Wide-ranging discussion with Josh Barro of Business Insider. I failed to mention the role of alcohol in suicide, but otherwise performed adequately. Barro is a first-rate interviewer.
“Burying the lede” is what journalism teachers call it when the key fact in a story doesn’t make it to the first (“lede”) paragraph but instead gets “buried” somewhere down in the story.
Of course, scientists can make the same mistake: breathlessly reporting routine findings while ignoring what’s surprising or important. Consider, for example, this week’s report from the Colorado Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee. The authors report relatively encouraging news about the public-health impacts of legalization: cannabis use among adults and minors is high relative to other states, but there’s no observable increase after the opening of retail adult-use stores. The spike of emergency department visits due to edibles seems to have come back to earth.
But neither the report itself, nor the news stories I’ve seen about it, makes much of a fuss about what looks to me like the headline finding: (from p. 4 of the report):
In 2015, 6% of adults reported using marijuana daily or near-daily. This was lower than daily or near-daily
alcohol (22%) or tobacco use (16%). Of 18- to 25-year old marijuana users, 50% report using daily
or near-daily (13% of all 18- to 25-year olds). Among adult past-month marijuana users, 79% smoke, 30%
“vape” and 33% use edibles. Respondents could report using more than one method, which 50% of users
did. Finally, approximately 2% of adults drove a vehicle in the past 30 days after using marijuana.
In case you didn’t notice it: 50% of cannabis users between 18 and 25 use every day or almost every day. (The report defines “daily or near-daily use” as self-reported us 5 to 7 days per week.) We know from other studies by Beau Kilmer and his group at RAND that daily/near-daily smokers consume about three times as much cannabis per use-day as less frequent smokers, enough to be measurably impaired (even if not subjectively stoned) for most of their waking hours. That turns out to be 13% of the entire population of young adults. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that about one-half of daily or near-daily smokers meet the diagnostic criteria for Substance Use Disorder. That’s a frightening share of users, and of the total population, to be engaging in such worrisome behavior.
The comparison with daily use of alcohol and tobacco seems vaguely reassuring: daily cannabis use is less common than daily use of the two others drugs. But that’s a false reassurance, because the behaviors aren’t directly comparable. Tobacco, of course, isn’t an intoxicant at all. Alcohol certainly is, but as sociological (not pharmacological) fact most drinking activity is not to the point of intoxication: most people who have a drink or two, even every day, just have a drink or two: they don’t intend to get drunk, and they don’t in fact get drunk. The scientific literature has a technical term for getting drunk: it’s called “binge drinking,” and is usually defined as four or more drinks at a sitting for a woman, five or more for a man (to allow for gender differences in weight). Binge drinking is a hell of a lot more common than you’d like it to be: about half of all drinks are consumed as part of drinking binges. But it’s still relatively rare.
Cannabis, by contrast – again, this is sociology, not pharmacology – is, under U.S. conditions and practices, usually used to intoxication, as the common terms indicate: “getting medicated,” “getting stoned,” “getting wrecked.” Yes, it’s possible to take a puff or two before a dinner or a concert, or at a party, to enhance the enjoyment of food, music, and companionship, but that’s not in fact the way U.S. consumers typically take the herb. Of course, some of those daily and near-daily users aren’t getting stoned every time they use; their tolerance for THC has developed to the point where smoking just makes them feel normal. Unfortunately, all the studies show that objective impairment – reduced performance on a range of cognitive and motor tasks – can be present even when subjective intoxication is absent, and in fact impairment generally lasts longer than the feeling of being high.
And yet the prevalence of heavy use doesn’t even make it to the report’s list of “trends to continue monitoring” (i.e., things to worry about), and doing something to bring that prevalence down fails to make the list of recommendations.
More and more people using cannabis more and more often is a trend that pre-dates legalization and is not restricted to states that have legalized. Between 1992 and 2014, as Jon Caulkins calculated, the share of cannabis users who are daily or near-daily more than quadrupled nationally, from 9% to 40%. It’s not clear how much Colorado’s retail non-medical legalization in 2012, or the establishment of retail medical outlets in 2009, or legalization for medical use in 2000, influenced the current prevalence there.
