Saturday, July 25, 2009

R - Blogger from the past

WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier

This blog came to my attention a while back - no longer sure exactly how - and I've been following it along over time. The writer was posting letters that his grandfather had written during his time in the British army during WW I. What made it especially interesting to follow was that he was posting each letter exactly 90 years after it had originally been written. At this point it is something of a static artifact, since the events it chronicled have come to an end, but it is still fascinating reading. There is also a lot of additional material that has been added along with the letters to help them make sense to us in this day. If you like history, and particularly the history of the Great War, then this is something you really shouldn't miss.

On a related note: Last British Army WWI veteran dead at 111

I - To Pot or not to Pot...

Drive to legalize marijuana rolls on in California

This topic has been floating around for the last 40 years or so and isn't going away any time soon. A CNN poll that accompanied the article above shows that about 65% of the roughly 150,000 people responding believe that marijuana should be "decriminalized" - a percentage that should get the attention of lawmakers pretty easily.

The unfortunate challenge is that those lawmakers are unwilling to take that step because of the remaining part of the voters who just might vote them out of office for it. The article, and most like it, focuses on medical marijuana use, but that isn't what most of those 65% are thinking of. For them it is about the freedom to smoke a doob after work without worries. It is that demographic that should really be considered. I have a proposal, but I want to dispose of at least one other political position first, because politicians want to treat pot (I'm tired of trying to spell marij...) as a potential revenue stream. They have this idea that there are x billion dollars worth of illegal pot flowing through the country and they ought to be able to grab off a nice little tax on all of it. Unfortunately they miss at least two significant points.

First of all, if pot were "decriminalized" (whatever that means exactly) the price would drop dramatically. If there is no criminal risk then there is no reason to keep the price so high. As the price drops the tax revenue would as well. For any large-scale grower it would be far easier and cheaper to jump through whatever government hoops are set up to pay the taxes and legally distribute than to do what they do now or even to try to circumvent those taxes. So the price drops, the tax revenue disappears and the politicians get voted out.

Second, pot is easy to grow. If it were decriminalized you can bet that there will be a zillion and two (nearly a plethora) small-scale growers who would undercut the market, further depressing the price. The net result is the same as above.

Currently we spend a disproportionate amount of criminal justice money on locating, arresting, trying and incarcerating people for drug crimes. We have created the same criminal structure that sprang up during prohibition and there doesn't seem to be an end to it. The first part of my proposal is that we need to stop trying find a new revenue stream in licensing pot and recognize that decriminalizing it will release a huge amount of money from existing programs. That should be enough revenue boosting to get most politicians at least partly on the pro side.

The second part of the proposal is that we need to break the grip of the big drug importers. These gangs not only bring in pot and other drugs, they also bring in a lot of extra violence and surround themselves with violence in Mexico and other parts of Central and South America. Decriminalizing pot will only break their distribution network if it includes the freedom for anybody, anywhere, to grow pot. I am of two slightly different minds here, but what I think I favor is that anyone can grow any amount of pot as long as they either use it themselves or give it away without cost. Couple that with a license and tax approach for anyone who wants to actually sell for a profit and you will take a huge bite out of the drug cartels. We can make that bite even bigger by allowing domestic growing but banning imports - no drug dealer would want to have to deal with an illegal supply when he could get just as much legally. We'll talk about some of the other products the cartels deal with later.

Now that anyone who wants to smoke a bit can just grow it on their window-ledge or in the garden, we need to look at some of the potential problems. Just about anyone will agree that drugs and driving don't mix. So part three of the proposal has to involve major penalties for driving under the influence. We really need to ramp up the penalties for drunk driving as well, so we can throw the two in together. A small problem with enforcing a driving while stoned law is that there is no quick and easy test for being stoned like there is for booze. Most blood tests not only take a couple days to get results back, they will show pot use over days or weeks, not just at the time of arrest. It would be absolutely imperative to have some way of determining impairment at the time of arrest. That might even extend to something like a skill & coordination test rather than a test for a specific drug.

Basically what this boils down to is this: Grow and possess all you want, give it away wherever you want. If you want to sell it, register and pay taxes on it. If you drive while under the influence be prepared to take a serious hit (no pun intended).

