U.S.: The growing consensus for legal marijuana

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

 

The growing consensus for legal marijuana

The United States remains starkly divided between red and blue, with Republicans and Democrats each registering some gains and some setbacks in the elections. But on one important issue, a national consensus is emerging that transcends party and ideology. America is becoming Weed Nation.

On Tuesday, Michigan became the 10th state, along with the District of Columbia, to decide to legalize marijuana for purely recreational use. A quarter of Americans will live in states that let them get stoned without fear of the constable.

The states include not only reliably crunchy Oregon and Massachusetts but two that went for Donald Trump in 2016 — Alaska and Michigan. They range from the East Coast to the West and from the first in population, California, to the 49th, Vermont. The others are Colorado, Maine, Nevada and Washington.

Then there are the states that allow marijuana to be used for medical needs. On Tuesday, Missouri and Utah — Utah! — voted to join the club. That brings the total number of states that allow pot to be legally consumed in some circumstances to 33, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, plus Washington, D.C.

Pro-pot candidates also did well Tuesday. Illinois elected a governor, J.B. Pritzker, who favors allowing recreational cannabis. So did Connecticut (Ned Lamont), Maine (Janet Mills), Minnesota (Tim Walz) and New Mexico (Michelle Lujan Grisham). The winner in Wisconsin, Tony Evers, has said he is “not opposed” to it and would like a statewide referendum to settle the issue.

Read more: Michigan voters bring legal recreational marijuana to the Midwest »

Cannabis has already run away with the contest for public favor. In 2000, according to the Pew Research Center, only 31 percent of Americans supported legalizing recreational pot. Today, 62 percent do.

But even in states where cannabis is legal, it isn’t. Federal law still bans weed, with penalties that include prison time even for mere users. Sick people smoking it to relieve chronic pain, muscular dystrophy or epilepsy, in faithful compliance with their state laws, are not exempt from prosecution.

Under Barack Obama, the Justice Department adopted a hands-off policy toward states with permissive policies. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder issued directives instructing U.S. attorneys to defer to state laws on medical and recreational cannabis. The administration also tried to provide banks some assurance that they could handle the accounts of legitimate marijuana suppliers without being prosecuted.

But as soon as he was installed as attorney general, die-hard prohibitionist Jeff Sessions reversed course. He ordered prosecutors to fully enforce federal laws reflecting “Congress’ determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”

Does Congress really still believe that? This ought to be an issue on which the two parties can come together — not on whether marijuana should be legal but on whether states should be allowed to make their own choices. Last year, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky joined with Democratic colleagues Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York to propose ending the federal prohibition on medical cannabis.

The conservative Tenth Amendment Center regards the federal law as an unconstitutional usurpation of state sovereignty. It was Georgetown professor Randy Barnett, a darling of the conservative Federalist Society, who in 2004 argued before the Supreme Court that the federal government had no right to stop individuals from growing pot for personal use.

Commentary: The cycle of life: Getting stoned again for health reasons »

He lost the case, but the court’s most conservative justice agreed with him. “Our federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of other States to decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens,” Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent. “If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything.”

Neither party is consistent on matters of federalism. But this is the rare occasion when Republicans could enlist Democrats in curbing Washington’s meddling in matters that can be handled perfectly well at the state level — deploying a concept that liberals might find attractive under President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Republicans might also gain politically from eliminating the federal role. Taking a more moderate position on a matter that millions of people regard as no business of politicians could soften their image among independent voters. Passing an important measure with bipartisan support would demonstrate that the 2018 election results didn’t prevent our lawmakers from getting anything useful done.

I can just imagine it happening. And no, I’m not high.

Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/chapman.

[email protected]

Twitter @SteveChapman13

Trump’s lies betray his desperation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

 

Column: 

Trump’s lies betray his desperation

Here’s what I hope Robert Mueller will conclude when he is done investigating Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign: The president is innocent of criminal wrongdoing. He did not know of or approve contacts with Russians to influence the election. His interactions with FBI Director James Comey and other Justice Departmentofficials never rose to the level of obstructing justice.

