News for the ‘Politics’ Category

10 Reasons to End Both the War on Drugs and the War on Sex Workers

 

Sex and drugs are two of the most controversial and intensely charged topics in American culture, and the connection between them extends far beyond their shared association with the hedonistic impulse.

Sex and drugs can be powerful ways to alter consciousness, to facilitate surrender, to heal and to re-connect. But there’s yet another important link to be made between the two: the oppressive prohibitionist wars on drugs and sex work.

As someone with experience fighting for both drug users’ and sex workers’ rights, I am struck by the mirroring of underlying issues at play.

Sex workers and drug users share the questionable distinction of being two groups of people who are consistently and often acceptably stereotyped and maligned as a whole, even in so-called progressive circles.

The general campaign against sex work through state and federal laws (as well as lobbying by anti-trafficking organizations) is not generally called the War on Sex Workers—but that’s effectively what’s taking place. Selling sexual services is illegal, and many activities that help ensure the safety of sex workers are criminalized under pimping or trafficking laws.

Like the War on Drugs, these laws further marginalize the most marginalized. Just as the drug war makes drug-taking more dangerous and disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, the War on Sex Workers makes sex work more dangerous too—unfairly targeting certain workers based on gender, race and class.

The worlds of sex work and drug use would both benefit from a harm reductionist rather than prohibitionist model.

 

Here are 10 reasons ending the War on Sex Workers makes as much sense as ending the War on Drugs:

 

  1. Criminalization increases harm and dangers (but legalization isn’t the answer either).

We already know that the criminalization of drugs has a whole slew of unintended negative effects, from impure and potentially dangerous product on the market to the unfair targeting of certain populations in its enforcement.

Similarly, criminalizing sex work creates harm and makes sex work more dangerous. Sex workers have no protection under the law if they are robbed, beaten or raped on the job. (Some still don’t believe a sex worker can be raped.[1])

When sex workers experience theft, rape or other assault, there is no way for them to go to the police. Sex workers who are dealing with a coercive middleman can be left feeling dependent on them, isolated in the underground. Criminal records for sex work (just like records for drug convictions) often prevent those who do want out of sex work from being able to get a different job.

Not to mention the fact that police disproportionately target street-based workers, especially trans women and women of color. In some places, carrying condoms is used as evidence of the intent of prostitution—meaning that sex workers are being incentivized not to protect their health and the health of others, because doing so risks arrest.[2]

However, legalization is not ideal either. Legalization is a reverse criminalization that inevitably creates a two-tiered system, with some activity remaining underground. The amount of stigma around sex work pretty much guarantees that many sex workers are not going to want to register with the government under their legal names.

Regulation also involves jumping through hoops, often requiring extra time and money, a process that favors more privileged workers. The most vulnerable workers are left to work in the underground and continue to face all of the dangers of criminalized sex work. The legalization of sex work in Germany and the Netherlands has demonstrated the weakness and ultimately, failure, of this model.

This is why sex workers’ rights organizations nearly always campaign for the decriminalization of sex work. Decriminalizing would make it possible to prosecute violent clients and to provide social services for exiting sex work outside of the criminal justice system. It would also allow sex workers the freedom to continue their work as they choose, except with a reduction in potential harm.

New Zealand decriminalized sex work in 2003 and its laws remain the model sex worker organizations refer to as the ideal for their rights and safety.

96% of street-based sex workers in New Zealand say they feel the law protects their rights. This can probably be attributed to the fact that the New Zealand government worked directly with sex workers in order to create laws, something that is so often missing from discussion and legislation of the sex industry elsewhere. One popular sex worker protest slogan is “Nothing about us without us!”

 

  1. Stigma around sex work and drug use compounds harm.

 

As important as changing laws is undermining the dehumanizing social stigma around both drug use and sex work. The stigma around drugs means many users fear that the discovery of their use could lead to everything from the loss of their job to the loss of their children.

Stigma can also prevent users from asking for help and support when struggling with their relationship to substances. Similarly, sex workers often cite stigma as the most harmful aspect of their work. And many sex workers who do want to switch professions find that stigma makes it difficult to explain resume gaps, etc.

At the very least, stigma is isolating and psychologically harmful. But de-stigmatizing sex work wouldn’t just improve sex workers’ mental health and well being—it would help improve their physical safety as well.

One can see both laws and social attitudes reflected in some clients’ treatment of sexual service providers. The stigma of the “dirty whore” facilitates socially acceptable hostility towards sex workers—and leads to a system that has come to accept violence towards them as an inevitable consequence of their work rather than a societal problem that needs to be addressed.

The acceptable stigmatization of sex workers has made them ideal targets for serial rapists and serial killers whose crimes often go unnoticed until more “respectable” victims are targeted as well. “Whore stigma” has both subtle and not-so-subtle consequences.

 

  1. People of color and those on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.

 

The racist enforcement of the drug war has now been well-established (not to mention we now have proof that it was always intended to be that way.[3])

We also know that generally, those with economic privilege are more likely to get away with using their illegal substance of choice. Similar rules apply in the current enforcement of the war on sex workers. Street-based sex workers are targeted for arrest most often, with trans women and women of color (sex workers or not) profiled far more frequently.

In New York City only one third of the population is black, yet black defendants face 69% of charges brought before the court for prostitution-related offenses and 94% of the charges for the vague offense of “loitering for the purposes of prostitution.”[4]

Discrimination occurs along socioeconomic lines as well. When law enforcement officers stage setups, they often respond to ads on websites such as Craigslist and Backpage, where sex workers can advertise freely or cheaply. (These cheap advertising sites are frequently the determining factor in whether sex workers can work independently indoors or need to work on the street and/or for a third party, and their shutdown can be financially devastating.) Meanwhile, websites that require tens or even hundreds of dollars a month to advertise on, which cater to sex workers with higher rates and wealthier clientele, are left alone.

 

  1. Both wars use law enforcement and imprisonment responses to what are really much broader social problems.

 

Our society’s criminal justice approach to the war on drugs (and as the brilliant author Gabor Maté often says, this system of justice truly is criminal) counts success by arrest numbers. In doing so, we avoid having to face the underlying and intersecting social issues of addiction, poverty, trauma, racism and other marginalization.

Similarly, the War on Sex Workers allows us to avoid issues like transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, poverty, homeless youth, immigration, labor rights and structural inequality under capitalism. The law enforcement approach to sex work gives a seemingly easy solution to what are incredibly complex problems endemic to our society. It allows politicians to tell their voters they have acted to solve the problem, while actually fixing nothing and often compounding the struggles of society’s most vulnerable.

 

5.  Both wars justify themselves through the use of hysteria around “trafficking.”

 

Some of us have lived long enough to remember the hysteria around drug trafficking back in the 1980s that now finds its parallel in the recent explosion of concern over sex trafficking. Both are cases of a moral panic driven by “noble intentions” and an “end demand” prohibitionist approach.

The public wasn’t sold “tough on drugs” legislation as a way to send black people to prison for life over a couple of joints (even though that’s what ended up happening). It was supposed to save us from violent drug gangs and evil crack fiends who were luring innocent children from schoolyards.

Yet we all know how that story ended: mandating more law enforcement, funding police militarization, and enforcing stricter laws unleashed an inhumane war on the most marginalized in our society—without any success in reducing drug use or the violence surrounding it.

The war on sex trafficking is having the same effect, with the popular trend of harsher sentences for trafficking offenses (including new mandatory minimums) and huge amounts of funding to agencies to fight sex trafficking. What’s rarely talked about is the fact that most sex trafficking stings end up rounding up sex workers in handcuffs who were working of their own consent.

The origin of the term “sex trafficking” is problematic and is often used as a way to push an anti-sex work agenda, regardless of the agency of the sex worker involved.

In the 1990s an unholy alliance was formed between evangelical Christians and some radical feminists, who worked to rebrand their (by now unpopular) agenda of eradicating prostitution as a campaign to end sex trafficking.[5] Who could argue with the fight to end sexual slavery?

But leading anti-trafficking organizations such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) define all sex work as trafficking.[6] They pushed their redefinition of commercial sex as “sexual exploitation” into the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which was approved and signed by 117 countries. What the general public remains unaware of is that the protocol (along with the ever expanding range of anti-trafficking laws around the globe) provides legal and moral cover to target sex work under the guise of fighting trafficking.

Organizations such as CATW do not recognize the existence of voluntary sex work because by their definition, all prostitution is violence against women (never mind the inconvenient fact that a lot of sex workers aren’t women). This strategy of rebranding the fight to abolish prostitution as one of eradicating sexual slavery has largely succeeded—it’s now impossible to have a discussion about sex work today without also discussing trafficking.

Trafficking of people into forced labor, in the sex industry or any other industry, is clearly abhorrent. But too often the activities now targeted under anti-trafficking laws are consensual acts between adults. One can be prosecuted as a “trafficker” for offering or soliciting paid sex, living with a sex worker, running a classified advertising website, or being a sex worker’s driver or security person.

In real life, “sex trafficking” seldom resemble the images of desperate young girls bound at the wrists plastered all over “end modern-day slavery” campaigns. Under current U.S. law, anyone less than eighteen years old and selling sex is considered “trafficked.”

Underage “trafficking victims” are typically street-based youth (most commonly between 15 and 17 years old) trading sex for survival. [7] Recent studies have found that the majority of these underage sex workers are selling sex without the aid of a middleman or pimp—90% in New York City, according to a study from John Jay College (the same study found 45% of underage sex workers to be boys).[8]  This population would be much better served by the assistance of well-funded social services than by an increase in funding for law enforcement.

