Mike Males

What Trump's hardcore 'working class white' supporters miss when they talk about secession

President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, and the continuing shutdown of the federal government over it, is only the most recent symbol of the increasing schism in American public life. Despite extensive debate, there is no easy solution to reconcile the so-called red America–blue America divide.

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How first-time voters led change in a deep-red state

The midterm elections of 2018 have been portrayed as a strong victory for Democrats looking to put a check on the excesses of President Donald Trump. But there’s a warning embedded in the results.

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The Big Reason Young People Don’t Debate Gun Control the Way Older Generations Do


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The Wrong Way to Legalize Marijuana

Whether Nevada voters approve the Marijuana Policy Project's ballot initiative in November to legalize marijuana for adults is not particularly important. Nevada already legalizes gambling and prostitution, and its current marijuana law subjects adults caught with pot, even three times, to mere misdemeanor citation. Another grownup party option in Nevada would hardly make history.

However, MPP's initiative is important because it reveals the capitulation by major drug-policy reform groups to the cruelties of America's "War on Drugs." Abandoning scientific research showing criminalization of drug use causes more harm than drugs themselves, MPP's initiative explicitly endorses the hardline drug-war doctrine that draconian, lifelong punishments should be imposed on young people who try marijuana. The Nevada initiative permitting adults over age 21 to buy and possess up to three ounces of marijuana also constitutionally commands the legislature to "provide or maintain" criminal penalties for persons under 21. Maintaining Nevada's law means a young person caught with a single joint faces a $5,000 fine, four years in prison, a felony record, and permanently jeopardized student loans, government benefits, and employment.

Half of all marijuana arrestees are under age 21, rendering MPP's claim that Nevada's initiative would "end the arrest of all marijuana users" flatly false. In fact, it sacrifices young people to increased drug-war endangerment in a political ploy to boost the odds of winning grass for grownups.

Nevada's initiative menaces young people in several ways. As every nation but ours recognizes, adolescents' task is not to abstain from everything, but to experiment with, practice, and master adult behaviors. This is why adolescents use drugs that are legal for adults far more than illegal drugs, and why families and locales with high rates of adult drug use also have high rates of teenage drug use. If Nevada's initiative passes, teenage marijuana use is likely to rise. Unfortunately, the more American adults grant themselves rights, the more they punish teenagers for acting like adults. It's no accident that the U.S. has the weakest laws governing adult alcohol use and the most punitive against teenage drinking, or that adult playgrounds like Nevada are notoriously mean to youths.

As Nevada's dismal campaign already shows, adolescents are falsely vilified as the "drug problem" by both drug reformers and drug warriors. Consider the worst distortions by both sides:

--Drug reformers such as the Drug Policy Alliance's Robert Sharpe and drug warriors such as Columbia University's Joseph Califano agree that drug policy should prioritize stopping all teenage use even of mild drugs. In truth, America‚s unadmitted drug abuse crisis, and worst drug threat to youth, is widespread addiction, overdose, crime, and family violence among middle-aged Baby Boomers.

--"Right now kids have an easier time buying pot than beer." This whopper is peddled by the reformist Common Sense for Drug Policy and DPA (quoted) and by Califano. In fact, all major surveys consistently show teenagers obtain and use legal, regulated alcohol and cigarettes two to 25 times more than any illicit drug. The 2001 Monitoring the Future survey is typical: 70 percent of eighth graders find alcohol and cigarettes "easy to get," compared to 48% for marijuana. Twice as many eighth graders regularly use alcohol than pot, and the gap for older teens is wider.

--"A regulated market with enforceable age controls"--such as we have for alcohol and tobacco and The Netherlands has for marijuana--will "protect children" from getting drugs. This bad joke by drug reformers reverses their previous, factual position that alcohol and tobacco are America's chief drugs of abuse. It dismisses the higher rates of legal-drug use by U.S. adolescents. It ignores definitive Trimbos Institute surveys showing that marijuana use quadrupled among Dutch youth after the Netherlands legalized marijuana for adults. While, two decades ago, Dutch teens smoked pot one-fourth as often as U.S. teens, today the levels are equivalent--another matter drug reformers misrepresent.

Is there some apocalyptic difference between a 16 year-old and a 30 year-old, or a 20- and 21-year-old, smoking marijuana that justifies a drastic difference in penalties? DPA's research bible, Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts, reviews hundreds of scholarly studies and reports none showing marijuana more harmful for adolescents than for adults. Marijuana is not a "gateway drug" leading to hard-drug addiction, and older marijuana users face greater likelihood than younger ones of panic attacks and bad reactions from mixing pot with alcohol and hard drugs, research reports.

