Archives: August, 2013

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Turn on Marijuana

From CNN. com:

Well, I am here to apologize.

I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.

Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

I have seen more patients like Charlotte first hand, spent time with them and come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana.

We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.

Apology accepted. Look forward to your documentary, “Weed,” and assume you’ll work to persuade President Obama, and his Attorney General, Drug Czar, DEA chief, and Surgeon General, to change federal law and stop raiding and arresting persons in the medical marijuana business.

Related Cato work here and here.

Eminent Domain for a Soccer Stadium?

Taxpayers in the District of Columbia have agreed – well, their agreement has been attested to by the mayor – to pony up $150 million to build a new stadium for D.C. United, the Major League Soccer team owned by Indonesian media magnate Erick Thohir. And just in case money isn’t enough to get the job done, the city administrator has made clear that the mayor has other tools in his kit:

A top District official reiterated Wednesday that the city is prepared to seize land in court to build a new soccer stadium after questions emerged over the ownership of a key plot needed for the project backed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and D.C. United’s owners.

City Administrator Allen Y. Lew said the District was ready to exercise eminent domain should it be unable to come to terms with the current owners of the proposed site. “That’s always out there, that the mayor has the power to do that,” he said at a news conference Wednesday. “We’d like to work this out in an amicable way.”

Eminent domain. That is, taking land by force. For a soccer stadium. 

I am reminded of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s scathing dissent in the case of Kelo v. New London:

Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded–i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public–in the process….

The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory….

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.

The Founders may well not have intended this perverse result. But alas, O’Connor was writing in dissent. Five justices of the Supreme Court upheld the taking of Susette Kelo’s home to give it to Pfizer. And now, the owners of the Super Salvage scrap yard know that “nothing is to prevent the State” from taking their property to benefit “citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process.”

It’s one thing to argue that the Founders intended to give the government the power to take private property “for public use,” such as a military installation, a road, or a school. But for a corporate office park? Or a soccer stadium? The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.

Copyright Terms in the TPP: Too Long, or Way Too Long?

Last December, there was an excellent policy forum here on whether copyright, an issue which I previously knew little about, has become “unbalanced.” It seems that copyright terms in the United States have increased significantly over the years: simplifying the issues a bit, these terms went from 14 years (with the possibility of a 14 year renewal) as set by the first Congress, to 28 years (with a 28 year renewal) in 1909, to life of the author plus 50 years in 1976, to life of the author plus 70 years today.

I don’t know how you are supposed to come up with a “correct” figure for the term of copyright. It all feels like instinct more than science. The earliest time periods – 28 years total or 56 years total, taking into account renewal – seem reasonable. Even life of the author seems reasonable. But life of the author plus 50 years? Or life of the author plus 70 years? That seems excessive.

I bring this up because as part of various trade negotiations, the U.S. government is now pushing others to adopt ever longer terms. One of the big trade talks these days is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains how the TPP would affect copyright terms:

New Zealand, a party to the TPP negotiations, currently has a copyright term of the author’s life and an additional 50 years for literary works. Another TPP member, Malaysia, has a copyright term of life plus 50 years for “literarymusical or artisticwork.” Canada, which is just entering negotiations, has an even shorter term of just 50 years for fixed sound recordingsPursuant to the current TPP terms [pdf], all of these countries would be required to extend their terms and grant companies lengthy exclusive rights to works for no empirical reason.

There are lots of good things in trade agreements, and I’m reluctant to oppose them. But it gets very frustrating to see them used for purposes other than free trade, especially when those purposes are so problematic. It seems to me that the appropriate focus of copyright policy right now would be a domestic debate that focuses on how long copyright terms should be, rather than an attempt to push our own excessive terms on our trading partners.

Happy Gulf of Tonkin Anniversary (and Thanks, NSA, for Lying about It for 40 Years)!

So yesterday marked an unhappy anniversary: 49 years since Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing the Vietnam War. (H/T Caleb Brown.)

LBJ compared the resolution to “grandma’s nightshirt” because it “covered everything.” Like the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, it was worded broadly enough to allow the president to make the final decision about war all by himself—and vaguely enough to allow those who voted for it to deny responsibility for the war they’d authorized. 

There’s a lesson there about how congressional fecklessness enables presidential warmaking. But what happened—or didn’t happen—in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964 is even more relevant to the current controversy over just how far we should trust the National Security Agency.

On August 2, 1964, the U.S.S. Maddox came under fire while gathering signals intelligence in Vietnamese territorial waters. But it was the alleged “second attack,” confirmed by the NSA, that LBJ seized upon to order retaliatory bombings and push the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution through Congress.

As we now know, the “second attack” never happened. Days after the attack, Johnson cracked, “Hell, those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish!”  A National Security Agency historian later concluded that “N.S.A. officers had deliberately falsified intercepted communications in the incident to make it look like the attack on Aug. 4, 1964, had occurred, although he said they acted not out of political motives but to cover up earlier errors.”

As Mark Ambinder and D.B. Grady recount in their new book Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, ”the NSA covered up its role in mistakenly reporting that two U.S ships had been attacked,” and stuck to its original story for four decades, “a lie perpetuated by secrecy.” In 2005, Freedom of Information Act requests and pressure from the press finally forced the release of classified documents on the Tonkin incident. The NSA resisted almost until the end, fearing, as one intelligence official told the New York Times, their release “might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq.”

