S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 12 July 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Someone Should Tell the Czar

 

[]

Thanks to plus-sized leftist

and undecided presidential

candidate Michael Moore —

the comrade who puts the lumps

back in lumpenproletariat

we now know at least two Awful

Truths about this sweet land of

liberty: In addition to being a

TV Nation, the United States is

a place where any schmuck can

get renewed for another season,

a country whose failing-upward

momentum irresistibly propels

even the most bumbling Magoos

into corner offices. This system

of perpetual employment for

Blunderkinds is something most

of us absorbed first in the

coyote-scarred topos of

television itself, so it's high

time we started discussing

politics and its strange

bedfellows in light of the most

pervasive medium in America.

 

Few figures suggest themselves

more immediately than General

Barry McCaffrey, who since 1996,

has been director of the White

House Office of National Drug

Control Policy, a position more

commonly referred to by the

heart-warming phrase "drug czar."

 

Having earned his stripes in

that smashingly successful

police action better known as

the Vietnam War, McCaffrey is

the first actual general to lead

the troops in the police action

better known as the War on

Drugs, itself something of a

domestic Vietnam. Indeed, all

the drug war is lacking at this

point is an Oliver Stone flick

or three. We're hoping Charlie

Sheen can play the lead once the

detox takes for good.

 

In other ways, of course —

having short hair, being a

complete idiot — McCaffrey

has simply followed in the

footsteps of his predecessors.

He is also what's known in

cultural studies circles as

overdetermined. That is, he

reminds us of so many sitcom

characters, it's hard to settle

on just one.

 

Fittingly enough for a Vietnam

vet, McCaffrey calls to mind a

number of roles from the late

'60s, that golden age when the

networks — yes, the networks —

Showed Us the Funny, no

matter how politically

incorrect. Hence, Gomer Pyle,

USMC (the hilarity of military

camp life before heading a few

thousand clicks west to Da

Nang), F Troop (the hilarity of

the Indian Wars of the

post–Civil War period), and

Hogan's Heroes (the hilarity of

Nazi POW camps). Each show

includes a government

muckety-muck who is by turns

incompetent, apoplectic, and

sentimental but is always, in

the end, a true-blue buffoon.

 

That description sounds more

than a little like Field

Marshall You-Know-Who. Consider

McCaffrey's vexing relationship

with medical marijuana. When

Arizona and California

overwhelmingly passed ballot

initiatives legalizing weed for

what ails you under certain

circumstances, McCaffrey blew a

gasket like Sergeant Carter putting

Gomer on KP, blustering that the

Feds would prosecute any Dr.

Feelgoods who presumed to

"prescribe" under such

voter-approved laws. When asked

whether pot had any medical

value, he contradicted thousands

of cancer, AIDS, and glaucoma

patients — and more than

half of all listeners of Dark

Side of the Moon — by

proclaiming, "No, none at all."

 

[]

To underscore his point, the

drug czar commissioned a

scientific study to prove his

contention. Released earlier

this year without so much as a

"go-o-o-l-l-y, Sarge," the

study concluded not only that

"the accumulated data indicate a

potential therapeutic value for

cannabinoid drugs, particularly

for symptoms such as pain

relief, control of nausea and

vomiting, and appetite

stimulation (to combat AIDS and

chemotherapy-induced wasting

syndromes)" but that ganja

doesn't lead to harder stuff and

that clearing it for medical use

won't lead to increased usage

among the general population.

These last two claims are notes

McCaffrey hammers with more

regularity than even the heavily

sedated Ramones ever managed.

 

Another job qualification

derived equally from TV Land and

the Vietnam-era officer corps is

the czar's well-documented

trouble with statistics, which

he manipulates about as well as

Captain Wilton Parmenter handles

maps and sabres — and, for

that matter, the Hekawi Indians —

out at Fort Courage. (To

be sure, Ken Berry paid a dear

price for playing a slapstick

advance man for the ethnic

cleansing of Native Americans:

eking out laughs by snapping

Vicki Lawrence's girdle on

Mama's Family.) In USA Today

a paper whose kaleidoscopic

colors have us humming "Lucy

in the Sky with Diamonds"

and dropping LSD into the

water cooler every morning

of the work week — McCaffrey

wrote, "marijuana is ... the

second leading cause of car

crashes among young people."

