Author Archive for Rich

Will ‘Big Brother’ supplant Democratic Principles?

Electronic Surveillance in the Information Age; Will ‘Big Brother’ supplant Democratic Principles?

Written by – Richard G. Wendel MD, MBA

It has often been said that Democracy is not a great system of governance but it is better than all the rest. Because Democracy moves at a snail’s pace, some observers might conjecture that a benevolent dictator could more expeditiously get things done to serve the common good. Unfortunately authoritarian power always corrupts and encroaches upon the rights of the people while at the same time morphing into a scheme to perpetuate that power. Over the millenniums, absolute power has always corrupted absolutely.

American liberty and freedom anchored in separation of powers, equality under the law and a strong Bill of Rights has enabled a mixture of immigrant cultures to blend into a melting pot and produce the greatest civilization the world has ever known. American Democracy has unleashed the creativity and ingenuity of its citizens and brought with it prosperity and some measure of equality. Granted, there are social problems that remain to be resolved, but in our free society the forces of change to rectify structural inequalities and injustices have a platform upon which to operate and progress to meet the needs and wants of the electorate.

My greatest intrinsic concern for American’s future is that massive campaign contributions are eroding democratic principles and social values within a representative system. Supreme Court rulings such as the Citizen’s United case plus the use of 501 © 4 nonprofit Civic Associations to conceal the origins of contributions has distorted the electoral process. As a result, it has given a relatively small number of big donors and lobbying groups undue influence over the democratic process. This has caused a disruptive polarization of our politics in which candidates must strictly adhere to the party line or else lose financial and grass roots support in the primary elections. Money rather than mission has become the opioid addiction for elected officials.

Before 1987, America’s Federal Communications Commission enforced the “Fairness Doctrine”, which required broadcasters to give equal time to opposing sides on controversial issues. Even though media outlets today often claim to provide “fair and balanced” news coverage, this ‘equal time’ stance has become a rarity in broadcasting. Today with 24 hour news coverage from radio, TV, emails and social media the reporting is quite slanted and laced with alternate facts, untruths and fake news that appeal to the opposite ends of the political spectrum. In my inbox I receive emails from UnfilteredPatriot and Total Conservative that are two ultra conservative organizations. The content of their messages are pure fiction and spin with no objective discussion of the complexity of the issues. They are Rush Limbaugh on steroids. The National Review magazine, however, has excellent articles and I feel sorry for their editors as the new polarized media marketplace has given them an identity crisis.

And once this political sorting takes place with daily reinforcement via FOX or CNN it causes resistance to any rethinking of viewpoints based upon the facts. Illogical as it may seem, the distortions of alternate facts can rationalized or justify most any stance. And within social groups, Group Think is a much easier pathway to take than putting the time and effort into becoming informed plus taking pushback from your friends and even family. Moreover, this media divergence seems to result in a feeding frenzy that enhances the shifts to either the right or the left leaving the middle vacant. Realistically this polarization must put the skids on true bipartisanship and compromise that might oil the wheels of government to get something done.

Computer science has contributed to the polarizing tribalism between left and right as well. Some studies show that the majority of news is received from social media rather than traditional media sources. And social media tends to exacerbate the divergence of opinion into separate liberal and conservative camps in which your ‘friends’ and ‘connections’ are segregated to reinforce your particular viewpoints. Moreover, because social media is populated with open source posts, fake news and slanted commentary can emanate from any online user or, for that matter ‘bots’ of fake accounts that do not represent an individual. E-mails are likewise tailored to liberal or conservative causes and sent selectively to constituents with similar beliefs. And talk radio and TV news have followed this polarizing evolution to attract and build loyal followings.

In summary, big money and Information Technology has introduced a degree of dysfunction into our Democratic processes and this has resulted in the muffling of moderation, compromise and tolerance as avenues for consensus building and dealing with the complexity of governance. Moreover, this turmoil acts as a barrier to recruiting and retaining highly qualified men and women for elected office. The drift toward the Alt-Right and Alt-Left promotes and institutionalizes distrust, conspiracy and confrontation as the new normal.

China, The Real Threat

When I was a boy, my father often mentioned the ‘yellow tide’ that referred to the masses of Chinese people that would one day sweep west, much the same way that Gengus Khan and the Mongolian hordes did during the 13th Century. It seemed strange at the time because China was a 3rd world backwater country noteworthy only for its rich history. (It did invent gun powder) Later, between 1958 and 1962 with Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward additional skepticism arose about China’s ability to even be a member of the nation of civilized societies. And then when the Berlin Wall Came down and Russian Communism succumbed to the notions of perestroika and glasnost scripted by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1990s, it seemed as if Communism would fade and democratic free societies prevail. The Communist ‘Domino Theory’ was discredited and it was postulated that the world’s other authoritarian societies would likewise evolve in the direction of more representative governments.

Chinese Communism came under this umbrella of thought. It was widely held that China could not resist the appeal of Western culture and would evolve into a more Westernized country with an open market economy and a society with greater democratic rights. This assumption and the promise of unlimited cheap labor caused the West to open the door for China to integrate into the Global economic order.

Unfortunately, that expectation proved to be a Trojan horse that has given China equal footing with the West economically but failed to redirect its trajectory toward a free and open society. Confirmatory of this observation, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Community Party, recently had the Chinese constitution changed to allow him to be President for life or as long as he chooses. And during his rule he has steered politics and economics towards repression, state control and confrontation. The Chinese government has evolved from just an authoritarian capitalistic country into a dictatorship with total state control.

In his ascent Xi has purged potential rivals, imprisoned free-thinking lawyers, and initiated an elaborate surveillance system to monitor and prevent deviance from state orthodoxy. The Chinese Government controls businesses as an arm of state power, encourages Intellectual property theft and subsidizes and protects numerous strategic industries that account for 40 percent of its foreign trade. It also leverages trade to punish its enemies. With an expanding military and claims to artificial islands in the South China Sea and Western Pacific it is clearly trying to displace American power in the Pacific and across the Globe.

When economists analyze the Chinese financial system they draw a variety of conclusions. Some predict impending trouble with their unsustainable debt burden, a glut of government subsidized housing, excess manufacturing capacity, currency manipulation, fraud and the excesses of central planning. But with absolute control and a range of financial advisors trained in the West and homebred as well these seem to me to be manageable structural and economic problems. They do not represent an imminent threat to the Communist dictatorship.

Our trade deficit with China in 2017 was $375.2 billion and China owns about 1.19 trillion in official US debt. As a result the West’s commerce and debt burden is so heavily invested in and indebted to China that we are in the straightjacket of financial partnership with China. This leaves us little leverage to sell or impose American values and lead China down the path to improved human rights. A genuine tug of war between the totalitarianism dictatorship of China and the free democratic societies will only get worse and in my view represents a serious threat to the representative governments in the world and perhaps the values at the heart of Democracy.

In view of this asymmetry in trade and debt that adds fuel to Chinese expansionism with such projects as the Belt and Road initiative, it would seem appropriate for our government to recognize this grave threat and craft ways to reverse these two asymmetries that bind our economy to China. The first and simplest is to better protect our intellectual properties by using legal means to restrain the sharing of leading edge technology when our businesses wish to operate in China. This should include an initiative to encourage American firms to bring their advanced manufacturing facilities home and putting curbs on what American firms China can acquire. Second would be the adoption of multilateral trade agreements and collaborative arrangements with the full range of Pacific Rim and South Asia countries that surround China. Lastly and most controversial would be imposing tariffs on imported Chinese products with a goal for imports to equal exports to China. This would probably start a trade war. However, because we import much more from China than we export to China, we have buyer’s power and this does give us a strategic advantage.

