1 Our Situation

Our Situation button

For some time I have been thinking, writing, and gathering information, not necessarily in any good order, about our situation here in the US. For more than a decade I have thought that we are in a protracted crisis.

This crisis can be felt at the personal, family, local and national level in all areas of life. Some of the sources are systemic to technological change and the global dynamics of capitalism. Some find their roots in fundamental failures in humans – racism, sexism, religion, etc. Some flow from our political system, some from our economy.

The focus of this work has been to try to identify what this crisis is about within the US context, to describe it, without any real notion of even suggesting solutions.

Where Did This List Come From and Is There an Order?

I first started this list two or three years ago while we were still in the deepest part of the Great Recession. Most of the early entries related to the political system and economic inequality. As I have returned to it I have broadened the coverage of social and political topics. Most recently I have added ones that relate to the mythology underlying our approaches to life in the US.

Here is my current list of topics:

  • Underperforming, expensive healthcare system
  • Political system controlled by big money, private and corporate
  • Distorted role of corporations
  • Quasi-religious faith in “free market” capitalism
  • Race, sex, ethnicity, klans….
  • Myth of social mobility
  • National and State Political Systems Designed to Be Anti-democratic and Dysfunctional
  • 30+ year stagnation of income
  • Disappearance of living wage jobs
  • The rich are at their feeding troughs
  • Expensive, underperforming K-12 educational system
  • Expensive, underperforming higher ed system
  • Web access and infrastructure
  • Homelessness and poverty
  • Bloated, dysfunctional global military and empire
  • Our longest war – the war on drugs
  • Criminal justice system – aka the judicial-incarceration gulag
  • Persistent income disparities
  • Super rich vs. everyone else
  • Intrusion by organized religion into government and politics
  • Energy policy focused on consumption instead of efficiency

 

Our Longest War – The War on Drugs – more data on its futility

I have noted here several times earlier about America’s longest war – the War on Drugs. Here is a graphic that displays the complete failure of our policies:1

drug-spending-v-addiction from Atlantic Monthly

 

  1. source: http://m.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/10/chart-says-war-drugs-isnt-working/57913/ – this graphic came to my attemtion via the Colbert Report http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/425397/april-11-2013/america-s-pot-astrophe  []

Parallels and Prescience – on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 and the “War on Terror”

Uncle Same war-on-drugs

Having successfully avoided much of the national moment for our politicians to blather on about the true meaning of 9/11, I was struck this morning by parallel between our “War on Terror” and our longest war, the “War on Drugs” (I have written earlier about this here). Some may be offended initially by this comparison. The War on Drugs was invented for the most cynical of purposes by one of our more craven Presidents, President Nixon1. But, when one observes the gigantic interests in Federal, State, and local bureaucracies (think your local police) and corporate worlds that immediately lined up to feed at this trough of a war, a bit of cynicism can not help but creep into mind.

Nixon’s invention spawned a plethora of Federal, State, and local bureaucracies consuming vast resources and spreading around the globe. Meanwhile, our social and criminal policies gauranteed high prices for the drug lords thus supporting a marketing and distribution system that provides service levels 24/7/365 to make Fedex give up. No other commodity is available in every location in the US with such reliable service packaged to meet local demand and local financing needs. On top of that, Nixon’s war, supported continuously since then by every President, the Congress, the court system, State governments and of course your local police departments, put millions of drug users in jail. This of course has swollen the ranks of those cursed with a criminal record and increasingly unemployable. Finally, no one is willing to discuss the outcomes of our drug policies. No one will vote to shrink or eliminate this war, America’s longest war. The policies continue to suck up resources, destroy other countries, and gravely damage millions of our own citizens.

Bush-War onTerrorAs reported by Admiral (Ret.) Dennis Blair, former Director of National Intelligence, earlier this summer at the Aspen Security Forum, we are now spending $80 billion per year , not including our War on Terror wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (these would add hundreds of $ billions to this) on the War on Terror. He went on to report that a generous estimate of the world-wide strength of al-Qaeda and its affiliates is 4,000 men. This means that we are spending $20 million per year per potential terrorist. Others have reported on the continuing growth by tens of thousands per year of employees in our burgeoning public and private security apparatus. Meanwhile we have numerous agencies spying on Americans in the name of “national security”. It seems enormously likely that emails are regularly being subject to capture and it is hard to imagine that cell phone conversations, transmitted in the open (as are emails), are not also subject to surveillance. Where has the Fourth Amendment gone? To top it all off, do you feel more secure when you take your shoes off to enter an airplane? Do you think that our current anti-terrorist policies will be any more successful than the first ten years? Do you think that anyone will speak and act to end this second longest war?

  1. I used to refer to him as our most craven, but Bush Junior has caused some reconsideration of this point []

America’s Longest War – a socio-political-military disaster – indicted by Global Commission on Drug Policy

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.