Progress on Criminal Justice Reform Represents the Positive Side of Bipartisanship

Originally published at Every Joe

Bipartisanship is often a dirty word to libertarians. This may seem counterintuitive, seeing as we tend to agree with conservatives on many issues while siding with liberals on others. But when it comes to how Washington operates, bipartisanship typically represents Democrats and Republicans scheming to increase the power of the political class at the expense of average Americans. This comes in the form of across-the-aisle “compromise” on issues such as piling up national debt, funding corporate bailouts, and generally increasing the size of government in a manner that prevents businesses without political connections from fairly competing in the market.

In recent years, however, a positive bipartisan consensus has formed around the notion that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform. Nearly half of all federal inmates are incarcerated as a result of drug charges, tearing families apart, all over non-violent crimes. Meanwhile, taxpayers spend $500 per minute on the War on Drugs, yet drug trafficking has increased over the years. Clearly, it’s long past time for a change.

This speaks to why earlier this month, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act was introduced in the Senate. As Ari Melber at MSNBC reported: “The bill would reform federal prison sentencing to reduce some of the automatic and harsh punishments Congress passed since it began cracking down on drug use. It would end the federal ‘three strikes’ rule and limit the use of mandatory 10-year sentences for offenders who have not committed violent or major felonies.

Beyond reforming the length of some prison terms, the bill would also bulk up rehab programs for selected inmates, including job training, drug treatment and religious programs designed to reduce recidivism. The proposal also restricts the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, an increasingly controversial practice in American prisons.”

This piece of legislation represents a compromise that follows earlier bills such as the Smarter Sentencing Act and Justice Safety Valve Act. Both were introduced in the Senate and had the backing of libertarian Republican Senator Rand Paul, but they have thus far failed to garner enough support to move forward. What they have done, despite the lack of legislative progress, is act as crucial building blocks to get to the point the Senate reached this month. To many reform advocates however, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is merely a band-aid on a bullet wound. This is largely because Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, remains committed to the basic premises of the War on Drugs.

As Jacob Sullum said at Reason: “The Smarter Sentencing Act was already a compromise compared to the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bill backed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would have eliminated mandatory minimums. Yet Grassley called the less ambitious bill ‘lenient’ and ‘dangerous,’ since it would lighten penalties for offenses involving substantial amounts of drugs and manufacture, smuggling, or distribution. He conflated such offenses with violence, which means he either does not understand what that word means or does not understand how the current law works. It’s a shame that reformers in the Senate must kowtow to such a mindlessly punitive demagogue.”

While supporters of strong criminal justice reform such as Sullum see the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act as watered down compared to more ambitious bills, many see it as a slow but sure step in the right direction given the atrocious state of affairs. As Julie Stewart, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said in response to the new legislation:

This bill isn’t the full repeal of mandatory minimum sentences we ultimately need, but it is a substantial improvement over the status quo and will fix some of the worst injustices created by federal mandatory sentences.” Added Stewart regarding the fact that the law will apply to individuals already incarcerated: “This bill will save countless families unnecessary hardship in the future, but just as important, it will provide relief to thousands of prisoners currently serving excessive sentences. Retroactivity is the right thing to do morally and economically. These reforms will help reduce the prison population and shift more resources to crime prevention and rehabilitation.”

As for the downsides, Stewart ultimately agreed with Sullum’s take on the negatives – particularly around the fact that the bill includes new mandatory minimum sentencing despite reducing certain penalties: “It’s a shame that some lawmakers have not broken their addiction to mandatory minimums despite mountains of evidence proving they aren’t necessary or proven to deter crime. We will work to strike these useless provisions, which fly in the face of the rest of the bill’s smart reforms.”

Regarding the bill’s new mandatory minimums, Bonnie Kristian explained at Rare: “If passed, it will actually expand mandatory minimum sentencing for some crimes, particularly violent crimes and those related to ‘supporting terrorism.’ This latter bit is concerning because it has the potential to be very vague, possibly even including nonviolent activities that properly ought to be considered free (if despicable) speech.”

