Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mexican and Colombian drug lords look to make a killing on our suburban streets

Stephen Lunn | The Australian | 24 September 2011

A KILOGRAM of cocaine bought wholesale in Colombia will set a drug dealer back $US2438 ($2446). In Mexico it will cost $US12,000; across the border in the US, $US32,000.

In Australia a kilo of cocaine wholesales for $US191,000. As Australian Crime Commission boss John Lawler says, the return on investment for illegally importing cocaine is extraordinary, particularly given a new class of user is emerging here.

"We're seeing a marked change in the market for cocaine from those typical of its use in the 80s and 90s, the well-educated middle class to lower socioeconomic status users who are more likely to be injecting cocaine," Lawler says.

He believes Mexican and Colombian crime gangs, which to date haven't pushed too deeply into Australia because of the lack of a local network, will be looking to cash in on the higher prices given the increase in demand in recent years.

"There is increasing collaboration between organised criminals involved in large-scale drug supply, Chinese with Mexican with outlaw motorcycle gangs," he says. "There is no concern about ethnic purity in these drug gangs; it's all about making the most money in the shortest possible time.

"Here in Australia there are already signs of increased Mexican infiltration, and if they get more of a foothold here, then watch out."

Earlier this month a shipment of ride-on lawnmowers from Brazil was used as cover in an unsuccessful attempt to smuggle 271kg of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $200 million, into Australia.

A growing domestic cocaine market is just one of several trends that have emerged since the turn of the century, trends that will help authorities develop strategies for drug prevention in coming years. Some of the trends tell a positive story, experts say, with use of the legal drugs in particular, cigarettes and alcohol, in serious decline.

Score, Chop, Snort: Sydney's cocaine blizzard

Joel Meares | SMH | 26 October 2011

Once the choice of inner-city hipsters and the city’s wealthy elite, cocaine is now almost as easy to buy in Parramatta and Penrith as it is in Paddington. Joel Meares looks at the blizzard enveloping Sydney and the price users are paying – to both their bank balance and their health – for their indulgence.

Mike* called them “freaky Fridays”, those regular ends to a busy week when he and his mate would “get on it” at work.

His friend might roll in at nine, twitchy after a big night and still armed with a healthy bag of cocaine, and the pair would set to work chopping it up, setting it out and sucking it up their noses.

They’d do their job, and do it well, and pause for a cheeky beer at lunch to calm the buzz.

When work finished, it was almost always back to the pub and on to a coke-fuelled bender that wouldn’t end until Mike’s head hit the pillow on Sunday night.

Such a blitz is pretty standard stuff at the pointy end of town, where the cogs of power and money that keep the city running thrive on little dashes of white powder. But 27-year-old Mike is not a suit; he’s a car detailer.

His pillow does not rest on a bed in Elizabeth Bay but in a modest home near Liverpool. An occasional cocaine user, Mike says the drug helps him work. “You’re there rubbing down, you’re working hard labour. You have some coke and if it’s good, you’re boosted for at least an hour. You’re charging.”

In a frank conversation about his habits, Mike says he buys his coke from friends, his nose is his best quality tester — “If it stinks, it’s going to give you a good buzz” — and that he prefers to sniff his stash at home. “It’s pretty dirty when you have to do it in a bathroom,” he says. Not even at Ivy? “Ugh,” he grunts, after a long, sober Monday at work. “Too many heroes.”

When rumours of coke dealer Richard Buttrose’s “little black book” emerged after his arrest in early 2009, it wasn’t the likes of Mike who had the press all a-twitter.

Headlines homed in on whispers of a “well-known fashion designer”, an MP and the usual lawyers, bankers and entertainers often linked with the glamour drug; the same set that eastern suburbs-based Buttrose nodded to when he told a court that among his “circle of friends” taking cocaine “was much like having a glass of wine”.

Use of cocaine up 55 per cent

But as the city’s coke lust has grown — with use in NSW climbing steadily since 2003 and jumping 55 per cent between 2008 and 2010 — cocaine has become everybody’s drug. Like our cockroaches, the drug is everywhere, if mostly unseen, as much at home in Buttrose’s blue Benz as in the paint-flecked pocket of the bloke detailing your car. And the consequences of this ubiquity – on our bodies and our borders – are just starting to be seen.

There’s certainly plenty to go around. The most objective measures of use — the number of cocaine overdoses and arrests for possession — are rising.

The past few years have seen more overdoses than ever in NSW and in 2010 there were 688 records of possession compared with 549 the year before and just 182 back in 2000. All this is happening as the use of other “party drugs”, such as methamphetamine and ecstasy, declines.

“In the beginning, I was willing to believe it might have been increased law enforcement but more and more data [is] coming to suggest that there is an increase in consumption,” Don Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, said last year.