Harvard Health Policy Review on the IRS’s Illegal ObamaCare Taxes

In the just-released Spring 2013 issue of Harvard Health Policy Review, I have an article titled “ObamaCare: The Plot Thickens.” The article examines the IRS rule that purportedly implements ObamaCare’s tax credits, but actually violates that statute by taxing, borrowing, and spending hundreds of billions of dollars contrary to Congress’ explicit instructions. (The article is a less-technical version of my Health Matrix article (coauthored with Jonathan Adler), “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA.”) Here’s an excerpt:

In broad daylight, the Internal Revenue Service is attempting to tax, borrow, and spend [roughly] $800 billion—contrary to both the express language of the PPACA and congressional intent. Thus in addition to other abuses that have recently come to light, the IRS is attempting to tax millions of employers and individuals without congressional authorization…

In this still-unfolding narrative, the Obama administration’s actions are triply anti-democratic. First, the IRS is violating a direct constraint that popularly elected legislators placed on the executive branch. Second, it is violating that duly enacted statute for the purpose of denying popularly elected state officials the vetoes Congress gave them over certain provisions of the statute. And third, it is violating the statute because administration officials either cannot fathom or will not accept that Congress meant to do what it clearly did.

Obama administration officials continually emphasize that the PPACA is “the law of the land.” That remains to be seen, in more ways than one.

The Political Revolution Made by Margaret Thatcher

The rise of Ronald Reagan was improbable. Margaret Thatcher’s journey to British prime minister seemed almost impossible. Journalist Charles Moore tells the story in Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands

Margaret Roberts was the younger of two daughters of a middle class grocer. She married businessman Denis Thatcher, who supported her political career.

Although she was not the first female MP, they were few in number. Rarer still were those with an aptitude for “men’s issues,” such as economics. But Thatcher impressed party elders and local residents, and in 1958 won the Conservative Party nod to compete in Finchley, a Tory stronghold.

In the following years she served in and out of government, impressing those around her with her knowledge of the issues and ability in debate. She joined the cabinet of Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1970.

As I wrote in my review in the Washington Times, that government:

“was battered by turbulent times.  Indeed, I lived through much of his premiership, since my Air Force father was stationed in Britain from 1970 to 1973.  Unfortunately, Heath lacked the principled beliefs and firm character necessary to challenge the expansive welfare state.

He went to the polls early and lost.  The majority of Tory MPs then wanted to defenestrate him, but the obvious challengers hung back.  So the lady from Finchley challenged Heath.  On February 11, 1975 she piled up an overwhelming majority on the second ballot to become opposition leader.”

It was another four years before the weak Labor government collapsed. But on May 3, 1979, British voters gave the Conservatives a 43 seat majority, making Margaret Thatcher prime minister. The country’s economic problems seemed intractable and party moderates soon wanted to retreat. However, she famously responded: “The lady’s not for turning.” 

Her premiership was rescued by Argentina’s decision to invade the Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982. The islands didn’t seem worth a war and Britain’s military power was waning. However, the “Iron Lady” risked all, and won. That set the stage for her future success. Writes Moore:  “The Falklands War established Mrs. Thatcher’s personal mastery of the political scene, and convinced people of her special gifts of leadership.”

There ends volume one, with much more to come.  It’s well worth the read, and likely will leave any political buff waiting for more.

Anemic Business Investment Indicts U.S. Policies

Since the beginning of the Great Uncertainty – the period that began with the “stimulus,” the auto bailout, the push for another major entitlement program, Dodd-Frank, the regulatory dam burst, the subsidies for favored industries, and the proliferation of distinctly anti-business rhetoric from the White House – President Obama has appeared puzzled by the dearth of business investment and hiring. Go figure.

Nonresidential fixed investment fell off a cliff in 2009, and has yet to recover even in nominal terms. As a share of GDP and relative to the trend in investment growth prior to the 2008 recession, the picture is more troubling still. If tomorrow’s wealth and living standards are functions of today’s investment – and they are – reversing the decline in investment should be the economic priority of U.S. policymakers. 

Instead, the administration has been cavalier about the problem and aloof to real solutions, choosing to view investment as a casualty of partisan politics, as though business is intentionally holding back to sully the economy on this president’s watch. Such narcissism has obscured the White House’s capacity to grasp the power of incentives.

It’s not just domestic investment that is lagging. Foreign direct investment in real U.S. assets is also on the decline. The United States is part of a global economy, which means that U.S. and foreign based businesses can invest, hire, develop, produce, assemble and service almost anywhere they choose. And that means the United States is competing with the rest of the world to attract and retain investment. Of course, the implication of this – whether policymakers know it or not and whether they like it or not – is that globalization is serving to discipline bad public policy. Policies that are hostile to wealth creators chase them away, while smart policies attract them and harvest their fruits.

Business investment is ultimately a judgment about a jurisdiction’s institutions, policies, human capital, and prospects. As the world’s largest economy featuring a highly productive work force, world-class research universities, a relatively stable political climate, strong legal institutions, accessible capital markets, and countless other advantages, the United States has been able to attract the investment needed to produce the innovative ideas, revolutionary technologies, and new products and industries that have continued to undergird its position atop the global economic value chain. 

The good news is that the $3.5 trillion of foreign direct investment parked in the United States accounted for 17 percent of the world’s direct investment stock in 2011 – more than triple the share of the next largest single-country destination. The troubling news is that in 1999 the United States accounted for 39 percent of the world’s investment stock.