Friday, November 29, 2013

Sort of Heartbreaking,,,Drug War Trails

Well, it's sort of heartbreaking to me, that for all the years I worked at High Times on the hard side of drug war news, I couldn't do what I wanted. I had successes for sure, though some took a long time: Steve Hager told me to make medical marijuana a national issue and I did. A lot of others were involved for sure, but I pushed that and pushed that and at Steve's suggestion made Dennis Peron the face of the medical marijuana legalization movement and Kenny and Barbra Jenks, two people who died from AIDS after he got a tainted blood transfusion (he was a hemophiliac) the poster kids for medical marijuana.
    I had luck when I wrote about the wildly unfair forfeiture reform laws--you know, the ones where the police could confiscate your home for having a single marijuana plant in the back yard--even if the neighbor kids admitting planting it. Oh, and the police got to keep the proceeds from the auctioned off confiscated goods. After a 1992 series on that, Henry Hyde's office got in touch with me and Hyde spent 10 years getting those laws reformed to some extent. Now St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other papers wrote about those abuses as well, so I wasn't alone, but yes, I was one of those whose work finally got those laws changed.
   I had luck with hemp, when Steve Hager told me to go do some editing on a crazy California guy's book. That book was Jack Herer's Emperor Wears No Clothes, and High Times made Herer the face of the hemp movement in the U.S., while our stories on Ben Dronkers made him the face of the hemp movement in Europe.
   Again, would be ridiculous to claim all the credit: Herer was already Herer when I met him. The Girls of the Cannabis Movement traveled all over the country in a tour arranged by Steve Bloom, HT's music editor and a great writer and friend. And then a million other people got schooled and then there was that movement and it will not be long before hemp is not just a specialty item but a big time crop I believe.
   So I take a good amount of credit  for being the journalist who hammered away at these issues until people like Peter Jensen and 60 Minutes and The Atlantic picked up the ball. But there were also the activists who taught us at High Times and whom we taught with real facts and good information and who then went out there and began schooling other people. There is a lot that goes into social and political change but I'm happy for the work I did on those three things yet understand I was not working in a vacuum and wouldn't have done the hundreds of aggregate stories I did over the years on those topics if Steve Hager hadn't pushed me and pushed me in the right direction.
   But this piece is about the heartbreak of other things, the heartbreak of the failures I had. Hundreds of people would call me every year during the height of forfeiture abuse and say something like: "My kid was busted for selling pot and the police just raided my home and found an ounce in his room and now they're saying they're going to forfeit my house. Can they do that?" And the answer was, yes they can. And they're encouraged to do it because once they sell your house at auction they will have enough money to buy 15 new police cars, which will allow them to save the money they were going to put into those cars and use it for guaranteed overtime and a police gymnasium instead.
    They would ask what I could do to stop it and the answer was nothing. There was nothing I could do. I was sorry for them. Sometimes I knew a lawyer who might give me a pro bono because I'd put his/her picture in the magazine at some earlier time, but generally there was nothing I could do but be angry at the laws, angry at the police, sad for the family.
     People would call saying they were busted with pot and were going to lose their children and what could I do? Nothing.
    They would call and say they had their money sniffed by a drug dog and subsequently confiscated because it was tainted with cocaine and what could I do? Nothing. And that was even after some great newspaper--I think it was Miami Herald--tested bills in 1985 and found that 96% of all bills they tested had traces of cocaine on them during the late 1980s and early 1990s--meaning confiscating money was shooting ducks in a barrel.
    Sister Somayah called several times at my house, screaming and cursing before she hung up. After about a year of that every month, she called once and was calm enough to explain that she and every other sickle sell anemia patient was generally given morphine for pain, which made millions of people simple junkies getting morph every two days for years at a time. She accused me, a white guy whose people don't suffer from sickle cell anemia, of ignoring this enormous problem. How could I help? I asked. Check out my story, she said. See what they're giving patients in New York, and then you'll know why so many black people are nodding out on their stoops there. They're government junkies! Again, I asked, what could I do?
    Tell people marijuana dilates the blood vessels so that the sickle cells can pass around the joints painlessly, she said. I did. It took years to get people to get it but they finally are starting to and there are fewer sickle cell patients on morphine these days.
    But other who called collect from prisons begging for help, couldn't get help. What the hell could I do?
     I'm writing all this because a guy named Bobby V. called recently. He'd been in touch from prison maybe 16 years ago. He was serving 30 years at Missouri State Prison, maximum, called The Walls, often referred to as "the bloodiest 47 (or so) acres in the U.S." What was he serving for? For being a habitual offender. At 20 or so he'd taken a 17 year old across state line for purpose of prostitution. He was later guilty in a couple of small time burglaries. He served time, got out, helped a friend score a $40 bag of pot and then discovered the friend was now a snitch. I think he was offered 15 years but turned it down, went to trial and got 30-40. I made him my first Prisoner of War in a column I occasionally wrote for High Times (the column started with "Bobby V is no saint...") and it gave him some breathing room at prison, he said. It also helped in some way get some people motivated to lobby on his behalf that 17 years was enough time. So he got out.
    He married, got a job, had two kids. He recently called from jail. He committed some sort of parole violation and they want him back at the state pen (The Walls closed in 2004, so it would be a different penitentiary) to serve out the remainder of his original sentence. He wants me to help. How? I called a lawyer I know in Missouri and hope that helps. But who knows if that attorney will have the time or if Bobby will have the money to pay him? And even if Bobby has the money, who knows if it will work?
     Yeah, he was a habitual criminal: Caught once at 20 years old; caught again at 25; arranges for a pal to buy $40 bucks worth of pot when he's about 30. That's three things in 10 years. Oh, not that it excuses things but the young woman crossing state lines was already a prostitute with a long line of arrests, so it wasn't like Bob was forcing her into anything. And $40 pounds of pot is just that: Not even illegal beyond a ticket for $100 in most states. And now, after about 10 years free, no issues, he's got a parole violation and they want him back. That happens when the locals just have it in for you.
     So there's probably nothing I can do for Bobby. And nothing I could do for the hundreds and hundreds of others who got in touch. Once in a while the work made a difference; most of the time I failed.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Someone Asked Me About Colombia, 1999

