Thursday, March 06, 2008
Kevin Booth's "Last White Hope" on Showtime
Kevin Booth’s documentary film “American Drug War: The Last White Hope” (120 min) from Sacred Cow aired on Showtime last night (March 5, 2008). I’m not sure if Sacred Cow is doing a theatrical release, or whether the film might be picked up by someone like Lions Gate, Roadside Attractions or Magnolia for theatrical release. It sounds like a good idea to me to release it, as the film makes an interesting statement.
I can remember Libertarian Party meetings at which Harry Browne would say, “And we must end this insane War on Drugs.” The film shows President Nixon “declaring” the war sometime around 1971, before he himself would go down to Watergate. New York State amplified the effort in 1973 with a draconian law, and subway signs reading “don’t get caught holding the bag.”
The main point of the film is that corporate American benefits from the War on Drugs, and that is the main reason that, in the United States, users of mind-altering substances other than the “legal, profit-making” ones (tobacco and alcohol) are targeted for punishment and incarceration. Presumably, tobacco and liquor companies benefit from keeping other substances (particularly marijuana, even when medical) illegal. I don’t know if this argument really washes, when you look at the whole history of alcohol prohibition.
A good clue to what is going on comes from the lengthy appearance of Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Phoenix), who maintains a “tent city” at his county jail for drug offenders (mostly non-violent). In fact, he brags that they plead guilty to get into an air conditioned prison. (I had a friend in the coffee business in Minneapolis, and his comedy greeting (he wanted to do nightclub comedy) was “Stay out of the penitentiary.”)
The film shows the prisoners chained together marching and chanting in military boot camp style.
The film goes on to cover privately owned prisons. States are contracting out their prison management to private companies. Wackenut has become “Corrections Corporation of America.” Now Wall Street has a fiduciary interest in making the War on Drugs profitable. It can treat the prisoners as chattel and use them for “slave” labor. When you combine that with a perspective of American history, you can see how that comes across.
In the south (the film uses Tulia Texas as an example), some communities allegedly use the crackdown on drugs as a form of “ethnic cleansing” or “banishment” (see the posting March 1) or “economic lynching.”
The film made much of the fact that cancer and AIDS patients using medical marijuana for symptom relief (especially the nausea from chemotherapy) or even giving to other patients, even in states that have tried to legalize medical marijuana (California), are pursed by the fibbies.
At the same time, there is a large population of users easily enticed into substances that are so terribly destructive, like crystal methamphetamines, the disfiguring effects of which become so obvious in just a few months of use. The film showed the accumulation of heroin “balloons” on the streets of south central Los Angeles, as if they were snowflakes.
This is an unpleasant topic, and its tawdriness does not come across visually in the film (I think the film could have portrayed the physical effects on users more graphically).
One topic that it did not cover was employee drug testing (which blossomed as an industry in the 1980s – there are technologies like EMIT and gas chromatography), and the problems with false positives (caused by chemical confusion with legal substances, especially cold and allergy medications). There is also a problem that marijuana remains dissolved in fat cells and stays in the body much longer than many other, much more medically toxic illegal substances. There is a proliferation of websites that purport to tell people how to beat employer drug tests, and discuss the false-positive or “secondhand smoke exposure” problem that could appear from attendance at parties. I had to take such a test to get my last main IT job in 1990.
An earlier film on this problem was “Grass” (1999, Unapix and Lions Gate, directed by Ron Mann), with Woody Harrelson as narrator. I saw this at the University of Minnesota in that year. And there was the propaganda “Reefer Madness” (1936) which was spoofed by a musical film in 2005 on Showtime, directed by Andy Fickman.
Of course, don't forget 2007's "big film" about the war on drugs, Ridley Scott's 1970s saga, "American Gangster."
March 9, 2008
I am informed of this by a visitor who works in the corrections business:
"Wackenhut became "Wackenhut Corrections" and then "GEO Group" in 2003. It is the second largest for-profit prison corporation in the U.S., after CCA, but there is no connection between the two."
This was an email sent to me.
Note also, the following picture from Ron Paul 's campaign, near the Supreme Court building: