Category Archives: Crime

California to Investigate Racial Discrimination in Auto Insurance Premiums

Pictures of Money / CC BY 2.0

The California Department of Insurance has launched an investigation into whether eight auto insurers in the state discriminate against drivers in minority neighborhoods.

The investigation was prompted by an April 5 article, co-published by ProPublica and Consumer Reports, which found that the eight California insurers were charging more for auto premiums in minority neighborhoods, on average, than in non-minority areas with similar accident costs. California law prohibits insurers from charging rates that are excessive or unfairly discriminatory.

“We have taken these pricing allegations very seriously,” Deputy Commissioner Ken Allen wrote on April 28 to an attorney at Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports. “… All necessary information to complete a thorough analysis on a file-by-file basis has already been or will be obtained from the eight insurers. The Department’s analysis will determine if there are inequities with respect to the pricing and treatment of any ZIP codes by these insurers.”

At the time our article was published, the California insurance department disputed ProPublica’s analysis. “The study’s flawed methodology results in a flawed conclusion,” the regulatory agency said in a statement.

But after hearing from groups including Consumers Union, Public Advocates and Consumer Watchdog, the department decided to initiate its own investigation. It will make the results of the review public, Allen told Consumers Union.

It’s not clear what data and methodology the department will use in its review, or whether it has the necessary data in-house. Allen wrote that the department will ask the eight insurers to submit “filings of their auto class plans and rating methodologies for review of discriminatory rating practices,” but the department regularly collects much of this information anyway.

The eight companies under scrutiny are subsidiaries of three major national insurers: Nationwide, USAA and Liberty Mutual.

Liberty Mutual and Nationwide both said that they don’t discriminate and that they cooperate with any review by the California insurance department.

“We support and embrace an inclusive environment that is free from discrimination in the workplace and in our businesses,” said Liberty Mutual spokesman John Cusolito. “… We are committed to offering drivers fair and competitive priced car insurance coverage options.”

“Nationwide develops its rates based on sound actuarial principles, relying on loss and expense experience and utilizing permissible and nondiscriminatory rating factors in compliance with each state’s ratemaking laws,” said Nationwide spokesman Eric Hardgrove.

USAA did not respond to a request for comment.

“We sincerely hope the California Department of Insurance will reaffirm what they had originally referred to as ‘flawed methodology’ that led to ‘a flawed conclusion,’” said James Lynch, chief actuary of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group.

Lynch said the institute hired an actuarial firm that has reviewed ProPublica’s data. That study has not been made public.

In California, which is a highly regulated insurance market, eight of the 21 insurers we examined had pricing disparities of more than 10 percent, led by Liberty Mutual. Its premiums were on average 33 percent higher in zip codes where most residents are minorities than in whiter neighborhoods with similar accident costs. The disparities at USAA and Nationwide were 18 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Disparate pricing was more prevalent in three other states, where insurance is less regulated.

In Illinois, 33 of the 34 companies we analyzed were charging at least 10 percent more, on average, for the same safe driver in zip codes where most residents are minorities than in other comparably risky zip codes. In Missouri and Texas, at least half of the insurers we studied charged higher premiums for a safe driver in high-risk minority communities than in comparably risky non-minority communities.

ProPublica could only examine insurance payouts in four states because they are the only ones that release the type of data needed to compare insurance payouts by geography.

As a result of ProPublica’s reporting, two Illinois lawmakers have proposed barring car insurers there from using a driver’s zip code to determine premiums. Six Democratic members of Congress have also urged the Treasury Department to appoint a director for the Federal Insurance Office, which monitors insurance pricing and availability in minority neighborhoods.

Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney for San Francisco-based Public Advocates, said the California regulator’s actions may not go far enough. “We don’t know exactly what information he has asked for,” he said. “The whole thing is happening in a black box.”

He said that the department’s investigation should be conducted publicly, and the data used for its analysis should also be made available to the public. “It’s just too important an issue to have the public see conclusions without having any basis for understanding what went into them,” Marcantonio said.

Allen assured Consumers Union that this investigation is only the beginning. “The Department will continue this focus on ZIP code treatment in all subsequent class plan filings made by any insurer,” he wrote.

By Julia Angwin / ProPublica

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Death of the Republic

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The deep state’s decision in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States of 2017—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire.

Commodus, like a number of other late Roman emperors, and like President Trump, was incompetent and consumed by his own vanity. He commissioned innumerable statues of himself as Hercules and had little interest in governance. He used his position as head of state to make himself the star of his own ongoing public show. He fought victoriously as a gladiator in the arena in fixed bouts. Power for Commodus, as it is for Trump, was primarily about catering to his bottomless narcissism, hedonism and lust for wealth. He sold public offices so the ancient equivalents of Betsy DeVos and Steve Mnuchin could orchestrate a vast kleptocracy.

