Strange Loops Journal Archive: June 2003

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June 19, 2003 top

The Decaying Freedom page has been updated with information about the Echelon system run by the NSA ("no such agency").

Also, some interesting news in the paper this week:

*Knight Ridder reported (June 15) on the results of a survey of Americans. The poll found that a third of Americans believe U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 22% believe that Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons in the fighting. Before the war, half of Americans polled actually believed Iraqi's were among the nineteen Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers. But such weapons have not been found in Iraq, and were never used. Most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and none were Iraqis. The poll's data showed that the mistaken belief that weapons of mass destruction had been found "is substantially greater among those who favored the war."

Wow. No, really. Wow. How dumb and credulous can Americans be? The Iraqi war and the Sept. 11 hijackings have been the focus of a huge amount of media attention, yet up to half of Americans are grossly informed on the basics of the issues involved. One can only guess that the wide gap between belief and fact comes from shortening attention spans (let's face it, Americans watch way too much TV, and rely on crammed and undetailed sound-bites on the evening news for their information about world events), media reports lacking depth or healthy skepticism (I recently read that during the war CBS showed only one dissenting expert, and hundreds of pro-war experts), and the Bush administration's exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies leading up to the war (as have now started to come to light).

*The Spokesman Review carried an update (June 5) on the story of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a University of Idaho student who has been the previous subject of entries on this page. A federal immigration judge has now ordered Al-Hussayen deported. Attorneys for Al-Hussayen said the immigration proceedings placed the student in a no-win situation: Remain silent, and lose due-process rights in the immigration proceeding; or testify against himself (which the Fifth Amendment protects against). He chose to remain silent.

This guy has gotten screwed by the system, and no one seems to care because of the country he is from. Now, it may turn out that he did indeed have some sort of "link" to international terrorism (like running a news site that ran an article in which other people supported terrorist practices). But that certainly isn't known, and it's just as possible this guy is completely innocent. The scary thing is that he isn't getting fair treatment in the investigation, just because he is originally from Saudi Arabia. You know how it goes: "They came for the Arabs, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't an Arab"...

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June 05, 2003 top
The Decaying Freedom page has been updated with information about the Guantanamo Bay prisoners' situation.

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June 04, 2003 top
The Baltimore Sun reported this Sunday that the United States has overtaken Russia - significantly poorer and former home of the KGB - as the country with the highest percentage of its population in prison. With over two million inmates in jails and prisons across the country, that makes about 702 people locked up for every 100,000. Russia is down to 665. What's worse are the statistics at the bottom of the article that suggest the system stills suffer from the problem of racism, which one would have expected minimized in this day and age. Of the approximately 450,000 people locked up for drugs-only offenses, "three fourths of them [are] black or Latino, though drug use is no higher in those groups than among whites."

According to this source (quoting the DOJ), the U.S. spent nearly 150 billion dollars on in one year (1999) on Federal, State and Local justice systems. A lot of that money is being spent to prosecute and imprison drug offenders (often completely non-violent) in the "war" on drugs. Since the enactment of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug users, the Federal Bureau of Prisons budget increased by almost 2,000%. All these drug-war convictions have helped lead to severe overcrowding problems (in 2001, the Federal prison system was operating at 31% over capacity).

And apparently almost 40% of those arrested for drug crimes aren't violent offenders or major traffickers or even possessing deadly drugs; rather 646,042 of the 1,579,566 drug arrests in 2000 were for simple possession of marijuana, a drug which studies suggest can't possibly kill a person (whereas eating 10 raw potatos can be toxic), doesn't contribute to significant cognitive decline, tends to inhibit aggressive impulses and is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. People argue that marijuana is a "gateway drug", but the fact is it is simply the most widely used illicit drug, so it shouldn't be a surprise that it is the first one used by those who later ended up using other illicit drugs. And according to the Institute of Medicine, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana, usually before they are of legal age. If we want to attack truly harmful and deadly drugs, perhaps we should stop going after marijuana and seek to curtail drinking or smoking. Or better yet, maybe we should allow people the choice to make their own decisions on using potentially harmful substances (we certainly let people eat all the fast food they want, leading to what is described today as an epidemic of dangerous obesity)?

Even if we don't legalize it, at the very least it only makes sense to lower the penalties for marijuana-related crimes to a more reasonable level. Australian researchers found that regions giving on-the-spot fines to users rather than harsher penalties did not cause marijuana use to increase. The Canadian Center On Substance Abuse reported that "the available evidence indicates that removal of jail as a sentencing option would lead to considerable cost savings without leading to increases in rates of cannabis use." Perhaps if we stopped using unreasonable punishment (often involving mandatory sentences) for such non-dangerous behavior, we could help unclog the overflowing prison system and save lots of money instead - money that might go towards education to prevent use of drugs which are actually harmful, rather than spending the money fighting an unending, unwinnable "war". But somehow I don't hold out much hope that the current administration will see reason on this issue, since they seem to enjoy their unwinnable perpetual wars against elusive or vague concepts. If we're going to go to war against a concept, why not a war on poverty, or a war on business/government corruption?

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June 03, 2003 top
[Click the thumbnail for the full size picture]

The graphic above show U.S. military presence around the globe in 2002. The U.S. has its troops - often with permanent bases - stationed just about everywhere on Earth. More than four times as many countries have U.S. troops as don't. One wonders, though, if this actually helps make safer the interests of America and its allies, or if an omnipresent military might provoke more attacks (much as American troops in Saudi Arabia are said to have provoked Osama bin Laden against the U.S.) simply in virtue of its being everywhere. Likewise, it leads to many more targets for attacks than would otherwise exist: if there is an American presence just about everywhere, then just about anyone angry at the U.S. government/military can attack their enemy without having to leave their country. At the very least, America's gigantic and overextended military is extremely costly for taxpayers (especially when one considers the bribes that are paid to many countries to allow the U.S. troops in the first place).

I can't imagine how different the world would be if U.S. leaders decided to take a majority of the money spent on "defense" (perhaps better called offense in these days of "pre-emptive" attacks - suggestions of a pre-emptive move on North Korea were mentioned by Wolfowitz in an article today) and instead put it to use on humanitarian concerns like building homeless shelters and improving education at home, or fixing infrastructure problems in third world countries where a lack of clean water means that malaria, typhoid and diarrhea are still major killers. For that matter, simply not forcing citizens to pay that portion of their taxes could be a huge boon for the economy. Or we could even pay off our huge national debt, and stop feeding unimaginable wealth to multinational investors and banks in interest payments.

And yet the U.S. continues to rob people of their labor's earnings in order to support vague, perpetual wars that can never be won. And the world continues to go down the shitter. People think that more military spending equals safety and a feeling of safety. I think in reality less military spending might actually lead to a safer country, and a happier world.

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