America’s Overlooked Addiction Crisis

Alcohol abuse is a fast-growing problem. Higher taxes on beer, wine and spirits could help.
Cheap hit.

 Photographer: Denver Post via Getty Images

As alarms over the opioid crisis sound ever louder, a larger and more expensive substance problem in the U.S. is quietly growing much worse. One in eight Americans abuses alcohol, a new study finds, a 50 percent increase since the start of the century.

Alcohol abuse is as old as civilization itself, of course, but quantifying its costs is a more recent endeavor. Alcohol is responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age Americans — from accidents as well as illnesses. There are almost 90,000 alcohol-related deaths in America every year. Excessive drinking, mainly binge drinking, costs some $250 billion a year in lost productivity, health care and other expenses. The toll in personal suffering and ruined lives is incalculable.

Yet there has been a strange reluctance to fight back with the weapons known to work: restrictions on alcohol sales and advertising and, even more effective, higher taxes on alcohol. The federal tax on spirits (about 21 cents per ounce of alcohol; taxes on beer and wine are less than half that) has not changed since 1991, and over the past few decades the inflation-adjusted cost of drinking has fallen considerably. Many states have likewise neglected to index their alcohol taxes to inflation.

That’s too bad, because making drinking more expensive is the single strongest way to reduce harm from alcohol. Yes, higher prices burden the poor more than the well-off, but they can significantly reduce excessive drinking and its harmful effects: crime, violence, car crashes, suicides and sexually transmitted diseases.

If that’s not enough reason for Congress and state legislatures to raise alcohol taxes, consider that the government’s share of alcohol’s economic cost is about $100 billion a year, while state and federal alcohol taxes bring in about $15 billion. The difference amounts to quite a subsidy for excessive drinkers paid by many taxpayers who drink moderately or not at all.

There are other ways besides simply raising taxes — setting a minimum price for every unit of alcohol a drink contains, for example. Unlike taxes, which can be selectively absorbed by wholesalers or retailers, minimum prices must be borne by the drinkers. Five years ago, Scotland passed a law meant to set a 50-pence (65-cent) minimum price for every unit a drink contains, though the Scotch Whisky Association has so far kept it tied up in court.

Lawmakers need to be clear about the problem, however, and ways to control it. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared drug overdose deaths, which reached nearly 60,000 in 2016, to be America’s “top lethal issue.” He’s not the only one who needs to be reminded that alcohol abuse is significantly more deadly, and just as deserving of attention.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at .


NYPD’s aggressive “stop & frisk” policy divided a city into two camps. Now, new stats say the opponents were right

America’s over-policing bombshell: How new data proves “stop & frisk” critics were right all along

America's over-policing bombshell: How new data proves "stop & frisk" critics were right all along
Michael Bloomberg, Ray Kelly (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Brendan Mcdermid/Photo montage by Salon)

People are talking about the police a lot these days. The killing of unarmed residents. Thekilling of cops. Disputes between New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and rank-and-file officers over issues of respect. And yet, a policing issue that totally consumed and divided New York and the nation in recent years now garners little mention: the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy.

One big reason, of course, is that the tactic is used much less now. But another is that, while few have announced it, the debate over the once hotly divisive practice is effectively over. As new data this week confirmed, when it comes to whether a city can reduce crime without stopping-and-frisking enormous numbers of its residents of color, one side was right and one was wrong.

First, some background. It’s hard to overstate how inescapable this debate was during the last decade (and as recently as a year or two ago). For years, the rampant police practice of stopping mostly young black and Latino men and frisking them, if cops detected “furtive” movements, was a constant point of division, with many whites approving andpeople of color overwhelmingly disapproving.

Proponents argued that the city had seen record decreases in crime under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly (this was true), and that to let up on the tactic would all but guarantee throwing these improvements away. This was repeated not only by the mayor and his administration, but the city’s tabloids, with the Daily News and New York Post ominously warning that anyone questioning the policy’s aggressive implementation would usher in the “bad old days” when crime ravaged the city in the 1970s and 1980s. Their message was not only absolute but impressively manipulative: when crime was down, they’d argue, it was because of the prevalence of stop-and-frisk — and if crime ticked up at times, it made the tactic’s frequent deployment all the more imperative.

The policy had plenty of critics, of course; among them the ACLU, civil rights leaders and communities of color who considered its application a deplorable invasion of privacy (and dignity), racially targeted and responsible for fraying police-community relations. As I noted in 2012:

New Yorkers strongly support the performance of police commissioner Ray Kelly (68-23) and that of the NYPD as a whole (62-31), but sharply oppose stop-and-frisk tactics (by 53-42) that have mostly targeted black and Hispanic men. This dichotomy indicates that the disapproval of stop-and-frisk is not merely a proxy or byproduct of blind hatred toward (or even dissatisfaction with) the police department, but rather, a stand-alone concern about which there is very real discontent.

A few years back, I sat on a working group in the New York Attorney General’s Office to look at the practice, specifically its implementation and efficacy. The group found that in one year, 2011, there were more stops of young black men in the city than there were actual young black men – meaning that on average, every single young black man in the city had been stopped by cops that year. As the NYCLU put it:

The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406). Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.