Where coercion is taking place by a third party, the traffickers are often abusive partners, with the sex worker emotionally entangled and otherwise dependent on their abuser. This situation has far more in common with domestic abuse situations than the common portrayals of being abducted by a stranger, handcuffed to a bed and forced to have sex for money. While of course the “trafficker” in this case can be prosecuted under the law, the most effective way to affect change in this situation is through emotional support helping the victim leave the abusive situation and then resources and aid for food, jobs, and housing.

Even migrant workers “rescued” under anti-trafficking laws were most often already sex workers in their home country who immigrated illegally in order to work in the sex industry here, rather than having been unexpectedly coerced into doing so upon their arrival.[9] As in the days of peak “drug trafficking” hysteria, “sex trafficking” remains a highly-charged term—but it has also become meaningless.

Worse than meaningless, however, it effectively erases the systemic social conditions that shape sex workers’ lives. We substitute “traffickers” for the traps of poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, and strict immigration policies. Once again, the prohibitionist approach allows lawmakers to avoid dealing with the most pressing issues at the edges of society.

We can immediately shift the number of people affected by sex trafficking by providing more shelter beds for the homeless (particularly LGBT youth), expanding government programs that provide food and housing, and providing opportunities for job training. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes, “For the vast majority of vulnerable sex workers, the greatest barrier to exit aren’t ankle-cuffs, isolation, and shadowy kidnappers with guns, but a lack of money, transportation, identification, or other practical things. Is helping with this stuff not sexy enough?”[10]

 

6.  “End demand” doesn’t work.

 

“Ending the demand for drugs is how, in the end, we will win,” President Ronald Reagan told us in 1988. “The tide of the battle has turned and we’re beginning to win the crusade for a drug-free America.”

Of course, the number of Americans using illicit drugs has only increased since then, billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of prison sentences later.

The “Nordic model” to “end demand” for sex work (which is law in Scandinavia, France, and Canada and is rapidly influencing American policy) criminalizes buying sex but not selling it. Just as in the war on drugs, the Nordic model so popular in feminist circles theorizes that if only we can make enough arrests or make the punishment severe enough, demand will end and people will stop trying to purchase sexual services. Not only is this based on a false premise, but—contrary to the frequent claims by supporters that this law only punishes “johns”—it directly harms sex workers.

The simple fact is that you cannot criminalize a worker’s customers and not negatively impact the worker’s life as well. These laws have not only failed to reduce prostitution in places like Sweden, but have actually made life more dangerous for sex workers who, for example, now have less time to negotiate safer sex practices with nervous clients who fear arrest.[11]

These laws also perpetuate discrimination and the further marginalization of sex workers, including even the removal of children from their custody if they do not identify with the narrative of victimhood around their work. This is because under the Nordic model, sex workers who don’t define their work as damaging are seen as living in a “false consciousness” and incapable of making their own decisions—including taking care of their own children.[12]

 

7. The real lived experiences of drug users and of sex workers are underrepresented and widely misunderstood.

 

Due in no small part to stigma, social portrayals of drug users and sex workers often miss the mark.

We’ve seen a slight shift in this recently with the normalization of cannabis use and the corresponding widening of mainstream portrayals of cannabis users as a result.

Representations of sex workers, however, remain split along the dichotomies of “wealthy high class call girl” versus “drug-addled street worker,” and of “happy and empowered” versus “desperate victim.”

The reality, of course, is much more nuanced and complex—i.e., human. When will we see the story of the single mom supporting her children through sex work? The trans teenager kicked out of their house and trying to survive? The student putting themselves through college?

A parallel stigma exists for those who purchase sex, particularly if they are men. “Johns” are often demonized as lascivious, aggressive, or abusive. But the reality is most men who buy sex are just normal guys.

Where are the stories of the lonely man on a business trip, the cripplingly shy guy who hasn’t gotten laid in years, the guy with the fantasy he’s too ashamed to share with a partner, the divorcee trying to get his mojo back after a terrible betrayal, or the disabled man who yearns for intimacy?

 

8.  Criminalizing drugs and sex work denies fundamental human rights to cognitive liberty and bodily autonomy.

 

Anti-sex work and anti-drug laws both criminalize activity between consenting adults. Taking drugs and selling sex are consensual crimes where there is no “victim.”

Over time we’ve come to eradicate many of these kinds of laws that seemed to make sense at the time, but eventually came to be understood as reflecting no more than the social morality of the day. For example, homosexuality used to be a crime punishable with fines, jail, or death.

Imagine instead if we could accept that each person is the best expert on their own life, that we all engage in risk and harm reduction all of the time, and decided to live and let live.

Drug reform campaigners sometimes argue that the right to take certain substances falls under the category of cognitive liberty, the right to “mental self-determination” or to alter one’s consciousness as one so chooses.

Sex work has its parallel here in the principle of bodily autonomy—that is, bodily self-determination. If someone chooses to have transactional sex, that’s their body and their right to choose.

The reality is, sex can often be transactional, even outside of sex work. We don’t arrest sugar babies and sugar daddies, for example. Most would find it ridiculous to prosecute someone who felt they should have sex after someone paid for an expensive date. And we would never dream of punishing wives that give their husband oral sex to acquire a favor later. Laws that forbid this transaction from taking place in exchange for cash instead are simply a puritanical hangover.

 

9.  Laws prohibiting drugs and sex work reflect America’s puritanical heritage.

 

The puritanical impulse is alive and well in America—as is all the hypocrisy that comes with it.

We punish people for using some substances (illegal drugs) but not others (alcohol, legal prescription drugs) whose use can also manifest as anything from life-enhancing to harmless to life-destroying.

Similarly, we punish someone for selling a sexual service to another person—but only if they’re not being filmed to have the video sold on the internet later (pornography). We also allow and sometimes even expect people to capitalize on their sexuality (as the adage goes, “sex sells”) but have a real problem with (particularly women) actually selling sex for themselves rather than for a corporation.

As Sue Bradford, member of the New Zealand Parliament, stated in her 2005 speech:

“We believed, and still do, that it was completely wrong to go on living with an archaic law which criminalized generations of sex workers, mainly women, for a victimless so-called crime in the name of antique moralities shared by only some of the population.”[13]

The drives to alter consciousness through drugs or to pay for sexual services have been common throughout time—and other societies have felt no need to criminalize or stigmatize such activity.

In fact, just as numerous cultures around the world and throughout history have had sanctioned and sacred occasions for the use of psychoactive substances, there is some evidence to suggest that ancient Mesopotamian temples priestesses provided sexual rites in exchange for donations to the temples. Having sex with a priestess, who was seen as a living embodiment of the divine Goddess herself, would have been seen as a way to worship and connect to Her. Conceiving of that possibility requires a complete shift in the Western understanding of sexuality and the sacred.

 

  1. Drugs and sex work can be powerful tools for healing and spiritual connection.

We now know that some drug use can lead to healing or transcendent experiences that have positive effects on people’s lives.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health found that participants who took naturalistic doses of “classic” psychedelics—magic mushrooms, DMT, mescaline and LSD—had significantly decreased likelihood of suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and psychological distress. Psychedelic users were found to have 19% less likelihood of exhibiting psychological distress in the past month, 14% lower reports of suicidal thoughts and 36% lower probability of suicidal attempts in the past year.

As the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 30,000 people in the U.S. die from suicide each year (worldwide that number is 1 million), these numbers are important. While treatment for mental health disorders has improved markedly in the past century, the suicide rate remains stagnant.

Beyond that, studies with substances such as psilocybin and MDMA have been found to be remarkable healers for anxiety in those with terminal illness, depression, PTSD, social anxiety in autism, etc. Psychedelic experiences can lead to powerful unitive and mystical experiences. Drugs that currently remain Schedule I, users of which have been stigmatized for decades, are suddenly being recognized as powerful catalysts for healing and spiritual connection—when used with that intention.

Similarly, sex work can be another powerful tool for healing and spiritual connection. Sex surrogates, sexological bodyworkers, sacred intimates, and neo-tantrikas—all sex workers who focus on sexual healing and re-connection—can be seen as the underground psychedelic therapists of sex work.

In fact, all forms of sex work have innate healing potential—because sex has innate healing potential.

It is innately healing to be met in your nudity and vulnerability with complete presence and acceptance, no less by a stranger. Sex workers can help release sexual shame and guilt, work with troubling sexual fantasies, overcome sexual trauma or dysfunction, build confidence, and provide sexual education. Data on these claims is yet to be compiled, but we do know that touch and intimacy are healing—and that most of us don’t receive nearly enough of it.

 

Both drugs and sex work can be triggering topics for a lot of people, but it’s time to admit that we’ve been using the wrong strategy to address them. It’s no coincidence that organizations like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are pushing for an end to the War on Drugs at the same time that Amnesty International has called for worldwide decriminalization of prostitution.[14] Prohibition, which only ever increases harm, must come to an end. We need to decriminalize and shift to a harm reduction approach instead.

It’s time to start legally testing drugs for purity, providing clean needles and access to condoms, and permitting safer online markets like Silk Road and Backpage. Time to trust each person to make their own choices with what’s currently available to them—whether they’re a Silicon Valley CEO microdosing LSD to come up with new ideas or a long-distance truck driver taking speed to stay awake at work, a college student escorting to pay tuition or a single mother selling sexual services to keep her kids fed. It’s time to acknowledge the magnificent complexity of how drugs and sex work manifest in real people’s lives—and to invest in supporting them through that complexity.

To deal with difficult matters such as addiction to drugs and coercion in the sex industry, we can replace our law enforcement approach and re-designate funds to focus on ameliorating the conditions that leave people vulnerable to addiction and abuse to begin with, through education, housing, social services and more. There are real and practical measures that can be taken to reduce harm and improve drug users’ and sex workers’ lives. That starts with listening to what sex workers and drug users themselves have to say.

