There has rightfully been considerable outrage over this week’s revelations that the Federal government has been sucking up information on virtually every aspect of our lives, email, telephones calls, pictures, credit card and banking transactions, and so on. Unfortunately almost all of this discussion is taking place without a useful sense of the scope, scale, and trajectory of the government’s war on terror.
Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy
Last week this commission released its report, “War on Drugs“. This once again brings into focus our longest war, Nixon’s War on Drugs. Here are the first two paragraphs from the executive summary:
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.
Meanwhile the US War on Drugs grinds on and total Federal and state spending on this disaster will lurch over $35 Billion this year.
Extending Eisenhower’s Language
in his last speech as President, Eisenhower pointed to the “military-industrial complex” as a threat to the nation’s security and health. Since then, hisotry has added new layers of meaning and expanded the scope of this phrase. Today, we are in the thrall if not control of the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Executive-Spying-DrugWar-Complex. The War on Drugs has a record of failure and destructive outcomes now over 40 years old. Nevertheless, this behemoth roles along, getting bigger and more global in its reach every year. No Republicans or Democrats are willing to abandon the policies and rhetoric so cynically initiated by Nixon. Even this year of the so-called deficit debate, when Republicans and Democrats are willing to throw every bit of discretionary social or infrastructure spending under the bus, the War on Drugs (and every other element of the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Executive-Spying-DrugWar-Complex) is off limits.
Global Commission Recommendations
The executive summary continues(my highlighting):
Our principles and recommendations can be summarized as follows:
End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.
Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.
Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available, including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada. Implement syringe access and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as well as fatal overdoses. Respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination.
Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. Many are themselves victims of violence and intimidation or are drug dependent. Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere.
Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences. The most successful prevention efforts may be those targeted at specific at-risk groups.
Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. Law enforcement efforts should focus not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms to individuals, communities and national security.
Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights – and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation. Review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorization of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA. Ensure that the international conventions are interpreted and/or revised to accommodate robust experimentation with harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulatory policies.
Break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.
Go to the website and read further. They provide case studies from around the world to illustrate their case for these principles and policies.
Charles M. Blow wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times (6/11/2011) “Drug Bust“. It included the following graphics:
Einstein (Rita Mae Brown) Had Something To Say About This
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
(This was submitted to the Letters to the Editor section of the Register Star here in Hudson. Not clear at the moment whether it will be published.)
Discussions of the Federal budget almost never mention the defense department. Both political parties continue in the thrall of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex”. The defense budget is off limits.
But, can we afford this military establishment? The US, with just 4.5% of the world’s population, supports almost 50% of the world’s expenditures on war. The US has over 700 military bases outside of the country ( Base Structure Report 2010 – downloads a PDF file). According to a 2010 DOD report there are 369,000 military personnel overseas plus the 140,000 +/- in Iraq and Afghanistan. 52,440 are in Germany, 35,688 in Japan, 28,500 in Republic of Korea, and 9,660 in Italy to name just a few countries.
Do you feel safer or more prosperous as a result of this global military presence? Is all of this military really making us more secure or is it contributing to a sense of occupation and external threat around the world. The US is not universally viewed benevolently. The current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East all involve regimes (excepting Syria) that have been direct recipients of US support, even our current evil-empire candidate Qaddafi.
How would you feel if foreign troops were stationed in Columbia County?
Whether you see this military might protecting democracy and our values around the world, or, to pick a polar opposite view, as an occupying force sustaining our global empire, you have to ask, can we afford it?
We all recognize that the US is no longer the preeminent economy in the world. We are just the biggest, but no longer the most dynamic. Can we afford to expend 20% of the Federal budget on defense and security when our competitors are spending just a fraction of that? On a per capita basis other countries spend much less. China 4%, Japan 19%, South Korea 23%, Canada 26%, Germany 26%, France 46% and UK 44% (Wikipedia: military expenditures per capita)
What could we do with the hundreds of $billions we currently spend projecting our military outside of the US? Fix our crumbling interstate highway system, build a modern air traffic control system, build high speed trains in the megalopolises, or fund universal daycare and HeadStart. I am sure that you could come up with other ideas. I bet we could retire the national debt and reduce taxes all at the same time.
President Obama’s speech on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2009 has generally been reviewed in the US with much glow about its rhetorical heights and appreciation of its depth of thought. I did not watch Obama give this speech. Instead, I turned to the text which I could read at my leisure and without the speechifying fireworks that Obama has clearly mastered.
Although I seem stuck in a reflexive backward glance towards the eight disastrous years of Bush II whenever I evaluate Obama. I am still amazed at the enormous moral and practical abyss we fell through in those years. Obama brushing his teeth in the morning is reassuring in contrast. Nevertheless, it is worth looking a bit more closely at what Obama did and did not say here. Much has been said of his straight forward assertion that violence is necessary and even useful in a world inhabited by human beings who seem almost genetically predisposed to killing each other off. And, with the invocation of Martin Luther King and the discussion of just war theory, he covers well worn territory, though it is cheering to have a sitting US President talk in this fashion.
November 1, 2008
So, here I am having coffee and my favorite lunch, a toasted bagel with peanut butter thinking about the approaching election. Finally this will conclude what has been an overly long campaign, but one with enormous pleasures. Assuming that Obama is not just a curiosity to all those throngs at his campaign events, we will have a President who seems bright, competent, and level-headed with an adequate level if toughness. I don’t expect the kinds of policy directions I would like to see. But, after the last eight years, really the last eleven years, just having a competent President not mired in malevolent Millennial daydreams will be a step forward.
Though I am concerned that the present problems facing us may be beyond the present political system to navigate let alone solve.
Just to mention one. Our overseas empire with almost 800 military bases (see the Base Structure Report from the Pentagon for the data) on every continent proves Eisenhower’s point about the military industrial complex, though in truth this confirms what he is said to have wanted to say, “the military-industrial-Congressional complex”. This monster that consumes almost a trillion $s every year (my calculation includes the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, Energy, and other secret intelligence/military enterprises along with the budgets for the War on Drugs and Homeland Security) continues to grow with no evidence that our security is actually improving. To the contrary, it appears that in some quarters our security may be significantly diminished.