American Empire

The Immorality of Preventive War
by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., History News Network

“One of the astonishing events of recent months is the presentation of preventive war as a legitimate and moral instrument of U.S. foreign policy.

“This has not always been the case. Dec. 7, 1941, on which day the Japanese launched a preventive strike against the U.S. Navy, has gone down in history as a date that will live in infamy. During the Cold War, advocates of preventive war were dismissed as a crowd of loonies. When Robert Kennedy called the notion of a preventive attack on the Cuban missile bases “Pearl Harbor in reverse,” and added, “For 175 years we have not been that kind of country,” he swung the ExCom–President Kennedy’s special group of advisors–from an airstrike to a blockade.

“The policy of containment plus deterrence won the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyone thanked heaven that the preventive-war loonies had never got into power in any major country.

“Today, alas, they appear to be in power in the United States.”

Can You Say “Blowback” in Spanish?
The Failed War on Drugs in Mexico (and the United States)
By Rebecca Gordon

“All in all, the U.S. drug war in Mexico has been an abject failure. In spite of high-profile arrests, including in 2014 Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who ran the Sinaloa group, and in 2015 Servando “La Tuta” Gómez, head of the Knights Templar Cartel in Michoacán, the cartels seem as strong as ever. They may occasionally split and reassemble, but they are still able to move plenty of product, and reap at least $20 billion a year in sales in the United States. In fact, this country remains the world’s premier market for illegal drugs.

“The cartels are responsible for the majority of the methamphetamine sold in the United States today. Since 2006, when a federal law made it much harder to buy ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in this country, the cartels have replaced small-time U.S.-based meth cookers. The meth they produce is purer than the U.S. product, apparently because it’s made with purer precursor chemicals available from China. The other big product is heroin, whose quickly rising consumption seems to be replacing the demand for cocaine in the United States. On the other hand, marijuana legalization appears to be cutting into the cross-border traffic in that drug.

“The Washington Post reports that almost 9% of Americans “age 12 or older — 22.6 million people — are current users of illegal drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” That represents a one-third increase over the 6.2% in 1998. It takes a lot of infrastructure to move that much product.

“And that’s where U.S.-based gangs come in. Urban gangs in the United States today are not the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story. Certainly, there are still some small local groups formed by young people looking for family and solidarity on the streets. All too often, however, today’s gangs represent the well-run distribution arm of the international drug trade. In Chicago alone, 100,000 people work in illegal drug distribution, selling mostly into that city’s African-American community. Gang membership is skewing older every year, as gangs transform from local associations to organized, powerfully armed criminal enterprises. Well over half of present gang members are adults now. The communities where they operate live in fear, caught between the gangs that offer them employment while threatening their safety and militarized police forces they do not trust.

“Just like U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Mexico war on drugs has only left a larger problem in place, while producing blowback here at home. A particularly nasty example is the cartels’ use of serving U.S. military personnel and veterans as hit men here in the United States. But the effects are far bigger than that. The DEA told the Washington Post that Mexican cartels are operating in more than 1,200 U.S. cities. In all those cities, the failed war on drugs has put in prison 2.3 million people — in vastly disproportionate numbers from communities of color — without cutting demand by one single kilo. And yet, though that war has only visibly increased the drug problem in the same way that the war on terror has generated ever more terror organizations, in both cases there’s no evidence that any other course than war is being considered in Washington.”

The New American Order
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of “We the People”
by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com

“[B]ased on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

“And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

“Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

“Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray. [ . . . ]

“Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

“While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

“Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
Chalmers Johnson, pp. 1-3

“As distinct from other peoples on this earth , most Americans do not recognize— or do not want to recognize— that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, they are often ignorant of the fact that their government garrisons the globe. They do not realize that a vast network of American military bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire.

“Our country deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations and just under a dozen carrier task forces in all the oceans and seas of the world. We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another. Our globe-girding military and intelligence installations bring profits to civilian industries, which design and manufacture weapons for the armed forces or undertake contract services to build and maintain our far-flung outposts. One task of such contractors is to keep uniformed members of the imperium housed in comfortable quarters, well fed, amused, and supplied with enjoyable, affordable vacation facilities. Whole sectors of the American economy have come to rely on the military for sales. On the eve of our second war on Iraq, for example , the Defense Department ordered 273,000 bottles of Native Tan sunblock (SPF 15), almost triple its 1999 order and undoubtedly a boon to the supplier, Control Supply Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its subcontractor, Sun Fun Products of Daytona Beach, Florida. 1

“The new American empire has been a long time in the making. Its roots go back to the early nineteenth century, when the United States declared all of Latin America its sphere of influence and busily enlarged its own territory at the expense of the indigenous people of North America, as well as British, French, and Spanish colonialists, and neighboring Mexico. Much like their contemporaries in Australia, Algeria, and tsarist Russia, Americans devoted much energy to displacing the original inhabitants of the North American continent and turning over their lands to new settlers . Then, at the edge of the twentieth century, a group of self-conscious imperialists in the government— much like a similar group of conservatives who a century later would seek to implement their own expansive agendas under cover of the “war on terrorism”— used the Spanish-American War to seed military bases in Central America, various islands in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines.

“With the Second World War, our nation emerged as the richest and most powerful on earth and a self-designated successor to the British Empire. But as enthusiastic as some of our wartime leaders , particularly President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were for the task, the American people were not. They demanded that the country demobilize its armies and turn the nation’s attention to full employment and domestic development. Peace did not last long, however. The Cold War and a growing conviction that vital interests, even national survival, demanded the “containment” of the Soviet Union helped turn an informal empire begun during World War II into hundreds of installations around the world for the largest military we ever maintained in peacetime.

“During the almost fifty years of superpower standoff, the United States denied that its activities constituted a form of imperialism. Ours were just reactions to the menace of the “evil empire” of the USSR and its satellites. Only slowly did we Americans become aware that the role of the military was growing in our country and that the executive branch— the “imperial presidency”— was eroding the democratic underpinnings of our constitutional republic. But even at the time of the Vietnam War and the abuses of power known as Watergate, this awareness never gained sufficient traction to reverse a Cold War-driven transfer of power from the representatives of the people to the Pentagon and the various intelligence agencies, especially the Central Intelligence Agency.

“By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and with it the rationale for American containment policies, our leaders had become so accustomed to dominance over half the globe that the thought of giving it up was inconceivable. Many Americans simply concluded that they had “won” the Cold War and so deserved the imperial fruits of victory. A number of ideologists began to argue that the United States was, in fact, a “good empire” and should act accordingly in a world with only one dominant power. To demobilize and turn our resources to peaceful ends would, they argued, constitute the old-fashioned sin of “isolationism.”

