Archive for January, 2012
Bernie Fine Scandal: Fine’s Wife’s Sexual Encounter with Victim Adds Wild Twist
It’s no surprise that police searched Syracuse basketball assistant Bernie Fine’s house, but a recorded phone call between Fine’s wife, Laurie Fine, and one of Fine’s alleged child sex abuse victims has produced a bizarre twist that is almost too wild to fathom.
ESPN.com’s Outside the Lines broke the story and aired parts of the legally recorded phone call. During the call, a woman whose voice matches Fine’s wife, according to a voice-recognition expert hired by ESPN, alludes to something inappropriate happening between her and the alleged victim, Bobby Davis.
In the video report by OTL featured above the ESPN.com story, Davis confirms that the two had sexual intercourse when he was 18, so while the alleged act would have been legal, the rest of the phone call points to just how inappropriate it was.
While we don’t hear Fine’s wife come right out and say it, the writing is on the wall in the interview. It’s not clear what happened based on that phone call, but Davis saying the two had sex does not seem out of the question when you hear the audio of the call.
“The issue at hand is that he had no business doing what he did to you,” Laurie Fine allegedly said in the call. “You know what? And neither did I, because I really helped screw you up a little more, too.”
Earlier this month, Davis and stepbrother Mike Lang told ESPN they were each molested by Bernie Fine when they were Syracuse ball boys over 25 years ago.
So just how much did Fine’s wife know about the alleged abuse?
“I know everything that went on, you know,” she said, according to ESPN. “I know everything that went on with him. … Bernie has issues, maybe that he’s not aware of, but he has issues. … And you trusted somebody you shouldn’t have trusted.”
The entire exchange is sickening. Those who were outraged by the indifference put on display in the Penn State scandal have to be equally outraged by this phone call.
The woman alleged to be Laurie Fine shed some light on why she didn’t intervene, saying in the call, “If it was another girl like I told you, it would be easy to step in because you know what you’re up against. … (When) it’s another guy, you can’t compete with that. It’s just wrong, and you were a kid. You’re a man now, but you were a kid then.”
It’s tough to comprehend how she could possibly know about the abuse in her own home and not do anything about it, but her sleeping with the victim when it became legal to do so, if this is all true, makes this case even stranger.
© 2012, agentleman.
Mitt Romney just doesn’t know how to rumble. It comes across as more of a fumble. Sometimes a mumble. And ultimately a stumble.
The man is terrible when he’s on the attack. He looked utterly uncomfortable with confrontation, like someone running into a machete melee brandishing a paté knife.
Monday night, Romney needed to take Gingrich down a peg or two and remind the Republican voters of Florida and the rest of America that he is their best chance of being competitive with Barack Obama. He failed. He just doesn’t have it in him.
But that didn’t stop him from trying. Romney opened the debate doing his best. For one, he attacked Gingrich for his role as an “influence peddler” for Freddie Mac. The message could have worked, were it not for the messenger. Romney simply couldn’t deliver the lines in a way that felt natural.
Gingrich, anticipating an attack, shifted his persona from the heinous Mr. Hyde to a somewhat jocular Dr. Jekyll. Gingrich actually managed a degree of front-runner’s magnanimity. He is a chameleon. This only made Romney’s feeble attacks appear all the more feeble.
And Gingrich knows Romney’s weakness. He squirms like a worm on a hook whenever someone points out his wealth.
In the middle of Romney’s attack, Gingrich went right for it:
Gingrich: What’s the gross revenue of Bain in the years you were associated with it? What’s the gross revenue?
Romney, stammering a bit: Very substantial. But I think it’s irrelevant compared with the fact you were working for Freddie Mac.
Gingrich, to audible chuckles from the otherwise quiet crowd: Wait a minute. Very substantial?
“Very substantial” is just the kind of non-answer answer that makes people suspicious. It’s not that he doesn’t know, but that he doesn’t want to tell. In the same vein, Romney is constantly “not apologizing” for getting filthy rich by buying companies and putting them through a wood chipper. His non-apologies reek of guilt and shame, which in turn puts people’s antenna up. Something is amiss.
When Brian Williams, the debate’s moderator, asked Romney if there would be any surprises in his tax returns Romney said:
But I paid all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.… You’ll see my income, how much taxes I’ve paid, how much I’ve paid to charity. You’ll see how complicated taxes can be. And will there will discussion? Sure. Will it be an article? Yeah. But is it entirely legal and fair? Absolutely. I’m proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like an awful lot of foot shuffling for an answer to such a simple question. Romney’s awkward answers about his money are invariably more damaging than the question would have suggested.
