Friday, October 25, 2013

When Pot is Legal Everywhere

Over the years, I have nurtured my inner libertarian.  My embrace of liberty has less to do with theory and more to do with my attitude of “leave me alone.”  Unlike Thoreau who suggested, “That government is best which governs not at all,” I believe in limited government.  I want government to be competent and active but only in the areas that are proper for it.  I also give more latitude to local government.  If the people of New York or California want to destroy the business climate, at least people can move somewhere else.  

Nevertheless, there is a favorite issue among libertarians that I just don’t get excited about—the legalization of drugs.  I am sympathetic to the plight of non-violent drug offenders sitting behind prison bars, and I favor local control on the issue.  However, libertarians often don’t acknowledge the realities surrounding the issue of legalization.

I enjoy reading, and I appreciate Nick Gillespie’s writing there.  However, I was a little surprised at his column on Time’s website entitled, “8 Things We Won’t Miss When Pot is Legal Everywhere.”  With legalization, he argues, certain annoyances will disappear.

  1. “Vapid anti-drug commercials.”  Currently the U.S. government provides subsidies to growers of a legal substance while paying money for anti-smoking campaigns.  I do not imagine that those anti-drug commercials are going anywhere.  Even if government dropped its public health role, I wouldn’t discourage non-profits to spend advertising dollars to encourage teenagers to stay off drugs.
  2. "Ritual apologies by world-class athletes.” Private organizations such as Major League Baseball or the National Football League already regulate drug use beyond the laws. I don’t expect that to change. Likewise, sponsors hoping to protect their brands often regulate the private behavior of athletes. Legalization does not imply social acceptance. Take a look at tobacco.
  3. “Breath-taking personal hypocrisy by politicians.” I would hope that Gillespie is correct here. It is annoying that the rich and powerful can get away with smoking pot in their youth, but the poor today get incarcerated. However, I don’t know that legalization will make a huge difference in the hypocrisy of politicians.
  4. “Long federal prison sentences for legitimate business owners.” This might happen with legalization, but we must acknowledge that there will be regulation of pot. Legalization will only go so far. For example, no one argues that pot should be available to 5 year olds. I would guess that marijuana will be as regulated as firmly as alcohol or tobacco if not more.
  5. “People denied medical marijuana treatments.” I never understood the issue of medical marijuana. If marijuana has any medicinal benefit, it should be allowed under a doctor’s care. However, I would never assume that marijuana will be treated different than other drugs. The state will continue to regulate both the drug and the delivery system.
  6. “Arguments that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’.” Marijuana use doesn’t necessary lead to harder drug use. However, there is a strong correlation between marijuana use and drug use like cocaine. Granted, correlation is not causation. Nonetheless, society will need to address the negative effects of marijuana use. If the government will not be making that argument, I know that churches, charities, or even businesses will do so.
  7. “Arrests for simple possession.” This is probably the only thing on the list that will actually disappear “when pot is legal everywhere.” However, social costs associated with drug abuse and driving intoxicated will still be with us. Society will search for other ways to address these concerns. That might mean a stronger social welfare state for those who cannot hold jobs or are in need of rehabilitation. It also might mean higher automobile insurance or medical insurance premiums. It might mean fewer qualified candidates for jobs.
  8. “Drug raids that go wrong.” Legalization will not make tragedies disappear. Granted that police will be spending less time looking for drugs. However, their job will become much more stressful and intrusive. For example, I don’t anticipate that laws against driving while intoxicated will go away. However, checking a person for marijuana is much harder than giving someone a Breathalyzer test for alcohol. Police will need blood or urine samples.
At the very end of the article, Nick Gillespie acknowledges that “Legalizing pot won’t create a problem-free country”. That is quite a concession. I am quite willing to entertain the legalization of marijuana. However, waving a magic wand and making drug laws disappear will not change the underlying reasons for that legislation. I would guess that there are be better solutions outside prosecution and incarceration. However, we need to have a conversation about those solutions before we get rid of those laws.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Q&A: Would you be comfortable?

It's time once again for my opportunity to answer the questions that no one has asked me.   As I watch the news, I often wonder what I would have said under similar circumstances.  I'm lucky because I have weeks to think about my answer. 

Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, is currently making a stir in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.  Personally, I find Cain a compelling figure.  I like his biography and his experience.  I've never been a CEO, but I've run a pizza restaurant.  I have no problem with a president who once asked, "thin or deep dish?"

The question that Cain received was, "Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim to your cabinet or as a federal judge?"  What we receive here is only an excerpt.  Both the questioner and Cain suggest a prior conversation about the role of Islam in American society.  I can't help to think that something is missing something from the conversation.  Cain certainly looks annoyed with the questioner.  Giving Cain the benefit of the doubt, I was still perplexed with his answer.

