Trading Sex for a “F–cking Happy Meal?

Mom Can’t Get Food Stamps After Drug Offense, Resorts to Prostitution to Feed her Kids

If she’d committed murder, Carla could have gotten assistance to feed her children. But because the crime she committed was related to drugs, she can’t.

December 21, 2012  |  

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Carla walked into my office with despair in her eyes. I was surprised. Carla has been doing well in her four months out of prison; she got off drugs, regained custody of her kids, and even enrolled in a local community college. 

Without much prodding she admitted to me that she had retuned to prostitution: “I am putting myself at risk for HIV to get my kids a f—ing happy meal.”

Despite looking high and low for a job, Carla explained, she was still unemployed. Most entry-level jobs felt out of reach with her drug record, but what’s worse, even the state wasn’t willing to throw her a temporary life preserver.

You see, Carla is from one of the 32 states in the country that ban anyone convicted of a drug felony from collecting food stamps. With the release of the Global Burden of Disease Study last week, it bears looking at how we are perpetuating burdens among the most vulnerable Americans with our outdated laws.

If she’d committed rape or murder, Carla could have gotten assistance to feed herself and her children, but because the crime she committed was a drug felony, Carla joined the hundreds of thousands of drug felons who are not eligible.

The 1996 passage of the Welfare Reform Act was supposedly implemented to prevent drug addicts from selling their food stamps for drugs. But that concern is virtually unwarranted today. Unlike old food-stamp coupons, today’s food stamps are distributed electronically, which makes selling or trading them quite difficult.

Nonetheless, the law persists.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nine states have a lifetime ban for food-stamp eligibly for people convicted of drug felonies.  Twenty-three states have a partial ban, such as permitting eligibility for persons convicted of drug possession but not sale, or for persons enrolled in drug treatment programs.

Denying food stamp benefits to people convicted of drug offenses is an excessive and ineffective crime control strategy. The policy increases an individual’s risk of returning to prison by making it more difficult for people to survive after they get out, slowing or possibly even preventing their reintegration into society. People without the financial cushion necessary to get through the initial period of job searching and re-establishing a life have little choice but to turn to illegal means to make ends meet.

What’s more, the food-stamp ban is a law that works against good public health policy. As a doctor who cares predominantly for people who are released from prison, I see the damaging consequences of this ban on food stamps. I have seen patients of mine with diabetes go without food and end up hospitalized with low blood sugar, and still others with HIV skip their antiretrovirals because they don’t have food to take with their pills.  Not having access to food is associated with bad health outcomes including worsening diabetes, HIV, depression. Young children face anemia, diabetes, and depression.

Women with children are especially affected. It’s estimated that 70,000 women and their children are banned from obtaining food stamps. This means mothers who are simply trying to feed themselves and their children, and who are trying to get back on their feet after serving their time, are banned from receiving the money to pay for the basics necessary to survive.  Meanwhile, 46 million others, including college graduates and PhDs with far more resources, can receive food aid.

No other criminal conviction results in such a ban—not arson, not rape, not even murder.

Carla was arrested at 20 for selling marijuana.  At the time, she had also been making money working for her “boyfriend” as a sex worker.  Her boyfriend was also arrested for robbery.  He could qualify for food stamps upon release. But not Carla. She continues to pay for selling marijuana— a drug which two states have now voted to legalize outright—and the price is health risks for herself and for her children. 

CONTINUE READING….PAGE 2…

Absolute Asinine Laws

 

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña brought some roadside weeds home from Kansas. Cops decided it was reefer, and a Texas court sentenced him to life in prison – without the evidence. It took a decade for Peña to get back some of the pieces of his life.

By Jordan Smith, Fri., March 16, 2012

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña was tired as he drove south toward Houston on the morning of Sept. 27, 1998. Following a quick trip north to Kansas in a rented van – to pick up the brother of a distant cousin’s son – he was on his way home to Houston, where he lived with his wife and four children. It was the kind of favor Peña often did for friends and family, no matter how distant the relation – and the kind of favor that irritated his wife. "I was tired, and I was trying to get home," the 50-year-old recently recalled. "My wife was mad at me for doing favors for other people" when he could instead be home.

