Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

There’s Only 1 Way to End the Mexican Drug War

05.04.2010 (9:21 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Mexico ::

Almost 20,000 Mexican citizens have died in that country since President Felipe Calderon’s government declared war on the drug lords that even now seem to rule many parts of that country.

Worse, that’s not likely to change says Ismael Zambada, a top member of Joaquin Guzman, Mexico’s most notorious drug lord:

"Millions of people are wrapped up in the narco problem. How can they be overcome? For all the bosses jailed, dead or extradited their replacements are already there."

The hell of it is that Zambada is probably right. In theory, such deadly force could be applied to the battle against the narco-terrorists that bit players would find it too risky to step into leadership positions when their bosses fall. But that’s unlikely to happen because of the collateral damage that would inevitably accompany such an offensive.

There are two ways to convince a bad apple to get his life right: fear and persuasion. When fear is not going to work, persuasion may have to do. In this case, it’s economic persuasion that might convince drug runners that the business isn’t worth the risk.

Obviously the U.S. government isn’t going to get into the business of buying drug smugglers off. I say that blithely – it’s clear that very little is completely beyond the pale these days – but I do think it’s true. But a marked decline in demand for illegal drugs would have the same effect as an all-out war on Mexican pushers by reducing the incentive for manufacturers and smugglers to stay in business.

The Washington Post still thinks that doing so is possible via law enforcement:

Perhaps the top contribution the United States could make is to redouble its efforts to reduce American demand for illegal narcotics. The trafficking in Mexico is driven overwhelmingly by U.S. consumption — especially of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine — which is estimated to exceed $60 billion annually. Moreover, the U.S. government estimates that $18 billion to $39 billion flows south each year as a result of American sales of illegal narcotics.

The fact of the matter is that reducing demand is far easier said than done and will never be achieved through military means. Unless what is now illegal is made legal, that is. Legalization is, sadly, the only viable untried option: we’ve attempted everything else and nothing has made more than a small dent in the flow of illegal drugs into this country. One need only look at the foolish period of Prohibition to recognize where this will all end up.

Many well-meaning and law-abiding Americans may rail against the notion of legalizing marijuana and narcotics, but the truth is that their friends and neighbors have already voted in favor of drugs with the most powerful ballot of all – their wallets – and it’s impossible to undo that choice.

Why? Primarily because these people simply don’t want things any other way and don’t care that thousands of people have died and are still dying every day so that they can indulge their drug habits.

Legalization, whether partial or complete, is the inevitable end to the drug wars. No other end short of Turkish Draconianism is possible. The only question is how many more bystanders will die before the conclusion is reached in Washington.

Mormons Murdered in Mexico Were Real Men

11.07.2009 (1:30 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Gun Control,Mexico ::

image Two leaders of Colonia LeBaron, a Mormon community with roots in the United State, were murdered because they dared to defy the drug/kidnapping gangs that have killed more than 3000 people in Chihuahua, Mexico in the last 18 months.

Benjamin LeBaron, 31 and Luis Widmar were forced out of their homes earlier this week and shot multiple times by gangsters who want to ensure that people in Chihuahua stay afraid of them. Both men died.

The tactic may well work. It’s been said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Sadly, doing nothing is the easiest thing to do in a conflict, a fact that goes a long way toward explaining the state of Mexico and the world at large.

more »

New Drug Czar Making Sense, Cops Suspicious

14.05.2009 (9:49 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs ::

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Gil Kerlikowske, new leader of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, says that it’s time to stop thinking of the nation’s problem with drugs as a war because it’s harmful, both here at home and abroad:

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

Kerlikowske, who was police chief in Seattle when it’s tolerance for marijuana use was well-known, sees the issue as much about treatment as it is about law enforcement.

If – and it’s a big question – the government should do anything about drug use, treatment is a logical approach because it deals with – or at least attempts to – the root problem, which is the user’s desire for the substance he or she abuses.