So a friend wrote and asked what might have been happening in Colombia that would have sent a person involved with the U.S. military down there in 1999 on 20 different occasions. I scratched my head. I had my bar in Iquitos there then, remember, and a lot of what the U.S. military was doing in Colombia included nearby Peru. So this is what I wrote as possible explanation for a U.S. government agent of some sort being sent to Colombia 20 times in 1999.
Dear X: Plan Colombia, the suspected-drug-plane-shootdown-program, the imminent election of Uribe to the Colombian presidency that we were arranging for at the time (elected, I believe, in 2002). So lots of things. We also had sent down Green Berets to guard pipelines for private companies in Colombia at about that time. 

    If you recall, that was the same time that the U.S. kept five houses for Special Forces and one for the DEA in Iquitos. Very very high visibility in the region. 
    Now that I'm thinking of it, it was about that time that we were training two battalions of Colombian jungle forces with our Jungle Special Forces. Those battalions were going to use a pincer movement to force the FARC rebels from their "military free zone" once that zone was eliminated in the early 2000s. They were going to be forced to the Putumayo river, where that team of former Navy Seals that came into my bar and told me what they were hired to do--they were going to slaughter any and all people trying to cross the Putumayo looking for safety in Peru as a result of that pincer movement. Yours truly stopped that one in its tracks in 2002, I believe, and that's when my CIA friend was given the job of eliminating me. He spent two weeks at Langley explaining that if idiots got drunk in my bar and--knowing I was a journalist--told me what they were going to do, it was my obligation to print it. First Amendment and such. Fortunately, he talked them out of the kill and that's why I can tell the story today.
    So, very active time in Colombia and region--the first major effort to secure Colombian oil which was about to explode on the market in a big way. Setbacks, like a failed Plan Colombia, have held it in abeyance, but it's still a gold ring and we still plan to get it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Big Game Hunters

