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It is not often these days that I am amble to write about something that excites me – that is, something that excites me in a positive way. Fortunately, I have been moved to do so of late, and have picked up the metaphorical blogging pen, after an extended summer hiatus, for want of one particular issue.

Is it the conflict in Syria, an example of grotesque human cruelty? No. I am immensely skeptical of the effort on our (America’s) part to intervene, and I am equally skeptical of any argument invoking a moral imperative. But I am even more skeptical of my own ability to understand the situation fully. Though certainly important and of-the-moment, foreign policy and particularly the Middle East has never been my area of knowledge or interest. I am more interested in the war at home, in which a significant blow was struck for the good guys recently, a blow I sincerely hope is the beginning of a very long-overdue reformation that will correct a glaring error and gross injustice in our legal system, and in so doing be remembered as a turning of the punitive tide in the war on drugs.

I am speaking, of course, about mandatory minimums.

The Justice Department will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday, noting the nation is “coldly efficient in jailing criminals,” but that it “cannot prosecute or incarcerate” its way to becoming safer.

“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” Holder told the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in San Francisco.

-From CNN.com, August 12, 2013

Everyone who pays attention to the news has heard already that Attorney General Eric Holder has instituted new Justice Department policy that takes a much more nuanced step on crime and punishment than mandatory minimums are designed to allow.

One of the most Draconian tools implemented in the colossal waste of time, energy, money, and humanity known collectively as the War on Drugs has been the mandatory minimum sentencing laws passed by Congress in the late 80’s. Short of repealing the laws, the act of correcting them and, frankly, stripping them of many provisions, would be a quantum leap toward putting the “justice” back in Justice System. (If, perhaps, you haven’t seen a crime/law/drug war documentary in the past couple decades and you need a refresher on the horrifying punishments born of the mandatory minimum era, go here.)

This would all be one thing if the MM laws were shown to produce a precipitous drop in the crime rate that is in any way close to a correlating with the social, economic, and human burden born by the rest of us.  That would still be very troubling, but perhaps stomach-able (though I wouldn’t bet the farm). But, lo and behold, like its progenitor the Drug War, it has been ineffective at producing results.

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This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while.

From the website PolicyMic.com (and I give enormous credit to whoever did the legwork in going through all of these):

One of the things that members of Congress do the worst is make graphs. You may have come across these graphs during a nightly-news segment. Some person in a suit is standing next to a graph on an easel like it’s their third grade science fair project, because even though we now live in the 21st century, we still can’t seem to advance beyond poster board. 

Thanks to the best C-SPAN employee ever, we can now present you with a compilation of the worst charts ever produced. A Tumblr called “Floor Charts” was created by Bill Gray. Gray has over 800 posts on his Tumblr of the worst pieces of visual representation this country has ever seen. From some of the worst graphic design ever recorded, to just being plain old unreadable, these posters have been a mainstay on the Congressional floor for decades. They will amaze and astound you in their terribleness.

3. “Make it” in Clip-Art.

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4. “We repurposed a group project from 7th grade.”

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7. “Let me explain this to you in terms you will understand.”

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There are twenty-nine more. To see the rest, go here.

[A concerned reader – who is also a close relative of mine – emailed me regarding my last post, about the  vacant, ephemeral nature of the recent scandals, and the Ezra Klein article I used to support my assertions. In the email he expressed some doubt as to the veracity of Klein’s claims (I believe the phrase used was “full of shit”), and made it clear that it was crazy to claim there had been no wrongdoing in any of these instances. The email got me thinking and made me want to better clarify the original post, in something like an addendum.]

In my previous post, I definitely didn’t mean to imply that there was no wrongdoing at all – there were some IRS agents in Cincinnati who were certainly in the wrong in way overstepping their discretion prerogatives, and perhaps some of their superiors as well for allowing it to happen, and there were some employees of the Justice Department who clearly violated black and white regulations that are meant to protect the press. I can barely tell what the Benghazi debate is even about these days – there was a question of why the main embassy could not fulfill a request to spare four soldiers to help the consulate ahead of the incident, but its not clear that would have made any difference, and anyway the main accusations have shifted from the actual incident to what the White House said about the incident, like whether the word terrorist was actually used, for example, so I suppose there might be some low level bureaucratic wrongdoing there.

My overall point was that, based on current information, the impropriety of any of these scandals didn’t even expand to the White House, much less Obama himself. The question of his involvement needed to be asked at first, and it has been, and the evidence has shown the administration had little to do with any of it. Many pundits have taken this defense as an opportunity to slam Obama for the opposite sort of conduct, saying that he is too aloof, too uninvolved, too uninterested in his own government, which may have some amount of merit, but the way the argument came about does a lot to denigrate its credibility, and to what level it exists at all it is a separate issue (and it’s not just the right taking up this argument, but some on the left too – here’s an example, and here’s another one).

