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Calling out the Big Lie on Drug Scheduling

By: washunate Wednesday February 27, 2013 8:00 pm

As a word of background, this is my first diary here for some time, but I am not a complete noob to the FDL experience. What is fascinating to me after having taken a couple years away from watching the day-to-day performances of the kabuki theater is that significant progress has been made in reclaiming the notion that our discourse should be reality-based rather than personality-based. It is much more acceptable today in online places to critique specific policies than in the 2007-2009 time period (although, personally, I will always look back fondly on how much Jane Hamsher and FDL was able to upset the tender sensibilities of those poor Democratic loyalists just doing their best to [not] change things in DC).

Yet, there is still a lingering, almost subconscious yearning to Photoshop over the blemishes. It exists in the caveats and qualifiers, the tone and approach, to some stories. I’m interested in approaching important issues in a more direct and, importantly, plainspoken manner. If someone is being deceptive, then they are being deceptive. There’s no good faith explanation or contextual understanding – let’s just observe that they are lying, no punches pulled.

Okay, get on with it already

Specifically on drug policy, there have been many exciting developments over the past five years. As time goes on, more and more people see that drug prohibition is an utter failure, and thus, more things are happening at local and state levels all over the country. Plus, there’s the looming demographics (for those who don’t know, there’s a massive divide on drug policy between younger and older citizens).

Yet, there is still a subtle deference to Administration framing on drug policy. This does us a tremendous disservice, I would suggest, because once the framing of the Big Lie stops being challenged, then all the other small problems naturally follow. The Big Lie, quite simply, is that the drug war generally, and marijuana prohibition in particular, is the responsibility of Congress, not the Administration. The President’s hands are tied. It’s all the fault of the Republicans.

Blah Blah Blah.

Anytime that anyone from the Administration (or carrying the Administration’s water) so much as hints that any actor other than themselves is responsible for the drug war, we should feel comfortable clearly stating the simple fact that they are lying. It is the Administration that schedules drugs, and it is the Administration that determines federal law enforcement priorities. That’s how Congress wrote the laws. If anybody has any doubts, talk to Vice President Biden. He was one of the chief Congressional advocates of the drug war. Or talk to Secretary Sebelius. She overruled the FDA’s own recommendations on another drug, Plan B.

Congress doesn’t control drug scheduling and enforcement. Republicans don’t control it. Teabaggers don’t control it. Evangelicals don’t control it.

The President controls it.


If deflation is bad, bailouts are worse

By: washunate Thursday August 5, 2010 9:00 am

I’ve been a pretty ardent defender of Paul Krugman as I’ve explored online political advocacy and discourse over the past couple years. I really like his fundamental proposition that political economy should be accessible to all citizens; he is one of the few academicians to care about connecting with a mass audience and be successful at doing so. On top of that, I happen to agree with many of the positions he takes, which is quite a pleasure compared to most who have access to the corporate media megaphone.

In this piece, I want to add some context or commentary to the much-discussed posting that Krugman made on his New York Times blog regarding deflation this week. I really don’t disagree much with anything that was said, technically. However, I think it leaves an incomplete picture when not placed in the context of our times, which is the massive credit bubble that expanded debt far beyond reasonable or sane – or sustainable – levels. That which is not sustainable tends to cease, sooner or later.

Krugman lays out three important reasons for why deflation is bad.

So first of all: when people expect falling prices, they become less willing to spend, and in particular less willing to borrow…And when that happens, the economy may stay depressed because people expect deflation, and deflation may continue because the economy remains depressed. That’s the deflationary trap we keep worrying about.

A second effect: even aside from expectations of future deflation, falling prices worsen the position of debtors, by increasing the real burden of their debts.

Finally, in a deflationary economy, wages as well as prices often have to fall – and it’s a fact of life that it’s very hard to cut nominal wages — there’s downward nominal wage rigidity. What this means is that in general economies don’t manage to have falling wages unless they also have mass unemployment, so that workers are desperate enough to accept those wage declines.

Unlike most critics of Krugman (from the right), I’m not critical of the embrace of ‘Keynesiansim’ (whatever such term has come to mean, depending upon whom you ask). Rather, I think Krugman doesn’t fully embrace his own advocacy. His position of needing to be an expert taken Seriously by the gatekeepers of Conventional Wisdom prevents him from just coming out and saying the logical conclusion – preventing a shrinking money supply will require huge amounts of money.

