BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Drug War Ping Pong

July 12, 2010 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Lately, I’ve seen several articles holding up Colombia as some kind of model for how to deal with drug war violence.   The latest one is this piece in Foreign Affairs in which Robert Bonner claims that Mexico should follow Colombia’s example.

Really people?  Colombia?

Colombia is ranked number 138 on the Global Peace Index.  That makes it the most violent country in Latin America, one notch above North Korea.  Colombia is the only Latin American country where the gap between rich and poor is increasing.  Union members in Colombia are routinely murdered with impunity.  According to Human Rights Watch:

Colombia presents the most serious human rights and humanitarian situation in the region. Battered by an internal armed conflict involving government forces, guerrilla groups, and paramilitaries, the country has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons in the world.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Colombia should not be held up as anyone’s example.  But more importantly, I would like to point out that the problems in Mexico are, in part, the result of the drug war ramp up in Colombia.  And the massive drug trade in Colombia was, in part, the result of Mexico’s drug war ramp up in the seventies.

In 1971, Tricky Dick declared his war on drugs.  Shortly after, the U.S. put tons of pressure on Mexico to do something about the Mexican weed that was coming into the United States.  Mexico obliged and started the first eradication program.  They dumped paraquat on the marijuana crops.  Reports surfaced that paraquat tainted marijuana was being sold in the U.S.  Of course, nobody stopped smoking marijuana.  They just started growing it in the U.S. or buying it from marijuana growers in Colombia.  Marijuana production and distribution lines shifted.

Colombia is a huge country with a tumultuous political history – including years of violence and a tendency toward private armies.  In the 1960s, in response to a pact between liberals and conservatives that screwed most poor/indigenous/Afro-Colombians, armed guerrilla groups started operating in large swaths of Colombia’s territory.  The government had no ability to enforce laws in those areas.  Smugglers didn’t have to worry about government interference in their business.

Marijuana growers and guerrillas had a somewhat symbiotic relationship at first.  A little piece of the action for the guerrillas and they left each other alone.  And then cocaine got popular.  Colombians had the supply lines set up already and were conveniently situated between the Andean coca producers and the U.S. market.  The money made in cocaine was insane.  The more wealthy the cocaine dealers got, the more they became the enemy of the guerrilla groups.  Naturally, the drug cartels started their own armies – paramilitary forces.  And then the bloodbath really began.

By the 1980s, the Colombian and U.S. governments decided they were going to crack down on the drug cartels.  If your criteria for success is that the government of Colombia did not completely disintegrate, than I suppose you can say that their efforts were a “success”.  But as I pointed out above, Colombia is hardly a peaceful paradise.

More importantly, as the heat was turned up in Colombia and in the Caribbean, the drug corridor moved back to Mexico and Central America.  It’s like the most vile game of ping pong.  The violence doesn’t go away.  It just ebbs momentarily and springs back worse later, often with an even more corrupt and totalitarian government in place.

The next time you hear someone say that Mexico should follow Colombia’s example, smack em on the head for me will you?

Pointless U.S. Drug Policy – Bolivian Edition

November 23, 2009 By: Mel Category: Drugs, Politics

Bolivian president Evo Morales says that exports to the U.S. have decreased 8% due to Bolivia’s decertification under The Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA).  However, Morales expects that agreements with Venezuela, along with demand from Arab countries, will make up for the loss.  (Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been strengthening his ties with Bolivia and Venezuela.)

Supposedly, the U.S. government frowns on the increasing influence of Chavez in Latin America.  Supposedly, the U.S. government is worried about Iranian power around the world.  Supposedly, the Obama administration is trying to turn over a new leaf with Latin America.  So why would the U.S. government do something that alienates Latin American countries and sends them into the warm embrace of the very people they are trying to isolate?

It’s inexplicable, at least to any rational person, but U.S. drug policy has never been rational.

The United States is the leading consumer of cocaine.  Rather than dealing with U.S. addiction and its related problems, our policy has been to go after the “source.”  Now it takes many ingredients to make cocaine – sulfuric acid, kerosene, lime, sodium carbonate – but we have focused on going after the coca leaf.