The chief marijuana risk to youth is arrest and punishment--a danger Nevada's mean-spirited initiative exacerbates. The best hope for real reform lies in its defeat and genuine introspection as to how America's once-honest drug policy reformers devolved into duplicitous politickers willing to accept ruining youthful lives with harsh sanctions just to facilitate grownup highs. Until reformers are prepared to make the case for legalizing teenagers‚ normal right to experiment with adult drugs, they should not propose expanding adult drug rights.

Mike Males has written four books on youth issues and teaches sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The Drug Debate Gets Dopier

When I asked an assembly of 300 youths locked in Chicago's mammoth juvenile prison why so few kids die from drugs (only seven of the city's 900 overdose deaths in 1999 were teens), several shouted: "Because you don't die from weed!" That's the point both America's disastrous "War on Drugs" and groups bent on reforming it are missing: the kids aren't the problem. Yet, respected drug policy reform advocates like the Lindesmith Center now insist that stopping teenage drug use should be our most urgent policy priority. Lindesmith and other reformers claim that if drugs were legalized for adults and regulated like cigarettes and beer, teens who now freely acquire marijuana and ecstasy through illicit dealers would find the stuff harder to get.

Lindesmith researcher Robert Sharpe recently wrote Ann Landers that The Netherlands' policy of legalizing marijuana with "age controls" has "reduced overall drug use" and "protect(ed) children from drugs." Common Sense for Drug Policy sensibly argues for prioritizing addiction treatment but still urges a tripling in spending to promote teenage abstinence. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Marijuana Policy Project, and Change the Climate argue that "responsible adults" should be allowed to use marijuana while "minors" should be prohibited. (If honest, they'd emphasize that parents who use drugs, alcohol, or tobacco greatly multiply the odds their kids will, too.) Drug reform groups praised "Traffic" (the Drug-Enforcement-Administration-endorsed movie that featured black and brown pushers supplying upscale white kids) largely because of its absurd line that teens score heroin easier than legal, "regulated" alcohol.

Reformers, before their latest "protect the children" stratagem, used to argue that legal, government-regulated alcohol and tobacco were teenagers' big drugs-of-choice. True enough. The 2000 Monitoring the Future survey shows teens at every age believe alcohol and tobacco are far easier to get than every type of illicit drug. Their speculation is confirmed by surveys showing American teens use legal, age-regulated alcohol and tobacco 2.5 to 100 times more than illicit marijuana, ecstasy, or heroin.

The realities of The Netherlands' drug policy reforms are distorted both by American Drug War officials (such as former czar Barry McCaffrey, who mendaciously depicted Holland, whose homicide rate is one-eighth the U.S.'s, as awash in murder and crime) and by drug-reform groups. Unfortunately, American reformers who exploit fear of teenage drug experimentation in order to win legal highs for more addiction-plagued grownups are pursuing a strategy opposite to that Dutch reformers used: calming fear of youthful soft-drug use in order to redirect attention to treating middle-aged hard-drug addicts. Contrary to Lindesmith's argument that protecting "children" from their own drug use should be the "primary mandate" of drug policy, the Dutch implemented successful reforms precisely because they DIDN'T panic over teens and pot.

In fact, The Netherlands' Trimbos Research Institute found marijuana use in the previous month by Dutch 12-18 year-olds tripled from 3 percent in 1988 to 11 percent in 1996, then fell to 9 percent in 1999. Teenage marijuana use also grew in the 1990s in the United States and other prohibitionist countries, where anti-drug education and penalties escalated. The U.S. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found 12-17 year-olds' monthly pot smoking rose from 5 percent in 1988 to 8 percent in 1996, where it remains in 1999.

Allowing for slight differences in trend timing and age groups surveyed, it's a wash. Dutch teens use marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy at about the same rates as U.S. teens. Dutch teens use legal alcohol and cigarettes much more, as they always have. But use statistics don't matter. The important issue is that neither Dutch nor American teens show appreciable or increasing drug abuse. In both countries, teens under age 20 comprise only about 3 percent of drug abuse deaths, with the vast bulk of drug abuse occurring among adults 30 and older.

Thus, neither benign Dutch legalization nor draconian U.S. prohibition (billion-dollar anti-drug campaigns, tens of millions of arrests, skyrocketing imprisonment, military interventions) had any material effect on teenage drug decisions. In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's police vans hauled away tens of thousands of roachclippers; in San Francisco, marijuana possession arrests declined sharply from the 1980s to the 1990s and private pot smoking is effectively decriminalized. The effect on teens? Nada. In The Netherlands and U.S., New York and San Francisco, teenage drug use and abuse patterns are identical. Obsession with every up-down tick in drug use surveys reflects the inflated self-importance drug-war combatants attach to their irrelevant squabble over whose policy would make youths just say no.

