12/11/16 Sanho Tree

This week on Century Of Lies we talk with Sanho Tree from the Institute for Policy Studies about the President-Elect Trump, his AG pick Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff Reinhold Priebus, fracking the swamp, and the future of drug policy reform.

Century of Lies
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Sanho Tree
Institute for Policy Studies
Download: Audio icon col121116.mp3



DECEMBER 11, 2016


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Well folks, this week, we are going to take a look back at the year in drug policy reform and politics, but more to the point, we're going to look forward at the next four years of what we may have to face, and what we can do about it. Because, you know, to know where you're going, you've got to know where you've been, and you've got to know where you are. Those three things are constantly shifting.

To figure all this stuff out, you've got to talk to somebody -- well, I need to talk to somebody who's smarter than me: Sanho Tree. He is the director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. He's a Fellow at IPS, he has a long history as a historian and as a thinker, as a writer and strategist, and, yeah, he's also someone with a long memory, which helps in these days. He's also a good friend, and a friend of the show. And he's on the line with me now. Sanho, how are you doing?

SANHO TREE: Doing well, all things considered, Doug. How are you?

DOUG MCVAY: I'm pretty good, then again I'm out here on the west coast and not living in the belly of the beast.

SANHO TREE: The swamp.

DOUG MCVAY: The swamp as it were, yes indeed, yes indeed. A little backfill, then a little more muddy water, it will be just fine. So, we haven't chatted for a little bit. There were, there are a couple of things happening in the news since the last time we spoke.

SANHO TREE: Just a few minor stories, yeah.

DOUG MCVAY: Little things. Let's talk about some news real quick, because people need an update. Yesterday -- this is being recorded on Saturday, December 10th. Yesterday, on December Ninth, Congress finally passed a continuing resolution. They passed a continuing resolution, which means that the drug policy protections that we got a year ago, protection against interference in medical marijuana programs in a number of states, as well as the ability of the feds to give money to groups that are actually doing syringe exchange. As long as the money doesn't actually pay for syringes. Those are now, those are still in effect until sometime next year.

Then we'll have a new budget, with all new provisions, because we'll have a new Congress and a new president. Who knows what we're going to face. We know who the cabinet is likely to be. We've got the Attorney General selection, Jeff Sessions. We have the Health and Human Services selection, Tom Price, Republican of Georgia. And we've got, I guess, a possible Secretary of State, representing the -- representing Exxon, doesn't he? And, yeah. Brother show us a ray of hope. What do -- yeah, throw us, throw me a ray of sunshine here, because I'm starting to go down a dark path.


DOUG MCVAY: This doesn't look like it's going to be a good year.

SANHO TREE: Not the best year, no. But it's important to put things in perspective, and, you know, sometimes when I feel really beaten up, I look to my parents' generation, and your parents generation as well, I mean, people who lived through the Depression and whatnot, you know. My father was born in a rural village in China, and lived under the warlords, and he lived through the Japanese occupation, which was brutal, and lived through World War Two, which was not really great, and then he lived through the Soviet liberation of his village, and then the Nationalist liberation, and then the Chinese Communist liberation, and then the Nationalist re-liberation of his village, before fleeing to Taiwan in 1949, and living under martial law for a few decades. So, yeah, things are bad, but it could be a lot worse.

And, you know, previous generations have done tremendous things, and endured the unendurable. So, it gives me a little bit of hope, at least.

DOUG MCVAY: I was talking with my partner about this the other day, and, you know, it's like, hey, could be worse, then again, the bad guys winning is when earth perishes in a nuclear winter, so, when you take that as, you know, as losing, then, hey, suddenly, it's not so bad.

SANHO TREE: Well, the one constant in politics is change. There's always going to be change, and no matter how dark and gloomy it looks now, remember that both parties have been in this situation, several times in my lifetime. In fact, when I was born, this was the famous Goldwater defeat, all right, when LBJ completely destroyed the Republican Party. No one thought they ever had a chance, and they plotted a long march back to power, culminating in the Bush era. And, you know, they focused their resources, they had a long game plan, and they executed on it, perhaps too well. They became a victim of their own success, or excess. And their hubris got to them. But nonetheless, they did manage a, you know, a march back to power. So these things -- you know, they're always shifting.