Now I know that animals need to be culled from a herd to keep it healthy. But during the last several months I've seen photos of US Olympic Champion Cory Cogdell and young hunter Regis Giles and
Melissa Bachman posing with trophy animals: Zebras, lions, boars, elephants. Now I'm gonna say right now that I think nature has its own methods of culling a herd. And I think it's a good, if cruel, system. And while I'm not against hunting to eat--hell, I had a duck yesterday and am having a sausage/veggie pasta tonight and I didn't even kill the damned duck or sausage or pasta but let someone else do that dirty work for me--and I respect people who respect the animals, I've got a wrong feeling about people who hire someone to fly out in a helicopter to find you a herd, and once found, report to your driver/professional spotter, who drives to the herd's spot and then points out which animal would be the best trophy for you to kill. Then they drive you close enough and you shoot and down goes the animal--unless of course you're Sarah Palin and have to shoot at a moose that's tied down six times before you can hit the thing.
     Old lions get culled when they starve to death because they're not strong enough to hunt any longer. Old zebras get eaten by young lions. Old elephants are left to wander by themselves to die. But these hunters are not going after that gimpy old elephant or that rhino who can hardly carry themselves. They're going after prime males, the ones that keep the herd strong. And I just see that as something terribly wrong, terribly cowardly. Those are the same people who jump into a fight as kids after the kid has been beaten up by five people and is prone on the ground and then hits him a few times and brags he beat up so and so.
     I'll put my position in perspective. I've had people ask me to take them jaguar hunting in the Amazon. I've always put this condition on it: We outfit your gun barrel with a mounted camera and  eliminate the firing pin. Then, you shoot a picture of the jaguar and leave the jaguar for another day. Not one of the people willing to pay $10,000 to actually kill a jaguar ever had the balls to get close enough to "fire" a photo without having a gun backup.
    Now the person who finally does hire me to do that, well, that's someone with balls, whether a man or a woman. Because getting within 20 yards of a jaguar without a weapon to stop it if it attacks is a very very frightening thing. And doing that on purpose takes a great great deal of courage. Which the guys/gals with the fancy rifles, fancy scopes, helicopter spotters and hunting advisors in the cars either don't have or don't need to use. Cause there is nothing courageous about blowing three ducks away with a shotgun. Or shooting a lion or tiger or elephant or rhino at 200 yards with the protection of a jeep to run away if need be.
    The PS Is that while some people might eat an elephant or rhino, no one eats a lion or tiger.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Best Psychedelic Contact Sheet in the History of the World

