Ever noticed how, in this new era in which we live, that the Prison Industrial Complex just loves to “throw the book” at anyone who is found to not be “playing by the rules” as defined by our Government Overlords? It used to be that, if you were pulled over for speeding (shame on you!), Barney the cop might let you go with a warning, or s/he might give you a speeding ticket. That was it. No big deal.
But not today.
Today if you get pulled over for a speeding ticket you’re also likely to get a fix it ticket for the window that the neighbor kid cracked with a rock, for being three days late on your auto insurance, for that low tire, and that break light that’s out. And on any whim what-so-ever, your car can be searched and if so much as an old dried pot leaf is found, it’s off to jail with you!
Just a month or so ago the local sheriffs showed up at a “domestic violence” scene (that’s cop talk for what used to be known as a lover’s quarrel) and found a small marijuana grow. They destroyed it, obviously, confiscated the grow equipment and $800 in cash. Pot and money in proximity, you see, is automatic proof that the couple had been growing “with intent to sell.”
Never mind that we live in a world where the working poor and poorly educated are growing in number and being more marginalized and cut off from financial services every day. Cash in proximity to pot is automatic “intent to sell.” Never mind that the girl had a minimum wage job but no bank account, that the house was run down, the car was twenty years old—it was as obvious as the nose on the cop’s face that these people weren’t exactly rolling in drug cartel money. Yeah. Never mind all that. Just take the money and throw the book at them!
And that’s what they did. Because they also cut the power, so the couple’s food would spoil, because they found “code violations” in the electrical wiring. (They always do unless you’ve got an old contract showing the wiring was done by a licensed electrician, and even then it’s chancy.) So add a fine for the automatic guilt of supposedly doing electrical work without a permit (no proof that they actually did the work is required). There were small children in the house. They, of course, were immediately taken away from their parents and handed over to Child Protective Services, adding the charge of “child endangerment” to the list, even though there was no evidence of mistreatment, abuse, malnutrition, or even tardiness in school. Doesn’t matter. Hall the kids off to CPS where they can be taught how to deal drugs for real! (The success rate for children turned over to CPS and then foster care is abysmally low.) We’re going to teach these miscreants a lesson so they never step out of line again. Throw the book at them!
Except, of course. It never works. In the long course of human history it never has worked. You’d think we’d finally evolve enough to learn.
Did continual persecution of Christians by Rome for two hundred years get rid of them? They were tortured, stuck in the arena and made fun of, fed to lions, crucified, and who knows what else.
Did it kill Christianity? Obviously not.
During the inquisition thousands were tortured into confession, some were burned, others were drowned. A lucky few were simply excommunicated, though that rather came to a stop when Rome discovered that excommunicating those who don’t like you anyway does more to hurt you (in the wallet) than it does them. (They get to keep their tithe money.)
Did all those atrocities prevent the growth of science over Church dogma and belief? Nope.
Did all those atrocities prevent England from splitting with Rome? Nope.
Did all those atrocities prevent the Protestant Reformation? Nope.
The Soviet Union spent seventy years trying to keep it’s people under control. It erected walls to pen them in. It brutalized those who dared speak the truth about the regime or the true state of things in the USSR. It hunted down dissidents and banished them to live in conditions under which civilized people wouldn’t keep their own dog.
Did it prevent the truth from spreading and the walls from coming down? Nope.
You’d think we’d learn: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one,” Thomas Paine once said.
But then, I keep forgetting: We live in an age where the wisdom of our forefathers is now considered but a fad of college youth that most (real) adults soon grow out of. Then the sagacity of true tyranny teaches them the folly of Thomas Paine’s wisdom and they soon come to believe that those who rebel against reason are not the real rebels, as Paine claimed. But he that in defense of reason rebels against tyranny, he is the real rebel, and he must, at all costs, be stopped. Or so our Government Overlords would have us believe.
