We fix build ruin update our posts.
Monthly Archives: August 2009
Josh Kraushaar at Politico:
After an August recess marked by raucous town halls, troubling polling data and widespread anecdotal evidence of a volatile electorate, the small universe of political analysts who closely follow House races is predicting moderate to heavy Democratic losses in 2010.
Some of the most prominent and respected handicappers can now envision an election in which Democrats suffer double-digit losses in the House — not enough to provide the 40 seats necessary to return the GOP to power but enough to put them within striking distance.
Top political analyst Charlie Cook, in a special August 20 update to subscribers, wrote that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.”
“Many veteran congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats,” he wrote.
At the mid-August Netroots Nation convention, Nate Silver, a Democratic analyst whose uncannily accurate, stat-driven predictions have made his website FiveThirtyEight.com a must read among political junkies, predicted that Republicans will win between 20 and 50 seats next year. He further alarmed an audience of progressive activists by arguing that the GOP has between a 25 and 33 percent chance of winning back control of the House.
Is Silver being an alarmist or is there really a 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 chance that the GOP can pull off a shocker?
If history is any guide, Nate may have something there. Opposition gains in off year elections are a tradition in American politics with the party out of power winning back seats in 10 of the last 12 such elections. (The average gain has been about 13 seats).
But realistically, there would have to be a huge backlash – even bigger than 1994 – for Republicans to regain control of the House. The re-election rate for modern gerrymandered congressional districts tops 98% and the GOP would have to knock that percentage down to 90% in order to gain back the House.
A tall order, that. But the Democrats did it in 2006. And given the volatility of the current political climate, it is not beyond imagining, although Silver’s estimate of Republican chances to regain control is not shared by other seasoned pros.
I think that Nate is being deliberately provocative. The stars would have to align just right for a GOP takeover of the House to materialize. A perfect storm of failed health care reform, a double dip recession, and perhaps higher than expected inflation could combine to cause the kind of collapse in the political fortunes of Democrats that would give the GOP control of the House. I would place the chances of this occurring somewhere between “Impossible” and “Highly Improbable” – say, from zero to 5%.
The political climate next year could influence the Left’s fortunes on the issue. It’s early days, but indications are that the midterms will be tough for Democrats. The Politico has some observations on that, pointing out that historic trends “point to Republican House gains … particularly after facing two brutal election cycles where the party lost seats in every region and even in some of the most conservative states in the nation.”
If de-stimulus, cap-and-trade, cash for clunkers, and a health-care takeover, et al., are enough to get out more conservative voters and peel away some independents and moderate Democrats, a ballot initiative legalizing gay marriage is going to be a tough sell in 2010, even in deep blue California.
We are more than a year away from the 2010 elections, but the cumulative impact of this data will be felt by critical swing-state senators, vulnerable House members, and nearly every freshman lawmakers. If Obama is now perceived as a drag on their own election prospects, it’s every lawmaker for himself. Forget about “winning one for Teddy”; they have to save themselves.
The result may be a health-care debate that stalls before it starts. Perhaps the safest course is a slower, more deliberative one with full-blown hearings. That’s what some of the lawmakers from less secure districts and states are urging. Obama might do well to listen to the nervous congressmen and senators from his own party—or he’ll have a lot fewer of them for the last two years of his term.
A savvy friend thinks 2010 will be a repeat of 1994. It’s obviously too early to say that, but these numbers can’t be encouraging for the Administration.
The White House has, for the first time, spoken out against a member of Max Baucus’s “Gang of Six.” After Mike Enzi used the GOP’s weekly radio to attack the Democrats’ health-care plan for promoting “the rationing of [America’s] health care,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs fired back that Enzi “clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship and decided that it’s time to walk away from the table.”
Everyone I’ve spoken to in the Senate believes, strongly, that this process is about to break down, and the Democrats are going to move forward on a more partisan basis. Presumably, the Republicans in the Gang of Six process have heard the same and have no interest in looking like fools when that happens. And so they’re beginning to use their positions in the negotiations not to further the cause of a final bill, but to enhance their stature as spokesmen for the opposition. Grassley, as noted earlier, is sending out fundraising e-mails attacking “Obama-care.” Enzi is lacerating Democratic ideas under the banner of his party. As far as I can tell, the Gang of Six process is already dead. What’s happening now is that the participants seem to be raiding its corpse.
Brian Beutler at TPM
Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:
Looks like the charade of including Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi in the health care negotiations is over. It is not impossible that other Republicans who are not Senators from Maine can be located to support health care reform. But it’s also entirely possible that the Republicans will continue their kamikaze ways and oppose a reform that is likely to prove very popular with the American public when it’s enacted (which is why, in truth, the GOP nihilists oppose it).
Terrible Sen. Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley’s second-in-command for reaching a bipartisan health care bill, wants to reform health care in much the same way that his superior does: by killing health care reform completely. This does not portend well for the Gang of Six! Even White House meanie Robert Gibbs admitted today that Enzi, whom Obama once praised for his good-faith negotiating efforts during a primetime press conference, has thrown his wiener in the cogs of progress one too many times now and should proceed to piss off.