The dream? Once we’ve ended these wars on consensual human activity, de-stigmatized sex work and drug use, and fully implemented a harm reduction approach, a whole new world of possibility opens to us.

Exploring one’s body or mind is no longer done with fear or guilt. Sex workers are seen as expert educators and service providers like any other—and just like a masseuse or therapist, clients see them for everything from pleasure and relaxation to exploration and healing.

Drug users have the opportunity to participate in guided experiences with pure substances to explore their own consciousness in a safe and supportive environment, where old traumas can be reexamined and new insight can emerge.

In this future world, two of the most powerful tools we have for healing, reconnecting and exploring consciousness, are set free. And as a result, so are we.

 

~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~
 

[1] Mary Mitchell, “Mitchell: Rape Case Sends Mixed Messages on Prostitution,” Chicago Sun-Times, September 12, 2015, http://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/7/71/952556/charges-send-mixed-messages-prostitution.

[2] Margaret H Wurth et al., “Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in the United States and the Criminalization of Sex Work,” Journal of the International AIDS Society 16, no. 1 (May 24, 2013), doi:10.7448/IAS.16.1.18626.

[3] “Top Adviser to Richard Nixon Admitted That ‘War on Drugs’ Was Policy Tool to Go After Anti-War Protesters and ‘Black People’ | Drug Policy Alliance,” Drug Policy Alliance, March 23, 2016, http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/2016/03/top-adviser-richard-nixon-admitted-war-drugs-was-policy-tool-go-after-anti-war-proteste, http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/2016/03/top-adviser-richard-nixon-admitted-war-drugs-was-policy-tool-go-after-anti-war-proteste.

[4] Noah Berlatsky and 2014, “Black Women Profiled as Prostitutes in NYC,” Reason.com, October 1, 2014, http://reason.com/archives/2014/10/01/nypd-profiles-sex-workers-too.

[5] Ellizabeth Nolan Brown, “The War on Sex Trafficking Is the New War on Drugs,” Reason.com, accessed November 6, 2015, https://reason.com/archives/2015/09/30/the-war-on-sex-trafficking-is.

[6] “Coalition Against Trafficking in Women,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, September 4, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Coalition_Against_Trafficking_in_Women&oldid=679392870.

[7] Katherine Koster, “Is Operation Cross Country the Best Way to Fight Child Sex Trafficking?,” Huffington Post, accessed November 6, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katherine-koster/is-operation-cross-country-the-best-way-to-fight-child-sex-trafficking_b_8307634.html.

[8] Kristen Hinman, “Lost Boys,” Village Voice, November 2, 2011, http://www.villagevoice.com/news/lost-boys-6433393.

[9] Noah Berlatsky, “‘Human Trafficking’ Has Become a Meaningless Term,” The New Republic, October 30, 2015, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/123302/human-trafficking-has-become-meaningless-term.

[10] Brown, “The War on Sex Trafficking Is the New War on Drugs.”

[11] Jay Levy, Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden (Routledge, 2014).

[12] Global Network of Sex Work Projects, “The Real Impact of the Swedish Model on Sex Workers: Advocacy Toolkit” (NSWP, November 2015), http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/The%20Real%20Impact%20of%20the%20Swedish%20Model%20on%20Sex%20Workers%20Advocacy%20Toolkit%2C%20NSWP%20-%20November%202015.pdf.

[13] Sue Bradford, “Is Prostitution a Victimless Crime?,” ProCon.org, August 15, 2013, http://prostitution.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000119#answer-id-000979.

[14] ACLU, “End the War on Drugs,” American Civil Liberties Union, accessed March 27, 2017, https://www.aclu.org/feature/end-war-drugs; Diederik Lohman, “Rethinking the War on Drugs,” Human Rights Watch, March 22, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/blog-feed/rethinking-war-drugs; Catherine Murphy, “Sex Workers’ Rights Are Human Rights,” Amnesty International, accessed November 6, 2015, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/08/sex-workers-rights-are-human-rights/.

 

~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~
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*Originally published on Psymposia*

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Why Does Our Society Celebrate Sociopathic, Narcissistic and Toxic Masculine Traits?

 

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Is there any better symbol of what’s gone wrong in mainstream American culture than the success of Donald Trump?

For the most part I’ve chosen to ignore the day-to-day coverage of this election, to spare myself the pain and frustration of rubbernecking our train wreck democracy. When I do tune in however, I’m always disappointed at the level of social commentary on the Donald, the superficial humor about his hair or hand size or mannerisms, with the frequent pieces on him being a lying conman and rampant xenophobe, or even slightly more sophisticated coverage on the dumbing down of the electorate and the media’s complicity in his candidacy.

Psychological perspectives on Trump interest me more – I tend to agree with the psychologists who have written articles claiming Donald Trump exhibits strong signs of sociopathy. I’ve known enough sociopaths to recognize the patterns myself: the ability to repeat lies over and over – and then contradict them shamelessly five minutes later. Constant impulsive statements and actions. The sheer magnetism of personality that seems to blind many around them from seeing their glaring faults. The superficial emotions that seem to switch only between glee (having attained power) and anger (over its loss). The bullying and the endless quest for domination. The complete lack of basic human empathy, of conscience, guilt or remorse.

Trump’s former ghostwriter Tony Schwartz recently came out to state that if he were rewriting The Art of the Deal today he would rename it The Sociopath. An analysis by Dr. Kevin Dutton of Oxford University found that Trump has more sociopathic traits than Hitler.

But even this analysis stops short of the wider sociological question: How is it that we have managed to elevate such a person to a celebrated personality, now one step from the Oval Office? What is it about him that we, as a culture, must like to an extent – even as many mock him?

I think it’s time to take a good look in the mirror: Is there any better symbol of what’s gone wrong in mainstream American culture than a greedy, superficial, sociopathic megalomaniac reality TV star who makes constant displays of fragile and toxic masculinity?

At the end of the day, these are the qualities we, as a culture, too often celebrate and encourage: Money and fame are our core values. Success at any price. Cut throat business practices. Bullshit your way to the top. Be a “real” man. Isn’t that why it doesn’t seem to matter what Trump says or does, or how many lies he’s caught out on? Don’t a lot of us kind of admire the sheer gall he has? Isn’t that why we can’t stop watching him?

From the moment Trump announced his run for presidency, I never took it as a joke. The glove fit too well. I couldn’t think of a better caricature of the lowest common denominator of our mass culture.

Robert Hare, the psychologist who developed the checklist for diagnosing psychopathy (a term used interchangeably with sociopathy, both colloquial terms for “anti-social personality disorder” in the DSM), believes that “our society is moving in the direction of permitting, reinforcing, and in some instances actually valuing some of the traits listed in the Psychopathy Checklist.” Sociopathy rates in the USA are estimated to be between 1-4% (and increasing), compared to just 0.03-0.14% in parts of East Asia, for example. The difference is not genetic – it’s cultural. Rather than focus on the collective, our culture endlessly celebrates the power of the individual above all else. We glorify and encourage the ego and the self rather than the interrelatedness of all living things. Sociopaths and narcissists have always existed – but in our culture they are aspired to.

Trump perfectly embodies the core values of toxic masculinity as well, the socialized male who is meant to be dominant, violent, competitive, unemotional, misogynist and sexually aggressive. These values are in no way inherent to being a man, but they are completely integral to how we raise and socialize our boys. From a young age boys are taught over and over that displays of human emotion are unacceptable, that sex is conquest, power and status, that their value and worthiness as men depends on disproving themselves to be empathetic, “effeminate” or “gay” in any way – through constant exercises of assertiveness, repressed emotion and sheer force.

Finally, in a time when the most (white) Americans are safer than they’ve ever been, we’ve culturally adjusted to a constant climate of fear. Fear of the other: the gays, the blacks, the Muslims, the Mexicans, the Russians, the Chinese, the terrorists, the people coming to take our guns. Our news channels endlessly broadcast the new threats we must live in fear of and our TV programs teach us survival skills for the upcoming apocalypse, putting our collective survival down (once again) to the individual. We make ever greater sacrifices of our principles, liberty and humanity in order to defend ourselves from these supposed threats. We become ever easier prey for those who seek to abuse those fears in their quest for power.

And now? This was the inevitable next stop on that path. This is where these values and this culture have landed us.

The options this November seem understandably bleak to some. What we are missing, as Michael Meade suggests in the Huffington Post, is the third kind of person:

The first kind of person tends to be preoccupied with self-interest as everything refers back to “I, me and mine.” At this basic level the world can be divided into winners and losers as self-assertion rules the day and excesses of aggression and rule-breaking can seem justified.

Sound familiar?

The second kind of person learns to operate at a higher level of life that includes an increased awareness of both the needs and the value of others, even those who seem quite other than oneself… However, when times get hard and people feel the pressure of enduring threats and persistent hardships, the greater sense of fairness and justice becomes more difficult to sustain. In the face of uncertainty and fear, the second kind of person can lose touch with the core values of humanism…

Many of us fit this description and I agree with Meade when he argues that Clinton is one of them, perhaps with a heart in the right place but ultimately making decisions out of fear and other pressures – decisions that have brought suffering to both our own country and the world at large.

Finally:

The third kind of person survives some life-changing defeat or loss and suffers a descent in life that makes them aware of the agonies and tragedies experienced by so many throughout the world.

…those who survive loss know who they are at their core; they also know the core values and ideals upon which humanity depends. They cannot be manipulated by fear or greed, cannot be shaken by threats or be pressured to act against either their own integrity or the interests of the greater good…

In this way the third level of awareness produces the truly inspired leaders, the wounded healers, and the wise counselors who know that the ideals of humanity must be upheld precisely when the darkness and confusion around us grows.

