09/07/14 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Doug McVay Reports: This week, we talk politics and drug policy reform: how it works, how people like you and me can make our voices heard and more than that have a real impact Ôö£├ÂÔö£├ºÔö£Ôöñ locally, nationally, and globally. Guest: Sanho Tree.

Audio file


Century of Lies September 7, 2014


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DOUG McVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your guest host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, which comes to you through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

Find us on the web at drug truth dot net, where you can find past programs and you can subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on twitter, where I'm at drug policy facts, and also at doug mcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on Facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends.

Before we start, I want to say hello to a few of the stations out there that carry Century Of Lies, including WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WPRR 1680 am 95.3 fm in Grand Rapids, Michigan; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, WI;A WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, FL; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 fm in Santa Cruz California.

Century Of Lies is heard on 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 11 am and 11 pm, and Saturdays at 4 am, all times are pacific. We are heard on time4hemp dot com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm.

Well folks, Summer is finally over and we're entering election season. Ballots go out by mail in my state of Oregon in a month, most of the nation will vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November that's November 4th, for those without a calendar handy. Of course there are some progressive ballot measures out there Measure 91 in Oregon, Measure 71 in DC, Ballot Measure 2 in Alaska, Amendment 2 in Florida. There are some good candidates out there too. But general elections are only every two years. Life happens every day, politics affects our lives every day. It's not enough to just cast a vote every two years, if we want our nation to really be a just and fair society, if we really want to see good progressive change, we need to be active all year round. That's not as hard as it sounds. This week, we're going to talk about politics, how it works, how people like you and me can make our voices heard and more than that, have a real impact locally, nationally, and globally. Fortunately, I have a friend who's one of the best in the business on this subject. Sanho Tree is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He's a former military historian and national security archivist, expert in foreign as well as domestic policies, and currently he runs the Drug Policy Project at IPS. We spoke recently, here's part of that conversation:


DOUG McVAY: It is not enough to just know the facts. I write for Drug War Facts and all that stuff is up there. Anybody can take the book or they could print out the stuff and they could read all these facts. Who cares?! It is not enough to just know all this stuff.

All these prisoners are behind bars. If you own stock in a private prison that’s a great piece of news. If you are somebody who is getting funded by a private prison like a politician or an elected official who is getting money from some of these people that’s great news. It means they are doing well. “Hey, they are employing people in my district.”

The facts aren’t enough. You have to give people a reason – tell them why it matters. You have to figure out why they should care. That’s the tricky part.

Congressman Rohrabacher and I were on a panel together at Hempfest. I agreed with almost everything he was saying. It’s really hard for me to say that out loud because he is a conservative Republican and I am a left-wing, currently registered Democrat. But it is true.

I even rose up to defend Ronald Reagan. That’s how far it went. It’s not enough to say you know the facts. Bloody put them to use. Find a way. As you were saying bring someone – a veteran or a kid or a person whose life was destroyed because they happened to get arrested for something stupid like possession. Bring someone in like that and let them loo them in the eye and tell them that this issue isn’t important.

SANHO TREE: It’s not just thought to action. It’s thought to action in order to get political action because there are lots of different types of actions you could do. Some of them are productive. Some of them are less than productive.

Throwing a tantrum is not the same as changing a policy or just having a protest and breaking windows and having a riot is very often counterproductive but if you have strategic actions that are really targeted for a specific purpose you can actually invest less resources to get a better effect.

A lot of people think, “Well, I don’t have the money to fly or take a bus to Washington to march and express my views to congress.”

Actually, I think marches on Washington tend to be the least cost-effective means of changing things. I speak as someone who has been so many marches. There are protests in this town all the time. If you are a bureaucrat, an elected official you generally don’t take them that seriously unless they come from organizations that also learned how to leverage those marching millions...or thousands, rather.

That is to say that they follow up with lobbying, with advocacy and they meet with their elected officials. It’s not enough to stand on the National Mall and shake their fists at the capital or the White House. What happens is congress looks out at these crowds and a lot of them are radical people who don’t look like people from their district – these green haired people with all these piercings...”Oh, they are not from my district in Peoria. They’re from Barbara Lee’s district in Oakland or they’re from Portland somewhere. That sort of stuff doesn’t exist in my district.”

