T-Ball and the Political Butterfly

T-Ball and the Political Butterfly







For those of you who’ve had a thigh-high slugger of your own charge onto an opening day baseball field, you might appreciate how “T-Ball” has become an appropriate metaphor to explain American politics, partisan economic theories and even the legalization of marijuana.

Picture opening day—in your mind’s eye—the color guard marches off the diamond from behind the bump—that’s the pitcher’s mound for non-baseball speakers—as your slugger,  with a new un-scuffed little mitt and clean MLB replica uniform, charges out to his or her position on the diamond.  “Play ball” the umpire shouts, with the bleachers full and parents standing along the foul lines brimming with pride, prepared to shout instructions like, “run”—as if the little people wouldn’t know.

The coach puts the ball up on the “T” for each little slugger and eventually the ball is put in play.  Now, for those little thigh-high outfielders the game doesn’t seem to require much of their involvement and as spring would have it, a few butterflies wander through the field.  To the hollering of alert parents, the coach looks up to find his entire outfield, led by his second baseman, in hot pursuit of the most fascinating of all opening day wonders, the “Monarch” butterfly.

It really doesn’t take much imagination to understand the metaphor and see how easily the “Monarch” of partisanship politics distracts Americans these days.  Yes, politics in America seems more and more like a T-Ball game—the kids get distracted and the parents start yelling.  The politicians keep putting balls on the “T” but no one really knows who’s releasing the butterflies—the Monarch of campaign cash.

The goal, it seems to me, is to keep America distracted like the T-Ball team.  None of it seems to means too much as long as kids get a slice of pizza after the game and everyone forgets what was won or lost—if anything.

The War on Drugs

The past few years have taught many people to be wary of political butterflies—like fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings.   This has been particularly the case, with probably the biggest political butterfly in recent American history—the war on drugs.

The war on drugs has destroyed lives, families, filled our prisons and built an industrial prison empire.  According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”

Gavel and LeafU.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people—that’s half a million more prisoners than China which has a population five times greater than the United States.

According to a recently released info-graphic by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the percentage of inmates currently in federal prison for drug offenses has risen consistently over decades, all the way from 16 percent in 1970 to over 50 percent.

As the number of people convicted of drug offenses has gone up, the federal prison population has increased—almost 790 percent since 1980, when there were only about 25,000 inmates, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report.  Today, there are more than 215,000 inmates in federal prison, the BOP reports.

For those who’ve invested in the prison industry– the tycoons–it has been like finding a pot of gold.  Only they didn’t really find anything but politicians—with no shame—willing to fear monger the public for political support and lobby money.

Think about it, they haven’t had to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.

So, the more people that could be marginalized through “one strike types of mandatory imprisonment legislation” the better for business.  This is to say nothing of the economic benefits that grew out of militarizing local police departments.  It was a win-win for capitalists and politicians.

Now, when balanced against the interests of the prison industrial complex, marijuana liberalization becomes a perplexing issue for politicians.  In whose basket do politician’s put their political eggs:  Prison and law enforcement’s—for lobby money and political muscle?  Do they get behind marijuana legalization—and split on public support to get increased state tax revenues which promise help to solve burgeoning budget dilemmas?  Or, do they attempt to balance on the political tight-rope to have their cake and eat it too?

What political effects?

When asked about the political effects of marijuana legalization, DePaul University Journalism Program Director Bruce Evensen, Ph.D., responded, What are its political effects—more numbness.”

Prof. Evensen, sees the trend toward legalization as A celebration of self-indulgence for the self-indulgent.”   He asks, “With all that we know about marijuana and its effects and all we know about how hard it is for kids to get a professional start in a difficult economy, we’re legalizing marijuana use?”

On the other hand, when the dark clouds of middle-class economics are forecasted into the political equation, the smart money may be on walking the political tight-rope or at least staying out of the way.  Legalization also serves to anesthetize the public from the reality of their growing inequality.

Commercial Advertisements for Marijuana

America has come a long way however, in fact, all the way to the point of having commercial advertisements for marijuana on television.  Although Comcast has yet to air prime time marijuana commercials or commercials for recreational use, how far away can they really be?  Just a thought, but I can really see some competition for Super Bowl commercials on the horizon—you?

According to Clarence Page from the Chicago Tribune, they started running ads promoted by MarijuanaDoctors.com, March 3 late at night on Comcast cable stations in states where marijuana is legal for medicinal use.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for, or against, marijuana legalization.  In fact, I’ll say that, but for the bad politics surrounding the war on drug legalization we would have had a sensible public policy long ago—one that reflected the public’s best interest.MJ Jars

If, in fact, there is an important medicinal purpose for marijuana then my case has been made.  Politics prevailed over the public good.  How many political butterflies have flown across this field?

Some people would have you believe that the long-hair, tie-dye types cut their hair, put on Armani suits and got serious about legalizing marijuana.  I’m not trying to marginalize the long hard struggle these advocates have endured, but something else is afoot too.

In his article, Clarence Page observes that the great marijuana debate has begun to shift nationally from whether it should be legalized to how it should be regulated.  Importantly, a majority of Americans—55 percent—say they favor laws allowing adults to buy small quantities of marijuana from state-licensed businesses, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Recreational Sales of Marijuana

State revenue officials in Colorado reported on Monday, in the world’s first accounting of the recreational pot business, that since January $14.02 million worth of recreational pot was sold collecting roughly $2.01 million in taxes.

Recreational sales of marijuana is projected to make up about $610 million of the state’s industry which could reach $1 billion in sales in the next fiscal year according to the budget proposal of from Gov. John W. Hickenlooper.

These figures offered one of the first glimpses into how the bustling market for recreational marijuana was beginning to reshape government bottom lines — an important question as marijuana advocates push to expand legalization beyond Colorado and Washington State into states including Arizona, Alaska and Oregon.

Expanding the market for the federally prohibited plant could give states money for school construction, health care, substance-abuse programs and public health.  Marijuana advocates, have made taxes one of the major selling points toward legalization.

In November, voters across Colorado’s otherwise tax-averse state overwhelmingly approved 25 percent taxes on recreational marijuana.

Be Wary of Political Butterflies

Now, remember that I said, I’m wary of political butterflies?  Consider the unlikely partnerships now finding common ground around the decriminalization of pot.

When tea party Republicans like Rand Paul start teaming with liberal Democrats like Sen. Patrick Leahy or Sen. Dick Durbin gets the support of Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee, I start checking supplies in the bomb shelter.

Really, when Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Robert Scott, (D-Virginia) and tea party Republican Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) start joining forces on sentencing changes for marijuana possession, I’m looking for butterflies.

Since 1980, the “arrest and prosecution industry” – from the Drug Enforcement Agency down to local police chiefs and district attorneys –have relied on the drug war not just for their paychecks, but for their sense of purpose.  Remember, they’ve been the political muscle for electing platoons of politicians who found convenience in fear mongered attacks on an unrepresented class—drug criminals.

When Did Public Opinion Become a Matter of Mutual-Political Importance?

Texas LeafNow, when anti-government regulation, pro-states rights, GOP potential presidential candidates like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry start back-peddling toward being open to medical marijuana, I say, something is fishy—and I’m not talking about the most recent medicinal   pot TVad, promoted by MarijuanaDoctors.com, that aims to connect patients with doctors who will recommend the drug.

Seriously, this country is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions—I mean Old Testament, real wrath of god type stuff, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes and volcanoes, the dead rising from the graves, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria—something ‘s not right!

When in recent political history, has public opinion become a matter of mutual-political importance?  This should be disconcerting for middle-class Americans and not because of the change in policy, but because of the strangeness of bedfellows at a time when politicians can agree about nothing—butterflies everywhere!

It’s seems naïve if not illogical to accept that this shift on marijuana policy doesn’t have another agenda.

Uncertain Economic Times and the Manipulators

Allow me a bit of wonky explanation before telling you why I see another butterfly.  Given that US-based corporations’ have a growing dependence on foreign workers and markets. The conservative coalition and their campaign funders now want to reconstitute the broad contours of the pre-1929 domestic US economy while sustaining the global Pax Americana.

Here’s what I mean, for the first time since the end of World War II, the United States achieved a state of relative peace in the world.  President Barack Obama’s timetable of withdrawing American combat forces from Afghanistan marks the end of a century of warfare that began in 1914 when World War I erupted.   Yes, the elusive dream of Pax Americana– Latin for “American Peace” — is finally coming into focus.

For labor, these are uncertain economic times to be sure and the manipulators of Pax Americana who have financially captured congress, while doing little to reciprocate for the economic havoc brought on the American middle-class since 2007, hope to continue enjoying stagnating wages and record profits.

It’s unclear how much, if any, improvement in workers’ wages the American middle-class can expect in an environment of vulture capitalism, now unchecked by political will.   Simply said, our elected government is bought and paid for by capitalists.

Author, David Simon observantly asks, “What can be done when those with the power to change the divide are those that benefit most from it?”

At least until a movement for election reform radicalizes and rises to level the playing field for a more direct form of democracy in America, we can expect plenty of butterflies.  Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig, does a solid job of explaining why election reform is the first order of business for America.

So, while capitalists toss a few coins to our politicians—who increasingly can be bought on the cheap—public use of marijuana becomes a functional solution to their concerns about radicalized labor.  Keep people under-employed, thankful for their stagnant wages, fewer available jobs and the masses stoned, so they don’t organize, radicalize and rise up.

Sharpening Social Conflicts Loom 

It would be good if there were an economic forecast out there—other than President Obama’s—that assumes the sky is not going to fall.

“This year’s  short-term and long-term economic forecasts are substantially worse than last year’s, even though the economy performed better than expected in 2013,” says Floyd Norris in his article, “A Dire Economic Forecast Based on New Assumptions” for the New York Times.

The new forecasts assume that the labor force participation rate–the proportion of people of working age who want to work–will continue to decline.

The latest move by the Obama Administration is to confront corporations that have had soaring profits while wages have stagnated in an attempt to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers.  In his politically calculated maneuver, Mr. Obama’s action is likely to anger some of the business lobby in Washington, which has long fought for companies wanting to avoid paying overtime.

However, in using his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules, Mr. Obama’s decision is likely to be seen merely as a retaliatory challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25.

Again, more political butterflies and nothing in all this—even if accomplished—is going to measurably lift our declining middle-class into the huge gap of inequality that’s continuing to grow.  Maybe the political class could demonstrate to the public exactly how to live on $7.25 per hour while serving the remainder of their duly elected terms—couldn’t the president do that by executive order too?

Conservative’s don’t all have to embrace marijuana legalization, just don’t get in the way—let liberal advocates enjoy the distraction—give them a relatively small victory and pay a few bills.  In fact, politicians don’t even need to see the big picture here, as long as election reform doesn’t gain traction and labor stays unorganized, stoned and complacent.

The crisis since 2007 has exposed capitalism’s instability and injustices. It has revived interest in the New Deal’s labor-radical coalitions and its policy alternatives.  Previously effective ways of stifling criticism of capitalism no longer work and what better way than allow a calculated political victory while anesthetizing the masses?


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