The wall vs. legal marijuana: One is pointless, the other secures the border.

A new report shows how legalizing marijuana nationally would likely be much more effective at curbing drug smuggling than building a border wall.

  • The report uses recent government data to examine the effects that marijuana legalization has had on drug and human smuggling by Mexican cartels.
  • Overall, it appears that marijuana legalization has led to decreases in not only marijuana smuggling, but also smuggling of all drugs across the border.
  • The report suggests that the benefits of marijuana legalization might also serve as a model for how legalizing more immigration for workers might curb illegal border crossings.

How should the U.S. stop Mexican cartels from smuggling people and drugs across the border?

The answer isn't to build a wall, but rather to legalize pot, hire more border agents at ports of entry, and open up channels of legal immigration for workers.

Those are the takeaways of a new report by David Bier at the Cato Institute. The report uses recent government data to analyze the effects that marijuana legalization has had on the rates of drug seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border, and it also draws parallels between marijuana and alcohol prohibition and current immigration laws.

​Marijuana legalization and drug smuggling

What's demonstrably effective at stopping the flow of drugs across the border?

Bier notes that, between 2003 and 2009, Border Patrol doubled its agents, constructed more than 600 miles of fencing, and introduced new surveillance technologies. But none of this seemed to have any considerable effect on the amount of marijuana and other drugs seized by border agents between ports of entry. This was, by the way, an era when as much as two-thirds of the marijuana Americans smoked came from Mexico.

Then, in 2014, Colorado and Washington moved to fully legalize marijuana, and more states began to follow. This legalization correlated with not only a decrease in marijuana seizures at the U.S.–Mexico border, but also a drop in seizures of all drugs.

(Data visual via infogram.com)

There's no reliable data on the amount of illegal marijuana smuggled into the country annually. The next best thing is data showing the number of seizes at the border. From 2013 to 2018, the authors wrote, the amount of marijuana each Border Patrol agent seized declined by 78 percent.

"Marijuana smuggling has also not shifted toward entering through ports of entry," they wrote. "Overall, all DHS agencies seized 56 percent less marijuana in 2017 than 2013."

​Cartels compensate by smuggling other drugs

Although Mexican marijuana smuggling has decreased in the past five years, it seems cartels are trying to make up those lost profits with other, more profitable drugs: cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl. These rises, which were measured in the value of drugs seized, only occurred at ports of entry where a border wall would have no effect.

(Data visual via infogram.com)

"In light of these facts, a surge of agents, technology, and infrastructure between ports of entry does not make sense as a strategy to control the flow of hard drugs into the United States."

​Reducing the incentives to cross illegally

The report makes an analogy between immigration laws and alcohol prohibition in the 1920s: You can make either illegal, but people are still going to take part, so the better option is measured legalization. In terms of immigration, the report notes that the number of work visas is negatively correlated with illegal entries along the border over the past 70 years.

"In other words, more work visas mean fewer illegal entries," the authors wrote, adding that Congress could decrease illegal border crossings by issuing more permanent and temporary work visas, "thus reducing the incentive to cross illegally."

(Data visual via infogram.com)

Bier suggests a border wall isn't the best way to curb rates of human and drug smuggling.

"Instead, they indicate that a better approach to managing human and drug smuggling would be to hire more officers at ports of entry, increase legal channels for migration, and legalize marijuana nationwide. These alternative strategies have proved more effective than enforcement alone."

Still, it's worth noting that Bier doesn't quite address how a border wall might curb rates of illegal crossings between ports of entry.

In a separate report, Bier argues that while a wall might discourage some crossing attempts, people would still be able to cross by climbing over a wall, digging under it, exploiting damages to it by natural forces, and even using ramps to drive over it.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
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Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

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The history of using the Insurrection Act against Americans

Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.

The army during riots in Washington, DC, after the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., April 1968.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
  • The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
  • The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
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Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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