The Best Psychedelic Contact Sheet in the History of the World
While working at High Times for a long time from 1986 through 1997, and then again in 2001 and 2002, I needed to make contact with a lot of people from the underground/the psychedelic movement/the marijuana legalization and hemp movements/the medical marijuana movement. Getting contacts for those people was not always easy. There is a story that goes with almost every name in my rolodex.
    Today, someone asked me to get in touch with Jonathan Ott and so I spent some time looking for my old--and I mean 21 year old--psychedelic contact sheet and unforgivably, Ott was not on it. If you read this, Mr. Ott, please get in touch because someone is trying to reach you.
    But in looking over the sheet, it's pretty amazing. I'm sure others have even better ones, but my contact sheet--and that means I spoke with each of these people and recorded them and have those recordings, reads like this. A lot of these names were culled when Bill Weinberg and I--Bill was my partner in writing the Highwitness News section of High Times for several years--were putting together a special called LSD at 50! which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Albert H. discovering it and taking his famed bicycle ride.
   Here's the amazing list--without contacts, of course, and in no particular order, just the order in which I reached them.
Howard Lotsof--the man who discovered the heroin interruptive properties of Ibogaine.
John Perry Barlow--Songwriter for the Grateful Dead
Mickey Hart--Dead Drummer and participant in the Acid Tests
Wavy Gravy--The clown from Woodstock who told us all to hug the 30-50 mean motorcyclists who crashed Woodstock and tried to force their way to the front of the stage.
Ken Kesey--Author of One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest and the original Merry Prankster who ran the school bus FURTHER across America doling out LSD.
Albert Hoffman--the man who discovered LSD by accident and the very straight-laced father of the Psychedelic movement.
Nina Graboi--Writer and early participant in LSD sessions
Terence McKenna--Psychedelic Pioneer on a lot of levels
Oscar Janigar: The man who turned on Cary Grant to LSD
John Beresford: A psychologist who got one of the "magic grams" from Sandoz laboratories and treated a lot of Hollywood people with it.
Stan Grof--LSD phychotherapist who worked at Spring Grove, New York and later developed the famous Grof breath work.
Sasha Shulgin--Chemist/researcher/writer who has brought a lot lot lot of material to the attention of the world. While he didn't invent Extasy, he was the one who reinvented it and spread the word.
Peter Stafford--Writer of the Psychedlic Encyclopedia
Marty Lee--Co-Author of Acid Dreams, the book that exposed the US government's work with the material on unsuspecting hippies and others
Rabbi Salman Schacter--Took LSD at Spring Grove with other healers and spiritual people in the early 1960s.
Allen Ginsberg--Poet/author of HOWL, the book that announced the Beat movement and an early user of LSD and Ayahuasca.
Hunter Thompson--Out of his mind drug abuser who invented Gonzo journalism--and was very freaking good at it.
Laura Huxley--Wife of Aldous, and a writer and psychedelic explorer in her own right.
Stanley Krivner--headed the Dream Lab at Maimonides Hospital.
Cat McKenna--wife of Terence and a brilliant researcher on her own.
Mountain Girl--Jerry Garcia's wife and a famed psychedelic explorer.
Ram Das--Richard Alpert, Leary's associate, the man who wrote Be Here Now, and a spiritual/psychedelic leader for 50 years.
Rick Doblin--Founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Claudio Naranjo--Writer, makes the ayahuasca connection with LSD with ayahuasqueros.
David Smith--The man who ran the Haight-Ashbury Clinic during the halcyon years in San Francisco.
Ronald Sandison--British psychitrist who used LAD with patients from 1952 through 1964
Humphrey Osmond--The man who invented the word "psychedelic" and a researcher with LSD
Ken Babbs--One of the original Merry Pranksters
Tim Leary--The man who passed the word.
Ron Bivert--Photographer for the Merry Pranksters
And then there are a dozen others who, because they could be vulnerable, I'm not mentioning. And I've eliminated their old contacts from my page for precisely that reason.
    But is that a freaking all star line up or what?????? AND I GOT TO TALK WITH ALL OF THEM! You have any idea what a treat that was? I'm glad someone was looking for Mr. Ott today to remind me of that list. My head has been buzzing with their ideas all freaking day. Thanks Universe for letting me be alive!

A Note I Sent Someone Who Was Feeling Very Very Down

Someone contacted me via a website I occasionally post on and asked if they thought ayahuasca could help them. Their problem: They've overused drugs, are lost, feel worthless and think they've lost their soul.
     I told them there was no promise that ayahuasca was going to heal them, but that a trip to real jungle and drinking the medicine were very often a fantastic way to begin healing.
     They wrote back to say they were in the jungle and drank medicine and then, when they were at the point of ascending out of this plane, they smoked marijuana and ruined everything: They lost their soul, they lost all hope, they lost it all.
     This is what I wrote, and I hope it helps them. Or one of you. Or me. Yeah, it's probably me that needs more help than anyone!
Dear X: Hmmmm....neither ayahuasca nor marijuana are drugs, so I'm not sure what you mean when you say you did ayahuasca and then did another drug by smoking pot. You mixed medicines, that's all. Ayahuasca was never going to let you ascend to the next world: That is your fantasy maybe, but not what ayahuasca does. She leaves you just where you started only with a little more insight and hopefully having purged some of the nonsense from your life. But no ascensions. And no soul loss.
    I am not a big fan of mixing medicines, but there really was no damage done to you. You might feel guilty, might feel badly, but let that go. It's meaningless. What's important is that if you do feel badly from mixing the medicines you should perhaps learn not to do that again. Personally, I used to drink gin--a lot--and it made me very angry. I thought I was funny but the people close to me were afraid of my temper. So I felt guilty, reached the bottom and then quit drinking gin.
    If you don't like yourself when you use marijuana or other things, just stop. You might go through a dark few days but the light at the end of the tunnel is not very far away. And you still have a soul--it just may have been beaten up by you a little. Start treating it nicely, shine it up, bring it back to health. This is going to sound silly but one way to do that is to start looking at nature: Go to a botanical garden and smell flowers for hours. Sit down on grass underneath a shade tree and lean against the tree. Let it's strength work its way into you. You won't feel it directly, but it will do its work. Just like smelling flowers will do theirs. Or riding a horse or just petting one. Or a dog--sit with one for an hour, let yourself slow down to the animal's rhythm and you will begin to heal and polish up that battered soul.
    A lot of us have been to the bottom of the bottom. It takes work to climb back up and out of that hole but it is not impossible and doesn't take years. It's just changing some of what we do that's keeping us there which will permit us to get out.
    I can't really tell you how to heal more than that. But I can tell you that holding on to a fear that there is no hope or holding on to a fear that you have no soul are definitely two things that will keep you hurting. Let them go--just don't think about them, hard as that might seem--let them go and you will already begin to heal.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

