The Stupidities of the Inept Wars on Drugs, Cancer, and Terror

We owe the war on drugs and the war on cancer to Richard Nixon. In a brief extract from my new book in progress, The Great Capitalist Restoration: Seeds of a Catastrophic Depression, I make the case that the war on drugs may have been enough to put George W. Bush in to office, where he was able to give us his war on terror.

The aims of the war on cancer are admirable, even though the government is careful not to attack corporations that are responsible for much of the carcinogenic pollution that surrounds us. Yet, some recent newspaper stories suggest that the conduct of the war on cancer may be succumbing to the same sort of bureaucratic stumbling that characterizes the current war in Iraq, thanks to the current regime.

I guess it is time to go back to William James & the moral equivalent of war.

I begin with two short notes about the Centers for Disease Control, then give the extract from my book. The stupidity of the conduct of the invasion of Iraq needs no comment.

Young, Alison. 2006. “Exodus, Morale Shake CDC.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (10 September).

“An exodus of key leaders and scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised “great concern” among five of the six former directors who led the agency over the past 40 years. Their concerns, expressed in a rare joint letter to current CDC Director Julie Gerberding, come amid growing staff complaints about whether her strategic shifts in the agency’s focus are putting public health at risk, according to interviews with current and former CDC officials and documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”

“Critics say the agency is changing to a top-down management style that stifles science and that new layers of bureaucracy are being created that make agency operations more cumbersome.”

“The most visible sign of potential trouble at CDC is the loss of more than a dozen high-profile leaders and scientists since 2004. By the end of this year, all but two of the directors of CDC’s eight primary scientific centers will have left the Atlanta-based federal agency. The wave of departures — which numerous CDC leaders call unprecedented — also includes the agency’s top vaccine expert and world experts in several diseases. Just last week CDC’s pandemic flu coordinator said he’s leaving.”

The article gives much more detail about the problems.

Then, the New York Times describes how Gerberding’s close associates are getting an outsized share of the bonuses.

Harris, Gardiner. 2006. “Inner Circle Taking More of C.D.C. Bonuses, Agency Records Show.” New York Times (17 September).

“Top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received premium bonuses in recent years at the expense of scientists and others who perform much of the agency’s scientific work, agency records show. Those inside the office of the centers’ director, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, have benefited the most, the records show.”

“From 2002 through mid-2006, William H. Gimson III, the agency’s chief operating officer, received bonuses totaling $147,863, which included seven cash awards of more than $2,500. Mr. Gimson’s bonuses were about twice the amount granted to any other C.D.C. employee, the agency’s records show. Mr. Skinner said Mr. Gimson was not immediately available for comment. Mr. Gimson’s deputy, Barbara W. Harris, received six premium bonuses of $2,500 or more from 2002 through mid-2006 for a total of $84,894, agency records show.”

“In 2005, the records show that officials in Dr. Gerberding’s office received 60 premium bonuses totaling $515,075.”

Nixon’s War on Drugs

The Nixon administration declared a war on crime, but crime in reality was a code word for Blacks and other people who disagreed with the administration. The famous war on drugs is a case in point. Dan Baum’s wonderful book, Smoke and Mirrors, reports on his interviews with the founding fathers of this ill‑conceived “war” (Baum 1996). Some of them freely admit that the war on drugs had little to do with either public health or safety. Instead, they saw the stereotypical drug user as either an antiwar activist or an urban black. Not without reason, neither group had much affection for the Nixon administration. Attacking these “enemies” seemed to be a tempting opportunity to further the political agenda of the party in power. In Baum’s words:

[In the 1968 primaries] Nixon looked at “his people” and found them quaking with rage and fear: not at Vietnam, but at the lawless wreckers of their own quiet lives ‑‑ an unholy amalgam of stoned hippies, braless women, homicidal Negroes, larcenous junkies, and treasonous priests. Nixon’s genius was in hammering these images together into a rhetorical sword. People steal, burn, and use drugs not because of “root causes,” he said, but because they are bad people. They should be punished, not coddled. [Baum 1996, p. 12]

According to his close advisor, H. R. Haldeman, Nixon “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to” (Baum 1996, p. 13; citing Haldeman 1994, p. 53).

The war on drugs had another attractive feature: it deflected blame from a sagging economy, destructive business practices, or society at large, holding individual behavior responsible. For example, the war on drugs played a role in framing matters of workplace safety. The ostensible purpose of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was to attempt to prevent business from exposing workers to unhealthy and unsafe conditions. The rhetoric associated with the war on drugs allowed opponents of workplace safety regulations to blame the workers themselves for their own misfortunes. Symptomatic of this attitude was an article that Government Executive published in 1982, entitled, “White House Stop‑Using‑Drug Program ‑‑ Why the Emphasis Is on Marijuana.” According to this article: “While OSHA was created (in itself, a result, in part, of political pressure in Washington by anti‑Big Business activists) and gushing regulations having to do with workplace machines and procedures, corporations themselves began attacking a major part of the problem where it really was ‑‑ in alcohol and drug use by employees” (cited in Baum 1996, p. 188).

The rhetoric associated with the war on drugs also provided an easy answer to those who saw poverty as a sign of injustice. Defenders of the status quo could respond that poverty was a result of personal deficiencies, as evidenced by widespread use of narcotics.

In the 2000 presidential election campaign, the world discovered another unintended right‑wing benefit of the war on drugs. Many Southern states have felony disenfranchisement laws.

Draconian drug laws account for much of the swelling prison population. The enforcement of these drug laws falls disproportionately upon the poor, especially poor Blacks. Ira Glasser observed:

“According to federal statistics gathered by the Sentencing Project, only 13 percent of monthly drug users of all illegal drugs ‑‑ defined as those who use a drug at least once a month on a regular basis ‑‑ are black, about their proportion of the population. But 37 percent of drug‑offense arrests are black; 53 percent of convictions are black; and 67 percent of all people imprisoned for drug offenses are black. [Glasser 2006]

So, largely because of the war on drugs, criminal convictions removed more than four million people from the voter lists (Abramsky 2006). Because the poor and the minorities, who make up a disproportionate number of the prison population, are likely to vote Democratic, their disenfranchisement was the decisive factor in the presidential election of 2000. For example the state of Florida, where Bush’s victory depended on a mere 537 votes, disenfranchised 200,000 black Floridians.

The right‑wing receives a further electoral boost from the increased population of prisoners, over and above disenfranchisement. The Census Bureau counts incarcerated prisoners as part of the districts where the state houses them rather than in one of the districts that supply many of the prisoners. As a result, not only does imprisonment deny people the right to vote, it gives an extra weight to voters in the in Republican‑dominated rural districts where many prisons are located.

For example, imagine that right before reapportionment a new prison would double the population of a legislative district. Each vote in this district would have twice the weight of those in an average district. As a result of the relocation of the prisoners, the voters of this district could now have two representatives instead of one. If all the prisoners had come from two urban districts and had been eligible to vote before, those two urban districts could collapse into a single district. Of course, redistricting is always more complex than this example, but it still illustrates how the relocation of prisoners skews elections.

The state of New York, for example, tends to be vote for the Democratic party, although the less‑populous upstate region is mostly Republican. Despite their lesser numbers, Republicans control the state senate. If prisoners were counted as part of the district where they last resided, as many as seven upstate districts might have to be withdrawn, with the downstate Democrats picking up some seats (Roberts 2006). Just as counting slaves as three‑fifths of a person distorted elections in the period before the civil war, the policy of the Census Bureau together with the harsh drug laws and the racial and class biases of the judicial system help to reinforce the Republican advantage.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: