Published on 26 Aug 2014
“Just this whole process of going through the baby boom’s history, I began to realize what a nicer society — kinder, more decent society — that we live in today than the society when I was a kid,” says P.J. O’Rourke, best-selling author of Holidays in Hell, Parliament of Whores, and many other titles.
O’Rourke sat down with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie at Freedom Fest 2014 in Las Vegas to discuss his new book, The Baby Boom: How it Got That Way and It Wasn’t My Fault and I’ll Never Do it Again. As the father of three kids born between 1997 and 2004, he also lays down some thoughts about millennials, noting that they live in a much nicer, more tolerant world than the one in which he grew up. “I don’t think my 10-year old boy has ever been in a fist fight,” says O’Rourke, who was born in 1947. “I mean there might be a little scuffling but I don’t think he’s has ever had that kind of violent confrontation that was simply part of the package when I was a kid.”
He also feels that the internet “fragments information” in a way that destroys the sweep of history, at least at first. “You end up with mosaic information,” he says. “Now, I think over time the kids put these mosaics together but I don’t think the internet itself lends itself to the sweep of history.”
The interview also includes a tour of O’Rourke’s long and varied career in journalism, from his humble beginnings writing for an underground alt-weekly to his time as editor of National Lampoon and his incredible work as a foreign correspondent for Rolling Stone to his current position as columnist at the Daily Beast.
A prominent libertarian, O’Rourke also discusses the difficulties in selling a political philosophy devoted to taking power away from politicians.
“If libertarianism were easy to explain and if it weren’t so easy to exaggerate the effects of libertarianism — people walking around with ‘Legalize Heroin!’ buttons and so on — I think it would’ve been done already,” says O’Rourke. “But the problem is, of course, is that libertarianism isn’t political. It’s anti-political, really. It wants to take things out of the political arena.”
August 27, 2014
August 12, 2014
J.D. Tuccille on five libertarian issues that should matter just as much to non-libertarians:
Are libertarians just Ayn Rand-obsessed pot smokers who want to hide their money from the tax man? That’s what many critics of the libertarian movement, and its seemingly looming moment in American history (as reported by the New York Times) would have you believe. But maybe we’re smoking that grass because we’re all too aware of what government officials do with that money (and to us all) when they get their hands on it (Ayn Rand did provide some cautionary tales, if you care to read her books).
Below are just five of the many issues on which libertarian journalists, independent think-tankers, state-challenging politicians, and freedom-loving litigators, among others, have worked to preserve and extend our liberty over the years. These are issues that matter to us. We think they should matter to you too — and they already may.
America’s Insane Incarceration Rate
“Every ten or eleven people that you meet, someone is going to either know someone in prison, has been in prison with a record, or you met them and they are going off to prison,” Michael Stoll, co-author of Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?, told Reason last year.
Those who now fill the nation’s jails, prisons, and detention centers, says the Prison Policy Initiative, number about 2.4 million people.
The Insane War on Drugs
The easiest way to get thrown behind bars in recent years has been by using, buying, selling, or merely possessing an intoxicant that doesn’t meet politicians’ approval. Prohibition of alcohol may have failed, but the impulse to prohibit — and to penalize those who don’t or won’t get with the program, continues in laws against marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and myriad other substances.
Whatever the Hell Happened to Police in This Country
You can’t have prisons groaning full of people busted for drug violations without somebody to put them there. That somebody is inevitably law enforcement in all its various permutations—though you might be forgiven for thinking it’s an occupying army, given the military tactics, equipment, and mindset that so many police departments have adopted.
Small Business-Killing Meddling
Government officials don’t have to unleash uniformed minions on you to make your life miserable — they can do the same thing with a web of red tape and a plague of inspectors. The challenge of making an honest living can become almost impossible when burdened with bureaucracy.
You can’t enjoy life, liberty, and prosperity if your ass has been shot off in some politician’s bloody military adventure. And libertarian-oriented lawmakers feature prominently among the “wacko-birds” denounced by uber-hawk, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.). Specifically, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) ranked proudly among those called out for opposing drone assassinations and unprovoked interventions in other countries’ affairs.
