Paul Thomas: Scandal a hotter topic than boring drugs war

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It's not every day that a high-powered group of former world leaders dismisses the 40-year war on drugs as a costly failure.

But last week the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes a former UN Secretary-General, past Presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, and a former US Federal Reserve Chairman, did just that.

Given what's at stake you would have thought their collective view, tempered by first-hand knowledge of the hard realities of governing, would warrant serious consideration and debate. Instead the report was summarily dismissed by the US and Mexico, the drug war's battleground states.

"Making drugs more available will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe," said someone from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. A contentious claim given that 38,000 Mexicans have been killed since the Government launched a crackdown on the cartels four years ago; I suppose the operative word is "our".

And that was that; there was no further discussion. The US political class and news media had better things to do than analyse a critique of policies which have had a profound effect on modern society. You see, a scandal was unfolding in Washington DC following the revelation that a Congressman hardly anyone had heard of had tweeted a photo of himself in his underwear to a woman who wasn't his wife.

That was merely the tip of the wiener, so to speak. It emerged that Anthony Weiner was an active participant in the minority pursuit of tweeting mildly salacious photos of one's body parts to women who aren't one's wife. What's more, the woman who is his wife is both pretty and pregnant which somehow makes Weiner's behaviour all the more reprehensible.

I wouldn't criticise anyone for enjoying the spectacle of a politician stepping on a banana skin. Having a laugh at our leaders' expense is a basic democratic right, and it's important that we exercise it. And it can't be denied that some of the comedy in Weinergate has been top drawer, notably Weiner's ludicrous attempts to lie his way out of it. Someone should tell him he lacks the basic skill-set for sleazing around behind his wife's back and getting away
with it.

Even so, it's disturbing that this inconsequential - for everyone but Weiner and his wife - matter could dominate the news for a week. As was pointed out on Salon.com, there was no bribery or corruption, no lying under oath, no harassment, no illegality and no actual sex.

Ah yes, intoned the stone-casters, but he lied, and that's unacceptable from an elected representative. Excuse me? Leaving aside the fact that lying about sex is in our DNA, politicians lie all the time without being called to account. They lie about WMDs, they lie about the economy, they lie about their opponents, they lie about their lies.

In a speech to a joint sitting of Congress last month the Israeli Prime Minister told bare-faced lies about the US President's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; his audience gave him 28 standing ovations.

Birds fly, bears crap in the woods, politicians lie. We take it for granted. The exception is when they're talking about things that don't matter. As long as they confine their lies to the big, important stuff that affects our lives and shapes the world our children will live in, we shrug it off as politics as usual. But if they lie about, say, having a flirtatious Twitter relationship with women they've never met, they'll probably be drummed out of politics. This is symptomatic of the ongoing trivialisation of politics and current affairs. It's by no means an exclusively American phenomenon but, as usual, the most compelling examples occur there.

Recently we've had the nonsense over Barack Obama's birth place and Donald Does Politics, the reality show in which Donald Trump pretended to flirt with running for president. As if Trump's mock candidacy wasn't absurd enough, it was based on a single issue - whether Obama was born in the US - which every semi-sensible person in American politics and news media knew was spurious.

Politics doesn't have to be soporific debates over policy nuts and bolts, but there's a distinct whiff of bread and circuses in the air. That phrase is shorthand for the triviality and decadence that characterised the decline of the Roman Empire.

That Washington can be riveted by Weinergate while the calamitous War on Drugs drags on unchallenged despite the mountain of evidence that it has delivered the worst of both worlds - unchecked consumption and rampant criminality - should be grist to the mill for those who predict, with glee or apprehension, the fall of the American Empire.

- NZ Herald

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