The Cocaine Presidents
Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II
The city cocaine built
Paying for an illegal war with cocaine
Drugs, guns and the Reagan White House
Prison, poverty and pot
The way to stop filling up prisons is to end the War on Drugs, curb inequality and change our perspective on class
Friday, Mar 1, 2013
is behind bars and that we’re the only Western democracy not to have abolished the death penalty. Given that America’s prisoners are disproportionately black and Hispanic, this is understandable. But what’s often overlooked is class — even though the clear majority of white, black and Hispanic prisoners stems from the underclass and working class.
Criminal justice systems are largely a reflection of economic systems. It is no coincidence that their practices are the most humane in Scandinavian countries, known for their high degree of economic solidarity. In a society marked by sharp wealth inequality, such as modern-day America, the criminal justice system can come to negate solidarity and embody the notion that those at the bottom rungs of society are little more than a nuisance. Thus, the U.S. criminal justice system emphasizes harsh retribution, disfavors rehabilitation and tends to ignore social factors behind crime, such as poverty, failing public schools or lax gun control.
America could put an end to mass incarceration by following the example of other Western democracies. Prison terms in those countries are much shorter in all types of cases, and very lengthy terms are usually reserved for the worst offenders. With regard to nonviolent offenders, these countries are also less likely to rely on incarceration as opposed to fines or probation. In addition to other reforms, America should therefore abandon peculiar and counterproductive policies like the “War on Drugs,” “three strikes laws” and harsh mandatory-minimum stays in prison.
Authorizing the recreational use of marijuana — like the Netherlands, Colorado and Washington have done — could go a long way. In 2011, over 750,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in America, 87 percent of whom were charged with possession only. As documented by Michelle Alexander in her book “The New Jim Crow,” local police departments have received substantial federal funding to aggressively pursue minor offenders as part of the “War on Drugs.” Such incentives should be eliminated.
However, it is difficult to imagine meaningful reforms without a change of perspective. The main reason why mass incarceration exists — despite well-known solutions — is that few Americans consider it a real “problem.” Only a segment of the public is even aware that America has by far the world’s top incarceration rate. Some citizens feel concerned, but many think that draconian punishments are “just desserts,” a public safety imperative or both. Neither political party genuinely aims to tackle the issue.
Efforts to reform the system have been minimal because the premises behind harsh punishments tend to stay the same. For instance, voters recently scaled back California’s “three strikes” law. The third strike will now have to be for a “serious or violent” crime, with various exceptions. But penalties remain draconian — instead of 25-years-to-life for a third strike, nonviolent offenders will now get a sentence twice as long as normal. That is still an extremely long time, given that “normal” sentences nowadays are far lengthier than in other Western democracies and than they were in America before the rise of the “tough on crime” movement. But California’s reform is a step forward. Certain nonviolent prisoners are now in the process of being resentenced to shorter prison terms or are being released after having served extensive time.
Supporters of mass incarceration have been relatively successful at labeling advocates of reform “soft on crime.” In order to move forward, the public will have to prove more discerning and not be swayed by the politicians, judges and prosecutors who campaign for office by exploiting fear of crime. Needless to say, elected officials will also have to refrain from demagoguery and develop the will to push for what may be unpopular reforms, a change that seems implausible nowadays.
Most importantly, an end to mass incarceration is hard to foresee without a shift towards a socio-economic system rooted in greater equality and solidarity. The fact that prisoners mainly stem from the underclass and working class prevents certain Americans from identifying with them. As long as prisoners are commonly dehumanized, much of the general public and political leadership may be unwilling to accept significant criminal justice reform. While racial discrimination and other factors help explain mass incarceration, the lowly social status of poor people of all colors at a time of acute wealth inequality is a key reason why over 2.2 million human beings live behind bars in modern-day America.*******
End the war on weed!
Defying federal law, two states just legalized marijuana. A popular campaign forces Obama to take a stance
By David Sirota
Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012
The decades-long fight to end the Drug War – and specifically, the absurd war on marijuana – received a huge boost in the 2012 election, as Colorado and Washington became the first states to vote to legalize and regulate cannabis. Following those historic votes, a
new poll shows the vast majority of Americans want states – not the federal government – to decide for themselves whether to legalize pot. Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) took to national television to amplify the message of that poll, demanding that the federal government to respect states whose voters have spoken.
The problem, of course, is that the Obama administration may cite the 1970 Controlled Substances Act as statutory rationale to try to force states to continue an expensive and inhumane war on weed that unnecessarily arrests and incarcerates thousands of Americans each year.
The good news, though, is that Congress may act. According to the Colorado Independent, Democratic lawmakers from the two states whose voters legalized marijuana are crafting a bill to amend section 903 of the Controlled Substances Act so that it exempts cannabis from federal preemption.
This is a wholly different approach from full-on federally mandated legalization. Appealing to both conservative state sovereignty principles, universal notions of liberty, and liberal criticism of the overbearing Drug War, it would simply let each state decide its own path on marijuana policy. For Colorado and Washington, that would mean letting those states’ new laws stand without federal intervention.
So far, President Obama has been silent on such a transpartisan concept. But if enough people click to sign an official White House petition, the president will have to weigh in. As you can see, the petition merely asks Obama to support the Democratic proposal to let states legalize, tax and regulate marijuana just like alcohol.
In just 48 hours, the petition already has attracted more than three quarters of the 25,000 total signatures required to mandate an official response from the president. Any citizen from any state can sign the petition.
With the Drug War locking up so many Americans and wasting so much money, this is not some minor side issue – this is a hugely important confrontation. And as the fight over marijuana becomes as much a question of criminal justice as of states’ rights and local control, the White House will eventually have to take a position on the Democratic legislation. Thanks to the petition drive, “eventually” may become now.
As of 12pm today, the petition has received the requisite 25,000 signatures necessary to force the White House to issue an official response. This means President Obama will have to take some sort of public position on the pending legislation to let states, if they choose, end the war on marijuana. This legislation got a bipartisan boost today, as U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) announced his formal support for the concepts behind it, potentially making it an issue in the lame duck session of this Congress.
NOTE: I’ll be interviewing U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado), one of the architects of the upcoming legislation, about her proposal on my KHOW radio show today in Colorado. Tune in on AM630 in Colorado or from anywhere at http://www.sirotabrown.com
David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.*******
War on drugs 'not working,' Harper says
By Terry Milewski, CBC News
Posted: Apr 15, 2012
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with the media following the closing of the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, Sunday. After listening to Latin American leaders, Harper conceded the war on drugs has not worked. (Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
News conferences with Canada's Prime Minister don't happen every day — which, of course, increases the likelihood that, when he does hold one, he'll make news.
But it's even rarer that you'll hear Stephen Harper concede that the war on drugs is a failure.
It happened, though, after two days of listening to Latin American leaders explaining just how costly, and bloody, the war is.
Harper met Canadian journalists at the summit in Cartagena, Colombia, on Sunday and readily admitted there are differences among the leaders over the exclusion of Cuba from the Latin America summit. He admitted, too, that there was a disagreement over British rule in the Falkland Islands.
But Harper was not ready to agree that the division over drug policy is so clear-cut. Rather, he insisted that there is much agreement. Then came the most interesting quote of the day.
"What I think everybody believes," Harper said, "is that the current approach is not working. But it is not clear what we should do."
This would be intriguing from any prime minister. From Stephen Harper, whose government's crime bill ratchets up the penalties for drug possession, it was startling.
Lest anyone think he'd undergone a conversion in Cartagena, Harper quickly added the other side of the story.
Drugs, he said, "are illegal because they quickly and totally — with many of the drugs — destroy people's lives."
Was marijuana the exception he had in mind? We never got to ask. But perhaps that was enough eyebrow-raising for one day.
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