which has an annual budget of around $800 million, may be small, the effect on smaller school districts in rural Alaska will be more significant, she said. "With the number of rural districts struggling, to take this away from them, it's just not fair."

Aleutians East superintendent Phil Knight hopes Palin reconsiders.

Knight's district of six schools, all of which are accessible only by boat or plane, has 250 kids. He had planned to use his district's slated $84,000 to keep open smaller schools threatened with closure next year.

Northwest Arctic Borough superintendent Norman Eck reacted to the news in an e-mail: "I am stunned," he wrote.

His district is under intervention by the state Department of Education because of poor test scores year after year. He said he had planned to use his $1.2 million for education materials the district otherwise could not afford. High electricity and fuel costs hit his budget hard this year, and ended up being taken from money otherwise meant for kids in classrooms.

"We will need our Legislature to take a strong stand and pass the emergency resolution to receive this money on behalf of Alaska's children," Eck wrote.


Mat-Su school officials considered the stimulus money the one bright spot in an otherwise potentially bleak year for funding, Mat-Su School Board President Jim Colver said.

The board had hoped to use it to save teaching positions.

"I was optimistic that this is how we were going to get through this budget year. So this has just kind of tipped my boat over right now," Colver said.

The district had hoped to be able to tap about $10 million, although the exact amount had not been officially determined, said John Weetman, the district's assistant superintendent of administration.

The governor lives in Mat-Su with her family part of the year. Her children attend school in the district.

"I think she's getting some bad advice. I would hope she would rethink her position," he said.

Colver said the district could end up eliminating as many as 60 of its 1,200 teaching positions next year if they don't get to keep the money.

Original here

Top 10 gaffes by Barack Obama and Joe Biden

Posted By: Toby Harnden

Perhaps Barack Obama was just trying to make Joe Biden feel better by dropping his clanger on Jay Leno. Whatever the President was thinking, 60 days into their new administration it's time for a post-election Obama-Biden Top 10, in reverse order:

10. Just after he's been sworn in by him, the newly-minted Vice President Joe Biden gets the name of Justice John Paul Stephens, "one of the great justices" of the Supreme Court, wrong by calling him "Justice Stewart":

9. Barack Obama jokes about Nancy Reagan having séances in the White House. He later called her to apologise after the AP noted that although she had consulted astrologers, "she did not hold conversations with the dead":

8. Joe Biden forgets the "website number" for the White House internet site designed to show how TARP money is being spent:

7. Barack Obama mixes up the windows and doors at his new home:

6. Joe Biden jokes about Chief Justice John Roberts fluffing the inauguration oath. The president is visibly annoyed with his veep and Biden later apologises:

5. A Marine One double. First, on his maiden Marine One trip Obama breaches protocol and makes life uncomfortable for an enlisted marine by shaking the the serviceman's hand as he's saluting his commander-in-chief:

Then - Gerald Ford, eat your heart out. Barack Obama bangs his head as he boards his helicopter:

4. Joe Biden tells his wife that he had the choice of being either Secretary of State or vice-president - an offer that was news to Obama aides and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when Jill Biden spilled the beans on Oprah:

3. Gordon Brown presents the new President with: a pen holder carved from the timbers of HMS Gannett, a sister ship of HMS Resolute; the commissioning certificate of HMS Resolute; and a seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill. In return, the Prime minister gets 25 DVDS, which don't work in Britain:

2. Joe Biden tells a former Senate colleague who addresses him as "Mr Vice-President" to "give me a f---ing break":

1. The latest one takes the biscuit. Barack Obama jokes about the disabled on the Jay Leno show. Afterwards, he calls the head of the Special Olympics to apologise:

NB I've only included gaffes committed since the presidential election on November 4th. In October, I did this blog on the top dozen campaign gaffes, which features several from Obama and Biden.

Original here

Dispensers of Marijuana Find Relief in Policy Shift

Michal Czerwonka for The New York Times

Don Duncan, who runs a Los Angeles medical marijuana business, said he expected less federal attention but more local scrutiny.


LOS ANGELES — The air inside the Los Angeles Patients and Caregivers Group was pungent with the aroma of premium hydroponic marijuana, but the proprietor, Don Duncan, said on Thursday that he was breathing a bit easier.

A day before, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had said that the federal authorities would no longer take action against medical marijuana dispensaries if they were in compliance with state and local laws.

While 13 states, including California, have laws allowing medical use of marijuana, they had not been recognized by the federal government. One of Mr. Duncan’s two marijuana dispensaries was a target, in 2007, of one of the scores of raids involving medical marijuana that the Drug Enforcement Administration conducted in Los Angeles during the Bush administration.

Mr. Duncan, a founder of Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, said he was meeting with officials at City Hall at the time of the raid, trying to work out a local ordinance under Proposition 215, which allows the medical use of marijuana.

