A Free Press

One of the biggest reasons the United States has advanced is that we have a strong media (endowed with the natural freedom of the press, with its recognition in the First Amendment) that has helped to keep corruption in check. Those who value liberty must value fact-based reporting of the state of our institutions and of the world.

Indeed, where the US has gone awry it is often coincidental with media failures. Think of the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq as a good example. Fox News is another good example.

A year into the imitation presidency, with a president who cannot understand the role the nation has played, with its quest to move ever-forward, we continue to see attacks from a man that must always pretend to know what he is doing. And yet, the media continues to indulge his pretense. I could not count the number of editorials and op-eds that have called on the president to take some action or other, always failing to understand that this is not a White House equipped to take advice to heart.

There were a number of times when the media decided he was becoming presidential or sounding or appearing to be the man of the office. Ha!

But the presses roll on. They learn, which is why we need them. A self-governing nation must have a learning mechanism. It reviews the facts and attempts to keep the narrative on track: we still require good governance. We must strengthen the rule of law once again. We must take care of the planet. We have an obligation to our neighbors to help them better themselves. We must know the state of things to make sound economic decisions, too.

The press lets us know when abuses have come to light. They try to uncover abuses, they try to tell the story that our founders knew when they wrote amendments against police corruption, against military permanence, and against religious zealotry infecting government. Those that wish to wrap themselves in the Constitution while committing those sins should not be surprised as it constricts around them.

And the press will be there to report the tale.

Congress Should Pass the Laws We Know are Needed

As the US Senate appears close to a compromise on DACA and border security, we are once again reminded that the major challenges of our day are not black boxes that deny any solution. They are clear roadmaps to the changes that need to be made. The lack of action, the lack of deals, stems entirely from the recalcitrance, more often than not by Republicans.

CHIP

Children need healthcare. Kids get sick a lot. Colds and strep and chicken pox. Some have asthma or other chronic conditions. Everybody knows that kids need to go to the doctor. The US Congress knows. But they don’t act. States have to start planning to deny new applicants and pare back services.

It’s a no-brainer. Pass it.

TPS

The president has rescinded temporary protected status for Haitians, Sudanese, Nicaraguans, and now for Salvadorans. The law was being stupid, but in hold-my-Diet-Coke fashion the president has made it stupider (and went on to add insult to injury).

An updated TPS law would set forth a clearer understanding of the stakes when admitting peoples’ affected by disaster of whatever kind. Either they come for a strict and limited time, without the sort of extension can-kicking that created the current masses under threat, or they come with a pathway to permanent status.

There should be no more of this nonsense where the law basically designs a trap for hundreds of thousands who left a tough break, only to be haunted by its ghost ten years later in the form of a cruel presidency.

The Wall

Don’t build it. If you’re going to build it anyway, it should only be in concert with DACA and full immigration reform besides.

Other Issues

There are plenty of regulatory changes needed, with Congress empowered to force them through new legislation. To hear Republicans tell it so often, there’s not a business in America that can open for the day without submitting forms first. But rather than turn those alleged instance of misregulation or overregulation into changes to the law, they simply let them continue unabated. They should fix ill-fitting regulation. Democrats may quibble over whether a given law protects enough, and that’s where compromise is needed, but generally they should welcome streamlining regulations because it strengthens the argument that sensible regulation is possible.


And so on. The problem is not that we don’t know the right moves. It’s that these Republicans have chosen to Norquist themselves up the river by pledging fealty to idiocy. They can’t compromise, they can’t do what needs to be done. They have no business being there. Work requirements for Medicaid? How about some work requirements for Republican legislators.

The Prospects for Federal Legalization of Marijuana

There are enough Republican senators from states where marijuana has been legalized: Alaska (2), Colorado (1), and Nevada (1) to tip the balance in the Senate on a bill to legalize Marijuana federally (or, if possible, at least some compromise that prevents federal law from being enforced in states that legalized).

The House? 26 Republican members hail from states with legal pot:

  • Alaska (1)
  • California (14)
  • Colorado (4)
  • Maine (1)
  • Massachusetts (0)
  • Nevada (1)
  • Oregon (1)
  • Washington (4)

With a split in the House of 239/193 (3 vacancies), the tipping point would be 24 members, which makes it close (and assumes that all Democratic members would vote aye while all non-legalization-state Republicans would vote nay).

Given that eight states have already legalized marijuana, 14 have decriminalized, and 29 have medical marijuana, it is inevitable that federal-level legalization will develop. The question is how close is the Congress from enacting that.

2018’s midterm elections could prove pivotal in the House for the election of a body with enough votes on the matter. You also can count at least four states considering legalization via ballot initiative (Arizona, Florida, Missouri, and Nebraska) plus three more medical initiatives (Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Dakota). Passage would add more representatives to the count.

