Tag Archives: United States

Legalizing Pot Is Pretty Much The Most Popular Thing In America, Besides Freedom


Yesterday, Gallup reported that for the first time ever, a solid majority of Americans (58%) are in favor of legalizing marijuana. For some perspective, consider that Gallup has been asking respondents about this question since way back in 1969, and never have they recorded a clear majority like this.

Barro went looking for some comparisons, to further emphasize the good news:

More Americans want to legalize marijuana than think President Obama is doing a good job (44%), want to keep or expand Obamacare (38%), favored attacking Syria (36%), support a 20-cent gas tax increase to pay for infrastructure (29%), or like the Republican Party (28%).

And legal marijuana has more than five times as many supporters as Congress does (11%).

Drum considers the shocking upwards trend of support for pot legalization, and marks 2020 as the date to look forward to (my italics):

I have a rule of thumb that favorability ratings need to reach about 65 percent before you hit a tipping point where a major social change starts getting codified into law nationwide. There’s nothing magic about this threshold. It’s just a general sense based on previous issues similar to this. And as you can see, public opinion isn’t merely rising on marijuana legalization, it’s accelerating. The rate of increase has gone from about 0.5 points per year in the 90s to 1.5 points in the aughts to 4 points so far in the teens. If this keeps up, we’ll pass the 65 percent threshold by 2016 or so.

And Andrew Sullivan – rightly – champions the news as further proof of societal norms “adjusted to empirical reality”:

Being gay went from being a crime to being a citizen in my lifetime. Now, smoking or vaping the harmless, ubiquitous drug, marijuana, is beginning to be thought of as indistinguishable from drinking the much more harmful, ubiquitous drug, alcohol.

What the two reforms also have in common, in my view, is adjusting our social norms to empirical reality. It was always absurd to think of gay people as somehow outside the norms of love, commitment and family. It is empirically insane to treat pot as having no conceivable medical use and classified in the most dangerous category there is. And yet our government proved itself incapable of adjusting to reality on both blindingly obvious questions, until the people long moved past it.

Well, Tocqueville is proven right again, isn’t he?

Indeed, he was.


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Judgement Day

By Cato

Step 1: Turn on speakers
Step 2: Open this video in a different window.
Step 3: Read this news story while the previous link plays in the background.

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We Used Sarin


Newly declassified documents from the CIA show that Saddam Hussein relied heavily on U.S. intelligence and satellite imagery when he used mustard and sarin gas against Iran during the long and bloody Iran-Iraq war:

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” [retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona] told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

The disclosure is timely, considering the United States is set to launch a military strike against another dictator who probably definitely used chemical weapons:

If, as is looking increasingly likely, the U.S. does conduct a military intervention in Syria it is worth remembering that the U.S., while condemning the use of chemical weapons now, once supported a dictator knowing that he intended to use chemical weapons on his enemies, another example of how policy makers too often justify ugly and obscene policies in order to pursue what are considered desirable ends.

Ah, perspective.

(Photo: by Kamshots — Painting of the Iranian soldiers during the Iran-Iraq war, outside walls of the Ex-US embassy-Taleghani street in Tehran.)

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Chart Of The Day: Africa’s Upcoming Population Explosion


Max Fisher directs attention to a report from the United Nations Population Division, whose projections for what the earth’s population will look like in 90 years concentrates on the unprecedented explosion set to take place in Africa:

Right now, with a couple of exceptions, Africa’s population density is relatively low; it’s a very big continent more sparsely populated than, say, Europe or East Asia. That’s changing very quickly. The continent’s overall population is expected to more than quadruple over just 90 years, an astonishingly rapid growth that will make Africa more important than ever. And it’s not just that there will four times the workforce, four times the resource burden, four times as many voters. The rapid growth itself will likely transform political and social dynamics within African countries and thus their relationship with the rest of the world.

