Posts Tagged drugs

Hillary Clinton Does Not Deserve The Black Vote

Poor black people in this election cycle, most notably poor black women, have become the new poor, white Southerner hicks of yesteryear who voted against their own self interest for George W. Bush and every Republican there is. I say this because  Hillary Clinton’s support among women of color is stronger than among white women. In fact, it appears as though poor black women are responsible for Clinton’s lead in the Primaries and are her winning card, one that she is eager to play and one which black people seem all too eager to get played. Again.

Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than 25 years. It’s true that they eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton allure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state—many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand.

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Frankly, I fail to understand why Clinton has earned the loyalty of black voters at all.

Why black people think a corporatist one percenter who has worked all her life against them, is good for them in any way imaginable.

On the campaign trail back in 1992, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes—ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did.

Back then, Clinton was the standard-bearer for the New Democrats, a group that firmly believed the only way to win back the millions of white voters in the South who had defected to the Republican Party was to adopt the right-wing narrative that black communities ought to be disciplined with harsh punishment rather than coddled with welfare. Reagan had won the presidency by dog-whistling to poor and working-class whites with coded racial appeals: railing against “welfare queens” and criminal “predators” and condemning “big government.” Clinton aimed to win them back, vowing that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he.

Just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton proved his toughness by flying back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him for later. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”

Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.

Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”

When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”

Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Both Clintons now express regret over the crime bill (and this has become a pattern: do horrible things and then apologize for it later. When apology becomes policy). And now that it seems politically expedient, Hillary says she supports criminal-justice reforms to undo some of the damage that was done by her husband’s administration. But on the campaign trail, she continues to invoke the economy and country that Bill Clinton left behind as a legacy she would continue. So what exactly did the Clinton economy look like for black Americans? Taking a hard look at this recent past is about more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s about whether the Democratic Party can finally reckon with what its policies have done to African-American communities, and whether it can redeem itself and rightly earn the loyalty of black voters.

To make matters worse, the federal safety net for poor families was torn to shreds by the Clinton administration in its effort to “end welfare as we know it.” In his 1996 State of the Union address, given during his re-election campaign, Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” and immediately sought to prove it by dismantling the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). The welfare-reform legislation that he signed—which Hillary Clinton ardently supported then and characterized as a success as recently as 2008—replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion

Extreme poverty doubled to 1.5 million in the decade and a half after the law was passed. What is extreme poverty? US households are considered to be in extreme poverty if they are surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person per day in any given month. We tend to think of extreme poverty existing in Third World countries, but here in the United States, shocking numbers of people are struggling to survive on less money per month than many families spend in one evening dining out. Currently, the United States, the richest nation on the planet, has one of the highest child-poverty rates in the developed world.

Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton’s tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.”

Bill Clinton championed discriminatory laws against formerly incarcerated people that have kept millions of Americans locked in a cycle of poverty and desperation. The Clinton administration eliminated Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education to prepare for their release, supported laws denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions, and signed legislation imposing a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—an exceptionally harsh provision given the racially biased drug war that was raging in inner cities.

Perhaps most alarming, Clinton also made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with any sort of criminal history (even an arrest without conviction) and championed the “one strike and you’re out” initiative, which meant that families could be evicted from public housing because one member (or a guest) had committed even a minor offense. People released from prison with no money, no job, and nowhere to go could no longer return home to their loved ones living in federally assisted housing without placing the entire family at risk of eviction. Purging “the criminal element” from public housing played well on the evening news, but no provisions were made for people and families as they were forced out on the street. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow.

It is difficult to overstate the damage that’s been done. Generations have been lost to the prison system; countless families have been torn apart or rendered homeless; and a school-to-prison pipeline has been born that shuttles young people from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand-new high-tech prisons.

Economic insecurity is the root cause of a lot of the issues facing African Americans who are scoring low, compared to a lot of other segments of society, on almost all socio-economic indices.

Someone who takes 250,000 dollars in speaker fees from Goldman Sachs to congratulate them on a job well done and for being “job creators” is not going to do the bidding of people socioeconomically disadvantaged by the very policies Clinton endorses.

It is utterly bizarre to me that poor, disenfranchised black men  – and most notably women  – would support this corporatist Establishment candidate.

Bernie Sanders wants to address those very inequalities Clinton’s policies have created. Clinton doesn’t. She has, time and again, ridiculed Sanders and his supporters as a bunch of naive dreamers with their head in the sky and already promised that none of the things Sanders wants done, like money out of politics, universal health-care, affordable education etc – will happen.

