Friday, April 30, 2010

The Perfect Tea Party Issue: Ending the War on Drugs

-- Posted by Neil H. Buchanan

It is a bit awkward to write about the so-called Tea Party Movement, because it seems fairly clear that the "movement" is rather small and fractured, that it is to a significant degree an "astroturf" movement driven by organizations like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks lobbying group, and that it has been the beneficiary of exaggerated coverage by television news organizations. If nothing else, people in colonial dress shouting insults about the president make for a good show. Fewer than a thousand people show up at well-advertised protests, and the group's first "national convention" was little more than a poorly-attended series of photo ops; yet all of the major news organizations have lavished coverage on the groups' supposed political ascent. The numbers, however, seem to add up to no more than -- and probably a lot less than -- Ross Perot's supposedly game-changing Reform Party in the 1990's; so skepticism is in order.

Nonetheless, the media's portrayal of the Tea Party movement has now coalesced into a reasonably clear description. They are a libertarian group that hates government, especially the federal government. They are focusing on economic issues rather than social issues. They have an emerging image problem around the issue of race, although they insist that they are not racists. If this picture is accurate (again, a big if), then the question is what the Tea Partiers will adopt as their next big issue. The health care debate is quickly becoming ancient history, and the Democrats have taken the populist high ground in the debate over financial reform. The suddenly-hot immigration issue is exactly what Tea Partiers should avoid, because it exposes them even more clearly to charges of racism and nativism, and because immigration carries culture war baggage that they would presumably wish to leave behind.

There is, in fact, an absolutely perfect issue for this group to rally behind: drug legalization. It could not be a better fit for the narrative that has emerged. Many of the Tea Partiers (roughly half, if the polls are accurate) are Ron Paul-style libertarians in the first place, for whom drug legalization is already a central notion of individual liberty. Beyond that, moreover, the Drug War plays into two of the issues most central to this putative movement's concerns: federalism, and government's impact on the economy.

Criminal law has, of course, traditionally been the responsibility of the states. When the war on drugs intensified in the early 1990's, however, the federal government's role in criminal law grew accordingly. When I was clerking on the 10th Circuit in 2002-03, everyone in chambers knew that saying, "I've got a criminal case," was the same thing as saying, "I'm working on a drug case." The systematic peeling back of 4th amendment protections was accompanied by judicial pronouncements that it was supremely important to keep the scourge of drugs out of our neighborhoods. A few federal judges protested vigorously against the federalization of this one area of criminal law. As a matter of federalism, therefore, the drug war is an ideal area in which to say, "Let the states do it."

As a matter of government intrusion into the economy, the case against the War on Drugs is even stronger. Tea Partiers are apparently very exercised about excess spending by the government. Jeffrey Miron, of the Harvard Economics Department, estimated in December 2008 (using very conservative assumptions) that drug legalization would save the federal government $14 billion per year and state governments $30 billion per year, while bringing in a total of about $33 billion in additional tax revenue.

Those costs are, however, only the most direct measure of the cost of the drug war. Several years ago, I participated in a symposium at Rutgers-Newark (co-sponsored by the School of Criminal Justice and the School of Law) that explored the social costs of the war on drugs. I have not yet turned my comments into an article, but I worked up some ballpark calculations of the economic cost of the incarceration binge that has accompanied the war on drugs.

It is well known that the U.S. now incarcerates more than 2 million people, the vast majority of them for violations of drug laws. (The horror stories of horizontal inequities are legion, with murderers and rapists serving less prison time than people who were caught with small quantities of marijuana.) As a very conservative estimate, assume that one-third of those people are non-violent drug offenders who could be released without danger to the public. That is about 600,000-700,000 people, which is almost exactly one-half of one percent of the labor force. Although these people are not officially listed as unemployed, they are clearly unemployed in the economic sense of that term.

There is a statistical regularity known as Okun's Law, which says that for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, there is a 2% - 2.5% decrease in GDP. If we could put 1/2% of the labor force back to work, therefore, Okun's Law tells us that we would see an increase in GDP of approximately 1%. With GDP in the US approaching $15 trillion this year, that is a loss of $150 billion in economic output.

