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Posts published in “Day: July 30, 2012”

Cutting both ways

There's been a chorus among conservatives - not least in the Wall Street Journal - about the federal interest in Idaho Falls' Frank Vandersloot and the business he operates, Melaleuca.

Vandersloot is one of the bigger financial figures in the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. So when last month Vandersloot found that two federal agencies, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor - both operating in the executive branch led by Barack Obama - were making regulatory inquiries (an audit of Vandersloot's taxes and a check on several foreign temporary workers at a ranch), you can understand wondering about a possible connection between that and his political activity - his active support of the man trying to unseat Obama.

The timing is, as someone looking at the situation noted, "curious."

Or it could be that this is routine agency business. Taxpayer audits and foreign labor checks are normal parts of what those agencies do. It happens.

Lacking smoking-gun evidence, we won't draw any conclusions about that here. And we'd suggest that anyone eager to jump to that conclusion - that politics drives agency actions all the time - consider something else from this month, too.

When the state-level Idaho Economic Advisory Council met in Pocatello on July 11, it had money to distribute - close to a million dollars in block grant funds. (More will be spent later.) As Mark Mendiola reported from that meeting, "council members unanimously endorsed providing $399,000 to Bonneville County for a Melaleuca lift station to develop 6,600 acres of prime commercial land."

That payout may very well have been a normal part of operations, and Vandersloot's close relationship with most of Idaho's top elected officials might have had nothing to do with it.

You wonder what Vandersloot's supporters, so quick on the draw when it comes to federal agency action, would think about that.

An edit hard to take seriously

The Oregonian is weighing in, after a fashion, on the upcoming pot legalization ballot issue (Measure 80), with not one but two opinion page pieces on Sunday. Both seem extremely determined to miss the point.

The editorial starts, and includes a bit of, the on-the-one-hand kind of approach, acknowledging the arguments for legalization. Then it goes on to this: "But the choice before Oregonians doesn't involve the expansion of a farcical medical marijuana program into a thoughtfully constructed legalization program. Instead, we're being asked to swap one farce for another."

The new farce, it argues, is the board which would regulate cannabis in the state, which under terms of the ballot would first be simply appointed by the governor, then include a majority of members (five of seven) which would come from the pot grower industry.

To be sure, that wouldn't be a good idea. It also wouldn't survive long; the legislature could rejigger the numbers and composition, and almost certainly would. The measure also includes a provision saying the new council would be assigned to do promotion of the product - not an unusual task for commodity commissions, but one you'd surely want on a leash. A leash which again, the legislature undoubtedly would provide. (In a case like this, it's really not much of a stretch of argue that the legislature would act.)

That's basically the sum of the editorial's argument against the measure.

Like many ballot issues, Measure 80 includes a section which includes some justification for itself, a series of statements either demonstrably true or at least as arguable as statements on many another ballot issue. With this one, though columnist Susan Nielson takes issue, not by way of disagreeing with the specifics (which might be hard to do) but making argument that sounds just this side of paranoid: "It appears eager to indoctrinate the next generation into thinking of marijuana use as no big deal and cannabis cultivation as downright patriotic."

Really? Pro-pot indoctrination?

Both articles carefully keep their arguments some distance from the real point of the ballot issue. The reality, as the pot advocates are well aware, is not that changing state law on the subject will immediately change reality on the ground. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and if the measure passes in November it will remain so. The only real point of the measure is as an expression of opinion, of whether the current regime should stay in place, or some form of legalization should replace it. It's almost a vast, formalized opinion poll intended to be part of a national shake-up on the subject; that's why activists in a half-dozen states are trying to do something similar, to make a statement that might (if successful) be large enough to reverberate.

And you can argue legitimately about whether the country should move in that direction. But arguments like those in Sunday's Oregonian simply miss the point.