Friday, August 06, 2010

Man Arrested for Providing Drunk People Free Rides

In an effort to help keep drunk drivers off the roads, Jonathan Schoenakase of Quincy, Illinois decided that he would start giving would-be drunk drivers rides home, free of charge.

His service operates only on donations and when things started to pick up, he decides to bring on another car and a bus. But taxi companies, annoyed that Schoenakase was stealing their drunken customers (in reality, he was preventing people who don't take taxis from getting behind the wheel) went to the city and demanded that all taxis must have a sign saying "for hire" in order to operate - making Schoenakase's business unable to operate legally since he only took donations.

He continued to pick people up and was arrested by a plain clothes police officer in a sting operation.
Jonathon Schoenakase, 1711 Melview Road, was arrested at 1:30 Saturday morning after he picked up a plain clothes Quincy Police officer from the Phoenix night club.

Lt. Jason Simmons says the sting was conducted following complaints about Schoenakase's continuing operations from "other licensed operators".
Safe ride programs, something SSDP promotes on college campuses, should be a no-brainer. Whether they're allowed to operate under a taxi license or some other regulation, a city government should be working with someone who is keeping drunk drivers off the road instead of arresting them. That's bad policy.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Fence Sitting: Felipe Calderon's "Debate" about Drug Legalization in Mexico

Note: Remarks in Spanish about Legalization Begin Around Minute 13:00

The ebb and flow of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's recent remarks acknowledging the need for a debate in Mexico about drug legalization, reminded me of a history professor of mine in the University of London. When asked about the appropriate position to take in writing an essay--a written form of debate--he said that English men never took a position, and he quipped that they liked fence-sitting because they relished the sensation.

It's hard to believe that Felipe Calderon enjoys the way he's chosen to sit on the fence of a debate about drug legalization. What did he say about a legalization of drugs debate to a gathering of Church, civic leaders, and government ministers at a conference on Tuesday 3 August? Did he call for a debate, as some websites and some papers claimed, or were his comments more muted, acknowledging a debate could occur but not really support its substance?

Calderon's remarks, which were recorded, archived, and transcribed on the Presidencia's website, are worth reading verbatim. Contrary to what the papers printed, he's clearly not going to do anything to promote a debate about legalization. Calderon's words reveal a president not taking a position, opening up debate, but stifling its outcome. It's not fence-sitting at all, it's jeopardizing a debate before it has been joined. It reveals a supportive view of a government policy--prohibition--that has occasioned the deaths of 28,000 people.

For the record, Calderon said:

"I take note, of the debate that has arisen here, about the regulation of drugs. It's a fundamental debate that I think ought primarily to exist in a plural democracy, and that it's a good thing to have this debate in the country. What they ought always to analyze profoundly are the conveniences and inconvenieces. The arguments of one and the other are fundamental.

On one side, there are those who allege precisely, that legalization] would imply an enormous increase of consumption in various generations of Mexicans, partly because of economic effect itself would diminish the price. In part, this increase would come about because of availability; in part, also because of the idea it creates ultimately that it is acceptable and socially good, and even let's say medicinal, that cultural uses hold high importance. Legalization implies that a country takes a decision to risk various generations of young people and adolescents.

But, on the other, it has important economic value, in the sense that it reduces important income sources for criminality.

On the other hand, however, if the best argument in favor of legalization is, precisely, that the reduction in the black market price will generate benefits, and if these are products not determined by national price and to one of our sides is the greatest consumer of drugs in the world; it means that the price is determined internationally, so that what we do ourelves in respect to this subject of price is going to be irrelevant and we are only going to pay negative consequences and, really rather little or nothing of the positive benefits."

It's important to notice what he failed to say about legalization. Calderon failed to mention that three former Latin American Presidents, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, all working in consort with other noted people, have urged countries to consider the legalization of marijuana. He didn't acknowledge the current debate in California, the world's sixth largest economy, which is preparing to vote on a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana. Calderon also didn't mention relevant examples of past and ongoing decriminalization, such as Portugal, where drug addiction rates have decreased and not increased.

