"The Wars on Drugs, Gambling, and Prostitution are Rackets."

 

 

 

A team of researchers working for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) released two studies that were published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Both studies found little evidence proving that medical marijuana is effective in treating pain and PTSD.   The researchers focused on these two medical issues because they are the most commonly cited reasons a medical marijuana prescription. Pain management is listed by 45% and 80% of people seeking cannabis prescriptions. Likewise, over one-third of medical marijuana patients named PTSD as the primary issue.  These Veterans Health Administration researchers examined 27 chronic pain trials and found that “there is low-strength evidence that cannabis alleviates neuropathic pain but insufficient evidence in other pain populations.”  PTSD treatment, on the other hand, was examined by analyzing two systematic reviews and three observational studies. According to the VHA’s research, there was not enough evidence to conclude that cannabis reduces PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, their researchers believe that past research could have a “medium to high risk of bias.” Conversely, the VHA noted that there are two randomized trials and six other ongoing studies to see marijuana’s effects with PTSD. It will take three years before all of those studies are completed.   Is Cannabis Research a Dead End? No   (Flickr - Eggrole) These kinds of studies are based upon the preliminary stages of medical marijuana research. Cannabis is a very complex plant with over 100 cannabinoids. Scientists have yet to conclusively determine which individual cannabinoids or combinations are the most effective. That will take considerable time.  It also should be noted that there have historically been numerous bureaucratic obstacles from the federal government restricting medical studies on cannabis. Numerous patients report positive anecdotal results from medical marijuana. Therefore, this is a topic that needs considerably more research.
2020 is a long time to wait, but that’s probably the earliest point before the legal marijuana industry could see any positive changes at the federal level. As my readers know, I firmly believe that third parties need more inclusion in the political process for this to happen. However, that is unlikely to occur anytime soon. Therefore, let’s examine the top potential Democratic Presidential hopefuls for 2020 and see their stances. Honorable Mention Senator Bernie Sanders (VT-I)   (Flickr - Gage Skidmore) It seems unlikely that Sanders will get the Democratic nomination in 2020 even though he has the best shot at winning; he’s literally the most popular current politician in America. Sanders would have likely beaten Trump if he had received the nomination because he would have maintained the liberal base while receiving better voter turnout with the key demographics where Clinton was unpopular.  It’s no secret that the DNC worked behind the scenes to block Sanders from winning the nomination. In fact, my last column with The American Conservative detailed the current lawsuit filed by some of his supporters against the DNC. Long story short, the DNC hasn’t openly denied many of the accusations that their group tried to suppress his campaign. Hence, there’s no reason to believe that the DNC will show any support for him in the next election. Most Likely Candidates It looks like something akin to the Watergate scandal is in the works. Jimmy Carter was an obscure Governor from Georgia when that took place. (He also publicly supported decriminalization of possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, which was a bold political stance in the 1970s.) However, it seems unlikely that a Governor will receive the nomination because the news cycle is entirely focused on Trump.  There will probably be lengthy Congressional hearings and Democrats in related committees will get the face time that corresponds to votes. With that in mind, please note that James Garfield was the first and only sitting member of the House of Representatives to be elected President. Therefore, we’ll look at the most likely candidates currently serving in the U.S. Senate. 1 - Sen. Kamala Harris (CA)    (Wikimedia Commons) This fast-rising politician has rapidly gained a ton of political momentum. She was elected last year to her first term in the U.S. Senate and she already serves on some influential Senate Committees, including Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs and the Intelligence Committee. Harris served as the Attorney General of California before heading to Capitol Hill and, like most prosecutors, she predictably sided with the special interests of the prison industrial complex. She waged a famous crusade against BackPage.com and has remained a strong supporter of civil asset forfeiture.  While serving as Attorney General in 2014, she literally laughed at the suggestion of legalizing recreational marijuana. However, Harris somewhat reversed course, but she isn’t in favor of legalization. Instead, she is now advocating for decriminalization, but her exact plan isn’t clear. In April of last year, she suggested that marijuana should only be changed from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug. Furthermore, as Tom Angell (Chairman of the Marijuana Majority) accurately points out, Kamala Harris continues referring to the drug war in the past tense as if it is a thing of the past. 2 - Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA)   (Wikimedia Commons) Elizabeth Warren has strong name recognition and has developed a reputation as a tough banking regulator. As far as her views on marijuana, she has seemingly shifted to tepid support of legalization. Two years ago, when questioned about her state’s ballot initiative for recreational marijuana she told MassLive: “I’m open to it. I think we’ve learned more. A couple of states have legalized marijuana for recreational use.” That was a reversal from the past. She had been openly against legalization and even attacked a rival Republican as late as 2013 for supporting legal recreational marijuana. However, she’s now acting as an ally to the legal marijuana industry. She has publicly challenged Jeff Sessions to respect states’ rights and is working to create legal banking options for the industry.   