HRC talks to CNN about MJ

Reasonable answers, calling for follow-up questions the CNN interviewer was too incompetent to ask.

A CNN interviewer asked Hillary Clinton about cannabis policy.

On medical use, she replied that we need more research, including research about drug interactions, but in the meantime people with serious medical conditions where there’s “anecdotal evidence” of efficacy ought to have access.

On non-medical (“recreational”) use, she said that the states are the laboratories of democracy, that two states are trying legalization, and that we should wait and see how that goes.

Perfectly reasonable answers, as far as they went, and perhaps a little bit more pro-cannabis than I might have expected from such a cautious candidate.

But they cried out for follow-up questions:

1. As President, what would you do to promote medical research on cannabis and cannabinoids? Would you tear down the barriers to research now created by federal policy: in particular, the UMiss monopoly on cannabis for research purposes and the requirement that every study receive a “grant” of cannabis from a special committee within HHS?

2. While the states are doing their experiments, to what extent should the federal government help, or at least get out of the way? Colorado and Washington are now issuing state licenses to commit federal felonies. Current banking regulations make it difficult-to-impossible for cannabis stores to have bank accounts or to take credit cards, creating a huge all-cash business that is therefore an attractive robbery target. A state that wanted to experiment with state-monopoly retailing (arguably the best approach) would currently be barred from doing so by federal law. As President, would you propose changes in the Controlled Substances Act to make state-level experiments legal?

Instead, of course, the CNN interviewer asked her whether she intended to inhale. Arrrgggghhhhhh!

How long is it going to take for the press corps to stop giggling about cannabis policy and start reporting on it?

Graphics and editing

One of the results of the economic squeeze on newspapers has been a loss of editorial talent, including copy-editing (has anyone else noticed how rough and sloppy the prose is getting?), and publication of truly terrible stuff that a good editor would have protected us from.  And at top-end outlets, like the New York Times.  Poor Carl Levin and Angus King have a sensible op-ed in today’s paper that a copy-editor could have tightened and sharpened in a single pass, and the art editor, or whatever intern is doing that now, saddled it with a cut so bad as to garble their argument just by sitting there on the page.


If I understand it properly, this picture is constructed around the expression “to throw a monkey wrench into” some sort of machinery, and the American Eagle is about to do it (L & K are warning against Congress ginning up new sanctions against Iran while negotiations seem to be working).  Almost everything that could go wrong does, though. Only partly because the wrench isn’t a monkey wrench, but something miscalled (like Kleenex for tissue) a crescent — a useful thing that fixes stuff and has no association with sabotage.  I had to deconstruct the picture for at least a minute before I got it.  The only eagly thing about the bird, who could almost be a dove with malocclusion especially given its size compared to the wrench (one of my dead-end misreads, actually), is its beak. But in a cartoon, you need to be careful about the things that quickly identify your subject.  If a bird is going to read as “the USA” it has to have white feathers on its head and tail, big strong feet with serious talons, and feathery legs. If it’s a hawk, what do the arrows have to do with it?

Actually, nothing works here.  The bird isn’t flying, nor sitting on anything (one of my wrong tries was that it was hanging on the wrench), and it certainly isn’t about to throw anything, as both its dainty little feet are tangled up with graphic symbols it took off a flowchart. The bird on our national coat of arms has real, physical arrows, and for a reason.

If he threw the wrench into the negotiations as rendered (that is, rendered as an enormous poker game), it would fall on the table and astonish everyone.  But it wouldn’t break anything; the metaphor needs something like a machine with gears and stuff…maybe with the diplomats turning a crank?

A picture that has to be turned into a word paraphrase and then back into a picture isn’t really graphic, or anything really (maybe a Sunday supplement puzzle).  Somebody at the Times decided they couldn’t afford an artist who was ready for prime time, couldn’t afford an art editor who could coach artists, and couldn’t afford a managing editorial staff who could look at a page and say “wait a minute!”  Maybe they were right about what they could afford, but if so, this episode is exhibit 203b.2 that we’re losing Really Important Social Capital.



