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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

America Has a Black-Market Problem, Not a Drug Problem

General John F. Kelly, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, testified last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he argued, as generals tend to do, that he has inadequate resources to fulfill the missions assigned to him.

Here's how the Associated Press summed up his statement:

The U.S. doesn’t have the ships and surveillance capabilities to go after the illegal drugs flowing into the U.S. from Latin America, the top military commander for the region told senators Thursday, adding that the lack of resources means he has to “sit and watch it go by.”

Gen. John Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is able to get about 20 percent of the drugs leaving Colombia for the U.S., but the rest gets through.
Think about that.

Though the U.S. spends billions of dollars each year fighting the War on Drugs, and despite having done so for many years, 80 percent of the drugs from one of the countries we've focused on the most still gets through all of our interdiction efforts.

Is the answer to throw more money at the prohibitionist strategy?

Kelly requests more resources:

Kelly ... said he would be able to interdict more drugs if he had 16 ships that could be used as the base for helicopters. Generally, law enforcement officials use the helicopters to quickly go after traffickers operating small boats, forcing them to stop and surrender. Currently, Kelly said he has one U.S. Navy ship and two Coast Guard vessels that can be used for the drug operations. The overall goal has been to reduce the amount of drugs coming into the U.S. from Latin America by 40 percent, which officials believe would cut into the profits of the cartels and perhaps turn them against each other.

To reach that goal, he said, would require the 16 ships.
So best-case scenario, we could spend more ... and maybe, if we're "lucky," spark a bloody cartel war abroad. Somehow, that inclines me to spend those extra billions elsewhere! If we turn to Kelly's full statement, we find a frustrating refusal to frankly state the tradeoffs that we've chosen in our present approach to drug policy. 

In his telling, transnational criminal organizations are a security problem for several reasons. If you think about it, almost all of those reasons are exacerbated by the black market.

"The spread of criminal networks is having a corrosive effect on the integrity of democratic institutions and the stability of several of our partner nations." Without black-market profits, criminal drug networks would almost certainly shrink.

"Transnational criminal organizations threaten citizen security, undermine basic human rights, cripple rule of law through corruption, erode good governance, and hinder economic development." Again, the ability of drug cartels to bribe officials, violate human rights, and cripple the rule of law would be undermined if they suddenly lost their ability to profit from drugs on the black market.

"Illicit trafficking poses a direct threat to our nation’s public health, safety, and border security. Criminal elements make use of the multitude of illicit pathways in our hemisphere to smuggle drugs, contraband, and even humans directly into the United States." Without a black market in narcotics, smuggling operations would be less sophisticated and the money flowing to smugglers would decrease.

"Illegal drugs are an epidemic in our country, wasting lives and fueling violence between rival gangs in most of our nation’s cities." It's possible that more addict lives would be wasted if drugs were legalized, because of increased use and abuse. Drug-fueled gang violence and the lives lost to it would almost certainly decrease.

"The third concern is a potential one, and highlights the vulnerability to our homeland rather than an imminent threat: that terrorist organizations could seek to leverage those same smuggling routes to move operatives with intent to cause grave harm to our citizens or even quite easily bring weapons of mass destruction into the United States." Again, if drugs were legal, fewer resources would be poured into routes and personnel that could be exploited by foreign terrorists.

Why doesn't the testimony note, as I just did, that the black market in drugs that prohibition creates exacerbates nearly every way in which transnational crime hurts us?

Kelly isn't to blame. He doesn't make policy. He tries to carry it out. But the policy that he's been given is as doomed to fail as it always has been. Prohibition may make some (though not all) people inclined to addiction safer in some ways. But it makes all of us less safe in other ways, and wreaks havoc in foreign countries. It would be nice if hearings on U.S. drug policy acknowledged such tradeoffs.

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‘They picked the wrong girl'

16-year-old blows the whistle on Nova Scotia minors pimped and trafficked
This apartment building at 24 Evans Ave. in Halifax is where a pimp was allegedly selling underage girls for sex. (ADRIEN VECZAN / Staff)
When Hailey started getting into trouble, her parents decided to let her face the consequences.

Their daughter had been sweet and affectionate, with natural smarts.

