Saturday, August 15, 2015

The War on Drugs is a Not a Failure. AT ALL.

Just about every major study of drug policy over the last 100+ years has concluded that prohibition is bad public policy. Many conclude that the War on Drugs does more harm than good. Alternatives to criminalization seem to work better. Portugal's experiment with decriminalization has been a smashing success.

Most of the mainstream sources beginning to question the War on Drugs call it a "failure." You see that term a lot these days. "We tried to stop the scourge of illegal drugs, we gave it our honest best, but we conclude that it's not working."

The War on Drugs is a total failure, right? 

It's a failed policy, amiright?


Errr...a failure for whom?


The War on Drugs is just one branch on the rotten tree.

To understand why the drug war continues we have to unpack all the ways in which it benefits the core constituents of government: private corporations and the military-industrial complex. Policies that are "failures" are those that fail to enrich these core constituents. If the drug war were a failure it would not have continued for 70 years.

Someone is benefiting. A LOT. Someone always makes out like a bandit from "failed" policies. In this case, the beneficiaries are raking in hundreds of billions of dollars. Read that number again: Hundreds. Of billions

Does that sound like a failure to you?

Let's take a look at a few of the beneficiaries. But before we do, let's take a small detour to address another core component to this issue: "Conspiracy Theory."

I've put it in quotes because it's another of those terms (like "terrorist") that no longer has any meaning. "Conspiracy theorist" has become a broad brush that the mainstream uses against anyone who speaks out against systems of unjust power. The mainstream media, which has been more and more exposed as the water carriers for power, has deliberately muddied the waters by throwing the term "conspiracy theorist" over everyone from UFO believers to "9/11 Truthers" (another term used to instantly shut down anyone who questions any aspect of the official narrative) to JFK assassination buffs.*

The short take from all of this is that when I suggest that the U.S. government mainly serves the interests of a powerful elite, and only tangentially serves the interests of We the People, a certain subset of readers will reflexively think, "Oh, a Conspiracy Theorist!" and give themselves permission to stop thinking any further. In their minds, the notion that the most wealthy and powerful factions exert oligarchic control over public policy can only mean a tiny number of (Jewish bankers? Ex-Nazis? Lizard People?) meet in a room and decide how they want to run the world. That idea seems ridiculous because it is. But it's not the only way that power exerts itself.

In my previous post I suggested that the Internet has brought true free speech to all of us for the first time in history. This seems like a bold claim to people who still read the New York Times and listen to the Evening News. But young people who have grown up on the Internet generally avoid mainstream news sources because the mainstream's pro-corporate & pro-government bias doesn't jibe with the lived reality they see every day online.

The journalist Glenn Greenwald summed up the change quite nicely. He said that it used to be the case that only the most extreme outsiders -- John Birchers and the like -- would try to claim that a tiny cabal of powerful entities within the military industrial complex really controlled the government. To do so was, in Greenwald's words, "a self-marginalizing act." But, he continued, this is no longer the case. Today it seems so self-evident that to deny it seems the more radical position.

The U.S. is not a democracy, it's an oligarchy. This isn't my opinion, it's the conclusion of academic social scientists who study the issue. For instance, a widely-reported (outside the U.S.) study from Princeton and Northwestern examined over 1800 policy outcomes from 1981 to 2002 and concluded that the popular will had virtually no impact on the outcomes while the desires of the economic and business elites had a large impact. Tufts Political Scientist (and former legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Michael J. Glennon expressed a related sentiment when he said, "Vote all you want. The secret government won't change."

Neither of these academics would consider themselves "conspiracy" theorists; in fact, the article on Glennon specifically says he's not. But they both conclude that the government is essentially run by an entrenched, bottom-up bureaucracy that is not answerable even to the President and Congress. And regular Americans don't really have much say in how the government is run, period.

So you really don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to conclude that the "shadow" government, or the insider government, acts according to dictates that are not set by the citizenry. In many cases, the agenda is not even determined by the public officials we elect to ostensibly represent us. So then the question becomes: who does set the agenda? Who decides what policies get executed?

At this point, the answer is pretty clear. Those estimated 10,000 lobbyists on Capital Hill are not there on behalf of the American people (well, a few of them are). That $65 million spent by the pharmaceutical industry, $40 million from the insurance industry, $38 from electrical utilities...these are investments. This is the kind of money that bends policy in their direction. 

If it didn't work, they wouldn't invest. 

Take War Profiteers (aka: the Defense Industry): Long before 9/11 and the "War on Terror," the drug war was used as an excuse to militarize the border, provide ever-increasing military equipment and training to local police, and even to justify military actions in Columbia, Panama and elsewhere.

