Archive for the ‘War on Drugs’ Category

Must-Reads of the Week: SWAT, Google’s News Plans, MTA Motto, Peanuts, Tea Party Feminism, Republican Pravda, Fiscal Hangover, New York’s Tyranny, Brooks on the Military, and Facebook Backlash

Friday, May 14th, 2010

1. SWAT antics. Radley Balko does some follow-up reporting on the now infamous video of the SWAT team raid in Missouri in which 2 dogs were shot:

[D]espite all the anger the raid has inspired, the only thing unusual thing here is that the raid was captured on video, and that the video was subsequently released to the press. Everything else was routine… Raids just like the one captured in the video happen 100-150 times every day in America.

2. Google’s News Plans. James Fallows discusses how Google is trying to save the news industry.

3. If you see something… Manny Fernandez in the New York Times discusses the impact and coinage of the ubiquitous phrase, “If you see something, say something.”

It has since become a global phenomenon — the homeland security equivalent of the “Just Do It” Nike advertisement — and has appeared in public transportation systems in Oregon, Texas, Florida, Australia and Canada, among others. Locally, the phrase captured, with six simple words and one comma, the security consciousness and dread of the times, the “I ♥ NY” of post-9/11 New York City. [my emphasis]

4. Artful Grief. Bill Waterson — creator of Calvin & Hobbes — reviewed a biography of Charles Schultz for the Wall Street Journal a few years ago — writing on the ‘Grief’ that Made Peanuts Good. It’s several years old but well worth reading.

5. Tea Party Feminism. Hanna Rosin of Slate evaluates the Tea Party as a feminist movement. And her reporting surprised me at least.

6. Republican Pravda. Jonathan Chait collects a few Weekly Standard covers to illustrate the changing right-wing portrayal of Obama over the past year. He identifies the passage of the health care bill as a turning point:

Now that Obama has won his biggest legislative priority and is closing in on at least one other important win, the tone is change. The hapless patsy has become the snarling bully. The lack of Republican support for Obama’s agenda, once a credit to Republican tough-mindedness, is now blamed upon Obama’s stubbornness. Here is a recent cover of Obama–the nefarious, but powerful, overseer…

7. Fiscal Hangover. Gillian Tett of the Financial Times explains the successful approach the Irish are taking to their fiscal crisis: treat it like a hangover.

8. The Tyranny of New York. Conor Friedersdof complains about the tyranny of New York — but I will excerpt his praise:

Even if New York is a peerless American city, an urban triumph that dwarfs every other in scale, density, and possibility; even if our idea of it is the romantic notion that Joan Didion described, “the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself;” even if you’ve reveled in the fact of the city, strutting down Fifth Avenue in a sharp suit or kissing a date with the skyline as backdrop while the yellow cab waits; even if you’ve drunk from the well of its creative springs, gazing at the Flatiron Building, or paging through the New York Review of Books on a Sunday morning, or living vicariously through Joseph Mitchel or E.B. White or Tom Wolfe or any of its countless chroniclers; even if you love New York as much as I do, revering it as the highest physical achievement of Western Civilization, surely you can admit that its singularly prominent role on the national scene is a tremendously unhealthy pathology.

Despite the rent, the cold, the competition, the bedbugs, the absurd requirements for securing even a closet-sized pre-war apartment on an inconvenient street; the distance from friends and family, the starkness of the sexual marketplace, the oppressive stench of sticky subway platforms in the dog days of August; despite the hour long commutes on the Monday morning F Train, when it isn’t quite 8 am, the week hardly underway, and already you feel as though, for the relief of sitting down, you’d just as soon give up, go back to Akron or Allentown or Columbus or Marin County or Long Beach — despite these things, and so many more, lawyers and novelists and artists and fashion designers and playwrights and journalists and bankers and aspiring publishers and models flock to New York City.

I don’t quite get Friedersdof’s complaint to be honest. What would be improved if there were more sitcoms taking place in Houston?

9. Military Flow Chart. David Brooks analyzes the military’s adaptation of counterinsurgency as a case study in the flow of ideas in entrenched organizations.

10. Facebook Backlash. Ryan Singel of Wired has one of many pieces in the past week fomenting the growing Facebook backlash:

Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination. It’s time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed.