These measures would create major pushback from many vested interested parties. Because short term objective generally trump longer-term objective in American politics, the politics might be unpalatable unless there was a well-orchestrated marketing program. The ripple effects would be huge and there would be a few winners but probably more short-term losers. Many would suffer including the American consumer, Iowa farmers, the supply chain and some manufacturers. In all probability the growth of the American GDP would decline for a few quarters and push the economy into a recession.

However, our other trading partners are well position to take up the slack and benefit from focused trade barriers aimed at decreasing the indebtedness and trade deficit with China. In fact, I am confident they would welcome it because many nations especially in South East Asia have an anti-Chinese bias. At the end of the day, an ounce of proactive prevention may be worth a pound of reactive cure in the years to come.

The Clash of the Two Systems:

The Chinese form of centralized control has some strategic advantages over our free system of government. Controlling the media with digital technology has been the game changer that enables continuous surveillance and control of the Chinese population. The Chinese ‘Big Brother’ just like a supercharged George Orwell’s dystopian ‘1984’, has perfected new tools to regulate the flow of information and introduce total asymmetry in information exchange at all levels of Chinese society.

In America social issues are vigorously debated. But in China, how do you think the issues of gun control, abortion, privacy, discrimination, capital punishment, enhanced interrogation and immigration would be handled? Without the possibility for significant pushback, these controversial issues are and would be resolved by simple decree from the small ruling circle. Those dissenting would be punished, discredited or suppressed. As an example, look at the way the Chinese government implemented the one child policy to combat overpopulation. They used mandatory abortion, sterilization and withdrawal of rights and privileges for the families that did not comply. The Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 is a glaring example of how Chinese Communism deals with dissent.

Strict authoritarianism has some advantages that exploit the human psyche as well. In general, human beings do not like ambiguity and uncertainty. The Chinese brand of Communism and dictatorship sets forth dogma that requires fealty and offers a singularity of purpose that borders on a religion. In Chairman Mao’s perspective it might be the new “opiate of the people” that displaces the needs for religious beliefs and values.

Thirty years ago without modern Information Technology to manage the flow of information, this abrogation of rights would not have been as troubling as it is today. In fact, in the early days of the IT revolution as with the Arab Spring in 2010 in which the uprising spread via social media, cell phones and emails, it was conjectured that the Internet would promote free exchange of information and foster representative government. But today the Internet works in reverse in China as it is fully controlled by the government.

In periodicals, ads and propaganda, the Chinese boast of putting their citizen’s ‘livelihoods first’, ‘addressing poverty’ and ‘seeking truths in the facts.’ They also brag about their rapid economic ascent and development. In the text in these articles, individual freedoms, rights, liberty, justice and rule of law are never once mentioned.

To a Western observer it is difficult to fully appreciate the social and political ramifications of having limited access to divergent opinions and objective news reporting. In China, the Internet is controlled and vetted to insure that there is little variance from state orthodoxy. Also it is rumored that a new plan is in the works to impose a ‘social’ rating system that grades the compliance and worthiness of each of its citizens.

America must wake up and confront this reality that in the Chinese controlled society; liberty, freedom and justice is being subverted to the enduring monotheism of a dictator. In China, limited freedom of expression is bestowed upon just the few spheres of economic and social life that do not challenge the authority of the Communist party. Unfortunately, the Information Superhighway is a major enabler of this state of institutionalized dictatorship. Indeed, the sustainability of tyrants is assured when all of the vestiges of a free society are cast aside by information control.

North Korea is a prime case study in dictatorship perpetuated by strict control of all media and constant surveillance of information exchange between its citizens. As a brutal oppressive state it ranks 180th out of 180 nations by Human Rights Watch. Internet access is prohibited to outside sources and all news is broadcast and filtered by state media. Despite the severe hardships imposed on the North Korean people, Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader, allegedly enjoys a high degree of popular support. The IT propaganda machine is the engine of this strange contradiction between reality and perception.

Other regimes such as Russia, Venezuela and Turkey also may be headed down similar pathways. In these countries, populism and nativism have surfaced to enshrine oppressive governments that maintain control through information control.

Positive Steps

American exceptionalism is real but it is time to nurture this across the planet while there is time for our form of government to beat the competition. Isolationism, tariffs, sanctions, unilateralism, military saber rattling, unwelcoming walls plus skeletonizing the State Department, defunding the United Nations and WTO and withdrawing from the TPP and Paris Global Warming Accord are strategies that are self-defeating and drive other nations into the Chinese and opposing camps. We certainly need more soft power, accommodation and multilateralism to win the hearts and minds of our allies if we are to succeed. If we are to prevail, our brand of democracy needs to be more functional, cohesive and moderate.

Increasing resources should be directed at maintaining America’s technological supremacy in the information age. There are many facets to this initiative that include a focus on STEM education, more money for scientific R&D and immigration policies that bring the best minds to our shores. Moreover we need to improve our policies that protect our intellectual properties.

Information and electronic technology is entering new realms of advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, drone and drone swarms, 3D printing and quantum computing. These technologies were the grist for science fiction works twenty years ago. Despite Steven Hawkins admonition before his death about AI when he stated “I fear that AI may replace humans altogether,” I am not concerned that robots will develop ambitions and turn on the human race. However, I am concerned that robots with artificial intelligence will become the agents for the hegemony of tyrants. Robots may be the “big brother’ enforcers for an aspiring despot and this is why it is so critical that America retains its technological edge.

Pervasive Surveillance

In earlier times before the digital revolution the private lives of Americans were just that, private. Photographs and family movies were special and filled scrap books and film reels depicting special occasions and watching children grow and mature. Meetings were private affairs and security cameras did not dot the entire landscape. The grapevine and hearsay were significant information sources and the inner sanctum of the home was not transparent to outsiders. When you took a trip you had to carefully follow the maps and detours were not uncommon due to navigational mistakes. Even public figures had private lives in which past indiscretions and skeletons remained in the closet for the most part.

The past twenty-five years has seen the sun rise on a new electronic era of surveillance. Today virtually nothing enjoys the sanctity of privacy and most everything we do is a part of a searchable database. The routs I travel in my car are traceable via GPS and the police have license plate scanners to access my public records and body cameras to document my movements should I be pulled over. The Internet shopping platforms track and aggregate my shopping habits and catalog my surfing to capture my preferences to offer me deals that match my tastes. Social media tracks my posts that give clues to my political beliefs and earmark them for political and governmental scrutiny. The NSA through cellular providers has a log of my cell phone calls and the Internet providers register my clicking around on the web and accordingly sell ad space to other platforms that post materials tailored to my interests. TV viewership is also tracked. Even with HIPPA regulations, my medical history can be accessed by many parties and an insurance company has only a modicum of difficulty in checking up to make certain I did not fabricate any medical condition when applying for insurance. Your Social Security number is contained in many documents. A cold Google search and social media usually provides the inquisitive person a snapshot of your education, employment, volunteer work and achievements. Moreover, your online banking history, credit card transactions and loans are electronically stored and pop up when your credit score is accessed to check for financial worthiness. And many permits, business registrations, media posting and death notices are just a few clicks away from being exposed to any party’s wondering eyeballs. And the government has much more information such as income tax forms and recorded business transactions.

Added to this feeling that your lack privacy is the dire reports of Internet hacking, scams and phishing that has caused a plethora of security firms to raise the alarm bells and enter the market to provide electronic internet security. Put it all together and one has a tendency to get alarmed, worried and even paranoid about their use of the Internet.

Then you have the new range of personal identifiers. Mug shots, blood types and fingerprints used to be the benchmarks for identification. Now we must add to that DNA analysis, iris scans and most importantly sophisticated and accurate facial and body recognition software programs.

