TRUMP, LOOSE NUKES, THE RUSSIAN MAFIA, SEYMOUR HERSH, AND THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING LINK

9 09 2018

Recently, I went looking for something authoritative about Russia during “the lawless years” that followed the fall of the USSR. After doing some internet searching, I found that Seymour Hersh, whose reputation is reasonably impeccable, had written a story, entitled “The Wild East,” on that subject in 1994. Yes, I know there are those who attack him, but if you’re reporting on things that annoy those in power, or who aspire to power, you will be attacked. Hersh has won plenty of recognition for his work, and this particular piece was published in The Atlantic, which does not put its support behind dicey reporting.

The page was so discouraging to look at that I almost gave up without reading it. It was in that old-style 90’s internet format–wall-to-wall words, no margins, no pictures, no skipped lines between paragraphs. At the top of the page were an underlined 1 and a 2, indicating that it was the second page of an article, since the 2 was black and the one was blue. Might as well start at the beginning, I said to myself, and jumped to page one.

The US embassy in Moscow

Hersh began his story with an account of the unsolved murder of a staff member of the American Embassy in Moscow: Read the rest of this entry »





CONTROL ISSUES

15 04 2018

There are a number of seemingly disparate issues affecting the country these days. When I examine their roots, and the way our society is attempting to deal with them, I see that they actually have a lot in common, and that the commonly accepted responses to them are failing to have their hoped-for effects, for a common reason. Likewise, the optimum solutions to all these very real concerns, while individualized according to the particular manifestation they treat, all spring from a common root. I am going to describe these problems, the conventional-wisdom solutions to them, look at the unintended consequences that these solutions engender, and, as best I can, suggest a Green,  radical–literally “to the root”– solution to them.

GUNS AND PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Gun violence has been a hot-button heart breaker for far too long. The natural, and obvious, response is to make it more difficult to obtain firearms, or at least, as comedian Chris Rock has suggested, to make the price of ammunition prohibitive. Five-thousand-dollar bullets would certainly rearrange a lot of people’s priorities. Hey, the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms–it doesn’t say anything about ammunition! I have no problem with making  high-tech rock throwers, or the rocks they throw,which have no other purpose than to harm or kill other beings, a lot more difficult to obtain.

But, in spite of the tremendous hue and cry about this devastating fact of American life, legislatures, especially Republican-dominated ones, remain deaf to the appeals of the growing clamor for gun control. Read the rest of this entry »





STEPS TOWARDS A SANER CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

8 08 2015
She looks like somebody I know....

dead for failing to signal a lane change

I am simply appalled at the level of racial violence in this country, so much of it expressed through police violence on innocent, unsuspecting, unarmed African-Americans. Sandra Bland and Samuel DuBose are just two of the most recent victims of this plague.

But it’s not just racial violence. Police are killing white Americans, too, often under the auspices of “The War on Drugs.” Read the rest of this entry »





THE SECOND AMENDMENT

5 07 2014

obama-gun-control(note: this is an expanded version of a post that originally appeared in my “Holsinger for House” blog.)

 

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  I believe the operative phrase here is “a well regulated Militia.”  Allowing any frightened person in the country to carry a concealed weapon is not “a well-regulated Militia.”  It is the very opposite of “a well regulated Militia.”

The framers of the Constitution included this amendment in part because they had lived through the circumstances that sparked the American Revolution, when British troops attempted to seize Colonial weapons caches at Lexington and Concord.  The framers wanted to decentralize the possession of weapons and ammunition in order to avoid a repeat of this situation.  Weapons were intended for use by “a well-regulated militia.”  The other purpose for these “well-regulated militias” was to assure the slaveholding states that they could maintain a local armed force to keep their slaves, i.e., their African-American population, from rebelling.  While this fear is strangely echoed in the subtext of the debate over gun control, for instance in the “stand your ground” laws that have resulted in the deaths of numerous unarmed African-Americans at the hands of trigger-happy whites, the intent of the Second Amendment was clearly to allow individuals to keep and bear arms for legitimate purposes, not to create a nervous and over-armed citizenry that actually detracts from “the security of a free State.” Firearms are basically high-tech rock throwers.  Imagine a large percentage of the population walking around with a half-dozen or more fist-sized rocks in their possession.   Would that be a desirable state of affairs? Read the rest of this entry »





RIGHT IDEA, WRONG REASONS

12 05 2012

By now, everybody knows how Bigmouth Joe Biden came out of the closet on Sunday talk TV, causing Obama to grin sheepishly and admit, “Yes, we have,” followed by a double “thud” as the jaws of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden hit the floor…all those “late night meetings” in the Oval Office and that was what was really going on?

OK, that’s not really what happened, but, in what passes for the minds of millions of reactionary Americans, it might as well have been.  To these folks, endorsing same-sex marriage is just as heinous as actually being in an, er, relationship with someone whose plumbing mirrors, rather than compliments, one’s own.

