Thursday, March 21, 2013

Last Call

Not sure how I feel about this new bill from Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a bill Wednesday designed to give relief to the nation's bloated prison system by offering judges leeway to consider sentences below the mandatory minimum for all federal crimes.

The bill, named the Justice Safety Valve Act, would expand a current provision in sentencing law, authorizing judges to hand down less harsh sentences if they determine doing so would not jeopardize public safety. Under current law, only certain nonviolent, low-level, first-time drug offenses are subject to sentencing below the federal mandatory minimum.

On the one hand, the travesty of mandatory minimum sentencing is absolutely one of the major reasons the US is the nation with the most people in prison, and an overwhelming majority of prisoners are minorities.  The prison pipeline in this country is arguably the single biggest fully preventable social injustice around.

On the other hand, I'm automatically suspect of anything that both Rand Paul and Grover Norquist think is a great idea.  I want to see the details.  I fully expect the crimes where judges are given leeway to be ones with mostly white convicts, like tax fraud or something.  I don't know.  What I do know is I don't trust either of these guys for a reason, and that reason is they are both soulless bastards.

In an op-ed in The Hill on Wednesday, Julie Stewart, founder and president of the Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, both hailed the Justice Safety Valve Act as a "common sense" measure that would save money and help ensure that the "time fits the crime in every criminal case." Their column offered some data on prison capacity and overcrowding:
According to a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the number of inmates under the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) jurisdiction has increased from approximately 25,000 in FY1980 to nearly 219,000 in FY2012. BOP prisons are operating at 38 percent over capacity, endangering the safety of guards and inmates alike. Last week, the Inspector General for the Department of Justice testified that it’s only going to get worse: the BOP projects system-wide crowding to exceed 45 percent over rated capacity through 2018.

On the gripping hand, the only way anything was ever going to get done about mandatory minimum sentencing in this country was through a bipartisan effort. It was always going to take a combination of fiscal conservatives horrified at the costs of incarceration to state budgets, and social liberals horrified at the costs of incarceration to people, communities, and families.

If it takes Rand Effing Paul to get the ball rolling on getting rid of minimum sentencing, great.  He's still an awful person, despite the one time he mathematically comes up with doing the right thing.  I don't trust him, I won't vote for him, I won't praise him.   But if this bill passes, I'll take it in spite of him.

Ashley, Alison, And The Turtle, Part 2

Yesterday I posted a Politico report that here in Kentucky, the Clintons were backing Alison Lundergan Grimes with the hope she would take on Mitch McConnell.  I said that I would take the Clintons offer of help to rid the Senate of Turtle Boy, and that the Kentucky coal industry would do everything they can to bury Ashley Judd anyway.  Lundergan Grimes, being the daughter of long-time Clinton friend and Kentucky Democratic Party chair Jerry Lundergan, would have the party machine necessary to beat Mitch.

Over at 3ChicsPolitico however, Ametia reminds us that the DSCC and the Clintons aren't exactly friends of progressive Kentuckians like myself.

You can do it, Ashley. Don’t fall for the old, “you’re not a resident of Kentucky” BS. Hillary Clinton moved to NY, established residency, ran for the senate, and she won. Don’t fall for you’re an actress and you have too much baggage. Ronald Reagan was an actor, he ran for POTUS, and he won. And don’t even get me started on coming in with “BAGGAGE.”

You’ve got something mighty special for McTurtle and nem to come after you, before you’ve even announced your bid for senate. And for the Clinton’s attempts to THROW YOU UNDER THE BUS for their hand-picked choice, I’d say RUN ASHLEY, RUN. Just like Barack Hussein Obama, Don’t be threatened by the Clinton MACHINE supposed power & $$, Or do they owe Grimes a favor?

I’ll wait for Ashley to announce, even with the rumors of her annoucing at the Kentucky Derby event in May.

Give it up, Bill and Hillary Clinton. We’re not voting for Hillary in 2016; at least, not me.

Yeah, they owe Grimes a favor because of her dad.  Ol' Jerry Lundergan was a huge Hillary backer here in 2008 and used his connections to help win the state for Hillary.  I said then that if the price for getting rid of Mitch was being nice to the Clintons, I'd be willing to pay it.  As much as Lundergan chafes my chaps, his daughter's still better than Mitch as my senator.

Yeah, I'd rather see Ashley Judd run and win, and as I said yesterday, Grimes hasn't committed to a Senate run and could take on a House or Governor candidacy.  She'd win, too.

Ideally, I'm hoping that's what happens.  Realistically, I just want Mitch's ass gone.  I live here, folks.  I'm casting my vote for whoever has the best chance of beating Mitch, and I stand by that.

What's The Penalty Here?

As Steven D over at BooMan's place points out, Michele Bachmann is an inveterate liar, a hack, and a lunatic.  Yet she still serves in Congress and will continue to serve, even when she tells ridiculous lies like "70% of all food stamp money goes to government bureaucrats."  It's more like 0.3%, but who cares?  What real penalty does she face?

Of the $82 Billion budgeted for federal food and nutrition assistance relief under the USDA for 2013, less than 6% (5.8%) is allocated to all administrative costs, which includes, by the way, state administrative costs that represent 81% of all administrative costs for the Food Stamp Program.

If, in fact, "Washington bureaucrats" received 70% of that $82 Billion pie each year, they would all be multi-millionaires. Hey, if that were true I'd sign up to work for the USDA in a heartbeat. However, the truth is that working for the USDA will not make you wealthy. As of 2011:

As of September 30, 2011, there were 1,325 full-time permanent employees in the agencies. There were 529 employees in the Washington headquarters office; and 796 elsewhere, including in seven regional offices; 55 field offices; four SNAP compliance offices in Illinois, California, New Jersey, and Tennessee; and a computer support center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
That number includes the 166 government employees who work for SNAP. The average salary for USDA Food and Nutrition Service employes is around $61,000. The highest paid position is at the level of a GS 13, with salaries ranging from a little over $72,000 per year to a high of a little under $94,000 per year depending on various factors including geographic location. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly a job that will move you into the top 10 percent of income.

Sadly, far too many people will believe Bachmann's absurd claim that food stamp recipients receive only 30% of the money budgeted for SNAP. The truth, that SNAP is on of the most efficient government programs in terms of the ratio of benefits provided to administrative costs (942:6) incurred will be ignored by most of the media, and the conservative talking point zombie lie that SNAP is a wasteful program that should be cut severely will be the default position of all "serious people" inside the Beltway, despite the reality.

Best part is Bachman's lie will be repeated in campaign ads, on Sunday shows, and on FOX News time and again.  It will rarely be challenged on air, in real time, if at all.  So it will become "conventional wisdom" and eventually will be the reason why SNAP will be discontinued by Republicans.

She knows exactly what she's doing and she knows there's zero penalty for her doing it.


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