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“Maureen Dowd Gets Way Too High”: The Journey To ‘The Other Dark Side’ Of Her Mind

While I usually try to abstain from writing posts about how something an op-ed columnist wrote was stupid—not an unworthy endeavor, but if I don’t do it many other people will be there to pick up the slack—today I’m going to make an exception for Maureen Dowd. That’s not only because her column in today’s New York Times is particularly inane, but because there’s a lesson hidden there, really there is. So stick with me. But first, on to Dowd’s glorious tale. Seems she was in Denver and decided to sample some of this “marijuana” she’s been hearing so much about. Like any sensible person trying a drug for the first time, she made no attempt whatsoever to determine how much of it she should consume to reach her desired state of consciousness. Instead, she bought a cannabis candy bar and ate the whole thing. The results were unsurprising:

But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.

I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.

It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly. The next day, a medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices; but that recommendation hadn’t been on the label.

I reckoned that the fact that I was not a regular marijuana smoker made me more vulnerable, and that I should have known better. But it turns out, five months in, that some kinks need to be ironed out with the intoxicating open bar at the Mile High Club.

For the rest of the column, Dowd relates some anecdotes about people doing foolish things while high, and the cases where a little kid has consumed edibles and gotten sick, perhaps unaware that she was reinforcing the fact that by eating that entire bar without bothering to find out what it would do to her she displayed all the sense of a five-year-old. As I tweeted last night when I read this, that’s kind of like saying that the first time you ever tried alcohol, you downed a whole bottle of Jack Daniels and it was quite unpleasant, so this prohibition thing might not be such a bad idea.

To be sure, there’s a genuine issue with how edible cannabis is packaged and sold. Unlike alcohol, which has a shocking taste and therefore turns little kids off, edibles just taste like food, so extra care needs to be taken to keep them away from children (and even adults who might eat them not knowing what they are). Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a measure akin to “proof” that can give you a quick and understandable sense of how high you’ll get from whatever you’re going to eat or smoke. Furthermore, one of the risks of edibles is that you eat them and then have to wait a while for the effects to kick in, so you don’t know if you’ve consumed too little or too much until it’s too late.

Colorado, Washington, and every other state considering legalizing marijuana should work on a system to address this problem, including regulations on how edibles are labeled. But Dowd’s story of her journey to the dark side of her mind offers those of us who write about politics and policy for a living a valuable lesson. Writing about your personal experiences can be a good way to add texture to what might otherwise be dry discussions of policy. The effect laws have on individual people is why they matter. But if you’re going to hold your own experiences up as exemplars to represent something larger, there are some questions you have to ask: Was my experience typical, or unusual? Does it have genuine implications for the choices we face as a nation? Does it actually shed light on important aspects of this issue?

If you answer those questions thoughtfully, even an atypical experience can offer something edifying. Or, you can just tell the story of the time you acted like an idiot.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 4, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists, Legalized Marijuana | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Absolutely No Apologies”: What Exactly Does The Right Find Objectionable?

If Republicans are waiting for President Obama to express any regret for having freed an American prisoner of war, they’ll apparently be waiting for quite a while.

Obama appeared alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron at a press conference in Brussels earlier, and a reporter asked the U.S. leader, “Have you been surprised by the backlash that’s been whipped up by your decision to do a deal to free Bowe Bergdahl? And what do you think is motivating that?”

The president initially responded, “I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington,” before addressing the substantive issue.

“I’ll repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle: We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about, and we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.

“We had discussed with Congress the possibility that something like this might occur. But because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did. And we’re now explaining to Congress the details of how we moved forward. But this basic principle that we don’t leave anybody behind and this basic recognition that that often means prisoner exchanges with enemies is not unique to my administration – it dates back to the beginning of our Republic.

“And with respect to how we announced it, I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction, this is not a political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, who they hadn’t seen in five years and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again. And as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids. And I get letters from parents who say, if you are in fact sending my child into war, make sure that that child is being taken care of. And I write too many letters to folks who unfortunately don’t see their children again after fighting the war.”

Obama added, “I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back.”

I’m not at all sure how elected officials – or anyone else, really – can find such a sentiment objectionable. There’s certainly room for a credible discussion about whether the White House was justified in acting outside the confines of the law regarding congressional notification, and that debate surely matters, as does a conversation about the use of signing statement.

But exactly which part of the president’s response does the right find objectionable?


BY: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Congress, U. S. Military | , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Glenn Greenwald Gets Wrong”: Every Man His Own Director Of National Security

Earth to Glenn Greenwald: if you write a book slamming The New York Times, it’s naïve to expect favorable treatment in the New York Times Book Review. Been there, done that. Twice as a matter of fact.

On the first go-around, the NYTBR reviewer — a Times alumnus— described mine as a “nasty” book for hinting that name-brand journalists don’t always deal off the top of the deck. No inaccuracies cited, only nastiness.

Next the newspaper located the most appropriate reviewer for Joe Conason’s and my book The Hunting of the President in its own Washington bureau — the original source of the great Whitewater hoax our book deconstructed. That worthy accused us of partisan hackery on the authority of one of the few wildly inaccurate Whitewater stories the Times had itself actually corrected.

If you think we got a correction, however, you’d be mistaken.

So when Greenwald complains that his book No Place to Hide, detailing his and Edward Snowden’s exciting adventures in Hong Kong before the Boy Hero flew off to Moscow, got savaged by NYTBR reviewer Michael Kinsley, it’s easy to feel sympathetic. It’s no fun getting trashed in the only book review that really matters.

Kinsley’s biting wit and withering cynicism can be hard to take. But for all that, the review wasn’t entirely negative. It never denied the importance of Greenwald and Snowden’s revelations about government snooping, nor did it question the author’s journalistic integrity. “The Snowden leaks were important—a legitimate scoop,” he wrote, “and we might never have known about the NSA’s lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them.”

True, Kinsley’s tone is far from worshipful. “His story is full of journalistic derring-do, mostly set in exotic Hong Kong,” he writes. “It’s a great yarn, which might be more entertaining if Greenwald himself didn’t come across as so unpleasant. Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in No Place to Hide, Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss.”

Alas, anybody who’s experienced Greenwald’s dogged ad hominem argumentative style can identify. I’m rarely mistaken myself, but I do try not to impute evil motives to everybody who disagrees with me.

However, contrary to the army of syntactically-challenged Greenwald fans who turned his essay into an Internet cause célèbre, Kinsley never said the man should be jailed. He wrote that being invited to explain why not on Meet the Press hardly constitutes evidence of government oppression.

Indeed, also contrary to the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, Kinsley nowhere “expressed a belief that many journalists find appalling: that news organizations should simply defer to the government” in deciding what secrets to reveal. He wrote that “the process of decision making—whatever it turns out to be—should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I do think the newspaper’s public editor should be more capable of fair paraphrase—an important journalistic skill.

However, what Kinsley’s provocative essay did very effectively was to question how seriously the author (and Edward Snowden) had thought through the logic of their position that when it comes to government secrets, it’s every man his own director of National Security.

And the answer seems to be, not too seriously at all. But then my view is that the Greenwald-Snowden revelations about NSA “metadata” hoarding made for exciting headlines and a Pulitzer Prize but little or no practical difference to people’s actual lives.

So that when Greenwald writes that “by ordering illegal eavesdropping, the president had committed crimes and should be held accountable,” I’m inclined to ask if he knows the meaning of “eavesdropping.”

It doesn’t mean storing phone and Internet records in a giant database; it means listening in on conversations or searching people’s hard drives, and to date there’s no evidence of that being done without court-ordered search warrants. I’d add that if Americans feel politically intimidated, they’ve got awfully noisy ways of showing it — especially those jerks swaggering around with assault rifles daring the feds to make something of it.

George Packer makes a related point in Prospect: “A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, ‘I prefer to be spied on by NSA.’”

So which of the two million-odd documents Edward Snowden swiped from the National Security Agency should end up in the newspaper, and who gets to decide? On that score, Kinsley’s otherwise crystal clear argument gets foggy. His point is that in a fallen world the government has legitimate secrets to protect: classic example, the date and location of the D-Day landings.

“In a democracy,” he writes “(which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.”

Hence misunderstanding. Had he simply specified “Congress and the courts,” there would have been lot less hyperventilating.

Where’s an editor when you need one?


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 4, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Undermining Their Own Priorities”: When GOP Obstructionism Becomes Self-Defeating

The point of congressional Republicans’ obstructionism, which has reached unprecedented levels in the Obama era, is obviously to block Democratic priorities. GOP lawmakers could, in theory, negotiate with Democrats and work on bipartisan compromises, but in recent years, Republicans deliberately chose an unyielding strategy: no concessions, no cooperation, no tolerance for progressive goals.

On several key issues, most notably economic growth and job creation, the GOP tactic has proven to be quite effective. But what if the plan has quietly backfired? What if, by simply blocking attempts at governing, Republicans have undermined their own priorities?

On combatting the climate crisis, for example, GOP officials are obviously outraged by the Obama administration’s decision to use the Clean Air Act to impose new rules to reduce carbon pollution. But Jamelle Bouie raises an underappreciated point: “If Republicans are outraged by the announcement, they only have themselves to blame.”

In 2009, President Obama threw his support behind climate legislation in the House, and the following year, a group of Senate Democrats – including Kerry – began work with Republicans to craft a bipartisan climate bill. The process fell apart…. It’s not that EPA action wasn’t possible, but that the administration wanted legislation and would make key concessions to get it. In the absence of a law, however, the White House was prepared to act alone. […]

With a little cooperation, Republicans could have won a better outcome for their priorities. They could have exempted coal from more stringent spectrum of regulations, enriched their constituencies with new subsidies and benefits, and diluted a key Democratic priority. Instead, they’ll now pay a steep substantive price for their obstruction, in the form of rules that are tougher – and more liberal – than anything that could have passed Congress.

Congressional Republicans, through filibusters and obstinacy, can stop much of the governing process, but not all of it. When a policy runs into a choke point, its proponents begin looking for an alternative route to implementation.

In the case of climate policy, GOP lawmakers assumed they’d win by simply folding their arms and refusing to do anything. In practice, this often-mindless obstructionism simply forced the administration to begin to work on its own – without any regard for whether Republicans on Capitol Hill would like it or not, since the White House didn’t need their approval.

In other words, Republican tactics were self-defeating – GOP officials would have produced a more favorable policy, from their own perspective, if they’d only agreed to work a little with Democrats.

This keeps happening.

On judicial nominees, for example, Senate Democrats were reluctant to pull the trigger on the so-called “nuclear option.” Instead of leveraging that reluctance, Republicans did the opposite, vowing to block a series of nominees they found unobjectionable in order to force the issue.

Had the GOP minority been a little less ridiculous, Dems wouldn’t have pursued the nuclear option and Republicans would probably still be blocking a variety of judicial nominees right now.

The Affordable Care Act offers an even more striking example. President Obama and his team were desperate to strike a bipartisan deal on health care – they started with a Republican-friendly reform blueprint; they were prepared to bargain away progressive priorities, and they even signaled a willingness to incorporate conservative goals like “tort reform” into the legislation.

GOP lawmakers, under strict orders from party leaders, balked anyway, refusing any and all offers. No matter what the White House offered, Republicans said, the GOP would reject any attempts at reform.

But again, the obstructionism worked against Republicans – they didn’t stop the legislation; they simply blocked their own opportunity to easily move the legislation to the right.

We may yet see a similar dynamic unfold on immigration policy. House Republicans refuse to consider a bipartisan solution with broad support, pushing the president to consider unilateral action. If GOP lawmakers worked with the White House, they’d get a package that reflected their priorities, but by refusing to govern, they’re likely to end up with a presidential directive that gives Republicans nothing.

