Posts tagged ‘Eric Holder’

Mandatory Minimum Sentences are Bad Precisely Because Prosecutors Love Them

Apparently, hundreds of US prosecutors have written Eric Holder opposing his support for reduced mandatory minimum sentences.    Their letter to Holder illustrates exactly why these mandatory minimums need to be reduced:

As you know, mandatory minimum sentences are a critical tool in persuading defendants to cooperate, thereby enabling law enforcement to dismantle large drug organizations and violent gangs. Present law provides numerous opportunities for deserving defendants to avoid mandatory sentences through: cooperation in providing information about other criminals and criminal enterprises; plea bargaining, which resolves the vast majority of federal cases; the “Safety Valve,” which has allowed tens of thousands of defendants to receive lower sentences; and executive clemency, which President Obama recently employed.

The last of these is of course a joke, since Obama plays more rounds of golf in two weeks than he has commuted sentences.  But this does illustrate exactly why prosecutors all love mandatory minimums and why we should hate them.  Read what they are saying in this paragraph.  Basically it says that mandatory minimums take sentencing out of the hands of judges and juries and puts it in the hands of ... federal prosecutors.

The problem is that very high mandatory minimums raise the stakes so high that even the innocent are often forced to cut a deal.  People sometimes wonder how the innocent could ever plead guilty to something.  Well, think of it this way.  Can you stand on one foot for 10 seconds without losing your balance?  Are you sure?   Would you bet $100 on it?  You would?  OK, would you bet 20 years of your life on it?

How sure of something would you have to be to bet your life on it?  And no matter how innocent you are, can you ever be that sure that a jury will see it your way when the federal government is sending everything it has at you?

Mandatory minimum sentences raise the stakes of trusting the judicial process so high that few people can tolerate that much risk.  They cannot afford to risk going to a jury.  So with this threat in hand, prosecutors gain 1) a slave that will basically do or say whatever they demand and 2) total control of the outcome of cases that should be going to trial.

I was not aware Eric Holder had supported this change but despite having my issues in the past with Holder I have to give him Kudos.

Update:  Ken White at Popehat (writing about a different story) says, "As I often say here, the criminal justice system is full of people who believe that its purpose is to deliver convictions and any other result shows a malfunction."  By the way, read the Popehat article at the link, it will horrify you.

First Explanation in Writing As To Why USFS Is Closing Privately-Funded Parks

From our shutdown order:

Congress has not provided appropriations for fiscal year 2014.  Pursuant to applicable legal requirements in the Antideficiency Act and Attorney General opinions addressing agency operations in the absence of appropriations, the Forest Service is unable to administer federally-owned recreation facilities.  Consequently these facilities will be shut down and posted accordingly with signs provided, with gates locked where they exist, restrooms locked, and water systems shut down.   Visitors in occupied sites would be given 48 hours to vacate, with the area shut down as the last visitor leaves, not to exceed 48 hours.

In other words, we pay all the bills, run the parks in an independent manner, have no USFS people stationed in the parks, but we have to shut down because the Forest Service can no longer "administer" the facilities.  Huh?  What day-to-day administration is necessary.  Remember that the USFS itself did not think their presence was necessary, originally confirming on Tuesday that we would stay open as we had in all past shutdowns.

We often go weeks and months in these facilities without ever seeing a USFS manager.  The USFS considers it so important to have staff available to "administer" these facilities that none of their recreation personnel work on weekends or on holidays, by far and away the busiest and most difficult times in these facilities.

PS-  I see the part about the Attorney General.  Did Eric Holder decide to close us?  Doesn't he know that poor and minorities disproportionately use public vs. private recreation?  Isn't that a disparate impact issue in closing us?

Previewing the President's College Rankings

Today, President Obama sort-of kind-of acknowledged a problem with Federal college student lending:  Federal loans are doing nothing to improve the affordability of colleges, as colleges are just raising tuition in lockstep with increased lending, thus leaving students massively in debt for the same old degree.

His proposed solution is to somehow tie the availability of Federal funds to some type of government scoring system for colleges.  The probability that this will do anything to reign in student debt is exactly zero.  But it will potentially give the Feds another vehicle for control (similar to what Title IX has given them) of even the most mundane university policies.  Why not, for example, give high scores to universities with the restrictive and politically correct speech codes this Administration favors, thus effectively denying money to students of universities that don't have Eric Holder-sanctioned speech policies?

If you think I am exaggerating, look at the recent Washington Monthly college rankings as a prototype for the Obama scoring system.  In their system, colleges are ranked higher if they have a higher percentage of Peace Corps*** graduates, if more of their Federal work-study grant money is used for jobs at non-profits rather than for-profits**, and if their school reports more community service hours.  This latter points to another issue -- a number of schools rank really low on community service hours, effectively all tied with zero.  This is obviously a reporting issue.  The Obama plan just about guarantees that universities will start to game all these metrics -- does no one pay attention to the fraud that has been found in the law school rankings?

They also have a ranking of the schools providing the best value.  The good news, I suppose, is the school my son attends is #1.  The bad news is that my alma mater Princeton is not even on the list.  I found this odd, because while the authors explicitly laud Amherst's generous program that helps fund students through grants rather than loans, Princeton actually was one of a few schools that did this first (update:  Princeton was the first school to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of low income students, and since has eliminated loans altogether from all financial aid packages.  If you can get in, you can graduate debt-free).

It says this of Amherst:

 It chose to tap its sizable $1.6 billion endowment to provide tuition discounts so generous that the annual net cost to students with family incomes below $75,000 is only $843, less than a third of the sticker price of a year at the average community college. Another elite liberal arts college, Williams, also makes our list. But instructively, none of the other prestigious, well-endowed private colleges and universities in America—not Harvard or Yale, Swarthmore or Smith, none of them—can make that claim.

Actually, we don't know if that last sentence is true because the authors left Harvard and Yale off the list entirely.   My impression is that Princeton makes is very inexpensive for families making less than $75,000 as well, so I could not understand the claim -- perhaps even without debt the tuition charges to low-income families are still unreasonably high.  But we will never know, because apparently Princeton is not even on the list -- not because it does not direct a lot of its endowment to need-based scholarships, but because it has only 10% students on Pell grants, and the authors decided that you could not be on the list unless that number was at least 20% "to make sure they aren’t just catering to the affluent."  This just points to how quickly such a system gets politicized.  What does "catering to the affluent" have anything to do with bang for the buck?  If they really trust their methodology, they would have included these schools and if they are really just over-priced rich kids' playgrounds, that should have come through in the ranking.  Instead, the author's have explicitly invented an unrelated criteria to weed Ivy League schools out, a criteria more related to admissions requirements than to financial aid requirements and affordability and value (the ostensible bases for the rankings).

By the way, if you want to get a really good laugh, this is supposed to be a value or "bang for the buck" ranking, but they only rank the costs.  There is absolutely no ranking of "bang".  Bizarre.  It is as if any degree of any type from any institution is equally valuable.  Which, by the way, is part of the problem in the student loan bubble -- just this assumption.

 

** This is EXACTLY the kind of incentive that will help pay off those future college loans -- lets make sure to encourage every student to work in non-profits rather than for-profits jobs.

*** Why the Peace Corps?  Why not a myriad of other useful and productive occupations?  If you want to have a service metric, why is Peace Corps there and, say, Teach for America not?

You Can't Use Voluntary Action to Try to Stop Government Coersion

Or so says California's Gavin Newsom, in a great Reuters quote found by Zero Hedge:

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom says he wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate "threats" against local communities considering using eminent domain to seize and restructure poorly performing mortgages to benefit cash-strapped homeowners.

Newsom sent a letter on Monday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking federal prosecutors to investigate any attempts by Wall Street investors and government agencies to "boycott" California communities that are considering such moves.

