04/14/17 Eric Sterling

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Eric Sterling of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation & Neill Franklin Dir of Law Enforcement Action Partnership decry fallacy of drug war + artist Ellen Bukstel discussion about her song Who's the Pusher Now?

Audio file


APRIL 14, 2017


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

The following segment courtesy of Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

NEILL FRANKLIN: I'm Neill Franklin, the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership. And this is?

ERIC STERLING: I'm Eric Sterling, I'm the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, and I'm a longtime member of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

I guess I should say, just by way of background, that before I joined the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, I worked for the US Congress at the House Judiciary Committee for nine years, and played a major role in the 1980s in writing federal drug laws, and especially the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and the infamous mandatory minimum drug sentences.

NEILL FRANKLIN: And I'm Neill Franklin. I'm a retired major from the Maryland State Police, and I've got 34 years in law enforcement experience before I became the executive director to LEAP, oh in, I think it was, seven years ago this July. And most of my career was in drug enforcement, criminal investigations, and some training, as a commander of training for the Maryland State Police and Baltimore City.

A lot of my work was undercover, but then again, I was commanding nine drug task forces at one time in the state of Maryland, for the eastern part of the state, and, I mean, right on the frontlines of the war on drugs, and able to see firsthand what a disaster these policies are of drug prohibition.

But anyway, you're going to hear more as we talk about sentencing reform, and tie it to some things, such as the war on drugs. There's not one thing that is responsible for our ballooning prison population in this country. We are five percent of the world's population here but we have 25 percent of the world's prisoners. So, it took a lot to get us there, but the war on drugs is a significant part of that, drug prohibition policies.

ERIC STERLING: I think that, the fact that you mentioned quickly, that, think about it, you know, in all the world, Americans are five percent, one out of 20. But of all the prisoners in the world, one out of four of them are here in the US. Now we think of ourselves as the land of the free. We think about totalitarian states, authoritarian states, China or Russia, or vicious states like Iran. We think about places where there was apartheid, like South Africa. We read accounts of prisoners rioting in Brazil, or Central America. And just keeping in mind then, how disproportionate it is that in our country we have the largest prison population of any country in the world, and the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world.

Now, why is that? I mean, does it make sense? Because we're certainly, I mean, our crime rates are lower, we're not a more evil, violent, dishonest people than other people around the world. I mean, so what explains this?

Very badly conceived policies of the government, by the Congress, by state legislators, by prosecutors, have led us to this place, in ways in which then the judges, who are the most, you know, accomplished, respected lawyers, judges who we entrust the most complicated legal challenges to, of resolving all kinds of disputes, when we get to the area of drugs, we suddenly say, judge, you're not competent to identify who a serious drug dealer is, and figure out what a just sentence is. We're going to tell you. We're going to lock it in.

That disrespect for judges is part of what's going on in the mandatory minimum sentencing law.

NEILL FRANKLIN: As we all know, alcohol is probably the most socially problematic drug that we use, but yet, I don't think anyone would ever consider going back to the days and the policies of alcohol prohibition once again, where we had the violent crime, where we had the running gun battles and drive-by shootings, and the corruption, and the enormous costs, and children being recruited by bootleggers, and problematic booze flowing through our streets and our speakeasies, and so on.

So, here we are again, with drugs, and our approach to drugs. So where do we go from here?

ERIC STERLING: I think a key thing to sort of recognize is that, you know, we had, in the 1970s, a prison population of about a quarter million people. It's two and a quarter million people now. Now the population is a little larger, but it's not, you know, nine times larger than it was in the 1970s.


ERIC STERLING: And your point then about drugs is that it was not so much about drugs, it was about a crusade against the idea of drugs. It was a crusade against boogeymen.


ERIC STERLING: That it was a crusade against drug lords, it was a crusade against rampant violence in the street, and crack dealers, and, and crazy ideas, really, that we could, you know, prevent quote unquote "crack babies" by a massive incarceration response.

NEILL FRANKLIN: So, Eric, you played a significant role during that time in our history on Capitol Hill, as we -- resulting partly because of the death of Lennie Bias, who was a star basketball for the University of Maryland, not too far from where we sit right here today. And Len Bias was drafted by the Boston Celtics, and he experienced a death related to cocaine use.

ERIC STERLING: The night he signed, he was celebrating in his dormitory room, he was still a student.

NEILL FRANKLIN: So, tell us about that, and the correlation to that, the relationship to his death and what happened on Capitol Hill, the kneejerk reactions.

ERIC STERLING: And, I think, and this is the key thing, is that mass incarceration was created by politics. It wasn't created by a logical response to a crime problem. It wasn't created after studying criminology and psychology, and sort of doing an analysis of quote unquote "what works" to prevent crime. Mass incarceration arose out of political jumps and political hoops, that were being jumped through, so to speak.

