One thing that’s bugging me about Vice‘s interview with Obama is that how dismissive the president is is about the importance of marijuana legalization.
“I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace,” he said. “Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”
He goes on to give an answer that’s surprisingly supportive of the idea of decriminalizing pot, and that’s been grabbing headlines all day. But is it fair to say that marijuana should be at the bottom of people’s list of political priorities?
Well, first of all, I don’t think it actually is young people’s top priority, it was just the question that got asked the most online in advance of the interview. People are interested to hear what the president has to say on the matter because he talks about it a lot less than he talks about the economy and ISIS. But even if it were their top priority, would they be wrong?
Drug policy touches almost every major issue of our time, from social justice to education to, most obviously, the economy. The benefits of legalization have been discussed to death, but we’re starting to see evidence of the effectiveness in Colorado, where tax revenues are strong and unemployment is low. I wasn’t able to easily find comparable information for Washington, but if you’re interested in creating jobs and improving tax revenues, you could sure do a lot worse than legalizing weed. Then there are the social justice benefits. As the president said in the interview, drug policies disproportionately affect people of color. Legalization could improve educational opportunities, since students who with marijuana convictions can lose their financial aid. The list goes on and on.
But most importantly, it’s a concrete and achievable policy idea. It’s low hanging fruit. If I had to pick one thing to make the world a more prosperous and just place, marijuana legalization would definitely be near the top of my list of ideas, not the bottom.
But the Obama administration has had a different attitude when it comes to those who revealed the existence of the CIA torture program. In 2012, the Obama administration charged former CIA official John Kiriakou for leaking classified information related to the torture program to reporters. Threatened with decades in prison, Kiriakou was forced to plead guilty and accept a 30-month prison sentence. He’s in prison right now.
You might recall this essay by fascism scholar and futurist Sara Robinson from last year. Robinson has just published a rather dismal follow-up examining how the Tea Party is shaping up to be a legitimately scary fascist party.
Here is the part I found rather unsettling (emphasis mine):
The successful fascisms, on the other hand, were the ones that held together and to gained enough political leverage that capturing their governments became inevitable. And once that happened, there was no turning back, because they now had the political power and street muscle to silence any opposition. (Fascist parties almost never enjoy majority support at any stage — but being a minority faction is only a problem in a functioning democracy. It’s no problem at all if you’re willing to use force to get your way.)
Americans who support the Tea Party brim with contradiction. An October Bloomberg National Poll found that while 83 percent of Tea Party supporters favor repeal of the health-care reform bill, majorities would keep key provisions of it. Fifty-seven percent would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with preexisting conditions, 52 percent would add more prescription drug benefits for Medicare users, and 53 percent would require states to set up plans for people with major health problems. “The ideas that find nearly universal agreement among Tea Party supporters are rather vague,” says pollster J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the survey. “You would think any idea that involves more government action would be anathema, and that is just not the case.”
Tea Party candidates show no such ambivalence. When it comes to government, they don’t want to trim fat, they want to amputate limbs. Angle says she would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, the IRS, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Buck says he would get rid of the Energy and Education Depts. And candidates across the country say they aim to eliminate the web of special tax breaks, earmarks, and subsidies that benefit industries from golf cart manufacturers to the largest automakers.
In other words: The Tea Party rank-and-file support politicians they don’t even agree with. Why? Based on the data from the NYT/CBS poll and the Bloomberg poll: Because they don’t know what’s in the health care bill they’re so afraid of. They don’t realize their taxes have actually gone down since Obama was elected. They don’t know how their tax money is spent. And they don’t even seem to know what the politicians they support actually plan on doing.
Here’s what I wrote last year on our chances of getting out of this one:
I don’t share Robinson’s faith that we can pull out of this. I don’t have her faith in the Democratic Party, which I think plays the role of “good cop” in what’s actually a one party system. I think the entire establishment media, not just Fox News, is a party of that system and can never be made to “get the story right.” I don’t think we can rely on the police to do the “heavy lifting.”
I haven’t seen much to change my mind in the past year, except possibly that the non-News Corps owned mainstream media has been getting somewhat better.
