Tag Archives: war on drugs

CA-10: An Interview With Adriel Hampton

We have less than 50 days until the special election in the 10th Congressional District to replace Ellen Tauscher, who resigned to take a job at the State Department.  The candidates include local members of the legislature, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, and several candidates with interesting resumes.  There’s even word that New Age guru and Oprah pal Marianne Williamson may get into the race, although she doesn’t have much time to make her decision.  The 2nd quarter fundraising totals revealed some interesting outcomes, and the campaign staffs have debated who has the most local support and the most endorsements.  There’s even a burgeoning controversy about Ellen Tauscher’s presence on Sen. Mark DeSaulnier’s mailers, which may violate the Hatch Act now that she works in the State Department.

We’ve heard a lot about strategies, funding and endorsements, but a little less so about where the candidates stand on the issues.  So I’m making an effort to interview all the Democratic candidates in the race, to discuss their views on the type of vexing problems that the country faces which they would be expected to deal with in Congress.  The first candidate to respond was Adriel Hampton, the former Political Editor at the San Francisco Examiner and an investigator in the SF City Attorney’s Office.  What follows is a paraphrased transcript of the interview I conducted last week.

DD: Thanks for taking some time to talk with me.

Adriel Hampton: Thank you for contacting me, this is great.

DD: How are things going with the campaign?

AH: Things are good.  I kind of feel on the razor’s edge here, where I could either do really well or crash out.  Obviously, (Anthony) Woods and I are the underdogs, while the elected officials are duking it out.  Woods focused on fundraising and did a pretty good job, while I focused on building a volunteer organization.  I’m working on voter ID in a distributed way using volunteers, and I’ve dropped 8,000 pieces of literature, half of it myself.  I have two little kids, and I’ve been canvassing basically every night after they go to sleep since April.  I got a designer in Los Angeles to deliver sharper literature, with a better printer, and I’m starting some targeted PAC fundraising among peace groups and progressive organizations.  I think Anthony and I are running a bit to the left of the field.  And then you have the possibility of Marianne Williamson getting in, and she has a major public profile as well as having worked with Kucinich in the past.  I think she takes votes from everybody a bit, but certainly (Assemblywoman Joan) Buchanan.

I’ve just been trying to build a consistent presence on the ground, through appearances and volunteer events.  The other campaigns have big staffs, especially (Lt. Gov. John) Garamendi.  (Sen. Mark) DeSaulnier has the Democratic club circuit down, and Garamendi is kind of running an air war.  But the poll he put out showed an 80% name ID and only 24% of the vote.  I’ve been campaigning everywhere, all over the district, and we’ll see how it goes.

DD: Let’s get into the issues.  I’ve been looking at your 12 ideas to change the nation, and right at the top is economic reform.  Could you talk about that a bit?

AH: Absolutely.  I got into this race to discuss economic issues and taking on Wall Street.  In fact, I was strongly considering running a primary against Ellen Tauscher, I have been critical of her since her vote to authorize the Iraq war.  Then I learned about how she was one of Wall Street’s biggest friends.  I’m running as an economic progressive.  A big problem with the Democratic Party is that they consistently fail everyday citizens on economic issues.  In many ways, they’re just as corporate as the other party.  I was active in the grassroots against the Bush bailout.  Obama brought in some of the same people responsible for taking us down that road with Wall Street.  I supported the stimulus, and the opportunity for New Deal-type spending, but I think we need to go further and break up the political power of Wall Street.

DD: You mention supporting credit unions.  How exactly would Congress be able to do that?

AH: I think we can favor them with an FDIC guarantee, promoting them as an alternative to the global banks.  During the financial crisis, the banks outside the big national firms tended to do better.  And so I think we should encourage that more local approach.

DD: There’s been a lot of talk recently about bankslaughter, this idea that we could add a new crime to hold bank managers personally responsible for behaving recklessly or in a negligent way.  Do you support bankslaughter?

