Saturday, January 11, 2014

Poor, Puny Anonymities

Poor, Puny Anonymities


In 1919 a divided Supreme Court upheld long prison sentences for four marginally employed anarchists in New York for printing and passing out a few poorly written pamphlets opposing use of the U. S. military against the Russian Revolution.  Justice Holmes wrote a stinging dissent that, with its “clear and present danger” test, soon became the bedrock of modern free speech law.  In that dissent he called the defendants “poor, puny anonymities”.

Poor, puny anonymities is a good description of the victims of the War on Drugs.  These should be contrasted to those whose exposure to affluenza has immunized them to the consequences of this war.  Both groups are targets of the Drug Warriors, but their fates are totally different.

The vast majority of the Drug War victims are truly poor, puny, and anonymous.  They are the young, under-educated and –employed, powerless, and usually black or brown.  They are the ones who are stopped and frisked on city streets and profile=stopped on the highways.  They disproportionately fill the jails and prisons and suffer the civil, educational, and employment consequences after release from confinement: confinement that is itself disproportionately long compared to their affluent counterpoints.  Michelle Alexander, in The New Jim Crow, has done much better in describing their plight and fate than I can even attempt.

The children of affluence face a different fate when they become ensnarled by the Drug War.  Their infection of affluenza immunizes them from its pathological effects.  A recent trial in Texas gained notoriety when a thirteen year old by pleaded guilty to four counts of criminal homicide when his drunken driving spree resulted in four deaths.  The judge sentenced him to ten years probation with his parents agreeing to place him in a private rehabilitation facility at a cost to them of $450,000 per year.  The judge explained that the youth could not control himself because his over-indulgent upbringing shielded him from the consequences of his earlier wrong-doings and had totally failed to teach him either right from wrong or self-restraint.  In an interview, a psychologist who had testified as an expert for the defense, described the boy’s condition as a case of affluenza.

Both the affluenzaics and the poor and puny run afoul of the Drug Warriors (although the poor are targeted in much greater numbers, but the aftereffects of affluenza include immunity to Drug War casualties.  While no Prof. Alexander has appeared to document and analyze the fates of these affluent few, everyone can easily create his own top ten list of offenders.  A few of the better-known stories can hint at the scope of their immunity.

Politics provides some good examples.  Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto, when shown a video of him smoking crack cocaine, admitted it but excused himself as having done it in a “drunken stupor”.  Not only did he receive no punishment, he is running for re-election with high popular support.  Republican Congressman Trey Redel was not quite as fortunate: after being caught buying cocaine in a police undercover operation, he received probation and is still serving his time on the floor of congress and considering a run for re-election as well.  Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy (of the Hyannis port clan) did resign from congress after causing an Ambien-influenced car wreck, spent a short stay in an expensive rehab spa and now is a highly visible Drug Warrior on the celebrity speech tour.  These three affluent druggies spent a total of zero days in jail.

The world of entertainment presents the most lurid pictures of affluenza immunity – from marijuana-centered hip hop lifestyles to Miley Cyrus toking a joint on You Tube.  But even in the entertainment world some affluenziacs are more outrageous than others.  Louis Armstrong was arrested and assessed a small fine for marijuana possession in L. A. in the early 1930s.  For the next thirty years he smoked it almost constantly and, according to legend, insisted that all of his band members get high before any performance.  Willie Nelson’s tour bus was found to carry marijuana in Sierra Blanca, Texas.  The sheriff offered not to file charges if Willie would sing a song in the sheriff’s office; to his credit, Willie turned down the offer with the scorn it deserved.  Lindsey Lohan’s drug-abusing behavior has had her in and out of court on a regular basis for years.  The number of times she has appeared in court is probably greater than the number of days she has spent in jail.

The best story of all illustrates both ends of the poor-and-puny to affluent spectrum.  Rush Limbaugh, darling of talk radio, developed a craving for opiates that he satisfied with black market OxyCotin.  Unwilling to run the risks of making criminal purchases himself, he coerced his maid into buying for him.  She was arrested while making a parking lot purchase.  The maid was convicted and sentenced for Prohibition violations, but Rush – instigator of the transaction – continues to be the number one bloviator of the airwaves.

Andre Gide, the French literature Nobelist, once observed that the Law in its infinite majesty forbids to both the rich and the poor the right to sleep under the bridge.  Drug Prohibition reveals the dark side of that maxim.  It shows Lady Law peeking around her blindfold to plant her thumb solidly on the scales of Justice, weighing down the poor, puny anonymities while elevating and coddling the Affluent.  Now is the time to insist that she rebalance her scales.    



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The News That Didn't Happen

The News That Didn’t Happen

On Wednesday, the first legal pot shops opened in Colorado.  News cameras from around the world focused on their doors, but the real news is what didn’t happen.

The health news is what didn’t happen in emergency rooms around the state.  Not a single overdose death was reported.  No patients were treated for bad trips.  Fewer trauma patients than normal were admitted, mainly because of a decrease in serious traffic accidents. (However, a few new minor injuries were reported when newbies burned their fingers or eyebrows while trying to light that first joint.)

Reporters covering the police beat also found mostly no stories.  The cops worked very few impaired driving wrecks (that number had been going down dramatically ever since the legalization of medical marijuana).  The bars were quiet with few fights to be broken up.  They were only sporadically called for domestic abuse cases.  Except for a few murders and robberies the state was quiet.

While the schools are closed for the holidays, they are expected to resume with no news.  They will have no more absentees than normal.  Stoned highschoolers will not be giggling and disrupting classes.  No more teenagers will be nodding off in class than in this year.  The band will still play Sousa marches, not Grateful Dead jams.  Football and basketball teams will still concentrate on their practice drills.  Even the teachers will pay attention to their lesson plans.

No news was the story on the street corners and in the alleys as well.  That dejected looking man slinking around the corner was a dealer who had not made a sale all day.  No alley was blocked by a truck unloading a ton from Mexico.  No immigrant with calves like cantaloupes was arrested with a seventy-five pound backpack.  The local news did not lead with a story about a gang shoot-out.

Everything was not quiet; some businesses generated news.  The do-nut shops had waiting lines outside the front door and the convenience stores sold out of Doritos.  Pizza delivery men worked overtime, and Netflix set a new record for movie downloads.

And the first “official” customer in Denver was a veteran suffering from PTSD, a condition not included in Colorado’s medical marijuana statute.

This “news story” is clearly a work of fiction, but it is based on decades of study and observation.  As such, it is my best prediction of what the effect of legalizing marijuana will be, not only in Colorado and then Washington, but across the nation.  To the average person the only visible effect will be a few signs bearing green leaves along some commercial streets.  The more sophisticated will also notice significant relief in their tax burden, both from increased revenue and from decreased criminal justice expenses.

The biggest domestic news story of 2014 may well be that nothing happened – and that nothing happening is spreading across the nation.