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Updated: 2016-10-20T00:00:00-04:00


Gary Johnson's Refreshing Foreign Policy Skepticism


One of the few appealing aspects of Donald Trump's presidential campaign has been his criticism of Hillary Clinton's reckless interventionism. But the bellicose billionaire combines that criticism with promises of a gratuitous military buildup, a casual attitude toward the use of American weapons, and a disturbing tendency to view trade and immigration as acts of war. To get a sense of what a more disciplined, consistent, and thoughtful critique of Clintonian warmongering sounds like, listen to Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for president. Notwithstanding the popular portrayal of Johnson as a foreign policy ignoramus based on his embarrassing "Aleppo moments," the former New Mexico governor offers a bracing alternative to Clinton's supposedly sophisticated yet consistently careless embrace of violence as a tool for reshaping the world. Again and again as first lady, senator, and secretary of state, from Serbia to Syria, Clinton has supported military interventions that had nothing to do with national defense. Mindful of the damage done by the promiscuous use of America's armed forces, Johnson promises a different approach: When in doubt, stay out. "As president," Johnson said in a recent speech at the University of Chicago, "I would not need to be talked out of dropping bombs and sending young men and women into harm's way. I would be the president who would have to be convinced it is absolutely necessary to protect the American people or clear U.S. interests. I will be the skeptic in the room." Like Trump, Johnson bemoans the disastrous consequences, in squandered lives and resources as well as instability conducive to terrorism, of the Clinton-supported war in Iraq. The fact that Clinton voted for that war and took more than a decade to admit it was a mistake—a mistake from which she apparently learned nothing, given her subsequent support for regime change in Libya and Syria—demonstrates that foreign policy knowledge is not synonymous with wisdom. Johnson's criticism of unnecessary foreign entanglements goes beyond Trump's by highlighting the folly of the never-ending war in Afghanistan. "We were attacked, and we attacked back," he says. "But seven months after we sent our troops to Afghanistan, Al Qaeda had scattered to the winds and the Taliban had been removed from power. Al Qaeda was gone, but we stayed." Fourteen years later, thousands of U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. While Trump thinks the U.S. should be reimbursed for the cost of defending other countries, Johnson argues that defending other countries is not the U.S. military's job. "The U.S. military exists, first and foremost, to defend the United States and U.S. vital interests," he says. "We should expect other countries to defend themselves and their interests." Unlike Trump, Johnson does not think the U.S. government spends too little on the military. "U.S. military spending accounts for roughly one-third of total military spending of the entire world, exceeding the combined total of the next seven largest military budgets," he notes. That bloated budget, which Johnson wants to cut, reflects and reinforces an excessively broad vision of the U.S. military's role in the world. "Our foreign policy and military actions must support clear U.S. interests," Johnson says, as opposed to "a desire to shape the world in our own image or to pick winners and losers in civil wars on the other side of the globe." Congress encourages intervention not only by keeping so-called defense spending unjustifiably high but by abdicating its constitutional responsibility to decide when the use of military force is appropriate. "As president," Johnson says, "I will honor the War Powers Act without hiding behind dubious legal opinions from my own lawyers." That's a reference to President Obama's laughable arguments for waging war without congressional authorization, including claims that dropping bombs in Libya did not constitute "hostilities" and that Congress approved military action against ISIS before ISIS existed. If Hillary Clinton is elected, we c[...]

Drug Sentences Will Never Be Fair


When President Obama issued his latest batch of commutations last week, the White House called them "102 second chances." Obama, who shortened just one sentence during his first term, is finally taking advantage of his second chance by issuing more commutations "than the previous 11 presidents combined" (as the White House puts it), 97 percent of them in the second half of his second term. While Obama deserves credit for his belated but numerically impressive mercy, it should not obscure the fact that most of the people whose petitions he has granted did not belong in prison to begin with. Thousands more like them are still behind bars thanks to the moral travesty known as the war on drugs. Almost all of the 774 prisoners whose sentences Obama has shortened so far are nonviolent drug offenders, 282 of whom received life sentences. One of them is Ricky Minor, a Florida carpet installer who in 2000 was caught with a little more than a gram of methamphetamine, plus supplies for making more: pseudoephedrine pills, acetone, matches, and lighter fluid. Minor, who had a long history of drug problems, said the meth was intended for himself and his wife. To avoid charges against her that could have left their children without parents, he pleaded guilty to attempted manufacture of methamphetamine. Under state law, Minor probably would have received a sentence of two or three years. But under federal law, he qualified as a "career offender," which triggered a mandatory life sentence. That designation was based on a string of convictions for nonviolent drug offenses, none of which resulted in prison time. Minor had also been involved in some minor altercations that led to convictions for assault, trespass, battery, breach of peace, and resisting arrest. Minor's criminal history hardly marked him as a violent predator who needed to be locked away for life. The judge who sentenced him acknowledged that a life term "far exceeds whatever punishment would be appropriate" while noting that he had no choice but to impose it. "I was sitting in the courtroom when it happened," Minor's mother recalled in an interview with the American Civil Liberties Union, "and it was all I could do to stay seated in my chair. I was so shocked. I just couldn't believe they could do that to him." Recognizing this miscarriage of justice, Obama last week shortened Minor's sentence from life to 262 months—almost 22 years. Minor already has been behind bars for 15 years, which is 15 years too many for someone whose crime consisted of mixing together some common household chemicals. Although 22 years is less outrageous than a life term as a punishment for that offense, it can hardly be called fair. Yet this is what counts as progress in a criminal justice system that routinely locks people up for doing things that violate no one's rights. In that context, the Fair Sentencing Act, which Obama signed in 2010, was a major improvement. While it used to take 100 times as much cocaine powder to trigger the same penalty as a given amount of crack, it now takes only 18 times as much. The distinction between the snorted and smoked forms of cocaine is arbitrary and unscientific, so the new scheme is just as nonsensical as the old one. But it is less onerous for crack offenders, who happen to be overwhelmingly black. Because the change did not apply retroactively, thousands of crack offenders continue to serve sentences that nearly everyone now agrees are too long. While Obama's commutations have helped some of them, at his current pace the vast majority will get no relief. Congress could do more. But what seemed like bipartisan enthusiasm for sentencing reform fizzled this year in the face of pre-election anxieties about looking soft on crime. If fair sentencing is the goal, what's really needed is a reconsideration of what counts as crime. © Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc. [...]