All of these are rough, back-of-the-envelope estimates, of course. (In addition, they are based on the assumption that the unemployment rate will eventually move back toward full employment levels.) There are also many other costs of the drug war (whereas the benefits have proven rather difficult to quantify -- or even identify.) The point, however, is that the government's decision to make drugs illegal has a large and ongoing affect on the economy, at both the state and federal levels.

Finally, consider one additional benefit to the Tea Partiers that would come from an embrace of drug legalization. It is well documented that the drug war has been particularly damaging to minority communities, for a variety of reasons. If the Tea Partiers were to champion a cause on a principled basis (federalism, laissez-faire, personal liberty), and that cause happened to benefit minority communities
most directly, they would be able to claim -- quite rightly -- that they are not simply grousing about paying their own taxes but are, instead, willing to take a stand in the name of liberty that also benefits minorities.

I am not holding my breath, of course. Even so, the alignment of interests is striking. If the Tea Partiers believe what they are saying, this is a golden opportunity to stand by their stated principles.

16 comments:

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Neil: The argument "If tea partiers were rational, they would..." is always a weak one, if only because of the logical principle that 'from a false premise any conclusion can be drawn.'

These people are not only not 'rational' their definitions of 'rationality,' 'truth,' 'evidence,' 'proof,' and 'logic' are simply not ones we would recognize, and I find it a weakness in most political commenters that they fail to recognize this. Let's look at the five most important opinion leaders for them -- Armey may have 'handed out the signs' but the people he handed them to were glad to take them because of their own belief. (I am ignoring the 'militia/gun hugger' types which are an even different type of crazy, though one with many similarities to the ones
I mentioned.

The "Texas Doctor" -- I never use his name or that of the ex-Governor I mention below. -- His 'libertarianism' is not just a collection of quirky and unworkable monetary and 'tiny government' ideas. It isd a 'libertarianism' that does not prevent him from being pro-forced pregnancy, weak, if not non-existent on gay rights, and he has a long history of racist remarks under his name, and a connection with the anti-immigrant and racist fanatic, Lew Rockwell. (He's also the only political candidate I know of that permitted STORMFRONT types to pass out literature at his rallies, or accepted their support.)

Glenn Beck -- 'nuff said. (The rodeo clown may be totally i9nsincere and 'only in it for the money' as the recent FORBES profile implies, but his followers believe every word he says, and follow his chalkboard paranoia as a road map.)

The twin hydra of the Baroness Munchhausen, ex-Governor of Alaska and Michelle Bachmann (with many 'lesser heads' on the monster like Louis Gohmert, Trent Franks, Virginia Foxx and the other totally insane 'Congresscritters' that make up 10%, at least of the Republican caucus) -- again 'nuff said, though it might be better to list The Baroness M. with one of the next two.

And two lesser-known but maybe more important leaders/groups.

[I think I have to break this into two parts because of character limits.]

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

[Part 2, hopefully this fits -- and why doesn't blogger allow 'blockquote']

Janet Folger Porter, head of 'Faith2Action' and organizer of tomorrow's May Day March -- much like Joseph Farah and WND, an 'all-purpose crazy' but unlike them, apparently totally sincere. PFAW's Right Wing Watch" describes her as

a Religious Right activist/conspiracy theory-promoting radio host, and member of presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee’s inner circle. Porter believes America is under a curse for having “made the choice of death” by electing President Obama (even though God TV warned us not to). She announced the May Day event at last fall’s How to Take Back America conference.'

Believe it or not, this understates it. She has truly filled in almost every square on the bingo card of the crazy, from FEMA 'Death Camps" to cancer cure quackery, from 'tenther'ism to global warming denialism to being the only prominent person to present Jane Burgermeister's theory that H1N1 and the vaccine were part of an "Obama/Sebelius/WHO/big pharma/international banker conspiracy to cause a genocide in the US."

