Category Archives: The War on Drugs

Hackers interpret idiotic government restrictions as damage…

…and route around them

By the by, for those who don’t get the reference, it’s a paraphrase of a quote from John Gilmore – “The internet interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it”

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Quote Of The Day

The Sheriff whose deputies raided Berwyn Heights, MD mayor Cheye Calvo’s house predictably doesn’t think they did anything wrong. He said a lot of pretty despicable things in that article, but this one really bothers me:

“I’m sorry for the loss of their family pets,” Jackson said. “But this is the unfortunate result of the scourge of drugs in our community. Lost in this whole incident was the criminal element. . . . In the sense that we kept these drugs from reaching our streets, this operation was a success.”

What criminal element? The mayor? His wife? His elderly mother-in-law? The two labrador retrievers they shot?

Did they suspect Calvo was a drug-runner? Obviously not, because they ALREADY knew the drugs were intended (from an on-going investigation) for a false drop.

If there’s a criminal element, don’t you think it might be the guys, dressed in black, who busted down the door of a law-abiding citizen, terrorized his family, and shot his dogs? All without even a cursory investigation to see if they’d done anything wrong other than having their own address on a package that even the cops weren’t sure was intended for them?

This isn’t the result of the scourge of drugs or the criminal element. This is the result of shoddy police work. This Sheriff should be ashamed of his wanton disregard for logic and humanity.

Charles Lynch Sentenced to 1 Year and 1 Day in Prison

Read the news story here and reason‘s coverage here. The video below is Lynch’s response:

While I’m not happy that Mr. Lynch is doing time for legally dispensing marijuana under California’s compassionate use law, he certainly could have received a much harsher sentence (up to 100 years). U.S. District Judge George Wu should be commended for finding an exception to the 5 year mandatory minimum sentence and reducing it to a relatively reasonable sentence of 1 year. That’s probably the best he could do under the circumstances.

There is however, one person who can correct this injustice perpetrated by the Bush Justice Department: President Obama. I urge all those who support the Tenth Amendment to join me in calling on President Obama to pardon Charles Lynch. Federalism is a much larger principle in this case than medical marijuana or even the war on (some) drugs. The State of California (whether one agrees or not with using marijuana for medicinal purposes), passed a law the federal government did not like. This law does not violate the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, beyond the reach of the federal government according to the Tenth Amendment.*

Furthermore, President Obama and his Attorney General Holder have both said on several occasions that the federal raids on these dispensaries would end provided the operators are not violating both state and federal law. A full pardon of Charles Lynch would go a long way toward reversing a bad policy from the previous administration.

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Drug Czar Calls For End To “War On Drugs”

It’s too early to tell if it’s a semantic change or a major step in the right direction, but these comments from President Obama’s “Drug Czar” are encouraging:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

Mr. Kerlikowske’s comments are a signal that the Obama administration is set to follow a more moderate — and likely more controversial — stance on the nation’s drug problems. Prior administrations talked about pushing treatment and reducing demand while continuing to focus primarily on a tough criminal-justice approach.

And the result of that has been that we have more people in prison than any other nation on Earth, with large numbers of them being there for actions that would not be crimes at all but-for the fact that some drugs are illegal.

While Kerlijowske’s statements do need to be backed up with actual changes in drug policy before I’ll take them seriously, at least one advocate of drug legalization is taking this as a good sign:

Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalization of medical marijuana, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Mr. Kerlikowske. “The analogy we have is this is like turning around an ocean liner,” he said. “What’s important is the damn thing is beginning to turn.”

Let’s hope so.

Boy Scout Training: “Put him on his face and put a knee in his back”

Boy Scouts
From the “Not The Onion” files comes a tale that I can’t even believe, much less figure out how to respond to. Is this really what the Boy Scouts are becoming?

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

One participant, Felix Arce, 16, said he liked “the discipline of the program,” which was something he said his life was lacking. “I want to be a lawyer, and this teaches you about how crimes are committed,” he said.

Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.

“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”

There is so much wrong here that I don’t know where to start. Maybe putting a 15-year-old into a bulletproof vest and running him through a course where his goal is to take down “active shooters” is one problem, since — you know — that’s such a HUGE part of the average cop’s day, would be a problem. Radley Balko, in his excellent work over at The Agitator, regularly points out the problematic aspects of training our police to be excitedly enacting para-military fantasies. There’s a fundamental difference between “to protect and serve” and seeing every person on the street as a potential “active shooter”.

