Winning the War on Drugs by Quitting

June 22, 2009

The United States has been waging a “war on drugs” for some time.  We even had a cabinet-level “Drug Czar”, who reported directly to the President of the United States.  Reminiscent of the Viet-Nam war, the more we had to win, the less we seemed to win.

The “Drug Czar” has disappeared.  Much of the Republic of Mexico is consumed by open gun fights, kidnaping  and blatant police corruption.   Now the American border states, especially in Arizona, have experienced a spike in kidnaping. All this from the drug trade.

What drives the drug trade?  American consumers, of course.  It’s the American drug user who pays for much of the drugs world-wide, from Afghanistan to Thailand to Columbia, but especially in North and South America.  No matter what our law enforcement seems to do, that demand continues to drive the growing supply.

From time to time, people voice the idea that it’s time to declare victory in the “War on Drugs” and go home – just like in Viet-Nam.  Their point is, there is no “winning” this war, so we should admit the undeniable facts and get on with our lives.

The Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (“LEAP”) is the latest group to call out for this solution.  LEAP claims to have 13,000 members according to Jack Cole, executive director of the national association.  He served in law enforcement as an undercover narcotics officer for 14 years in New Jersey. The group claims 102 members in Oklahoma, including 11 members who have law enforcement experience.  They just put up a billboard on the Broadway Extension in north Oklahoma City that reads, “Drug Abuse is Bad.  The Drug War is Worse.”

LEAP makes the argument so often made comparing the “War on Drugs” with prohibition of alcohol in the 1930’s.  Prohibition spawned the rise of gangsters as the alcohol-seeking public paid for illegal alcohol.  Similarly, LEAP argues that all the crime associated with drugs, most notably all the violence, comes from the illegal character of drugs.  If the drugs were legalized, the market would evaporate overnight, the profit would disappear, and there would be no need for any violence.  Moreover, by legalizing drugs, the use of drugs and drug users could be better regulated and monitored that it can now, when everything is simply illegal.  The idea is that the government could control the quantity, quality, production, price and distribution of all drugs.

The argument is a good one, but the American public is just too afraid to accept drugs, too afraid to accede to addiction-causing drugs, notwithstanding the acceptance of addiction-causing alcohol.  It just seems too big a “leap.”

No surprise that law enforcement types decry LEAP and its arguments. Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs said legalizing and regulating drugs would cause more problems than it would solve.  “It’s frightening and reckless that a group of law enforcement officers would endorse something like that….Look at what happened when we legalized alcohol and prescription drugs.   Now they’re the two most abused substances globally,” Woodward said.

President Obama has called for $14.1 billion to support the “War on Drugs” for the year 2009, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  There is no let-up in sight.  The war goes on, just like Viet-Nam.  We could never win, but we just could not make ourselves face the fact that we were not winning and – apparently – never could win.


Roman Polanski & Sex Charge Conviction

February 28, 2009

The famous movie director, Roman Polanski, failed in his attempt to overturn his 30 year-old conviction for having sex with a minor.  Los Angeles, California, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza decided against Polanski but said he would reconsider if Polanski returned to the United States to appear before the court by May 7th.  Polanski fled to France in 1978 and has been gone ever since.

Polanski is now 75 years old.  He is famous as the director of such movies as “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Chinatown”, and “The Pianist.”

Polanski, in his attempt to overturn his conviction, claims the judge to whom he pled guilty in 1978 improperly coached the prosecutor in the case.  There might be something to that claim.  Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney David Wells spoke of his contacts with that Judge, who is now deceased, in the documentary film “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”  Judge Espinoza in deciding against Polanski last Tuesday even said, “”It is hard to contest that some of the conduct portrayed in film on that documentary was misconduct.”

But there is a roadblock before getting to the merits of Polanski’s claim.  That roadblock is Polanski’s absence.  Indeed, prosecutors have successfully argued that Polanski has no right to challenge anything or be heard by the court on any matter because he has no “standing” before the court.  This is a long-standing concept still very much alive in the courts.  One must have standing to be heard on the matter at hand, and Polanski’s having fled and never returned vitiates his standing before the court.

