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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Let's End Drug Prohibition

Today is the 75th anniversary of that blessed day in 1933 when Utah became the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 21st amendment, thereby repealing the 18th amendment. This ended the nation's disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition.

[Commentary] Corbis

Celebrating the end of alcohol prohibition, Dec. 5, 1933.

It's already shaping up as a day of celebration, with parties planned, bars prepping for recession-defying rounds of drinks, and newspapers set to publish cocktail recipes concocted especially for the day.

But let's hope it also serves as a day of reflection. We should consider why our forebears rejoiced at the relegalization of a powerful drug long associated with bountiful pleasure and pain, and consider too the lessons for our time.

The Americans who voted in 1933 to repeal prohibition differed greatly in their reasons for overturning the system. But almost all agreed that the evils of failed suppression far outweighed the evils of alcohol consumption.

The change from just 15 years earlier, when most Americans saw alcohol as the root of the problem and voted to ban it, was dramatic. Prohibition's failure to create an Alcohol Free Society sank in quickly. Booze flowed as readily as before, but now it was illicit, filling criminal coffers at taxpayer expense.

Some opponents of prohibition pointed to Al Capone and increasing crime, violence and corruption. Others were troubled by the labeling of tens of millions of Americans as criminals, overflowing prisons, and the consequent broadening of disrespect for the law. Americans were disquieted by dangerous expansions of federal police powers, encroachments on individual liberties, increasing government expenditure devoted to enforcing the prohibition laws, and the billions in forgone tax revenues. And still others were disturbed by the specter of so many citizens blinded, paralyzed and killed by poisonous moonshine and industrial alcohol.

Supporters of prohibition blamed the consumers, and some went so far as to argue that those who violated the laws deserved whatever ills befell them. But by 1933, most Americans blamed prohibition itself.

When repeal came, it was not just with the support of those with a taste for alcohol, but also those who disliked and even hated it but could no longer ignore the dreadful consequences of a failed prohibition. They saw what most Americans still fail to see today: That a failed drug prohibition can cause greater harm than the drug it was intended to banish.

Consider the consequences of drug prohibition today: 500,000 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails for nonviolent drug-law violations; 1.8 million drug arrests last year; tens of billions of taxpayer dollars expended annually to fund a drug war that 76% of Americans say has failed; millions now marked for life as former drug felons; many thousands dying each year from drug overdoses that have more to do with prohibitionist policies than the drugs themselves, and tens of thousands more needlessly infected with AIDS and Hepatitis C because those same policies undermine and block responsible public-health policies.

And look abroad. At Afghanistan, where a third or more of the national economy is both beneficiary and victim of the failed global drug prohibition regime. At Mexico, which makes Chicago under Al Capone look like a day in the park. And elsewhere in Latin America, where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption undermine civil authority and public safety, and mindless drug eradication campaigns wreak environmental havoc.

All this, and much more, are the consequences not of drugs per se but of prohibitionist policies that have failed for too long and that can never succeed in an open society, given the lessons of history. Perhaps a totalitarian American could do better, but at what cost to our most fundamental values?

Why did our forebears wise up so quickly while Americans today still struggle with sorting out the consequences of drug misuse from those of drug prohibition?

It's not because alcohol is any less dangerous than the drugs that are banned today. Marijuana, by comparison, is relatively harmless: little association with violent behavior, no chance of dying from an overdose, and not nearly as dangerous as alcohol if one misuses it or becomes addicted. Most of heroin's dangers are more a consequence of its prohibition than the drug's distinctive properties. That's why 70% of Swiss voters approved a referendum this past weekend endorsing the government's provision of pharmaceutical heroin to addicts who could not quit their addictions by other means. It is also why a growing number of other countries, including Canada, are doing likewise.

Yes, the speedy drugs -- cocaine, methamphetamine and other illicit stimulants -- present more of a problem. But not to the extent that their prohibition is justifiable while alcohol's is not. The real difference is that alcohol is the devil we know, while these others are the devils we don't. Most Americans in 1933 could recall a time before prohibition, which tempered their fears. But few Americans now can recall the decades when the illicit drugs of today were sold and consumed legally. If they could, a post-prohibition future might prove less alarming.

But there's nothing like a depression, or maybe even a full-blown recession, to make taxpayers question the price of their prejudices. That's what ultimately hastened prohibition's repeal, and it's why we're sure to see a more vigorous debate than ever before about ending marijuana prohibition, rolling back other drug war excesses, and even contemplating far-reaching alternatives to drug prohibition.

Perhaps the greatest reassurance for those who quake at the prospect of repealing contemporary drug prohibitions can be found in the era of prohibition outside of America. Other nations, including Britain, Australia and the Netherlands, were equally concerned with the problems of drink and eager for solutions. However, most opted against prohibition and for strict controls that kept alcohol legal but restricted its availability, taxed it heavily, and otherwise discouraged its use. The results included ample revenues for government coffers, criminals frustrated by the lack of easy profits, and declines in the consumption and misuse of alcohol that compared favorably with trends in the United States.

Is President-elect Barack Obama going to commemorate Repeal Day today? I'm not holding my breath. Nor do I expect him to do much to reform the nation's drug laws apart from making good on a few of the commitments he made during the campaign: repealing the harshest drug sentences, removing federal bans on funding needle-exchange programs to reduce AIDS, giving medical marijuana a fair chance to prove itself, and supporting treatment alternatives for low-level drug offenders.

But there's one more thing he can do: Promote vigorous and informed debate in this domain as in all others. The worst prohibition, after all, is a prohibition on thinking.

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Conservative lawmakers bring God, pledge to Capitol Visitor Center

McClatchy Newspapers

Protests by conservative lawmakers led architects to promise to add "In God We Trust" as the national motto and to engrave the Pledge of Allegiance in the new $621 million Capitol Visitor Center.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, had threatened to delay Tuesday's opening of the marble-and-stone center that took seven years to build at triple the original cost.

