The Duplicity of the War on Drugs


"The first casualty when war comes is the truth." - Sen. Hiram Johnson - 1917

The intent of this essay is to demonstrate that the War on Drugs [under the Reagan/Bush administrations] was America's first great psy-war campaign perpetrated against its own people and that such abuse of power is likely to happen again. To demonstrate that psychological warfare techniques were employed requires understanding subtle sequences of disparate, but related, events. It involves asking questions as to the motivations, skill, expertise and knowledge of those involved.

At the height of the war on drugs, President George Bush held up a bag of cocaine in his first televised speech to the nation in September 1989. In December 1989, George Bush ordered the invasion of Panama to overthrow its narco-militarist dictator, Gen. Manuel Noriega. In the July 16, 1990 Newsweek, the scope of the war on drugs seemed ready to expand from Panama into future military actions against the powerful Colombian drug cartels. At face value, indeed the war on drugs seemed to be stemming the flow of cocaine into the United States. However, as a matter of fact, for the whole decade of the 1980's, casual and popular use of cocaine fell out of favor, and overall use steadily decreased. Yet as overall American consumption of cocaine in the mid '80's dwindled, the Reagan and Bush administrations were calling for an escalation in fighting drugs, declaring that America was awash in illegal drugs. The 1980's was a remarkable decade in international events: the Cold War was coming to an end, and the U.S. military-industrial complex was facing spending cuts, with myriad economic ramifications. The U.S. had gone through its longest period of peace since the end of World War I, and many Americans were calling for a Peace Dividend. While it may seem coincidental that the war on drugs was contemporaneous with the end of the Cold War and was punctuated by the Iran-Contra affair, a closer look at the war on drugs reveals disturbing patterns.

Critics of the Cold War have long pointed out that the Cold War was a convenient vehicle for the military-industrial complex to acquire an increasing share of the federal budget, regardless of the decline in threat posed by the Soviet Union. The war on drugs, it has been noted, arrives with all the familiar rubrics of constant threat and ceaseless terror. The difference being it is an internal war.

Other Western countries have drug addiction problems addressed by doctors and treatment clinics, but only the U.S. has a war on drugs. As ex-DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agent Michael Levine has commented, "with the fade of communism (the Pentagon and CIA) are building a pretext for maintaining their budgets." (Esquire, March 1991, pg. 136) Indeed, after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the rhetoric of the war on drugs changed, with the Bush administration declaring victory in the war against drugs late that year. Only mere coincidence, or had the Bush administration found it no longer needed the War on Drugs, having found the Butcher of Bagdhad?

During the Reagan years, as the Cold War started to wind down, the administration was pursuing the Contra covert war in Central America against Nicaragua and the leading Marxist Sandinista party. While this covert war was being waged by the CIA and the U.S.-supported Nicaraguan Contras, there were reports, as early as 1986, of the CIA and Contras being involved in drugs-for-guns barter arrangements. There is a wealth of evidence there was an even more unseemly side to the already patently corrupt Iran-Contra affair. Investigations paralleling the Iran-Contra hearings have delved further into the accumulated evidence of Contra involvement in drugs-for-guns deals and alleged monetary transfers to the Contras from the drug cartels. It has been documented by Senator John Kerry's Congressional Committee investigation that while the interdiction efforts were increased, illegal drugs, especially cocaine, were being smuggled into the U.S. by CIA-Contra airplanes and boats under the cover of gun-running operations.

The Colombian cartels, confronted by the escalation of the "War on Drugs," were able to continue trafficking despite increased U.S. interdiction efforts. The corresponding increases in interdiction efforts and the increased availability of cocaine has not escaped the mention of Princeton University Prof. Ethan Nadalmann: "Indeed, if (the interdiction and enforcement) efforts have accomplished anything in recent years, it has been to make marijuana more expensive and scarcer and to make cocaine cheaper, more potent, and more available." (Foreign Policy Magazine, Summer 1988)

The Nicaraguan Contra civilian leadership chose their base in Miami in the 1980's, where the cocaine cowboys were already established and renowned during the 1970's for the violence that is associated with the illegal cocaine trade. Southern Air Transport (S.A.T.), a ClA-affiliated freight airline operating out of Miami has been implicated in drug-running, evidence of which comes from many sources. Notably, in Congressional testimony Wanda Palacio, an FBI informant, has stated that she witnessed drugs being exchanged for guns on an S.A.T. plane in Barranquila, Colombia.

Corroborating this testimony is an Associated Press story of Jan. 21, 1987, which states the October 1986 S.A.T. plane crash in Nicaragua revealed flight logs indicating that the pilot, Wallace Sawyer Jr., had been flying from Barranquila, Colombia to Miami, Florida in early October 1985. Eugene Hasenfus, an Air America veteran and sole survivor of that crash, filed suit against White House National Security Council (NSC) aide Richard Secord and S.A.T. for expenses and damages, claiming S.A.T. and Secord were his employers. Secord in turn contends that Mr. Hasenfus' real employer was Ronald Reagan and the actual chain of command was Reagan-Poindexter-North-Secord.

Then there were the allegations coming from Costa Rica regarding White House involvement in the drug trade. The Central American country of Costa Rica lies on Nicaragua's Southern border, which made Costa Rica strategically important during the Contra insurgency in Nicaragua. In that time, the Northern region of Costa Rica bordering with Nicaragua was the site of extensive CIA and Contra activity. In the wake of the Iran-Contra affair, White House NSC staff members Lt. Col. Oliver North, John Poindexter, and Richard Secord were banned-for-life from entering Costa Rica in 1989, after the Costa Rican legislature implicated the NSC staff members in guns and drug smuggling. Former Contra leader Eden Pastora has said "I knew that much of what went through (CIA operative John Hull's northern Costa Rica ranch's) airstrips was related to narcotics trafficking" as part of a "Colombia-Costa Rica, Costa Rica-Miami connection." (Cockburn, p. 177) These White-House NSC members, along with John Hull, were indicted in a Costa Rican court as accessories to murder in the La Penca bombing and assassination attempt on Eden Pastora, which resulted in the death of an American journalist. North, Poindexter and Secord were never extradicted or arraigned in Costa Rica.