Very late Monday night Romney released his tax returns for 2010 and his estimated tax returns for 2011 — all 550 pages of them. That’s an entire ream of paper, plus some. According to The Times, Romney had a total income of $45 million for the two years, and, according to The Washington Post, his effective taxes rates were nearly 14 percent and 15.4 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
So: Romney can’t attack and can’t defend. That could prove his undoing.
Romney has all the advantages – the money, the organization, the backing of most of the Republican establishment – but none of the grit. And that’s what he needs and must muster. He already has a huge hurdle with many conservatives who view him with distrust, if not outright disgust, and who have spent the entire campaign season searching for his replacement.
Since South Carolina, they are taking a shine to Gingrich, again. According to a Monday report from Gallup:
Newt Gingrich has all but erased Mitt Romney’s 23-percentage-point lead of a week ago among Republican voters nationally, and the two candidates are now essentially tied, at 29% for Romney and 28% for Gingrich.
If Gingrich maintains his momentum — Newtmentum as it has come to be called online — and wins the Florida primary, it will be hard for Romney to continue to make the case to his own supporters, let alone the rest of Republican America, that he should be their David to the Obama campaign Goliath.
Romney’s strongest selling point had been that he was the most electable, that he was the Republican candidate who would be most able to attract the moderate, independent voters that it would take to win in November. But that argument falls apart if you can’t even attract your own party’s voters.
Mr. Milquetoast and his waffles don’t appeal to red-meat Republicans. They want a fighter, not a fumbler.
© 2012, agentleman.
Auction 2012: How The Bank Lobby Owns Washington
When Washington puts policy on the auction block, bankers are consistently the highest bidders.
The industry’s most striking victory has been the watering down of post-financial crisis reforms, to the point that banks are now bigger than ever and the bonuses keep flowing. But Wall Street’s campaign spending and lobbying power is so intimidating that banks have repeatedly stuck the public with the tab for their losses and no one in Washington stops them.
Why hasn’t the government done something about outrageous ATM fees? Or credit card interest rates up to 30 percent? Bankers’ clout is such that common-sense pro-consumer legislation is presumptively dead on arrival at Capitol Hill if it threatens banks’ revenue streams.
An epic recent battle between consumers and Wall Street was fought over a congressional proposal to give bankruptcy judges the legal authority to modify principal balances on mortgages in a way that is fair to both parties. Known as “cramdown,” it would have allowed more than a million ordinary Americans to keep their homes. But because it would have leveled the playing field between banks and debtors — and would have forced banks to officially recognize losses they don’t want to acknowledge — the financial services industry fought cramdown with everything it had.
In May 2009, toward the end of his futile battle for cramdown, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) famously told a radio host, “And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”
Consider the numbers: The finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector combined to spend $6.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions from 1998 through 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ examination of public records. That’s $1 billion more than any other sector spent on Washington.
A recent study by the Sunlight Foundation found that individuals within the FIRE sector were head and shoulders above those in other industries in making large campaign contributions.
Big banks’ undisclosed contributions also underwrite powerful trade groups like the American Bankers Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.
And more than half of the lobbyists working for the FIRE sector are ex-government officials — in many cases, onetime lawmakers and staffers who helped write laws that deregulated the industry. When in need, the banks can call on the firepower of former Senate leaders like Phil Gramm, Trent Lott and Bob Dole and former House leaders like Dennis Hastert, Dick Armey and Dick Gephardt.
Despite widespread public support, an attempt by Durbin and firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to cap interest rates on credit cards in 2009 was doomed by industry opposition.
Starting in February of that year, reports emerged that millions of cardholders were being told their interest rates would go up — in some cases to 30 percent — if they missed even one payment. Then-Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) concluded that lenders were “gouging” customers to make up for losses. Readers told The Huffington Post their stories of woe.
By April, the backlash on Capitol Hill led Sanders to propose an interest rate cap of 15 percent. “We both want to reinstitute the notion of a usury law for the United States,” Durbin told HuffPost’s Ryan Grim.
The New York Times in May declared the bill a shoo-in. “Lawmakers say the industry’s time has come,” wrote reporter Carl Hulse. And President Barack Obama’s rousing May 14 town hall meeting excoriating the credit card companies played well in Albuquerque, N.M.