August 1, 2014
In Forbes, Jacob Sullum admits that the sudden change of heart by the New York Times made him stop and reconsider whether he’d been wrong all this time:
According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of American adults support marijuana legalization. That’s around 130 million people. It turns out that some of them are members of the New York Times editorial board, which on Sunday declared that “the federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”
Given its timing, the paper’s endorsement of legalization is more an indicator of public opinion than a brave stand aimed at changing it. Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor at the Times, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that the new position was not controversial among the paper’s 18 editorial writers and that when he raised the subject with the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, “He said, ‘Fine.’ I think he’d probably been there before I was. I think I was there before we did it.” Better late than never, I guess, although I confess that seeing a New York Times editorial in favor of legalizing marijuana briefly made me wonder if I’ve been wrong about the issue all these years.
In their gratitude for the belated support of a venerable journalistic institution, antiprohibitionists should not overlook the extent to which the Times has aided and abetted the war on marijuana over the years. That shameful history provides a window on the origins of this bizarre crusade and a lesson in the hazards of failing to question authority.
In short, the Times first publicly toyed with the idea of marijuana legalization in 1972, but it did not get around to endorsing that policy until 42 years later. What happened in between? Jimmy Carter, a president who advocated decriminalization, was replaced in 1981 by Ronald Reagan, a president who ramped up the war on drugs despite his lip service to limited government. That crusade was supported by parents who were alarmed by record rates of adolescent pot smoking in the late 1970s. Gallup’s numbers indicate that support for legalizing marijuana, after rising from 12 percent in 1969 to 28 percent in 1978, dipped during the Reagan administration, hitting a low of 23 percent in 1985 before beginning a gradual ascent.
Legalization did get at least a couple of positive mentions on the New York Times editorial page during the 1980s. A 1982 essay actually advocated “regulation and taxation” as “a more sensible alternative” to decriminalization, arguing that “a prohibition so unenforceable and so widely flouted must give way to reality.” But that piece was attributed only to editorial writer Peter Passell, so it did not represent the paper’s official position. Four years later, an editorial that was mainly about drug testing asked, “Why not sharpen priorities by legalizing or at least decriminalizing marijuana?” Good question. Let’s think about it for a few decades.
July 19, 2014
Scott Greenfield on an interesting attempt by the US government to get private delivery firms to act as an unpaid arm of law enforcement:
In the future, everyone will be a cop for 15 minutes.
– Apologies to Andy Warhol
And if you don’t fulfill your duty, the government will indict you. United Parcel Service decided it was a better business move to pay off the government, at a price tag of $40 million. Federal Express refused. The government has now indicted FedEx for its refusal to capitulate.
The indictment relates to internet “pharmacies,” that ship drugs to people who may have no prescription and without having been treated by a physician. Not all internet pharmacies are evil, and not all prescriptions filled are wrongful, but the government nonetheless demands that delivery companies be not only its eyes and ears, but its arms and legs, in this battle of its war against crime. If only corporate America would faithfully serve its master, it would make law enforcement’s job so much easier.
The indictment is the typical slinging together of vague back-end anecdotes which, when the salient details are studiously omitted, create the disturbing appearance of complicity, if not exactly wrong-doing. After all, shouldn’t a delivery company know that it’s being used by criminals? Because it’s their responsibility to spy on packages, or see into the hearts of recipients, or know each back office deal of their customers?
Ironically, it’s not that FedEx wants to deliver contraband, but that the government refused to cooperate.
H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.
June 22, 2014
Nick Gillespie reports on the one war we should be happy to lose once and for all:
It turns out that Dick Cheney isn’t the only Bush administration muckety-muck still fighting the last war.
Even as the former vice-president took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to blame Barack Obama for the deteriorating situation in Iraq, George W. Bush’s drug czar, John P. Walters, is arguing in Politico that no, really, victory in the war on drugs is just around the corner. We’ve just got to hold the line, don’t you see, especially against Barack Obama, “whose administration has facilitated marijuana legalization” despite also setting a record for federal raids against medical pot dispensaries in California.