At 13, she started rebelling. Then Paul and Stacey learned that Hailey’s friend’s mother was giving both girls drugs and drinks. Soon, Hailey wasn’t just a bit mischievous; “she was bad,” Paul said. She started racking up charges in youth court.

Paul, who worked in manufacturing, would take time off and sit on a hard bench for hours in youth court, only to see his daughter appear for two minutes. He gave up going.

“We’re not bailing you out, Hailey,” her mother said.

Things changed this January. Hailey, now 16, was again picked up by police. A constable called and told Paul his daughter was at the station and had asked for him.

Paul, who always took Hailey’s calls, arrived at about 11 p.m.

He watched as his daughter took a deep breath. Police were asking about the altercation that had landed her in custody, but she said she wanted to give a statement about something else, months after officers had first encouraged her to do so.

Hailey, Paul and Stacey are not their real names as there is a court ban on identifying the girl.

Her parents are now preparing to spend as much time on courthouse benches as she needs.

Hailey’s statement sparked the first bust of anyone pimping minors in Halifax in more than a decade. Two more girls have since come forward, and police hope even more will help undermine this devastating industry.

Dallas police talk to two young women — one of them underage — before arresting them for prostitution. That city formed a special unit to identify, reach and save underage girls being lured into the street life. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/ File)
. . . . .

Hailey and her family didn’t know it, but their bad patch meant she was about to enter a system of entrapment that most people never see.

After repeatedly running away, she moved in the summer of 2012 to the Reigh Allen Centre, a Dartmouth group home.

“We didn’t know about group homes,” said Stacey.

“Hailey went downhill right from there. It wasn’t a lockdown. We were under the impression she was going to get this counselling and go back to school and get fixed, pretty much, you know?”

A boy about Hailey’s age kept hanging around the group home. Staff called to tell her parents.

“We don’t think he should be around Hailey and he’s banned off our property,” Stacey remembered them saying.

In the group home, Hailey also met Claire (not her real name), a pretty, petite 13-year-old who had been in the child protection system since she was a baby.

The boy found a way to stay in touch and invited Hailey home to meet his mother. Hailey, who considered him her boyfriend, said in a recent interview that the mother messaged her one day and asked if she wanted to make some money.

Hailey ignored her for weeks, and then found herself desperate for cash last April, having run away from her most recent group home. She was nervous but let the woman set up one client for her, thinking it was an experiment, she said. Suddenly it was happening “all the time,” Hailey said.

“She said, ‘It’s either you keep working or else you can get out of my house.’”

Hailey's letter

The call from the group home wasn’t the only warning sign for Hailey’s parents. As Paul and Stacey learned more, their unease gradually turned into overwhelming fear — not just about Hailey, but about those who controlled her and what they might do to keep it that way.

Early last summer, police showed up at the couple’s door and said bluntly that their daughter had been involved in the sex trade for “quite a while.”

In late July, Stacey heard from Hailey herself through Facebook.

“Hailey inboxed me and told me that she posted herself on Backpage, and she sent me the link to it, and she was naked in all the pictures, except for her face,” said Stacey.

“They won’t show their face, you know? If they’re underage.”

The online ads, using a fake name, mentioned Hailey’s “long, beautiful hair,” and said she was 19. In fact, she had just turned 16.

Hailey said she would meet clients at their homes or hotels, or they would come to the pimp’s Fairview apartment.

It was in a building that has seen at least two recent cases of arson as well as reports of bedbugs. In exchange for the space, and for posting ads and providing a phone, the pimp asked for half of Hailey’s earnings.

After a while, where Hailey lived didn’t make a difference. One time, the pimp texted and asked her to take a client. Hailey texted back that she was babysitting her older sister’s baby and four-year-old. No problem, said the pimp. The client would come to the sister’s house.

After Hailey’s message, Paul and Stacey had a desperate conversation. They called and asked her where she was staying. They wanted to drop off some Chinese food, they said.

They brought the food, then parked at the end of the block, called police and watched them raid the apartment.

“Really, every time we’ve seen her … taken by the police, it was just a relief to know that she was safe,” said Stacey.

