GOP Principles = Decrimininalizing Drugs?

Conservative blogger Kavon Nikrad argues that decriminalizing drugs is a sound application of  GOP principles of small government and, furthermore, would help the GOP increase it share of young voters and black voters.

Conservatives used to argue that the federal government cannot fix cultural problems through social-engineering legislation. That argument was right, and the results of the Drug War are living proof of it. It is time for the Republican Party to take the lead in ending this failed policy. It’s good for families, it saves money, and it will engender a new perspective on the humanity of drug users.

Nikrad points out that heavy emphasis on drug arrests since the time of Nixon have not reduced drug use, although costing billions of dollars.  He cites the case of Portugal to show that decriminalizing drugs and treating addiction as a public health issue is much more successful.

Slightly over a decade ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, choosing instead to treat the matter as a public health concern. The result has been a staggering 50% decrease in estimated number of addicts, as well declining rates of overall drug use and drug-related diseases.

It is heartening to see a conservative concerned about racial discrimination resulting from government action.  Nikrad notes that “Despite comprising only 12% of the population, 62% of those who are sent to state prisons for drug offenses are black. Black men are sent to prison for drug offenses at 13 times the rate of white men.”

He urges the GOP to advocate for decriminalization.  “This is Big Government at its worst and most discriminatory. Where are Big Government’s supposed opponents when racial minorities need them? Republicans should stand up for the black community and call for an end to the failed Drug War.”


Kavon Nikrad, “Opposing the war on drugs: Good policy, good politics,” Star Tribune, April 18, 2013, P. A13. Reprinted in Kavon Nikrad’s blog of 4/17/13 under title “It’s Time for Republicans to End the Failed, Immoral Drug War.”  Online at


Why No Free e-filing via IRS?

Why do I have to spend $50 or more for software to complete my tax returns and e-file them?  In other countries (Denmark, Sweden, Spain), people can just go to the gov’t tax web site and open up a prefilled out tax form  (tax agency has filled out based on W-2s, dividend reporting forms, etc.).  Taxpayers make any necessary changes online and press a button to e-file.  Simple, quick, and free.

When such schemes have been proposed in Congress, TurboTax and other tax software companies have successfully lobbied against these bills.

It’s true that the IRS provides a list of free online e-filing services, but these are very limited.  Tax software companies will provide free online forms and e-filing if you only need Form 1040EZ and/or your income is less than $50,000 and/or you are under 55, etc.  Why do the rest of us have to pay in order to carry out our legal duty to pay taxes?


Why do men drop out of college more than women?

According to a recent study in Gender and Society (as reported in the Girl w/ Pen blog), men are less likely to tolerate high college loan debt and hence are more prone to dropping out of college than women are.  Men college drop-outs can earn a lot more money than women drop-outs, so men’s behavior makes good short term economic sense (although by midlife men college grads earn $20,000 more per year than drop-outs).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data on median weekly earning for full-time workers 25 or older, women college drop-outs earn 25% less than their male counterparts.  In fact, women need a Bachelor’s degree in order to earn as much as men college drop-outs (to be precise, women with a Bachelor’s degree earn 11% more than men college drop outs).

 Median Weekly Earnings: First Quarter 2013 (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Full time workers 25 years and older



Women’s Wages as

Per cent of Men’s Wages

HS grad, no college

$   732



Some college or

associate degree

$   866



Bachelor’s degree only





MOOC completion rates for serious students quite respectable

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) with enrollments often reaching 100,000 or more are famous (or infamous) for their low completion rates, averaging around 10%.  However, it appears that serious students in MOOCs have a much higher completion rate.  According to the co-founders of Coursera, students who turn in the first assignment have a completion rate of 45%.

For students who are paying $50 for the company’s new Signature Track program—which includes features designed as safeguards against identity fraud and cheating on examinations—the pass rates are even higher, at about 70 percent.

These completion rates substantiate the anecdotal evidence that many people enroll in MOOCs as lurkers or just to see what they are like, with no intention of actually completing the course.

Source: Steve Kolowich,  “Coursera Takes a Nuanced View of MOOC Dropout Rates“,  Chronicle of Higher Education, Wired Campus Blog of April 8, 2013.

Corporations pay few taxes, but benefit mightily from gov’t

“America isn’t broke, but it is being ripped off,” writes The Other 98% on Facebook when posting this infographic.  Seems like the 10% that corporations contribute to government revenues is way out of proportion to the benefits they receive (roads, educated workers, police, etc.,  and especially protection of the courts).

To read more and find the sources for the stats in the infographic, see “American Taxpayers Increasingly Picking Up the Tab for Unpaid Corporate Taxes, ” April 4, 2013 at

The Abayudaya Jews of Uganda

The Star Tribune of 3/24/13 carried a story about a unique Jewish community in Uganda, East Africa. The Abayudaya of Uganda began in 1919 when one African man studying the Bible under the direction of early missionaries decided that the Torah was the true word of God and became the leader of a growing indigenous community of Jews.  Under the leadership of Semei Kakungulu, the Jewish community grew to 3,000 souls.  But then they suffered persecution under Idi Amin who banned the Jewish religion.  The community migrated to the more remote district of Mbale near the Kenyan border where they have been slowly rebuilding.  Today the Jewish community lives in several villages and supports 6 temples, under the leadership of Rabbi Gershom.  Now numbering about 1,500, they run a school to teach the children Hebrew and observe the same Shabbat rituals and Holy Days as Jews around the world.

Sources and Further Info:

Beware Facebook

Great comic illustrating how modern technology can by misused/abused by our corporate elites.

Thanks to Adeline Koh of the Postcolonial Digital Humanities project where she adds this note to her cartoon:

Why the world needs humanists involved in creating and using technology. This bitstrip was inspired by this news story on Facebook users revealing private data through “likes” on the Guardian (HT Brian Jara)