Jan 2013: New Year’s Visions

Updates from the front lines of the Drug War insanity.

The number of people in prison in America declined last year for the second year in a row, according to a  new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of prisoners at the end of 2011 dropped to just under 1.6 million, a 0.9% decrease over the previous year. Of those 1.6 million prisoners, some 330,000 were doing time for drug offenses, including nearly 95,000 doing federal time. Drug offenders constitute 48% of all federal inmates, or some 94,600 inmates. There were 15,023 fewer inmates at the end of 2011 than a year earlier, but that number is more than accounted for by a single state, California, which reported a decline of 15,493 prisoners due primarily to an incarceration realignment program that has sent what would have been state prisoners to county jails instead. Counting just state prison populations, 2011 saw a decline of 21,164 prisoners, or 1.5%, again with California accounting for 72% of the decrease. (Source: Alternet, December 26, 2012)

From the Department of Inspiration – economic survival

On a trash dump in Paraguay, where a musical instrument costs more than a house, youngsters have made violins, cellos, flutes and other instruments from landfill cast-offs and are playing heavenly music. http://vimeo.com/52711779

Bolivian President Evo Morales on the meaning of the 2012 solstice

In a speech at the time of the Winter Solstice, Bolivian president Evo Morales said December 21 marks ‘end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth’. In an open invitation to celebrate the day, Morales explained that “the Mayan calendar’s  21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism.”

The Bolivian government has hailed the solstice as the start of an age in which community and collectivity will prevail over capitalism and individuality. Those themes have long been present in Morales’s discourse, especially in the idea of vivir bien, or living well. He has stressed the importance of a harmonious balance between human life and the planet, though some people question its application in Bolivia, where the economy depends heavily on mining, oil and gas industries. Source:  Friday, December 21, 2012 by Common Dreams

2012: Year of Indigenous Resistance in Mexico
In a almost step-by-step replay of their New Years’ Day 1994 uprising, tens of thousands of masked and uniformed members of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) marched in military formation into five Chiapas towns. A big difference between this year’s action and the one nearly 19 years ago is that the Mayan Zapatistas of 2012 did not carry guns or utter words. And according to Proceso magazine, their numbers this year- estimated between 30,000 and 50,000 people- were many-fold greater than the several thousand fighters who launched the 1994 revolt on the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect.The emblematic Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, who mysteriously vanished from the public limelight during the past four years, delivered a brief but ironic message issued by the EZLN’s Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee-General Command that declared in part, “Did your hear? This is the sound of your world being torn down, and of ours resurging…” Source: http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/8769. Posted on: 27/12/2012 by Kent Paterson And: http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/8775 Posted on: 30/12/2012 by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez

From the Department of Inspiration – political

An Israeli activist produced a 2-minute video on the Internet,  in which he speaks directly, heart-to-heart, to the Iranian people offering peace, love and understanding. Within days, the video peace offering produced thousands of responses with pictures, from Iranians in all walks of life, as well as citizens from other countries.

Lincoln and Django Unchained – a comparative review.

Two movies hit the big screens this year dealing with the history of slavery in the USA.  Lincoln, made by Steven Stielberg,  is focused on the battle Abraham Lincoln waged in Congress to pass the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery for ever. Django Unchained, made by Quentin Tarantino, situated in time two years before the start of the Civil war on a Southern Plantation, paints a vivid picture of the violence and human degradation endemic to the institution of slavery, through the eyes of an amoral bounty-hunter and a freed slave bent on revenge.  Both movies could be said to be “anti-slavery,” and thus pass the basic ethics test in film criticism.  Viewers and reviewers can then freely appreciate the dramatic flair,  cinematic  story-telling skill and acting, without any deeper reflection on what is being shown and what it means for our  common humanity.

There is a world of difference however between the two films in how they present the ethical and human implications of the history of slavery in the US.  Spielberg’s film is framed, at the beginning and the end, by two scenes of masses of dead soldiers in the Civil War. It is as much an anti-war movie as an anti-slavery movie. The rest of the film plays indoors, focusing on the political struggle Lincoln and his allies waged in Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Tarantino’s film is filled from beginning to end with relentless, dramatic violence – slavers against slaves, liberators against slave owners. Fountains of blood gush spectacularly, in vivid red color, as our pair of amoral heroes go from one deadly encounter with repulsive bigots to another.  The two liberating heroes seem to never get hit themselves, though they regularly and casually shoot dozens of armed men. There is obvious exhilaration in the characters (and in the audience of the film) as really bad evil guys get their just deserts – and the liberated slave hero rides off into the sunset with the liberated female slave that he loves.  To my mind, Tarantino’s film is a prime example of what has been called the “pornography of violence. ” Under the guise of deploring violent abuse and killing of others,  it dramatizes and glorifies it, leaving viewers with a clear conscience to imagine how they too might have found satisfaction killing really bad, evil guys.