Evidence of White House premeditated involvement in drug trafficking is provided by examining the unusual covert action background of key Iran-Contra players, dating back to American involvement in Laos. Air America - the CIA's Thailand-based Vietnam-era airline - was notorious for its participation in heroin trafficking as a part of funding and supporting the CIA's secret war in Laos during the Vietnam war. This profound bit of history has been the focus of much commentary by historians, and has been confirmed by many sources. (Regarding the recent controversial August 1990 comic movie, "Air America", former Air America pilot Jack Smith spoke out on Entertainment Tonight, substantiating the movie's essential truths.)

Since controlling the Laotian opium fields determined who would control Laos, the CIA put all of its support behind their chosen drug lord, Vang Pao, and the amount of opiates that came out of Laos tripled. As it turns out, Richard Secord (CIA Special Operations Group Deputy Wing Commander in Laos), Lt. Col. Oliver North, Richard Armitage, and John Singlaub were all veterans of the secret war in Laos (Cockburn). The presence of several Laos secret-war veterans who emerged as key NSC players in Iran-Contra exceeds the realm of mere coincidence. In the October 1986 S.A.T. plane crash which yielded Eugene Hasenfus and the U.S. Government embarrassment, an old Air America operations manual was found. (Cockburn p. 221)

Public record documents that General Manuel Noriega was on the CIA payroll in the early to mid 1970's, as well as the 1980's. An important point mostly ignored in the mainstream press, however, is the Congressional testimony by George Bush's own NSC advisor, Donald Gregg, that George Bush (then Pres. Gerald Ford's CIA Director) met with Noriega and other Panamanian officials sometime in 1976. This meeting with Noriega took place well after Noriega had been implicated in the intelligence community as a drug trafficker in the DEA's June 1975 DeFeo report. Meeting with a foreign official, CIA Director George Bush would have been fully briefed on Noriega's dossier. Later, Jimmy Carter's CIA director, Adm. Stansfield Turner, ended payments to Noriega; however, Noriega's CIA pay checks resumed when Reagan/Bush took office in l980. (1990 PBS Frontline on Noriega)

It is interesting to note at this point that George Bush was the Drug Czar during his tenure as Vice President under Pres. Ronald Reagan. In NSC memos discovered in the-Iran-Contra investigation, it has been revealed that George Bush's NSC advisor Donald Gregg was aware early on of Contra involvement in the drug trade.

Could ex-CIA chief George Bush, at that point Vice President and Drug Czar, be unaware of such goings-on when his reporting subordinate was quite aware of Contra involvement in the drug trade?

And the pattern continues: During the first two years of the Bush presidency, William Bennett, Bush's first Drug Czar, was criticized by members of Congress for his apparent indifference to Federal judicial and legal loopholes which permitted U.S. companies to export unusual volumes of cocaine processing chemicals to Latin American countries harboring cocaine production laboratories. Mr. Bennett had been an outspoken proponent of escalating the war on drugs, and yet on this important front of anti-drug policy, Mr. Bennett was apparently negligent. (Rolling Stone, "Between the Lines", October - November 1990)

It's doubtful that the concurrence of the Contra war in Nicaragua with the emergence of crack cocaine were mere coincidences. It has been long aknowledged that heroin's prominence and availability during the Vietnam war was contributed by the trafficking of opiates in Laos and Southeast Asia. Sadly, covert wars and drug trafficking go hand in hand.

Ex-CIA field officer John Stockwell has commented, "We cannot forget the Senate Kerry Committee findings of cocaine smuggling on ClA/Contra aircraft, the DEA reports on the number of prosecutions in which the CIA has intervened to block prosecution of drug smugglers, the note that escaped Lt. Col. Oliver North's shredder that $14 million of drug money had gone to the Contras, or the CIA's 20-odd-year relationship with Manuel Noriega." (Austin American Statesman, op-ed editorial) Nor has this escaped the comment of ex-DEA agent Michael Levine: "God knows how many secret elements are out there working under the guise of the drug war. Oliver North was the latest example. His operation was hip-deep in Contra drug smuggling. He was banned from Costa Rica for his involvement with drug runners. The DEA documented fifty tons of Contra coke that was being routed into the U.S. by a Honduran connection. An agent bought two kilos in Lubbock, Texas, and made the arrest. The CIA comes quickly to the rescue. A closed hearing is held. Case dismissed." (Esquire, March 1991, p 136)

Leslie Cockburn has documented that since drug trafficking was facilitated via an unhindered CIA-Contra network unencumbered by increased U.S. border interdiction efforts, the effect was "... involvement of the CIA and the related White House covert operations network in drenching America in cocaine and other narcotics ..." (Cockburn, p.187) And since overall cocaine use declined in the '80's, it was the cheaper and more-addictive Crack cocaine that came into prominence. As the shipments of South American marijuana declined as a result of increased interdiction efforts, cheap cocaine came to the fore to replace marijuana as the drug of choice for drug users and drug smugglers alike.

Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz, Reagan's former U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, conservative economist Milton Friedman, and columnist and editor of the National Review, William F. Buckley, Jr., all sharply departed from the administration's anti-drug cant by arguing the brief for decriminalization of drugs. At the height of the war on drugs rhetoric, these orthodox conservatives apparently intentionally diverted the course of the drug war rhetoric by proposing the opposite extreme of what the Bush administration was promoting. What could prompt a handful of GOP party loyalists to not only depart from lip-syncing the party line, but also to voice an opinion 180 degrees opposite of the Bush administration's declared policies? Was there something about the war on drugs that bothered them, that would lead them to propose something radically different?

