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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

“Universal Voting”: The “No Lines” Solution To Long Election Lines

As we wonder whether the sensible bipartisan recommendations of the president’s “Lines Commission” will gain any real traction, WaMo Contributing Editor (and former Oregen Secretary of State) Phil Keisling reminds us once again in a piece at Governing that there’s one election reform available that makes the whole issue moot:

During the 2012 election, an estimated 10 million voters spent at least 30 minutes — and some of them many hours — waiting in line. Amidst contentious partisan accusations about “voter fraud” and “voter suppression,” perhaps we can’t expect more than a catalog of small to mid-sized fixes to build a better polling place.

However, the core problem with America’s election system – or, more accurately, with its 8,000 separately administered election systems – isn’t too-long lines or poorly run polling stations. The real problem is our insistence on polling stations, period, and the small-ball assumption that voting lines can only be shortened — rather than abolished entirely.

The way to abolish them entirely, of course, is to adopt a universal vote-by-mail system like those already utilized by Oregon, Washington, and–beginning this year–Colorado.

Universal ballot delivery fundamentally upends the election-administration universe. In 47 states, governments require registered voters to seek out their ballots, either by going to a polling place (refurbished or not) or by applying for an absentee ballot. Meanwhile, America’s three “voter-centric” states require the government to mail ballots to all registered voters.

By eliminating polling places and the need for so many election-day workers, Oregon taxpayers save millions of dollars each election cycle. Ballot processing and verification procedures — checking all signatures against voter registration records, which also renders moot the whole photo-ID debate — can be more uniformly applied than at the precinct-by-precinct level. Recounts… are based on individual paper ballots, not software code.

Creating such a voter-centric election system also significantly increases voter turnout, especially in elections where the absence of lines is the real problem. In the 2010 mid-term elections, Oregon and Washington ranked first and second in percentage of registered voters casting ballots. (Across all 50 states, the same turnout rates would have meant about 25 million more votes cast.) More dramatic still, party-primary turnout rates of 40 percent or higher in states with universal ballot delivery are double, even quadruple, the rates in most states.

I’d note that California utilizes a limited version of this system, allowing one to register as a “by mail” voter who will automatically receive ballots (and background materials on issues and candidates) by mail that can be cast by mail or in person, so long as the voter keeps voting. The percentage of California ballots cast by mail rose to 65% for primaries and 51% for the general election in 2012.

Voting by mail is obviously more convenient for most voters–particularly those who work on Election Day–but as Keisling points out, it also eliminates much of the chicanery attempted by local election officials with respect to in-person balloting, whether it’s done before or on Election Day.

And there are no lines between your kitchen table and the mailbox.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 13, 2014

February 14, 2014 Posted by | Elections, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not All Doom And Gloom On Obamacare”: Just A Matter Of Time Before Republicans Start Criticizing Something New

Condemning the Affordable Care Act and its problem-plagued rollout is easy, but when the White House insists things are getting better, that’s not just spin. Brett Norman reports this afternoon:

Tech surge czar Jeff Zients said that will be able to handle 50,000 users at a time by the end of this month – up from 25,000 now, thanks to hardware additions and software additions the team is putting in this weekend and next week.

He said that will enable the site to handle 800,000 people a day – “a conservative estimate,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

It’s important to note that handling increased traffic, while clearly important, is not the resolution to all of the website’s troubles. Accurately connecting consumers to insurers and providing reliable data on subsidies is just as important, and to date, these are areas with which has also struggled.

That said, Zients told reporters all of these issues are being addressed, and the increased website capacity should – should – keep the larger enrollment system on track towards its 2014 goals.

Indeed, even before Zients’s media briefing, Sarah Kliff highlighted reports of a “November surge” in enrollments.

By the end of October, the federal government had counted 106,000 people enrolled into private coverage through the new health insurance marketplaces, a small percentage of the projected half-million sign-ups.

By mid-November, though, with the 14 state-based marketplaces reporting fresh data, that number had just about doubled to more than 200,000…. State officials say they are seeing an uptick in sign-ups this month. California, which has had about 80,000 sign-ups, is now reporting about 2,000 enrollments per day. New York and Washington reported double-digit enrollment numbers as of this week.

Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman told Kliff, “It’s not all doom and gloom.”