Yet she has managed to recruit at least five Congresscritters for tomorrow's Rally, and continues to enjoy a mutually supportive relationship with the 'nice conservative' Huckabee.

Finally, Cindy Jacobs, Lou Engel and the New Apostolic Reformation. (A group which has flown beneath the radar because non-specislists see them as nothing more but younger replacements of the older generation of the Religious Right. "Same pulpit, new preachers" -- except they aren't. Without doubling the length of this piece, I can't describe them fully, but Right Wing Watch has a good preliminary description.

Yesterday, I finished reading Jacobs' "The Reformation Manifesto: Your Part in God's Plan to Change Nations Today" and just wanted to highlight a section that exemplifies the difference between the standard Religious Right leaders and this new breed of prophetic intercessors.

Whereas people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell regularly made (and, in some cases, continue to make) news for claiming that specific natural disasters were the result of God signaling his displeasure with humanity, activists like Jacobs regularly take responsibility for unleashing these sorts of events.

...

Jacobs, Engle, and the like believe that they have supernatural powers of the exact same sort possessed by Jesus Christ, given to them by the Holy Spirit, thus allowing them to know the will of God, perform miracles, and cause events to happen.

I've been studying the Religious Right for more than a decade and have never seen anything like this among the groups and people that we monitor. But now not only are "prophets" and "apostles" like Jacobs and Engle being welcomed into the more "traditional" movement, they appear to be rapidly changing the nature of the movement itself, with Engle leading the FRC "prayercast" and leading more "mainstream" leaders in Call-like prayer sessions while Jacobs played in key role in orchestrating Janet Porter's upcoming "May Day 2010" prayer rally which is organized entirely around "7 Mountains" dominionist theology and is scheduled to feature several GOP members of Congress.


These various groups obviously can not be predicted based on ordinary standards of rationality -- though too many writers try to do so. And only the first supports drug legalization, and it strikes me that for many of their key supporters, this would be the first 'bargaining chip' to be sacrificed in coalition-forming.

Neil H. Buchanan said...

Thanks, Prup (aka Jim Benton), for these fascinating -- and very scary -- facts. I had no idea that there was a new, crazier-than-Robertson generation of fundamentalists. Truly amazing. If they have the power to create miracles, what are they waiting for?

Just to be clear, I wrote my post with tongue in cheek, because I absolutely do not buy the "not really the culture war, only economic issues" description of the Tea Party, nor do I imagine that they're rational. When I wrote, "I'm not holding my breath," I was suggesting exactly what you suggest in your comments. It's essentially a syllogism: (1) If they have been characterized accurately, they would gravitate toward this issue, (2) They will not gravitate toward this issue, so (3) They are not as they've been described. I wish your descriptions of what they are really like were not true; but I know that they are.

To push one point a bit further, however, I did not mean to say that the astroturf nature of the movement means that there aren't willing foot soldiers. I do, however, think it's important to be clear about just how few foot soldiers there really are. Even on April 15, rallies in major cities saw attendance in the low hundreds. But because they are angry, outrageous, and colorful (in every way but one), the rallies were covered by TV news as successes rather than failures.

It is important not to underestimate these people, but it is also important not to overestimate them. They are extreme in belief, but thankfully not large in number.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Neil: Again a two-parter, first on how many people are involved with the New Apostolic Reformation. This is not a local phenomena, or a small one. It is world wide, with strong influences in Africa, Oceania and South America as well as in every part of the US. By some reliable statistics, the total of the congregants in churches connected to the NAR constitutes the largest group -- not denomination, they claim to be 'post-denominational' -- of Protestant Christianity in the world.

(Not all, or even a major part of these are, currently, political. And you can no more assume they share the beliefs of their leaders than you can assume all Catholics agre with the Pope on birth control, abortion, or homosexuality. What is important is that a group that accepts the medieval madness of the ideas I'll describe in the next comment have had their 'critical thinking' sense so destroyed that they are potentially susceptible to any political ideas -- including the inherently theocratic ones involved in the movement -- since they have no wqay of refuting them or comparing them to reality.)