Surely the knowledge of the Contra drug smuggling of the late 1980's and the emergence of crack cocaine in 1985 would have led the Reagan-Bush administration to anticipate the wave of cheaper drugs and drug-related violence similar to what occurred in Miami in the l970s, the difference being that crack cocaine is appropriate for down-scale markets (i.e. poorer neighborhoods). While the mass media increasingly emphasized minority drug use and drug-related crimes in the mid- to late-1980's, the CIA and Contras freely smuggled cheap and potent crack cocaine for down-scale markets while border interdiction efforts escalated, increasingly limiting drug cartel trafficking to less bulky and more easily smuggled cocaine.

This suggests that the Reagan administration, with prescience and malice aforethought, conspired in feeding Americans both the cocaine and the cocaine hysteria, and that psy-war intrigues have now become tools to manipulate American politics (remember the use of disinformation in the Reagan years).

Looking at the accumulated evidence that the Contras and the CIA engaged in cocaine smuggling to fund the covert war in Nicaragua, suspicion arises concerning the apparent coincidence that CIA-Contra drug smuggling was contemporaneous with the "war on drugs". From a CIA covert action in Latin America the cocaine has made its way NORTH (ala Oliver North) to the American consumer, who is consistently portrayed as African-American by the mass media, even though the majority of cocaine consumption is by whites. The disturbing prospect arises that this "war on drugs" was nothing more than CIA-style psychological warfare which sought to acquire as much as possible of the sum total of our civil liberties while particularly targeting minorities.

Even though overall cocaine use steadily decreased throughout the past decade, our government and press declared a drug epidemic requiring a crackdown, while the Reagan administration's covert war pumped crack cocaine into the inner cities, thus further destabilizing ommunities already afflicted by poverty and violence. If one assumes that the Reagan-Bush administration understood the consequences of CIA and Contras smuggling cheap and potent cocaine into America unhindered, then one should look at the effects this activity had directly upon the poverty-stricken communities afflicted by the drug trade. The drug trade directly exacerbated the effects of inner-city crime and made the cities increasingly unstable and unsafe.

If the ghetto drug dealers are the young capitalists who could, under better circumstances, become community leaders, the influx of cheap cocaine and the increasing poverty makes these possible ghetto leaders emerge faster as outlaws, the result being that they are eliminated. What better way to undermine your enemies? What better way to fund covert actions? And what better way to grandstand about crime, morality, and values?

THE WAR ON DRUGS, THE MEDIA, AND RACE

But as the White House covert war went about poisoning Americans with drugs, the burden of addiction belonged to a relatively small number of Americans, and the media reported the melodrama of a war waged by politicians and policemen - not by scientists and doctors. All too frequently the rhetoric of the war against drugs played to the prejudices and fears of a society beset by racial frictions.

One need not look far to see the pattern of miscasting the focus of the war on drugs on African-Americans. Almost every time one opens up one of the major weekly magazines, or watches network news, the story of the war on drugs is supplemented with pictures of African-Americans being arrested by the police. At times, the script of the war on drugs is insidious, as in a Dec. 3, 1990 TIME Magazine article on the war on drugs: "Recognizing that the war on drugs has singled out the poor, Bennett has urged state and federal authorities to come down harder on middle-class users. He considers 'casual' drug users 'carriers' who are even more infectious than addicts because they suggest to young people 'that you can do drugs and be O.K.'" (pg. 48)

In this article, the assumption is made that middle-class users are "casual" users and the poor are the "addicts." While Bennett admits to bias against the inner-city poor, immediately adjacent to this paragraph is a photograph of a downcast black woman in handcuffs with the caption "... the myth is that drug use is primarily a ghetto habit." Every photograph in the article is of African-Americans - dead, imprisoned, or injecting drugs. Nowhere in the article are to be found photographs of white drug users. On pages 46 and 47 of the TIME article, the charts show that as crack-cocaine prices decreased during the 1980's arrests increased - again making the association with more affordable drugs and crime.

However, no charts are to be seen indicating the decrease in overall drug use throughout the decade. But again, on page 46, TIME makes the association between "hard-core addiction," poverty, and race: "While the U.S. has made significant progress in curbing casual drug use, it has made far less headway on the problems that most trouble the public, hard-core addiction and drug-related violence. Last year the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that the number of current users of illegal drugs had fallen to 14.5 million from 23 million in 1985. But while there was a dramatic decrease in the number of occasional users, the number of people who used drugs weekly or daily (292,000 in 1988 vs. 246,000 in 1985) had escalated as addiction to crack soared in some mainly poor and minority areas.

Now in examining these statistics, the article does mention that in the period 1985 - 1990 there were 8,500,000 fewer users of illegal drugs, but between 1985 and 1988, there were 46,000 more daily and weekly users of drugs, which TIME, again, attributes to crack. The TIME article attributes the upward trend, which differs from the downward trend by 2 orders of magnitude. to "crack ... in some mainly poor and minority areas."

