Posts tagged ‘war on drugs’

Yep, I Was Right. Opioid Proposals Going Forward With No Discussion Of Their Effect on Legitimate Users

A few weeks ago I wrote:

If you want to convince me of the need for restrictions on any substances, such as narcotics, you have to convince me of three things:

  1. That incarcerating users is somehow better for them than their addiction
  2. That ethically abusers of the substance are more worthy of our attention and intervention than legitimate users who benefit from the substance and whose access will likely be restricted
  3. That the negative social costs of the substance's use are higher than the inevitable social costs of the criminal black market (including the freedom-reducing policing laws implemented in response) that will emerge when its use or purchase is banned

Think in particular about point #2 when reading this:

Arizona would limit all initial opioid prescriptions to five days for new patients under sweeping guidelines recommended Wednesday by Gov. Doug Ducey's administration.

The plan also would limit maximum doses for pain medication, implement steps to taper down pain medications and require pain prescriptions to be filed electronically, rather than on paper, to limit diversion of drugs.

Consider that many legitimate users will need more than the legal maximum dosage to control their pain, and thus the issue becomes whether we want to essentially torture innocent sick people by forcing them to remain in excruciating pain in exchange for (possibly) reducing the number of accidental deaths from abusers of these drugs (I say possibly because over the last 40 years the government war on drugs has had such a super stellar track record in reducing narcotic usage).

To me the answer to this tradeoff is obvious but I am willing to admit it is a tradeoff subject to debate.  But the article linked has no debate.  There is not a single mention of any downsides to the rules, or any potential harm to legitimate users.

Why BLM and the Campus "Rape Culture" Movement Are A Lot Alike

Both BLM and the campus rape culture movement have a starting point in real problems.

On campus, and even in a few police precincts, women complaining about sexual assault would get patted on the head and sent on their way, their charges going largely investigated.  In part, oddly enough, I think the problem stems from the war on drugs -- for literally decades, campus police have helped to shelter their students from drug investigations and harassment from their local community police force.  I know they did so at Princeton when I was there.  So campus police forces really had a mission to keep their students out of jail and out of trouble.  This is A-OK with me on drugs, but it obviously leads to terrible results when we get to sexual assault.  So something needed to be done to have police forces, particularly ones on campus, take sexual assault charges seriously.

With police, officers have been sheltered from any real accountability for years.  We give the police the ability to use force and other powers that ordinary citizens don't possess, but instead of giving them more scrutiny and accountability to offset these powers, we give them less.  This has really been a bipartisan problem -- Conservatives tend to fetishize the police and want to assume by default that all police actions are justified.  The Left is more willing to be skeptical of police behavior, but they refuse to take on any public sector union and police unions have generally locked in their contracts any number of accountability-avoidance mechanisms.  So something needed to be done to bring accountability to police forces.

And with these quite justifiable and reasonable goals around which many of us could have coalesced into some sort of consensus, both protest efforts immediately overreached into crazy zones.

On campus, the reasonable demand for serious action in response to a sexual assault charge was abandoned in favor of the demand for immediate conviction without due process based on any sexual assault charge.  Oddly mirroring the conservative attitude towards police, activists said that alleged victims had to always believed, and demanded that universities punish anyone accused of sexual transgressions.  The result has become a toxic mess, and in some ways is a setback for justice, as activists have made it easier to get a rapist thrown out of school but perhaps harder to actually get thrown in jail.

With police, activists immediately eschewed the reasonable need for more police accountability and jumped to the contention that all police officers are racist and systematically abuse black citizens.  Their focus seems to be on police shootings, though I find the pattern of petty police harassment (through the war on drugs and programs like New York's stop and frisk) to be more problematic.  Just as in the campus rape debate, a reasonable need for more accountability and investigation of police shootings has morphed into a demand that police officers be treated as guilty by default in all shootings.

Each of these movements have made the problems more visible while simultaneously making these problems less likely to be solved.