Bouie concluded, “[A]fter five years of relentless obstruction in the name of small government, Republicans may have helped set the stage for a world where government is much bigger – and expansive – than it is now. And if it happens, we should remember to thank Republicans for helping to make it possible.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 4, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why So Many Are Clueless”: Shameful Coverage Of Obamacare’s Real Impacts

If you read my column last week about a Senate hearing that showed how Obamacare has affected Americans, you might have wondered if I was in the same room with reporters who presumably covered the event.

The disparity goes a long way toward explaining why so many of us are clueless about the actual impact the law is having on our lives.

The title of the May 21 Senate Commerce Committee hearing: “Delivering Better Health Care Value to Consumers: The First Three Years of the Medical Loss Ratio.” I was one of four witnesses talking about the part  of the law that requires health insurers to issue rebates to policyholders if they spend more than 20 percent of premiums  on non-medical expenses, including profits — the so-called Medical Loss Ratio.

Prior to the passage of the law, insurance company executives — who consider what they spend on medical care to be a loss — were in many cases devoting up to half of premiums they collected to pay for advertising and other administrative functions and to reward executives and shareholders.

As I wrote last week, consumers have saved at least $3 billion since the provision of the law that mandates insurers must spend at least 80 percent of our premiums on medical care went into effect in 2011.

The hearing wasn’t just about numbers, however. Katherine Fernandez, a small business owner from Houston, testified about how the MLR provision and other aspects of the law have enabled her family to pay less for far more comprehensive coverage than was possible in the past.

She told the committee that because both her husband and son had pre-existing conditions, the only policies available to them pre-Obamacare would not cover any medical care pertaining to those maladies. And even then the policies had both high premiums and high deductibles. She said that during the 14 years prior to the law’s passage, her family paid more than $100,000 in premiums for what she described as bare-bones coverage. And the premiums went up sharply every year — 165 percent between 2000 and 2003 alone.

She said she was elated when the Affordable Care Act passed. “No more pre-existing condition clauses … and insurance companies had to refund some of what we paid if they didn’t spend enough. What reasonable ideas.”

If you read the accounts of the hearing in The Washington Post, USA Today, Politico or CBS News — the only news outlets I could find that provided any coverage — you would not have read anything about the $3 billion consumers have saved as a result of the MLR provision or how the law has benefited the Fernandez family.

The focus of all those stories was a brief exchange toward the end of the hearing between Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin about whether the color of President Obama’s skin might explain why some people are opposed to the law.

Rockefeller suggested race might be a factor, which provoked a spirited denial from Johnson. Politico’s only hint about the hearing’s actual subject was this: “His (Rockefeller’s) critiques of the GOP again came in a sparsely attended committee hearing, this time during an analysis of health-care spending.”

The only one of these pieces that even mentioned “medical loss ratio” was the CBS story, and it, too, was primarily about the exchange between Rockefeller and Johnson. In the USA Today article, which apparently was based on a National Journal transcript, the only hint of a hearing was in the very last sentence:  “Rockefeller then veered into another topic before adjourning the hearing.”

That other topic, of course, was the medical loss ratio.

The Washington Post likewise found medical loss ratio of no interest. Its story, too, was about the back-and-forth between Rockefeller and Johnson during what the reporter dismissed as “an otherwise sleepy committee hearing.”

Granted, it is challenging to substantively cover the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. health care system is dizzyingly complex, and so is the law. It’s far easier to write about constant political sparring than to take the time to educate readers about what’s actually in the law and how it affects people. It’s not a heavy lift to review a transcript and write the kind of “he said, she said” — in this case the “he said, he said” — coverage that passes for journalism.

There are a lot of reasons why Americans don’t know how the law affects them or why they believe things about Obamcare that aren’t true. The Democrats have done a lousy job of explaining it. And more than $400 million has been spent by opponents attacking it — 15 times as much as has been spent by supporters. But one of the biggest reasons is the failure of many in the media to provide anything other than the most superficial coverage. As a former reporter who used to cover hearings on the Hill, I consider that shameful.


By: Wendell Potter, The Center For Public Integrity, June 2, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Media, Reporters | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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