The bias of the TIME article is clear: Even though the increase in frequent users is a mere 0.5% of the overall decline in drug use, TIME blurs the distinctions between kinds of illegal drugs and the difference between drug use and drug abuse. Without even backing up these claims with any statistics, TIME exaggerates the increase in frequent drug use and portrays minorities and ever-cheaper crack cocaine as the source of the presumed drug scourge. The TIME article admits that whites account for 69% of cocaine users. but buries that important little factoid in the middle of the article and doesn't even delve into cocaine use by whites. Might drug consumption be the same for both whites and blacks of the same socio-economic groups? One study indicated that drug use is higher among white high school students, for the very simple reason that the white teenagers have more money to spend on drugs than black teenagers. It is disturbing that the media consistently break down drug use and abuse statistics into racial groups rather than economic groups. Black community leaders have decried the apparent media bias in over-reporting "drug-related" crimes in black communities and under-reporting the illicit drug trade in white communities. They note that when the economics of the illegal drug trade is analyzed it is readily apparent that black communities could not possibly be the locus of America's drug trade, for the very simple reason that these communities do not have the kind of disposable income required to support America's illicit drug habit.

According to a 1989 National Bureau of Economic Research survey, two-thirds of all inner city male youth, both black and white, believe that they can make more money from crime than from legitimate work - double the percentage of a survey conducted 10 years earlier. But since young minority males have been disproportionately targeted by the war on drugs, they are the ones serving increasingly long prison sentences for drug offenses.

Minority leaders understand all too well that casting their communities as major centers of the drug trade perpetuates the notion that minority neighborhoods are plagued by poor welfare-dependant rabble who waste public assistance on instant gratification rather than attempting to better themselves. In media over-emphasis upon inner-city drug problems, people in minority neighborhoods are disproportionately portrayed as threats and dangers to society. Taxpayer anger and resentment, already expressed in disastrous cuts in social and education programs, is further inflamed and aggravated by media images of minorities engaged in violence and self-destructive behaviors.

DISMANTLING THE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT RACE

Even though the association between crime and poverty have been long established, the media report crime rates and social problems as though the white majority and racial minorities are on an equal socio-economic playing field. Reporting these statistics according to race, the media represents by default that crime and other social problems are correlated with race. But if the media were really interested in a fair and unbiased presentation of crime in America the media would ask whether a significant difference exists between the crime rates and public assistance incidences of both impoverished minorities and poverty-stricken whites. It may be more revealing to compare economic groups rather than racial groups, since the comparison would reveal a stronger relationship between social problems and economic strata as opposed to social problems and race. One would think it incumbent upon the media to inquire as to whether whites living in poverty behave any differently than their minority counterparts who find themselves in equal economic straits.

The media persist in reporting the relatively higher public assistance and incarceration rates of the minority populace beleaguered by poverty as though economics has nothing to do with social problems, leaving the audience to assume that the overriding contributing factor to crime and dependence upon public assistance is race. When one takes into account the acknowledged fact that a vastly greater proportion of minorities than whites live in poverty, a lower crime rate will be attributed to the total white populace since poor, middle class and wealthy whites are lumped into the wealthier white majority. The adverse effects of poverty (i.e. crime, drug abuse, etc.) will be more pronounced for minorities as a whole, when statistics are broken down strictly by race, failing to factor in economic status. So by token of their relative wealth, whites are portrayed by the media as somehow more virtuous than minorities even though the media never addresses the obvious question as to whether economically disadvantaged whites are as likely as to be welfare mothers, pregnant teens, drug dealers or absentee fathers. While there is no doubt that serious problems afflict minority communities, and these problems are not to be downplayed for the sake of opposing government policy, the question remains whether it is accurate or fair to emphasize race when so many other conspicuous variables are involved.

In the sensationalism of the war on drugs, if one cannot "just say no" then one is lacking in moral capacity, and, since the venal media declares that all inner-city crimes have become drug-related crimes, premature death is then the inevitable result of the idleness and hedonism of the darker races. The perception that welfare dependence fosters idleness, drug use, and violence in turn leads to the conclusion that welfare recipients are taking advantage of other citizens and offering nothing in return, which of course absolves the middle-class of obligations in the form of taxes and concern for fellow citizens. Those who wish they didn't feel pangs of conscience about the socioeconomic distances between the inner city and the suburbs can be comforted by media double-think about race - believing that the segments of society most plagued by violent crime, poor health, shortened life span, and poor education are the most deserving of such circumstances. Indeed, poor whites exhibit greater high school drop-out rates than do poor blacks.

In letting misconceptions about race justify repudiation of responsibility for the barriers and poverty experienced by minorities, responsibility is ultimately relegated to minority children who had no say about the world into which they were born. How often have we heard the sentiment expressed that "they have more children than they can afford?" In the rhetorical manipulation of resentment against "welfare mothers," their children are bestowed a heritage as society's "excess baggage," despite the fact that single women (and men) are denied access to federal welfare, and the reason federal welfare is grudgingly disbursed is to give succor to the children in poverty who are blameless for the circumstances into which they were born. But despite glaring inaccuracies in their rhetoric conservative politicians (most notably Ronald Reagan) exploited an existing substrate of prejudice by using anecdotal rhetorical ploys like "welfare mothers," a hot-button image that became a metaphor for the oft-depicted absentee fathers, pregnant teens, high drop-out rates, crime, vagrant hedonism, etc. - phenomena that in the minds of the middle class become indistinguishable from race.

The media is complicit in promulgating this image, neglecting to mention that the majority of welfare recipients are white, failing to examine the incidence of the same social problems amongst white counterparts of poor minorities, and conveniently forgetting the effects of America's historic racial legacy that impacts minority communities to this day. The media reinforce the assumption middle class "news consumers" harbor that the disproportionate burden of poverty upon minorities is an artifact of some imagined lack of industry on the part of an ethnic minority.

Federal assistance in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, by the way, is capriciously withdrawn if the woman tries to budget costs by cohabiting with a man who may or may not be the children's father, or who may or may not even be the woman's lover. In a country with a 50% divorce rate, when presented the choice between her children's well being and a potential male partner whose presence entails forfeiture of AFDC (provided he cannot stay one step ahead of welfare investigators) the woman is compelled to choose against marriage and for the children if his income is less than the monthly AFDC check.