By “innocent,” they meant that those stops did not lead to an arrest. Indeed, our working group found that if you took all the stops in the city and tracked what happened to those interactions, roughly 1 in 9 ever led to an arrest, and of those that did, a far smaller number resulted in actual convictions – suggesting the number of stops, which approached 700,000 in 2011, was excessive.

Still, proponents dismissed concerns about racial disparities or civil liberties, focusing instead on the policy’s purported effectiveness in reducing crime. Even if the high number of stops rarely resulted in arrests or convictions, they argued, they were creating a deterrent effect on the city that could not be measured. Their advantage in the debate was that they could propound their claim but no one could ever disprove it, because the mayor and his administration were determined to keep the practice in place. So any counter-arguments would be merely hypothetical.

Until 2013.

Ironically, it was Kelly and Bloomberg who would help disprove their own argument. Amid increasing dissatisfaction and public protest, Kelly reportedly ordered precinct executive officers in 2012 to “audit the stop activity to assure better quality.” In 2013, the use of the tactic fell dramatically, which a law enforcement source tells Salon also derived from two additional pressures. First, then-candidate de Blasio spent much of his campaign attacking the practice, arguing that it was racially discriminatory (in the famous “Dante ad” featuring his teenage son, the younger de Blasio said his father would be “the only candidate to end a stop and frisk era that targets minorities”). As the issue got more attention and de Blasio’s campaign surged (largely on the popularity of this argument), this source says, cops were less inclined to pursue the tactic.

The second factor was a federal judge finding the practice unconstitutional, and ruling that, as implemented, it discriminated against minorities. The result was that in 2013, Bloomberg and Kelly (while unsuccessfully appealing that federal ruling) would oversee a massive decrease in the tactic’s implementation, with under 200,000 stops recorded — less than a third the number from just two years before. The result: crime continued to fall.

Could it happen again? That was the big question heading into this year, as de Blasio promised to scale back the practice even further (though not eliminate it), while maintaining strong safety numbers. A verdict was returned this week, with the city announcing that amid a 79 percent drop in stops from last year, crime continued to fall by 4.6 percent, reaching a record low in modern city history.

Per Capital New York:

In 2014 — de Blasio’s first year in office — there were just 332 murders, a drop of 0.9 percent; 1,355 rapes, a reduction of 1.7 percent; 16,534 robberies, a drop of 13.6 percent; 20,182 felony assaults, a drop of .6 percent; 16,734 burglaries, a reduction of 4 percent; and 43,793 grand larcenies, a reduction of 3.5 percent. There were also 7,676 grand larceny auto cases, an increase of 4 percent.

Before declaring stop-and-frisk truly dead, a couple of caveats are in order. First, there is no sign that the tactic will be fully eliminated anytime soon. Current NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton insists it’s an imperative tool that’s “here to stay,” and most in the law enforcement community call the tool “essential” to keeping crime down. At issue is how it is applied. What is now indisputable is that in 2013 and 2014, it was indeed possible to keep crime down with a much lower number of stops. Another caveat is that the days of proactive policing are far from over. Bratton has doubled down on the “Broken Windows” theory, which stipulates that the way to keep major crime down is by cracking down assiduously on smaller infractions. So while marijuana arrests decreased in 2014, other smaller offenses have been taken very seriously. A final point: While major crime is down almost across the board, it is also true that shootings ticked up slightly in 2014.

But, for all those concessions, one other point is quite clear. Those who insisted that the police need to constantly stop young black and brown men 700,000 times on their way home from activities like school, church, or work in order to maintain order in the city were ultimately proven wrong. NYPD’s approach over the last year has “proven much more effective than the indiscriminate use of stop-and-frisk,” Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, tells Salon, adding that stop-and-frisk “caused such deep resentment in communities of color, which continue to reverberate today.”

In other words, the days of justifying such a high number of stops a year — as so many did just a few years ago — are now in the past. The argument has been won by the other side.


Blake Zeff is the politics editor of Salon. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @blakezeff.

Mugshots of female Nazi concentration camp guards

The ordinary faces of evil:

Frieda Walter: sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Though their actions were monstrous, they are not monsters. There are no horns, no sharp teeth, no demonic eyes, no number of the Beast. They are just ordinary women. Mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, widows, spinsters. Ordinary women, ordinary human beings.

In the photographs they look shameful, guilty, scared, brazen, stupid, cunning, disappointed, desperate, confused. These women were Nazi guards at the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp during the Second World War, and were all tried and found guilty of carrying out horrendous crimes against their fellow human beings—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons. Interesting how “evil” looks just like you and me.

Hilde Liesewitz: sentenced to one year imprisonment.

Gertrude Feist: sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Gertrude Saurer: sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Anna Hempel: sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Herta Bothe accompanied a death march of woman from central Poland to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She was sentenced to ten years imprisonment but was released early from prison on December 22nd, 1951.

Hildegard Lohbauer: sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Ilse Forster: sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Helene Kopper: sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

Herta Ehlert: sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

Elizabeth Volkenrath: Head Wardess at Belsen-Bergen: sentenced to death. She was hanged on 13 December 1945.

Juana Bormann: sentenced to death.

Via Vintage Everyday