Recently in Politics Category

Congress, by far the least trusted of public institutions, is about to test how oblivious it can be to amply justified public alarm.

A new Washington Post story is grim, but might conceivably get our legislators to wake up:

Crime has become the biggest problem in Washington, D.C. residents say, far surpassing concerns about the economy and the quality of public schools for the first time in almost a decade, according to a new Washington Post poll.

After a year in which homicides have spiked, fewer D.C. residents said their neighborhood is safe, the poll found. Following high-profile attacks that have rattled neighborhoods from Chevy Chase in upper Northwest to Anacostia in Southeast, 1 in 4 respondents said they feel "not too" or "not at all" safe in their communities, up from less than 1 in 5 in 2011. More than 1 in 3 said crime is the biggest problem facing the city, up from 12 percent four years ago.

The concern comes as the nation's cities have seen homicide rates reverse after more than two decades of steady declines.

This same thing is happening from coast to coast.  For the first time in a generation, crime is spiking.  So here's the bottom line question:  Is this the moment Congress will choose to go easier on those  --  largely drug pushers  --  doing the spiking?  Is Congress really that obtuse?  That uncaring?  That hoodwinked or bullied by billionaire money pushing the Obama/Sharpton "America-is-too-mean" agenda?

As Congress considers the SRCA, we may soon find out.

Briefing at the Senate on Sentencing "Reform"

| No Comments
A week ago, at a Federalist Society function at the Senate Visitors Center, I had the opportunity to brief the audience  --  including, I think, quite a number of Senators' staffers  --  on the proposed sentencing "reform" bill that was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The briefing took the form of a debate, with three panelists favoring the bill and three opposed.  The debate was not recorded, so unfortunately I cannot reproduce it here.

I did, however, write out my opening statement, which I set forth below.  One point I made near the end, which I want to emphasize here, is that those of my Republican friends who think passing this bill will be politically advantageous are making a big mistake.

In Washington, DC, and around the country, we are in the midst of a murder spree and a heroin epidemic of the kind we have not seen in decades.  Republicans control both the House and Senate, and if they pass a bill taking it easier on federal felons  -- which is, for practical purposes, all this bill is about  --  they should, and they will, pay the price at the polls.

Once again, Obama has fleeced many members of what is sometimes called the Stupid Party into carrying water for his pro-criminal agenda.  If Republicans persist in this foolhardy enterprise, they will have done more than usual to earn the name.
Heather Haddon has this article in the WSJ with the above headline.  The subhead is "New Hampshire poll participants put it above jobs and economy as something candidates should address."

I am pleased to see this important issue getting attention.  However, there is a big difference between saying this is something candidates must address and coming to a consensus on how to address it.  One thing we don't need is vague, boundless faith in "treatment" without an awareness of how difficult it is to keep addicts in treatment.
It wasn't too much of a surprise to see persons of sense prevail in Ohio.  The Buckeye State is, after all, the essence of middle America.  But here is some more good election news from a place that does not give us much.  Vivian Ho and Michael Cabanatuan report for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Former Chief Deputy Sheriff Vicki Hennessy won her bid Tuesday to unseat Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who cast himself as an innovator in the hidebound law-enforcement community but was dragged down by a series of personal and professional controversies.

In the race to lead the agency whose primary role is overseeing San Francisco's jails, Hennessy ran a low-key campaign that drew support from the deputies' union and nearly every politician at City Hall. She called herself an effective manager. Mirkarimi claimed she was too much of an insider to push through needed reforms.
*                                  *                               *
[Mayor Ed] Lee was quick to blame poor leadership for the department mishaps to follow, including the release of a man from jail who could have been deported but is now charged with fatally shooting 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle on an Embarcadero pier in July. The case sparked a national immigration debate.

Big Pot Crashes and Burns in Ohio

| No Comments
Ohio's obnoxious marijuana legalization initiative went down to a crushing defeat yesterday, Christopher Ingraham reports in the WaPo.

Voters rejected the measure with 64 percent opposed and only 36 percent in favor. It was defeated in every single one of Ohio's 88 counties, some of which voted against the bill by huge margins, according to preliminary numbers: 55 percentage points in Holmes County. 60 in Mercer. 65 in Putnam.

