Tag Archives: police state

Senator James Risch on Drugs

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1015_steve-mcqueen-dead-celebs_485x340Perhaps the above title is ambiguous. Today’s post involves an email I received from Senator Risch regarding the Drug War. Personally, I find the War on Drugs to be an extremely bad policy. Drug criminalization, along with “Get Tough on Crime” measures such as mandatory minimum sentencing and three strikes laws, can explain over 90% of the explosive increase in US incarceration rates over the last four decades (please contact me if you are interested in getting a copy of the research paper I wrote on this).

This is very expensive, and I feel comfortable guaranteeing that people would be far more willing to end the Drug War if they knew how much it cost them, or at least reduce it by a dramatic extent. It costs around $20,000 per year to incarcerate a man (a figure provided to me by a criminal justice professor of corrections), and more for women (because there are fewer incarcerated women, economies of scale don’t apply as much). This is in addition to the money spent by the DEA and other law enforcement on actually catching drug users (rather than solving or preventing crimes with identifiable victims), as well as the court costs of prosecuting the huge numbers of drug offenders.

Also important to consider are the extreme costs to our civil liberties. Even though I have never used drugs, I consider myself a victim of the Drug War because of the fact that my car has twice been searched by the police using a drug sniffing dog. (It is my belief that the dog was not faulty, but that these officers lied about the dog alerting; there is no way I can prove that the dog didn’t alert, and there is no penalty to them for finding nothing. Thus, they are able to illegally search any vehicle at will.) Other than the War on Terror, nothing has eroded our civil liberties to the extent that the Drug War has.

And, ultimately, I don’t think it’s any business of the government what adults choose to put in their own bodies. As long as they are not harming anyone else, they should be left alone. There is a lot more one could say about the evils of the War on Drugs, but we’ll get into what James Risch has to say:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding drug legalization.  I really appreciate hearing from you.

I oppose the legalization of illicit drugs.  Legalization could encourage experimentation among those who currently do not use illegal substances and could lead to addiction and criminal activity.

It is ironic that Risch believes legalization could lead to criminal activity, as it is the nature of black markets that encourages criminal activity to surround drugs. We can see this in several ways:

  • It is because they are illegal that the prices of drugs are so high. Without these high prices, drug users would have less of an incentive to engage in criminal activity to support their habits.
  • Generally, businesses in competition with one another will tend to provide lower prices or higher quality of service. Due to the black market in drugs, cartels have a greater incentive to engage in violence to increase market share and less of an ability to resolve disputes peaceably (you can’t take a dealer to court for ripping you off).
  • The threat of imprisonment, all else equal, incentivizes violence against law enforcement where there would otherwise be none.

I generally support a reduction in government authority, but in the case of drug legalization it is important dangerous drugs are prohibited or regulated to ensure their safe use for the intended purposes for which they were developed as well as for general public safety.

Again, it is ironic that Risch would point to prohibition as a measure that would ensure safe use. It is because of alcohol prohibition that we have such unsavory terms such as “rot gut.” Again, if there is no tort system available, the costs of selling unsafe substances decreases because of lower accountability.

Drunken driving is a serious problem in this country.

His fellow senator from Idaho should know!

If more illicit drugs were legalized, the problem of impaired motorists would increase significantly—which can have devastating impacts far beyond just the individual who used the drug.

Of course, this is a bald assertion rather than a rigorously supported claim. But even if this is accurate, how could it possibly be the case that public safety would be decreased on net? It is highly doubtful that drug-related violence (how many have died in Mexico’s civil war?) would be outweighed by any increase in impaired driving.

The economic benefit that could be derived from additional drug-related taxes cannot justify the risks associated with legalizing dangerous substances.

The economic ignorance of James Risch is concerning. If he thinks the only economic benefit of drug legalization is more tax revenue, he is grossly misinformed. As mentioned above, a huge amount of money spent on law enforcement is spent in pursuit of the Drug War. Furthermore, it is quite a statist notion to think of increased tax revenue as being an economic benefit. Indeed, in many situations it would be far better if tax revenues were burned rather than allowed to distort the economy as they do (examples include farm subsidies, student loans, bank bailouts, the military-industrial complex, etc.).

