04/19/09 - Mike Gray

Mike Gray, chairman of Common Sense for Drug Policy regarding his recent OpEd in the Washinton Post, Radley Balko of Reason Magazine, Bill Moyers speaks to writer David Simon of the Wire + The Abolitionists Moment

Century of Lies
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Mike Gray
Common Sense for Drug Policy
Download: Audio icon COL_041909.mp3


Century of Lies March 19, 2009


The insane are in charge of the asylum
The fox in charge of grading the hens
The cartels need drug war to make their billions
And Obama says let’s do the same thing again
O what will it take to motivate
to examine this century of lies?
What will it take to motivate
you to speak of what’s before your eyes?


The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more, now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


Dean Becker: Oh my friends, do we have a show for you today. You heard the theme of this program: what will it take to motivate you to get off your ass and go over to your computer and sit back down and write a fifty word letter to your congressman, to your local paper, to your police chief and your mayor to explain why you no longer want to support these terrorist cartels and street corner vendors.

We have with us today Mr. Tony Newman from the Drug Policy Alliance. He’ll be coming on a bit later. First we’ve got a segment from Mike Gray who had a major op ed published in the Washington Post just last week. We’ll hear from Radley Balko about the insanity of this drug war and our policy. And we’ll hear from the Mexican ambassador to the US who also thinks it’s time to sit down and talk about legalization.


Dean Becker: Mike Gray, the chairman of the Common Sense for Drug Policy Organization, is the author of Drug Crazy – How we Got in to this Mess and How we Can Get Out. He’s a screen writer and a man I greatly respect. And just this past week he had a major op ed published in the Washington Post. Mike I think if an op ed can be a trailer for a book, this is it. We tried a war like this once before. Tell us about it please.

Mike Gray: Well it’s very interesting that you should say that. I just got an offer from a major Hollywood director who is interested in turning this op ed in to a documentary. So apparently it struck a nerve. I think and I got a lot of comments from people all over the country, many of them former law enforcement officers. One was a senior DEA agent in Virginia who said, thank god somebody’s finally telling the truth about the failure of the drug war.

So it it it did provoke a response but I… let me just quote the first sentence. I think this is what caught everybody’s eye. In 1932 Alphonse Capone an influential business man then living in Chicago used to drive through the city in a caravan of armor plated limos built to his specifications by General Motors. Submachine gun toting associates led the motorcade and brought up the rear. It is a measure of how thoroughly the mob mentality had permeated everyday life that this was considered normal.

And this was you know just two weeks before the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago. And I was struck by the similarity between the end of alcohol prohibition which was brought about by two things, violence and unbridled criminality and the present moment where we are going through an economic time not unlike the 1930s where you know the money ran out.

And and I think that that was the thing that ended our, one of the things that ended alcohol prohibition was the fact that it snapped everybody in to focus. In other words nobody, prohibition and the mobsters were cultural icons you know. They they were looked up to. They provided free soup kitchens in Chicago, to the poor during the depression. You know and Capone was a was a sort of folk hero to a lot of people and we see that now going on in Mexico, exactly the same thing.

The violence is totally out of control. The government doesn’t you know have a handle on anything that the everybody down there is seems to be either too terrified to face down the narcos or they’re on the payroll. So it just seemed to me that this was a repeat you know what I mean of of what we went through in 1933. And that in fact we may be witnessing the end of the drug war.

Dean Becker: And there is not to be ignored the fact that it’s less by certain factor but there is much that same bravado and control of neighborhoods here in the states as well.

Mike Gray: Sure yeah and the point is that I mean a lot of US officials have been agonizing over the fact that this violence in Mexico may spill over the border and that these guys may be headed in this direction. Well that’s nonsense. They’re already here.

The DEA just staged a big raid here throughout the United States. They arrested something like seven hundred people and it turns out that the Mexican cartels are already operating in two hundred and thirty US cities. That’s the DEA telling us that you know. So how can that be a success? I don’t care how many people they’ve arrested. You know if if the cartel Mexican cartels are already operating in two hundred and thirty cities inside the US, we’re in deep, deep trouble already.