When I was a kid, “troop leader” didn’t involve fatigues and a bulletproof vest.

But hey, this is the Boy Scouts, so it’s still a family-friendly environment:

Just as there are soccer moms, there are Explorers dads, who attend the competitions, man the hamburger grill and donate their land for the simulated marijuana field raids.

So don’t worry, fellas… You can avoid the humdrum days spent in your cubicle as a CPA or marketing nitwit by living vicariously through your kids, as they storm terrorist strongholds in Omaha, stem the illegal alien tide in California, or make the world safe from marijuana. Folks like Kathryn Johnston and Angel Raich are evil and must be stopped, and you need to bring train the next generation to bring the necessary firepower to handle them.

Hat Tip: Radley Balko

Quote Of The Day

From David Rittgers, Cato@Liberty:

As I have said before, the quickest way to create an insurgent is to burn a man’s livelihood. This may be a competent counternarcotics tactic, but it is an epic failure as a counterinsurgency strategy. We can fight a war against the Taliban or we can fight the war on drugs, but we can’t do both in the same place at the same time.

Internally, libertarians can debate the merits of the Afghanistan conflict and whether the end result will be a safer or less safe America. My view is that if done properly, counterinsurgency operations can be successful over the long term, but it is situationally dependent whether they’re worth the effort.

What I think we can all agree on is that the drug war is unwinnable, and that fighting the drug war in Afghanistan is a mutually exclusive goal with our counterterrorism efforts there. If we have to give up one goal, I suggest the drug war.

UPDATE: Edited post to correctly attribute quote to David Rittgers, not Doug Bandow. My mistake and my apologies to David for the error.

A new libertarian line-of-attack when debating medical marijuana issues with Republicans

For years, activists have been trying to pass federal legislation which prevents the feds from arresting patients (or doctors, growing clubs, etc.) when they’ve been prescribed medicinal marijuana by a physician in the states where such prescriptions are allowed by law.  Libertarians have often made valid points about Republican hypocrisy regarding federalism when it comes to medical marijuana.

Loretta Nall provides a brand new argument to use with Republicans on the matter:

I am sick of hearing Republicans scream about ‘socialized medicine that would put the government between you and your doctor.’ Just what the hell is the difference here? The Republicans want to be involved in your health care decisions if they seek to prevent you and your doctor from discussing/using marijuana as medicine…and that is the same thing. Socialized medicine. HYPOCRITICAL FUCKS EVERY ONE OF THEM! […]

[…] Mention that it is socialized medicine for Republicans to stand between a doctor and patient….no matter what their ‘justification’. Human suffering shouldn’t be used as a political football.

Let’s take a look at some recent Republican stands on socialized medicine and compare them to the views of the very same people on medical marijuana.

“In any serious discussion of health care in our nation, this should always be our starting point — because the goal, after all, is to make the best care available to everyone,” said Senator John McCain in a 2008 presidential campaign speech. Later on, he added: “[With nationalized health care, ] we’ll have all the problems, and more, of private health care — rigid rules, long waits and lack of choices, and risk degrading its great strengths and advantages including the innovation and life-saving technology that make American medicine the most advanced in the world. The key to real reform is to restore control over our health-care system to the patients themselves.”

“Families also place a high value on quickly getting simple care, and have shown a willingness to pay cash to get it,” noted McCain, surely aware that the cost of home-grown marijuana is significantly less than the cost of Marinol. “Government can provide leadership to solve problems, of course. So often it comes down to personal responsibility — the duty of every adult in America to look after themselves and to safeguard the gift of life.”

When asked about medical marijuana on the very same campaign trail, McCain responded, “Right now my answer to you is no.”

On the same presidential campaign trail, Rudy Giuliani had a moment of libertarian lucidity when he stated that “government cannot take care of you. You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

Here are some of Giuliani’s views on socialized health care:

Charging that Democrats’ health care proposals would lead to “socialized medicine,” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday he wants to give American citizens more control over their health care.

“We’ve got to do it the American way,” Giuliani said during a town hall forum in Rochester, New Hampshire. “The American way is not single-payer, government-controlled anything. That’s a European way of doing something; that’s frankly a socialist way of doing something.”

