Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ceasefire in the War on Drugs? by Gwynne Dyer /

Ceasefire in the War on Drugs?

Like those generals who used to discover that nuclear weapons were not a good thing about twenty minutes after they took off their uniforms and started collecting their pensions, we have had a parade of former presidents who knew that the war on drugs was a bad thing – but only mentioned it after they were already ex-presidents. Now, at last, we have one who is saying it out loud while he is still in office.
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, the country that has suffered even more than Mexico from the drug wars, is an honest and serious man. He is also very brave, because any political leader who advocates the legalization of narcotic drugs will become a prime target of the prohibition industry. He has chosen to do it anyway.
“We are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the past forty years,” he told “The Observer” in a recent interview in Bogota. “A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking....If that means legalizing [drugs]...then I will welcome it.”
Santos has no intention of becoming a kamikaze politician: “What I won’t do is become the vanguard of that movement [to legalize drugs] because then I will be crucified. But I would gladly participate in those discussions, because we are the country that’s still suffering most...from the high consumption in the US, the UK and Europe in general.”
There are no such discussions, of course. Santos is being disingenuous about this; he is really trying to start a serious international debate on drug legalization, not to join one. But the time may be ripe for such a debate, because it is now almost universally acknowledged (outside of political circles) that the “war on drugs” has been an extremely bloody failure.
Twenty years ago Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize winner, the most influential economist of the 20th century, and an icon of the right, said: “If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel.” It is only because the government makes the drugs illegal that the criminal cartel has a highly profitable monopoly on meeting the demand.
Milton Friedman also said: “Government never has any right to interfere with an individual for that individual’s own good. The case for prohibiting drugs is exactly as strong and as weak as the case for prohibiting people from over-eating. We all know that over-eating causes more deaths than drugs do.” But there are a quarter-million Americans in jail for possessing or selling drugs. Nobody is in jail for producing, marketing or eating junk food.
Friedman was right, of course, but forty years of the war on drugs have also shown that arguments based on logic, natural justice, or history (the obvious parallel with alcohol prohibition in the US in the 1920s and early 30s) have very little effect on policy in the main drug-importing nations. Many politicians there know that the war on drugs is futile and stupid, but the political cost of leaving the herd and saying so out loud is too high.
The political leaders who are starting to say that it’s time to end the war and legalize the drugs are almost all in the producer nations, where the damage has been far graver than in the drug-importing countries. In practice, therefore, they are almost all Latin American leaders – but even there they have waited until they left office to make their views known.
Former Mexican president Vicente Fox supported the US-led war on drugs when he was in office in 2000-2006, but more recently he has condemned it as an unmitigated disaster. “We should consider legalizing the production, sale and distribution of drugs,” he wrote on his blog. “Radical prohibition strategies have never worked.”
“Legalization does not mean that drugs are good,” Fox added, “but we have to see it as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to make huge profits, which in turn increases their power and capacity to corrupt.”
Naturally, Fox only said all that when he was no longer president, because otherwise the United States would have punished Mexico severely for stepping out of line. In the same spirit, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico made a joint public statement that drug prohibition had failed in 2009 – after they had all left office.
But gradually Latin American leaders are losing their fear of Washington. Last year Mexican President Felipe Calderon called for a debate on the legalization of the drug trade, although he carefully stressed that he himself was against the idea. (Then why did you bring it up, Felipe?) And now President Santos of Colombia has come out, still cautiously, to say that he would consider legalizing not only marijuana but cocaine.
The international discussion on legalization that Santos wants will not start tomorrow, or even next year, but common sense on drugs is finally getting the upper hand over ignorance, fear and dogmatism. And cash-strapped governments will eventually realize how much the balance sheet could be improved by taxing legalized drug consumption rather than wasting hundreds of billions in a futile attempt to reduce consumption.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The new age of consumer activism Our understandable rage at corporations is behind customer-driven like Bank Transfer Day By David Sirota / Salon

Friday, Nov 18, 2011 8:00 AM 10:55:33 PST

The new age of consumer activism

Our understandable rage at corporations is behind customer-driven like Bank Transfer Day

