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Yesterday was a fascinating day for me. I wrote a little blog post earlier in the week in which I said President Obama should be fired for putting resources behind medical marijuana prosecutions in California. And then the Internet puked on my shoes. (See my post below for all of the fun.)

It seems some clarifications are in order.

Sorry I Confused Some of You

You can see from the many comments on this blog, and on the other Internet sites that linked to it, that people had very different interpretations of what I wrote. The people with good reading comprehension correctly understood my point: Jailing an American citizen for no reason other than political gain is a firing offense.

The people with bad reading comprehension, and the people who saw nothing but the confused summaries and tweets from those people, interpreted my argument as saying Romney is likely to be softer on drugs than Obama. And based on that misunderstanding, people concluded that my endorsement of Romney was the stupidest opinion in the galaxy. They'd be right if that had been my reasoning.

The fascinating thing here is that I believe the source of confusion is that people literally don't recognize objectivity when they see it. I got a lot of comments along the lines of "You say X is true and then in the same paragraph you say Y." What I actually said is "X is likely to be true, but here's an argument for Y." That's how objective people talk. They make a prediction and then explain why it might be wrong. That's the only way you know all sides have been considered. Partisans and non-thinkers say, "My prediction is 100% certain."

If I were to say the weather in California is good, but today it is cold and foggy, about 20% of readers would say, "Make up your mind! First you say the weather is good and then you say it is cold and foggy! You make no sense!"

Bad Analogy People


The people who aren't good with analogies waded in next, pointing out that President Obama killed U.S. citizens abroad because those citizens were part of a terrorist organization bent on the destruction of the United States. While that situation is worthy of discussion, it misses the central point of my post. There's a big difference between protecting the country and expecting some political gain from doing so versus jailing a small businessman in California for political gain while not even pretending it benefits the country. I expect my president to do some nasty stuff in my best interest. I don't expect him to do nasty stuff to citizens for no reason other than his own reelection interests. The latter is a firing offense.

The Law is the Law

The next thing that fascinated me is the number of people who said President Obama is obligated to pursue legal action against medical marijuana dispensaries in California because the law is the law and we can't have our leaders picking and choosing which ones they support.

To the people who hold that view, I wonder what country you have been living in. In the real world, legal resources are always limited, and leaders at every level of the legal system make choices every day about what is important enough to pursue and what is not.

As I write this, every police chief in every district is looking at his resources, looking at all the work his office is charged with doing, and deciding that something on the order of 50% of what the legal code asks him to do is simply impractical. So he focuses his resources on the 50% that are his highest priorities.

While the law is the law, the more important fact is that the budget is the budget. We elect our leaders to set priorities and act accordingly. The point of my post is that President Obama is using the country's limited resources to shut California dispensaries - possibly the country's lowest priority - for no reason other than political gain. In the process, he's putting a small businessman in jail for 10 years to life. That's a firing offense.

On my side of this debate is a Harvard-trained lawyer by the name of President Obama. During his first campaign for president he promised he wouldn't waste limited government resources pursuing medical marijuana cases. I'm not a Harvard-trained lawyer so I will take his word for it that a president can choose to ignore low-priority prosecutions without violating his oath.

The President Doesn't Personally Put People in Jail

Some commenters mocked me by arguing that the President doesn't control federal law enforcement at the granular level. You can't blame him for every decision made in the field. He's not personally slapping handcuffs on perps. True enough. But in the case of California dispensaries, he authorized the flip-flop in policy from ignoring the situation to going after them. Holding him innocent from the logical repercussions of his policy is like saying history should cut some slack for Pol Pot because he didn't personally kill anyone.

The Lesser Evil Argument

Supporters of President Obama argue that firing the President FOR ANY REASON means accepting a devastating alternative in a Romney presidency. While I applaud the complete dismissal of morality in the interest of practicality, let's take a minute to see if the practicality argument is so cut and dried.