McCain and Giuliani weren’t alone on the GOP presidential campaign trail regarding these issues. No stranger to hypocrisy regarding health care issues, Mitt Romney piped in, as well:  “[Senator Clinton’s health care] plan is crafted by Washington; mine is crafted by individual states.”

Of course, Giuliani and Romney both opposed medical marijuana from both a federal and state perspective.

Let’s take it off the presidential campaign trail for a moment and pick on perhaps the most hated drug warrior in Congress.   Here’s Congressman Mark Souder’s take on health care (from his website):

Every American deserves affordable and quality health care, not government control. I support a patient-centered approach to health care reform that provides every American, regardless of health or financial status, access to the affordable health care coverage of their choice. Nobody should go bankrupt because they get sick.

I will continue to fight to make health care family-focused and patient-centered. I think that patients, in consultation with their doctors, should have control over the health care they receive. The government, your employer or a health care plan selected by your employer should not decide what health care you receive. The road to affordable health care for all is not easy or simple but, by implementing more consumer choice, cracking down on frivolous law suits and lessening the bureaucratic paper work it is achievable. Forcing Americans into a government controlled health care plan will not solve the problem. I believe that it will only make things worse.

Here’s Souder calling for a non-patient-centered “approach to health care” which is neither family-focused nor “patient-centered.”  Here’s a direct contradiction to “I think that patients, in consultation with their doctors, should have control over the health care they receive.”  Here’s a crystal-clear example of the hypocrisy to which Nall referred.

If passed, this amendment would put people in danger of shysters and quacks willing to recommend a dangerous drug, marijuana, in place of federally approved safe and proven medicines. You can get Marinol. We have got other ways by taking a pill to treat this. There are multiple chemicals in marijuana. It is not medicine. Marijuana is just as much medicine as the carbolic smoke ball from the later 19th century was medicine…. The rhetoric about marijuana as a ‘treatment’ for medical purposes… probably was dreamed up at some college dorm…

[L]et me state that my mother and father-in-law both recently died of cancer as well. Compassion is not limited to either side, but there is science and there is not science. In fact, the Carbolic Smoke Balls and the snake oil is very similar; getting high is the same as getting splashed….

Furthermore, we have heard kind of a silly argument here on the House floor today that physicians should be making up FDA law. Physicians do not do trials of a different drug when they come to market. Physicians do not have big testing agencies. That is why we have a Food and Drug Administration. This is in effect asking to repeal the Food and Drug Administration.

Imagine being in the audience the next time a local Republican congressional candidate gives a speech.  When it comes Q&A time, it might be fairly easy to ask the following:

Congressman Smith, I applaud your view that the federal government shouldn’t be able to tell states what to do.  Furthermore, you are to be applauded for your views that the government shouldn’t stand between a patient and a doctor, that individuals should be empowered to make their own medical decisions, that federal bureaucracy harms the health care process, that when patients have the responsibility to make their own decisions health care costs are drastically reduced, and that health care choices should be made in a free market.  Since it’s so obvious that you agree with how I feel about these issues, I’m pleased that you’ll be supporting both the Hinchey-Rohrabacher bill and our state legislation to treat cancer victims and AIDS patients with a bit more compassion.

Fake Cops, Fake Raid, Real Guns

Here’s yet another example illustrating why the practice of SWAT style raids should be ended: robbers posing as cops.

Here’s the news story from WRAL:

This is the unedited surveillance video:

As bad as this situation was, it could have ended much worse. It’s very fortunate that the armed robbers encountered the man on the porch first and the others inside could see what was happening thanks to the surveillance video (had this individual not been on the porch, the robbers could have gained entry as police officers serving a lawful warrant). Also, the fact that one of the patrons was armed and able to return fire was the difference in being cleaned out by the robbers (and possibly murdered) and forcing the robbers to abandon their criminal pursuit. It’s just too damn bad that neither robber was killed.

Of course if the police didn’t routinely use paramilitary tactics to raid poker games or those suspected of drug possession in the first place, then individuals would know without question that the intruders are indeed criminals attempting to do harm and could respond appropriately without fear of killing a police officer.

Hat Tip: The Agitator

Cato Report: Portugal’s Seven Year Experiment with Drug Decriminalization “a Resounding Success”

greenwald_whitepaper

In July of 2001, Portugal tried something which would horrify policy makers the world over: the decriminalization of all drugs. As a result, Portugal turned into a country overrun with drugs, stoners, drug tourists, and criminals…right?

