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Baker Institute Update: Cross-examining history with The Honorable James A. Baker, III
Dec. 3, 2015: In this edition
Cross-examining history with The Honorable James A. Baker, III

Few have witnessed modern history and influenced contemporary politics as directly as the Honorable James A. Baker, III, during his distinguished decades-long career in public service.
 
Mr. Baker reflected on his experiences at an exclusive members-only event, “Cross-Examining History: An Interview with James A. Baker, III, by Talmage Boston” on Nov. 2.
 
The conversation largely covered Mr. Baker’s service as chief of staff and treasury secretary under President Ronald Reagan and as chief of staff and secretary of state in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
 
“You don’t do any favors to a president unless you tell him what you really think,” Mr. Baker said. “That’s what Ronald Reagan wanted, and that’s what George Bush wanted.”
 
The role of the White House chief of staff is to be both an advisor and gatekeeper to the president in navigating the intersection of policy and politics, Mr. Baker said. But he noted that President Reagan wanted to ensure that he was getting advice from his full team, whether he was supporting social security and tax reform or managing tense U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War.
 
“Reagan is the gold standard, and if you listen to the candidates today, they’ll all tell you they want to be a president like Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Baker said. “Why? Because he was successful, and he was good. He told people what he was going to do, and he did it.”

Of his service as U.S. secretary of state, Mr. Baker said he drew on the same negotiating skills he honed as a Houston lawyer.
 
“When you are secretary of state, it’s not unlike representing a client in a business transaction, except you’re representing your country,” Mr. Baker said.  “The same principles apply.”
 
“Obviously, you make every effort to understand what the political constraints are of the guy sitting across the table from you, and to the extent that you can, you need to establish a relationship of trust, keep your word to make sure he can trust you, and make sure he keeps his so that you can trust him.”
 
Mr. Baker also praised President Bush for his foreign policy leadership, including drawing on his experience as the U.S. ambassador to China to guide U.S.-China relations in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
 
“George Bush understood foreign policy so well, and he made sure that his national security apparatus functioned the way it should function,” Mr. Baker said. “That’s why he had a very successful foreign policy presidency, in my opinion.”
 
Mr. Baker also discussed the 2016 presidential election and the crowded field of candidates vying for the GOP nomination. He said while the party doesn’t have a clear consensus on a viable contender, he expects a Republican will win the presidential race.
 
“The party out of power always seems to be impotent because they’re in the process of picking a leader,” Mr. Baker said.
 
Mr. Baker’s comments will be included in Boston’s forthcoming book, “Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers About America’s Past From the Experts.”
 
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Roundtable Dialogue: Drug policy reform



William Martin, director of the drug policy program, discussed progress and challenges to drug reform in Texas at the most recent Roundtable Dialogue.
 
While local and state leaders have not supported full decriminalization marijuana, they have relaxed penalties for some uses of the drug, he said. For example, new legislation legalizes oils high in cannabidiol, a non-euphoric component of marijuana, to treat intractable epilepsy. 
 
Martin also noted that Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson is considering drug policy changes in response to recent research by Katharine A. Neill, the Alfred C. Glassell, III Postdoctoral Fellow, and Jay Jenkins of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
 
Anderson has said she may expand the county’s First Chance Intervention Program — which offers jail diversion for first-time marijuana offenders — to repeat offenders as well, based on Neill and Jenkins’ reporting that doing so could save the county $3.5 million per year in detention costs. Anderson also announced that officers will now issue citations to first-time, low-level marijuana offenders instead of taking them to jail.
 
“There are politicians on both sides of the aisle who are aware of the human and fiscal costs of the massive incarceration of people who are caught with small amounts of illicit drugs,” Martin said. “There’s been generally a shift from being tough on crime to being smart on crime.”
 
Four states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana in recent years. However, anti-drug campaigns have shaped public opinion against reforming drug sentencing, even though such narratives distort or misrepresent the total population of drug abusers, Martin said. 
 
For example, in the U.S., about 68 percent of people determined to have a “substance use disorder” abuse alcohol only, 14 percent abuse both alcohol and illicit drugs, and only 20 percent abuse illicit drugs only — trends that have held steady for more than a decade, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Further, 85 percent to 90 percent of people with a serious problem with any illicit drug have a concurrent or prior problem with alcohol abuse.
 