What is clear is that lower prices (Colorado retail bud is now down to about $6/gram and headed lower) and aggressive marketing – both accompaniments of cannabis legalization as it’s currently being pursued, though not of alternative legalization proposals – make it easier for users to slip into heavy daily use. Indeed, that’s the main – some of us would say the only significant – risk of legalization. That risk could be reduced by using taxes to prevent the price collapse So a report on the effects of legalization that neglects heavy use is like a review of the last performance of “Our American Cousin” that doesn’t mention John Wilkes Booth.
So what does Donald Trump mean when he says he wants to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment”?
Trump always talks about “churches,” but the proviso, inserted in the tax code in 1954, forbids all tax exempt non-profits (organized under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)3, and therefore referred to generically as 501(c)3 organizations) from contributing to political campaigns.
If the law were changed to exempt churches only, the courts would have to decide whether than created an unconstitutional “establishment of religion,” but it doesn’t require a law degree to see that allowing tax-exempt churches to attack tax-exempt Planned Parenthood by running campaigns against politicians who take positions favorable to reproductive rights, but forbidding Planned Parenthood from defending itself, would be grossly unfair.
Moreover, churches – unlike most other non-profits – aren’t required to disclose their donors. So allowing them to serve as campaign vehicles would not only convert them into tax-deductible super-PACs, it would allow unlimited amounts of hidden money to come into politics. (Citizens United and its progeny have already severely weakened disclosure rules.) Disclosure has been, until now, regarded as an invaluable protection against corruption. If Trump gets his way, any individual, privately-held corporation, partnership, or LLC could purchase influence with unlimited, undisclosed, tax-deductible campaign contributions simply by laundering them through a church, or even a fake “church” organized solely as a pass-through for bribes. (Again, for religious-freedom reasons, the IRS is very wary of deciding that a group calling itself a church isn’t really a church: the New Testament rule “wherever two or three are gathered” about covers it.)
But wait! It gets worse. If churches can gather money without disclosing their donors – and obviously that degree of privacy protection is required for the free exercise of religion – and spend that money to run political campaigns, then the market is open for foreign as well as domestic corruption. The Russian, Chinese, Saudi, and Iranian governments would all, predictably, either find congregations already recognized by the IRS to use as front groups or incorporate new ones. Of course a group organized as a mosque might not be able to wield much influence without stirring up opposition, but nothing bars the Saudis or the Iranians from paying some stooges to set up a fake Baptist church. Nor is an outfit organized as a church for IRS purposes have the word “church” (synagogue, mosque, temple, whatever) in its name; many people would spot “Society of Friends” as meaning Quakers, but you and I could start a group tomorrow called “Truth Tellers,” incorporate it as a church, and then run political ads with the trailer “This message brought to you by the Truth Tellers.”
So, like most of Trump’s ideas, this one reduces mostly to corruption and the sacrifice of American sovereignty to foreign – especially Russian – influence. And of course that won’t keep the tame preachers of the Christian Right from backing him all the way.
In 1999, what was then the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) issued a report that mocked the idea that smoking plant material could ever be considered medicine but cautiously endorsed research into the possible therapeutic utility of either natural or artificial cannabinoids. A few years later, “drug czar” Barry McCaffrey dismissed the whole idea as “Cheech and Chong medicine.”
Things have changed.
A new National Academies report makes an unequivocal finding:
There is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.
It also finds that some patients are replacing opiates with cannabis.
On average, the pain control benefits of cannabis are described as “modest.” And the data are – for reasons the report lays out – still frustratingly inconclusive about which chemical components of cannabis are doing the work and what dosage regimens and routes of administration are most effective. Still, the finding is what it is. The sound you hear in the background is the gnashing of drug warriors’ teeth.