The DEA's Contrived Kratom Crisis


After the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced an "emergency" ban on kratom at the end of August, a spokesman for the agency said "our goal is to make sure this is available." The spokesman, Melvin Patterson, also told The Washington Post kratom does not belong in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the law's most restrictive category, even though that is where the DEA had just put it. Patterson added that kratom, which the DEA says has "no currently accepted medical use," is "at a point where it needs to be recognized as medicine." Confused? You're not alone. The DEA's ban on kratom, a pain-relieving leaf from Southeast Asia, shows how blithely and arbitrarily the government interferes with our freedom to control our own brains and bloodstreams. Kratom, which acts as a stimulant or a sedative, depending on the dose, has been used for centuries in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia to ease pain, boost work performance, and wean people from opiate addiction. In recent years the drug has gained a following in the United States, sold by online merchants and head shops as an herbal medicine, dietary supplement, or legal high. That situation offended the DEA, which noted in the explanation of its ban that kratom had never been approved by the government for any use. If a psychoactive substance is not explicitly permitted, the DEA figures, it should be prohibited. The agency apparently was surprised by the backlash against its kratom ban, which included angry phone calls to Capitol Hill, a demonstration near the White House, and letters from members of Congress. The DEA still intends to finalize the ban, although it did not take effect last Friday as expected. Patterson, the DEA spokesman, said the reaction to the ban "was eye-opening for me personally." He added that "I want the kratom community to know that the DEA does hear them." That attitude is quite a contrast to the deaf arrogance the DEA displayed when it announced that it was temporarily placing kratom in Schedule I, a classification that lasts at least two years and could become permanent. Declaring that a ban was necessary "to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety," the DEA summarily dismissed kratom's benefits while exaggerating its dangers. The DEA describes all kratom use as "abuse." It was therefore easy for the agency to conclude that the plant has "a high potential for abuse," one of the criteria for Schedule I. Since the DEA assumed there was no rational, morally acceptable reason to use kratom, it did not need to muster much evidence that the drug is intolerably dangerous. It claimed there have been "numerous deaths associated with kratom," by which it meant 30. In the whole world. Ever. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol causes about 88,000 deaths a year in this country, while 28,000 deaths were attributed to heroin and opioid painkillers in 2014. Kratom looks pretty benign by comparison. Another point to keep in mind: "Deaths associated with kratom" are not necessarily caused by kratom. "Kratom is considered minimally toxic," noted a 2015 literature review in the International Journal of Legal Medicine. "Although death has been attributed to kratom use, there is no solid evidence that kratom was the sole contributor to an individual's death." As further proof of kratom's dangers, the DEA noted that "U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure" from 2010 through 2015, an average of 110 a year. By comparison, exposures involving analgesics accounted for nearly 300,000 calls in 2014, while antidepressants and antihistamines each accounted for more than 100,000. As the DEA's contrived kratom crisis shows, there is little rhyme or reason to the government's pharmacological taboos, which are driven by unreasoning prejudice rather than science. The one overriding theme is that people cannot be trusted to weigh the risks and benefits of drugs for themselves. © Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate[...]