Meanwhile, back to Ezra:
Chuck Grassley is facing a potentially difficult primary challenge in 2010. As such, he’s been working hard to cover his right flank. That would all be fine except for one thing: As ranking member of the Finance Committee, Grassley is responsible for developing a workable compromise on health-care reform. But as this fundraising letter (pdf) shows, Grassley is running against health-care reform back in Iowa. Here’s how the missive begins:
“I had to rush you this Air-Gram today to set the record straight on my firm and unwavering opposition to government-run health care.And ask your immediate support in helping me defeat “Obama-care.”
I’m sure you’ve been following this issue closely. If the legislation sponsored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives and Chairman Ted Kennedy in the Senate is passed it would be a pathway to a government takeover of the health care svstem. lt would turn over control of your health care decisions to a federal bureaucrat … and take it away from you and your personal physician.
It would mean government rationing in the name of cost controls.”
The emphases are in the original document. Grassley does allow that he is working on “a viable alternative that is free-market based and rejects the pitfalls of government-run insurance.” But that’s the single constructive or compromise-oriented sentence in the letter. The rest of it, as you can read for yourself, previews a campaign strategy entirely based around Grassley’s opposition to “Obama-care.” As Grassley says, “the simple truth is that I am and always have been opposed to the Obama administration’s plan to nationalize health care. Period.“
David Weigel at The Washington Independent:
One part that jumped out at me:
ACORN is not that much of a political force in Iowa. If anything, this is a nod to evolving standards in fundraising boilerplate.
A spokesperson for Senator Chuck Grassley is clarifying his claim in a fundraising letter that he’s working for the “defeat” of “Obamacare,” saying that the Senator was only referring to defeating the public health care option.
As I noted below, a fundraising letter from Grassley to his constituents starkly proclaimed his desire to defeat both “Obamacare” and the proposal from Ted Kennedy’s committee — raising yet more questions about what, exactly, Grassley is prepared to support.
Asked for clarification, Grassley spokesperson Jill Kozeny emailed:
“The letter describes the government-run plan in the House and HELP committee bills that President Obama supports and Senator Grassley opposes.”
The fundraising letter does seem to suggest much more general opposition to Obamacare and to the Kennedy effort, and this appears to be a bit of a walk-back of that, though it’s unclear how reassured Dems will be about Grassley’s true intentions.
Either way, it’s back to the bipartisan drawing board!
Man #1: General Stanley McChrystal. Mark Tran in The Guardian:
The west must change its strategy in order to prevail in Afghanistan, the top US commander in the country said today as he handed over to US and Nato commanders a sweeping review of operations that may lead to a demand for more troops.
“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort,” General Stanley McChrystal said. His findings will be submitted to President Barack Obama, who faces a public increasingly restive over a war that has lasted eight years.
McChrystal does not ask for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, but his grave reflections on the failure of strategy may well herald a request in a separate briefing to Obama expected later this autumn.
The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan was graphically illustrated during the recent elections, over which numerous complaints have been filed. Results are still being compiled, but a tally released today based on 48% of polling stations gave the incumbent president Hamid Karzai 45.8% of the vote to 33.2% for his nearest challenger Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai needs 50% to avoid a second round run-off.
McChrystal has been working on the review since Obama put him in charge of the war in June after firing his predecessor, David McKiernan. The document has been sent to the US military’s central command (CentCom), responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to Nato headquarters in Brussels.
This will present Obama with some tough political choices. The left wing of his party wants the US out of Afghanistan, regardless of the status of al-Qaeda. The military wants to keep pursuing AQ, and most of the country would agree with that position. Republicans will support Obama’s effort overseas as long as he remains flexible on strategy and tactics.
On the review, Spencer Ackerman:
We still don’t know what it says. Not even Defense Secretary Bob Gates does, apparently, though it went to the Pentagon and NATO. The initial reports are that it says a lot of what it’s been expected to say: the war is hard but not hopeless; more Afghan forces are necessary; intelligence collection and dissemination needs to improve; so does military-civilian coordination; so does U.S.-NATO coordination. There are no indications as yet that it will deal with broader strategic questions of what the war aims precisely are or how the U.S. will know when they’ve achieved them. (And McChrystal is deferring a decision to request more troops until a later date.)
This, from The New York Times, struck my eye:
“Just how many more Afghan police and soldiers General McChrystal wants is unclear. In Iraq, where conditions have stabilized markedly over the past two years, the American-trained Iraqi security forces number about 600,000.”
I had thought the plan was to get those troop and police numbers up to 400,000.
The president and his national security team are skittish, but they aren’t looking for a way to deny McChrystal what he thinks he needs. It will be quite interesting to see how McChrystal phrases his request. It won’t accompany the report — though the report will probably imply as much.
New troops would be funded by a new congressional appropriation. But the administration has promised to Congress that it would no longer fund the war by submitting supplemental requests, and the Defense Department has already programmed funds for the 2010 fiscal year. They cannot simply move a few billion dollars from here to there. There may not be enough troops, either. Soldiers on long deployments in Iraq will, if this happens, be sent to Afghanistan for another deployment.
So, assuming that the White House doesn’t renege on their supplemental promise, the earliest that McChrystal could get his additional troops would be at least a year from now.
