A Toast To Vladimir

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” - Vito Corleone

Vladimir Putin is often described as a gangster in western media outlets. Corruption is a way of life in Russia, and political opponents of their President have been gunned down on the streets, poisoned in England, or perhaps even thrown off buildings in New York City. The oligarchy of billionaires that he supports continues to thrive even as the Russian economy goes through a dive similar to our Great Recession. No matter, Putin won his last election with over 63% of the vote and his popularity remains at an astounding 80% according to a recent Gallup Poll. How is this possible? Its all about respect. Once you except a world view that acknowledges all of our leaders are corrupt, you can’t help but like the fact that yours is the best at it, and their Vladimir may be the best in history.

Putin is punching way out of his weight class and lands a haymaker every time. His military is one seventh the size of the United States, but when Russia’s surrogates invade the Crimea its no problem holding onto it. The sanctions may hurt their economy, but the people are willing to buck up. This is a nation that was invaded by Napoleon, The Kaiser and Hitler, so they are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to get back onto the world stage, and they got the guy who can do it. What we don’t understand is they take it personally when Secretary Clinton questions the legitimacy of their election, or our CIA supports a revolution in Ukraine that over throws a President sympathetic to mother Russia. We disrespected them, nothing left to do but teach us some respect. We are still being taught.

Just who’s election is illegitimate, anyway? Our current President lost by three million votes and won. Hilary Clinton lost, and President Trump is dismantling the Obama legacy. Russian operatives hacked into the the DNC and Hillary’s campaign and according to the vanquished candidate it was one of the reasons she lost. Remember its personal.

Our President picked a National Security Advisor who took money for speeches in Russia and lied about it. He had to be fired, and is seeking immunity for his testimony. The President is incensed that there are investigations into his “Russian connections,” but he invites the Russian Foreign Minister along with a known Russian spy to the White House the day after he fires the Director of the FBI, the man responsible for investigating Russian espionage in our country. Knowing it might not look good in the press, the White House staff did not allow our media access to the meeting. Allegedly the Russians agreed not to release the photographs they took, but then they burned our President by splashing their smiling faces with him on the front page of every paper on Earth. Now, it has been leaked that President Trump revealed classified information to them during the meeting. I wonder who leaked it? Who was in the room?

In an attempt to refute the alleged Russian connection our President had his tax lawyers prepare a letter telling us Mr. Trump has no financial connections in Russia but for “a few exceptions,” such as the sale of a Florida home for 96 million to a Russian “billionaire” for more than twice what he paid for it three years earlier. There were of course other “ordinary sales of goods or services” but these were “immaterial.” There also was the beauty pageant in Moscow which was responsible for a “substantial portion” of the “foreign income” he received in 2013.

Here is where Putin’s master plan seeking to weaken and destabilize the position of the United States of America on the world stage has worked beyond his wildest expectations. No matter what his operatives say about President Trump’s connections to Russia, be they financial, political or salacious they are going to be believed. It is irrelevant whether they are true or not, because so much has been admitted, proven true, or denied without proof, any quality lie will stick to him. The President of the United States is hostage to a Russian propaganda machine he helped create.

Whether we see Vladimir Putin as a worthy adversary, enemy, or just the most successful gangster in history, we have to acknowledge his diabolical genius. I can’t help but believe that in every bar and nightclub in The Russian Republic vodka toasts are being offered to Vladimir Putin and the restoration of their nation’s prominence. Most of them never really believed in democracy anyway, notions of liberty and equality were for naïve dreamers. No, it is the strong man with an iron fist in the image of Joseph Stalin that they can’t help but admire. He may have murdered 50 million people, but he won the damn war against the Nazi’s. Life on this Earth has been that cynical for them, and its based in their reality.

So here’s to Vladimir, we need to acknowledge that when it comes to the unraveling of democracies he is unsurpassed. First his own, and now he’s after ours with the help of an unwitting accomplice. He is the enemy worth staying close to, if only to never underestimate him again.

Written by: Philip Remington Dunn is a practicing criminal defense attorney, social justice advocate, and author of the critically acclaimed book: When Darkness Reigns.

