Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Alcohol, Three Items and a Comment

January 22, 2008, 12:30 p.m.

Three Items and a Comment

* Senator Barack Obama has called Senator Hillary Clinton, and former President Bill Clinton, on their unethical, negative campaigning involving a number of knowing and deliberately false characterizations of Obama's positions and statements -- repeated once again by her during the South Carolina debate last night [Jan 21]. "Most recent was an interview in which Obama described former president Ronald Reagan as a transformative leader and also said that over the past 10 to 15 years, the Republicans were more a party of ideas than were the Democrats. . . . Hillary Clinton pounced on Obama on Monday night, as Bill Clinton had done over the past few days [with the distorted assertion that Senator Obama had praised and endorsed Reagan's ideas when of course he had not]. 'They were bad ideas for America,' she said. 'They were ideas like privatizing Social Security, like moving back from a balanced budget and a surplus to deficit and debt.' Obama protested . . . 'You just said that I complimented the Republican ideas. That is not true.'" He was right; she was wrong, and wrong to do it. Dan Balz, "The Other Clinton is an Absent Presence," Washington Post, January 22, 2008.

* In response to my list of what the UI could do if it really wanted to get serious and effective about reducing under age students' binge drinking, a friend emailed: "Do you really mean this? . . . What a demoralizing and hypocritical (not to mention just plain mean and vindictive) set of proposals. . . . [W]hy take it out on students who are accepting the community's invitation to drink?" And see State29, "Prohibition Always Works," January 18, 2008. [Nicholas Johnson, "Don't Get Tough, Get Effective" in "Getting Real About Alcohol," January 18, 2008.]

* Two UI Delta Upsilon members have been charged with allegedly dealing marijuana; one other, and a guest, with possession. Following their arrests, the University suspended the fraternity -- which has been on campus for 82 years, with over 1000 members during that time -- during the investigation. This morning's [Jan. 22] news is that "Delta Upsilon International Fraternity announced Monday it has closed its University of Iowa chapter . . .." Rob Daniel, "Fraternity closed after drug raid; Delta Upsilon says it hopes to return," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 22, 2008, and see Erin Jordan, "Pot Case Spurs Closing of U of I Fraternity," Des Moines Register, January 22, 2008.


I had noted in that January 18 blog entry, linked from paragraph two above, that:

"As I wrote last Tuesday in the context of considering options and rational analysis in assessing the needs for additional police officers (and increased budgets), it may very well be that the best thing to do about underage drinking is nothing; or, more properly, to simply lower the drinking age to 18. Nicholas Johnson, "'How Many Police Officers and Fire Fighters Does It Take To . . .'" in "Rational Thought About Realistic Needs: Police & Fire," January 15, 2008.

Nor, even without that clarification, was my list, above, a wish list that I was advocating the University adopt. I was simply noting that IF the UI wanted to do something effective about binge drinking there are a number of things it could have done over the last 10 years. It's not what they say -- or what they do (or in this instance don't do) -- that bothers me so much. What I'm addressing is the inconsistency between the two: representing that this is a serious problem, that they don't want to be known as one of the intercollegiate binge drinking capitals of America, that they're doing all they can to stop it -- when in fact that does not seem to be the case.
In short, I am not advocating that the "binge drinking problem" be addressed with draconian measures, only that it is hypocritical not to consider effective regulation if one is professing to want to "do something" about the problem. (Indeed, I deliberately headed the discussion "Don't Get Tough, Get Effective.")

Let me also make very clear that I am not suggesting those criticizing my draconian list were deliberately misrepresenting my position. After all, we're not candidates competing for public office, unlike Clinton and Obama. Anyone who finds himself misunderstood bears at least as much responsibility for that misunderstanding, and probably more, than his audience. But the experience does further illustrate the underlying analysis of Wendell Johnson, "The Communication Process and General Semantic Principles," in Wilbur Schramm, Mass Communications (2d ed., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975).

As a lawyer, I think it is destructive of the "rule of law" and "ordered liberty" to have any given laws that are routinely and widely flouted -- because it tends to undermine respect for all laws. So what are some alternative approaches?

(1) Enforce the 21-only law; and the most rational and administratively feasible way to do that is to follow Ames' example. If you don't want under-age students to drink you don't permit them to enter establishments the sole purpose of which is to prosper from the sale of alcohol.

(2) Work to lower the drinking age to 18, thereby eliminating "the problem" at least for those over 18.

(3) Engage in "civil disobedience": openly disobey the law, knowing that arrest will follow, and accepting jail or other punishment, as a way of protesting what is thought to be an unjust law.

(4) Come up with a compromise, such as the "21-only after 10 p.m." proposal that was voted down by a bar-owners-organized students protest. This would have forbid violations of law for 28 of the 168 hours each week (10 p.m. to 2 a.m.), while permitting under-age students in bars at all other hours.

(5) Although destructive of "rule of law" purposes, simply accept rampant violations of law -- whether eliminating any and all enforcement of law regarding all alcohol related crimes, or limiting enforcement to the consequences of excessive drinking (e.g., drunk driving, public urination, fights, sexual assaults) rather than arresting students for the illegal drinking itself.
There are presumably many other options, including draconian measures applied by the University, but these five are major ones.

It is true that I think alcoholism and alcohol abuse are associated with serious social problems. As I led that January 18 entry:

Alcoholism, alcohol abuse, binge drinking, drunk driving, under-age drinking. We should not be surprised that our nation's number one hard drug problem by any measure (e.g., economic impact, health/medical consequences, numbers of people affected, involvement in crime and violence, adverse impact on the brain, prison population, unwanted sexual activity ("accidents cause people"), impact on fetus, automobile and other death and injury) is a major problem in Iowa as well.
Which brings me to the third paragraph, above, and how it reminds me of the following story:

A man's son was involved in a drunk driving accident in which one passenger was killed and his son and two other passengers were very seriously injured. On being informed that all had been drinking he responded, "Thank God they weren't using drugs."
Alcohol is a drug; an "illegal drug" when sold and consumed in violation of law; our nation's "number one hard drug" for many reasons, including those cited above.

Marijuana is also an illegal drug. But the harm it causes -- in the categories just detailed -- are far less than the consequences of alcohol. And yet, just as the penalties for possession or sale of crack cocaine (used by the poor) far exceed those for powdered cocaine (used by the rich), the penalties for the illegal possession and sale of marijuana far exceed those for the illegal possession and sale of alcohol.

And yet we give the latter a wink and a boys-will-be-boys nod, while shutting down an 82-year-old institution on campus for the former.

Now, who will be the first to say that I have advocated the legalization of marijuana? Re-read the blog entry. I haven't -- here.

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Anonymous said...

You don't have to advocate the legalization of Marijuana. I will. Here we have a few young people whose entire lives can be impacted by this. Everyone does silly things. In Burge in the 80's, 3/4 of the floor smoked at least a little pot.

Cocaine and others should be as well. This is a public health problem, not a law enforcement one. State29 is right, prohibition has never worked. Until we get real, it won't change.

Nick said...

John Barleykorn, in case you missed it, "indie" did you one better in his/her comment attached to Erin Jordan's story in this morning's [Jan. 22] Register:

"after reading all of this . . . not only do i think it [marijuana] should be legalized, i think it should be mandatory."
1/22/2008 2:24:30 PM

It's a suggestion that may not be consistent with a Libertarian philosophy, but you have to admit it is fun to think about.

-- Nick

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