May 17, 2013
I woke up to some fascinating news … Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford is alleged to have been videotaped while smoking crack cocaine:
The U.S. website gawker.com published an article late Thursday alleged it had been offered a video of Ford “smoking crack cocaine” — and the Toronto sellers were hoping to get six-figures for the video.
“First of all, I’ve spoken to the mayor yesterday and secondly, he denies any such allegation,” Ford’s lawyer Dennis Morris told the Toronto Sun Friday.
Morris wasn’t sure if Ford would address the allegations Friday.
“We’ll just have to see how that unfolds,” he said.
Asked if the mayor plans any legal action, Morris said they’re at the “bottom rung of the ladder of anything of that nature now.”
[. . .]
In the wake of the gawker.com story, the Toronto Star published a story Friday morning by two reporters who state they were shown the alleged video earlier this month and alleging Somali drug dealers are shopping the video around.
While I’m far from a Rob Ford fan, I do find this story to be hard to believe. Ford has managed some awesome face-palm moments during his term in office but I can’t credit that any politician would put himself into this kind of situation. Either way, Toronto politics have been much more interesting since Ford was elected.
Update: Here’s the Toronto Star story:
The footage begins with the mayor mumbling. His eyes are half-closed. He waves his arms around erratically. A man’s voice tells him he should be coaching football because that’s what he’s good at.
Ford agrees and nods his head, bobbing on his chair.
He says something like “Yeah, I take these kids . . . minorities” but soon he rambles off again.
Ford says something like: “Everyone expects me to be right-wing, I’m . . .” and again he trails off.
At one point he raises the lighter and moves it in a circle motion beneath the pipe, inhaling deeply.
Next, the voice raises the name of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. The man says he can’t stand him and that he wants to shove his foot up the young leader’s “ass so far it comes out the other end.”
Ford nods and bobs on his chair and appears to say, “Justin Trudeau’s a fag.”
The man taping the mayor keeps the video trained on him. Then the phone rings. Ford looks at the camera and says something like “that better not be on.”
The phone shuts off.
Update the second: Popehat calls it the “most wonderful legal threat ever”:
Various journalists are claiming they have seen a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack.
This led to the most darling legal threat ever from a lawyer named Dennis Morris — who has represented Ford for some time — to Gawker
[. . .]
This is delightful, like that video of the kitten freaking out when it sees a lizard.
First, nobody ever governed themselves accordingly based on a threat from a hotmail account. Second, are you using some sort of comma-based operating system? Third, what the fuck are you talking about?
This sets a high bar.
May 12, 2013
In Reason, Jacob Sullum looks at an essay on the late Thomas Szasz that puzzlingly attempts to portray him as a staunch conservative:
In an interesting but puzzling Aeon essay, Cornell historian Holly Case notes the resemblance between contemporary doubts about the scientific foundation of psychiatry and the critique first laid out by Thomas Szasz half a century ago. “It might be that the world has only recently come around to his way of thinking,” Case suggests. Yet she misconstrues an important aspect of Szasz’s thinking by portraying him as “a staunch Republican” and a “conservative,” apparently unaware of his self-proclaimed libertarianism. Szasz, who died last year at the age of 92, was a Reason contributing editor for decades. He described the main motivation for his intellectual career as “my passion against coercion,” which he opposed (outside of situations involving the defense of rights) no matter who was advocating it, left, right, or center. Hence he opposed forced psychiatric treatment, but he also opposed interference in consensual transactions between psychiatrists and voluntary patients. Here he parted company with some left-wing critics of psychiatry.
[. . .]
