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The incoherence of prohibitionist discourse

After Steve Chapman had his outstanding OpEd in the Chicago Tribune: An unconventional cure for Mexico’s drug violence, former DEA administrator emerged to pen this letter to the Tribune: Fighting for health and safety

In it, he basically tosses out every prohibitionist argument in a row, without any context or attempt to explain or defend them. It’s a really pathetic attempt.

It would not stop crime but would increase health problems and costs, highway deaths, workplace accidents, absenteeism at work and school, and lower academic achievement, and it would open up a bigger market for the drug cartels. […]

Health consequences would be enormous.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves all medicines in the U.S., as it should, but has never approved smoked marijuana nor any medicine that is smoked.

Marijuana has cancer-causing elements and tar content.

Chronic use would flood California emergency rooms.

Health costs will skyrocket with accidents and when the negative impact on immune and respiratory systems occur.

Violence in Mexico has escalated because traffickers feel the heat from the Mexican military. […]

Highway accidents from drugged drivers are already a problem.

With marijuana legal, California highways would become death traps.

These are the ravings of an Alzheimer’s patient who is just throwing words out there that he’s used a thousand times, with no context or meaning.

And yes, this truly is the level of discourse to which our opponents have sunk. And people are starting to notice.

That’s right, the media is starting to notice.

John H. Richardson at Esquire Magazine writes Losing the Drug War in California and notes:

Opponents of the proposed law to legalize and tax marijuana need better arguments, because just saying they’re concerned that kids will start driving high is sending the debate up in smoke.[…]

… the New York Times ran a story with comments from the president of the California Peace Officer’s Association, John Standish. “We just don’t think anything good will come of this,” he said. “It’s not going to better society. It’s going to denigrate it.”

Later he was quoted again: “We have a hard enough time now with drunk drivers on the road. This is just going to add to the problems — I cannot think of one crime scene I’ve been to where people said, ‘Thank God the person was just under the influence of marijuana.'”

My jaw dropped. That’s it? That’s the best you’ve got? For that, thousands of people die every year in the drug war? For that, we arrest more than seven hundred thousand Americans a year? For that, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on police, prisons, and international eradication efforts?

Richardson goes on to tell how other spokespeople responded and added more arguments…

These are the arguments he came up with:

“First off, the figure of seven hundred thousand arrested is factually inaccurate — people do not get arrested for simple possession. The most that happens is they’re given a citation and release. In California, the penalty for simple possession is $100 fine.”

In other words, pot isn’t all that illegal, which strikes me as a weird argument for keeping the drug war going full tilt. It also suggests they don’t take the stoned driver problem as seriously as their rhetoric suggests.

“Second, I think what John was trying to say is that the burden of proof is on the legalizers, because right now what you have is serious public safety problems caused by alcohol abuse, pharmaceutical abuse, tobacco that kills people. Given all that, the question is, What is the public policy good of adding another substance that alters their minds?”

Also, “this substance is a registered carcinogen.” […]

At that point, I had to stop him and ask the obvious question: Isn’t the drug war exactly like Prohibition? Didn’t the legalization of booze make Al Capone’s mobsters pack their Tommy guns back in their cello cases so semi-law-abiding citizens like Joseph P. Kennedy could take over the liquor “cartels.”

“That’s a theoretical argument,” he said.

“But isn’t it true?

[…]

“For sure, it’s going to cost every employer more in insurance,” he said. “If you look at section 11340C, the only thing an employer can do is address consumption issues of an employee that actually affect their workplace performance — if you’re in possession, an employer can’t take any action. If you test dirty, the employer can’t do anything.”

So you can only punish an employee for something that “actually affects his workplace performance” – these are his words, folks. In other words, if a person gets stoned on Saturday night and comes in Monday morning 100 percent sober, there’s no way to punish him? And the problem with this is?

[…]

This war is lost. The only question now is how much more blood and treasure we’re going to waste before we all admit it.

Nicely done by John Richardson. And it’s so true. The prohibitionists just keep throwing stuff out there hoping something will stick, even though it makes no sense. I love the “this substance is a registered carcinogen.” Registered? Well, let’s see… it’s been registered with NIDA through the largest study to date as a substance that most definitely will not cause cancer.

And the pathetic whining that the only way to fire someone for drugs under legalization is if it actually affects their job performance. How much more obvious can you get? These people don’t care about drugged driving or workplace accidents or cancer or kids smoking pot. These are just arguments they’re using to disguise their real reasons for being against legalization (money, jobs, power, and just not liking the people who like marijuana).

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30 comments to The incoherence of prohibitionist discourse

  • claygooding

    They are scratching,biting and kicking,but it is as if they came to a gun fight with a knife. I am still waiting on someone to update and refurbish “Reefer Madness”.
    If they had any money they would just remake it.

  • ezrydn

    We haven’t even begun to reach the level of “pathetic” arguments yet. While what we’re hearing is stupid, it’s also expected as we’ve already heard it before. However, it IS starting, isn’t it? LOL

  • Chris

    I can argue for the legalization of any drug easily now. Just give me a chance. It’s so fun shutting down stupid arguments like these with ease. I especially like the workplace argument. The guy really tipped his hand there; it’s obvious that this is more about keeping marijuana from becoming an accepted part of society than it is about preventing its use or any associated harm.

  • Scott

    These prohibitionist arguments are basically the same ones they relied on for decades.

    The difference is that the media is finally shining its “light” on arguments from both sides.

    The media has to support us, because the truth completely supports us, and we broadcast that truth via the Net, including the media’s comment sections, constantly challenging the media’s credibility (which is everything to them, and fails miserably when they only support pathetic prohibitionist arguments such as the ones quoted in Pete’s post).

    The prohibitionists’ bottom-line argument is:

    Disaster will happen if you end drug prohibition.

    Our immediate, brief reply to that argument should always be, “That proclamation assumes that drug prohibition works.”

    Escalating violence in Mexico is the only piece of “evidence” I saw in their quote in Pete’s post to back up that assumption, which is extremely pathetic to say the least.

    We must focus and press hard on one simple counter to their ‘disaster’ argument (such argument still dominating against us in the public eye, based on the fact that drug prohibition still exists):

    Considering the multiple number of reductions in penalties associated with illicit drug use throughout history (including Portugal decriminalizing all drugs almost a decade ago), and the similar ‘disaster proclamation’ by the prohibitionists prior to each reduction, it is to their benefit to prove those disasters occurred.

    They cannot, because no such disasters occurred (e.g. compare Portugal and The Netherlands to the United States in the CIA World Factbook).

    No such disasters occurred, because drug prohibition does not work.

    This brief (i.e. easy to present in interviews) counterargument quickly ruins prohibitionists’ credibility, disarming them from their dominating bottom-line argument that has convinced the public into effectively supporting them for decades.

    Part of public relations is working with the media (local through international). I have been promoting a public relations approach instead of a lobbying approach for a couple of years now (wishing I had the resources to organize and execute a serious and perpetual public relations campaign).

    Pete’s post here is another example proving that public relations is what the drug law reform movement should be all about until we have sufficiently-passionate public support to make our lobbying efforts effective against the powerful incarceration lobby that fails to exercise such power in the world of public relations (as Pete’s post clearly shows) when we get our say.

    For far too long (and still today, based on drug prohibition’s existence), from the perspective of many in the public, we do not have enough credibility compared to law enforcement and other community leaders supporting prohibition.

    Arguably the only way that the public will passionately support us is by our continued efforts to honestly and completely discredit the prohibitionists by using their facts and arguments against them (i.e. think Jiu Jitsu).

    And so we use their credibility against them (e.g. National Drug Threat Assessment repeatedly shows tiny dent in drug supply at best, National Drug Use & Health Survey repeatedly shows drug demand remains steady, CIA World Factbook shows no disaster in The Netherlands, etc.)

    The public may not passionately support the legalization of drugs, but they will passionately support billions of their dollars being annually wasted on literally nothing good backed by extremely pathetic arguments.

    That passionate support can only happen when the public learns the truth. They can only learn the truth when our public relations are successful enough to share it with them.

    Public relations now. Lobby later.

    Your thoughts?

  • Scott

    “but they will passionately support billions of their dollars being annually wasted on literally nothing good backed by extremely pathetic arguments.”

