Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Tuesday called for Congress to overhaul U.S. drug policy, but doubted lawmakers yet had the courage to end the federal government’s “hypocrisy and irrationality.”
“For three-quarters of a century, the United States has waged a futile attempt to prohibit marijuana based upon emotion and flawed science,” he said on the House floor.
“Since 1971, the Federal Government has classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 prohibited substance, like heroin, more dangerous, according to the law, than cocaine or meth. It declared in statute, contrary to proven research, that marijuana has no therapeutic value.”
“Every day a million authorized users of medical marijuana reject that notion by using it by doctor’s prescription to relieve symptoms like intense nausea due to chemotherapy, relief for veterans with PTSD, from chronic back pain, and neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis.”
Blumenauer noted that 22 states and the District of Columbia had legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Colorado and Washington state have both legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
The congressman also said marijuana was less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and that drug prohibition funneled money to violent cartels.
“Our federal laws are frozen in time, but the American public has moved on,” Blumenauer said. “Majorities now say it should be legal, and even more say the federal government should not interfere with whatever state laws are in place.”
“It will be a while before Congress summons the courage to end the hypocrisy and irrationality of the futile federal prohibition, but it should stop making things worse,” he continued. “For instance, it is insane to force hundreds of legal marijuana businesses to be all cash. We should end the grotesque punitive federal taxation for these legal small businesses.”
The congressman called for Congress to explicitly allow state-approved medical marijuana along with industrial hemp.
“Several dozen members have cosponsored bipartisan legislation to help bring us out of these dark ages. These should be approved without delay. Sometime in this decade we will tax and regulate marijuana. Until we end the unfair discriminatory and costly federal prohibition, we should at least end the most foolish and counterproductive policies,” he concluded.
For the first time ever, half of US Congressmen, both Democrats and Republicans, are millionaires, according to figures from a group that examines the influence of money on politics.
At least 268 of 534 lawmakers currently elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate had a net worth of $1.0 million or more in 2012, according to disclosures filed by all members of Congress.
For a few, that figure went into the hundreds of millions — and the median net worth was just over a million, at $1,008,767, according to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics at OpenSecrets.org.
Median figures for Republicans and Democrats in the “millionaires club” are nearly equal, with Democrats edging just a bit ahead with $1.04 million compared to $1.0 million for Republicans.
But in both parties, the average has risen from a year earlier, from $990,000 for Democrats and $907,000 for Republicans. That year, some 48 percent of lawmakers were in the millionaires club.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ analysis, the wealthiest Congressman was Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, who made a fortune with a car alarm system he created. They calculated his net worth as averaging $464 million during 2012.
His least wealthy colleague was David Valadao, also a Republican from California, whose net worth was in the red — a negative $12.1 million — thanks to debts related to his family dairy farm.
“Members of Congress have long been far wealthier than the typical American,” the center said, but noting a majority of “millionaires represents a watershed moment at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage.”
Even as polls “show how dissatisfied Americans are with Congress overall,” said center director Sheila Krumholz, “there’s been no change in our appetite to elect affluent politicians to represent our concerns in Washington.”
She said it was “undeniable” that wealth is necessary “to run financially viable campaigns.”
“And the most successful fundraisers are politicians who swim in those circles to begin with,” she added.
“I am not a focus-group-tested, blow-dried candidate.”
“I’ve worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty.”
“I’ve engendered the sense and feeling among the people closest to me that we’re a family.”
“I’m a person who cares deeply about doing my job well.”
“I’m incredibly loyal to my people.”
“I was the class president and athlete.”
And this was all in the process of saying what he had done wrong in the George Washington Bridge fiasco that threatens to upend his presidential hopes. Christie apologized profusely — but not for anything he did. “I’m telling you: I had nothing to do with this,” he pleaded. Instead, he blamed bad people who lied to him, taking advantage of his trusting and honorable nature.
Even in disgrace, the New Jersey governor — and the nominal front-runner for the 2016 GOP nomination — managed to turn his nationally televised news conference into a forum on the virtues of his favorite subject: himself.
Use of the word “I”: 692 times.
When Christie delivered the keynote address at the 2012 nomination, the criticism was that he spoke more of himself than of the nominee, Mitt Romney. Now we see that even in adversity, Christie regards himself as the hero.
This tendency is what is likeliest to doom Christie’s presidential hopes — more than the details of “Bridge-gate” or the question of whether he is a bully. Christie’s greatest obstacles are his own self-regard and his blindness to the possibility that he might have erred.
Narcissism is the dominant theme in American politics today, and the man Christie would succeed in the Oval Office appears to suffer from an acute sense of his own righteousness. But Christie takes worship of self to a whole new level.