Nick Bingham, head of the NSW Police drug squad, says these numbers don’t take into account the many users who fly under the radar.

“There is a hidden and more affluent group that you just don’t see, we won’t come into contact with, and therefore we’re not detecting,” he says. “They do it in the privacy of their own home and though we can’t count them, we’re sure that their numbers are significant.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mandatory minimum sentences are just plain wrong

Nathalie Des Rosiers and Abby Deshman | Vancouver Sun | 20 October 2011

There are many reasons why people object to minimum sentences: they do nothing for victims, they do not deter offenders, they cost too much money and they displace power from judges, who give their reasons in open court, to Crown prosecutors, who make their decisions behind closed doors.

While we agree with all these assertions, today we want to take a slightly different tack, and make the case as to why mandatory minimum sentences are just plain wrong, on moral and philosophical grounds.

Minimum sentences disembody the crime: They make the offender, his or her context, personality, upbringing, intellect, morality or addiction, irrelevant. It matters not that the person was coerced by family members into participating in a grow-op operation, it matters not that she did not understand the implications or her actions, that he was addicted, that she was desperate to provide food for her children, that he has since changed his life around. Minimum sentences impose punishment in a vacuum, mechanically, as though offences and crimes were committed by automatons. Minimum sentences also sideline victims, placing the focus squarely on the act, rather than the circumstances of the individuals — both victim and offender — that are involved.

Life for life law 'doesn't change our lives at all': Dix's father

Aja Styles | WA Today | 20 October 2011

The father of a Bunbury teenager who was gunned down in 2007, says he feels "bittersweet" about proposed increases to manslaughter penalties.

Attorney General Christian Porter yesterday introduced new law reforms to Parliament that would increase the maximum penalty for manslaughter and dangerous driving causing death to life in prison.

Mr Porter said the changes were intended to act as a deterrent and to bring justice in line with community expectations after much publicised outrage following the deaths of Lawrence Dix and William Rowe.

Mr Rowe, a father of five, was bashed to death with a cricket bat on a Geraldton Beach in 2007. His killer received five years' jail, with a minimum three years and nine months, after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Mr Dix, 19, was shot during an argument outside his house over a $100 drug debt. Jack Benjamin Hall, 20, fired a single shot from the backseat of a car and pleaded guilty to manslaughter after a hung jury failed to convict him of murder.

Hall was sentenced to four years and three months in jail, but only served just over two years.

To this day Steve Dix says the punishment never fit the crime but he remains in "two minds" about the reforms.

"It's a bit of a bittersweet sort of feeling, the bitter bit is basically it doesn't change our lives at all and it just forces us back into a space we were in four and a half years ago and it isn't a good space to be in and I wouldn't wish that on anybody," he told Radio 6PR late yesterday.

"But look the sweet bit of it, I suppose, is in terms of the future. If in cases similar to ours, where the context of the case is very complex and very technical, and is a murder trial and [the outcome] defaults to manslaughter at least judiciary will have some options to play with."

Anger prompts death-law overhaul

Daniel Emerson, Natasha Boddy and Luke Eliot | The West Australian | 20 October 2011

Community outrage over soft manslaughter and dangerous driving causing death sentences have prompted the Government to today introduce legislation raising the maximum penalties available to judges.

Attorney-General Christian Porter this morning said the laws would mean manslaughter cases could only be heard in the Supreme Court and raise the maximum penalty from 20 years to life imprisonment.

Dangerous driving causing death cases could only be heard in the District Court where maximum penalties of 20 years for aggravated circumstances or 10 years for non-aggravated cases would apply.

Currently the charge can be treated as a summary offence in the Magistrates court where a much lesser penalty applies – either a fine or a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment.

Mr Porter said the Government would introduce the laws to parliament today in the belief that the current maximum penalties were “not in line with community expectation”.

Responding to the Government’s announcement this morning, shadow attorney general John Quigley said Labor would support the legislation, but he was sceptical about whether it would bring “about a huge change to the sentencing regime” for dangerous driving causing death.

“It will raise the maximum penalty but whether overall it raises the effective time that a person’s incarcerated, I’m somewhat dubious of,” he said.

“We’re not going to hold it (the legislation) up with unnecessary debate, but we will examine the clause of the Bill as an Opposition is obliged to do.”

WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said welcomed the tougher penalties.

“I think there are a lot of victims out there and families who are concerned at the type of penalties that have been handed down and I think many people will welcome toughening the laws and penalties around what is a very serious offence,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

“I think we have to understand manslaughter, in regards to driving a motor vehicle, means that the driver has driven the vehicle extremely recklessly in a manner with no regard for other people and has caused death and I think the laws now reflect the seriousness of that offence.

