"Prestigious" Prizes And Awards: How Progressives Buy Tribal Loyalty

Pulitzer Prizes. Nobel Prizes. Academy Awards. These are just a handful of examples of the many, many “prestigious” prizes and awards out there, given out supposedly to award achievement and excellence at the highest level in fields like journalism, literature, science, and film.

Or are most of these awards just completely fake scams that are really given out without regard to merit or fact-checking to those who produce work that most perfectly channels the favored progressive groupthink of the moment? I’ll let you be the judge. But consider some recent events.

On December 19 an outlet called Medium published a long article with the headline “Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town.” The authors of the Medium piece are Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, two residents of the small town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. It seems that the German magazine Der Spiegel — the largest circulation current-affairs magazine in Europe — published a major piece in 2017 by a guy named Claas Relotius on the subject of Fergus Falls, with the headline “Where they pray for Trump on Sundays” (probably behind pay wall). The gist of Relotius’s Spiegel piece was that the residents of Fergus Falls are stupid small-town yokels, thus of course explaining their overwhelming support for Trump in the 2016 election. Anderson and Krohn took their time putting together what is one of the most incredible take-downs of a piece of journalism that I have ever seen. The result is an article organized as a “top eleven” list of total whoppers and demonstrably false statements from the Relotius piece — everything from whether Fergus Falls is in “a dark forest that looks like dragons live in it” (it’s actually on the prairie), to whether the City Administrator is a “virgin” who has “never [been] together with a woman” and “never seen the ocean” (Anderson/Krohn include a picture of the guy with his girlfriend at the ocean), to whether a certain guy has hands that are “always black” from working on a farm next to a coal power plant (the guy in question, identified by Relotius by the wrong name, actually works for UPS and does not have black hands), and on and on. Anderson and Krohn conclude: . . .

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Government 101: How To Get Yourself More Money By Failing

At this blog, we have repeatedly pointed out the most fundamental difference between private and government endeavors:  In private endeavors, when you fail, you lose your ability to get more investors and keep going, and you go out of business.  In government endeavors, when you fail, you proclaim that you just need more money to accomplish the mission.  Somehow, the citizens, through their legislators, always fall for it.  So you get more money, and you grow your staff and your budget.  In fact, the best way to assure the growth of your organization is to fail, and you can grow even more if your failure is even worse.  As a result, no government bureaucracy ever fixes the problem that it was created to fix; indeed, all the problems at which the government throws money always and inevitably grow worse over time.  Extreme examples of this phenomenon covered at this blog have included the poverty scam and the food insecurity scam.

For today, let's consider the War on Drugs.  The War on Drugs was officially launched in about 1970, during the first term of President Nixon.  In the intervening 46 years, as far as I can see, no progress of any kind has been made (unless you count well over a million people behind bars at any given time as "progress").  Sure, usage of some specific drugs has waned marginally (cocaine is an example), but only because other drugs have emerged and become suddenly popular.  A few years ago there was a surge in usage of crystal meth.  Today the surge is in opioid pain killers.  For marijuana, the authorities basically seem to have given up after decades of jailing millions of people.  Overall?  From the government's drugabuse.gov website:

Illicit drug use in the United States has been increasing. In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—9.4 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug in the past month. This number is up from 8.3 percent in 2002.  

And what are we spending to achieve these stellar results?  Drugpolicy.org has a collection of statistics here.  They put annual spending (all levels of government) at about $51 billion.  Most goes to law enforcement, but large chunks also go to things like prevention and treatment.  For a post a few days ago I found a figure of over $12 billion annually for just the federal piece of prevention and treatment.  And the costs are not just direct expenditures.  The drugpolicy.org compilation has other statistics that include: 1.6 million annual arrests for drug law violations and $46 billion of government revenue foregone (from potential legalization).

Yet, with this enormous ongoing effort, suddenly in the last couple of years an unexpected epidemic of abuse of opioid painkillers has exploded upon the scene.  Here is a "facts and figures" sheet from the American Society of Addiction Medicine.   According to that document, use of prescription opioid painkillers surged by a factor of four between 1999 and 2008, after which use of heroin began a 37% per year surge from 2010 to 2013.  The two are related because, once addicted to the painkillers, users report that they switch to heroin because the prescription opioids are "more expensive and harder to obtain."  Overdose deaths from opioids (both the painkillers and heroin) reached 47,055 in 2014.