Commodus was replaced by the reformer Pertinax, the Bernie Sanders of his day, who attempted in vain to curb the power of the Praetorian Guards, the ancient version of the military-industrial complex. This effort saw the Praetorian Guards assassinate Pertinax after he was in power only three months. The Guards then auctioned off the office of emperor to the highest bidder. The next emperor, Didius Julianus, lasted 66 days. There would be five emperors in A.D. 193, the year after the assassination of Commodus. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents. If the deep state replaces Trump, whose ineptitude and imbecility are embarrassing to the empire, that action will not restore our democracy any more than replacing Commodus restored democracy in Rome. Our republic is dead.

Societies that once were open and had democratic traditions are easy prey for the enemies of democracy. These demagogues pay deference to the patriotic ideals, rituals, practices and forms of the old democratic political system while dismantling it. When the Roman Emperor Augustus—he referred to himself as the “first citizen”—neutered the republic, he was careful to maintain the form of the old republic. Lenin and the Bolsheviks did the same when they seized and crushed the autonomous soviets. Even the Nazis and the Stalinists insisted they ruled democratic states. Thomas Paine wrote that despotic government is a fungus that grows out of a corrupt civil society. This is what happened to these older democracies. It is what happened to us.

Our constitutional rights—due process, habeas corpus, privacy, a fair trial, freedom from exploitation, fair elections and dissent—have been taken from us by judicial fiat. These rights exist only in name. The vast disconnect between the purported values of the state and reality renders political discourse absurd.

Corporations, cannibalizing the federal budget, legally empower themselves to exploit and pillage. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil. The pharmaceutical and insurance industries can hold sick children hostage while their parents bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters. Those burdened by student loans can never wipe out the debt by declaring bankruptcy. In many states, those who attempt to publicize the conditions in the vast factory farms where diseased animals are warehoused for slaughter can be charged with a criminal offense. Corporations legally carry out tax boycotts. Companies have orchestrated free trade deals that destroy small farmers and businesses and deindustrialize the country. Labor unions and government agencies designed to protect the public from contaminated air, water and food and from usurious creditors and lenders have been defanged. The Supreme Court, in an inversion of rights worthy of George Orwell, defines unlimited corporate contributions to electoral campaigns as a right to petition the government or a form of free speech. Much of the press, owned by large corporations, is an echo chamber for the elites. State and city enterprises and utilities are sold to corporations that hike rates and deny services to the poor. The educational system is being slowly privatized and turned into a species of vocational training.

Wages are stagnant or have declined. Unemployment and underemployment—masked by falsified statistics—have thrust half the country into chronic poverty. Social services are abolished in the name of austerity. Culture and the arts have been replaced by sexual commodification, banal entertainment and graphic depictions of violence. The infrastructure, neglected and underfunded, is collapsing. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, arrests, food shortages and untreated illnesses that lead to early death plague a harried underclass. The desperate flee into an underground economy dominated by drugs, crime and human trafficking. The state, rather than address the economic misery, militarizes police departments and empowers them to use lethal force against unarmed civilians. It fills the prisons with 2.3 million citizens, only a tiny percentage of whom had a trial. One million prisoners work for corporations inside prisons as modern-day slaves.

The amendments of the Constitution, designed to protect the citizen from tyranny, are meaningless. The Fourth Amendment, for example, reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The reality is that our telephone calls, emails, texts and financial, judicial and medical records, along with every website we visit and our physical travels, are tracked, recorded and stored in perpetuity in government computer banks.

The state tortures, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay, but also in supermax ADX [administrative maximum] facilities such as the one at Florence, Colo., where inmates suffer psychological breakdowns from prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners, although they are citizens, endure around-the-clock electronic monitoring and 23-hour-a-day lockdowns. They undergo extreme sensory deprivation. They endure beatings. They must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. They can write only one letter a week to one relative and cannot use more than three pieces of paper. They often have no access to fresh air and take their one hour of daily recreation in a huge cage that resembles a treadmill for hamsters.

The state uses “special administrative measures,” known as SAMs, to strip prisoners of their judicial rights. SAMs restrict prisoners’ communication with the outside world. They end calls, letters and visits with anyone except attorneys and sharply limit contact with family members. Prisoners under SAMs are not permitted to see most of the evidence against them because of a legal provision called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. CIPA, begun under the Reagan administration, allows evidence in a trial to be classified and withheld from those being prosecuted. You can be tried and convicted, like Joseph K. in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” without ever seeing the evidence used to find you guilty. Under SAMs, it is against the law for those who have contact with an inmate—including attorneys—to speak about his or her physical and psychological conditions.

