Home Sick Home

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(I just really like this picture of Korra and she kinda looks sad and homesick)
February, 2015

Homesickness is a well known phenomena. It doesn’t happen to me that often but when it hits, it hits. Not everyone has experienced it but the idea itself is not hard to understand. You miss the people, the places, the smells, the weather, the cuisine, things you grew attached to and maybe even the things you used to hate. For instance,  I am missing out on some historical snow action in my home state of Maine at the moment. I remember quite clearly despising driving to Portland in the winter, especially having to warm up the car, cleaning the windshield and dealing with what ever else old man winter could throw my way. I even once accidently destroyed a mailbox while pretending to loose control in a snow storm to freak out my car mates. Now however, I seem to be missing all of these things and more even though I was just home for two months.

Today I find myself, once again, in some random townie ski village in the Alps.  I ended up here though because of another sickness, one that I only just learned about while living here. The people of the Germanic language have many words that we do not but this particular one stood out to me. The word is Fernweh. It might literally translate to seeing sickness or viewing pain but what it actually means makes more sense. It means an ache, not a desire or longing, but an actual pain for wanting to travel. It is actually a lot like feeling homesick only the exact opposite. You are homesick for a place that you have never been to. I wonder if this urge might have been passed down to us from our nomadic ancestors. I like the way that sounds but Im not a genealogist, so its probably just my own over exaggerated romanticism that I get from the French side of my family. Regardless of where the travel-ache comes from it is a serious problem with really only one solution; move. I don’t just mean move where you live but more like move with the earth as its turning. And I don’t just mean go walking or hiking for your health either. Nor do I mean spending the week at a beachside hotel. I mean packing as few things as you can to get as far as you can. I mean really experiencing all that you can find out there. I have met some great people traveling, people I know would love to meet my friends back home, some of which even have! I have also seen some of the most fantastic places with their help. Music, art, architecture, history, culture and languages await! Acknowledge, accept and breath that fact that you are a monkey thing magically strapped to a giant boulder flying around a massive burning ball of fire. Only then can you get rid of this disease.

I have recently thought that this may be all part of some homesick pattern. This was after stumbling across a Welsh word. Hiraeth, which means the homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.  This is also something that I can relate to. After spending semi large swaths of time away from home and coming back several different times I start to notice and really feel how things had changed there. Almost as if I had some how thought that home just went into a frozen time bubble while I was away, waiting for my return. Of course today’s social media doesn’t allow that to happen though, (I catch up on all my Maine news and I chat reasonably with family and friends) it was more about this feeling. The feeling of the days I cannot return too, possibly these are my youth, the home that maybe never was is my fogging memory, the nostalgia and yearning for the good times we had there. Though I know more good times are sure to come.

Fernweh, Homesickness, Hiraeth, (also check out Saudade) are these almost unexplainable emotions. How does one even grasp where a feeling like that comes from? You are sitting there one minute drinking some coffee in a cafe, someone walks by that looks vaguely like someone from your past, the cogs start to turn and suddenly you are a little bit sadder than you were when you ordered coffee sixty seconds ago. For me it was this pattern. First, the Fernweh takes you out of comfort zone (which is where people keep telling me the magic is but I have definitely still found magic in comfortable places ). Still it makes you wonder what is on the other side of those hills and it makes you want to run for it just to find out. Perhaps it is pure curiosity but it feels like more, as if the curiosity had a conscience and a will of its own. You can fight it as long as you want, read books, study geography, watch foreign films. But if you have a really bad case of it you will most likely wind up on a long dirt road, or in a strange city park or train station just trying to find a wifi signal.

Once you have gotten used to the strange new place the homesickness can start to grow until it finds the right moment to rear its ugly head. For me, when I feel it, I can taste it. It tastes like guilt. I love my home, I love my small town, I even love my State, and occasionally my country (country does not mean government in this instance) However, I can’t take York County on vacation with me, let alone the whole State. I barely managed to get my own brother and a Bob Ross look alike across all of Ireland and back. So I realize my guilt is misplaced. I just want the same amazing opportunities and experiences for my friends, family and neighbors back home. But until I am back the homesickness remains.

Now here is where the Hiraeth comes in. Something about being in Europe, meeting all these different nationalities, and they are all so proud of where they come from most of the time, it made me appreciate my home even more. But then I read the news and I have seen the changes and some things really worry me. I long for those days at summer camp without a care in the world, not understanding the news and not caring who Al Gore was. However, the world keeps spinning. So all I can do now to fight the Hiraeth is to try to give a little bit of Maine to every place I visit and to also know that I will bring a little bit of the world back to Maine some day.

I wouldn’t force Fernweh on anyone, I could only recommend catching it.

The Hog and the Lion

Le cochon. French: pig, hog, swine.

Respectful. Honest. Insightful. These are words I wish I could use to describe my governor. Unfortunately, they do not at the moment, and they may not for another two years. While most Mainers are already on the same page about LePage, this had to be begrudgingly written for the rest of the world.

Painstakingly, I have observed and shared the most magnificent parts of our beautiful forested state. Now one man threatens to destroy that work single handedly. See, in Maine we know our governor is a bit of a shit-head. He belches out whatever split-second half-thought that manages to avoid the few filters he has. As far as I am concerned they are the last snorts of fascism in Maine. Desperate, racist and dwindling.

However, the rest of the world has now seen our leader standing up on some enchanted hate inspired soap box that can be seen from the Belgrade lakes to Belgrade, Serbia. Some of these people reading about him are hearing about Maine for the first time. As if I didn’t already have enough bad first impressions in my life. This insane sensationalism over hate speech has just got to stop. Apparently Donald Drumpf is not enough for the hate crazed media outlets.

We have already tried to impeach LePage, and perhaps next time we will make it happen. Any lost time we can get back from him would be for the better. The man has stood against real progressive change in this state for too long, from action to curb climate change to forgetting to vote for his own racist bills. However, there is no reason to show the rest of the world and the nation a man who does not even come close to representing anything about us or our state. He is our problem and we can more than handle it.

There are two lessons here.

First lesson; implement Ranked Choice Voting (Yes on 5). This will save us a lot of hassle in the future and avoid Vote Splitting (an electoral effect in which the distribution of votes among multiple similar candidates reduces the chance of winning for any of the similar candidates, and increases the chance of winning for a dissimilar candidate). There is no reason for an elected official to win because he just happens to be the only guy standing there with something different to say. Especially when that something different is ignorant and racist. This is the important lesson Maine has to offer the nation this November 2016.

Second lesson; the media has failed in their news coverage. It is not just enough to check the centers of power. Alternatives and movements against outrageous and completely inappropriate behavior also deserve coverage. However, the BBC had an article titled “Black people are the ‘enemy’ – US governor”. Clickbait if I ever heard of such a thing. It was at the top of their US news list when I saw it August 27th. When all those people clicked on it they saw which state’s governor that was. Unfortunately, the title did not read ‘Local American Non-profit keeps governor in check’. The Maine People’s Alliance is already working to put progressive democrats into office in Maine to counter the governor’s nonsense.

Then there is Comedy Central with their over-analyzing of every stupid thing that comes out of that Orange-blur of a maw. Yes, we need to be aware of clear and present dangers. But we do not want to blow it so far out of proportion. Collectively they have given him so much free press and probably a good many more votes. The more you attack and belittle him the more they love him and the deeper their Ostrich ears go into the sand. They will shout; the liberal media is on the attack again! It is the ultimate get out of using logic free card. What we need to be covering is the complete opposite. I want to see more articles about the women and men who stand up to counter such arrogant and exclusive acts.

For example, now that I have tricked you into reading a bit further with a trail of genuine and deserving insults for our blubbering governor you will get to learn about someone more deserving of attention in Maine. The world needs to know that our state is not going to be famous for having a racist governor, but for having an inclusive and fair society. So instead of swinging the camera at the guy with the hate slogans, let us focus on a more respectable up and coming Maine politician.

This November Pious Ali will be running for Portland City Council in Maine. Originally from Ghana, he moved to the United States in 2000 and has been in Portland for the past decade. He has continued to work within the Portland community to bring down barriers separating people economically, socially, and religiously. His civic engagement has been an inspiration for many and it even got him a seat on the Portland Board of Public Education in 2013. This is a man who understands how important education is to public society and for kids to be successful in their lives.

When I first met Pious Ali it was at a camping trip for the Maine Irish Children’s Program. The organization aimed to bring youths of the two conflicting communities in Northern Ireland to Maine for the summer to help build bridges and break down walls. For the American youths it was eye-opening just to realize an almost entirely white community would be at odds in Northern Ireland. To give us a bit more perspective we had a few lecturers and field trips, including a synagogue. It was up to Pious Ali though to teach us about Islam. This was a lecture I will always remember and appreciate. It was 2009 and for some reason Fox News wasn’t giving us any hints at what the Five Pillars of Islam might be. Living in a small coastal town in Maine there also were not too many Mosques around. I remember Pious being very calm, explaining things clearly and taking questions from some of us. He handled what was usually a pretty rowdy group of teens with ease. This is the kind community engagement I want to see an elected official be a part of. Not like some others.

On his website he advocates strong neighborhood schools, quality and affordable housing, and livable wages for a livable city. I definitely recommend checking out his profile even if you are not voting in Portland, as it may give you a better idea of what your local representatives could be saying and doing. This is exactly the kind of progressive and forward thinking policy I want to hear more about going forward and less about the other more boisterous politicians and their bizzaro-world blame game. Solutions work if we work on them together. When bi-polar party politics get in the way we all lose out so that two ideological organizational structures can simply continue to exist.

The point I am very simply trying to make here is for people to focus on the good and the positive. The more we focus on the bad the more it will seem normal until our entire community is so desensitized to hate and violence we just continue to let it happen. The other point I am trying to make is that Maine is not a state for hate. It is time we paid attention to the efforts and to those people who keep our community healthy, educated, together and safe.

One Maine family has already shared a video of their opposing views to LePage’s racism. They are asking others to do the same. Thanks to them we will hopefully be able to save some face and not have our state become a poster child for intolerance.

While many people are viewing his actions as nothing new, many still think that he has crossed a line this time. Both with threatening another politician with violence and claiming that people of color are the enemy. Some have become desensitized to his words of violence. They may think his words don’t really mean anything and he is just blowing hot air. Either way we cannot sit idly by. And while I am appalled that national media outlets would use his words as a catch line for more hits and views, it would be worse to ignore him. I sincerely hope Maine Democrats can do everything they can to get him out of office. We will not let his behavior become the norm in Maine.

People of planet earth, fear not Le Cochon of Maine. He will be gone soon. Perhaps sooner than we thought.  Maine is still a place where all are welcome to visit, join and participate.

But leave the hate at the gate.

 

 

 

Mozart, Mountains, and Hemp: Welcome to Grastria

It was a cloudy morning in Vienna, stoners, metal heads, vegans, punks, mothers, fathers, children, handicapped, old, young, foreign and native had gathered outside the Westbahnhof on May 2nd 2015. An insane collection of diverse people came together to protest the decades old prohibition of cannabis this month with Hans Söllner and band giving a free performance at the beginning. The march was part of a Global Cannabis March with millions of people from over 250 cities taking part. For these people Grass is normal. It is drinking a coffee, having a beer or taking vitamins in the morning. For more still it is more similar to going to church, praying five times a day or reflecting and meditating on one’s own life.