Of course, even as this was happening, the very drugs whose use was surging were primary and specific targets of the Drug War.  The painkillers have long been subject to very tight restrictions on doctors in their ability to prescribe.  Heroin has been absolutely illegal since the onset of the War.  We are paying $51 billion per year to employ thousands upon thousands of government functionaries specifically to keep the buying and usage of these substances under control, and instead the buying and usage of some of the very most dangerous drugs has surged on their watch.  They have had an epic, total and undeniable failure -- a disaster.

And of course you know the response of the government Blob to this epic disaster.  This is the most fabulous opportunity in a generation for us to hit the suckers up for more money to grow our staffs and our budgets!  We can just say that we need lots more money to address this epidemic!  And with thousands of families grieving over the loss of their promising teenagers and twenty-somethings to this epidemic, who will be uncouth enough to point out that we already were blowing $51 billion per year without even being able to see this epidemic coming?

As always, Congress has just rolled over and paid up.  We now have the brand new "Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016," signed into law by President Obama on July 22.  It's the usual: lots more money for lots more programs, without the slightest bit of accountability for prior failures.  There's a new "task force on pain management," new "awareness campaigns," new "community-based enhancement grants to address local drug crises," new "information materials," new "military emergency medical training to assist veterans," a new "FDA opioid action plan," new "improving access to overdose treatment," new "NIH opioid research," etc., etc. etc., etc.  In layman's terms, they're throwing another approximately $700 million per year at the problem and hoping that this time it will accomplish something.  (It won't.)

And in this process, did anyone so much as take a look at the $51 billion currently being spent on total failure to see if any part of that ought to be cut out as useless waste?  Of course not.  That's just not how this process works.  A couple of days ago the Federalist Society sponsored a panel on this new law, to which I listened in, and at the conclusion I asked that question:  if the prior spending had not been effective to prevent this problem from arising, what part of that prior spending (all of it?) should be eliminated as wasteful?  It was as if nobody had ever thought of the question.  Accountability for prior failure is just not part of the dynamic here.  Failure is how you grow your budget!  Everybody knows that!

Should Everything That Is Bad Be Illegal?

Read (or re-read) the Declaration of Independence, and you will be reminded that the big complaint of the colonists was the arbitrariness of rule by a king who could just do to you whatever he wanted.  We replaced that, with remarkable success, with what we call "the rule of law."  In fact, maybe the rule of law has been too successful.

Faced with a situation where the laws are viewed as basically fair and well-applied, most people show a remarkable willingness to be law-abiding.  Thus arises the fallacy that the world can be perfected if only we can enact enough laws prohibiting everything bad.  And in this game, "bad" quickly morphs from something that most everyone would agree is wrong, to whatever got a bare majority in Congress or a state legislature on some particular day. 

It may seem like most of the victimless crimes have been around forever, but look into it and you find out that this game only really got started well into the 20th century, and it only took off during your own lifetime.  Gambling, for example, was pretty much open season in the United States in the 19th century, and restrictions started proliferating in the 1920s and 30s.  Drugs were almost entirely legal at the federal level before the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 tried to make marijuana illegal by back-door means.  Only when that was struck down by the Supreme Court in the Timothy Leary case in 1969 did we then get the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and the launch of the "War on Drugs."  I was in college.  Also launched in the momentous year of 1970 was the war against the victimless crime that I regard as the most ridiculous and most futile of all to try to wipe out, namely "money laundering."  The law that started it was the so-called Bank Secrecy Act of 1970.  (A better name for it would be the Bank Non-Secrecy Act -- It requires your bank to rat you out to the government on request and not tell you that they are doing it.)  And then we have the explosion of increasingly preposterous "crimes" over the past few decades:  Installing a toilet of more than 1.6 gallon flush (Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1992)!  Manufacturing a 100 watt incandescent light bulb (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007)!  OK, make that a 75 watt incandescent light bulb!  I could go on (and on, and on).