I'm old enough to remember when they talked about a permanent Republican majority under Bush. Right? And then it looked like Obama would have a -- that he changed politics forever in this country, and now we've got Trump. So these things change. But it won't stay this way forever.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I mean, you mentioned Reinhold Priebus -- nicknames, you know, whatever. His name is Reinhold. So, you mentioned Reinhold Priebus a moment ago, he's going to be the new White House chief of staff. Do you think he's -- I don't know, do you think he's got that, the killer instinct to do that, or do you think he'll let it limp along until the next election?

SANHO TREE: I think it depends on how disastrous a direction this administration keeps going in, whether the establishment will intervene and try to do something. I think also, it's very telling that the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon, former editor, head of Breitbart, are working very hard to close down the circle around Trump. They're creating a tight bubble around him, and part of it is that Trump tends to believe the last person he talks to, and so he is a president who is completely unmoored in terms of ideology. Never before has an incoming president, where psychology has mattered so much more than psychology. Because Trump has literally been on every side of every issue over the course of his life, and for most of that, he was a Democrat. So he's not a hard ideological Republican. And I think this is what they're afraid of, that he -- someone might get to him and might introduce other ideas.

And so, and this is my bargaining stage of grief talking, but if I had a fifteen minute at talking to President Trump, it's -- he's remarkably easy to play, in that he's got a tremendous ego. He's incredibly ignorant about governance, and incredibly insecure at the same time. And so, if you butter him up, if you appeal to his ego and his sense of legacy, which is what he really cares about, you can push his buttons and manipulate him. So, think about what metrics does Donald Trump care about? What's he ever talked about? It's popularity ratings. It's not the Electoral College map, it's nothing strategic, it's just purely popularity stuff. And I think Trump doesn't want to go down in history as a great Republican president. He wants to go down, in his own little mind, as a great American president.

And so this is the difference. During the primaries, he was only competing for half the pie, the Republican half of the pie. Right? And so a certain strategy worked for that. But now, he's president of the whole country. He's got to figure out how to boost his ratings, and that means going after the other half of the pie as well. And so, it's not inconceivable that someone, whether it's Howard Stern or Mika Brzezinski, or whoever he watches or listens to on those shows, could infect him with some other ideas. And say, for instance, okeh, President Trump, you broke the mold, you wrote your own rulebook. You don't have to govern the way Reince Priebus and the GOP tell you to govern, which is, you know, traditionally building a Republican, you know, monopoly on power and ramming things through.

Which is fine for legislative, you know, victories, but if you want to go down in history as a great American president, then for the first time, and it's always been triangulation the other direction. Right? Of Clinton triangulating to the right, always to the right. For the first time, here's a president who can triangulate to the left, to the liberal or to the center, and govern that way. Because where else is your party base going to go? They have no other alternatives. And you can make more concessions to Democrats, and become the next FDR, if his focus is on, you know, domestic infrastructure spending, for instance.

So, he's going to have to decide pretty soon, guns or butter, right, when he's actually presented with real budgets and real graphs and real choices. He can't do both, you can have this huge military build-up, of which the United States has been on a tear for decades, or you can do domestic spending. And it's a world that he understands much better, in terms of construction, in terms of, you know, those kinds of politics. So if he goes that direction, you could argue that, you know, you could sell him on a more FDR type agenda than extreme rightwing agenda. But again, that's the bargaining phase of my grief talking there. But, it's not impossible.

DOUG MCVAY: Should remind folks that you're listening to Century Of Lies, we're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. And our guest today is Sanho Tree, he's the director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, he's a Fellow at the Institute.

Well, and you mentioned the -- you mentioned a word that we need to get back to, and that's populism. I've seen some analyses of the election, and right versus left, it doesn't do enough to explain what's happened, because there were people who, you know, weren't necessarily far rightwing who supported Donald Trump anyway. One analysis I saw thought of it as more of a populism versus the elites, with the candidate the Democrats ran, Hillary Clinton, as a, you know, practically a textbook model of an elite. How do leftwing populists, how do people like me, organize effectively in Trump's new America? How do we get back the people?

SANHO TREE: Well, I think it's important, I think, to remember that just as many people voted for Hillary holding their noses, you know, a lot of people also voted for Trump holding their noses. So, it's wrong I think to blanket, you know, to tar them all with the same brush, although there certainly are a lot of racists and white supremacists who voted for Trump, but a lot are more, you know, were more energized because of the economics message, that they were left behind, and they have very valid concerns.

And I think it's no coincidence that people like -- you know, I was having lunch with an old friend of the family, an uncle if you will, not a blood relative, but, he was needling me before the election, saying, Don't vote for the liar, vote for Trump. And he kept needling me during lunch, and I said, wait a minute, you realize I was an adviser to Bernie Sanders's campaign, on foreign policy issues. And he said, oh, I would have voted for Bernie in a heartbeat. Right? So, both sides wanted to, you know, basically burn it all down, in terms of the establishment, and in terms of the system, and Hillary Clinton, unfortunately, was just a, you know, a poster child of the system, in terms of don't rock the boat, in terms of, you know, the same old institutions.

If you go to -- I think Democrats also got blinded by their own bubble. If you go to these DNC fundraisers, you get the appearance of diversity, and that's not to say it's an illusion, it's real, so you have all these interest groups, of every race, every sexual orientation, every, you know, nonprofit interest group. They're all there at these donor receptions, and you think, oh, well, we're getting a really diverse view. But then ask yourself, okeh, what group, what demographic is not being represented at these cocktail reception fundraisers? Very often, it's white, working class, middle America, non-union workers. Right? Non-union being important, because if you are part of a union, you're constantly getting newsletters and communications from the union, saying, this is what we're doing for you in Washington. This is what we're delivering on.

But if you don't belong to any of those groups, who is fighting for you in Washington? It's really hard for people to think of an interest group that represents them, except possibly the NRA, or on certain issues the AARP. And that is not a good place to be, and I think, you know, Michael Moore is quite right about, you know, we've got to pay more attention to these regions and these areas, and educate people. If you want to make America great again, remember that made America great in those days was strong union membership, where you have salaries that are often triple what they're making today. That's because of strong unions. And it's ironic that Donald Trump trashes unions, and yet has this following that thinks he's going to make America great again, while at the same time eroding unions.

So I think, you know, there's a lot of outreach that we need to do, in terms of finding those common areas where we agree, and to educate people on the consequences of those issues where we don't agree, and how some of Trump's -- many of Trump's -- most of Trump's policies really do hurt minorities, people of color, all these different groups that have won all these hard-fought protections that we've gotten in recent decades, are all on the line now.

DOUG MCVAY: Well now, in terms of drug policy reform -- this is a show about drug policy, so we're a long way down into it and I probably ought to get to that stuff -- within the marijuana movement, we've seen this sort of split. I used to call it as a, you know, between the business side and the political side, because I couldn't bring myself to say there was something outside the movement. Now I realize it's more of, the cannabis industry versus the movement. The elites versus the people, with the -- we've seen people on the corporate side, on the business side, saying, you know, let's just keep calm and we'll see if we can work with these people. Look, clutching at straws to find anyone who's said anything at all positive about any drug policy or marijuana related issue.

And, Homeland Security, the guy said that he wasn't necessarily opposed to medical. Wee! Yeah. That will help. So now, do you see any, do you think that they're likely to ride the populist wave and let these things stand, see where it goes, or do you think that Reinhold and Jeff Sessions -- Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions [sic: the Senator's full name is actually Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. Our apologies for the error. dm], and some of these -- got to use these full names, I'm sorry, it's the -- I think that's part of the populist appeal, I mean Reince and Jeff, well that sounds like a couple of guys you go drink with. Jeffrey Beauregard, on the other hand:

JEFFERSON BEAUREGARD SESSIONS, III: I mean, we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to cite marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. It ought not to be minimized. That it's in fact a very real danger. You can see the accidents, traffic deaths related to marijuana jump 20 percent. These are the kind of things that we're going to see throughout the country, and you'll see cocaine, and heroin increase more than it would have, I think, had we not talked about it. The creating of knowledge, that these -- this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it's not funny, it's not something to laugh about. And trying to send that message with clarity, that good people don't smoke marijuana.