I will add that I stick by my evaluation of BLM I wrote a while back.  I actually sort of liked a lot of their proposed plan, but I wrote (see particularly part in bold):

There is much that progressive and conservative groups could learn from each other.  Conservative groups (outside of anti-abortion folks) are loath to pursue the public demonstration and disruption tactics that can sometimes be helpful in getting one's issues on the public agenda.  The flip side is that public disruption seems to be all BLM knows how to do.  It can't seem to get beyond disruption, including the unfathomable recent threat to disrupt an upcoming marathon in the Twin Cities.   It could learn a lot from Conservative and libertarian groups like ALEC, that focus on creating model legislation and local success stories that can be copied in other places.  Many of the steps in BLM's plan cry out of model legislation and successful pilots/examples.


Chicago's Guantanimo

Chicago police's use of a warehouse at Honan Square to detain suspects for secret interrogations just gets worse and worse.

Police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people at an off-the-books interrogation warehouse in Chicago, nearly twice as many detentions as previously disclosed, the Guardian can now reveal....

According to an analysis of data disclosed to the Guardian in late September, police allowed lawyers access to Homan Square for only 0.94% of the 7,185 arrests logged over nearly 11 years. That percentage aligns with Chicago police’s broader practice of providing minimal access to attorneys during the crucial early interrogation stage, when an arrestee’s constitutional rights against self-incrimination are most vulnerable.

But Homan Square is unlike Chicago police precinct houses, according to lawyers who described a “find-your-client game” and experts who reviewed data from the latest tranche of arrestee records obtained by the Guardian.

“Not much shakes me in this business – baby murder, sex assault, I’ve done it all,” said David Gaeger, an attorney whose client was taken to Homan Square in 2011 after being arrested for marijuana. “That place was and is scary. It’s a scary place. There’s nothing about it that resembles a police station. It comes from a Bond movie or something.”

For whatever reason, the story does not seem to be able to generate much national heat, as partially evidenced by the fact that it takes a UK newspapers to show any initiative on the story.  The Right fetishizes law enforcement,  the Left refuses to take on a powerful public union, and the city is run by a mayor with powerful connections to both the President and Hillary Clinton, so essentially no one is interested.

By the way, most of these folks are being held for hours or days due to drug possession arrests (5386 of the 7000+), yet another indicator of why the war on drugs has become so stupid and counter-productive.

The Dangers of Bipartisanship

The media loves to talk about the joys of bipartisanship, but libertarians run for the hills whenever we hear that word.  Because it means that true legislative suckage is probably on the way.   The horrendous war on drugs is just one example.

Here is another -- freedom to buy alcohol where it is most convenient.  Living in AZ, I have come to expect that I can buy some tequila at my grocery store, but apparently this is a very limited freedom in the US:


There are two reasons.  First, this is where you get one of those left-right coalitions, with Republican social conservatives wanting to limit liquor availability and Democratic big government types wanting to keep sales to a small group that can be tightly regulated (and strip-mined for campaign donations), or even better, to state-run liquor stores.  The second reason is that once any regulation is in place that restricts sales, the beneficiaries of those restrictions (e.g. liquor stores or unionized employees at state-run stores) fight any liberalization tooth and nail to protect their crony rents.

Fake but Accurate: How I Know Nobody Believes that 1 in 5 Women Are Raped on Campus

How do I know that average people do not believe the one in five women raped on campus meme?  Because parents still are sending their daughters to college, that's why.  In increasing numbers that threaten to overwhelm males on campus.   What is more, I sat recently through new parent orientations at a famous college and parents asked zillions of stupid, trivial questions and not one of them inquired into the safety of their daughters on campus or the protections afforded them.  Everyone knows that some women are raped and badly taken advantage of on campus, but everyone also knows the one in five number is overblown BS.

Imagine that there is a country with a one in 20 chance of an American woman visiting getting raped.  How many parents would yank their daughters from any school trip headed for that country -- a lot of them, I would imagine.  If there were a one in five chance?  No one would allow their little girls to go.  I promise.   I am a dad, I know.

Even if the average person can't articulate their source of skepticism, most people understand in their gut that we live in a post-modern world when it comes to media "data".  Political discourse, and much of the media, is ruled by the "fake but accurate" fact.  That is, the number everyone knows has no valid source or basis in fact or that everyone knows fails every smell test, but they use anyway because it is in a good cause.  They will say, "well one in five is probably high but it's an important issue anyway".