Kerlikowske’s lack of interest in enforcing minor drug laws has police unions and officials looking at him with more than a little skepticism.  Sgt. Richard O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild is one of them:

“The average rank-and-file officer is saying, ‘He can’t control two blocks of Seattle, how is he going to control the nation?’ ”

So is James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police:

“While I don’t necessarily disagree with Gil’s focus on treatment and demand reduction, I don’t want to see it at the expense of law enforcement. People need to understand that when they violate the law there are consequences.”

Pasco is right, of course.  But laws are supposed to be just, sensible, and equitable and our draconian federal drug laws are none of these, particularly as relates to relatively harmless substances like marijuana.

Pasco’s literal thinking is like that of a horse with blinders.  All he can see is his little piece of the picture as he charges forward into battle.  Step back from the fray and it’s a completely different world.  Where is the sense in jailing tens of thousands of young men because they choose to inhale the smoke of a non-sanctioned plant?  Ridiculous.

Legalizing Drugs Will Reduce Violent Crime

24.03.2009 (7:53 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Law ::

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As demonstrated by his recent decision to send help to the embattled Mexico border region, President Obama is well aware of the problem posed by drug violence, both here at home and overseas.  His response, as summarized below, is all wrong.  And that’s not just me talking – Harvard’s Jeffery Miron says that same thing.

The Obama administration’s multi-agency plan includes nearly 500 agents and support personnel. However, officials did not say where the additional agents would come from or how long they would stay at the border.

Napolitano said officials were still considering whether to deploy the National Guard to the Arizona and Texas borders with Mexico, which the governors had requested.

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said the combined efforts of the U.S. and Mexican governments would “destroy these criminal organizations.”

If you believe that I have some stock in some bank holding companies I’d like to sell you.

It’s too easy to say that the politicians who champion continuing the War on Drugs don’t understand the problem.  Demand creates supply, as any first-year business student knows.  And there’s a huge demand for illegal drugs in this country, whether we choose to accept it or not.  Couple that demand with prohibition and you get a recipe for a black market, corruption, and violence.  It’s not surprising that we’ve seen all three increase in recent years.  Politicians know that but choose to be “tough on drugs” anyway.

Miron says the proper response to the otherwise insoluble problem is to legalize and regulate drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and others.

Federal, state and local governments spend roughly $44 billion per year to enforce drug prohibition. These same governments forego roughly $33 billion per year in tax revenue they could collect from legalized drugs, assuming these were taxed at rates similar to those on alcohol and tobacco. Under prohibition, these revenues accrue to traffickers as increased profits.

The right policy, therefore, is to legalize drugs while using regulation and taxation to dampen irresponsible behavior related to drug use, such as driving under the influence. This makes more sense than prohibition because it avoids creation of a black market. This approach also allows those who believe they benefit from drug use to do so, as long as they do not harm others.

That should be the bottom line in this debate.  So long as drug users do not directly harm others, their actions should not be considered criminal.  Personal liberty demands it, as do common sense and basic economics

Sex, Drugs, Teenagers, Teachers, and Money

14.01.2009 (12:46 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Education ::

Looking like a lurid "All Nude" sign, today’s Houston Chronicle’s headline screams, "Wash. court: Sex between teachers, 18-year-olds OK".  In fact, the Washington Court of Appeals said no such thing.  Rather, the court ruled that sex between consenting adults is not a legal matter, regardless of a student/teacher relationship.  Not the same thing at all.

Here’s the real problem with the Washington case:

The state’s code of professional conduct for teachers still prohibits any sexual advance toward or contact with pupils, whatever their age, and teachers can be fired for it.

Matthew Hirschfelder, who hasn’t been able to work as a teacher for more than 2 years, denies that any sexual relationship ever took place, the statement of the now 20-something former student not withstanding.  On the face of it, Hirschfelder’s claim seems dubious.  Why would an adult woman make up such a story?

Yet, it does happen, as the Chronicle reported – also today – in regard to a criminal case in Montgomery County:

Eric Foster went to trial last month in Montgomery County’s 410th state District Court on three counts of indecency with a child and one count of sexual assault of a child. The jury cleared him of the charges.

