Archive for April 8th, 2009
Congressional Quarterly Inc. has announced the launch of a new interactive map that shows the results of the 2008 presidential election by congressional district. The exclusive map and analysis can be found on CQ Politics.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) has been the lead sponsor of a House bill to repeal the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, but with Tauscher leaving Congress for Obama’s State Department, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) is reportedly prepared to step up as the bill’s new champion.
It’s no surprise why proponents of the bill would want Murphy, who is a respected Democratic voice on military matters. In addition to serving two deployments in Bosnia and in Baghdad, Murphy was awarded a Bronze Star and his unit earned the Presidential Unit Citation. He is also a former West Point professor and an ex-military attorney.
With a record like that, it would seemingly be difficult for conservatives — especially conservatives who didn’t serve in the military — to blast Murphy as someone who doesn’t understand issues like unit cohesion.
But there’s also an unfortunate reality: it won’t matter. Murphy may be a decorated hero and respected lawmaker, but conservative Republicans who care more about hating gays than national security will be unmoved. For them, this is about a culture war, not military readiness, fairness, or respect for those who volunteer to wear the uniform.
I’ve been reading Nathaniel Frank’s "Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America" — which is excellent, by the way — and while it makes clear that there is no legitimate defense for banning able-bodied, patriotic Americans from serving their country, it also reminds me that for conservative activists and policy makers, reason, evidence, and common sense are largely irrelevant in this debate.
Newsweek‘s Anna Quindlen had a good column on this in the new issue:
In January of this year alone, the Army fired 11 soldiers under the policy, including a military-police officer and a health-care specialist. Dozens of Arabic-language translators have been thrown out of the service as well, including one whose captain’s evaluation began: "Exceptional leader." In the meantime, to meet recruitment quotas, special waivers have been issued to allow the enlistment of hundreds of convicted felons, including arsonists and burglars. One man who had repeatedly beaten his wife was accused of beating prisoners in Iraq; another, who stabbed an Iraqi private with a bayonet, had been accused of assault as a civilian.
The absurdity of this is so overwhelming that even many of those who once supported the policy have turned against it. Former Republican senator Alan Simpson wrote, "We need every ablebodied smart patriot to help us win this war," and retired General Shalikashvili called for the end of "don’t ask, don’t tell," saying it was important to "consider the evidence that has emerged" against a ban on gay service members. But overwhelming evidence has existed for decades that allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly has no effect on military mission or efficiency. Time after time, respected think tanks and governmental departments have been asked to study the issue, and time after time the result has been buried by military leaders who preferred mythology to data.
Some members of Congress have recently suggested an "in-depth study" of this issue. All they need do is read Frank’s book to see that it has been studied to death. The existing policy is a blot on the reputation of the U.S. armed forces, since it suggests that while the Australians, the Canadians, the Israelis, the British and service members from 20 other countries that have jettisoned gay bans can overcome individual differences, Americans cannot.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said about a week ago that he’d prefer to push this issue "down the road a little bit." Given the right-wing hysteria surrounding his budget restructuring proposal, Gates probably figures he can only handle one apoplectic response at a time.
If Congress, and Rep. Murphy, can pick up the slack, maybe the nation can end this absurd policy once and for all.
Certainly it’s been found that smoking marijuana, even heavily, does not cause lung cancer. (See this report, for example.) Now it looks as though THC might be a cancer-killer. We would have known this decades ago except that the DEA righteously prevented any medical research into marijuana so that… so that… so that the DEA could keep its enormous budget.
Steve Benen wrote this very fine post:
There are quite a few errors of fact and judgment in Michael Gerson’s latest anti-Obama column, premised on the notion that the president is "the most polarizing new president of recent times." The general gist of the piece is that Obama needs to do a lot more to make Republicans happy, or he’ll be a "source of division."
But let’s just focus on this point from Bush’s former chief speechwriter:
That makes last week’s votes on the budget resolutions a landmark of ineffective governance. Not a single Republican in the House or Senate supported the bill, largely because the Democratic majority forced its will. Republicans were flattened, not consulted. Democratic leaders talk of enacting controversial elements of the budget through the "reconciliation" process — which would require 51 Senate votes, not the normal 60, for passage.