The first time I ever encountered this effect was on an NPR radio show years ago.  The hosts were discussing a well-accepted media statistic at the time that there were a million homeless people (these homeless people only seem to exist, at least in the media, during Republican presidencies so I suppose this dates all the way back to the Reagan or Bush years).  Someone actually tracked down this million person stat and traced it back to a leading homeless advocate, who admitted he just made it up for an interview, and was kind of amazed everyone just accepted it.  But the interesting part was a discussion with several people in the media who still used the statistic even after they knew it to be outsourced BS, made up out of thin air.  Their logic:  homelessness was a critical issue and the stat may be wrong, but it was OK to essentially lie (they did not use the word "lie") about the facts in a good cause.  The statistic was fake, but accurately reflected a real problem.  Later, the actual phrase "fake but accurate" would be coined in association with the George W. Bush faked air force national guard papers.  Opponents of Bush argued after the forgery became clear to everyone but Dan Rather that the letters may have been fake but they accurately reflected character flaws in the President.

And for those on the Left who want to get bent out of shape that this is just aimed at them, militarists love these post-modern non-facts to stir up fear in the war on terror, the war on crime, the war on drugs, and the war on just about everyone in the middle east.

PS-  Neil deGrasse Tyson has been criticized of late for the same failing, the use of fake quotes that supposedly accurately reflect the mind of the quoted person.  It is one thing for politicians to play this game.  It is worse for scientists.  It is the absolute worst for a scientist to play this anti-science game in the name of defending science.  


What I Hate Most About Political Discourse... when people attribute differences of opinion on policy issues to the other side "not caring."

I could cite a million examples a day but the one I will grab today is from Daniel Drezner and Kevin Drum.  They argue that people with establishment jobs just don't care about jobs for the little people.  Specifically Drum writes:

Dan Drezner points out today that in the latest poll from the Council on Foreign Relations, the opinions of foreign policy elites have converged quite a bit with the opinions of the general public. But among the top five items in the poll, there's still one big difference that sticks out like a fire alarm: ordinary people care about American jobs and elites don't. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Here are the specific poll results he sites.  Not that this is a foreign policy survey



The first thing to note is that respondents are being asked about top priorities, not what issues are important.  So it is possible, even likely, the people surveyed thought that domestic employment issues were important but not a priority for our foreign policy efforts.  Respondents would likely also have said that (say) protecting domestic free speech rights was not a foreign policy priority, but I bet they would still think that free speech was an important thing they care about.  The best analogy I can think of is if someone criticized a Phoenix mayoral candidate for not making Supreme Court Justice selection one of her top priorities.  Certainly the candidate might consider the identity of SCOTUS judges to be important, but she could reasonably argue that the Phoenix mayor doesn't have much leverage on that process and so it should not be a job-focus priority.

But the second thing to note is that there is an implied policy bias involved here.  The Left tends to take as a bedrock principle that activist and restrictive trade policy is sometimes (even often) necessary to protect American jobs.   On the other hand many folks, including me and perhaps a plurality of economists, believe that protectionist trade policy actually reduces total American employment and wealth, benefiting a few politically connected and visible industries at the expense of consumers and consumer industries (Bastiat's "unseen").  Because of the word "protecting", which pretty clearly seems to imply protectionist trade policy, many folks answering this survey who might consider employment and economic growth to be valid foreign policy priorities might still have ranked this one low because they don't agree with the protectionist / restrictionist trade theory.  Had the question said instead, say, "Improving American Economic Well-Being" my guess would be the survey results would have been higher.

Whichever the case, there is absolutely no basis for using this study to try to create yet another ad hominem attack out there in the political space.  People who disagree with you generally do not have evil motives, they likely have different assumptions about the nature of the problem and relevant policy solutions.  Treating them as bad-intentioned is the #1 tendency that drags down political discourse today.

Postscript:  This is not an isolated problem of the Left, I just happened to see this one when I was thinking about the issue.  There likely is a Conservative site out there taking the drug policy number at the bottom and blogging something like "Obama state department doesn't care about kids dying of drug overdoses."  This of course would share all the same problems as Drum's statement, attributing the survey results to bad motives rather than a sincere policy difference (e.g. those of us who understand that drugs can be destructive but see the war on drugs and drug trafficking to be even more destructive).


Yet Another Cost of the Drug War

Stupid bank structuring laws that allow the government to seize your property without due process if they don't like the size or pattern of your cash deposits.  All in the name of going after drug dealers.

