Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Michael J. Totten interviews Christopher Hitchens

January 23, 2010

Hitchens has a way of making me look differently at almost every issue, and of course his diction and vocabulary make him a fantastic listen/read.  In Part II of his interview with the independent foreign correspondent Michael Totten, Hitchens continues to argue his case for action in Iraq and, more controversially, in Iran: he argues that removing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard might raise the ire of some Iranians and/or the international community, but would ultimately be worthwhile.  He also presents a fairly balanced view of Obama, acknowledging his inexperience while also touting his ability to make good judgement once he learns how to steer the ship.

MJT: …but the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would be gone.

Hitchens: It’s not as bad as having them running Iran and its nuclear program and stoning women and blinding girls. They rape boys in jail.

We can simply say, “We’re not going to stay. We’re handing the country over to you. We’re not occupying. We don’t want to stay. We can’t wait to get out. And you’ve been de-Revolutionary-Guardized. Cry all you want.”

We will have done them a favor, and ourselves. We have rights, too. The international community has rights. The U.N. has rights. The U.S. has rights. The IAEA has rights. The Iranians made deals with all of them, and they broke them.

Hitchens: I think he’s someone whom it’s a mistake to underestimate. I think he wants it to be made clear that he tried everything, that they pushed him to this. That’s what we’re doing with Iran now. We let them walk over us, spit on us, and laugh at us, but this can’t go on forever.

Even with the Major Hasan thing—which I thought was terrible—when he said, “Let’s not rush to judgment.” That wasn’t only itself an awful thing to say. I wish he’d said that about the Cambridge Police Department.


It is time to get rid of the death penalty

January 16, 2010

In an earlier post of mine on Free Will and Determinism, I argued that it seems clear to me that the justice system should allow rehabilitation to take precedent over retribution.  The strongest example of where this approach needs to be taken is in the most serious of crimes, where certain countries or states seek the death penalty against the defendant.

Now the New York Times is reporting that the American Law Institute, which developed the framework for capital punishment in the US, can no longer endorse this project:

“The A.L.I. is important on a lot of topics,” said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “They were absolutely singular on this topic” — capital punishment — “because they were the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States.”

A study commissioned by the institute said that decades of experience had proved that the system could not reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness. It added that capital punishment was plagued by racial disparities; was enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers were underpaid and some were incompetent; risked executing innocent people; and was undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections.

Hopefully this will help continue the landslide away from capital punishment in the US, though the problem still rages on in areas like the Middle East.

Dogma and ideology continue to reign supreme for the Canadian Federal government

January 16, 2010

The Conservative Party of Canada has received another setback in their continued fight against a safe-injection site in Vancouver, BC.  The Insite facility located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, well recognized as one of the most drug-infested and crime-infused regions on the continent, is the only place in North America where drug addicts can legally and safely inject their drug of choice (typically heroin, cocaine, and morphine).  In 2003, the facility and the province of BC were granted an exemption allowing them to open what was supposed to be a trial run of a harm-reduction strategy.  This exemption was extended twice, before being ruled as a permanent exemption by the BC Supreme Court in 2008.

This latest setback for the Canadian Federal government, held by a minority Conservative Party of Canada, is the second time that this permanent exemption has been challenged, and the second time the Federal government has lost.  From my conversations, it seems that many intuitively believe that the Federal government is right: why are tax payer dollars going towards a facility that “promotes” using illegal, Schedule I drugs?

The answer is, necessarily, a bit nuanced.  Undoubtedly the world would be best if no one ever used heroin.  Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in.  In Vancouver in particular, unmonitored drug use translates to deaths by overdose and by HIV/AIDS resulting from sharing needles.  The Insite facility was designed to attack this problem: by providing a clean facility with clean needles where drugs can be injected by registered nurses, we can drastically reduce the number of overdoses and slow the transmission of HIV/AIDS.  Also, by providing an environment where drug addicts can easily seek support if wanted, the Insite facility could (in theory) help decrease the number of addicts through counselling services.

The evidence all comes down on the side of Insite.  A May, 2007 paper in the journal Addiction noted that “[Insite]’s opening was associated independently with a 30% increase in detoxification service use, and this behaviour was associated with increased rates of long-term addiction treatment initiation and reduced injecting at [Insite].”  An earlier paper in the same journal found that the Insite location led to a reduction in public injection, neighbourhood littering, and needle sharing.  You can find a great deal of support in the drug literature for the efficacy of Insite, and it actually has the potential to save money for the tax payers.  A single case of HIV/AIDS costs ~$250,000; running the facility costs ~$500,000/year; the facility serves ~25,000 injections per year; and 30% of the facility’s users have HIV/AIDS.  If the facility can prevent at least two cases of HIV/AIDS (which seems incredibly plausible), then the facility has already made up for its cost to taxpayers.  Still, I completely understand that some taxpayers don’t want to implicity support viewpoints they disagree with, so I would be open to allowing a well-regulated private location (perhaps non-profit) to establish itself in Vancouver, but the Conservative Party of Canada is no more willing to do that than they are the current policy.

This brings me back to my original point: the CPC is intentionally ignoring evidence that suggests that this policy has been greatly beneficial to not only the addicts in question, but to the community as a whole.  Indeed, empirical evidence continues to strongly support the argument that the only useful approach to ANY currently illegal drug is that of harm reduction.  The CPC doesn’t care about the evidence, though; they are stuck to their dogmatic ideology which says explicity that the only solution to illegal drug use is punishment.  This is why they’ll enjoy their alcohol at New Year’s while someone who grows 5 less harmful cannabis plants (relative to alcohol) will be sentenced to a year or more in jail, and why taxpayer money continues to be wasted fighting a facility that actually attacks what the CPC claims they’re seeking to get under control.

You can be sure that the CPC will be appealing the latest decision in a clear chain of well-reasoned arguments by the BC provincial courts.  While those of us in favour of ending the scourge of heroin addiction are hoping for more Insite facilities, the CPC hopes to extinguish a rare spark of success in this decades long, and rather futile, war on drug users.

In related news, evidence seems to indicate that the US National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has not only failed to reduce use of cannabis: it seems to have done the opposite.  The article I’ve linked to shows a couple examples which indicate, to me, why the campaign is ineffective: it is either misleading or misrepresentative.  Take, for example, the “Pot Quiz” which suggests that there is more cancer-causing tar in a joint than there is in a cigarette.  This statement is intended to imply that cannabis causes cancer, even though studies like those of Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA have shown: A) There is no correlation between smoking cannabis and cancer, B) The THC present in cannabis seems to have a protective effect against lung cancer, C) Other cannabinoids (such as CBD) seem to be capable of triggering autophagy in cancer cells, a form of programmed cell death.  In other words, if smoking cannabis has a specific relation to cancer, it seems to be in preventing or killing it, not causing it.  You can also avoid almost all of the carcinogens by using a vapourizer, which has repeatedly shown to be a safe method of ingesting cannabis, instead of smoking via a joint.