Cultural Baggage, July 9, 2008

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
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Dean Becker: Let us celebrate Day 34, 507 of being led to salvation by our dear drug czars.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. All seems right with the world. We are making progress. We even have our sterling engineer Philip Guffy with us in studio this week. And with that introduction of his fine efforts I want to bring in our guest. He's with the Sentencing Project and I want to welcome him to the show. Mr. Ryan King.

Ryan King: Hi, Dean. How are you?

Dean Becker: I'm well, sir. Thank you for being with us. As I was kind of indicating there, business is good. The truth is showing its face all over the place these days. I don't know how much traction it's getting but at least the word is getting out. Am I right?

Ryan King: Oh, absolutely. I mean there's at least that effort and I don't know if there's any better indication than looking at something like discussion and acknowledgment, momentum around crack cocaine reform at the federal level, the most we've seen in two decades. And trying to keep constant focus upon the consequences of the war on drugs in this country I think has educated the public and its gotten us, you know, moving very, very slowly towards where we want to be.

Dean Becker: A couple of, well, an editorial from the New York Times, 'Not Winning the War on Drugs,' very recent, and another L.A. Times op-ed featuring the words of Judge James Gray, 'This is the U.S. on Drugs,' I think it was titled. It's starting to gain acceptance, I think, within the political realm as well, is it not?

Ryan King: Yeah, absolutely. There was also a piece that was in local Mississippi Clarion Ledger regarding drug courts, an editorial there recently. So when the big time papers, the Times of L.A. and the Times of New York, as well as some local papers there are politicians, there are policy makers that are talking about this.

You know, I, a number of years ago saw Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico speak at a Shadow Convention in 2000 in Philadelphia leading up to the presidential election there, and he was speaking about drug policy, something he was quite passionate about. I'm sure many of your listeners are familiar with him, he was outspoken on the issue.

And he has said, from a politician's standpoint, you know, a lot of us recognize that the war on drugs is broken, that the policies and practices that we've been following haven't been working but it's up to the public to create an environment where the politicians are comfortable 'coming out of the closet,' so to speak.

Where they can say that they support these policies and I think that really gets to the real core of this, which is the political unwillingness to step forward, the fear of being labeled 'soft on crime' or coddling drug users has kept a lot of politicians unwilling to move forward.

But I think with constant education, constant talking about the issues and the consequences, slowly but surely politicians are willing to come forward and stick their neck out just a little bit and talk about the fact that, you know, maybe just incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people for drug offenses isn't the only way or the best way to do business here.

Dean Becker: I think it's holding forth in that regard here in the 'Gulag Filling Station', the home city of the Drug Truth Network, where our D.A. resigned over his drug use, the Sheriff's been indicted for, hmm, surreptitious moves, I guess, and the Feds are here now inspecting the county jail. The crime lab's been shut down, I don't know, three or four times in the last few years. We have wasted so much of our criminal justice efforts going after people for microscopic amounts of drugs because we're mad at them, right?

Ryan King: Well, I think that unfortunately we have allowed certain people to cast the war on drugs as that, as a war. I think from the very beginning that sort of rhetoric, that war rhetoric, was what got a lot of people thinking, 'Well, this is a war. You've got to use force.'

And force means coming down with the full strength of the government upon people who were violating. That war imagery, WW II, all these explosions and going after whoever the enemy may be. And the problem with using that metaphor on drug abuse is that first of all, you know, it requires seeing the people that we're going after as some sort of enemy and I think, you know, where it was cast as a war on drugs is that the drug itself is what we're attacking.

In reality what we're really attacking are people. That's what we're going after, it's not the actual substance itself, it's an inert substance, inanimate, it doesn't have any personality or response to it. The punishment is punishing the individual, not the actual drug. And the fact of the matter is that we've known for a very long period of time that this approach simply doesn't work.

You cannot punish your way out of it. But it's going to take a real structural change in this country to move away from seeing drug abuse as something that needs to be attacked by law enforcement, by interdiction to something that we need to work with treatment, prevention, handing over to the people, the experts, and those are, of course, public health experts, drug counseling and other individuals who work in the medical field.

