Drug bans are ineffective – Kofi Annan

In my experience, good public policy is best shaped by the dispassionate analysis of what in practice has worked, or not. Policy based on common assumptions and popular sentiments can become a recipe for mistaken prescriptions and misguided interventions.

Nowhere is this divorce between rhetoric and reality more evident than in the formulation of global drug policies, where too often emotions and ideology rather than evidence have prevailed.

Take the case of the medical use of cannabis. By looking carefully at the evidence from the United States, we now know that legalizing the use of cannabis for medical purposes has not, as opponents argued, led to an increase in its use by teenagers. By contrast, there has been a near tripling of American deaths from heroin overdoses between 2010 and 2013, even though the law and its severe punishments remain unchanged…

Globally, the “war on drugs” has not succeeded. Some estimate that enforcing global prohibition costs at least $100 billion a year, but as many as 300 million people now use drugs worldwide, contributing to a global illicit market with a turnover of $330 billion a year, one of the largest commodity markets in the world…

I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more. We all want to protect our families from the potential harm of drugs. But if our children do develop a drug problem, surely we will want them cared for as patients in need of treatment and not branded as criminals…

The tendency in many parts of the world to stigmatize and incarcerate drug users has prevented many from seeking medical treatment. In what other areas of public health do we criminalize patients in need of help? Punitive measures have sent many people to prison, where their drug use has worsened. A criminal record for a young person for a minor drug offence can be a far greater threat to their well-being than occasional drug use.

The original intent of drug policy, according to the UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, was to protect the “health and welfare of mankind.” We need to refocus international and national policy on this key objective.

Kofi Annan details his arguments in this essay. A worthy read. He concludes with four regulatory steps – starting with decriminalization. He also reaches out to nations whose change to sensible policies have resulted logically in some solutions, a healthier context, success. He suggests they have a responsibility to lobby foot-draggers like the United States. They should be advocating wholesale in bodies like the United Nations.

How a prison debate team beat Harvard — David Register


David Register, Darryl Robinson, Rodney Spivey, and Paul Clue.

The debaters of the Bard Debate Union at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility are methodical in their approach to their craft. They take the stacks of materials they are provided and carefully comb through each item, extracting the specific pieces of data they will use to support their claims. They are critical of one another and push each other to improve. They practice constantly.

This hard work is all done within the confines of a maximum security prison. Our debaters face a unique set of obstacles – they wait weeks to receive the information I gather for them from internet sources, and they have limited time to type and print their ideas. But everything paid off last month when the team, whom I coach, beat Harvard in a debate about whether public schools should be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students.

Most of the overwhelming media attention about this debate has focused on the fact that our students were victorious. No one has yet told the story about how they prepare for debates.

I started the Eastern branch of the Bard Debate Union in the summer of 2013. The goal was to provide a competitive outlet for Bard students at Eastern that would mirror what was happening at the Bard Debate Union on the college’s main campus, where my wife and I co-direct the undergraduate team. Bard Debate Union members see themselves as part of one team, despite the obvious physical distance between the two branches and despite the fact that prison rules mostly prohibit them from debating together…

When they aren’t in class, BPI debaters request time in the school to meet. When they can’t get into the school, they talk debate in their cells, the yard and the mess hall. They verbally spar with BPI students who are not on the debate team, and talk with their families – creating for themselves a group of informal coaches. And some of the veterans of the team, like Rodney Spivey and Darryl Robinson (among many others), have worked tirelessly to help build the debate team at Eastern into what it has become by welcoming and training new members.

Our debaters spend hundreds of hours preparing in the three to four months they usually have to get ready for a debate, in addition to carrying full course loads.

On 18 September, after facing off against Harvard at the prison, our debaters were deemed the winners by a veteran panel of debate judges…from Cornell…Our debaters were honored that members of Harvard’s team were willing to engage them in competition, and the contributions and character of these Harvard debaters should be celebrated.

It is critically important to remember that our debaters are students first and debaters second – and prisoners a distant third. By the time I encounter BPI students, they have been trained by an incredibly gifted group of faculty members, so I deal with highly literate and intellectually curious students.

One of the primary goals of the Bard Debate Union at Eastern is to provide a robust civic education, in which our students learn how to engage in their own governance. Many of our debaters openly express the desire to someday make positive contributions to society. I have no doubt that they will.

