Conservatively, the federal government has spent $300 billion fighting the War on Drugs. And the upshot? Death squads roam Mexico, cartels operate in 259 US cities. We spend proportionately less on treatment than in Nixon's day—even though that's the only thing that's shown to reduce abuse. Is there a saner way? We're rolling out MoJo's cover package on the Drug War starting today with Kevin Drum's teetotaling look at decriminalization. Meanwhile, in the ediors' note, Monika and I ask:

Among our leaders in Washington, who's been the biggest liar? There are all too many contenders, yet one is so floridly surreal that he deserves special attention. Nope, it's not Dick Cheney or Alberto Gonzales or John Yoo. It's a trusted authority figure who's lied for 11 years now, no matter which party held sway. (Nope, it's not Alan Greenspan.) This liar didn't end-run Congress, or bully it, or have its surreptitious blessing at the time only to face its indignation later. No, this liar was ordered by Congress to lie—as a prerequisite for holding the job.


Give up? It's the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a.k.a. the drug czar, who in 1998 was mandated by Congress to oppose legislation that would legalize, decriminalize, or medicalize marijuana, or redirect anti-trafficking funding into treatment. And the drug czar has also—here's where the lying comes in—been prohibited from funding research that might give credence to any of the above. These provisions were crafted by Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and pushed for by then-czar Barry McCaffrey, best remembered for being somewhat comically obsessed with the evils of medical marijuana. A few Dems complained that the bill, which set "hard targets" of an 80 percent drop in the availability of drugs, a 60 percent decrease in street purity, and a 50 percent reduction in drug-related crime and ER visits, all by 2004—whoops!—was "simplistic" and "designed to achieve political advantage." Though the vote count was not recorded for history, it got enough bipartisan support to be signed into law by Bill "Didn't Inhale" Clinton.

And guess what? The drug czar's office has been perpetuating some crazy stuff ever since. To whit:

Since 1998, the ONDCP has spent $1.4 billion on youth anti-pot ads. It also spent $43 million to study their effectiveness. When the study found that kids who've seen the ads are more likely to smoke pot, the ONDCP buried the evidence, choosing to spend hundreds of millions more on the counterproductive ads.

So step one to a sane drug policy would be to ditch the liar's law. Read more on our thoughts here. And learn why the feds scored smack for Senator Joe McCarthy!

 

Chart of the Day

Ross Douthat says that both Sarah Palin's popularity and her notoriety are heavily class-based:

Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology....Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith....All of this had something to do with ordinary partisan politics. But it had everything to do with Palin’s gender and her social class.

Well, look: Bristol and Levi went through the tabloid wringer because they were practically sent from Jerry Springer central casting.  If you're an unknown candidate for national office sprung on the American public, and a few days later that public discovers that your teenage daughter has gotten pregnant out of wedlock, the tabloids are going to go nuts.  Maybe that doesn't reflect well on America, but it's got nothing to do with class.

As for Palin's religion being mocked and misrepresented, Barack Obama got a wee taste of that too last year, didn't he?  And Palin's political record wasn't distorted any more than anyone else's.  Hell, maybe less.  When you base your whole political persona on an obvious lie about being a sworn enemy of federal earmarks — in a state that's practically the earmark capital of the country — and repeatedly claim to have opposed a bridge to nowhere that you were plainly in favor of, well, the distortion started right at home, didn't it?

Still, all that said, I'd agree that Palin's appeal is essentially based on class resentment.  She gets her biggest applause lines when she talks about liberal elites who look down on regular people; the mainstream media peddling lies and propaganda; government bureaucrats who think they know better than you; and big city intellectuals and their contempt for small town values.  That's all heavily class based.  And yet —

Then some facts intrude.  John Sides presents this chart today showing where Palin's base of support comes from.  And it turns out that there's very little difference between her support among the college educated and her support among high school grads.  That's not a perfect proxy for class, and it doesn't show strength of support, which might well be more fervent in the lower SES groups.  Still, it's not too bad a proxy, either.  Class might have less to do with this than Douthat thinks.  Maybe she's just a loon after all.