Sure, she has learned to use the kind of language that sounds inclusive of African Americans and that they want to hear, but without any real intention to truly reform things where they need to be, namely on the economic level, which is where the African American community is hurting the most.

 If you listen closely, and it truly bothers me that Clinton supporters clearly are not, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune but in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be “pragmatic,” “face political realities,” and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is “unrealistic” to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.

For the record:  Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.

I can only surmise that black women who reflexively vote for Clinton because “Sanders is white” and a man, are oblivious to the policies and legislation Clinton stands for as well as oblivious to what Bernie Sanders stands for. Clinton stands for legislation that is un-progressive and that does not truly intend to economically empower individuals, especially African American communities that have been, and continue to be, under a massive assault by the class warfare created by the likes of Clinton and the Democratic Party which has not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled wholly by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires.

I find all this incredibly frustrating because it seems as though election outcomes always seem to be dictated by ignorant tools whose votes create the majority a candidate needs to win.

So, it’s either dumb-as-shit, white Southerners who determine everyone’s fate by voting against their own self interest.  And this year it seems to be  dumb-as-shit, black Southerners who determine everyone’s fate by voting against their own self interest.

Of course, people can vote however they want. I just hate that they are basically taking the rest of us down with them.

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Consequences of Apathy

The Huffington Post, every now and then as part of a PSA or something, dedicates a post to the “Faces of Drugs Arrests” – supported by Rehabs.com as a follow up to its anti-methamphetamine campaign “Horrors of Meth.”

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“Faces of Drug Arrests,” is a series of shocking images, depicting the decline of different “suspects” (suspects of what? drug abuse?)  physical appearance over the years via their mugshots. The individuals shown were all arrested for drug and drug-related offenses involving meth, heroin, cocaine, and prescription drugs.

The ugliest thing about this post is not so much the ravaged faces of these drug addicts, but the comments section of the Huffington Post where people admonish these individuals as “disgusting” beings who hopefully never have kids.

One commentator, who neither knows any of these individuals or their stories and backgrounds and thus their experiences and how they came to be where they are, writes quite presumptuously that “they no longer care where they are or whether they’re about to die.

Others casually “other” the people depicted in the images, commenting on how “irresponsible” it is of them, especially when “these people” have children of their own.

One reader had the following to say “There’s NO REASON for anyone to continue to abuse themselves to this extent – help is readily available pretty much everywhere. These types of addicts just don’t want to take the effort necessary to clean themselves up. Yes, I know that’s not the case with some addicts, but in these cases…..?” 

“They are disgusting.”

“They are irresponsible.”

“They don’t care.”

“They don’t want to make the effort.”

Yes, because clearly mentally healthy, stable people enjoy becoming emotional and physical wrecks as a result of heavy drug use. Because, thank the spaghetti monsters that be, drug addiction is not a disease at all.

No one in these comments has even noted the fact that these are mug shots taken from arrests, as in these people whom everyone is summarily dismissing, judging and spitting on as disgusting, irresponsible, worthless wrecks have been criminally persecuted and incarcerated for their drug use.

And neither does anyone – neither the HP article nor the commentators – find it either problematic or acknowledge the fact that drug addiction is an illness that requires medical treatment of those who are using drugs, instead of criminal retribution.

No one is wondering, or is the least bit bothered, that instead of health and treatment these people are being treated to prison instead. “Hell [typo and I am keeping it there] Help is readily available” one commentator casually states. When in reality, no actually, help is not readily available.

The fact that these people have been booked and charged with a crime instead of being sent to rehabilitation to treat their illness should have given you a clue. That, and that in this country trying to get insurance companies to pay for meaningful drug rehabilitation programs is almost impossible, not to mention that government-run rehab programs, as far as they do exist, are terribly funded, ineffective and hard to get into.

So no, it is not “readily available.” Where have these people been? Canada? Germany?

Most importantly, there is a human being behind every mug shot depicted in this PSA; a human being with their own life’s stories, paths and trajectories. No one knows what has taken place in their lives leading them to resort to drug use and the addiction that comes from it. To judge them as if one did is mendacious.

Sending someone who suffers from the disease of addiction to jail is no different than incarcerating someone suffering from cancer or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Moreover, since low-income and/or racial minorities are disproportionately incarcerated for drug use, this undertaking has, essentially, become another way of criminalizing the poor for being poor.

