Wednesday, June 30, 2010

U.S. Justice Department budget for FY 2011 -- more waste

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies has reported its bill for U.S. Justice Department Appropriations for FY 2011, with a summary here.

Let's try to keep in mind that the President's budget for FY 2011 is estimated to be in deficit by $1.342 trillion ($1,342,000,000,000)! This is spending by us that supposedly will be paid back by our children.

Total spending in the department would grow from $28,077,664,000 in FY 2010 to $30,031,638,000 in FY 2011. This is $295 million more than the President's request! Of course that fact -- planning to spend more than the Administration asked for -- is not new, but in these circumstances it is depressing that this habit appears to be unbreakable.

The biggest one-year growth is $638,126,000 for the Federal prison system. It would increase spending from $6,188,086,000 in FY10 to $6,826,212,000 in FY11.

However, the congressional earmarking of law enforcement spending is staggering!
Look at this 38 page list of congressional earmarks for law enforcement.
The Subcommittee approved $697,590,000 more for grant programs to state and local law enforcement agencies than was requested by the Administration, and $484,033,000 more than was spent in FY 2010.

This is a form of incumbent protection. Members go back to the voters and tell them that while local budgets had to be cut because revenues were down because the economy shrank and property values collapsed, "I was able to wangle money from Uncle Sam" to run our police department. I saved police jobs with money we don't have. This behavior, if by anyone other than a Member of Congress or Senator would lead to bankruptcy!

Oh, regarding a couple of law enforcement agencies:
The FBI would get another $305 million to total $8,203,186,000, but that is $61 million less than the Administration asked for.

The DEA would get another $105 million to total $2,124,317,000, $5.8 million less than the Administration asked for.

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With rape reports suppressed, are Baltimore crime reports a "pure fiction?"

On June 27, 2010 the Baltimore Sun reported that about thirty percent -- a very high proportion -- of rapes initially reported to the Baltimore police are classified as "unfounded." 30 percent is 5 times the national average. From 1995 to 2009, the number of rapes nationwide has declined by 8 percent. However, for the same period, in Baltimore the number has inexplicably declined by 80 percent!

Sun columnist Peter Hermann reports that this problem goes back to the 1960s and 1970s, and quotes Barry M. Baker, a retired Baltimore police lieutenant with 32-years in the police department that crime statistics in Baltimore are "pure fiction."

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Wal-Mart sued for firing employee who was Michigan medical marijuana patient

Wal-Mart is being sued in Michigan by a cancer survivor who is a Michigan-licensed medical marijuana patient who they fired after a positive result in a drug test, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The Battle Creek Enquirer has a better story.

Joseph Casias, 30, who has survived sinus cancer but has an inoperable brain tumor, was fired after he was given a drug test in November 2009 after he twisted his knee at work. In 2008, Casias was one to two employess named, "Associate of the Year" out of 400 employees at the store.

Wal-Mart contends that it had to fire Casias for safety reasons.

Casias is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Hezbollah drug threat to San Diego and U.S.?

< U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), the Ranking Republican member of the Subcommittee on Intelligence Community Management of the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence, wrote to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on June 23, 2010, to set up a Southwest Border Task Force to protect against what she fears is a potential Hezbollah alliance with Mexican drug cartels.

She reports that prisoners are being tatooed in Farsi to accompany drug-related tatoos, that Hezbollah tunnel-digging expertise is a logical threat for bringing drugs into the U.S. near San Diego, that Hezbollah could be a conduit for Afghan heroin and cannabis products to the U.S. via Mexico, and that Mexican cartels may be seeking to acquire Hezbollah bomb-making expertise leading to "Israel-like car bombings of Mexican/USA border personnel or National Guard units in the border regions."

Is this real? Or is this an effort to set up some pre-election drug-terror hysteria? The great thing about being on the Intelligence Committee -- you can't cite your sources, they're "top secret."

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Should Al Capone have been sent to prison?

Today, everyone recognizes that alcohol prohibition was a mistaken way to control abuse of alcohol. The consequences of alcohol misuse remains a major problem throughout the United States. But outside a few communities in Alaska, almost no one proposes we bring it back.

Many opponents of drug prohibition are committed to the principle that the use of drugs is not wrongful. An extension of that principle is that the illegal distribution of drugs to willing sellers -- if the drugs are not contaminated and of safe potency, and the buyer is an adult -- is not wrong. Thus many opponents of drug prohibition feel that the prosecution of marijuana distributors especially, and the distribution of psychedelic drugs like MDMA, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, ecstasy and related drugs is wrong. And probably some opponents of drug prohibition believe that many of those who are imprisoned for selling heroin or cocaine have been imprisoned wrongfully.

