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THE UNFULFILLED PROMISE
Posted by Time for change in General Discussion (01/01/06 through 01/22/2007)
Thu May 25th 2006, 03:25 PM
One quarter of the prisoners in the world are U.S. prisoners, and half a million of them are drug related, frequently for mere possession. As I discuss, I don't believe that the "war on drugs" is being fought for the public good.
“An agent posing as a dealer called and asked to speak with Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where she thought Jeff could be reached. An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors, simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.”

Walter Cronkite, former Managing Editor and News Anchorman of CBS Evening News – Discussing the injustice and human toll of our current “war on drugs”, in “Telling the Truth about the War on Drugs


The scope of the U.S. prison population

According to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, there were 2.1 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons as of mid-year 2004, a 2.6% rise from 2003, and representing a 32 year continuous rise in the U.S. prison population.

The U.S. incarceration rate of 724 per 100,000 residents is now the highest rate in the world. Russia is a distant second, with 564 per 100,000 residents, and the highest rate in Europe is England/Wales, at 145 per 100,000 residents. The United States, with only 5 % of the world’s population, holds one quarter of the prison population of the world.


Drugs and the U.S. prison population

Since Richard Nixon declared a “War on drugs” in 1971, the prison population of the United States has multiplied manifold. From 300,000 U.S. inmates in 1972, the U.S. prison population grew to about one million by 1990 and to about two million by 2000. And this is despite a falling crime rate since 1991.

Of the total U.S. prison population in 2004, more than one quarter, 700,000 marijuana arrests in 1997, 87% were for mere possession, and 41% of those incarcerated for a marijuana offense are incarcerated for possession only. This is not surprising when one considers that most non-violent first time offenders guilty of drug possession today in the United States get a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years with no parole, or 10 years with no parole if a large quantity of drugs is involved.

The racial disparity in the United States for imprisonment for drug offenses is well known. Though the Federal Household Survey (See item # 6) indicated that 72% of illicit drug users are white, compared to 15% who are black, blacks constitute a highly disproportionate percent of the population arrested for (37%) or serving time for (42% of those in federal prisons and 58% of those in state prisons) drug violations.


Other tragic effects of our “war on drugs”

The United States has pressured many countries to collaborate with it in its “War on drugs”, particularly with respect to preventing the production and export of drugs from those countries. This often involves aerial spraying of farmland (especially in Columbia) suspected of growing drugs, and the consequent destruction of the livelihood of farmers.

This “war” provides a lucrative world-wide business for narco-traffickers. Consequently, many believe that it has been responsible for far more violent crime than it has prevented.

Many illicit drugs have important medical uses, but because of the “war on drugs” their use for medical purposes is either completely outlawed or severely curtailed.

And nobody can say that we are winning this “war”, despite the 50 billion or so dollars that we spend on it annually. Drug use in the United States is little different today than it was when the “War on drugs” began”.


Drugs and death and violence

Most Americans believe that the war on drugs is being waged because drugs kill people. But to put things in perspective, consider these figures on annual deaths in the United States, from federal government sources, including the National Institutes of Health:

Cause…..................# annual deaths
Tobacco…................390,000
Alcohol……….……………...80,000
Second hand smoke…..50,000
Marijuana………...................0
All illegal drugs…..…..…..4,500

Ok, so some might look at these figures and ask, “Aren’t those 4,500 lives worth saving?” But there is no evidence that our war against drugs reduces drug use or saves any lives. And why should we incarcerate a half a million people for the mere possibility that that might prevent a tenth of one percent of those people from killing themselves?

Others might have the belief that our “war against drugs” prevents death and violence by taking crazed drug users off the streets. But there is no evidence that the “war against drugs” does this. In fact, the opposite is more likely. If drug use was decriminalized, that would substantially reduce the price and the profitability of selling drugs, thus reducing much of the motive for violence. As Jeffery A. Roth, of the U.S. Department of Justice says:

Illegal drugs and violence are linked primarily through drug marketing: disputes among rival distributors, arguments and robberies involving buyers and sellers, property crimes committed to raise drug money and, more speculatively, social and economic interactions between the illegal markets and the surrounding communities.