“There’s no doubt penalties are a deterrent…they won’t stop everybody but I think there will be many people who will go out and drive cars now and think twice about the way the drive them.

“We have seen some pretty horrific crashes in the last few years where particularly young people have been killed and I don’t think the penalties have been adequate.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Study backs substance abuse services

Ashley Hall | ABC The World Today | 20 October 2011

Listen to audio here

ELEANOR HALL: Some of the world's leading drug and alcohol researchers are calling on governments to carefully rethink their policy responses in light of new research. Eight scientific papers published today, have smashed some myths and confirmed others on what drives the behaviour of drug users - particularly during an economic downturn.

The researchers say this provides sound evidence on which to base government responses, as Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: Since the global financial crisis hit in late 2007, governments worldwide have been under pressure to balance their books. Many of them have taken the axe to programs that support people with drug and alcohol problems. But at what cost?

Rosalie Liccardo Pacula is the co-director of the Rand Corporation's drug research centre. She's been reviewing eight new studies into the effect of an economic downturn on drug and alcohol consumption, and on the services designed to help with substance abuse problems. And she's found some long held myths simply don't stack up.

ROSALIE LICCARDO PACULA: The myth regarding the impact of recession leading to higher binge drinking hasn't been supported by the economic research.

ASHLEY HALL: Although the research did find more people than usual drink small amounts of alcohol during a downturn. But that pattern for alcohol doesn't apply to drug use.

ROSALIE LICCARDO PACULA: It's a population that's far more marginalised in the general population so surveys which are used generally to reflect or to understand what’s happening in general with alcohol consumption or national statistics represent the whole spectrum of society.

In the case of illicit drugs, those surveys, the same surveys don't always represent the key targeted marginalised population that is indicative of hardcore drug use.

ASHLEY HALL: So what does the broader economic circumstance mean for that population - is there enough data available to make some strong conclusions about that?

ROSALIE LICCARDO PACULA: There's a couple of interesting findings but we are definitely in the preliminary stages of understanding the data. We just haven't invested the amount of time that has been invested in alcohol research.

This international drug policy is the first composite group of papers that's focused specifically on this question and as such it's opened a lot of interesting ideas in the sense that the research from both the US and Australia showed that periods of unemployment as experienced in the past not the current recession, but previous recessions, are actually associated with increased cannabis use but it's focused among the youth population.

ASHLEY HALL: Rosalie Liccardo Pacula says it's all to do with the relative cost of the drugs compared to the income the user might have, which makes a policy focus on youth unemployment all the more important.

Especially in places like the US, where fewer than half of all young people have a job, and in Ireland, where the youth unemployment rate is more than 27 per cent.

ROSALIE LICCARDO PACULA: Youth are also a lot more likely to report selling drugs illegally. So there's this question because youth unemployment is high relative to adult unemployment and gets worse during periods recession, the attractiveness of income from the black market becomes harder to resist.

ASHLEY HALL: Of course another way to tackle that problem is to do away with the black market by decriminalising drug use, the way Portugal did a decade ago.

The Portugese drug czar, Joao Goulão, says that led to a dramatic decrease in drug use by young people, and in HIV infections among drug users. But he fears those gains will be reversed as the government's austerity measures bite.

JOAO GOULÃO: In our culture, what we fear is alcohol consumption, the increase of alcohol consumption. Problematic, the alcohol consumption. But also illicit drugs and the return of the public enemy number one, which is heroin.

ASHLEY HALL: Looking at drug and alcohol policy through the prism of economics is unusual. But Rosalie Liccardo Pacula says it's a useful tool.

ROSALIE LICCARDO PACULA: Yes there is economic mechanisms that do work in changing behaviour but no, they're not the only mechanism. They are important to consider but they are not, clearly not, homogeneous across all segments of society.

ASHLEY HALL: Although the research was based on smaller downturns than the current global economic malaise. So she says what happens next is anyone's guess.

ROSALIE LICCARDO PACULA: Clearly, long-term downturns of the intensity of what we're seeing right now could have a very different effect. Other mechanisms will come into play and the economic mechanisms may not dominate.

ASHLEY HALL: The research papers were launched in London overnight as part of a special issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy.

ELEANOR HALL: Ashley Hall reporting.

Jails boss keeps job for just six months

Sean Nicholls | SMH | October 19, 2011

SPECULATION is mounting about the future of the veteran NSW prisons boss, Ron Woodham, after his contract was renewed for just six months.

Mr Woodham has been in negotiations with the NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, about the renewal of his contract, which was due to expire on October 22.

Yesterday, the government confirmed an agreement had been reached to extend Mr Woodham's term but only until April 30 next year.

The decision comes as Mr Smith has argued the need for cultural change within the NSW prisons system.

Discussing prison reform shortly after the change of government in April, Mr Smith told the ABC: ''I don't expect that Mr Woodham wants to retire or will retire at this stage. We'll see how we can work together.''