This point is certainly concerning from a libertarian perspective. Advocates of civil liberties have fought tirelessly, particularly in a post 9/11-era, to make sure that the government cannot detain citizens it merely accuses of terrorism without the access to due process they’re constitutionally entitled to. Recent examples of this include the proxy-war over an indefinite detention provision that was first tacked on to the annual National Defense Authorization Act for the 2012 fiscal year. Across the political aisle, politicians from Diane Feinstein to Rand Paul tried to stop the detainment of Americans without a trial, but these controversial provisions remain in place.

This lends itself to questions surrounding increased mandatory minimums for “supporting terrorism.” We already have a government that doesn’t even blink at violating a citizen’s’ basic right to a trial. Now we have to take discretion out of the hands of the officials actually on the ground dealing with sentencing to satisfy overzealous politicians? It’s certainly a concern, seeing as the problems with mandatory minimums in drug cases are obvious. It will certainly be interesting to see how this provision plays out as the bill works its way through the Senate.

Despite some flaws, it ultimately appears as though the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a step in the right direction. Like most political progress, it’s rife with compromise; but if it places us on a positive path, the hope is to build up from there. Reducing mandatory minimum sentencing around drug crimes, particularly retroactively, will go a long way toward reducing the non-violent prison population. Crucially, it will also give judges the ability to better form a punishment based on the actual crime in question, rather than being tied down by what often amounts to an arbitrary federal restriction.

If all goes well, this bill will ultimately be signed into law. Perhaps the more radical reforms that have already been introduced, in addition to new ones in the works, can get a fair hearing and pass through Congress as well. The good news is that progress is being made, and the retroactive aspects of these pieces of legislation will do tangible good for the people presently ensnared in our maze of a penal system. Time will tell whether true justice will ultimately be served.

This one-time tea partier is now fighting for crony capitalism alongside Nancy Pelosi

Originally published at Rare

Remember the Export-Import Bank? It’s long been a federally funded, New Deal relic that subsidizes giant businesses on the taxpayers’ dime.

In a feat that’s rare in Washington, Ex-Im hasn’t been reauthorized in the approximately three months since its doors were closed as a result of a congressional failure to renew its charter thanks to tea party opposition.

Despite its erstwhile status, the specter of this corporate welfare boondoggle looms large—particularly over K Street’s lobbying firms, which would like nothing more than to see it resurrected. This is why they’ve lavished House Financial Services Committee member Stephen Fincher with donations to fuel his reelection. In fact, according to data from the Federal Election Commission, 99 percent of his campaign money comes from corporate political action committees.

And Fincher, despite being swept into Congress on the anti-corporatist tea party wave of 2010, has obliged. As the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney reports:

Fincher, once an opponent of the Export-Import Bank —a federal agency that subsidizes foreign buyers of U.S.-made goods — now is trying to undermine his party’s leadership by teaming up with Nancy Pelosi and her party in order to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank as President Obama and his big donors in the business lobby have demanded.

This is quite a turnaround for Fincher, who said during his first run for Congress:

I may not be a polished politician, but as a lifelong farmer I know that most problems can be solved with a little common sense. When I’m elected, I’ll put that common sense to work for everyday Tennesseans, not the special interests. Trillion-dollar bailouts, bloated budgets and boondoggle spending packages aren’t working, at least for my friends and neighbors.

Fincher was right about one thing: trillion-dollar bailouts aren’t working for his friends and neighbors. But neither is he. He’s only pulled in two donations, totaling a mere $750, from his home district in west Tennessee. His 148 other donations have been from lobbying firms and big companies that leverage corporate welfare to keep their competitors out of the market.

This just goes to show how easy it is for power to corrupt. The tea party swept over Congress just six years ago, but it didn’t take Fincher long to sell out. The incentives our representatives face in Washington not only encourage this behavior; they make it virtually irresistible.