3 - Sen. Cory Booker (NJ)     (Wikimedia Commons) Booker has a high level of name recognition, particularly with young voters. He served as the Mayor of Newark before heading to the U.S. Senate in 2013. He’s quickly made a name for himself by being a very accessible media figure. Of these three potential candidates, Booker has been by far the most courageous advocate of legal recreational marijuana. In fact, he sponsored the “Marijuana Justice Act,” SB 1689, which is hands down the most comprehensive and progressive marijuana legalization bill in U.S. history. Here are a few highlights: Every person presently incarcerated for a marijuana offense would be eligible to have that sentence reversed. It would remove marijuana entirely from the controlled substance list. It would provide federal funds for states to change drug policies if they have incarcerated minorities and low-income individuals disproportionally. It would provide a “Community Reinvestment Fund” with job programs and several other benefits in cities that have been particularly affected by the drug war. Suffice it say, this is an incredibly ambitious bill and it has absolutely no shot of being passed at this time. Nonetheless, it’s a positive development that proposals like this are beginning to be introduced to the electorate at large.
As you probably know, President Trump announced via Twitter that he planned to reinstate the ban on transgender people from joining the military. It’s hard to believe that this decision was anything other than an attempt to rally his base and distract from the Mueller investigation. After all, he pointed to the healthcare costs from transgender soldiers, but that figure is only a fraction of the security expenses from his trips to Mar-A-Lago. There’s one thing that we do know--Trump knows how to manipulate the media cycle. For one day, the attention was no longer on his financial ties to Russian mobsters, or the meeting between Russian with his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager. Trump certainly seems to be in panic mode as he’s already questioned his attorneys about pardoning himself and his family. This week, his distractionary targets have been Jeff Sessions and the transgender community. Who knows who will be in his crosshairs next week or even tomorrow? The silver lining in this circus show of a presidency is that the American public is being exposed to the power of the executive office. For instance, maybe we can now begin discussing checks and balances, such as limitations on launching nuclear attacks? Or how about we address the Obama administration’s authorization of drone attacks against American citizens, charging whistleblowers with the Espionage Act, spying on American citizens through our intelligence agencies, etc.? Unfortunately, these lessons seem to be lost the American public. Politics tend to be reactionary, rather than proactive. Likewise, we tend to focus on individuals, rather than reforming systems and establishing proper precedents. One of the main problems is that our political system methodically blocks independent, outside voices. That’s why you didn’t hear many important issues raised during the presidential debates. And that leads to the issues raised in my last article with The American Conservative, “Democratic Party Fraud: Like Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders never had a fair shot.” In short, that article pointed to a few lawsuits that could actually open the political process. The first involves a class-action lawsuit against the Democratic National Party, Carol Wilding et al. v. DNC Services Corp. The plaintiffs are making the case that the DNC violated its fiduciary duty by committing fraud and colluding against Bernie Sanders. In turn, the DNC hasn’t denied these claims. Instead, their defense is that they have a right to operate their organization in this shady manner. I wish the plaintiffs luck, but it’s unlikely that the government can properly regulate political parties ensuring the integrity of the nomination process. Then again, candidates such as Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul have only run within the two main party because our system unofficially blocks third parties. That leads to the other important pending lawsuits, Level the Playing Field v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Johnson v. Commission on Presidential Debates. To brief, the lawsuits contest that the 15% polling standard by the Commission on Presidential Debates is akin to an antitrust violation. Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, The Libertarian Party, and the Green Party are leading these lawsuits. And that’s where most people fail to see the point. They focus on Johnson’s and Stein’s chances at winning the election. Instead, we need to focus on the concept of third-party candidates’ ideas winning and gaining influence.    The average person underestimates the potential impact of third-party candidates in the debates. Take Ross Perot for example. He pulled off the impossible by making the national debt the dominant topic of interest. As a result, the Clinton administration and the Republican Congress made balancing the budget a top priority. In his first year, Clinton’s $16 billion stimulus package was rejected by Congress and the deficit was reduced to $354 billion (down from $413 billion in the prior year). This budget-conscious political landscape eventually resulted in a $290 billion surplus in Bill Clinton’s last year in office. Obviously, there are many factors for why the Congressional budget has gone off the rails. However, one reason that is rarely mentioned in the media is that it’s been 25 years since a budget-focused third-party candidate has been on the presidential debate stage! Last year our federal budget deficit was $552 billion, and our total national debt is now approaching $20 trillion dollars! Last year, our country had a real opportunity for political progress if Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had been allowed to debate. That would have forced Trump and Clinton to debate policies in detail that were outside of their comfort zones. Here are few in which the current administration has already made or attempted to make drastic changes: Legal Marijuana Mandatory Minimum Sentences Civil Asset Forfeiture Private Prisons Equal Rights for the LGBTQ community Needless to say, the current President is quite thin-skinned and doesn’t respond well to criticism. With that in mind, our country would be in a better position if he had been pressured to make a concrete position on those and other important issues before taking office. “It’s all by design, man.” It’s an open secret that the Commission on Presidential Debates firmly protects the two-party system, blocks independent candidates, and is controlled by the political establishment. It’s a private company that is sponsored by a few powerful corporations. Click here for a list of the past donors. The organization’s leadership is a smorgasbord of Republican and Democrat loyalists. That includes the former Chairmen of the DNC and the RNC, Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul G. Kirk. What is not as well-known is the extent to which the Commission on Presidential Debates capitulates to the demands of the two major parties. Contrary to popular belief, Ross Perot was not selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1992 purely on the merits of his polling numbers. This is obscure knowledge, but the two major parties formed secret contractual agreements each election cycle to decide the rules of the debates, including the height of the podium. George Farah, the founder of the nonprofit group, Open Debates, received leaked documents from those agreements. He found out that both parties had veto power over third-party candidates. Surprisingly, the Republicans didn’t use that power in 1992 to block Perot because they thought he would take away more votes from Clinton. Four years later, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole successfully blocked Perot from debating even though he grabbed 19 percent of the popular vote in the prior election. The Commission received a lot of criticism for that decision. In turn, their organization instituted the 15% polling number in 2000 to increase “transparency,” but it’s clear that such a high threshold is meant to obstruct any challenges to the political establishment. To wrap up, both the DNC Fraud case and the lawsuits against the Commission on Presidential Debates could establish some incredibly important precedents for our democracy. Again, I wish the plaintiffs luck in the DNC Fraud case, but neither major party will likely respond adequate to government regulations, despite public pressure. Nonetheless, that case needs as much publicity as possible in order to shine light on the DNC’s corrupt practices. On the other hand, public pressure due to increased awareness could have an impact on the corrupt practices of the Commission on Presidential Debates. Our country needs to hear new, outside voices; few positive changes are going to be offered by the Democratic or Republican parties. Gary Johnson has aggressively marketed through social media to let the public know about these lawsuits. You don’t have to support Gary Johnson or agree with any of his political views. However, we’d all benefit by supporting his right and other future third-party candidates’ right to debate.
A local news outlet in Winston-Salem produced a brief feature, “Former federal agent says putting drug addicts in prison is a ‘mistake.’”  I don’t think the title truly reflects the gravity of this story. Those are not the typical words of someone like Robert Stutman who is a former DEA special agent. He was later promoted to be the Chief of the New York DEA Office. He has certainly earned his stripes in the war on drugs. Case in point, the Medellin Cartel at one time had a price on his head. Stutman aggressively promoted a strong response to illegal drugs during his time as a leader within the DEA. He was quoted in my book, The Drug War: A Trillion Dollar Con Game, because he openly “used the media” to hype the drug war. He stated that the media exploited the crack cocaine crisis of the 80s, calling it the “hottest combat reporting story to come along since the end of the Vietnam War.” Stutman played a major role in one of the most influential drug war media presentations of the 1980s, 48 Hours on Crack Street. In fact, he appeared on the show. It was a two-hour CBS documentary with Dan Rather and Bernie Goldberg exploring some of New York City’s most crime-infested areas. It was aired in September of 1986 to the tune of 15 million viewers, which was the highest ratings for a TV documentary in five and half years. 48 Hours on Crack Street was one of many crack-related news segments that had American voters clamoring for tougher drug laws. One month later, Congress passed the infamous Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which made the penalty for crack 100 times longer than the same amount of powder cocaine. Stutman retired from the DEA in 1990 and he began vocalizing his criticisms of the war on drugs in a very public manner. For nearly three decades, Stutman has been a strong advocate for more spending on drug education and treatment, rather than law enforcement. In fact, he formed his own company, Employee Information Services Inc, which specializes in providing drug rehab services. In an interview with Frontline, Stutman asserted that politicians love to “patronize voters” with the tough on crime approach to drug addiction, but it isn’t effective policy. However, despite this liberal mentality, Stutman isn’t an advocate of decriminalization. Although I certainly disagree with Stutman’s views on that subject, it’s quite refreshing to hear someone with his background who doesn’t “toe the company line” by insisting that harm reduction (drug education and treatment) needs to be prioritized over law enforcement.
