Monday, March 30, 2009

March 30, 2009
Editorial, New York Times
Reviewing Criminal Justice
America’s criminal justice system needs repair. Prisons are overcrowded, sentencing policies are uneven and often unfair, ex-convicts are poorly integrated into society, and the growing problem of gang violence has not received the attention it deserves. For these and other reasons, a bill introduced last week by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, should be given high priority on the Congressional calendar.
The bill, which has strong bipartisan support, would establish a national commission to review the system from top to bottom. It is long overdue, and should be up and running as soon as possible.
The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. More than 1 in 100 adults are now behind bars, for the first time in history. The incarceration rate has been rising faster than the crime rate, driven by harsh sentencing policies like “three strikes and you’re out,” which impose long sentences that are often out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense.
Keeping people in prison who do not need to be there is not only unjust but also enormously expensive, which makes the problem a priority right now. Hard-pressed states and localities that reduce prison costs will have more money to help the unemployed, avert layoffs of teachers and police officers, and keep hospitals operating. In the last two decades, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report, state corrections spending soared 127 percent, while spending on higher education increased only 21 percent.
Meanwhile, as governments waste money putting the wrong people behind bars, gang activity has been escalating, accounting for as much as 80 percent of the crime in some parts of the country.
The commission would be made up of recognized criminal justice experts, and charged with examining a range of policies that have emerged haphazardly across the country and recommending reforms. In addition to obvious problems like sentencing, the commission would bring much-needed scrutiny to issues like the special obstacles faced by the mentally ill in the system, as well as the shameful problem of prison violence.
Prison management and inmate treatment need special attention now that the Prison Litigation Reform Act has drastically scaled back prisoners’ ability to vindicate their rights in court. Indeed, the commission should consider recommending that the law be modified or repealed.
Mr. Webb has enlisted the support of not only the Senate’s top-ranking Democrats, including the majority leader, Harry Reid, but also influential Republicans like Arlen Specter, the ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey Graham, the ranking member of the crime and drugs subcommittee.
There is no companion bill in the House, and one needs to be written. Judging by the bipartisan support in the Senate, a national consensus has emerged that the criminal justice system is broken. Print Friendly and PDF

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Pubdate: Wed, 25 Mar 2009
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2009 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Jonathan Saltzman

Officials Want Children Shielded

Dozens of Massachusetts cities and towns are taking steps to impose
stiff new fines for smoking marijuana in public and even to charge
some violators with misdemeanors, a trend that critics say subverts
the state ballot question passed overwhelmingly last fall to
decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In recent weeks, at least seven communities - Duxbury, Lynn, Methuen,
Medway, Milford, Salem, and Springfield - have passed bylaws that
target people who light up in public. And two dozen cities and towns
expect to vote this spring on similar measures, which proponents liken
to local open container laws that ban drinking alcohol in public.

Police officials say they want to discourage flagrant marijuana
smoking, particularly in public parks, schoolyards, and on beaches
where young children gather. While last year's ballot initiative
reduced possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to a civil
infraction carrying a $100 fine, police say that some marijuana
smokers mistakenly believe that the voters legalized the drug

"If you're smoking marijuana in front of schoolchildren, to me that's
a little bit more serious than smoking a joint by yourself out in the
middle of the woods," said Salem police Captain Brian Gilligan. His
city recently authorized officers to fine public smokers $300 in
addition to the $100 fine for possession. The Salem bylaw also lets
officers give them a misdemeanor summons, although Gilligan predicted
that few will get them.

Advocates of last fall's ballot initiative say the new civil fines for
smoking marijuana in public are, at best, unnecessary because those
individuals can already be fined for possession. At worst, they say,
bylaws that treat smoking violations as a misdemeanor are a backdoor
attempt to subvert the will of Massachusetts voters, who approved
decriminalization in November by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Commentary: Legalize Drugs to Stop Violence

