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Archive for May 24th, 2010

AP IMPACT: US drug war has met none of its goals

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Really, this article by Martha Mendoza for AP should be read in its entirety:

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

This week President Obama promised to "reduce drug use and the great damage it causes" with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

Kerlikowske, who coordinates all federal anti-drug policies, says it will take time for the spending to match the rhetoric.

"Nothing happens overnight," he said. "We’ve never worked the drug problem holistically. We’ll arrest the drug dealer, but we leave the addiction."

His predecessor, John P. Walters, takes issue with that.

Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs. Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says. Judging the drug war is complicated: Records indicate marijuana and prescription drug abuse are climbing, while cocaine use is way down. Seizures are up, but so is availability.

"To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided." …

Continue reading. The above is just the intro. From here, the article gets down to brass tacks.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 2:42 pm

ONDCP on the defensive as drug war exposed to mainstream media critique

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A really excellent, thoughtful, and long post at Transform, which begins:

After the publication of a blistering critique of the drug war from Martha Mendoza of Associated Press was published widely across the US, the US Drug Czar’s office – the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has responded on its blog, highlighting what they felt was left out of the piece. The Mendoza piece, titled ‘US drug war has met none of its goals’, did not mince its words:

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

The failure is then laid out in stark economic terms:

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:

  • $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.
  • $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America’s youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
  • $49 billion for law enforcement along America’s borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
  • $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
  • $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" — cost the United States $215 billion a year. Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it’s costing the public a fortune."

The Drug Czar’s Office is clearly feeling the heat from all sides – and is on the defensive. Earlier this month the progressive Dennis Kucinich , chair of the Committee of Oversight for ONDCP, called Ethan Nadelmann (director of Drug Policy Alliance),to the Committee. You can read his testimony here, summarising many of the growing public concerns.

The ONDCP response to the AP broadside is worthy of some close scrutiny so I have copied the blog post in full below and annotated it with my thoughts (in bold), with a few graphs thrown in to illustrate the points.

‘ONDCP Agrees: A Balanced Approach is Needed, But Mischaracterizing Our Progress Helps No One’

Last week, the Associated Press ran a story by reporter Martha Mendoza, whose headline read, "US War On Drugs Has Failed to Meet Any of Its Goals." Mendoza’s article was prominently labeled as an "AP Impact" story, a designation that Terry Hunt, APs chief Washington correspondent said is meant to signify "something that we think has a ‘wow’ factor."

This is what we in the UK call a ‘sly dig’; the inference is that the story has been ‘sexed up’.

Immediately after the story ran, a representative from ONDCP’s Office of Public Affairs responded to Ms. Menoza regarding the article. In part, we wrote to AP that we were let down by a focus that was so singular – especially since we believe there is good basis to describe President Obama’s new national strategy as new and balanced.

The use of the term ‘Immediately’ demonstrates just how threatening they find this sort of mainstream media critique, and how urgently they felt a response was required. Ethan Nadelmann writing on the Huffington Post has a rather different analysis of the suggestion the new strategy is ‘new and balanced’.

The budget piece is fair to focus on, but we told AP that we objected to the article’s mischaracterization of current policy. A fairer and more nuanced observation would have been: This does look/sound a lot different, but the budget scenario hasn’t changed overnight (it never does, in any realm of government) and it will take some time to test the Administration’s commitment to the new approach.

That is an interesting comment. We should certainly test the rhetoric in terms of significant resource reallocation. We genuinely look forward to that, but how long before it happens? We can only judge on actions, not aspirations.

We also mentioned to AP that there were significant things left out of the article which should have been discussed, namely that:

  • The emergence of prescription drug abuse has upended many traditional assumptions about drug abuse.

Has it? In what way? Because is doesn’t fit neatly in the punitive drug war paradigm?

  • The article did not address whether legalizing/decriminalizing drugs, posited in the story as a responsible alternative – works, or why, if it does, more countries haven’t taken this approach.

It is ironic for ONDCP to be calling for evidence of whether alternatives ‘work’, when they have systematically failed to comprehensively assess the efficacy of their own enforcement led policy.

See for example ‘What we don’t know keeps hurting us?’ a report produced by the National Academy of Science in 2001 that highlighted precisely this failing, in withering terms:

"It is unconscionable for this country to continue to carry out a public policy of this magnitude and cost without any way of knowing whether, and to what extent, it is having the desired result. Our committee strongly recommends that a substantial, new, and robust research effort be undertaken to examine the various aspects of drug control, so that decision-making on these issues can be better supported by more factual and realistic evidence."

Now, I’m well aware that this is ONDCP rhetoric but let’s, for a moment, treat it as if ONDCP is asking a genuine question. First, what is the evidence that decriminalisation works? Well, there’s plenty of evidence from the many countries/states that have decriminalised cannabis (including 13 US states), as well as many more that have decriminalised possession of all drugs, such as Portugal. Its imperfect data but not insubstantial. Have the ONDCP reviewed or published anything on it? No.

What about legalisation and regulation? Well, we have the legalisation and regulation of alcohol at the end of US alcohol Prohibition 1920-1933 as a useful touchstone here – the 75th anniversary of which was the subject of Congressional celebrations in 2008.

We have extensive experience with quasi-legal cannabis supply in the Netherlands, and indeed in the form of medical supply, in the US (full legalisation and regulation of cannabis being the subject of a Californian ballot this coming November).

We have decades of experience with prescription models for opiates and stimulants (including heroin and amphetamines) for dependent/problematic users. And in the wider public sphere, extensive experience in regulating and controlling a range of potentially risky products and activities. Its what Governments do, its one of their primary responsibilities, and they can be quite effective at it.

But Transform believes we still need more evidence to help the policy making process – we are moving into new territory after all – and that we should conduct Impact Assessments at all levels (local, national and international) to compare and contrast the various policy options; a full scale Drug War, Kerlikowski’s re-branded drug war-lite, the various options for decriminalisation, and options for regulated markets. We call on ONDCP and its committee of oversight to conduct just such an exercise in order to assess which is the most effective way forward.

  • Legalizing, taxing and regulating tobacco, alcohol, or prescription drugs has been unsuccessful in curbing the public health consequences of the increased use of those drugs.

The inference here is that decrim/legalisation would increase use and create a public health disaster. To really respond to this throw-away line requires a much more detailed analysis (there is some more discussion in Transform’s ‘Tools for the Debate’ p.47) but there are few points to highlight here. Firstly – it is fair to turn it around and ask whether prohibition has been effective at reducing use or creating its goal of a ‘drug free world’. The past five decades would suggest unambiguously not. Has the drug war improved public health?  …

Continue reading. It’s an important issue and a significant post.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 2:39 pm

World touristiness map

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Daily life

More on Kevin Costner’s device to remove oil from the sea

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Use hands, not tongs, when making salad

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I just tried this—and it works like a charm. Helen Rennie at Culinate:

“Drop those tongs!” cried the chef, as if I were holding a dangerous weapon. It was my first day working the line during my restaurant internship, and I had already managed to mess up.

I’d poured a few tablespoons of salad dressing into a bowl of mixed greens and started stirring the salad with tongs. I didn’t realize I was committing a crime against all salad-eating humanity.

The chef took the bowl from my hands, dumped the ruined salad, and declared, “Watch!” She piled a bunch of greens into the bowl, sprinkled them with a generous pinch of salt, and poured in a scant drizzle of vinaigrette. “Less dressing, more salt,” she said. Then she reached in with her hand and gently tossed the salad greens as if they were feathers.

When she was done, the greens had just a bare shimmer of dressing evenly distributed on every leaf. “Always taste,” she instructed, popping a leaf into my mouth. It was livelier and more flavorful than any salad I’d ever made at home. Since then, the tongs have never touched my salad.

Here are some tips for tossing together a better salad: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

BP is acting rationally (though not morally)

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John Cole at Balloon Juice:

This should surprise no one:

The effort to stanch the vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was mired by setbacks on Monday as state and federal officials feuded with BP over its failure to meet deadlines and its refusal to stop spraying a toxic dispersant.

The oil company had indicated that it could stem the flow of oil on Tuesday by trying a procedure known as a top kill, in which heavy fluid would be pumped into the well. But on Monday morning the company’s chief operating officer said the procedure would be delayed until Wednesday. At the same time, BP was locked in a tense standoff with the Environmental Protection Agency, which had ordered the company to stop using a toxic chemical dispersant called Corexit by Sunday.

