Our Common Good

Against this backdrop, Barack Obama’s criminal-justice and drugs record seems tepidly sensible; a decade or two ago he might have been felled by the soft-on-crime charge. His drug-control strategies, released annually, have emphasised treatment and prevention as much as jail. His most recent drugs budget spends more on the former than the latter. His health reforms will require health insurers to provide addiction and mental-health services. And his top drugs official has relegated the phrase “war on drugs” to the dustbin, and has warned that Americans “cannot arrest our way out of this problem”.

Crack v coke

Mr Obama also corrected a long-standing injustice in federal policy when, in 2010, he signed the Fair Sentencing Act. That reduced the disparity of punishment for possession of crack versus powder cocaine from 100:1 (a five-year term was mandated for first-time possession of five grams of crack, while it took 500 grams of powder to trigger the same sentence) to 18:1.

On other issues, however, Mr Obama remains a committed drug warrior. Although the Fair Sentencing Act reduced penalties for crack-cocaine possession, it increased them for drug trafficking. During his 2008 campaign, Mr Obama vowed not to use federal law-enforcement to go after people acting within state medical-marijuana laws (medical marijuana is legal in 17 states and in Washington, DC). As president, however, his Justice Department has vigorously pursued medical-marijuana growers and dispensaries, raiding about 200 since 2009. Mr Obama insists that his campaign promise referred to individual users, and Eric Holder, his attorney-general, told Congress that the raided growers and dispensaries were “going beyond that which the states have authorised”. That is a very fine distinction, and it will receive a greater test in November, when voters in Washington state, Oregon and Colorado decide whether—in direct contravention of federal law—to legalise marijuana for recreational use.

Mitt Romney’s criminal-justice record is thinner but clearer: he seems to be a standard law-and-order candidate, though his campaign has been cagey about answering detailed questions in this area. He was the first governor in modern Massachusetts to deny every request for pardon or commutation. He increased the size of the state’s police-force and its crime lab. He opposes drug legalisation and, hauling out a hoary old drug-war chestnut, has called marijuana “a gateway drug”. He also opposes the use of medical marijuana, but has called it a “state issue”, leaving open the possibility that his policy towards states that legalise it might be one of benign neglect. On that particular matter, the choice is stern-faced or two-faced.

That last thing I would say is probably appropriate, except for the fact that hundreds of thousands of poor (and mostly black and Hispanic) kids get tossed by cops every year (would you believe 684,000 street stops in New York alone in 2011?) in the same city where Wall Street’s finest work, and those kids do real time for possession of anything from a marijuana stem to an empty vial. How many Wall Street guys would you think would fill the jails if the police spent even one day doing aggressive, no-leniency stop-and-frisk checks outside the bars in lower Manhattan? How many Lortabs and Adderalls and little foil-wraps of coke or E would pop out of those briefcases?
The mere fact that Mitt Romney is even within striking distance of winning this election is an incredible testament to two things: a) the rank incompetence of the Democratic Party, which would have this and every other election for the next half century sewn up if they were a little less money-hungry and tried just a little harder to represent their ostensible constituents, and b) the power of our propaganda machine, which has conditioned all of us to accept the idea that the American population, ideologically speaking, is naturally split down the middle, whereas the real fault lines are a lot closer to the 99-1 ratio the Occupy movement has been talking about since last year.
The ideology that led us to believe that our safety depends on the mass incarceration of young African-American and Latino men was false. It was not supported by the empirical evidence. It may have been based on superstition … based on guesswork, but that’s not the way to do public policy.

Richard A. Posner, a widely respected federal judge, called for the elimination of criminal laws against marijuana in a September 6  lecture at Elmhurst College in Illinois.

Judge Posner, a member of the influential United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, is an intellectual giant who is the most-cited judge in America. His call for legalization is significant because Posner is considered a legal conservative.

“I don’t think we should have a fraction of the drug laws that we have. I think it’s really absurd to be criminalizing possession or use or distribution of marijuana,” he said. “I can’t see any difference between that and cigarettes.” The audience gave him a round of applause.

The Romney tax returns are a prime example of our increasingly two-tiered bureaucratic system, in which there is one set of rules for poor and middle-class people, and another set of rules for people like Mitt Romney. The most common method of giving preferential treatment to the rich is through semantics. The old classic was that you called a rich kid blowing coke in his dorm room one thing, and you called a black street kid smoking crack something else, and the two got different penalties for the same crime – cocaine use. Or, and this one is still true in some states, the rich white kid who uses a fake ID to get into a club gets hit with a misdemeanor and a fine, while an immigrant who uses a fake ID to get a job at a chicken plant gets dragged in for a felony and can get up to 15 years in jail. Both offenses are simple forgery, but one is also called felony fraud and you get real prison time for it. In Mitt’s case, the money you and I make to support ourselves is called income and is taxed up to 35 percent, but the money Mitt makes raiding companies with borrowed money and extracting draconian management fees from captive companies that have no choice but to pay them is called “Carried Interest,” and taxed at a top rate of 15%.
Matt Taibbi (via lycanpedia)
The United States of America loves drug dealers. They have been our allies in war after war, including the Cold War and the War on Drugs. You must be familiar with The French Connection. Not too bad a movie. In real life, those Corsican gangsters were supported by our CIA. During the Vietnam War, we backed Chinese and Hmong drug lords operating out of Burma and Laos, with their opium and heroin being transported to markets on CIA planes. As our brave and honorable warriors fought the Communist menace, the CIA got many of these soldiers hooked on heroin. To fund America’s covert war against Nicaragua, we sold crack cocaine to African Americans, and now, in Afghanistan, this great, unparalleled country, a shining city on a hill, is again partnering with local drug dealers. Where there are drugs, America’s there to get in on the action. And we have given guns to countless drug lords, so it’s no surprise we were caught arming the Sinaloa Cartel and even Los Zetas. Thanks to your addictions, these well-run organizations can funnel money to all these Mexican public servants, from the lowest to the highest. The honest ones, they kill. They also keep Americans too drugged up to rebel, so far, and I cross my fingers.
citizens-concerned:

Any correlation?
—Shared by Elle.

citizens-concerned:

Any correlation?