Mr Smith said he was ''putting a lot of reforms up that seem to go against the culture that's existed in recent years''.

On Friday, Mr Smith told Parliament the previous government ''let the commissioner run the place''.

''I am not saying that he ran it badly but nevertheless ministers did not take responsibility for the organisation.

''As a result, from time to time we have security problems. There were a lot more escapes in the 12 months prior to our coming to government than there were before.''

The announcement of the contract extension follows confirmation in the state budget that the government would close prisons at Parramatta, Berrima and Kirkconnell.

Mr Woodham said in a statement: ''My priority at this stage is managing the downsizing of the organisation and the relocation of 600 staff across the state as a result of the three jail closures announced in September.''

Mr Woodham joined the corrective services department in 1965 and is the only prison officer to have made it to the top.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Short-term contract has NSW prisons boss on outer

Mark Tobin | ABC Online | 18 October 2011

The New South Wales prison chief's days appear to be numbered, after he was only offered a short-term contract extension.

Ron Woodham has been Corrective Services Commissioner since 2002 and his current contract expires this month, but the Attorney-General has only given him a six-month extension.

His reign has often been controversial.

Mr Woodham was heavily criticised by the prison guard's union for attempting to privatise jails and change longstanding work practices, with members calling for his sacking at a 2009 rally.

Attorney-General Greg Smith has issued a statement to the ABC saying Mr Woodham's contract has been extended until the end of April next year.

Mr Smith hinted at a shake-up for the state's prison system last week, saying he wanted to change the culture.

"I'm looking at ways of trying to generate more respect and decency towards prisoners," Mr Smith said.

Mr Woodham has issued a statement confirming he has accepted the extension.

"My priority at this stage is managing the downsizing of the organisation and the relocation of 600 staff across the state as a result of the three jail closures announced in September," he said.

The closures of the prisons at Parramatta, Berrima and Kirkconnell were confirmed in Treasurer Mike Baird's first state budget.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Breaking the prison cycle

Mike Steketee | The Australian | 15 October 2011

IN Canberra, a hung parliament has given a Labor Party too scared to take action on climate change before the last election the courage of its convictions.

In NSW, a very different parliament in which the government has a lopsided majority may have a similar effect on law and order policy. An opposition as weakened as that in NSW may not be ideal for democracy but it does allow the government to focus more on policy than populism. And in no area has the auction for votes been more unseemly or come at a greater cost to sensible policy.

As NSW shadow attorney-general, Greg Smith called a halt to the law and order auction. While strongly conservative, he saw during his previous life as a crown prosecutor the failings of the lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach - namely that, despite costing a packet, it does little to reduce crime and in some circumstances increases it. One pointer to that is the 43 per cent of prisoners who are back in jail within two years in NSW, compared with 34 per cent in Victoria, where there has been less emphasis on the punitive approach and there have been more resources for rehabilitation and other services for prisoners before and after they are released.

Now he is Attorney-General, Smith is saying much the same things and is starting to act on them. In parliament in May he claimed the previous government regarded the prison population reaching 10,000 as a badge of honour. "I thought it was a disgrace," he said. "This government does not believe success on law and order issues can alone be judged by how many people are locked up. We believe in policies that break the cycle of re-offending. Every prisoner should have an opportunity for rehabilitation and that is in the interests of the whole community."

Smith has commissioned a review of the bail act, particularly because of concern that too many juveniles are remanded in custody and are introduced to what he calls "the university of crime". He has asked the NSW Law Reform Commission to look at sentencing legislation to, among other things, give courts greater discretion. He has announced extra funding for education programs in prison, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services and a second drug court with detoxification facilities, drug testing and treatment.

It is early days and it remains to be seen where these measures lead and whether the O'Farrell government succumbs to a "soft on crime" campaign. Nor is the law and order traffic all one way: the government has legislated for mandatory life sentences for killing police officers.

But this is an issue which has come to defy political pigeon-holing. Bob Carr in NSW took the same attitude as Tony Blair in Britain: that a populist, punitive approach to law and order would protect his political flanks from right-wing attack. Pity about the merits of the policy. Now the coalition government in Britain is changing tack, as has the O'Farrell government. Yet its Liberal-National counterpart in Victoria is headed at least partly in the opposite direction, with moves for mandatory minimum sentences for some juvenile offences, despite the evidence of Victoria's superior performance with its emphasis on alternatives to prison.

The change in thinking was perhaps best captured by another conservative politician, New Zealand's deputy prime minister Bill English, who in May described prisons as "a fiscal and moral failure". No Kiwi, he confidently asserted, wanted to see more large-scale prison building.

