I hate the war on drugs

Today Jon K reminded me of this 60 Minutes report from last week on how police departments around the country arrest college students for selling small amount of marijuana to friends (hey, that means they aren’t just users, but drug dealers!) and then turns them into confidential informants putting them into very dangerous situations.  Get caught selling a small amount of marijuana to a personal acquaintance and next thing you know, the cops might be asking you to buy illegal guns and cocaine.  No, that’s not safe.  Oh, and they are also quite happy for you to try and turn your friends into “drug dealers” so they can get even more arrests.  Oh, don’t you just love the war on drugs.  It is so amazingly corrupting of what it has law enforcement do (and they, of course, endlessly justify it).  Some guy sells $25 of marijuana to a fraternity brother and you get cops arguing they are keeping a dangerous “drug dealer” off the streets.  Just wrong.

Watch here.

Cruz for the win?

Chris Cilizza makes a not at all unreasonable argument that we should be considering Cruz the favorite now.  Some key points:

1. Cruz is positioned as the most conservative candidate in the race. Although Trump gets all the attention for his over-the-top statements, Cruz has staked out a position on the far right on virtually every major hot-button issue, including immigration…

2. Cruz has raised the second-most money in the Republican race. Bet you didn’t know that! …

Cruz’s $65 million raised is all the more impressive because, unlike Bush, who raised the vast majority of his money with the support of his Right to Rise super PAC, Cruz has a relatively even balance between the funds raised for his campaign committee ($26.5 million) and those collected by a universe of supportive super PACs ($38 million). Having so much money in his campaign account means that Cruz will get more bang for his buck, because candidates get the lowest unit rate on TV ad buying while super PACs have to pay full freight for their airtime…

3. Cruz is the Iowa front-runner. Recent history makes clear that you need to win one of the first three states — Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina — to have a realistic chance of being the party’s nominee….

Winning Iowa would give Cruz momentum going into New Hampshire — where he currently sits at third — and into South Carolina, a state, like Iowa, whose Republican primary electorate is quite socially conservative…

4. The calendar beyond the Big 3 favors Cruz. Winning one of the first three states is almost certainly the way a candidate makes it to March. But assuming Cruz can win Iowa (at least), the calendar starts to look very favorable to him beyond February. On March 1, what’s being referred to as the “SEC primary” takes place; Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas will vote on that first Tuesday in March…

But Trump (being Trump) and Rubio (what early state does he win?) [emphasis mine] also have problems. And Cruz’s strengths are considerable, particularly when you consider how these races typically play out.

Rubio has been the smart money choice for a while, but at some point he’s actually got to catch fire.  The longer he goes without doing so, the less likely it presumably becomes.  I’m not about to write Rubio off, but I think there’s definitely a strong case for Cruz as the most likely nominee at this point.

On a related note, a pretty interesting story on how much Cruz is using data and analytics (e.g., Obama-style) to strengthen his campaign.  Not what I would’ve expected from Cruz.

Finally, a Wonkblog post what Cruz actually believes and I started off thinking, wait, maybe he’s not actually so bad (he’s notably less hawkish on the Middle East and appropriately skeptical of the modern surveillance state.  And he even supports a European-style VAT). Of course there’s the huge spending cuts, but most notably, the certifiably loony embrace of the gold standard:

In general, Cruz favors a return to the gold standard. As Greg Ip explains in the Wall Street Journal, central banks manage crises by reducing the price of currency with low interest rates, and basing the dollar on the price of gold would substantially limit the ability of the Federal Reserve to respond to a catastrophe…

Cruz’s operatives are quietly reaching out to Rand Paul’s early supporters and endorsers, making the case that the Texas senator is their best bet if they want a Republican nominee who is friendly to libertarians.

Recently, though, Cruz has also said he believes the Federal Reserve did not do enough to stimulate the economy during the recent financial crisis. Had the country been on the gold standard at the time, the Federal Reserve would have been able to do even less. As the Federal Reserve reduced interest rates, speculators could have demanded gold from the central bank in exchange for cash as a hedge against the inflation in prices it was trying to produce, counteracting policymakers’ attempts to jolt the stalling economy back into motion.