But it would require an extraordinary faith in Trump’s character and a stubborn disregard for his behavior to expect that outcome. If there is one inference to be drawn from everything he has done with respect to the investigation and the Russian government, it’s that he suffers from a powerful consciousness of guilt.

The latest came in a tweet expressing bitter regret that he didn’t choose someone other than Jeff Sessions for attorney general — because Sessions recused himself and therefore can’t send Mueller packing. Trump doesn’t want a fair and impartial investigation; he wants no investigation.

He insists over and over that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians. But we already have evidence there was — in the form of guilty pleas by Trump aides Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians.

We have evidence in the 2016 meeting hosted by son Donald Jr. and attended by son-in-law Jared Kushner with a Russian lawyer who had promised information from the Kremlin incriminating Hillary Clinton. Meeting secretly with Russians in hopes of cooperating for mutual benefit is collusion, whether illegal or not.

This week, we got confirmation that the statement Donald Jr. issued — claiming the meeting was primarily about adoption issues — was dictated by his father. When The Washington Post reported that last year, the White House denied the story. In a memo to Mueller obtained by The New York Times, however, Trump’s lawyers admitted it was true.

Yet he has insisted that “nobody’s found any collusion at any level.” The assertion is not only false; it’s flagrantly, obviously false.

Over and over, Trump has resorted to complaints, attacks and deceptions. He fired Comey ostensibly because of how the director mishandled the investigation of Clinton. But Trump went on to say repeatedly that he did it because of the Russia probe. Recently, though, he tweeted, “I never fired James Comey because of Russia!” Lying is generally not a manifestation of innocence.

His shifting position on being interviewed under oath by Mueller likewise betrays him. When the question first was posed, Trump declared himself “100 percent” willing. Or maybe it’s zero percent. In January, his lawyers sent a letter to Mueller rejecting the idea.

“Your office clearly lacks the requisite need to personally interview the President,” they told him. “Having him testify demeans the Office of the President before the world.” One of his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, added another reason for this reluctance, expressing concern that Mueller might “trap him into perjury.”

But someone who tells the truth is in no danger of committing perjury. What Trump might be in danger of is admitting to crimes that could lead to his indictment or impeachment.

Giuliani, however, has not ruled out that Trump, if subpoenaed, might invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. (Trump in 2016: “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”) Nor has Giuliani ruled out refusing to submit to a subpoena.

If that weren’t enough to indicate the president has a large pile of things to hide, Trump now claims the power to grant himself a full pardon. But a pardon would be necessary only if he is guilty of specific crimes.

It’s impossible to exaggerate his lawyers’ claims about his impunity. They say a president may not be indicted. Giuliani said Trump could not be indicted even “if he shot James Comey.”

The president can’t obstruct justice, his team insists, because the president has complete power over federal law enforcement. Anything he does in that realm is therefore legal.

Maybe his pattern of chutzpah and untruth is just the essence of his toxic character, which bubbles over no matter what. But more likely, the conduct of Trump and his attorneys reflects their knowledge that he is guilty of serious offenses and their fear that he will be exposed and punished. He looks like someone terrified of going to prison.

Even congressional Republicans say he won’t do anything so foolish as to fire Mueller or pardon himself. But desperate men do desperate things.

Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/chapman.

[email protected]

Twitter @SteveChapman13

China’s People’s Only Chance For Truth In History Is To Eliminate The Communist Party

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

 

China criminalizes the slander of its ‘heroes and martyrs,’ as it seeks to control history

Simon Denyer Washington Post

China’s Communist Party has always understood the importance of policing its history.

On Friday, it tightened the screws another notch with a new law banning the slander of “heroes and martyrs” – figures drawn from wartime propaganda said to have given their lives in defense of the Communist Party or the nation.

Chinese schoolchildren are taught about the heroic deeds of figures who fought against the Japanese during the World War II, or who gave their lives for the Communist Party in its civil war with the Nationalists. Memorials to some of the most famous dot the country.

