Thursday, January 17, 2013

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims

Gosh darnit, the labor market continues to see improvement.

Remember how RWNJs said stimulus wouldn't work, and that austerity was the way to go? Remember that? Remember all the idgets in 2009 and 2010 that accused Obama of having as a primary goal the destruction of the U.S. economy?

Well, once again the demand-side policies are being vindicated. Yes, the initial claims number jumps around a bit, but you can't argue with the multi-year trends we are seeing: steady new job creation in conjunction with steady declines in unemployment claimants.

In every instance, supply-side austerity fails (see Europe) and demand-side stimulus wins (see U.S. in comparison).

I'm sure the GOP won't let yet another dose of reality dissuade them from advocating for failed policies. Best to spend time trying to ban abortion or repeal Obamacare. Way to stay on top of things, guys.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

WH to Marijuana Petitioners: BBL

Well, the White House has responded to those marijuana legalization petitions. In a way. Of a sort. Kinda. Actually, not really.

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, issued a statement, which is part boilerplate and part redundancy. Part I reads as follows:

"Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we're in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.

At President Obama's request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law."

That's a GOOD boilerplate. Correct on both counts! It is QUITE clear that we're in the midst of a conversation (ask the folks over at NORML how long they've been 'conversing' about weed laws). Also, anyone who has been following this issue even casually is aware of the fact that the Justice Department is conducting a review in the wake of the initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington state. So, nothing new there.

Kerlikowske then moves into part II by--curiously--referring us to a recent interview of President Obama:

"In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana."

When I first read that I shouted, "Dude, if the Walters interview had answered all our questions, we wouldn't have bothered with the friggin petitions!"

Seriously... Mr. Kerlikowske or his office couldn't have taken half an hour to cut & paste the transcript and edit it for content and policy? Off-the-cuff remarks (eloquent as they may have been) are as good as this 'response' can get?

Sigh. Let's see what we can make of this interview:

"Barbara Walters:

Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?

President Obama:

Well, I wouldn't go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you've seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal."

First things first: just because voters have passed a referendum doesn't de facto make it constitutional, nor might it even be practical. That having been said, I think that the above is about as far as any President could constitutionally go in terms of laying out a position on an issue where resources are finite and the new state laws directly conflict with federal laws.

Obama's big hint here is the "prioritization" part in conjunction with the "recreational" part: this is Presidential code for, "Look, we get what's going on here but on a level our hands are tied. The law is the law and so we must enforce it, but maybe we don't have to enforce it THAT strongly."

In general, good news. But again, that is nothing new; the Walters interview took place almost a month ago and has already been rehashed a thousand times.


"…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal."

Yup. That's what Justice is doing.

"When you're talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side."

I'm fairly certain, based at least on his background, that President Obama doesn't consider marijuana to be a "hard" drug like cocaine or heroin or meth, so I'm willing to call this an expansion of the prioritization comments from earlier.

To put it another way: assuming Obama puts marijuana on the "soft" drug side of the equation, then we can infer that his priorities will NOT be the arrest and prosecution of recreational potheads to the exclusion of efforts combating the "hard" drugs.

You know... The drugs that are highly addictive which you can actually overdose on. The drugs that are associated with violence by their users. The drugs that can put you in a coma if you use too much. The drugs that routinely destroy lives, friendships, marriages, finances, careers, etc.

This boilerplated non-statement from the Obama Administration brings us no closer to a deeper understanding of future policy than we had a month ago. While I think most of us were hoping for something more definitive, I suppose we'll just have to be patient while waiting for the Justice Department's legal review to conclude.

In the meantime, Kerlikowske's office could have saved a lot of bandwidth and communicated precisely the same info simply by saying "BBL" on official letterhead.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Symbolic votes, the GOP, and derp

We keep hearing the myopic mantra from the right that says, "we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem." Depending on the speaker, they may also work in something hypocritical about deficits, as though they had no hand in creating our current fiscal situation.

Here's an idea for the GOP, since they love signing absolute pledges and are SO fiscally conservative it almost brings a tear to your eye: rather than wasting time with symbolic votes on bills that would never be signed--such as Michelle Bachmann's Obamacare repeal failboat--just sign a pledge listing all your pet issues so you can get on with worthwhile legislation.

Sure sure, my dear readers will point to the Republican party platform and be all like, "but we already KNOW what they'd sign and what they wouldn't."

Indeed, indeed.

Seriously... At what point will the GOP get some clue from their approval ratings? They obviously don't give two shits about the significance of the recent election.

Le sigh.