An example of what can be accomplished, what rehabilitation of convicts can be achieved.

I have no idea of the background of these young men. In addition to being ex-cons [when they get out] they face the additional handicap of being Black in a racist nation. Hopefully, they will have an opportunity to confront circumstances based upon what they have become – not who they once were.

You know technology is a success when crooks figure out how to use it

drugs by drone

Ohio officials are investigating after a drone dropped a package full of illegal drugs into a prison yard, sparking a fight over the contraband.

The package was delivered to Mansfield Correctional Institution – a prison about 110 km southwest of Cleveland…

The box contained small amounts of marijuana, heroin and tobacco.

More than 100 inmates were in the prison yard when the fight broke out, but no inmates or staff were hurt.

Nine prisoners who were involved in the fight were placed in solitary confinement.

JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said this is the latest in series of attempts to deliver prison contraband via drones.

Ms Smith said the agency is taking steps to stop drones before they enter the grounds of prisons.

I can see the advert, now: Guards wanted for prison duty. Must have experience at skeet shooting.

Har.

Cancer Doctor gets 45 years in prison for healthcare fraud

A Michigan oncologist who gave $35 million in needless chemotherapy to patients — some of whom didn’t even have cancer — will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

After an emotional week of testimony from 22 of his victims, a federal judge sentenced physician Farid Fata to 45 years in prison, NBC News reported. He’ll also give up $17.6 million in cash, according to The Detroit News. Various sources put his full scam around $35 million.

Fata scammed more than 500 of his patients, according to court papers cited by NBC, either by misdiagnosing them just so he could bill healthcare companies or giving chemo to end-of-life patients who wouldn’t benefit and had to endure the treatment’s nasty side effects during their final days.

“They came to me seeking compassion and care. I failed them,” Fata told US District Judge Paul Borman, during his sentencing…Fata pleaded guilty in September to 16 counts, including fraud and money laundering…

The FBI also alleges that after one patient fell and hit his head in Fata’s office, the doctor told him he should complete chemo before going to the hospital, according to the AP. The patient reportedly died from his head injury.

US Attorney Barbara McQuade described Fata’s behavior as “the most serious fraud case in the history of the country,” while Judge Borman described his crime as “huge” and “horrific,”…

Maybe the most serious individual doctor-perpetrated fraud. We are, after all, a nation awash in fraud. Even fraudulent cases of accusations of fraud – as witness the Republican Party’s policy of preventing seniors, students and minority citizens from voting in the name of fraud prevention where fraud hasn’t been proven to exist.

The rare prosecution of thugs like Bernie Madoff illustrates that serious financial fraud is still profitable enough to be a national industry. Further validated by the lack of prosecution of mortgage fraudsters who kicked off the Great Recession.

Still, it warms the cockles of my heart to see a creep like Fata get what essentially is a death sentence. Let him die in prison instead of falling over from a heart attack at his favorite country club.

Scientist faked HIV breakthrough — sentenced to prison

A former Iowa State University scientist who altered blood samples to make it appear he had achieved a breakthrough toward a potential vaccine against HIV was sentenced on Wednesday to more than four and a half years in prison for making false statements in research reports.

Dong-Pyou Han, 58, also must pay $7.2m to a federal government agency that funded the research. He entered a plea agreement in February admitting guilt to two counts of making false statements.

Government prosecutors said Han’s misconduct dates to 2008 when he worked at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland under Professor Michael Cho, who was leading a team testing an experimental HIV vaccine on rabbits. Cho’s team began receiving NIH funding, and he soon reported the vaccine was causing rabbits to develop antibodies to HIV, which was considered a major breakthrough. Han said he initially accidentally mixed human blood with rabbit blood, making the potential vaccine appear to increase an immune defense against HIV, the virus that can cause Aids. Han continued to spike the results to avoid disappointing Cho, his mentor, after the scientific community became excited that the team could be on the verge of a vaccine.

Iowa State recruited Cho in 2009, and his team – including Han – continued the research with NIH funding. A group of researchers at Harvard University found in January 2013 the promising results had been achieved with rabbit blood spiked with human antibodies…

Government prosecutors sought prison time to serve as a deterrent to Han and others who might consider research fraud.