But that very same day, the Sanders amendment died in the Senate with only 33 votes. It needed 60.
The Times somberly explained, “The banking industry, which had some heavyweight representatives monitoring the vote, warned that an interest rate limit could cause a sour reaction in the financial markets.”
A year later, in May 2010, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced an amendment that would have allowed individual states to cap credit card interest rates. The goal was to close a federal loophole that permitted credit card companies to headquarter in states with looser rules, like South Dakota and Delaware, and charge whatever they wanted to charge nationwide.
That proposal was defeated by a 60-35 vote.
Also in May 2010, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) launched a campaign to cap ATM transaction fees. Noting that ATM fees average $2.50 and can run as high as $5 — while the real cost of processing a transaction is about 35 cents — Harkin proposed to cap fees at 50 cents. “The burden falls more heavily on low-income and moderate-income people,” he noted. “That is grossly unfair.”
Banks opposed the idea, arguing that capping fees would just lead to fewer cash machines, including those owned by banks.
Harkin couldn’t even get a floor vote. Two weeks after he first put forth his proposed amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, he took to the Senate floor and asked to be heard. It was his own party chief, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who denied his request — because the Republicans hadn’t agreed to it.
“What kind of games are being played around here?” Harkin asked the Senate chamber. “I’ve had this amendment pending ever since the beginning. And I have not been allowed to bring it up.”
BANKS GET THEIR WAY
So what explains the banks’ ability time and again to kill bills that threaten their bottom line?
Georgetown Law School professor Adam Levitin, who closely followed the cramdown debate, observes that banks push all the levers in Washington.
“They make an awful lot of campaign contributions,” said Levitin. That “would be number one. They aren’t making those just out of the goodness of their heart. They’re hoping that it gets them some influence. It certainly gets them an audience at the very least.”
Then there are the “army of lobbyists,” Levitin said. “I think it’s hard for your average citizen to understand the intensity of lobbying of both people on the Hill and in government agencies.”
Alongside the professional lobbyists come actual bankers — but not necessarily the Wall Street crowd, even though they have the most at stake. The financial industry brings in local bankers, often from the lawmakers’ own districts.
“The banks that really had the big portfolios were not the face of the opposition,” recalled Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who championed cramdown on the House side. “The [American Bankers Association] always sends up the owner of some three-branch community bank instead.”
“The community banks and credit unions have outsized political influence relative to their role in the economy,” Levitin explained. Members of Congress will always make time for them.
In March 2009, after the House Democratic leadership made a “herculean effort,” Miller said, the cramdown measure passed the lower chamber 234-191.
But in the Senate, thanks to ferocious bank lobbying — and a puzzling lack of support, if not outright opposition, from the Obama administration — it was defeated by a wide margin, with the bill falling 15 votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and move to a final vote.
After the vote, Durbin despaired to HuffPost reporter Grim, “Frankly, I can’t match what the bankers are doing in terms of lobbying.”
Meanwhile, David Kittle, chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, gleefully told the American News Project, “We led the way on this, and we are clearly responsible for defeating this for the third time in the last year.”
Durbin told Grim he still held out some hope for the future: “When the voters speak, some elected officials listen. So I hope that, if we fail on mortgage foreclosure and we fail on credit card reform, I hope that people in this country will stand up and say to Congress, ‘You’ve got the wrong friends.'”
© 2012, agentleman.
How Newt Gingrich Crippled Congress
How much Americans hate Congress has become cliché. Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low, and it’s not hard to see why: the institution is broken. Plenty of structural forces have contributed to Congress’s dysfunction: the increasing flow of money in politics, the emergence of the 24/7 cable news cycle, the increasing polarization of the electorate. But perhaps no single person bears as much responsibility as Newt Gingrich.
“I spent 16 years building a majority in the House for the first time since 1954,” Gingrich said during NBC’s Florida GOP debate Monday night, referring to the Republican takeover of the House in 1994. Over those sixteen years of personal and partisan striving, Gingrich invented or perfected many of the things that Americans dislike most about Congress. “I think I am a transformational figure,” Gingrich said before the 1994 election. “I am trying to effect a change so large that the people who would be hurt by the change, the liberal Democratic machine” will fight it, Gingrich explained.