Advertisements

War On Drugs Is War On Minorities

“And there wasn’t very many black guys in my position. So when I would go into the war room, where we were setting up all of our drug and gun and addiction task force determining what cities we were going to hit, I would notice that most of the time it always appeared to be urban areas.

“That’s when I asked the question, well, don’t they sell drugs out in Potomac and Springfield, and places like that? Maybe you all think they don’t, but statistics show they use more drugs out in those areas [rich and white] than anywhere.”
Matthew Fogg, former US Marshal and special agent for the DEA

I’ve been saying this for years, but it is nice hearing an insider admit it. This is the obvious truth that we Americans are afraid to face.

In the interview (transcription), Fogg then goes right to the heart of the matter when he says, “What I began to see is that the drug war is totally about race. If we were locking up everybody, white and black, for doing the same drugs, they would have done the same thing they did with prohibition. They would have outlawed it.”

That is a great point. But we forget that Prohibition did target the poor and minorities, just as the War On Drugs does today. The difference was that Prohibition ended up having a broader impact than intended. The drug prohibitionists of today learned the lesson from that failure and so have been more careful to keep drug prohibition from going beyond the narrow focus of attacking the disadvantaged.

Still, once the monster is created, it is hard to control. Like alcohol prohibition before it, drug prohibition has grown and more well off whites are realizing they aren’t as safe from it as they assumed. They didn’t predict how far the police would become militarized and how brazen in their violent tactics. Seeing news reports about innocent blacks being regularly attacked and killed by police gets too much, even for the average white person who lives a safe distance from such violence, for it breaks through the spell of willful ignorance.

So, public support is now turning against drug prohibition for the exact same reason it turned against alcohol prohibition. It just took a bit longer this time around.

To Put the Rat Back in the Rat Park

The environment we live in and that we help to create, individually and collectively, is more powerful than we can comprehend. We are just beginning to scratch the surface of this understanding.

Modern life has isolated us to such an extent that we forgot that humans are social by nature. There are no individuals as isolated islands and to think that way is self-destructive. Individuals are mere expressions of society, each of us a particular manifestation of a shared humanity. To separate the individual from society is to attempt to capture a wave in a bottle by filtering out the water.

The addict is the ultimate individual. Within his addiction, he is alone. This is the ideal of our atomized society.

Still, there are always other choices. The threat to society isn’t the drug addict, but the addictive mentality. We are addicted to our isolation, not realizing that it is our isolation that makes us and keeps us addicted. Addiction contributes to a sense of fatalism and hopelessness, that we have no choice, but we always have choice.

This self-destructive society was created by us and it can be uncreated by us. There are many possibilities that we could create in its place. However, first, we must acknowledge our responsibility as members of of this society. We have to allow ourselves to feel the wound of disconnection so that we can be reminded that underlying it is the longing for human relationship.

* * * *

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think
By Johann Hari, Huffington Post

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexandernoticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.) [ . . . ]

The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

Are Blacks More Criminal, More Deserving of Punishment and Social Control?

Before recent decades of decrease of crime, there was decades of increase of crime or rather increase of criminalization.

We know that the growth of incarceration has happened through drug convictions, not from homicide, theft, etc. We also know that most of the drug convictions are for small amounts of drug possession for personal use. You could still argue that at least mass incarceration has been the cause of the decrease of drug use, but even that isn’t supported by the facts.

We also know that whites are as likely or more likely to use and carry illegal drugs. Just as we know that blacks are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for drug-related crimes. This is because blacks are racially profiled, targeted, and stopped and frisked more often.

Nonetheless, most of the crime in the US has always been committed by whites. So, most of the crime increase and crime decrease involved whites. If you look at poor whites in poor neighborhoods, you see the same social problems as found with poor blacks living in poor neighborhoods, including the problems of crime and police targeting. The police go after poor people in general, because wealthier people do their crimes behind closed doors where police don’t see it happening. Poor people are an easy target and they can’t fight  back legally and politically.

Most of this issue of crime and incarceration has had to do with the War On Drugs. As I’ve pointed out, it is no different than what happened during Prohibition. Back then, the minorities targeted were Italians, Germans, Irish, and Scots-Irish. Today, along with poverty-stricken descendants of those ethnic Americans (such as in Appalachia), the minorities targeted are blacks and Hispanics. These minorities weren’t committing more crimes. Instead, laws were created to criminalize and target these minorities.

White and wealthy people commit crimes as well. But even when these crimes are known, authorities have little interest in going after them. It is costly for the government to try to convict people who have the money to buy the best lawyers in the country. Plus, these people have political connections. White collar crimes are rampant in our society and do far more harm to far more people, but they mostly go unpunished. Even when the wealthy do drugs, it rarely leads to negative consequences. The last three presidents did drugs and it wasn’t any big deal, but a poor black kid will have their life ruined for the exact same behavior. Even many child molesters get off easier than many of those convicted of victimless drug-related crimes.

There is no excuse for any of this. The injustice should be intolerable, assuming one lived in a moral society.

* * * *

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2109777,00.html

In 1980 the U.S.’s prison population was about 150 per 100,000 adults. It has more than quadrupled since then. So something has happened in the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison.

That something, of course, is the war on drugs. Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/drug-war-mass-incarceration_n_3034310.html

What all that money has helped produce — aside from unchanged drug addiction rates — is the world’s highest incarceration rate. According to the Sentencing Project, 2.2 million Americans are in prison or jail.

More than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and that number has only just dipped below 50 percent in 2011. Despite more relaxed attitudes among the public at large toward non-violent offenses like marijuana use, the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses spiked from 74,276 in 2000 to 97,472 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. Blacks make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes. Black kids are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white ones — even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs.

http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/07/study-whites-more-likely-to-abuse-drugs-than-blacks/

Black youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites. But new research shows that young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and people of mixed race.

* * * *

African American Families Today: Myths and Realities
By Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith
Kindle Locations 2664-2665

As a point of reference, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens on drug convictions alone than the entire incarcerated population of the European Union, which has a population significantly greater than the United States.

