Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Category

Must Reads of the Past Two Weeks! (Extended Edition): J Street, NPH, Liberalism, Topless, Colombian Hippos, Grassroots, 1990s Reunion, Insuring Illegals, and the Iranian Time Bomb

Friday, September 18th, 2009

J Street. James Traub of the New York Times profiles the new Jewish lobbying group J Street. For anyone who is interested in the Israeli-US relationship, a very interesting read that tries to profile one group trying to change the dynamic in Washington.

The Unique Figure of Neil Patrick Harris. Andrew Sullivan has an interesting take on Neil Patrick Harris, and speaking with Emily Nussbaum of New York magazine, Neil Patrick Harris also has an interesting take on Neil Patrick Harris. Takeaway line from Sullivan:

Everyone is a shade or two away from normal; and the pied beauty of humanity should not be carved into acceptable and unacceptable based on things that simply make us who we are.

Liberalism Defined and Defended. E. J. Dionne writing for Democracy magazine reviews Alan Wolfe’s book [registration required] (which was one of the inspiration for this post of mine on the 10 Principles of Liberalism). An excellent review of a book I now feel compelled to read:

Wolfe notes that “it is not sufficient for me merely to be left alone, I must also have the capacity to realize the goals that I choose for myself. If this requires an active role for government, then modern liberals are prepared to accept state intervention into the economy in order to give large numbers of people the sense of mastery that free market capitalism gives only to the few.” Exactly right.

Topless. Meghan Pleticha writes for Alternet about her experiment where she “legally exposed [her] breasts in public.”

There they were — in the sunlight, the eyes of God and New York Penal Law 245.01 — my boobs out, nipples blazing. The girls sitting on the blanket next to us giggled. Some passersby glanced over, smiles on a couple of the guys’ faces. My nipple ring glinted in the sun. Amazingly, I felt relatively calm. Warm. Neither lightning nor cops had struck me down. Furtively looking around, I noticed some guys attempting to be respectful. Maybe they were just thinking be cool or she’ll put her top back on, but gentlemen would glance over and grin, but rarely stare.

The Colombian Hippo Problem. Simon Romero of The New York Times describes how Colombia is dealing with yet another of the legacies of the larger than life Pablo Escobar, the drug kingpin who was gunned down sixteen years ago: an infestation of hippos who are thriving in Colombia’s ecosystem after escaping from Escobar’s private zoo.

The Right Wing Grassroots. Daniel Larison has a rather insightful piece on his blog regarding the relationship between the conservative elites and the right wing grassroots. I don’t endorse his entire analysis, but worth reading.

Like the Opening of a 1990s Political Joke. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post sketches a 1990s reunion of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. An interesting quote by Trent Lott:

I thought it might be a good time for us to show that a president, a speaker, the leaders, can find a way to come together. If three good ol’ boys from the South like the ones you’ve heard today can find a way to get it done. I know the outstanding leaders that we have in the Congress . . . can get it done.

Insuring Illegal Immigrants. Ezra Klein makes the case persuasively:

Illegal immigrants are clustered in service sector and food sector jobs. They clean buildings, prepare boneless chicken breasts, wash dishes, pick food, and generally do jobs that are much more conducive to spreading germs than, say, blogging is. I don’t know exactly why Rep. Joe Wilson and Lou Dobbs and all the others in their cohort want to make it more expensive to hire American workers and make it more likely that Americans get sick, but that’s why I’m not a political strategist, I guess.

The Iranian Time BombGeorge Friedman of Stratfor sees a world of trouble arising from the Iranians’ pursuit of nuclear weapons – as he analyzes how almost every interested party seems to misunderstand the interests and willingness to act of every other interesting part, which he believes could result in catastrophic consequences à la the opening of World War I.

[Image by Eamonn.McAleer licensed under Creative Commons.]

The Price of Prohibition I: Propping Up The Mexican Cartels

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

We are keeping the finger in the dike.

Sgt. David Azuelo of the Tuscon, Arizona police force as quoted by Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times.