The larger point is that the Dutch decriminalization and harm-reduction reforms did contribute to dramatic reductions in drug abuse among mostly-older addicts. Dutch heroin deaths dropped by 40 percent from the late 1970s to the late 1990s while they tripled in the U.S. In America, 1999 and 2000 Drug Abuse Warning Network reports show hospital emergency treatments and deaths from drug overdoses soared to their highest levels ever. From 1999 to 2000, U.S. hospital emergencies involving cocaine increased 4 percent, heroin rose 15 percent, and methamphetamine leaped 29 percent, all reaching record peaks. Today, Americans are dying from heroin, cocaine, and speed at rates seven times higher than the Dutch. The point drug reformers should be stressing is that The Netherlands' "protects children" NOT by chasing around teens who smoke pot, but by reducing the devastating damage hard-drug addicts inflict on themselves and their families, communities, and kids.

Both the appalling failure of America's War on Drugs to stem drug abuse and the encouraging realities of the Dutch reforms validate the latter's harm-reduction approach more convincingly than misplaced conjectures about youths. Teenagers are not waiting with baited bong for the latest official "message" or "policy." Real-life lessons are far more compelling. Teenagers' avoidance of hard drugs and moderate patronage of soft drugs appears a generally healthy reaction to the alarming damage they see hard-drug abuse causing adults around them.

Lindesmith's excellent "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts" scrutinizes hundreds of studies and government-commissioned reports that consistently "have documented the drug's relative harmlessness." Nowhere does Lindesmith's exhaustive research summary reveal any medical, developmental, or other reason why adults should be allowed to use marijuana responsibly but teenagers should be prohibited. Nor do Lindesmith, NORML, MPP, and other drug-reform groups explain why they're adamant that adolescent use of a "relatively harmless" drug should remain illegal or why they'd continue subjecting teens to the dangers they attribute to prohibition. For example, reformers' adults-only marijuana and ecstasy legalization scheme might assure safer supplies for grownups, but youths still would have to patronize illicit markets where hard drugs and contaminated knockoffs abound. The moralistic stance that widespread, moderate marijuana and ecstasy use by teens should remain outlawed absent solid evidence of harm sabotages "harm reduction" strategies, since harm-reducers risk punishment if they help youths break laws.

Young age is a politically convenient target for emotional crusading, but it is not a valid criterion for discrimination. Until the calming facts debunking irrational fears surrounding modern adolescents and drugs become more known and accepted, marijuana decriminalization will not happen. Lindesmith's and other reformers' campaign to "protect children" from their own drug use slants science to the point that many "fact sheets" drug reformers present selectively choose and omit "facts" just as Drug War propaganda does. And, like the Drug War's overriding precept, reformers' youth-prohibition stance upholds the myth that drugs are a menace of marginalized subgroups when, in truth, America's real illicit-drug crisis is mainstream, middle-American, and middle-aged.

Justice Policy Institute senior researcher and UC Santa Cruz sociology instructor Mike Males' writings and statistics on youth issues are at http://home.earthlink.net/~mmales/

The Myth of the (Black) Teen Suicide Epidemic

Recent alarms that suicide is skyrocketing among teenagers, especially African Americans, demonstrate (as with AIDS, crime, and other social issues) that NONE of the statistics and statements commonly made about young people by public agencies, private interest groups, and in the media can be trusted. The only way to present youth issues fairly today is to avoid repeating secondhand statistics, no matter how apparently trustworthy the source.

Authorities, from the US Centers for Disease Control to African-American physician Alvin Poussaint to media reports, assert that teenagers (particularly black males) are blowing themselves away in record numbers. From these chilling statistics, theories abound: modern youths are causing, and suffering, unprecedented, horrific dangers. More programs, more psychiatric interventions, more forced institutionalizations, and more abrogation of teenagers' rights are advanced in the name of protecting them from their rising urge to self-destruct.

In fact, the entire premise of a teen suicide epidemic, especially among blacks, is a textbook lesson in statistical malpractice. The same references interest groups miscite actually show that modern teens, especially African Americans, are less likely to die by their own hand than at any time in at least half a century, and probably ever. How, then, have authorities manufactured the frightening image of rising adolescent self-destruction? By omitting massive changes in how deaths are classified. Consider the following vital statistics compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics:

In 1970, 1,352 black teens (age 10-19) died from self-inflicted causes (drug overdoses, poisonings, falls, drownings, gunshots, hangings, suffocations, sharp instruments, and individual traffic crashes). Of these, 103 deaths were ruled suicides, 1,080 were ruled "accidents," and 169 were ruled "undetermined" as to intent (that is, the coroner couldn't figure out whether the person died accidentally or purposely).

In 1980, 767 black teenagers died from these same self-inflicted causes. Of these, 117 were ruled suicides, 596 were ruled "accidents," and 54 were ruled "undetermined."

In 1998, the latest year available, just 639 black teenagers died from these self-inflicted causes. Of these, 222 were ruled suicides, 375 were ruled "accidents," and 42 were ruled "undetermined."

