Friday, April 17, 2015

Keep MinnesotaCare: Here's Why

I learned today from the Pioneer Press that Minnesota is unique within the national rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Where most states have a bunch of people who receive Medicaid (called Medical Assistance in Minnesota) and another bunch who can purchase private plans through an exchange (with tax credits if their incomes are below a certain level), Minnesota has a group of people in between.

They're covered by MinnesotaCare, which was started back in the 1990s as the beginning of universal health care in our state. Unfortunately, the forward movement toward full coverage stalled out, but at least we have the beginning of it.

Funded by a tax on health services, it covers people who generally have jobs, but make only between 138 and 200 percent of the poverty level. (That's $16,242.60 to $23,540 for an individual or $33,465 to $48,500 for a family of four -- your typical minimum- or close-to-minimum-wage worker.) When the program started, these were the people who made too much for Medical Assistance, but not enough to afford to pay for insurance without a subsidy, and their employers didn't provide coverage either.

MinnesotaCare has been a tremendous success. It covers 100,000 people at a cost of just over $5,000 each -- a lot less than my private insurance, let me tell you. And the state only pays half of that; the feds pick up the rest, though that subsidy will decrease in the future. (Medical Assistance has a significantly higher cost per person, since it covers many people over 60 and who have disabilities.)

Now our Republican-led House of Representatives wants to kill MinnesotaCare and dump those 100,000 people onto our state exchange. It seems maybe reasonable if you don't think about it too hard... If they can get coverage with tax credits that work out to a net amount of payment similar to their MinnesotaCare premiums, why not?

I'll tell you why not: First, there's no guarantee that the amount they have to pay for premiums (after their credits) will be as low as their current MinnesotaCare premiums, which range from only $15 to $50 a month (that range is based on income).

Second, and probably most important, their coverage under MinnesotaCare covers 98 percent of their health care costs, while the plans under MNSure cover at most 90 percent (for the platinum level). The most popular plan, silver, covers only 70 percent. Where are these folks with their minimum-wage incomes supposed to come up with the difference? If you break your ankle like I did, for instance, you end up paying a whole lot of money out of pocket before you hit your deductible. Under MinnesotaCare, you don't.

So in a state where we have a significant budget surplus, the Republicans are using their new majority to immediately stick it to the working poor in a really obvious and outrageous way. It may not be quite as bad as Kansas and Missouri's changes to their SNAP and TANF rules, but it's bad.

MinnesotaCare should be expanded, in my opinion, not cut back.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

MSP: Leveraging to Elevate

MSP Communications, publisher of Mpls.St.Paul magazine and Twin Cities Business, is a Twin Cities institution. Unfortunately, I guess there's not enough profit in publishing your own magazines these days, so they've put themselves out for hire. (To be fair, they probably did this a while ago; I just didn't notice it.)

To promote their services lately, they've been sponsoring Minnesota Public Radio so this morning I learned MSP is "leveraging" their magazine publishing experience to "create multi-channel content designed to elevate brands."

Oh, please.

That bunch of gobbledegook means they do something I don't want to know about called "brand journalism" plus a lot of other jargony types of communication and advertising work. They have a person whose title is "Director of Analytics and Insights," for goodness sake. As one page on their website informs the reader, "ROI is in our DNA."

And it's snarky to note, but I couldn't help noticing that the copyright notice in the footer of their website says 2014.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cruel and Unusual on the Nightly Show

Credentials first: I loved Larry Wilmore's appearances on the Daily Show as Senior Black Correspondent. From those, I learned his wit was of the stiletto variety, or maybe even the needle type -- slipping in sharp points about race that make white people uncomfortable while raising consciousness. And making you laugh, too. Pretty hard to do.

So I was very happy to hear he would get Colbert's time slot, and for the most part, the Nightly Show has been good enough that I make time to watch it in real time. The format is usually this:

  • Larry spends the first segment framing an issue humorously;
  • The second segment is a panel of three or four guests discussing and joking about the issue;
  • The third segment is Larry quizzing the panel in some way, most often using a "Keep It 100" question, where they must give a true answer to some silly but difficult scenario. If they don't seem honest, they're judged to be worthy only of "weak tea" and handed some tea bags.
I'm starting to get a little tired of the panel format, especially because it tends to weight toward comedians who don't always have very intelligent things to say. Now that they've cut the panels back from four guests to three, the comedians are even more dominant. Despite this, there have been some excellent shows.