And that might be exactly what the White House and the Department of Defense are counting on. After all, the new Afghanistan strategy — counterterrorism using the means of counterinsurgency — is still fairly new. As painful as it is, the administration seems to want to give it a chance to succeed.
McChrystal is engaging in some sleight of hand here. The top priority for the Obama Administration, at least in the President’s public statements, has never been “protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban.” We’ve heard about dismantling Taliban safe havens, but not that our military should be used as an internal security force. We should at least have that debate if it’s the new goal.
I’m more concerned that the Administration feels it has to race to show progress, basing their continued presence in Afghanistan not on any security objective, but simply meaning to justify the presence through demonstrable benchmarks. If the benchmarks, or “metrics” in the new parlance, are not tethered to a fundamental mission or strategy, how can we possibly define success? In recent years, the success or failure in achieving benchmarks or metrics have had no impact on the larger decisions of escalation or drawdown. A benchmark strategy just looks like a justification strategy rather than any kind of real assessment.
Man #2: Anthony Cordesman, in WaPo:
The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months — any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost.
The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade. Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.
McChrystal has not announced a need for more U.S. troops, but almost every expert on the scene has talked about figures equivalent to three to eight more brigade combat teams — with nominal manning levels that could range from 2,300 to 5,000 personnel each — although much of that manpower will go to developing Afghan forces that must nearly double in size, become full partners rather than tools, and slowly take over from U.S. and NATO forces. Similarly, a significant number of such U.S. reinforcements will have to assist in providing a mix of capabilities in security, governance, rule of law and aid. U.S. forces need to “hold” and keep the Afghan population secure, and “build” enough secure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.
Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.
If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.
Monday’s op-ed by Anthony Cordesman is titled “How to Lose in Afghanistan.” In it, he uses the word “victory” three times. He uses the word “win” four time. He also mentions losing, and defeat. But nowhere does he define what winning is, or what losing looks like. He’s pretty clear that we want to win and we don’t want to lose. And he’s pretty clear that victory means giving Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal all the resources they request and all the authority they want and protecting them from “constant micromanagement from Washington or traveling envoys.”
Cordesman and many others have certainly thought about this issue a lot and probably have working definitions of success. But there’s been a peculiar unwillingness to define any of this very clearly. Richard Holbrooke, when asked, said, “we’ll know it when we see it.” The strategy is, presumably, a little more distinct when detailed in White House meetings. But it’s hard to avoid the concern that these folks actually have a perfectly clear vision of success but recognize that it’s sufficiently ambitious that they’re unwilling to define it publicly. People like the idea of victory. But do they like the idea of trying to be the first country to ever successfully nation-build in Afghanistan?
Max Boot in Commentary:
So far President Obama has heeded warnings that he needed to do more to salvage a failing war effort in Afghanistan. Let us hope that he pays attention again and takes actions that are sure to be unpopular in the short term, especially with the left-wing of his own party (which is now calling for a “flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan”).
Only by adding more resources can Obama offer the prospect of long-term victory in a war effort that he himself has deemed a “war of necessity.”
As I see it there are fundamental problems with a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. First, as long as the insurgents are able to flee to bases in Pakistan they will be difficult if not impossible to reduce and the Pakistani government despite brave talk has shown little inclination to eliminate these bases.
Second, there is no central government in Afghanistan to support. There is a Kabul government.
Third, there are no prospects whatever for Afghanistan itself shouldering the bulk of the burden of the counter-insurgency effort for the foreseeable future and our NATO allies have shown little enthusiasm for increasing their own commitments to the effort.
But most importantly the case has yet to be made to the American people that victory in Afghanistan is either achievable or even worth pursuing at least not in the time or at the cost that would be required. Commenters as diverse as Matthew Yglesias and Dennis the Peasant have pointed out that neither Dr. Cordeman nor Gen. McChrystal nor the Obama Administration have defined victory in Afghanistan. It’s darned hard to convince people that something is worth sacrificing for if neither you nor they know what it is. I suspect the American people are increasingly skeptical that what’s going on in Afghanistan is the war they signed on for.
Man #3: George Will:
Afghanistan’s $23 billion GDP is the size of Boise’s. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development.
Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan’s recent elections were called “crucial.” To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American “success,” whatever that might mean.
Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a “renewal of trust” of the Afghan people in the government, but The Economist describes President Hamid Karzai’s government – his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker – as so “inept, corrupt and predatory” that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, “who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai’s lot.”
Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan’s “culture of poverty.” But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many “accidental guerrillas” to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al-Qaeda bases – evidently there are none now – must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?
U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.
So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.
Mike Allen at Politico:
Will’s prescription – in which he urges Obama to remember Bismarck’s decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870 – seems certain to split Republicans. He is a favorite of fiscal conservatives. The more hawkish right can be expected to attack his conclusion as foolhardy, short-sighted and naïve, potentially making the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attack.The columnist’s startling recommendation surfaced on the same day that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, sent an assessment up his chain of command recommending what he called “a revised implementation strategy.” In a statement, McChrystal also called for “commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”
In the column, Will warns that any nation-building strategy could be impossible to execute given the Taliban’s ability to seemingly disappear into the rugged mountain terrain and the lack of economic development in the war-plagued nation.