But assuming it does not, the question becomes how much leverage the legal industries, both recreational and medical, have to get non-legalizing states’ members to cooperate.

For example, the banking industry would see benefits to a change in law allowing for the marijuana industry to participate in the regular financial system. Given that the industry is poised to be worth some $40 billion by the end of the decade, that’s a lot of transactions and contracts for various businesses to profit from.

These subsidiary businesses, which include those who are supply-chain for manufacture, distribution, and marketing of processed products, as well as out-of-state home-growing/horticulture suppliers, all have some level of sway over legislators.

It’s not clear what would happen today, much less in a year or two, if the Congress took up a bill on repealing federal sanction of marijuana. Which gets to the other hurdle: leadership. Speaker Ryan is unlikely to allow such a bill to come to a vote any time soon. The dysfunction in Washington means that there are a number of high-stakes issues currently under consideration, with deals to be made or not. That includes the basic question of funding the government.

Such an environment is not ripe for an issue like marijuana to come up, so it will likely take one of two things (or both): the midterms turning the House into an especially pro-legalization body that’s ready to act, or AG Sessions deciding to crack down in legal states.

It’s Been a Long Year

No post next week, barring a major development, like the birth of the Messiah.

One hopes that the T. Party will be a one-off, that the stain upon the flag will be seen and remembered for years to come. We shall see.

As many have said, Trump isn’t unique, just a more virulent strain of something that’s been hanging around the country clubs and seedy city halls of America for at least 40 years. From Nixon, at least. The malcontent rich, call them. They don’t understand the world, but they have money and power and fame. They arise from the same impulses that gave Steve Bannon a platform after Trump got elected: if you’re around when things happen, you get the reward or the blame.

It’s part of a greater tendency to boil everything down into a single value. If companies only compete on market share, then people buying their product means they’re doing things right. Never mind externalities. Forget the fact the consumers aren’t even using the product for its intended purpose. Who cares if they would pay more for a better version.

When the T. Party got elected, the voters must have known they would pick up field mice and bop them on the head. That must be what the voters want.

In statistics this is called underfitting.

The T. Party is big on underfitting. They ignore all sorts of evidence, as long as the single figure suits them. They do it on climate and energy, immigration, health policy, tax policy, education, and regulation. The result is akin to an ecosystem thrown out of balance. The larger economy or ecology, the larger system suffers. It seeks to correct imbalances, which means others are affected.

Opposing underfitting is easy. Any law: any law that does not seek to balance changes, which does not plan for trade-offs and consequences, is bad policy. Going to the bank for a loan and asking for the biggest one you can get is not a smart fiscal move for a family or a business. It’s also nuts when the president and the T. Party do it for a tax cut.

If the Democrats passed some one-sided gun safety measure, and they got on TV and told gun owners to suck it up and move on—that’s not American behavior, folks. The America we all want says, guns are dangerous, but we can manage danger: we do it every day as millions of air-miles are flown in a gravity-defying industry, and we do it with a great safety record.

Anyway, 46 weeks to the midterms. Deep breaths. Relief is just around the corner.


“Now, Dreeben! now, Carr! now, Ahmad and Freeny!
On, Goldstein! on, Quarles! on, Weissmann and Zebley!
To the den of the thieves! to the office that’s round!
Now subpoena! subpoena! all documents found!”

Season’s greetings to all! Thanks to Clement C. Moore.

Invitation to Regulate

The vote to scuttle the open internet rules is an invitation to congress: regulate. While there will be litigation over the FCC’s disregard for public comment, including potential violations of the Administrative Procedures Act, it is clear that leaving the rules up to the FCC is insufficient.

Expect that the battle lines will be drawn in 2018. Democrats will overwhelmingly support regulation. Republicans will have their stand-outs, but will generally not.

The Democrats can now run on a bevy of related matters, like the need for affordable broadband, the utility of the internet (Mr. Pai seems to believe it’s all memes and streaming video), and the ongoing problem of regulatory capture and anti-competitive actions by major corporations. That’s piling on other unpopular legislative actions, including the bizarre tax bills and the failed, sadistic attempts to change healthcare.

Once again, Republicans have shown themselves unaware of the risk of their choices. At each turn, they set up another trap for themselves.

But for the modern American netizen, that’s still a ways off. We will see how swiftly the ISPs begin to abuse their powers. We will await the leaks that show they’ll ignore the transparency requirements or try to be as vague as possible in their filings. “Blocking traffic that interferes with traffic,” or some other such idiocy (like blocking access to their own transparency reporting pages).

The basic bad bet here was that net activism won’t translate into votes and that the ISPs won’t piss off enough people to make a difference at the polls. But with the momentum for the Democrats, even if both of those are true, it may not matter.