Going after coca leaves may seem to make some sense, as the coca leaf is where the alkaloids that make you high are found.  But coca is a bush grown by subsistence farmers, campesinos, who often have no other viable cash crop.  And the coca leaf is an integral part of Andean culture and has been since at least 1800 B.C.

Unfortunately for Andeans and their traditions, a German chemist named Friedrich Gaedcke isolated the alkaloids in coca leaves.  Andean coca growers were everyone’s best friend when coca was used in legal products like Coca Cola and cocaine laced wine.  But once a handful of U.S. drug warriors decided that cocaine had to be stopped, we expected Andean people to turn their backs on thousands of years of culture and to just give up an integral part of their economy.

As the drug war ratcheted up, Andean people in Bolivia and elsewhere suffered the consequences.  Bolivia was pressured to eradicate coca crops using herbicides and fungicides that damaged food crops, contaminated water sources, and made people sick.  Human rights abuses escalated as pressure was put on Bolivia to militarize their anti-drug efforts and to impose increasingly draconian penalties on people involved in the coca and cocaine trades.

In addition to interdiction and eradication, drug warriors from the U.S. promoted crop substitution programs.  Loans were provided to farmers to grow crops other than coca and special trade deals were arranged to help open up U.S. markets to legal Andean goods.  The ATPDEA was part of that effort.

All of our efforts to stop drugs at the “source” have been an abysmal failure.  Substitute crops were no replacement for coca bushes which need little care and bring in far more money.  The only things U.S. imposed drug policies were effective at was alienating Andean people.  Nobody knows that better than Evo Morales, former head of the Chapare coca growers union.

Morales has taken the position that Bolivia should say no to cocaine, but yes to coca.  His refusal to acquiesce to all U.S. demands when it comes to drug policy has contributed to a testy relationship with the U.S. and to Bolivia’s continued decertification.

Now the decertification doesn’t really matter much.  It effects only a small amount of trade.  And the U.S. officials know damned well that, even if Morales did everything they want, it wouldn’t do anything to resolve the drug problem in the United States.  So it makes absolutely no sense that we would take action to piss off Bolivians (and their allies) and drive a further wedge between the U.S. and other countries of the Americas.

But sense and drug policy don’t seem to go together in the United States.

The Danger of Good vs. Evil

November 11, 2009 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

The Heritage Foundation put out a morning bell yesterday.  The gist of the message is that Obama slighted Reagan by not showing up for the Berlin wall ceremonies and for not mentioning Reagan in his speech.  Reagan is, of course, the savior who freed the world from the communists.

My personal favorite bit is the quote from Nile Gardiner:

Barack Obama simply does not view the world as Reagan did, in terms of good versus evil, as a world divided between the forces of freedom on one side and totalitarianism on the other. For the Obama administration the advancement of human rights and individual liberty on the world stage is a distinctly low priority, as we have seen with its engagement strategy towards the likes of Iran, Burma, Sudan, Venezuela and Russia.

Oh the irony of inferring that Ronald Reagan was a great defender of human rights.  The Reagan administration supported the most oppressive Central American governments in El Salvador and Guatemala.  They illegally sold arms to Iran to raise money for brutal counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua.  They closed their eyes to the massive illegal drug operations of their Contra buddies while incarcerating obscene numbers of American citizens for using the drugs.  And they invaded the tiny island nation of Grenada in flagrant violation of international law.

But I’m not writing this to rag on Reagan.  Too easy.  I want to write about the first part of the quote, the part about Barack Obama not seeing the world in terms of good vs. evil.  I want to write about the damage done by people who insist on dividing the world up like that.

What happens when you try to divide the world into good and evil is that the “good” people can do no wrong and the “bad” people can do no right.  How convenient to be on the hero’s side and never have to face an ethical dilemma.  The hero is good, therefore everything they do is good.  If they lie, cheat, murder, or torture it doesn’t matter.  They are the good guy, so their actions must be good.

And that victim of the lying, cheating, murdering, and torturing?  Well they are the villain.  Everything they do is bad.  If the villain saves a baby from a burning building, that inconvenient information is left out of the narrative or explained away as part of a sinister plot.  And how easy it is to dehumanize the bad guy.  Their guilt is pre-determined.  When someone from a vilified group acts in the way we expect, it confirms all our suspicions.  How easy it is to just throw them away, even a child.