Arrest Numbers Reflect Growing Pot Tolerance


FBI statistics released last week show that the number of marijuana arrests in the United States, after rising slightly in 2014, fell by 8 percent last year, reaching the lowest level in two decades. The total was nevertheless more than twice the number in 1991, before a nationwide cannabis crackdown that peaked in 2007. The number of marijuana arrests has fallen more or less steadily since then, reflecting a growing consensus that cannabis consumers should not be treated as criminals. The FBI's numbers indicate that police across the country made 643,121 marijuana arrests in 2015, 26 percent fewer than the 2007 total of 872,720. As usual, the vast majority of pot arrests—almost nine out of 10—were for possession, as opposed to sale or cultivation. A 2006 analysis by the Sentencing Project's Ryan King and Marc Mauer found that less than 6 percent of marijuana arrests lead to a felony conviction. It's not clear exactly why police started targeting cannabis consumers with renewed zeal in the early 1990s. Changes in marijuana use do not account for the surge in arrests. To the contrary, the risk of arrest for the average cannabis consumer rose substantially between 1991 and 2007, when the number of marijuana arrests tripled. Marijuana accounted for 52 percent of all drug arrests by 2010, up from less than 29 percent in 1991. "Since 1990," King and Mauer noted, "the primary focus of the war on drugs has shifted to low-level marijuana offenses. During the study period [1990 through 2002], 82% of the increase in drug arrests nationally (450,000) was for marijuana offenses, and virtually all of that increase was in possession offenses." Last year the lion's share of drug arrests—43 percent—still involved marijuana. But that percentage has been dropping since 2010. In some jurisdictions, police no longer have the option of arresting adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Colorado's 2012 legalization initiative eliminated all penalties for possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 or older, which was previously a petty offense. The Drug Policy Alliance found that the number of marijuana possession cases in Colorado fell by 84 percent between 2010 and 2014, from 9,011 to 1,464. The change in Washington state, where voters also approved legalization in 2012, was even more dramatic. According to the ACLU of Washington, marijuana possession cases fell from 6,879 in 2011 to 120 in 2013—a 98 percent drop. Oregon, where voters approved legalization in 2014, decriminalized possession of an ounce or less back in 1973, making it a violation subject to a fine rather than an offense for which someone can be arrested. Data from the Oregon State Police nevertheless show a big drop in pot busts after legalization took effect, from 4,273 in 2014 to 1,129 in 2015. Alaska, the other state where a legalization initiative passed in 2014, also decriminalized possession in the '70s. According to the Alaska Department of Public Safety, marijuana-related arrests fell from 716 in 2014 to 290 in 2015. Washington, D.C., decriminalized possession in 2014 and legalized possession, home cultivation, and sharing in 2015 (as a result of an initiative approved the previous year). Possession arrestsplunged from more than 2,000 in 2011 to fewer than 10 last year. A ballot initiative approved by Massachusetts voters in 2008 made possession of less than an ounce a citable offense punishable by a $100 fine. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, marijuana arrests fell precipitously, from 10,260 in 2008 to 2,748 in 2009. By contrast, after Maine's legislature made possession of up to two-and-a-half ounces a civil infraction in 2009, arrests fell only slightly. California and New York City have been bigger contributors to the downward trend in marijuana arrests, accounting for more of it than all those other jurisdictions combined. After California legislators made possession of an ounce or less a civil infraction in 2010[...]

No More Accidental Criminals


Hillary Clinton supporters should have a new appreciation for the legal concept of mens rea—usually translated as "guilty mind"—because it saved her from federal prosecution for using a personal email server as secretary of state. In recommending that the Justice Department not bring charges against the former first lady, FBI Director James Comey differentiated her "extremely careless" handling of "very sensitive, highly classified information" from other cases involving "intentional and willful mishandling." Not everyone gets the benefit of such distinctions. Consider the retiree on a snowmobile outing in Colorado who got lost in a blizzard and unwittingly crossed into a National Forest Wilderness Area; the Native Alaskan trapper who sold 10 sea otters to a buyer he mistakenly believed was also a Native Alaskan; and the 11-year-old Virginia girl who rescued a baby woodpecker from her cat. The first two incidents resulted in misdemeanor and felony convictions, respectively, while the third led to a fine (later rescinded) and threats of prosecution. All three qualify as federal crimes, even though the perpetrators had no idea they were breaking the law. The federal code contains something like 5,000 criminal statutes and describes an estimated 30,000 regulatory violations that can be treated as crimes. The fact that no one knows the precise numbers is itself a scandal, compounded by the fact that many of these provisions include minimal or no mens rea requirements, which ask prosecutors to demonstrate that an offender knew he was doing something wrong. The upshot is that innocent acts, honest mistakes, and simple accidents can lead to criminal convictions that deprive people of their liberty and property, ruin their reputations, and carry lifelong collateral consequences ranging from impaired occupational opportunities to the loss of constitutional rights. That's a serious problem, which is why mens rea reform has garnered bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. Yet Senate Democrats dismiss the proposed changes as "corporate protection." Their chief complaint is that requiring the government to prove a defendant knew he was breaking the law will make it harder to convict people. No kidding. The same could be said of many safeguards widely supported by civil libertarians, including the presumption of innocence, the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the ban on double jeopardy. Guilty people, including violent criminals, surely escape conviction because of these rules. Likewise, if Congress beefed up federal mens rea requirements, some white-collar malefactors and felonious fat cats probably would escape criminal punishment as a result. But that prospect should not deter Congress from doing what's right. "They're saying, 'It would be a terrible thing, because the people we don't like—corporate executives—they will be able to get off by arguing that there's absolutely no criminal intent on their part,'" attorney Harvey Silverglate, a leading critic of overcriminalization, told Reason TV. "So you want absolute criminal liability for people you don't like. However, when they come at you, suddenly you say, 'Well, I didn't intend to break the law.'" That defense is deeply rooted in our moral intuitions and legal traditions. As the Supreme Court observed in 1952, "The contention that an injury can amount to a crime only when inflicted by intention is no provincial or transient notion. It is as universal and persistent in mature systems of law as belief in freedom of the human will and a consequent ability and duty of the normal individual to choose between good and evil." To impose criminal penalties on people for inadvertent violations of the law is plainly unjust. That the guilty will sometimes benefit from this principle is no excuse for denying its protection to the innocent. [...]

