Talking cannabis policy with Ezra Klein

I thought Ezra and his editing crew did a very nice job (other than in their somewhat eccentric choice of an interviewee). The contrast with a typical cable show could hardly be sharper: Ezra doesn’t need to compete for airtime or to show off his knowledge. He asks questions designed to elicit substantive answers, and then mostly edits the questions out of the tape.

Partial transcript here.

Ukraine: who are you gonna believe?

For reasons I can only partly fathom, some progressive pundits (though, I’m happy to say, no progressive politicians) have decided to accept a career secret policeman as the authoritative source of information about human rights in Ukraine. For balance, here are the views of a career human-rights advocate, based on the report of the professional staff of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Short version: Yanukovych’s Bikram security police were practicing torture with impunity before he fled the country; the armed anti-government activity in the West came only after months of official misconduct; human rights problems have declined since the change of regime, except in Russian-ruled Crimea, where there are now systematic violations; there has not been systematic right-wing nationalist violence; the Jewish community is not threatened; and pro-Russian forces are deliberately spreading misinformation with the goal of terrifying the Russian-speaking population in the East into thinking that their rights are under attack.

There’s a strange analogy between left-wing denialism about what Russia is up to in Ukraine and right-wing denialism about global warming. In each case, distaste for the possible policy implications of recognizing facts (worsened relations with Russia, environmental controls and energy taxes) leads to refusal to acknowledge the facts. It’s possible to argue that the U.S. should exercise restraint in responding to Russian aggression. It’s plain silly to pretend that Russian aggression isn’t happening.

The Fetishization of Elite University Admission

A friend of mine who served on a local school board attended multiple meetings in which parents complained about the way GPA and class rankings were calculated for high school students in AP courses. After hours of passionate discussion driven by a very small number of parents, he lost his temper and said “We have thousands of kids in our district and I am sick of spending all our time debating whether the few of them who want to go to Princeton are going to end up at Dartmouth instead”.

I thought of my friend when I read the recent New York Times story with the doleful title Best, Brightest and Rejected. My university’s very low rate of acceptance is the kick-off point for the article, which mentions the case of Mr. Isaac Madrid. Isaac does not understand why he didn’t get in to Stanford. Tragically enough, the story informs us, he will instead have to go to Yale.

Yale! Congratulations to Isaac and family! The NYT photo makes Isaac look pensive and maybe a little sad, when it ought to show him jumping up and down with joy because he is a no doubt amazing young person who is heading off to a world-class university.

Stanford University is a great place to get an education and I am lucky to be a professor here. But no one’s life chances break down into two mutually exclusive options: Stanford admission vs. Chronic unemployment and homelessness. Whether it’s intentional or not, the extraordinary amount of focus NYT and other prominent media outlets give to the importance of getting into ONE PARTICULAR ELITE UNIVERSITY (Usually Harvard or Stanford) distorts the perspective of many young people and their parents. I would not have believed it until I got here and saw it up close, but there really are parents with great kids heading off to great schools who consider their children not being admitted to Stanford a disaster, a crime against humanity, or both.

I think the media could do a public service by focusing coverage of university admissions more proportionately on the kinds of institutions that most people attend (e.g., my alma mater). As part of that, I would hope they could bring alive for anxious parents and young people the reality that there are lots of terrific places to get a college education and that most of the successful and fulfilled people in the country did not attend the handful of small, private institutions whose admissions are the subject of outsized media attention.

Kleiman invades Ukraine

Some readers have been puzzled about my uncanny ability to guess at Russian behavior in Ukraine. Actually, the algorithm in predicting actions by the Kremlin is simple: just assume the worst you can imagine, and you’ll be slightly too optimistic.

But in this case I have to confess that it wasn’t my brilliance alone that allowed me to spot the trends. In fact, I’ve been leading a double life: disguised as a mild-mannered (well, sometimes mild-mannered) policy analyst and teacher, in secret I’m actually one of the Russian special forces soldiers pretending to be Ukrainian “protesters,” so I’ve always been privy to what was really going down.

Now that the BBC has blown my cover there’s no longer any point in pretending.

kleiman the cossack

We will bury you.

Continue Reading…

The new Range War: a query

Has a single “conservative” pundit or politician condemned the practice of pointing loaded weapons at law enforcement officials carrying out a valid court order?


Not that I’ve seen, so far. Just lots of pap about how “sympathetic” we should be to someone who prefers to use resources he doesn’t own without paying for them and who does not recognize the existence of the United States of America.

And that’s why I usually put “conservative” in scare quotes when referring to the currently dominant faction of the Red Team. There are real conservatives, just as there’s real medical marijuana. But Sean Hannity has about as much to do with actual conservatism as kush doctors offering recommendations to all comers at $35 a throw and dispensaries with bikini-clad beckoners outside have to do with actual medicine.

The difference between the left and the right in American politics is that the lunatic left is a marginal phenomenon; on the right, the lunatic fringe is the mainstream. I hope the genunine conservatives out there will do something to take their good name back from the snipers and the cheerleaders for snipers.

RBC’s candidate for Harvard Overseer

Whenever I hear the term “Harvard Board of Overseers” I imagine a bunch of slavedrivers with whips. That, of course, is grossly unfair: Harvard, like the rest of New England Brahmin society, benefited from slavery, but largely – after the abolition of the legal slave trade in 1808 – without getting its hands dirty: mostly by financing slaveholding. Pecunia non olet, and all that.

It’s also unfair because, as far as I understand it (that is to say, not very far) the real muscle lies with the self-perpetuating Harvard Corporation (“The President and Fellows of Harvard College”) rather than with the elected Overseers.

Presumably most RBC readers were, even in their youth, wise enough to avoid what is laughingly called a “Harvard education” as undergradutes. Most, but not all. And it’s harder to avoid catching a dose of Veritas when seeking a professional degree or doing a Ph.D., so it seems likely that some of you got caught in the toils, or were even forced to take a Harvard degree (without the purported education) as the price of getting tenure. (The Harvard statutes require that every tenured professor hold a Harvard M.A., and the degree is ritually conferred as needed.)

If for any of those reasons you are entitled to sing “Fight Fiercely, Hahvahd,” you are also entitled to vote for the Overseers. That being the case, you will certainly wish to vote for the RBC’s own Lesley Friedman Rosenthal, General Counsel at Lincoln Center, author of a wonderful book on lawyering for not-for-profits, and my friend since she was a sophomore on the banks of the Charles and I was a graduate student who needed help finding footnotes for my thesis. Lesley’s brand of polite, even-tempered, utterly reasonable bomb-throwing is just what the place could use.

How it’s done: Mark Begich campaigns on Obamacare

As long as the polls show the net favorables for “Obamacare” under water, there will be a temptation for Democrats, especially in Red states, to run away from it. That approach is (1) cowardly (2) wrong and (3) futile.

If people hate the ACA, they’re not going to love Democratic candidates.And if Democrats don’t stand up and brag about about the program’s good points, lazy reporters will keep reporting, “objectively,” that it is a disaster, and low-information voters will believe them. There’s a bit of a collective-action problem here; no one wants to be out of step with everyone else, but it’s also a case of “hang together or hang separately.” The only sane approach for Democrats as group is to be loud and proud about what a great idea it is to protect people from the risks of disease, the vagaries of the job market, the rapacity of some elements of the medical-care system, and the cold-bloodedness of health insurers.

Like this ad from the Mark Begich campaign in Alaska [correction: it's actually from an independent-expenditure group]:

h/t Martin Longman at Washington Monthly.0 Longman’s piece, about the “hack gap,” is worth reading. I’d add that it applies to politicians as well as pundits.

Which Pharmacy Chain is Truly Anti-Smoking?

CVS Pharmacies recently took the remarkable step of ending its sales of tobacco products nationwide. The remaining US pharmacy chains were recently asked to follow CVS’ lead by a range of public health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Cardiology, the American Lung Association, Action on Smoking & Health, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Legacy, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Trust for American’s Health.

But one prominent organization refused to sign: The American Cancer Society. Peter M. Bach, M.D., wondered why this was so, and more generally why Walgreens, which continues to sell coffin nails, draws more praise from the American Cancer Society than does CVS. His answer:

the society received donations from the pharmacy chain…the chain fund-raises for the Cancer Society from its customers, through things like keypad donations at checkout counters.

