Friday, July 18, 2014

This is Your Government on Drugs

My latest piece on the ONDCP is up at Washington Post's PostEverything. A snippet:

For decades, the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and its allies have used government resources to marginalize, stigmatize, and demonize drug users.

There were the nonsensical ads like “this is your brain on drugs” and inexplicable demonstrations like torching cars and valued possessions. The ONDCP, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the Ad Council, and Above the Influence portrayed small time dealers as snakes and users as rats.

They also showed drug use as a gateway to prostitution and, in the wake of 9/11, explicitly linked casual drug users to supporting terrorism and cop killing. The United States has spent millions stigmatizing drug use, sale and abuse — all before one even begins to calculate the costs to arrest, try, and incarcerate offenders for the past 40 years. This, of course, comes in addition to the stigma that comes with incarceration and criminal records.

The Obama administration says it wants to de-stigmatize drug addiction. But no matter how hard it tries, it’s virtually impossible to de-stigmatize behavior that is still a crime.
Read the whole thing here.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Decoding Sen. Warren

A friend just flagged Sen. Elizabeth Warren's 11 Commandments for Progressivism she talked about at Netroots Nation this week. I include them verbatim as they are in the National Journal article, with a translation below. NB: I'm not translating what she wants to happen, or that she thinks will happen, but what the history and experience shows will likely happen.

- "We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we're willing to fight for it."
Translation: We need more onerous loopholes through which we can enable shady accounting practices to continue, including--but not exclusive to--regulations that will empower the largest firms to hire a squad of lawyers to navigate rules while crowding smaller, less dangerous firms out of the financial sector, centralizing power and money in the hands of the already strongest and most powerful firms.  And, I will pretend that this and so much else of my favored legislation doesn't actually favor corporations over small firms. [Have you noticed so many independent/small practice doctors joining conglomerates since ObamaCare started? Not coincidence. Same stuff is going on with financial institutions under Dodd-Frank]

- "We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth."
Translation: While we rely on statistical evidence showing that anthropogenic global warming is real, we will fully ignore any and all statistical and political evidence that the regulations we suggest, when implemented unilaterally within the United States, will not only have no positive effect on climate change, but may in fact drive polluters out of the country to less regulated regimes thereby increasing carbon and other pollutants into the global atmosphere. These regulations will also likely have negative effects on our economy and make energy consumption harder on the poor. Our embrace of evidence only goes so far.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Libertarians' Racial Blindspot

My friends and former colleagues over at reason rightly note that a cop appears to have been way too aggressive when stopping a college professor for jaywalking:

A police encounter in Tempe, Arizona, over the weekend turned ugly after a campus police officer wrestled Arizona State University professor Ersula Ore to the ground. Video footage shows the officer attempting to pull Ore's hands behind her back and pin her against the dashboard before slamming her onto the ground in the middle of the street.

Ore's crime, evidently, was jaywalking in the middle of the night.
Now, I'd seen people share this story on social media without clicking through, but it was something I wanted to check out. Without seeing her name--or even her gender--but hearing about the incident, I assumed that the professor was likely black and the officer was likely white.

Why? Because black people's history with law enforcement has long been fraught with conflict and the years of police officers treating black people more harshly than they treat your average white person is no secret. Police abuse is by no means exclusive to black people, but it is and has been prevalent since law enforcement and black people have coexisted in this country. And jaywalking is one of those laws that is, for the most part, used as a pretextual stop (as opposed to, say, a priority of law enforcement) because the officer thinks the person is otherwise up to no good.

Police have a special place of disdain in the hearts and minds of many libertarians.* Libertarians often see police as the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the state and their use and abuse of force is wanton and without rhyme or reason. Yet, most black people understand that this sort of abuse happens to them more often, whether it's inherent racism or suspicion on the part of the officer, the policing style in a given neighborhood or area, or the disparate political power of a group of people less able and likely to successfully challenge the behavior of an officer.

I don't think it's a failure of the reason author to point this out, but I would have liked to see it.

Too often, libertarians have asked me in private conversation about what's best described as "respectability politics." That is, because of the dress or language or behavior of young black men particularly that the ire of police is directed their way and therefore results in the myriad criminal justice disparities. But here you have a black female college professor refusing to show ID--as any good libertarian would--and getting thrown to the ground and arrested. How many times does this sort of thing happen to black people before libertarians recognize that maybe her race may have played a role? It's journalism--you're supposed to stick to the facts and keep speculation down, I know. But the fact is black people have a long history in this country of being singled out and abused by people in power and, to my knowledge, there's been no magical moment when that has stopped being true.

I've written about this libertarian blindspot at length in my latest essay at

bellum medicamenti delenda est

*NB: My father was a police officer.  Many years after he retired, he went back to work part time at the police department because it was home to him. I got to know many police officers and I continue to respect police officers today. But that doesn't make the history any less true or troubling.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Drug Free School Zones, Sex Crime Registries, and Other Dumb Laws

Me, at the Washington Post:
The stupid laws and rules promulgated over decades of “tough on crime” rhetoric will take years to reform and correct. Throwing the book at offenders with well-meant but misguided lawmaking has wreaked havoc on correctional budgets while breaking up families and damaging local economies in the process. Policymakers who are now reevaluating laws and extending review to thousands of inmates subjected to blind punishment would do even better than the reforms above to let judges decide who is punished and how severely in the first place.
Read the whole thing here.