Herman Cain emphatically states that he would not appoint a Muslim.  He then states that he is concerned about the imposition of Sharia law on American society.  I certainly wouldn't want that either.  As a Christian, I am very quick to point out that I reject the main tenets of the Islamic faith.  Nonetheless, religious bodies in the United States use their own law to regulate the life of the community.  However, there are limits to the freedom of religion.  For example, recently an appeals court in New Jersey overturned a state judge who accepted Sharia law as an excuse for marital rape.  I would suspect that the judge probably knew as little as I do about Sharia.

A president should only appoint those who he or she believes will be faithful to the U.S. Constitution and the law.  Also, I would hope that a president would inquire into how the Constitution should be interpreted.  The question is really about living and working within a pluralistic society. 

Here's my response to the question:
Q:  Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim to your cabinet or as a federal judge?

A:  A president never appoints generic categories to positions of authority.  Each person has a name, a character, a background, particular beliefs, and talents.  These individuals will be thoroughly vetted, and I will only make the appointment if I am comfortable that they will uphold the constitution of the United States.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Q&A: "What is your take on jihad?"

When I watch debates, interviews and press conferences, I often think how I would have answered the question differently.  That doesn't mean I would do a better job.  I have the benefit of sitting at home away from the television cameras and the pressure.  I don't have to worry about an election or world opinion.  Still, it's fun to play the game. 

Today, President Obama is getting flack about an answer he gave to a Catholic schoolgirl in Indonesia.  The question was, "What is your take on jihad?"  The president is speaking before a Christian audience in an Islamic country while fighting a war in another Islamic country.  He is walking a tightrope.  I certainly don't envy the guy.  Still, I find it bizarre that the president would want to get into a debate about the finer points of Islamic doctrine.  I suggest keeping things simple.

Here's my response to the question:
Q: What is your take on jihad?

A:  I am not a Muslim, nor am I a religious scholar.  As a result, it would be presumptuous of me to explain the tenets of another faith.  Nonetheless, I know peace-loving people of many faiths, and I am willing to work with them to make this world a better place.

Likewise, I am familiar with people who hate and use violence against innocents.  It doesn't matter if they justify their actions by a religion or a particular ideology.  We should stand against them on the side of justice.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Peace through Irony

I applaud Jon Stewart and his “Rally to Restore Sanity” that took place in Washington D.C. last weekend.  I frankly didn’t watch much.  Instead, I saw bits and pieces afterwards on the internet.  As always, I’m impressed when thousands of people can peacefully gather together without incident. 

I enjoy smart humor, and over the years, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have delivered.  However, I am just not that interested any more.  In the past, I thought Colbert had the better wit, but he is becoming more and more self-parody.  Stewart still has his moments, but the smugness is wearing thin. 

The shtick seems to be that we take ourselves way too seriously.  Don’t hold opinions or beliefs too tightly.  Otherwise, you’re divisive.  In fact, you might be mentally unstable.  The best example of this argument that occurred at the fake rally hosted by the fake newsmen was when they asked a fake priest to offer a fake prayer.  Fr. Guido Sarducci, a character by comedian Don Novello, asked God for a sign of which religion is correct.  When God didn’t answer, Sarducci was left in an awkward position of thanking God for dogs and good works by other people. 

The agenda is peace through irony.  If no one had deeply held convictions, we could sure get more accomplished around here.  Our divisions are suggested to be simply matters of taste like the person who prefers Mexican food to Italian food.  If so, it does little good to yell at one another about it.  We should just get over our preferences.  John Lennon’s Imagine is probably the best anthem for this attitude. 
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I am very sympathetic to the cause.  I decry the meanness found in our public life.  I think that many of our differences and disputes at their source are meaningless.  I long for debate that is thoughtful and reasoned.  Do we really think the Daily Show is the solution?  Laughing at silly divisions doesn’t necessarily create unity.  In fact, it often leads to self-satisfaction and self-righteousness. 

Someone from the rally “tweeted” a picture of a sign.  It had a simple, clever message, “  +  >  ÷  ”.  The person commented, “The best thing about this sign is that the Tea Party won’t understand it” (my paraphrase).  Talk about irony. 

Moreover, some divisions are important.  Some differences are meaningful and should not be dismissed.  Depending on the cause, dying for something or someone can be noble.  Strongly held and defended beliefs can promote a better society.  How do we make the case to our neighbors?  The question is not one of sanity but civility. 

In a way, Jon Stewart’s final statement was the best moment of the entire rally.  He finally was talking about how we get along in a society.  The example of cars on the freeway entering a tunnel was smart. 
Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.
The drivers will get to their destinations because each person makes, in Stewart’s words, “little reasonable compromises”—a concession here,  a concession there.  Stewart is absolutely right, but the question is why?  No one on the stage was answering, "Why does civil society work?"  If we can answer that question, we will go a long way to solve our problems.  For example, I would suggest that honking your horn is a preferable way to deal with a problem than shooting the driver next to you.  I prefer shouting on cable news shows than fighting in the streets. 