My observation is that voters often - perhaps usually - don't get what they think they voted for. Nixon surprised everyone by getting cuddly with China. Bush Junior turned from isolationist to military adventurer. Obama went from weed-friendly to badass destroyer of state-approved dispensaries. Some fiscal conservatives have blown up the budget while some free-spending Democrats balanced it. If you think you can predict how a candidate will act in office, you might need a history lesson, or perhaps a booster shot of humility.

Now consider Mitt Romney, the most famous chameleon of all time. I submit that a hypothetical Romney presidency would be nearly impossible to predict with any accuracy. In each of his past leadership roles he has morphed into whatever the job required. During the primaries, his job required him to be far right. In the general election we see him drift toward the center, or as his advisor famously said, "Shake the Etch-a-Sketch." It would be naïve to assume Romney wouldn't shake it again once elected, given that even non-chameleon presidents do so.

Romney knows that the electorate is full of idiots and he needs to be a gigantic liar to win their votes. I totally get that. The funniest part is his budget plan that he promises to describe in detail after he gets elected. Dumb people see this as "He has an awesome fiscal plan!" Democrats see it as "He's a liar with no plan!" I see it as "You know I'm a brilliant and experienced turnaround guy. I know how to do this sort of thing. And if I give details now it just paints a target on my back. So chill."

In any event, Congress will be the ones who decide on the next budget. It will probably look similar no matter who gets elected. I don't believe, for example, that a Romney budget would overfund the military. Congress would moderate that, and Romney probably doesn't mean it anyway. Remember, his job today is to lie to get elected. His job once elected is quite different.

I also have no faith in my ability - or yours - to compare Obamacare (essentially a Romney plan) to how healthcare might change under a Romney administration. If you think you know the answer to that question, you're kidding yourself.

Some Democrats say the biggest risk in a Romney presidency involves Supreme Court nominees. But I think we saw after the unexpected opinion from Justice Roberts on the Obamacare ruling that the court has a built-in safety net against being too blatantly partisan and destroying its own credibility in the process.  I think the risk of a conservative-heavy Supreme Court ruining the country by adhering too slavishly (irony!) to the Constitution is low. You might not like some of their rulings, but they probably won't kill you. And if we are being objective, a court with too many lefties would have its own risks.

You're Endorsing Romney to Cut Your Rich Guy Taxes, Bastard!

Some folks suspect that I'm a weasel-bastard who is using the California dispensary issue as a smokescreen for bobbing to the right so I can save on taxes under a Romney administration. There's no defense against an accusation that I have secret motives, but let me describe the economics as I see them.

Over my career, my net worth has moved in lockstep with the overall economy. So whatever plan is good for the entire country is probably the one that helps me most, no matter what my tax rate is. And realistically, given a choice between taxing the rich, including myself, versus taxing people with no money, I don't see a choice. Even Romney knows we can't grow our way out of the problem. He's not an idiot; he's just a guy who needs idiots to vote for him.

So no, I don't see a scenario in which someday I am flying my diamond-encrusted helicopter over the rioting masses of starvation-crazed ex-middle-classers and thinking to myself that things worked out well for me. I don't see the option of living the good life at the expense of the 99%. That's not even a thing. I stopped working to satisfy my personal cravings years ago. Everything I produce and everything I earn these days is for the benefit of others. So I don't mind higher taxes on the rich if it makes sense for the country. With the exception of M.C. Hammer, the rich get richer no matter what the tax rates are. I'm afraid that won't change regardless of who gets elected.


Update:

Where's your evidence that President Obama is enforcing drug laws in California for political reasons alone?

What other reason is there? And remember that your answer has to account for the fact that President Obama has never bothered to explain his unexpected change of policy. Nor has anyone in his administration explained it.

I think it is fair to say President Obama didn't learn anything new about the dangers of medical marijuana in California that he didn't know before he got elected. If he did receive new information, he could simply point it out to defend his change of policy.

Californians voted to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries after considering all factors from freedom to health and safety to economics. Our prior governor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a law decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana with a classic summary: "No one cares if you smoke a joint." (It's funnier when you imagine it in Arnold's accent.)