We humans just love to believe we’re analytical and logical beings. Recall a discussion on an issue where you disagree and I’ll bet you recall both you and the other parties trading ‘facts’ at a furious pace, everyone involved believing fervently that logic and reason, and perhaps even truth, are on their side. Failing personal experience, turn on CSPAN and watch your Congress debate an issue for a few hours; or go to your next city council or county board meeting. Somehow the ‘facts’ and the ‘truth’ seem to be on all sides.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the devout pontifications of the true believers in the halls of government and solemn chambers of the courts that ‘we are a country of laws’ and that ‘we are governed by the rule of law’. In one form or other, that has been the cry of every king, emperor, dictator, overlord, and petty potentate in history. A belief reinforced, of course, by punishments so hideous and grotesque they’re incomprehensible. And yet, history shows that the rule of law, no matter how inhumanely enforced cannot trump the true governor of all human societies: Culture.
It is culture that informs us, from a very early age, about what is right and what is wrong; about how we are to treat family, friends, strangers. It is culture that teaches us who we should marry, and in what number; when sex is okay, and when it’s not; what is obscene or pornographic, and what is not; what kinds of public behavior are acceptable, and those that are not. It is our culture that informs us who is one of ‘us’ and who is not. And to the extent that laws and culture agree, the culture will enforce the law. The Prince, to borrow from Machiavelli, is mostly irrelevant.
But where culture and the Prince part company, and the Prince attempts to enforce his or her moral will over the ruled, in defiance of the culture of the ruled, the Prince is doomed to failure. A thousand years of conquests in the Middle East did not turn Jews into gentiles. Even hundreds of years of exile, first during the reign of Babylon and then again during the Roman occupation did not destroy their culture. Nor did the Roman occupation destroy the cultures of the Greeks, Palestinians, Visigoths, Egyptians, or anyone else. Three centuries of crucifixions and other brutal killings did not end the Jesus movement. Despite the ‘rule of law’ and what might be called—to put it in a modern context—the war on Christianity, it grew to be the dominant religion of Rome itself, and then of the post Roman world. Despite thousands of be-headings, burnings at the stake, and torture elicited retractions, neither the distribution of the common language Bible and emergence of protestantism nor the rise of the age of science could be prevented. For all it’s brutality, the four hundred year long campaign to bludgeon the population into compliance through fear and intimidation failed. The inquisition lost to cultural evolution. As did the American Temperance Movement in its attempt to make drinking illegal, and the Soviet Union in its attempt to homogenize the diverse cultures over which it had imposed its will.
In point of fact, no law contradictory to the culture of the time has ever succeeded, no matter how brutal the punishment imposed. And yet, even today, politicians insist on believing they can make laws contrary to the morality of the time, and if they just impose severe enough punishments, give enough speeches, find enough ‘experts’ to go on TV and preach how good the law is for society, that they can change the culture.
The truth is, it’s the other way around.
American unjustly and inhumanely incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth! According to some statistics, one million Americans a year are arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana; careers ruined, lives shattered. And what do we have to show for it?
A for profit prison industrial complex (PIC) that, according to this fact sheet (pdf) has been growing at more than 6% per year. Crime, in a traditional sense, is no longer the sole, or even prime focus of what the government and press prefer to call the ‘criminal justice system’. Today the interests of government and private industry have merged. Money is now the driving force behind law enforcement, the war on terror, incarceration, and even how the PIC is perceived by the public. Or perhaps more accurately, how the PIC hopes they are perceived. A gullible public is, after all, a compliant public.
But the truth, as the old saying goes, is in the tasting. Just as the Roman Catholic Church was terrified of losing it’s hold over Europe, and the money that came with it, sooner or later culture will win out over the PIC. How soon? How many more lives will have to be ruined before the beast is brought to heel? That depends on your choices in the voting booth.
Right now I am so disgusted I’m almost incapable of writing. So instead let me quote from the article I link to below. That will give you a taste of this unconscionable act of Government sponsored and funded police state violence.
