Category: war on drugs

You can’t say nobody on Wall Street is doing time

Kareem Serageldin will be one of the top Wall Street officials to serve time for criminal conduct during the financial crisis.
Kareem Serageldin

By Alan Bean

According to this article in the New York Times, Kareem Serageldin, once a top executive with Credit Suisse, has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years for his role in the derivatives meltdown.  Like so many others, Serageldin bundled toxic mortgages and sold them to unwitting investors.

But why did a federal judge sentence the defendant to half the term outlined in the non-binding federal sentencing guidelines?  Fortunately, we don’t have to guess because Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein explained his actions.  According to the Times:

“He was in a place where there was a climate for him to do what he did,” the judge said. “It was a small piece of an overall evil climate inside that bank and many other banks.”

No one who has studied the sad trajectory of the mortgage crisis and the economic collapse it spawned can quibble with the judge’s assessment–the accused was caught up in an evil corporate climate.  I have no problem with a judge taking that into account.  We are all accountable for our individual decisions, but we are all dancing with the culture and, most of the time, the culture leads.

But can you imagine a judge cutting a member of a drug gang some slack because he operated within an evil climate?  I can’t.

In fact, we have artificially jacked up sentences for narcotics-related crimes on the theory that the tougher we get, the greater the deterrent effect.  Other street punks will notice that Tony got thirty years for a second offense and mend their ways.  It has never worked, but that’s the rationale. (more…)

Tarantino calls America’s drug war the new slavery

By Alan Bean

Quentin Tarantino has definitely been reading Michelle Alexander.  Last month, while talking up his new movie, Django Unchained on a Canadian talk show, the controversial film director launched into a discourse on the American war on drugs:

Like most celebrities with a limited grasp of the issues, Tarantino garbles his facts a bit.  Most drug war prisoners aren’t held in private prisons and aren’t working for corporations who exploit prison labor.  This happens, to be sure, but it isn’t the typical scenario.   (more…)

Obama: mass incarceration is having ‘a disabling effect on communities’

Nadav Kander for TIMEBy Alan Bean

The criminal justice system was hardly mentioned during the 2012 election season.  No one was banging the tuff-on-crime drum and we certainly didn’t hear anyone calling for reform.  With violent crime ebbing steadily, politicians are no longer locked in a Tougher Than Thou race to the bottom.  And although he didn’t press the issue during the campaign, President Obama has been dropping hints that his second term will address the problem of mass incarceration.

I have pasted the relevant section of Obama’s December conversation with Time magazine below.  As one would expect from a politician, he begins by burnishing his tough-on-crime credentials.  But pay close attention to his focus on non-violent criminals, a euphemistic reference to drug dealers.  The president isn’t simply arguing that the war on drugs has been a failure.  In fact, he wisely avoids any mention of drugs.  His point is that our ill-considered war on drugs is destroying low-income neighborhoods.  This is a moral argument.  Moreover, it shows that the essential features of Michelle Alexander’s critique is beginning to sink in.

One of the other things that I’ve heard is being discussed when you think about a second term is the idea of criminal justice reform. What would your goals be in that area? What is the problem you think can be solved in the next few years? (more…)

A house divided still

By Alan Bean

Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln” pulled in $34 million over the Thanksgiving weekend, third best behind the new Twilight and James Bond movies.  When I saw the film over the weekend, the audience  applauded as the credits rolled–something you don’t see very often.

The film,  loosely based on Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, is relentlessly historical.  Lincoln is portrayed as a bucolic Christ figure, but Spielberg stops short of turning The Great Emancipator into a comfortable citizen of the 21st Century.   Constitutional equality applied to Negroes, said Lincoln; that meant abolishing the slave trade in every corner of the Union and little else. (more…)

DEA agent told not to enforce drug laws in white areas

Posted by Pierre Berastain

From Colorlines:

Meet Matthew Fogg, a former U.S. Marshal whose exploits led him to be nicknamed “Batman.” When he noticed that all of his team’s drug raids were in black areas, he suggested doing the same in the suburbs.

“If we were locking up everybody, white and black, for doing the same drugs they would’ve done the same thing with prohibition, they would’ve outlawed it,” Fogg says in the video produced by Brave New Films. “If it were an equal enforcement opportunity we wouldn’t be sitting here anyway.”

How the US government used a Mexican drug lord to convict an innocent man

Ramsey Muniz runs for Texas governor in 1970

By Alan Bean

Ramsey (Ramiro) Muniz is a man of seventy who hobbles on a bad hip, but his spirit grows stronger with each passing day.  Ramsey has now spent two full decades in federal prisons (including three years in solitary confinement) for participating in an alleged narcotics conspiracy.  Supporters feel that a septuagenarian with a broken body and a vibrant heart is a sterling candidate for a presidential commutation.  I agree.  But first we must face a troubling question.  Somebody entered into a conspiracy with a Mexican drug lord, but was it Ramsey Muniz or was it the federal government?

Eager for a big media splash and an easy conviction, the Houston office of the DEA treated their counterparts in Dallas to a series of carefully staged events while intentionally obscuring the truth.  Those who testified at trial had no idea what was going on; those who knew the truth did not testify.  The DEA got a big media win, a drug lord got a plane ticket back to Mexico, and Ramsey Muniz got a life sentence.  (more…)

Great speech, Bill, but I’ve got a problem

By Alan Bean

Only Bill Clinton can hold an audience through fifty minutes of uninterrupted wonkery.  His speech at the Democratic Convention displayed rhetorical skill, a keen grasp of policy detail and a deep understanding of political reality that only comes with painful experience.  They say convention speeches have little lasting impact.  Clinton’s performance last night may qualify as the rare exception.

