I Have Seen the Future of US Politics & Its Name is Prop 19

By Al Giordano

Throughout the 2008 presidential primaries and election I frequently cited polls by SurveyUSA, or SUSA, as the ones that best helped me to be able to pick the winner in 51 out of 55 primary contests and 51 out of 54 Electoral College entities in November. I don’t know if SUSA provided the most accurate polling or not, but I consider their reports to be the most detailed and transparent, with plenty of demographic data to extract with which to be able to see the deeper currents and undertows beneath the up-and-down horse race numbers.

SUSA’s poll results this week showing a narrow (48 to 44 percent) lead for California’s Proposition 19 – to legalize and tax marijuana – actually reveals more of a mixed bag for the referendum’s proponents than many presume, and I’ll explain exactly what is going on in a moment, but first I wanted to draw attention to something the pollsters wrote in their own analysis: That some Democratic party candidates in California – we’re lookin’ at you Senator Barbara Boxer – are going to win or lose based on whether Proposition 19 pulls enough infrequent voters to the polls. And this is paradoxical because Boxer is among the many Democrats who have voiced opposition to Prop 19, and the lessons that come out of November 2 will ring her bell and go all the way up to the White House and into the 2012 election cycle.

SUSA titles its analysis,  “Some Evidence That California's Marijuana Tail is Wagging Barbara Boxer's Dog; Voters Without Home Phones, Voters Focused on Decriminalization, May Tip Senate.” In sum, the pollsters have identified the key factor in Boxer’s contest vs. Republican Carly Fiorina, who leads narrowly with 46 percent over 44 percent for the incumbent. By looking separately at voters who only use cell phones, those who have both cell and home phones, and those only with home telephones, SUSA has found significant differences in the voting intentions of the cell phone-only citizens and the rest. It is no secret to young people (of all ages) who use cell phones exclusively that they are culturally distinct from land liners in ways that extend beyond hardware preferences.

Nomadic, and on the move, more reliant on the Internet than the television for their news intake, they’re the future of the United States. And they’re also a lot more multi-racial – and more actively defy societal apartheids - than the rest of the population. OMG! Wait… wait… see that little light bulb popping on over our heads? By Jove, I think we get it! Those are the 2008 first time Obama voters, duh! And getting them to vote in the midterm elections is the biggest headache that the White House and the Democratic party has right now leading up to November 2.

But it is less of a headache in California this year, precisely because Proposition 19 is on the ballot. And not only because many youngsters want cheaper, cleaner and safer access to marijuana: Younger African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and others who don’t smoke pot at all but have grown up with the experience of being hassled by police and searched “for drugs” know first hand that the drug war is a cruel scam that is, at least in part, intended to keep them down and put them in prison and on parole. It puts them at a disadvantage in the competition for jobs and careers and opens them to more discrimination in every realm of life. They know that white folks use most of the drugs, but they and their family members are the ones being sent to jail for it. Before we look at age and race as factors in the upcoming vote, let’s first look at the voter tendencies among cell phone users vs. land liners:

As you can see, 62 percent of those who exclusively use cell phones (labeled "CPO, liv") will vote to legalize and tax marijuana while only 29 percent oppose it. They’re just seven percent of the potential electorate, but whether they vote or not makes them the proverbial “swing voters” of 2010, and not just in California.

Now lets look at preferences by age (and, yes, I’m getting to the lesson for everyone in US politics, but especially for Democrats, before these words are done) and by race:

As you can see, among California “hippies” (ha ha, have a sense of humor, Gramps), the 50-64 age group, marijuana legalization enjoys a 48 percent to 40 percent lead, but it’s among voters under the age of 34 where Proposition 19 gets the margin of victory it needs to push it over the top: 59 percent of those voters favor the ballot question to just 33 percent against. Elderly folks are the biggest obstacle for the referendum, with 57 percent against to just 37 percent in favor.

Meanwhile, all racial groups – white, black, Hispanic – except,  according to this poll, for Asian-Americans (and at 12 percent of the survey – about 73 respondents – that stat is likely from a survey sample not large enough to get an accurate reading) favor Prop 19, with the highest margin of victory among Hispanic Californians. Since demographically they are younger than the rest of the population, I would venture that age has at least as much to do with that result as race does. Those numbers also confirm something I’ve talked to the organizers of Prop 19 about since the effort began: That they must avoid making the same mistake as opponents of Proposition 8 (the illegal ban on gay marriage)  in 2008 did: that Prop 19 needed a much more aggressive community organizing and field campaign among blacks and Hispanics. These numbers, and the moves I’ve watched them make over the past year, indicate that they are aggressively campaigning across all racial lines. And if Proposition 19 wins, that will be the number one reason why it triumphed.