Not according to a report by Cato’s Glenn Greenwald entitled Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies. Greenwald concludes:

“The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.”

While this result may shock most people, this comes as no surprise to Libertarians. The question is, will the rest of the world learn from Portugal’s experiment with drug decriminalization?

More Information on this report:

Click here to view the Cato policy forum event related to this report.

Supreme Court One Step Closer To Allowing Strip Searches In Schools

I’ve written in the past about the case of Savanna Redding, a now 19 year-old woman who, when she was thirteen years old was strip-searched by officials at her Arizona school who were convinced that she was concealing a banned substance; Advil.

As it turned out, Savanna had no drugs on her, but the strip search is something she’ll never forget, and, yesterday, her case against the school officials who did this to her was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States:

An important case at the Supreme Court sometimes informs as much about the justices as the issue at hand, and yesterday’s animated hearing on whether school officials have the right to strip-search a 13-year-old female student seemed just such a case.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wondered if the incident was much different from the experience of disrobing for gym class. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy affirmed his deep concerns about illicit drugs. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed at times on the edge of exasperation with her all-male colleagues. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. searched for a way to make the issue go away.

But it was Justice David H. Souter who seemed to sum up the dilemma for a majority of the court. He put himself in the place of a school official balancing the need for keeping his young charges safe from drugs while respecting the constitutional protections even middle school students should receive.

“My thought process is, I would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search, if we can’t find anything short of that, than to have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry,” Souter said.

As ScotusBlog’s Lyle Dennison notes, the Justice’s questioning seemed to indicate that their decision in this case will be motivated by fear more than anything else:

With an undercurrent of fear running across the Supreme Court bench about drug abuse among school students, and a perception that young people will try hard to avoid detection, the Justices searched anxiously on Tuesday for a way to clarify — and perhaps to enhance — public school principals’ authority to conduct personal searches of the youths in their charge.

(…)

No more telling illustration of the Court’s mood emerged than Justice David H. Souter — whose vote would almost have to be won for student privacy to prevail – expressing a preference for “a sliding scale of risk” that would add to search authority — including strip searching — based on how school officials assessed whether “sickness or death” was at stake.

“If the school official’s thought process,” Souter asked, “was ‘I’d rather have a kid embarrassed rather than some other kid dead,’ isn’t that reasonable under the Fourth Amendment?” Stated in that stark way almost compelled agreement, without regard to whether a student singled out for a strip search was actually adding to such a risk, but was only the target of a classmate’s unverified tip.

Along with Souter, two other Justices whose votes might turn out to be crucial — Stephen G. Breyer and Anthony M. Kennedy — were plainly more concerned about the drug problem than with student privacy. Both of those Justices, in past cases involving students and suspected drug use, have suggested that students’ rights were not very sturdy.

You can read the full transcript of yesterday’s oral argument in the case here.

Given this, I find myself in agreement with Radley Balko, who says that the reports from yesterday’s oral argument are not encouraging at all for anyone who believes in civil liberties:

Can anyone think of a single incident in the last 30 years in which several children have died after ingesting drugs distributed by one of their classmates on school grounds? Before we let school principles go rummaging through the panties of underage girls, shouldn’t we be at least be able to cite a few examples?

It’s a little troubling to see how comfortable these old men (Ginsburg isn’t quoted in the article) seem to be with allowing school administrators access to the genitalia of school children based on nothing more than a hunch that they might be “crotching” some ibuprofen.

And Steve Verdon notes that the school officials could have exercised just a small degree of common sense:

The strip search was based on a snitch’s statements, something that should be taken with a shovel of salt. When you are down to the underwear and you haven’t found drugs on a student with no history of drug abuse, good grades, good attendance, and no other indicators of being a problem student maybe it is at that point that you should call the child’s parents and involve them.

I summed my own opinions about this story up last month:

I cannot imagine any circumstances where it should be acceptable for school officials to strip search a child. If there is some suspicion that a crime was committed, then the matter should be turned over the police — in which case she couldn’t have been strip-searched until she was actually placed under arrest.