It’s official – let’s end corporate welfare

By: washunate Thursday July 22, 2010 7:42 am

I intend to sound like a broken record here. To beat a dead horse. To, well, you get the idea.

the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes

President Obama upon signing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

That’s a great sentiment. It’s exactly what I want. Private actors should be responsible for private mistakes. If that doesn’t work, then their business should go through bankruptcy. If there’s some unique, socially valuable purpose that the business serves, then it should be nationalized. In fact, nationalizing the home mortgage market would be a much better option than what we’re doing now.

Every indication, though, is that we are going to be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. We’ll be asked tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, too.

How do I know this? Because we’ve been asked to do this for years. President Bush asked us to do it. Chairman Greenspan. Secretary Paulson. Chairman Bernanke. FRBNY President Geithner. Secretary Geithner. Senator Obama. President Obama. Speaker Pelosi. Majority Leader Reid. And so forth.

So we can end corporate bailouts now, right?

By: washunate Monday July 19, 2010 7:00 am

From an excitement standpoint, it’s been a dizzying week. Is financial reform legislation going to be the most radical overhaul since the Great Depression? Has the gap between the haves and the have nots been decreasing? Or are we still going to face the same existential threats to our system after finreg that we have faced before it? Has the gap between the haves and have nots strengthened during the crisis? Will Elizabeth Warren oversee her idea for consumer protection or won’t she?

Like any living person, I certainly enjoy the spectacle to a point. But it brings me back to what for me personally is the more pressing perspective. What are the outcomes, the substantive changes? In other words, if we take the view of those who are happy about this week, seeing some larger historical import, where does that leave us?

Here is what I would propose. The proof is in the pudding. If financial reform is a Big [...] Deal, then that means we can finally shed the financial industry from the government trough (this is a great overview from Source Watch). After being wards of the state since 2007, we can finally end all the various handouts and bailouts and backstops and discount windows and tax breaks and everything else upon which the financial industry has been wholly and completely dependent. This means the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, Housing and Urban Development, and the FDIC in particular.

Following are some specific examples of what it would mean, but this is not exhaustive.

Healthcare Economics: Allocating Risk

By: washunate Friday May 28, 2010 9:00 am

This is part of a broad series of posts continuing to examine the issues remaining before us on healthcare. Regardless of how you feel about PPACA (HIR), I believe strongly it is a beginning to this wave of reform, not an end. There are some fundamental issues which we have left unaddressed. You can read the introduction to this series here.

Don’t let your eyes glaze over. How we allocate risk in society can actually be a very fascinating discussion. This is not going to be a mathematically heavy post that only an actuary would appreciate. Rather, it’s important to contemplate the conceptual role of pooling risk – how we lump together different people for the purpose of calculating insurance rates.

There are different ways of utilizing insurance, and this is one of the core decisions that still needs to be ‘fixed’. In short, we passed a health insurance reform bill that didn’t actually answer the basic question of what health insurance should be.

What are our options?

There are three broad categories into which you can lump various insurance products. One approach to insurance is solely for the purpose of spreading one’s own risk out over time. The insured’s premium costs are based on the insured’s expected risk, end of story. A second approach to insurance spreads some of the risk over time, while segregating a special category to be billed separately. This typically happens at either the low end of the spectrum – say, with a deductible – or at the high end, say, with a third party covering ‘catastrophic’ events. A third approach is to spread costs across the population, rather than tying them to specific individuals’ expected costs. Here, premiums would be the same, regardless of the expected costs represented by any one insured person.

Why does it matter how this is set up?

It really comes down to money. The approach we take to health insurance has a direct impact on who pays for healthcare and how healthcare is allocated. Some people have much higher expected costs than others. What we have left unresolved is the extent to which the individual is responsible for healthcare and the extent to which society is responsible for healthcare. We are talking a huge amount of money, thousands of dollars per person per year, so this has to be resolved at some point. Not doing anything is of course one course of action: that will simply result in poorer people getting poorer quality care than richer people, ie, simply continuing our present course.

What’s wrong with our current system?

