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News (Media Awareness Project) - US NY: Column: Google's Smoke And Mirrors
Title:US NY: Column: Google's Smoke And Mirrors
Published On:2012-02-02
Source:New York Daily News (NY)
Fetched On:2012-02-03 06:02:21

An Online Town Hall With President Obama Omits a Popular Question
About Legalizing Pot

Google is more interested in probing our President about how he feels
about dancing and late-night snacks than asking about whether people
should still be going to jail for smoking a joint.

Really. On Monday, the Internet company and its video division
YouTube sponsored a "hangout" with President Obama, in which regular
people posed questions to him via live or recorded video or in
writing. It's what a question-and-answer session after one of FDR's
Fireside Chats could have been like. Very interactive, very
participatory, very town hall.

In theory. But when it comes to the politics of pot, democracy has its limits.

YouTube's top-voted question for the President came from a retired
Los Angeles cop, Stephen Downing. He noted that Gallup polling now
reveals more Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana than
opposed to it, and asked, "What do you say to this growing voter
constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have
delivered in your first term?"

Yet Google ignored the query. Instead, its Q and A closed with
participants peppering Obama with utterly inconsequential personal
questions of the "boxers or briefs" variety.

Marijuana legalization is urgent. For one, if finally enacted, it
would play a vastly larger role in getting America past race than
monthly hand-wringing over Newt Gingrich's insights on inner-city
work habits or whether Michelle Obama is an angry black woman.

New York's controversial stop-and-frisks, for example, aren't only
about finding illegal weapons. They're also about checking
darker-skinned young people for possession of marijuana. Sometimes
they have some. Usually they don't.

Just Wednesday came news that, in 2011, low-level pot arrests in the
five boroughs rose for the seventh straight year - to a total of
50,684, according to an analysis by the Drug Policy Alliance. This
happened even though in September, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly
issued a directive telling officers not to make a collar unless the
pot was in plain view.

In your heart of hearts, have you ever asked yourself why so many
brown-skinned young men seem so fundamentally alienated from society,
decades after the fading away of overt racism?

Imagine if your main contact with whites growing up was tense
encounters with often surly cops. Not everybody can overcome
imprinting experiences of that kind. And pretty soon, you even have
influential writers like Charles Blow of The New York Times
erroneously surmising that black New Yorkers are moving South not for
the low cost of living, but to escape these stop-and-frisks.

Anti-weed laws muck up our societal discourse in infinite ways.

Now, when it comes to heroin or cocaine, opinions will differ as to
whether they should be on sale at Duane Reade. But this war on weed
is inexcusable.

An alternate America in which there were no reason to bust anyone for
using or selling marijuana is utterly plausible - and better. On
Tuesday, for example, New York cops arrested three twentysomethings
for devoting a five-story townhouse to growing marijuana.

Admit it: Reading that, you almost certainly chuckled internally.

What grievous harm to society were those plants about to wreak?
Arrests like these will look as stupid in the future as gangsters
having to ship liquor under cover of night does in "Boardwalk Empire" now.

Wouldn't these things be especially clear to exactly the "hip" young
people YouTube is courting by highlighting Obama's take on eating
late at night? What kind of hipness, what kind of honesty, is
reflected in a conversation with the President in which such a vital
issue is censored, as if someone asked Obama whether he was still
beating his wife?

I'm afraid Google, in all of its coolitude, has a tin ear for what
matters in the real world. In terms of the impact of the war on weed
on minority communities, this slap in the face to Downing - white
though he happens to be - was also a perfect way to transition us
from Dr. King's birthday into Black History Month.

"Broadcast Yourself," YouTube tells us. To YouTube this week, I say,
"Heal Thyself."
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