09/28/14 Doug McVay

Doug McVay reports: The feds release new data on drug use and the impact of drug policies, and Attorney General Eric Holder announces his resignation

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Guest: 
Doug McVay
Organization: 
Drug War Facts
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Century of Lies September 28, 2014

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DEAN BECKER: 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.

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DOUG McVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your guest host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, which comes to you through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

Find us on the web at drug truth dot net, where you can find past programs and you can subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on twitter, where I'm at drug policy facts, and also at doug mcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends.

A few days ago, this happened:

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ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States and Attorney General Eric Holder.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello everybody and please have a seat. Bobby Kennedy once said, “On this generation of Americans falls the full burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say ‘All men are created free and equal before the law.’”

As one of the longest serving attorney generals in American history Eric Holder has born that burden. Over the summer he came to me and said he thought 6 years was a pretty good run. I imagine his family agrees.

Like me Eric married up. He and his wife, Dr. Sharon Malone – the nationally renowned OB/GYN, have been great friends to Michelle and me for years and I know Brooke, Mya and Buddy are excited to get their dad back for a while.

This is bittersweet but with his typical dedication Eric has agreed to stay on as attorney general until I nominate a successor and that successor is confirmed by the Senate which means he’ll have a chance to add to a proud career of public service. It is one that began nearly 40 years ago as a young prosecutor in the department that he now runs.

He was there for 12 years taking on political corruption until President Reagan named him to the bench as a judge. Later President Clinton called him back so all told Eric has served at the Justice Department under 6 presidents of both parties including a several day stint as acting attorney general at the start of George W. Bush’s first term.

Through it all he’s shown a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our most cherished ideals as a people and that is “equal justice under the law.”

As younger men Eric and I both studied law. I chose him to serve as attorney general because he believes as I do that justice is not just an abstract theory. It’s a living and breathing principle. It’s about how our laws interact with our daily lives. It’s about whether we can make an honest living, whether we can provide for our families, whether we feel safe in our own communities and welcome in our own country, whether the words that our founding fathers set to paper 238 years ago apply to every single one of us and not just some.

That’s why I made him America’s lawyer, the people’s lawyer. That comes with a big portfolio from counter-terrorism to civil rights, public corruption to white collar crime and alongside the incredible men and women of the justice department – men and women that I promise you he is proud of and will deeply miss – Eric has done a superb job.

He has worked side by side with our intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security to keep us safe from terrorist attacks and counter-violent extremism. On his watch federal courts have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terror cases proving that the world’s finest justice system is fully capable of delivering justice for the world’s most wanted terrorists.

He’s rooted out corruption and violent crime. Under his watch a few years ago the FBI successfully carried out the largest Mafia takedown in American history. He’s worked closely with state and local law enforcement officers to make sure that they’ve got the resources to get the job done. He’s managed funds under the Recovery Act to make sure that when budgets took a hit thousands of cops were able to stay on the beat nationwide.

He’s helped safeguard our markets from manipulation and consumers from financial fraud. Since 2009 the Justice Department has brought more than 60 cases against financial institutions and won some of the largest settlements in history for practices related to the financial crisis recovering 85 billion dollars – much of it returned to ordinary Americans who were badly hurt.

He’s worked passionately to make sure our criminal justice system remains the best in the world. He knows that too many outdated policies – no matter how well intentioned – perpetuate a destructive cycle in too many communities so Eric addressed fair sentencing disparities, reworked mandatory minimums and promoted alternative to incarceration.

Thanks to his efforts since I took office the overall crime rate and the overall incarceration rate have gone down by about 10%. That’s the first time that they’ve declined together, at the same time, in more than 40 years.

Eric’s proudest achievement, though, might be reinvigorating and restoring the core mission to what he calls “the conscious of the building” and that’s the civil rights division. He has been relentless against attacks on the Voting Rights Act because no citizen, including our service members, should have to jump through hoops to exercise their most fundamental right.

He’s challenged the discriminatory state immigration laws that not only risked harassment of citizens and legal immigrants but actually made it harder for law enforcement to do its job.

Under his watch the department has brought a record number of prosecutions for human trafficking and for hate crimes because no one in America should be afraid to walk down the street because the color of their skin, the love in their heart, the faith they practice or the disabilities that they live with.

He’s dramatically advanced the cause of justice for Native Americans working closely with their communities. Several years ago he recommended that our government stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act – a decision that was vindicated by the Supreme Court and opened the door to federal recognition of same-sex marriage and federal benefits for same sex couples.

It’s a pretty good track record.