But BP continued spraying the chemical on Monday, despite the E.P.A.’s demand that it use a less toxic dispersant to break up the oil. The company told the agency that no better alternative was available.

At a news conference Monday in Louisiana, state and federal officials continued to hammer BP over its response to the spill.

“BP in my mind no longer stands for British Petroleum — it stands for Beyond Patience,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “People have been waiting 34 days for British Petroleum to cap this well and stop the damage that’s happening across the Gulf of Mexico.”

“What we need to tell BP,” he added, “is excuses don’t count anymore. You caused this mess, now stop the damage and clean up the mess. It’s your responsibility.”

It’s a really tense stand-off. The EPA told them to stop, and BP told them to go piss up a rope. Sternly worded letters will follow.

BP is just acting rationally, if you ask me. They’ve looked at the landscape, realize that even if they get sued for a shitload,the courts will strike it down as unfair, and they know they have nothing to fear from the government because both parties are littered with politicians they’ve completely paid off, and they know damned well that one major party wants to get rid of the EPA and the blue dogs in the Democratic caucus would join them, so they have no reason whatsoever to listen to that agency. Basically, the rational decision for any corporation in this country is to do whatever the fuck you want, because there simply won’t be any consequences. They have a lot of shareholders who will look the other way, a country desperate for oil, politicians completely in their pocket, and they can afford better attorneys than the poor bastards who used to catch shrimp in the Gulf.

That is just how it is in an oligarchy. And I honestly don’t know what can be done about it.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:32 pm

Oil spill brings ‘death in the ocean from top to bottom’

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Frank Pope in the London Times:

It has been an hour since our sport-fishing boat started streaking through the freshly oil-soaked marshes of Pass a Loutre, but we’re still only halfway through the slick. Eighteen miles out and the stink of oil is everywhere. Rashes of red-brown sludge are smeared across vast swaths, between them a swell rendered faintly psychedelic with rainbow-coloured swirls.

Cutting the engines, we slide to a stop near Rig 313. We’re not supposed to be in the restricted zone, but other than the dispersant-spraying aircraft passing overhead there’s no one to see us. Despite the thick oil, we’ve seen only two clean-up boats out of the 1,150 that the response claims to have on site: one was broken down, the other was towing it.

Skimming and burning are the most visible elements of the clean-up operation, and that’s no accident. Over the past few days it’s become clear that far more oil is gushing from the seabed than BP had admitted. Oil has been prevented from reaching the surface by dispersants injected into the flow some 5,000ft below, but is spreading through the midwater in vast, dilute plumes.

Along with the marine toxicologist Susan Shaw, of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, I’ve come to peer into the hidden side of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Wreathed in neoprene and with Vaseline coating the exposed skin around our faces, we slip into the clear water in the lee of the boat. Beneath the mats of radioactive-looking, excrement-coloured sludge are smaller gobs of congealed oil. Taking a cautious, shallow breath through my snorkel I head downwards. Twelve metres under, the specks of sludge are smaller, but they are still everywhere.

Among the specks are those of a different hue. These are wisps of drifting plankton, the eggs and larvae of fish and the microscopic plants and animals that form the base of almost all marine food webs. Any plankton-eating fish would now have trouble distinguishing food from poison, let alone the larger filter-feeders.

Onshore, small landfalls of the same sludge have started to cause panic among locals as they coat the marshes. Here, just a few feet beneath the surface, a much bigger disaster is unfolding in slow motion.

“This is terrible, just terrible,” says Dr Shaw, back on the boat. “The situation in the water column is horrible all the way down. Combined with the dispersants, the toxic effects of the oil will be far worse for sea life. It’s death in the ocean from the top to the bottom.”

Dispersants can contain particular evils. Corexit 9527 — used extensively by BP despite it being toxic enough to be banned in British waters [and despite explicit and specific orders from the EPA to stop using it – LG] — contains 2-butoxyethanol, a compound that ruptures red blood cells in whatever eats it. Its replacement, COREXIT 9500, contains petroleum solvents and other components that can damage membranes, and cause chemical pneumonia if aspirated into the lungs following ingestion.

But what worries Dr Shaw most is …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2010 at 1:12 pm

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