If you think you understand how law enforcement operates; if you think it’s anything like those famous police shows like NYPD Blue or CSI, I hope this article opens your eyes a bit. It certainly did mine! What ordinary cops are doing to American Citizens is so reminiscent of the terror tactics of Nazi Germany’s SS or the Soviet KGB it’s horrifying. All thanks to Federal money, given to law enforcement departments who meet certain quotas in prosecuting the “War on Drugs.”
So without further ado, here it is. After a violent assault that hospitalized her, and that this young woman could not get the Chicago Police Department to investigate, this happened:
Shaver, her then-boyfriend and a roommate were in the apartment with her four dogs when the door flew open with the crash of a battering ram. “I thought we were being robbed,” Shaver recalled. “It wasn’t clear to us that they were cops at all. I had a flashback to my attack. I was just terrified. I peed myself. I had peed myself, and I was shaking, trying to gather my dogs while they were pointing these guns at me — these huge guns that could blow me apart. My Vizsla mix ran off, and I was afraid they were going to shoot it. I asked if I could get it, and they said ‘We don’t give a fuck about your dog.'”According to the search warrant, the police were searching for Nate. Shaver said they looked through Nate’s belongings gathered on the couch and found about $900 and a sandwich bag filed with marijuana. They didn’t leave a receipt for what they took.“They were going through his mail,” she said. “They tried to say he was my brother. They kept looking for some way to say he had always lived here. He had mail here, but it was mail he brought from his old place. It all had his old address on it.”Shaver’s boyfriend and roommate were handcuffed. Shaver started to panic. She told the police about her prior assault, and asked if she could take some anti-anxiety medication and change her clothes. They refused.“There were 20 to 25 cops in my apartment now. Some of them were in street clothes. Some of them were in SWAT clothes with face masks. They told me I wasn’t allowed to move. I wasn’t even certain they were police until about two hours later, when a uniformed cop showed up with the warrant,” she recalled.Shaver says she heard laughter from her bathroom and bedroom. “They went to my bathroom and started going through all of my medication, laughing about how messed up I was,” she said. “I also have a ‘lady drawer,’ where I keep sex toys and some sex-related gag gifts friends have given me.” Shaver said that when the cops finally left, they had left her place a shambles. When she looked in her bedroom, the police had emptied the drawer and laid all of her sex toys out on her bed.The raid ruined the door to Shaver’s apartment and she has since been evicted. She filed a complaint with Chicago PD, but never heard back. When she attempted to get a copy of the affidavit for the search warrant to see what probable cause they had for such a violent raid, she was told that since she was not the target of the raid, she is not allowed to see the affidavit. As for “Nate,” authorities have yet to issue a warrant for his arrest.
You know, while it’s certainly the job of columnists to give us their opinion on things, I take exception when they start making up facts to suit their opinion. Especially when that columnist is a veteran who writes for a national paper. But this morning I endured just such a column by George Skelton, of the Captial Journal, in the Los Angeles Times. Skelton takes issue with the California Medial Association’s (CMA) legalization stance (also published in the Los Angeles Times). According to the Times, The CMA believes that:
It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not. That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for.
Skelton quotes the CMA as saying:
We need to regulate cannabis so that we know what we’re recommending to our patients. Currently, medical and recreational cannabis have no mandatory labeling standards of concentration or purity. First we’ve got to legalize it so that we can properly study and regulate it.
Which of course, Skelton also takes issue with by asking: “Whatever happened to studying a drug first to determine its benefits and risks, then deciding whether it’s safe enough to legalize?”
If Mr. Skelton knew what he was talking about, he’d know why that can’t be done. It’s been tried! As of August, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will only allow the National Centers for Drug Abuse to study the drug. For what? How to treat abuse, of course. Professor Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts has been trying to get permission to study the plant for nine years, according to this New York Times article.
But the Drug Enforcement Administration—more concerned about abuse than potential benefits—has refused, even after the agency’s own administrative law judge ruled in 2007 that Dr. Craker’s application should be approved, and even after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in March ended the Bush administration’s policy of raiding dispensers of medical marijuana that comply with state laws.