CJTF-HOA veterinary experts team with Uganda to treat 30,000 animals [Image 9 of 16]

Nigeria, currently Africa’s most populous country, is poised for one of the world’s most rapid population booms ever. In just 100 years, maybe two or three generations, the population is expected to increase by a mind-boggling factor of eight. The country is already troubled by corruption, poverty and religious conflict. It’s difficult to imagine how a government that can barely serve its population right now will respond when the demand on resources, social services, schools and roads increases by a factor of eight. Still, if they pull it off – the country’s vast oil reserves could certainly help – the rapidly growing workforce could theoretically deliver an African miracle akin to, say, China’s.

(Photo: A young village boy watches service members assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion Functional Specialty Team and local Ugandan community animal health workers during a veterinary civic action project. Veterinarian students mentored the CAHW’s during the VETCAP, which assists in building a highly trained and skilled veterinary force while directly impacting the nation’s capability to provide for its own animal population. Courtesy of DVIDSHUB)

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Best Of The Week On Left And Center


It was quite a heavy week of reporting here on Left and Center, but we gladly stayed away from writing anything about the Zimmerman Trial, and instead focused on the news. As always, the vast majority of the traffic went to the homepage, which is what I always intended with this blog.

Your favorite posts from this past week were a Massacre In Cairo: One Step Closer To Civil War, my polemic against Republican inaction and indifference titled Conservatives Don’t Give A Damn About Governing, Cato’s timely piece written more than a week past about Why The Farm Bill Mattered, my take on the importance and difficulties in Comprehending Evil, and a rather distressing and callous story out of one of our more tiny states where Iowa’s All-Male Supreme Court Says It’s OK To Fire A Woman If You Really Want To Sleep With Her.

Other notable posts included Koch Brothers To Launch Huge Misinformation Campaign Against Obamacare, my argument of the vital and usually overlooked impact of labeling something as what it is in Edward Snowden And The Difference Between Prosecution And Persecution, some thoughts regarding a really groundbreaking yet controversial college financing plan entitled Everything You Need To Know About Oregon’s “Pay It Forward” College Program, and finally our double dose of wonkish charts: the first showing that the U.S. Is Ranked 28th In Health Care Outcomes, and the second proving Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of Flying, Ever.

A wonderful weekend to you, dear reader. More on Monday.


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Step Aside Poland: The U.S. Is Ranked 28th In Health Care!

A new study in JAMA compares American health care outcomes with those in other rich, developed countries and finds that the United States basically sucks. Overall, the U.S. is in 28th place, trailing Chile and barely leading Poland. This chart shows where we stand, and also draws our attention to how we’re doing on things like diabetes (31st place), breast cancer (16th place), COPD (32nd place), and colon cancer (8th place):


Oh and if that wasn’t bad enough, Aaron Carrol dissects the study and finds that we not only suck, we’re getting worse:

Between 1990 and 2010, among the 34 countries in the OECD, the US dropped from 18th to 27th in age-standardized death rate. The US dropped from 23rd to 28th for age-standardized years of life lost. It dropped from 20th to 27th in life expectancy at birth. It dropped from 14th to 26th for healthy life expectancy. The only bit of good news was that the US only dropped from 5th to 6th in years lived with disability.

So, there’s that.

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Quote For The Day: “End Aid To Egypt And Israel”

An Egytpian man holds a shoe with pictures on its sole depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C-R), US President Barack Obama (bottom-L),  Hillary Clinton and Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyau

“End aid to Egypt and Israel. The first doesn’t deserve it; the second doesn’t need it. And the long taxpayer-funded bribery to keep the two countries from conflict has inevitably led to what Washington warned so presciently against. Because of this “unbreakable” bond, we have supported violent dictators in Egypt and a brutal, grinding occupation in Palestine. And the Arab world blames us for both. They are not wrong.

Turning the US into a slave of the expansionist Jewish state and of the Egyptian military needs to end. It has hurt all three of its participants … and may even force the US into an insane attack on Iran’s nuclear program. This is a golden opportunity to cut our ties. We should take it – and would, if the Congress were not also a victim of this departure from America’s ‘duty and its interest’.”

Andrew Sullivan, Will We Cut Egypt’s Aid?

