Wednesday, March 25, 2009

War on Drugs = War on Economics

     The economic Law of Supply & Demand is no more likely to be repealed by any Drug Czar than are the laws of physics which describe the engineering of the guns which are causing so much havoc further and further from the U.S.-Mexican border.
     The desire to kill one's physical and/or emotional pain - the typical motivations for self-medication - is immune to criminal punishments which only cause more pain.
     The most noticeable achievement of the War on Drugs is the creation of a black market where prices are directly related to the level of government enforcement of laws based on the idea that guns and prisons can reduce demand or supply. Of course, black market participants have no recourse to civil enforcement of contracts, so the law of the street is the rule. When might makes right, guns are the only law enforcement.
     Apparently the government is on drugs far more hallucinogenic than those consumed by the average addict, or even by Rush Limbaugh. The drug of wishful thinking is indeed potent, affecting voters as well.
     Why don't politicians try instead to heal the physical and emotional pain felt by so many? Maybe they want to keep getting campaign contributions from all the law enforcement agencies, private prison operators, and other corporations which make big bucks supplying junk food to all prisons. Maybe they think all the money spent on the criminal justice system represents economic growth and productivity.
     Why don't teachers notice and explain that the War on Drugs is based on atrociously bad science, a flagrantly bad example to young minds? Why don't journalists report on the corruption of science, or on the reasons for the physical and emotional pains that lead to addiction? Or on the fact that malnutrition causes much, even most, of the health problems associated with addiction? Or that healthy food can protect one from addiction? That healthy food can be affordable?
     Is it because they are afraid of being scapegoated and fired? That is the usual reaction to whistle-blowers and truth-sayers who rock comfy boats.
     But killing the messenger can't change the truth. And ignoring truth is just a recipe for more pain. They say you get what you pay for. Why not stop paying for the pain of more enforcement, more punishment, and more injustice? We certainly can't kill the pain with more guns.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sentimentality & Self-Righteousness

     The killing this weekend of the four unfortunate Oakland cops, presumably by Lovelle Mixon, comes less than three months after the killing of an unarmed man in Oakland by a BART cop on New Year's Day. This cannot have made Mr. Mixon feel any safer when his car was pulled over by Oakland cops, who have a reputation for brutality.
     Predictably, online comments are almost all snarky put-downs of blacks and progressives, or glorification of the guns belonging to our allegedly chivalrous protectors.
     Sentimental support for the protection racket is very popular, and very dangerous, as it affirms our feelings of powerlessness, and fails to address the accurate perceptions of danger among all residents of high-crime neighborhoods, whether they are law-abiding or the designated scapegoats.
     I found no comments about the stupidity of drug prohibition, nor about our inability to even have a meaningful public discussion about stupid laws which create felonies for no good reason. Not even two weeks ago, a Washington Post editor, speaking on C-SPAN, publicly ducked responsibility for not reporting on the idiocy of drug prohibition, let alone on the pathetically bad science which supports it.
     Nobody deserves this kind of fallout from our collective failure to practice meaningful democracy, neither Mr. Mixon nor the Oakland cops. But it will continue until we get smart.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Protection Racket & The Cult of Security

     On the research channel this morning, Dr. Robert Gould of Physicians for Social Responsibility spoke about U.S. military activities that are endangering the world and incidentally sabotaging our economic welfare.
     We all know about the kind of protection racket run by organized crime, but too few notice that cops and soldiers are also susceptible to this kind of sabotage. Mind you, that's not their intent. But organized use of physical force, whether government-sanctioned or not, inevitably contaminates the goal of safety, security and protection from (other) dangerous people.
     Paradoxically, like yin and yang, any idea carried to its extreme will shape-shift into its opposite. Thus, our natural desire for safety induces us to steep in a slowly warming bath of more and more security measures, typically involving physical separation from the designated threat. Paradoxically, in a police station where you would think people would feel safe, there is always more bullet-proof glass than anywhere else.
     Women who have patriarchal expectations inflicted on them are more likely to sense this paradox, but that doesn't stop many women from feeling safer with 'bad boys' who promise to protect them physically, in return for various services such as traditional women's work.
     Bad, unobedient girls, feminists like Susan Griffin, Susan Faludi, and Ellen Goodman, have made the connection between the personal and the political, extending the traditional meaning of "protection racket" to refer to men who 'rescue' women by insisting on protecting them from dangerous strangers when it is actually the so-called protector who will turn on the women who reject his protection and deprive him of his excuse for self-righteous violence. 
      And most men don't notice that they are just as vulnerable to this bullshit until they themselves are arrested, like Scott Baugh, the sanctimonious Republican who complained about being "assaulted by police officers during the search" of his home pursuant to suspicion of improper campaign contributions, according to the Fresno Bee of December 25, 1995. (Not surprisingly, instead of calling on WEAVE or his lawyer, Baugh called on his political buddies who froze the indicting DA out of the Republican old boys club.)
     But as Eve Ensler vividly explained in her recent book, "Insecure At Last," the perfect security con that apologists of wars and prisons are trying to sell you simply doesn't exist. The cultists of security want you to accept the bubble inside the protection racket without complaining, and certainly without any public hearings. 
     Don't let them smother you to death. Freedom requires insecurity. 
     There will always be things to fear, so it's easiest to just learn to adapt to your fears. Let your rational mind attend to the fears, and devote your heart to discerning what's best for all.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Capitalists Aren't Conservative