January Jungle Jaunt in the Amazon Now Open--So Join!

Dear All: I had a private group slated for 10 days in the deep amazon for January. They have moved their trip back, leaving January open. So I am offering it here. A great trip that takes you to deeply into the real Amazon. It's a no fooling, dirt-under-your-fingernails foray into the fantastic jungle. There is some light hiking, some wonderful swamp walking, food gathering and so forth. The heart of the trip is the chance to utilize Ayahuasca, the fantastic jungle medicine a couple of times, with my late teacher Julio Jerena's son, Jairo. There will also be an opportunity to utilize the indigenous Matses' medicines sapo and nu-nu. It is an amazing 10 days that will probably change your life. The cost, excluding airfare, is $1900. My team of 12 will see that you get the chance to have real adventure but at the same time are kept very safe. You don't need to get outfitted--everything you need you already own, and I outfit you top to bottom for the jungle, including boots. So what about it? Ready for something out of the ordinary and soul shaping? You can reach me at peterg9 at yahoo. I look forward to it. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Someone Wrote Something About Obama and I Took Exception

A very good friend of mine, someone who has been on a trip to Peru with me and at my house and whom I love, is under the spell of Fox news sometimes. Today she wrote about 10 things that Obama should do to give the country back to the people. It was a litany of insanity.
    I have no right to repeat what she wrote here, but I am going to post my answer and I think it will be clear where I stand on the issues and what issues she brought up. Just my take on things--and you're welcome to disagree.
This is how I responded:
One at a time: Obama was elected pretty overwhelmingly twice, so he's no usurper and no George Bush 2 appointed/anointed illegally by the Supremes.
Now, the push for amnesty for illegals is fantastic. We do not survive without them picking our fruit, paving our roads, tending our farms, and so forth. We also do no exist without them becoming doctors, scientists and so forth. For the bad eggs, Obama has deported the most illegals in the history of the US. So he's the strongest president on deportation, not weak. He just wants to keep people who have been here their whole lives through no fault of their own, here. Just like Texas Governor Rick Perry gives illegals "in state" tuition and allows nearly a million to work in Texas to help save the state--they are the primary road builders for Tx Department of Transportation, for instance--Obama knows what's good on this issue and who to deport.
Drone Attacks: Well, if you stop them you need to put US soldiers on the ground. You prefer more legless/armless/PSTD suffering/heroin addicts/homeless vets? Sounds very cruel to me. And considering that Obama is getting most of the bad guys we're going after with the drones, well, I don't like it either when grandmas get caught in the fire, but I really like our soldiers not being in war. Middle east soldiers coming home: Most are home. Bush put them there. Obama brought most home. Some remain in Iraq, but not fighting. Lots remain in Afghanistan but they'll be home in months. So that's mostly done, erasing the lies/wars of the Bush administration in just 6 years. Good for Obama. Oh, and he's the first president in several who is working on upgrading the VA and benefits. Tough to do when the Repubs won't produce the money for those vets, but he's doing a very good job with his hands handcuffed. In Dallas/Fort Worth alone we've opened several new VA spots for vets with PSTD to get help.
Patriot Act and NDAA have no chance of being repealed with current Republican obstruction. Not a prayer, so Obama isn't wasting time barking up those trees.
NSA DEFINITELY needs to be reined in. AGREE WITH YOU 100 percent.
EPA is a toothless thing. It needs to be able to shut down industry that kills citizens for profit. Anyone in their right mind who thinks the EPA over regulates is NOT IN THEIR RIGHT MIND. They need teeth, money, and the ability to just close dirty places. No more amnesty for industrial killers like tar sands, inner city gas drilling, cement plants in Texas being powered by burning old car tires. No more fertilizer plants next to homes.
Just my take. But given the lousy hand he's been dealt and a congress that has sworn to obstruct any thing Obama, the smart black guy, proposes, I think he's doing okay. Way way way far to the right of center--he's pretty right wing after all--but better than the last few Republican presidents; Reagan, Bush and Bush. At least he's trying to bring things back to at least sort of in the middle--even though he's satisfied with that being on the right wing side of the middle.
What I would like, some day, is a president who actually spoke for us lefties. People who care about people, not profits. People who want kids schooled, not criminalized. People who want the environment protected way more than a freaking zygote, people who want babies protected and cared for once they are born, not just forced to be born and then discarded.
People like me understand that most dishwashers can't be brain surgeons--but having worked kitchens for 18 years I know that not a single surgeon in the history of the world would be able to be a dishwasher--so why the disparity in pay, other than the cost of the education? The dishwasher, after all, keeps the surgeon health; very unlikely that the surgeon keeps the dishwasher healthy. Fruit pickers? I did that 40 years ago. Left after three days. Impossibly hard work. Yet we've got 10s of thousands of kids under 12 years old picking the fruit you and I eat every day. And they work here in the USA. They are six, seven, five years old. No age limit on farm work. They keep our food fresh, available and cost possible. I think they ought to get $200 a day. That would be fair. Just like good waiter or a dental assistant or a manager at McDonalds--after all, they keep you healthy too. That's where I stand, and my only regret with Obama is that we elected a centrist to the right, rather than a decent democrat leaning to the left.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Four Photos tell the Leg Story--DON'T LOOK IF EASILY DISTURBED

