Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How big money is sending us down the gurgler

Rolling Stone magazine has run the best story I've seen on the WFC (that's World Financial Crisis, nothing to do with fried chicken). It clarifies the confusion between two points of view – one, that it's all a conspiracy or two, that politicians are sort of OK people who are doing their best on behalf of their constituents.

Writer Matt Taibbi begins:

It's over — we're officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline — a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire.
It's eight pages well worth a read.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

At last! The Herald gets real about drugs

Today's editorial in The Sydney Morning Herald marks a sea-change in granny herald's attitudes. Finally Sydney's bikie wars and gang violence are put into their correct context as ‘unintended consequences’ of the failed 100-year War on Drugs.

The piece refers to The Economist's call for decriminalised, regulated availability of recreational drugs because it is the ‘least bad policy’. 

That magazine “noted that in 1998 the United Nations general assembly called for a drug-free world by 2008. In the intervening decade, despite a massive death toll and the expenditure by the United States alone of $US40 billion ($57 billion) a year on the war, the extent of drug use in First World countries has hardly changed at all.”

What a contrast to the spin coming from the UN's chief prohibitionist, Antonio Maria Costa, who interprets this failure as a “stabilisation” of illicit drug use. It is he who uses the coy phrase “unintended consequences” to describe the worldwide violence, corruption and injustice stemming from this stupid war against an industry which makes up about eight per cent of world GDP, bigger than the economies of most countries.

But it's still baby steps from The SMH. The next step is to acknowledge that illicit drugs are not 'the scourge of society’ as the dogma goes, but a pleasurable privilege that is not a significant problem for 98 per cent of users. After all, that's why the “persistent demand” that The Herald refers to just won't go away.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bikies and prohibition make NSW a police state

Kings Cross is likely to see more violence as the NSW government declares yet another war – this time on bikies.

But this War, which will give police unprecedented secret powers, is just an extension of the War on Drugs, as explained below.

“Follow the money” says Duncan McNab in the SMH today, referring to the profits to be made from illegal drugs. He writes:

“The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that in 2004, 9 per cent of Australians had tried amphetamines. One in five aged from 20 to 29 had dabbled, much of it supplied by outlaw motorcycle gangs. In August 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy with a value of $440 million was seized and linked to a bike gang… But the seizure did not stop the party.

“So it is no wonder that gangs will fight hard to protect their turf and the dollars generated. Critical parts of that turf are the nightclubs of Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.”

[Pictured are the bikes of a Nomads chapter parked in Kings Cross in July 2004.]

The new laws are based on South Australian laws which allow police to search your home if you live next door to a suspect – without your knowledge. You can also be jailed for meeting a “proscribed person” more than six times in a year.

Police never have to reveal the evidence they cite in deciding whose home to search or whom to proscribe. It gives them powers that rival police states such as Burma or the fascist regimes of last century. These powers WILL be misused.

You can also be jailed for failing to provide identification to police, says the SMH. Police Minister Tony Kelly today reassured 'working families' that the new laws applied only to people suspected of “serious” offences such as drug trafficking, murder, kidnap, pedophilia etc.

Of course if you repeatedly say drug trafficking is a serious offence and mention it alongside murder and pedophilia then it must be a serious offence. However this does not apply to pubs because the drug they sell – alcohol – is legal. And if you are one of the 20% of young people who have used amphetamines or one of the 50% who have tried cannabis, you will be surprised to know you are the victim of a crime as serious as murder or pedophilia. But, sadly, that's the fiction on which our laws are based.

The new laws will also give police the power to declare protesters or strikers Proscibed Groups – on the spot with no warrant or reference to the courts.

True to form, prohibition is not directly mentioned in The SMH. Only Crikey seems to see that ‘elephant in the room’, with Greg Barns today writing:

“As I noted in Crikey on 1 April last year, these laws are largely unenforceable, cement in law the concept of guilt by association and would do nothing to lessen the problem of bikie gangs’ violence because they completely miss the point – which is that bikie gangs thrive on our refusal to decriminalise drugs.

“The Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act passed through the South Australian Parliament in May last year make the anti-terrorism laws look like a freedom charter.”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Victorian anti-ice campaign 'bullshit' says professor

A nice story from The Age exposes the reality vs the spin of the War Against Drugs.

Premier Steve Bracks in 2007 trumpeted a new $14 million campaign against Ice, 'the new scourge of society' at the time. Not only has the campaign disappeared down the gurgler but the Ice epidemic fizzled out, too.

"I have never been subject to a bigger load of bullshit," said Professor Nick Crofts, an expert in harm reduction programs.

Experts were worried that the focus on ice simply took the focus off heroin and that the campaign was basically a political stunt.

Note the comment from the Opposition at the end of the Age story -- they just don't get it either.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Media addicted to drugs panic stories

The media are addicted to scare stories about drugs. In 1934 it was a 'Snowstorm' as Melbourne newspapers beat up a circulation-boosting panic about a cocaine epidemic – despite their inability to find anyone who had actually abused the drug. However it was enough justification to form the first Australian Drug Squad.

This morning ABC radio, in between all the alcopops stories, reported a new  threat from heroin. It reported political instability in South-west Asia has allowed the supply of heroin to double. Apparently overdose rates in Victoria are rising and Australia is an attractive market because users are willing to pay high prices. It's panic stations in case we return to the bad old days of the 1990s with three people dying each day from overdoses.

This could be portrayed as further evidence that prohibition has failed, even as Antonio Maria Costa extolls its successes at the UN. But, as usual, this 'woolly mammoth in the room' was not mentioned, the stories fizzling out with insipid calls for the government to do some unspecified thing  about it. 

Apparently the government is "focusing too much on alcohol". But, hang on, the same people have been lobbying hard in support of the alcopops tax which looks like failing in the Senate anyway. Sheesh, what's a poor government to do?

Hint: we know that medically supervised injecting centres prevent deaths from overdoses, so if those deaths are really the concern, why not build a few more centres, as recommended by the 1999 NSW Drugs Summit? Injecting centres work, prohibition doesn't. It's unarguable.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Terrifying footage of US War on Drugs

The little kiddies living on this street in suburban USA will be staying inside for a while after this wild shootout in which a SWAT team "Takes out" a "dangerous dealer".

Even with this level of expenditure and force, illicit drugs remain easily available in every town in the US -- and in Australia. This video is a glimpse of what a "drug-free world" would really look like. Truly, the solution is worse than the problem. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ecstasy 'riddled with rat poison'

Thus claims The Daily Telegraph today in a scare story about impurities in ecstasy-type pills.

"During recent drug hauls, the AFP's illicit drug intelligence program has analysed tablets that have shown traces of various "adulterants" including heroin, LSD, rat poison, methamphetamine, veterinary anaesthetics and crushed glass", it says.

"Among 14- to 19-year-old users 17.3 per cent used ecstasy - which experts say is growing in popularity compared with other illicit drugs - at least once a week.

"Recent government statistics also show that over 1.5 million had used ecstasy in their life and males were more likely than females to have used ecstasy."

The irony is, the story constitutes an excellent case against prohibition – firstly, any such impurities would not exist in a regulated market, thus removing the danger, and secondly, that's an awful lot of teenagers taking pills! Clearly prohibition isn't working. Of course that view is not mentioned by The Tele. 

Professional fence-sitter Paul Dillon timidly asserts that we need "ways of dealing with it more effectively."

That's for sure.

It's another beat-up from the Daily Terror!
An AOD (Alcohol and other drugs) professional provided this commentary on the story:

If the AFP has found active doses of Heroin in ersatz “e” pills, it would be a world first. No sample tested anywhere on the planet has been confirmed to contain active doses of Heroin.

This should not be surprising, as Heroin is worth hundreds of dollars per gram when sold as Heroin.

As far as I am aware, the only previous case in the literature is a pill tested by Interpol which tested positive, but to inactively small traces of Heroin. The amount found was so tiny that most commentators believe it had simply been stored in a zip lock bag that had previously contained powder heroin.

The Veterinary Anaesthetics mentioned are of course the dissociative Ketamine, a very common adulterant in dodgy “e”. Ketamine combined in the right dose-ratio with Methamphetamine or Dexamphetamine produces a synergistic effect that mimics true MDMA. In the wrong relative doses, this combination is either very “speedy” or very sedating.

When users describe a pill as “smacky” it almost always contains too much Ketamine. (Better informed users may call this “going in the K-hole.”)
When users describe a pill as “coke-based” it typically contains methamphetamine or other ATS, or caffeine. No pill has been found to contain active doses of cocaine, (for the same reasons that none have been found to contain active doses of heroin).

Very rarely pills are found that contain pesticides or other toxins.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

UN drugs czar spins us into a new, futile war

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs is meeting as I write to decide global drug policy for the next ten years. While drug authorities are deeply divided  about the current prohibitionist approach, Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, has no doubt that prohibition is the answer.

But he defends his view with a string of fallacies, and this surely undermines his position. 

In a BBC interview today (Wed 11 March, 0832 UK time) , Costa claimed success for prohibition because 100 years ago, a lot more opium was being produced than there is now. However it is not valid to compare Shanghai in 1900 to models of legalised regulation being proposed nowadays by reformers. 

Then, opium was treated just like any commodity and international trade was fostered by Britain. Shiploads of it were produced in India and sold in China where it was consumed at will, largely through smoking in opium dens.

Nobody is proposing a return to any such model. For a start, today's addict injects heroin rather than smoking opium. This change was accelerated if not caused by the US-driven introduction of prohibition – heroin is more easily transported, concealed and consumed than opium, and produces higher profits. Heroin was originally smoked but, as prohibition tightened, the best bang for buck came, literally, from injecting.

That introduces more serious risks such as HIV AIDS. Russia is one of the strictest prohibitionist countries, where addicts are routinely jailed and methadone programs are banned. Needle exchanges are controversial and risky to use. An estimated two million addicts in the country – one addict for every 50 people of working age – is around eight times the rate for other European countries. There are around one million Russians with HIV which used to be spread mainly among drug users but is now spreading to the wider population. 

Russian prohibitionists blame their problem on the occupation of Afghanistan, the source of most of their heroin,  and urge the mass aerial spray-poisoning of opium crops.

But even if this horrendous solution choked the supply of heroin, trends in other countries show that addicts simply turn to other drugs such as pharmaceutical opioids or, worse, amphetamines which can be locally produced in secret labs.

To compare this situation to Shangai in 1900 is ludicrous. In doing so Costa also ignores the fact that the 1998 UN policy called for  a world free of drugs by 2008. It hasn't happened. Drug use is down in some places, up in others. Prohibitionist Sweden, showcase of the conservatives, has the same addiction rate as liberal Norway. Some drugs are declining worldwide but others are rising in popularity.

Costa glosses over this failure by claiming that the War on Drugs has “stabilised” drug consumption. He claims that "legalisation" would cause an explosion in drug use with “major health consequences.” Tell that to a Russian addict with HIV.

Because only 0.5% of people are addicts, he says, prohibition has worked. What nonsense! By the same token, only 1.5% or so of illicit drug users are addicts. The low addiction rates are not a result of prohibition. Simply, most people are too smart to get addicted in the first place, law or no law. 

Prohibitionists like Costa always say “legalisation” because it evokes the spectre of an out-of-control free-for-all with half the population wrecked on drugs. Costa argues that, because far fewer people use illegal drugs than alcohol and tobacco, prohibition has worked. It's more nonsense – our society has always used tobacco and alcohol more than other drugs, legal or not, because they are very different from other drugs. Think of it this way: if cannabis, heroin or ecstasy were legal, would you start using them? Nearly all non-users answer "no". Or, if you drink and we lived under alcohol prohibition, would you accept a glass of fine wine offered by a trusted friend at a private dinner? Probably. The law has little to do with people's choices in this regard.

The illicit drugs simply do not suit most people. A single dose is far more powerful than moderate amounts of alcohol. People take mdma or smoke marihuana to have a strong experience, to greatly alter their mental state in a pleasurable way. Most people are not interested in this and many have unpleasant experiences on these drugs. 

Alcohol is different – people have a few drinks for social reasons, and you can have a few over dinner without great effect.  Many people who enjoy a few drinks  simply dislike the effects of cannabis, hallucinogens or amphetamines. They don't have a good time on them and would not start using them if they were available legally. Just like people in The Netherlands.

A more accurate term than "legalisation" is “controlled availability”, a term which recognises that a legal, regulated framework could actually control many aspects of drug production, distribution and use, earning tax dollars along the way and saving a fortune in the cost of incarcerating millions of people, the great majority of whom have not in fact done anyone else any great harm.

Costa also ignores that the use of cannabis and ecstasy, for instance, exploded under prohibition in the 1960s and 1990s, and that they are easily available in every town in western countries. Is this what he calls success?

However, at least he now recognises the vast global drugs industry, calling it "an unintended consequence of prohibition". This illegal, unregulated and untaxed industry constitutes around 8% of global GDP. It's bigger than the oil and fuel industry! Costa blithely asserts that we simply need to get tougher and police this industry out of existence. 

From what area would he have us take the massive military budget required? Health, education, disaster aid, pensions, infrastructure, anti-terrorism?

What sort of a world would it be? A very ugly one I think, full of soldiers, guns, prisons and poison on a massive scale.

And all to 'prevent' something which for the vast, vast majority of drug users is not even a significant problem.

I note Costa has not answered the question posed to him by the dare to act email campaign: If "legalisation" will lead more people to take drugs, why does prohibitionist San Francisco have three times the cannabis usage rate of liberal Amsterdam? Costa has repeatedly, publicly evaded that one. See the footage of it via the link!

Costa's whole position is based on fallacy. But he doesn't care, because he and his prohibitionist friends control UNODC and all they need is enough spin to convince uncritical media and ill-informed people that their mindset is justified.

The Guardian neatly summarises the alternative approaches to drug regulation here.

PS 13/03/09  Antonio Maria Costa continues with more nonsense soundbites. Get this one: "Drugs are not harmful because they are controlled, they are controlled because they are harmful," he said. 

First, drugs are far more harmful because of prohibition -- see the 'ground glass and rat poison' post above this one on the main blog page. Second, drugs are hardly controlled when they are being pushed by an illegal international industry bigger than the fuel oil industry. It's a clever bit of spin from Costa, appropriating the word 'control' which is used by his opponents as in 'controlled availability', often interchanged with 'regulated supply'.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's not a recession but “the great disruption”

This New York Times opinion piece rings true. 

We are not experiencing ‘The Great Recession’ as the IMF dubbed it today. 

Rather, it’s the collapsing of an unsustainable bubble blown up by  a model of wealth creation built on debt, planned obsolescence and exploitation of natural resources far beyond a level which can be passed on to future generations.

Equally interesting is a comment on the piece by Don Duncan which concludes:

“We've killed the goose; demand was unsustainable, propped up by enormous debt, and it's not coming back.

“So where are the jobs going to come from for a sustainable economy? The less energy we use, the more the energy companies will have to charge (and the government - see today's articles about new taxes to make up the decline in gas tax income, as people drive less and cars become more efficient). Any attempt to return to buying rubbish just to keep the economy turning over is doomed. Where's the tax base going to be?

“What will a sustainable economy look like?”

Indeed. It’s highly recommended reading.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Drug search goes badly wrong for Police

The courts have thrown out a police case against Kristian Bolwell, a Newtown solicitor, who was assaulted and arrested by police when he offered his card to a person they were searching for drugs. Mr Bolwell had two ribs broken by police during the arrest.

Costs of approximately $6,000 have also been awarded against the police after CCTV footage showed their case against Mr Bolwell to be based on lies. 

No drugs were found on the person being searched even though he had been indicated by a sniffer dog after a squad of police had entered the Coopers Arms Hotel in Newtown and blocked off all the exits before trawling patrons with the dog.

Mr Bolwell may sue for compensation. All costs of this case will be met by you and I, the taxpayers.

ABC radio transcript here. Previous blog entry here.

Friday, March 06, 2009

More great stencils get zapped

Local artist Mini-Graf kindly installed this work: Danger: A repressive society is coming in Brougham Lane for a prospective docco some friends of mine are piloting.

It was taken down within two hours. Can't have good art on the walls now, can we?

The Carriageworks people asked for the pic to run in their next art magazine.

Today I found a kindred blog, Nosey in Newtown, which pictured the German version of the stencil (below), also since removed.

Nosey documents the history of that wall as more artists keep putting new work there.

What officialdom will never realise is that some people need the freedom to act outside its claustrophobic middleclass oppression, and such people will gravitate to the inner city because suburbia is suffocating. 

But control is getting more and more effective in the name of nothing more than a middle-class obsession with order and sterility.

As one caller on radio 702 commented to graffiti-hater Deborah Cameron, "At the end of the day it's only paint on the wall". 'Get some perspective' was her message to those whose brains explode every time they see wall art.

Funnily enough calls ran mostly in favour of wall art and even lenience to taggers -- "make them clean it up" was the commonly suggested punishment, and I have no problem with that if the wall owner doesn't want it on their wall.

But the haters of public art believe themselves to be the sole arbiters of public amenity.

PS Deborah Cameron yesterday spoke a nice faux-pas when she described herself as "a scrubber", referring to her neurotic habit of scrubbing out graffiti.

A heavy hitter against prohibition

Respected magazine The Economist, hardly your typical lefty rantsheet, has published one of the most succinct rebuttals of drug prohibition. 

A short quote:

"Indeed, far from reducing crime, prohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before."  

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Obama policies expose Drug War hypocrisy

The Wall Street Journal yesterday analysed the effects of President Barak Obama's new policy of halting Federal busts for medical marihuana use in states where it is legal.

Like all policies that decriminalise use but keep trafficking illegal, the policy means the high-risk and high-profit incentive for illegal drug cartels continues.

The Journal relates this to the carnage in Mexico. There, major drug cartels making around $10bn a year out of gringo demand for pot and coke also fight a bloody armed war against their own government, which is in turn financed by the Americans. So US money is fighting US money on foreign ground.

Mexico is paying a high price for this contradiction between US demand and US policy, and many there believe the fallout from the drug war is far worse than problems around the drugs. Pictured (top) are Mexican soldiers deploying and (right), some of the decapitations performed by the Cartels (pic by Glenn Beck).

On top of that, US gun dealers are making a fortune selling weapons to the Mexican cartels, also reported in the WSJ. Truly, the beneficiaries of prohibition are a scary bunch. 

Attempts by the Mexicans to decriminalise personal drug use have been blocked by massive pressure from the Bush administration. 

More and more commentators are calling for an end to the War on Drugs, a move which would very quickly starve the cartels of their income. 

Then the problems of drugs could be addressed through regulatory controls along with health and education measures all paid for by taxing the drugs. Californian Senator Tom Ammanio has introduced a Bill along these lines arguing that the money earned and saved by the government would go a long way to address the government's soaring financial  deficit.

Change is indeed in the air. Obama's move on medical marihuana is a small, safe step in the right direction. But meanwhile Mexico is soaked in blood and our own SBS News has started reporting the Mexican carnage but, typical of the Australian media, mentions nothing about the role of prohibition in the problem.