Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another victim in the War on Personal Freedom

Michael Phelps was caught kissing a bong. I say 'kissing a bong' because that's all the picture of him smoking actually shows, and even then it's questionable if it's actually him. Doesn't really make much difference, as he did admit it was him and has issued his apology. So far, he's lost a sponsorship and won a three-month suspension. The local sheriff is under pressure to bring charges as if Phelps were just any other man.
So, we can add Michael Phelps, fourteen time Olympic Gold Medal winner, to the list of millions of political victims of the United States Federal Government's War on Personal Freedom. What's interesting is that we cannot add the names William J Clinton, George W Bush, or Barack H Obama to that list. Yes, those are the names of the three previous presidents of the United States. Which means that the three of the men tasked by the Constitution, and the people, to enforce the laws of the United States have broken those laws. Not only were these men not punished, but eventually were rewarded by reaching the highest level of elected office in this country. President Bush didn't admit to his actions, though the evidence is enough to state he did it, but both Presidents Clinton and Obama admitted to it before their election. Not only do we have these three men, but scores of current and previous members of Congress, and at least 40% of the American public have admitted to smoking the ganja at least once.
Despite his actions, President Obama has made no indication that he intends to address the problem that is America's War on Personal Freedom. In case it's not clear, I will not use the euphemistic War on Drugs to address America's unconstitutional drug policies. In this country, even though it is not currently in effect, the American government can pull anyone over the age of 18, press them into uniform, and send them to fight, kill, or die in the name of the government. Yet, we cannot be trusted with the substances we can put within our own bodies? Or to act responsibly? Are we adults, or are we children?
There are several arguments against the War on Personal Freedom. To address my chosen moniker, I will start with the philosophical. Obviously I believe that this country is supposed to be about freedom. It says so in our founding documents, it's a common theme in our political debates, and in most of our patriotic songs we hear it mentioned. Yet, our government seems to feel that freedom should not include the recreational use of particular substances. Currently, the number of deaths caused by illegal drug overdose is less than 14,000 per year. While it is possible to argue that this number could be raised if currently illegal drugs were made legal, the real question becomes how many could this be, and what is the cost of avoid them?
Take a look a this report of the number of deaths from drug overdose in Belgium, where most drugs illegal here in America are freely available. It tops out just under 140 deaths in 1994. In 1994, there were just over ten million people in Belgium, so total deaths are 0.00014% of the population per year. If we apply that to America's current population of just over three hundred million people, we get around 42,000. This may seem like a large number of people, but it's still barely more than one thousandth of one percent of the people in this country, and would account for 1.7% of the 2,431,351 deaths that would occur if these drugs were legal (this result comes from this report and adding the 28,000 difference between current and possible overdose deaths). So, that's roughly 28,000 people possibly saved by the War on Personal Freedom, but what are the costs?
For now, I am going to stick with the philosophical, but I will be going into the economic, diplomatic, and other costs later. The philosophical costs are pretty straight forward. Consider the story of Kathryn Johnston. This 92 year old Atlanta woman was killed in an illegal drug raid in 2006. Or the story of Tarika Wilson and her toddler son. Tarika was killed in a questionable drug raid and her young son was wounded. Stories like these abound throughout the United States, people killed, maimed, and tortured because our police and our courts will do anything for a drug bust. Half a million people rotting in jail for non-violent drug offenses. Time again to return to Franklin's quote about security and freedom. How much of either did Kathryn and Tarika have? What about Tarika's young son? It should be important to point out, if you didn't read the article in question, that Katrhyn Johnston broke no laws, not even drug laws. This is the philosophical cost of America's War on Personal Freedom, the death of innocents and the loss of all of our freedom.
Now for my Socratic argument. Think on these things and see to what truths they lead you. If we are conducting a 'War on Drugs', against whom do we fight? It can't be the drugs, they are not people and can have no individual motivation. While it's called a war, it is conducted by the policing agencies of the federal, state, and local governments, so the enemy cannot be a foreign nation. Who are the victims in this war? What about collateral damage?
