AIG as the symptom, not the disease

Dilbert Bailout HearingsI keep receiving these sorts of petitions in my inbox:

Dear Friend,

AIG Financial Services — through gross greed and negligence —
brought our entire economy to the brink. And it cost us $170
billion in tax payer money to bail them out (more than $500 from
every American)!

We bailed out AIG because it’s massive size and reach in the
world economy, its failure would have meant a true economic

But that’s just what they’ve done. $450 million in bonuses.
President Obama has called it an outrage.

Join our campaign to stop the AIG bonuses and get our money
back. Click here now to send a message to the AIG Board and your
elected officials in Washington.

These petitions are pointless.

Now, I don’t want to stop people from taking action. In fact, appropriate and informed community action is what will eventually get us all out of the multiple interlocking messes of which the AIG imbroglio is merely a tiny bit. However, those who think that signing such petitions will bring about the sort of transformation we need are either misinformed or fundamentally delusional.

Basically, AIG is a symptom of the underlying disease of the current moment and not the cancerous growth of the financial establishment that has long typified American business.  An otherwise sane, healthy sociopolitical establishment is no more a part of contemporary America than it was an aspect of Germany in the late 1930’s.

A core problem with the way that we’re looking at AIG is that, as is far too often the case, we lack a conceptual framework to guide us to a fuller comprehension that might empower our anger. So our being pissed off doesn’t help much. We’re angry but refuse to to look at it analytically. We must examine matters objectively the way that Marx did, which led him to find that a free market economy cannot, ultimately, produce anything except what has occurred so far.
Here are some good resources to amplify this point:Labor and Monopoly Capital

Baran and Sweezy Monolopy Capitalism

Harry Braverman – Labor and Monopoly Capital

William Appelman Williams –The Great Evasion

For those unwilling or unable to sit down for a moment in order to mull over these texts, I offer here a lightning version of the market phenomena that have landed us where we are today.

The beauty of capitalism, of course, mainly to those who through foresight, chicanery, or lucky connections, have benefited from it for generations and generations, is that it provides the framework for getting rich. This carrot of wealth is, furthermore, waved in front of our faces, as a motivation to buy into a system that promises equal rewards for all those who choose to participate–the promise that hard work will yield remunerative results. The system not only promises to reward those willing to undertake the effort to bring something to the marketplace, but also those who are willing or able to invest in these ventures.

“Real wealth” requires “real work” aptly enough. And after a period such as the 1940’s and 1950’s, when the U.S. was busy building destruction machines and then rebuilding the parts of the world that had been destroyed(and building ever more destructive engines), plenty of places to put assets existed, places that through ‘real work’ would build more wealth for the investor.

But, as inevitably happens, as more and more capital investment further and further upped productivity, so that fewer and fewer workers were obtaining wages necessary to purchase the goods that the productive process was capable of producing and, increasingly, overproducing, investment opportunities dried up.

But capitalism is not a ‘steady state’ system. It must, like the shark, keep swimming forward in order to breathe.  New technologies–Vannevar Bush’s “endless frontier” of science–and the markets for what they provided took up some of the slack.  Militarism and prisons and fetishes and finagling energy and gold gave some slack to the necessity of finding investment opportunities for more and more capital when the very dynamic of the investment process diminished relative purchasing power among workers, again guaranteeing glut and the snorting dread of a suffocating economic stillness.

How, then, to find profit for ever expanding pools of capital in an economic environment that has impoverished more and more consumers and thus made fewer and fewer commodities profitable? The math wizards’ solution was to expand the capacity to leverage and hedge so that all those folks chasing after the carrot of wealth didn’t have to invest in the actual production of marketable things – actual, real products – suddenly anyone with a little loose cash could just bet that the Chilean peso would rise or fall,  or that the cost of producing soybeans in Brazil  would get higher or lower or that Alicia or Jimbo or bunches of bundled homeowners would default on their mortgage.

Not only could someone with capital make such bets, but folks with real means could make multiple bets–a factor of ten or more was easily within the reach of big pools of money.  Thus, with a million bucks, a Credit Default Swap fund or a commodities fund or a currency fund or an interest rate fund could make ten million dollars worth of such bets.  They could use their million dollars of loose change to borrow ten million and then place a hundred million in bets.