Patriotism as the propaganda mask for militaristic capitalism

In an article published January 3, 2013 by Common Dreams  Michael Moore scathingly skewers the hypocrisy involved in offical claims and calls to support our troops. Moore points to the ways our government utterly fails the young men and women it solicits to join the military – issues that are finally hitting the news with increasing urgency:

One – the staggering suicide rate among vets  – an estimated eighteen veterans kill themselves each day.  This figure is likely an underestimate, because the VA doesn’t keep records on those who have been discharged and choose not seek contact.

Two – there are more soldiers killing themselves than soldiers being killed in combat.  Military suicides jumped 50 percent between 2001 and 2008 and reached new highs this year (2012): The 26 suicides in July more than doubled the Army’s total from the previous month.  Fortunately, these numbers have led to alarming reports from Department of Defense and in Congress, and new funding allocated to the VA for suicide prevention and mental health and services.

Three – A staggering number of females in the military are raped by fellow soldiers: 19,000 (mostly) female troops are raped or sexually assaulted every year , and the rapes often officially ignored and unreported.  These figures too have recently become front-page news, and the services have taken some steps to ameliorate  the situation.

Four –  The Huffington Post reports http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/bank-of-america-illegal-foreclosures_n_1118471.html, that banks may have illegally foreclosed on nearly 5,000. This surely qualifies as a most devastating and callous blow to the soldiers and their families: go fight for your country, get killed or wounded, receive inadequate treatment, and while you’re over there, you and your family may lose their home to a bank.

Five –  A staggering number of veterans are homeless: on any given night, at least 60,000 veterans are sleeping on the streets.

The lessons from this situation are clear: One, for those young men and women who are considering joining up – think again, get informed, consult with Veterans for Peace and other groups, to find out what the wars are really like (refer to link on website). Two, as the hippies already said in the 1960s: Support the troops – bring them home! and let’s take care of the wounded and traumatized and help them re-integrate into their communities.

From the Department of Inspiration – cosmic/historical

Click on this link and you will see an amazing 2-minute video portraying, purely in images, the history of the cosmos, evolution and humanity. It was made by a pair of French videographers and is truly awesome. http://marcbrecy.perso.neuf.fr/history.html

The only film I can compare it to is Brian Swimme’s film Journey of the Universe – Epic Story of Cosmic, Earth and Human Transformation  which takes 55 minutes to tell the same story, with commentary of course. ( See review at GreenEarthFound.org)

The healing virtues and schizoid politics of cannabis

More and more reports of the unexpected healing efficacy of cannabis are being distributed in the underground media. In a recent posting on Alternet,  Laura Gottesdiener relates several stories of  “miraculous” (i.e. unexplained by current science) healings with cannabis.

  • A six-year old boy with a rare form of epilepsy that involved daily seizures, inability to eat solid food or walk around, had 40 hospitalizations and was taking 22 pills daily – all to no effect. His parents began to treat their son with a liquid form of medical cannabis, which dramatically reduced the seizures, so he could eat, run and swim.
  • An 8-month old baby had a brain tumor that couldn’t be operated. Before agreeing to chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment, the parents decided to try rubbing cannabinoid oil by rubbing it into the baby’s pacifier. After two months, the reduction in tumor size was so significant, that the pediatric oncologist decided to continue that treatment rather than chemotherapy.
  •  A two-year old boy in Montana with a brain tumor was being treated with chemotherapy that made the boy blind and too sick to eat. His father gave him cannabis oil through his feeding tube, and after two weeks he could eat solid food again.
  • A recent medical research study reports evidence that cannabinoid drugs (similar in structure to cannabis) not only are effective in treating the appetite loss associated with HIV infection, but may deter the HIV virus from turning into AIDS.
  • Two American twin girls had been raised from infancy with their mother’s hate–filled Neo-Nazi ideology and as teenagers formed and performed in a pop-band called Prussian Blue. When they were diagnosed with cancer and scoliosis, they were given a cocktail of medicines that included cannabis, which gave them “a new outlook on life.” They quit crusading for Aryan power and are now working to help legalize medical cannabis.
  •  Cannabis can apparently have psychosomatic healing effects without being ingested in food or medicine, but simply by its aroma. In the 1990s in Switzerland, when regulatory authorities, hemp farmers and cannabis smokers were negotiating back and forth to find a suitable socio-legal framework for their interests in this ancient plant, there was a time when one could legally sell and buy little cloth bags of cannabis sativa leaves and flowers,  called Duftsäckli (“aroma sachets”), to be exclusively used for “aromatizing” a room or a bed. The pot smokers of course bought these and smoked the contents – until the authorities closed the regulatory loop hole. Berlin journalist and friend Mathias Broeckers wrote to me –
  • An amazing story I heard during a visit to a nursing home for senior citizens. One of the hemp activists had persuaded the staff of this nursing home to distribute cannabis aroma sachets into the beds of the seniors and also to hang additional sachets in the room. The seniors did not know that it was cannabis that was making their rooms smell so sweet, but the nursing staff was asked to note whether there was any change in the sleep patterns of the residents. And this was exactly what happened – the residents slept better and requested significant less sleep medication.

