Posts Tagged ‘regulation’
The One Big Issue has just been inserted into the 2012 presidential election campaign: the Supreme Court will hear a case challenging Obama’s healthcare law. The decision – whether the healthcare reform act, specifically the individual mandate requiring all citizens to purchase healthcare insurance, is constitutional or not – will come in late June 2012, in the midst of the presidential campaign.
As blogged about earlier on here, the healthcare issue is the one big rallying point for conservatives against Obama. If the Supreme Court strikes it down, we may regard Obama’s presidential term as a failure. Moreover, if this Court strikes down the individual mandate as in violation of the Commerce Clause (which allows the federal government to regulate the economy), the floodgates are open. To put it bluntly, the entire regulatory and welfare structure in America as constructed since FDR’s 1930s then comes into jeopardy. It may become the end of the New Deal.
That’s of course the wet dream of every contemporary Tea Partier and Republican. So watch out, as the US economy may be catapulted back to the late 1700s by a conservative Supreme Court…
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to the 2010 health care overhaul law, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. The development set the stage for oral arguments by March and a decision in late June, in the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign.
The court’s decision to step in had been expected, but Monday’s order answered many questions about just how the case would proceed. Indeed, it offered a roadmap toward a ruling that will help define the legacy of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Appeals from three courts had been vying for the justices’ attention, presenting an array of issues beyond the central one of whether Congress has the constitutional power to require people to purchase health insurance or face a penalty through the so-called individual mandate.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from just one decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, the only one so far striking down the mandate. The decision, from a divided three-judge panel, said the mandate overstepped Congressional authority and could not be justified by the constitutional power “to regulate commerce” or “to lay and collect taxes.”
The appeals court went no further, though, severing the mandate from the rest of the law.
On Monday, the justices agreed to decide not only whether the mandate is constitutional but also whether, if it is not, how much of the balance of the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, must fall along with it.
Disgraced Washington, DC superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, released from jail in June, has a few suggestions for lobbying reform. He should know. Most of this stuff is primarily applicable to the US, but in the Netherlands too, the donation system is vague and the revolving door (the practice of former public officials getting high-paid jobs at companies they used to regulate) is unfortunately a very prominent aspect of political life. As witnessed by certain ministers of Transportation becoming directors of major airline companies.
From an interview with Abramoff:
Disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff is out of jail. He was released in June. He now works as an accountant at a kosher pizza parlor. And he needs a literary agent. “I was actually thinking of writing a book,” he told “60 Minutes.” “The Idiot’s Guide to Buying a Congressman.”
In the interview, Abramoff gives away some of the tricks of his former trade. The big one? Dangle a job, he told Lesley Stahl. “When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.”
Abramoff had softer methods, too. “I spent over a million dollars a year on tickets to sporting events and concerts and whatnot at all the venues,” he says. “I had two people on my staff whose virtual full-time job was booking tickets. We were Ticketmaster for these guys.”
Once the key staffers or legislators were bought, the trick was getting clients what they wanted without attracting attention. “So what we did was we crafted language that was so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise.” The following line of text, for instance, quietly won Abramoff’s Native American clients a casino license: “Public law 100-89 is amended by striking section 207 (101 stat. 668, 672).”
From his book on tips for lobbying reform:
Ban donations from lobbyists and those who receive public funds. “Instead of limiting the size of every American’s political contribution, we need to entirely eliminate any contribution by those lobbying the government, participating in a federal contract, or otherwise financially benefiting from public funds. If you get money or perks from elected officials — be ‘you’ a company, a union, an association, a law firm, or an individual — you shouldn’t be permitted to give them so much as one dollar.
No gifts. “Not only should lobbyists be banned from contributing to officials’ organizations and campaign funds, they should be banned from gift-giving as well.
Stop the revolving door altogether. “Next, the lure of post-public service lobbying employment needs to be eliminated. The revolving door is one of the greatest sources of corruption in government. If you choose to serve in Congress or on a congressional staff, you should be barred for life from working for any company, organization, or association which lobbies the federal government. That may seem harsh — and it is. But there’s a reason. Congressmen know better than anyone how to get around a ban on lobbying. They ‘consult.’ What’s the difference? If you lobby, you officially try to persuade a representative or staff. If you consult, you call the representative to say hello and ask that representative to meet with you new partner at the law firm. You don’t lobby. Your partner lobbies. Does anyone believe the representative doesn’t get that joke?”
We wrote about Portugal’s succesful drug decriminalization experiment before, and a couple of days ago this success was once again confirmed. At the press conference marking the tenth anniversary of the law, Portuguese health experts have shown that drug addiction has hugely declined, that drug-related infections have declined, and that drug-related crimes have declined.
The facts: the number of frequent hard drug users has declined from 100,000 in the early 1990s to 50,000 now. The reduction in numbers of infections and crimes is deemed “spectacular”.
In short, along almost every conceivable line, decriminalizing drugs has been a success. It should be stressed that Portugal’s policy does not consist of decriminalization alone: the core is treating drug use as a health problem instead of a crime. People getting caught with a sufficient amount of banned substances have to appear before special addiction panels rather than a criminal court. Here, it is determined whether a person is a casual user or an addict. Personal possession was decriminalized, allowing police authorities to focus on large-scale drug trafficking.
