Just back from Mexico City …

… where smart, sensible people are close to panic about the security situation in the north, especially Ciudad Juarez.

When I asked whether there was the prospect of mobilizing civil society, as opposed to the state machinery alone, against the handful of drug trafficking/bandit gangs that are terrorizing the country, I got an interesting response:  when the gangs murder a journalist or a cop or a bunch of ordinary citizens, the public impulse is to blame President Calderon and his administration for failing to suppress the bandits, rather than the bandits themselves.

A little like Obama’s problem with progressives blaming him, rather than the Republicans, for the Republicans’ obstruction of his agenda.

Since I’m familiar with the technique of simulated offense, let me apologize in advance to any Mexican drug lord who resents comparison with Rush Limbaugh or John Boehner.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

27 thoughts on “Just back from Mexico City …”

  1. Smart, sensible people are right to be near panic about the situation in Ciudad Juarez (in local parlance, just Juarez). I live and teach near Juarez, and used to visit Juarez regularly to practice my Spanish.

    That's no longer possible: Juarez is simply too dangerous. We warn our students to stay out of Juarez. One of the saddest components of the whole sordid mess is that we (the US) are supplying most of the arms and ammunition that are being used. Our inability to manage firearms in anything approaching a responsible fashion is having horrible repercussions in Northern Mexico.

    There was a drug-related murder a couple of months ago in El Paso. Fortunately, they only took out the druggie and left the rest of the neighborhood alone. But how long will it be before El Paso and Las Cruces (New Mexico) start having Juarez-style shootouts?

  2. Remind me why we should not legalize drugs in the US? I understand that drugs are unpleasant and damage people's health – as does alcohol – but it's hard for me to imagine that a regime of government coke and heroin stores in this country would not make things hugely better for our brothers and sisters in Mexico, Colombia, etc. It's not as though our efforts in making drugs illegal actually restrict access to them, just makes them profitable for the narcoterrorists. As well, when I was a student at Berkeley High School many years ago, it was easier to get drugs than liquor for us HS students – drug dealers had nothing special to lose by selling to us, liquor stores could lose their licences.

  3. Ok, that's lame; Policy disagreements are the equivalent of murder.

    Dave, I suspect that, aside from the dandy excuse it provides to gradually abolish civil liberties, the main thing keeping the war on drugs going is the very damage it causes. For any proponent to admit it was a mistake, is to take on a huge load of guilt over the damage THEY have been doing. For the drug warriors, the war on drugs being a mistake is simply inadmissible

    And, of course, it does make a dandy excuse to abolish civil liberties. End it, and what would they use in it's place?

  4. "One of the saddest components of the whole sordid mess is that we (the US) are supplying most of the arms and ammunition that are being used. Our inability to manage firearms in anything approaching a responsible fashion is having horrible repercussions in Northern Mexico."

    Dennis, you're confusing gun controller propaganda with facts. The legal gun market in the US is not supplying Mexican drug cartels with full auto firearms that aren't legally available to Americans. The majority of the traceable firearms they have are traced to the US, but most of those firearms aren't traceable. Arms from the US are a majority of a small sub-set of the arms confiscated.

    The main arms supplier to the Mexican cartels appears to be the Mexican army. I would imagine that's where they're getting most of their ammo, as well.

  5. …the public impulse is to blame President Calderon and his administration for failing to suppress the bandits, rather than the bandits themselves.

    Well, there are two publics: one that enjoys little narco violence and relatively competent law enforcement, and the other that doesn't. I don't get the impression that there's a lack of public ill sentiment towards the cartels, but the latter group knows the police cannot protect citizens who organize or even speak out against the cartels. The former probably feels Calderon badly underestimated what engaging and escalating the war would require and cause; the Taliban's actions weren't Bush's fault, but his administration is certainly responsible for the choice to engage it as we did.

  6. yoyo for the win. Learned helplessness is really an unattractive trait in a politician.

  7. And, of course, it does make a dandy excuse to abolish civil liberties. End it, and what would they use in it’s place?

    Well, of course, there's always the Global War on Terror.

  8. For better or worse, sensible people have been close to panic for quite a while now. Whether it’s a good thing that the US takes notice depends on whether it has the capacity to respond constructively.

