Category Archives: Activism

Gar Alperovitz’s new article on the question of socialism and beyond

It’s a long article, but the final paragraph points to why the whole thing is important to read (and I quote):

The important points to emphasize are three: [1] There is openness in the public, and especially among a much, much broader group than many think, to discussing these issues – including even the word “socialism;” [2] It is accordingly time to get very serious about some of the challenging substantive and theoretical issues involved; and [3] There are also many on-the-ground experiments, and projects and developments that suggest practical directions that are under way, but also that a new politics (whatever it is called) might begin to build upon them if it got serious.

We have a lot to talk about, and we need a lot more voices in the debate than the traditional – and definitely the institutional – Left. Socialism may just not mean what you think it means – hell, it doesn’t mean what I think it means, and that’s why I think the new debate is so exciting.

Whole article here.

Economics and Being

In a system of finite resources and potentially unbounded desire, either one establishes a reciprocal and egalitarian form of economic distribution, or there will, inevitably and even necessarily, be inequality in the concomitant distribution of power, and even ontological value. The problem with inequality is that it does not just take more from one ontologically equal actor and give it to another. It inherently degrades the ontological status of the one from whom more is taken. There is a valuation of intrinsic, existential “worthiness” in terms of being itself made when one actor is granted more than another. It is a valuation that has extreme social, environmental, and – of course – economic repercussions. If an ostensibly human actor is “worth less” than another, then not only will that actor receive less than an equal portion, but the means by which that actor can support him or herself, the places in which he or she lives, the relationships that he or she is able to form, are degraded. Being, in the ontological sense, is degraded by economic inequality.

From the DPA: Congress Set to Escalate War on Drugs, Despite Decades of Failure and Unaffordable Price Tag

This article makes me terrified and furious at the same time. My research could land me in jail. Legitimate and legal activities performed by researchers in other countries, if they violate US law, could land those researchers in jail.

It is fiscally, logistically – not to mention morally – implausible to continue fighting this so-called “war” on civil liberties and  cognitive-spiritual freedom. Certainly there are psychoactive substances that are dangerous. I have a significant amount of personal experience with members of my family and rehab. We need a lot more research and much better education at all levels about what different substances can do, and what they can’t, and where the lines are drawn. But criminalization and prohibition is the most ridiculous answer from a policy perspective that I can imagine. It costs more in raw dollars, lives, and time than it will ever merit back, and incarcerates people who simply need help and rehabilitation, and puts drastic limits on all the good that many of these substances could do. These kind of misguided laws amplify the social harm they seek to prevent through an unconscionable process of misinformation and criminalization.

To extend that kind of policy outward such that treatment facilities and healing centers working in other countries with different ideas about how psychoactive substances can or should be used now act as legal traps for US researchers and therapists working in these fields? Unconscionable.

Update [2011-12-09]: The bill is HR 313. A summary can be found here. To be clear, what I find frustrating is not the ostensible purposes of the bill. While I would argue (with anyone that will listen) that prohibition is an absurd policy stance, what I am frustrated with about the bill is not what I perceive to be the obvious attempt to stop those who are colluding to traffic narcotics outside of, and ultimately into, the US. I understand that the point of the bill is to give the government some kind of leverage so that people guilty of actions outside the country, explicitly designed to break laws in the US, are able to be put within the legal grasp of the justice machinery. I understand that. What I’m frustrated with is two-fold. First, it’s implausible to suspect that we can actually enforce laws like this. Making it a law, from the way I understand what I’ve read of it, seems unlikely to actually lead to a significant number of arrests, and even less actual stymying of the flow of illicit substances across US borders. Second, the way the law is structured (again, if I understand it correctly), it casts such a wide net that researchers working on cannabis in other countries, people working with substances banned in this country but that are being used for medical purposes in other countries (like ayahuasca and addiction, ayahuasca and depression, among many, many others) would be in serious danger of arrest. My own research, which I have intended to orient toward a study of ayahuasca tourism as a form of religious pilgrimage, could be construed as an active attempt to break US drug laws outside of the country. My frustration is that the law may very well cast a net so wide, or at least leave room open for this kind of interpretation, that legitimate research being done outside of the US will be impacted. Our own draconian drug laws are our own problem to fight and work through. But I need to understand this law better, and I very much hope that I’m misunderstanding the ways in which it could be applied.

You can find out more here at popvox, and you can send a letter to your representative about it here.

Title VI and Fulbrights

I just got back from Ecuador through FLAS funding, which is directly impacted by this…  The subject was most definitely on everyone’s mind while at the field school, both professors and students.  This article clearly lays out why Title VI and Fulbright funding is so important for the US.  While I believe that the reasons for understanding other languages and other cultures go far beyond our questions of economic competitive capacity in a global market, or even questions of national security, these are two very real, immediate, and pragmatic concerns for why these programs need to be protected and funded.  As the article points out, this budget is less than two-tenths of one percent of the federal budget, counted, when fully funded, at just below $40 million.  That’s virtually nothing compared to many other programs.  Cutting the Title VI budget in half harms not only those of us who are engaged with programs funded by this money, but turns a blind eye to lessons so clearly learned post 9/11 about the need for intercultural communicability.

