Archive for October, 2009

Let’s end the War on Drugs

Forty years ago, President Nixon used the unfortunate phrase “War on Drugs,” launching a misguided crusade that has encouraged street violence, eaten away at state budgets and packed our prisons with non-violent offenders. The nation’s punitive approach to drugs has turned us into a penal colony. We lock up more of our citizens per capita than brutal dictators like Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro.

There’s an old saying about seeing the opportunity in a crisis. Perhaps the multiple crises caused by the Great Recession — which has bled state and local treasuries and swelled the federal deficit — will prompt lawmakers to end this futile era of prohibition, which has been costly far beyond the money spent.

Much of the social cost has been borne by black men, who use illegal drugs at rates about equal to whites but are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug convictions as adult white men, according to a Human Rights Watch report released last year. That’s because …

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Recession over? Maybe. Happy days here? Not yet.

The critics who want President Obama to fail are never going to admit that the stimulus package did any good. But for those who reside in a reality-based universe, here’s a bit of bright sky in a gloomy economic climate: the U.S. economy, based on gross domestic product (GDP), grew at a rate of 3.5 percent from July to September, the highest rate of growth in two years.

It was enough to lead some analysts to declare that the Great Recession has ended.

“Better than expected GDP is confirming that the Great Recession has ended,” said Kevin Flanagan, fixed-income strategist for Global Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley in Purchase, New York.
“The question going forward is, is this more of a statistical recovery or are we going to get some meaningful momentum on a sustained basis.”

Most of those analysts also say that the growth in GDP is largely attributable to actions taken by the federal government, including passing the stimulus package and the Fed’s dropping the interest …

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The CIA pays another drug trafficker

You can’t make this stuff up: It turns out that Ahmed Wali Karzai —  the corrupt brother of Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai —  is on the CIA’s payroll. Ahmed Karzai is also suspected of being a bigtime drug trafficker, so he fuels a lucrative drug trade that funds the Taliban.  The White House has tried to get President Karzai to crack down on his brother.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

This is reminiscent of the CIA’s ties to the contras, who fought the Sandinistas in Nicaragua during the 1980s. …

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Wall Street still doesn’t get it

Wall Street’s masters of the universe are a shameless bunch, their egos swelled with a sense of entitlement that would make the old railroad robber barons blush. Their predations are largely responsible for the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, but they don’t get it.

They are in denial about the damage they’ve caused worldwide. That’s why Kenneth Feinberg, the so-called pay czar, had no choice but to cut compensation for executives at seven companies that received government bailouts: The companies were prepared to reward abysmal performance with huge paychecks.

But pay cuts won’t tame the excesses on Wall Street. If the White House doesn’t insist on strict regulatory reform, the nation will see another banking crisis, perhaps worse than this one, within a decade, many experts say.

Last year’s huge taxpayer-financed bail-out of the banking industry remains extremely unpopular with Americans, who don’t think they got anything out of it. It’s likely, though, that the …

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MLK will be great addition to National Mall

It’s been a long time coming, but it looks as though construction crews will soon break ground on the Washington Mall monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King’s college fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha (which also happened to be my father’s fraternity) proposed the project, and Congress approved it in 1998.

The project has weathered several storms. It was criticized when organizers picked a sculptor in China to execute the design. Then the original sculpture of King was assailed as too “confrontational” by the Federal Commission of Fine Arts and had to be reworked slightly. The project later stalled amid debate over how much security is needed at the site.

It has also survived the predations of the King heirs, who sometimes interfered with fundraising for the project as they tried to get a cut of corporate money for themselves.

Planners hope that the memorial will be finished by summer 2011. It is a fine addition to the National Mall, a monument to a genuine American …

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More troops bring out worst in Afghans?

A young foreign service officer, formerly posted in Afghanistan, has resigned to protest the war in Afghanistan. As he puts it, he’s no “peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love.” Matthew Hoh is a former Marine with combat experience in Iraq.

But he has now decided, based on his experience, that many Afghans are fighting U.S. troops just because we’re there, because of a deep-seated, centuries-old hatred of invaders, no matter who they are or what their intentions are. It’s the most compelling argument for switching to a counter-terrorism strategy that I’ve seen. (Unlike  a counter-insurgency strategy, which would needs thousands more troops to fight the Taliban and pacify much of Afghanistan, counter-terrorism would use fewer troops to go after al-Qaida.)

Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him “how localized the insurgency was. I didn’t realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away.” …

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The U.S. can’t bind Iraq together

In a gambit designed to make him appear a strong leader of a proud nation — in advance of a national election, of course — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered some security measures put in place earlier to be discontinued. In particular, he ordered some roads in Baghdad re-opened to vehicle traffic and security barriers discarded.

The street where the blasts occurred had been reopened to vehicle traffic just six months ago. Shortly after, blast walls were repositioned to allow traffic closer to the government buildings — all measures hailed by al-Maliki as a sign that safety was returning to the city.

Helpless civilians have paid for that, as the death toll from two huge blasts yesterday continues to rise.

As the floodwater from broken water mains and sewers drained away, workers continued to hunt for victims amid the wreckage from Sunday’s bomb blasts, recovering still more bodies on Monday as the death toll climbed to as much as 155 — including an uncertain …

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce is old-think

The White House has pushed back against the well-known pro-business, pro-Republican lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the yelling and whining from the Chamber can be heard well outside the Beltway. The Chamber has engaged its supporters, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), to denounce President Obama for Nixonian tactics that include making an enemies list.

Now, the Chamber is claiming that Obama’s tactics have created a backlash that favors the business lobby. That’s unlikely. Because it has its head stuck in the 20th century, the chamber is creating its own problems, losing members like Apple that are more forward thinking. Some progressive business groups were tired of the Chamber’s denial on climage change and its opposition to health care reform.

And Obama is absolutely right to go after the Chamber — hard. The organization has stood against most progressive-minded, pro-consumer reforms for decades. Though it claims to be non-partisan, it is a …

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Government helps keep consumers safe

Even after years of a lassez faire ideology that allowed businesses to pillage the economy,  the idea of government intervention makes a lot of Americans nervous. In a recent Gallup poll, a majority of respondents agreed with the statement that the government currently is “trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses.”

That response is partly due to essential elements of the American character, which celebrates independence, self-reliance and the pioneering spirit. It reveals a healthy strain that encourages creativity and overcome-the-odds resilience.

But the distrust of government is also due to a less healthy phenomenon — thirty years of government-bashing by conservative politicians and media personalities. Ronald Reagan’s mantra — government is the problem, not the answer — has become an all-serving ideology in certain precincts on the right.

Happily, none of that has interfered with a logical and long-needed restoration of …

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War on drugs: Definition of insanity

The timing was probably coincidental, but days after announcing that the feds would no longer prosecute folks for using medicinal marijuana, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Drug Enforcement Administration publicized huge raids conducted nationwide, including in metro Atlanta, against the Mexican drug cartel La Familia. In other words, they want it known that they  are still heavily involved in the futile “war on drugs.”

In metro Atlanta, authorities arrested 31 people  in Gwinnett County, three in Cobb and one in Clayton while recovering a total of 188 pounds of crystal meth, 17 kilos of cocaine, 13 guns and $50,000.

Gwinnett police officers raided 10 locations in that county alone. Rodney Benson, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Atlanta Field Division, said metro Atlanta, Dallas and the Los Angeles area were La Familia’s biggest operational centers.

Of course, there is a huge difference between cancer patients smoking a little pot and the savagely violent La …

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