“I got a call and found out they smashed through our window and pried open the back door,” Mr. Duncan said. Since then, he has operated only one dispensary, fearing he could again be a target of the federal authorities.

Mr. Holder’s statement that he would not authorize raids on medical marijuana dispensaries appeared to shift Justice Department policy, at least rhetorically, away from the Bush administration’s stated policy of zero tolerance for marijuana, regardless of state laws. Advocates of medical marijuana welcomed the change.

But conversations with government officials on Thursday revealed disagreement within the administration about how great a shift Mr. Holder’s statements represent.

A spokesman for the drug enforcement agency, Garrison Courtney, pointed out that the attorney general’s statement indicated that the federal authorities would continue to go after marijuana dispensaries that broke state and federal laws by selling to minors, selling excessive amounts or selling marijuana from unsanctioned growers.

Mr. Courtney said that the agency had raided only a fraction of the thousands of marijuana dispensaries now operating and that agents had used discretion to go after only the worst offenders.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States attorney in Los Angeles, said his office had prosecuted only four medical marijuana dispensary cases since the passage of Proposition 215, a 1996 ballot measure that made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana. That measure set off a decade-long fight over several legal issues.

The case of Charles Lynch, a dispensary operator whose business was raided on the same day as Mr. Duncan’s, was the most prominent. Mr. Lynch was convicted and will be sentenced on Monday in federal court. He faces a minimum of five years in federal prison for charges that included selling to a minor under the age of 21.

Mr. Lynch’s lawyers argued that he violated no state laws while operating his dispensary and said that by registering with the local Chamber of Commerce and paying taxes, he was working to abide by the law. Mr. Mrozek said Mr. Lynch had broken local and federal laws.

“Charles Lynch might be the last man to go to jail for medical marijuana,” Mr. Duncan said.

A Justice Department official said the situation of marijuana dispensary operators already in the criminal justice system would be decided case by case.

Mark Agrast, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning research group in Washington, said Mr. Holder’s statement indicated a more pragmatic and less ideological approach to drug enforcement.

“This is an example of recognizing the limited resources they have, so they have to make decisions about the soundest use of available resources,” Mr. Agrast said.

The attorney general’s comments also indicated that the Justice Department would allocate greater resources for investigations of white-collar crime, including financial crime, and other enforcement areas that received less attention during the Bush administration.

Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that supports medical marijuana, agreed that Mr. Holder’s statement signaled a shift in policy.

“Attorney General Holder is saying something explicitly different from both Bush and Clinton,” Mr. Nadelmann said. “He’s saying that these medical marijuana laws are kosher by state law and we’re not going after those. He’s saying federal law doesn’t trump state laws on this.”

Mr. Duncan, the dispensary owner, said he was cautiously optimistic about Mr. Holder’s statement but would reserve judgment about how much things would change in his business.

“I think we’re going to see less and less federal interference,” he said. “At the same time, there’s going to be more and more scrutiny from state and local agencies.”

Original here

Maddow: Eight go from White House to 'big house'

David Edwards and Rachel Oswald

TwitThis Do you know how many former Bush administration officials have been sentenced with jail time? The answer is a whopping eight, as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow pointed out Wednesday night.

Most recently there was Felipe Sixto, who served as special assistant to President Bush for intergovernmental affairs. He recently pled guilty to embezzling $600,000 from the Center for a Free Cuba, a government-funded program and received a 30-month prison sentence. Sixto left his job with the Bush administration when he learned that he was being investigated for embezzlement.

"That 'oops, I‘d better quit my job in the administration before I report to prison' phenomenon, that happened kind of a lot in the Bush administration," Maddow noted, going on to list in a brief segment titled 'White House to the Big House,' the seven other Bush officials who have received various jail sentences, most often on corruption charges.

*Most famously, there was former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief-of-staff, Scooter Libby. He was sentenced to 30 months, though President Bush quickly commuted the sentence, for his role in the leaking and subsequent coverup of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to the press.

*David Safavian, chief-of-staff of the General Services Administration and the head procurement official of the federal government went to prison for 18 months on charges related to the Jack Abramoff lobbyist scandal.

*For obstructing the Senate investigation into Abramoff and for tax evasion, Italia Federici, a political aide to then Secretary of the Interior, Gail Norton, received a two month sentence in a halfway house.

*Fedrici's boyfriend, Steven Griles, who was the number two official at the Interior Department, also received 10 months in jail for his part in the Abramoff scandal.

*Bob Stein, the comptroller of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, received the longest sentence of any Bush official (as of yet) - nine years in prison for money laundering, conspiracy and bribery.

*Brian Doyle, a deputy press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, was sentenced to five years in jail for attempting to use a computer to seduce a child.

