March 23, 2000
gasoline prices have gotten high enough that some people will be
interested in a somewhat impish (and certainly impolitic) but quite
possibly an effective way to get at the root of the problem. Stick
with me a moment.
problem, from the perspective of American consumers, is that the
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the international
oil cartel, has been successful in carrying out its conspiracy against
consumers. Its members who faced historically low oil prices a year
ago have agreed to hold down production, thereby restricting supplies
and raising prices from about $10 a barrel a year ago to $30 a barrel
cartel agreements break down eventually because one or more members
will "cheat" by selling outside official channels. Such
"cheating," of course, should be encouraged, but governments
canít or wonít encourage it or acknowledge it indeed, they might
prosecute people they found doing it. OPEC consists of governments
rather than private companies, so it has been more successful than
most cartels at keeping members in line and at being treated with
respect rather than contempt and anger by other governments and
SADDAM BUST OPEC?
how might the cartel be undermined? How about Iraq? Why not implicitly
assign the brutal Saddam Hussein the task of breaking down OPEC?
It could be done rather simply by lifting U.S. and U.N. embargoes
on oil exports (and other goods) from Iraq.
a good argument for doing that anyway. Economic sanctions, in place
since the Gulf War in 1991, have not resulted in Saddamís ouster
from power; if anything they have strengthened his grip. But the
sanctions have led to immense suffering and thousands of unnecessary
deaths among the Iraqi people, who suffer already from Saddamís
and strategic arguments havenít made much headway against these
cruel and ineffective sanctions. Whether sanctions work or not,
it seems both satisfyingly tough and morally high-minded to keep
them in place as a gesture of disapproval.
gasoline prices keep rising through the summer, however, perhaps
a few more Americans might think about reconsidering.
VOTE IN CONGRESS
House has postponed the vote on President Zipperís $1.7 billion
military aid to Colombia proposal for this week and might end up
voting next week. I hopeóand the people I talk to when I make my
telephone rounds in Washington say there might be a little something
to itó that postponement means the War Party doesnít quite have
all its ducks lined up.
war proponents have packaged the Colombian aid into a $9 billion
grab-bag of humanitarian-sounding spending schemes, from hurricane
relief, humanitarian assistance for Kosovo and E. Timor and beefing
up embassy security. That always makes it harder for the Honorables
to pull objectionable items out of the package or to vote against
it on final passage.
delays have supposedly been because of minor disagreements and nit-picking
over other spending in the package. But it still seems to me that
the longer a vote is delayed the better the chances (even though
they seem awfully slim at this juncture) that noticeable public
opposition to using the War on Drugs as a pretext to get the United
States involved in Colombiaís civil war, which has been going on
for 40 years could be organized and made known to Congress. Even
if the opposition isnít massive enough to deter approval of the
package, however, it should be expressed.
written before and others are writing about the foolishness of the
US getting into a conflict with no settled objectives and no exit
strategy. Iíd like to concentrate this week on the idea of interdiction
cutting off supplies at the source or at the border as an effective
way to reduce drug trafficking.
not effective. Numerous interdiction programs have been tried in
the last 35 years or so, and none has succeeded. Indeed, more often
than not they increase supplies by spurring new source countries,
new trafficking routes and even new drugs. Thanks to Kevin Zeese
of Common Sense for Drug Policy for reminding me of some of the
was a terrific movie, but a failed public policy in the 1960s. US
officials thought that by destroying the Turkey-French-U.S. supply
route they would destroy the heroin market. They made some impressive
busts. In response, however, the heroin market expanded to sources
in Mexico and Asia.
Mexican and Southeast Asian markets are still very active. And after
some modest interruptions, Turkish sources (sometimes going through
Albanian gangsters in Kosovo), along with Eastern European sources,
supply Europe quite nicely with as much heroin as users there want.
Nixon, the first American president to call it a "war"
on drugs, who stepped up enforcement activity markedly in the early
1970s, staked a good deal of his policy plans on this offensive
against Mexico. The idea was to increase searches of vehicles crossing
the border, and at its height in some places one in three vehicles
crossing the Mexican border into the United States was searched.
it work? Not exactly. It did spur an increase in the use of prescription
drug use, and increase that remained in place after the program
was abandoned. Traffickers had some problems at first, but soon
switched to boats and planes, which they then discovered were superior
smuggling tools. The anti-Mexican effort also expanded the Southeast
Asian drug markets, which were flourishing rather nicely thanks
to the Vietnam war.
the intrusive border searches interrupted commerce so seriously
that they simply couldnít be sustained. But before the program was
dropped it had led to bolstering Southeast Asian markets, increased
abuse of prescription drugs and pushing smugglers into establishing
air and sea as well as land routes. Big success.
the mid 1970s the government got the bright idea of spraying marijuana
and poppies in Mexico with the herbicide paraquat, which kills or
damages some plants and makes a certain percentage of the users
of the plants that arenít killed seriously ill. The idea was to
discourage users, even if Mexican growing places werenít totally
result, in a couple of years, was the establishment of extensive
growing sites within the United States (mostly in national forests,
which couldnít be seized from property owners and from which growers
could flee easily if enforcement officers happened by). Domestic
growing now furnishes an estimated 25 percent of the marijuana consumed
in the United States.
paraquat program also spurred some to move growing sites to Colombia.
That market, as we are all too piquantly aware, eventually evolved
to include cocaine and heroin.