This momentous announcement has raised cheers, jeers, hopes, leers, fears and expectations all across America.  In the midst of catastrophic climate change, multiple impending resource exhaustions, an out of control financial collapse, and the unprecedented  concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many, the 2012 election is going to be a referendum on–ta da! same sex marriage.   Are we sufficiently distracted yet?

Let me make it clear: I believe that people have a right to marry who they please, regardless of their chromosome profile or their plumbing. For that matter, I believe that the benefits of marriage should be available to any number of people who have enough love, understanding, patience, equanimity, and generosity among themselves to commit that deeply to each other, although I would be the first to admit that, in my observation, the difficulties of intimacy increase exponentially, even when the number involved only increases arithmetically.  Group marriage is not for the faint-hearted!  But I digress.   we’re only talking gender, not number, at least so far.  The gender of the partners in a marriage is not the state’s business, any more than the gender of the partners in any other kind of incorporation.

Religions, on the other hand, have every right in the world to define marriage among their membership, along with the propriety of premarital sex, abortion, contraception, and whether it’s OK to put tab A anywhere other than in slot B.  It is perfectly fine for a religion to decline, or agree, to celebrate same-sex marriage.  In fact, I see it as a clergyperson’s duty to decline to marry any couple, regardless of their sexual identity, who, in the clergyperson’s view, do not have their act together enough to make a good marriage.  That’s what spiritual advisers are for!

This is what is meant by “separation of church and state.”  By the same token, I think it is entirely inappropriate for a religion to attempt to push the state to promulgate secular laws that force every citizen to follow the dictates of one particular religion.  That’s not just about marriage and abortion and other sexual matters, it’s also about, for example, our drug laws, which only make sense in the context of religious prohibition.  There’s no logical reason for them.  But, again, I digress.  I want to stay on the same-sex marriage track.

Question:    What if my religious belief is that the government should enforce my religious beliefs?

Answer:  well, you need your own territory.  Please don’t try to take over mine. OK, back to same-sex marriage in the good ol’, culturally diverse and diverging, USA:

I think the Democrats’ decision to embrace the issue is, at a certain level, extraordinarily cynical. They’re saying to their base, “Forget the fact that we’ve stiff armed you on single payer health care, forget the fact that we’ve continued to feed the massive corporate welfare scheme known as “the defence industry,” forget that we’ve relentlessly and often baselessly prosecuted for “espionage” anyone who has tried to blow the whistle on the many fraudulent schemes and capital crimes fed by “defense” spending, forget the fact that we’ve failed to indict anybody for the massive Wall Street flim-flam that impoverished so many of you while it enriched a few of our major donors. Forget the fact that we have not prosecuted any of the war criminals in the Cheney administration and have gone on and committed even more–and more heinous–war crimes ourselves.  Forget the fact that we’ve instituted increased government surveillance of citizens and decreased surveillance of government by citizens.  Forget the fact that we’ve ignored the substance, and crushed the forms, of genuine popular democracy in America–Occupy Wall Street, this means you!

Forget the fact that we scuttled the Copenhagen climate talks and have been so friendly to the oil, gas, nuclear, and coal interests that we have likely ensured that our descendants and our planet will have a hot, polluted ,miserable future. Forget the fact that we have done absolutely nothing to prepare this country and its citizens for the massive changes the planet is about to undergo.

Forget that we have not done anything to reverse the decision of the fascists on the Supreme Court who unleashed unlimited corporate money into politics (including our own pockets). Forget the fact that, after promising to make decisions based on science rather than ideology, we have only intensified the War on (some) Drugs and acquiesced in the release of corporate-designed, corporate-profiting, dangerous genetically modified organisms into the biosphere.  Forget the fact that, at every turn, we have done more to bail out the wealthy than to offer real assistance to the hard pressed. To sum it up, forget how little, besides public perception, really changed when the reins of power passed from Cheney to Obama–vote for us, because we support same-sex marriage and your right to an abortion, and the Republicans don’t.”

Get ’em by the short hairs, and their hearts and minds will follow, eh Joe and Barack?

music:  Ani DiFranco, “Amendment” (first link to lyrics, second to music)





TRAYVON MARTIN AND THE CULTURE OF FEAR

7 04 2012

OK, today is Easter, and it’s time for the latest crucifixion news.  I just wish I had some resurrections  to report on along with them, but, alas, I don’t.  By now, it is hardly news that Trayvon Martin, unarmed and in fear for his life, was murdered in cold blood by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer who, as of this writing, has not been charged with any crime, apparently on the grounds that he acted in fear for his own  life, which, according to the “stand your ground” law promulgated in Florida and many other states, including Tennessee, by the American Legislative Exchange Council, excuses murder if you’re afraid of the person you kill. How’s that for a ‘get out of jail free” card?