In an upcoming post I will drill down in more detail all the ways in which the War on Drugs is something much worse than a failure, including a number of angles -- free speech, mental health, even climate change, for chrissakes -- not often associated with this particular policy. For the moment, understand that the science is clear and unambiguous: the drug war is ineffectual at controlling the availability of drugs, and actually increases the harm caused by drugs. The war on drugs has the same relationship to illicit drug producers and drug users as alcohol prohibition had to alcohol producers and consumers. It increases the profit margin for drug dealers exponentially. This creates violent and wealthy criminal networks, which in turn corrupt police and institutions and commit literal genocide (60-120,000 murdered in Mexico alone in the last decade). The drug war makes drug use more dangerous for individuals, including children, while also making treatment a more difficult and risky option.

At the same time, the drug war helps lay the foundations of a totalitarian police and prison state. With massive profits for the tiny number of owners at the top.


Lest you forget: Despite smears against "conspiracy theorists" both before and after, the 1976 U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that JFK was killed by a "probable conspiracy." In other words, our own government said publicly that Oswald most likely did NOT act alone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On the Battle for Medical Cannabis: Grokking the Root Problem

When you begin to unpack them, all the major injustices in our society -- healthcare, poverty, rampant militarism, the debasement of our food system, and on and on -- can be traced to the same root corruption (the "rootstriker" issue). My own awakening to this notion came through one corner of the War on Drugs, the battle for medicinal cannabis (the proper name for marijuana). The people of California voted almost twenty years ago to allow our citizens to use cannabis for "any condition for which it provides relief" upon receiving an oral recommendation from a doctor. Santa Clara County, where I live, had one of the highest percentages of YES votes in the state. 

This should be a slam dunk, no? The citizens say cannabis should be available. How is it to be available? Growers grow it and sell it to providers? Providers sell it to patients? 

Sadly, the battle for access to medical cannabis has been an uphill one.

Cannabis remains illegal at the Federal level (we'll examine that crime later). So anyone who buys or sells cannabis is committing a Federal crime. The workaround for this was for patients to form non-profit collectives that grow their own medicine and make it available for a donation.

Various government entities have tried to define this as meaning the entire system should be closed-loop. People in the collective can only grow for their own collective and not anyone else's. Collective's aren't supposed to source their medicine from multiple sources. That sort of thing.

To anyone who understands the nature of medicinal cannabis this model is ridiculous. Cannabis is not all that easy to grow well, and furthermore cannabis exists in literally hundreds of stains. Various patients with specific conditions can respond differently to each one. Medicinal cannabis encompasses not only the whole plant, but also concentrates, tinctures, edibles, topical creams and myriad other valuable products. The idea that a collective full of cancer and other patients will have the time, space and resources (including security) to grow and process all their own medicine is absurd. A few collectives have managed to pull this off (WAMM, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz being the most notable) but for most patients a well-run storefront dispensary where they can go and buy their medicine -- pardon me, give a donation to get their medicine -- is the most convenient and humane solution.

A few years ago, when a number of cities were considering whether to allow cannabis dispensaries, and under what conditions, a colleague and I found ourselves running the Silicon Valley chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a leading activist group. We attended city council meetings up and down Silicon Valley, from Redwood City to San Jose, where we testified about the importance of cannabis for the tens of thousands of their constituents who use it daily. 

In one city, a woman who was up on the dais (not a City Council member but part of their staff) confided to us during a bathroom break that her husband, an amputee, was a cannabis patient. "I probably shouldn't be telling you this," she realized at the time. Of course, she never volunteered this information publicly, never thought to take the courageous step of telling her co-workers on the City Council that she herself was affected by their decision.

That city decided NOT to allow cannabis dispensaries. In fact, one-by-one, all the cities where we testified refused to allow safe access to this valuable and completely non-toxic medicine (you literally can't overdose on cannabis). In my hometown of Mountain View, virtually all the City Council members privately told my colleague they supported us. The Mayor even spoke publicly about how she herself had survived cancer and would have used cannabis if she had thought it would help. Nevertheless, they stabbed the patients in the back and voted against allowing dispensaries.

Cowards they are, Leaders they are not. 

At this time, the majority of the Silicon Valley Peninsula is served only by cannabis collectives that deliver, and not by storefront dispensaries.

All the cities fell like dominoes, as they betrayed their own sick and suffering constituents and refused to follow the will of the people, I realized my efforts to effect change at the local level were doomed as long as cannabis remained Federally illegal. All the City Councils had the same rationale: 

We support you, we want patients to be able to use cannabis, but we are scared the Feds will come in and arrest us if we allow cannabis dispensaries to operate. Our neighboring cities said no, so we will, too.

Along with this excuse, another is worth noting. The police in every city misled the City Councils and claimed cannabis dispensaries created a host of problems, from bringing in "the wrong element" to causing traffic to attracting crime. None of this is true; the police chiefs in LA and San Francisco both made the same claims then had to publicly walk them back when they were challenged. In fact, dispensaries are robbed at lower rates than banks or 7-11s. 

[When dispensaries do get robbed it's often because they have a lot of cash on hand; as a result of Federal prohibition banks won't allow dispensaries to use credit cards or even, in many cases, bank accounts. Exacerbating the problem are draconian zoning requirements, which can force dispensaries into industrial areas that tend to be darker and have much less traffic in the evenings.]

In general, crime in areas with dispensaries will often go down, probably because dispensaries have security cameras and guards. There simply is no good evidence that the presence of cannabis dispensaries increases crime. We continually pointed out that police claims were false and pernicious but City Councils are not wont to go against the wishes of their own police forces.

The notion that the police lie regularly will be unsurprising to anyone following the current movement against police violence. Police are being caught on video over and over and over again abusing and even killing people, then lying about it. In the case of cannabis dispensaries, City Councils apparently chose to believe the police even when their lies were publicly called out (as we did, repeatedly) and even when their lies did actual harm to their sick and suffering constituents. 

The only other explanation is that City Councils are scared to cross the police. Either option is quite unsettling, in its own way.

When we lost the battle in city after city, one thing became clear. The City Councils had never had any intention of allowing dispensaries. The whole dog-and-pony show of seeking public comment, spending months "studying" the issue, and then voting against it was simply a simulacrum of democracy, not real democracy. The public overwhelmingly supported safe access to cannabis back in 1996 but the politicians actively subverted the will of the people.

One final note will illustrate the contempt with which the politicians held those of us who supported safe, legal access to cannabis medicine. Almost every city used the same strategy to deliberately fuck with us. They would announce that they would discuss the issue on such-and-such a date at the City Council meeting that started at 1:00 pm, or 7:00 pm., or whenever. Then, when the activists would show up and fill the room (including patients in wheelchairs, or with chronic debilitating pain, or suffering with serious illnesses), they would schedule the cannabis discussion for later in the day, often making it the last item. So activists, who were often the majority of the audience, would have to wait 2, 3, 4, sometimes 6 hours to be heard. The sickest and weakest would obviously have to give up and leave. Those of us who had waited all day for our 3-minute comment time would be told there were too many of us so they would have to cut our time to 2 minutes each, or even 1 minute.

This strategy was so consistent from city to city that it could not have been an accident. 

In a number of cases, they would run out of time and reschedule the cannabis deliberations for another day. Getting activists to show up once is tough, getting them back again is even harder and guaranteed to reduce the number. Of course, I realized later it didn't actually matter since the City Councils had no intention of following the will of the voters in any case. The whole "democratic" process was a sham, just for show.


From my experience playing the activist game I understood that medical cannabis policy was perfectly illustrative of an injustice springing from a larger injustice, tied to root corruption: a classic rootstriker issue. I was wasting time trying to fix a sick branch while the entire root system of the tree was rotted. And the piece I was trying to mend is not even a major limb but rather a small branch -- local medical cannabis policy. The Drug War itself is a major limb. Lots of great people have been working for decades to revise or end our current drug policy. No one really got very far because the root problem remains unchanged.

We have been hacking at the branches of evil.

Then the Internet came along and with it actual free speech unhampered by government and corporate media propaganda. The rot at the roots is beginning to become clear. The drug war is starting to die only because a growing segment of We the People have grokked that it is BULLSHIT.

But what's the root issue? 

Next: Unpacking the limbs of the Drug War...

Monday, August 10, 2015

To Find a Solution First Identify the Problem

I've been thinking a lot about how to go about creating a more just & sane world.

Lots of folks are working in this capacity, and the people who aren't are wasting their time. I should know; I'm the king of time-wasters. In fact, I just quit 20 years of pay-the-bills jobs so I can stop wasting time and start making a difference in a bigger way. No idea how that's going to work out; stay tuned.


People are working in all kinds of ways to make the world a better place. Some of them are engaged in small-scale, local projects to help improve their city, their neighborhood, or maybe just their next-door neighbor. Peoples' "in" to social activism can be through criminal justice reform, or environmental reform, healthcare reform...when you start to examine our society so many areas seem ripe for major overhauls.

People lobby Congress, attend protests, and write letters to newspaper editors. "Clicktivism" is that branch of activism where you sign an online petition and consider your work done. Some people attend protests or candlelight vigils for the victims of injustice.