Now, onto some more interesting numbers from the same SUSA survey, which bring us back to the larger question-of-the-month in all United States politics and elections:

Most Democrats and Independents favor marijuana legalization. Most Republicans oppose it. Most moderates and liberals favor Prop 19. Most conservatives oppose it. Most people who dislike the “Tea Party” will vote yes, while most who like it (and a smaller group, noted) will vote no. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science or in polling to see the overlap between Proposition 19’s constituency and that of the Democratic Party and its future.

It is on this point that SurveyUSA mines the data and states what ought to be obvious. “Much learning out of California,” they note, with considerable understatement:

United States Senator Barbara Boxer,Democrat, nominally trails Republican Carly Fiorina among California likely voters interviewed on their home telephones, but, among voters who do not have a home telephone, and who were interviewed by SurveyUSA on their cellphone, Boxer leads 2:1. When the two groups are proportionally blended, SurveyUSA pegs it as Boxer 46%, Fiorina 44%, very much within the survey's theoretical margin of sampling error, and still too close to call, but indicative of how important voters without home phones are if Boxer is to hold her Senate seat, and, as fate may have it, if Democrats are to keep majority control of the United States Senate.”

Then, the pollsters ask aloud: “What's the Tail and What's the Dog Here?” Well, well... guess which dog is soon going to finally have its day:

“SurveyUSA includes a question designed to see if those who rarely vote in congressional elections, but who tell SurveyUSA they are uniquely motivatedto vote in 2010, are voting Republican. One theory underlying much of the 2010 campaign narrative is that Republicans are uniquely motivated, Democrats uniquely dispirited. In other geographies, this question produces expected learning: uniquely motivated 2010 voters are in fact more Republican than habitual midterm voters.

“In California, the opposite. Uniquely motivated 2010 voters are more Democratic, turning a 4-point Democratic advantage among habitual voters in the race for Governor into the 7-point Democratic advantage that SurveyUSA reports here; turning a 2-point Democratic advantage among habitual voters in the Lieutenant Governor's contest into the 6-point Democratic advantage SurveyUSA reports here, and turning a 2-point advantage for "Yes" on marijuana into the 4-point "Yes" advantage that SurveyUSA reports here. But in the Senate contest: the incumbent Democrat trailsby 4 points among habitual voters, and nominally leads by the 2 points that SurveyUSA reports here only when these uniquely motivated voters are included….”

And here comes the money quote:

“Subject to the limitations of a small sample size, the data may suggest that what is uniquely motivating Californians is marijuana. Uniquely motivated voters vote 7:4 to decriminalize marijuana. The even smaller subset of uniquely motivated voters interviewed on a cellphone is voting 12:1 ‘Yes’ on marijuana. Are the ‘Yes’ on marijuana voters the tail wagging Barbara Boxer's dog?This is more plausible to SurveyUSA than the reverse, which would be that 3-term incumbent Boxer has a unique tractor-beam in 2010 that is drawing to the polls otherwise disaffected voters who just happen to be pushing Proposition 19 over the top.”

(Emphasis in bold text added by The Field.)

Interestingly enough, Boxer opposes Proposition 19. So does former and future Governor Jerry Brown (considering that his nickname back in the seventies and eighties was “Governor Moonbeam” for his Zen proclivities, it’s disappointing to watch his anti-Prop 19 charade with a straight face). And when I see Attorney General Eric Holder and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske embarrass themselves with anti-Prop 19 posturing – given that the data shows that highly motivated Prop 19 supporters are the Democrats’ only ace left to save the California senate seat, and what that implies for the rest of the country in 2012 – I have to wonder aloud whether this is the usual fear-motivated political posturing on the part of these Democrats or a more calculated strategy to hope Prop 19 loses narrowly in order to have it on the ballot again two years from now and bring the new “swing voter” back to the ballot box again. If that is the hidden agenda, it is a risky one, not one that I would recommend, because if Prop 19 goes down this year there are going to be a lot of pissed off reform votes out there, some of whom remember when the words "tea party" had other connotations.

Already there is talk in high Democratic Party circles of seeding many state ballots with marijuana legalization referenda in 2012 to boost turnout of these cell phone voters. It's about time the Democrats had a great "wedge issue" in the culture wars, and Prop 19 is introducing it to the nation. What these numbers out of California are demonstrating is that had that been done this year in more key states, Democrats would not be in such high danger of losing the US House of Representatives. Outside of California, these cell phone-toting mobile voters are not likely to vote in such high numbers, and that will make the difference between defeat and victory in many Congressional districts and some Senate seats, too. Campaign managers, Democratic National Committeepersons, political consultants and Organizing for America operatives are pulling their hair out in 49 states of the union trying to drag unmotivated voters to the polls. Prop 19 – whether it wins or loses – is now Senator Boxer’s only hope of reelection. Because she sure ain’t motivating this emerging force in US politics we’ll call cell phone voters, even if most of those that do vote will hold their noses and pull a lever for her.