Unfortunately, the Hanf Wandertags organized in Vienna over the past few years has yet to receive recognition in the form of new public policy from political representatives. The curious case of cannabis has for years remained underground. Now it is slowly but surely coming out and into the light. Grow shops, activists, artists and many more passed out fliers and information about the medicinal benefits of the plant. The sun then finally came out as those participating in the march waved flags and danced along to DJ trucks on their way to Heldenplatz. Many even smoked while hiking through the Vienna streets with police just meters away. Lucky the police did not want to turn a peaceful demonstration into a hash filled riot.

Some local grow shops passed out free smoking supplies and small cannabis plants (stecklinge). Lawyers also passed out advertisements in the form of smoking supplies with their names and information written on them. Organizations supplied leaflets, showing that the march isn’t just about encouraging a new industry, it is about education too.

As the crowd moved through the city many people came out of storefronts and windows to take pictures and see what all the commotion was about, some even danced along and cheered. The protest had an over all positive atmosphere. Although none of the major political parties dared to join or show support the Austrian Greens, KPÖ, PiratenPartei und Plattform der Unabhängigen made an appearance. At the end of the day the question is; what does the Austrian government really fear about legalizing Cannabis? There seem to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding the substance.

While humans have used Cannabis for centuries it was only very recently that it has been prohibited. The tide certainly turned for legal cannabis advocates with the allowance for medicinal use of the substance. When people started to realize that the plant had medicinal qualities suddenly everything that had been said about it the past came into question. Synthetic medicinal Marijuana is sold regularly in Austria with a physician’s prescription. Even seeds and stecklinge can be purchased in shops. However, the sale of THC is still strictly prohibited.

Although research over the years has been severely blocked we still know quite a lot about it. Cannabis contains psychotic and anti-psychotic compounds, THC and CBD. They work to subtly change the effects and balance each other out. The reason cannabis works so well is because of the similarities it shares with our own natural neurotransmitters. The dosage is also an important factor to consider. All drugs influence maximally at small dosages, while too much can produce an opposite effect. Without this information widely and easily available to the public, how can anyone be expected to use any substance responsibly or as a medicine?

In 1970 Richard Nixon ratified the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. Many of America’s allies at the time followed this strategy of prohibition despite contradictory evidence. Nixon stood politically to the right and this put him in direct opposition to certain grass roots movements that were developing at the time. The prohibition of cannabis was a cold and politically calculated move that actually had less to do with the plant and more to do with who was associated with it. This included pacifists against the Vietnam War, people against nuclear proliferation, people against racial and sexual discrimination and censorship. The rest of the world, including Western Europe, simply had to play along with the Cold War game.

The Cold War eventually ended and the wall came down. Now many world leaders are speaking out against the classification of Cannabis as a dangerous drug. Several world leaders gathered this September with the Global Commission on Drug Policy to announce a new approach called Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. They call for a move toward public health and social investment and away from criminalization. This comes with the understanding that to actually stop addiction abusers need treatment not punishment.  Death and prison sentences for minor drug abuse in this perspective are essentially human rights violations. The idea now is that drugs become more dangerous when they are illegal. The government, not criminals, should control drugs with a more sophisticated regulation system. This can reduce the power that black market organizations have. The solution calls for regulation and responsible institutions. While many claim this is an unrealistic plan the Commission maintains that an evidence and fact based policy is feasible and necessary.

The important part in attempting to legalize this drug is moderation and information. We need to explain to teens that both cannabis and alcohol can harm the brain during development. We also need to make sure companies do not take advantage of legalization and try to market cannabis to children. It should be legal for any citizen to grow their own so that patients who use cannabis will not be reliant upon a firm or distributer. A black market for cannabis and many other substances will always exist. After years of failed prohibition, providing the public with real information on substances and not propaganda is a better solution.

There have been many regions around the world that have legalized Cannabis and they have yet to see negative results. In Switzerland possession of less than 10 grams has been decriminalized. Most German Bundesländer from Berlin down to Bayern also allow for possession of small amounts without jail time. The Czech Republic has recently allowed for limited medical marijuana. In Spain growing for personal use has been legalized, while possession in public and sale are still illegal. Spain also has around 500 Cannabis Clubs where one must be a member to smoke, 200 of these clubs are in Barcelona. The Netherlands is the most liberal with their cannabis laws. Coffee shops are legal to smoke in but not legal to sell from, though this is not strongly enforced. These are just examples from Europe. Many States in the USA have adopted medicinal marijuana and several states and cities have legalized possession and sale. In South America many states are pushing for legalization of cannabis to lessen the revenue of organized gangs. Uruguay has gone so far as to legalize cannabis nationwide. Austria can learn a lot from these countries and maybe even look to them as models for the future of legal Cannabis.

In Austria it is still illegal and can possibly result in jail time for possession and sharing, though consumption is actually legal. It is now time for the country to push for legalization and have a nationwide conversation on how this will be done. What kind of Cannabis policy could be acceptable? The Czech model, with decriminalization and medicinal access for patients who could use a healthier and cheaper alternative to prescription drugs that can be more dangerous, could be an option. Or perhaps Austria might want to increase tourism through legalization; instead of Dutch coffee shops there could be Cannabis Jägerhutte. Or if a more secure method of access is wanted Cannabis Social clubs may be the answer. In the end we may see an entirely new Austrian model for legalization. Needless to say the conversation needs to come out into the main stream. While some political parties have cautiously voiced the need for reform it is nowhere near enough. It is time to stop whispering and start talking.

Let Boycotts Be Buycotts

Let Boycotts Be Buycotts

Another record breaking summer of heat this 2016 and the northeast of America is facing a drought. Unfortunately, since our less than lovely governor here in Maine, or notre cochon du fascism (our fascist pig), signed off on a 45-year contract with Nestle and Poland Spring, Mainers around the Fryeburg area have been seeing their wells drying up while water continues to be pumped out of the ground, shipped, sold, sucked, guzzled, and spat. Mainers, including myself, are fed up with having a local public resource being stolen for profit and sold back to us, as if we were being done a favor by Nestle and their global enterprise. However, there is not much one can do outside of spreading the good word and participating in a good old fashion boycott of all products Nestle. (Which means giving up Nerds and Nerds rope as well). As time went on I started to form reservations. Was not buying Poland Spring and yammering on about Nestle doing any good at all? So I took a half-hazard glance into what boycotting was all about and how it works as a tool for activists across the globe.

As it turns out Boycott is actually some poor British bastard’s last name. Forever will he be immortalized for his attempts to ignore altruism and basic human dignity. A cosmic irony if there ever was one, seeing as his name is now used to attempt to defeat such practices. Anyway, this Charles Boycott was a British land owner who treated his Irish workers so poorly that they began to do the most unthinkable disastrous thing any group of workers could ever do. They organized, forming the Irish Land League to help poor tenant farmers. They promoted the three Fs; Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure, and Free Sale. They then withheld their labor from Boycott in an effort to regain some dignity in their working situation. Now, of course, there have been actions of similar fashion before the 19th century, but for whatever reason this was the one that stuck and became a staple word in the English language that we continue to use today. In the end the British and loyalist Orangemen came to the rescue of Boycott and provided the lacking labor to harvest 500 pounds’ worth of food to the expense of 10,000 pounds’. While the Irish Land Leagues actions may have substantially set their British landowners back financially Britain would remain a powerful force on the Island, as we know now, well into the 21st century. So was the boycott successful? At the time it must have brought some degree of relief for the tenants. However, it surely did not bring about the desired goal of having workers be treated equally and not as second class citizens. It seems that, while an effective activist method, boycotting is not a cure all.

Since Charles Boycott’s landlording mishap, boycotts have been used by the Nazis against Jewish businesses, as well as the other way around. The American Jewish Congress also boycotted Nazi Germany in answer to the horrific treatment of the Jewish population there. The practice is clearly a go to political tool to achieve one’s goals. However, throughout our brief yet interesting human history boycotts have come and go and have all had varying degrees of success. While some faded away into obscurity others, like the S-Bahn train system boycott in Berlin, saw some results. This action was called on by unions and politicians to protest the construction of the Berlin wall and brought about a significant number of passengers opting out of the local subway and train service. However, it was not that action alone that would bring down the wall.

In the world we live in today the internet of things has transformed how we communicate and express ourselves. And in so doing it has transformed how we communicate and express our political desires. The internet has significantly augmented the way people can boycott. Now with the click of a button and a few search bars one can find a relatively good amount of information on the products and producers around the world. For example, a UK website, called the Ethical Consumer, has a list of 66 on going progressive boycotts across the globe. On the list are a few of the usual suspects; Wal-mart, British Petroleum, and Coca-cola. However, some of the companies on here were surprising. Bacardi has apparently been using the Cuban origins card in advertising while simultaneously lobbying the US government against lifting the embargo. Another surprising addition was Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. This is a Vermont company known very well for their fair business practices and community work. They make the list due to just one affiliation and one movement; the BDS. The company apparently sells ice cream to an Israeli franchise that has business in recently made settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement is a group working hard against Israeli colonialism and apartheid and working toward justice and equality for Palestinians.

The list of 66 is just a taste of the current working boycotts. Many more still exist and not always for progressive action. In an article by the Guardian entitled “Do boycotts really work?” it is pointed out that “…a seemingly endless list of companies, movies, TV programs, actors, business executives and events are being shunned by consumers for some reason or another” (Watson, 2015). Out of the ongoing boycotts some have been around for decades. Since 1977, Nestle has been boycotted over their promotion of their own milk product over natural breast feeding. As time went on the company expanded their resume of shady dealings and human rights abuses. Recently, Nestle was involved in, not one, but two separate slavery charges. In Thailand they admitted to have found forced labor practices but at the same time they are fighting a child labor lawsuit in the Ivory Coast (Kelly, 2016). Consumers around the world will continue to buy their water and the chocolate and some cat food without a single thought of the consequences.

Another well aged boycott is not on a company but on a country. Since the Jewish State came into existence in 1948 it has been boycotted by many Arab countries. The movement over the years started to organize online and attract other peoples to the Palestinians plight. However, boycotts do not reach the UN Security Council, nor do they halt the magnificent turning gears of a capitalist giant like the Swiss chocolate makers of Nestle. The use of boycotts is effective, but only sometimes and only to a certain degree. And please do not think that boycotts are only used by progressive groups. While people across America are buying alternatives to Koch Brother products there are still consumers on the other side of the spectrum. The practice has been used by both pro-LGBT and anti-LGBT groups.

While many boycotts are limited in their reach sometimes the main goal is not just to influence one company, but the entire industry (Diermeier, 2016). To change a company from the outside is an insanely difficult thing to organize but it is not impossible. Sometimes all that really has to be done is to show the company and the world what the issue is. Just bringing attention to it can lead to some greater action down the road. A company may not lose a lot of money directly from your boycott but the money spent to cover up all the terrible nasty things being spread about them may be enough (Kieler, 2014).

Some might argue that boycotts do not work at all. Insisting that while you strategically pick out which companies are pious enough to stick around you are actually hurting the overall economy. “And unbeknownst to many of the pro-boycott folks, a great deal of their 401(k) and pension accounts are tied up in these corporations. Take them down and plan on working an extra year to make up for the smaller retirement checks” (Schneider, 2014). This position seems to take for granted that the magical economy may not have our best interests at heart. If we were to let the ‘Free hand of the market’ make all the decisions for us we may soon be wage slaves to a few Nestle type corporations in a few short decades. Kieler points out that it was boycotts by colonists to the Tea Act that led to the revolution, as well as boycotts of the Montgomery bus that helped launch a civil rights movement (Kieler, 2014).