I run a cash business.  It is not at all unusual that we might have $9000-ish a week deposits through the summer months at certain large locations.  If some bored Fed were to decide tomorrow that these looked suspicious, they could seize all my bank accounts, effectively bankrupting my business, and then force me to try to get my money back in the courts (where the burden of proof is on me, not the government).  All the while with a set of incentives such that the Feds get to keep any of my money for their own departmental use if they thwart my efforts to get it back.  And all without any need to go to a judge to sign anything or even offer a shred of proof that I am engaged in an illegal activity.  Making deposits just under $10,000 is effectively a crime in and of itself, and the only thing that protects me from abuse is my hope for the goodwill of the Feds that they won't abuse their power.

This is the kind of Faustian bargain we have made for ourselves in the war on drugs, and it needs to end.

And People Say Libertarians Lack Empathy

People live every day with excruciating pain that is untreatable with current medications, either because the medication has nasty side effects or they have built a tolerance or both.  So I would have thought the prospect of a new medication to help these folks would be an occasion for good news.

But not according to Chris Hawley of the Associated Press.  I first saw this story in our local paper, and was just staggered at its tone.  The article begins this way:

Drug companies are working to develop a pure, more powerful version of the nation's second most-abused medicine, which has addiction experts worried that it could spur a new wave of abuse.

And it goes on and on in that vein, for paragraph after paragraph.  Through it all there is all kinds of over-wrought speculation, with nary a statistic or fact in sight.   This is not atypical of the tone:

"It's like the wild west," said Peter Jackson, co-founder of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids. "The whole supply-side system is set up to perpetuate this massive unloading of opioid narcotics on the American public."

or this gem:

Critics say they are troubled because of the dark side that has accompanied the boom in sales of narcotic painkillers: Murders, pharmacy robberies and millions of dollars lost by hospitals that must treat overdose victims.

Recognize that murders and robberies associated with narcotics are almost always due to their illegality, not their basic nature.  These are a function of prohibition, not the drug itself, which in fact is more likely to make users docile than amped up to commit crime.

It is not until paragraph 11 that the article actually acknowledges there might be some folks who benefit from this new medication.  And even this is a dry discussion of side effects by some doctors -- how about heart-rending quotes from pain sufferers?  Newspapers love to include these, except in articles on pain medications where I have yet to see one such quote.

But then the author quickly goes back to arguing that pharmaceutical companies are purposefully addicting patients as part of the business model

"You've got a person on your product for life, and a doctor's got a patient who's never going to miss an appointment, because if they did and they didn't get their prescription, they would feel very sick," said Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. "It's a terrific business model, and that's what these companies want to get in on."

That's a pretty ugly way to portray this.  Couldn't you argue the same thing about, say, medications that suppress HIV?  What these opponents never discuss is that they are basically proposing to consign people who have chronic pain to life-long torture.   They are saying "better in pain than addicted."  Really?  I will take the addiction.  Hell, by the same logic I am addicted to water and air too.

The notion that we should force a person to live in lifelong pain because some other person makes choices we don't like regarding their own narcotic use is just awful.  Seriously, these are the same folks who say that libertarians have no empathy.

Postscript.  Only after her death have I really learned about the contributions of Siobhan Reynolds, who died the other day after years of fighting to bring the interests of pain sufferers into this debate.  Radley Balko has a memorial, but this AP article is about all you need to understand what she was fighting, and how easily the plight of pain sufferers is ignored in these discussions.

Sacrificing Privacy for, Err, for What?

Wiretaps and government surveillance is on the rise, and it has little to do with terrorism.  The failed war on drugs continues to be the main excuse for assaults on privacy:

State and federal investigators obtained 3,194 wiretap orders in 2010, an increase of 34 percent over the previous year, and a whopping 168 percent increase over 2000. Only one wiretap application was denied—which you can choose to take as evidence that law enforcement is extremely scrupulous in seeking applications, or that judges tend to rubber stamp them, according to your preferred level of paranoia. Just half the states reported any wiretaps, and nearly 68 percent of the total 1,987 state wiretaps were attributable to just three states: California, New York and New Jersey....

