Tina K. Russell

June 22, 2009

Teens just can’t win

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:46 pm

Editorial – Teenagers and Pregnancy – NYTimes.com
Between 1991 and 2003, increased contraceptive use among sexually active teenagers played an important role in driving down teenage pregnancy rates. Since then, according to a new report from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, contraceptive use by teens has declined while their sexual activity has remained unchanged. This is a worrisome shift — and it has bearing on the coming budget battle in Congress.

The report’s authors, Dr. John Santelli, Mark Orr, Laura Lindberg and Daniela Diaz, said they found a decrease of about 10 percent in contraception use that is consistent with recent gains in the teenage birth rate.

They suggest, not unreasonably, a link between the shift in use of contraception and one of former President George W. Bush’s great social-policy follies: highly restrictive abstinence-only sex education programs that deny young people information about sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptives and pregnancy. To the extent these programs even mention condoms, typically it is to disparage their effectiveness.

As a kid, I was always frustrated by how we never seemed to get credit for anything. You never heard it on TV, but teen pregnancy, crime, drug use, etc. had all been going down for decades. That didn’t stop overcaffeinated talking heads from shouting about the explosion of teenage sex and violence spreading across the United States (and possibly to YOUR CHILDREN OMG).

Of course, these prophecies have a way of fulfilling themselves. In response to the made-up explosion in teen misbehavior, we instituted the misguided policy of abstinence-only education, which has led to this prophecy made manifest. Now that teen pregnancy rates are actually rising—like, in the real world, where you and I live—we can expect to hear abstinence-only advocates convinced that this vindicates their policy, because these statistics must mean abstinence-only education is more important than ever. Meanwhile, whatever our nation’s teenagers are doing, they can never catch a break.

Remember! Nothing holds back the onset of puberty like arrogant, senseless, and hypocritical moralizing.

May 19, 2009

The fantasy approach to gun violence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:02 am

Fight Drug Cartels, Not Guns, McCain Says – NYTimes.com
The drug war in Mexico should not be used as an excuse to try to restrict American gun rights, Senator John McCain told thousands of people who gathered here for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.

Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, said that the United States needed to do more to crack down on gun smuggling into Mexico, but that such assistance in Mexico’s war against drug cartels did not require restrictions on the gun rights of law-abiding Americans.

“It should be noted that any effort to restrict gun ownership in the U.S. will not stop Mexican cartels from acquiring guns and ammunition from other countries,” Mr. McCain said on Friday. He added that cartels were already getting grenades and other weapons from other countries.

I really hate this argument for two reasons.

  1. Okay, perhaps other countries aren’t doing their part. But, are we doing ours? (And, will we have any right to criticize them if we do not?)
  2. Can anyone say with a straight face that Mexican drug cartels won’t be hurt—massively—by taking away their biggest supply of automatic weapons, which currently flows freely across the border? Doesn’t it make sense to force them to go to smaller, more remote, and less developed locales to fetch their AK-47s? (And if our massive pipeline of guns to Mexican thugs is somehow immaterial in the grand scheme of things, why have their arsenals become more sophisticated since the lapse of the assault weapons ban?)

To think that we can help solve the Mexican cartel crisis by considering only the smuggling of guns (good luck with that border), and not the buying and selling, is pure fantasy. Mexican cops and civilians are dying while we dither.

February 5, 2009

Perspective on Michael Phelps

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:55 pm

Steve Duin on the Michael Phelps “oh my God inspirational sports heroes occasionally do stupid things like smoke marijuana” scandal:

Michael Phelps and illusions of perfection – OregonLive.com
I always thought the crime of “betraying” America was reserved for spies, war profiteers and Ponzi schemers, rather than world-class swimmers who might have a buzz on. (Phelps has apologized that he “engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” but he has yet to admit that he was one toke over the line.)

To get myself up to speed on this savage betrayal of all we hold dear, I decided to check out the fine print on Phelps’ gold medals. You know, the stern warnings that victory in the Olympic pool requires that he immediately forfeit his youth, his privacy and his margin of error.

The formal announcement that, as a celebrity icon, Phelps must now live in accordance with the (generally) hypocritical standards and expectations of people he’s never met.

I have yet to find those cautionary notes, but they must be around somewhere. They explain the hysterical criticism of a 23-year-old kid who worked like a backstroking dog for four years to make much lazier Americans feel good about themselves and who was enjoying a few weeks off before he dove back into the deep end of Olympic training and Olympian ideals.

He was hugging a bong, sports fans. Not an Uzi, not a pit bull, not a tobacco lobbyist. He’s Seth Rogen, not Michael Vick.

See also Study: 100 Percent of Americans Lead Secret Lives. See also Jesus.