Trump's Phony Crime Crisis


Donald Trump, who is modeling himself after Richard Nixon, used the phrase "law and order" seven times during his debate with Hillary Clinton on Monday night. He said blacks and Latinos in America's inner cities "are living in hell because it's so dangerous" and that "some really bad things" are happening in "so many different places." FBI numbers released the day of the debate refute Trump's portrait of a nation besieged by violent criminals. While murders did rise by 11 percent in 2015, that increase was driven mainly by a small number of cities, and the violent crime rate is still much lower than it was in the early 1990s—lower, in fact, than in all but two years since 1971. The homicide rate in 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000, half the rate in 1991. The violent crime rate was 372.6 per 100,000 last year, up 3.1 percent from 2014 but still half the 1991 rate. The property crime rate, which fell 3.4 percent last year, was twice as high in 1991. Of the country's 100 largest cities, 25 saw significant increases in homicides last year, and just seven of them—Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.—accounted for half of the national increase. It's not clear whether violence will continue to rise in those cities, let alone whether it signals a broader trend. Homicides are down so far this year in Baltimore and Washington, for instance, after rising in 2015. While the jump in the murder rate should not be lightly dismissed, it hardly shows that the nation is experiencing "a moment of crisis" caused by "violence in our streets" and "chaos in our communities," as Trump claimed at the Republican National Convention in July, or that "crime is out of control, and rapidly getting worse," as he declared on Twitter around the same time. Judging from the FBI's statistics, crime is less "out of control" than it has been in all but a handful of years during the last half-century. Nor does Trump's favored solution, "stop and frisk," make sense even in the cities where violence is on the rise. Promiscuous use of that tactic, which involves detaining and patting down pedestrians who strike police as suspicious, causes understandable resentment among the young black and Latino men who bear the brunt of it, and there's little evidence that it curtails violent crime. Trump credited the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program with reducing the number of homicides in that city from 2,245 in 1990 to 540 in 2005. Yet homicides continued to fall even after the program was sharply curtailed in 2012, and they are down again so far this year after rising in 2015. Meanwhile, the annual number of stops has fallen by 97 percent from the 2011 peak of more than 685,000. Trump does not seem to care about the reason stop-and-frisk encounters fell so dramatically in New York. They were challenged on constitutional grounds, and a federal judge ultimately concluded that police were routinely violating the Fourth Amendment by stopping and frisking people without reasonable suspicion. Trump nevertheless thinks a similar program would do wonders in violence-plagued Chicago, apparently not realizing police there already tried that. In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois reports, "Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City's stop and frisk practice." As in New York, stops in Chicago overwhelmingly targeted blacks and often lacked a constitutional basis. Stops in Chicago are down sharply this year in response to criticism and new legislation, but that happened after the city's 2015 increase in homicides. Even if the local police tactics Trump advocates were constitutional and effective, he would have no power as president to implement them. When he promises that "safety will be restored" once he takes office, he offers false assurances about a nonexistent crisis. © Copyright 2016 by Creators [...]

Medical Marijuana Replaces More Dangerous Drugs


Insys Therapeutics, the Arizona-based pharmaceutical company that recently became the biggest financial supporter of the campaign against marijuana legalization in that state, makes an oral spray that delivers the opioid painkiller fentanyl and plans to market another one that contains dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC. Insys says it gave $500,000 to the main group opposing Arizona's legalization initiative because the measure "fails to protect the safety of Arizona's citizens, and particularly its children." But one needn't be terribly cynical to surmise that Insys also worries about the impact that legalization might have on its bottom line, since marijuana could compete with its products. A new study suggests Insys has good reason to worry. In an article published last week by the American Journal of Public Health, Columbia University epidemiologist June Kim and her colleagues report that fatally injured drivers are less likely to test positive for opioids in states that allow medical use of marijuana. That finding, together with the results of earlier studies, indicates that making marijuana legally available to patients saves lives by reducing their consumption of more dangerous medications. Kim et al. collected data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 1999 through 2013, focusing on 18 states that drug-tested at least 80% of drivers who died in crashes. They found that drivers between the ages of 21 and 40 were half as likely to test positive for opioids in states that had implemented medical marijuana laws (MMLs) as in states that had not. "Among 21-to-40-year-old deceased drivers, crashing in states with an operational MML was associated with lower odds of testing positive for opioids than crashing in MML states before these laws were operational," the researchers write. "Although we found a significant association only among drivers aged 21 to 40 years, the age specificity of this finding coheres with what we know about MMLs: a minimum age requirement restricts access to medical marijuana for most patients younger than 21 years, and most surveyed medical marijuana patients are younger than 45 years." The fact that a driver tested positive for opioids does not necessarily mean the painkillers he took contributed to the crash, so it is not safe to draw any conclusions about medical marijuana's impact on traffic safety from this study. But the FARS data are an indirect way of measuring the extent of opioid consumption in a given state. Kim et al. note that "severe or chronic pain is among the most common indications cited by medical marijuana patients." It therefore makes sense that opioid use would decline (or rise less) in states that recognize cannabis as a medicine. The FARS numbers reinforce the results of another recent study, published last July in the journal Health Affairs, that looked at prescriptions covered by Medicare from 2010 through 2013. Ashley Bradford, a graduate student in public policy at the University of Georgia, and her father, W. David Bradford, an economist at the same school, found that "the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly once a medical marijuana law was implemented." The most dramatic decline was in painkiller prescriptions, which fell by 3,645 daily doses per physician after medical marijuana laws were implemented. There were also statistically significant drops in prescriptions for drugs used to treat seizures (down 1,370 daily doses per doctor), depression (1,280), psychosis (1,123), anxiety (1,106), nausea (1,028), and sleep disorders (615). Meanwhile, Bradford and Bradford "found no changes after implementation of a medical marijuana law in the number of daily doses filled in condition categories with no medical marijuana indication," which "provides strong evidence that the observed shifts in prescribing patterns w[...]