Can you see what is happening here? On one hand, the total number of black teenage self-destructive deaths plummeted (1,352 in 1970, 639 in 1998). On the other, the number of black teenage deaths ruled as suicides leaped (103 in 1970, 222 in 1998). So, how can black teen suicide have "doubled" at the same time only half as many black teens are killing themselves? Let us consider a powerful possibility the experts overlooked.

In order to certify a death as a "suicide," a coroner must provide solid evidence (by a note, or investigation) that the death was intentionally caused. For lack of expertise or interest, pressure from families, religious concerns, insurance considerations, and other reasons, coroners are reluctant to rule a death (particularly a youthful death) as a suicide. A number of scientific studies have found that coroners of past decades ruled hundreds of self-inflicted teenage deaths as "accidents" (or as "undetermined" as to intent) that, given today's more sophisticated diagnostic techniques, would be ruled suicides. Especially in southern and rural areas, expending coroner time and money to investigate whether a black teen death was an accident or a suicide wasn't a priority. So, as Poussaint correctly suggests (in a point that refutes his claim of a modern "crisis"), black suicide has been "historically underreported."

A startling example: in 1970, coroners ruled 169 black teenage deaths as "undetermined" because they couldn't (or didn't bother to) ascertain whether a suspicious, self-inflicted gunshot wound or drug overdose was accidental or intentional. In 1998, the number of black teenage deaths ruled as "undetermined" had fallen to just 42. Note that the supposed "increase" in black teen suicides (up 119 since 1970) almost perfectly matches the "decline" in black teenage "undetermined" deaths (down 127) -- even without allowing for the bigger decline in self-inflicted deaths ruled as "accidents" (down 705)!

More evidence: in California, where coroners traditionally called in suicide experts to accurately certify questionable deaths, black teenage suicide DECLINED by 40 percent over the last three decades. Meanwhile, in southern states, black teen suicides "skyrocketed" from a scattering in 1970 to scores today. If some new, generational stressors are raising teen suicide, why is it falling sharply in California? These are the kinds of complications officials and experts are duty-bound to resolve before issuing alarming statements on emotional topics such as teen suicide -- yet they did not.

Whatever the politics, the bottom line is straightforward. In 1998, there were 800,000 more black teenagers in the population than in 1970. Yet, among black teen males, suicidal deaths fell sharply, from 1,093 in 1970 to 549 in 1998. Among black teenage girls, the drop in self-demise was even larger: 259 deaths in 1970, just 78 in 1998. By rate, then, today's average black teen male is 57 percent, and today's average black teen female is 73 percent, less like to take his/her own life than their counterparts of 30 years ago. In fact, fewer black teens died by self-destructive means in 1998 than in 1950, when the black youth population was only one-third as large!

Among teenagers of all colors, similar but less dramatic improvements are evident. While teenage deaths ruled as suicides increased from 1,253 in 1970 to 2,054 in 1998, self-inflicted deaths ruled as accidents plunged from 6,145 to 2,649 during that period, as did deaths ruled undetermined as to intent (518 in 1970, 190 in 1998). In 1998, teens had much lower rates of self-inflicted death than teens in the supposedly tranquil 1950s.

Two conclusions are evident. First, the teenage suicide "epidemic" is an artifact of changes in death classification, not an increase in youthful demise. Second, the reality is that teens display spectacular declines in self-inflicted hazard. Rarely do epidemiologists record such rapid decreases in fatalities over such a short period. Yet, the media and experts blare an incessant dirge that this increasingly healthy, resilient generation is killing itself at unheard-of rates.

Many groups justify their political tactic of "creating a crisis" as necessary to preserving support for the unquestionably fine, underfunded suicide prevention and mental health programs some youths need. But in the end, the myth of a teen suicide epidemic is not benign, no matter how humanely couched. It frightens the public that all young people are lethally out of control. It activates psychiatric industries lathering to profit, programs gearing up to manage, moralists eager to censor, police girding to suppress. Perhaps most disturbing, the "teen suicide" hype exposes the alarming extent to which major interests freely reduce young people to mere commodities to advance pet agendas when we should be pondering why -- despite more poverty, overcrowded schools, defunded services, dead-end jobs, family breakup, and incessant denigration by their elders -- today's younger generation is NOT descending into self-hatred and suicide.

More details can be found at Mike Males' Web site. Males can be reached at mmales@earthlink.net.

AIDS and "Black Denial"

Is it white kids or black kids who are wrecking their communities the worst? This week, the pendulum swung back to blaming young black men after the release of a new report on the 20th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic showing 15% of young gay black men are HIV-positive.

Bob Herbert, an African American columnist for the New York Times, called for black leaders to issue "thundering" demands to stop "the self-destructive sexual behavior and drug use ... that have inflicted gruesome damage on one generation after another of young black Americans." For Herbert, the issue is bad attitude and behavior: "One of the biggest obstacles to controlling the spread of the AIDS virus among young blacks is denial."