Still, this invasive technique is still reserved for investigating the most serious violent crimes, right? Alas, no: For 84 percent of wiretap applications (2,675 wiretaps), the most serious offense under investigation involved illegal drugs. Further proof, if proof were needed, that privacy suffers enormous collateral damage in our failed drug war. Drugs have long been the reason for the vast majority of wiretaps, but that trend, too, is on the upswing: Drug cases accounted for “just” 75 percent of intercept orders in 2000.

Will We Ever See Another Constitutional Amendment?

My column this week in Forbes elaborates on a theme I discussed last week in this blog.

I am not a big fan of prohibition, or the income tax (16th Amendment) before it, but in some sense these come from a better time.  Instead of dealing with the Constitutional problems of these initiatives by having a series of judges stare at the Constitution with their eyes crossed until the problem disappears, they actually wrote and passed a Constitutional amendment.  The took the wording of the Constitution seriously.

Consider alcohol prohibition.  Today, would we even bother modifying the Constitution?  After all, we’ve driven a forty year war on drugs — with massive spending, highest in the world imprisonment rates, militarization of our police, and frequent slashes into the heart of the Fourth Amendment — with nary a hint of the need for a Constitutional Amendment.  In fact, in Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that medical marijuana legally (under state law) grown, sold, and consumed in California could still be prohibited by the Federal government under their Constitution powers to regulated interstate commerce.  It seems almost quaint today that we sought a Constitutional change for Prohibition.

Coyote is Sad :=(

I was pretty bummed out that Gary Johnson is not to be included in the debate slate for New Hampshire.   I am not one (most definitely not one) to invest all my hopes and dreams in a political candidate, but I really like Gary Johnson and thought he could bring a new libertarian voice (in addition to Ron Paul's) to Republican discussions dominated by statists like Romney and Huckabee.   I have met him once and listening talk about things like the costs of the war on drugs and immigration is just so refreshing from a politician of any sort, particularly a Republican.    And in contrast to Ron Paul, who comes off as a bit wacky (and wonky), Johnson does it all in a very non-threatening way.   Many people in this country self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially liberal -- this is their guy.  They just haven't heard of him yet.

As an ex-governor well respected by independents, he strikes me as infinitely more worthy of a debate spot than, say, Donald Trump, who did receive an invitation.  I wrote a whole column on the importance of being previously famous, rather than experienced, as a qualifier for office nowadays.

Civil Forfeiture

This is an issue that has been around for a while, and one of the illiberal legacies of the war on drugs.  Police have broad powers to seize your property with very little due process, and the incentive to do so as they are generally allowed to keep the proceeds of these seizures in their budgets.  John Stossel writes about the problem in his column today.  Unfortunately, I see little bleed-through of this issue our of libertarian blogs into the partisan ones, though I do remember Kevin Drum doing something on it a while back.  Knowing politicians, I hold out little hope that in a time when government budgets are under assault, politicians will voluntarily give up the power to grab operating funds off the street.

Most of the stories in the article were familiar to me, though this expansion of the concept was new:

[Radley] Balko has reported on a case in which police confiscated cash from a man when they found it in his car. "The state's argument was that maybe he didn't get it from selling drugs, but he might use that money to buy drugs at some point in the future. Therefore, we're still allowed to take it from him," Balko said.

Sounds like that Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report," where the police predict future crimes and arrest the "perpetrator."

Drug War: Fail

Bravo for Nicholas Kristof's editorial in the Times:

Here in the United States, four decades of drug war have had three consequences:

First, we have vastly increased the proportion of our population in prisons. The United States now incarcerates people at a rate nearly five times the world average. In part, that's because the number of people in prison for drug offenses rose roughly from 41,000 in 1980 to 500,000 today. Until the war on drugs, our incarceration rate was roughly the same as that of other countries.

Second, we have empowered criminals at home and terrorists abroad. One reason many prominent economists have favored easing drug laws is that interdiction raises prices, which increases profit margins for everyone, from the Latin drug cartels to the Taliban. Former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia this year jointly implored the United States to adopt a new approach to narcotics, based on the public health campaign against tobacco.

Third, we have squandered resources. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, found that federal, state and local governments spend $44.1 billion annually enforcing drug prohibitions. We spend seven times as much on drug interdiction, policing and imprisonment as on treatment. (Of people with drug problems in state prisons, only 14 percent get treatment.)