And when prisoners are released, they have lost the right to vote and receive public assistance and are burdened with fines that, if unpaid, will put them back behind bars. They are subject to arbitrary searches and arrests. They spend the rest of their lives marginalized as members of a vast criminal caste.

The executive branch of government has empowered itself to assassinate U.S. citizens. It can call the Army into the streets to quell civil unrest under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which ended a prohibition on the military acting as a domestic police force. The executive branch can order the military to seize U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists. This is called “extraordinary rendition.” Those taken into custody by the military can be denied due process and habeas corpus rights and held indefinitely in military facilities. Activists and dissidents, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can face indefinite incarceration.

Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations are criminalized. The state assumed the power to detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.

The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are meaningless theater. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, who is powerless in the face of corporate exploitation, can be described as free. The relationship between the state and the citizen who is watched constantly is one of master and slave. And the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Fatal Stabbing of Black Student at University of Maryland Investigated as Possible Hate Crime

The FBI is helping to evaluate whether the fatal stabbing by a white student of a black student visiting the University of Maryland will be prosecuted as a hate crime, university police said Sunday.

Richard Wilbur Collins III was with two friends on the university’s campus in College Park when he was approached by a man and stabbed in the chest with a knife Saturday morning, University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell told reporters.

Image result for richard wilbur collins
Image: twitter

The 23-year-old had been commissioned as a lieutenant in the US Army two days before his death and had been set to graduate from Bowie State University (BSU) on Tuesday in a ceremony at Maryland, Mitchell said.

The University of Maryland student suspected of Collins’s killing was a member of a Facebook group named Alt Reich, Mitchell said.

More from KTLA

Posted by Libergirl

Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation

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James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.

Such documents, Mr. Chaffetz wrote, would “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the F.B.I.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”

Mr. Chaffetz’s letter, sent to the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, set a May 24 deadline for the internal documents to be delivered to the House committee. The congressman, a Republican, was criticized in recent months for showing little of the appetite he demonstrated in pursuing Hillary Clinton to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s associates.

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The Events That Led to Comey’s Firing, and How the White House’s Story Changed

New disclosures on Tuesday allege that in February, President Trump asked James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to shut down an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

OPEN GRAPHIC

But since announcing in April that he will not seek re-election in 2018, Mr. Chaffetz has shown more interest in the Russia investigation, and held out the potential for a subpoena on Tuesday, a notably aggressive move as most Republicans have tried to stay out of the fray.

In testimony to the Senate last week, Mr. McCabe said, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.” Mr. McCabe was referring to the broad investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The investigation into Mr. Flynn is separate.

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.

Mr. Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president, the two people said. It is unclear whether Mr. Comey told the Justice Department about the conversation or his memos.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last week. Trump administration officials have provided multiple, conflicting accounts of the reasoning behind Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Mr. Trump said in a television interview that one of the reasons was because he believed “this Russia thing” was a “made-up story.”

The Feb. 14 meeting took place just a day after Mr. Flynn was forced out of his job after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Despite the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey, the investigation of Mr. Flynn has proceeded. In Virginia, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas in recent weeks for records related to Mr. Flynn. Part of the Flynn investigation is centered on his financial links to Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.

After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.

Mr. Comey was known among his closest advisers to document conversations that he believed would later be called into question, according to two former confidants, who said Mr. Comey was uncomfortable at times with his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Comey’s recollection has been bolstered in the past by F.B.I. notes. In 2007, he told Congress about a now-famous showdown with senior White House officials over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s account, but the F.B.I. director at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, kept notes that backed up Mr. Comey’s story.

The White House has repeatedly crossed lines that other administrations have been reluctant to cross when discussing politically charged criminal investigations. Mr. Trump has disparaged the continuing F.B.I. investigation as a hoax and called for an inquiry into his political rivals. His representatives have taken the unusual step of declaring no need for a special prosecutor to investigate the president’s associates.

The Oval Office meeting occurred a little over two weeks after Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Comey to the White House for a lengthy, one-on-one dinner at the residence. At that dinner, on Jan. 27, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey at least two times for a pledge of loyalty — which Mr. Comey declined, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Mr. Trump said that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

After the meeting, Mr. Comey’s associates did not believe there was any way to corroborate Mr. Trump’s statements. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion last week that he was keeping tapes has made them wonder whether there are tapes that back up Mr. Comey’s account.