 

Whatever the General was smoking

when he put that to paper, we're

in for a nickel bag. As the

National Highway Traffic Safety

Administration found a few years

back when it looked at the role

of pot in auto wrecks, there's

"no indication that marijuana by

itself was a cause of fatal

accidents." And as journalist

Jacob Sullum has pointed out,

for someone in charge of a US$17

billion budget, McCaffrey's math

skills are shakier than Robert

Downey Jr.'s future. Last year,

Czar McCaffrey said that the

murder rate in Holland was

"double that in the United

States," attributing the

difference to the Dutch

tolerance of drugs. In fact,

notes Sullum, the US murder rate

is four times as high as the

Netherlands'.

 

It's when he's actually barking

out orders, though, that

McCaffrey best resembles that

most flustered of TV

kommandants. In detailing to the

American Bankers Association in

1997 new ways to surveil

customer transactions for

"suspicious activity" related to

drug-money laundering, McCaffrey

reminded us of good ol' Colonel

Klink, issuing

passive-aggressive instructions

to the disturbingly well-fed and

contented inmates of Stalag 13.

Invoking the growing

"partnership" between bankers

and the Feds, McCaffrey warned

that institutions that did not

comply with the guidelines on

reporting activity would be put

in the financial world's

equivalent of ze cooler: That

is, banks could be fined or have

their charters pulled.

 

[]

What sort of transactions

should be finked out? Multiple

bank accounts belonging to

different individuals at the

same address, cash deposits

greater than what might be

expected given the account

holder's stated employment

(McCaffrey was silent on whether

a listed occupation of crack

dealer might warrant a report,

but we're betting on a definite

maybe), and listing a cell phone

as the home number on the

application.

 

As with Colonel Klink, the

bathetic thing with General

McCaffrey is that, despite his

intentions, he is failing

miserably at his stated purpose

even as he delights those whom

he ostensibly controls (one drug

legalization advocate told me

that McCaffrey is everything he

could wish for in a drug czar

and more). By any meaningful

measure, the War on Drugs is a

failure, and so, too, is McCaffrey.

 

As the Rand Corporation has

documented, drug-use patterns

have little to nothing to do

with a country's legal regime.

Some countries with strict

penalties boast heavy usage

anyway; others with lax laws see

little action and vice versa.

According to the US government's

own figures, the inflation-

adjusted price of drugs

has fallen over the past

two decades, suggesting that

attempts to cut supply have had

no effect. (What's more, the

quality of illegal drugs has

been generally increasing.) The

overall decline in drug use over

the same period — like the

decline in smoking and drinking

rates — started long before

the drug war toked up under the

Reagan, Bush, and Clinton

administrations.

 

The main accomplishment of the

drug war has not been to

extirpate drug use but rather to

exacerbate every possible ill

associated with drug use.

What do we get from

McCaffrey's proudest

accomplishment — the recent

string of anti-drug TV

commercials befouling the glass

teat — which employs a heroin-chic

waif, swinging a frying pan to

illustrate the downside of

heroin addiction? (The short

answer, by the way, is a very

messy kitchen.)

 

[]

But despite McCaffrey's own

Klinkian high jinks that inspire

little else but laughter, even

when they are meant to menace,

the real joke is on us, the

unwilling prisoners of the

stalag America has shuffled

toward becoming in the War on

Drugs. That's because the drug

war, like liquor prohibition

before it, does guarantee

certain outcomes: It

concentrates drug trafficking in

poor and marginal neighborhoods,

which already tend to have

higher crime rates; it makes

problem users less likely to

seek treatment; and by

institutionalizing a black

market, it ensures that dealers

will reap extortionate profits

and will use violence and mayhem

to enforce market share.

 

The pusher man, of course, isn't

the only beneficiary of the

billions spent on drug control:

The nation's prison system is

busting at the seams — an

increase largely due to drug

arrests — fueling all sorts

of new spending on guards and

jails. Police departments in the

land of the free have been given

greater and greater power to

seize property they deem

connected to drug trafficking,

to invade privacy, and to

investigate whomever they want

on flimsier and flimsier pretexts.

 

All this is in the name of

keeping people from exercising

perhaps the only right that matters

(well, besides the right to

burn the flag): To feel the way

they want, when they want.

 

Alas, there is ultimately no

happy ending here, no shipping

McCaffrey and his fascist pals

off to the Russian Front (cue

laugh track), no suicide in the

bunker as the Allies approach,

no Nuremberg Trials anywhere on

the horizon. The best we can do

is continue to sneak out of

the camp from time to time for a

quick toke. Maybe it's just some

bad weed, but all we can think

about is that Werner Klemperer,

not Bob Crane, is the one who

walked away from the post-Hogan

wreckage. We can only figure

that McCaffrey has nowhere to go

but up when his tour of duty in

the drug war ends.

 
courtesy of Mr. Mxyzptlk
 
 
 
 
 
 



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