Reporters, lawyers, and moral turpitude

Would you hire Stephen Glass as a reporter? If not, what makes him fit to be a lawyer?

I didn’t follow the Stephen Glass libel-and-fabrication story when it broke, and haven’t followed his career since. Personally, I have no basis for an opinion about whether he’s morally fit to be a lawyer. But I note that none of the media outlets publishing denunciations of the California Supreme Court for disapproving Glass’s bar application has offered him a job as a reporter. A lawyer has lots of opportunitites to cheat people. If Glass can’t be trusted to conduct journalism, what makes him fit to conduct a law practice? Would you want him representing you? Or your opponent?

Credit Where It’s Due

Did everyone see that our colleague Steven Teles received one of David Brooks’s Sidney Awards for his “mind-altering” (I am quoting) National Affairs essay on kludges? So far as I know, the award means only that the recipient gets attention in Brooks’s column; but anything which helps the wider world to read the wisdom of the Reality-Based Community must be worth having.

Congratulations, comrade!

Is a firearms magazine writer/editor a journalist?

(ht: Walt Kelly): Is a barnacle a ship?

This is messed up in so many ways.  I understand resigning in protest against something your employer did, or asks you to do. I understand getting fired because you’re not with the program.  But Bequette and Metcalf did the right thing “…generate a healthy exchange of ideas…” that the gun community would-obviously, especially in light of these events-benefit from.  We need more people acting as though a job is not the worst thing one can lose!

But instead of forcing the magazine to either fire them or back them up after the yahoo faction erupted, or resigning on grounds that the magazine was wrongly caving in to fear (of that exchange) and ignorance, they quit as though they had done something wrong.  They could have lost their jobs and kept much more important things, but now they have nothing!

The mugshot website extortion racket

Why is the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press defending blackmailers?

If your physician has diagnosed you with low blood pressure, I recommend reading this New York Times piece about mugshot websites, which post the photos of arrestees and then charge people to have their photos removed. That includes a woman who was charged with aggravated assault by the domestic partner who attacked her with a knife. The charges were dismissed, but the mugshot endures as a source of extortion revenue for the website operators. This sort of behavior reminds you of the reason for the belief in Hell.

I’m glad to see that Google and the some credit-card companies - but not, disgracefully, Visa - were moved by inquiries from the Times to distance themselves from this racket. But Mark Caramanica, the flack for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press demonstrates why flackery is bad for the soul by denouncing any attempt to rein in this abuse:

It’s an effort to deny history. I think it’s better if journalists and the public, not the government, are the arbiters of what the public gets to see.

Forget the fact that the people running these websites aren’t “journalists,” and that the public currently has no power at all over what’s going on. Someone told Mr. Caramanica that his job was to oppose any restriction on the publication of information, and by God that’s what he’s going to do - as long as his paycheck continues to clear - no matter who gets hurt in the process. Feh.

Some questions for our lawyer-readers:

1. My understanding of the law is that extorting money by threatening to reveal unfavorable information about someone constitutes the crime of blackmail, even if the information is true. Does the fact that the unfavorable information is public record change matters? Or that the process is revealing the information first and then demanding money to stop revealing it?

2. If not, can’t some local prosecutor simply charge the website operators with blackmail, giving us an opportunity to see their mugshots on line? It seems to me there should be venue where the victim lives, independent of the location of the website operator. [Note to federal prosecutors: extortion and blackmail are RICO predicate offenses.]

3. Could Congress pass something parallel to the Fair Credit Reporting Act to require, at least, that information about exoneration be published along with the mugshot? Was FCRA the subject of a Constitutional challenge, and, if so, on what basis did it survive?

4. Going forward, why should state and local government treat arrest records and mugshots as public records? By statute, couldn’t they claim copyright, and use their own powers (under, e.g., the DMCA) to regulate the use of what would then be their images and records, or allow private-attorney-general actions to assert those rights on their behalf in defense of those not convicted?