Civil rights movements and labor rights movements may be all the rage, but the tool itself is used by religiously motivated groups as well, for example the American Family Association. Anti-equality and pro-exclusivity groups will also use boycotting as a weapon. They have been a hindrance to equal marriage rights for a quite a while. They have helped muster support for their cause and continue to promote Christian values in a nation founded on the idea of separating church and state. Samantha Allen points out here all the things you would have to give up to actively be against Trans-friendly businesses (Allen, 2016). Luckily, as noted before, not every boycott is successful. So the question is, when does a boycott work? And what will boycotts look in a future of rapid technological progress?

A boycott will not work simply by itself. If success is to follow the right conditions and connections need to be met. Sometimes a boycott may ‘piggy back’ in a sense on an already existing movement and together they may cause enough ruckus for change to start. It is difficult in these situations to say what was necessary and what actually caused the change in firm or industry behavior. Brayden King argues that companies that experience a decline in public trust are more susceptible to boycotts, and that the more attention that is brought to them, the more effective the boycott will be (King, 2001). But was it really the movement itself or was it the boycott? It is hard to say in such a complex issue that x + y = z. Americus Reed, a marketing professor at Wharton, found that visibility and severity are indicators of how successful a boycott can be (Reed, 2010). However, he notes that the internet and 24-hour news have desensitized people to news about such boycotts. “What is defined as outrageous becomes a harder threshold to cross,” Reed notes. “The frequency with which we are exposed to these [horrible] events will decrease the chance any one event will be seen as severe” (Reed, 2010).

It seems that executing a successful boycott is as difficult as navigating safely through a hurricane. Thanks to the internet there is an invisible war going on all around us. A war of moving money, this abstract concept not bound by matter, space, or time. Money was a means or tool of exchange and a holder of value, now it is capable of stimulating and slowing down the whole economy. With such great changes in the nature of our economy, changes in how people boycott were bound to happen.

With smartphones there are new applications utilizing the idea of boycotts. Now, whether you are a priest against contraceptives or you are a Scotsman pushing for independence, you can now track and shop smarter for your personal politics. Now you might find out a little sooner on that one of your favorite products actually funnels money against an issue you may care very deeply about. The app Buycott allows users to generate campaigns that encompass several businesses within the same issue or industry. By subscribing to Demand GMO Labeling you can scan products and it will tell you if it was made by one of the 36 corporations that have donated to oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food (Shinseki, 2013). Creator of the app, Ivan Pardo, stated “I don’t want to push any single point of view with the app,” said Pardo. “For me, it was critical to allow users to create campaigns because I don’t think it’s Buycott’s role to tell people what to buy. We simply want to provide a platform that empowers consumers to make well-informed purchasing decisions” (O’Connor, 2013).

Although the intention with boycotting is clear, changing consumer culture will not be so easy.  It may also include actual “Buycotts”, as mentioned by Kieler (Kieler, 2014). This is simply shopping smarter and more locally to help benefit the people around you and in your daily life most. If we are going to have a change in consumer culture, if you want change in any culture, it takes more than one group, more than one aspect, more than one boycott, and more than one voice to change the society as a whole. So are boycotts effective? A hammer can either smash someone’s skull in or build a house for a family. As a social and political tool a boycott is a little less dangerous and can both be very successful and ultimately fail. Changing the behavior of humans may seem easy for advertisers, but for activists it is like telling your cat not to smack that glass off the table. All you can do is give consumers the avenue to do right and hope they take it (no matter how desensitized they are). Forcing them to do so may only cause them to further self-justify their sketchy purchasing behavior in the end. So keep an open mind  and simply check out what is in your refrigerator. You may find yourself surprised at the things you have been indirectly supporting.

Bibliography

Allen, S. (2016) All the things you can no longer buy if you’re really boycotting Trans-Friendly businesses. Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/04/26/all-the-things-you-can-no-longer-buy-if-you-re-really-boycotting-trans-friendly-businesses.html (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Berlin S-Bahn (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_S-Bahn#After_the_construction_of_Berlin_Wall (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Current list of consumer boycotts (no date) Available at: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/boycotts/boycottslist.aspx (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Diermeier, D. (2012) When do company boycotts work? Available at: https://hbr.org/2012/08/when-do-company-boycotts-work (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Kelly, A. (2016) Nestlé admits slavery in Thailand while fighting child labour lawsuit in Ivory Coast. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/feb/01/nestle-slavery-thailand-fighting-child-labour-lawsuit-ivory-coast (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Kieler, A. (2014) If A boycott works, it’s not just because people stopped buying stuff. Available at: https://consumerist.com/2014/05/17/if-a-boycott-works-its-not-just-because-people-stop-buying-stuff/ (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

King, B. (2001) Why boycotts Succeed—and fail. Available at: http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/why_boycotts_succeed_and_fail (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

O’Connor, C. (2013) New App lets you boycott Koch brothers, Monsanto and more by scanning your shopping cart. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/05/14/new-app-lets-you-boycott-koch-brothers-monsanto-and-more-by-scanning-your-shopping-cart/#2c5139eb2c82 (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Pro-GMO? Or pro-right to know? – support the cause! (no date) Available at: http://www.buycott.com/campaign/211/pro-gmo-or-pro-right-to-know (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Reed, A. (2010) To boycott or not: The consequences of a protest – Knowledge@Wharton. Available at: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/to-boycott-or-not-the-consequences-of-a-protest/ (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Schneider, C. (2014) ‘Buycott’ at your own risk. Available at: http://archive.jsonline.com/news/opinion/buycott-at-your-own-risk-b99337719z1-272760731.html (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Shinseki, E. (2013) Quote of the day. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/06/11/watch-forbes-test-buycott-app-on-anti-gmo-and-koch-products-in-supermarket-aisle/&refURL=&referrer=#15563a4245cc (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Watson, B. (2015) Do boycotts really work? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2015/jan/06/boycotts-shopping-protests-activists-consumers (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Allen, S. (2016) All the things you can no longer buy if you’re really boycotting Trans-Friendly businesses. Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/04/26/all-the-things-you-can-no-longer-buy-if-you-re-really-boycotting-trans-friendly-businesses.html (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Allen, 2016)

Berlin S-Bahn (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_S-Bahn#After_the_construction_of_Berlin_Wall (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Berlin S-Bahn, 2016)

Current list of consumer boycotts (no date) Available at: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/boycotts/boycottslist.aspx (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Current list of consumer boycotts, no date)

Diermeier, D. (2012) When do company boycotts work? Available at: https://hbr.org/2012/08/when-do-company-boycotts-work (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Diermeier, 2012)

Kelly, A. (2016) Nestlé admits slavery in Thailand while fighting child labour lawsuit in Ivory Coast. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/feb/01/nestle-slavery-thailand-fighting-child-labour-lawsuit-ivory-coast (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Kelly, 2016)

Kieler, A. (2014) If A boycott works, it’s not just because people stopped buying stuff. Available at: https://consumerist.com/2014/05/17/if-a-boycott-works-its-not-just-because-people-stop-buying-stuff/ (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Kieler, 2014)

King, B. (2001) Why boycotts Succeed—and fail. Available at: http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/why_boycotts_succeed_and_fail (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(King, 2001)

O’Connor, C. (2013) New App lets you boycott Koch brothers, Monsanto and more by scanning your shopping cart. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/05/14/new-app-lets-you-boycott-koch-brothers-monsanto-and-more-by-scanning-your-shopping-cart/#2c5139eb2c82 (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(O’Connor, 2013)

Pro-GMO? Or pro-right to know? – support the cause! (no date) Available at: http://www.buycott.com/campaign/211/pro-gmo-or-pro-right-to-know (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Pro-GMO? Or pro-right to know? – support the cause!, no date)

Reed, A. (2010) To boycott or not: The consequences of a protest – Knowledge@Wharton. Available at: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/to-boycott-or-not-the-consequences-of-a-protest/ (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Reed, 2010)

Schneider, C. (2014) ‘Buycott’ at your own risk. Available at: http://archive.jsonline.com/news/opinion/buycott-at-your-own-risk-b99337719z1-272760731.html (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Schneider, 2014)

Shinseki, E. (2013) Quote of the day. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/06/11/watch-forbes-test-buycott-app-on-anti-gmo-and-koch-products-in-supermarket-aisle/&refURL=&referrer=#15563a4245cc (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Shinseki, 2013)

Watson, B. (2015) Do boycotts really work? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2015/jan/06/boycotts-shopping-protests-activists-consumers (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Watson, 2015)

I am with Her…Again

What an election cycle, eh? Now, I must say, I had been on the Bernie train before it even got on the tracks. Days went by where I was hovering over the refresh button. I had read about Burlington a lot since visiting there myself a couple times during college. The city itself is just so amazing and I went so far as to drive over five or six hours just to show a visiting signorina what I considered one of America’s finest gems. This brought me to Bernie, his progressive and refreshing policies, and our struggle. The more I read the more I wanted this man to run for president. I had completely forgotten we were trying to get our first woman in the oval office. I had utterly forgotten that I already knew who the President was going to be in 2016. However, Bernie was offering something she could never; new trajectory for American politics. The waiting continued and he still had not announced his candidacy. Maybe people are actually too afraid of a socialist inspired hell scape after all, I thought. Back then I had already been through several of those European market socialist hell holes and I always came to a similar conclusion, or question. The right wingers are still alive and well in these countries as much as they are in the States. However, these pro-religious, mostly rural, and sometimes very anti-immigrant communities were (more or less) fine with having single-payer health care and affordable higher education. If a bunch of gun toting blame seekers could accept that in one country, I thought, why not mine? Most people would argue, well no person or country are the same, and that is just the way it is. But that is exactly what Bernie went up against in America. He went up against the myth that nothing can change, against the myth that affordable health and education are terrifying phantoms and deadly day dreams, and he was right to do so. And although he may have lost he proved a moral obligation exists to keep fighting no matter what the odds. Now we have to reflect on that while moving forward with her.

A sense of creeping liberosis (the desire to care less about things) found me this election year. This was despite previously thinking it might be interesting to actually be in America for 2016. The train wreck we all watch and scream for while the world falls apart all around us, the ultimate hunger games, who wouldn’t want front row seats to that? And as much as politics may annoy you, and you might be done with it, it is never done with you. Politics simultaneously cares and doesn’t give a shit about you. It is in many ways the balancer between you and the community, between the individual and the poli (Greek for city). So if you are displeased with politics as it stands don’t ignore it, join it, shape it, breathe your own uniqueness into it. That is something I can admire Hillary Clinton for. When she saw a corrupted political system she didn’t back down to it, didn’t hide away from the public eye, she went right after it, talons drawn. She has also been an inspiration for women to join into the modern political fray and there is absolutely nothing wrong with increasing citizen participation and turning what used to be a men’s game into what it should be; a citizen’s game.

The convention is finished and while thinking over all the events I was softly brought back to that feeling of waiting. Waiting for what, I thought. And while we are waiting, what are we enduring? While waiting for Bernie I was waiting for real discussion, real issues, and less petty politics. However, it seems like we are now a society magnetized toward pettiness. The road ahead is a road frequently traveled by. The footsteps and loose stones are familiar to both JFK and Nixon. I don’t expect a political revolution from Hillary, but I do expect political backwardness to thrive if Drumpf wins and the last thing I want in America is for us to take steps and possibly bounds in the opposite direction. And that is why I’m with her now (again). Although I also despise the lesser of two evils choice that is forced down our throats like political extortion, that is the lay of the political landscape. As much as I would love to give more support to a third party, be it Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, I am not willing to let America dive into being a more populist Reich than it already is. Maybe in the near future we can come up with a multi-party system that isn’t hell bent on demagoguery and catchy slogans.