A Little Humanity Can Go A Long Way

***This article originally appeared on TheBlaze under the title Funding Prison Reform Works - Read It There***

The most recent California statistics on paroled prisoner recidivism are out and its good news. From a peak of 67.5% in 2010 to 44.6% in 2016 it is clear something is working in California’s prison system. What this means is almost 23% less of California parolees reoffend within three years of their release from prison. At a cost exceeding $60,000 per year for one inmate the economic savings are obvious. What is not so obvious is the long term societal benefits of less repeat crime. Not only are there less victims of crime, there are indirect benefits as well. The formerly incarcerated work, pay taxes and most importantly are able to parent their children. There is at long last, real hope we can reverse the revolving door of re-incarceration that has plagued our state (and country) for more than thirty years.

It all started with the fear fed to us by advocates of anger policies in the 80’s and 90’s. “Career Criminal” and “Three Strikes” laws along with the “War on Drugs” led to a quadrupling of our prison population causing the system to house almost 200% of what it was designed for despite massive prison construction during the same time period. A dear friend of mine, Daniel is his name, was one of the many inmates that were sent out of state to deal with overcrowding. He was housed in Arizona and Oklahoma. Far from family and friends he rarely had visitors, which made it very difficult to hold onto relationships that might have provided a support system for him upon his release. This is not the way to treat someone you hope will never go back to prison.

It took the United States Supreme Court to put an end to this retribution binge. In Brown vs. Plata, Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority in ordering California to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of capacity. In doing so Justice Kennedy found that the overcrowding was a violation of the Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause as it was responsible for living conditions described as “wretched misery.”

When forced to act the politicians passed AB-109 which reduced some overcrowding by shifting the burden of housing nonviolent offenders to county jails – which didn’t really change the incarceration rates, it only prolonged the shell game. Real reform fell to the people in the form of criminal justice initiatives on the ballot. Propositions 36, 47 and 57 all provided sensible ways to reduce the prison population while still emphasizing public safety. Passed with substantial majorities these measures have now withstood the test of time and proven the wisdom and decency of California voters. Despite dire warnings from tough on crime advocates, state wide crime statistics remain close to historic lows, particularly for violent crimes. Still, individual cases are paraded through the media to stoke the dying flames of retribution. However, it would appear that the “Willie Horton Syndrome” has played itself out as voters are no longer easily swayed by worn out fear mongering tactics.

California has also chosen to invest new money in rehabilitation programs. During the same time period that recidivism dropped nearly 23%, funding for rehabilitation has gone from $355 million to $482 million. But the real heroes in this struggle are the men and women of goodwill that volunteer for a multitude of NGO’s providing various educational, vocational and life skill services to prisoners returning to our communities. One such program is The Urban Ministry Institute that provides a course of study that is the equivalent of a Master’s Degree in Theology. Recidivism statistics for participants in this program are an astonishing 6.2%. Another is CRI-HELP, which is a residential drug treatment center, that Daniel went to after his release. He was able to live there for 30 days before transitioning to a state sponsored sober living home for six months. In his case it turned out to be a wise investment that he greatly appreciated. Almost three years later he is a thriving independent business man, taxpayer and prominent advocate for those very programs that likely saved him from re-offending.

There is hope for even the least of us, and we all benefit from recognizing our common humanity. Treating our fellow human beings humanely, no matter who they are is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. When Daniel paroled out, he had nothing but the clothes on his back, and an opportunity given to him by the taxpayers. Today he is an inspiration to others as he continues to pay it forward. With every person we save from prison we are not only being smart on crime, we are also touching countless lives for the good of us all.

Written by: Philip Remington Dunn – a practicing criminal defense attorney, social justice advocate, and author of the critically acclaimed book: When Darkness Reigns.

Sex and Violence Schizophrenia

***This article originally appeared on TheBlaze - Read It There***

You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. Matthew 23:27

Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Facebook would be hiring 3,000 new employees to be “content monitors” for removing acts of sexual violence, hate speech and child exploitation. Incredibly there are people who live stream actual rapes, murders, and suicides. It is immensely disturbing that our society produces individuals that not only will commit such acts, but are doing them at least in part, if not entirely, for the notoriety Facebook and other outlets make possible. What’s more disturbing is that these videos went viral. We have met the enemy and he is us.