Dean Becker: Right and Mike you know I’m with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. We’ve been getting quite a bit of exposure. Some of the longer serving members like Terry Nelson and Norm Stamper on the news networks these days. They’re beginning to use the word legalize.

Mike Gray: Yeah.

Dean Becker: What’s happening Mike?

Mike Gray: This whole drug war was able to stagger on despite the fact that it’s pointless and has consistently made everything worse. Drugs are more available, cheaper, and more you know and and higher quality than ever before. And this is after we’ve spent a trillion dollars in the last forty years on trying to stop the flow of this stuff. And it’s we only made it worse.

And I think people basically didn’t pay much attention to the whole thing. They just you know I mean people said, well the drug war isn’t working but it doesn’t bother me. You know personally I am not involved. Now that the money had run out I think everybody understands we are all involved because the war the drug war on drugs is costing us according to LEAP sixty-nine billion dollars a year is their latest estimate on the, that includes all the criminal costs, courts, incarceration and prosecution and law enforcement and so forth. Sixty-nine billion dollars, oh my god. You know well we can’t afford that.

And it was just like alcohol prohibition. You know it was a lot of fun while it lasted. It made for good movies and and it was a lot of laughs you know as long as you weren’t actually one of the ones that was being gunned down. But once the prohibition, the full force of the depression hit people realized that we didn’t have any money, loose change to throw around on something like this. And I think that’s what we’re seeing now.


Dean Becker: Once again Mike Gray is chairman for Common Sense for Drug Policy. And they’re on the web at csdp.org. Next thanks to CBS Face the Nation and Bob Schiffer we have part of an interview they conducted with the Mexican ambassador to the US.


Announcer: The ambassador from Mexico is in New York this morning. Arturo Saruken.

Ambassador: Mexico seeks to shut down the flow of drugs coming in to the United States from Mexico from South America. We need the support of the United States to shut down the flow of weapons and bulk cash. I think it is very clear that president Obama has been seized by the importance of the bi-lateral relationship since even before his administration kicked off.

The flurry of visits by secretary Clinton, secretary Napolitano, attorney general Holder down to Mexico in the previous week. So I think it started to push the ball in the right direction. I think the key issue right now is how can the United States help to shut down those guns and shut down that bulk cash that is providing the drug syndicates in Mexico with the where with all to corrupt, to bribe, to kill.

Announcer: Mr. Ambassador, what if marijuana were legalized? Would that change the change this situation?

Ambassador: This is a very divisive issue. There are proponents and opponents on both sides of the border. I think that those who would suggest that some of these measures be looked at understand the dynamics of the drug trade. That you have to bring demand down and that one way you can do it is by moving that direction. But there are many others who believe that by doing this you would only fan the flames. This is a debate that needs to be taken seriously that has to be that we have engage in on both sides of the border both in producing and trafficking and in consumption countries. And it is a debate that has to be taken on with seriousness.


Dean Becker: In a story that reminds me just a bit of the great Forest Gump’s thought that stupid is as stupid does, ran across a piece in the Agitator from Radley Balko, Reason Magazine. Tell us about that that piece if you will, Obama’s Demented Drug Policy.

Radley Balko: Yeah I a mean basically I was just sort of laying out some of the disappointing steps that Obama has taken on drug policy since taking office in January. I think most people in the drug reform movement know now that he has ended the federal raids on medical marijuana clinics in states where medical marijuana is legal.

Unfortunately he isn’t really made little progress in other areas of drug policy and in some ways is actually making things worse. In particular we saw in Mexico yesterday where they promising to continue the military and monetary aid to Mexico to continue president Calderon’s militaristic crack down on the drug cartels there which has led to a lot of violence and carnage over the last two and a half years or so.

And not only that but Obama has announced to basically export plan Colombia to the opium trade I Afghanistan. Just about any independent assessment of plan Colombia that we’ve seen over the last decade or so has shown that it’s been a pretty abysmal failure. So the idea that we want to export that to Afghanistan in particular a country that whose stability has implications for US national security is pretty disappointing.