*Former executive director of the CIA, Dusty Fago, received a three year prison sentence on corruption charges.

"[That] brings the total number of Bush administration officials who have gone to jail already to at least eight," Maddow said. "That is not counting all the other convictions that didn‘t result in jail time, all the other investigations. That is just the lucky Bushies who made it all the way to the crowbar hotel."

She joked, "They could like have a prison softball team at this point."

This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Mar. 17, 2009.

Original here

KY Election Officials Arrested, Charged With 'Changing Votes at E-Voting Machines'

Circuit court judge, county clerk, and election officials among eight indicted for gaming elections in 2002, 2004, 2006
Used popular, unverifiable ES&S touch-screens to flip votes...

[Now updated at bottom with details from the indictments.]

Those of us who have demanded transparent voting systems because we understand that only the ability for complete citizen oversight and transparency can effectively counter those who would game elections, have been disingenuously criticized over the years as somehow questioning the integrity of the hard-working, honest election officials out there.

The fact is, those who know anything about computer security understand that it is the insiders who are, by far, the greatest threat to security on such systems, as even the phony, GOP-operative-created Baker/Carter National Election Reform Commission determined in its final report: "There is no reason to trust insiders in the election industry any more than in other industries."

The best election officials in the country, however, will underscore that point, and agree that there is no reason any citizen should ever have to simply "trust" them.

Over the years, we've detailed the arrests and other unsavory behavior of many of the not-so-good election officials who, we were told, should simply have been trusted (our "favorite" has always been the case of Monterey CA's Tony Anchundo, who told us on air we should "trust" him, just a month or two before being arrested on 43 counts).

Well, now we've got a whole passel of still more crooked officials to add to the list. Moreover: The Kentucky officials arrested and indicted today, "including the circuit court judge, the county clerk, and election officers" of Clay County, have been charged with "chang[ing] votes at the voting machine" and showing others how to do it!


How to Destroy the Government in Three Easy Steps

Photo: AFP)

In eight short years, conservatives have effectively bankrupted many state governments and left the fed in shambles. And now citizens have to "make tough decisions" and share the suffering equally across the land (unless of course, you're part of that lucky 1 percent who co-opted the functions of government to serve their own ends ... they'll be cozy with their offshore bank accounts, golden parachutes and permanent tax holidays).

Are you a teacher who educates our future citizens? Too bad. You've got to tighten your belt and let that job go. Manual laborer? Sorry, but that job can earn more money for our shareholders if it's done in Micronesia. Need a college degree? Prepare for indentured servitude because you'll be working to pay us off for most of your adult life. Health care? Ha! That's just a Ponzi scheme dreamed up by a bunch of socialists.

Ever wonder how conservatives did all this?

Well, here's your very own how-to manual for getting Big Government out of the way so you and your buddies can horde all the wealth to yourselves and build your empire.

Step 1: Blame the Individuals

Every battle has to have two sides, so you'll need to divide the people against each other. This means that you'll need to declare that "there's no such thing as society" and focus the entire debate on the faults of individuals.

Enron screwed people over? That's just a few bad apples. The business news a lap dog for corporate excess? That's just Jim Cramer doing his thing. The economy in shambles? That's just George W leaving his legacy.

And of course the housing crisis is the fault of greedy buyers. Industry can't do right for us because of that welfare queen. And government can't serve the people because of that corrupt politician and his special-interest crony.

Get the people talking about individuals and it'll be easy to blind them to the public infrastructure they depend on. You don't want anyone to make a peep when we gut the schools, defund public works and empty out the Treasury. Those problems will just be fodder to throw at the sorry Democrats we'll blame when the fit hits the shan.

Step 2: Cut Taxes

Now that you've gotten everyone bickering about each other (and ignoring us), you can get to work dismantling the government. All you have to do is cut taxes. Yes, it's that simple. One move and you get all the benefits of (1) weakening every social program; (2) making government services inadequate; (3) setting the stage for calling out "waste" and inefficiencies (more of that blame game!); (4) keeping your richest friends from ever having to pay for the infrastructure they exploit to make all that money; (5) getting nonprofits and opposition leaders in the government (progressives ... eck!!) to spend all their precious resources fighting to keep things in the budget, and (6) outsourcing government operations to your buddies in the corporate world so they can profit from them.

This one move is strategic. It does all the work for you.

And when life starts looking dire, you get opportunities you never dreamed possible in a democracy.

Step 3: Exploit Disaster

If you've managed to accomplish steps 1 and 2, people will be in a panic. And we all know that panicky people make rash decisions. Now is your chance to push that unpopular agenda through the cracks - disaster capitalism at its best!

