Europeans Don't Seem to Fancy Roma or Muslims Very Much

Pew recently studied the views of various EU nationals toward certain minorities. The main results in three graphs:

Unfavorable Views of Roma Widespread

Italians Most Critical of Muslims

Greeks Divided about Jews

A few observations:

-- Italians really don't like minorities very much, do they? All the ones I know do, though!

-- Roma (formerly called gypsies) come off worst of all. Even in Germany, which bears the historical guilt of having murdered hundreds of thousands of them, opinion of Roma is evenly split. And this after the EU's much-ballyhooed Decade of Roma Inclusion. The Guardian in 2003 noted:

Statistics on education and employment show how overwhelmingly the odds are stacked against them. In the Czech Republic, 75% of Roma children are educated in schools for people with learning difficulties, and 70% are unemployed (compared with a national rate of 9%). In Hungary, 44% of Roma children are in special schools, while 74% of men and 83% of women are unemployed. In Slovakia, Roma children are 28 times as likely to be sent to a special school than non-Roma; Roma unemployment stands at 80%.

Of course, this being the Guardian, these dismal numbers are attributed solely to discrimination by non-Roma. Now -- mandatory disclaimer -- I am not denying or advocating discrimination against Roma. I am a nice, caring person with properly Advanced and Tolerant views on all important Social Questions, and I also would like to note that I have excellent personal hygiene! I do, however, happen to know a number of people who have worked in/with Roma communities who would violently reject beg to differ from the argument that nothing about Roma culture or values contributes to their problems:

The following day, while chatting with a group of Gypsies in the small Transylvanian village of Dealu Frumos, I get an insight into a side of the Roma that I have been constantly warned about but have not yet encountered. A young man and his friends are telling me about tsigani de casatsi—house Gypsies—"bad ones, who don't work on the land like us but just steal for a living." Without warning, he wrenches my notebook from my hands and shoves me against the car. I am punched in the kidneys, and my arm is twisted behind me. A blade is held to the side of my neck, and suddenly I am surrounded by roaring Gypsies, maybe 30 of them, more appearing every few seconds from the surrounding houses. My translator, Mihai, is punched in the head. "Money! Money! Money!" his tormentors bellow. I am allowed into the car to retrieve my bag, but Mihai is kept outside, a hostage to my ransom. I offer all the money from my wallet, and Mihai pulls free and throws himself into the back seat. As we drive off, we do an inventory of our injuries. Apart from bruises and shock, my main injury is to my hitherto benign image of the Roma as a wronged and misunderstood people.

The average Guardian reader is apparently expected to believe on faith alone that it is per se impossible for a minority group to display any distinct social characteristics, even though they have been breeding largely among themselves for 32 generations. It may be of interest to note that the most recent and reliable study puts the mean IQ of some European Roma populations in the mid-70s. I suppose we can just be glad the pollsters didn't ask these questions in Bulgaria or Romania, countries with huge Roma populations.

-- As I've noted before, this survey tends to undermine the notion of a wave of anti-Semitism sweeping Western Europe. Anti-semitic opinion in Western Europe is largely concentrated among Muslim populations. As this poll shows, the farther south and east you go in Europe, the more mainstream anti-Semitism becomes.


The Success of Germany's Cautious, Self-Interested Foreign Policy

Parke Nicholson joins the chorus of Americans urging Germany to increase military spending intervene more abroad foreign policy. Problem is, Germans don’t want this:

A majority of the German public for the first time favors an “independent approach” from the United States. Yet besides spending more on foreign aid, most prefer to “continue to exercise restraint” in dealing with international crises, and there is a deep ambivalence about the use of military force or sanctions. Although it is true that Germany remains constrained by its past, its recent success may have also instilled in it a sense of complacency. 

For example, Germany is often singled out for its meager defense spending. Although Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble recently announced a six percent increase in defense spending over the next five years, much of this will replace aging equipment and infrastructure, and overall spending will remain small relative to the country’s size. More frustrating to American observers, however, is the government’s reluctance to openly discuss security challenges and commit to planning for future contingencies. This is odd given that Germany provided the third-largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan and well over 200,000 soldiers to international peacekeeping missions since 1993….

In the longer term, Germany must recognize that it can no longer simply remain a convening power and rely on the initiative of other “shaping powers,” the European Union, or the United States. It will have to better articulate and publicly defend its foreign interests. Meekly reflecting on its limitations is an excuse to avoid responsibility and take concrete steps when international rules are ignored. If Germany wants to forge a stronger Europe and a peaceful world order, it needs to ignore the hype about its power and think more courageously about how to use it.

At another point in the article, Nicholson states without proof: ‘Nor can Germany truly shape, let alone protect, open markets for its goods without the backbone of U.S. military power.’

Hardly a day goes by without some pundit, usually American, chastising Germany for having a barely-functional military and for staying out of most international conflicts. Usually, the argument boils down to: "We're the only ones who are combating Al-Shabbab in the Horn of Africa and ISIS and the Houthis and the Taliban and al-Nusra and Chinese demands for islands and Russians in the Ukraine and a thousand other global threats and what are the Germans doing to help us? Nada! Germany, you're rich and popular and still have a semblance of a military -- start meddling in dozens of foreign conflicts!"

To which most Germans respond: Why? Germany faces no direct or indirect military threat. Its citizens overwhelmingly oppose sending troops into harm's way in remote places. What on earth would that achieve, other than dragging Germany into conflicts where its interests aren't at stake and making it a target? With no threats at home and no reason to interfere abroad, Germany hardly needs a military at all.

Its leaders prefer not to hector other countries about human-rights issues, especially when that would get in the way of lucrative contracts. The author provides no instance of American military power helping Germany economically, and I can't think of one. And the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Germany's the most popular country in the world, and one of the most prosperous, and much of the credit goes to its low-key foreign policy. Why would it change course?


Germany's Refugee-Resettlement Plans Praised

 Germany's migrant policies get a cautiously optimistic review from Canadian journalist Doug Saunders: 

What about all those tens of thousands of Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis who don’t end up bobbing lifeless in the Mediterranean or steered at gunpoint back to the southern shore? Where do they wind up?

The answer, overwhelmingly, is found here on the western edge of Germany, in the urban quilt around the Rhine and Main rivers. It is here, the booming heartland of the world’s most successful economy, that perhaps the greatest concentration of the war-weary of Africa and Asia are being received, sorted, cleaned up and placed in (figurative and literal) boxes.

No other country comes close to hosting so many fleeing people: Last year, Germany received 173,000 refugee applications (and accepted most), a third of Europe’s total and more than twice as many as the second-place country, Sweden. (Canada took 13,000 refugees last year, and expects 16,000 this year.) It is a human tide not seen since the Balkan wars of the 1990s, when as many as 438,000 refugees a year came to Germany.

In Germany...the public and their politicians are receiving the majority of Europe’s refugees with surprising calm, even optimism. While there was a brief flare-up of anti-immigrant politics earlier this year in cities of the former East Germany (where there are almost no immigrants to be found), those died away quickly. Here, even refugee advocates say they’re surprised by the broadly positive reception.

“I am really amazed at how much this country has changed – even a decade ago this would have created anger and distrust, but today I’m hearing nothing but welcome for the new refugees – people are being really open,” says Zerai Kiros Abraham, a former Eritrean refugee who now runs Project Moses, a refugee-settlement charity in Frankfurt.

They particularly want the Syrians, who tend to be middle-class and have the professional degrees and technical skills needed here...

It helps considerably that Germany has recently ended its policy of banning refugees from seeking employment: This had left many earlier asylum seekers loitering in public squares and shopping malls, falling into marginal lives and giving a bad image to immigrants in general – and depriving Germany of badly needed labour. Now they can work after three months, and employers and municipalities are pressuring Berlin to let them work sooner.

The optimism may be short-lived: Refugees, unlike immigrants, often have a difficult time settling, as they lack the language ability, the savings and connections needed to start businesses, and are often deeply traumatized. For now, the big question, across the country, is where to house them all. Many are living in thousands of state-issued shipping-container shelters, which are a blot on the landscape and tend to become undesirable.

