A Rights-Respecting Approach to Fentanyl Abuse

We are not surprised when Progressives attempt to micromanage people’s lives through force of government. Progressives often treat normal people as too stupid to manage their own lives without the “help” of professional bureaucrats and enforcers, who know better. Many Progressives treat government as Big Nanny, tasked with the job of saving us rubes from ourselves. My question for many of today’s conservatives is, why do you play the same game?

Here I am talking about fentanyl, the synthetic opioid intended mainly for treating cancer pain that, when abused, can be deadly. And, make no mistake, it can be deadly, especially when taken in unknown quantities or mixed with other unknown substances.

The potential deadliness of fentanyl does not change the fact that merely possessing or consuming it violates the rights of no one. The rights violations occur when government agents arrest people and lock them in cages for possessing fentanyl. In a just world, such violent actions rightly would be categorized with such crimes as assault, kidnapping, and wrongful imprisonment. Shamefully, conservatives often take the lead in endorsing such abuses.

Reporter Andrew Kenney provides some of the Colorado background: “Republican Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, . . . along with some prominent law-enforcement officials, has put the blame [for more fentanyl-related deaths] on HB19-1263, a 2019 law that was backed by Democrats and Republicans. That change reduced penalties for possession of less than four grams of nearly all Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.”

Kenney also reveals why some Coloradans support harsh criminal penalties for drug possession: “Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, said the 2019 law has led to more overdose deaths by making it harder to punish dealers. While that law didn’t change the punishment for dealing drugs, it did take away an easier route for prosecutors: In the past, they could still get a felony charge for simple possession, without having to prove intent to distribute.”

Did you get that? Some prosecutors want to treat possession of fentanyl as a proxy crime for the distribution of fentanyl. In other words, prosecutors don’t want to be bothered with proving in a court of law that someone actually sold or intended to sell the drug. And what of people who possess the drug without intending to distribute it? They too will get caught up in the drug war’s legal grinder, at the discretion of prosecutors, of course. This is a system of capricious power, not a system of justice. Generally such policies fall hardest on minorities and the poor.

What happened to the “from my cold dead hands” conservatives? What happened to the “my body, my choice” conservatives? What happened to the conservatives who give a damn about liberty?

If you listen to the gun banners, they often say they want to outlaw possession of guns—why?—well, to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands, of course. In other words, they want to treat gun possession as a proxy crime for the careless or criminal misuse of guns. Sound familiar?

I agree with many conservatives that government has no business mandating vaccines, even though I am enthusiastically pro-vaccine. (Conditional mandates by private businesses and by government operations are a different story.) And yet Covid-19 killed 12,508 Coloradans as of February 28. As of January, Coloradans were “16.5 times less likely to die from Covid” if vaccinated with three doses, according to state data.

A well-enforced, universal vaccine mandate could have saved thousands of lives over the past year, several times the number of fentanyl-related deaths. In principle, there is little difference between government mandating the use of vaccines and prohibiting the unauthorized use of fentanyl, “for people’s own good.” Both actions are violations of liberty and of individual rights. The difference between me and many of today’s unprincipled conservatives is that when I say, “My body, my choice,” I mean it.

Intentional or negligent distribution of dangerous substances is a different matter. For example, if someone sold you a gun branded Remington, but knew the gun really was a cheap imitation, that would be fraud. If the gun blew up in your face and caused serious bodily injury, the seller probably could be prosecuted for criminal negligence. Certainly the government plays an appropriate role in cracking down on such fraud.

Dangerous fentanyl is largely a problem of the violent and uncontrolled black market caused by drug prohibition. The drug warriors are not fixing the problem, they are helping to create it.

Consider this line from the Denver Post: “Approximately half of the 1,581 Colorado drug overdose deaths last year that have been recorded thus far involved fentanyl, the provisional data shows. Of those 1,581 people, 618 died of methamphetamine, 227 died of cocaine, 167 died of heroin and 55 of alcohol.”

First notice that some people do die from the legal drug alcohol, although relatively few. People can poison themselves over many years by consuming too much alcohol, or they can kill themselves all at once by heavy binge drinking. These days hardly anyone calls for the prohibition of the drug alcohol despite its potential deadliness. (Indeed, my wife and I enjoy Coyote Gold margaritas, produced by Maureen Schaffer, the wife of the former Republican congressman Bob Schaffer.) And, if government did prohibit it, we would expect the black-market alcohol that arose to be radically more dangerous, of unknown potency and mixed with other dangerous substances. Rather than relatively safe alcohol being sold by peaceable people such as Maureen Schaffer, extremely dangerous alcohol would be sold by violent people like Al Capone.