As with older whites who pretend no suburban kids until today's ever harbored guns, dope, or bad values, the illusion among older African Americans such as Herbert that drugs, AIDS, and irresponsibility are scourges of "young blacks" is the worst denial of all. Today, no one is creating more fear and anger at young black people than their own elders.

Reality is more complex, for those who go beyond press sensation and political negativism. In fact, today's younger black generation is showing remarkable resistance to drug abuse, imprisonment, and other self-destructive tendencies despite massive deterioration in well-being inflicted by older generations and their business and political leaders. Meanwhile, baby-boom blacks, whose affluence has risen for 30 years, are mired in drug abuse, rising crime, and disarray -- and the fastest-rising AIDS rate of any group.

As among whites, the "wealth gap" between African-American generations is massive and growing. Since 1970, the real, median family income of blacks 45 and older has leaped 70% while blacks under 25 have seen a staggering 40% drop in real income. Today, the average black 50-year-old has a family income of $45,000; the average black 21 year-old, $13,000 -- the largest age gap on record. The rising black education and employment achievements won by civil rights activism and sacrifice in the 1950s and 1960s eventually rewarded older blacks with rising incomes.

Yet, trends among younger blacks have gone backward: the lowest real incomes in four decades. Many older blacks, including progressives such as Herbert, posit character and behavior flaws in younger blacks, the same as Jim Crow segregationists in decades past blamed for the poverty of African Americans in general. But the reason for today's stark generational split is not "self destructive" behavior among younger blacks. In truth, the most startling development is that better-off, older African Americans are the ones displaying baffling personal behavior crises -- a trend parallel to that of whites. Among blacks, 80% of drug-related deaths today occur among those 35 and older -- the same age group show escalating felony arrest and imprisonment rates. Cumulative AIDS diagnosis levels rose 450% among younger blacks over the past decade (allowing for a 10-year lag between HIV infection and AIDS diagnosis), but they increased even faster among blacks over age 40 -- up 600%. In 2000, for the first time, blacks 35 and older approached half of new African-American HIV infectees (including a majority among males).

In California, deaths among blacks 30 and older from heroin, cocaine, and speed leaped 50% and imprisonments rose by 134 per 100,000 population -- the largest increase of any group (though older whites showed greater percentage increases). Meanwhile, defying perception and theory alike, young black men showed huge declines in crime and imprisonment during the 1990s. Among California black teens, drug deaths fell to near zero in the late 1990s and imprisonment rates dropped by an amazing 690 per 100,000 population -- the most rapid improvements of any group.

Overall, felony arrest rates among black teens fell 30% over the last generation -- but their parent generation's felony rates soared 70%. To be sure, racist policing and sentencing, especially war on drugs policies, account for some of the rise among older blacks -- but how did younger blacks escape these measures? In part, by sharply cutting drug abuse. During the 1990s, drug overdose deaths dropped by half among black teens (only 20 were recorded in the entire nation in 1998) but skyrocketed 250% among blacks 35 and older (1,812 drug deaths in 1998).

Ignoring the startling trends, Herbert declares, "thousands upon thousands of young blacks (are) succumbing to the ravages of destructive sexual behavior, drug use and (in so many of these cases) the emotional pain of self-loathing, depression and despair." Herbert is evidently referring to black psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint's assertion that suicide doubled among black male teens from 1980 to 1995, creating "a mental health crisis." However, this trend is dubious. Poussaint acknowledges today's "improved reporting methods" may have created an artificial "increase" in black youth suicides by correcting for their "historic underreporting." In fact, deaths from suicidal causes (self-inflicted gunshots, drug overdoses, hangings, and undetermined deaths) among black males has followed a cyclical, generally declining pattern for 30 years. By the late 1990s, a black male teen was only half as likely to die from suicidal causes as his 1970 counterpart. In short, black teens today appear less self-destructive, particularly with drugs, than their elders were as youths and are grownups.

These figures are easily accessible in Centers for Disease Control HIV/AIDS surveillance reports, FBI and state crime reports, and National Center for Health Statistics records. Why, then, aren't black leaders openly discussing their profound implications?

For it's a bitter irony that serious problems that do afflict young blacks appear directly traceable to the worsening attitudes and behaviors of middle-aged Americans of all colors. Industrial abandonment of inner cities led to high unemployment and widespread poverty among younger African Americans in the 1980s and 1990s. Skyrocketing hard-drug abuse and family disarray among older blacks and whites created a massive demand for services such as drugs and prostitution that spawned the 1980s and early-1990s increases in inner-city gangs, gun violence, and HIV infection. Studies repeatedly show that high rates of HIV are found among those suffering extreme poverty, homelessness, prostitution, "survival sex" (trading sex for essentials), and violent abuses. San Francisco/Berkeley Young Men's surveys found most infected gay men of all colors had much older partners and clients (and high rates of HIV infection: 21% among young gay black men in the Bay Area 10 years ago, above the 15% triggering today's alarms).