Again, I really value your effort to get in touch with me to share your thoughts, as many Idahoans do.  Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on this or other issues.
Very Truly Yours

James E. Risch
United States Senator

Website: Risch.senate.gov

My offices:

Boise – 208.342.7985
Coeur d’Alene – 208.667.6130
Idaho Falls – 208.523.5541
Lewiston – 208.743.0792
Pocatello – 208.236.6817
Twin Falls – 208.734.6780
Washington, D.C. – 202.224.2752

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The Best Analysis of Edward Snowden and the Security State I’ve Read

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Photo of Ben O'Neill

Ben O’Neill

Ben O’Neill has published a series of articles on mises.org, seriously analyzing the ethics of the Edward Snowden revelations and NSA spying. What I really like about it is that, unlike what you’ll see in the mainstream media or even many liberty-oriented blogs, it seriously analyzes the issue: did Snowden have the ethical requirement to maintain confidentiality? O’Neill points out the fact that, by definition, whistle blowers have to break non-disclosure agreements that they’ve signed, and thereby break government laws. Thus, all whistle blowers are law breakers.

But in contract law, there are certain situations that make contracts invalid, such as when they are signed under duress. Another example is confidentiality agreements that require the signer to not disclose illegal activities. Clearly, the spying that the NSA has been involved in is not legal – it does not satisfy the requirements of the 4th Amendment. Therefore, any non-disclosure agreement Edward Snowden may have signed is invalid.

But most ordinary Americans who are against what Snowden did aren’t against him because of their desire to uphold the rule of law (except Aaron’s grandma). If they did, they ought to be much more concerned about the disregard for rule of law by the NSA. Rather, their main concern is the security state, and the idea that this spying is necessary to keep Americans safe. But O’Neill destroys this idea as well. NSA documents show that they use their surveillance apparatus for political ends. It certainly seems strange to fear rag-tag bands of terrorists from third world countries more than a multi-billion dollar secret agency that claims it can legitimately spy on your electronic communications without a warrant, and also possesses the ability to kidnap and assassinate people.

People often compare what’s happening in America to the environment in 1984. What I found most interesting about 1984 wasn’t the surveillance of the totalitarian state, so much as the concept of doublethink, the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts at once. It seems that many Americans who consider themselves “patriots” will defend any government action in the name of “security,” even if it contradicts their supposed fidelity to American principles and the Constitution. A member of the Oath Keepers forwarded me this article, for goodness sake! What enables the security state, more than any data center, spying program, or weapon, is the consent of the majority of the governed. By freeing minds, more than by winning elections, we will free ourselves.

Another Dispatch from the War on Drugs

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From Tom Woods’ blog:

I mentioned this while hosting the Peter Schiff Show yesterday. John Horner, a 46-year-old fast food restaurant worker, lost an eye in an accident in 2000. He wound up not using all of his pain medication. Years later, he made friends with a man who appeared to be in pain himself. This man offered to buy Horner’s pills. The man was a police informant, of course.

The nonviolent Horner, whose several children must now be raised without a father, is now serving a 25-year prison sentence, thanks to Florida’s minimum-sentencing law.

There are a few things I want to say about this.

First is that I seem to come across terrible stories such as these way more often than anyone should (the ideal number of times would be zero). It seems that things such as this, which, unlike natural disasters or accidents, are 100% preventable. Yet I know not how many media outlets cover such events as these. Obviously, if people don’t know about it then they can’t really demand for it to stop.

Secondly, I would like to point out that real, tangible individuals are suffering from this. Real lives are being affected and their story deserves to be told. When the pain comes at the expense of people we don’t know and live far away, it’s easy to abstract away from the fact that this is happening to an actual person and his family. Remember that.

Third, if you support the drug war, seriously consider whether you have responsibility for this. You may say, “Well, I only want hard drugs to be illegal, not someone who simply sells unused pain meds. And I would never put anyone in jail for 25 years just for using drugs!”

What I want such a person to realize is that the State will gladly take whatever you give it and then some. Once you open the door for a faceless institution to be able to tell people what substances they can possess and put in their bodies under penalty of law, this is the outcome that will eventually come to pass. Once it’s realized that the current laws of the State will not keep people from possessing and using drugs, the proposed action is to double down: create stiffer penalties, have more surveillance, more searches and seizures, more drug dogs, more enforcement. Once it’s found that this won’t prevent the problem either, what’s next?

What Happens When You Federalize Police

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Though I’m no John Bircher saying, “Support Your Local Police!” there are probably some advantages of having police be local rather than federal. Gene Healy discusses one of those advantages (less accountable people will be more likely to spend your money on things like tanks) here. Even the city Fargo in my fine home territory of North Dakota is not immune to the madness:

Homeland Security Grants Subsidize Dystopia

“Do I think al Qaeda is going to target Pumpkin Fest? No, but are there fringe groups that want to make a statement? Yes.”