Reports from several states where officials want the system to work are reporting impressive numbers for the first half of November. California, in particular, appears to be leading the way – and given that the Golden State is the nation’s largest, that’s good news for the overall totals.

The law’s proponents shouldn’t be Pollyannaish about any of this, and we have not reached the point at which the system can fairly be described as “adequate.” It’s just not there yet.

But the administration can credibly say they’re putting out the fires; they’re making steady progress; and they’ve moving closer to their goals. The panic is subsiding. The recent chatter that “Obamacare” is going to destroy the president, Democrats, the health care system, and the idea of progressive governance on a conceptual level hasn’t quite gone away, but it’s looking increasingly silly.

And while I’m reluctant to look too far ahead with so much uncertainty still surrounding the system’s functionality, I can’t help but wonder about what the political world’s conversation will look like if, in the near future, is working as it should, enrollment is strong, costs are contained, millions are gaining coverage they previously lacked, and millions more enjoy health care security that previously didn’t exist.

I have a very strong hunch we would, under this scenario, see very few headlines that say “Obama fixes problems, brings health care security to nation.” Rather, folks would just move past the hysteria of the last month, start criticizing something new, and Republicans could return to saying, “Now, about Benghazi….”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 22, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How We Got Obamacare To Work”: We Urge Congress To Get Out Of The Way And Support Efforts To Make Health-Care Reform Work

In our states — Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut — the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is working. Tens of thousands of our residents have enrolled in affordable health-care coverage. Many of them could not get insurance before the law was enacted.

People keep asking us why our states have been successful. Here’s a hint: It’s not about our Web sites.

Sure, having functioning Web sites for our health-care exchanges makes the job of meeting the enormous demand for affordable coverage much easier, but each of our state Web sites has had its share of technical glitches. As we have demonstrated on a near-daily basis, Web sites can continually be improved to meet consumers’ needs.

The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football.

In Washington, the legislature authorized Medicaid expansion with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate this summer because legislators understood that it could help create more than 10,000 jobs, save more than $300 million for the state in the first 18 months, and, most important, provide several hundred thousand uninsured Washingtonians with health coverage.

In Kentucky, two independent studies showed that the Bluegrass State couldn’t afford not to expand Medicaid. Expansion offered huge savings in the state budget and is expected to create 17,000 jobs.

In Connecticut, more than 50 percent of enrollment in the state exchange, Access Health CT, is for private health insurance. The Connecticut exchange has a customer satisfaction level of 96.5 percent, according to a survey of users in October, with more than 82 percent of enrollees either “extremely likely” or “very likely” to recommend the exchange to a colleague or friend.

In our states, elected leaders have decided to put people, not politics, first.

President Obama announced an administrative change last week that would allow insurance companies to continue offering existing plans to those who want to keep them. It is up to state insurance commissioners to determine how and whether this option works for their states, and individual states will come to different conclusions.

What we all agree with completely, though, is the president’s insistence that our country cannot go back to the dark days before health-care reform, when people were regularly dropped from coverage, and those with “bare bones” plans ended up in medical bankruptcy when serious illness struck, many times because their insurance didn’t cover much of anything.

Thanks to health-care reform and the robust exchanges in our states, people are getting better coverage at a better price.

One such person is Brad Camp, a small-business owner in Kingston, Wash., who received a cancellation notice in September from his insurance carrier. He went to the state exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder, and for close to the same premium his family was paying before got upfront coverage for doctor’s office visits and prescription drug , vision and dental coverage. His family was able to keep the same insurance carrier and doctors and qualified for tax credits to help cover the cost.

Since Howard Stovall opened his sign and graphics business in Lexington, Ky., in 1998, he has paid half the cost of health insurance for his eight employees. With the help of Stovall’s longtime insurance agent and Kentucky’s health exchange, Kynect, Stovall’s employees are saving 5 percent to 40 percent each on new health insurance plans with better benefits. Stovall can afford to provide additional employee benefits, including full disability coverage and part of the cost of vision and dental plans, while still saving the business 50 percent compared with the old plans.

In Connecticut, Anne Masterson was able to reduce her monthly premiums from $965 to $313 for similar coverage, including a $145 tax credit. Masterson is able to use her annual premium savings of $8,000 to pay bills or save for retirement.

These sorts of stories could be happening in every state if politicians would quit rooting for failure and directly undermining implementation of the Affordable Care Act — and, instead, put their constituents first. Health reform is working for the people of Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut because elected leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to do what is right for their residents.