The bill was likely doomed to fail from the get-go for a variety of reasons. It was an off-off election year, where voters are older and more conservative. Ohio has never exactly been a bastion of marijuana culture. And most crucially, the bill would have created a state-mandated oligopoly on the production of marijuana, with a handful of the measure's wealthy backers as the primary beneficiaries.
*                                     *                                   *
Cliff Kincaid has this post at Accuracy in Media:

Before Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) electrified conservatives with his denunciation of liberal media bias at the GOP presidential debate last week, he took a little-noticed position on a major crime bill before the Senate that set him apart from the politically powerful Koch brothers. Taking the side of law-and-order conservatives on an issue that could emerge as a major focus of the 2016 presidential campaign, Cruz came out against the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) on the grounds that the legislation, which will retroactively reduce the sentences of thousands of federal prison inmates, could lead to the release of violent criminals, some convicted of using weapons while engaged in other crimes. He said the Senate bill would release "illegal aliens with criminal convictions" when a "major crime wave" is already sweeping the nation.

In an extraordinary development, the Koch brothers decided to publicly go after Cruz. Echoing the views of the libertarian billionaires, whose network of conservative advocacy groups was planning to spend $889 million on the 2016 campaign, Mark Holden, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of Koch Industries, Inc., issued a statement denouncing the Texas senator by name. He said, "We are disappointed that some members, including Senator Cruz, who have supported the need for reform and been strong supporters of the Bill of Rights, did not support this bill."
Strong supporters of the Bill of Rights?  Since when does supporting the Bill of Rights require supporting badly written, ill-conceived legislation that goes much too far in bringing back the evils that the 1984 sentencing reform was enacted to correct?  See CJLF's analysis of S. 2123.

So Much for the FBI's Independence

| No Comments
As Kent and I have noted, FBI Director Jim Comey has said that a "chill wind" of acerbic and visceral criticism of the police has very likely been a factor in less aggressive police work, coincident (to say the least) with a spike in murder and other violent crime over the last several months.

The White House, which is indebted up to its ears to Al Sharpton's and similar liberal get-out-the-vote organizations, was having none of it.  Mr. Comey is not toeing the party line. This will not do. Thus, as the New York Times reports, in a little noticed item (emphasis added):

White House officials were irritated as they saw it as an effort to undermine their criminal justice reform efforts. They later said publicly that there was no evidence to back up Mr. Comey's claim about the rise in violence. On Thursday, the president met with Mr. Comey in the Oval Office to discuss his views. The White House declined to describe the conversation.

Just as liberals used to believe in withholding judgment until due process had had its chance (compare, e.g., their presumptive conviction-in-the-press of Officer Darren Wilson for the supposed racist murder of Michael Brown), they also used to believe that the White House should keep hands off the FBI, lest political influence seep into areas where it has no place  --  and, indeed, where the whiff of tyranny is not far behind (compare, e.g., anything written about Richard Nixon).

Yes, well, that was then.

Laura Meckler reports in the WSJ:

Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she doesn't support abolishing the death penalty but would like to see it used more judiciously, another point of contrast with the most liberal members of her party and with her nearest rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
*                            *                         *
"We have a lot of evidence now that the death penalty has been too frequently applied and very unfortunately, often times in a discriminatory way," she said during a question-and-answer session at a "Politics and Eggs" luncheon at St. Anselm College on Wednesday. She said she welcomed efforts by many states to revisit their policies.

"I do not favor abolishing it, however, because I think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve consideration of the death penalty, but I'd like to see those be very limited and rare," she said.
What evidence is there that it "has been too frequently applied"?  On the contrary, it is applied to only a tiny fraction of intentional criminal homicides.  All you have to do is read the facts of capital cases, like the Correll case discussed in my previous post, to know these sentences are thoroughly deserved and entirely just in nearly all cases.

The old discrimination claim that black defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death has been refuted time after time for decades now, even by the opponents' own studies.  The claim that the death penalty is less likely to be imposed if the victim is black would, if valid, be a claim that the death penalty is not imposed often enough.  But the claim is not valid, as explained in my OSJCL article.

Given the state of the Democratic Party today, Mrs. Clinton is under fire for not going far enough in the soft-on-crime direction.

Her position is, I suspect, calibrated for maximum political gain.  She believes, with justification, that the nomination is pretty much in the bag, and she is looking to the general election.

Democrats Beware Too, if Republicans Wake Up

| No Comments
In my last post, I warned Republicans to think twice before they use their power in Congress to go soft on crime by, among other things, giving lighter sentences and early release to thousands of heroin and meth traffickers.  As Americans rightly become more concerned about the surging crime they see around them, there will be a price to be paid if Congress gives a naive response. The bill will come due at the polls in a little less than 13 months.

