Category ►►► Psychedelic Syllogisms

December 27, 2010

The Turn of a Fiendly Card

Military Machinations , Psychedelic Syllogisms , Southern Exposure
Hatched by Dafydd

The dangerous flip-side of an independent military

There's a war on down south; south of the Rio Grande, I mean.

As most are aware, the drug cartels in Juarez and other Mexican states have become almost as big a problem in Mexico as they were in Colombia. The government is fighting against well-entrenched, heavily armed, deep-pockets banditos, and Mexican soldiers are fighting this "police action" as an all-out, even existential war.

Unfortunately, they're also accused of killing innocent bystanders, then planting evidence to make them look like narcoterrorists:

[American murder victim Joseph Proctor's] mother, Donna Proctor, devastated and incredulous, has been fighting through Mexico's secretive military justice system ever since to learn what really happened on the night of Aug. 22.

It took weeks of pressuring U.S. diplomats and congressmen for help, but she finally got an answer, which she shared with The Associated Press.

Three soldiers have been charged with killing her son. Two have been charged with planting the assault rifle in his hands and claiming falsely that he fired first, according to a Mexican Defense Department document sent to her through the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.

It is at least the third case this year in which soldiers, locked in a brutal battle with drug cartels, have been accused of killing innocent civilians and faking evidence in cover-ups.

I think it fairly can be said that Mexican President Felipe Calderon is fighting an existential war against the drug-runners... but does that mean that "anything goes," a tarjeta blanco for the military? Is it acceptable, in the name of fighting such brutal and depraved evil, to protect Mexican soldiers -- who are functioning as domestic law-enforcement agents -- from the consequences of their own sloppy investigations and hair-trigger reactions, to the point of falsely painting innocent victims of overzealous police executions as criminals?

A good case can be made that we in the United States have gone too far in allowing civilian judicial interference in the war against radical Islamism (WARI); but I think it equally clear that Mexico has gone too far in the opposite direction; they're flirting frighteningly with out and out military dictatorship.

When Mexican soldiers are found to be tampering with evidence, or are reasonably accused of such by the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, the trials are held in secrecy; even the rest of the Mexican government can get virtually no information about the case. Thus when the military acquits its own soldiers of abuse, assault, or murder, it's hard to imagine anyone taking the "verdict" seriously:

Such scandals are driving calls for civilian investigators to take over cases that are almost exclusively handled by military prosecutors and judges who rarely convict one of their own....

President Felipe Calderon has proposed a bill that would require civilian investigations in all torture, disappearance and rape cases against the military. But other abuses, including homicides committed by on-duty soldiers, would mostly remain under military jurisdiction. That would include the Proctor case and two others this year in which soldiers were accused of even more elaborate cover-ups....

The military justice system operates in near total secrecy, choosing what to publicly reveal and when.

What disturbs me most about the example of our nearest neighbor to the south is that I myself have argued against civilian federal courts having jurisdiction over purely military matters, including the holding of POWs and the treatment of unlawful enemy combatants; I have condemned the two Supreme Court cases, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006) and Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), that essentially gave full civilian defendant rights to captured terrorists. But the Mexican war against the cartels demonstrates the horrific dark side of allowing the military to proceed unchecked, unmonitored, and unaccountable.

I believe our own situation is very different from the Central American example for several reasons:

The Mexican army is operating as a domestic law-enforcement agency, arresting, prosecuting, and engaging in summary executions of Mexican citizens suspected of committing crimes.

It is not engaging in "purely military matters."

Our own military is forbidden from acting as police under the states' general police authority by two legislative acts of 203 years and 132 years standing: The Insurrection Act of 1807 and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prevent any use of the military to conduct ordinary police activities within the United States, except during times of actual insurrection, rebellion, or martial law.

But even if the president declared martial law in some section of the United States, that still does not give the military authority to act in secret, to shield its activities from the (civilian) governmental branches of Congress, the administration, and the courts, or to quash criminal or civil cases alleging banditry, abuse, assault, or criminal homicide by military personnel... which appears to be exactly what the Mexican army is doing.

The Mexican civil authorities appear to be powerless against the army, which smells suspiciously like military rule.

The United States, by contrast with our southern neighbor, has a wealth of civilian authorities which can investigate members of the military -- and are themselves armed, granted jurisdiction over crimes committed by the military, given subpoena power, and with the authority to imprison or even execute military officials who are convicted of abuse of authority or other serious felonies, even if the military services in question oppose the prosecution.

First, there is the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Defense; the DoD IG is appointed by the President of the United States and must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, civilians all. But in addition, each branch of the service has a criminal investigations divison; and each CID employs many civilian investigators and agents, along with military personnel:

  • Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps
  • United States Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) for the U.S. Army
  • Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) for the U.S. Air Force
  • Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) for the U.S. Coast Guard

Our Founding Fathers were greatly worried about even the existence of a standing Army; they certainly insisted that the entire military be under civilian command, which is why the Constitution specifies that the President, an elected civilian official, be the supreme Commander in Chief. And we have seen a number of occasions where the President has indeed exercised his authority against the wishes of the military -- for example, when President Harry S. Truman fired five-star Gen. Douglas Arthur MacArthur for insubordination during the Korean War.

[I originally wrote "four-star" above; but MacArthur was appointed General of the Army in December 1944, and the uniform at that time specified five stars. I don't believe anyone in the American military forces has been authorized to wear five stars since Gen. Omar Bradley in 1950, but I'm not a military historian, so don't take my word for it. Thanks to commenter DK for the correction.]

Mexico has a history of its military seizing power from civilian leaders, for good or for ill.

The United States has never been ruled by a military dictator, but Mexico has had several -- for example, Field Marshal Anastasio Bustamante, Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, and Gen. Porfirio Díaz, whose last electoral fraud triggered the 1910 Mexican Revolution. It is far more likely that the Mexican generals would seize control from President Calderon than that our own military would execute a coup d'état against Barack H. Obama.

Think a second time... then a third.

Even so, it's well to bear in mind that we set up a system of civilian control of the military for a reason... and we should think many times before advocating, e.g., that the President declare that the civilian courts have no jurisdiction over the military's machinations.

Still, that does not mean that it's inconceivable that, after such thinking, we still reject judicial interference in what really are -- in our case, not Mexico's -- purely military matters. As it happens, even after pondering the current situation south of the Rio Grande, I have not changed my mind about the unAmerican, unconstitutional ruling of the Court in Hamdan and Boumediene.

It's always good to reevaluate one's conclusions in light of new facts; but to reevaluate means to reconsider... it's not a synonym for "to reject." Even upon further consideration, I stand on my previous opposition to Hamdan and Boumediene, the Mexican experience notwithstanding.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 27, 2010, at the time of 11:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 1, 2010

Maryjane's Machinations

Psychedelic Syllogisms
Hatched by Dafydd

Mrmee mrmee mrmee

I was all set to vote Yes on California Proposition 19, legalizing marijuana; I even posted about it here, writing:

Blah blah yak blah

So of course, I am voting yes on Prop 19; as limited and flawed as it is, it's a step rightwards.

Yatta blech blahdy blah

Well it would have been a step rightways, except the authors snuck in a dirty bit of business that only a lawyer would be able to decode. Thank goodness I have a lawyer friend... and here he is:

Under this law, courts may well rule that can employer has no right to take action to prevent marijuana consumption -- even on the job -- unless it “actually impairs” performance. This is a provision that goes beyond simply allowing people to smoke pot. It actually creates a new protected class (marijuana smokers) who may be entitled to sue if they are disciplined or fired for smoking marijuana... as long as the employer cannot prove that the smoking “actually impairs” job performance.


This is the actual text to which Patterico refers:

No person shall be punished, fined, discriminated against, or be denied any right or privilege for lawfully engaging in any conduct permitted by this act or authorized pursuant to Section 11301. Provided, however, that the existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually impairs job performance by an employee shall not be affected. -- Voter Information Guide, p. 94, section 11304 (c).

The kicker, of course, is in that phrase, "actually impairs job performance;" that would be the subject of endless litigation.

And why shouldn't an employer be allowed to prohibit dope-smoking on or off the job, on pain of the employee being discharged, even if the employee is not impaired at all?