The medical marijuana dispensaries have now operated long enough that we can see their impact.  So far, it seems that dispensaries raise tax revenues, reduce crime in their neighborhoods, and help a lot of patients find relief. Dispensaries also keep their customers away from shady dealers who might offer more harmful drugs. The dispensaries probably have no appreciable impact on supply. Illegal marijuana is easy to obtain just about anywhere.

The trend toward full legalization of medical marijuana is accelerating all over the country for the same reasons that swayed Californians. I see no reason the trend will reverse. Does it make sense to send someone to jail for a crime that will likely become a non-crime during the jail term? What kind of leader devotes resources to that?

Have you ever met someone who smoked a lot of marijuana, as President Obama did when living in Hawaii, while simultaneously holding the view that the people who sold it to him should go to jail? I don't know the exact answer to my own question, but I'm guessing the number is near zero.

Now let me confuse the readers coming over from Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Gawker, Mediaite.com, and some of the other Low Information Voter sites. I'm going to display something called "objectivity." It involves discussing the odds that I might be wrong. It does not mean I just changed my mind. It means I'm attempting to consider all sides. Here goes. . .

There is some chance - I think a very small one - that President Obama has a non-political reason for cracking down on California's medical marijuana dispensaries, although I can't even imagine what reason a liberal  ex-stoner  with a budget problem might offer. If he chooses to tell the public his reasons, I will happily reassess my opinion. But keep in mind that one of my neighbors down south is about to go to jail for ten years to life because of President Obama's decision to devote limited Federal resources to prosecuting dispensaries. When a president doesn't offer reasons for jailing Americans, you have to call that a firing offense. (Saying he is following the law isn't a reason. Federal resources are limited and citizens expect their leaders to ignore low priorities.)

In summary, if President Obama is devoting limited federal resources to go after marijuana dispensaries for no reasons other than political gain, including, for example, attracting campaign funding, he should be fired. If he has a reason for jailing a small businessman, and he chooses not to share it, that too is a firing offense.

Why do you keep ignoring third-party candidates?

The best way to fire an incumbent president who is running for reelection is to vote for the only candidate with a realistic chance of beating him. If a voter switches from Obama to Romney it causes a two vote difference: one less vote to Obama and one more for Romney. Moving one vote from President Obama to a third party candidate is a one vote difference in the competition between President Obama and Romney.

And frankly it makes a stronger statement to endorse Romney since I disagree with most of his stated policies. It underlines the difference in importance between a true firing offense and policies you believe would be less desirable than the alternatives.

If my endorsement carried any weight whatsoever, I'd consider backing a third-party candidate. But no one will change opinions based on what I blog about. So I have the freedom to write whatever has the most entertainment value for me, with the hope you'll enjoy the show too.

You're crazy when you say a good reason to believe Romney won't be a disaster as president is that he's lying about what he would do in office.

I'm betting that a chameleon will stay a chameleon. That's his history. He adapts to whatever situation he's in. The alternative is to believe a candidate for President will do all the things he promises during the campaign. How has that worked out for you?

Update 2:


Single issue voting is stupid

I agree. One must always look at the big picture. That's why I'm glad O.J. Simpson got acquitted of criminal charges for allegedly murdering his ex-wife. He only had one bad day. You also have to consider his football records.

When Bill Clinton said, "It's the economy, stupid," I took that to mean the economy is just one issue among many. I don't know how else to interpret that.

I also think Nixon got a bum deal with that Watergate thing. That was just one mistake.

If President Obama decides to give our nuclear codes to Iran, let's agree to count that as one mistake that should be weighed against all of his good work. For example, there's the time he recycled, and the time he could have lied but didn't. So that's two good things versus one bad thing.

[sarcasm off]

WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!! OF COURSE ONE ISSUE VOTING MAKES SENSE IF THE ISSUE IS BIG ENOUGH!

I think we're all on the same page now. So let's focus on whether the one issue I raised in my offending blog post - that President Obama is effectively sending a guy to prison for no reason other than political gain - and see if that crosses the line for you. Do you want to live in a world where your President can incarcerate citizens for no reason beyond political gain?

