“Why do we continue to trust these [people]?”

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I’m not going to go to much into The Speechwriter, the equal parts memoir, coming of age story, and treatise on language by Barton Swain. I think that Will (who introduced me to it) might write about the actual book; because I very much want to read that post I’ll avoid saying much that he might say there.

I did, however, want to quote a paragraph from the book that was especially poignant to me. This paragraph comes at a time in the book when Swain’s disillusionment with the governor who employed him is finally made complete. And it answers more clearly than I have been able to suggestions by those here that my stated lack of trust in our political leaders is due to brainwashing or my simple-minded inability to understand things that are morally complex.

As usual when I talk of such things, I will give fair warning up front that this will change a sum total of zero minds here. Those that want to continue to trust those people that are breathlessly covered by Politic and Vanity Fair alike will will likely scoff at Swain’s words below; If not, they will at least find some loophole that allows to agree with Swain in theory while allowing that their candidate is clearly the exception that proves the rule.

But the paragraph too perfectly encapsulates my feelings about politics generally, political parties more specifically, and those political leaders we hoist upon our shoulders especially, for me not to share it here:

“Of course this isn’t new insight. Politicians have dishonored themselves and embarrassed their families and allies many times before, and their staff — sometimes in books like this one — have expressed shock and dismay at the way their chiefs have wanted to make it all go away with a few insincere apologies. Why do we continue to trust these men?

“Let me ask that question in a more pointed way: Why do we trust men who have sought and attained high office by innumerable acts of vanity and self-will? When a colleague makes a habit of insisting on his own competence and virtue, we may tolerate him, we may even admire his work, but his vanity is not an inducement to trust him. Why, then, do we trust these men who make careers of persuading us of their goodness and greatness, and who compete for out votes? Catherine Zuckert makes this point powerfully in an essay on Tom Sawyer. Tom, remember, is brave and clever and has a firm sense of the right thing to do, but he is animated mainly by a hunger for glory. He is, in short, the essence of an able politician. “People like Tom Sawyer serve others not for the sake of others,” write Zuckert. “They serve because they glory in receiving glory… We should reward such people with the fame they so desire — if and when they perform real public service. But we should not trust them.” I feel the force of that last sentence now: we go badly wrong when we trust them. Indeed much of the hand-wringing commentary about loss of trust in government resulting from Vietnam and Watergate is simply, I think, a failure to appreciate the simple truth that politicians should never have been trusted in the first place. They may be lauded when they’re right and venerated when they’re dead, but they should never be trusted.”

[Picture: Dorian Gray in front of his portrait, via Wikipedia.]

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138 thoughts on ““Why do we continue to trust these [people]?”

    • I really can’t call myself a libertarian anymore. Sure, I still wonder why in the hell so much of my life is under your (the generic “your”) jurisdiction because I know that that part of your (again, generic) life isn’t under mine…

      But Libertarianism is the fruit from a particular tree. I used to think that it was a vector but the vector requires a very particular starting point for it to work. If you can only get there from a particular place, how do you go about creating the circumstances that will allow more of those particular places to bloom?

      That’s what keeps me up at night now.

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      • I don’t understand what you mean, Jaybird. Are you saying that libertarianism is usually only endorsed by the well-to-do who “already got theirs”?

        This isn’t a challenge, by the way. I’m genuinely curious about what you mean.

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        • What I think Jaybird is saying that to reach and accept the ideological positions of libertarianism, you need to come from a culture that has it’s roots in the Enlightenment or even earlier because those are the philosophies that put the individual and liberty at the center of things. Without the Enlightenment than the ideas of libertarianism make no sense. Other societies have always been more communal in nature and more willing to say that society has a right to make everybody conform to the behavior of the group. In Japan, the proverb about this states that the nail that sticks out will be struck down. This is the antithesis of libertarianism but it is much more common way of seeing the world.

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        • I believe Jay is referring to his theory that libertarianism seems to require a certain cultural setting (rule of law plus liberal enlightenment values, I think?) either to work or to take hold (not quite clear on the details). He went into this at length in a post he wrote after returning from some middle Eastern country (Qatar?), which I am too lazy to look up.

          I think he’s exaggerating a bit when he says that he can’t call himself a libertarian anymore, and that what he really means is that libertarianism is a good thing to have in countries that have that cultural milieu but getting it to those countries that don’t have it is much more important. But I could be wrong.

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          • not quite clear on the details

            Neither am I. This is why it keeps me up at night.

            As for what I call myself, my focus has shifted. I still don’t believe that I am the boss of you (and vice-versa) but that seems secondary to a culture in which it’s meaningful to say such a thing.

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      • I’d say it’d make sense for it to keep you up at night because the enlightenment is what it takes and looking back on our enlightenment what precipitated it? Blood, a great deal or blood and war. Hundreds of years of it.

        Now other societies seem to move up the ladder faster now that there’s a previous example, so maybe the Middle East/Islamic Society will only take decades of wars? If so then even the optimistic position is pretty damn depressing.

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        • East Asian societies seem to have been adopting to Enlightenment positions much faster than Islamic-majority positions. It helps that East Asian societies never saw themselves as possessing the total truth while Islam like Christianity sees itself as owning total truth. The conservatives and reactionaries of Islam also saw what happened when Christianity and Judaism embraced liberalism and do not like the results so they are fighting against it. The association of liberal thought with colonialism does not help.

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      • “how do you go about creating the circumstances that will allow more of those particular places to bloom?”

        And how many ugly, racist weeds are we willing to tolerate in order to let the avocado tree of intellectual enlightenment grow?

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  1. I have to wonder what it is to trust politicians. I’m not sure if I do it or not. I try to set my expectations to what I think they might get in the vicinity of, and then just see what happens.

    What else is there to do?

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  2. “Let me ask that question in a more pointed way: Why do we trust men who have sought and attained high office by innumerable acts of vanity and self-will?