I’m blessed to know a great number of such people, those who have been pushed to the margins by society, pushed into the darkness by circumstance – but who have survived to find a deep knowing, a profound integrity and an unshakable set of principles. I look to these people for inspiration at these times, those who follow the ideals of empathy and selflessness and love especially in times of great fear and darkness, especially when it’s most difficult to do.

Come November, we’ll elect either the first kind of person or the second – a depressing thought. Darkness will follow either of these results (if in different magnitudes). There will be yet more suffering.

For those of us not already there, we too may find ourselves collectively entering “the dark night of the soul.” Perhaps the silver lining to this doom and darkness will be the emergence of more wounded healers who reject that first kind of person, reject fear and egotism even in the worst of times.

For if sociopathic, narcissistic and toxic masculine traits were taboo rather than celebrated in America, someone like Trump could never be where he is now. Instead, his candidacy is only the inevitable product of the toxic environment he’s grown up in. Americans who have a problem with Trump actually have a much bigger problem: American culture.

So let’s stop watching the train wreck and start talking about our personal and collective problem. Because if we wish to indict Trump it seems, we also have to indict ourselves.

Originally published on Alternet.

 

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The War on Drugs: The End is Nigh

The world may not actually be coming to an end, but the era of drug prohibition is, even as our politicians remain in denial.

Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana (not just medical marijuana) via ballot initiatives that came into effect this month. A perfect opportunity for Obama to liberalize drug laws without sticking his neck out, right? Nope, according to the New York Times the administration is weighing it’s legal options which vary from having federal prosecutors making examples of low-level marijuana users to filing lawsuits and cutting off the states’ federal grants. I suppose Obama is really determined not to be the first black president who legalized marijuana (especially after his stoner past was splashed across the papers). Don’t worry Mr. President, no hurry, there are only nearly a million Americans arrested for pot every year (and as a black man you very easily could have been one of them). It’s not like it’s a basic human rights violation or anything.

Andrew Sullivan makes it even more personal. “Mr. President, don’t even think about it” he writes. “The president wasn’t just once a pot-smoker, he was a very serious pothead. His own life and career prove that this substance is no more potentially damaging to a human being than alcohol, which is not only legal but marketed to us with abandon….the federal War on Marijuana is racist in its enforcement, ridiculous as a matter of science, outrageous in terms of personal liberty, and inimical to federalism.”

It shouldn’t be that hard a stand for the President to take, considering the majority of Americans want Feds out of state marijuana laws (64% opposed to the federal government taking steps to enforce federal marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington).

So what gives? It seems we have to break the taboo – the numbers are there, the support is there, but politicians don’t seem to have gotten the message. Which is exactly why “queen of consciousness” Lady Amanda Feilding’s Beckley Foundation has spearheaded a new global grassroots campaign in association with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Virgin Unite, Avaaz and Sundog Pictures. Senseless or not, it’s still rare for politicians to speak openly on the failed war on drugs, and even more so to speak of liberalizing drug laws. (Well that is, until they’re out of office – and become supporters of campaigns like this one.)

As Lady Feilding writes for the Huffington Post:

“The Global Commission on Drug Policy, and initiatives like the Beckley Foundation’s Public Letter — signed by around 70 of the world’s most respected and influential figures, including 9 presidents, 12 Nobel Prizewinners, and celebrities like Yoko Ono, Noam Chomsky, Sting, Sean Parker and Sir Richard Branson — are rapidly making drug policy a subject that politicians can raise without the stigma that has traditionally accompanied any mention of the “d-word.”…

…The wave of reform is swelling, as President Pérez of Guatemala and President Santos of Colombia — both signatories of the Beckley Public Letter — have been joined by leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Argentina in calling for a new approach to the problem….

…And it is looking increasingly likely that drug policy will be the platform from which a united Latin America will once and for all establish its independence from its domineering northern neighbor on the world stage.”

Exciting times indeed. The new documentary film “Breaking the Taboo” is narrated by Morgan Freeman and features President Clinton and President Cater.

Virgin billionaire Richard Branson has joined the cause, even writing this op-ed for CNN calling the war on drugs a “trillion dollar failure”:

“In 1925, H. L. Mencken wrote an impassioned plea: “Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”…

…Here we are, four decades after Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 and $1 trillion spent since then. What do we have to show for it? The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, with about 2.3 million behind bars. More than half a million of those people are incarcerated for a drug law violation. What a waste of young lives….

…In business, if one of our companies is failing, we take steps to identify and solve the problem. What we don’t do is continue failing strategies that cost huge sums of money and exacerbate the problem. Rather than continuing on the disastrous path of the war on drugs, we need to look at what works and what doesn’t in terms of real evidence and data.”

Here’s an idea:

For further evidence that the drug war is a joke, one only needs to look at last weeks headlines. HSBC signed off on a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion after admitting to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels as well as violating other important banking laws. No criminal prosecutions were pursued by the Justice Department.

As Matt Taibi put it, “If you’ve ever been arrested on a drug charge, if you’ve ever spent even a day in jail for having a stem of marijuana in your pocket or “drug paraphernalia” in your gym bag, Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer has a message for you: Bite me.”

He continues:

“By eschewing criminal prosecutions of major drug launderers on the grounds (the patently absurd grounds, incidentally) that their prosecution might imperil the world financial system, the government has now formalized the double standard.
They’re now saying that if you’re not an important cog in the global financial system, you can’t get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they’ll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. If you don’t have a systemically important job, in other words, the government’s position is that your assets may be used to finance your own political disenfranchisement.

On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we’re now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals.”

Glenn Greenwald reinforces this idea in his column in the Guardian, “HSBC, too big to jail, is the poster child for US two tiered justice system.”:

“By coincidence, on the very same day that the DOJ announced that HSBC would not be indicted for its multiple money-laundering felonies, the New York Times published a story featuring the harrowing story of an African-American single mother of three who was sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 27 for a minor drug offense…

…As the NYT notes – and read her whole story to get the full flavor of it – this is commonplace for the poor and for minorities in the US justice system. Contrast that deeply oppressive, merciless punishment system with the full-scale immunity bestowed on HSBC – along with virtually every powerful and rich lawbreaking faction in America over the last decade – and that is the living, breathing two-tiered US justice system. How this glaringly disparate, and explicitly status-based, treatment under the criminal law does not produce serious social unrest is mystifying.”

So the “War on Drugs” doesn’t work. Now what?

How about understanding why people (especially young people) take drugs to begin with? “Drugs are taken for pleasure” says David Nutt in the Guardian. “Realize this and we can start to reduce harm”. Most people who take drugs are not addicts. To help us understand more about drug use, MixMag and the Guardian are asking volunteers to fill out the Global Drug Survey, the biggest independent survey of drug use patterns in the world.

But the reason we take drugs may be even more interesting. Ronald K. Siegel in his book “Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances”, argues that the instinct to pursue intoxication with plants, alcohol and other mind-altering substances is a fourth drive, after food, sleep and sex. This natural part of our biology creates an irrepressible demand for intoxicating substances. If this is true, the war on drugs is actually a war on biology – and even evolution. Drug-taking causes changes in thoughts and behavior that may create variations or mutations that drive evolution. Fancy that!

Whatever the reason, apparently “Everything We Thought We Knew About Drug Users Was Wrong”: “Would you believe that people who use drugs are, on average, more educated than the average citizen? Or that less than 10 percent are unemployed? Around the world, the mythology of the drug user – as a desperate, ill or uncontrollable person – has often influenced policies that were poorly informed about actual drug use.”

So the War on Drugs isn’t working, drug users are not the scourge of society, drug-taking is usually for pleasure, and may even be a basic evolutionary drive. Any other recent drug news? “Marijuana and Cancer: Scientists Find Cannabis Compound Stops Metastasis in Aggressive Cancers” says the Huffington Post.

Now illegal drugs cure cancer. Whatever next?

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Going Green: Why Legalizing Marijuana is the Best Thing for America

With seventeen states now implementing medical marijuana programs, a growing admission of the “War on Drugs” as a failure and over half of all Americans favoring legalizing marijuana, it feels like we’re at a kind of tipping point in the case for legalization. If rumors at GQ magazine are to be trusted, President Obama plans on tackling the drug war if elected to a second term. (Although it’s fair to be skeptical after Obama broke his campaign promise to leave state medical dispensaries alone, in fact coming down harder on them than Bush ever did. Read more about “Obama’s War on Pot” in Rolling Stone magazine.) Politics aside, sometimes a picture’s worth a thousand words. Here’s a graphic to show your conservative friends who might not be convinced yet:

Going Green
Created by: OnlineParalegalPrograms.com

With Columbia decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and cocaine, and Uraguay talking about full-fledged legalization of marijuana it looks like the Latin American countries are set to lead the way in demanding an end to this senseless bloodshed and persecution. Let’s hope the “Land of the Free” isn’t too far behind.

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How Not to End Sex Trafficking: My Day Testifying at the New York City Council

In case you haven’t heard: there’s a new moral crusade on the rise. It began two years ago with a campaign for Craigslist to take down it’s adult advertisement section because it was being used by sex traffickers to advertise their victims. After winning every legal battle in court, Craigslist finally caved to public pressure and took it down. What followed was the inevitable exodus of adult services ads to another website, this time Village Voice owned Backpage.com, another website for classified ads. It wasn’t long before the anti-trafficking crusade was up in arms again.

The pressure has reached critical mass in recent weeks as scathing editorials by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times have become near-weekly and a petition with a quarter million signatures was delivered by local clergy and council members to Village Voice Media in NYC. The movement is growing nationally with 19 US senators and 51 attorneys general signing on to the cause.