Read the justification for any of this stuff, and you find out that freedom just isn't considered a value of any importance by many people.  And actually, it's far worse than that, because restrictions on human freedom come with untold unintended consequences as people act to evade the restrictions.  Yet it is very hard to get the unintended consequences heard as part of the debate.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the drug war.  Most of the debate is between drugs = bad and therefore should be illegal, versus drugs = good and therefore should be legal.  There actually is some to be said on the side of drugs = good, most notably medical uses of marijuana, and remarkably that is where most of the recent ground has been gained.   But I would not stand up for the drugs = good position for most people and in most circumstances.

Looking over the arguments put forth by the drugs = bad crowd, it's hard to find much if any discussion of the value of human freedom or of the unintended negative consequences of the drug war.  For example, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News has become a big advocate of continued illegality of drugs including marijuana.  Here is a 2013 column he wrote on he subject.  Excerpt:

If you have kids, you most likely prayed hard that they would avoid drugs and alcohol. Once a child becomes intoxicated, childhood is over. The young person will never be the same again.  Thus, a sane society discourages substance abuse if only to protect children. A sane society does not put a happy face on inebriation.

O'Reilly puts what he calls the "freedom issue" among the "usual excuses" put forth by the legalizers.  He completely equates "discouraging substance abuse" with necessary criminalization and putting millions of people in jail.  Or here is a relatively balanced discussion of the drug war from a high ranking official of the New York Police Department.  But at bottom he weighs freedom at zero and thinks that drugs turn the users into crazed maniacs who go on crime sprees.  Is there any actual evidence for that?

Or for that matter, is there any actual evidence that criminalization decreases the number of drug users?  A big recent study from the European Union concludes "Among the strongest and most consistent findings, eliminating punishments for possession for personal use is not associated with higher drug use."

And then there is the long list of negative consequences of the war.  Here is a roundup.  Examples:

  • $51 billion annually spent on the drug war.  (I have seen higher numbers elsewhere.)
  • 1.55 million arrests in the U.S. in 2012 on nonviolent drug charges.
  • 658,000 arrests in the U.S. in 2012 for marijuana for possession only
  • $46.7 billion foregone tax revenue (OK, that one is kind of made up, but doesn't seem wildly out of line to me.)
  • 70,000 deaths in Mexico since 2006.

And they don't even mention hard-to-quantify (but also hard to deny) things like increased crime and corruption of the police.  It sure seems like a lot of the murders in places like Chicago and Detroit stem from drug turf wars, a consequence of prohibition.

And don't get me started on money laundering!



Federal Judge Rules National Security Letters Unconstitutional

If you don't know about National Security Letters, you should.  They are the missives sent by the FBI to the institutions that hold your electronic information -- mainly banks, telecoms, ISP providers.  The gist is, provide us all the information you have about Mr. or Ms. X, and, by the way, you are not allowed to mention to anyone, most particularly Mr. or Ms. X, that you are doing this, and if you so much as breathe a word it is a felony and we will prosecute you.  So this is all done behind your back, without any ability on your part to object or even to know that it is going on.  (The existence of these NSLs is the principal reason why you should assume that all your electronic communications and bank transactions are monitored by the government at all times.  Use cash.)

The authority for this is found in the so-called USA PATRIOT Act, ignominiously signed by George W. Bush in 2001.  Needless to say, the sanctimonious Barack Obama has continued issuing the letters and enforcing the gag orders with the same frequency and enthusiasm as his predecessor.

I have always believed that when this issue reached the courts the statute would immediately go down, and particularly that the part prohibiting the recipient of the letter from telling anyone including the subject could not possibly survive First Amendment scrutiny.   But it has been a long twelve year wait.  Why?  Because not a single one of the weasels otherwise known as the banks, telecoms and ISP providers has stepped up to the plate to mount a challenge.  But now an unnamed telecom, backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has finally taken on the government in a case that has gone to decision before Judge Susan Illston in the Northern District of California.  Result:  statute unconstitutional.  Among many reports on the internet, here is one from Wired.

A comment about the conduct of the banks, telecoms and ISPs in this matter:  All of them are highly "regulated" by the government.  Do you indulge in the illusion that "regulation" is no more than oversight by neutral, disinterested experts who assure that the evil capitalists do not overreach into exploitation of the weak and helpless?  What we have gotten for ourselves are sniveling government supplicants who do whatever the bureaucrats say and are completely willing to spy on the American public behind their backs in the effort to win bureaucratic favor for approval of the next merger or spectrum purchase or whatever.

Judge Illston has stayed the effectiveness of her injunction for 90 days.  After that, perhaps we will start to get some insight into the dark world of government surveillance on the public.  The Act was sold to the public as a response to terrorism.  What is the chance that these NSLs are limited to that arena?  I would say zero.  What percentage are actually part of the drug war as opposed to the war on terrorism?  My bet is the majority have nothing to do with terrorism.  Prove me wrong!  Use in the drug war may well be the least of the abuses.  Given the fallen character of all humans, what is the chance that no NSL has ever been used to investigate the guy that some FBI agent suspects of having an affair with his wife; or worse, to investigate some political opponents of the current administration.  Many human beings given this kind of power are just not capable of resisting these sorts of temptations.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Wired reports on a few abuses of the NSLs that have already come to light.  For example, from an IG report in 2007:

In 2007 a Justice Department Inspector General audit found that the FBI had indeed abused its authority and misused NSLs on many occasions. After 9/11, for example, the FBI paid multimillion-dollar contracts to AT&T and Verizon requiring the companies to station employees inside the FBI and to give these employees access to the telecom databases so they could immediately service FBI requests for telephone records. The IG found that the employees let FBI agents illegally look at customer records without paperwork and even wrote NSLs for the FBI.

Not much chance that the banks don't do the same thing.  How exactly are we better than say, East Germany in the Communist era?

How To End The Drug War

Now that Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational use of marijuana, the big question is, will the Federal government continue prosecutions against sellers of marijuana in those states -- or for that matter, in any state?

Federal prosecutions against California medical marijuana distributors have continued under a regime where the prosecutors have convinced the Federal judges not to allow the defendants to mention before the jury that their activities are legal under California law as passed by a referendum of the people.  State officials have not taken the next step.

How about this, Colorado and Washington:  assuming there are any prosecutions, assign state employees to stand outside the Federal courthouses where a prosecution takes place and hand out flyers containing information that (1) under state law passed by a referendum, marijuana is legal, and (2) jurors can vote to acquit in any case for any or no reason and there is nothing the prosecutor can do about it (sometimes known as "jury nullification").

In 2011 when activist Julien Heicklen tried handing out flyers like that in front of the Federal courthouse in New York, he was arrested by the Feds and prosecuted for "jury tampering."  Federal judge Kimba Wood threw out the indictment.  However, despite the obvious issue of suppression of free speech, she ducked the First Amendment issue, instead saying that the Federal jury tampering statute did not apply where no specific case was at issue.

Anyway, are the Feds really going to arrest the Governors of Colorado or Washington for exercising their First Amendment rights and informing the people accurately about the law?

What Do We Say To The 60,000 Dead?

The  Washington Post reports on the new dilemma facing Mexico: How much effort are they going to put into continuing to support the American war on drugs now that marijuana for recreational use has been legalized by referendum in Colorado and Washington?

Mexico spends billions of dollars each year confronting violent trafficking organizations that threaten the security of the country but whose main market is the United States, the largest consumer of drugs in the world.

Has it all been for  naught? The drug war has taken an unbelievable toll on Mexico over the past several years:

About 60,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence, and tens of thousands have been arrested and incarcerated. The drug violence and the state response to narcotics trafficking and organized crime have consumed the administration of outgoing President Felipe Calderon.

Of course, what we don't know is whether the Federal government in its wisdom will honor the verdict of the voters in Colorado and Washington.  We do know that the Feds have continued prosecutions even of state-licensed medical marijuana purveyors in California since medical marijuana was legalized by referendum in that state.  Here's the court decision in United States v. Stacy (S.D. Cal Mar. 2, 2010) rejecting the effort of a California-licensed medical marijuana dealer to get his Federal indictment dismissed.  Oh, by the way, if you are a medical marijuana dealer and the Feds prosecute you, you are not even allowed to mention to the jury that your conduct is legal under the law of California as passed in a referendum of the people.

Sooner or later these drug agents and prosecutors will be packed off to new jobs.  How many people have to die in the drug wars first?