War on Drugs
A couple of weeks ago, Senator Rand Paul did a courageous and unusual thing by visiting Howard University in DC. Howard is what is known as a “historically black university,” founded in the wake of the Civil War to provide opportunities for higher education to African-Americans. It’s not exactly home turf for Republicans, but that’s precisely why Paul went, in order to bridge a massive gap that is hurting the GOP.
Response to his visit was mixed, but yesterday, NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous wrote a generally supportive op-ed on CNN. Although noting that Paul missed his target in most areas, there is one area that has promise:
Paul struck out when he tried to equate today’s Republican Party with the party of Abraham Lincoln, while ignoring much of the 150 years in between. (He even acknowledged his mistakes shortly after). But his willingness to step up to the plate can provide a lesson for a GOP struggling to get on top.
Republicans will not win black votes by paying lip service to party history while attacking social programs and voting rights. But they can make inroads by showing a commitment to civil rights, something Paul managed to do briefly in his remarks.
After last week’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, politicians have made loud calls for increased gun control measures, including a reinstatement of the Assault Weapons Ban — nevermind that the .223 Bushmaster rifle used by Adam Lanza wouldn’t have been covered under that law.
Politico notes this morning that President Barack Obama, who has previously called for more gun control measures, has announced that he will form a “guns task force” to presumably look at gun control policies that the White House could pursue. Of course, pro-Second Amendment advocates see this tragedy being politicized by policitians who have long clamored for increased gun control measures.
We’ve hear gun control advocates talk about how these mass shootings are on the rise. Despite the rhetoric, the facts just don’t bear that out. In an article published the day after the shooting at Shady Hook, the Associated Press explained:
“There is no pattern, there is no increase,” says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston’s Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices.
The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox says. Most people who die of bullet wounds knew the identity of their killer.
By any reasonable standard, the War on Drugs has been a total disaster It has not shown any results in terms of reducing drug usage. The cost in money, resources, and lives has been immense. It’s no shock, then, that a whopping 82% of the American public believes it has been a failure. Yet in our political realm, it is the name that cannot be spoken. Political leaders who seriously question it are largely on the fringes, with coverage of the issue mainly relegated to places like Reason and other libertarian sources (as well as some liberal publications). In my experience, it’s rare to even see it discussed in conservative circles - and that’s a great shame. If conservatives could educate themselves on it, I think it could be a great issue. There are numerous reasons why, but here are just three.
First of all, the War on Drugs destroys families, especially within minority communities. Conservatives like to talk about how important the family is, yet seem to be not bothered by the fact that the United States incarcerates 2.3 million people, more than any other nation (except perhaps China). Many of these inmates are fathers, sons, mothers and daughters who are in prison for non-violent drug-related offenses. They are doing hard time alongside violent criminals because our laws are so strict. Instead of getting clean and being able to make something of their lives, they are in prison with felonies on their record, making it near impossible to recover. I can’t see for a second how society and the family unit are bettered by this. Why destroy someone’s life for using drugs?
Expect to see that tagline more than once associated with a forthcoming documentary, The House I Live In, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Flim Festival. Written and directed by Eugene Jarecki, whose credits also include, among others, Why We Fight and Freakonomics, the film will have a limited theatrical release beginning with New York on October 5, just three weeks from today. The release will expand into other major metropolitan areas in the ensuing weeks.
The film’s official website describes it thus:
Filmed in more than twenty states, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN tells the stories of individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. From the dealer to the narcotics officer, the inmate to the federal judge, the film offers a penetrating look inside America’s criminal justice system, revealing the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy.
For a scholarly examination of the impacts of the War on Drugs on state and federal budgets, see the September 2010 Cato Institute study “The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition” by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron and Katherine Waldock.
Sometimes the incompetence of our government amazes even the most cynical among us. Such is the case with this story out of Iowa:
A fugitive doctor charged in the nation’s largest prosecution of Internet pharmacies is getting off in part because there’s just too much evidence: more than 400,000 documents and two terabytes of electronic data that federal authorities say is expensive to maintain.
Armando Angulo was indicted in 2007 in a multimillion dollar scheme that involved selling prescription drugs to patients who were never examined or even interviewed by a physician. A federal judge in Iowa dismissed the charge last week at the request of prosecutors, who want to throw out the many records collected over their nine-year investigation to free up space.
The first reaction many of us who are tech-savvy will have is - really? While 2 terabytes is a substantial amount of data, storage is also insanely cheap these days. Anyone can walk into a Best Buy and buy a 2 TB external disk for around $100. Now, sure, government computers storing sensitive data need more security that your music collection, but still. We’re talking something on the order of thousands of dollars here, which the government spends in about five nanoseconds.
Jorge Gonzalez is a motion designer and political activist living and working in Midtown Atlanta. In his free time, he enjoys filming, photography, and reading.