January 8, 2009

A surge for every occasion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:34 pm

U.S. Plans Border ‘Surge’ Against Any Drug Wars – NYTimes.com
The soaring level of violence in Mexico resulting from the drug wars there has led the United States to develop plans for a “surge” of civilian and perhaps even military law enforcement should the bloodshed spread across the border, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday.

Mr. Chertoff said the criminal activity in Mexico, which has caused more than 5,300 deaths in the last year, had long troubled American authorities. But it reached a point last summer, he said, where he ordered specific plans to confront in this country the kind of shootouts and other mayhem that in Mexico have killed members of warring drug cartels, law enforcement officials and bystanders, often not far from the border.

“We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge — if I may use that word — capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with” the Defense Department, Mr. Chertoff said in a telephone interview.

Welcome to a world where absolutely any problem can be solved with a “surge.”

I’ve got an idea. Why not cut off the cartels’ supply lines? It’s a threat to our security that drug cartels in Mexico have become powerful enough to challenge the police force in all-out war. Why not address the fact that 9 out of 10 of their guns come from the United States, thanks to our insanely liberal gun laws? Why not address that assault rifles are not used for self-defense, are not used for hunting, and are instead used to kill Mexican cops in a destabilizing situation that could spill into the United States?

The Long War of Genaro García Luna – NYTimes.com
[Mexican police chief Genaro] García Luna was in Washington to make the rounds of U.S. government agencies and Congressional offices … García Luna met with government officials and diplomats and gave a stilted power-point presentation to policy experts. He seemed more interested in the photographs he had brought, his way of making a blunt point about a touchy aspect of U.S.-Mexican relations: the vast majority of weapons in the cartel’s arsenals (80 to 90 percent, according to the Mexican government’s figures) are purchased in the United States, often at loosely regulated gun shows, and smuggled into Mexico by the same networks that smuggle drugs the opposite direction. García Luna has a hard time concealing his anger about the fact that U.S. laws make it difficult to do much about this “brutal flow” of firepower. “How is it possible,” he asked me, “that a person is allowed to go buy a hundred cuernos de chivo” — AK-47’s — “for himself?” In the United States, he said, “there was a lot of indifference.”

Why not address that this kind of madness might be why people want to leave Mexico for our border so badly?

July 17, 2008

Police and Mexico’s drug war

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:11 pm

The Long War of Genaro García Luna – NYTimes.com

I’m of two minds about the drug war. On the one hand, I don’t think the police can necessarily be used to end Americans’ bad habits by force, and I definitely cringe at the sheer volume of young people we corral into prison for minor drug offenses (where they will develop the identities, contacts, and skills of criminals) when we could be treating and rehabilitating them to make way for real criminals in our strained system of justice. On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of substances like cocaine or heroin, drugs that attack Americans in moments of weakness and then make them do anything for one more hit, being sold as legitimate products, even if such legalization would take the bottom out of the illegal drug market and the massive private armies it funds.

Here, the NYT magazine runs a great profile of Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s new chief of police and point man for their war on drugs. I’m not sure exactly where I should stand on Mexico’s drug war… it may or may not have been a good idea, given that it replaced a long period of calm and stability that was both untenable and morally contemptible. (Essentially, cops and drug lords had an understandin’. Read the article.) The drug war, of course, has produced utter chaos, with high-level police assassinations and an epidemic of police corruption rising from the drug cartels banding together as one force to fight the state. It’s also worth noting that Mexico is losing, and not only can it not afford to lose this war, we cannot afford for them to lose.

The thing is, García Luna cheerfully admits that they will be unable to eliminate drugs per se, noting that Colombia, regarded internationally as a success in America’s drug war, has had no notable decrease in drug traffic since the toppling of the fearsome Escobar empire. What cannot be allowed to continue is a morass of private armies fighting–and in many cases, winning–against the state for control of governance. Police works because they have a monopoly on violence, because they’re the biggest, best-armed gang on the block, and they’re accountable (ideally) to the taxpayers for their actions. Like any monopoly on a good or service, cornering the market on violence causes there to be less violence overall. In other words, competition causes lots of people to be killed, combatants and noncombatants, by police and non-police, in never-ending turf wars that distract from the full extent of police duty. García Luna essentially says (though I am the one paraphrasing John Kerry) that drug crime cannot be eliminated, but it can be reduced to the level of a nuisance. It must be reduced from its current level, where drug lords and their private armies are challenging the state monopoly on violence and causing good people to die in the process, and threatening the proper growth of the Mexican state.

