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.

French Prosecutors Charge Apple Under Planned Obsolescence Law

Prosecutors in France have charged Apple with deliberately slowing down older iphones when new models come on the market. The strategy, they claim, is to pressure users to upgrade to a new version. In France, it’s illegal for a manufacturer to deliberately decrease the lifespan of a product.

Apple admits to slowing down older iphones “to protect battery life.” They claim the problem can be solved if the user shells out another $30 for a new battery. Consumer advocates the new batteries should be free, as buyers weren’t advised of this additional cost at the time of purchase.

French iphone users are extremely angry. It would seem French consumers are quicker than those of us in the English-speaking world to recognize when they’re being ripped off.

This new scandal comes on the heels of a $13 billion fine the EU has slapped on Apple for tax evasion: Paradise Papers Expose Tax Cheats

And growing evidence about the health dangers of wireless technology The Dark Side of Wireless Technology

Al Jazeera examines the controversy on their current affairs program* Inside Story


*For younger readers, “current affairs” refers to a type of mainstream media in the late 20th century in which government issues affecting people’s daily lives were objectively examined and critiqued.

 

The Luxury of Dental Health in Third World America

Dental Health

Press TV (2017)

This documentary highlights the millions of Americans unable to access dental care owing to the prohibitive cost. With a routine dental checkups costing a week’s salary on average, healthy teeth have become an unaffordable luxury in the US.

The US is the only developed country that refuses  to provide basic health care for all its residents. Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010, poor Americans unable to access medical services experienced an average of 45,000 preventable deaths annually.

Total preventable deaths dropped initially (to 18,000) with the enactment of Obamacare. Since then skyrocketing premiums – coupled with Trump’s repeal of premium subsidies – have caused a rebound in the number of uninsured Americans.

California used to provide free dental services for indigent residents under the state Medicaid program. However this was discontinued in 2009. Although indigent children are still theoretically eligible to receive DentiCal services, reimbursement rates are so low only a handful of Los Angeles dentists participate in the program.

The film focuses on nongovernmental efforts to improve dental health in the Los Angeles Hispanic community. Ironically dental health deteriorates in Mexicans after they immigrate to the US – and move from rural areas to inner cities lacking access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Thus an essential component of the University of Southern California (USC) dental health outreach program involves a campaign to increase urban gardens and nutrition education in schools.

The USC Ostrow School of Dentistry also recruits volunteer dentists to run free dental clinics for children, the unemployed, the uninsured and the elderly (of all ethnicities).

In addition to to the USC program, the Los Angeles Hispanic Dental Association has established a fund to support Spanish-speaking students in pursuing dental degrees and foreign-trained Hispanic dentists in jumping the bureaucratic hurdles of obtaining a US work permit .

 

The UN’s Shocking Report on US Poverty

This Al Jazeera news feature highlights the recent report by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston on extreme poverty levels in the US. Panelists include Alston himself and antipoverty activists from Alabama and Skid Row in Los Angeles. A Guardian reporter accompanied Alston on his tour of American communities. The photos are heart wrenching.

Alston points out the US is very different from other poverty-stricken countries he visits. Other countries have large indigent populations because their governments are too poor to assist them. In contrast, the US has just awarded $1.5 trillion to its most wealthy citizens.

According to Alston, the US has 40 million people living in poverty and many of them are employed. During his investigation, he spoke to WalMart employees who can’t afford to feed their families without federal food stamps. The US government provides $6 billion in food stamps to WalMart employees.

The Disposable People Who Process Our Toxic E-Waste

ToxiCity: A Graveyard for Electronics and People

RT (2017)

Film Review

Toxic e-waste is equally poisonous to the planet and the third world poor who are forced to process it for a living. The only truly humane and sustainable solution to toxic e-waste is to force big tech giants like Apple, Google and Dell (and the billionaires who run them) to assume responsibility for end-of-life disposal, instead of externalizing this cost to the rest of us.

This documentary is about Agbogbloshie in Acra Ghana, the largest toxic waste dump in the world, and the men, women and children who pick through electronic waste from Asia, the US, Australia and western Europe. Although it’s illegal to employ child labor or import e-waste in Ghana, these laws are never enforced.

The filmmakers interview various “waste managers” who run the site, as well as a 10 year old boy, a fifteen year old girl and the “waste site coordinator.”  The latter  adjudicates disputes and deals with the police when fights break out. The 10 year old (an orphan) earns about $8-10 a days from the scrap metal he collects. This is enough to buy two meals. The 15-year-old was forced to leave school because her parents had no money to pay for her school fees, uniform or textbooks. She prepares food to sell to other scavengers and hopes to return to school and become a nurse.