Barely maintaining some modicum of objectivity, the mass media have obsequiously followed the government's script of the war on drugs. Having saturated the public with images of African-Americans indulging in drug use or being arrested by the police, the media still neglect to even mention that the majority of illegal drug consumers are white or that the majority of the illicit drug trade occurs in white communities. If media intent is to be judged by its actions, I am inclined to think the media expect the "news consumer" to infer that the overriding factors contributing to violence in the inner city are drugs and race, that the worsening appearance of the inner city is a result of an indigenous idleness and amoral hedonism rewarded and reinforced by what is in fact paltry federal assistance to poor families.

But even though the children in impoverished minority neighborhoods are future citizens and are blameless for their parent's econoinic situation, it is anticipated they will ultimately repeat the cycle of welfare dependency, which in effect justifies denying them, their parents, and their communities desperately needed funds. This self-fulfilling prophecy relegates America's children to a category where nothing is owed to them in the form of education, health care or respect, since conventional wisdom expects them to be another generation of social parasites.

MINORITIES AND VOTING

Martin Luther King III, the son of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., has said the reason Dr. King was assassinated was that Dr. King was asking for redistribution of wealth and power (remember that a 1979 Congressional Committee determined that there were indeed conspiracies to kill Martin Luther King and JFK). It has been argued that the real enemies of U.S.-based multinational monied interests are minorities who have been denied equal educational access in the past, who are in dire need of infusions of public money into their school systems, and who, once educated, would start voting in increasing numbers in favor of greater social programs and a redistribution of power in America.

How valuable is education in drawing a person into political or civic life? Politicians are well aware of the correlation between the likelihood of voting and economic and educational background. Politicians know even though more than half of the total electorate, voting and nonvoting, makes less than $30,000 per year family income, more than half of the votes actually cast are by voters with family incomes greater than $30,000 per year, skewing election results according to higher income and education. If American education were to improve across the board, one might assume that whether or not incomes showed a corresponding improvement, voting rates would increase most in those sectors currently receiving inferior education.

The media provide the easy explanation for inner city violence as the result of drugs, which reinforces the Calvinist notion that minority neighborhoods are plagued by welfare dependent rabble who presumably lack the motivation to better themselves and waste public assistance on instant gratification. This also fuels tax payer anger and resentment, justifying repudiation of responsibility for the general plight of minorities. In this double-think, minorities become undeserving of desperately needed tax dollars, education, health care, etc., and deserving of more prisons, longer prison sentences, and shorter life span. Under the doctrine that the poor should be motivated by the unremitting spur of their poverty while the wealthy should be motivated by the opportunity to acquire yet more wealth, those who are most educated, wealthy, and politically involved owe nothing to the segments of society who have sacrificed the most for America's perceived wealth. After all, if we were to better educate minorities resulting in their voting in increasing numbers, consider the political ramifications if they did not also realize commensurate increases in income or opportunities (I'm certain conservative policy analysts are well aware of the implications inherent in a more democratic society).

American demographers predict current ethnic minorities will constitute the majority some time next century, so it's not hard to imagine why the right wing has sought to undermine, distance, and alienate them from the electoral process. Were education reform finally delivered to all Americans under the principle that society should deliver the education necessary for democratic rule, then candidates of both political parties would have to vie for those precious voter market shares by focusing on real issues, which is contrary to the nature of the media contests necessarily funded by monied interests who want to retain the status quo.

THE WAR ON DRUGS AND POLITICIANS

While the media can be accused of complicity in the exaggerations and myths of the war on drugs by failing to report actual drug-use trends, many politicians are guilty of outright malfeasance in cynically manipulating war on drugs rhetoric. Boston University President John Silber in response to questions on why he didn't announce his crime-control plans in a mostly black Boston neighborhood said "Well, I will tell you something about that area. There is no point in my making a speech on crime control to a bunch of addicts." His comment was in reference to the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Roxbury, Mass. He later recanted his remark after a widespread outcry ensued.

President Bush in his September 1989 televised speech to the nation, attempted to escalate the rhetoric of the war on drugs by holding up a bag of cocaine purchased from a Washington, D.C. resident in Lafayette Park - just across the street from the White House. It was a stage prop to signify how the scourge of drugs had pervaded society, and that the plague of drug dealers had finally washed up upon the innocent shore of the White House lawn. This was exposed for the fraud it was when it leaked out that DEA agents had to lure the drug dealer to Lafayette Park in order to have the arrest occur across the street from the White House. When George Bush was caught by reporters in his little cocaine-bag trick, his response was, "I don't understand - I mean, has somebody got some advocates here for this drug guy?" Bush's little cocaine-bag trick was analogous to the larger intrigue apparently perpetrated by the CIA and the media: the most easily scapegoated elements of society were fair game in an attempt to justify prolonging the military-industrial complex and expanding the scope of America's internal security apparatus. This media image confirms the worst that can be imagined by the middle class about the neighborhoods populated by racial groups whose plight would otherwise demand more state charity - as opposed to an escalation of the war on drugs which will further enrich the coffers of the military and police agencies.

He thought he was playing to a willing audience, very much in the same manner Ronald Reagan demonstrated gutter-level ethics by using cryptoracist rhetorical ploys like "welfare mothers." In the supply-side logic of Reaganomics, the poor should be motivated by the unremitting spur of their poverty and the wealthy should be motivated by the opportunity to acquire yet more wealth. The media have conveyed, for mass consumption, the Calvinist fallacy that drug-use and poverty are the products of laziness and immorality and the appointments and comforts of the consumer life-style are symbols of American virtue.