Robert McNamara's middle name was Strange—and the former defense secretary, World Bank president, and Ford executive certainly leaves behind an unusual and complicated legacy. Most of all, McNamara, who died this morning at the age of 93, will be remembered as one of the chief architects of the Vietnam War, a conflict—known to many as "McNamara's War"—with which he became synonymous. An intensely private man, he refused to address the war and his own doubts about its prosecution for decades, though he eventually ruminated on his misgivings and mistakes in his 1995 memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. Years later, it was a haunted McNamara who appeared in Errol Morris' acclaimed documentary, The Fog of War. His apparent contrition never silenced his critics, though, who considered him a war criminal whose mea culpa was too little too late.

In 1984, Mother Jones ran a cover story [PDF] by David Talbot, who would later found Salon.com, on the transformation of McNamara, former National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, and ex-CIA chief William Colby from Vietnam-era hawks to advocates of a nuclear weapons freeze. Talbot described McNamara as "the cost-control wizard who thought the war could be run like a Ford assembly line: body counts, kill ratios, bombing raids. And when he saw that it wasn't adding up, that it did not compute, he repeatedly lied—to Congress, to the press, to the American public."

Marijuana and Me

A few months ago we started putting together the July/August issue of the magazine, which focuses mostly on the war on drugs.  (The full package, "Totally Wasted," is here.) When my editors learned that I live the life of a monk — I don't drink, I don't do drugs, and I've never taken even a single toke of marijuana — they were pretty amused.  So they decided I should write a piece on marijuana legalization.  And I did.

There's no simple money graf to pull out of the piece, but you probably won't be surprised at the conclusion:

Going into this assignment, I didn't care much personally about cannabis legalization. I just had a vague sense that if other people wanted to do it, why not let them? But the evidence suggests pretty clearly that we ought to significantly soften our laws on marijuana. Too many lives have been ruined and too much money spent for a social benefit that, if not zero, certainly isn't very high.

The bad news is that, at least for now, the chances of fully legalizing marijuana are essentially zero.  We may continue to make progress toward partial decriminalization, which is better than nothing, but at least in the near future that's about all we can look forward to.  Read the article to find out why.

The rest of the piece is a look at what the likely effects of decriminalization and legalization would be.  Some of them may come as a surprise, some of them won't.  As for the title of the piece — "The Patriot's Guide to Legalization" — well, I'm not really sure what it means either.  I just write the text around here and let other people worry about the creative bits.  I think it's meant to go with the picture, though I have to say that perhaps "The Geek's Guide to Legalization" would have fitted the illustration better.

Anyway, now that that's done, maybe I should try some pot one of these days.  After all, do I really want to go to my grave not knowing what it's all about?

Robert McNamara has died.  Lots of people a little older than me won't agree with this, but I've always felt sorry for him.  I think part of the reason is that his personality is a lot like mine — it's mine squared or cubed or to the tenth power or something, but still recognizably mine.  And so it's easy for me to believe that if I had been in his situation I might have ended up doing many of the same things he did: overanalyzing the details, burying myself in work, staying too loyal to a cause for too long, avoiding the moral consequences of what I was doing, and then ending up haunted by it for the rest of my life.

That's no kind of excuse, of course.  I might have done what he did in the same circumstances, but I didn't.  He did.  And yet, even at that, at least he figured things out eventually.  That's a helluva lot more than some of the other architects of Vietnam did.  Most of them didn't resign, didn't admit error, and apparently didn't even feel much anguish over their roles aside from the purely selfish anguish of being objects of public scorn.  McNamara's anguish may have seemed rather technical and remote to a lot of his critics, but that's just who he was.  At least it was something.

Anyone old enough to have lived through the 60s as an adult probably won't feel much sympathy for this point of view.  But it's hard for me not to.  He's a cautionary tale for people like me.  R.I.P.