    On the one hand, my favorite George Carlin schitck:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4YioKf1ygo

    On the other, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

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  3. 1. Mark Sanford seems to be an uncommonly cheap and untrustworthy person.

    2. That being said I looked at the Washington Post review and fixating on Sanford’s insistence on three points is a bit odd. The rule of three is a very real thing.

    3. Most of us aren’t anarchists and realize that someone needs to run things. This goes to a point that Greg made. Libertarians have lots of neat slogans but very few particular details. “End the War on Drugs” sounds great but replace it with what? Lee points out that most European countries still ban narcotics but they don’t have a drug war with the same zeal that we do. They just treat narcotics like any other crime. We can also talk about which regulations are smart or not.

    4. There do seem to be plenty of people who enter politics with a desire to make things for the better or keep a sense of ordinariness and dignity about them.

    5. Do we think any of us would be any better? I certainly don’t have any desire to run for office. Perhaps it takes a special kind of person to deal with all the mud-slinged in politics? We certainly want to put on candidates and politicians on the hot seat. You gotta be very iron-coated and maybe vainglorious to deal with that stuff. Perhaps a more gentle election system would allow more decent people to enter politics.

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    • 1. Spoken like someone that hasn’t worked for many campaigns.

      2. Is it?

      3 – 5. Because the only options, really, are to either elect someone totally who is corrupt/incompetent/a terrible human being because they tell us whatever we ant to hear and make us feel like we’re special, or to have no leaders at all and have civilization just collapse. There are no other options.

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      • Yes. The Rule of Three is a very real thing.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_three_%28writing%29

        Three seems to create an emphasis that two does not. I’ve noticed this in a lot of writing and speaking over a variety of genres and points.

        What sort of things do ants hear? ;)

        More seriously, well what is your alternative?

        Yes people (including you) like hearing things that make them feel better for a wide-variety of reasons including from politicians. However, I have noted before that I am not a fan of the “hard truths” variety of politics. It is my general experience that people who fashion themselves as being speakers of “hard truths” really means “Someone else will have to suffer for my preferred policy goals because I am a very serious person.” This is partially why Trump is surging. Retirement age and social security reform are good examples. It is easy for people with well-paid and very cushy white-color jobs to talk about why we need to reform social security, raise the retirement age, and do things to Medicaid and Medicare. If you paid me 6-figures or more to write biweekly opinion columns while traveling on other people’s dimes to fancy locations like Davos or Jackson Hole or other big important place, I could work until my 70s as well. Tell that to the carpenter with moderate arthritis though. People know when they are being bullshitted and the GOP has done to their white, working-class base on social issues and economics for decades.

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      • either elect someone totally who is corrupt/incompetent/a terrible human being because they tell us whatever we ant to hear and make us feel like we’re special, or to have no leaders at all

        Leaders are who we follow, not just who we elect, first of all. You are a leader here, in this community. We didn’t elect you. We each, in some way, put our selves forward to have posting abilities.

        I might be helpful here to deconstruct the circus we put politicians through, and see if these undersides hold value we don’t appreciate. I don’t know, it just seems a thought game worth pursuing; and it’s not to convince you of anything but to help you consider from a different perspective so that you can make up your own mind.

        When we elect politicians, the process operates on layers of understanding and relationship; the most important being the local offices we elect; the relationships are the most direct. I’ve had a lot of friends run for office; as a reporter, I made friends with a lot of people in office. (I made a few enemies, too.) First, have you ever sat through a legislative session? A selectmen or town council or school board meeting? This is not easy stuff always; you make mistakes because you have bad information or advice, you say things that come out wrong, you may really believe in some public cause but may be unable to deliver on that cause; sometimes because of your gaff or mistake, sometimes because you have to balance a whole bunch of causes, mostly because you also have to balance budgets.

        The people who go into politics are just like you and me in most ways. They differ from me in that they’re not bored by meetings where the business of governing is attended to; they’re willing to put their neck out on an unpopular decision that has to be made, and they’re forced to compromise in thousands of ways between competing interests.

        Compromise. Most political compromises leave everybody walking from the table a little unhappy; they had to give something the really wanted up. That’s what politics is often about. In some ways, the vanity you attribute to politicians here helps us to negotiate those shoals, both being in being a politician and in choosing leaders.

        I will admit the pendulum seems to have swung quite far in the direction of entertainer instead of statesman, correction does seem in order.

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        • The people who go into politics are just like you and me in most ways. They differ from me in that they’re not bored by meetings where the business of governing is attended to;

          Lordy, yes! There are many reasons why I am not in the least bit tempted to run for office, but the horrifying prospect that I might win and thereby be condemned to sit through endless stultifying meetings is high on the list. This alone might explain why so few politicians seem intelligent and engaged. Few intelligent and engaged people can tolerate such a routine.

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    • 1. Yeah… was he out chasing tail or hiking tall mountain trail; where did Governor Sanford Go?!?!?

      3. Eh, the Eurostates have little better luck with drug policy than the US does except for Portugal which has actually ended the war on drugs. Also true liberals are absolutely chock a block with short on detailed general asserted desires: strengthen unions, raise wages, diminish equality* etc.. so it’s far from a exclusively Libertarian position**.

      4. I’d suggest that rather than there being plenty of people who enter politics desiring to make things better I think that instead there’re just some strains of politicians who’re broadcasting a persona which is correctly tuned to your general inclination and thus bypasses your suspicion. There’s probably a flavor in the profession for each of us.

      5. I’m to horrifically introverted and lazy to contemplate such a punishing career and I have no faith that with my risk aversion and hatred of sunk costs I would, having painfully achieved a political position, be happy to sacrifice it on the altar of principles; which is why I’m not a politician reason 976.

      *That last one has extra bonus points in that it cites other catch phrases as it’s implementation detail.
      ** Though it bears noting that Conservatives are probably the movement with the highest undetailed-nonsense-proposals-to-otherwise ratio

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      • 4) There’s probably tons of people who get into politics just trying to make things better (in their view). The question is how many of them get past the local school board.