But Case focuses mainly on common ground between what she views as right-wing and left-wing critics of psychiatry. Beginning in the 1960s, she writes, “Right and left sought to eliminate insanity in order to lionise dissent, legitimise the marginal and condemn the new normal. Few other issues show a convergence of right and left so far-reaching, while still allowing both sides to adhere to their politics and maintain a sense of total opposition.” At the same time, she says “Szasz was conspicuously alone in mounting the barricades from the right,” so she really needs him to be a right-winger. Bending the facts to fit her thesis, she ascribes to Szasz a “distinctively conservative perspective.” That label does not jibe with his opposition to drug prohibition and his forthright defense of the right to suicide, two major themes of his career that Case tellingly ignores. Szasz’s position on physician-assisted suicide combined both of these themes and demonstrated that his perspective was in fact distinctively libertarian. He opposed Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act (later imitated by Washington) because it medicalized a moral decision and required people to meet government-dictated criteria before they could legally end their lives. If the drug laws did not make it difficult for people to obtain substances useful for suicide (such as barbiturates), he said, there would be no need for physician-assisted suicide.
May 9, 2013
You may have heard this argument from Radley Balko or the folks at Reason and Reason.tv, but here’s Kristen Gwynnne at Alternet making a very Balko-sounding point about police militarization:
Retired law enforcement veteran Stephen Downing, former captain of detectives in the LAPD, says he has not seen proof that the police officers failed to adequately respond to information in this case; indeed, police cannot possibly crack every case and investigate every angle all the time. At the same time, we must recognize that police are incentivized to go after certain crimes — like drug crimes — and not other, far more heinous crimes, like rape.
In the first place, federal cash giveaways make police departments’ reactions to drug cases much more swift and severe.
“The statistical demands of the drug war and the grants that come from the federal government — all they do is incentivize our local police to chase drugs and chase seizures so they can supplement their budgets,” Downing said. “We call that ‘policing for profit.’”
Furthermore, allowing military training of local police has “turned our police into drug warriors,” instead of “police officers and peace officers.”
“Every police department, every sheriff’s department, and the federal government have personnel that are dedicated 100 percent of the time to drug enforcement,” said Downing, “and the result of that is to use police resources for that purpose.”
[. . .]
Praising the man who helped Amanda Berry escape, Stephen Downing also says police need to become more involved with their communities.
“The community is involved in solving these cases and the willingness of people is helpful,” he said. “If the police would recognize more the true value of their community — that the people are the police and the police are the people — rather than chasing drugs and asset seizures and policing for profit modalities, all our communities would be better off and more aware.”
Update: A few hours later, and Reason also links this piece:
At the crux of the drug war is the victimless crime of narcotics possession and use (and the sales that make that voluntary possession and use possible, tied to which are the weapons needed because of the business’ illegal status). Billions have been spent on law enforcement around the country to combat an essentially private, voluntary choice. Alternet ran a piece this morning explaining some of the perverse benefits for police to going after drug crimes instead of kidnapping, rape and slavery. The rescue of three women by a passer-by from a home police had been alerted to multiple times (and which was apparently occupied by the father of one of the girl’s self-described “best friends”), coupled with incidents like the suspected Boston bomber being spotted not by a massive manhunt but by a homeowner having a cigarette in his backyard and the thwarting of the Times Square bombing not by the heavily-armed and stationary police officers in the area but by local vendors going about their business suggests it’s not money or even manpower but good, alert police work that can solve and stop crimes. Instead, fueled by the militarization of police and the war on drugs, the beat cop’s disappearing while the war on what goes in your body continues, violently.
April 21, 2013
Former New Mexico governor and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson explains why he bucked conventional wisdom and became the first serving governor to call for the legalization of marijuana:
In 1999, as the Republican Governor of New Mexico, I made some waves by becoming the highest ranking elected official in the nation to call for the legalization of marijuana use and to publicly state the obvious: The War on Drugs is an “expensive bust.”
At that time, advocating the legalization of marijuana was considered an outrageous — and ill-advised — position to take. Polls clearly showed the public wasn’t yet ready to accept marijuana legalization, and there was absolutely no conventional political wisdom to support my decision.