As mentioned before, eight years ago I was already hoping Clinton would get the nomination in 2016. It was clear to me then that she was a good choice after seeing her commitment to the great game. Like Obama’s comical anger translator Luther said, Khaleesi is coming to Westeros. However, there is a part of the left that has yet to decide if Clinton is a Khaleesi, coming to free us from low waged chains or if she is a less incestual Cersei just twisting and manipulating her way to the top. She became Clinton the climber, the fighter, and our woman. But is this woman a monster in the same league as Donald Drumpf or does she utilize a necessary evil to counter such forces? Perhaps it is neither, perhaps she is the Lady Lizard overlord we have conspired her to be. Or perhaps there is only one way to fight the corruption of the GOP establishment and their Mafioso of candidates, with fire of her own. When she viciously attacked Obama in 2008, I understood it was part of the game she had to play, I didn’t think any less of her. Then I visited Burlington, Vermont and heard about Sanders. This was a man I shared values with. The only candidate to say climate change is our greatest security threat. Something that even the Department of Defense has had to admit. The main difference for me between Bernie and Hillary was that for one of them the ends justified the means and for me, well, I have seen where that kind of politics has led us.

The one thing that has hindered me from being vocal about my compromise with the Clinton campaign (besides her donors and actions) has been their air of condescension. And this very well may be her undoing. Especially this phrase; fall in line. I was seriously disappointed in the DNC for coming out and saying something that sounded like the echoes of an SS officer telling his Nazi underlings to keep digging ditches for corpses. Now, I know the Democrats are not that bad. However, it is the kind of attitude that turns away so many potential Hillary supporters from team Bernie. It is not what I expect from the Democratic Party. There has been all this talk about Bernie bros yet, I have met more Clinton clingers who rarely seem to look at things from a different perspective. They say things like, ‘oh I have supported Hillary since I was kid’, which is fine if you have an open mind. But today Clinton is using the same fear that the Republicans have used for decades to sway voters. Vote for her or the King Joffrey of U.S. politics will win. (Can’t stop the GoT references). You don’t want that do you?! Fall in line. And every time a Sandernista hears that you will lose their vote automatically and create division among people who share the same values.

(While I am not quite sure if the online community considers Sandernista an insult by insinuating Bernie supporters are left leaning commies reminiscent of the by gone era of the Red Scare, I think it appropriately captures the revolutionary zeal of the movement).

I also think that any serious Sandernista will realize the day before election day that principles aside, she is our girl. Again it is unfortunate that our political system is caught in a bi-polar Cold War political party shit storm and that we can’t show more love for other parties, new ideas, and progressive attitudes. It is perhaps even more unfortunate that we have to deal with Mr. Drumpf. Or maybe he is exactly what we need to show that this system does not work and is too adept to inspiring blind hatred.

I still cannot decide which is worse or more dangerous. Giving the man the attention he so craves or ignoring him completely. I have settled somewhere in the middle in that I recognize he exists but will not refer to him by his specifically curated brand name. Either way the man inspires almost nothing of value. He is the crappy phone charger you borrow from a friend. He fills that shallow racist hole in your life that you were looking to fill, it might not be your charger, he might not be your favorite Republican, but like many before him he will slip right in between you and power, barely functioning and keeping you satisfied with more entertainment than you can afford with your data plan.

Jokes aside though, Jeff Weaver, Sander’s former campaign manager points out the real danger here. “I think some people on the Democratic side who think that, you know, Trump is such a buffoon that it’s already won — but I think he’s a very dangerous opponent and I think he certainly has the ability to win as well,” he said (Byrnes,2016). This ability for Drumpf to win will certainly increase alongside Clinton supporter’s condescending attitudes toward Bernie supporters.

Democracy has weirdly become some crappy ‘reality’ TV show and Bernie showed this to a lot of people. Not so much to the people on the right who already think it is a farce and will hate the government no matter what it does, but people in the Democratic party, who finally saw that even our most left-leaning political juggernaut is more center than we thought. I also had no idea until this election that the DNC had opening musical acts. Is this normal? Since when do we have to tempt voter’s attention with entertainment, this is their livelihoods that are at stake when politicians step into the ring. If they are not already invested in this process something is wrong with our democracy.

The post-internet media shit show madness is basically complacency disguised as rage at this point. We will see nothing new despite the redness of their faces.

For Drumpf, the wall issue works well because of the kind of people that would react to exactly that particular issue. It is an amazing tent to be under. The only people that would ever support, what for most people is a ridiculous plan, are the same kind of people who still think hordes of immigrants coming to America is our biggest problem. These people cannot fathom why other countries even exist. Or that many migrants do not come to America because it is so great, but because it is less violent, if only a for a little bit. For them America = Number 1 forever. It is a barely inspiring and quite ignorant mentality. Of course, we do need to have some border controls, but a wall, for free!? If we learned anything from the Cold War it should be that, whether there is a wall or not, people will get past it to get to the west, and it is not going to be cheap.

This 2016 election has merely shown us what we have known for a long time. Being corrupt, conniving, and getting to the top is part of the American dream and is to be idolized. This is nothing insanely new. The only thing that has changed is the visibility of this truth. It seems the more this truth of corruption is revealed the less people want to be a part of the political system. The New York Times even published an article pointing out that the nominees are only chosen by just 9% of our total population(Pearce, Parlapiano, 2016).  And well, I taint no statistician but that don’t sound much like a democracy to me, at least not one that I would want to be a part of anyway.

By endorsing Clinton and refusing to run as a Third-Party candidate Bernie has highlighted the current nature of our political system. We have especially learned this lesson in my home state of Maine, when an Independent and a Democrat split the vote leading to our own mini-Drumpf governor.

At the same time when this gross corrupt mentality is so visible in showing itself to the world we also see our greatest moments of love and solidarity. The Bernie campaign coming together was no short feat. They followed the rules even when they knew it was rigged against them. They didn’t play dirty even though it would have helped them along the way.

Now, Hillary is the Democrat we have all been following for years and even though she is unprincipled concerning most people’s rights she is more than principled in the art of politics. She is Frank and Claire Underwood rolled together into one unstoppable being. This, under the right circumstances, could be good for America. She is certainly more respectable than her current opposition.

However, in the end, whichever Mad Max character makes it to the end of this death race through the inferno, might not even mean much. It will be hard for either Drumpf or Clinton to get anything done without a solid backing in Congress. After eight years Obama has struggled to bring about his own brand of change. He had to fight a Republican congress bent on his complete and utter failure. And yes, starting out at the beginning of a recession didn’t exactly give him a head start, but he lost strides in places of moral high ground that hurt the trust many had in the Democratic Party. In particular his acknowledgement of killing American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (Taylor, 2015). It seems insane how a man who ran under Hope and Change and became our first African American President could actually change in such a twisted way.

While I may be socially a liberal degenerate, I also find that at times our government regulation can be overreaching. Again it comes back to the question of a political revolution that neither of these candidates will bring about. Hopefully, a Republican defeat will mean GOP supporters can all go back to complaining (and not to the streets) and perhaps the new progressives sprouting up across the nation can hold Bernie’s fire to Clinton’s feet.

In this coming election 2016 take all that disgust you have for politics and use it for some good. Vote for your local representatives with some attentiveness. Forgive and move on from the incumbency dictatorship that has been cemented in Congress. In this Post-Tim Berners-Lee world, we need a new kind of democracy. A more robust and direct democracy that is in better touch with constituents. Perhaps a citizen push for ranked choice voting will usher in this new age, with new ideas, new parties, new coalitions, instead of the same old power games. Citizens United will also need to go. Like separation of church and state we need a separation of state and corporation. Only then will these new and hopefully more trustworthy parties deserve the respect they will receive as our representative organizations. We cannot sacrifice our environment and our dignity to blindfolded industrial gain any longer. We cannot allow these twisted godless freaks to destroy our politics or our planet for much longer. We just simply cannot afford it. So take the step forward and be with her. Not with racism, not with narrowmindedness, but with bold attention.

Bibliography

Byrnes, J. (2016) Ex-Sanders aide: Trump could win. Available at: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/289961-ex-sanders-aide-trump-could-win (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

Pearce, A. and Parlapiano, A. (2016) Only 9% of America chose trump and Clinton as the nominees. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/01/us/elections/nine-percent-of-america-selected-trump-and-clinton.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

Taylor, A. (2015) The U.S. Keeps killing Americans in drone strikes, mostly by accident. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-u-s-keeps-killing-americans-in-drone-strikes-mostly-by-accident/ (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Byrnes, J. (2016) Ex-Sanders aide: Trump could win. Available at: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/289961-ex-sanders-aide-trump-could-win (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

(Byrnes, 2016)

Pearce, A. and Parlapiano, A. (2016) Only 9% of America chose trump and Clinton as the nominees. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/01/us/elections/nine-percent-of-america-selected-trump-and-clinton.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

(Pearce and Parlapiano, 2016)

Taylor, A. (2015) The U.S. Keeps killing Americans in drone strikes, mostly by accident. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-u-s-keeps-killing-americans-in-drone-strikes-mostly-by-accident/ (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

(Taylor, 2015)

Post-War on Drugs

A Vision for the Post-War on Drugs World

“Who lives longer? The man who takes heroin for two years and dies, or a man who lives on roast beef, water and potatoes ’till 95? One passes his 24 months in eternity. All the years of the beefeater are lived only in time.”

-Aldous Huxley

Recently, many media outlets and medical professionals have come to refer to the current opioid problem as an epidemic. At the same time alcohol continues to be an even greater threat to public health, as it can be mixed with other drugs thus increasing the chance of death and overdose (Pollack, 2014). Although this information is widely available, it is unlikely prohibition of alcohol will come back into effect. No one is saying alcohol should be a Schedule 1 Drug. To a certain degree people realize that the prohibition of alcohol only exacerbated the problem it was causing. During the era of alcohol prohibition people switched from mostly low-alcohol content beer to a stronger mixture of cocktails and spirits. What we are seeing today with rising heroin and opioid use is this same pattern. New and more dangerous substances continue to surface and are being sold unregulated.

Other opiates, methamphetamines, synthetics, and anything that can produce a kick, are becoming more prevalent on the black market, despite our law enforcement agencies’ most extensive (and expensive) efforts. It begs the question; why refer to the heroin problem as an epidemic when clearly it is capable of moving between multiple populations and between geographically separated people across the globe? Should this not be considered a global problem and be treated accordingly? A look at the United Nation’s report on the global opiate trade should be enough to convince governments around the world to look at this problem for what it really is; a pandemic (UNODC, 2010). After half a century of efforts to combat the trade directly, we have only seen an increase in drug use. It is time to start looking at the situation differently, and hopefully, time to adopt a healthier approach to fighting the trade of opiates.

First, let’s examine the claim that the war on drugs has been a failure. According to an article by The Economist, even when law enforcement has been successful in rooting out the supply line of one source, another quickly emerges elsewhere to satisfy the increase in demand (The Economist, 2011). The Obama administration also touts a change should be made to deal with the demand of these drugs as a health issue. However, this “change” has not been seen in any budgets or policies from the administration. Any efforts to move toward treatment have been overstated and are not sufficient enough (DPA, 2015). The CDC has found that since 1999 the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled, and half of those deaths involved a prescription for things like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone (CDC, 2016). They also discovered that not only have heroin related deaths tripled between 2010-2014, but that the largest increase in overdose deaths from 2013-2014 involved illegally made synthetic opioids, often without the knowledge of the user (CDC, 2016). An article by the Huffington Post pointed out, using graphics from 1999 to 2010, almost every state saw an increase in overdose mortality rates (Short, 2014). “The number of these deaths reached a new peak in 2014: 47,055 people, or the equivalent of about 125 Americans every day” (Park & Bloch, 2016). After decades of harsh policies on drugs and over $1 trillion invested in curbing the supply we have seen nothing in return in terms of overall citizen health (DPA, 2015). The Cato Institute found that ending current drug policies that attempt to stem the supply of drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion in law enforcement and government expenditure (CATO, 2010). Not only do the policies not work, as we have had a substantial increase in overdoses and use, but also they seem to be making the problem worse.