Eric’s father was an immigrant who served in the Army in World War II only to be refused service at lunch counters in the nation that he defended but he and his wife raised their son to believe that this country’s promise was real. That son grew up to become Attorney General of the United States and that’s something.

That’s why Eric has worked so hard not just to my administration but for decades to open up the promise of this country to more striving, dreaming kids like him. To make sure that those words – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – are made real for all of us.

Soon Eric, Sharon and their kids will be a bit freer to pursue a little more happiness of their own and, thanks to Eric’s efforts, so will more Americans regardless of race, religion, gender or creed, sexual orientation or disability who will receive fair and equal treatment under the law.

I just want to say thank you, Eric. Thank you to the men and women of the justice department who work day in and out for the American people and we could not be more grateful for everything that you’ve done not just for me and the administration but for our country.

[applause]

ERIC HOLDER: I come to this moment with very mixed emotions. I’m proud of what the men and women of the Department of Justice have accomplished over the last 6 years and, at the same time, very sad that I will not be a formal part of the great things that this department and this president will accomplish over the next two.

I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity you gave me to serve and for giving me the greatest honor of my professional life. We have been great colleagues but the bonds between us are much deeper than that. In good times and in bad, in things personal and professional you have been there for me. I am proud to call you my friend.

I’m also grateful for the support you have given me and the department as we have made real the visions that you and I have always shared. I often think of those early talks between us about our belief that we might help to craft “a more perfect union.” Work remains to be done but our list of accomplishments is real.

Over the last 6 years our administration...your administration has made historic gains in realizing the principles of the founding documents and fought to protect the most sacred of American rights – the right to vote.

We have begun to realize the promise of equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families. We have begun to significantly reform our criminal justice system and reconnect those who bravely serve in law enforcement with the communities that they protect.

We have kept faith in our belief of the power of the greatest judicial system the world has ever know to fairly and effectively adjudicate any cases that are brought before it including those that involve the security of the nation that we both love so dearly.

We have taken steps to protect the environment and make more fair the rules by which our commercial enterprises operate. We have held accountable those who would harm the American people either through violent means or the misuse of economic or political power.

I have loved the Department of Justice ever since as a young boy I watched Robert Kennedy prove during the Civil Rights Movement how the department can and must always be a force for that which is right.

I hope that I have done honor to the faith you have placed in me, Mr. President, and to the legacy of all those who have served before me.

I would also like to thank the Vice President who I have known for so many years and in whom I have found great wisdom, unwavering support and a shared vision of what America can and should be.

I want to recognize my good friend, Valerie Jarrett, whom I’ve been fortunate to work with from the beginning as what started as an improbable, idealistic effort by a young senator from Illinois – who we were both right to believe would achieve greatness.

I’ve had the opportunity to serve in your distinguished cabinet and worked with a White House staff ably led by Denis McDonough that has done much to make real the promise of our democracy and each of the men and women who I have come to know will be lifelong friends.

Whatever my accomplishments they could not have been achieved without the love, support and guidance of two people who are not here with me today – my parents, Eric and Miriam Holder nurtured me and my accomplished brother, William, and made us believe in the value of individual efforts and the greatness of this nation.

My time in public service, which now comes to an end, would not have been possible without the sacrifices – too often unfair – made by the best three kids a father could ever ask for. Thank you, Mya. Thank you, Brooke and thank you, Buddy.

Finally, I want to thank the woman who sacrificed the most and allowed me to follow my dreams. She is the foundation of all that our family is and the basis of all that I have become. My wife, Sharon, is the unsung hero and she is my life partner. Thank you for all that you have done. I love you.

In the months ahead I will leave the Department of Justice but I will never...I will never leave the work. I will continue to serve and try to find ways to make our nation even more true to its founding ideals.

I want to thank the public servants who form the backbone of the United States Department of Justice for their tireless work over the past 6 years, the efforts they will continue and for the progress that they made that will outlast us all.

I want to thank you all for joining me on a journey that now moves in another direction but will always be guided by the pursuit of justice and aimed at the North Star.

Thank you.

[applause]

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DOUG McVAY: Eric Holder's legacy was mixed, certainly. His record in the drug war was better than most, though considering we're comparing him to people like Ed Meese and John Ashcroft, that's not really saying much. As he left, he seemed to open the door to possible drug policy reforms. He was asked in a televised interview with Katie Couric about rescheduling marijuana, and he replied, quote:

"Well I think it's certainly a question that we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious a drug as heroin, especially given what we've seen recently with regard to heroin, the progression of people from using opioids to heroin use, the spread and the destruction that heroin is perpetrating all around our country, and to see how, by contrast, what the impact is of marijuana use. Now it can be destructive, if used in certain ways, but the question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that I think we need to ask ourselves, and use science as the basis for making that determination." End quote.