    Yeah, um, add “…support” THE END OF “billions…”

    🙂

  • Just me

    “First off, the figure of seven hundred thousand arrested is factually inaccurate — people do not get arrested for simple possession. The most that happens is they’re given a citation and release. In California, the penalty for simple possession is $100 fine.”

    This MAY be true in Cali or the very few states that have decriminalized cannabis , But, It is NOT true in the staes that still enforce possesion charges to the FULLEST in other states, and of course we get all the negitive effects of an arrest for possesion right along side it that leave you struggling to get a job and not become a thief to survive.

    The dishonesty prohibs show time after time also reflects the dishonesty in our federal government leaders. It seems to me our governments leaders are running headlong into a brick wall. The prohibs lies are now fully in veiw , but they continue to lie anyway. Our government leaders in washington are doing the very same thing with everything they do. Do these people wake up everyday and convince themselves there is no spot light on thier lies? And they wonder why We The People dont trust them.

    “For sure, it’s going to cost every employer more in insurance,” he said. “If you look at section 11340C, the only thing an employer can do is address consumption issues of an employee that actually affect their workplace performance — if you’re in possession, an employer can’t take any action. If you test dirty, the employer can’t do anything.”

    This is a “we must keep a boot on your neck…” statement. Our employers and LE/government is not happy unless they can have some way of keeping their thumb on you. With out leverage…what control do they have over your life.Behave within OUR guidlines or else. God forbid we may slow down and look around and see the bullshit they feed us.Many Americans have woken up to see they have been asleep far to long.

    . “It’s not going to better society. It’s going to denigrate it.”

    No wrong again. Society wont denigrate, Le ability to violate our rights and use us a labor slaves is what will denigrate. Our governments ablitiy to suck billions out of us will denigrate, LE jobs will denigrate. Maybe we can find out if cannabis can directly treat cancer, or maybe even cure it( we will never know for sure till government is out of the way), then pharm companies billions will denigrate, treatment centers wont get as much money due to the fact no one will be forced by courts to attend for a non problem…shall we go on?

    “Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”
    From Benito Mussolini
    “London Sunday Express,” December 8, 1935

    How much better will our society be when we take over control of things that cause so much violence,death, greed , corruption. All the things that make life miserable for no good reason other to serve those who wish to rule over all.
    Those who wish to rule in hell need to be stopped. I would rather serve in heaven.

  • Mike

    I found this so funny because for years they’ve been “just enforcing the laws, we don’t make them.” Now that people are starting to wake up they’re lobbying nonstop.

  • Seth

    Officer John Standish n’ the gang sure are brazen..Though, if you ask me there’s quite the fine line between brazenness and outright stupidity once you get to a point..

  • Tim

    There’s another reason why the workplace argument won’t work. A lot of people have lost their jobs in the past couple of years, and since there is no drug tests for no job, have tried or returned to using pot, and it turns out it’s no big deal to them.

    Then there are people like me who won’t piss for a paycheck on principle and seeks out herb friendly workplaces.

  • mikekinseattle

    They got nuthin!

  • mikekinseattle

    Sorry, this breaking news just in.

  • kaptinemo

    A good thing I wasn’t trying to drink anything while reading the Richardson article; I’d have splattered the monitor with it from laughter at the CPOA flunkie’s nonsense.

    People, you really, really have to read it, all the way through. If you’re in need of a good laugh, and, even if you’re not, read it. They really are getting desperate. These goofs literally wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a debate.

  • J.W.L.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it” Upton Sinclair

  • ReaSon

    Mr Obama is pushing Lifelong hardliner Michele Leonhart to head the DEA. What more do abolishionists need to know about Mr Obama’s position on legalizing cannabis? Wake up people! The war on some drug users is big govt. Democrat leaders are all about control & power over the citizenry that comes with it.

  • kaptinemo

    Uh, ReaSon? I can assure you that we are quite well awake. Many of us have been awake for decades. And we are very well aware of the fact that it does not matter which ‘party’ is in power, as the (selectively) ‘anti-drug’ bureaucracy has thrived regardless of who ‘controls’ Congress or the Executive Branch.

