Archive for May, 2010

By now we are angry and scared. We have a terrible crisis on our hands and no one knows what to do. We are angry at BP and increasingly calling for those “responsible” to admit it and be brought to justice. Now, and leaving aside that its seems to be a fact of our American life that we need to find someone to blame for our ills, we have reason to be angry at the mutual finger pointing between BP and Transocean–the utter inability of anyone to say “it’s our fault”. We desperately want that–almost as much as we want them to figure out a way to plug the damn hole and stop the insanity. We want someone to pay. Even those who are committed to a less retributive and more restorative form of justice in our world can feel a need for someone to acknowledge their wrong and begin the long process of restoration which must include–inevitably–some form of restitution.But do we REALLY want justice to be done in the Gulf? Do we want an honest inquiry into who is really “guilty”? Dare we follow the threads of a conspiracy that, in reality, engulfs us all? After all, BP doesn’t just steam out to the deeps of the Gulf and have Transocean drop a well off a platform (appropriately named Deepwater Horizon for the science fiction activity of boldly going where no man has gone before). BP is not sneaking around out there because it is evil. No, we all know they have gone out there because we asked them to. Let’s be honest: BP is a pimp-slimy and seedy and all that–but a pimp nonetheless. We are the “john” and we have asked our pimp to hook us up–to make the connection–to help us score that which we yearn for. And being a good pimp, with a good sense of how to make a good living, BP obliges. And now we got caught. BP hooked us up and the cops showed up and we are all in custody now. So do we want justice?

If we say “no”–then we are hypocrites not willing to admit our role in this whole nasty business. We are little better than junkies addicted but unwilling to stand up and say “Hi, my name is X and I am in too deep…” If we say “yes” then we are going to have to stand in the docket with BP and Transocean and hear the evidence read out and live with the judgement. The witnesses will be the waters, the plants, the birds and the aquatic life of a region whose recovery may not come in my or your lifetime. We will do the time–whatever that means–most likely we will do a “plea bargain” and turn state’s evidence so BP is forced to pay and we get off with a scolding. But will we change? Or will we go back to the habits and the ways of living that got us into this mess in the first place? Perhaps we should think about that restorative kind of justice and admit the harm we have caused, the crime we have committed, the devastation we have wrought. Perhaps we should start having that conversation about restitution…

Perhaps we should repent. Theologians tell me that to repent means to turn around–to change direction, to walk a new path. To repent is not to arrive at redemption–final forgiveness and all that. Rather, repentance means that one is going to walk in the direction of those things with the hope that final reconciliation of relationships (human, the natural world, God) will come. In the current case we have no hope of reaching final redemption in any case. We have spent generations walking down the path of living a life built on cheap oil. In recent years we have continued to walk that way and have started to do some pretty bad things. The pimps have not just been BP, Chevron, Exxon or their ilk. We have also used the pimps of the military, private “security forces”, the CIA and pure power politics to make and keep the “hook-ups” coming. We are in pretty deep. And that might discourage us. We might think “what’s the point?” But if we turn–or start the long process of turning–maybe, just maybe, we will find some liberation. Maybe we will find some grace.

The following is a “modest proposal” for the lawmakers of Arizona.  According to CNN, Arizona’s Governor, Jan Brewer  stated the following as her rationale for signing SB 1070:

Border violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues to the people of our state.  There is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona. We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of the drug cartels. We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings and violence compromise our quality of life.

Clearly then, drugs and drug violence are (at least partly) behind SB 1070.  The drug business–for it is just that–is a highly lucrative, if risky, one.  The reason is a simple matter of economics.  Since the beginning of the much talked about “war on drugs” under Richard Nixon in 1973 billions of dollars have been spent attempting to affect the supply side of the trade.  Arguably, this has led to the pernicious effect of raising the price of drugs, making the risk of engagement worth taking for many.  Indeed, attempting to control the supply along the southern US border has helped create the hyperviolent gangs that seek to control it. High risk, high reward: this kind of illicit business always attracts the most violent elements of any society.

Thus, since Nixon, the USA has engaged in a high-stakes attempt to influence the market in drugs by focusing on supply-side tactics.  Given this you might think that my modest proposal would be to legalize (or at least decriminalize) drugs.  But you would be wrong.  While studies show that legalization would lower the price of drugs, wrest control of the trade from drug cartels (not as much money to be made) and provide a source of much needed tax revenue, I do not expect the hard-on-crime-law-and-order lawmakers of Arizona to accept this free market solution (unlike their liberal neighbors to the west who are toying with the idea in relation to marijuana at least).  No, my modest proposal is much more palatable, has an elegant justification and allows Arizona’s lawmakers to show they are tough on crime to boot.

The solution is born out of a simple finding in a study conducted by Louisa Degenhardt of the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) and colleagues,  based on the World Health Organization’s Composite International Diagnostic Interview in 2008.  Degenhardt et al concluded the following (among other things):

Higher income was associated with higher rates of both illegal and legal drug use.

And there you have it–the answer to the problem of drug use and drug violence in Arizona.  To see how you must understand that the government has been all wrong in its attempt to reduce the drug trade by focusing on supply side.  Rather than that it must focus on the demand side.

So here is my modest proposal: the lawmakers of Arizona must immediately pass a law that will give officers the right to stop any and all luxury automobiles and demand immediate drug tests of all vehicle occupants.  Since higher income is associated with higher rates of drug use to “dry up the swamp” of demand the wealthy must be subjected to tests of drug use at the discretion of police officers.

Further, any person tested and found positive for any elicit drug should be subject to immediate trial in which the blood or urine test evidence is submitted to a special “drug courts judge” who can provide a speedy verdict.  There should be no “third strike” allowance but rather immediate and public execution of anyone found guilty of having used drugs.  While the law could begin using routine traffic stops of high-end vehicles (Mercedes, Lexus’, Jaguars–with a special focus on tinted glass SUVs: you know how the wealthy like to have their privacy), eventually the Arizona government could merely use filed tax returns to require random tests of all household members living in households with incomes that pass a certain “wealth threshold”–say $150,000. Finally, the public executions should be televised and done en masse using the method of deliberate overdosing of those convicted of drug use with lawmakers (including the governor) “turning on” the symbolic overdose drip. (Perhaps the federal government could get in on the action by similarly prosecuting and executing “high profile” illicit drug users–including those who abuse prescription drugs–such as pop celebrities, radio talk show hosts and professional athletes).

The advantages of this proposal are clear:

1.  Public executions of this type are sure to stop drug use in its tracks in short order (after all, this is what the lawmakers of Arizona have certainly learned–make the crime pay enough and people will stop committing it).

2. The law maintains the preferred strategy of profiling while shifting it to those who are driving the criminality by their behavior.

3. The law relies on a profiling criteria that is based on hard scientific evidence rather than on racial profiling that is useless in a part of the world in which the indigenous population is the one most likely to be profiled.

4.  The law balances a clearly failed market intervention on the supply side with one on the demand side that is likely to have a less costly and greater deterrent effect.

5.  The law allows lawmakers to maintain their tough on crime commitments.

I call you to join me in a letter writing campaign to our friends in the state house of Arizona to encourage them to consider this modest proposal

Dedicated to my grandson Jaime…