Individually, all of these kinds of hedge bets are no worse than any bet; nobody loses more than he puts on the table.  However, in a highly ‘leveraged’ position a string of bad luck can mean that a million dollar investment turns into a hundred million dollar sinkhole.

AIGThis is where AIG comes into the picture; capitalists would rather walk naked down the   interstate than take a risk with their own funds.  And fiduciary duty suggested that they ought to take out insurance for these wagers.  These pools of money were essential to the ‘boom’ of the past twenty to thirty years, and killing the goose laying this gigantic golden egg appealed to no one with a seven figure income or higher.  Thus,  for a buck or 2 or some other nominal charge, AIG would guarantee $1,000 worth of these kinds of investments, which after all had little or even nothing to do with production of goods and services and everything to do with parking the funds of capital in some niche or other that would produce the 5-10% a year that is the necessary lubrication of bourgeois life.

When  AIG agreed, ‘OK, if these investment positions go south we’ll pay them off’, they were taking a systematic risk.  Even though those bets had little day-to-day connection with underlying economic activity, paradoxically any serious problem back in the real world could multiply its impact in the ethereal realm of hedge bet, inasmuch as that realm had taken a dollar and bet it on the underlying reality a hundred times or so.

AIG and others of its ilk had basically accepted a small profit for 10 to 12 years to insure a quadrillion dollars or some other indeterminate megatrillion in bets–pure and simple bets: the stuff of horseraces and office Football pools. The thing is that their income from all this amounted to only 30 or 40 billion a year, so that when a significant fraction of those bets collapsed, they suddenly found themselves unable to come through. Now they’re on the hook for untold hundreds and billions or some number of trillions and if they default then all those people they insured are also on the hook- and all of those people own the world and all of those people are the basis of China continuing to finance the US government.

The cumulative effect of this entire process was a total “Value at Risk” somewhere between 100 trillion and 1.5 quadrillion dollars, which is to say, up to 30 times the annual global GDP. Obviously under such circumstances the promulgators of such processes were wild and crazy gambling fools. They were also the owners of worldwide capitalism and were doing what they had to do so as to allow capitalism to survive as free enterprise: private ownership of the means of production. Thus, the problem with all of the cabal and kvetching about AIG is that very few of those who are complaining are willing to acknowledge that the problem stems from the system and not the character of those who run the system. If we want to improve our lives and security and communities in the context of contemporary capitalism, the only way to do so is to rid ourselves of capitalism. Attacking AIG does nothing to accomplish this necessary end.

Part of Capitalism’s mystique comes from its alleged egalitarianism –  the Horatio Alger myth – the idea that anyone, with just a bit of wit, lots of hard work, and a product that society needs, can make it big. This mythos stops most people from even entertaining the notion that the only cure to the AIG fiasco is to eliminate the mythos itself since the average Joe finds this idea much more attractive than its ideological counterpart, which everything in every school teaches us purveys only a dark and morbid existence in which everyone, regardless of effort or ability, must conform to a standard of mediocrity–the John Galt view of life, basically . Of course, conceivably, social democracy could create ‘a comfortable and fulfilling life for all brothers and sisters’, something which we would be tickled pink to see a bit of just now, since anyone who has bothered to read to this point, or who has been conscious of reality around them for the past few years, can see that this ideal condition is one that the Capitalist ideology has failed to create.

If we are unable to come to terms with the fact that the underlying problem is capitalism, then we really will be able to do absolutely nothing about the government allowing most of the nation’s citizens to lose their homes, lose funding for education, see their possibilities for affordable healthcare diminished at the same time that they see the government continue to channel all available funds towards saving AIG and others in the casion capital class. And not all the protests, petitions, gnashing of teeth or rending of garments will prevent this eventuality.

Instead of multiplying redundant safety systems, we have been living as if we want to multiply redundant risk systems.  The real point, however, is that this is in fact the system under which we live, and unless we are willing to make some effort to transform our relationships with each other in such a way as to make possible a transformation in our relationships with economic activity, one way or another, AIG and its formulas will be back again in another form.

The rich have nowhere to put their money, since the poor have no money to buy their shit.  The relations of production and distribution have to change, or AIG is the best we can hope for.

