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June 9, 2011

"U.S. can't justify its drug war spending, reports say"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from the Los Angeles Times, which starts this way:

As drug cartels wreak murderous havoc from Mexico to Panama, the Obama administration is unable to show that the billions of dollars spent in the war on drugs have significantly stemmed the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States, according to two government reports and outside experts.

The reports specifically criticize the government's growing use of U.S. contractors, which were paid more than $3 billion to train local prosecutors and police, help eradicate fields of coca, operate surveillance equipment and otherwise battle the widening drug trade in Latin America over the last five years.

"We are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we are getting in return," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that wrote one of the reports, which was released Wednesday.  "I think we have wasted our money hugely," agreed Bruce Bagley, who studies U.S. counter-narcotics efforts and chairs international studies at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Fla. "The effort has had corrosive effects on every country it has touched."

Obama administration officials strongly deny that U.S. efforts have failed to reduce drug production or smuggling in Latin America.  White House officials say the expanding U.S. counter-narcotics effort occupies a growing portion of time for President Obama's national security team even though it garners few headlines or congressional hearings in Washington.

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June 9, 2011 at 11:03 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Eliminate the programs and (1) the federal government would save billions and (2) the drug cartels would endure a decline in their profits due to a decrease in drug prices.

It seems that only purpose of maintaining the policies is to ensure the profits of the contractors and in turn the donations that they make to members of Congress.

Posted by: James | Jun 9, 2011 7:44:26 PM

"Eliminate the programs and (1) the federal government would save billions and (2) the drug cartels would endure a decline in their profits due to a decrease in drug prices.

It seems that only purpose of maintaining the policies is to ensure the profits of the contractors and in turn the donations that they make to members of Congress."

I would add that another factor is (3) people in the DEA, USDOJ, and BOP are worried that their jobs would be in jeopardy if this country actually did the right thing and adopted a sensible drug policy.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Jun 9, 2011 9:15:44 PM

Maybe the reason " the expanding U.S. counter-narcotics effort occupies a growing portion of time for President Obama's national security team even though it garners few headlines or congressional hearings in Washington" is not getting any attention is that there is no reduction in the supply or quality of street drugs.

Posted by: John Neff | Jun 9, 2011 9:19:44 PM

TDPS --

"I would add that another factor is (3) people in the DEA, USDOJ, and BOP are worried that their jobs would be in jeopardy if this country actually did the right thing and adopted a sensible drug policy."

If my job in the USAO had been "in jeopardy," the "jeopardy" would have consisted of having to take an offer in a private firm at between three and four times what I was making in the government.

Jeopardy should be made of sterner stuff.

More broadly, the reason the drug war continues after 40 years, through Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi, is not a conspiracy of GS-13's at DOJ, etc. It's that a big and continuing majority in this country would prefer to suppress drug use, rather than expand it.

Four decades of what goes on in Congress is a better indication of what the public wants than the comments section of a blog occupied largely by the criminal defense bar.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 9, 2011 11:00:48 PM

The reason the drug war continues is because the public is ignorant about both the problem and the solution, primarily because their government lies to them daily--about the supposed dangers of benign substances like marijuana and about the real cause of prohibition-related violence. This Government lies to the public, claiming that drugs are illegal because of the danger they cause, but the war on drugs has caused far more harm than drugs have. Then the Government pumps money into agencies like the DEA, local and federal prosecutors, and other government agencies to continuously pump the hysteria. All of these people have a stake in continuing the war on drugs, because they have staked their jobs and reputations in the illusory "truthiness" with which it is sold to the public.

If Government officials, like prosecutors and the Drug Czar, started talking to the public like adults and actually stating the truth about drugs, then public opinion might actually change.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jun 10, 2011 1:38:01 AM

Here is a link to a segment a Channel 10 San Diego broadcast on May 4, 2011 about Hezbollah setting up a cell in Tijuana and collaborating with the Mexican drug cartels:

http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2011/06/terrorist-group-setting-up-operations.html

The blog, www.borderlandbeat.com, provides current content on the drug violence in Mexico and the efforts to quell it. Mostly in English. The pictures and video are not for the faint-of-heart.

Also the site, www.smallwarsjournal.com, provides good content about Mexican drug cartels and other small wars. It's written by retired marines.

Posted by: Fred | Jun 10, 2011 4:17:08 PM

Otis-

"If my job in the USAO had been "in jeopardy," the "jeopardy" would have consisted of having to take an offer in a private firm at between three and four times what I was making in the government.

Jeopardy should be made of sterner stuff."

Doesn't the fact that you didn't go to the private sector for lots more money demonstrate that the job you had really meant a lot to you?

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Jun 10, 2011 8:03:12 PM

What we are currently practicing is absolute insanity unless we intend to invade Mexico and become an occupying force (again).

There are no dumber defenders of current public policies and practices than those who sincerely believe (but whose employment) is also dependent on current government policies and practices. These are the internally self-dishonest who actually believe these platitudes (from financial necessity) but not clear rational thought.

Thus, the belief of false fears , much like sex-offender laws, continue unchallenged.

And no liberal or conservative will save us from the insanity. We have met the enemy, and they are US.

Posted by: albeed | Jun 10, 2011 10:09:07 PM

TDPS --

The reason I mentioned more lucrative alternatives in the private sector was to show that it is NOT the case that the drug war is propped up by "people in the DEA, USDOJ, and BOP [who] are worried that their jobs would be in jeopardy..."

The drug war continues because, as I said, the public wants to suppress drug use rather than risk its becoming more widespread. DOJ emloyees have next to nothing to do with the persistence of drug laws.

To answer your question directly: I certainly enjoyed my job as an AUSA, but not in particular because I was involved in drug law enforcement (although of course that was part of it, as it is for most AUSA's). I enjoyed being a prosecutor because the job consists essentially of just one thing -- pulling back the curtain on the truth. Just trot out the facts, let the defendant trot out his (if he cares to) and let the jury decide. It's actually simple.

I used open file discovery (which is not legally required) and never put pressure on a defendant to bargain. I didn't (and don't) care for plea bargaining. I know this is an unusual attitude for prosecutors (or defense counsel, for that matter), but it's how I operated. The Constitution gives each defendant a right to trial. My attitude was that it wasn't up to me to take down what the Framers put up.

(The other part of my attitude, which I doubt will be as popular here, was that if people wanted to avoid the supposedly blockheaded and pernicious drug laws, they had a really, really easy out: Stay away from drugs. This is what they should have been doing anyway for well-established health reasons).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 11, 2011 6:04:07 AM

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