It is, however, John Cole who comes away with the quote of the day on this story:

I can state that as someone with an IQ over room temperature, the fact that we are debating whether it is appropriate for school authorities to strip search kids is a sure sign that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with this country and our sense of perspective, and I blame the war on drugs.

The fact that Supreme Court Justices, and likely a large segment of the American public, can’t recognize that makes it all even more troubling.

C/P: Below The Beltway

Reforming America’s Prison System: The Time Has Come

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) in his recent article calling for a major reform of America’s prisons in Parade Magazine brought some very disturbing, eye opening, statistics about America’s prison system to light. In summary this is some of what he found:

-Since 1984, America’s prison population has quadrupled from 580,000 to 2.3 million

-Though the U.S. accounts for 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25% of the world’s reported prisoners

-Local, state, and federal spending on corrections costs the U.S. taxpayer about $68 billion annually* (California spent nearly $10 million on corrections last year by itself!)

-16% (350,000) adults in prison or jail are mentally ill

-3/4 of drug offenders in state prisons are non-violent offenders or in prison solely for drug offenses

-47.5% of all drug arrests in the U.S. were fore marijuana offenses

-Despite insignificant statistical differences regarding drug use among races, Blacks (accounting for 12% of the U.S. population) account for 37% of all drug arrests, 59% of which are convicted and account for 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison

Perhaps for the “tough on crime” types, this is all good news but for anyone else who thinks critically of these statistics, I would expect that most would be concerned if not horrified. In response to these statistics, Sen. Webb makes the following observation:

“With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different–and vastly counterproductive.”

For regular consumers of the evening news, it may seem that the first possibility could be true. Without fail, the evening news reports stories of violence, vandalism, kidnapping, rape, child molestation, and murder both locally and nationally. There is also no shortage of true crime programs** detailing the most heinous crimes one could imagine being committed against other human beings; it’s all very disturbing. Our jails and prisons surely must be overflowing from these creeps!

One would think that roving bands of murderous thugs are on every street in America, yet we each almost always make it to and from work, to and from running errands and eating out unmolested. Our odds of being killed in an auto accident*** are many times greater than being victim to this roving band of murderous thugs. How can this be?

While we should each be vigilant and aware of our surroundings and always use common sense, the perception that our prisoners are overflowing with mostly violent criminals just isn’t true. Figure 1 shows the U.S. prison population under the purview of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The BOP population accounts for 202,493 of America’s 2.3 million prisoners.

Figure 1

Source: Bureau of Prisons as of February 2009

Source: Bureau of Prisons as of February 2009


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Open Thread Question of the Day: How Can We Fix Our Prisons?

Our prison system, holding nearly 25% of the worlds reported prisoners, may seem like an April fool’s joke but certainly is not a laughing matter. I’m in the early stages of writing a post in response to Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) recent article in Parade entitled: Why We Must Fix Our Prisons.

Sen. Webb is looking for some recommendations on how to reform the prison system so I thought it would be interesting to solicit some ideas from readers and fellow Liberty Papers contributors. The following is the specific questions Sen. Webb wants to answer:

I am now introducing legislation that will create a national commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make specific recommendations about how we can reform the process. This commission will be tasked with giving us clear answers to hard questions, including:

Why are so many Americans currently in prison compared with other countries and our own history?

What is this policy costing our nation, both in tax dollars and in lost opportunities?

How can we reshape our nation’s drug policies?

How can we better diagnose and treat mental illness?

How can we end violence within prisons and increase the quality of prison administrators?

How can we build workable re-entry programs so that our communities can assimilate former offenders and encourage them to become productive citizens?

How can we defend ourselves against the growing scourge of violent, internationally based gang activity?

The more specific your answers, the better. I’ll refrain from posting here as I will answer these questions and more in my upcoming post.

Maryland House Passes Mayor Calvo’s SWAT Bill by 126 to 9 Vote

Despite the objections of the National Tactical Officers Association, the bill championed by Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo passed the Maryland House by a wide margin:

Delegates adopted a bill, on a 126 to 9 vote, that would require law enforcement agencies to report every six months on their use of SWAT teams, including what kinds of warrants the teams serve and whether any animals are killed during raids. The bill was prompted by the case of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, whose two black Labrador retrievers were shot and killed during a botched raid by a Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team in July.

Calvo has said he was surprised to learn that police departments use the heavily armed units far more routinely than they once did but that it is difficult to get reliable statistics about SWAT raids. The Senate has passed a similar measure.