Bobby Eberle runs GOPUSA.com. It's not affiliated directly with the Republican Party, and it doesn't seem to play an important role in the conservative movement, though he claims it reaches more than 1 million rightwingers every week with a web-based newsletter it disseminates. Usually, Eberle's own commentary in that newsletter is predictable: bash Barack Obama the socialist, hail patriotic conservatives for trying to save the republic. But in Monday's edition—which featured an ad for SarahPAC, the political action commmittee founded by soon-to-be-ex-Governor Sarah Palin—Ebersole had an interesting piece, if only because his article showed that conventional wisdom has fully penetrated the right, at least on the issue of Palin's decision to resign

Eberle is a fan of Palin. He writes that "Palin energized the conservative base. Her down-home, folksy style was a breath of fresh air to the stale political rhetoric." But her recent move, he notes, isn't that energizing:

[T]hough some may analyze this move as "brilliant" in her race for the White House, the fact remains that she is quitting her job as governor. She was elected to a four-year term, and she is quitting... not being promoted to a higher office, but simply quitting. I find this to be very unprofessional. She could finish her term as governor and still have plenty of time to travel around the country campaigning for president. It's not like she is unknown to anyone any more..... For me, the quitter label is going to be hard to shake. What happens if she were president? Do you think she'd face "politics as usual?" If so, would she quit then too?

There's been a lot of punditing about Palin's pull-out in the previous days. (While our website was down due to a fire in Seattle, I contributed via my Twitter feed.) And the verdict of the politerati has been almost unanimous: dumb, dumb, dumb. That was predictable. But what's more intriguing is how Palin's resignation is playing with her base. After this stunt, will she be left with a large enough core of supporters—people who will be willing to donate dollars and knock on doors for a quitter—to kick-start a presidential campaign in 2012?

This  weekend, I noted that TeamSarah, a grassroots-minded group of conservatives who fancy Palin, were standing by her and essentially declaring her resignation a defiant act of leadership. The group issued a statement:

"Sarah Palin has always been an intensely independent woman — always true to her faith, her family and call to public service. She has taken vast numbers of Americans to a new place: politics without cynicism. And she has provided women with a new political role model," said Team Sarah Co-Founder Marjorie Dannenfelser. "Her entrance onto the public stage has had an immensely positive effect, drawing in massive numbers of Americans new to the political process. We have every confidence she will have an equal and profound impact in whatever projects she undertakes now."

Palin seemed to be speaking to these folks when she twittered on Sunday: "Critics are spinning, so hang in there as they feed false info on the right decision made as I enter last yr in office not to run again...." (She also twittered that she was "anxious" to join husband Todd, a commercial fisherman, in "slaying salmon" for one day.)

So hang in there. That's her message to her followers. But how many Palinites are there, and how many of them are not disappointed, discouraged, or disenchanted by her decision to cut and run? If die-hard GOP talking-pointer Eberle is spouting the majority view of the commentariat, then Palin might give serious thought to the career potential of full-time salmon slaying.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Queen Elizabeth has caused a bit of a tiff across the pond for writing "supportive" letters to heads of a religious group accused of being anti-gay.

The group—the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans—is a new alliance of Catholic and evangelical parishes in the U.K. and Ireland, and this weekend one of its leaders, Church of England Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, created a stir when he urged gays to "repent." Nazir-Ali also called homosexuality a trend and implored church leaders to stick to "traditional teaching."

The Queen reportedly told the traditionalist leaders she "understood their concerns" about a more liberalized Anglican Communion, which saw its first openly gay bishop ordained in 2003.

Two pieces in the LA Times today demonstrate why conservatives are increasingly losing the healthcare argument.  First up is Michael Tanner of Cato, a guy who's practically an op-ed machine on the subject of healthcare, and right up front he says this about healthcare in America: "It costs too much. Too many people lack health insurance. And quality can be uneven."  And he admits that "supporters of the free market" — like him — "have been remiss in positing viable alternatives."