Honestly, you don’t have to be an economist to understand that a return to the gold standard is about as dumb as it gets in monetary policy.  But, hey, the wingnuts love it.

Anyway, big picture, I’ll take a Cruz nomination.  Eminently more defeatable than Rubio.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus gallery of best news photos of the year:

This Thursday, January 22, 2015 photo made with a long exposure shows the glow from a Noctiluca scintillans algal bloom along the seashore in Hong Kong. The luminescence, also called sea sparkle, is triggered by farm pollution that can be devastating to marine life and local fisheries, according to University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye. Noctiluca itself does not produce neurotoxins like other similar organisms do. But its role as both prey and predator tends can eventually magnify the accumulation of toxins in the food chain, according to R. Eugene Turner at Louisiana State University.

Kin Cheung / AP

Chart of the day

Of course college-educated women versus non-college educated men are going to have very different candidate preferences, even within the Republican party.  But it is really amazing just how stark this difference is on Trump.  Via Gallup:


That’s a 36 point difference in net favorables– again, among only Republicans.  The next greatest disparity is the 23 point one of college-educated women’s preference for Jeb as compared to the non-college men.  Interesting stuff.

What to do about ISIS

Read lots of good stuff on the matter recently.  Short version: anybody with a simple answer is just full of it.  Has Obama made mistakes in the Middle East?  Of course.  But I would argue whoever was president would surely have also made significant mistakes.  Just as bad?  Maybe not.  But people need to stop pretending that there’s simple, obvious solutions to the Middle East and Obama is just now smart enough to implement them.  This stuff is complicated as hell, so of course anybody is going to get some stuff wrong.

What I like most about Obama on the matter, though, is his overall approach as summarized by Peter Beinart:

For George W. Bush, the fight against jihadist terrorism was World War III. In hisspeech to Congress nine days after 9/11, Bush called al-Qaeda “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century … they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism.” Many Republicans still see the “war on terror” in these epic terms. After the Paris attacks, Marco Rubio didn’t merely warn that the Islamic State might take over Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East. He warned that it might take over the United States. America, heargued, is at war with people who “literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical Sunni Islamic view of the future.” In his telling, the United States and “radical Islam” are virtual equals, pitted in a “civilizational conflict” that “either they win or we win.”

Obama thinks that’s absurd. Unlike Rubio, he considers violent jihadism a small, toxic strain within Islamic civilization, not a civilization itself. And unlike Bush, he doesn’t consider it a serious ideological competitor. In the 1930s, when fascism and communism were at their ideological height, many believed they could produce higher living standards for ordinary people than democratic capitalist societies that were prone to devastating cycles of boom and bust. No one believes that about “radical Islam” today. In Obama’s view, I suspect, democratic capitalism’s real ideological adversary is not the “radical Islam” of ISIS. It’s the authoritarian, state-managed capitalism of China.

Yes.  Count me on board with this.  It may be Obama is under-estimating ISIS, but there’s a good case to be made it is just as, or even more, dangerous to over-estimate it.

Similarly useful analysis from James Fallows:

Sunday evening’s speech about terrorism distilled what people like, and don’t, about President Obama’s leadership style. I liked the logic he laid out and the realities he tried to convey. But I understand that the aspects I found most impressive will seem the biggest weaknesses to some other people.

From my point of view, the crucial fact about the speech is that Obama understands how terrorism works, and how its effects can best be minimized and blunted.

Note “minimize,” rather than eliminate. There are evils and forms of damage that societies can reduce, without imagining that they can be brought to zero…

In the 50+ years since the Surgeon General’s report, smoking rates have gone way down. But every day, nearly 500 Americans die of lung cancer. Similarly societies work to drive down the rates of murder, domestic violence, and other evils, knowing they can’t fully eliminate them.