Although the current United States administration has continued with a harsh stance on the issue, the President has recently pushed to open up access to treatment. Part of this better access to treatment includes many solutions that lean towards fighting the demand of substances. They include; a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force, better access to Medicaid for substance use disorder, expanse of public health-public safety partnerships to combat the spread of heroin, syringe service programs, private sector commitments, community heroin specific policing, and a focus on solutions for rural communities (whitehouse.gov, 2016). With this declaration by the Obama administration, the US government has essentially admitted that it has not been doing enough. However, it has not yet acted to change the policies in place which do nothing, if not help sustain a global black market for opiates and narcotics.

There is a word in German, Verschlimmbessern; to make something worse in the very act of trying to improve it. I think it appropriately describes what has happened internationally since the United States went to war with drugs. According to a SIGAR report, 85 percent the worldwide market consists of Afghan opium years after the US led invasion (McCleary, 2015). Southeast Asian countries are also getting in on the trade of controlled substances. In Central and Latin America drug trade activity has led to violence, from 2007 to 2014 Mexico alone estimates 164,000 people were victims of cartel crime (Glenza, 2016). These cartels now operate not only inside of Mexico as their own little countries, but they also act internationally without regard to borders or any kind of law. The countries plagued by this sort of violence eventually called for the UN to hold a special session on drugs.

Back in 2014 former heads of state from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland joined with other UN members to push for a new paradigm in Global Drug Policy. It was called Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work (drugpolicy.org, 2014). They called for a move toward public health and social investment and away from criminalization. This comes with the understanding that to stop addiction and demand, users need treatment not punishment. Death and prison sentences for minor drug abuse in this perspective are essentially human rights violations.

The government, not criminals, should control drugs with a more sophisticated regulation system. This can reduce the power that black market organizations have. The solution calls for regulation and responsible institutions. While many claimed this is an unrealistic plan, the Commission maintains that an evidence and fact based policy is feasible and necessary. The Commission also pointed out that society and culture tend to change faster than institutions. That being said it is the grassroots movements we should be looking toward and not a decades old destructive drug policy. The Global Commission on Drug Policy hoped to take advantage of the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session to implement this new policy. However, these bold and new actions were not accepted during the session. A ban on capital punishment for users was left out and there was no mention of “harm reduction” strategies (Glenza, 2016). Over 20 countries in the world have capital punishment for drug offences (drugabuse.com, 2015). “We are not expecting a lot from UNgass,” said former president of Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss. “In this sense, our provision is what the reality is: that the world community is not ready, is not willing, to have the change of politic that is absolutely necessary.” (Glenza, 2016).

It is unfortunate that another solid chance at changing policy and attitude toward the issue was lost. While some say a drug free world is impossible, and they may be right, we can still have a world with better treatment. We decide if we consider this epidemic turned global pandemic a question of health or a question of crime. Some supporters of treating this problem as a health concern are the American Public Health Association, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the Organization of American States, the National Latino Congreso, the NAACP, the International Red Cross, and Human Rights Watch (Miller, 2016). However, it is not enough to say the war on drugs has failed. It does not solve anything but it is a step in the right direction. What we need now is actual policy change.

The call for a switch to treatment versus punishment is gaining ground. But proponents of keeping it a crime persist. They point out the dangers in turning criminals into victims. The argument is that at the end of the day every individual is responsible for their own choices. It is not untrue. More has to be done than just handing out help. The language used here is very important. We will not be able to get desperate people the help they need unless we can make a difference between criminal and patient.

Take for example accidental Governor Paul LePage of Maine. Recently, he vetoed a bill that would have made naloxone, an effective antidote for heroin and opioid overdoses, more readily available at pharmacies and for emergency medical staff. This veto came after Maine saw a spike in overdoses the previous year. The governor argued that “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose” (Tesfaye, 2016). Many may feel this way about the problem but more still don’t see turning the blind eye as a solution. People who abuse should not be seen as inhuman or not worth saving.  Saving lives will not inevitably continue the drug problem if we can use the billions of dollars lost from enforcement to create better healthier treatment and offer safer preventative measures. In fact, it seems that when we let people slip through the cracks the cracks just get left open. The argument that abusers are patients of drug addiction instead of criminals has been argued before. An article by A.R. Lindesmith from the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology was written in 1941 about how addicts without treatment become more dangerous criminals (Journal of Criminal Law and Cimonology, 1941). And somehow US prisons in the 21st century continue to be filled with mandatory minimum abusers as well as the substances they abuse.

Whatever specific special interests are in the way of healthy drug policy change are of no real interest to us if we can educate ourselves and use democracy in a positive way. Treatment is a rational plan that must stop being ignored. Portugal became a contemporary model when they decriminalized drugs in 2001. Since then, the country has been able to free up resources to help people and addicts have been able to reach sobriety through their programs. The overall results after 14 years have shown that treating drug addiction as a health problem rather than a moral problem is effective (Aleem, 2015). Another example is Switzerland. In the 1980s they switched to a harm reduction plan by providing more clinics and social workers. The overall result was a decrease in syringe spread disease, overdoses, and a 60 percent drop in felony crimes by patients, 82 percent of which stopped selling heroin and spreading the drug (COP, 2016).

The threat of opioid abuse in our society is not just national, rather it has become entrenched worldwide. It has no regard for borders, and is more than capable of passing through no matter how tall we build our walls. It is true we must all tackle this problem individually but that does not mean we have to leave people behind. It doesn’t mean people have to face it completely alone. The FDA understands this need to help people, even if the administration won’t make drastic change. The FDA last year pushed to approve easy-to-use nasal spray to treat opioid overdose, with acting commissioner Stephen Ostroff, M.D. saying: “Combating the opioid abuse epidemic is a top priority for the FDA” (FDA, 2015).

Author Johann Hari’s recent book Chasing the Scream goes into his three-year long journey into the war on drugs. He talks about how humans look for relief in many ways. When they are cast out that relief becomes extremely rare and we look for things that have the best hooks; from pornography to methadone. We make it even harder for these people to find socially acceptable relief, like grabbing a beer (a deadlier drug) or meeting with friends, because of how society treats them. Users get their benefits, jobs, and support taken away with no way of returning to normalcy (Hari, 2015). Hari also points out that individual recovery is necessary but society also has to change how it treats ‘junkies’ and get rid of the negative stereotype.

In 2016 it does not look like the UN will be able to change the current international drug policy. But that does not mean the general international community needs to keep playing along with the idea that this is a problem that can be tackled directly. While this is truly an enormous global issue we can still make progress locally. Opening up clinics and providing better access to preventative treatment is something that can be done without widespread national and international support. Today with access to the internet and information around the world we can understand that what we are experiencing on Main St. USA is happening in India, Russia, and countless other places. This is no mere epidemic easily solved with a few more armored police cars. This is a pandemic and a health issue. Addiction is global concern.

It is also quite possibly a breadcrumb clue to a much bigger problem. It may be the red flag that alludes to a bigger dilemma of over-consumption. According to Clarissa Estés: “Addiction is anything that depletes life while making it ‘appear’ better” (Estés and Estés, 1992). In this light economic consumption tends to act like a drug itself. We see western social culture bent on consumption with casualties rising from the over-consumption of readily available, addictive, more potent, and legal product. We should not act so surprised. In other words, this is not the ‘Oh No!’ moment, rather it is the ‘Oh…right’ moment. And were it not for the too few systems in place to help victims of addiction the problem would surely be significantly worse. It becomes increasingly hard to ignore economic factors when you consider that a majority of users could not grow opium in their own back yards and these abusers and suppliers will go to great lengths to fill in that market for people looking to escape from reality. Here, ignorance is the real criminal.

The rhetoric so far has not matched what the data is clearly telling us. La aritmetica non è opinione (Italian proverb; arithmetic is not an opinion). We do not need more broken doors we need more conscious healthy citizens. Your average patient receiving morphine in a hospital does not immediately become an addict. The road to addiction and overdose is much longer, much scarier, and more desperate. It takes an environment of poor living conditions, depressed social life, and a psychology of unhealthy consumption to bring a person to the door of their supplier. Addiction is both a social and a health problem and it needs to be addressed as such. At the beginning of this article I left a quote by Aldous Huxley. We need to seriously understand the perspective he brings up. Who led the better life? The 21-year-old dead junkie or the 95-year-old potato eater? While each of us sits back and ponders this, and many may come up with the same answer, we have to realize that there are people who are looking at the world today and what they are saying through their actions is clear; that life in America is now better lived short for some. We need to understand why or we will continue to lose citizens and loved ones to opiate and substance abuse.

 

Bibliography

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De Luce, D., Friedman, D., Hudson, J., O’Toole, M., Nossel, S., Johnson, K., Staff, F., Schwarzer, D., O’Grady, S., Francis, D. and McLeary, P. (2015) Afghanistan: Still the king of opium. Available at: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/30/afghanistan-king-of-opium/ (Accessed: 25 April 2016).

Drug Abuse (2013) The 20 countries with the harshest drug laws in the world. Available at: http://drugabuse.com/the-20-countries-with-the-harshest-drug-laws-in-the-world/ (Accessed: 25 April 2016).

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War On Militarization

The War On Militarization

“History is but the record of crimes and misfortunes” – Voltaire

If history is this accumulation of crime and misfortune, then it would seem we have arrived at an interesting historical junction in which the perspectives of what constitutes a criminal and where misfortune falls are being brought into question. The definitions of crime have changed drastically in the past fifty years, and with this change comes a change in reactions. Many police departments across the US are seeing an increase in military equipment at the same time as growing distrust in these very same institutions continues. The once stable democratic relationship between citizen, police, and criminal has bent into an unsustainable fashion. And the question is now; how do we return to a balance? How do we want our police force to protect our general well-being? Is this up to the public, or administrative individuals in the government? This is what public and private interests need to negotiate over if we are to have a stable and safe society.

As private citizens we should have the Right to a warrant before searches of private property. And at the same time it is in the public interest to go after real criminals who may be trying to use this Right to continue to commit unlawful acts. As a private individual in the police force you may think your squad needs a bulletproof vehicle. And yet, the public may not want to see their police force escalate slowly into a military. It is a complicated issue to say the least.

If we are to unwarp the association between citizen and police force the elements of hostility should be reduced as much as possible. With a recent economic crisis, police departments across the nation have seen budgets shrink when it comes to training but not when it comes to surplus military equipment. This has led to more poorly trained officers sometimes armed to the teeth entering the force. Add that to a growing trust issues between the public and police officers and you have what can only be a recipe for disaster. There is, on one hand, this necessity for the police as an element in our democracy, but, on the other hand, perhaps the best way to protect both officers and people is not to have an all-out arms race with criminals or to scare our citizenry into submission. There are alternatives to combating crime that are far healthier for society, reach the same goals of protecting the public and still include a safe modest police force. Stress and scrutiny, at this junction in our history, should be put on what constitutes a modest police force. This analysis will show that a modest police force should not include a donations or trade system between local police and the military when it comes equipment and that such a system is detrimental to the over all goal of community protection and health. It will also go into the other reasons for the growing mistrust between community and police force.

