Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gangs: Are we being over-run by gangs?

The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has just issued a three page report on the 2011 survey on gang activity in the U.S.

There were 756,000 gang members in the U.S. in 29,400 gangs. As a teenager would say, "OMG!" Or you might say, "Reaaaally?"

Naturally one wants to know about definitions. A "gang" is as small as three or more "gang members" in most states. A kid is a "gang member" if he meets at least two criteria of some number. Two typical criteria are:

"Resides in or frequents a particular criminal gang’s area, adopts its style of dress, use of hand signs, or tattoos, and associates with known gang members."
"Has been arrested more than once in the company of individuals who are identified as criminal street gang members by law enforcement, for offenses that are consistent with usual criminal street gang activity."
And "usual criminal street gang activity" is, for purposes of federal law, almost any Controlled Substances Act offense, any crime of violence, or being part of conspiracy to do either.

In filling out the questionnaire, what are the incentives, in reporting the number of gangs and gang members in your jurisdiction, for being accurate, under-counting or exaggerating the number of gangs and gang members? Who is filling out the questionnaire? The local police gang specialist or head of a gang unit would have the responsibility to respond. Is this a time of dramatic budget cutting in local government in the U.S.? Yes, indeed. Units of agencies that do not address big, serious problems are targets to be cut. Agencies that are facing big and growing problems can count on keeping their funding, equipment, vehicles, travel to conferences for training, and jobs. Very simply, there may be a pressure to exaggerate. Now, if you say, how should I interpret the question? If I follow the definitions, I am answering the questions properly. Certain marching bands that engage in "hazing," for example, could be counted as gangs by someone stretching to boost numbers. Should any fraternity that hazes be included? Should we include the fans of a team that riot during March madness or during other periods?

Think about all the informal groups that engage in pranks, vandalism, drug dealing, or in other conduct. Do they meet the definition of gang? Perhaps now we are not surprised that the number is so huge.

Do these numbers tell us anything?

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Texas: Marijuana legalization advocate defeats drug warrior

Former El Paso, TX city council member Beto O'Rourke has defeated U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, an eight term Democratic congressman, for the Democratic nomination for the new 23rd District (now the 16th District) of Texas.

While on the city council O'Rourke became alarmed by the hideous violence in Ciudad Juarez, the large city in Mexico directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso. A resolution of the city council that he drafted in early 2009 included a call to study the war on drugs. This became an unmentionable.
Rep. Reyes pressured El Paso's Mayor to veto the resolution and the other members of the council not to over-ride the veto.

O'Rourke's primary victory is being labeled a victory for drug policy reformers by DPA and in Huffington Post.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Afghanistan: The latest news on opium is quite old

The New York Times has a front page column one story on the opium situation in Afghanistan. The news is not news -- the situation is bad and likely to get worse.

Drought and blight on the crop have devastated the latest harvest and thus the price to the farmer has increased 50 percent over last year! Farmers are devastated by smaller harvests, but planning to grow larger crops as soon as they can. Withdrawal of NATO and US forces means a big hit to the legitimate economy. Western-led eradication efforts have generated hostility to the central government and built support for the Taliban, and have been cut back.

Anyone with any long-term perspective recognizes that even after spending $US 6 BILLION on anti-opium efforts in Afghanistan, nothing fundamental has been accomplished.

All the well-intentioned efforts run into the simple economic fact: success in reducing supply through eradication or enforcement drives up the price and increases the reward for engaging in the activity. With an otherwise shaky economy, being in the opium business is a good bet. Or as one Afghan quoted in the article says, opium is like gold.

Eventually, legalization of this economy is the only resolution. This may require permits and quotas, but regulation with appropriate enforcement, as challenging as it will continue to be in a country with a limited tradition with rule of law, offers the best chance to bring about a control that minimizes violence, corruption, and subversion by enemies of the state.

Enforcement in a regulated environment is completely different from enforcement in a prohibition environment. In the regulation context, those who have licenses and obey have an interest in enforcement against those who operate without valuable licenses or who operate without obedience to the regulations. Any system of enforcement depends upon those subject to the roles granting legitimacy and respect to the enforcers. In the prohibition environment, there are no rules to obey; there is no advantage to obedience to the rule of law. As everyone who has ever competed knows, all players want the rules enforced fairly and equally. How does one's skill or hard work preparing for and engaging in an athletic contest get rewarded if everyone believes the rules don't matter and the referees or umpires are incompetent or dishonest? When one is competing in business, only criminals don't want everybody to have to follow the law.

Eventually a system of regulation of opium production will have to be extended from the handful of nations that produce opium for refinement into pharmaceutical opiates for narrowly defined "medical" purposes to a larger number of nations and for purposes that at least include maintenance as a legitimate medical purpose.