Kindle Locations 2681-2707

Many Americans assume that African American men commit more crimes and therefore it is logical that they make up the bulk of the US prison population. And , in fact in opinion poll after opinion poll , including one conducted in 2011 by New Century Foundation (Color of Crime), white Americans say they believe blacks commit more crimes than whites. If everything were equal, this would be a logical conclusion for any thinking person. Yet, as it turns out, the picture is far more complicated than what it appears to be. Once we examine the data, we see that although African American men may be somewhat more likely to commit crimes, especially of certain types, the real cause of their overrepresentation in the prison population is the discrimination they face at every stage of the process, from being identified as suspects to being arrested, charged, and sentenced. We devote the next section of the chapter to a discussion of these issues.

African Americans do commit certain crimes more often than whites . For example, homicide is now one of the leading causes of death for African American men. The data on homicide indicate that more often than not the perpetrator in these homicides is also an African American male. In fact, an examination of the data on all violent crimes (rape, homicide, assault) reveals that violent crimes are primarily intraracial; in other words both the victim and the offender are of the same race. However, when one examines the range of statistics on crime, one finds that just as African Americans are disproportionately likely to commit certain crimes (homicide), whites are disproportionately likely to commit others. Though some of these are nonviolent, financial crimes like those that executives such as Bernie Madoff (the ponzi scheme master ) and Ken Lay (Enron Corporation) were convicted of, their nonviolent nature does not mean these crimes do not have victims. In fact, these crimes harm millions of American victims; many of whom have lost their life savings. For those unsuspecting folks who were employed in these firms, they lost their weekly paychecks, health insurance, and indeed their livelihoods when the firms collapsed as a result of the scams. Perhaps more perplexing is the fact that whites are also more likely to be serial murderers, child molesters, and school shooters. In fact the dominant profile of the perpetrators in all of these horrible crimes is not just white , but male. White men commit these crimes at disproportionately high rates. When we look closely at the treatment of child molesters- who are primarily white men- by the criminal justice system, we learn that the average child molester serves shorter sentences than crack offenders, who are primarily African American men. Child molesters are sentenced to an average of six years, and serve, on average, only 43 percent of their full sentences whereas the average person convicted of possession of crack is sentenced to eleven years and serves 80 percent of his sentence. In practical terms this means that the average child molester serves just under three years where as the average person convicted of possessing a small amount of crack serves nearly three times longer, just under nine years. Because the length of the sentence shapes the overall number of people in prison-those serving longer sentences contribute more to the overall incarcerated population than those who serve shorter sentences, the racial gap in incarceration rates cannot be explained entirely by the rate of committing crime. Part of the incarceration rate is driven by differences in sentencing that keep certain people in prison for longer periods of time than others.

Kindle Locations 2723-2733

Along with differences in traffic stops and arrest, there is also substantial evidence to support the argument that African Americans receive stiffer sentences than their white counterparts who commit the same crime. For example, among people convicted of drug felonies in state courts, whites were less likely than African Americans to be sent to prison. Specifically, in his testimony to the US Sentencing Commission on Racial Disparity in 2012, Marc Mauer reported on his research on sentencing demonstrating that in state courts 33 percent of convicted white defendants received a prison sentence whereas 51 percent of African American defendants received prison sentences for the same drug convictions. 2 In addition , in a review of forty recent and methodologically sophisticated studies investigating the link between race and sentence severity, many of the studies, especially at the federal level, found evidence of direct discrimination against minorities that resulted in significantly more severe sentences for African Americans than their white counterparts. 3 Therefore, we conclude that part of the explanation for differential rates in incarceration is racial disparities in sentencing. More African American men are in prison than their white counterparts because when convicted of the same crime they are more likely to receive harsher prison sentences.

Kindle Locations 2758-2762

Though for a variety of reasons- including a lack of DNA evidence in most crimes- there is no way to estimate the number of wrongful convictions; some scholars who study the issue estimate that 6 percent of those in prison were wrongly convicted. To be clear , this does not mean people who were sent to prison for the wrong charge- armed robbery instead of simple robbery- this refers to people who are factually innocent; they did not commit any crime. Even if only 6 percent of the half a million African American men in prison are actually innocent, the years of life lost in prison is supremely significant to those men and to their families.

Kindle Locations 2767-2790

Across the twentieth century, Americans’ attitudes around drugs (and alcohol) have changed in terms of both drug and alcohol use as well as in terms of the use of the criminal justice system to regulate drugs and alcohol . One common misperception is that the dramatic rise in arrests, convictions, and incarceration for drug charges reflects an overall increase in the number and percent of Americans using controlled substances . In fact, research by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Information Clearinghouse, 5 which has collected data on drug use, from 1975 to the present, shows overwhelming, in every category, that drug use rose from 1975 to 1979 and then dropped off significantly in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. These declines occurred in every age group and for every period for which data were collected . For example, the percent of Americans over the age of twelve who reported using an “illicit substance ” in the last thirty days declined from 14 percent in 1975 to 7 percent in 2002. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that the threefold increase in drug convictions between 1980 and 2008 are not in response to increased drug use, but rather to changes in the criminalization of substances (which occurred slowly across the entire twentieth century) and changes in the policies designed to address drug possession.

Drug Policies

The “War on Drugs” officially began in 1972 with a formal announcement by President Richard Nixon. The “War on Drugs” was significantly ramped up under the administration of President Ronald Reagan who added the position of “Drug Czar” to the President’s Executive Office. The War on Drugs did not so much criminalize substances as that had been happening across the early part of the twentieth century. What these laws did do was put into place stiffer sentencing guidelines that required (1) longer sentences, (2) mandatory minimums, (3) moving certain drug offenses from the misdemeanor category to the felony category, and (4) the institution of the “Three Strikes You’re Out” policy. Taken together, these drug laws result in:

*Longer initial sentences: Today crack cocaine defendants receive an average sentence of eleven years.
*Longer overall sentences that result from “Mandatory Minimums”: The most frequently cited example is the sentencing guidelines for possession of crack-cocaine. As part of the War on Drugs, a conviction of possessing five grams of crack now mandates a five-year minimum sentence.
*Felonizing drug offenses: Small possession convictions, particularly of crack cocaine, were recategorized from misdemeanors to felonies in the 1986 Drug Abuse Act.
*”Three Strikes You’re Out”: This law allows for life sentences for convicts receiving a third-felony conviction. Coupled with the recategorizing of some drug possession offenses (i.e., crack cocaine) as felonies, the result has been that many inmates serving life sentences are there for three drug possession offenses; in effect, they are serving life sentences for untreated addictions.

