Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 2nd, 2014

Not to ruin your weekend, but: Ebola virus outbreak growing

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Read this article, unless you’d rather not. It looks as though it could be serious.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Medical

The law defines what the White House can say on marijuana legalization

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David Firestone writes in the NY Times:

When the White House issued a statement last night saying that marijuana should remain illegal — responding to our pro-legalization editorial series — officials there weren’t just expressing an opinion. They were following the law. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is required by statute to oppose all efforts to legalize any banned drug.

It’s one of the most anti-scientific, know-nothing provisions in any federal law, but it remains an active imposition on every White House. The “drug czar,” as the director of the drug control policy office is informally known, must “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” that’s listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and has no “approved” medical use.

Marijuana fits that description, as do heroin and LSD. But unlike those far more dangerous drugs, marijuana has medical benefits that are widely known and are now officially recognized in 35 states. The drug czar, though, isn’t allowed to recognize them, and whenever any member of Congress tries to change that, the White House office is required to stand up and block the effort. It cannot allow any federal study that might demonstrate the rapidly changing medical consensus on marijuana’s benefits and its relative lack of harm compared to alcohol and tobacco.

“It’s a complete Catch-22,” said Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, who has introduced legislation to change the requirement. “They should be giving Congress and the American people the benefit of the latest research, and yet by statute, they’re prohibited from doing so. They have no choice but to say they’re against it. Joseph Heller should be working there.”

This situation is not altogether surprising, though, since Congress has been locked into a maximalist position on drug control for decades. Extreme law-and-order platforms have been Republican staples since at least Richard Nixon’s day, and Democrats have usually been too cowed to object. Thus we have hysterical language like this paragraph from the 1988 law creating the White House drug office, signed into law by Ronald Reagan:

“The Congress finds that legalization of illegal drugs, on the Federal or State level, is an unconscionable surrender in a war in which, for the future of our country and the lives of our children, there can be no substitute for total victory.”

That law was passed by the Senate on an 87-to-3 vote, and by the House on a 375-to-30 vote.

Earlier this year, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 11:30 am

Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana Is Succeeding

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A very interesting report (PDF) by John Hudak of the Brookings Institution on Colorado’s implementation of legalization of marijuana. Certainly there are things to be fixed: the packaging and sale of edibles deserves a close look. But overall, it’s going quite smoothly, as the report shows. It’s quite a good report: 34 pages and worth reading if your own state is considering legalization, as several now are doing. From the report:

At its heart, this report is about good government and takes no position on whether the legalization of retail marijuana was the correct decision. Instead, it takes for granted that Amendment 64 and its progeny are the law and should be implemented successfully, per voters’ wishes. The report examines what the state has done well and what it has not. It delves into why, and how, regulatory and administrative changes were made. Finally, it offers an evaluation of how effective the implementation has been. Key findings include:

  • It’s too early to judge the success of Colorado’s policy, but it is not too early to say that the rollout—initial implementation—of legal retail marijuana has been largely successful.
  • The state has met challenging statutory and constitutional deadlines for the construction and launch of a legal, regulatory, and tax apparatus for its new policy. In doing so, it has made intelligent decisions about regulatory needs, the structure of distribution, prevention of illegal diversion, and other vital aspects of its new market. It has made those decisions in concert with a wide variety of stakeholders in the state.
  • Colorado’s strong rollout is attributable to a number of elements. Those include: leadership by state officials; a cooperative, inclusive approach centering on task forces and working groups; substantial efforts to improve administrative communication; adaptive regulation that embraces regulatory lookback and process-oriented learning; reorganizing, rebuilding, and restaffing critical state regulatory institutions; and changes in culture in state and local government, among interest groups, and among the public.
  • Regulations address key concerns such as diversion, shirking, communication breakdowns, illegal activity, and the financial challenges facing the marijuana industry. However, some regulations were also intended to help regulators, as they endured rapid, on-the-job training in dealing with legal marijuana.
  • Despite real success, challenges involving edibles, homegrown marijuana, tax incentives, and marijuana tourism remain, and the state must address them in a  more effective way.

Recent failures at the federal level show Americans daily what happens when a government refuses to govern and is unwilling or unable to makes changes in the face of policy realities. Colorado has made a conscious effort to preserve enough flexibility for its policy to remain effective over time. A strong rollout is important, but what happens after that is just as important. With its emphasis on flexibility, Colorado is taking out an insurance policy agains unintended consequences.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 11:16 am

Medical marijuana opponents’ most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

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From an interesting article by Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post:

mj

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 11:12 am

Posted in Drug laws

What would happen if the Right was given a free hand?