Paul said Hailey knew all along that her parents wouldn’t hesitate to call the cops on her. She also knew she was at a turning point.

“After she calmed down, she said, ‘Dad, I’m glad you called the police on me,’” said Paul.

“I said, Why? She said, ‘Because me and Claire, we were going to be on our way to Toronto with North Preston’s Finest.’”

North Preston’s Finest is a street gang that has long been associated with sex trafficking between Nova Scotia and Ontario, particularly the corridor between Mississauga and Niagara Falls.

Hailey was right. A day or two later, Stacey got a Facebook message from Claire, her daughter’s younger friend. The 14-year-old said she was with a friend and the friend’s older boyfriend at a Fredericton hotel.

“I think I am goin to toronto … this weekend,” Claire wrote in the exchange, which was shown to a reporter. “I don’t have a ride back, I jus have a ride to toronto.”

She said they were going to “work for another guy.” Paul recalled something a police officer had said: “If they get anywhere past New Brunswick, you may as well kiss them goodbye.” He and Stacey took turns writing, asking Claire if she could sneak out and meet someone near the hotel.

“Them guys are pigs and they don’t care about you,” wrote Stacey. “They just want the money.”

“I didn’t think I would go this far as fast as I did,” responded Claire.

They said someone would come get her.

“Oh my goodness thank u guys so much, like u don’t understand, thank u,” she wrote.

After a call to New Brunswick police, Claire was found and brought back to Nova Scotia.

. . . . .

The night of the Chinese food setup, police had found Hailey in a bawdy house and had heard from her parents that she was being sold for sex.

They incarcerated her on outstanding warrants or on breached conditions from earlier, unrelated cases. One day in juvenile detention, an officer asked Hailey if she wanted to give a statement about the sex industry, but she said no.

If Hailey and Claire were tempted to talk, they also had real fears. They knew a story about a girl who started “freaking out” on the way to Toronto and was killed and thrown onto the side of the highway, said Paul.

Claire also confided that she thought she was legally bound to her pimp.

“Some guy in Cole Harbour … got Claire to sign a contract and everything, saying she’s theirs,” said Paul. “Claire was scared, thinking, ‘Oh my God, like I signed a contract.’ And it’s like, Claire, don’t worry about it!”

Paul was frustrated. Police said they couldn’t do anything without a victim’s statement. He had tried to help, even posing as a john looking for Hailey. He had texted the 506 area code number she had been using.

Someone responded, using the pimp’s name, and said Hailey wasn’t available but she could bring Hailey another time. Paul took the texts and photos from the homegrown sting and offered them to police.

“I called them right away and told them, ‘This is my daughter, man. This is the number.’”

They told him they hoped Hailey would change her mind and talk.

Hailey got out of detention in August and moved back home. Rachel Lloyd, a New York-based advocate for minors exploited in the sex trade, said they often need intensive counselling to leave their old lives. Once a victim herself, Lloyd said it took years to lose the feeling that her pimp would find her.

“You’re on a bungee cord,” she said. “You can’t quite make that break, and everybody around you is like, ‘Why can’t you just leave?’”

Being locked up had kept Hailey safe, but it had done little else for her. For months she had been making thousands of dollars. During her time in the pimp’s world, she had developed an expensive addiction to cocaine and other drugs.

Her parents took her back to school and drove her around to drop off resumes for jobs that paid $10 an hour. Her friends welcomed her back to their Halifax suburb. But Hailey had trouble adjusting, said Stacey.

“She said to me, ‘It was boring, Mum.’”

. . . . .

Hailey said it will be hard to forget what happened a few months later. The episode shocked her out of the long “daydream” she described recently in song lyrics that she mailed to her parents.

“Money has her controlled, drugs keep her from realizing,” goes the chorus. “The people that she thinks cares, convinced her everything’s OK.”

The girl in the song “had to find out the hard way, anything can happen.”

Hailey had left home again, and one day a friend’s uncle gave her a ride and parked outside a building.

“(He) told me (to take some clients) and make him money or else he’s going to kill me, and I said no,” she said. “And then guns ended up starting coming out, and I will never forget that. Because that’s the very first time that I’ve ever seen guns and all that stuff … and it was all because of me not going (into the building).”

