Friday, November 04, 2011

The Mandate of Clear Thinking: Real Issues

1) Prohibition II and the Border War with Mexico

The political elites in this country have employed a level of mendacity to cover up the real issues regarding the American/Mexican border that boggles the mind. The complete refusal of the federal government to deal with this has left people who live on border counties throughout the Southwest with their property overrun, widespread violence and intimidation, murders, and, on occasion, armed interventions inside the United States by Mexican nationals wearing military uniforms.

When presidential candidates casually toss out a talking point about “the need to secure our border,” that bland phrase doesn’t even remotely convey the catastrophic reality of life along the Rio Grande. Our rhetoric needs to catch up.
The Texas Department of Agriculture released a fascinating but alarming report late last month entitled Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment. It confirms what rural Texan farmers and ranchers already know: that our fight against narco-terrorism has taken on “the classic trappings of a real war” and that “all of Central and South America have become an interconnected source of violence and terrorism,” with Texas as “operational ground zero.”
The fact that the Department of Agriculture is now conducting strategic military assessments instead of crop reports is in itself an eye-opening indication of how serious the war being waged at our southern border has become. Compiled by 4-star General Barry McCaffrey, former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and former Commander of all U.S. troops in Central and South America, and Major-General Robert Scales, former Commandant of the U.S. Army War College, the report offers “sobering evidence of cartel criminals gaining ground on Texas soil....” Border Insecurity: The War In Texas, Frontpage Magazine, Mark Tapson, Nov. 11, 2011

This war of private gangs and American law enforcement has easily discovered origins, the beginning of The War On Drugs, the great Second Crusade of Prohibition. It started under that great liberal reformer, the racist Woodrow Wilson, with the Harrison Tax Act of 1914, which prohibited the sale of heroin and cocaine, the first restriction in American history on opiates, presumed until then, to be excellent pain killers, especially useful when no other medical treatment was available.

Next came FDR. Despite having apparently learned the lesson of Prohibition’s first Crusade against booze, FDR’s administration, and Congress, passed and brought into law The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (love that phonetic spelling!). The ban on mary jane was sold with the concept of “gateway drug.”

Next came Dwight Eisenhower, under whom the Boggs Act of 1951 established mandatory sentences for possession of marijuana, cocaine and opiates. Shortly thereafter came the Narcotic Control Act of 1956. But he wasn’t done. Ike established the US Interdepartmental Committee on Narcotics, from which the President himself called for a war on drugs. But, the best was yet to come. In 1970, Congress passed, with President Nixon’s strong urging, the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, followed three years later by the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It is worth nothing that in the years between the Boggs Act of 1951 and the establishment of the DEA in 1973, that perhaps as many as a million people were killed by drunk drivers, and perhaps forty million people died of the side effects of smoking cigarettes. Unknown tens of millions had lives damaged by inappropriate consumption of prescription drugs. In such paradoxical comparisons, one has to draw an obvious conclusion: the war on drugs from the beginning, like that on alcohol, was primarily a moral crusade. Alcohol prohibition failed because, to be blunt, too many people liked to get high, and alcoholic beverages were far cheaper than opiates. Further, you didn’t have to smoke your bourbon or scotch or inject it into a vein. Market simply blew away the Prohibitionists. However, opiates and marijuana, for as long as you look back at this, were associated with either an extreme lifestyle (black jazz musicians working in bordellos); strange, dark-skinned people (take your pick); and with vivid and terrifying addiction scenarios. A combination of the often racist public relations campaign with the fact that only a small minority of Americans used opiates for getting high made the Second Crusade possible. To what end?