Plant Vogtle, part II

Well, Tuesday certainly was a good day for the nuclear industry, especially here in Georgia.

Georgia Public Service Commission OKs Georgia Power’s Vogtle plant expansion beginning in 2011 but rejects proposal to lower customer bills.

Not only did Georgia’s Public Service Commissioners agree to have customers pre-pay for these new reactors, but they also rejected a  proposal that would have eased the burden on customers during the reactors’ first years of operation, by a 4-to-1 vote.

Does this not make the name “Public Service Commission” the biggest Orwellianism ever created?  Maybe not.  Lest we forget, Georgia’s House of Representatives approved a ‘deal’ by which the really huge users of power, those who might actually benefit markedly from a big grid project like a nuke, and who already pay substantially lower rates than the hoi polloi, are 100% exempt from the privilege of the Southern Company’s double-dipping.  Aren’t these ‘representatives’ supposed to be representing real human Georgians?  Ah yes, Orwell again.

In the whole Machievellian scene, the most chilling line, and yet another bow to 1984, came from commissioner Lauren McDonald, who asks  “Can we all agree that nuclear energy is green?”  As my redneck buddies would say, “Do what?”

Eric Epstein, whom we interviewed for our Three Mile Island commemorative project, and who heads the Three Mile Island Alert group and is a board member of the Sustainable Energy Fund, scoffs at this notion–‘somewhere between a disingenuous propaganda tidbit and an out and out lie.’ Beyond the issues of nuclear waste -which one can never dispose of- and the inevitable radiation risks attendant on running nuclear plants, he analyzes another set of facts that further illustrate that the  nuclear industry’s claim to ‘greenness’ is total bunk.

“There’s huge aquatic impact from nuclear power, not just water use, and it has to be factored into play. They emit pollution. Toxic, caustic. They emit green house gases. Is it to the degree of coal? No. But it’s still a contributing factor.   […] The(se) same people (who) complain about coal, are burning coal! Utilities that own the nuclear power plants also burn coal. The debate shouldn’t be between arsenic and cynanide. I reject that categorically. ‘You have to either have arsenic or cyanide’…It’s funny, because the industry says “oh my God, coal’s so dark”, but it’s like “dude! … you own the coal plant down the road!'”

Mary Olson, South East Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service would disagree as well.  Nuclear power is anything but green, and in particular, she brings up the issue of the misnomer ‘nuclear recycling’.  Nuclear reprocessing, which industry PR geniuses have taken to labelling ‘nuclear recycling’ so as to make it sound more ‘green’, is a highly toxic process which is only capable of rescuing 1% of the spent fuel.  And this measly 1% consists of Plutonium 239, which is primarily a superstar in its nuclear weapons” role, acting as a ‘trigger’ for every hydrogen bomb on earth.  It can run reactors, though of course the downside is double doses of cancers, double doses of other toxic side effects, and much higher helath and safety risks across the board.

Rosalie Bertell, an epidemiologist who founded the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, states that even plants that, unlike TMI, have suffered no accidents, constantly release radioactive liquids, solids, and gases into the environment, effluents which the industry does not monitor and which are nevertheless demonstrably responsible for debilitating and lethal health effects, ranging from cancer to heart disease to chronic anemia.

I would respond to Commissioner McDonald’s definitely disingenuous and quite possibly hypocritcal question with another query:  “which of these incontrovertible aspects of nukes are the green aspects to which you refer?”  The damage to the water supply, the ill-named ‘nuclear recycling’ program, or the long-term health effects of anyone living anywhere near a nuclear plant?

I can only conclude by repeating:

True enough, we face stark choices about energy.  And we may have little option, at some juncture, other than to rub the nuclear lamp again and hope that the genie their turns out to be friendlier than we feared.  At the very best, we will be buying the new reactors at Plant Vogtle at a cost that is dear but about which we have little choice.  And that’s at the very best.  At worst, and much more likely, given even more copious data that the discerning can see, we are signing a death warrant for unknown legions of our children and grand children, all to enrich the already fabulously wealthy.

And they’ve managed to get us to pay in advance.  It’s crazy, at the best.