Here’s hoping that the differences in the House and Senate bills are ironed out, that the Governor has the good sense to sign this bill into law, and that the remaining 49 states will soon pass similar legislation.

H/T: Reason Hit & Run

Obama’s Policy to Fight Mexican Drug Cartels is Doomed to Fail

The Obama administration, rather than dealing with the root cause of the violence along the Mexican border, has decided to adopt a policy to deal with the symptoms. The problem is that this policy will neither alleviate the symptoms nor come close to treating the problem.

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration promised Tuesday to help Mexico fight its drug war by cutting off the cartels’ supply of guns and profits, while resisting the Texas governor’s call for a troop surge at the border to ward off spillover violence.

Let’s assume for a moment that Obama’s policy to prevent Mexico bound firearms from leaving the U.S. 100% successful. Given the fact that the drug cartels can acquire firearms from other sources (such as corrupt Mexican government agents with access to firearms among other sources) the only difference would be that the firearms are no longer coming from the U.S.

The Obama administration correctly identifies that the drug cartels are so powerful because of the profitability of the illicit drug trade. It’s this ability to make enormous profits, particularly in an impoverished country as Mexico, that attracts players into the business and makes corruption on the part of government officials almost irresistible. Unfortunately, though the Obama administration has identified the profitability of the drug trade as the source of the drug cartels’ power, there is clearly a profound misunderstanding of the way basic economics work (as if the bailouts, handouts, and myriad of other government programs were not proof enough).

The steps announced by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – 450 federal agents shifted to border duty, supplied with dogs trained to detect both drugs and cash, and scanners to check vehicles and railcars heading into Mexico – amount to a subtle but important shift:

The blockade of contraband will now be a two-way effort. The fence begun under the Bush administration will be completed, to deter smugglers of drugs and workers. But the new emphasis will be on disrupting the southbound flow of profits and weapons that fuel the cartels.

At his televised news conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that for now, it’s more important to disrupt the cartels’ access to profits and weapons than to fortify the border with soldiers.

“That’s what makes them so dangerous,” he said. “The steps that we’ve taken are designed to make sure that the border communities in the United States are protected and you’re not seeing a spillover of violence. … If the steps that we’ve taken do not get the job done, then we will do more.”

So what’s wrong with this approach? The basic economic law of supply and demand tells us that whenever a product is in high demand (drugs in this case) and the supply is lower (in this case by successful drug interdiction by the U.S. governemnt), those who supply the given demand stand to profit more NOT LESS! Whether Obama’s policy results in a decrease in the supply of drugs of 1% or 99%, those drugs which do make it to the end customer will pay even more to get them.

I would even go as far as to say that the Mexican drug cartels would cheer this policy. Sure, the cartels might have more difficulty moving their product into the U.S. and their profit and firearms out of the U.S. but for the most clever smugglers, these enhanced drug interdiction efforts would filter out the competition! (And we know how black market operators hate competition).

On some level, I do believe that even the political class understand this but somewhere, there is a disconnect. Just yesterday in her visit to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that the war on (some) drugs over the past 30+ years “has not worked.”

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade.”

And now the disconnect:

“Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians…”

Mrs. Clinton apparently recognizes how the war on (some) drugs has been an abject failure fails to realize that the Chosen One’s policies will do little to reverse this trend. If she truly wants to do something productive, something has to be done about what she (correctly) describes as this “insatiable demand” for these drugs. She seems to understand that the “Just say No” campaign didn’t work but does she and others within the Obama administration really believe that more drug hysteria PSA’s will do anything to curb this demand?

Given how the Obama administration has decided to deal with the drug war related violence along the border, I’m not optimistic. If spending billions of dollars annually on this insane war on (some) drugs which has contributed to leading the world in the number of people in prison (imprisoning 1 out of every 100 adults; more than half of the U.S. prison population is there because of drug related offenses) has failed to curb the demand, then perhaps it’s time to try a different approach.

Nothing short of legalizing the drug trade will stop the violence, so why does the politicos, law enforcement, and government bureaucrats at almost every level continue the same “get tough” policy which clearly has not worked? The only conclusion I can come to: they must be high.

