Friday, July 30, 2010

No One Is Talking About America's Opium Hypocrisy

The ridiculously hypocritical situation connecting the US occupation of Afganistan, the world's leader in opium production, and our failed drug war is old news, but we must keep talking about it. Unfortunately, as the drug war issue is discussed and debated more and more on TV and on the Internet, it is an issue that is hardly ever mentioned by our fellow soldiers and allies, though this information can be used to gain some powerful leverage against our opponents.

The whole issue breaks down like this:
  • The US law enforcement system is waging a war against users and dealers of various illegal drugs including certain forms of opium such as heroine.
  • One of the side effects of the drug war is that US citizens are being incarcerated at ridiculous rates, and poor minority youth are targeted at incredibly disproportionate rates by police that flood poorer neighborhoods while avoiding white middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods.
  • Afganistan has been one of the world's leading opium suppliers, though the Taliban had instituted a ban on opium production in the area right before the US invasion of 2001. Opium production collapsed about 90% as a result of the ban.
  • The US supported Northern Alliance ended the ban on opium production to win the hearts and minds of the local population, which has been heavily dependent upon the sale and production of opium in the past. The US government believes this is a necessary evil in order to keep the locals from hating and possibly attacking US soldiers.
  • In 2007, 6 years after the start of the Afganistan war, the US Department of State determines that 93% of the world's illegal opium supply comes from Afganistan.
  • The US government continues to incarcerate drug addicts alongside drug dealers, and our incarceration system is inadequate at curing addiction, a disease that often requires medical attention and supervision. In addition, jails and prisons serve as social centers for addicts and dealers, allowing the two groups to exchange phone numbers and email addresses in order to meet with each other once their sentences are up.
In the end, the US government is allowing opium production to flourish in Afganistan, and a large chunk of the opium that Afganistan produces will make its way to the US, allowing American heroine and opium addicts to feed their addictions while also punishing them for doing so. And all of this occurs at the cost of the American tax payer, and the whole system allows drug cartels and possibly terrorist organizations to fund their illegal and often violent operations with the money they make selling drugs to US citizens.

I'll sue you for talking about my organization's documented connections to child abuse...

That's basically how Calvina Fay threatened SSDP's Aaron Houston during a debate regarding D.C.'s recently approved medical marijuana legislation on Russia Today. Watch the whole debate above.  

For those of you unfamiliar with this drug warrior, Calvina Fay is the founder and executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. 

Aaron really pushes Fay's buttons when he brings up Straight, Inc (incorrectly identified as "Scared Straight" during the debate), a non-profit drug rehab center that tortured children and teenagers for months and years at a time. Even former executive staff members have apologized for Straight's actions and admitted to many forms of abuse including brainwashing, sexual abuse, food and sleep deprivation, coerced confessions and denial of medical care. 

Straight, Inc. received hundreds of reports of abuse during it's existence and some facilities were shut down but Straight never really went away because it's founder also "founded" another organization, Drug Free America Foundation. Really, all they did was change the name and even though Ms. Fay just threatened to sue SSDP and stated firmly that her organization has no ties with Straight, Inc., the DFAF website says different right in the bio of the organization's founder, Betty Sembler:
Betty S. Sembler has dedicated the past three decades to fighting the war on drugs. In 1976, she was one of ten founding members of Straight, Inc., a nonprofit drug treatment program that successfully treated more than 12,000 young people with drug addiction in eight cities nationally from Dallas to Boston.
Not only does the DFAF's website admit to being involved with Straight, Inc., they are touting the connection and the program as a positive credential. Unbelievable.  

I could get into all the horror stories and court cases and research that has been done on Straight and DFAF, their connections to the Bush family and Florida politics (Jeb Bush even created a Betty Sembler Day in FL) but I'm not up for reading more about such vile people before going to bed.

Having worked in a residential treatment facility with teens (thankfully nothing like Straight, Inc.), I realize how incredibly dangerous people like Calvina Fay are to young people all around the world.

When it comes to the issue of drugs and youth, prohibitionists like her can come off as a voice of reason to concerned parents - mostly because they represent a group with a nice sounding name pretending they can achieve the completely impossible goal of a drug free America.  She has even served as an advisor to the Office of National Drug Control Policy despite having no background in public health or drug policy; she has a masters in business administration.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bolivian Update: Evo Morales's Shaman Arrested for Drug Trafficking

Ever heard of the term narco-shaman?