Naturally, this legalization can only be in the context of a legalized global commerce and a legalized market and culture of consumption. Those are not simple challenges to overcome, but are at least more likely to reduce the social and personal costs of addiction than the current pathologies that are aggravated by prohibition. No one should be under the illusion that there is a magic solution to the tragedy of addiction. But at least we can stop enriching transnational organized crime groups, local gangs and filling local criminal justice systems with drug users.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Choom Gang: Reflecting on Obama's possible reflections on high school milieu has illustrated highlights of Obama's high school stoner life at the elite Punahou school in Hawai'i that accompany purported excerpts from David Maraniss's biography, Obama: The Story to be released June 19, 2012.

Certainly enthusiasm for getting stoned and drinking has been a feature of the high school and college lives of tens of millions of highly successful Americans.
How does an adult at age 40 or 50 look back at what were central features of the immature life in high school? Assuming these highlights are true, Obama's starchy rejection of marijuana legalization is a common adult reaction to a youthful marijuana enthusiasm.

One feature of a liberal education is exposure to Plato's dialogues. One of the most famous Platonic precepts (out of the mouth of Socrates, as usual) is what is now the cliche that the unexamined life is not worth living (The Apology, 38a).

Most of us by adulthood have looked back upon various features of our youth and regretted the periods or occasions of laziness and indolence, wandering, wasted opportunity, lust, dishonesty, miscellaneous misconduct, time wasted, foolishness, stupidity, etc.

Some of us may view our misconduct as a fairly common feature of immaturity, and view our past lives with toleration for our youth, if not with unalloyed pride. We may treasure our youthful mistakes and indiscretions, and feel that we learned from what seemed like lazy wandering or stoned indolence.

Others may deeply regret these acts and characteristics. They may associate all the features that accompanied the misconduct that is so now utterly inconsistent with their view of their contemporary selves with immaturity or vice. Thus those features, such as getting stoned, drinking, or tipping over cows or outhouses, become indistinguishable from driving intoxicated or drunk, or engaging in date rape and assault -- and thus intolerable.

Sometimes this regret and rejection leads to becoming a reformed crusader such as the former cigarette smoker or recovering alcoholic who takes on top of maintaining their recovery the mission of attempting to ban cigarettes or alcohol.

But far short of that approach is the simple association of disgust with the immaturity involved. "Getting stoned? That is just so immature," such a person feels.

How much, for example, might the strategic and ambitious Columbia and Harvard trained lawyer, University of Chicago law professor, Senator and President regret the carefree stoned days of his youth? How could I have been so immature? Even to contemplate it is barely tolerable.

Or given that Obama lives a life in which every minute of wakefulness is incomprehensibly precious, might he subconsciously feel the need to suppress the incipient envy of his carefree times getting stoned with his Choom gang? Legalizing marijuana? Who even has time to get stoned? Perhaps the buzz of a single glass of beer is the greatest permissible indulgence when any moment he may be called upon to respond to a crisis.

A politicians addicted to the news cycle easily takes on the perception that to be adult is to be ready at every moment to respond to any potential crisis. This is as distorted as the politicians lack of comprehension of the concept of privacy and anonymity.

Don't we consider sad the adult whose life seems to be stuck in constant reflection upon the glories or passions of their youth -- the man who was the star quarterback or receiver, the woman who thought her beauty and charm were at her zenith on the pep squad or upon being crowned at the pageant?

Yet absolutely no one proposes to outlaw the frivolities of beauty pageants or all manner of games involving balls of one type or another. Our cultural standards of what activities we judge to be wasted time remain remarkably "unexamined."

It is a public policy disaster when the regrets of the highly "examined" life of a person in power become a standard for dictating policies that consign the lives of ordinary citizens to be subjected to the police, the prosecutors, judges and jailers.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Images of the violence in Mexico -- What do they mean? What do comments about them mean?

The Atlantic's In Focus blog has a vivid photo essay of the drug organization related violence in Mexico. Since December 2006, on the order of 50,000 have been killed, according to the Mexican government and news media tabulators, in the the varieties of conflict around the illegal drug trade and its suppression.

What is the killing about?

Criminal organizations are killing police, prosecutors, judges, military, government officials, and candidates for office, as well as ordinary citizens to maintain their impunity for their criminal activities, to enhance their reputations for violence and to enforce their threats. Within the organizations, people are killed if they are suspected government informants, suspected allies of competitors, suspected thieves, or suspected rivals for succession. Between the organizations, people are killed because they are suspected of being members of rival organizations for power and control over markets and traffic routes. The government forces and trafficking organizations engage in shoot outs and kill suspected criminals. Potential witnesses, including journalists are being killed. Corrupt law enforcement officers kill on orders, for pay, and to protect against exposure. Law obeying law enforcement officers kill in self-defense. How many non-drug related intentional homicides are "packaged" to look like drug war related killings to throw off suspicion?