Here is, also, a word of caution to Proposition 19 proponents and drug policy reformers nationwide who are reading the polls too optimistically and counting their votes before they are cast: The SUSA poll, while it shows the “yes” vote in a narrow lead, also reveals some weaknesses for the referendum’s chances. Among those Californians who had already voted – a whopping 19 percent of the projected electorate – Proposition 19 is losing with 47 percent to 50 percent against it. Thus, it is an open question just how "motivated" Prop 19 supporters will be over the next ten days.

The highest undecided groups are African-Americans (16 percent undecided), people 50-64 (probably some tea partiers in that group, too) and women (12 percent). There is probably considerable overlap in those three groups, too: a large number of African-American women over fifty years old, and women in general over 50, are the most uncertain constituencies here, and Prop 19 proponents need an aggressive final push over the next ten days to convince them. They also need an Obama ’08 style Get Out the Vote (GOTV) ground game to actually get the cell phone voters to vote on and before November 2. In the early balloting, they haven’t done that job well enough yet. The good news is, that Organizing for America - the 2010 version of the 2008 Obama field organization - does have a GOTV army and will also be pulling the California cell phone voters by the ear, tantalizing them with Prop 19 on the ballot, no matter what the Attorney General or "drug czar" say from Washington. Cabinet members do not now, and never will, rule the ground. ¡Olé!

The best case scenario for Democrats, however, is not that Prop 19 loses and comes up again in California in 2012, but to the contrary: If the historic Proposition 19 passes, the pundits and talking heads that generate the misnamed “conventional wisdom” in the Washington DC beltway will be falling all over each other to note that Prop 19 won and it pulled Boxer out of the fire with it. If coming out of Election Night, Prop 19 emerges with the sheen of a  newly-minted winner, Democratic strategists will have little choice but to adopt a “50 state strategy” (especially in the 26 states - Maine, Massachusetts, and virtually everything west of the Mississippi River - that have citizen generated statewide ballot initiative processes), and go “all in” on legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana, even if their politicians continue to balk at saying it aloud. And if you’re a Democratic (or Republican) politician that doesn’t yet see the writing on the wall, remember how most of you were wrong (or late) in your predictions two and three years ago, and that "Yes, We Can" means "Yes, We Cannabis," too.

Update: Prop 19 proponents continue to make the right moves (as recommended above). I just received an advisory that the NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance are holding a press conference tomorrow in Oakland, featuring Alice Huffman, President, California NAACP State Conference, Stephen Gutwillig, State Director, Drug Policy Alliance, Major Neill Franklin, Executive Director, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Danny Glover, Actor, Richard Lee, President, Oaksterdam University, Robert Rooks, Director, Criminal Justice, National NAACP and Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Former Surgeon General, to release a new report, “Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-08.”

Not only is that a good campaign move, but it tells an important truth, too.

Undress Rehearsal for November 2

By Al Giordano

Hey everyone! Remember Katie Halper, who co-piloted The Field's 2008 convention coverage? Last February she attended the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico and keeps doing great work, day in, day out.

Anyway, she's produced this new Get Out the Vote video for the November 2 election in the US, and its been entered into a contest and you can vote for it by clicking this link. Go there, scroll down to the first video. Watch. Laugh out loud. And click that check mark in the upper right corner box. See? It's just like voting! Actually, it literally is an act of voting.

One of the reasons I've had no predictions for you yet for the Congressional midterm elections is that even now, two weeks out, it is very hard to tell who or how many are going to vote. And that is what is going to decide stuff like which party controls which House of Congress. But Lordy, if folks spent half the time they spend teeth gnashing over what could happen and speculating on the consequences and instead put yourselves to work actually making phone calls and knocking on doors and dragging others to the polls - or deploying your other talents, as Katie has done here, to inspire the fun people to vote -  there would be a very different and better result on election day. There is no use complaining that big money interests rule the airwaves if while doing so you are forfeiting your power to rule the ground!

From here on out, my response to those great many who come worrying to me over worst-case scenarios for election day is going to be,  "Shut Up and GOTV."

Meanwhile, you can practice actually voting by heading over to vote for Katie's video. Thank you.

A Statement by Ecuador's Most Important Social Movements

Note by Al Giordano: During Thursday's coverage of events in Ecuador, we accepted on face value that it was an attempted coup d'etat and saw the same international forces behind the 2009 Honduras coup involved in these events. Now that the immediate dangers have subsided is the moment to reflect more deeply as to what occurred and why.

We also defended Ecuador's most important coalition of social movements, the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE, in its Spanish initials) from a vicious smear and innuendo campaign against it by North Americans like Eva Golinger, Jean-Guy Allard, and on her Twitter feed, Naomi Klein (see correction down below) who recklessly accused the indigenous women and men of the CONAIE of being agents of imperialism and recipients of funds from US AID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

In subsequent days, waving extremely flimsy and half-stated "evidence," Golinger and Allard have pressed their crusade to discredit the CONAIE further in a series of articles high on rhetoric and rumor and low on factual content or proof. If this is to become a duel of credibility and honesty between these gringo and Canadian voices and the dignified ones of the CONAIE, we give far more benefit of the doubt to those Ecuadorean voices who have proved for two decades that they hold the interests of their own country and their own peoples high and proud and who have effectively organized and struggled and continue to win real results.