There have been two panels that I couldn't stand, though. The first was about vaccines, where one of the panelists was a spewer of misinformation, and the medical doctor chosen to represent the science-based side wasn't up to the task of challenging her. In my opinion, it is irresponsible to give deluded people a national megaphone.

The second panel I couldn't stand was last night. The topic was the death penalty, especially as possibly applied in the case of the now-convicted Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. During the first segment, Larry came out as favoring the death penalty for Tsarnaev, despite acknowledging that capital punishment is often applied in biased ways generally.

The panel included two male comedians and Alex Wagner, an MSNBC host/journalist. After Larry reiterated his belief that Tsarnaev deserved the death penalty, the first comedian said he disagreed. He opined that Tsarnaev should get life in prison, plus a sex change, and then should be left to be raped by the other inmates.

Wagner spoke next and expressed the arguments I would want made against the death penalty. She did it well, I thought, and she got the only major applause from the audience that I noticed.

The second comedian then said he thought Tsarnaev should be killed because even 23 hours in solitary confinement will let him watch cable t.v. and jerk off.

At which point the first comedian reiterated his claim that death was too good for him, that it would be a worse punishment to arrange for Tsarnaev's perpetual rape.

Then I turned the television off.

I heard later that Wagner left the panel after that segment, rather than remain for the final round. I would love to hear her thoughts on the nightmare this must have been to sit through.

The casual use of rape as a punishment is reprehensible in a country where more men are raped in prison annually than the (estimated) number of women raped in regular life. That is not to say that raping women is the way it "should" be -- of course not -- but prison rape is not a joke, it is a human problem, and a problem of giant proportion in the U.S. As Bryan Stevenson describes in his book Just Mercy, young inmates in particular are repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted.

And spinning the idea that the state could force a person to have a "sex change operation" tops even that. This comedian's idea of punishing a man is to turn him (against his will) into a woman so that he can be raped properly. I was aghast at the thought, and that it was presented on television without challenge is beyond belief.

I see no indication from social media today that anyone at the Nightly Show regrets a thing about the content of last night's show. All I can do is shake my head, and write this.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Eula Biss's Book, On Immunity

Back when the California and Illinois measles outbreaks were happening, I read Eula Biss's short book On Immunity, and recommend it highly. It's amazing how the topic has faded with the churning news cycle, but this enduring problem never really goes away, unfortunately.

Biss raises many thought-provoking points, such as the implications of thinking some types of people are at higher risk than you and your child, or that resistance to vaccination is based in the innate human fear of contamination. And she frequently cites the work of the feminist medical anthropologist Emily Martin, whose earlier book The Woman in the Body influenced me as a child-bearing person back in the early 1990s. So big points from me for that.

My favorite part of the book, though, was her analysis of Dr. Bob Sears, who is known for encouraging his patients and readers to delay vaccines.  Sears -- son of the popular pediatrician William Sears, author of The Baby Book -- has used his family brand name to make a bunch of money with his own books and private practice.

In his Vaccine Book, the junior Sears recommends a selective vaccine schedule, which leaves kids unprotected for polio, measles,  mumps, rubella, and hepatitis B. If that's too out there for the reader/parent, he has an additional recommended schedule, which includes all of those but spreads them over eight years instead of the standard two years. He calls the latter the "best of both worlds."

But delaying vaccinations for six years doesn't protect kids during those six years, obviously, so I'm not sure how that's "best." On the hep B vaccine particularly, Sears has written, "This is an important vaccine from a public health standpoint, but it's not as critical from an individual point of view."

Which makes no sense at all, especially coming from a person who has a medical degree. As Biss puts it, "Public health, Dr. Bob suggests, is not our health" (page 109). It's the health of one of those others out there: probably someone who's poor, whom "we" (who can afford to pay Dr. Bob's bills) don't have to care about.

Sears even says as much in his book, which has a section called "Is it your social responsibility to vaccinate your kids?" His answer: "Can we fault parents for putting their own child's health ahead of that of the kids around him?" He goes on to encourage parents to keep their fears of the MMR vaccine to themselves, because if too many people avoid the vaccine, it will affect your own kid.