That morning, just before 8am, Peña was cruising south down I-45, a little more than two hours from home. He was driving in the right-hand lane through Leon County when he passed a state trooper sitting in his car on the grass median. He thought nothing of it – just another Texas trooper on a long and nondescript stretch of highway – until he noticed the trooper pull out onto the road and follow him. The officer, Mike Asby, a veteran member of the Texas Department of Public Safety, drove in the left lane until his car was parallel with Peña’s. Peña looked over at Asby. "He pulled up next to me, and I looked at him because I wasn’t not going to make eye contact" with an officer whom Peña thought was definitely checking him out for whatever reason.

Although Peña steadfastly maintains that he wasn’t doing anything wrong or unusual, Asby would later testify that Peña caught his attention because he was driving more slowly than the rest of traffic in a van caked with mud; when the van "weaved across the center stripe and also across the solid yellow line on the shoulder," Asby testified in January 2003, he had to take action. "You’re required to stay in a single lane of traffic," he said. He activated his lights and pulled Peña over.

Within the hour, Peña would be in handcuffs in the back of the trooper’s car, headed to the county jail in Centerville on a charge of marijuana possession. Nearly five years later, Peña would be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for possession of what the state said turned out to be 23.46 pounds of freshly cut marijuana that Peña was transporting in the back of the muddy blue van. Although Asby testified that this was not a normal highway drug bust – "normally," he testified, marijuana moves north from Houston, already "dried out, cured, and ready to be sold" – he was certain that what he found casually laid out in the back of the van was pot because it smelled like pot – and he knows pot when he smells it. "It’s something that you learned in [28] years of experience being on the road?" prosecutor Whitney Smith (now Leon Coun­ty’s elected D.A.) asked Asby.

"Yes, sir," Asby replied.

Just Trust Us

There are at least two problems with the official story of Peña’s arrest and prosecution. First, Peña is adamant – and has been since 1998 – that what he was transporting was not marijuana, but actually hemp, pot’s non-narcotic cousin. Peña says he found the plants growing wild in Kansas and cut them down, thinking that he could use the stems and leaves in the various craft projects he made with leather and wood in his garage workshop; there was no doubt in Peña’s mind that what he was transporting was not marijuana. The second, and eventually more decisive problem with the official story of the Peña bust, is that prior to his trial, officials with the Department of Public Safety lab in Waco, where the plants were taken for testing, completely destroyed all of the case evidence – all 23.46 pounds of plant material – and then also lost the case file with all of the original documentation of the lab’s work on the case. By the time Peña was finally tried – more than four years later – there was absolutely no evidence to show the jury; instead, the state relied completely on the "experience" of Asby and of Waco lab supervisor Charles Mott (now retired) to persuade jurors that what they say they saw and tested was actually marijuana.

It worked.

That is, it worked until late last year, when Peña’s conviction was finally overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, and Leon County subsequently dismissed the charges for good. In the intervening decade, however, Peña’s case became a political hot potato, catching the attention of judges and lawyers across the state who watched as the 10th Court of Appeals, based in Waco, played tug-of-war with the Austin-based CCA over the power of the Texas Constitution, and whether it affords citizens greater rights and protection against state power than does the U.S. Constitution.

It’s a conflict that has left the state of Texas divided and may mean – at least for the time being – that persons tried for crimes in one part of the state will be afforded greater protection from prosecutorial errors or malfeasance than are others. Frankly, says Keith Hampton, an Austin defense attorney who represented Peña just before his case was dismissed, you just "don’t see this happen very often." Ulti­mate­ly, whether the protections gleaned from the Texas Constitution by the 10th Court will remain in force and be applied to all Texans is still to be determined.

Weeds, Not Weed

Peña had a knack for creating handcrafted leather and wood items that sold like hotcakes, he says, at flea markets in and around Houston. He made personalized shellacked plaques and leather key chains with popular first names spelled out in tiny beads, and at a dollar a key chain, they sold well. So when he first saw the hemp plants growing on the roadside near Manhattan, Kan., they gave him an idea. He would take the plants – which, to an untrained eye, look exactly like marijuana plants – press the leaves, and then use them on plaques or affixed to the small leather wallets that he also had become expert at making. He recognized these as "volunteer" hemp plants – they grow wild across the country, reminders of the days when hemp farming was commonplace and even, during World War II, encouraged by the feds as supporting the war effort. By the Kansas roadside, they were scraggly and abundant. When he pulled into the Tuttle Creek State Park outside Manhattan, and saw the plants growing everywhere, he "loaded … up."