The same is true of terrorism. No society, not even a fully totalitarian state, can guarantee that all its members will always be safe against a renegade bomber, shooter, knifer, etc. Protection and resilience, yes. Perfect safety, no. In any society, some terrorist attacks will succeed, and people and leaders need to steel themselves to that fact, and decide in advance how they will react to inevitable failures and outrages , so as to avoid vastly magnifying the terrorists’ effects… [italics, fallows, bold is mine]

The gravest damage always comes from the response they evoke, from what the target society does to itself  when attacked. The United States lost thousands of its own (and other countries’) people, and hundreds of billions of dollars, on 9/11. It lost incomparably more—in lives, treasure, values and integrity, long-term strategic harm—through the self-inflicted damage of deciding to invade Iraq. Thus the goal of an attack is only incidentally to kill. Its real ambition is to terrorize—to provoke, to disorient, to tempt a society or government to lose sight of its long-term values and interests.

Drum points out that, whatever their existential rhetoric, other than Lindsey (tens of thousands of ground troops) Graham, none of the Republicans are call for all that much different than Obama:

Do any of the Republican candidates have a plan for defeating ISIS?  As near as I can tell, most of them have offered up variations on this:

  • Bomb ISIS, just like Obama, but better.
  • Use Iraqi ground troops, just like Obama, but better.
  • Put together a coalition of local allies, just like Obama, but better.

Am I missing anything? Aside from being more bellicose (the sand will glow, we’ll bomb the shit out of them, etc.), all of the candidates are saying that Obama’s strategy is basically sound, but they’d tweak it a bit here and there. They’d stop worrying about civilian deaths so they could drop more bombs. They’d somehow train Iraqi forces better than the Army is doing right now. And they’d put together areal coalition, though it’s never really clear what they mean by that or how they’d accomplish it.

Anything else?

Political Scientist Barbara Smith outlines ISIS “provocation strategy.”  Without getting into the domestic politics of it in her post, it is pretty clear that Republican responses play right into what ISIS wants:

The second strategy is a provocation strategy. It’s designed to goad France, Turkey, Russia, and the West into a disproportionate military response that kills innocent Muslims, radicalizing them, and increasing the pool of recruits for ISIS…

3.  Finally, states targeted with terrorism should work hard to minimize the psychological costs of terrorism and the tendency people have to overact. Governments should be careful not to overstate the threat since this plays into the hands of ISIS. The more costs states inflict on themselves in the name of counterterrorism policies of dubious utility, the more likely a war of attrition strategy is to succeed.

Yes, a thousand times yes.  Are you listening Rubio, Cruz, Trump, etc.?  Clearly not.  All these politicians and pundits out there wanted Obama to rattle the sabers not realizing that is exactly what ISIS wants.

Alright, then, how are we supposed to solve the ISIS problem.  Vox’s Max Fischer lays out the absurdly complicated difficulty of actually pulling this off.  The simple truth is all of our choices are bad, it is just a matter of choosing the less bad ones.  Again, anybody saying there are easy and obvious choices is full of it:

That said, there are two things up for debate, and even if the contours are obscured by campaign noise and media hype, those debates are serious and legitimately difficult. The first debate is this: how best to close a handful of well-known gaps between what America is currently capable of doing and what needs to be done in order to defeat ISIS. Those gaps are not enormous, but they are very difficult.

The second debate, more theoretical but in many ways much harder, is this: at what point American efforts to close those gaps risk backfiring dangerously, worsening the problem rather than alleviating it, and thus at what point the US is better off going slow or even accepting elements of the status quo.

No one wants to admit it, particularly not in the middle of a presidential campaign, but the hard truth is that America faces two bad choices on ISIS. Either it can adopt the high-risk, high-reward strategies necessary to wipe out ISIS, even though these strategies could fail or even backfire, perhaps catastrophically. Or the US can choose the safer path, managing and minimizing ISIS’s threats without solving the problem completely, knowing this means that some number of attacks will probably continue.

Read it to learn more about these choices (my son asked me what to do about ISIS and I just sent him this link).

Again, I’m sure Obama will continue to make mistakes regarding the Middle East and terrorism.  It’s almost impossible not to in such a dynamic, multi-faceted situation, but I also feel sure that Obama’s overall beliefs about terrorism and how to respond are, in the long term, far more likely to be effective than simplistic, “bomb the shit out them” responses.


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