Now you might say President Obama is just doing what the law requires when he puts resources behind closing marijuana dispensaries. I dismissed that argument above. (Summary: We expect our leaders to focus their limited resources on high priorities. To willfully do otherwise for political gain, and put people in jail in the process, has to be a firing offense in a free country.)

If you think the one issue I'm talking about is drug policies, and you believe both candidates will have similar policies, then of course that one issue should not sway your decision. But that isn't the one issue I'm focusing on.

My one issue involves President Obama jailing a citizen for naked political gain. You can argue whether my facts and assumptions are correct, but I don't think you can dismiss it as just one issue among many. Jailing a citizen for no reason other than political gain has to be a firing offense. I'd like to believe every citizen agrees on that point.




 
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Oct 30, 2012
"I can't even imagine what reason a liberal ex-stoner with a budget problem might offer. If he chooses to tell the public his reasons, I will happily reassess my opinion."

When you start to sound that much like Trump, you should just pack it in.
 
 
Oct 26, 2012
So, we're basically redefining "doing harm" then. Also, these city and county governments didn't appeal to the Feds because any state laws were being broken, but because they happen to not like the dispensaries. In a STATE the STATE government is superior to the Feds. It doesn't make sense for the Feds to intervene in a policy dispute between local and STATE government.
 
 
Oct 26, 2012
@tkwelge

[This article contained no explanation as to how these dispensaries are causing harm. There is some suggestion that some are operating "illegally," but again, I fail to see any real evidence. Again, these are just nonsensical rationalizations. Where is the harm? Who is being hurt? Can you tell me that? ]

If you're a libertarian or someone else who believes anyone who wants a joint should be able to get one then I don't have an answer for you. But the current thinking by the government and most people is, at best, 'anyone who needs a joint for legitimate medical reasons should be able to get one, noone else should'. So if the California dispensaries are being used to help give joint to just anyone both in California and in other parts of the country then, by this standard, thats doing harm. In addition theres at least one comment here in the comments section from someone who has personally witnessed harm being done by the situation in California.

[ it clearly lays out that this is a disagreement between the state and local governments.]

So what? They decided to go to the feds and not the state.

[the state government is the supreme law of the land,]

Since when?

[Why did it take you this long to actually find an article that sorta supported your position?]

I gots stuff ta do outside a dis here blog, see?
 
 
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Oct 26, 2012
>http://www.kindgreenbuds.com/marijuana-news/feds-announce-california-medical-marijuana-dispensary-crackdown.html

This article contained no explanation as to how these dispensaries are causing harm. There is some suggestion that some are operating "illegally," but again, I fail to see any real evidence. Again, these are just nonsensical rationalizations. Where is the harm? Who is being hurt? Can you tell me that?

>http://www.ocregister.com/articles/city-339288-marijuana-dispensaries.html

Why did it take you this long to actually find an article that sorta supported your position? Anyway, even this article falls short of explaining any actual harm done, and it clearly lays out that this is a disagreement between the state and local governments. In this case, the state government is the supreme law of the land, and it is clear that the JD is just using this as an excuse to ignore the state law that they said they would respect. The JD should leave this between the city and state governments. This article also clearly stated that the local government only pursued help from the feds after the US attorneys announced that they would be cracking down.

"The city's letter was sent in response to a Department of Justice announcement in early October that the four California-based U.S. Attorneys had begun a statewide enforcement effort targeting the state's commercial marijuana industry."

It's pretty plain and simple that these dispensaries were complying with state law, and the local governments should have gone to the state if they disagreed with the policy. It's also clear from the article that you provided that the US attorneys were going after these dispensaries before the counties even expressed any desire to utilize federal assistance.
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
@tkwelge

You want evidence the dispensaries are causing some kind of harm? Hows this:

http://www.kindgreenbuds.com/marijuana-news/feds-announce-california-medical-marijuana-dispensary-crackdown.html

You want evidence the city governments asked the feds for help? Hows this:

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/city-339288-marijuana-dispensaries.html
 
 
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Oct 25, 2012
>http://www.tokeofthetown.com/2011/10/federal_threats_get_results_ca_marijuana_dispensar.php

Makes no mention of counties appealing to the federal government. Says that US attorneys initiated the action, as I said. There is one part of the article that said that some counties banned dispensaries, and that is their right, but we are talking about dispensaries in areas where the county specifically allowed the dispensaries to exist. Again, nowhere does this article back up what you are saying.

