Sunday, February 22, 2015

10 Years with Skunk Magazine

Well, some of you know, other's don't, that one of my regular gigs for the past 10 years or so has been writing a lengthy column for Skunk Magazine called Drug War Follies. It's been a joy: I get to put my two cents out there related to the failed war on drugs, to politics or whatever the hell else I want to write about. They actually let me do that and pay me for it! I find the days I'm working on that column--there is a lot of fact checking to do to make it seem like it's off the cuff--are some of the best days of each month. And just a moment ago, someone wrote something very nice about that column to me: She wrote something to the effect that when I make her throw the magazine down in disgust, she loves it even more when she picks it back up. That was cool. 
In any event, this was a recent column--it may still be on the stands.

Drug War Follies#82

Afghan poppy production at all time high, again; Gov pardon’s son; and why bother to report on the drug war anyway?

By Peter Gorman

Well, well, well….it’s probably obvious to all of you dear readers out there, but once again, the U.S. war on drugs strategy failed. What is that, about 10 million times in a row? What is it they say about being crazy? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Well, there you have it, that’s U.S. drug policy. The failure in this discussion is Afghani poppy production--and no, not the .00001 percent that goes to making floral arrangements, but the other 99.99999 percent that goes into making heroin. It turns out that in 2014 poppy production in Afghanistan is higher than it’s ever been. Which is saying a lot, because in 2013 it was also higher than it had ever been. Ain’t that something? Give people $7.6 billion over the course of a decade or so to eradicate and replace the poppies and what do they do? The people who get the money keep it and the farmers keep growing poppies. Gosh, they’re beautiful flowers, a sea of white or purple or red flowers just brimming with joy juice to take your pain away. And here we go, the big WE, the U.S. foreign policy people, deciding we’re gonna get rid of those fields once and for all. And we fail. And we fail. And we pour more money into it and we fail again. Crazy? Hell, no! We just didn’t try hard enough. Let’s do that again and maybe it’ll be different this time. And if it isn’t, well, we’ll just have to try harder.
    And all that trying has led to stronger, cleaner, cheaper and much more abundant heroin all over the world. Heck, it’s almost like we’re just pretending we want to get rid of it when what we really want to do is make as many junkies as we can because junkies, while they might steal from their friends, won’t cause social unrest as a rule. And they won’t even steal from their friends if you make it cheap enough. Sounds like what the Bush family did in the old days when super grandpappy Bush controlled the opium trade out of China to keep the Chinese workers in the U.S. pleasantly stoned and subsequently pliant when they were brought over in droves to build our rail lines and such.
   So maybe the U.S. drug policy isn’t failing at all. Maybe it’s working just the way some people want it to work. Maybe what we have is just a failure to communicate what the actual goal of the drug policy really is. That’s probably it.
    I’m glad I was able to fix that up so you understand what’s really going on.
Small but significant: Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, who is leaving office in January, 2015, has announced that he will be pardoning his son for a marijuana possession with intent to distribute felony before he’s gone. If he was my father and he had the power to do that I’d want him to do it. If I was the governor and had that power and one of my family could be pardoned with a wave of my magic pardoning-pen, I’d do it too. What seems odd here and is significant is that Governor Beebe has not said that he will do the same for everyone else in his state who is in jail or prison or has done time for the same crime. Why not? It’s a goddamned magic pardoning-pen, isn’t it? His son’s crime was youthful mistake. Those other fellas and gals, their crimes were youthful mistakes as well, I’ll bet. The mistake being the getting caught part.
    You got the pen, Governor, and you’re leaving office. You got nothing to lose. Why not wave it big and set hundreds or thousands doing time free? Release thousands more from the weight of parole, give them back their right to vote. Surely your son deserves it, but then all those other people are someone else’s son or daughter and they deserve it as well. So just grab your balls and do it!
My youngest son, Marco, came over the other day and saw me working on this column. He asked why I’d spent so many years at the other pot magazine and now nearly 10 years at Skunk writing about the war on drugs working hard to stop it when all the work wasn’t working.
    I told him there were obvious reasons--that kids/adults shouldn’t go to jail for non-violent drug offences; that nobody should be in jail for pot; that junkies should not go to jail for years when most junkies voluntarily quit their addiction in about two or three years; that crack cocaine should not get black people more jail time than white people get for powder cocaine.
    But beyond those obvious abuses of the war on drugs were subtle ones that most people didn't know about back in the old days and a lot of people still don’t. An awful lot of people, for instance, when they think of property forfeiture, picture it happening when a drug kingpin or big Mafioso gets caught with a million bucks worth of drugs or gambling receipts in a house he bought with the same dirty money. Unfortunately, that’s not true: Most property forfeiture occurs when people have a joint or two in their fully-paid-off homes, or two plants at the back end of their paid-off-farm, or get busted in a police prostitution sting when they’re lured by a cop posing as a prostitute and stop to negotiate and after a quick check that the car is paid off, lose their vehicle. The key is that the goods/property are paid off. No one wants to seize a house worth $300,000 if the owner, even if he has tens of thousands of dollars of heroin in it, owes nearly the whole $300,000. Why? Because the local police forces share in the profits from that seizure, and you can't give yourselves guaranteed overtime pay with a house that can't be sold for a profit.
    I told Marco that most people also don’t realize that half the police in the country--give or take, my number, not an official one--never bother to check an informant's story before getting a search warrant if their snitch says drug dealing is going on at a particular place. They just bust in and that’s led to lots of people being killed, thousands injured.
   Those are the sorts of things that are the underpinning of the drug war and they are some of what us drug war reporters were and are trying to get the public and other reporters to see and understand so that they can write about them and put them into the spotlight of awareness, which we know will kill them.
    An awful lot of people don’t know these and a hundred other things related to the drug war that are hidden in the dark. And if they know them, they refuse to believe them. Which is what the politicians depend on: blissful ignorance--until it hits someone you know, of course. It's like poor people saying they've been beaten and routinely abused by policing agencies around the country forever. Us white folk with an education have never seen that, so it sounds like poor whites, blacks, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans crying bull spit. And then comes the age of digital phone cameras and we are all routinely getting 5-10 instances of unbelievable police brutality on our Facebook pages weekly. We're watching people who have not been convicted of any crime, not been charged with a crime, get shot three or four or 20 times by rogue police. We're watching policemen kicking the heads of suspects who are on the ground on their stomachs in handcuffs. We're watching a system that is out of control and now we cannot deny what those poor whites, African-Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans--hell, all Latinos--have been saying for decades.
   It only stops when it's brought into the light.
   Bring it all, all the injustice, into the light. Let us look at it and see if it really is the reflection of ourselves that we want to see when we look into the mirror.

It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.

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