Kindle Locations 2791-2817

One of the most important and decisive changes to the drug policies that began implementation in the 1980s revolved around drawing distinctions between two forms of cocaine: crack (or rock) and powder. Crack is created by cooking powder cocaine with baking soda; the residual, or “rocks,” are what we commonly refer to as “crack.” It is commonly believed that crack was developed as a way to deliver a similar high in a cheaper form. Because crack is less pure than cocaine its street value is significantly lower. Many men and women we interviewed about their drug addictions talked about buying or selling a “rock” for around $ 20. As a result, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s exploded with the heavy marketing of crack in low-income black communities, much as “meth” is today in rural white communities. By the early 1980s, around the same time that the Rockefeller Drug Laws were developed, crack had become associated with black urban ghettos and with that image of the “crackhead” being an African American man or woman. In contrast, the more expensive powder cocaine was largely associated with the upper -class professional community as well as with Hollywood. Readers may remember that by the late 1980s it was common to see the latest victim of a cocaine binge- often a child actor like Dana Plato who appeared in the television hit show Different Strokes-in handcuffs or in a mug shot displayed on the nightly news. 6 Those studying drug policy argue that as a result of racialized differential use of crack versus cocaine, drug policies regarding crack and cocaine developed in a racialized manner as well.

Additionally, New York City has a “zero tolerance” policy with police arresting individuals with as little as 25 grams of marijuana, causing an upsurge in arrests, from fewer than 1,500 in 1980 to 50,000 today. The human cost of zero tolerance has been devastating to New York City African American families. 7

In sum, federal drug policy draws a distinction between crack and powder cocaine and sets a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between the two forms. This means that possession of just five grams of crack cocaine (about a thimble full) yields a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same five-year sentence. Crack cocaine is the only drug for which there is a federal mandatory minimum sentence for mere possession. In contrast, the laws around the illegal possession of narcotic prescription drugs, such as oxycontin, for example , do not vary based on the number of milligrams of the drug per tablet. Yet, this is just what the crack cocaine laws do.

The impact of these drug policies on the lives of African Americans and their families are not only severe, but they are way out of line with other postindustrial nations. Currently, in the United States, 450,000 of the more than 2 million inmates (45 percent ) in state and federal prison are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. In contrast, this is more people than the European Union, an entity with a 100 million more people than the United States, has in prison for all crimes combined. States and the federal government continue to spend about $ 10 billion a year imprisoning drug offenders, and billions more on the War on Drugs. These costs do not include the impact incarceration has on the economic and social life of the country, individual states, and communities . Because inmates incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately likely to be African American, the impact on the African American family, and community, is devastating.

Kindle Locations 2836-2839

Thus, in a poor African American community-inhabited by the abandoned- perhaps as many as 50 percent of the men will have been to prison. If 50 percent of men in a single community have been incarcerated and have felony records, then half the families in this community will face the consequences of the chronic unemployment and underemployment these men face as a result of their incarceration.

Kindle Locations 2855-2862

Pager designed an experiment in which she sent out “testers” to apply for jobs. In one case the job applicant indicated that he had a felony record and in the other he indicated that he did not have a felony record. Both African American and white men played both roles. Her study revealed that whites were more likely to be called back for an interview regardless of incarceration history. White men without a felony were, not surprisingly, the most likely to be called back of all groups. The shocking finding from her research is that whites with a felony record were more likely to be called back than African Americans without a felony record. Fewer than 5 percent of African American men with a felony record were called back (compared to 15 percent of whites with a felony record). Incarceration is problematic for anyone, but the effects are devastating on the employability of African American men and ultimately on the families they are hoping to support.

Kindle Locations 2927-2954

Incarceration depletes political capital, both of the individual and of the community from which the individual comes. This depletion of political capital is critical both symbolically and practically . The disenfranchisement of felons has symbolic power because it takes away a right, the right to vote, that is the quintessential symbol of being an American citizen. Furthermore, because of the high rates of incarceration of African Americans , disenfranchisement also takes away the power of African American communities to choose their political representation at the local, state, and national level. According to sociologists Chris Uggen and Jeff Manza, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election was shaped in part by felony disenfranchisement. 9 Finally, the relocation of inmates from their home communities to prisons in other counties, in other parts of the states, changes the way that resources are allocated by the state and federal government. Though many people know that inmates are relocated for the purposes of incarceration, the way that this shapes resource allocation is less well known, but extremely important and thus worthy of discussion.

The Impact of Incarceration on the US Census

Currently, the Census, which is used every ten years to, among other things, redraw congressional districts to ensure that districts are proportional , allows rural communities with prisons to “count” inmates as citizens. In New York, like most states, prisons are in rural regions but the majority of inmates originate from urban communities, thus the relocation of inmates to rural prisons has significant outcomes for the Census and ultimately for both the counties that house the prisons and the counties from which the inmates originate. This practice allows rural counties to “grow” and thereby get more congressional representation while urban communities “dwindle” and get fewer representatives and fewer tax-based economic resources. This is despite the fact that the inmates counted as citizens of rural communities are disenfranchised and thus cannot vote. Therefore , they are in no way “citizens” of these rural communities. Again, New York State provides a useful illustration.

New York City loses 43,740 residents annually to the districts of upstate legislators where they are incarcerated in rural areas. Inmates have been moving up there for decades, but since 1982, all new state prisons in New York are built upstate . As a result of Census rules, rural upstate communities counting the prisoners as “citizens” are actually overestimating their populations beyond the 5 percent rule established by the US Supreme Court. In fact, the population of some upstate towns comprised mostly of inmates. The majority of the population of Dannemora, New York, is incarcerated in its “supermax” prison and almost half (3,000) of the town of Coxsackie’s population (7,000) is in prison.

As many as twenty-one counties in the United States have more than 21 percent of their population incarcerated as recorded by the Census. In four counties, the percentage is nearly one-third. We note that these counties are both rural and for the most part, southern; thus the poorest regions of the country are able to actualize and access government resources by decimating urban ghettos.

This process is racialized as well. For example, the majority of inmates coming from the boroughs of New York City are African Americans who live in predominately African American districts. They are relocated and counted in predominately white counties. Thus, congressional representation and federal and state resources are rerouted from predominately African American districts to predominately white districts.

Kindle Locations 2969-2974

How important was the disenfranchisement debacle in Florida in 2000? Uggen analyzed what he first identified as the demographic characteristics of the pool of wrongly disenfranchised and then examined the previous voting patterns for these groups. By extrapolating the voting records on top of the election outcome, his research demonstrates that had African Americans who were wrongly disenfranchised in Florida in the 2000 presidential election had their right to vote restored and recognized, the outcome of the election would have been clearly in favor of Vice President Gore. Thus, the consequences of felony disenfranchisement are significant and affect the lives of all Americans .