Conservative politicians need to recognize this objective, measurable success. The facts are clear for all to see: drug criminalization does. not. work. It just doesn’t. Battling drug use through criminal law alone only results in stigmatization, unnecessary financial costs, people’s lives wasted in jail and a neglect of the health problem. Moreover, it fails to distinguish between casual users who are no problem to society at all, and addicts.
Read more about the empirical success of Portugal’s drug policy here and here. Also see Glenn Greenwald’s report on the effects of drug decriminalization in Portugal.
Health experts in Portugal said Friday that Portugal’s decision 10 years ago to decriminalise drug use and treat addicts rather than punishing them is an experiment that has worked.
“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.
The number of addicts considered “problematic” — those who repeatedly use “hard” drugs and intravenous users — had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.
Other factors had also played their part however, Goulao, a medical doctor added.
“This development can not only be attributed to decriminalisation but to a confluence of treatment and risk reduction policies.”
Portugal’s holistic approach had also led to a “spectacular” reduction in the number of infections among intravenous users and a significant drop in drug-related crimes, he added.
A law that became active on July 1, 2001 did not legalise drug use, but forced users caught with banned substances to appear in front of special addiction panels rather than in a criminal court.
The panels composed of psychologists, judges and social workers recommended action based on the specifics of each case.
Since then, government panels have recommended a response based largely on whether the individual is an occasional drug user or an addict.
Of the nearly 40,000 people currently being treated, “the vast majority of problematic users are today supported by a system that does not treat them as delinquents but as sick people,” Goulao said.
In a report published last week, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said Portugal had dealt with this issue “in a pragmatic and innovative way.”
Drug use statistics in Portugal are generally “below the European average and much lower than its only European neighbour, Spain,” the report also said.
“The changes that were made in Portugal provide an interesting before-and-after study on the possible effects of decriminalisation,” EMCDDA said.
E.D. Kain at the Forbes blog comments:
Many of these innovative treatment procedures would not have emerged if addicts had continued to be arrested and locked up rather than treated by medical experts and psychologists. Currently 40,000 people in Portugal are being treated for drug abuse. This is a far cheaper, far more humane way to tackle the problem. Rather than locking up 100,000 criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients and fine-tuning a whole new canon of drug treatment knowledge at the same time. None of this is possible when waging a war.
As the conclusion to Greenwald’s report has it:
The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.
And finally, one last reference to the recent report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which has come to the same conclusions.
It’s official now: the global War on Drugs has failed. So says the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a transnational body consisting of the former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, former UN Secretary Kofi Annan, former US Secretary of State George Shultz, Richard Branson and former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, among others.
Their report states that “the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”
The report also calls for an end to the “criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others,” and for governments to experiment with ways to regulate drugs so as to undercut organized crime and improve public health.
The publication of the Global Commission’s report goes in tandem with a campaign headed by academicians, laywers, artists and politicians in the United Kingdom also calling for an end to the War on Drugs, and for regulation. This includes former Labour minister Bob Ainsworth and three former chief constables.
But tell all this to the tenaciously stupid governing parties in the Netherlands today (Christian Democrats and conservative liberals, of course), who are taking a country that for forty years has been on the vanguard of a sane, rational drugs policy now back into retrograd repression.
While in the rest of the world, increasingly voices are heard calling for an end to a hyper-costly, completely failing War on Drugs; while in more and more countries in Europe, with proven success possession and use of small amounts of drugs is decriminalized, and public policy starts to revolve around health issues; in the Netherlands, the government is closing down coffee shops and implementing a nationwide system for the registration of drug users. It’s not hard to see what the next step will be.
And of all of this out of a mistaken sense of ideology. Because they don’t like you to take drugs. It would be saddening if it wasn’t so maddening – and maddeningly irrational.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes several former heads of state and UN officials, has released a report calling the global war on drugs a failure.
“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world,” the report reads. “Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”
Among the members of the commission are former presidents of Columbia, Mexico and Brazil, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz and former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, among others.
The report calls for an end to the “criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others,” and for governments to experiment with ways to regulate drugs so as to undercut organized crime and improve public health.
“Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime,” the report says. “Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights - and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation.”
Read the full report here.
In a comment to The Guardian, a spokesman for White House drug tsar Gil Kerlikowske disagreed with the report’s conclusions.
“Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Making drugs more available – as this report suggests – will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe,” the spokesman said.
I sometimes complain about the intransparency when it comes to lobbying on a national level, in the Netherlands (like when a former Minister of Transport becomes head of the biggest airline company). But the European Commission (EC) is a whole other ball game. Apparently, here it’s normal too that industry lobbyists get appointed to positions regulating the industries they’re hailing from.
Check out the blog post from Boing Boing below. Luckily, there are Dutch D66 (liberal) and Swedish Pirate MEPs to call the EC out on this.