The Jan. 27 dinner came a day after White House officials learned that Mr. Flynn had been interviewed by F.B.I. agents about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. On Jan. 26, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, told the White House counsel about the interview, and said Mr. Flynn could be subject to blackmail by the Russians because they knew he had lied about the content of the calls.

Court fines and fees: Another barrier to North Carolina’s ballot box

How much money do you have to pay before you cast your ballot on Election Day?

Image result for court fees
Image: myfloridalaw.com

For most North Carolinians, the answer might seem obvious: none. As the cornerstone of our democracy, voting is supposed to be fair, accessible – and free. But for an increasing number of North Carolinians, the right to vote can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

How is that possible? The answer is because North Carolina denies the right to vote to people who have felony convictions but cannot afford to pay their court costs, even if they have satisfied all other probation requirements.

Thanks to an ever-growing system of mandatory fines and fees, those caught up in the criminal justice system can be forced to pay anywhere from $40 to hundreds of dollars a month for the cost of their court administration, jail fees, probation, electronic monitoring, drug testing, even community service – and more. If they are unable to pay, they face a penalty fee for nonpayment, increasing their fees and lengthening their probation period.

These costs have increased substantially over time. In 1999, the base cost a person would pay for a superior court date was $106. Today the base cost is $198 with the potential to grow to more than $10,000 in serious cases as additional penalties snowball. Even if they have served all the terms of their sentence, even if they have had no probation violations, low-income people often remain on probation simply because they are low-income. And in far too many North Carolina courts, judges will not conduct hearings on a person’s inability to pay, as is required by law.

More from NC Policy Watch

Posted by Libergirl

Mandatory minimum sentences are cruel and ineffective. Sessions wants them back.

As a federal prosecutor and judge, we saw that these policies do not work.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s 2,300 federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in all but exceptional cases. Rescinding a 2013 policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Sessions wrote it was the “moral and just” thing to do.

Sessions couldn’t be more wrong. We served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge respectively. In our experience, mandatory minimums have swelled the federal prison population and led to scandalous racial disparities. They have caused untold misery at great expense. And they have not made us safer.

Mandatory federal drug sentencing is unforgiving. A person with one prior drug felony who is charged with possession of 10 grams of LSD, 50 grams of methamphetamine, or 280 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute faces 20 years to life. With two priors — no matter how long ago they occurred — the penalty is life without parole.  As one federal judge has written, these are sentences that “no one — not even the prosecutors themselves — thinks are appropriate.”

They waste human potential. They harm the 5 million children who have or have had a parent in prison — including one in nine black children.  And they wreak economic devastation on poor communities. Studies have found, for example, that formerly incarcerated employees make 10 to 40 percent less money than similar workers with no history of incarceration and that the probability of a family being in poverty increases by almost 40 percent when a father is imprisoned.

Still, in 2003 then-Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed line prosecutors to charge mandatory minimums whenever possible. His policy helped grow the federal prison population from 172,000 to nearly 220,000 over the next 10 years.  This was part of a wider national trend that grew the country’s incarcerated population to 2.2 million, almost 60 percent of them black and Latino.

In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder recognized that this system of mass incarceration was at odds with the Justice Department’s values. He told attorneys to reserve the most severe penalties for the most serious offenses. That meant charging cases in a way that would not trigger mandatory minimums for a specific group of defendants: nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, with no ties to gangs or cartels, no involvement in trafficking to minors, and no significant criminal history.

Holder’s policy was part of an emerging criminal justice reform movement. Since 2009, more than half the states have passed legislation to relax mandatory minimums and restore judicial discretion — including deep-red GeorgiaLouisianaMississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. A new crop of prosecutors is openly questioning the use of long prison terms for minor drug crimes. And a bill to ease federal sentencing has bipartisan support in Congress.

Sessions is bent on reversing this progress.

It would be one thing if Holder’s reform efforts had failed — but they did not. The federal prison population fell for the first time after 40 years of exponential growth.  It is down 14 percent over the past 3½ years. While we need a wider conversation about how we sentence all offenders, including violent offenders, state and federal, this was a start. The 2013 policy sent a message about the need to be smart, not just tough, on crime, and the role of prosecutors in that effort.

Sessions’s assault on the past few years of progress might also make sense if mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses were necessary to combat crime — but they are not. A 2014 study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that defendants released early (based on sentencing changes not related to mandatory minimums) were not more likely to reoffend than prisoners who served their whole sentences. That is, for drug charges, shorter sentences don’t compromise public safety. Indeed, research shows it is the certainty of punishment — not the severity — that deters crime.