Okay, so I have not had the soul to write recently. I apologize. I don't know why that is so as I've been in town. Maybe just too much regular work and a backlog trying to get things straight financially and in other areas. I just know that I have not made up any new songs, not had that creative burst that I normally have every day. I did a lot of work for my newspaper and it's good. Very good. I wrote a Drug War Follies column for Skunk magazine, sold two photos--which took hours and hours to find--to NFL Films; wrote a column for High Times magazine. Have been dealing with the graft. Had three guests in for three/four days last week and fed them well--and they me--and did ceremony. I've gotten my February, 2014 trip to Peru lined up. I've paid my bills in advance for December, mowed the lawn, gotten my truck inspected and done 100 other errands. And I sang out loud for two days in the supermarket parking lots and in the supermarkets--not so loud to be annoying, just joyeus--and that was good. But the spark to write something from the heart, well, I've not had that. And I hope I do tomorrow.  I hope the magic is just taking a vacation, not quit on me.
    Still, some of you are asking how the leg is and here's the story: Last week, my fantastic surgeon, Dr. Ronny Ford, head of Surgery at Huguley Hospital not far from  here, told me the graft was good and that I should take off the bandages, keep it moist with Nivea skin cream twice a day and use sun block if I am going into the sun. Chepa says it's sort of gross so I should keep it wrapped in public. He said no, that it needed air.
    He does not read this blog. But if you are in need of surgery and are near Johnson or Tarrant counties, use this guy. Great sense of humor, great doc, great surgeon, nearly painless. Just Just Just fantastic. As were the wound nurses--Thank you, Dian--and everyone at the hospital. As were you all in giving enough to pay most of the bill that the hospital didn't forgive. All in all, if you had to have this nonsense on your leg, having it with my team in Peru and then here at Huguley, was the best way to have it. They saved my leg, they treated me like I was important. Great.
So here are the photos: Four of them from the worst to best: First is what this looked like when gangrene had done it's job. Second is when Dr. Fort cleaned it out. Third is the graph four months after it began and the last shows the thigh where Doc took the skin for the graph. That still hurts.