Sunday, July 30, 2006

The War Against (Some) Drugs

If you think the U.S. has any intention of winning the War on (some) Drugs, think again. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s not call it a war on drugs, let’s call it a war against the middle class.

To understand the rationale for the drug war, you must first understand that the drug war is not about illegal drugs, per se, but about the money that can be made from combating illegal drugs. There’s a big difference. The government doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your health or your life. All it cares about is your money. Get over it, and move on.

Money! It’s always about money. Following the money trail will always lead you to the real motives behind any enterprise. Begin with the fact of illicit drugs. How does legal status affect the price of drugs? Who profits? Who loses?

The profit taking begins almost as soon as a law proscribing something—anything—that is desired by the public goes into effect. Popular demand for illegal goods creates a black market, which entrepreneurs who are less concerned with the law than they are with huge profit potential are only too glad to fill. Were it not for the law, suppliers of illicit drugs couldn’t make enough money for the activity to be worth their time and effort. A black market always drives up the price of whatever is being sold on the black market.

Let’s follow the money trail blazed by marijuana prohibition to get an unobstructed look at how prohibition creates a high-revving high-torque economic engine that, once it’s set into motion, evolves into a freewheeling juggernaut few people want to see stopped.

The money trail begins with legislators and other politicians who get political mileage out of writing or supporting anti-drug laws. By exploiting the public’s ignorance and appealing to raw emotions through the dissemination of disinformation, politicians gain popular support for anti-drug laws and the punitive measures to be used against violators. A lucrative market instantly springs into existence.

A network of growers, suppliers and dealers arises to feed the market, taking advantage of the artificial price supports created by the law. Huge profit potential makes the consequences of breaking the law an acceptable risk. It’s all part of doing business.

Soon, an anti-marijuana propaganda machine cranks up, disseminating lies that arouse public fear, hatred and resentment, with the idea of justifying the government’s expenditures of the taxpayers’ money in the cause of fighting marijuana. Ad space in magazines, newspapers and on television consume lots of anti-drug propaganda dollars.

Other anti-drug vultures that have found a way to cash in on marijuana prohibition are the drug testers (programs, clinics, equipment manufacturers, chemists), drug educators (D.A.R.E., etc.), and drug rehabilitation programs.

Moving on down the money trail, we come to law enforcement, which has its collective hand out for funds (provided by taxpayers) to apprehend marijuana users and traffickers. Drug enforcement units need airplanes and FLIR systems, canine units and SWAT teams, assault rifles and bulletproof vests, an assortment of other equipment, and extra personnel in order to catch the dreaded marijuana traffickers. If marijuana were legal, most of these expenses could be eliminated.

The next money-grubbing mitts belong to various members of the criminal justice system, beginning with lawyers. (When aren’t lawyers involved when there’s a large amount of money at stake?) And of course, judges, court officials and other functionaries of the justice system are money sponges waiting for their turn to soak up a share of the taxpayer-funded marijuana prevention bonanza.

Of course, punitive measures require prisons, the construction of which provides a source of income to construction companies and all their suppliers. Prisons need wardens and prison guards, too, and all kinds of supplies to keep the prisoners clothed and fed. With the annual cost of housing a single prisoner running between $19,000 and $31,000 (depending on location), it’s no surprise that the current U.S. prison population approaches 2.5 million prisoners. No wonder prisons are one of the fastest growing segments of the economy.

Incarceration demands parole boards and parole officers, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, and medical personnel. Even when imprisoned marijuana offenders are released from prison, marijuana prohibition is the gift that keeps on giving.

No one is naive enough to believe, given the high rates of recidivism, that incarceration was meant to rehabilitate convicted drug offenders. Serious study of cause and effect shows that a high percentage of non-violent first-time marijuana offenders who land in prison quickly learn the ways of the hardened criminal. Upon release they re-offend, often graduating to more serious crimes.