Dean Becker: Well, let's get down to the Sentencing Project. I'm looking at y'all's website which is SentencingProject.org. The top story at this moment is 'Drug Courts: A Better Mousetrap.' And, Ryan, I get calls and inquiries from people who have a youngster, perhaps, who's dabbling in drugs, they're worried, 'What's a good treatment center?' they ask me.

And I always tell them, I hesitate to recommend any of them because any of them that will, you know, lock up people for 'marijuana addiction', and at least untold numbers of people just accept that that is an addiction, really don't have the proper focus. And I feel much the same way in regards to drug courts, as the title of this says 'A Better Mousetrap.'

Ryan King: That's the title of the editorial I was referring to.

Dean Becker: Yeah, and what I'm trying to say here, Ryan, is that most times people use drugs they don't abuse them, they don't harm themselves or others, they're just referred because of that 'government mandate.' You're response, sir?

Ryan King: No, I think you're absolutely right and that little entry on our website is a link to the editorial I was referring to out of Mississippi. But I think drug courts are, you know, in many ways a mixed bag. For certain individuals they're considered quite effective. And I think the question is the degree of how they're used.

Now, a lot of critics have pointed to drug courts as really engaging in net widening, that they're bringing in people who, as you mentioned, that have no business receiving treatment, they don't need treatment and they would be going into the system and it allows us to pull more people into the system and get them under some sort of supervision.

And in those particular cases I think that certainly that the drug court model is misguided but I think there are people -- I was quite struck in some of the early evaluations coming out of Prop 36 in California, the drug diversion program there, not a drug court model, somewhat more progressive than the drug court model.

There were a significant amount of people that were entering treatment through the Prop 36 diversion program in California that had been using drugs for ten years plus and during that time had never, ever received any sort of treatment. There was no intervention there during that period of time. The sad truth of the matter is that we do not have a vital well funded public treatment system.

And so I think, in current, right here as we talk in July of 2008, the sad truth is that the criminal justice system is often the first means of response to get people into treatment. So I look at this as kind of a battle on a number of fronts and in the short term I want to, for those people who cannot afford, cannot access treatment and do come into contact with the criminal justice system, I want there to be diversions available for them, for people who can really benefit from it.

And a drug court system needs to be flexible enough to design particular individualized treatment protocol that's appropriate for the people who come in. So not everybody, whether you've been using heroin for 25 years, you've been smoking pot for six months, not everybody should get the same 28 day program which is frequently what we do see in drug courts.

So I'm not saying that the way they're designed now is exactly right but I do think the treatment model, at least here in July, 2008, as far as people coming into the criminal justice system, needs to be available and needs to be expanded. And then we need to have another conversation, another battlefront long term about what role the criminal justice system should be playing -- period -- in terms of responding to people who are using drugs or suffering from some sort of consequence of drug addiction and may need help.

And that conversation, as far as I'm concerned, really needs to be happening among the public health community, not among the criminal justice -- this is not the venue where it belongs and these aren't people who are trained to address those types of challenges.

Dean Becker: OK. Now another story of the right side, in the media, that says 'Bias in Cocaine Sentencing Remains' and you had talked earlier about there is some progress being made but I kind of liked the double entendre, Bias. It was the story of Len Bias that led us down this road in the beginning, right?

Ryan King: It was and here we are, what, 22 years later at this point, still awaiting some sort of reform in federal crack cocaine sentencing. I mentioned earlier on, from a positive standpoint, there's more momentum, more discussion, more acknowledgment of this issue now than there has been, probably, in the 22 year history of the law.

But the fact is that the sentencing commission has been on record, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, has been on record for more than a decade now calling for reform of federal crack cocaine laws. There's an acknowledgment by senators on the right and on the left that the current federal cocaine sentencing structure is unjust and needs to be modified. But we still can't move the ball forward on this.

There's still a debate as to whether, what that number should be. Should it be 100 to one, should it be 50 to one, should they be equalized? We obviously support equalization. We don't believe there should be any differential in punishment. But, you know, that discussion is what has really hung up any kind of movement forward.