Contrary to the image created by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and journalists who buy into it, AIDS is a product of poverty and the abuses that go with it, not a teenage attitude and behavior problem. Herbert is correct that blacks (and all races) will more effectively confront AIDS when homosexuality is more openly acknowledged and accepted. Along with that attitude change, the reflex among both black and white adults to blame major social problems on bad behaviors among "today's young people" is equally essential to ending the denial.

Mike Males' writings, data sources, and other information can be found at home.earthlink.net/~mmales.

The Culture War Against Kids

In 1988, R.J. Reynolds introduced its Joe Camel cartoon icon designed to market Camel cigarettes. Everyone from Ralph Nader and anti-tobacco groups to the Centers for Disease Control to conservative tobacco-state lawmakers insisted cigarette ads, especially Joe Camel, lure teens to smoke. Yet, none mentioned the startling fact that in the four years after Joe's advent, every survey showed teenage smoking declined -- down 19 percent among high schoolers from 1988 to 1992, twice as fast as the drop among adults.

Further, the biggest decline came among the youngest group (12-13). It wasn't until 1993, when cigarette ad spending fell and market analysts agreed Joe Camel was old hat, that teenage smoking went up.

Surprisingly, over the last 25 years, teen smoking and smoking initiation rates are negatively associated with cigarette advertising and promotion spending -- that is, the more companies spend, the less teens smoke, and vice-versa. That fact doesn't fit the needs of the "culture war." Researchers and officials expend strenuous effort (including one dubious study that branded nearly all teens as smokers and denied family and peers have any influence) but have never produced evidence that ads make kids smoke.

Or take the Center for Science in the Public Interests' claim that the marketing of sweet-alcohol beverages, like Budweiser's famous bullfrogs, stimulate teenage drinking. So what? Since these alcohol promos appeared in the early 1990s, high schoolers' drunken driving crashes, binge drinking, and alcohol overdoses plummeted. Under today's simplistic "correlation equals causation" assumption (that is, cultural expression A must be the cause of proximate behavior B), Joe Camel and alcohol ads should be praised for reducing teen smoking and drinking.

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Moral Poverty and Body Counts

John Walters is a veteran of drug policy shambles. As the deputy director under former drug czar William Bennett, he helped craft drug war policies that have shattered millions of lives, wasted billions of dollars and exacerbated America's drug crisis. He's a hard-core ideologue who misrepresents the facts and spouts tough-on-crime rhetoric.

In other words, John Walters is the Bush administration's perfect choice to be the next drug czar.

If Walters wins confirmation as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), as he is expected to do, don't expect many concrete changes. Like the recently departed drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey, Walters is dedicated to more drug testing and zero-tolerance regimens, misrepresenting drugs as "an affliction mostly of the young," and funneling ever more cash to public relations, interdiction, police, prisons and -- if Walters has his way -- churches.

But unlike McCaffrey -- a dutiful soldier, but one who bumbled when off script -- Walters has a sophisticated understanding of drug issues and articulates them skillfully. This, combined with his unyielding ideology, makes him more dangerous than his predecessor.

ONDCP's goals, established in Bennett's 1989 National Drug Control Strategy when Walters was his deputy director, specifically targeted drug "use itself," not abuse or addiction. Policies stigmatized and punished "casual users ... because it is their kind of drug use that is most contagious." Conversely, the Strategy de-emphasized treating addiction because drug addicts are "a mess" who "make the worst possible advertisement for new drug use."

Bennett's strategy of neglecting drug abusers while punishing casual users worked exactly as designed. In the 1980s and early 1990s, arrests and imprisonments for drug law violations skyrocketed, self-reported drug use fell and drug abuse exploded. Federal Drug Abuse Warning Network reports showed overdoses and hospitalizations skyrocketing, especially for those drugs most targeted by the drug war. In 1980, when Reagan took office, 28,000 Americans were hospitalized for abuse of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. In 1992, when Bush left office, the number was 175,000. In 2000, the latest figures available, 250,000 were hospitalized.

Normally, such a monumental policy disaster would invoke calls for fundamental reform from the highest levels, especially after voters in a dozen states have signaled their support for reform. However, because drug abuse is financially and politically profitable for drug war interests, the czar's only permissible role is promoting tougher policies and further escalation. Walters' record reveals the consummate doubletalk skills necessary to fulfill the office's task of redefining disaster as success while simultaneously warning that worse disaster looms.