There is no greater pathology in today’s Congress than obstructionism, from Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) refusal to raise the debt ceiling in July to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) taking disaster relief funds for Hurricane Irene hostage. Both parties have long used Congress’s procedural rules to promote legislation they favor, but Gingrich created something new. “There is the assumption—pioneered by Newt Gingrich himself, as early as the 1970s—that the minority wins when Congress accomplishes less,” Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the number-two Democrat in the House, explained in a 2009 speech at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “Gingrich’s proposition, and maybe accurately, was that as long as…our party cooperate[s] with Democrats and get[s] 20 or 30 percent of what we want and they get to say they solved the problem and had a bipartisan bill, there’s no incentive for the American people to change leadership,” Hoyer told the Washington Post after the speech. “To some degree, he was proven right in 1994.”
In many ways, the obstructionist minority that Hoyer faced two years ago was following a playbook written by Gingrich over a decade earlier. Gingrich, in fact, took the debt ceiling hostage fifteen years before Boehner did, demanding huge, partisan cuts. In that case, the GOP backed down after President Clinton vetoed their spending bills and Moody’s warned of a credit downgrade. When Boehner refused to raise the debt ceiling, the threat of default lowered the US’s credit rating and was resolved by an complicated process involving a “supercommittee” and a two-step raising of the debt limit over a year. And it was Gingrich who, in one of his first acts as Speaker, patented the practice of refusing to approve disaster relief funds if they weren’t offset with spending cuts. Gingrich even held out after the Oklahoma City bombing later that year, prompting the Philadelphia Daily News to write, “Even Newt Gingrich must lose a little sleep at the idea of making political hay out of the mini-civil war that struck Oklahoma City.”
Of course, Gingrich’s greatest act of obstructionist brinkmanship was the 1995 and 1996 government shutdowns. Thanks to his refusal to concede on spending on social services, the government closed for five days in 1995, longer than the previous eight government shutdowns, and for a whopping twenty-one days a year later—the longest shutdown in history. Thanks to Gingrich’s obstinacy, health and welfare services for veterans were curtailed, Social Security checks were delayed, tens of thousands of visa applications went unprocessed and “numerous sectors of the economy” we negatively impacted, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Then there’s perhaps the most universally reviled practice of Congress: earmarking. Spending on earmarks doubled during Gingrich’s reign as Speaker, rising from $7.8 billion in 1994 to $14.5 billion in 1997. “Speaker Gingrich set in motion the largest explosion of earmarks in the history of Congress,” said Tom Schatz of the conservative group Citizens Against Government Waste. The pork binge was part of a Machiavellian plot to use taxpayer dollars to help Republicans get reelected, as Gingrich himself laid out in a 1996 policy memo titled, “Proposed Principles for Analyzing Each Appropriations Bill.” The memo instructed the chairmen of House Appropriation subcommittees to ask themselves if there are “any Republican members” who “need a specific district item in the bill.” This apparently included Gingrich himself, as Cobb County, Georgia, which the Speaker represented, received more federal dollars per resident than any other suburban county in the country in 1995, except for Arlington, Virginia, home of the Pentagon and other federal agencies, and Brevard County, Florida, home to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.
This partisan earmarking has led Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a longtime anti-earmark crusader who has endorsed Mitt Romney, to dub Gingrich “the father of contemporary earmarking. ” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) went even further on a Romney campaign conference call Wednesday, saying that Gingrich’s plan to “distribute these earmarks led directly to the Abramoff scandal, Congressman Bob Ney going to jail and the corruption that I saw with my own eyes.”
Meanwhile, Gingrich was busy creating the climate of nearly nihilistic partisanship that reigns today. In May of 1988, against the wishes of the more moderate GOP leadership, Gingrich brought ethics charges against then-Democratic Speaker Jim Wright relating to a book deal. “This was very much Newt’s initiative,” John Pitney, a professor at Claremont McKenna College who has studied Gingrich for years, told The Nation. Gingrich successfully forced Wright to resign “and that really, for the first time, kind of politicized the entire ethics process,” Larry Evans, a government professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, told NPR in December. Ten years later, Gingrich was brought down by a similarly politically charged ethics process, when he was fined $300,000 for flouting tax laws with a tax-exempt college class that Democrats charged was actually political propaganda.