The Chronicle has a great comments section for its articles and readers are rightly focused on the enormous injustice that Eric Foster has suffered in this case.  His name and reputation have been destroyed.  For all intents and purposes his career as an educator is over.  The last year of his life has been a living hell.  And over what?  The accusation of a teenaged girl, an accusation that has been evaluated by a jury and found to be false. 

Who, one astute commenter wonders, will make Eric Foster whole?  That can never be done, although a civil lawsuit against the girl’s family might compensate him for some of his legal fees and his pain and suffering.  Despite the jury’s findings, the shadow of doubt hangs over Foster and will do so for the rest of his life.

Why do we take students’ allegations more seriously than they deserve to be taken?  Because real abuses do happen and many of our current crop of educators would never be allowed in the classroom if the U.S. had a proper education system run by the best the country has to offer.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Houston where a seemingly endless series of teachers have been arrested on drug charges in the last few weeks.

Educators’ ethics aren’t where they should be, obviously.  Want to clean up the education system a little by getting rid of bad teachers like these?  The one of the keys fixes is to introduce competition into the education system (the others are to re-introduce discipline and morals back into schools – we’ll discuss another time). 

An administrative assistant makes as much or more than a teacher – is it any surprise that we don’t get the right instructors in the classroom?  Teachers have to put in 20 years, minimum to get their maximum retirement benefit, something that helps make up for the low pay.  But is it then a surprise that teachers stay in their positions long after they are burned out from the stress?

To get the right teachers we need to pay them more – a lot more – up front.  Only some current teachers deserve that kind of increase in compensation.  So be it.

Casualties of the American Drug War

22.12.2008 (10:16 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Law ::

America’s War on Drugs is a known failure and it’s south-of-the-border derivative is literally the cause of blood – and decapitated heads – in the streets of Mexico.  Drug lords there regularly defy the government’s efforts to stop narco-terrorism and Sunday dumped twelve headless, tortured bodies in Chilpancingo along with a love note to police reading, “For every one of mine that you kill, I will kill 10.”  When will enough be enough in the failed attempt to prohibit drug use in this country by force of arms?

The U.S. has worked with many countries in a moderately successful effort to stem the supply side of the drug trade.  That’s what the bloody violence in Mexico is all about – stopping the flow of drugs at the source.  But despite some recent reports of success in this area, demand is still high, a fact that keeps the supply coming, despite the increased risk of apprehension in Latin American countries like Colombia and Mexico and longer prison sentences for convicted users here in the U.S.

Like many Americans I have mixed feelings about the WoD, as I’ve written several times.  Certainly there are risks associated with drugs from the personal health, intellectual capital, and public safety perspectives.  Drug use leads directly to poor health.  Drugs make consumers even more stupid than they already are.  Drugs and alcohol are major factors in traffic accidents, accounting for at least 13% of fatal accidents.  No one denies these elementary facts. 

During the run-up to the presidential election, Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr estimated the WoD had made a 30% reduction in the natural size of the drug market.  This leads to the question:  Do these downsides justify the massive expenditures – $48B per year, 2.3M adults in prison, 300+% in the amount spent on “corrections” – that America is pumping into the effort?

Anti-drug laws may, on a net financial basis, make sense, though I’m unaware of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis study on the subject.  But when considering the personal liberty issue, I don’t find the argument against legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine compelling. 

So long as the damage drugs do to an adult user is kept internal, meaning he/she doesn’t injure or kill anyone while under the influence and personally bears the inevitable medical costs associated with drug use, the state has no business regulating their consumption.  It’s only when children use drugs and/or drug effects are externalized that they become a legitimate concern for law enforcement. 

Presumedly the latter would be managed ala alcohol in terms of criminal proceedings, the primary concern of the public being traffic and job-related accidents while under the influence. 

The problem of underage drug abusers is the only aspect of drug prohibition that makes logical sense.  This is a legitimate public policy concern, much as underage alcohol consumption is.  It does follow that legalizing MJ for those 18 and older would lead to increased availability to juveniles.  But is that fact in itself enough to justify the entire cost of the WoD?