[Image by me.]

Our Nation’s Drug Enforcement in a Nutshell

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010


Megan McArdle goes all “righteous fury” in response to the above video:

Have you ever had one of those arguments in a bar that start around eleven and wind up when the bartender kicks you out?  It starts off on some perfectly reasonable topic, but as the hours and the drinks mount up, the participants are forced to stake out some clear logical positions, and in doing so, crawl farther and farther out along the limb they are defending . . . until suddenly you reach a point at which one of the debaters can either abandon their initial commitment, or endorse the slaughter of 30,000 Guatemalan orphans.  And there’s this long pause, and then he says, “Look, it’s not like I want to kill those orphans . . . ”

This is our nation’s drug enforcement in a nutshell.  We started out by banning the things.  And people kept taking them.  So we made the punishments more draconian.  But people kept selling them.  So we pushed the markets deep into black market territory, and got the predictable violence . . . and then we upped our game, turning drug squads into quasi-paramilitary raiders.  Somewhere along the way, we got so focused on enforcing the law that we lost sight of the purpose of the law, which is to make life in America better.

Must-Reads of the Week: Google/China, Liberal American Exceptionalism, The Failed War on Drugs, Defending the Individual Mandate, Counter Counter-Insurgency, Idiocrats, and Men Did It!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

1. Google v. China. I’ve refrained from posting on the Google v. China battle going on until now. So much of the praise for Google’s decision seemed overblown and I wasn’t sure what insight I had to offer, even as I read everything on the matter I could. But now, the wave of criticism of the company is pissing me off. I get the source of the criticism – that Google is so quickly criticizing other companies for staying in China after it left, and that Google’s partial exit may have made business as well as moral sense.  But motives are new pure – we’re human. Those who the critics accuse the company of merely using as a pretext for a business decision see the matter in other terms – according to Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal, “Chinese twitterverse is alight with words like ‘justice’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘milestone’ “ and condolence flowers and cups being sent to Google’s offices in China.

What the Google/China conflict highlights though is the strategic incompatibility of a tech company like Google and an authoritarian state like China. One of James Fallows’ readers explains why Google and China could never get along:

Internet search and analytics companies today have more access to high quality, real-time information about people, places and events, and more ability to filter, aggregate, and analyze it than any government agency, anywhere ever.  Maybe the NSA can encrypt it better and process it faster but it lacks ability to collect the high value data – the stuff that satellites can’t see.  The things people think but don’t say.  The things people do but don’t say.  All documented in excruciating detail, each event tagged with location, precise time.  Every word you type, every click you make (how many sites do you visit have google ads, or analytics?), Google is watching you – and learning.  It’s their business to.  This fact has yet to sink in on the general public in the US, but it has not gone un-noticed by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government wants unfettered access to all of that information.  Google, defending its long-term brand equity, cannot give its data to the Chinese government.  Baidu, on the other hand, would and does…

The reader goes on to explain how China would slow down and otherwise disrupt Google services in China enough to ensure that Baidu would keep it’s dominant position. This, he explains is:

…just another example of the PRC’s brilliant take on authoritarian government: you don’t need total control, you just need effective control. [my emphasis]

Which is why it is so important that a country like China have constant access to search engine data. In a passage deleted at some point in the editing process from a New York Times story (which an internal Times search reveals to be this one), it was reported that:

One Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that China now speaks of Internet freedom in the context of one of its “core interests” — issues of sovereignty on which Beijing will brook no intervention. The most commonly cited core issues are Taiwan and Tibet. The addition of Internet freedom is an indication that the issue has taken on nationalistic overtones.

2. Liberal American Exceptionalism. Damon Linker of The New Republic responds to critics:

[T]he most distinctive and admirable of all [America’s] qualities is our liberalism. Now let me be clear: unlike Lowry and Ponnuru, who identify American exceptionalism with the laissez-faire capitalism favored by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, I do not mean to equate the ideology that dominates one of our country’s political parties with the nation’s exemplary essence. On the contrary, the liberalism I have singled out is embraced by nearly every member of both of our political parties—and indeed by nearly every American citizen. Liberalism in this sense is a form of government—one in which political rule is mediated by a series of institutions that seek to limit the powers of the state and maximize individual freedom: constitutional government, an independent judiciary, multiparty elections, universal suffrage, a free press, civilian control of the military and police, a large middle class, a developed consumer economy, and rights to free assembly and worship. To be a liberal in this primary sense is to favor a political order with these institutions and to abide by the political rules they establish.