Last Friday, June 2nd, was International Sex Workers’ Day. That day is in memory of a historic sex worker protest that took place on June 2, 1975 in Lyon, France. A combination of events sparked this protest. A few sex workers had been murdered in the area and the police had shown no commitment to solving these cases. The murderer hadn’t been captured and the local police reacted to these crimes by increasingly enforcing prostitution laws. In other words, the police weren’t protecting these women and the criminal penalties were making them more vulnerable to violence. Sex workers would have to risk going to jail if they wanted to come forward with information about a serial killer. In response, a group of roughly 100 sex workers who called themselves “the French Collective of Prostitutes” decided to take extreme action. They chose a highly visible scene to stage their protest. They gathered at a local church and refused to leave until their basic rights were observed.[1]   They also hanged a banner (in reference to their children) from within one of the windows that read, “We do not want to see our mothers in prison.”[2] The French Collective of Prostitutes were inside of the Saint-Nizier church for eight days before the police raided the building. Upon entrance, many of the women were beaten by these law enforcement officers.   Photo - Jenn Farr/Flickr Needless to say, this very public act of political speech gained a great deal of media attention. It sparked a wave of interest and helped lead to the formation of several sex worker activist organizations. This brave act became an international story and every year since then June 2nd has been recognized as International Sex Workers’ Day. In some countries, it’s called International Whores’ Day.  Out of curiosity, I held off on writing this post for a few days because I wanted to see how much media coverage the International Sex Workers’ Day would receive. I wrote a similar post last December, “U.S. Media Ignores International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.” If you’re not familiar with the significance of December 17th, it is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. (There’s a horrific backstory to why that day is commemorated and it’s explained in full in the article.) Anyhow, long story short, there was barely any recognition of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers by corporate media outlets within the U.S. With that knowledge in mind, I assumed that at least one media outlet in the U.S. would cover the International Sex Workers’ Day. Guess what? I was wrong. If you’re on social media, you probably noticed that National Donut Day dominated Internet traffic on June 2nd. Case in point, there were over 150,000 posts on Twitter related to this topic.  Granted, most readers prefer light-hearted topics on a Friday. Furthermore, most Americans don’t support the decriminalization of prostitution. And those who support decriminalization may enjoy a brief mental escape with some silly memes about donuts. Clearly, a liberal take on prostitution policy doesn’t fall in line with mainstream news. However, it’s a sad state of affairs that not one American news organization was willing to cover this story. On the other hand, there was some media recognition of International Sex Workers’ Day in other countries, particularly where prostitution is either legal or decriminalized. One article in Australia quoted a local sex worker activist, Julie Bates. “But unfortunately, stigma is rife and very few sex workers can stand tall as we’re still treated as second class citizens.” Americans need to hear that kind of perspective. After all, the media has a very influential role in shaping public opinion. Hence, there needs to be fair and balanced coverage of this issue. Suffice it to say, that hasn’t happened in the United States. Instead, the average American has been inundated with news reports that conflate human trafficking with prostitution.   Occasionally, there is a prostitution news report similar to what happened yesterday. A police officer in Ridley, TN was arrested for official misconduct and patronizing prostitution. He’s accused of having sex with prostitutes in his police car while on duty on multiple occasions. According to the investigators, this police officer paid for sex. And that may be the case. However, police officers frequently extort prostitutes for free sex. And the average person is completely unaware of this issue. Understandably, it’s difficult to quantify this problem because sex workers operate in the black market. However, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (the famed “Freakonomics” duo) conducted a study, which included eyewitnesses, and found that 3% of prostitutes’ sex acts were performed for free with police officers.[3] Most sex workers don’t report these sexual assaults because their line of work is illegal. However, a recent scandal in the Bay Area revealed that over 30 police officers had sex with one particular sex worker, Celeste Guap. Four of those officers had sex with her while she was underage. Guap explained that she felt compelled to have sex with these officers in order to stay out of jail. Two weeks ago, the city of Oakland agreed to a nearly $1 million settlement. On a related note, there’s also been some media coverage about Michigan closing a legal loophole that allowed police to have sex with prostitutes during undercover stings. However, the coverage was flawed on multiple levels. First of all, there’s the official rule and there’s the way that events actually unfold in the real world. Secondly, most news outlets reported that Michigan was the last state to close this loophole. That’s not true. A sex worker activism group in Alaska, Community United for Safety & Protection (CUSP), is actively lobbying the state legislature to end this practice. Conversely, various Alaskan police officials have also lobbied to keep this loophole in place. They’ve insisted that an officer would be fired for engaging in such activity. Yet, police officials claim that this loophole shouldn’t be closed. Suffice it say, that’s a very contradictory viewpoint. One police official told the Alaska Dispatch News that he was offended by the suggestion that police officers would abuse their authority in this manner. Well, you can watch this NSFW video with multiple testimonies from sex workers in Alaska who’ve been violated in this exact manner. You don’t need to be a scholar to realize that it’s a human rights crisis when a particular group of people can be targeted for rape with little to no fear of legal repercussions. To wrap up, this is only one of numerous issues that result from criminalizing prostitution. Unfortunately, the American media is generally unaware of the injustices that sex workers are subjected to. Or, the industry is unwilling to report on these human rights violations.   [1] Gail Pheterson. A Vindication of the Rights of Whores. Seattle: The Seal Press, 1989. Print. P 5 [2] Nils Ringal. Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution. New York: Grove Press, 2004. Print. P 373 [3] Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. New York: William Morrow, 2009. Print. P 45  
The Governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, vetoed a bill last month  Photo - Get Budding that would have legalized recreational marijuana. This would have been an unprecedented moment in history. Sure, eight states and the District of Columbia had already legalized recreational use. However, those states legalized recreational marijuana via ballot measures or public referendums. In other words, you can’t give credit to the politicians; it was left up to the voters to decide. The Vermont legislature, on the other hand, passed this bill. Regardless of the fact that the Governor vetoed the bill, no state legislature has ever accomplished this task. With that in mind, this was a very positive development for the American democracy. After all, a strong majority of Americans support legalized marijuana. Hence, this is the perfect example of the manner in which special interests exert control over the legislative process. Will recreational marijuana be legalized in Vermont? The state legislature could overrule the Governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote. But, that seems unlikely because the bill wasn’t passed in the House by a wide margin, 79-66. The margin was much wider in the state Senate, 20-9. The legislature reconvenes on June 21st. Most likely, the members will have to make some alterations to secure the Governor’s signature in the future. Governor Scott has expressed vague concerns about “protecting children,” the regulations, and the methods for roadside testing for impairments. If we are to take him at his word, no system would “protect children” better than a legal and regulated cannabis industry. Secondly, the regulations can be hammered out before the new laws go into effect. As for the roadside testing, we’re at the mercy of the scientific community. There are many new, promising forms of technology in the works, but a perfect method has yet to be finalized. Hopefully, Governor Scott doesn’t lean on these excuses as a crutch to avoid signing this bill. With that said, Phil Scott has publicly supported the general idea of legalizing recreational marijuana. He said, “Generally, I view it through the lens of a libertarian, I believe what adults do behind closed doors and on their own personal property is their own choice so long as it doesn't negatively impact the health and safety of others.” For the short term, he should deserve the benefit of the doubt and we’ll see if a compromise bill can be finalized later this month. A Disturbing Trend Someone who doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt is New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. This may seem familiar if you read my column, “Want to Solve America’s Public Defender Crisis? Stop Arresting People for Cannabis.” Governor Martinez, a GEO Group campaign finance recipient, has taken her loyalty to various conservative special interest groups to a ridiculously absurd level. She has twice vetoed bills to legalize industrial hemp. When I first read about vetoes, I immediately thought of that iconic soundbite from Allen Iverson, “We’re talking about practice?!?” In this instance, we’re talking about hemp?!? This should be a noncontroversial issue. The restrictions on hemp are completely unnecessary. Industrial hemp production and recreational marijuana are two entirely different issues. Hemp contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive chemical, THC, within marijuana. In other words, it’s impossible to get “high” with hemp. Long story short, it is inexcusable for a politician in 2017 to block industrial hemp production in this country. Keep in mind, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed two hemp bills in the state with the highest unemployment rate. With that sentiment in mind, the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, also vetoed an industrial hemp bill last month. That’s particularly disturbing because Ducey’s website claims that it’s his mission to “boost economic growth, create new jobs and promote 21st-century innovation that improves the way Arizonans live.” There is a tremendous economic upside with hemp, but the United States is far behind the curve. Thousands of products can be derived from hemp and several other countries are progressing with some amazing innovations. For instance, Canadian-based Motive Industries has built one of the most eco-friendly cars on the planet, the Kestrel. The body of the car is composed of hemp, which makes it lighter and more crash resistant. In fact, unlike all other cars, the hemp panels of the Kestrel can actually pop back into place after an accident has occurred. Likewise, homebuilders in the U.K. are constructing houses with several different materials derived from hemp, particularly concrete. Hemp can also produce eco-friendly versions of plastic, fuel, clothing, paint, etc. Suffice it say, there are too many hemp products to list in a concise manner. Unfortunately, our nation will continue failing to achieve its full economic potential until the Governors’ offices across this country stop blocking the bipartisan progress with legal cannabis legislation. (Update 6-6) Just hours after this was posted, the Governor of Florida Rick Scott vetoed line items that would have allocated $3 million to medical marijuana research. That's a disappointing decision on multiple levels, in particular, Florida hosts the most senior citizens in the U.S. However, this decision was part of a record-setting day of vetoes in which Governor Scott blocked $11.9 billion of spending.