The American Cancer Society points out, and Bach acknowledges, that Walgreens is a leader in providing anti-smoking programs for its employees. But this is a paltry financial commitment to the cause compared to that of CVS, which is forsaking $2 billion in annual sales. As Bach sees it, the American Cancer Society is giving Walgreens cover to not acknowledge its hypocrisy:

at the end of the day a corporate vision “to be the first choice in health and daily living for everyone in America” is incongruous with selling the leading cause of preventable death at your cash registers.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Where the Sidewalk Ends

where-the-sidewalk-ends-1950My tribute to Dana Andrews continues with the film with which he closed out the most glittering decade of his career. In 1944, Andrews and his frequent co-star Gene Tierney, Director/Producer Otto Preminger and Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle made Laura, a classic film of high society longing, love and murder. Take that same foursome, move the story setting down significantly in economic strata and add a dose of brutality and you have this week’s film recommendation: 1950′s Where the Sidewalk Ends.

The story, as conveyed through one of Ben Hecht’s many outstanding scripts, centers on Police Detective Mark Dixon (Andrews). Dixon’s hatred of gangsters is legendary, and leads him to relentlessly un-Miranda-type behavior toward thugs. He has a particular grudge against mob boss Tommy Scalise (an oleaginous Gary Merrill), for reasons that are revealed during the film. While investigating a murder in which Scalise is involved, Dixon loses his temper one time too many, resulting in a tragic death which he tries to cover up. He hopes to frame Scalise, but suspicion instead falls on an innocent man (sweetly played by Tom Tully) whose dishy daughter (Tierney) turns Dixon’s head. The dark story twists like a knife from there, up to and including the very last scene.

The film has some superb noir cinematography, with the standout shot being a long, fixed point take of a car with Dixon and some mobsters in it approaching and entering a car elevator (in which LaShelle cannily placed the camera) and then rising up off the screen as the men in the car eye each other suspiciously. There are also a number of arresting shots that draw the viewers’ attention to two distinct points on the screen. My favorite is when Andrews is about to tell Tierney the truth but then turns toward the viewer, his face partly shaded. She then talks over his shoulder at the camera, as his face is transfixed with shame and doubt. Preminger set up many scenes this way in his career, challenging the viewer to track both external action and internal reactions in the same shots.

Who gets the credit for these effective framings and the movie’s overall cool look? Continue Reading…

News Chew

The DEA has apparently been staking out Midwest Hydroganics of Illinois for a few years; 46-year-old Angela Kirking is only the most recent individual to be hassled after shopping there. Whether or not the search warrant holds, discovering some weed in a lady’s “art room” seems like a waste of clean uniforms.

In the gritty TV show where I imagine all drug raids take place, pulling up a few grams of weed is hardly a DUN DUN DUN moment. I can’t think of a more benign place for marijuana to be found than in the art room of some funky lady who paints faces for a living and eats the petals off her organic hibiscus plant.

Now that she knows the DEA is watching the spot she bought some compost at that one time, she does not plan to take her business elsewhere.

“I’d love to send all my friends [to Midwest Hydroganics] to see how far they take this.”

Her new goal in the drug war is to run the DEA around until they tucker themselves out. This week I am helping my landlord put in a bunch of raised beds and beside the buttloads of weed the City of Oakland requires we grow, I will be sticking in a hibiscus.

Stories like these don’t help the DEA with their reputation for being a little silly and maybe a lot deaf.  In a press conference last week DEA Chief Michele Leonhart provided a pull-quote for all saying the trend of relaxing opinions on cannabis in the U.S. only makes her “fight harder.”

It’s unnerving for a government agent to declare that citizens don’t know what’s good for them and the more those citizens change their minds, the harder that agency will resist changing gears. Because you’ll see, you’ll all see!

America is uninterested in seeing the Angela Kirkings of the world arrested at gunpoint for a stash of what they probably adorably still call dope. But for each article written about an upper-middle-class white lady getting arrested for possession, law enforcement arrests lots of black and brown people for pretty much the same thing without the media saying “boo.” Articles like the one in the Shorewood Patch get picked up because they fit a certain storyline. More on that in a later post

Anyway, if all this seems anecdotal, here comes some fun new data from Pew Research showing that most people in the U.S. think cannabis will eventually be legal everywhere. Regarding the “hard” drugs, a growing majority of Americans believe time and resources are better spent on recovery than prosecution. Also cocaine use is down (yay) and heroine use is up (boo).