Occupy Oakland protesters stand outside of a Wells Fargo bank in Oakland
Occupy Oakland protesters stand outside of a Wells Fargo bank in Oakland, Calif., Weds., Nov. 2, 2011. (Credit: AP/Paul Sakuma)
As we all know, America is angry. Really angry. To put it in pop culture terms, we’ve moved from the vaguely inspiring agita of Peter Finch in “Network” to the wild-eyed, primal-scream rage of Sam Kinison in “Back to School.”
When we pay attention to politics, we get peeved at Congress and the presidential candidates. When we tune into sports, we’re annoyed with squabbling players and owners. When we turn on the news, we fume at the smug pundits. And when it comes to the economy, we’re in a tizzy at big corporations.
Most of this indignation is nothing new; it is atavistic fury expressed in the modern vernacular. Yet, one strand of our anger — the kind directed at big business — may be truly novel, as our chagrin is no longer just that ancient animosity toward excessive corporate power. Instead, it has also become a personal disdain toward firms we deal with on a daily basis.
This is the key finding of the latest report from the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University. Its findings show that after years of rising anger, consumer rage has reached an all-time high.
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David Sirota
David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at More David Sirota

Video: Austerity will sink the economy / Robert Reich / Move On

Friday, Nov 18, 2011 2:49 PM 10:39:55 PST

Austerity will sink the economy

Budget cuts aren't the answer. Here are the four principles that should be guiding the supercommittee

Screen shot 2011-11-18 at 5.47.17 PM
(Credit: Courtesy of Robert Reich)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.
The biggest question right now on Planet Washington is whether the congressional supercommittee will reach an agreement.
That’s the wrong question. Agreement or not, Washington is on the road to making budget cuts that will slow the economy, increase unemployment and impose additional hardship on millions of Americans.
The real question is how to stop this austerity train wreck, and substitute the following:
FIRST: No cuts before jobs are back – until unemployment is down to 5 percent. Until then, the economy needs a boost, not a cut. Consumers – whose spending is 70 percent of the economy – don’t have the money to boost the economy on their own. Their pay is dropping and they’re losing jobs.
SECOND: Make the boost big enough. 14 million Americans are out of work, and 10 million are working part time who need full-time jobs. The President’s proposed jobs program is a start but it’s tiny relative to what needs to be done. It would create fewer than 2 million jobs. We need a big jobs program – rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure, and including a WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps.
Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was secretary of labor during the Clinton administration. He is also a blogger and the author of "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future." More Robert Reich

15 Tea Party Caucus freshmen rake in $3.5 million in first 9 months in Washington By Aaron Mehta and Bob Biersack, iWatch / News Huff Post

15 Tea Party Caucus freshmen rake in $3.5 million in first 9 months in Washington

On her website, Rep. Diane Black asks constituents to join advisory panels in her Tennessee district. "I believe the best ideas to solve our nation's problems will come from people like you," Black writes, "not Washington bureaucrats and special interest groups."
Black is one of the new Republicans who rode a wave of anti-Washington sentiment into town in 2011, a self-identified member of the tea party wing that has been cast as a new kind of conservative-- fiery, unwilling to compromise and determined to downsize the government. But while many say Black and her companions have created a split in the Republican Party, it is not visible among the companies and interest groups that are donating to members of Congress.
A joint analysis by iWatch News and the Center for Responsive Politics has found that the 15 freshmen members of the Tea Party Caucus have embraced many of the same special interests that have supported Republicans for years. The fifteen combined have received over $3,450,000 during the first three quarters of this year from almost 700 different PACs.
It's an impressive haul for a group of newly elected House members. But it shouldn't be surprising that these fresh faces found new friends in Washington.
"Business as usual," says Mary Boyle of good-government group Common Cause. "The lobbyists and other traditional Washington powers know that the newbies will learn fast that they need them, and their rolodexes."
It may well be, but some of the freshmen appear to have their eyes wide open.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., has received more than $252,000 from PACs, accounting for about two-thirds of the money he has raised this year. His chief of staff, Fred Piccolo, was unapologetic for the donations the congressman has received. "One person's 'special interest' is another person's 'personal interest,'" he said.
Among the biggest PAC donors to the tea party freshmen are familiar Washington faces, including Honeywell International, which led the way both in number of donations and overall money given. The top five corporate PACs that donated to these freshmen:
  • Honeywell International, a Fortune 100 company best known for its defense manufacturing, made 52 donations worth at least $105,000
  • The American Bankers Association, one of the major trade associations for the financial sector, made 31 donations worth at least $53,000
  • Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest defense contractors in the country, with 30 donations for at least $28,000
  • Koch Industries, the company run by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, made 29 donations worth at least $38,000
  • The National Association of Realtors, a major trade group for real estate agents, with 29 donations worth $34,000