THE WAR ON DRUGS AND LAW AND ORDER

Naturally, the cities of America, which witnessed prohibition-related violence in the 1920's and 30's, bear the costs of similar violence today, as poverty continues to take its toll on a growing underclass. The conditions of chronic poverty (remember, 20 million people in America suffer from hunger) only aggravates the human desires for escapist self-intoxication, and intensifies criminal greed modeled after and justified by Donald Trump, Samuel Pierce, Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, Oliver North, or corrupt military contractors. The rule of law breaks down slowly in a spiral that starts from the top.

In states like Florida, tougher anti-drug legislation has resulted in astonishing numbers of first-time drug offenders serving increasingly longer mandatory sentences, thereby pressing the early release of inmates convicted of violent crimes. The statistics are breathtaking in that they demonstrate how obviously misguided the current drug strategy has become.

George Bush's current Drug Czar, Bob Martinez, during his 1986 - 1990 tenure as Florida's governor managed to push through tough legislation that entailed mandatory one-year to three-year prison terms for persons convicted of selling drugs near college campuses, public parks, or using, buying, or selling drugs near or in housing projects.

But while the number of inmates convicted of drug offenses for the period 1985 - 1990 jumped 580% for simple possession and 700% for low-level drug activity (i.e. purchase/sale), the number of high-level drug traffickers (i.e. drug kingpins) remained constant in the 5-year period at 1,000 inmates. According to two FSU researchers, the majority of current arrestees have no prior criminal record. Despite Martinez's accomplishment of building more prisons in his 4-year tenure than were built in the previous two decades, Florida prison populations surged with first-time drug offenders serving mandatory sentences. The resulting overcrowding was eased via a variety of sentence- reductions and early-release programs, resulting in the duration of murder sentences dropping by 40%, robbery sentences dropping by 42 percent, and overall prison sentences dropping by 38%. Florida, with all of its new laws and new prisons, now has its convicts serving the lowest percentage of their prison sentences in the country - 32.5%. (Mother Jones, July/August 1991) It seems that not only is the war on drugs biased and duplicitous, but is also stupid and lost.

But in examining the relative performance of our system, the U.S. currently has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, exceeding South Africa's and the Soviet Union's. Indeed there are more American black males in prison than there are in college. In 1990, a Minnesota drug-enforcement law was found racially biased and unconstitutional by the Minnesota Supreme Court, because it imposed harsher penalties upon illicit users of crack cocaine (predominantly African-Americans) than consumers of more-expensive powdered cocaine (mostly caucasians). And note that crack cocaine is essentially the same as freebasing powdered cocaine - a practice popular among caucasian cocaine users. A similar existing Federal law imposes harsher sentences on crack-cocaine convictions than powdered-cocaine convictions.

Looking back at the past decade, we find that the number of Americans in prison doubled from 500,000 to 1 million. that the majority of convicts are imprisoned for drug offenses (not violent crimes), and while 80% of drug users are white, and as of 1990, the majority of prisoners are black. More disturbing yet, 1 in 4 black males in their twenties are incarcerated or on parole or probation, but 1 of 5 black males between the ages of 16 - 34 are in prison, or on parole or probation, which indicates that the broader age range finds young black males staying out of the criminal justice system, and that black males who came of age in the Reagan era were those most targeted by the war on drugs. Between 1985 and 1988, prosecutions of white juvenile drug offenders dropped 15 percent while jumping 88% for their minority counterparts. When assembled, these statistics have prompted many to call the government's war on drugs a "race war," never mind the long-acknowledged lopsided trend of minorities receiving harsher prison sentences than white counterparts convicted of equal crimes.

With astonishing numbers of young minority males convicted of drug offenses paroled from crowded jails, the effect is not to jail them, but to bar them from voting and to further incumber them in finding employment or advancing themselves economically as a result of the stigma of their criminal records. But while drug treatment programs are eminently more humane and more economical (1/4th the cost of prisons), and realize vastly lower recitivism rates (1/4th the recidivism of prisons), the emphasis is not upon bettering the lives of citizens who run afoul of our drug laws, but to create a criminal justice debacle that will take years to rectify.

But the racial aspects of the war on drugs are accompanied by an equally insidious specter: the steady erosion of our civil liberties. Under federal drug laws, agents can - without a formal court indictment - confiscate your home, car, and the funds with which you would retain an attorney so to defend yourself! And the government is not obliged to return that property if you are acquitted. Your lawyer may be subpoenaed to testify against you, so lawyer-client privilege is no longer inviolate.

The Reagan and Bush era Supreme Court has upheld police powers to detain and interrogate travelers who bear a resemblance to "drug couriers," to engage in surveillance, including secretly taping conversations and sifting through garbage. An anonymous tip is now sufficient grounds for a search warrant, meaning the police no longer have to verify that their source is reliable. New anti-crime legislation entails granting the police the power to submit as admissible evidence any property gained as a result of entering your home without a warrant. The new legislation also includes extending mandatory death sentences to include drug convictions which do not involve a homicide, and to limit federal death sentence appeals thereby speeding executions. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that a mandatory life sentence for a first-time drug offender acting as a drug courier is not cruel and unusual punishment. But apart from the violence of the drug trade, the number of deaths attributed directly to illegal drugs in 1985 was 3,562, whereas 520,000 people die each year strictly from the health effects of our legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol.

Even when the violence of the drug trade is taken into account, the figure surges up towards 15,000 deaths per year, which still pales in comparison to the violence and premature deaths attributed to alcohol. But even though no drug is as renowned for its association with violence and premature death as alcohol, surely Americans want to retain their freedoms to use and abuse alcohol. Indeed, given the well- known physically addictive nature of both cigarettes and alcohol, it is interesting to note that marijuana is not addictive. Strictly by virtue of marijuana's illegal status, it serves as a vertical marketing tool for other illicit - and addictive - drugs. One need to look no further for a finer example of the hypocrisy of our government's policies regarding substance abuse and addiction, than the unseemly spectre of our government's subsidies of the tobacco-growing industry. The cigarette manufacturers however, expect healthy profits, since the remaining market of addicted cigarette smokers will easily bear cigarettes manufacturers' price hikes.

