Friday, July 18, 2014

Too Late For Billie Holiday

Too late.  It's way too late for Billie Holiday, but today the feds announced they were releasing 50,000 people imprisoned for drug offenses. We are not going to stop locking up hordes of people for sick behavior. The United State imprisons more people per population than practically any other country in the world. Back when there was a Soviet Union, we incarcerated more people per population than the Soviets.  A huge segment of this imprisonment is for drugs.

I don't approve of drug use.  Hard drugs are killers.  But the war on drugs was lost a long time ago.  We have to let those who want to kill themselves with drugs just go ahead and do it.  Moreover, we absolutely have to take the ferocious profits out of drugs, which is what legalization will do.  The profits are "ferocious" because the drug gang wars kill thousands of children every year in our country, even babies caught in the crossfire, and now that same turmoil is producing the conditions which are driving thousands of children to risk death by fleeing across the deserts of Central America, seeking sanctuary across our border. 

The same old sanctimonious segment of our society that opposes decriminalization also created Prohibition and brought gangsterism into our urban world.  And guns.  Up until then there were few guns floating around in American society, contrary to the phony social history you have been fed. Even the cops weren't armed until Prohibition made criminality and gunfire immensely profitable.   

For the past sixty years, the prigs like Nancy Reagan have force-fed us on "Just Say No".  It's vapid advice and silly policy. If we spent the same money on medical care and rehab that we do on incarcerating drug users, maybe we could get them to say no.  I don't know.  But I think it is criminal to imprison sick people.  And treasonous to have public policies that make real criminals rich and cause children to die.

So it's beginning to end now, the long nightmare of delusion about prison for drug offenses.  If the Obama administration gets this monkey off our backs, then that accomplishment is equal to his getting health insurance for our people and full rights and respect for our gay brothers and sisters. 

But it's too late for Billie Holiday, our precious musical genius, who  -  with Louis Armstrong, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walt Whitman  -  transformed the world of art.  They are the greatest of America's artistic geniuses and innovators. They are of worldwide importance.  But Billie died in a hospital room, under arrest for drugs, believing in her last moments that she faced an arraignment the next morning.  What a disgrace!  Not of her but of us.  And the same disgrace coats the federal prison term she had served a few years before.  We jailed a genius for drug possession!  A genius!

No, I won't take your time to bemoan the conditions of her childhood that led her to the world of drugs  -   the poverty, early rape, ignorant mother, homelessness and hopelessness.  It was while working in a whorehouse as a teenager that Billie heard the recordings of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith and knew what she must do.  Terrible the road that led her to that whorehouse, but blessed are we that she heard those recordings.  Hers is a strange and heartbreaking story but she left us a treasure beyond gold.  By contrast, Nancy Reagan and her ilk leave us nothing but a vinegary image already fading away.  And thank God Nancy is fading.  Forget her.  Forget the bitterness and hatred she and her husband sowed in our country.  

Just remember Billie.

Go listen to her now.  And ask her forgiveness.


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