The families of the latest victims of Mexico’s cousin to our WoD might have strong feelings about that question and justifiably so.  It was, after all, America’s War on Drugs that created the violent environment that lead to their torture and death at the hands of their own countrymen.

Teen Drinking Laws

20.08.2008 (1:51 pm) – Filed under: Drugs,Youth ::

I was going to let pass the recently publicity garnered by the Amethyst Initiative in their quest to lower the legal age for alcohol consumption from 21 to 18.  Not because I wasn’t interested – I have 2 teenagers at home – but because it seemed like a non-starter.  21 saves lives.  Why tamper with it?

A recent local incident took the lives of 3 teenagers in a fiery wreck caused by a repeat teen offender’s attempt to evade arrest.  Another brought the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to my sleepy hometown and resulted in 10 teens being arrested.  As one resident put it, "21 didn’t just fall from the sky.  It’s the age at which people are finally mature to make decent decisions."

Even Ezra Klein’s banal truism, "21 is, of course, a bizarre marker. Demanding that kids refrain from drinking for three years after they become legal adults and, in most cases, leave their parent’s supervision, is a bit odd", couldn’t rouse me to blog about it.

But Mark Kleiman’s take is more interesting.  No one wants kids driving – ask the Texas parents who are mourning over the fatal incident described above.  Mark says:

To address the specific problem of youthful drinking and driving, we could — as some states have already — change the drunk-driving laws so as to forbid drivers under 21 to drive with any detectable level of alcohol. (These are called "ZT" [for "zero tolerance"] laws.) For someone still learning both to drive and to hold his or her liquor, even a little bit under the influence an be too much. Anyway, a bright line (and zero is a very bright line) may be better observed than a rule that enables the proverbial "two beers."

Now that’s what I call thinking!  This perhaps means it can never be implemented by a legislative body, but it’s still a damn good idea. 18-20 year-olds can drink but cannot drive while influenced.  Period.  It’s crystal clear and addresses the argument that a kid old enough to volunteer to get killed in Iraq ought to be able to have a beer back home.

Mark also discusses the idea of raising alcohol taxes as an impediment to teen drinking:

To address the more general problem of excessive drinking by teenagers (not to mention the still more general problem of excessive drinking, period) we could raise alcohol taxes. This summer has provided a useful object lesson in the Law of Demand: when gasoline prices went up, people drove less. Drinking is the same, especially heavy drinking. Price matters.

Doubling the current alcohol tax, which currently averages out to about a dime a drink, to twenty cents a drink, would put a substantial dent in heavy drinking, especially by younger drinkers. That would measurably reduce homicide, other violent crime, and other accidents, in addition to reducing drunk driving. And the additional tax burden on anyone but a heavy drinker would be trivial: even someone knocking back an average of two drinks a day (which puts him at about the 90th percentile of alcohol consumption) would wind up paying additional taxes of less than $80 a year. To paraphrase my favorite ad for expensive Scotch, "If the tax increase matters to you, you’re drinking too much."

At any rate, the idea of adding a dime to the price of a beer isn’t bad.  It’s not much good either.  People can afford to stay home from the mall on the weekend or defer a vacation until next year.  But as the so-called War on Drugs tells us, they’re going to find a way to drink, regardless of the price.

Ten cents isn’t going to matter to anyone, least of all teenagers, and increasing the tax to the point that it would have a noticeable effect would be difficult to get done.  Furthermore, doing so would have the effect of putting alcohol into the status of an illicit drug:  available but out of reach, economically speaking.

The problem with doing this is that, once again, people want to drink.  The effect of making drugs illegal has been incredible levels of drug-related crime.  Pricing alcohol beyond the means of poor Americans would have the same impact.

I do love Mark’s last line, all the more so because it’s true.  Of course, if you’re drinking at all, you’re drinking too much, so perhaps I shouldn’t find the joke amusing but rather sad.  Unfortunately, this may render my opinion meaningless in the eyes of imbibers.

