Friday, March 27, 2009

United State of Denial

Free and easy to self-administer, denial may be a drug more dangerous than marijuana.

President Obama held an online chat March 26 in which internauts were invited to vote for the question they would most like answered.

According to Shirley Gay Stolberg at the “New York Times,” that question turned out to be about legalizing marijuana and balancing the nation’s books from the resulting tax revenues.

The president, who is a meticulous intellectual, took the economic out offered in responding, “The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow the economy.”

Fair enough. Even a country whose secretary of state admits to its “insatiable demand for illegal drugs,” can’t toke its way out of the hole we’re in.

Ms. Clinton said what she did in Mexico and further asserted that U.S. drug consumption was the cause of much murder and social havoc in Mexico.

Her remarks were made a day prior to the online chat, but they would have made a fair response to the president’s wondering what the question “says about our online audience.”

Obama, of course, knows full-well what it says, not only about the online audience, but about the country generally. It says that millions of Americans have less of a problem with marijuana use than they do with millions of Americans rotting in jail because of that use.

Now highwayscribery, the occasional heresy not withstanding, has stood four corners behind candidate Obama and the presidential version, too. And we realize he has a lot on his plate without having to be bothered with an issue like the legalization of a hippie drug.

But this is what happens when you succeed people not content to leave their misinterpretation of Jesus’ teachings in church and turn them into benchmarks for governance.

Repression begets simmering rage and then, when you decide to no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have approved them, expectations rise.

Although it’s better than what came before, the administration’s weed policy has a whiff of the “don’t ask don’t tell” approach that always gets American liberals in trouble.

Rooted in a casual live-and-let-live attitude, it falls easy prey to the moral force of hysterics on the right, while leaving those on the left without a principled policy with which to defend it.

The Obama crowd won’t raid dispensaries for a series of bland reasons such as “it’s not a national priority,” or “it’s a matter that should be left up to the states,” which is not nearly as good or as necessary as saying, “It’s undemocratic to punish such large numbers of people with antiquated and unnecessary drug laws.”

The fear, of course, is attack from conservatives, but they’re already (and always) attacking…so screw ‘em.

In California, we have our fair share of right wing lugnuts, but they are outnumbered. And so Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a (gulp!) “San Francisco Democrat,” has reignited the debate with a proposal to legalize and tax the “insatiable” habit.

Perhaps because there is a threat of the Mexican drug wars spilling over the border, the normally staid and uptight “San Diego Union-Tribune” took on the issue, and unwittingly gave the pro-legalization crowd a boost by contracting the anti-argument job to a less-than-able advocate.

The “Yes” (we can legalize) banner was taken up by Alex Kreit, an assistant professor at the local, Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

He made it pretty quick and crisp, noting that marijuana is the state’s number one cash crop worth about $14 billion a year (by some estimates).

In case you’re a speed reader with poor retention skills, we’ll repeat: “number one cash crop.” As such it captures no tax revenue and is instead administered by Mexican gangs who behead rivals and dissolve their bodies in giant tins of chemicals.

“Frankly,” he argues frankly, “the idea that something 42 percent of all Americans, including, the three most recent presidents, have admitted to doing is still illegal is almost surreal.”


“Surreal” refers to dream states formed in the unconscious mind. We assert, anew, that this is a case of national denial leading all the way up to our fine young president who thinks a high index of public concern about marijuana is some kind of statistical outlier.

Kreit goes on to observe that 872,721 Americans were arrested on marijuana violations in 2008. He quotes figures and cites an actual study that has our country’s youth claiming they get high more often than drunk because it’s easier to find weed than buy booze.

Putting it another way, he says, “drug cartels don’t ask for ID, but well-regulated legitimate businesses do.”

The “No” argument is advanced by one Jim Gogek, a former editorial writer for the “Union-Tribune” who “has written extensively on drug policy.”

“Extensively” does not, of course, translate into “intelligently.”

Gogek promises not to “go all reefer madness” on the reader and then proceeds to go all reefer madness on the reader.

Unlike Mr. Kreit, he cites no studies or survey, but leans upon tried-and-true tactics of the anti-marijuanites such as conjecture and doomsday prophecy.

The problem with Ammiano’s bill, he says, is that, “California cannot afford more stoned people, especially stoned young people,” even though his opposite numbers has effectively argued that repression fans usage.