Drawing upon our traditions, history and heritage, what are our non-negotiables?  Irony is not enough.  Eventually we need to stand for something.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Terrorism as a Disqualifier

After the destructive acts of September 11th, 2001, the United States responded with a "War on Terror."  Critics of all political stripes have suggested that the name doesn't fit.  Even President Bush, who coined the name in June of 2002, was not keen on the name in 2004 when he stated,
"We actually misnamed the war on terror. It ought to be: 'the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.'"
Some take issue with the designation of "war".  I think this was the rationale behind President Obama dropping the name.  He has opted for a bureaucratic and innocuous sounding name, "Overseas Contingency Operation." With large numbers of troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan where bullets and bombs continue to kill, it seems a bit disingenuous to call those conflicts anything other than wars. 

Others take issue with the term "terror."  Pastor Rick Warren actually made this point in a recent "tweet".
Terrorism is a TACTIC. You dont fight a war against a method (like blitzkrieg) It's a battle of ideas, a war of worldviews
I actually tend to agree with this argument. The battle is with a particular terrorist entity and perhaps the failed nation-states who harbor them.  I found Peter Breinart helpful as he describes the conflict with Al Qaeda as a long-term ideological struggle.  Just like the "Cold War", this struggle will be fought with military and law enforcement, but also with education, diplomacy, and economic aid.

That being said, I do find something useful in the designation, "War on Terror."  In its imperfect and clunky way, the title suggests that terrorism is out-of-bounds.  If we are entering a period of history marked by the clash of civilizations and ideologies, then we should establish some ground rules.  However legitimate our concerns, we cannot further our political ends by terrorism.  The person or group who commits terrorist acts has given up the right to be heard. 

For example, the abolitionist cause in the United States before the Civil War was just.  However, John Brown's armed insurrection disqualified him personally from taking part in the debate.  Likewise, I found Chris Kennedy's position on refusing William Ayers emeritis status at the University of Illinois at Chicago correct:
“There is nothing more antithetical to the hopes for a university that is lively and yet civil, or to the hopes of our founding fathers for their great experiment of a self-governing people, than to permanently seal off debate with one’s opponents by killing them.”
My only regret is that William Ayers was given a teaching position in the first place.  Can someone renounce violence and return to the debate?  Yes, I certainly would welcome that possibility.  Nonetheless, our methods are as important as our ends.  Frankly, I may be naive, but I have confidence that truth will ultimately succeed if civility rules the debate.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Avoid Speeches on the Constitution?

I recently read the article "Republicans and the Tea Party - Enlist but Avoid Speeches on the Constitution" by Kate Zernike.  Unfortunately, I can't tell if this is Ms. Zernike's advice for the Republicans or the mood within the Republican party.  The only authority that she cites is Stuart Rothenburg who is a non-partisan political analyst.
“You see these rallies and the signs are all about the Constitution,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of a nonpartisan political report. “They want it to be about these big ideological ideas, when I don’t think most voters think that way. It’s very clear that what’s best for the election is to make it about Obama, Pelosi, health care, the deficit.” 
From wherever the advice is coming, I disagree.  It seems that the American people could benefit from a large-scale debate about the Constitution and the proper role of government.  Some guy in a tricorn hat railing on the 17th Amendment and the direct election of senators might be a non-starter, but American rhetoric needs more than "who's hot" and "who's not".  In the last presidential election, I was sadly disappointed that neither candidate seemed willing or able to articulate a governing philosophy.  There are hard questions facing the republic, and many voters want to know how a leader thinks. What can government do and not do?  What are the limits to freedom?  How will a leader establish priorities and resolve conflicts of interest? 

All these folks dressed as Revolutionary reenactors have a point.  History and our founding documents matter.  The excesses of the Tea Party movement should be met with principled argument, not ridicule.  Whether the issue is health care or war in the Middle East or the role of religion in society, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" require some explanation.  Americans are generally conservative, and they want to know that the rules aren't changing in the middle of the game.  At the very least, they want to know that change is consistent with their heritage and principles.  The conservatism of which I speak is not ideological.  It's an outlook.  In a few years, I bet we will hear again that the Republicans have overreached precisely because they forgot this advice. 
In the meantime, showing disdain for the Constitution is not the way to get elected.  

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11th

Nine years ago, we were reminded that evil is real, that heroes exist, and that hope never dies. Despite her sins, America remains a beautiful, wonderful land whose greatest resource is her people. Let us not forget those who died, those who mourn, and the children whose parents are never coming home.

"Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:23-25).