Congress meddles in DC cannabis policy. Bad move. Good results?

No, Congress shouldn’t have meddled in DC home rule by blocking the city from legalizing cannabis on the alcohol model. But the result is to leave in place the “Grow and Give” system the Washington voters approved. On its merits, that system deserves a trial, and we should watch the results closely

Jamaican government proposes non-commercial legalization of ganja

Mark Golding is the Jamaican Minister of Justice. Below the fold is the text of a press release from his office about legislation that would decriminalize of cannabis possession and legalize its production and sale for medical use and for use in Rastafarian religious observance.

In addition, the fine print:

Permits the cultivation of five or less ganja plants on any premises, which will be regarded as being for medical or therapeutic use of the leaves or for horticultural purposes

In other words, the proposal is for complete but noncommercial legalization.

Key sentence:

The system of complete legal prohibition of ganja in Jamaica has been in place since 1948, has not worked and is no longer considered fit for purpose.

Note the cross-national difference in terminology: to “table” a bill means to offer it, not to defer its consideration. Also note that under a parliamentary system, a Cabinet bill is likely to become law without much modification.
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Weekend Film Recommendation: The Scarlet Pimpernel

vlcsnap-446078Last week I recommended Pygmalion. This week I will stick with the films of Leslie Howard, a multi-talented actor/director/producer as well as a true patriot who was taken from us too soon in 1943 when he was murdered along with 16 other defenseless people by the German Luftwaffe. Can a film star be so appealing that the audience will root for a die-hard one-percenter who is battling the cruelty of ignorant poor people in an adaptation of book by a Pro-Imperialist, Pro-Aristocrat author? Well, sink me if Leslie Howard can’t, as you will see in this week’s film recommendation: The 1934 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

The film is set during The Reign of Terror, during which déclassé French mobs cheer as the guillotine ceaselessly beheads tumbril-full after tumbril-full of upper class men, women and children. Enter our brave and dashing British hero, The Scarlet Pimpernel (Leslie Howard), to rescue his fellow nibs and show the Froggies a thing or two along the way, hey wot? In private life this crusader hides behind a foppish, effete image as Sir Percy Blakeney, leading his wife (Merle Oberon) to worry that her husband is incapable of manly action. Meanwhile, a tough, clever French agent named Chauvelin (Raymond Massey) blackmails Lady Blakeney over a past transgression in the hopes that she will ferret out the true identity of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Although the movie contains some exciting action scenes in the early going, it’s really more of a three-handed melodrama (Indeed, the film would have benefited from just a bit more swash in its buckle). Percy doubts his wife’s political loyalty, she despairs of his evident lack of virility and seriousness, and Chauvelin tries to exploit the situation to bring about the death of his hated enemy. What might otherwise have been an overly serious or plodding story is enlivened throughout by Howard’s nearly over-the-top performance as Sir Percy, which he wisely plays for every possible laugh. Sink me, he’s a delight, as is Nigel Bruce in a supporting role as a buffoonish Prince of Wales (Later he would play a similarly comic Dr. Watson in another of my film recommendations).

Raymond Massey, with his dark looks and intense acting, makes a memorable villain as Chauvelin. And 1930s movie icon Merle Oberon is at the peak of her allure. Shortly after this film was made the Hays Code came in to cover up her décolletage with burlap, thereby saving America’s wayward youth from unclean thoughts and perilous temptation. Sadly, Oberon was then in a serious car accident that permanently scarred her lovely face. She did though go on in 1939 to anchor an all-time classic, Wuthering Heights (She also, funnily enough, married The Scarlet Pimpernel’s producer, Alexander Korda, that same year). As a sign of the times and the business in which she worked, this mixed-race actress spent her entire life trying to deny her Indian heritage by invoking the risible claim that she was Tasmanian!

As for the politics of this film, well, only once does an aristocrat (Count de Tornay) in the movie acknowledge that The Terror never would have happened if the rich hadn’t been so out of touch. The author of the novel (a curio to be sure), Baroness Orczy, criticized French aristos for forgetting the code of noblesse oblige and abusing the poor. But neither she nor this film objects to aristocracy in principle, only aristocracy done badly. Should this bother you? Not unless you take this movie way too seriously. This is a Saturday afternoon matinee, not a political science lecture, and it succeeds on those light-hearted terms, particularly because of the standout work of the wonderful Leslie Howard. Best of all, it’s in the public domain (take that, you indolent landed gentry!) so even if you haven’t two farthings to rub together you can see this film for free right here.

p.s. If you enjoy The Scarlet Pimpernel you would probably also like The Three Musketeers, recommended here by Johann.

