There is not enough, because there is never enough

One of my ongoing arguments with the blogosphere in general (and this applies to left and right) is this idea that what you don't write about is not only significant, but that your "omissions" are somehow damning. Not writing about something is taken by self appointed scolds as evidence that you don't care, or even that you might be hiding something. A classic example of scolding bloggers for not writing about something would be Andrew Sullivan's attacking on Glenn Reynolds for not writing about one or another Matter of Great Importance to Sullivan.

Fortunately for me, I am not in that league where high-profile bloggers will be keeping a tally of what I don't write about, so most of the "pressure" I feel is not direct pressure coming from other bloggers. To the extent I feel pressure, it is self-imposed, and entirely my fault, for unless a post takes me to task personally, I am entirely free to ignore any post intending to scold the blogosphere for its omissions.

However, what should matter to me is not what other people think I should write about, but what I think I should write about, and I freely admit that there are things I don't write about as much as I think I should. Sometimes it is because I don't want to repeat myself or appear to be a scold, other times it is because I feel ignorant about the topic, and sometimes it's because the topic is just too vast, too complicated, and too gigantic for me to intelligently cover in a blog post. Blogging has its limitations, and one of them is that I cannot crank out Ph.D. dissertation-style material and have it all ready and perfect by noon with just two cups of coffee as fuel.

A perfect example is the drug war. Or would that be the War on Drugs? No, they're supposed to be dropping the term now, so the war on whatever. Or is it a war? If it is, then I'm not a war blogger, as I have said countless times. Luckily for me M. Simon does not hesitate to blog about the War On Drugs. Every time he does, I feel as if a great burden has been lifted.

But still.

There is this nagging sense that I am not doing my job, because not only do I have very strong feelings about this issue, but the issue has gotten so incredibly complicated that it's almost unbloggable. Hell, I spent two long posts just kvetching about a single bureaucratic program (the prescription drug database), and even there I feel that I fell short. Think tanks spend years coming up with these fiendish and invasive schemes, and then I come along and imagine that I can make headway by spending a few hours on a post? The idea is almost laughable. Yet I have this blog, and I have to speak up. How loudly and how often and in how much detail -- therein lies the rub. For I hate to be a broken record or a scold. Regular readers know how I feel, and I don't think I am going to persuade anyone with these posts. The drug war is a hot button issue, and like most hot-button issues, people's minds are made up one way or another. The best I can hope to do is maybe point to something people haven't thought about before, and in the case of the prescription drug database, I noticed that it was one of those things they slipped through under the radar. So whether people are for it or against it, it strikes me that letting them know about it is entirely legitimate pursuit -- regardless of whether anyone agrees with me that it violates the 4th Amendment rights of citizens.

I think the ever-increasing complexities of the drug war are making intelligent discussions next to impossible. Which is why most drug war discussions focus on the simple issue of whether drugs should be legalized. It's an easy way to avoid having to slog through incredible amounts of detail.

I do it all the time. I just say RELEGALIZE DRUGS. I see it as a simple issue of morality, and while I know I have said this countless times, in the interest of being upfront about my bias, once again let me restate the simplistic moral argument I uttered in 2004:

Those who would imprison their fellow citizens for medicating their pain are without conscience, and it's scary. Those who hurt those for the "crime" of hurting themselves (if that's what medicating pain is), who put them in prison, are guiltier of far more heinous crimes.

They better hope there isn't a hell.

Pure emotion. I get carried away where it comes to putting people in prison, because prison is a terrible place where terrible things happen, and I think it is deeply immoral to send people to prison for the crime of self harm.

Which means I think the war on drugs is deeply immoral, and it makes me ashamed to be paying taxes in a country which is waging a war against human appetites considered harmful. And of course, the federal part of the war is also unconstitutional, as the Constitution was never properly amended to give the federal government power to prohibit drugs as it was in the case of alcohol.

So much for the simple, morality and the Constitution-based arguments.

Where the drug war starts to get complicated is when we move to the economic side and start treating business transactions between consenting parties as criminal activities. It is tough to analyze any market, but the complexities of the illegal substance marketplace is mind-boggling, and it becomes even more mind-boggling when we consider the international dynamics.

