Archive for the 'Unintended Consequences' Category

Drug Policies So Bad They Make Me Defend Potheads

Lord knows that the world doesn’t need any more drunks or potheads, and I support neither. But it doesn’t need a justice system that is highly incentivized to target and prosecute these folks either-that only seems to compound these woes. I have never written a letter to the editor before but I was mildly annoyed that as the legislature of my state of Maryland debates the first real proposed changes to marijuana prohibition in decades, all of the articles in my local paper were from quite respected members of local law enforcement who were highly critical of even the smallest changes/experiments. What none of those articles mentioned is how completely dependent police budgets are on the current drug-war status quo, and how this “drug dependency” (if you will) might distort the lens of their viewpoint. Anyway here is the article I angrily emailed off to the editor one morning after reading a front page of the local paper filled with such articles… 

It Is Time to Identify the Real Drug Addict

Like an addict worried where he will get his next fix or a pusher worried about losing his best customer, Maryland police organizations are absolutely apoplectic at the prospect of any real experiments with marijuana decimalization. Much like the police, I’m concerned with substance abuse and the prospect that an abuser might drive. But then again, all of the secondary concerns brought up by police, such as impaired driving and child neglect, are already crimes and will remain so even after marijuana decimalization. I am likewise concerned that youth with try any harmful substance including alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana, but it is simply being realistic to acknowledge that most will try these are some point in their youth. However, what concerns me far more are the waste, damage, and discrimination done by current prohibition policies: young lives ruined by criminal convictions, African-Americans prosecuted at much higher rates, high-level drug dealers who are further empowered and enriched, and many similar unintended yet worse consequences of the marijuana war. Much the same as we learned with Alcohol Prohibition, current marijuana laws have done little but waste police resources, hurt the potential of our youth, and benefit dealers. After 40 or more years with the current, misguided policies, common sense tells us that it is time to experiment with change.  Don’t let police continue to use our youth as easy targets and a revenue stream. Let’s break law enforcement’s addiction to marijuana convictions.

Cool Guy Greg on Taxes

Productive Citizen Cool Guy Greg on Taxes

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Fahrenheit (Encryption Key) 451

Now Available as "Kindle"-ing

Now Available as “Kindle”-ing

A really perceptive article in today’s CS Monitor: Kindle e-reader: A Trojan horse for free thought.

Until reading, I had not seen the great irony in the unfortunate naming of Amazon’s “Kindle” device and the title and subject matter of Ray Bradbury’s famous book.

Some really thought provoking and sensible arguments in the article include:

That we are trading ownership for access – access that requires the pre-authorization of a corporation and “thingamajig.”

Well-established principles of Fair Use and First Sale are being marginalized and sweep away.

“…What the Kindle should be igniting is serious debate on the fundamental, inalienable right to property in a digital age – and clarifying what’s yours, mine, and ours.”

The article’s author (also a librarian) also includes a great Ray Bradbury quote on how “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them.”  (or he might have added- just convince them to stop thinking they own them).

Smoking Bans and other “Feel Good” Legislation yet Government just can’t Quit the Smoking Habit

Legislative smoking bans and the general outright social disdain for smoking seems to have had some interesting consequences that I wonder if their proponents ever foresaw:

  • A dramatic increase in the number of smoke shops (exempt from smoking bans) where people smoke far more dangerous things than cigarettes such as cigars and even hookahs
  • An increase in the use of smokeless tobacco – even new kinds of smokeless tobacco are being developed and marketed, such as Snus, and are immensely popular (smokeless tobacco use is increasing something like 10% a year – well in excess of the increase of the redneck population)
  • Smoking ends up being as rebellious and anti-establishment as it ever was

Legal smoking alternative?You see, the issue is simply this: for any “low-grade” vice you can think of, there is a certain percentage of the population who is going to engage in that vice – often regardless  of the consequences.  Legislative solutions to these classes of problems have consistently been shown not to work.