>http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/07/los-angeles-closing-over-500-its-marijauna-dispensaries/54983/

Again, yes, some cities and counties have banned the stores, and that is their right, arguably, but again, that is a local matter for local police, and we are talking about raids taking place in areas where the local government is okay with the dispensaries. Many of these raids were taking place well before LA banned dispensaries as well. You're essentially changing the subject to something unrelated now.

>http://calpotnews.com/

Again, you're bringing up an unrelated topic. Yes, some local governments don't want the dispensaries and they have that right, but we are talking about federal raids taking place in areas where the local government is saying that these businesses are operating fairly.

And again, can you describe to me the amazing amount of harm that was occurring that Obama said would rationalize the waste of resources?
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
http://www.tokeofthetown.com/2011/10/federal_threats_get_results_ca_marijuana_dispensar.php
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/07/los-angeles-closing-over-500-its-marijauna-dispensaries/54983/
http://calpotnews.com/

These websites say you're wrong and the counties did come out against the dispensaries.

As for gay rights I was referring to the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell. As for abortion rights I was referring to Obamas recent attempt to force college medical plans to offer abortions. Not GREAT progress perhaps, but tell me the left doesn't like the direction Obamas moving in here.
 
 
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Oct 25, 2012
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Attorney
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
>...So instead of cracking down because the counties asked them to they cracked down because the state asked them to. Not seeing how this improves your argument. In fact it probably weakens it (didn't you say yesterday that it was a right the state was granting? Well, if the state was taking it away....)

Except that US attorney's are federal appointments. Did you not read that part?
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
>As well as improved abortion and gay rights.

Wait, how were abortion and gay rights improved? Gays are no more able to get married today than they were under the bush administration, while Obama continues to oppose federal recognition of gay marriage, essentially sticking to a "state's decision for now" approach. It is no easier to get an abortion today than before as well.

> And an improvement in our standing in the world.

That's completely subjective and based on a false perception of who Obama is, which is actually more sinister in my opinion.

>And Im sure if McCain had been elected we would have seen more tax cuts, less spending and a number of important government decisions made in a right-wing direction. Not sure its worth giving all that up for the good you mention.

Except that George Bush increased spending in all areas, military, social, infrastructure, etc all went up under his administration.

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/spending_chart_1998_2008USp_13s1li111mcn_10f20f40f60f

This is just the social and infrastructure spending. All are a higher percentage of GDP than before Bush. And Obama did actually pass tax cuts as well.
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
@tkwelge

[Also, the Justice Department's actions are not due to complaints from local governments, but actually the US attorney's for the state of California saying that the dispensaries are not complying with state law. So basically, the FEDERAL government decided that the state dispensaries were not in compliance with state law and intervened. That's totally different than the local government appealing to the feds.]

...So instead of cracking down because the counties asked them to they cracked down because the state asked them to. Not seeing how this improves your argument. In fact it probably weakens it (didn't you say yesterday that it was a right the state was granting? Well, if the state was taking it away....)
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
@tkwelge

[You're making the assumption that things can only be accomplished within government. Well, let's look at the practical effect of the left's antiwar movement inside and outside of government, as well as the war on drugs...]

You fail reading comprehension again. I did say as part of my question that I would accept a plausible explanation for how they could do some good outside of government.