But Al Capone was sent to prison for violating the Internal Revenue Code. But his greatest crimes were murder. In addition, he engaged in extensive bribery and other serious crimes against individuals, the public order and the society.

When we contemplate the extradition of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, the leader of Jamaica's deadly Shower Posse, we need to keep in mind that he exemplifies a long line of criminals who have enriched themselves in the drug trade but committed numerous "genuine" crimes along the way.

The U.S. Justice Department should focus on drug criminals who use violence and bribery since they are subverting the government and the public order. They should not focus on medical marijuana dispensers, legitimate or not, who can be investigated and prosecuted for any violations of state law.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Illegal immigration and illegal drugs

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R), running for re-election says that most illegal immigrants come to the country to bring illegal drugs. Her assertion is being challenged. If she is even partly correct, isn't one logical response -- if your goal is to minimize illegal immigration and get control of the border -- to regulate, tax and control the now illegal drugs?

The enormous profits of illegal drugs exceed the profits of any other kind of business that operate across the border. But Congress's prohibition policy restricts access to those profits to criminals. Because these profits are not taxed, the fiscal effects is that American taxpayers are subsidizing these crimes!

Certainly the public has a right to wonder what a post-prohibition regime of taxed and regulated drug distribution and use would look like. But as long as leading policy-makers insist on stupid slogans such as "the word legalization is not in my vocabulary," we can't seriously consider the alternatives.

Wouldn't those who say they oppose legalization actually be interested in a honest appraisal of actual legalization proposals, instead of their cartoonish vision of now illegal drug dealers still operating in alleys and abandoned buildings as legal drug dealers?

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Still "Pissing into the wind" in Peru, trying to eradicate coca

In August 1983, observing the manual eradication of coca bushes in Tingo Maria, Peru, a Member of Congress turned to me and said, "Now I know the meaning of the term, 'pissing into the wind.'"

It was twenty-seven years ago that I flew in a Peruvian Air Force transport plane to Tingo Maria, Peru, to inspect coca eradication programs funded by the U.S. taxpayers, while helping to staff a delegation of U.S. Members of Congress (the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY)). Today, the U.S. is still paying to eradicate coca there, The New York Times reported on June 14, 2010.

Look at the slide show and video that accompany the article.

As the Times story indicates, our policies and programs are still enriching terrorists, still adversely affecting the environment, and still terrorizing and impoverishing poor peasants. We are spending over $70 million per year there now. I have no idea how many millions, if not billions we have wasted over the past 27 years!

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tax benefits of legalizing marijuana -- a history lesson?

Daniel Okrent, the author of Last Call, a new book on alcohol Prohibition, writes in the Week in Review in The New York Times, on June 13, 2010, about the 1920s arguments of business leaders to repeal Prohibition in order to tax alcohol in order to end the relatively new income tax.

Okrent's history is fascinating, but his reporting is seriously flawed. He lazily lays out a specious claim and then attacks supporters of the Tax and Regulate initiative as "indulging a fantasy of income tax relief emerging from a cloud of legalized marijuana smoke." Okrent does not identify anyone in California, or any supporter of the initiative, for making the kinds of extreme claim made on March 19, 1928 by Pierre S. DuPont about ending alcohol prohibition, "the revenue of the government would be increased sufficiently to warrant the abolition of the income tax and corporation tax." But Okrent acknowledged that in the first year of the repeal of alcohol prohibition, the federal taxation alone amounted to nine percent of total federal revenue!

He says some (anonymous) persons "even believe that a tax on marijuana, which could be legalized by California voters this November, could lead to a reduction in the state's income tax." What is so surprising about this shoddy piece is the Okrent served for three years as the Public Editor of The New York Times, charged with upholding the highest standards of journalism at The Times by flagging the failings of Times writers. One of those standards is to attribute ideas and claims. His current counterpart at The Washington Post, Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, for example, writes today in his column about this particular sin of journalism, anonymity.

It is with specious suggestion that the California Tax, Control and Regulate Initiative is attacked.

Of course the question of tax savings is raised, and it is an important issue with a wide range of estimates.

In the New York Times Freakonomics blog in May 2009, Harvard professor Jeffrey Miron suggests nationwide marijuana legalization revenues of about $7 billion if it were taxed at rates similar to those of alcohol or tobacco.