The Hubris of the National Tactical Officers Association

In my report following the live chat @ The Agitator with Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo last week, I made mention of some very modest reforms he was pushing in Maryland. The bill would require all police departments with SWAT teams to provide monthly reports to the state’s Attorney General, local officials and the general public.

Who would have a problem with just a little public oversight over law enforcement? Apparently, the National Tactical Officers Association’s executive director John Gnagey does:

[John Gnagey] says reporting requirements for SWAT teams should emanate from the law enforcement community, not legislators.

“Our data shows that when SWAT teams are deployed, the violence goes down,” said John Gnagey, who was a SWAT team member for 26 years in the Champaign, Ill., police department.

One question for Mr. Gnagey: That slogan that you have on your squad car that says “to serve and protect,” who exactly are you trying to serve and protect? Based on the tone from the article, it appears that you are only interested in serving and protecting law enforcement. Silly me, I was under the impression that the purpose of law enforcement was to serve and protect the general public! If you have some data that shows SWAT deployments bring the level of violence down, why are you so afraid of putting this data to the test?

The hubris of Mr. Gnagey illustrates exactly why more oversight of law enforcement is necessary. The article also points out that nationally the number of SWAT deployments rose from 2,500 annually in the 1980’s to between 50,000 and 60,000 in 2005; the War on (Some) Drugs is largely responsible for this dramatic increase. Not everyone agrees that these SWAT deployments have reduced violence.

Mayor Cheye Calvo was also interviewed in the article:

“It’s pretty clear to me that police are using SWAT teams for duties that used to be performed by ordinary police officers,” says Calvo, whose Berwyn Heights house was raided July 29 when police mistakenly thought his wife was involved in drug trafficking. “No question, there are times when SWAT teams are appropriate. What strikes me about this is that police are using SWAT teams as an initial response rather than a last resort.”

What we need is more transparency and it’s never going to happen if we depend on those who have something to hide to change the reporting requirements.

A Song and Open Letter to a President Who is “No Stranger to the Bong”

Thank you, President Obama, for keeping your campaign pledge to end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that are legal under state laws in California and elsewhere.

Thank you for reversing an inhumane policy established by the Clinton administration and continued by the Bush administration.

Given the experience you and other elected officials have had with illegal drugs and your willingness to challenge the status quo, now is the time to reconsider decades of prohibitionist drug policies that have succeeded only in massively increasing the toll of human misery, violence, and hypocrisy. As with alcohol prohibition, the drug war intensifies and exacerbates every negative outcome it is ostensibly designed to combat.

President Obama, do the right thing and end the war on drugs.

“Obama, You’re No Stranger to the Bong” was written, performed, and edited by Paul Feine; special thanks to Alex Manning.

I couldn’t agree more! As this song points out, Obama is hardly the first politician on the national stage to experiment with drugs. Despite these youthful indiscretions , most of these very people want to ratchet up the War on (Some) Drugs.

Despite my many disagreements with President Obama, I believe that his decision to call the DEA dogs off the medical marijuana dispensaries is a good first step in the right direction. Pardoning Charlie Lynch (back story here and here) seems like the next logical step.

The Root of the Mexican Drug Cartel Violence Spillover Into the U.S.

For those of you who believe that Libertarians focus too much on the War on (Some) Drugs, perhaps it’s time to pay attention to the escalating violence in Mexico which is spilling over into the U.S.

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Hit men dressed in fake police tactical gear burst into a home in Phoenix, rake it with gunfire and execute a man.

Armed kidnappers snatch victims from cars and even a local shopping mall across the Phoenix valley for ransom, turning the sun-baked city into the “kidnap capital” of the United States.

Violence of this kind is common in Mexico where drug cartel abductions and executions are a daily feature of a raging drug war that claimed 6,000 lives south of the border last year.

But U.S. authorities now fear that violent crime is beginning to bleed over the porous Mexico border and take hold here.

“The fight in Mexico is about domination of the smuggling corridors and those corridors don’t stop at the border,” Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said.

Execution style murders, violent home invasions, and a spiraling kidnap rate in Phoenix — where police reported an average of one abduction a day last year linked to Mexican crime — are not the only examples along the border.

This is so disturbing on so many levels. In a time when SWAT teams conduct midnight no-knock raids (sometimes on the wrong home) on unsuspecting occupants, its especially distressing to think that even if the occupants comprehend an announcement and see that the intruders are wearing police gear that the occupants must then determine if the intruders are in-fact who they say they are. Either way, all parties involved are placed in a dangerous situation.

