Drug War



Mexico’s Brutal Drug Violence

Published November 29th, 2011 by tcarpenter

I’ve written a lot recently on the drug violence in Mexico that has taken at least 42,000 lives (and perhaps as many as 52,000) since President Felipe Calderon unleashed the military on the country’s powerful drug cartels in December 2006.  The situation there grows steadily more worrisome, and is now having an impact on the Central American countries and on the United States.  Yet Washington continues to pursue the failed prohibitionist policy that enriches the drug traffickers–and demands that other countries do so as well.  Prohibition didn’t work regarding alcohol in the 1920s, and it’s creating a similar bloody mess this time regarding illegal drugs.  One might expect political leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past, but apparently that’s expecting too much.

North Korea Behaving Badly Again

Published November 27th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Those of you who are worried about the latest spike in tensions between North Korea and South Korea should read the excellent piece by my colleague Doug Bandow in the National Interest Online.  Among other things, Doug questions why nearly six decades since the end of the Korean War, the United States is in the middle of a parochial spat between two small nations half-way around the world.  He shows why North Korea’s neighbors should be perfectly capable of handling that obnoxious little troublemaker on their own.

The security commitment to South Korea is yet another example of U.S. global obligations that are both obsolete and dangerous.  The sooner we get our troops out of harm’s way, the better.  We have far more pressing problems much closer to home–including the soaring (and spreading) drug violence next door in Mexico.

Republicans: Federalism For Me But Not For Thee

Published October 30th, 2010 by tcarpenter

One interesting feature of the debate over Proposition 19 in California, which would legalize the possession of marijuana, is the curious position many Republican leaders have taken.  Members of the GOP supposedly want as many policies as possible decided at the state and local level.  They complain loudly about an overbearing federal government that runs roughshod over the wishes of people in the various states.  At Republican gatherings, such phrases as “states rights” and “federalism” make frequent appearances.

But the attitude regarding Proposition 19 is strikingly different.  Republican leaders such as Texas Representative Joe Barton insist that if the measure passes, the federal government should strongly enforce federal laws against marijuana inside California.  In other words, Barton and his cohorts are perfectly willing to disregard the wishes of California voters and trample on their new, liberalized law.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time that Republicans have displayed such inconsistency about “states rights.”  Overwhelmingly, they push to overide state laws or state court decisions legalizing gay marriage.  Again, they apparently have no problem invoking federal supremacy when it suits their policy preferences.

And it’s a long-standing pattern.  When Congress moved in the 1980s to establish a national minimum drinking age of 21, brazenly negating the wishes of states that had established 18 or some other lower age limit, the Republican congressional delegation split down the middle.  A major faction was willing to okay a measure whereby Washington blackmailed states into approving the 21-year-old threshold or lose a sizable portion of their federal highway funds.  Yet Republicans routinely screamed whenever Washington used that tactic to force state compliance regarding other matters. 

The GOP standard seems all too clear.  Republicans love states rights when they’re confident that voters at the state level will adopt policies conservatives favor.  But to Hell with states rights and federalism if those misguided voters might approve policies–especially social policies–that conservatives abhor.

There is a word for such a blatant double standard.  It’s called hypocrisy.

Death of Common Sense–New Episodes

Published September 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

Just when you think law enforcement bureaucrats can’t get any more irrational, comes this story (hat tip to my Cato Institute colleague Dan Mitchell) from Indiana.  A grandmother ran afoul of the drug war laws by making two purchases of cold medicine for her family.

When Sally Harpold bought cold medicine for her family back in March, she never dreamed that four months later she would end up in handcuffs.

Now, Harpold is trying to clear her name of criminal charges, and she is speaking out in hopes that a law will change so others won’t endure the same embarrassment she still is facing.

…Harpold is a grandmother of triplets who bought one box of Zyrtec-D cold medicine for her husband at a Rockville pharmacy. Less than seven days later, she bought a box of Mucinex-D cold medicine for her adult daughter at a Clinton pharmacy, thereby purchasing 3.6 grams total of pseudoephedrine in a week’s time.

Those two purchases put her in violation of Indiana law 35-48-4-14.7, which restricts the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, products to no more than 3.0 grams within any seven-day period.

When the police came knocking at the door of Harpold’s Parke County residence on July 30, she was arrested on a Vermillion County warrant for a class-C misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.

The good citizens of Indiana can now rest easier knowing this nefarious drug lord has been apprehended.  Whatever happened to the concept of discretion by police and prosecutors?  Whatever happened to common sense?

And then there is this story about how a young couple lost custody of their young children for a month after a Wal-mart employee forwarded “bath-time” photos they had taken of the children to the authorities.  How many parents over the decades would have run afoul of such absurd suspicions of child pornography, if that standard had been the norm?

I’m interested in suggestions about how Americans can rein-in this runaway zealotry before it turns our country into something resembling the fascist and communist systems we used to abhor.

Drug War Debate

Published August 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

Four experts (including, with all modesty, your’s truly) have been waging a vigorous debate in the latest issue of Cato Unbound (Cato Institute’s on-line monthly publication) regarding the war on drugs.  The focus has been on the drug-related violence in Mexico, with former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda writing the lead essay, but the discussion has evolved into something much broader.  Please take a look.

The Fire Next Door: Drug Violence in Mexico

Published February 4th, 2009 by tcarpenter

While U.S. leaders focus on Afghanistan, Iran, and other problems in distant regions, there is an alarming security threat brewing right next door.  Violence in Mexico, mostly related to the trade in illegal drugs, is spiraliing out of control.  Even worse, it is apparent that the drug traffickers are winning their fight against the Mexican government.  The situation on our southern border has grown so bad that even the Marines at Camp Pendleton in southern California are now barred from spending their leave time in neighboring Tijuana because the city is too dangerous.

The drug violence in Mexico, and how it is spilling across the border into our own country, is the subject of my new policy study for the Cato Institute.  You can access it here.

Glorifying Rogue Law Enforcement

Published December 31st, 2008 by tcarpenter

I’ve noticed a trend in movies and television programs the past few years that is more than a little disturbing.  It is the glorification of police and other security personnel who “cut corners” when it comes to the Bill of Rights and other legal restraints on governmental power.  True, it is not entirely a new phenomenon, as the Dirty Harry movies of several decades ago attest.  But it has gotten much worse since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  The model for the “who gives a damn what tactics are used as long as the hero gets the bad guys” attitude is Jack Bauer on the television show “24.”  Now, on program after program, one finds overt sympathy for characters who don’t abide by silly rules–like those requiring probable cause for searching a suspect’s home or auto, or those that prohibit threatening or beating a suspect.  Beyond those aspects, there is a proliferation of shows like “Flashpoint” and “Homeland Security USA” that portray, without the slightest adverse implication, the growing militarization of America’s police.  There was a time most Americans would have cringed at the sight of “police” in full military gear breaking down doors and acting as though they were invading an enemy country.  Both in the world of entertainment and in real life, that no longer seems to be the case.

We need to remember that legal restraints on the conduct of police and other goverment officials are not quaint, irrelevant standards from another era.  They are essential protections that separate brutal, repressive countries from free ones.  An entertainment industry that glorifies misconduct by those who are supposed to uphold the law are conditioning viewers to tamely accept such abuses in real life.