On Linda Darling-Hammond’s Work

On DailyKos, a site which I frequent, has a feature called Diary Rescue, selects essays which might otherwise not attract the attention they deserve for resuscitation. This blog entry expands that redemptive effort, for the sake of this essay, which outlines the work of pioneering educator Linda Darling-Hammond.

This is a model for us all.

Especially me, some might add.  As one who teaches ESL and is a freelance ‘enrichment’ coach for learners from fourth grade through post-doctoral, I commend this diarist for two main reasons.  Number one is the specificity and organization of the information here.  Number two is the ‘reality-based’ policies that both Darling and the diarist recommend.

On the other hand,  some background is necessary to an accurate understanding of such complex matters as U.S. education policy.  Since before Horace Mann’s critique in favor of industrial education, and Dewey’s experiments, conjoining body and soul so to speak, our nation has gone through many an intellectual turn about education and schooling.

Arguably, however, for the most part only a few of the more ‘radical’ critiques, such as the ’70’s classic, Schooling in Capitalist America, have sought to explicate the roots of the problem as a conjunction of socio-economic analysis of actual schools and communities, on the one hand, with the political economic goals and objectives of power elites, on the other hand.  Such investigations have to be apt, in the context of contending that we want to improve both learning results and general empowerment.

Tougher Bill on Illegal Immigration

Immigration Bill

The Grand Old Party, especially in Georgia, has raised ‘divide and conquer’ tactics to the level of fine art.  This bill and others like it at the Federal and State level around the country attack primarily Hispanic workers, who inherently have close to zero bargaining power.   They simultaneously appeal to Black and White workers who already feel threatened by both outsourced and incoming international workers.  Unfortunately, the result of such efforts will always be a further lowering of the wages, benefits, and quality of life of all workers.

Three Mile Island project

We are working on a  project which involves documenting differing perspectives on what most observers agree was the worst reactor accident in American history.

Within the next few weeks, by the date of the actual anniversary of Three Mile Island itself, we will make  available to internet listeners  an archive of interviews that we have collected.  These conversations proffer varying points of view, yet each participant faces the same 11 questions  about the March 28 event thirty years ago.  Our focus though, instead of the past, is what, if any, of TMI’s ramifications are relevant now. We will not edit these in any way, so that all interviewees have precisely the same chance to state their points.

We intend to document as many different points of view as possible: academic and scientific voices, community voices, political organizations on both sides of the nuclear debate, as well those of some actively involved in the business of creating nuclear power will appear.  In addition, some of the folks who shied away from participation will show up, when we read their e-mails or otherwise document how we tried to include their input.

So far, we’ve captured more interviews from nuclear critics than from atomic energy supportersr. In spite of my own views on the subject, which are decidedly skeptical of the utility, safety, and general beneficence of nukes, I intend to include as many nuclear advocates on tape as I possibly can. After all, people can only reach an informed decision about complex matters when all the information is present.  As Thomas Jefferson stated it,

“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power”.

We hold with those who, even in matters of the most arcane policy, find a place for and insist on advice from the people who are the leaders of any republic.

The most critical point to recall, perhaps, is that the Three Mile Island accident has profound resonance and importance to contemporary reality.  In fact,  as long as  nuclear reactors here and elsewhere continue to produce electricity, radiation, and waste, the Three Mile Island episode will mark a milestone from which we must continue to learn, and upon which we must continue to reflect.  Honest brokers on all sides of this issue agree with this conclusion, and this agreement is the basis for our efforts in this matter.

An awesome novel is available, a movie version soon

It’s by a recently deceased Swedish journalist and novelist, Stieg Larsson, and, apparently, is about to become a film. The author intersperses data about domestic and anti-woman violence throughout the tale, which is a gripping story of how women manage to resist, sometimes of necessity in a violent and vengeful way.

It is also a tale of how fascism and the fetish of sexualized violence go hand in hand. And let’s see: oh, yeah, fascism is when, like, capitalism goes into major crisis mode, and then…oh yeah.