Dean Becker: Well yes, the plan Colombia has cost us about six billion dollars and yet I understand that twenty-seven percent increase in cocaine production during that time frame. Your thoughts.

Radley Balko: Yeah well I mean it’s cost us six billion dollars since the year 2000. I think Clinton started plan Colombia in the mid nineties. And spent billions even before that the I think you are referring to the general government accountability office study which just looked at plan Colombia since the year 200o. So we’ve actually spent quite a bit more than that.

But it’s yeah it’s not. It’s destabilized countries in Latin America. It has turned a lot of the general public in Latin America against us. The fact the presidents of Peru and Ecuador ran explicitly on anti American platforms almost exclusively because of our drug war policies down there where we’re basically you know poisoning, poisoning the earth and trying to prevent native farmers down there from growing cocoa plants that they have been growing for centuries. So I mean it’s had a lot of really nefarious effects and as you’ve noted it’s done very little to actually diminish the drug supply.

Dean Becker: There’s a rumor that Obama might try to curtail the sales of weapons in the United States to somehow support calderon’s efforts to battle the cartels. But it seems like the drug reformers might be gaining a new set of allies to squelch the government’s interference. Your thoughts on that.

Radley Balko: Well I mean the gun stuff is you know it’s a typical government reaction to any problem that government causes which is that not only did the government not cause this problem, we need to give the government more power to fix it.

You know the carnage in Mexico is caused by Calderon’s crackdown a crackdown that we not only endorse but have funded. And you know we’ve, government officials as a lot of mainstream media outlets have cited this figure that ninety percent of the guns confiscated in Mexico came from the US and Fox news did a report last week showing that that figure is just bunk. There’s not, it’s completely inaccurate

What that figure is is when Mexican authorities confiscate a weapon in a drug crime that they believe came from the US they then send it to the US for testing. And of those guns ninety percent were confirmed to have actually come from the US. But those are only guns that have serial numbers, that look like at one point they had serial numbers and that Mexican authorities already thought probably came from the US.

The Fox report noted that huge supplies of weapons are coming in to Mexico through Guatemala, through Mexico’s sea port and through other parts of Latin and Central America. They estimated that the actual number of guns used in the Mexican drug trade that actually were sold in the US is about seventeen percent.

Interestingly a lot of the guns that they are finding some of the more high powered weaponry that they’re finding are being used by the cartels are actually guns that the US federal government has sent to the Mexican federal government for use in the drug war. And what’s happening is that so many Mexican officials have been corrupted by the cartels that a lot of these guns that we sent to the Mexican government to be used by Mexican soldiers are then being sold on the black market to the cartels. So the US government is actually supplying a lot of the guns itself. And its reaction is to blame you know basically blame the second amendment and blame gun retailers.

Dean Becker: You know if you reach back to the controlled substances act or further back to the Harrison narcotics act or to the opium exclusion act of 1909, we’ve heard similar scenarios have developed in Mexico or other countries and there is always this frenzy, a mad house rush to, to squelch the flow but it’s, it’s déjà vu over and over again, is it not?

Radley Balko: Yeah I mean you know I think it’s a little more urgent when this kind of violence is happening just south of the border. But you know what I find particularly infuriating and and outrageous is if you talk to hardened drug warriors like Bush’s drug czar John Walters, DEA, former DEA administrator Karen [ ] and some former officials at DHS, they’ll actually tell you that the carnage that we’re seeing in Mexico which at last count about ten thousand people over the last three years have been murdered as a direct result of this the illicit drug trade.

They’ll tell you that the fact that there’s so much violence going on in Mexico means that we’re winning, that this is a good sign and we should take heart in it because what’s happening is you know the big cartels are going down and then other cartels are fighting over their turf.