Life is not a cowboy film or a fairy tale.  And we can’t afford to listen to people who have the worldview of a toddler.  Time to grow up.

Hunger Chalenge Thoughts

September 25, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

I’ve been on the Hunger Challenge this week.  It’s been forcing me to think a lot more about my food.  That’s a good thing.  Even someone like me, who used to work at a center for agroecology, tends to forget about where my food is coming from and who is involved in bringing it to me.

I have new found sympathy and respect for the people who make a $4 per day food stamp budget work.  It takes careful planning and a lot of time cooking and shopping to eat on that.  There are single parents out there trying to work two jobs and still plan meals on that tight a budget.  They are amazing.

It’s infuriating that anyone would have to do that though.  Food is a human right.  And yet, according to the World Food Program

There are 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world today. That means one in nearly six people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to the health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

That’s criminal.

Meanwhile, while people starve or scrape by as underpaid food system workers, agribusinesses and the food industry rake in monstrous profits.  Even in bad times, Archer Daniels Midland is making profits of $64 million a quarter.

ConAgra brought in $165.9 million in profit last quarter.  Monsato is cutting back now but looking to “more than double gross profit to as much as $8.8 billion in fiscal 2012 from $4.2 billion in 2007.”  That’s right.  That was billion with a b.

Food should not be a commodity that Wall Street speculates over and buys yachts with while millions are malnourished.  It’s disgusting.

Torture Investigations and the Right’s Imaginary Race War

September 01, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

It’s no secret that race is the central issue for many of the people who oppose Obama (but pretend to oppose his policies).  Glenn Beck has taken a lot of heat for saying that he thought Barack Obama was a racist, but Beck is not the only one.  And now that conservatives are feeling nervous about a torture investigation, even the most polished organizations are getting blatant.

Yesterday’s Morning Bell from the Heritage Foundation was titled Politics Before Justice at Obama’s DOJ.  Agreeing wholeheartedly with their lord and master, Dick Cheney, they claim that Eric Holder’s investigation is only an attempt to attack the previous administration.  Then they go on to cite other examples of where politics has trumped justice with Eric Holder.

Example number one – Black panthers who intimidated voters in 2008 had their cases dismissed.  Example number two – Bill Richardson will not be charged with any crime related to the pay-to-play scheme that was under investigation and which cost him his post in the Obama administration.  Example number three – Holder was said to have pushed for pardons for members of the FALN and Los Macheteros, Puerto Rican nationalist groups.

Are we noticing a pattern here?  Eric Holder dismisses charges against brown people, but goes after the good ole boys at the CIA.  Now the Heritage Foundation is not quite that blunt.  For the blunt version, you need to head over to Free Republic, where commenters are more than willing to spell it out.

True. Most obama advisors hate whites,
but Holder advocates violence and threats against whites,
and has and will continue to use the US Government
to protect those who assault whites
– even at voting booths.

This is the narrative that is developing over the torture investigations.  It is only going to get worse.  There are a lot of people out there who know they broke the law and know they have very slim protection.  They are powerful and they aren’t going down without a nasty fight.

The narrative is already spreading.  A quick search showed coverage in the Examiner, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Philadelphia Enquirer.  We better be ready to ridicule this thing out of existence.

Number 1 – The black panther case that the right is in such an uproar about involved two men standing outside a polling place in Phili.  One was an official poll watcher with every right to be there.  Judging by the video below, the only one there scared by the black panther’s presence was the fox news correspondent sent to the polling place to sensationalize.  Although I’m sure Faux News viewers were peeing in their pants at the site of an unarmed black panther.

Number 2 – Bill Richardson was investigated and the DOJ decided not to pursue the matter.  They haven’t said why.  Republicans and Fox News are insinuating that they are letting him off for political reasons, but they don’t know that.  Moreover, as TPM reports, the DOJ isn’t exactly exonerating him.  They just don’t seem to think they have a case.

Number 3 – FALN and Los Macheteros did plan bombings and I don’t condone violence.  But the people pardoned by Bill Clinton (with reported pressure from Eric Holder) had not been convicted of bombings or of any crime where people were hurt.  Moreover, clemency for those individuals was being pushed for by prominent human rights defenders, including Jimmy Carter.  Whether or not you think the pardons were appropriate (and I personally thing presidential pardons are a bad idea), the right is leaving out most of the story when they just say Holder released terrorists.