The "in" comes when you realize your small corner of the injustice world is not an isolated one. Environmental policy didn't just happen to be terrible. The financial system isn't stumbling happenstance into massive fraud, record profits and total immunity from prosecution. The healthcare system may suck for Americans but it's not some natural phenomenon, like tornadoes and earthquakes. The Drug War isn't a failed policy at all.

Injustice permeates the very fabric of society, when you really take a closer look. But on the subject of social justice activism, Thoreau called it:

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

As I have looked into various activist approaches one thing has begun to become clear. Every injustice you can name is simply a branch on a larger tree, a tree with rotten roots. Attempts to clean up the branches will never succeed so long as the roots are not clean and strong.

Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig's "in" was through copyright policy. [UPDATE 8/11/15: Lessig's running for president!] He argued a case before the Supreme Court for which he had an airtight winning strategy. Lay out the Framers' original intent and show how copyright law no longer applied to that intent and instead suppressed innovation. 

He lost the case, discovering in the process that the courts -- like every other major institution in the United States -- mostly support corporate hegemony over the rights and values of the citizens.

Realizing he couldn't win on the copyright issue, Lessig left copyright and Stanford behind and moved to the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard to devote his life to exploring the broader issue of corruption in government. He founded Rootstrikers (which takes its name from the Thoreau quote above) specifically to address the root corruption at the core of our government, the rotten tree that prevents meaningful social justice from taking root.

Lessig seems to have become somewhat more radicalized following the suicide of his young confidante Aaron Swartz in early 2013. (Lessig has often claimed Swartz was as much his mentor as the other way around.) Swartz, a brilliant young activist and coder was facing decades in jail for a politically-motivated act of digital downloading, a charge that sounds ridiculous on its face but was clearly intended to chill his activism.

The term "Kafkaesque" is often used to describe a surreal bureaucracy incapable of reigning in its own faceless cruelty. But Kafka's beat wasn't surrealism; his description of bureaucracy was only slightly askew from the real bureaucracies of his day, which in turn functioned with exactly the same casual cruelty and oppression as those of today. The way the system destroyed Aaron Swartz wasn't at all surprising or unusual. The only thing notable about is is that it happened to a young man with a lot of very influential friends so his eventual suicide turned him into a worldwide martyr and shone some much needed light on the pervasive violence of our "justice" system.

What happened to Aaron Swartz happens daily to hundreds, thousands of people. Poor people, people of color (mostly both) are targeted for harassment and arrest and funneled through a criminal justice system that only occasionally lives up to its name. With just 5% of the world's population the U.S. has 25% of its prisoners. The same justice system that prosecutes murderers and rapists is also brought to bear against people engaging in consensual behavior the state has chosen to criminalize. People who have sex for money (without a camera present, at which point it's legal), people who buy, sell or use certain substances that aren't under the control of the pharmaceutical companies, people who gamble without using one of the large casinos as a middleman.

All these consensual crime laws are regularly violated by Americans across the spectrum, of course, but the criminal justice system is only generally a concern for lower-income violators, disproportionally those with what an old Jamaican pal used to call "my deep rich tan." So the full scale of the prison-industrial complex remains an abstraction to the relatively small percentage of Americans -- affluent & white -- who make policy, or who read about it in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

(To be continued...)

A New Blog, A New Direction, A New Life

Hello Everyone,

I’ve had a lot of ideas bouncing around my head about How to Save the World and Humanity. Big Ideas, I know. I’m not so arrogant as to think any of my ideas are original, incidentally.  I am hoping I may have some insight about how to communicate these ideas. Or, I hope that elucidating the thought process that brought my consciousness to where it is today might in some small way help others walking a similar path.

The Emperor Has No Clothes is more than a fairy tale, or a cute children’s story. It’s actually a very deep Sufi parable about our inability to see and understand what’s right in front of our faces. A Russian proverb says: No man is so blind as the man who doesn’t wish to see. We are all blind about something or other, from family issues to global ones. In many cases the corporate mediasphere perpetuates the blindness, both through deliberate misrepresentation of the facts on the ground and by supplying an endless distraction engine, the stimulant Bread and Circuses we are programmed to crave.

Upton Sinclair took that Russian proverb and updated it with a peculiarly American slant: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

Nearly 100% of climate scientists agree that human beings are having a major and potentially devastating effect on the climate we humans need to survive. As a species. In the near future. And yet we seem, as a species, to be completely incapable of working together to solve this problem.

What’s up with that?

The Emperor Has No Clothes. Our society is filled with nakedness that we mistake for finery. Hell, I recently grokked that I have no clothes.

This site is my small attempt to remedy that. Stay tuned.