Read Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure by Dan Baum Online


For sheer government absurdity, the War on Drugs is hard to beat. After three decades of increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are more easily available, drug potencies are greater, drug killings are more common, and drug barons are richer than ever. The War on Drugs costs Washington more than the Commerce, Interior, and State departments combined - and it's the onFor sheer government absurdity, the War on Drugs is hard to beat. After three decades of increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are more easily available, drug potencies are greater, drug killings are more common, and drug barons are richer than ever. The War on Drugs costs Washington more than the Commerce, Interior, and State departments combined - and it's the one budget item whose growth is never questioned. A strangled court system, exploding prisons, and wasted lives push the cost beyond measure. What began as a flourish of campaign rhetoric in 1968 has grown into a monster. And while nobody claims that the War on Drugs is a success, nobody suggests an alternative. Because to do so, as Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders learned, is political suicide. Dan Baum interviewed more than 175 people - from John Ehrlichman to Janet Reno - to tell the story of how Drug War fever has been escalated; who has benefited along the way; and how the mounting price in dollars, lives, and liberties has been willfully ignored. Smoke and Mirrors takes you right into the offices where each new stage was planned and executed, then takes you to the streets where policies have produced bloody warfare. This is a tale of the nation run amok - in a way the American people are not yet ready to confront....

Title : Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780316084468
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 340 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure Reviews

  • Chad
    2019-03-27 12:53

    High School Book Report for Dr. Welch circa 2001. Dan Baum's Smoke and Mirrors takes a look at America's current policy on narcotics, and the history behind The War on Drugs. Starting with Lyndon Johnson's presidency through the early years of the Clinton administration this book outlines the political pressures that have led to increased drug legislation. When LBJ took office for his first full term in 1963, illegal drugs were a virtually unheard of problem and an issue that was rarely touched upon by the government. Johnson finished his first term out pushing ahead with his "Great Society" programs to end racial inequality. The country was economically sound with a war economy and he enjoyed a high public approval rating. The election 1967 was quickly rolling around and Republicans knew that it would be difficult to find an issue that would give them the upper hand. But three years after the implementation of the "Great society" racial tension was at a high and the public was growing weary of government spending to remedy the problem. Race riots were breaking out and crime was on the rise. Johnson's liberal approach to cutting crime by creating more social programs would no longer satisfy public demands. Finally the Republicans and their candidate for president, Richard Nixon had an issue that they could run with. Nixon linked the issues of crime and illegal drugs in a speech that he gave during his campaign. He said, "Drugs are among the modern curse of the youth, just like the plagues and epidemics of former years and they are decimating a generation of Americans… Half of all the crime in New York is committed by addicts." (Baum, 12) Nixon's platform of Law and Order and personal responsibility won him the White House in 1967. It also led the creation of a hard line drug policy that was later dubbed "The War on Drugs".In addition to increasing federal spending on catching and prosecuting narcotics crimes, Nixon also signed bills into laws, which made it easier to catch these criminals. One such law that is still in effect today is a "no knock" search warrant that allows police to break into houses to search for drugs. From Vietnam to Mexico and even in Washington D.C., The War on Drugs is one that remained at the forefront of Nixon's presidency.Both Ford and Carter took more liberal approaches to drug policy. At the basis for their policies was a concept called "harm reduction". The concept was simple, "Eliminating all drug use is impossible… the proper role of the government is to reduce the harm that drugs do to individuals and society."(Baum, 94) This policy meant that if harsh punishments for marijuana possession did more damage than the drug it self, punishments should be reduced. If more undercover cops made drug dealers more violent authorities should back off. Carter was the last president to conduct a harm reduction policy. He gave way to the more conservative policies of Reagan and Bush.When Reagan took office his first priority was to decrease size of the federal government and its spending in just about every area. That is exactly what he did with the so-called "soft side" of drug abuse enforcement. The soft side of drug enforcement was made up of the federally funded drug treatment programs, which had been established by the previous 4 administrations. At the same time the "hard side" of drug enforcement was increasing. The Coast Guard's funding was increased by 44 percent and the FBI's drug budget was doubled.(Baum, 145) Bush kept up the funding for the hard side of the drug enforcement and went on to pass harsher penalties for narcotics violations. Even as Clinton began campaigning and eventually took the White House, it was apparent that the War on Drugs was far from over.Dan Baum indicates in the beginning of Smoke and Mirrors that it is "a map of how we got to current drug policies, in the hope of suggesting a way back." He believes that the War on Drugs was developed to get Nixon into the White House and not out of a true concern for ending drug abuse. In the year that Nixon was elected more people died falling down the stairs than from illegal drugs.(Baum, 28) Because the War on Drugs never had a sound foundation or real need, it was bound for failure. Not only has the War on Drugs failed to solve the perceived narcotics problem, it has aggravated it. Drugs are more easily available, Drug lords are richer, and all of this comes at the enormous expense of American taxpayers. Baum believes that the only true hope in dealing with the problem is to treat the demand for drugs rather than trying to eliminate the supply.After reading Smoke and Mirrors I was left wondering why our government continues to pour money into a drug policy which is a proven failure. This book presented the best arguments I have read for ending the War on Drugs. While Baum does not come up with a specific solution of his own he came up with several reasons for not maintaining the current policy. He takes an in depth look at every motivation behind a change in policies, carefully tracing up to the mess are in today. From the beginning The War on Drugs was declared as a political move to sooth public concern with crime, which Nixon had linked to drugs. Once the War on Drugs was declared, it would prove to be political suicide for anyone to stray from the hard side of drug enforcement. Such was the case for Ford and Carter when they tried the harm reduction approach to drug policy. So when reports started coming back that showed there were more drug users and drugs were easier to get than ever before, they were ignored. The government continued to throw money into this losing battle at an astonishing rate. The War on Drugs costs the government more than the Commerce, Interior and State Departments combined.(Baum, 397) The cost of America's drug policy can't even be measured with a dollar amount. It has put countless number of people in jail, and has not reduced the demand for narcotics. The problem appears to be getting worse yet no one will admit to the failure of the War on Drugs.This book does a very good job at citing effects of our narcotics policy domestically, but it neglects the effect it has outside of our borders. This is the one argument for changing the current policy that was omitted. Our strict enforcement makes the drug trade extremely profitable. It allows corrupt officials to remain in office and provides enough revenue to support organized crime rings. With out such tight enforcement drug dealers would go out of business.In Writing this book Dan Baum drew upon his expertise as a journalist. Most of the sources that he cited were interviews he conducted with the officials that were involved in creating the drug policy at the time. This is the first time that the information he is presenting has been seen because it is original. It is clear that a lot of investigation went into writing Smoke and Mirrors.

  • Jeb
    2019-03-09 14:51

    The book is a bit dated, written in the nineties. But, I don't think that the overall message or support for that message has changed. Dan Baum doesn't come across as a writer with an agenda he's using to beat you over the head with, nor does it feel like he's heavily annotating the statistics so that you only see a set of 'proofs' that lead to one conclusion. Further, this isn't a dry historical account, Baum doesn't come across as pure academic who seems to be removed from the reality of the topic that he's covering.Baum appears to have a perspective that leans toward libertarian when it comes to drug use and government involvement. That said, he backs up his assertions around drug legalization and political machinations with facts on the statistics of drug use between the various drugs, the users, deaths from drug use, etc. His conclusion seems straightforward. The war on drugs was a politically motivated set of policies that weren't based upon the real impact of drugs on American society (driven by the fear in the establishment of the late 60s and early 70s counterculture), but, once the policies started rolling, they created a snowball effect of violence, crime and resource allocation that became a self-fulfilling justification for continuing the war on drugs.Very depressing.It's hard to argue with the increase in drug use despite the war on drugs...almost everyone, of every political bent in the US, questions the effectiveness of the war on drugs in the last forty years. However, it's hard to say what might have been without those set of policies. Would drug use be even greater? Would we still suffer through gang, drug violence like we do? And, since Marijuana is considered a gateway drug (for which, the evidence is slim), would we have been able to do something differently if Marijuana had always been legal and therefore not equated, in the eyes of the law and 'lawbreakers' with Heroin, and, thus, potentially leading to the development of crack, etc?My guess, looking back on similar instances in US history is that legalizing Marijuana (I believe it's too late now) in the early 70s and preventing the leveling of Marijuana with other drugs, would have meant a considerable decline in US violence, fewer people in prison, particularly people who are not white, a lot more money to spend on other things like education, healthcare, etc, and, probably greater numbers of drug users in the country....kind of like the impact of the prohibition repeal. Baum doesn't really have solid answer for what might have been. And, I respect that. He seems to be focused on the facts around a few premises not a bunch of "what ifs..."This is the first drug war culture book I've read, so, I don't have a lot of perspective or knowledge in this space, but, from this instance of one, I'm pretty depressed about what we've done to ourselves as a nation around a clearly, questionable set of policies.Despite the overall depressing feeling that this book gives me, I highly recommend reading this and I will continue to explore more books in this space.

  • Steve
    2019-03-02 18:03

    This is an incredible book that details the history of the modern war on drugs. It will shake you up and surprise you. It exposes the draconian and racist roots of the drug war while revealing an immense amount of corruption. A must-read for any politically active American.

  • Schuyler
    2019-02-26 12:44

    I don't know where to begin. This took me a while to finish mostly because each page is packed with information, so it makes for some slow reading at times. Basically, the "War on Drugs" was first waged, and continues to be waged, for political reasons, getting presidents and various politicians elected because they vowed to be "hard on drugs". What that usually translated into was massive amounts of government money spent on law enforcement and prisons. And that's about it. Republicans thought that drugs was an individual ailment and those individuals should take responsibility, and Democrats basically thought it was a larger social responsibility, with issues of race and poverty coming into play. The reality is that it's both...which is hard for politicians to get elected on, so they have to choose one or the other. Baum is clearly biased, not towards drug abuse, but the blatant distortion of statistics and facts that was going on during this approximately 30 year period in American history. He doesn't try to hide this bias in any way, so it's not like he's trying to pull a fast one on the reader. His most obvious bias is towards marijuana, which he portrays as being the scapegoat for the "War on Drugs", mostly because all other users of all other hard drugs didn't really add up enough users to wage a war. So pot was painted the ultimate villain by Mr. Nixon, even though a a commission of Nixon's own choosing concluded that marijuana prohibition was not in the national interest and they recommended legalization. He obviously ignored this report. Nixon wanted to wage a war on the marijuana culture more than the drug itself, as he saw it as a threat to American ideals, something set a part from the mainstream. Again, to use it as a political weapon.So there's just too much to summarize, but basically the "War on Drugs", at the time, destroyed civil liberties, including most of the 4th Amendment, revamped the prosecutor's role to focus on drug enforcement, clogged up our judicial system without allocating proper funds, and massively distorted drug statistics to scare the American public into thinking their was a drug epidemic sweeping through the schools. And way way way more stuff that is ridiculous. Also, there is no statistical evidence that connects drug abuse with crime. A rise or decline in one doesn't mean squat for the other. Seriously. "While nobody was saying that drawing hot, psychoactive smoke into the lungs was good for one's health (except perhaps in prescribed medical circumstances), many researchers were saying that a society that tolerates alcohol, tobacco, and bacon-double-cheeseburgers cannot on medical grounds justify jailing people for smoking marijuana." pg. 150

  • Nicholas
    2019-03-12 11:48

    While it falls under the current events shelf, the book is fairly outdated, as it was written in the 1990s, under the Clinton's administration, and many of the policies discussed have probably changed, for the worse most likely.The story though stands rock solid and well explained. The book covers the history of the War on Drugs* through historical narrations, based on either interviews with principle players, or well-researched second hand accounts. As the title suggests, the author is quite critical of The War on Drugs as it is currently playing out. He follows the history of America's early drug problems (in this case, marijuana and opium) and early solutions (in both cases, taxing the hell out of it), including the failure of early demonization and prohibition efforts, largest and most costly, of which, was Prohibition. The end result of Prohibition, of course, was ruinous, generating huge amounts of corruption, social disruptions, and contributing the empowerment and rise of major crime organizations. Yet, as the author points out, it took the Great Depression to finally end Prohibition, which had obviously failed. According to the author, The War on Drugs is no different. He points out how attempts to ameliorate the problem tended to fall prey to ideological thinking. Practical solutions, such as President Nixon's methadone clinic plans, which actually reduced the amount of drug users in the country, were ignored, then removed, for louder, and in many ways, more dangerous approaches. He goes onto to explain how The War on Drugs became the social movement of the '80s and '90s, and the consequences of its consistent expansion over those two decades. In conclusion, this book is for anyone who knows the true consequences of drug use, and worse, the criminalization of drug abuse. It presents the clear-headed argument for regulation, taxation and decriminalization, as well a good story of America's penchant to choose ideology and Utopian thinking over practical and imperfect solutions.*A particularly favorite political tactic of Americans is to declare 'war' on certain social ills. I think this is in lieu with our absolute unwillingness to slacken military endeavors in any way, ever. Also, we are allowed to turn the social ill into a black and white affair, complete with villains, heroes and action packed legends. Much more exciting then boring complicated solutions.

  • Peggy
    2019-03-18 13:44

    Civil liberties lost, armies of drug agents with inflated powers to wiretap and surveillance. 4th amendment rights gone.. Ratchet up violence in the inner cities by fielding "sweeps:" that disrupted volatile drug turfs and touched off gunfights. Spend more on criminal justice than on education by officials. Dismantling a federally funded treatment system that took ten years to build.. and jailing people without trial, confiscate their property without due process, or deny them public housing, student loans. or federal benefits.. Closing the debate.. Don't talk about why people use drugs, . don't ask why Halcion and malt liquor are legal drugs while marijuana and cocaine are not.. The difference between drug use and drug abuse.. Tendency of prohibition to promote violence and the use of stronger and more dangerous drugs.. Lives, taxpayer dollars and civil liberties sacrificed for the Drug War!! culture and race wars waged under the Drug War battle flag.. Medical potential of illegal drugs denied.. This book will make you angry at every administration and the way they have dealt with Nixon's Drug War.. which he declared to bring attention away from anti-war demonstrators and to turn the opinion against the many who were demanding accountability.. Which we still don't have!!! our politicians are part of the problem.. Who has benefited.. Prison industry.. Mounting price in dollars. .Lives and liberties have been willfully ignored.. Smoke and Mirrors takes you right into the offices where each new stage was planned and executed, then takes you to the streets where policies have produced bloody warfare. This is a tale of the nation run amok-in a way the American people are not yet ready to confront.

  • Clackamas
    2019-03-03 20:08

    It's not up-to-date since it was written in 1996, but neither is it dated. The facts are still quite relevant. The book Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure by Dan Baum is a history of the politics and motivations behind the war on drugs. It moves us from the war's inception in 1967, through its introduction to mainstream society during Nixon's campaign and administration. Baum leads us step by excruciating step up to 1994, providing well-sourced and on-the-record quoted accounts of conversations between the main movers and shakers in every administration that has touched drug legislation. While Baum is clearly not a fan of the war on drugs, I don't feel like he's trying to skew numbers to convince us to share his view. This book reads like true journalism... the kind they had in the days before television. I think that this book should be required reading by everyone before they vote on any more crime bills.

  • Cinnamingirl
    2019-03-15 19:56

    Matt wanted me to read this, and it's definitely eye-opening. I'm two chapters in and already interested.It took me a while to get through this book, but I finally finished it, and it was amazing. The author really gives you a sense of the history behind the Drug War, and it made me re-think a lot of the attitudes that I was indoctrinated with - that just aren't true. It's frightening how often people lied or abused the power they had or were just plain ignorant, and yet were allowed to make policy on such a huge issue. I was actually embarrassed that some of the parents' organizations started in the Emory area; I'd have liked to think people connected with my alma mater would have a bit more sense, but I guess it just shows that advanced degrees don't keep you from being an idiot.

  • Kevin
    2019-03-09 17:44

    Fascinating account of how the entire war on drugs was manufactured for political purposes, and the failure of numerous approaches to "solve" it. Interestingly enough, Nixon was the only president to approach The Drug Problem as a health concern. Other presidents have since approached it as a law enforcement issue.Never finished it. Got halfway through, lent it to a friend.easy come, easy go.I need to get this from the library and re-read it. I don't think I'll ever get my copy back.

  • Rae
    2019-03-01 20:07

    This book makes so much sense and reveals the paranoia and self-defeating thinking which inspired the war on drugs, along with how great a toll that war has taken on America. I would recommend this book to anyone; it's so important. A little hard to get into at first, and lots of names to keep track of, but the overall message is clear.

  • Kathy Guilbert
    2019-03-27 15:49

    Outstanding book! Very well done. I read it in 2 days. So sad how much money is devoted to 'the drug wars' vs education in general. Also sad how little has changed since Nixon started the ball rolling in such a negative direction. Maybe with the economy so tanked, things will finally change!

  • Dave Peticolas
    2019-03-13 13:01

    A devastating account of the war on drugs in the US. If you think the current approach to the war on drugs is basically correct, you need to read this book. And if you don't, this book will confirm your suspicions.

  • Cortney
    2019-03-07 16:54

    some interesting facts about Elvis

  • Maureen Stanton
    2019-03-02 12:07

    Exhaustively researched, surprising, fascinating and fluidly written.

  • Davida
    2019-03-11 19:43

    Best book about the war on drugs ever! Although non-fiction, I couldn't put this book down and now want to read everything by this author.

  • Davida Silverman
    2019-03-24 11:44

    Fantastic analysis and history of the War on Drugs. Highly recommend it -- especially if you know little to nothing -- this book will catch you up to speed in no time!

  • Alejandro Ramirez
    2019-02-26 16:55

    Bien escrito, bien documentado, un excelente análisis de la guerra contra las drogas como botín político. Historia con nombres y apellidos de Nixon a Clinton.

  • Cheryl Wolfe
    2019-03-16 19:49

    Nixon was a bastard and what a surprise about Elvis!

  • Theodore Starks
    2019-03-03 14:54

    interesting anyway

  • Jeremy Brown
    2019-03-04 12:01

    I love the fact driven argument of this book. It's the strongest argument to date for the legalization of marijuana.