Stygian Pits and Child Forfeiture


The eloquent Will Grigg in an outstanding interview with Ron Paul and Daniel McAdams, discussing his article Protecting the Vicious, Punishing the Virtuous: Marijuana Prohibition and Idaho’s Prison-Industrial Complex.

My favorite coinages from the interview: Will referring to the CCA-run Idaho State Correctional Center as a “Stygian pit of abuse and despair” and Ron referring to CPS’s abduction of marijuana activist Shona Banda’s son as “Child Forfeiture.”

Be sure to read Will Grigg’s outstanding essays at

Don’t Like the Drugs, but the War Must Cease

We’ve been devoting more coverage to the War on Drugs lately, so it’s worth noting when a politician says anything about it other than “full speed ahead.” It’s especially worth noting when a presidential candidate says “I fear the War on Drugs a lot more than I fear the drugs themselves” on a wildly popular TV show:


It’s true that he did not pledge to undo “America’s history of state-enforced slavery, apartheid, and sexism” and return all “land stolen from indigenous people” — which you can be sure the Obama administration is working on right this minute, with Marty Peretz’s blessing — but he might be onto something.

Drug War Shame: Severely Ill Man Fired, Cut from Health Care

I just interviewed Joseph Casias, the poor man with an inoperable brain tumor and sinus cancer so bad you can barely understand him when he speaks, who was fired in November by Wal-Mart after he tested positive for marijuana. For the last four months, Casias had been smoking marijuana, which was legally prescribed to him under Michigan state law, to ease his chronic pain –  an  alternative to the pain pills which he complained were habitual and had too many side affects. He never got high before coming to work; for the last five years he was so good at his job, that he was made Associate of the Year and was promoted late last year. He aspired to manager, even district manager, and knew that in in a city like Battle Creek where Wal-Mart is the employer, he was a blessed man.

When he was promoted, Casias — a 29-year-old husband and father of two children, ages 8 and 7 — was finally able to enroll in the Wal-Mart health plan. Up until then, he was one of the country’s 40-plus million uninsured. He told me every 6-month check-up is about $5,000 out-of-pocket. As a result, he is swimming in thousands of unpaid medical bills, and plagued by collection agencies. Getting health insurance was a big step forward for this man and his family. Losing a job in Michigan, which has the highest unemployment in the country, is a tremendous punch in the gut. “I gave them everything I got,” Casias told me.

And Wal-Mart took it — and now more. Conveniently for his employers, they won’t have to pay for his cancer treatment, because they fired him right after he enrolled in the health care plan. To all you people out there who say private industry can solve our health care crisis, I have a GM sedan to sell you. Wal-Mart even wanted to block this guy’s unemployment benefits!

I interviewed Casias as part of an upcoming piece (check back on Tuesday) on the local and state roadblocks facing the medical marijuana movement, but I was so mad when I got off the phone I had to write it out immediately. This is a man who doesn’t know how long he has to live, having to face his young children, fired from a job he worked so diligently and loyally at, for something he was told by the State of Michigan was legal. The fact that a Godzilla company like Wal-Mart, which shamelessly professes “family values” and offers this phony-baloney glossy-photo understanding for families struggling through the financial crisis, can arbitrarily fire a model employee, ignore state law (which was adopted by a referendum of the people!) and rip away his long-awaited enrollment into a legitimate health care plan — is nothing short of an abomination.

Doing 55 in a 54

Kelley Vlahos has a great piece today on the Henry Gates affair and the larger problems of which it’s a symptom. One such problem is the ever increasing number of pretexts on which the authorities can interrogate, search, assault, and arrest citizens. The authority figure, equipped with endless excuses to initiate an interaction with the citizen, from an expired tag to a false burglar alarm to an alleged whiff of what might be a controlled substance, uses his or her superior knowledge of legal arcana to find some way to put the citizen behind bars.  For instance, what struck me when reading the policeman’s account of the Gates incident was a small detail: the repeated use of the term “tumultuous.” It appears three times in the brief report in descriptions of Gates’ behavior. Why was the cop fixated on this SAT word?

Turns out, it appears in the Massachusetts statute defining disorderly conduct. The cop goaded the agitated Gates into stepping outside of his house (he made sure to give a reason for this in the report – poor acoustics in Gates’ kitchen!) to create the grounds for an arrest.  The cop already knew the specific – though vague and debatable – adjective he should use in his report to make the charge sound incontestable to the lawnorder crowd.

The proliferation of new laws in the wake of 9/11, all full of vague and debatable terms, has given the authorities infinite points of entry into all of our lives. They truly can arrest first and read the statutes later; you’re sure to have done something wrong. Even if they eventually drop the charges or fail to convict you, don’t count on getting any compensation for your anxiety, lost time, injuries, or legal fees.

An analogous situation prevails in international affairs, where the global police churn out endless legal pretexts for subjecting whole countries to full body-cavity searches, house arrest, assault, and capital punishment, and we’re watching it play out yet again in the case of Iran. But that’s a post for another day.