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        • I think nails it here.

          I think Pat is the kind of guy I would love to be a Senator or even POTUS. But I think past a certain level it’s hard for Pat to be a contender that we would vote for, because Pat is a pretty stand up guy who is OK with saying what he thinks people need to hear, as opposed to what people want to hear. So even though I think Pat would make a pretty awesome national pol, I’m not sure have will be allowed to become one.

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          • More to the point, I doubt you could get Pat to do what it would take for him to be a national figure or even a state figure. That’s one of the big things that I think Swaim is driving it. To succeed, you can’t just be willing so hard and make so many compromises to move the needle a fraction of a centimeter, but you have to be consumed by it. And if you’re consumed by it, you’re likely a certain kind of person.

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            • If I could fund my own campaign, or we had publicly funded campaigns so that I didn’t have to get money to run?

              I’d think about it.

              Absent that: no way.

              The thing about campaign contributions is that only a percentage of them come from the heart, and the rest come from people who want things that they aren’t necessarily entitled to have. If you know you can get sufficient money from the folks with heart, you can take money from the other group without worrying (too much) that you’ll let your judgement be affected by it (although you still have to be careful there), and not bug as many of your friends for $100. That’s okay.

              But when you get to the point that you know you need support from groups A, B, C, or D… or some combination thereof… to be able to fund your next campaign, you have to either admit they own you or you have to be willing for your current campaign to be your last. I’d like to think I’d always be willing to let my current campaign to be my last, but I’d rather not tempt myself. In any event, that’s an additional stressor I don’t need.

              But even aside from the money thing… I probably wouldn’t as a married man with kids. The functional demands of being available to your constituency even at a school board level are ones that you should have several very long conversations about with your family before you decide to run.

              Those demands only become more unreasonable as you go up. And the price you pay to be Chelsea Clinton is that you are always, always the child of Bill and Hilary Clinton.

              I’d rather both my kids have their own path to their own form of greatness.

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        • Paul Wellstone, Bill De Blasio, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Bella Azburg, Mario Cuomo, Ron Wyden, Fiorello La Guardia, Earl Warren, Robert LaFollette, Hubert Humphrey (possibly one of the most decent people ever to be in politics), Augustus Hawkins, and many more.

          The thing is that this is subjective as you note. So someone could be absolutely sincere in their belief but another person can see them as the devil incarnate.

          Also these things tend to be battles between pragmatists and heartbroken romantics.

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    • “Libertarians have lots of neat slogans but very few particular details. “End the War on Drugs” sounds great but replace it with what? ”

      uh

      why do we need to replace it with something?

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          • I can’t imagine why you’d put that here. Unless you think that instead of replacing the war on drugs with things like treatment and support is unnecessary, in which case, I suppose I can.

            Let God sort ’em out, amiright?

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            • It’s more like I see people saying “I would rather imprison all of them than merely stop imprisoning all of them.”

              “We should stop imprisoning all of them.”
              “I’d agree with that if we could impose this other set of rules, regulations, and other intrusions into their daily lives.”
              “Why not just stop imprisoning all of them?”
              “You just want them to die!”

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              • I mean, look at the regime for treatment and support Colorado has for Medicinal and Recreational Marijuana.

                (They didn’t impose one.)

                You know what happened? Nothing… because pretty much everybody who wanted to ingest the stuff was already ingesting the stuff.

                “We should do what is working here in other places.”
                “You just want people to die!”

                If the War On Drugs is worse than the drug problem then wanting to end the War On Drugs and replace it with the drug problem is going to end up making things better. Sure, there will be new problems and there will be prison guards out of a job. Everything will not be hunky dory.

                But, on a utilitarian basis anyway, it will be better off than it was.

                Of course if the argument is that we have a deontological obligation to replace the War on Drugs with a Kinetic Action against Substance Abuse, then the utilitarian argument is fairly unpersuasive.

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                • I think you’re arguing the wrong thing here,

                  First, I agree with your assessment of the war on drugs and replacing it with the war on addiction; treat addiction, don’t make war on it or something like that.

                  But the policy that needs to be discussed is very real, replacement is in order. Not for people going forward in a war we’re no longer fighting, however. No, we need to discuss the policy of how we handle the casualties of the war we fought.

                  Did Colorado let all the people convicted of pot crimes out of jail?

                  Should they?

                  What if they were also convicted of resisting arrest? Assaulting an officer? Any of another of other crimes we don’t want to be so forgiving about? We have been through an age of throwing the book at these casualties.

                  That, to me, seems to be the discussion we ought to be having about ending the war on drugs. Recognizing that war had a lot of victims, and reparations are in order; at least on a scale that allows them access to the right to participate (rent a home, go to college, hold a job, maybe a mortgage, get married, vote sorta stuff).

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                  • Did Colorado let all the people convicted of pot crimes out of jail?

                    That’s a very good question. From what I understand, the attitude was something like “they broke the law, now that it’s legal, it changes nothing about the people who broke the law when the law was the law.”

                    I know that Hickenlooper was planning something like this two years ago, but this was written a month ago… which tells me that Hickenlooper’s bill went nowhere (and that he failed to use his clemency powers like he could have and arguably ought to have).

                    Now, Amendment 64 is *NOT* a result that said “just stop doing things!” rather than “let’s switch what we’re doing now with something closer to how we regulate/tax alcohol”, it did pretty well on the whole “let’s stop throwing people into prison” issue.

                    Despite the fact that it failed to provide an adequate drug treatment system to replace the prison one.

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                      • This is perhaps where I make a mistake in assuming things about libertarianism. My assumption is that you want to end the war on drugs completely, in which case your complete dismissal of Saul’s question looks callous at best. But perhaps my assumption is wrong. You keep talking about pot legalization, so perhaps you only want pot legalized, in which case you’re not as coldly callous as I previously thought, and we just disagree on a different fundamental level (in that I would legalize all drugs, not just pot).

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                      • When discussing heroin prohibition, I’d more be interested in discussing such things as morphine and opium being equally illegal, and the pain management pathologies that result in acetaminophen being added to pain pills to make sure that people who take too many will die of kidney failure.

                        If we ended the war on drugs, it seems to me that we’d be better able to manage the problem of opiate abuse because we would be managing stuff like morphine/opium abuse instead of heroin abuse.

                        Plus we might be able to have doctors be able to manage pain patients with less fear of being thrown in prison meaning fewer patients looking for stuff like heroin to manage their pain levels.

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                        • If we ended the war on drugs, it seems to me that we’d be better able to manage the problem of opiate abuse because we would be managing stuff like morphine/opium abuse instead of heroin abuse.

                          That’s an empirical claim you’ll have a hard time finding support for, I imagine, but at least now you’re admitting that there’s a problem to manage.

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                          • That’s an empirical claim you’ll have a hard time finding support for, I imagine, but at least now you’re admitting that there’s a problem to manage.

                            JFC, dude. I have never argued that ending the war on drugs would create utopia. I have merely argued that the problems of drunkenness are preferable to the problems of prohibition.

                            As for the empirical claim, I’ll just point to the whole “hard liquor vs. beer/wine” problem as it existed before and after Prohibition.

                            Instead of moving beer or wine, smugglers moved hard liquor because it provided more bang for one’s buck and you could always water it down with zero effort to get a beer/wine experience but to turn beer/wine into something more potent would require knowledge/equipment.

                            So bootleggers moved the high octane stuff rather than the low octane stuff.

                            As such, it’s not difficult for me to see how the opiate market analogizes. Why are people buying high octane stuff instead of low octane? Because smugglers see more profit moving high octane.

                            And I imagine that beer and wine will start moving again and there will be less gin/whiskey/vodka moving after prohibition ends… but the downside is that prohibition gave a lot of people a taste for gin/whiskey/vodka who, prior to prohibition, were satisfied with beer/wine.

                            So when you talk about us having to “manage” the problems of drunkenness post-prohibition… I think we’ll find them manageable.

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                            • is right. Cocaine and Heroin (and similar substances) were abused long before prohibition. Do you know who invented Heroin? Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company that gave us Aspirin. Do you know why? They wanted to find and market something that was less addictive than Morphine but still a great pain-killer/opiate.

                              Eugene O’Neil’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night takes place in 1912. The mom is a Heroin junkie, just like Eugene O’Neil’s mom was a Heroin junkie.

                              You used to be able to get Cocaine and Heroin as an OTC drug. This created a lot of addicted people.

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                              • This was also before we understood the physiology/bio-chemistry of addiction. Back then, addiction was (hell, still is with some people) seen as a failing of personal morals & character.

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                                • This is also something that makes drugs tricky to discuss, since I don’t know if I’d phrase it “morals & character”, and I am aware of what the brain and body do, to keep an addict trapped on that hamsterwheel; but in this day and age, if someone decides to try heroin (or alcohol) – after the tens of thousands of books and TV shows and movies and class lessons (and maybe personal stories observed first- or secondhand in their family or friends or colleagues) they’ve experienced about the dangers of addiction – and becomes addicted or overdoses, I don’t think it’s completely-right to absolve that person of all responsibility for their situation either. I can certainly have sympathy for someone who got burned, while pointing out that playing with fire was probably a bad idea.

                                  “Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only one you can get yelled at for having. ‘Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic’. ‘Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupus’…one of those two doesn’t sound right.”

                                  Mitch Hedberg, dead addict and also brilliant comedian

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                              • Cocaine and Heroin (and similar substances) were abused long before prohibition.

                                As were gin, whiskey, and vodka.

                                But if I wanted to buy heroin, I presume it’d be easy enough to find on the street. If I wanted morphine, it’d take a little longer (and it’d probably be stolen from a hospital).

                                If I wanted opium? I presume I’d have to go to a high-end guy who deals in specialized requests for niche products because drug dealers only deal in high octane.

                                Even if heroin is more than 100 years old.

                                Which still doesn’t deal with the requirements to make medical opiates effectively poisoned with stuff that will destroy your kidneys if you take too much of it.

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                                • Just so we’re clear: opium, morphine, and heroin are not the same things. Their effects are different. Their abuse potentials are different. People have strong preferences even when more than one is available. In fact, removing the social stigma from heroin, as ending the drug war might do, might make it popular in circles where opium or morphine would be preferred for largely social reasons.

                                  You’ve built a narrative about how things will go down after legalization without really consulting the way things are. I really suggest looking at Portugal. I think you’ll find it challenges some of your assumptions, particularly those that are better treated as empirical questions.

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                                  • The narrative I’ve built is using “prohibition” as a template.

                                    But, sure, let’s look at Portugal.

                                    Here are the first three links for Googling “portugal drug legalization effects” (without the quotes).

                                    From the first (shout out to E.D.!): The number of addicts considered “problematic” — those who repeatedly use “hard” drugs and intravenous users — had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.

                                    From the second: Drug use has declined overall among the 15- to 24-year-old population, those most at risk of initiating drug use, according to Transform.

                                    There has also been a decline in the percentage of the population who have ever used a drug and then continue to do so

                                    From the third:
                                    No drug policy, Zobel says, can genuinely prevent people from taking drugs — at least, he is not familiar with any model that works this way. As for Portugal, Zobel says, “This is working. Drug consumption has not increased severely. There is no mass chaos. For me as an evaluator, that’s a very good outcome.”

                                    Now, I see the argument that replacing “not throwing them in jail” with “not throwing them in jail but throwing them into treatment” is not as bad as I had feared… (Certainly, the first article (E.D.!) assumes that the treatment is just as responsible as the decrim.)

                                    But I remain confused as to why I shouldn’t maintain that getting rid of the war on drugs is a necessary first step that doesn’t require a second one handcuffed to it.