We furthermore consider the efforts by Golinger et al against the good people of the CONAIE to themselves be a form of North American imperialism and view it necessary to call it what it is: dishonesty based on the imperatives of political expediency and worship at the altar of State power. McCarthyism and Stalinism were always two faces on the same coin, after all. Each make their lists, invent false charges, distort the whole truth, as they seek to purge, destroy and silence debate and dissent.

In recent days, Narco News reporters have been interviewing social movement leaders from throughout the hemisphere on the issues raised by this breach and a detailed report airing different perspectives is forthcoming.

Today, the CONAIE categorically refuted the accusations made against it as false, and responded in this public statement, which we now translate for English-language readers. To be continued...

The Alleged Coup d’Etat, Democracy, and the Indigenous Organizations

By Marlon Santi

President, CONAIE

We, the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE, in its Spanish initials) and the Pachakutik Bloc, in response to the events of September 30, 2010, and the claims made in recent days about the alleged  support by USAID-NED to indigenous organizations, standing firmly on our historic process of bringing about a true Pluri-national State, announce:

The struggle of the peoples and nationalities is not an individual one, rather, it corresponds to the collective dream of constructing a diverse country, inclusive of the diverse popular and social organized sectors that seek a real change to end the old neoliberal, exploitative structures and the decolonization of the institutions of the State. We seek a pluri-national democracy, respectful of the rights of individuals, of collective organizations and of nature.

We energetically announce that there never was any attempted coup d’etat, much less a kidnapping, but an event that responded to the uncertain political management of the government that causes popular discontent through permanent aggression, discrimination and violations of human rights consecrated in the Constitution.

We do not recognize this dictatorial “democracy” because of its lack of freedom of speech, the kidnapping of all the powers of the state by the executive branch in its political system of one government, that does not generate spaces to debate the projects, and laws elaborated from the indigenous movement and other social sectors.

We categorically refute claims that the CONAIE, the Pachakutik Political Movement, the peoples and nationalities have any relationship at all with the organism known as USAID, previously NED, not today nor ever. To the contrary, we know that this organization finances the “social programs” of this government like the forest partnership and that, yes, is condemnable.

We demand the constitutional suspension of the National Congress for its failure to comply with the constitutional mandate that it legislate much less audit as it is well known that all laws are approved by the president’s legal minister.

We condemn the usurpation of press freedom when on September 30 all media not allied with the government was forced to broadcast government news in “cadena nacional,” a means by which all access to information is controlled and manipulated with a version of the facts that does not inform about the real dimensions of the situation on that day in the country.

Quito, Ecuador, October 6, 2010

Government of the Peoples and Nationalities,

Marlon Santi

President, CONAIE

Update and Correction: A reader, Dawn Paley, writes us:

Hi Al,

In your post yesterday on Narco News, you wrote that on her Twitter feed, Naomi Klein "recklessly accused the indigenous women and men of the CONAIE of being agents of imperialism and recipients of funds from US AID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)."
I've carefully reviewed Naomi's twitter feed from that day and following days, and she did no such thing. On the contrary, she repeatedly challenged Golinger's position.
I hope that you'll correct this error as soon as possible.
Dawn Paley
We have reviewed Klein's Twitter feed and conclude that Dawn is correct. The confusion stemmed from Twitter posts from Golinger to Klein. We regret the error and extend our apology to our readers and to Naomi Klein. Thank you, Dawn, for bringing the error to our attention. We are actually relieved that the truth is better than our error in this case.

Coup Attempt in Ecuador Is a Result of Sec. Clinton's Cowardice in Honduras

By Al Giordano

Oh, crap. Another year, another coup in Latin America. And while today's attempt by police forces in Ecuador went so far as to fire tear gas at elected president Rafael Correa, the military brass in the South American country have sided with the democratic order - its top general is on TV right now strongly backing the elected government - and this one isn't likely to go as well for the anti-democracy forces as last year's did in Honduras.

First, because the Ecuadorean people are far more advanced in social and community organization than their counterparts in Honduras were last year. Second, because the events last year in Honduras caused other center-left governments in the hemisphere to prepare for what everybody saw would be more coup attempts against them in more countries.

Additionally, we can expect in the coming hours that the police leaders responsible for todays events - you don't need to understand Spanish to get a pretty good idea of what went down this morning by watching the above video - will be rounded up and brought to justice, as would happen in any other country, including the United States.