Hopefully, Fincher and Pelosi will fail in their quest to reauthorize a federally funded bank that doles out favors to the politically connected, but it will likely take the kind of organized grassroots pressure that stopped Ex-Im’s usually automatic reauthorization in the first place. Although many Republicans support Ex-Im, past leadership compromised with more conservative members on this matter. The bank’s fate under a new House speakership, the details of which are playing out this week, remains to be seen.

New Daily Show host compares Donald Trump to African dictators—and the similarities are eerie

Originally published at Rare

Trevor Noah, the new host of the Daily Show, is a native of South Africa. That led him to notice a hilarious correlation between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and various dictators from his home continent.

“I know his comments about immigrants were upsetting to some people,” Noah deadpanned. “But for me, as an African, there’s just something familiar about Trump that makes me feel at home.”

Noah then cut to a clip of Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, warning about “the influx of illegal migrants, crime, unfair business practices, drugs,” invoking Trump’s controversial comments about illegal immigrants who are rapists and drug dealers. Hilariously, Zuma qualified his statement in much the same way Trump does, adding, “It’s also not true that all foreign nationals are involved in criminal activities. There are some who are, but not all of them.”

Noah went on to compare Trump’s comments about vaccines causing autism to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh claiming he can cure AIDS with bananas; Trump’s assertion that he’s the richest, smartest, and everyone loves him to almost identical comments made by Ugandan president Idi Amin; and Trump’s penchant for “taking his country back” and “winning” to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe making similar remarks. Trump’s lavish lifestyle and Obama birtherism also earned him a Moammar Gaddafi comparison.

As Noah said, “Donald Trump is presidential; he just happens to be running on the wrong continent!”

The Secret Service released private information about this congressman as an act of revenge

Originally published at Rare

When you’re the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the entire purpose of your job is to hold bureaucratic agencies accountable and make sure they’re responsible stewards of taxpayer resources. When an executive agency betrays the trust fundamental to executing its duties, it’s incumbent upon the legislature to act. After all, our constitutional republic is built upon a framework of accountability through divided power.

This is why what recently happened to Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), current head of the aforementioned Oversight Committee, is completely outrageous. Last March, Chaffetz grilled Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy at a hearing that was called in the wake of multiple acts of incompetence within his agency. Chaffetz’s tough but legitimate questions, many of which Clancy had difficulty answering, apparently irked several Secret Service agents.

So enraged were key Secret Services members that it was decided they should exact revenge on Chaffetz by revealing some personal information they had on him. According to the Washington Post, a report released by the Department of Homeland Security this week revealed an email written by Edward Lowery, an assistant director at the Secret Service, to a co-worker of the same rank. In the message, sent just days after the aforementioned hearing, Lowery said, “Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out … just to be fair.”

The information in question? Chaffetz had applied for a job at the Secret Service in 2003, and was rejected. This was not supposed to be public knowledge, as it was contained in a restricted-access personnel file that should have been kept private. Yet high-ranking individuals within the Secret Service decided that childish revenge was appropriate—which actually lent further credence to the claims of incompetence Chaffetz made in the first place.

As the Washington Post notes:

Staff members in the most senior headquarters offices, the president’s protective detail, the public affairs office, the office of investigations, and field offices in Sacramento, Charlotte, Dallas and elsewhere accessed Chaffetz’s file — and many acknowledged sharing it widely. …All told, 18 supervisors, including assistant directors, the deputy director and even Clancy’s chief of staff knew the information was being widely shared through agency offices.

Regarding the incident, Chaffetz released a statement saying:

Certain lines should never be crossed. The unauthorized access and distribution of my personal information crossed that line. It was a tactic designed to intimidate and embarrass me and frankly, it is intimidating. It’s scary to think about all the possible dangers in having your personal information exposed. The work of the committee, however, will continue. I remain undeterred in conducting proper and rigorous oversight.

Sadly, this incident reflects an ongoing problem with a lack of professionalism—not to mention outright lawbreaking—among executive agencies. A recent report, also released this week, revealed that agents at the Drug Enforcement Agency have been given mere slaps on the wrist for crimes such as using and selling drugs that they put others in prison for. Whether the Secret Service members who targeted Chaffetz will be fired or reprimanded remains to be seen.

Clancy, the head of the agency whom Chaffetz grilled, said:

The Secret Service takes employee misconduct very seriously, and as I have stated before, any employee, regardless of rank or seniority, who has committed misconduct will be held accountable. This incident will be no different and I will ensure the appropriate disciplinary actions are taken.

What this statement means in practice, however, is unknown at this time.

Bernie Sanders just pulled in a massive fundraising haul

Originally published at Rare

Bernie Sanders was supposed to be the ultimate fringe candidate.

The aging, frumpy, self-avowed socialist senator from Vermont wasn’t expected to be a genuine threat to the woman supported by the Democratic machine. The plan was to let Hillary Clinton breeze through the primary undamaged and shuffle into a general election against a Republican inevitably bruised from a hard-fought inter-party battle.

Make no mistake: Clinton is still the choice of the Democratic establishment and most primary voters. But there’s a growing and vocal contingent of liberals skeptical that she can be trusted. These activists are wary of her cozy relationship with giant corporations and special interests, not to mention her penchant for avoiding transparency. They’ve found solace in the honesty and integrity of Bernie Sanders, and his campaign fundraising reflects it.

This quarter, Sanders managed to raise an impressive $26 million, only $2 million less than the Democratic frontrunner backed by every rent-seeking corporatist with a checkbook. As Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post points out, Clinton should be worried by this development not because she’s lagging in fundraising, but because Sanders has something she doesn’t: grassroots enthusiasm. And with that comes small-dollar donors, the exact type of support Barack Obama drew on throughout the 2008 primary to overcome the Clinton Machine.

Writes Cillizza:

Clinton held 58 fundraising events to raise her total; Sanders held seven. As of the end of September, Sanders had brought in 1.3 million total donations from 650,000 individuals since he began running. Clinton’s campaign did not release how many total donors she has. And Sanders ended September with $25 million in the bank; Clinton did not release how much money her campaign had on hand.

This speaks to the fundamental differences between Sanders and Clinton, which ought to worry a floundering frontrunner with an upside-down favorability rating and a campaign plagued by an email scandal. And unfortunately for Clinton, this fundraising narrative doesn’t do her any favors.

The fact that Clinton draws the vast majority of her support from high-dollar donors at fancy receptions simply reinforces what voters—particularly principled grassroots liberals—dislike about her. She represents corruption within a system they believe is fundamentally perfectible if they put the right people in positions of power. Why choose Clinton over Sanders if you’re looking for someone who has consistently fought for your vision of what’s right?

While Clinton probably still has the Democratic nomination on lock (even if Joe Biden does decide to jump into the race), nobody could have guessed Sanders would surge as he has. Polls show him leading Clinton in New Hampshire, and his campaign has benefitted from the kind of grassroots energy no amount of money can manufacture.

Presently, nearly a quarter of the Republican field is polling competitively with Hillary in a general election. Perhaps President Clinton Part II isn’t as inevitable as many thought?

Why Does the Government’s Budgeting Process Always Seem to Invite a Shutdown?

Originally published at Every Joe

For the past several months, the specter of another government shutdown has loomed over Capitol Hill. This week, at the last minute, the House and Senate passed a temporary stopgap bill to fund the government until early December. To the casual observer, it might seem strange that every few months, another one of these budget fights crops up. And it’s always coupled with heated rhetoric about the terrors that will befall the nation if “non-essential” government employees stop working temporarily.

Why has Congress been operating in this down-to-the-wire, haphazard fashion? All while the President threatens not to sign any bill that defunds his pet projects into law, thus triggering a shutdown?

Some might say it’s a function of divided government, particularly with a Democratic president in office forced to deal with a Republican Congress ushered in by grassroots conservatives primarily responding to big spending on items such as Obamacare. Similar dynamics were present during the 1990s with Clinton in the White House, flanked by newly elected Republicans promising reform.

