Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The “Anything Exception” To The Bill Of Rights

There is no “drug exception” to the Constitution.
Thurgood Marshall, dissenting
Skinner v. Railway Labor Executive Association

That’s a quote by Justice Thurgood Marshall, who reminded the Court that there are no exceptions to the Constitution, even when drugs are involved. Sounds good… on paper. As do a lot of noble-sounding pronouncements. For example, here’s another really good one: “Property is seized by the DEA only when it is determined to be a tool for, or the proceeds of, illegal activities such as drug trafficking, organized crime, or money laundering.” That’s taken from the DEA’s web site. But in practice, neither of these statements turns out to be true. Don’t take my word for it—I could easily be lying. After all, who are you going to believe, some anonymous blogger or your government? So go ahead, spend a few minutes with Google and find out for yourself. I’ll wait.

See, I told you.

So how is it that this “drug exception” to the Bill of Rights works exactly? Leave it to those tricksters running things to come up with a rationalization that, although it makes absolutely no sense to a normal person, is totally convincing to legislators and supreme court justices. The “trick” is that you are not charged with a crime, your property is. But wait, there’s more. Rather than going through a criminal court, the federal government pursues property forfeiture cases in civil court. Do you see where I’m going with this? The U.S. government sues your property. You’re just an interested third party. And here’s the really tricky part: unlike in a criminal case where you are innocent until proven guilty, your property is guilty until proven innocent. The burden is on you to prove that your property was not involved in a crime, even though in some cases, no human was ever charged with a crime.

Now take a few deep breaths and let that sink in. Because you’re really going to like this next part, and I don’t want you to miss it.

Here’s a really funny (not “ha ha” funny) result of such a twisted process. These court cases are recorded as the U.S. Government versus a piece of property. For example, U.S. v. A Parcel of Land Known as 4492 South Lavonia Road, or U.S. v. one 1998 Mercedes Benz, or my personal favorite, U.S. v. $2,452.

What’d I tell you? It makes absolutely no sense to anyone outside the government. It’s totally insane. But in practice, it’s one of those made-up loopholes that lets federal authorities get away with just about anything.

And just when you though it couldn’t get any worse, there’s more. What do you think happens to all that loot that the federal government “seizes”? Well, that’s a little harder to say. In many cases, the plundered loot is kept by the agency that took it. Even better, it was ruled in one case that individual officers could receive “bounties” of 25 percent of the value of anything they seize. How’s that for an incentive to keep our law enforcement officials on the trail of dangerous dope peddlers. If I could go out and legally “seize” money and property, then keep what I took, I wouldn’t have the time to be sitting around writing stuff like this.

In summary, this is how it works: The government declares “war” on some thing (e.g., drugs), or even on some abstract concept (e.g., terror). They are then free to invoke emergency war-time powers to do whatever is necessary to win their war. That usually involves completely disregarding some part or parts of the Constitution, usually the Bill of Rights. I don’t really understand how this works, but maybe I’m just too thick. Maybe there’s some part of the Constitution that I missed, the part where it lists the circumstances under which it can be disregarded. I’d really appreciate it if someone would point that part out to me.

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Correction Regarding The Attorney General

It has been pointed out to me that the Attorney General makes his decisions on classifying controlled substances based on recommendations provided to him by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. That means everything I've said about the Attorney General also applies to the Secretary. Not that this absolves the AG from any blame. Making a bad decision based on bad information is no excuse. If it's your responsibility to make a decision, it's also your responsibility to make sure that the information you base it on is accurate and up to date. Especially when that decision affects the lives of millions of people. So I'm not letting the AG off the hook. I'm just saying he's not the only one not doing his job.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Making It Up As They Go Along

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: You are a 49-year-old woman at the airport all ready to go on a trip. You are carrying in your luggage almost $40,000 in cash (maybe not the wisest thing to be doing, but presumably not illegal). As you are going through security, a drug dog scratches at your bag. Your luggage is subsequently searched by federal agents, and you are strip searched. They find your money but no drugs. Still, your money is confiscated by the authorities. Even though you are not charged with a crime and you have documentation showing how you legally came by the money, it is not returned. Since this was your life savings, you are left destitute with no way to pursue the lengthy, expensive process necessary to get your money returned.