Indeed, Peña thought nothing of the fresh-cut plants that he’d laid out in the back of the blue van he was driving. He knew – partly from experience of having smoked pot when he was younger, and partly because he knew that hemp was once a major agricultural commodity – that the plants were nothing more than weeds that looked like weed.

However, that’s not how Asby saw it. To him, it was clear that one thing, and only one thing, was taking place. Peña was moving a large amount of marijuana to Houston – as unusual as that might be, Asby acknowledged.

Peña repeatedly told Asby that the plants were hemp, and his insistence clearly gave some pause to Asby and the two backup officers who soon joined him. The three men stood next to the van pondering the notion that a plant could look like, but not actually be, marijuana. "I … questioned them, I said, ‘Well, he says it’s not marijuana,’" Asby recalled in court. "I knew that there was a substance called hemp and I was asking them. … And I asked them, ‘You ever heard of something like marijuana, just hemp, that is legal to have?’" he continued. "I don’t know that there is a legal kind. That was the question I was asking the officers: ‘Have you ever heard of this … where marijuana was cut and it turns out to be legal?’"

In the end, Asby was unpersuaded. "I just know marijuana smells like marijuana," he testified in 2003. "And I have never found anything that I thought was marijuana that wasn’t." He cuffed Peña and hauled him off to jail.

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Absolute Asinine Laws

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña brought some roadside weeds home from Kansas. Cops decided it was reefer, and a Texas court sentenced him to life in prison – without the evidence. It took a decade for Peña to get back some of the pieces of his life.

By Jordan Smith, Fri., March 16, 2012

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña was tired as he drove south toward Houston on the morning of Sept. 27, 1998. Following a quick trip north to Kansas in a rented van – to pick up the brother of a distant cousin’s son – he was on his way home to Houston, where he lived with his wife and four children. It was the kind of favor Peña often did for friends and family, no matter how distant the relation – and the kind of favor that irritated his wife. “I was tired, and I was trying to get home,” the 50-year-old recently recalled. “My wife was mad at me for doing favors for other people” when he could instead be home.

That morning, just before 8am, Peña was cruising south down I-45, a little more than two hours from home. He was driving in the right-hand lane through Leon County when he passed a state trooper sitting in his car on the grass median. He thought nothing of it – just another Texas trooper on a long and nondescript stretch of highway – until he noticed the trooper pull out onto the road and follow him. The officer, Mike Asby, a veteran member of the Texas Department of Public Safety, drove in the left lane until his car was parallel with Peña’s. Peña looked over at Asby. “He pulled up next to me, and I looked at him because I wasn’t not going to make eye contact” with an officer whom Peña thought was definitely checking him out for whatever reason.

Although Peña steadfastly maintains that he wasn’t doing anything wrong or unusual, Asby would later testify that Peña caught his attention because he was driving more slowly than the rest of traffic in a van caked with mud; when the van “weaved across the center stripe and also across the solid yellow line on the shoulder,” Asby testified in January 2003, he had to take action. “You’re required to stay in a single lane of traffic,” he said. He activated his lights and pulled Peña over.

Within the hour, Peña would be in handcuffs in the back of the trooper’s car, headed to the county jail in Centerville on a charge of marijuana possession. Nearly five years later, Peña would be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for possession of what the state said turned out to be 23.46 pounds of freshly cut marijuana that Peña was transporting in the back of the muddy blue van. Although Asby testified that this was not a normal highway drug bust – “normally,” he testified, marijuana moves north from Houston, already “dried out, cured, and ready to be sold” – he was certain that what he found casually laid out in the back of the van was pot because it smelled like pot – and he knows pot when he smells it. “It’s something that you learned in [28] years of experience being on the road?” prosecutor Whitney Smith (now Leon Coun­ty’s elected D.A.) asked Asby.

“Yes, sir,” Asby replied.