                                    Certainly not to the point where we shouldn’t even entertain merely ending the whole “throw them in jail” thing.

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                                    • The program there doesn’t just treat existing addiction, it attempts to intervene before addiction. It’s a very proactive system, made even more effective by the fact that without fear of imprisonment, more addicts seek treatment in their own

                                      And you know how they did it? Simultaneously. Why can’t we? The only barrier to approaching it that way is the legalization only advocate. The politics are such that legalization with a plan is likely much more feasible than the let God sort ’em out version. And it’s more likely to stick that way too, since it will reduce many of the problems associated with addiction itself.

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                                      • Well, we don’t really have a “control” for this but, even so, I’m not sure about your conclusion because of what’s discussed in the 2nd article:

                                        Drug use in general has declined. Not only harmful self-destructive behaviors, but use at all.

                                        There’s more going on here than treatment.

                                        Much like with Prohibition, there are pathologies created by making it illegal in the first place (not limited to the binging behaviors when one’s supplier happens to have product).

                                        You know some of the stuff that is receding now that Colorado has legalized pot?

                                        Pot culture.

                                        Which seems counter-intuitive but there it is. (Or there it goes.)

                                        I’m not opposed to the idea of mandatory treatment for addicts (at least the ones dumb enough to get caught) in principle, but I’m still uncertain why I need to see it as a necessary pre-req to any decriminalization.

                                        We didn’t include detox as a pre-req for the 21st Amendment. A *HUGE* number of pathologies in the culture evaporated overnight in December 1933. I don’t see why they wouldn’t in this case too.

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                                        • Oh yeah, there’s more going on than treatment. No one’s denying that. Nor am I (though I can’t speak for Saul) suggesting that treatment and other programs should be a prerequisite for decriminalization (at any level). My point is that both are necessary, both practically and ethically, and that we should be working toward both. As I said, I’d also argue that decriminalization is both more palatable to most people and more likely to last if we accompany it with treatment and prevention programs (perhaps on the Portuguese model), because decriminalization with treatment gets rid of the negative effects of prohibition and provides the best path toward reducing the societal cost of addiction, which includes all sorts of political landmines like crime and homelessness and disease and such.

                                          And though I’ve reiterated this several times, the response is still that we should just get legalization, which suggests to me that I’m dealing with ideology divorced from practical realities.

                                          This isn’t alcohol prohibition we’re talking about removing: while alcohol’s abuse liability is high (perhaps as high as powder cocaine), if we’re talking about legalizing all drugs, we’re talking about abuse liabilities that are off the charts (crack, heroin, meth, etc.) for drugs that will not go away simply because we make safer, less addictive related substances more available. These addictions will still result in crime and disease, because addictions to such drugs will still cost money, but make a steady income difficult, if not impossible for many or most addicts, resulting in stealing, violence, unsanitary conditions, etc. If you want to minimize the Fox News stories about how meth heads are robbing and killing people and it’s legalization’s fault, perhaps having a plan for reducing such things would be prudent?

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                        • Well yeah Jay, but heroine addiction was a problem- a serious problem- before the War on Drugs too. Not all of its problems are second order consequences of the War on Drugs and the War on Pleasure.

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                          • This is something I struggle with. I believe all drugs should be legalized (even though I realize that is unlikely to ever happen). I also suspect that a non-zero number of people who otherwise wouldn’t’ve, would go and get themselves hooked on heroin (that is, if Prohibition ends, we may in fact get more addicts than we have now; though I hope that at this point in human history, enough people are aware of how addictive and dangerous opiates are that most people would say, “nope, legal or not, I am not messing with that.”)

                            All that said: people get themselves obsessively-involved in all kinds of expensive, dangerous and dumb (to me) activities that give them pleasure, at least for a while. Like motorcycles, or skydiving, or climbing up thousand-foot sheer rock faces for fun.

                            Some of those people are going to fall, and harm themselves, and the people that depend upon them.

                            I’m not clear that it should always be my responsibility to account for that possible outcome and not theirs; or clear on what makes the dangers of drugs, so different in our minds from the dangers of other such chosen activities. Point to the neurochemistry of addiction, and you also point to that of adrenaline.

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                            • Likewise, I am inclined to agree that the damages and costs of the War on Drugs (and the more veiled War on Pleasure) are much worse than the costs would be for not Prosecuting those wars. Additionally the fact that in the absence of a WoD/WoP the responsibility for those users falling into addiction would be primarily on those individuals whereas the responsibility for the undesirable outcomes of the Wars lies with the state and thus on us all.

                              But yes, I cannot ignore that some people would die or suffer in the absence of the WoD that otherwise wouldn’t. I can only believe/hope that fewer people would die and suffer absent it than with it.

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                            • The issue is this: drug addiction has a pretty damn high societal cost. Right now, we try to deal with that in the most expensive and least humane way possible: putting addicts in jail while spending billions trying to stop the tsunami of drug trafficking with a few sponges, but when we finally do away with those inhumane and absurdly inefficient methods of dealing with the social costs of addiction, what more humane and efficient method do we come up with to deal with it? Because it’s gonna be real, and it’s gonna be non-trivial, and it’s gonna make the social costs of motorcycle riding and rock climbing look wholly insignificant in comparison.

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                              • But the cost of addiction/abuse is real, and non-trivial now, even WITH all the Prohibition crap we are inefficiently/harmfully doing…do we have reason to suspect that it will be all that much more real and less-trivial, if we stop doing that?

                                Like I said, I’m not so naive to expect NO addiction/abuse increase…but with existing education/knowledge, and most drugs suddenly being ideally produced in known purities and dosages (and maybe even prescribed, so that a doctor can monitor/advise/assist the user), I am hopeful that the increase in addiction/abuse cost would be fairly minor over what we already incur.