One example of their pervasiveness -- and a demonstration of one of their strengths, that they appear so crazy that no one takes them seriously -- made an appearance in the 2008 campaign. Some of you may remember the video of Bishop Thomas Muthee, the 'witch hunter,' blessing "Sister Sarah." (Sadly most people just watched that segment and didn't listen to the opening where he lays out '7 Mountain Theology.')

Muthee wasn't some 'backwoods snake handler' who happened to drop by Sarah Palin's Church. He was, as the leader of the largest mega-church in West Africa, and as the head of a network including 500 other churches, he was an honored and invited guest. He is also one of the key figures in the "Transformations" videos that will be a major part of the second half of this. And the 'witch hunting is distincly 'a feature, not a bug' in his reputation.

Muthee preached that Christians should 'imitste the Semites' and seize control of the '7 Mountains' including business, government, arts, education and the media. It is the same '7 Mountains
theology that the NAR preaches and that Janet folger Porter's meeting later today on the Mall is dedicated to. And I have no idea how many people will show up to hear them, but five Congressmen have already agreed to speak at the rally supporting a truly un-American idea.

One other example that these people might be more important than their ideas would make them. In this year's Hawaiian Gubernatorial race, according to Bruce Wilson of Talk to Action, both Duke Aiono, the Republican Lt. Governor and presumptive Republican candidate, and Mufi Hanneman, the mayor of honolulu and one of the two main contenders for the Democratic candidacy have attended NAR events -- together. Ed Silvoso, head of Transformations Hawaii, is already claiming that, whichever candidate wins, 'either one is in the Kingdom.'

(Apologies for not getting the second part up until later this morning, but if you want to get a 'sneak peek' read the PDF that discusses the Transformation videos. Note particularly the lines on page 10:
"a massive Crusade led by Reinhard Bonnke, a German evangelist who
is known for healing and raising people from the dead"
and page 8:
"The revival portrayed in the movie is claimed to have resulted in instantaneous healing of thousand of AIDS patients."

(more later)

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

The point about the absudities that I ended my last post is not that 'believers believe absurd things.' (As an atheist I'd argue that way, yes, but the point about most believers is that they believe in absurdities that happened in the distant past -- even the Chroniclers of them are not writing contemporaneously with the events, and, at the time they wrote, there was no way of 'fact-checking' the stories. There was no way of looking at the JERUSALEM POST issues for Winter and Spring of 33 A.D. to see if Lazarus really was raised from the dead.)

The difference is that these people believe in contemporaneous miracles -- and that is much scarier. Apparently they incapable of asking themselves:
if Pastor Bonnke raised people from the dead..." or "Thousands of people were miraculously and instantaneously cured of AIDS in 1999" or, to pick a third example from the Transformations videos, "Fiji was blessed with an unexpected third harvest the year they converted and decicated themselves to Jesus, and the vegetables were giant-sized"

Why didn't anyone notice? Why wasn't it a front page story in their newspapers, why didn't CNN (or even FOX) cover these 'earth-shattering' stories? Why can't they even find reports on Google?

The scary (and sad, momentously sad) thing about these people is that none of them ask themselves such questions. (No,a more accurate way of putting it is that most of them don't think to ask themseves the questions, but those that do answer that 'We've never heard it because the Liberals/the 'Semites'/George Soros/Satan controls the media and wouldn't let such stories out' -- even sadder and scarier.)

This is why I am more worried about under- than over-estimating them. That there is a substantial group of people -- even if their numbers -- or the numbers of the 'true believers' among them -- is small in absolute terms -- so totally devoid of elementary 'critical thinking' skills as to remain watching a video after such absurd claims are made, that do not, immediately afterwards, even think to use Google to confirm them, means something else. It means there is a mass of people capable of being led anywhere by a suitably charismatic, authoritative, and eloquent leader.