An extraordinary healing transformation also happened with one of the residents of this home who suffered from a kind of Tourettes syndrome. Anyone who passed by her as she sat in her wheelchair was berated with a stream of curses and obscenities. Normally, the staff dealt with her by keeping her heavily sedated, so that she sat in a kind of permanently somnolent daze. The staff then came upon the idea of serving her breakfast toast spread with herb-butter. This herb-butter was made according to a traditional Eastern European recipe with hemp-flowers – and the effect on the old lady was dramatic: instead of bickering and cursing anyone who approached her, she became very  friendly and even began to flirt with the mail-man who came daily. I was traveling once with the producer of this hemp-butter, when an urgent phone call came from the staff of the nursing home: they had run out of their hemp-butter supply and urgently requested more, since the old lady was driving everyone nuts with her cursing and berating.

Meanwhile, while the evidence accumulates of the therapeutic and psychological virtues of cannabis, the American political class at the federal level is turning ideological cart-wheels in order to somehow reconcile the irrefutable evidence of medical value and the increasing trend for states to legalize not only medical but recreational use – with the archaic prohibitionist mind-set inherited from decades of a so-called “war on drugs” which is blindly maintained by the hugely bloated and out-of-control military-industrial-medical-prison complex.

A tremendous contribution to popular education about the true potential medicinal virtues of cannabis is made in the recent film by Len Richmond What if Cannabis Cured Cancer?  To my mind, the most significant point made by the film is the recognition and identification of the endocannabinoid system as an integral branch of our immune system, evolved over hundreds of millions of years of evolution, as far back as invertebrates. The following quote is extracted from an internet article  – http://norml.org/library/item/introduction-to-the-endocannabinoid-system.

The endogenous cannabinoid system, named after the plant that led to its discovery, is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment. Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism, and perhaps to the community and beyond.

Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli scientist whose research  identified tetrahydrocannabinol as the chief psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant, has summarized the action of cannabis in the body: stimulating the endogenous cannabinoid system, as relaxing (promoting rest and sleep), increasing appetite (countering nausea and wasting) and forgetting. He particularly emphasizes the importance of forgetting – since it is important to survival to not remember every detail of all of our daily experience.

One might say the capacity to forget is integral to the healing and stress-relieving virtues of cannabis – common observation supports the notion that evening pot-smokers feel relieved and relaxed with the forgetting of the stressors that bombard us all day long. Of course, this also means that you would not want to consume cannabis when you are a student in a learning situation, where you need to remember details of facts and figures. Whether or not cannabis suppresses actual dreaming and the REM sleep associated with dreaming has not been definitely established.  It lessens dream recall, though this apparently comes back, when one stops smoking weed, as I have also confirmed.  I remember Terence McKenna telling me that when he discontinued his almost daily consumption of cannabis, he would be experience a veritable barrage of remembered dreams on awakening.

From personal and shared observation I would add two further aspects to the list of cannabis actions on the human body-mind complex – sensory pleasure and humor. The enhancement of sensory enjoyment is recognized in the heightened taste pleasure with eating, and also the heightened sensual pleasure of erotic contact. The heightened auditory pleasure induced by cannabis is well known to jazz musicians, who were perhaps the first to introduce the plant into popular culture. This effect may be caused by a sense of time dilation, giving the listener seemingly more time to appreciate the subtle variations of tone and rhythm in a piece of music.

The stimulating effect of cannabis on humor and laughter is too well known to require much proof. In the film Can Cannabis Cure Cancer, some of the interview subjects can barely contain their veritable fits of laughter. Whether thus implies stimulation of a humor center in the brain, is unknown,  but we can definitely assume it is connected to the stress-relieving and healing effects. “Laughter is the best medicine” as the old saying goes.

In an old R. Crumb cartoon that appeared sometime in the sixties, two very stoned-looking dudes are sitting on a porch in a small Western town, and a motorcyclist who has evidently just roared through town, is on the way out. One of the dudes turns to the other and says – “Man, I thought he’d never leave.”

Jimmy Carter adds his voice to calls for ending the drug war

In an op-ed in the New York Times, former President Jimmy Carter called on the US to implement the recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy to abandon the “war on drugs.” The Commission’s primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders, Carter writes. 

Carter notes that the shift in US policy under Reagan away from treatment towards efforts to reduce foreign cultivation through armed force has resulted in a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy presented the following summary of their recommendations:

  • End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.
  • Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (especially cannabis) to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
  • Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available – including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada.
  • Apply human rights and harm reduction principles and policies both to people who use drugs as well as those involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers.

For the full report see: http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Media.