    All things considered, what’s interesting is how popular Calderón remains. He won in 2006 w/ not much more than a third of the vote, officially, & even that was disputed. (He did better in US elite opinion.) Since then there’s been the drug war & a severe recession. Steve Clay is right: The public doesn’t not blame the cartels for the violence, but, not entirely wrongly, it also blames Calderón for grossly underestimating how much of it he was unleashing. The violence also draws attention to his disappointing performance on justice system reform (although it’s unclear how much difference that would would make now). It’s gradually destroying the traditional northern centers of Mexican capitalism. With only two years left in the sexenio, people are not so much blaming Calderón as beginning to look past him.

    In general, if not in the details, Bellmore has half a point about guns. The flow of US weapons is large & does arm the low-level gangs on the cartels’ periphery, which do their bidding in the colonias. They do kill a staggering number of people. (The heavy weapons of the cartels’ core armed elements aren’t stolen from the Army; they’re of different kinds.) But if the flow of US guns were somehow completely stopped, the cartels have the money & wit to find other sources. These also have to be disrupted.

    Legalization of marijuana (the outer limit of the possible) could reduce the cartels’ income, but it’s a bit late to hope it would make them disappear. They have enormous accumulated wealth & diversified sources of income & will be w/ us in one form or another for decades. (The US, w/ more robust state structures, didn’t finally reduce its own Prohibition-era organized crime groups until, what, 30 or 40 years after Prohibition ended.)

    A lot turns on US behavior. The crisis has pushed elite opinion here, long strongly pro-PAN, even further in that direction. Some people really do think popular disaffection w/ Calderón is the thing that will deliver the county to the devil. If the PRI or PRD win in 2012, there may be complications in state relations. (Visualize Pres. López Obrador & Pres. Palin.) The crisis has also inflamed non-elite US opinion. The longer its drags on, the greater the likelihood demagogues will exploit popular anti-Mexicanism w/ really destructive effects here & there. (Early this year there was an article in La Jornada to the effect that there were discussions in Los Pinos in late 2006, at the outset of the offensive, of whether the attendant violence would turn the US against the country. There still are strong memories of the US response to the Revolution.)

  9. K, this analysis isn't exactly from a raving pro-gunner, and concludes that the percentage of guns coming from the US might be in the range of 33-50%. So, with a minimum of half of the guns coming from other countries, (And almost all of the full auto arms, mind you.) there's little case to be made that cracking down on Americans' 2nd amendment rights would do more than mildly inconvenience the cartels, while marginally effecting our balance of trade. They're not getting anything from us they can't get elsewhere.

  10. I suppose that Obama could use his superpowers to make things shine. That appears to be the online "progressive" answer, to the extent that I can find one. A lot of us are developing intense contempt for the (group)thought and magical thinking which appears to dominate the online left-wing community.

  11. No one thinks Obama has superpowers. And he has done some good things, maybe more than anyone in history if we can believe his apologists. But given US History (and this has to be your point, Mark) that reminds me of Bill Buckley's response to Michael Harrington being introduced as America's foremost Socialist: That's the equivalent of being the tallest building in Topeka, Kansas. But, and this is where we part ways, alas: He has not actually, you know, publicly fought for much of what he promised during his textbook campaign…I have no doubt that I'll always vote for the Democrat on the ballot, but all those people my 23-year-old daughter registered to vote in 2008? Not so much. She has been "raised right" so I'm not worried about her. But if you piss on the base that elected you in some ridiculous effort at "bipartisanship" in a unipolar world the consequences will not be good. As far as the structural "weakness" of the Presidency, please. Obama has had an unprecedented majority in Congress (at least in the living memory of most voters). He has done very little of real substance with this advantage, primarily because he seems not to realize he is POTUS, unless it is to throw his weight around for a Blanche Lincoln, paving the way for her defeat in November (Yeah, I know. Halter would probably have lost, but had he won he would have been a much more reliable supporter of the President.) Call me a magical thinker if you want to. But we are near contemporaries and I am simply fed up with feckless Democrats. The stakes are too high, and if a Democratic President elected in what amounts to a landslide cannot get anything done there seems to be no real reason to give a flyin' flip. When I send a grant application to NIH, NSF, AHA, or ACS and the reviewers come back saying that the proposed work is "incremental" I have wasted my time. Whether that is objectively true or not makes no difference (and all science is "incremental" by the way, except perhaps for the discovery of quantum mechanics 100 years ago and maybe the identification of the double helical structure of DNA, Thomas Kuhn notwithstanding). When we have a watershed electoral result that leads to nothing but more-of-the-same incrementalism, we have also wasted our time, and money, whether that is objectively true or not. It is curious that the President fails to understand this.