Paul Armentano, in that blog, cites Dr. Jon Gettman's estimate of $31 billion in revenues, and a California revenue agency's estimate of $1.3 billion annually.

No one who knows the size of government today is going to claim that the tax on marijuana is going to enable the abolition of the income tax. Okrent's column is the crudest journalistic sleight of hand.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

"Cocaine Nation" by Tom Feiling

The American edition of "The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World" by Tom Feiling published in the U.K. by Penguin (2009) is coming out in the U.S. as "Cocaine Nation" published by Pegasus Books. Here's the review by the Guardian.

This book is a terrific overview of the drug prohibition phenomenon, focusing on cocaine. The history is rich and detailed, and almost encyclopedic.

Consider the crisis of violence and corruption raging across Jamaica right now. The government there is accused of killing scores of people in its attempt to capture Christopher "Dudus" Coke, the leader of the Shower Posse. Yet Tom Feiling writes about Coke's father, Lester "Jim Brown" Coke and the history of the Shower Posse and Jamaican politics as the cocaine traffic and its money became established in Jamaica. He reports on how U.S.-supplied weapons that helped tip the bloody Jamaican election in 1980 toward the U.S.-favored Edward Seaga became the armaments of the cocaine and crack dealing posses.

The crisis of violence and corruption in Mexico gets similar analysis.

The chapter on "Legalization" is thoughtful, and identifies numerous unlikely supporters, and examines the arguments of thoughtful opponents such Mark Kleiman.

This is a very up-to-date comprehensive examination of the current cocaine phenomenon.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thanks Open Democracy!

Open Democracy comments on my paper on sentencing prepared for the symposium on the 25th anniversary of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus at the U.S. Capitol.

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Frat and Facebook "Icing" idiocy means big bucks for Smirnoff and Diageo

The New York Times reported on June 8, 2010, on its business pages how sales of an alcoholic beverage ("Smirnoff Ice") that one icing fool called a "pretty terrible" drink are growing because fraternity brothers -- those great judges of the next cool and sophisticated thing (after puking) -- supposedly started a drinking game, "icing" that has gone viral. If I approach you with a bottle of "Smirnoff Ice," and you don't have one, you "have" to go down on one knee and drink the whole thing down. But, if you have a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, then I have to drink BOTH of them. Cool! Cutting edge! And how do I learn this? Via Facebook and the Web.

Who benefits from spreading the idea that making your friends chug a disgusting bottle of booze they would not voluntarily drink is a good idea? The owners of shares in the world's largest spirits company, for sure, and booze retailers. Diageo, Inc., which makes "Smirnoff Ice" is raking in the dough as socially insecure fools get suckered by the "icing" fad.

Diageo, America's biggest spirits seller, told its investors on May 19, 2010 that it is using blogging and social marketing.

Diageo told its investors in May, "We understand consumers globally." Diageo's spending on advertising and promotion of Smirnoff is more than 17 percent of sales revenue, the second highest rate for all of Diageo's brands. North American sales are responsible for about 40 percent of Diageo's profits. Diageo sells about $14 billion in spirits in the U.S. annually! And they bragged to investors on May 19, 2010 about their "Great consumer connections"

Of course, an anonymous company spokesperson denied any involvement, according to The New York Times. But the Smirnoff home page says, "This summer Smirnoff will crash your party."

Diageo's shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange have been trading in the range of $60 to $70 per share since the beginning of the year. In 2009, Diageo's share performance was substantially above that of the S&P 500, which was performing very well. But in February 2010 -- shortly before the "icing" craze appeared "out of nowhere," Diageo's shares plummeted. Since early March, Diageo's shares have been trading below the S&P 500, except for a couple of weeks at the end of March.

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Monday, June 07, 2010

77 bodies in mass grave in Mexico

The BBC is reporting that Mexican authorities have found 77 bodies in an abandoned well.

In December 1999, the Los Angles Times published my op-ed, "Legalize Drugs or Expect More Mass Graves."

Update: The bodies were dumped in the ventilation shaft of an abandoned mine, not an abandoned well.

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Jamaica's gangs capture the state -- a common global phenomenon

The impunity of the criminal organizations in Jamaica is tied to their political power, and their power as an alternative law enforcement agency to corrupt or brutal police. See a Jamaican view of how entrenched are the organizations and their "big man" from the leading newspaper in Kingston, the Jamaica Gleaner.

It is important to recognize that this type of capture of the state by powerful crime organizations through the assumption of the responsibilities of the state for security, conflict resolution and social welfare has been a central problem in Colombia, remains a central issue in Mexico, is rampant in the favelas in Brazil, and is typical of the entrenched organized crime organizations in Naples and Sicily.

