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Archive for January 30th, 2012

420 101

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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.

Kristen Gwynne 

© 2012, agentleman.

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January 30th, 2012 at 4:20 pm

As The World’s Badass, Competing Against Ourselves

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New Strategy, Old Pentagon Budget

The $259 billion in budget cuts over the next five years announced by the Pentagon may sound like a lot. But they are mainly a scaling back of previously projected spending — the delights of the Washington budget games.

 

This year, Pentagon spending will total $531 billion. In 2017, it will rise to $567 billion. Factoring in inflation, that amounts to only a minuscule 1.6 percent real cut. (Both numbers exclude war spending — $115 billion this year.)

After a decade of unrestrained Pentagon spending increases, President Obama deserves credit for putting on the brakes. The cuts are a credible down payment on his pledge to reduce projected defense spending by $487 billion in the next decade. They are not going to be enough. In the likely absence of a bipartisan budget pact, a further automatic across-the-board 10-year cut of nearly $500 billion is to take effect starting next January.

Even if a last-minute deal heads that off, the country needs to find more savings. And there is still plenty of room to cut deeper without jeopardizing national security.

Early in January, President Obama outlined a new, more pragmatic defense strategy. Republicans predictably claimed he was hollowing out the force — but a smarter, more restrained use of force is just what the country needs to secure its vital interests.

Much of the savings will come from cutting the size of the Army and Marine Corps by almost 13 percent and stretching out purchases of planes and ships. At the same time, the military will buy more unpiloted drones, add special operations units, equip submarines to carry more cruise missiles and expand its cyberwarfare capacities.

That makes sense in a world where terrorism and unconventional attacks are a primary threat. Any plan to downsize ground forces must be matched by a credible plan to quickly build them up, if necessary.

The Pentagon also proposes a new round of domestic base closings, a less generous formula for military pay raises after 2015 and higher health insurance premiums for military retirees (families of working-age retirees now pay $500 annually), all of which we strongly support.

Unfortunately, that new thinking has been dragged down by some old-style budgetary inertia. Mr. Obama needs to push the Pentagon to do better. Here are some additional cuts that make sense:

SHRINK THE F-35 PROGRAM The total order of stealth fighters should be reduced to 1,000, from 2,440, saving more than $150 billion. The F-35 was designed as a low-cost, supercapable aircraft. It has become the costliest Pentagon procurement project ever and its performance has been disappointing. The Air Force, Navy and Marines need to cut their losses. Most of the savings would not come until the 2020s. Over $20 billion could be saved this decade by canceling the troubled Marine Corps variant.

CUT THE NUCLEAR BUDGET Mr. Obama has declared his commitment to arms control, but there is no reflection of that in the budget plan. He needs to back it up with significant cuts in the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, ballistic missile submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican, offers a sensible plan to do that, and estimates that it could save $79 billion over the next decade.

GO TO 10 AIRCRAFT CARRIER GROUPS The Pentagon could save $4 billion to $8 billion over a decade by revisiting the president’s unwise decision not to eliminate one of the 11 aircraft carriers with associated ships and aircraft. Ten would provide more than enough surge capacity to support naval air operations anywhere in the world.

We know that it is politically easier to continue programs that outlive their usefulness or outrun their cost estimates — especially when Republican politicians are so eager to promise the Pentagon a blank check. And especially when the defense industry and its lobbyists are spreading so much cash around on Capitol Hill. But the country cannot afford to continue on this way. And there is no strategic argument for doing so. The era of hard choices at the Pentagon has barely begun.

© 2012, agentleman.

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January 30th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Hate Still Lives Here!

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By Marion

 

Racism is alive and well in the United States of America. Jan Brewer was more than happy to demonstrate this as she greeted the President on his recent visit, a visit which has been captured for immortality by an infamous picture:

 

Taken on face value, this shows the governor of a Western state giving the President of the United States the cruelest sort of dressing-down. Has any President ever received such treatment, since General George McClellan snubbed Abraham Lincoln, who was awaiting him in McClellan’s parlour, by announcing he was going to bed?

Taken on face value again, this gesture of the raised index finger is the sort of body language used when an adult takes to telling off a small child … or when any adult takes to telling off another adult whom they consider to be inferior.

Aye, there’s the rub.

One wonders if the President who’d walked down those steps of Air Force One had been Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden or John Edwards, if Brewer would have dared to display such a singular lack of deportment and manners? After all, common courtesy dictates that it’s rude to shake a finger in the face of another person. One wonders, as well, if the governor had been Brewer’s Democratic predecessor, Janet Napolitano, welcoming George W Bush, if  she would have behaved in such a manner.

In both instances, I think it safe to assume that the answer would have been “no.”

I also think it’s safe, not just to assume, but to assert that this behaviour, as has a plethora of similar behaviour toward this President on both sides of the political spectrum, has been motivated by the fact that the President is African-American.

And that is a cause for shame for the entire country.

From the frozen frame of the picture, which shows a white woman aggressively dressing down a black man, to Brewer’s whiney response about “feeling threatened,” and the President being “thin-skinned,” you have the classic meme of the poor, little white woman being intimidated by the angry black buck straight in from the fields. And no matter how much blowhards like Rep Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) try to excuse this action as part of the First Amendment, in that the President is not a King, the entire escapade comes down to one thing and one thing only: respect.