So, why did I jump off that political cliff? The answer is simpler than you might think, and it applies even more today than it did more than 20 years ago. As I tried to do with virtually every policy issue the State of New Mexico faced, I looked at our drug laws through the lens of costs versus benefits. And the picture became very clear very quickly.
From the policeman on the street to the courts, prosecutors, and prisons, our legal system was overwhelmed by the task of enforcing a modern-day Prohibition that frankly made no more sense than the one that was repealed almost 80 years ago. Were we safer? Was drug abuse being reduced? Were we benefiting in any measurable way from laws that criminalize personal choices that are certainly no more harmful to society than alcohol use? The answer to all those questions was a pretty resounding “NO.”
March 29, 2013
Demonizing smokers hasn’t forced them to quit … let’s start sending them to psychiatric care instead
When the all the persuasion, “nudging”, shaming, harassment, and legal shenanigans haven’t worked, try taking a leaf out of the old Soviet Union playbook for dealing with dissidents:
Smoking may be a sign of psychiatric illness, experts say. Doctors should routinely consider referring people who smoke to mental health services, in case they need treatment, they add.
The controversial recommendation from the British Lung Foundation, a charity, comes in response to a major report, Smoking and Mental Health, published this week by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists with the Faculty of Public Health. It says that almost one in three cigarettes smoked in Britain today is smoked by someone with a mental disorder. When people with drug and alcohol problems are included the proportion is even higher.
The reason is that smoking rates have more than halved over the past 50 years, but the decline has not happened equally in all parts of society.
“Smoking is increasingly becoming the domain of the most disadvantaged: the poor, homeless, imprisoned and those with mental disorder. This is a damning indictment of UK public health policy and clinical service provision,” the report says.
March 6, 2013
At the Huffington Post, Radley Balko reports on a new ACLU campaign:
The militarization of America’s police forces has been going on for about a generation now. Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates first conceived the idea of the SWAT team in the late 1960s, in response to the Watts riots and a few mass shooting incidents for which he thought the police were unprepared. Gates wanted an elite team of specialized cops similar to groups like the Army Rangers or Navy SEALs that could respond to riots, barricades, shootouts, or hostage-takings with more skill and precision than everyday patrol officers.
The concept caught on, particularly after a couple of high-profile, televised confrontations between Gates’ SWAT team and a Black Panther holdout in 1969, and then with the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1973. Given the rioting, protests, and general social unrest of the time, Gates’ idea quickly grew popular in law enforcement circles, particularly in cities worried about rioting and domestic terrorism.
[. . .]
Kraska estimates that total number of SWAT raids in America jumped from just a few hundred per year in the 1970s, to a few thousand by the early 1980s, to around 50,000 by the mid-2000s.
The vast majority of those raids are to serve warrants on people suspected of nonviolent drug crimes. Police forces were no longer reserving SWAT teams and paramilitary tactics for events that presented an immediate threat to the public. They were now using them mostly as an investigative tool in drug cases, creating violent confrontations with people suspected of nonviolent, consensual crimes.
March 5, 2013
Radley Balko interviewed by Vice:
How did 9/11 alter the domestic relationship between the military and police?
It really just accelerated a process that had already been in motion for 20 years. The main effect of 9/11 on domestic policing is the DHS grant program, which writes huge checks to local police departments across the country to purchase machine guns, helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. The Pentagon had already been giving away the same weapons and equipment for about a decade, but the DHS grants make that program look tiny.
But probably of more concern is the ancillary effect of those grants. DHS grants are lucrative enough that many defense contractors are now turning their attention to police agencies — and some companies have sprung up solely to sell military-grade weaponry to police agencies who get those grants. That means we’re now building a new industry whose sole function is to militarize domestic police departments. Which means it won’t be long before we see pro-militarization lobbying and pressure groups with lots of (taxpayer) money to spend to fight reform. That’s a corner it will be difficult to un-turn. We’re probably there already. Say hello to the police-industrial complex.