DOUG MCVAY: No, thank you. And Reinhold Priebus? He's the guy at the end of the bar. Not many people talk to him. Yeah. So, do you think we're going to start seeing some pushback from the other side?

SANHO TREE: Well, it's still very early to say, but, even though there are these hardline drug warriors in the cabinet so far, Trump did, you know, run on the position of allowing states' rights on these issues, and I think even Reince Priebus and these people will look at the polls, and realize fairly quickly that marijuana, ever since -- in 2012, 2014, 2016, has proven more popular than the politicians of either party. And it would be foolish to try to spit into those headwinds, as it were.

I think also, in the legal parlance there's this concept of the normative power of the actual. That is to say, when people have gotten rights, and have exercised those rights and gotten used to those rights, it's, you know, woe unto the politician or court that tries to take them away. You could end up eroding your own legitimacy far more than the legitimacy of these policies. That's one of the reasons I think the Supreme Court didn't want to take up gay marriage. Too many people have already exercised their rights, engaged in marriage, entered into contracts.

The same with marijuana industry, right, there are so many business that have been entered into, so many relationships have been legally established, that to try to undo that would be incredibly difficult and complicated, and expensive, and, you know, who'd want to take that on and risk the wrath of all those constituents, both on the consumer end and on the industry end? It just makes peoples' lives much more difficult, and it angers the base. So, in that sense, on domestic marijuana policy, that might be, you know, the way to go with this.

On the international side, again, it's very early to say, and with the selection of Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobile CEO, as Secretary of State, who knows what that means. I mean, the guy has never had a job in his adult life outside of Exxon. So, what does that mean for drug war and the rest of the world? I don't know. What has been concerning, however, has been Trump's business interests, and so, he had a very chummy phone call with the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, the guy who's killed more than 5,000 of his own citizens in less than six months in office. There is of course Trump Tower Manila about to open, so he's got hotels and resorts all over the place, and that's how he knows the world. That's his map, is where his projects are.

And it's unlikely -- and President Duterte was smart, he sent the guy, the developer who built that project, to be his representative, special envoy, to Washington. And so Trump will not, he refuses to divest himself of these business interests, and that's going to weigh into a lot of his considerations. You know, he got into this incredibly controversial phone call from the president of Taiwan. Well, it turns out that the month before that, his children were in Taiwan talking about a development project they want to do in the northern part of the island, luxury resorts. And so he risked, you know, decades of US foreign policy precedent, in terms of -- by recognizing the president of Taiwan, which really angers Beijing, and is the quickest route to World War Three, in my opinion. And it may have been because he has, you know, a resort he wants to develop. Who knows? This is very, very troubling.

The same in Istanbul. He has two Trump Towers there. Another extreme, you know, rightwing dictatorship. So we have to constantly ask, what interests are at play when he's conducting foreign policy? Is it his personal interests, or the interests of the country, or human rights, or anything else? It's very troubling.

DOUG MCVAY: Indeed. It's good you mentioned the international thing. I cannot let an installment of Century Of Lies go by without reminding people that, as you mentioned, the Philippines is run by a dictator who's currently a US ally, Duterte --

SANHO TREE: Well, popularly elected, but, yeah. Whatever. Basically.

DOUG MCVAY: There are lot of people who've gotten popularly elected. President, a dictator, President Rodrigo Duterte, who's -- and don't forget folks, it's #DumpDuterte, and it is also #BoycottThePhilippines until he's gone. #BoycottThePhilippines, #DumpDuterte. And, beyond that, well of course, thank you for mentioning China, also, because you see that he did send a gift, he's sending a gift to Beijing to apologize, sending them a dumb yet lovable lapdop. Terry Branstad.

SANHO TREE: Governor Branstad.