Which, as this Santa Cruz Patch article explains, has led the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to take the DEA to federal court for upholding a monopoly on research marijuana, and for blocking research into the medical efficacy of marijuana.
Another fact Mr. Skelton overlooked is that the Federal Government itself has conducted research into the medical efficacy of marijuana. Called the Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program, it began back in 1978. Some say there were originally as many as thirty four subjects in the study, this website shows eight. In May of 2008 the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) issued a press release that stated:
The federal medical marijuana program—referred to as a Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program—resulted from a lawsuit filed by glaucoma patient Robert Randall, who successfully showed that his use of marijuana was a medical necessity.
The program slowly grew for over a dozen years. In the wake of a flood of new applications from patients battling AIDS—who found that marijuana boosted their appetites and relieved the nausea often caused by anti-HIV drugs—the George H.W. Bush administration closed it to new applicants in March 1992, but continued supplying federal marijuana to those already receiving it. Four of those patients survive today.
The Federal Government also holds patents on marijuana for medical use. The abstract for US Patent Number 6630507, which is held by the U.S. Government states:
Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention. A particular disclosed class of cannabinoids useful as neuroprotective antioxidants is formula (I) wherein the R group is independently selected from the group consisting of H, CH3, and COCH3.
So on the one hand, the U.S. Government insists that there is no known medical use of marijuana, and blocks research for anything but treatment of addiction, while on the other it holds a patent precisely because its own study found the drug to be efficacious in the treatment of certain medical conditions. Had Mr. Skelton been interested in the facts of marijuana, rather than trying to support his beliefs, he might have discovered this information himself, and asked why the Federal Government continues to deny requests to reclassify marijuana so that research can continue in an independent way, without the obvious conflicts of interest present inside the Federal Government.
Mr. Skelton also scathingly snarks: “What raised my eyebrows was a repeat of the old canard about how locking up stoners eats up too much tax money.” […] “Fewer than 1% of the inmates have been sentenced for marijuana or hashish crimes of any sort, according to state prison data.” Perhaps, but consider this. In a presentation to the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2010, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance opened with a couple of disturbing statistics.
The United States now ranks first in the world in per captia incarceration rates, with less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. Roughly 500,000 people are behind bars tonight for a drug violation.
Police made 1.7 million arrests in 2008 alone, including 750,000 for nothing more than possession of marijuana for personal use. [pg. 2]
A White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske quote from this LEAP document, entitled ‘Ending the Drug War: A Dream Deferred,’ sums things up beautifully:
“I understand, from firsthand experience as a police officer and police chief, that we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of a problem this complex, and that a ‘War on Drugs’ mentality is too simplistic an approach to be effective.”
Fortunately, Mr. Skelton’s antiquated and unsupported point of view are on the wane. In a poll published last week, Reuters announced that half of Americans now support full legalization of marijuana, Last year a gallop poll showed that 70% approve of legalization for medical use. The only question is, how long will it take lawmakers, who must answer to bureaucracies terrified of having their budgets cut, to answer to their constituents rather than those agencies?
Maybe you have a dozen credit cards in your wallet. Maybe you have none. But if you owe the government money, and especially if you’re a small business, I’ll be you didn’t know you have one labeled IRS. It’s true. No, it’s not a physical card, but thanks to our wonderful legislature, the IRS uses the same usurious practices that credit card companies do in order to generate even more revenue than the tax code originally authorized them to collect. Even more troubling is the massive increase in the IRS’s uncompromising use of collections tools at a time when tax payers can least afford it.
According to testimony in April 2011 by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, before the House Committee on Small Business, from FY 2006 to 2010 (i.e. the heart of the Great Recession) IRS Notices of Federal Tax Liens increased 55%. Actual liens increased a whopping 172%! (Footnote 74, page 21—pdf) The scary part is, once taxes become delinquent, the IRS is authorized by Congress to charge A) late fees, B) interest, and C) for every ‘breech of agreement’, a penalty. Tactics eerily familiar to those who’ve had to deal with credit card companies.
Is this fair? Is it right?