Is police reform a battle that will have to be won legally? From the outside looking in, much of this seems to violate The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Are there other ways to change these policies? Can you envision a blueprint?
It won’t be won legally. The Supreme Court has been gutting the Fourth Amendment in the name of the drug war since the early 1980s, and I don’t think there’s any reason to think the current Court will change any of that. The Posse Comitatus Act is often misunderstood. Technically, it only prohibits federal marshals (and, arguably, local sheriffs and police chiefs) from enlisting active-duty soldiers for domestic law enforcement. The president or Congress could still pass a law or executive order tomorrow ordering U.S. troops to, say, begin enforcing the drug laws, and it wouldn’t violate the Constitution or the Posse Comitatus Act. The only barrier would be selling the idea to the public.
February 22, 2013
Andrew Coyne tries to explain why the Liberal Party of Canada increasingly looks like it will embrace Justin Trudeau as its new
Perhaps it was an impossible thing to expect. Perhaps it was even unfair. To demand that the Liberal Party of Canada, after a century and more as the party of power, should reinvent itself as a party of ideas; that it should, after a string of ever-worse election results culminating in the worst thumping in its history, ask itself some searching questions, including whether Canada still needed a Liberal Party, and if so on what basis — perhaps it was all too much to ask.
Because, on the evidence, the party isn’t capable of it. Or perhaps it simply doesn’t want to. Either it does not believe such a process is necessary. Or it does, but can’t bear it. Whatever may be the case, nearly two years after that catastrophic election, the party shows no interest in reinventing itself, still less in any healthy existential introspection. The policy conference that was to be the occasion for this came and went; the months that followed were similarly void.
[. . .]
Because the party seems determined to give itself to Justin Trudeau, come what may. Now, it is true that Trudeau has himself offered up a policy morsel or two. He favours liberalizing the drug laws and accepting takeovers by foreign state-owned enterprises in the oil sands. He opposes tightening Quebec’s language laws and boutique corporate tax credits. He was for the long-gun registry, but is against bringing it back.
But beyond that? He has his father’s views on the Quebec question, without doubt. But the only broad statement of his economic policy we have is his unswerving devotion to “the middle class.” And while the same criticism could be made of the other candidates — a grab bag of positions does not add up to a philosophy, still less a raison d’etre for the party — only Trudeau has made a virtue of his opacity. To take more forthright positions now, he argues, would prejudge the sorts of grassroots consultations he intends to hold — after he is leader.
February 19, 2013
A glum day for civil liberties:
Today the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “a court can presume” an alert by a drug-sniffing dog provides probable cause for a search “if a bona fide organization has certified a dog after testing his reliability in a controlled setting” or “if the dog has recently and successfully completed a training program that evaluated his proficiency in locating drugs.” The justices overturned a 2011 decision in which the Florida Supreme Court said police must do more than assert that a dog has been properly trained. They deemed that court’s evidentiary requirements too “rigid” for the “totality of the circumstances” test used to determine when a search is constitutional. In particular, the Court said it was not appropriate to demand evidence of a dog’s performance in the field, as opposed to its performance on tests by police. While the Court’s decision in Florida v. Harris leaves open the possibility that defense attorneys can contest the adequacy of a dog’s training or testing and present evidence that the animal is prone to false alerts, this ruling will encourage judges to accept self-interested proclamations about a canine’s capabilities, reinforcing the use of dogs to transform hunches into probable cause.
Writing for the Court, Justice Elena Kagan accepts several myths that allow drug dogs to function as “search warrants on leashes” even though their error rates are far higher than commonly believed
February 11, 2013
Jacob Sullum on how credulous courts have granted police dogs the power to circumvent Americans’ right to be free from intrusive search and seizure by police officers on fishing expeditions:
The deputy and another officer who arrived during the stop nevertheless went through Burns’ truck for half an hour or so, reaching up into the boat, perusing his cargo, looking under the seats and the hood, examining the gas tank and the undercarriage. They found no trace of drugs, although they did come across the loaded pistol that Burns mentioned to them once it was clear they planned to search the truck.