The estimated 3 million people who tour the U.S. Capitol each year will now assemble in a grand monument-like building likely to become a tourist stop on its own.

After taking a tour of the visitor center in September with Steven Ayers, the architect of the Capitol who oversaw its completion, DeMint correctly noted that it had erroneously described "E. Pluribus Unum" - Latin for "from many, one" - as the national motto rather than "In God We Trust."

Despite winning a months-long battle to highlight the importance of religion in American life, DeMint said the center still misrepresents American history by downplaying the faith of the founding fathers and other prominent figures.

"The current Capitol Visitor Center displays are left-leaning and in some cases distort our true history," DeMint said. The center's "most prominent display proclaims faith not in God, but in government."

DeMint, rated the most conservative senator by several think tanks and advocacy groups, also protested an engraved statement near the center's entrance: "We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution."

That quote was uttered by Rufus Choate, a Massachusetts lawyer who represented his state in the House of Representatives in the 1830s and in the Senate the following decade.

"This is an intentional misrepresentation of our nation's real history and an offensive refusal to honor America's God-given blessings," DeMint said.

Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, along with Republican Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, joined DeMint in the protest.

In a recent letter to DeMint, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Sen. Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican, agreed to make several of the changes he had sought.

"We agree in principle to support engraving 'In God We Trust' in stone in a prominent location within the Capitol Visitor Center; engraving 'The Pledge of Allegiance' in stone in a prominent location ... and removing the words 'Our Nation's Motto' from the Unity panel on the Wall of Aspirations of the Exhibition Hall ... and replacing it with a new panel," Feinstein and Bennett wrote to DeMint.

Feinstein is chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees the new visitor center. Bennett is the panel's senior Republican.

The two senators acknowledged that it was a mistake to call "E. Pluribus Unum" the national motto.

Feinstein and Bennett noted that the changes compelled by DeMint and the other conservative lawmakers would cost $150,000.

Wesley Denton, DeMint's spokesman, responded, "These historical mistakes occurred under Senator Feinstein's watch, and she is responsible for any additional costs."

For now, "Our Nation's Motto" has been plastered over so that it no longer describes "E Pluribus Unum." That phrase is on a ribbon over an eagle on the official seal of the United States.

In emphasizing religion in American history, DeMint was "referring to our Judeo-Christian heritage," but he wasn't excluding Islam or other religions, Denton said.

Asked whether a passage from the Koran would be appropriate for the Capitol Visitor Center, Denton said it would depend on its context in American history.

Original here

RNC to report another $30,000 spent on Palin wardrobe

John Byrne

The price of Sarah Palin's RNC-provided wardrobe is approaching the price of an average American home.

As the price of median US home prices continues to fall, the price of Sarah Palin's wardrobe continues to rise.

"The Republican National Committee is scheduled to file a campaign report with the Federal Election Commission Thursday disclosing that the committee spent additional funds to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin," the National Journal reported late Wednesday.

"In October, Politico revealed that the RNC had spent approximately $150,000 on clothing and accessories for Palin and her family after she was selected as Sen. John McCain’s running mate," the magazine added. "The story provoked a storm of criticism of the Alaska governor, a mother of five and favorite of the conservative wing of the GOP."

GOP officials wouldn't provide many details.

"The amount to be reported is significantly less than $150,000," one RNC official told National Journal. "The accessories on the report are less than $30,000."

The clothing, the official says, is in the committee's possession and
will be dispersed to national and local charities at the appropriate time."

They are said to include "other" accessories purchased for the "hockey mom" before the election.Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) campaign spent more than $150,000 on Palin's wardrobe between late August and Nov. 4.

In early September, the RNC's clothing buys for Palin included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for $49,425.74, and shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one totaling $75,062.63 in September.

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September, Politico reported.

Original here

Novak: ‘I Don’t Think I Hurt Valerie Plame’ And I Would Out Her Again Because The Left ‘Tried To Ruin Me’

novakweb2.jpgDuring a recent interview with the National Ledger, conservative columnist Robert Novak was asked if he would reveal Valerie Plame Wilson’s secret CIA identity if he could go back and do it all over again. Novak noted that he has previously said he “should have ignored” what he had been told about Plame, but he now claims he is “much less ambivalent“:

NOVAK: I’d go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn’t ruin me. I have my faith, my family, and a good life. A lot of people love me — or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don’t think I hurt Valerie Plame whatsoever.

But of course, Plame was “hurt” because of Novak’s column — she no longer has a career as a covert CIA agent. Moreover, Plame has said that she feared for her and her family’s lives after Novak revealed her identity.

But Novak ignores the point that Plame’s outing had broader national security implications. In fact, Plame’s CIA job was to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and as one former senior intelligence officer put it, the leak made “it harder for other CIA officers to recruit sources.”

Novak also claimed “it was an important story because it explained why the CIA would send Joe Wilson [Plame’s husband] — a former Clinton White House aide with no track record in intelligence and no experience in Niger — on a fact-finding mission to Africa.” Except, Wilson did have experience in Niger, not only as a foreign service officer but as the NSC’s Senior Director of African Affairs during the Clinton administration as he explained to TPM:

WILSON: Why me? Because I knew a lot about the [uranium] business […] I knew all of the personalities who would have been involved in this sort of interaction, because I had been at the White House during the time when the transaction purportedly took place.

Earlier in the interview with the National Ledger, Novak said that Vice President Dick Cheney is “the most forceful, effective vice president in history.” Given the dark “cloud” that hangs over the vice president’s involvement in the whole Plame saga, it is perhaps easy to understand Novak’s lack of remorse.

Original here