Robinson proposes three different possible scenarios, this one being the “worst case”:
A solid majority of the Tea Party candidates win their races, cementing the movement’s lock on the GOP and turning it into a genuine political power in this country. They’ve already promised us that if they take either house of Congress, the next two years will be a lurid nightmare of hearings, trials, impeachments, and character assassinations against progressives. (Which could, in the end, backfire on the GOP as badly as the Clinton impeachment did. We can hope.) Similar scorched-earth harassment awaits officials at every other level of government, too. And casual violence against immigrants, gays, and progressives may escalate as the Tea Party brownshirts become bolder, confident that at least some authorities will either back them up or look the other way.
Unfortunately, the only alternative to the Tea Party seems to be the Democratic Party. And what happens if we do vote down the Tea Party and keep the Dems in power? I must admit to being surprised at how fickle the American public is. After only two years, we’re suddenly ready to give control back to the Republicans just because the Democrats haven’t been able to reverse the damage that the GOP spent eight years creating? But, even with a near super majority, the Democrats haven’t enacted anything even approaching progressive reform. No wonder people are getting impatient. Even with a majority in the House and Congress, it still feels like the GOP is still running things.
And yet I know this is exactly what perpetuates the problems we have. Both the GOP and the Dems get people to vote for them out of fear of the other party. “Sure, we suck but are you really gonna let THEM take office?”
There’s a scenario that Robinson doesn’t mention: the Tea Party candidates get elected, and they get gobbled up by the Washington DC machine and nothing much changes. The Tea Party base are just as disappointed with their candidates as liberals have been with Obama and the various “netroots” candidates.
Obama’s early pieces primarily played with structure: Our Long-Term Strategy In Afghanistan employs Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique to reorder the words in a major speech on foreign policy, eventually creating a shocking sound collage that, according to the White House, reveals “a truth previously buried beneath layers of intent.” […]
Nonetheless, a number of critics have embraced Obama’s edgier productions. Artforum magazine referred to Obama’s oeuvre as “a winking indictment of the institution of the presidency from none other than the president himself,” and cited in particular his wildlife conservation video Meat Play as “the direction the office needs to go in if the executive branch is to remain relevant.”
I criticize Obama frequently, and complain about mainstream media’s tendency to do what Jay Rosen calls he said, she said journalism. I’m often galled by NPR’s practice of the technique (particularly their refusal to call torture torture)
So I was please this morning to hear this report today on Morning Edition: Obama is requiring all hospitals who receive Medicare or Medicaid funding must allow same-sex couple visitation rights. And specifically, I was happy to hear Morning Edition’s journalists calling out conservative spinmeisters on their bullshit. They get both sides of the story, but do what reporters should do when one side of the story is blatantly wrong: they check the facts and provide context.
They call on J.P. Duffy, vice president for communications at the Family Research Council, to comment on the new memo:
Most hospitals, he said, have no restrictions on same-sex visitation.
But Dr. Jason Schneider, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, said that unless a hospital has a formal policy allowing same-sex visitations, gay couples can run into trouble.
“One person in a hospital can make a huge difference — a security guard, a front desk clerk looking at a same-sex partner and saying, ‘You don’t have any right to go back there,’ ” Schneider said. “So I think this directive gives weight to the importance of recognizing the variety and the breadth of how people define families.”
It’s a move that Duffy of the Family Research Council calls “a big-government federal takeover of even the smallest details of the nation’s health care system.”
But this isn’t the first time a president has used Medicare funding to expand access to hospitals.
When President Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, many hospitals were racially segregated. That new law said hospitals that received federal Medicare dollars would have to integrate.
This is a commendable move by the Obama administration, and a good example of journalism providing context and fact checking instead of just “telling both sides of the story.” Bravo.
On Thursday, a Denver news station interviewed Chris Bartkowicz about his medical-marijuana operation in the basement of his home. Bartkowicz, confident of his compliance with state laws, boasted of its size and profitability.
“I’m definitely living the dream now,” he told 9News.
The following day, the dream was over.
Drug-enforcement agents raided his home, placed him under arrest, and carried off dozens of black bags of marijuana plants and growing lights.