The idea behind this is a simple one. For example take the Brooklyn District Attorney, who has claimed that in two years, 70 percent of the 40 trafficking cases his office dealt with involved ads on Backpage.com. They conclude from this that Backpage is effectively pimping underage/trafficked girls and that the site’s adult services section needs to be taken down.

The thought on this issue seems to stop there. Firstly, it would seem obvious that whatever website is most popular for those seeking adult services is going to be the place traffickers go to advertise their victims as well. The whole discussion around this issue seems to also show a certain naiveté around the prevalence of consensual prostitution, which makes up the vast majority of the ads placed on Backpage.

Aside from that, it is clear from what happened after Craigslist was shut down that this is really a game of Whac-A-Mole. With the advent of the internet as a marketing tool, we are dealing with a new era for the sex industry (as for any other industry), and shutting down one website at a time is simply not going to solve the problem.

Not only is it not going to solve anything, it’s actually a dangerous tactic for several reasons. Any website that cooperates with law enforcement and is proactive about screening its advertisements for any hint of coercion or underage sex (as Backpage does) is an opportunity to monitor a world that law enforcement can’t usually access. Assuming that these ads will eventually all move to a new website (even the District Attorneys attacking Backpage admit they will), there is no guarantee that this new website will have the rigor or interest in pursuing this on the scale Village Voice Media does, never mind the funding to do so. There are an estimated 5000 adult advertisement websites that advertise sex workers/escorts in the United States, and an increasing number of them are not on US shores. Therefore not only might they not take a principled stand on this issue (as Village Voice has) – but they may not be under US jurisdiction either. Many prosecutions of sex trafficking cases use information obtained from Backpage via subpoena, something not possible with an off-shore company.

This all doesn’t bode well for the future protection of victims of sex trafficking. And it’s only the beginning of the problem with the cause to shut down Backpage. While taking down Backpage may make some feel better, there is no evidence that doing so will help victims of trafficking. What we do know is that it will have many unintended and dangerous consequences for those involved in the sex industry by consent.

Backpage is a low-cost advertising site that has allowed many people in the sex industry to break away from a pimp or madam, get off the streets or out of a house, and work independently.

What happens when you shut down an advertising site that services so many people? Further marginalization leads to increases in violence, HIV and other STIs, stigma and discrimination. Without sites such as Backpage it is much harder for sex workers to screen their clients and negotiate their terms of service, such as condom use. Closing down low-cost advertising sites makes it harder to be independent and forces sex workers to rely again on third parties, leading back to exploitation and trafficking.

Having heard little discussion of these and other consequences in the crusade to shut down Backpage, I spent the day at City Hall yesterday waiting for a chance to testify on the proposed City Council resolution recommending the closure of Backpage’s adult services advertisements. I was joined by the wonderfully bright and articulate Kate D’Adamo, a community organizer from the Sex Workers Outreach Project of NYC. Chairing the panel were Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Councilman Brad Lander.

It wasn’t so much a hearing as a lynch mob. Cameras rolling, I watched as members of our City Council practically lined up to abuse Village Voice attorney Liz McDougall (who came to testify by choice). She was interrupted, insulted and accused repeatedly – while her sensible and sensitive responses to their questions went completely ignored. I couldn’t help but wonder: knowing that the city has no power to shut down Backpage (the resolution is just a strong recommendation), surely the opportunity to sit and talk with Backpage’s attorney about these issues would have been better spent in an in-depth discussion of what Backpage could do to improve it’s current efforts to curb trafficking? Unfortunately all that ensued was finger-pointing, angry raised voices and public humiliation. Having spoken to Ms. McDougall I feel it’s obvious that she truly believes that the Village Voice is doing the right thing here (and I agree). It’s rare to see a sense of corporate responsibility these days and it was truly painful to watch her efforts met with sarcasm and bullying.

The rest of the testimony might as well have been a mutual masturbation session as City Council members, District Attorneys, and anti-trafficking organizations congratulated each other on having the courage to ‘stand up’ on this issue.

Except all I saw in that room was cowardice and politics. It is pure sleazy politics to not stand up and admit (as at least one council member is said to have done privately) that shutting down Backpage will probably not help the trafficking situation. It is pure cowardice to hide behind an easily passed resolution to be able to say you’ve done something about trafficking – instead of pushing for the funding for programs that would really help the populations most at-risk from this kind of abuse.

There are some real and tangible changes our society can make, as my fellow SWOP member Kate D’Adamo explained to the City Council:

“According to the John Jay College study The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City, 95% of the youths interviewed said they exchanged sex for money because “it was the surest way to support themselves.” And we are not talking about a missing population who is isolated in their quest for support. 68% had visited at least one youth service agency. And while 87% expressed a desire to leave the sex trade, the barriers can feel insurmountable at times. 60% said they would require stable, legal employment, 51% identified educational needs, and 41% required stable housing before this was possible.

While these all seem like lofty goals, they are clear, decisive places to start that we know will have a huge impact on this population. The most frequent request for services? Stable, long-term housing, most acknowledging that the typical 90-day maximum stay does not provide enough time for them to get on their feet. In 2007, before the financial crisis, one study identified 4000 unaccompanied youth in New York City every single night, and even this number is low. This number does not include youth with their family in the shelter system. It does not include youth who have not tried to connect with the system in some way in order to be counted. It does not include the increase in homeless and housing unstable persons which occurred during the financial collapse a year later. To meet this need, the city funds just over 300 shelter beds. And while 45% of the population of youth engaging in the sex trade is male, and half of street-based youth identify as LGBTQ, the vast majority of these beds have gender restrictions. This year, Mayor Bloomberg is seeking to cut this number even further. Funding emergency shelter services could be a silver bullet into this issue, and it would be a solution which preserves the agency, the rights, and the autonomy of this population.”

I’m afraid to say our testimony fell on deaf ears. The council members present had already made up their minds a long time prior to this hearing. We were briskly thanked for our testimony and spared a single question or follow-up, unlike the many hours of questions we sat through during every testimony prior to ours. The message, in our eyes, was clear. Our ideas are not popular and the voices of the sex workers on whose behalf we were speaking are not exactly important in the political world. A depressing day indeed.

In the meantime, with it’s long-held tradition of standing up for marginalized groups and civil liberties, the Village Voice doesn’t look likely to back down anytime soon. And I’m proud of them. Shutting down Backpage’s adult section would have many unintended consequences. As well-meaning as the anti-trafficking campaigners are, it’s one of those cases where the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The problem of sex trafficking is complex and deserves a thoughtful, multi-level approach to prevent its occurrence and facilitate the rescue of its victims. In addition, sex workers’ voices (those working with agency and by consent) need to be heard when considering a policy that will affect them more than anyone else. Yesterday may have been disappointing, but we can’t afford to back down when there is so much at stake.

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Spring is in the Air: #Occupy

Occupy Wall Street is back in the news after a march to Liberty Plaza this past weekend celebrating it’s six month anniversary led to violence between the NYPD and protesters. While this writer was unable to attend, all accounts report undue force against protesters, who were given little notice to evacuate the park before things got heavy. Read more at the Huffington Post.

In light of what is now a much-anticipated “American Spring” it seems appropriate to have a look at where we left off in November when Occupy encampments were forcibly dismantled across the nation.

Here are a few things you might have missed this winter:

Keith Olbermann gave one of his more stunning tirades against New York City Mayor Bloomberg following the raid that took apart the original occupation in Liberty Plaza. Listening to it now amid reports of new violence, his words have renewed relevance.

Naomi Wolf’s article “The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy: The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence” went viral upon its publishing. She gives very strong reason to believe the Occupy crackdown in cities across America was a coordinated effort involving Federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. (For those skeptical read her response to critics where she details her own arrest at #Occupy as well as further documents how she came to this conclusion.)

“Are the Occupy protesters just a bunch of hippies?” asked Patrick Kingsley in the Guardian, pointing out the ludicrousness and inconsistency of media criticisms of #Occupy.

No, answers Matt Taibbi in his blog for Rolling Stone, “Woman Gets Jail For Food-Stamp Fraud; Wall Street Fraudsters Get Bailouts.” In an example that is the epitome of what’s wrong with our nation, a mother of two who was ineligible for food stamps due to a past criminal drug offense lied about her history in order to feed her children and got caught. She paid the government back for the full amount of her fraud (a whole $4000). The judge didn’t feel she was punished enough so she ended up with a three year jail sentence. A stark comparison with the repercussions of corporate fraud on Wall Street ensues.

The examination of police brutality, corporate rule and corrupt politics in America could send us on a never-ending journey of pessimism. So if you’re craving some positive inspiration, have a look at TDT’s last post featuring a film that speaks to the soul of this movement, “Occupy Love”.

To end on a lighter note, I leave you in the capable hands of George Carlin. One can only wonder what he would have to say if he was still with us now in these changing times.

Hope that’s helped warm you up to this early spring. The weather’s ripe for revolution so keep updated on www.occupywallst.org/ for news of this global movement for change.

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Posted: March 20th, 2012
Categories: Culture, Politics
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Occupy Wall Street Evicted: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

Last night a battle cry went out across Facebook, Twitter, Livestream and the rest of the social networking world. Occupy Wall Street was being taken down, protesters kicked out of the park while the sanitation team and police department tried to both literally and metaphorically sweep them away. After an hour or two of staring at our laptops fixated, the opportunity seemed not to be missed. Down at Occupy Wall Street, First Amendment rights were being challenged as we watched the work of our bravest and loudest voices being torn apart.

