Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Major New U.S. Efforts in Mexico -- Intelligence drones

The U.S. is flying intelligence gathering drones over Mexico, wiretapping Mexican suspects, and U.S. agents are carrying weapons contrary to official Mexican policy, The New York Times confirmed in a report March 16.

Yet U.S. agencies are not cooperating with each other - a chronic issue that is 40 years old -- but the DEA has time and resources to raid dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana and California.

Perhaps this is part of the public relations of the Obama Administration making up to Mexico's President Calderon who was humiliated by
leaked U.S. State Department cables posted by Wikileaks.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Follow the Money!!

I am continually reminded about how often I am wrong. (I keep hoping this awareness makes me smarter.) Today I am indebted to Sam Smith.
For example, when asked how big a role the private prisons industry played in promoting the war on drugs in the 1980s, I always have said, "None." In all the meetings and hearings on the subject that I participated in, I never heard or met anyone shilling for the private prison industry. My perspective has been shaped by the speeches I heard (or wrote), or the hearings I attended (or set up) that focused on the emotions around drugs -- the fears, the anger at traffickers, etc.

But I rarely went to fundraisers and I never examined campaign finance reports.

Sam Smith, one of my favorite political analysts, who touts himself as "Washington's most unofficial source," posted this on his Progressive Review blog:

Sam Smith - I have long puzzled over the fact that the North got so emotionally involved in the Civil War. I know the argument of loyalty to union and so forth, but the cost was so immense that I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it. Perhaps it's because we now live in such an amoral time that it's hard to relate to so many giving up so much out of conscience.

But this morning searching for something in one of my books, I came across this passage:

"In America, by the time of the Civil War, slaves were the country's most valuable capital asset. In a nation with an annual federal budget of only $50 million, slaves had a market value of $2 billion, or more than twice that of all the country's railroads."

I had never before thought about what a huge financial interest northern businesses and workers had in ending slavery.

So my question for all you historians out there who correct me on other stuff is this: how big a factor was economic self interest in the north's desire to save the union?

How much is economic self-interest driving the war on drugs status quo? More than I have given it credit for.
The antidote? Mobilize others' self interest.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Obama courts young voters, again

The Washington Post has a long front-page story on March 14 on Obama's campaign to reignite the 2008 enthusiasm of students.

Reading the account leaves me shaking my head at the utterly canned and insincere nature of this project. It is an echo of so many of his political and policy blunders that have driven his popularity down.

From what I hear, the Administration has been surprisingly out of touch with young people on a host of issues.

Regarding drug policy, for example, the President muffed questions on marijuana in on-line forums. In March 2009, he mocked the questioners on the subject, and with no follow-up in two years, they evidently abandoned the White House Internet question format altogether at That's got to be real impressive to young people.

Medical marijuana policy is a confusing hash offering no guidance to states for effective regulation. 15 state legalize medical marijuana and the Administration position is where it was in the FIRST Bush Administration -- no such thing as medical use. Dr. Lyle Craker at U Mass has still been denied DEA registration to grow research grade marijuana that could lead to standardized marijuana essential for pharmacy distribution, after more than 10 years.

Obama's nomination of Michelle Leonhart to head DEA is another example of unimaginative, passionless, indifferent policy-making. Leonhart, the leading bureaucratic enemy of medical marijuana, is the last person he should have picked if he wanted a coherent policy that reflected both the science and the popular will. After all, in 2008, medical marijuana got a higher percentage of the vote in Michigan than he did!

The crack cocaine reform signed in August by Obama is ignored and frustrated by prosecutors at sentencing. Sadly, the White House and Attorney General do not really direct the Justice Department where appropriate policy making should be made.

On using his Constitutional power of pardon and reprieve to correct injustices, Obama's callous indifference to patently unjust sentences is appalling. Consider Clarence Aaron, serving three life sentences concurrently, for being a courier for a Mobile, AL crack gang. He was a college student at the time, with no record, and received about $1500 for his role. The leaders of the gang, with prior records, all cut deals and have been free for years.

His White House "drug czar" is patently clueless in his speeches and comments His insistence that there is no longer a war on drugs -- because he said so in 2009 -- typifies his adherence to talking points in lieu of thoughtful discourse. Read what On columnist present at The Seattle Times said about his highly anticipated recent editorial board meeting there: "Kerlikowske's evasive, canned answers and lack of force made this a regular editorial board meeting. . . Really, even when pressed, he did not say much of anything."

Sadly, that says it all regarding the Obama White House on one issue that is important to young people.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Marian Wright-Edelman on "The New Jim Crow"

Marian Wright-Edelman, the founder of the Children's Defense Fund, reviews The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander on Huffington Post.

I heartily recommend this book.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Political success: perseverance and outreach

The University of Maryland at College Park has adopted a "Good Samaritan" policy. In order to encourage students to call for emergency help when a student has passed out or otherwise may be endangered by drugs or alcohol, the policy removes the threat of punishment. This is a triumph of evidence-based health promotion over the ineffective "let's punish them to send a message" paradigm of university bureaucrats steeped in zero tolerance slogans, after at least a four-year struggle.