So, as the little news story there on our website mentions that the bias unfortunately, 22 years later, remains. And it's a struggle that we work on daily here, that colleagues of mine in this office work on everyday, trying to get some reform through Capitol Hill.

Dean Becker: You know, it's never included. I haven't seen it written anywhere in any of the discussions about that sentencing, you know, 500 to five, but, truth be told, five grams of crack only has 5/8 of a gram of powder cocaine in it.

So it's really more like 4000 to one, but another story that jumps out at me here from y'all's website, SentencingProject.org, 'Fiscal Pressures Lead Some States to Free Inmates Early,' and then another one, 'Aging Inmates Add to Prison Strain in California.' How long can we afford this drug war?

Ryan King: Well, that's a question I've been asking for quite a while and I'm sure you have as well. States now are just putting themselves into hock to do this. And this is what I think is a real tragedy, is in place like California, for example, where their capacity versus their actual population is about two to one.

They basically have about twice as many people who are incarcerated in prison as the actual facilities themselves were designed to hold. And I urge your listeners, if they didn't hear it already, to dig up on NPR's website a piece two days ago, I believe it was, on All Things Considered.

It was an extended twenty minute long piece, in San Quentin about prison overcrowding there and it was a very good piece about the scope of the overcrowding, how it effects the individuals there, as well as what some of the roots of that are and they discussed the parole revocations and the real failures in terms of addressing this prison population.

And in California, for example, they've got gymnasiums now, public space, they've got to double and triple bunk people that are, 300 plus people that are sleeping in gymnasiums, no private space whatsoever, no private bathrooms, have to use bathrooms out in the middle of the gymnasium. And so, I do urge your listeners to listen to that because it's a powerful story.

But I would say that the tragedy in California, and kind of the proverbial canary in the coal mine, is that they've got this overcrowding issue. They have federal receivership, federal courts and they have a federal overseer there of the health care situation there because they're unable to deliver adequate health care to people who are incarcerated and there's overcrowding issues and threats of federal intervention there.

And even under all of that pressure they still are unable to get any kind of reform. And I'll show you how pathetic it really is. They're looking at having to spend billions of dollars if they wanted to build up capacity, bed space capacity, just to get to even capacity and they can't even move through a bill that would create a sentencing commission, just a sentencing commission that would look over the state's criminal statutory code and make recommendations for changes.

In other words, who's in prison, what laws are putting them there, how long are they going to be there, who belongs there, who doesn't belong there? Legislators can't even agree on putting in place a sentencing commission to look at the state's criminal code and issue recommendations in three years. If they can't do that what chance do we really have to get out of this overcrowding mess?

And so, the tragedy is, is now the state has to continue to rob Peter to pay Paul and they pull money out of different pots and that includes, in many cases, out of education, out of health care funds, and so the real tragedy of this, and it's not just California, but I'm sort of picking on them as an example, is that a lot the prisons, despite the fact they have long since gone over their budget limits but they have to be kept in operation, they've got to keep enough staff on hand to maintain the populations that are there, and so what happens is, it's not corrections getting the money cut, generally, what it is in reality is money being pulled from other places and the tragedy is it tends to be in health care and education.

Dean Becker: I know that in California, and it's probably true in many states across the country, that the clout of the prison guards' union is enormous. That they fund the election of the governors and many of the representatives and so forth. And, of course then, whose bread gets buttered? Right?

Ryan King: Yeah, the California Correctional Officers', the Correctional and Peace Officers' Union, is the full title is extremely powerful and has a long history of being involved in legislative issues and supporting different public initiatives that are on the ballot and supporting different candidates and the fact is a lot of peoples' attention is drawn towards the private prison industry.

You hear a lot of criticism from advocates about the role the private prison companies are playing in lobbying for legislation and the pushing for prison construction. And it's certainly a viable concern. But I think so much attention is paid for the private prison industry that a lot gets taken away from the role that, for example, the California Correctional Officers' union plays in shaping policy.

We've got a lot of evidence of efforts in the past including recently blocking, coming out against trying to reform the state's three-strikes law and the California Correctional Officers' union coming out against that strongly.