(photo by freedom house)

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The Incredible Irony Of Venezuela Offering Snowden “Humanitarian Asylum”


By now it’s no secret to anyone interested enough in the storyline of Edward Snowden to have heard that three Latin American countries — Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela — have officially offered the former NSA contractor, turned leaker, asylum from the United States. Leaving aside the fact that the Venezuelan president took some time after offering Sowden “humanitarian asylum” to decry that the U.S. “launches bombs and arms the terrorist Syrian opposition against the people and legitimate President Bashar al-Assad…”, Venezuela also happens to be one of the most openly oppressive surveillance states in the world — irony not lost on Isabel Lara, who once had a phone conversation with her mother broadcasted on Venezuelan state television:

Edward Snowden is heading to Venezuela? Seriously?

The Venezuelan government’s offer of “humanitarian asylum” to Edward Snowden rang hollow to most Venezuelans, who are by now used to the government spying on opposition leaders, journalists and even their own loyalists. Not only does the government routinely record their phone conversations, it broadcasts them on government-owned TV channels.

The news that the NSA leaker has been offered asylum in Venezuela seems especially ironic to my mother and me. A few years ago, we had the bizarre experience of hearing one of our private phone calls aired on Venezuelan TV. It was played over and over again and “analyzed” by pro-government talk show host Mario Silva—a man who is now in disgrace himself because, in a weird twist of fate, a recording of him was leaked and broadcast on TV.

What was most surreal about our experience was that there was no excuse or justification for taping our phone conversation. None was needed. The government just had it.

It would be nice for Snowden, who cherishes privacy and freedom of speech so much, to be aware that in Venezuela one cannot have any expectation of either.

Look, Venezuela — along with Nicaragua, Bolivia and even Cuba — finally has an opportunity to stick it to the United States, and they aren’t going to let a little thing like irony and hypocrisy get in the way of that. But it is telling that these seem to be the only states willing to even consider asylum for Snowden.

(Photo by flickr user joka Madura)

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Quote For The Day: A Different America?

Daniel Ellsberg

“Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.”

Daniel Ellsberg, Defending the actions of Edward Snowden

Some thoughts:

If Ellsberg is suggesting that the United States he chose to remain in was somehow more transparent and fair than the one we currently enjoy, then he lost me here. For Ellsberg it all boils down to the fact that he was able to remain free on bail during his trial, and Snowden certainly wouldn’t. First off, we don’t know that for sure, and secondly, even if Snowden were kept under lock and key, the White House that Ellsberg went up against engaged in secret operations meant to — at the very least — besmirch his name, and possibly even kill him. So, referring to Nixon’s gang as somehow more preferable to Obama’s is kind of ridiculous.

(photo by flickr user B.M Support)

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EU Threatens To Suspend Data Sharing With The U.S. Amid Spying Reports

Worn out European Union blue flag

Unsurprisingly, Europeans are kind of upset about being spied on by the United States:

(Reuters) – The European Union is threatening to suspend two agreements granting the United States access to European financial and travel data unless Washington shows it is respecting EU rules on data privacy, EU officials said on Friday.

The threat reflects European disquiet about allegations that the United States has engaged in widespread eavesdropping on European internet users as well as spying on the EU.
The European Parliament, some of whose members have long worried that the agreements granted the United States too much access to European data, called on Thursday for the scrapping of both accords unless Washington revealed the extent of its electronic spying operations in Europe.

Many of the eavesdropping reports were based on leaks by fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Much of this is probably political pandering. The fact is, all states engage in cyber-intelligence against allies and enemies alike, but the U.S. does it bigger and better than the rest (as far as we know). The European Union is unlikely to make a real stink of this, since many of its members are one leak away from being accused of similar practices; compounded also with the fact that the EU needs the U.S. far more right now than the U.S. needs the EU.

But politicians in Europe have to seem rightly indignant against the spying revelations, so threats like this will probably persist for some time.

(photo by flickr user horia varlan)

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The Threat Comes From Within

Fareed Zakaria explains how the U.S. faces its largest threat from within, through the decline of public investment and infrastructure:

Video courtesy of the Dish:

Fareed Zakaria GPS airs Sundays on CNN, as well as via podcast, and he is also an Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, a Washington Post columnist, and the author of The Post-American World, The Future of Freedom, and From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role. Fareed’s previous AA videos are here.