Then why has our government persisted in this war on drugs?

I can think of a number of reasons for the persistence of this so-called “war”, but I’m not sure which are the most important.

Ever since Richard Nixon declared war on drugs and then trounced George McGovern (the last presidential nominee to seriously question our drug policies) in the 1972 Presidential election, winning every state in the country except for Massachusetts, politicians have believed that a “tough on drugs” stance is usually necessary to further one’s political ambitions.

It has also been pointed out that, coincident with the burgeoning prison population in the United States, there has also been a large increase in the number of private prisons, which have increased from five in 1995 to 100 in 2005, in which year 62,000 persons were incarcerated in private prisons in the United States. The owners of these prisons have a financial interest in long prison sentences, which they have aggressively lobbied for.

Another reason for the “war on drugs”, which may apply to the cynical leadership of the Republican Party, is that by disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of minority voters, the conservative agenda and chances for electoral success of the Republican Party are substantially enhanced.

And the “war on drugs” gives our government an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries – such as Colombia. Not to mention the enhanced opportunity it gives to our Executive Branch for control over our own citizens (although today the “war on terror” suffices plenty well for that purpose.) And there is even evidence that the CIA has used the illicit drug trade as a major source of funding for itself.

So, measuring it by the above noted purposes, one could say that the “war on drugs” in our country has been a resounding success. But in terms of the purpose that has been sold to the American people for three and a half decades, it has been anything but a success. As Walter Cronkite recently said about our “war on drugs”:


The “war on drugs” is a failure

I just love what Walter Cronkite (Remember him? Wouldn’t it be great if we had more journalists like him around today?) recently had to say about this:

While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens.

I am speaking of the war on drugs. And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.

While the politicians stutter and stall - while they chase their losses by claiming we could win this war if only we committed more resources, jailed more people and knocked down more doors - the Drug Policy Alliance continues to tell the American people the truth – “the way it is”…..

The federal government has fought terminally ill patients whose doctors say medical marijuana could provide a modicum of relief from their suffering - as though a cancer patient who uses marijuana to relieve the wrenching nausea caused by chemotherapy is somewho a criminal who threatens the public.

People who do genuinely have a problem with durgs, meanwhile, are being imprisoned when what they really need is treatment. And what is the impact of this policy? It surely hasn't made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people...disproportionately people of color...who have caused little or no harm to others - wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals.

With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort - with no one held accountable for its failure.

Amid the clichés of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we've become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.

But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs is a failure.

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The Unfulfilled Promise
The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream: The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals




Time for change


Notwithstanding the lofty sentiments and purpose of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the reality of the United States of America did not then – and never has – lived up to its ideal. Our nation remains today a long way from fulfilling the promise implied by those ideals. Yet, our Declaration was a great start, and it has long shone as a beacon of hope for people all over the world.

Throughout our history, while many have striven to close the gap between our highest ideals and the reality of our nation, others have focused on the accumulation of private wealth and power, at the expense of everyone else. In recent decades the latter have gained much ground, leading to increasing imperialism abroad and deteriorating democracy at home, characterized by routine (and legal) bribery of our public officials, the fusion of government and private corporate interests (corporatocracy), a corrupt election system largely in the hands of private corporations, a corporate controlled communications media, and the widespread acceptance of Executive Branch secrecy, routinely justified with little if any questioning, by the magic words “national security”. All of this is rapidly turning our country from the democracy proclaimed at our founding into a plutocracy (government by the wealthy and for the wealthy). The result is the most obscene wealth gap our country has ever known, the highest imprisonment rate in the world, rampant militarism, routine flaunting of international law, the least efficient health care system in the developed world, a pending environmental catastrophe that threatens to destroy the life sustaining forces of our planet, and myriad other problems that threaten to destroy our nation and tyrannize our people.

My new book, The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream – The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals, explores the roots and consequences of the demise of our democracy, and why most Americans have been unable to understand this process or even become aware of it. A good understanding of why and how we have deviated so greatly from the ideals of our nation is the first and necessary step towards getting back on the right track and revitalizing our society.