More important, insists Walters, is that you understand “Why Libertarians Are Wrong About Drugs.” Well, OK. I know I’ve been wrong about drugs at times. For instance, I seriously worried that Colorado might have taxed its fully legal pot out of reach of most buyers, thus allowing a black market to thrive. But it turns out that the biggest problem in the Centennial State is how to spend extra tax revenues generated by pot sales, which are coming in 40 percent higher than expected. Oh yeah, and crime is down in Denver.
Recognizing that public opinion increasingly backs treating pot similar to beer, wine, and alcohol, Walters explains that the “the libertarian commitment to freedom should absolutely be acknowledged and, in a time of growing state control, defended. But, when it comes to drugs, libertarians have yet to grasp just how much drug abuse undermines individual freedom and erodes the very core of the libertarian ideal.”
This is simply the old, unconvincing argument that currently (read: arbitrarily) illegal drugs rob individuals of the ability to act rationally or purposefully and thus present a special case in which freedom must be disallowed. This canard is as worn as out as a meth addict’s gums. The same thing was said about booze in the run-up to Prohibition, of course: The man takes a drink and then the drink takes the man and all that.
June 15, 2014
The average middle school kid in Pennsylvania must be a druggie, if the local school boards mandate drug testing for grade five and up students:
At Susquenita Middle School in Duncannon, Pa., a community 20 minutes north of Harrisburg, an eighth-grader chose to skip the National Junior Honor Society this year, reports Eric Veronikis at PennLive:
Leila May was drug-tested once during her fifth grade year, once in sixth grade and three times as a seventh grader because Susquenita School District randomly tests students in grades five through 12 who participate in extracurricular activities and apply for parking permits.
She always tested negative but her parents have tired of the intrusion and embarrassment and her mother Melinda says they’re weren’t willing to sign another consent form. “It’s sad that this is what we had to resort to. It’s ridiculous.”
Twelve years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Board of Education v. Earls (2002) that schools generally have discretion to impose drug testing on participants in extracurricular activities even without particularized suspicion, on the grounds that such activities are voluntary.
Well, I guess the local school board must have good reasons to implement the kind of drug testing regime that professional sports leagues or military organizations might use … although I’m scratching my head to figure out what they could possibly be.
May 31, 2014
“The smoke from this plant causes a brief state of euphoria, immediately followed by permanent insanity”
Paula Bolyard says that this collection of TV public service announcements from the 1970s may go a long way to explain why as parents they obsessively over-protect their kids (the Millenial generation). I loved this one:
In an effort to communicate a hip-sounding anti-drug message that teens could relate to, this PSA probably achieved the opposite of its intended effect. It made drugs seem fun and cool and glamorized drug use more than demonizing it.
Here are some gems from this hilarious PSA:
I know what you’re thinking. What is marijuana? What makes it so dangerous? Where can I get some marijuana? Well, brother, I’m not going to nickle and dime you. I’m not like ‘the man’ all you kids are rebelling against. I’m hip. I know what young people are dealing with these days.
Yes, he actually said “nickle and dime you.”
Rolled in Zig Zags or puffed from 7th period wood shop projects, the smoke from this plant causes a brief state of euphoria, immediately followed by permanent insanity. Users are prone to unpredictable behavior including junk food binges, joy rides, and a sudden urge to wear sunglasses at night.
At long last I now know why my brother was so interested in wood shop in junior high.
Long term use of marijuana can lead to a psychological dependency. Soon you’ll be taking all sorts of measures to get your fix. People will start calling you names like ‘pothead’ or ‘Smokie McBongwater.’ Losing all motivation, it’s likely that you will drop out of school take a sudden liking to sitar music and maybe even get felt up by a cop or two.
This explains basically everything about the 70s.