Very vocal, very powerful in Sacramento and I think that as we've said the private corporations often get a lot of the attention and I think that we need to be paying a lot of attention also to role that the public unions play because they also have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Dean Becker: All right, once again, you're listening to the Cultural Baggage Show on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. We're speaking with Mr. Ryan King of the Sentencing Project. Their website, SentencingProject.org. Ryan, looking at a couple more stories here that kind of tie in together, 'Drug War Unjust to African-Americans:

Two Reports Detail Racial Disparity,' and then a second one, 'Disenfranchisement News.' And a lot of folks don't realize that the number of disenfranchised voters in the state of Florida could have made up for the election total offset by about a hundred to one. We've got to recognize what we're doing to generations of Black and Hispanics through this drug war, right?

Ryan King: No, there's no question. These are the individuals that are most impacted and I think one of the more distressing elements of that is the fact that in a lot of African-American communities there's an acknowledgment of the war on drugs as an unjust pursuit, that African-Americans are disproportionately targeted by the war on drugs despite the fact that we know that Whites of all classes are using and selling drugs at a significant rate.

And the fact is that in a lot of African-American communities we're beginning to see now an unwillingness for individuals to sit in the jury, or if they do sit in the jury to advocate for jury nullification, in other words refusing to convict another African-American male of a non-violent drug crime. There's also an unwillingness to participate with law enforcement in ongoing investigations and this is probably most famously in the recent 'Don't Snitch' or 'Stop Snitching' campaign that were -- DVDs that were being circulated and received a fair amount of national attention.

And a lot of Americans are outraged at the idea that you wouldn't cooperate with the police in an ongoing criminal investigation. But you need to recognize where that reticence to comply comes from. And it comes from, I think, the very sad fact that in a lot of African-American communities they feel that the institutions of government, the institutions of change are no longer available to them, that the government in many ways is operating against them and against their best interests.

And so the last bit of resistance they have is to simply to refuse to participate, to refuse to participate in the court system, refuse to participate with the police. I'm not saying this is happening in every African-American neighborhood that's out there, obviously, but there are instances that this is going on and I think think that it is emblematic of a frustration of the injustice of the criminal justice system broadly and specifically with the pursuit of the war on drugs.

Dean Becker: OK. We've got just about a minute-and-a-half, two minutes here. One last story I want to talk about: 'Don't Teach Our Children Crime.' So many times through the tough-on-drugs stance we tend to lock up younger children, put them in with adults and lead them, truly, down the road to a life of crime. Your response, sir?

Ryan King: Well, that's, I think, the key division here and it's one that we often point out, where race plays a significant role -- a suburban white young kid who gets busted with a little bit of pot, you know, it's a family problem. The case doesn't go anywhere, it's dismissed and the family is able to address this privately, whether the individual has a larger drug problem that's needs counseling or the person's just going through a phase and they work it through.

That frequently does not happen in African-American communities. There's no dismissing, there's no bringing back to the family, there's the beginning of the engagement of the juvenile justice system and what we've seen legislatively over the last fifteen years or so is that the lines between the juvenile justice system and the adult court system have blurred to the point that the juvenile justice system is really sort of stage one.

And so once an individual enters that system the process, even if they're just put on some sort sort of probation and released to the community, they've got that record, they are -- and it begins to accumulate and we know this happens disproportionately among young African-American and Latino kids -- and once you begin down that path, that's sort of the proverbial fork in the road -- the consequences can really be devastating.

Dean Becker: All right. Once again, we've been speaking with Mr. Ryan King of the Sentencing Project. Ryan, before I let you go, I want to give you twenty seconds to -- I think what you and I both do is try to educate and perhaps motivate people to do something about this iniquity, if you will, of drug war. So, just some closing thoughts from you, Ryan?

Ryan King: Well, I would just try to leave it on a positive note. And that is that I've been interested in working this issue for almost twenty years at this point and I can say that twenty years ago the notion of politicians coming forward and talking about drug treatment rather than incarceration would've been unheard of, it would be political suicide.