When we drop back from the immediate facts of this case, it becomes another link in a long chain of black men who have been killed by whites, generally with impunity.  This chain stretches back through the many murders visited on the Civil Rights movement, to the notorious case of Emmett Till in the early 1960’s, to pogroms that destroyed entire African-American towns and neighborhoods in the twenties, to the brutal repression of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South, to slave owners’ desire to break the will of any person of color who was perceived as “uppity,” or likely to fight back against oppression, back to the Nat Turner revolt and the forced origin of African-American immigration to the Western Hemisphere–virtually every African-American’s ancestors were kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Oh, but that was centuries ago.  No way our conscience could still be bothering us, right?  Yeah, right.  What in the world do they want “reparations” for?

the late Eric Perez

Let’s put Trayvon Martin’s murder in perspective, by examining some similar incidents.  Let’s start with the death of Eric Perez.  One of the ironies of life in America is that this young man with a Hispanic name looks African-American, while George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, bears a German name but looks Hispanic, not African, but still would almost certainly be discriminated against by any white racist who had the opportunity.  Poop, as they say, rolls down hill, and here’s the story of how it hit the fan for the unfortunate Eric Perez.  On July 9th of last year, 17-year old Eric was riding his bicycle after dark, and the bicycle didn’t have a light on it, so the police stopped him, frisked him, and found a small amount of marijuana.  Because Eric was still on probation for crimes committed when he was 13 (and who isn’t crazy when they’re 13?), his probation was immediately revoked, and he was taken to the West Palm Beach Juvenile Detention Center.  That night, under the guise of making sure he wasn’t taking any food back to his cell, guards at the jail roughed him up, banging his head on the concrete floor.  When the dazed young man obeyed their orders to stand up, he fell and hit his head on a table.  Within a few hours, he was nauseous and hallucinating, but the guards didn’t call 911, because they didn’t want to go to the trouble of filing an incident report, and the nurse who was ostensibly responsible for after-hours medical care at the jail didn’t return the guards’ phone call.  Next morning, Eric Perez was dead, executed by neglect for the terrible crimes of riding a bicycle without a light and having a small amount of marijuana on his person–and it’s worth noting that defenders of George Zimmerman have attempted to slander Trayvon Martin by pointing out that he had been suspended from school for having a baggie with traces of marijuana in his pocket.  People, America is not Singapore.  Yet.

And what happened to the killers of Eric Perez?  Well, they lost their jobs, after five months of paid ‘administrative leave,” but they were not prosecuted, because, the Grand Jury determined, “no existing statute applies to the facts of the matter.”  Apparently, Eric’s death somehow does not fit any definition of murder, homicide, or manslaughter.  However, in an official statement,the Grand Jury did urge  “… the Florida Legislature to enact a statute that criminalizes the neglect of anyone in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.”  Just the thing Rick Scott and his Tea Party buddies in the Florida legislature will jump right up and do…not.  In a further insult to Eric’s family, the state offered $5,000 to help with burial expenses, then stopped the check, before reissuing it.  Talk about “jerking people around.”

So that’s the murder of Eric Perez–killed by prison guards because he didn’t have a light on his bike and he did have a baggie in his pocket, and might be taking food to his room.  Next, let’s look at the murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, who actually did have all his ducks in a row–and was shot dead in his own home by police at point-blank range anyway.

the late Kenneth Chamberlain

At five o’clock in the morning last November, the African-American former Marine and prison guard, who was under treatment for a heart condition, rolled over in his sleep and accidentally set off a “life-aid pendant” used by many older Americans so that, wherever they are, they can alert 911 in the event of a medical emergency, and so 911 operators dispatched an ambulance and police car to see what the matter was.  Perhaps because Mr. Chamberlain lived in a public housing project, where common prejudice has it that crime is more prevalent than elsewhere,  the police were not satisfied when Mr. Chamberlain told them he was fine and declined to get out of bed and let them into his one-room home at such an early hour.  “I know my rights,” he told them, and asked them to leave.  The police, apparently, did not know theirs, and cursed at the accidental object of their unwanted attention, demanding that he let them in.   They called for reinforcements, until there were eleven officers in the hall outside the apartment, and then they broke in and tasered the unfortunate but completely innocent occupant, who was clad only in his underwear and making no attempt to resist their unlawful entry.  When tasering didn’t knock him down, one of the officers ordered the minicam on the taser shut off, and shot him twice.  The second shot killed him.  He had done no wrong. There was no contraband of any kind in his possession.  And he was dead, just like Trayvon Martin, Eric Perez, and so many before them, and,  as has all too often been the case, no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Another irony emerges in this story.  Many people, including me, have expressed concerns about the increasing intrusion of security cameras into our lives.  In this case, the entire incident was caught on tape by security cameras, not just on the taser, but in the hall of the apartment, and by an audio recorder on Chamberlain’s 911 device, which did not get turned off, giving the lie to the police story that the 5’6″ heart patient had threatened them, and for that reason they had used deadly force.  Like Trayvon Martin, Chamberlain had been on the phone as he felt his doom approach.  Chamberlain was talking to the 911 operator, pleading with authorities to call off their attack dogs–er, police officers, and letting the 911 operator know he was in fear for his life.

