Thursday, April 30, 2009


Political Mayhem Thursday: Crack and Sen. Specter

What a week in DC!

Yesterday, the Assistant Attorney General submitted testimony to Congress asserting that the DOJ now supports equalizing sentences between crack and powder cocaine. This makes a radical change in the law a sure thing-- no more 100:1 ratio or anything like it. The DOJ's argument even relied heavily upon our win in the Supreme Court's Spears decision, which held that courts have the ability to create their own quantity ratio in crack cases:

"We will continue to ask federal courts to calculate the guidelines in crack cocaine cases, as required by Supreme Court decisions. However, we recognize that federal courts have the authority to sentence outside the guidelines in crack cases or even to create their own quantity ratio. Our prosecutors will inform courts that they should act within their discretion to fashion a sentence that is consistent with the objectives of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and our prosecutors will bring the relevant case-specific facts to the courts’ attention." [emphasis added] [See Doug Berman's astute take on things here]

U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Also, on Monday Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced that he is switching to the Democratic party, virtually assuring them of a filibuster-proof majority once Al Franken is seated.

I have often said that divided government is a good thing, but now I am in the awkward position of having a big Dem majority make all of my policy dreams come true. I'm not sure what to make of that.

What do you think about either issue?

Sounds like it's finally time to try this crack I've been hearing so much about.
With regard to Arlen Specter and Al Franken...

Al Franken: He ran as a serious candidate. We contributed to his campaign 2 years ago in the early going (despite living in FL) and it is time to end this race in Minnesota. The people of the state are showing great fortitude in not taking Norm Coleman to task for all his shenanigans in dragging this out. If he has any future political hopes they are probably dead at this point. I wonder if the Republican party is going to reward him in a big way even when he fiannly loses in early June.

Arlen Spector: this move did not surprise me. He has been a strong and independent voice in the Senate for a long time. I am sure their are other moderate republicans who wish they could follow him. And what does it say, when your own party is pushing the guy you beat in your last primary to take your seat.
Prof. Osler,

The policy dreams of which you speak, aren't those largely coming out of the DOJ and would happen/are going to happen irrespective of Congress' makeup?
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The DOJ move is a great one. Nice to see an occasion when the government makes a move towards common sense and justice. Thanks for your work in helping make that move a reality.
Even though I am a (dismayed, frustrated and disgusted) Republican, I think its time for Norm Coleman to give up the ghost. He may have been jobbed or gamed or cheated, but politics aint beanbag. Al Gore and Richard Nixon both believed they were cheated in 1960 and 2000, but they had the dignity to stop the madness and live to fight another day.

As for Specter, as his vote against the budget deal last night shows, he's not going to be a reliable Democrat either.

He did oppose Bush on a lot of things (and Bush I and Reagan as well), but he voted for the war, for the Bush tax cuts, for the Reagan tax cuts and budgets and as many will recall, he was Clarence Thomas' biggest defender in 1991.

Is he really a Democrat or just more of an opportunist?

In my view he's let his own ego get in the way. He's already 80 and had health problems. Why is he running for re-election anyway? Does he intend to try and change the Democratic party to be more moderate like him, or his he just jumping on the back of a bandwagon?

Specter is an admitted opportunist. He feels his chance of re-election in PA is better as a Dem. I don't think he would have made the switch if his key in-state backers weren't behind his decision. Given his age and his health this is in all likelihood his last run. With 30 years in the Senate he has a lot of clout. He doesn't carry (as far as we know) the same baggage as John Murtha is now presenting and is well liked by the middle on both sides.
I think there's nothing wrong with being happy that all your policy dreams are suddenly within reach, although I agree, I sort of feel guilty that suddenly the things I believe in might actually happen . . . as if it's too easy somehow. M

I guess part of living in a democracy is that political moods shift, and shift back. Eight years ago it was the Republicans whose policy dreams were all coming true.

The negative side to such drastic shifts in the majority party is that policies that get passed can be extreme: tough-on-crime policies in the 80s led to the crack-powder sentencing disparity, which has taken more than 20 years to fix . . . .

Anyway, I am taking some guilty pleasure in being the majority now, too. While it lasts, because it won't last forever.
"Al Gore and Richard Nixon both believed they were cheated in 1960 and 2000, but they had the dignity to stop the madness and live to fight another day."

Iplawguy - I obviously agree with most everything you say, and I agree with half of the above statement. Nixon showed a lot of class when he refused to raise the issue of dead people voting for Kennedy and numerous other potential election irregularities that took place at the hands of the mafia and northeastern political machines in Kennedy's favor. Al Gore had to be told by the US Supreme Court to stop challenging the election results. To put him in the same class as Nixon seems more than a bit unfair to Nixon.

