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BOOK REVIEWS by Eric Sterling


There has been an outpouring of books on drug policy in recent months.
Eric Sterling reviews them briefly (in alphabetical order by author).

Dan Baum, Smoke and Mirrors, Little Brown. 416 p. ($24.95).

Called "devastating" by the NY Times Book Review, this book looks at the events, especially the political events, that created the drug war. It is a very comprehensive history of the key drug war incidents of the past 25 years. Over 200 sources were interviewed. A major focus is on the political players and arenas where the drug issue is generated. It is written as a popular book, and is very readable and fast paced. The book is very critical of the drug war. Baum is a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

Eva Bertram, Morris Blachman, Kenneth Sharpe, Peter Andreas, Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial, University of California Press. 347 p. ($17.95, pb).

This book reports and analyzes many of the events that underlie the politics of the drug war. It is critical of the prevailing drug war paradigm, and offers a comprehensive public health paradigm. Regarding prevention, for example, the authors urge going beyond education to harm reduction, and to changing the drug culture -- the culture created by the advertising of alcohol, tobacco and over-the-counter drugs. The public health paradigm recognizes that treatment of addiction will naturally result in relapses. Quitting drug use is only one measure of treatment success. The authors suggest that regulation of drug use and distribution encourages more healing and less harm than either prohibition or legalization. They ask many of the obvious questions that regulators will have to answer, but don't suggest many answers.

They also identify the present opportunities for "drug policy reform." A key reform would be to move from the prevailing paradigm from "punitive" to "public health." Potential allies for reform work in many corners of the drug problem establishment. People who work in treatment and prevention -- who have a keen interest in the public health paradigm -- are limited in their capacity to fight for a fundamentally different mode of analysis. Because the policy debate has been defined by the punitive paradigm, criticizing the paradigm is often misconstrued as criticizing law enforcement, i.e., the police, which can jeopardize one's credibility. Local community groups, and even the police are analyzed as potential challengers to the punitive paradigm.

"Whether we look back at the present as the beginnings of a paradigm shift or as one more chapter in the politics of denial will depend primarily on larger social and political trends and on their impact on U.S. social policies--whether and how America handles its larger health-care and other social problems, for example, and whether the broader political context is supportive of social reform. But it will also depend in some measure on the political struggle and the actions of individuals who are fighting for reform today--and those who are battling against them. The lessons of the recent past are modest but, perhaps, important. They suggest that the more conscious reformers are about how the punitive paradigm distorts treatment and prevention, filters or marginalizes criticism, and supports a logic of escalation rather than reevaluation, the better able they will be to anticipate responses to their efforts and to design effective reform strategies. The more their short-term, pragmatic struggles are guided by clear public-health principles, the less the chances that their struggles will leave the entrenched assumptions of the paradigm untouched (or, worse, inadvertently reinforce them). And the more they are able to mobilize the potential power that exists in hundreds of organizations with tens of thousands of members and to bring it to bear on the political process, the less the probability of long-term marginalization and the greater the likelihood of gradual transformation to a strategy the promotes healing without harm."

Vincent T. Bugliosi, The Phoenix Solution: Getting Serious About Winning America's Drug War, Dove Books. 278 pp.

This is a very interesting book. The author is outraged that Americans don't do more about the drug problem. The author issued this book in 1991 under the title, Drugs in America - The Case for Victory: A Citizens Call to Action. He proposes to send a military search and destroy mission to Colombia to find and kill the traffickers and dismantle their organizations. He calls for the death penalty, and proposes that special Federal courts for drug cases be established. To stop the money laundering, he proposes that an entirely new American currency be created for use inside the U.S. but that it would be valueless outside the U.S. Existing currency would no longer be lawful tender in the U.S., but could be used outside the U.S. An IRS agent would be stationed at most banks to intercept all large cash deposits. All electronic funds transfers would be subject to scrutiny at computerized central command posts. Bugliosi is bitterly sardonic that some of these ideas have not been leapt upon, and implies that we are actually not serious about addressing the drug problem.

Drug legalization is, in fact, given a very favorable examination in 26 pages. Bugliosi urges, "One step in the right direction toward a more open and intelligent dialogue on the legalization question would be the presidential appointment of a panel of distinguished Americans from outside of the government ... to study the feasibility of legalization, or at least, as recommended herein, the experimentation with it by way of nonenforcement of drug laws for a period of time. Someone of the unimpeachable stature and credibility of an Elliot Richardson or (if it hadn't been for the position he's already publicly taken) a George Shultz should chair the panel."

I was left wondering if the apparent principal thrust of the book is an effort to establish his bona fides as an anti-drug warrior in order to advance a legalization argument. Or is the proposal for a unilateral U.S. military adventure in Colombia a parody, and the guts of the book is the discussion of legalization and the recommendation of a study commission?

Patrick L. Clawson and Rensselaer W. Lee, III, The Andean Cocaine Industry, St. Martin's Press. 276 pp. ($35.00).

This is an interesting and detailed review of the subject, practically up-to-the-minute. The authors have a reputation as hard-boiled realists. They are realistic about the severe limitations of any element of U.S. strategy to control supplies of coca and cocaine. "There is little evidence that any of the counternarcotics effort in the Andes have to date had much effect on the supply of cocaine in the United States. ... The lack of demonstrated success applies to all phases of the Andean counternarcotics effort -- eradication of coca bushes, seizures of precursor chemicals, destruction of labs, interception of planes, and alternative development projects...That said, one can find reasons for hope with regard to each of the programs, though probably less so for eradication. So far none of the existing programs can be considered a complete failure. ... Our suspicion is that the most effective counternarcotics programs for the Andean nations will be ones that are designed and implemented by the governments concerned, rather than by the United States or international aid agencies."

The authors discuss the merits of massive herbicidal spraying over the regions where coca is grown, but warn that spraying has high costs and may be considered "extreme." "... so too legalization is too extreme in the other direction."

Jill Jonnes, Hepcats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs. Scribner's. 510 pp. ($27.00.)

"All over again, Americans had to discover painfully the ultimately corrosive quality of drugs--corrosive to self and society. Any thoughts that marijuana, LSD, heroin, or cocaine were modern elixirs that could somehow lift us en masse into a better place (or even provide just harmless fun) have proven a sad and costly chimera. Once again, the romance largely has faded.

"The drug culture always will be with us in some form. The national challenge is to make that sad world as small and beyond-the-pale as possible, to push it back into the shadowy netherworld. We need to remember the terrible waste of those who became addicts, forfeiting the best of their youth and often their very lives. We need to challenge those who glorify, proselytize, and traffick. And we need to keep at it year after year, decade after decade."

Richard Lawrence Miller, Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State, Praeger. 255 pp. ($24.95). (Praeger, Westport, CT - 203-226-3571)

Even those disturbed by the "war on drugs" will find Richard Miller's latest work shocking-- like being in a capsizing boat. For those who don't like the term "war on drugs," this book gives the concept a fresh meaning. For those who argue, such as Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), that a "war on drugs" has never been fought, Miller pulls together a vast array of circumstances to make the case that "war" may be too polite a term to describe what is happening in our society.

Last year Miller wrote Nazi Justiz: Law of the Holocaust, also for Praeger. His latest book analyzes the "war on drugs" through the experience of analyzing the evolution of Nazi law and the growth of the Nazi state. Drug Warriors and Their Prey is rich with insights into the growth of state power -- how it grows, how arguments are framed for its expansion, and the careful identification of targets against which to exercise that power.

Kevin Jack Riley, Snow Job? The War Against International Cocaine Trafficking, Transaction Press. 303 pp.

This very detailed analysis began as a doctoral dissertation for RAND's graduate school. Riley finds very significant limitations to supply control efforts. They can have short- term effects, but growers and traffickers take that into account in their planning. A much greater, more intense effort at supply control has not been undertaken because it would come with very high costs. "Even assuming the United States and the Andean nations were willing to accept the costs of a massive policy intervention, it is quite probable that the cocaine traffickers could resume full production in two years or less." Riley recommends "defining a regional strategy that elevates political stability and institution building, and demotes traditional counternarcotics objectives."

Paul B. Stares, Global Habit: The Drug Problem in a Borderless World, Brookings. 171 pp.

This book is a thoroughly documented review of drug production, trafficking and money laundering around the world. There appears to be no way that drug production and trafficking, or the processing and concealment of the profits can be effectively controlled considering the inevitable expansion of global connectivity of markets, communications and finance.

"The debate about prohibition versus legalization is essentially a false and meaningless one. The real issue is what degree of regulation is appropriate for the common good. ... It is not difficult to see that there are an enormous number of regulatory permutations for each drug. Until the principal alternatives are clearly laid out in reasonable detail, however, the potential costs and benefits cannot be responsibly assessed and compared with the present arrangements. ... Ultimately, however, the prospects for a radical departure from the prevailing prohibitionist stance look remote. Reversing or jettisoning nearly a century of effort when the putative benefits are so uncertain and the potential costs are so high would represent a herculean leap of faith."

Stares concludes: (1) International drug control should be integrated into larger policy initiatives that serve the same objectives. (2) Follow "harm-minimization principles for both health and law enforcement. (3) Recognize the value of policy differentiation and policy discrimination. (4) Get better data and better analysis of market trends. (5) Generate a global drug use prevention program (which requires better evaluation of existing programs). (5) Generate more drug treatment training. (6) Fight organized crime and money laundering.