Couric then asked if Holder thought marijuana should be decriminalized at the federal level. He first tried to palm that question off to Congress, but when pressed, he replied, quote: "Well I think that we have taken a look at the experiments that are going on in Colorado and in Washington, and we're going to see what happens there and I think that will help inform us as to what we want to do at the federal level." End quote. He then confirmed that for him, the jury is still out.

Some reformers are calling Holder's statements major concessions, though in some of the news stories Holder is actually being selectively quoted to make it sound like he was more strongly in favor of reforms. The full interview is still available at the Yahoo news website, it is well worth a listen, in fact I strongly encourage people to listen for themselves. Holder's comments were certainly better than anything Meese or Ashcroft ever said, but again that's not saying much. Possibly after all these years of Sisyphean struggle, pushing the boulder of reform up the hills of American politics, we're too ready to find hope so we read into things what we want to hear. As long as we don't let ourselves get distracted by false hopes, and we remember to keep on pushing, we can and will move reform farther and farther along.

You are listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your guest host Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century Of Lies is heard on 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 11 am and 11 pm, and Saturdays at 4 am, all times are pacific. We are heard on time4hemp dot com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm. A few of the stations out there that carry Century Of Lies include WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WPRR 1680 am 95.3 fm in Grand Rapids, Michigan; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, WI;A WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, FL; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 fm in Santa Cruz California.

The feds have released some major reports recently: Prisoners in 2013, from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics; the full National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 2013 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services; and a report on Drug-poisoning Deaths Involving Opioid Analgesics in the United States, 1999 2011A from the Centers for Disease Control.

I've been reading through these and using them to update the website at drug war facts dot org. Here then are a few of the more interesting and vital pieces of information.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
"On December 31, 2013, the United States held an estimated 1,574,700 persons in state and federal prisons, an increase of approximately 4,300 prisoners (0.3%) from 2012. This was the first increase reported since the peak of 1,615,500 prisoners in 2009. Although state prisons had jurisdiction over an estimated 6,300 more prisoners at yearend 2013 than at yearend 2012, the increase in prisoners was partially offset by the first decrease (down 1,900 or 0.9%) in inmates under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) since 1980 (figure 1).

“Prisoners sentenced to more than a year under the jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities increased by 5,400 inmates from 2012 to 2013. However, the imprisonment rate for all prisoners sentenced to more than a year in state or federal facilities decreased by less than 1% between 2012 and 2013, from 480 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2012 to 478 per 100,000 in 2013."

Some were pleased to note that the imprisonment rate in the US had fallen slightly, however, as BJS noted:

"The U.S. population grew at a faster rate in 2013 than the prison population, causing a decline in the imprisonment rates despite an increase in the number of sentenced prisoners."

These data illustrate the racist nature of the criminal justice system and the drug war.

"Almost 3% of black male U.S. residents of all ages were imprisoned on December 31, 2013 (2,805 inmates per 100,000 black male U.S. residents), compared to 1% of Hispanic males (1,134 per 100,000) and 0.5% of white males (466 per 100,000) (table 8). While there were fewer black females in state or federal prison at yearend 2013 than in 2012, black females were imprisoned at more than twice the rate of white females. "Black males had higher imprisonment rates across all age groups than all other races and Hispanic males. In the age range with the highest imprisonment rates for males (ages 25 to 39), black males were imprisoned at rates at least 2.5 times greater than Hispanic males and 6 times greater than white males. For males ages 18 to 19--the age range with the greatest difference in imprisonment rates between whites and blacks -- black males (1,092 inmates per 100,000 black males) were more than 9 times more likely to be imprisoned than white males (115 inmates per 100,000 white males). The difference between black and white female inmates of the same age was smaller, but still substantial. Black females ages 18 to 19 (33 inmates per 100,000) were almost 5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white females (7 inmates per 100,000)."

Of course this is a show about the war on drugs, so here are more data. Regarding state prisons, according to BJS, "Drug offenders comprised 16% (210,200 inmates) of the total state prison population in 2012. Twenty-five percent of female prisoners were serving time for drug offenses, compared to 15% of male prisoners. Similar proportions of white, black, and Hispanic offenders were convicted of drug and public- order crimes."