I've seen lives destroyed by drugs, and many neighbors in my hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, have had their lives ripped apart by crystal meth. Yet I find people like Mr. Stamper persuasive when they argue that if our aim is to reduce the influence of harmful drugs, we can do better.

The current regime not only has failed, but is absolutely absurd in its assumptions.  The argument that something like marijuana should be illegal is always "to protect the kids."  But the solution is nuts.   I will put it very personally.  It replaces a mildly bad thing (my teenager is smoking rope) with a disasterous, ruin-one's-life thing (my teenager was arrested for possession and may go to jail).  Its just crazy to say it is better to send kids to jail than have them do drugs.  Drugs I can deal with and correct in my household, or at least I can try -- jail and an arrest record I can't fix.

Drug warriors worry about "the message" we send to kids with legalization, but no one is talking about legalizing drugs for kids, any more than we do with tobacco or alcohol.  Use of those are adult decisions and we require one to be an adult to make them.

To be honest, looking at the teens I see, I can't see much difference in teen's perception of smoking tobacco vs. other drugs, despite the fact that the former is legal for adults, and so by drug warrior logic we have sent the message that it is more OK somehow.  In fact, in use statistics, it is hard to see any difference, with teens using legal-for-adults drugs like tobacco at about the same rate as they use other illegal-for-everyone drugs.

New Form of Identity Theft

JD Tuccille has an interesting take on speed cameras from Maryland:

Originating from Wootton High School, the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.

Students are even obtaining vehicles from their friends that are similar or identical to the make and model of the car owned by the targeted victim, according to the parent.

JD calls this action "brilliant," and while I feel bad for the car owners who are caught in this trap, I understand his enthusiasm.   His argument, and I hope it is true, is that it won't take much of this sort of activity to greatly undermine whatever public support or trust there is for these cameras.

However, I guess I have less confidence in the state's reaction to this (which is saying a lot, because my read is that JD has zero confidence in the state).  My guess is that rather than back off the cameras, the government will just double-down on it with some crazy-high penalty (e.g. 10 years in prison) for counterfeiting a license plate.  After all, this is what they have done in the drug enforcement world.  You start with trying to ban a little joint-smoking by teens and you end up with millions of people in jail.

Update: Speaking of civil disobedience, here is another great story:

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster's attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster's secret mobile office nearby.

To clarify just a bit, according to Cooper, there was nothing illegal going on the bait house, just two evergreen trees and some grow lamps. There was no probable cause. So a couple of questions come up. First, how did the cops get turned on to the house in the first place? Cooper suspects they were using thermal imaging equipment to detect the grow lamps, a practice the Supreme Court has said is illegal. The second question is, what probable cause did the police put on the affidavit to get a judge to sign off on a search warrant? If there was nothing illegal going on in the house, it's difficult to conceive of a scenario where either the police or one of their informants didn't lie to get a warrant.

Update #2: Alas, the KopBusters seemed to have been playing loose with the truth themselves, and apparently called in a tip to the police to have themselves raided.  Ugh, nothing worse for one's arguments than screw-ups on your own side.


Like a lot of folks, I am staggered by the fact that more than 1 in 100 Americans are incarcerated, including approx. 1 in 9 young black men.  I don't have the evidence at my fingertips, but my gut instinct, like many libertarians, is to blame the war on drugs for much of the prison population.  I would have liked to have seen more detail in the PEW Report on how the population breaks down -- ie for what crimes and sentence lengths -- but no such information is available. 

I will say that the PEW report spends way too much time on the utilitarian argument about the costs in public dollars to actually incarcerate these folks.  My sense is that Americans almost never complain about the budgetary costs of incarceration.  They tend to be more than happy, as a group, to pay whatever it takes to keep felons locked away for long periods of time.   I think a much stronger argument is the individual rights complaint that so many people are locked up for what is basically consensual activity.

Each Day, A little Bit Harder

Every day, the government makes it a little bit harder to run a business.  Today's water drop in the ongoing Chinese water torture comes from TJIC up in Massachusetts

Governor Deval Patrick, returning to one of the more contentious
issues of his campaign, has begun quietly putting together a plan to
limit employers' access to the criminal records of potential employees.