I’m not really sure how many minds this will actually change. Will’s never been much of a hawk, though he does represent something of a curmudgeonly conservative establishmentarianism. Dave can correct me if I’m off-base here.
Over email, Drudgico tells me that in his next column George Will will say it’s time to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan. I don’t especially care what George Will thinks about anything, but given the way things work hopefully it’ll provide some space to make that just a little bit more possible.
K-Lo at The Corner
UPDATE: On Will, Via Allah Pundit
Frederick Kagan at The Corner
Rich Lowry at The Corner
UPDATE #2: More on Will:
Peter Wehner in Commentary
Hugh Hewitt at Townhall
William Kristol at WaPo
Isaac Chotiner at TNR
Christian Brose at FP
From last night’s Mad Men. Margaret Wappler at LA Times:
Let us hope this line goes down in the annals of memorable TV lines. It’s not extremely clever or topical or shocking, but it’s one of the flirtiest winks “Mad Men” has ever given us. (And it had the blogs frothing last week, thanks to an iTunes mishap that allowed the show to be downloaded early.) Fifteen years ago, a dramatic program set in 1963 might have shown its characters smoking pot, but it likely would have been treated as the first step into a writhing pit of drugs and/or moral depravity. That’s not the case now — maybe because smoking pot is becoming trendy, as The Times’ Adam Tschorn reports.
The Adam Tschorn piece referenced:
After decades of bubbling up around the edges of so-called civilized society, marijuana seems to be marching mainstream at a fairly rapid pace. At least in urban areas such as Los Angeles, cannabis culture is coming out of the closet.
At fashion-insider parties, joints are passed nearly as freely as hors d’oeuvres. Traces of the acrid smoke waft from restaurant patios, car windows and passing pedestrians on the city streets — in broad daylight. Even the art of name-dropping in casual conversation — once limited to celebrity sightings and designer shoe purchases — now includes the occasional boast of recently discovered weed strains such as “Strawberry Cough” and “Purple Kush.”
Public sentiment is more than anecdotal; earlier this year, a California Field Poll found that 56% of California voters supported legalizing and taxing marijuana. Last month, voters in Oakland overwhelmingly approved a tax increase on medical marijuana sales, the first of its kind in the country, and Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn has proposed something similar for the City of Angels. “In this current economic crisis, we need to get creative about how we raise funds,” Hahn said in a statement.
Matt Welch in Reason:
Why are people coming out of the pot closet, to a level maybe not seen since the 1970s (pictured)? The Times ignores the practical evidence in front of them–the hundreds of medical marijuana clinice operating in Los Angeles alone, after California became among the trailblazers to legalize therapeutic pot–and instead looks at the commander in chief:
“Some people point to the Obama administration as the biggest game-changer. “It was when [former President George W. Bush] and his boys were run out of office, that made the biggest difference,” Chong said by phone near the end of the “Light Up America and Canada Tour” that reunited him with Cheech Marin.
[THC Expo co-founder Brian] Roberts cited the election as the tipping point as well. “The whole show teetered on who won the election,” he said. “If McCain had won, I’d have never have put up my money. But Americans are no longer living in fear.””Jacob Sullum wrote about how the Chong persecution and related paraphernalia busts crack down on free speech here. I analogized Obama to the Mikhail Gorbachev of pot liberalization in June.
Jonah Lehrer at Sully’s place:
My hunch is that the normalization of marijuana is here to stay. In recent years, there’s been increasing interest among scientists in cannabinoid receptors, which are the cell receptors activated when you inhale some THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. (There’s a grand scientific tradition of naming cell receptors after the drugs that activate them, which is why you also have opiate receptors and nicotinic receptors. For some still mysterious reason, a chemical in the tropical shrub cannabis sativa is able to perfectly mimic our natural neurotransmitters. As Roger Nicoll, a neuroscientist at UCSF, puts it: “The brain makes its own marijuana.” Smoking a joint just helps you make more of it.) While these cannabinoid receptors have been targeted for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments and disorders, from obesity to chronic pain, I think they might hold the most promise for the treatment of anxiety. There’s now good evidence that mice lacking a normal cannabinoid receptor have difficulty forgetting or unlearning fearful memories. This suggests that endocannabinoids – the natural molecules in your brain that work like THC – help the brain get over the negative emotions triggered by past trauma. Of course, this shouldn’t be too surprising: Despite the fact marijuana was first cultivated almost 10,000 years ago, modern medicine has yet to find another substance that can melt away our fears with such slick efficiency.
Neuroscientists now believe that a faulty endocannabinoid system might play a part in all sorts of anxiety syndromes, from post-traumatic stress disorder to irrational phobias. The Holy Grail of Big Pharm would be a THC compound targeted to the specific parts of our brain—like the amygdala—that modulate our sense of fear. Such a pill would give us the anti-anxiety effects of pot, but without the giddiness, hunger or irrational urge to watch The Big Lebowski. While scientists still don’t know if such a site-specific pill is possible—can we just get our amygdala high?—experiments done in the next few years should help resolve the issue. If such a pill ever hits the market, of course, I think it would dramatically alter the way in which most Americans (and not just those in my liberal zip code) think about marijuana. Weed would no longer be synonymous with Cheech and Chong, or Jeff Spicoli, or Harold and Kumar. Instead, it just might be the new Prozac.