MEXICO CITY – MEXICO CITY (AP) — After 40 years, the United States' war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread…Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn't worked. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified… We've never worked the drug problem holistically. We'll arrest the drug dealer, but we leave the addiction…." After 40 Years, $1 Trillion, US War on Drugs Has Failed to Meet Any Of Its Goals, AP, May 10, 2010

Arrest the dealer, leave the addiction , pronounced, one supposes, with tragic gestures and a resigned sigh, rather like former Speaker Pelosi’s moan that, if we’d just had ten times the Stimulus, all would be well. Fact is, the War on Drugs, and the Prohibition on marijuana and opiates, have led directly to massive corruption in Mexico, to where the oldest nation in North America is becoming more like Sudan than America, its public officials, law enforcement and military on the run from (or run by) drug cartels more violent than any criminal organizations in the past, including those run by Chinese overseas nationals. The War on Drugs has led to brushing aside property rights (the DEA and state and local polic can take anything a drug suspect owns, and never return it, even if the suspect is judged innocent at trial). It has also led to a popular expectation that law enforcement will act with the brutal thuggery of the Russian KGB or the German SS, smashing down doors without warrants, beating up or killing suspects without warning, creating social mayhem to protect somebody from getting high.

Alcohol Prohibition ended with the following changes in the wine and spirits business.

1) Standards of product quality were established. You couldn’t sell a product that, in modest quantities, would injure or kill your customer. (Prohibition bootleggers weren’t much concerned with a client’s survival, on his or her money)
2) Taxes were to be paid on the product, and a tax stamp required to sell it. The enforcement efforts were changed to tax prosecutions and Eliot Ness, the greatest of them, did not carry a gun! Believe it or not....
3) Over the next seventy years, torts law began to settle the sourest issues of alcohol consumption: how it was sold to minors; its role in automobile and other transportation accidents; and its role in domestic violence.

Despite all of this law and regulation, the wine and spirits business now makes ten times more money, in real terms, than it did during or before Prohibition. Further, despite continuing emergence of new Carrie Nations, society has determined that drinking as a means of enjoyment, sociability, and getting high is just fine, thank you.

Ending opiates and marijuana Prohibition would entail the same changes.

Under product quality, no manufacturer of pleasure giving drugs could sell something like crack cocaine, because of its devastating, almost instantaneous infliction of addiction and the obliteration of natural restraints on violence. Nor, could someone cut cocaine with rat poison or baking soda. Needle delivery systems would probably be prohibited except for medical intervention in otherwise unrelieved pain from illness and injury.

Under the tax changes, dealers would have to be, like cigarette and alcoholic beverage vendors, licensed, prohibited from selling to minors, and barred from selling anything without a genuine tax stamp indicating that taxes would be added to the sale. Strong tax enforcement would be the rule.

Torts law would address the gaps, as it has with alcoholic beverage consumption and its effects.

As a consequence, the entire DEA and its army, including vast numbers of agents from other police agencies, here and in Mexico, not to mention state and local police, would either be relieved of drug duty, at a savings of perhaps fifty to one hundred billion a year. The million and a half prisoners whose offense was drug possession, or use of illegal drugs, could be released, reducing the pressure cooker population in US prisons, and, no small detail, make the prison population more reflective of people who had actually done damage to society.

One of the country’s great conservatives, Bill Buckley, the founder of National Review, author of almost a dozen delightful spy novels, not to mention dozens of other more substantive books, advocated the immediate legalization of drugs, on the same terms as the end of alcohol Prohibition, thirty-five years ago. He was old enough to have seen or heard about the horrors of the original Prohibition, where criminal gangs, in bootlegging hootch and beer, turned civil society upside down with their violence, and undermined government and law enforcement with corruption of civil authorities. He shocked a lot of conservative colleagues and outraged liberals, needless to say. But look closer.