Aides have been meeting with lawmakers and advocates working
to limit the scope of the Criminal Offender Record Information law,
which gives many employers broad access to criminal records. Activists
argue that many applicants are rejected for jobs based on minor
criminal convictions, crimes unrelated to the post"¦

Somehow, they are going to do this:

Patrick has not yet settled on specific legislation, an aide said, but
wants to give employers access only to criminal information that is
relevant to the job being sought.

Let me ask you readers a question:  If a company hires an employee with a criminal background who then does harm to someone (say a customer or another employee) in the workplace, who get's sued:

  1. The employee, who is held individually responsible for his own actions
  2. The employer, who hired the employee in good faith but was not able to get a reference (because lawsuits have pretty much ended the practice of giving honest information about ex-employees) and was not able to do a background check (because the government would no longer share criminal records)

If you answered "1", then you either have been in cryogenic sleep for 30 years or you have never run a business.  No hope, I suppose, of tying liability protection for employers to this legislation, I guess.

By the way, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the war on drugs.  I am sure the concern here is that more and more white collar workers are saddled with petty drug convictions that are hurting their ability to get jobs.  I would have not problem wiping all the drug possession offenses off the record, particularly since I don't think these possession offenses should be crimes anyway.

Update: From the indispensable

Are You Kidding Me?

This is so wrong.  When possessing cash is a crime:

A federal appeals
court ruled yesterday that if a motorist is carrying large sums of
money, it is automatically subject to confiscation. In the case
entitled, "United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency," the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit took that amount of cash
away from Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, a man with a "lack of significant
criminal history" neither accused nor convicted of any crime.

I know what you are thinking -- there must be some other facts Coyote is leaving out that explain why a man should have his money confiscated for no other reason than he chose to keep it in cash.  Read the whole thing, because you won't find anything that makes this sane.  I do a lot of business down on the border, and get many Mexican customers (legally) visiting as a tourist.  Almost to a one, they show up with large rolls of cash.  Our preference for key fob credit chips and ubiquitous Visa cards is not shared by every other culture, and the desire to keep one's assets in cash should not be a crime (it may not be smart, but not a crime).  Hell, murderers have more protection under the law than this person carrying cash.

I would be interested to hear more about this from folks with a legal background, but I am surprised that an appeals court even has the purview to find that a crime exists when lower courts found none.  The problem here, I think, is that the cash can (legally, which is nuts) be seized and kept without a trial, just on the say-so of the police, who have the incentive to decide that the cash is seizable because they get to drop it into their budget pool.  So I guess the trier of fact is the police (?) and the lower court reversed the police decision and then the circuit court is reinstating it. 

This is just one example of the incredibly high price we pay in civil liberties for the war on drugs.  See this post to measure the countervailing benefits of the war on drugs.  Hat tip:  Catallarchy.

Update: Via Hit and Run, here is another nice feature of the war on drugs:

Tim takes one 24-hour Claritin-D tablet just about every day. That
puts him just under the legal limit of 75-hundred milligrams of pseudo
ephedrine a month. The limit is part of a new law that Quad Cities
authorities are beginning to strictly enforce.

The law limits the
amount of pseudo ephedrine you can buy. Pseudo ephedrine is an
ingredient in medicines like Sudafed and Claritin-D, and it's also a
key ingredient in methamphetamines.

"It's the only allergy medicine that works for me "“ for my allergies," Tim explained.

The only problem is, Tim has a teenaged son who also suffers from allergies. And minors are not allowed to buy pseudo ephedrine.

"I bought some for my boy because he was going away to church camp and he needed it," he said.

  That decision put Tim over the legal limit. Two months later, there was a warrant for his arrest.

And off to jail he went, with no apologies:

But even if you're not making meth, if you go over that limit "“ of one maximum strength pill per day "“ you will be arrested.

  "Does it take drastic measures? Absolutely. Have we seen a positive result? Absolutely," Sandoval stressed.

Do you see the similarity in these two stories.  Two different people, both punished by the state for taking legal actions similar to those taken by drug dealers (holding cash and buying Claritin) with absolutely no evidence they in fact had anything to do with illegal drugs.  Next up:  Anyone driving a Porche 911 will be arrested since those cars are favored by drug dealers. 

The Drug War -- It's for the Children?

I have written a number of times about the high cost of the war on drugs, and the craziness of locking up drug users for years in prison "for their own good." 