Trump Is Wrong About Terrorism and Immigration


Donald Trump predictably blames "our extremely open immigration system" for Saturday's bomb attacks in New Jersey and New York City. His critique overlooks the details of this particular case as well as the general rarity of terrorism by immigrants. Ahmad Khan Rahami, the 28-year-old man police arrested on Monday in connection with the bombings, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan at the age of 7. He seems to have been radicalized within the last few years, a period when he spent nearly a year in Pakistan and became noticeably more religious and taciturn. It is hard to imagine how the "extreme vetting" Trump advocates for immigrants from "any nation that has been compromised by terrorism" could have kept Rahami out of the country. What questions could have been posed to his parents that would have predicted his violent turn two decades later? Trump faults his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for supporting the admission of Syrian refugees, who he says pose an unacceptable risk of terrorism. But according to a recent study by Cato Institute immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh, "the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year." Trump has recommended "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on"—a plan that his own running mate called "offensive and unconstitutional." More recently Trump has said the moratorium should apply to all visitors from countries "compromised by terrorism," a category that arguably includes most of the world. Some pundits favor a cleaner approach. "Confronted with the threat of Islamic terrorism," Nowrasteh notes, "well-known conservatives like Larry Kudlow, David Bossie, and Ann Coulter have called for a complete moratorium on immigration." A broad moratorium would have the advantage of preventing all terrorist attacks by newly admitted immigrants. But it would also exclude more than 1 million innocent people each year it was in effect, at a huge economic cost. Nowrasteh cites estimates ranging from $35 billion to $229 billion a year. Nowrasteh reports that tourists accounted for 94 percent of deaths caused by foreign-born terrorists in the United States from 1975 through 2015. Including tourists in the moratorium would raise the annual cost by another $194 billion or so. Given the rarity of deaths caused by terrorism, Nowrasteh shows, such costs cannot possibly be justified. Based on a value of $15 million per life, he puts "the combined human, property, business, and economic costs" of attacks by foreign-born terrorists during the 41-year period covered by his study at $5.3 billion annually, which is "far less than the minimum estimated yearly benefit of $229.1 billion from immigration and tourism." Even that calculation overestimates the potential security benefit of cutting off immigration, since it is dominated by the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, an anomalous event that is unlikely to be replicated. The 9/11 attacks (which were perpetrated not by naturalized citizens or by refugees but by visitors with tourist or student visas) account for 99 percent of the 3,024 deaths caused by foreign-born terrorists from 1975 through 2015. Excluding 9/11, the overwhelming majority of terrorist murders in the United States—more than 90 percent—have been committed by native-born Americans. Except for 2001, the risk of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist has been minuscule and flat for more than four decades. That risk is extremely low even if you include 9/11: about 1 in 3.6 million per year. You are more than 200 times as likely to die in a traffic accident, 20 times as likely to be killed by falling down stairs, and four times as likely to drown in a bathtu[...]

More Evidence That Vaping Is Not a Gateway to Smoking


Three years ago, Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),warned that "many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes." That fear is one of the main justifications for the CDC's hostility toward vaping and the Food and Drug Administration's onerous new e-cigarette regulations, which are expected to cripple the industry. Yet there is no evidence that Frieden's claim is true and considerable evidence that it's not, especially since smoking rates among teenagers have fallen to record lows even as more and more of them experiment with vaping. Two new studies cast further doubt on the idea that e-cigarettes are a "gateway" to the real thing. Frieden and other e-cigarette alarmists make much of the fact that the percentage of teenagers who report vaping has risen dramatically in recent years. They like to focus on the percentage of teenagers who have ever tried e-cigarettes and the percentage who have used them in the last month, without asking how many are experimenters or occasional users and how many are daily vapers—the sort who might get hooked on nicotine and eventually progress to conventional cigarettes. It turns out there's a good reason for the CDC's lack of curiosity on this point: Survey data show that few teenagers who have never smoked use e-cigarettes and that even fewer do so on a regular basis. "Many fear that e-cigarette use by non-smoking students will lead many to nicotine addiction and subsequent cigarette smoking," notes University of Michigan health economist Kenneth Warner in anAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine article published last month. But based on data from the Monitoring the Future Study (MTF), which surveys students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades, Warner finds that "non-smoking high school students are highly unlikely to use e-cigarettes" and even less likely to use them regularly. Among the 12th-graders who had never tried conventional cigarettes, 94 percent had not used an e-cigarette in the previous month. Among the never-smokers who reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month, 60 percent used them on only one or two days. Less than 1 percent of never-smokers had vaped on 20 or more days in the previous month. The MTF numbers, which are similar to the findings of British surveys, suggest it is quite unlikely that "many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes," because nonsmokers rarely use e-cigarettes often enough to develop a nicotine habit. Another point Warner emphasizes makes Frieden's claim even less plausible: "A large proportion of students use e-cigarettes containing no nicotine." Warner cites a 2014 study that found most never-smoking Connecticut teenagers who vaped used nicotine-free e-liquid. The significance of that point is underlined by another recently published analysis of MTF data. Richard Miech and three of his colleagues at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (which conducts the survey) report in the journal Tobacco Control that nearly two-thirds of teenagers who have tried vaping consumed "just flavoring" the last time they did it. "Nicotine use came in a distant second," Miech et al. write, "at about 20 percent in 12th and 10th grade and 13 percent in 8th grade." The other options were marijuana and "don't know." Consider the CDC's practice of counting vaping as "tobacco use," which leads it to claim there has been "no decline in overall youth tobacco use since 2011," even though that is clearly not true. It was already absurd to pretend teenagers were using tobacco when they weren't, especially since the CDC used that inaccurate terminology to imply that the rising popularity of vaping somehow cancels out the health gains from the continuing decline in smokin[...]

