Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee for attorney general, disagrees with him on marijuana. That weed is not safer than alcohol might have been the most controversial thing she said during her confirmation hearing Wednesday. As Danny Vinik notes, polls show that large majorities of Americans believe that alcohol is more dangerous.
They're right, as a matter of medical science. Wonkblog has noted repeatedly that alcohol is a very dangerous drug, both to users and to the people around them, and government statistics reflect the fact that marijuana is much safer. That's not to say it's safe, particularly for adolescents, but Lynch appears to be overstating weed's dangers.
This is important, as the attorney general has the authority to remove marijuana from Schedule 1, the most dangerous classification of drugs. Doing so would give researchers a chance to study weed carefully, and figure out whether it's possible to safely and effectively prescribe it for medical purposes.
What's in Wonkbook: 1) Fed keeps schedule for rates 2) Opinions, including Flavelle on college savings 3) The earthquakes in Oklahoma just won't stop, and more
Chart of the day: Obama's tax proposals would raise taxes on the wealthy while lowering them for the poor, on average. For the rest of the country, families and people in college would benefit, according to the Tax Policy Center, but the proposal would be a wash for the middle class as a whole. The Washington Post.
Optimistic about the economy, the Fed stays the course. "Treating the recent turmoil in markets as essentially meaningless noise, the Fed issued its most upbeat assessment of economic conditions since the recession, after its first policy-making meeting of the year, in a statement that noted solid economic growth and strong job growth. ... Fed officials for more than a year have pointed to the summer of 2015 as the likely time for the central bank to increase its benchmark interest rate, but investors are increasingly convinced that the sluggish pace of inflation will force the Fed to wait until fall at the earliest." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.
Primary source: The statement of the Federal Open Market Committee.
Investors don't share that optimism. "Sure, investors are fighting the Fed. But the Fed is fighting reality. Even with falling oil prices and the rising dollar poised to put the freeze on inflation, Federal Reserve policy makers still look as if they hope to start raising rates in June. ... Yet credit-market participants have come to think the Fed’s liftoff on rates will likely come later. Federal funds futures, which price off of Fed target-rate expectations, now put higher odds on the central bank tightening policy in September than in June. And Treasury yields have fallen markedly over the past month. Fed officials may act like they can raise rates despite what is happening with inflation readings, but investors are questioning whether that is really the case." Justin Lahart in The Wall Street Journal.
DUY: Unless things get better quickly, central bankers might have to change their plans. "Within the context of the current forecast, I think that June will be difficult to justify in the absence of wage acceleration. A sharp decline in the forecast, or the balance of risks to the forecast, would also prompt a delay. Importantly, at this point they see the current forecast as still the most likely outcome." Economist's View.
FLAVELLE: Obama gives in to the affluent and agrees to keep the 529 program. "The debate over 529 accounts, which allow families to avoid paying income taxes on money they save for higher education, revolved around the degree to which those accounts disproportionately benefit the wealthy. People who supported ending the tax break pointed out that the median income of families who use it is three times that of families that don't. ... How can we expect to fight inequality if we're unwilling to close loopholes that tilt toward the wealthy? If this program was too dear to the hearts of the upper middle class to consider cutting, can anyone name one that isn't? And what good is talking about inequality if we won't surrender programs that exacerbate it?" Bloomberg View.
MILBANK: The G.O.P. case against Loretta Lynch unravels. "The nominee has a long and impressive résumé as a no-nonsense prosecutor, and she managed at Wednesday’s hearing to be both assertive and anodyne in her testimony, expert in the law but opaque about controversial legal matters." The Washington Post.
"Big chunk of this Loretta Lynch hearing:
Q: r u Eric Holder?
Q: r u sure?
A: yes" - @sahilkapur
SUDERMAN: What does compensating doctors based on value actually mean? "This isn't a plan. It's a plan to develop a plan (or plans) in hopes of meeting a not-very-well-defined target. ... Medicare has tried out lots of experiments in alternative payment systems, attempting to influence provider behavior and health outcomes through bonuses, bundled payments, penalties, and various pay-for-performance measures. And what we know from these experiments is that even in optimal conditions, it's very, very hard to make them work." Reason.
HILTZIK: Parents who don't vaccinate their children should pay the price. "The community cost of infectious disease outbreaks can run into the millions; the cost to a family with a member who has suffered permanent debilitation can be incalculable. Measles has been dismissed erroneously by anti-vaccine activists as an innocuous disease. It's not: It can lead to complications ranging from pneumonia (1 in 20 infected children), which can be lethal for an infant or young child, to encephalitis. ... Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are almost always negligent under the law." The Los Angeles Times.
Obama's proposal to spend more money on genetic research will likely prove fruitless. "Unfortunately, precision medicine is unlikely to make most of us healthier. The basic idea behind it is that we each have genetic variants that put us at increased or decreased risk of getting various diseases, or that make us more or less responsive to specific treatments. If we can read someone's genetic code, then we should be able to provide him or her with more effective therapeutic and preventive strategies. ... But for widespread diseases like diabetes, heart disease and most cancers, no clear genetic story has emerged for a vast majority of cases." Michael J. Joyner in The New York Times.
The administration lays the foundation for another housing crisis. "Government programs to make mortgages more widely available to low- and moderate-income families have consistently offered overleveraged, high-risk loans that set up too many homeowners to fail. In the long run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, for example, federal mortgage agencies and their regulators cajoled and wheedled private lenders to loosen credit standards. They have been doing so again." Edward Pinto in The Wall Street Journal.
Number of the day: 258 million. That's how many prescriptions for antibiotics Americans receive annually. As many as half of those are probably unnecessary, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Danielle Paquette in The Washington Post.
Guthrie, Okla. had three earthquakes on Monday, and residents are scared. "Scientists implicated the oil and gas industry — in particular, the deep wastewater disposal wells that have been linked to a dramatic increase in seismic activity across the central United States. But in a state founded on oil wealth, officials have been reluctant to crack down on an industry that accounts for a third of the economy and one in five jobs. With seismologists warning that the spreading earthquake swarms could trigger something far bigger and potentially deadly, pressure is building to follow the lead of other oil and gas-producing states and take more aggressive action." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.
It's past time to give up on biofuels, according to a new report from the World Resources Institute. "Turning plant matter into liquid fuel or electricity is so inefficient that the approach is unlikely ever to supply a substantial fraction of global energy demand, the report found. It added that continuing to pursue this strategy — which has already led to billions of dollars of investment — is likely to use up vast tracts of fertile land that could be devoted to helping feed the world’s growing population." Justin Gillis in The New York Times.
For businesses, finding customers means acknowledging rising inequality of income. "The emergence of a two-tiered U.S. economy, with wealthy households advancing while middle- and lower-income Americans struggle, is reshaping markets for everything from housing to clothing to groceries to beer. ... Since 2009, average per household spending among the top 5% of U.S. income earners—adjusting for inflation—climbed 12% through 2012, the most recent data available. Over the same period, spending by all others fell 1% per household." Nick Timiraos and Kris Hudson in The Wall Street Journal.