The same is true in Oklahoma today.  If a defendant escapes or runs off while a criminal charge is pending before the court, the court would not hear a lawyer on that person’s behalf until the person surrender to the court, submitted to the court’s personal jurisdiction.  Prosecutors typically refuse to negotiate about a case when the defendant is at large for the same reason. Until the defendant comes before the court, no deals.

Polanski was originally indicted on six charges, including rape, for having sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and drugs.  He insisted the sex was consensual but pleaded guilty to a single count of having sex with a 13-year-old girl, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  He put his faith in the judge to give him a fair sentence, and spent 42 days incarcerated for psychiatric evaluation in 1978.  He then fled before the judge could sentence him because he became convinced the judge intended to send him back to prison, contrary to a plea agreement he had made with prosecutors.

Polanski is a citizen of his France, where he resides, and cannot be extradited to the United States.  However, he faces arrest if he ever returns to the United States, and he is obviously trying to clear that up.

Polanski’s attorneys had sought to disqualify the entire Los Angeles County court system from hearing this matter, but that request was rejected earlier this month by a California appeals court.

Polanski has an interesting past for other reasons.  His mother was killed in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.  Polanski also has a link to Mr. “Helter Skelter”, Charles Manson.  It was Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, while pregnant, who was attacked in their Beverly Hills home by the Charles Manson gang in 1969, while Polanski was out of town on business.  They wrote “Helter Skelter” in blood on the walls of the home.  Polanski directed four actors to Oscar-nominated performances: Ruth Gordon, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and Adrien Brody.  Polanski himself won the Oscar for his direction in 2002 for “The Pianist,” which he made in Europe.  Polanski’s friend, Harrison Ford, flew to Paris to present the award to Polanski, who continued to stay out of the United States to avoid being arrested.

The US is The Number 1 Jailer in the World

March 24, 2008

We’re Number One! The United States incarcerates more bodies than any other nation on the planet earth-even Russia, even India, even than China. This premier spot is not only in terms of percentages of prisoners per total population, but also in terms of raw numbers.

The United States has 2,319,258 of its people locked away in jails, while China has only 1.5 million prisoners in spite of its 1.3 billion population and our population of 230 million. Our per capita percentages are 750 per 100,000 people, compared to Russia’s 625 per 100,000. In the United States, there are 1,596,127 prisoners in state and federal prisons and 723,131 prisoners in local jails.

The Pew Center on the States also tells us that all 50 US states combined spent $49 billion on corrections in the year 2007, up from $11 billion twenty years earlier. Our rate of increase in corrections costs was six times greater than for the increase on spending on higher education. The inmate population increased in 2007 in 36 states and in the federal system.

This growing inmate population is taking money from state budgets that cannot afford the extra money, yet is having no apparent impact on recidivism or overall crime, the report said. States are trying to be creative to cut costs without appearing to be “soft on crime.” Kansas and Texas have acted decisively to slow the growth of inmate population, making more use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and using penalties other than reimprisonment for those who technically violate their rules for probation or parole.

The largest percentage increase was in Kentucky (12%), where the state’s governor pointed out that crime has increased only 3 % over the past 30 years, while the state’s inmate population has increased 60%.  The annual cost per prisoner averaged in the US at $23,876, from Rhode Island’s $44,860 to Louisiana’s $13,009 per prisoner. California spent $8.8 billion for corrections in 2007 (with a $16 billion shortage in their budget), while Texas spent $3.3 billion for corrections.

State budgets average 6.8 % of their general funds on corrections, from Oregon’s 10.9 % to Alabama’s 2.6% of general funds. Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, and Connecticut now spend more on corrections than on higher education.

The breakdown of men behind bars is one in 30 men between the ages between 20 and 34, but for black males in that age group, it is one in 9 of the national population.

This is one instance, where I believe, being number one is not a good thing. It is time to look at our overall system and other alternatives to locking up people and throwing away the keys…. Alternatives like faith and character based voluntary programs in prison. Those programs (which could be a whole other topic of discussion at another time) have had a higher rate of success and I believe they should be offered on a widespread basis.

Perhaps these shocking statistics will cause our correctional system do some serious “remodeling” to fix it’s broken system.