                                Basically, I’m just not sure that the tsunami of addiction harm would be all that much more than it is now, while the SECONDARY tsunami of Prohibition harm would have slowed or even stopped. That still seems like a net harm-tsunami reduction to me.

                                Someone should do an “The End of Prohibition: Should Society Go On Methadone, or Cold Turkey?” piece.

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                                • I’m not even talking about an increase. I’m talking about it being exactly what it is now, which is already high. I don’t really know whether there’d be much of an increase, and I could imagine possible (logically, at least) scenarios in which it actually decreased a bit. But if we had addiction and hard drug use at the same level we have now the day after all drugs are legalized, the problem would still be large enough that we, as a society, would need to do something about it.

                                  My preferred solution would, in the context of our current system, would be a single-payer health care system that offers treatment and rehabilitative services to anyone suffering from addiction. Hell, you could even put stipulations on those services, since they’re gonna be super expensive: “free treatment, but we’ll need you to come back and volunteer as treatment-center staff for x hours. Did we mention that we have a career program in which we support ex-addicts quest to become addiction treatment professionals?”

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                                  • But if we had addiction and hard drug use at the same level we have now the day after all drugs are legalized, the problem would still be large enough that we, as a society, would need to do something about it.

                                    As a proposition, I see no reason why this proposition need be tied to the proposition “Prohibition: Yes or No?” at all, rather than simply standing on its own as a separate argument.

                                    As such, asking people with “what do you plan to replace Prohibition WITH?” seems almost like a non-sequitur.

                                    Related, yes; but not dependent in any real way that I can see, if addiction/abuse levels are assumed to stay roughly, well…level.

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                                    • As I said below, I see both as moral imperatives inextricably intertwined, as they both concern the humanity and destructiveness of certain drugs. However, there is a more practical reason: right now, the cost is in some ways hidden by the treatment, not only because instead of treating addiction we essentially enforce detox through imprisonment, but because the war on drugs results in addicts comprising a permanent criminal underclass with a high mortality rate. We dismiss the cost as the cost of crime, rather than the cost of addiction. But the day after we legalize drugs, that problem becomes a very different, but equally inescapable one.

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                                      • Maybe I am just a small-minded person, but I definitely think we can (and should) stop digging our hole deeper, long before we figure out if there’s any good way to fill the hole we have dug.

                                        Replace that with any metaphor you feel best expresses “Stopping the harm we are causing people, is a separate question (and more imperative IMO) from deciding if and how to best help people”.

                                        We should be Hippocratic Oathing this motherfisher (and many others).

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                                        • I don’t think you’re small minded, I just don’t think it’s an either-or question: We can stop digging it deeper and start figuring out ways to fill the hole. In fact, I think that we are compelled to do both by the problem itself.

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                                          • Re: Digging deeper. I do agree that we will need to have some kind of public policy or program with regard to addiction, certainly at first. The problem is, until we at least decriminalize drug use, we are going to have a hard time getting even an estimate of how big this problem is going to be & what we could reasonably do about it. As it stands, even if we had a fantastic way to treat addiction, the threat of law enforcement will largely keep that addicted underclass in hiding.

                                            So yes, we need to be ready to asses the true scope of the problem & move quickly to implement treatment programs, but first we need to stop giving people a really damn good reason to hide.

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                                            • I don’t think this is true. Granted, Portugal is a much smaller country than the U.S., but it had arguably a bigger (relative) drug problem than we do, and from its example we can see what it’s solution, which is as close to full legalization as there is in any Western country, has done, and estimate what the cost of the drug problem is once the drug war is gone will be.

                                              Look, for a variety of reasons, “Just get rid of the laws and then we’ll figure it out is not an option.” It’s not an option because criminalization covers up some of the costs, it’s not an option for humanitarian reasons, it’s not an option because the only evidence we have that it would work is axiomatic reasoning and analogies to one of the most heavily regulated industries (booze). If we’re going to take empirical data seriously, the evidence is pretty clear: addiction, even independent of prohibition, is destructive and costly, and the best way to deal with that, as Portugal has done, is through de-penalization accompanied by aggressive prevention and treatment regimes, and to the extent that we fully decriminalize, regulation not (as with alcohol, unfortunately) in the spirit of prohibition, but in the spirit of reducing the cost to individuals and society.

                                              Portugal is the most liberal legalization regime we have, and we have a pretty good idea of what has worked and what hasn’t there. Why on Earth would we pretend that our ideologically-based solution would do better without at least thinking about that stuff? I don’t mean you specifically, , as you jumped in in clear good faith (which I appreciate), but some others have been hostile to even discussing this stuff.

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                                              • I’m not saying don’t have the discussion, or even don’t bother having some kind of treatment regime in place, but just recognize that the scope of the problem is going to remain hard to see & address until after the police have been forced to de-prioritize drug enforcement. We could be surprised in a good way (Jaybirds point about legal access to pot making harder drugs less appealing).

                                                And we don’t even necessarily need a massive government program. Since everyone is comfortable making insurance companies cover all sorts of things, we could just incentivize, or flat out require insurers to cover treatment & see what they come up with. Hell, just making it easier for pharmaceutical companies to play around with controlled substances could open up new, safer drugs, and addiction treatments.

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                                                • Insurance companies in charge is the last thing we need, particularly given the way addiction affects people financially.

                                                  It is undeniably true that we don’t understand the full scope of legalization, positively or negatively (this is as true for the “legalize it and let god sort ’em out” position staked out by Jay, DD, and Auto as it is for any radical position on the drug war), but we do have a pretty good sense of some of the things that will happen from being able to observe them happening in places where some measure of decriminalization or de-penalization has already taken place. And we know that treatment is an integral part of that process, because much of the good that came out of de-penalization in Portugal came because of the focus on prevention and treatment. In fact, one of the main justifications of de-criminalization there was that it makes it more likely that addicts will seek treatment, and it makes it easier to intervene before casual users become addicts.