Indeed, in the face of a declining market of cigarette smokers in the U.S., our cigarette manufacturers are seeking new markets. So, in the course of recent trade negotiations with Thailand the U.S. government, apparently looking after the interests of U.S. tobacco growers, recently threatened to impose stiff trade penalties if the Thai government didn't ease its prohibition of tobacco use in that southeast Asian country.

THE WAR ON DRUGS AND FREEDOM

The current wave of drug testing via urine specimens by corporations will not detect occasional cocaine use but will detect occasional marijuana use - marijuana being the drug-of-choice for what the right wing considers political heretics. These are of course, the same liberal heretics, according to arch-conservatives like Jesse Helms, who want to give jobs away to blacks, who were unpatriotic spoiled brats who protested against the Vietnam War and used drugs, who allowed an epidemic of abortions, and who are responsible for the general decline of morality and patriotism in the country. And the drug testing ostensibly required to qualify for employment may be a cover for corporations and insurance companies to winnow out employees who are pregnant, have diabetes, etc., while providing no guarantee that the results of the tests will be applied equitably or fairly.

And despite the obvious drug scandal lurking behind Iran-Contra, no one in their right mind dare openly oppose the war on drugs for risk of being suspect as a heretic, liberal, or worse, a DRUG USER. In this political atmosphere reasoned debate about drugs is stifled and open dissent casts suspicion on anyone opposed to a governmental drive to acquire enhanced powers of repression and control. Too embarrassed to even utter a squeak of opposition to an obviously cynical abuse of our rights, the population is cowed into accepting the goverment's fear campaign and grows to regard the complaints of civil rights advocates as somehow either naive, liberal, fringe, militant, or radical.

The scope of this impingement upon civil rights has extended to the criminalization of millennia-old American Indian ritual use of hallucinogenic peyote cactus buds in religious practice. The ritual use of hallucinogenic plants in the Native American Clourch was legal until recently, but now that religious freedom has been abrogated by the war on drugs.

FREEDOM AND SECURITY

The devastating violence of the Prohibition era finally prompted nullifying the Prohibition amendment; the rum-running gangster violence was far more devastating than the social costs associated with legal alcohol. The question is, what is it that is so different about other addictive drugs? If one were to compare the escalation of inner city violence associated with the illicit trade of highly addictive drugs, and the alternative of legalizing the drugs so that payment schedules would no longer be enforced with hand guns, it seems the choice would be for legalizing the drugs. While there would be some increase in drug use and addiction as a result of legalization, the destructive violence associated with the drug trade would be eliminated. In communities afflicted with drug abuse and paralyzed by poverty and violence, eliminating the violence is paramount. If the alternative of legalization entails a marginal increase in drug addiction and a decrease in drug-related violence, then it seems the truly rational alternative is to accept a few more addicts in return for fewer deaths.

But in lieu of a rational discussion about the pro's and con's of legalization, we have been treated to a barrage of rhetoric and demagoguery. Rather than try to clarify the issue, rather than attempt to answer to the desperation of communities besieged by poverty and violence, our policitians lambast anyone who calls into question the failed policies that have lead to this awful situation. Repeatedly, I have observed politicians cloud the issue with rhetoric and polemics, refusing to discuss the benefits and trade-offs of legalization, annointing themselves sole purveyors of canonical truth. In the interest of the status quo (i.e., minimal taxes for the rich and upper middle class in fortress suburbia), our politicians have scape-goated minorities so to justify denial of their plight or the need to spend the money required to extract them from the mire of inadequate education and health care. In the portrayal of the poor as deserving of their plight and undeserving of the assistance of society, the polity has been infected with the deadly pale cast of theocracy, thereby leaving us the lurid spectre of an increasingly violent society.

It seems that the greatest threats to freedom in America are the habits of liberty, citizen responsibility and tolerance falling into disuse. If one turns on the T.V., the media promote the perception that T.V.'s. stereos, CD players. VCR's, fast food, microwave entrees, cars and expressways expand the scope of freedom that one may enjoy, while the same media has portrayed as threats to these freedoms tax-hungry liberals and welfare-dependent neighborhoods riddled with drug dealers. As the average American adult watches 30 hours per week of T.V., he is increasingly isolated from civic life and perceives his world via a one-way conversation with the sensationalist mass-media. In that one's Constitutional freedoms and social-contract obligations are replaced by consumer pseudo-freedoms, one's status as a consumer supplants one's status as a citizen. Political expression of anything other than what has been espoused by "experts" falls in the realm of the imprudent, and aspirations or opinions that counter the "conventional wisdom" are oddball, selfish, misguided, or misinformed. If not regarded as "normal," "bipartisan," "acceptable," "efficient," "strong," or "tough," other ideas become regarded as anomalous. The labels "liberal," "weak," "anti-family," etc., pre-empt any doubts or criticism of what the ivory tower technocrats and policy analyst priesthood has determined to be the final shining ultimate truth. And if confronted with evidence that casts doubt upon the wisdom or efficacy of current policy, the status quo is defended by either clouding the issue with some tangential matter or avoiding an honest response or concession with a reliable thought terminating cliche. Our politicians conduct opinion polls, much in the manner that marketing research is done for our clothes and our cars, to parade that ephemeral mandate of the people missing when 50% of the electorate didn't bother to vote (a viable well-funded organized third party could easily take advantage of such a large proportion of non-voters if they were convinced that voting would be in their best interest). In election time, emotional rhetorical "hot buttons" (i.e. drugs, flag desecration, Willie Horton. ACLU membership, reverse discrimination) are determined via marketing research to determine which voting blocks can be motivated to vote and which voting blocks can be alienated and dis-motivated into not voting.