Now, there are a lot of problems contained in these three sentences. For example, Republicans balked at the Democratic budget, not because Obama was mean to them, but because they preferred an insane alternative. What’s more, Republican leaders enacting controversial proposals through the "reconciliation" process — tax cuts, welfare reform, Medicaid reductions — and Gerson didn’t seem to think it was particularly outrageous at the time.
But what really gets me is the notion that to pass legislation, the Senate should aim for "the normal 60" votes.
This is simply wrong. There’s nothing "normal" about this. Gerson buys into the all-too-common notion that the Senate has always required a 60-vote supermajority to pass every meaningful piece of legislation. That’s nonsense.
This 60-vote standard is a modern creation, and routine filibusters on all bills are a new tradition. Gerson considers it "normal," when in fact it’s a bizarre fluke with no foundation in the American legislative or political tradition.
It is, as this chart from Norm Ornstein makes clear, an entirely modern creation.
To suggest the majority needs 60 votes for passing every bill is anything but "normal."
The Obama administration might agree to postpone auctioning off 100 percent of emissions allowances under a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas pollution, White House science adviser John P. Holdren said today, a move that would please electricity providers and manufacturers but could anger environmentalists.
In one of his first interviews since being confirmed March 20 as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Holdren said a group of Cabinet-level officials is trying to establish a set of principles to guide the climate legislation that has just begun to move in Congress.
During the presidential campaign, Obama called for auctioning off all greenhouse gas emissions permits at the outset, rather than just a portion of them. Many industry leaders say a phase-in will be essential to easing the transition to a low-carbon economy…
Continue reading. Once elected, those promises get forgotten. Like the promise of transparency and of prosecutions regarding the domestic surveillance programs.
As is well known, Gates proposes to increase military spending from $513 billion to $534 billion—an increase of $21 billion, or more than 4%—is being called a "cut" by various persons in Congress—either because they are mathematically inept and too stupid to hire a staff that can do arithmetic, or because they are lying through their teeth and hoping that the public will not notice.
Here are a couple of posts Steve wrote that will give you a flavor of Congressional hot air:
The two posts are worth reading just to get an idea of how unfit some elected representatives are for the office they hold.
Glenn Greenwald has a column that really should be read in its entirety, including video clips. I will give you the beginning:
Several weeks ago, I noted that unlike the Right — which turned itself into a virtual cult of uncritical reverence for George W. Bush especially during the first several years of his administration — large numbers of Bush critics have been admirably willing to criticize Obama when he embraces the very policies that prompted so much anger and controversy during the Bush years. Last night, Keith Olbermann — who has undoubtedly been one of the most swooning and often-uncritical admirers of Barack Obama of anyone in the country (behavior for which I rather harshly criticized him in the past) — devoted the first two segments of his show to emphatically lambasting Obama and Eric Holder’s DOJ for the story I wrote about on Monday: namely, the Obama administration’s use of the radical Bush/Cheney state secrets doctrine and — worse still — a brand new claim of "sovereign immunity" to insist that courts lack the authority to decide whether the Bush administration broke the law in illegally spying on Americans.
The fact that Keith Olbermann, an intense Obama supporter, spent the first ten minutes of his show attacking Obama for replicating (and, in this instance, actually surpassing) some of the worst Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and secrecy claims reflects just how extreme is the conduct of the Obama DOJ here. Just as revealingly, the top recommended Kos diary today (voted by the compulsively pro-Obama Kos readership) is one devoted to attacking Obama for his embrace of Bush/Cheney secrecy and immunity doctrines. Also, a front page Daily Kos post yesterday by McJoan vehemently criticizing Obama (and quoting my criticisms at length) sparked near universal condemnation of Obama in the hundreds of comments that followed. Additionally, my post on Monday spawned vehement objections to what Obama is doing in this area from the largest tech/privacy sites, such as Boing Boing and Slashdot…
Prior to decriminalization — throughout the 1990s — Portugal had among the worst drug crises in the EU, if not the worst. The more they criminalized, the worse the problems became. After decriminalization, Portugal has among the best drug usage rates both within the EU and outside of the EU (especially when compared to the harshest criminalized countries, such as the U.S. and Great Britain). Those are just facts.