A promising start!  But his solution is bizarre:

There are two key components to any free-market healthcare reform. First, we need to move away from a system dominated by employer-provided health insurance....Changing from employer-provided to individually purchased insurance requires changing the tax treatment of health insurance....For tax purposes, employer-provided insurance should be treated as taxable income.

....The other part of effective healthcare reform involves increasing competition among both insurers and health providers. Current regulations establish monopolies and cartels in both industries.

These may or may not be good ideas.  They might or might not reduce the cost of healthcare.  That much is at least debatable.  But they'd do nothing to reduce the number of people who lack health insurance.  Just the opposite, in fact.  If we took his advice, employers would drop health insurance like hot coals and it's a dead certainty that anybody who's over the age of 50 or has a previous history of anything at all would be unable to get replacement coverage in the individual market.  This isn't debatable at all.  So why does Tanner think any ordinary middle-aged, middle-class op-ed reader is going to support a plan that increases the odds that they'll have no health insurance in the future?  That doesn't make much sense.

But at least Tanner isn't crazy.  Unpersuasive, maybe, but not crazy.  Charlotte Allen, conversely, thinks that in order to free up some much needed healthcare cash, Barack Obama wants to take all our old people and set them adrift on ice floes to die.  Do you think I'm engaged in some bloggy exaggeration for rhetorical effect?  Let's roll the tape:

The Eskimos used to set their elderly and sickly adrift on the ice or otherwise abandon them during times of scarcity, and that, metaphorically speaking, is what Obama would like us all to start doing.

....The scarcity of resources to pay for expensive medical procedures will only increase under a plan to extend medical benefits at federal expense to the 47 million Americans who lack health insurance. So why not save billions of dollars by killing off our own unproductive oldsters and terminal patients, or — since we aren't likely to do that outright in this, the 21st century — why not simply ensure that they die faster by denying them costly medical care?

The rest of the piece is a weird Soylent Greenish hodgepodge of scaremongering about comparative effectiveness research, fear of jackbooted government bureaucrats pulling the plug on grandma, and a revival of zombie "No Exit" agitprop last seen in 1994.  Allen barely even pretends there's any real evidence for this stuff — mainly because there isn't any, I suppose — so instead she just riffs hysterically about what Obama "seems" to believe about how to reform healthcare.  Most weirdly of all, though, at the end of the piece the conservative Charlotte Allen herself seems to suggest that Medicare should be funded with infinite amounts of money and there should never be any restriction on how it's spent.  Either that or she doesn't realize that Medicare is the way most old people in America get medical care.  Or that Medicare is a government program.  Or something.  I can't really make sense out of it.

Better conservatives, please.  These two are hopeless.

Roger v. Andy

I feel like I ought to have a post about the Federer vs. Roddick match at Wimbledon today, but I have oddly little to say.  The fact is, despite the spectacular final score, it didn't feel like that great a match to me.  Roddick dropping six consecutive points in the second set tiebreaker set a bad tone, and the rest of the match was basically just a serve-a-thon.  That's Wimbledon for you, of course, but in the end it just didn't have the feel of an epic contest.  How is that possible for something that ended 16-14 in the fifth?  I'm not sure.

Still, it was great to see Federer get #15.  If Nadal doesn't get his bum knee back in shape soon, Federer is going to end his career with a grand slam record somewhere in the 20s.  Amazing.

Quote of the Day

From Sarah Palin, still governor of Alaska for the time being, taking advantage of the power of social networking to continue her self-pity fest on Saturday:

How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it's about country. And though it's honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make.

Um, what higher calling are we talking about here, Sarah?  Freeing up your schedule to whine more regularly on your Facebook page?

But here's an interesting thought: Maybe she really means this.  Seriously.  Maybe she really doesn't get the difference between resigning your office to, say, accept a nomination as Secretary of State or ambassador to China, and resigning your office just because people are mean to you and the whole governor thing has gotten kind of boring.  This is Sarah Palin we're talking about, after all.