Until this President took office, each and every one of his predecessors had been shown the utmost respect by their own party, by the opposition and by the media. Even the crook, Richard Nixon. Even the fratboy incompetent, George W Bush.

From both Right and Left, for the past four years, this President has suffered a level of disrespect heretofore unparallelled. From Newt Gingrich’s Kenyan anti-colonialremarks to monkey pictures from the Right to Firedoglake’s bugaloo Bush and “house nigger” comments to Joan Walsh’s and Glenn Greenwald’s “Obamalover” euphemism to Ralph Nader’s Uncle Tom moment to Democratic Congressman Peter de Fazio’s “fuck the President” moment, all of this disrespect boils down to one thing and one thing only: race.

And that’s to our everlasting shame as a nation that we seem to be headed, not forward, but backwards in the direction the Newts and Ricks and Ron Pauls want to take us, back to the 1950s to a moment frozen in time by an equally infamous picture of another sort:

We really must ask ourselves, exactly, how far we’ve come since that moment?

The answer, I think, is simply not far enough.

 

© 2012, agentleman.

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January 30th, 2012 at 9:27 am

Citizens United vs. The World!

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Corporations Have No Use for Borders By Chris Hedges

 

What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.

But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.

The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.

“I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”

“My skills and experience—as a facilitator, as a trainer, as a legal professional and as someone linking different communities and movements—were all targeted in this case, with the state trying to depict me as a ‘brainwasher’ and as a mastermind of mayhem, violence and destruction,” she went on. “During the week of the G8 & G20 summits, the police targeted legal observers, street medics and independent media. It is clear that the skills that make us strong, the alternatives that reduce our reliance on their systems and prefigure a new world, are the very things that they are most afraid of.”

The decay of Canada illustrates two things. Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries. Corporations have no regard for nation-states. They assert their power to exploit the land and the people everywhere. They play worker off of worker and nation off of nation. They control the political elites in Ottawa as they do in London, Paris and Washington. This, I suspect, is why the tactics to crush the Occupy movement around the globe have an eerie similarity—infiltrations, surveillance, the denial of public assembly, physical attempts to eradicate encampments, the use of propaganda and the press to demonize the movement, new draconian laws stripping citizens of basic rights, and increasingly harsh terms of incarceration.

 

Our solidarity should be with activists who march on Tahrir Square in Cairo or set up encampamentos in Madrid. These are our true compatriots. The more we shed ourselves of national identity in this fight, the more we grasp that our true allies may not speak our language or embrace our religious and cultural traditions, the more powerful we will become.

Those who seek to discredit this movement employ the language of nationalism and attempt to make us fearful of the other. Wave the flag. Sing the national anthem. Swell with national hubris. Be vigilant of the hidden terrorist. Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, responding to the growing opposition to the Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway pipelines, wrote in an open letter that “environmental and other radical groups” were trying to “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” He accused pipeline opponents of receiving funding from foreign special interest groups and said that “if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further.”

No matter that in both Canada and the United States suing the government to seek redress is the right of every citizen. No matter that the opposition to the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines has its roots in Canada. No matter that the effort by citizens in the U.S. and in Canada to fight climate change is about self-preservation. The minister, in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry like the energy czars in most of the other industrialized nations, seeks to pit “loyal” Canadians against “disloyal” Canadians. Those with whom we will build this movement of resistance will not in some cases be our own. They may speak Arabic, pray five times a day toward Mecca and be holding off the police thugs in the center of Cairo. Or they may be generously pierced and tattooed and speak Danish or they may be Mandarin-speaking workers battling China’s totalitarian capitalism. These are differences that make no difference.

“My country right or wrong,” G.K. Chesterton once wrote, is on the same level as “My mother, drunk or sober.”

Our most dangerous opponents, in fact, look and speak like us. They hijack familiar and comforting iconography and slogans to paint themselves as true patriots. They claim to love Jesus. But they cynically serve the function a native bureaucracy serves for any foreign colonizer. The British and the French, and earlier the Romans, were masters of this game. They recruited local quislings to carry out policies and repression that were determined in London or Paris or Rome. Popular anger was vented against these personages, and native group vied with native group in battles for scraps of influence. And when one native ruler was overthrown or, more rarely, voted out of power, these imperial machines recruited a new face. The actual centers of power did not change. The pillage continued. Global financiers are the new colonizers. They make the rules. They pull the strings. They offer the illusion of choice in our carnivals of political theater. But corporate power remains constant and unimpeded. Barack Obama serves the same role Herod did in imperial Rome.

This is why the Occupy Wall Street movement is important. It targets the center of power—global financial institutions. It deflects attention from the empty posturing in the legislative and executive offices in Washington or London or Paris. The Occupy movement reminds us that until the corporate superstructure is dismantled it does not matter which member of the native elite is elected or anointed to rule. The Canadian prime minister is as much a servant of corporate power as the American president. And replacing either will not alter corporate domination. As the corporate mechanisms of control become apparent to wider segments of the population, discontent will grow further. So will the force employed by our corporate overlords. It will be a long road for us. But we are not alone. There are struggles and brush fires everywhere. Leah Henderson is not only right. She is my compatriot.

© 2012, agentleman.

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