Comment by Eric Sterling

The appearance of all of these books at this time is very important. The 1996 Presidential election is about to become white hot. Newt Gingrich was asked by The Washington Post to write an open letter to Republican National Convention delegates. His front page article in the Outlook section of August 4, 1996 sketches his four most important issues for the election: (1) Lower taxes, higher wages and better jobs. (2) End illegal drug use and violent crime. (3) Stem illegal immigration and strengthen English. (4) Reform welfare to require work.

Gingrich, who has said that his own marijuana use as a student was evidence of life, falsely says Clinton "joked about his own marijuana use." He says Clinton "appointed liberal judges who are more likely to put known drug dealers back on the street rather than put them away where they won't be harmful to our children." More likely? He says three times as many 14-year-olds have now tried marijuana as before Bill Clinton became president. "Republicans ... refuse to surrender the war on drugs."

"Furthermore we are developing Community Anti-Drug Coalitions across the country that will restore the spirit of Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' campaign, which was successful in decreasing drug usage in the 1980s. These coalitions, led by members of Congress, create parent networks, work with clergy to address drug use, work with local media to run public service ads on the dangers of drugs and share successful anti-drug workplace initiatives with businesses. A national problem cannot be solved through Washington-produced legislation alone. It requires all of us to get involved." (emphasis added)

Smoke and Mirrors and Drug War Politics very effectively make the case that over the past 25 years many anti-drug initiatives have been motivated by political and bureaucratic competition primarily, and about drugs only secondarily. This is the latest evidence that the "war on drugs" is about political power. These books enable voters and journalists to see through the anti-drug rhetoric of the 1996 election campaign.

Is the anti-cocaine effort in the Andes, what William French Smith, Reagan's first Attorney General, called the "biggest bang for the buck," a failure? The three books by Clawson, Lee, Riley and Stares lay out the evidence and honestly draw the conclusions. There is no combination of efforts in the Andes that will profoundly affect the supply of cocaine. The question is, will ineffective programs be ended and new policies now be demanded or undertaken with these studies in hand?

What is new in this collection of books is Richard Miller's thoroughly researched historical parallel between Nazi law and drug law, between the searching out of Jews and the searching out of drug users, between the denial of employment to Jews and the denial of employment to drug users, between the confiscation of Jewish property and the confiscation of drug users' property, between the incarceration of 1% of the German population, and the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of drug users and distributors.

This is not about the Holocaust, but about how a bureaucratic and political dynamic heightens persecution. (Perhaps we ought to add to our reading list the current best seller by Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996, 622 pp.)

Miller points to the use of the "Jews" in the development of the Nazi state. "Jews," as a category of people, served as a focus for fears that were used to justify the expansion of state powers. He points out -- carefully -- that a critical step in finding a "solution" to "the Jewish question," or "the Jewish problem," was creating a consensus among Germans that there was a Jewish problem. "Jews" caused the emergencies that warranted powerful new laws. Bureaucratic rivals within the German state competed for power, prestige and resources by developing newer or more dramatic anti-Jewish measures than their opponents. Political rivals within the Nazi establishment competed for attention in their claims that the "Jews" were responsible for crime, for disease, for social chaos, for undermining economic productivity. The "Jews" were a threat, they were creating a crisis in German society that demanded a solution. Now read Smoke and Mirrors or Drug War Politics.

Miller warns of the genuine parallel between creating a need to find a solution to "the Jewish question," or "the Jewish problem," and the contemporary need to find a solution to the drug problem. The consensus that there was a Jewish problem was carefully constructed -- with the assistance of the news media, the universities, business groups, and other responsible entities. And today, isn't there a solid consensus in America that those who use, or used, drugs are the "demand" problem? Reduce "demand" and the problem is solved.

When we read the accusation of Gingrich that Clinton "is seemingly tolerant of recent experimental drug use by White House staff," the implication is that Clinton must do something about these dangerous people. He must name their names. And then, logically, he must fire them. Simultaneously, the U.S. Senate passed Phil Gramm's amendment to deny benefits like drug treatment and food stamps to persons convicted of a drug offense. What is the deeper meaning of a Senate approved policy that would deny convicted drug users medical care, and if they can't get a job, to let them starve? What are the implications when the President promulgates a policy that would deny housing to persons convicted of drug offenses -- even if they have been released from prison after completing their sentence? Does the consensus that we should banish drug users from the community begin to sound disturbingly familiar?

Of all of these books, Miller's is the most jarring, the most insightful, and the most important.