AH: I would tone down the name to enact popular support!  But you know, when you see someone like Angelo Mozilo, he certainly engaged in what I would call a dereliction of duty.  I don’t have a problem with holding bankers personally responsible for failing to hold to certain consumer protections.  What I’ve seen is that the grassroots folks who are not necessarily active in politics are very receptive to this.  They want to see some accountability.  And I don’t want to harp on Obama entirely about these issues, he needs a progressive Congress as well to push this through, it’s not all on him.

DD: OK.  Another one of your 12 issues I read kind of surprised me, it was about conscience clauses.  As it turns out, there was a federal ruling recently saying that pharmacies must dispense the Plan B pill and cannot use their religious beliefs to deny women legal medical aid that they seek.  How you do respond to that?

AH: I am not for restricting access to the morning after pill or abortion information.  All I’m saying is that there has been a robust system of jurisprudence around reasonable exemptions.  You cannot fire disabled people because they cannot perform one task in a job, you have to make an exemption.  If a pharmacist doesn’t want to provide those pills, some other pharmacist can in their place.

DD: But some people live in rural areas where they have no other choice but one pharmacist for possibly hundreds of miles.  If that person doesn’t want to provide legal services, shouldn’t he find another job?

AH: Well, I’m for reasonable accommodation, not blocking access to health care.  I believe in allowing people to exercise their individual liberties as long as they don’t infringe on others.  I’m willing to talk about the nuance of issues like this, to see if we can come to an understanding.

DD: The biggest issue in Congress right now is health care.  Where do you stand?

AH: Well, I’m for single payer.  Pete Stark, up here in the Bay Area, decided to vote against that cap and trade bill because it was too weak, and conservatives now love him for it.  But I don’t think that should come into account, and I don’t think the grassroots should give up.  Some of my opponents say we should get what we can get, but we might lose the momentum for reform if we do that.  But I understand that we have to treat those millions of people who are suffering right now without health insurance.

DD: Let me ask you this, would you agree to refuse to sign any bill without a robust public option that is available immediately and can use Medicare bargaining rates to drive down costs?

AH: You know what, I would.  I would not vote for anything that didn’t severely change the insurance system.  I’m not a violent person, but the system is so violent right now that I feel the need to do violence to it.  And the same with war funding efforts without drawdowns and timelines, I couldn’t vote for that.  I know that the ads would kill me, defying the President.  But I think it’s important to talk about the issues, meeting as many people as I can, going right to them and explaining myself.  There have to be lines in the sand.  We have a radical right-wing party in this country that is almost insane.  And the Democrats are playing down the center.  We need some organizing from the left.  Just imagine someone like me, a regular guy, expressing the beliefs of Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee.  I’m not afraid of the word socialist in certain respects.  I think there’s a role for government in equalization, to provide an economic bulwark against death, disease, and poverty.  And I get that regular people in the insurance industry may suffer, but are they worth the struggle of 47 million uninsured?  At least we can start these debates on the left, I think it would result in a better outcome.

DD: Obviously at Calitics we’re focused on the budget issues.  What help do you think the federal government could provide to help get some systemic reform here?

AH: Well, I voted all No on May 19, because I didn’t see any serious reform efforts in there.  One benefit of the problems now in California, which are tragic, is that I hope people are waking up.  There’s such a right-wing influence in the media and the popular consciousness.  As it turns out, California’s taxes are not progressive.  I just think there’s a rage on the populist level that can be tapped by progressives.  Everyone in this race is a strong liberal, but I think I’m the only progressive, fighting for progressive taxation and labor rights.

DD: So what reforms can we get out of Congress?  Some want the Feds to provide loan guarantees to the states, or they can condition a second stimulus to real budget reform, or even take Medicaid out of a state/federal partnership and into the realm of a purely federal program to smooth out outcomes throughout the country.  Where do you fall?

AH: Probably along the lines of more extreme reforms.  I appreciate Calitics’ reporting on this.  The loan guarantees sound like a good idea.  I could live with centralized funding of Medicaid with local administration.  And I’m for carrots and sticks in any stimulus funding, the idea that if you bail out a state, they have to have additional guarantees.  Overall, I’m for structural reform.  One of my opponents, Sen. DeSaulnier, is pushing a Constitutional convention.  But we all need to stay on top of that.