With costly media contests necessarily funded on both sides by monied interests, the republic comes to resemble an oligarchy, with each party becoming increasingly interchangable, offering safe opinions in return for the largesse of well-to-do political donors.

The Democrats, nominal party of opposition in the past decade and presumably friends of civil liberties, have become timid and as a result Congress has abdicated more and more of its power to the executive branch, a capitulation with profound ramifications. The myriad voices that are necessary to democratic rule are homogenized into the incomprehensible circuitous babble of politicians who listen not to the electorate, but rather select the voters meeting the criteria of the political marketing surveys.

But if the mass media were to offer its "consumers" an honest examination of what the war on drugs has so far entailed, how long would popular support last for an unjustifiable war on our civil rights? Under the pretense of fighting drugs and violence, the government has acquired enhanced police powers. A September 1989 Washington Post opinion poll showed more than half the respondents were willing to "give up some freedoms" in order to fight the war on drugs - including informing on family members, universal mandatory drug testing, military involvement, etc. The cynicism of the war on drugs might have passed as a lesson in how absurd the rancor and rhetoric of democracy can get at times, but foremost it stands as an ominous milestone. When one accounts for the steady erosion of our civil rights, the Iran-Contra affair, the CIA-Contra intrigues, the widespread media complicity in promoting war on drugs rhetoric while ignoring the CIA-Contra involvement in the drug trade, the war on drugs has been immediately damaging to the habits of liberty and has sought to make the most basic tenets of our Constitution null and void.

As the U.S. Government has been deprived of the USSR as an enemy, our leaders must conjure up new threats so that we may require their leadership. The war on drugs ostensibly attacked drug use and abuse, but in the end it sought to acquire as much as possible the sum total of our civil rights. In selecting the most easily scapegoated elements of society and the poorly understood illness of drug addiction, the government rallies one group of people against another by offering protection from a government- proclaimed epidemic that would supposedly spread, if left unchecked, to the innocent realms beyond the inner cities.

In offering protection from a social problem better addressed by doctors and education, the same government which promised to get big government off our backs has succeeded in expanding its available powers of repression and control and has scapegoated and marginalized a racial minority. If one were to watch the evening news in recent years, one might have drawn the conclusion that the greatest threat to our internal security was an epidemic of drug abuse and related violence, and the villains responsible for this awful plague were Narco-militarists in Central and South America, and the darker races in America's inner-cities. This widely broadcast notion set the precedent for further incursions upon privacy and civil rights in the future. But just as the Reagan administration was found to have violated its own declared policy of combating terrorism and terrorist attacks by dealing arms to declared terrorists, a deeper look into the war on drugs reveals a government partnership with drug traffickers while presumably fighting drugs.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Linguistics Professor Noam Chomsky has noted: "If the media proceed to expose the probable U.S. government complicity in the international drug racket, that will (cause the administration serious problems) given the effort to exploit the drug problem as an additional device to mobilize the public and bring it to accept the strengthening of state power and the attack on civil liberties that is yet another platform of the conservative agenda." (Culture of Terrorism, p. 186) President Dwight Eisenhower warned in his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." But monied interests who buy the mass media have convinced many voters that taxes are being wasted on social programs presumably rewarding poverty and encouraging minority idleness leading to drug dependency and violence. It's the same monied interests benefiting from increased spending on the corrupt military-industrial complex at the expense of social programs, childhood nutrition, and education.

In light of the Iran-Contra intrigues and the psychological warfare schemes of the war on drugs, it can be argued that Eisenhower's greatest fear has come true. We must heed the 1961 omen and take care that we do not submit to a demagogue offering security in exchange for freedom, for we will find ourselves in a situation where we are neither secure nor free. Democracy only works if all the groups collectively welcome each other and accept each other's interests in addition to their own. Otherwise, the polity evolves into something other than democratic, and the buffer against turmoil that the habit of compromise provides is diminished.

The only viable long-term alternative for the U.S. is to treat all of its people as though they are indeed citizens. The dangers of a selfish oligarchy using smoke and mirrors tactics is that the resulting mass alienation of the public from the democratic process leaves the republic vulnerable to the increasing incidence of demagoguery. It must be widely recognized that all Americans' destinies are intertwined and all are inexorably linked and responsible for one another. The alternative is reaping a crop of tragedy from the iniquities that have been sown, and that prospect could come sooner than we think.

NOTES

John Stockwell: Lecturer on CIA operations; former CIA field case officer

Harpers Magazine: Editor Lewis Lapham's November 1989 rant about the dangers and hypocrisies of the war on drugs

Associated Press, Jan. 21,1987

Associated Press, Oct. 3, 1988

Esquire Magazine, Michael Levine, March 1991

Spin Magazine, Michael Levine, May I June 1991

Foreign Policy Magazine, Prof Ethan Nadalman, Spring and Summer 1988

Newsday, June 28, 1987

The Pittsburgh Press, May 12, 1988

Rolling Stone, November issue, 1988

Rolling Stone, Between the Lines. October -November 1990

TIME Magazine, Dec 3, 1990

Village Voice, Oct. 11, 1988

Z Magazine, December 1990

Mother Jones Magazine, July / August 1991, "Just

Utopiaunarmed.com/the modern left in Latin America &Cuba

VERCERIMOS

For further information, to be added to their mailing list for further articles or to contact the writers of this important work, please write to UTOPIAUNARMED@excite.com

Return To Front Page


Go To Next Column

Return to Index of Columns

Go To Archives of Columns

Write me at:jcannon@anotherperspective.org

Comments?

Copyright 3/30/2000