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March 5, 2008 - Indianapolis Star (IN)

Column: Drugged Out On Power

By Dan Carpenter

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

It's supposed to be the dithering Democrats who stump for the nanny state, offering protection and nurturing for the price of our tax dollars and liberty.

So who came to town the other day wearing the flowered dress and clunky shoes?

None other than President Bush's drug czar, regaling local educators and The Star's Editorial Board as to the virtues of random substance testing in the schools.

I must say I conjured a different picture when John Walters rolled in with his Secret Service retinue. Maybe taking an ax to some meth lab, or kicking in a crack house door on a street where kids were afraid to walk to school for their tests.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy does do a lot of fighting on a lot of fronts. But this was more like Maximum Mom, touting new federal funding and encouragement for schools to work urine- and hair-sampling into their busy days.

Without warrants. Without probable cause. With, however, the permission of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that these baseless invasions of young captive bodies are OK so long so they are not "punitive" in nature. Say what?

Walters insists it's a way to help the kids -- "a public health screening tool." No moral or legal implications, just a practical effort to reduce the risk of getting started by raising the risk of getting caught.

It's like TB, for which everybody gets screened already without complaint. Drug abuse as a communicable disease, spread by peer pressure. "You get it from your boyfriend."

OK, I asked, does that mean the administration approves of condom distribution in schools? There's a clearcut public health regimen, morality, again, aside.

The big guy danced around that one like Mrs. Doubtfire in hard-rock housecleaning mode. While sex is not his department, he knows that, unlike drugs, it is a youthful activity about which his boss is much more ready to settle for "just say no."

Abstinence lectures share the menu with search and seizure when it comes to drugs, and Walters says the young people he talks to like it just fine. That's not surprising. This generation is growing up in a surveillance state, and school serves to prepare them for the workplace drug testing, official IDs, ubiquitous bar codes and warrantless wiretapping that will define their adult lives.

Perhaps, as some believe, we are at the intersection of liberal caretaking and fascist control. Walters, the Republican crusader, would reject either label. But whom is he helping and how is it Washington's business?

Notoriously porous, all but useless against alcohol, fluid- and hair-testing is most efficient at intimidating and humiliating good kids. If public health were its purpose, the Bush administration would not be simultaneously seeking massive cuts in medical programs for the poor.

Another initiative Walters was here to promote is an ad campaign to warn parents against letting kids get at their prescription drugs, a growing source of abuse. Now, I'm wondering which part of KEEP OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN is not already understood.

I'd also ask, if the propaganda push truly is a public health imperative, why is it not also directed at the ferocious marketing of these magic remedies? Or, for that matter, at the wall-to-wall hawking of alcohol to our precious kids?

Nanny's a specialist, it seems. There are things, like windows, she doesn't do.

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