  • What about liability?
  • Second-hand dope high?
  • What about the fear that a stoned employee might make some horrible mistake that cannot be corrected by firing him after the fact, but could be prevented by firing him before the fact?
  • What if the employer has a purely irrational but religious objection to the use of psychadelic substances? What if he's a Scientologist?

Since I believe employers ought to be able to hire, fire, promote, or demote even on the basis of race, sex, sexual preference, religion, creed, primary language, looks, or the color of one's hat, certainly the same license should hold for hiring or firing on the basis of drug use!

Simply put, the calculus has completely changed. Before, I had to choose only between an individual liberty (to ingest substances for pleasure, medication, or research) and the seemingly prejudiced attitudes of law-enforcement officials, who only want people to get high on the same drug they themselves use: ethyl alcohol.

But now I must choose between two competing individual liberties: the right of an individual to ingest, and the right of an employer to control use of his property (that is, his business).

I find myself in the predicament of Sen. Barry Goldwater, forced by principled consistency to vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- which he had supported all along, until it was amended at the last minute to prohibit purely private prejudice, not merely state-sponsored prejudice, as in its original form. Goldwater simply could not throw overboard the First Amendment right of peaceable assembly, not even for the laudable goal of diminishing racism.

Similarly in this case, I must come down on the side of the employer; it is the more important, more universal right of property. Therefore, I must change my vote. Fortunately, I decided not to vote early but to wait until tomorrow and vote at a polling place. I have remarked that ballot question to No, and that is how I plan to vote on Proposition 19.


(The above refers to the authors of this citizens' initiative, who were either incompetent or mendacious in crafting that particular clause of the initiative, making it an inadvertent or intentional "poison pill.")

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 1, 2010, at the time of 11:29 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 15, 2010

The Anti-Conservative Reader - UPDATED

Psychedelic Syllogisms
Hatched by Dafydd

See update below.

Most people who call themselves "libertarians" are actually were-liberals: They strut and preen about their devotion to small-L libertarianism; but every November of an even-numbered year, they step into the ballot booth and turn into Democrats.

This supermajority -- I would guess around 90% of putative "libertarians" -- are better called libertines... their "libertarianism" encompasses only their right to do anything they want, with no corresponding duty to bring about or defend the very institutions that preserve those rights for themselves and others.

To the were-liberal, his right to indulge himself floats on air, unsupported by any hard work or unpleasant responsibility for defending other rights for other people.

So what about the other 10% of self-dubbed libertarians, the ones who are not were-liberals? I might call them intellectual libertarians, but a less quotidian phrase might be "Spockian libertarians" -- which allows me to reintroduce my infamous neologisms, Spockian and Bonesian. They're named after the original Star Trek characters First Officer Spock, a Vulcan who believes in pure logic, and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, a human doctor who is as emotional as Aunt Bee, if a skosh craggier. Pure Spockians would be hyperrational, if they existed, immune to emotion. sentiment, and feelings of every sort; while pure Bonesians would be hyperemotional, unable to parse the simplest logical syllogism. In reality, everyone lands somewhere on the Spockian-Bonesian axis, but almost nobody is purely one or the other.

A Spockian libertarian derives his libertarianism primarily from rational argument based upon bedrock principles of liberty, individualism, property, and Capitalism, rather than personal indulgence or libertine desires... the mirror-mirror image of his counterpart on the Bonesian side, whom we have already described.

Fast forward to the issue of the day: California's Proposition 19, which would legalize (under state law) the possession, cultivation, and transportation of marijuana for personal use and allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana transactions. The were-liberal supports drug legalization not because of rational argument firmly grounded in a principle of liberty, but because he wants to smoke dope and party like it's (still) 1999. He could not care less about, e.g., our right to purchase painkillers without having to get a permission slip (a prescription) from the government... unless he was himself in pain; he would shrug off our right to purchase asthma medicine, unless he had asthma. I think you get the drift.

But I am a Spockian libertarian; so when I talk about drug legalization, I primarily mean getting rid of the entire statist apparatus of doling out permission to buy medicine through an elaborate system of drug controls, from "over the counter" (OTC) to "prescription required" to "controlled substance" to "banned substance;" as a sideshow, I would include so-called "recreational" drugs.