Before Wright, Gingrich tussled with another Democratic speaker and made a name for himself by exploiting the media and the new medium of C-SPAN. Gingrich was sworn in to his first term just a few months before C-SPAN went on the air in 1979, and as an ambitious freshman, he quickly realized the network’s potential. He and a small cadre of young Republicans he led pilloried then-Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill and other Democratic lawmakers nightly with personal attacks, no matter how unfair, like when he accused the Speaker of putting “communist propaganda” in the Speaker’s lobby.
O’Neill was so irritated by Gingrich’s speeches that he once ordered the House cameras to pan across the empty House chamber to expose that Gingrich was speaking to no one but the cameras, and called Gingrich’s exploits “the lowest thing that I’ve ever seen in my 32 years in Congress. Gingrich fired back that O’Neil was coming “all too close to resembling a McCarthyism of the Left.” The resulting the two-hour exchange, which was covered on every broadcast news outlet that night, made Gingrich into a national hero for conservatives and a villain to liberals.
It was the “moment that made Gingrich,” as Pitney wrote on his blog, and set the mold of punching up in the media that ambitious upstart firebrands like Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) would follow for years to come.”If you’re not in the Washington Post every day, you might as well not exist,” Gingrich told Newsweek in the late 80s.
With his newfound fame and a small army of fiery conservative lawmakers behind him—the so-called Conservative Opportunity Society Gingrich created formed in 1983—Gingrich set out to remake the GOP. He narrowly won an election to be House minority whip in 1989 over a more moderate Republican from Illinois and with this official position, he ventured to “build a much more aggressive, activist party,” as he put it. He beefed up the party’s fundraising and recruiting operations to get more Republicans elected and hired pollster Frank Luntz to manage the party’s messaging. Five years later, Gingrich led a wave of fifty-four new Republicans into the House and was elected Speaker.
Of course, Gingrich’s greatest act of punching up would have to wait until he was Speaker, when he exploited Congressional power to impeach President Clinton for having an affair while he himself was having an affair with his current wife Callista. When Univision correspondent Jorge Ramos asked Gingrich about this hypocrisy Wednesday, Gingrich replied, “No, I criticized President Clinton for lying under oath in front of a federal judge, committing perjury—which is a felony for which normal people go to jail.” But as Clinton’s overwhelming popularity today attests, Gingrich’s crusade lacked merit and was plainly political. “Their efforts have succeeded only in turning a serious constitutional process into a partisan process that demeaned both the House and the Senate and became a painful ordeal for the entire country,” Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) said at the time.
Just as important, but often overlooked today, is the way in which Gingrich centralized power in party leadership. Progressive Democrats, frustrated with Southern conservative Democrats’ controlling committee chairmanships, started this trend in 1970s, Pitney said, but Gingrich consolidated power in himself to an unprecedented degree by making it so the Speaker could appoint key committee chairmanships. This allowed him to tightly control the agenda and sideline dissident factions in his party in a way that every Speaker since has exploited. “There was a lot of heightened partisanship on both sides, but Gingrich was very vivid, was very much a part of this process” of polarization, Pitney told The Nation.
In another structural change that persists to this day, Gingrich shortened the Congressional workweek to three days in order to maximize fundraising opportunities and provide more contact with constituents. But this also cut down on the amount of time lawmakers spent together in Washington where they could make personal connections across the aisle.
All together, Gingrich’s emphasis on partisan warfare über alles sped the demise of the comity that is essential to the functioning of Congress. If the parties refuse to work together, little can be achieved without super-majorities. It was Gingrich who made winning, rather than good governance, the chief currency of success. Earlier this month, James Lardner laid out in this magazine a proposal to roll back much of Gingrich’s work and fix Congress—but now Gingrich is campaigning to takeover another branch of government. One can only imagine the damage he might inflict there.
© 2012, agentleman.
President Obama Takes Republican Senator Mike Lee To The Woodshed Over His Threat To Obstruct By Stephen D. Foster Jr.
Republican Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) wants to bring America down. How do we know this? He said so during an appearance on Chris Matthews. In that interview, Lee said that he would bring America down if Democrats didn’t vote to force the American people to live under conservative rule via a Constitutional amendment. Now, Mike Lee is continuing his quest to destroy America by obstructing President Obama’s judicial and government agency nominees in the Senate. On Friday, Lee threatened to block all of President Obama’s nominees if he doesn’t remove Richard Cordray from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans think the President violated the Constitution by appointing Cordray during the recess.