What is a resident to do?

To surrender is to take the chance that the intruders are the police. If s/he is wrong, s/he risks kidnapping, robbery, raping, torture, and/or death.

To stand one’s ground and take the chance that the intruders are not the police escalates the situation which can result in death and/or loss of freedom (imprisonment).

This potential for confusion in itself suggests to me that all SWAT drug raids should be immediately halted at least until this spillover along the Mexican border is under control. The question is: how?

Conservatives suggest building a fence or wall along the border. While this approach might slow down the flow of drug and people trafficking, this in itself does not deal with the root problems and would not stop the spillover. If drugs can get past the walls of a maximum security prison, how is it possible to believe that a wall would prevent drugs from making their way into our country?

Some on the Left believe that greater gun control measures would make acquiring firearms more difficult for the drug cartels. Besides the obvious infringements against the Second Amendment, the bad guys always manage to get their weapons of choice. This approach also does not deal with the root of the problem.

This brings me to the root of the problem:

While some Americans may feel victimized by the spillover of violence, others are contributing to it. Americans provide 95 percent of the weapons used by the cartel, according to U.S. authorities. And Americans are the cartels’ best customers, sending an estimated $28.5 billion in drug-sale proceeds across the Mexico border each year.

As long as there is a demand for these drugs, there will be someone willing to supply these drugs. In the days of Prohibition, Al Capone supplied a particular demand; today this demand is supplied by Jack Daniels, Anheuser-Busch, and many thousands of others. When Anheuser-Busch has a dispute with competitors or customers, the dispute is settled in a court of law rather than the streets. There is every reason to believe that lifting drug prohibition would work the same way.

Live Chat With Mayor Cheye Calvo Tonight @ 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST) @ The Agitator

Check in this Thursday night at 8pm ET with your questions for Cheye Calvo, the Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor who was subject to a violent, botched drug raid last year.

Calvo’s pushing legislation that would bring transparency to how Maryland’s police departments use their SWAT teams.

I’m hoping to be home in time to participate in this chat because I am very interested in what Mayor Calvo has to say. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the mayor spoke at a Cato Policy Forum on September 12, 2008. The full 90 minute podcast can be downloaded here; the podcast below is a much shorter (just under 9 minutes) interview with the mayor following the Cato event.

Post Chat Report:
The chat with Mayor Calvo ended just a few minutes ago. The mayor stayed about a half hour over the scheduled chat to answer more questions from participants. I managed to have a couple of questions answered and the other questions which were asked were also very good. The chat was very informative and worthwhile. Readers who would like to read the full chat can click here.

The mayor answered questions about his ordeal with the SWAT team raiding his home as well as some legislation he is pushing in the State of Maryland. The proposed legislation would require all police departments with SWAT teams to provide monthly reports to the Attorney General, local officials and the general public. These reports would provide the number of raids, general locations, purpose, authorization, and results of raids. The overall goal is to provide additional oversight.

For more information about this legislation and how you can help, go to MakeMarylandGreat.com.

Only Fourteen Years To Go

Statistics guru Nate Silver posits that public support will be sufficiently strong that marijuana will be legalized by 2022:

potFirstly, although support for legalization has grown, it remains the minority position. Secondly, although there has been a long, slow-moving upward trend in favor of legalization since roughly 1992, there is no guarantee that public sentiment will continue to move in that direction: support for legalization had grown to about 30 percent in the mid 1970s before dropping significantly during the Just Say No years of the 1980s.

Still, the position no longer holds the stigma that it once did. About as many Americans now support legalizing marijuana as do de-legalizing abortion. The past three Presidents have admitted, more or less, to marijuana use. Thirteen states have some form of decriminalization on the books, while fourteen permit medical use of the drug, although it is not clear how robust those provisions are as they are superseded by federal law.

(…)

My guess is that we’ll need to see a supermajority of Americans in favor of decriminalizing pot before the federal government would dare to take action on it. If the upward trend since 1990 holds (and recall my earlier caution: it might not), then legalization would achieve 60 percent support at some point in 2022 or 2023. About then is when things might get interesting. But I’d guess we’ll see other some other once-unthinkable things like legalized gay marriage first.

Seems like a long time to wait for the insanity to end, no ?

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