Steve Jobs and drug policy

Glenn Greenwald | | 9 October 2011

(updated below)

It’s fascinating to juxtapose America’s reverence for Steve Jobs’ accomplishments and its draconian drug policy with this, from the New York Times‘ obituary of Jobs:
[Jobs] told a reporter that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. He said there were things about him that people who had not tried psychedelics — even people who knew him well, including his wife — could never understand.
Unlike many people who have enjoyed success, Jobs is not saying that he was able to succeed despite his illegal drug use; he’s saying his success is in part — in substantial part — because of those illegal drugs (he added that Bill Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once”). These quotes (first published by a New York Times reporter) have been around for some time but have been only rarely discussed in the recent hagiographies of Jobs: a notable omission given that he himself praised those experiences as an integral part of his identity and one of the most important things he ever did. A surprisingly good Time Magazine article elaborates on this Jobs-LSD connection further:
The paradoxes of love have perhaps never been clearer than in our relationships with Apple products — the warm, fleshy desire we feel for such cold, hard, glassy objects. But Jobs knew how to inspire material lust. He knew that consumers want something that not only sparkles and awes, but also feels accessible, easy to use, an object with which we want to merge and to feel one and the same. . . .
Not coincidentally, that’s how people describe the experience of taking psychedelic drugs. It feels profoundly artificial yet deeply real, both high-tech and earthy-crunchy, human and mystically divine — in a word, transcendent. Jobs had this experience. . . . As attested by the nearly spiritual devotion so many consumers have to Jobs’ creations, the former Apple chief (and indeed many other top technology pioneers) appeared to have found enduring inspiration in LSD. Research shows that the psychedelic experience is, in fact, long lasting: a new study published last week found that people who took magic mushrooms (psilocybin) had long-term personality changes, becoming more open, more curious, more intellectually engaged and more creative. These personality shifts persisted more than a year after taking the drugs.
America’s harsh prohibitionist drug policies are grounded in the premise that the prohibited substances have little or no redeeming value and cannot be used without life-destroying consequences. Yet the evidence of its falsity is undeniable. Here is one of the most admired men in America, its greatest contemporary industrialist, hailing one of the most scorned of these substances as integral to his success and intellectual and personal growth. The current President commendably acknowledged cocaine and marijuana use while there is evidence suggesting the prior President also used those substances. One of America’s most accomplished athletes was caught using marijuana at the peak of his athletic achievements. And millions upon millions of American adults have consumed some or many of those criminally prohibited substances, and themselves will say (like Jobs) that they had important and constructive experiences with those drugs or know someone who did.

In short, the deceit at the heart of America’s barbaric drug policy — that these substances are such unadulterated evils that adults should be put in cages for voluntarily using them — is more glaring than ever. In light of his comments about LSD, it’s rather difficult to reconcile America’s adoration for Steve Jobs with its ongoing obsession with prosecuting and imprisoning millions of citizens (mostly poor and minorities) for doing what Jobs, Obama, George W. Bush, Michael Phelps and millions of others have done. Obviously, most of these banned substances — like alcohol, gambling, sex, junk food consumption, prescription drug use and a litany of other legal activities — can create harm to the individual and to others when abused (though America’s solution for drug users — prison — also creates rather substantial harm to the drug user and to others, including their spouses, parents and children: at least as much harm as, and usually substantially more than, the banned drugs themselves). But no rational person can doubt that these substances can also be used responsibly and constructively; just study Steve Jobs’ life if you doubt that.

Jobs’ praise for his LSD use is what I kept returning to as I read about the Obama DOJ’s heinous new policy to use the full force of criminal prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries in California. In October, 2009, I enthusiastically praised Eric Holder and the DOJ for appearing to fulfill Obama’s campaign promise by refraining from prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries in compliance with state law (a “rare instance of unadulterated good news from Washington,” I gushed). As I wrote:
Criminalizing cancer and AIDS patients for using a substance that is (a) prescribed by their doctors and (b) legal under the laws of their state has always been abominable. The Obama administration deserves major credit not only for ceasing this practice, but for memorializing it formally in writing.
Yet now, U.S. Attorneys in California will expend substantial law enforcement resources to persecute medical marijuana dispensaries that sell to consenting adults even though those transactions have been legalized by the voters of California and 16 other states (to see what a complete reversal this is of everything Obama and Holder previously said on this subject, see here).

Progressives love to point out the hypocrisy of social conservatives who righteously rail against (and demand legal sanction for) the very same sexually sinful behavior in which they enthusiastically engage — and rightly so. But what about a society that continues to imprison millions of human beings for using substances that vast numbers of people in the nation have secretly used and enjoyed, or which empowers people with the Oval Office, or reveres people like Steve Jobs, who have done the same? The DOJ claims dispensaries are now masking non-medical marijuana sales, leading to this question: even leaving aside the rather significant (and shameful) fact that drug laws are enforced with overwhelming disproportionality against racial minorites, what possible justification is there for putting someone in a cage for using a substance they choose to use without any evidence that they’ve harmed anyone else or even risked harm to anyone else?