But, kind reader, do you know why this is even happening? Because the same unholy alliance of Latin American oligarchs who can't stomach the rising wave of democracy in their countries - from the ex-Cubans of Miami to the ex-Venezuelans and others who have joined them in recent years - along with international crime organizations seeking new refuges and members of extreme rightist groups in the United States and elsewhere, saw their scheme work in 2009 in Honduras and took note of how quickly, after US President Barack Obama denounced the Honduras coup, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began playing both sides of it.

It was this newspaper, through reporter Bill Conroy's investigations, that broke the story last August that the State Department-controlled Millennium Challenge Corporation had poured extraordinary amounts of money into Honduras in the months leading up to the June 29, 2009 coup d'etat. And in story after story, we demonstrated with documented fact how Clinton's Millennium Challenge Corporation went so far as to violate the ban on US aid to the Honduran coup regime. Clinton's later endorsement of farcical presidential elections and her over-reaching attempts to pretend nothing had happened in Honduras are precisely the signals that were received by today's coup plotters in Ecuador when they made a run at toppling the democratic government there.

At present, thankfully, the coup in Ecuador seems more likely to fail than to succeed. And there will be hell to pay for those behind it. But it didn't have to get that far. That only happened because, last year, the US Secretary of State pulled off a kind of "silent coup" in US foreign policy while her commander in chief was buried with the urgent domestic tasks stemming off economic collapse and, as everyone knows, small nations get little attention almost always anyway.

This time, the White House would do well to put a much shorter leash on its Secretary of State, because her horrendous and unforgivable anti-democratic behavior regarding the Honduras coup only fueled, and continues to fuel, understandable speculation that if the United States doesn't walk its talk about opposing coups d'etat, then it must have been an active participant in plotting it. The mishandling of the Honduras situation last year did lasting damage to President Obama's stated hopes to turn the page in US relations with its closest neighbors after decades of abuse and neglect. A single misstep by Secretary Clinton today and in the future regarding the events in Ecuador, like those she repeatedly made regarding Honduras, now that the hemispheric coup plotters have moved from Central America to larger South America, will further erode the cause of democracy in the entire hemisphere. I don't trust her. Nobody south of the border does. And nor should you, Mr. President.

Update: Narco News has translated today's Statement from the Office of President Rafael Correa.

Update II: If it holds, this will be the first time in the history of the hemisphere that the Armed Forces of a country stood up against a coup d'etat from the first moment. Now, that would be democracy at work.

Update III: The situation in Ecuador today is further complicated by the disillusion that the very social forces that elected President Correa have with his actions in office. The CONAIE (Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) is the leading national indigenous movement with strong alliances with labor and other social forces) held a press conference today to say that it is neither with the police forces nor with President Correa. The CONAIE and its hundreds of thousands of participants is not only responsible for Correa's election, but its mobilizations caused the rapid-fire resignations of previous presidents of Ecuador in this century.

The situation thus also shines a light on the growing rift in the hemisphere between the statist left and the indigenous left and related autonomy and labor movements. The CONAIE is basically saying to Correa, "you want our support, then enact the agenda you were elected on." Whether one sees this as a dangerous game of brinkmanship or something that actually strengthens Correa's hand by placing him in the middle zone ideologically, it is worth seeing this at face value and beware of getting led astray by some of the usual suspect conspiracy theorists of the statist left who are predictably out there barking that the CONAIE is somehow an agent of imperialism, dropping rumors of US AID funding but never seeming to exhibit the hard evidence. Sigh. What Johnny-One-Notes! They wouldn't know nuance if it slapped them in the face. For them, you either line up lock-step with THE STATE (if it is "their" state) or you're a running dog of capitalism. That kind of Stalinist purge mentality should have died with the previous century.

The CONAIE's grievances happen to be very legitimate. Of course, they do not justify a coup d'etat, but the CONAIE is not participating in or supporting the coup d'etat. It is saying to Correa; we'll have your back, when you have ours. This, like the Armed Forces support for Correa, is also a historical first in the region. And the plot thickens...

Update IV: A boilerplate statement from the US State Department:

We are closely following events in Ecuador. The United States deplores violence and lawlessness and we express our full support for President Rafael Correa, and the institutions of democratic government in that country.

We urge all Ecuadorians to come together and to work within the framework of Ecuador’s democratic institutions to reach a rapid and peaceful restoration of order.

Now let's see if they walk that talk...

Update V: 9:30 p.m. Quito: Ecuadorean military troops have just rescued President Correa from the police hospital where he was sequestered all day. Looks like it was a pretty violent battle, but multiple media on the scene are reporting that the president is safe and the Armed Forces stuck with the democratic order.

Meet the Spring Breakers Without Borders!

By Al Giordano

For those Field Hands who don’t have our Narco News front page on your daily surfing rounds, you may have so far missed this new video, the latest from Narco News TV:

Reporting the constant daily spectacle of prohibition-related violence, massacres, beheadings, corruption and human rights abuses is probably what hell-for-journalists looks like (and since most members of the media are surely headed there, it’s going to be crowded): a permanent correspondent gig from Hiroshima, ground zero.

