Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Struggling States Consider Legalizing Pot and Taxing Porn

Posted in Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 28, 2009

NYT

drugs_cannabisIn his 11 years in the Washington Legislature, Representative Mark Miloscia says he has supported all manner of methods to fill the state’s coffers, including increasing fees on property owners to help the homeless and taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, most of which, he said, passed “without a peep.”

And so it was last month that Mr. Miloscia, a Democrat, decided he might try to “find a new tax source” — pornography.

The response, however, was a turn-off.

“People came down on me like a ton of bricks,” said Mr. Miloscia, who proposed an 18.5 percent sales tax on items like sex toys and adult magazines. “I didn’t quite understand. Apparently porn is right up there with Mom and apple pie.”

Mr. Miloscia’s proposal died at the committee level, but he is far from the only legislator floating unorthodox ideas as more than two-thirds of the states face budget shortfalls.

“The most common phrase you hear from the states is ‘Everything is on the table,’ ” said Arturo Perez, a fiscal analyst with National Conference of State Legislatures, who predicted the worst financial year for states since the end of World War II.

Nowhere is that more true than California, where Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a freshman from San Francisco, made a proposal intended to increase revenue, and, no doubt, appetite: legalizing and taxing marijuana, a major — if technically illegal — crop in the state.

“We’re all jonesing now for money,” Mr. Ammiano said. “And there’s this enormous industry out there.”

In Nevada, State Senator Bob Coffin said he would introduce legislation to tax the state’s legal brothels, a fee that would be “based on the amount of activities.” And unlike the Washington porn proposal, which drew the ire of the adult entertainment industry, Mr. Coffin’s plan has the backing of the potential taxpayers, in this case brothel owners who employ women as independent contractors.

“I think they figure if they become part of the tax stream, the less vulnerable they will be to some shift in mores,” he said.

Hawaiian legislators were also considering capitalizing on another potential shift in public attitudes when they proposed legalizing same-sex unions, which supporters say could help the slumping tourism trade.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, state legislators have introduced a proposal to build two resort-style casinos, including one in Boston. A similar push died last year in the State House of Representatives. But Representative Martin J. Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat and co-author of the new casino bill, said a $2 billion budget deficit might have changed some minds.

“Every state in the nation, including Massachusetts, needs to figure out a way of raising revenues,” Mr. Walsh said. “So we need to be creative.”

Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said many lawmakers were loath to tap more traditional tax sources during a downturn.

“What’s pushing it is this incredible desire to raise revenue,” he said. “But it’s coupled with the desire not to raise the general and sales and income taxes.”

Whether such proposals can pass is another issue, though each idea has its supporters. Betty Yee, chairwoman of the California Board of Equalization, the state’s tax collector, said that legal marijuana could raise nearly $1 billion per year via a $50-per-ounce fee charged to retailers. An additional $400 million could be raised through sales tax on marijuana sold to buyers.

The law would also establish a smoking age — 21 — effectively putting marijuana in a similar regulatory class as alcohol or tobacco. Marijuana advocates argue that legalization could also decrease pressure on the state’s overburdened prison system and law enforcement officers.

All of which, Ms. Yee said, at least makes the proposal worth talking about in a state with chronic budget problems and a law already on the books allowing the medical use of the drug.

“We know the product is out there, and we know marijuana is available to young people as well, but there’s no regulatory structure in place,” Ms. Yee said. “I think it’s an opportunity to begin the debate.”

Such a debate, of course, does not always favor tax innovators, and several law enforcement groups have already objected to the idea of legal marijuana, which would conflict with federal law.

John Lovell, a lobbyist for several groups of California law enforcement officials, said the plan would create a large, illicit — and thus untaxed — black market, in addition to magnifying substance abuse problems. “The last thing we need is yet another legal substance that is mind-altering,” he said.

Having taxes on illegal activities — like a seldom-collected tax on marijuana sales in Nevada — also has its drawbacks, said Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who has researched drug policy.

“It is very hard to tax illegal vices unless one is comfortable with contradiction,” Mr. MacCoun said. “How can you collect the taxes without documenting the behavior? And how can you document the behavior without making an arrest?”

In Washington State, Mr. Miloscia said he had also received criticism from an array of residents and business owners, who accused him of attacking the First Amendment and other sacred institutions with his porn proposal.

“I had people call up saying their marriages would fall apart,” said Mr. Miloscia, who represents a suburban district between Tacoma and Seattle. “I didn’t know how passionate people are about this stuff.”