Is it right that even though unemployment is higher that at any time since the Great Depression; even though home foreclosures are higher than they’ve ever been in our nation’s history; even though construction related unemployment, many of whom are self employed small business (contractors), is at 34%; that according to Reuters, in FY 2010 the IRS accepted only 13,886 offers in compromise and “just 95,000 installment agreements on business-related tax delinquencies, which typically involve small-business taxpayers?” Is it right that “less than 4 percent of the delinquent accounts were reported [by the IRS] as noncollectable due to economic hardship?”
One would think that, given the historic nature of the hard times in which we find ourselves, and given that both the Congress and the President want to see more jobs created, that both the Executive and the Legislature would suspend the fines and penalties and other usurious practices they have authorized the IRS to engage in. One would think they would be instructing the IRS to be as flexible as possible in working with citizens who wish to do their part for their country, but find themselves on hard times. As Olson said: “The government needs to offer a taxpayer who cannot pay in full realistic options to pay what he or she can, so that voluntary compliance is practical.”
Unfortunately, practical and greed don’t mix, and our government’s appetite for money is nothing if not insatiable. Apparently that means damn the little people who get hurt along the way.
Article V of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution (also known as ‘the fifth’) states quite explicitly that: “No Person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law… ” This prohibition is repeated in paragraph 1 of Article XIV (the fourteenth amendment) in admonitions to the States, and tacks the now famous ‘equal protection’ clause on to the end for good measure. We commonly interpret this to mean that, as U.S. citizens, we are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and that we should all be treated and tried equally under the law without regard to race, gender, religious affiliation, or wealth.
So when a cop showed up at his son’s school and clapped the irons onto Louis Gonzalez III without so much as a by your leave, he must have thought he’d been transported to a third world country. He received no Miranda warning, no explanation of why he was being deprived of his liberty and, as soon as he arrived in the jail holding cell, his property. Only after he’d been stripped naked and dressed in prison scrubs was he, hours later, dragged into a briefing room where a police detective told him why he was arrested and finally ‘read him his rights’. The cop was, as all cops are, convinced he was guilty. The LA Times, in an excellent piece of reporting, describes Gonzalez’s ordeal this way:
He was standing on the sidewalk outside the Simi Valley Montessori School, having just flown in from Las Vegas, hoping to get a look at his 5-year-old son’s new kindergarten. Standing there, waiting for the door to open so he could scoop the boy up in his arms and fly him to Nevada for the weekend.
The first officer arrived on a motorcycle and headed straight for him. He did not explain the charges as he snapped on the handcuffs. As Gonzalez stood there stunned, he noticed little faces pressed against the schoolhouse glass, watching, and asked if he could be moved just a bit so his son didn’t have to see.
Soon he’d surrendered all the items that tethered him reassuringly to the rational, workaday world. The BlackBerry he used a hundred times a day. His Dolce & Gabbana watch. His credit cards and photos of his son. His leather shoes and his socks, his pressed shirt and jacket, his belt and slacks and underwear. Naked in a holding cell, he watched his things disappear into plastic bags. He stepped into a set of black-and-white-striped jail scrubs, the kind his son might wear on Halloween.
A month passed in his single-bunk cell, and then another, and he had nothing but time to reckon all he’d lost. His freedom. His son. His job. His reputation. He had to wonder how much he could endure.
The other inmates in the solitary wing of the Ventura County Jail didn’t talk about their cases, because anyone might be a snitch, but his charges were well-known on the cellblock. More than once, they warned him about what awaited if he were convicted and sent to state prison. With a sex crime on his jacket, he knew, he would be a target forever.
“Like you’re waiting for death,” he said. “Dying would probably be better.”
If Gonzalez was presumed innocent under the law, the Ventura County Jail did not expect other inmates to honor that distinction. He was held in a segregated unit and received his meals through a slot in the heavy metal door. He wore a red-striped wristband denoting a violent offense. An hour a day, the doors opened so he could shower and make phone calls.
