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McCaffrey: Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics
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McCaffrey: Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics


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This editorial, addressing former U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's lies, was posted in 1998.

U.S. Drug Czar McCaffrey recently visited Holland, and is still talking about what he thinks he saw, thinks he knows, and thinks he can get away with.

Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics

British politician and author Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) enlightened us with the following observation: "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics." Until recently, though, no one has combined the three quite as effectively as U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey.

You'll recall that last month, McCaffrey worked his way through Europe insulting governments left an right by making inaccurate and inflammatory statements designed to play well in sound-bites back in the Unites States.

His comments were, in fact, so boorish that some Dutch government leaders considered not permitting McCaffrey to enter the country. After all, just a week before his European tour he falsely assured CNN viewers that Holland's liberal policies on marijuana were "an unmitigated disaster." Then, shortly before coming to Holland, he claimed that - get this - the murder rate in Holland is twice as high as that of the USA, for which he conveniently blamed drugs:

"The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States," McCaffrey told Swedish reporters. "The overall crime rate in Holland is probably 40 percent higher than the United States. That's drugs."
Reuters, July 14, 1998

But as the Los Angeles Times reported, in an editorial titled "The Drug War Can't Abide Honest Stats":

In fact, the U.S murder rate as a percentage of the population is 4.5 times higher than in Holland.
Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1998

Still asks: was I right or wrong? Of course, the retired army general attempted to tiptoe through the minefield of his own words by mumbling something about a retraction - without making clear just exactly which of his lies he was confessing. As it turns out, he hasn't repented, either. In an August 5 address to Los Angeles business and community leaders, McCaffrey said:

"There was a huge uproar (in Holland) over murder rates and crime stats, and was I right or wrong?... For an American to suggest that their crime rates were higher than the U.S. absolutely blew their mind"

Hewas and is wrong, and what blows our minds is that this director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy thinks he can get away with such lies. (I know... but that's another editorial...).

Just The Fiction, Mam

Speaking of minds: we wonder what McCaffrey has done with his own. Given the chance, he further demonstrated his closed-mindedness by refusing to even accompany Dutch officials on a visit to an Amsterdam "coffee shop" where he could have familiarized himself with some facts. Small wonder. Facts are so inconvenient when you've already made up your mind.

Consider McCaffrey's comments about a Swiss program for addicts:

"I'm very skeptical about the evidence of heroin maintenance. I think that our own thinking is to strongly oppose this. We have historical experience in the 1920s that it did not work," General Barry McCaffrey, the White House drugs chief, told a news briefing in Zurich.
Reuters, July 15, 1998

Skeptical of evidence? "I think that our own thinking is..."? Historical experiences in the 1920s? Some Europeans wonder what this has man been smoking.

Thomas Zeltner, head of the Swiss Federal Health Bureau, produced data that showed the McCaffrey's conclusions about Swiss addiction rates were wrong. Did it matter? No, of course not. It appears that McCaffrey's entire trip was nothing but an effort to pull the wool over the eyes of folks back home. Had he been the head of Tourism, he'd likely have told Americans you can't drink the water over here. (For the record: you can.)

Former Dutch health minister Els Borst also reported that McCaffrey refused to accept some of the facts on the results of Dutch drugs policy.

But there's more..

More Lies

During his recent meetings in Los Angeles, McCaffrey insisted:

"I'm not trying to persuade the Dutch, but I'm darn sure I don't want to apply their model intellectually to the United States," Barry McCaffrey said in an interview with Reuters. "They've tried to be consistent with a harm-reduction policy which hasn't worked and is leading them now to beginning heroin maintenance trials"

Sounds serious, right? Sure. Yet - you guessed it - this is another McCaffrey fable meant for US consumption. The pilot program he speaks of is a study limited to 50 people. The program was set up to study whether the health of long-time, hard-core heroin users improves if natural heroin rather than the equally addictive synthetic Methadon is administered. Ironically, the very day after McCaffrey made his claims, Dutch daily Het Parool reported the program in question is running short of qualified people. Instead of the 50 needed for the study, only 14 people have qualified so far - two months after the start of the program. It's not that others are in hiding. Unlike in the States, where authorities are "waging war" on drugs and those who use them are seen as criminals, in Holland drug addiction is seen as a health problem. Authorities here are willing to help. It is not unusual to see Amsterdam policemen chat with a known user, reminding him to see his doctor. In America, where drug abuse is seen as a criminal rather than a health issue, there is no such understanding.

Christians and Drugs

The vast majority of Christians do not condone the use of narcotics - regardless of whether they're illegal, legal, or tolerated. Many of us who work with drug addicts know how destructive drugs are, and realize drug use often is rooted in, or leads to, deep-seated personal problems.

Most Dutch Christians would also speak out against the seemingly limitless tolerance Holland is known for - with regard to this, and other issues. That said, many Christians prefer sitting in the pews over seeking out the lost, and many who have an opinion on this issue have never even taken the time to understand the problem - let alone minister to a drug abuser.

But what we don't need is for an American drug czar - informed or not - to tell us how to run our country. Talk radio programs, TV magazines and newspaper columns are full of references to America's own problems - its failed "war on drugs," its high percentage of crime, the fact that school children have to worry about whether they'll be the next shooting victims ... Not to speak of such international issues as America's failure to join the ban on land mines, its refusal to back an International Court of Justice, and the continued use of the death penalty (which some European companies find so unpalatable that they are threatening divestment from those States that continue to use it).

More to the point, Christians do not condone lying, either. If Barry McCaffrey can not stick to the facts, he can not expect people to take him seriously. The retired general may think all is fair in love and war, but when it comes to this particular battle, his strategy clearly has backfired.

Americans who are seriously concerned about the drug problem ought to disregard McCaffrey's comments - (which, incidentally, he claimed were meant for American consumption anyway - as if that made lying OK) - and instead should check the facts for themselves.

Bottom line: while Holland has a drugs problem that is somewhat exacerbated by its traditional tolerance, it should not be exaggerated by American leaders in an effort to lobby the folks back home.

Update: Jan. 9, 1999

Recent figures further silence America's official line.

At the beginning of this year, the US Justice Department released figures showing the 1997 murder rate in the United States declined to its lowest level in 30 years:

There were 18,209 murders, or 6.8 for every 100,000 people, the lowest since 6.2 per 100,000 in 1967. The rate was down from highs of 10.2 per 100,000 in 1980 and 9.8 in 1991. In 1950 the rate was 4.6 per 100,000.
CNN, Jan. 2, 1999

Spelling it out for Mr. McCaffrey: 6.8 murders per 100,000 people in the USA is significantly higher than 1.8 murders per 100,000 people in the Netherlands.

McCaffrey tied his fictional figures on the murder rate in Holland to drugs use. What, pray tell, does he attribute the higher body count in the USA to? If it's drugs use - which is indeed higher in the States than it is in Holland - why is he trying to blame European countries like the Netherlands? Could it be a smoke screen intended to hide the ineffectiveness of America's approach?

I think it is. A recent study, published by the University of Amsterdam and performed by the Amsterdam Center for Drugs Research in cooperation with the Central Bureau of Statistics, shows the actual number of soft drugs users in the Netherlands to be no higher than 300,000 - less than half the 675,000 figure previously used by the government.

In December '98, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug-abuse, showed that 0,6 percent of the Dutch population 12 years and older has used Cocaine, en 0,1 percent has used heroine. In the States, the figures are three times higher.

Lies may work well for a popular president who, among other things, claims he never inhaled. But when a drugs czar insists on spreading misinformation in an attempt to cover up America's failed approach to drugs abuse, we scream "murder" and bludgeon him with facts - not fiction.

See Also:
» Europe shifts out of drug-war mode, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 12, 2001:
   ''Belgium, Britain, France, and Portugal are among those moving toward the    Dutch model of treatment, not arrest.''
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