Sunday, August 23, 2015

Confusing Thoughtfulness with Cowardice

As I said previously, I had to take a break from the news for a couple of days because of the explosion of hate we're seeing from conservatives. But I have to admit that - in the midst of all that - articles like this one by Ryan Cooper contributed to sending me over the edge.
Of all the powers of the presidency, the pardon is perhaps the most absolute. The president can pardon anyone for any or no reason, with an exception in the case of impeachment (so he may not pardon himself). It provides a kind of emergency valve for the criminal justice system, in which people who have been unjustly convicted can still appeal to common sense and decency.

President Obama has been more stingy with this power than any president in American history. It betrays a rampant political cowardice in his administration, and a callous disregard for human rights.

Presidents have been pardoning fewer and fewer people in recent history, but Obama has set a new record in pardoning just 64 people so far. Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton pardoned more — and so did even the first Bush, despite the fact he was only in office for one term. What's more, many of Obama's pardons have been for people who were already released from prison, making them more PR efforts than victories for justice. His record on commutations is better, but not by much.
Cooper goes on to talk about the thousands of people who are still in prison due to the disparate sentencing guidelines on crack cocaine that were partially remedied in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. And then he writes this:
There is the fear that if they freed those thousands of wrongfully imprisoned people, a few would probably commit more crimes and end up back in prison, setting the stage for another Willie Horton advertisement. Better thousands upon thousands of people be imprisoned unjustly than the administration have to deal with a political scandal.
I seriously have no idea why someone like Cooper would write an article like this that completely ignores President Obama's Clemency Initiative - which is focused on commuting the sentences of exactly those thousands of people he's talking about.

Let's review the numbers for just a moment. Since announcing that initiative, the Office of Pardons has received thousands of petitions. President Obama has already commuted 89 of those sentences (the most since LBJ) after rigorous review. There are currently over 8,000 petitions pending and the administration has promised to act on all those that are received by January 2016.

Cooper implies that there is some magic way of identifying thousands of people who qualify and that they should be both released from prison and pardoned without any review of their records. He seems completely unaware of the fact that "another Willie Horton" wouldn't just be a "political scandal." In this political atmosphere, it would surely send us back to the dark ages on criminal justice reform.

I am someone who finds absolutely nothing redeeming in this country's misguided war on drugs and have no love lost for the way our current criminal justice system operates. But I also think that what Cooper is suggesting is nothing short of reckless. A thoughtful approach that reviews individual situations is what is called for...exactly what President Obama is doing.

Frankly, this is one of those things that often frustrates me about liberals. The idea that a leader would craft a working solution to a problem is cast as "cowardice" precisely because it is so thoughtful. We spent 8 years criticizing the Bush/Cheney administration for recklessness on the other end of the political spectrum. It looks no better coming from this side.

10 comments:

  1. Frankly, this is one of those things that often frustrates me about liberals. The idea that a leader would craft a working solution to a problem rather than run after ideological purity is cast as "cowardice."

    Exactly, Nancy. It has been so frustrating to see the shots taken at President Obama--even before he reached the White House--that amount to "He didn't do this in two seconds or less". President Obama told us on the night of his first election victory that the problems we faced would not be solved in a week, a month, a year, or even one term. It seems that many did not listen or it went in one ear and out the other.

    It's why I am growing tired of some of the supporters of Senator Sanders--they have put ideological purity ahead of actually putting something together that will create change over time. I believe that Senator Sanders is a good man and a progressive--but some of his supporters are not seeing the big picture and are putting him on the pedestal of "He'll do everything he says with the snap of his fingers!" No he will not--not without a solid base and a Congress that can help. It is sad to see that so many on the liberal/Left/Progressive side of the fence have fallen for the instant gratification instead of the hard work needed to set foundations and build over time.

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    1. It's why I am growing tired of some of the supporters of Senator Sanders--they have put ideological purity ahead of actually putting something together that will create change over time. I believe that Senator Sanders is a good man and a progressive--but some of his supporters are not seeing the big picture and are putting him on the pedestal of "He'll do everything he says with the snap of his fingers!" No he will not--not without a solid base and a Congress that can help. It is sad to see that so many on the liberal/Left/Progressive side of the fence have fallen for the instant gratification instead of the hard work needed to set foundations and build over time.

      Just wait until Bernie has to debate someone or anyone. The failure of Vermont's Green Mountain single payer is going to come up, and thus far, Bernie is not willing to say he knows why it failed. So basically it's like if a space shuttle blew up, NASA never bothered to find out what went wrong, but promised to put us all on the next shuttle.

      Of course, if Bernie has spent five minutes studying Green Mountain, he knows what went wrong: medical costs are as yet too high to allow for tolerably low single payer premiums. So a serious candidate -- I stress, a SERIOUS candidate -- would say, "okay, we need to set single payer aside until we do something about costs, and then we can go back to single payer". Bernie ain't doing that, though. Either he doesn't really care why Green Mountain failed, or he is pandering to his base and offering them what he knows to be snake oil.

      Well, that's going to come out during debates, and I don't think Bernie's ready to handle it. His base sure as heck isn't: either Bernie will come clean and it'll look like the last part of "Jesus Christ Superstar", or he's going to tank in the debates and his fan base will swear to punish Hillary in the general election.

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    2. I think he has avoided this like the plague because it impact the entire scope of single payer. Why can ACA provide help to low income people at very affordable rates based on income (1-9%) but Green Mountain could not come in under 11%? If he won't - and no single payer person has - do the math and explain it, it is not a policy but a polemical rant. I supported it for years until ACA came along. Then we needed to do a revised analysis and never did. I'm fed up with rhetoric but no numbers. Bernie is as feckless as his supporters in pretending you can still insist single payer is better without once saying for whom and HOW.

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    3. The root problem is expectations. Single payer advocates typically think single payer is magic; as soon as single payer is there, prices automatically come down and you can get anything at all treated at the hospital with no out-of-pocket expenses. All for a low low price of maybe $100/month!

      Unfortunately, with medical prices as high as they are, you can't get universal coverage, platinum coverage, and low premiums. You can get two out of the three, perhaps, but not all three. Green Mountain tried for all three, and failed. The ACA succeeds because it lets you pick the balance between coverage level and premium cost that works for you.

      I'll do the revised analysis right now. The ACA caps profits at 15%-20%, so a perfectly efficient single payer system could provide equivalent coverage for 15%-20% cheaper. But that's still going to be vastly higher than the rest of the Western world pays for their coverage.

      The other factor is the system by which hospitals set prices -- where they start with insanely high list prices ($1.50 for a Tylenol capsule), insurance companies negotiate those prices down, the end result is still a huge mark-up for the hospitals. Now that sounds like a racket to me, and one that Congress should do something about. Congress regulates credit card rates, and I don't see this as vastly different in concept. (Yes, single payer could theoretically do the same bargaining that insurance companies do, but if Green Mountain's experience is relevant, single payer can't bargain it down enough to keep prices manageable.)

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  2. Emos actually think that they're liberal, no matter how many poor and disenfranchised people they're ready to sacrifice on the alter of their purity. On a lot of on-line black websites, "Progressive" is now synonymous with White racists of the Bernie brand.

    In 26 years, with the power of a U.S. Senator, he has not authored a single bill that has been passed into law. He has authored one bill on dentistry that has gone nowhere. Talk, talk, talk...

    What tools.

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    1. Ach! I remember getting into it with an Emo who kept whining about The President not integrating the LGBT and straight troops by fiat like Truman had done. This person seemed to neither know nor care that there was a problem that would take an act of Congress to solve permanently, and that Obama was concentrating on getting that done rather than going for the feelgood temporary fix.

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    2. Be fair, felonious - he successfully renamed two post offices.

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  3. Could it be any more obvious than this?
    Being stymied by a do-nothing Congress makes Obama thoughtful.
    Being stymied by a do-nothing Congress makes Sanders a failure.

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  4. These people wouldn't know progress if it hit them in the face. They either don't know or care to learn from history. First of All The New Deal yeah that one was a compromise between Liberal Democrats and Southern Dixiecrats. African Americans were left out of The New Deal, it had to be amended so blacks and other people of color could reap the benefits. The Civil Rights Act was a compromise also between the two factions even some Republicans voted for it. It takes years for progress to occur.

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