Peter Schaffer on Drug Laws

Peter Schaffer: Well, it was incredibly unjust because they had a hundred to one ratio.  For example, if you had one gram of cocaine powder, if you had one-hundredth the amount of crack cocaine that those would be considered equal.  And I think that crack cocaine typically has been associated with communities that are lower income, poor people; whereas, you know, at, you know, parties in Aspen, people aren’t smoking crack.  So it did have a horrific effect on

population.  I do federal criminal work and I’ve seen a number of young people face horrific sentencing because of their involvement with crack cocaine, maybe on a very superficial level, but because of the way the way the sentencing guidelines were structured, there was no such thing as a small case.
I mean they would have to have a hundred times as much as the equivalent amount of crack.  And from what I’ve learned that to convert powder cocaine to crack, it’s a one-to-one basis.  So if you were in the federal system, it’s insidious enough that if there was proof that you intended to convert say 50 grams of powder into 50 grams of crack, it would be treated at the 100 to 1 ratio. 

Question: So you feel your clients arrive in court because they were destined to be there?


Peter Schaffer:  Well, I don’t know if anybody’s destined to be before the criminal justice system, but if you grow up in an area of low income where many people are not working, where there’s not much employment, where there is not a lot of guidance, inevitably people- there are a lot of opportunities to become involved in criminal activity.  Also in the lower income communities, people are much more likely to resolve disputes simply by dialing 911.  And police are more predisposed to just simply

arresting people rather than trying to resolve an issue or see if an issue really requires an arrest.  So you see a tremendous amount of people that in other communities there wouldn’t have been the opportunity to get in crime.  Things that they do would not have been treated as a crime but for the fact that that’s the way that the police handle things.  And people are very- it’s very easy to dial 911 to resolve a problem.

Question: What will keep people from getting into that position?


Peter Schaffer:  Well, again, I think it’s the funding programs to help addiction, education programs to stop people from becoming involved in, you know, substance abuse situations, job training.  People that are working are far less likely to become involved in crime.  They don’t have to take things to support themselves.  So I think a lot of money would be better spent before people get into the criminal justice system than now.  Now we spend the most amount of money-- and when I say we, I’m talking about government-- in building prisons to simply warehouse people and that’s why this country has more people in jail per capital than any country in the world and that’s pretty horrific.

Question: How likely is it that men and women who have spent 10 or 20 years in prison can come out productive?

Peter Schaffer:
  Well, I still am loathe to say that someone that’s committed a crime even if they’ve gone to prison that they’re gonna be like anyone else because they’re still individuals so I think it really depends.  There’s no rehabilitation.  As far as rehabilitation education, very little is spent on that.  Most of the money for corrections is spent on protection and really making sure people don’t escape, don’t engage in violence with other inmates, but there’s not a lot done to see that when people get out that they won’t repeat those behaviors.  But I still think it depends on the individual.  If they’re coming out and they have a supportive family, they probably have a shot.  If they’re coming out to nothing and they have an extensive criminal history beforehand and they’re going back to the neighborhood where they’ve gotten arrested and prosecuted over and over again, I think there’s little hope that they’re gonna turn their entire life around.
: What should be done to help these people?
Peter Schaffer:  Well, I think if towards the end of people’s sentence, I know in the federal system depending on what crime you were convicted of, they release people to halfway houses and conditionally release people so they get some sort of job skills or training.  There has to be something other than sitting in a cell for 20 years and then on the day that you’re scheduled to be released, they simply open the door for you and give you your clothes that you came in with.  One would
hope that towards the end of sentencing, some effort is made to match that individual up with some sort of preparation for the world outside ‘cause the world- not only is it different from their experience at being incarcerated, but the world is different from when they went in.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.