Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Here’s what’s driving lawmakers working to legalize recreational pot in 17 more states

leave a comment »

Kurtis Lee reports in the LA Times:

When Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in November to legalize recreational marijuana, Josh Miller saw this as a sign that his time had finally arrived.

The Rhode Island state senator has a reputation among colleagues as a cannabis crusader — a battle that, so far, he’s lost. For the last three years, Miller introduced legislation to legalize recreational pot, and for the last three years, his efforts have died in committee hearing rooms.

But now, in a turnaround, some of Miller’s colleagues are signaling an interest in legalized weed — and raking in the tax dollars that come with it.

“We now have the wind at our backs,” said Miller, who introduced his latest pro-pot bill last week. “Seeing our next door neighbor legalize it should help us — a lot.”

In the fall, three other states joined Massachusetts in passing recreational pot ballot measures: California, Maine and Nevada. Four other states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — have legalized marijuana through ballot initiatives as well.

But this year lawmakers in 17 states — Connecticut, Minnesota and Hawaii among them — have become emboldened enough to introduce more than two dozen measures to legalize recreational pot for adults and tax its sale. The experiences of Colorado and Washington state — the first two states to legalize the drug still considered illegal under federal law — drive the trend.

This month, Colorado officials released a report showing the state brought in $200 million in tax revenue last year. Washington raked in even more — about $256 million. Most of the money goes toward public school systems.

“Our focus is on revenue and bringing in cash to the state as legalization becomes more and more widespread,” said Mary Washington, a state delegate from Maryland who introduced a bill recently that would tax marijuana like alcohol. She estimates the state could net $165 million a year.  (California estimates that legalized recreational marijuana will bring in about $1 billion a year in state tax revenue.)

Washington, whose district is in Baltimore, has not sponsored pot legislation in the past, but has been a supporter of legalization. She’s viewed the issue from a criminal justice perspective after witnessing young black men in her community continuously arrested for low-level possession.

Now, with individuals able to carry up to an ounce of marijuana legally in some states, along with the cash generated from sales, she felt that it’s time to join the broader legalization movement. The success of Maryland lawmakers in passing medicinal marijuana legislation in 2014 also makes her optimistic.

“These conversations need to be happening now, in state legislatures,” Washington said, adding that even with voter- approved ballot measures, lawmakers are often tasked with hashing out laws that regulate sales. “Why not get it done now? We’re elected to do a job. More and more states are moving in this direction.”

The legalization of medical marijuana took a similar path.

Six states passed ballot measures approving medicinal pot from the mid-1990s until 2000. It wasn’t until that year when Hawaii became the first to do so through the Legislature. Since 2004, nearly twice as many states have adopted medical laws through legislatures — 13 — compared to seven passed through ballot initiatives.

Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, a group dedicated to ending cannabis prohibition nationwide, said voters led the way on legalizing cannabis for medicinal use before lawmakers woke up.

“Voters saw through the government’s reefer madness and led the way on medical marijuana. Those laws inspired citizens in other states to demand action from their elected officials, who could now see that such laws were not just popular, but possible,” Tvert said. “The same thing is now happening with broader legalization.”

For wary lawmakers, polling is helpful as public approval of legal marijuana is increasing, similar to the country’s quick shift in favor of same-sex marriage over the years.

A Pew Research Center survey from October showed that 57% of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized, compared to 37% who believe it should remain illegal. By contrast, a similar Pew poll in 2006 showed almost the opposite — 60% believed it should be illegal, compared with 32% who supported legalization. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2017 at 3:11 pm

North Korea’s Recent Ballistic Missile Launch: Another Foreign Policy Test for Donald Trump

leave a comment »

Foreign policy requires, I think, more than Donald Trump can deliver. Just now I blogged about the Muslim Brotherhood issue. Here Rick Houghton has a good Lawfare post on the North Korean missile incident, which Trump discussed with the Japanese prime minister over dinner in the public dining room aat Mar-a-Lago:

President Donald Trump assessed the state of U.S. foreign affairs during his wide-ranging Thursday press conference: “I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.”  That evaluation appeared to rely, in part, on a quagmire that has dogged successive administrations—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea.  Just a few days earlier, on February 12, the Hermit Kingdom had defiantly launched a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.