Wow, those are some bad ethics.

As for the "too many, too soon" school of thought among anti-vaxxers, including Sears, Biss says:
The small pox vaccine my father received contained far more immunizing proteins...than any of the vaccines we use today.... In that sense, a single dose of the smallpox vaccine our parents received presented a greater challenge to the immune system than the total challenge presented by all the twenty-six immunizations for fourteen diseases we now give our children over the course of two years (pages 110-111).
The idea that vaccines are a form of contamination relates closely to the idea that it's not germs that make us sick, but toxins. She writes,
In this context, fear of toxicity strikes me as an old anxiety with a new name. Where the word filth once suggested, with its moralist air, the evils of the flesh, the word toxic now condemns the chemical evils of our industrial world. This is not to say that concerns over environmental pollution are not justified -- like filth theory, toxicity theory is anchored in legitimate dangers -- but that the way we think about toxicity bears some resemblance to the way we once thought about filth. Both theories allow their subscribers to maintain a sense of control over their own health by pursuing personal purity. For the filth theorist, this meant a retreat into the home, where heavy curtains and shutters might seal out the smell of the poor and their problems. Our version of this shuttering is now achieved through the purchase of purified water, air purifiers, and food produced with the promise of purity (page 75).
But we are all, as Biss notes, already polluted. Our bodies are colonized by bacteria that we need to function -- in the gut, on the skin -- and we are full of chemicals, whether naturally occurring or from our environment at birth. There is no purity. We have to get over these aversions that arise from our monkey brains and use the best health practices found through the scientific method.

And we need to recognize that we each are part of a community of immunity, not free-riders taking advantage of the group.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Is Jeb Bush Coy?

From today's Star Tribune, the first of what I'm sure will be many mildly sexist headlines about Hillary Clinton:

Yes, I can imagine the word "coy" being used for a male candidate who waited a long time to declare. But it's a gendered word; one of its synonyms is "coquettish," after all. Why not avoid it?

It could be worse, though. I suppose it could have said, "No longer coy, Clinton is asking for it."

Sunday, April 12, 2015


I just saw these two tweets next to each other on Twitter:

They showed up together in the midst of an outrage flood over the most recently discussed killing of a black man by authorities (Eric Harris, unarmed and shot with a gun by a cop who meant to use a taser...another cop later said "f*#k your breath" when Harris said he couldn't breathe as he was dying) and people waiting for Hillary Clinton's announcement.

What a strange world.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to Make a Book Look Like Something Teens Wouldn't Want to Read

I don't pay much attention to young adult book covers these days. I know what I like (such as the covers of Rainbow Rowell's books), and on average, my sense is that covers are more engaging than they used to be, with a higher average level of aesthetics.

These are a few recent covers discussed on a blog about 2015 covers:

Clearly, there are a lot of hand-drawn letters, bright colors, and strong graphic shapes. This is just a small sample, and they don't all have these elements, but I think we can agree they don't look anything like this cover from a new Avi book that I saw yesterday on the shelf at Common Good Books in St. Paul:

The art style could maybe be okay for a contemporary cover, but the white Brush Script type and the heavy sans serif with its dark to light orange gradation both scream their allegiance to another decade, or maybe a designer who's not paying attention. Is it supposed to look retro? If so, is it an era that appeals to young people? I don't think so.

I know I am over-sensitive to type, but I think you don't have to know the names of the fonts to realize this type is completely wrong on a cover meant for young people.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dandelion Honey Poster

I love everything about this poster: the event it's for, how it looks, and the sponsors:

The look is clearly a reference to A.M. Cassandre, without copying any single one of his works. The color is perfect, and best of all is the way the bees are arranged as parts of a dandelion seed head, being blown off into the wind by the stylized—but clearly female—chef.

The only thing wrong with this artwork is that I can't figure out who made it on the Beez Kneez site or in the Seward Co-op newsletter where I originally saw it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Please Don't Shoot Me

Why isn't this the biggest story in the country? From the Los Angeles Times:

Nearly 9% of Americans are angry, impulsive—and have a gun, study says

Tread lightly, Americans: Nearly 9% of people in the United States have outbursts of anger, break or smash things, or get into physical fights -- and have access to a firearm, a new study says. What's more, 1.5% of people who have these anger issues carry their guns outside the home.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, suggest that measures to reduce gun injuries and deaths should focus less on diagnosed mental illness and more on a history of violent behavior.

