A Slight Drawdown in the War on Drugs

Patience please
Patience please

((During one of this humble blog’s fallow periods, the David Simon incident mentioned below occurred at the White House. An incident custom made for my particular interests, and yet I’m pretty sure I only tweeted about it. Oh well.))

The War on Drugs has been dialed back a bit from the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years, but it does continue. Too many laws have been passed encouraging civil forfeiture, encouraging stripping drug offenders of their voting rights and other civil liberties for the war to ended. President Obama and A.G. Eric Holder have slightly de-escalated the conflict, and various states in the US are de-escalating aspects of the conflict on their own citizens’ initiatives, but too many people are in jail for the crime of altering their own consciousnesses. 

Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker writes:

In May, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder invited several cast members from the HBO series “The Wire” to Washington, D.C., to help promote a Justice Department initiative called the Drug Endangered Children’s Task Force. “The Wire,” which aired for five seasons and was acclaimed for its nuanced portrayal of the war on drugs, was a favorite of both Holder and President Obama. Holder jokingly ordered the show’s creators, David Simon and Ed Burns, to produce a sixth season. “I have a lot of power,” he said. “The Attorney General’s kind remarks are noted and appreciated,” Simon told a reporter. “We are prepared to go to work on Season 6 of ‘The Wire’ if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive, and dehumanizing drug prohibition.” Fans groaned in despair: the improbable sixth season now seemed to hinge on something even less likely, an end to the war on drugs. But the exchange was significant for reasons beyond its implications for HBO’s programming. Although the catastrophic consequences of that war are widely acknowledged, there is less clarity about what ending it would entail.

The United States has declared war on cancer, on pornography, and on terror, and the lesson to be gleaned from those campaigns is that, unlike most other wars, those declared against common nouns seldom come to a precisely defined conclusion. The wars on cancer and pornography were really instances in which martial language was used to bolster particular policy initiatives by the Administrations that enacted them. The war on drugs has been a multitiered campaign that has enlisted legislation, private-sector initiatives, executive-branch support, and public will. But it actually looks like a war, with military-style armaments, random violence, and significant numbers of people taken prisoner. It has been prosecuted throughout eight Administrations and has had the type of social and cultural impact that few things short of real warfare do. During the Civil War, more than a quarter of a million Southern men died, creating the phenomenon of a vast number of female-headed households throughout the region. Mass incarceration during the war on drugs has produced a similar phenomenon among African-American households.

(click here to continue reading A Drawdown in the War on Drugs – The New Yorker.)

Reading Around on August 1st

Some additional reading August 1st from 19:08 to 21:26:

  • The Wire Rewind: Season 3, Episode 3 – Dead Soldiers (Veterans edition) – HitFix.com – Tosha’s sparsely-attended wake, meanwhile, is shown in parallel with the sprawling drunken one the cops hold for the late Ray Cole. As mentioned previously in these reviews, Cole was played by “Wire” executive producer Bob Colesberry, who died unexpectedly before season three began. Cole’s long and impressive film career is alluded to in Jay Landsman’s eulogy (there are specific references to “Mississippi Burning,” “After Hours” and “The Corner,” which is where Simon and the late David Mills first teamed up with Colesberry).o01_23334333.jpg
  • Southwest Says Mechanical Issues Are Beyond Its Control, But It’s Not as Bad as You Might Think – >> The Cranky Flier – Many of you have already heard that in its contract of carriage, Southwest has now decided that mechanical issues are outside the airline’s control. How do I know? Because I’ve received more email from readers on this issue than any other, I believe. It’s amazing how this has grabbed people’s attention. The reality of this, however, is not as dire as many are suggesting.Anti-government-red-shirt-003.jpg
  • Communautarisme: la démocratie contre la République – Jean-Paul Brighelli revient sur les récentes sortie de Nicolas Sarkozy sur les «Roms». Un signe de plus que désormais, sous couvert de diversité, on désigne les citoyens, on les trie, par communautés. Cela revient à pulvériser la République.  (republished photo – swanksalot)

The Wire Season 2

“The Wire – The Complete Second Season” (Ernest Dickerson)

As if you need any more prodding from me to watch The Wire in its convoluted, messy, beautiful entirety…

what David Simon, Ed Burns and company are doing here is revealing that “The Wire” is going to be far more than a cops vs. drug dealers saga. It’s not a crime show. There’s a lot of crime in it, yes, but it’s a story about the death of an American city (really, the death of the American city), and little by little the show is going to take us into every corner of that city. Last year, it was the projects and the drug war raging within them. This season, our focus turns to the ports, and to the state of blue-collar, industrial America, which has been phased out in favor of a service economy that many of these guys just aren’t equipped for. As Simon referred to it in a few interviews, it’s “a meditation on the death of work and the betrayal of the American working class.