Walters' claims of success, like McCaffrey's, rest upon limited portions of indexes of drug abuse and rely heavily on the most unreliable measure, self-reporting use surveys. From 1979 to 1992, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reported, the percentage of people who said (truthfully or not) that they used illicit drugs in the past month dropped from 16 percent to 5 percent among teenagers and from 14 percent to 6 percent among adults. In a 1996 Heritage Foundation critique of Clinton drug policies, Walters credited "strong presidential leadership" for "a decade of consistent progress during the Reagan and Bush Administrations" that "helped rescue much of a generation." Yet, in President Clinton's first term, "the United States is losing -- some would say surrendering -- in the prolonged struggle against illegal drugs." Drug use is rising, and "the number of cocaine- and heroin-related emergency room admissions has jumped to historic levels" driven by falling prices and "increased availability of such relatively cheap drugs."

Walters' czarist capabilities are shown when he cites trends to indict Clinton's policies without mentioning how they equally discredit the Reagan-Bush drug war. From 1980 to 1992, heroin and cocaine prices dropped by 60 percent, heroin-related emergency admissions tripled, cocaine ER cases jumped 1,200 percent and drug-related murders quadrupled from 400 to 1,600. The Reagan-Bush era spawned the very "adolescent superpredators" Walters later mythologized to inflame national panic. His 1996 book, Body Count, coauthored with Bennett and John DiIulio, blamed "the alarming rise in teenage violence" on "a population of teenagers with a higher incidence of serious drug use, more access to powerful firearms, and fewer moral restraints than any such group in American history."

Walters qualifications to captain ONDCP are further revealed in his evasion of the role Reagan-Bush drug policy played in stoking inner-city violence. It is clear now, as it was then, that increased homicide and violent crime by young urban men in the late 1980s and early 1990s was not caused by their own drug use or what Walters labeled "moral poverty." In fact, adolescents, including inner-city youth, showed low drug abuse rates. Rather, the spike in gang violence in impoverished inner cities suffering high unemployment represented rational entrepreneurship among drug suppliers and gangs competing to reap immense profits from rapidly increasing demand for cocaine, crack and heroin.

Who created that demand? While Walters and other "experts" capitalized on deploring the violence by young black and Latino men at the street level of drug supply networks, none mentioned the customers: several million addicts, mostly middle-aged, suburban and white. The ranks of aging addicts soared amid the deliberate neglect advocated by Bennett drug strategy. During the Reagan-Bush reign, the number of adults 35 and older hospitalized for heroin and cocaine overdoses surged from 7,000 in 1980 to 130,000 in 1992, while hard-drug deaths leaped 800 percent.

Given his backwards definitions of "progress" and "rescue," it's not surprising that Walters' 1996 critique lambastes Clinton's "ineffectual ... focus on hard core drug users at the expense of stronger law enforcement and interdiction." Wrong in any case. Clinton's former drug czar, Lee Brown, belatedly advocated more treatment of addicts, but 70 percent of Clinton's drug budget went to law enforcement. Drug arrests rocketed from 1.1 million in 1992 to 1.6 million in 1996, the year Walters falsely accused Clinton of abdicating policing. Drug casualties continued to soar.

The latest federal reports show that after Republicans and Democrats spent hundreds of billions of dollars and imprisoned millions over the last 15 years, America now suffers its worst drug abuse crisis ever -- more annual drug-involved arrests (1.6 million), imprisonments (300,000), overdose deaths (16,000) and emergency treatments (600,000) than ever. But ONDCP thrives on policy shambles. In Walters, the office will have a drug czar experienced in presiding over them.

Mike Males, senior researcher for the Justice Policy Institute and sociology instructor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, authored Kids & Guns: How Politicians, Experts and the Press Fabricate Fear of Youth (home.earthlink.net/~mmales).

Tim Wise Didn't Go Far Enough

Tim Wise won national, mainstream media attention with his provocative piece, "School Shootings and White Denial," arguing that the Columbine and Santee massacres reveal a deeper drug and violence pathology among white suburban youth, problems whites typically associate with urban black and Latino youth. Wise is correct that white suburban culture is indeed violent and drug-plagued, but youth are not the manifestation of those problems. By choosing very rare school shootings and supposed white-youth hard-drug use to illustrate his thesis, Wise allows adults to get away with another "your kids are worse than our kids" diversion.

I offer a grimmer theory as to why Wise's editorial received such enthusiastic accolades across color lines: he kept the discussion safe. Although clearly not his intent, the practical result of his editorial was continuation of the 1990s trend of making youth behavior the lingua franca for discussing social ills while grownups take the easy way out.

What is Wise's evidence to white parents that "dysfunction is all around you"? The same dubious points he'd rightly deplore if applied to black or brown youth. First, mass, random school shootings are white-boy phenomena. True -- among 9 million white boys in 20,000 secondary schools in the last five years, 14 students in 12 schools conducted highly publicized shootings. While a poorer youth (or adult) is a dozen times more likely to commit individual murder than a middle/upper-class youth (or adult), rampages by more affluent males are more likely to involve random, mass killing. But the fact is that killers, white or of color, are extremely rare and do not prove the typical black or Latino kid is a superpredator any more than they prove the typical white kid is a latent school gunboy.

