White Supremacy and the Obama Legacy

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

One World (2017)

Book Review

This remarkable book is a collection of essays about white privilege, Obama’s inability to live up to his campaign promises, and the role of his presidency in setting the stage for Donald Trump.

Coates’ approach to the topic of white privilege is largely historical. He traces the brutal reversal of Reconstruction reforms and re-institution of de facto slavery with Jim Crow laws; the Great Migration north of 6 million African Americans during the early 20th century; the deliberate exclusion of African Americans from New Deal programs such as Social Security, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and FHA (Federal Housing Administration) mortgage insurance; as well as the War on Drugs and mass incarceration of African Americans.

Coates has the best definition of white supremacy I have seen anywhere. In his words, white privilege is “banditry.”

“To be black in America is to be plundered. To be white is to execute and benefit from it.”

Coates gives numerous examples to justify this view: the exclusion of African Americans from wealth creation programs such as FHA and VA (Veterans Administration) mortgage loans, long time job discrimination and wage suppression, the recurrent decimation of prosperous Black communities via white race riots, predatory owner “contract” financing of home purchases, and predatory targeting of Blacks for subprime mortgagae they can’t repay.

My favorite essay is the one advocating for African American reparations, based on the argument that systematic exploitation of Blacks didn’t end with slavery but continues to the present day. As a precedent Coates cites the $7 billion (in today’s dollars) West Germany paid Israel in 1953 in compensation for Germany’s genocidal treatment of European Jews during World War II.

 

How the War on Drugs Increases Drug Use and Destroys Communities

The House I Live In: The War on Drugs in the United States

Directed by Eugene Jerecki (2012)

Film Review

Last night Maori TV showed The House I Live In, which maintains the US War on Drugs is far more destructive than drugs themselves. Instead of reducing illicit drug use, the War on Drugs has vastly increased it – in part because it has shifted funding from treatment to enforcement.

The documentary traces how drugs enforcement has always been targeted, not against drugs, but against ethnic minorities (and removing them from the workforce). In the white community, drug addiction has always been viewed as a public health problem. Yet in the 19th century, the first opium laws were targeted against Chinese workers imported to work on the railroads; in the early 1900s cocaine enforcement was targeted against African Americans migrating from the South to northern cities; and in the 1920s and 1930s, the first marijuana laws were directed against Hispanics coming to the US seeking work.

Although the War on Drugs was initially launched to win votes for politicians (by promising to increase incarceration rates), there seem to be other factors that are perpetuating it. According to the filmmakers, the main three are mandatory minimum sentences (which force judges to hand out 20-30 year sentences for relatively minor nonviolent drug offenses, incentives that reward cops to pursue easy drug busts* rather than more dangerous crimes like murder and rape, and the job-creating potential of the profitable prison-industrial complex.

For me the most surprising part of the film concerned the increase in amphetamine-related arrests (occurring mainly in white men) since the 2008 global economic crash. After losing their jobs, many blue collar whites have turned to amphetamine manufacture and distribution to support their families. Thus a growing number of poor whites are facing the ridiculously long mandatory sentences African and Hispanic communities have been struggling with since the 1990s.


*These incentives also cause police to focus enforcement efforts on the ghetto. This results in much higher arrest rates from African Americans, even though they use illicit drugs at roughly the same rates as whites and other ethnicities.

An Insider’s View of Drug Smuggling

smuggler

Smuggler: Roger Reaves a Memoir

by Roger Reaves

Marrie J Reaves Publishing (2016)

Book Review

Smuggler is an extremely unusual memoir by a 73 year old American who is currently serving a life sentence in Australia for drug smuggling. Written over fifteen years, it’s a highly detailed, journal-like memoir painting the author’s journey from excruciating rural poverty to high rolling international drug smuggler.

The reader comes away with the clear sense that despite government efforts to portray Reaves as a dangerous blood thirsty king pin, he was actually a lowly middleman who was regularly cheated and manipulated by the real king pins who engaged his services. While Reeves was highly successful (bringing in millions a month) during the first decade and a half of his career, a pattern emerged in which his clients routinely weasled out of paying him, shortchanged him on the quanity and/or quality of drugs they asked him to traffic, and/or provided him with mechanically faulty and dangerous aircraft and boats. Towards the end of his career, some were actively colluding with the DEA and FBI to entrap him.

Owing to the illegal nature of marijuana and cocaine trafficking a person has no comeback – except murder or serious physical injury – if a colleague cheats them. As the highly personal memoir makes clear, it wasn’t in Reaves’s nature to engage in lethal retaliation. This, perhaps, explains his failure to rise to the ranks of vicious psychopaths like Pablo Escobar.