But I’ve got a problem.

Mr. Clinton’s triangulating legacy is a big part of the mess we face as a nation.  The Man from Hope mastered the art of the deal.  He met his opponents half way.  He stole their best material.  The new corporate aristocracy could live with a free trading Democrat like this.

Thanks largely to the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the speculative bubbles that followed in its wake, the middle class prospered on Clinton’s watch.  But the poor and the vulnerable (the folks Friends of Justice, and God Almighty, cares about the most) have paid a dreadful price for Clinton’s political success.

In 1996, Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Act that ended welfare as we know it.  The plan worked reasonably well where job markets were strong.  But in many small towns and urban neighborhoods the move from welfare to work, wonderful in theory, didn’t translate to the street.  Now that the job market for the poorest 20% has virtually disappeared, Mr. Clinton’s chickens are roosting everywhere. (more…)

Tom Berry: “Ten Years of Waste, Immigrant Crackdowns and New Drug Wars”

If you want to know why America’s immigration policy is so badly broken, this article by Tom Berry is a great starting place.  “Continuing down the same course of border security buildups, drug wars and immigration crackdowns will do nothing to increase security or safety,” Berry says.  “It will only keep border policy on the edge – teetering without direction or strategy.”

This article, originally published in Truthout, is an edited excerpt of the policy report Berry produced for the Center for International Policy.   Berry appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2009 and the horrors he discussed with Terry Gross have only worsened in the ensuing three years.  AGB

Border Security After 9/11: Ten Years of Waste, Immigrant Crackdowns and New Drug Wars

Prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the term “border security” was rarely used. Today, however, it is both a fundamental goal of US domestic security and the defining paradigm for border operations. Despite the federal government’s routine declarations of its commitment to securing the border, neither Congress

nor the executive branch has ever clearly defined the term “border security.”

Border security constitutes the single largest line item in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget. Nonetheless, DHS has failed to develop a border security strategy that complements US domestic and national security objectives. DHS has not even attempted to delineate benchmarks that would measure the security of the border or specify exactly how the massive border security buildup has increased homeland security.

In its strategic plan, DHS does promise: “We will reduce the likelihood that terrorists can enter the United States. We will strengthen our border security and gain effective control of our borders.” And DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano assured us last year that, as a result of new border security spending by the Obama administration, “the Southwest border is more secure than ever before.”

Since 2003, Homeland Security and the Justice Department have opened spigots of funding for an array of border security operations. These include commitments for 18-foot steel fencing, high-tech surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), increased prosecutions of illegal border crossers and new deployments of the Border Patrol and National Guard.

Yet the federal government’s continued expressions of its commitment to border security only serve to highlight the shortcomings of this commitment and to spark opposition to long- overdue immigration reform. “Secure the border” – a political demand echoed by immigration restrictionists, grassroots anti-immigrant activists and a chorus of politicians – now resounds as a battle cry against the federal government and liberal immigration reformers. These border security hawks charge that the federal government is failing to meet its responsibility to secure the border, pointing to continued illegal crossings by immigrants and drug traffickers. Border sheriffs, militant activists and state legislatures have even started taking border security into their own hands.

The post-9/11 imperative of securing “the homeland” set off a widely played game of one-upmanship that has had Washington, border politicians and sheriffs, political activists and vigilantes competing to be regarded as the most serious and hawkish on border security. The emotions and concerns unleashed by the 9/11 attacks exacerbated the long-running practice of using the border security issue to further an array of political agendas – immigration crackdowns, border pork-barrel projects, drug wars, states’ rights and even liberal immigration reform. Yet these new commitments to control the border have been largely expressions of public diplomacy rather than manifestations of new thinking about the border. (more…)

A Snitch’s Dilemma

By Alan Bean

A Snitch’s Dilemma” takes us inside the world of a typical Atlanta street hustler.  His name is Alex White.  It’ a long piece, but this isn’t the kind of story you can tell in 700 words.  White made his living as a drug dealer and a snitch.  Narcotics officers knew he was dealing but didn’t care; the men who supplied him with drugs may have known he was a snitch but looked the other way so long as he only set up “nobodys”. 

Then a gang of Atlanta narcotics cops killed an innocent old woman in a botched drug raid and Alex White’s neat world came apart.

Ted Conover wrote this piece for the NYT Magazine.  He doesn’t glamorize his subject or his life on the streets.  Instead, he gives us a portrait of a man trapped by the streets.  When federal authorities urge him to get out-of-town for his own safety, White is terrified by the thought of leaving his familiar streets.  He can’t survive anywhere else.

Alex White is smart.  Smart enough to have excelled in school had he been so inclined.  But, in the words of his on-again-off-again girlfriend, he was too “hoodish” for the straight life.  But did he choose to be that way or was there are a certain inevitability about it?

A Snitch’s dilemma takes us inside the world Alexandra Natapoff describes in “Snitch,” the best book I have seen on the subject of criminal informants.  But this isn’t really a story about a snitch; it’s about the neighborhood that shaped Alex White and the social and economic conditions that shaped that neighborhood. 

This is also a story about the futility of a drug war that perpetuates the evils it was ostensibly created to eliminate.  Highly recommended.