The book is currently being sold in electronic PDF format and can be purchased at http://www.unfulfilledpromise.com/Buy-the-... for $3.99. It will also soon be available in Amazon Kindle format. DU members who cannot afford to buy the book but would like to read it can pm me with your e-mail address, and I will send you a free PDF copy.

I’ve previously posted on DU a slightly earlier version of the introduction to the book, which is also posted at my site. Here is the Table of Contents, followed by a brief description of the three parts of the book:


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction
Acknowledgements
Prologue – What is Wrong with the United States of America?

Part I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy
Chapter 1 – Legalized Bribery
Chapter 2 – Human Psychological Factors
Chapter 3 – Corporatocracy
Chapter 4 – Corporate Control of Media
Chapter 5 – Corrupt Election System
Chapter 6 – Government Secrecy
Chapter 7 – American Exceptionalism

Part II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions
Chapter 8 – Slavery and its Legacy
Chapter 9 – Early U.S. Imperialism
Chapter 10 – U.S. Imperialism in Cold War
Chapter 11 – Iraq War and Occupation
Chapter 12 – Afghanistan War

Part III – Consequences
Chapter 13 – Election of George W. Bush
Chapter 14 – War and Imperialism
Chapter 15 – Class Warfare
Chapter 16 – Predator Financial Class
Chapter 17 – Shock Therapy
Chapter 18 – Contempt for Int. Law
Chapter 19 – The “War on Drugs”
Chapter 20 – Climate Change
Chapter 21 – “War on Terror”
Chapter 22 – Health Care
Chapter 23 – Unaccountable government
Chapter 24 – Response to 9/11 Attacks
Epilogue


PART I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy

It is somewhat difficult to separate the causes of our problems from their consequences, since they combine to form a long chain of cause leading to consequence, leading to more consequences, etcetera. Nevertheless, it seems worth while to identify the root causes of our problems, those that occur early in the chain and lead to so many of the tragic consequences we see today. The only chance we have of reversing the demise of our democracy is through addressing and attacking its root causes.

At the top of the list is the systematic bribery of public officials by the powerful corporations (Chapter 1) whom our government is charged with regulating in the public interest. Instead of calling it bribery, we call it “campaign contributions”, but what we call it isn’t as important as what it is. It is hard to fathom how democracy can survive when such a practice is legal and condoned.

Working in tandem with our system of legalized bribery is the nature of the people who inhabit our country. That is not to say that Americans are inherently substantially different than any other people. Human beings are imperfect, and that is probably a major reason why in a world where civilization began more than five millennia ago, the oldest written national framework of government in the world today – the Constitution of the United States of America – is only a little more than two and a quarter centuries old. Chapter 2 explores the roles of basic human needs, authoritarianism, psychological defense mechanisms used to prevent us from perceiving reality as it is rather than as we’d like it to be, and corrupted ideologies in causing us to passively accept the accumulation of power in the hands of ambitious and ruthless individuals who care about little else than expanding their own wealth and power.

When bribery of public officials is tolerated as an inevitable aspect of public life, government inevitably grows close to the wealthy interests that shower it with money in return for legislative and other favors. A malevolent symbiosis grows between the state and corporate power, resulting in rule by an oligarchy that is highly detrimental to the lives of ordinary people (Chapter 3). Using their accumulated wealth and power to manipulate our legislative process, the oligarchy grabs for more and more control of the communications media (Chapter 4) that are used to control the information available to and shape the attitudes of our nation’s people, in pursuit of their own narrow interests.

Since the 1980s an orchestrated campaign has been underway to demonize “big government”, thereby paving the way for private corporate control over more and more functions that were previously deemed intrinsic functions of government. Among those functions is the running of public elections (Chapter 5) – the function that symbolizes democracy perhaps more than any other single function. Consequently, the purging of selected registered voters from our computerized voter rolls has become a routine recurring event throughout much of our country, and without a doubt determined the results of the 2000 – and probably 2004 as well – presidential election. Just as bad, more and more of the counting of votes in our public elections have been turned over to private corporations, which count our votes using electronic machines using secret software to produce vote counts that cannot be verified by anyone.