3. The War on Drugs Is Doomed. Mary Anastacia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal echoes me saying: The War on Drugs is Doomed. (My previous posts on this topic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

4. Defending the Individual Mandate. Ezra Klein explains why the individual mandate is actually a really good deal for American citizens:

The irony of the mandate is that it’s been presented as a terribly onerous tax on decent, hardworking people who don’t want to purchase insurance. In reality, it’s the best deal in the bill: A cynical consumer would be smart to pay the modest penalty rather than pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance. In the current system, that’s a bad idea because insurers won’t let them buy insurance if they get sick later. In the reformed system, there’s no consequence for that behavior. You could pay the penalty for five years and then buy insurance the day you felt a lump.

Klein also had this near-perfect post on our unhinged debate on health care reform and added his take to the projections of Matt Yglesias, Ross Douthat, Tyler Cowen on how health care law will evolve in the aftermath of this legislation.

5. Counter-Counter-Insurgency. Marc Lynch describes a document he recently unearthed which he calls AQ-Iraq’s Counter Counter-insurgency plan. Lynch describes the document as “pragmatic and analytical rather than bombastic, surprisingly frank about what went wrong, and alarmingly creative about the Iraqi jihad’s way forward.”

6. Idiocrats Won’t Change. Brendan Nyhan counters a point I (along with many other supporters of the health care bill) have been making (here and here for example) – that once the bill passes, the misperceptions about it will be corrected by reality. I fear he may be right, but I believe it will change opinions on the margins soon and more so over time.

7. Theories of the Financial Crisis: Men Did It. Sheelah Kolhatkar looks at one theory of the financial crisis some experts have been pushing: testosterone and men.

Another study Dreber has in the works will look at the effects of the hormones in the birth-control pill on women, because women having their periods have been shown to act more like men in terms of risk-taking behavior. “When I present that in seminars, I say men are like women menstruating,” she says, laughing…

Positioning himself as a sort of endocrine whisperer of the financial system, Coates argues that if women made up 50 percent of the financial world, “I don’t think you’d see the volatile swings that we’re seeing.” Bubbles, he believes, may be “a male phenomenon.”

His colleague, neuroscientist Joe Herbert, agrees. “The banking crisis was caused by doing what no society ever allows, permitting young males to behave in an unregulated way,” he says. “Anyone who studied neurobiology would have predicted disaster.”

A very interesting thesis. And one that strikes me as broadly true. I previously explored other theories of what caused the financial crisis:

[Image by me.]

McCaffrey Caught In Another Lie

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Tim Lynch from Cato@Liberty appeared on CNN with former drug czar Barry McCaffrey and was outraged at the blatant lies he told. Lynch points to two specific lies:

  • that it is a “fantasy” with “zero truth” that “the Drug Enforcement Administration or any other federal law enforcement ever threatened care-givers or individual patients” regarding medicinal marijuana; and
  • that it was “nonsense” that the DEA was “going to threaten doctors simply for discussing the pros and cons of using marijuana with their patients” until the Ninth Circuit held that such a restriction was unconstitutional.

Of course, McCaffrey is no stranger to eliding the truth. I posted a video a while back pointing out another whopper McCaffrey told – this time to an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations:

De facto legalized? Yet McCaffrey himself attacked those politicians who suggested even allowances for medicinal marijuana:

After California passed a compassionate use initiative in 1996, McCaffrey warned doctors in the state that their privileges to prescribe narcotics would be stripped by the DEA if they prescribed or recommended marijuana use. In July 1998, as part of the anti-pot campaign, the drug czar claimed that Holland, a country with liberal drug laws, had a murder rate double that of the United States. In fact, although robberies have increased in the Netherlands since pot was made widely available in the late 1980s, the country’s murder rate is scarcely a quarter of the U.S. rate. McCaffrey never corrected himself. When Gary Johnson, New Mexico’s maverick Republican governor, spoke in favor of decriminalization, McCaffrey flew out to the state and claimed that Johnson had said “heroin is good.” [my emphasis]

If we are to believe his comments now, he apparently secretly did not oppose legalization while he was drug czar – as I reported earlier, he said at the same event as the above:

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

Former Drug Czar, General BARRY MCCAFFREY (retired): …[S]ince I’m not in public life, [I can say] I actually don’t care.  I care about 6th graders through 12th graders.  If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.