DD: One final question, with respect to Iran.  You wrote in your 12 points to change the nation that “I will oppose, by any means necessary, Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.”  Obviously, a lot has happened since you wrote that.  Are you revisiting this, and how can we engage with Iran now given the scenes of repression?

AH: Iran is one of the most difficult issues we have right now.  We shouldn’t forget the amazing turnout in their election, almost 85%.  What did we have for the special election, 25%?  We shouldn’t really be in the position of telling Iran what to do.  And you cannot give a state democracy, the people have to want it for themselves, things have to happen.  Military intervention in Iran right now would be terrible.  And we have to be careful, because the students over there are already being scapegoated as US puppets.  It’s also an open question whether Mousavi has clean hands, or if he’s just an outlet valve for the current system.  But I still believe we have to have negotiations.  I think Woods and I are the only two who said that at our last forum.  Garamendi was talking about banning the import of refined oil.  That would only hurt everyday people in Iran.  So I think we need diplomatic relations and a strategic dialogue.  I’m not happy about dealing with Ahmadienjad, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt.

DD: OK, thanks-

AH: Can I add one final issue?  I am the only candidate in the race who supports the full legalization of marijuana, I think Woods supports decriminalization.  We’re seeing a modern prohibition movement, and that leads to inefficient and dangerous outcomes.  We have a highly regulated alcohol industry, and I think we could do the same thing with marijuana.  I don’t smoke, but people like me, squares, need to say, “what is the policy benefit of continuing the drug war?”

DD: All right.  Thanks for your time.

AH: Great, thanks.

Will Our Attorney General Candidates Get The Prison Crisis?

Today, Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook Chris Kelly announced an exploratory committee for the race for California Attorney General.  He joins a field that includes Assemblymembers Ted Lieu, Pedro Nava and Alberto Torrico; San Francisco DA Kamala Harris, and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.  In his statement, which you can find at his website, Kelly talked about efficienct and effective government, Internet safety, proper training and equipment for law enforcement, and stopping trafficking.  The words “prisons,” “jails,” “corrections” or “parole” was not mentioned.

Our prison system is a mess.  We have the highest recidivism rate in the country, mostly because 2/3 of our prisoners returning to jail go there because of technical violations of their parole.  This turns jails into giant holding pens instead of areas for rehabilitation and treatment, as well as colleges for nonviolent offenders on how to get involved in violent crime.  The overstuffed prisons cost more money to staff and service as they become more dangerous, leading to the state spending more on incarceration than higher education.  Despite all this spending, conditions in the prisons are medieval, with the ACLU proposing the closure of the LA County Men’s Central Jail.  Prison officials are discussing release of 8,000 nonviolent and terminally ill offenders, but that’s a drop in the bucket.  We also have denied prisoners their Constitutional right to health care, and have a federal receiver now remedying that situation, taking it out of the hands of the legislature.  The “tough on crime” mantra that has ruled the thinking of both parties on this issue has utterly and completely failed.

And yet, our Attorney General candidates and our gubernatorial candidates view this absolute crisis as just another check on their list, instead of the serious problem it is.  Gavin Newsom didn’t bring it up in his speech, though I did ask him about it in the blogger meeting afterwards.  He talked about how we need a re-entry strategy better than the failed parole system, and cited some re-entry reforms in San Francisco that have helped matters.  And he stated that having the courts step in to fix the problem presents an opportunity for real reform.  With respect to the drug war, which lies at the heart of this, he expressed his support for drug courts and mental health courts and the kind of options that wouldn’t consign nonviolent offenders to the rigors of overcrowded prison life when they need medical treatment.  And he vowed to have more detailed programs available soon.  But when it counted, on stage, he said nothing.  Jerry Brown did tackle the issue, but his non-stop fight against the prison health care receiver and sensible steps like Prop. 5 destroy any credibility he may have had on the issue.