02.05.2017
Brian Saady
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President Trump (Official Portrait) On March 29th, President Trump conducted a meeting with various “experts” on the heroin epidemic, i.e. Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Chuck Rosenberg, along with others. Trump kicked off the meeting by citing a ridiculous statistic that was presumably provided by John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security. Trump claimed that illegal trafficking across the border had been reduced by 61% within his first two months in office! Only moments later, he contradicted that “alternative fact” with another one. He claimed that cartels have brought such vast supplies of illegal drugs that some illegal narcotics “are cheaper than candy.”     It’s no secret that America is now experiencing an unprecedented opioid epidemic. This is an issue that has been covered, in great detail, by essentially every major news organization. Then again, Trump apparently gets his news updates entirely from Fox News. Hence, Trump, and his inner circle, seems to believe that this crisis is “probably almost untalked about compared to the severity that we're witnessing.” He added: “It's really one of the biggest problems our country has, and nobody really wants to talk about it. Vice President Pence mentioned this coming into the room. He said, this is a problem like nobody understands.”  Chris Christie chimed in with this gem as though he had insight that most Americans were unaware of: “I think the President and I both agree that addiction is a disease, and it's a disease that can be treated, and that we need to make sure we let people know -- the President talked about how folks don’t talk about it.” This belief that “folks don’t talk about it,” is stunningly out of touch with the views of most Americans. Public opinion about drug addiction is rapidly changing in favor of treatment and harm reduction, not incarceration. To be fair, Chris Christie has been one of the more vocal Republicans to publicly advocate softer stances in the war on drugs, such as criticisms for mandatory minimum sentences. But, his actions haven’t lived up to his rhetoric. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who believes that the drug war has been a success. Most people recognize that criminalizing drugs has been counterproductive and led to an increase in crime. And drug-related crime is apparently what Donald Trump was referring to when he made another statement. Albeit, it’s difficult to decipher what President Trump was trying to convey: “Our Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is working very hard on this problem. It takes a lot of his time, because this causes so much of the problem that you have to solve -- that problem.” The war on drugs is an endless cycle that is inadvertently designed to fail. Time and time again, each administration swears that it will be the one to solve the drug addiction problem. And Jeff Sessions believes he’s the right man for the job. He said, “When I became a United States attorney in ’81…it took 20 years, but we reduced drug abuse in America, addiction and death dramatically.”   Another troubling aspect of this meeting was a repetitive theme in which President Trump focused on when this opioid epidemic began, not the reasons why it began. This panel of “experts” listened to a few emotional stories from people whose life hit rock bottom before overcoming addiction. Prescription drugs were the gateway drugs for two or those three speakers. Nonetheless, this point seemed to be lost on the listeners. Anyhow, the head of the DEA, Chuck Rosenberg, told the panel what Trump apparently wanted to hear. He estimated that the last eight to ten years have been the worst as far as heroin addiction. Obviously, Rosenberg didn’t go into depth about the corrupt connection between the DEA, drug companies, and the opioid crisis, which was the focus of my column “Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War.” Instead, Rosenberg informed the group about a DEA “takeback” initiative in which people can return unused prescription drugs. Remarkably, he mentioned “We're going to do that relentlessly twice a year, encourage people to turn in these drugs, and try and break this cycle.” Now, let’s pause for a second. That may have been a first. Arguably, no person has ever claimed to do anything “relentlessly…twice a year.” For all of the different points of view that were presented--harm reduction, addiction treatment, etc.--Trump ultimately showed his hand. As we all know, he believes that a wall along the border with Mexico will eradicate drug trafficking. Trump asked Rosenberg, “Would this (increase in drug use) have anything to do with the weakening of the borders?  Because a lot of it comes from the southern border.” Rosenberg acknowledged that a large percentage of drugs are trafficked through Mexico, but he also pointed out that China is a major importer as well. With that said, it must be noted that Trump genuinely believes that our border security has been “weakened” over the years, even though the budgets for counternarcotics, terrorism, border patrol, national security, etc. continue to rise every year. All in all, this 30-minute meeting was illuminating and concerning in regard to the direction of our country. ### Brian Saady's three-book series, Rackets, is now available at all major bookstores. The Drug War: A Trillion Dollar Con Game Dealing From the Bottom of the Deck: Hypocritical Gambling Laws Enrich Crooked Politicians, a Select-Few Casinos, and the Mob Decriminalized Prostitution: The Common Sense Solution  
26.04.2017
Brian Saady