Back to the LA Times hallucination:
“Richard Laermer, a media and pop culture trend watcher and author of several books, including “2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade,” … points to a … subtle shift: aging baby boomers — a generation famous for tuning in, turning on and dropping out — who are keeping their party habits going into their golden years.
“It’s hard to fathom that the fifty- and sixtysomethings would be against pot after all the pot they smoked,” Laermer said, “Their kids would laugh them out of the room if they started telling them not to smoke pot.””
Hello? The Boomers have been in power for decades, so I guess we are hard to fathom. Hey, we’re deep and complex and… just as hypocritical as every other generation that ever flowered and went to seed. You can laugh at us all you want, but you actually can’t laugh us out of the room… or out of Congress.
Now, from across the pond, get the other side of the coin, Dominique Browning in the NYT:
Any parent who has had to confront a child’s drug abuse is familiar with the drawn-out agony of despair, impotence, fear, grief and, while there is still a chance for recovery, hope. That last is perhaps the most ravaging of all. Hope means you aren’t yet numb enough, not yet at peace with the chaos into which life has spilled, not yet so defeated and angry that you’re unable to try to help. Julie Myerson, a novelist living in London and the mother of three children, was finally forced to throw her eldest son out of the house — and change the locks — when his cannabis habit so deranged him that he became physically violent. He was 17 years old.
“I am flattened, deadened. I have nothing in my mind except the deep black hole that is the loss of my child,” she writes in “The Lost Child: A Mother’s Story.” Myerson undergoes a crash course in drugs. Her son is smoking skunk, she learns, a strain of cannabis whose THC content is much more potent than garden-variety pot — except that it has become garden variety. I had never heard of skunk either, but a quick search online led me to a souk of seeds for the home farmer, advertising up to a toxic 22 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in some strains. My shopping cart remained empty as I browsed in disbelief. Even as stronger varieties are being bred and marketed, medical research is linking cannabis use to behavioral and cognitive changes reminiscent of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorder. And yet we find ourselves arguing about whether pot is addictive or a gateway drug or should be legalized. We are collectively losing our minds. “The Lost Child” is a cry for help and a plea for a clear acknowledgment of the toll this drug is taking on our children.
Patricia Cohen in the NYT:
In a March interview with The Daily Mail, though, Jake Myerson, then 20, was quoted as saying he opposed the publication and discussed blocking it with a lawyer. “What she has done has taken the very worst years of my life and cleverly blended it into a work of art, and that to me is obscene,” he told The Daily Mail, which reportedly paid him for the interview. “I was only 17; I was a confused teenager.”
He rejected the addict label: “I just like smoking cannabis. Today my drug use is frequent and enjoyable.” Mr. Myerson could not be reached for comment.
In “The Lost Child” Jake, who is identified only as “the boy,” metamorphoses from a loving, cheerful and hard-working student into a surly, violent, foul-mouthed liar and thief who is hooked on skunk, a potent, addictive form of marijuana that experts say can cause paranoia and psychosis. At one point he strikes his mother hard enough to perforate her eardrum.
In the article Mr. Myerson did not deny that specific incidents in the book occurred, but he said that the book exaggerated and distorted what actually happened.
Skunk? I had no idea. I confess I almost never think about drug policy, and probably exist in a blithely ignorant world, thinking that my kids will stay away from drugs, because we’re raising them to do the right thing. But this review was startling, and makes me realize that it’s time to start talking to No. 1 Son seriously about drugs.
Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:
In the UK there’s a magical strain of skunk weed: It addicts teenagers, turns them psycho, prompts their mom to write a tell-all book, and then sends the nation into an uproar over said book. And it’s coming to America!
The uproar, that is! And the book. But not the weed, as far as I know, because this Crrrrrrazymaking skunk only exists in Cheech & Chong movies and the imaginations of lightweights. (And in England).
Julie Myerson is a British author. She had a teenage son. He started smoking skunk and acting progressively more crazy and unmanageable, until she had to kick him out of the house. In America this is known as “being a teenager.”
Then she wrote a book about her son’s crazy life-destroying skunk addiction. In America this is known as “capitalizing on your own brand.” Reality TV has mastered this domain! So who’s to say Julie Myerson cannot tell her son’s story, as unlikely as it may seem to your average American weedhead?
The British media, that’s who! There was a huge uproar over whether Myerson was exploiting her kid (he said she was) and whether she’s a terrible person, etc. Which, hey, helped her sell a lot of books!
Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:
So the current drug policy, where narcotics are illegal, produces a world where particularly potent strains of marijuana are being produced, an evolution incentivized by the need to smuggle it. A teenager, who wouldn’t be able to get pot legally even if drug prohibition ended, gets it under the current regime, and does damage to his life. This anecdote is cited as an obvious argument against legalizing pot.