Here is what Lee had to say:
“Given this President’s blatant and egregious disregard both for proper constitutional procedures and the Senate’s unquestioned role in such appointments, I find myself duty-bound to resist the consideration and approval of additional nominations until the President takes steps to remedy the situation. Regardless of the precise course I choose to pursue, the President certainly will not continue to enjoy my nearly complete cooperation, unless and until he rescinds his unconstitutional recess appointments.”
Lee is one of the most destructive Senators on Capitol Hill. He opposes child labor laws, food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, programs that help the poor, FDA, EPA, and just about the entire federal government. He thinks everything is unconstitutional, despite what the Supreme Court has ruled. But President Obama struck back at Lee today during his weekly address:
”Just two days ago, a senator from Utah promised to obstruct every single American I appoint to a judgeship or public service position – unless I fire the consumer watchdog I put in place to protect the American people from financial schemes or malpractice.
For the most part, it’s not that this senator thinks these nominees are unqualified. In fact, all of the judicial nominees being blocked have bipartisan support. And almost 90 percent have unanimous support from the Judiciary Committee.
Instead, one of his aides told reporters that the senator plans to, and I’m quoting here, “Delay and slow the process in order to get the President’s attention.”
Lee certainly has President Obama’s attention now. This is exactly the kind of fight that the American people have wanted to see from the President and now he’s using the bully pulpit to take Republicans to the woodshed over their repeated temper tantrums that have placed the country in serious jeopardy. Some Republicans are already beginning to back off of their threat to obstruct and are leaving useless and chaotic Senators like Mike Lee to twist in the wind in front of the American people as the 2012 Election approaches. If Republicans are smart, they’ll begin cooperating with President Obama and will tell their colleagues to back off and start playing ball. If not, let’s hope President Obama continues to embarrass every Republican in public by telling the American people what they are trying to do to them.
© 2012, agentleman.
1. Marijuana is not a gateway drug.
“It’s a gateway drug” is an argument that anti-pot people often use when they run out of false health concerns, as if marijuana’s relative harmlessness is void because getting stoned will automatically turn people on to heroin. But the truth is that marijuana is not a gateway drug, and the vast majority of people who smoke pot will never move onto harder drugs. In 2009, 2.3 million people reported trying pot, but only 617,000 said they had tried cocaine, and just 180,000 said they had tried heroin.
Multiple studies have failed to prove that marijuana is more of a gateway drug than other substances like cigarettes, alcohol or prescription drugs. But we’ve known this since as far as back as 1999, when government researchers said, “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” Pot and other drug use can correlate, but not necessarily due to characteristics of pot itself, but something more powerful.
As Maia Szalavitz wrote in Time,
“People who are extremely interested in altering their consciousness are likely to want to try more than one way of doing it. If you are a true music fan, you probably won’t stick to listening to just one band or even a single genre — this doesn’t make lullabies a gateway to the Grateful Dead, it means that people who really like music probably like many different songs and groups.”
While pot is not a gateway drug, pot laws may very well be a gateway to alcohol use, as people who fear the law may turn to booze. And for those who choose to use pot even though it is illegal, pot’s criminal status may nudge them closer to criminals, by putting them in contact with dealers.
2. Pot smoke is relatively benign and does not cause lung cancer.
The “anything you smoke can’t be good” meme helps keep prescription pot stigmatized, and supports pot’s classification in the strict drug category Schedule I (with hard drugs like heroin), where substances are said to show lack of safety in use, among other qualifications like lack of medical value.
But a study released earlier this month proved that marijuana is not actually linked to breathing problems. Researchers studied the effects of marijuana smoke on lung function, and found that smoking pot does not cause the same irreversible breathing problems as cigarettes.
This information is not new; multiple studies have concluded that marijuana is not associated with similar health problems. As Paul Armentano, also a co-author of the book Marijuana is Safer, wrote for NORML:
“In 2006, the results of the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime.”
Alcohol, however, is linked to many cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, and breast cancer.
3. Pot does not cause schizophrenia.
Many drug war advocates allege that marijuana use causes schizophrenia or other mental health problems, but science continually shows otherwise.
A study led by Dr. Serge Sevy, an associate professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, found that controlling for factors known to increase schizophrenia risk eliminated the association between disease onset and marijuana use.