The central myth which shields our failed drug laws from challenge and scrutiny is that decriminalization or legalization will cause an explosion of increased drug use. That is patently false. A much stronger argument can be made that the exact opposite is true: that by eliminating the barriers of fear which criminalization imposes between the government and the citizenry, and by freeing up the vast resources which criminalization squanders on arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment and instead devoting those resources to treatment, harm-reduction and education programs, few things are more effective in reducing drug-related problems than decriminalization, and nothing exacerbates those problems more than criminalization. Once that proposition is widely understood — and the evidence for it is close to irrefutable — the central propaganda pillar on which the drug war rests will be gutted.
Last Friday at the Cato Institute, I presented my study on the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal. I wrote about how and why I worked on this report here, and the report itself is available to read or download here. At Friday’s event, I presented the report’s findings in a 30-minute presentation; a long-time skeptic of drug decriminalization — University of Maryland Criminology Professor Peter Reuter of the School of Public Policy — commented on the report; I then responded to his commentary, and that was followed by a question-and-answer session. The video of the full event is now online here.
Whatever else is true, the empirical evidence leaves no doubt that Portuguese decriminalization has been a resounding success, so much so that even Professor Reuter conceded that decriminalization achieved its policy goals and produced none of the bad results which decriminalization opponents warned about. Scientific America‘s Brian Vastag attended the Cato event and then wrote this article:
Peter Reuter, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, says he’s skeptical decriminalization was the sole reason drug use slid in Portugal, noting that another factor, especially among teens, was a global decline in marijuana use. By the same token, he notes that critics were wrong in their warnings that decriminalizing drugs would make Lisbon a drug mecca.
"Drug decriminalization did reach its primary goal in Portugal," of reducing the health consequences of drug use, he says, "and did not lead to Lisbon becoming a drug tourist destination."
Walter Kemp, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says decriminalization in Portugal "appears to be working." He adds that his office is putting more emphasis on improving health outcomes, such as reducing needle-borne infections, but that it does not explicitly support decriminalization, "because it smacks of legalization.". . . .
A spokesperson for the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy declined to comment, citing the pending Senate confirmation of the office’s new director, former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs also declined to comment on the report.
There are also articles on the report from Raw Story‘s Rachel Oswald (here); CAP’s Campus Progress’ Jesse Singal (here); Marijuana Policy Project’s Dan Bernath (here); and Stop the Drug War’s Scott Morgan (here). Other large publications — including Time — assigned a reporter to cover this event and it’s likely there will be additional articles.
As the above-excerpted passage from Scientific American demonstrates, there are few debates driven by as much rank irrationality as those over drug policy. Thus, we have emphatic acknowledgments that decriminalization has been a resounding success — it has enabled the Portuguese to manage what had been their out-of-control drug crises of the 1990s far better than virtually every other country that continues to criminalize drug usage — combined with ongoing opposition to that successful policy (along with the U.S. Government’s steadfast refusal even to comment on the success of decriminalization in Portugal). That is the very definition of irrationality.
Just consider these three tables from the study, the first of which compares absolute drug usage rates for the 16-18 age group in Portugal between 2001 (the last year of criminalization) and 2006 (five years after decriminalization began) (click on images to enlarge): …
Continue reading. One is reminded of A. Lawrence Lowell’s comment on presenting an honorary degree to William Morton Wheeler, "profound student of insects, who has shown that they, too, can conduct complex communities without the use of reason."
The American public understands: they want healthcare reform and education improvement more than deficit reduction
During his primetime press conference last month, reporters repeatedly asked President Obama whether he would have to abandon his priorities in order to grapple with the budget deficit. But in a new survey, Pew Research finds that a strong majority of the American people prioritize increased spending on most of Obama’s goals over cutting the deficit. 59 percent say that when it comes to budget tradeoffs, they “would place a higher priority on spending more money to make health care more accessible and affordable than on reducing the budget deficit.” A nearly identical majority (58 percent) also said that they place a higher priority on investing to improve education than on deficit reduction.