Kindle Locations 2996-3006

It is not hard to demonstrate that incarcerating young African American males, ages sixteen to thirty-five, directly affects family life. It can be underscored in a “what if” scenario: One in nine African American men between the ages of sixteen and thirty -five is behind bars. According to 2009 data from the Census Bureau we learn that 70.5 percent of African American women between the ages twenty and thirty have never married. Is this a direct correlation? Probably. If men and women marry mostly members from their own race group, something is going on here.

Stanford University professor Ralph Richard Banks, in his book Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone, sheds light on the reasons why African American women are the most unmarried group of people in the United States. The answer is not because African American men are with white women- as spouses or boyfriends- as some wrongly believe. It is, to be sure, what Harvard sociologist William J. Wilson means when he argues that the male marriageable pool is depleted. Women of all races, including African American women, don’t marry men who are jobless and they sure can’t marry them if they are in jail or prison or dead. 11 Thus, the over-incarceration of African American men contributes to many of the issues plaguing the African American family that we have explored elsewhere in the book, including low marriage rates for African American women, high rates of single-parenting, and poverty.

* * * *

The New Jim Crow
Michelle Alexander
pp. 181-182

The claim that we really know where all the black men have gone may inspire considerable doubt. If we know, why do we feign ignorance ? Could it be that most people really don’t know? Is it possible that the roundup, lockdown, and exclusion of black men en masse from the body politic has occurred largely unnoticed? The answer is yes and no.

Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring. Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important book on the subject, States of Denial. The book examines how individuals and institutions-victims, perpetrators, and bystanders-know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They see only what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has been true about slavery, genocide , torture, and every form of systemic oppression.

Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though uncomfortable, truth. Many people “know” and “not-know” the truth about human suffering at the same time. In his words, “Denial may be neither a matter of telling the truth nor intentionally telling a lie. There seem to be states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and don’t know at the same time.”

Today, most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration. For more than three decades, images of black men in handcuffs have been a regular staple of the evening news. We know that large numbers of black men have been locked in cages. In fact, it is precisely because we know that black and brown people are far more likely to be imprisoned that we, as a nation, have not cared too much about it. We tell ourselves they “deserve” their fate, even though we know- and don’t know- that whites are just as likely to commit many crimes, especially drug crimes. We know that people released from prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet we claim not to know that an undercaste exists . We know and we don’t know at the same time.

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence

“Europeans immigrated to British North America to gain religious, economic , and political independence during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and they built their freedom on the labor of slaves and on the land of Indians whose independence they stole. In London, meanwhile, kings and queens, imperial ministries, and members of Parliament believed that the colonists harbored treasonous ambitions for independence from the very founding of the colonies, and they described them pejoratively as “independent,” by which they meant chronically rebellious.”
~Thomas P. Slaughter, Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution, Kindle Locations 72-75

Independence, that is the central theme of American society, according to Slaughter. I tend to agree. As he explains, independence is a theme not simply because it is a cherished value, but also because it has been a regularly betrayed value. It is the frame by which we understand and judge our society, including our failures.

Unlike most other societies, liberty is our ideological watchword. It is a ambiguous term, no doubt; but it obviously means something very different than, for example, fairness. David Hackett Fischer associates this difference, in Fairness and Freedom, with the era of the founding of the United States. Freedom and liberty was in the air and it left a permanent imprint.

This wasn’t just about the English colonists declaring their independence from England. Early on, “as the colonies ’ domestic economies and population grew, as they geographically expanded and became ethnically heterogeneous , the colonists developed identities independent of the one that tethered them to the British Empire” (Independence, Kindle Locations 83-84). It was probably a two-way response to changing demographics, as I’ve speculated. America has always been ethnically diverse. This was noted centuries ago by the likes of Thomas Paine, about which I wrote:

Most interesting to me is his focus on the diversity of the colonies. What did it mean to speak of attachment to England as a mother country when colonies like New Netherlands weren’t originally English (with laws and a population that remained largely Dutch) and when colonies like Pennsylvania and New Jersey consisted only of a minority of Englishmen. This kind of thinking seems radical to many conservatives today as it did to conservatives back then. The only difference is that the conservatives back then were British Tories.

What ever returns to my thinking is how often the arguments against Britain would now apply to our federal government. The argument against both, respectively by the Revolutionaries and the Anti-Federalists, was an argument for freedom, for democratic self-governance. The American Revolution wasn’t fought for patriotic conformity and ethnocentric nationalism, for authoritarian subservience and centralized statism; but the complete opposite. The Revolution never ended and we continue to fight for those Revolutionary ideals.

It is hard to believe that the British aristocracy back in England didn’t take note of this obvious fact about the colonial population. This probably would have been alarming to their English identity, for they had not yet come to terms with what being an empire entailed. Their politics were firmly grounded in being English and the same was true for most of the ruling elites in the colonies, as I’ve explained in another post:

One of the conflicts colonists had with the British government was over the rights of Englishmen. I wonder if the reason the British government was so uncertain about the colonies was the fact that there were so many colonists who weren’t Englishmen. I could understand as the ethnocentric ruling elite of an empire that they were wary of equally offering the rights of Englishmen to people who weren’t Englishmen. Those are the kinds of problems that come from empire-building. Nonetheless, the ruling elite in the colonies were also mostly Englishmen. So, they took quite seriously their supposed rights as Englishmen and took offense at their being denied.

American colonists weren’t just seeking political independence, but cultural and religious independence as well. Many of these early Americans were less concerned about assimilation than we are, for assimilation was at that time identified with the British Empire and its attendant oppression. Most colonists didn’t have the understanding of toleration for all, but that idea had taken root early on with the likes of Thomas MortonRoger Williams, and William Penn.

Immigrants such as the Irish, German, and French understood the need for freedom from oppression to a greater degree than most English immigrants. The violence and persecution they were escaping was at times genocidal. Their choice to immigrate was in the context that, if they had remained in their homelands, they might have been mass murdered or forced to assimilate. They escaped for the very reason they valued their independence and understood all too well what it meant to lose that independence.