Conservative frustration however, is arguably at even higher levels today, reflected broadly in the Tea Party movement that swept three Senators now running for president into office. This anger at the status quo can also be seen presently through the fact that the three non-politicians in the Republican presidential primary are the current frontrunners.

Grassroots activists, who have worked through the Obama era to send the most conservative candidates possible to Congress, want to see results. Prior recent shutdown scares have surrounded conservative desires to defund first, Obamacare, and more immediately in the wake of controversial videos, Planned Parenthood. There have also been numerous proxy battles over wasteful and duplicative spending, with unfortunately, little to show for it.

Since spending bills must come from Congress and be signed into law by the President, it has been difficult for Republican leaders who want to avoid a government shutdown to compromise with the members who were elected by their constituents for the specific purpose of holding the line against Obama’s agenda. This is the case in particular when congressional leadership chooses to lurch from spending bill to spending bill with no concrete resolutions.

This has put former Speaker Boehner, who resigned last week under just the kind of aforementioned pressure, in a difficult spot. He and his Majority Leader counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, have repeatedly relied on Democrats to undermine the wishes of conservatives looking to use Congress’ spending power to eliminate funding for liberal items. The trouble is, the President responds by saying he won’t sign a funding bill into law unless it contains his preferred amounts. And he knows, rightly or wrongly, that he has the upper-hand in the public’s eye as things stand.

Since all spending expires and must be renewed to continue, if Congress fails to put a bill on the President’s desk in a timely fashion, or if he decides to veto it, that triggers a government shutdown; not particularly crisis-inducing in any immediate sense, but almost always a public relations nightmare for Republicans. The GOP is effectively cast as childish bullies, willing to stop the government in its tracks by refusing to fund its basic operations, even though the story is vastly more complicated than such a simple narrative captures.

One could say the trouble is Obama and his unwillingness to respect the constitutional authority vested in Congress around spending bills. Democrats have decided that they’d rather allow a government shutdown than compromise on their budget priorities, because it’s easy for them to blame Republicans. Frustrating? Yes, but also the political world in which we live presently; partially because Republicans won’t step up to the plate.

There is however, another way; if Congress chooses to do its job and act in a responsible fashion. In that spirit, Rand Paul took to the Senate floor in the midst of this week’s budget debate to explain how Congress can move away from the past decade of irresponsible, piecemeal, last minute “continuing resolutions” (CRs).

Describing the latest CR as “a warmed over version of yesterday’s failures,” Paul noted the fact that the budgeting process has devolved into nothing more than “a continuation of the deficit spending of the past;” spending that has resulted in over $18 trillion in federal debt. In fact, in the past decade since the CR process – which haphazardly lumps all spending into one bill – has been used in lieu of proper appropriations measures, nearly $10 trillion has been added to the national debt.

Said Paul:

We are told that we can’t win. That we need sixty votes (in the Senate) to defund anything. But perhaps there’s an alternate future where courage steps up and saves the day. All spending is set to expire automatically. This is the perfect time to turn the tables; to tell the other side that THEY will need sixty votes to affirmatively spend ANY money. It doesn’t have to be sixty votes to STOP things; all spending WILL expire. And only those programs for which we can get sixty votes should go forward.

What would that mean? It would mean an elimination of waste. An elimination of duplication. An elimination of bad things that we spend money on. If we had the courage, we could use the Senate’s supermajority rules to stop wasteful spending. If we had the courage, we could force the other side to come up with sixty votes to fund things like Planned Parenthood. The budget is loaded with nonsense and waste.”

The truth is, Paul is absolutely correct. Congress has, as he noted, abdicated its basic powers, essentially allowing the President to legislate on a variety of different levels, but particularly in the realm of spending. Instead of putting forth individual appropriations bills, which would require a lot of work, but is what members of Congress were elected to do, the legislative branch repeatedly admits defeat before even trying to cut spending. In fact, both the White House and Republican leaders have been more focused on attempting to undo the minor but helpful sequestration spending caps that were put into place as a compromise measure for raising the debt ceiling, yet again, back in 2011.