Trump's Putin Praise Highlights His Authoritarianism


Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, use the same word to describe Donald Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "unpatriotic." Satisfying as it may be for Democrats to deploy that adjective against the nominee of a party known for its flag-waving jingoism, it is neither accurate nor adequate in describing what's truly alarming about Trump's admiration of the Russian strongman. "He is really very much of a leader," Trump told NBC's Matt Lauer last week. "I mean, you can say, 'Oh, isn't that a terrible thing.' The man has very strong control over a country." Trump, who also cited Putin's "82 percent approval rating," allowed that Russia has "a very different system" of government, and "I don't happen to like the system." Nevertheless, he said, "in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader." Clinton slammed Trump for "taking the astonishing step of suggesting that he preferred the Russian president to our American president," which she called "unpatriotic and insulting." Kaine said the "irrational hostility toward President Obama, which started the very first day of his term from some of these people, is unpatriotic, and we've got to call it out." Note how Clinton and Kaine equated Trump's insult to Obama with an insult to the nation. If you hate Obama, they suggested, you hate America. Teddy Roosevelt, no stranger to jingoism, thought conflating love of country with love of the president is the opposite of patriotism. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong," he wrote in 1918, "is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Patriotism is in any case a dubious virtue at best. An emotional attachment to the land in which you happen to be born is natural, but when elevated to a moral principle it easily morphs into state worship and warmongering. As a guide to judgment, patriotism is utterly subjective and unreliable. If it is unpatriotic for an American to say Putin is a better leader than Obama, it is equally unpatriotic for a Russian to say Obama is a better leader than Putin. The problem with Trump's comments about Putin is not that they show a lack of patriotism. The problem is that they reflect authoritarian instincts no president of a liberal democracy should have. Trump cannot credibly claim to dislike Russia's system of government while admiring Putin's strong leadership, because that system is what makes his strong leadership possible. In Russia's "highly centralized, authoritarian political system," the State Department notes, the executive branch dominates the legislature, pressures the judiciary, and routinely flouts notional guarantees of civil liberties. According to the department's 2015 report on human rights in Russia, "the government increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent," including politically motivated arrests and prosecutions; discriminated against sexual, religious, and ethnic minorities; and "failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity." The report says torture by police was common, there were "numerous extrajudicial killings," and "corruption was widespread" in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Freedom House, which classifies Russia as "not free," reports that Putin's regime last year "intensified its tight grip on the media, saturating the information landscape with nationalist propaganda while suppressing the most popular alternative voices." The report also notes that "the judiciary lacks independence from the executive branch," "there is little transparency and accountability in the day-to-day workings of the government," and "vague laws on [...]

Report Shows Pot Prohibitionists' Desperation


During a debate while running for re-election in 2014, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was asked whether voters in his state had been "reckless" when they approved marijuana legalization two years earlier. "To a certain extent you could say it was reckless," he replied. Last May, after repeatedly saying he would reverse legalization if he had "a magic wand," Hickenlooper told the Los Angeles Times, "If I had that magic wand now, I don't know if I would wave it. It's beginning to look like it might work." See if you can guess which Hickenlooper quote appears in the latest report on marijuana legalization in Colorado from the drug warriors at the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA). It's not much of a puzzle. Since suppressing the use of marijuana and other illegal drugs is RMHIDTA's mission, its reports on legalization are indictments masquerading as objective assessments. The same organization that last year falsely claimed public support for legalization had declined in Colorado this year portrays a governor who sounds cautiously optimistic about legalization as unambiguously against it. The report's treatment of Hickenlooper is of a piece with its one-sided approach, which focuses exclusively on the negative consequences of legalization and exaggerates what we know about them. RMHIDTA likes to present dramatic, seemingly scientific charts that make legalization look like a big mistake. The difficulties of interpreting the data presented in the charts are usually relegated to a footnote, assuming they are mentioned at all. On page 79 of the new report, for instance, there is a column chart showing a dramatic increase in "marijuana-related emergency department visits" between 2012, the year Colorado voters approved legalization, and 2013, the year the initiative began to take effect. The footnote says, "2011 and 2012 emergency department data reflects [sic] incomplete reporting statewide. Inferences concerning trends, including 2011 and 2012, should not be made." Similarly, a line graph on page 17 shows a sharp increase in "traffic deaths related to marijuana," which a footnote defines as "fatalities involving operators testing positive for marijuana." A footnote in the introduction (on page 11) warns, "This report will cite datasets with terms such as 'marijuana-related' or 'tested positive for marijuana.' That does not necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident." On reason "marijuana-related" crashes are not necessarily related to marijuana is that people can test positive for THC, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, even when they are not impaired. In fact, as the report notes in its summary of an Associated Press story published last May, "There is no science that shows drivers become impaired at a specific level of THC in the blood. A lot depends on the individual. Drivers with relatively high levels of THC in their systems might not be impaired, especially if they are regular users, while others with relatively low levels may be unsafe behind the wheel." RMHIDTA's habit of inviting inferences in headlines while warning readers not to draw them in footnotes reaches ridiculous extremes on page 45, where a column chart labeled "Colorado School Dropouts" (above) shows what looks like a dramatic increase between 2013-14 and 2014-15. Although the difference between the 2013-14 total (10,546) and the 2014-15 total (11,114) is about 5 percent, the graph makes it look like the number of dropouts more than doubled, because the Y axis begins at 10,200. But never mind: "Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been asked about the number of school dropouts in Colorado numerous times and is, therefore, providing the data. Rocky Mountain HIDTA is not equating the number of dropouts with marijuana legalization." S[...]

