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January 17, 2010

Questions Raised by Two Books Worth Reading

In April 2008, I reviewed Douglas Valentine’s Strength of the Wolf, a well researched study of Harry Anslinger’s FBN, as revealed through a host of interviews with veterans of that agency, many of whom had transferred to the CIA between Anslinger’s Kennedy-endorsed elevation to the UN as its first High Commissioner of Narcotics in i962, and his unrepentant departure from public life in 1970.

Once piqued, Valentine’s interest in the FBN generated a second book, the Strength of the Pack, in which he takes a closer and more contemporary look at the evolution of American drug policy since 1968, the same year Richard Nixon alertly convinced America’s clueless “moral majority” to choose him over the luckless Hubert Humphrey. It was an election close enough to rival the only two occasions when naked power politics and the archaic Electoral College system combined to thrust the Presidential candidate with the fewest popular votes into the White House.

The immediate price of Rutherford B. Hayes 1886 "victory" was abrupt termination of Reconstruction and eventual imposition of segregation (through Jim Crow). The most obvious costs to date of the Bush versus Gore fiasco in 2000 have been two ruinous wars, a badly fractured global economy, and eight years of inactivity on climate change.

Although Valentine seems to harbor some belief that an "honest" drug war could “keep drugs off the street,” he is under no illusions that either the CIA or the DEA, as the FBN's successor agency, has ever fought it honestly. Far from it; he understands the two have had a common interest in using America's drug policy as smokescreen for their bureaucratic power plays; also that both have found it essential to employ narco traffickers as informants, a practice that inevitably leads to granting "drug criminals" a degree of immunity. What he also makes clear is that the Cold War gave the CIA an upper hand over other federal agencies following World War Two, an advantage it has not yet been forced to surrender.

Less clear to me is whether he understands the essential dishonesty of a national drug policy that has been systematically betraying everything America claims to stand for since 1914.

Another worthwhile book, somewhat older in terms of its publication date, but displaying a deeper understanding of the essential fecklessness of America's drug policy, is Drug Warriors and their Prey, by Richard Lawrence Miller. Like Valentine and other non-academic historians who have been more forthright in criticism of popular ideas than their brethren in Academia, Miller has had to achieve a degree of commercial success in order to march to his own drummer.

Also like Valentine, Miller seems have discovered drug policy through interest in a related phenomenon: in his case, it was Hitler's lightning takeover of German political power in the Thirties by taking advantage of that nation's underdeveloped legal system. Of considerable interest to me is that an endorsement of Miller's logic, similar to that offered by gun lobbyists, has yet to be offered on behalf of either Blacks or drug users, both of whom seem to be playing designated roles as scapegoats in modern society.

Segue to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Haiti which is growing worse by the hour and was also eminently predictable a week ago: from the ineptitude of those claiming to be "in charge," and the desperation of humans trapped in a pestilential hell-hole in which the dangers of starvation and disease are increasing by the day.

Will the watching world tumble to what's at stake here? Or will it (as usual) just avert its eyes and focus on more trivial issues?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 17, 2010 06:58 PM