Welfare Test

17.06.2008 (6:25 am) – Filed under: Drugs,Welfare ::

Tip of the hat to Sheryl for this gem via e-mail:

I have a job. I work, they pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit. In order to get that paycheck, I am required to pass a random urine test with which I have no problem.

What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don’t have to pass a urine test. Shouldn’t one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

Personally I’m inclined to give that question serious consideration.  Why shouldn’t there be criteria beyond need to justify public assistance?

The Forgotten War

15.06.2008 (12:41 am) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Society ::

Libby Spencer at Newshoggers and Bob Barr have something in common: both realize that America’s War on Drugs is a waste of both resources and lives.  Libby brings up two facts that the feds don’t want us dwelling on:

deaths attributable to the abuse of legal pharmaceutical drugs are three times greater than illegal ones, but you don’t hear any huge calls to ban those drugs.

marijuana remains the only so-called dangerous drug which has not been attributed as a cause of a single fatality in 5,000 years. Yet in 2007 there were 44,640 Americans imprisoned at the state and federal level solely for offenses related to this natural herb. There’s no count on the numbers held in local and county jails.

Bob Barr was once a federal prosecutor and, as a staunch conservative Congressman, a firm supporter of the War on Drugs.  Now he says that the effort has been a failure.

Today, I can reflect on my efforts and see no progress in stopping the widespread use of drugs. I’ll even argue that America’s drug problem is larger today than it was when Richard Nixon first coined the phrase, "War on Drugs," in 1972.

America’s drug problem is only compounded by the vast amounts of money directed at this ongoing battle. In 2005, more than $12 billion dollars was spent on federal drug enforcement efforts while another $30 billion was spent to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders.

Thus far the War on Drugs has gotten very little attention during the presidential primaries.  Even Barack Obama’s hip fling with cocaine as a youth barely made a ripple in the media or in the public mind set.  Yet I would submit that the effects of this misguided effort to enforce a sort of moral sobriety are more directly relevant to American’s everyday lives than most of the issues the campaigns have focused on thus far.

Beyond the billions that have been wasted – more money has been squandered in this effort than has been pissed away in Iraq thus far, which takes some doing – there are severe indirect effects on our society.  Chief among them are the incarceration of African-American youth, the violent crime that accompanies prohibition of these substances like a shadow, and the introduction of lethally additive synthetic drugs manufactured here at home.

With Barack Obama expected to win 80+% of the black vote come November, it seems likely that he will have some explaining to do if he continues to support the policies that have jailed so many young males among his constituency.

Indeed, Mr. Obama has gotten this issue completely wrong, having already stated that drug laws discriminate against blacks:

"But let’s not make the punishment for crack cocaine that much more severe than the punishment for powder cocaine when the real difference is where the people are using them or who is using them."

No, the War on Drugs is a stupid endeavor that is destroying our society because of the violent criminal marketplace the attempted prohibition created.  Yet drug laws are not discriminatory – we all know what the laws are and freely choose to obey them or not.  In fact the effort’s negative effects are borne by all Americans, financially and socially.

Libby again:

America’s real drug problem is its addiction to prohibition. It hasn’t worked in the last 40 and more years and it won’t ever work.

Correct.  Bob Barr says that the tens of billions of dollars we’ve spent have stopped perhaps 30% of the drugs directed toward the American market.  I doubt that we’ve been that successful given that the supply of drugs can easily be increased in response to law enforcement’s efforts, whereas our ability to stop that inflow is limited.

Let me be clear:  Consuming drugs is unhealthy, undesirable, and foolish.  I strongly urge anyone who takes drugs to stop, immediately, and seek treatment.  To those who do not indulge, good for you.  Keep saying no.  Period. 

That said, our policy of prohibition is a bad one in that it shifts the burden of bearing the effects of drug use from drug consumers to society at large.  In an unregulated drug market, users would be able to obtain drugs at low cost when they wanted them.  One result would be that they would feel the full effect of their habit on their physiology.  But no one else would be physically injured by their habit. 