Are Smoking Cessation Medications Over-Regulated?

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The pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the Food and Drug Administration have been arguing back and forth about whether the anti-smoking medication Chantix deserves a black box warning because of patient reports of depression, suicidal impulses, agitation and other psychiatric symptoms. Perhaps these are side effects of Pfizer’s drug, but they might reflect the smoking population including an unusually high proportion of people with pre-existent psychiatric problems.

The smoking population has evolved from what it was before anyone knew smoking was unhealthy. After over a half century of most smokers trying to quit, those still left smoking have become economically poorer and also more psychologically troubled due to adverse selection.

Quitting smoking is easier if you have psychological resources to nurture your motivation, develop a quit plan, tolerate the agitation and bad moods that can come with withdrawal, and cope with urges to relapse. If your emotional resources are already under strain from another problem, such as schizophrenia or depression, you are therefore less likely to succeed at quitting. That’s why smoking and depression were unrelated in 1952, but 40 years after smokers started trying to quit en masse, the prevalence of depression was three times higher among smokers than non-smokers.

Problem drinkers face the same psychological disadvantages as people with mental illnesses, and may also be more prone to relapse because alcohol consumption can neurologically trigger cravings for cigarettes. Remarkably, 53.1% of heavy drinkers smoke, more than triple the rate among non-drinkers.

In this new world of cigarette smoking, reports of psychiatric symptoms among people on smoking cessation pharmacotherapy are going to be common whether the medication in question causes them or not. FDA Regulators must be careful not to overreact when deciding whether to put black box warnings on smoking cessation medications, which scare many people off from taking them.

To go one step further, even when a symptom report truly represents an anti-smoking medication side-effect, smokers, doctors and regulators shouldn’t necessarily rule out the medication as an option. Smoking remains the leading cause of premature death in the United States and taking some calculated risks to continue snuffing it out could be medically and ethically justifiable.

Author’s note: I have no financial relationship with Pfizer and have never accepted so much as a squeezy ball from them during my career.

Rand Paul’s empathy deficit

Of course there is room for legitimate debate about the standards for granting disability payments under Social Security. But Rand Paul’s laughing comments about the problem reflect less a political orientation than a moral failing.

The audio on the tracker tape

is hard to decipher; Michael Hilzik makes it out as:

The thing is that all of these programs, there’s always somebody who’s deserving, everybody in this room knows somebody who’s gaming the system. I tell people that if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everyone over 40 has a back pain.

Jeremy Diamond at CNN points out that “over half” is absurdly contrary to the actual numbers: all the psychiatric diagnoses and all the musculosketal disorders added together don’t account for half the Social Security Disability caseload, and anxiety is a small part of the psychiatric caseload while back pain is a small part of the musculoskeletal caseload. Hilzik also shows the sort of anxiety and back disease that qualify for disability payments have nothing to do with routine pre-work jitters or backache.

The definition of disability for Social Security purposes is twofold:

1. The claimant must have a medical condition that severely limits his or her capacity do “basic work activities” including “walking, sitting, and remembering” that will either last more than a year or terminate in death.

2. The impairment must be such that the claimant is unable not only to perform his own job but any other job: a construction worker who loses an arm isn’t “disabled” if, for example, he could work as a call center operator or Wal-Mart greeter.

So the Senator either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or is simply making stuff up, in the great tradition of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” story.

But the affect is even scarier than the words. Rand Paul, who would like to have his finger on the nuclear trigger, thinks that people crippled by pain or psychiatric illness are funny. and he manages to get a laugh from the heartless crowd he’s addressing.

Not being a psychiatrist, and not having examined the Senator personally, I’m not qualified to make a diagnosis, but here’s Wikipedia’s definition of narcissistic personality disorder.

People who are diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder are characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance. They have a sense of entitlement and demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behavior. They have a strong need for admiration, but lack feelings of empathy.

 [emphasis added]

Sound like anyone you’ve heard of?

The political game here is obvious. The new Republican rules will forbid the Social Security trustees to make what would otherwise be a routine transfer from the Old Age Insurance fund to the Disability Insurance fund when the latter runs dry next year. The goal is to set up a battle between (richer, whiter) retirees and (poorer, darker) people with disabilities.

In answer to a question asked long ago to another Republican Senator: No. even at long last, Rand Paul has no shame at all.