    If you’re seeking to act as an alarm clock, you’re rather late to ring, as a great many of us have been up and about and laboring to end prohibition for some time now. Welcome in, but I’m afraid all the seats at the front of the room have been taken by those who got here before you.

  • ez: yep, same tired-assed shit for decades. they can’t sink to a new level simply because they have never risen to a level from which it is possible to fall.

    scott: yep.

  • jrh

    OK we in the reform movement all know the weekness of the prohib arguments but we need to address the public with a workable model for legal marijuana. one that adresses the problems associated with taxation regulation cultivation and sales.

    I often hear the term tax the hell out of it. This is just ignorance at its best. NEVADA tried a legal ballot initive that called for $100.00 an ounze tax .IMHO this high of A tax is unworkable because too high a tax will only keep inplace the criminal blackmarket.

    with legality the cost of MJ will plument. any taxation should be moderate and reasonable.To be wokable and be tied to the regulated product that is graded to its thc content.

    As to the cultivation I personally dont want to see big agricorp get their hand on it. Better to leave in the hands of yhe mom n pop and small farmer and leave industrial hemp to the big boys.

    I KNOW I havent adequately adress the issues but hopefull I have layed down A foundation for fruther disscussion

  • Chris

    kaptinemo, a question. I’ve only been following drug policy for just over a year now. I can see a lot of change, but my perspective is skewed because I haven’t been following this for very long. You have. Tell me, are big things really happening now, or am I just seeing small progress and having big hopes? Because it sure seems like it. I know for a fact if Cali legalizes this fall that the whole issue will be turned upside-down though, that is obvious for anyone watching.

  • Maria

    The whole “disaster will happen if we end prohibition” sentiment sums up the chicken little stance of those hell bent on continuing it. As if disaster wasn’t already happening due to prohibition and the war on drugs.

    It’s such an odd view. It’s bureaucratic insanity.

    A mental hospital forces you to take an ice cold shower in an air conditioned room. The towel attendant sneezes on your 10 cm squared towel before using it to wipe his nose. It’s all you get. You have to walk down a cold, drafty hallway barefoot to get to the change room. You get dressed and after all that, just as you reach the door way to the yard and glorious sunshine, you get stopped by a nurse and told to button up the last button of your jacket or you’ll catch your death of cold. Oh, and it’s going in your file that you’re not taking care of yourself.

  • ezrydn

    It seems to me that once before, society “legalized” a prohibited drug (alcohol) and civilization didn’t crumble to dust. EVERYONE didn’t start drinking because they legally could.

    They still apply the ol’ “spaghetti against the wall” scenario. They’ve already found out that the ol’ “shotgun inside a barn” didn’t work. They’re truly starting to show their “Keystone Kops” side now and I’m sure it’s going to get more and more outrageous.

    It’s unfortunate the public isn’t aware of the “show” as much as we are. However, more and more are becoming aware.

  • claygooding

    It is working and yes,there have been big advancements in the legalization movement in the last two years. Some so big that many are over confident in their attitude,probably me included.
    At the cafe today,an old farmer asked me if the government actually believed that marijuana legalization would ruin our country. I replied that the only people that believe marijuana is dangerous to our country are the ones making a living enforcing laws against it.
    He thought for a second and said “I know that it has been around for a long time and many people use it and the only people I know of that were hurt by it was the people that got caught with it”

  • Emma

    @Scott, Completely agree about the primary importance of public relations (aka propaganda). The BBC produced an excellent documentary about public relations: The Century of the Self, directed by Adam Curtis (check out his other documentaries also).

    The film focuses on early PR man Edward Bernays, he wrote a short book Propaganda (1928) to sell his PR services to businesses, in it he explains how to use PR techniques to get your message out in the media.

  • Scott

    I have read Drug WarRant daily for at least a couple of years now if memory serves, and I have noticed two things:

    1. Pete does an excellent job.

    2. The end of drug prohibition is not a question of “if”, but “when”.

    For decades, the public consensus has been that drugs are the product of evil (thanks to the people informing the public in their “unbiased” way), and so prohibition is perceived to be the effort to stop evil.

    The reason why the basic ‘Disaster will strike if drug prohibition ends.’ has been so successful has been the following rationale:

    ‘If drugs are evil, and prohibition is at least an honest effort to stop evil, then ending prohibition will allow evil to run unopposed (only evil people would propose such madness).’