Just Trust Us

There are at least two problems with the official story of Peña’s arrest and prosecution. First, Peña is adamant – and has been since 1998 – that what he was transporting was not marijuana, but actually hemp, pot’s non-narcotic cousin. Peña says he found the plants growing wild in Kansas and cut them down, thinking that he could use the stems and leaves in the various craft projects he made with leather and wood in his garage workshop; there was no doubt in Peña’s mind that what he was transporting was not marijuana. The second, and eventually more decisive problem with the official story of the Peña bust, is that prior to his trial, officials with the Department of Public Safety lab in Waco, where the plants were taken for testing, completely destroyed all of the case evidence – all 23.46 pounds of plant material – and then also lost the case file with all of the original documentation of the lab’s work on the case. By the time Peña was finally tried – more than four years later – there was absolutely no evidence to show the jury; instead, the state relied completely on the “experience” of Asby and of Waco lab supervisor Charles Mott (now retired) to persuade jurors that what they say they saw and tested was actually marijuana.

It worked.

That is, it worked until late last year, when Peña’s conviction was finally overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, and Leon County subsequently dismissed the charges for good. In the intervening decade, however, Peña’s case became a political hot potato, catching the attention of judges and lawyers across the state who watched as the 10th Court of Appeals, based in Waco, played tug-of-war with the Austin-based CCA over the power of the Texas Constitution, and whether it affords citizens greater rights and protection against state power than does the U.S. Constitution.

It’s a conflict that has left the state of Texas divided and may mean – at least for the time being – that persons tried for crimes in one part of the state will be afforded greater protection from prosecutorial errors or malfeasance than are others. Frankly, says Keith Hampton, an Austin defense attorney who represented Peña just before his case was dismissed, you just “don’t see this happen very often.” Ulti­mate­ly, whether the protections gleaned from the Texas Constitution by the 10th Court will remain in force and be applied to all Texans is still to be determined.

Weeds, Not Weed

Peña had a knack for creating handcrafted leather and wood items that sold like hotcakes, he says, at flea markets in and around Houston. He made personalized shellacked plaques and leather key chains with popular first names spelled out in tiny beads, and at a dollar a key chain, they sold well. So when he first saw the hemp plants growing on the roadside near Manhattan, Kan., they gave him an idea. He would take the plants – which, to an untrained eye, look exactly like marijuana plants – press the leaves, and then use them on plaques or affixed to the small leather wallets that he also had become expert at making. He recognized these as “volunteer” hemp plants – they grow wild across the country, reminders of the days when hemp farming was commonplace and even, during World War II, encouraged by the feds as supporting the war effort. By the Kansas roadside, they were scraggly and abundant. When he pulled into the Tuttle Creek State Park outside Manhattan, and saw the plants growing everywhere, he “loaded … up.”

Indeed, Peña thought nothing of the fresh-cut plants that he’d laid out in the back of the blue van he was driving. He knew – partly from experience of having smoked pot when he was younger, and partly because he knew that hemp was once a major agricultural commodity – that the plants were nothing more than weeds that looked like weed.

However, that’s not how Asby saw it. To him, it was clear that one thing, and only one thing, was taking place. Peña was moving a large amount of marijuana to Houston – as unusual as that might be, Asby acknowledged.

Peña repeatedly told Asby that the plants were hemp, and his insistence clearly gave some pause to Asby and the two backup officers who soon joined him. The three men stood next to the van pondering the notion that a plant could look like, but not actually be, marijuana. “I … questioned them, I said, ‘Well, he says it’s not marijuana,'” Asby recalled in court. “I knew that there was a substance called hemp and I was asking them. … And I asked them, ‘You ever heard of something like marijuana, just hemp, that is legal to have?'” he continued. “I don’t know that there is a legal kind. That was the question I was asking the officers: ‘Have you ever heard of this … where marijuana was cut and it turns out to be legal?'”

In the end, Asby was unpersuaded. “I just know marijuana smells like marijuana,” he testified in 2003. “And I have never found anything that I thought was marijuana that wasn’t.” He cuffed Peña and hauled him off to jail.

Page:   1   |   2   |   3   |   All

Open Seeds: Biopiracy and the Patenting of Life by grtv

 

Open Seeds: Biopiracy and the Patenting of Life

by grtv

As the world begins to digest the implications of intellectual property for online censorship, another IP issue threatens an even more fundamental part of our daily lives: our food supply. Backed by legal precedent and armed with seemingly inexhaustible lobbying funds, a handful of multinationals are attempting to use patents on life itself to monopolize the biosphere.

Find out more about the process of patenting life and what it means for the food supply on this week’s GRTV Backgrounder.