When I took a break from writing this story, I discovered that Chamberlain’s murderer has been identified, thanks to Democracy Now! reporter Juan Gonzalez, as Anthony Corelli, who, in spite of being indicted and about to go to trial on Federal civil rights violations in another case, was still on duty.  And I also learned that the white New Orleans police who shot peaceful, unarmed African-Americans trying to escape the city after Hurricane Katrina have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms….seven years after the fact.  I wish I could take some satisfaction in that, but I can’t.  What we are dealing with here is widespread and systemic, and punishing individuals for acting on the basis of conditioning that was instilled in them when they were too young to think, and that they were never encouraged to question, is not an answer.  Jail time is unlikely to change anybody’s mind, and more likely to simply breed deeper fear and resentment.  We need a more creative solution, a way to transform people.  Except in rare cases, putting people in jail doesn’t transform them, it deforms them even further.

I could spend the rest of this radio show, and many more, detailing the European-American-generated tragedies that have unravelled the lives of people who just happened to be born African-American.  And much has been written already about the deep cause–the seemingly insatiable European drive to conquer, exploit, convert, and control every person and acre of ground on this little blue ball we call home.  The question is not so much “what’s the problem?” as it is, “what can we do to heal this ongoing, world-wide wound?”  As a human being of pretty nearly unadulterated European descent, this is an extremely personal question for me, one that I have grappled with ever since, in my early teens, I began to become aware of just how much privilege I took for granted.

I didn’t quite realize where this story was going when I started writing it.  My head was full of the switcheroo in the early 80’s, when big corporations responded to the expansion of ecological and social justice consciousness in this country by moving their operations beyond the reach of American law, thus beginning the destruction of the middle class, leaving people less time for reflection and activism, and the linked switch from the War on Poverty to the War on Drugs.  The War on Poverty was offensive to the corporatocracy because it empowered people and led them to question the status quo.  The War on Drugs changed the government’s primary focus from empowering the poor to imprisoning–and disenfranchising–them.  The U.S. prison population is now seven times what it was in 1980, despite a dropping crime rate–thank you, Ronald Reagan!  Thank you Bill Clinton!  But I digress…that story will have to wait for another time.  We’re going deeper than that.

Becoming a hippie solved some of my conflicts about being born into such a privileged situation.  The exploitation and destruction of the natural world is driven largely by clean-cut white guys in business suits, and so from an early age I did my best not to be one of those.  I can’t do anything about the color of my skin or the y chromosome in every cell of my body, but being clean-cut and wearing a necktie are two things that a white guy can abandon, and, in the process, get at least a little taste of what it’s like to be a member of the powerless, dark-skinned underclass.  And hey, all it takes is a shave, a haircut, and a suit, and you are once again indistinguishable from the oppressor class!

But being powerless has its own difficulties, especially when coupled with a desire to make the world a better place for everyone.  In the early 70’s, my fellow counterculturalists and I hoped to prevail by sheer force of numbers and the fact that we were having more fun than our square, bought-in counterparts, but time, fear, and financial fetters conspired to erode those attractions for far too many of my unindicted co-conspirators, many of whom (including, some would say, me) have taken the easy way out and accepted the privilege of our heritage.  Since the 70’s, the crisis we perceived then has only snowballed in severity, and there is no sign of any let-up.  Were we wrong to bail on the lives we could have led, to attempt the creation of a counterculture in which black men, and everyone else, young and old, need not fear for their lives, rather than to fully enter the mainstream and attempt that same work in the belly of the beast?  Was Margaret Thatcher right?  Is no alternative possible?

No.  Margaret Thatcher was wrong.  Not only is an alternative possible, it is imperative.  The only way to change a society as steeped in fear and domination as ours is to do all we can to create a real, living, breathing, wake-up-to-it-in-the-morning alternative, to the very best of our admittedly limited ability.  Patience, tolerance, and flexibility are core values for this new society, and one way to practice them is to apply them to the limitations we all have due to our deep conditioning to, and inescapable links with, the impatient, intolerant,inflexible culture that confines us.  It’s not an easy job, but it’s the only game in town, besides the one that is so afraid of its own shadow and the evil it has visited on others that it excuses the murders of innocent people whose skin happens to be the wrong color, or who happen to maybe smoke the wrong kind of cigarettes, or who happen to live in places where fossil fuels or other deadly drugs could be produced.   Our success is not certain–but if we don’t try, our failure is inevitable.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”





THE WAR THAT WON’T DIE—AND WHY

11 03 2012

On the campaign trail, candidate Barack Obama impressed a lot of people with his honesty for saying things like, “of course I inhaled–that’s the point, isn’t it?” and for promising to leave medical marijuana production and distribution alone in states that had created a legal framework for it.  For a couple of years, he and his government kept their word, but just recently things have taken a turn for the repressive again.

The change started when Obama confirmed Michelle Leonhart as head of the DEA.  Ms. Leonhart became acting DEA director during the Cheney administration, but this isn’t just about her political heritage.  It’s not just that she has never had one good thing to say about medical marijuana.  It’s about the integrity of her conduct.