Steve Fox told AlterNet,
“These mental health issues are generally as baseless and misleading as past prohibitionist claims, such as the claim that marijuana contains carcinogens that increase the users risk of lung cancer. The truth is that there has never been a documented case of lung cancer among marijuana-only (as opposed to marijuana and tobacco) smokers. Similarly, the rates of schizophrenia in society have not increased as marijuana use has become widespread, as one would expect if marijuana use caused the condition. There may be a correlation between people with mental health issues and marijuana use, but that is far different than causation.”
The long-term cognitive effects of marijuana use are difficult to measure, because they are evident during highly demanding brain functions, according to the California Association of Addiction Medicine. But even the most long-term weed smokers will not face health problems comparable to those linked to long-term alcohol use, which include liver cirrhosis and Korsakoff’s syndrome, a disease that causes debilitating brain damage and the inability to form new memories.
Of course, any substance abuse is potentially more detrimental to a developing brain than to an adult brain. Prevention, or delaying use, is a great way to reduce harm. But prohibition does not guarantee increased safety, especially when alcohol is legal.
4. Driving high is not very dangerous.
Driving an automobile while high is another example of the fear-mongering used to facilitate harsh pot laws. Jill Cooper, the associate director of the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at the University of California, Berkeley, argued with good intention in the New York Times that while alcohol is still “a very real threat to teen drivers,” an increase in marijuana use also threatens threatens safe driving. She says,
“We should not feel that teens are safer stoned than drunk. Why would we want anyone with diminished skills, either as a result of cannabis use or alcohol use, operating a machine made of two tons of steel?”
But her logic is ill-informed. You would be hard pressed to find someone who advocates putting a driver with diminished skills behind the wheel. But marijuana use may actually cause a decrease in traffic fatalities. A study by the Institute for the Study of Labor, a research center for science, politics, and business in Bonn, Germany, showed that in states where medical marijuana is legal, adults were smoking more marijuana and drinking less alcohol, and the result was a 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities.
Another study, conduced by Andrew Sewell, found that quantity affects ability, but “marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies,” like driving slower. The study concluded:
Epidemiological studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents; in contrast, unanimity exists that alcohol use increases crash risk.”
Mix alcohol and pot together, however, and the effects may be more intoxicating than either drug alone.
5. Pot does not make you lazy.
You’ve seen the image a million times: A pothead slumped on the couch surrounded by a cloud of weed smoke, paralyzed by his high. But marijuana is not a couch-potato creator. The technical name for marijuana-induced laziness is “amotivational syndrome,” and research suggests it has a lot more to do with other factors than with pot. A study on marijuana use and amotivational syndrome shows circumstances unique to a person, or some underlying problem, are more to blame for amotivational syndrome than the drug itself. Like research on pot and schizophrenia, the challenge is separating pot use from other variables that may take place at the same time, and attributing the correct cause to effect.
But even if marijuana did make people lazy, pot is not associated with violent crime or sexual assault. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a contributing factor in many cases of violence, as well as sexual assault and rape. According to the National Center for Alcohol Law Enforcement:
- Almost one in four victims of violent crime report that the perpetrator had been drinking prior to committing the violence.
- Over one-third of victims of rapes or sexual assaults report that the offender was drinking at the time of the act.
- It is estimated that 32 to 50 percent of homicides are preceded by alcohol consumption by the perpetrator.
- Between 31 percent and 36 percent of prisoners convicted of a violent crime against an intimate reported that they were drinking alcohol at the time of the offense.
Alcohol is linked to reckless behavior and to serious injuries, and it is highly associated with emergency room visits. But marijuana is rarely associated with emergency room visits, and is not proven to increase reckless behavior or cause injuries.
As Fox told AlterNet,
“There are very few things in life that are harmless. We understand that McDonald’s, Popeye’s and tuna fish, for that matter, pose certain risks to our health. We don’t ban all of these things because they are not harmless. When it comes to using a substance for recreation or relaxation, alcohol and marijuana are by far the two most popular choices in our society. In many ways they are quite similar. But the most significant difference is that marijuana is far less harmful to the user. More than 30,000 Americans die every year from the health effects of alcohol. The comparable number for marijuana is zero. If making marijuana legal results in millions of Americans shifting from alcohol consumption to marijuana consumption (at least in part), that will result in less physical harm to Americans and possibly fewer deaths. I will let other people judge whether that is a good thing.”
To reduce the harm associated with substance use, Americans need the options and tools necessary to make health-based, informed decisions — not harsh consequences that punish a relatively harmless drug.
© 2012, agentleman.