Bribery, the fusion of government and private interest, fake and biased news, and corrupt elections are not things that government and its corporate allies want us to know about. Consequently, they construct walls of secrecy (Chapter 6) to keep us from obtaining information that sheds light on their activities. The perfect phrase for facilitating this is “national security”. When our government tells us that the “national security” requires that certain things be kept secret from us, the understanding is that to question such a pronouncement is unpatriotic, and to actually attempt to obtain the “secret” information may be treasonous.

But indefinitely maintaining secrets from the American people can be very difficult, because at least some people want to know what their government is up to. So in addition to the formal mechanisms of secrecy, informal mechanisms are constructed (Chapter 7) to keep vital information away from us. One of the primary methods for doing this is to make certain sensitive subjects taboo – that is, to create the widespread belief that discussion of these topics is so outside the bounds of acceptable human discourse that anyone who discusses them should be shunned by society, or worse. The most common issue that falls into this category is any discussion that sheds light on the disparity between American ideals and the reality of life in our country today.


PART II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions in U.S. History

Notwithstanding the fact that our founding document says that “all men are created equal” and speaks of the inalienable rights of humankind, the United States has throughout its history partaken of massive exploitation of other peoples.

It is estimated that at the time of our birth, 18% of our population was black slaves. In our expansion westwards during the late 18th and 19th centuries, we decimated the original inhabitants of our continent, and often treated them with great cruelty. In 1846 we manufactured an excuse for war with our neighbor Mexico, in which we continued to expand our country westwards and southwards. In 1893 we began our overseas imperialism with the conquest of Hawaii. Our overseas expansion was greatly accelerated in 1898 with our participation in the Spanish-American War, which led to our conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. With our arrival at world superpower status at the end of World War II, we began the Cold War, which led to and served as a rationalization for covert and/or direct military actions against myriad foreign nations over the next 46 years. With the September 11, 2001 attacks on our country, we declared a perpetual “War on Terror”, which served and continues to serve as an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, nations that posed no threat to us. We do not know when or if this perpetual war will ever end. We don’t know how many additional imperial conquests it will lead to.

Most Americans don’t think much about all this. Many of these actions are done in secrecy, and the American people don’t find out about them until many years later – or we never find out about them at all. Those that we do know about are spun into the most favorable light, to make them seem benign or even noble.

But these actions come at great costs: in the lives of our soldiers; in the ruined lives of the peoples of the victim countries; in trillions of dollars cost to our people and their future generations; in our international reputation; in anti-American hatred leading to terrorism; and, to our democracy itself. For how can a nation claim to believe in the inalienable rights of humankind specified in its founding document, while making a mockery of that belief in the way it treats other peoples? For that reason alone it is worth while to take a brief look at our long history of imperialist actions.


PART III – Consequences

In the Prologue I give a brief account of what I see as some of the worst and tragic consequences of the root causes that I discuss in Part I – to enable the reader to see where this book is heading. When elections of our public officials are for sale to the highest bidder… when our public officials are so addicted to the “campaign contributions” of their wealthiest constituents that they develop a symbiotic relationship with them… when our communications media are owned and controlled by an oligarchy of wealthy elites… when our citizenry lack the ability to differentiate propaganda from reality… when we allow machines provided by private corporations to count our votes using secret electronic software… then we should expect that the consequences will not be pretty or comfortable for the vast majority of our citizens.

In Part III, I explore those consequences in much greater detail, in the hope that the reader will agree with me that these are very serious problems, and that they must be successfully addressed if our country is ever to fulfill the promise of its ideals, or even make progress in that direction. When enough Americans recognize our problems as problems, stripped of the gloss and spin put on them by our oligarchy, they will rise up and do something about them. Until then there will be no progress, and we are very likely to head in the direction of all the former empires of our planet, ending in chaos, widespread catastrophe, suffering, and ignominy.

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