Ms. Leonhart spent many years as a field agent for the DEA, and for much of that time she worked with a professional informant who was paid four million dollars for his services, even though eventually the DEA quit using him because he had the unfortunate habits of demonstrably lying about the people he was snitching on and neglecting to pay taxes on the money the DEA paid him.  But Michelle Leonhart stood by her man, replying to the question of whether it might be time for the DEA to drop  the stoolie,

“That would be a sad day for DEA, And a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world. . . . He’s one in a million. ….In my career, I’ll probably never come across another (like him).”

And then there was the time when, in order to do DEA business in Colombia, she chartered a private plane, at a cost of $123,000, instead of using one of the DEA’s fleet of airplanes or even just buying a first-class airline ticket, which surely would have cost only about one-thousandth of what the plane rental cost her….money the U.S. government paid to a company that also happened to own an airplane that had just been seized by the Mexican army  for attempting to fly 5.5 tons of cocaine into the U.S.  That sure puts us in Schrödinger’s cat territory, doesn’t it?  There is a vast amount of unknown and possibly unknowable landscape out there, full of tantalizing tidbits like that seized airplane, the cocaine-Contra connection in the 80’s, and Secretary of State Clinton’s remark last year that we can’t legalize drugs “because there’s too much money in it.”  It’s certainly easier for spy services to finance “black ops” if there are expensive illegal drugs that can be smuggled for big, under the table profits–but that’s not what I’m going to talk about tonight.  The point is that, after all the ringing campaign rhetoric about “change,”  the Obama administration once again, as in the financial, agricultural, pharmaceutical,and military realms, to name just a few, kept our government in the hands of someone who was part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Since Obama reconfirmed Cheney’s appointee to the DEA, the federal government has undertaken a crackdown on the business aspects of large-scale medical marijuana, involving not just DEA busts of growers and dispensaries, but IRS rulings that make it virtually impossible for a medical marijuana business  to deal with a credit card company or bank, or pay taxes at a non-confiscatory level, to Department of Justice threats against state officials who help implement medical marijuana plans.

What’s going on here?  Why has the Obama administration made a U-turn on medical marijuana?

This is not something the Republicans are somehow making him do.  I find it hard to believe that Obama couldn’t stop this if he really wanted to.  The U.S. attorneys who are tearing up the medical marijuana business say it was their idea, but that they have “Obama’s blessing” to carry it out.   This is why I find the idea of voting for Barack Obama chillingly Orwellian. It’s one thing when a “tough on crime” Republican continues the “war on drugs” just like he said he would. It’s quite another when somebody who said “Of course I inhaled–that’s the point,isn’t it?” and campaigned on putting science ahead of politics in general–and not devoting a lot of federal resources to persecuting medical marijuana in places it was locally legal, in specific–turns his back on his campaign promises and destroys the lives of innocent people. It’s Orwellian to vote for somebody who is willing to do that to you, to “love Big Brother” so much that you vote for somebody who will bust you. Apparently, the Democrats have made a calculated decision that enough people love Big Brother, and find the Republican candidates sufficiently scary, that they will not care if the government is suppressing marijuana, as long as it’s allowing access to abortion and birth control, and not trying to turn the U.S. into a (fundamentalist) Christian nation with even less regulation of big business and environmental pollution than the Democrats’ feeble efforts.  I think it’s the birth control/abortion thing, mostly–get ’em by the short hairs, and their hearts and minds will follow.  From informal research I’ve done among Democrats, they are indeed all too willing to throw medical marijuana users under the bus to get their man re-elected.  “We’re all in this together, except that you potheads are disposable,” eh?

Once again, I digress….

Medical marijuana has a very high rate of public acceptance–it’s hardly a political red herring in most places, yet the  federal government continues to oppose it, continues to refuse to reschedule cannabis as a plant with medical uses, and continues to insist that it has no medical value, all the while awarding hundreds of patents for therapeutic components scientists have discovered in the plant. And maybe that’s a clue to why our corporate-friendly government is determined to keep this medicinal plant out of the hands of the people.

The approximately 200 patents that the government has granted are mostly for single ingredients of cannabis, which have been isolated, tested, and discovered to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, vasodilative,and various other beneficial effects.  Pretty disingenuous for the government to keep insisting the herb has “no therapeutic value,” when some of these patents date back to the late seventies.  The government’s been lying!  So, what else is new, eh?

There’s two things about this “single ingredient” approach to cannabis that I find of interest.  The first is that our pharmaceutical paradigm looks for single ingredients with demonstrable effects on certain symptoms, so that the single ingredient can be isolated or synthesized, patented, and sold for a good markup to pay for the research that went into developing it (which is, in a certain sense, reasonable), and also, of course, to inflate the exorbitant profits, salaries, bonuses, and dividends of the pharmaceutical companies.  When you look into it, you discover that that’s where most of the money actually goes–R&D accounts for only about one and a quarter percent of drug companies’ expenditures–while they reap twenty-five or even fifty percent profit from what they make and sell.  And you thought coke dealers were greedy?