Now what if all the taxpayer money that’s used arresting, processing, trying, probably public defending and jailing drug addicts  were instead used toward social programs that would support such people in the first place? What if instead of jail time, we offered help? How about trying to find out what those ills were that got them into heavy drug use in the first place, instead of making this ridiculous, callous assumption that they are there because they enjoy being there, because they made that choice and because they devalue their lives?

Although I do wonder how people who have been outcast and thrown away by society as disgusting, irresponsible worthless wrecks are going to “love themselves.”

People in this country tend to criticize “government hand-outs” and talk about the social safety net like it’s a giant waste of taxpayer money—a “wealth redistribution program” to steal rich folks’ money and give it to the poor. And they do not see the moral failing in such an argument because the same people that talk about social safety net programs as being a waste of money have no problem seeing that very money be used to send sick people to jail (or support defense contractors, oil companies, corporations, banks and the wealthy in the form of tax exemptions etc).

Unworthy of Help

The thinking that one needs additional negative consequences for harming one-self assumes that whatever situation one finds one-self in is not sufficient consequences. Even if someone is in an incredibly terrible situation of their “own making” (which is an extreme oversimplification as no one lives in a vacuum)  somehow that’s not enough punishment in and of itself.

The thing I truly abhor about this kind of rhetoric and way of thinking is that even if, given the same set of circumstances, I or Joe Green over there, would have emerged differently than someone else: So what? Different people are different.

And even in cases where someone is in a terrible situation because of their own making and bad choices: So what? Why is that justification to not help them?

I fully understand the value of consequences for harming others. I will, however, never understand the alleged value of consequences for harming oneself.

This calculated, cultivated lack of empathy in our society for anyone who isn’t successful, healthy, wealthy and “wise”, is very disconcerting and quite visible in the face of every person in these mug-shots.

Love, empathy and compassion are necessities if we are going to make it as a peoples and nation. They are not luxuries.

I wish people who just casually judged, blamed and dismissed a person in peril like that, praying self righteously to their “God” that the drug addicts in the mugshots may not have any children, would, instead, pray to their “God” that these people who are undoubtedly suffering, get the help they need – which would necessitate voting for programs that aide such people as opposed to voting for policies and politicians that do everything they can to dismantle the programs that aide these people.

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The Consequences of Making Pot Illegal

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Now that the state of Colorado has legalized marijuana for recreational use starting January 1 with Washington state following suit shortly after, the pot legalization debate is getting a fresh perspective with new voices chiming in, either praising or scolding the new direction two of our states have taken.

One of the arguments many people make in favor of making marijuana illegal is that it creates crime and/or turns neighborhoods into crime zones with shady characters roaming the streets.

The reality is that all the things one associates with illicit drug use, in this case marijuana – such as shady neighborhoods, drug rings, gangs, crime, prostitution, back-door alleys and a host of other such crimes and shady characteristics – exist precisely because drugs are illegal.

See, when you make something illegal, such as pot, you create a certain kind of atmosphere and milieu that becomes conducive to those very things you want to avoid, such as shady neighborhoods, back-door alleys, gangs and criminals. When an otherwise law-abiding citizen has to go into the underground to get his supply, that person will soon be at the mercy of criminals whose least offense probably is the sale of marijuana.

If people were able to get their supplies from within a well-lit, clean store in a legitimate business center, without feeling conspicuous and paranoid that they may get caught or doing something wrong, then those criminal elements and shadiness people are complaining about would disappear.

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One great example to the point is the Hustler Hollywood store on the Sunset Strip near West Hollywood. From the outside, it looks like just any other retail space on the strip: the windows are tall and clear instead of dark and tinted with a few mannequins wearing tasteful lingerie on display. When you enter the store, it is bright and clean – with a few tables here and there where various T-shirts and sweaters with the Hustler logo and other kinky slogans are neatly folded. There is a book and magazine section, a smoothie bar, a lingerie and sex paraphernalia section, dressing rooms and employees that are dressed in civilian clothing, looking like they may be working at J.Crew.

The Hustler store in Hollywood

The Hustler store in Hollywood

The area that contains the porn DVDs is sectioned off for those who are 18 and above, but it is not behind some red curtain that has a neon sign above it reading “XXX.”