Ultimately, it appears as though most members of Congress simply don’t care about the fact that our national debt adds up to nearly $155,000 per taxpayer. By passing hapless CR after hapless CR, and funding the government in this dysfunctional fashion without targeted spending reductions, our Representatives have made themselves abundantly clear.

It’s time to sift through the list of who’s endorsing this behavior with their votes, to call their offices, and tell them to pressure GOP leadership, particularly whomever will be the next Speaker of the House, to change this process. To, as Paul suggested, put forth serious appropriations bills, and force those who want to spend money we borrow from China on the backs of future generations to own each ridiculous, wasteful program they support with their individual vote.

For too long, congressional leadership has acquiesced to the Executive branch and created a false choice: fund everything the President demands, or endure a government shutdown. It doesn’t have to be this way, but only grassroots pressure will change that. Call your representatives today and demand responsible, individual appropriations bills. Anything short of that reflects the failed status quo of budget brinkmanship that both hurts conservatives in the eyes of the public, and adds countless millions to the already unsustainable national debt. It’s long past time for a new path forward.

Rand Paul gains ground in latest poll

Originally published at Rare

According to a poll released by Reuters this week, Rand Paul is gaining after a summer slump.

Presently, Paul garners at 5.6 percent of the vote, with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz just behind him at 5.3 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.

While the three “outsider” candidates, Donald Trump (30 percent), Ben Carson (12.9 percent), and Carly Fiorina (10.8 percent) remain at the top of the pack for now, Paul’s gain, particularly in light of Scott Walker and Rick Perry dropping out, is a sign that interest in his campaign could be increasing. Unusually, a specific margin of error was not provided in the Reuter’s survey.

Paul polling ahead of his senate colleagues Rubio and Cruz is positive news for a candidate that many in the media have speculated would be the next to drop out. Paul is pulling triple duty currently between a presidential race, his senate reelection, and regular voting business in Washington. He has spent this week in the senate focused on battles over funding the government.

On Tuesday, Paul gave an impassioned speech against voting for a continuing resolution, chiding his senate colleagues for continuing what he called their “immoral” deficit spending, which is reliant upon borrowing one million dollars per minute. Cruz joined Paul in voting against the continuing resolution, while Rubio, who has missed nearly 30 percent of his senate votes, wasn’t present.

Due to his less-than-ideal fundraising and polling numbers in recent months, some news outlets have speculated that Paul’s upcoming trip to Kentucky to focus on his senate reelection is a death knell for his presidential ambitions. His campaign however, asserts that splitting Paul’s time in this fashion was always a part of the plan, and is charging ahead, happy with the latest polling news.

Said Paul’s campaign manager Chip Englander, “The Reuters poll tracks with our internal metrics that show Senator Paul moving up in the polls.” Englander further noted that this comes on the heels of Paul winning the largest Republican straw poll in the country, held in Michigan earlier this month.

Englander continued, “Senator Paul is generating huge crowds everywhere he goes as he talks about his plan to eliminate $500 billion in one year, pass a flat tax, and term limits to get rid of the career politicians.”

“This Reuters poll is just the latest in several metrics of the Senator’s strengths,” he added.

Whether Paul can continue to gain if the three non-politician frontrunners falter, remains to be seen. What we do know however, is that it’s not uncommon for outsider candidates to fade, similar to Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain in 2008.

Perhaps Paul, who was elected to the Senate as the ultimate outsider, can be successful playing a slow and steady game, or can at least show this is still anybody’s race to win.

This new disclosure shows the utter hypocrisy of the Drug Enforcement Agency

Originally published at Rare

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the bureaucracy responsible for waging the War on Drugs, appears to take a do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do approach towards employee accountability.

First there was the revelation earlier this year that DEA agents attended drug cartel-funded “sex parties” with prostitutes while on assignment in Colombia.

In the wake of congressional testimony about the incident, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart resigned, and the Department of Justice launched an investigation into whether the DEA is properly punishing wrongdoing among its agents.