The kicker to the Heritage Foundation’s email was this doozy of a quote.

Now, as the head of DOJ, Holder’s political decisions are undermining core rule of law concerns including the integrity of elections, ethical governance, and national security. Holder reports directly to his boss, President Barack Obama. Someone needs to be held accountable.

Can you believe those guys can actually write that?  It’s like they live in a parallel universe. The people who testified before congress that the Supreme Court was right to stop the 2000 recount are worried about the “integrity of elections.”  The people who insisted that human rights protections didn’t apply to people not in our territory are worried about ethical governance?

They are right about one thing.  Somebody needs to be held accountable.

Arrested for Posession….of Condoms

May 09, 2009 By: Mel Category: Sex

Think twice before you come home with that value pack of condoms. Police from San Francisco to Tel Aviv use condoms as evidence of prostitution.

San Francisco police continue to use condoms as evidence in prostitution cases.

In Tel Aviv, massage parlors are raided by police and, if there are condoms on the premises, they are assumed to be “brothels.”

A prostitutes organization in the United Kingdom, where condoms have also been used as evidence, wrote an open letter to the home secretary decrying the practice.

According to a 2004 Human Rights Watch report, arresting women for carrying condoms is prevalent in the Philappines as well.

In a moment of sanity, and in an effort to control the spread of HIV, the Chinese government recently decided to end the practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution.

Presumably the anti-prostitution police are taking action based on their supposed concern for prostitutes, or at least for public health. So explain to me why they do something that makes prostitutes less likely to use condoms? Stupidity? Hypocrisy? Worse?

* Thanks to Audacia Ray and Stacy Swimme who brought this up at their session on Sex Work in the Time of Obama at Sex 2.0 this weekend.

The Other Torture Memos: Secrets and Complicity in Guatemala

April 27, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics, Violence

The Bush administration’s repugnant torture instructions were not the only declassified documents to come to light recently.

The National Security Archive has been posting formerly classified documents related to Guatemala’s dirty war of the 1980s. The documents show that the United State’s government was well aware of the kidnappings, murder, and torture of political dissidents in Guatemala.

The dirty war in Guatemala lasted 36 years. Two hundred thousand Guatemalans were killed or disappeared. More than one million Guatemalans were displaced. Hundreds of villages were wiped off the map.

Guatemalan officials denied that these atrocities occurred and many still deny them to this day. General Otto Pérez Molina, who has been linked to massacres and executions, continued his denials during his recent presidential campaign.

Pérez Molina isn’t the only Guatemalan who remains unconfronted by the law. Most of those responsible for the human rights abuses and genocidal war have suffered no consequences for their actions.

Why did we keep them secret for so long?

If I knew about a crime and did not report what I knew to authorities, I would be an accessory. That same rule should apply to governments as well.

American Violet Shows the Violence and Racism of the Drug War

April 20, 2009 By: Mel Category: Drugs, Movie

Based on the true story of Regina Kelly, American Violet portrays the violence, racism, and institutionalized injustices perpetrated by drug warriors.

African American communities in a small Texas town were being terrorized by a drug task force led by the local district attorney. Texas law allowed for people to be indicted based on the word of one confidential informant. Those indicted were picked up in drug sweeps and were pressured to plead guilty.

Dee Roberts (the character based on Regina Kelly) was one of those picked up. Innocent, she refused to plead. She became the lead plaintiff in an ACLU racial bias case against the district attorney and others.

The film is compelling in its own right. More importantly, it conveys the violence, racism, injustice, and institutional bias of our justice system. It does it with accuracy and without getting preachy.

It shows how poor African Americans are easy targets for a monstrous bureaucracy with perverse incentives to keep arrests high. It shows the violence of the drug war, not the violence of cartels and gangs that we normally see in the media, but the everyday violence police perpetrate on communities.

The drug war doesn’t just take the freedom of those convicted. Poor people who are forced to plead guilty become felons who cannot find jobs, cannot receive public assistance, cannot live in public housing, and cannot vote. Children lose their parents. Communities are torn apart.

American Violet is a film everyone needs to see.