I have been to that store a few times with friends and never felt shady, sleazy and dirty and I also never got dirty looks from people one would perceive as shady, sleazy and dirty. In fact, the people I saw in there were the same kind people I may encounter in any retail clothing store. The Hustler Hollywood store has effectively managed to take what people often perceive as seedy and derogatory into the light, literally, so that people no longer have to sneak around and feel like sleazy assholes simply because they enjoy sex.

Wanna know what makes sex shops dirty? The dark covered windows that have NUDE GIRLS and XXX printed on them, the dark, badly lit interior where truly shady characters can hide behind some dark corner jerking off to women’s lingerie or some porn magazine with the employees themselves looking like they had just done a few lines of coke on urinals.

See, it is not porn itself that creates such an atmosphere and milieu, but the fact that porn is viewed as evil, out of place, dirty, perverse and illicit with lawmakers and a few religious, moral crusaders driving those businesses into shady neighborhoods where they are forced to cover up their windows in black tape and hide the fact that people not only have kinky sex but also enjoy it. By turning porn into something dirty to be hidden from society and ashamed of and thus a crime basically, you in effect aide in setting up the foundation for criminal elements.

Such a milieu, in turn, becomes the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of shady people with dubious priorities and agendas – including human traffickers, heroin dealers, petty criminals and even elements of organized crime.

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To be clear, this is not an argument in favor of legalizing heroin (although there is a legitimate point by some experts in doing that as well); the point is that making something illegal creates a host of liabilities and thus the very kind of milieu and environments that people associate with drug use and are using to oppose drug legalization in the first place.

In reality, we probably wouldn’t even be having all those criminal elements lying around if people could conduct their business – be it buying pot or porn – in a nice, clean, well-lit  and thus legitimate environment.

Life Sentence for Selling Marijuana

The reason I am talking about this today is that The Human Solution, a pot advocacy group,  revealed that while marijuana is becoming legal for recreational use in two of our states with other state legislators considering legalization as well,  at least 25 people have been condemned to live out their days behind bars because they were involved in the marijuana trade.

One such individual is James Romans, a divorced 42-year-old father of three from Indiana who dabbled in selling pot to support his family and accidentally got himself into the illicit business of a much larger, multi-million dollar drug cartel. It was eventually found out that he’d been a major player in a trafficking organization responsible for transporting more than 10,000 kilos of marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico – you know, from those cartels across the border that hack off your hands, feet and head and throw the bodies in a landfill  so they cannot be identified – those kinds of people.

Romans entered prison in April of last year. A few weeks after his arrival, his parents and sister suddenly stopped getting calls from him. They later found out that a group of inmates had rioted, prompting the guards to lock everyone in their cells for a two-week stretch.

Several months after that, according to Romans’ sister, Elizabeth Bishop, Romans returned from lunch to find guards in his cell and blood spattered all over the walls and the beds. “Somebody attempted to murder his cellmate,” his sister explained.

Romans has never been convicted of a violent crime, and Bishop, for her part, insists he’s as gentle as can be, despite the evidence that he had guns and ran the smuggling ring. “Scared of a spider” was how she put it.

The U.S funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of U.S military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel.

The U.S funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of U.S military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel.

And yet he’s sentenced to spend the rest of his life under the same roof as men like Ricky Mungia, a Texan who went on a shooting spree with some white and Latino friends in 1994, hunting down black men in the streets of Lubbock and shooting them from a car with a short-barreled shotgun.

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The war on drugs is not only a pointless one but an illegitimate one. If Romans was in the state of Colorado today doing exactly what he did back then, running a marijuana business and selling pot, he would be free and a legitimate business owner, even helping his state raise much needed revenue.

However, because marijuana is illegal federally, he was not only driven into the arms of heinous Mexican drug cartels whose least offense probably is the selling of marijuana, but he also has to spend the rest of his life with actual criminals in prison, costing tax payers around $60,000 a year just to take care of him. Moreover, his children will grow up without their father at their side and probably burned by the stigma of having a parent in prison who, any day, may be killed, raped and hurt.

I ask you, what is the bigger detriment to society? Selling pot to people or what is being done with and to Romans?

That is not justice, nor does it help better society. Romans can easily be a productive member of society because his “crime” was a faceless one (and non existent as far Colorado and millions are concerned). Him selling that pot didn’t hurt anyone, and his incarceration, aside from not being just, is an unnecessary and completely avoidable burden to society.

And that, dear reader, is the real cost we as a society pay when making marijuana illegal. Romans has now been placed in that very environment that those opposing drug legalization are trying to avoid by making drugs illegal in the first place.

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