Another privacy invasion is the ubiquitous security cameras in the home, on the streets and in public spaces. It is fair to say that we are being protected but at the same time spied upon most every minute of the day. In my opinion, the decline in the crime rates in major cities relates to this surveillance rather than a decrease in the criminal element and better policing. We are being watched and this causes the deck to be stacked against the shop lifter, mugger or rapist.

I greatly appreciate all of the benefits from the electronic revolution. When I was in school I would have grooved on a Siri or Cortana that provides instant answers to most any question you ask. I like the ease of shopping on line, electronic bill paying, emailing, and posting on social media and to web sites. The how to do this or that on YouTube and other sites helps in making home projects a breeze and the ease of travel provided by GPS and Google Maps insures that you never get lost. I like the personal security afforded by surveillance cameras and the ease of access to streaming entertainment videos and news sources. Plus simple and usually free apps enable you to store information and access the whole world of information to support your hobbies, collections and special interests. Indeed, the Internet is almost too good and has raised concerns that it is too addicting and impairs social interaction especially amongst our younger generation.

The Scary Part   

The worrisome part of this electronic revolution remains the privacy issue but also a threat to human rights. We have discussed the facilitating role that information control wields in the Chinese model. However, military coups or rebellions occur on a fairly regular basis in both the underdeveloped and developed countries. In these circumstances, Marshall Law is usually declared as the first action to rid the country of a corrupt government or as a simple power grab. To enshrine this take-over censorship, imprisonment of opposition leaders and journalists usually follows along with the appropriation of the broadcasting media outlets. Once in control, the Internet and social media are usually scrubbed of dissenters and then leveraged for propaganda purposes. The next step usually involves the assault or purge of the judicial system so as to make changes in the country’s Constitution to accept deviation from Democratic principles. During this process an external or internal enemy’s list is created and their threats to societal norms and the nation’s sovereignty exaggerated to justify the continued need for the police state. A failing economy, terrorism, religious and ethnic differences may be the justification for heavy handed suppression. Once in power, this is generally followed by a rigged election to put the stamp of legitimacy on the new regime. Throughout this process the existing institutions are weakened or replaced and the security forces brought under strict control of the ruling junta. The steps along the road to dictatorship are remarkable similar in most cases.

Usually this chain of events occurs in failed states. But in particular China is not a failed state in terms of a stable society both economically and politically. By Western standards that include freedom and human rights it does not measure up and this malignant status quo in China is rooted and supported using modern IT for information control.

Heretofore, this usurpation of power would be less durable than it is today because the tools to control the information flow and instigate surveillance were not as perfected or sophisticated before the IT era. Then lives were more private and opposition groups could better remain hidden or protected. But today once a coup is stabilized the mastery of the electronic media ensures greater sustainability of a tyrannical power grab. The dictatorship in North Korea, the theocracy in Iran and the budding sectarian government in Turkey are good examples. Moreover, when there is a coup or internal conflict in a sovereign state, outside nations are usually reluctant to get involved and risk getting mired in the intrigue of regime change or even civil war. At the end of the day, the inherent societal forces that have historically evolved toward representative government and universal suffrage may fall victim to the instruments and platforms of the information revolution.

Does this road to dictatorship pose an increasingly threat to our American Democracy? Possibly, even as it seems unlikely or even impossible in our great land. But what if an unforeseen catastrophic event occurred? What if a cyber-attack disrupted all of our communications or military conflict came to American soil? What if the social discontent due to a rising disparity between rich and poor boiled over into the streets? What if climate warming accelerated with rising oceans and drought? Or the all-volunteer army revolted and displaced our democratically elected government? I am not a doomsayer but I guess it could happen and having a bunch of AR-15 or Mini-14 assault rifles in civilian hands would not prevent it.

I certainly hope it remains pure science fiction that robots, clones and drones with learning algorithms could perform the usual tasks that comprise the majority of job descriptions for ordinary human beings. Unfortunately, if that were the case, humans would be relegated to volunteer status or underemployment with serious psychological effects. In this grim scenario a totalitarian state could use information control and a system of guaranteed base pay incentives and disincentives to totally control the lives of their subjects. Freedom would be relegated to the history books.

I do not lose sleep worrying about the lives my grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is impossible to predict the future. Some young people are pessimists and forego or give excuses for not having children thinking that the future is too uncertain. I think the future is bright but society must deal with the longer term problems that the digital cyber world poses. Privacy and freedom of information exchange need protection to ward off ‘big brother’.

The Mini-14 Assault Weapon: is civilian ownership justified?

 

assault-weapons-v2

Comparing the AR-15 to the Mini-14

During my year in Vietnam as a medical officer I occasionally did target shooting with my M-16 on both fully automatic and semi-automatic settings. I also debrided horrendous wounds from AK-47 or M-16 guns that had muzzle velocities of 2800 and 3200 feet per second respectively.

Today I shot a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic Military style rifle. This assault rifle that takes the same ammunition as an AR-15 has a 30 round clip that can be exchanged with a new clip in a matter of seconds. The Mini-14 weights about 6 pounds, is small in size, has amazingly little recoil and is remarkable accurate. It can be fired at the rate of over 100 rounds per minute with ease. The devastation to our targets that included concrete blocks, water container and cans was awesome. This macho weapon conveys a real sense of power and devastation.

The Mini-14 assault weapon is every bit as deadly as an M-16 military style rifle. In my opinion, it has no place in civilian hands. It is not in general use for hunting, competitive rifle meets, or even self-defense. It is a killing machine that enables some kook to kill in short order large numbers of people.

It is beyond comprehension why the NRA and gun lobby support allowing these weapons to fall into civilian hands with no universal background checks and weapon registration. To outlaw bump fire stocks, oversize magazines, automatic rifles and waiting periods are no brainers but this limited approach is just a band aide if you want to address mass indiscriminate shootings that are occurring at a seemingly increasing rate.

I have a carry conceal permit but believe that all gun sales should include a background check and gun registration and this includes dealers that appear at gun shows without Federal licenses. I realize that there are well 200 million+ unregistered fire arms floating around our country and to call them in to be registered is out of the question, but, at least, universal registration with new gun sales is a start at beginning to track gun ownership. It is no magic bullet but I believe that this initiative does not conflict with the 2nd Amendment rights.

I feel that public opinion is trending toward greater gun control and the NRA will have to adjust if it is to survive.

Written By: Dick Wendel MD, MBA.

Mariemont Students Among Top Business Students in the Country

Ten students in the Mariemont High School/ Great Oaks High School of Business™ satellite program scored among the top business students nationwide on rigorous exams to test their business knowledge.

The exams are part of the High School of Business program, a national accelerated business administration program. Sarah Morgan placed first in Marketing; Wilson Compton placed third and Alexander Wilson placed fourth in Business Economics; Emily Ferguson tied eighth in Finance; Will Hobart and Katie Newman tied sixth, Morgan Rowe placed seventh and Anthony Dimichele tied eighth in Management; Will Hobart placed third in Business Strategies (Entrepreneurship); and Jacob Crabtree and Parker Gilmore tied eighth in Wealth Management.

“Once again, we at Mariemont High School are very proud of how well our High School of Business students have competed locally as well as nationally,” said Dr. James Renner, principal at Mariemont High School. “This is a testament to their strong work ethic, the rigorous and enriching curriculum, and diligence on the part of their teacher.”

The school ranks in the top nine nationally in the number of students scoring in the top 20. Nationally there were only 30 schools with at least one student in the top 20 nationwide and only nine with at least six students in the top 20.

