05/31/09 - Sanho Tree

Sanho Tree of Institute for Policy Studies & "Poppygate" report on UN Drug Czar's call to let Afghans glut the opium market + Mark Mauer of the Sentencing Project re drug use rate of criminals & first edition of the "Stupid NEWS"

Century of Lies
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Sanho Tree
Institute for Policy Studies
Download: Audio icon COL_053109.mp3


Century of Lies, May 31, 2009

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.

“Poppygate“ - Bizarre news about the US policy on controlling heroin.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. It seems almost sacrilegious to have a “Poppygate” show without Glenn Greenway. But we’re going to try. Glenn is on an extended Sabbatical from the DTN. We hope to get him back with us, someday soon.

In the meantime, here in just a moment, we’ll have Sanho Tree, of the Institute For Policy Studies. But first, the premiere of a new feature, here on the Drug Truth Network.

(background music)

Just how stupid are we?
We’re as stupid as stupid can be.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid.
We’re really, really stupid.

Listen, and you will see.

The following story comes to us from The Guardian Newspaper.

*United Nations officials in Afghanistan are attempting to create a "flood of drugs" in the country, intended to destroy the value of opium and force poppy farmers to switch to legal crops such as wheat.

After the failure to destroy fields of the scarlet flowers in Afghanistan's volatile south, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says the answer is to stop the drugs from leaving the country in the first place.

"Manual eradication is incompetent and inefficient," UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa said during a visit to the western Afghan province of Herat. "We want to create a flood of drugs within Afghanistan. There will be so much opium inside Afghanistan unable to go out that the price will go down.”

Knowing full well that over the millennia, it has been proven how easy it is to stop smuggling in Afghanistan.

This is Dean Becker, reporting the ’stupid news’.

Yes, we’re really stupid.
God-damned, friggin’ stupid.


Alright. This gives us a chance to laugh at the drug warriors. It was Gaudi who told us, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you and then you win.’ Well, we never got a chance to do a fight with these drug warriors, but it’s our turn to laugh at them, I think. With that, I want to go ahead and bring in our guest for the evening, Mr. Sanho Tree, the Institute For Policy Studies. Hello, Sanho.

Mr. Sanho Tree: Hi, Dean. Good evening.

Dean Becker: Good evening, Sir. I hope you got a chance to hear that little spoof of this situation, ‘How stupid are we?’

Mr. Sanho Tree: Well, on the one hand, there are still the aspects to what the UN drug czar Costa is proposing, but on the other hand, I think in principle, he’s on the right track. That is to say, the solutions to the drug problem are vary often counter-intuitive. They’re the opposite of the knee-jerk, get tough, you know, kick butt type response.

For years, we’ve been trying to ‘push’ this door and finally, he’s realizing, ’Well, maybe this is a door that one of these new fangled ‘pull’ switches on it. It’s not a ‘push’ door, it’s a ‘pull’ door…

Dean Becker: Yep.

Mr. Sanho Tree: …and so for years, we’ve have been trying to eradicate the opium poppy in Afghanistan and that’s easier said than done. There’s just simply too much of it and so we managed to manually eradicate a small portion of it.

What that does is, that it takes just enough of poppy ’offline’, so to speak, to create artificial scarcities. Alright. Just a little bit, but it’s enough to elevate the price of this commodity. Any farmer in the United States would understand. If you over plant one particular crop, the price of that crop is going to fall and this is what we’ve been doing in Afghanistan. We’ve been trying to make a constricted supply of these crops therefore making them more valuable, because the demand remains there and wondering why they’re not disappearing.

So, in one sense, Costa is right. If you allow farmers to grow as much Poppy as they want, the price of Poppy and Opium will collapse in Afghanistan. It has happened in the past, just within the last decade and it is in the process of happening right now. So, when the price of opium falls so low, as low as thirty dollars a dry kilo, historically speaking. This is what happened under the Taliban when they allowed anyone to grow Poppies. Then poppy farming no longer becomes that attractive to these farmers.

At that price, wheat or onions or even saffron. Saffron especially, begins to look very attractive. So, it would be then the market forces, the invisible hand of Adam Smith, so to speak, that does the eradication, rather than US soldiers, rather than US drug warriors, rather than the UN or NATO. It’s this anonymous market forces that persuade farmers to transition to other crops.