No? Well, venture into the netherworld of Andean drug interdiction. This week's a good week for neologisms.

Why? Well, the Bolivian military's anti-drugs force this week arrested fifty-five year old Valentin Mejillones, better known as President Evo Morales's shaman, or amauta in Aymara. The arrests included his twenty-seven year old son -- who was asleep when the anti-drugs force came into the house at 1.00am -- and two Colombian nationals on charges of producing and distributing 250 kilos of liquid cocaine from Mejillones's house in La Paz. The quantity is equivalent to 350 kilos of powder cocaine, and worth $300,000. Some news outlets coined the term narco-shaman to describe the man at the center of the arrests. In a somewhat overlooked note, the liquid cocaine was not destined for export.

Mejillones presided over the ceremony in 2006, pictured here, which blessed Evo Morales before he took office. For those not in the know, after five hundred years of non-indigenous rule which began with the Spanish Conquest, Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia. A new book examines how he fiercely opposes the landed and business interests that discount the importance of Andean indigenous ways of life and forms of economic production. One of those, of course, is the production of coca.

And Evo Morales, before he became president, was known for his work among Bolivia's cooperative coca producers. In its unprocessed state, the coca leaf counters the effects of altitude exhaustion. It's a useful plant to have in the Andes. Online drug library Erowid labels coca as an "Andean Cultural Tradition."

But, just as the finer points of language often fall casualty to the drug war -- consider Mexico's "narcocorridos," songs from Northern Mexico that deal with drug trafficking; or Mexico's narco-cemeteries, mass graves filled with drug war victims -- so too do authorities flaunt tradition, practice, and sometimes law to make their arrests.

Mejillones is, after all, considered to be a spiritual leader of many Aymara people. At the time of his participation in Morales's ascent to the presidency, the amauta, challenged his opponents.

"... nobody can challenge my behavior. I wasn't chosen by the President. I was proposed by the internal structure of the Andean religious world."
And now Mejillones is in the San Pedro Prison, awaiting legal developments in his case.

Spanish newspaper El Pais comments that the amauta is not the first of Morales's circle to endure arrest and imprisonment for alleged drug trafficking. The two brothers of Morales's ally Margarita Teran went to prison for cocaine trafficking. Later on, and inexplicably, according to El Pais, they were freed from prison.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

National Criminal Justice Commission Act Passes House by Unanimous Consent

Historical legislation first proposed by Senator Jim Webb was passed with unanimous consent by the US House of Representatives yesterday. The H.R. 5143 bill is the companion to Senator Webb's legislation, S. 714, which was introduced in the Senate on Mar. 26, 2009 and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 21, 2010.

The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010 would create a blue-ribbon commission to review every aspect of our criminal justice system. Within the 18-month evaluation, the commission's task will be to propose concrete, wide-ranging reforms to address the most pressing issues facing the nation's criminal justice system.

Julie Stewart, of Families Against Mandatory Minimums explains the significance of this vote:

"Today's vote shows Congress is aware that our nation's criminal justice system is in need of major repair," said Ms. Stewart. "With 2.3 million people in its jails and prisons, the United States has the highest incarceration in the world. One of out of 31 Americans is under some sort of correctional supervision – jail or prison, parole or probation. Brave though we may be, we are no longer the land of the free."
The National Criminal Justice Commission Act has already garnered wide support from 39 Senate cosponsors and a long list of national organizations and business endorsements. The bill is now awaiting passage to the White House and President Obama's signature.

It's unlikely that if this commission takes a serious look at the problems within our criminal justice system, they will not advocate for reforms of our nation's drug laws.

The American Iraq: Mexican Journalists in Mortal Jeopardy

Just three of dozens of journalists killed in Mexico since 1992. From clockwise, Bradley Will, Valentin Valdes Espinosa, Armando Rodriguez Carreon.

It's easy to see the impact of the drug war in Mexico.

Just look for dead bodies.

And nameless ones at that. Author Charles Bowden found that nobody in Juarez, Mexico's murder city, could bother naming them, not even the forensics experts, after about 2008. And yet there they are all around, heads on street corners, bodies dumped in towns, and turfed on the outskirts of towns, kept out of the way, or in plain sight. And then there are the mass graves. Over the past weekend, Mexican authorities found a fifty-one cadaver mass grave in Nuevo Leon. Some of the corpses had been burned in steel drums.

So it's easy to see the impact of the drug war-- all the blood, all the gore, all the teary eyes, all the headless bodies. It's easy to hear all the political platitudes.

But it's not easy to see what Mexico has lost in the bloodshed. Ignominy and silence overwhelm a record of the victims' potential as human beings, voices often silenced in processes that begin with threats, continue with kidnap, confront torture, and end with death. And once the dead body appears nobody much cares, making the virulent cycle dangerous, offering no closure.

A specific way to inquire about what Mexicans have lost, what the effects of their government's U.S.-sponsored war won't have access to in the future, is to look at the journalists killed. People who investigate, collate, write, and broadcast the news in Mexico's northern, border, and drug producing or transshipment states have been favored targets in the narco-war between police, the army, and the drug trafficking organizations. The problem for journalists in Mexico is that the issues of reporting interest matter too much to the violent actors in the conflict, and all, even the government, would rather silence to news coverage. In a few years, Mexico has become an Iraq in the Americas.

Mexico is now the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere for a journalist to work. Reporters without Borders estimates that since 2000, fifty-five journalists have died. Another organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists totals thirty journalists dead in Mexico from 2006. In testimony in June 2010 before the US Congress's House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Committee on Foreign Affairs, CPJ executive director Joel Simon described the unifying features of the slaughtered journalists:

"Most of them are local reporters covering drug trafficking, crime, or corruption. Impunity for these crimes is nearly complete. Pervasive self-censorship, a devastating effect of this wave of unprecedented violence, is undermining the basic right to freedom of expression."

Even the UN has tried to become involved, decrying journalists' murders and urging the prosecution of their killers. Recently, Irinia Bokova, director of UNESCO, commented on the late June 2010 joint slaying of a journalist husband and wife team in the State of Guerrero.

"These two new murders again marred a profession," said Bokova. "I urge the Mexican authorities to do everything in their power to find those responsible and bring them to justice because such crimes must not go unpunished."
Bokova spoke in the wake of the case of Juan Francisco Rodriguez Rios and his wife Maria Elvira Hernandez Galeana. These journalists died at work in their cyber cafe. Rios served as a leader in the state chapter of the National Union of Press Editors. He had recently railed against the harassment of journalists. It may have cost him his life and that of his journalist partner.

And now, to the story of dozens of journalists' disappearances, comes confirmation of the abduction of four more in Durango. Recently, the state has been riven by violence, but none as dramatic as the confirmation from Mexico's Attorney General that the director of the local prison allowed her charges to leave the prison to commit an act of mass violence. The BBC writes that the four kidnapped journalists were investigating recent instances of protests in the prison.

Investigation. Outspokenness. A desire for justice. Commitment to reporting facts. Horror at the costs of the drug war. A need to make Mexico matter. An interest in stopping government impunity. The need to tell a good story.

Among other things, Mexico has lost a significant number of people willing to make the country a better place. That statement's true of journalists. But it's equally true of many of the 25,000 who have died so far. It's just that we don't know their names. And we may not, since the journalists seeking those names are either dead or maybe among those seeking asylum.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Prisons and Systemic Drug War Violence in Mexico

Whoever said that prisons stop violence?

A generation of anti-prison scholarship -- by Angela Davis, by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, by Mike Davis, by Christian Parenti , by Ethan Blue and myself, and by Julia Sudbury-- demonstrates that prisons do quite the opposite than bring about peace. They are, instead, incubators of violence.

And when it involves the drug war the ensuing violence is often of the worst type.

Consider the violence that interrupted the party underway in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico on the night of 18 July 2010. Sometime in the early hours gunmen burst into the Italia Inn and murdered seventeen people, many of whom were in their twenties and thirties.

The Torreon massacre came swiftly on the heels of the car bomb and ambush set up in downtown Juarez by La Linea, the armed wing of the Juarez drug trafficking organization.

Last week the car bomb attracted the most attention and comment.

But this week the media seems focused on revelations made by Mexico's Attorney General concerning a conspiracy between prisoners and their gaolers in nearby Gomez Palacio, Durango. Newly-appointed Attorney General Francisco Blake said that prisoners, warden, deputy warden, and heads of security at the Social Readaptation Center, (CERESO in its Spanish acronym), of Gomez Palacio, Durango, were all in cahoots over the massacre. They have since been relieved of their posts. (Torreon lies just across the Coahuila-Durango state line from Gomez Palacio.)