In the days before the internet, everyone would watch the evening news because they wanted to know what happened. Members of Congress were desperate to know, and every night, they saw, you know Maryland star Len Bias, you know, as a triumphant young star, you know, a rival of Michael Jordan. His signing with the NBA champion Celtics was a huge deal. He died that night.

Now, that night, the night he died, in June 1986, Congress is already a few months away from the November 1986 election. This is an extremely important election for the Democrats, because in the 1980 election, with Ronald Reagan at the head of the ticket, the Senate went Republican for the first time since the 1950s. And from the Democratic perspective, this was an unnatural act. This was inconceivable.

And they knew with Reagan not on the ticket, that the Republican incumbents, the first termers, were vulnerable, and that if the Democrats played their cards right, if the Democrats -- the Democrats saw that in 1984, crime was a big issue, if they could take advantage of the crime issue, they could defeat the Republicans, they can take control of the US Senate back from the Republicans.

Now, in '84, in -- a lot of crime legislation was passed. One of the things that Congress did was pass a sentencing reform bill that had been in the works for a dozen years, to create a sentencing commission that would guide federal judges with guidelines, that would help create a degree of uniformity, so that the sentence you got in Alabama was not different than the sentence you got in California for the same crime in federal law.

But before that commission could work, when Len Bias died, the Speaker of the House, who's from Boston, sees that the public interest, the public shock, that this handsome, gifted, strong athlete is now instantly dead from cocaine, and from what was believed to be crack, was, became a symbol of all that was wrong with drugs. And became an opportunity to talk about his death and to say, we've got an epidemic.

Two or three weeks later, Don Rogers, the NFL rookie of the year for the Cleveland Browns, a few weeks later died from a crack overdose. Now we suddenly had two athletes dead, we had an epidemic, we had a plague, we had, and Congress had to stop it.

The Speaker called all the Democratic leadership together, and said, let's put together an anti-drug bill now, in July. We can, if we get it done before the August recess, we can campaign on it for the rest of the summer, pass it over Labor Day, and as soon as we adjourn, we'll keep talking about it, and we can win in November.

Now, I was the lead guy for drugs for the House Judiciary Committee, and I was in the Speaker's conference room day after day, as this thing was being whipped together by the Agriculture Committee, because they had the national forests, where marijuana's grown. And the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee because they had the Coast Guard. And the Ways and Means Committee because they had the Customs Service. And the Interior Committee because they had the national parks.

And, you had Education and Labor, because they had the schools, and you had the Armed Services Committee, because they were going to bring the military into the war on drugs, and you had, you know, every committee, you know, the Energy and Commerce Committee because they had health, so everybody's involved, writing bills, holding press conferences, making statements, and there is a frenzy, a real frenzy, around drugs, and trying to sort of be tougher than the other guy.

Certainly the Democrats were trying to be tougher than the Republicans, and the Republicans were trying to be, no, the sentences should be longer, we should have the death penalty. We should have multiple death penalties, you know, it was, it was -- it was a frenzy that culminates when, in the last days before Congress adjourns, the Republicans and the Democrats on my subcommittee got together and said, we've got to have a crackdown, mandatory sentences.

No hearings, no consideration from the judges or the Department of Justice, or anybody. Bam, bam. Motion agreed to, and boom, it's done, you know. Let's go campaign, now it's time to campaign. These sentences, the maximum for a federal drug crime was 15 years in 1984, under the law that Nixon signed. Maximum 15 years. Now we had sentences where the minimum was 10, up to life, for quantities like a candy bar size of crack cocaine. Caught --- small quantities.

Well, Congress thought, we're writing laws for kingpins. Well, five kilos of cocaine, that's 12 pounds, that would fit in a kid's school bag. That would fit in a construction worker's lunchbox. This is not a fishing boat full of cocaine, this is not an airplane load of cocaine, this is courier, this is the low, low level quantities triggering up to life imprisonment.

And so now, the Sentencing Commission is writing these guidelines, and as soon as this law takes effect, we begin to see the changes. By 1993, this law passes in 1986, by 1993, a reporter from the LA Times get a tip -- gets a tip, says you know, no white person's ever been prosecuted in Los Angeles in federal court for selling crack cocaine. And he says, well, how could that be, I mean, really? Surely, I mean, this must be completely weird, I mean, the rest of the country couldn't be like that.

And he goes looking into Denver, Dallas, Chicago, all across, many places across the country, no white person had ever been prosecuted in federal court under these mandatory sentences for the first five years of this law. And even now, it's a ratio of ten blacks to one white being prosecuted for crack cocaine under these mandatory minimum laws.

DEAN BECKER: To learn more about Law Enforcement Action Partnership, please go to LEAP.cc.

