The day began with a shower. Not for me, but the `aina, delaying our walk for a bit as I petted the dogs and listened to the rain fall from the sky and then from the leaves, allowing a delightful transition from sleep to full wakefulness.
When we went out, the sky was turning a faint pink and the air was perfumed with the fragrance of puakenikeni from my neighbor’s tree. Wispy white tendrils drifted over the jagged emerald peaks of Makaleha, parting occasionally to reveal a waterfall. The world was full of sound: crowing roosters, cooing doves, warbling shama thrushes, drips, drops and splatters, two flocks of honking nene.
It’s hard to think about war in a peaceful time and bucolic place like this, but today marks the 40th anniversary of the day that President Nixon launched the “war on drugs” with his vow to keep spending money to eradicate “America’s public enemy number one.”
In the four decades years since he identified a new enemy to distract people from the ruins of his presidency, we’ve spent $1 trillion on a war that even its warriors say is lost.
Of course, that’s not the only war that’s sucking us dry. Interestingly, just as we mark one legacy of the Nixon era, Congress is fighting with Obama over another: the War Powers Resolution, which was passed in response to the crook’s actions in Vietnam.
Just two days ago, a George Washington University Law School professor and some of his students filed suit against Obama on behalf of a bipartisan group of 10 members of Congress who claim the President violated the Resolution and Constitution by waging war on Libya without Congressional approval.
Obama claims it’s not a “war” because we haven’t sent ground troops or engaged in sustained fighting. But it sure feels like a war, what with its cost of $10 million a day and drone attacks that deal death and destruction.
Ironically, the same President who vowed to end the wars that Bush started, but has since mired us in another, also promised to end the wars on drugs. Yet as a report from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition shows, he’s done the opposite:
The “latest available federal data shows that drug arrests during President Obama's first year in office are up compared to those during the first year of President Bush's administration.”
“Despite President Obama's clear -- and politically popular -- statement that we have to think more about drugs as a public-health problem,' his administration's budgets request funding for punishment at a much higher level than for treatment and prevention.”
“If the president really thinks we need to move away from punitive, war-like approaches to the health issue of drug abuse, why, for example, did his first drug control budget with his new drug czar in place (FY 2011) include a 13% increase in anti-drug spending for the Department of Defense, an 18% increase in the Bureau of Prisons drug control funds and a 34% percent decrease in support for anti-drug programs under the Department of Education, as compared to President Bush's budget from FY 2009?”
“Despite reassurances that a cash-strapped federal government would not waste its limited resources attacking legitimate, state-approved medical marijuana providers, the rate of raids on those compassion centers has actually increased during this administration.”
So it’s clear that Obama, like so many before him, says one thing to get elected, then does another once he’s in power. Meanwhile, the people of the nations we’re occupying and bombing continue to suffer, the drug-related carnage in Mexico has reached horrific levels and, as Time magazine reports, the war on drugs has created “unhealthy side effects” for Americans:
Today, we have 2.3 million prisoners: 743 people per 100,000 in the population. The U.S. has 5% of the world's population, but 25% of its prisoners.
This is coupled with racist enforcement policies:
The rate of incarceration for drug crimes is 10 times higher in blacks than in whites, even though drug use and dealing rates are the same or even higher for whites.
More African Americans today are under criminal justice supervision — in prison, on parole or probation — than were enslaved 10 years before the Civil War, according to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. And more than 10% of black men between the ages of 20 and 35 are in prison, which keeps them from their families and children.
President Jimmy Carter caught the drift, as he writes in an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times:
In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”
These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.
Whether it’s waged against drugs, Al Qaeda or the Taliban, war is not an effective strategy for reducing a perceived threat. But it does wonders for boosting the bottom line of military contractors and the prison complex.
Must we endure another 40 years of needless pain, suffering and waste before we see the light?