“They were cool with the gun,” Burns says. “If it had been California, God knows what would have happened.” He was so relieved that he barely minded the delay and inconvenience, which stretched a brief traffic stop into more than an hour. “I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a super-libertarian,” Burns says. “Once I realized that the pistol was not going to be an issue, man, they could have spent all day going over that car and under that car. My only concern was that one of the guys might have slipped something in to cover up for the fact that they didn’t find anything.”
That’s one way of looking at it. But even if you are neither a lawyer nor a super-libertarian, you might wonder 1) how often this sort of thing happens, 2) how it came to be that police can get permission from a dog to rifle an innocent man’s belongings, and 3) whether that state of affairs is consistent with the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The answers, in brief, are 1) fruitless searches based on dog alerts happen a lot more often than commonly believed, 2) dogs acquired this authority with the blessing of credulous courts mesmerized by their superhuman olfactory talents, and 3) this dog license is hard to square with the Fourth Amendment, unless it is reasonable to trust every officer’s unsubstantiated claim about how an animal of undetermined reliability reacted to a person, a suitcase, a car, or a house.
All of these issues come together in two cases the U.S. Supreme Court heard a few weeks after Bob Burns was pulled over. Florida v. Harris raises the question of how a judge knows that a dog’s alert is reliable enough to justify a search. Florida v. Jardines asks whether police need a warrant to use a drug-sniffing dog at the doorstep of a home. These cases, which will be decided by this summer, give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reconsider its heretofore unshaken faith in dogs, or at least limit the damage caused by the amazing canine ability to transform hunches into probable cause.
January 29, 2013
From the latest issue of Reason, Chris Kjorness outlines some of the pitfalls New York City thoughtfully put in the way of some of the greatest performers of Jazz:
For more than two decades musicians, comedians, and anyone else employed by a Gotham nightclub would be fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed by police in exchange for a license to work. The card had to be renewed every two years, and it could be revoked at the whim of the police. The story of the cabaret card illustrates how small men with a little bit of power can inhibit creative expression, stifle artistic growth, and humiliate individual citizens, all in the name of the “public good.”
The cabaret card had its origins in the roaring ’20s. Prohibition made outlaws out of ordinary Americans, and the allure of booze, jazz, and debauchery brought the upper and lower classes together in clandestine after-hours spots. It was the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and white New Yorkers frequently made the trip uptown, looking for adventure and an escape from the tight moral constraints of downtown society.
[. . .]
More than just a barrier to work, the cabaret card for beboppers was an impediment to self-expression and artistic fulfillment. While originating in nightclubs, bebop represented something much more than bar music. The color line had not been broken in American symphony orchestras, so for a young black musician at a prestigious music conservatory — Miles Davis at Julliard, for example — sharing a cramped stage in a 52nd Street nightclub with someone like Charlie Parker was the highest realization of artistic ambition. But before he could do so, a musician would have to be judged not just by lauded masters and discerning aficionados but by the police.
Cops distrusted beboppers for three main reasons: The new breed of jazzmen were anti-establishment, they were confrontational in matters of race, and they had a fondness for heroin. The police had an unlikely ally in their crusade against the upstarts: older establishment jazz musicians who had their own reasons to dislike the beboppers.
In a 1951 Ebony article, Cab Calloway, a king of the 1930s jazz world, decried the widespread drug use in the current jazz scene. Though Calloway didn’t single anyone out by name, the magazine illustrated his essay with photos of bebop musicians, and the publication coincided with an upswing in police enforcement. One musician snared in this crackdown was Charlie Parker.
January 19, 2013
Is the real reason Lance Armstrong’s televised confessions failed to “redeem” him in the public eye just a lack of charm?