And now for something completely different.

LAKE COUNTY (FL) SHERIFF PEYTON GRINNELL: I'm Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell. Over the last month or so, I've had several phone calls from citizens in this county, concerned about the number of overdoses related to heroin. I am asking all residents to please call if you know of a location that this poison is being pushed out to our streets. You can remain anonymous.

To the dealers, that are pushing this poison, our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you. We are simply awaiting the arrest warrants to be finalized. So, to the dealers, I say, enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if today's the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight, wondering if tonight's the night our SWAT team blows your front door off the hinges. We are coming for you. If our agents can show the nexus between you the pusher of poison and the person that overdoses and dies, we will charge you with murder. We are coming for you. Run.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects!

ALEX TREBEK: A 2009 study recommended treating heroin addicts with diazepam morphine, the active ingredient in this?

DEAN BECKER: Time’s up! The answer from Jeopardy:


KAREN: What is heroin?


Back 'round 1935,
Depression riding high,
People trying to have some fun,
Smoking dope and opium.

Government did what they do best,
Making a mess,
Made a crime that victimless,
Criminalizing cannabis.

And the big dumb money machine
Sells Oxy and morphine,
Legal drugs get us hooked,
A million deaths overlooked.

Methadone, fentanyl,
Halcion, phenobarbital,
Let the government take a bow.
Who's the pusher now?

Follow the corporate money trail,
While decent people rot in jail,
Guaranteed full occupancy
For private prison industry.

Caught up in a living hell
With a couple of million prison cells,
And government hypocrisy
Paying for modern slavery.

And the big dumb money machine
Sells Oxy and morphine,
Federal laws still protect
Drugs with death as side effects.

Percocet, thorazine,
Opiates, amphetamine,
Let the government take a bow.
Who's the pusher now?

The war on drugs,
A political joke.
Locking us up
For smoking dope.

No reason
For doing time
With a punishment
When there ain't no crime.

Dope cartels are runnin' beer,
Prohibition made it clear
When you turn a market black,
It's hard to turn it back.

When government gets behind the gun,
IRS is never done,
Our taxes pay the FDA
So the DEA can put us away.

And the government drug money machine
Runs like it's on dexedrine.
Politicians legislate
So they can mass incarcerate.

Look at the human cost,
Personal rights getting tossed.
Let the government take a bow.
Who's the pusher now?

And the big drug money machine
Sells Oxy and morphine,
Satisfaction guaranteed,
Harmless as a garden weed.

When your body is in pain,
Smoke some medical maryjane.
Let the government take a bow,
Let the government take a bow.
Who's the pusher now?
Who's the pusher now?
Who's the pusher now?

DEAN BECKER: All right, my friends, what you just heard was "Who's the Pusher Now?" by a great veteran musician out of Florida, Ellen Bukstel. Ellen is with us. Hello, Ellen.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Hello there, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Ellen, I want to thank you for this song, it eviscerates the logic of the drug war, it exposes it for everyone to see and hear.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: That was my point.

DEAN BECKER: And, let's talk about what compelled you to write that song?

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Well, I've been a significant proponent of legalizing marijuana and some other drugs, and when I started to do some research, I use the internet a lot with my songwriting because there's a lot of good information, and I discovered the obscenity of private prisons, and all of the profiteering that was going on with people's incarceration, I thought it -- I think it's appalling, I think it's a horrible system that we have here, and of course the drug wars are perpetuating the drug problem, actually, in my opinion.

So, I just, and I, and what I thought about was that it's truly the hypocrisy of this thing that's so outstanding. The government and the pharmaceutical companies are producing these drugs, deadly drugs, now that doesn't mean to say that I discount the drugs that are helping people, and certainly people might take an issue with my feelings about it, but, for the most part, those drugs are abused as well, and there are many drugs that do kill people, and in fact the statistics show, you know, enormous amount of people who are suffering from pharmaceutical drugs and none from marijuana. Cannabis, or products of cannabis.

So I just, I had to put it down.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and I'm glad you did --

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Had to write it. Thank you. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: And, you know, in this job I have, I get all kinds of books and music, and, you know, sent to me, and many of them are quite good. But the, but your song, "Who's the Pusher Now?" has, I don't know, it starts out, I think, reminiscent of --

ELLEN BUKSTEL: The history, right?

DEAN BECKER: The history, the original prohibition sound, if you will.


DEAN BECKER: And then advances into kind of blues, rock, and really gets to it. And, the words, in particular, are so on point.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Thank you. Somebody told me, somebody referred to this song, I found it interesting, as a really long, it was like, tweeting, because they were very short phrases, they're not, you know, if you wrote it out, you'd see it's very short. I thought that was an interesting way, because it, I tried to be, I tried to bring in all the elements best I could, without, you know, going into a long diatribe about it. And so, it was, honestly, of all the songs I've written, I feel the most proud of it, of this one, because the message is important to me as well as, I think this song has, you know, had an impact on people who hear it, and if you've seen my video of it.

