Thursday, 20 December 2007

Proud to continue Nixon's endless war

CairnsBlog contributing writer Sid Walker ponders the Good Ship captained by Bligh...


We now have the odd, although perhaps not entirely unexpected, situation whereby people who grew up under an oppressive State Government - a Government that often used repressive laws against ‘dangerous drugs’ (among other things) to persecute political opponents - now uphold, justify and from time to time further extend those same laws.

In the early 1970s, when most members of Team Beattie (now Team Bligh) were in short pants or mini-skirts, and a few were still in nappies, Jo Bjelke Petersen was Queensland Premier and his soul-mate Richard Nixon held sway in Washington DC.

Just like Nixon's counterparts in Britain and Canada, the US President appointed a rather conservative group of people to investigate the ‘marijuana problem’ and recommend solutions.

Nixon then encountered the same problem faced by his overseas equivalents. his expletive-deleted Inquiry didn’t say what he wanted.

Rejecting alarmist views about Cannabis (aka Marijuana), views that were popular in reactionary circles at the time, the US Shafer Report said that "neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety," and recommended to Congress that "citizens should not be criminalized or jailed merely for private possession or use."
Nixon wasn’t happy – but at the time, the public didn’t know just how pissed off he was about the Shafer Report. Nor did we get a rounded account of the grounds for Nixon’s displeasure.

However, the former US President’s audio-taped conversations at the White House were soon to become public property in the most spectacular fashion, bringing his Presidency to an abrupt end. Yet not all the tapes were released in the 70s. Some surfaced more recently.

In a tape released to the public just a few years ago, Nixon discussed the Shafer Commission and his outright rejection of its conclusions. Parts of the transcript, with commentary, are reproduced below.

Consequently, we can now examine - in all their glory - the intellectual foundations of the 30+ year old ‘War on Drugs’, a ‘War’ formerly declared by Nixon in the early 70s that has never ended since.

It is the War that predated by three decades the even more farcical and bogus War on Terror.

It’s a War that has spawned a trillion dollar illegal industry worldwide.

It’s a War that continues, each week, even in our pleasant part of the world, in magistrates courts, police stations and prisons - to the detriment of the persecuted but the undoubted advantage of all those involved in prosecuting this never-ending assault on freedom of choice, from police helicopter pilots to prison workers, defense lawyers to psychiatrists and social workers.

Now, you may be wondering, what does it matter what that old goof Nixon said in the White House all those years ago? After all, Nixon is long gone. The political elite in power today is far more rational and sophisticated, isn’t it?

Well, perhaps… but it would be nice to see the evidence.

After all, far from pulling up stumps on the prohibition of Cannabis, the Labor Government in Queensland has extended Prohibition into areas of life previously unaffected.

Meanwhile, at least one prominent Australian who claims to speak on behalf of some of the most disadvantaged people in this country, calls openly for ‘Zero Tolerance’ on ‘drugs’ (even Tricky Dicky himself might have found that a little over the top!)

One day, when historians gain access to the records of our times, we may learn that a high quality discussion actually took place around the Beattie cabinet table in the late 1990s, when Queensland passed a law that has since been used to criminalize people who own pamphlets about Cannabis horticulture. It may be that particular curious twist in ‘our’ War on Drugs (which goes much further than the USA ever did) was discussed, debated, subjected to scrutiny and finally agreed because of clearly articulated, logical arguments. We may even obtain a transcript of high-quality ALP Party Room discussions from the time it was debated at length by caucus.

Perhaps those tapes exist – and historians in coming times will bring them to light… but if so, it’s odd that nothing resembling quality discussion ever seems to make it into Hansard.

Indeed, Parliamentary debates in Queensland, where civil liberties are at stake, are notable for their vacuity.

If these folk are looking after our civil liberties, no wonder our liberties are disappearing fast.

How quickly veterans of the moratoria seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be on the receiving end of irrational criminal laws applied in a selective, discriminatory way!

In this policy area, if not in others, we have a State Parliament comprised largely (perhaps entirely?) of Me-Too’s, each willing to play his or her own little role to raise the stakes just a little higher within this jurisdiction, in support of the 35+ Drug War. I call that sad.