The corollary is that the crime wave presents a hazard to Democrats too, and an opportunity for Republicans if they wake up in time and show the public that they will preserve the Reagan-era sobriety and steadfastness that has helped reduce crime so much.

As Ed Rogers points out in the Washington Post:

FBI Director James Comey has made two recent speeches where he warns us there is an emerging trend of police officers standing down or demonstrating reluctance to engage criminals because they are worried about sparking a situation similar to the riots in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. Comey's comments do not fit the Obama administration's narrative on crime, and drew criticism from civil rights activists, law enforcement unions and the White House. Well, what do these groups have in common?  That's easy -- they're almost all Democrats, and they may be going down a slippery slope of promoting policies that have the effect of being pro-crime and anti-gun at the same time. Calling Democrats "pro-crime" may sound a tad harsh, but if you are for inhibiting police activity, causing fewer arrests and making mass releases from prison, what else would you call it? The politics of this issue are not fully formed, but if the Democrats don't watch it, they run the risk of being the "pro-crime" party in the United States. The FBI director's observations serve as another reminder that crime is growing as an important issue in the 2016 elections.

Republicans like Jeff Sessions, David Perdue and (former Smarter Sentencing Act fan) Ted Cruz have it figured out.  If the Democrats want to hold hands with drug dealers in the run-up to the 2016 elections, so be it.  Such a decision is certain to be wrong for the country and perverse for their Party  --  and one in which Republicans should very visibly refuse to join.
Republicans control Congress and will properly be held to account for the legislation it adopts.  If the Republican Party wants to buy responsibility for going softer on crime in the midst of a violent crime wave, that is its choice to make. But it should do so with its eyes open.

Gallup now tells us what we could have been expecting, what with the surge in murder over (at least) the last six months.  Its report is aptly titled, "More Americans Say Crime Is Rising in U.S."

Government data on actual crime rates in 2015 will not be released until next year, so it is not possible to know whether Americans' perceptions of rising crime this year reflect what is currently happening in the U.S. In many large cities across the country, violent crime rates have spiked in 2015, suggesting that national crime figures could be on the rise. News reports of this increased violence may account for the uptick in perceived violence in the latest poll.

If Republicans get hectored, bullrushed or hoodwinked into adopting reduced sentences for felons, they will have earned  --  and they will get  --  the fate of other groups who allow themselves to be hectored, bullrushed or hoodwinked.  Tragically, however, it will not be just foolhardy Republicans who pay the price.  The most fearsome price will be paid by the hundreds or thousands of additional crime victims.
When the Smarter Sentencing Act was up last year, one of its major backers  --  and one constantly touted by Democrats and pro-criminal groups  --  was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.  Cruz, known as very conservative, occasionally acerbic and brilliant, thought that we had gone too far with incarceration.  But he has now become a key actor opposing a watered-down version of the SSA.  

As Sen. Cruz was quoted as saying in the article linked in my last post:

Speaking at the Judiciary meeting, Cruz said more than 7,000 prisoners could be released.

"None of us know what those 7,082 prisoners did, none of us know what the underlying conduct was that the prosecutors may have plea-bargained down under the existing sentencing laws, and that they may not have entered that plea bargain if they had known that the sentencing laws would be lessened," Cruz said. "When we're seeing violent crime spiking in our cities across the country, I think it would be a serious mistake for the Senate to pass legislation providing for 7,082 convicted criminals potentially to be released early."

Bingo.  Not only is the country being asked to buy a pig in a poke, it's being asked to plunk down the money not knowing how many pigs are in there and specifically how ravenous they are.

One way or the other, Sen. Cruz's defection from the sentencing reductions side is a significant and telling victory for those who want to preserve the gains against crime we've achieved.

Is the Sentencing Reductions Bill "Popular"?

| No Comments
Roll Call has this headline today:  "Popular Criminal Justice Bill Poses Political Risk."

The headline is partly correct for reasons the story mostly fairly reports:  There is to say the least no guarantee that the thousands of criminals who will be released early under this bill will not create more harm when they get out. When this happens, the "risk" is that electorate might want some accountability from Congress. (Accountability is usually touted by liberals as a good thing, but not so much in this context.  Here, it has turned into the return of Willie Hortonism, as the story makes clear).