Mouseover the Tea Party members' photos to view the amount collected from PACs
At least $418,000
At least $418,000 from 190 PACs
Diane Lynn Black
At least $383,000
At least $383,000 from 125 PACs
David B McKinley
At least $370,000
At least $370,000 from 162 PACs
Steve Fincher
At least $241,000
At least $252,000 from 123 PACs
Dennis Ross
At least $234,000
At least $234,000 from 105 PACs
Sandy Adams
At least $221,000
At least $221,000 from 102 PACs
Joe Walsh
At least $220,000
At least $220,000 from 109 PACs
Tim Walberg
At least $215,000
At least $215,000 from 103 PACs
Blake Farenthold
At least $210,000
At least $210,000 from 98 PACs
Allen B West
At least $200,000
At least $200,000 from 111 PACs
Vicky Hartzler
At least $177,000
At least $177,000 from 87 PACs
Steven Palazzo
At least $144,000
At least $144,000 from 93 PACs
Tim Huelskamp
At least $129,000
At least $129,000 from 48 PACs
John Michael "Mick''Mulvaney
At least $106,000
At least $106,000 from 47 PACs
Richard B Nugent
At least $59,000
At least $170,000 from 86 PACs
Jeff Duncan

The fifteen members also took a significant amount of money from ideological groups, including at least $100,000 from the PAC of Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, at least $55,000 from the Boehner-affiliated Freedom Project, and at least $42,000 from the Republican Majority Committee PAC. Groups in this category were critical to the financial success of many of these candidates in 2010. Since their victories, however, these members are finding financial support for their campaigns from a much wider selection of interests in Washington.
Black, one of the richest members of Congress, seems to have quickly learned her way around town. She leads the way as the most successful fundraiser in the bunch, having raised at least $418,000 from PACs alone through the first three quarters.
Overall, this group of freshmen representatives has become just as reliant on PAC money as their counterparts who have been in the House longer. The median Tea Party Caucus freshman brought in roughly 44 percent of their money from PACs, 43 percent from large individual donors, and 4 percent from small donors who gave less than $200 each. Comparatively, the median House Republican got 46 percent from PACs, 45 percent from large individuals and 4 percent from small individual donors.
One freshman caucus member who stands out among his peers is Rep. Allen West, who represents Florida's 22nd district. Early on in the 2010 election West became a phenomenon, one who was able to raise massive amounts from small contributions around the country as if he were a national figure. And the influx of contributions has not slowed. While he has raised at least $210,000 from PACs through the first nine months of this year, the percentage of money he has received in from individual donations of $200 or less has actually increased since his election, something rarely seen among politicians.
The Bankers Association is another notable, given the full throated support of the financial system raised by some members of the Tea Party Caucus. Freshman Joe Walsh recently screamed at a constituent who asked about big banks' role in the financial collapse, "Don't blame the banks ... that pisses me off." In fact, over 17 percent of the money brought in by the Tea Party Caucus freshmen came from the financial institution, according to CRP numbers.
Ross, the Florida congressman, was somewhat surprised by how much fundraising a freshman member has to do, Chief of Staff Piccolo said. "It has definitely been more than anticipated, but in the end, many of these folks represent organizations with tens of thousands of employees and a direct impact on the district.... [Ross'] willingness to stand against feeding at the DC spending trough have endeared him to some and angered others."
"For every 'special interest' that writes a check, there are an equal number that would write one to an opponent."
"Newcomers quickly realize that if they want to stay in Congress, they must immediately begin raising lots of money" says Common Cause's Boyle. "So they go to the people and interests who are more than happy to give it - those who want something from Congress."
"Sadly, it's what you have to do to survive in this system, and that's why it must be changed, so that lawmakers don't take office owing favors to their biggest campaign donors. "
The Tea Party Caucus is an official house caucus founded by Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., in 2010. Although many conservative Republicans have been identified as being tea party supporters, there are only 60 official members of the caucus. When asked if there was a freshman representative to the caucus, spokeswoman Becky Rogness said that the only official is Rep. Bachmann. And because the caucus is an official government entity, "it is not involved in political campaigning or fundraising."
In response to questions for this article, Honeywell spokesman Rob Ferris said "Honeywell's Political Action Committee supports those who support the policies that are most important to our company and are in the best interest of growing the American economy and creating American jobs." He declined to answer follow up questions, as did Lockheed spokesman Jeff Adams after stating that "Lockheed Martin supports a wide range of political leaders based on their level of interest and commitment in national security, homeland security, and other issues of importance to the corporation including education and technology."
Sara Wiskerchen, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Realtors, said that "NAR is the most bipartisan PAC in the country" and bases it's giving on candidates with "have strong records of support for homeownership and private property rights." When asked if members of the Tea Party Caucus were more sympathetic to the concerns of the NAR, Wiskerchen said "No, support for homeownership issues we consider important varies across all political parties and depends strongly on the issue."
Request for comments were not returned from the American Bankers Association or Koch Industries. All 15 of the freshmen mentioned were contacted. Anyone not quoted here did not respond to a request for comment.
Aaron Mehta is a staff writer with the Center for Public Integrity. Bob Biersack is a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The favor George W. Bush did for Democrats The supercommittee may be collapsing, and it's because Democrats are using a weapon the last president gave them By Steve Kornacki / Salon