Is this a positive sign – or window dressing? I’d like to believe it’s the former.

There are new science review publications rolled out by hustlers just to give the appearance of peer-review – for a fee. There is no shortage of quacks ripping off the current generation of Luddites every week with junk science to reinforce – and profit from – fears of modern medicine.

Sister Megan Rice, freed, ready for more anti-nuclear activism

Megan Rice
Click to enlargeNicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Sister Megan Rice at the Isaiah Wall near the United Nations

For more than a year, Sister Megan Rice, 85, a Roman Catholic nun of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, had caught occasional glimpses of the glittering World Trade Center from her living quarters: the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison on the Brooklyn waterfront.

So when the Volvo she was riding in one morning last week crested the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the skyscraper came into full view, it made a strong impression.

“Oh, my gosh,” Sister Rice exclaimed. Drinking in the scenery and the panorama of New York Harbor, she added, “We’re well on our way.”

It was her fifth day of freedom after two years behind bars for a crime for which she is boldly unapologetic. In 2012, she joined two other peace activists in splattering blood and antiwar slogans on a nuclear plant in Tennessee that holds enough highly enriched uranium to make thousands of nuclear warheads. All three were convicted and sent to prison. But on May 8, an appellate court ruled that the government had overreached in charging them with sabotage, and ordered them set free…

Now, dressed in a sweatsuit that fellow inmates had given her, the nun was traveling to the American headquarters of her order in Rosemont, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. The agenda was to confer with her superiors about her future — one in which she plans to continue her antinuclear activism. One threat was that the federal government might challenge the recent ruling and try to have her thrown back in prison.

“It would be an honor,” Sister Rice said during the ride. “Good Lord, what would be better than to die in prison for the antinuclear cause?”…

Sister Rice, thin but seemingly healthy, was in high spirits and voluble as she talked about her religious order, her atomic radicalization, her life in prison and what may come next…

The pacifists belong to the Plowshares movement, a loose, mostly Christian group that seeks the global elimination of nuclear arms.

For now, at least, Sister Rice is a free woman.

Read the whole article. A tale of the kind of Catholic foot-soldier I occasionally shared a cell with back in the day.

I’m certain one or another of my kin who still are religious are Catholics like this. Or Congregationalists. Or Buddhists. Or non-religious like me, philosophical materialists, spinning the science-based reality dialectic. Before I left the Great Northeastern dynamo I could always find a couple of kindred spirits at annual get-togethers of my extended family. Philosophy didn’t matter as much as a quest for justice as strong as the quest for fire before we evolved into more sophisticated tool-makers.

It’s nice to see someone with liberal sensibilities and opposed to the insanity of nuclear weapons risk it all out of conscience. We have a president somewhere south of Megan Rice’s prison home who says he shares her ideals. Too bad he doesn’t match her courage.

Christian lawyer wants proposal on California ballot to ‘shoot the gays’

target of bigots

A California lawyer says he wants to legalize the execution of gay people, and there may be nothing the state’s attorney general can do to stop the proposal from moving forward.

Matt McLaughlin, an attorney in Huntington Beach, California, filed paperwork to bring his proposal, which would sanction the killing of gay and lesbian residents on the basis of their sexuality, before voters in November 2016.

The initiative, named the “Sodomite Suppression Act”, is awaiting further review by the office of the state attorney general, Kamala Harris, who does not appear to have the authority to block it. However, the measure is unlikely to reach voters, as the California supreme court can intervene to prevent measures that violate the state constitution from reaching the ballot.

The so-called “shoot the gays” proposal would mandate “any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head, or by any other convenient method”. McLaughlin, a lawyer since 1998, declared in his proposal that it is “better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath”.

The initiative would also make it a crime to support gay rights, punishable by a $1m fine, up to 10 years in prison and expulsion from the state. It would be illegal to distribute “sodomistic propaganda” to “any person under the age of majority”. Being a “sodomite” or distributing “sodomistic propaganda” would disqualify a resident from serving in public office or public employment and from enjoying any public benefit…

This isn’t McLaughlin’s first controversial measure. In 2004, he tried to qualify an initiative…that would have added the King James Bible as a textbook in California public schools…

Aside from the fact he’s a scumbag of the first order, it could be interesting to see how large the idjit vote might be for a bigot-centered proposal like this. He might outpoll the Tea Party.