Students participating in High School of Business™ complete hands-on business projects. The program includes observational internships, opportunities to earn college credit and local oversight via a steering team of business professionals, school personnel, parents and former students.

This accelerated program is designed for college-bound students with interest in business administration careers, such as marketing, finance, entrepreneurship and management. Click here for more information about the national organization or contact Debra Baas, business instructor, for more information about the program offered at Mariemont High School.

From left to right: Jacob Crabtree, Anthony DiMichele, Parker Gilmore, Alexander Wilson, Emily Ferguson.

From left to right: Jacob Crabtree, Anthony DiMichele, Parker Gilmore, Alexander Wilson, Emily Ferguson.

Two Local Student Athletes Sign Letters of Intent

Two Mariemont High School seniors recently signed national letters of intent to participate in athletics at the collegiate level. Corinne Fanta signed with the University of Tampa for cross country and Rebekah Justice signed with Iona College for basketball.

Rebekah is a four-year varsity starter at Mariemont High School, two time 2nd team CHL and two time second team all city. She was 1st team CHL and all city and honorable mention all southwest Ohio as a junior.

“Rebekah has been the inside scoring attack for the past three years and the team has had great success,” said Tom Nerl, district athletic director. “She has been a great asset to her team, as a leader both on and off the court.”

Corinne was a regional finalist in cross country and has been named a CHL champion. Nerl said she “took off her sophomore year, following Coach Thomas’s lead, and never looked back. She’s an incredible athlete.”

Corinne said she knew she wanted to run at the collegiate level before she knew anything else. She plans on studying allied health at the University of Tampa, where she said she fell in love with the school and everything else clicked.

“Corinne is probably the most self-motivated student athlete I have worked with in all of my years of coaching,” said Terri Thomas, coach of the Mariemont High School cross country team. “She does her best to make her team better, and she is incredibly driven and well rounded. I have never seen anything like it, and I mean that from my heart.”

Corinne Fanta, her mom, Amie, her brother, Chad, and Coach Terri Thomas enjoy the moment with the entire girls cross country team.

Corinne Fanta, her mom, Amie, her brother, Chad, and Coach Terri Thomas enjoy the moment with the entire girls cross country team.

From left to right (front): Carson Fields, Rebekah Justice, Audrey Theye. From left to right (back): Coach Spreen, Coach Weilbacher, Amanda Lewis, Danielle Bryant, Ashley Rothert, Coach Franklin

From left to right (front): Carson Fields, Rebekah Justice, Audrey Theye. From left to right (back): Coach Spreen, Coach Weilbacher, Amanda Lewis, Danielle Bryant, Ashley Rothert, Coach Franklin

The Barn: Art Roadshow & Showcase of Arts

Cowan's Art RoadshowCowan’s @ The Barn: “Art Roadshow”

Friday Dec. 2 from 9 am – 12 noon

Have you always wondered about that painting, vase, or quilt that was handed down to you, discovered in an attic, or bought at a yard sale? Bring that piece of art or decorative art to the Barn on Friday, Dec. 2 from 9am to noon, where professionals from Cowan’s Auction House evaluate your item and give you an estimate of how much they would expect it to sell for at auction if it were put up for sale today. Fee is $25 per item, all proceeds to benefit the The Barn (Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati Foundation).

Complete information and registration here.

 

 


Finish your Holiday Shopping at Our Annual Showcase of Arts

Saturday, Dec. 3rd, 10 – 5 pm, and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

Grab lunch at the “Fire on High” food truck!
Click here for list of participating Artists & Artisans 

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Opportunities to lower your Village taxes

Indian Hill and Madiera are considering sharing police and public works. Isn’t it time for Mariemont and Fairfax to do the same?

To understand the opportunities, we must first review the budgetary cost structure for the Village of Mariemont. In 2015, total disbursements were $3,243,322 and income was $3,139,322 making a deficit of $104,000. The largest item in the budget was for police services costing $1,108,066 with fire services adding $467,138. The two taken together equated to 49% of the entire operating budget.

The Village of Mariemont has about 3400 residents living in a land area of .89 square miles. Area wise, Fairfax is even smaller with .82 square miles. And yet both communities have a police force of 10 officers and independent, fully equipped fire departments. Surely, there must be some cost savings to sharing or even combining services.

My estimate (that is reinforced by opinions of other Village leaders) is that a savings of 40 percent in police and fire services could be achieved. With the combined police and fire costing $1,575,204 in 2015 that equates to cost savings of $630,000 per year.

What could be done with annual savings of $630,000?

How about:

  1. Eliminate garbage collection fees for residents of the Village (cost $282,527 in 2015)
  2. Hire a Village Administrator ($70,000)
  3. Eliminate the Tennis Association fees for all Mariemont residents (cost $4,612 in 2015)
  4. Eliminate the Swim Club fees for all Mariemont residents (cost $81,161 in 2015)

Longer Range Strategic Initiatives:

  1. The construction of a 200 car parking garage behind the theatre (cost $4 million or $20,000 per space)
  2. A formal tree management program for the aging maple tree stock in Mariemont
  3. Evaluate additional ways to evolve the South 80 into a recreation park and relieve the pressures on Dogwood Park
  4. A million dollar renovation of the Municipal Building to make it into a Municipal Center with better meeting rooms and bring it up to code for the disabled. (This would be in addition to the $400,000 for the Indian Artifacts Museum)

Taking major steps like this to reduce taxes is never easy and requires strategic leadership. I suggest we raise this issue in public discourse and with Council.

Important articles posted on Mariemont.com

Links to the more important articles posted on the Mariemont.com blog during the past 12 months.

 

Mariemont Rankings fall in Cincy Magazine in May

The new Mariemont Firetruck

The South 80 in Mariemont: history, transformation and future April

Missed Opportunities come home to roost April

Does Village Government cede too much power to the Mayor? April

Can Mariemont’s chronic shortages of parking be solved?

Should the Village of Mariemont have a Village Administrator? March

How can local governments cut expenses? January

What if the Village had a budget surplus? January

Is the old Mariemont Steam Plant finally coming down? Nov 2014

A further look at Electric aggregation Oct 2014

A Vision Statement for Mariemont: All Parts July 2014

Mariemont Junior High School 8th grade students published in Amazing-Kids.org

 

ack row: Katelyn Conners, Tyler Zinke, Mac Marsland, Ben Hojnoski, Hayden Irwin, Kayla Nevius, Olivia Karlson, Sofie Wuertemberger   Middle row: Lillian Mulvaney, Sophia Lester, Patrick Smyth, Olivia Zaveri, Mollie Getgey, Tyler McKenrick, Alyssa Dewey, Madeline Love   Front row; Jack Carney, Quinn McGahey, Sam Miller, Tyler Cutcher, Kendall Spreen, Mary Tully, Grace Erickson

ack row:
Katelyn Conners, Tyler Zinke, Mac Marsland, Ben Hojnoski, Hayden Irwin, Kayla Nevius, Olivia Karlson, Sofie Wuertemberger
Middle row:
Lillian Mulvaney, Sophia Lester, Patrick Smyth, Olivia Zaveri, Mollie Getgey, Tyler McKenrick, Alyssa Dewey, Madeline Love
Front row;
Jack Carney, Quinn McGahey, Sam Miller, Tyler Cutcher, Kendall Spreen, Mary Tully, Grace Erickson

 

Personal narratives were selected to be published with Amazing-Kids.org in February 2016.

The personal narratives were written in 8th grade language arts classes as part of the project-based learning project “The Power of Story.” Students wrote about a person or a time in their life that made a big impact on them personally.  The students were given a choice to share the narrative with that person, write a reflection or submit the narrative to Amazing-Kids.org.  