Friday, Nov 18, 2011 5:17 AM 06:34:48 PST

The favor George W. Bush did for Democrats

The supercommittee may be collapsing, and it's because Democrats are using a weapon the last president gave them

The odds of the congressional supercommittee striking a debt reduction deal before next week’s deadline are fading by the hour, and for good reason: Democrats seem to be realizing just how much leverage they really have.
The simple fact that top Republicans in Congress and on the committee have put forward a proposal that includes around $250 billion in new revenue is itself a sign of the Democrats’ strong bargaining position. For two decades, ever since George H.W. Bush turned back on his “Read my lips” anti-tax pledge and faced a revolt from the right, Republicans have almost unanimously opposed the idea of any tax increase under any circumstance. But as jarring as the GOP’s shift seemed, congressional Democrats on Thursday made clear that they see it as wholly inadequate and that they’re ready to reject it without radical restructuring.
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Steve Kornacki
Steve Kornacki is Salon's news editor. Reach him by email at and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki

The corporate tax plunge: Down, down, down / Andrew Leonard / Plus four more Economic Justice Articles By Salon

Thursday, Nov 17, 2011 1:00 PM 06:29:01 PST

The corporate tax plunge: Down, down, down

Since the 1950s, American companies have paid a steadily smaller percentage of their profits as taxes

Fred chart
(Credit: FRED)
We already know that compared to most rich countries in the world, corporations in the United States get off easy when it comes to taxes. We also know that many of the biggest American corporations don’t pay any taxes at all.
But if you are looking for one graphic illustration that speaks the most volumes about how great it’s been to be an American corporation over the past half-century, than you really must contemplate this chart put together by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank (Hat tip to Felix Salmon.)
Corporate income tax graph
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Andrew Leonard
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21. More Andrew Leonard
Friday, Nov 11, 2011 9:01 AM 06:29:01 PST

How to solve the corporate tax problem

Our globalized economy creates too many loopholes for multinational firms. It's time to push for a universal system

(Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer)
This originally appeared on KeriAnn Wells' Open Salon blog.
The United States is teeming for tax reform. Obama speaks eloquently of the rich “paying their fair share” while Republicans pledge never to raise taxes. Warren Buffett is taxed less than his receptionist. Occupiers rally for the 99 percent, while Tea Partyers rally behind 9-9-9.
Meanwhile, 25 of the Forbes top 100 companies paid their CEOs more than they paid Uncle Sam in 2010. Some of the big names are GE, Prudential and Verizon, all of which paid their CEOs well over $10 million, but paid no income tax whatsoever.
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KeriAnn Wells is a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. More KeriAnn Wells
Thursday, Nov 3, 2011 9:37 AM 06:29:01 PST

Could the GOP actually be turning on Grover Norquist?

Dozens of House Republicans may be inching toward a confrontation with one of the most feared leaders on the right

Are congressional r's really thinking about raising taxes?
Grover Norquist (Credit: AP)
Grover Norquist, who runs a fervently anti-tax interest group in Washington, is best known for the simple pledge that Republican candidates for Congress have learned to ignore at their own electoral peril. Signatories vow that they will:
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and
TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and
credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
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Steve Kornacki
Steve Kornacki is Salon's news editor. Reach him by email at and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki
Thursday, Nov 3, 2011 4:45 AM 06:29:01 PST

America’s corporate tax obscenity

A new report about companies' finances won't just enrage you -- it'll make you run to the nearest protest

ows corporations
(Credit: Reuters/Jose Luis Magaua)
In 2010, Verizon reported an annual profit of nearly $12 billion. The statutory federal corporate income tax rate is 35 percent, so theoretically, Verizon should have owed the IRS around $4.2 billlion. Instead, according to figures compiled by the Center for Tax Justice, the company actually boasted a negative tax liability of $703 million. Verizon ended up making even more money after it calculated its taxes.
Verizon is hardly alone, and isn’t even close to being the worst offender. Perhaps most famously, General Electric raked in $10.5 billion in profit in 2010, yet ended up reporting $4.7 billion worth of negative taxes. The worst offender in 2010, as measured by its overall negative tax rate, was Pepco, the electricity utility that serves Washington, D.C. Pepco reported profits of $882 million in 2010, and negative taxes of $508 million — a negative tax rate of 57.6 percent.
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Andrew Leonard
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21. More Andrew Leonard