Mexico is being torn apart by drug gangs, often wrongly called cartels. Cartels are created to uphold prices. In the case of Mexico, it is law enforcement and the prohibition of drugs that upholds prices–and makes drug dealing irresistibly profitable.
All along the drug chain there is death, from the campesino in the jungle who runs afoul of a drug lord to the overdosed addict.
The libertarian solution is legalization. It was endorsed by the late conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and by The Economist magazine. This would work if not one new user were to come into the drug culture. But drugs are aggressively proselytized.
The British learned this the hard way. In the early 1960s, they thought they had the hard drug problem licked with a form a legalization that worked. Heroin addicts—and there were few, just 27 in London–were under the care of a doctor and they would line up at pharmacy, waiting to get their prescriptions filled. This was fairly easily managed because heroin is a legal medicine in Britain, used as a pain suppressant for the terminally ill. The British were so proud of how they handled the hard drug problem that they liked to lecture Americans on how it should be done.
Then it all fell apart. An addict broke into a storage unit and introduced a wide range of people to heroin. The speed at which heroin addiction spread frightened the authorities. From a little over two dozen addicts, the number in London jumped to over 250. The government was shocked by the dependence and the proselytizing effect. Additionally, immigrants were pouring into Britain and bringing with them a culture of drug use.
The flood gates were open. Britain is now overwhelmed with drugs and no solution to the problem is in sight.
Here is a modest proposal: legalize marijuana. It is widely available and is used at every stratum of society. The economy of Mendocino County in
California is dependent on it and the Florida Keys are awash in smuggled pot. The Royal Canadian Mounted police told me they believe there are more than 10,000 grow houses around Toronto. They cannot compete with the growers.
The horticulture of marijuana is improving–the latest advance is cold light and hydroponic tanks. More the active ingredient, THC, is getting stronger and plant yields are way up.
The war on marijuana cannot be won because society does not take the consumption seriously. I have seen it smoked everywhere by journalists, musicians, a publisher and a Wall Street analyst. Sometimes, you can smell it in the park across from the White House.
I never fancied it myself. I tried it but I did not get high or develop the munchies. A stronger drug, alcohol, has been my downfall. I would have got in less trouble with pot.
Stabilized, taxed and supervised marijuana would be an advance on today’s hodge podge of tolerance and intolerance. Federal law is intolerant and state law can be quite lenient. Some states tolerate personal use but cultivation is frowned on. This prohibition is expensive, ineffective and contributes to the woes in Mexico.
Pot has been legal in Amsterdam for decades. The Dutch prefer those seeking a changed state to smoke a joint rather than use a hard drug or get falling-down drunk.
We also can do something about hard drugs. Considering the British experience, it has to be done with care. However, there is a road map. The French banned absinthe, a liquor distilled from wormwood, because it caused such damage to drinkers—the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec comes to mind. But rather than driving the fierce spirit underground, they introduced a substitute, Pernod. No underground bootleg trade resulted.
Therefore, we ought to throw science at the two big imported tropical drugs, heroin and cocaine, with a view to neutering them. If you cannot, as you cannot, end the human desire for changed states, make drug use safe—that is non-addictive but enjoyable.
So there are two possibilities for winning the war on drugs: unbundle them, and take marijuana out of the mix, and throw science at the dangerous drugs. There are other wars to be fought and won. Winable wars.
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When the great actor David Garrick died in 1779, Samuel Johnson said of his friend and pupil, “I am disappointed by that stroke of death that has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.”
When Winston Churchill died in 1965, William Connor, the great columnist for The Daily Mirror, wrote that “a petal has fallen from the English rose.”
Both great evocations of loss come to my mind as I mourn the recent death of my great friend and collaborator Grant Stockdale. He was an adventurer, an artist, a boulevardier, a businessman, a comedian, a musician, a novelist, a sailor and an intense family man. Together we raged around the world on and off for more than 30 years. We partied in Washington, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, London, Paris, Helsinki and Doha.
You did not meet Grant. He burst into your life. They say his line with women, by whom he was adored, was “You haven’t met me yet.”