Scavenging e-waste among the burning rubber and plastics at Agbogbloshie is a highly dangerous occupation due to the high risk of cadmium and lead toxicity. Doctors at a nearly clinic also report an increased incidence of respiratory infection among children who live and work there.

 

Why Nearly 1% of New Zealanders Are Homeless

Who Owns New Zealand Now?

Bryan Bruce (2017)

Film Review

At present, New Zealand has the worst rate of homelessness in the OECD. In 2016, 41,000 Kiwis (nearly 1%) were homeless. Half of this number were families with children. This documentary examines the forces behind New Zealand’s homeless epidemic and potential solutions.

The film is highly critical of the neoliberal reforms in the 1980s that transformed New Zealand from a regulated economy to a so-called “market” economy, leading to low wages and soaring inequality. However it focuses mainly on the role of foreign investors, who have driven up housing costs by speculating in New Zealand real estate. Because the government no longer keeps data on the New Zealand property sold to overseas buyers, filmmakers had to go to researchers at the University of British Columbia to get a rough idea about the extent of foreign investment in New Zealand real estate.

As for potential solutions, Who Owns New Zealand Now suggests bringing back the State Advances loan program, (operating in New Zealand from the the early 1930s to the late 1960s), in which the government issued money directly (rather than borrowing it from banks) that Kiwis could borrow to purchase homes. It also examines measures other countries have adopted to discourage foreign speculators from driving up housing costs.

First and foremost the government needs to keep good data on New Zealand real estate being sold offshore. Secondly they need to discourage foreign real estate sales either by implementing a foreign buyers surtax, as Hong Kong and British Columbia do, or charging all buyers a stamp duty tax, as Australia, Canada and the UK do, and/or a capital gains tax when real estate is sold.

Among other reforms advocated in the documentary are a greater restriction in immigration levels, a return to state-funded mortgages and increased government support for cooperative housing, long term lease rentals, construction of smaller, more affordable, family friendly homes and most importantly a living wage for all Kiwis.

Owing to the failure of “the market” to accommodate their housing needs, at present approximately 1/3 of the New Zealand population requires state supported housing.

How Elites Use Mass Immigration to Suppress Wages and Destroy Unions

The Making and Breaking of Europe

Al Jazeera

Film Review

The Role of the CIA in the Formation of the EU

This is a fascinating documentary tracing the political forces leading to the formation of the EU and the rise of right wing nationalist movements that threaten to break it up. I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn of the role the CIA played in the formation of the EU, via the millions they spent on the Action Committee for the United States of Europe (1955-1975). The CIA’s main goal was to create the false impression that European unification enjoyed wide popular support. There’s never been any doubt in my mind that the EU and the state-like bureaucracy it has created in Brussels mainly serves the interests of banks and corporations seeking to undermine and/or control the democratic process.

Working Class Communities Bear the Brunt of Mass Immigration

This film also takes a refreshingly honest look at mass immigration, a policy European elites championed to support the post-World War II economic boom – it was far cheaper than investing in technological innovation or retraining domestic workers. In fact, this is the first acknowledgement I have seen in mainstream media acknowledging that 1) working class communities have always born the brunt of mass immigration policies and 2) the massive influx of people from other cultures creates immense tensions in any community.

The Use of Immigrants to Crush Unions

In the late 1970s, Thatcher and other neoliberal leaders deliberately used mass immigration in strike breaking and other strategies aimed at crushing unions. The de-industrialization of northern Europe and the loss of good paying jobs would only amplify the tensions this created. As would the 2001 war on terror, the targeted Islamophobia propagated by US and British intelligence and ultimately the painful austerity cuts resulting from 2008 global economic collapse.

There seems to be strong agreement among the four “expert” panelists* that the anti-immigrant backlash should have been predictable – there is no possible way for the EU to accommodate the millions of refugees resulting from the US proxy war in Syria.

Since 2015 the strength of this backlash has fueled electoral victories for right wing nationalist groups in nearly all EU countries. All have campaigned on a dual anti-immigrant and anti-EU platform. In Britain, the rise of the United Kingdom (UKIP) party would lead to Brexit (and a 52% vote to leave the EU) in 2016.


*The panelists include a former Greek prime minster, a member of Hungary’s ruling party and Dr Alina Polykova, research director at the Atlantic Council and co-author of the 2015 The Dark Side of European Integration.