As has been said many times before, the opening scene of each “Wire” premiere is like a mission statement for that season. We open with McNulty riding forlornly on the boat, staring out at the many abandoned factories ringing Baltimore’s harbor. Once upon a time, these places were thriving concerns that provided jobs for any man willing to put in the work, no matter his background or skill level; now they’re rotting husks, relics of a time that barely exists anymore. Jimmy looks at those factories and thinks wistfully about the way things used to be, the lifestyle his father and his father’s friends had. Then he and his partner Claude answer a distress call from a party boat filled with yuppies who couldn’t care less about Bethlehem Steel or Domino Sugar; they just look at the harbor as a place to get their drink on while dancing to “Blue Skies.” Jimmy notes that they have to tow the boat out of the shipping channel, but at the same time, the harbor seems so dead that it hardly seems worth the bother; it’s been a long time since cargo ships were constantly coming and going from this port.

Recognizing all of this, Jimmy takes a bribe to tow the boat to an out of the way location where the party can keep going, and there you have your season in a nutshell: the port workers are dinosaurs, being replaced by wealthy people looking to party (or buy condos with waterfront views), and the only real money to be made around here is through bribery.

[Click to continue reading The Wire, Season 2, Episode 1: “Ebb Tide” (Veterans edition) – NJ.com ]

I recently re-watched the entire series, but was too lazy to tap out my thoughts on it. Suffice it to say, I will probably watch the entire series again for a third time next year. Such a nuanced television novel rewards multiple viewings.

Death of Newspapers as explained by David Simon

David Simon1 was interviewed by Bill Moyers (video here if you missed it) about what fictional tales like The Wire can say about our corrupt institutions that journalism cannot. About 2/3 through the interview, Mr. Simon reminded me of how newspapers, as a business, made decisions to increase their profits at the expense of newsgathering, and thus sowed the seeds of their own destruction:

BILL MOYERS: I read something you recently told “The Guardian,” in London: “Oh, to be a state or local official in America…” without newspapers. “It’s got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption.”


DAVID SIMON: Well, I was being a little hyperbolic. But-

BILL MOYERS: But it’s happening. I mean, it’s becoming true.

DAVID SIMON: Yes. It absolutely is, it absolutely is. To find out what’s going on in my own city I often find myself at a bar somewhere taking, writing stuff down on a cocktail napkin that a police lieutenant or some school teacher tells me. Because these institutions are no longer being covered by beat reporters who are looking for the systemic. It doesn’t exist anymore.

And this is not all the Internet. This was a– you know, there’s a lot of the general tone in journalism right now is that of martyrology. Of-

BILL MOYERS: Being martyrs, right.

DAVID SIMON: Yes, we were doing our job. Making the world safe for democracy. And all of a sudden, terra firma shifted, new technology. Who knew that the Internet was going to overwhelm us? I would buy that if I wasn’t in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Internet because I took the third buyout from the “Baltimore Sun.” I was about reporter number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its impact. I left at a time– those buyouts happened when the “Baltimore Sun” was earning 37 percent profits.

You know, we now know this because it’s in bankruptcy and the books are open. 37 percent profits. All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A. Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product– that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it.

I mean, the guys who are running newspapers, over the last 20 or 30 years, have to be singular in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry. It– it’s even more profound than Detroit making Chevy Vegas and Pacers and Gremlins and believing that no self-respecting American would buy a Japanese car in 1973. That– it’s analogous up to a point, except it’s not analogous in that a Nissan is a pretty good car, and a Toyota is a pretty good car. The Internet, while it’s great for commentary and froth doesn’t do very much first generation reporting at all. And it can’t sustain that. The economic model can’t sustain that kind of reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn’t– they had contempt for their own product, these people. I mean, how do-

BILL MOYERS: The publishers. The owners.

DAVID SIMON: Yes, how do you give it away for free? You know, but for 20 years, they looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The ads were the God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and the copy, they had had contempt for. And they had– they had actually marginalized themselves

By the time the Internet had its way, I mean, they’re down to 180 now. You don’t cover the City of Baltimore and a region like Central Maryland with 180 people. You don’t cover it well.

And the institutional knowledge of the place disappears. And so that was– I was being a little flippant with “The Guardian” but what I was saying was, you know, there’s going to be a wave of corruption until they figure out the new model and reestablish– the institutional memory of these places, there’s going to be a wave of misbehavior.

[Click to read more of Bill Moyers Journal . Transcripts | PBS David Simon]

Remember this fact next time you hear a Sam Zell type complain about why they are cutting staff, again.

  1. famously of The Wire, but other things too, including a series in production about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans called Treme, in post-production []