07/28/2015 archive

Is Congressional Push to Reduce Mandatory Prison Sentences Enough?

Recently President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders which was the largest clemency granted since 1960. This was a drop in the bucket considering nearly half of the 207,000 men and women in the federal prison system are serving sentences for drug crimes. Mandatory minimum sentencing arouse in the 70’s and 80’s during the height of the drug epidemic in this country that saw a dramatic increase in crime.

Congress is now considering two bipartisan bills to scale back mandatory sentences.

As senators work to meld several proposals into one bill, one important change would be to expand the so-called safety-valve provisions that give judges discretion to sentence low-level drug offenders to less time in prison than the required mandatory minimum term if they meet certain requirements.

Another would allow lower-risk prisoners to participate in recidivism programs to earn up to a 25 percent reduction of their sentence. Lawmakers would also like to create more alternatives for low-level drug offenders.

While theses bills are commendable they fall far short of addressing the whole problem, John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” points out in this week’s segment:

“Ridiculously long sentences are not a great deterrent to crime,” Oliver said. “Prison sentences are a lot like penises: If they’re used correctly, even a short one can do the trick – is a rumor I have heard.” [..]

There should be a lot more pardons and commutations. But if we really want to address this problem permanently, we need states and the federal government, not just to repeal mandatory minimums going forward, but to also pass laws so that existing prisoners can apply for retroactively reduced sentences.

Because almost everyone has agreed that mandatory minimum laws were a mistake. And we cannot have a system where people are continuing to pay for that mistake  – and where perhaps their best chance of getting out of a prison that they should no longer be in is somehow finding a turkey costume and hanging around the fucking White House at Thanksgiving.

VOX‘s German Lopes has an excellent background article as a follow-up to John Oliver’s segment.  

In Milwaukee – The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Is a lion loose in Milwaukee?

Kay Nolan, Julie Bosman – NYT

MILWAUKEE – One man saw the creature for only a few bone-chilling seconds, but he remembers that it was big, with heavy brown fur and a long tail, and not in any particular hurry as it walked through his neighborhood in Milwaukee and then disappeared into a thickly wooded ravine.

It could be a young African lion that was purchased on the open market, kept as a pet and then released when it became too large to handle, one wildlife expert speculated. (Wisconsin state law is notably relaxed on the possession of exotic animals.) Or it could be a cougar, an animal that has been spotted more frequently in populated areas of the Midwest in recent years. The Milwaukee County Zoo announced last week that all of its lions were safe and accounted for.

Jeff Kozlowski, owner of the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue in Rock Springs, Wis., said that if that was the case, there was little hope of finding the person who lost control of the animal. “If you had a pet lion and it got out and it was causing this much uproar,” he said dryly, “would you call in and say it was yours?”


Get the waffles! Maple syrup spills on New Hampshire highway

AP July 27, 2015

KEENE, N.H. (AP) – The only thing missing was the waffles.

Authorities in Keene, New Hampshire, were in for some sticky times when a load of maple syrup shifted in a tractor trailer and leaked very slowly all over a main highway.

Police Sgt. Thaddeus Derendal says about 220 gallons of the sweet-smelling pancake-topper from a Vermont producer oozed onto Route 101 on Monday afternoon.

Firefighters used squeegees to corral the mess and poured something like kitty litter on it to speed the drying process. The two eastbound lanes were reduced to one lane while the cleanup was underway.


Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Peter van Buren: The Balance of Power in the Middle East Just Changed

U.S.-Iranian Relations Emerge from a 30-Year Cold War

Don’t sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran. What matters is that the calculus of power in the Middle East just changed in significant ways. [..]

If we’re not all yet insta-experts on centrifuges and enrichment ratios, the media will ensure that in the next two months — during which Congress will debate and weigh approving the agreement — we’ll become so. Verification strategies will be debated. The Israelis will claim that the apocalypse is nigh. And everyone who is anyone will swear to the skies that the devil is in the details. On Sunday talk shows, war hawks will fuss endlessly about the nightmare to come, as well as the weak-kneedness of the president and his “delusional” secretary of state, John Kerry. (No one of note, however, will ask why the president’s past decisions to launch or continue wars in the Middle East were not greeted with at least the same sort of skepticism as his present efforts to forestall one.)

There are two crucial points to take away from all the angry chatter to come: first, none of this matters and second, the devil is not in the details, though he may indeed appear on those Sunday talk shows.