The next thing about the “single ingredient” approach is that, once such a single ingredient has been patented, it is, under our current legal structure,  illegal to sell the substance either as a generic dietary supplement, or to sell a dietary supplement that contains the patented ingredient.   The first case is exemplified by pyradoxamine, a form of vitamin B6, which was taken off the market as a supplement because a pharmaceutical company patented it and is now selling it at a considerably higher price than the now-banned generic supplement, which can still be obtained, but only from outside the US.   In a similar vein, a nutritional supplement known as “red yeast rice” is the source for the discovery of statin drugs.  Since statins have now been patented, all “red yeast rice” supplements must have their statins chemically removed in order to be legally sold in the US.

The great irony here is that plenty of foods contain the now-patented form of vitamin B6, as well as “red yeast rice,” patented statins and all.  Another irony is that, even without its declared “active” ingredient, the other chemical components of Red Yeast Rice supplements do almost as good a job of reducing inflammation and cholesterol.  Something about the synergies of complex herbal substances–more on that in a little bit.

But…food cannot be advertised for its health benefits, saith the Food and Drug Administration, which has put cherry and walnut growers under court order so that they cannot promote the anti-inflammatory and other health effects of these natural foods, unless they are run through the FDA’s “new drug process,” which “takes an average of twelve years and 350 million dollars” before a drug is approved–and still manages to rubber stamp substances of dubious merit like Prozac as well as outright poison pills like Vioxx.  Oy, I’m digressing again.  Point being, nobody’s going to spend a third of a billion dollars to confirm the health benefits of unpatentable produce like cherries, or walnuts…or cannabis.  They’ll never make their money back.

And cannabis is even less worthwhile, from the financial standpoint, than cherries or walnuts, because it is so complex and has such a broad spectrum of positive effects.  The interaction of so many chemical constituents, in turn, produces, through synergies among these chemicals, an even broader spectrum of generally positive effects.  Thoroughly cataloging and quantifying every positive effect of ingesting cannabis would clearly cost a whole, whole lot more than a third of a billion dollars, and take much longer than twelve years–the research project has been going on, largely abroad, due to considerable government interference in the U.S., for about forty years now, and the end is nowhere in sight, it seems.  Marijuana is the gift that keeps on giving.  But it can’t be patented, any more than walnuts or tart cherries. The lack of research due to the lack of likely financial return means the government can, at least technically, continue to claim that marijuana has “no proven medical utility,” even though the reason that’s the case has more to do with the rules of the game of “proven medical utility” than with cannabis’ actual medical utility.

But, as I said, single elements of the plant can be teased out and patented.  Some fear that this will make growing one’s own marijuana even more illegal than it is already, because growing the plant might be declared a violation of somebody’s patent.  This has not happened, however, with foods containing vitamin B6 or red yeast rice–they are simply forbidden from making health claims about themselves, even though those claims would be valid.  And, with marijuana, the National Institute of Health has declared that THC is “toxic,” so they have a good reason to permit companies like Kannalife Science to market drugs derived from marijuana, and yet keep the plant illegal.  After all, the only “positive,” non-psychoactive effects of THC are antiproliferative–it keeps cancer cells from growing–and antispasmodic, both effects that also arise from the non-psychoactive CBD spectrum of cannabis chemistry.  While spokespeople associated with Kannalife insist they are supportive of full legalization of marijuana, the company is carving a market niche based on the government’s refusal to recognize medical use of the plant per se.

To summarize:  it looks to me like the government is suppressing the use of herbal marijuana as a medicine because it would be lower-cost competition for pharmaceutical drugs that could be patented and sold by pharmaceutical companies who have carefully removed the psychoactive, or, as the government prefers, “toxic” elements of the plant.  This is a real 1984-style bending of the word “toxic,” since there have been no reported  human deaths from “marijuana overdose,” ever.

Music break: Peter Tosh, “Legalize It”

That song from Peter Tosh reminds me of his tragic early death.  He was murdered because marijuana did not get legalized.  Reflecting on his death brings up another aspect of drug prohibition that I haven’t got time to do more than mention–how the high price of black-market drugs cuts through impoverished communities like a double-edged sword, offering the tantalizing possibility of escaping a life of grinding poverty on one hand, and snuffing out often innocent lives in bursts of greed-fueled violence on the other.  The deep challenge here is that our corporate capitalist system, with its twin drives to monetize everything and yet employ as few people as possible, creates increasing numbers of “disposable” people, who have no role to serve in our increasingly streamlined economy.   There’s a whole industry built around keeping them repressed, rather than empowering them. Never mind that it’s far more expensive to incarcerate people than it is to educate them! Theoretically, these millions of impoverished Americans–a group whose ranks now increasingly include the former middle class–could be set to taking care of themselves–growing their own food, providing themselves with clothing, education, medical care, tools, and shelter as humans have always done, mostly with only a minimal connection to “money.”  Such a simple, obvious solution, however, falls outside the bounds of the corporate capitalist paradigm, and would require a collapse–or a revolution–to be instituted.

This brings me around to another couple of aspects of the war on drugs, the political ones, and I’d like to thank my frenemies in the Democrat party for bringing them to my attention.  One was the charge that marijuana prohibition is somehow not “a real issue.”  The other is, as my correspondent put it, “those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences.”