Well, in fact, those are people from Peoria. They are from all over the country. If you don’t take the extra time to go visit your representative to let them know that you spent a lot of money to come here, that you live in their district, you are concerned about these issues and you will continue to organize when you go home then you’ve got not traction with them.

In fact, I would say don’t come to Washington at all. Stay at home because if you organize those protests even if it is a small protests and do it in front of the district office of your representatives or near a place where they’ll see or a heavily trafficked area and you make it known that you are trying to reach them and get them to change their positions or take leadership on these issues that gives you far more traction than coming to Washington and having your voice diluted amongst 20,000 other marchers from all over the country.

All politics is local. The Washington Post editorial board, the New York Times can editorialized about things but if the local papers...it’s the local reporting that matters because that’s what their constituents see. It’s really important that activists learn how to leverage their powers locally.

It’s your right to ask for a meeting with your local representative or their staffers. You can ask for meetings with the local editorial board of your newspaper. You can approach local talk radio show hosts. A lot of people think, “Well, they don’t want to listen to my ideas. They are up there and I’m down here.”

But if you learn how to approach them, what they value you are not wasting their time. Believe me you are not wasting their time. You are actually giving them something that they need very much which is content. They need ideas. They need things with a local hook - where local people are upset about something.

If you approach a local columnist, for instance, to pitch something about demilitarization of policing or the drug war and give it to them with a local hook and a couple bullet points about the issue you give them some idea of content. If you go to local talk radio...there they might want more debate so you can say, “I’d be happy to be an assistant commentary on this.” Or “I know people who are good on this issue and I propose you interview so and so and here someone on the other side if you want to have an on air debate.”

Columnists and broadcasters need content. They need it badly because if they don’t they have column inches of blank page or dead air. As a radio host you know that, right!? So if you package it in a way that meets their needs you are not bothering them. You are actually helping them. That’s a good way to build a relationship with local media and to build a relationship with local officials and their staffers.

We have to start thinking in those terms rather than just, “There’s nothing we can do. It’s all rigged. Let’s go smash some windows at Starbucks....” or something. That’s not going to change much of anything at all. In fact, it’s going to unleash more repression probably.

DOUG McVAY: And it doesn’t have to go that far. You get the same kind of, “Well, you’re not listening anyway but here...” in a very angry, pejorative creed. If you just turn that slightly and decide that maybe they will listen and try. Just try.

People forget especially in this modern world if you are speaking only to the one person who you are facing. If you are talking in the social media you are talking to a much broader audience...maybe your neighbors, maybe some people you don’t know.

Debate isn’t about convincing the guy on the other side that you are right. The person who wins the debate is the person who convinces the judge or the audience that they are right. You are not going to convince the schmuck on the other side that, “Oh, I was wrong all this time. Oopsie, I got to change over.”

You are convincing all those other people and that’s what I think people miss in this. They turn it into, “Until I can make Kevin Sabet into a pot smoker it’s useless.”

For heaven’s sake, people...he can stay where he is. We’ll just show that we are much more sensible and more fun and hopefully that will work.

SANHO TREE: Exactly and that requires a certain degree of empathy – understanding the person you are trying to influence. Before I sit down with a bureaucrat or an elected official or a congressional staff or a journalist the first question I ask myself is what are their reward mechanisms – what do they value? And how can I help them make things happen for me to achieve the end result that I want to see.

It’s not going into it in a combat mode. It’s going into it with, “OK, how can I help you help me? If we both agree that direction x is a good way to go how can I help you get there?”

Keep in mind that elected officials are very, very busy. A lot of times it is their staffers who do the work and these staffers tend to be very young. It’s a tough job. The burnout rate is very high and so they may not have the kinds of life experiences or the depth of knowledge that you do on these issues. They are generalists. They respond to lots of different issues not just the ones that you are concerned about but if you learn how to package what you want them to do in ways that are useful to them then you get a much higher chance of getting traction.

Sound bites, for instance. If you want an elected official to step out an issue it helps to package it in a way that they can take ownership of and say it in a way that the electorate will understand and remember at election time so that if their opponent attacks them for being soft on this they’ve got that argument that is effective and they feel like they are going into this fight better armed rather than defenseless. Don’t ask them to walk out on a limb without helping them arm themselves, defend themselves. Give them a good chance of fighting offensive attacks and chances are they will go with you because they are pleasing constituents that way.