Yet despite the fact that he claims marijuana is de facto legalized and that he secretly didn’t care if it was legalized, under his leadership as drug czar continuing through his successor’s term, arrests for mere marijuana possession went way up [pdf] – and not just for large amounts as he suggests here. Yet arrests related to marijuana surpassed that of both heroin and cocaine in McCaffrey’s first year as drug czar – and almost matched that of all non-marijuana-related drug offenses.

According to a study by Ryan S King and Marc Mauer [pdf], “Marijuana arrests increased by 113% between 1990 and 2002, while overall arrests decreased by 3%” – and the bulk of these arrests (over 50%) were of small users.

Under Barry McCaffrey, the War on Drugs became the War on Marijuana – yet he claims marijuana was de facto legalized; Barry McCaffrey himself personally attacked politicians who supported medical marijuana laws, supervised an agency that deliberately went after people following state laws allowing medicinal marijuana, and threatened any doctor who mentioned to a patient that marijuana might help him or her with prosecution – yet any recitation of these facts documented at the time and afterwards, he refers to as “fantasy” and “nonsense.”

On top of it all, he now claims to have not even opposed the legalization of marijuana as he supervised the War on Marijuana.

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.]

Obama Hasn’t Betrayed The Gay Rights Movement (Yet)

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Or, In Quasi-Defense of Waiting

From The Colbert Report:

JIM FOURATT: I’m very troubled by Barack Obama because I think most gay and lesbian people in this country voted for Barack Obama and expected him to talk about our issues and he’s playing a classic liberal role. It’s always about just, “Wait, wait, wait…” We’re waiting and waiting and waiting and I’m quite frankly, as most people are, sick and tired of it. We expected Barack Obama to step up to the plate and do what is principled, to do what is right.

STEPHEN COLBERT: Why don’t you do the smart thing: If you’re tired of liberals saying one thing and then saying, “Wait, wait, wait,” when they get into office – why don’t you come over to the conservatives because we’re honest. We say, “No, no, no,” from the very beginning. Isn’t there something to be said for honesty?

JIM FOURATT: Actually, there is something to be said for that because [then] we know who our enemies are…It’s deeply troubling and I asked Cornell West about this…

STEPHEN COLBERT [Interrupting]: Brother West, he’s a friend of the show.

JIM FOURATT: He said that, “Barack Obama is wrong but he will come along.” I don’t know if Martin Luther King, what he would have said if someone said to him, “We’ll come along on your rights.” I don’t know about Rosa Parks, if she would have got off the bus and not sat down.

Frank Rich approvingly cites a gay activist who met with Obama in the White House this past week:

Chrisler seized the moment to appeal to the president on behalf of her boys. “The worst thing you can experience as parents is to feel your children are discriminated against,” she told him. “Imagine if you have to explain every day who your parents are and that they’re as real as every family is.” Chrisler said that she and her children “want a president who will make that go away,” adding, “I believe in his heart he wants that to happen, his political mistakes notwithstanding.” [my emphasis]

Jennifer Chrisler and Jim Fouratt clearly express the growing feeling of anger and even betrayal directed at Barack Obama from the LGBT community. They remember that Bill Clinton led them on, took their money and votes, and then created the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and passed the Defense of Marriage act which Obama’s Justice Department is now defending. Similarly, many opponents of the War on Drugs have become angry and disappointed that Obama has barely advanced their issues. Civil libertarians have been likewise disappointed by Obama’s use of the State Secrets Privilege, withholding of documents and photographs related to Bush administration torture, and other defenses and continuations of Bush-era executive aggrandizement.

I count myself as a supporter of the goals of all three groups. But I see the feelings of anger and betrayal directed against Barack Obama as nothing less than the result of naivete. As if electing Barack Obama president would solve any of these problems! As if a president is morally responsible for all things status quo! As if history and change were passed down from above – rather than bubbling up from below.