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Take a look at Kansas and see. Heather Digby Parton writes in Salon:

Liberals throughout the land breathed a sigh of relief when Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas stepped down in 2008 and later decided to run for governor. Yes, the nation’s gain was a loss for the good people of Kansas, but Brownback’s special brand of right-wing fundamentalism was so extreme that many felt it was better to try to contain him in a single state rather than inflict him on the whole of the country. Judging from the four years he’s been in charge of that unfortunate state, their concerns were well-founded.

This should come as no surprise. His tenure in the Senate was characterized by his righteous absolutism and entirely predictable ultra-conservative vote. There was no tax cut he did not back or military adventure he wasn’t in favor of. He voted to impeach President Clinton and even took the unusual step [3] of decrying the immorality of the American public for failing to be properly outraged. But it was in the realm of culture and religion where he made his mark.

Once a devout evangelical Protestant, Brownback converted to Catholicism later in life. (His chief of staff at the time was none other than Congressman Paul Ryan, who is credited with counseling him in his conversion.) In the Senate he took up the banner of the culture war, even chairing a Senate group called the Values Action Team which included such conservative activist groups as Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Right to Life Committee, where he and fellow right-wing senators plotted their strategy for taking America back to the Dark Ages. He was so doctrinaire he even refused to vote for a particular judicial candidate because she had once attended a lesbian commitment ceremony. (She didn’t officiate or participate; she merely attended.) For the two terms he served in the Senate he was a ferocious culture warrior.

But he wasn’t always so intensely focused on the decadence and moral dissipation of modern American life. When he first ran for congress in the mid-’90s he was considered a moderate Kansas Republican like Eisenhower. But a tough campaign against an opponent backed by well-organized right-to-life zealots converted him to an evangelical culture warrior and Republican revolutionary so committed to cutting taxes and shrinking government one profiler said [4] he even gave Newt Gingrich “the willies.”

He became leader of a House group called the New Federalists which devoted itself to the dismantling of the government one brick at a time. Fortunately, they were unable to pass their ambitious agenda so they instead became the far-right’s hitmen, pioneering the use of hard-core obstructionist tactics to paralyze the government. They were the faction agitating the hardest for a government shutdown in 1995, pushing Gingrich to his most obstreperous limits (and setting the stage for his precipitous fall from grace). Joe Scarborough famously quoted Brownback telling him not to be disillusioned by the PR disaster that ensued, saying “Rome wasn’t burnt in a day.”

His far-right fiscal bona fides solidly demonstrated, Brownback turned his attention to social issues when he ran for the Senate in 1996 at the height of the religious right’s growing clout in the GOP. He spent the next 12 years as a hardcore fiscal conservative but more importantly, as a far-right Christian crusader, sometimes fashioning himself as a “Wilberforce” conservative (after the British anti-slavery activist) comparing abolition of slavery to his determination to ban abortion. He’s been closely associated for years with the secretive Christian fellowship group known as the Family [5].

By the time he tried to run for president in 2008, he appeared to be perfect conservative candidate. Unfortunately, the anticipated groundswell didn’t materialize and he dropped out before the primaries. But he did participate in the early debates and was memorably one of the three (with Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo) who raised his hand to declare he did not believe in evolution.

Evidently, he really wanted an executive position, so he set his sights on the governor’s seat in Kansas and in the Tea Party wave of 2010, won decisively. Brownback’s Kansas has turned out to be a perfect petrie dish for every right-wing policy proposal he’s championed for the past 20 years. With a Republican legislature and a strong mandate, he quickly established his tenure as the right-wing experiment to end all experiments. The results are in and they are amazing. And not in a good way.

Unlike other Tea Party governors around the nation who have tried out a handful of their more extreme policies, Brownback went for broke. First he and his Koch brother allies (they are Kansas homeboys too, you’ll recall) engineered a full-blown Tea Party takeover of the legislature with a well-funded primary strategy in 2012. It is now the most conservative legislature in the nation (and that’s saying something considering how conservative Republican legislatures have become). In their minds, they are on a mission from God.