I’m going to address the second objection first–that, since cannabis use is against the law, we have no right to complain about the consequences when we are caught breaking the law–or, as they say in jail, “if you can’t take the time, don’t do the crime.”

Humans have been using marijuana for about as far back in our history/prehistory as anthropologists can trace. Everywhere the plant will grow, which is just about everywhere, it has been appreciated for its nutritive, fiber, medicinal, and psychoactive/spiritual qualities.  It has not been problematic for any society that used it. It was not problematic in America in the 1930’s when it was first outlawed, in a campaign soaked in racial discrimination against Mexicans and African-Americans, fueled by frustrated alcohol prohibitionists who had just lost that battle and were looking for something else to campaign against.  So…marijuana prohibition comes from the same social conservatives who are against abortion, birth control, and social programs of about any kind that are not church-sponsored.  It is one of the foundation stones of the Evangelical, conservative Christian drive to turn their moral strictures into our country’s laws–a vital precedent that helps establish their right to tighten the screws. I have a very difficult time understanding how anyone who considers themselves “progressive” could support our country’s reactionary drug laws.

And let’s not forget that the main objection to the imposition of marijuana prohibition in the 30’s came from the AMA, who recommended “tincture of cannabis” for a wide variety of problems, a usefulness that has only been expanded by recent research.

And then there’s the reason cannabis affects us in the first place–our nervous system has receptors for cannabis’ chemical content because we make most of the same substances within our own bodies, and they are essential to normal functioning.  Our ingenious scientists tried making a drug that would block the effects of marijuana, and found that blocking the body’s ability to produce and assimilate cannabinoids had serious consequences, serious enough to prevent approval of the cannabinoid-blocking drug.  We are not happy campers without our cannabinoids, nossir.

So…marijuana use…thousands of years….marijuana prohibition–75 years, more or less, and totally ineffective at its stated goal.  Marijuana use is about as natural a human activity as sex, music, or dancing, all of which have been the subject of laws intended to stop or severely restrict them, none of which have been particularly effective. Except that….

Here in America, somebody is arrested for a marijuana-related “offense” every 19 seconds–on average, of course. In large part because of this,  “the land of the free” has the highest incarceration rate in the world. 1.6 million people were arrested for various drug offences last year, nearly half of them for simple marijuana possession, a “crime” that stays on their records and spoils the rest of their lives for doing something that is no more harmful, and probably less so, than drinking beer. More American males of color are in jail, mostly on drug-related charges, than were enslaved at the height of slavery in this country in 1850.

Marijuana is all very well, you might say, but what about cocaine, crack, meth, ice?  They’ve increasingly taken the place of marijuana, haven’t they?

It is my opinion that if marijuana were cheap and legal, nobody would be much interested in ingesting toxic substances for thrills–with all due respect to the traditional role of coca in South American culture.

The “War on (some) Drugs” preceded “terrorism” as an excuse for erosion of civil liberties and the expansion of the snooper state, and has continued and escalated in spite of the fact that every blue-ribbon panel and Presidential commission that has investigated the situation has recommended legalizing marijuana. It has cost us, the taxpayers, nearly a trillion dollars since the “War on Some Drugs” was declared  30 years ago, and, as I said, accomplished nothing for that trillion but given the US the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. ( I know, next to 1.5 trillion for the bank bailout over four years  or 4.4 trillion for our wars in the Middle East in ten years, one lousy trillion over thirty years is small change!).

Does all that make it real enough for you? I could go on…..

What I have just said is largely a quote from the Democrat-dominated e-list where I had criticised the Obama administration for its drug policy reversal, and “I could go on”  got the following response, as referred to previously:

respondent: Yes, please go on about those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences. Let’s also hear about pay disparity, jobs, health care, child abuse, climate change, living wages, senior care, the economy, war…

And I replied:

Does the fact that our government chooses to spend a trillion on something as “trivial” as the War on Some Drugs while substantially ignoring all the issues you mention (and that are important to me, too) mean anything to you? Does the fact that people of color are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for drugs than white folks, even though use rates are about the same, mean anything to you? Does the fact that every rational scientific judicial, and economic inquiry into this situation has said there is no good reason for these laws, and yet they continue, mean anything to you?

Would you say, “please go on about those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences” about those who are arrested protesting other unjust laws, like the Jim Crow laws that used to prevail in this state? (later addition:  What about people who put their bodies on the line to stop mountaintop removal, coal-burning power plants, or predatory logging?  Or predatory lending?  Do you sneer at the Occupy movement when they are arrested and raise a fuss about it?)  Or the folks who chose to ignore the anti-undocumented immigrant laws that make it a crime to be a good Samaritan if you see another human being in distress? Or do you think that it’s your duty to obey the law, whether it’s just or unjust?