DEAN BECKER: Oh yes. Oh yes.


DEAN BECKER: And, I want to bring up the point, your, your children.


DEAN BECKER: Back you on this as well. Tell us how they got involved, would you?

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Well, my children and I are, we're, I would say we were a pretty creative family, my oldest son is a producer, songwriter, composer, studio engineer, he produces all of my music. He's a studied musician, he's a professional drummer, and of course we've always been a weed smoking family, so.

DEAN BECKER: Good for you.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: So, that's number one, and my middle son, my other son Todd, he lives in LA, he used to work for Sony Pictures Interactive, he actually produced, created and produced all of the graphics that you see, motion graphics that you see in the video. And, we all were just committed, once I wrote the song, and I started getting responses from people, I said, we have to do something with this, and Todd created the joint, with the weed of people on there, and the smoke and everything. And it just, the first image just grabs you, you've got to watch it, you know?


ELLEN BUKSTEL: So, I'm very proud of them. And my other, and my other child is my younger daughter, and she did my make-up.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, well, that's important too. Yes it is. And, I want to focus on the fact, this is not a one-off, this is not, like many folks, like me, I produced a drug war song, but that was about the only thing I ever produced, but you have a history, you have CDs, you've been at this for quite some time.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Well, I have only been songwriting, writing songs, for probably since the mid-90s, and even in that, I was doing some co-writes, but my, I've been a musician my entire life, I studied classical piano, and my brother and I created a group called Legacy as we were young adults, and we've been singing together for like 40-plus years, but, he decided to be a hockey dad, and I had to go off on my own.

And so, around the year 2000 was when I really started writing, honestly.

DEAN BECKER: You have toured the nation a few times, you actually made a trip to the home studio of the Drug Truth Network, KPFT there in Houston.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: I did. Larry Winter.

DEAN BECKER: Larry Winter, the man himself.

You are listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. We're speaking with Ellen Bukstel, a singer, author of "Who's the Pusher Now?"

ELLEN BUKSTEL: I think over time, people will recognize, people who have been indoctrinated to the fallacies about this will soon learn that it is not a bad drug, it's not a bad plant, and it's sustainable, it's something that we will use the entire plant, for all kinds of things. So it's, it's better than nothing. Put it this way, it's been something we've been sneaking around most of our lives smoking. We don't have to do that anymore as much. So, it's a different --

DEAN BECKER: No, you're absolutely right. I think hopefully soon people will recognize that it should not be compared to alcohol, which it most often is.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Oh, it's obscene. The opposition has put out some terrible ads, and terrible information, to people who might be riding the fence, you know, who don't really know, who've never experienced use of it, or don't know anybody, they only know what they've heard, they only know what has been propagandized, and that's the thing here, which is why I wrote this song.

I didn't realize at the time what kind of impact it would have, but I've gotten so many, I have people calling me from all over the country, and emailing me, that, you know, with the same sentiment, and response and reaction that you've had. And, I think that, that in addition to bringing attention -- to the attention of everyone about private prisons. I didn't know anything about that.

I'm not a news junkie, so I didn't just happen to chance on it. So, that to me is one of -- is equal of importance, that we need to get those people out of jail who've been put in there for life, some of them, over weed. Really?

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. It's such a preposterous situation, but it is ugly --


DEAN BECKER: Yeah, but it's unwinding slow, bloody, and ugly, I like to say.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Yeah. Now, you are in Texas, right?

DEAN BECKER: I'm in Texas, yes ma'am.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: And, what is the, what's the situation there?

DEAN BECKER: Oh, they had something like 20 bills coming through our legislature this spring, one or two of them are moving slowly, but there is some hope. The good thing is, my county, Harris County, just decided they're going to stop arresting anybody for under four ounces of weed.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: I heard that somewhere, yeah.

DEAN BECKER: Which is, you know, just my hat's off to our district attorney for being so intelligent, and bold.

ELLEN BUKSTEL: Yes. Good, that's what it's going to take, some people that aren't afraid.


ELLEN BUKSTEL: To take a stand.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Oh, absolutely right. Well friends, once again we've been speaking with Ellen Bukstel, the author of "Who's the Pusher Now?" "Singing with You," "Let It Go," "Legacy of Love," "By My Silence," dozens of songs that you can access through her website. Please share that website with the listeners, Ellen.


DEAN BECKER: That's it. I want to thank Ellen Bukstel, I want to thank Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, my boss Neill Franklin of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and I want to thank you for listening and as always I remind you because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.