“This is our first year submitting to this site and we’re so proud of how many of the narratives were selected for publication on the site,” said Leslie Jordan, Mariemont Junior High teacher. “We are always looking for ways for our kids to share their voice and experiences, and this was a great opportunity for them to do just that.”

Below is the list of students and their selected narratives.

Elizabeth Bonnell – “A New Adventure”
Lola Ashinger – “Clear Skies”
Clare Hunter – “Life’s Endless Thoughts”
Zach McClorey – ‘The Power of Story”
Shannon Renner – “The Monstrous Red Cast”
Ava Hatcher – “Adventures in the Gorge”
Jillian Teeters – “A Glimmer of Hope”
Ellie Poindexter – “My Mission Trip to Haiti”
Caroline Lopez – “Proving Them Wrong”
Lauren Barrett – “Earning Snickers”

The Amazing Kids! website is used around the world by educators in their classrooms, as well as educational textbooks publishers who publish our content in their textbooks and other media. The award-winning, kid-created Amazing Kids! online magazine is one of Amazing Kids!’ many educational programs featured on their website. The online publication is known for featuring quality, creative, thoughtful and often thought-provoking written and artistic work written and edited by kids and teens. As a result, the Amazing Kids! website was recently recognized as one of the Top 24 “Great Web Sites for Kids” by the American Library Association specifically in the content area of “writing

Mariemont Elementary Recognizes Kindness

Mariemont Elementary recognized 23 students who were nominated either by peers or teachers for going above and beyond with carrying out the quarterly kindness theme (Communication and Feelings) during the month of December.

Congratulations to these December Mariemont Elementary Warriors!

ack row: Katelyn Conners, Tyler Zinke, Mac Marsland, Ben Hojnoski, Hayden Irwin, Kayla Nevius, Olivia Karlson, Sofie Wuertemberger   Middle row: Lillian Mulvaney, Sophia Lester, Patrick Smyth, Olivia Zaveri, Mollie Getgey, Tyler McKenrick, Alyssa Dewey, Madeline Love   Front row; Jack Carney, Quinn McGahey, Sam Miller, Tyler Cutcher, Kendall Spreen, Mary Tully, Grace Erickson

ack row:
Katelyn Conners, Tyler Zinke, Mac Marsland, Ben Hojnoski, Hayden Irwin, Kayla Nevius, Olivia Karlson, Sofie Wuertemberger
Middle row:
Lillian Mulvaney, Sophia Lester, Patrick Smyth, Olivia Zaveri, Mollie Getgey, Tyler McKenrick, Alyssa Dewey, Madeline Love
Front row;
Jack Carney, Quinn McGahey, Sam Miller, Tyler Cutcher, Kendall Spreen, Mary Tully, Grace Erickson

 

Full Legalization of Addicting Drugs: A New Direction for the ‘War on Drugs’

According to a recent article in the Enquirer over 13,000 heroin users spent time in Greater Cincinnati’s jails last year and 300 ended up in the morgue.

Introduction

There are six compelling arguments for decriminalizing and legalizing the sale of all banned addictive drugs.

  1. Legalization would decrease the crime to support drug habits and homicides related to drug trafficking.
  2. Producing inexpensive standardized doses of addictive drugs under government supervision could put the drug cartels out of business and decrease the incidence of fatal drug overdosing.
  3. The border problems of interdiction of illegal drugs would be nullified and the drug fueled gang warfare suppressed.
  4. Drug addiction could be treated openly as a medical disorder and the punitive ‘war on drugs’ could refocus on rehabilitation, education, housing and job training.
  5. The cost savings to law enforcement would be huge enabling a shift of resources toward improving community relationships
  6. Finally, taxing of currently banned substances could stimulate job creation and become a rich source of tax revenues.

During the past 40 years, the ‘War on Drugs’ has cost more than $1 trillion for the American tax payer. In 2014, according to the FBI there were 620,000 people arrested for simple marijuana possession and of all the drug arrests in 2013, 82.3 percent were for the simple possession of a controlled substance. In Cincinnati, about 85 percent of criminal arrests that are processed through the Hamilton County Justice Center relate in some way to drugs. Even in the affluent suburbs a large share of police activity focuses on the nonviolent possession of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.

There are 2.3 million Americans in prison or about one in every 100 American adults. Over 48 percent of these inmates are there due to drug offenses and it is estimated that the annual cost to warehouse these offenders is about $80 billion per year.

According to the American Bar Association, a single misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession can be ruinous. In many jurisdictions, a drug indictment cannot be expunged and is discoverable. As a result, this black mark may make finding a job very difficult and preclude access to public housing and college loans plus risk the suspension or revocation of a driver’s license.

The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) employs about 10,000 agents and support staff. At the local level, policemen and law enforcement spend millions of hours arresting, processing and prosecuting nonviolent drug offenses. Additionally, attorneys interview, defend, appeal and plea bargain for those that have been arrested and this produces a mountain of paper work and expensive transactions that clog the court system.

William F. Buckley Jr, the conservative pundit who founded the National Review magazine, and Milton Friedman, an economist focusing on free markets, were some of the first to advocate legalizing illegal drugs. Buckley’s basic premise was that nothing had worked to address any of the many facets of the drug problem and Friedman believed that individuals had the right to choose without government interference.

Of course, most advocates for decriminalization draw upon the analogy to the prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 that filled the prisons with bootleggers and mobsters. The 18th Amendment that imposed prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. Government regulation of the booze industry has succeeded even as alcoholism continues to be a pervasive medical and social problem that dwarfs illegal and prescription drug abuse.

In the United States, the ‘drug problem’ surfaced as a major issue in the early 1900s, a time when cocaine and heroin were unregulated and widely prescribed by physicians.  In 1922, the Federal Government restricted the importation of raw opium and the Bureau of Narcotics was created in 1930.

In the early 20th century, the menace to society from opium addiction was greatly exaggerated. The threat of a drug epidemic conjured up the image of the Chinese opium den. A quote from Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics was “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured”.  There was a cultural hysteria that developed about drugs. For instance, in 1948, Robert Mitchum was arrested for the possession of marijuana. This was abhorrent and unimaginable at the time and it hijacked his acting career.

The Supply of Illegal Drugs

On the supply side, addictive illegal mind altering drugs have always been readily available. The opium poppy is widely grown throughout Asia and the Middle East. Afghanistan is a major supplier and attempts to switch Afghan farmers from growing this lucrative crop to other crops had only temporary success.

The leaf of the coco plants from which cocaine is extracted is native to large areas of South America. Cocaine powder can easily be converted to crack cocaine, the free base form of cocaine that can be smoked. In the past fifteen years American contractors have sprayed an area the size of New Jersey with weed killer to wipe out the coco crop in Columbia. In response, some of the production just shifted to adjoining countries, especially Peru. In Columbia, the drug trade is so lucrative that it has fomented a guerrilla war that has lasted decades and the drug barons of Columbia are allegedly some of the wealthiest individuals in the world.

The three species of the marijuana plant are indigenous to Central and South Asia. Of course, marijuana can be grown most anywhere such as your neighbor’s back yard or using grow lights in your basement or attic. A Google search for marijuana seeds turned up hundreds of suppliers in the US.

Methamphetamine and its purified derivatives such as ICE are relatively simple compounds. Although Meth labs explode periodically, Meth can be manufactured using a few basic chemicals in an improvised laboratory. Many other illegal psychoactive drugs exist. These include MDMA or ecstasy that is similar to Methamphetamine; Mescaline or Peyote derived from several species of cacti; PCP an intravenous anesthetic agent; psilocybin a hallucinogen found in certain types of mushrooms; bath salts or synthetic cathinone; and LSD or lysergic acid.