For Gogek, there must be no good drunks, happy drunks, violent drunks or bad drunks, because marijuana’s impacts are universal. It saps initiative, increases confusion, and “makes you stupid.”

Like John Lennon or Walter Benjamin or Pauls McCarthy and Bowles…and the last three presidents.

But let’s give Gogek the benefit of the doubt, Marijuana is, as he posits, “the loser drug.”

And so this is the case for criminalization? Could the same argument and classification not be applied to the effects of television? Anne Coulter?

Since we’re speculating here – Gogek started it – we might assume that he spends the rest of his time arguing for the invisible hand and free markets and an economy unencumbered by the weighty hand of government.

What happens in the conservative mind that the same weighty hand they loathe to see mucking about the corporate boardroom becomes so acceptable when rifling through an individual’s stash?

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (916) 319-2013

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Letter to the Iranian Ambassador

March 26, 2009
Los Angeles, California

The Iranian Ambassador to the United States of America
2209 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.
Washington D.C. 20007

Dear Sir,

I’m writing after reading a brief news report on the uncertain fate of the journalist Roxana Saberi in the March 25 edition of the“New York Times.”

The piece reports that your government, after promising to release the woman, now may keep her in custody for months “or even years.”

I’m ignorant of the tenets governing Islamic law, but less so when it comes to the rights of human beings, and especially journalists, confronting the overwhelming power of the state.

I urge you to release Ms. Saberi. Journalism is a crucial function in the Western democracies. It permits a fully informed populace to make educated decisions about their own government and those of others with whom their countries interact in an interdependent world.

I understand that whatever medieval code you’ve decided to run your own country by probably does not extend the same courtesy to information-seekers, but it is incumbent upon me to inform you of your presence amidst other states and other peoples who conduct themselves more openly and fairly.

Who are you, in the end, to curtail the movements and box in the body and spirit of another human being? Is this something Allah desires? I should think not. What your detention of this journalist demonstrates, dear sir, is that you are running a dictatorship fearful that its own citizens, and those beyond your borders, would be repulsed if fully informed as to its actions.

The only government worth preserving is one that lives in truth. Not one that would jail it.

the highway scribe

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Report: "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," by David Wroblewski

To call"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle"a tragedy is to give the thing away, but there is no path around it.

From the first pages of this long tale of an ill-fated Wisconsin family, writer David Wroblewski soaks his reader in a prose that reeks of foreboding and skillfully draws-out the deep vulnerability hidden beneath layers of illusion in all of us.

There is a strange prologue involving the death by poisoning of a dog in the back streets of an unnamed Korean city during the time of America’s military action in that country.

And poison is the story here, both literally and metaphorically. “Edgar Sawtelle” tells how a fateful act committed years before can affect so many people so many years after. It tells how one bad seed in a family can poison the well for all the rest.

Wroblewski’s large and first opus is set in mid-20th Century Wisconsin on a kennel started by a man who purchased a pretty parcel from an unlucky farmer and seemed to assume and bequeath that bad luck to his son and those of his immediate family.

It is a dog story, among many other kinds of story including family drama, road adventure, and small-town yarn writ large with life’s big questions. It is certainly more than the New York Times best-seller list summary, that imparts, “A mute takes refuge with three dogs in the Wisconsin woods after his father’s death,” which turns the neat trick of getting it all wrong while being right in the particular.

But that’s why Wroblewski wrote 562 pages and not a sentence and also why writers hate summaries.

Here is a detailed dissection of life on a kennel that, even in the 1950s, “placed” dogs with owners at a clip of $1,500 each. The book reveals the patient mind-grooming associated with the training of dogs and posits that an untrained dog is almost no dog at all, a furry potential unrealized. It goes inside the mind of the boy’s favorite, the tender Almondine, with a heart-wrenching authenticity. The novel unspools a debate surrounding the pairing of mates and mixing of bloodlines and the variety of goals behind these exercises. And it dramatizes the vanity of the untrained in such a delicate science and transfers the wild strain in one family’s genes to the breed of dogs that carries their name and genius.

“Edgar Sawtelle” is a portrait of mid-century, rural America that those who lived during or near either will recognize in the make and smell of cars, the brands of boxed sweets, the unregulated Fourth of July lakeside fireworks celebration, and Edgar’s “Zebco” fishing tackle.

