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December 05, 2008

McCzar: killer, pimp, liar, crook

If Barry McCaffrey doesn’t reinvent himself as often as Madonna, it won’t be for lack of trying. He first gained fame in 1991 by leading the 24th Division’s “left hook” in the waning hours of Desert Storm. When he retired five years later as the Army’s most decorated general, he was immediately asked by Bill Clinton to become the new drug czar when (because?) Bubba was under attack from Orrin Hatch for being soft on drugs during an election year.

McCaffrey soon became flamboyantly effective at his new job, which consisted mostly of shilling for our chronically failing, but politically correct drug policy (I became particularly familiar with his lies because the 4 years I spent editing Drug Sense weekly overlapped his tour). McCzar, as I soon began to call him, was ONDCP’s longest serving czar, at least until he was followed by Dubya's appointee, the far less colorful John Walters, well after 9/11.

In May of 2000, some five months before he left ONDCP, McCaffrey was harshly criticized for conducting a “turkey shoot” two days after a cease fire began (and ‘left hook” ended) in a long, carefully researched New Yorker piece by Seymour Hersh, the same journalist who had broken the My Lai story. Although it created a flurry of interest, particularly among drug policy reformers, it apparently didn’t tarnish McCaffrey’s image with TV networks enough to keep NBC from using him as a consultant on an amazingly regular basis, or from becoming part of the gaggle of high ranking ex generals engaged in the thriving cottage indutry of military insiders now selling (and profiting from) America’s wars.

My one direct experience with McCzar was at a luncheon sponsored by the Commonwealth Club in SF right after his appointment in 1996, and a few months before passage of proposition 215. It was right about the time Big Tobacco was being sued in civil actions by the attorneys general af several states; I got to ask the first question in the Q & A after his talk: how did it made sense to pursue a policy of criminal arrest and prosecution of smokers of one allegedly addictive drug while we were going to court to reduce the profits from a legal market producing another one known to be far more dangerous?

He answered by preaching a sermon against tobacco, but I was able to retain the microphone and point out he hadn’t answered the question. His response: that relaxing criminal penalties would “send the wrong message,” came across as particularly weak. and I looked forward to a small victory that Friday in hearing it broadcast on local Public Radio.

Of course it wasn’t. When i called the station to find out why not, I was eventually told that decision was up to the sound engineer, who was on vacation. Eventually I was told by his representative that my exchange with McCzar (which followed immediately after his talk and the only one that didn’t make the cut) had been edited out for “lack of time.”

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 5, 2008 06:25 AM