I am unaware of evidence linking particularly potent marijuana to psychiatric disorders, but if that kind of reaction were happening, due to a particularly virulent strain seeping into the enormous market for illegal pot, there would seem to be two options — continue the failed policy of prohibition as though it might magically start working, or enact a regime of legalized marijuana where dangerous varieties could be mostly regulated away.
Maia Szalavitz at STATS:
In her Times review, Browning also cites a litany of anti-marijuana propaganda. She says:
“stronger varieties are being bred and marketed, medical research is linking cannabis use to behavioral and cognitive changes reminiscent of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorder. And yet we find ourselves arguing about whether pot is addictive or a gateway drug or should be legalized. We are collectively losing our minds.”
That paragraph contains so much misinformation it will take several to unpack.
For one, the old saw about stronger marijuana has been continually repeated since the dawn of the drug war; but if potency had actually increased at the rate claimed by the press, we’d have over 100% THC marijuana by now. Although potent “skunk” does seem to be somewhat more common than it used to be, the earliest potency studies were marred by the fact that they looked at unusually low quality weed, thereby suggesting that what the boomers smoked didn’t actually contain enough THC to get anyone high at all.
Nonetheless, higher potency isn’t even necessarily bad: typically, users smoke smaller quantities of stronger pot, exposing their lungs to less smoke and rendering the argument, um, less potent than it appears without mentioning that fact.
Further, what Browning also doesn’t note is that the new research linking marijuana to behavioral and cognitive changes only refers to short term changes: In other words, marijuana can make you spacey and paranoid while you are high. This is hardly news. Long term cognitive changes appear to be reversible with abstinence, according to reviews of the research.
And while heavy marijuana use has indeed been linked with increased risk of psychotic disorders, there is no consensus suggesting that this is causal. People prone to psychosis may seek to medicate themselves with marijuana but if marijuana use were causing psychosis, we should have seen an increase in psychosis paralleling the massive worldwide rise of marijuana use since the 1960’s. Over that time, however, psychotic disorders have actually been stable or may have even declined. As a recent review of the data noted:
“Only a very small proportion of the general population exposed to cannabinoids develop a psychotic illness. It is likely that cannabis exposure is a ‘component cause’ that interacts with other factors to ‘cause’ schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder, but is neither necessary nor sufficient to do so alone”
In terms of the research on major depression, at least one study found that cannabis use is linked with lower rates of that disorder and the leading researcher on the epidemiology of depression says that the data doesn’t support the idea that marijuana is a major cause of depression. Research on the other conditions is ongoing—but there’s little evidence to suggest that marijuana is a major cause of either.
Zachery Kouwe in the NYT:
Nearly a year after the federal rescue of the nation’s biggest banks, taxpayers have begun seeing profits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that many critics thought might never be seen again.
The profits, collected from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, come to about $4 billion, or the equivalent of about 15 percent annually, according to calculations compiled for The New York Times.
These early returns are by no means a full accounting of the huge financial rescue undertaken by the federal government last year to stabilize teetering banks and other companies.
The government still faces potentially huge long-term losses from its bailouts of the insurance giant American International Group, the mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the automakers General Motors and Chrysler. The Treasury Department could also take a hit from its guarantees on billions of dollars of toxic mortgages.
But the mere hint of bailout profits for the nearly year-old Troubled Asset Relief Program has been received as a welcome surprise. It has also spurred hopes that the government could soon get out of the banking business.
Daniel Gross in Slate:
The exhaustive spreadsheets at financialstability.gov document the status of the 667 investments made under CPP since last fall. To date, 21 institutions have repaid the principal amount and repurchased the warrants, and 15 more have repaid the principal. Morgan Stanley, which borrowed $10 billion in October 2008, redeemed the preferred shares in June and purchased the warrants for $950 million on Aug. 12, giving taxpayers a return of 12.7 percent, according to SNL Financial. For the 21 companies that bought back the shares and the warrants, the taxpayer received an annualized return of 17.5 percent—which is better than most hedge funds have done in the past year. Since many of the largest financial institutions raised private capital to substitute for government capital, the 36 “exits”—a tiny fraction of the transactions—represent 34 percent of the total. The bottom line: Taxpayers put $204.4 billion into the banks through CPP and have received $70.2 billion in principal, plus about $10 billion in dividends and warrant payments. The repaid money goes back into Treasury’s general fund, while a small amount has been put back to work. On Aug. 21, AmFirst Financial Services in McCook, Neb., received $5 million from the CPP. Today, 633 banks still owe the Treasury $134.2 billion.
In a simply remarkable coincidence of timing, the New York Time running a story with the very same message, namely that bailouts are good for taxpayers because the Treasury has made money on the TARP.
If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. The fact that we have such patent garbage running as a front page New York Times story says either the reporter and his editors lack the ability to think critically (or find sources who could do that for them) or that we have a controlled press. Given that subscriber-driven Bloomberg has even fallen in line, I am inclined to the latter view, but I am still curious as to how this has been achieved. Is this the price of access journalism, or is something more pernicious at work?
Now to the intellectually bankrupt New York Times story. Here is how it determined the TARP was making money:
The profits, collected from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, come to about $4 billion, or the equivalent of about 15 percent annually, according to calculations compiled for The New York Times.