Commentary: Legalize drugs to stop violence
Jeffrey Miron: Thousands have been killed in Mexico's ongoing drug war
He says U.S. drug policy leads to corruption of politicians and law enforcement
Miron: Legalizing drugs is the best way to reduce drug violence
He says drugs should be controlled through regulation and taxation
By Jeffrey A. MironSpecial to CNN
Editor's note: Jeffrey A. Miron is senior lecturer in economics at Harvard University.
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Over the past two years, drug violence in Mexico has become a fixture of the daily news. Some of this violence pits drug cartels against one another; some involves confrontations between law enforcement and traffickers.
Recent estimates suggest thousands have lost their lives in this "war on drugs."
The U.S. and Mexican responses to this violence have been predictable: more troops and police, greater border controls and expanded enforcement of every kind. Escalation is the wrong response, however; drug prohibition is the cause of the violence.
Prohibition creates violence because it drives the drug market underground. This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration or advertising, so they resort to violence instead.
Violence was common in the alcohol industry when it was banned during Prohibition, but not before or after.
Violence is the norm in illicit gambling markets but not in legal ones. Violence is routine when prostitution is banned but not when it's permitted. Violence results from policies that create black markets, not from the characteristics of the good or activity in question.
The only way to reduce violence, therefore, is to legalize drugs. Fortuitously, legalization is the right policy for a slew of other reasons.
Prohibition of drugs corrupts politicians and law enforcement by putting police, prosecutors, judges and politicians in the position to threaten the profits of an illicit trade. This is why bribery, threats and kidnapping are common for prohibited industries but rare otherwise. Mexico's recent history illustrates this dramatically.
Prohibition erodes protections against unreasonable search and seizure because neither party to a drug transaction has an incentive to report the activity to the police. Thus, enforcement requires intrusive tactics such as warrantless searches or undercover buys. The victimless nature of this so-called crime also encourages police to engage in racial profiling.
Prohibition has disastrous implications for national security. By eradicating coca plants in Colombia or poppy fields in Afghanistan, prohibition breeds resentment of the United States. By enriching those who produce and supply drugs, prohibition supports terrorists who sell protection services to drug traffickers.
Prohibition harms the public health. Patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma and other conditions cannot use marijuana under the laws of most states or the federal government despite abundant evidence of its efficacy. Terminally ill patients cannot always get adequate pain medication because doctors may fear prosecution by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Drug users face restrictions on clean syringes that cause them to share contaminated needles, thereby spreading HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases.
Prohibitions breed disrespect for the law because despite draconian penalties and extensive enforcement, huge numbers of people still violate prohibition. This means those who break the law, and those who do not, learn that obeying laws is for suckers.
Prohibition is a drain on the public purse. Federal, state and local governments spend roughly $44 billion per year to enforce drug prohibition. These same governments forego roughly $33 billion per year in tax revenue they could collect from legalized drugs, assuming these were taxed at rates similar to those on alcohol and tobacco. Under prohibition, these revenues accrue to traffickers as increased profits.
The right policy, therefore, is to legalize drugs while using regulation and taxation to dampen irresponsible behavior related to drug use, such as driving under the influence. This makes more sense than prohibition because it avoids creation of a black market. This approach also allows those who believe they benefit from drug use to do so, as long as they do not harm others.
Legalization is desirable for all drugs, not just marijuana. The health risks of marijuana are lower than those of many other drugs, but that is not the crucial issue. Much of the traffic from Mexico or Colombia is for cocaine, heroin and other drugs, while marijuana production is increasingly domestic. Legalizing only marijuana would therefore fail to achieve many benefits of broader legalization.
It is impossible to reconcile respect for individual liberty with drug prohibition. The U.S. has been at the forefront of this puritanical policy for almost a century, with disastrous consequences at home and abroad.
The U.S. repealed Prohibition of alcohol at the height of the Great Depression, in part because of increasing violence and in part because of diminishing tax revenues. Similar concerns apply today, and Attorney General Eric Holder's recent announcement that the Drug Enforcement Administration will not raid medical marijuana distributors in California suggests an openness in the Obama administration to rethinking current practice.
Perhaps history will repeat itself, and the U.S. will abandon one of its most disastrous policy experiments.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeffrey Miron.
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After Yucca: America's homeless nuclear waste

In Idaho. In Massachusetts. In Iowa, Nebraska, Texas, Louisiana, California, New Mexico -- at 120 locations in 39 states a total of 66,000 tons of used but still dangerously radioactive fuel are stored in concrete containers under the open sky.

And now it has nowhere else to go.
In this June 25, 2002 file photo, the view from the summit ridge of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump near Mercury, Nev.,looking west towards California. (The Associated Press file photo)
But President Barack Obama opposes the repository and has slashed funding for it in his budget proposal. "Both the president and I have made clear that Yucca Mountain is not a workable option and that we will begin a thoughtful dialogue on a better solution for our nuclear storage waste needs," Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a Senate budget panel recently.
Concerns about transportation safety, earthquakes, water contamination and its proximity to millions of Nevadans have stalled the repository's completion after two decades and billions of dollars of study and construction.

Some even contend that the Yucca Mountain project is dead.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Monsanto's Many Attempts to Destroy All Seeds but Their Own

Some say that if farmers don’t want problems from Monsanto, they simply shouldn’t buy Monsanto’s GMO seeds. But it isn’t quite that simple. Monsanto contaminates the fields, trespasses onto the land taking samples, and then sues, saying they own the crop.

Meanwhile, Monsanto is taking many other steps to keep farmers and everyone else from having any access at all to buying, collecting, and saving of normal seeds:

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