Pain is the most common indication cited when physicians and other heath practitioners recommend cannabis under state medical-marijuana laws. It is also the hardest symptom to measure objectively, and thus the easiest to fake for someone who merely wants legal permission to get stoned. So whether a state allows medical-marijuana recommendations for pain is one of the key dividers between “tight” versions of medical marijuana, intended to serve genuine patients only, and the “loose” versions (more common west of the Mississippi) that amount to de facto legalization. Advocates of “tightness” have often won the argument by pointing out that the efficacy of cannabis for pain hadn’t been scientifically demonstrated. It’s going to be much harder to keep a straight face while saying that tomorrow than it was yesterday. And the finding comes just as several new states (including Florida) are in the process of implementing voter-approved medical marijuana laws.
There’s much more to the new report than the pain finding; so far I’ve only skimmed it. But it’s clear that the politics of medical marijuana just took on a new shape.
1. The House Republican conference, in secret, voted overwhelmingly to dismantle ethics oversight so Members could more easily get away with corruption.
2. Bob Goodlatte and his accomplices knew this attempt was shameful; otherwise they wouldn’t have tried to do it with surprise and stealth.
3. The House GOP leadership claimed to be against it but was entirely willing to let it happen until the public outcry got too loud.
4. Trump’s flack endorsed it and even said that the House GOP had a “mandate” to do such things. (Why not? Didn’t Trump promise to “fill the swamp”?)
5. Trump himself didn’t speak out until the public blowback become overwhelming.
6. Even then, Trump didn’t say protecting crooks in the House was a bad idea. He even endorsed the false claim that the existing process was somehow “unfair.” Trump just said that he’d prefer that the House Republicans do other awful things first.
7. Nonetheless, the press is giving Trump credit he hasn’t earned.
8. The proposal has been pulled for the moment, but the leadership is still committed to doing something later. Whatever that is won’t be good.
9. The whole affair illustrates the culture of corruption that will permeate the government for the next four years, unless a wave election ends the Republican House majority in 2018.
10. But it also illustrates that pushback can work. Keep pushing!
John Shattuck, who as a lawyer ought to know better, says that Donald Trump’s actions with respect to Russia “raise the specter of treason.”
Now, I bow to no man in my hatred and contempt for Orange Julius Caesar, and I fully support Shattuck’s demand for an investigation of foreign interference and other misconduct in the course of the election just completed, but using the word “treason” is simply wrong, for reasons I’ve given before. And its wrongness matters, not just because hyperbole always weakens argument, but because the carefully restricted definition of the crime of treason is essential to protecting free speech and the freedom of association.
Even assuming that:
- Trump willingly accepted, and even asked for, Russian help to get elected (which I’d rate very likely);
- Offered specific policy concessions in return for that help (less likely, though there might be an implicit bargain); and
- Knew that those concessions were damaging to the national interest (still less likely, and in any case impossible to prove;
he still did not commit the crime of treason, simply because the United States is not at war with Russia.
Treason is the one crime defined in the Constitution; it consists in “waging war on the United States, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort,” and it must be proven either by confession in open court or by an overt act testified to by two witnesses. An “enemy” in this context is a nation (or other entity) with which the United States is at war; that is clear both from the fact that “adhering to their enemies” is an alternative to “making war on the United States” and by the definition of “enemy” in international law; as the Declaration of Independence says, the United States regards other nations as “enemies in war, in peace friends.” A Nazi or Japanese sympathizer in 1940, even one taking German or Japanese money to betray American national interests, was not, by this definition, a “traitor.” Therefore, no matter how disloyally Trump has acted, he has not acted traitorously.
Why insist so strongly on what might seem a pedantic legal distinction?
Because the Framers knew what they were doing. “Treason” had been used in English politics as a catch-all charge against the losers in various political struggles. Worldwide, treason charges are among the most powerful tools of tyranny, precisely because the ordinary-language concept is so vague.