And it is, of course, the “Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” born mute, but so hardy his struggle to communicate and evolve like other children is seemingly forgotten by his parents at no small expense.

Wroblewski’s writing is long on description and it is a tough decision to mention this characteristic critically, while simultaneously admitting to the strong sense of time and place his book imbues the reader with. His novel does not really get cooking until about 200 pages in, but after that really becomes a page-turner, which is a way of saying you have to work with “Edgar Sawtelle,” dealing both with the extended set-up and the nerve-wracking sense that something is going very wrong.

Which is to say it succeeds at engrossing, in taking a reader beyond the bucolic fa├žade of a kennel on a country road, and dissolving that image to reveal the terrible mistakes people can make and the resulting damage.

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” is a force to be reckoned with on its own terms.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Make 'Em Pee, Harry

While Republicans are debating whether Rush Limbaugh is the their leader, highwayscribery wants to reduce the significance of whatever conclusion they come to.

In "This Winning of Our Discontent," (Feb. 23) highwayscribery said this about what has become an automatic filibuster in the U.S. Senate:

[Democratic] Victories in the Senate are deemed "razor-thin" when 61-37 is something of a trouncing. Or should the scribe remind you of how votes went, say, three years ago under guys with names like Delay, Frist, and Bush?

It's razor-thin because the Republican filibuster is an unchallenged daily blessing to a struggling minority, when it should be subject to national derision.

The way the Senate operates now, all you have to do is inform the leadership of your plan to filibuster and the altered, more difficult, voting math kicks-in.

highwayscribery's suggestion is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) drop the courtesy and force Republicans to sustain their filibusters for real.

Reid should obligate them to wear catheters so they can pee while reading from newspapers, and do midnight relays to fresh senators, making a spectacle of themselves while delaying the nation's business.

(Just a thought).

The catheter reference applies to the former and late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) who strapped one on in a game effort to prevent the enactment of the Civil Rights Act with a very long filibuster.

But that was back when filibusterers were filibusterers.

By way of primer, a "filibuster" is the extreme application of the Senate's unlimited debate rule. To kill one - to make a Senator shut up - the majority needs to muster a two-thirds vote or 60.

It is certainly no measure of highwayscribery's influence that others are beginning to wonder why we need a supermajority to enact the agenda of a president who was elected by a simple plurality.

David E. RePass in a "New York Time"s Op-ed entitled, "In Make My Filibuster" noted that what we have today are "phantom filibusters," which he notes, is clearly unconstitutional because the founders were rather specific about when supermajorities were required.

Like highwayscribery a week or so ago, RePass noted that all Senate Majority Leader Harry Read needs to do, "is call the minority's bluff by bringing a challenged measure to the floor and letting the debate begin."

We'd continue quoting from the piece, but it reads like the stuff from the Feb. 23 post and there's no need for mindless repetition...unless you're a Republican senator trying to keep country club friends from leaping into higher tax bracket.

Jean Edward Smith, also in the "New York Times," does a great historical look at the parliamentary tactic, noting how rare it was used until Republicans made it an every day thing in an effort to stymie the initiatives of that rare animal in American politics - Democratic administration - during Bill Clinton's reign.

He goes on to say:

The routine use of the filibuster as a matter of everyday politics has transformed the Senate’s legislative process from majority rule into minority tyranny. Leaving party affiliation aside, it is now possible for the senators representing the 34 million people who live in the 21 least populous states — a little more than 11 percent of the nation’s population — to nullify the wishes of the representatives of the remaining 88 percent of Americans.

Of course, the filibuster is supposed to protect these very folks from the majority's tyranny. highwayscribery does not want to get rid of the filibuster. It wants a robust filibuster characterized BY ACTUAL DEBATE.

So, we're proposing folks ride this thing for all that it's worth. There's an agenda to be put forward and a country to be fixed. The situation is too dire to let a bunch of very sore losers arrest all progress and be rewarded with an election-year claim that "The Democrats didn't get anything done."

Even a lack of success will serve to shed light on something the media has, up until today, let go on without remark. Hardy, boisterous protest will make it harder to filibuster day in and day out.

Harry Reid's number is (202) 224--3542. Call him and say:

'Make 'em pee, Harry."