The Obama administration promised in October that the federal government would respect state laws allowing the growing and selling of marijuana for medicinal use, but the Drug Enforcement Agency sent a loud message with the arrest of Bartkowicz.
Glenn Greenwald on Nudge co-author Cass Sunstein’s creepy propaganda proposal:
Cass Sunstein has long been one of Barack Obama’s closest confidants. Often mentioned as a likely Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, Sunstein is currently Obama’s head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs.” In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and psuedo-“independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper’s abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.
Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.” He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”
While we were all out doing our Christmas shopping, the highest court in the land quietly put the kibosh on a few more of the remaining shards of human liberty.
It happened earlier this week, in a discreet ruling that attracted almost no notice and took little time. In fact, our most august defenders of the Constitution did not have to exert themselves in the slightest to eviscerate not merely 220 years of Constitutional jurisprudence but also centuries of agonizing effort to lift civilization a few inches out of the blood-soaked mire that is our common human legacy. They just had to write a single sentence.
Here’s how the bad deal went down. After hearing passionate arguments from the Obama Administration, the Supreme Court acquiesced to the president’s fervent request and, in a one-line ruling, let stand a lower court decision that declared torture an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention, while introducing a shocking new precedent for all future courts to follow: anyone who is arbitrarily declared a “suspected enemy combatant” by the president or his designated minions is no longer a “person.” They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever — save whatever modicum of process the government arbitrarily deigns to grant them from time to time, with its ever-shifting tribunals and show trials.
This extraordinary ruling occasioned none of those deep-delving “process stories” that glut the pages of the New York Times, where the minutiae of policy-making or political gaming is examined in highly-spun, microscopic detail doled out by self-interested insiders. Obviously, giving government the power to render whole classes of people “unpersons” was not an interesting subject for our media arbiters. It was news that wasn’t fit to print. Likewise, the ruling provoked no thundering editorials in the Washington Post, no savvy analysis from the high commentariat — and needless to say, no outrage whatsoever from all our fierce defenders of individual liberty on the Right.
Reactions to Obama’s Nobel speech yesterday were remarkably consistent across the political spectrum, and there were two points on which virtually everyone seemed to agree: (1) it was the most explicitly pro-war speech ever delivered by anyone while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize; and (2) it was the most comprehensive expression of Obama’s foreign policy principles since he became President. I don’t think he can be blamed for the first fact; when the Nobel Committee chose him despite his waging two wars and escalating one, it essentially forced on him the bizarre circumstance of using his acceptance speech to defend the wars he’s fighting. What else could he do? Ignore it? Repent?
I’m more interested in the fact that the set of principles Obama articulated yesterday was such a clear and comprehensive expression of his foreign policy that it’s now being referred to as the “Obama Doctrine.” About that matter, there are two arguably confounding facts to note: (1) the vast majority of leading conservatives — from Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich to Peggy Noonan, Sarah Palin, various Kagans and other assorted neocons — have heaped enthusiastic praise on what Obama said yesterday, i.e., on the Obama Doctrine; and (2) numerous liberals have done exactly the same. […]
Much of the liberal praise for Obama’s speech yesterday focused on how eloquent, sophisticated, nuanced, complex, philosophical, contemplative and intellectual it was. And, looked at a certain way, it was all of those things — like so many Obama speeches are. After eight years of enduring a President who spoke in simplistic Manichean imperatives and bullying decrees, many liberals are understandably joyous over having a President who uses their language and the rhetorical approach that resonates with them.
But that’s the real danger. Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal polices. Just as George Bush’s Christian-based moralizing let conservatives feel good about America regardless of what it does, Obama’s complex and elegiac rhetoric lets many liberals do the same. To red state Republicans, war and its accompanying instruments (secrecy, executive power, indefinite detention) felt so good and right when justified by swaggering, unapologetic toughness and divinely-mandated purpose; to blue state Democrats, all of that feels just as good when justified by academic meditations on “just war” doctrine and when accompanied by poetic expressions of sorrow and reluctance. When you combine the two rhetorical approaches, what you get is what you saw yesterday: a bipartisan embrace of the same policies and ideologies among people with supposedly irreconcilable views of the world.