I’ve been arguing for some time that the War on Drugs and the prohibitionist policies underlying it must be ended for the sake of our national security. I’ve made the argument from a civil libertarian point of view; I’ve made the argument that the War on Drugs is interfering with the fight against terrorism; and I’ve made the argument based on the fact that this war is destabilizing our neighbors

Here’s a parallel argument:

The Pentagon listed Mexico as a country that might collapse suddenly into a civil war between the central government and the cartels. A top cabinet official in Mexico claimed that “unless [the cartels are] confronted, ‘the next president of the republic would be a narco-trafficker.” The levels of violence in the country now are astounding – with higher rates than those in Iraq in recent months – and they are continuing to spill over the border into America. We are currently supplying both sides of this conflict with weaponry and funds – and the conflict is escalating. Mexico is now following the route of Colombia by militarizing it’s approach to the problem of drugs. For decades, war raged in Colombia to stop the drug smugglers – inflicting an enormous cost on the country as they – in the words of an influential and prestigious report by former Mexican, Brazilian, and Mexican presidents, “implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved.” The report explains that the “traumatic Colombian experience” should teach other nations “not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies.”

Yet, that is what Mexico is doing. For decades, America has waged a war on the suppliers of drugs and on drug users at home and abroad. The casualties have been high – but no matter the body count or the number of arrests has gone, the War on Drugs has remained “an utter failure.” This failure has allowed the reach of the Mexican cartels to extend far into America:

United States law enforcement officials have identified 230 cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston and Billings, Mont., where Mexican cartels and their affiliates “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors.”

As Stephen Walt explained in Foreign Policy:

[O]ur policy helps enrich drug lords and make it possible for them to destabilize whole governments, as they are now doing in Mexico and Afghanistan. 

As The Economist reported:

[P]rohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before…[T]he war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless…

At the same time, the harm reduction strategy of the European Union, while mitigating the effects of drugs locally, has exacerbated the effects of drug production and smuggling elsewhere.

The failure of both the War on Drugs and the harm reduction strategy has created an enormous market incentive for smuggling, for money laundering, and for corrupting government officials. Together, these and other effects of the Drug War create a sense of lawlessness which is exactly where the cartels thrive. The cartels are able to thrive in part because the scale of their operations and the enormous profits generated give them both incentive and means to experiment with different methods of smuggling, money laundering, and corrupting officials. If there were a way to reduce these profits, it could undercut their successes in all of these areas and undermine the incentives that drive them to take these steps. The cartels might no longer be able to acquire military-grade weaponry; they might not be able to afford to buy subs to smuggle items in; they might not be able to afford to buy off the top Mexican drug enforcement official

We have reached the point that The Economist has characterized as a choice between “A calculated gamble, or another century of failure.” The calculated gamble is to legalize drugs, or at least marijuana.

People have asked me if legalizing marijuana would really make a difference in undercutting the Mexican cartels.

Marijuana represents 60 to 70% of the profits that fuel the Mexican drug cartels. Legalizing it would take away one of the main props holding them up – just as legalizing alcohol helped rollback the gangs that dominated American cities in the 1920s.

Violence in Mexico stemming from the drug war is destabilizing the country and spilling over into America. With a single move, we could remove the monopoloy which gives them 60 to 70% of the cartels’ revenue – in a single move, we could take away their “king crop.” Without the enormous profits of marijuana propping up the rest of the drug market, the costs of smuggling would increase. The distribution network would be pressured. The cost of bribing officials would likely increase as harder drugs would be the only things being smuggled and enforcement could focus more on these drugs. The pressure on our criminal justice system that is currently imprisoning a higher percentage of our people than any nation on earth would be eased. Border guards would be able to focus more on harder drugs, or even on serious threats to our security, rather than searching teenagers for pot. All of this would undermine the cartels – most of all, taking away 60-70% of their profits.

We have reached a point where one of our most aggressive drug czars has publicly stated that he “wouldn’t care” if marijuana were legalized! Where another former drug czar has acknowledged that marijuana “pose[s] no significant public health problem.”  These are men who led the fight against drugs. A massive propaganda campaign, $40 billion a year, millions of arrests, and untold casualties and – and the price of drugs has remained the same and the extent of drug use has barely been affected.

Why are we continuing a failed policy that only serves the interests of the Mexican cartels it is propping up?

