It is Time to End “The Insane War on Drugs”


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US Constitution 21st Amendment in the National Archives

US Constitution 21st Amendment in the National Archives

Today is the 80th Anniversary of the passage of the 21st Amendment of the United States Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment and the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the country.

Prohibition was surely one of the dumbest ideas in American history, surpassed in stupidity perhaps only by the current Insane War on Drugs, which has had many of the same ill effects as prohibition, only worse.

Remember Prohibition It Still Doesn't Work

Proponents of prohibition offered any number of justifications for imposing their religious & moralistic opinions on the rest of the country.  Among these claims were that prohibition would reduce drunkenness, reduce crime & increase respect for the law, reduce insanity, reduce child neglect & domestic violence, and reduce taxes (largely by reducing the need for courts, jails, hospitals, poor houses and insane asylums).

The Reverend Billy Sunday gave a speech at the beginning of prohibition in which he said:

“The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile and children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.”

In fact, prohibition had exactly the opposite effect with respect to all of the projected “benefits”.  Most noticeably, prohibition significantly increased crime in the U.S., giving rise as it did to bootlegging and organized crime.  The number of serious crimes increased, as did drunkenness, disorderly conduct, drunk driving, theft & burglary, assault and even homicide.

The costs of fighting crime increased dramatically during prohibition.  Funding for law enforcement had to be increased rather than decreased. The number of individuals convicted of federal crimes increased 561% during prohibition.  Federal prison population increased 366%.  Federal expenditures on penal facilities increased 1000%!!

Infighting among the gangs organized for bootlegging resulted in 400 gang related murders in the city of Chicago in a single year, including the infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre. 

St. Valentine's Day massacre

Prohibition made the Mafia possible and gave rise to some of the most famous criminals in American history:

Al Capone

Al Capone

Al Capone, Joseph Bonanno, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz, Tommy Lucchese and Frank Nitti, to name a few.

Did we learn anything from the experience of prohibition?  Apparently, not much.  Prohibition ended in 1933 — by 1936, all 48 states had enacted laws regulating the possession, use & sale of marijuana, which was blamed for an increase in violent crime and was touted by some as the “foremost menace to life, health and morals in America”.

Nevertheless, the federal government did not become involved in outlawing (rather than simply taxing) most drugs, other than narcotics, until 1965, when amphetamines & barbiturates came under a federal prohibition.  LSD was added to the list of prohibited drugs in 1968.

Then, in 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 (also called the Controlled Substance Act of 1970)  created the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and brought all drugs under federal jurisdiction.

Nixon Declares "War on Drugs"

Nixon Declares “War on Drugs”

On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon made it official, declaring a federal “war on drugs”.

Thereafter, a flood of anti-drug legislation, both federal and state, imposed more and more restrictions on drug possession, use and sale, while simultaneously imposing increasingly severe sanctions for such possession, use and sale.

What are the governmental justifications for prohibiting the use of drugs by American citizens?  Typically, they include that such prohibition reduces drug use & the resulting impairments, reduces crime & increases respect for the law, reduces child neglect & domestic violence, and reduces the financial burden on society of dealing with drug abuse.  Sound familiar?

And what results have these draconian drug laws accomplished?

Most notably, they have created a whole new version of organized crime and gang warfare, now international in scope.  We have once again seen substantially increased crime in the U.S. (with more than 1.5 million people a year being arrested for drug related offenses) and incredibly higher costs of law enforcement (more than one TRILLION dollars spent in the “war on drugs”).

Drug Raid

Drug-related gang activity, including turf wars, has resulted in a veritable blood-bath on the streets of many American cities (as well as in a number of other countries).  Property and assault crimes committed for the purpose of obtaining drug money account for as much as half of all such crimes in many cities.

Largely because of the “insane war on drugs”, the United States imprisons a higher percentage of its population (716 people per 100,000 population) than any other country in the world.  The next closest large country is Russia (484 per 100,000), while other developed countries have uniformly lower rates of incarceration:  Brazil (274), New Zealand (193), Spain (149), England (148), the Netherlands (82), Germany (80), Norway (71), Denmark (68), Sweden (67), Finland (60), Japan (54) and India (30), to name a few.

Libertarian Party

On the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s declaration of the “War on Drugs”, the Libertarian Party issued a press release discussing why this “war” has been an utter failure and should be abandoned.  See Note 1 below for a link to this release.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

In that release is a link to a report by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) which discusses in sometimes gruesome detail just what a failure the drug war has been.  See Note 2 below.