I first became aware of Grant’s talents when he followed me across Dupont Circle in Washington, making me laugh so hard I had to sit on a bench, which gave him a further chance to press the case he wished to make: I should hire him. I refused to do so.
The next morning, as I walked to my office in the National Press Building, Grant was lying in wait at the circle and we went through the same routine. I had just started an energy newsletter, but Grant was not a reporter. He had worked as salesman and had moved from his native Miami, via Hollywood, to Washington. I do not remember how such a charismatic and entertaining a figure as Grant had settled on Washington: a company town, if ever there was one. Happily, on fourth day, I succumbed.
Grant looked like no one else I have ever met. Enormously attractive, he had a round face and a compelling smile. He was in his mid-twenties and his hair was bright white; it looked as though it had been stripped of its color, but it had always been white.
Grant’s sister, Susan, said that when he was a teenager, it was “cool” to hang out with him. I thought it was pretty cool for 35 years. He was the best company.
And Grant was so funny; funny as a raconteur, funny as a mimic and sometimes wordlessly funny. One day, in the lounge of a club, he started wrestling with his tie as though it were a bewitched, unruly serpent. He mimed for minutes. A crowd gathered. People asked me whether he was a professional. No. Just a funny man.
His way with words was funny, too. Dawn, a friend of mine from South Africa, instantly became “Daybreak.” A Cuba Libre made with Diet Coke was a “thin Cuban,” a Manhattan was a “skyscraper.” Champagne was the “French friend,” Bordeaux was the “French tribute.”
We adored the movie “Becket” and its stars, Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. We went often to Downey’s Steak House in New York in the hope of watching the two great thespians drink together. They were never there when we were there, so we did the drinking for them. One night, this was going so well for us, reciting Shakespeare and parts of “Becket” to one another and many bystanders, that I turned to Grant and said, “Have you booked the bridal suite at The Plaza?” “Twenty minutes ago,” he replied.
So he had. In the morning I awoke to find a large man, Grant, lying in bed beside me. I protested. Grant opened one eye and gave me a look that might have passed for disdain. “I think you forgot that bridal suites only have one bed,” he said.
In the 1970s, we played hard and worked even harder. We sold newsletter subscriptions, held conferences and tried many things, which were not always successful.
Grant started many businesses of his own. Always the ideas were wonderful, but they required too much capital. One was The Sergeant’s Program, a physical fitness business that he sold; another was Ocean Television, in which remote cameras watched interesting oceans, producing a kind of white noise for the eyes. There was a fashion publication for which he would photograph well-dressed, ordinary women, walking in parks or boarding buses and would list what they were wearing, where they had bought their clothes and how much they had paid for them. His final business venture was the online EnergyPolicyTV, a kind of C-SPAN for energy.
Maybe Grant was too much of a multi-talent to succeed at just one thing.
He worked with President Clinton to make it possible for District of Columbia children to go to college and benefit from in-state tuition rates at universities across the country. The program compensates for the restricted choices for students in Washington. They met at the Sidwell Friends School, where Grant’s children and Chelsea Clinton were students.
Grant shared a gift with Clinton. He would find and comfort those hurting. He was the best friend in adversity; the big shoulders thrown back, the big smile holding fear at bay.
His last e-mail to me, shortly before colon cancer carried him away at 61, said, “Damnit, I miss you.” Aye.
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It’s right up there with Mom and apple pie in the political lexicon: small business.
Everyone knows that small business creates jobs and it creates them quickly. Ergo, politicians are constantly proclaiming their adoration for small businesses. However, their idea of how to foster new businesses seldom extends beyond tax cuts.
Politicians believe small business carries a heavy burden of tax. By implication, the only impediment to the success of small business is tax. In reality, tax is a minor ache in the small business body. To pay taxes, small businesses must show profit. Most are in profit intermittently. So a bill proposed by newly elected U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), which extends the period over which income can be averaged from two to five years, should bring some relief.
In the decades since the end of World War II, the owners of small businesses—from restaurants to light manufacturing—have been pushed to the wall by government action at the local, state and federal levels; all of which have favored the growth not of small business but of big business. At the state level, the big lobby and the small are voiceless. At the federal level, big businesses are on the congressional doorstep with campaign contributions, while small business is an abstraction.