These feelings of betrayal are based on profound misunderstandings of the presidency and how change happens.

The President of the United States is not The Leader. He is merely a leader. George Will has quoted Calvin Coolidge on this general theme a few times recently:

It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man.

Even Franklin D. Roosevelt, who many did consider a great man, had his own way of telling his constituencies the same message:

I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.

The “cult of the presidency” is a source of moral rot in this nation. If you belive in an issue, fight for it! Don’t whine about being betrayed. There are better uses of your energy. More important, it reflects a misunderstanding of what the role of the president is.

As to citing figures from the Civil Rights era: Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King did wait – and wait, and wait for a president to act. And as they waited, they fought for what they believed in – without undue anger or inappropriate feelings to betrayal. They put pressure on Congress, on the White House, on state legislatures, on governors, on courts. And in each of these skirmishes they gained something. Until eventually their movement had achieved a momentum that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The fact is, the role of the activist and the role of the president are very different. To confuse the two as Fouratt does, and as many other activists do, doesn’t help anybody. The president, in having so much power, must have on goal above all – to protect the status quo. He or she can push reforms and changes and improvements – but their dreams must be constrained. The activist can dream of a new world – in which all things are vastly improved – and fight for it and demand it – and be right in doing so. But the president can say no, and be just as justified. For these are their roles. The goal of the activist must be to make the president do what he or she wants – to force them to make a decision which, taking into account political factors, is still an easy one. Abraham Lincoln was a great example of this – as abolitionists pressed for him to emancipate the slaves and go to war with the South but he firmly took an incrementalist position, only making such decisions as he was forced to.

There is a natural tension between the activist and the president because of their roles – but this tension can be productive if both sides understand how change happens. The presidency is an essentially reactive job, with the best presidents reacting with an eye towards achieving larger goals. The activist must provoke these reactions – and create favorable circumstances to shape all political actors’ responses to these actions. And while a president can force an issue or two through given the powers he or she exercises, this “forcing” creates problems and backlash. No president can make prejudice “go away” as Chrisler seems to be counting on. But the president can be expected to make a decision when it is thrust upon him or her. This is why it is important to have a president sympathetic to your aims.

As Matt Yglesias smartly observed:

Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has become a majoritarian position, but the Obama administration would still prefer to avoid the headaches involved in working to repeal it. At the same time, if a court case were toorder the administration to end this policy, it’s abundantly clear that there would be no critical mass of political support for trying to put it back in place.

In other words, for the activist, it never makes sense to wait; for the president, it almost always does. And both sides – even if they share the same goals – will conflict on strategy. That’s the way things are – and it is by understanding this dynamic that successful movements are built.

The gay rights movement does seem to understand this – Ted Olsen’s and David Boies’s lawsuit notwithstanding. This has been the source of it’s outstanding success – from a time within living memory when psychologists would diagnose “homosexuality” as a disease to today as six states recognize gay marriage. (David Sedaris was especially moving as he spoke of the progress in the past forty years on The Leonard Lopate Show.)  This is no time to abandon a successful strategy.

Homo Blogicus, Pup, Pakistan, Torture, Marijuana, and the Revenge of Geography

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I’m going to start creating a list of best reads for the week every Friday – picking between 5 and 10 articles or blog posts that are well worth reading in their entirety.

  1. Christopher Buckley writes a very personal essay for the New York Times, adapted from his soon to be published memoir, about growing up as the son of the famous Mr. and Mrs. William F. Buckley (“Pup” and “Mum”). Truly moving, surprising, honest and earnest. An excerpt:

    I’d brought with me a pocket copy of the book of Ecclesiastes. A line in “Moby-Dick” lodged in my mind long ago: “The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.” I grabbed it off my bookshelf on the way here, figuring that a little fine-hammered steel would probably be a good thing to have on this trip. I’m no longer a believer, but I haven’t quite reached the point of reading aloud from Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great” at deathbeds of loved ones.

    Soon after, a doctor came in to remove the respirator. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, just pings and blips from the monitor. I stroked her hair and said, the words coming out of nowhere, surprising me, “I forgive you.”