In their zeal to fight a problem of their own making, members of the legal/judicial system sacrifice their integrity and credibility by riding roughshod over civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the Constitution. One of the most egregious abuses of power involves forfeiture laws, where law enforcement seizes property (both real and personal) of suspected drug dealers—no conviction needed, no due process required.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Nation in Distress

Does flying the U.S. flag upside down constitute flag desecration? If it does, I fail to see how. Displaying the flag inverted has long been an acceptable and legitimate means of saying, “Help! Help! We’re in some really deep shit, here.” In other words, an upside down flag is recognized as a distress signal, much like SOS or Mayday. That’s a far cry from desecration.

Still, there are “patriots” who insist the only correct way to display the U.S. flag is right side up. On a bumper sticker. On an SUV. It never occurs to them that the country might actually be in trouble, and that they’re part of the problem.

There’s a certain segment of the population that overlooks the really important issues, focusing its attention, instead, on relatively trivial things – non-issues, as it were – while the country, and the rest of the world, goes to hell in a handbasket.

For some, it’s a matter of protecting the American way of life. They haven’t a clue that the American Dream has become a global nightmare. For others, a right to life is all that matters and they remain oblivious to the threat of unintended consequences. They naively subscribe to the false premise that the planet can support an unlimited number of people.

Self-professed Christians take it upon themselves to ensure that someone else’s baby gets born, regardless of whether that baby is the product of rape or incest, or a threat to the mother’s health. You’d think they, having assumed the responsibility to advocate for the unborn, would then step forward to care for a child after its birth. But, nooooo! Once a child is born, it ceases to be their problem.

The logic of blocking on-demand access to safe abortions while simultaneously blocking sex education and access to a full range of birth control products escapes me. Consigning pregnant underage school girls to unwilling motherhood by limiting their options (and, perhaps, condemning some of them to seek out back-alley abortions) makes no more sense to me than does allowing a licensed pharmacist to keep his license after refusing to fill a lawful prescription. That’s the moral equivalent of retaining a firefighter who refuses to fight an arson-caused fire because he’s morally opposed to arson.

How ignorant is it to deny gay people the same rights and protections, under the law, as those afforded to—and enjoyed by—heterosexuals? Denying gay couples the right to marry, the benefit of civil unions or the power to adopt prevents them from providing loving care and a nurturing environment to children who will instead grow up in abusive relationships or as wards of the state.

Keeping Terry Schiavo on life support was more important to some people than getting George Duhbya Bush out of the White House. Overturning medical marijuana laws and blocking medical marijuana legislation were more important to some people than affordable healthcare for all.

To some people, teaching faith is more important than teaching science or other subjects that lead to social and cultural progress. Meanwhile, education—real education—is in a sorry state of affairs that grows worse by the day.

Unfortunately, the religious right, fearful of changes to the status quo, won’t be satisfied by anything less than universal acceptance of its extremely narrow perceptions of reality. They’re shooting themselves and their countrymen in the foot to facilitate a giant step backward into the long-abandoned darkness of a bygone era.

Hey, people! There’s no energy crisis. There’s no healthcare crisis, no global warming, no pollution, no crumbling infrastructure, no unemployment, no war in Iraq, and food insecurity isn’t worth worrying about. Our civil rights and liberties aren’t being threatened, and the sanctity and security of our elections and voting processes are intact. These things, all of them, are delusions, mere figments of your defective imagination.

Does it make sense to export freedom and democracy to other parts of the world if we can’t keep any at home? Respect for the flag? How about showing a little respect for the Constitution and a lot of respect for the Bill of Rights? That accomplished, everything else will fall into place.

The patriotic thing – or, at least, the responsible thing – would be for everyone to fly the flag upside down. That would be a show of solidarity for the idea that this Bushit nonsense has got to stop.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Frat Boy Spreads Redneck Diplomacy

Redneck diplomacy seems to be the Bushwhacker’s forte, if not his stock in trade. At the recent G-8 Summit conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Duhbya revealed a public persona more in line with drunken frat boy antics than with diplomatic professionalism. His bad manners and social ineptitude are disgraceful to the nation he represents, proof positive that he shouldn’t be allowed out in public sans straight jacket, a suitable amount of duct tape covering his roll hole, and an able handler jerking a very short leash.