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Congress Is Less Popular Than Traffic Jams, Nickelback, And Lice

On the bright side, Congress managed to beat out the Kardashians and North Korea:

Ouch. Gallup’s latest polling of Americans’ confidence of Congress found that only 10 percent of Americans has any in our legislature:


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Fareed Zakaria: Stay Out Of Syria

As the consistent sane voice in these matters, Fareed offers his thoughts on whether or not the US should intervene in Syria.

“Fareed Zakaria GPS” airs Sundays on CNN and via podcast. Zakaria is also an Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, a Washington Post columnist, and the author of “The Post-American World“, “The Future of Freedom“, and “From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role“.

Courtesy of the Dish’s Ask Anything interview series.

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Syria is not our fight

The Syrian civil war is an intensely complex conflict in an insanely fractured and splintering region. We like to believe – for some reason – that we can codify conflicts like this in such a way where the enemy is clear, the objective sound and the outcome guaranteed. There’s an obvious dictatorial force that needs to be removed in order to save the poor and repressed revolutionaries fighting for their freedom; we must intervene. Syria is not so easily codified. Instead, we have before us a regional, sectarian war that has been brewing since the Iraq debacle severed the region’s fragile stability – further severed by the barrage of change unleashed by the Arab Spring. Beneath the Iran-Israel stand-off, we also have a Shia-Sunni struggle, in which Assad and Khamenei and Hezbollah and Maliki are fighting off Sunni Jihadists and democrats trying to depose Assad. The point is that this cannot be our problem to solve. It cannot become our fight. There are no good options when it comes to Syria, but the least worst option is to surely stand aside and let the conflict resolve itself.

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Seeking some form of redress, inmates review prisons on Yelp

Remember that epic scene in HBO’s Newsroom when Will McAvoy aka Pete Williams unloaded some truth to the fictitious national audience? Here’s a quote from the righteous rant penned by Aaron Sorkin:

…there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. The International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) at King’s College London estimated in 2010 that the total number showed 2,266,832 prisoners from a total population of 310.64 million, or 730 out of every 100,000. Racial components are at play as well; black males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. White males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents.

Within the prisons themselves, mistreatment is rampant and inmates have historically lived bereft of opportunities to seek redress. Most states don’t have oversight procedures legislatively certified to address mistreatment within prisons, meaning that most instances go unheard.

The burgeoning website Yelp earns roughly 36 million reviews a quarter, and while many people turn to the site for recommendations for off-the-path dive bars and unique restaurants, lawyers, inmates and their families have been turning to the site to report mediocre food and allegations of serious abuse.

Lawyers from California and Illinois have complained about security procedures that stop them from seeing clients. A woman in Austin alleged that workers in a local jail threatened her with bolt-cutters and tied her to a chair for hours without bathroom breaks. One reviewer claimed a Seattle jail did not return the money he had with him when he entered.

“This was the worst experience of my life and I am a combat veteran from Iraq,” wrote another Seattle reviewer. “I would rather re-live Basic and the evil Drill Sergeant’s. I would rather be in the box.”

Despite the fact that some of the Yelp prison reviews are seen as weird novelties, where career criminals find avenues for complaining about the abysmal states they find themselves in, the reviews could help bring about some positive changes for the US prison system. A 1996 law called the Prison Litigation Reform Act stipulates that inmates cannot sue over prison conditions, or really seek any redress, until they have “exhausted” administrative procedures, and they can ask for only limited changes to prison policy. All the while – since most prisons don’t have oversight measures in place – inmates have to be wary that any false step could find them at the mercy of the same guards they’re seeking to expose.

Prison mistreatment extends to each and every state. In New York, for instance, 60 prisons and about 55,000 anonymous inmates are surveyed by the Correctional Association each year, during which serious problems are uncovered, from mentally ill patients sent, inappropriately, to solitary confinement to outright instances of forced starvation and physical abuse.

Anytime an institution that has historically enjoyed limited oversight and substantial autonomy suddenly begins to be exposed, albeit incrementally, it’s a good thing. The Yelp reviews alone won’t affect change – many of them are seen as unreliable and vindictive – but small steps to bring transparency to a system historically predicated on limited transparency, is a good start.

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