There’s a broader issue here. The Fifth Amendment forbids the deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. That innocent people should sometimes be arrested is inevitable unless we can equip police with powers of omniscience. But the existence of an arrest record, even without a conviction, has many bad consequences. By maintaining arrest databases and making them available to others, the state in effect continues to punish someone for a crime of which that person was not convicted by due process of law. Why shouldn’t that be ruled unconstitutional?

Let’s not panic about e-cigarettes

If e-cigarettes substitute for smoking, the health benefits might be huge. Let’s not regulate them to death.

The FDA, the CDC, and five Senate Democrats, cheered on by anti-tobacco advocacy groups, are viewing-with-alarm new statistics about the use of e-cigarettes. It may turn out that concern is warranted, but for now I’d advise everyone involved to exhale slowly and calm down. Based on what’s now known, it looks to me as if over-regulation poses a bigger risk to public health than under-regulation.

The market for e-cigarettes - devices that deliver nicotine vapor without the cloud of particulates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, ammonia, and hot gasses that a cigarette provides, and without the smell - is growing rapidly, among adolescents as well as adults. Many adults are switching from cigarette smoking to e-cigarette use, while many adolescents seem to be heading directly to e-cigs or using both forms at once.

Of course, you’d expect the availability of a new form of nicotine delivery with attractive features to increase total nicotine use. But the the risks of nicotine are a tiny fraction - almost certainly less than 10%, arguably even lower than that - of the total health risks of smoking. If e-cigarettes substitute for smoking, the health benefits are likely to be very large. Even if they substitute for not smoking or for quitting, the damage is likely to be limited.

And yes, some e-cigarettes may be improperly manufactured and contain some of the same noxious chemicals contained in regular cigarettes, though even then at orders-of-magnitude lower doses. And it’s possible that it will turn out that chronic inhalation of one or more of the liquids now used as vehicles will turn out to cause currently-unsuspected health damage. In principle, you couldn’t know that the devices are safe without exposing large numbers of people to them and waiting 50 years.

The FDA’s desire to have enough authority to require e-cigarette sellers to manufacture them properly and label them accurately, to limit marketing aimed at minors, and to be able to force the removal of unsafe product from the market, seems quite reasonable. What’s not reasonable, and what is likely to be bad, on balance, for health, is the idea that anything that delivers nicotine vapor should have the same rules applied to it as an actual cigarette.

For example: one of the current goals of the anti-smoking movement is to ban menthol cigarettes; all other flavors are already banned. But there wasn’t ever much of a market for vanilla or cherry-flavored cigarettes, or even for clove-flavored cigarettes. Menthol, by contrast, accounts for something like a third of all cigarettes sold, and a much higher proportion than that among African-Americans. Many menthol smokers, according to surveys, say they’d rather quit smoking altogether than switch to regular. That, of course, would be good news on the health front. But the bad news is that menthol smokers who don’t want to switch and find they can’t quit will instead swell the customer base of the already-flourishing markets for illicit (untaxed) tobacco products. As Peter Reuter has pointed out, banned drugs lead to nasty black markets, and there’s no reason to think that banned cigarettes won’t do the same.

Maybe that price - in the form of criminal revenue, enforcement expenditure, arrest, incarceration, and illicit-market violence and corruption - is worth paying for the health benefits of reduced smoking. (Recall that a 5% shrinkage in cigarette use would, in the long run, mean 20,000 fewer tobacco-related deaths per year.) But you’d much rather have the benefit without paying the price. If displaced menthol smokers have menthol e-cigarettes available as a substitute, their interest in illicit menthol-flavored normal cigarettes would be that much less.

And that’s why I’m nervous about the possibility that the FDA, in a rulemaking expected soon, will “deem” that e-cigarettes are cigarettes for regulatory purposes, which would mean that a ban on menthol smokes would include a ban on menthol e-cigs.