Maria Martin-Prat, who took a leave from her job at the European Commission to work as Deputy General Counsel and Director of Legal Policy and Regulatory Affairs for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI — thee international version of the RIAA, CRIA and BPI, though they’re all basically the same companies), has returned to the EC to run its copyright unit. While Martin-Prat was enjoying her holiday as a lobbyist for the industry she now regulates, she took a number of extremist copyright positions, including lobbying against the private copying exemption (part of European Fair Dealing), and arguing that it should be illegal to break the DRM on the media you buy, even if you don’t violate copyright in doing so.
Christian Engström, Pirate MEP, writes, “Welcome to the European Union, where the big business lobby organizations are calling most of the shots at the Commission, and where citizens are just seen as a nuisance to be ignored. I guess the only real news is that they don’t even bother to try to hide it any more.”
Two MEPs are openly questioning Martin-Prat’s appointment. Liberal Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake and Swedish Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström have written to the European Commission, asking, “Does the Commission not see any problems in recruiting top civil servants from special interest organisations, especially when being put in charge of dossiers directly related to their former employers? If not, why not?
“Does the Commission feel that such an appointment would help to build confidence with the European Parliament and the general public that the Commission can be trusted to handle copyright-related issues in a fair and balanced manner?”
The Netherlands’ drug policy is often perceived to be the most liberal in Europe. Not only is that not true in the sense that the Netherlands is getting increasingly regressive; it’s also not true in the sense that there are other European countries with more liberal drug policies. In the Czech Republic, for example, since 2009 possession of small amounts of marihuana and mushrooms, as well as some hard drugs is only a misdemeanour. And in Portugal, possession of all drugs has been decriminalized since 2000.
The Boston Globe has an interesting article on the effects of this policy on Portugal’s public health and crime rate. Here, ten years ago politicians decided to decriminalize personal possession, in order to allow police authorities to focus full-time on distribution and trafficking. The overarching goal was to treat drug use as a public health concern. And it seems to have paid off! There has been a 63 percent increase in Portuguese drug users getting treatment, and a 499 percent increase in amount of drugs seized. Portuguese society has not collapsed because of drug decriminalization; instead, drug addicts, not having to fear going to jail anymore, are getting treatment.
To be clear: this is not a solution I advocate. I’m in favour of a complete legalization of relatively innocent drugs, such as marihuana, hashish, mushrooms, xtc and lsd, and a continuing ban on hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Legalization allows for regulation, bringing for example the thc level of weed down and getting clean xtc on the market, and making it available strictly to over-18s (I think that should go for alcohol too, by the way). For psychologically more difficult stuff, like shrooms or lsd, I’d advocate some sort of permit, or examination, to prepare people for the experience. But then on hard drugs that are dangerous to the individual and society, I’m still in favour of treating possession, distribution and trafficking as a criminal matter.
But anyway, here’s the article on Portugal’s experiences:
Faced with both a public health crisis and a public relations disaster, Portugal’s elected officials took a bold step. They decided to decriminalize the possession of all illicit drugs — from marijuana to heroin — but continue to impose criminal sanctions on distribution and trafficking. The goal: easing the burden on the nation’s criminal justice system and improving the people’s overall health by treating addiction as an illness, not a crime.
As the sweeping reforms went into effect nine years ago, some in Portugal prepared themselves for the worst. They worried that the country would become a junkie nirvana, that many neighborhoods would soon resemble Casal Ventoso, and that tourists would come to Portugal for one reason only: to get high. “We promise sun, beaches, and any drug you like,” complained one fearful politician at the time.
But nearly a decade later, there’s evidence that Portugal’s great drug experiment not only didn’t blow up in its face; it may have actually worked. More addicts are in treatment. Drug use among youths has declined in recent years. Life in Casal Ventoso, Lisbon’s troubled neighborhood, has improved. And new research, published in the British Journal of Criminology, documents just how much things have changed in Portugal. Coauthors Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes and Alex Stevens report a 63 percent increase in the number of Portuguese drug users in treatment and, shortly after the reforms took hold, a 499 percent increase in the amount of drugs seized — indications, the authors argue, that police officers, freed up from focusing on small-time possession, have been able to target big-time traffickers while drug addicts, no longer in danger of going to prison, have been able to get the help they need.
“Often, there are lot of fears, misconceptions, and mythology around decriminalization and what might be the consequences,” Hughes said. “This reform has shown that it is possible to decriminalize illicit drugs…without necessarily increasingly drug-related harm, without increasing the burden on the criminal justice system, and without increasing drug use.”
The total number of people who have ever used drugs, though, has increased. The article evaluates that as ‘not positive’. I don’t see it as a problem, as long, as said above, it’s the relatively innocent stuff. But for that, you need to regulate.
But the numbers aren’t all positive. According to the latest report by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the number of Portuguese aged 15 to 64 who have ever tried illegal drugs has climbed from 7.8 percent in 2001 to 12 percent in 2007. The percentage of people who have tried cannabis, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, ecstasy, and LSD all increased in that time frame. Cannabis use, according to the drug report, has gone up from 7.6 to 11.7 percent. Heroin use jumped from 0.7 to 1.1 percent, and cocaine use nearly doubled — from 0.9 to 1.9 percent. In other words, said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, the changes in Portugal have had a somewhat expected outcome: More people are trying drugs.