I think the focus surrounding these scandals stems from the premise that some people dislike Obama so much that they think he must be guilty of everything he is accused of. There are plenty of worthwhile things to criticize the man for, without saying every worst fear about him must be true, as some in Congress have done. People can keep looking, and even hoping, for something to go catastrophically wrong with his presidency, but this isn’t it, and my bet is that his presidency won’t go down in anything but overreaching, maybe arrogance, and mild neophytism.

As of today, even Newt Gingrich and some other top Republicans have offered a similar argument to what I was trying to say, and on NPR no less (here).

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was front-and-center during the Republican-led impeachment of President Clinton in 1998, is cautioning his GOP colleagues about the risk of appearing to be too eager as they dig into the scandals now dogging the Obama administration.“I think we overreached in ’98 — how’s that for a quote you can use?” Gingrich told NPR’s Mara Liasson for a story on Friday’s broadcast of Morning Edition.

And:

Gingrich’s view about how Republicans should proceed echoes those expressed by other GOP leaders in a piece published Thursday evening by Politico:“Republicans are worried one thing could screw up the political gift of three Obama administration controversies at once: fellow Republicans.“Top GOP leaders are privately warning members to put a sock in it when it comes to silly calls for impeachment or over-the-top comparisons to Watergate. They want members to focus on months of fact-finding investigations — not rhetorical fury.”

The Politico article contains another an interesting perspective. It looks like even most Congressional Republicans (and even a Fox News pundit) agree that the calls for Obama’s resignation and the comparisons to Watergate are preposterous, an example of overreaching. And that was my main point: these scandals are largely a result of overreaching in an effort to condemn Obama by people who hate him, and contain far less actual wrongdoing and effectual substance than is being claimed.

When you’re a mayor, you don’t have Republican potholes or Democratic schools that are failing, you just have problems that you need to fix.

– U.S. Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) on the productive virtue of non-partisanship, during the Problem Solvers Hangout, an internet video chat that was held yesterday by No Labels. Three other Problem Solver Congressmen joined Cicilline and No Labels co-founder Jonathan Miller along with several members of the No Labels community for a free exchange of ideas and a frank and honest discussion about problems, solutions, and the country’s future.

Information about the event, including video of it in its entirety, can be found here.

Reposted from the No Labels blog – all are pretty good examples of what can be accomplished with compromise and a reach across the aisle:

KIND WORDS ACROSS THE AISLE: As part of the TIME 100 series, President Barack Obama wrote a piece about Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had kind words for Vice President Joe Biden. “We’ve bonded over family and faith. And we’ve harnessed our friendship and mutual respect to find places where we can agree and work together to move this country forward,” Obama said of Coburn. “His list of accomplishments is impressive, but most impressive to me is his ability to build bridges, bring people together and get things done. Even though we disagree on many issues, he creates opportunities for future collaboration,”Cantor said of Biden.

GRIDLOCK IS NO WAY TO GOVERN: After economist Larry Summers suggested gridlock could be a good thing for Washington, writers Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann quickly point to the negative effects of gridlock. “This level of partisan polarization, veering from ideological differences into tribalism, has not been seen in more than a century. The U.S. system has always moved slowly, but in times past major advances were achieved with some level of cooperation or restraint, if not consensus, between the parties. No more,” they write: Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann for The Washington Post: Gridlock is no way to govern

NO MOVEMENT ON CYBER SECURITY: The House passed the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act with significant across-the-aisle support, but it does not look likely to make it through the Senate. This stems from hyper-partisan debates over the role of government in protecting the power grid, banking sector and other key industries from attack, but also the best way to safeguard Americans’ civil liberties. Problem Solvers Reps. Lynn Jenkins and Scott Peters worked together to get the bill passed. “We come from two very different political parties and disagree on many issues, but we both believe this bill is critical for our nation and hope to see is become law very soon,” they write.

SIMPSON-BOWLES REDUX: Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson are back urging lawmakers to consider a new deficit reduction plan they have released. The deal represents more of a compromise than the previous one with less spending cuts and less tax revenues. “I think this is our last chance. I don’t think there’s any chance after the end of the fiscal year because we’ll be back into politics again,” Bowles said, adding that lawmakers have completed the easy parts: Lori Montgomery for The Washington Post: New Bowles-Simpson plan takes aim at deficit

The No Labels blog continually gathers current, news-worthy instances of bipartisanship, and posts them daily.

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