There have always been and there will always be consumers and distributors of drugs. If we look at the history of drug criminalization, while most people think it started with the 1914 Harrison Narcotic Act, a close examination reveals that the Act was seen by many at the time not so much as a domestic law, but as an international treaty obligation. Some background:

Following the Spanish-American War the U.S. took the Philippines. Confronted with a licensing system for opium addicts, a Commission of Inquiry was appointed to examine alternatives to this system. The Brent Commission recommended that narcotics should be subject to international control.

This proposal was supported by the United States Department of State and in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt called for an international opium conference, the Shanghai Commission in 1909. In 1906 an imperial edict, had been published prohibiting the cultivation and smoking of opium in the Chinese Empire over a period of ten years. This was being implemented with greater success than had been anticipated [ [ UNOCD:The Shanghai Opium Commission] ] The British Empire had since the Opium war in the 1840s by military means forced China to allow a large import of opium from India.

A second conference was held at The Hague in 1911, and out of it came the first international drug control treaty, the International Opium Convention of 1912.

The Secretary of State "urged that the law be passed to fulfill the obligation of the new international treaty." Support for the law was fueled by blatantly racist sentiments, and it of course passed without much worry over whether it was constitutional.

But the issue of international opium distribution underlying the Harrison narcotics was hardly new and did not start with the U.S. occupation of the Philippines. In the previous century, China fought two Opium Wars with the British, and lost. The merits of the Chinese position against opium can be debated either way, and there were other dimensions to the debate (including the way Chinese wanted British merchants to degrade themselves), but it illustrates the complexities of applying a simple market analysis to international transactions. The Chinese government was trying to stop importation of something many of its citizens wanted, and I think that planted a kernel that ultimately led to a modern trend.

If people in Country A want something, and people in Country B have that thing, there exists supply and demand. When the government interferes for whatever reason, economic analysis is complicated, and the picture changes. Laws passed in Country A can create enormous opportunities for Country B.

Lots of Americans ("consumers" if you will) want drugs. Because Americans are affluent, if the drugs they want are to be found in other countries, then it is simply inevitable that these countries have an economic incentive to supply what Americans want. We are Country A, and throughout the long and twisted history of the drug war, many a country has been in the position of being Country B.

Back in the old, pre-SWAT team days, when there were still guys called "narcs" who actually wore suits and knocked on doors to serve search warrants, drugs came from countries like Turkey, and they would be refined and routed through Sicily, Corsica, France. A fun (now nostalgic) flick from those days was "The French Connection."

As the European routes drew the focus of the authorities, naturally the production and distribution routes shifted, and the Golden Era of the Golden Triangle (Burma, Laos, etc.) began. And a lot of heroin now originates from Afghanistan and Mexico, so naturally these places are the focus of the interminable effort to strike at the supply of what American consumers want.

But as I'm still mired in the 1960s, I thought it might be worth sharing a link to an interview with Dr. Robert DuPont, who headed the Nixon era Narcotics Treatment Administration. I realize modern Americans might find it surprising that there ever was a Narcotics Treatment Administration, but there was, and it was something that happened under the much-maligned Richard Nixon. Like him or not, any accurate history of the war on drugs would have to acknowledge that he was the first American president to dabble with drug legalization. He was the guy who legalized methadone for addicts. Here's an excerpt from the DuPont interview:

And the NTA got a lot of criticism about methadone treatment?

Methadone was just horrible from a political point of view, just a total disaster. It was an orphan from beginning to end, and it is today. I think the simplest way to say it is that it's an addicting drug. How can you treat addiction with an addicting drug? At the end of the day, you're not going to make that sale. It's not going to happen. So we never got over that problem, and it was always pushing a rock up a mountain, only to have it fall back down on you over and over again. . . .

I remember meeting one of the leaders of Washington society, who was a very famous man. I'd seen his name in the news for years, and to meet him and his wife at a reception, I was very proud. I was very much in the news at that time and so he introduced me. He had known me from some context to do with NTA, and he introduced me to his wife. She spit on me and said she wouldn't talk to me, wouldn't shake my hand. And I was dumbfounded by that. What happened? I never met her before. And the answer was that she was really upset about methadone, and to her, I was the guy who was bringing methadone to the city, to the country and she was registering what she felt about it. That was very shocking. . . .

But it was much more difficult even than that. Nixon was tremendously unpopular, especially toward the end, especially with the human services. The kind of environment in which we live was full of people who had animosity toward Nixon. The fact that we were associated--that methadone and its expansion was associated with Nixon--that was a tremendous problem. And then there was the racial aspect of it, which was very difficult for me to deal with. Ninety percent of the patients were black. The city was seventy-one percent black, and I was obviously white. There was a charge that this was racist, that this was a form of enslaving the black, young men in the nation's cities. That was, I think, the most vicious of the anti-methadone kind of arguments. . . .

Another time, I was on the Howard University radio station. I was talking with a young black man was the deputy head of the local competing drug treatment program. He and I were talking, and he announced that the community had to get rid of people like me, and that he was recommending murder--that I be killed because of what I was doing to the community. The host of the show acted as if this was a normal kind of conversation. And this was on the air. . . .

It was a pretty painful experience for a young guy who saw himself as trying pretty hard to do something helpful--to realize that, to an awful lot of people, I was only a symbol. And it was not a symbol they liked, and it didn't matter what I said. . . .

What did methadone symbolize that was so terrible?

Enslavement. It was enslaving the black underclass. It was robbing, it was the narcotic, the opiate of the masses, being given out by the government for political purposes, to make docile the revolutionaries who were otherwise going to free themselves and change the society. That's the way people thought, what some people thought. And it was done for political purposes. I was the agent of Richard Nixon and it was anti-black, anti-poor. . . .

But the epidemic was stopped cold in 1972. That is so amazing, how you see 30 years later, that was one experiment that seemed to work.

We started NTA on February 18, 1970, and we had a goal of treating all the addicts in the city, with the goal of having an impact on heroin addiction and crime and life in the city. And the most remarkable fact about it is that we did it. The crime rate was cut in half, and heroin overdoses almost ended in the city. We couldn't find addicts to get into treatment by 1973. It was an experiment that worked, and it worked to a very high level, way beyond anything anyone could have imagined. It went on to have a profound effect on national policy. That's the good news.

I realize that this long-lost story fits no one's narrative, but I find it fascinating that "black leaders" who opposed methadone were acting not unlike the Chinese who were trying to stop the British from bringing in opium.

The common denominator always seems to be one of trying to stop some people from supplying other people what they want.

By modern standards, the drug war was pretty measly under the Nixon administration, although I think the man made a couple of noteworthy points, whether he meant to or not. One is that drug legalization in one form or another (in Nixon's case, methadone, which is basically the medical model of legalization) can be more effective than law enforcement. The other he unwittingly proved through Operation Intercept, which shut down the border with Mexico and wreaked such economic havoc. Vigorous enforcement of the law creates absolute chaos. It also creates opportunities, and it was Operation Intercept that ironically planted the seeds which led to the realization by the sharper Mexican entrepreneurs that thanks to the Drug War their country had become a true land of opportunity:

In the end, the crisis did push Mexico into committing more resources to a concerted drug eradication and enforcement policy, and led to Operation Condor in the 1970s, which included a defoliation campaign using the toxic "Paraquat" herbicide. But whatever the intended outcome was, Intercept also led to a series of unintended consequences that undermined the lessons the U.S. longed to teach Mexico.

Combined with effects of the global war on drugs during the Nixon administration, Mexico's attack on marihuana growers and the end of the opium trade in Turkey resulted in a new and hungry heroin market in the United States, which incipient Mexican crime organizations were only too happy to fulfill. The introduction of Colombian cocaine in the mid-1970s helped transform Mexico's traffickers into a powerful mafia that could afford sophisticated technology to protect its interests, and the enormous drug profits that ensued threatened to destroy Mexican law enforcement with new levels of corruption.

But in my haste to simplify (and also because I am getting hungry and haven't had a bit to eat), I got ahead of myself and nearly forgot another major player.

Ronald Reagan. Say what you will about him, but everyone makes mistakes, and I think the ramping up of the drug war under Reagan was his biggest mistake. This is not to imply that the War on Drugs itself is a Reagan creation and a Reagan mistake, for he built upon and enlarged upon what was already there. However, there has been a persistent pattern (IMO a mistaken one) which became policy during his administration: the focus on and singling out of individual countries -- and even individual dealers -- as if here at last we have found and solved the drug problem.