For me the most interesting part of the book is the section where Reaves talks about his relationship with Barry Seal and the guaranteed “no-interception” cocaine delivery operation he had going at the Mena Airport – with the active approval and support of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton and Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush.

According to Reaves, there were only two delivery points in the US where traffickers could unload a shipment with absolute guarantee that neither Customs nor the DEA would bust them. Mena was one of them.

Reaves believes strongly that the War on Drugs is a racket perpetuated mainly for the benefit of Wall Street and illegal CIA military interventions. He advocates for the US and its allies to follow the example of Portugal, which has decriminalized all drugs. In Portugal, where possession of three grams of any drug is treated as a spot fine, crime rates have plummeted since the policy was implement in 2001 (see The Cato Institute and the Drug War).

How to Make Money Selling Drugs

drugs4

How to Make Money Selling Drugs

Directed by Matthew Cooke (2013)

Film Review

How to Make Money Selling Drugs is a biting satire on the ludicrous “War on Drugs” and its perverse effect of increasing American drug use.

Mimicking an investment informercial, the mockumentary guides viewers on how to move up the ranks from gang-backed street peddler, to private retailer, to distributor, to domestic and/or international smuggler, to drug cartel king pin.

It also offers expert advice on how to beat a case, how to conceal drugs in a vehicle and how to get crooked cops to work for your franchise. It also profiles an ex-cop who can get you off if the police plant narcotics in your car.

My favorite part of the film is a cameo by Freeway Ricky Ross, who late San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Web made world famous for his role in distributing cocaine the CIA smuggled into the US to fund their illegal war against Nicaragua.

The video can’t be embedded (for copyright reasons), but you can watch it for the next few weeks at the Maori TV website: How to Make Money Selling Drugs

 

Iranian TV Profiles African American Oppression

The Façade of the American Dream

Press TV (2013)

Film Review

This is a very troubling documentary by Iranian national TV about the present plight of America’s black community. It features a variety of African American voices, ranging from educators, lawyers and doctors to community activists. There are also four Caucasian faces – an economist, two anti-racist activists and the late assassination researcher John Judge.

The documentary is divided into four parts.

Part 1 This is Why We Have the Blues mainly addresses the problem of mental enslavement that results from being forced to adopt the culture of the dominant society. It goes on to address the plight of black youth when schools deliberately conceal their history from them and the campaign of assassination and incarceration of black leaders like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, George Jackson and Medgar Evers when they successfully mobilized black people to stand up against African American oppression.

Part 2 From School House to Jail House looks on serious drawback of public school integration, which has denied black students access to black teachers and a curriculum that endows them with pride in their history and culture. This process has been aggravated by national and state mandate for high stakes testing – which one activist compares to apartheid South Africa’s Bantu education. This was a system dedicated to preparing black South Africans for menial jobs.

Part 3 Lack of Wealth, Lack of Health focuses on the lack of access to healthy food and routine medical care in inner city communities. For many African American men, the only access to a doctor or dentist is in jail or prison. The result is a significant lower African American life expectancy (on average, black men live eight fewer years on average than white men and black women six fewer years than their white counterparts).

Part 4 You Ain’t Free explores the rise of mass black incarceration in the 1970s, which one activist views as a direct response to African Americans rising up in the 1960s to demand their rights. During the mid-sixties, the US prison population was 70% Caucasian – at present that percentage is 30%. Meanwhile the total US prison population has increased from 300,000 to 2.4 million, despite a significant reduction in violent crime. All the commentators link black mass incarceration to the War on Drugs and police policies that deliberate target African American communities with arrest quotas (see The New Jim Crow).

The Ugly History of the War on Drugs

Exile Nation: An Oral History of the War on Drugs

Directed by Charles Shaw (2011)

Film Review

In laying out the sordid history of the US prison industrial complex, Exile Nation helps us understand how the US came to have the largest prison population in the world, far exceeding that of China, which has over four times as many people.

A significant proportion of US inmates are African Americans and Hispanics locked up for “victimless” drug offenses. At present 500,000 of American’s 2.3 million prison population is inside for using heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine. Thirty thousand are there for cannabis possession.

The documentary intersperses commentary by “experts” (cops, judges, sociologists, psychiatrists, defense attorneys, jail monitors, medical marijuana activists and prison rights advocates) with those of ex-offenders.

The US Invents Mass Incarceration

Crime rates in the US first reached a high point in 1830, largely due to high levels of alcohol abuse. The US would be the first country in the modern era to introduce mass incarceration as punishment for law breaking. The Pennsylvania Quakers believed that locking people up would force them to “repent” – the origin of the word penitentiary. The experiment failed. Studies consistently show that imprisoning convicts neither rehabilitates them nor discourages them from re-offending.