“Prohibition Blues” Redux

Before December 20th, 2007, Jake Nicholas Barton‘s only claim to minor fame was his great grandfather, Winston Churchill.  Similarly, prior to the 18th, Kai Franklin Graham‘s greatest notoriety was her mother Shirley, Atlanta’s tough, effective, populist mayor.  During that week, however, both of these minor ‘celebrities-by-family-association’ experienced a more direct notability after earlier drug busts led to guilty verdicts for each of them, ‘Sir’ Barton’s in Australia and Ms. Graham’s in South Carolina.  Barton’s arrest followed participation in an ecstasy ring that was preparing to peddle 12 kilograms of MDMA in Sydney; Graham’s plea followed admissions that she had knowingly used large chunks of her husband’s cocaine cash and contraband to pay her bills and maintain her life in a manner to which she had grown accustomed.  Both of these stories have all of the makings of tabloid drama, versions of which Britney Spears, Kate Moss, Michelle Rodriguez, Woody Harrelson, et al. ad nauseum have brought to the fore in recent memory.  However, for serveral reasons, these events permit us an opportunity to “examine our consciences,” as the Catholic prescription goes, about social, political, and economic aspects of controlled substances for which we are at least theoretically responsible, inasmuch as we are citizens of an erstwhile democratic nation. Even though these events are well in the past by now, they serve to illustrate current phenomena, in that the same things keep happening over and over again.

Justice Served?

The initial issue that ought to call forth introspection concerns the case resolution of two relatively heavy-hitters, in terms of the amounts of money and contraband involved.  For a key role in a $13 million conspiracy, Barton can expect probation by February, roughly twenty months after his and his associates’ arraignment in June, 2006.  Meanwhile, for an apparently conscious and supportive connection with her husband, now serving a life sentence for his ‘A-list’ retail coke gig, Kai Franklin Graham expects only to face probation and community service.  What would happen to me under those circumstances?  What has come to pass for millions of petty thieves, small-time dealers, and recreational users caught up in the maw of the war on drugs?  The data are appalling, although finding crisp compilations approximates the labors of Hercules cleaning the horse-shit from the Augean stables.  Until procedural changes that have occurred in the past few weeks, however, the average paltry pot dealer–less than a pound–could expect five to ten years on average; offering as little as a few grams of crack on the market, meanwhile, would likely have resulted in twenty years in state prison, without possibility of parole.  The disparities between the treatment of the regular working class ‘fall-guy’ and that afforded to the relatives and friends of, and participants in, the jet set are so extreme as to be noisome.  Seeing the disposition of Franklin Graham’s and Barton’s judgments cannot help but reinforce the notion that contemporary criminal jurisprudence, especially in relation to ‘controlled substances,’ represents a fundamentally unfair, and egregiously flawed, system-of-injustice that operates in contravention of its own or any rational premises of social control, social improvement, or public safety.

Not the Issue.

In truth, though, the prejudicial unfolding of the ‘War on Drugs’ is the least problematic element in the present pass–after all, ‘justice’ must inevitably display some unbalance, or our institutions would be Edenic indeed.  My own family’s and copious friends’ experiences prove beyond doubt that color, class, and connection account for a huge proportion of case outcomes, especially in first-offender or police-discretion situations.  That a good friend, the son of an FBI agent whose ‘golden-boy’ geist belied his ‘bad-boy’ habits, escaped with a warning and confiscation when a South Carolina state trooper stopped him with a pound of cocaine on the front seat on his seventeenth birthday, merely fleshes out a portrait of a system that we all know operates in a brutal, biased, and bizarre way.  Kate Moss’s apparently constant ‘nose-candy’ habit, with the upshot of a few luxury ‘rehab’ visits, points to another, yet similar, sort of inequity, one that we all accept, just as we realize that the likelihood of presidential daughters’ doing hard prison time for their pot faux pas is pretty small.A much more dire iniquity emanates from much deeper levels of impropriety in our cultural policies regarding drugs.  Such prominent financial institutions as Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Deutsche Bank, for instance, show up repeatedly in investigative reports regarding money laundering of the plus-or-minus trillion dollars cash a year that black market policies guarantee to major drug dealers; occasionally, non-financial companies, such as Enron or Chevron, allegedly benefit(or in the case of Enron, benefited)from such ‘book-cooking’ schemes.  Moreover, whether one prefers scholarly and historical investigation, as in The Great Heroin Coup and Drugs and Oil,