One has to keep a sense of humor in the gallows, and this video – already going viral (post it to your blogs, social networks, email lists and tweets, and send the link to all your friends!) – is just what the doctor ordered at this point in the winless “war on drugs” south of the border.

You may have also missed Erin Rosa’s scoop, Eye Scanners Being Tested Along the US-Mexico Border, or her appeal, Support the Newspaper that Encourages and Defends My Freedom to Report, or the appeal by Karina González, Proudly an Authentic Journalist. And there, you'll get a glimpse at the people behind this flagship of authentic journalism.

Or the link to the audiotape of yesterday’s Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC New York (NPR) in which author Charles Bowden praises the work of Narco News investigative reporter Bill Conroy: “I have no idea why the US press has ignored this. The sole source for covering this Bill Conroy of Narco News.” (And the interview is damn good for lots of other reasons, too.)

And the newest stop on your daily surf should be Narco News TV, which has been updated with five new videos since last week.

You could surf us all day long from your job site. See? We’re working hard so that you don’t have to.

Telling the Whole Truth About the "Drug War"

Thoughts on the Open Letter by El Diario of Juárez to Narco-Traffickers

By Al Giordano

Publisher, Narco News

Not being a narco-trafficker, the recent open letter from the Diario de Juárez wasn’t addressed to me. Still, as a colleague in journalism who has long reported on the drug war, I would like to offer some thoughts, both for the editors that wrote it, and the rest of our colleagues in the media professions and especially for the general public.

Narco News today translates El Diario’s open letter, titled, “What Do You Want from Us?” which is addressed “To the leaders of the different organizations that are fighting for control of Ciudad Juarez.” It comes from a newspaper that has already lost two reporters to assassination and that lives under daily and nightly fear. The first human reactions to such a situation are sympathy and empathy. But in this case, as with most tragedies, caring is not enough.

The newspaper writes:

“All of you are, at this moment, the de facto authorities in this city, because the legally instituted authorities have not been able to do anything to stop our colleagues from continuing to die, although we have repeatedly called for them to act.”

This is interesting because in most of the world the legal private sector of business interests, particularly the corporate media, have become themselves a kind of “de facto authority” over public opinion and all levels of government. Seen in that light, one has to recognize that we in the media are not suddenly passive victims of the drug war that for too long has been ideologically bankrolled by the “reporting” of too many of our colleagues.

That early paragraph in the open letter can only further rarify the dysfunction and risk of violence through its implicit recognition of “instituted authorities,” meaning government and its police and military forces, as somehow being more legitimate than those of organized crime and narco-traffickers.

As we have reported at Narco News for more than a decade, governments and their policies of drug prohibition are not intended to eliminate illegal drug use or commerce, because government officials – including politicians and the banks and other business interests that finance them – are profiteering off the drug war just as much as the so-called (and misnamed) “cartel” leaders.

We will say it again: drug trafficking organizations are not cartels. We try not to use the term in this newspaper and here is why:

Here’s an example of a cartel: OPEC – the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It controls the supply of a product – oil – and therefore can set the price. Narco-traffickers – even the most powerful among them – have never enjoyed that kind of control over the supply and price of cocaine, marijuana or any other product. It is much more the actions of governments that determine the price: More enforcement tends to raise the street price of a prohibited product, and less enforcement tends to lower it. That’s basic economics.

The higher the price, the bigger the profits, and a higher price also attracts more competitors trying to do business in that product. Those competing businesses – legal or illegal, that’s what this is, a business – have to establish and protect turf against each other in an unregulated market. The more enforcement, the greater the necessity for drug trafficking organizations to arm up with more lethal weaponry; but that presents no problem, really, because greater enforcement brings them the greater profits (through the artificially increased price of the drugs) so that buying and creating entire arsenals of guns and other weapons simply becomes a percentage of the cost of doing business.

The “drug war” of Mexican President Felipe Calderon may be the most obvious example of how government, police and military officials, themselves involved in the illegal drug trade, use drug laws as a pretext to eliminate the competition to open the markets and the shipping routes to their own favored narco-trafficking organizations: the ones that offer the authorities and their preferred narco-bankers the bigger slice of the profits.

And most of the profits come not from the sale of the drug but from the laundering of the billions of dollars in proceeds by banks and other financial institutions to turn the dirty money into legal capital. That means that the real kingpins of narco-trafficking are not the ones fighting the street wars against each other or against the police and military. They’re not the guys with fancy nicknames like “Lord of the Skies” or the recently arrested “La Barbie.” The real bosses of the illegal drug trade wear suits and ties, give big donations to all the political parties and their candidates, and get invitations to state dinners from Los Pinos to the White House.