This is not really discussing the various types of crazy they are, which was going to be my second post. But I'll reserve it and let the PDF linked to in my last post make my case for me unless anyone asks for morew details. (The "New Apostolic Reformation Research Team" includes Bruce Wilson, Rachel Tabatchnick and, I think, Chris Rodda, among others, all names that should be familiar to fundie-watchers.)

Neil H. Buchanan said...

In response to Prup's further comments, I can only say: Thanks for scaring me silly! I actually mean that sincerely. Ignorance about these things is not healthy. I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about the religious right, but this is extra-scary territory. As I said in a recent post, if the bad economy (or anything else) precipitates a real break from our constitutional traditions, what follows will not be a time of enlightenment. In fact, the best way to describe this whole crowd might well be "anti-Enlightenment." Again, thank you.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Neil: "It ain't whut you don't know whut hurts you, it's what you know whut ain't so." You make the mistake of thinking 'new faces, same pulpit' -- but then so do over 90% of the commentators I read. It's so easy to see the new generation through the reflection of the clownish futility and absurdity of the Robertsons and Falwells and Wildmons, or the Gary Bauers and Tony Perkins, who wear their sleaziness like neon suits. (People even made the same mistake about Ted Haggard, one of the first prominent NAR types in America -- the one who first popularized 'spiritual mapping.')

That's one of the mistakes I see. The other one comes from those people who hear a group talk the level of insanity they do, the witch-hunting, the belief in the physical existence of demons -- and that they cause both illnesses and homosexuality, the claims of miraculous powers. Their response is too often that 'these people can't really be serious, what are they hiding?' (And too often they are dismissed as merely stupid, or excusing their own racism -- when in fact the NAR is proud of being integrated -- or being 'puppets of the rich.'

My one advantage -- other than having had too much time on my hands for my lifetime, and I'll be a Beatles song next month, and having an 'insatialble curiosity' about why people believe what they do, and exactly what it is they do believe, whether I agree with them or not -- is that I started in the Skeptical Blogosphere. (And before that reading skeptical writings of various kinds -- I use the term 'Skeptical" as it's used by the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER.)

If you've dealt with creationists, anti-vaxxers, cancer quack supporters, holocaust deniers, global warming deniers, homeopaths and Deepak Chopra fans, this type of sincere irrationality is nothing new, and you know its worth taking the time to know what they are actually saying and believing instead of 'taking shortcuts.'

And, as a Skeptic, I request that you investigate my own statements taking into account that 'he might be as crazy as he says they are.' If you do, your own investigation will do a better job of convincing you than I could.

I think, ion the long run these people will prove a nuisance rather than a serious danger, but only if people take a closer look at them, and at the meaning behind such apparently harmless, if silly, actions as 'spiritual mapping.' (Google "Repent Amarillo" and then "PrayforNewark" to see it in action -- and know that almost every substantial city in America has been 'spiritually mapped.')

Neil H. Buchanan said...

Prup: We will still need you, we will still feed you, when next month comes along.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Thanx, large grins, and at least you didn't 'talk lawyer' and say 'ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo' -- as much as that feels like it fits on darker days.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Two quick comments:
First, after I posted my last one, i realized there was a slim possibility that one or two of you didn't see YELLOW SUBMARINE a dozen times in theatres. For those poor, benighted souls:

"Ad hoc, ad loc
And quid pro quo
So little time
So much to know"
was the refrain of Jeremy hilary Boob, Ph.D., the "Nowhere Man" of the movie.

And one of the people I warned abou earlier pretty much self-destructed over the weekend. After spending six months of promoting her rally, suggesting that pastors throughout the land would be packing buses with their congregants, and getting five U.S. Representatives among the speaker list, Janet Folger Porter's May 1st rally drew all of 300 people. And, supposedly unrelated, the Christian Network that had been distributing her daily radio program dropped her on the grounds that her 'dominionist' theology conflicted with their 'Biblical Principles.'

So, whatever else happens, Folger Porter has now placed herself firmly among the side show exhibits -- her booth next to Orly Taitz' -- and the County Fair of the Crazy.

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