Our unwavering defense of Israel

Predictably, Jay Carney defended Israel’s recent strikes against Syria. The defense was the usual one:

“The transfer of sophisticated weapons to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah is certainly a concern and a threat to Israel, and they have the right to act in their own sovereign interest on … in response to those concerns.”

I like to play the universality game, applying our governments foreign-policy standards uniformly. So let’s pose a hypothetical: Advanced firearms being exported across the border to Mexico are a clear threat to Mexico, arming the drug cartels to the extent of being a threat to both the Mexican people and the Mexican state.

What would Carney say if Mexico started bombing firearm stores in Texas that are known to be providing weaponry to the drug cartels?

If anyone ever runs into him at a party, let me know what he says.

What you should undestand about American policies towards “illegal aliens”

There is a simple and vital aspect of America’s strategies regarding undocumented workers, which is scarcely reported on but should be understood by anyone attempting to form an opinion on the subject. 

Nearly all legislation, and indeed nearly all debate on undocumented workers in America focuses on how to handle the undocumented workers themselves.  Employers of undocumented workers face scarcely any sanction for doing this.  This results in an incentive for employers to hire undocumented workers, as well as leverage for them to exploit those workers.  The harder the punishment for undocumented workers in America, the more leverage the employers have.  This gives employers power to drive wages down, violate worker safety laws, and engage in unfair practices.  It takes power from the working classes, whether they are documented or not.

All members of the working classes should fight for stronger punishment for companies or individuals hiring undocumented workers.  This is the policy, for example, which Switzerland follows.  It makes it extremely difficult to get work illegally as it simply is not worth the risk for the companies or individuals who might otherwise consider hiring an undocumented worker.    It’s cheaper than all the ridiculous crap the U.S. does to keep Mexicans out, and infringes less on our human and constitutional rights.

If you are wondering why American politicians don’t consider such solutions, you should ask yourself whose interests they are actually fighting for.

Let’s talk about abortion

The tendency in America is to decompose all discussions into two contradictory positions. The dynamics of our media are such that they seek out and highlight people and movements that take the most extreme positions, as it makes it easier for them to construct their oppositional narrative. Whatever the intent, the result of this is to cartoonify everything and to reduce the discussion to some kind of football game — pick a side and root for one, or deride them both as lunatics — whichever you do, the only problems that get solved are how to fill the news hour and how to sell advertising space.

It’s hard to come up with a better example of this than the subject of abortion. Already the language is completely absurd — people who want to criminalize abortion aren’t anti-abortion, they’re “pro life”. People who think abortions should be legal aren’t pro abortion, they’re “pro choice”. Both of these are completely meaningless. I’m pro choice and pro life. That’s not an accident — everyone is pro choice. Who the hell would describe themselves as anti choice? There’s probably a deranged minority of people who might describe themselves as anti-life, but in general these won’t be people who are really anti life.

That’s one of the funny ironies in America’s retarded abortion politics. For the last 20 years there has been a strong alliance between the social/religious conservatives and the hawkish imperialists. The result of this has been that the “pro life” camp supports decidedly anti-life policies, in the hope that they succeed in criminalizing abortion. Thus they accept and support politicians who support military policies that result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people abroad — young, old, children and unborn children. They support policies that result in America having the highest infant mortality and infant poverty rates in the developed world. They support these politicians because they support criminalizing abortion.

I’m old enough to remember when the term “pro life” was coined. The justification for this bit of nuspeak is the claim that pro-lifer’s are not against abortion, they are pro-life. If this is the case, pro-lifers should question their strategy — is supporting these bloodthirsty pro-war anti-social-justice politicians really consistent with a pro-life philosophy?

More importantly, is it good strategy? Consider myself — I consider abortions to be unethical, and I consider them to be harmful to the individuals getting the abortion. I am however against criminalizing abortions. I believe alternative policies will produce the best outcome.