Then last January, Claire was at the pimp’s apartment when a client started doing something to which she hadn’t agreed. She screamed for help.

The pimp, who had never used violence to ensure the girls’ loyalty, didn’t move from the couch in the next room.

“She got raped … by one of the clients there, and she yelled for (the pimp) and (the pimp) just let it go and didn’t do anything about it and ended up taking half of her money for that call,” said Hailey.

“It wasn’t supposed to go down like that.”

Claire, 15 by then, never returned to the apartment. She ended up back in detention, as Hailey had, too. Hailey told her mother about their reunion in the dining hall.

“Claire said to her, ‘Oh my God, Hailey, do you know (the pimp) was in jail? Somebody, like, ratted her out.’” recounted Stacey.

Hailey said yes, she had heard.

“Claire said, ‘I’m so proud of the girl that did that. I wish I knew who it was, because I don’t even consider them a rat, Hailey,’” said Stacey. ‘(The pimp) needs to go away.’

“And Hailey’s like, ‘Really? Well, it was me, Claire.’”

A second girl gave a statement. The police contacted Hailey’s parents, elated. If enough victims did the same, officers said, maybe none would have to testify.

Then Stacey and Paul heard that Claire, who has no family to support her in court, had decided to give a third statement to police.

Hailey said she had slid the lyrics she wrote under her friend’s door. “If you do it,” she told Claire, “I will stand behind you the whole way.”

. . . . .

Hailey said that in nine months of being pimped in Nova Scotia, she came across at least 100 underage girls being sold for sex.

The youngest ones she knew were around 13. If her pimp ends up in prison, other pimps will remain at large in Halifax, she said.

“I know that there’s still people out there, some people out there, who are working girls, that I haven’t worked for myself,” she said.

Dozens of ads for “young” 19-year-olds were posted last week on, many using the exact wording of Hailey and Claire’s old ads.

The last person charged in Nova Scotia with pimping minors appears to be Gerald Pickles, who operated out of a house on Windmill Road in Dartmouth. He pleaded guilty in 2003 after a police sting.

It’s more uncommon for victims to turn in their pimps, who often play on the victims’ existing distrust of police, said Lloyd.

Halifax police appear to have shifted their approach to cases like Hailey’s.

In 2009 and 2010, police found minors in bawdy houses, first on Highfield Park Drive and then on Brunswick Street. Each time they charged a teenage girl with being a resident of a bawdy house. At the time, a police spokesperson said the charge could be used against a client or an employee of the operation.

Last week, Const. Pierre Bourdages of Halifax Regional Police said he had never heard of that charge.

“In this case, these girls were victims,” he said.

“We have information, we got them into a secure area, we got them into a safe place with responsible adults.”

Hailey’s parents are wondering why it took so long for police to break up a child prostitution ring that they knew of well before last January, and why they were so dependent on a 16-year-old girl to risk her own safety and speak out.

“We pursue information when we receive it,” said Bourdages. “Pursuing information and obtaining the evidence we need to be able to successfully charge someone are two things. If we were charging people left, right and centre, then charges would probably not even make it to court.”

Police are asking anyone with information about similar victims to come forward.

However, since Hailey’s decision, her parents’ all-consuming question is why police aren’t living up to that promise to put her in a safe place.

Before she agreed to testify, Hailey was told she would be protected from the people who would call her a “rat.” Police told her she would be sent to a safe house in a different province and would receive counselling and addictions treatment.

While Hailey was in detention this winter, officers asked Paul if the family had gotten threats “yet.” He watched their street from his window one night until 3 a.m., wondering if he should check into the hospital because his heart was pounding so hard.

Hailey told her parents that her pimp’s son had gestured about shooting her. Then she complained to a police officer that she had seen someone who works in the justice system who was once a client — not of hers, but of another minor, while Hailey was present.

“I’d like to get out of here,” she said last week about the youth detention centre.

But when Hailey did leave a few days later she was sent home, as was Claire.

Hailey’s parents panicked. Police said the safe house had fallen through and suggested Hailey could get a peace bond against the boy who threatened her, said Stacey. Officers started driving by their house to check on them and parking down the street.

“There’s a lot of threats going around Burnside jail about Hailey, like, ‘We’re going to get Hailey,’” said Stacey.

Stacey told police she wouldn’t let her daughter testify if they wouldn’t protect her, but they already have the girl’s statement. Bourdages said he couldn’t comment on where the victims in this case are staying.

If anyone came to hurt Hailey, Stacey said, she would get in front of her daughter.

. . . . .

Recently, Hailey asked her mother to change the password on her Facebook account.

“I think she wanted me to go in there,” said Stacey.

She spent hours reading messages between Hailey, her pimp and johns. In one message, the pimp demanded half the money from a recent job — $20. Telling that story in her kitchen, Stacey’s eyes widened.

“You were selling my kid for 40 bucks?”

Hailey said she decided to speak to police on behalf of “all the other girls” working under her pimp.

“I don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” she said. “Just the way that I feel, and all the regret and stuff I have from it, how gross I feel of it, I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.”

Stacey thinks the pimp didn’t do a background check when Hailey was recruited.

Almost all the other Nova Scotia girls who get sucked into prostitution are runaways or in foster care, kids who have no one to defend them.

Not so for Hailey. She changed after that call to Paul in January, said Stacey.

“She said she never would have done it if it wasn’t for her dad being at the police station with her and having her back,” said Stacey. “This time we really stuck by her, because it’s prostitution, right, and it’s our baby, right? And (the pimp) is an adult.”

“I’ll tell them anything they want to hear now,” Hailey told her mother.

Tough love landed Hailey in a group home, but it also put her in place to start a fight that isn’t often fought.

“They picked the wrong girl,” Stacey said.

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Everything You Wanted To Know About Hot Dogs But Were Afraid To Ask

Click at your own risk. posted on March 17, 2014 at 1:55pm EDT

With help from a dietician at the American Cancer Society and Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern, who now owns his own line of franks, we aimed to demystify the delicious sausage. Here are some of the most curious questions about hot dogs with facts you can’t unknow.

Most commercial hot dogs are a mash of poultry trimmings, water, corn syrup, and starchy “filler.”

Most commercial hot dogs are a mash of poultry trimmings, water, corn syrup, and starchy

If you’re buying classic hot dogs made by Oscar Mayer or Ball Park, the primary ingredient is likely going to be chicken or turkey — specifically “mechanically-separated” turkey or chicken. The USDA defines that as a “paste-like and batter-like poultry product,” which is made by forcing trimmings through a machine that separates any “attached edible tissue” from the bone. However, if the hot dog package says “beef franks” or “pork franks” it is required by law to contain only meat from that single species of animal.

“The joke in the modern era is that hot dogs are just lips and asshole,” Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern told BuzzFeed. Commercial hot dogs are in fact made of trimmings: leftover poultry and meat parts after the rest of the animal has been turned into more premium cuts. But even though most people might find that idea unappetizing, Zimmern says some of those parts actually have “some of the best flavor and fat content,” and that’s not what’s giving hot dogs a bad name. Rather, it’s all the fillers that go in after the meat or poultry. “[Hot dogs] should be 100% natural, no artificial anything, species-specific,” says Zimmern. “Those are the things that people can taste.”

After every edible thing is forced off the bone of those poultry parts, the tissue is ground up and mixed with the other ingredients…

Everything You Wanted To Know About Hot Dogs But Were Afraid To Ask
Everything You Wanted To Know About Hot Dogs But Were Afraid To Ask

The other ingredients in order of amount typically are: water, corn syrup, salt, preservatives, a starchy cereal filler, and artificial flavors.
…until it becomes a load of gloopy puree.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Hot Dogs But Were Afraid To Ask

Then the gloop gets stuffed into synthetic collagen casings…

Everything You Wanted To Know About Hot Dogs But Were Afraid To Ask

…and run through a smoke-shower vault.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Hot Dogs But Were Afraid To Ask

The strings of hot dogs eventually get baked in oven, drenched in salt water, chilled, then packaged for your consumption! Yum.


Even eating small amounts may cause cancer.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Hot Dogs But Were Afraid To Ask

Colleen Doyle, a registered dietician at the American Cancer Society who’s closely examined the chemical compounds and preservatives found in ready-to-eat processed meats, says “high consumption” of red meats and preserved meats (like hot dogs) can put you at risk of colon cancer.

But “high consumption” is all relative, according to Doyle. “Even eating small amounts over time really adds up to an increased risk,” she tells BuzzFeed. “Our estimate is about for every 100g of red meat (about 3.5 ounces) and for every 50g of processed meat (close to 2 ounces), there is about a 15-20% increased risk of colon cancer.”

So, what’s a “healthy” intake of hot dogs?
Everything You Wanted To Know About Hot Dogs But Were Afraid To Ask

“[The American Cancer Society] hasn’t made any clear-cut distinctions for any consumption per week, but the American Institute of Cancer Research recommends people should not consume ANY processed meat at all,” says Doyle. “But their upper limit for red meat is no more than 18 ounces a week.”

Doyle suggests, ultimately, it’s about awareness and moderation: “Our message is you can eat [hot dogs] on occasion, but we want you to be aware there is some risk associated. You can go out to the occasion baseball game and have a hot dog — that’s not going to kill you. It’s that longterm consumption over time.”

“Don’t eat them very often. Don’t eat them several times a week,” she adds.
Then again, not all hot dogs are made equal. Some are slightly healthier than others.

Look for hot dogs with without antibiotics and hormones and a lower calorie, fat, and sodium content than others. (Commercial hot dogs, like mainstream Oscar Mayer wieners come in at about 150 calories, 15g of fat, and 450mg of sodium.) Mens Health has a great guide to the best and worst hot dogs you can buy, health wise.

But also be wary about flashy labels and always check the ingredients for yourself. “Even if something says it’s ‘uncured’ or ‘no nitrites/nitrates,’ they can still have those compounds added to them,” warns Doyle. “It’s hard to avoid preservatives. That’s why hot dogs have such long shelf life. I always encourage people to read the labels. If it’s a processed meat, you can be sure there’s some kind of compound in there.”

Zimmern agrees: “If you look at the back of a package, if there are any preservatives — if the meat can’t be traced to a farmer with a name — I don’t think commercial hot dogs are one of the things to be super proud of.”

 Short answer: Kinda.
 Short answer: Kinda.

Veggie or vegan hot dogs are usually made of soy proteins (like tofu). While they contain no cholesterol and are lower in calories and fat, eating too much soy has its own side effects too. Studies suggest our move to supposedly “healthier” soy alternatives might pose problems for female fertility and reproduction.

And don’t be fooled: alternative plant-based preservatives can be just as harmful. “We’re seeing more and more products for natural-based nitrites like celery juice or beet juice. Even the [veggie products] contain nitrites and nitrates. It’s something to look for in the ingredients,” says Doyle.

Zimmern, on the other hand, just doesn’t believe in the idea of non-meat dogs at all: “Veggie dogs? There is no such a thing. I’m not trying to be rude, but a vegetarian hot dog is like a no-fat brand of creme brûlée. It’s an oxymoron. if you don’t want to have creme brûlée, eat an apple. If you don’t want to have a hot dog, you shouldn’t. There are a million alternatives. You don’t need to make a fake hot dog or replacement anything and put it on in a bun.”

Mostly nope.

One of the hot dog’s redeeming qualities is that it’s packed with protein, and it has some (albeit very small) amounts of vitamins and minerals. But hot dogs are mostly pretty terrible for your diet.

“Whenever I think of a hot dog, the first one that comes to my vision is in the Frankfurt, Germany airport,” Zimmern says. “There is a hot dog stand in there: long thin wieners, just with mustard, on a toasted bun. It’s unbelievable. It’s out of control.”

 Apparently at a hot dog stand in the Frankfurt, Germany airport.

Apparently at a hot dog stand in the Frankfurt, Germany airport.
“Whenever I think of a hot dog, the first one that comes to my vision is in the Frankfurt, Germany airport,” Zimmern says. “There is a hot dog stand in there: long thin wieners, just with mustard, on a toasted bun. It’s unbelievable. It’s out of control.”

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