The New York Times front page, column one story on June 6, 2010 "With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire" reveals the close ties that a U.S./NATO security contractor, Matiullah Khan, has with the opium business. The state is weak, and security and justice become responsibilities and opportunities for criminal organizations. The elaborate formal rules to separate a politician's political powers from his business interests may have their legal counterpart in other nation's but there is no cultural enforcement of the separation. And if we are talking about an unelected "war lord" or "big man," no one imagines that there is any separation between these interests.

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Violence in Jamaica as police and military seek alleged drug trafficker wanted in the U.S.

Ethan Nadelmann provides an excellent overview of the factors underlying the violence in Jamaica in a May 27, 2010 interview on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on Washington, DC's WAMU-88.5 FM. Ethan's interview starts at about 07:00 minutes and lasts for 12 minutes.

Jamaican authorities began an operation on May 21 to seize Christopher Coke, a.k.a. "Dudus," widely believed to be a "drug lord" who had been fighting extradition to the United States. The operation was resisted, and 60 civilians and officials were reported killed by May 27. The Jamaican government had been resisting the extradition, he was being represented by former top government officials, and the Jamaican government hired a major Washington, DC law and lobbying firm to help fight the extradition. See a Times of London account of his indictment in the U.S. here.
Coke's organization, the Shower Posse, is one of a number of entrenched drug trafficking and crime organization in Kingston, Jamaica and various U.S. cities. The story of the rise to power of these posses is told in the excellent ethnographic study, Born Fi' Dead, by Laurie Gunst, who earned a Ph.D. in History from Harvard University. (The book was one of the principal texts in the course I taught in 1996, Violence and Values, for the Washington Lutheran College Program.)

The posse's political power and initial stock of weapons arose as the U.S. CIA meddled in Jamaican politics in the October 1980 election to support the campaign of Edward Seaga's party, the Jamaican Labour Party, to win the Prime Minister's seat from Michael Manley's more leftist Peoples National Party. The posses played critical roles in that election, and soon were deeply enmeshed in the cocaine traffic to the United States, and the distribution of crack cocaine in American neighborhoods.

Today, Christopher Coke's posse is a major prop of political power for current Jamaican Prime Minister, Bruce Golding -- which he denies.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Justice Souter's explanation of Constitutional judging

Retired Justice David Souter spoke at the Harvard University commencement recently after receiving an honorary degree.

He shared a very important challenge to the notion that the Supreme Court can and should always decide cases simply by fairly reading the words of the Constitution, and knowing what the men in Philadelphia in September 1787 intended. Simple.

I think there are quite a number of things wrong with that "original intent" claim, even though it is very appealing.

However, on its face, I like the idea that the Constitution does not change unless it is amended. For me the most powerful instance of the improper evolution of the meaning of the Constitution has been the reworking of the commerce clause, Article I, section 8, clause 3

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
This clause is the constitutional foundation of the Controlled Substances Act, and the meaning of this clause, or the extent of its reach, was the issue in the case of Gonzales v. Raich. In that case, a seriously ill California woman who used California-grown marijuana successfully to treat her life-threatening maladies, upon the recommendation of her California doctor, pursuant to California law sued the Attorney General to enjoin the Justice Department from prosecuting her and her caregivers who grew marijuana for her in California without any compensation. She said that the circumstances of her marijuana possession were not commerce and were not commerce with a foreign nation, an Indian tribe or among any states.

In advance of the argument in Raich, I moderated a forum on the case sponsored by the SSDP Chapter at Georgetown University Law Center and read all of the many briefs filed in the case. You could not call her possession and use of marijuana "interstate commerce" if there were no money involved and no other states involved. With these facts, her circumstances were outside Congress's constitutional power to regulate. I was convinced that it would be wrong to apply the interstate commerce clause to Angel Raich.

But the Supreme Court ruled against Angel Raich in a six to three decision. The dissenters were Justices O'Connor and Thomas, and Chief Justice Rehnquist. The majority explained that to effectively regulate the true interstate commerce in marijuana, Congress needed the authority to regulate any commerce that might have some effect on that commerce. Allowing all the Angel Raich's of California to obtain and use marijuana would have an impact on the other interstate and foreign commerce in marijuana, even if their use were to reduce that illegal commerce.

I was disappointed and acquired a greater sympathy to the original intent argument.