Dean Becker: OK. Let me play Devil’s advocate here for a second. We have, I think, currently I’ve heard that it’s maybe as much as two hundred percent of the world’s production, as is that’s required by the world, coming out of Afghanistan already and I can understand how the market forces would indeed limit those who would be growing the opium poppy, in the long run, but it would level out, let’s assume, at one hundred percent of the world’s need for opium and heroin. Your thought?

Mr. Sanho Tree: If you create a temporary glut, that gives you a window of opportunity, while the prices are low, to move in with development assistance, infrastructure, addressing the corruption issue, which is rampant in Afghanistan.

Dean Becker: Certainly.

Mr. Sanho Tree: That then gives you a small widow to do things right and if you don’t seize on that opportunity sooner or later, when people stop planting poppies, the supply will start getting strict and the prices will gradually go back up and people will replant again. Now, what we know is that it’s much easier to prevent poppy from taking hold in a region to begin with, than it is to try to eradicate it after it’s already taken hold.

So in this window of opportunity, if the glut does happen , then it’s very important to move in quickly and take advantage of that with serious development assistance and when those trafficking networks then recede, because nobody’s growing the poppy; there’s no opium to be sold there, to keep them out. But, if they’re allowed to return, then we’re back to the old problem again.

Dean Becker: Well, I personally don’t see Afghan just quitting the market. I don’t see them getting out of it altogether because, somebody’s going to supply that, someone in the black market is going to insure that it grows somewhere. Don’t you think Sanho?

Mr. Sanho Tree: It’s a temporary solution to a long term problem. Which is why if it provides this window of opportunity, it’s imperative that Congress follow up with the appropriation and the international community follow up with serious development assistance and infrastructure development.

Dean Becker: OK.

Mr. Sanho Tree: We have a long historical record to look at here. When the Taliban, when they took over Afghanistan, in the late 1990’s, they allowed any farmer to grow, basically. Laissez-faire. This is a total free market and the farmers grew so much opium poppy, that the price of a dry kilo of opium, in Kandahar, fell to about thirty dollars a kilo.

That is incredible, there was such a glut of it. People were warehousing the stuff and the market was flooded and then Mullah Omar, in the middle of 2000, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, has a dream; a vision. This is a part of the world where dreams are interpreted very seriously and he said, ’(It) was no longer consistent with Islamic values to grow opium poppy.’

So, the Taliban then issued an edict and then carried out prohibition against planting poppies, in Afghanistan, and only the Taliban have been able to do, by the way. They achieved about a ninety percent reduction in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. It’s absolutely shocking at how effective it was, but it did it at a tremendous cost. The people hated the Taliban. They caused a lot of starvation and suffering and when the US came in, right after that, the people were more than happy to help the US and NATO forces kick out the Taliban.

But as a result of that prohibition, that thirty dollar kilo of opium shot up to over seven hundred dollars for the exact same kilo - seven hundred-forty dollars. That’s the power of prohibition economics.

Dean Becker: Now, we have a situation where, I’ve heard, that the Taliban has, because of this glut, has been storing opium. I guess in the hope that the supply would diminish and they could raise their prices even further. Your thoughts on that, Sanho?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yeah. It hasn’t been working very well. There’s simply too much of it and so the Taliban, in the area‘s they control, there’ve been reports they’re trying to stockpile; trying to warehouse it; take some of it off the market, in the hopes of keeping prices up. But there’s so much poppy being grown, that it’s been very ineffective.

For the past two years or so, the opium prices have been under a hundred dollars a kilo and there‘s every indication that those prices can go even lower. Now, what does that mean for the average farmer in Afghanistan? Last year, the average farmer made about nineteen hundred dollars off of growing poppies. In 2003, they made about thirty-eight hundred dollars / thirty-nine hundred dollars.

But when you divide that by the size of the families there, which is quite significant very often. It’s about, these days they’re getting about three hundred dollars per year growing poppies. Whereas in 2003, it was closer to six hundred dollars per individual.

Dean Becker: OK, so…

Mr. Sanho Tree: So you see, it’s less than a dollar a day. It’s not that attractive to grow these crops anymore.

Dean Becker: Alright. I hear you. OK. Friends, we’re speaking with Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C.

Sanho and I made a trip to Bolivia with the group Witness For Peace, back about three years ago, now. But, you recently returned from another trip, did you not, from the Golden Triangle?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yes. Yes, I was there briefly.

