Currently viewing the category: "Policy"

potIn the last two years, it’s been tempting to preemptively celebrate the end of the war on drugs. Consider that more than five years ago, only libertarians, the occasional radical leftists, or politicians named Ron Paul were seriously talking about the need to end this disastrous policy.

Now suddenly recreational marijuana is newly legal in two U.S. states, the House has voted to restrict the Drug Enforcement Administration from going after medical medical marijuana in the 22 states (plus DC) where it’s legal, and mainstream politicians are fighting over who can seem the most relaxed about legal weed (admittedly, with plenty of exceptions).

Nevertheless, the urge to pack it in, say “job well done,” and assume that social progress will roll in the direction of ending the war on drugs is a dangerous one.

It’s dangerous not just because of the countless people imprisoned for consensual drug crimes who are still filling our prisons to bursting. And not just because we still haven’t legally won on marijuana, even though 38 percent of Americans admit to having tried it, and a majority has supported its legalization since last year.

The “mission accomplished” mentality is really dangerous because the hard part is still ahead. Reformers will soon have to press on to legalizing the harder, more dangerous drugs as well.

This is one reason why though the relative safety of marijuana — though be careful with that dosage, Ms. Dowd — is relevant, it’s far from the only important issue in the war on drugs. After all, taking the logic that safety is the concern, we could argue, as Slate’s Reihan Salam recently did, that “the war on booze deserves a second chance” since alcohol is more dangerous than weed.

This is one reason the conversation about legalization must not get bogged down in statistical calculations of danger. Yes, weed is relatively safe. Its schedule one classification helps prove the utter cluelessness of folks who profess to know enough to ban something for an entire nation. But even a scientifically rigorous prohibition on substances is morally reprehensible and will have the same kinds of predictable, bad effects that any kind of baseless government action will.

Consider the recent media and public outrage over the Georgia drug raid during which a 19-month-old toddler was critically burned when police threw a flashbang grenade into his playpen. The no-knock raid performed by the Habersham County Sheriff’s Department and the Cornelia Police Department was over the alleged sale of a small amount of meth by the nephew of the Phonesavanh family who had moved into their relative’s home after theirs burned down two months previous.

After little Bounkham Phonesavanh was sent to the hospital and put into a medically-induced coma thanks to these cops, Cornelia Police Chief Rick Darby swore they didn’t know a child was in the house. They protested that would have done things differently had they known. They also didn’t realize that the subject of their search wasn’t even there when they busted in the door.

Wanis Thonetheva, 30, had hours before supposedly sold meth to an informant. (Thonetheva was later arrested with an ounce of meth on him, so that seems probable for once.) For anyone else besides a police officer performing a no-knock raid, this excuse would be an embarrassment. What made police believe that a few hours was enough time between the alleged meth sale and the 3 a.m. door-kick to be sure nobody innocent would be endangered during the raid? Do they not know children exist?

On the other hand, for a drug war action, “we didn’t know” is just as reasonable as anything else. After all, if killing innocent adults, endangering your fellow officers, and destroying 500 years of English common law isn’t enough for a line to be drawn, why should simple toddler maiming be such an outrage? This isn’t weed we’re talking about, this is “not even once” meth.

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Check out my podcast with Reason TV’s Jim Epstein! I asked him about the sharing economy, education policy, cities, and why he’s a filthy, filthy minarchist. (Not so much that last one.)

Also go look at Epstein’s awesome Reason works, particularly his sharing economy article and videos.

Also! Here is kind of fuzzy video of the interview.

It’s in two parts because my Chromebook crashed!

(And then I bought a new laptop.)

potAmerica’s National Security Agency (NSA) records and archives nearly every single phone call in the Bahamas. We’re not just talking call logs. Call content of that nation of 370,000 people is being snooped on as well.

That came as news to the Bahamian government when The Intercept broke the story this week. NSA reportedly used the legal access granted by the Bahamas to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as cover for its secret, somewhat less legal inroad into the Bahamas mobile phone services.

America’s excuse for this vast violation of the privacy rights of an entire nation was the usual spiel about national security concerns, with one alarming but predictable twist. As the Intercept notes, this program is being used to go after “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers.”

The website also published a partially-redacted NSA memo that notes how the lines between the wars on terror and drugs have blurred over the years, and the war on the latter has “equally high” stakes as the former.

Lines have indeed blurred. Now, while activists, advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and rare pro-freedom politicians such as Rep. Justin Amash continue to fight against NSA spying, it behooves us all to remember that it’s not just No Such Agency that we need to worry about.

If the now-toothless attempt at reform, the USA FREEDOM Act, can’t even collar the NSA, how are we supposed to go after the other enemies of privacy and freedom such as the DEA, especially when they’re so cozy with the other federal agencies?

The line between soldiers and cops became hazy under presidents Nixon and Reagan. But it wasn’t until George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama that the idea of the war on drugs as a grand, international campaign really took off.

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US_soldiers_returning_to_America_after_WWIThe Veterans Health Administration — the U.S. Post Office of American health care — has always been awful.

