If By Whiskey Marijuana...

William Safire popularized the phrase “if by whiskey…” in his columns, and defined it in his Political Dictionary as, “Taking both sides of an issue; equivocating; a political straddle”. The term originates from a speech given by Soggy Sweat, a 1950s Mississippi legislator, master of irony, and a real character to boot:

My friends,

I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

A little context: Mississippians staggered to the polls and voted dry until 1966, when they finally became residents of the last state to decriminalize the sale of alcohol. The topic of banning/regulating/allowing alcohol was present for every politician in every campaign, and surprise, surprise, most made a habit of supporting whichever position the listener wanted to hear. For example, a group of teetotalling nuns would be told something like the next part of Soggy’s speech:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

Sounds like most politicians today on the subject of marijuana, not to mention the “hard drugs”. But Soggy continued his speech on the floor of the house:

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

The speech took him several months to write. I could write every day for the rest of my life and never come up with a sentence that good. He ends with an emphasis on the straddle:

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

Fifteen million Americans regularly use marijuana. Twenty five million inhaled at least once in the last 12 months. Over one hundred million Americans have smoked pot at some point in their lives. (Wouldn’t we better off if that number were even higher? No, no, wait, that’s a controversy I’ll avoid as off topic, at least in this post.)

Of course, marijuana can’t have a Soggy Sweat speech, because the second paragraph would be unwritable. It doesn’t make people violent, they don’t lose their life savings to it (despite the incredibly high de facto tax of criminalization), it doesn’t tend to break up families, people never die from it. Ever.

Perhaps that paragraph might read:

If when you say marijuana you mean the substance that makes twenty five year old Junior sit at home in his Mom’s basement playing Xbox 360 and refusing to get a job, that makes him drive 15 miles an hour to the 7/11 to spend his allowance on a can of Pringles, that contains enough carcinogens that he could get lung cancer – that is, if he smokes it daily and twice on every Sunday for the next several thousand years… then certainly I am against it.

I told you Soggy could have done a better job. Isn’t there a single politician out there that wants to carry on this tradition?

[Hat Tip: Frank Dubois at The Westerner]

Prostitution Sting ORR

I sent an open records request just now to Austin Police Department to find out the costs to taxpayers for this:

In an undercover prostitution-reversal sting, the Austin Police Department Central Metro Tactical Unit arrested 23 males, all varying in age.

Undercover police officers posed as prostitutes and when men agreed to service terms, they were arrested on the scene.

I’ll update the post when I get a response. In the meantime, any one care to hazard a guess as to how much it cost taxpayers to dress up female officers as prostitutes and make 23 arrests for prostitution?

Worst Use of Your Tax Dollars for a Federal Prosecution?

Prosecutorial discretion is immense. And it starts with the decision on whether someone should be prosecuted in the first place. Now submitted, for your approval, the stupidest prosecution yet, at least in terms of “your tax dollars at work”.

From the charging instrument filed last week (cause number 08-po-00237-MHW-1 for federal criminal defense lawyers with access to Pacer):


…the defendant… did willfully destroy, damage and remove Government property without authorization, namely by consuming soft drink beverage (sic) belonging to the Department of Veterans Affairs…


So the defendant had driven her dad to the VA to get medical care, took her refillable thermos into the lunch room and filled it up. She had been charged $1, $1.50 in the past but this time the clerk told her it was going to be $3.80.


After being told eventually by the manager that she was going to have pay the increased cost she unwisely poured the soft drink on the counter – presumably as a protest. By the way I’m not defending her actions; they are puerile at best. But criminal? As in don’t-make-a-federal-case-out-of-it criminal?


According to this federal prosecutor, yes! He charged her under 38 Code of Federal Regulations 1.218 Security and Law Enforcement at VA facilities. The quoted part above is from section (a)(3) and he threw in an (a)(5) charge of disturbance alleging that her conduct otherwise impeded or disrupted the performance of official duties by Government employees.


A buddy of mine asked me last week whether I thought the Feds could find something to prosecute me for if they set their mind to it. Well, not if I don’t leave the house…


[Hat Tip to Sentencing Law & Policy; original story]

Imprison Them... Before They Deport Themselves

Reading Rob La Gatta’s Q&A with Houston Chronicle blogger Mary Flood made me skim her “criminal law” archives, and tada, I had just plain missed this nugget.

Now I’ve been thinking for a while about starting an archive tag called “Your Tax Dollars At Work”. (And, no, it won’t just be identical to every single War on Drugs post – although, it could be.) Just hadn’t gotten around to it, frankly.

But this story is the final straw. From the blog post titled “Stopping people leaving the US to detain & deport them”:

On the one hand -- it seems wasteful for our government to be pulling people off planes at Bush Intercontinental to pay to detain them, prosecute them and then to send them exactly where they were already going.

But the government says these folks have all been deported before and they need the felony conviction to take the law seriously, and hopefully not return here illegally again.

Houston-based federal public defenders say it's a colossal waste of time and taxpayers money to pay the nearly $70 a day for several months to hold these people, prosecute them for entering the U.S. illegally and pay to send them where they were already headed.

``What's silly about this is that they are on their way home. They have gotten the message that they shouldn't be here,'' said Houston's U.S. Federal Public Defender Marjorie Meyers. ``It's not cost-effective.''

But Houston's U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle notes the people they are prosecuting are repeat violators of U.S. immigration laws and that it's not only necessary but efficient to stop them and prosecute them.

``We had already expended some time, effort and money before to institute deportation,'' said DeGabrielle. He said to allow these people to come back into the country without proper permission and then just let them leave would minimize what the government is trying to accomplish. ``We feel it's definitely worth the resources to hold these people accountable,'' DeGabrielle said. [Emphasis Added]

OK. ‘Illegal reentry’ is a prosecutable federal offense - I get that. Like many offenses, the punishment range is arguably over criminalized, but it is a crime. A federal crime.

But, um, how do I put this? From the emboldened section in the snippet, the official position seems to be: We’ve already spent some of your hard earned tax dollars. Quick, let’s spend some more… before it’s too late and we never get the chance.

Ladies and Gentlemen… welcome to the newest section of Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer: “Your Tax Dollars At Work”. I’ll try to spend some time going back and retagging previous appropriate posts.