Dean Becker: Could you tell us about that trip? Your observations?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Well, there’s an awful lot of poverty in Burma and Laos. Thailand has been a bit of a success story, in terms of their eradication of poppies. But there’s a big difference. In Thailand, you have very good infrastructure. The roads, going right up to the boarder in Burma, were quite good and I was shocked at how good the roads were. Compared to Columbia, there’s other places and roads are ‘key’ because that being farmers can then get their alternative crops to market. Which simple doesn’t exist in much of Columbia and many parts of Bolivia as well.

Dean Becker: You had talked to me about, I think, a trip you made to Columbia and the fact is there was some talk about giving subsistence to certain farmers if they would commit to grow the more ‘legal’ crops, that they were trying to turn that situation around. Somewhat like their doing in Afghanistan, I suppose. But, I think what you had told me was, ’The only ones who would benefit, were the people who owned the good lands, near the highways, near the market places. Right?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yeah. In terms of the Columbia Free Trade Agreement. Yeah, the proponents of that saying, ’Oh, that will help Columbian farmers switch from growing coca to growing legal crops.’ Which, if you’re living ten kilometers from the nearest road, than that doesn’t help you much at all. The easiest thing to carry, either on your backpack or by horse or motorcycle, would be coca paste. Not hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables.

Dean Becker: I remember our trip to that coca field in Bolivia. It was down a dirt road which I guess would be considered pretty good for Bolivia. It was some several hard hundred yards back into the boondocks there but, reasonable access, I guess, for that particular farmer. Right?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yes, and in Bolivia also, there’s some strong organized movement of Coca farmers. They’re unionized and they have been for many, many years. So, there’s a very tight structure and organization there as well as being a predominantly indigenous culture and so the idea of working together as a community, they were able to build those roads, very often by themselves, forming human bucket brigades, if you will. Just a string of people going down to the river bank and picking up little rocks and you remember that road we road on was basically cobblestone road, not asphalt.

Dean Becker: Right.

Mr. Sanho Tree: So, they built those roads themselves. It’s quite remarkable and that kind of spirit doesn’t really exist in much of rural Columbia. It’s a very different western ethos.

Dean Becker: O.K. Yeah, and again we saw that road in dry weather. I don’t know what it would be like in the rainy season, perhaps.

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yeah.

Dean Becker: Sanho, you appear quite often on television. You worked with many of the channels to present what you have found via your travels. You were in a document called, ‘Plan Columbia - Cashing In on a Drug War Failure.’ What was that about, Sir?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yeah, that came out in 2002 / 2003 and that still remains one of the more comprehensive looks at the drug war and US policy in Columbia, in terms of the violence; in terms of the Civil War; in terms of the drug economy; labor; the whole… it’s a good overview. People can rent that on Netflix. It also includes a lot of interviews that are the extras on the DVD with myself, government officials, members of Congress, that sort of thing.

Dean Becker: I think over the last six months the nature of the observations made by the corporate media, is beginning to change. It’s another type of incrementalism, if you will. They’re starting to gradually shift their focus to what they’re willing to present to the American public, insofar as the implimentation of the drug war. Would you agree?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yeah, what we’re living through and witnessing is the coalescence of a new conventional wisdom, if you will, that for a long time I think many people have believed that the drug war has been a failure, it was never going to succeed. But a lot of those people, in the media in particular and certainly on Capitol Hill, thought it would be, ’Well, you don’t say that in polite company.’ They’re afraid people would giggle at them or insinuate that they might have smoked in college and maybe still inhale occasionally or whatever and so they kept quiet. So the tipping point has been there, I think, for awhile. We just haven’t been able to capitolize on it.

Dean Becker: Right.

Mr. Sanho Tree: Now it’s becoming acceptable to say the drug war is a failure. Particularly when the clamity that’s happeing in Mexico is right on the door steps of the United States and it’s harder to avoid now.

Dean Becker: Right, right. There were some within the drug reform movement who were talking about the fact that the ‘glut’ of the Taliban or the Afghan opium might be utilized to fuel a new addiction for the Nation of China. Your thoughts on that, Sir?

Mr. Sanho Tree: China still has access to heroin from the Golden Triangle, Burma and Laos, and there are a lot of ethnic Chinese smugglers on those sides of the border and I think, because of the lack of development assistance for Burma and Laos, in the wake of this past ten years of eradicationi there, the situation is right for massively planting in those regions. I suspect that the Chinese market, to the extent that it exists, would be easier to satisfy from the Golden Triangle than from Afghanistan, where Chinese traffickers can deal with ethnic Chinese smugglers on the other side of the border.

Dean Becker: Well, this…

Mr. Sanho Tree: Whereas in Afghanistan they stick out a lot more.

Dean Becker: This all brings to mind, trying to weigh the economics of this all. I hear talk that Mexico gets some twenty to thirty billion dollars per year from their black market sales and that half of that, ten to fifteen billion approximate, goes to bribes; to corruption and it seems that, one way or another, this is going to continue until we change the policy. Because that’s a lot of money, isn’t it?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yeah. It’s simply the cost of doing business. It’s like a tax you pay. These cartel’s, they know that off the top they’re going to have to pay this much money in bribes. Maybe ten / fifteen percent might get interdicted and that’s all factored into their bottom line. Simply a cost of doing business.

It’s very difficult for governments like Mexico and other even poorer countries, particularly in West Africa, to inoculate their law enforcement and politicians from these kinds of bribes, because they’re so poor.

Dean Becker: I did hear stories of, over the last week or ten days, that they busted several dozen mayor’s and police chief’s down in Mexico, for their involvement. They always tout this as, ’It’s a major turning point’ and yet, it just continues to get worse. One storm worse than the next one. Doesn’t it?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Yeah. It’s less of a turning point than the tip of an iceberg, I think. The way it works is that, if you don’t have rule of law, if you have no accountability for politically motivated crime; murder, such as exists in much of rural Columbia, for instance. It’s well over ninety percent, as high as ninety-eight percent impunity, for killings. It means that if I have the slightest disagreement with you I could wack you, or have someone else wack you for me, and nothing’s going to happen to me… right.

So, if you’re a police chief or a major of a small rural village and the traffickers or the gorillas or the paramilitary death squads, come to you one night and say, ‘Look, we’re going to make you an offer, plomo o plata.’ Do you want lead or do you want silver? Do you want a bullet or do you want a bribe? If it’s a ninety-eight percent impunity rate, then the question for me is as that official is, ’Do I want to see the sun rise tomorrow morning? Do I want to see my kids ever again?’ There’s no such thing as an idle threat, in this kind of a situation.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Mr. Sanho Tree: So, I don’t consider that corruption. That’s simply, do you want to live or not? So, it’s very difficult to tackle this. Prohibition is an equal opportunity corrupter. That’s the problem.

Dean Becker: So true and so obvious. I really feel that most Americans are beginning to understand this system of drug prohibition is broken. They’re not necessarily, as we eluded to earlier, willing to say too much or speak up in public, I suppose. But, they know it’s broken, right?

Mr. Sanho Tree: Even in public now. Just in the past couple of months, you turn on CNN or MSNBC or even a couple of people on FOX I think, will say that, certainly with marijuana, it ought to be legalized, taken off of the table and that would go some ways to our taking the profits away from the cartel’s.

Even on MSNBC, if you watch that in the morning with ‘Morning Joe’ Joe Scarborough, the former republican congressman from Florida, it’s conventional wisdom, now. Now that he’s no longer in office he can speak a little bit more freely, which usually happens with politicians once they no longer have to run for re-election. They’re suddenly a lot more honest.

Dean Becker: Yeah. It’s sad but true. It holds true for the members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, that ninety-something percent of us were retired, before we began to speak up against this policy.

Sanho, we have about a minute left. I want to kind of turn it over to you, to first off tell us a little bit more about the Institute For Policy Studies, lead folks toward your website and I don’t know, just give a pep talk to folks out there. Get them busy, to help end this madness.

Mr. Sanho Tree: My office, the Institute For Policy Studies. We’ve been around for forty-six years now. We’re a multi-issue progressive ‘think tank’ in Washington D.C, working on all kinds of international, domestic, social and justice issues, and I work on drug policy.

Our website is www.ips-dc.org and I’ve actually put on a couple of video’s in the past two months. If people want to go to vimeo.com, which is kind of like the new YouTube, and just search my name, Sanho Tree.

Dean Becker: O.K.

Mr. Sanho Tree: There’s a video of me down in Columbia, that I shot in February in the coca fields, looking at coca farmers processing coca and then there’s another talk on Mexico and the drug war in Mexico.