New psychoactive boutique drugs surface frequently. Jil Head, a forensic chemist at a DEA research lab in Dulles, Va., estimates that in the past five or six years over 350 new derivative drugs have emerged that are unstudied and usually synthesized in modern laboratories that, in some cases, receive state support from countries such as China, India and North Korea.

The Trend toward Decriminalization

The advocates for decriminalization of drug possession of small quantities of marijuana are legion. The principle arguments for decriminalization are that it would decrease the prison population of nonviolent offenders, unclog our court system and open the door for drug dependent individuals to seek treatment without the threat of recriminations and incarceration. The fairness issue of social justice reflecting the disproportionate number of minorities that are incarcerated also drives this debate.

The decriminalization initiative seems to be gaining traction. In 2002, a non-profit organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) was formed to speak out about our existing drug policies. This group of law enforcement and criminal justice representatives contend that the war on drugs pursued by the US government has worsened the problem instead of alleviating it.

In this author’s opinion, partial decriminalization of drug possession without legalization is only a Band-Aid approach to the problem and may carry with it unintended consequences. Decriminalization alone does little to eliminate the suppliers and dealers that profit from the illegal drug trade. Thus while the jailhouse population decreases, the lucrative drug trade remains intact.

If addicting drugs were legal, profits from the sale of these drugs would plummet. Certainly, one or more pharmaceutical companies under the auspices of the Federal Government could inexpensively produce them in bulk to quickly deflate street prices and displace the drug dealers.

The purity and standardization of prescription painkillers and other Schedule II medications support premium street prices for drugs like OxyContin and Percocet. In contrast, inexpensive street heroin is often watered down or modified with unsafe additives such as fentanyl. Especially in the Midwest, a heroin epidemic has spread and in some areas fatal overdosing is so common that naloxone, a lifesaving pure opioid antagonist that directly counteracts the effects of heroin, is now available in pre-filled syringes without a prescription.

Sealing the Borders: the Problems with Interdiction

Interdiction and policing our borders and coastlines to prevent importation is a daunting task as illegal drugs come in easily portable small packages. Drug sniffing dogs, drones and border patrols may lead to the confiscation of caches of illegal drugs but it is only a small sampling of the amounts crossing the borders. Likewise the air traffic controllers and the coast guard have similar challenges in intercepting smugglers. The drug cartels have proven to be very creative in transport with their use of submersibles, aircraft, vast network of tunnels and concealment by ingestion of sealed packets of drugs. Often those transporting the drugs are only couriers or runners taking the risk for a quick buck without even knowing the dangerous contents of their cargo.  About 80 percent of the illegal drugs imported into the United States come through Mexico.

Meanwhile, ‘drug money’ and drug trafficking has bred gangs and gang warfare in many countries and across borders. The high homicide rates in New York, Chicago and even Cincinnati largely reflect the activities within the drug trade. In Mexico, since former President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels nine years ago, 160,000 people have been killed and 26,000 have gone missing. The American thirst for illegal drugs has largely contributed to this chaos while straining American’s diplomatic relations with Mexico and other South American countries.

Money: the root of the Problem

Money and money laundering are the heart and soul of the illegal drug trade. The cash-and-carry incentives filter through the entire supply chain from growers, processors, laboratories, mules and distributors to street vendors. At the bottom rung of the food chain are usually disadvantaged youths looking for a quick buck. Once recruited into the drug trade and gangs, they enter the downward spiral of school dropout, addiction, crime and incarceration. Moreover, this subterranean drug culture comes with a high price tag for our communities where the violence and corruption causes the flight to safety of legitimate business and responsible families. This leaves behind urban blight and decay.

The ‘war on drugs’ provides employment for thousands of law enforcement workers and consumes a significant percentage of public funds to build and maintain lock-up facilities. The cultural shift from search, seizure and arrest to a stance of help, education and rehabilitation would transform police work, ripple across the social landscape and involve a sizeable investment.

Any viable solution to the drug problem must first nullify money within the illicit drug trade. Only by deflating drug prices to the point where the drug trade is no longer profitable for dealers can you contain this blight on society in the longer term. Illegal drug dealing must be replaced with inexpensive, readily available and regulated substitutions. Then the war on drugs can refocus on education, treatment and rehabilitation. It is the primary premise of this paper that education can decrease the rate of experimentation and addiction. Moreover, better rehabilitation for the addicted populations can stabilize this group of addicts realizing that just like alcoholics they are ‘addicted for life.’

New Approaches

According to several surveys, the majority of heroin addicts claim they became hooked after taking prescription painkillers supplied by their physicians, family or acquaintances. These disturbing responses may in part relate to the tendency for addicts to shift the blame for their addiction to the system, but are nevertheless significant. In the realm of addiction you must also add cigarettes and alcohol as threshold or gateway drugs to addiction.

This road to addiction confirms the need to shut down the prescription pill mills and indiscriminate dispensing of addicting pain medications. There is a pressing need for better guidelines and tracking of the prescribing practices of physicians and allied health workers. In the State of Ohio, the Ohio Automate Rx Reporting System (OAARS) tracks the dispensing of all controlled medications by physicians and pharmacies. If implemented in all states, programs like OAARS could share information to make the control more seamless. If illegal drugs were legalized under government auspices, a similar type program could track these substances nationwide. This would provide data to shape public policy and help in directing educational, treatment and rehabilitation services.

Medical studies support the fact that certain personality types are more susceptible to addiction than others with genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors all playing a role. Research has shown that the various types of addictive behaviors follow a common pathway in the brain with the euphoric effects related to a surge in the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and GABA in the nucleus accumbuns. This region of the brain has been labelled the brain’s pleasure center that triggers motivation, pleasure and reinforced learning. Unfortunately, current brain science is still in its infancy but the large research projects now underway may give better insight into how to more effectively prevent and treat drug addiction in the future.

Due to the abject failure of the punitive war on drugs, it is time for law enforcement to ‘call in the dogs’ and change direction. It is quite apparent that you cannot arrest your way out of the drug problem. There has been no change in drug policy in the past 40 years. Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” and Ronald Reagan’s “zero tolerance” moralistic viewpoint have failed with the end result that America has gotten the reputation of being the jailhouse nation that costs taxpayers a fortune.

Marijuana: A Special Case and Outlier

Marijuana as a habit forming drug has properties that are much different from opoids, cocaine and methamphetamines. The psychoactive cannabinoids in Marijuana are remarkably safe and there are virtually no deaths directly linked to overdosing. Users may develop dependence upon the drug but marijuana is not highly addictive like many of the other major banned substances. Moreover, withdrawal does not produce physical signs and symptoms but may be associated with mood disturbances. This contrasts sharply with the serious withdrawal effects for addicts that ‘cold turkey’ from opoids, cocaine, methamphetamine and alcohol. When the health risks from Marijuana are compared to those of cigarette smoking and alcohol, they are miniscule. The long term effects of marijuana on the developing brain remain to be adequately studied.

The movement to legalize the medical and recreational use of marijuana has evolved state-by-state into a tug of war between politicians, law enforcement, medical experts, users, home growers, farmers, retailers, ethicists, concerned citizens and tax collectors to name just a few interested parties. Cultural, ethnic and generational differences also muddy any objective approach to addressing the complexity of the marijuana issue and the Federal laws remain proscriptive of legalization. Even the medical benefits of marijuana to combat the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer are controversial and unproven.