Now and then he could hear people going crazy in their cells, kicking their doors, screaming on and on until they had to be removed. He thought of himself as mentally sturdy, a survivor, but knew how easily anyone could crack. So he crammed every waking hour with routine. He read out-of-date newspapers and John Grisham novels and the Bible. He made a paper chess set and stood at the crack in his cell door, calling out moves to opponents down the corridor.
He listened to other inmates dwelling on the food they missed. One guy would say, “TGI Fridays, calamari,” the others would groan, and it went on like that for hours.
He learned a rule about surviving lockup: Never take a daytime nap, no matter how tired you are. Because you might not sleep that night, and you’d be left for hours in the dark of a cold cell with only your thoughts and your fear.
In his single-bunk cell in the Ventura County Jail, on a concrete slab desk, Louis Gonzalez III found himself compulsively writing letters to his 5-year-old son. They were a chronicle of their truncated time together. Telling him how they’d cheered for the Yankees. How his favorite toy had been a mechanical garbage truck. How he’d been a picky eater from the start, but crazy for Cheerios. He never mailed them.
He imagined his son in the cell with him, pushing around his Hot Wheels. In the silence and the isolation, his dream life had acquired surprising vividness. He could almost hear the little plastic wheels on the concrete.
He had a recurring fantasy. He saw himself in prison, 10 or 15 years from now, his conviction long since sealed, his appeals denied. His son, grown into a young man, would be his salvation, would take it upon himself to look into the case. He’d show up and say, “Mom admitted that she lied.”
Gonzalez, an innocent man, would spend 83 days in a tiny, solitary cell, deprived of everything that helps keep us sane: Family, useful employment, entertainment, interacting with other human beings, and for most of us, room to move around. (Most jail cells are no more than six feet by eight feet.) And he was treated better than many. I recently interviewed a young man, also innocent, who had spent ten days in the Sacramento County jail, fending off repeated rape attempts by other inmates. Being ignorant of the ways ‘inside’, he reported the first attempt to one of the jailers and was laughed at. “What do you want me to do? You’re in here to be punished,” the jailer scoffed.
Like Gonzalez, there had been no trial, no conviction by the Constitutionally mandated jury of his peers. But in the eyes of the jailers, the cops, the DA, and pretty much everyone else, both men were already “in [there] to be punished” for the crimes of which they were accused.
And in Gonzalez case, even having the charges dropped, even getting a judgment against his accuser ordering her to pay his legal fees for the false accusation didn’t undo the damage. Eventually his defense team would win a judgment of ‘factual innocence’ for him: A legal statement proclaiming his innocence. It would save his career, but the damage done to his reputation, the fact that he’d ‘done time’—83 days of time—with all that meant in the eyes of the public, could never be undone.
Some will say that all of this is necessary for the public safety. To which I must reply: Is it? As can be seen from the graph at right, the United States incarcerates eight times the numbers of people found in European prisons. And yet, the crime rates are comparable. The French were furious when videos of former IMF president, and French citizen, Dominique Strauss-Kahn were broadcast around the world showing him being led around in hand cuffs by New York police. In France the accused are the accused, not the guilty. For a French citizen to be treated like a criminal before conviction is unthinkable. And yet somehow, even though they don’t attempt to drive those accused of a crime insane with solitary confinement, boredom, and constant threats to their safety, their society doesn’t seem to suffer from a constant plague of crimes committed by the accused.
America likes to think of herself as a shining beacon on a hill, as President Reagan once put it. An example for all the world to look to of liberty, with justice for all. But if the Gonzalez case proves nothing else, it shows us how far away from that shining beacon we have strayed. Had Gonzalez not been wealthy enough to fund out of pocket legal expenses greater than most of us could borrow for a new car; had he, like so many Americans, been dependent upon public defenders—who are known to the poor as “public defectors”—he most certainly would have been convicted. Because in American we do not get equal treatment under the law. We are not innocent until proven guilty. We are guilty until proven innocent, and that is exactly how we are treated; and we only have the best justice system money can buy.
Which is why our prisons are full of, not rich people, but of the poor.