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Today’s post picks up from a previous post, Crony Capitalism; Private Prison Stocks Have Doubled Since the Election.  We all remember the “Pay to Play” rhetoric from Donald Trump during the campaign. However, the Trump administration made a controversial decision last week to award their first federal contract for an immigration detention center to the GEO Group. As mentioned in the previous post, a $100,000 donation by the GEO Group to Trump’s Super PAC may have violated federal. Private companies can’t make political donations while their contracts while holding or negotiating a federal contract. Then again, the GEO Group is unlikely to be penalized due to a technicality; one of their subsidiaries, which doesn’t have any federal contracts, made the donation. Was there a quid-pro-quo for this newly acquired $110 million immigration detention center contract? There’s no evidence at this time, but the optics are horrible. Nonetheless, this type of decision was the exact scenario that Trump adamantly campaigned against. He was supposed to “drain the swamp.” He repeatedly pointed to the “Pay to Play System,” i.e. preferential treatment for Clinton Foundation donors. Now, he can be accused of the same kind of corruption. Making matters worse, the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Justice issued a damning report yesterday about another private prison operator. Their office revealed clear corporate negligence at the infamous federal prison, Leavenworth, which is being operated by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CoreCivic compromised inmate and staff safety by understaffing and closing “mandatory” security posts. Remarkably, their company compensated, at times, by placing staff members who were not corrections officers into these security posts.  CoreCivic also repeatedly placed three beds into cells that were designed for two beds. Furthermore, their company tried to hide that decision from government auditors. There were other details demonstrating that this company prioritized profits over rehabilitation. You can view a condensed video of the Inspector general’s report: Did this report impact the Trump administration’s decision to award the recent $110 million contract to the GEO Group? Again, there’s no evidence. And this latest report was years in the making. In fact, there’s no evidence suggesting that Jeff Sessions or the Trump administration considers the recommendations of the Inspector General’s Office in any manner. Otherwise, they would have not reversed the decision by the Obama administration to phase out all federal prison contractors, which was based upon a report by the Inspector General.
Another major opioid manufacturer has been fined by the DOJ since my column, “Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War,” was published six weeks ago. This time around it’s a corporate sponsor of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids (formerly the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA). In fact, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals is a “Champion Partner” with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Then again, CVS Health is also a “Champion Partner,” even though their company was fined $3.5 million by the DOJ after pharmacists ignored red flags and filled fake prescriptions for dangerous narcotics.  Companies such as Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals can hide behind their tax-deductible donations to organizations such as the Partner for Drug-Free Kids. Such contributions tend to purify the image of a company that sells opiates that are frequently abused recreationally, particularly Roxicodone. However, a recent investigative report by The Washington Paper left no doubt about the company’s complicit role in the opioid epidemic. According to confidential government records and emails that were obtained by their newspaper, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals’ negligent conduct may have been responsible for nearly 44,000 federal violations and left their company liable for $2.3 billion in fines. Roxicodone (Wikimedia Commons) Needless to say, the obvious conclusion from this piece by The Washington Post, “The government’s struggle to hold opioid manufacturers accountable,” is that Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals should be facing criminal indictments. However, this is a $7.5 billion company. Hence, the same rules of criminal justice don’t apply. After multiple years of investigations and negotiations, the DOJ reached a civil settlement agreement in which their company will pay a fine of $35 million and not have to admit any wrongdoing. As you may have guessed, this penalty elicited a collective yawn from Wall Street traders as their share prices dropped merely 1% for the day. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is the one person on Capitol Hill who is leading an official inquiry into the major drug companies involved with the opioid epidemic. In the end, she'll likely more damning evidence that isn't presently available to the public. However, none of these companies will be truly held accountable until there are major structural changes to our governmental system. One Senator is no match to the systemic corruption that has enabled this corporate criminality.  My column, “Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War,” goes into much more detail about why this cycle will continue until major changes are made. The revolving door between government and the private sector has corrupted the regulatory process. The DEA determines the exact number of prescription opiates that can be manufactured each year. Nonetheless, the DEA increased the manufacturing limit even as record numbers of prescription drug overdoses were occurring. Worst of all, financial conflicts of interest and outside pressure have forced the DEA and DOJ to act unconscionably lenient towards to the major drug companies that are responsible for this crisis. Instead, it’s much easier for the feds to target the low-hanging fruit that doesn’t have an army of lobbyists at their disposal. Our government is unwilling to confront the real players who are responsible for the massive black market for prescription drugs. Suffice it to say, the war on drugs is an absolute lie. (By the way, there are more examples of hypocritical/shameless donors to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America included in The Drug War: A Trillion Dollar Con Game, the first volume of my book series, Rackets. All three books will be released next Tuesday, April 11th.)