The Bailout: Sacrificing Justice for Temporary Stability

March 26, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics, Violence

I’ve been thinking a lot about justice lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how often people try to convince those seeking justice to set aside that desire. I’ve been thinking about how often we are told that holding people responsible for their actions would cause more suffering.

The economic disaster is a perfect example. Billions of dollars are being lost into the ether as we bail out the scoundrels who got us into this mess. We are told the vacuuming up of our present and future resources is necessary in order to mitigate short-term suffering and instability.

People are less and less inclined to believe bailout justifications, in large part because we see that those responsible are not suffering any consequences for their actions. After reading Matt Taibbi’s recent article, it’s hard not to believe that the bailout is just a scam to transfer our resources into the grubby hands of Goldman Sachs and friends. So long as our government shows no signs of bringing the people who caused this mess to justice, our distrust will grow.

Let’s take this out of a financial context for a minute. This past weekend I watched The Reckoning. The film is about efforts to get the International Criminal Court (ICC) up and running. The film highlighted the situations in Uganda and Sudan, but it could easily apply to hundreds of other situations in the world. Whenever the leaders responsible for genocide, rape, and crimes against humanity faced prosecution; they used the threat of more suffering to defend themselves.

In Uganda, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) went on a campaign to convince Ugandans that the ICC warrants for LRA leaders’ arrests were an obstacle to the peace process. (Never mind that there was no peace process before the warrants.) The LRA presented the people a choice between peace and justice. When a warrant was issued for the president of Sudan for human rights violations, he retaliated by kicking out humanitarian organizations and putting millions of Sudanese without the assistance they desperately need.

The case of Sudan is clear. There are people who will suffer in the short term because of the warrant issued. It’s possible that the other cases, including our financial disaster, also present a choice between mitigating short term suffering and pursuing justice. But if we keep sacrificing justice for short term needs, won’t we just ensure that we will keep dealing with the same problems over and over? If people without morals see that they can get away with abusing their power, why would they ever stop?

One final observation. When I was in Guatemala I was struck by how defeated the people seemed. Nobody believed in the system. Time and again powerful people got away with outrageous crimes. Military leaders responsible for mass atrocities don’t just walk free, but run for president. Former presidents who absconded with the people’s money live like royalty in other countries. The more people see impunity, the more hopeless the situation seems. The more hopeless the situation seems, the less agency they feel. The less they participate in political life, the more power the abusers have. It is a downward spiral and we can’t afford to allow that to happen to us.

Justice is not an obstacle to stability and peace, it is a prerequisite. People who don’t want to face justice are using our fear – fear of violence, fear of starvation, fear of financial collapse – but it is by caving in that we assure all of those things will go on forever.

How Are We A Christian Nation?

March 18, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Religion

People may dispute that the United States is a “Christian nation,” but nobody disputes that the majority of the people living here identify as Christian. When Columbus stumbled upon the Americas, there weren’t any Christians here. So how did it happen that the most common religion in the country became Christianity?

On the west coast of what is now the United States, Spanish priests set up a string of missions. Natives were forcefully converted and used as slave labor. On the east coast, the Puritans had far less luck converting natives. Devastating European diseases, a constant influx of new Christians from Europe, and violent competition for land soon made the non-Christian, native populations tiny and powerless.

It wasn’t just Europeans that wanted to come here. Asian immigrants also came in huge numbers to work on railroads, mining, and lumber. In 1852, about 10% of the population of California was of Chinese descent. The Chinese population decreased exponentially after California residents pushed for our first anti-immigrant law, The Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese were barred from coming here and ineligible to become citizens until the 1940s. Had it not been for that, we would have many more Taoists, Buddhists, and Confucians in our midst.

Jews were also a target of immigration laws. The Immigration Act of 1891 aimed to stem the tide of Russian and Eastern European Jews that had been coming to the U.S. in large numbers. The House of Representatives also tried to require literacy tests for any immigrants, mostly to restrict access to undereducated, Yiddish speaking Jews from Europe. Even when Jews were dying by the millions during World War II, the U.S. continued to block Jewish immigrants.

Until 1965, when President Johnson signed into law sweeping immigration reform, our immigration laws were intended to keep the United States as white and Christian as possible. If we are a nation of mostly Christians, it is because of systematic discrimination supported by the very un-Christian, Christians who designed U.S. laws.