  12. I have to agree with a lot of what KLG is saying. Whatever Obama can or can't accomplish legislatively, how about some spirit, some willingness to go after those obstructing the agenda. WTF is Axelrod doing giving up on jobs legislation because "there's no appetite on Capitol Hill?" Why isn't the White House pointing out, very loudly, that GOP obstruction, and reflexive desire to cut millionaires' taxes, is stopping the extension of unemployment benefits?

    Can we at least pretend to fight?

    It's not a question of magical powers, Marc, but of public impressions and politics. Even if Obama couldn't get any more done than he has, and I agree he's done a lot, he is conceding way too much of the public debate to the GOP. That's going to do a lot of real damage.

  13. Obama is faulted from the left not so much for failing, as for choosing to fail in ways that don't move the ball our direction. He'd get tremendous credit for making the good fight and falling short if he placed the blame better. Surrendering in advance because "they'll filibuster" makes for pretty poor political drama.

  14. I don't think people take seriously enough the structural challenges Obama faces. The interests who oppose everything he campaigned for are vast, and often operating behind the scenes, purse-strings in hand.

    On illegal drugs, I think it comes down to moral paralysis. Just like sex education, no matter how much evidence you show people that it works better than abstinence only, they'll never be able to get over the principle that kids having sex is always bad. Or needle exchanges. Compromise demands a level of higher order thinking that many people aren't able to allow themselves. Unfortunately it is what democracy is all about.

  15. It sounds like most people would like to talk themselves into believing that there's nothing we can do. How convenient.

    The fact that we don't know for sure whether we are supplying all the copkiller guns to Mexico, or just a large chunk of them, is a poor excuse for *any* of them getting sold to be used across the border (though I'm also not sure why Americans need them but that's for another day).

    How do those sellers sleep at night? I bet with a gun right there, because they know exactly what dynamic they are feeding, and it probably will come and bite them in the behind someday. There ought to be some things people won't do for money. One might think.

    And it in no way burdens a 2nd Amendment right to self-protection to try to prevent this. I just find so much of the NRA talk to be utter nonsense. It's soooo terrible to have to fill out a form, or wait while the government looks you up to see if you're crazy. (For the record: I don't care if responsible people have rifles. At least that way, if they crack up, I'll be able to see them coming and I'll have a chance to run away.) There must be a way to go after the people who re-sell these things. It is just a question of wanting to do it.

    Oh yeah, and the idea that "organized crime is here to stay?" Well, sure, if we don't do anything about it!! I have never heard a good argument against legalization. I care a lot more about the regular people who have to live in bad neighborhoods because they're poor than I do about addicts. (I care about the addicts too, just not as much. So sue me.) Would there be a few more users? Big deal. We could, I don't know, treat them.

  16. Eli,

    I don’t think people take seriously enough the structural challenges Obama faces.

    Read Seth's comment right above yours. No matter how strong the challenges he faces, pre-emptive surrender isn't going to get us anywhere.

  17. "The fact that we don’t know for sure whether we are supplying all the copkiller guns to Mexico,"

    We know damned well we aren't supplying all of them, or even close to it. It's questionable if we're even supplying half.

    "or just a large chunk of them, is a poor excuse for *any* of them getting sold to be used across the border (though I’m also not sure why Americans need them but that’s for another day)."

    That's kind of the point, it can't be left for another day. To the extent that we are supplying some of the Mexican drug cartels' arms, it's consequence of a black market which is secondary to a legal market in a good people have a constitutional right to. You simply can not analyze the situation as though a civil liberty were not directly involved.

  18. You don’t leave even 36% percent of a problem like this, much less half or 90%, on the table. (The disputed numbers are from the first years of the insurgency. There’s little reason to think the criminal groups have decreased their reliance on smuggled US guns as the violence has increased. Mérida money has been set aside to increase the percentage of seized guns submitted for tracing.) It’s one thing to say stopping the flow of US guns isn’t a panacea & quite another to refuse to accept that it’s a necessary part of any solution.

  19. So? Seal the border then. It's not like you can keep guns from being smuggled south while you're making sure people can be smuggled north…

    The idea that cracking down on legal sales of guns in the US is a reasonable way to deal with Mexican drug cartels is one that only seems reasonable to people who assign an essentially zero, or even negative, cost to infringements of this fundamental civil liberty. It's not an accident that the only people talking about it are folks who already were hostile to the right in question, it's just an excuse to attack the 2nd amendment.

    You really want to do something about the Mexican drug cartels, legalize drugs. It's really the only solution.

  20. Brett, I don't think there is a Constitutional right to own a gun that can shoot through a building. There! You caught me out.

    But even if I did, I still don't see why it would be unconstitutional to tell Americans they can't re-sell their guns. Why is that wrong? Do you also claim a Constitutional right to re-sell these guns to … well, the guy on your block who beats his wife? Some out-of-town person with cash? Seriously, where, *for you*, does this right end?

  21. Oh, and before we waste time going down that road, sure, if there were ever a real need for an American to use a "building-buster" to defend legitimate rights, in that (purely hypothetical) situation, I would think it were okay to own one.

    But come on — that's *never* going to happen.

    No one needs that gun.

  22. "Brett, I don’t think there is a Constitutional right to own a gun that can shoot through a building. There! You caught me out. "

    And I don't think there's an enumerated power to ban it. There, you caught ME out.

    Seriously, though the Heller Court revised that history away, the 2nd amendment was adopted to guarantee a right to, as Tenche Coxe put it, "Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier". It facilitates a well regulated militia by ensuring a populace owning, and practiced with, the arms of the soldier, not the hunter. So that a militia can be raised from that population.

    So, if the federal government thinks it's soldiers should have guns that can shoot through a building, (It does, and they originated among target shooters, and only afterwards were adopted by the military.) then Americans have a right to own them. If the government doesn't want us to have a Second amendment right to an arm, it shouldn't hand them out to it's own employees.

    Could the government ban reselling printing presses? At some point one must face the fact that restrictions on commerce related to a civil liberty are restrictions on the civil liberty itself.

    And, you know, we eventually recognized that the 14th amendment didn't permit "separate but equal", because separate never was going to be equal. It was never going to be equal, because the people who wanted separate didn't WANT equal.

    I hope some day the courts will recognize that 'reasonable regulation' of guns is the same sort of thing. The only people pushing for it are the people who don't want reasonable. So it's never going to be reasonable in practice.

  23. But gun owners are not in a militia. If we were talking about a well-regulated militia, that would be an entirely different argument, wouldn't it? The government — our *elected* government — has specifically delegated powers sufficient to *regulate* gun ownership (and I agree it should be reasonable). You've got your promotion of general welfare and interstate commerce, there's two right there. And I can't even find my little Constitution booklet right now. By your argument, you have a right to own a nuke. I don't think so. (I once dated a real live NRA member, and even he thought that was going too far.) (And if you were a textualist/originalist nut, wouldn't your right pertain to a really old musket?)

    This is getting to be a stupid argument. All our rights are limited in some way. Are you as radical about all the other rights? For example, you must not believe in libel law, right? People can tell any kind of lie they want, and put it in the paper, because of the right to free speech? Or, are you only this way about guns?

    Why don't you tell me a specific gun regulation that you think actually burdens a gun owner, to anywhere near the burden of, say, having to watch your fetus on ultrasound before having a Constitutionally protected outpatient medical procedure? Got any? Let's see — you might have to wait a few days to get the gun, you might have to, I don't know, give your real name. (I mean, if you really need to shoot someone on such short notice — but you somehow have the time to go gun shopping? Heck, that's just poor planning.)

    Hmm… what else? Nothing, by the way, compared to driving a CAR, but oh well. And that's not even a right. I know it's an emotional issue for y'all. But aren't these restrictions – so heavy though they are — easily avoided by going to a gun show?

    And what gets me is, I am *not* trying to take away any reasonably legal, responsible person's guns. I know you don't believe me but it's true. As long as none of my relatives are visiting homes where they're lying around, I never give this a thought. I probably wouldn't even think to ask about it ahead of time, though I probably should.

    I can't believe I let myself get sucked into another argument with a libertarian. I am even bored myself over here.

    But seriously, if you can tell me a gun regulation that actually *is* unreasonable — voted on by a jury of our peers here — I will send you a Starbucks card for a mocha on me. Just to show no hard feelings.

    I will admit this though, you got me thinking about the militia thing. How, under your scenario, could my government protect me from a "bad" militia, if they are allowed to have all the same weapons?

  24. Me again — I just wanted to say I hope I didn't sound too shrew-ish! I am not saying I find libertarians boring on a personal level. Not at all! I find you all *fascinating.*

    It is just that the argument can get stuck, which is my fault too of course. That's why I try, when my head isn't exploding, to stick to specific things, where we might make some real progress. And my head was kind of rotating a bit in that last post there. Apologies!

  25. Mark: ".. let me apologize in advance to any Mexican drug lord who resents comparison …"

    Can dissed drug lords afford to accept apologies?

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