None of this is simple or straightforward. I can imagine myself, five years from now, bitterly regretting not having spotted the e-cigarette menace before it got out of control. But regulations can do harm as well as good, and what I’m not hearing right now is much willingness to think carefully and proceed with caution. The principle of aggregate harm minimization, net of benefits (and nicotine does have benefits, including at least a temporary cognitive boost) still seems to me the right approach, for nicotine no less than for cannabis or cocaine. Unless and until someone can point to demonstrated and serious risks, rather than speculative ones, e-cigarettes ought to be thought of mostly as a part of the solution rather than as a part of the problem.

And now…the rest of the story.

Quick citations to the debate on Tim Groseclose’s media bias book.

Mark’s first post on Tim Groseclose’s liberal-media-bias book (which he linked to in this later post and this one) links, if one clicks on the phrase “grossly tendentious,” to a critique of Tim’s book by Brendan Nyhan in Perspectives on Politics (Vol. 10, No. 3 [September 2012], 767-771).

That issue of Perspectives actually contains a whole forum on the book, and readers might be interested in the other contributions. So, as an easy public service, here are links to

Nyhan’s piece in .html (and .pdf);

The contribution by Nolan McCarty in .html (and .pdf);

The contribution by Justin H. Gross, Cosma Rohilla Shalizi and Andrew Gelman in .html (and .pdf);

The contribution by Nancy L. Rosenblum in .html (and .pdf);

The contribution by Kathleen Hall Jamieson in .html (and .pdf).

Alas (for current readers, though necessary for the long-term existence of high-quality academic journals), I think all of these are behind an academic paywall.

On this question I am both unbiased and unhelpful due to ignorance. Though I know Tim slightly and like and trust him as a person—while taking great exception to his politics—I haven’t gotten around to reading either the book or the critiques (some of whose authors I also know slightly, or better than that). But as possibly the world’s last surviving Millian, I have to think that people interested in this stuff, including me, eventually, will benefit from a variety of contributions by highly regarded political scientists.

Moreover, at a quick glance, many of those contributions contain extensive citations to further research and commentary on the book, most of it scholarly and in some cases quite technical. When it comes to political science, as well as policy, there’s sometimes no substitute for an expert take.



*Extremely* tacit approval

No, no one in DC has given Colorado or Washington any sort of nudge-and-wink promise to let their MJ licensees alone.

When I saw Dylan Scott’s story reporting that some Colorado officials were claiming “tacit approval” from the Justice Department for going ahead with the taxed and regulated cannabis market approved by Colorado voters, I was puzzled about exactly what was being claimed.

On the one hand, the Justice Department, in the many months since the Colorado and Washington initiatives passed in November, has not publicly announced that it is going to shut down the Colorado and Washington systems entirely. By its silence, the Department has allowed the state governments to proceed with time-consuming and expensive preparations. If the Department were now to announce that it was asking the courts to find that the Controlled Substances Act pre-empted the entire scheme, or that it was going to ask for injunctions against license applicants, that would certainly be a dirty trick. If that’s what “tacit approval” means, the substance of Scott’s story is correct, bu it doesn’t contain much news.

Nor did the actual sourcing and quotations seem to suggest otherwise. Of the two sources, the State Senator is very unlikely to be privy to whatever’s being said behind closed doors, and the nameless “official” doesn’t really say anything except what I said in the paragraph above: The feds know what’s going on, and haven’t yelled “Stop!” yet, so it’s unlikely they’re going to yell “Stop!” tomorrow.

None of that implies that the people getting licenses to grow and sell pot in Colorado and Washington - licences, that is, to commit felonies under Federal law - would be safe from prosecution.

On the other hand, it was also possible that Scott had learned something I didn’t know about actual negotiations, and that there had been a real nod-and-wink promise that the feds wouldn’t mess with state-licensed activity unless it involved real bad guys or interstate shipments. That would have surprised me, but I couldn’t rule it out.

My membership card in the Blogger’s Guild forbids me, of course, from Picking Up the Damned Phone and doing actual reporting. But I was a drug policy analyst a long time before I became a blogger, and some of the people I talk to in my policy-analyst hat actually know what’s going on.