Footnote Yes, I take this personally. For years I had the sort of back disease (spinal stenosis) which meant I had to decide every day between having a manageable level of pain and being mentally sharp. And that wasn’t nearly the level of problem that would qualify for Social Security disability. So, unlike the Senator from Aynrandistan, I have a bit of a grasp of what the people who are disabled by degenerative spinal disease have to go through. At the risk of sounding like a humorless liberal, it’s not funny.

Campus date rape and due process

A previous post here defended (1) having university authorities investigate accusations of on-campus date rape and impose university discipline, whether or not the complainant chooses to pursue criminal charges, and (2) imposing discipline on a standard of proof something short of “beyond reasonable doubt.” That still seems right to me.

But Nancy Gertner’s careful analysis of Harvard’s new policy shows that complaints about procedural unfairness toward the accused in such cases are sometimes very well founded. Under the Harvard system, the accused has one week to respond, no right to call witnesses or cross-examine, and only a limited right to legal representation, while the accuser has unlimited time and assistance The university officials in charge of enforcing rules against gender discrimination act as investigator, judge, and jury, and their findings of fact are unreviewable. Can you say “kangaroo court”?

Gertner also shows that Oberlin’s policy does the same job much better.

Putting the adjudication of such charges, and the review of the performance of the campus officials who manage the process, in the hands of on-campus  Title IX compliance officers and Title IX administrators at the Department of Education is a recipe for disaster. 

 

 

This weird-looking Medicaid expansion map would sadden Dr. King on his holiday

(This column is cross-posted at the Huffington Post.)

I wonder what Dr. King would think about the current health reform debate. OK I don’t really wonder. Here, for example, are his comments, apparently made here in Chicago:

Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.

Martin Luther King supported health care as a human right. He also knew how far we had to go as a nation in making that right a reality.

King was the energizing force behind the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). I suspect he would be ashamed but unsurprised to see his home region so resistant to the basic expansion of health insurance coverage to Americans with incomes below the poverty line. To some extent, the extent of southern resistance is obscured by maps such as the one below, that display which states have rejected the Medicaid expansio­­­n around the country:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 3.13.50 PMMany of the shaded states such as Wyoming and Montana are huge but sparsely populated. Others such as Wisconsin have small populations left uncovered for other reasons.

Harvard post-doctoral researcher Laura Yasaitis is an expert at drawing different kinds of maps. At my request, she made me a map in which the size of every state was proportional to the number of people who landed in the “Medicaid gap.” (She couldn’t quite do that, since states such as California and New York would simply vanish. We drew each of these states as if they had shut out 2,000 state residents instead of zero. She also taught me how to make Cartograms. SO you may see more such items in this space.)

When we did all that, here’s what the US map would like if it were scaled by the number of affected people in each state (see below): Continue Reading…

Alan Dershowitz calls Binyamin Netanyahu an anti-Semite

Binyamin Netanyahu, in a Tweet posted today:

“I believe that Jews know deep in their hearts that they have one country – the state of Israel, home for all of us.”

Alan Dershowitz, two years ago:

It’s the kind of virulent hate speech you’d expect to find on a neo-Nazi website or in a Patrick Buchanan column: American Jews who support current Israeli policies are accused of dual loyalty and called “Israel firsters.”

AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) fares even worse: “Saying AIPAC is guilty of dual loyalty is giving it credit for one more loyalty than it holds.”

In other words, this widely respected American organization, and the hundreds of thousands of Jews (and Christians) who support it, have absolutely no loyalty to our nation; their sole loyalty is to the foreign nation of Israel.

This false accusation of disloyalty to country was a central tenet of Nazism, Stalinism and other anti-Semitic regimes. Today, it is the mantra of Jew haters and neo-Nazis.

So, according to Alan Dershowitz, Binyamin Netanyahu is spreading neo-Nazi propaganda.  Abe Foxman, call your office.

 

Pub Quiz: Horses and Riders

Below is a list of 12 horses and their 12 riders. Google not and match the pairs. Post scores and critiques/comment at the end.

HORSES

Bucephalus
Buttermilk
Champion
Fury
Horse
Pie
Rocinante
Scout
Seattle Slew
Silver
Thunder
Tony

RIDERS

Alexander the Great
Dale Evans
Don Quixote
Dudley Do Right
Gene Autry
Jean Cruguet
Jimmy Stewart
Joey Clark
Lone Ranger
Red Ryder
Tom Mix
Tonto

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