DOUG MCVAY: Yeah, the governor of my birth state, Iowa.



SANHO TREE: But, actually, there is an interesting personal angle there, of course, which is that Xi Jinping, when he was a young bureaucrat in the 80s, visited Iowa, and became friends with Governor Branstad, and they've maintained that relationship over the decades. So at least they're talking. They're on speaking terms.

DOUG MCVAY: That's a good thing. As far as Branstad, he was one of the first elected officials I started demonstrating against while I was at the University of Iowa, because of massive budget cuts that he announced when I went back to school, and started getting involved in politics. In fact, Branstad inspired a graduate student teaching assistant walkout, and actually got a lot of people to get active. I mean, and you could say, in a way, that he did the progressives in Iowa a favor by getting a lot of us upset and interested in being active in leftwing progressive politics. That's not the kind of favor I really need more politicians to -- upset a lot of people so that they start working against them, yeah, you know, there's better ways to do progress, I guess.

So, we are, we've managed to get up towards the end of the show. I'm going to -- time, you know, the clock beats us all the time, because I'm pretty sure it cheats. So, I have to ask you to remind folks how to find you on twitter, and also where to find some of the information that -- the Institute for Policy Studies has a lot of great projects, does a lot of terrific work. Where are they on the web? And some final thoughts for the listeners.

SANHO TREE: Well, you can find more about my office at www.IPS-DC.org. And you can find me on Twitter, @SanhoTree.

But in terms of parting words -- boy. We live in interesting times. This is, you know, as you were saying about Governor Branstad, Donald Trump has woken up an entire generation of activists now. People who were planning to, you know, coast for the next four years are now in rapid reaction mode, and are getting mobilized. This is a time to rethink about, you know, where -- what our priorities are, what our strategies were, what worked, what didn't work, and what we need to change. And it's also a time to learn basic things about, how do you lobby your representatives? This is more important now than ever, you know, and it's -- there are lots of different resources for that, you know, how do you talk to your representatives in Washington, how do you put pressure on local media, how do you write letters to the editor, op-eds, those kinds of things. It's time for people to get active.

And history's made by those who show up. So, it's, you know, don't sit on your couch liking things on Facebook. Go out and do something.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and while you're saying that, the -- I believe it's time to get back to the roots, and local activism, local action, local politics -- I mean, you know, we can think, oh, we'll build our business, oh we'll talk to the federal people, that will be great. Meanwhile in the states, they're putting together rules and regulations that are, you know, hurting patients, that are squeezing the small business people, the small farmers, the small producers, and regular folks out of these burgeoning multibillion dollar marijuana industry. How do -- talk for a minute just, if you could, about the importance of local activism, and local engagement.

SANHO TREE: I think it's so under-appreciated, and people think they need to come to Washington to have a protest, and a mass march, but in my experience, that's the least effective thing to do, in terms of limited -- if you have limited resources. But if you do come to Washington, it's important that you stop in at your representative's office and let them know that you're from their district, and you came all this way and spent your money, because you're concerned about, you know, issue X.

But, if you don't have that money, you don't want to spend that kind of money, it's much more effective to do your protests and organizing at the local level. The local papers, for instance, it's the letters to the editor section that's very often the most widely read section of the papers. Having a protest in front of the district office of your representatives instead of their DC offices often gets you more press, you know, where it matters, which is locally. And so, all politics is local in the end, and if they can't get re-elected, if they can't count on your votes, and your support, then fundraising in Washington and doing all these things that we, you know, we criticize them for, really doesn't matter, if they've lost the support at home. And so you've got much more leverage at home than you do in Washington, in my opinion.

DOUG MCVAY: All right, folks, that is about all the time we have. I want to thank you for joining us. I want to thank you, Sanho. Again, we've been speaking Sanho Tree, Institute for Policy Studies. You can find him, he's @SanhoTree on Twitter. And a brilliant guy, you should follow him. I follow him. And it's, as always, brother, it is so good to hear you and it is so good to talk with you. You take good care of yourself out there.

SANHO TREE: Likewise.

DOUG MCVAY: Thank you. And folks, thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about 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 Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.