There are extensive comments posted at the blog. Yes, drug prohibition policy drives up the value of these drugs. Yes, consumers of drugs worldwide have a share of the culpability. No one is excused.

Two things strike me about the comments (and this is in common with comments following news and commentary everywhere on the Internet): The analyses are usually simplistic on all sides. And among those who write anonymous comments there is profound indifference to the lives and dignity of drug users. Calls to execute large classes of people are made passionately.

Perhaps this style of communication pervades the world of on-line comment, regardless of the subject.

Does this superficiality and cruelty reflect a political and cultural reality that has a significant impact, or reflects commonplace prejudices that play out in the actual resolution of policy in Congress, state legislatures, county and municipal boards, and the confidential meetings of bureaucrats and police leaders in departments and agencies around the nation?

I fear so. Thinking about superficiality, consider this report from the Sunlight Foundation on the complexity of communications by Members of the U.S. Congress.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Democrats worried about medical marijuana? Pelosi's statement first in 7 years; new MPP Poll; OR AG race

A survey by the Mason-Dixon polling organization, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), found overwhelming and across the board rejection of the Obama Justice Department's attack upon state medical marijuana programs. Every demographic -- Independents, Republicans, Democrats, senior citizens, parents, young voters, white, black and Hispanic -- overwhelmingly support state medical marijuana programs

On May 2, 2012, the Democratic Party's biggest fundraiser, Nancy Pelosi, issued a statement criticizing the Justice Department policy on medical marijuana. This was her first official statement in SEVEN years on medical marijuana. It is clear that she sees an urgency about this issue that has not existed for Democrats before.

On May 15, the results of the Oregon Democratic Primary for Attorney General resulted in the victory of Ellen Rosenblum, the candidate supporting medical marijuana, getting 64 percent of the vote over the prosecutor who condemned medical marijuana.

This is a significant issue for most Americans! Millions of Americans have cancer. Millions more think every persistent pain may be cancer. But Mitt Romney rebuffed a question from a Denver TV reporter on medical marijuana as not an "issue of significance" in a recent interview on the CBS affiliate.

Medical marijuana is sure an "issue of significance" to a New York state judge who revealed on the op-ed page of The New York Times on May 17 that he is using marijuana to fight his life threatening pancreatic cancer -- in violation of the law.

This is an "issue of significance" and Obama is not demonstrating the political skills that enabled him to outmaneuver Hilary Clinton in 2008.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Mr. President: Free Clarence Aaron

Dafna Linzer of ProPublica has another bomb-shell investigative report on the front page of The Washington Post, May 14, 2012, headlined: "Inmate still in prison after facts kept from Bush team."
Records reviewed by Linzer reveal that the Pardon Attorney, Ronald Rogers, "left out critical information" in recommending to the Bush White House that Clarence Aaron should not receive a commutation of sentence.

Clarence Aaron turned 43-years old on May 9, 2012. At age 24 he had been sentenced to three terms of life imprisonment for his role in a crack cocaine transaction. His story was first made public in 1999 in the award-winning documentary by film maker Ofra Bikel -- "Snitch" on PBS Frontline.

The article reports that a Bush White House counsel, Kenneth Lee, "was aghast when ProPublica provided him with original statements from the judge and prosecutor to compare with [pardon attorney] Rodgers' summary [of their statements that were furnished to the White House]. Had he read the statements at the time, Lee said, he would have urged Bush to commute Aaron's sentence."

President Obama should order Clarence Aaron's sentence commuted this week.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Jail violence illustrated in New York

Defenders of the drug prohibition status quo like former ONDCP Director John Walters have always said that those millions of young people who get arrested for marijuana don't get sent to prison. But they do get sent to jail for a time.
Here is a gruesome report from May 8, 2012 Village Voice on conditions inside the New York City jail, known as Rikers Island.

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Student held by DEA without food and water for 5 days, nearly dies

This would be an unbelievable story, unless you knew how police and DEA agents commonly talk about people they suspect are drug users: scum, dopers, bad guys, etc. Easy to "forget" that you have such "vermin" locked up, I guess.

Of course they would ignore the sound of someone pounding on a door of a cell, they usually do so.

After all, there isn't any paperwork on the prisoner, is there? They don't routinely take counts of who they have detained because their facility isn't a jail, right? Easy to see how they made this mistake. . .I guess.

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