Zach Stafford: Police aren’t superheroes and black men aren’t villains. This isn’t a comic book

For decades it has been widely accepted to only frame police officers as people who save us, protect us and stop the ‘bad guys.’ They have been the superheroes of countless stories, always getting the bad guy – a bad guy who just so happens to always be black. While there is nothing wrong with a good superhero in any story, we shouldn’t assume that just because someone carries a gun and wears a uniform that they are always the hero and can do nothing wrong.

As more and more media reports are released showing us the ways in which police aren’t always the hero, like in the case of unarmed Walter Scott being shot and killed, that image is quickly being challenged.

And with it comes a possibility for mainstream America that we may have been rooting for the wrong person for some time now. But can we really be seen as at fault when the story is always told with such a positive spin for the cop – especially when they tell it?

Jeffrey Sachs: Germany, Greece, and the Future of Europe

I have been helping countries to overcome financial crises for 30 years, and have studied the economic crises of the twentieth century as background to my advisory work. In all crises, there is an inherent imbalance of power between creditor and debtor. Successful crisis management therefore depends on the creditor’s wisdom. In this regard, I strongly urge Germany to rethink its approach to Greece.

A financial crisis is caused by a country’s excessive indebtedness, which generally reflects a combination of mismanagement by the debtor country, over-optimism, corruption, and the poor judgment and weak incentives of creditor banks. Greece fits that bill. [..]

When a country’s prosperity depends on the continued inflow of capital, a sudden stop or reversal of financial flows triggers a sharp contraction. In Greece, the easy lending stopped with the 2008 global financial crisis. The economy shrunk by 18 percent from 2008 to 2011, and unemployment soared from 8 percent to 18 percent.

The most obvious cause was lower government spending, which reduced aggregate demand. Public-sector workers lost their jobs, and construction projects ground to a halt. As incomes declined, other domestic sectors collapsed.

Dave Zirin: Why Boston Was Compelled to Pull Their 2024 Olympic Bid

The crumbling of Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid is a victory for activists and a loss for the city’s most entrenched business interests.

“What we do matters.” “We are many, they are few.” “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

These phrases are what people trying to affect change often say quietly to avoid slouching into despair. Today, they are what crews of Bostonians are singing to one another over rowdy, joyous toasts, confident that their actions just beat back the most powerful plutocrats in town. Make no mistake about it: The 2024 Summer Olympics were on a runaway freight train toward Boston until serious groups of committed citizens got in the way. Local sports legends like Larry Bird and David Ortiz were part of the thirty person ceremonial board of directors preaching that the Olympics would be all financial boom and patriotic pageantry. The powerful-and less telegenic-brokers behind them had the money, the media, and the mayor. But they did not have the people and that made all the difference. [..]

This is an absolute victory for the people of Boston. It is particularly critical for those who would have been most likely to suffer under the weight of a massive police and military presence in the city. But it is also a very positive development for everyone who loves Olympic sports. The IOC is only going to change its methods of extortion when city after city across the globe say ‘hell no’ to their outlandish demands, always conjoined with the economic prerogatives of local business titans and the politicians they grease. Boston should be proud. They have now joined Kraków and Oslo among those who have sent the IOC packing. Now it’s the turn of Los Angeles, Toronto, Budapest, Hamburg, Paris, and Rome, all in the running for 2024, to add their names to this list. Thank you Boston for saving your city and rebuffing those who would ruthlessly exploit what we love about sports and remake our cities into unrecognizable dystopian theme parks.

Hassen Hussein: What exactly is Obama’s Africa legacy?

Washington’s engagement with the continent continues to prioritize security over human rights and economic partnership

President Barack Obama today concludes his triumphant fourth trip to Africa, which featured a return to Kenya and a controversial stopover in Ethiopia, the seat of the African Union. During the visit, he attended an entrepreneurial summit in Nairobi and held discussions with Kenyan, Ethiopian and other regional leaders on matters ranging from U.S.-Africa trade and investment and regional security to human rights.

Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the two countries. And as the first African-American president, he is still a subject of pride to Africans and their vast diaspora. Yet the question must be asked: What exactly is Obama’s Africa legacy? What are the symbolism and substance of what is likely his final trip to Africa as president? Did the U.S. Africa policy evolve or regress during his administration? Although I would like to join those celebrating the homecoming of a local son, I am filled with melancholy and mixed emotions. Obama’s presidency has fallen short of our admittedly high expectations.

Joshua Kopstein: Don’t fear the drones, fear the cops

Civilian incidents shouldn’t overshadow dangers of letting police drones rule the skies

In the last few years, media reports on hobbyist drones have flown in a frightening and predictable pattern. Nearly every week, these small, camera-equipped, radio-controlled helicopters are framed as public hazards or futuristic tools for criminals – crashing on the White House lawn, attempting cross-border drug deliveries, flying too close to airplanes or attacking Enrique Iglesias on stage. Too often and much to their users’ dismay, they’re conflated with the military death machines (regrettably also called drones) that fire missiles at suspected terrorists and unsuspecting civilians overseas under dubious legal justifications. [..]