Newspapers report that the prisoners of Gomez Palacio connived with the prison staff to secure their release while they committed the atrocities at the Italia Inn. Apparently they had good relations, for after a riot last year that claimed nineteen lives, prisoners' families told La Jornada that the now relieved director was part of a group of people who could maintain calm.

The incident illuminates the inability of the justice "system" to create peace. One analyst told Sara Miller Llana of the Christian Science monitor that:

"President Calderón has presented reforms to Mexico's police and judiciary, but ... that little attention has been paid to prisons, even though drug traffickers often carry out extortion and business behind their cells."
And this statement comes years after the 2001 jailbreak by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, a Mexican drug kingpin who commands the Sinaloa drug trafficking organization. For much of the 1990s he was incarcerated in high security prisons within Mexico. In 2001, Guzman escaped from Puente Grande prison. He allegedly bribed guards and other staff to secure his release.

The news of the relationship between prisoners and prison staff in Gomez Palacio and how the latter facilitated the massacre arrives after last week's news about the Merida Initiative and its disbursed and non-disbursed funds. One of the Merida programs trumpeted by the State Department and the General Accounting Office was meant to create "humane corrections systems that can serve as a platforms for addiction treatment."

Maybe US dollars would be better spent on helping Mexican officials figure out how to stop prisons systematically spreading drug war violence?

Prison for Brownies?

U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) have all publicly voiced their opposition to medical marijuana, so it's no surprise that they sponsor legislation which claims to be "protecting the youth," but in reality, targets medical marijuana patients.

According to law enforcement officers and drug treatment officials, drug dealers have deliberately colored, packaged, and flavored methamphetamine and other illegal drugs in ways designed to attract kids. Horror stories regarding "Stawberry Quick", meth cut with strawberry-flavored drink mix, were used as scare tactics to create panic and fear in parents. Here is an example of the overly exaggerated email:


Halloween Warning for Parents

There is a type of crystal meth going around that looks like strawberry pop rocks. It smells like strawberry also and it is being handed out to kids in school yards in AR. I'm sure it will make its way around the country. Kids are ingesting this thinking it is candy and being rushed off to the ER in dire condition.

It also comes in chocolate, peanut butter, cola, cherry, grape, and orange. It looks just like pop rocks.

Please instruct children to not accept candy that look like this even from a friend, and to take any that they may have to a teacher, principal, etc.

Pass this around it could save some family a lot of heartache!

They call it strawberry meth or strawberry quick.

Special Agent Todd V. Coleman
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement
But does flavored meth even exist? Are kids really being carted off the school yard to the ER? More likely from stomach aches due to bad cafeteria food, not candy meth. According to an article on the Join Together website:
Attempts by Join Together to trace the one seemingly solid report on flavored meth back to its source have not, as of this writing, produced any clarity. Reached on Friday, the Carson County (Nev.) Sherrif's Departments could not confirm whether the meth it seized was flavored or just colored.

However, both the DEA and the White House Office of National Drug Control policy told Join Together they they have not been able to identify a single confirmed seizure of flavored meth.
The media hype, along with the emailed warnings reporting flavored meth have escalated the threat to seem more significant that it really is. So even though the Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act seems to be protecting youth from meth, what is it's real goal?
Currently, federal law enhances the criminal penalties that apply when a person sells drugs to anyone under age 18. When this occurs, the federal penalties are doubled (or tripled for a repeat offense), and a penalty of at least one year must be applied. But this enhancement only applies if actual “distribution” to a minor is proven.

The Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act would apply the current penalty enhancement to anyone who “manufactures or creates with intent to manufacture, create, distribute or dispense a controlled substance that is combined with a candy product, marketed or packaged to appear similar to a candy product and modified by flavoring or coloring designed to make it more appealing to a person under 18 years of age.”

Basically, anybody making marijuana edibles, even for medical purposes, could face double the federal penalties. As long as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, state-legal patients are unprotected. This bill could land a medical marijuana patient too sick to smoke medicine, in prison for baking a batch of brownies. Sen Feinstein is using rumors about meth to pass legislation that would only target medical marijuana users and providers.

In a stark contrast, the San Francisco Department of Public Health recently created guidelines for edible marijuana goods. The packaging of the edible has to state the amount of marijuana in the food, and whether it contains any potential allergens such as nuts. Also, no packaging should resemble any type of candy. Bringing marijuana edibles into a market with rules and regulations ensures the quality and purity of the product, as well as the safety of the consumer.

Please, contact your Senators today and tell them to oppose S. 258.