    It has not been enough for ‘evil’ people to come forward and say drug prohibition does not work, because of the lack of credibility in the public eye.

    When our movement spoke pre-Web, a prohibitionist could look down from his podium and easily dodge the accusation, question, etc. He had perceived credibility and our representative did not, so we got crushed even though we were right.

    Sure there were the occasional government reports and proponents credible enough in the public eye to support our cause, but the mainstream media gave such support little attention relative to the prohibitionist demonization campaign against ‘evil’ drugs and the ‘evil’ people who wanted them to be legal.

    Now when our movement speaks, we can do so on the Web where every word persists, even at a very close level to the mainstream media (their own comments section).

    Because the discussion persists, the likes of Mr. Walters cannot simply scoff and go ‘next’, and when any prohibitionist tries to make a point surviving scrutiny, we can laugh like Kaptinemo did (I laughed too. Priceless stuff.) and then publicly rip the point to shreds with a level of intelligence and honesty that will eventually scare any prohibitionist away from debating us, and more and more of the public are seeing this for themselves.

    In the movie “Milk” (based on a true story), there is a scene where the lead character who is fighting for gay rights (as the first openly gay elected official) went to a conservative-dominated location to debate his opponent. Even though the crowd booed, the lead character maintained composure and calmly, clearly articulated his righteous points, and the gay rights bill passed.

    I highly recommend that you all watch that scene to see how it’s done.

    While I have no debate skills (wishing I did), I believe that our movement would benefit from similar challenges (especially right now in CA regarding cannabis legalization).

    Good debaters (who present themselves in a composed and respectable manner from the perspective of the target audience) among us should constantly publicly challenge prohibitionists to a public debate. They either accept and get crushed, or chicken out (both leading to their discredit — our main goal).

    Regardless of what the prohibitionist says, I would focus on the ‘disaster’ claim being baseless, based on previous penalty reductions (i.e. reality) completely showing no such disaster.

    I would also focus on the so-called constitutional basis (the New Deal and the corresponding Commerce Clause abuse), if I were in a conservative-dominated room.

    These two simple points discredit any LE opponent (our main opposition), because reality repeatedly shows they cannot back up their major claim of disaster (eliminating any reason to avoid ending drug prohibition), and the law being on their side argument disappears too (the supreme law is on our side, making us the “good” folk and the liars who said we were “evil” into evil liars, again to the opponent’s discredit).

    Usually, there are pros and cons on both sides on an issue. In our issue, literally not one prohibitionist argument survives scrutiny. Not one! Pete’s post exemplifies this nicely.

    Discredit the ‘disaster’ argument, and the public (and the mainstream media informing them) will have no reason to support drug prohibition in any way.

    The sooner we do this, the sooner drug prohibition ends.

  • Just me

    Hey ‘Reason’ , How long have you been in this fight? Short time? Welcome to the club anyway , I been doing this a few years now. As the good Kaptin said, Im even a late comer as to being an alarm clock. Watch these ‘vets’ here on Drugwarrant,you can learn alot from them.

  • Scott

    @Emma

    While propaganda is defined as “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.” (dictionary.com) and therefore it is understandable why you chose that word with respect to public relations, with due respect (and please correct me, if I’m wrong), propaganda usually describes an effort to hide the whole truth by getting the public to focus solely on a partial truth (such limited focus giving the appearance of whole truth).

    Public relations is defined as “the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.” (again, dictionary.com)

    We do not need to get the public to see our partial truth as the whole truth. Unlike the prohibitionists who need propaganda, we need the whole truth and nothing but the whole truth.

    The beauty of our stance is that it is grounded firmly in whole truth. Sure drugs can be occasionally abused (even to horrible effect), and we should always promote efforts to reduce such abuse (e.g. effective stress management, real drug education, etc.), but we do not need to avoid that fact in our public relations, in part because drug prohibition does not work.

    Promoting goodwill is honestly using the prohibitionist facts against them (use their perceived credibility to discredit them — Jiu Jitsu style) to defeat their selfish and destructive policy that includes blocking our ability to properly study currently-illicit drugs and the damage caused by their occasional abuse.

