- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

The drug war's misplaced priorities

In his column "California, drugs and Mideast terror" (Commentary, Friday), Robert Charles argues that the drug war requires increased funding now because, to quote Attorney General John Ashcroft, "[T]he war on terrorism has been joined with the war on illegal drug use." Apparently, the war on drugs is the more important of the two. By raiding California's voter-approved medical marijuana suppliers, the very same drug warriors who claim illicit drug use funds terrorism are forcing cancer and AIDS patients into the hands of street dealers.
Assuming it's true that drug use finances organized crime at home and terrorists abroad, that's hardly reason to maintain drug prohibition, much less throw more money at the problem. Attempts to limit the supply of illegal drugs while demand remains constant only increase the profitability of drug trafficking. In terms of addictive drugs such as heroin, a spike in street prices leads desperate addicts to increase criminal activity to satisfy their desperate habits. The drug war doesn't fight crime; it fuels crime.
With drug war budgets at risk during a time of shifting national priorities, drug war profiteers are cynically using drug prohibition's collateral damage to justify more of the same. The illicit drug of choice in America is domestically grown marijuana, not Colombian cocaine or Afghan heroin. As long as marijuana remains illegal and distributed by organized crime, consumers will continue to come into contact with more dangerous drugs. For obvious reasons, the entrenched interests riding the drug war gravy train prefer to blame the plant itself for the alleged "gateway" to hard drugs.

ROBERT SHARPE
Program officer
Drug Policy Alliance
Washington

Venezuelans aren't going bananas

It is easy to dismiss the current general strike in Venezuela as typical "banana republic" shenanigans ("Chavez claims success in breaking oil strike," World, Monday). We may be a bit amused because the Venezuelans cannot seem to get their situation together, and a bit chagrined as our fuel prices go up. Certainly our press and politicians have given us little more than this, aside from a few sanctimonious words on how important it is to establish dialogue between the opposing parties and to work out a diplomatic solution.
As someone who has spent a great deal of time in the region for the past 30 years, it is tempting to react the same when the subject comes up with friends and business associates. A little more reflection on what is taking place, however, brings a surprising realization: Millions of Venezuelans are putting aside personal comfort and gain, and with some considerable risk to their personal security and careers, they are making a stand for the preservation of democracy in their country. They are doing so by means of peaceful civil disobedience, reminiscent of the courage demonstrated in Gandhi's Indian independence movement or the early U.S. civil rights movement.
I am not writing this because of my personal political views or for my own desires for the outcome of the situation (the general strike is costing my business thousands of dollars a day). Rather, I believe that in the "land of the free and the home of the brave" there should be a far greater recognition for other people valiantly trying to sustain democracy.
Once a democratic system is lost it can take years of struggle, suffering and lost lives before it is recovered. It is not as obvious as we think, especially to the masses of the Latin American poor, that Castro-like populism, communism and terrorism are not workable options. The United States has created an exemplary system. But have we understood that if we want other people to follow our example, we must first show we care?

LORING BAKER
Malibu, Calif.<

Symbolic punishment

Bruce Fein argues that cross burning is a "unique evil" and, therefore, not entitled to the First Amendment protection accorded other expressive activities such as flag burning ("The unique evil of cross burning," Commentary, Dec. 24). Like so many before him, he claims that the expression he would suppress is sui generis, so that its suppression would not imperil other speech.
Mr. Fein convincingly argues that burning crosses have been put to hideously evil uses, but that does not make the burning cross "uniquely evil." Many Holocaust survivors no doubt justifiably feel that the swastika is uniquely evil, since the atrocities committed under the swastika are orders of magnitude greater than those committed under the burning cross. Many who believe the burning cross is evil no doubt feel equally strongly about the wearing of white sheets and pointed hoods. Many may also feel that Confederate flags largely represent the same thing that burning crosses and white sheets symbolize. Arguments can be made that each of these symbols is sufficiently evil to justify their banning.
According to Mr. Fein's view, history rather than logic should determine which symbols are entitled to constitutional protection, but such an approach would eviscerate the First Amendment. Because history is contestable in a way that logic is not, an "historically evil speech" exception to the First Amendment gives legislatures and courts far too much leeway in suppressing speech.
The state has a legitimate interest in protecting citizens from intimidation, but it has no constitutionally sufficient interest in selecting some symbols for special punishment.

KINGSLEY R. BROWNE
Professor
Wayne State University Law School
Detroit

Unlike Europe, U.S. economy is cooking with gas

Letter writer Antonio R. Chaves ("Columnist ignores conservation," Monday) has taken columnist Deroy Murdock ("In need of terrorism-free oil," Commentary, Sunday) to task for not advocating energy conservation as a way to fight terrorism funded by Saudi Arabia.
To prove his point, Mr. Chaves cites three other large Western (or Westernized) countries that consume far less oil than the United States. Mr. Chaves asks how these countries "maintain such a good standard of living while consuming 50 percent less oil than we do?" Actually they don't, and indeed they are falling further and further behind the United States. I reproduce the figures Mr. Chaves provided, and append the real gross domestic product growth rate from 1995 to 2000 and GDP per capita relative to the United States' GDP per capita in 1999, in purchasing power parities. (The data are from the 2001 U.S. Statistical Abstract.)
Per capita oil consumption in barrels: 25 (United States), 15.7 (Japan), 12.4 (France) and 12.4 (Germany). 1995-2000 GDP growth rate: 23.7 percent (United States), 6.6 percent (Japan), 13.1 percent (France) and 9 percent (Germany). Per capita GDP relative to the United States: 75.7 percent (Japan), 65.7 percent (France) and 70.4 percent (Germany).
The faster growth rate of the U.S. economy suggests that the other countries in the table were actually better off in 1995 relative to the United States than they are today. Of course, forced conservation is not the entire reason for the discrepancies between the United States and these other countries in their growth or relative levels of GDP. For the European countries, at least, much of the discrepancy is due to government meddling in the economy, of which forced conservation is just one aspect.
In the end run, the ability of the United States to confront its enemies will depend upon its economic might. Misguided attempts to get the U.S. government to meddle in the economy by forcing upon its citizenry oil conservation not demanded by economic necessity can and will result in a less powerful economy. That in turn will weaken the ability of the United States to use its economic muscle to fight terrorism, no matter the source.

JACK RUTNER
Silver Spring


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