Consider alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. In the case of alcohol, we have learned the hard way that prohibition simply does not work. Years of experience have taught us that education, support and control of access to minors is far more successful than prohibition. Prohibiting alcohol did not decrease alcohol consumption, it made alcohol consumption much more dangerous, and removed any mechanisms for regulating access to children. It further introduced a wide host of undesirable side-effects, including violence, criminality, and widespread disregard for the law. Modern policies of education and control have been much more successful in addressing the negative outcomes of alcohol consumption (alcoholism, drunken misbehavior, and health consequences). Our society is currently learning the same lessons regarding the use of illegal drugs. With tobacco we were able to bypass the entire foolishness of prohibition and go directly to reasonable regulations and information campaigns which have been highly successfull in reducing tobacco consumption.

We know historically that criminalizing abortion does not eliminate abortion. Thus, pro-lifers should understand that elimination of abortion is simply not a realistic goal. Instead, let us get together and consider the question: “how can we minimize the number of abortions performed?”. As soon as we switch the conversation from the artificially restrictive one of “should abortions be illegal?”, to one of “How can we minimize the number of abortions that happen?”, we might be able to make progress on an important issue, and we might be able to remove the harmful polarization effect of this issue on our country.

Once we get to this point, there does remain a hurdle. The pro-lifebbbv movement has a disturbing history of focusing on denial-of-access and punitive techniques in their attempts to reduce abortion occurence. I belive that this too is counter productive. How can we reduce the number of abortions taking place?
The first step is to stop pretending that abstinence education is an effective birth control policy. No doubt that abstinence is an effective method of birth control, but hoping your kids are abstinent is a terrible way to prevent you daughter from getting pregnant. It is possible to teach your children how to have safe sex without encouraging them to do so, so let’s provide free birth control everywhere. Lets subsidize condoms and give every kid access to them.

Lets provide young mothers free medical care and a loving, supporting environment for their children to grow up in — regardless of whther or not the mother is the one who will raise the child.

But that’s the big problem with the so-called pro-life movement. It’s been hijacked by people with an extremist agenda that seems to have more to do with forcing a fundamentalist religious agenda on an unwilling America. One in which punishing young, sexually active women is more important than preventing unwanted pregnancies. Where children are to remain ignorant about the realities of sex until they married.

So I would suggest that single-issue voters ask themselves: what is really their single issue? Is it forcing religious fundamentalism on America, or is it reducing abortion? If the sanctitity of life is really your concern, ditch these war mongering religious fundamentalists who are willing to exploit your well meaning goals to pursue a decidedly anti-life agenda.

Copyright is not theft.

Every once in a while I read some rants in the newsgroups, and find myself compelled to reply.  Below is a recent post I made in sci.skeptic.

On Thu, 09 Dec 2010 01:17:27 -0800, Michael Gordge wrote:

>> >> >> >> >A parasite is a person who claims he is not stealing anything
>> >> >> >> >by copying

I really get annoyed how often I see this opinion expressed.  It’s a sad testament to the power of the propaganda model of the American media.

Do you know how you can tell that copyright violation is not theft?  There are several ways.  One very simple one is that they had to create specific laws prohibiting copyright violation, despite the fact that property laws (and thereby the legal concept of theft) already existed.  They are disjoint and separate things, and someone copying a book simply could not be prosecuted under theft laws.  It was perfectly legal to do so until copyright law was created.  I.e. theft!=copyright.

Another way you can tell that copyright violation is not theft is the simple principle that theft, by definition, denies the original owner of the use of whatever was stolen.  If I steal your bicycle you have to walk or take the bus.  If I make a copy of your bicycle, we can both ride.

The reason you are so brainwashed to believe that copyright == theft is due to a very deliberate and expensive advertising campaign (which would have been called a propaganda campaign 70 years ago before the word became pejorative) trying to make an emotional (not factual or logical) connection between copyright and property laws.  It’s a very successful exercise in framing, which causes its victims, like you, to regard “intellectual property” as real property, preventing you from engaging in real and meaningful debate (internally or with others) on the subject.

If you did think about the subject rationally and free from the framing prejudice built into you by the mass media (who, not coincidentally are the biggest profiteers from copyright law), you might bother to learn about the history, the social context, and the social impact of copyright law.  You might learn that the founders of the constitution were strongly ambivalent about the copyright and patent laws.  They viewed them as restrictions of freedom of speech (which they are).  In the end they decided to implement short copyright laws as well as patents, as an attempt to stimulate creative works.