Remember how we tricked the populace into an illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq to secure oil revenues? That wouldn't have happened if people weren't scared out of their wits by the fright of terrorism. Think people would have gone for No Child Left Behind and allowed tests to replace learning in the classroom? We had to fabricate a crisis (which took years of hard work to create) to push that one through. And you know that there's no way we could take away so many civil liberties with the Patriot Act if the debate was drawn out for weeks under public scrutiny.

So there you have it. Three easy steps to destroy the government.

If you're an overachiever (you know who you are!), you might even try giving away billions to your buddies in the banking industry when the bottom falls out. Or consider no-bid contracts to our old pals in the energy and defense sectors when no one is looking. Or, and this takes some special skill, you might call any efforts to "increase revenues" just another example of irresponsible spending that got us into this mess in the first place.

Note 1: Take care that progressives don't ever learn about this strategy. It could be nullified and made ineffective by exposing our agenda, allowing people to organize, or letting government work well enough for people to start thinking that government isn't inherently bad and (gasp!) that it might be useful for something other than empire-building.

Note 2: Want a more detailed discussion of how these ideas were so successfully implemented? This excellent series by Sara Robinson will help you learn how to take over the common sense of an entire culture:

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Note 3: Not satisfied with this strategy? Maybe you'll want to build a different kind of politics that works in another way.

Original here

Stewart to Cheney: Drink a cup of 'Shut the f**k up'

David Edwards and Rachel Oswald

TwitThis Still overcome with incredulity over former Vice President Dick Cheney’s interview on Sunday with CNN, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart couldn’t resist Tuesday night taking a couple of shots at some of the eye-brow raising statements made.

In his interview with CNN’s John King, Cheney said of President Obama’s national security policies, “He’s making some choices that in my mind, will in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”

Noting that Cheney no longer can truly know what he is talking about as he no longer receives daily intelligence briefings, Stewart indignantly said, “Maybe I could interest you in a hot cup of shut the f**k up.”

“The guy’s vice president for eight years, you barely see a whiff of him. He lives in some subterranean lair, literally has his house removed from Google Earth,” Stewart said. “Then when he’s no longer accountable to the American people he’s popping up everywhere. I can’t get him off my TV. He’s like the Mario Lopez of doom now.”

Stewart also objected to Cheney’s attempts in the interview to cast aside criticism of the enormous deficits the Bush administration left after coming into office eight years earlier with a comfortable surplus.

“I don’t think you can blame the Bush administration for the creation of those [poor economic] circumstances,” Cheney said, later adding “Eight months after we arrived, we had 9/11…We ended up with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq…things like Katrina, all of these things required us to spend money that we had not originally planned to spend or weren’t originally part of the budget. Stuff happens.”

To which an outraged Stewart returned with “Stuff happens! No, no, I left a Chapstick in my pants and it went through the wash. That’s stuff happens… Two wars, a mismanaged economy and a botched national disaster rescue effort. Can a brother get a ‘my bad.’”

Stewart is not alone in reacting with derision to the Cheney interview. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday said, “I think not taking economic advice from Dick Cheney would be maybe the best possible outcome of yesterday’s interview.”

This video is from Comedy Central's The Daily Show, broadcast Mar. 17, 2009.

Original here

The case for a domestic marijuana industry

The only way to stop drug gangs is to end their monopoly on production.

By Aaron Houston

Violence in Mexico is getting worse by the day. There are reports of beheadings, killings in the several thousands, and an environment of fear that makes it impossible for Mexican officials to do their work. The country's very stability may be threatened.

It's time to put an end to U.S. policies that subsidize these murderous drug gangs. The first step, as a growing chorus of voices is arguing, is to end the quixotic policy of prohibition, a proven failure. But the United States can do even better; by empowering a domestic marijuana industry, the United States would squeeze Mexican cartels' profits, cutting off the financial lifeline that sustains organized narcocrime.

According to U.S. and Mexican officials, some 60 percent of the profits that fuel Mexican narcotrafficking come from just one drug: marijuana. Although such estimates are inherently imprecise, there is no doubt that marijuana is the cash cow that makes these gangs the powerful, dangerous force they are -- both in Mexico and in the 230 U.S. cities where cartels are thought to operate. The chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Mexico and Central America Section recently told the New York Times that marijuana is the "king crop" for Mexican cartels, because it "consistently sustains its marketability and profitability."

Last November, the U.S. Joint Forces Command warned in its "Joint Operating Environment" report that Mexico "bear[s] consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse" due to drug cartel violence. Some critics saw the report as unduly dire, but at a minimum, as outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden warned, drug cartels "threaten ... the well-being of the Mexican people and the Mexican state." A further increase in instability would constitute a national security and humanitarian crisis on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. For now, there is no end in sight to the worsening violence and no adequate plan to address it.

