America – Land of the Free?
We may like to call America “the land of the free,” but statistics prove otherwise.
The good old USA is sinking in ratings that measure economic and personal freedom, but it can boast, by far, the world’s largest prison population per capita on earth. More people sit in local, county, state or federal prisons in the U.S. than in all other developed countries combined – 2.29 million people behind bars. Those are alarming numbers from the World Prison Population List, 9th edition (2012).
Why are so many Americans in jail?
One major reason is the long lost “War on Drugs” that imprisons users but does little to cut supplies, now more plentiful and lower in cost than ever. A multi-billion dollar police/prison political establishment has grown up based on this losing drug war, now joined by a huge anti-terrorism bureaucracy headed by the Department of (so-called) Homeland Security.
Laws that Congress Never Passed
In 2006, a research team led by Professor John Baker of Louisiana State Law School came up with a list of more than 4,000 separate federal criminal offenses. But that number vastly understated the total of U.S. crimes because the federal criminal code incorporates, by reference, tens of thousands of regulatory “paperwork” violations never voted on by Congress, as in the recent Obamacare law.
This expanding culture of criminalization follows down the law enforcement line. Local police now use SWAT teams, militaristic tactics, armored tanks, drone technology and secret surveillance to deal with situations that clearly don’t warrant such macho shows of force.
Target the Innocent – if they want
Historically in America, the sanction of criminal law was reserved for serious, morally culpable offenders. But in recent decades, an unholy alliance of tough-on-crime “conservatives” and anti-business liberals has enormously expanded criminal law.
While violent crime too often goes unpunished, the U.S. Congress continues to add new, trivial offenses to the federal criminal code, many in the financial and banking area, as witness Dodd-Frank.
Civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate documents in his book, Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, that using broad and vague federal laws allows overzealous federal prosecutors to “pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, even for the most seemingly innocuous behavior.”
Some of us saw this coming.
Shortly after his 2008 election as president, I reviewed some of Obama’s more radical policy proposals under the headline Obama Plans U.S. Financial Prison. I concluded that he was planning to curtail greatly the freedom of Americans to invest and bank offshore. Sadly, I was all too correct as events have proven.
A Police State Spawned
Indeed, a major and fallacious official justification for attacks on financial privacy and on tax havens has been the lie that the war on drugs could be won if we all surrendered our privacy. That war on drugs has been a principle cause of the militarization of U.S. domestic police, with countless mistaken SWAT team drug raids resulting in the needless deaths of innocent bystanders.
Meanwhile, over $5 billion in cash and private property has been confiscated by police under forfeiture laws — and in 85% of the cases no charges were brought against the persons from which property was grabbed. In most cases, federal, state and local police kept the loot.
In the United States, where illegal drug use is highest, a vast police-prison-government lobby has arisen. It devours about $80 billion a year in taxpayer funds, supposedly to combat drugs. What a costly hoax!
The Economist magazine offered this opinion in 2009: “Fighting drugs is the kind of promise politicians love to make. It assuages the sense of moral panic that has been the handmaiden of prohibition for a century. It is intended to reassure the parents of teenagers across the world. Yet it is a hugely irresponsible promise, because it cannot be fulfilled.”
The War on Drugs is the most powerful propaganda weapon ever devised to convince the masses to willingly relinquish their individual rights. If there ever was a duty to yourself, your children and your community, it is to join the rising chorus of respected business leaders, educators, doctors, writers, publishers and politicians who are speaking out against this senseless war.
Chairman, Freedom Alliance