But enough of the present!

Let’s not criticize ourselves - or wince at the politicians we choose to represent us. Let’s not bemoan their shallow conformism, hypocrisy and failure to exercise scrutiny when legislating away even more of our rights and freedoms.

Instead, let’s all enjoy a chuckle at someone non-threatening, whom we can all agree was a real funny guy – someone now safely gone from our lives (except for the small matter of his legacy).

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Richard Nixon

  • After a lengthy process of taking testimony, surveying
    the public and reviewing research the (Shafer) Commission
    appointed by Nixon concluded: “The most notable
    statement that can be made about the vast majority of
    marihuana users – experimenters and intermittent users –
    is that they are essentially indistinguishable from their
    non-marihuana using peers by any fundamental criterion
    other than their marihuana use.”

    But, President Nixon, speaking with Bob Haldeman in
    the Oval Office one month after he had been told his
    national commission would urge marijuana
    decriminalization had a different agenda: “I want a
    Goddamn strong statement about marijuana. Can I get
    that out of this sonofabitching, uh, Domestic Council? .
    . . I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of
    them.”

    Regarding marijuana leading to other drug use, in a
    conversation with Art Linkletter, President Nixon said:
    “But, believe me, it is true, the thing about the drug,
    once people cross that line from the [unintelligible]
    straight society to the drug society, it’s a very great
    possibility they’re going to go further.”

    In fact, the Shafer Commission found that marijuana
    does not lead to hard drug use (see box below).

    In the same conversation Nixon compared alcohol to
    marijuana claiming marijuana consumers smoke “to get
    high” while “a person drinks to have fun.”
    Nixon also saw marijuana leading to loss of motivation and
    discipline but claimed: “At least with liquor I don’t lose
    motivation.”

    The marijuana issue also played into the culture wars of
    the time. President Nixon saw a connection between
    civil rights and anti-war demonstrators and marijuana
    use even though the Shafer Commission tried to
    minimize the differences in lifestyle and the effect of
    marijuana on social order.

    Nixon discussed this with entertainer Art Linkletter
    claiming: “. . . radical demonstrators that were here
    . . . two weeks ago . . .They’re all on drugs, virtually all.”

    Another area where President Nixon and the expert
    commission he appointed disagreed was whether
    marijuana use was leading to the downfall of the United
    States. The Shafer Commission noted: “It is unlikely that
    marihuana will affect the future strength, stability, or
    vitality of our social and political institutions.”

    Nixon on the other hand repeatedly claimed that marijuana use
    would lead to the “downfall” of the United States, unlike
    drinking which is used in “strong” countries like Russia,
    England and Ireland. Nixon claimed nations had not
    been destroyed by alcohol but “an awful lot of nations
    have been destroyed by drugs.”

    In another conversation he links drug use, homosexuality
    and immorality to the downfall of great countries
    concluding: “You see, homosexuality, dope, immorality
    in general. These are the enemies of strong societies.
    That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are
    pushing the stuff, they’re trying to destroy us.”

    The marijuana debate also played into Nixon’s
    prejudices – especially against Jews. In a conversation
    with Bob Haldeman, Nixon says: “I see another thing in
    the news summary this morning about it. That's a funny
    thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing
    marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with
    the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them?
    I suppose it's because most of them are psychiatrists, you know,
    there's so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish.
    By God we are going to hit the marijuana thing,
    and I want to hit it right square in the puss,
    I want to find a way of putting more on that.

I’ll conclude with a Pre-Emptive Strike

Some folk may misunderstand this article to be an ‘endorsement’ of Cannabis use – or even if they don’t, choose to misrepresent it as such.

It is not.

For what it’s worth, my view about Cannabis is similar to my view about coffee, syrup, aspirin, jakfruit, bleach and olive oil. I’m aware that many folk use these things. I believe they should be able to provide, obtain and use them without facing criminal sanctions.

Do I consequently ‘endorse’ coffee, syrup, aspirin, jakfruit, bleach or olive oil? Nope. Do I believe it is good to use these things in all circumstances? No I don’t.

Well then, do I support going to ‘War’ against these various things?

No, I don’t support that.

Actually, I think it’s nuts.

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