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

The Danger of Good vs. Evil

November 11, 2009 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Criminalization, 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.

Pope a Dope

December 25, 2008 By: Mel Category: Religion

Today, in his Christmas address, the pope asked for people to work together to solve our problems “in a spirit of authentic solidarity.”

I thought about using this post to rant about someone who would call for authentic solidarity out of one side of his mouth while vilifying large swaths of humanity by talking about the evil dangers of homosexuality out of the other.

I thought about marveling at the shear audacity of someone who can add the accumulation of wealth to the deadly sins that will take you straight to hell, all the while sitting in the midst of thousands of years of accumulated riches.

I thought about a little diatribe on how many human beings have died of aids because they won’t use a condom, as the pope thinks birth control is a sin. Or perhaps on how many women have died because of back alley abortions or because a doctor in Nicaragua suspected a miscarriage might have been an abortion and didn’t want to risk prison.

I thought about recounting the history of Catholicism in the world. I thought about the crusades, the inquisition, forcible conversions, decimation of indigenous culture, appeasement of nazis, priests abusing children and concealment of their crimes…

But then I thought, who gives a damn what the pope thinks? The pope looks like what he is, a decrepit relic.

Catholicism is on the decline all over. In the United States, Catholic numbers have held somewhat steady due to an influx of immigrants from places like Mexico, but native-born Americans are dropping the religion. And with anti-immigrant hysteria and a declining economy keeping immigrants away, that number is bound to decline further.

Spain, once a bastion of Catholicism, is going the way of the rest of Europe and leaving the church behind. Latin America has been hemorrhaging Catholics. The number of nuns and monks in the world is on decline. The number of Catholic priests is on decline. And Catholic school enrollment is down. The drop-off in the United States has been precipitous, causing all sorts of ogeda in the conservative community. In fact, according to the Vatican themselves, Islam has now overtaken Catholicism as the worlds most practiced religion.

So who really cares what the pope thinks. Not even practicing Catholics pay much attention his dictates anymore.

Disastrous Political Interference by the Catholic Church

November 11, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics, Religion

You would think 1,000 years of intolerant rule would be enough, but the Catholic church continues to interfere in matters of state all around the world.

It has come out that it was the Archbishop in San Francisco who requested and received help from the Mormon church to pass California’s Proposition 8 (defining marriage as between a man and a woman). The Mormon church then sent a call out to its members to raise money and donate time to make sure the measure passed.

In Nicaragua, it was a Catholic church led movement that enacted a complete ban on all abortions. The ban, a violation of international law, imposes harsh criminal penalties on doctors who perform abortions and has made the medical community afraid to treat women who have miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. Within a year, the ban had cost at least 80 women their lives.

The Catholic church tells people who to vote for. They rarely say outright the candidate by name, as that will get them into some hot water. However, they tell their followers to vote based on one issue and one issue only – abortion. If Hitler were against abortion, and his opponent for it, they would say vote for Hitler.

The fact that our current anti-abortion president is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands in war doesn’t matter. Whether or not the next leader’s policies will help save some of the tens of thousands who die every day of starvation doesn’t matter.

The Catholic church has almost always been on the wrong side of human rights – from the inquisition to appeasement of Hitler to the continuous subjugation of women. And they – the people who brought us an epidemic of horrific and concealed sex abuse – want to dictate the morals of our governments?

How dare they.

Drug Policy Changes and the 2008 Presidential Election

June 08, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

Looks like it’s going to be Obama vs. McCain in the general election. One has freely admitted former drug use. The other’s wife is a recovering addict. Back when Bill Clinton was running for office, his non-inhaled pot smoke caused an uproar. This time the controversy surrounding Barack Obama is that he may not have done as many drugs as he seemed to indicate in his autobiography. Does this mean the change voters have been clamoring for may extend to drug policy?

Drug Policy and Past Presidents

I was born in 1973, just a couple years after Richard Nixon kicked off his war on drugs. I grew up in South Florida where the uber-wealthy did lines on their yachts with impunity, while crack houses in Liberty City were raided on the five o’clock news for everyone to see the dark face of the drug problem. In those years, the drug war was the political issue. Anyone who needed a bogeyman, from Hollywood to the Whitehouse, just pulled out the archetypal evil drug dealer.

Every successive president tried to outdo the last in a violent, futile hypocrisy-fest. Ronald Reagan escalated the drug war, while at the same time illegally supporting the Contras in Nicaragua (many of whom were, according to congressional testimony, known to be involved in the drug trade). Then there was his successor, George Bush, with his now debunked claim about buying crack in front of the Whitehouse. And Bill Clinton who went out of his way to prove how tough on crime (ie. not a bleeding heart liberal) he was by presiding over an administration which saw the U.S. prison population grow by leaps and bounds – in large part due to drug laws.

