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…)