(The only exception I make is for antibiotics, the promiscuous overuse of which can evolve highly resistant superbacteria, leading to a pandemic that wipes out a huge portion of the population. It's the epidemiological equivalent of allowing people to store high explosives in apartments and condos: It creates an unreasonable risk to a population that has no control over it, indeed no way even to know the danger is present.)

So of course, I am voting yes on Prop 19; as limited and flawed as it is, it's a step rightwards.

Even if there were no practical argument in favor of drug legalization, I would still support it on grounds of personal liberty; if we own anything, we own our own bodies. If we have any right, we have the right to purchase the level of health care we can afford, without regard to whether the State approves. At its strongest, a "prescription" should be just what the word means: a suggestion from a doctor or pharmacist that a particular medicine would help your condition. As a free adult individual, the decision whether to use it should be expressed as a pure commercial transaction between you and the seller.

But as it happens, there are also practical arguments; for example, a new study by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center strongly supports the Spockian-libertarian position -- though you would never guess it by how it has been spun by the national news purveyors. Many on both Left and Right are caricaturing the study, for purely tendentious reasons, as showing the polar opposite of what it actually shows. In particular, nearly all conservatives want the government to control our drugs for exactly the same patronizing, nanny-state reason that liberals want the government to control our money: because they refuse to trust free individuals to make their own choices and abide by the consequences.

The Spockian-libertarian argument is made thus:

  1. Legalizing banned drugs would suck the air out of the black market in those drugs.
  2. That would remove the profit motive for criminal gangs to manufacture and distribute those drugs.
  3. That would defund criminal enterprises around the world, to some extent at least.
  4. To the extent of the illegal market loss, defunding criminal enterprises would decrease and limit their capacity to commit violence, terror, and robbery against the rest of us.

So what did the RAND study find? Results are mixed; but properly interpreted, they do support the thesis. Let's start with the media spin, which has been picked up by conservatives who otherwise reject nearly everything in the mainstream media out of hand:

Mexico's drug traffickers are likely to lose customers in America's largest pot consuming state if California legalizes marijuana, but they won't lose much money overall because California's residents already prefer to grow their own, according to a study released Tuesday.

That means the proposal on the state's November ballot to legalize marijuana also will do little to quell the drug gangs' violent and sophisticated organizations that generate billions of dollars a year, according to the study by the nonpartisan RAND Drug Policy Research Center.

Let's zoom in: The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Proposition 19 alone, by itself, will do little to impact the profits extracted by the Mexican drug cartels from worldwide drug distribution. This is an obvious but trivial finding; clearly legalizing drugs in one state while keeping them illegal in the other 49 isn't going to have much of an impact. Add to this the fact that California marijiana users, uniquely among the states in the southwestern region of the U.S., prefer either to grow their own or buy from marijuana farmers in the local area; thus California is the state least likely to be able to affect criminal profits by legalizing marijuana, for reasons having nothing to do with the efficacy of legalizing marijuana itself.

But that's not the point, is it? The question is not whether this one citizens' initiative can have a big impact on worldwide sales; the real conundrum is whether drug-cartel profits depend upon the drug in question being illegal. I say it does -- and the RAND report appears to agree; see the actual RAND study itself, on page 19 (page 35 of the PDF):

We believe that legalizing marijuana in California would effectively eliminate Mexican DTOs’ [Drug Trafficking Organizations] revenues from supplying Mexican-grown marijuana to the California market. As we elaborate in this chapter, even with taxes, legally produced marijuana would likely cost no more than would illegal marijuana from Mexico and would cost less than half as much per unit of THC (Kilmer, Caulkins, Pacula, et al., 2010). Thus, the needs of the California market would be supplied by the new legal industry. While, in theory, some DTO employees might choose to work in the legal marijuana industry, they would not be able to generate unusual profits, nor be able to draw on talents that are particular to a criminal organization.

We also believe that Mexican DTOs would eventually lose all revenue stemming from the selling of Mexican marijuana to underage users in California. When it becomes possible in California for anyone over the age of 21 to provide juveniles with marijuana that is cheaper, better, and subject to more quality control, Mexican DTOs will have no more competitive advantage than they would trying to sell alcohol and cigarettes to California youth today.