    It sounded, even at the time, like a terribly presumptuous statement. But it needed to be said. She would never have asked for forgiveness herself, even in extremis. She was far too proud. Only once or twice, when she had been truly awful, did she apologize. Generally, she was defiant — almost magnificently so — when her demons slipped their leash. My wise wife, Lucy, has a rule: don’t go to bed angry. Now, watching Mum go to bed for the last time, I didn’t want any anger left between us, so out came the unrehearsed words.

  2. Stephen Walt, blogging for FP, asks Three Questions About Pakistan. He quotes David Kilcullen explaining:

    We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now.

    He cites a Timur Kuran and Suisanne Lohmann for providing a construct for understanding why such collapses as Pakistan’s possible one are hard to predict:

    [R]evolutionary upheavals (and state collapse) are hard to predict because individual political preferences are a form of private information and the citizenry’s willingness to abandon the government and/or join the rebels depends a lot on their subjective estimate of the costs and risks of each choice. If enough people become convinced the rebels will win, they will stop supporting the government and may even switch sides, thereby create a self-reinforcing snowball of revolutionary momentum. Similar dynamics may determine whether the armed forces hang together or gradually disintegrate. As we saw in Iran in 1979 or in Eastern Europe in 1989, seemingly impregnable authoritarian governments sometimes come unglued quite quickly. At other times, however, apparently fragile regimes manage to stagger on for decades, because key institutions hold and the revolutionary bandwagon never gains sufficient momentum.

  3. Evgeny Morozov, also blogging for FP, suggests that “promoting democracy via the internet is often not a good idea.”

    I simply refuse to believe in the universality of this new human type of Homo Blogicus – the cosmopolitan and forward-looking blogger that regularly looks at us from the cover pages of the New York Times or the Guardian. The proliferation of online nationalism, the growing use of cyber-attacks to silence down opponents, the overall polarization of internet discussions predicted by Cass Sunstein et al, make me extremely suspicious of any talk about the emergence of some new archetype of an inherently democratic and cosmopolitan internet user.

    As much as I’d like to believe that internet decreases homophily and pushes us to discover and respect new and different viewpoints, I am yet to see any tangible evidence that this is actually happening – and particularly in the context of authoritarian states, where media and public spheres are set up in ways that are fundamentally different from those of democracies.

  4. Julian Sanchez blogs reflectively about “our special horror over torture” – especially as related to aerial bombing. He concludes:

    Civilian life affords us the luxury of a good deal of deontology—better to let ten guilty men go free, and so on. In wartime, there’s almost overwhelming pressure to shift to consequentialist thinking… and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have leaders who remember to factor the other side’s population into the calculus. And so we might think of the horror at torture as serving a kind of second-order function, quite apart from its intrinsic badness relative to other acts of war. It’s the marker we drop to say that even now, when the end is self-preservation, not all means are permitted. It’s the boundary we treat as uncrossable not because we’re certain it traces the faultline between right and wrong, but because it’s our own defining border; because if we survived by erasing it, whatever survived would be a stranger in the mirror. Which, in his own way, is what Shep Smith was getting at. Probably Khalid Sheik Mohammed deserves to be waterboarded and worse. We do not deserve to become the country that does it to him.

  5. Jim Manzi is equally reflective in his piece written “Against Waterboarding” for the American Scene and published at the National Review’s Corner as well:

    What should a U.S. citizen, military or civilian, do if faced with a situation in which he or she is confident that a disaster will occur that can only be avoided by waterboarding a captured combatant? Do it, and then surrender to the authorities and plead guilty to the offense. It is then the duty of the society to punish the offender in accordance with the law. We would rightly respect the perpetrator while we punish him. Does this seem like an inhuman standard? Maybe, but then again, I don’t want anybody unprepared for enormous personal sacrifice waterboarding people in my name.

    But consider, not a theoretical scenario of repeated nuclear strikes on the United States, or a tactical “ticking time bomb” scenario, but the real situation we face as a nation. We have suffered several thousand casualties from 9/11 through today. Suppose we had a 9/11-level attack with 3,000 casualties per year every year. Each person reading this would face a probability of death from this source of about 0.001% each year. A Republic demands courage — not foolhardy and unsustainable “principle at all costs,” but reasoned courage — from its citizens. The American response should be to find some other solution to this problem if the casualty rate is unacceptable. To demand that the government “keep us safe” by doing things out of our sight that we have refused to do in much more serious situations so that we can avoid such a risk is weak and pathetic. It is the demand of spoiled children, or the cosseted residents of the imperial city. In the actual situation we face, to demand that our government waterboard detainees in dark cells is cowardice.