Governments’ half hearted attempts to limit drinking and smoking are particularly disingenuous and cynical when they use the tax revenues generated to support budget shortfalls and normal operating costs.  Remember that big umpty bazillion dollar State Tobacco Settlement that was supposed to go toward (1) funding government health care for smokers and (2) smoking cessation efforts?  It didn’t – it went into state coffers to be squandered on completely unrelated state budget items.

When it comes to complex social ills such as vices, you can be sure of only one thing: that simple, “feel good” solutions won’t work and will probably make the problem far worse.  Can they be solved?  Sure – we were able to get the Romans to stop feeding Christians to lions for entertainment, weren’t we?  But it takes a genuine commitment beyond the simple, superficial, “feel good” type. 

And above all you have to be honest and consistent in your message.  If you say something is evil and deadly, you then don’t take this “blood money” and use it to fund your state budgets.  Governments are the first ones who need to quit the smoking habit – perhaps then others will follow their example.  
 

Cough Medicines Too Risky for Kids but Psychotropic Drugs are Just Fine

Here in the Middling Years of the Nanny State, it is with little surprise that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to ban cold medicines for young kids.  Like most such prohibitions, the ban is not completely without its merits: the argument that adult remedies rarely work the same on kids and that they may not work at all and the fact that 750 kids per year had to go to the hospital for reactions or side-effects (though this hardly sounds like a statistically significant number in a nation of 300 million – 150 children a year actually die from bee stings but we haven’t outlawed bees yet).

So OK, now that we have this evil cough syrup menace taken care of, wonder if the FDA can be troubled to turn its attention to far more serious drugs that are specifically marketed and targeted to children: serious hard-core psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin, Paxil, and many others (which are mostly speed/amphetamines – remember when those things were bad?). 

Sometimes given with good cause, sometimes irreverently referred to as a “straight-jacket in a bottle,” these drugs have skyrocketed in use in children over the past 15 years.  Yet,  no-one (except the drugs companies and medical professionals who profit no doubt) even knows exactly what percentage of kids are on this stuff (estimates seem to place the number at 5 million US kids).  

Far more disturbing are the consequences of these policies of mass medication: 

Government drug policy makers must be on some serious mind-altering drugs themselves when they prioritize relatively benign medicines such as cough remedies before these incredibly potent drugs.  Where is a Nanny State when you need one?

The Death Penalty for Parking Tickets – and for Pre-Crime

Steve Martin used to joke about giving “the death penalty for parking tickets” but with stories of the overuse of Tasers and the unintended consequences – i.e. death – abound this may no longer be a joke.

You need look no further than the “Don’t Tase me Bro’” guy to see that over-eager police may be over-using these handy devices.

And now stories of people being killed by Tasers for relatively minor offenses are starting to surface with some regularity – some 200 deaths since 2002 according to this ZDNet article.   One has to wonder if there were 200 accidental police shooting deaths for minor offences if the public would notice that either (incidentally, accidental police shooting deaths are not even tracked nationally in the US).

It just seems a little creepy to me that these new technologies could be turned loose on a citizenry without some strict protocols on how they should be used as well as strict monitoring of how they are in fact used in the field.

No doubt we will be seeing more of these devices – not less – until we have a perfected some Minority Report-like Halo device to throw on any government suspected “pre-criminals.”   So perhaps we had better decide – and quickly – what amount of newly-enslaving technology is allowed to be unleashed on an unwitting population.

Federal and State “Please-Call” Lists

I just received yet another call from a marketing group representing the Fraternal Order of the Police (FoP).

This is certainly something to file under the law of Unintended Consequences.  The fact is that as soon as I registered for the Federal and State “Do Not Call” lists that I actually started receiving more solicitation calls.

I started receiving calls from the “Fraternal Order of the Police (FoP),” Political Campaigns, and other organizations exempted under the law. While it would be hard to prove, it certainly seems that these non-profit groups are using the “Do Not Call” lists as a cheap and easy way to get lists of people’s phone numbers. 

In effect, these groups have turned “Do Not Call” lists into “Please Call” lists.  It seems particularly nefarious that organizations representing political groups and government employees would be exempted from the law.  It seems these groups should be held to an even higher standard.  

But then again, exempting itself from its own laws has become somewhat of a time-honored government tradition.