Trump's 'Softening' Can't Make His Immigration Stance Popular


Recent polls indicate that less than a quarter of Americans think the 11 million or so people who live in this country without the government's permission should be forcibly removed. That lack of enthusiasm for mass deportation explains Donald Trump's much-ballyhooed "softening" on immigration, which has produced a mushy mess. While seeking the Republican presidential nomination, Trump insisted that unauthorized immigrants "have to go," along with their American-born children (who are U.S. citizens), raising the total number of deportees to about 16 million. He said a "deportation force" could get the job done "humanely" within two years. Although popular among Republican primary voters, that promise was self-evidently insane. Even assuming that Trump would bow to the legal reality that U.S. citizens cannot be deported, removing 11 million people in two years "would mean arresting more than 15,000 people a day on immigration charges, seven days a week, 365 days a year," as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes. Such a project would be a constitutional catastrophe as well as a logistical nightmare. "There is no conceivable mechanism to accomplish the roundup that Trump has promised while respecting basic constitutional rights," the ACLU warns. Since "undocumented immigrants are not readily identifiable as such," deporting all of them would entail "tactics like suspicionless interrogations and arrests, unjustified and pretextual traffic stops, warrantless searches of workplaces and homes, and door-to-door raids in immigrant neighborhoods." If "practiced on a huge scale throughout the country, those activities would systematically violate the Fourth Amendment." Whether or not Trump has read the Constitution, we know he reads polls, which show the vast majority of Americans oppose his expulsion plan. "It's a very, very hard thing," he conceded in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity last month, saying even many of his supporters think it's wrong "to take a person who's been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out." In response to such concerns, Trump suggested he would be open to some form of legalization. Although there would be "no citizenship" and "no amnesty as such," he said, if unauthorized residents "pay back taxes," he would be willing to "work with them." Trump's big immigration speech last week was supposed to clarify what he meant by that. Instead it muddied matters more. "For those here illegally today, who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only: to return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else," he said. "Those who have left to seek entry under this new system…will not be awarded surplus visas, but will have to apply for entry under the immigration caps." That approach, which Trump described as "fair, just, and compassionate," sounds even less generous than the one he outlined a year ago. "We're going to try and bring them back rapidly, the good ones," he said then. "We will expedite it so people can come back in. The good people can come back." Trump's softening seems more like a hardening, just in time for a general election in which most voters reject his mass deportation scheme, his border wall, and his message that illegal immigrants represent an intolerable threat. Calling Mexico's president "wonderful" and allowing that "there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people" (up from "some" last year) probably won't be enough to reassure moderates or get Trump the Latino support he needs. The polling firm Latino Decisions estimates that Trump needs at least 42 percent of the Hispanic vote to win the election. Mitt Romney, who said he would encourage "self-deportation" by making economic conditions intoler[...]

The DEA Thinks All Kratom Use Is Abuse


At the end of this month, kratom will be illegal throughout the United States thanks to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which last week announced that a ban is necessary "to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety." The way the DEA reached that conclusion provides an illuminating window on the prohibitionist mindset, which dresses pharmacological phobias in the garb of science. Kratom is a pain-relieving leaf that acts as a stimulant or a sedative, depending on the dose. But the most important thing to know about kratom, if you want to understand the DEA's reasoning, is that it's not from here. Kratom comes from a tree, Mitragyna speciosa, that is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. It has gained a following in the United States only recently, hawked by online merchants and head shops as an herbal medicine, "dietary supplement," or legal high. As far as the DEA is concerned, the fact that people in other countries have used kratom for centuries to ease pain, boost work performance, and wean themselves from opiate addiction counts for nothing. All the DEA needs to know is that our shores have been invaded by a foreign drug that is increasingly popular among Americans as a home remedy and recreational intoxicant. From the DEA's perspective, that is intolerable, regardless of the drug's hazards or benefits. If you think I'm exaggerating, consider how the DEA decided that kratom meets the criteria for "temporary" placement in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the law's most restrictive category. The DEA has at least two years to make that designation permanent, which it almost certainly will do after going through a somewhat more elaborate process of bureaucratic self-justification. For the time being, it need only consider three factors: "the substance's history and current pattern of abuse; the scope, duration and significance of abuse; and what, if any, risk there is to the public health." That exercise is easy, because according to the DEA all use of kratom is abuse and the substance has no benefits. That means any hazards associated with kratom pose an unacceptable risk to public health, even if they compare favorably to those associated with legal intoxicants, over-the-counter remedies, and prescription drugs. "Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects," the DEA says. "Kratom is misused to self-treat chronic pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms, with users reporting its effects to be comparable to prescription opioids." So if you use kratom to relax, relieve pain, or get off heroin, that's abuse. "Kratom is an increasingly popular drug of abuse and readily available on the recreational drug market in the United States," the DEA says. So if you use kratom for fun, that's abuse. Any medicinal use of kratom has to be abuse, the DEA figures, because kratom has not been approved for any indication by the Food and Drug Administration. Nor has the government approved kratom as a recreational intoxicant or a utilitarian stimulant (possibly because no such regulatory categories exist for new drugs), so those uses are also beyond the pale. The DEA's blinkered thinking is especially glaring when it frowns on kratom as a substitute for heroin. "Kratom has a history of being used as an opium substitute in Southeast Asia," it says. "Especially concerning, reports note users have turned to kratom as a replacement for other opioids, such as heroin." So if a heroin addict switches to a less dangerous drug, that is "concerning," even if the switch enables him to taper off his drug use and ultimately stop completely. In other words, even using kratom to reduce drug abuse is drug abuse. With logic like that, it's a cinch for [...]