The governor said he fired Bridget Anne Kelly, the aide at the center of the scandal, “because she lied to me” — not because she ordered up a traffic jam that ensnarled thousands to exact retribution on a political foe.
Christie spoke of the scandal in terms of what it meant — to him: “I am a very sad person today. . . . I probably will get angry at some point, but I got to tell you the truth. I’m sad. I’m a sad guy standing here today.”
Christie accepted responsibility, but only in the technical sense: “I have 65,000 people working for me every day. And I cannot know what each one of them is doing at every minute. But that doesn’t matter; I’m ultimately responsible for what they do.”
Christie invoked the Nixonian “mistakes were made” formulation, but they were not made by him. “There’s no way that anybody would think that I know about everything that’s going on, not only in every agency of government at all times, but also every independent authority,” he reasoned.
The excuses flowed as if in their own HOV lane. “I was blindsided yesterday morning. . . . That was the first time I knew about this. . . . I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning, or its execution. . . . I was told this was a traffic study. . . . Why would I believe that anybody would not be telling the truth? . . . I delegate enormous authority to my staff. . . . Mayor Sokolich was never on my radar screen. . . . I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a lineup. . . . Sometimes, despite the best background checks, you know, despite the best interviews, despite your best instincts, sometimes people are a mistake hire. . . . I probably wouldn’t know a traffic study if I tripped over it.”
Christie went so far as to disown the friend he appointed to the Port Authority: “David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school.”
The closest Christie came to self-awareness was when he told CNN’s John King that he asked himself “what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me?”
The answer: not much, if anything.
“I think the history of this administration shows that we have hired outstanding people with great ethical standards who have done their jobs extraordinarily well,” Christie said, and, “I claimed to have the best government I could possibly make,” and, “I’m just trying to be a safe and careful steward of the public trust.”
This certainty of his own infallibility will be more of an impediment to Christie than any lane closures in Fort Lee.
Social selection plays the same role in the social sciences which the natural selection plays in the biological sciences: it selects the traits, norms and values which are most beneficial to the host culture. Seen from this angle, social diversity is a desirable quality for social progress since when diverse customs and value-systems compete with each other, they take the best and reject the worst from each.
A decentralized and unorganized religion, like Sufism, engenders diverse strains of beliefs and thoughts which compete with one another in gaining social acceptance. A heavily centralized and tightly organized religion, on the other hand, depends more on authority and dogma, than value and utility. A centralized religion is also more ossified and less adaptive.
When we look at religious extremism and the consequent militancy and terrorism, in Pakistan in particular and the Islamic world in general, in the natural evolution of religion, some deleterious mutation must have occurred somewhere, which has infected the whole of Islamic world.
Most Pakistani political scientists blame the Pakistani military establishment for a deliberate promotion of religious extremism to create a jihadi narrative which suits the institutional interests and strategic objectives of the Pakistani military. There is no denying this obvious fact but it is only one factor in a multifactorial equation. The phenomenon of religious extremism is not limited to Pakistan, the whole of Islamic world from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria to Indonesia, Malaysia and even the Muslim minorities of Thailand, China and Philippines bear witness to it.
The real culprit for the rise of religious extremism and terrorism in the Islamic world is Saudi Arabia. The Aal-e-Saud (descendants of Saud) have no hereditary claim to the Throne of Mecca since they are not the descendants of the prophet, nor even from the Quresh. They were the most primitive marauding nomadic tribesmen of Najd who defeated the Sharifs of Mecca violently after the collapse of the Ottomans in World War I. Their title to the throne of Saudi Arabia is de facto, not de jure, since neither do they have a hereditary claim nor do they hold elections to ascertain the will of the Saudi people. Thus they are the illegitimate rulers of Saudi Arabia and they feel insecure because of that; which explains their heavy-handed tactics is dealing with any kind of dissent, opposition or movement for reform.
Religious extremism all over the Islamic world is directly linked to the Wahhabi-Salafi madrassas which are sponsored by the Saudi and Gulf petrodollars. These madrassas attract children from the most poorest backgrounds in Islamic countries because they offer the kind of incentives and facilities which government-sponsored public schools cannot provide: free boarding and lodging, no tuition fee at all, and free books and stationery.
Aside from madrassas, another factor that promotes Wahhabi-Salafi ideology in the Islamic world is the ritual of the Hajj and Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina). Every year millions of Muslims travel from all over the Islamic world to perform the ritual and wash their sins. When they return to their native countries, after spending a month or two in Saudi Arabia, along with clean hearts and souls, dates and zamzam, they also bring along the tales of Saudi hospitality and their true puritanical version of Islam, which some, especially rural-tribal folk, find attractive.
Authority plays an important role in any thought system; the educated people accept the authority of the specialists in their respective fields; the lay people accept the authority of the theologians and clerics in the interpretation of religion and scriptures. Aside from authority, certain other factors also play a part in individual psyches: loyalty, purity or the concept of sacred, and originality and authenticity as in a concept of being close to an authentic ideal.