I have appreciated Greg Lucas’ interviews with some of the candidates in the Attorney General’s race, and I have paid particular attention to their views on the prison crisis.  (over)

Here are Alberto Torrico’s ideas to deal with recidivism:

CC: What’s the best way to reduce recidivism?

AT: First, we need to evaluate. See what programs work and don’t work. We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do about these parolees. Put all these people out and then there’s too many parolees and too few parole officers. We can’t continue to pretend our prisons are drug rehab centers because they’re not. We need to get resources to people who can be helped and make sure when they’re tried at the local level they get put into programs that work.

I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer. I’ve been a labor lawyer. I represented a public agency. The judge tells people under Prop 36 (drug rehab law) that you’re not going to jail, you’re going to get counseling once a week for 12 weeks. You’re not going to beat an addition one hour a week over 12 weeks.

He seems earnest about lowering the recidivism rate as a financial and moral imperative, and these ideas are somewhat noble, but they read like bullet points, without the innovation necessary to really deal with this crisis.  It’s not just about hoping the locals solve the problem, but a strategy that focuses on rehabilitation, re-entry and alternatives to prison right at the top.

Here’s Ted Lieu on the same subject:

CC: Not sure how much it costs but it has to be expensive when we parole 120,000 people a year and within two years over 70 percent are back in prison.

TL: It is a sort of downward spiraling problem. Because we have a prison-overcrowding situation we now aren’t doing any of the skills training in prison programs that teach people how to function in society when they leave prison. And then people come back to prison because they have nowhere to go and that increases the over-crowding.

I’m a big supporter of drug courts. If someone is addicted, they should get treated. When revenues are falling off a cliff its extremely difficult to fund the programs we need to help people when they get out of prison. Long-term view is that yes it costs some money now but in the long-term it would help the state save money.

If an inmate works toward a degree then they should get early release credits as an incentive to do such things. Part of the problem – and this is a much larger fix – is I think I we also need to improve our education system. If we did, we’d have less people in prison as well.

I just see a lot of people talking around the problem.  I support drug courts as well, but I think there’s a mindset change that’s needed.  The Attorney General at this point is in a position to transform the entire way we think about prisons and rehabilitation.  Rocky Delgadillo gets closer to that.

CC: Speaking of costs, recidivism is very expensive. Something like 120,000 people are paroled each year and 70 percent are back behind bars within two years.

RD: We’ve got to get on the front end. One thing we know about gang members and people who have been in prison is they tend to have a shelf life it tends to end. But if they’re young and active and they go out they do it again. Why? Because in prison they get to hang out with the best in their business. And we pay for it. Great health care plan. So when they get out, they go back to it again. So the answer is to send less in.

We have a program called “First Chance.” I grew up in Northeast Los Angeles. People would say they’ll give you a second chance. You can’t have a second chance until you have a first chance. This is a program for young, but adults who get into our system. Not where they’ve done a serious crime but we know they’re involved with gangs or negative activity. We allow them to go to job training and school and if they complete it, we drop the charges. It’s a much better investment up front then to try and deal with them after they’ve been in prisons. In there, it’s an abyss.

Finally, here’s Kamala Harris, who actually pre-empts the discussion by raising recidivism without being asked:

CC: What role can the Attorney General play in the state’s seemingly endless budget mess?

KH: First, critically examine how the criminal justice system is working and whether we are being most efficient with limited dollars. Here’s an obvious example: Recidivism. California has the highest recidivism rate in the country. On an annual basis we release more than 120,000 prisoners and within two years of their release 71 percent recidivate. That’s costing us a lot of money.

In San Francisco, we created a re-entry initiative in my office. Its called “Back on Track.” It’s for low-level, first-time, non-violent offenders. I brought on my friends from labor – the building trades guys – friends from the business community, non-profits, and we give the parolees job skills development, education and help them meet things like parenting needs. A lot of these young offenders are parents. We reduced recidivism for this specific population from 54 percent to less than 10 percent. The national DA’s association has designated “Back on Track” as a national model.

