Glenn Greenwald has a good post about Arrar v. Ashcroft, an appeals court ruling that came down the other day. Here's an excerpt:
Maher Arar is both a Canadian and Syrian citizen of Syrian descent. A telecommunications engineer and graduate of Montreal's McGill University, he has lived in Canada since he's 17 years old. In 2002, he was returning home to Canada from vacation when, on a stopover at JFK Airport, he was (a) detained by U.S. officials, (b) accused of being a Terrorist, (c) held for two weeks incommunicado and without access to counsel while he was abusively interrogated, and then (d) was "rendered" -- despite his pleas that he would be tortured -- to Syria, to be interrogated and tortured. He remained in Syria for the next 10 months under the most brutal and inhumane conditions imaginable, where he was repeatedly tortured. Everyone acknowledges that Arar was never involved with Terrorism and was guilty of nothing. I've appended to the end of this post the graphic description from a dissenting judge of what was done to Arar while in American custody and then in Syria.
A handful of guilt-ridden wealthy Germans are asking to pay more tax according to a BBC report. They could just give their money to the state, of course, but they want to impose their self-loathing policies on all successful Germans. The amusing part of the story is that these dilettantes were puzzled that so few people showed up to their protest. Maybe next time they could do some real redistribution and announce that they will be tossing real banknotes in the air:
A group of rich Germans has launched a petition calling for the government to make wealthy people pay higher taxes. The group say they have more money than they need, and the extra revenue could fund economic and social programmes...
Simply donating money to deal with the problems is not enough, they want a change in the whole approach.
...The man behind the petition, Dieter Lehmkuhl, told Berlin's Tagesspiegel that there were 2.2 million people in Germany with a fortune of more than 500,000 euros. If they all paid the tax for two years, Germany could raise 100bn euros to fund ecological programmes, education and social projects, said the retired doctor and heir to a brewery. Signatory Peter Vollmer told AFP news agency he was supporting the proposal because he had inherited "a lot of money I do not need". He said the tax would be "a viable and socially acceptable way out of the flagrant budget crisis". The group held a demonstration in Berlin on Wednesday to draw attention to their plans, throwing fake banknotes into the air. Mr Vollmer said it was "really strange that so few people came".
But not all tormented rich people live in Germany. A few months ago, I had a chance to debate an American version of this strange subspecies.
I appeared on the CNN program Lou Dobbs Tonight last Thursday (Oct. 22) to discuss the medical marijuana issue and the drug war in general. There were two other guests: Peter Moskos from John Jay College and the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and Barry McCaffrey, retired General of the U.S. Army and former "Drug Czar" under President Bill Clinton.
I was really astonished by the doubletalk coming from McCaffrey. Watch the clip below and then I'll explain two of the worst examples so you can come to your own conclusions about this guy.
Doubletalk: Example One:
Tim Lynch: "Some states have changed their marijuana laws to allow patients who are suffering from cancer and AIDS--people who want to use marijuana for medical reasons–they’re exempt from the law. But there’s a clash between the laws of the state governments and the federal government. The federal government has come in and said, 'We’re going to threaten people with federal prosecution, bring them into federal court.' And what the [new memo from the Obama Justice Department] does this week is change federal policy. Basically, Attorney General Eric Holder is saying, 'Look, for people, genuine patients–people suffering from cancer, people suffering from AIDS–these people are now off limits to federal prosecutors.' It’s a very small step in the direction of reform."
Now comes Barry McCaffrey: "There is zero truth to the fact that the Drug Enforcement Administration or any other federal law enforcement ever threatened care-givers or individual patients. That’s fantasy!"
Zero truth? Fantasy? This report from USA Today tells the story of several patients who were harassed and threatened by federal agents. Excerpt: "In August 2002, federal agents seized six plants from [Diane] Monson's home and destroyed them."
This report from the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story of Bryan Epis and Ed Rosenthal. Both men, in separate incidents, were raided, arrested, and prosecuted by federal officials. The feds called them "drug dealers." When the cases came to trial, both men were eager to inform their juries about the actual circumstances surrounding their cases--but they were not allowed to convey those circumstances to jurors. Federal prosecutors insisted that information concerning the medical aspect of marijuana was "irrelevant." Both men were convicted and jailed.