—Shared by Elle.

A juror’s job is to decide guilt or innocence. We don’t ask them to make the law. But last week in a Harris County courtroom, dozens of potential jurors said a Texas drug law is no good, and no matter how strong the evidence, they wouldn’t convict.

[…]

"They said they weren’t going to make somebody a felon and ruin their lives over less than a gram of cocaine," Dupont said.

Rangel was found not guilty. Wheeler says it was weak evidence was weak, not the amount of drugs that did it.

But she did tell us, “Given our government is struggling with resources that possibly it was not the best judgment call to have brought a case with such weak evidence to a jury trial.”

Wish more juries would start standing up like this.

There are two very large and influential prison companies in the United States who are manipulating the system to make sure they have plenty of business: The GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). In the first part of this two-part series, I will explore The GEO Group’s influence peddling; next week, I will look at CCA.

If you have any doubt in your mind that improving society and lowering the number of prisoners in our country (normally considered a worthy social goal) is a threat to the prison industry business, all you need to do is to read about that concern in The GEO Group’s 2011 annual report:

In particular, the demand for our correctional and detention facilities and services and BI’s [a prison industry company Geo acquired in 2011] services could be adversely affected by changes in existing criminal or immigration laws, crime rates in jurisdictions in which we operate, the relaxation of criminal or immigration enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction, sentencing or deportation practices, and the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws or the loosening of immigration laws. For example, any changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.

This is an industry that needs misery, long sentences, rounded-up undocumented immigrants and increasing crime to flourish. In order to keep the prison beds filled, The GEO Group and others have paid out millions of dollars to lobbyists, federal and state legislators, and governors to allow our immigration problem to go unsolved, to make sure that no drugs are decriminalized and that an ineffective War on Drugs continues, and to make certain that long term prison sentences, like California’s three-strikes-and-you’re-imprisoned-for-life laws, keep a steady flow of revenue and profits flowing to their shareholders. They are also hoping that our national drop in crime is just a temporary trend.

A historic meeting of Latin America’s leaders, to be attended by Barack Obama, will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found.

The Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia is being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favour of a more nuanced and liberalised approach.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Saturday that he would consider sending U.S. troops into Mexico to combat drug-related violence and stop it from spilling into the southern United States. “It may require our military in Mexico,” Perry said in answer to a question about the growing threat of drug violence along the southern border. Perry offered no details, and a spokesman, Robert Black, said afterward that sending troops to Mexico would be merely one way of putting an end to the exploding cartel-related violence in the region.

Black said Perry’s intention is to work with the Mexican government, but he declined to specify whether Perry is amenable to sending troops into Mexico with or without the country’s consent.

externalities:

Texas Governor Rick Perry - who is seeking the Republican nomination for US president - has said he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to combat drug-related violence.

Mr Perry was speaking during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire.

“It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and keep them off our border,” he said.

“There are bad people. We will shoot the bad people. Then the bad things will stop.” Is there a problem this approach can’t fix?

Any deployment of US military forces on Mexican territory would almost certainly be unacceptable to the Mexican authorities.

The [BBC’s] use of the term ‘drug-related violence’ is interesting too. ‘Prohibition-related violence’ would surely be more appropriate and less ambiguous. And while some [I’m not really talking about the BBC] are initially happy to call it drug-related violence (associating the pejorative word ‘drugs’ with violence), if you suggest a ‘drug-related solution’ such as legalisation, they’ll be quick to suggest that the cartels would continue to fight anyway and that drug-smuggling is only one of their activities, and so on…

My friend Ace, sent to prison for an entire decade for a victimless crime, told me that the U.S. economy would collapse if drugs were legalized. I was skeptical at first, thinking he referred to some shadow economy, until he brought to my attention the hundreds of thousands of detectives, cops, jail guards, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, bailiffs and court reporters whose livelihood depend in significant part on people being locked away for drugs. Also consider that a substantial portion of production in the U.S. is carried out by prisoners, who are forced to work and are virtually unpaid (for my work in prison I earned the generous wage of twelve cents an hour, not enough to cover phone calls to friends and relatives). After all, slavery is still legal in the U.S., so long as the slave is a convict, according to the language of the 13th Amendment. Just as an economy dependent on war will keep manufacturing enemies, an economy dependent on prisons will keep manufacturing criminals.
Social media users who denounce drug cartel activities along the Mexican border received a brutal warning this week: Two mangled bodies hanging like cuts of meat from a pedestrian bridge. A woman was hogtied and disemboweled, her intestines protruding from three deep cuts on her abdomen. Attackers left her topless, dangling by her feet and hands from a bridge in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. A bloodied man next to her was hanging by his hands, his right shoulder severed so deeply the bone was visible. Signs left near the bodies declared the pair, both apparently in their early 20s, were killed for posting denouncements of drug cartel activities on a social network.

Bodies hanging from bridge in Mexico are warning to social media users - CNN.com (via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity)

Sickening.  As economies sink, I just don’t see how this ever gets any better unless we call an end to the war on drugs.  Legalize the shit and use the money saved and raised to offer treatment and disease containment.