Thursday, March 09, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: A hidden disaster

While everyone is focused on a health care bill that seems unlikely to get to the President's desk, a lot of other ugliness is happening under the radar.

Most disturbing to me was this report in Politico: 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is signaling that the Trump administration plans to make changes to policies the Obama administration implemented to seek less serious charges in some drug cases.

In a memo sent to federal prosecutors nationwide Wednesday, Sessions called on them to crack down on violent crime. Most surely already view that as a core part of their duties.

However, another passage in the directive says changes in Justice Department charging policies are in the offing.

"I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority — including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases— will be forthcoming."

Legal experts said the language indicates that Sessions is planning to make significant revisions to policies Attorney General Eric Holder issued in 2010 backing away from prior directions that prosecutors seek the most serious viable charges in every case and in 2013 calling for prosecutors to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences in some cases by leaving the quantity of drugs seized out of charging documents.

While a consensus has developed that imprisonment is largely ineffective in staunching drug use and trafficking, the Trump administration appears to be going to the other way.
Most disappointing to me is the way in which this represents the dashing of hope some of us had in the new businessman-president: That he would understand that narcotics is a market, and that as long as there is demand, supply would appear. We aren't going to "get rid of the scourge of drugs." The most we can hope for is to make them more expensive (and I think that is a worthwhile goal), and incarceration of low-lever players is an ineffective way to do that.

So add that to the pile...

I hate to quote Lenin but “one step forward two steps back” seems very fitting...and some.
Let me criticize (self-consciously) a common but desperate conceit in this post-sanity world: searching for reason to be optimistic about Trump under every rock. And then commit the same sin myself.

We want to believe it, but Donald J. Trump is NOT a business-minded president. He may not even be a particularly successful businessman. He can use the words "deal" and "negotiate" in the same sentence, limited by his mastery of the concept of "a sentence," of course, but every available data point indicates Trump is more showman than shark. With his business skills he's turned his (adjusted) $400 million inheritance into...well, maybe little more than $400 million. His dealings are so notoriously shady and ill-conceived that it's hard to name one that hasn't ended in bankruptcy and lawsuits. Read about the Trump Hotel in Azerbaijan. The story will tell you all you need to know about Trump's business acumen (and why he might be wise to keep his tax returns hidden).

Instead, Trump is a salesman. He doesn't own ranches, he puts a "TRUMP" sticker on steaks. He doesn't bottle or distribute water, he prints "TRUMP" labels for water bottles. He leverages the celebrity reputation that the now-hyperventilating media made for him over the years to do exactly Johnson & Johnson does when it put the word "Tylenol" on an acetaminophen bottle. It's a fine way to make money, but it hardly qualifies Trump as a titan of industry.

This should clear away the notion that Trump will bring his business experience to bear in fighting the drug war. Like a brand label, Trump only understands symbols. That's why it doesn't matter whether what he says is true--it's not the truth but the symbolic value that carries weight. Or, as has been said, why we should "take him seriously but not literally." But (and here's the part where I try to polish the turd) that gives me some hope in Sessions' strangely vague directive to prosecutors--essentially, "go prosecute!" One interpretation of the larger political situation is that Trump is looking for a symbolic "law and order" gesture. A "TRUMP" sticker on the federal legal steak. And the nice thing about stickers is that they don't change the underlying substance.

That said, Sessions is not a salesman (see, e.g., Sessions' confirmation hearings). He doesn't speak in meaningless epithets. And that's concerning.
CTL-- I know I keep doing exactly that: trying to find reasons to be optimistic. I am just like that. But it may be blinding me at times to what is really going on.
Here is what you are up against. I had no idea of their connections prior to this interview.

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