But by the standards we have come to expect in these things it was relatively candid, blessedly free of self-pity. He’d told a lot of lies. Now he was telling the truth. Yet if he was expecting this confession to stanch the flow of vitriol, it appeared to have the opposite effect.
Because if there is one thing we expect of professional cyclists, it is that they will compete fairly and stay clear of drugs. And if there is one thing we expect, no demand of our public figures, it is that they will tell the truth.
Oh really. Listening to all this high dudgeon, I was carried back to last September’s Democratic convention, and the rapturous reception given to Bill Clinton, the former president and noted perjurist in the matter of Jones v Clinton.
That may have been the most famous of his lies, but it was hardly the first. Clinton was well known as a liar — an “unusually good” one, according to Bob Kerrey, the former senator — long before he ever reached the White House. As early as 1992, the question posed by his candidacy, as defined by Michael Kinsley, was not is he a liar, “but is he too much of a liar?” By the end the lies and abuses of power had piled up so high that Christopher Hitchens was forced to title his scathing account of the Clinton presidency No One Left To Lie To.
[. . .]
So let us drop the pretense that we’re all so scandalized by Armstrong because he lied. Granted, he lied about cycling, rather than mere financial dealings or affairs of state. But the reason he is in such obloquy, and Clinton and Mulroney are not, is not because his lies were worse, but because he’s not as good at it: because he is not as charming — shall we say manipulative? — as they. Frankly, when it comes to conning the public, he is not in their league.
Anyone can pull a con like Armstrong’s. You just lie and keep on lying until someone catches you. It takes a master to keep the con going even after you’ve been caught.
January 18, 2013
At sp!ked, Tim Black reviews Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, by David Walsh:
And so, in the aftermath of his Oprah-atic confession, bound to neither sate the critics nor elate the devout, the infernal humiliation of one-time cyclist Lance Armstrong continues.
The kicking and pelting began in earnest in August last year, when the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles following his failure to challenge their numerous doping charges. The USADA then followed that up in October with a voluminous, damning report, complete with gruesome testimonies from Armstrong’s one-time confidantes and teammates. By this point, even the International Cycling Union (UCI), which had long sided with Armstrong, had given up the defence to join in the lynching. ‘Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling’, exclaimed UCI president Pat McQuaid. ‘Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling.’
As sporting officialdom condemned, large swathes of the media spat. Gossipy stories of Armstrong’s bullying, his lying, his alleged sociopathology were published without nuance; op-eds assassinating Armstrong’s character, inflating his wrongs to Biblical proportions, were rushed off without perspective. On a man once lionised by millions, whose fame had for years been wrapped yellow around the wrists of those who admired him, open season had been declared. All the hunt lacked was a sighting of the quarry himself. And then this week, that finally happened — in the interview with Oprah Winfrey. Caught and unavoidably contrite, Armstrong acted out the role of the doping sportsman. Yes, he was saying, I am everything that the Dopefinder Generals say I am: I am that witch.
December 6, 2012
What do you do when you find $175,000-worth of drugs stashed on your property?
I am standing chest-deep in a dank, muddy concrete-lined hole in Silver Lake, staring eye-level into a duffel bag full of high-grade drugs.
It smells strongly of marijuana — despite the fact that someone sealed it tightly into jars, Ziplocs and professionally vacuum-sealed pouches before THEY HID IT IN MY BACK YARD.
I am starting to panic.
I already did the full Tex-Avery-wolf AOOOOGAH! upon discovering the mammoth sackful of dope — estimated to be worth somewhere north of $175,000. My jaw already dropped. My eyes already bugged out. Now my heart is thumping my gullet. Breathing is getting iffy.
I try to speak. I think my exact words to the solar-panel technician standing equally open-mouthed next to me are something to the effect of “Holy. Fucking. SHIT!”
H/T to Matt Welch:
— Matt Welch (@mleewelch) December 6, 2012