Stephen Young

‘Restart the Economy’ is a prayer to a conservative God who demands human sacrifice

According to classic interpretations of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, a Canaanite deity named Moloch demanded the sacrifice of children. There is a long history of writing about this bloodthirsty god spanning the ancient world to John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” to modern social commentators. One recurring point is that the depravity of Moloch was reflected in his insatiable lust for innocent flesh. 

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Bring Freedom Home First

While I'm happy to be an American and I wouldn't really want to live anywhere else, I believe we need to look at domestic oppression before saving everyone else. I didn't hear anything about drugs in Bush's inaugural speech, but I heard a lot about freedom for those who don't have it. Illegal drug users have little freedom now in this country. 

As I reread the text of the speech, three paragraphs struck me, particularly as they might apply to victims of the drug war here. 

"We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right," Bush said. 

Oppression and freedom are at the heart of the drug war, and the choice has already been clarified for those who are willing to see. With hundreds of thousands of people behind bars because of drug laws, it's time to ask: Does oppression become moral when the oppressor thinks it's for the good of the oppressed?

"America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies."

But we continue to pretend that jailing chemical dissidents, those who take drugs not approved by the U.S. government, somehow is preferable for them. Women caught with the wrong drugs, or even those simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person, spend years behind bars in the U.S. Sadly, we do live at the mercy of drug war bullies, who insist on checking the chemical purity of our bodies and our children's bodies through drug tests; who arrest the sick and dying for trying to relieve their pain; who see themselves as above laws which restrict federal bureaucrats from getting involved in local political issues. 

"We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty."

That last sentence is inspiring, in theory. Unfortunately, in reality, freedom, justice and human liberty are under assault by the drug war. 

Let's get it right in our own country before insisting that everyone follow our lead. 

Sanity In Chicago

Did the drug war slack off a little last week in Chicago? Was it just too tired to fight? Demoralized by Montel Williams?

I thought Montel's show about medical marijuana, in which he confronted and shamed former deputy drug czar Andrea Barthwell, would be the big news of the week. But while the former czarina stuck to the cruel party line that Montel shouldn't be smoking weed to stop his pain, something else happened.

A major American city proposed marijuana decriminalization, and no one expressed serious opposition. Not even the federal freakin' drug czar himself.

Maybe things will get back to normal next week, and maybe this proposal isn't as good as it seems, but Chicago's leaders want to stop arresting pot smokers for possessing small amounts. Instead, tickets would be issued. Chicago officials insist they are not talking about decriminalization. It's really a way to get tough on marijuana.

OK guys. Whatever you say. Semantics can be important, and the term decriminalization carries varied meanings and connotations that can confound listeners. But if this was 1978, everyone would be using the language of decrim.

Of course, it's not 1978 and the proposal isn't ideal. Among other problems, the fines as discussed are too high, but from a reformer's perspective, it still looks like a step in the right direction.

It all started last Monday when the Chicago Sun-Times released details on a police sergeant's memo suggesting that fines would be more appropriate than arrest. He argued that judges were dismissing cases for the vast majority of suspects arrested with 2.5 grams or less.

An unstated but central question floated beneath language of bureaucracy: Why spend money arresting potheads, when you can make money fining potheads?

It was a relatively rational idea, but the drug war's central function is to aggressively smash down rationality wherever it rears its confusing head. While other counties and cities have similar schemes in place, American prohibitionists go insane and froth at the mouth whenever they discuss Canadian decrim proposals. I assumed that we would hear little more about the subject in Chicago.

The next day, the chief of police said it was an idea worth consideration. Then Mayor Daley said he didn't have a problem with it. In Chicago, that's all that really matters. Both the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune endorsed the idea.

And then two holes within the space time continuum apparently aligned momentarily and we entered some kind of alternate dimension. I'm talking mystical signs of biblical proportions; lambs lying down with lions and that type of thing. John Walters, the federal drug czar, told the Sun-Times he does not have a problem with Chicago's plan to stop arresting marijuana smokers! He didn't endorse it, but he wouldn't criticize it. The federal freakin' drug czar!