                                                  Let me add, quickly, that the empirical evidence suggests that legalizing marijuana does not decrease the use of other, harder drugs. It may suggest the opposite (though it’s early, so it’s difficult to tell). There’s a bunch of data out there. Idle speculation by people who clearly haven’t done much research is just not helpful (again, don’t mean you, Oscar; the claim wasn’t yours).

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                            • My preferred policy is like that of Chris and North. However, I have never been quite good at the libertarian impulse of non of my business. However remote there is a chance that any family can deal with a narcotic-addicted loved one. So I want a system in place that doesn’t put drug addicts in jail but doesn’t say “Sure go ahead” either.

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                            • I think treating the pleasures and problems caused by drugs as the same as the pleasures and problems caused by motorcycle driving or sky-diving as similar isn’t really workable. Prohibition and the War on Drugs looks dunderheaded these days but alcohol, opium, and cocaine wrecked havoc on a societal level in a way that sky-diving does not because they become mass phenomena and addictions easier. More people try and get addicted to cocaine because a friend recommended it to them rather than attempting sky-diving.

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                    • Anecdotes are not data, but consider the case used as the example in this Slate story. Four pounds in the car; selling to people to whom he delivers pizza. Folks, that behavior is still a felony post-Amendment 64, with a maximum penalty of six years and a $500,000 fine. He got off with probation; why should he get clemency?

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                      • Because twelve years later, still hassling a by-all-appearances reformed guy (who was arguably doing the Lord’s work to begin with, by delivering pizza and weed in one fell swoop!) seems ridiculous?

                        (I get the rule of law argument, but it’s time to face facts: these laws were, and are, ridiculous IMO).

                        Also, from the article: “But in 2012, Colorado voted to become the first state to legalize marijuana, allowing people to manufacture, store, and ultimately sell far more marijuana that Ungaro was caught with.” (emphasis mine).

                        Again, I realize the law is what it is, and “pizza boy sells weed from his trunk” is different than “shop sells weed from its storefront”; but the social harm is either there, or it’s not; and if it is, it is theoretically-correlated with the amount sold of the substance in question.

                        I don’t think it’s ridiculous to ask why we’d continue to hassle this guy; when the other guy is now (legally) moving just as much or more weed as Ungaro ever did.

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                        • Do you feel the same way about alcohol? That anyone should be allowed to distill spirits, and sell to anyone regardless of age? Or should there be at least minimum regulation? Honest questions — I know that I had strong feelings about my 16-year-olds’ access to alcohol outside our home.

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                          • Those are all fair questions, and TBH I hadn’t considered them (I assumed Ungaro was selling to adults only, but this was probably a bad assumption on my part). The age of his ‘customers’ absolutely could be considered as a factor in how we should treat him.

                            From there I do think the analogy breaks down a bit, only because alcohol is inherently more dangerous (particularly if incorrectly distilled) than weed, which regardless of strength/quality should only very, very rarely have any serious or long-lasting physical repercussions (though of course, the weed could be adulterated with something else; but I see that risk primarily as something that Prohibition triggered, like all the synthetic cannabinoids).

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              • Like I said, if we try to prevent employers from killing their employees, the employees who haven’t been killed yet will be out of a job.

                I’m all for ending the drug war, and ending it now, but Saul asks a valid question, which Density, and now you apparently, have dismissed entirely.

                Because we’re not just talking about marijuana, are we? We’re talking about coke (both in its powder and freebase forms), meth, heroin, prescription pills, and so on. Sure, we can just end the drug war and hope something works itself out, but legalizing drugs won’t make addiction, complete with all its deleterious effects on individuals, family, and society in general, go away. So we’re going to need a system to deal with that, and we’re going to need it really soon after we end that drug war, if not the moment we do so. Or we could just let God sort ’em out.

                (The next time someone you’re confused why someone like Saul seems to agree with your preferred outcomes so much, but complains that libertarianism sucks, remember this conversation right here, or any conversation on sweatshops involving libertarians ever.)

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                • So we’ve switched from discussing the war on drugs to factories in other countries?

                  Okay, well, I don’t think that killing enough Kulaks will get the necessarily social changes we all want to see.

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                  • It’s an analogy, using another example of, “We shouldn’t do anything because it might cause problems for this awful situation that’s better by the thinnest of margins than this other awful situation that is not the only alternative but is the one I’ve chosen to use for rhetorical purposes.”

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                    • Personally, I use “imprisoning people for drug use” as the primary point of contrast to “not imprisoning people for drug use” because the first is the policy we actually have. I guess you could frame that as a cheap rhetorical move if you were really motivated, though.

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                      • Alright, at this point I see that having a conversation about this is not possible. Like I said, when y’all wonder why so many people think of libertarians the way they do, come back to this conversation, where the response to, “We need to do something after” is, “Well, after is better than before, so fuck doing something.” You may not think that’s what you’re doing, but it’s what you’re doing, because you’re responding to the position that we should do something with, “But it’s already better! Look at Colorado. They legalized pot and didn’t have to do anything!”

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                        • See, you get that response because you’re presenting three policies and insisting that, if we can’t have the best, we should stick with the worst. The perfect and the good need not be enemies.

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                          • Dude, you’re buying Jaybird’s framing, rather than what I (or Saul, for that matter) said.

                            So as I also said, I’m just going to drop out of the quasi-conversation until someone willing to have an actual one pops in.

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                            • Maybe I’m reading too much into ‘“End the War on Drugs” sounds great but replace it with what?’, but that sounds an awful lot like what I just described.

                              This cuts the other way, too, of course: the existing non-penal systems for treating addicts aren’t doing a great job (at least out here in the Bay). Improvements in treatment are needed regardless of any liberalization in the laws; liberalization in laws is needed regardless of improvements in treatment.

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                      • Joe, you and I are both anti-state, though we have different views on the market. But if the drug war ended tomorrow, do you think that in the system we have today, the best solution would be to just say, “Something will sort this addiction stuff out: either death or the market. Our job is done,” or do you think it might be better to work out some system for treating people with drug addictions who used to be either in jail or on the street?