All of this becomes even more incomprehensible when one considers the never-ending preaching about the need for “austerity,” which means: depriving poor and middle class citizens of services and financial security. In this environment, how can it possibly be justified to expend substantial sums of money investigating, arresting, prosecuting and then imprisoning large numbers of people for doing nothing more than consuming marijuana or selling it in states where it is legal to sell it to other consenting adults? That makes about as much sense as deploying a State Department army of 16,000 for a permanent presence in Iraq at the same time political and financial elites plot cuts to Social Security and Medicare. I genuinely don’t understand why a policy that single-handedly sustains America’s status as World’s Largest Jailer — and that consigns huge numbers of minorities and America’s poor to prison and permanent criminal status for no good reason, in the process breaking up families at astonishing rates (to say nothing of the inexorable erosion of civil liberties) — isn’t a higher priority for progressives.

But just like the senseless and monumentally wasteful Endless military War, America’s Drug War feeds the pockets of a powerful private industry: the growing privatized prison industry, which needs more and more prisoners for profits, gets many from drug convictions, and thus vehemently opposes and lobbies against any reform to the nation’s drug laws as well as reform of harsh criminal sentencing. That, combined with self-righteous, deeply hypocritical anti-drug moralizing and complete obliviousness to evidence, has ensured not only that the Drug War and its prison obsession endures, but that it remains outside the scope of what can even be discussed in mainstream political circles. And as the Obama DOJ’s newly intensified attacks on marijuana demonstrate, the problem is, in many respects, getting worse, even as most of the world moves toward a much more restrained and health-based (rather than crime-based) approach to dealing with drug usage.

* * * * *

In 2009, I produced a study on the overwhelming success of drug decriminalization in Portugal, published by the CATO Institute. That study has been widely cited and discussed in numerous places, including receiving acritical response from the White House Drug Control Policy Office. I’m now working on an update to that report which I will present at this excellent Conference on Ending the Drug War, to take place on November 15, in Washington D.C., featuring former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Castañeda, the Speaker of the Uruguayan House of Deputies Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou and several others. The Conference is open to the public and tickets can be obtained at the above link.

UPDATE: In The Los Angeles Times today, a former Deputy Chief of the L.A.P.D. details how drug prohibition “has cost our country more than $1 trillion in cash and much more in immeasurable social harm”; “the damage that came from the prohibition of alcohol pales in comparison to the harm wrought by drug prohibition“; and “that ending today’s prohibition on drugs — starting with marijuana — would do more to hurt the [drug] cartels than any level of law enforcement skill or dedication ever can.” In sum:
There’s no doubt that the violence, the growth of cartels and gangs, the overpopulation of our prisons and the squandering of our police resources would not occur if we eliminated illegal drug profits and implemented a non-criminal approach to regulating drugs. We did this once with alcohol, and there’s no reason we can’t do it with other drugs today.
There may be no reason we can’t do it, but there are plenty of reasons we don’t do it, beginning with the large number of government and private factions that benefit in countless ways from this ongoing war.

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Marr’s Attack

Garrett Bithell | Sx Magazine | 30 September 2011

Revered social commentator and journalist David Marr is a persistent questioner of the status quo. This weekend, at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, he is turning his razor-sharp powers of reasoning to the issue of religious exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation and the Australian Christian Lobby's Jim Wallace. Marr speaks to Garrett Bithell ahead of the highly-anticipated clash.

"Did you know there is a provision of the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act that allows a private school to expel any child simply for being gay? Isn't that good?"

The posh, nuanced voice of seminal commentator and Sydney Morning Herald journalist David Marr is tempered by a lethal combination of restrained anger and bitter sarcasm. "That's in our legislation," he reiterates. "You can be expelled from a private school simply for being gay. It's there!"

Marr, of course, is correct. Section 49ZO of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), which basically states that it is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of homosexuality, contains a nasty little subsection at the end. Allow me to quote section 49ZO(3): "Nothing in this section applies to or in respect of a private educational authority." It follows that if Sydney Grammar School, for example, was to expel a student for being gay, there is nothing the law could do about it.

In an age when the fight for equal marriage rights dominates GLBT activism, the startling, sweeping exemptions religious organisations, of all faiths, have from anti-discrimination legislation is sometimes forgotten. But the issue is set to be brought to the fore when Marr locks horns with Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the uncompromising Australian Christian Lobby, on the subject 'Gays and Lesbians Do Not Belong in the Classroom', as part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Opera House this weekend.