Now, it will be illegal to suggest those tales might not be wholly factual.

“Only the official narrative is allowed to exist,” said historian and critic Zhang Lifan. “But ‘What is the historical truth?’ – is not a question we ask now.”

The law is part of a much broader and long-standing attempt by the Communist Party to mold or rewrite history in its interests, that extends from obfuscating the causes and extent of the famine that killed tens of millions of people during the disastrous Great Leap Forward that began in 1958, or the chaos of the Cultural Revolution that followed, through to the determined attempt to erase from history the 1989 pro-democracy movement and subsequent deaths of many demonstrators.

The “Heroes and Martyrs Protection Act” was passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, and goes into effect on May 1. It threatens unspecified “administrative penalties” or even “criminal sanctions” against those who damage memorials or “insult or slander heroes and martyrs.”

Yue Zhongming, a member of the standing committee, told a news conference the law was not intended to restrict academic freedom, but that this should not be used to harm the honor of the nation’s heroes.

“We often say there is no banned area of academic research, while there is a bottom line of law,” he told a news conference.

Zhang, for his part, maintained the law was largely meant to emphasize and protect the legitimacy of the Communist Party, and to tie up the idea of “loving the country” with “loving the party.”

The law was first submitted for deliberation last December, with its final draft expanded to include a provision to punish people who “glorify acts of war or invasion.”

State media said that provision referred to a handful of Chinese who have taken to dressing up in Japanese World War II army uniforms, and photographing themselves at famous wartime sites or memorials. The so-called “spiritually Japanese” movement is thought to be a small group of people fascinated with that country’s war-era militarism: a group that Foreign Minister Wang Yi referred to as “scum” at a recent news conference.

But the law’s genesis lies in the protection of the Communist Party’s version of history, experts say.

“In recent years, a few people in China have slandered or derogated heroes and martyrs via the Internet, magazines and other media in the name of ‘academic freedom,’ ‘restoring history’ or ‘probing into details,’ which provoked anger from all walks of life,” state news agency Xinhua wrote.

In 2016, for example, historian Hong Zhenkuai was ordered by a court to issue a public apology after questioning the veracity of the much celebrated tale of the “five heroes of Langya Mountain” in which five Communist soldiers killed dozens of Japanese soldiers before leaping off the mountain shouting “long live the Community Party,” rather than surrender.

The pressure to sanitize history has intensified under President Xi Jinping, who has repeatedly warned about what he calls “historical nihilism,” a term that essentially means any attempt to question the Communist Party’s glorious account of its own past.

China also passed a law last year threatening 15 days in detention for any disrespect of its national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, a law that is now being extended to cover Hong Kong after fans there booed the anthem at international football matches.

One historian, who declined to be named for fear of inviting problems with the authorities, said there was growing pressure on his profession within China, with public security officials warning historians not to write anything critical about any aspect of history since the 1949 Communist takeover, under the threat of losing jobs, pensions or access to social services, for them and their family members.

Perry Link, Chancellorial Chair at the University of California at Riverside and Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton, said the law’s main aim is to protect the Communist Party’s version of history.

“We should also note that protecting history has nothing to do with empathy for people in a bygone time and everything to do with maintaining the party’s power and control today,” he wrote in an email.

Link cited the writings of Liu Xiaobo, China’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning pro-democracy activist who died in captivity last year, noting the inspiration he drew from people such as Lin Zhao, Yu Luoke and Zhang Zhixin – all of whom were executed during China’s Cultural Revolution “for expressing truths the party did not want to hear,” Link wrote.

“The fact that the present law will have nothing to do with protecting the reputations of those (true) martyrs says all one needs to know about the purpose of the law,” Link wrote.

The Washington Post’s Shirley Feng contributed to this report.