Sounds like one of those horror stories of blatant human rights violations that you always hear about happening in some third-world country. Sadly, it is not. It is a true story and it happened right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And it’s far from an isolated incident—a quick Google search will yield a surprising number of similar stories. Once again, my mind is boggled. Could it be that my mind has an extremely low boggle-threshold? Possibly. But I’ve always thought of my mind as fairly boggle-resistant.

Before discussing the insanity of this situation, let me just remind you of a few rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens by our Bill of Rights:
  • 4th Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  • 5th Amendment: No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  • 8th Amendment: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

So how is it that federal agents are able to routinely ignore the protections guaranteed by the 4th, 5th, and 8th amendments? And how is it that the Supreme Court has consistently (about 90 percent of the time) upheld such violations? There are answers, but I don’t think you’re going to like them any more than I do.

You see, the war on drugs is a “special case.” Because the drug problem is so severe and so potentially destructive to our society, certain liberties can be taken with our… well… liberties. The war on drugs is serious business (it’s a war) and therefore demands that some serious sacrifices be made. What might normally be considered an “unreasonable” search and seizure no longer seems so unreasonable when drugs are involved. And no punishment can be too excessive or cruel. Federal agents can’t be bothered with something as trivial as the Constitution when they’re after drugs or the people who use them. The ultimate goal, a drug-free America, is worth it. So what if some innocent lives are ruined along the way? We all have to make some sacrifices if we’re going to win this war. And such a noble end result certainly justifies any means necessary.

And before you ask, no, this isn’t a product of my sometimes-overactive imagination. It really does look a lot like they are making it up as they go along. At least to me. Change the rules or simply ignore them, whatever it takes. It looks like exactly what it is.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's Time For A New War

Let’s see, we’ve got the war on terror that’s been going on for over eight years now. And we’ve got the war on drugs that is well into its fourth decade. But I’m afraid those wars are getting just a little too long in the tooth for my taste. And I have to say that, frankly, I’m getting more than a little bored with them. Everyone knows that fear, not boredom, is the only way to sustain a pointless war with no possible victory in sight for any length of time. So I say let’s shake things up a little and find something new to declare war on. Something that everyone can fear.

I’ve got just the ticket: Let’s declare war on greasy, unhealthy fast food. Now that’s the kind of war we can all sink our teeth into. Let’s face it, fast food is really bad for you. If you’ve seen that movie Super Size Me, you know what I’m talking about. I personally don’t eat fast food for a variety of reasons. And, being an American, I firmly believe that whatever I think or do or say are the only right things to think and do and say. Anyone who doesn’t think or do or say as I do is wrong and must be stopped by whatever means necessary.

Getting this war started will be a piece of cake. It won’t require a Constitutional amendment or even new legislation. The Controlled Substances Act is all we need to get the ball rolling. We just have to get fast food classified as a Schedule I substance. We won’t even have to bend the rules like we did with marijuana, since fast food already satisfies several of the Schedule I criteria. It has a huge potential for abuse, its physiological effects are well known, it has a long history and current pattern of abuse, it causes physical and psychological dependence, and it poses a serious risk to the public health. That sounds like a Schedule I substance if ever I tasted one. How could the Attorney General possibly disagree?

And just think how easy it will be to identify the offenders. Who needs racial profiling when you can use profile profiling. That’s right, anybody who’s profile (i.e., silhouette) is a little too round or has inappropriate bulges will be an obvious suspect. Just think how easy it will be to identify potential offenders at the airport. And there’s the added bonus of never having to sit next to an obese person in business class. Unfortunately, some larger people who do not consume fast food will be innocent victims, but probably not all that many. Not enough to really worry about.

