War on Drugs

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Len Bias was the second first-round draft pick in the NBA in 1986. He was selected by the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics, one of the best teams of the era, slated perhaps to be the second-best basketball dynasty of all time (after the 1960s Celtics), especially with the addition of Bias.

He overdosed on crack cocaine two days later.

Note that in the NBA, you don't draft a lot of players, or carry many on your team. Only five play at a time, and maybe 10 or more play in a given game. And there's no draft do-overs. This was a major investment, and it was gone. The Celtics never recovered from that, and I thought of the Celtics' decline as the major lasting effect of Bias' death.

But I was only 13 at the time. I didn't know much of politics, and I had no idea what was going on in Congress: the initiation of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which is responsible for most of the War on Drugs abuses we see today: disproportionate penalties for certain drugs and offenders, expanded police authority, and so on.

I mention this for two reasons. First, because I think it's an interesting story, about how laws (usually bad ones) can come about because of societal events. Second, because people love to blame the Republicans for our bad drug laws, and it's just not true: this was a Democrat bill, passed through dozens of Democrat-controlled committees (although the GOP voted for it too: only 18 Congresscritters voted against it in both houses combined, and it had over 300 cosponsors, including a bunch of Republicans). Both sides are to blame, but it's the civil libertarians -- both conservatives and liberals -- that have consistently tried to hold the line (recall that William F. Buckley has been against thw War on Drugs since the 70s).

This is one of those issues like eminent domain, where it's the big-government people of both parties who are in favor of more government power, and it's the rest of the country that wants an end to it. slashdot.org

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"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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