With subways to the Lower East Side closed in coordination with the police raid, we set off on foot to march from Brooklyn to Foley Square, where hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters and their supporters had congregated to regroup and plan the next course of action.

Tribal drums kept the pulse of the crowd steadily beating even after a long emotional night with no sleep. We marched at 9am to an open plaza at 6th Avenue and Canal St. Police in riot gear lined the march every step of the way, mostly blank, unsmiling and unsympathetic faces. Only once did we see a few short-lived smiles as we chanted “N. Y. P. D., it’s us that pay your salary.”

The people’s mic was in fine working order as the next possible moves were outlined. Some would stay and maintain a presence in the new plaza. But the Occupy Wall Street movement now had a court order signed by Judge Lucy Billings, giving us the right to reenter Zuccotti Park.

Off we went, marching again to Re-Occupy Wall Street. Time to test the boundaries between the ‘legal world’ and the ‘real world.’

Feet aching, bladder bursting, throat parched but who could be distracted when history was in the making?

Onwards, through the streets of Manhattan. Passersby stopped to stare and take pictures as we avidly encouraged them to join in. “We are the 99%!”

The energy was intoxicating. “Who’s streets? Our streets!” This, surely would be democracy in action. The will of the people, working peacefully and lawfully to organize and demand their rights. I suddenly became aware of the fact that marching along the street behind an American flag for the past few hours had felt completely natural. Perhaps patriotism isn’t just for Tea Partiers after all. We too have a vision of a better America.

The closer we got to Zuccotti Park, the more important it became to stay vocal. “The people, united, will never be defeated!” The overwhelming police presence was enough to put a damper on this first-time protester’s spirit. “They’re here to protect and serve”, I try to remind myself. So why do they look at us like we’re the enemy?

Yet I can’t help but feel sympathy for our ‘boys in blue’. “You’re sexy, you’re cute. Take off your riot suit!” They’re in the same boat. They too are the 99%. Perhaps at the right moment some of them too will feel emboldened to risk mutiny, joining us on the other side of the barricades. What a day that would be.

I was looking forward to encountering the media upon our arrival, the dismantlement of OWS being by now front page news. Yes, there were video cameras everywhere I looked – more often than not held by men in NYPD uniforms, apparently the only organization allowed to get real and up-close footage of the event. An eery conspiratorial shudder ran down my spine. Suddenly I realized my neighbor’s V for Vendetta mask served as more than just an iconic statement.

Liberty Plaza was before us. We walked up to the police barricades expectantly, copies of our precious court order in hand. But it would seem the laws of this country don’t necessarily apply to everybody. We were not allowed in, and anyone who didn’t keep in motion as we circled the park risked arrest.

And so we continued walking, chanting, talking, drumming, waiting. No, revolution doesn’t come easy. But somehow after today I know that when it does, the taste will be ever so sweet.

For this weary writer, revolution will start again tomorrow. Sleep now beckons, full of dreams of a better world now seemingly within our grasp.

Till Thursday November 17th, the International Day of Action. We will be celebrating two months of Occupy Wall Street, calling upon the 99% to participate in a day of non-violent direct action and celebration. “We are the 99%!” See you there!

For the latest news and streams of the Occupy Movement please visit:

http://www.occupywallstreet.org
http://www.livestream.com/occupynyc
http://www.globalrevolution.tv/
http://www.ustream.tv/theother99

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Posted: November 15th, 2011
Categories: Politics
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21st Century Religious Persecution:
Police Raid Tantric Sex Temple in Arizona

‘Sacred sexuality’ isn’t a phrase you hear everyday. Indeed, our porn culture is so dominant that it hardly seems possible to conceive of sex in a spiritual light. One could say this is the result of being brought up in society whose most prominent religions treat sex as dirty and shameful unless for the sole purpose of procreation.

However, the separation of sex from the sacred is a relatively recent (and mostly Western) social norm. A brief study of ancient goddess-worshipping cultures such as Sumer, Babylon, Crete, and Canaan makes it astonishingly clear that in those times, sexuality was at the heart of spirituality and religion. Some archaeologists prefer to use the term ‘fertility cults’ rather then giving these traditions recognition as legitimate religions, yet another reflection of Western bias. These ‘fertility cults’ were widespread across the Near and Middle East for thousands of years in goddess (or should that be Goddess?) worshipping cultures that celebrated and honored the creation of life – namely, sex.

Originating in India, Tantra is another ancient belief system that celebrates sexuality and connects the carnal to the ethereal. These ancient Indian books (over two thousand years old) teach that sexual energy can be harnessed to achieve union with the divine. These traditions show a very ancient connection between sex and religion, sometimes pre-dating the rise of Judaism or Christianity.

Freedom of religion is one of the most frequently cited aspects of the 1st Amendment of the American Constitution. The signing of the Bill of Rights was a landmark in history for the rights of the individual to his or her own spiritual practices, free from prosecution. Those very rights came in question last week when the police raided the Phoenix Goddess Temple in Arizona, leading to the arrests of more than 18 people affiliated with the temple on charges of prostitution. They are still hunting the other 19. Among those arrested was the temple’s Founder and Temple Mother, Tracy Elise.

There have been no shortage of news reports on the raid. Not one has left open the possibility that the interdominational temple’s neo-tantra practices were in earnest; sexual ceremonies and tantric teachings as part of their religious belief system. The idea of sacred sexuality has no place in our society. Instead there are endless puns, jokes and quotation marks around every spiritual term used to describe their sacred sexuality.

Putting aside for the moment the actual temple in question, where in our society do we have room for this ancient tradition? And how could genuine believers in sacred sexuality practice their beliefs without the donations that all religious organizations rely upon to survive being conflated with illegal prostitution?

Nevertheless, the temple remains accused of being a front for a whorehouse.

“They were committing crimes under the guise of religious freedom,” Phoenix police spokesman Steve Martos said. “It’s a sad situation when people are trying to hide behind religion and church to commit a crime.”

So let’s take a look at Tracey Elise, the founder of the temple in question. Here we see her being interviewed earlier this year about the Phoenix Goddess Temple. Does this look like a madam covering up her illegal activity? (Excerpt from full interview here.)

No indeed she is adamant, evangelical even, in defense of practicing what she says is perhaps the world’s oldest religion: worship of the Goddess, the female aspect of the divine.

As taken from the Phoenix Goddess Temple website:

“Our temple is an open source for all who wish to better know the Great Mother and her unique gifts for healing body, mind and soul. We seek to help women, men and couples discover their own divine connection between soul, light body and sacred vessel. We offer group classes and one-on-one teachings and training, play shops and internships, all designed to bring HER wisdom back in this modern era. Our teachings are body centric, emanating from the resonating vessel, which is your own Sacred Self. We see the beauty of every person’s story in every age, body shape, color and gender. Our healing practices make use of the gifts of the Goddess, tools for transformation that have been with humanity since the very beginning.”

But mainstream media would have you think differently. ABC news reports:

Police obtained a search warrant after initiating several undercover deals and determining that the Temple Goddess employees had been trained to use evasive vocabulary. “For example, ‘johns’ were not ‘johns.’ They were called ‘seekers.’ Sexual intercourse was called ‘sacred union,'” Martos said.

So what would have convinced police that these were sacred unions being sought out by seekers, rather than whores being sought by johns? The fact that other activities held at the Phoenix Goddess Temple include yoga classes, study groups, and High Holy Day celebrations? Or the fact that there are people who have testified to receiving healing sessions at the temple regardless of the fact that they couldn’t afford the suggested donation?

Testament to the actual goings on at Phoenix Goddess Temple can be found in the occasional comment left on news reports by those who have experienced temple life first-hand (buried in a sea of abuse left by those who haven’t.) One attendee of the church comments:

“The “donations” are actually donations, left in a basket at the end of a session, not counted and verified, and not required. The Temple also holds many educational events, (also on a donation basis), seminars and trainings, religious services, as well as social events. The vast majority of these stress communication, connection, outward focus, and clarity of intention; rarely do any of these events involve nudity or sex.”

Another says:

“I know Tracy, and many of the goddesses, and have attended several rituals at the temple, as well as having attended the Daka – Dakini Conference in Sedona 2 years ago. The event was attended by Practitioners from around the globe, and I have had the opportunity to experience these people, meet them where they live, on their terms, in a non-judgemental environment of acceptance…I know from firsthand experience what Tracy and the goddesses’ intentions were, and it is simply this: to spread love and connection to others, to make the world a more whole and peaceful place. To them, it IS a legitimate religion. Upon opening in their present location, they extended an invitation to the mayor of Phoenix, as well as the city council. They gave many TV, radio, and print interviews, operating in a signed, clean, well-lit building on a major thoroughfare about 3 miles from city hall. They are most certainly not “disguised”, and if anything, their downfall is rooted in being TOO visible. I call upon those of you with courage and love for freedom and people to be of support to these women, who practiced and operated in love and good faith. I, for one, am chilled to the bone at the sight of masked, bodyarmored, helmeted, police militias armed with assault weapons and battering rams storming into a church filled with women in chiffon, armed with nothing more than candles and incense. How long will it be before those heavily armed government agents come for you and yours, because your beliefs fall outside of the traditional judeo-christian ethic?”

This case is a landmark in history for the sacred sexuality community in the United States. But it seems to be going unnoticed. In the meantime, Tracy Elise and many others face criminal charges for practicing their religious beliefs. Tracy Elise’s bail has been set at an unprecedented one million dollars.

God Bless America.

~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

Would you like to help Tracy Elise and the others arrested at Phoenix Goddess Temple? Sign this petition to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer:

A Modern Day Witch Hunt : We Implore You to FREE the Members of the Phoenix Goddess Temple

Click here for the official site to make offerings of love and support to help save The Phoenix Goddess Temple. All proceeds raised go directly towards the legal defense of members of the Temple members who have been wrongly accused. Help in the protection of all civil liberties, including the 1st Amendment: the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble & the right to practice religion without persecution. 

