Archive for April 13th, 2012
Dominic Holden writes in the NY Times:
IT was January of 1998 when a friend and I drove to a basement in South Seattle to set up a pot garden. We were terrified. If a police officer pulled us over, how would we explain these bags of rapid-bloom fertilizer — in winter?
Still, we had to go. A friend was suffering from the late stages of a degenerative muscular disease. He spent all day strapped into something that looked like a hospital bed crossed with an easel. Smoking pot helped ease his pain; after his wife held joints to his lips, he would eat soup. He would watch TV. He’d laugh.
Growing pot was illegal at the time, but stories like ours, and a strong public campaign, persuaded 59 percent of Washington State voters to legalize medical marijuana that fall. In the 14 years since, an entire industry has emerged to serve incapacitated patients like my friend, who couldn’t grow pot himself. Doctors write authorizations, dispensaries sell the stuff, trade magazines flourish.
In the eyes of most opponents and many supporters of easing pot laws, medical marijuana is supposed to be a slippery slope to full legalization. But in Washington, the opposite is happening: a momentous initiative to legalize marijuana for all adults, which will be on the ballot this fall, is being opposed by the medical marijuana industry that the previous initiative created.
Initiative 502, as the measure is known, would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana without penalty. The state would issue licenses to marijuana farmers, distributors and even stores, which could then sell pot over the counter like beer.
The plan, supported by the likes of John McKay, a former federal attorney, and Rick Steves, the travel writer, is about more than stoners’ rights: legalizing and regulating the pot market would wrest profits from murderous foreign cartels while helping the beleaguered state budget. Officials recently estimated the measure could generate up to $606 million in tax revenue in the first year.
Every recent poll except one has shown most Washington voters are now ready to pass the initiative. But support has slipped since last fall, down to only 51 percent, according to SurveyUSA. The flagging enthusiasm correlates with the escalating effort to stop the initiative.
In late February, Dr. Gil Mobley, a physician with a local clinic providing medical-marijuana authorizations, began a campaign called No on I-502, a new name for a group that, before, called itself Patients Against I-502. It anticipates donations from lawyers and doctors, said its treasurer, Anthony Martinelli, and pot dispensaries may also finance a fall volley of television commercials. . .
Good column in the NY Times by David Leonhardt:
ON Jan. 1 of next year, the federal tax bill for a typical middle-class household — making in the neighborhood of $50,000 — is scheduled to rise by about $1,750. This increase, which would come from the expiration of both the Bush tax cuts and the Obama stimulus, would come after a decade of little to no income growth for many people. As a result, inflation-adjusted, after-tax income for the median household could fall next year to its 1998 level, in spite of the continuing economic recovery.
The middle-class tax increase is just the beginning of budget changes set to take effect at the start of 2013. Poor families would see their taxes rise somewhat, too. Total federal taxes for top-earning families would rise by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Spending cuts would also take effect, squeezing domestic programs — education, transportation, scientific research — and the military.
All in all, the end of 2012 will be unlike any other time in memory for the federal government.
The tax increases and spending cuts are the result of Washington’s having previously kicked the can down the road, to use a phrase that is popular here. Rather than pass a plan to cut the deficit, policy makers have put off tough decisions. With the Bush tax cuts, lawmakers deliberately made them temporary, to avoid running afoul of budget rules intended to hold down the deficit.
Not surprisingly, leaders of both parties now say they are opposed to letting the changes happen on Jan. 1. Economists are also frightened of what such a sharp shift in government policy might do to a still fragile economy. Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, has referred to the various expirations as “a massive fiscal cliff.” Congressional aides, quoted in The Washington Post, call it “taxmageddon.”
The problem, as always, is that the two parties cannot agree on what changes shouldtake place. The combination — of political stalemate and potential economic cataclysm — will create an extraordinary period after this year’s election. A lame-duck Congress and Mr. Obama, either re-elected or defeated, will have less than two months to agree on an alternative plan, or the tax increases and spending cuts will take effect.
Optimists — yes, there are still some — say that . . .
I suppose I should have seen it coming. I loved this tune when I was in high school:
Much as I liked the tune, I didn’t use celery as a food very much: in a stuffing, sure: essential. And in soups, and as part of mirepoix, essential for braising meat. Occasionally stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese… But day in, day out? No.
Until: The Wife showed me the trick of chopping ready for use the entire stalk as soon as you get it home, then drying those with a dishtowel or paper towels, and storing them in the fridge. Now I always have some on hand and I’ve realized that it really does make things taste better (as you probably already know, it’s the phthalides).
In fact, in today’s What’s-On-Hand grüb, I naturally threw in a couple of handfuls of chopped celery. In 4-qt sauté pan:
1.5 Tbsp Meyer-lemon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion (I think it was a sweet onion)
3 large shallots
1 minced serrano pepper
freshly ground black pepper
Sweat over medium heat for several minutes, until onions soften. Add:
2 handfuls chopped celery, as promised
1/4 cup minced garlic
8 oz tempeh (I used 3-grain), cut into thin slabs, then into chunks
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped small
Let that cook for a few minutes, stirring often, then add:
cooked converted rice (1/2 cup rice cooked for 20 minutes in 1 cup water): add it all
1/3 c pitted and halved Kalamata olives
1/3 c black garlic
4-5 anchovies (buy bottled ones, not those in tins)
1 Tbsp Penzeys Ham Soup Base
1 can Ro•Tel diced tomatoes
1/2 c water
1/4 c Amontillado sherry
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
Let that heat and simmer while you wash and chop:
1 bunch red kale, chopped small with stems minced
Add that to the pan, stirring it in. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Quite tasty, and it looks to be 4-5 meals.