Just like modern naturalists, who prefer organic food and natural habits and lifestyle because of their belief in the goodness of nature or their disillusionment from manufactured fuss, religious folks prefer a true version of Islam which is closer to the putative authentic Islam as practiced in Mecca and Medina: the Gold Standard of Petro-Islam.
Yet another factor contributing to the rise of Salafism throughout the Islamic world is immigration. Millions of Muslim men, women and families from the Third World Islamic countries live and work in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman. Most are on temporary work permits.
Just like the pilgrims, when they come back to their native villages and towns, they bring the alluring perception of having an Oxbridge degree and an attractive English accent. Not literally but figuratively. Spending time in Arab countries entitles one to pass authoritative judgments on religious matters; and having a cursory understanding of the language of Quran makes you an equivalent of a Qazi (judge) among the illiterate village people. And they just reproduce the customs and attitudes of the Arabs as an authentic version of Islam to their compatriots.
Shi'ite Muslims have their Imams and Marjahs (religious authorities) but it is generally believed that Sunni Islam discourages the authority of the clergy. In this sense, Sunni Islam is closer to Protestantism, theoretically, because it promotes an individual and personal interpretation of scriptures and religion. It might be true about the Hanafies and other educated schools of thought in Islam; but on a popular level, the House of Saud plays the same role in Islam that the Pope plays in Catholicism. By virtue of their physical possession of the holy places of Islam – Mecca and Medina – they are the ex officio Caliphs of Islam. The title of the Saudi King, Khadim-ul-Haramain-al-Shareefain (Servant of the House of God), makes him a vice-regent of God on Earth. And the title of the Caliph of Islam is not limited to a nation-state, he wields enormous influence and clout throughout the Commonwealth of Islam: the Muslim Ummah.
Now, when we hear slogan like “No democracy, just Islam” on the streets of Third World Islamic countries, one wonders what kind of an imbecile would forgo his right to choose his ruler through a democratic process? It is partly due to the fact that the masses often conflate democracy with liberalism; without realizing that democracy is only a political process of choosing one’s representatives and legislators through an election process, while liberalism is a cultural mindset which may or may not be suitable in a native Third World society, depending on its existing level of social progress in an evolutionary perspective - which prefers a bottom-up, gradual and incremental changes over a top-down, sudden and radical approach.
One feels dumbfounded, however, when even educated Muslims argue that democracy is un-Islamic and an ideal Islamic system of governance is a Caliphate. An ideal Caliphate could be some Umayyad/Abbasid model that they conjure up in their heads; but in practice the only beneficiaries of such an anti-democratic approach are the illegitimate tyrants of the Arab World. They claim to be the Caliphs of Islam albeit indirectly and in a nuanced manner: the Servants of the House of God and the Keepers of the Holy places of Islam.
The illegitimate, hence insecure, tyrants adopt different strategies to maintain their hold on power. They heed to the pragmatic advice of Machiavelli: “Invent enemies and then slay them in order to control your subjects.” The virulently anti-Shi'ite rhetoric of the Salafis and Takfiris is a Machiavellian approach. The Salafis and Takfiris cannot construct a positive narrative that specifies their achievements; that’s why they construct a negative narrative that casts the Evil Other in a negative light.
The Sunni-Shi'ite conflict is essentially political and economic but is presented to the lay Muslim in a veneer of religiosity. Since Saudi Arabia produces 10 to 15 million barrels of oil per day (equivalent to 15% to 20% of global oil production) it can single-handedly bring down the price of a barrel of oil to US$50 or single-handedly raise it to $200, a nightmare for the global industrialized economies. With 90% of the Saudi oil installations situated along the Persian Gulf, this sparsely populated region comprises the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and its Shi'ite majority. Any separatist tendency is accordingly met with sternest possible reaction. Saudi Arabia sent its own battalions to help the Bahraini regime quell the Shi'ite minority rebellion in Bahrain, which is also geographically very close to the Eastern Province.
Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism is a threat to the Western countries; but the Islamic countries are encountering a much bigger threat of inter-sectarian terrorism. For centuries the Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims lived peacefully side by side; but now vested interests are provoking inter-sectarian strife to distract attention away from the popular movements for democracy throughout the Middle East and North Africa region.
The ultimate goal of the Arab Spring is to overthrow the illegitimate House of Saud, and this tide will not subside until its objective is achieved. There are ebbs and flows in any grassroots political and social movement. It ebbed in Egypt but it will rise again to flood the whole of region. What’s unfortunate is the fact, that the so-called champions of democracy can’t even lend a moral support, let alone the material support; because their interests always outweigh their principles and ideals.