     In his recent book, "Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power," Mark Schapiro describes the 21st-century divergence of consumer protections in the U.S. from just about everywhere else. 
     It's been a decade or more since the European Union decided to adopt the Precautionary Principle as a key guideline for consumer protection. But, wouldn't you know it, U.S. imperial capitalists want no part of this kind of conservative cautious approach. They would rather keep making the kind of easy money to be had when 'buyer beware' is the rule.
     The result is that the U.S. is in danger of becoming a dumping ground for toxic or substandard products of all kinds that other countries - including China - are deciding to ban. Make-up and other household products, pesticides, GMOs, cars, and electronic equipment are some of the key industrial sectors where U.S. standards are rapidly falling to dead last.
     Notice that farmers are particularly hard hit by lack of demand for GMO corn & soybeans; Schapiro reports that only ethanol demand has so far saved the U.S. commodities markets from a price-busting glut.
     Recently, at the California Small Farm Conference, I heard more bad news for family farmers who practice earth-friendly farming. Recent minor outbreaks of e. coli have blocked anti-erosion projects because government inspectors from cities think crops should be hermetically protected from the natural world, just because a few people got sick from eating bagged salad that was past its pull-date and had been sitting in its plastic germ incubator for too long.
     The other day, the Sacramento Bee reported that a federal judge upheld requirements that raw almonds, including organic ones, must be pasteurized to protect us from salmonella. (How do almonds get salmonella anyway?) This judge upheld the result of a weaselly process whereby the Almond Board of California got away with pretending it's a government agency that has the authority to promulgate regulations like this, despite the protests of a few consumers and nonprofit organizations who were paying attention.
     The solution? Labeling. Complete, transparent, honest labels on every product. Why wouldn't an honorable corporation want to share with consumers complete information on their products? Because they don't want you to know; if they tell the truth, people won't buy their crap.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Real Conservative Leaders Are Women

     The teapot tempest about Rush's leadership of Republicans blipped by my radar screen the other day, but no one seemed to be talking about what exactly the sacred conservative principles actually are. That's probably because the standard Republican version is about as self-contradictory as the Bible, an inconvenient fact which many religious conservatives are similarly in total denial about.
     For example, how can people whose Bible says "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" be comfortable in the same party as corporations who say 'Do unto others before they do unto you?'
     My Bible says "For where your treasure is, there will you heart be also. Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" Where are the hearts of the Republican party's elected leaders who look at Mother Earth and think only of money and profit and never of loving stewardship?
     My Bible says "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." How can anyone who understands that a shallow materialistic life is spiritually unsatisfying accept, let alone embrace, the cut-throat concept of homo economicus, an isolated individual in the lonely crowd? This inhumane view of humans is the uneasy foundation for most of the allegedly scientific mathematics on which modern economic analysis rests. But corporations believe that they will only make money if they never lose.
     My Bible says "The love of money is the root of all evil." Only people who don't believe this can support corporations whose god is profit or vote for politicians who gain office through multi-million dollar campaigns.
     But the reason that women are the real conservatives has little to do with the Bible. It is really about sex, and about children. You may have noticed that women can bear and care for just a few children, compared to the large number men can sow. Thus, women are constrained to be more risk-averse about their children's care, all other things being equal (as they say in economics).
     So if conservatism means being economical in using one's resources, if it means traditions of caution in adopting new habits, if it means using what you have rather than trashing your stuff and buying more because corporations are advertising you to death - then women are by definition the true conservatives.
     Not Rush. Anyone who disses women can't really be conservative.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's A Myth That War Is Good For The Economy

     While it's true that the stimulus of World War II played a role in ending the Depression of the 1930s, it's not true that military spending is economically healthy.
     As Bob Herbert pointed out today in the NYTimes, ongoing military spending in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere creates economic stress that the national budget can ill afford. While Obama has provided a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, no end is in sight for Afghanistan.
     But Herbert overlooks other states where military spending remains high, namely the 50 United States. Canny military contractors and Congress have distributed manufacturing of military items throughout every congressional district in the nation, so addiction to these counter-productive jobs is widespread, despite then-President Eisenhower's prescient farewell warning about the military-industrial conspiracy. And of course these jobs are now even more difficult to forswear due to the unraveling of the worldwide economic system.
     Military spending is bad for the economy because it only produces things which are destructive, such as huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Moreover, the concept of the economy which was used during World War II excluded many necessary and important kinds of work, such as women's work, because it was unpaid and they needed to focus on paid work they could tax for the war effort. But this very incomplete picture of the economy has persisted since then, resulting in a highly lopsided and skewed notion of what's good for us economically. When crooks do this, it's called the protection racket.
     And as everyone knows, the protection racket doesn't care about actually taking care of women and children. If we really cared about children, none would be living in poverty rather than almost half now. If we really cared about children, bringing up children would be a respected and well-compensated profession. And if we really cared about our retirement security, we would be investing properly in the health, welfare, and education of all the children who will be taking care of us when we are too old to work. Bombs are not edible, and tanks do not empty bedpans.
     Now I realize it is comforting, especially to men, to unconsciously believe that mom loves you enough to take care of you for free. But there ain't no free lunch. Women need support as much as soldiers do. And they deserve it too.
     In classical times, men faced death in battle and women faced death in childbirth. But without the latter, the former is meaningless.