Reports obtained this week through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, however, appear to show that pervasive accountability problems persist at the DEA. As USA Today reports:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has allowed its employees to stay on the job despite internal investigations that found they had distributed drugs, lied to the authorities or committed other serious misconduct, newly disclosed records show….

…Records from the DEA’s disciplinary files show that was hardly the only instance in which the DEA opted not to fire employees despite apparently serious misconduct.

Of the 50 employees the DEA’s Board of Professional Conduct recommended be fired following misconduct investigations opened since 2010, only 13 were actually terminated, the records show. And the drug agency was forced to take some of them back after a federal appeals board intervened.

According to the newly obtained information, previously revealed drug-fueled sex parties were just the tip of the iceberg. DEA agents can apparently fail random drug tests, drive and damage government vehicles while drunk, falsify documents, lie about the discharging of weapons, sexually harass others—even sell drugs—and not only stay out of prison, but keep their jobs.

Per USA Today:

The DEA’s internal affairs log shows investigators review more than 200 cases each year and often clear the agents involved. When they do find wrongdoing, the most common outcome is a either a letter of caution — the lightest form of discipline the agency can impose — or a brief unpaid suspension.

In fewer than 6% of those cases did DEA managers recommend firing. In some of those cases, the agency allowed employees to quit. More often, it settled on a lesser punishment… Even when employees are fired, records show the punishment doesn’t always stick because the agents were reinstated by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board, the independent body that reviews federal disciplinary matters.

These double standards, set for those who are supposed to be enforcing our laws, are nothing short of outrageous. It’s especially enraging considering the fact that our prisons are overcrowded with individuals doing time for drug charges, many of whom come from impoverished backgrounds and should be treated for addiction rather than thrown behind bars.

Unfortunately, the situation at the DEA reinforces the idea that if you have access to power, you’re above the law; a sad reality that flies in the face of the notion that justice should be blind. Today, more than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated as a result of drug charges, yet if a DEA agent engages in the same activity, he or she can apparently get off, in most cases, with a mere slap on the wrist.

Hopefully, Congress and the Department of Justice will do the right thing and force accountability within the DEA. Given the pace and efficiency of federal bureaucracy, however, we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Here’s how bad things are looking for the “inevitable” Hillary Clinton

Originally published at Rare

For a decade, we’ve been told that Hillary Clinton is “inevitable.” Yet it seems that whenever she’s within striking distance of the presidency, serious obstacles challenge the validity of that narrative.

In 2008, she couldn’t out-maneuver upstart Senator Barack Obama. Today, she’s plagued by the scandal surrounding her private email server, the details of which seem to worsen with every new drop in her polling.

Her campaign is increasingly facing headlines such as “Hillary Clinton Says She Cannot Explain Why Previously Undisclosed Emails Turned Up,” and “Yes, Hillary Clinton Broke the Law.”

Meanwhile, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked her this past Sunday, “Can you say with 100 percent certainty that the deleted emails, that the FBI’s not going to find anything in there that’s going to cause you to have to explain again?” Her response? “All I can tell you is that when my attorneys conducted this exhaustive process, I did not participate.” When pressed further, Clinton explained that the technical aspects of what’s going on are “beyond her understanding.”

These aren’t exactly satisfactory answers when voters are wondering why the FBI is parsing through the deleted emails of the Democratic frontrunner and contemplating whether or not she compromised classified information.

As Andrea Mitchell said on Meet the Press after Clinton’s interview:

She is carefully saying that I’m not an IT person, I’m not technical, we know that about her. It was the IT people, it was the lawyers who decided which emails to delete, which to turn over. So she’s building in deniability …. But she’s basically not dealing with the question that there is this continued drip, drip, drip. And she cannot get to the policies that she wants to talk about. She tries to pivot to it. She does in (Todd’s) interview …. But she can’t, this is all …. overshadowing what she really wants to be talking about. And that is the reason why she is hurting in the polls.

Hurting in the polls is right. Clinton’s favorability ratings are upside down, and according to a recent Bloomberg poll, she’s only on top of the Democratic field by eight points, when she was once the prohibitive favorite. She’s also slipping in key early states, with Bernie Sanders ahead of her in New Hampshire—and that’s without Joe Biden stepping in. Were Biden to enter the race, the situation would look even bleaker for Clinton.

Despite the challenges she faces, however, leading political prognosticator Nate Silver predicts she will prevail as the Democratic nominee. As he wrote earlier this month, “So then: Clinton is toast? Probably not. In the assessment of betting markets, she’s still a reasonably heavy favorite for the Democratic nomination. That’s my assessment too.”

Still, all of the negative news stories could hurt Clinton with potential swing voters. She is now neck-in-neck in a potential general election contest with GOP candidates Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina. Prior polls also show her losing to Rand Paul and Marco Rubio nationwide. As it stands, only 39 percent of voters see her favorably.

Whether Clinton can turn that around, win the Democratic nomination, and clinch the general is still an open question. It will likely depend in large part on how the GOP field shakes out in the coming months.

This leading Democrat just accused Marco Rubio of cavorting with Nazis

Originally published at Rare

Manufactured political outrage reached new heights this week, foisted upon us by none other than Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

In a scathing press release, Wasserman Schultz accused Marco Rubio of cavorting with Nazis—a serious charge! That’s the kind of accusation that ought to be backed up with strong evidence, no?

So what horrible offense did Rubio commit to receive such treatment from the DNC—on the eve of a major Jewish holiday, no less? The presidential candidate dared to attend an event at the home of a man who collects historical artifacts, some of which make reference to, believe it or not, bad things that happened throughout history. That includes certain Nazi memorabilia.

Imagine that! A man who has converted a portion of his home into a museum happens to have among his vast collection items relating to unsavory individuals.

Wrote the DNC, “Senator Marco Rubio will hold a fundraiser in a home that features two paintings by Adolf Hitler, a signed copy of Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf, and a cabinet full of place settings and linens used by the Nazi leader.”

Naturally, they forgot to mention everything else the man in question, Mr. Harlan Crow, collects. As the Dallas Morning News wrote earlier this year:

Over the past 40 years, Crow has collected thousands of documents, manuscripts and works of art that span centuries. “Many people have their own hobbies and have vocations,” he said. “American history is mine.”

Among his favorites, Crow counts an Abraham Lincoln syllogism about the evils of slavery, a copy of Poor Richard’s Almanac and a letter written in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, after his first trip to the New World. The collection has paintings by Renoir and Monet and by Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

A sculpture garden includes likenesses of Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, the late British prime minister. It also has busts of dictators, including Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito. Crow has said the collection is not intended as a celebration of repressive regimes but to preserve a part of world history.

But by the DNC’s logic, Crow is a Nazi, and Rubio in turn is a Nazi sympathizer for refusing, as Wasserman Schultz demanded, to cancel the fundraiser this “dangerous” man out to preserve world history was hosting for him.

“An event at a home with items like these is appalling at any time of the year. Adding insult to injury, Rubio is holding this event on the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Holding an event in a house featuring the artwork and signed autobiography of a man who dedicated his life to extinguishing the Jewish people is the height of insensitivity and indifference,” penned a breathless Wasserman Schultz.

“Mr. Rubio, who by the way, represents a sizable Jewish population in our home state of Florida, should cancel this tasteless fundraiser. It is astounding that the presence of these items that represent horror for millions of Jews the world over, would not stop Mr. Rubio or anyone on his team in their tracks when planning this event,” she added.

Perhaps Wassmerman Schultz failed to consider the fact that Rubio’s staffers might be able to grasp the concept of a museum and the purpose it serves. But recognizing that would mean she’d give up the opportunity to call the junior senator from her home state a Nazi sympathizer. And who doesn’t love a bit of mindless demagoguery to round out their week?

As the kids say these days, this is why we can’t have nice things.