My vote in this crowded Attorney General’s field will be almost entirely predicated on each candidate’s approach to the prison crisis.  Will they reverse the “tough on crime” myth and start talking about sentencing reform?  Will they discuss serious options to reform parole?  Will they bring up innovative strategies around re-entry and recidivism that would put the focus on rehabilitation and spend on the front end to save on the back end (Hint: check with Kansas)?  Will they touch the third rail of the failed drug war by moving toward decriminalization and keeping tabs on those who commit crimes with victims instead of nonviolent drug abuse?

I eagerly await the answers.

Clarification On The End To Medical Marijuana Raids

When the Administration announced an end to medical marijuana raids by the DEA, they abruptly took back the statement a few hours later.  There was a bit of confusion about the new policy.  Eric Holder put an end to that.

Attorney General Eric Holder signaled a change on medical marijuana policy Wednesday, saying federal agents will target marijuana distributors only when they violate both federal and state law.

That would be a departure from the policy of the Bush administration, which targeted medical marijuana dispensaries in California even if they complied with that state’s law.

“The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law,” Holder said in a question-and-answer session with reporters at the Justice Department.

Good.  There is little justification to waste Justice Department resources harassing Californians and Americans in 12 other states engaging in perfectly legal activity.  Holder must follow the law but he also has discretion in setting priorities, and it’s good to see him recognize that arresting local businessmen and their patients makes no sense.  There remain questions about outstanding medical marijuana federal court cases with over two dozen dispensaries, and hopefully the solution will be to drop the charges.

In a related story, Maxine Waters wants to end mandatory minimum sentencing for federal drug offenses, and the bill has 15 co-sponsors.  The Bureau of Prisons budget has increased 25-fold since mandatory minimums were introduced.  Small drug cases belong in state courts, where offenders could be given treatment instead of jail.  Furthermore, these kind of drug cases disproportionately impact minority communities.

H.R. 1466, the Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009, seeks to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and to give courts the ability to determine sentences based on all the facts, not just drug weight. It would also refocus federal resources on major drug traffickers instead of low-level offenders. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

Sen. Boxer, your office phone is ringing.

Tom Ammiano: Legalize Marijuana, Regulate It and Tax It

A frequent topic of online discussion on the budget crisis in recent weeks has been a call to legalize and tax marijuana in order to help close the budget deficit. This would have two beneficial effects – reducing the prison population and increasing the revenue stream for state government. It was even the most popular question at Change.gov back in December.

Today Assemblymember Tom Ammiano announced he supports this basic concept, and to that end is introducing AB 390 – a bill number you’ll be hearing a lot about in coming months. From a press release sent via email:

Today Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) announced the introduction of groundbreaking legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. The Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education act (AB 390) would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

“With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense.  This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes”, said Ammiano.  “California has the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to enact a smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana.”

Ammiano estimates this will bring in $1 billion in annual revenue. That could double when considering the impact of savings on prison spending.

This is clearly an idea whose time has come. I do not know of any recent polling on the topic, but I have to believe that support for regulating marijuana like alcohol has risen in recent years. 2009 offers an interesting moment, where long-time legalization advocates can now ally with Californians who want to solve the budget crisis and can no longer afford to ignore the high costs of a failed marijuana policy.

Ammiano is also following in the footsteps of other San Francisco legislators. In 1975 then-State Senator George Moscone got a bill passed and signed by Governor Jerry Brown to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Ammiano’s proposed legislation is of a much larger scale, but it makes sense to treat marijuana, a drug that is already widely available in California, the same way we treat alcohol.

It’s good to see someone in Sacramento stand up and point out that there’s no reason we should maintain a policy that has failed so totally and completely, and at such an enormous cost, as marijuana prohibition.

Wednesday RNC Open Thread

• Everybody’s waiting to see what Sarah Palin will have to say at 7:30PT.  I’m on record; she’s going to do great, and she’ll be feted by the media for it.  Very little of it will be true, but she’s on home court and is an engaging speaker.  Some speech samples here.  The speech is going to be tough and straight-up politics of resentment.  We’ll see if she can channel her anger at being called out for ridicule this week; I think she’s up to the task, and this backlash stuff is standard Republican politics when they are put up against the wall.  Stoller is asking the right question – will this be the right way to introduce yourself to the whole nation, including independents?

• Turning locally, while Arnold missed the festivities in St. Paul to look very serious about the budget, Pete Wilson made it out there in his stead – and he slammed Schwarzenegger’s call for a tax increase, clearly temporarily forgetting the increase of his own.  And when he was reminded, he said, “The situation was very different.”

• Among the bills about to land on the Governor’s desk is an equal pay bill.  This has become a big issue in the Presidential race, and I’m glad to see the legislature on the right side of it.

• This is a good Chris Hayes piece from The Nation about union members at the RNC, but the California-specific part about the SEIU-UHW fight I found just right:

The more I talked to the UHW members and heard their grievances, the more I thought about the fact that organized labor has two goals that can often come into tension: power and dignity. We tend to focus on the power aspect in politics: the power to collectively bargain, to make sure labor captures a fair share of profits, to demand higher wages–all of which have been in sharp decline. That’s the objective nature of unionization. The subjective nature of unionization, though, is dignity. It is the process by which working people come to believe that their views and their ideas and their demands are important. That they should be listened to. These two values can be in tension, as I suspect might be the case in California. Sometimes maximizing power might (I stress might, because the UHW-SEIU situation is very, very complicated) require people to fall in line, but the prerogative of dignity is to speak out and stand up.

• I’m interested in hearing more about Prop. 5.  Anything that rolls back our stupid and shortsighted drug war is positive, in addition to addressing the prison crisis.  Martin Sheen, of all people, has joined up with the No on 5 crowd, being run by the people who brought you the pro-Denham team during the aborted recall.

• Just noting the prison guard payoff to Don Perata because nobody else has.

Open thread time.

GOP pol has major meth, and political, problem

(Postmus was really a rising star in the GOP. You used to see his ads all over the Flash Report.  I suppose this is a parable about the dangers of meth. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

For decades now, the War on Drugs has been a largely Republican propaganda campaign — devoted to criminalizing possession of even small, personal amounts of illegal drugs; imprisoning millions of mostly poor, black or brown people who were unfortunate enough to become addicted to such drugs; and demonizing Democratic politicians who support a more humane approach to the problem.

So, when a somewhat prominent Republican has an illegal drug issue, it’s one of those GOP hypocrisy moments that deserves a DKos diary.

The GOP pol is Bill Postmus, the assessor of San Bernadino County, Calif., who was “once a political juggernaut who showered money on his Republican allies.”

Now, not so much. Postmus evidently has rehab and legal bills that take precedence these days.

Details, below.

According to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the reason Postmus took an abrupt “medical leave of absence last month” was because of his addiction to meth.

Postmus has for the past few years struggled with an addiction to methamphetamine, which has twice landed him in drug rehabilitation centers, said sources close to Postmus who asked to remain anonymous.

Postmus is a former county supervisor “who once dreamed of rising as high as Congress.” He won’t get there now.

Postmus has his own scandal to deal with, but so does his top protege and assessor campaign manager.

Former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, also “widely considered a rising star in local Republican circles,” has been indicted on six felony charges.

Three of the six charges against Aleman accuse him of backdating and falsifying documents in January. A fourth charge alleges he submitted the tampered documents to the grand jury.

Among the alleged fabrications, investigators believe Aleman ordered a reluctant secretary to alter meeting minutes to give the false impression that a consultant had been performing on a number of county-related projects, court documents say.

County investigators were looking into allegations that the consultant, Mike Richman, was doing very little county work and instead was focusing on the political campaigns of several Republican candidates.

The final charges against Aleman accuse him of destroying the hard drive of a laptop computer in mid-2007 and, in the process, destroying public records. The hard drive was in a laptop issued to Postmus when he was a county supervisor.

I’m generally a compassionate type, especially in addiction matters.

But when illegal-drug-abusing Republican hacks are found out, and their office has been illegally abused for political advantage, well, I’m not very compassionate about that.