This appalling situation is not just happenstance. It is the direct result of prohibitionist U.S. policies.

Like it or not, marijuana is a massive industry. One hundred million Americans admit to government survey-takers that they've used it, with nearly 15 million acknowledging use in the past month. That's a huge market -- exceeding the number of Americans who will buy a new car or truck this year, or who bought one last year. Estimates based on U.S. government figures have pegged marijuana as the No. 1 cash crop in the United States, with a value exceeding corn and wheat combined.

Current U.S. policies are based on the fantasy that Americans can somehow make this massive industry go away. But prohibition hasn't stopped marijuana use. Although marijuana use hits peaks and troughs over time, overall consumption of the drug in the United States has risen roughly 4,000 percent rise since the first national ban took effect in 1937. In other words, for 72 years, the U.S. government has in effect granted criminals, including those brutal Mexican gangs, a monopoly on production, distribution, and profits.

The solution is already apparent: Make marijuana a legal, regulated product like alcohol and tobacco are. After all, there's a reason these gangs aren't smuggling wine grapes. When you have a legal, regulated market for a product, the underground market disappears. Indeed, the United States already has an illustrative example from its own history. During the 13 dark years of alcohol prohibition, drinking didn't stop, but gangsters such as Al Capone got rich. When Prohibition ended, the bootleggers -- and the orgy of violence that accompanied them -- went away. By taking marijuana out of the criminal underground and regulating it, Americans can cut the lifeline that gives Mexican drug gangs their power.

There are benefits for the United States, too. For the first time, regulators would have a level of control over marijuana production and distribution, both of which are impossible under today's system. Over time, the domestic marijuana industry would start to look like California's wine business: a responsible industry that adds to the state's prestige, tourism, and tax coffers, rather than a source of violence and instability.

Critics have already started to object, claiming that such a move would set off a surge of marijuana use. But in the Netherlands -- where adults have been permitted to possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses since the mid-1970s -- the rate of marijuana use is less than half that of the United States, according to a recent World Health Organization study. More importantly, the percentage of teens trying marijuana by age 15 in the Netherlands is roughly one third the U.S. rate. Indeed, a 2001 National Research Council report commissioned by the White House found "little apparent relationship" between criminal penalties for drug use and the prevalence or frequency of use.

Most everyone can agree on one thing: The situation today is intolerable. Three former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil have recently joined the call for the decriminalization of marijuana in its largest market, the United States. Mainstream commentators, editorial boards, and members of U.S. Congress have begun to join in. The momentum has shifted, and a solution is at the world's fingertips.

What's needed is the political courage to grasp it.

Aaron Houston is director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Original here

Minnesota Senate Standoff Plays Into GOP's Hands

WASHINGTON -- Four months after Election Day, the fight over Minnesota's U.S. Senate seat drags on with no clear end in sight. And that may be working to the Republicans' advantage.

Party leaders say they are digging in for a prolonged legal process, keeping Democrats from claiming a seat they think is theirs -- and hampering the majority party's ability to push through its agenda.

[Minnesota Senate Standoff Plays Into GOP's Hands] Associated Press

Republican Norm Coleman leaves the courtroom where the trial over a Senate seat is being held. Attorney David Lillenhaug, left, represents Democrat Al Franken.

The current phase of the lawsuit over the close election is entering its final stretch, as both sides made their final arguments Friday. Most significant rulings during the seven-week trial have gone in favor of Democrat Al Franken. As a result, his 225-vote lead out of 2.9 million ballots counted has apparently expanded -- though there is no official tally -- and few independent analysts think Republican Norm Coleman is likely to prevail in his re-election bid.

But Republicans can claim a kind of strategic victory by blocking the Democratic former comedian's path to the Senate, which requires 60 votes to pass controversial items. Democrats there currently have 58.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, asked Friday if he would encourage Mr. Coleman to pursue his case further in the courts if he loses the current round, responded: "I would, until we know who won." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid replied with a statement headlined, "Minnesota needs representation, not legal challenges."

Mr. Coleman's attorneys have been publicly critical of the court's rulings, which may suggest they are contemplating an appeal.

Both sides are raising money actively for the prospect of a prolonged court case. The Republican National Committee transferred $250,000 at the end of January to help with the legal battle, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has added $10,000. Republican officials say Mr. Coleman has raised more than $5 million for the recount.

On the other side, the Democratic National Committee is contributing $250,000, while the Franken team has raised more than $6 million.

David Schultz, who teaches election law at Hamline University in St. Paul, said that if the GOP can't win the seat, its goal is to keep it open. "The Republicans' endgame strategy is to keep Al Franken out of office as long as possible," Mr. Schultz said. "Al Franken is No. 59."

Supporters of Mr. Coleman dismiss this, saying their goal is victory, not delay. "We want to get this done as quickly as possible, but it is important to get this right," said Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg.