    Proper studies cannot exist, because the rigor demanded by the scientific method cannot be applied when the drug being studied is of questionable quality, varying in effects style and intensity, etc.

    Our efforts are the ones promoting a better chance to “keep kids off drugs” (by taking away the rebel ‘druggie’ image teens naturally use to assert their independence as part of their maturing process, by providing honest education regarding the risks, etc.), and improve the credibility of our rule-of-law (drug prohibition is not constitutional by any rational interpretation of the law).

    Our public relations campaign should not be about propaganda (a word I have never seen used in a positive way), and that is the fact that will make our public relations work brilliantly, IMHO.

    We don’t need to create the illusion that we are the ‘good guys’. We naturally are the ‘good guys’ and we simply need to go out there (from here to every public area) and communicate the whole truth to the best of our abilities to do so (building the critical ingredient — credibility — along the way).

  • Scott

    “building the critical ingredient — credibility — along the way”

    Sorry. We already have that credibility. I meant building credibility in the minds of the public.

  • kaptinemo

    “Tell me, are big things really happening now, or am I just seeing small progress and having big hopes? Because it sure seems like it. I know for a fact if Cali legalizes this fall that the whole issue will be turned upside-down though, that is obvious for anyone watching.”

    IMHO, that’s precisely what’s happening; ‘big things’. Consider where we were only one short year ago. I am loathe at this point to want it written in stone, but I believe the tipping point was reached with the Michael Phelps incident. Instead of thundering righteous wrath, the public yawned, and said, “Screw it. That’s not important.”

    The media itself was thrown a curve; the usual script of sheep-bleating anti-drug propaganda and clucking of faux-moral tongues got seriously torn up. The media then discovers a group of very successful women stoners. OMG! We can’t use Cheech-and-Chong (itself a parody of straight’s parodies of users) anymore! Amotivational syndrome in these hard-charging career women? Yeah, right!

    Bridge + Brooklyn + Cash only, please, all sales final.

    In just one year, an honest-to-Yahweh volteface occurred, the likes of which this 30 years observer of the drug war has not seen before. (I still remember reading on the front page of my local rag of the Shafer Committee hearings conclusions about cannabis. Yep, that long ago.)

    I’m still surprised myself…but that doesn’t make me complacent. Our opponents can still attack, and we have not yet seen all their weaponry…but we do know how it’s delivered: emotionalism, not fact.

    But, as has been pointed out, we have truth on our side, in the form of a plethora of studies, some deliberately commissioned to find anything that might justify continued prohibition. All of whom make clear that there is no such justification…and a court case introducing those studies as evidence would be the absolute kiss of death for drug prohibitionists, as their lies would finally have consequences.

    And so, I say to all ye good reformers wherever you are…”Buckle up. The ride’s just starting…but we’ll be smiling in the end.”

  • ezrydn

    I, too, agree, Kap. The coaster has just left the station and we’re climbing that first hill. This is inclined to give some of us the jitters. However, after the first drop, raise your hands and shout with glee.

    One thing most don’t get with debating is that you can NOT allow personalities into the fray! Composure is everything. When a debate becomes personal to YOU, you’ve lost. Also, watch for your opponent to attempt to move “off topic.” Be ready to yank them back and make it noticeable to listeners. We move into “debate mode” every time we strike up a reform conversation. You just don’t think about it that way.

  • Hope

    “Composure is everything.”

    Indeed. It bears repeating.

  • Maria

    “Composure is everything”

    I am wondering if it’s just me but over the last couple of years I have noticed that a greater number of composed, articulate, and rational professionals are commenting on the folly of the drug war and specifically the folly of marijuana prohibition and criminalization of personal possession and production. I think this is something very key.

    What used to be associated with counter cultures and criminal classes is now firmly in the main stream, at least in certain parts of the USA. This trend appears to be growing so it is no longer enough for those who wave the flag of prohibition to point to a “deviant” and say “this is what weed does! It’s eeevil.” The arguments of hysterics are showing their age.

    When I participate in discussions about how wasteful the drug war is with complete strangers in grocery store line ups and at the gym, and they agree and even bring up points on their own, then I think it’s safe to say that the mists and smokescreens are clearing. I hold this hope quite high.