Saunders is cherry-picking here: he focuses only on refugees: people who are actually fleeing war and persecution. Not a word about the 'refugees' from Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. Still, it's good to see the foreign press looking past the spray-painted swastikas for once.


Green Party Pedophiles: A Case of Sacralized Victims

 

I've blogged before about social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, especially his writings about 'sacralization' and political discourse. Crudely oversimplified by me, the theory goes: he proposes that much of what we consider someone's political ideology is choices about who is open to criticism or mockery. Humans have a strong tendency to divide ourselves into tribes in many different ways. In politics we define ourselves by sacralizung certain people, groups, values, and institutions. Conservatives identify with family, authority, church, entrepreneurship. Thus, they exempt these institutions from criticism among their own tribe, and rush to their defense when they are attacked by left-liberals. Left-liberals, for their part, have just as strong a desire to find sacred objects or ideas that elevate human life above selfish struggle and identify individuals with a greater cause.

The sacralized groups and objects can change over time; many conservatives no longer think marriage has to be protected from gays anymore, and few seriously think the Pope's ex cathedra pronouncements are infallible. For liberals, the workers were once sacred, but then came the 1960s and 1970s, when a lot of the workers turned out not to have very educated or progressive views about women, minorities, and gays. So left-liberals tended to identify with these historical targets of discrimination. And, as things go, sacralized them. Each member of a particular minority group was considered a living embodiment of social injustice, and liberals worldwide began to identify each other by deep concern over how these groups were treated. These social movements, of course, brought plenty of wholesome social progress which only reactionaries would want to turn back.

But it also brought plenty of excesses, such as mid-1980s gay pride parades, those cavalcades of perversion that, as the Onion put it, set back acceptance of gays by decades. Another part of sacralizing victims is taboo on criticizing the statements or actions of gays, ethnic minorities, women, the disabled, and other designated minority groups.

Which brings us to the German Green Party. Founded in the late 1970s as the Alternative List, it was at first a chaotic but stimulating party for people who felt excluded by the three-party system prevailing in Germany. The early Greens comprised gays, environmental activists, pacifists, vegetarians, and the like, and its platform was green, anti-nuke, pro-gay, and multicultural. In the following decades, the Green party itself and most of its concerns have become completely mainstream, so we can say the 'march through the institutions' worked. In the early 1980s, a widely-despised social group found a home in the Green Party: pedophiles. They analogized themselves to gays: people ostracized by society by their unconventional sexual orientation.

And some (not all!) regional Green Party branches, disastrously, bought the argument. Pedophiles were permitted to join the party and even hold leadership positions. Pro-pedophile groups called the 'Urban Indian Communes' protested Green party political gatherings, insisting (g) that the Party adopt planks advocating the decriminalization of sex between adults and children. Fred Karst, convicted of pedophile offenses several times, started a 'working group' within the Green party called 'Old and Young.' It was an official party organization within the 'Gay Issues' group of the party. The members of the group often organized special trips where men could cavort with boys (my translation):

The working group was a meeting-point for pedohiles, who among other things organized special road trips for young men -- and abused them. The group belonged to the 'Gay Issues' group within the Green Party and was thus an official component of the overall party. "We are ashamed for the institutional failure of our party" says Berlin regional Green Party director Bettina Jarasch. "This blindness to abuse of power still baffles and enrages me."

Things could go so far because of a special characteristic of the Berlin greens. A so-called "minority dogma" guaranteed the "Young and Old" working group far-ranging autonomy and a special rule: opinions which couldn't command majority support could still be propagated for years in the party's name -- including the idea that sexual relationships with children were legitimate.

