Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Product of Our Capitalistic Society = Controlled Poverty

Last night I watched an eye-opening documentary on Showtime called American Drug War, by Kevin Booth. The documentary chronicles America’s War on Drugs, and through a series of interviews with ex-CIA and DEA agents, and a national Drug Czar, postulates (quite effectively) that the American government actually started the very epidemic that they have been “at war” against for years: the drug war.

It was President Nixon who, during his presidency, announced the nationwide “War on Drugs,” only after the former “War on Poverty” had failed. Simple decision – you can’t keep people from being poor, so instead of helping them, you’ll put them in jail. Call it sad, call it ethnic cleansing, call it modern-day slavery, and it’s all accurate.

Poor people use drugs because their lives lack hope. And people in poverty don’t just use any drug – they use cheap drugs, because (you guessed it) they’re poor. In comes the crack cocaine epidemic that started in the 80s in Los Angeles. Through a series of interviews with ex-high-ranking government employees who were directly involved with one of the most unknown scandals in US history, Booth’s documentary shows that the US government itself was importing cocaine (to be turned into crack) into Los Angeles, and using the profits to support the Contras (remember Ollie North?). Not only did we whore out our own citizens to give money to provide weapons to the Contras, but we set ourselves up for a long term problem… Or did we? It depends on who you ask.

Creating addiction, and then the War on Drugs, allowed the US to imprison non-violent drug users (which is still happening today) in addition to violent ones. Today it is estimated that 60% of the prison population is imprisoned for drug-related offenses. Prisons run by the government make money for the government. When the War on Drugs started, new prisons had to be built to house all the drug offenders, and the government got use to the income generated by having full prisons (income that comes from our tax dollars). This caused the vicious cycle of keeping our population addicted, and not legalizing could-be medicinal drugs, in order to keep the prisons full and money coming in. Sicker yet, some privatized prisons (government contracted) are actually on the stock market, and whether their stock goes up or down is determined by how full their facilities are. So, what is the incentive to get people rehabilitated and clean, or to legalize medical marijuana? There is none, because by doing this the government would lose money. Additionally, legalizing drugs could mean a decrease in alcohol sales, which would be bad for all those booze corporations providing money to the government in the form of taxes!

The documentary went on to talk about who actually benefits from the drug money today, and it’s people our government is (or was) holding hands with, like Bin Laden. Look the other way, contribute to the US economy by helping to fill our prisons, and we’re cool w/it. This has got me thinking…

The whole cycle is simply disgusting. I work for a publisher that deals a bit with subject matter used by social services and home visitors, and those people who assist others in poverty, and I know (I believe) education is the only way to stop the cycle of poverty. To think that by consuming alcohol or doing drugs that a person is directly contributing to poverty is surely a vile thought.

Lately there’s been a big push in Baltimore to “buy local” – buy produce from local farms, independent companies, etc. It sounds sick, but what about supporting your local drug dealer? Only using organic drugs, and drugs that you know were grown in the USA, that type of thing? Make your own booze, grow your own tobacco?

I’d encourage everyone to see this documentary – J and I were glued to the TV watching it, each fact more absurd than the prior. It was something we had never thought much about, but I’m glad I am now.


Anonymous said...

You should read Reefer Madness, by Eric Schlosser. It goes into the ridiculous amount of money the government spends on cracking down on minor crimes like marijuana sales/use.

For all the money they spend on things like heat-seeking helicopters to find marijuana grow-houses, or to pay for the imprisonment of someone participating in a minor drug deal, think about how much money could be spent on things such as community programs to keep kids off streets or to vocational training to get people the skills they need to get jobs.

We all agree that taking preventative health measures, such as yearly physicals, go a long way to protecting our health. Why can't people understand that preventative measures in our communities will fight poverty and drug addiction?

Scorpia said...

I just read recently that the US spends 6 times more on the prison system than it does on education.

We certainly have our priorities backward.

I'm going to look out for that doc, I'd like to see it was well.