We urge Congress to get out of the way and to support efforts to make health-care reform work for everyone. We urge our fellow governors, most especially those in states that refused to expand Medicaid, to make health-care reform work for their people too.


By: Jay Inslee, Steve Beshear and Dannel P. Malloy, Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, Published: November 17, 2013: Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is governor of Washington. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, is governor of Kentucky. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, is governor of Connecticut.

November 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fool Me Once”: The Sequester Is Proof That Washington Thinks We Are All Idiots

The tales of sequester woe are starting to mount. Congressmen are complaining about cancelled White House tours, freaking out over potential furloughs of meat inspectors, and fretting over budget cuts in Yellowstone National Park. Republican officeholders are starting to realize that the parochial government services that businesses and consumers in their districts need and care about are getting hit.

And for what? We’ve argued that the primary deficit—the mismatch between the amount of money the government collects each year and the amount of money it spends each year—is melting away. We received further confirmation of this melting trend Wednesday, with the release of the latest Treasury Monthly Statement. It was overlooked, as it dropped just a couple hours before the new pope was announced. But it’s worth examining.

The headline was that February wasn’t a great month for the profit-and-loss sheet of the federal government. It took in $122.8 billion and spent $326 billion, notching a $203.5 billion deficit. That’s pretty grim. But February is always a bad month for receipts. And when you dig into the number, it is possible to see significant improvement.

Compared with February 2012, revenues in February 2013 were up an impressive 18.8 percent. Meanwhile, spending was actually down 2.6 percent from February 2012. So the February 2013 monthly deficit was 12 percent smaller than the February 2012 monthly deficit. This is not an anomaly. For the first five months of fiscal 2013, which started in October, revenues were $1.01 trillion, up 13 percent from the first five months of fiscal 2012, while spending was up just 2.1 percent. The deficit in the first five months of fiscal 2013 is $494 billion, down nearly 15 percent from the first five months of fiscal 2012.

To what do we owe this? Revenue is tied to growth. When the economy grows consistently, more people go to work, more people earn higher wages, and they pay more income and payroll taxes. Companies tend to make more profits, and even though they spend lots of time and effort dodging taxes, they still wind up paying more corporate income taxes. Meanwhile, as we’ve pointed out before, when jobs increase and the economy grows, spending on programs like unemployment benefits fall. That helps narrow the deficit, too. In February, spending on unemployment benefits was off 25 percent from the year before.

There’s another factor at play. And Republicans might want to avert their eyes for this next paragraph. On January 1, the government raised taxes. The payroll tax, which had been cut temporarily to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent, went back up—a 48 percent increase. And so the 130 million or so Americans with payroll jobs have been paying higher federal taxes for the past two months. Meanwhile, as part of the fiscal cliff deal, higher income taxes were also put in place for high earners. They’re now paying more, too.

A funny thing happens when you raise taxes—you get more tax revenue.

Since the higher tax rates kicked in on January 1, Americans haven’t Gone Galt. They haven’t stopped working in protest of higher taxes and companies haven’t stopped hiring. In fact, they’ve been working more. As a result, revenue has been flooding into Washington. In the two months of the new tax regimen (January and February 2013), receipts are up 17 percent from the comparable period in 2012. Meanwhile, for all the charges of socialism, spending remains muted. A look at the daily Treasury statement suggests the higher revenue trend has continued through the first half of March.

The sequester, universally derided as a stupid way to get deficit reduction, is designed to bring $84 billion in deficit reduction in this fiscal year. Well, in the first five months of fiscal 2013, the deficit is already, wait for it, $85.8 billion smaller than it was in the first five months of fiscal 2012. And that’s all before the sequester takes full effect.

Quiet as it is kept, we are living in a great age of deficit reduction. If we project the numbers from the first five months of this fiscal year into the rest of it, it’s quite likely that the deficit will come in under $900 billion—even without the sequester. That’s high, and it is still a lot of money. But it would represent a deduction of nearly 20 percent from fiscal 2012. And with the economy continuing to grow steadily, the deficit as a percentage of GDP would shrink by an even larger margin.

Washington told itself it needed the sequester in order to make a significant dent in the annual deficit. With each passing month, and with each passing Treasury Monthly Statement, we’re learning that’s not true.


By: Daniel Gross, The Daily Beast, March 14, 2013

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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