Is marijuana really where it’s at? Is it really as righteous as you think? There is more to life than grass. There are fulfilling careers and grrrr000vy beach parties. The closer you look the more seeds you find in your stash. Follow your hopes and dreams. Be someone. Do yourself and your country a favor. Don’t let this happen to you.
Raise your hand if you’re convinced.
May 14, 2014
Amity Shlaes talks about a movement to allow more freedom of choice, but in an unusual and tightly regulated sector:
For decades now the Food and Drug Administration has maintained an onerous and slow approval process that delays the debut of new drugs for fatal diseases, sometimes for years longer than the life span of the patients desperate to try them. Attorneys and scholars at the Goldwater Institute of Arizona have crafted legislation for the states that would allow terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs for cancer or degenerative neurological diseases earlier. These “Right to Try” bills are so scripted that they overcome the usual objection to delivery of such experimental drugs: safety. Under “Right to Try,” only drugs that have passed the crucial Phase 1 of FDA testing could be prescribed, thereby reducing the possibility of Thalidomide repeat. Second, only patients determined to have terminal cases would be eligible to purchase the drugs, making it harder to maintain that the drug will jeopardize their lives.
Representatives in Colorado, Louisiana, and Missouri approved the “Right to Try” measure unanimously. Citizens of Arizona will vote on the effort to circumvent the FDA process this fall.
Why the popularity? The phrase “Right to Try” appeals especially in a nation that senses all too well the reductions in freedom that come as the Affordable Care Act is implemented. The recent success of The Dallas Buyers’ Club, a film about a man who procured experimental drugs for AIDS patients, also fuels the “Right to Try” impulse. Some of the popularity comes from our culture of choice. In Colorado, where citizens have choice about abortion, and now the choice to use marijuana, they may also get what seems an elemental choice, that to try to save their own lives.
But of course “Right to Try” also sails because of the frustration of tragedy. Years ago a man named Frank Burroughs founded the Abigail Alliance after conventional options failed to cure his 21-year-old daughter’s cancer. Abigail’s oncologist tried to get Abigail newer drugs, Erbitux or Iressa from AstraZeneca, the company with which Pfizer hopes to merge. But the drugs were not available in time to save the girl. The Abigail Alliance is attempting on the federal level what Goldwater is trying for states: The federal bill’s name is the Compassionate Care Act. “Those waiting for FDA decisions, mainly dying patients and those who care for them, view the agency as a barrier,” co-founder Steve Walker explained simply. And who can disagree? Many of the supporters of “Right to Try” or the Abigail Alliance are businesspeople or scientists who are motivated to honor ones they have lost to illness; others are racing to save sick family who are still living. Yet others labor for patients in particular or science in general.
May 8, 2014
Scott Greenfield discusses something most of us have never given any though to:
In a New York Times op-ed. former AUSA turned Minnesota lawprof Mark Osler did a mitzvah by explaining the game played in drug sentencing. After noting some of the problems recently raised about mandatory minimums, the pardon game and absurdly long Guidelines sentences, he goes on:
Unfortunately, none of this addresses a very basic underlying problem: We continue to use the weight of narcotics as a proxy for the culpability of an individual defendant, despite this policy’s utter failure. If a kingpin imports 15 kilograms of cocaine into the country and pays a trucker $400 to carry it, they both face the same potential sentence. That’s because the laws peg minimum and maximum sentences to the weight of the drugs at issue rather than to the actual role and responsibility of the defendant. It’s a lousy system, and one that has produced unjust sentences for too many low-level offenders, created racial disparities and crowded our prisons.
But when a person is prosecuted based upon an arbitrary distinction, that he carried a certain number of grams of dope (because we can all distinguish between the weight of 7 grams and 8, right?) it should reflect a significant difference in crime and sentence.
[Radley Balko] goes on to discuss a related, but separate, issue, that drug weight is aggregate rather than pure. In other words, ten kilos of cocaine can contain 9 kilos of baby laxative, cut as it’s called in the trade, and only one of active narcotic, but it’s still ten kilos for the purpose of charging and sentence. This is a policy decision, that the purity of the drug is not considered, even though it tells a great deal about where the defendant is on the food chain of drugs. The higher the purity, the higher on the food chain, as drugs get “stepped on,” or diluted, at each level down the chain.
This applies even with less applicable concepts, such as marijuana, where the weight of stalks and stems of seized marijuana plants can be included in aggregate weight even though they are useless as drugs. The message is, you pay by the pound, regardless. It simplified the police and prosecutorial function, even as it undermines any doctrinal justification for the charge and sentence.
April 22, 2014
The sporting editors had also given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.
All this had been rounded up the night before, in a frenzy of high-speed driving all over Los Angeles County – from Topanga to Watts, we picked up everything we could get our hands on. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. Probably at the next gas station. We had sampled almost everything else, and now – yes, it was time for a long snort of ether. And then do the next 100 miles in a horrible, slobbering sort of spastic stupor. The only way to keep alert on ether is to do up a lot of amyls – not all at once, but steadily, just enough to maintain the focus at 90 miles an hour through Barstow.
Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas”, Rolling Stone, 1971-11-11
April 17, 2014
At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Daniel Pryor discusses the reasons for “Silk Road” continuing despite police crackdowns:
Growing up in Essex has made me appreciate why purchasing illegal drugs online is a far more attractive option. I have experienced the catastrophic effects of drug prohibition first-hand, and it is part of the reason that the issue means a great deal to me. Friends and acquaintances have had terrible experiences due to contamination from unscrupulous dealers with little incentive to raise their drugs’ quality, and every reason to lace their products with harmful additives. The violence associated with buying and selling drugs in person has affected the lives of people close to me.
As a current university student, I now live in an environment populated by many people who use Silk Road regularly, and for a variety of purchases. From prescription-only ‘study drugs’ like modafinil to recreational marijuana and cocaine, fellow students’ experiences with drugs ordered from Silk Road have reinforced my beliefs in the benefits of legalisation. They have no need to worry about aggressive dealers and are more likely to receive safer drugs: meaning chances of an overdose and other health risks are substantially reduced.
Their motivations for using Silk Road rather than street dealers correlate with the Global Drug Survey’s findings. Over 60% of participants cited the quality of Silk Road’s drugs as being a reason for ordering, whilst a significant proportion also used the site as a way to avoid the potential violence of purchasing from the street. Given that payments are made in the highly volatile Bitcoin, it was also surprising to learn that lower prices were a motivation for more than a third of respondents.
February 20, 2014
In sp!ked, Rob Lyons looks at the way e-cigarettes are being marketed in the UK and how it’s driving anti-tobacco campaigners absolutely insane:
For the tobacco-control lobby, an advert like Dorff’s is an absolute nightmare. It makes no health claims. It is clearly targeted at adults. It plays to the fact that even smokers dislike aspects of old-fashioned cigarettes, and are happy to compromise in order to get most of the pleasure of smoking without the hassle or the irritation to others. And then – God forbid – it even plays to the annoyance of smokers at the health fanatics. The last thing smoke dodgers want is for anyone to be able to take their freedom back. Even the existence of the sanitised offer from Vype’s say-nothing advert is anathema.
This was made abundantly clear in a report published by Cancer Research UK last year, The marketing of electronic cigarettes in the UK [PDF]. The authors are forced to admit that e-cigs ‘are accepted as being much safer than their conventional equivalents, so if smokers can be encouraged to switch there is the potential for significant public health gain’.
However, this message is quickly lost in a cloud of public-health cant. The threats, say the authors, include concerns that ‘hard-won tobacco-control policies (smokefree public places, the ad ban, age restricted sales, tobacco industry denormalisation, POS [point-of-sale] restrictions) are being undermined’ and that ‘there is evidence that young people, who have always been the key to the long-term viability of the tobacco industry, may be being pulled into the market’. The danger, say the authors, is that tobacco companies don’t want you to give up your addiction, just switch to a different delivery system. The problem with this argument is that the new delivery system is much, much safer. Why shouldn’t corporations try to sell us safe products?