That is, by legalizing marijuana in California, we would "effectively eliminate" all the revenue the Mexican drug cartels reap from selling marijuana in California. While this isn't completely dispositive, it certainly suggests that legalizing marijuana throughout the United States (at both state and federal levels) would "effectively elminate" all DTO revenue from supplying Mexican-grown marijuana to the entire American market.

The California marijuana market is about 3% of the drug cartels' revenue; but RAND estimates the entire American marijuana market is closer to 20% of their revenue. And if you include all other currently illegal drugs, that should eliminate just about 100% of the revenue from illegal drug sales in the United States, by definition.

Clearly, legalizing marijuana in California would also eliminate drug revenue going to criminal gangs within California; by analogy, there is virtually no profit selling bootleg liquor when liquor is already legal and readily available in grocery stores and pharmacies.

This leads to our first reasonably strong conclusion: Legalizing marijuana throughout the United States would defund criminal gangs worldwide of whatever revenue they reap from illegal sales of marijuana in the United States.

And a once-removed conclusion that is still fairly strong, in light of the RAND study: Legalizing all currently banned drugs (drugs on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act) across the United States would virtually eliminate the profit from selling Schedule I drugs illegally in the United States.

This argument is not the end of the story, of course; it's logically possible that the downside of legalization could outweight the upside. But the RAND study strongly implies that there is an "upside," which many conservatives (and many non-radical liberals) have persistently denied, rejecting even the theory that legalizing a substance would gut the profit that criminal enterprises derive from illegal sales of that substance.

Now that it seems clear that there are at least two sides, it behooves us to ponder both and form a rational conclusion whether, as a purely practical matter without moral implications, legalizing drugs -- and returning prescriptions to the suggestions they were meant to be, not the restrictions they've metastasized into -- is on the whole good for our society or bad for it.

Coupled with the moral argument of individual liberty, I land on the side of near-complete legalization of all drugs on all schedules I through V and every other controlled substance... excepting only those pesky antibiotics.

Yet one more proof of what I have said ever since this blog began: I am not a conservative; I am an anti-liberal. And I can be an anti-conservative as well, when they elevate the conservation of social convention above our sacred principle of maximal human liberty consonant with the conservation of our society itself.

UPDATE: It was never my intent to exhaustively catalog all the practical arguments in favor of drug legalization; but commenter Mdgiles reminds me that I should at least mention one glaringly obvious one: The money we save because we don't have to spend tens of billions of dollars on special anti-drug police task forces, incarceration of whatever percent of prisoners are locked up solely because of violation of narcotics laws (not as high as many people think), and the cost of prosecution and investigation of such cases... all money pounded down the rathole of prohibition enforcement.

In addition, I should highlight a couple of other practical benefits:

  • The tax base wil widen with the addition of an entire sub-industry that currently pays no taxes, as it is completely underground.
  • And we can end many of the tyrannical law-enforcement tactics, such as:

    • Asset forfeiture laws that seize property used to commit drug crimes, even when the owner of the property is completely innocent of those crimes (the State prosecutes the property itself, rather than the owner -- so it argues it's not a "taking" under the Constitution);
    • Commando-style police raids that sometimes kill innocent people;
    • Sentences that can be grossly disproportionate to the crime committed;
    • And even laws that turn ordinary people into "drug criminals," because some bureaucrat has decided that a person with cancer, say, only needs this much painkiller, not that much.

On the other side of the ledger, some argue that costs of rehabilitation and hospitalization will increase; that productivity will drop at work; and that more children will be stoned at school. But each of these risks follows from the shaky assumption that if drugs are legalized, many more people (and many more children) will use them.

I find that argument very unpersuasive; drugs are already widely available to anyone who wants them and have been for decades, and there is no guarantee the cost of legalized Schedule I drugs will drop significantly. But even with lowered cost, if the market is already saturated, then drug use would not increase significantly: The idea that the only reason most people don't use heroin or cocaine is that it's illegal is colossally offensive to individual liberty... it's like saying the only reason most men aren't rapists is that they don't want to go to jail.

If a person truly believes that, he is a socialist; he believes that the government is the only source of morality. I categorically reject the socialist theory of citizens as infants who must be coddled, molded, and forever controlled by a centralized, totalitarian authority.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 15, 2010, at the time of 11:27 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

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