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Archive for December, 2007

Giving an Inch, but not a Mile

So, I’m late to the Liptak love this week. I blame it on…whatever. It’s time. Only 2 days late.

This week, Liptak joins the crack/cocaine sentencing fray with a column noting how little the Supreme Court’s big holdings in Kimbrough and Gall last week will actually mean. Liptak rightly points out that, without Congressional action, Gall/Kimbrough and the Sentencing Commission’s decision on retroactivity won’t mean a whole hell of a lot. The real problem — and the thing Congress can fix — is mandatory minimums.

Neither the [sentencing] commission nor judges can do anything about the mandatory minimum sentences that retain the same disparities. The sentences are required by a 1986 law, enacted when crack was new, terrifying and seemingly unstoppable. Only Congress can change it.

Paul G. Cassell, an authority on sentencing who was until recently a federal trial judge, said the focus on the sentencing guidelines was in some ways a distraction.

“The mandatory minimums are so draconian,” he said. “I’m a believer in a good guidelines system. And I would much rather trade a much tougher guidelines system and get rid of mandatory minimums.”

The mandatory minimum sentence for crimes involving five grams of crack — a little more than a sugar packet — remains five years. For powder, the five-year mandatory sentence does not kick in until 500 grams, or more than a pound.

Fifty grams of crack equals a guaranteed 10 years. It takes five kilograms of powder to mandate the same sentence. Five kilos is a lot of cocaine.

Indeed. While the Court’s recent decisions are a good step, and the retroactivity decision will help a lot of people get out of prison earlier than they would otherwise (but still later than they should have), the only permanent and full fix would be to repeal the mandatory minimums.

Of course, this leaves some judges (including 9th Circuit Chief Judge Kozinski) uncomfortable.

The guidelines were a sort of relief, Judge Kozinski said. They established relatively narrow ranges and “presumably take into account all those factors I don’t feel competent to weigh: punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, harm to society, contrition — they’re all engineered into the machine; all I have to do is wind the key.”

It’s true that sentencing is a huge responsibility to place at the feet of a single person. But a judge seems to me to be better equipped than Congress; my sense is that it’s not a super idea for a political body to be deciding how to punish society’s “undesirables.”

If mandatory minimums were repealed, judges would no longer be able to blame Congress for making them impose harsh sentences. They would be fully responsible for the sentences they mete out.Their sentencing would be their own. To me, this seems like a positive development that could potentially lead to more lenient drug sentences and the imposition of harsh penalties only when really warranted (say, for a major drug trafficker not a low-level user or dealer).

But as Liptak notes, now that the Supreme Court has acted, even if only incrementally, it seems less and less likely that Congress will mobilize to implement the changes that could really make a difference.


Further Photographic Record of the Nuptials

[ 0 ] December 19, 2007 |

The Groom and the Best Man:

The Groom attempts to accelerate the cake cutting process:

More here, here, and here.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

[ 10 ] December 19, 2007 |

Although this is a great primary season for political junkies because of two closely contested primaries — made more interesting because it one party none of the candidates should logically be able to win — the one downside is the amount of silly discussion from the Tony Blankleys of the world about a brokered convention. Joyner is right: it’s not going to happen. You can’t keep losing and remain competitive in the modern primary process. Admittedly, nothing can top the wankery of claims that Hillary Clinton was going to win a brokered convention in ’04. But do remember how that Democratic race 1)seemed really close and interesting, and 2)was effectively over after New Hampshire. GOP ’08 won’t be settled that early but there’s not going to be a brokered convention.

Only Ten?

[ 0 ] December 19, 2007 |

Erik Loomis, like many of us, has been snubbed yet again by Jason Rantz, whose list of “America’s [Ten] Most Dangerous College Courses” is dangerously incomplete. Saith Erik:

I know I’m new and everything, but I hate America as much as these other professors (which is to say not at all). Certainly my “Hurricane Katrina in Historical Perspective” course this spring should be competitive. After all, I’m assigning a chapter from Michael Eric Dyson’s Come Hell or High Water, entitled “Does George W. Bush Care About Black People?” Of course, the answer is no. But hey, telling the truth means you hate America.

I, too, have little hope of making the list, even though I strive constantly to “teach courses that lie, manipulate facts, propagandize students, or express a dishonest and fact-deficient extremist view on the class topic,” and most of my lectures are carefully crafted to demonstrate “fascination with silly topics that offer little academic value to students.” Seriously — it’s like Rantz has been reading my course evaluations. Alas, I think my colleagues in New York and Kentucky are more likely to be included; Rob in particular would seem like an especially dangerous candidate, given his recent adoption of heterosexual matrimony to disguise his dangeous anti-militarism.

But in my own meager defense, it appears that the esteemed neoconservative blogger and Associate Professor of political science Donald Douglas has recently exposed me as a purveyor of “postmodern, radical multicultural blather” and an adherent to a “radical, class-analysis historical frame.” His dissection of my work was not quite as persuasive as Tigerhawk’s deconstruction of the LGM logo, but he makes a pretty good case that I’m at least as dangerous as anyone out there. If Mr. Rantz is interested, I have syllabi (1, 2, 3, 4) that would, I think, bear out Professor Douglas’ argument more completely.

I’m simply asking for a chance.

What Surge?

[ 1 ] December 19, 2007 |

This phenomenon was also evident in yesterday’s NYT article about McCain. One searches the article in vain for evidence that voters — as opposed the elite editorial writers with an extensive history of swooning for the Straight Talk Express — are showing more support for McCain. The same thing goes for talk about a Fred Thompson surge in Iowa; if it starts actually reaching voters, then let me know.

Today in Right-Wing Trolling

[ 9 ] December 19, 2007 |

Everyone who reads blogs knows that no discussion of contemporary GOP racism will take place without some idiot mentioning that Robert Byrd was a member of the Klan during the Roosevelt administration. To pre-empt this response. Yglesias makes the obvious point about why the Byrd analogy fails as a defense of Trent Lott’s praise of Strom Thurmond’s white supremacy and Gordon Smith’s defense of Lott: the analogy would only hold if someone not only attended a birthday party for Robert Byrd but specifically cited his membership in the Klan and his filibusterting the Civil Rights Act as things to be proud of. In response, some trollbot dutifully intones: “And yet you ignore former KKK member Robert Byrd.” My favorite Robert Byrd tu quoque ever!

In addition, this is a crucial bottom-line point: “Meanwhile, with regard to both Lott and now to Smith, it should be said that indifference to racism is, when taken to these levels, itself a form of racism. Nobody who took the interests or attitudes of black people seriously would be saying this stuff.” Yes, Oregon can do a great deal better than a Senator who thinks it’s horribly unfair to criticize someone for praising a single-issue white supremacist campaign and saying that its victory would have been good for the country in 2002.

Shallow Misogynist of the Day

[ 4 ] December 19, 2007 |


And The Thigh-Rubbing Begins

[ 18 ] December 19, 2007 |

Good question:

If Mickey Kaus wants to use Slate — a professional, well-regarded political “magazine” — to parrot the National Enquirer’s “story” on John Edwards, shouldn’t Slate fire him if this story turns out to be wrong? I mean, if a reporter from Kaus’s hated NYT ran with something like this, he or she would certainly be risking their career on it. Seems like what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Of course, if this were the standard, Kaus’s services would have ceased to be required many years ago.

Gordon Smith: Man of the Left

[ 15 ] December 19, 2007 |

IN the midst of lying about his own reaction at the time, here’s Gordon Smith in 2007 on Trent Lott in 2002 on Strom Thurmond in 1948:

I watched over international news as his words were misconstrued, words which we had heard him utter many times in his big warm-heartedness trying to make one of our colleagues, Strom Thurmond, feel good at 100 years old.

Strom Thurmond, if I recall my history properly, was a Southern Democrat at the time and thus advocated the massive imposition of the state to prevent blacks from swimming in public pools. By defending such this fascist monster, Gordon Smith reveals himself as a closeted man of The Left. Look, my post isn’t like Scott’s latest post, or Rob’s. It isn’t like any Bean or DJW post. This is a very serious, thoughtful — ok, ok, fine, I’ll stop.

Anyhoo. This bullshit about making Strom Thurmond happy has to end somewhere. If the point of Lott’s remarks was to make an old man feel good on his birthday, banana pudding and a sponge bath would have done the trick. Lott was, and remains, an egregious racist. He’d made identical remarks numerous times over his career, including at a campaign appearance for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Lott argued over the years that racial discrimination was not necessarily unconstitutional, and he actively supported neo-Confederate organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens — a group that descends directly from the segregationist White Citizens’ Councils of the 1950s. There was nothing innocent or naive about Lott’s remarks. He clearly meant them.

I suppose that Smith, at least, doesn’t have that to hang around his neck, since he clearly believes or means nothing that comes out of his mouth anyway.

The Man Under the Hood Speaks

As I’ve noted before, being an executioner is not necessarily considered the most respectable of professions (which is, I think, a sign of waning for support for capital punishment. So what if the numbers have yet to bear me out). Because of that, and because of fears of vengeance, it’s unusual for executioners to speak out. But not unheard of. ABC news is featuring an exclusive interview with Jerry Givens, the man who used to be the head executioner for the state of Virginia.

Givens has no formal medical training, but he gave lethal injections. He guessed on the amount of voltage necessary to electrocute condemned men. He prayed with the men before he executed them. And he now opposes the death penalty.

I’m wary of putting too much stock in the reformation arguments — the ones that say we should pay more attention to what Mr. Givens has to say because he used to perform executions and now thinks they’re bad. Take Norma McCorvey, for example. She was Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade. She now fights to ban abortion. Or, Dr. Giebink, a South Dakota Ob/Gyn who spent one year performing abortions and is now leading the charge to ban them (again) in South Dakota. Should their opinion mean more than that of a person who had an abortion and supports the right to abortion and always has? No. To me, the answer is easy. That said, Mr. Givens’s voice can be another part of the chorus of people calling for an end to the death penalty.

(via ACS)

Hitler: Man of the Left

[ 17 ] December 18, 2007 |

February 1, 1933:

All about us the warning signs of [the nation’s] collapse are apparent. Communism with its method of madness is making a powerful and insidious attack upon our dismayed and shattered nation. It seeks to poison and disrupt in order to hurl us into an epoch of chaos…. This negative, destroying spirit spared nothing of all that is highest and most valuable. Beginning with the family, it has undermined the very foundations of morality and faith and scoffs at culture and business, nation and Fatherland, justice and honor. Fourteen years of Marxism have ruined Germany; one year of bolshevism would destroy her. The richest and fairest territories of the world would be turned into a smoking heap of ruins. Even the sufferings of the last decade and a half could not be compared to the misery of a Europe in the heart of which the red flag of destruction had been hoisted. The thousands of wounded, the hundreds of dead which this inner strife has already cost Germany should be a warning of the storm which would come….

Once again, with feeling:

My book isn’t like Dinesh’s latest book. It isn’t like any Ann Coulter book. It isn’t what the Amazon description says or what the Economist claims it is. Or what Frank Rich imagines it is. It is a very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care.

Powers Don’t Have To Be Used

[ 19 ] December 18, 2007 |

There are a couple frustrating elements to Zev Chafets’s profile of Mike Huckabee. For example, he completely botches the discussion of the DuMond pardon, disappearing the lunatic anti-conspiracy angle that is what makes the pardon so problematic. But this is also odd:

Huckabee’s answer to his opponents on the fiscal right has been his Fair Tax proposal. The idea calls for abolishing the I.R.S. and all current federal taxes, including Social Security, Medicare and corporate and personal income taxes, and replacing them with an across-the-board 23 percent consumption tax.

Governor Huckabee promises that this plan would be ‘‘like waving a magic wand, releasing us from pain and unfairness.’’ Some reputable economists think the scheme is practicable. Many others regard it as fanciful. (For starters, it would require repealing the 16th Amendment to the Constitution.) In any case, the Fair Tax proposal is based on extremely complex projections.

First of all, we have the classic “opinions on shape of earth differ” formulation; I’d very much like to get the names of some of the “reputable economists” who think that a 30%+ national sales tax plan is “practicable.” And while this isn’t terribly important, the claim about the Sixteenth Amendment is bizarre. Here’s the amendment in its entirety:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Absolutely nothing in the amendment requires the federal government to raise revenues through an income tax; it merely gave Congress the option to do, overturning a Supreme Court decision that had held otherwise. Huckabee’s plan would be an unworkable catastrophe on several levels, but it would not violate the Constitution. And while it’s trivial in itself the fact that Chafets would make such an obvious mistake doesn’t give me much confidence that he’s in a position to credibly evaluate assessments of Huckabee’s tax plan.

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