A lot of times they generally do believe in these things as well. So how do you make it palatable and beneficial to them? I think that means active listening and being empathetic.

DOUG McVAY: I have 25 years and counting now – nearly 30 - the experience out in Oregon back with Measure 5 in the 1986 election. We realized that if we were only going to be talking to pot smokers then we weren’t going to win because there aren’t enough of them to create an electoral majority. If we don’t talk to people like, “Let’s unite to fight drug abuse.”

“Oh, you mean you pot smokers don’t like drug abuse either?”

“No, we don’t. We’re just regular people like you. We have the same concerns that you do so let’s work together instead of you trying to put us in jail.”

That’s a very standard thing but, at the same time, it was pretty revolutionary because at that point we were still stuck in talking to ourselves. We’re still stuck talking to ourselves for the most part but a few people like yourself have learned how to talk to other people and are taking the time to teach us. It’s great.

SANHO TREE: Yes I’m angry about these policies. I’m angry about a lot of this madness in this world but the anger is what I use to motivate me to work harder and to remain calmer. That is to say when other people are raising their voices I find it very effective to lower mine because you get heard better that way. While the other person is throwing a tantrum you are the voice of reason. That escalation and just being angry is usually counterproductive.

There are few instances where anger actually helps but a lot of times it actually builds up walls rather than extend bridges. The idea is how do you get people who don’t agree with you to come over to your side. How do you reach out to the persuadable? Not to the people who are your sworn enemies who will never support you and always oppose you but a lot of people who are sitting on the fence or don’t have an opinion. Anger is a good way to alienate them.

When I feel the urge to get angry that’s when I tell myself to take it down another notch and be calm and explain and figure out what you have in common and build from that rather than throw down the gauntlet and say, “My policies are so much better than yours. I’m a vanguardist. You don’t see the truth.” And blah, blah, blah. That solves absolutely nothing.

DOUG McVAY: There’s a difference between a sort of righteous outrage and anger. People are just being mad out there...flies with sugar...I don’t know why people want to attract flies...

SANHO TREE: People were angry in Ferguson and that was powerful. That was good anger. When the looting and the other stuff that happened that takes away from the message. This has been a long running problem especially amongst progressives.

Go back to the WPO protests in 1999 in Seattle. Several days of really good protests, good messaging and then you got people smashing windows at Starbucks. The problem was the journalists that were covering this stuff very often are generalists. They are not specialists. They don’t know how to report on the various squabbles that you are having, etc., etc. so instead of reporting on the message you are trying to get across they report on the broken windows and the abhorrent behavior and that becomes the story which is very, very tragic because you don’t get much traction with that, in fact, you get reactionary measures from that and it drowns out the positive message, the policy message that you are actually trying to get across.

DOUG McVAY: Have you had a chance to do any thinking about the 2014 election? You, of course, live in D.C. so I’m guessing you’ll be voting yes on Initiative 71.

SANHO TREE: [laughing] Yeah, the D.C. voters will have a chance to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use this November as will many other parts of this country. Yeah, absolutely, this is our chance to actually get ahead of the politicians and beat them.

To the extent we’ve had all these successes in drug policy reform it’s very often been at the grassroots and the referendum level where politicians are not the ones initiating these things but citizens are going directly to the ballots and initiatives to vote things up or down.

It’s not the ideal way to do things but when you are dealing with third rail political issues or what used to be third rail issues you could wait a long time for politicians to stick their necks out. It’s important in those instances for citizens to lead and show them that it is OK. “Not only do we believe this but we’re actually a majority. I know this issue makes you uncomfortable but your own constituents are telling you that it is safe.”

That’s why we are seeing so members of congress coming out for marijuana policy, in particular, but also the way they view the War on Drugs in general both domestically and internationally now. They’ve had enough of these futile, old policies of “All we need is a bigger stick and we’ll finally solve this problem.”

We’re tired and they’re tired of throwing money at this problem and not seeing any results. In fact, we are seeing the opposite. It’s those kinds of what used to be third rail issues...third rail is a D.C. term. I don’t know if you’re listeners familiar with it. It comes from the subway system. 2 rails carry the train and the third one is high voltage. If you touch it you are dead politically. Historically third rail issues are things like raising taxes, gun control, Obama Care, climate change...but, of course, drugs and crime are one of the original third rail issues that politicians were afraid of being viewed as soft and their opponents would attack them at election time.