These non-English typically didn’t find independence in the urban coastal communities that tended to be majority English in population or else majority English in ruling elite. What they found was xenophobia and new forms of oppression. So, many of them went West, which at the time meant the frontier territory of Pennsylvania and Virgiania. For example, “The 1790 federal census” for Virginia, “provides some information on the size and ethnic background of the region’s populace. About 37 percent were of English origin or descent, 7 percent had Welsh names, 17 percent were Scottish, 19 percent Irish, and 12 percent were German. The ethnic heritage of the remaining 8 percent cannot be determined. The various immigrant groups were not evenly distributed among the western counties. Germans, for example, were the largest single nationality to settle in Bedford County. Non-English settlers predominated in all the western counties, but most strongly in Westmoreland and Bedford. Those of English origin or ancestry comprised 47 percent of Fayette and 43 percent in Allegheny” (Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion, Kindle Locations 1340-1344).

Independence for European-Americans was culturally linked to alcohol, the freedom to make it and the freedom to drink it. It was as much a part of their ethnic identity as was the religious practices they brought with them. Germans, French, and the Alsace-Lorraine border people had traditions of beer and wine, in particular. This link existed just as strongly for the non-English British people. Whiskey originated with the Scottish and Irish and later was popularized in America by way of the Scots-Irish. Other ethnic groups such as the Dutch also favored making whiskey.

Their reasons for heading to the frontier even included their love of alcohol. In the 1700s, this mostly meant the Scots-Irish. In her article When Whiskey Was the King of Drink, Mary Miley Theobald explains that,

About a quarter of a million Scotch-Irish came to the American colonies in the fifty years before independence, making them the largest immigrant group of that century. They brought with them a fiercely independent spirit, abhorrence for government regulation, and an affinity for whiskey.

Interestingly, it was the British government that unintentionally helped make Whiskey so popular beyond the non-English British settlers. “The Revolution,” Theobold writes, “meant the decline of rum and the ascendancy of whiskey in America. When the British blockade of American ports cut off the molasses trade, most New England rum distillers converted to whiskey. Whiskey had a patriotic flavor. It was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain, unlike rum, wine, gin, Madeira, brandy, coffee, chocolate, or tea, which had to be imported and were taxed.”

The independence of American alcohol and the protest against taxation has always gone hand in hand. This continued with the new American government creating yet another tax, this time on whiskey. Small producers were taxed at a higher rate than larger producers, at a time when economic inequality was growing and the power of the wealthy was growing. The small producers were so poor that they barely had enough money to live on, much less pay taxes on the whiskey they were producing to make a living. The response was the same as when the British tried the same tactic. This led to the Whiskey Rebellion (similar to Fries’s Rebellion, it involved many ethnic Americans). The wide protest movement was put down, but resistance continued for it was difficult to enforce. The government was forced to repeal it.

One of the effects of the Whiskey Rebellion was to push many ethnic Americans further West. Kathy Warnes points out (George Washington’s Whiskey Legacy from the Whiskey Rebellion to NASCAR) that, “After the Whiskey Rebellion, many of the rebellious Dutch and Scots-Irish farmer and distillers moved farther west to escape the tax collectors. Many found the right kind of water for whiskey distilling in Southern Indiana and Kentucky.”

During the Civil War, a tax on whiskey was put back in place. Like with the British and with the early US government, taxation on luxury goods such as alcohol was used to pay for the war. This caused a decrease in whiskey consumption, although it remained popular in the South. In its place, beer became the new alcoholic drink of choice for most Americans. With new waves of immigrants, especially Germans, beer consumption really took off around 1900. This coincided with a new wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. The KKK in the North was mostly concerned with the menace of immigrants and Catholics. Because of this, the Klan was a big proponent of Prohibition, for the same reasons marijuana was made illegal because of its association with African-Americans and Jazz.

It wasn’t just groups like the KKK, though. The KKK at that time was fully mainstream and fully in line with mainstream opinion. Even though most Americans had non-English ancestry, those in positions of power tended to be largely of English descent or if they weren’t they wouldn’t admit it publicly. Being a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant became the very ideal of a true American, according to those with the power to make such declarations (Bryce T. Bauer, Gentlemen Bootleggers, Kindle Locations 550-563).

Like many celebrities across America, preacher Billy Sunday took up the charge against Germany when the First World War erupted— but he did it, as he did all things, with more vim and vitriol than anyone else. He began promoting Liberty Bonds at the pulpit— demanding that his congregants either purchase them or stay away from his tabernacle. And he decided that if America was God’s chosen country— and to Sunday, America was God’s chosen country— then Germany must be the domain of the devil. The Kaiser and the Huns became Satan incarnate, and he spared them no consideration , even going so far as to state, in a prayer before the United States House of Representatives, “Thou knowest, O Lord, that we are in a life-and-death struggle with one of the most infamous, vile, greedy, avaricious, bloodthirsty, sensual, and vicious nations that has ever disgraced the pages of history. We pray Thee will beat back that great pack of hungry, wolfish Huns, whose fangs drip with blood and gore.”

It’s surprising he didn’t add alcohol to the list. For years Sunday had also been linking alcohol with anti-Americanism. In his Famous Booze Sermon, he declared that he was drawing his sword “in defense of native land,” and that he held alcohol responsible for “every plot that was ever hatched against our flag and every anarchist plot against the government and law.” But now temperance leaders throughout the country were using anti-German hysteria to take down booze as well. And they were assisted by the indelible connection in popular minds (as well as in reality) between Germans and the liquor trade.

“We have German enemies in this country too,” one dry Wisconsin politician stated in early 1918. “And the worst of all our German enemies, the most treacherous, the most menacing are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller.”

The real purpose of Prohibition, as with the anti-immigrant movement overall, was to destroy the independence of ethnic Americans, to eliminate their culture (language, religion, traditions, customs, etc), and to force them to assimilate. This is why public education and child labor laws were implemented in the same era as Prohibition. All of these were intended to target the non-English and to finally end the independent ethnic communities that had existed in America since before the Revolution. People forget or never learn the fact that the ideal of the Melting Pot is modern and hadn’t previously been so dominant in American society.

It is unsurprising that those who fought back the hardest during Prohibition were the non-English. This was true of the Irish mafia in the Northern big cities, the Scots-Irish that had been illegally making moonshine for centuries, and the Germans across the Midwest. Not all of these were gangsters. Most were just people trying to make ends meet during one of the hardest of economic times.

There was a farm crisis at the time. Small family farmers weren’t able to make enough money from crops. The only way they could avoid losing their farmland was by finding new sources of income. There weren’t many opportunities, besides bootlegging.