The reporter was polite and/or ignorant enough not to ask the federal freakin' drug czar why it's OK for Chicago but not for Canada.

Federal hypocrisy aside, Chicago's fines for pot plan sounds OK, but regulation and a mild tax would be much better. Government shouldn't have to depend on people breaking the law to generate revenue when it could depend on people obeying the law to generate revenue.

Better policies, however, will come around in the future. When Chicago fails to fall apart because marijuana smokers are no longer being arrested, more significant reforms will arrive in the Windy City and elsewhere, particularly if the reforms offer broader revenue streams and decreased costs for local government.

At the very least some obscured truth seems to be ripe for mass recognition across the United States: Using the limited resources of law enforcement to arrest our way toward a pot-free America is a stupid, short-sighted waste. Even the federal freakin' drug czar understands marijuana arrests are a malicious luxury he can no longer afford to demand.

Turning Away From The Corner

"We believe we have turned a corner, particularly with the coca crop, in Colombia."
--Paul E. Simons, the U.S. State Department's top counternarcotics official, quoted by the Associated Press June 3, 2003

For at least 30 years, the United States has repeatedly turned corners in the drug war.

Back in 1973, it was President Richard Nixon who metaphorically strolled down the street of drug policy before veering off at an intersection. "We have turned a corner on drug addiction," said Nixon.

With all the 90-degree directional shifts announced since then, the prohibitionists can't help but be a bit disoriented. Grab a compass if you want to keep your own bearings.

In 1999, it was former drug czar Barry McCaffrey, proclaiming that adolescent drug use "has just turned the corner."

Sounding even more sure that same year was President Bill Clinton's Health Secretary, Donna Shalala: "Last year, I optimistically told you that in the fight against illicit drug use, we may have finally turned the corner. Well this year's survey definitely shows that we've not only turned the corner, we're heading for home plate." The umpire, it seems, did not rule favorably.

The previous President Bush said in 1990: "I can tell you that our drug czar had a good report to the Nation the other day, showing that we've turned the corner, that we're making progress in our war against drugs." The drug czar at that time, William Bennett, actually overshot the drug corner by a few steps and turned at a casino entrance instead -- strictly to savor the second-hand tobacco smoke.

These are but a few of the corners turned in the drug war through the years. Simply do a Google search on "drug" and "turned the corner" to find drug warriors famous and unknown rapturously describing that quick pivoting sidestep leading to a drug-free utopia.

But the promised land remains distant.

When I read corner quotes, I envision uptight, well-groomed narc versions of R. Crumb's "Keep on Truckin'" cartoon character, always stretching one optimistic foot toward the future, even if it's locked in place, never really going anywhere.

But worse than standing still, or simply walking around the block and returning to the same place, each new corner of the drug war takes society into increasingly hazardous realms.

At least that's how I interpret it.

The appeal of the corner metaphor lies in its vagueness. It doesn't really mean anything. "Turned a corner" implies non-specific progress towards a goal even though the goal remains unattainable.

The phrase might be appropriate in some situations, but to repeat the same lame line over 30 years is an insult to the public, especially with the number of new drug crises appearing throughout those three decades. The overuse of "turned a corner" demonstrates the shallow historical knowledge of most anti-drug professionals.

Or perhaps the prohibitionists are eager to turn new corners because they don't want to face the disastrous truth about the drug war as it stands right in front of them. If they could resist the urge to turn and instead face the ugliness head on, they might realize it's time to follow a straight path away from the drug war.

Even one more turn around one more corner represents nothing but another dangerous detour.

Stephen Young is an editor with DrugSense Weekly and the author of "Maximizing Harm: Winners and Losers in the Drug War."

One Morning On The Meth Tour

DEA head Asa Hutchinson has been crisscrossing the nation, making presentations in different cities about methamphetamine. In case you haven't heard about meth, it's the illegal stimulant so popularized by prohibition that backroom labs are becoming as common as backroom stills in the 1920s.