The standoff has created one of the few times in history when the Senate has lacked its full complement. This is due partly to a law, unique to Minnesota, saying the state can't certify a senator until legal challenges have ended.

The empty seat presents particular challenges for Mr. Reid, especially because two other Democratic Senate seats are also in a state of uncertainty despite Democrats' November triumph. Sen. Roland Burris of Illinois is under an ethics cloud, though efforts to remove him are faltering, while Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts is ill and has been absent during key votes.

On the $787 billion stimulus bill, Democrats could have made fewer concessions if they had needed to attract just one Republican. Instead, they needed two (and got three). On a recent $410 billion spending bill, Mr. Reid, of Nevada, was one vote shy, forcing him to delay the vote and exposing the bill to more attacks.

That single senator also could make a difference on coming bills, such as a proposal to allow workers to organize unions by signing cards and skirting secret-ballot elections.

The dragged-out case has also put a burden on the state's lone senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar. Her state office has been juggling twice the caseload as a year ago, and calls to her Washington office have increased five-fold.

"One day I had 17 different meetings, from college students to the CEO of Best Buy to a veterans group," Ms. Klobuchar said in an interview.

In Minnesota, Messrs. Franken and Coleman have concluded their arguments in the seven-week trial before a special three-judge panel, and a decision is expected within a week or two. The loser can then appeal to the state supreme court, and potentially to the federal courts. The process could go on for months.

But if Mr. Coleman's fortunes in court don't improve, he may face pressure to withdraw. Polls suggest Minnesota voters are becoming impatient with the standoff, and Mr. Coleman may want to preserve his political standing to run for governor in 2010.

—Susan Davis contributed to this article.

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What If Jon Stewart, Instead of John King, Interviewed Dick Cheney

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington

Jon Stewart's Jim Cramer interview was a pivotal moment -- not just for Stewart, Cramer, and CNBC but also for journalism. It was a bracing reminder of what great research and a journalist more committed to getting to the truth than to landing the big get -- and keeping the big get happy, and ensuring future big gets -- can accomplish.

Stewart kept popping into my head as I watched John King interview Dick Cheney on Sunday. Each time King let Cheney get away with spouting gross inaccuracies and revisionist history, I kept thinking how different things would have been had Stewart been asking the questions. Stewart without the comedy and without the outrage -- just armed with the facts and the willingness to ask tough questions.

King opened the interview by showing clips of President Obama saying that his administration had "inherited an economic crisis" and "inherited a big mess." He then asked Cheney: "Did you leave him a mess?"

"I don't think you can blame the Bush administration for the creation of those circumstances," responded Cheney. "It's a global financial problem... So I think the notion that you can just sort of throw it off on the prior administration, that's interesting rhetoric but I don't think anybody really cares a lot about that."

"You are pretending that you are a dew-eyed innocent," Stewart might have said, as he did to Cramer. But even without Stewartesque flourishes, shouldn't King have challenged Cheney's ludicrous claim with some facts about how the fervor for financial deregulation championed by the Bush administration fueled the economic meltdown? Instead, King let Cheney off the hook: "We may get back to how we got here. But let's talk about where we are."

But what's the point of having one of the architects of how we got here on your show if you're not willing to ask them questions about it?

Is there any sentient human being -- other than Bush apologists -- disputing that the Bush administration left Obama a mess? And that for 8 years, the Bush administration promoted the financial deregulation that led to the meltdown? Indeed, as recently as last spring, Hank Paulson was calling for less supervision of Wall Street.

What if King had asked Cheney to respond to the way the SEC was dismantled under his watch, citing quotes about SEC chair Chris Cox from former SEC officials. Here are three King could have picked from: "[Cox] in many ways worked to dismantle the SEC"; "It was like someone poured molasses on the enforcement division"; "Cox worshiped at the same altar of deregulation as the rest of the Bush administration worshiped at."

After all, even Cox, testifying in front of the Senate Banking Committee in September, admitted that deregulation was the cause of the crisis.

But we got none of that from King. Instead, Cheney was allowed to deliver the fully discredited GOP talking points that try to pin the blame for the economic crisis on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "As best I can tell," Cheney told King, "from looking at the evidence, the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was one of the key ingredients that caused the subsequent financial problem and economic recession... and I think the collapse of those two institutions, as much as anything, contributed to the financial difficulties we've been living with since."

I could just hear Stewart saying: "But Fannie and Freddie were specifically prohibited from the kind of subprime lending that was at the heart of the meltdown. In fact, Fannie and Freddie could only buy mortgages issued to borrowers who made substantial down payments and carefully documented their incomes, which is the exact opposite of a subprime loan. So, could you tell us exactly what 'evidence' you have been 'looking at' that would lead you to say they 'caused' the financial crisis?"