As Marr asserts, because marriage equality will largely be a symbolic victory in this country, religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws represent the biggest threat to substantive equality we face. "I feel a lot more strongly about this than gay marriage," he tells SX. "Gay marriage is inevitable and it's right, but in Australia gay marriage is symbolic. It's very, very important symbolism, but meanwhile there are laws that actually impact on gays and lesbians."

To wit, religious organisations have the point-blank right to decide who they employ in their schools – and who they sack – based on questions of faith and morals. While for many Australians, the idea that gay men and women don't belong in the classroom is an unjust anachronism, parents are opting, in larger numbers, to send their children to these schools that offer a 'values-driven' education.

"What I find impossible to believe is that a grown-up, modern, kind, secular society offers churches the capacity to continue to punish people through employment for not living up to the churches' rules of sex," Marr says. "We're not talking about little boutique operations here. Church schools and hospitals are the biggest private employers in this country, and they are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. So there's a highway through anti-discrimination legislation."

For Marr, who's openly gay, the debate on Sunday is personal. "I certainly want Jim to tell me exactly why I – or my partner and half my friends – can't be employed by one of his organisations. What is it that we bring? What about the other sins and broken commandments? No, they don't matter! You can hire people who are greedy, or who don't love their mother and father, but you can't hire a person who goes to bed with somebody who has the same genitals as them."

The great folly is that amidst a tide of cultural change that has seen "the religious highway through anti-discrimination turned into a back lane" in places like Great Britain and the United States, Australia still sees the issue of exemptions as one of religious freedom. "We just don't get it in Australia," Marr states. "Politicians are scared stiff – they are so scared stiff they won't even take on the Scientologists, let alone the Anglicans! And when you've got a state that won't take on the Scientologists, you've got a completely gutless state.

"There are all sorts of religious practices that are forbidden by the state, like polygamy and genital mutilation, but we continue to honour religious bigotry about sex in employment law."

The exceptional power religious organisations continue to wield over our supposedly secular democracy is also the reason we still don't have a Bill of Rights, Marr continues. "I don't think people understand," he says. "It's not just the opposition of News Limited, which is perverse and interesting in its own way, but it's the absolutely immovable opposition of the Catholic Church – because they believe they have a much better chance of preserving their hold [on politics] through direct political influence rather than judicial decision-making."

As Stephen Fry once said, the Catholic Church is obsessed with sex. The only people who are obsessed with food, he continued, are anorexics and the morbidly obese – and that, in erotic terms, is the Catholic Church in a nutshell. "It's about power," Marr concludes. "If you can stand between somebody and their most basic instinct, then you have immense power over them. If the church is the gateway to sex, family and pleasure, it's hugely bloody powerful."

Moreover, one of the Church's most bizarre notions – and one that Wallace as a highly enthusiastic hard-line Christian wholly embraces – is that there is a place in the church for gay people, so long as we don't act on what even he acknowledges is a primal impulse. "It's mind-blowing, but one thing about Christianity – and also Islam – is that the capacity to give something up that is natural has always been seen as a measure of holiness," Marr tells. "So someone of Jim's tradition can go, 'so you're a poof? Just don't have sex and you'll be alright'. For them, that is not quite as ridiculous as it sounds to a secular human being. That might make you happy Jim, but your happiness is not really my first concern here."

The pitiful irony inherent in this ridiculously contentious issue is that "even the believers don't believe it anymore".

"Many church-people admit that if they actually enforced their own rules, and weeded out all of the lesbians from church-run old people's homes for example, or all of the poofs from Catholic hospitals, parishes would rise up in revolt! Therefore the rules are used in crueller ways – to pick people off, to bully people, to refuse to hire people."

Ultimately, the way we balance religious values and equality is staggeringly off-kilter. As Marr stipulates, religious freedom cannot be used as a trump card at the expense of a greater human rights framework. "We cannot give the religious a veto argument," he says. "It's pretty easy to reconcile [this issue] and many states do: When it comes to who runs church organisations – who their priests are – that's for them. But when it comes to employment to do work for church organisations, they don't, in my view, have a right to be exempted from anti-discrimination law.

"This religious vetoing has to stop, and I can't wait to come to grips with Jim on Sunday."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Magistrate finds 'substantial contact' between Tandy, plunge participants

Chris Barrett | SMH | October 7, 2011

RYAN TANDY'S mobile phone was running hot in the days before Canterbury's trip to Townsville last year, and in the hours after it.

Phone records compiled by Senior Constable Eric Burgess, an intelligence officer with the casino and racing investigation unit of the NSW police, reveal an intricate web of calls and text messages between people who placed wagers on the Cowboys to score first with a penalty goal. There were also calls between three of those who placed wagers and Tandy, who played in the match but was not found to have made a bet.