Sessions’s fixation on mandatory minimums might also be more palatable if they were cost-effective — but they are not. Federal prison costs have ballooned to $7 billion, more than a quarter of DOJ’s budget, driven by a population that is nearly half drug offenders.  And yet as detailed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council last year, most experts believe that expending public resources to incarcerate these offenders is profoundly inefficient.

Sessions’s defenders will say his policy only requires prosecutors to charge the defendant’s true conduct and apply the statutes Congress enacted. But floor statements from legislators show that Congress intended these mandatory minimums to be used against “kingpins” and “middle-level dealers,” not the minor offenders to whom they have been applied.

One of us served as a federal prosecutor under Holder and had mandatory minimum charges at his disposal. The message from the top down was that prosecutors were to pursue justice. Winning did not mean getting the longest sentence possible. It meant getting the right sentence, one that fit the crime and that respected the interests of victims, defendants, and the public.

The other of us served as a federal judge for 17 years, including during the heyday of the Ashcroft regime. She believes that roughly 80 percent of the sentences she was obliged to impose were unjust, unfair and disproportionate. Mandatory penalties meant that she couldn’t individualize punishment for the first-time drug offender, or the addict, or the woman whose boyfriend coerced her into the drug trade.

Under Sessions, prosecutors will be required almost always to charge mandatory minimums, however unjust. They will bind judges’ hands even when the facts cry out for more measured punishment. The result will be great suffering. And there is no good reason for it.

By Nancy Gertner and Chiraag Bains/WashingtonPost

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Maintaining American Imperialism May Help Explain James Comey’s Firing

In a very short amount of time, it’s become something of cliche to talk about Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey as the equivalent of Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” when Nixon fired anyone at the Department of Justice unwilling to fire the Watergate independent prosecutor.

If that does turn out to be an apt analogy, it’s hardly surprising that this is happening in many respects.

The crimes of Watergate came out of the Vietnam War, though this is poorly understood. The Watergate “plumbers” were originally set up to plug the leaks about the Vietnam War.

And so, with the rise of the imperial presidency, it was hardly surprising that someone like Nixon would use the mechanisms of empire—the capacity for secrecy, surveillance and violence—for his own political purposes. Indeed, J. Edgar Hoover, atop the FBI, had been doing so for decades.

The late Watergate historian Stanley Kutler writes in his book “Abuse of Power” that Nixon railed to his aides about papers regarding the Vietnam War that he thought were at the then-liberal Brookings Institution.

“I want it implemented. … Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

The documents Nixon apparently wanted to get hold of allegedly showed that Lyndon Johnson curtailed the bombing of Vietnam in 1968 to boost the Democrats’ election prospects of winning the election that year.

A great irony now is that the establishment Democrats are going after Trump in a number of personal ways, but collude in others, and indeed stiffen up his use of violence. When Trump uses military violence in Yemen or Syria, he is lauded as presidential by presumed liberals like Van Jones and Fareed Zakaria.

Johnson was thought to curtail bombing for political gain. Trump now gains politically when he engages in bombing.

The U.S. establishment seems to want an emperor who will go around the world spying on people and killing them as he sees fit, while ensuring he abides by legal niceties.

The obsessiveness over secrecy and the intense “principle-less” partisanship give us a situation where the political factions spew allegations to the public that are, at best, difficult to discern, even if you follow politics full-time, much less if you’re trying to hold down a regular honest job.

This leads to a political culture based on loving or hating various political figures, or just checking out of politics, which much of the political establishment may want for large sectors of the public.

The secrecy and the surveillance are sold to the public as necessary for their own protection, but the opposite is true. The little known Katharine Gun case highlights how the actual target of surveillance is frequently not “terrorism,” but the threat of peace.

So, the Trump administration’s ridiculous claims about the reasons for the Comey firing are fairly similar to the lying pretexts that U.S. officialdom used to justify the Iraq invasion. Empire is compatible with democracy only with a series of dehumanizing triple standards. It’s fine there, just don’t do it here.

After all, the main victims of the Iraq invasion were the Iraqi people, and they are off screen and the officials who inflicted horrors on them have all walked away nice and clear.

The mechanisms of empire are tolerated, until someone like Trump seems to be using them for his own personal ends.

In terms of Trump’s own crimes, he is quite impeachable on the domestic emoluments clause, but the establishment Democrats seem quite uninterested in pursuing that.

They have focused on his apparent ties to Russia. There may well be something there. Trump is a corrupt figure, and it’s well within his capacities to engage in a massive, if at times possibly buffoonish, cover-up. But it is incredibly dangerous that the establishment Democrats seem intent on risking escalations with the other major nuclear power on the planet so they can beat Trump over the head.

By Sam Husseini/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist