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A Chance for Obama to Speak Up for Justice

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President Obama made some remarks about the Charleston church massacre. They were notable both for what they included and what they omitted.

What they included, as reported by the Washington Post, was this:

 "We don't have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun," he continued. "Now is the time for mourning and for healing, but let's be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.  It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

Is any of that true?

Rand Paul, We Hardly Knew Ye

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Sen. Rand Paul is running for the Republican nomination for President, but sounds to me more like Bernie Sanders or Jesse Jackson.  Whenever he speaks about crime and punishment, he seems to view the criminal as the victim and the law as the oppressor.  He would eliminate all federal mandatory minimum sentencing  -- sponsoring a bill so radically pro-criminal that its co-sponsor, then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy, refused to bring it up in his own Committee. Apparently, even liberal Democrats wouldn't touch it.

If Sen. Paul supports the death penalty, I've been unable to find out about it.  His position seems to be that juries are insufficiently trustworthy, a stance virtually always associated with abolitionism. His views on what needs to be done to combat terrorism are also out of the mainstream.  He wants to block, not merely the Patriot Act's provision for bulk data collection, but the entire Act.  

Not for nothing does the Real Clear Politics poll average have him running in single digits, behind  Bush, Walker, Rubio, Huckabee and Carson. 

Two very different Washington Post columnists, Dana Milbank and Jennifer Rubin, recently explained why Paul is all but finished as a candidate.  For those interested, their pieces are here and here.

Mass Incarceration, or Not Enough?

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Academia, the defense bar, and others in the pro-crime lobby ceaselessly and loudly tell us that the amount of incarceration in this country is too high.  They show much less interest in talking about the amount of crime.  When they can be dragooned to say something about it, it's generally to mumble that, yes, well, crime has been falling, and yes, that's kind of a good thing, but (ready now?) taking people who commit crime off the street has almost nothing to do with the fact that we have less crime.

Yes, really, they say that

This day, and for the past several weeks, Baltimore has been teaching the opposite lesson, and the deadly tuition for it is being paid by the very people liberals claim to want to help.  As Rich Lowry writes in Politico:

The Baltimore Sun ran a headline (since changed) that had the air of a conundrum, although it isn't very puzzling, "With arrests down in Baltimore, mayor 'examining' increase in killings." According to the paper, arrests have dropped by about half in May. The predictable result is that violent crime is spiking.

The implication is clear: More people need to be arrested in Baltimore, not fewer. And more need to be jailed. If black lives truly matter, Baltimore needs more and better policing and incarceration to impose order on communities where a lawless few spread mayhem and death.


Answer:  You get more murder.

Not that this should, or does, surprise anyone.  The campaign to portray the police as a Nazi (and largely racist) occupying army has been going great guns since its most recent, if later debunked, inception with the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" hoax in Ferguson, Mo.

The original narrative there was that a crypto-fascist white cop, Darren Wilson, rousted an innocent, if not scholarly (remember the picture with the cap and gown?) black teenager, Michael Brown.  Even though Brown hadn't done anything (except, ummm, rob a store a few minutes earlier), and peacefully complied with Wilson's snarling demands to surrender (hence the "Hands Up" part), Wilson coldly shot him dead. Indeed, one of the hyped stories was that Wilson, after disabling Brown with the first few shots, stood over him pupping round after round into his back.

That this was a pack of lies didn't matter then and  --  tellingly  -- hasn't mattered since.  The new "Civil Rights Movement" was born.  What "civil right" inheres in attempting to deny policemen the chance to do what any of us in that situation would have done, and what Darren Wilson did  --  use force in self-defense  -- remains unclear, at least to me.  I do, however, understand the glittering cultural and political uses of the narrative, its mendacity to one side.

One such use is to bring attention to what has sometimes been abusive police behavior, and that is all to the good.  But there's something bigger, more sinister, and much quieter (so far as the mainstream media would tell you) right behind it.

Judge Alcee Hastings, Living in Sackcloth

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In his ten years (1979-1989) as a federal District Judge, Alcee Hastings did "sentencing reform" the old-fashioned way:  He accepted bribes for lower sentences. This is the story in a nutshell:

In 1981, Hastings was charged with accepting a $150,000 bribe in exchange for a lenient sentence and a return of seized assets for 21 counts of racketeering by Frank and Thomas Romano, and of perjury in his testimony about the case. In 1983, he was acquitted by a jury after his alleged co-conspirator, William Borders, refused to testify in court (resulting in a jail sentence for Borders).

In 1988, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives took up the case, and Hastings was impeached for bribery and perjury by a vote of 413-3. He was then convicted in 1989 by the United States Senate (also controlled by the Democrats), becoming the sixth federal judge in the history of the United States to be removed from office by the Senate.

But Judge Hastings is a superb politician, and got himself elected to Congress in 1992.  He's still there  --  but as he tells us, just getting by.

I noted here that Sen. Lindsey Graham has proposed establishing a National Criminal Justice Commission.  I'm skeptical of the idea, because such commissions generally either do nothing or make mischief.  When it's the latter, it's because their membership turns out to be selected "experts"  --  experts, that is, as defined by inside-the-Beltway think tanks, academia and politicians with this or that constituency to please.  

Does anyone think that such a Commission would not have a heavy dose  -- maybe 100%  -- of Obama appointees?  Will a Commission consisting of Eric Holder clones (or Holder himself, for all I know) make sound recommendations? Or ones that will compound the problems we already have?

Still, the idea of a Commission is tempting for people who teach law to contemplate, so I came up with some agenda items.  I confess I have my doubts that they are what the Administration has in mind.   
 
 

European Political Developments

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Here are a few notes from across the pond.

Guilty Plea in NJ Bridge Case

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Jill Colvin and Jost Cornfield report for AP:

A former loyalist to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrived at court Friday to plead guilty to charges related to creating a traffic jam near the George Washington Bridge for political purposes, a person with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press.

The person wasn't authorized to release the information before the hearing and spoke on condition of anonymity.

David Wildstein was an official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the time of the tie-ups. It's not clear what charge or charges Wildstein will plead to. He will be the first person to admit to committing a crime in causing the series of politically motivated traffic jams in 2013.

Federal prosecutors announced an 11 a.m. court hearing in Newark and an early afternoon news conference. The office, which Christie led before stepping down in 2008 to run for governor, has not said who will appear in court and didn't release any other details on the investigation.

So we don't even know what crime was charged here, but this is one of the most despicable abuses of government power in a long time in the sheer wanton cruelty of it.  To punish the people of a city who must commute into New York because of a political disagreement with the leaders of the city (who work in town and don't commute) is mind-bogglingly evil.

Extending the presumption of innocence, I will assume for now that Gov. Christie knew nothing of this particular operation.  Even so, a leader establishes a tone and a culture for his office.  He does that through his own words and actions and through his selection of the people to staff the office.  This office had a culture where someone could do something so cynically, despicably cruel, and nobody goes running to the boss to say, "Oh my God, do you know what this jackass is doing?!"  Is that the kind of office culture we want in the West Wing?

Update:

Time reports a major policy address given by Hillary Clinton.  Its article starts:

Hillary Clinton called on Wednesday for broad criminal justice reform and renewed trust between police officers and communities, reflecting the former first lady's evolution from supporting the policies instituted by her husband two decades ago...

In part of her speech, Ms. Clinton said (emphasis added):

It's a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world's total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.

I will save for a later post any discussion of the mind-bending density of the "despite" remark. For now, I want to focus on this line in the Time piece:

Clinton planned Wednesday's speech in November, months before she announced her candidacy, according to former New York Mayor David Dinkins, who introduced her.

That would be the same David Dinkins whose stewardship became a catchword for incompetence principally because of the sky-high amount of crime during his administration.  It took Dinkins only a single year in office to "achieve" the highest number of murders in one year, 2245, ever recorded in New York City. Last year, after two decades of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, the number was 328.

Loretta Lynch Confirmed

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The vote was not that close, 56-43.  The Wall Street Journal has the story.

AG Nominee Cleared for Vote

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Kristina Peterson and Louise Radnofsky report in the WSJ:

Senate leaders on Tuesday resolved a partisan dispute over abortion funding that had snarled a bill aimed at curbing human trafficking for more than a month and prevented the chamber from voting on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said that the Senate would begin to consider Ms. Lynch's nomination "hopefully in the next day or so." He has said that the Senate wouldn't vote on Ms. Lynch, nominated by Mr. Obama last year, until the dispute over the trafficking bill had been resolved.

Bring Up, and Vote Down, an Amended JSVA

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The Justice Safety Valve Act, which would effectively nullify mandatory minimum sentencing in federal law, was so radical that its co-sponsor, Sen. Pat Leahy, would not bring it up last year in his own Committee.  In this, Sen. Leahy showed his typical canny feel for the lay of the land.  Committee chairmen tend not to bring up bills they know are so ideologically lopsided they'll go down in flames. 

Still, Sen. Leahy and Sen. Rand "no vaccinations" Paul have co-sponsored the same bill this year.  If Sen. Leahy were still the Chairman, I have no reason to believe he'd be any more willing to advance it than he was in the past.

Still, there could be value in having a vote on the bill in the SJC  --  having a vote, that is, if the bill were amended to give the public a more transparent look at what it's actually designed to do.
There are reasons to vote for, and reasons to vote against, the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General.  Kent and I have discussed the question in several places.  

Kent has noted that Ms. Lynch, while not an ideal candidate from the perspective of those favoring resolute enforcement of criminal law, is about the best we can expect from this Administration.  I have expressed more than a little concern about Ms. Lynch's complicity is what she could not help knowing was perverse, and  -- much more troubling  --  unethical behavior by Judge John Gleeson.  On the other hand, I am favorably impressed with her refusal to adopt the liberal line on pot.

The vote on her nomination has not yet been taken in the Senate.  For whatever one might make of the procedural maneuvers involved, today we saw the announcement of an unusual but some might say compelling reason to delay the vote for weeks. Maybe months.

The Congress-following paper The Hill has the story.
Sentencing "reform" advocates are endlessly frustrated that they make so little headway in Congress.  Unwilling to consider the possibility that their problem is that going softer on heroin and meth dealers just isn't an idea the majority of lawmakers (or the public) supports, a Boogeyman  --  a single, obdurate roadblock  -- must be found.

Today's Boogeyman (and a popular choice for the title) is Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Hence this from a leading sentencing "reform" site:

[E]ven if the vast majority of Senators strongly support significant reforms to federal mandatory minimum sentencing provisions or to federal marijuana provisions, Senator Grassley can ensure-- at least until 2017, and perhaps after that if the GOP retains control of the Senate -- that federal reform bills do not even get a committee hearing, let alone a committee vote.   Indeed, even if the vast majority of 300 million Americans, and even if the vast majority of the 718,215 Iowans who voted for Senator Grassley in 2010, would strongly favor a reform bill, the bill is likely DOA if Senator Grassley himself is not keen on the bill's particulars. Frustratingly, that is how our democracy now functions.

Ah, yes, the frustration of democracy.  Only there's this little catch........

Rand Paul, Dancin' and Prancin'

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Sen. Rand Paul has now "clarified" his remarks yesterday, in which he said (emphasis added), "I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed." 

Now we hear this, from Byron York in the Washington Examiner

The Paul campaign says the senator's words were misunderstood. "Sen. Paul was referring to nonviolent crimes," campaign spokeswoman Eleanor May told me via email, adding that the passage in question was "a reference to his criminal justice reforms."

Where to start?

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