Under prohibition, however, drug consumers must pay a far higher price to get the product they desire and do so through unsavory delivery channels, both of which cause drug-related crime far in excess of what would be the case in the absence of government restrictions.  These crimes are not, in my opinion, properly identified as a result of the War on Drugs or weighed against the benefits of substance prohibition.

Consider the recent case of Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11, of Weleetka, Oklahoma.  The young girls were shot dead on a country road near their homes, possibly as the result of a run-in with local drug dealers.  Certainly that was the first thought that came to the minds of local citizens when they heard what had happened to the girls.

Farrow and other neighbors said they have noticed a change in the backwoods. Time was, Farrow said, he could go hunting on his property, leave his gun propped up against the house, and nobody would touch it. In the past 10 years, he has been robbed three times, he said.

The dirt roads, which Skyla and Taylor walked dozens of times for sleepovers, have changed, too, according to Farrow.

"It just went downhill out in the country," he said. "These roads ain’t nothing but drunks and dopeheads on the weekends. Sometimes, you have to drive around them, they’re passed out in the middle of the road."

Mosher said drugs may have played a role in the death of his niece and her friend.

"The girls might have walked up on some guys cooking dope," he said. "There’s been more of that stuff going on here in the past two years."

A neighbor, Ross Padgett, said drugs and the criminal element are worse than ever.

Perhaps these relatives and neighbors are wrong about why the girls were killed.  But even if this case doesn’t support my argument there have been many, many more that have.  And more will happen in the future, all as a direct result of the government’s attempt to criminalize the consumption of certain plant extracts.  It makes no sense.  In some ways that’s the worst offense of all.

Principal Busts Dope Dealing Delinquent

19.04.2008 (1:44 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Education,Law ::

In New Hampshire, Concord High School principal Jean Barker turned the tables on a student arranging to sell drugs via text messages by setting up a mini-string operation that lead to the student’s arrest. 

That’s what I call excellence in education!  Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of frivolous people willing to to take the drug pusher’s side.

From the Concord Monitor:

She [Barker] arranged the alleged drug deal with 17-year-old John Huckins through text messages while posing as a friend of Huckins’s, according to the report.

Huckins, a senior, was also suspended from Concord High for 10 days immediately after his arrest. But Concord school officials are also trying to suspend him for the rest of the year because they allege Huckins began the drug transaction over his cell phone while on Concord High property, a violation of drug-free school laws, according to court records.

Huckins’s attorney, Mark Howard of Manchester, is challenging that second, longer suspension on several grounds, one of which is that Concord school officials violated Huckins’s rights the first time they tried a longer suspension.

Howard declined comment, yet other criminal defense attorneys reached yesterday raised several concerns about Barker’s role in the case. Some questioned whether she had violated privacy rights or run afoul of drug laws by setting up a drug buy on school grounds.

"It’s bizarre," said Concord attorney Mark Sisti. "It’s a created crime."

Legal opinions, anyone?

Truth is that all crime is created.  Robberies and drug sales don’t spontaneously happen.  The current evidence in this case shows that Huckins was not solicited.  His actions initiated the criminal activity that the good attorneys are now trying to obfuscate away.

None of which helps Huckins.  A better course of action would be force the young man to accept responsibility for his actions, deal with his punishment like a man, and use the experience to become a better human being.

We should be thankful that there are still school administrators like Barker who are willing to step up, do what’s needed, and accept the inevitable criticism that follows whenever action is taken.  I’ll concede that her actions may fall into a legal gray area; however, there’s no question that her actions were right and proper.  Which is more important?

Barker defended her decision to pose as a student friend of Huckins’s to set up an alleged drug buy. Barker argued that Huckins’s alleged willingness to bring drugs to Brady, even under false pretenses, put her school at risk.

"Whatever part I play, it is with the intention of making sure all the kids in the building are safe and making good choices," she said. "I would not get on the phone and initiate buying drugs from someone. But when it was obvious that someone was going to involve one of our students in the sale of drugs, . . . I am not going to ignore it."

That’s it.

(h/t Houston Chronicle)