This report from the New York Times tells readers about the death of Peter McWilliams. The feds said he was a "drug dealer." McWilliams also wanted to tell his story to a jury, but pled guilty when the judge told him he would not be allowed to inform the jury of his medical condition. Excerpt: "At his death, Mr. McWilliams was waiting to be sentenced in federal court after being convicted of having conspired to possess, manufacture and sell marijuana.... They pleaded guilty to the charge last year after United States District Judge George H. King ruled that they could not use California's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, as a defense, or even tell the jury of the initiative's existence and their own medical conditions." The late William F. Buckley wrote about McWilliams' case here.
Imagine what Diane Monson, Bryan Epis, Ed Rosenthal, and Peter McWilliams (and others) would have thought had they seen a former top official claim that federal officials never threatened patients or caregivers?!
Doubletalk: Example Two:
Tim Lynch: "After California changed its laws to allow the medical use of marijuana, [General Barry McCaffrey] was the Drug Czar at the time and he came in taking a very hard line. The Clinton administration’s position was that they were going to threaten doctors simply for discussing the pros and cons of using marijuana with their patients. That policy was fought over in the courts and [the Clinton/McCaffrey] policy was later declared illegal and unconstitutional for violating the free speech of doctors and for interfering with the doctor-patient relationship. This was the ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case called Conant – "C-O-N-A-N-T."
Lou Dobbs: "The ruling stood in the Ninth Circuit?"
Tim Lynch: "Yes, it did."
Now comes Barry McCaffrey: "That’s all nonsense!"
Go here to read the New York Times story about McCaffrey's hard-line policy.
The Conant ruling can be found here. The name of the case was initially Conant v. McCaffrey, but as the months passed and the case worked its way up to the appeals court, the case was renamed Conant v. Walters because Bush entered the White House and he appointed his own drug czar, John Walters, who maintained the hard line policy initiated by Clinton and McCaffrey.
I should also mention that Conant was not an obscure case that McCaffrey could have somehow "missed." Here's a snippet from another New York Times report: "The Supreme Court, in a silent rebuff on Tuesday to federal policy on medical marijuana, let stand an appeals court ruling that doctors may not be investigated, threatened or punished by federal regulators for recommending marijuana as a medical treatment for their patients." The point here is that the case was covered by major media as it unfolded.
When our television segment concluded, Lou Dobbs asked me some follow-up questions and asked me to supply additional info to one of his producers, which I was happy to do.
Whatever one's view happens to be on drug policy, the historical record is there for any fair-minded person to see -- and yet McCaffrey looked right into the camera and denied past actions by himself and other federal agents. And he didn't say, "I think that's wrong" or "I don't remember it that way." He baldly asserted that my recounting of the facts was "nonsense." Now I suppose some will say that falsehoods are spoken on TV fairly often--maybe, I'm not sure--but it is distressing that this character held the posts that he did and that he continues to instruct cadets at West Point!
My fellow panelist, Peter Moskos, has a related blog post here and he had a good piece published in the Washington Post just yesterday. For more Cato scholarship on drug policy, go here.
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In an effort to achieve "network neutrality" online, the FCC is starting to write new regulations for Internet providers. Reuters reports:
U.S. communications regulators voted unanimously Thursday to support an open Internet rule that would prevent telecom network operators from barring or blocking content based on the revenue it generates.
The proposed rule now goes to the public for comment until Jan. 14, after which the Federal Communications Commissions will review the feedback and possibly seek more comment. A final rule is not expected until the spring of next year.
Cato Director of Information Policy Studies Jim Harper appeared on Fox News this week to discuss the FCC decision. "This is governmental tinkering with a market place that is working really well and growing right now," said Harper. "The last thing we need is to cut that off."
There are ways to achieve net neutrality without regulation, says Timothy B. Lee:
An important reason for the Internet's remarkable growth over the last quarter century is the "end-to-end" principle that networks should confine themselves to transmitting generic packets without worrying about their contents. Not only has this made deployment of internet infrastructure cheap and efficient, but it has created fertile ground for entrepreneurship. On a network that respects the end-to-end principle, prior approval from network owners is not needed to launch new applications, services, or content.
...Like these older regulatory regimes, network neutrality regulations are likely not to achieve their intended aims. Given the need for more competition in the broadband marketplace, policymakers should be especially wary of enacting regulations that could become a barrier to entry for new broadband firms.