In reality, what the anti-tobacco lobbyists (and their fans in Westminster and Whitehall) are really afraid of is the loss of their power and influence over our lives. They fear they will be helpless against the tide of e-cigs, like a great bunch of puritanical Cnuts. (Note to sub-editor: that’s definitely ‘Cnuts’, as in the Danish king who famously – probably apocryphally – tried to turn back the sea. Honest.)
E-cigs are a safe, practical alternative to smoking. For all the huffing and putting-a-stop-to-puffing, tobacco control has been an illiberal failure. E-cigs are encouraging smokers to switch, cut down or stop altogether far more successfully than all the bans, taxes, restrictions and useless nicotine-replacement therapies that have gone before. ‘Vaping’ is an unexpected but nonetheless happy success story.
February 6, 2014
Megan McArdle discusses the past, present, and potential future for the e-cigarette industry:
In its simplest form, an e-cigarette is a cartridge filled with a nicotine solution and a battery powering a coil that heats the solution into vapor, which one sucks in and exhales like smoke. Typically, it looks like a regular cigarette, except the tip, embedded with an LED, often glows blue instead of red. The active ingredient in e-cigarettes is the same nicotine found in cigarettes and nicotine patches.
The effects of inhaling nicotine vapor are not totally understood, but there is no evidence to date that it causes cancer. Experts and logic seem to agree that it’s a lot better than setting chopped-up tobacco leaves on fire and inhaling the nicotine along with thousands of combustion byproducts, some of which are definitely carcinogenic. Because cancer is the main drawback of smoking for a lot of people, the delivery of nicotine without lighting a cigarette is very attractive. And because it produces a wispy vapor instead of acrid smoke, an e-cigarette lets you bring your smoking back indoors, where lighting up in an enclosed space is no longer socially, or legally, acceptable.
A primitive, battery-operated “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” was patented as early as 1963 and described in Popular Mechanics in 1965. Thomas Schelling, a Nobel prize-winning economist who helped start the Institute for the Study of Smoking Behavior and Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School in the 1980s, recalls that people in the 1960s were talking about a charcoal-based vaporizer that would heat some sort of nicotine solution. While those early versions might have been safer than a regular cigarette, they were too expensive and cumbersome to become a substitute for a pack of Camels in a country where, as Schelling notes, “you’re never more than 5 or 10 minutes away from a smoke.”
In a way, electronic cigarettes were made possible by cell phones. The drive to make phones smaller and lengthen their battery life led to the development of batteries and equipment small enough to fit in a container the size and shape of a cigarette. There’s some dispute over who invented the modern e-cigarette, but the first commercially marketed device was created by a Chinese pharmacist, Hon Lik, and introduced to the Chinese market as a smoking cessation device in 2004.
In the same way that alcohol comes in various guises (many carefully crafted to appeal to beginners: sweet as soda pop, for example), e-cigarettes are available in many different flavours:
E-cigarette cartridges come in classic tobacco and menthol flavors — Verleur’s company even offers V2 Red, Sahara, and Congress, clearly aimed at loyal smokers of Marlboros, Camels, and Parliaments. But most companies also have less conventional flavors. Blu offers Peach Schnapps, Java Jolt, Vivid Vanilla, Cherry Crush, and Piña Colada, presumably for people who don’t just like a drink with a cigarette, but in one.
January 22, 2014
The United States has seen a vast increase in the number of drug offenders (the majority of them non-violent) and a corresponding increase in the private prison industry. As Wendy McElroy explains, these are not free-market solutions to a government problem: they’re monuments to crony capitalism:
The United States leads the world, by a large margin, in the production of at least one thing: prisoners. We have 25 percent of the world’s inmates, but just 5 percent of the world’s population.
Where do they come from? Well, since the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the number of American inmates has risen from approximately 300,000 to a currently estimated 2.3 million. This statistic points to the role of drug-related victimless “crime” in creating prisoners.
There are other sources. The “private prison complex” is a creation of crony capitalism through which privileged corporations are paid well for the “care” of inmates and for leasing out prison labor to other businesses.
Ten percent of American prisons are now “privately” operated, for-profit businesses. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of for-profit prisons rose 1600 percent, far outpacing the growth of public ones or the population at large. The likelihood of being arrested is already higher in America than anywhere else in the world. That likelihood will rise if the financial incentives to imprison more people continue or increase.
“Private” prisons are run by corporations to which government outsources the care of inmates. The corporation receives X tax dollars for each prisoner, quite apart from the actual cost of care. This builds in an incentive to skimp on services such as food and medical care. And, indeed, most prison contracts include a “low-crime tax” or “lock-up quota.” This system means taxpayers compensate the corporation for empty cells if the number of prisoners falls below a set quota. A recent report, “Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and ‘Low-Crime Taxes’ Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations,” found the average “occupancy guarantee” to be 90 percent; in four states, it is between 95 percent and 100 percent. Thus the “private” prison is guaranteed a tax-funded profit.
The “private” prison industry is private in the same sense that crony capitalism is capitalist. Namely, not at all. It is the antithesis of a truly private industry that competes in the free market, does not accept tax funds, and cannot compel labor. By contrast, the “private” prisons enjoy a monopoly over a service that is created by laws and sentencing policies. They receive tax money and preferential treatment. They exploit captive labor through circumstances similar to plantation slavery.
December 10, 2013
Charles Cooke on the ATF working hard to create new criminals through elaborate entrapment schemes:
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is probably best known these days for the failure of its disastrous Fast and Furious scheme — a botched initiative that aimed to give American guns to Mexican cartels first and to ask questions later. Under pressure, the administration was quick to imply that the mistake was an aberration. But a watchdog report, published last week by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, suggests that the caprice, carelessness, and downright incompetence that marked the disaster was no accident. In fact, that it is endemic in the ATF.
After a bungled sting attracted the suspicion of the Milwaukee press earlier this year, reporters started to examine similar enterprises in the rest of the country. What they found astonished them. Among the tactics they discovered ATF agents employing were using mentally disabled Americans to help run unnecessary sting operations; establishing agency-run “fronts” in “safe zones” such as schools and churches; providing alcohol, drugs, and sexual invitations to minors; destroying property and then expecting the owners to pick up the tab; and hiring felons to sell guns to legal purchasers. Worse, perhaps, in a wide range of cases, undercover agents specifically instructed individuals to behave in a certain manner — and then arrested and imprisoned them for doing so. This is government at its worst. And it appears to be standard operating procedure.
As with Fast and Furious, the primary objective of the ATF’s stings seems not to be to fight a known threat but instead to manufacture crime. Across the country, the agency has set up shops in which it attempts to facilitate or to encourage illegal behavior, and it has drafted citizens into the scheme without telling them that they were involved. It is fishing — nonchalantly, haphazardly, even illegally. And the consequences can go hang.
At best the ATF’s new techniques constitute illegal entrapment. At worst, they are downright tyrannical. Entrapment is legally permitted if a suspect initiates a crime in the presence of an undercover agent or if he can reasonably be deemed to have been predisposed to commit the crime when offered an opportunity to do so. But it is difficult to see how either of these tests is being met in the Bruner case or in others. Indeed, cases using entrapment are often thrown out of court if the government is seen to have put too much pressure on a suspect or to have made breaking the law so easy or attractive as to render restraint impossible. Per the paper’s report, ATF tactics involved offering ridiculous prices for firearms to attract straw purchasers, requesting that suspects buy specific firearms that carry tougher sentences, or, as it did in one case, showing a known felon how to saw off a shotgun so that they could charge him with a more serious violation when he did it. Will anyone claim that these tactics are legal?
That they are immoral, too, needs less spelling out. Because no formal arrangements were made with the individuals whom the agency selected for involuntary cooperation, there were no means by which they could claim protection for their behavior after the fact. In other words: The federal government knowingly ruined their lives without telling them. And for what? Well, apparently to try to pick low-hanging fruit.