To the legal argument against this war. When the Constitution was written, it was written as a list of clearly enumerated rights provided to the government. This was the concept that was supposed to be written into the tenth amendment to protect future generations against government expansion. While successive Supreme Courts have ignored this particular prevision to the benefit of themselves and the Federal Government, it still hold legal weight. I have written previously that America is supposed to be about self-governance, and that the legal structure of the United States is supposed to support this. Read carefully over the Constitution. You will find no mention of Congress having the right to ban any product out right. Indeed, consider the Nineteenth Amendment. It bans the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol. If Congress had the power to ban any product it chose, why the need for such an amendment? Because Congress does not have this power. And any power not provided to the Congress is held by the States and the People there-in.
As the legal argument is so straight-froward, I'll move on the economic. For an up to the minute cost, feel free to see this link. At time of this writing, the combined monies in the War on Personal Freedom total over five billion. Yeah, we're barely over a month into 2009 and already our governments have spent five billion dollars fighting this war. If spending continues, the cost in 2009 will be more than sixty billion. This doesn't include the costs of pushing a multi-billion dollar industry into the hands of criminals and generally out of our economy.
This is the important part of the economic argument. Black markets exist outside the white markets that make up an economy. How much is estimated for the value of this trade? Some estimates have been as high as half a trillion dollars world wide, though around $300 billion is more accurate. American's alone spent nearly fifty billion dollars (additional statistics sited here on that site) on drugs in 2000. So, not only is the United States going to spend $60 billion dollars on its true illegal war, but it's going to allow the possible tax income on an additional $60 billion go because of it.
What else could this large sum provide in the real economy? Wealth begets wealth. Any business reinvests in itself, allowing for a more productive work-force and economy. The secondary costs of this war cannot be estimated. There is no way to tell what could be earned if the profits of the drug trade were in the legal economy and could be reinvested and set to work like the profits of all other products.
Then there are the human costs. I've discussed some of them previously, but now I'm going to talk about the secondary costs. Consider this: In Los Angeles alone there were 587 gang related homicides in 2001. One third of these victims are generally non-gang related, or innocent bystanders. These would be the 'collateral damage' of America's War on Personal Freedom. Gangs are supported by the money of illicit drug trafficking (and other crime). If drugs were made legal, the funds which support these gangs would dry up, and the gangs themselves would become much less of a threat. Without the money provided by the drug trade, they would lose the ability to purchase weapons, bribe officials, and engage in other crimes. While I am not trying to argue that gangs would go away entirely, they would loose a great deal of their power and with it, the threat would be reduced.
Our illegal drug war doesn't just cost Americans. It effects our relations with the world, our neighbors, and our relations with them. Mexico is currently the hardest hit by this. Drug traffickers use the country as a staging point to smuggle their product into the US. These drug cartels are in open war against the Mexican government, and all actions taken by that government do not steam the tide. These cartels engage in kidnapping, extortion, and other crimes to support their main business; the distribution of drugs. Mexico isn't the only casualty. Operation Just Cause in 1989 against Panama to remove Manuel Noriega was part of our War on Personal Freedom, as Noriega had financed his actions through the trade of cocaine. Columbia has only in the past decade managed to fight down the drug cartels into a manageable threat, and the cost of thousands of lives. Even today, our brave solders fight the Taliban and others in Afghanistan who are financed by the production and selling of poppies for heron production.
After an exhausting search, the only answer I can find for the number of deaths by gang-related violence in the US as whole in 2007 was 15,000. That's sixty billion dollars spent here, increased violence in other countries, complications in the War on Terror and other diplomatic problems, lost tax revenue, and lost freedom for all Americans. And for what? So that people can die by others' violent actions rather than their own folly.
I do not advocate the recreational use of any drugs, legal or illegal. At no point should any of my arguments be construed such as to suggest that people should use these substances for any reason. However, in the light of the costs and the possible benefits, especially the cost in American freedom and safety from inappropriate government action, how can anyone continue to call the War on Personal Freedom anything but what it is?
To our so-called leaders: We are adults. Treat us as such and stop this costly and illegal war.

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