And regarding federal prisons, which held a total of 193,775 persons in 2013, BJS said, "Between 2001 and 2013, more than half of prisoners serving sentences of more than a year in federal facilities were convicted of drug offenses (table 15 and table 16). On September 30, 2013 (the end of the most recent fiscal year for which federal offense data were available), 98,200 inmates (51% of the federal prison population) were imprisoned for possession, trafficking, or other drug crimes. "

Moving on, let's take a look at the results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, or NSDUH, for 2013. According to this year's report, "In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview (Figure 2.1). The estimate represents 9.4 percent of the population aged 12 or older.

"The overall rate of current illicit drug use among persons aged 12 or older in 2013 (9.4 percent) was similar to the rates in 2010 (8.9 percent) and 2012 (9.2 percent), but it was higher than the rates in 2002 to 2009 and in 2011 (Figure 2.2).

"In 2013, marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug, with 19.8 million current (past month) users. It was used by 80.6 percent of current illicit drug users. Nearly two thirds (64.7 percent) of current illicit drug users used only marijuana in the past month. Also, in 2013, 8.7 million persons aged 12 or older were current users of illicit drugs other than marijuana (or 35.3 percent of illicit drug users aged 12 or older). Current use of other drugs but not marijuana was reported by 19.4 percent of illicit drug users, and 15.9 percent reported using both marijuana and other drugs.

"The number and percentage of persons aged 122 or older who were current users of marijuana in 2013 (19.8 million or 7.5 percent) were similar to the estimates in 2012 (18.9 million or 7.3 percent) (Figure 2.2). The rate of current marijuana use in 2013 was higher than the rates in 2002 to 2011. For example, during the period from 2002 to 2008, the rates varied from 5.8 to 6.2 percent. By 2009, the rate increased to 6.7 percent, then continued to increase to the rate in 2013.

"An estimated 8.7 million persons aged 12 or older (3.3 percent) were current users of illicit drugs other than marijuana in 2013. The majority of these users (6.5 million persons or 2.5 percent of the population) were nonmedical users of psychotherapeutic drugs, including 4.5 million users of pain relievers (1.7 percent), 1.7 million users of tranquilizers (0.6 percent), 1.4 million users of stimulants (0.5 percent), and 251,000 users of sedatives (0.1 percent)."

Finally, the Centers for Disease Control have reported that, "In 2011, there were 41,340 deaths due to drug poisoning; 41% (16,917 deaths) of them involved opioid analgesics. From 1999 through 2011, the rate for opioid-analgesic poisoning deaths almost quadrupled from 1.4 per 100,000 in 1999 to 5.4 per 100,000 in 2011 (Figure 1). The death rate increased at a faster pace from 1999 through 2006 (18% increase each year) than from 2006 through 2011 (3% increase each year). From 1999 through 2011, the age-adjusted death rates for drug poisoning from all types of drugs more than doubled from 6.1 per 100,000 in 1999 to 13.2 per 100,000 in 2011. "

Loyal listeners may recall that we've discussed opioid overdose mortality in previous shows, and I've pointed out in many cases there are actually other drugs involved in addition to opiates that contribute to mortality. The CDC noted this as well, "In 2011, 5,188 opioid-analgesic poisoning deaths also involved benzodiazepines (sedatives used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures), up from 527 such deaths in 1999 (Figure 3). From 2006 through 2011, the number of opioid-analgesic poisoning deaths involving benzodiazepines increased 14% on average each year, while the number of opioid-analgesic poisoning deaths not involving benzodiazepines did not change significantly. "

What the CDC does not report on in these data is alcohol-in-combination with opiates. The combination of those two central nervous system depressants is deadly, yet it's omitted. I understand the need to underscore the dangers from these prescription drugs, however I believe that by omitting mention of alcohol the CDC is downplaying the risks. It's not only the CDC who ignore the effects of alcohol. The federal Drug Abuse Warning Network, which collects and reports on drug mentions by emergency departments and by medical examiners, does mention alcohol in combination with other drugs, though they do not report on alcohol alone. I suppose one could argue that alcohol is so pervasive, and the risks are so well-known, that there's no reason to remind people of just how dangerous it is, but I think that's disingenuous. It's symptomatic of our society's refusal to take alcohol seriously as a drug, and that must change.

You will find all those fact items, and many more, on my website at Drug War Facts dot org. Full quotes, direct citations, and links to the original source materials whenever possible because we encourage you, dear listeners, to check the facts for yourself. Remember to always question all the authorities, take nothing for granted. Think. It ain't illegal yet.

Well, that's it for this week. I'm Doug McVay and this was Century of Lies. Thank you for listening. You can find a recording of this show and past shows at the website drug truth dot net, where you can check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @ Drug Policy Facts and @ Doug McVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

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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 Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org