You can also visit End The Witch Hunt to file a complaint with the ACLU so they know there is support for this cause.

If you would like to volunteer, contribute or make an offering of support of any kind, please email GoddessBless@GoddessBless.org. 

~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

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(Possibly) The Greatest Speech Ever Made

Onwards, with a little inspiration from Charlie Chaplin. “The Great Dictator” was Chaplin’s first talking picture, a controversial film that took on Hitler, fascism, and the Nazis. The speech Chaplin wrote for the end of the film (here edited with different visuals) leaves us with a powerful message that over seventy years later, still resonates deeply.

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Posted: September 15th, 2011
Categories: Inspiration, Politics
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From the K-Hole to K-Cramps and K-Hell:
The Hidden Dangers of Ketamine

Yet another drug headline with ketamine in the news lately, after a recent study in Bristol (Mason, et al, 2010) found that some users are suffering long-term bladder damage – a few even needing their bladders replaced at the tender age of twenty.

A Class C drug in the UK (or Schedule III in the US), ketamine is not generally seen to be one of the more harmful illegal drugs. The evidence to date seemed to show ketamine to be a relatively safe drug when coming from pure, pharmaceutical grade vials. Originating as a liquid, ketamine is usually ‘cooked’ into a crystalline powder which can be snorted like cocaine, although heavier users prefer to use the liquid form for intramuscular injections, as would be given in a medical setting.

Ketamine is widely stereotyped as a ‘horse tranquilizer’. Actually ketamine is an anesthetic that has been used in both human and veterinary medicine since the 1960s (although less so in humans today due to some patients’ negative reactions to hallucinations or ’emergence reactions’ as the medical community calls them).

In much smaller (recreational) doses, ketamine can have paradoxical stimulatory and dissociative effects. Some users take small ‘bumps’ up the nose when out clubbing – others take a larger dose to find themselves in the famed ‘k-hole’, a dissociated state where one can have out-of-body and near-death experiences, or seemingly travel to other mystical and magical places.

While ketamine is generally associated with the dance and rave scene, at these higher doses ketamine is safest taken at home, in a familiar environment to offset the possible dangers of being in a dissociative state in public surroundings. Many taking ketamine fall into the ‘psychonaut‘ category, like this user in a UK study on ketamine use (Muetzelfeldt, et al, 2008), who stated that ketamine allowed “new ways of thinking and an understanding of the mind/body question which 3 years of a philosophy degree could not reach.”

There is some interesting potential for ketamine use in exploring consciousness and success has been documented using ketamine to treat alcoholism and depression. What doesn’t seem to be properly investigated is the extent to which ketamine is harmful to the body, and in what quantities it becomes so.

The most obvious danger of ketamine is of injuring oneself while in the dissociative state. This has been the downfall of several respected members of the psychonaut community such as D M Turner:

“On New Years Eve, 1996, the noted author and lay-psychedelic researcher known only by the pseudonym D.M. Turner drew a hot bath, injected himself with an unknown amount of ketamine, and settled in for the last trip of his life. When his body was found weeks later, the cause of death was determined to be natural causes. It is assumed that Mr. Turner lost consciouness at some point during the evening, slid under the water, and quietly drowned.”

Another tragic loss to the community was Marcia Moore, the heiress to the Sheraton Hotel fortune, a yoga teacher and world famous writer on astrology and ‘hypersentience’:

“Marcia Moore named what she perceived to be the ‘highest’ level of her experiences ‘the cosmic matrix’ or ‘cosmatrix’, the source from which everything was said to be derived. She noted that ketamine produced a ‘higher, clearer and more real trip’ than LSD, although some people just felt ‘disconcertingly whacked out’, and that ketamine produced fragmentation into subpersonalities, including her role as ‘priestess of the Goddess Ketamine’. ‘The Priestess’, aged 50, disappeared on a freezing winter’s night in January, 1979. Her bleached skeleton was found two years later. She had gone at night into a nearby forest, and frozen to death after injecting herself with all the ketamine she could find.”

Aside from the danger of unsupervised pyschonautic exploration, the overall health risks of ketamine cannot yet be quantified. The Bristol study was not large enough to extrapolate the correlation between ketamine use and bladder destruction for light recreational users, with some in the study reporting incredibly heavy use of more than two grams a day (and others refusing to report the extent of their use altogether). Indeed perhaps another unexplored aspect of ketamine use is its potential for addiction; while not physically addictive, there seems to be a high potential for compulsive use to become a serious issue (even for its most thoughtful and educated users, as seen with D M Turner, Marcia Moore, and John Lilly).

Reading through frequent ketamine users’ discussions and reports online, aside from the common bladder complaints, there is recurring talk of what have been mysteriously termed ‘k-cramps’ – a kind of severe gastric pain. As the 2008 UK study cited above states:

“The classification of ketamine-associated ulcerative cystitis has recently been established, however the etiology and treatments of ‘K-cramps’ are still unknown. Nevertheless, it seems to be a prevalent symptom which may represent a broader public health concern if the use of ketamine continues to increase.”

Unaddressed by the medical community at large, here’s one user’s description of his ‘k-cramps’:

“Ketamine causes ulcers in high habitual dosing. There is little information on this on the internet but if you search just hard enough you will hear rumors of it. Well why isn’t this a known fact? Well one would have to take ketamine daily or semi daily at least to get this nasty side effect.

I was unfortunate enough to have this happen on 3 separate occasions. The first time on a cruise ship, resulting in collapsing on the deck screaming for my life, which resulted in a diagnosis of ‘gastritis’ and a double shot of morphine. The second time at home which kept me pent in bed in the fetal position a few days. The third time in the snow in the midst of a rock scramble/ice climb, which made for a difficult, cold, and dire crawl two miles to safety.

From communication with 3 other habitual ketamine abusers this phenomena was familiar with all 3 and equally as gruesome. For the record all 3 consumed a minimum of 3-5 grams a week often more.

Now the physiology of it seems to be a disruption in the pH of the gall bladder causing an ungodly acid reflux. (literally feels like the acids going to eat clear through to your skin)

The way to end the agony is stop using ketamine till it subsides. It can take up to 3 days for it to go away with abstinence. Pink Bismuth (pepto bismol) was found to alleviate some of the pain, as did pain killers. Thought I would share as it took me nearly a year to figure it out, and found next to no information on the net about it.”

This is but one of dozens of reports of excruciating pain by ketamine users, accounts that can be found by googling ‘k-cramps’ and ‘ketamine’.

Once thought to be a ‘safe’ drug in terms of abuse due to the absence of physical dependence, ketamine is now known to be associated with bladder dysfunction when abused, but its effects on the gall bladder, liver and gastrointestinal system have been largely ignored.

The only two studies relevant to this phenomena I’ve been able to locate originate from Hong Kong, where ketamine has long been the party drug of choice. Those more medically inclined may find the following two studies of interest, certainly a place to start for UK and US investigation into this phenomena:

“Dilated common bile ducts mimicking choledochal cysts in ketamine abusers”
(Wong, et al., 2009)
“Upper gastrointestinal problems in inhalational ketamine abusers”
(Poon, et al., 2010)

As a general explanation for these mysterious pains, one American periodical notes:

“In addition to urological problems, ketamine abusers may develop hepato-biliary toxicity manifested as recurrent epigastric pain, abnormal liver function, and biliary tree dilatation. The proposed mechanism for ketamine-induced cystitis is direct toxicity of ketamine metabolites on urinary tract mucosa. Because ketamine is metabolized in the liver and excreted in bile, mucosal toxicity has also been postulated as the cause of dilated bile ducts.”

The Daily Transmission does not believe any drugs should be illegal, but if one is to have a classification of drugs surely it should be based on relative harm. The UK has LSD and MDMA in Class A, cannabis in Class B, and ketamine in Class C. The US has cannabis, LSD, and MDMA as Schedule I, and ketamine as Schedule III.

David Nutt, the UK government’s former chief drugs advisor, was proposing reclassification of drugs such as MDMA, cannabis, and ketamine based on scientific evidence. Then he was sacked for being out of line with government policy. Which leaves us with politicians upholding the status quo at the expense of the health of the people.

I can’t see what kind of logic these categorizations are meant to be based on, but it would seem its time for a serious rethink (and some proper research) before more and more people find their way from the ‘K-hole’ to ‘K-Hell’.

~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

Sources:

‘Ketamine-associated lower urinary tract destruction: a new radiological challenge’
(Mason, et al, 2010)

‘Journey through the K-hole: Phenomenological aspects of ketamine use’
(Muetzelfeldt, et al, 2008)

For one of the more complete accounts of ketamine use and its effects, see Karl Jansen’s “Ketamine: Dreams and Realities”

~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

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Posted: March 4th, 2011
Categories: Consciousness, Drugs, Politics
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What a Weekend!
Ecstasy’s Safe and Alcohol’s the Killer

Two very interesting stories making headlines in the past couple of days. One of the largest studies into the effects of MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, made popular in the form of ecstasy pills) to date has found that there is no evidence that the drug causes brain damage, and that it’s danger’s have been greatly exaggerated.

The Guardian article concludes with Professor John Halpern of Harvard Medical School saying “Ecstasy consumption is dangerous because illegally made pills often contain contaminants that can have harmful side-effects.”

Well that’s funny. You’d think the logical conclusion would be to regulate and legalize MDMA so no one had to suffer the consequences of illegal pill production. But changes to social norms come ever so slowly!