Although the President used the press conference as a vehicle to admonish the media and to deny accusations of wrongdoing related to his administration’s alleged contacts with the Russian Federation, Trump also sought to reassure the American public about North Korea’s bellicosity: “[W]e’ll take care of it, folks.”

The missile test proves that the North Korean threat is growing—the DPRK may soon develop the capability to reach the continental United States with nuclear weapons.  Indeed, Pyongyang remains undeterred despite numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs), which prohibit the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.  This post provides background on the recent launch, pertinent UNSCRs, and North Korea’s current nuclear and missile capabilities.

Launch Details

U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) “detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 4:55 pm CST, Feb[ruary] 11, 2017,” 7:55 am KST, February 12.  STRATCOM assessed the weapon as “a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile,” which was fired from “near the northwestern city of Kusong,” and “was tracked over North Korea and into the Sea of Japan.”  The weapon traveled approximately 500 kilometers and reached an altitude of 550 kilometers.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, which, according to Yonhap News Agency, jointly evaluated the launch with the U.S. military, stated: “The missile appears to be a modified intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile possibly equipped with a solid fuel engine.”  The Musudan is believed to have a range of 2,500 to 4,500 kilometers and a payload capacity of 1,000 to 1,250 kilograms.  Assuming the accuracy of the range estimate, the Musudan is capable of impacting Guam.  The missile’s performance, however, is spotty—of eight North Korean test flights in 2016, only one was successful.

But some experts, notably John Schilling of 38 North, reject the assessment provided by the South Korean and U.S. militaries.  Schilling speculates that the missile is a Pukguksong-2, partly because “the trajectory of this test was not a good match for the Musudan.”  The Pukguksong-2 is believed to be a land-based variant of the submarine-launched Pukguksong-1, or KN-11, missile, which Pyongyang successfully launched in August 2016.

Significantly, the Pukguksong-2 has “a much higher degree of mobility, survivability and responsiveness” than other North Korean ballistic missiles, notably the Nodong, says Schilling.  First, unlike liquid-fueled weapons, the Pukguksong-2 is powered by solid fuel—thus, the missile does not require fuel trucks and, importantly, the weapon can be fired within five minutes’ notice.  By comparison, the logistics-heavy Nodong requires up to an hour of preparation prior to launch.   Second, it appears that the DPRK military fired the Pukguksong-2 from a tracked, rather than a wheeled, transporter-erector-launcher vehicle—meaning the missile is more mobile and robust than similar North Korean systems.  These improvements, according to Schilling, “make it much harder to find and preemptively destroy the Pukguksong-2.”

U.S. Government and Other Responses

In contrast with the President’s campaign rhetoric regarding North Korea, his response to the launch has been muted.  Administration officials notified the President of the missile test while he dined at his Mar-a-Lago compound with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  Presumably referring to the missile test, Trump stated: “The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”  In a subsequent joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the President observed, “North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly.”  But Trump neither acknowledged the launch nor did he advance a course of action to dissuade the DPRK from conducting additional tests.  And during Thursday’s lengthy press conference, the President appeared to mention North Korea only in passing, merely alluding to the launch.

Other U.S. government officials and entities, however, have adopted a more hostile tone towards Pyongyang.  The Pentagon, for example, assessed the launch as a “clear, grave threat” to the United States.  Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, remarked: “It is time to hold North Korea accountable—not with our words, but with our actions.”  And on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a joint release with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, which declared: “The Ministers condemned in the strongest terms North Korea’s February 12, 2017 ballistic missile test, noting North Korea’s flagrant disregard for multiple [UNSCRs] that expressly prohibit its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.”  The statement also “reiterated that the United States remains steadfast in its defense commitments to its allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, including the commitment to provide extended deterrence, backed by the full range of its nuclear and conventional defense capabilities.”