                        Because to me, it seems that letting people rot in the street is not any less punitive than putting them in prison, and I see no mechanism in the current system by which anything but the state would be able to implement a system for treating drug addiction on anything like the necessary scale.

                        So the conversation I’m having is, “We agree we should legalize, but what comes after?” And the conversation Jay and Auto seem to want to have is, “Why don’t you want to legalize it?!”

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                    • It doesn’t strike me as a very good analogy considering that the War on Drugs is a policy we actively and specifically prosecute against our own citizens whereas deaths in inhumane factory conditions is an undesirable second order side effect of a policy, free trade, that we are prosecuting towards foreign people. Looking at it that way the two are almost opposites in fact.

                      As I’m reading the thread it sounds like the libertarian position is “stop punching drug users in the face” whereas the position you and Saul are suggesting is that “We cannot stop punching drug users in the fact until we have a plan for tending to their head trauma wounds, a plan for dealing with their bleeding nose and a plan for treating their turrets syndrome which is ostensibly why we began punching them in the face in the first place.”

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                      • It’s not an analogy to the war on drugs, but to the attitude towards it that Jaybird is expressing, the “Don’t even talk about thinking about possibly considering doing anything, lest we make an awful situation slightly more awful” attitude.

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                        • Okay I think I gotcha. Saul’s original framing was that Ending the War on Drugs -must- necessarily be linked to replacing it with something else which I think is what got the rise out of the libertarians. Basically you and Libertarians agree with the step of ending the War on Drugs; but the question of what if anything to do after that is where you part ways. I’m with you there in that I think some kind of palliative anti-addiction action by the state would be beneficial and productive whereas libertarians would probably disagree.

                          I still think the trade analogy is weak though primarily because, frankly, the question of the WoD has a much more obvious set of answer than the question of Free Trade does.

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                          • Perhaps Saul will disagree, but I think both the legalization and the system to replace the punitive one are moral imperatives. In that sense, they are both necessary, and one without the other is still immoral. That said, I wouldn’t want to hold up not putting people in jail because we haven’t worked out a system. I just would want to start talking about a system right now while we try to stop putting people in jail, so that if we ever succeed, we’ll be ready.

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                • To use the Prohibition example, we’re discussing gin and whiskey and vodka and when discussing whether we should end prohibition and talking about throwing people in prison for beer or wine, pointing out how bad whiskey and vodka and gin are.

                  The degree to which Prohibition created markets for hard alcohol in markets that were previously beer and wine markets is something we’re still dealing with.

                  When it comes to the war on drugs, the war on drugs has not only created markets for all kinds of hard drugs, it has spilled over into the medical profession and pain management issues that make it easier for pain patients to find heroin than regulated opiates that have not had acetaminophen added.

                  The worst part of the problems you’re talking about needing to solve before we remove the War on Drugs were created by the War on Drugs in the first place.

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                  • Yeah, you’re having a conversation with yourself, or with someone else, so I’ll stop pretending you’re talking to me (or to Saul, for that matter).

                    Instead, I’ll hope someone pops in here to have a productive conversation about what comes after legalization with Saul, or with me, or with anyone who can have that conversation, because that would be a good conversation. This semblance of a conversation here is not a good one? It has no potential to be productive in any way.

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                    • No, this addresses the issue that Saul brings up.

                      It’s an iatrogenic problem. That is, it’s a problem created by the treatment itself.

                      I’m saying that “we need to end the treatment!”

                      “But what will we replace it with?” is a response that doesn’t apprehend that we’re talking about an iatrogenic problem.

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  4. I almost never read political bio-type stuff, but that quote might just do it for me. That said, I do trust them. I trust them to be venal, lying POS’, who will pee on my leg and tell me its raining.

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    • Now I’m actually hoping not only that Will writes about it, but writes about it with me, so without going into detail I will say that this is not remotely like a political tell-all — or at least none I’ve ever come across. He doesn’t even refer to the governor by his name once in the book, because it’s really not about the governor.

      I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone that loves great writing, or is interested in the power (and limitations) of language.

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      • I’m thinking we should do an announcement (with more of an explanation of what the book is and is not), then get to work and post it in two weeks giving anyone who wants to read it in the meantime the opportunity to do so.

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        • @tod-kelly

          Will Truman and Tod Kelly announce that they are putting together a dialogue today. Tod Kelly is a retired risk consultant from Portland who enjoys spoken word events. Will Truman is a computer guy from the South who enjoys barely hidden geography and naming his daughter after anime characters. Priest Maggie Whitaker from the Episcopalian Church officiated over this dialogue announcement. The reception ceremony will feature Martinis, Manhattans, and clenched jaws.

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      • That sounds even better and I will keep my eyes out for it. As of right now, I am knee deep in books and as most of my books come from bookscouting it just gets worse. I rarely buy new books at this point, preferring to just stumble on them as I go. But a good enough recommendation does wonders.

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  5. Certain jobs tend to attract people with certain personality traits. Regardless of what they believe in, many politicians feels a strong desire to be liked, loved, admired, and feared by other people. As far as I can tell, this is true for the aging liberal hippy sitting on the village council of Woodstock, New York and the dictator of a third world country. Most politicians seem emotionally needy to some extent. A lot of the stranger or untrustworthy behavior from politicians can be explained by this.

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  6. Glyph:
    As such, asking people with “what do you plan to replace Prohibition WITH?” seems almost like a non-sequitur.

    This is a good explanation of why the “replace with what” argument raises libertarian hackles.

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  7. Pingback: Cultural Imperial Hubris | Ordinary Times

  8. Question for Tod: From your previous posts, I got the impression that while you are mistrusting of politicians in general, you are especially mistrusting of Hillary Clinton. Is my impression wrong? Does she fall into the “all politicians” bin for you, or is she set apart? If the latter, why?

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