I find that particularly outrageous and insensitive because the implication there is that that we should be be ok with sacrificing thousands of Mexican lives if it means that the government is doing a good job at preventing Americans from getting high. And I find I find that particularly offensive. And you know god help us if that’s what winning looks like. God help us if we start winning the drug war here.

Dean Becker: Yeah I like to quote judge Eleanor Shockett. She’s recently passed on but she’s a was a member of LEAP and she liked to quote she was at a press conference once where J. Edgar Hoover stated that the fact that they were having more shootouts and drug store robberies was a good sign that they were being effective. So…

Radley Balko: Well he was right I mean you know by the time Hoover left office we had completely eradicated the drug supply in the US, right?

Dean Becker: Hehe, yeah… Well friends we have been speaking with Mr. Radley Balko, a great writer of Reason magazine. He has a great piece up on the web now. You want to point them to it Radley?

Radley Balko: If you go to thedailybeast.com you should be able to find it. Or it’s also if you go to there’s a link to it on Reason’s blog, reason.com/blog.


This is the abolitionist’s moment.

The drug warriors, those who seek everlasting ever escalating drug war are ignoring not the elephant in the living room but rather are shielding their eyes from the blue whales sprawled across our communities. Let us eliminate the reason for which these violent street gangs exist. Let us destroy the financial engine of the barbarous Mexican cartels. Let us put a bullet in the head of Osama Bin Laden’s fattest cash cow. Let us dismantle the world’s largest multi level marketing organization, the black market in drugs, which survives by selling contaminated drugs to our children. Those who support this new prohibition are the best friends the drug lords could ever hope for.


Dean Becker: Due to all the storms in the mother ship city our phone patch no longer works. So we’re not going to be able to bring you an interview with Mr. Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance, drugpolicy.org. We’re going to try to bring him back next week to continue our question and answer series, What will it take to motivate you?

But in the meanwhile we have this segment from the Bill Moyers Journal. He’s talking to David Simon, one of the writers of the Wire. We open with this little segment from the Wire where a drug user is speaking to a cop I think at a treatment center.


Drug user: We do the same thing as y’all except when we do it it’s like oh my god these kids is animals like it’s the end of the world coming. Man that’s bull, alright. Cause this is like what’s it hypocrite, hypocritical.

Bill Moyers: They see the system don’t they.

David Simon: The drug war lands in their neighborhood. They see the absurdity of it. They see corruption. They see that it’s less about protecting their neighborhood than making [ ].

Bill Moyers: Given what so many people could see what you saw if they simply opened our eyes. And yet the drug war keeps getting crazier and crazier. I mean from selling guns to Mexico’s drug cartel to cramming more people in to prison even though they haven’t committed violent crimes. Why don’t the policies change?

David Simon: Because there’s no there’s no there’s no political capitol in it. There really isn’t. the fear of being called soft on crime, soft on drugs the paranoia that’s been induced regarding… listen if you could be draconian and and reduce drug use by locking people up you might have an argument. But we are the jailingest country on the planet right now and two million people in prison.

When I started as a police reporter thirty-three thirty-four percent of the federal inmate populations was violent offenders. It’s now it’s seven, eight percent. So we’re locking up less violent people, more of them. The drugs are purer. They have not closed down a single drug corner that I know of in Baltimore for any length of time. It’s not working.

By the way this is not a republican democrat thing because a lot of the most draconian stuff came out of the Clinton administration. Now this kind of maneuvering to the center in order not to be perceived as leftist by a republican congress…

Bill Moyers: So he did what?

David Simon: O you look at all the stuff that got added to the federal under this crime bills. All the all the new categories of crime, the the draconian nature. All of this preceded him by a little bit. He reinforced it which was the federal sentencing guidelines which are just appalling.

Bill Moyers: Mandatory sentences…

David Simon: Loss of parole. And and again not merely for violent offenders because again the rate of violent offenders is going down. Federal prisons are full of people who got caught muling drugs and got tarred with the whole amount of the drugs.

It’s not what its not what you were involved in or what you profited from, it’s what they can tar you with. A federal prosecutor basically when he decides what to charge you with and how much he’s basically the sentencing judge at that point. What they charge and that’s of course corrupting. It’s again a stat.