Officially referred to as the "Meth In America: Not in Our Town" tour, DEA press releases also call Hutchinson's string of appearances "The National Meth Tour."

I personally associate a catchy phrase followed by the word "tour" with rock concerts, so my immediate thoughts regarding "The National Meth Tour" were: Who's opening? Are groupies expected to follow from gig to gig? Will T-shirts be available? The shirt I envisioned features a graphic of Hutchinson's face stamped over with the words "SOLD OUT!" The reverse side of the shirt shows a SWAT team preparing to ram through a mobile home's front door. Beneath the image, tour dates and tour motto: "Kick Out The Jambs, Motherfuckers!" (My apologies if I've offended anyone, especially The MC5.)

But, back to grim reality. A stop on the tour recently came to my local area, so I decided to put on a tie, pull out my reporter's notebook, and cover it for DrugSense Weekly. Hutchinson was scheduled to talk to a narcotics officers convention about meth, but he also had an engagement at a local drug court.

I made it to the Kane County Judicial Center, near St. Charles, Ill., a little late but close to the appointed time. I learned Hutchinson was observing a drug court and interviewing participants. He would then talk to judges, local officials and prohibition boosters. Reporters eventually learned that two hours after they had been summoned, the press would be treated to a ten-minute presentation by Hutchinson, followed by ten minutes of questions.

Ten minutes of questions? Can you spare it, Asa?

Richard Cowan of often says the best two-word explanation of continued marijuana prohibition is "bad journalism." As I sat around waiting, I could see careful press management didn't hurt the prohibitionist cause either. Because reporters had two hours to kill before the actual press conference started, many interviewed prohibition boosters like representatives from "Educating Voices" , who were there to meet with Hutchinson. Reporters also talked to drug court participants, who were understandably eager to demonstrate their willingness to get with the program.

Protesters representing Americans for Safe Access and other organizations offered an alternate view on Hutchinson's visit, but they were effectively kept out of the event. Protesters were even forced to move from the front steps of the courthouse to the street entrance of the courthouse complex hundreds of yards away. When question time finally came, each of the six reporters present were allowed one question for Hutchinson. Almost all dealt with drug courts and none challenged any of the prevailing hype about them.

After sitting through the other questions, I was called on last. I picked one of three questions I had hoped to ask. I noted that there were protesters outside who said using DEA agents to shut down medical marijuana clubs that were approved locally in California is a waste of resources, especially considering that his tour was all about meth and the damage it causes. How, I asked, did he respond to such criticism?

"First of all, DEA resources should be used to enforce federal law, and whether it's marijuana, cocaine or heroin - possession, trafficking of those substances is a violation of federal law. So, it's certainly appropriate to use DEA resources in that regard," Hutchinson said, following up with the standard claims that there's no scientific evidence to support medical marijuana.

Then it was over.

Of four newspaper accounts I found the next day, two stories briefly mentioned protesters. To her credit, the author of one story included quotes from the protesters, but labeled protestors as "pro-drug." All the other coverage was completely reverent, implicitly expressing hope that the innovative drug court concept, along with the benevolent head of the DEA, will help save society from the scourge of drugs.

There's a lot of questions that should be directed to Hutchinson right now. Has he read the Hawaiian report suggesting marijuana suppression has led to a meth crisis throughout the state? If drug courts are so effective, why does the Government Accounting Office say it doesn't have enough data to evaluate existing drug courts? What exactly does Hutchinson know about drug smuggling in Mena, Ark., when he was U.S. Attorney there in the early 1980s?

From all the accounts of The National Meth Tour I've read, those questions aren't being asked. In fact, it seems some reporters are so willing to buy the word of Hutchinson, he might have some success selling tour T-shirts to the local press too.

Freelance writer Stephen Young is the author of "Maximizing Harm: Losers and Winners in the Drug War," and an editor with DrugSense Weekly.

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