He went after the teachers’ union, in one particularly clever move creating what he called “innovation zones” which allow districts to circumvent existing state law regarding curriculum and teacher salaries. He slashed education funding, including cutting the arts programs entirely. He privatized Medicaid. (It goes without saying refused the Medicaid expansion under the ACA.) He defunded Planned Parenthood and signed one of the most far reaching anti-abortion laws in the land, declaring that life begins at “fertilization” and forcing the last remaining Kansas providers to read an anti-abortion script filled with frightening misinformation to women seeking the procedure. (He doesn’t even try to hide his religious motives—he wrote the words Jesus + Mary [6] on top of the bill when he signed it.)

Gun legislation has been similarly extreme. Adopting the language of the 10th Amendment fetishists, they managed to pass what they called the Second Amendment Protection Act, a thoroughly useless piece of legislation declaring that the state of Kansas does not have to observe federal gun laws under its “sovereign” status. This last April, Brownback signed the “CLEO Shall Sign and Comprehensive Preemption legislation” which, among other things, prohibits all county and municipal initiative to regulate firearms and ammunition. So much for the vaunted small government, local control portion of the conservative program.

All of this was to be expected from Sam Brownback. But the results of his equally fundamentalist approach to economics [7] has made a lot of people stand up and take notice. First and foremost, he slashed taxes to the bone. Well, not for everyone. The Center on Budget and policy priorities shows how that tax cut has been distributed:

Kansas taxes

And he cut spending, especially for education, as far as the eye can see:

Kansas school funding

(Of course, Governor Brownback is a huge proponent of religious home schooling so this is killing two birds with one stone.)

His economic mentor and top adviser, the thoroughly discredited inventor of supply-side economics, Arthur Laffer, explained the game plan back in 2012 this way: [8]

Laffer told more than 200 people at a small-business forum at Johnson County Community College that there is a war among states over tax policy and that nowhere is that revolution more powerful than in Kansas. He said Kansas’ tax cuts and political shifts will produce “enormous prosperity” for the state.

How’s that working out? Well, last May this happened: [9]

Moody’s Investors Service dropped Kansas from its second-highest bond rating, Aa1, to its third highest, Aa2. The Kansas Department of Transportation also took the same downgrade.

“The downgrade reflects Kansas’ relatively sluggish recovery compared with its peers, the use of non-recurring measures to balance the budget, revenue reductions resulting from tax cuts which have not been fully offset by recurring spending cuts, and an underfunded retirement system for which the state is not making required contributions,” the report said.

And that’s not all. This graph shows what’s the matter with Kansas in 2014 in red, white and blue:

How Kansas stacks up

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 11:09 am

Posted in Education, GOP, Government

Background check on background checking

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Francis Clines has an interesting post in the NY Times Editorial Page Editor’s Blog. It begins:

Running security background checks on government job applicants has become a booming private industry in Washington’s war on terror. It’s such a busy sector that one of the many workers vetting citizens managed to review 15,152 clearance cases in a single month last year. That’s about one and a half cases per minute handled by the employee, not allowing for bathroom breaks.

The worker has remained anonymous despite emerging as the Paul Bunyan of bureaucrats in an inspector general’s report detailing gross corner-cutting by a private contractor — USIS or U.S. Investigations Services. For those keeping score, that’s the same contractor that the Justice Department previously accused of signing off fraudulently on more than 650,000 incomplete security checks. That process is called “dumping” or “flushing” — a speed-up to meet productivity demands for the government, which needs to conduct more than two million background checks a year for the Pentagon alone.

What price security is the question threading through the foibles of USIS’s multi-billion-dollar work history. An answer was supplied with the recent news that the company was awarded a new $190 million government contract with the Department of Homeland Security — a development that has roiled members of Congress demanding to know how this could be. (In their dudgeon, lawmakers ignored the fact that Congress, in the frantic days after 9/11, mandated that 90 percent of security clearances be processed within 60 days.)

USIS may just be too big to fail. . .

Can Congress as a body be any more stupid and incompetent? I guess we’ll see.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 10:54 am

The Gillette Toggle and a very fine shave

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SOTDX 2 August 2014

I was worried whether the R&B brush shown would get enough soap from a shave stick to make a good lather, and I almost went with another brush. But I reminded myself that experience often contradictions expectations, so I went with it anyway. As it turns out, experience sometimes confirms expectations as well, and I had skimpy lather by the third pass, so I reloaded the brush.

Still, the lather in the first two passes was good, and Prairie Creations makes a fine soap. The Gillette Toggle did a very good job—not quite BBS, but close.

I used an aftershave milk from the Shave Den, which hit the spot. An aftershave milk is sort of a splash-like version of a balm, and the fragrance and effect of this one were quite nice.

The weekend begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 9:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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