This is my family story as well. My mother’s family were ethnic immigrants (mostly German ancestry) who went west to Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Some of the earliest work they did was distilling. During Prohibition, they returned to this family tradition and skill by trying their  hand at the bootlegging business when no other work was available. This included the running moonshine across state lines.

Farming was hard work and it was far from dependable. The Populist Movement was largely built on the struggles of farmers. In the end, many rural people were forced to head to urban areas. Ethnic Americans, in particular, became concentrated in the big cities (and African-Americans as well). My mother’s family likewise headed toward the industrial North. This is how anti-immigrant sentiments became associated with anti-urban sentiments (and why to this day the rhetoric about inner cities is so powerful in the American psyche). There was a movement getting Americans back to nature and making men of boys by promoting hunting and fishing, which is why the Boy Scouts formed and the federal park system promoted. Because so many immigrants were Catholic, this is how cities became associated with Catholicism and so did labor unions, high rates of both existing in the same regions of the industrial Midwest.

Even so, pockets of ethnic Americans remained in rural areas. An example of this is Templeton, Iowa. You might know of it for its famed Templeton Rye, made famous of course during Prohibition. It was a unique place right from the beginning. As Bryce notes (Kindle Locations 146-148),

Templeton was founded in a township known as Eden, in southern Carroll County , which was named after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence . In their own ways both names, Eden and Carroll, were apt, providential.

It was no accident that it was named after a Catholic of such distinction. Catholic churches are found all across rural Iowa. The difference was that these were a very specific ethnic group concentrated in one place. “Templeton wasn’t united just by its religion, as the author explains (Kindle Locations 168-171) for, “It attracted a specific kind of Catholic: immigrants from Germany, especially the western and southern provinces of Bavaria and Westphalia, who sought the opportunity of cheap land. Only a few places in the country could claim a higher percentage of residents of German heritage than could Carroll County and, specifically, Templeton.”

This town had one of the highest numbers of Germans per capita in the country, and they were almost entirely Catholics from the same region of Germany. They had a lot of common culture and a lot of what would be called social capital. These people weren’t just pioneer individualists. No, like other Germans, they believed in taking care of their own. They were a tight-knit community and they were determined to stick together during hard times.

They would be tested during Prohibition, as this town became one of the most famous bootlegging communities in the country. They weren’t big city gangsters. They were just Germans who liked to drink (Kindle Locations 179-182):

And as the paper also indicated, the German settlers brought with them their traditions, such as a fondness for beer in celebrating family and community. It was just one of many customs associated with people who attached with a hyphen their old identity to their new American one. The German-Americans were hardly alone in their fondness for booze. They’d arrived in a country that already had, by the late-nineteenth century, a well-developed and, at times, fraught relationship to alcohol.

The law came down hard on this town. The only snitch in the community was, of course, a non-German. Otherwise, no one would turn on anyone else. The last safeguard of democracy is a jury of one’s peers. In this county, no jury would convict any of its citizens of bootlegging. Gangsters like Al Capone had plenty people turn on them, but Templetonians were a different breed. They practically flaunted their bootlegging and they couldn’t be touched, within their county. Prohibition was hard to enforce, especially in the big cities, but Templeton was unusual for a dry state like Iowa.

I take their example as an inspiration. “We must, indeed, all hang together or,” as Benjamin Franklin warned, “most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” A jury of peers is a precious thing that we should defend at all costs.

This lesson is more important than ever during this era of the drug wars that target otherwise defenseless poor minority communities. If minorities don’t create close-knit communities that take care of their own, no one else can be depended upon to do it for them. Justice is never given easily by those who benefit from injustice. Indpendence has always required interdependence.

The most powerful weapon against oppression is community. This is attested to by the separate fates of a Templetonian like Joe Irlbeck and big city mobster like Al Capone. “Just as Al Capone had Eliot Ness, Templeton’s bootleggers had as their own enemy a respected Prohibition agent from the adjacent county named Benjamin Franklin Wilson. Wilson was ardent in his fight against alcohol, and he chased Irlbeck for over a decade. But Irlbeck was not Capone, and Templeton would not be ruled by violence like Chicago” (Kindle Locations 7-9). What ruled Templeton was most definitely not violence. Instead, it was a culture of trust. That is a weapon more powerful than all of Al Capone’s hired guns.

What the mob forgot was that the Mafia began as a civic organization, the Black Hand. It was at times violent, as was the KKK, but most of what these civic organizations did was community work. They defended their communities and cultures, their traditions and customs. The Germans had their Bund, which served a similar purpose. Hispanics also have a history of forming tight-knit communities that will defend themselves.

African-Americans, however, have a tougher road to travel. Their unique African ethnic culture, language, and religion was annihalated by slavery. Even Native Americans fared better on this account. The social capital of African-Americans was intentionally destroyed. It has been an uphill battle for them to rebuild it, against all odds. They don’t even have the privilege of a jury of their peers, for the police targeting of blacks and the racial bias in the courts has disenfranchized so many of them from the opportunity of jury service. Many blacks find themselves before a jury of white people and, unlike the Templetonians, they have little hope of being saved from the jaws of injustice.

The War on Drugs will fail as Prohibition failed and as the Whiskey Tax failed. But many lives will be destroyed in the meanwhile. This War on Drugs is in reality a war on specific groups of people. The only way to fight back is to fight for independence as have so many generations before. Independence is what this country is about and that is what the oppressed today must demand. And they should accept nothing short of that demand. It is a war that can only be won by fighting together, communities across the country making their stand together.

Sweeping Social Problems Under the Rug

Why do some people think that laws, the police, and prisons can be the solution to almost everything? Why do some people think that banning and criminalizing a problematic behavior will solve the problem and banning something will make it go away?

Sometimes such a response is the only one available.

Child abuse is an obvious example. But, even in that case, it would be better to spend money on preventing child abuse by breaking the victimization cycle than merely to imprison child abusers after the fact. We don’t want to decriminalize child abuse. Still, that doesn’t mean prison is the only answer.

Slavery is another example. It is a good thing we legally abolished slavery. But we have to be honest with ourselves by its effectiveness. There still remains a large and widespread slave trade in the world. According to some data, there are more slaves today than existed in the past. Slavery is still even occasionally discovered in the United States, typically involving those at the edge of society who are afraid of trying to escape and contact authorities.

There are other examples that are even more obvious failures.