The Perverse Penalties of Leper Lists


Officially, the restrictions imposed by Michigan's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) aim to keep former convicts on the straight and narrow after they're released from prison. But in practice, a federal appeals court said last week, the rules are so tenuously related to that goal and so burdensome that their main effect is inflicting additional punishment on sex offenders who have already completed their sentences. The question addressed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit was relatively narrow: whether SORA is so punitive that applying it retroactively violates the Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws. But in resolving that issue, the court brought some long overdue skepticism to bear on laws that purport to protect the public from sex offenders, suggesting they make little sense even when they're constitutional. The 6th Circuit was responding to a challenge brought by five men and one woman who committed sex offenses before the state legislature expanded SORA's requirements. "What began in 1994 as a non-public registry maintained solely for law enforcement use," the appeals court observed, "has grown into a byzantine code governing in minute detail the lives of the state's sex offenders." That code, like similar laws in many other states, is based on the premise that sex offenders pose a special threat because they have especially high recidivism rates. But the appeals court noted that "Michigan has never analyzed recidivism rates despite having the data to do so," and research by the Justice Department indicates that sex offenders "are actually less likely to recidivate than other sorts of criminals." SORA also was shaped by the misconception that sex crimes against children are typically committed by strangers, although the Justice Department estimates that 90 percent involve perpetrators who already knew their victims. A provision added in 2006 bars registrants from living, working, or "loitering" within 1,000 feet of a school, regardless of whether their crimes involved children. That rule makes it hard for sex offenders to find housing, disqualifies them from work with multiple locations, separates them from their families, and prevents them from attending school events involving their children and grandchildren. Since those conditions are not exactly conducive to rehabilitation, it's not surprising that a 2013 study funded by the Justice Department found Michigan's residence restrictions were associated with an increase in recidivism. A 2011 analysis in the Journal of Law and Economics likewise found evidence that publicly accessible registries have a perverse effect on recidivism. In 2011 legislators compounded the Michigan registry's stigma by dividing sex offenders into three tiers that supposedly correspond to the danger they pose. Those classifications, which are based entirely on the crime of conviction and do not involve any individual assessment, can be very misleading. All of the plaintiffs in this case qualified for Tier III, supposedly the most dangerous category. Yet one of them was convicted at age 18 of having consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend, while another was convicted of "a non-sexual kidnapping offense arising out of a 1990 robbery of a McDonald's." Although neither is a rapist or child molester, the appeals court noted, they face the same requirements, including lifetime registration that brands them as "moral lepers." Another SORA provision added in 2011 requires that registrants notify police "immediately" and in person when they move, change their names, buy or borrow a car, enroll in school, start a new job, switch to a new email address, or plan to travel for more than seven days. "The requiremen[...]

Philippine Anti-Drug Strategy: 'Kill Them All'


Thirty-three countries have laws that authorize the death penalty for drug offenses. The Philippines is not one of them. But since Rodrigo Duterte was elected president last May after promising to "fatten all the fish" in Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals, police and vigilantes have killed hundreds of drug dealers and users. Testifying before the Philippine Senate last Tuesday, National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa said cops had killed 756 drug suspects since July 1, the day after Duterte was sworn in as president, while 1,160 people had been killed "outside police operations." The death toll rose by 137 between Monday and Tuesday, so by now it is presumably in the thousands. Duterte's methods may be bloodier than those typically employed by American prohibitionists, but his logic is similar, casting peaceful transactions—the exchange of money for psychoactive substances—as acts of aggression that pose an existential threat to the nation. This is war, after all, so there is no room for legal niceties. Dela Rosa says the drug suspects were killed because they resisted arrest. Duterte, a former prosecutor whose anti-crime slogan is "kill them all," has repeatedly said police waging his war on drugs should "shoot to kill" if they face any resistance. As mayor of Davao, he declared that criminal suspects are "a legitimate target of assassination," and after taking office as president he urged citizens to kill drug users as well as drug dealers. "These sons of whores are destroying our children," he told a crowd in a poor neighborhood of Manila. "I warn you, don't go into that, even if you're a policeman, because I will really kill you…If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful." When Duterte was Davao's mayor, hundreds of people died in that city at the hands of vigilantes, homicides he both encouraged and disavowed. Now Dela Rosa says the vigilante killings since Duterte became president will be investigated, but it's no mystery why they have recently exploded. Nor is it surprising that the vigilantes have not been very discriminating about the people they mark for death. Last month Michael Siaron, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver in Manila, was shot by gunmen who left a cardboard sign next to his body identifying him as a "pusher." His relatives say he occasionally used methamphetamine (the main target of Duterte's drug war), but they insist he never sold it. After The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a front-page photograph of Siaron's wife cradling his body in the street under the headline "Thou Shalt Not Kill," Duterte seemed unmoved. "There you are sprawled on the ground, and you are portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ," he said in a speech to Congress. "That's just drama." The police also have been less than punctilious about whom and when they kill. After two small-time Manila dealers, 49-year-old Renato Bertes and his 28-year-old son, Jaypee Bertes, were killed while in custody last month, the cops claimed the arrestees had tried to grab their guns. But an investigation by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights found both men had been severely beaten and were incapable of resistance. The evidence in that case, which a senator described as a "summary execution," was so clear that the government had no choice but to bring murder charges against two officers. Many other cases in which police claim to have killed drug suspects in self-defense will not get the same scrutiny. Duterte says he wants to reinstate the death penalty, which at this point seems redundant. Why bother making it official when you ca[...]