….Obama has had little to say, let alone do, about the assault on Planned Parenthood, etc. or the anti-union measures that caused the massive demonstrations in Wisconsin and elsewhere. His program for distressed bankers has been far more effective than his program for distressed mortgage holders, he hasn’t done anything serious about the financial pressure on our school system (although for me, the purpose and results of our school system are a subject in themselves). It looks to me like he’s declared war on the 1st amendment with all the prosecutions of whistle blowers and peace/anti-corporate activists his administration has pursued, not to mention his assault on the 4th Amendment and his continued countenancing of war crimes around the world, plus his refusal to prosecute anybody in the Cheney administration for initiating the war crime policies he has continued. What kind of “hope” do you have for “change” from this guy? Chump change?

The questioner exercised her option not to respond to those admittedly somewhat rhetorical questions.  Elsewhere in the discussion, I added…

If three women were denied access to health care services every minute of every day, or three people per minute were being arrested for admitting their sexual orientation, if three kids were being abused by an adult or seriously bullied by their peers every minute, if three people were being evicted from their homes every minute or violently assaulted on the street and kidnapped by thugs, it would be considered a big problem–so why isn’t three people a minute being assaulted and essentially kidnapped by the police for the crime-that-every-study-says-shouldn’t-be-a-crime, marijuana use, why isn’t that considered a serious social problem in this country?  And why should we give the Democrats a pass for making this situation worse instead of better, especially when they promised to make it better, thus garnering the vote of pretty nearly every marijuana user in the country who is not a confirmed Green or Libertarian?

So, to summarize…the question of why marijuana continues to be illegal boils down, it seems to me, to two things:

At a theoretical level, it boils down to a reductionist medical paradigm that values profits and the small picture, as in the suppression of  symptoms in a fee-for-service model,  much more than it values keeping people healthy so they don’t need to pay fees for services, and that is not cognitively equipped to appreciate broad-spectrum practices, such as a sane lifestyle and diet, which might include the use of marijuana, that provide a variety of benefits that are difficult to catalogue in a “this causes that” kind of way.

The second theoretical problem is that our societal paradigm is repressive.  The presumption is that if you don’t discipline people from without, they won’t discipline themselves from within, and all hell will break loose.   Since this is, in fact, likely to happen among people who have always been subject to external, repressive discipline, our repressors (or oppressors, if you will) interpret any wild behavior that occurs when discipline is relaxed as a reason to clamp back down, rather than a reason to teach people to take responsibility for themselves.  Besides, they like being the dominators in a dominator culture.  You don’t like that?  Too bad!  Go find your own planet!

The way these theoretical considerations play out in our culture is that our corporate-oriented government, obviously aware of the many beneficial effects of marijuana, prefers to see cannabis exploited by pharmaceutical companies rather than grown directly by those who need it, especially because of:

Reason two, the government feels it has a vested interest in making sure that people don’t get high.  It leads to creative, independent thinking and questioning of authority.  To quote that notoriously under-achieving marijuana user, Carl Sagan, marijuana can provide “…the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”  Just for the record, Dr. Sagan, who began using marijuana in his mid-twenties and continued to find value in it for the rest of his life, said that in 1969, calling for the swift legalization of marijuana use.  Over forty years later, we’re still waiting to inhale legally.

“Serenity, insight, sensitivity and fellowship” are just the feelings and emotions our corporatocracy doesn’t want us to have. That’s why hippies are the most persecuted ethnic group in America.

Hippies are an ethnic group?  The Democrats had a hard time with that claim.  Hey, what part of “counterculture” don’t you understand?  A “culture” is an “ethnic group”!  But, since we are not formally recognized as an ethnic group, it’s OK to profile and arrest us, test our body chemistry to see if we’re members of this ethnic group, and then discriminate against us if we are.  It’s OK to encourage our children to report our ethnic behavior to the authorities so we can be arrested for it….the government is doing everything it can to marginalize us. We have our customs and traditions, although they have been severely disrupted by decades of persecution, but in a way the government is right to do what it does, because we are, in our own gentle way, a major threat to the dominator culture.

Disclaimer:  not all Green Party members are hippies, and not all hippies are involved with the Green Party!

And yes, my Democrat frenemies, you’re right– my fellow Greens, my fellow hippies, and I have picked a tough row to hoe. But we could no more be “good Americans” than we could have been “good Germans.”

The corporate, dominator culture wants us to be good sheep, who will go where they drive us and not complain if we are shorn or slaughtered for our corporate shepherds’ benefit.  That’s why the Democrats continually promise, and continually fail to deliver, more liberal drug laws. That’s why I’m a Green–to create a real choice in the country and a real choice on the ballot. Massive, sudden changes in the political landscape happen as the result of many individual decisions. The Republicans came out of nowhere in the summer of 1860 and left the Whig Party high, dry, and discarded in the dustbin of history.  Millions of Russians and Eastern Europeans individually quit believing in the apparently monolithic power of their governments, and the governments and the whole paradigm of their economic system crumbled. IT CAN HAPPEN HERE. In fact, it looks to me like we’re gonna be way up poop creek without a paddle if it doesn’t.

music:  Richard and Mimi Farina, “Age of Confusion








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