Within hours, the press office of Los Pinos (Calderon's official offices and residence) offered a clarification of his statement. It's difficult to enhance a position that seems clearly to talk around a policy of legalization. The Latin American Herald Tribune reported that Calderon does not want legalization at all. Was he proposing simply to talk about the idea, rather than deliberate a policy?

The former seems to be the case. Calderon's press office concluded its statement summarizing the president's words:

"Hence, although being against the legalization of drugs, President Calderon is not opposed to a debate around this theme."

Doesn't seem that supportive, does it? Well, at least he doesn't just say no.

President Obama Signs Fair Sentencing Act

Today, President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from a 100:1 to 18:1 ratio. 

This is a historic day in drug policy and marks a significant reform to what was arguably the worst drug law ever enacted. 

SSDP's Aaron Houston was on Russia Today to discuss the sentencing disparity and what the new law means. Attempting to counter Aaron's arguments is TJ McCormack, a conservative radio show host. McCormack doesn't seem to know too much about the sentencing disparity and says some pretty outrageous things like President Obama is "pandering to African Americans" by signing this bill into law.  

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Felipe's Folly: "the violence is going to remain a while with us."

Isn't blood on a premier's hands a potent symbol, often of failure?

Not in Mexico, it seems. The country's president, Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, fails to be deterred from war against the drug trafficking organizations by the blooshed it has incurred. No quip or quote makes up for Felipe's folly. Indeed, the man from Michoacan, as Calderon could be known, seems to be able to turn policy failure into an argument for its continuation. As with Washington, D.C., -- as with all poles of power -- Mexico City is a looking-glass world.

Consider the following: Mexico, especially its north, has long been the most dangerous place for journalists to work in the Americas. In a hopefully unusual series of events, last week Mexico observers followed news of a prison director in Durango facilitating a mass murder at a party in Torreon. Then followed the kidnapping of four journalists covering news of a riot at the same prison. These journalists work in extremely dangerous conditions: the country has seen journalists' deaths climb to at least sixty since 2000. (The four journalists from Durango have since been released.) But what's more remarkable is that Calderon immediately used those journalists' kidnappings to signal a new intensity in his war, old yet seemingly new arguments about how violence must be used to defend democracy.

In a sleight of hand known only to self-righteous politicians, the president went as far to say that the drug trafficking organizations have "no limits or scruples."

But what really seems to have no limit under this president -- who has two more years to serve until Mexicans elect a new leader -- are the counting of the dead. The numbers go up and then they soar. (Nobody registers the dead people's names, the human rights abuse of failing to identify is not even an issue brought up by the Mexican mavens at the U.S. State Department.)

This summer has seen astronomical increases in registered homicides. In mid-July 2010, the Attorney General's office tallied 25,000 people as having died in the drug war since 2006. Fast forward a couple of weeks and a new total provided by the Center for Research and National Security (CISEN), a branch of Mexico's Federal Government, jacks the figure up to 28,000.

Felipe Calderon's comment? He sees no end in sight. Mexican newspaper El Financiero reports that Calderon stated that "the violence is going to remain a while with us."

Some analysts offer a correction to Felipe's folly. The problem is they have no place in the power structure. Ernesto Lopez Portillo, director of the Institute for Security and Democracy, offered his take on a war that has seen increasing amounts of funds coming to Mexico via the U.S. Department of State and the Merida Initiative for drug interdiction.
"We are at the stage of having more resources and not having better
results," Lopez Portillo said.
Another security analyst, Eduardo Guerrero, was reported by newspaper Milenio to have said that when the government's forces killed leaders of drug trafficking organizations, such as Nacho Coronel in late July -- the executive branch didn't seem to consider the wave of violence that might spring from it.
"What is more important, controlling demand for methamphetamine or controlling
the wave of violence?"

We know Calderon's answer to Guerrero's question. Soldier on. Quite literally.

So, with his talk of a new wave of violence and its duration, President Calderon has managed to turn a blind eye to his fellow citizen's bloodshed. And he has used the dead bodies to the defence of what is obviously his zero sum strategy -- bloodymindedness might be a better word -- against the drug trafficking organizations.