As violence along the U.S.-Mexico border escalates, Mexican drug cartels have found a new and lethal weapon, borrowed from the bloody annals of Mideast terror – the car bomb. This summer, the Juarez drug cartel used a remote-controlled car bomb to kill four and wound 20 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's murder capital, creating a massive blast within walking distance of downtown El Paso, Texas, and a second car bomb exploded outside a police station in Ciudad Victoria.
An internal Department of Homeland Security document describes the car bomb used in Ciudad Juarez as the latest tactic that the armed wing of the Juarez cartel, La Linea, has lifted from Islamic jihadis. "La Linea," says the document, "has used terror tactics generally seen in Iraq and Afghanistan – mass video-recorded decapitations, targeting of civilians, and most recently the July 15 VBIED [car bomb] – to instill fear among rivals, law enforcement and the general public." Mexican Drug Cartels' New Weapon In Border War – The Car Bomb, Richard Esposito, ABC News, August 12, 2011

And again:

Down in Gov. Perry's backyard in west Texas, where they supposedly have the Mexican border under control, another Border Patrol agent has been prosecuted and sentenced to prison for doing his job in arresting drug smugglers. His name is Jesus Diaz, and if you rely on the mainstream media for news of the border region, you have never heard of him…In October of 2008, Diaz, a seven-year veteran of the Border Patrol, was part of a team of border agents who apprehended a small group of young drug smugglers…In questioning one of the apprehended smugglers, officer Diaz allegedly tugged or lifted the young man's handcuffed wrists and caused the smuggler some discomfort. Later that day, while being processed back at the Border Patrol station, the smuggler lodged a complaint with the Mexican consul, which resulted in prosecution of Diaz…The young smuggler in all probability was not facing jail time, only a swift return to Mexico, and he knew it. Nevertheless, he and his Mexican government compatriots pressed charges against agent Diaz for being "roughed up."… Diaz was cleared of any wrongdoing by two investigations – one by the Border Patrol's own Office of Professional Responsibility and then a second investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general…If it had not been for the pressure from the Mexican government, it would have ended there…Under persistent pressure from Mexico, the U.S. attorney convened a grand jury and brought an indictment against Diaz. After the first prosecution ended in a mistrial, Diaz was prosecuted..and…convicted after the government gave immunity to the drug smuggler in exchange for his testimony against Diaz – even though the smuggler admitted in a deposition that he had lied at the first trial…Earlier this month Diaz was sentenced to 24 months in prison for use of "excessive force" and depriving the smuggler of his civil rights…The Mexican government's war on U.S. Border Patrol, Tom Tancredo, WND, October 28, 2011

You see the effects of the Drug War? On policy, officials, and the police, it becomes a tail chasing game. As Tancredo points out, it was probably because small traffickers aren’t prosecuted (unofficially of course) that Diaz got into trouble. The corruption had set in, and it was okay to let something small pass by. In a way, that quiet refusal to pay attention to the law is also a reflection of officials knowing that the War on Drugs is more about headlines and big property and drug seizures than stopping trafficking. The same could be said, and was at the time, about the FBI’s pursuit of “star” bootleggers before Prohibition was ended.

People get upset when you discuss ending Prohibition II. “What about the children? What about our community? What about the sickness in society?” Hey, look around in the Southwest, El Paso, Los Angeles, San Diego, border counties in Texas? Look at national parks overrun by armed marijuana farmers. Look at the cost, the bridge of the drug war is not a bridge from evil to Prohibition but to huge wealth for thugs, and inappropriate, and arguably unconstiutional power to law enforcement and federal agencies. The War on Drugs, from the beginning, was a Protestant Crusade directed at a problem that can’t be solved by either law enforcement or by moral pronouncements. At the time, they compared it to the Abolitionist movement to end slavery, a truly noble effort! What utter crap to make such a comparison! People like to get high. People who do are not slaves, unless they choose pleasure at the exclusion of everything else. And some people do. We can help them in far more effective and inexpensive ways (Nixon's early efforts on the War on Drugs were primarily directed at helping addicts get free of their favorite high, especially veterans returning from Vietnam.) Stopping this head-on is like conducting a guerrilla war in someone else's country. We know what happens there. The foreigner cannot win unless he acts like a Roman and never leaves.

The best you can hope to do, as the enders of Prohibition I determined, is to manage the problem so that it does the least amount of damage possible to civil rights, communities, and, of course, to our children. For the latter, the best solution, however, is to make sure they’re eager to do something besides get stoned.


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