Notice another term in the Post‘s article: “involving.” Usually the problem is not fentanyl per se, it is the fact that people buying drugs often have no idea what they’re getting. That’s the nature of the black market spawned by the drug war.

According to Adams County District Attorney Brian Mason, the drug that killed five people in Commerce City was “possibly masked as cocaine” yet it contained fentanyl, in the words of reporter Allison Sherry. I agree that someone knowingly or negligently selling a drug tainted with substances unknown to the buyers should be prosecuted. That’s comparable to the case of the fraudulently branded gun.

Mason told Sherry, “We’re finding fentanyl in cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine and oxycontin and, even in limited circumstances, we found it in marijuana. This is a huge public safety crisis.” Yes, it is. It is a crisis created by drug warriors, who set the context for the dangerous black market in drugs. We needn’t let those who knowingly or negligently sell tainted substances off the hook just because they operate in a black market created by drug prohibition. Both sides of the problem—the prohibitionists who created the black markets and the sellers of tainted drugs—bear moral responsibility for the resulting deaths.

If we really care about saving people’s lives, the answer is obvious: We need to roll back drug prohibition across the board and thereby eliminate the dangerous black markets now killing people via cartel violence and tainted drugs. But, to recognize that solution, conservatives would have to do more than pay lip service to liberty and individual rights; they would have to take those principles seriously.

Colorado Trucker Crash Case: News Roundup

In 2019 a truck driver in Colorado crashed into stopped traffic, killing four people. In 2021, the driver was convicted of numerous crimes and sentenced to 110 years in prison. In response to fierce public backlash to the severity of the sentence, both the DA in the case and the governor initiated steps to reduce the sentence. Wikipedia has a page on the case.

Here I round up important news stories and opinion pieces about the case. I’ll update the page as needed.

Continue reading “Colorado Trucker Crash Case: News Roundup”

Lauren Boebert’s Betrayal of 1776

On January 6 a Trumpist mob violently invaded the U.S. Capitol, murdered a police officer and assaulted other officers, and attempted to overthrow the presidential election results. The Capitol invasion was part of an attempted coup orchestrated by the con man Donald Trump and actively encouraged by thousands of Trump’s cultish sycophants, including 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the election results just hours after the seditious assault.

I never thought that in my lifetime I would see America brought to the brink of a fascist dictatorship, much less by some of the same people who have long warned about the threat of authoritarianism. Yet that is where the Trump cult has brought us. Fascists wrapped in the American flag and spouting patriotic slogans are still fascists.

No, I don’t think the Trumpists will succeed in installing Trump as unelected ruler, try as they might. But I do think that their efforts to do so profoundly weaken the country and make a fascist regime far more likely in the future. If these people who long for an authoritarian leader will fall for a ridiculous pudgy narcissistic huckster such as Trump, imagine how they would line up behind an intelligent alpha-male fascist in the mold of Putin. (I’ve warned of this possibility, as has Zeynep Tufekci and others.)

I am not saying that Trump stealing a second term would have automatically reduced the United States to fascism. I used the term “brink.” And we’re talking about a continuum here; America’s total fall probably would take years. Even if Trump had succeeded, it’s possible that the Congress and the courts might have held up adequately to restore Constitutional order down the road. But I also think it’s possible, and indeed likely, that Trump would have moved to solidify his base within the armed forces, the police forces, and extra-legal armed forces to insulate himself. If Trump had succeeded in stealing a second term, I think it’s inevitable that he would have gone for a third term (health withstanding). He’s already planted the idea. Or perhaps, feeling his age, he would have sought to install one of his children as “president.” Given recent events, does anyone seriously believe that Trump is above putting pressure on the judiciary, in the form of implicit threats of extralegal violence, if he thought he could get away with it?

Nor am I saying that the 147 members of Congress who voted to overturn the election results actually wanted Trump to serve a second term, wanted Trump’s supporters to assault the Capitol, or wanted America to fall into fascism. Instead, as I’ve suggested, I think almost all of them were playing a cynical political game and fully expected their efforts to fail. I used the term “encouraged.” One can encourage some cultural movement without wanting that movement to reach its final goals, and that is what those cowards who pissed on the Party of Lincoln did. They may not have wanted Trumpists to murder a police officer and parade the Confederate Flag through the Capitol, but they encouraged that outcome nevertheless. If you throw a burning torch into a dry forest, don’t act surprised when the forest burns down.

Boebert’s Betrayal

Not all of Trump’s sycophants in Congress are playing the cynic’s game. Some, such as Lauren Boebert, are True Believers. I have no doubt that Boebert sincerely believes that the election was “stolen” from Trump. In her mind, the coup was perpetrated by the Democrats in the form of election fraud. The problem is that Boebert’s beliefs here bear no relationship to reality. Boebert is not a fascist. She is merely an idiot (and not an especially useful one). She is a conspiracy-mongering dupe who enthusiastically embraced Trump’s lies. She too “encouraged” the Capitol invasion in the sense discussed above. She may not have wanted that outcome, but any reasonable person would have feared a violent outcome. As Gabriel Sterling warned in early December, “Someone’s gonna get killed.” That Boebert is not reasonable is hardly a point in her favor.

Given that Boebert is now (just a few days into her term) the most well-known Republican in Colorado and the subject of a popular campaign to pressure her to resign her House seat, I want to focus the rest of this article on her.

Let me state, publicly, that Boebert should resign. She is an embarrassment to Colorado and to every decent Republican. But I know that she will not resign. Congress should seek to eject her, but I don’t think that will happen either. Congress at least should minimize her participation, as by denying her committee seats. Within the state, Colorado Republicans should commit to finding and supporting a decent Republican candidate to run against her in the next primary. If they fail, then the voters of Boebert’s district should replace her in the general election.

On the morning of the Capitol assault, Boebert Tweeted, “Today is 1776.” Wrong. If Boebert would bother to read the Declaration of Independence, she would find “that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes”—such as a presidential tempter-tantrum—and that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that [people] should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Trump’s incompetent lawyers offered conspiracy mongering, not “causes,” and the courts quickly saw through the charade.

Boebert’s reference to 1776 did not come out of the blue. People promoting domestic terrorism used the “1776” hashtag the night before the assault, as NBC reports. Shortly after security took Vice President Mike Pence to safety, someone shouted, “Time to take back what’s ours! A new 1776 has just begun!” Another person near the Capitol said, “You’re seeing something in America you haven’t seen since 1776.”

These Trumpist references to 1776 are ignorant. The Trumpists who mobbed the Capitol, and those who make excuses for them, are the spiritual kin of the bloodthirsty French who executed the Reign of Terror, not of America’s Founders. Trumpists murdered a police officer and assaulted others. They assaulted and threatened to murder journalists. They called for the murder of Vice President Mike Pence. Right across the street from the U.S. Capitol, Trumpists posted the sign, “Off with their heads: Stop the steal.” They also set up a noose. Meanwhile, Trumpists in Arizona brought a guillotine to their state capitol.

These Trumpists are in fact the populist mob the Founders warned about. They embody the antithesis of the spirit of 1776. In Federalist 10, Madison warned about the “violence of faction” that threatens to “convulse the society.”

On the morning of the Capitol assault, Boebert took the floor to shout out fact-free accusations that the election had been stolen. She learned nothing from the violence that resulted from such irresponsible conspiracy mongering, for three days later she Tweeted, “Hillary must be pissed it took the DNC until 2020 to successfully rig an election.” Meanwhile, various other Trumpists, on the basis of such fraudulent claims of election rigging, agitated for more domestic terrorism.

Boebert is unworthy of the office she holds. Other Colorado Republicans who care about the future of their party will do what they can to make her tenure as brief as legally possible.

Boebert’s Chamber Tweets

I’ve made my main points. While I’m at it, I also want to address various other issues surrounding Boebert, starting with her Tweets from House chambers during the Capitol assault. As Chase Woodruff reviews, Boebert Tweeted in quick succession, “We were locked in the House Chambers,” and “The Speaker has been removed from the chambers.”

Some of Boebert’s critics make this out to be Boebert intentionally signalling to the seditionists the location of Nancy Pelosi. Of course she denied that. If she had done that, she would be a traitor. But I don’t think that’s what was going on. I think her Tweets were borne of foolishness rather than of treachery.

When I first saw the Tweets in question, I assumed that Boebert was merely playing amateur journalist and reporting the situation. And I still think that’s the best explanation for her actions. But her Tweets were extraordinarily foolish.