Bill Moyers: Its also clear from your work that you think the drug war has destroyed the policemen.

David Simon: Absolutely. That’s the saddest thing in a way is that again because the stats mean nothing because a drug arrest in Baltimore means nothing, nothing. Real police work isn’t being done. In my city the arrest rates for all major felonies have declined precipitously over the last twenty years for murder rape to robbery to assault…

Bill Moyers; Because…

David Simon: Because to solve those crimes requires retroactive investigation. They have to be able to do a lot of things in terms of gathering evidence that is substantive and meaningful police work. All you have to do to make a drug arrest is go in to a guys pocket and you don’t even need probable cause anymore in Baltimore.

The guy who solves a rape or a robbery or a murder, he has one arrest stat. he is going to court one day. A guy who has forty fifty sixty drug arrests even though they are meaningless arrests even though there’s no place to put them in the Maryland prison system, he’s going to go to court forty or fifty or sixty times. Ultimately when it comes time to promote somebody they look at the police computer, they’ll look and they’ll say this guy’s made forty arrests last month, you only made one. He’s the sergeant you know or that’s the lieutenant. So the guys who basically play the stat game, they get promoted.

Bill Moyers: There’s a scene in the third season of wire where the Baltimore police made your [ ] favorite character give some rare straight talk on the futility of this drug war. Take a look.

Woman: I come home from work. I cant even get up my front steps cause they occupied by the drug dealers.

Crowd: You tell them!

Is that in the picture you got up there?

[ applause ]

Man: I apologize for giving you the wrong impression tonight. We mean no disrespect. I know what is going on in your neighborhoods. I see it every day. Ma’am it pains me that you cannot enter your own front door in safety and with dignity. The truth is I can’t promise you its going to get any better. We can’t lock up the thousands out there in the corners. There’d be no place to put them even if we could.

We show you charts and statistics like they mean something but you going back to your homes tonight. We going to be in our patrol cars. And them boys still going to be out on them corners. [ ]. this is the world we have got and it’s about time all of us had the good sense to at least admit that much. So what’s the answer? I’m not sure. But whatever it is it can’t be a lot.

Bill Moyers: But it still is a lot, isn’t it?

David Simon: And it always will be. I don’t think we have the stomach to actually evaluate this and and…

Bill Moyers: What do you mean, don’t have the stomach?

David Simon: Well again we would have to ask ourselves a lot of hard questions. The people most affected by this are black and brown and poor. It’s the inner the abandoned inner cores of our urban areas. Economically we don’t need those people. The American economy doesn’t need them.

So as long as they stay in their ghettos and they only kill each other we’re willing to pay a police presence to keep them out of our America and to let them fight over scraps which is what the drug war effectively is. And I don’t think you know since, since we basically are have become a market based culture and and it’s what we know and it’s what’s lead us to this sad denouement. I think we are going to follow market based logic right to the bitter end.

Bill Moyers: Which says…

David Simon: If you don’t need them why extend yourself? Why seriously assess what you’re doing to your poorest and most vulnerable citizens? There’s no there’s no profit to be had in doing anything other than marginalize them and discarding them.

Dean Becker: Well it is my hope that today we pried one of your eyes open, that we made a splash in brain that may lead you to become fully aware of what this drug war is all about. To then educate yourself, to get involved and help make the necessary changes to realign our priorities and to better serve ourselves, our community and our nation by ending this policy of drug prohibition.
Be sure to join us on our next Cultural Baggage program when our guest will be Beuford Terril, a now retired law professor who’s headed to New York to attend a major conference on finding a better way to quote wage this drug war. Beuford and I will be talking about just how ugly this drug war is and how ugly it’s going to be unless we do something different.
And again I remind you once again there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data, no reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped. The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Please do your part to help end this madness. Visit our website, endprohibition.org.
Prohibido istac evilesco.
For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition.
The Century of Lies
This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston
What will it take to motivate?