Many people across the nation are starting to see their local patrol cars turn into armored response vehicles. This is not only in high risk areas either, this is happening in rural and typically safe towns across America, towns and communities that have almost no need for such tools in their force. And people are starting to get worried and voice their concerns. Who can blame them? It is quite a strange sight to see a SWAT team geared up and ready to go, at least in most of the country, and I think this is a good thing. Most people seem to be under the impression that this turn of events is out of the ordinary, although some might not care or even find the increase in strength necessary. It is interesting then to look back just a couple centuries and note that the government was not always the provider of such police services. The Boston PD touts that it is the first paid, professional public safety department in the country, with origins going back to the early 1800s (BPD). Before that the government had much less of a role in policing local communities. When it finally became normal for the government to provide this service it was still with certain restrictions. The Posse Comitatus Act was introduced following the Civil War with the intent to end the use of federal troops as a police force in the recently defeated south (RAND, 1997). However, over the years this act has had several exceptions added to it, including; exceptions for the National Guard, the president’s power to quell domestic violence, surveillance by military personnel, and a “drug exception” as part of the War on Drugs (RAND, 1997). With these exceptions and the handing over of military equipment to the police it is almost as if the Posse Comitatus act doesn’t exist anymore as a rule of law. This is no longer the faint suspicion of a police state but a bold shadowy outline of what is to come in the future.

The more recent increase in police armament all started with growing civil unrest in the 1960s and 1970s. This is when our famous Special Weapons and Tactics (or Attack Teams, which ever acronym you prefer) were brought into use (Haberman, 2014). Their utilization seemed to be justified for a time, despite calls that their use was sometimes overzealous. Fast-forward to the 1990s and one might assume that the increase in police force was for the best. It was in the 90s that crime rates started to significantly drop across the board. What is even more interesting to note about this, is that the cities with the highest immigrant populations were the ones that saw the lowest drops in crime rate. And even though no one was expecting an all-out de-escalation of efforts to fight crime, nobody expected what was to come next.

Police departments across the nation began adopting a new system called CompStat; which evaluated police officers and precincts on the quantity of arrests and not their quality (Taibbi, 2014). This development was coupled with a new stop and frisk policy, turning the police into fishermen and citizens the potential catch, regardless of innocence. The smallest offences were now subject to jail time in bizarre twists of legalese and mandatory minimums. Many have already heard that the US now has the world’s largest prison population with 20% of the world’s prisoners and only 5% of the world’s population (ACLU, 2011). And as the 90s continued the subtle arming of the police picked up pace. In 1996 the War on Drugs continuation prompted congress to alter a previous agreement that local police and the Department of Defense had. The National Defense Authorization Act Section 1208 had allowed for “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense” (Wofford, 2014). Section 1033 was then added to help agencies continue to battle the war on drugs only this time with camo, assault weapons, bullet proof armor, smoke bombs, tear gas, and other tactical equipment.

With the police looking to fill their quotas in a decade of low crime they started treating drug addicts as enemy combatants. Even with prisons full, the government’s response was to further arm police departments to the teeth with surplus military equipment, sometimes free of charge. While many Police Chiefs have been able to responsibly use their SWAT forces to reach peaceful ends, we have seen that this is not always the case. In 1999 during the Seattle World Trade Organization riots the police were seen to have used heavy handed tactics on protestors sitting down holding up peace signs (Burton, 2014). This is certainly not what the government had armed these police for, well at least not explicitly on paper. Two years later, after 9/11, the government had even more reason to arm the police. The war on crime and drugs had already given them enough reason to create a police state, and now they had a war on terror to fight as well. All of these developments brought in new rules to how the police were allowed to play.

However, for some reason, it really wasn’t until August, 2014 that people started to really take notice. After the shooting of Michael Brown police in Ferguson came out that month and showed, not only the US but the world, that many towns in the country were ready to install marshal law at a moment’s notice. The incident has become a beacon example for police brutality and militarization. And it is about time too. As of 2014, according to Professor Peter Kraska of the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, the amount of police departments with SWAT teams had grown to over 80% (BDN, 2016). This is quite a staggering percentage when one takes into account that 48% of departments employed fewer than 10 officers (Fulton and Reaves, 2015). Small town America is ready for war, but with who exactly?

Whether it is crime, drugs, or terror, the War is On. Most people probably can accept that a good degree of police security involves police strength. It is their deadliness that is part of what makes them effective protectors of the public. They are the severe necessity for the unimaginable situation. However, strength cannot be everything for a police officer. There is also a responsibility to safe guard life and only take it when necessary. And although, the line between which of these is more important is being blurred in precincts across the nation, some in the police force argue that there is flat out no militarization. They are adamantly still peace officers first and tactical sharpshooters second. Protection of the community is still the constant goal here. However, the quality of that protection may need augmenting.

Special Weapons and Tactics teams are not only necessary in a lot of violent instances, they are also obligated to try and de-escalate the situation if possible. They should remain vigilant but non-lethal and their first priority should be to protect citizens. Unfortunately, defusing the tension in these situations is sometimes a near impossibility. Americans have somewhere between 270 million and 310 million guns, that is a gun for pretty much every individual in the country, and yet weirdly enough only around one-third of Americans admit to owning a gun (DeSilver and Posts, 2013). We are a nation of John Waynes. And remember, these are not just hand gun six shooters we are talking about. Some felons are armed very well and are not in best of psychological states, making them even more dangerous.

Police officers in America do need appropriate response firepower and armor in many situations if they are to be successful and save innocent lives. In the blink of an eye a suburban home somehow becomes a castle. There are plain clothed officers, ducking behind trees and cars, and the nearest armored vehicle that could get them close enough to the house to do anything is over an hour away. There is certainly a need here to protect these officers and make the best of a heinous situation.

It was not too long ago, in April 2009, that Richard Poplawski gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh (Robbins & Hamill, 2014). He did this with an AK-47, a shotgun rifle, three handguns, and a bullet proof vest. During the four-hour long exchange of fire with Pittsburgh SWAT he managed to fire off some 600 rounds (Regnary, 2013). If our officers are potentially going up against Kalashnikovs in urban encounters they will certainly need adequate armor. And if their potential adversaries may also have bullet proof vests, they will need to have the tools to work around that too. Unfortunately, some parts of America are like that; a war zone.

In the past ten years the average number of officer deaths was 150 per year; according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund that is 1,501 all-together and one officer death every 58 hours (Malkin, 2014). Sometimes these deaths have even involved ambushes on officers, giving them little warning or chance to respond. We are ever grateful for their sacrifices and protection. And our ever present anxiety for these men and women is certainly worth the effort to better equip them. In a poll by Rasmussen, it was found that 58% of likely voters think there is a war on cops in America (2015).

This is an interesting point of view to have though, especially when one notices that police deaths have actually been steadily declining as fatalities committed by police have gone up. Data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund notes that the highest year for officer deaths was 1930 with 304 officers killed, this declined significantly during the war effort and remained in the low 100s until the 1970s (2004). From 1970 to 1974 officer fatalities jumped from 220 to 280. It would have been around that time that SWAT efforts kicked in and officer deaths have remained below 200 since those years. As it turns out 2015 marked possibly the safest years for police in a quarter century (Lartey, 2015). While police continue to get safer themselves it is increasingly more dangerous to be caught by them. It would seem the wars on everything have tipped the balance in the war on cops. We missed that crucial balance point, perhaps around the turn of the century. That was when crimes were going down in the 90s; including gun homicides which continue to decline (Krogstad, 2015). While no one is saying that we should accept high police mortality, many are concerned with the fatality of police. There are still too many unarmed victims and gun misfires for anybody to be content.

In a PBS special called Police and Guns, police chiefs, sheriffs, SWAT team leaders, as well as family members of victims of police brutality and heavy handedness, met and discussed the issue of whether law enforcement is becoming too dangerous. One victim, a mother, talked about the police had raided her house without warning or warrant, got the wrong house, and a tactical grenade landed in her child’s baby crib. The child survived but barely and with life altering complications. It was in front of her, and to others like her, that these police veterans and leaders had to give an explanation (PBS, 2016).

The officials offered their sincere condolences and properly laid out the reasons why we do need these kinds of tactical programs. One police chief pointed out that a lot of the military gear received was non-lethal, such as radios, and that the grenade launcher was for gas canisters and not grenades (PBS, 2016) For many of the other law enforcement officials in attendance the equipment was given to them so they could save money. Basically saying that it wasn’t their fault that they had the assault weapons and armored cars. They are however, still responsible for any acts of militancy that may come from the use of that hardware. Several also mentioned that due to budgetary constraints training for officers was becoming insufficient. It seems odd that the Department of Defense would be short-sighted enough not to see that military gear in the hands of non-military officers might eventually be abused.

For many police though, there is no militarization at all, everything is completely normal. VICE recently interviewed a Ferguson veteran black cop to talk about militarization and racial divisions. He had this to say about people calling for demilitarization in the city.

“So it was kind of surprising to see some of the backlash that people were saying about the military tanks. I’m a veteran myself, and I was in a tank brigade and those aren’t tanks. If you look at a Brinks truck, that’s basically what you’re looking at. As far as any type of gunnery or equipment that they would have used on that particular vehicle, that’s not given to us. They’re vehicles we’ve always had. I guess that’s my surprise: to see people seeing these vehicles for all these years, and we never heard anyone say, “We don’t [want] the police with the militarized vehicles” (Zimmerman, 2016).

It would seem many cops don’t see the problem as it is right up front, they look at the extra armor and from their perspective it is protection and not aggression. This is a dangerous mind set for our protectors to have. The divide between the police and the communities they watch over is becoming more and more apparent. When an officer finds that it is necessary to wear military equipment to deal with the community he or she works in on a daily basis, something is off. Until they metaphorically step out of the uniform, step into the shoes of the people they technically work for, they will never see the tank in the Brinks trunk.

Even the government has noticed steps need to be taken. But the administration can only do so much apparently. “Pentagon officials said they ordered Ferguson to return the two vehicles in June this year after discovering in a data review that the city had been given twice as many Humvees in 2013 under the so-called “1033” equipment transfer program as they had previously known, without proper federal authorization” (Swaine, Ackerman, and Siddiqui, 2015). However, weaponry continues to find its way to the police only now with more red tape in the way. Whether we like it or not a surplus extra army has been raised in America.

It is clear that in moments of social turmoil (including peaceful protests) there will be people who take advantage of the situation, looting, hurting people and property, using the shelter of other people’s constitutional right to assemble to bring violence to police. It is true that the media does not report often on successful raids enough (it isn’t good for ratings apparently). So much good work goes unnoticed and when a few cops step out of line suddenly they are all in question. It must be frustrating beyond belief. However, this is necessary of the media in one sense. The sense that the media is doing its job of checking the powers that be. So with the information at hand, should the American people be worried about their guardians increasing power? Or is the extra strength necessary to protect the collective citizenry?

While some preach the necessity of heavy weapons and tactics others point out that such military presence only escalates tensions. Those others are usually citizens. So do bigger guns and armored vehicles ignite a feeling of fear? In the light of a majority of opinions and my own, the answer is most certainly yes; militarization (or equipment overflow or whatever you want to call it) does escalate tensions for citizens. The minute it becomes normal for average police to view citizens as potential combatants and not human beings, that is the minute both sides start looking for more protection. When cops show that they are threatened by the community, the community will show that they are feeling threatened as well, just as any two animals in the woods might upon crossing each-others path. The police don vest, helmets, and load up bigger guns. The citizens start collecting more bodies and to show their frustration the sticks and stones may start flying. When tear gas and rubber bullets become the response it is usually answered with further disobedience. It is here that sometimes, perhaps too often even, violent opportunists ruin any chance for the police to see a gathering of people as anything but hostile.