The Libertarian Party release goes on to say:

“Ultimately, of course, this tragedy is the result of our government’s refusal to allow people to engage in peaceful choices as to what they consume. Even if drug use were to rise upon a return to the American tradition of tolerance that existed before the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act, our streets would be safer, innocent people would not have their homes raided and pets killed by narcotics agents entering the wrong house, victims of asset forfeiture laws wouldn’t have their houses and other assets seized without due process, and resources would be freed to spend on improving peoples’ lives instead of destroying them.”

It concludes with two planks of the Libertarian Party Platform:

1.0 Personal Liberty
Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make. No individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government. Our support of an individual’s right to make choices in life does not mean that we necessarily approve or disapprove of those choices.

1.2 Personal Privacy
Libertarians support the rights recognized by the Fourth Amendment to be secure in our persons, homes, and property. Protection from unreasonable search and seizure should include records held by third parties, such as email, medical, and library records. Only actions that infringe on the rights of others can properly be termed crimes. We favor the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.

It is way past time to bring this insanity to a conclusion, to make law the Libertarian ideal that individuals have the right to choose for themselves whether or not to use drugs, to repeal all laws prohibiting the medicinal or recreational use of all drugs, and to release from our jails and prisons all individuals incarcerated for the possession, use or sale of drugs.

Doing so will mean having to overcome opposition from some segments of law enforcement (which derive significant financial benefits from the war on drugs), as well as the religious right and other moralists who think they should be able to dictate the actions & control the lives of others.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  Einstein’s definition applies perfectly to the “war on drugs” and the time has come to end the insanity.

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Note 1:       http://www.lp.org/news/press-releases/libertarian-party-40-years-is-enough-end-the-drug-war

Note 2:       http://www.leap.cc/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Ending-the-Drug-War-A-Dream-Deferred.pdf

Note 3:       For more on the Libertarian view on ending the War on Drugs, see:

https://www.lpmn.org/libertarians_assert_powerful_case_ending_war_drugs/

Note 4:       For the complete Libertarian Party 2012 Platform, see:

http://www.lp.org/platform

Note 5:       The Libertarian Party website is here:

http://www.lp.org/

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JFK


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JFK Inauguration

JFK Inauguration

Like most people who are old enough to remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I recall exactly how & where I first heard the news and what I was doing at the time.

On July 1, 1963, I had reported to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, as a new plebe.  By November, I had survived Beast Barracks and the first few months of the academic year.  I was assigned to Company I-2, which was housed in barracks we referred to as “The Lost Fifties” because they were numbered in the 50’s, were the northernmost of all cadet barracks and, unlike most, faced away from the cadet area, across a road and toward the gymnasium.

Because I was the company clerk, I was assigned to Room 5114 on the first floor of the 51st division, directly across from the company orderly room and at the top of the stairs coming up to the barracks stoops from ground level.

JFK Dallas Motorcade

JFK Dallas Motorcade

During the afternoon of November 22, 1963, I had returned to my room from class and was working on company clerk duties when I heard two upperclassmen talking as they came up the stairs and walked past the windows of my room.  I was stunned to hear one of them say that President Kennedy had been shot.

By dinner that evening, we knew that the president had died and a mood of shock and sadness had settled over the Corps of Cadets.

I was then and remain to this day a great admirer of JFK and was particularly distraught over his assassination.  It is my opinion that his death marked the start of a long downhill slide in American politics which continues to this day.

In a previous blog, I ranked the 12 presidents of my lifetime:

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/the-worst-president-of-my-lifetime/

I ranked JFK 2nd of the 12, behind Harry S Truman, though I suspect that, had he lived, Kennedy would ultimately have proved the best president of my lifetime, in fact, of the entire 20th century, and one of the best in our country’s history.

How might history have been different if JFK had lived to serve out two full terms as president?

First and perhaps most important, I doubt that he would have escalated American involvement in Vietnam as his successor, Lyndon Johnson, did.  This would have had far-reaching effects, saving the lives of tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, and altering the course of American politics for decades to follow.

Much of the domestic turmoil of the 1960’s and 1970’s might well have been avoided.  Certainly the anti-war protests which divided the country over Vietnam would not have occurred.  LBJ, even if retained as Kennedy’s running mate for a second term, would not likely have ever become president.  Ditto the man who was arguably the worst and unarguably the most-disgraced president of the 20th century, Richard Nixon.

JFK probably would not have enjoyed the same success with respect to civil rights as did Lyndon Johnson.  Kennedy would have faced tougher challenges in this regard than LBJ, himself a Southerner.  Nevertheless, Kennedy’s ability to bridge political differences might well have ameliorated the most extreme animosities of the civil rights era.