Jared Kushner should not be working in the White House

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

 

Commentary: 

Jared Kushner should not be working in the White House

Jennifer RubinThe Washington Post

The Washington Post reports:

“A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

“The Feb. 9 phone call from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to White House Counsel Donald McGahn came amid growing public scrutiny of a number of administration officials without final security clearances. Most prominent among them is Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, who has had access to some of the nation’s most sensitive material for over a year while waiting for his background investigation to be completed.

“A week after the call from Rosenstein, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced that staffers whose clearances have not been finalized will no longer be able to view top-secret information — meaning that Kushner stood to lose his status as early as Friday.”

We do not know for certain why Kushner’s security clearance has been held up. Suffice it to say, however, that if a senior staffer in any other administration had to repeatedly amend his disclosure statements, failed initially to disclose meetings with Russians during the transition (including one in which a back channel cutting out our intelligence services was discussed), ran up huge personal debts and consulted with a now-fired, indicted White House official, he would have been denied a clearance and shown the door. (“Kushner’s actions during the transition have been referenced in the guilty plea of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted he lied to the FBI about contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak,” The Post reports. “Prosecutors said Flynn was acting in consultation with a senior Trump transition official, whom people familiar with the matter have identified as Kushner.”)

It isn’t surprising that Chief of Staff John Kelly would be happy to see Kushner go. (“Kelly has told associates that he is uncomfortable with Kushner’s uncertain security clearance status and his unique role as both a family member and staffer, according to people familiar with the conversations. He has said he would not be upset if the president’s son-in-law and his wife, Ivanka Trump, left their positions as full-time employees.”)

Aside from whatever political backstabbing might be going on (Kushner’s wife Ivanka Trump is purportedly involved in trying to replace Kelly), Kushner now stands in violation of the deadline Kelly imposed to end all interim security clearances. If Kushner remains and gets special treatment, the message from the White House is clear: The Trump family doesn’t meet basic security requirements and gets special treatment. The mixed message to the rest of the White House staff undermines Kelly’s authority and ability to force compliance with essential security requirements.

Taking a step back, in any other White House a senior adviser whose job requires access to classified material would be obliged at the very least to step away from duties pertaining to national security. We have known since May 2017 that Kushner was under investigation. (The Post reported on May 19, 2017: “The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.” That person was later identified as Kushner.) “Under no circumstances should Kushner have maintained his security clearance this entire time, given the nature of the conduct that is under investigation,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller. “And without a security clearance, he couldn’t be in the job he’s been in.”

Norman L. Eisen, former ethics counsel for President Barack Obama, tells me: “Kushner should have been gone — and in Obama’s or any other White House, would have been gone — as soon as the red flags of his dozens of omissions on his security clearance and financial disclosure forms began to accumulate. That is because they signaled the trouble ahead. It is only because of nepotism (also a violation of federal law, by the way) that he is still there.” (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, of which Eisen is the board chair, sent a letter to Kelly on Feb. 15 demanding that Kushner’s temporary clearance be revoked, citing multiple factors — e.g. foreign influence, omission of information — that would trigger a denial of clearance under existing regulations and executive orders.)

Unless Kushner has been entirely cleared of wrongdoing, his continued presence in his current White House role is unprecedented and inexcusable. He is entitled to the legal presumption of innocence, but not to a high White House post with a top security clearance so long as there is credible information to believe he acted improperly with regard to the matters under investigation. If this were a corporate setting, a high-level executive would be put on “leave” pending conclusion of an investigation. Former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub tells me, “It’s ridiculous that Kushner still works in the White House, all the more so that he has access to classified information. Anybody else would be gone, but the Justice Department consigned us to this fate when it [condoned] nepotism in the White House.”

We raise this point about Kushner’s presence to underscore how entirely abnormal is the situation the country finds itself. His continuing role in the White House demonstrates just how far out of bounds is the conduct of this White House and the degree to which the administration now serves Trump’s personal and family interests rather than the nation’s. Unfortunately, as we have learned, the country at large begins to become accustomed to the inexcusable — if the inexcusable goes on long enough.

Washington Post 

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.