In particular, the kindly treatment of chain retailers in local planning has pummeled and even destroyed small businesses. The arrival of a Home Depot in my semi-rural neighborhood meant summary execution of about 25 hardware stores.
Lower prices and some convenience sucked the customers out of the locally owned hardware stores. But it was a dubious bargain. After the initial enthusiasm, indifferent service and total ignorance of the stock reminded those customers that they had traded away expertise and service for a few cents of initial savings.
The big box stores–some of which are now going out of business–not only crush their small retail competitors, but they also crush their American suppliers by demanding prices that compete with those of cheap-labor competitors in other countries.
Got a great idea for a new type of oven mitt? OK, you will have to try and get your product on the shelves of the big retail stores. There are not enough other outlets. Gird your loins because you are about to go into a bruising negotiation with these retailers. To them, you are no more than a sharecropper. They want low prices and you, the small business manufacturer, are going to deliver them or perish–or, maybe, deliver and perish anyway.
How about the predicament of the travel agencies? Like bookstores, there was something genteel and very appealing about operating a travel agency. It was a lot of work for a small income, but travel agencies provided an independent living for tens of thousands of individual operators, and sometimes families. With deregulation the airlines took against the agents, refusing to pay commissions. This parsimony has not saved the airlines, but it has greatly undermined the travel agents and the service they provided.
It is not just the entrepreneurial class that has suffered from chains. We all have. Just look at their natural habitat: the shopping center. From Miami to Seattle, shopping centers are offensive in their sterility and their replicated chain-store banality. Is this the American Dream? Architecturally challenged, bland, homogenized, remotely owned shopping centers. They are not American Main Street replacements.
A thrill goes through me when I find a strip mall showing its age. There I know I will find small businesses with a fist full of employees booking cruises, repairing televisions and vacuums, and selling things from crystal to to yarn. In old industrial parks, small companies make everything from custom chimney pots to industrial fasteners.
This is where American dreamers have found self-employment and have the sense of possibility and the certain knowledge that they are small enough to fail. It is also where the jobs are, my political friends. Small business is driven as much by romance as profit. It offers the individual a chance. It also hires quickly.
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Sportsmen spend hours studying tapes of opposing teams or players. Presidential press secretaries, however, tend to prefer learning on the job. It is early, and scant on charity, to attack President Barack Obama’s man Robert Gibbs. But he has had a rocky start.
Gibbs seems to be unsure of his game in the White House press briefing room. The crush of journalists overwhelming the small room during his briefings is not there to lead a cheering session for the president. Nor are they an operatic claque come to embarrass the tenor. They want to find out what is going on and tell their viewers, listeners and readers all about it as fast as their skill and electrons can carry it.
Gibbs must know that the White House press corps takes no prisoners. But in these early days of the Obama administration, he still seems to be in campaign form—even treating reporters as though they are his friends, and by extension sympathetic to the president.
This is an easy mistake to make, and Gibbs is not the first to make it. On the campaign trail, there is a practical necessity for reporters to be cordial, or downright cozy, with the campaign staff. With the election, any campaign bonhomie evaporates and some remembered slights are exposed.
Gibbs, one hopes, is too smart to believe the right-wing ranters bark that the media is “in the tank” with Obama. In fact, the political press fears plans to continue the arms-length strategy of his presidential campaign in the White House.
Four recent press secretaries set a good example of how to do the job. They are Marlin Fitzwater, George H.W. Bush’s press secretary; Clinton’s Mike McCurry and Joe Lockhart; and George W. Bush’s Tony Snow and Dana Perino. All did the job with aplomb, defended their employer with skill, and tried hard to answer questions without attacking the questioner.
Poor press secretaries include Clinton’s Dee Dee Myers, and George W. Bush’s Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan. They did not appear to have the access to the president that is vital for the job, and often attacked the questioner by denigrating a question as “hypothetical.” Questioning often requires hypothesis. The press secretary who is not in the president’s confidence and his inner circle will fail with the press. He or she, not knowing the answer, will fall back on the hated evasion: “I refer you to . . .” This does not help someone on deadline.
Gibbs got into this dangerous territory early on. He refused to answer any questions about an unmanned aerial strike on terror suspects inside Pakistan. The question was obvious: Did the president authorize the strike and what were the policy implications going forward? The briefer clearly had not been briefed about something that would come up.
Then there was Gibbs’s problem with lobbyists. Gibbs appeared blindsided when asked why President Obama had signed an order limiting the role of lobbyists day ago and now was nominating Raytheon’s top lobbyist, William Lynn III, to be deputy secretary of defense. Gibbs tried to punt but could not connect with the ball.
No doubt many of Gibbs’s problems had to do with transition difficulties that included an incomplete press list, a total collapse of White House e-mail, and a staff which had never seen the White House press corps after its quarry.
Gibbs is not new to Washington, and has worked on Capitol Hill, but there is no preparation for carrying the message of the president to the world except by learning on the job. The press secretary has to learn that every gesture and gaffe will be dissected globally. Even the variety of his neckties has already drawn attention in, of all places, The Christian Science Monitor.
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Journalism in its modern form owes everything to the spread of general education in the 19th century. In the turbulent decade of the 1840s, governments in the advanced countries added education to their responsibilities. In a generation, millions of people could read and were hungry for reading materials like The New York Tribune, founded and edited by Horace Greeley.
By the 1900s, newspapers were a great business. As there were many newspapers in many cities, only a few had great influence–and those were primarily in the regional centers of New York, Chicago and San Francisco. They included Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, Joseph Medill’s Chicago Tribune and William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. Newspapers were a means to great wealth, power and prestige. Proprietors saw themselves not only as political king-makers but also as arbiters of fashion, taste and public rectitude.
From the birth of the modern newspaper (greatly sped along by the invention of the Linotype machine at the end of the 19thcentury), newspapers have been a good business. With annual profit exceeding 20 percent, newspapers have been among the most desirable businesses in America. In the 1980s and ’90s, they were bought and sold at enormous multiples. The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times looked invincible, eternal.
Then the Internet struck. Sales began to slide and advertising began to relocate to the Web. Publishers realized too late the folly of giving away their content on it. Journalists had favored this because they believed it would mean more readers, and publishers had thought the publicity would benefit them.
Massive adjustment is not new to the newspaper industry. But never has it been so imperative.
The1960s saw the first wave of newspaper closures, particularly in New York where five papers folded. Then, one by one, afternoon newspapers died across the country. Washington and Baltimore both supported two afternoon newspapers, but they began to fail in the 1970s and ’80s.
Once, evening newspapers had been the jewels, bought by men and women who went to work early and wanted something to read before and after dinner. But television was changing the way people got their news.
The workforce was changing too; the service economy was replacing manufacturing. The new workforce read early and watched television late. This lifted morning newspapers into the stratosphere, particularly when they were a monopoly in their home cities. From The Washington Post to The Los Angeles Times, things were rosy. And for small town monopolies, things were rosier–almost a license to print money.
Mass circulation magazines, such as Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post, all hung it up. In their place, there appeared specialized magazines about wine, running, computers and sex. Publishing regrouped and entered what will be seen as a golden age.
The common thread was that the few, the publishers, served the many, their readers. As A.J. Liebling said, “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.” But with blogs, the many are now publishing to the many, commented Andrew Glass of The Politico.
Today, newspapers are an anachronism: perishable products, produced in a factory well before consumption and delivered, as often as not, by 10-year-olds. They are not so different today from the one that Greeley edited. So who needs them? Greeley might have said, “Go to the Web, young man.”
The trouble is you and I need newspapers. We need them to tell us what is happening in Darfur and eastern Congo; why Russia is playing games with gas supplies to Europe; why our veterans are not getting quality health care; and, yes, what are our elected leaders are doing.
Recently, the bureau system of coverage of Washington has collapsed. There is no one to watch the congressional delegation from Atlanta, San Diego or 100 other cities that once employed reporters in Washington who kept their representatives in the light of scrutiny. Twilight has fallen for the news tradition and with it the transparency of government.
There is no indication that Web-only publishers will generate the kind of wealth that will enable them to replace the ailing newspapers. Like radio, the Web favors commentary not reporting. Opinion cannot be better than the reporting that triggered it.
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