JFK & RFK

In this potentially different political atmosphere, it is possible that neither JFK’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, nor Martin Luther King Jr., would have been killed.  Following two successful JFK terms, Bobby Kennedy might well have been elected president in 1968 and held the office until 1976.  Nixon would have remained in obscure retirement and the affable but ineffectual Gerald Ford would have remained where he was most useful, in the House of Representatives.

JFK had earned the respect of Russian leaders and might well have brought about cold war detente much earlier than ultimately proved to be the case.

JRK & Nikita Khrushchev

JFK & Nikita Khrushchev

Certainly, American successes in the space race would have continued apace, and his visionary approach to the space program might well have motivated even greater achievements in that program.

And, in my view, the spiritual darkness which descended on the United States in the years following Kennedy’s death would not have occurred;  national spirit and pride would have remained high;  and social advances for minorities and women would likely have come more quickly.

It is, of course, difficult to project the effects of a two-term Kennedy presidency into the distant future.  Would the ripple-effect of a completed JFK legacy have lasted until now?  Perhaps not, but I am convinced that the United States would have been a better country throughout at least the 1960’s and 1970’s. 

Having lived through the past 50 years without benefit of a complete JFK legacy, I cannot help being wistful about what might have been.

JFK's Eternal Flame

JFK’s Eternal Flame

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JFK

Some of my favorite JFK quotes:

Particularly apt today:  “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

More JFK quotes are available here:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/john_f_kennedy.html#JYe85E9h3ruMWHst.99

The Worst President of My Lifetime


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I was born in 1945, not long after Harry Truman succeeded Franklin Delano Roosevelt as President of the United States.  Thus, in my lifetime, 12 different men have held that office.  I recently had occasion to post a Facebook comment and engage in a conversation about the one I consider the worst of the 12.

Sadly, as presidents go, it has been pretty much downhill slide since 1945.  Only 2 of the 12 presidents since then make it into the Top 10 all time in the collective opinions of presidential scholars and surveys … and they are the first 2 of my lifetime, Harry S. Truman (7th) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (tie for 8th).  See Note 1 below.

The first 4 of the 12 are also the top 4 on my personal list of Best Presidents of my lifetime (I disagree with the collection of scholarly surveys only in the reversed rankings of Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy):

1st — Harry S Truman

2nd — John F. Kennedy

3rd — Dwight D. Eisenhower

4th — Lyndon B. Johnson

Which is why it’s been pretty much downhill ever since.  However, it is not the top of my list that concerns me here — rather it is the bottom, the Worst President of my lifetime.

My Facebook comment was motivated by this graphic from DemocraticUnderground.com …Iraq 10 Years Later 2003-2013

http://www.democraticunderground.com/1017106524

… which prompted me to observe that George W. Bush is the worst president of my lifetime.  Of course, I also lived through the presidency of Richard Nixon and once thought I would never see a worse excuse for president than Tricky Dick.  Unfortunately, my expectation in that regard was not very prescient.

I fault Nixon largely for his duplicitous and condescending attitude toward the American people and the disgrace he brought to his office.  Ultimately, I rank him ahead of Bush II largely because of his foreign policy accomplishment of visiting China and opening up an economic dialogue between the U.S. and China.  Bush had no such saving grace and not a single presidential accomplishment of historical note.  See Note 2 below.

On the other hand, his duplicity matches or exceeds that of Nixon in audacity and scope.  By far the most significant (and ultimately horrific) of his deceptions were the falsities upon which he justified the invasion of Iraq.

Bush and his cronies advanced two major themes in support of this war — first, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which posed a threat to the security of the United States;  and second, that Saddam Hussein was somehow in league with al-Qa’ida and played a role in the 9-11 attacks on the U.S.

Neither claim was true and there is good reason to believe that Bush knew that the supposed intelligence on which these claims were based was exaggerated, misleading or downright false.

In the recently aired documentary “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War”, MSNBC provided the best look to date at just how the people of this country were mis-led by the Bush administration:

http://tv.msnbc.com/shows/hubris-selling-the-iraq-war/

In the documentary, declassified documents — and insiders talking on camera for the first time — reveal details on how President Bush and his team justified and marketed a war they had already decided to wage.

As more and more classified materials are declassified, and as insiders speak out, the truth will show Bush for what he was … and the picture will not be pretty. “Hubris: Selling the War in Iraq” is just the beginning of that process.

And for those who dislike or don’t trust MSNBC as a source of accurate information, how about the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which in 2006 issued its “Report on Postwar Findings About Iraq’s WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How They Compare with Prewar Assessments”?  This bi-partisan committee was initially chaired by republican Pat Roberts of Kansas and later by democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

This press release by the committee discusses the report …

http://intelligence.senate.gov/press/record.cfm?id=298775

… and the entire 153 page pdf version of it is available here for review:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-109srpt331/pdf/CRPT-109srpt331.pdf

In the press release, the Senate committee, among other things, says:

“Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence,” Rockefeller said. “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”

“It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qa’ida as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qa’ida as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.”

The Committee’s report cites several conclusions in which the Administration’s public statements were NOT supported by the intelligence. They include:
 
Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa’ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa’ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.

Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.
 
The Secretary of Defense’s statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes because they were underground and deeply buried was not substantiated by available intelligence information.
 
The Intelligence Community did not confirm that Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 as the Vice President repeatedly claimed.

It is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that there were no WMD’s in Iraq and that Iraq was not allied with al Qa’ida in its terroristic attacks on the US. Furthermore, no one in the Bush administration had any viable plan for what should be done in Iraq once military operations ended.

The DemocraticUnderground.com graphic reproduced above also actually underestimates the total costs of the war in Iraq.

The Office of Management and Budget now estimates that the cost of combat operations will total approximately $822 billion; another $733 billion has been spent on care for wounded veterans and homeland security expenses related to the wars; future medical care of veterans is estimated to total $490 billion; and the interest on the money borrowed to fund the wars will total approximately $4 trillion by the time the debt is repaid sometime after 2050.

It has also proved not to be the case, as some in the administration claimed, that Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the war.

And none of that includes the costs of foreign aid for rebuilding Iraq or the foreign aid paid to Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the region to secure their cooperation (such as it is) in the war effort.

The death toll cited in the Democratic Underground article is very conservative; some estimates of the civilian death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan are as high as 330,000 or more.

There are other reasons to consider the Bush administration the worst of my lifetime: his tax policies have led to an economic crisis in the country; the response of his administration to Hurricane Katrina was a disgrace; and he vetoed a stem cell research bill that might have provided medical and health benefits to Americans for generations to come.  See Note 3 below.

A long time friend of mine criticized my Facebook comments about Bush and asked me what I would have done in response to the 9-11 attacks.

What I would have done is of no real consequence. But, I would rather have seen our president respond with an all-out effort to find Osama bin Laden and others who were responsible for that attack, rather than going off on a wild tangent in Iraq, a country which had no connection whatsoever with 9-11.

There is no doubt that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein and his sons. That, however, can be said about hundreds, perhaps thousands or even millions of people — does that mean the US government should summarily go around killing people that we think are “bad” for the world? I think not. And there is flip side to that question — is the world better off without the 330,000 or more other Iraqis who were killed in the war? Was it worth all of those lives (and those of the Americans and our allies) who were killed? I think the answer to that question is a clear and unequivocal “no”.

With respect to radical Islam, protecting ourselves against radicals of any stripe is a proper governmental function and I support all reasonable efforts to do so.  The war in Iraq was just not such a reasonable effort. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim, but was not a radical Islamist. Rather, he was a secular ruler who ruthlessly suppressed Shi’a Muslims and elevated minority Sunnis to power only if they were also members of the Ba-athist party (a secular, rather than religious, organization). Ergo, invading Iraq and removing Hussein from power had absolutely nothing to do with any perceived need to protect the US against radical Islam.

Thus, taking everything into consideration, it is an inescapable conclusion that George W. Bush was the worst president of my lifetime.

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Ranking all of the presidents of my lifetime:

1st — Harry S Truman — See Note 4 below.

2nd — John F. Kennedy

3rd — Dwight D. Eisenhower

4th — Lyndon B. Johnson

5th — William J. Clinton

6th — Ronald Reagan

7th — George H. W. Bush

8th — Barack H. Obama

9th — Gerald R. Ford

10th — Jimmy Carter

11th — Richard M. Nixon

12th — George W. Bush

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Note 1 — For a comprehensive listing of presidential rankings, see this Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_rankings_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States

Scroll down to the rankings chart and see the final column of the aggregate ranking of each president based on these various scholarly surveys.

Note 2 — Bush ranks 34th of 43 presidents on the aggregate scholars list.  I suspect that as we gain historical perspective, his position will solidify in the bottom quarter of presidents and that his stature will, if anything, decline.

Note 3 — For another view on the deficiencies of the Bush presidency, see this website, which cites 31 reasons why Bush was a bad president:

http://www.bengarvey.com/2008/08/07/31-reasons-why-bush-is-a-bad-president/

I don’t personally agree with all of the reasons stated in this litany of deficiencies.  For example, I don’t fault any president for taking vacation time, as the presidency is a stressful job that always goes with the president and everyone needs to be able to relax and get away from that kind of pressure.

Obviously, however, I do agree with his ultimate conclusion.

Note 4 — Truman had only a middle initial — “S” — and no middle name.  He also used no period after that initial;  hence, Harry S Truman, not Harry S. Truman.