On issues of marijuana we’ve seen a great cultural shift and generational shift so demographics is destiny in many ways – certainly on the issue of drug policy. A generation ago or even a decade ago this was considered a no go area for most politicians and now we see lots of them coming out and saying, “Yeah, it’s time for reform.”

A lot of that has been due to activists leading the way.

DOUG McVAY: I’m hoping for the best. Oregon is also voting on legalization this year. It’s a full-on regulation scheme with dispensaries. D.C.’s is different. It doesn’t include dispensaries but it does allow limited cultivation and it leaves it’s...I shouldn’t use dispensaries, I guess...that’s medical. I guess we’ll just call them stores.

SANHO TREE: That had to do with the initiative process in D.C. in which you can propose and that sort of thing so there is structural limitations.

DOUG McVAY: A couple of weeks ago right before Hempfest I had Adam Eidinger talking about Imitative 71. D.C. statehood is another thing that I’m very in favor of so I’ve taken the opportunity to agitate about that, too.

SANHO TREE: It’s a popular issue in D.C. amongst the electorate which has given our city council and mayor more of a backbone on these issues. It’s a really good example of people coming together, citizens getting together and leading their elected officials. We’ve had fights over this.

When Congress Andy Harris who represents the eastern shore of Maryland tried to go after our marijuana decriminalization measure at the federal level by congress having the right to interfere with D.C. budgets and such. The backlash was tremendous this time. Over the years I have seen this happen over and over. D.C. becomes a political football.

Some redneck politician from Alabama wants to outlaw abortion with any tax dollars in D.C. and D.C. people can’t vote them out – we have absolutely no way to hold them accountable and, yet, they can control how we spend our own tax money in D.C. They have gotten away with it year after year.

This time the wrong guy decided to mess with us. This guy is a Tea Partier from Maryland which is a popular vacation destination for people from D.C. Ocean City and all those Maryland beaches and the Chesapeake Bay and there is a boycott of his congressional district – the entire eastern shore. The mayor is on board with this boycott. He really stepped in it and it’s a good way to send a message to other elected officials (usually Republicans) that want to play football with D.C. politics and D.C. budgets – Don’t mess with us.

DOUG McVAY: So I guess that means you didn’t get out to the shore this summer nor did most folks. I never saw what people saw in that part of the country anyway.

SANHO TREE: The beaches in Delaware are much better anyway.

DOUG McVAY: There you go. Plenty of other options. Delaware – there’s no sales tax in Delaware. More reasons not to bother going to that particular part of Maryland. I love choice. It’s a wonderful thing.

As we move up towards the 2016 it’s definitely going to be a different president. What do you think we are going to be looking at? Is the push back going to be a problem? Are we going to have...I know they are talking about having legalization on the ballot in California in 2016 and when I say “they” I don’t mean just the activists who are always talking about it I mean like Drug Policy Alliance and some of the other money people and the real movers and shakers.

Does reform have a chance to keep on rolling?

SANHO TREE: I think so. I think what’s interesting right now is we are living in rare moment where you see a true generational shift in our politics. I said earlier that demographics is destiny and that’s really important when it comes to the current culture war issues of which the drug war has been a traditional part of the cultural war. That is shifting fundamentally now.

By that I mean that the political wedge issues that have dominated U.S. politics for a good four decades came out of the 1960s and particularly the split in this country over the Viet Nam war. That caused a schism in our political and social culture that is tremendously deep and profound. It reverberated through our politics for a good four decades afterwards so that in 2004 when John Kerry lost the political race to President Bush he lost it not only on his stance over the Iraq war which he opposed but over his stances and actions during the Viet Nam war. He was swift voted.

Again and again you see in our elections in 2004 gay marriage with Karl Rove used that as a wedge issue. He put anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballots in key swing states to get out the vote of his right wing base. Those kinds of politics worked for the GOP for many decades and it backfired in recent elections.

The generation that fought over the Viet Nam war in this country are receding into the rear view mirror of American politics. The under 30 or even under 40 voters aren’t vested in these old cultural war issues.


DOUG McVAY: That's it for this week. I'm Doug McVay and this was Century of Lies. Thank you for listening. You can find a recording of this show and past shows at the website drug truth dot net, where you can check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @ Drug Policy Facts and @ Doug McVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on Facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org