How this policy was adopted by the university is briefly recounted in this editorial by the official university newspaper, The Diamondback.

The editorial recognizes that the leaders and members of Maryland's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, beginning with Stacia Cosner, executed the elementary political ground rules of expanding your base, enlisting allies, and building an organization that will persevere after you have to move on.

Some might think it an overstatement when I say that this exemplifies Students for Sensible Drug Policy. And yet around the nation SSDP chapters have demonstrated on numerous campuses the same success in changing campus policies.

When one considers university political activity is the primary training ground for the nation's future political leadership, SSDP stands out as the national organization that most effectively teaches the real world lessons that will enable America to survive as a democratic republic for another generation. This is a politics for results, not for show or self-aggrandizement.

If you are a student, you still have the opportunity to register to attend the SSDP National Training Conference, not surprisingly at the University of Maryland at College Park, March 17-19, 2011. Go to to for details and to register.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Persecution okay or not okay? Muslims, drug users and NASCAR

The House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is holding a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims.

Defenders of religious freedom, and those who intellectually oppose blanket generalizations are justifiably upset. They are on the radio and in the columns denouncing the hearings because the believe the hearings are structured to create a stigma of being a Muslim by impugning Muslims as terrorists or terrorism supporters.

Trying to put this in a larger perspective, it occurs to me that the habit of politicians resorting to unfounded blanket generalizations is well illustrated by the case of the persecution of drug users, especially marijuana users. Even though the overwhelming majority of drug users are hard working, decent people, they can all be characterized as criminal and deviant because of the behavior of a few. Because a minority of drug users become addicted to drugs and engage in shocking behavior in the pursuit of their compulsion to use drugs, our culture has tolerated laws that stigmatize and persecute all drug users regardless of their actual behavior.

For a half century at least our culture has condemned "the drug culture." Of course in many respects those who use drugs are part of a separate culture. They identify as part of a separate culture. Their lives include all the characteristics of a unique culture: language, music, literature, dance, ritual, myth, etc.

Americans do not think of themselves as persecutors of people of diverse cultures. Yet isn't clear that American police engage in the systematic harassment of drug users at their musical events, at their social venues and gatherings, or because they are wearing their characteristic costumes, hair styles or other bodily adornments? Does anyone doubt that this is the case?

Imagine that the culture decided to stop, search and otherwise harass people who wore athletic jerseys because they were indicative of, let's say, excessive alcohol consumption?

Imagine that the culture decided to stop, search and otherwise harass people whose vehicles, hats or clothing involved NASCAR regalia because they were indicative of tobacco "addiction?"

Of course we would consider that intolerable. How long do we consider the persecution of people who are drug users to be tolerable?

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Seattle Times -- Washington State should legalize marijuana

The editorial board of the Seattle Times called for the legislature to pass a bill to legalize marijuana. Not a particularly remarkable analysis.

But apparently it disturbs Seattle's former police chief, Gil Kerlikowske, now the White House "drug czar," who is flying to Seattle to argue the case against legalization, face to face, on March 4.

I hope that the Seattle Times videotapes the conversation and posts it for all to see. It would be fascinating to have a public examination of the evidence and arguments the Obama White House relies upon to support marijuana prohibition 39 years after President Nixon's Schafer Commission recommended marijuana decriminalization.

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"Justice" for Oklahoma Marijuana-Selling Mom

Patricia Spottedcrow arriving in prison, Photo from Tulsa World.

Ginnie Graham of the Tulsa World has three stories about Patricia Spottedcrow, a 25 year old mother of four, who just started a ten year prison sentence in December. Last year she sold $11 worth of marijuana. In that transaction, her 9 year old son fetched some dollar bills to make change. Then she sold $20 worth of marijuana.

This is the story of her case, the story of her arrival in prison, and the story about the impact of her incarceration on her children.

How does a ten year prison sentence make sense? Is this because she hurt her children by letting them witness or participate in the marijuana sale? That is hurt them more than locking up their mother for the next ten years? Is this because selling marijuana is such a heinous offense? Is this because she is such a big dealer? Is this necessary to finally, at long last, to stop the sale of marijuana in Oklahoma?

Or is there any other point other than she is a woman of color, in a common law marriage? Perhaps she is being punished because she has four children.

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ONDCP -- Selective Amnesia

ONDCP's website identifies as its most viewed blog post the link to President Obama's March 26, 2009 online "Open for Questions" Live Town Hall interview in which he mocks the millions of votes that he answer a question about marijuana legalization. Of course, ONDCP's link does not work! And, of course, after all the hoopla of how unprecedentedly "open" the new Administration was going to be, there were no more online town halls.

The role of "openness" has been taken up by the "private sector," most recently YouTube. But ONDCP provides no link to January 27, 2011 YouTube interview in which the most popular question was about drug legalization, and the President says drug legalization is "an entirely legitimate topic for debate."

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