But the first word in the story's headline is questionable at best.  Who says this bill is "popular?"  And with whom is it popular?

I'm sure it's popular with the serious criminals now serving sentences who will benefit from it.  I'm sure it's popular with George Soros and others on the far Left.  But is it popular with the American people?

Why don't we do a fair poll to find out?  The question would read:  "Congress is considering a bill that would increase the discretion of sentencing judges and lower sentences for some kinds of drug dealers, saving prison space.  The bill would also result in the early release of thousands of drug dealers previously convicted, hundreds for heroin and methamphetamine.  Do you favor or oppose such a bill?"

Does anyone here wonder why the sponsors of this bill have not commissioned such a poll?  Right you are!
At the Senate hearing on the Grassley-Durbin sentencing reductions bill a week ago, Paul Mirengoff picked up this quite revealing moment:

[T]here was an interesting exchange regarding where James Comey, the head of the FBI, stands on this bill. During her testimony, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates seemed a little cagey on this subject. So Al Franken asked her flat out where Comey stands (it took him two shots to ask this coherently -- Yates had to ask him for clarification after his first attempt).

Yates answered that Comey supports "the goals of sentencing reform."

Well, yes, I too support the "goals of sentencing reform," if those "goals" could be said  --  as they could  --  to bring about (1) a better world, (2) a peaceful life for everyone, and (3) the advancement of wonderfulness.  

It's not difficult to translate what Ms. Yates was actually saying.  If Comey truly backed this legislation or anything like it, she would have reported his position as, "I am happy to tell you that Jim Comey enthusiastically supports this bill, with at most quite minor modifications."

Her much different answer said a lot, however.  My guess, after a few years as a political appointee at DOJ and a longtime Beltway observer, is that the actual answer is, "Comey can't stand this bill because it's dangerous and it guts much of what he worked successfully to achieve as an AUSA, but he's keeping it zipped out of loyalty and political prudence."

Schizophrenia on Gun Control

| 1 Comment
In the wake of the Oregon mass shooting, President Obama proposed new restrictions on firearms that presumptively law-abiding people want to buy.  This has been his reaction before, as the Washington Post notes. At the same time, he is, by his support for the SRCA of 2014 (the Senate's sentencing reform bill), proposing to be more lenient on gun violence when undertaken by felons (typically but not always drug dealers). Specifically, the President and other SRCA backers want dramatically to scale back the penalties of 18 USC 924(c), which at present mandates harsh punishment for carrying or using a gun in the commission of a federal felony,

Question:  Why, when the President, unfortunately with good reason, views "gun violence" as one of the nation's most serious problems, does he want to take it easier on convicted criminals who carry and/or use guns while at "work"?

The 924(c) penalties are indeed harsh, and they are mandatory. This is for a reason. The mix of guns and drugs is probably the most lethal combination known to law enforcement. The shocking murder spike of the mid-1980's, coinciding with the crack wars, knocked us out of our stupor.  Partly because, over the last 25 years, we have taken gun-totting traffickers off the street for a very long time, we have  --  guess what!  --  much safer streets. There are now 10,000 fewer murders per year in this country than there were when 924(c) punishments kicked in full time.

And what does this means to our Most Avid Gun Control President?  Time to retreat to the softer sentencing of our more gun-violent past. 

Yikes.  I guess liberals were for gun control before they were against it.

Why the Rush?

| No Comments
I did not attend today's hearing on the Senate's sentencing reform legislation because I suspected it would be going through the motions.  This post by my friend (and co-author) Paul Mirengoff confirms my suspicions.

The question about this bill, said by its authors to be "the most significant criminal justice reform legislation in a generation," is  -- why the rush?  As Paul notes:

[T]he Committee saw fit to hold only three hours of hearings on [the bill]...,Moreover, the hearings took place on the Monday after a long recess, a nearly unprecedented move by the committee that minimized the number of Senators who were able to attend. By my count, only 11 Senators participated. The Committee has 19 members.

I suspect the rush is for two reasons.  First, the (essential) Republican sponsors are backing this bill holding their noses, for reasons Chairman Grassley himself cogently explained when he was on the other side of this issue less than a year ago.  Second, as Prof. Doug Berman has noted (in quite different language from the words I am using), as the streets of Washington, DC, and other major cities become bloodier and bloodier with escalating crime, "...the window for any meaningful federal sentencing reforms emerging from Congress is already starting to close."

No kidding.

Monthly Archives