Those are the real narco-bosses atop this violent food chain (and when this newspaper and the Mexican daily Por Esto! reported the photos and eye-witness testimonies about one of them back in 2000, we quickly found ourselves defendant in a libel suit filed by the National Bank of Mexico, or BANAMEX; so, yes, we know from long experience what the colleagues at El Diario and others are going through.)

“Follow the money” is often cited as the first axiom of journalism, a phrase made famous in the Hollywood movie about the Watergate scandal and the two Washington Post reporters who uncovered it. Well, if journalists took those words as something more than a cheap self-important slogan, the daily drug war coverage would be about banks and politicians and big-money moves on Wall Street instead of this circus-like “coverage” about so-called “cartels” and their alleged leaders, arrests, seized kilos and street violence, most of which involves no more than taking dictation from prosecutors and government officials, their press releases and anonymous “leaks.”

Think about it: the most powerful drug-running organizations – governments – have set the tone, the language, the sensationalist buzz words and the matrix by which most of the press covers the “drug war.” If you’re a street level drug dealer or a leader of one of the competing illegal drug trafficking organizations, the headlines in most of the media are probably pissing you off daily. The hypocrisy is so great as to be enraging, even if you’re not involved in the drug business but simply hate it when big lies get repeated over and over again, louder with every day’s broadcast, and especially when it causes so much human pain, misery, death and destruction.

While some honest reporters have been assassinated or live under daily threat for their reporting on the drug war, let’s state the dirty little secret of the official “press freedom” organizations that participate in this charade while fueling the false drug war narrative: It is also the case that many of the assassinated “journalists” lost their lives because leaders of one drug organization perceived – many times accurately – that journalist or news organizing as having chosen sides and doing the propaganda work of a competing drug organization. Media outlets that accept “official information” from government agencies about drug “cartels” and their leaders, in the eyes of those illicit businessmen, cease to be civilians and become just as much soldiers in the drug wars as the guys on the street with AK-47s.

The dangerous situation for honest and dishonest reporters, editors and media organizations alike is made worse by another dirty little matter: It is not uncommon – in fact, it is standard operating procedure – for “reporters” and their editors to accept payments and bribes from crime organizations and from government officials to spin their stories in the ways their secret sponsors want. Again, these corrupt “journalists” are no more civilians than the police or military official that accepts payments to enforce the law against one group of people in order to help a competing crime organization. And too many of the “assassinated journalists” in the drug war, in Mexico, in Colombia and elsewhere, lost their lives precisely because they had ceased to be journalists and had become partisans and soldiers of competing narco-trafficking interests.

Even when direct financial payment is not made, every journalist knows that documents and other information are the currency by which we rise or fall in this profession. Government officials have long owned and controlled the reporting of many journalists by spoon-feeding them the documents that will tell a story as they want it to be told.

A case in point: In the 1990s, when the office of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo wanted to eliminate some competing politicians in his own party, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), they gave a set of documents to then New York Times reporter Sam Dillon – according to the reporting of national columnist Carlos Ramírez – which were then turned into “investigative reports” in the Times and submitted by the newspaper as nominees for the Pulitzer prize in journalism. The reports tagged the competing politicians as narcos, of course.

The documents handed over to the Times – we don’t believe much “investigation” was involved; we view it as more a case of receiving documents and typing them up into Timespeak - told a partly true story about one corrupt politician – then governor of the state of Morelos – while it fabricated a wholly false one about the other, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, today a possible 2012 presidential candidate in Mexico who has obviously weathered the PR storm. After the NY Times played its role as Zedillo’s spectacular hit man, Beltrones lawyered up, sent the documented facts showing the libels committed by Dillon’s story, and the Times filed an unprecedented correction of its own Pulitzer winning story. (The Pulitzer committee, meanwhile, has no process to withdraw an award once given, so Dillon can still crow to whoever is unlucky enough to be seated next him on an airplane about an award that those few who pay attention to these things see as deeply tainted).

But, really, what is the difference between a reporter publishing falsified “news” from official sources meant to take out a hit on competing interests in exchange for a “big scoop” and possible awards and career advancement, and one who accepts a bribe of money? Official and corporate journalism in the twenty-first century has itself become a form of racketeering. Couldn’t it be said that the big media companies are more “News Cartels” than any crime organization ever will be a cartel of anything? And for those who are, again and again, on the receiving end of these informational hits, it is not only enraging, but understandably difficult to see the participating journalists as anything other than legitimate military targets. I’m not defending these acts – I don’t believe in death penalties for any crime – but nor am I, as an authentic journalist, going to play along with the false narrative that all the journalists who have been assassinated in Mexico or elsewhere were slain because they were honestly telling the truth.

There is even a commonly used street term for the bribe received by a journalist from a government official or business interest: El chayote, named for a food (one of those which some call a vegetable and others call a fruit, so I’ll just call it a food). And the corrupt reporters who receive these bribes are nationally known as chayoteros. Like US dollars, chayotes are green and spiny.