When I think of armored cars I don’t think of tanks necessarily or all-out-war either. I think of someone in an office deciding which options are going to be cheaper in the long run. It is a cold calculation that says we are here to stay and to control the area. It screams of occupation. Tear gas, rubber bullets, real bullets, assault style weapons, are all now in the police tool belt all over the nation. We have seen this tool belt be abused on peaceful protestors merely acting in accordance with their rights. Haiku, of the Black Lives Matter movement, pointed out during the PBS sit down that weapons definitely escalate the situation (PBS, 2016). It is not out of our understanding of psychology to notice that military gear in any situation heightens tension and increases the chance for violence. Despite this violence already being present in some communities across the nation the weapons still send the wrong message. A friend of Mr. Poplawski (our AK-47 enthusiast from Pittsburgh) pointed out that the shooter felt his life was being diminished, he said he would be ready for an invasion in the US and had stockpiled guns and food just in case (Robbins & Hamill, 2014). He apparently thought that even a militarized police wouldn’t be bothered to help him out in any such eventuality or perhaps he thought they themselves would be the first to invade. We have a military for a reason and a police force for a very different reason. The police are not occupying or liberating us. They are our community guardians. However, some police officers, the bad eggs, are forgetting their specific role in society. Matt Taibbi points out in his book The Divide that putting an entire segment of the population on the defensive, leads to distrust of police and laws. Stupid behavior by police, stop-frisk strategies, dragnets, all these things lead to less respect for police (Taibbi, 2014).

There are several reasons for distrust in police. First of which is the lack of transparency. Steven Greenhut in California reported on a fix the Assembly Public Safety Committee got away with. “Police lobbyists and union officials were given reserved seats at the front. As I reported at the time, some onlookers in attendance openly mocked the people who showed up to support the transparency bill. The committee chairman gave a rambling chat defending police” (Greenhut, 2016). The court shut down public access to information about police who may have broken the law and abused their positions. A just democracy is almost impossible without transparency. It is even more concerning when that lack of transparency leads to a lack of accountability.

The absent accountability is the second reason for mistrust. Tess Owen from VICE shows us how bad things have gotten in America.

“Federal prosecutors in the United States declined to bring charges against cops facing allegations of civil rights violations in 96 percent of cases between 1995 and 2015, according to an investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The newspaper sifted through almost three million records from the US Department of Justice, and found that prosecutors did not pursue 12,703 potential civil rights violations out of 13,233 cases. The same couldn’t be said for other kinds of cases against non-police defendants. The investigation found that federal prosecutors declined to bring charges in only 23 percent of other types of criminal cases.

The stunning findings provide the hard, nationwide data to back up one of the fundamental claims driving the Black Lives Matter movement – that police officers are rarely held accountable when faced with allegations of brutality or misconduct, and whose victims, more often than not, are black and Hispanic” (Owen, 2016).

This is a completely unjustifiable turn of events and it still isn’t the worst we have heard. The CATO Institute reported that police militarization has led to extreme constitutional violations. When SWAT raided Andrew Cornish’s home they made every mistake they could have and saw no rebuke. “First, the police violated the knock-and-announce rule when they failed to wait more than five seconds for him to answer the door after knocking. Second, the police violated the prohibition on excessive force when they shot him to death” (Sharipo & Meyer, 2015). The law then saw fit to let them get away with these infractions. You may also remember the Baltimore Riots last summer after the killing of Freddie Gray by police. Edward Nero, one of the six officers tried for his murder, recently received a verdict of Not-guilty (Marbella & Campbell, 2016). Citizens, including members of Black Lives Matter, have been calling for accountability that they may never see. The BLM movement thought that after Michael Brown and Eric Garner in New York City they might see some justice in Gray’s case; they were disappointed.

A third reason for the state of mistrust is the increasing fraternal feeling of the police force. When this comes in contrast with the community they stop being seen as protectors and start being seen as others. This otherness creates an ‘us versus them’ attitude for both parties involved. There are really only two things that can happen with weapons; the first is that they are used, the second is that they sit there do nothing and instill a sense of uneasy fear, like some sort of crazed mutually assured destruction within a single country.

The biggest reason for mistrust is that many see that race is still a playing factor here. The Ferguson police officer interviewed by VICE even admitted that “We cannot have the support of the community if the police are looked upon as racially profiling, [ticket] writing, shooting innocent people, unarmed people. Those types of images have done nothing but bring law enforcement back” (Zimmerman, 2016). A library could be written about these racial injustices and since the focus here is on police militarization I will only add that what I have read has made me sick. And to anyone who sits content with the fact that they are not a minority, realize that how the government treats minorities is an indication as to how they would treat everybody if they thought they could get away with it.

The fifth reason for distrust may be the dangerous mindset that some officers seem to have acquired. It is a perspective where they look down at the community instead of respecting it. I have come to think of this as the Die Hard problem. Too many cops now have this bizarre idea of what it means to be a cop because of this mass movie culture. As Hans Gruber puts it in Die Hard; “Just another American who saw too many movies as a child, another orphan of a bankrupt culture, who thinks he is John Wayne, Rambo…” (McTiernan, 1988).

Of course, not every cop has fallen prey to this. Some Americans can even still separate fact from fiction. But not every human being is so capable under such circumstances. Awhile back I was visiting a friend in Brussels. At a pub we met this police officer from the United Kingdom. After striking up a conversation and finding out that I was American, he began to reveal to me how he wished he was a cop in the USA. I did not have to ask him why. He told me he wanted to have a gun, he wanted to save the day, and shoot the bad guys; bang-bang. I told him straight to his face that I was glad he didn’t have a gun, most of the UK was glad he didn’t have a gun, and that he didn’t need one to do his job right. At least not in England and Wales, where there have been 55 fatal police shootings in the last 24 years (Lartey, 2015b). For comparison, police in the USA killed around 990 people just in 2015 (Somashekhar & Rich, 2016). (This is also the only instance in which I would over look police action in Northern Ireland, where another unjustifiable escalation of community and police violence existed for a long time.) The point here is that a demilitarized police force clearly reduces fatal shootings by officers. It should also point out the Die Hard problem, the psychology that shows how human beings want these admirable things like respect, adrenaline, and power. This is the insane idea that any old New York city cop can stop an invading troop of terrorists. I hope they can, but I don’t want them to go looking for it. That is the last kind of person, cop or civilian, that I want to have an assault rifle.

The reasons are many for the recent divide between the police and the communities they protect. They are mixed and varied and together they create quite a mess. The next questions are; are the police really as dangerous as people are starting to think? And if we want to demilitarize, is it already too late?

Fatal shootings by police have continued to increase in the past few years. It turns out militarization, like surveillance, may be used for enemies at first but later they are used on anybody. We have seen it here and we have seen it all over the world, even in western countries. Force is now being used in a highly inappropriate manner. The CATO Institute pointed out that: “SWAT teams and tactical units were originally created to address high-risk situations, such as terrorist attacks and hostage crises. Today, however, these extreme situations account for only a small fraction of SWAT deployments; they’re used primarily to serve low-level drug-search warrants” (Sharipo & Meyer, 2015). And if we remember there has also been an 80% increase in number of SWAT teams across the country. Rural American doors are being smashed in to fight the War on Drugs. Sometimes it may be dangerous drugs like methamphetamines but a lot of the time it is not worth the risk or loss of life. In January 2011 police did little investigation when raiding a house for pot, the owner Matthew David Stewart had no idea who was coming into his house, he shot back and killed an officer (Balko,2014). We will soon need a color coded threat meter for our own police departments. Not just for us but for them as well. What makes these men and women dangerous, what separates the good officers from the bad ones, is probably the lack of training that seems to be going around like a flu. While the budget doesn’t have room for better training it somehow has room for new weapons. These new military weapons are now being handled by untrained officers. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 1 in 4 local police officers worked for a department that required entry-level officers to have at least a 2-year degree (Reaves, 2015). Small police departments, the White House said, “often lack the resources for training and equipment accessible to larger departments” (Johnson, 2015). It is these small and local police departments that do not need an increase in firepower, while their training remains stagnant. How is it that military surplus equipment was ever seen as a cure all? The problem with lack of training is that it makes any police officer more dangerous and it makes them want to use their new tools. Some departments, when receiving equipment, have had to assure the Department of Defense they would use the tools at least once a year. They are just fanning the flames here.

This danger from under-trained and under-educated officers brings up an interesting instance from New London Connecticut. Robert Jordan had dreamed of being a police officer and after acing the test he was subsequently told his I.Q. was too high to be a cop. It turns out many police use the WONDERLIC personality test, which showed them that Robert would have gotten bored at such a job (Agorist, 2014). Or at least that was their excuse. How many other too smart civilians were turned away and didn’t know why? How many officers scored just above passing and were given a gun? I think it would be prudent to have police go through 4 years of training and university for all of our sakes.

Regardless of excuses we now have a heavily weaponized and untrusted security apparatus that is drastically under-trained with a score of members apparently no smarter than the guy flipping your burger at McDonalds. As it stands the national police force seems to be a danger to its own mission. The calls for demilitarization have been heard but is it the answer? I believe it may be too late for that. The guns are out there, the armored bobcats are out of the bag, and de-arming the police would be almost as difficult as disarming the gun toting population of the country. So what are the alternatives to our desperate situation here?

First let us take a look at the quality of our police force. There has been a clear decline in trust, an increase in military equipment, a lack of transparency and accountability, abuses of power, excessive force, and abysmal training. These things make it difficult for good police officers to do their job, to stop crime, and to protect citizens and themselves. There is almost no logic behind these developments. Our police were not always so feared. Our citizens have also never been so innocent (drop in crime rates) or so armed themselves (gun ownership). It is more important now than ever to have the democratic oversight necessary to hold police accountable to the terrible distinction they have to make between civilian or criminal. We must realize it is a difficult choice to make but we must also not let them be immune to scrutiny. If there is no response to mistakes who knows what they will start to think they can get away with. Corruption itself is already problem enough.

In my local community I get annoyed when I am pulled over, but in general I am glad they don’t perceive us all as potential criminals. But the mentality is not the same across the board. This is especially true in the more dangerous neighborhoods in America. This is where things need to change to help the cops to better make this distinction between threat and non-threat. Only then will police mortality and fatality decline. The change could come in a variety of ways but the most reasonable way to balance population and police safety would be to set these standards:

  1. Stricter standards need to be set for officers in choosing non-lethal alternatives when it is possible. Time is also a good weapon in the right circumstance. A week long standoff is better than a three hour one with heavy casualties. I also scrolled through too many incidences in 2015 fatalities where a victim was hit with a Taser gun and then also shot. We need to move away from Trigger Happy policing.
  2. The way in which police are hired and recruited needs to drastically change. We need smart cops who understand the extraordinary role they play in our democracy.
  3. Police Training quality should improve drastically. If money is really the only thing in the way of our collective safety I think we should find it. Budget or not an inept officer is a danger to not only civilians but fellow officers as well.
  4. Greater transparency should also be sought after. Some departments have already started using the body cams and this is a great step in the right direction. But those videos need to be available to the public, or when that is not possible due to security concerns it should still be used as evidence in any case. There have been some reports of cops not even turning their cameras on, which leads to our next standard.
  5. Accountability needs to start becoming the norm. There have been too many times when witnesses have testified that the victim was not a danger and the officer who fatally shot them was allowed to walk free. Only with greater accountability will bad cops stop trying to see how much they can get away with. No police force should be above the law.
  6. The use of datasets to reduce police violence is another solution. Data so far has been mostly lacking when trying to prove that police abuse or corruption had taken place. Better more comprehensive data should allow us to pinpoint which departments need reform and in what manner. If departments still ignore calls for just reform the data could be used by the U.S. Attorney General to improve federal litigation and force them to take action (Rushin, 2016). This is how we can work to hold police accountable from a national level.
  7. From the local level another solution arises. The use of community patrols, a common part of the job, have been shown “to stimulate community involvement with the police force and to reduce individual feelings of insecurity”(Montolio & Planells-Struse, 2015). This will help to re-build the trust that has been lost between the community and the protectors.
  8. Lastly, if at all possible, demilitarize. Perhaps turn those surplus army vehicles into drunk buses or anything else that could be more beneficial to the community at large. We are Americans, we are innovative and I see no reason why surplus military equipment could not be used for good. We do not want these things to be used to intimidate people practicing their rights to gather and speak their mind.