Two interesting stories by Mike Lillis:
From an email:
We are proud to announce the opening of an official Nevada state chapter — the Marijuana Policy Project of Nevada (MPP-NV).
Headquartered in Las Vegas, MPP-NV will strive to provide Nevadans with scientifically and statistically accurate information about the harms caused by marijuana prohibition. Visit MPP-NV’s new Web site — tool around and let us know what you think.
MPP-NV’s ultimate goal is to end marijuana prohibition in the state entirely. Would you please consider donating $10 or more to help us as we work to build off the record-setting 44% of the vote we received in 2006 to end marijuana prohibition in Nevada? We have never been closer to ending this failed policy.
And not a moment too soon! Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed SB 262, which seeks to increase the penalties associated with marijuana cultivation. To find out more about this ill-advised legislation and help defeat it, click here.
The GOP has long worked to pack the nation’s benches with conservative judges—and it’s worked. Take a look at this report by Daphne Eviatar:
Yesterday, I wrote about the 17 Chinese Uighurs’ petition to the Supreme Court challenging the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruling that the federal courts have no authority to release the prisoners, even if they’ve been wrongfully imprisoned for years.
Well, yesterday the same D.C. Circuit Court issued another decision that’s essentially the flip side of the same coin: the courts don’t have the power to keep the men at Gitmo, or to prevent their transfer to another country, either.
The situation arose because nine of the 17 Uighurs held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, in addition to seeking habeas corpus relief that would release them, want assurances that they won’t be sent to a country that might torture them. Given that they are Muslim dissidents, that’s not an unreasonable concern. So, as with many of the Guantanamo cases, their lawyers have asked the district court to order the government to provide 30 days’ notice before transferring the detainees out of Guantanamo to another country.
For years, that wasn’t a problem. But ever since the court of appeals ruled that it doesn’t have the power to free the prisoners, the government started arguing — and the lower courts started agreeing — that maybe they don’t have the power to require notice of a transfer, either. After all, if the courts can’t control what the government does with the men, 30 days’ notice won’t accomplish anything.
Yesterday’s decision put another nail in the coffin of Gitmo prisoners’ habeas rights. Sure, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Boumediene v. Bush that the government can’t eliminate the right of habeas corpus, but apparently that right didn’t actually mean anything.
“Ultimately, the question is whether the Supreme Court in Boumediene recognized a right that can’t be enforced,” says David Remes, a lawyer for 15 Yemeni detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo, who has won similar 30-day notice orders for some of his clients. “That can’t be what the court contemplated.”
That would make Boumediene a pretty hollow victory, Remes notes.
Although the government may promise that …
[UPDATE 2: I have Skype (and the Firefox Skype add-on) so that I can call phone numbers with a click. I called Rep. Gutierrez's office to try to find out how much money he received from the payday lenders to change his position. Odd, they don't seem to want to talk about it: they kept hanging up, though I did finally extract the information that the Congressional Office is purely about legislative affairs, and I would have to contact the campaign office to find out how much he received. They kept saying, "It's all public information," whereupon I assured them that I was indeed a member of the public and thus could receive such information, so why not tell me? Failing that, I tried to get the number of his campaign office, which apparently does not exist. Pretty gutsy of old Gutierrrez to run in 2010 with no campaign office. I did receive the (incorrect) information that he has not changed his position at all. You can see the contributions here.]
[UPDATE: Mary Kane of the Washington Independent has a good supplement to the story below. Please read it.]
Take a look at this report by Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:
As congressional Democrats work to solidify finance industry reforms, a growing push to rein in payday lenders is running smack into a formidable barrier: the rising influence of the lenders themselves.
Not only has the industry stepped up its lobbying and political contributions in recent years, but it’s convinced at least one powerful Democrat — who just two years ago supported an outright ban on payday loans — that eliminating the practice is politically impossible.
As a result, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who heads the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, is pushing a loophole-riddled bill that would allow payday lenders to charge annual interest rates of nearly 400 percent — a proposal widely condemned by consumer advocates and some liberal Democrats, who want to put payday lenders out of business altogether.