It was Columbia!



No, it was Pedro Escobar!

Manuel Noriega!

The Medellin Cartel!

The Cali Cartel!

The endless focus on evil countries and the innumerable "drug kingpins" they contain has such a long history that I could spend an entire day just writing about them, and it would be inadequate to cover the subject. I realize the above is a greatly abbreviated list, but it's just off the top of my head based on my memory of living through those ridiculous years. The public imagination was constantly titillated with images of lavish palaces, official corruption on a grand scale, and how our patriotic boys from the DEA were working with Delta Force so that this time, they would at last bring the criminals to justice and "the war" would come that much closer to being "won."

All of these drug-supplying countries, kingpins, and fiefdoms, whether large or small, near our border or far way, are as replaceable as worn out tires. They are as irrelevant to the Drug War as Al Capone was to Prohibition. Sure, Al Capone could have been taken out (and eventually was -- for income tax evasion), but had he been taken out at the height of his power, that would have accomplished little more than creating a new opportunity for another eager, probably more vicious, entrepreneur.

What really complicates the War on Drugs (and please forgive my inconsistent capitalization; I don't know what the rules are for this; although I see that the War on Poverty is capitalized) is that it might just be on the verge of turning into a real war. At least the War on Poverty never did that.

The present situation in Mexico involves not one or two cartels, but eight of them: the Beltran Leyva Cartel, the La Familia Cartel, the Gulf Cartel, the Juarez Cartel, the Los Negros Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel, and the Los Zetas Cartel. Most of them have sub-cartels and are headed by the usual lineup of completely replaceable "kingpins." (It would take at least a day to become knowledgeable about all of them.)

It's turned into a real, hugely complicated shooting war, and our border is now direly endangered.


Because American consumers want what these now-warring suppliers have.

At some point, I think this country needs to ask itself whether it's worth it and how far it should go. Sure, we could go to war with Mexico for its failure to pursue the cartels to our satisfaction, and in the case of an all out war, things might get difficult enough for the suppliers of American consumers that they might decide to move their operations to safer places, or even close up shop.

But as we have seen before, there are other countries in the world.

American is the country with the biggest demand. Yet America is literally at war internationally with supply, which is seen as the enemy. And domestically, America is at war with demand.

We are waging war against a vast demand and an infinite supply during a period of economic crisis.

The enemies and potential enemies in this war are everywhere.

Sorry I can't solve it in a blog post. No wonder I don't blog about it enough. I couldn't blog about it enough even if I tried.

Reminds me of that saying about drugs, once is too many and a thousand times is not enough...

(No, it looks as though that particular saying was about booze. Not to change the subject, but might the wars against addictive substances become addictive wars?)

Anyway, I think the war on drugs is immoral, unconstitutional, and unwinnable.

And I have to eat lunch.

posted by Eric on 10.01.10 at 01:13 PM


I think the ever-increasing complexities of the drug war are making intelligent discussions next to impossible.
When you add in all the disinformation, you end up spending far too much time either explaining or arguing basic facts.

There are far too many topics for which that is true these days.

However, what should matter to me is not what other people think I should write about, but what I think I should write about,
I wonder how many bloggers think that way.
I would guess it's not a majority, nor even a sizable minority.
I do both. Stuff that I want and what I think others would want.
Of course, the ones I do that I think others would want are usually either disgustingly, pervertedly or twistedly funny. Or all three if I feel like posting something from Pink Flamingos.
It is DPUD after all.

Good post by the way. I always forget the Opium Wars, and I've read a few books on it, including Noble House.

Veeshir   ·  October 1, 2010 5:10 PM

I was in Bezerkeley when the National Guard took over the city (late 60s IIRC). The dope dealers had free run.

M. Simon   ·  October 1, 2010 5:32 PM

Thanks Veeshir. I really appreciate it.

And MS, as you know People's Park is home turf. Personally, I have long thought they should build a military barracks there -- staffed by openly gay soldiers.

Eric Scheie   ·  October 1, 2010 11:15 PM

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