Magistrate Janet Wahlquist read out a list of names and the phone contacts between them while announcing her decision in the Tandy hearing at Downing Centre Local Court yesterday. Among them were Tandy's manager, Sam Ayoub; former first-graders John Elias and Hassan Saleh; Ayoub's son Jai; Jai's former schoolmate and under-age star Brad Murray; Tandy's friend, Michael Cook; Tandy's real estate agent, Greg Tait; and Shontelle Mankin, the New Zealand woman who notoriously pushed her pram into an Auckland TAB and placed a bet the day before the August 21 game.
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All except Tandy placed bets on the Cowboys to open the scoring with two points, as did many others in what was a total investment of $31,614.06 on the exotic option.

Tandy, the court heard, was using his phone until after 3am on the morning after the match. His phone and SMS use, the police documents said, included contact with Sam Ayoub, Cook and Saleh, but when the records of those three were analysed the connections began to widen. The call records were gathered from when betting on the match opened on August 13 until the aftermath of the contest at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

''I am satisfied from this evidence that there was substantial contact between Mr Tandy and three of the people who placed substantial bets on the Cowboys goal penalty option and that there is evidence of further contact between those three people and others who placed substantial bets on that option,'' Wahlquist said before finding Tandy guilty yesterday.

''There is further evidence of contact … with others who placed significant bets set out in the chart of Mr Burgess I won't further detail.''

Wahlquist also accepted the police evidence that Tandy, using the same phone, engaged in contact with jockey manager John Schell, who gave evidence by statement that the 30-year-old owed him $30,070 in gambling debt.

Ayoub, who has pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the plunge, is another central player in the phone records included by the magistrate in her judgment statement. Her statement said the player agent had bet $990 on the Cowboys option and had contact before and after the match with several people who also had bets: Townsville bar owner Joel Solinas (who bet $400), Murray ($1000), Ayoub's son Jai ($540) and Elias ($5500), who also faces charges.

''The chart of all the people who placed bets shows Mr Ayoub as being in telephone contact with a number of them,'' Wahlquist said.

Saleh, meanwhile, was found to have bet $400 on the option, and in turn engaged in phone contact with Tait ($1000), the fourth person charged with attempting to dishonestly obtain financial advantage.

The phone records also showed that Saleh, the former NRL winger and nightclub manager, had contact with Cook ($3000), Elias and two others: Marc Marano ($492) and Joseph Recep ($1000). Cook, a friend of Tandy's, according to the judgment statement, exchanged calls and text messages with Elias, Saleh, Tait, Recep, as well as Mankin ($2400) and a Clayton Sellings ($2000).

''Mr Tandy gave evidence that he regularly rang Sam Ayoub and had done since 2003,'' Wahlquist said. ''Sam Ayoub was his manager. He said Hassan Saleh was a friend and he was in regular contact with him. Michael Cook was also a friend and he was in regular contact with him.''

She said she was ''satisfied beyond reasonable doubt'' that the phone number in the police charts was Tandy's at the time.

Correlates of Violence Against Women

Violence against women is strongly correlated with both financial and personal stress according to a new study released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The study was based on interviews with 7,125 Australian women who participated in the General Social Survey (GSS), a large nationally representative sample survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2006.

The results of the study show that the risk of actual or threatened violence was significantly higher who in the last 12 months have experienced financial stress.

The risk is also much higher among those who experience personal stressors such as divorce or separation, death of a family member/close friend, serious illness, serious accident, mental illness, serious disability, inability to get a job, involuntary loss of job and gambling problems.

The risk of actual or threatened violence in the previous 12 months for a woman at the lowest levels of financial and social stress was 4 per cent. At the highest levels of financial stress, that risk jumped to nearly 15 per cent. For women experiencing high levels of both financial stress and personal stress, the risk of actual or threatened violence was 36 per cent.

The risk of actual or threatened violence was also higher for younger women (e.g. those aged 18-24), for sole parents, for those who had alcohol and/or drug problems, for those who lacked social support (i.e. someone outside the household they could turn to for support in a crisis) and for those who did not feel free to raise important issues with friends and family.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, emphasized that it is difficult to tell which of these factors are causes of violence and which are consequences.

“Financial and personal stress may lead to violence but they can also be consequences of violence. Women forced to leave violent households may find themselves experiencing a significant drop in income. The violence itself may result in significant mental health or drug or alcohol problems.”

“The value of this research is not that it settles the question of what causes violence against women. We are a long way from settling that. It is that it gives us a much clearer picture of the profile of women who suffer actual or threatened violence.”

“The current findings show that female victims of violence suffer high levels of financial stress and are much more likely in the last 12 months to have recently experienced serious illness, a serious accident, mental illness, serious disability, inability to get a job, involuntary loss of job and gambling problems.”