That’s a very important thing to realize:  Copyright laws are a form of government intervention in the free markets, to attempt to stimulate said economy.  This is not simply an interpretation of events, it’s an historical fact backed up by the writings of the implementers of copyright and patent laws themselves.   They should be a far more contentious and hotly debated subject than, for example, minimum wage laws, as *they are an attempt to regulate free markets through a direct abridgment of constitutional rights*.  They are virtually never discussed within the mainstream media however, as such a discussion would threaten the bottom line of said media outlets.  Thus it is up to us to inform ourselves, and parroting their ridiculous propaganda is not helpful, regardless of your political or economic ideology.

If you were to further investigate the history of copyright law, you would learn that copyright used to ~20 years, with the option for the author to renew another 20.  With increased corporatization of the media industry (almost entirely in the last century) the ownership of copyright began to rest largely in the hand of large corporations rather than the creators themselves.  Corporations are by definition amoral, immortal, and through their wealth and longevity are able to gain political clout through economic means.  They, particularly Disney, lobbied extensively to ensure that the works of long dead artists remain their exclusive property, rather than entering the public domain as they should.  In the most recent copyright extension, copyright protection was granted retroactively to cover works already in the public domain and put them in private ownership.

If you were not so effectively brainwashed you might begin to realize that the biggest parasites in this system are these gigantic and wealthy entities which profit from the creative works of others while serving no functional role in society.  If Elvis’s works were in the public domain, as they should be, rather than in private copyright, more people would have access to his music.  That we are not able to freely copy and share his music is not the worst effect of these policies.  Keeping Elvis’s works in copyright is certainly not encouraging Elvis to keep producing new work, now is it?

The real harm comes from the inability to use his work in new creative works.  The large corporations who did nothing to promote the creative work, are using their copyrights to reap massive profits while robbing our creative commons.  They are the real parasites, and I would encourage you to please educate yourself on the subject.

I’m not a copyright abolitionist, but based on scholarly work on the subject, and an analysis of how the economic situation has changed, I’m convinced that copyright terms should be growing shorter, not longer.  Previously copyrights were more useful as it might take some time for a work to spread effectively, due to less efficient manufacturing and distribution.  Nowadays a book or piece of music can be copied infinitely many times and distributed all over the world, virtually for free.  This means that media distributors need less government protection than they did previously, and indeed are becoming more and more obsolete.

Shorter copyrights mean less government intervention in free markets.  Shorter copyrights mean more material for more creativity.    Shorter copyrights mean more freedom of speech.  I would propose a return to 20 year copyrights (from the current 90+ years enjoyed by the oligarchists in the US), and after reviewing the economic and social ramifications of that roll back, consider a further reduction to ten years.

Our lunatic military.

Nobel peace prize winner President Obama is in portugal for a 2 day Nato summit, in which he is trying to drum up Nato support for our ongoing invasion of Afghanistan. This goes on as we begin to introduce M1 Abrams tanks into Afghanistan. Previously we held out tanks, worrying that they would remind Afghans of the tank heavy Soviet invasion. But a senior Pentagon official says “We’ve taken the gloves off, and it’s had a huge effect.”. Another official opined that all the property damage is having a positive effect, because it forces the family, whose home has just been destroyed, to petition the governor with a damage claims. This officia stated “In effect, you’re connecting the [Afghan] government to the people”.

No, I’m not making any of that up, although I wish I were. In other news, all the oppressive airport security is finally getting on people’s nerves. Turns out they can deal with long lines, invasions of privacy, taking their shoes off and random laptop seizures, but they draw the line at being given the choice between having their genitals groped or having a 3D nudie photo of them taken.

Lies My Teacher Told Me

I’m on a bit of a history jag right now, and just finished reading the excellent “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by J. W. Loewen. The book is fascinating not only for the facts, insight and interpretation it gives to American history, but in its sociological analysis of how history is taught in America. It’s simultaneously a significant work of scholarship and a fascinating and fun read. Good enough that I had to write the author to tell him about my American history experience. I think my observations might be entertaining or edifying for others, so I’ll go ahead and post it here:

I just finished reading “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, and I wanted to write you and tell you it had a powerful impact on me. My wife is a sekondar teacher here in Switzerland, and history and social-studies are among the subjects she teaches. Although American history plays a lesser role in her lessons, and her teaching doesn’t seem to suffer from the same failings that the American curriculum does, I’m giving the book to her next, as I’m pretty sure she will find it fascinating and inspiring.