Moreover, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2017 at 2:19 pm

Talk of Terror Listing for Muslim Brotherhood Alarms Some Arab Allies

leave a comment »

I blogged earlier on how the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood is quite gnarly and pretty much the opposite of the clear-cut, easy-choice decisions Trump seems to prefer based on the remedies he offers. The easy choice that the Trump administration seems to be favoring is to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Declan Walsh reports in the NY Times on how the impact is already being felt:

In Morocco, it would tip a delicate political balance. In Jordan, it could prevent American diplomats from meeting with opposition leaders. In Tunisia, it could make criminals of a political party seen as a model of democracy after the Arab Spring.

Of all the initiatives of the Trump administration that have set the Arab world on edge, none has as much potential to disrupt the internal politics of American partners in the region as the proposal to criminalize the Muslim Brotherhood, the pre-eminent Islamist movement with millions of followers.

“The impact would be great,” said Issandr El Amrani, an analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Morocco, where a Brotherhood-linked party won the last election in October. “It could destabilize countries where anti-Islamist forces would be encouraged to double down. It would increase polarization.”

For President Trump, the designation debate is an election promise made good. He has made no bones about taking an approach to the Middle East that is narrowly focused on counterterrorism, and that plays to domestic supporters who view all Islamist movements — or even all Muslims — as potentially hostile.

In much of the Middle East, though, the rapid pace and embattled rollouts of Mr. Trump’s early orders have induced anxiety. Now many are following the potential indictment of the Muslim Brotherhood as a harbinger of things to come.

“The Obama administration moved us away from the ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative,” said Emad Shahin, a dissident Egyptian academic who lectures at Georgetown University. “Trump is taking us deeper into it.”

Not all are unhappy about the move to list the Brotherhood.

One leader the designation would surely delight is President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, the former general who has led a harsh crackdown on the Brotherhood since the military ousted a Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, as president in 2013. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also would support it.

But in countries where Brotherhood-linked parties are prominent in Parliament or are in power, experts say a sweeping indictment could have serious implications for domestic politics, American diplomacy and the broader fight against Islamist extremism.

In Jordan, a crucial ally in the fight against jihadist groups, Islamists constitute a small but significant bloc in the Parliament. Tunisia’s Ennahda party, which has won wide praise for its democratic engagement and moderate stance since 2011, might be shunned. The prime minister of Morocco, technically, could be considered a criminal.

“You would throw many babies out with the bath water,” said Gerald M. Feierstein, a former United States ambassador to Yemen, now at the Middle East Institute in Washington. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2017 at 1:56 pm

Paul Krugman on Economic Arrogance

leave a comment »

Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

According to press reports, the Trump administration is basing its budget projections on the assumption that the U.S. economy will grow very rapidly over the next decade — in fact, almost twice as fast as independent institutions like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve expect. There is, as far as we can tell, no serious analysis behind this optimism; instead, the number was plugged in to make the fiscal outlook appear better.

I guess this was only to be expected from a man who keeps insisting that crime, which is actually near record lows, is at a record high, that millions of illegal ballots were responsible for his popular vote loss, and so on: In Trumpworld, numbers are what you want them to be, and anything else is fake news. But the truth is that unwarranted arrogance about economics isn’t Trump-specific. On the contrary, it’s the modern Republican norm. And the question is why.

Before I get there, a word about why extreme growth optimism is unwarranted.

The Trump team is apparently projecting growth at between 3 and 3.5 percent for a decade. This wouldn’t be unprecedented: the U.S. economy grew at a 3.4 percent rate during the Reagan years, 3.7 percent under Bill Clinton. But a repeat performance is unlikely.