Dean Becker: Real good. Santo, it’s always a pleasure to have you with us. We appreciate you being here on the Century of Lies show and we’ll be in touch soon, my friend.

Mr. Sanho Tree: Thanks for having me.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Sir.

I want to also point out I have a couple of video’s up. One featuring Sanho Tree and our Bolivia trip as well. You can access those at YouTube.com/fdbecker. Here’s an interview I did with Marc Mauer, Sentencing Project.

This is Marc Mauer. I’m the Executive Director of the Sentencing Project and we’re a research and public policy organization based in Washington D.C.

Dean Becker: There’s a story in today’s USA Today. ‘Half of men arrested test positive for drugs.’

Marc Mauer: Well, this is one in an ongoing series of studies that look at people arrested and their involvement with drugs, to see what connections there may be and as we’ve seen for a long time, a substantial number of people who are arrested, do test positive for drugs. Although, the most typical drug they test positive for is marijuana. So, it obviously is important to distinguish the severity of the drugs that are being used and to try to look at what relationship this may have to any of the criminal activity they may be involved with.

Dean Becker: Now Marc, it’s my opinion that for the most part, that if you were to just test some three thousand, nine hundred twenty-four people in these cities mentioned, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, etc, that they would test positive as well. Your thoughts on that?

Marc Mauer: Well obviously, clearly many American’s in this, cut’s across lines of race, class, geography and other things and many American’s have used drugs within the last thirty days or so. So, I think there’s research that tends to show that, among people involved in the justice system, there are higher rates of using drugs also somewhat high rates of using more serious drugs.

So, I wouldn’t discount the implication of these new findings completely but, we need to put in some context. Just because someone is smoking pot last night and got picked up for shoplifting today, doesn’t mean that the marijuana caused the person to shoplift. Obviously, we need to disentangle those issues.

Dean Becker: Right, and it is the thought of our new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, that kind of brought this story to the fore. Am I right?

Marc Mauer: Well, yeah. It’s been an ongoing study that essentially his office inherited. But, I think to his credit, he was quoted just a few weeks ago, a major piece in the Wall Street Journal saying that, ‘It’s time to end the language of the war on drugs,’ and he says, ’As long as we call it a war, it sounds like it’s a war on our own people on a war that has emphasized law enforcement incarceration.’

So, he’s made a very forceful statement, I believe, of trying to turn around that metaphor and the whole orientation of what our drug policy should look like.

Dean Becker: You’re quoted within the article as saying, “If you want drug treatment, in some places you are better off getting arrested and going to drug court.” Would you care to elaborate on that?

Marc Mauer: Well, yes. One of the sort of success stories, I guess is the last twenty years now, is that we’ve seen this very significant expansion of drug courts around the country. These are specialized courts that try to take people with a substance abuse problem and divert them into treatment, rather than incarceration. While this is very commendable in many respects, it also seems to me that it’s kind of missing the point. Because, it’s using the criminal justice system to solve a social problem; a public health problem rather than intervening earlier on.

Right now, in many low income communities in particular, if you have a drug problem and want to get into a treatment program, you may have to get on a waiting list of six months or more. So ironically, if your goal is to get into treatment, you may be better off in going out and committing a property crime and have the option of ending up in drug court and getting into treatment.

Clearly, that’s a very inappropriate type of incentive to set up. We should be doing treatment for those that want it as an option in the community and not relying on the Criminal Justice System as a primary means of dealing with providing social services.

Website is sentencingproject.org

Cartels thriving. Terrorists prospering. Gangs growing in our neighborhoods.

Please, tune into the Century of Lies each week on WPRR 1680 AM in Ada and Grand Rapids.

Do it for the children.

O.K. That was a promo I did for WPRR. I’m willing to do one for any of our sixty-three affiliates out there in the US, Canada and Australia. Just give me a shout. dean@drugtruth.net

I also have CD’s and DVD’s and books I can offer up for free, for your pledge drive as well. It’s time we work together. It’s time we bring focus to bare on this madness of drug war and bring it to an end.

Please check out our latest Cultural Baggage show. It features David Rosenbloom, the new head of the group CASA. The council on alcoholism and drug abuse, and as always, there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, medical data. No reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped.

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

* http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/25/drugs-united-nations-afghani...

Transcript provided by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org