The first symptoms of our societal schizophrenia occurred during the decades long legal debate on obscenity. The sexual exploitation of women has always been profitable, but with the advent of mass media the profits exploded. Obscenity laws were the only bump in the road for pornography without borders, but the Supreme Court ultimately concluded that virtually any act committed and filmed with “consenting adults” is protected by “Free Speech.” The “actors” may be getting paid for sex acts captured on film, but if there is no camera present, and there is a cash transfer, its prostitution. Now prostitution that’s bad, so it’s illegal. Young men and women who can’t make it as porn stars go to jail, porn stars get rich and famous.

Our media driven culture sends a constant barrage of soft core porn out, hoping to entice men, but even that’s changing, into paying for hard core porn. Since younger is better, we have pitches like “Barely Legal”, that go right up to the line, but if you cross over, its child porn and the viewer is a sexual predator. Law enforcement is out there on the web looking for these predators, using “rouses” to ferret out the offenders. When captured it’s a slam dunk felony prosecution requiring lifetime registration as a sex offender.

There is of course nothing new about glorifying violence in our culture, but for the advances in technology. Video games of modern warfare and feudal combat make it possible to realistically slaughter hundreds in a single sitting. Combine sexual conquest and blood lust in a horror film and its sure to do major box office. Is it a stretch to believe that the most prolific customers of this kind of “entertainment” are the ones most likely to act out their fantasies? Do a live stream of a random act of violence and you can be sure of achieving one’s coveted fifteen minutes of fame.

In 1996, when all of this was just really getting started, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act (COPA) designed to require that Internet providers keep “minors from receiving sexually explicit material on the Internet.” Challenged as a restriction on Free Speech the United States Supreme Court in Ashcroft vs. ACLU II in a 5-4 decision found this new law to be an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. Four of the five justices in the majority were Republican presidential appointees, including Clarence Thomas, who is not known for agreeing with the ACLU. So who was offended by this decision? Evangelical Christian “leaders” of course, like Jerry Falwell and Dr. Dobson. That was then, and this is now. Today these same “leaders” enthusiastically supported a presidential candidate who openly bragged about committing sexual batteries on women, and getting away with it due to his star power. No matter, Jerry Falwell Jr. just let his fellow evangelicals know that they “have found their dream president.” What makes him a “dream,” his politics of course. Character is not even secondary, its nonexistent.

Whether it be implicit, or complicit, this is nothing less than misogyny. It is now manifesting itself in the proliferation of the child sex trade. Young girls are kidnapped or sold into sex slavery while the Attorney General of the United States concentrates his law enforcement efforts on punishing cities that consider themselves to be sanctuaries or states that have legalized marijuana. The hypocrisy hoisted upon us by these so called leaders is staggering. Protection of the innocent, now even our children, is less important than partisan politics and our “Right” to exploit our most prurient desires at a staggering profit. We are left to rely upon private citizens of good conscience like Mark Zuckerberg to do what they can to stem the tide. The rest of society will just have to eat a couple more Prozac so they can feel better for awhile.

Written by: Philip Remington Dunn is a practicing criminal defense attorney, social justice advocate, and author of the critically acclaimed book: When Darkness Reigns.

The Gathering Storm

“Full of fight and devotion to some inner ideal.” -A friend’s description of Che Guevara.

Back when I was doing appointed cases a gang attempted murder/robbery case was dropped on my desk. Fernando, we’ll call him, was all of eighteen years old when he and a friend decided to leave the Colonia one night and engage in a crime spree like none other. Before the night was over they had done two armed robberies, shot a drug dealer six times, and a rival gang member once. Pursued by Sherriff’s Deputies they attempted to make a run for it before flipping their van. Inside was the money from the robberies and the two firearms used in the shootings.

The DDA (Deputy District Attorney) assigned to the case was none other than Bill Haney, the Golden Boy of the office at the time. I knew Bill would not miss a shred of evidence in slam dunking this prosecution. With gang allegations and the use of firearms, my calculation was Fernando was looking at something north of eighty to life, plus life, should he be convicted of everything at trial, which on these facts was a virtual certainty.

Bill was offering Fernando a deal of thirty-two to life, which meant that if he took the deal he might someday get out of prison, if he rejected it he most certainly would receive a sentence that would cause him to die on the inside. When I met with Fernando in a holding cell to tell him his options I was greatly distressed. Fernando, an innately intelligent young man and surprisingly empathetic, recognized my distress saying to me, “Mr. Dunn, its okay, I’ll take the deal, they know us in there, I’ll be alright.” You see, Fernando was Colonia, a true gang member, and once in prison he would join the Mexican Mafia, earn his stripes by assaulting other prisoners at the direction of the “Big Homies” and someday become a made member of a ferocious prison gang.

How is it that something as malevolent as a prison gang can inspire such devotion? Fernando at the age of eighteen had already given his life to the violent anarchy of the criminal street gang culture. He had simply graduated to the next level, in a community that “respected” such deeds as young man’s right of passage.

It is estimated there are 1.4 million gang members in 33,000 gangs throughout the United States of America. It is commonly believed that this is an urban nightmare, and it is, but it is no longer isolated to the poorest neighborhoods of our inner cities. For more than thirty years we have been taking young men off the streets and putting them into advanced gangster training schools known as prisons. Prison gangs generally breakdown along racial lines and failure to associate with and “work for” the gang means you are left alone to fend for yourself in the midst of the never ending racial warfare that largely rules our prison system.

This insidious phenomenon came to fruition in the City of Los Angeles in the 70’s and exploded in the Crack Cocaine epidemic of the 80’s. Gangsters sent to prison recruited new gangsters from all over the State of California, and then through the federal system the entire country, so that upon release newly trained gangsters have started new street gangs in communities in every state in the nation. Today, Los Angeles has seen a significant drop in gang related homicides, Chicago is now the eye of the storm with over seven hundred homicides in the last year. Even including the atrocity on September 11, 2001 we have lost more young men and women to gang violence than terror attacks and two foreign wars combined. The cost of keeping us safe from this foreign threat has also cost us more than a trillion dollars.

Los Angeles is once again leading the way in gangster evolution as its most sophisticated practitioners are now leaving their neighborhoods in pursuit of bigger gains. Rather than fight amongst themselves and sell poisonous drugs to their own community, gang members are “flocking” into suburban neighborhoods and committing sophisticated high end residential burglaries. Using their ill gotten gains to purchase luxury cars and wear designer clothing they raise little suspicion as they case expensive residences. Notable celebrities and athletes including Alanis Morisette, Yasiel Puig, and Derek Fisher have been amongst the victims. Lt. Todd Hankel commander of the West Valley Station of LAPD notes that for these crimes gang members will “cross territories to group up to have enough people to commit the burglaries,” and they have even created a “common fund for bail money.” A previously unheard of level of cooperation.

In the depressed areas from whence they come these gangsters are seen as modern day Robin Hoods as they bring new revenue into the neighborhood. In a time of economic divide between rich and poor of unprecedented proportions a new consciousness is arising amongst the disenfranchised, that is a redefining of the enemy. Rather than spend their life’s energy on maiming and killing each other, the fight is being taken outside the neighborhood to places where the gains are so much greater.

The brutal anarchy of gang infested neighborhoods has created an environment ripe for revolution. As we obsessively guard against the external threats to our security we continue to turn a blind eye to the domestic carnage of street gang violence. Those that live within these communities feel more disenfranchised than ever as new governmental edicts call for longer prison sentences and deportation of their friends, neighbors, and family members.  There is still time to save ourselves from these regressive policies of retribution that have brought us to where we are today. Reform our prison systems and prioritize the future of our youth most likely to fall prey to “gangsterism.”  Provide them with positive alternatives upon which to place their hope for a better future. In so doing we might just avoid the day in which a leader “full of fight and devotion to some inner ideal” springs from their midst.

Written by: Philip Remington Dunn is a practicing criminal defense attorney, social justice advocate, and author of the critically acclaimed book: When Darkness Reigns.