Usually, the argument for the drug war devolves to "its for the children."  The argument is that by keeping various narcotics and other drugs illegal to all, children, who by definition can't make adult decisions well, will find it harder to obtain and use these drugs.  Also, drug warriors argue that full prohibition prevents kids getting the message that drug use is OK, presumably because they might interpret "legality" as "approved for use."

We could prove or disprove this hypothesis that full drug prohibition reduces that drug's use among kids with a simple experiment:  Make some drugs legal for adults, but illegal for children, and make other drugs illegal for everyone, and see what happens. 

But wait!  We already have such an experiment in place.  Drugs like cocaine and marijuana are illegal for everyone, and a drug like tobacco cigarettes are legal for adults but illegal for kids.  If the drug warrior's hypothesis is correct that total bans on drugs reduce childhood use, then we should see tobacco use among children much higher than use by those same kids of drugs that are illegal for all.  Well, here are the stats, from Monitoring the Future (hat tip: Hit and Run), whose funding comes from the war-on-drugs folks.  I will use the 2006 data on drug use in the last 30-days, but any of the table shows the same basic results:

% Using Illegal

% Using Tobacco

8th grade



10th grade



12th grade



Can you see the point?  Tobacco use is the same or even lower than the use of illegal drugs in this survey.  Legalizing a habit-forming drug for adults does not seem to increase use of that drug among kids vs. full prohibition.  So what is the war on drugs buying us, anyway?

Awesome Statement of Principles

From Arnold Kling, one of those articles so good I have trouble excerpting it to do it justice.  Here is just a small taste of some of the principles he puts forward:

1. Liberty is important for its own sake. People are entitled to make their own choices.

2. There are other values in addition to liberty. However, many
noble causes end up infringing on liberty without achieving their
desired ends. Government policies should be evaluated on the basis of
their consequences, not on the basis of how they make us feel. It may
feel good to set a minimum wage, to impose rent control, or to declare
a war on drugs, but the evidence is that such policies tend to work to
the detriment of their intended beneficiaries.

3. I value relieving the suffering of others. However, compared with
liberals, I have considerable humility when it comes to advocating
taking other people's money in order to satisfy my urge to alleviate

4. Corporate power is adequately checked by market forces.
Competitors are the main force protecting consumers. Alternative job
opportunities are the main force protecting workers. For corporate
power to be a threat, it must be allied with government power.

Please, go enjoy the whole post.

PS- OK, if you really aren't going to read the whole thing, here is another taste:

I believe that in reality what has helped the less fortunate is
economic growth. Today's elderly are affluent not because of Social
Security, but because of all of the wealth created by private sector
innovation over their lifetimes. Government involvement in health care
and education is an impediment to progress in those fields. Job
training and welfare are demonstrable failures.

Congress Votes to Make Schools Fourth Ammendment Free Zones

Via Reasons Hit and Run:

Yesterday, Students for Sensible Drug Policy reports, the House approved the Student and Teacher Safety Act of 2006, which threatens
to withhold federal funding from public schools that do not allow broad
student searches for flimsy reasons, by a voice vote. The bill applies
to any "search by a full-time teacher or school official, acting on any
reasonable suspicion based on professional experience and judgment, of
any minor student on the grounds of any public school, if the search is
conducted to ensure that classrooms, school buildings, school property
and students remain free from the threat of all weapons, dangerous
materials, or illegal narcotics."

An earlier version of the bill used the newfangled standard of
"colorable suspicion," which I reasonably suspect would have amounted
to little more than a hunch. The new standard is stricter in theory,
and the bill stipulates that "the measures used to conduct any search
must be reasonably related to the search's objectives, without being
excessively intrusive in light of the student's age, sex, and the
nature of the offense." Would this allow a mass search of the entire
student body if, say, a teacher suspects that one or two kids have been
smoking pot and is determined to root out the school's marijuana ring?
No doubt these details will be settled in litigation. Since such
litigation can be costly,
it's not surprising that the American Federation of Teachers, the
National Association of School Administrators, and the National School
Boards Association have come out against the bill.

It's sure good to see Congress overturning fundamental Constitutional principles on a voice vote.  Here is a good libertarian poll question:  Which do you think will be used more often in the next five years as an excuse to pare down the Bill of Rights, the "war on drugs" or the "war on terrorism"?