Another objection is that we would just turn into a nation of total stoner slackers if pot were legal. Hey, that pretty well described my High School and most of them have grown up and learned self-control. The simple truth is that those who don't want to be stoned won't get stoned. Legal pot won't make everyone a stoner any more than legal beer makes everyone an alcoholic.

The biggest remaining issue is the belief that pot is a gateway drug to harder stuff. This is a claim that has been floating around for years, but without any real substantiation. The problem, as I see it, is that the fact that you are doing something illegal forces you to deal with people who are doing things that are illegal and also puts you into a mindset that the laws are unfair and can be ignored. Those social factors are possibly more significant in drug escalation than anything else. If pot is legal you don't have to find some guy on a sleazy street corner to score some. You just pluck a few buds off the plant on back porch. It changes the entire mentality of the normal pot smoker. They don't have to be a rebel. They aren't breaking any laws, so why would they want to? The sociological perspective can be seen in the fact that beer is a gateway to pot and other drugs when it is consumed by minors in an environment where it is illegal. It stops being a gateway when it is legal and without penalty. There are always likely to be those who will go on to harder drugs, but I suspect that legalizing pot would actually reduce those numbers rather than increase them.

Which leads us back to that whole cartel thing and the other stuff they are importing. First, legal pot will produce lower demand. Second, not spending money on eradicating pot frees up money to go after harder stuff. And third, taking a bite out of their profits will reduce their power.

I really don't see any reason not to legalize marijuana under this sort of plan. I think it would actually benefit the nation and reduce crime and serious drug problems. To make it more interesting, I support legalizing pot, but would probably not use it myself at all, even if it were legal.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I - Obama's inconsistency

Obama: Police who arrested professor 'acted stupidly'

President Obama has repeatedly argued that he isn't about the politics of race, but this little incident with a friend of his seems to say differently. He is repeating all of the standard, old-school civil rights lines, only this time from the Bully Pulpit. But I really don't care about that. He is black, his friend is black and there are real issues between races (not just in this country and not just between black and white - but that's another story, for another time). What really gets me is that the President is willing to jump right in and make an accusation here without allowing all the facts to come out first. Strange that he didn't feel that way when there was a ship captain being held by pirates. That time he carefully waited until he could either take credit for what happened or safely deny responsibility. A less cynical reading would be that he refrained from making comment until the situation was more clear. In either case it is becoming obvious that Obama doesn't want to lead on the hard issues but has no problem stirring up the people if he thinks it will make points for him.

The unfortunate side effect of what the President is doing is that he is deepening the racial divide and increasing hostility. If he were really interested in dealing with the situation in a presidential manner he would have simply said he was aware of the situation and was waiting to see how it worked out before commenting. There is no urgency to the situation, Mr. Gates is back home and all charges have been dropped. Whether or not there was a racial component to the original arrest may never be known, but, thanks to President Obama, the aftermath is going to be all about race.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

W - Public Enemies

I saw this film a few days ago with my 18 y/o son. It is a semi-biography of some of the highlights of the criminal career of John Dillinger. We both enjoyed the movie, although I would have to say that at least part of what made it good was just the quality of the cast. Overall the script seemed to have bit off just a little more than could be comfortably handled in the two hours and 10 minutes it took. As a result it really helped if you already were familiar with Dillinger and his exploits (as both of us were). Without that knowledge a lot of the early part of the film seemed rather disjointed.

Once things got rolling there was sufficient action along with the actual plot to keep things both interesting and at least moderately coherent. Dillinger came across as perhaps a bit too sympathetic a character, although history does seem to show that he was perhaps a bit more loyal to his fellow thugs than they were to him and each other. It is wise not to forget that Dillinger and his cronies were murderers and thieves with little regard for the lives or rights of anyone who opposed them.

Public Enemies is rated "R" for language and violence - although I didn't feel that either was excessive or egregious. Overall it was a pretty good way to spend an evening with my son, but it probably not a movie I would see twice.

Public Enemies on IMDB

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Testing, testing, 1-2-3, testing...

This is just a bit of a test to see if I can do some things with this blog. Of great interest to me is whether or not I can pretty much completely hide who I am when I post.