Gutierrez wasn’t always so kind to the industry. In 2006, he supported the successful effort that effectively banned payday loans to members of the military by capping interest rates for those borrowers at 36 percent. (The cap was requested by the Defense Department, which called the loans predatory.) A year later, Gutierrez was a lead sponsor of the Payday Loan Reform Act, which would have prohibited the loans outright.
Gutierrez’s office did not respond to requests for comment. But in an interview with The Associated Press last week, the Illinois Democrat conceded that the growing influence of the payday lending industry contributed to his change of heart.
“While they may not be JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America, they’re very powerful,” Gutierrez said. “Their influence should not be underestimated.”
Gutierrez should know. The top contributor to his 2008 campaign was payday lender QC Holdings, which donated $10,100, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Another payday powerhouse, the Online Lenders Alliance, contributed an additional $4,600.
The episode presents a familiar dilemma for Democratic leaders hoping this year to pass a wide array of consumer-friendly finance reforms, including new anti-predatory lending and credit card protections: On one hand, party leaders agree that consumers need better protections from these industries; on the other, the industries’ influence creates enormous conflicts over how to do it [because US Representatives---and Senators---love money a lot more than they love their constituents or their responsibilities – LG]…
Continue reading. Stop when you become nauseated.
Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.
The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.
"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," said a senior intelligence official. "So have the Russians."
The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn’t target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. "There are intrusions, and they are growing," the former official said, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot last year."
Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said. Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via the Internet…
Continue reading. There’s more.
A U.S. official says the crew of an American-flagged vessel hijacked off the coast of Somalia has retaken control of the ship and has one pirate in custody.
The official said the status of the other pirates is unknown but they were reported to “be in the water.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter…
Continue reading. The container ship, transporting emergency aid to Kenya, was attacked by pirates 345 miles from the nearest military vessel.
This is extremely interesting. From a report by Sarah Avery in the News & Observer:
… In a paper published Tuesday, Duke University researchers describe a new finding that indicates diabetes could be affected by protein – not the usual suspects of sugary carbohydrates. The Duke team found that obese people metabolize protein differently than lean people, particularly when it’s part of a high-fat diet.
When people eat too much protein and fat – think double cheeseburger [or the Atkins diet – LG] – the metabolic byproducts can’t be fully absorbed, and they flood the bloodstream. Among those byproducts is an enzyme that affects insulin sensitivity. As a result, a diet heavy on Big Macs creates a whole new way for the body to become insulin resistant.
"Correctly, protein is viewed as a good nutrient, and it certainly is in people who exercise and eat in moderation," said Christopher Newgard, director of the Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center at Duke and the study’s lead author. "That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a dietary pattern that is typical in the U.S. and western society, where 65 percent of people are overweight. And they get that way by ingesting too many calories and not exercising."
Another curious discovery of metabolism has scientists at East Carolina University pursuing a molecule that re-creates the effects of gastric bypass surgery. Doctors at the university who helped pioneer the weight loss surgery first reported that many patients were cured of their diabetes within days of having a gastric bypass – before they even lost weight.
Dr. Walter Pories, who founded ECU’s bariatric surgery unit, said the procedure reroutes food around a section of the gut and, in the process, likely blocks a signal to the pancreas that triggers insulin production. Because many people with diabetes produce too much insulin, and the body becomes resistant to it, this interrupted signal appears to cure diabetes in more than half of patients.
"We’re trying to figure out what are the signals coming from the gut," Pories said. "Once you identify the abnormal signal, then you could make a molecule to stop the signals. That molecule would then be the treatment for diabetes. Sweet, huh?"
In setting aside former Sen. Ted Stevens’ indictment Tuesday, a federal judge declared war on what he said is an increasingly pervasive government tactic in the administration of American justice: The penchant on the part of federal prosecutors to withhold evidence.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said that he’s seen "troubling evidence" across a spectrum of cases where prosecutors have failed to turn over to defense attorneys what’s known as exculpatory evidence — information that might help criminal defendants with their cases.
Such problems weren’t limited to Stevens’ case, Sullivan noted. Public officials, private citizens and even prison detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have all had their rights trampled on, he said.
"We must not forget the Supreme Court’s direction that a criminal trial is the search for the truth," Sullivan said during the hearing to drop Stevens’ case…