05/14/17 Beauregard Sessions

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This week: Attorney General J. Beauregard Sessions III talks drug war while journalist Maia Szalavitz talks sense.

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MAY 14, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Let's start the show.

Last week, US Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who looks increasingly like the character Gollum from the lord of the rings, ratcheted up the drug war a few notches.

On Thursday, Gollum sent a memo to US Attorney offices around the country, ordering them to go for the maximum charge and maximum sentences in all cases. The memo also directs US Attorneys who want to seek a downward departure from a mandatory minimum sentence, for example in cases where the accused was cooperating, or was just a minor player for whom an extremely long mandatory sentence would be inappropriate. In order to have that downward departure, US Attorneys will now have to seek written authorization from their superiors.

On Friday May 12, the Justice Department announced that Sessions would make an appearance before the press. There was a lot of anticipation, I mean, FBI Director James Comey had just been fired by the president, more and more reports of Russian influence-peddling and corruption have rendered the the White House into a laughing-stock. The Justice Department's credibility, its reputation, are hanging in the balance.

So on Friday May 12, in front of a sea of reporters, Gollum walked out to the dais along with a few other middle aged white men in badly-tailored suits, and accepted a plaque from the Police Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City. He clutched that plaque to his chest and thanked the sergeants for his precious, made some remarks, and when he finished, he stepped away from the dais, and he and his police escort silently left the stage, ignoring the reporters who were trying to get his attention to ask questions.

He did more than just thank the sergeants for his precious, however. He used the opportunity to announce that Thursday memo and talk about drug war. All of that's online, you can watch and listen to it via the Justice Department's Youtube channel, here's just a snippet:

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFFERSON BEAUREGARD SESSIONS III: I would also encourage all Americans to, this week, to find your own way to show your gratitude to the people of law enforcement. Bring a home cooked meal to your local precinct.

Go to a national memorial service, or simply shake the hand of a police officer and say, thank you for your service. Under President Trump this Department of Justice will have your back. We will do all that we can to keep you safe and promote public support for honorable officers in your dangerous work.

I call on everyone to remember that it's not our privileged communities that suffer the most from crime and violence. Regardless of wealth or race, every American has a right to demand to live in a safe neighborhood. And we will do our part. Today I am announcing that I sent a memo to each of our United States Attorneys, last night, establishing a charging and sentencing policy for this Department of Justice. Our responsibility is to fulfill our role in a way that accords with law, advances public safety, and promotes respect for and consistency in our legal system, and in the work that we all do.

Charging and sentencing recommendations are bedrock responsibilities of any prosecutor, and I trust our prosecutors in the field to make good judgments. They deserve to be unhandcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington. Rather, they must be permitted to apply the law to the facts of each investigation. Let's be clear, we are enforcing the laws that Congress has passed, that is both our fundamental mission and our Constitutional duty.

Going forward, I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense, as I believe the law requires, most serious readily provable offense. It means that we're going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law, with judgment and fairness. It is simply the right and moral thing to do. But it is important to note that unlike previous charging memoranda, I have given our prosecutors discretion to avoid sentences that would result in an injustice. This is a key part of President Trump's promise to keep America safe. We're seeing an increase in violent crime in our cities particularly, in Baltimore, Chicago, Memphis, and Milwaukee, Saint Louis, and many others.

The murder rate has surged ten percent nationwide, the largest increase in murders since 1968, and we know that drugs and crime go hand in hand. They just do, the facts prove that's so. Drug trafficking is an inherently dangerous and violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't file a lawsuit in court, you collect it with the barrel of a gun. In 2015, more than 52,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. That's a stunning number. According to a report by the New England Journal of Medicine, the price of heroin is down, its purity is up, and its availability is up. We intend to reverse this trend.

We are returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple. If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way, we will not be willfully blind to your misconduct. We are talking about, for example, a kilogram of heroin, that's 10,000 doses of heroin on the streets. Five kilograms of cocaine, 10,000 kilograms of marijuana. These are not low drug -- low level drug offenders we and the federal courts are focusing on. These are drug dealers, and you drug dealers are going to prison.

Working with integrity and professionalism, attorneys who implement this policy will meet the high standards required of the Department of Justice, and together we will win this fight.