"I am most disturbed by threats leveled by the mortgage industry and some in the federal government who have coercively urged local governments to reject consideration" of eminent domain," he wrote in a letter, a copy of which was provided to Reuters.

Newsom, a Democrat who was previously mayor of San Francisco, warned the influential Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in July to "cease making threats to the local officials of San Bernardino County" over the proposed plan to seize underwater mortgages from private investors.

Some towns in San Bernardino County, which is located east of Los Angeles, have set up a joint authority that is looking into the idea of using eminent domain to forcibly purchase distressed mortgages. Rather than evict homeowners through foreclosure, the public-private entity would offer residents new mortgages with reduced debts.

Newsom said in the letter on Monday that while he is not endorsing the use of eminent domain at this time, he wants communities in California to be able to "explore every option" for solving their mortgage burdens "without fear of illegal reprisal by the mortgage industry or federal government agencies."

This quote is so rich with irony that it is just delicious.   Certainly ceasing to do business in a community that threatens to steal all your property strikes me as a perfectly reasonable, sane response.   Calling such a response an actionable threat requiring Federal investigation just demonstrates how little respect California officials, in particular, have for private activity and individual rights.

The third paragraph might be worth an essay all by itself, classifying a voluntary private boycott as illegally coercive while treating use of eminent domain, intended for things like road building, to seize private mortgages as so sensible that it should be sheltered from any public criticism.

When Allies Are Worse Than Your Enemies

Back in college, I burned a lot hotter on a variety of political issues.  I would argue with about anyone, and often did.  The dinner table was almost always the venue for some political fight.  During those arguments, I quickly discovered something -- people nominally on my side of the argument were sometimes my biggest problem.  I remember any number of times telling some person to shut up and let me argue the point.  People email me all the time asking me to ban some idiot commenter trolling in opposition to all my posts.  I tell them I am much more likely to ban an idiot commenter nominally supporting my point than the other way around.

Which brings me to Eric Holder:

"I've just expressed concerns on the basis of what I've heard about the law. But I'm not in a position to say at this point, not having read the law, not having had the chance to interact with people are doing the review, exactly what my position is," Mr. Holder told the House Judiciary Committee.

This weekend Mr. Holder told NBC's "Meet the Press" program that the Arizona law "has the possibility of leading to racial profiling." He had earlier called the law's passage "unfortunate," and questioned whether the law was unconstitutional because it tried to assume powers that may be reserved for the federal government.

Rep. Ted Poe, who had questioned Mr. Holder about the law, wondered how he could have those opinions if he hadn't yet read the legislation.

"It's hard for me to understand how you would have concerns about something being unconstitutional if you haven't even read the law," the Texas Republican told the attorney general.

I have never been totally comfortable with the Democratic support of immigration anyway.  The party, particularly under this administration, seems to take the position that the government can be as authoritarian as it likes, as long as it does not discriminate racially in doing so.  This post hypothesizes that the Democrats' support for immigration is political rather than principled, a desire to create the next new underclass that can be exploited for political points, and I can't really disagree based on past history.

Readers know I support open immigration.  I see immigration restrictions as government licensing of who can and can't work (and who can and can't be hired) -- an intrusion Conservatives would likely reject in any other context.  Since I am opposed to immigration limits, I am opposed to giving government extra powers in the name of enforcement, in the same way I oppose, say, asset seizure laws originally aimed at enforcement of drug prohibition.

I acknowledged that the law is less onerous in its amended form (because, you see, I actually read the whole thing, here and here for example), but what the law's supporters fail to deal with in claiming the letter of the law will not be enforced in a racist manner is how even existing law is being enforced here in Phoenix by Joe Arpaio in a racist manner.  When Joe goes into a business, and handcuffs all the people with brown skin, releasing them only when a relative or friend races to the police station with a birth certificate, it is an ugly, un-American scene (here or here or here).  I would take supporters of the bill more at their word as to how the law will actually be used in practice if they were not the same people actively cheer-leading Joe Arpaio at every turn.