Prohibition didn’t eliminate alcoholic consumption and alcoholism. If anything, it caused it to grow worse and added mass gang violence to the mix. Illegalizing prostitution hasn’t closed down that market. I don’t know that prostitution has increased, but I doubt it has decreased because of its illegal status. The War on Drugs is the clearest example of failure, maybe worse than Prohibition because it has lasted so much longer. Drug use and addiction is higher than it has ever been, even as more people are in prison for selling and using drugs.

On the other hand, some countries have successfully used a combination of legalization and decriminalization. Instead of sending people to prison for being addicted to drugs, they send them to drug rehabilitation. These countries probably also have better public healthcare, especially mental healthcare, than the United States has. They seek to deal with the problem at its root, and at least in some cases they’ve actually decreased drug use and addiction.

In a country like the United States, trying to ban all guns probably would be about as effective. It is better to keep such things as drugs and guns on the legal market. That way, there can be more oversight, transparency, regulation, and control.

When something is on the black market, it may be a libertarian fantasy of an unregulated market, but it rarely leads to positive results for the larger society. Drugs on the black market can be dangerous because a person doesn’t actually know what they are buying. Guns on the black market get easily sold to criminals, gangs, cartels, terrorists, etc. The trick is to make the legal market more profitable and attractive than doing business on the black market. Black markets often form when the legal market fails.

So, why do conservatives think that banning abortions will end all or most abortions? They would have a reasonable argument if that was the case. However, the data doesn’t show that abortion bans leads to a decrease and sometimes it leads to an increase, just like with drug use.

Conservatives will point to conservative states that have decreased their rate of legal abortions. That is simply because they’ve forced women’s clinics that do abortions. No one is keeping the data on how many women in those states go to other states to get abortions, how many go on the black market, and how many try to do it themselves.

Making abortions illegal does decrease the rate of legal abortions, but going by the country comparisons it appears simultaneously increases the rate of illegal abortions. This is common sense, and conservatives claim to love common sense. If conservatives actually care about saving the lives from “baby-killers”, then the last thing conservatives should want to do is push abortions onto the black market and to have women trying to give themselves abortions with coathangers. It doesn’t just likely increase the abortion rate, but also the dangers involved. Women die because of botched abortions. Sometimes, even when the woman isn’t harmed, botched abortions still lead to birth where the baby is deformed or has brain damage.

Who would argue the War on Drugs is successful because the rate of legal recreational drug use has decreased, even as the illegal recreational drug use has increased? As we now fill prisons full of non-violent drug users, are we going to start to fill prisons also with women who seek abortions?

Sweeping problems under the rug doesn’t solve the problem or make it go away.

Prison Insanity

Here are some typical charts and some analysis:

Six Charts that Explain Why Our Prison System Is So Insane
by Paul Waldman
The American Prospect

For many of us, all of this is too familiar already, too familiar and soul-crushingly sad. Does the government think that instead of solving people’s problems (poverty, unemployment, homelessness, etc) that if they lock enough of us up they can stop revolution from happening? When a government fears its own citizens, that demonstrates how much power the citizens have and demonstrates most importantly that the government knows this.

The following is just some brief commentary by me. I just had to point this type of thing because I hope one day that the American people might one day wake up to this injustice.

Even though violent crime has drastically decreased, imprisonment rates of drastically increased.

It is specifically the State governments that are doing most of the imprisonment for violent crimes and so the Federal government can’t be primarily blamed for this aspect. One wonders why the focus on violent crime when it is a decreasing problem.

The Federal government, on the other hand, is mostly focused on the War on Drugs. One also wonders about not just why the Federal government is so focused on drugs but who they are focusing it upon. Why are more blacks imprisoned for drugs when the data shows more whites than blacks use drugs?

 

 

Dan Coffey on Prisons: Forgiveness and Reform

In the Iowa Source magazine, I was reading ‘Tis the Season for Forgiveness by Dan Coffey. 

The forgiveness he was speaking of is towards all of the non-violent victimless criminals who are overwhelming our prisons (and, of course, overburdening the taxpayers).  It’s a good article and I’d love to share it with you, but apparently it hasn’t been posted online.  However, he starts off with some quotes from Nicholas Kristoff which I could find online.  These quotes refer to statistics which should move anyone whose heart hasn’t become completely numb to the atrocities of our society (Coffey writes, ” Sometimes statistics speak more eloquently than paragraphs of explanation or generalization.”  How true!)… but this kind of data is already familiar to any reasonably informed citizen (by which I don’t mean to imply most citizens are reasonably informed).

I guess I should type up some of the article in order to share it:

… granting amnesty to those convicted of non-violent crimes.  Sure, there might be a few rotten apples among the blemished, but they’d be the exception, not the rule.

It’s interesting that he uses the image of rotten apples because it’s quite apt.  Rotten apples will rot other apples when you pack them close together.

We could spend the money we would have spent housing them on their educations.  Let them learn a trade. […]  This last summer, the Kentucky Supreme Court announced a pilot project that could save their counties an estimated $12 million a month by allowing thousands of people arrested for nonviolent, non-sexual crimes to post bail immediately after they are arrested.

Ever since getting touch on crime became a politician’s sure-fire bet for re-election, we’ve dug ourselves into a hle that it’s going to be hard to climb out of.  If we can’t afford health care, maybe we can at least afford this.

[…]  More than 7.3 million Americans are confined in U.S. correctional facilities or supervised in the community, at a cost of more than $68 billion annually.  For states with death penalty, savings of up to $1 billion a year could be realized simply by replacing capital punishment with life sentences.

[…]  The war on drugs must be making somebody a bundle, because the cost of imprisoning people convicted of breaking those laws is breaking the back of many a state.  Drug enforcement agencies are also able to seize cash and assets of the people they arrest, often keeping the money in a slush fund for use at their discretion.  This is the same policy that tempted Dallas County sheriff Brian Gilbert to steall $120,000 from a motorist during a routine traffic stop.  Instead of ten years in prison, a judge fined him $1,000 and put him on probation.

So obviously, the people in prison are often not being given the same advantages law enforcement and the courts offer their own.

Until we fix these problems, prudence would suggest that we stop locking people up.  Our prison mess doesn’t go away just because we’ve hidden these institutions out of plain sight.  For every person in prison, at least five others are deeply affected.

[…]  The fashionable policy of “getting tough on crime” resulted in mandatory minimum sentencing laws that took away a judge’s leeway in sentencing.  Other laws were passed requiring those convicted of certain felonies to serve 85 percent of their sentences.  No option for parole.  Any wonder why our prisons are bulging?

So, there you go.  I plan on writing more about this later.