The last pedophiles were kicked out of the party only in the mid-1990s. The Greens, faced with renewed revelations in 2013, commissioned a political scientist from Göttingen, Franz Walter, to create a report on how pedophiles were allowed to gain so much influence within the party. One of his conclusions in the report (g, pdf) was that of the four main factors contributing to acceptance of pedophiles, two were (1) a tendency to 'affective solidarity' with excluded outsider groups that led the Greens to unconditionally accept their demands and grant them disproportional influence in the party; and (2) a 'strongly anti-repressive' tendency within the party which led members to sympathize indiscriminately with those who faced 'repression' by the state, including pedophiles and imprisoned RAF murderers.

Fortunately the Green Party has finally realized what a horrible mistake the party made, has unequivocally denounced pedophilia, and has promised counseling and compensation to victims. But the startling prospect of a major political party with national representation allowing child molesters to propagandize from within its ranks demonstrates the dangers of exempting marginalized groups from all criticism.


Freund hört mit, or: Under US Law, Germans Have No Privacy Rights and Can be Spied on at Will

Feind_hoert_mit

I slapped together a little something (g) for Germany's Legal Times Online about the Snowden case. The editor pepped up the language a bit, but that's fine with me, it's supposed to be a popular format.

What I said is that the Fourth Amendment guarantees US citizens privacy in situations in which they have a 'reasonable expectation of privacy'. Email and (especially) phone calls certainly belong in that sphere. So if the NSA is collecting massive amounts of emails and telephone data randomly, without a specific search warrant, then it is violating the privacy rights of US citizens. According to recent revelations, the NSA has developed internal 'minimization procedures' that instruct agents to stop listening or reading if they find out that they are spying on a US citizen, similar to regulations the German Federal Constitutional Court has required in cases of spying on telephone calls or private apartments. But since the court meets in secret, we have no way of independently verifying these claims. Also, since the Obama administration has blocked all privacy lawsuits with the legal doctrine of the state secrets privilege, no American court has yet ruled on whether these programs are constitutional.

However, the situation in Germany is not very different. German spy agencies have extremely broad powers under existing law, and will gain new ones under the new Telecommunications Law which takes effect on 1 July. There is a parliamentary committee which provides general oversight of requests for surveillance and a so-called G-10 committee which rules on individual requests. They are supposed to follow strict minimization procedures and insist on adequate proof of possible wrongdoing before authorizing spying measures. However, since both of these committees operate in secret, we have no way of knowing how carefully these guidelines are respected. Plus, since there have been no German whistleblowers, we have no real insight into the scope of German programs. As the Green Party speaker Konstantin von Notz recently remarked, it is high time that Germans learned more about what their own spy agency is up to.

One thing that has really angered Germans is the fact that communication to and from and even within Germany are being spied on by the US and the UK. The official position of the US government (in the form of a Senate report) is that foreigners 'foreigners outside the United States generally are not entitled to the protections of the Fourth Amendment.' Thus, the current version of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides no protection for the privacy rights of foreigners. The secret court which orders surveillance can authorize blanket data collection on all foreigners, everywhere. The only limitations kick in when it appears that an American citizen may be involved. In the words of the report itself, 'Section 702 thus enables the Government to collect information effectively and efficiently about foreign targets overseas and in a manner that protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans'.

Of course, this wouldn't matter so much if American and the UK didn't have, and use, spying technology that can sweep up massive streams of data from everywhere and anywhere. As far as remedies for Germany, it's not clear what Germany can do, except send sternly-worded letters (g) to American officials. I'm not aware of any treaty that the US has ratified without reservation which would give Germany a basis for complaint before international tribunals. But I'm happy to be corrected in comments if I've overlooked something.


Fewer Unions, Falling Wages, Rising Inequality

I was kindly invited to give a speech at the annual conference of the German American Lawyers' Association in Freiburg. I agreed, since Freiburg is a delightful place, the annual wine festival's happening at that time, and I can probably get some study time in at the Max Planck Institute for Criminal Law. The downside? I have to talk about collective bargaining. That's the theme of the conference, and although I repeatedly told the very nice lady that wasn't really my field, she was extremely persistent.