  6. Robert Kaplan writes about the “Revenge of Geography” for Foreign Policy. The summary of the article:

    People and ideas influence events, but geography largely determines them, now more than ever. To understand the coming struggles, it’s time to dust off the Victorian thinkers who knew the physical world best. A journalist who has covered the ends of the Earth offers a guide to the relief map—and a primer on the next phase of conflict.

  7. Time magazine has a piece written by Maia Szalavitz on drug decriminalization in Portugal which is also worth checking out. Excerpt:

    “Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

    Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

Barack Obama Declares the War on Drugs “an utter failure”

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I’d heard this quote often, but never saw the video:

It’s interesting how the younger and less constrained Obama is able to flatly state the fact that the War on Drugs has been an utter failure and that marijuana should be decriminalized while still maintaining his opposition to legalization. 

I’m all for gradual steps and half-measures that push our society in a positive direction – rather than abrupt shifts that prompt backlashes. And I think Obama has the politics of this right, if not the policy – decriminalization must come first and separate from legalization. But once pot is decriminalized, the logic of it’s legalization becomes inevitable. The problem is that decriminalization could just as easily aid the Mexican drug cartels in the short term – as they take advantage of the gray area in which marijuana would exist legally. Of all 7 positive effects that would be possible if marijuana were legalized, only 3 of them would be partially accomplished by decriminalization.

The prudent political path then is to make the case for legalization while pushing for decriminalization – with the knowledge that the latter will lead to the former.

7 Reasons to Legalize Marijuana

Monday, April 20th, 2009

On this April 20th, the case to legalize marijuana is a no-brainer. There are at least 7 things that could be accomplished by legalizing it:

  1. Stabilize Mexico. The drug cartels are waging a war against the Mexican government and each other funded mainly by the profits from marijuana sales in the United States. Legalizing marijuana would create an opportunity for the current government’s attacks on the cartels to succeed – as the cartels would need to scramble to find alternate sources of revenue while fighting a war against a military bolstered by American aid.
  2. Stop wasting money on a failure. Barack Obama called the war on drugs “an utter failure.” Since he took office, he has vowed to cut the fat from the federal budget and eliminate failed programs. At a time when our tax dollars are at a premium, why should we continue to waste money on a failed government program?
  3. Protect the legitimacy of our laws. Almost half of all Americans admit to have tried marijuana – including 3 of our past 3 presidents – which means that they all broke the law. Such flagrant law-breaking undermines respect for the Rule of Law – and more important, once Americans break the law they can see how distorted the government propaganda campaign against marijuana is – further undermining respect for the government. America is currently waging a war on its citizens the likes of which have rarely been seen in history – as we imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other nation on earth and continue to militarize our police as they stop enforcing community standards and instead impose federal policies using extreme force.
  4. Stop aiding terrorists. According to a 2004 Congressional report, the illegality of drugs has incentivized a vast system of money laundering, smuggling, and corrupting of government officials – as well as created failed states and lawless regions – all of which aid terrorists seeking to carry out attacks on the United States. The criminalization of marijuana creates the biggest incentive on all of these fronts.
  5. Reduce crime. The War on Drugs has been militarizing America’s police forces and eating up resources which has led to a statistical uptick in non-drug related theft and violent crime synchronous with this shift. As police resources are spent enforcing federal drug laws – arresting, testifying, surveiling – and as the police become more militarized and distant from the communities they are charged with policing – serious non-drug related crimes increase. One report quantified this by explaining that every additional drug arrest leads to an increase of 0.7 Index (serious) crimes [page 6 of the pdf].
  6. Stimulate the economy. Obama may have tittered at the question, but there is precedent – the repeal of the prohibition of alcohol when FDR took office during the Great Depression. 
  7. I’ll let Tim Meadows make the final point for legalization by explaining why not to smoke marijuana:

[Image by Torben H. licensed under Creative Commons.]

 

(more…)

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?