Once again, I thank our brave men and women in uniform for your service and thanks again to you, Ed, and the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York for this great honor. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: Now Attorney General Gollum also made an appearance on Thursday May 11. The Justice Department does not have that video online, and the version of his speech that appears on the Department website is only part of what he actually said that day. Fortunately someone in the audience was recording it, because when Gollum goes off script it's a lot more informative. The event was a Drug Enforcement Administration summit on heroin and opiates that was held in West Virginia. Now, here are some snippets from that speech.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFFERSON BEAUREGARD SESSIONS III: At the Department of Justice, our principle concern is law enforcement. Strong enforcement is crucial to effective drug abuse prevention and treatment. Many people, our police chiefs sometimes say, I used to tell them to quit saying that, they would say, which is only, it's pretty much true, we can't arrest our way out of the problem, and that is true, we can't, but it is a big, critical part of it, and people should not diminish the power and effectiveness of good law enforcement.

But, prevention, I truly believe, is the greatest part of our challenge, and over time, prevention will help us be most effective. Thank you.

So there's some tools that we can use, that are effective. I was there, after the '60s and '70s, I was an assistant United States Attorney in the late 1970s, came back as United States Attorney, Nancy Reagan said we want to have a Just Say No program. People mocked that, and we had many different DARE programs for the police and schools, and prevention.

And they -- many were -- programs may not have been the most sophisticated, but it helped, and it, over time, we developed more and more sophisticated prevention programs. Age appropriate programs. Messaging programs that we know have proven scientifically to work. That research and data is out there. Prevention is a long term effective way to reverse this bad trend we're on today. Law enforcement plays a big role. The Department of Justice is a law enforcement agency. DEA is a -- giving extra effort to the prevention program, and well they might, but fundamentally we're a drug enforcement agency.

The data shows that we have today more availability, lower price, and higher purity in drugs in America, particularly drugs like heroin, cocaine, and meth. That is a law enforcement problem, too.

Still, while treatment programs are crucial, they address the drug abuse crisis on the back end, after people have gotten addicted and communities and, have their lives and families often devastated. That's why prevention is critical. The best thing we can do is to keep people from ever abusing drugs in the first place. Our nation must once again -- once again send a clear message. Illegal drugs are dangerous, and deadly. Say no. Don't do it. It's not right to do it. It's wrong to do it. It's wrong to help other people, lead them into drug use, when they have no business doing so.

We know it for a fact that these drugs are destroying lives. We are losing people every day. A hundred and sixty people die a day from drug overdose. Just look around us, we know people by name too often that have damaged their lives, even lost their lives, from drugs. Education does work, doesn't work overnight, but those of you who are involved in that, I urge you to keep at it, because you're telling the truth, and the truth can penetrate if you say it enough times.

Now we have sophisticated programs. We know how to reach children today a lot better than we did in the early 1980s. We know that one message for one age group is not necessarily the one for the next age group. We need to figure out and utilize the scientific research that was done over the last 30 years about how to communicate effectively. We can do this.

So, we won't end this epidemic in a week or a month or a year. It will be a huge undertaking, but here in West Virginia, and across our country, we've got people working at it. We must use all the tools we have: criminal enforcement, treatment, prevention programs. We cannot allow the trends that we are seeing today, and it looks so much like what we saw in the '60s and '70s, nobody here remembers that but me, but I can remember it. We don't want those trends that went on for 20 years, and that reached the level in which over half of high school seniors in 1980 admitted using an illegal drug. We do not need to go back to that trend.

We can stop it before it gets there. But we're on a bad trend right now. We've got too much complacency about drugs, too much talking about recreational drugs. That's the same thing you used to hear in the '80s. That's what they, the pro-drug crowd argued then. But we realized that, from reality, empirical fact, neighbors, friends, crime, that this was not a legitimate thing. So, we're going to reverse this trend. I am committed to it, the president's committed to it, Shelly is committed to it, your Congress is reacting in an effective way, state legislators, police departments are reacting effectively.

We're going to come together as a nation and we're not going to allow this abuse, this, this threat to our country, erode our capabilities and destroy good and decent people in our country.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Attorney General Gollum, otherwise known as Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, speaking at a DEA sponsored summit on heroin that was held on Thursday May 11 in West Virginia. Now in reality, the Reagan drug war was an abysmal failure, yet people like Gollum, and his Reagan-era predecessor Meese the Pig, they just can't accept the fact that their ideas were wrong and doomed to fail. Prohibition is the law and that's just the end of the discussion for these guys so it must be people like you just aren't trying hard enough.

Well frankly FCC regulations prevent me from using the the correct term for the stuff that spews forth from Attorney General Gollum and Meese the Pig so I'll just say this: they lie. It's really no surprise. The drug war was built on a foundation of lies, it's lasted for more than a hundred years, yet that foundation crumbles to dust when it's finally exposed to the light of truth.