NB--I should be writing there, and elsewhere, more often. Hit me up if you have a good idea you want me to write about.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ta-Nehisi's 'Reparations' Essay

I read TNC's reparations essay  in The Atlantic last night. The following is a slightly edited and modified version of my thoughts on first reading. I plan to read it again one or more times.

1. The piece should be read without reference to the headline. I think the greatest power of the piece is in its history and its ability to frame public policy in a milieu that is seldom discussed or addressed in educational or policy settings. 

2. The history he recounts is only a fraction of the horrors the government and the American people inflicted upon black people for generations. The reason I think this is important is that ideologues, of all stripes, neglect what our government and our country looked like for the vast majority of its history. As I talk about in my upcoming essays for, there is a vast chasm between what we think should or will happen given our policy 'druthers and what experience and history tell us has happened. This is a lesson for conservatives, progressives, and libertarians alike.

3. Ultimately, I remain unpersuaded that anything resembling financial reparations would be feasible or effective in combating the damage done to blacks over the course of the past several centuries. Marginally, perhaps, but there is no "good" solution in reparative compensation within the American context. Our system just won't sustain any meaningful shift in that direction. I think, however, that this is a relatively minor point in the piece, headline notwithstanding. The greater message TNC suggests--a historical reckoning of what transpired in this Land of the Free--is, I think, very important to moving forward as a society. How we accomplish that is something I'm still trying to figure out, but a better understanding of American history is a prerequisite first step. A simple glance at the backlash on Twitter should confirm how reactionary and ignorant many people still are about the current state of black America.

4. Somewhat tangentially, when I read The Jungle for a history class on early 20th century America, I was not at all put off by the meatpacking stories or even the conditions of industrialization, horrible though they were. I was most struck by the practice of contract purchases of homes, and I was aghast at its cruelty and inherent unfairness. Ta-Nehisi's essay deals with this topic in a way that cannot help but anger and frustrate an empathetic reader.

For the foregoing reasons, I highly recommend reading the essay, in full, as well as the implicitly suggested reading list throughout the essay, particularly anything and everything by Eric Foner on the Reconstruction era.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Quick Comment on What the Right to Privacy Isn't

There has been some recent handwringing about the recording of Donald Sterling's comments, allegedly by his ex-girlfriend, that ultimately resulted in his lifetime suspension from the NBA;  and that somehow the recording violated Sterling's 'right to privacy.'

Well, no, not really.

From what I understand, it's against California law to release a surreptitious recording of someone if he or she didn't consent to the release even if the recorder was part of the conversation. Now, that is a matter of law and I'm not going to argue Sterling doesn't have a legal case against her. But the law's propriety is questionable and I'll explain why.

If V. (Donald's xgf) made the recording herself, then it was a recording of a conversation she was a part of. It wasn't the government tapping the office or the phone without a warrant, it was a conversation she witnessed and participated in. I don't think anyone would say that if she went public saying that's what Sterling said to her that it would be a violation of his privacy. Just because you assume someone will keep a conversation between the two of you or keep a secret for you doesn't mean they will. Assuming there is no contract involved or they are not serving in a privileged capacity--doctor, lawyer, etc.--they are bound by no law to not say what you told them.

So, if V. has a recording verifying what he said, what privacy interest was violated that would not be violated by her simply saying that's what he said? None. It's just verification. (That she is alleged to have used this information as extortion is certainly illegal as it should be, but the possession of damning or embarrassing information shouldn't itself be against the law.)

If V. had left a mic in Sterling's office and recorded a conversation that she wasn't a part of, then yes, that would be an invasion of privacy because she would be gaining access to information she was not privy to herself and, if she were the government she would need a warrant to violate Sterling's "reasonable expectation of privacy"--which is where the Fourth Amendment jurisprudence usually hinges.

But anyway, the point is, it may be unethical and icky--and, absurdly, against California state law--but relaying information conveyed directly to you is a violation of no one's actual right to privacy (provided you weren't trying to extort someone with it). The simple fact is, every time you tell someone something, you run the risk of them telling someone else. That she put it on blast doesn't change the fact he said what he did and, improper CA law notwithstanding, she had the right to let people know he said it. If she just went to the news media with her information without the recording, people would want proof beyond he said/she said. She provided it.

The California law is V.'s problem, on several fronts I imagine, but let's try to remember what a right to privacy is, and is not.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Monday, May 5, 2014

Video of February AFF Panel

For anyone interested, here is video of the AFF panel on poverty I spoke at in late February.

If you just want to see me, my clip is here:

I need to get better about not reading off script, but otherwise I'm rather happy with how my first public event turned out.

bellum medicamenti delenda est