“Obviously, not everyone who enjoys a glass of wine or a beer or cocktail is or is destined to become an alcoholic. Less understood is that not everybody who uses an illegal drug — and not just marijuana — becomes a drug addict,” Martin said, adding that genetic predisposition, abuse, mental health, trauma, social pressures and poverty play a role in whether someone may abuse drugs or alcohol.
 
Martin further noted that illicit drug use is closely correlated with age, with use beginning as early as age 12 and reaching a peak between ages 18 and 21 before dropping off in subsequent decades. This suggests that most users would stop using drugs their 20s or 30s, he said.
 
“Why sentence these people to five, 10 or 25 years in prison — at a cost to taxpayers of say $25,000 a year — for using a drug that they would quit on their own in a year or less?” Martin said. “Most arrests for illicit drugs occur prior to the age of 30, when most offenders are in the process of natural recovery.”
 
Martin emphasized that it is clear illicit drugs can cause enormous harm. But he proposes that addiction and substance abuse should be targeted as a public health issue and not a crime. “We are convinced that U.S. drug policy, as presently designed, is premised on incorrect assumptions, is aimed at the wrong targets and causes for more problems than it solves or prevents.”
 
Roundtable Dialogues allow members to hear from Baker Institute experts in a setting that encourages conversation. They are one of many benefits that members enjoy, along with free admission to ticketed events, free event parking and other opportunities not available to the public. For more information about joining the Roundtable, contact Starr Dickerson at 713.348.8087 or starrd@rice.edu.

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Arctic energy conference focuses on the environment

Environmentally conscious Arctic energy development was the dominant theme of “The Arctic: A New Energy Frontier,” a Nov. 12 event hosted by the Baker Institute Center for Energy Studies and the Norwegian consulate in Houston.
 
The Arctic’s energy resources — estimated to comprise up to 22 percent of the world’s remaining undiscovered oil and gas — lie beneath a fragile ecosystem that should be respected and preserved, said keynote speaker Fran Ulmer, special advisor to the U.S. secretary of state on Arctic science and policy.
 
“This is a region that is undergoing significant change. We see the impact of a warming climate in the Arctic every single day,” Ulmer said.
 
The Arctic has lost as much as 50 percent of its total summer sea ice in the past 30 years, Ulmer added. While that eases some of the challenges of tapping into the region’s oil and gas resources, the changing ecosystem impacts the livelihoods of indigenous Arctic peoples and disrupts the habitat of native birds and fish.
 
If Arctic oil development proceeds, preventing oil spills is another major environmental concern, because “once oil gets into icy waters, it’s almost impossible to clean up,” Ulmer said. “Put in place the necessary precautions that will make it easier, if there is a disaster, to be able to respond, but primarily concentrate on prevention.”
 
Other challenges to energy development in the Arctic include lack of infrastructure, long distances from other centers of activity, and the need for specialized technology and vessels.
 
The United States has been an Arctic nation since the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Still, Ulmer noted, the U.S. has not considered itself an Arctic nation in the way that countries like Norway, Russia and Canada have, nor has there been much federal investment into Arctic energy research and development.
 
Norway, on the other hand, continues efforts like mapping mineral resources and conducting long-term research in marine biotechnology, said Morten Paulsen, the consul general of Norway in Houston.
 
Norway is also spearheading efforts to develop international standards for petroleum operations in the Arctic and, together with Russia co-chairs a task force on Arctic marine oil pollution prevention.
 
Kenneth B. Medlock III, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies, expressed the need for continuing discussions to determine the best way to utilize the region’s resources in the future.
 
“Tackling these issues is of the utmost importance,” Medlock said, noting that Arctic exploration and development by the U.S. slowing down.
 
The event also featured a panel discussion on the technical challenges and opportunities in the Arctic moderated by CES fellow Jim Krane. Participants included Jed Hamilton, senior Arctic consultant for ExxonMobil; Paal Johansen, president and regional manager of Maritime Americas; and Øyvind Tuntland, principal engineer with the Petroleum Safety Authority in Norway. Each echoed Ulmer’s theme and focused on technology and operational standards that would facilitate Arctic development and environmental protection by concentrating on the prevention of incidents that could lead to spills.
 
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