The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand. That's because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.

In 2012, 11,622 people in the United States were killed by a firearm discharged during an intentional act of violence, and an additional 57,077 were injured. Although mass shootings have focused lawmakers' attention on the need to keep guns out of the hands of those with a serious mental illness, the new study implies that doing so would make only a small dent in this tally of morbidity and mortality.

Researchers from Duke, Harvard and Columbia Universities analyzed data gleaned from 5,563 face-to-face interviews conducted as part of a nationwide survey of mental disorders back in the early 2000s. The study authors say they are the first to estimate the overlap between gun access and a history of angry, impulsive behavior—with or without a diagnosable mental illness.

Fewer than one in 10 of those angry people with access to guns had ever been admitted to a hospital for a psychiatric or substance abuse problem, the study found.

Their behavioral history might suggest a propensity for violence, according to the study. But nothing in their medical histories would bar them from legally purchasing guns under existing mental health related restrictions.
 Emphasis added throughout.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Today I've got two objects I saw in the world of retail -- one beautiful, the other ridiculous.

I saw this cover in a used bookstore, and loved the use of negative space, especially the H and O. I wish I'd noted the publication date; some time around 1965, I'd guess.

The subtlety of the book cover is quite a contrast with this current bit of work. Hooter Hiders -- give me a break. How many women think of their breasts as hooters? Nursing covers may be wanted by some women, but the name is stupid and insulting. And the company name Bébé au Lait isn't so great, either -- it's more a mixed metaphor than a clever quip. (The product, according to the Guardian, "is a giant tent with a rigid neckline, allowing you to look down at your baby while wearing the maternal equivalent of clown trousers.")

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tabs, Post-Travel

For me, traveling is highly correlated with an increasing number of tabs left open in my browser. Time to clear out a few.

From the New York Times magazine: The Brain's Empathy Gap. What's particularly cool about this article on implicit bias is that it mostly focuses on anti-Roma oppression in Hungary, rather than our own national anti-black bias. Which made me uncomfortable... a good feeling. The researcher at the core of the story is trying to figure out why empathy only goes so far, and can even work against seeing the "other" as fully human. One clue: if you've had an experience of your own where you were treated unfairly solely because of what you are, you may be able to have true empathy for oppressed others:

Bruneau [the researcher]....asked a question: What made her, an educated white woman, take up the Roma cause? This gave Magyar pause. After a brief silence, she explained that she grew up in a city close to the Austrian border and that she always felt like an outsider when her family would cross over to go shopping. Daroczi couldn’t help interjecting; after the fall of communism, he said, Hungarians crossed the border in droves, mostly to purchase basic goods. “It was written in Hungarian on the walls of the shops, ‘Hungarians: don’t steal!’ ” he said.

“It felt shameful,” Magyar added, nodding. “I think that really affected me.” Bruneau lit up at the anecdote; it was very similar to the stories he’d collected from other non-Roma activists. He told Magyar and Daroczi about the brain scans of the Israeli peace activists — the blue dots in a sea of red — and about his desire to somehow array the power of their experiences toward intervention efforts.
Here's a tab I should have mentioned in my earlier post about W. Kamau Bell and his young daughter's future preschool options: Why preschool shouldn't be like school (from Slate). It reports two unrelated experiments where 4-year-olds were either directly taught about how a toy worked or mostly left to figure it out for themselves. In both cases, the directly taught children explored the toy less and found out less about how it worked.

Another article to put into the "why do drivers think bicyclists are all scofflaws" folder: Let's talk seriously about why cyclists break traffic laws (from the Washington Post). "Most of us, whatever mode we travel, break the law at some point..., whether we're driving five miles over the speed limit, or crossing the street against the crosswalk. And yet, we tend not to treat lead-footed drivers with the same disapproval as cyclists who ride through stop signs, even though the former behavior is potentially more publicly harmful than the latter."
"You’re putting people on bikes in transportation systems that are entirely built for cars. If that seems to be one of the reasons why people are behaving this way, that would lend an argument to better bike infrastructure," Marshall says. ....I'll admit in the back of my own mind that I also sometimes disregard traffic laws not for my personal safety, but because I know that traffic laws, like road infrastructure, weren't created with cyclists in mind. And I say this as a car-owning cyclist, not a culture warrior: It seems somehow unjust — for reasons that Marshall's research may better articulate than me — to expect cyclists to follow all the rules of cars (no turn on red) while denying cyclists the same courtesies (like the right to occupy a full lane).
Self-cleaning solar panels are on the horizon. Good for keeping off the dust of desert areas, for sure... I wonder what happens with snow?

Single parent or poverty? Study looks at which affects good parenting most. The Right would argue that kids need two parents, since poverty is correlated with single-parenthood. Matt Bruenig would argue that single parents (and all parents) need substantial child-based income supports and then they can be good parents.

David Roberts announced on Twitter today that he's jumping journalistic ships from Grist to Vox, starting in about three weeks. Good luck to him. Here's an article of his from back in January called We can solve climate change, but it won’t be cheap or easy. It summarizes an academic article out of MIT on the cost of decarbonizing the economy (50 to 90 percent by mid-century). "In short, if we want a 100 percent renewables world, with no coal, gas, or nuclear, we’ll need to build more power generation capacity, faster, than at any time in history."

Oh, the eternal question, What's worth learning in school?
"Knowledge is for going somewhere," [David] Perkins says, not just for accumulating. But too often, we tend to focus on short-term successes — scoring well on a quiz, acing a spelling test. Unfortunately all of that test knowledge, all of that accumulated knowledge we thought was worth knowing, becomes useless if not used....

Historically, the first 12 or so years of schooling have focused on educating for the known, “the tried and true, the established canon,” he writes. “This made very good sense in the many periods and places where most children’s lives were likely to be more or less like their parents’ lives. However, wagering that tomorrow will be pretty much like yesterday does not seem to be a very good bet today. Perhaps we need a different vision of education, a vision that foregrounds educating for the unknown as much as for the known.”

And to do that, Perkins says we need to rethink what’s worth learning and what’s worth letting go of — in a radical way.

For example, rather than just learning facts about the French Revolution, students should learn about the French Revolution as a way to understand issues like world conflict or poverty or the struggle between church and state. Without those connections, Perkins says he’s not surprised that so many people have trouble naming things they learned early on that still have meaning today or that disengaged students are raising their hands, asking why they need to know something.
One more for the implicit bias pile: Lighter skinned blacks and hispanics are seen as being more intelligent (Pacific Standard magazine). White poll-takers conducting he National Election Study (a face-to-face survey) were themselves surveyed about 223 African Americans or Hispanics they had surveyed.
The interviewers were instructed to list each person's skin tone on a 10-point scale....[and were] asked to gauge each person's "apparent intelligence" on a five-point scale from "very low" to "very high." "Interviewers were not allowed to opt out," Hannon notes. "Thus the question can be seen as tapping into deep prejudices."

The results suggest it did just that.

"African Americans and Latinos deemed to have lighter skin tones were significantly more likely to be seen as intelligent by white interviewers," Hannon reports. Further analysis found the interviewers had a distinct tendency to "look at two identically qualified minorities and assess the lighter skinned one as more intelligent."

"Importantly, the effects of skin tone on intelligence assessment were independent of respondent education level, vocabulary test score, political knowledge assessment, and other demographic factors," he adds.
I highly recommend this American Radio Works documentary on the Perry Preschool experiment. It was this early-1960s research that originally showed providing a quality early-learning experience for kids from poor families paid off for them and society by decreasing later costs (like prison!). The thing that I found most informative was how the teachers ran the school -- it sounds like just the type of free and exploratory setting young kids need. And the teachers also got to know the parents and understand where the kids came from. An exemplar to this day.

Next time you hear that a new technology spells the end of all that civilization holds dear, check out this illustrated timeline of doomsayers since 1494. Printing will make books "too disposable," people reading newspapers will be sitting in "sullen silence," radios and the "incredible rattle and bang of jazz" foretell the death of conversation.

A former Libertarian writes about his trip to Honduras and how he saw what a stateless state looks like. It's not pretty. Everyone with any means has walls and hired guns surrounding them at every moment.
Honduras has problems but people should go visit anyway and soon. The dangers are fleeting, and there are coffee plantations to tour, ruins to see, cigars to smoke and fish to catch. The people need your tourism dollars. As a bonus, it’s important for Americans to see the outcome when the bad ideas of teenage boys and a bad Russian writer are put into practice. Everyone believes in freedom, but it’s an idea both fetishized and unrecognizable when spouted by libertarians. There can be no such thing as freedom, safety or progress of any kind, when an entire society is run for the benefit of a handful of rich assholes and global conglomerates. If you think I’m overstating it, just go to Honduras and see it for yourself.
A brief rumination on why it's easy to hate the poor. Which ties in with the common aversion many middle-class (let alone upper-class) people have to taking the bus:
[T]he hatred of public transportation is intimately tied with the hatred of the poor. Middle-class types who are unfortunate enough to use the bus expose themselves to the talk, the begging, the bad health of the poor. But instead of blaming the society, they blame the form of transportation. The unpleasant practices connected with poverty thus reinforce a generalized sign system that identifies these practices not with social conditions but with individuals. Poverty is identified as a "life choice." The use of food stamps, a character flaw. You notice chicken bones under a bus seat. The hatred grows. 
Poor women don't get pregnant because they don't care as much about preventing it as more-well-off women. They don't have sex outside of marriage anymore than well-off women, either. They just have bad access to effective contraception.

Human composting -- it's the future for our bodies if we want our memorials to be as green as possible. The Urban Death Project -- a somewhat bad name, in my opinion -- recently launched its Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 (it's a bit more than half way to its goal). The project would create a facility that allows for ceremonial space as well as safe composting of bodies, which break down to organic matter in just a few weeks:
The facility is essentially an enclosed building with a three-story “core” filled with organic material and encircled by a sloping walkway. During your funeral service, your body would be shrouded in linen and your friends and family would walk you to the top of the core and lay you within the soil.

“Bodies, our bodies,” Spade says, “will be laid into the ground and covered with wood chips. There would also be some other carbon materials that would help the process work a little more efficiently, like sawdust, which is very high-carbon, and possibly something like alfalfa straw.”
Afterward, family or friends can pick up the compost and use it anywhere you want to grow plants -- in a memorial garden, or just as part of the everyday growing world.

This Sean McElwee story from Salon (“Race is being used to wreck the middle class”: The silent bigotry of America’s poverty politics) compiles a lot of stats on how greater levels of racism (or even just greater racial diversity) correlate with decreased support for social welfare programs. Despite the indisputable fact that less than 5 percent of benefits recipients spend 10 consecutive years in the program (and that almost half of Americans will receive benefits at some point in their lives), "The idea of welfare dependence [was] invented by rich Republicans to gut the social safety net."

There are still lots more tabs... but that's probably enough for today!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chasing the Scream

Journalist Johan Hari knows all the arguments against decriminalizing or legalizing drugs. He even agreed with a lot of them. In his book Chasing the Scream, he thoroughly examines them and comes out on the side of Carl Hart, Bruce Alexander, Portugal, and Uruguay: prohibition doesn't work, addiction is not what we have been told it is, and there is a better way.

So many things to learn! For instance:
  • physical dependency is the least of the problem with drugs like heroin
  • the U.S. drug war's roots in the early 20th century go back not just to racism (Negro cocaine fiends, Mexican reefer madness, Chinese opium dens) but class hatred and fear of contamination and communism
  • the drug war was furthered by criminal elements that wanted drugs to be illegal so they could profit in the underworld economy
  • a famous (infamous) member of Congress was a heroin addict... who ended up getting his drugs supplied by the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics
  • when drugs (or alcohol) are made illegal, the strength of the substances goes up because sellers need more bang for the buck to compensate for the risks. The most popular alcoholic drink was beer before Prohibition, but soon it was whiskey; the legal, low doses of cocaine and opium that were in drinks and nostrums through the 1910s were replaced by heroin and other high-dose drugs after the Narcotics Act of 1914
The obvious solution, it appears to me, is to completely decriminalize drugs and provide prescriptions to addicts (within a universal health care system), in order to undercut the illegal suppliers -- whose businesses are based in violence -- and prevent for-profit corporations from muscling in to promote drugs the way they promote beer. This is being done in Switzerland with great success, and has been tried out in parts of the U.K. as well.

Remember what happened right after the U.S. ended alcohol prohibition? All those Capone-style gang wars went away, and the next wave of real gang problems rose up as the U.S. escalated under the Nixon and Reagan administrations.
Professor Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University has shown that the murder rate has dramatically increased twice in U.S. history -- and both times were during periods when prohibition was dramatically stepped up. The first is from 1920 to 1933... [the] second is from 1970 to 1990, when the prohibition on drugs dramatically escalated... By the mid-1980s, the... right-wing icon Milton Friedman calculated that it caused an additional ten thousand murders a year in the United States. That's the equivalent of more than three 9/11s every single year (page 81).
As police have found, you can't arrest your way out of drug trafficking. Not only does the crime not decrease, "Whenever [the police] force arrested gang members, it appeared to actually cause an increase in violence, especially homicides" (page 91).

Contrast that with the European and American examples where addicts have been provided the drugs they crave through clean clinics. They stop stealing to pay for their habits. They stop dying from disease and overdose, often get jobs and return to their families, and, most amazingly, even gradually stop using as they are no longer treated like pariahs.

One of Hari's key points is that humans generally take pleasure in intoxication, but the roughly 10 percent of people who become habituated to drugs are filling a hole in their lives, often from abuse of one kind or another. His description of Billie Holiday's childhood is a good example. Treating addicts like lepers is the opposite of what we need to do to end their use of drugs, he argues. To top it off, many addicts find some form of community and identity with other drug users, making it even harder to stop.

Chasing the Scream is full of evidence about what does and doesn't work when it comes to drugs. Hari spent time in northern Mexico with people whose families have been destroyed by the cartels, with former dealers and enforcers and cops who've come to believe the drug war must end.
The book is quite an achievement, journalistically. Hari has placed the original recordings from years of interviews online to back up his conclusions.

A lot of it is painful to read, but the hardest chapter of all was the one about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's methods in Arizona. I knew a bit about this; I'd heard he makes inmates wear cartoonish black-and-white striped jumpsuits, eat only baloney sandwiches, and live in tents. Dehumanizing, yes, but I hadn't realized the depths of Apaio's inhumanity and its negative consequences.

Hari spent time with a group of women prisoners serving drug sentences, who work daily in 110° heat on a chain gang. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke go unacknowledged and untreated. They then return to their living quarters, which Arpaio has referred to as his "concentration camp." These are the tents I'd heard about, unheated in winter and uncooled in summer, donated by the military (some from the Korean war). They get two meals of slop a day, "a brownish gloop of unspecified meat that Arpaio boasted to a reporter contained 'rotten' lumps, and costs at most 40 cents a meal" (page 107). As in a Dickensian debtors' prison, you can get better food from people on the outside if you have any people on the outside. During visiting hours, you can't touch anyone --  not even your kids -- and you're handcuffed to a table the whole time.
There is a properly built air-conditioned prison near Tent City, but Joe Arpaio has thrown these prisoners out of it and turned it into an animal shelter. Now dogs and cats relax in cool rooms while addicts ache in the heat and dust storms outside. The animals, he believes, deserve it (page 109).
It gets worse. In an Arizona state prison (not one of Arpaio's), Hari found out about a woman who was literally cooked alive. Imprisoned because she traded sex for meth, she was diagnosed as bipolar and appointed a guardian because she wasn't competent.  But the guards decided her suicide attempt was manipulation rather than a cry for help, so they put her in an outdoor cage in the desert on a 106° day. It was supposed to be used for no more than two hours at a time.

She asked for water, and they mocked her. When she finally collapsed, soiled in her own feces, she died with first-degree burns from the ground beneath her. After the guards called an ambulance, the paramedics were unable to get an accurate temperature because their thermometers only go to 108°.  Even her eyes had dried out.

Many of the guards who put her in the cage and left her there while she was dying are still working as guards today.

This is what happens in our country: in our names, in the name of the drug war. It's time to end it and base public policy on established facts about what works and doesn't work to make drug use even less important than alcohol use today.