We Are a Nation of Junkies Hooked on Media-Fabricated Outrage

Posted in media, politics, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on February 16, 2009

David Sirota

phelps_479089a

I’m not sure if it’s because we’re strung out on “Lost” episodes, or if it’s because we’re still suffering from a post-9/11 stress disorder that makes us crave “breaking news” alerts, or if it’s because the economy has turned us into distraction junkies. But one thing is painfully obvious after Michael Phelps’ marijuana “scandal” erupted last week: Our society is addicted to fake outrage — and to break our dependence, we’re going to need far more potent medicine than the herb Phelps was smoking.

If you haven’t heard (and I’m guessing you have), the Olympic gold medalist was recently photographed taking a toke of weed. The moment the picture hit the Internet, the media blew the story up, pumping out at least 1,200 dispatches about the “controversy,” according to my LexisNexis search. Phelps’ sponsors subsequently threatened to pull their endorsement deals, and USA Swimming suspended him for “disappointing so many people.”
 
America is a place where you can destroy millions of lives as a Wall Street executive and still get invited for photo-ops at the White House; a land where the everyman icon — Joe Sixpack — is named for his love of shotgunning two quarts of beer at holiday gatherings; a “shining city on a hill” where presidential candidates’ previous abuse of alcohol and cocaine is portrayed as positive proof of grittiness and character. And yet, somehow, Phelps is the evildoer of the hour because he went to a party and took a hit off someone’s bong.
 
As with most explosions of fake outrage, the Phelps affair asks us to feign anger at something we know is commonplace. A nation of tabloid readers is apoplectic that Brad and Jen divorced, even though one out of every two American marriages ends the same way. A country fetishizing “family values” goes ballistic over the immorality of Paris Hilton’s sex tapeand then keeps spending billions on pornography. And now we’re expected to be indignant about a 23-year-old kid smoking weed, even though studies show that roughly half of us have done the same thing; most of us think pot should be legal in some form; and many of us regularly devour far more toxic substances than marijuana (nicotine, alcohol, reality TV, etc.).
 
So, in the interest of a little taboo candor, I’m just going to throw editorial caution to the wind and write what lots of us thought — but were afraid to say — when we heard about Phelps. Ready? Here goes:
 
America’s drug policy is idiotic.
 
Doctors can hand out morphine to anyone for anything beyond a headache, but they can’t prescribe marijuana to terminal cancer patients. Madison Avenue encourages a population plagued by heart disease to choke down as many artery-clogging Big Macs and Dunkin’ Donuts as it can, but it’s illegal to consume cannabis, “a weed that has been known to kill approximately no one,” as even the archconservative Colorado Springs Gazette admitted in its editorial slamming Phelps. Indeed, it would be perfectly acceptable — even artistically admirable in some quarters — if I told you that I drank myself into a blind stupor while writing this column, but it would be considered “outrageous” if I told you I was instead smoking a joint (FYI — I wasn’t doing either).
 
That said, what’s even more inane than our irrational reefer madness is our addiction to the same high that every pothead craves: the high of escapism. Nerves fried from orange terror warnings, Drudge Report sirens and disaster capitalism’s roller-coaster economics, our narcotic of choice is fake outrage — and it packs a punch. It gets us to turn on the television, tune in to the latest manufactured drama, and drop out of the real battle for the republic’s future.

O’Reilly Smears San Francisco With Surreal Pseudo-Documentary

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on November 19, 2008

You heard it on FOX NEWS first, New Yorkers! It is safe to walk around Central Park at night!

Huffington Post

Bill O’Reilly is scared. As a daring crusader on the side of “traditional America” in the war against “secular progressives,” O’Reilly fears that the “far left” will push President-elect Obama to embrace their values. As an example of the horrors that would befall us if this were to happen, O’Reilly offers up a surreal pseudo-documentary of San Francisco. O’Reilly sends producer Jesse Waters, whose sole journalistic value seems to be his utter lack of shame at chasing after and ambushing anyone O’Reilly points his finger at, to San Francisco because it represents ‘far left government’ at work.

Watching this video, one would think that ninety percent of San Francisco’s population are either homeless, addicted to drugs, prostitutes, crazy, or some mix of all these. The video is an unbelievable smear on a great American city. The only thing worse than the video’s message is the production value. After showing the video, O’Reilly interviews Waters for insight into how San Franciscans can live in such moral and physical squalor. Waters basically says the citizens of Frisco have accepted, and adjusted to, the fact their city is a hell hole. Actually, the city is so beyond the pale that O’Reilly once said he wouldn’t mind if Al Qaida attacked the city. Watch and judge for yourself.

Watch it here.
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