Second, Wise points out that school surveys show white students use drugs more than black students (but, he doesn't point out, less than Native Americans and Hispanics). True; the rarity of black teenage drug abuse contradicts the stereotype perpetrated by the media, the drug war, and many black leaders. However, the same federal surveys show cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other hard drugs are used by only tiny fractions of white youth even once in the past year, and drug deaths and hospitalizations among youth of all colors are vanishingly low and much rarer today than 20 or 30 years ago.

Further, it matters little which race reports being more likely to bring "weapons" to school when schools remain far safer from homicide and weapons violence than other major American institutions such as families, workplaces, and streets. In order to sustain the claim that youth are in mass wastage, crucial facts (such as the fact that white and black youth drug abuse and murder rates are at 30-year lows, as are most other supposed youth dysfunctions) have to be suppressed.

The "shocking whiteness" of the "shoot-em-ups" Wise reifies does not center on the fact that they're perpetrated by "boys;" Americans only find it easier to talk about violence when youths are the culprits. As mass shootings go, boys are very unlikely perpetrators. The true gun-killers are mostly middle-aged men -- white baby boomers, in fact, the group smugly wringing its hands over school shootings.

Dozens of gun-wielding, mostly white 30-60-age males recently have gone berserk in homes, offices, churches, grocery stores, community centers, industrial workplaces, even the national and California capitols. Office massacres claimed 12 in Atlanta, three in Alabama, seven in Honolulu, four in Seattle, eight in Tampa, three in Santa Cruz. Enraged middle-agers gunned down four teens and three adults in a Fort Worth church, six more in a Mormon library, and three teens and a Bible teacher in Ohio. Failed romances prompted midlife men to massacre six in Michigan, four in Baltimore, four in Memphis, six in Sacramento, and five toddlers at a California preschool. At least 25 are believed slain by a Texas serial killer; a Seattle national guard pilot admitted murdering a dozen prostitutes, and senior-citizen rampages in Michigan and Arizona elderly housing left eight dead or wounded. Mass, middle-class male killings pass weekly without a hint of accusation that midlife killings reveal white pathology.

Nor, in the wake of school shootings, did anyone bother to check the high levels of violence, crime, and addiction by suburban adults in "pastoral" communities they stereotyped as immune to grief. The latest California Criminal Justice Profiles show that in 1999, police in white, suburban Santee logged 231 weapons-related domestic violence reports, along with arrests of 300 adults for felony property, drug, and violent crimes (including homicides) and 600 more adults for other offenses. Wise's castigation of the "white denial" and media myth of suburban enclavism is apt.

However, Wise's statement that whites should recognize that the "dangerous ones" are not "black, brown, and poor" youth but their own "dysfunctional" white kids simply shifts stigma from one scapegoated group to another. White teenagers are not as feared as black and brown youth, but they increasingly are stigmatized and subjected to harsher policing and punishment. Far from ignoring white-youth dysfunction, the press from ABC News to "People" to "Rolling Stone" repeatedly feature the younger suburban generation as lost to heroin and mayhem.

Defending the goodness of black youth (dramatically evident in its own right in plummeting rates of black teens' drug abuse, crime, and imprisonment in the 1990s against steep socioeconomic odds) does not require counter-demonizing white youth to achieve. Doing so upholds America's tradition of allowing the mainstream to praise itself while demeaning powerless groups by the worst of their number. Note that reporters, authorities, and Santee school officials excused the popular jocks, cheerleaders, and staff who bullied the shooter and blamed his outcast friends for not turning him in.

Adults of all colors and political stripes comfortably pretend that violence and drugs are "youth problems" even as morgues, hospital emergency rooms, and prisons fill with messed-up grownups.

So, let me refocus Wise's question more bluntly on mainstream pathology: adult America, especially my self-satisfied 30-60-age-mates, the "dysfunction" is not your (or someone else's) kids and their supposed violence, drugs, and "culture corrupted" values. The problem is middle American, middle-aged drug and alcohol abuse, violence, crime, and rotten values reflected in everything from rampant household battery and drunken driving to me-me politics and high-level scandal.

White middle agers -- appallingly affluent, blessed with vast remedial resources, and hardly targeted by police -- have no excuse for the huge, surging rates of addiction, violence, imprisonment, and general disarray they inflict on society, families, and their children. And we have no excuse for commodifying "kids" of any color as convenient scapegoats to deny mainstream failings.

Mike Males ,mmales@earthlink.net, is senior researcher for the Justice Policy Institute and author of "Kids & Guns," (Common Courage Press, 2001) posted as a complete online book at: www.commoncouragepress.com/males_guns.html.

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