Article on Forbes:

Global Commission Report – Ending the Drug War

The Global Commission on Drug Policy put out its report not long ago, and having read through much of the report, I was very happy with a great deal of what they’ve put forward.  Though I could quote many sections at length as being heartening to read, I think this really gets to the heart of it: “Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights – and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation.”  Really excellent stuff.  USA Today has a short writeup here, though the full reports and commission links above provide more detailed information. and Ending the War on Drugs has a new campaign running.  Though internet petition signing is notoriously questionable insofar as effecting policy change is concerned, I agree with what they’re doing.  I’m copying in their “letter to forward to friends” below.  I don’t want to blow up anyone’s inbox, but posting it here seems like a worthwhile middleground between bothersome and silent.

Their letter:

In days we could finally see the beginning of the end of the ‘war on drugs’. This decades long and hugely expensive policy has completely failed to curb the plague of drug addiction, while costing countless lives, devastating communities, and funneling trillions of dollars into violent organized crime networks.

Drug policy experts agree that the most sensible policy is to regulate, but politicians are afraid to touch the issue. In days, a UN panel of global leaders including billionaire Richard Branson, and five current and former heads of State, will break the taboo and publicly call for a move towards decriminalization and regulation of drugs, delivering a major new report to the UN Secretary General.

This could be a once-in-a-generation tipping-point moment — if enough of us call for an end to this madness. Politicians say they understand that the war on drugs has failed, but claim the public isn’t ready for an alternative. Let’s show them a sane and humane policy is not taboo. Click below to sign the petition — it will be delivered by the Commission to the UN Secretary General and global leaders in New York:

Current drug policies are failing everyone, everywhere but public debate is stuck in the mud of fear and misinformation. As thousands of journalists, policy experts, and social scientists have documented, the current approach — deploy militaries and police to burn drug farms, hunt down traffickers, and imprison dealers and addicts – has been an expensive mistake. And with massive human cost — from Afghanistan, to Mexico, to the USA the illegal drug trade is destroying countries around the world, while addiction, overdose deaths, and HIV/AIDS infections continue to rise.

Meanwhile, countries with less-harsh enforcement — like Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Australia — have not seen the explosion in drug use that proponents of the drug war have darkly predicted. Instead, they have seen significant reductions in drug-related crime, addiction and deaths, and are able to focus squarely on dismantling criminal empires.

Powerful lobbies still stand in the way of change, including military, law enforcement, and prison departments whose budgets are at stake. And politicians fear that voters will throw them out of office if they even mention alternative approaches, as they will appear ‘soft on drugs’, weak on law and order, or pro drug use. But polls show that citizens across the world know the current approach is a catastrophe. And momentum is gathering towards new improved policies, particularly in regions that are ravaged by the drug trade.

If we can create a worldwide outcry now to support the bold calls of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, we can overpower the stale excuses for the status quo. Our voices hold the key to change — Sign the petition and spread the word:

We have a chance to enter the closing chapter of this brutal ‘war’ that has brought destroyed millions of lives. It is time to join forces and end this disgraceful policy that affects us all. Global public opinion will determine if there is change. Let’s rally urgently to push our hesitating leaders from doubt and fear, over the edge, and into reason.

With hope and determination,

Alice, Laura, Ricken, Maria Paz, Shibayan and the whole Avaaz team


Reports that show the war on drugs has failed:

Reports that show alternative approaches of decriminalisation and regulation are working:

War on drugs ‘cannot be won’, officers claim

5 Years After: Portugal’s Drug Decriminalization Policy Shows Positive Results

The Global Comission on Drug Policy that will call on the UN to end the war on drugs

Drug War by the Numbers

Final Report of the Latin American Comission on Drugs and Democracy

Medical Marijuana Policy

Though this blog is not in general dedicated to monitoring or reporting on the constant back and forth over marijuana from a policy standpoint, I stumbled across this link earlier today, and thought it merited a note.  Decriminalization is something I am personally in full support of, for most, if not all, psychoactive substances.  Criminal prosecution for the possession and use of psychoactive substances is, to my mind, never the answer.  In cases of abuse (say of opiates or powerful amphetamines), education, treatment, and rehabilitation are far better answers than a jail cell.  And as far as marijuana is concerned, the demonstrable harms are so few compared to other intoxicants (re: alcohol), that its continued status as a restricted substance is ludicrous.  I was very happy when Obama and Holder both said that they would respect state laws passed for medical marijuana, and I would like to see the administration stick to those promises.  The link, again, is here.