Here is Representative Eric Swalwell’s account: “[Boebert] was told by the Sergeant of Arms in the chamber to not make any social media posts. It was said repeatedly. She defied it because she is more closely aligned with the terrorists than the patriots.” Senator Brian Schatz wrote in response to Boebert’s second Tweet, “We were specifically instructed by those protecting us not to tell anyone, including our family, where exactly we were, for reasons that remain obvious.”

In a later call, “Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) got into a heated exchange with first-year Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), raising concerns that Boebert risked lawmakers’ safety by tweeting their location during the lockdown,” the Hill reports.

Boebert’s Whataboutism

Boebert released a statement saying that the Democrats are hypocrites for trying to “punish Republicans for false accusations of inciting the type of violence they have so frequently and transparently supported in the past.”

There are two points to make here. First, there is a difference between directly inciting violence and actively encouraging it, as discussed above. Boebert did the latter but not the former. Second, she has a point about the very explicit sanction of leftist violence by various people on the left. But that’s just not the discussion at hand. Domestic terrorists stormed the United States Capitol looking to overturn the presidential election results. That is the issue. How about Republicans remove the log from their own eye first, and then we can get back to denouncing leftist violence.

Boebert also pretends that what is going on now is somehow comparable to previous legal election challenges. What we’re talking about is Trump making extra-legal election challenges and about a Trumpist mob assaulting the Capitol.

Boebert also suggests that Joe Biden did not denounce “antifa” violence; he did.

Boebert’s Gun

Boebert made her name on the gun issue by challenging Beto O’Rourke, who had said openly that he wanted government to (selectively) confiscate people’s guns. Recently she put out a video in which she appeared to carry a concealed handgun through the streets of Washington D.C. (she didn’t really) and in which she pledged, “I will carry my firearm in D.C. and in Congress.”

She’s not the only gunnie in Congress. Madison Cawthorn, who is also facing calls to resign, said he was armed during the Capitol assault.

Some people have made out Boebert’s gun video to be about encouraging the violent mob that later stormed the Capitol. But it wasn’t.

Indeed, on this issue, I actually agree with Boebert: Members of Congress who want to carry a concealed handgun should be allowed to do so. How much more evidence do we need that Congress is vulnerable to attack? We are extremely lucky that the Trumpist terrorists did not find and execute any members of Congress. Obviously members of Congress should have the means to defend themselves.

Colorado Representative Jason Crow was prepared to fight his way out of the Capitol with a pen, Kyle Clark reports. Listen to Crow’s harrowing account. To put the point bluntly: Anyone who thinks that Crow, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, and his colleagues would have been worse off had Crow been armed during the assault is a moron. Indeed, Crow said, “I was looking for whatever weapons I could use. There was a moment where . . . I was going to ask one of the officers for his gun, because I didn’t know whether or not he was capable of using it. And I don’t mean in terms of training. Those of us who have been in combat know that some people, at that moment, just can’t do it. But I know that I can. And I wasn’t going to allow harm to come to my colleagues. I decided not to [ask for the gun].” I write this knowing full well that Crow is a Democrat who might not say he’s in favor of arming members of Congress.

What Congress should do is issue a sidearm to every member who requests one and pay for intensive training. Congress also should spend some funds to fortify the Capitol building to create more-defensible positions. Right now the United States Capitol looks vulnerable not only to every domestic terrorist in the country but to every miscreant in the world. Congress should do everything in its power to communicate that anyone who violently invades the Capitol will be met with overwhelming lethal force. It’s time to look tough and be tough. You don’t fuck with the United States Congress.

Jake Tapper Tweets, “That metal detectors were just put up outside the House Chambers comes after House Dems expressed concerns about GOP freshmen violating gun laws, and amidst fears about possible complicity with the Jan 6 terrorists by some House Republicans.”

Okay, if the concern is about such “possible complicity,” then obviously Congress should immediately investigate and eject members where appropriate. There could even be a rule disarming any member (within the Capitol) under such investigation. You don’t leave all the other members helpless against a bloodthirsty mob should it slip past, overwhelm, or incapacitate the capitol police.

Of course, nothing I’ve written here is an excuse for not complying with existing Capitol security rules.

Media and Commentary about Boebert

Here I’ll briefly review some of the other commentary about Boebert.

Colorado governor Jared Polis condemned the “failed insurrection.” He wrote, “There are credible allegations that some members of congress at the very least gave aid and comfort to the rioters, and therefore should not be able to hold office again without a two-thirds vote by each house pursuant to the 14th amendment.” He didn’t name names.