My only comment on the Specter thing is that I think it is dishonest to run as a Republican and be elected as a Republican and then switch parties while still in office. I think the same would be true for somebody that ran as a Democrat and was elected as a Democrat and then switches parties. People voted for you with what they believed to be a full understanding of your positions and your party affiliation. It is dishonest to then switch once you've been elected. Resign from the Senate, switch parties, then run again. That seems legitimate if you have a real change of heart. But not giving voters a full and fair picture of yourself when they vote for you doesn't seem so legitimate to me.
. . .And, I would add, realizing that my country is not a consistent place but constantly a changing place (in terms of policy, political mood) is something that I'm beginning to see with the benefit of 40+ years. Often I wish that it were not so fickle, malleable, moody; that it was always a place that feels in line with my beliefs; that the guy/woman I vote for always gets elected.

But that's not possible in a lively democracy. For me it has not been an easy thing to accept, that you can't always be in the majority, that often you feel as though nobody else believes what you believe . . . which is part of why I left the US during the Bush years. Being in line with the majority now is humbling, to me . . .
"a bit unfair to Nixon"

OMG! Someone actually said this? Since when did "fair" and "Nixon" get mixed up in the same sentence?


Norm Coleman, speaking of switching parties, started out as a Democrat...
I agree with RRL, that if you switch parties, you should resign and run in a special election. Strom Thurmond did just that, as did Phil Gramm when he was a Congressman.

Specter is not alone in pulling this trick.

I always wondered what the staffers for party switchers do in this situation. Most are young and committed to the party of their boss. Its got to be quite the shock and challenge to their system. Do you quit your job out of principle? Even in a bad economy?

Yes, Norm was once a Democrat, as was Ronald Reagan. Hillary Clinton was Goldwater Girl, etc. etc.

Nixon was a creep and a very odd man. More than once, though, I have read that his actions in the subsequent campaigns were due to his feeling that he got tricked in 1960. He felt like the Kennedys and the Democrats had played dirty and he needed to counterattack.

He wanted his own "Merry Tricksters" to match Dick Tuck and his ilk.

Even so, he was a paranoid megalomaniac. Too bad Ike foolishly picked him to be Veep in '52.
Bar Results up!
Congrats to those who passed!
Go Baylor! Back at #1!
I take RRL's defense of Nixon as a clever joke. After all, we know in the future, Nixon gets to rule the Earth while Gore is Emperor of the Moon.

I would be fine with a special election for Spector; it's not like I really want more quote-unquote moderates in the Democratic party anyway, and I'm always leery of these "filibuster-proof" majorities. It assumes all elected officials are mindless partisan robots, and I don't think that's accurate or fair.

Besides, that way, maybe a real Democrat could win from Pennsylvania.
First, I didn't defend Nixon yet. I would be happy to do exactly that, but I haven't done it yet. NIxon had the exact same distaste for hippies that I do. He was alright by me.

Second, when I said comparing Nixon to Gore was unfair to Nixon I wasn't joking. Frankly, comparing basically anybody to Gore is probably unfair to whoever is being compared to him.
But... Gore has ridden the mighty moon worm!
manbearpig is real!
Oh, come on, RRL. Gore, still VP, had to preside over the Senate as they certified the election results in which he lost. Nixon apparently had to do the same thing:

I remember seeing Gore do that. The good humor he showed, the equanimity, were truly impressive.

And contesting that election only took 5 weeks--hard to believe. Norm Coleman and Al Franken's contest has lasted a lot longer.
KG-- No, the 100:1 ratio is embedded in the mandatory minimum statutes, so it takes congressional action to undo it.
Swissgirl - what was Gore going to do? Throw his hands up at the front of the Senate on national TV and start yelling at people? Begin screaming uncontrollably?

There was evidence that both Texas and Illinois were stolen in the 1960 election. Yet, even though he was pressed to challenge the election results by his aides he refused to do so. I don't think what Gore did quite measures up to that.

And, he totally hated hippies. So, that right there means he was an awesome and amazing man with great foresight and a tremendous understanding of the human condition.

However, Gore does deserve credit for the discovery or Manbearpig. Truly remarkable. And super serious.
I have no idea what Manbearpig is. And hey, RRL, I actually compared Gore and Nixon, favorably, to each other. Give me some credit, how about it?

And I think you need that ashram more than ever, RRL. You have an unhealthy aversion to hippies. What did they ever do to you?
Prof. Osler,

Right. I had that thought like an hour after my post. What's the legislative forecast in terms of statutory changes to mandatory minimums happening?
None of you like cool pop culture. South Park? Really? That libertarian propaganda?

I'm going to go watch more Futurama.

(As an aside, RRL, I'm guessing this means you don't want my autographed copy of "An Inconvenient Truth?")
KG-- With the DOJ support, it's looking very good for a legislative change this year.
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