The War on Drugs is Making Us Less Safe (cont.)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

I’ve been writing for some time about how the War on Drugs is both undermining our national security at home and abroad. The Pentagon, with their Joint Operating Environment Report for 2008 [pdf], confirmed this:

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

The Pentagon understands that the escalating drug gang violence (with casaulty rates higher than Iraq) is destabilizing our neighbor to the south. Sam Quinones, writing for Foreign Policy, describes the changes in the levels of violence in the past four years (when he last lived in Mexico):

When I lived in Mexico, the occasional gang member would turn up executed, maybe with duct-taped hands, rolled in a carpet, and dropped in an alley. But Mexico’s newspapers itemized a different kind of slaughter last August: Twenty-four of the week’s 167 dead were cops, 21 were decapitated, and 30 showed signs of torture. Campesinos found a pile of 12 more headless bodies in the Yucatán. Four more decapitated corpses were found in Tijuana, the same city where barrels of acid containing human remains were later placed in front of a seafood restaurant. A couple of weeks later, someone threw two hand grenades into an Independence Day celebration in Morelia, killing eight and injuring dozens more. And at any time, you could find YouTube videos of Mexican gangs executing their rivals—an eerie reminder of, and possibly a lesson learned from, al Qaeda in Iraq.

The former U.S. drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, commenting on the same situation warned that:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

The situation is clearly dire. Which makes last week’s report by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and other nation’s all the more significant. They see the status quo as unacceptable – and insist that we must decriminalize marijuana and stop treating the problem of drugs as a war lest we end up with nothing but failed states and military dictatorships in Latin America, or as the diplomatic language of the report states, current drug policies have”enormous human and social costs” and are “threats to democratic institutions.” In part, this is due to the “criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime, as well as the proliferation of the linkages between them, as reflected in the infiltration of democratic institutions by organized crime.” But it describes further threats arising more directly from the policies themselves.

The report describes the problem of the status quo in stark terms:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. The whole issue has become taboo which inhibits public debate. The association of drugs with crime blocks the circulation of information and segregates drug users in closed circles where they become even more exposed to organized crime.

Hence, breaking the taboo and acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for opening up the discussion about a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.

This does not mean the outright rejection of [all Drug War] policies…

There are two main strategies for combatting drugs which it describes – both of them critically – the prohibitionist strategy, or Drug War of the United States, which is reflected in Columbia, Mexico, America, and Afghanistan; and the harm reduction strategy of Europe. The report is most critical of the prohibitionist strategy. In the United States itself, the Drug War’s “policy of massive incarceration of drug users [is] questionable both in terms of respect for human rights and its efficiency.” Describing the effect of the Drug War on Columbia, the report is harsher:

For decades, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved…

The traumatic Colombian experience is a useful reference for countries not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies and to move forward in the search for innovative alternatives.

At the same time, the report finds fault with the European method of dealing with the problem of drugs, saying that:

[H]arm reduction minimizes the social dimension of the problem [and] the policy of the European Union fails to curb the demand for illicit drugs that stimulates its production and exportation from other parts of the world.

In other words, the European Union’s approach merely attempts to quarantine the problem as it exists within their own societies while doing nothing about the gang warfare and destabilization the production and smuggling of drugs means abroad. Apparently, at the same time drugs themselves are taking a greater toll on Latin America:

The levels of drug consumption continue to grow in Latin America while there is a tendency toward stabilization in North America and Europe

This collection of prominent Latin American politicians has a number of suggestions to help reverse the destabilizing effects of current drug policies. One of the most prominent is to descriminalize marijuana. While considered “the king crop” by the Mexican gangs thanks to the steady and broad market and it’s cheapness to produce (as opposed to the riskier cocaine and heroin production, sale, and smuggling), the report states that:

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by this drug is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

Another major change in policy the report suggests is to treat “those who have become addicted to drugs” as “patients of the health care system” instead of :buyers in an illegal market.” 

As I wrote before:

The War on Drugs isn’t just failing. The War on Drugs isn’t just causing us to imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other in the world. The War on Drugs isn’t just eroding our laws and institutions. The War on Drugs doesn’t just undermine the War Against Terrorism. The War on Drugs isn’t just making our efforts in Afghanistan harder. The War on Drugs isn’t just wasting law enforcement resources, and costing America gold medals.  

No – it is also destabilizing nations right next to us.

This is what makes a reevaluation of our Drug War a national security priority as well as a civil liberties issue. The former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia all saw hope in the administration of Barack Obama, citing him in the report, hope that he will finally tackle this long-festering issue. He may on his own – and he has made some remarks which constitute progress.

But the issue may be, to paraphrase FDR’s oft-repeated line: Obama agrees with us in principle; now we need to put political pressue on him to do something about it.