At the same time we read that UK deaths from liver disease have doubled in recent years, and that the total alcohol-related deaths are set to reach 250,000 by 2031 if the current trends continue. All that for a drug that encourages egotistical feelings of anger and belligerence rather than inducing human empathy, selflessness and understanding.

But we can accept that kind of harm to society from a drug like alcohol, just make sure you’re not taking any illegal drugs kids!

~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

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Posted: February 22nd, 2011
Categories: Drugs, Politics
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Cocaine vs Coca:
The US Tells Bolivia ‘We Abuse It, So You Can’t Use It’

No better way to start off the new year than with a bit of good old-fashioned American hypocrisy.

The US has denied Bolivia’s request to the United Nations that it’s people be allowed their ancestral practice of chewing coca leaves. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, was petitioning to amend the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which currently makes criminals of those who maintain the coca tradition.

Not only is this stance hypocritical, as the US currently has exceptions to its own laws for native peoples within the US to use (otherwise illegal) psychoactive plants (ie. peyote) for religious purposes; it is blatantly denying the indigenous peoples of other countries their rights.

With many nations, including most of those in South America, having explicitly supported Bolivia’s proposal to the UN – it is the US that has blocked the way.

Maybe we should start by asking why the coca leaf was ever criminalized in the first place. Coca has been used ritually and medicinally by cultures of the Andes and Amazon for millennia. Archaeologists have found evidence that coca leaves were being chewed in Peru at least 8,000 years ago.

The coca leaf itself has many uses, whether cultural, medicinal or spiritual. As Morales rightly notes, coca leaf chewing “helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labour and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.” Not to mention the fact that the coca leaf only contains 1% of the alkaloid used to make cocaine.

The US justifies its stance on the grounds that coca is the raw material for making cocaine. This would seem to imply that American policy should take precedent over native Bolivian culture, even in Bolivia.

All this as President Obama finally signs the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is meant to protect ‘cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.’ The US stance on this is discriminatory, given that coca use is so deeply rooted in the indigenous culture of the Andes.

The irony is that not only does the US recognize the cultural rights of its own native populations to use certain psychoactive plants, but the US State Department even recommends coca for US travelers visiting Bolivia to avoid altitude sickness. Oops!

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Posted: February 10th, 2011
Categories: Drugs, Politics
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Overlooked in the News: So Far This Summer…

As the Daily Transmission is on a summer hiatus, here are a few not-to-be-missed headlines that should keep those juices flowing:

‘Why do we so willfully cover up the failure of the war on drugs?’ asks Angus Macqueen in The Guardian. Macqueen has just completed a documentary series for Channel 4 called ‘Our Drugs War’ which is a well-needed examination of the global ‘War on Drugs’. (Save for another time a discussion of what exactly constitutes a ‘drug’ in the first place… possibly the ‘War on Drugs’ belongs in the same failed category as the ‘War on Terror’?)

For further evidence of failed drug policy look no further than ‘Mephedrone found not guilty, but the next legal high may be a killer’ from former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris. We’re on a road to nowhere, attempting to ban each new pharmaceutical ‘high’ that comes out of a lab. It seems the recipe that got MDMA banned still works: Take tabloid headlines, scare stories and incomplete research, mix in some panicked political bravado, season with a bit of ignorance, and bam! You got yourself a mephedrone ban.

And for a shining example of where rational thought ends and politics begins, Sky News reports on why legalizing prostitution works (in Australia) – but ends telling us why prostitution laws in England are not likely to be changed any time soon:

There are not many votes to be won by decriminalisation and, potentially, many votes to be lost if it sparked a moral crusade by opponents of reform.

But that’s why we elect politicians, isn’t it? So they can get in power and ignore what they think is right in order to ensure getting re-elected?

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Take The Oxycontin Express to Florida…
But Bring Your Own Bong!

In the US, more people are now abusing prescription medication than heroin, cocaine and ecstasy combined. Pharmaceuticals like OxyContin, Xanex, Hydrocodone, Demerol, Adderall and Robitussin (Robo’s) are the new hipster drugs.

Those who have personal experience of oxycodone (branded OxyContin) know that it is an extremely euphoric and addictive opioid, hence its nickname as ‘hillbilly heroin’.

But doctors in Florida prescribe oxycodone at five times the national average. Florida has 50 of the top 50 oxycodone prescribers in the country, and 35 of them are in Broward county.

It’s effectively legalised drug dealing, motivated by greed. Doctors have an incentive to prescribe these addictive pain killers. People from all over the country flock to Florida’s countless walk-in ‘pain clinics’, ready to pay cash, often $300 or more, for their fix.

Florida has deregulated to the point that one can doctor shop and get mega prescriptions for conditions that don’t even meet the requirements for minor pain medications. When the state does intervene, it locks up addicts who are selling their prescriptions – not the doctors who are over-prescribing to begin with. The pharmaceutical industry happily supplies these drugs in excessive amounts without question.

Vanguard, Current TV’s original documentary series, exposes the pill pipeline that extends from Florida up the Eastern Seaboard: The OxyContin Express. The show won a Peabody award for shedding light on this unspoken but lethal national pandemic.

But don’t worry, there’s new anti-drug legislation sitting on the governors desk to be signed, passed unanimously in the Florida Senate this past week. HB 187 has been nicknamed the ‘Bong Bill’, and will effectively ban the sale of bongs and other drug paraphernalia in the Sunshine State. Glad that Florida legislators have their priorities straight – they’re tough on drugs!

The new law will be effective July 1st, and violators could face a year in jail. From StoptheDrugWar.org:

“Under the bill, only shops where the sale of tobacco products and accessories constitute 75% of income, or shops where the sale of pipes and bongs constitutes less than 25% of income will be allowed to sell a long list of smoking devices. These include pipes of any material, water pipes, carburetion tubes and devices, chamber pipes, carburetor pipes, electric pipes, air-driven pipes, chillums, bongs, and ice pipes or chillers.”

The bill is sponsored by Representative Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, Florida, who said earlier this month:

“I’ve been fighting the pipe industry for the longest, because it is all a part of the drug trade and the criminal enterprise that we know exists and destroys neighborhoods, families and order in our society.”

Damn those bong-buying hippies disturbing the neighborhoods of our good old American hillbilly heroin junkies!

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The Hazy Politics of Drug Policy:
Where Science Gets Left Behind

Last night I had the pleasure of attending UK ex-chief drug advisor David Nutt’s lecture here in London at the Hub Islington, one of a dozen such Hub communities that bring together people working for social change across the globe.

David Nutt was fired for standing up for scientific evidence that showed, for example, that ecstasy, cannabis, and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol. Or that more people die falling off horses every year than taking ecstasy (see his article on Equasy vs Ecstasy.) But it didn’t take long for Professor Nutt to get back on his feet: he’s just started the new Independent Council on Drug Harms with some of the top scientists in the field, which will rival the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

The most crucial data that the government doesn’t want to deal with appears in the graph below, from the 2007 Lancet article ‘Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse’:

Drug Harm Ranking

The paper, co-authored by Prof Blakemore and Prof David Nutt, et al. , ‘presents a scale of harms based on three scales – physical harm, dependence and social harm – which were independently assessed by two groups of experts from the fields of chemistry, pharmacology, forensic science, psychiatry and other medical specialties.’

There was a surprisingly poor correlation between drugs’ class according to the Misuse of Drugs Act and their actual harm scores. Alcohol, ketamine, tobacco, and solvents (all unclassified at the time of assessment) were ranked as more harmful than LSD and ecstasy (class A drugs).

It’s obvious that something’s wrong here.

Professor Nutt talked about politicians feeling the pressure to be tough on drugs – but it turns out that at the time cannabis was reclassified as a Class B drug, two thirds of the public wanted cannabis to remain Class C or less. Maybe one of the answers is that we the public need to be more vocal in our desire for drug policy reform.

During the lecture at times I believe many of us didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, like when we read MP Vernon Coaker’s statement that “We look for evidence to support our policy decisions.” Surely it should be the other way around?

Last but not least is media bias. Scottish graduate Alasdair J M Forsyth wrote his PhD having looked at every single newspaper report of drug deaths in Scotland from 1990 to 1999 and then compared them with the coroners’ data. Check out the results below:

Out of the 2,255 drug deaths that decade, only certain drugs tended to attract media attention. 1 out of 265 involving paracetamol, 1 out of 72 involving morphine, 1 out of 48 involving diazepam – the media were clearly not interested in these drugs. They were more interested in cocaine (8:1), amphetamines (3:1) and heroin (5:1). But unbelievably, out of the 28 deaths from ecstasy in ten years, 26 were reported, meaning a near 1:1 ratio. An astounding bias.

Professor Nutt also pointed out that cannabis is not on this chart because cannabis doesn’t kill – you cannot die of a cannabis overdose. Of course alcohol is also missing off that list. Alcohol alone will have killed between 2000-3000 people in Scotland in that same decade – the same as all the other drugs combined. Makes you wonder why it is we consider alcohol in a separate category from the drugs we classify due to their potential harm.

One final example of how even some scientific reporting about drugs is biased. A study that made front page headlines claiming that ‘ecstasy fries your brain’ was later quietly retracted when the researchers realized they had given their subjects methamphetamine instead of ecstasy. Oops!

It’s enough to fry your brain without the drugs.

Sources:

‘Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse’
D Nutt, LA King, W Saulsbury, C Blakemore
Lancet 2007: 369, 1047-1053

‘Distorted? a quantitative exploration of drug fatality reports in the popular press’
A Forsyth
International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 12, Issue 5, Pages 435-453

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Posted: February 18th, 2010
Categories: Drugs, Politics
Tags: , , , , ,
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