And let’s not forget the government propaganda. I can’t wait to see the commercials showing chubby kids all hopped up on cheeseburgers and fries laughing uncontrollably, committing brutal acts of violence, and jumping off of tall buildings because they think they can fly. Even better will be the ones that warn of the “gateway” phenomenon. Today it might just be cheeseburgers, but tomorrow it will surely be Twinkies, which will eventually lead to eating raw bacon fat and guzzling sugar straight from a 5-pound bag.

Now before you accuse me of being overly enthusiastic or optimistic about this new war, I am aware of a few potential, though minor, negative side effects. True, the vast majority of people who consume fast food do not overdo it, and they would be deprived of what, to them, is an occasional harmless pleasure. Some may even be incarcerated. But, as they say, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. And of course a vast new fast-food black market will grow and flourish. The thought of “fry houses” springing up near schools is frightening indeed. And the phrase “prison overcrowding” will take on a whole new meaning. But if we throw enough money at the problem, we will at the very least generate lots of publicity, which will help generate additional funds, which will generate more publicity, and so on. Our economy could certainly use the boost.

So what do you say? Are you with me on this? Let’s put an end to the fast food epidemic that is destroying our nation. Let’s nip this “assassin of youth” in the bud. People that consume large amounts of fast food don’t need diets or exercise or any other kind of “help.” The only thing that will ever stop them is punishment—the kind that is swift, severe, and certain. Putting them behind bars is the only way to save them from themselves and at the same time make our streets safer (and roomier). If that’s not enough, then just think of the kind of message we would be sending our young people if we continue to ignore, or even worse condone, the scourge that is greasy, unhealthy fast food.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Science Versus Government—Part 2

Here are a few more relevant studies:

The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (1972) was commissioned by President Nixon in an attempt to justify the recently-passed Controlled Substances Act. Its relevant findings and conclusions include:

  • There is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use of the natural preparations of cannabis.
  • Its [marijuana] use at the present level does not constitute a major threat to public health.
  • Marihuana's relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it.

To be fair, all of the report’s finding were not so positive. However most of the negative aspects of using marijuana they found were associated with a small minority of long-term, heavy users.

I also particularly liked this paragraph (because it sounds to me like something a Founding Father might have written):

A free society seeks to provide conditions in which each of its members may develop his or her potentialities to the fullest extent. A premium is placed on individual choice in seeking self-fulfillment. This priority depends upon the capacity of free citizens not to abuse their freedom, and upon their willingness to act responsibly toward others and toward the society as a whole. Responsible behavior, through individual choice, is both the guarantor and the objective of a free society.

While the study did not recommend immediate legalization, it concluded with the following:

The Commission recommends only the following changes in federal law:
  • Possession of marihuana for personal use would no longer be an offense, but marihuana possessed in public would remain contraband subject to summary seizure and forfeiture.
  • Casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration not involving profit would no longer be an offense.

They say that when Nixon heard about the results of this study that he himself commissioned, he threw it in the trash without even reading is. Kind of reminds me of when a little kid doesn’t want to listen and puts their hands over their ears while loudly saying, “blah, blah, blah, blah.”

The American College of Physicians Policy Paper (2008), while not a research study per se, is an official statement of the group’s 124,000 members’ position on medical marijuana. In this paper the physicians urge the government to drop the Schedule I classification of marijuana because of its medicinal value. They also call for protection from federal prosecution for doctors and patients using marijuana medicinally, and recommend that research into the therapeutic uses of the drug no longer be restricted.

And these are not the only reports over the past 70 years to have come to similar conclusions. They are just the tip of the iceberg, the most comprehensive, well-known, well-respected tip.

So what we have is a law that very clearly states that a drug’s legal status depends on a specific list of medical, scientific, and social factors. There is very little disagreement amongst experts in all fields concerning marijuana with respect to these factors. There is also a general consensus regarding recommendations on changing marijuana’s current legal status. So come on Mr. Attorney General, do your job. Abide by the laws that you were sworn to uphold. Base your classification of controlled substances on medical, scientific, and social data. That’s all I ask. That’s not too unreasonable now, is it? Just a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.