Transcript and sources:

The oft-neglected legal minefield of intellectual property rights has seen a surge in public interest in recent months due to the storm of protest over proposed legislation and treaties related to online censorship.[1] One of the effects of such legislation as SOPA and PIPA and such international treaties as ACTA is to have drawn attention to the grave implications that intellectual property arguments can have on the everyday lives of the average citizen.

As important as the protection of online freedoms is, however, an even more fundamental part of our lives has come under the purview of the multinational corporations that are seeking to patent the world around us for their own gain. Unknown to a large section of the public, a single US Supreme Court ruling in 1980 made it possible for the first time to patent life itself for the profit of the patent holder.

The decision, known as Diamond v. Chakrabarty, centered on a genetic engineer working for General Electric who created a bacterium that could break down crude oil, which could be used in the clean-up of oil spills.[2] In its decision, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger ruled that:

“A live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101”

With this ruling, the ability to patent living organisms, so long as they had been genetically altered in some novel way, was established in legal precedent.

The implications of such a monumental ruling are understandably wide-reaching, touching on all sorts of issues that have the potential to change the world around us. But it did not take long at all for this decision’s effects to make itself felt in one of the most basic parts of the biosphere: our food supply.

In the years following the Diamond v. Chakrabarty decision, an entire industry rose up around the idea that these new patent protections could foster the economic incentive for major corporations to develop a new class of genetically engineered foods to help increase crop yields and reduce world hunger.

The first commercially available genetically modified food, Calgene’s “Flavr Savr” tomato, was approved for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration in the US in 1992 and was on the market in 1994.[3] Since then, adoption of GM foods has proceeded swiftly, especially in the US where the vast majority of soybeans, corn and cotton have been genetically altered.

By 1997, the problems inherent in the patenting of these GM crops had already begun to surface in Saskatchewan, Canada. It was in the sleepy town of Bruno that a canola farmer, Percy Schmeiser, found that a variety of GM canola known as “Roundup Ready” had infected his fields, mixing with his non-GM crop.[4] Amazingly, Monsanto, the agrichemical company that owned the Roundup Ready patent, sued Schmeiser for infringing their patent. After a years-long legal battle against the multinational that threatened to bankrupt his small farming operation, Schmeiser finally won an out-of-court settlement with Monsanto that saw the company agree to pay for the clean-up costs associated with the contamination of his field.

In India, tens of thousands of farmers per year commited suicide[5] in an epidemic labeled the GM genocide.[6] Sold a story of “magic seeds” that would produce immense yields, farmers around the country were driven into ruinous debt by a combination of high-priced seeds, high-priced pesticides, and crop failure. Worst of all, the GM seeds had been engineered with so-called “terminator technology,” meaning that seeds from one harvest could not be re-planted the following year. Instead, farmers were forced to buy seeds at the same exorbitant prices from the biotech giants every year, insuring a debt spiral that was impossible to escape. As a result, hundreds of thousands of farmers have committed suicide in the Indian countryside since the introduction of GM crops in 1997.

As philosopher, quantum physicist and activist Vandana Shiva has detailed at great length, the effect of the invocation of intellectual property in enabling the monopolization of the world’s most fundamental resources was not accidental or contingent.[7] On the contrary, this is something that has been self-consciously designed by the heads of the very corporations who now seek to reap the benefit of this monopolization, and the monumental nature of their achievement has been obscured behind bureaucratic institutions like the WTO and innocuous sounding agreements like the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Although the deck appears to be stacked in favour of the giant multinationals and their practically inexhaustible access to lobbying and legal funds, the people are by no means incapable of fighting back against this patenting of the biosphere.

In India itself, where so much devestation has been wrought by the introduction of genetically engineered crops, the people are fighting back against the world’s most well-known purveyor of GMO foods, Monsanto. The country’s National Biodiversity Diversity Authority has enabled the government to proceed with legal action against the company for so-called biopiracy, or attempting to develop a GM crop derived from local varieties of eggplant, without the appropriate licences.[8]

Although resistance to the patenting of the world’s food supply should be applauded in all its forms, what is needed is a fundamental transformation in our understanding of life itself from a patentable organism to the common property of all of the peoples who have developed the seeds from which these novel GM crops are derived.

This concept, known as open seeds, is being promoted by organizations around the globe, including Dr. Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya organization.[9]

PLEASE CONTINUE READING HERE…