I recently had a discussion with a close friend of mine who is a very “progressive” guy. He’s the type that buys into all the horror stories about Republicans and libertarians. You know, we don’t care about the poor or women’s rights or worker’s rights and we’re cruel, intolerant etc etc. He started off the conversation by claiming “Romney panders to stupid people. Obama does not…Obama doesn’t bend his beliefs to fit an uneducated and sensationalistic base.” If you didn’t fall out of your chair just now at the sheer stupidity and myopia of a statement like that, then I ask you to read on, dear Reader, because what follows may be of interest to you.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker has made headlines in recent years for his dedication to responding to citizen complaints via social media, for rescuing a neighbor from a house fire, and for assisting one of his bodyguards in helping a car accident victim.
Indeed, his heroism become the subject of an amusing video with Governor Chris Christie that was part of the state’s annual political correspondents dinner. This past weekend, however, he made some headlines for what many people will likely consider controversial comments about the War On Drugs:
Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker took to Reddit Sunday to criticize the war on drugs, saying it was ineffective and “represents big overgrown government at its worst.”
“The so called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence,” the Democrat wrote during the Reddit “ask me anything” chat. “We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential.”
Booker then called drug arrests a “game.”
“My police in Newark are involved in an almost ridiculous game of arresting the same people over and over again and when you talk to these men they have little belief that there is help or hope for them to break out of this cycle,” he wrote.
Here’s exactly how Booker put it in his Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the latest in a slowly growing number of politicians who is admitting what millions of Americans already know - that the policy of incarcerating millions of drug users is extremely illogical and counterproductive. Christie joins fellow Garden State politician Cory Booker who recently took to Twitter to decry the so-called “War on Drugs,” which, by any reasonable standard, is a war that has been a utter disaster.
In Christie’s view, the state of New Jersey would be far better off providing treatment for drug abusers than it is “warehousing addicted people.” By the Governor’s math, incarceration costs the state $49,000 a year as opposed to $24,000 for treatment. While one can debate whether taxpayers should be footing the bill to provide such treatment, it’s surely a significant improvement over a mindset that sees abusers as felons to be punished, rather than patients who need help.
Christie is remarkable for being one of the few Republican figures to criticize the War on Drugs. GOP nominee Mitt Romney has expressed his intention to fully continue the War on Drugs, even amp it up. Newt Gingrich famously praised Singapore’s draconian policy of executing drug smugglers.
For many years, it is has been something that was hardly discussed by mainstream leaders. So it is indeed encouraging to see more and more of them come to the understanding that the War on Drugs is doing immense harm. We’ll see if this actually has any impact on policy.
Freedom shouldn’t be all that complicated. Unfortunately, it apparently is.
Far to many people feel that freedom really only means freedom for the things they like. Oh sure, the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, but the freedom to not have to hear Christianity rammed down someone’s throat? No, that’s a whole other ballgame. The fact that the First Amendment prevents the establishment of a state religion - and Christianity is a relgion - appears lost on many of these folks.
For a nation to be free, and I mean truly free, then we must tolerate things which we may find objectionable. Drug use, prostitution, alcohol consumption (and yes, there are people who still want alcohol prohibition), or whatever. It doesn’t matter, because real freedom must mean that people have the freedom to do a certain amount of bad things.
Should that mean people are free to rape, murder, rob, or anything else? Absolutely not. Those all involve violating the rights of another, and that should always be off limits. I can’t think of a living soul who argues otherwise though I’m sure such fools exist.
However, there are a lot of laws that dictate what I can and can’t do with my own body. Take, for example, laws that prevent me from consuming raw milk. Personally, I think it’s not a smart thing to do. However, I still believe I should have the right to consume it if I so choose. After all, consuming non-pastuerized milk hurts no one but myself.
Many people can see that, and agree with me. However, many of those same people will argue that drug use is a whole other ball game. After all, they say, drugs create a whole world of crime around it. That is true…but only because of prohibition. There is zero evidence that legalizing drugs would do anything but decrease the crime that surrounds drugs.
I have a confession to make…I love hate mail. I actually get disappointed if I go too long without getting a really nasty e-mail from someone. Hate mail means that I have challenged someone’s assumptions at a core level. Hopefully this irritates them enough to do research to try and mount an effective rebuttal, and in the process hopefully learn new truth. I don’t even care if hate mail comes from the political left or right. We all need our assumptions challenged. I used to be a die-hard advocate of the War on Drugs, until I looked at the facts and saw how it had failed at its stated purpose of reducing drug use, while simultaneously being used to destroy constitutional rights with such things as asset forfeiture laws, which allows government to accuse you of drug related activity, seize your assets, and then make you spend enormous money fighting them to prove your innocence and regain your property. Most people just give in to this tyranny.
Last week I offered some random thoughts, and I figured I’d do more of the same this week. However, before I do, I’ll respond to a few comments from an angry reader of last week’s article. The reader took exception to my mockery of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, accusing me of misrepresenting them. She said I ignored “corporate greed” and oppression of the poor, and asked “about all the corporations that want more and more from the general public”. She was upset that I pointed out that the socioeconomic demographic with the highest obesity rates is those below the poverty line, and claimed that it’s cheaper to eat junk food than to eat healthy fruits and vegetables.