There were a couple of alarming news stories from Honduras in recent days. A past blog post of mine, “The Hillary Clinton/WikiLeaks Email Scandal That Was Neglected by the Media: The Honduras Coup,” provides a lot of background about the political situation in that country and our nation’s role in its chaos.  Long story short, Honduras has become a “narcocracy” after a military coup in 2009, which was supported by the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton. Honduras is now run by a brutal right-wing regime that has unofficial police death squads. Some would suggest that such drastic measures are necessary in a country such as Honduras, which has one of the highest rates of gang violence in the world. However, corruption is rampant and these death squads are often acting as enforcers for rival drug trafficking organizations. Furthermore, numerous high-level Honduran government officials have clear links with drug trafficking. That leads us to a recent story by the Associated Press. A Honduran drug lord, Devis Rivera Maradiaga, testified on Monday that the former President of Honduras, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, accepted bribe money in exchange for protection and government contracts for money laundering. Devis Rivera Maradiaga was a leader of one of Honduras’ most powerful drug trafficking organizations, the Cachiros, which has acted as transshipment service for various Mexican cartels, including the Sinaloa cartel.  Devis Rivera Maradiaga made these accusations during his testimony in a pre-sentencing hearing for Fabio Lobo (the son of Pepe Lobo), who pled guilty to arranging a multi-ton shipment of cocaine to U.S. last year. Naturally, the former President, Pepe Lobo denied this claim. However, it is undeniable that there are numerous links between the Cachiros and the Honduran economic and social elite, including the former and current President. This report by InSight Crime goes into extensive detail. Remarkably, this group was a listed by the U.S. government as a known crime organization at a time when they didn’t face any charges in their home country.  Bear in mind, the Obama administration was a strong supporter of the Lobo even though our government was fully aware of his administration’s corruption and human rights abuses. In fact, our government went to great lengths to avoid using the word “coup” to keep sending foreign aid to their country.  Why would our government fund such atrocities? The answer is simple. Honduras is a military ally. (You can read about this in more detail, “The Hillary Clinton/WikiLeaks Email Scandal That Was Neglected by the Media: The Honduras Coup.”) In short, the U.S. government provides military aid for “counternarcotics” to various Latin American countries. In many cases, this aid is counterproductive with its anti-drug mission, but the real purpose is to expand our military forces abroad without declaring war. In other words, the drug war serves as a pretense for various geopolitical/military purposes. (You can read about this type of scenario in Mexico and Colombia.) It’s important to know the origin of the 2009 Honduran coup. The official justification was that the former Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, was trying to amend the constitution to allow himself to run for re-election. The economic elite feared that Zelaya would then abuse his power to stay in office indefinitely. However, that same group of oligarchs helped the current President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, amend the constitution to allow him to run for re-election. Hernandez is certain to face waves of protests when the next election occurs. Then again, the Honduran government passed a controversial law last week that will suppress their free speech rights. This law was posed as a way of combating the country’s gang activity by barring any “illegal association” in public. By law, any form of vandalism that takes place during a political protest can lead to the demonstrators and organizers being charged with “terrorism” and facing 30 years in prison.  (Protest of 2009 Honduran military coup-Photo-Wikimedia Commons) It turns out that the Honduran government has used the pretense of the drug war for subversive purposes in a similar way to the U.S. government.
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© Brian Saady