That’s the police chief of Keene, N.H. (pop. 23,000), justifying his decision to buy a BearCat armored personnel carrier with a federal Department of Homeland Security grant. After all, you never know what could happen at Pumpkin Fest.
Read the rest of this entry

Why Do People Want to Believe in the Police?

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Jarvis DeBerry recently wrote about a New Orleans police officer who has had many complaints about him yet irrevocably remains employed. DeBerry documents a condemning case against Officer Jayson Germann, citing accusations of excessive force, theft, false reports, verbal intimidation, and unprofessionalism. I found this claim by his attorney to be pretty amazing:

Germann’s attorney, Raymond Burkart III, said, “It’s not uncommon for people to make false allegations against police officers. It’s a way to retaliate and besmirch the officer.” 

I find this to be quite hard to believe, to say the least. Think about the relationship here: you have on one side the private “civilian” whose only legal recourse is to complain to the police department’s internal affairs, likely to consist of people who know and could be friends with the officer about whom he or she is complaining, or the officer, who has an incredible amount of discretion to use violence. Who exactly has more legal routes for “retaliation” here? Of course, that’s his attorney and they are paid to make bad arguments.

I do appreciate DeBerry’s concluding comment:

Complaints made against officers are typically hard to prove, so police defenders generally insist that we only pay attention to complaints that were substantiated. But as police monitor Susan Hutson counters, “If a suspect is arrested for something and has a long arrest history, regardless of whether he’s been convicted, it would be touted by the police.” Exactly. A series of complaints against a civilian is offered as prima facie evidence of guilt. A series of complaints against an officer is described as irrelevant, and most of us shrug and move on.

We want to believe that the system’s still reliable even when we see an abundance of evidence to the contrary.

It is insightful regarding the benefit of the doubt given to police at the expense of everyone else; I’m not sure why that is the general attitude of people who are not police. I suspect it has to do with the unending onslaught of TV shows about police who are never wrong about the innocence of suspects and are never shown making mistakes that result in the violation of rights or the ending of lives. I am sure he uses “we” in the last sentence rhetorically rather than literally. Acknowledging the abundance of evidence to the contrary, I think, is an admonishment of the uninitiated to get their heads out of the sand and see that real life doesn’t resemble TV in this instance.

But perhaps a fuller explanation of why people want to believe in the American criminal justice system is necessary. Though I think most people really don’t care about the corruption until it affects them directly (I feel as though I can guarantee there wouldn’t be a drug war if people knew what it cost them individually), maybe people don’t want to face the discomfort of knowing that the legal system is unnecessarily unjust. Maybe there is a rational irrationality in that there is little point in getting upset about such things if one doesn’t believe she can change it. Ignorance is preferable.

But I don’t know the exact reason(s) why people want to believe in the police. Maybe you can tell me.

August 16 Gem County Sheriff’s Office SWAT raid

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I would strongly advise before watching this video to read William Norman Grigg’s explanation of what happened over at his blog, Pro Libertate. What I find surprising about this incident is that it took place in rural Idaho, which I don’t think is yet considered a hotbed of drug dealing. Yet I have personally had problems with the police state in Meridian, Idaho, where my vehicle has been searched twice by what I strongly suspect of being fabricated evidence (“The K9 alerted on your door handle. Have you been giving rides to people who use drugs?”). Likewise, in this case there were officers conducting an illegal search for marijuana, as well as assaulting an innocent couple.

When will people realize that you don’t have to be involved with any illegal substance to be a victim of the State’s war on drugs?

An Update On Brandon Raub, Political Prisoner

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In my previous post regarding how not even ex-marines are safe from the police state, I touched upon the story of Brandon Raub. In case you missed it, he was committed to a mental institution after posting remarks critical of the government on a private Facebook page. Unlike the rest of the marines mentioned, Raub has not yet been murdered by the police and plans to sue the FBI.

The author of the this link is the chair of the rEVOLution PAC and apparently this organization is helping Mr. Raub. Will government courts decide against government agents breaking government laws? We’ll find out!

P.S. This is a link to a piece written by Mr. Raub’s attorney. It regards the practice by despotic regimes of classifying political prisoners as mentally unstable so that they could be detained without trial.