“Yo, Blair!” Hey, the cameras were rolling, and Bush has never been one to miss a photo op. What’s really pathetic is that he feels the need to show off every chance he gets. Even more pathetic is that he assumes that frat boy identity whenever he can, which seems to be just about all the time. Of course, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s perfect response would have been, “Yo, Yo-yo,” but he passed up the opportunity. No, I don’t think Blair is as slow-witted as Bush is. I think he just values his dignity more.

Bush then began a conversation with Blair, demonstrating an acquired ability to talk with his mouth full. At one point, within range of an open mike, he uttered a word that sounded suspiciously like “shit,” although it could have been “Shiite.” It’s hard to tell what one is saying when one is trying to talk around and through a mouthful of partially chewed shit. Someone said that Bush was eating a roll, but you know those neo cons – always trying to make things sound better than they are.

These were carefully calculated moves designed to impress on the world’s most powerful leaders that Americans are, at heart, boorish, uncouth, uncultured heathens. If Bush impressed the Europeans as much as he impressed me, he was a total success.

Later, he drew attention to his vast knowledge of geography by proclaiming both Russia and China to be big countries. Still, it’s doubtful that he could find either one of them on a World Atlas unless they were clearly labeled in 24-point type.

After all this, Bush had only to give his encore performance. And a striking performance it was. After carefully maneuvering into position behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he struck with the speed of a cobra, hands going to her neck and shoulders. No, he wasn’t trying to strangle her, only give her a neck and shoulder massage. Stupid frat boy stunt = sexual harassment. Jeeze, if she would have done that to him, Bush’s protection detail would have gunned her down.

How does one go from Animal House to the White House? It’s easy when you have daddy’s money at your disposal and the support of powerful friends. And a high percentage of ill-informed voters. And Diebold voting machines. When you put them all together, they become an unbeatable combination.

Now, here’s another question. How does one get from the White House to the big house? Don’t stress on it. Sooner or later, I think the Bushwhacker is going to show us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Discovery Advances Particle Theory

Leading physicists, today, observed two new sub-atomic particles for the first time, thereby bringing scientists one step (or is it two steps?) closer to developing a unified theory of everything. The discovery sheds new light on the subjects of dark matter and dark energy, and raises the probability that intelligent life will one day be found somewhere in the known universe.

Dr. Algernon Sensen Brenner, acting as spokesperson for the privately-funded research group Challengers of Consensus Reality, suggested that identification of the elementary particles, dubbed morons and intellectons, could revolutionize mankind’s understanding of particle theory and quantum mechanics.

Researchers speculated that morons might actually be the dark matter and dark energy—both of which exist in theory—long sought after by physicists, but this couldn't be immediately confirmed. They agreed that more research is needed.

Dr. Brenner affirmed that the CCR group’s discovery of morons and intellectons followed closely on the heels of its discovery, a week ago, of a larger particle, called a percepton. “Perceptons occur spontaneously,“ he said, “whenever an intellecton collides with a cluster of morons. These collisions occur less frequently than one would expect, even though morons are prevalent throughout the multiverse.”

In explaining the phenomenon, Dr. Brenner stated that negatively charged morons group together in clusters, and that they outnumber positively charged intellectons ten-to-one. They make elusive targets for intellectons because they travel faster than light speed, despite being incredibly dense. “The only way a collision between an intellecton and a cluster of morons can occur,” Dr. Brenner said, “is if they meet head-on.”

To put the speed of morons in perspective, imagine a race from the sun to Earth. If the race were to begin right now, morons crossed the finish line six minutes ago, tachyons arrived four minute later, and light will arrive in eight minutes.

No wonder intellectons have such a tough time connecting.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Investment Insanity

Today’s money market speculators make the moneychangers of old look like righteous citizens. The same can be said for other speculators, as well, including energy traders and those who dabble in real estate, stock markets, commodities, and precious metals. Speculation, a primary driver of inflation, guarantees that everyone ends up paying more for everything.

When markets shift from favoring buyers (low demand = low prices) to favoring sellers (high demand = high prices), speculators smell opportunity. Their rush to cash in introduces a false dynamic into the marketplace, distorting something’s value out of all proportion to what it’s actually worth.