Help me. Credit 101 is that your best borrowers repay first (unless you gave them overly generous terms, of course, then they might hang on to the proceeds). A quick but not conclusive search suggests that only a small portion of the TARP has been retired, so it is wildly premature to declare victory.
In fact, another source looked at the TARP as of June and estimated that it had lost $148 billion, and had lowered loss total as a result of the repayments. Now bank stocks have rallied since then, but the biggest contributors to the red ink, namely AIG and Citigroup, are not in any better shape fundamentally than they were then. Indeed, the fact that new AIG CEO Robert Benmosche has in a remarkable show of hubris, effectively told the US taxpayer to stuff it, AIG has the dough and is in no particular hurry to return it, nor does it care what the public or Treasury wants, its demands are unreasonable. I wouldn’t hold my breath about having the loans repaid.
There is also an ongoing debate about whether Treasury is getting full value for its warrants, which we’ve covered previously, but let’s leave that aside for now. The bigger question, I think, is this: Did Treasury get a fair deal for its investments at the peak of the crisis?
At the time I said no, and I still think the answer is no. The most important principle to bear in mind is that how a decision turns out has no effect on whether it was a good decision to begin with. In honor of the changing seasons, imagine it’s the first quarter of a football game and you have fourth-and-one at the other team’s 40-yard line. Anyone who studies football statistics will say you should go for it; it’s not even close. (Some people have run the numbers and said that a football team should never – that’s right, never – kick a punt.) If the offense fails to make it, the announcer, and the commentators the next day, will all say that it was a bad decision. That’s completely wrong. It was a good decision; it just didn’t work out.
Profit from bank bailouts–so far. The profits come from banks that have paid back the government, and recall that some banks were forced to take bailout funds in the first place. We will see what happens to the full sample.
Suppose in the end that the government makes a profit of $50 billion on banks, but loses $100 billion on Freddie and Fannie. How should we count that? I would be inclined to count it as a loss on bank bailouts, because the subsidies to Freddie and Fannie end up bailout banks, which were creditors of those institutions.
Two things happen in a panic. One is that huge profit opportunities arise for anyone who has a giant pool of cash or the ability to raise it. The other is that thanks to the “flight to quality” it’s suddenly very easy for the government to raise cash. Hence, profit. Which isn’t to say that we’ll see a profit overall, lots of opportunities for losses still exist:
“The government still faces potentially huge long-term losses from its bailouts of the insurance giant American International Group, the mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the automakers General Motors and Chrysler. The Treasury Department could also take a hit from its guarantees on billions of dollars of toxic mortgages.”
This should be a real worry. That said, it’s worth noting that none of this is core TARP. AIG, Fannie, and Freddie are all separate initiatives. The Fannie & Freddie bailouts were inevitable and anyone would have done them. GM and Chrysler represented diversion of TARP funds away from their main purpose (banks) toward something progressives were more friendly to. It’s really only AIG on this whole list of bailouts were I think clearly condemnation-worthy recent policy mistakes were made. The underlying situation at Fannie & Freddie was a horrible policy blunder, but it evolved over the course of decades so it’s hard to point the finger at anyone in particular.
The money that’s being paid back first comes from the very strongest banks — mostly the ones that really didn’t need capital injections in the first place. They were always the ones who were likely to cash out first, cash out completely, and therefore provide the government with its highest rate of return. In other words, looking at the results of TARP so far is as distorted as if you tried to get a sense of how an election was going by polling only your own guy’s strongest precincts. You’d just be kidding yourself.
TARP won’t end up costing $700 billion. But these early paybacks account for only about 10% of the total and really don’t provide a very good sense of how the program as a whole is likely to turn out. It’s more like an absolute upper bound.
Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:
Here’s what I still find incredible. In twenty years, we’ll likely look back on Obama’s first term and praise or criticize him for a swift or stalled recovery. But what’s amazing is that some of the most important and lasting decisions were made in the waning months of a lame duck presidency. TARP was a Paulson/Bernanke brainchild. The AIG bailout was a Paulson/Bernanke production. The takeover of Fannie and Freddie was in September 2008. The first-round auto bailouts were one of Bush’s final contributions. When history’s verdict on the recovery plans emerges, it focus on two months — September and October — during which time the public was arguably more focused on a campaign. Pretty amazing.
Justin Fox at Time
Meg Marco at The Consumerist
Robert F. McDonnell is running for governor of Virginia. His college thesis is making the rounds.
Amy Gardner (presumably not the character from “The West Wing”) in WaPo:
At age 34, two years before his first election and two decades before he would run for governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell submitted a master’s thesis to the evangelical school he was attending in Virginia Beach in which he described working women and feminists as “detrimental” to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.” He described as “illogical” a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.
The 93-page document, which is publicly available at the Regent University library, culminates with a 15-point action plan that McDonnell said the Republican Party should follow to protect American families — a vision that he started to put into action soon after he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
In his run for governor, McDonnell, 55, makes little mention of his conservative beliefs and has said throughout his campaign that he should be judged by what he has done in office, including efforts to lower taxes, stiffen criminal penalties and reform mental health laws. He reiterated that position Saturday in a statement responding to questions about his thesis.