Obama and McCain on Foreign Drug Policy

The basic tenets of U.S. foreign policy related to drugs have been:

  • Push to ensure other countries make illegal the substances we want illegal
  • Push for harsh penalties for violating drug laws
  • Provide money, weapons, and logistical support for police and (more often) military
  • Eliminate the “source” of drugs using crop eradication

Not only have these policies been ineffectual, they have side effects. Eradication programs have killed food crops, displaced rural communities, damaged ecosystems, caused health problems, and exacerbated international conflicts. And, as drugs and democracy in Latin America so clearly shows, our support for military solutions within countries (solutions that would be illegal in our own country) have contributed to violence, human rights violations, and the weakening of civil institutions.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that either a McCain or Obama presidency would change our foreign policy regarding drugs. Neither have challenged the basic tenets of our policy. Both McCain and Obama have come out in support of the Merida Initiative (increasing counter-narcotic support to the Mexican government). They have also supported Plan Colombia.

McCain, for his part, said in a speech to The Florida Association of Broadcasters that “our security priority in this hemisphere is to ensure that terrorists, their enablers and their business partners, including narcotraffickers, have nowhere to hide.” Obama, when questioned at a foreign policy event I attended about how to handle opium growing in Afghanistan, said that we need to look at bringing in agricultural experts. While his looking at the root of the problem (the need to make a living) and not resorting to a knee-jerk military response is laudable, crop substitution programs have been tried and failed.

Obama and McCain on Domestic Drug Policy

On the domestic front, things are somewhat more hopeful. There seems to finally be some recognition that our policies have failed. The two main areas of movement are:

  • Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Decriminalization
  • Alternatives to Incarceration of Drug Offenders

McCain opposes decriminalization of marijuana. Obama has, in the past, come out in favor of marijuana decriminalization, but he recently did some very disappointing backpedaling. Both McCain and Obama have stated in the past that they would respect state’s rights and end the federal raids on state medical marijuana patients. It is McCain who has backpedaled some on that issue, but Obama still says that arresting medical marijuana patients and raids are not a good use of federal resources.

Both McCain and Obama have advocated alternatives to prison for first time users. In fact, the only place you will see drug issues listed on Obama’s website is under the civil rights section. There he advocates rehabilitation through ex-offender programs (including substance abuse treatment), elimination of sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, and the expanded use of drug courts (which even the U.S. Department of Justice admits reduces recidivism).

Questions for Obama and McCain

While there appears to be some improvement on domestic policy, we still have a long way to go. Here are a few questions about drug policy I would like to see asked of the candidates in a debate:

  • Would you agree that a law is a rule we as a society agree to live by? If nearly half the population is breaking a law, wouldn’t a reasonable conclusion be that the law may not be appropriate or just? In 2005, the Department of Justice reported that 46%, or nearly half, of all adults surveyed had used illicit drugs in their lifetime. Would you send half the population to prison?
  • Senator Obama, you have in the past said that you supported marijuana decriminalization. Recently, your campaign stated that this was a misunderstanding of the term decriminalization – which means to remove criminal penalties. Are we to take it that you support criminal penalties, including jail time, for possession of small amounts of marijuana. If so, please explain why, aside from its current illegality, it is a good idea to send people to prison for marijuana possession.
  • Both of you have supported continuing Plan Colombia and ratcheting up support for similar programs in Mexico. Does this include support for eradication programs, which have been shown to have disastrous effects on food production, caused environmental destruction, had negative health effects on populations, and caused potentially explosive border disputes with neighboring countries? And does it take into consideration the fact that it was a supposedly successful eradication campaign in Mexico in the 1970s that actually pushed drug production into Colombia in the first place – the well documented balloon effect.
  • If a business has been cheated or stolen from, they generally have options as to how to address that problem. They can call the police. They can sue in civil court. They can go to the newspapers. If a drug business has a similar problem they have only one option, violence. Wouldn’t it follow, that by opening up other options, by legalizing drugs, we might be able to curb the violence plaguing places like Mexico and Colombia? Senator Obama, in a recent speech to the Cuban American National Foundation you criticized sticking to “tired blueprints on drugs and trade, on democracy and development.” Aren’t our current tactics in the drug war the most tired blueprints of them all?

Now I don’t expect the candidates to have an epiphany, but I do think there is a chance in this election that we might get some thoughtful answers for a change. Perhaps this is a public discussion we are finally ready to have.