Instead, King again let Cheney off the hook, saying he wanted "to move on to other issues." And even when King did bring out data to refute Cheney's spin, he repeatedly undercut the impact by distancing himself from the hard, cold facts that he was quoting. Check out this master's class in how an "objective" journalist can act as if there is no objective reality (mealy-mouthed qualifiers in bold):

KING: There are people I assume watching this interview right now, and people in this town who would say, why should we listen to you? And they would say that because of the context of the Bush administration numbers.

They would say, you know, what did you do when you were in charge? And they have some numbers to back up their case. And I want to show some to our viewers. When you came to office, the unemployment rate in the country was 4.2 percent, when you left it was 7.6 percent. The number of Americans in poverty when you arrived: just under 33 million, over 37 million when you left. The number without health insurance: a little over 41 million when you came, over 45 million approaching 46 million when you left. And you came with a budget surplus of $128 billion and in the final year, the budget deficit was a record $1.3 trillion.

So what would you say to someone out there watching this who is saying, why should they listen to you?

"There are people..." "They would say..." "And they have some numbers to back up their case."

These are not some numbers that belong to some people being trotted to make their case. These numbers are actual data -- empirical evidence. It would be as if King were interviewing a flat-earther and asked him: "There are people on this planet, watching this interview right now, who would say that the earth is round. And they have some pictures taken from outer space to back up their case. So what would you say to someone out there who is saying that?"

King's desperate attempt to distance himself from the question would be laughable if it weren't so repellent. It's not him asking Cheney why we should listen to him. It's not him putting forward objective data. It's some strawman viewers, so please don't hold it against him. And please, please come back. And tell your friends.

This is the problem with King and too many in the Pontius Pilate traditional media: They are so caught up in the obsolete notion that the truth always lies in the middle, they have to pretend that there are two sides to every issue -- and even two sides to straightforward data.

Someone needs to kidnap King and take him to a deprogramming center -- preferably one run by Jon Stewart and his team.

That way, the next time a denier of truth or an apologist for the broken status quo -- whether Republican or Democrat -- sits across from him, King can skip the qualifiers and do what journalists are supposed to do: hold public figures' feet to the fire. If it will help, he can even crib a line or two from Stewart's Cramer interview:

KING: Mr. Cheney, these Wall Street guys were on a Sherman's March through their companies financed by our 401ks and all the incentives of their companies were for short-term profit. And they burned the fucking house down with our money and walked away rich as hell and you guys knew that that was going on.

Okay, King could have dropped the "fucking" -- but how much would you have paid to watch Cheney's response to that one?

Until the Jon Stewart Journalism Deprogramming Center opens for business, all TV interviewers should ask themselves a simple question right before the camera goes on: What would Jon Stewart do?

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Stem the violence, make marijuana legal

by Linda Valdez

Imagine you had a really smart bomb - a genius bomb - that could blow up the leaders of every drug cartel in Mexico.

By the time the smoke cleared, a new pusher would be sitting in every cartel's big chair and the distribution networks would continue satisfying the demand of every junkie and recreational-drug user in America.

Mexico's drug cartels would continue to be, in the words of the Justice Department's National Drug Threat Assessment for 2009, "the greatest drug-trafficking threat to the United States."

Now, imagine a different weapon.

Consider the impact of eliminating the most profitable product the cartels sell.

All we have to do is legalize marijuana.

"Marijuana is the (Mexican cartels') cash crop, the cash cow," says Brittany Brown of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Washington office, which does not advocate legalizing pot.

Marijuana is cheap to grow and requires no processing. More than a million pounds of it was seized in Arizona in each of the past two years, according to figures provided by Ramona Sanchez of the DEA's Phoenix office. But those seizures were just a cost of doing business for multibillion-dollar drug lords. Marijuana continued to be widely available - and not just to adults.

Teens tell researchers that buying pot is easier than getting cigarettes or booze, says Bill Piper, director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which does advocate legalizing marijuana.

Cannabis vs. alcohol

Some argue that if you legalize marijuana there would still be a black market. They say that because the product is so cheap to produce, the black market could underprice legal pot and sell to kids. But consider what we know about alcohol.

• First, Prohibition didn't work.

• Second, even though alcohol sales are regulated, back-alley or school-yard sales of moonshine is not a billion-dollar problem.

• Third, alcohol, like its addictive killer-cousin tobacco, is taxed, which helps cover its costs to society.

Not so with marijuana.

After decades of anti-pot campaigns, from Reefer Madness to zero tolerance, so many Americans choose to smoke marijuana that the Mexican cartels have become an international threat to law and order.

Instead of paying taxes on their vice, pot smokers are enriching thugs and murderers.