While these stories clearly resonate with members of the drone-fearing public, the hype and hysteria can overshadow the fact that drones, like all technologies, are imperfect tools: not good or evil or neutral, beholden to their users and hard coded with the biases of their creators. And if there’s a group of drone users that deserves scrutiny and fear, it’s not our next-door neighbors; it’s the police.

The Breakfast Club (Kryptonite)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Outbreak of World War One; Troops disperse ‘Bonus Army’ marchers; A U.S. Army bomber crashes into the Empire State Building; Former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and author Beatrix Potter born.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

When Harvard men say they have graduated from Radcliffe, then we’ve made it.

Jackie Kennedy

On This Day In History July 28

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

July 28 is the 209th day of the year (210th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 156 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1868, following its ratification by the necessary three-quarters of U.S. states, the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing to African Americans citizenship and all its privileges, is officially adopted into the U.S. Constitution.


In the decades after its adoption, the equal protection clause was cited by a number of African American activists who argued that racial segregation denied them the equal protection of law. However, in 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that states could constitutionally provide segregated facilities for African Americans, so long as they were equal to those afforded white persons. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which announced federal toleration of the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine, was eventually used to justify segregating all public facilities, including railroad cars, restaurants, hospitals, and schools. However, “colored” facilities were never equal to their white counterparts, and African Americans suffered through decades of debilitating discrimination in the South and elsewhere. In 1954, Plessy v. Ferguson was finally struck down by the Supreme Court in its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 29, 1868 as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.

Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which held that blacks could not be citizens of the United States.

Its Due Process Clause prohibits state and local governments from depriving people (individual and corporate) of life, liberty, or property without certain steps being taken. This clause has been used to make most of the Bill of Rights applicable to the states, as well as to recognize substantive rights and procedural rights.

Its Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction. This clause later became the basis for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision which precipitated the dismantling of racial segregation in the United States.

The there is that pertinent and pesky Article 4:

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Validity of public debt

Section 4 confirmed the legitimacy of all United States public debt appropriated by the Congress. It also confirmed that neither the United States nor any state would pay for the loss of slaves or debts that had been incurred by the Confederacy. For example, several English and French banks had lent money to the South during the war. In Perry v. United States (1935), the Supreme Court ruled that under Section 4 voiding a United States government bond “went beyond the congressional power.” Section 4 has been cited (during the debate in July of 2011 over whether to raise the U.S. debt ceiling) by some legal experts and Democratic members in the U.S. House Democratic caucus, as giving current President Barack Obama the authority to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling if the Congress does not appear to be able to pass an agreement by Tuesday, August 2, 2011. The White House Press Office and President Obama have said that it will not be resorted to, though Democratic members of the House that support the move are formally petitioning him to do so “for the sake of the country’s fiscal stability.” A final resolution to the crisis has not yet been decided upon.

The Daily/Nightly Show (Penultimate)


A Giant Barbecue

I like the brisket with Carolina sauce, but what do I know?

It’s cruise week.

This week’s guests-

Who knows what madness Ted will spout but he desparately needs to pump up his polls before next week’s Republican debate and The Donald has no monopoly on crazy.

The Church of Scientology says that a human is an immortal, spiritual being (thetan) that is resident in a physical body. The thetan has had innumerable past lives and it is observed in advanced Scientology texts that lives preceding the thetan’s arrival on Earth were lived in extraterrestrial cultures.


But there are no Black people in Maine

You just don’t hang with the right people.

Maine is the Arkansas of the northeast and basically everyone who doesn’t live in the touristy areas is dirt poor and doesn’t have all the teeth they were born with.  The rest steal everything they can from the ‘aways’ who stare and take pictures of rocks, water, and trees WHICH WE HAVE MORE OF THAN YOU, YOU NEW HAMPSHIRE BASTARDS!

Yeah, come February and I’ll tell you what upstate New York, New Hampshire and Maine are all about.  Cold and dark, on the positive side there aren’t as many bugs.

Me, I live in the armpit of New England where we hide the stinky and smelly by products of the Industrial Revolution with a thin screen of trees because we have class.

Tonightly the topic is more Cosby.  The panel is Colin Quinn, Sally Kohn, and Gina Yashere.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2 part web exclusive extended interview and the real news below.