Hard to fool a detainee with a fake letter from mom – when he knows she can’t write


Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Guantánamo prison camp authorities tried to trick inmate Mohamedou Ould Slahi by forging a letter purportedly from his mother whom he had been unable to see for years, his brother Yahdih has said.

The ploy, which was intended to persuade him to cooperate with his interrogators, failed not only because they misspelt Slahi’s name but also because his mother could not write.

This week Slahi became the first inmate to publish a memoir while still incarcerated when Guantánamo Diary was published in 20 countries and serialised in the Guardian.

Speaking on Tuesday at an event organised by the Guardian in partnership with Canongate, the publisher of Guantánamo Diary, and PEN, the writers’ association, Yahdih Ould Slahi said his brother had not been able to see his mother before she died at their home in Mauritania in 2013…

The 44-year-old engineer was first detained in 2001 in Mauritania at the request of the US government, then rendered to Jordan and Afghanistan and tortured, and then flown to Guantánamo.

He is one of two inmates whose “additional interrogation techniques” were personally approved by Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, according to a US Senate inquiry. Slahi was dressed in a burqa, deprived of sleep, subjected to strobe lights, doused in water, threatened with dogs, sexually assaulted by female interrogators and forced to bark and perform dog tricks.

He wrote his memoir by hand after learning English, his fourth language, from his Guantánamo guards and interrogators, and it was published this week after his lawyer, Nancy Hollander, battled for six years to have the document declassified.

Hollander told the event that Slahi’s descriptions of the abuse that he had suffered at Guantánamo had already been confirmed by both the Senate inquiry and a separate investigation by the FBI…

Hollander said her client had been in a form of legal limbo since the US government lodged an appeal after a US district court judge ordered his release…

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched an online petition demanding Slahi’s release.

One more case where Obama’s Administration matches the incompetence of his neo-con predecessor. Incompetence, that is, at differentiating liberal foreign policy from the conservative flavor. There may be some small difference in the total number of civilians killed. But, the destruction of civil liberties, civil rights, human rights guaranteed by international treaty seem to be consistent between both flavors of imperial arrogance.

This banker can verify the identities of 17,000 Americans who hid money in UBS-Switzerland to evade taxes

A former high-ranking UBS banker charged with helping Americans dodge taxes through secret Swiss bank accounts is expected to plead not guilty on Tuesday to tax fraud conspiracy in federal court in Florida.

Raoul Weil, a 54-year-old Swiss citizen and former head of global wealth management at UBS was charged five years ago with helping about 17,000 Americans conceal $20 billion in numbered accounts at the bank.

He initially disputed the charges and was declared a fugitive a few months later but was arrested on a warrant from Interpol in mid-October while on vacation in Bologna, Italy.

Weil’s appearance in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday will be his second since he was extradited from Italy last month. He was granted a $10.5 million bond pending his arraignment, when he appeared in shackles and a gray prison jumpsuit on December 16.

Lawyers for UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld, the bank employee who revealed the tax fraud conspiracy to U.S. authorities in 2007, fear that Weil may be negotiating a “sweetheart” deal” that would spare him from a trial and ultimately shield secret account holders and other bankers from prosecution…

“Weil knows where all the skeletons are buried,” Stephen Kohn added. “The Justice Department must work closely with the IRS and Department of State to make sure that every person guilty of tax evasion in the UBS America’s program are identified and prosecuted,”…

In a case that shook Swiss banking to the core, UBS paid a record $780 million fine in 2009 and agreed to hand over the names of U.S. clients with secret accounts, breaking Switzerland’s vaunted tradition of banking secrecy to avoid feared criminal charges against the bank or other executives.

Liberal or conservative administration aside, it’s been decades since we had a Department of Justice that actively prosecuted criminal fraud on the global scale that kept Switzerland in the secrecy business. The biggest world banks and their officials have always been untouchable.

While the DOJ under Eric Holder has done a terrific job on insider trading – mostly from the work of Preet Bharara in New York – that’s not news. After all, he’s just trying to keep the market clean of low level fraud that doesn’t affect our tax burden. OTOH, the one-percenteers who store their gonads and gold in offshore tax shelters will raise even more money for the Republican Party if they end up being charged with fraud and have to start repaying their debts to the United States.