31 October 2011

Totally shocking

The White House website has up a set of user generated petitions.

Unsurprisingly, when it came time for the WH to respond to the most popular ones (among which marijuana legislation is high on the list. Pun intended?), they've pretty much offered the same useless platitudes.

Their entire anti-marijuana response for instance contained among its most significant arguments if you changed the word "marijuana" to "tobacco" or "alcohol", you would have the same argument. This is effectively among the most significant reasons people wish to reform the current laws, for the arbitrary, unscientific, "basis" for banning one and not the other (there are political philosophical reasons to oppose the accumulated power of the state to punish consensual adult behavior involving drug transactions, but this is not as powerful a message to the average voter/person as "it's not any more or less dangerous than things we allow people to buy/sell/consume").

Consequently, as soon as that silly response went up, there are half a dozen re-petitions for legalisation, legalisation debate, and also, most amusingly and most tellingly, petitions for governing tobacco and alcohol under the same logic as marijuana. I'm a little confused by the response also in an environment where over 50% are now supporting legalisation of marijuana. Not just medical research and uses, but out and out decriminalisation, regulation, and taxation. One would think that if the general public is roughly for something, the government should be a little less hostile to their position than the stance that was outlined.

As a further problem with the response, the federal government's official actions relating to both medical marijuana and reducing arrest and incarceration as appropriate responses in favor of treatment and prevention, essentially the preferred compromise position of regulating, are contradictory to its claims. The government, even under Obama, has stepped up raids on medical marijuana in states that have legalised it for this expressed purpose, and has continued to apply arrest and detention methods on end users. A position which is unsustainable (it puts too many people in jail for us to properly attend to, the vast majority of which are non-violent offenders), often baldly racist (see arrest statistics in Chicago for example), and is quite possibly the most expensive method of deterrence. The "9 billion spent on drug enforcement" is also a lie. Drug enforcement doesn't just occur in the US. The DEA has agents all around the world. Even if that amount is less than the amount dispensed on treatment/prevention (which "prevention" spending has its own problems in that the programmes, like DARE, are simply more enforcement spending rather than effectively designed prevention), and even at a 9 billion amount, that amount of spending is absurdly high relative to what, if any, benefits are accruing from it.

As a second petition they've so far responded to: Removing "under god" from the pledge. While acknowledging the place of religion in American society seems useful, the pledge hasn't always been the way to do that. Leaving in god we trust on the money is one thing. Using money doesn't require anyone to utter any oaths or declare a lack of faith in public. You really don't even have to look at it other than to make sure you are giving the cashier the proper amount. Personally, I'd much rather we take Jackson off the $20 anyway than get rid of this. Bad economic stewardship (Jackson's populist economic policies, particularly in the monetary realm, led directly to a severe Depression in the late 1830s) and being an asshole should be sensible enough reasons not to put someone on our money. I'd also back any proposal to get FDR off the money. The 1937 "Second" Depression is on him, not Hoover, and it's no picnic. Stick to people who actually had decent and effective economic policies (Washington, Lincoln, Coolidge, Eisenhower, JFK, Teddy Roosevelt...)

Not saying the pledge is a perfectly legitimate form of protest. But there are plenty of stubborn public officials in schools who won't take no for an answer and will attempt to penalise for this apparent lack of patriotic fervor. More importantly there are plenty of other students who will notice differences and distinctions and make fun of them. I even had people I considered friends in my own time point out my lack of pledge reciting with a distinct negative connotation. To say nothing of the hostility generated by less amiable fare within schools. This one to me seems a little more important to strike from the public. If students wish to pray, to organise among themselves religious demonstrations or associations, so be it, go to it says I. But compelling students, against their will, to demonstrate religious affiliations in public should not be considered appropriate. I'm not so sure why we have a pledge to recite in the first place either. But the fact that it misuses a Lincoln quote in order to explicitly define the state as religiously ordained, at least according to most pledge defenders, seems a little more insane based on our Constitution and first amendment ideals than a nation-state having its children utter nationalistic pledges and stare at a piece of fabric.

Note: I did not mind the IBR system for repaying college loans in that reply (though I didn't sign any of those petitions in the first place). Friedman for example proposed a similar system 50 years ago for paying for higher education. I suspect such a system however is not very popular with the sort of people who were petitioning relating to college loans. Also, I would disagree with the notion that more of our jobs require a college degree. Or at least the notion that more of our jobs should require a college degree. The reason they do is overextended use of state licensing requirements in several major sectors of the economy. The advantage of college degrees should be flexiblity applied toward many different sectors of potential employment, and/or training for very specific professional fields. They are not job-training however in the manner required for many forms of employment. A stronger social and public reliance on vocational training or apprenticeships would be perfectly fine for many jobs, even many advanced tech jobs. We exclude many jobs and opportunities by requiring college degrees for them.

Reprinting the silliest part of the anti-marijuana argument here:

"According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health- the world's largest source of drug abuse research - marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment. We know from an array of treatment admission information and Federal data that marijuana use is a significant source for voluntary drug treatment admissions and visits to emergency rooms. Studies also reveal that marijuana potency has almost tripled over the past 20 years, raising serious concerns about what this means for public health – especially among young people who use the drug because research shows their brains continue to develop well into their 20's. Simply put, it is not a benign drug."

This sort of thing is more or less why I'm not voting for the guy, among many other civil liberties bugaboos. If you're supposed to be the adult in the room, you don't get to lie to the kids or use your adult status to advance arbitrary rules. Your rules still have to make more sense than "Because I said so". 
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