Of course, you already know that, dear listener. That's why you tune in. That's why you are listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now before we go on with the rest of today's show, I have one quick self-serving announcement: the Drug War Facts website at DrugWarFacts.org has relaunched. It's finally now mobile-friendly. The entire site can easily be navigated with your phone or tablet as well as your desktop box.

The look has improved and the content is higher quality than ever, with direct quotes from impeccable sources, complete citations, and links to the original materials, so you can not only verify what we're saying, you can do further research for yourself.

The drug war is starting again. To fight against the war on drugs, you have to arm yourself with the facts. Knowledge is power, so visit DrugWarFacts.org today.

Well, the best journalist in the US today covering drugs and drug policy is probably Maia Szalavitz. I had the pleasure of interviewing her recently for a show I do on a Portland, Oregon public radio station. We were talking about her book, the New York Times bestseller Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction. It was a wide-ranging discussion and there are some bits of the interview that didn't quite make it into the show, so here's a treat, just for you.

I've got you on the phone so I've got to ask a couple of things about the, about what we're -- what's going on right now, the new administration, and some of the stuff, I mean, it's, obviously we're talking about your book, which is brilliant, which is a New York Times bestseller. I predicted it would be, oh yes. And, I want to, you know, there's -- yeah, I mean, it's brilliant, but, you are the best journalist working on drug issues in the country today, and I say that as one of the other journalists working on drug issues in this country, so, you know, I'm, like I said, it's just an honor to be on the phone with you. Some of the smarts will rub off, it will be great.

But, we've got the new administration, and everybody that they're appointing is talking about drug war. The marijuana industry folks have been, you know, saying, ah, everything's going to be okeh, they're not really going to crack down on us, and I -- which on the one hand, well, that's kind of wishful thinking, on the other hand, it's like, yes, you just go ahead and separate yourselves from the rest of drug policy reform, folks, you've got nothing to worry about because your business may continue past the next four years, but --

MAIA SZALAVITZ: I see it -- I see it slightly differently. I think that the marijuana industry, whatever their, you know, pros and cons may be, I think what they're seeing is the fact that marijuana is so mainstream now, that it's really hard to stir up a moral panic about it. When Sessions says things that used to terrify people, like "think about the children," people laugh now. You know, it's -- certainly, if somebody was proposing legalizing heroin, and having Philip Morris heroin, at the moment that wouldn't go over very well. But, the -- and that's not to say anything about the merits of heroin prescription, it actually works quite well.

But, the point here is that, so many people have used marijuana. So many people have become disillusioned by the fact that marijuana is demonstrably less harmful than some of these other substances, and that the government has lied to them about it. So, I don't think, you know, I mean, I suppose they could, you know, send in, you know, the National Guard or something, but it seems -- it seems as though, without the support of the media, the media is no longer doing marijuana hysteria the way it used to do, without the support of the media, without the support of the public, it is going to be very, very difficult for them to get any traction with that.

Now, I could be wrong, and they could, you know, stir up people, but, I mean -- there was a, I think this was in Seattle, there was a, you know, one of these demonstrations where, like, pro and anti Trump people were, you know, counter-demonstrating, and somebody in the crowd, they offered each other a joint, and they all, like, smoked together. And I thought, yeah, you know, like, that is not something that you can imagine in a world where a marijuana crackdown is going to be successful.

DOUG MCVAY: This is true. They are, on the other hand, doing a lot of demonizing around opiates, and heroin, and not just the illegals, but, I mean, you know, Sessions is talking about cracking down and, you know, cutting down on these prescriptions generally. I mean, it's --

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Well, we certainly -- we certainly had a tremendous crackdown on prescriptions already, so much so that a lot of people in chronic pain who do actually benefit from opioids are suffering.

So, that's an important thing to say. The insane thing about the crackdown that we've had on prescription opioids is that, everytime we shut a pill mill, you have a list of everybody who has received pills from that pill mill, because they cannot get their prescription without their real name, because ID is required. So, you have a list of everyone. Now some of these people will be dealers, but the vast majority of them will be either people in pain who actually need pain care, or people with addiction, or people with addiction and pain.

If you just cut all of those people off, the people with addiction are going to end up going to street drugs, and they already know how to get them because they tend to previously be people who had contact with the recreational drug using scene. And so they will go and buy heroin, and now they're at risk of fentanyl, which, you know, we have seen overdoses continue to increase as the prescription opioid supply has been cut.