In Colorado and other states the economics of legalization have produced a rush of entrepreneurship. It is projected that in Colorado legalization of marijuana will create over 20,000 jobs and billions in tax revenues and license fees from the cultivation, processing, distribution and retail sales. Additionally, it seems to have provided a windfall of commerce to Colorado’s treatment centers, tourist industry, college enrollments and new business development.  But the picture is not all rosy. In Colorado, even as the rate of robberies and burglaries has fallen, there has been an increase in DUI/OVI. In 2014, 12.2 percent of these violations were linked to marijuana. Traffic deaths are also on the rise as is some petty crime due to teenagers doing stupid things while under the influence.

In Ohio, the ResponsibleOhio ballot initiative to legalize marijuana failed but was projected to produce $554 million in tax revenue and 35,000 new jobs. Across the nation, polling shows that over 50 percent of Americans favor legalization suggesting that in addition to the four states in which marijuana is currently legal, more states will pass similar legislation. Indeed, the receipts from the taxation of marijuana and job creation are too tempting to ignore.

As with cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, regulation and legalization of marijuana will fall within the province and jurisdiction of state governments. This is assuming that the Federal government repeals its current prohibition statutes that force the trade in marijuana to appear as a money laundering and subterranean cash business.

A New Model

Historically, prohibition did not work to ameliorate alcoholism and it will not work to solve the hard drug problem. A better approach is to decriminalize and legalize addictive drug as you implement a strategic plan based upon objective sound management principles and medical studies. The Federal Government must take a leadership role in this major initiative. Logically, the ownership of drug policy would reside with The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Health and Human Services (HHS).  A ‘drug czar’ appointed by the President and approved by Congress would be in charge of the new mandate. The new power structure would take into consideration the ‘lessons learned’ from prohibition and the legalization of marijuana. It would also seek the imputes from a broad range of experts and scientists working in law enforcement, the pharmaceutical industry and mental health. The privacy and legal issues are beyond the scope of this paper, but in all probabilities, the congress would have to draft a Constitutional Amendment to legalize.

At present, there are many overlapping agencies within federal and state governments that are involved in the regulation of illegal drugs. At the federal level you have The National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Justice (DOA), Department of Labor (DOL), National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and many more with some regulatory responsibility. Each state and municipality has multiple agencies that are entrusted with the regulation and control of banned substances.  This highlights the need for a single agency on the federal level to have ownership of drug policy with a number of task forces to centrally coordinate and bring together the host of agencies to achieve a consensus for implementation. Rolling out a new ‘drug czar’ framework may be critical to the success of this major cultural and policy shift.

Drug Safety

Drug safety is a major issue in legalization. Overdosing, bad trips, crack babies and HIV are costly to society. Today, most drug users are putting their faith in the street vendors that represent the lowest tier of the drug supply chain. These street dealers are often addicts that are interested in taking your money to support their habit and life style and quickly disappear if complications occur. Thus, the user trusts these street-wise dregs of society who are generally marginally informed about the potency and additives of the products they are selling.

An addict develops drug tolerance and often needs progressively higher doses to achieve the same effect. These dosages might be fatal to the first time user or even those addicts that have stayed ‘clean’ for a period of time. Drug tolerances also relates to age, gender, weight, general health and interactions with prescription medicines taken for medical problems.

The euphoria and highs produced by addictive drugs are generally of short duration and followed by the lows that reinforce the drive for the next fix. At the end of the day, depression, fatigue, personality change and even suicide may result.  You might think that the rigors of withdrawal and social disruption caused by drugs would cause addicted individuals to seek treatment. However, the criminality and social mores intercede to prevent follow-through in drug rehabilitation programs for this desperate population.

Lack of Scientific Study

The process to legalize would be a gradual one. As a first step, the scale, scope and chemistry of the problem would need to be studied. Often naturally occurring drugs have many synthetic imitations and the introduction of one radical into a chemical structure can profoundly alter the physiologic effects on humans. Many of the laboratories producing contraband drugs use different manufacturing processes that produce wide variation in composition, concentration and effects. Add to this the adulteration of addicting drugs sold by street dealers and the complexity of research challenge becomes apparent.

The dosing and medical side effects of standardized doses of opioids, cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine are fairly well established. But there are a number of boutique substitutes and other hallucinogens that lack scientific study. This poses a real challenge for the FDA that has limited resources.

Academic centers and pharmaceutical companies are not prone to conduct controlled trials on humans to study these drugs because of liability, funding, supply and purity issues as well as the need for animal studies and Phase I and Phase II clinical trials. And where is a legitimate market for an illegal drug? As a consequence, a lack of drug trials also precludes finding out if some of these compounds might have therapeutic value to treat mental illness or other medical disorders.

More resources need to be directed toward controlled studies of these compounds with more direct involvement by the FDA. Perhaps a new division of the FDA could be formed to focus on these banned substances.

Many questions need to be answered about each drug:

  1. Safety features and what is the minimum lethal dose (MLD) of each drug and its variants?
  2. What are the potentials for addiction?
  3. What long and short term side effects might the drug have?
  4. Does the drug have any therapeutic value?
  5. How does the drug interact with other medications?
  6. What are the blood levels at which the drug impairs performance?
  7. How do you screen for drug use and test blood levels?

Education: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’

No one denies that addictive drugs disrupt lives, families and industry while having a terrible ripple effect across the global community. No reasonable or responsible educator, guardian, parent or even drug addict would encourage their sons and daughters to experiment with drugs or become involved in any way in the drug trade.

Unquestionably, the best way to reduce the prevalence of drug usage is to reduce the incidence of individuals taking drugs for the first time. A preventative medical approach to the war on drugs is more effective than building elaborate rehabilitation centers.

Yet, there is no powerful lobby or poster child for drug policy that draws the public into the debate even as drug addiction affects all socioeconomic strata of our society and festers under a mask of stigmatization and immorality. The punitive ‘war on drugs’ mentality remains largely unchanged.

As a medical student on a field trip to the Federal drug treatment center in Lexington, Kentucky I interviewed a number of recovering heroin addicts. All conceded that drugs had ruined their lives as their addiction took hold and became their sole reason for living. Most were young robust African American men. I came away thinking; what a waste and why would anyone self-destruct in this way? If these individuals had known the consequences of addiction, would they have made the same choices?

For most addicts, the withdrawal process from their addiction is a horrific experience. Just like the DTs when alcoholics dry out, going ‘cold turkey’ from heroin after incarceration or forced withdrawal produces a week or more of agony and life threatening medical issues. The fear of the withdrawal, of course, is one of the drivers to get the next fix. Rehab centers generally use a gradual withdrawal process that decreases the acute suffering and medical risks.

Education about the dangers of addicting drugs should begin in the home at an early age. Parents need to learn the key essentials about the dangers of drug addiction and openly discuss this threat with their children. They should be poised to counter any misinformation and confront any temptations to experiment that may pervade a neighborhood culture. The churches, preschools and nonprofit agencies can also play a role in directly confronting the problem with accurate information.

Often the gateway to addiction begins with tobacco and alcohol. Any educational program designed to curb addiction should also include an added focus on these legal substances that cost the society dearly.

In many public and private school systems health and sex education are a part of the curriculum. Information about the dangers and consequences of addictive drugs should be added to these courses. Video interviews with drug addicts can detail the dangers of addiction and experimenting with drugs. Have school assembly programs for both students and parents dedicated to inform and combat drugs in the local communities. Encourage school student councils and other school organizations such as honor societies, Key Clubs, athletic teams and band members to take a drug free oath and submit to urine testing. Mobilize peer pressures against students that deal or use drugs and encourage students to report incidents of drug abuse to their superiors anonymously. Offer instructive programs to parents that provide a guide as to how to suspect drug usage among their children. Just because drugs are legal does not mean they need to be tolerated in our schools. Expulsion and disciplinary action would still be an enforcement measure. Drug education should be extended to the college campuses as well.