“Virginians will judge me on my 18-year record as a legislator and Attorney General and the specific plans I have laid out for our future — not on a decades-old academic paper I wrote as a student during the Reagan era and haven’t thought about in years.”
McDonnell added: “Like everybody, my views on many issues have changed as I have gotten older.” He said that his views on family policy were best represented by his 1995 welfare reform legislation and that he “worked to include child day care in the bill so women would have greater freedom to work.” What he wrote in the thesis on women in the workplace, he said, “was simply an academic exercise and clearly does not reflect my views.”
Ben Smith at Politico:
The DNC is going after Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell in a kind of homage to Ted Kennedy’s famous attack on Robert Bork.
The new line of attack — drawn from McDonnell’s deeply socially conservative Regent University thesis — offers Democrats hopes of redefining a race that seemed to be slipping from their grasp.
The statement from DNC national spokesman Hari Sevugan raises the themes likely to wind up on Northern Virginia television screens some time soon:
In Bob McDonnell’s preferred Virginia, women would be stigmatized for choosing to work outside the home, access to contraception would be all but banned and women would be denied equal pay for equal work. In Bob McDonnell’s preferred Virginia, the medical decisions of women and their doctors would be criminalized and the victims of rape and incest would have no medical recourse. While Virginians want to keep the Commonwealth moving forward, these devastating revelations prove that Bob McDonnell wants to take Virginia backwards.
And to be clear, these were not the musings of young student, but rather a 34-year old married man on the cusp of elected office who would go on to doggedly pursue the extreme agenda he called for once in that office.
By undermining his main argument that he’s in the main stream of Virginians, not only has this revelation laid bare McDonnell’s real agenda, but is nothing short of a game changer in this election.
Eric Kleefeld at TPM:
On a conference call with reporters just now, the campaign of Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds laid into McDonnell.
On the call, Deeds senior adviser Mo Elleithee dismissed the push-back by McDonnell, who said that “Like everybody, my views on many issues have changed as I have gotten older,” and that the paper was “simply an academic exercise and clearly does not reflect my views.”
But Elleithee would have none of it. “This paper, which was written when McDonnell was 34 years old and months before he began his first campaign for office, this paper served as a blueprint for governing,” said Elleithee. “This paper drew out very explicitly his vision of a role for government…and it went beyond a personal philosophy, it had a 15-point action plan for how to implement that philosophy. And as the news accounts have said over the last 24 hours, he spent his public life working to implement those 15 points on that action plan.”
Elleithee also pointed out that 54% of Virginians are women — and that a “full assault on the role of women in the workplace” would not go over well with voters.
Jim Geraghty at NRO:
Well, that’s clearly an important and relevant piece of information about the candidate. For historical perspective, in 1989, Barack Obama had been cocaine-free for about ten years and was seven years away from running for public office.
Among the controversial views laid out in the piece: “He argued for covenant marriage, a legally distinct type of marriage intended to make it more difficult to obtain a divorce.”
Hey, you know who else has that far-out view? Current Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine. “Kaine announced yesterday a package of family-friendly proposals that include creating a voluntary ‘covenant marriage’ option in Virginia—an issue usually championed by conservatives.”
Erick Erickson at Redstate:
So, McDonnell says people should judge him based on his record, not a thesis he wrote twenty years ago in an evangelical college. The Washington Post has decided that what he did in office was consistent with what he wrote about.
You mean to tell me we actually have a politician running for office in the United States who keeps his word? We actually have a man running for office who said if he got into office he would do certain things and then actually factually did them?! How dare Bob McDonnell be honest.
And so, if we are to believe the Washington Post — that McDonnell wrote a thesis twenty years ago and has, in his legislative career, kept his word — let’s look at McDonnell now. He’s committed to improving Virginia’s economy. He’s committed to cutting taxes. He’s committed to improving education for Virginia’s children. He’s committed to being tough on crime. He’s committed to Virginia.
If the past is the best indicator of future performance, then we have here a candidate who actually intends to keep his word to Virginia and fix things.
Then there’s Creigh Deeds. He’s made so many inconsistent and broken promises, all he’s left with is giving McDonnell’s college thesis from twenty years ago to the Washington Post and hoping they’ll do something with it.
They have. They’ve proven McDonnell keeps his word.
The dispatching of interns to college campus for purposes of digging up politicians’ old papers, newspaper columns, and self-effacing submissions to really radical but also really, like, awesome poetry ‘zines is a sacred tradition of journalism. And it is this custom that has made it possible for America to now enjoy the senior thesis of Virginia gubernatorial candidate/former attorney general Bob McDonnell, a 93-page musing on the fairer sex that is now forcing McDonnell to perform the PR equivalent of fellatio on fornicators, cohabitators, working mothers and other types of fallen women.
McDonnell didn’t take too kindly to feminists in college, especially not employed feminists, who bitch about equal pay and then use their riches to buy condoms in order to have hypersexualized types of sex.
UPDATE: Steve Benen
Will at The League
UPDATE #2: Hanna Rosin at Double X
Ramesh Ponnuru at WaPo
Christian Toto at Human Events