You might be interested in my experience with American high school. I went to a Canadian school grades 1-11, and then attended an American high school (in Sarasota, Fl) for the last year. There I had to take American History and American Government classes to satisfy the graduation requirements.

While some of the problems you address in your text were present in my earlier education (in grade 9 my social studies class was taught by the phys-ed coach), in grades 10 and 11 I had a fantastic social studies teacher (Mr Huff). We spent months discussing Indian culture and government, particularly the Iroquois. We staged a mock trial of Louis Real. His tests were always of the same form: He would take a particular issue from Canadian history, demand that we form an opinion on that issue, and then back that opinion with facts. We were graded on how many relevant facts we could bring to bear on our opinion.

Then I arrived in Sarasota. My history teacher there was named Mr. Bassett, a sextagenarian with died, brylcreamed hair. I think he was striving for a Southern Ronald Reagan look. The first thing I balked at was when Mr. Bassett proudly declared that Columbus had to convince the King and Queen that the world was round. I was shocked at the coverage of the Indians. I often tried to initiate discussion, as up until that point I had found history and social studies fascinating.

Some of the highlights:

– When we got the point of the constitutional convention, Bassett proudly explained to us that “I believe that there is nothing truly new under the sun. Everything has been done before. But on that day the founders creating something truly new, something that had never been seen before: a democratic government founded by the people, for the people and of the people”. At that point I said “well, what about the Iroquois? They had a democracy”. Bassett explained to me that this was the first time “a Nation” was a democracy. I recall learning that the Iroquois were called the “Iroquois Nation” in my history books, but Bassett wasn’t interested in discussion and just thundered on.

– It was election year (Bush Sr. vs Dukakis), and one day Bassett came in talking about an interview he’d seen on TV where the primary candidates had talked about what their favorite foods were. He looked down his nose at the black half the class and made a funny comment about how naturally J. Jackson’s favorite food was chicken. Now, in the town I grew up in there were no black people, and I was actually completely unaware of the “blacks like chicken” stereotype. It wasn’t until years later that I got what had been going on, and I got really pissed off.

– We learned what made a slave owner a good slave owner, and what made one a bad slave owner. A couple years later I was watching a black protester discuss how much having to answer that question on a test pissed him off, and I thought “holy shit yeah, that would piss me off too”, but at the time it never even occurred to me.

– After reading some of the inspiring quotes by Thomas Jefferson, I went to the library and looked up his writings. As I was scanning through, I found some stuff he’d written about black people and I was completely flabbergasted. Old TJ was a wonderful writer, and he came up with some extremely eloquent prose to point out how blacks were inferior because of the coarseness of their features etc. So I brought the book in to class with me, wanting to discuss the disconnect between what we were learning about T.J. and what I was reading by T.J. I read the offending passage out loud, at which point he asked me if I was a white supremacist.

Eventually of course I started to just sleep in class and write out the answers to the test questions by rote. Bassett gave me a B on the first test, so I went around and collected all the tests of students who got A’s. I laid them on his desk and demanded that he either explain to me how the other tests were superior to mine, or to give me an A as well. After I threatened to take the matter to the principal, he eventually capitulated.

Months later, I was working on a paper for English class (It was called “Is the CIA a Fascist Force?” — hey I was 17, but in my defense I started out by carefully defining what I meant by fascism, and then investigating if the CIA acted in a manner which pursued goals which could be characterized as fascist by the definition given. I lost my research material, and asked Bassett if I had perhaps left it in his classroom. He replied in the negative. I was pretty sure I had left it there, so I came to class early the next morning and rifled his desk —
sure enough I found it in one of his desk drawers. I took it back, and neither one of us ever mentioned it again.

Well, that’s all I got. Thanks for writing an excellent book. You can be sure I’ll try to share the reading experience with everyone I can. I’ll also be sure to pick up some of your other stuff.

Manufacturing consent and the drug war

Check out this “debate” between MPP’s Aaron Smith, and some chick called Calvina Fay:

Although I’m happy to see the issue being addressed (more or less) seriously in the mainstream media, I’m irritated by the inherent bias in the forum:

  • “street signs” at lower screen read:
    • “Golden state going to pot?
    • “Stoner stimuls for the states?
  • Off the cuff remarks biasing the forum:
    • “What if everyone walks around stoned all the time?
    • CNBC correspondent asking if the LA correspondents eyes are glazed.
    • L.A. correspondant: “you’d be high to think this is a slam dunk”

And let us not forget the inherent bias of the mechanics of the forum. Two people are given a few short minutes to present their point of view. The brevity of the allowed statements gives the dishonest representative of the dishonest status-quo an advantage, since all of here statement are familiar falsehoods, and thus ring true to the uneducated ear. The MPP debater has to focus on disassembling what lies he has time to deal with in the time allotted. So let’s take a look at the prohibitionists talking points:

” Legalizing it isn’t going to solve our drug problem, nor our economic problems. In fact it will make it worse.”There’s nothing new here of course, and there’s nothing true here either. While legalizing marijuanna certainly won’t solve our economic problems, it will create a new revenue stream and eliminate a harmful, wasteful, useless, cruel and racist expense: the incarceration and prosecution of marijuana users. It will reduce law enforcement costs, and free up funds and resources to fight real crimes. So it will mitigate our economic problems. Thus it’s a positive step in the right direction. The statement that legalisation will “make it worse” is just a fabrication to prevent us from looking at the sheer dumb-headed falseness of her statement.

Alcohol and tobacco have more social costs than they provide taxation income”But then what about the fact that Alcohol and tobacco have more social costs than they provide taxation taxation? This may very well be true. But we don’t criminalize Alcohol or tobacco production, despite the fact they are distinctly more harmful than cannabis. Why not? Primarily because we have learned from our mistakes. We attempted to apply cannabis style prohibition to alcohol back in the twenties, and it was a complete disaster. Not only did we lose the income from taxation of the substances, but their use increased, and the social harms exploded . Not only did we continue to see normal array of problems associated with alcohol abuse, but we added widespread crime and corruption into the mix. The parallels to the situation with cannabis are quite close. What’s different is the intrinsic harm caused by cannabis, which is much less than the intrinsic harm done by alchol use.

Legalisation will lead to more users. This is pure conjecture. The number she spits out (30%) is pulled out of hers, or someone else’s ass, with no basis in experiment to justify it. The data that does exists indicates that drug use either remains the same, or in many cases decreases with legalisation. Holland has lower cannabis use amongst its citizens than any of its neighbouring countries. Why? Well one Dutch official believes it’s because they “have succeeded in making cannabis boring”. This isn’t just an outlier. We have had similar results with alcohol prohibition, and Portugal has had similar results by decriminalizing all drug consumption. So the evidence suggests that prohibition not only doesn’t work, it has the opposite of the desired effect.

Marijuana is not harmless, it’s the number one drug that kids are in treatment for. This one actually makes me fucking angry. This is completely true, because Marijuana is the number one drug for which kids are being forced into involuntary “drug treatment”. One friend of mine was forced into one of these programs in his teenage years because he had smoked a few joints and got caught. They promptly put him on a series of pharmaceuticals. Brilliant. It’s the usual case that the most harmful consequence of cannabis consumption is getting caught. Now certainly marijuana is not harmless. Excessive use can rob your motivation. Excessive smoking can lead to bronchitis. All these effects can easily be cured by laying off for a couple of weeks. Cannabis is among the least habit forming drugs, and is associated with no withdrawal symptoms. So sure, excessive marijuanna use is harmful, just like excessive sugar or fast food consumption is harmful. Don’t overdo things. But criminalization of something radically safer than alcohol is just plain criminal.

We’d still have a black market for children, just like with alcohol and tobacco. The old “think of the children” ploy. It’s another complete line of bullshit. If you are worried about your children, or someone else’s children, you should be for the legalization of cannabis. Why? Well, the rate at which kids try cannabis under prohibition is high. By far the worst consequences of smoking cannabis result from its prohibition. If you get caught it can ruin your career, education and future. Why would you want to put your kids at that kind of risk, all because of a prohibition policy which has no benefit. ONDC polls indicate that high school age kids find it easier to get pot than to get alcohol. Under alcohol prohibition, an eight year old could walk into a bar and get a drink, no problem. Experience shows that regulation (like alcohol and tobacco) is more effective at keeping kids off drugs than prohibition (like cannabis and our failed attempts at alcohol prohibition). So the real question here is, are you stubbornly going to hold to prohibition, or are you interested in results? If you are interested in actually protecting your kids, support legalisation.

In closing, I just want to comment on the old trope “legalisation would be sending the wrong message to kids”. This statement is stupid in so many ways. Consider for example the Dutch experience (“we have succeeded in making cannabis boring”). Consider the kid who learns all the DARE propaganda, but sees healthy happy productive members of their peer group and society using and enjoying cannabis, and in fact coming off better than those using legal drugs. What message is that kid getting? Let me tell you: They are learning that the government lies, and that the laws are bullshit. Do you really want to teach your kid disrespect for the law?

Contemptible police tactics

I found out about this from the mpp blog. Apparently a federally-funded drug task force called “West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team (WestNet)” raided a medical-marijuanna club seized about 200 signatures, for a ballot initiative for marijuanna legalization.

The same group apparently raided another provider’s home. In the process of which, they handcuffed the family’s 14 year old son for two hours, and put a gun to his head”. They even confiscated $80 dollars form the 9-year-old daughter’s wallet in an attempt to prove that the dispensary was illegally profiting from pot sales.

lt’s hard not to get incensed over this kind of bullshit. What happened to the poor family makes a good story, and is easy to get riled up about, but the seizing of ballot initiative signatures is even worse. Drug laws would have changed 30 years ago, if it weren’t for the successful chilling-effect laid down by the destructive drug-laws and prohibition culture. This kind of thing is designed to frighten people, which in turn chills the efforts to obtain honest information about drugs and drug policies, and to have a real democracy, in which policy is informed by public knowledge, and public action.

The actions of WestNet violate Obama’s instructions to leave medical marijuanna providers be. Their actions represent the most despicable consequences and actions of the prohibition complex. In addition to legislative reform, we need culpability for bad cops. At the very least, WestNet should lose its federal funding as a result of these actions. I hope that you’ll join me in asking the ONDCP to take action against WestNet, to make an example of them, and let the rest of the overzealous, badly behaved, so-called “law-enforcement” officers.

Here is the text of the email I have sent them.  Please feel free to copy and paste:

I recently read about a federally-funded task force called “West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team (WestNet)”.

Apparently WestNet hasn’t gotten the memo that medical marijuanna providers are to be allowed to function within the domains of state laws. Worse, they have taken it on themselves to influence policy decisions by hampering legitimate political activism. I refer here to their seizing of petitition signatures as “evidence” (see http://blog.mpp.org/prohibition/reports-task-force-seizes-marijuana-petition-signatures-handcuffs-14-year-old/05242010/)

This same group, in another raid of another medical marijuanna provider, ransacked a licensed provider’s home, handcuffed their 14 year old son and PUT A GUN TO HIS HEAD. The further seized “as evidence” the contents of the 9 year old daughters mickey-mouse wallet.

Is this despicable behavior the intended use of federal funding being provided to this task force? I (and I am not alone) am sick and tired of hearing about this kind of brain-dead Gestapo tactics being used. Let alone being used against people who are trying to provide medicine to sick people.

It’s time that Police who show such bad judgement start facing some repercussions for their actions. I ask that you rescind the federal funding for WestNet. They are not using the money well.

Manufacturing consent and copyright law

The New York Times has a lengthy article entitled “A Supersized Custody Battle Over Marvel Superheroes”, discussing an ongoing legal battle over copyrights regarding character created by Jack Kirby between 1958 and 1963.  It is useful to analyse such reporting, to see how consent is manufactured for policies which benefit the power-elite (read large corporations), and harm the public, in this case the public domain.

First, a brief history lesson which needs repeating, as the vast majority of America has never even heard of the public domain, and has no understanding of how copyright law differs from property law, which differences defines how copyright violation differs from theft.  Copyright is (intended to be) a short term abridgement of human rights, specifically the right to free speech, in an effort to encourage and reward creative works.  They provide the creator of a work with a temporary monopoly on the spread of his or her ideas.   The main players behind the creation of copyright and patent law in the United States were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who clearly had mixed feelings on the subject.  The fundamental idea was that through creation of this temporary (state enforced) monopoly, congress could “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”.  A useful brief history can be found here.  Once this temporary copyright expired, the intellectual work would return to the public domain.  The original period of copyright length in the U.S. was 14 years, and the author had the right to extend the copyright for an additional 14  (Details of the historical development of copyright law can be found here).  The feeling was that this was an appropriate length of time to allow a creator the opportunity to benefit from his or her creation with an acceptable abridgement of human liberty.  In other words, copyright is a tradeoff between reward for the creator (incentive) and civil liberty, particularly to provide an incentive for publication and distribution.

As costs and times for distribution and publication decrease, the cost function for this tradeoff change, implying that copyright lengths should decrease.  In the last century copyright and publication has become dominated by an oligarchy of powerful corporations, primarily the members of the RIAA and MPAA, with Disney being a major villain.  These corporations have  championed a series of extension to copyright, each time adding a small fixed amount to the existing copyright lengths,  so that copyrights can now be extended to the life of the author + 70 years.  There is no reason to expect that these corporations will allow their increasingly valuable copyright portfolios to expire, so as waves of valuable intellectual property stand to enter the public domain (where they belong), we can expect the armies of lobbyists to swarm Congress’ halls once again.

So what does all this have to do with manufacturing consent?  In the NYT article, the article never mentions the concept of public domain.  It never discusses the fact that Kirby’s creations, now at 50 years of age, should have entered the public domain 32 years ago (under the original terms of copyright law).  There is consideration of the harm done by such copyright litigation which has no redeeming social value.  Jack Kirby, 16 years dead, is not going to be rewarded by this lawsuit, nor will the current process encourage any kind of creative work, beyond creative legal wrangling.  The underlying message of the article seems to be “look, thanks to the efforts of this lawyer and our wonderful copyright system, this guys heirs are gong to be getting a payday!  Isn’t the American copyright system grand?”  Rather than the message we should all be reading, which is “Look, this legal vampire is trying to make a lot of money of this copyright vampire.  The copyright vampire deserves to suffer, since without it’s machinations these works would be in the public domain and contributing to our culture.  But the legal vampire isn’t contributing anything to our culture either, and giving money to Kirby’s heirs isn’t doing anything for anyone either, other than using the legal system as a kind of lottery”.  The real lesson to be learned here is the following:  We need copyright reform.  We need copyrights to be shorter, and we need them to remain in the hands of the creator, not in the hands of some parasitic corporate behemoth.

Exit strategies for the war on drugs, part1: Framing the discussion

I am gradually of the opinion that drug-policy reform is now a sure thing, and the discussion will need to shift to alternative policies.  This is the first in a multi-part series, in which I prattle on about what comes next after the war on drugs.  This post attempts to formulate a useful basis for the discussion of the subject.

The Guardian has an excellent article: Prohibition’s failed. Time for a new drugs policy. The first line sums it up perfectly “http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/06/editorial-drugs-policy-latin-america”.

It’s clear that the debate now needs to be about what comes next.   We’ve created a stupid war against the citizenry our own country.  It’s completely fucking up our civil liberties, and in fact the entire premise is completely unconstitutional. Argentina’s government has realized this, and if we lived in a healthier democracy, we would have figured out the same thing by now. The good news is we seem to be getting there, so the time for figuring out an exit strategy would seem to be now.

The issues aren’t simple. We have a monstrous police-state machinery in place. We have to pull out the troops and integrate them back into society, and provide them with counselling to reintegrate them into normal society. While this should be an easy sell, as there is a peace-dividend (reduced spending on law-enforcement and prisons, improved civil liberties, reduced crime…) the drug-warriors don’t want to give up sucking at the government teat, and form a powerful lobby. The most difficult question of course is “okay, prohibition doesn’t work, what now?”.

Unfortunately, the people who should be working on this are still too afraid to admit prohibition has failed.  While they get up to speed, the most productive discussions in this arena are taking place online, in in the periphery of other discussions. I’d like to discuss the issue more directly.


So, let’s identify some (hopefully) uncontroversial goals, by which we can judge whether a drug policy is working or not.

  • minimize addiction rates.
  • minimize overdose deaths.
  • protect children and uninformed consumers.
  • minimize crime (e.g. junkies stealing to get their ‘fix’)

There are other effects which are more difficult to quantify, such as health impacts (cancer and such) and effects on productivity. While these are worth considering, I think it’s a reasonable approach to consider them second-order effects. Once we have a policy which optimizes the easily measured first-order effects, we can worry about the second order ones. The key thing to keep in mind here is prohibition is a nightmarish failure, regardless of which effects you consider. It doesn’t accomplish any of the desired effects. The results of prohibition are so disastrously bad, that complete deregulation might end up working just as well, without the enormous cost (socially and economically) of funding the war.

An error the drug warriors make is framing the discussion in terms of “zero-tolerance”.   They want to completely eliminate all drug use.  What the last 100 years has shown is that that won’t happen. You can keep spending more money, you can keep use the constitution as toilet paper after shitting on people’s civil rights, you can get more and more violent and intolerant, you can impose increasingly draconian laws, and people will still use drugs. The figures are there.  It takes enormous cognitive dissonance to deny them, so let’s stop doing

There remains of course the question of how much we are willing to pay to achieve those goals. I suspect that the people who are so willing to spend billions on the drug war, will be less willing to spend the same billions on counselling, care, rehabilitation, education, and maintenance programs. Fortunately, the drug war has been so damned expensive, anything we come up with likely be much more effective at a greatly reduced financial cost.  This will allow us to frame all such harm reduction spending in terms of savings over the prohibitionist approach.

Having identified a set of goals which I hope we can all agree on, let us consider what will be needed to implement a sane drug policy.  It’s my conviction that a good drug policy will involve the following components.

  1. Rational evaluation of drug harm.
  2. Honest drug education.
  3. Honest drug scheduling (a rational classification system).
  4. A sane handling of the respective classes of drugs.
  5. Reality based assessment of policy effects.
  6. More power to states and communities for deciding drug policies.

Each of these points is non-trivial, and will require some discussion.  Thus they will be the subject of future posts.

Some might disagree with necessity of a drug scheduling system at all, and would advocate regulating all drugs like we do alcohol.  While I see some merits to such an extremely libratarian approach,  I would argue against pursuing such a goal for the following reasons:  It’s unrealistic in today’s political climate, it’s too rapid and extreme a change, and I suspect such a policy might be nearly as harmful as the current policy.  If it’s not clear to me, it’s going to be extremely unpalatable for the average citizen.

Keeping the classification system allows to handle the approach in a more reasonable and rationed manner.  We can agree to pursue a policy that accomplished the stated goals, and analyse each drug case by case, based on a rational assessment of its relative harm, made by qualified medical researchers. It also allows us to separate the questions “do we need drug policy reform”, and “what is a good drug policy for drug X”.  The answer to the former question is simple, the answer to the latter is, in some cases, rather difficult.  For example, I am torn on what constitutes a good policy for Heroin or Crack (I do know that current American policies are the wrong answer, but I’m not sure heroin and crack bars are the right answer).

Conclusion and caveats:

To successfully advocate for drug policy reform, I think keeping the above goals in mind is extremely useful.  It provides a concrete, uncontroversial framework for evaluating the failure of current policy, and provides some useful indications for steps in a positive direction.  There may be additional goals which are useful to bring into the discussion, but in the terrible situation we currently find ourselves in, we should strive to work toward unifying, uncontroversial goals.  Once these are acheived, we can open up more controversial, difficult discussions, such as “what right does the government have telling me what I can put in my body anyway”, or the ethical merits of a drug-free lifestyle versus the spiritual benefits of psychotropic drugs.