GenZ Pilot Podcast
November 29, 2018
December 3, 2018
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Part THIRTY of our series on the WAR ON DRUGS – “Tautology”.


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Show Notes:

  • Things continued to get worse under Reagan.
  • Social services were cut, and the hardest hit turned to drugs.
  • Reagan took the money from social services and put it into drug enforcement.
  • Putting lots of young black men – who probably weren’t going to vote Republican – into jail.
  • So they could never vote again.
  • The George HW Bush ran on a crime and drug campaign in 1988 and won.
  • Like Nixon, Bush discredited the suggestion that social pressures such as poverty and racism play a role in creating crime, and promoting the notion that, like all other social problems, crime is entirely the fault of bad people making bad choices.
  • At this point, the United States had been fighting its War on Drugs for twenty years.
  • Despite the billions spent, the millions imprisoned, and the loss of liberties to both drug user and nonuser alike, drugs were cheaper, more potent, and used by younger children than when Nixon started the war.
  • The drug cartels were wealthier and more sophisticated than ever.
  • The number of cocaine dependents had grown.
  • Drug violence, unheard of at the start of the Drug War, now terrorized poor neighborhoods.
  • Drug combatants died daily; just the number of slain innocent bystanders had tripled in the two years prior to Bush’s inauguration.
  • Rather than evaluate the efficacy of the War on Drugs and the wisdom of pursuing it, Bush shuffled the deck one more time.
  • Under Nixon, heroin was the big bad drug.
  • Halfway through Carter’s reign, marijuana nudged it aside.
  • As the public’s passion to fight marijuana waned, cocaine was thrust forward to draw fire.
  • Then crack.
  • The Drug War front shifted endlessly too, from the border to the streets to Bolivia to the money-laundering banks to the suburbs and back to the border again.
  • One new development in Bush’s years was his administration’s decision that drugs would no longer be mentioned as a health problem.
  • Which is strange because the physical damage of drugs – while always highly over-rated – was the whole point of the war on drugs up to this point.
  • But now it just came down to morality.
  • Right and wrong.
  • If drugs are a health problem, then addicts are sick, and that portrays them in a sympathetic light.
  • If you base prohibition on drugs’ health effects, what do you say to the millions of occasional users who convincingly claim to be uninjured by the drugs they took?
  • The biggest problem with basing a prohibitive drug policy on the health risks, though, was the invitation to comparisons.
  • The year Bush became President, tobacco killed some 395,000 Americans — more than died in both world wars.
  • Alcohol directly killed 23,000 and another 22,400 on the highways.
  • Cocaine, on the other hand, killed 3,618 people that year.
  • Heroin and other opiates killed 2,743.
  • And no death from marijuana has ever been recorded.
  • In terms of crime, booze was implicated in violent crime to a much greater degree than any illegal drug.
  • The Justice Department found that half of those convicted of homicide in 1989 were using alcohol at the time of the killing, while fewer than 6 percent said they were on drugs alone.
  • Bush relied on a neat bit of tautology: marijuana, heroin, and cocaine are immoral because they are illegal.
  • Why are they illegal? Because they are immoral.
  • End of story.
  • A guy called Paul McNulty
    From the Justice Department, said: “Now that the government has spoken to the subject that drugs are unlawful, a person who disobeys the law has made a moral choice and should be dealt with appropriately.”
  • The media kept playing their part in spreading disinformation.
  • In the late 80s, their favourite stories were about crack babies.
  • By 1989 scientists had had four years to study the phenomenon of “crack babies” and some were backing off from their initially alarming reports.
  • Ira Chasnoff, the Chicago doctor whose 1985 article in the New England Journal of Medicine started the crack-baby panic, now cautioned that crack was only a small part of the problem for small, undernourished, and sickly babies.
  • Pregnant women are sixteen times more likely to use alcohol than crack, he wrote, and unlike cocaine, alcohol has proven fetus-damaging effects.
  • Poor women have always birthed smaller and sicker babies, and the sharp increase in the number of poor, uninsured women was certain to boost the number of ailing newborns.
  • Prenatal care — and the insurance to pay for it — was and is a better predictor of a newborns health than whether the mother smokes crack.
  • “In the end,” Florida health officials concluded in 1985, “it is safer for a baby to be born to a drug-abusing, anemic, or a diabetic mother who visits the doctor throughout her pregnancy than to be born to a normal woman who does not.”
  • Researchers of human “crack babies” furthermore found that the effects of cocaine wore off within a few months and that such babies who were well fed, loved, and properly stimulated could recover completely.
  • Yet the myth of the “crack baby” grew ever larger.
  • Because the media thrives on fear mongering.
  • Nothing like a scary story to drives sales.
  • Charles Krauthammer writing in the Washington Post dismissed “crack babies” in 1988 as a “biologic underclass whose biological inferiority is stamped at birth.”
  • The following year he wrote “[t]heirs will be a life of certain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority.”
  • Boston University president John Silber criticized “spending immense amounts on crack babies who won’t ever achieve the intellectual development to have consciousness of God.”
  • The New York Times declared “crack babies” unable to “make friends, know right from wrong, control their impulses, gain insight, concentrate on tasks, and feel and return love.”
  • Even Rolling Stone condemned “crack babies” as “like no others, brain damaged in ways yet unknown, oblivious to any affection.”
  • Reporters sent out to write “crack baby” stories sometimes got their facts right without knowing it.
  • After forty-odd inches of horror stories of low-income women giving birth to “crack babies,” the Wall Street Journal, in a typical July 1989 front-page article, let drop that “their mothers aren’t all low income.
  • Linda, an impeccably dressed 34-year-old, now looks more like the accountant she once was than a recovering addict who once had a $2 000-a-week crack habit.”
  • Turns out, the Journal reported, “her son was born healthy.”
  • No explanation was offered as to why a woman smoking $2 000 worth of crack a week can give birth to a healthy baby.
  • And no connection was made to the fact that, unlike every other mother in the article, Linda is an impeccably dressed accountant who likely had health insurance and proper care.
  • “USERS ARE BUMS,” declared the Readers Digest in an article with that title in June 1989, “whether they are doorway junkies, trendy weekend consumers or once a month dabblers.”
  • A month later, America’s biggest-selling magazine was back with another drug article, saying that because attacking “the supply side of the drug crisis has failed miserably. . . let’s get tough with drug users!”
  • Percentage of the nation’s sixteen- to thirty-five-year-old black men arrested during 1989: 35.
  • Percentage of black men who said in 1980 they could earn “more on the street doing something illegal than on a straight job”: 44.
  • Percentage who said the same thing in 1989: 66.
  • Federal funds paid to drug informants in 1987: $35 million.
  • In 1989: $63 million.
  • which was half again as much as it did to operate the Office of Management and Budget.
  • A lot of this money went to small-time crooks.
  • Some of it went to big-time crooks.
  • In one legendary case, a convicted drug dealer who was flat broke upon his release from prison in 1984 became a multimillionaire by 1990 — all on government snitch payments.
  • The War on Drugs made the criminal justice system one of the top growth industries during the eighties and nineties.
  • Police jobs at all levels of government swelled by 36 percent and prison jobs by 86 percent during the Reagan years alone, while overall government employment rose by only 16 percent.
  • Number of Americans arrested in 1990: 1.1 million.
  • Number arrested for marijuana possession: 264,000.

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