Here’s where the US comes in. I must stress that it is absolutely essential that Mexico not lose. Democracy, economy, prosperity, none of these things can exist without the baseline of rule of law. I think the prospect of Mexicans streaming across the border en masse to come to our great country is a legitimate concern (though a logistical one, as I think our culture will survive and be better off for their participation), but one prong of that concern needs to be supporting Mexico, its fight against lawlessness and corruption, so that Mexico can flourish as a country and we will cross each others’ borders to relax and visit family rather than to flee plummeting economies.

I’m not saying that Mexico’s government is at all desirable (in fact, my impression is that their president right now is completely illegitimate, like Bush was in term one). It’s rife with corruption and reinforces the kind of cynicism that causes people to pack their bags and head north, or to join the deadly drug cartels. I’m saying that we cannot afford to let Mexico fall apart, as we are friends, we are allies, and we ought to be sure peace and stability exist in our corner of the world before we worry about others’. I’m saying that the rule of law is important and needs to be supported firmly by those, like me, who oppose violence in all of its forms. I’m saying that we cannot just send large aid packages full of money, but also personnel, clean and well-trained American police commandos to work with Mexico’s forces. As we’ve seen in Iraq, sometimes stability does come down to sheer numbers. (There were other factors in Iraq, but I’ll talk about those some other time.)

Here’s one more thing: while he appreciates America’s support, there’s one thing about us that reasonably bugs him.

When I met García Luna in Washington in January, soon after the shootout in Tijuana made headlines in the United States, he was carrying with him a manila envelope full of color photographs. The photographs were grisly full-color shots of dead Mexican police and narco gun caches — a police officer bleeding on the ground; the aftermath of the shootout; the underground firing range. García Luna thought of them as a sort of secret weapon of his own.

…  García Luna met with government officials and diplomats and gave a stilted power-point presentation to policy experts. He seemed more interested in the photographs he had brought, his way of making a blunt point about a touchy aspect of U.S.-Mexican relations: the vast majority of weapons in the cartel’s arsenals (80 to 90 percent, according to the Mexican government’s figures) are purchased in the United States, often at loosely regulated gun shows, and smuggled into Mexico by the same networks that smuggle drugs the opposite direction. García Luna has a hard time concealing his anger about the fact that U.S. laws make it difficult to do much about this “brutal flow” of firepower. “How is it possible,” he asked me, “that a person is allowed to go buy a hundred cuernos de chivo” — AK-47’s — “for himself?” In the United States, he said, “there was a lot of indifference.”

Guns go south and drugs come north. That’s depressing. (You could say that at least these assault weapons are going to well-regulated militias, though ones that mow down Mexican cops.) If we want Mexico to clamp down on drugs, then we need to do our part and clamp down on guns. Part of the state monopoly on violence needs to be a monopoly on the factors of production. Guns do have legitimate uses, such as hunting, and neither handguns nor assault rifles fit those purposes. The Second Amendment is explicitly for the purpose of state security, and I do not see how our insanely loosely-regulated gun market fits that purpose, either.

Blecch, I hate talking about violence. Let’s talk about something else…

June 9, 2008

Stop! Do Not Get Hopped on Poppy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:35 pm

Afghan Heroin Suspect Was U.S. Asset, He Says – NYTimes.com

Here’s an interesting story. A preeminent Afghan drug lord is offered a deal by the US government: he’ll be safe if he comes to the States and helps us fight the Taliban by giving us intimate details of their day-to-day operations. He comes to the US and is thrown in the clink, and he’s been there for three years.

It’s weird because, as anyone who has watched Homicide: Life on the Street knows, often you need to trick criminals if you want to catch them. Also, I cannot muster much sympathy for people who build fortunes on the back of human misery. This just provides an interesting dilemma for the United States… do we offer the drug lords deals to help us fight the Taliban? Or do we imprison the drug lords in hopes of cutting off the Taliban’s supply of freely-flowing drug money?

Obviously, with this fella in the big house for three years with no hope of release any time soon, it will be hard to us to convince any other drug lords to come to the States and snitch on their partners in crime. Still, a lot of the problem with the US’s approach to the Taliban is that, previously, we’ve failed to grasp where the Taliban’s money comes from. Osama bin Laden’s family fortune is vast, but the inheritance is split amongst his fifty-or-so siblings. The rest is money from heroin provided by Afghanistan’s vast poppy crop. When fighting homegrown insurgent groups, you may want to attack them at their sustenance rather than head-on. So, I don’t really know where best to fall on this issue.

…You know, colonial America was built on tobacco money, so it’s a bit arrogant of us to presume that Afghanistan’s economy can simply move away from where it has a comparative advantage. However, poppy can also be used to create painkillers, which the world has a shortage of. Who’s with me? Let’s bankrupt the drug lords and the Taliban, while helping people at the same time.

This is why economics is your friend.

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