Throughout the 1970’s, Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brother bought up vast quantities of silver, eventually cornering the silver market. Their actions drove silver prices from less than $5 an ounce to over $54 an ounce before the market collapsed in March of 1980, sending prices plummeting into the $10 range. The Hunts lost money (proving that even the greediest speculators sometimes fail), as did many other speculators, but there were some winners, too.

The lessons to be learned, here, are that speculating is risky business, and that for every winner there must be one or more losers. Winning is a relative term having approximately the same relationship to losing as hot has to cold.

The problem with speculating is that it creates nothing, adds nothing to the economy. It doesn’t create wealth, it only manipulates wealth by taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. It’s a game rich people play in order to take money away from people who merely aspire to be rich.

The Savings & Loan scandal of the ‘80’s, the Enron energy scandal of the ‘90’s, and the dotcom bust on the Millennium threshold all came about because people played fast and loose with their ethics. But then, greed always trumps good sense, doesn’t it?

Now, there’s another market crisis looming on the horizon. For twenty years real estate values have responded to market forces in the same way that gasoline responds to an open flame. Eventually, though, there’ll be a market correction, and the real estate inferno will burn itself out.

I think that day is closer at hand than anyone wants to admit.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Things that go "BOOM"!

The Fourth of July celebration is a great American tradition in which patriotic Americans blow their fingers off, set fire to their neighbors’ houses, drink themselves stupid (or stupider), and terrorize their pets. This year’s July Fourth celebration was exceptional, setting several fireworks display milestones.

NASA, a first-time participant, won first place in two categories with a rocket dubbed Discovery, which easily captured blue ribbons for Biggest Rocket and Most Spectacular Rocket Launch.

North Korea, also a first-time participant, took first place in the category Most Impressive Explosion with its Taepodong-2 missile, and won honorable mention for most entries in the Short Range and Medium Range contests, but the smaller rockets otherwise generally failed to impress because so many of them fizzled.

Once again, Fort Vancouver won top honors for Largest Fireworks Display West of the Mississippi, and Sellwood was runner-up in a new category appropriately dubbed Neighborhood that Sounds Most Like a War Zone.

As usual, it was the organized fireworks displays that attracted the largest nighttime crowds. The ultra-short range, sub-miniature multiple-warhead rockets equipped with symmetrical air burst technology were crowd pleasers, never failing to elicit the properly respectful “oohs” and “ahhhs” from reverential attendees – especially during times of rapid deployment.

Unfortunately, the Fourth of July celebration, as we know it, may be about to undergo a radical transformation. Thanks to ineptitude and malfeasance in high places, Americans might soon be forced to abandon their holiday tribute to independence and freedom and, instead, spend their time fighting to defend these things they once took for granted.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Technology Pros and Cons

Does technology solve problems, or does it create them? The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in the middle, though probably a smidgen closer to the creative end of whatever equation one uses to determine the problem solution/problem creation ratio of applied technology.

No one can argue that technology doesn’t solve problems. We see the positive aspects of technology all around us, working hard to extend life, to increase productivity, to improve on old technology, to create new products and new technologies, and to simplify our existence by bringing a myriad of labor saving devices to consumer markets.

What few people seem to see—or even think about—is the dark side of technology, the side with unintended consequences that diminish positive gains. An old maxim states that everything has a price, and it applies as much to technology as to anything else.

Medical technology cures diseases and saves lives. It also causes drug resistant strains of bacteria and virus mutations, abets global overpopulation, and contributes to rising healthcare costs.

Better living through chemistry adds to air and water pollution and helps generate waste material for landfills.

The internal combustion engine made possible relatively cheap, convenient personal transportation systems. It also gave us environmental pollution, global climate change, strip malls, suburban sprawl and a dependency most people find hard to break.

Production technology, with its emphasis on mechanization and automation, speeds production processes, but at the same time displaces human workers who then suffer the effects of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and increasing crime.

Despite its potential to produce time-and-labor saving benefits to ease mankind’s burden, technology has, in many ways, delivered the opposite. Many people working in our high-tech society find themselves working harder than ever, with less available leisure time.

Technology—and the science behind it—still offers the best hope for human advancement, providing humans are willing to abandon the arrogant mindset of “we do it because we can” and adopt a wiser, more responsible mindset that says, “We do it because we must.”