"People who smoke pot in the United States don't think they are connected to the cartels," Brown says. "Actually, they are very connected."

American drug users help sharpen the knives that cartel henchmen use to behead their enemies and terrorize Mexican border towns.

Even marijuana grown in the United States, increasingly in national parks and on other public lands, is often connected to Mexican cartels, Brown says.

According to the Justice Department's 2009 assessment, cartels have "established varied transportation routes, advanced communications capabilities and strong affiliations with gangs in the United States" and "maintain drug-distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 U.S. cities." Including Phoenix and Tucson.

The DEA says cartels are "poly-drug organizations" that routinely smuggle cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and precursor chemicals through our state.

"(But) marijuana generates the most profit," Sanchez says.

Removing a cash cow

Legalizing marijuana would not stop pushers from selling other, more lethal poisons. But taking away their most profitable product would hurt criminal organizations that have grown richer, more powerful and better armed during the so-called war on drugs that was first declared by President Richard Nixon.

Today's Mexican cartels "are as ruthless and brutal as any terrorist organization," says Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is opposed to legalizing marijuana.

Their brutality is destabilizing Mexico. Several years after Mexican President Felipe Calderón bravely decided to take on the cartels, Mexico ranks with Pakistan as "weak and failing states" in a recent report by the United States Joint Forces Command. Why? Because Mexico's "government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels," the report says.

While U.S. drug users enrich the cartels, the U.S. government pours huge amounts of money into defeating them.

The Bush administration sold Congress on the Merida Initiative, a multiyear, $1.4 billion aid package designed to provide training and high-tech assistance to help a besieged Mexican government combat the cartels.

Even in these days of gazillion-dollar bailouts, that's a chunk of change.

But consider this: According to a report last fall from the Government Accountability Office, the United States has provided more than $6 billion to support Plan Colombia since fiscal 2000. The goal of reducing processing and distribution of illicit drugs (mostly cocaine) by 50 percent was not achieved, the GAO found.

A GAO report from July 15, 2008, says that since fiscal 2003, the United States has provided more than $950 million to counternarcotics efforts in the 6 million square-mile "transit zone" that includes Central America, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern Pacific Ocean.

What did this buy?

"Despite gains in international cooperation, several factors, including resource limitations and lack of political will, have impeded U.S. progress in helping governments become full and self-sustaining partners in the counternarcotics effort - a goal of U.S. assistance," the report said.

Weary of the drug war

Our southern neighbors are getting tired of fighting our drug war.

Last month, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy called for a shift from the "prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization." Former Latin American Presidents Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), Cesar Gaviria (Colombia) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil) said the drug war has failed.

It was a tragically costly failure.

In testimony before Congress last June, Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and department of criminology, said, "It is likely that total expenditures for drug control, at all levels of government, totaled close to $40 billion in 2007."

He said about 500,000 people are in prison in the United States for drug offenses on any given day. Piper says 800,000 people a year are arrested on marijuana charges, the vast majority for simple possession.

Now, consider the possibilities of a new approach.

In 2005, economist Jeffrey A. Miron put together a report suggesting that if marijuana were taxed at rates similar to alcohol and tobacco, legal sales would raise $6.2 billion a year. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a Democrat from San Francisco, is trying to get his state to legalize marijuana for adult use, set up a state licensing system and levy a tax that some say could raise $1 billion a year.

Let's be clear: Marijuana can cause dependency. It saps initiative and energy. It is unhealthful and smelly. I don't use it. But a lot of people do like the effects of this intoxicant, and they believe they can control its addictive properties. This is exactly why people drink margaritas during happy hour.

This is also why a war on drugs is unwinnable.

You'd think a country built on capitalism would understand basic laws of supply and demand. Instead, a failed and irrational national policy blunders forward, costing billions, incarcerating large numbers of people and enriching ruthless crime syndicates.

The cartels are not stagnant. They are growing in power and influence. In Phoenix, Mexican cartels are blamed for a dramatic rise in kidnapping and other violence.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard says it may be only a matter of time before the kind of turf battles that are common in Mexico erupt along drug-transit corridors in Arizona. Goddard, who does not support legalization, says, "I do support an intelligent dialogue (on legalization)."

Brave but hopeless fight

Law enforcement has a smart-bomb approach to eliminating the bad guys.

Last month, the DEA announced Operation Xcellerator, a 21-month multi-agency effort aimed at the Sinaloan cartel. It culminated in more than 750 arrests and the seizure of 23 tons of drugs and $59.1 million in cash.

The police work involved was smart and courageous. After all, cartels torture and kill cops.

But while police were putting their lives on the line for the war on drugs, U.S. drug users were helping the cartels make up for any economic losses.

It's time to hit the bad guys where it really hurts.

Take away their cash cow.

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