So I can now say with confidence that no one at DoJ has given the government of Colorado any promises of non-interference with the activities of Colorado’s licensees. There have been discussions involving state and federal officials, but no negotiations of the “If you do X and Y we’ll let your people alone” variety. (I don’t have direct knowledge with respect to Washington State; any contacts with the feds are the province of the Governor’s office and the state AG’s office rather than with the people I know at the Liquor Control Board. But when I spoke of “negotiations” with DoJ, a state official hastily corrected that to “discussions.”)

That seems to me like a big missed opportunity; had the federal government presented the two state governments with list of demands, as conditions of federal acquiescence with the new commercial cannabis-distribution systems, there would have been very strong incentives pushing state officials to meet those demands. Once Washington and Colorado have regulations in place and start issuing licenses, retro-fitting the terms of a bargain into that process gets much, much harder.

The right way, in my view, to implement such a bargain would be through the “contractual agreements” provided for in 21 U.S.C. 873.

The problem with stories such as Scott’s is that they will be eagerly seized on by legalization advocates. When and if the DEA starts busting state-licensed growers and dealers, we will hear the same screams of “bait and switch” we heard when the feds, having announced that they didn’t intend to go after patients and caregivers in the medical marijuana markets but would concentrate on large, for-profit operations, in fact busted some large-scale, for-profit growers in California.

No, that doesn’t mean I think every target of those raids deserved it, merely that the charge of “double-cross” was utterly bogus, and known to be so by those familiar with the situation. The people I chiefly feel sorry for are those who believed that advocates’ claim that the feds had given everyone a green light, and found out the hard way they were wrong.

So: If you’re considering entering the cannabis business in Washington or Colorado, you should do so only if you’re willing to take a risk - an unknown risk, and only partly controllable by keeping your actions discreet - of spending a long spell behind bars.

And: If you’re an activist, or have any influence with the Administration or with Members of Congress, don’t imagine that the job of reconciling federal law with state-level legalization is more or less complete and that you can now relax. All the hard work remains to be done.

Fire Maureen Dowd!

Her “Heathers” approach to politics is more harmful than Rubin’s hackery. And she lies.

Yes, I like the idea of firing Jennifer Rubin, but if a genie gave me three wishes and I were going to use one on getting rid of an obnoxious columnist, it would definitely be Dowd. Her “Heathers” approach to politics is, in the long run, far more destructive than mere ideological hackery.

Worse, Dowd makes sh*t up; Al Gore’s non-existent “earth tones” wasn’t the first or the last example of that, though it might have been the most politically consequential.

And worse than that, Dowd is a flat-out liar. When Dowd was caught truncating a quote to make it seem as if Bill de Blasio’s wife had mocked his lesbian opponent’s childlessness, she blamed it on her tape recorder, made a grudging correction, and said “The substance is the same.” Ri-i-i-i-i-i-ght!

The original column identified the candidate’s wife as “a mother of two” and quoted her as saying of her husband’s opponent:

not accessible … She’s not the kind of person I feel I can go up to and talk to about issues like taking care of children at a young age and paid sick leave.

Here’s the corrected version:

Asked why Quinn was not rallying women, McCray, a mother of two, replied: “Well, I am a woman, and she is not speaking to the issues I care about and I think a lot of women feel the same way. I don’t see her speaking to the concerns of women who have to take care of children at a young age or send them to school and after school, paid sick days, workplace, she is not speaking to any of those issues. What can I say? And she is not accessible, she is not the kind of person who you can talk to and go up to and have a conversation with about those things, and I suspect that other women feel the same thing I’m feeling.”

Yes, the “substance” is the same. All that’s different is the only thing that mattered: the suggestion that it was Quinn’s childlessness, rather than her politics, that made her unattractive to some women.

A reporter who makes a mistake can be forgiven. A reporter who can’t admit that a mistake was made needs to be bounced.