I must confess, though, that you delivered, but one must also look at what Obama has managed to accomplish in office. Obamacare is a reality. As well as improved abortion and gay rights. And an improvement in our standing in the world. And Im sure if McCain had been elected we would have seen more tax cuts, less spending and a number of important government decisions made in a right-wing direction. Not sure its worth giving all that up for the good you mention.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 25, 2012
Also, the Justice Department's actions are not due to complaints from local governments, but actually the US attorney's for the state of California saying that the dispensaries are not complying with state law. So basically, the FEDERAL government decided that the state dispensaries were not in compliance with state law and intervened. That's totally different than the local government appealing to the feds.
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
Remember, Obama's Iraq withdrawal date was decided by Bush, and the Obama administration appealed to the Iraqi government for more time!
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
>Practical good: the ability to actually Get Things Done. In this case, most directly by getting laws passed, changing the budget or otherwise affecting the workings of government, but if you can make a plausible case for the left actually DOING something good outside of government that would be a good answer too.

You're making the assumption that things can only be accomplished within government. Well, let's look at the practical effect of the left's antiwar movement inside and outside of government, as well as the war on drugs. I'd argue that they did more PRACTICAL good throwing stones from the outside then they ever did on the inside. Drone strikes, military funding, use of contractors overseas, etc, all increased since the left came to power. When they were out of power, Bush was actually somewhat restrained by the fact that every action that he took would face a firestorm of criticism from the media, press, etc. This was why wiretaps and whatnot actually seemed to level off towards the end of the Bush presidency, before exploding once Obama came to power. Popular opinion is a powerful thing, especially because the government is more likely to be affected by it rather than the reverse. Once Obama came to power, and people stopped complaining and started rationalizing, they ran away with their newfound ability to do harm. I consider what the left was doing out of power to be more practically good than what they are currently doing now in power.
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
@tkwelge

[Besides, every quote by whtllnew from Obama basically said, "we shouldn't be cracking down on medical marijuana, because there are bigger fish to fry," whereas he is now re interpreting those statements to say, "i'm going to leave dispensaries alone, unless i get a complaint about ANYTHING from a lower level of government." That's some first class cognitive dissonance at work. Again, can somebody please show me what these local governments were even complaining about in the first place?]

[All whtllnew is saying is that the dispensaries reached the "doing folks damage" point without ever explaining how. And the complaints from county level governments in no way reach a point where the dispensaries are causing more harm than meth or heroine addiction.]

Reading comprehension: fail. Thats not all those quotes say. And read the back comments for a more complete understanding of ALL the points Im making, not just the ones you and I are still discussing.
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
@tkwelge

[>You still havent answered the really important part of my question; what practical good are they in this situation?

I already answered that question. Read my comment again.]

Practical good: the ability to actually Get Things Done. In this case, most directly by getting laws passed, changing the budget or otherwise affecting the workings of government, but if you can make a plausible case for the left actually DOING something good outside of government that would be a good answer too.
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
Really, debates are not even "won" or "lost" in my opinion. The purpose is merely to expand everyone's knowledge, not to throw your nerd machismo into everyone's face.

Besides, every quote by whtllnew from Obama basically said, "we shouldn't be cracking down on medical marijuana, because there are bigger fish to fry," whereas he is now re interpreting those statements to say, "i'm going to leave dispensaries alone, unless i get a complaint about ANYTHING from a lower level of government." That's some first class cognitive dissonance at work. Again, can somebody please show me what these local governments were even complaining about in the first place?
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
>When the president lost the first debate, the left nearly universally admitted it and vowed to do better. Maybe you can take your cue from them.

WHat nonsensical posturing. What an age we're living in, seriously, when you can "lose" a debate simply because lots of people say that you did. That's not how intellectual conversations based on inductive arguments are supposed to work.

And every one of whtllnew's comments has been a sad attempt to square a circle. Just read the conversation that I had with him below.

All whtllnew is saying is that the dispensaries reached the "doing folks damage" point without ever explaining how. And the complaints from county level governments in no way reach a point where the dispensaries are causing more harm than meth or heroine addiction.
 
 
Oct 25, 2012
>You still havent answered the really important part of my question; what practical good are they in this situation?

I already answered that question. Read my comment again.
 
 
 
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