In the first years of Narco News, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that we were approached a number of times by people we reasonably believed might be intermediaries for different drug trafficking organizations, offering gifts of expensive ads on our pages for unnamed legitimate companies. “We don’t accept advertising,” I replied.

“But don’t you want money?” was the typical response. “Couldn’t you use it to further your cause?”

“Sure, but not that kind of money, because it comes with strings attached.”

I would typically give what I call “the Godfather speech” to these presumed intermediaries. It went like this: “Tell your boss that we appreciate his respect and we mean no disrespect by turning down the offer. Of course we have also heard of the ‘silver or lead’ stories where journalists or public officials are first offered money and next threatened with bullets if we don’t do as asked. If that is the case, just send someone over to kill me, right away, because we’re never going to take advertising or any other money meant to influence our coverage. But also please tell your boss that we think it would be an error to kill us because he now knows we won’t do it for his competitors either. We’re the ones telling the whole truth about government involvement in the drug trade and our editorial policy favors legalization, so that their children and grandchildren can grow up to be congressmen, judges, or even president: just like Rockefellers and Kennedys whose forefathers made their fortunes as alcohol traffickers.”

Pretty quickly word must have got around the narco-trafficking circles and there have been no attempts for many years to try and bribe us or threaten us from those corners. For more than seven years, not one. The real threats have always been from the likes of the bankers we defeated in the New York Supreme Court in 2001, and from government officials.

And, again, we’re not out there peddling the official version of the “drug war” story. And we are not recognizing the legal authorities as somehow “legitimate,” nor allowing our pages to be used to promote their narratives each day about the latest “cartel” or “kingpin” (who, over our ten years of intensely reporting the drug war in Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere, have changed names and faces so many times anyway that we already know that this year’s “kingpin” fed to the press by the “authorities” is next year’s prisoner or cemetery plot or missing person, only to be instantly replaced by the next one, so on and so forth). The only narco-trafficking organizations to have survived these ten years are the governments; the permanent “drug cartels.”

Journalists who report on the “drug war” can plainly see what the game is really about: Raising the price of the drugs to create higher profits, and installing favored crime organizations to control it while eliminating their competitors. And it has the added benefit of fomenting fear, because a public that feels afraid is an easier people to control.

The drug trade is a business, and the fact that it is illegal doesn’t make its underlying dynamics that much different from the businesses of newspapers, television and radio stations, or the rest of the private sector. If a reporter or media organization were to unfairly choose sides between one corporation against another, legal companies always have recourse to take it to court. But what recourse does a prohibited business have to redress its own grievances other than violence?

The drug war violence in Mexico is already so out of control and so dysfunctional that some honest reporters will continue to get caught in the crossfire and pay the ultimate price. That could be you, or me, or anyone else. But it is the dishonest reporters and news organizations, or the haplessly stupid ones, who really place all of us journalists at greater risk. They have caused the widespread public disrespect that exists toward our entire profession.

In that sense, leaders of drug trafficking organizations don’t really see things much different than the average man or woman on the street. You don’t have to love them or endorse their methods or their products to be able to get into their heads and pay attention to events as they probably see them. When they see a journalist doing the bidding for their competitors, often based on spoon fed “information” and leaks from government officials who are protecting their competitors and putting their businesses and lives in jeopardy, how many times can that happen before anyone in that position would start to see those “journalists” as soldiers in the opposing army?

That, in our studied opinion, is the root source of the growing threats against journalists in Mexico, in a climate already rarified by an illegitimate and failed state that has always been hostile to a free press. As a journalist, I would never call the cops or ask governments for protection. To do so would be to offer them a legitimacy they neither have nor deserve. And with all due respect to the colleagues at El Diario, their open letter at multiple points reads like an appeal to the government for help. That’s like seeking the protection of one mafia against another. And only makes it more likely that the competing forces will see them as not neutral in the war.

At Narco News, we’re not neutral either, but we are partisan in a very different way, and have always disclosed it: Our editorial position, stated since day one, opposes the drug war and its foundation of drug prohibition. That’s not exactly a position of guaranteed safety either, but at least if it comes to the point where one or more of us die for doing our jobs, we will have gone down proudly in a worthy struggle, and not for a pendejada of seeking fame and fortune by pulling off informational hits on one group of criminals on behalf of another, and certainly not in service to the biggest, really the only, drug cartels that exist: the governments that propagate these violent acts through a policy called prohibition.

And we cordially invite all our colleagues in the media to begin to see the problem for what it is: one of policy, completely reversible and preventable. And on the day when enough of us in the Fourth Estate cease doing the Official Cartel’s bidding in our reporting, drug prohibition will finally fall, as alcohol prohibition did before it, and peace and tranquility will be restored to our cities and towns. Meanwhile, it becomes harder each day to tell the civilians from the soldiers, as the official charade marches violently on…

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