UPDATE: Another favorite from my high-school days, same outfit as above:
More about the tune. As you see, the “Freddie” referred to is Freddie Slack, the pianist. Try listening to the solos on this one with the idea that, as soon as the solo stops, you’re going to replay it exactly—i.e., follow every twist and turn and try to remember… just for fun. Then relisten to Celery Stalks at Midnight the same way. See any difference, listening this way?
Finally, if you like this sort of stuff, buy this book now: don’t wait, you’ll forget, and they’re only a dollar (used copies at the link).
And now, really finally, click the “more” button for one more Ray McKinley/Will Bradley tune, but this one a motion picture so you get to see the guys, including the unusual (to me) sight of the lead singer being the drummer:
The mental state of clinical depression: does it cause accelerated aging? or is it an effect of accelerated aging? Very interesting WSJ article by Shirley Wang:
Scientists are increasingly finding that depression and other psychological disorders can be as much diseases of the body as of the mind.
People with long-term psychological stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder tend to develop earlier and more serious forms of physical illnesses that usually hit people in older age, such as stroke, dementia, heart disease and diabetes. Recent research points to what might be happening on the cellular level that could account for this.
Scientists are finding that the same changes to chromosomes that happen as people age can also be found in people experiencing major stress and depression.
The phenomenon, known as “accelerated aging,” is beginning to reshape the field’s understanding of stress and depression not merely as psychological conditions but as body-wide illnesses in which mood may be just the most obvious symptom.
“As we learn more…we will begin to think less of depression as a ‘mental illness’ or even a ‘brain disease,’ but as a systemic illness,” says Owen Wolkowitz, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who along with colleagues has conducted research in the field.
Gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that link physical and mental conditions could someday prove helpful in diagnosing and treating psychological illnesses and improving cognition in people with memory problems, Dr. Wolkowitz says.
In an early look at accelerated aging, researchers at Duke University found about 20 years ago that . . .
TheBrowser certainly repays browsing. Look at this intriguing paper by Jason Hickel:
As a university lecturer, I often find that my students take today’s dominant economic ideology – namely, neoliberalism – for granted as natural and inevitable. This is not entirely surprising given that most of them were born in the early 1990s, for neoliberalism is all that they have known. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher had to convince people that there was “no alternative” to neoliberalism. Today, this assumption comes ready-made; it’s in the water, part of the common-sense furniture of everyday life, and generally accepted as given by the Right and Left alike. But it has not always been this way. Neoliberalism has a specific history, and knowing that history is an important antidote to its hegemony, for it shows that the present order is not natural or inevitable, but rather that it is new, that it came from somewhere, and that it was designed by particular people with particular interests.
If an economist living in the 1950s had seriously proposed any of the ideas and policies in today’s standard neoliberal toolkit, they would have been laughed right off the stage. At that time pretty much everyone was a Keynesian, a social democrat, or some shade of Marxist. As Susan George has put it, “The idea that the market should be allowed to make major social and political decisions; the idea that the State should voluntarily reduce its role in the economy, or that corporations should be given total freedom, that trade unions should be curbed and citizens given less rather than more social protection – such ideas were utterly foreign to the spirit of the time.”
So how did things change? Where did neoliberalism come from? In the following paragraphs I offer a simple sketch of the historical trajectory that got us to where we are today. I demonstrate that neoliberal policy is directly responsible for declining economic growth and rapidly increasing rates of social inequality – both in the West and internationally – and I make a few suggestions for how to tackle these problems.
Neoliberalism in the Western Context
The story begins with the Great Depression in the 1930s, which was a consequence of what economists call a “crisis of overproduction.” Capitalism had been expanding by increasing productivity and decreasing wages, but this generated deep inequalities, gradually eroded people’s ability to consume, and created a glut of goods that could not find a market. To solve this crisis and prevent it recurring in the future, economists of the time – led by John Maynard Keynes – suggested that the state should get involved in regulating capitalism. They argued that by lowering unemployment, raising wages, and increasing consumer demand for goods, the state could guarantee continued economic growth and social well-being – a sort of class compromise between capital and labor that would forestall further instability.
This economic model is known as “embedded liberalism” – it was a form of capitalism that was embedded in society, constrained by political concerns, and devoted to social welfare. It sought to exchange a decent family wage for a docile, productive, middle-class workforce that would have the means to consume a mass-produced set of basic commodities. These principles were widely applied after World War II in the United States and Europe. Policymakers believed that they could use Keynesian principles to ensure economic stability and social welfare around the world, and thus prevent another world war. They developed the Bretton Woods Institutions (which would later become the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO) toward this end, in order to smooth out balance of payment problems and to foster reconstruction and development in war-torn Europe.
Embedded liberalism delivered high growth rates through the 1950s and 1960s – mostly in the industrialized West, but also in many postcolonial nations. By the early 1970s, however, embedded liberalism was beginning to face a crisis of “stagflation”, which means a combination of high inflation and economic stagnation. In the US and Europe, inflation rates soared from about 3% in 1965 to about 12% ten years later. Economists debate the reasons for stagflation during this period. Progressive scholars such as Paul Krugman point to two factors. First, the high cost of the Vietnam War left the US with a balance-of-payments deficit – the first of the 20th century – to the point where worried international investors began to offload their dollars, which set inflation rates rising. Second, the oil crisis of 1973 drove prices up and caused production and economic growth to slow down, leading to stagnation. By contrast, conservative scholars hold that stagflation was a consequence of onerous taxes on the wealthy and too much economic regulation, claiming that it represented the inevitable endpoint of embedded liberalism and justified scrapping the whole system.
Continue reading. Some very intriguing graphs at the link.