Nixon’s War on Drugs

Nineteenth century crime rates slowly declined, plateauing during the Civil War era. From then on, they remained constant until the 1970s, when Nixon declared the first war on drugs. His primary target was the immense social movements of the late sixties and early seventies. Nixon couldn’t constitutionally punish hippies for opposing the Vietnam War nor African Americans for demanding the right to vote. Instead he targeted their behavior, ie the widespread use of marijuana, LSD and cocaine that accompanied these movements.

In doing so, Nixon deliberately ignored the recommendation of a 1972 bipartisan commission that recommended that marijuana use be criminalized.

Reagan’s War on Drugs

The prison industrial complex received a second major boost in 1984, when Reagan declared a second war on drugs. Unlike Nixon, who envisioned drug arrests as a form of social control, Reagan used the drug war (particularly against crack, a new bargain basement form of cocaine) to demonize African Americans and win votes from white blue collar workers.

The Mainstream Media Revolts

The media turned against the drug war and prison industrial complex in the 1990s, with Ted Koppel producing several excellent documentaries highlighting the drawbacks of mass incarceration. The resulting shift in public opinion would lead the federal government and many states to begin downsizing their prison populations. Sadly 9-11 and the War on Terror interrupted this process.

A high point for me were the interviews with medical marijuana activists describing the history of their movement (leading to the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes in 23 states sates).

I also really liked the sections on the medical use of MDMA (ecstasy) in treating post traumatic disorder and the psychedelic ibogaine in treating heroin addiction.

The Demonization of Psychodelic Drugs

Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychodelic Medicines

Directed by Oliver Hockenhull (2013)

Film Review

Neurons to Nirvana is about the detrimental effects of the War on Drugs on research into the medical and sociological benefits of hallucinogenic drugs.

Psychodelics have been used medicinally and in religious rituals for over 10,000. They’ve been used in nearly every culture except our own European culture. Psychodelic plants co-evolved with human beings to enhance our understanding and respect for the interconnectedness of the ecological system that supports our existence. Plants have important investment (to enhance their survival) in interacting with human beings via the chemicals they produce (see How Plants Control Us).

The filmmakers maintain that no brain theory will ever be complete without a complete examination of the the effect of psychodelic drugs. Yet it’s extremely difficult to undertake this type of research in the US or Britain, owing to their archaic drug laws.

Neurons to Nirvana argues the crackdown on psychedelic drugs in the sixties and seventies was motivated mainly by the political threat they pose. This relates in part due to their ability to break down barriers between ethnic groups and social classes and in part due to their ability to disrupt the “consensus trance” created by our constant bombardment with pro-government and pro-corporate propaganda.

The film also makes the point that legalizing psychodelics might be the only solution at this point to breaking through the zombieized mind set that’s destroying our plant. After viewing this documentary, I tend to agree with them.

The documentary divides specific therapeutic effects by drug category:

LSD

First discovered in 1943, LSD is the best study because psychiatrist used it in psychotherapy in the fifties and sixties. LSD research would lead to the identification of the neurotransmittser serotonin in 1948. Serotonin pathways play a major role in regulating the speed and scope of neural interconnections. LSD appears to counter the control Serotonin exerts over these interconnections.

With a dose of LSD, patients experience the ability to make new connections. Use in controlled therapeutic settings can enable patients to connect with repressed and suppressed memories and emotions. LSD users commonly report the realization that there is no “other”, ie that all people and things are interconnected.

Research reveals a single dose of LSD to be the most effective treatment for chronic alcoholism.*

Psilocybin (magic mushrooms)

Most psilocybin research has focused on its use in relieving pain and anxiety in terminal cancer patients. Single doses have also been useful in refractory depression.

Ecstasy (MDMA)

The DEA made ecstasy a Schedule 1 drug (effectively banning it) in 1985, despite a DEA administrative law judge’s recommendation that it be designated Schedule 3 (closely controlled but available by prescription). It’s an extremely effective as a rapidly acting, non-sedating, non-addicting anti-anxiety drug. Its best known therapeutic effect is as a catalyst for psychotherapy in veterans with treatment refractory PTSD.

Cannabis (marijuana)

Cannabis has a wide range of medical benefits and has been used to treat a variety of conditions for 4,000 years. Queen Victoria used it for period pain and the pain of childbirth. Senior citizens are the most rapidly growing demographic of marijuana users. They use it mainly to treat cancer, pain and nausea stemming from chemotherapy.

It contains more than 100 compounds with medial benefits, with cannabidiol the most widely studied.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a drug used for thousands of years in South American shamanic rituals. It’s primary medical use is in psychotherapy for trauma-related depression.

*Igobaine is another psychedelic effective in treating alcoholism, heroin addiction and PTSD. See Why Are We Sending Veterans to Costa Rica, Canada and Mexico