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Smoke and Mirrors

Review by George Everett

Smoke & Mirrors has less to do with drugs than it does with the true casualties of the long-fought War on Drugs -- the many civil liberties that all of us have lost, especially in the last decade, as federal policy has amassed greater and greater powers in the hands of police and prosecutors.

Dan Baum puts you in the room as each new Drug War law, court decision or policy change is discussed and created. The reader watches his or her own Constitutional rights stripped away piece by piece by people who should have known better.

This not a dry book about legal precedence and maneuvers, however; each new onslaught is placed in context by how it affects the people most harmed by them. The names, faces, lives, and families of the Drug War's victims are vividly displayed.

For instance, Baum tells about an innocent African American landscaper named Willie Jones traveling from Nashville to Houston to buy shrubs who made the mistake of buying a plane ticket with cash. That bumped him into a drug courier profile and the ticket agent received a reward for reporting the person to authorities who confiscated his cash. Travelers, fitting drug courier profiles, mostly people of color, can be required with impunity now to undergo X-ray examinations, full cavity searches, and to defecate in buckets upon demand before they are allowed to continue on their journey.

The most odious of these recent infringements however involve civil and criminal forfeiture laws that now make it legal to arbitrarily confiscate the property of someone only suspected of a drug crime. These laws have turned drug investigations into money-making ventures for law enforcement departments around the country. Some even have budgets that rely heavily on property confiscation -- cash, cars, land, homes from those suspected of drug crimes -- even if they are not convicted. Drug defendants have their assets frozen and confiscated before their trials.

Particularly useful are Baum's copious footnotes. Every quote, fact, and court case in the book is documented, making further research easy.

Smoke and Mirrors shows how the Drug War was cooked up as a sexy political issue in the Nixon years, and then was rehashed and re-heated through the Reagan and Bush years to a fever pitch. But as Baum clearly explains, the blame is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans alike have climbed over themselves to enact harsher laws and regulations and the fervor has not abated in recent years just because a Democrat was elected President.

Baum has raised questions that for too long many were too afraid to articulate. He has asked them well, he has asked them of the right people, and he has elicited candid and clarifying answers. This book contains the results of 175 conversations with policy makers who through the years have set these forces into motion and with many innocent victims of those policies.

We have lost too much already, as this misguided domestic policy disguised as a jihad has pilfered public coffers, diverted attention and resources from serious violent crimes, destroyed careers, reputations, and property, and taken a precious toll of innocent lives on both sides of the law.

Smoke and Mirrors can be ordered by sending a check for $24.95 to Little, Brown & Co., Attention Order Department, 200 West Street, Waltham, MA 02154, or by calling 1-800-759-0190 with a credit card number.

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