So now I'm boning up on collective bargaining. Which turns out to be a fascinating, if depressing story. The modern era of collective bargaining in the U.S. started with the National Labor Relations Act, which was supposed to set up a fair and equitable means of managing labor disputes. However, especially since the 1970s, changes in the American workplace and a concerted anti-union effort by conservative politicians and judges have effectively deprived American workers of the right to strike (for the long version of this argument see this article on how American workers have lost the right to strike).

Here are a few charts that basically tell the story. First, union membership rates:

O-CEPRUNIONIZATIONRATE19482012-570
As the article from which this was taken puts it:

In 2012, the rate of union membership in the public sector fell by more than a full percentage point, from 37 to 35.9 percent of workers, while in the private sector it dropped from 6.9 to 6.6 percent. The combined rate of American workers now belonging to a union stands at 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 the previous year and the lowest figure ever since the bureau started collecting the data in 1983, when the rate was 20.1 percent.

Strikes have also become practically non-existent:

Since the 1970s, wages and compensation for lower-middle and working class people have stagnated or dropped (the lines represent percentile rankings of the population):

Indexed_stagnation

Men are making less in real terms than they did in 1970, and many have therefore dropped out of the labor force entirely:

Hamilton1
 ...and increases in productivity have increased corporate profits and the income of the top 1%, rather than funding a broad, prosperous middle-class:

Change-since-1979-300


How Germany will Handle the Rise of the Robots

Kevin Drum has an insightful piece predicting that artifical intelligence will be here before you think and will radically change the economy:

We've moved from computers with a trillionth of the power of a human brain to computers with a billionth of the power. Then a millionth. And now a thousandth. Along the way, computers progressed from ballistics to accounting to word processing to speech recognition, and none of that really seemed like progress toward artificial intelligence. That's because even a thousandth of the power of a human brain is—let's be honest—a bit of a joke. Sure, it's a billion times more than the first computer had, but it's still not much more than the computing power of a hamster.

This is why, even with the IT industry barreling forward relentlessly, it has never seemed like we were making any real progress on the AI front. But there's another reason as well: Every time computers break some new barrier, we decide—or maybe just finally get it through our thick skulls—that we set the bar too low. At one point, for example, we thought that playing chess at a high level would be a mark of human-level intelligence. Then, in 1997, IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer beat world champion Garry Kasparov, and suddenly we decided that playing grandmaster-level chess didn't imply high intelligence after all.

So maybe translating human languages would be a fair test? Google Translate does a passable job of that these days. Recognizing human voices and responding appropriately? Siri mostly does that, and better systems are on the near horizon. Understanding the world well enough to win a round of Jeopardy! against human competition? A few years ago IBM's Watson supercomputer beat the two best human Jeopardy! champions of all time. Driving a car? Google has already logged more than 300,000 miles in its driverless cars, and in another decade they may be commercially available.

... True artificial intelligence will very likely be here within a couple of decades. Making it small, cheap, and ubiquitous might take a decade more.

In other words, by about 2040 our robot paradise awaits.

...This isn't something that will happen overnight. It will happen slowly, as machines grow increasingly capable. We've already seen it in factories, where robots do work that used to be done by semiskilled assembly line workers. In a decade, driverless cars will start to put taxi hacks and truck drivers out of a job. And while it's easy to believe that some jobs can never be done by machines—do the elderly really want to be tended by robots?—that may not be true. Nearly 50 years ago, when MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum created a therapy simulation program named Eliza, he was astonished to discover just how addictive it was. Even though Eliza was almost laughably crude, it was endlessly patient and seemed interested in your problems. People liked talking to Eliza.

...Increasingly, then, robots will take over more and more jobs. And guess who will own all these robots? People with money, of course. As this happens, capital will become ever more powerful and labor will become ever more worthless. Those without money—most of us—will live on whatever crumbs the owners of capital allow us.

This is a grim prediction. But it's not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds. Economist Paul Krugman recently remarked that our long-standing belief in skills and education as the keys to financial success may well be outdated. In a blog post titled "Rise of the Robots," he reviewed some recent economic data and predicted that we're entering an era where the prime cause of income inequality will be something else entirely: capital vs. labor.

So, by 2040, we will have robots intelligent enough to perform hundreds of tasks that used to be performed by humans. Let me put on my heavy, black-framed armchair-sociologist glasses and predict how these developments will be received in Germany [snark]:

  • 2035: A spate of articles on American robots will all emerge at the same time in German mainstream publications with titles such as: 'A Terrifying Experiment in the "Land of Opportunity"', 'Alienation in the Post-Human Age: As American as Apple Pie', 'Turbocapitalism and the Terminator', and 'Racial Injustice, Robocop-Style'.
  • 2037: Germany's leading philosopher, Hans-Jürgen Quasselkasper, pens a 35,000-word essay in Die Zeit in which he denounces the introduction of robots as an 'assault on human dignity, the very fundamental value of our Constitutional order' and calls for strict limits on robot labor. It is hailed as a 'bold intervention' by all broadsheet newspapers, and is read in its entirety by 563 people. Pope Kevin II issues an encyclical denouncing the spread of robot labor. The Evangelical Church of Germany issues a statement setting out its 'profound concern' about robots.
  • 2041: German politicians from across the political spectrum, but especially the Greens, call for strict legislation regulating the use of robots and preserving 'humane values' in the workplace and society. The German parliament passes a law prohibiting the import of foreign-made robots into Germany.
  • 2043: To those who complain about the protectionist law passed in 2041, German politicians and elite journalists reply that Germany is 'not going to join the chorus of simple-minded people crying Halleluja! about this promising but dangerous new technology' and that 'countries who prematurely embrace these innovations without considering the risks will one day rue their short-sightedness'.
  • 2045: The European Union convenes a Working Group on Robotics and Society to draft a set of guidelines to 'harmonize the use of robots with European social values' and 'protect the dignity of the worker and patient'.
  • 2035-45: German manufacturers, realizing the staggering profit potential of robots and well-prepared to compete internationally, begin manufacturing robot nurses, robot factory workers, sexbots, robot soldiers, and robot schoolteachers for export to the rest of the world. They're about 10 years behind the U.S. but they establish their niche, and billions in profits flow to Germany.
  • 2043-47: The furor about robots dies down as German-made robots begin be used in Germany and Germans begin to realize just how profitable they are. The federal Parliament quietly revokes the 2041 law. Lobbying by German and other European high-tech firms ensures that the European Union Working Group's final recommendations are non-binding blather.
  • 2047: In Berlin, German Federal President Jimi Blue Ochsenknecht proudly opens the high-tech exposition: 'Germany: Leader in Robotic Innovation'.

[/snark]


Guns Kill More Efficiently than Anything Else

Assault-deaths-oecd-ts-all
Two news stories from yesterday: In China, a man using a knife attacked schoolchildren. 22 were injured, and none died. Another man in the USA attacked schoolchildren using Sig Sauer and Glock semi-automatic pistols, precision instruments designed to efficiently kill humans. There were almost no survivors. Apparently, every single child he targeted was killed on the scene. The local hospital turned away nurses who had come in to help, since there was no more help to give.

Even for a determined murderer, killing someone with a knife is difficult. You'll generally need to hit them several times, and if you don't hit a major artery, they are likely to survive, especially with modern medical treatment. Plus, they will defend themselves, if they're conscious. Killing someone with a bomb is also a challenge -- as recent failed bombings both in the US and in Germany (g) show, it's very hard to competently construct a large bomb.

A semi-automatic pistol is a different matter entirely. Standing well away from your victim, you can launch projectiles at 1,150 feet per second at their head and chest, pumping bullet after bullet into them until you're sure they're dead. The whole process takes seconds. There's almost nothing they can do to defend themselves. You can stay a comfortable distance away from your victims. Plus, you can pick them out specifically and target only the ones you want to kill. The gun that gives you this power is light and easily-concealed.

This is why most societies tightly regulate semi-automatic handguns. There's nothing like them for the combination of easy concealment and potent lethality. There will always be the occasional extremely rare incident in which one person decides to attack a large number of others at once, but only if he uses a semi-automatic weapon is the death toll likely to be high.

This latest American massacre will likely spur more debate about gun control in the US, but gun-control opponents there will rightly point out that tighter regulations probably won't achieve much. The genie of portable, effective killing machines is out of the bottle: the US is awash in 310 million non-military privately-held firearms, millions of which are semi-automatic handguns. There's nothing you can do to take them out of circulation -- at least nothing that is remotely politically feasible. The US will be living with this policy disaster for decades, if not centuries.

(Graph source here)


Marijuana Is Winning the War on Drugs

PrdLarge_120538

The election brought good news. First, Obama's health-reform is safe:

This is the capstone of the Democratic welfare state, the final big-ticket program that's eluded liberals for nearly a century. In Joe Biden's memorable words, it's a big fucking deal. If Romney were elected along with a Republican Senate, he'd almost certainly be able to badly cripple Obamacare, even if he couldn't quite repeal it outright. If Obama wins and keeps the Senate in Democratic hands, it will become institutionalized. And like Social Security and other similar programs that started out small, it will grow over time until, eventually, America really does have universal healthcare.

The ideological debate about whether the government should ensure basic, affordable health-care for all will gradually wither away in the U.S., as it has in every other advanced nation. And something else happened: Colorado and Washington state voters decided to legalize marijuana. Oregon said no. Marijuana is, however, still considered a Schedule I narcotic under the federal Controlled Substances Act. This is the designation given to drugs that have a 'high potential for abuse', no medical uses, and are unsafe even under medical supervision. Officially, therefore, marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin or LSD. There will be some interesting legal battles if the federal government tries to crack down in states that have decided to let their people enjoy dope.

In the long run, the specter of millions of people openly smoking marijuana and not turning into dead-eyed, shambling mendicants will inevitably undercut the rationale for keeping marijuana illegal. The Governor of Colorado, for his part, warned residents against breaking out the 'Cheetos or gold fish' too quickly. (For my foreign readers, he's not referring to crazed dope fiends eating live gold fish, he's referring to snack foods -- see above -- favored by cannabis conoisseurs). It's hard to paint weed as a terrifying, insidious threat when the Governor is openly joking about it.

The bigger story, though, is the U.S. Supreme Court. With some elderly liberal judges who may retire soon, Romney would have had a chance to change the Court's ideological complexion significantly. The Court is right now considering whether police should have the right to search your home based on the fact that a police dog 'alerted' -- from outside -- to the scent of marijuana inside it. This would be just the latest in a series of decisions giving police broad powers. Radley Balko points out how it all fits together:

But imagine what will happen if the Court finds that a drug dog's alert is sufficient evidence for a search, and that a warrant is not necessary: We may start sending SWAT teams into homes based only on the results of taking drug dogs door to door.

In isolation, it might make sense to rule that it's reasonable for police to break down a door in the middle of the night for a marijuana search warrant. They need to get inside before the suspect can dispose of the evidence. It might make sense for police to use extraordinarily violent tactics in these raids, including putting guns to the heads of everyone inside, including children, because they need to secure the building quickly, and they need to ensure officer safety.

It might make sense to rule that a drug dog's sniff is not a search under the Fourth Amendment, because a sniff is relatively unintrusive. There may be nothing unreasonable about ruling that a drug dog's alert is enough to establish probable cause. After all, we all know that dogs have a finely honed sense of smell. And finally, it might make sense to rule that it is unreasonable to require prosecutors and police departments to provide a particular dog/handler team's field history, because doing so would place an undue burden on law enforcement agencies.

Taken in isolation, you could make a good argument that these are all perfectly reasonable rulings. But put them together. By this time next year, we could be facing this terrifying reality: Police could take a dog/handler team into an apartment complex or to a row of townhouses and have them sniff dozens, even hundreds of residences. That team may have a history in which less than half the dog's alerts lead to any actual recovery of narcotics. No matter. The police could then make note of all the doors at which the dog alerted, and all of those residences could look forward to middle-of-the-night visits from the local SWAT team.

A justice who has spent most of his career in lecture halls and high levels of government may not see how all of that fits together. But any decent criminal lawyer would.