or enjoys hard-hitting current investigative output, such as Gary Webb’s San Jose Mercury News series on CIA importation of crack and Michael Ruppert’s brilliant tour de force in the pages of Crossing the Rubicon, or likes to plow through government hearings such as those on the Iran-Contra scandal that strongly suggest the drug-running culpability of such ‘heroes’ as Ollie North, or just sits back and marvels at the ongoing carnage of corruption that police and official involvement in the drug trade causes, that representatives of primary ‘protective’ institutions at least occasionally orchestrate the ins and outs of contraband processing, distribution, and usage can no longer be a matter of controversy for anyone other than the criminally culpable or pollyannishly naive.

Crossing the Rubicon

Finally, one need not be a true hero, in the vein of Michael Ruppert, who left the ranks of honest cops because he realized that his goal of bringing drug criminals to the bar would either prove impossible or get him killed in an environment of CIA orchestration of most of the elements of the trade, to witness such transgressions personally.  I have known and deposed two former DEA agents who, like Ruppert, retired young because, as one of them put it, “I didn’t want to end up with a cap in the head from a spook whose turf I violated.”  The essentially incontrovertible nature of such facts and examples as these means that critical attributes of our society exist as, at best, criminally fraudulent enterprises that we continue to ignore at the peril of our civic soul, to return to the ‘examing-the-conscious’ figure of speech.  In this vein, the foibles of the grandson of Winston Churchill–who might himself very well have been a speed freak–or the daughter of Atlanta’s mayor–who rules over a city as rife with drugs as any metro area on our fair planet, pale in comparison to what is obviously true of our constitutional core.

so it goes…

Many citizens simply cannot manage the combination of self-assessment and social analysis that the preceding paragraphs imply that we must manage, in spite of how ugly and vicious and stupid the whole situation seems.  Nonetheless, the difficulty of countenancing these ‘big-picture’ story lines is understandable.  What is not defensible, though, is yet another implication of Barton’s and Franklin-Graham’s criminal forays.  Wherever one looks in America today–in our high schools, in pubs and clubs, in church socials and office barbecues–illicit use and distribution of mind-altering substances is so ubiquitous that outside of communities such as the Amish, every adult in the country has a direct, at most a ‘one-degree-of-separation,’ relationship to the sale and smoking, dropping, drinking, snorting, shooting, or otherwise imbibing of all sorts of plant substances, and their chemical analogs, that get their users high, off, or otherwise to some altered plane of consciousness that a few folks achieve through Jesus or meditation, but the vast majority of us obtain on the basis of a ‘better-living-through-chemistry’ undertaking.  The vast array of evidence demonstrative of these facts means that only the blind, stupid, willfully ignorant, or dishonest among us is truly unaware.  In this context, the sagas of the Churchills and the Franklins are merely confirmatory of the epics of everyday life that every one of us senses, transpiring around us on a daily basis.

Were spiritual and ethical losses the only costs of the systemic dishonesty and corruption everywhere obvious around us, a reasonable attitude toward such personal drawbacks might be that they promise grotesque psychic and social consequences.  However, arguably the primary detriments of the War on Drugs’ intractable hypocrisy and fraud are economic and political, debits so profound in fact that they permit, and may promise, that we undermine all hope of a human democracy unless we find a way to act against their continuing influence.  The surface manifestations of this despoilation appear glaringly obvious.  The nauseating murder by the police of 92 year old Kathryn Johnson in Atlanta is just the clearest recent expression of a war on citizens that the War on Drugs militates must continue until we end our teetotalling facade.  Tens of thousands of citizens die each year at the hand of drug gangs and police gangs that are all too often impossible to distinguish.  Even more ennervating to average communities is the steady drain of talent and potential from them, not as a result of occasional drug use–which will ever be a component of the human condition–but directly flowing from the imprisonment of millions and millions who are nothing other than small-scale entrepreneurs and party-animals for the most part; other millions end up behind bars, marked for life as ‘unfit for human consumption,’ because they do develop really monstrous drug habits that, in the context of the false prohibition that prevails today, must lead to theft and predation to supply themselves with substances artificially expensive due to the black market that our statutes make unavoidable.