Currently, we have an incredibly inefficient approach. We manage to make individuals responsible for enough risk that the pricing mechanism rations healthcare by willingness/ability to pay, yet we still have to have massive government expenditures on healthcare as well. This is just one of the many hilarities of the Teabaggers over the past couple years: government was already the largest spender in the healthcare market, responsible for more of the cost than private-sector employers, individual consumers, philanthropists/not-for-profits, or any other nongovernmental category you care to examine. What this does is it makes the total cost higher, which is wasteful – somebody has to pay for that waste, either through lesser quality care, or higher premiums, or higher taxes, or some other form of giving something up for nothing. We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy shuffling papers around instead of actually providing healthcare.

The 2010 Drug Control Strategy is still Anti-Science

By: washunate Wednesday May 26, 2010 6:32 am

When discussion first began over this year’s Drug Control Strategy from the ONDCP (and thus, the White House), the corporate media was very friendly to the Administration spin that this was some type of ‘new’ policy, something different than what has come before.

Take the AP article picked up by places like Yahoo entitled New drug control strategy signals policy shift as an example.

One has to get past the headline and most of the article to even find somebody not from the Administration speaking about the policy. Both the headline and language in the article simply assumes that a policy shift has occurred.

But something interesting has been happening more recently. Even the corporate media isn’t buying the Administration line so much any more.

Take the AP article picked up by a variety of outlets entitled U.S. drug war has met none of its goals. The subtitle is even harsher.

After 40 years and $1 trillion, drug use is rampant and violence pervasive

And the Administration spin about a new policy is no longer stated authoritatively. Rather, they’re using this language that sets up a contradiction between the Administration’s rhetorical positioning and its actual budgetary priorities.

This week President Obama promised to "reduce drug use and the great damage it causes" with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

There are a variety of ways to approach the drug war; you could fill a whole library just with the information we have on this one subject. For years, the Drug Policy Alliance has had what I consider to be the best one sentence summary of what’s wrong with the drug war.

Meet Your New Drug Policy

By: washunate Wednesday May 12, 2010 9:02 am

Same as it ever was.

I know a lot of people like blackwaterdog’s diaries. I also know it’s good to have a variety of opinions. Diversity is a strength, not a weakness. Democracy is messy, not sanitized.

Last November, I read a blackwaterdog diary with which I disagreed strongly enough to write a specific response. I discovered during Meta Wars: BWD edition that this diary ultimately got taken down. In that diary, I was disappointed by the use of some specific language.

Here, I have a substantive beef. Drug policy is an issue that means a lot to me. It’s what you might call my ‘pet’ issue or a ‘litmus’ test issue or a ‘moral obligation’. Like hundreds of thousands of Americans, I applied for a job in the Administration; the ONDCP is where I’d like to be, a chance to be involved on ‘the inside’ at the heart of our war on drugs. Unfortunately, even though we’re on our third consecutive baby-boomer President who has used controlled substances illegally, those of us advocating for sensible drug policies are still treated to derision and scorn.

Despite consistently ranking highly on venues such as change.gov, despite questions about drug legalization being posed directly to the President of the United States, Obama has been pretty consistently clear.

…I don’t know what this says about the online audience…the answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy…

In case you didn’t get it then, then there was this

I have to say this…I appreciate the boldness of your question…that will not be my job strategy…

Is Obama better than Bush? Is Gil Kerlikowske a superior ONDCP head? Yes. And that’s good. That’s why we voted for Obama. But those aren’t the questions.

The question is why do we arrest more drug users every day than the total number of war criminals and financial crooks who have been arrested over the past decade?

The Value of Abandoning Tax Breaks as a Policy Mechanism

By: washunate Monday May 10, 2010 7:00 am

With the House passage of ‘cash for caulkers’ – the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, creating the Home Star Retrofit Rebate Program – this marks a good time to visit a topic that interests me for its intersection of substance and rhetoric. Over the past generation, Republicans have become so successful at ingraining ‘tax cuts’ into our policy discourse that Democrats now openly champion this approach as something to celebrate.

Now, I’m aware that this approach is broadly popular. But I would argue it’s mostly superficial, because we’ve stopped offering the alternative: direct government investment in the public commons. As someone advocating the minority viewpoint, it’s obviously my burden to demonstrate the value of a different perspective.

What I want to do is provide a conceptual approach to seeing the problems posed by our party’s reliance on an inferior policy mechanism. In short, this approach ingrains Republican frames while displacing superior policy responses.