If “enemy” simply means a country whose government makes efforts to damage U.S. national interests, then whether someone is a “traitor” becomes a mere question of opinion (or, as Talleyrand said, “Just a matter of dates”). Anyone working in tandem with a foreign government might find himself charged with treason. The absolute rock-bottom principle of criminal law in a free society has to be that it’s possible to know whether one is or is not breaking the law, and that it’s not possible to become a criminal retrospectively when Oceania goes to war with Eastasia. The Reagan Administration waged an illegal and semi-covert war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua; that doesn’t make Americans who tried to stop that war, and who did things to help the Sandinistas, guilty of treason. “Cold War” was a metaphor, not a type of “war” for Constitutional purposes.
Of course, the “declaration of war” by Congress has now been rendered somewhat obsolete by changes in international practice. Even absent such a declaration, we’re clearly “at war” with a country or other entity with whose forces our forces are currently exchanging gunfire. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS are currently our “enemies.” But Saudi Arabia, despite what I am convinced was the direct involvement of senior officials and even members of the royal family in planning and financing the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist attacks, is not our “enemy” in that sense. And neither is Russia.
This principle will be even more important with Trump as President. Do you really want him to be able to announce that we’re “at war” with “Islamic terrorism” and start charging people with treason for building mosques? No, I didn’t think so.
So: repeat after me: Paul Manafort, whose firm helped pay for riots in Ukraine in which U.S. Marines were attacked, is disloyal. Donald Trump may well be subjectively disloyal, and very likely has acted disloyally. But they are not “traitors.”
The latest line being pushed by Trumpsters, Republicans, and some Very Serious People, including my good friends Gleen Loury and Megan McArdle, is roughly: “You lost. Get over it. Trump will be our President, and we all need him to succeed. Don’t rock the boat by questioning his legitimacy.”
I hear that. A generation of slash-and-burn Republicanism has so weakened all of our key institutions, and the norms of restraint, civility, and reciprocity necessary to make a Madisonian regime operate, that the survival of the Republic is now genuinely in question. There’s a case to be made for pretending that Donald Trump is a normal human being and hoping that he will stop his pathological lying and grow up to be a real, live President. Barack Obama, the victim of Trump’s systematic campaign of libel (enabled by Fox News and many Republican politicians) acted on that idea at yesterday’s press conference.
But I’m not buying.
A seemingly minor appointment illustrates why I’m not buying, and why I will never accept Trump as holding anything but the limited legal powers the Constitution gives the President: no moral authority, no call on our cooperation, no presumption of good will or good faith, no presumption even that he is acting out of loyalty to the national interest.
Two days ago Trump appointed as Ambassador to Israel a man named David Friedman, his personal bankruptcy lawyer (which, as you might imagine, makes him a very important person to a professional bust-out artist such as Trump). Naturally, Friedman is a lunatic extremist when it comes to the Israel/Palestine question, asserting that Israel should deny voting rights and public services to its Arab citizens unless they pass some sort of loyalty test and that it is free to rule the West Bank indefinitely while extending no civic rights to its inhabitants and stealing as much of their land as it pleases for settlements. Indeed, he runs a non-profit designed to support one such venture, grossly illegal not only under international law but actually under Israeli law, as the Israeli courts have repeatedly ruled.
Well, that’s no surprise. It’s not even very important, since the Ambassador doesn’t make policy.
But Friedman’s hatred of Palestinians extends – as is often the case among right-wing Jewish extremists – to hatred of all Jews who aren’t right-wing extremists. As recently as June, Friedman published an essay in which he said that members of J Street – the moderate Zionist group that favors a two-state solution – are “far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.”
Kapos were accomplices in mass murder. Some were killed by their fellow prisoners when the camps were liberated. Some of them were tried and executed for war crimes. Even years later, they were at risk of extrajudicial vengeance: undoubtedly illegal, but widely thought to be justified.