For one thing, in the Reagan years baby boomers were still entering the work force. Now they’re on their way out, and the rise in the working-age population has slowed to a crawl. This demographic shift alone should, other things being equal, subtract around a percentage point from U.S. growth.

Furthermore, both Reagan and Clinton inherited depressed economies, with unemployment well over 7 percent. This meant that there was a lot of economic slack, allowing rapid growth as the unemployed went back to work. Today, by contrast, unemployment is under 5 percent, and other indicators suggest an economy close to full employment. This leaves much less scope for rapid growth.

The only way we could have a growth miracle now would be a huge takeoff in productivity — output per worker-hour. This could, of course, happen: maybe driverless flying cars will arrive en masse. But it’s hardly something one should assume for a baseline projection.

And it’s certainly not something one should count on as a result of conservative economic policies. Which brings me to the strange arrogance of the economic right. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the column:

It would be nice to pretend that we’re still having a serious, honest discussion here, but we aren’t. At this point we have to get real and talk about whose interests are being served.

Never mind whether slashing taxes on billionaires while giving scammers and polluters the freedom to scam and pollute is good for the economy as a whole; it’s clearly good for billionaires, scammers, and polluters. Campaign finance being what it is, this creates a clear incentive for politicians to keep espousing a failed doctrine, for think tanks to keep inventing new excuses for that doctrine, and more.

“Who benefits?” is often a revealing question.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2017 at 1:30 pm

Trump considers more delusional statistics. Reality will bite.

leave a comment »

Take a look. Like a bunch of coal miners trying to sail a ship.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 7:08 pm

How the electoral college gerrymanders the presidential vote

leave a comment »

Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post:

Here’s a fun little thought experiment demonstrating the fundamental arbitrariness of the electoral college: Had two state borders been drawn just a little bit differently, shifting a total of four counties from one state to another, Hillary Clinton would have won the election.

Take a look at the imaginary map above, which comes from an nifty online tool called Redraw the States. It was created by Kevin Hayes Wilson, a mathematician and data scientist working in computer science education.

This map moves Lake County, Ill. to Wisconsin, turning that state blue. It moves Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties from the Florida panhandle to neighboring Alabama. That’s enough to turn Florida blue. With victories in Wisconsin and Florida, Clinton squeaks to victory in the electoral college, 270 to 268.

Exact same votes, slightly different borders, radically different outcome: the capriciousness of the electoral college laid bare.

After the election, a former classmate posed Wilson a question: How stable are the electoral college results under small changes of geography? That is, how much of Donald Trump’s electoral college victory is attributable to the odd quirks of geography or history that are baked into our country’s state and county borders?

The answer, Wilson found, is “quite a lot.”

To arrive at this answer, Wilson built his interactive border-drawing thought experiment. It allows you to select any number of counties and move them to a different state to see how the electoral results would shake out under those borders.

Recall that the electoral college system is mostly winner-take-all (Maine and Nebraska are the exceptions, assigning most of their electors by congressional district). In Illinois, for instance, it does not matter whether Clinton won by 859,000 votes (her actual margin) or just 5,000 votes — in either scenario, all of the state’s electoral votes go to her.

That 859,000-vote margin means Clinton could lose hundreds of thousands of votes and still win Illinois handily. In Lake County, just north of Chicago, Clinton beat Trump by about 70,000 votes. That’s greater than Trump’s winning margin (about 20,000 votes) in the entire state of Wisconsin.

So, if you let Wisconsin annex Lake County, that state’s margin shifts from 20,000 votes in favor of Trump, to 50,000 votes in favor of Clinton. And Clinton still wins Illinois, just by a slightly smaller margin. The net electoral result is that she wins both states.

A similar process is at work in the Florida Panhandle counties. Clinton lost the state by about 120,000 votes. Across the three Panhandle counties of Santa Rosa, Escambia and Okaloosa, Trump’s total margin was 126,000 votes.