So, it's just so dumb not to instantly offer either, you know, pain treatment for the pain patients, or addiction treatment for the addiction patients, when we arrest these people. It's just completely nuts, because what it does is, it creates new heroin markets in places where they didn't previously exist, and once that market is created, I don't think anybody has ever successfully eradicated a heroin market from a city entirely, it just moves somewhere else within the city.

DOUG MCVAY: And of course people have pointed out the big difference between the reaction to the, you know, the increased heroin and the opioids, compared to crack cocaine, and the sort of racist element that would exist there, with, you know, so many of the people being arrested and the stereotype of the crack user being African American even though it was mostly white people, but, you know, there was the stereotype, and so the reaction was, get tough, crack down, as it's an opioid it's a different thing.

A slightly more nuanced look, because I remember that with the methamphetamine crisis and the, you know, excessive use back in the '90s and 2000s. I come from a small factory town in the midwest, you know, people, you know, back in the old days, the factory workers would get their bennies from the truck drivers coming through, or the company doc would just write them a prescription, no worries. But then, that changed, and the reaction to methamphetamine was kind of the same, you know, demonizing, let's put these people away. Now, we have substitution --

MAIA SZALAVITZ: I mean, I think there was --


MAIA SZALAVITZ: What's going on with the opiates, there are several different things happening. One is that, yes, we have an incredibly racist drug policy, our drug policy is founded in racism. Every single drug that was banned was banned after a racist panic over a particular group or several groups. And so, yes, there's definitely, one of the reasons that we're seeing a big harm reduction response rather than an overwhelmingly criminalizing response is that we are seeing these people as white.

The other reason that this is happening, though, part of it is this sort of narrative that these people got addicted by their doctors, so they didn't choose to become addicted. That's actually generally not true, because, it is on -- you know, you cannot become addicted without failing to follow doctor's advice. You can become dependent, but if you take your drugs exactly as prescribed, and do not compulsively use them despite negative consequences, you are dependent rather than addicted, and if you kick the problem of simple dependence, and you resolve whatever the pain condition is, most people have very little problem actually stopping opioids, in that situation.

So, anyway, the, you know, the -- one of the big reasons that the opioid thing is being perceived differently is that the parents of people with opioid addiction, many of them white, are actually supporting good policy instead of, in the past, as they supported the drug war, because, you know, when you think about the drug war of the '80s and '90s, certainly it was targeted against people of color, but a lot of the most enthusiastic drug warriors were white middle class parents who had addicted kids, and believed that being tough on them would actually help them.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and within the African-American community, one of the leaders in the drug war -- of the drug war in the Congress was, you know, Congressman Charlie Rangel from Harlem. I mean, this was, there's a reason he was put up as the face of this, for that --

MAIA SZALAVITZ: There is -- well, there's, I mean, there's a very, you know, tragic history of respectability politics, where, you know, which ended up turning, you know, black people against each other, and that is, you know, another whole hour of discussion, but, the thing is that, yes, unfortunately, there were -- there was very strong support in the black community for the drug war, for a long time, because of the way it was framed and misunderstood.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, of course, with, the one -- the other big difference is that with opiates we have accepted treatment, the substitution treatment: methadone, buprenorphine, extended release suboxone, then you've got the, you've even got heroin prescription in some places, not yet here. We don't yet have substitution treatment for stimulants. Although there is some research out there. What do you think?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Yeah, I mean, you know, it's hard to say. I think really what happens, with substitution treatment for stimulants, is that you're totally just medicating ADHD. Which is fine, and can be helpful for a lot of people, but it's not necessarily maintenance, although it could be seen as that.

So, it's hard to disentangle that. I think there has been, you know -- the other problem with maintenance on stimulants is that there is a sort of inherently -- opioids are more inherently satisfying than stimulants are. Like, stimulants sort of activate a part of your brain that's about desire and wanting more, and this whole kind of energizing thing, that is aimed at, you know, more, more, more, more. You can get to satiation with opioids, but it's much harder to do with stimulants. So stimulant maintenance is a difficult question.

The opioid thing, however, it is now clear from many different studies that if you stay on either methadone or some form of buprenorphine, you have a sixty percent reduction in death risk. And this is not known about anything else, it is not known for Vivitrol, Naltrexone, any antagonist. It is not known for rehab, or for any abstinence only approach. So, if you have a loved one who has an opioid addiction, the safest method of treatment is staying on a maintenance medication for a long time.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Maia Szalavitz, an award-winning author and journalist whose most recent book is the New York Times bestseller Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction. Unbroken Brain has just come out in paperback, and I highly recommend it to everyone out there.

And well, that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programming is also available via podcast, the URLs to subcribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

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