Now, as it happens, I’m a member of J Street. So Trump just nominated someone who called me a murderer, and implicitly called for my murder in turn. Of course I don’t expect to actually share the fate of Yitzhak Rabin – murdered by one of the illegal settlers Friedman supports, someone who had listened to the kind of rhetoric Friedman spouts and took it literally – but I resent it all the same, just as I resent Trump’s collusion in making anti-Semitism one again an active factor in American life. Of course liberal Jews are not the only objects of Trumpian hate speech, but equally of course I tend to take it personally.
We’ve heard a lot from the right wing about how liberals get the terrorism problem wrong because we fail to understand radical evil. There’s some justice to that claim and I’m working to improve in that regard. So I’m glad to report having made enough progress that I recognize radical evil when it moves into the White House.
Nineteen seventy-two, the year I entered public-policy school, was also the year of the Nixon landslide. The day after the election I was in utter despair.
Fortunately, one of my instructors was the immortal Richard Neustadt. After hearing me rant for a minute or two about how Nixon was going to wreck the country, Neustadt said something which I thought, at the time, was merely designed to comfort me, but which turned out to be prophetic.
“Don’t worry. Nixon has no sense of limits. He will be destroyed.”
Yes, the country is in much worse shape normatively and institutionally than it was in 1972. Back then, there were Republicans prepared to tell their own President that he’d gone too far. On the other hand, Trump is much wickeder and much crazier than Nixon ever dreamed of being, has far less grasp of the mechanics of governing, and has surrounded himself with a weaker (and crazier) team.
So there’s hope for the future.
For now, there’s work to do.
The revelations about Russia’s deliberate and successful attempt to install a puppet President in the White House – reinforced by Trump’s surprise selection of a Secretary of State whose current employer has $300 billion stake in removing the sanctions imposed on Russia for annexing Crimea and stirring up civil war in Ukraine – raises the question of what anyone can do about it now, other than fuss and fume and resolve to treat Trump as someone with the legal powers of the Presidency but absolutely no moral authority or entitlement to deference (or even the presumption of good faith).
I’m pleased to report that John Weaver, Gov. Kasich’s campaign strategist, has come up with the right idea: a Special Prosecutor charged with investigating any illegal conduct, including foreign interference and computer hacking, in the 2016 Presidential election. That prosecutor could be granted resources, subpoena power, and unlimited access to intelligence information. Such an appointment is within the power of the Attorney General, and the President may properly suggest such an appointment.
That would be a radical step for President Obama to take, and even somewhat out of character, so he’s unlikely to do it unless he faces a groundswell of public support for the idea, including from some prominent Republicans (e.g., Lindsay Graham and John McCain).
Yes, as a matter of law Trump could dismiss that Special Prosecutor, or order his Attorney General to do so. But as a matter of politics that would be a very, very bad move on Trump’s part. Moreover, Sen. Sessions faces a confirmation hearing, and the Senate (with just a little bit of Republican help) could require an ironclad commitment not to carry out a second Saturday Night Massacre, or impede the investigation in any way, as a condition of confirmation. (At what point firing a prosecutor because he’s getting too close to finding the truth becomes a criminal obstruction of justice is not, I think, a matter on which the courts have yet ruled.)
A Special Prosecutor can properly do what an ordinary prosecutor may not: issue a full report with respect to the findings of the investigation, whether or not it leads to prosecution. (Recall the long pornographic essay produced by the Lewinsky investigation.) So even if the process didn’t take any scalps, it would produce an authoritative account of what was done, and by whom, to undermine American democracy.
Of course there’s an argument that the findings of that report might trigger another Presidential impeachment, or some other form of Constitutional crisis, and that – now that we’ve allowed a lunatic to get his hands on the nuclear codes – we shouldn’t do anything to make him even crazier, or to further weaken public trust in government. But I can’t see it that way. If we tolerate cheating, we’re just going to get more cheating, as certainly as Shelby County followed Bush v. Gore. Time to draw the line.
So we all have our assignments, don’t we? Tweet, Facebook, and blog. Call your Member of Congress and your two Senators. Call the White House. Write letters to the editor. Talk to your friends and get them into action
Above all: never let up. Be as relentless about finding the truth as Trump will be about continuing to conceal it.