Drug Testing

As with performance enhancing drugs, testing for illegal drug abuse offers many challenges. No simple inexpensive quick urine or blood test currently exists that broadly screens and quantifies the majority of illegal drugs. Recent studies suggest that saliva testing looks promising to check for heroin, amphetamines and cocaine. Adequate funding should enable modern bioscience to produce cost/effective and speedy testing solutions.

Drug testing would involve two steps; one qualitative and the other quantitative.  The first would broadly screen and, if this were strongly positive, lead to a more precise test to quantify blood levels. Newer standards for safe blood levels consistent with acceptable performance and judgement would need to be developed.

Legalization would in no way interfere and probably enhance the appropriate use of drug testing in the work place, schools, athletics and law enforcement.

In the workplace, corporations could continue to have random drug testing as a condition for employment. Driving under the influence of drugs would remain in place and a policy of a drug free school environment would not change. Prenatal clinics would have to provide a routine drug screen with those testing positive encouraged to enter drug rehab programs.

Drug Rehabilitation: Once an addict, always an addict.

To accommodate the surge of drug dependent individuals seeking treatment after legalization, a marked expansion of drug rehab programs and facilities would be necessary. A no-questions-asked approach would help to remove the stigma of drug addiction and deal with the problem as a medical disorder.  Compassionate medication assisted treatment (MAT) rather than ‘cold turkey’ withdrawal would become the standard as newer approaches to addiction became available. Rehabilitation programs in prisons would need to integrate with community programs to insure continuity of care as drug addiction becomes a coded psychiatric medical disorder. Taxes on drug sales would finance the increase in capacity necessary for public, nonprofit and for-profit funded rehabilitation centers to expand and prisons programs to take root. Clinical and scientific research into the causes of addiction would be carried out in these centers and results of this research shared and molded into better prevention and treatment models

An improved curriculum for mental health workers specializing in addiction would be developed. Pharmaceutical companies would receive tax incentives and financial aid to develop new drugs to treat addiction. This would add to the assortment of drugs that are currently employed such as methadone and suboxone.

Downsizing the Judicial System

          No other groups of public servants would be impacted more than law enforcement officers. Because drugs consume a large proportion of law enforcement work and half of all prison inmates are warehoused due to drug offenses, the cost savings secondary to drug legalization would be huge. Additionally, legalization should decrease the rate of violent crime, robberies and burglaries.

The actual cost savings in ‘right sizing’ law enforcement is hard to quantify. There are many vested players in this ‘war on drugs’. Even as legalization would create public and private sector jobs, it would also put many law enforcement jobs at risk.

Especially among minorities, the punitive war on drugs fuels the perception that the policeman is the adversary. Models like New York City’s stop-question-and-frisk concept do little to improve the relationship between the police and the community. With legalization the number of outstanding warrants for parole violations and arrests for drug offenses would diminish and the police officer could have the time to become a mentor and coach for risky behaviors and not just the ‘got you’ enforcer.

The Role of the Federal Government

The Federal Government must take the lead if legalization is to become a reality. Such a dramatic cultural shift, by necessity, would need to be instituted in measured steps that took into consideration all parties. In the author’s opinion, if the federal government offloaded the process to state governments it would devolve into a mishmash of 50 plans tainted with personal agendas and moralistic stances.

A task force of experts representing the major disciplines involved could be convened to assess the barriers to smooth implementation and come up with the outlines of a strategic plan. A master congressional subcommittee would be involved in the planning process and a federal agency would be responsible for crafting the final comprehensive plan in consultation with the FDA, NIH, pharmaceutical industry, state governments, law enforcement and other interested parties. If a consensus is achieved, a legal decision would be necessary to decide if congress alone could approve the legislation to legalize or whether it would require a constitutional amendment.

Replicating the Supply Chain

In general, marijuana, opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine are the four major psychoactive drug classifications that are sold illegally on the street. If legalized, the American pharmaceutical industry under the auspices and control of the federal government could fairly easily, economically and expeditiously produce an abundant supply of these drugs and their various derivatives. If these new legal drugs were supplied at very low prices, it is reasonable to assume that the drug cartel supply chain would implode.

The production and distribution of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes is carefully regulated by states and the federal government. With the regulation of illegal drugs, the division of responsibilities between the federal and state governments would need to be defined. Who would be the suppliers and how would they be regulated? How would the costs and tax revenues be divided? How would law enforcement deal with the residual supply of alternative or designer drugs that remained on the street?

At the state level, the local pharmacies or government licensed outlets would probably be the distribution points. How would the retail outlets track sales and usage? Would they have an integrated and coordinated program that could compile data similar to the way the OAARS program works in Ohio? How would the revenues be directed toward new services for education and rehabilitation?

At first glance, the abundant supply of cheap legalized drugs suggests that it would encourage drug abuse and cause a meteoric rise in the number of lethargic pot heads and euphoric thrill seekers in our society. There is some scientific evidence to suggest otherwise. In 2000, Portugal decriminalized the possession of limited quantities of addictive drugs. This resulted in no rise in drug usage rates and a marked decrease in the rates of drug overdose, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Most addicts are aware of the dire consequences of drug abuse and are familiar with the terms poverty, homelessness, destroyed families, gun violence and crime that are indicative of drug addiction. Most articles in the media describe the addicting highs from mind altering drugs, but infrequently discuss the soon to follow aftereffects and devastating lows that are compelling reasons not to experiment or become regular users of addicting drugs. Most addicts are highly motivated to quit but ‘the war on drugs’ and traditional norms create barriers to rehabilitation. The penal system remains geared to arresting and warehousing addicts and not medically assisted treatment (MAT) and drug rehabilitation.

In America, legalization might usher in an initial spike in drug experimentation and even addiction. But nothing has worked in the past 40 years to curb illegal drug usage or suppress the illegal drug industry. Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and a whole range of deadly illegal drugs destroy lives and undermine our societies. An informed individual is not powerless to ‘just say no’ or quit, and if already addicted seek no-questions-asked help from good rehabilitation centers.

The experience in more than 25 or more countries supports the removal of criminal penalties for drug use.

At the very least, it is time to have a serious conversation about new approaches toward solving the drug problem as the current ‘war on drugs’ is too wasteful of lives and resources. In a more perfect world there should be better solutions, but all else has failed dismally and it may be time to throw in the towel and search for less punitive solutions. One thing is certain, you must be able to nullify ‘drug money’ and illegal drug trafficking, if you are going to make inroads in solving the drug problem.

 

The Arguments for Legalization of Drugs

  • Smaller percentage of Americans incarcerated for nonviolent offenses
  • Decrease in the number of drug related homicides and crime
  • Decrease in the number of deaths from overdosing (43,982 in 2013)
  • Improved access to appropriate treatment for addicts
  • Increased number of addicts and drug abusers rehabilitated back into the mainstream of society
  • Fewer cases of HIV and Hepatitis C due to contaminated syringes
  • Improved tracking of addictive drugs and prescription medications
  • Greater research to find treatments for drug addiction, mental illness and medical disease
  • Elimination of a contentious international political issue
  • Cost savings in law enforcement and improved police/community relations
  • New jobs, tax revenues and entrepreneurial innovation in a new industry
  • A safer world
  • Improved drug screening tests
  • Greater emphasis on rehabilitation, education and drug screening

 

The Arguments against Legalization

  • The potential for an increased rate of addiction
  • Economic and social disruption to the legal system
  • The complexities of regulating and supplying currently illegal substance and Scheduled prescription medications
  • Constitutional and jurisdictional challenges that include privacy and drug testing
  • The moral and ethical dilemmas of legalization
  • Crime syndicates that turn to other types of crime

Richard G. Wendel MD, MBA