7/15/2009

The Illusion of Freedom

In America we tend to think we're free. We assume because we don't see the folks who control the national debate throwing us in jail that we somehow are a shining example of freedom.

Yet, this is an illusion. In reality our own government works tireless behind the scenes to insure that we only discuss those things they deem appropriate. They shape our perceptions not with facts and figures and appeals to reason in open debate but rather in the secret rooms where they accept and pass out massive amounts of cash to insure that their "facts" which are often made up out of whole cloth are the ones reported. Recently, huge parties were held in Washington for the members of our Congress who are handling healthcare reform. Massive amounts of money were spent by insurance and hospital lobbyists to get access to them and grease their palms. Meanwhile, the uninsured and underinsured of our nation are made to speak to college interns or send an email whose response is invariably a form letter.

While that graft is bad enough, take the case of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This little gem of a White House group and home to our Pogrom loving "Drug Czar" is charged with opposing any attempts to even study "illicit" drugs that might refute their own propaganda. Any attempt to legalize or even reduce criminal penalties for drug possession is to be opposed by law by this White House group. In other words, we are funding an office within our own government with a huge budget whose sole purpose is to make sure we aren't allowed to exercise our right to change laws!

The latest bill introduced by Rep. Barney Frank to remove the draconian penalties at the Federal level for marijuana use is being opposed by this office. They are working hard to pump out misinformation and grease the palms of house members like Arizona's own Gabrielle Giffords. Ms. Giffords has refused to even listen to her constituents on the issue. Her curt and condescending statements on the subject amount to nothing more than a recitation of the prevailing ONDCP lies about marijuana and those who support decriminalization.

But what does ONDCP do for us taxpayers? Mainly, they waste massive amounts of money. Consider the wonderful anti-drug advertisments you see on TV. It's called the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. They've blown millions on their campaign but as evidence points out:
In August 2001, the office told a Congressional committee that its National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign "has been the most visible symbol of the federal government's commitment to drug prevention," and that the office was "investing $7 million a year in performance measurement to determine the effectiveness" of the campaign. The statement by said "We believe there is a strong body of evidence that indicates the campaign is working, as planned, to change drug attitudes, intentions and use." ["National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: How to Ensure the Program Operates Efficiently and Effectively", Testimony to Congress, August 1, 2]
In 2002, according to a multiyear study by the research firm hired by the office, teenagers exposed to federal anti-drug ads were no less likely to use drugs for having viewed them, and some young girls said they were even more likely to give drugs a try. Walters blamed poor ads that weren't resonating with teenagers. Walters promised in Senate testimony in 2002 that he would show results within a year or admit failure, and Congress agreed to extend the campaign through 2003 while cutting funding for the ads from $170 million in 2002 to $150 million in 2003. An entirely new advertising campaign was created. [Shawn Zeller, "Ads, Drugs & Money", Government Executive magazine, September 19, 2003]
In February 2005, a research company hired by the office and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that the government's ad campaign aimed at dissuading teens from using marijuana, a campaign that cost $1.4 billion between 1998 and 2006, did not work: "greater exposure to the campaign was associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the perceptions that others use marijuana." The research company was paid $42.7 million for the five-year study. After the February 2005 report was received, the office continued the ad campaign, spending $220 million on the anti-marijuana ads in fiscal years 2005 and 2006. [Ryan Grim, A White House Drug Deal Gone Bad: Sitting on the Negative Results of a Study of Anti-Marijuana Ads, Slate magazine, September 7, 2006]
So, we know that the anti-drug ads are a waste of money. After all, we've all seen them and they're utterly ridiculous. But what else does the ONDCP get up to?
How about actually hijacking our television shows and inserting their propaganda message into them? Yes, that's right. They actually "buy" our TV shows and then require script approval and changes so that they can make sure their propaganda gets distributed. They don't tell the viewer they're distributing misinformation and propaganda. They don't tell the viewer they have changed the scripts and re-written the TV shows to reflect a political agenda. No, they just do it. Even worse the shows seem to go along with it. In fact, it got so bad the FCC actually had to get involved and take the networks to task for participating in the scam. Notice, what I said there - they took the NETWORKS to task. They didn't do anything about ONDCP hijacking the networks with money and muscle because the ONDCP seems to have carte blanche to do whatever it wants as long as it is controlling the national debate!

In the spring of 1998, the ONDCP began to develop an accounting system to decide which network shows would be valued and for how much. Receiving advance copies of scripts, they assigned financial value to each show's anti-drug message. Then they would suggest ways that the networks could increase the payments they would get. The WB network's senior vice president for broadcast standards Rick Mater admitted, "The White House did view scripts. They did sign off on them -- they read scripts, yes."[Prime-time propaganda, January 13, 2000, Salon.com]
Running the campaign for the ONDCP was Alan Levitt, who estimated that between 1998 and 2000 the networks received nearly $25 million in benefits.
One example was with Warner Brothers' show, Smart Guy. The original script portrayed two young people using drugs at a party. Originally depicted as cool and popular, after input from the drug office, "We showed that they were losers and put them [hidden away to indulge in shamed secrecy] in a utility room. That was not in the original script."
Other shows including ER, Beverly Hills 90210, Chicago Hope, The Drew Carey Show and 7th Heaven also put anti-drug messages into their stories.

But what about all us folks out here exercising our right to press for changes to laws? How are the "Drug Czar" and the ONDCP subverting that process?

Well, they're hard at work making sure they stack the deck in their favor.
In December 2002, the Marijuana Policy Project, filed a complaint with the Nevada Secretary of State accusing the Drug Czar John Walters of illegally campaigning against its 2002 ballot initiative to decriminalize possession of up to 3 ounces of cannabis in that state. Specifically, MPP argued that Nevada campaign finance laws required the Drug Czar to reveal how much taxpayer money he had spent to defeat the initiative. In April 2003, the Nevada Attorney General concluded that the Drug Czar was not required to comply with Nevada's campaign finance laws. MPP filed a writ of mandamus as an appeal of the decision. The Nevada Supreme Court issued an order declaring that MPP had "set forth issues of arguable merit" in its writ; however, on August 18, 2004, the Court declared that it was "not satisfied that [the] court's intervention by way of extraordinary relief is warranted". ["MPP's first victory in 'War on Drug Czar' campaign is short-lived; Nevada Supreme Court order allows Drug Czar to ignore state campaign finance laws", Marijuana Policy Project]

A February 24, 2005 MPP press release announced that the group had filed similar complaints in Montana, Oregon, and Alaska, accusing the Drug Czar of failing to make legally required campaign expense disclosures:
On October 5, 2004, the drug czar traveled to Oregon for the purpose of opposing Measure 33, a ballot measure designed to expand the state's medical marijuana program. On October 6, ONDCP Deputy Director Scott Burns traveled to Montana to campaign against Initiative 148, the medical marijuana measure passed by voters in November. And on October 13 and 14, Burns traveled to Alaska to oppose Measure 2, a measure to allow the state to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana. All of these trips were widely reported in the local press as being campaign stops in opposition to the reform initiatives.

Controlling the debate and silencing free speech doesn't just end with these egregious abuses of our Civil Rights. No, the ONDCP also engages in "news packaging" for TV stations. See, TV News doesn't like actually having to report on stuff. If you've ever run an LGBT event you know if you're lucky you'll get a camera guy out who will film a few minutes and then a "reporter" will read back parts of your original press release. Rarely will you see a real reporter. So, they love "pre-packaged" news that they can just run without having to actually do much with it.

The ONDCP is more than happy to oblige:
In 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that the ONDCP had violated anti-propaganda laws by preparing prepackaged news stories that did not disclose to television viewers that the government had produced them.[Office of National Drug Control Policy--Video News Release". U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2005-01-04. Retrieved on 2008-09-06>]
According to Susan A. Poling, managing associate general counsel at the GAO, "What is objectionable about these is the fact the viewer has no idea their tax dollars are being used to write and produce this video segment."
ONDCP supporters such as Representatives Tom Davis and Mark Edward Souder have dismissed such criticism on the grounds that the ONDCP is expressly authorized by law to conduct anti-drug media campaigns. [Christopher Lee, "Anti-Drug Office's Videos Defended: Davis Says Ruling That Law Was Violated Is Wrong", Washington Post, February 4, 2005]
YouTube is, of course, the new medium of political discourse and the ONDCP was quick to see the value of it as yet another propaganda medium. Unfortunately, the Goebbels clones forgot the Net is a bit more interactive than scripting TV shows, hijacking local news, and political dirty tricks at election time.

In September 2006, the ONDCP began running anti-drug messages through the YouTube System.[White House Anti-Drug Office Begins Posting Videos on YouTube. Press Release, Office of National Drug Control Policy, September 19, 2006]

In response, many YouTube users began uploading rebuttals and "low-rating" the public service announcements. Consequently, since mid-September 2006, the ONDCP has removed the ability to directly evaluate, rate or comment on any of their messages. Users still post their own responses separately however.

Despite our belief that we are free and are able to have open and honest debates on issues in our country this is an illusion. We actually have offices within our own government who are actively working to make sure we cannot hold a national debate on our drug policy. They are churning out lies and propaganda with our own tax money, buying elections, buying our media, and doing everything in their power to keep us from calling "bullshit" on their activities.

While we'd love to think that President Obama signals a change in this direction, unfortunately, his Drug Czar and head of the evil ONDCP has signalled that he won't be allowing us to talk about this, nor will the ONDCP charged by law with silencing this debate, being going quietly into the good night where it belongs. Instead, people like Gabrielle Giffords who purport to be liberal and patriotic will continue to sign off on their funding and buy into their propaganda dismissing her constituents and hard science out of hand.

Gabrielle, how are you any different from the people who reject hard science on evolution in favor of creationism? You reject the scientific evidence and instead believe the propaganda you are handed by the ONDCP.

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