Moving those three counties to Alabama does not change the outcome there — Trump won the state handily anyway. But it does mean that Clinton wins Florida by about 6,000 votes, enough to shift all of the state’s electoral votes into her column.

Because we are indulging in electoral fan fiction here, we could go completely hog-wild and posit that state borders do not even need to be contiguous. If that were the case, you’d need to alter only two counties to give the election to Clinton: you could make Los Angeles County, Calif. (Clinton margin: 1.2 million votes) part of Texas to change the Lone Star State blue. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Election, Government, Law

Josh Marshall: “A big shoe just dropped” – Felix Sater

leave a comment »

Josh Marshall writes at TPM Media:

I don’t know how much attention it’s received. But the appearance of the name of Felix Sater in this new article in the Times is one of the biggest shoes I’ve seen drop on the Trump story in some time.

The new story explains that a group of Trump operatives, including top lawyer Michael Cohen and fired former campaign manager Paul Manafort, along with a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian named Andrii V. Artemenko and Mr. Sater are pushing President Trump on a ‘peace plan’ for Russia and Ukraine.

Cohen recently met with Sater and Artemenko; and Cohen agreed to personally deliver the peace plan (actually a sealed envelope with documents detailing it) to the President when he met with him at the White House. Cohen says he left it with General Flynn days before Flynn was forced to resign.

The backstory to all this is amazingly byzantine and murky. Let me try to cover the key points as simply as I can.

Having spent some time studying the matter, the biggest red flags about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and businessmen around Vladimir Putin have always been tied to the Trump SoHo building project in Lower Manhattan, from the first decade of this century. I base my knowledge of this on this rather cursory but still quite good April 2016 article from the Times and my own limited snooping around the Outer Boroughs Russian and Ukrainian emigre press. (I summarized the most salient details of the earlier Times article in Item #3 of this post.) This was a key project, perhaps the key project in the post-bankruptcy era in which Trump appeared heavily reliant on Russian funds to finance his projects. Sater was at the center of that project. The details only came to light after the project got bogged down in a complicated series of lawsuits.

After the lawyers got involved, Trump said he barely knew who Sater was. But there is voluminous evidence that Sater, a Russian emigrant, was key to channeling Russian capital to Trump for years. Sater is also a multiple felon and at least a one-time FBI informant. Bayrock Capital, where he worked was located in Trump Tower and he himself worked as a special advisor to Trump. Again, read the Times article to get a flavor of his ties to Trump, the Trump SoHo project and Russia. For my money there’s no better place to start to understand the Trump/Russia issue.

On its own, Trump’s relationship with Sater might be written off (albeit not terribly plausibly) as simply a sleazy relationship Trump entered into to get access to capital he needed to finance his projects. Whatever shadowy ties Sater might have and whatever his criminal background, Trump has long since washed his hands of him. (Again, we’re talking about most generous reads here.)

But now we learn that Sater is still very much in the Trump orbit and acting as a go-between linking Trump and a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian pitching ‘peace plans’ for settling the dispute between Russia and Ukraine. (Artemenko is part of the political faction which Manafort helped build up in the aftermath of the ouster of his Ukrainian benefactor, deposed President Viktor Yanukovych.) Indeed, far, far more important, Cohen – who is very close to Trump and known for dealing with delicate matters – is in contact with Sater and hand delivering political and policy plans from him to the President.

Were Cohen not involved, one might speculate that Sater is just up to yet another hustle, looking to parlay his one-time association with Trump into influence with the new President. Cohen hand delivering his messages to the President changes the picture considerably. How or why Cohen would do this, if for no other reason than the current massive scrutiny of Trump’s ties to Russia and Sater’s scandals, almost defies belief. But here we are.

To get a flavor of some of the details here, I need to quote these three paragraphs at the tail end of the Times article …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 2:36 pm

%d bloggers like this: