"U.S. fails to catch two-thirds of drug boats, general says," and "Man charged with smuggling 40,000 erectile dysfunction pills."
One is about being stupid. The other is about being caught.
I'll let you decide which is which.
First, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters Wednesday that military efforts to stem drug smuggling from Latin America are being hampered because planes and ships have been diverted to combat operations elsewhere.
It's certainly not a problem of funding, though. As The Times' story says:
The military has spent $6.1 billion since 2005 to help detect drug payloads heading to the U.S., as well as on surveillance and other intelligence operations, according to a report last year by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
At prices like that, it might be cheaper for the government to just buy the cocaine from the cartels.
And, of course, there's this little Catch-22:
"Any drug interdiction strategy is a Band-Aid, a temporary fix," said Bruce Bagley, who studies U.S. counter-narcotics efforts at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Fla. "It may reduce the supply for a short time, but what does get in is worth more."
Well, yeah, there's that. Otherwise known as the 800-lb. gorilla of the whole war-on-drugs policy. Drugs are illegal, but people still want them. So someone supplies them. So we spend a fortune to try to stop them. And whatever we catch just makes the stuff we don't catch more valuable, which makes the guys who supply it richer.
Naw, then people might use more drugs, and that would mean more addicts, and that would mean we would have to spend money on treatment. Instead of, uh, spending a large fortune trying to fight cartels that corrupt governments and kill people and -- well, OK, it's a mess.
Honestly, I don't know if legalization would work. But I'm pretty sure that what we're doing now isn't working.
Still, I'll admit that the current system did manage to get its man, one Kil Jun Lee, 71, of Westlake, Calif.
Lee allegedly tried to slip 29,827 counterfeit Viagra tablets, 8,993 counterfeit Cialis pills and 793 counterfeit Levitra tablets past authorities at LAX by hiding them in his golf bag and luggage. (Which, of course, was his first mistake, because as any wife who's been abandoned for five hours on a Sunday by her golf-addict husband can tell you, golf and sex never mix.)
And it's not as though the law enforcement guys didn't have a sense of humor:
According to the criminal complaint, Lee concealed the tablets in aluminum-foil-wrapped packets, and was questioned by authorities about whether the pills were all for personal use. He responded that he had a heart condition, and using all the pills would kill him.
Oh, ha ha -- "all for your personal use."
Also, Lee didn't come across as your typical hardened drug smuggler:
He also said he "did not believe the pills were genuine," adding that "he was sorry" for bringing the pills and "will not do it again."
Which, really, is good enough for me. A sincere apology and a promise not to be a repeat offender for what is, in a sense, a victimless crime. (Unless, of course, you paid good money for the counterfeit stuff -- but then again, caveat emptor!)
So the Navy and Coast Guard will continue their futile efforts to stop Latin America's cartels.
And the good folks at LAX will continue to protect us from the evils of phony Viagra.
And we taxpayers will keep paying for it all.
And that's no joke.
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: Colombian police at a cocaine production laboratory in the jungle. Credit: Mauricio Duenas / EPA