There are many ways to solve this problem. The worst course of action would be to do nothing at all. If we risk that we may see the police state come to full fruition in the future.

Historically when local deputies have been armored and strengthened it signaled a government preparing for a seizure of further control over the citizenry. But something about our case here in America doesn’t quite fit with that narrative. Perhaps what we are experiencing is not the ever feared hostile reduction of liberties. Perhaps it is merely the overflow of the dreaded military industrial complex. So many weapons and still more and better ones are made. While piles of assault rifles have been gathering in the developing world, those piles are now showing up in our own borders. And I wonder which scenario is worse. The one where the government has accidently created one too many paramilitary police departments or the scenario where they are gearing up for a crackdown on civilians in the near future.  If these police departments continue to get surplus equipment without training there is one very likely scenario. The weapons will do exactly what they were made to do.

We cannot afford more momentum on militarization, and I cannot remember ever voting on allowing this, so maybe a vote is order. Should the US allow surplus military transactions to police to continue? Or perhaps a vote on increasing police training in dangerous areas. To those who say that it is economically unfeasible, I say we get creative. According to the Federal Register government website the fee for incarcerating inmates in 2014 was $30,619 ($83.89 per day) (FR, 2016). That would be a good place to start. There must be enough people in prison that don’t need to be already. Instead of creating repeat offenders and putting low-criminals in with advanced-criminals, we need to start focusing on making better citizens and better police officers.

To close I will leave two ideas. The first is that of the Black Lives Matter group. One member had said after the Freddie Gray case that policing is a “profession that refuses attempts for accountability and justice” (Lartley, 2015b). This seems to be unfortunately true in cases that are appearing too frequently. The second is a story from my home state of Maine. Police in Bangor came across Russell. A homeless man with some interesting tattoos. Across his knuckles he had inscribed ‘Cops Suck’. But the police did not take offence. This cop knew his job well and had this to say. “Maybe the ink came at a time when Russell was having a problem with authority. We understand. We have all had a problem with authority at one time or another,” Bangor Police wrote. “Could we change the way Russell feels about law enforcement if we treat him with kindness and respect?” (Levenson, 2016). They even posed for a photo with him showing the tattoo after they kindly asked him to move from the spot that he was occupying. There are clearly good cops and hopefully they are the majority. But until their brothers in arms stop using their position to intimidate instead of protect no one will feel comfortable with any kind of increase in force. The city of Bangor is also trying to get an armored car and are seeing some backlash from citizens who don’t want more militarization. After researching this issue I would say that they should have it to protect our boys blue. But do not waste tax payer money on those sorts of things unless they are absolutely necessary. Spend money on training and education and perhaps we may see the end of the killer cops in America.

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Johnson, K. (2015) Lack of training, standards mean big problems for small police departments. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/23/small-police-departments-standards-training/28823849/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Krogstad, J.M. (2015) Gun homicides steady after decline in ’90s; Suicide rate edges up. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/21/gun-homicides-steady-after-decline-in-90s-suicide-rate-edges-up/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Lartey, J. (2015a) 2015 may be one of the safest years for law enforcement in a quarter century. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/04/police-deaths-2015-law-enforcement-safety (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Lartey, J. (2015b) By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Levenson, E. (2016) Bangor police enjoy a laugh with man bearing ‘cops suck’ tattoo. Available at: https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2016/05/23/bangor-police-enjoy-laugh-man-bearing-cops-suck-tattoo (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

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Robbins, L. and Hamill, S.D. (2014) Gunman kills 3 police officers in Pittsburgh. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/us/05pittsburgh.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

Rushin, S. (2016) Using data to reduce police violence 57 Boston college law review 2016. Available at: http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/bclr57&div=5&id=&page= (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Shapiro, I. and Meyer, R.J. (2015) Police Militarization leads to extreme constitutional violations. Available at: http://www.cato.org/blog/police-militarization-leads-extreme-constitutional-violations (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Somashekhar, S. and Rich, S. (2016) Final tally: Police shot and killed 986 people in 2015. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/final-tally-police-shot-and-killed-984-people-in-2015/2016/01/05/3ec7a404-b3c5-11e5-a76a-0b5145e8679a_story.html (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Swaine, J., Ackerman, S. and Siddiqui, S. (2015) Ferguson forced to return Humvees as US military gear still flows to local police. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/11/ferguson-protests-police-militarization-humvees (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Taibbi, M. (2014) The divide: American injustice in the age of the wealth gap. United States: Random House Publishing Group.

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Zimmerman, A. (2016) A veteran black cop talks police Militarization and the racial divisions still plaguing Ferguson | VICE | United States. Available at: http://www.vice.com/read/a-veteran-black-cop-talks-police-militarization-and-the-racial-divisions-still-plaguing-ferguson (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

BPD (no date) Boston Police Department History. Available at: http://bpdnews.com/history/ (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(no date)

FR (2016) Annual determination of average cost of incarceration. Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/03/09/2015-05437/annual-determination-of-average-cost-of-incarceration (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(2016)

NLEOMF (2004) ‘National law enforcement officers memorial fund: Officer deaths by year’. Available at: http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/year.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(2004)

RAND (1997) OVERVIEW OF THE POSSE COMITATUS ACT. Available at: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1251/MR1251.AppD.pdf (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(1997)

Rasmussen (2015) If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls. Public opinion polling since 2003. Available at: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/august_2015/58_think_there_s_a_war_on_police_in_america_today (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(2015)

ACLU (2011) The prison crisis. Available at: https://www.aclu.org/prison-crisis (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(ACLU, 2011)

Agorist, M. (2014) US court says it’s okay for police departments to refuse to hire someone who is too smart. Available at: http://thefreethoughtproject.com/court-police-departments-refuse-hire-smart/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Agorist, 2014)

Balko, R. (2014) Internal documents show that Utah police did little investigation before fatal drug raid. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/07/17/internal-documents-show-that-utah-police-did-little-investigation-before-fatal-drug-raid/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Balko, 2014)

BDN, T. (2016) It takes more than an armored vehicle to militarize a police department. Available at: http://bangordailynews.com/2016/05/05/opinion/editorials/it-takes-more-than-an-armored-vehicle-to-militarize-a-police-department/?utm_source=BDN+News+Updates&utm_campaign=42465d53bf-RSS_AFTERNOONUPDATE_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_715eed3192-42465d53bf-82593745&goal=0_715eed3192-42465d53bf-82593745 (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(BDN, 2016)

Burton, L. (2014) WTO riots in Seattle: 15 years ago. Available at: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/WTO-riots-in-Seattle-15-years-ago-5915088.php (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(Burton, 2014)

DeSilver, D. and Posts (2013) A minority of Americans own guns, but just how many is unclear. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/04/a-minority-of-americans-own-guns-but-just-how-many-is-unclear/ (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(DeSilver and Posts, 2013)

Fulton, A. and Reaves, B. (2015) Bureau of justice statistics (BJS) – local police departments, 2013: Personnel, policies, and practices. Available at: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5279 (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(Fulton and Reaves, 2015)

Greenhut, S. (2016) Boosting police transparency in California. Available at: http://reason.com/archives/2016/02/26/boosting-police-transparency-in-californ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Greenhut, 2016)

Haberman, C. (2014) The rise of the SWAT team in American policing. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/us/the-rise-of-the-swat-team-in-american-policing.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(Haberman, 2014)

Johnson, K. (2015) Lack of training, standards mean big problems for small police departments. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/23/small-police-departments-standards-training/28823849/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Johnson, 2015)

Krogstad, J.M. (2015) Gun homicides steady after decline in ’90s; Suicide rate edges up. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/21/gun-homicides-steady-after-decline-in-90s-suicide-rate-edges-up/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Krogstad, 2015)

Lartey, J. (2015a) 2015 may be one of the safest years for law enforcement in a quarter century. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/04/police-deaths-2015-law-enforcement-safety (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Lartey, 2015a)

Lartey, J. (2015b) By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Lartey, 2015b)

Levenson, E. (2016) Bangor police enjoy a laugh with man bearing ‘cops suck’ tattoo. Available at: https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2016/05/23/bangor-police-enjoy-laugh-man-bearing-cops-suck-tattoo (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Levenson, 2016)

Malkin, M. (2014) A cop is killed every 58 hours. Available at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/385458/cop-killed-every-58-hours-michelle-malkin (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

(Malkin, 2014)

Marbella, J. and Campbell, C. (2016) Response measured to not-guilty verdict in Nero case. Available at: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/freddie-gray/bs-md-ci-nero-reaction-20160523-story.html (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Marbella and Campbell, 2016)

McTiernan, J. (1988) Die hard. .

(McTiernan, 1988)

Montolio, D. and Planells-Struse, S. (2015) ‘Police patrol’, The Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, , pp. 1–4. doi: 10.1002/9781118519639.wbecpx195.

(Montolio and Planells-Struse, 2015)

Owen, T. (2016) US prosecutors didn’t charge police officers in 96 percent of alleged civil rights violations in the past 20 years | VICE news. Available at: https://news.vice.com/article/prosecutors-didnt-charge-police-officers-in-96-percent-of-alleged-civil-rights-violations-in-the-past-20-years (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Owen, 2016)

PBS (2016) Armed in America: Police & guns. Available at: https://youtu.be/WTgZbHEh4oI (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(PBS, 2016)

Pegues, C. (2016) Once a cop: The street, the law, Two worlds, One man. United States: Atria Books.

(Pegues, 2016)

Reaves, B.A. (2015) Local police departments, 2013: Personnel, policies, and practices. Available at: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/lpd13ppp.pdf (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Reaves, 2015)

Regnery, A.S. (2013) SWAT teams save lives. Available at: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2013/07/29/swat-teams-save-lives/ (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

(Regnery, 2013)

Robbins, L. and Hamill, S.D. (2014) Gunman kills 3 police officers in Pittsburgh. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/us/05pittsburgh.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

(Robbins and Hamill, 2014)

Rushin, S. (2016) Using data to reduce police violence 57 Boston college law review 2016. Available at: http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/bclr57&div=5&id=&page= (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Rushin, 2016)

Shapiro, I. and Meyer, R.J. (2015) Police Militarization leads to extreme constitutional violations. Available at: http://www.cato.org/blog/police-militarization-leads-extreme-constitutional-violations (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Shapiro and Meyer, 2015)

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(Somashekhar and Rich, 2016)

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