In this gloomy swamp of hypocrisy, the uplifting influence of the ‘Prison-Industrial-Complex’ on the already wealthy and otherwise well-endowed might seem a hilarious irony but for the social and personal carnage which the War-on-Drugs-Police-and-Prison-Subsidy-Program annually produces for the majority of us.  Police budgets, substantially increased by the ever present hypocrisy of fighting our most basic nature, easily exceed a hundred billion dollars a year, with another $30 billion or so on tap for prison expansion and construction.  Further tens of billions of our social treasure support the panoply of therapists and counselors whose very reason for being contravenes the programs in which they must participate, the cures and treatments that must always fail to deliver the results which they promise, and on and on, ad nauseum.  The fates of young Mr. Barton and Ms. Graham, in some senses, thus exemplify that, for the contractors and power brokers and moneybags who consistently make out like bandits from the assault on reason and hope that the War on Drugs stands for, “it is indeed an ill wind that bodes no one good.”  While one may under the circumstances enjoy Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus, which fictionalizes a world in which half the population labors as prison guards as the other half fights the doldrums of imprisonment, an attendant duty upon the conscientious ‘examination of the conscience’ that this essay purports to provide is to work to prevent Vonnegut’s imaginary existence from becoming the predominant reality of our lives.

the real issue

Nicholas Barton and Kai Graham evince an important actuality: as the busts continue successfully against relatively minor grifters(even if they rake in impressive millions, after all, their take pales in comparison to hundreds of thousands times larger drug-money pie)who may occasionally even be minor celebrities, the major players continue to operate with impunity, and the system trumpets the parade of lies and fraud that underpin a criminal conspiracy that passes itself off as law and policy in our benefit.  In a situation such as this, I cannot help but wonder about the vast ignorance of most folks about where this all came from, how it came into existence from identifiable events and patterns from the past.  Who knows that “heroin” was a wonder drug at first?  Who remembers about Sigmund Freud’s and Sherlock Holmes’s predilection for cocaine?  Who can even vaguely recite the manner in which opium served the British empire?  Who is aware that the Kennedy family billionaire fortune has its roots in rum-running?  Who realizes that the origins of the CIA are essentially indistinguishable from the decision to use ‘Mafioso’ as agents during World War II, and that these relationships continue into the present era, when drug networks are the lingua franca of the spy business?  Dozens and dozens of like political inquiries are germane to figuring out why things are so royally screwed up that our survival is clearly at risk.  Nor should the interrogatories end with these historical matters.  Who knows the history of cannabis?  Of LSD?  Of the opiates?  All of them tell a story about humanity not unlike the tale of the grape, of mead, of beer, a correlation that we pretend does not exist at our ongoing mortal peril.  If we are willing to look at the story of an upper-crust Englishman of ‘good family,’ and at the tale of an upper-middle-class Black American woman of ‘good family,’ in an open-minded and inquisitive fashion, we may yet achieve some measure of growth toward a comprehension of core issues of hypocrisy and corruption that plague our communities, our families, and our hopes.

Clayton McMichen, a Cobb County Georgia crooner and early country music star, composed “Prohibition Blues” in 1930; the opening lines of the fourth stanza, “Prohibition has killed more folks than Sherman ever seen,” established his ‘confederate’ credibility, but the overall song illustrates the crass class dynamics of illegal alcohol in its repeated theme, that “Prohibition is just a scheme, a fine money making machine.”  Wherever one looks these days, the encroaching tentacles of increasingly pronounced prohibitory schemes are burgeoning.  Untold billions of common people suffer as a result of this futile brutality-in-the-name-of-justice; occasionally, as in the past week, a pair of well-off and privileged sorts experience the merest glimmer of the consequences that the life-sentences and death sentences of the ‘War on Drugs’ “money making machine” impose on so many of the rest of us.  McMichen, no doubt an early proponent of “progressive country,” leaves us with words that should elevate and focus our thinking appropriately.

I’ll tell you brother, and I won’t lie,
What’s the matter in this land.
We drink at will, and vote it dry,
And hide it if we can.
Well, the rich they party, and they all get drunk,
And they call it society.
But if they catch you with a pint,
Good Morning Penitentiary.