But we know have -- even the most ardent drug warriors recognizing that treatment is important and that diversion programs, alternatives, may be a necessary and effective tool. So I would just say that this all come about through public education, it's come about through the public putting pressure on politicians and now we just, once again, bring up Gary Johnson's words which are that you need to educate yourself about this and put pressure on the politicians. They will do what they think will get them elected.

Dean Becker: All right. Mr. Ryan King, thank you so much.

Ryan King: Thank you.

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It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!

Horrible side effects including death.

Time's up: The answer! From Bristol-Myers Squibb--aripiprazole or Abilify® for psychosis and schizophrenia.

Probably for use after you smoke some of that high grade marijuana the government keeps talking about.
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Dean Becker: That commercials running in California forty times a week.
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Terry Nelson spent 33 years working as a U.S. Customs, border, and air interdiction officer. He retired as a GS-13, the equivalent of a bird colonel.
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Terry Nelson: This is Terry Nelson speaking on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

This week I want to share with you a Reuters News report that provides evidentiary support for the LEAP position that legalization, with a system of regulation and control coupled with education and treatment for addicts, will reduce drug use and provide more protection for our children.

According to World Health Organization researchers, the United States leads the world in rates of experimenting with marijuana and cocaine despite our country's strict drug laws. Countries with more lenient and rational drug laws have lower rates of abuse. Findings revealed by the research report in the Public Library of the Science Journal of Medicine bring no surprise to those of us at LEAP.

The survey included 54,000 people in seventeen countries. It concluded that 16% of in the United States have used cocaine in their lifetime -- far higher than the next highest rate, found in New Zealand, where 4.3 percent of people reported having used cocaine.

More than 42 percent of Americans admitted to having tried cannabis, closely followed by 41 percent in New Zealand, Dr. Louisa Degenhardt of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia stated.

Degenhardt's team went on to say that: "Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly and is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones."

The United States has been driving much of the world's research and world drug policy agenda for a good reason. Our country stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine and cannabis despite punitive illegal drug policies.

Not a coincidence that the U.S. also has a higher minimum legal alcohol drinking age than many comparable developed countries and a greater social problem. The fact is the Netherlands, with less criminally punitive approach to cannabis and alcohol use less than the United States and has lower levels of use and abuse particularly among younger adults.

Our drug policy is a failure by all means of measurement. Even though others have demonstrated success, the U.S. continues to wear policy blinders sustaining unreasonable policing actions and fueling violence directly related to illegal drug distribution networks.

Drug dealers accept as a condition of employment that they may be shot and killed and yet they are still willing to take the chance in the lucrative U.S. market.

LEAP does not promote nor condone drug abuse and LEAP believes that drug trafficking causes so much crime and violence that the approach must be to regulate and control them. Let's put the money into education, medical research and treatment instead of jails and prisons. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.

This is Terry Nelson at www.LEAP.cc signing off.
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Dean Becker: You know I normally don't plug other programs but I'm very proud of this week's Century of Lies Show featuring ABC News reporter John Stossel.
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There are only a handful of reporters that openly discuss the subject of drug war. In Mexico many of them will be killed if they do so and I wanted to ask 'Why are so many reporters so silent in the U.S?'

John Stossel: Because reporters love the government and they think regulation is a good thing. Just about, no matter what it is. Even my colleagues who I know have used drugs, they say, 'Well, I could handle it but the government needs to protect us from other people.' And I'm not popular with my peers for my general anti-regulatory stance but my head turned around because I've been a consumer reporter for 35 years and I watched regulation fail on every front. Economic regulation, drug regulation, government sucks at doing almost everything. We need limited government to keep us safe but otherwise government should leave free people alone.

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Dean Becker: Next week our guest on Century of Lies will be Roger Goodman who's seeking reelection as a representative in the state of Washington. We'll also hear from Rick Noriega who's running for the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Mr. John Cornyn. You may have seen [excerpt from the 'Big John' commercial, John Cornyn for U.S. Senate].

All right. We've got to wrap it up here. Let's see, next Tuesday I'll be speaking at the Lions Club in Cleveland, Texas. We'll be tabling Thursday through Sunday at the DailyKos convention in Austin for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

You guys have got to do your part to help end this madness.

And, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

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To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, on behalf of engineer Philip Guffy, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net