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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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To further extrapolate on the previous two posts, the Obama administration is indeed responsible for broad failures related to the current scandals in its inability to reform government in the way he promised, and act on some of his campaign principles. Obama’s culpability here, though, is in a more abstract, ideological sense, a failure of principle, rather than specific wrongdoing, negligence, or conspiracy on the part of the administration as relates to Benghazi, the IRS, or the Justice Department. From a post by Dan Balz:

[Obama] then described what that meant for the government he was beginning to assemble [in 2009]. “What we don’t know yet is whether my administration and this next generation of leadership is going to be able to hew to a new, more pragmatic approach that is less interested in whether we have big government or small government [but is] more interested in whether we have a smart, effective government.”

What has happened since Obama laid down that challenge for his administration? More Americans favor smaller government over bigger government than when he was first elected, according to exit polls from last November. Public confidence in the federal government is as low as it has ever been, according to a Pew Research Center survey released this spring.

This weekend, four of the government’s biggest agencies are beset by political controversy, management breakdowns or both: State (what happened in Benghazi), Treasury (targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service), Justice (leak-related investigationof the Association Press) and Defense (rising numbers of sexual assaults). Add to that the questions about Health and Human Services and its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and it is little wonder confidence has eroded.

There are many reasons for the public’s diminished confidence in the federal government, reflecting general disapproval with the way Washington has worked during the Obama years. The president’s advisers blame Republicans for much of the gridlock and partisan infighting, and they are quick to note that Obama’s approval ratings are far higher than those of the Republicans.

Republicans do bear a considerable share of the responsibility for overall attitudes about Washington and government. Their dismal ratings are a measure of public dissatisfaction with the party generally and with House Republican efforts to thwart the president. But Obama bears a particular responsibility for failing to do what he said he had to do, which was to persuade the public that he could make the part of government that he directly controls — the executive branch — smarter, more effective and more deserving of trust.

[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.

MarijuanaHigh on my list of Obama’s Un-kept Promises is his inconsistency on medical marijuana policy. When he was entering office, there was a perception that Obama was going to respect the laws of states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes – currently numbering seventeen, though less at the time – and that he would essentially stand-down Justice Department prosecution of cases related to the issue. Where did this perception come from? Maybe here:

In a March 2008 interview, Obama told the Oregon Mail Tribune that medical marijuana ranked low on his list of priorities.

“I think the basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors, I think that’s entirely appropriate,” Obama said. “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”

ObamaPotObama said this to the Oregon Daily Mail during his first campaign. However, Obama’s own personal penchant for smoking marijuana has been well-documented, so perhaps he just forgot. Because during his first three years in office, Obama’s Justice Department was responsible for over one hundred medical marijuana busts. In his first term, his wrath on dispensaries has exceeded even that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

And, as we all undoubtedly know, marijuana has been legalized for recreational use under the state laws of Washington and Colorado (a similar measure was defeated in Oregon) – so the sky should be falling down any day now.

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