However, as Stanford historian Jack Rakove has observed, to understand the original intent of the Constitution, you need to look at the volumes of writing that accompanied the arguments in each state on whether to ratify the Constitution. And he notes that the meanings began to change. You need to read not only James Madison's Journal of the Constitutional Convention, and the Federalist Papers of Madison, Hamilton and Jay who supported the Constitution, but the arguments of those against the Constitution. And then you need to read the first court opinions that attempted to interpret the Constitution.

As Justice Souter points out very effectively in his speech, the Solicitor General in the Pentagon Papers case of 1971, when faced with the simple words, "Congress shall make no law," effectively argued that nevertheless that Congress can indeed make a law.

But interpreting the "meaning" or "intent" that a legislative body had when enacting a law is a necessary but tricky business. I spent nine years writing law as staff to the U.S. House of Representatives. In some instances the words in the law are words I chose. In many instances, most Members of Congress had no idea about the details of the law. I was on the Hill in the era in which computers were introduced. Thus staff had the ability to generate enormous bills on behalf of the Congress with thousands of provisions that appeared to be seamlessly harmonious. The old technology of scissors, tape, typewriters, pens and pencils was largely abandoned in the processing of amendments.

I like the idea that judges look at the words, but I know that too often the word choice was accidental.

I wonder to what degree, in the crunch to get opinions completed in the hours before the Supreme Court adjourns, the wrong word or phrase gets used.

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Rep. Mark Souder's moral failings -- the Michael Gerson version

Michael Gerson's thoughtful commentary in his column in The Washington Post on June 4, 2010 on human nature and virtue uses the fall of Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) as its "text." Rep. Souder, former chair of the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources announced on May 18, 2010, his imminent resignation from Congress acknowledging his long-term affair with a part-time staffer.

Gerson notes that he and Souder both worked for U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN). Gerson went on to be a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. His regular column in The Washington Post often addresses "values" issues in the political realm.

What is striking is the virtue that Gerson is most concerned with -- mercy -- is the one that was most absent from Souder's amendment to ban on federal financial aid for persons with drug offenses on their record added to the Higher Education Act. Souder's ban denied scholarship aid to nearly 200,000 (as of 2006) otherwise qualified potential college students.

Souder's ostentatiously faith-based crusades used Congressional resources (listen to a broadcast on Sept. 4, 2004 of an interview on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday) to harass programs that educated sexually-active gay men on the need to protect themselves from HIV in an era in which AIDS no longer seemed so deadly. Souder attacked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for co-sponsoring an important 2005 conference in Salt Lake City to address the methamphetamine crisis because "harm reduction" was on the agenda.

In July 2009, Souder was the Republican lead on the amendment to the HHS appropriation (H.R. 3293) to try to continue the ban on Federal funding of needle exchanges to fight the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis by needle sharing among injecting drug users. His amendment was narrowly defeated, 211-218.

Certainly when it came to the common foible of young Americans using, possessing or distributing an illegal drug, Souder exhibited neither the humility, nor the mercy that Gerson thinks Rep. Souder somehow exemplified.

I do not celebrate Souder's fall due to his hypocritical indulgence in his sexual appetite (well analyzed in Gerson's column by means of long quotation from C.S. Lewis). But I am greatly relieved that national policymaking is now free of Souder's indulgence in the greater sins of "the pleasure of power," and being a "self-righteous prig" exemplified by the counterproductive anti-drug policies that he authored and fought for.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Speaking of Barry McCaffrey...

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who is an embarrassment to many of the faculty of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, presented this Powerpoint slide at an anti-marijuana conference in California on May 10, 2010.

On page 7 he notes the terrible role of Mexican criminal gangs in the marijuana trade. But brilliant military tactician that he is (a "hero" general of the first Gulf war), this is one of his arguments against the initiative in California to control and tax marijuana to get the criminals and violence out of the business.

If you are not already familiar with Gen. McCaffrey's work from 1996 to 2000, I think you will be amazed by these 16 pages of non sequiturs.

He proves, for example, that marijuana does not have any scientifically proven medical value by quoting two court cases and a 40-year old statute.

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Silver or Lead

William Finnegan has a terrific report from Michoacan, a state in Mexico that has long been a source of drugs in The New Yorker magazine, May 31 2010. One of the newer cartels, the notoriously bloody La Familia Michoacana, has penetrated the society and the government. He describes how the organization has "captured" the state, not that the state is a "failed" state as former U.S. "drug czar" Barry McCaffrey has written.

This is a very carefully researched and very disturbing view of the situation in Mexico.

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