Former Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler complained about a Denver Post article about Boebert. Gessler ridiculously asserts that Barry Goldwater “would look at Representative Boebert as a kindred spirit.” Gessler writes, “Conservatism is a rich and varied intellectual tradition that easily embraces Colorado’s newest Congresswoman.” This merely proves that “conservatism” is meaningless. If we think of conserving American Constitutional government, obviously Boebert has helped put that at profound risk, so by that standard she is an anti-conservative.

Quentin Young writes (among other things), “Those who helped spread election-fraud disinformation are unfit to hold public office. This includes the president, members of Congress, state lawmakers, city council members, town trustees and volunteers on the local school board. They should resign, face expulsion or otherwise be removed by legal means.” That’s too strong; the mere spreading of “disinformation” is not disqualifying. He adds that Boebert “has made false claims about the election being fraudulent, and she has dog-whistled a violent response.”

Denver Post reporter Alex Burness summarizes, “Boebert is a week into the job, and the [Kansas City Star] seems to think she’s already toxic enough that Pompeo should explain himself for simply appearing in a photo with her. It’s been fascinating to watch the world outside of Colorado get acquainted with her.”

The (leftward) Colorado Times Reporter published “A Brief History of Rep. Boebert’s Ties to Extremist & Conspiracy Groups.”

A while back I compiled a few other media links about Boebert.

Image: Tyler Merbler

Where is Justin Amash’s Plan for Recreating American Politics?

You don’t beat political partisans—those who place party loyalties above the good of Americans—by abandoning the fight to the partisans. I fear Justin Amash has done just that.

I applaud Amash for denouncing partisanship and calling for political reform. “The two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions,” Amash writes in the Washington Post.

What I do not find in Amash’s article is anything resembling a realistic plan to reform American politics. He writes, “Today, I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party.” Okay, but how will that accomplish anything good?

Continue reading “Where is Justin Amash’s Plan for Recreating American Politics?”

Reasons to Be Skeptical of Colorado’s Red-Flag Bill

I am provisionally for some version of a red-flag law, which allows authorities to temporarily disarm people deemed by a court to be a threat, even if those people are not convicted of a crime. The Colorado legislature currently is considering red-flag legislation.

I say “provisionally” because I am not yet sure that a) red-flag legislation is actually needed to solve the problem at hand or that b) such legislation can be written to meet the requirements of due process of law.

Continue reading “Reasons to Be Skeptical of Colorado’s Red-Flag Bill”

The Bias against Ascent Classical Academy

Ascent Classical Academy is a proposed charter school within the Boulder Valley School District. The district rejected Ascent’s application on January 22. The Colorado Board of Education will hear and vote on Ascent’s appeal on February 14 (2:00 pm).

Regardless of what one might conclude about the details of Ascent’s application, abundantly obvious is that that certain actors are biased against Ascent because of its ties to conservative Christians. The dispute over Ascent is fundamentally about ideology.

Continue reading “The Bias against Ascent Classical Academy”

How to Make Colorado’s Choice for President Not Count

Let’s say that we as Colorado voters support Joe Blow in a future presidential race by 60 percent, and we give Bill Prill only 35 percent of our support (with minor-party candidates picking up the rest). Maybe Joe Blow is a Coloradan and most of us really like him because he speaks to our values.

The obvious approach is to give our electoral college votes to the candidate supported by Colorado voters, right? Wrong, at least sometimes, say many Democratic leaders, including Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

Continue reading “How to Make Colorado’s Choice for President Not Count”

Will Libertarians Hand the Colorado Senate to the Democrats?

Update, November 10, 2018: Never mind! Democrats crushed Republicans so badly this year that no Libertarian candidate came close to being a “spoiler.” But I anticipate that the Republican Party will do better in the future, so the problem described here remains. In terms of approval voting, I support that regardless of how frequently minor-party candidates “spoil” a race.

By running candidates in several of the most-competitive Colorado Senate races, Libertarians substantially increase the odds of Democrats seizing the reins of state government and passing numerous bills that Libertarians (as well as Republicans) are sure to hate. Continue reading “Will Libertarians Hand the Colorado Senate to the Democrats?”

Why the Discrimination of Y and Z Matters

Colorado ballot measures Y and Z are legally and morally wrong because they blatantly discriminate against members of minor parties by excluding them from proposed redistricting commissions.

I have written about this problem before, but here I want to address more fully the claim that Y and Z are not really (or not substantially) more discriminatory than the status quo. Continue reading “Why the Discrimination of Y and Z Matters”