I remember 30 or maybe 40 years ago, when it was just the VA and not the VHA,  hearing vets and others complain about the lousy care, the crummy hospitals, the third-rate doctors.

No surprise. It was and is a government bureaucracy and it acts that way — stupid, slow, inefficient, politicized.  Like army bases and defense contractors, a VA hospital is what every congressperson of both parties always wanted in his/her district.

Now, as the horror stories march forth and the whistles begin to blow louder, we are getting a truer glimpse of the reality of the VA.

Where were the media until yesterday? Where was 60 Minutes and The New York  Times and The Wall Street Journal and CNN? Did they ever think of looking deeply and critically into the VA?

The stupid warhawk Republicans, with their insane love of the military and fear of offending it, should have been all over this subject. They should have been calling for the privatization of the VA decades ago — Oh wait.

Mitt Romney made a halfhearted peep two years ago, saying it should be partly privatized. Mitt was partly right, but the great Paul Krugman, who can’t remember the few things he wrote 20 years ago that were right any more than he can remember the scores of stupid things he says now that he’s the Times op-ed page’s house weasel, was completely wrong.

This is what the Noble-winning, formerly honest economist said about the VHA and Romney’s half-smart idea:

What Mr. Romney and everyone else should know is that the V.H.A. is a huge policy success story, which offers important lessons for future health reform.

Many people still have an image of veterans’ health care based on the terrible state of the system two decades ago. Under the Clinton administration, however, the V.H.A. was overhauled, and achieved a remarkable combination of rising quality and successful cost control. Multiple surveys have found the V.H.A. providing better care than most Americans receive, even as the agency has held cost increases well below those facing Medicare and private insurers. Furthermore, the V.H.A. has led the way in cost-saving innovation, especially the use of electronic medical records.

What’s behind this success? Crucially, the V.H.A. is an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it. So it’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense. And because V.H.A. patients are in it for the long term, the agency has a stronger incentive to invest in prevention than private insurers, many of whose customers move on after a few years.

And yes, this is “socialized medicine” — although some private systems, like Kaiser Permanente, share many of the V.H.A.’s virtues. But it works — and suggests what it will take to solve the troubles of U.S. health care more broadly.

I also have this sweet new graphic.Check out my most recent War at Home:

Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it did not intend to appeal last month’s court decision which removed Rahinah Ibrahim from the “No-Fly list” – making her the first person in years to be taken off that bureaucratic black-hole relic of the Bush war on terror.

This is great news for Ibrahim. But she has been battling for seven years to win this victory for herself. The rest of the however many thousands of folks on that list remain there, with no clear road out of that swamp. And that’s only a small aspect of the myriad ways in which Americans and visitors to America are harassed, oppressed and impeded during their travels.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a study that harshly critiqued the U.S. government’s various watch lists, including the “no-fly” list that Ibrahim found herself on. Some of the problems the ACLU highlighted were the secrecy and the lack of an appeals process for folks who find themselves flagged at airports or downright prevented from flying. They estimate up to a million people are on such lists, and this includes US citizens. People who suspect they are on the no-fly list can only go to the airport and see if they’re prevented from flying. But they still may not get a straight answer from the government, or have any way to get off the list. There is no other way to discover whether a typo, knowing the wrong person or being from the wrong country put them on a list that radically decreases their right to travel.

During the last week of March, the Transportation Security Agency’s (TSA) official report to Congress said the agency wanted armed police officers to be nearby during peak passenger hours. Considering the state of cops in this country, and the complete lack of rights travelers – especially at the borders – have, this is a terrible idea. Yes, last November someone targeted and killed a TSA agent. That’s unfortunate. But thebureaucratic, thoughtless, petty TSA does not need any more power than we have already let it take. We do not want air-travelers who attempt to film their pat-downs or express objections to their treatment fearing that if they reach in their pockets, some itchy-fingered cop will get worried.

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Behold the third column under “The War at Home” banner. It is about how drones are very scary, but also maybe we shouldn’t just flail and ban them as fast as possible.

As the weekly – sometimes daily – news stories never tire of telling us, domestic drones are coming. And as ABC News reported on March 17, they are arriving faster than the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can suss out the rules over their use. Though it’s technically illegal, and the FAA may issue fines if they catch you, ABC reports that commercial use of drones is starting to happen whether or not the government approves – as long as it doesn’t notice.

In February, the FAA sent a cease and desist letter to the Lakemaid Brewing Company – the beer makers may not use drones to send ice fishermen a six-pack of cold ones. Even for such a charming purpose, their commercial use is banned at least until 2015, when the FAA will issue rules on drone integration into U.S. airspace. The FAA is also currently appealing a judge’s decision rejecting the $10,000 fine it tried to levy against a Virginia filmmaker for unauthorized drone flights. At this point, the US is actually trailing far behind the rest of the world in terms of domestic drones – we’re skittish about their dystopian potential, and our privacy laws are (relatively) strong compared to some.

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