According to reports, executives from bailed out companies Citigroup, Bank of America, GM, Chrysler, GMAC, Chrysler Financial and AIG are going to see major pay cuts this year, which will be enforced by the president's "pay czar," Kenneth R. Feinberg. WaPo:
NEW YORK -- The Obama administration plans to order companies that have received exceptionally large amounts of bailout money from the government to slash compensation for their highest-paid executives by about half on average, according to people familiar with the long-awaited decision.
The administration will also curtail many corporate perks, including the use of corporate jets for personal travel, chauffeured drivers and country club fee reimbursement, people familiar with the matter have said. Individual perks worth more than $25,000 have received particular scrutiny.
The American people have every right to be upset about generous compensation packages for executives at financial firms that are being kept alive by subsidies and bailouts.
But their ire should be directed at the bailouts, because that is the policy that redistributes money from the average taxpayer and puts it in the pockets of incompetent executives. Unfortunately, rather than deal with the underlying problems of bailouts and intervention, some politicians want to impose controls on salaries. This might be a tolerable second-best (or probably fifth-best) outcome if the compensation limits only applied to companies mooching off the taxpayers, but some politicians want to use the financial crisis as an excuse to regulate compensation at firms that do not have their snouts in the public trough.
This would be a big mistake. So long as rich people make money using non-coercive means, politicians should butt out. It should not matter whether we are talking about Tiger Woods, Brad Pitt, or a corporate CEO. The market should determine compensation, not political deal making. Markets don't produce perfect outcomes, to be sure, but political intervention invariably produces terrible outcomes.
I debate this further on CNBC:
C/P The Hill
I'm late to the pile-on because I'm a bad American, and I don't watch enough football, but not quite two weeks ago, President Obama managed to politicize what for many is a hallowed Monday night ritual.
In the New York Post, the paper of record for those of us who grew up in one of the only red counties on the Jersey Shore, Kyle Smith notes that Obama's ostensible purpose for inserting himself into Monday Night Football was to proclaim Hispanic Heritage Month, but the president put this in as well:
Our nation faces extraordinary challenges right now, and our ability to tackle them will depend on our willingness to recognize that we’re all in this together, that we each have an obligation to give back to our communities, and we all have a stake in the future of this country.
Generic enough, perhaps, unless you're oblivious to the political backdrop of the president and his party pushing desperately to pass national health care.
Smith is rightfully exasperated by the perpetual campaign mode and Obama's omnipresence in every broadcast medium. But--not that it's a competition--I'd had more than my fill of this sort of thing eight months ago, a month into Obama's presidency:
When there's no escape from our national talk-show host-when he appears constantly above every gym treadmill-is it any wonder that we typically want his show cancelled just a few seasons in? Is it any wonder we get sick of him?
You can make too much of the notion of presidential "dignity." It's good when the federal chief executive officer fights against the royal aura that inevitably surrounds the office by, for example, walking his inaugural parade route (Jefferson) or buttering his own english muffins (Jerry Ford).
But it seems to me that doing a commercial for George Lopez's lousy sit-com takes it a bit too far:
(When I saw this on TV recently, I was sure it was some kind of Forrest Gump cinemagic. Not so.)
More to the point, can the president give us an occasional break from his relentless omnipresence? Apparently not.
Six months into his presidency, the Politico reported, Obama had already "uttered more than half a million words in public." In one whirlwind week last month, the president made his third appearance on "60 Minutes," gave a major speech on the financial crisis the next day, and made a record five talk-show appearances the following Sunday. And on the eighth day, He did Letterman.
My suspicion is that as his popularity continues to drop, Obama is going to discover that there are diminishing returns to presidential media appearances, and that he might do better by letting the country forget about him for a while. But will he be able to restrain himself?
This issue is important because the statists are trying to create the conditions for a big tax hike. We got huge spending increases under Bush, and now Obama has picked up the baton and is racing in the same direction. Needless to say, the politicians don't care about deficits when they are spending money. But when it is time to discuss tax policy, deficits suddenly become a giant threat to the economy and turning more of our money over to the political class is the only solution.
The Q&A session also is interesting, as I pontificate about the financial crisis, Keynesian economics, the rule of law, and tax competition(both videos courtesy of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity).