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November 8, 2007

Rep. Rangel assails selective compassion

Writing at the Huffington Post, Representative Charles Rangel from New York has this potent new commentary noting the willingness of prominent Republicans to forgive friends but not others for legal wrong-doings.  Here are highlights from an effective piece:

Fred Thompson seems to think forgiveness is one of his strong suits. The Republican presidential aspirant recently brushed off news that one of his campaign co-chairmen, Phil Martin, posted a guilty plea in 1979 for selling 11 pounds of marijuana and a no-contest plea in 1983 for cocaine trafficking and conspiracy.... Not to be outdone, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor running for the Republican presidential nomination, has excused the illegal dealings of Bernard Kerik, Giuliani's former police commissioner whose nomination to become secretary of the Department of Homeland Security he supported....

Even before them, President George Bush commuted the 30-month prison sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby who had been convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in the probe of the leak of the name of a CIA operative. In another case of compassion and forgiveness of the powerful, the President claimed that Libby's sentence was "excessive," and that the suffering of the former aid to Vice President Cheney "long-lasting."

Thompson, Giuliani, and Bush have proven that they're willing to forgive millionaires and the powerful for big mistakes.  Libby is one of the few exception to Bush's stinginess with forgiveness of prisons -- on pace to issue the fewest pardons since George Washington. If either Thompson or Giuliani become president, I just hope they'll extend the same compassion to wayward kids in my community who have run-ins with the law that they've shown to their friends....

The criminal justice system certainly hasn't been forgiving over the past 20 years.  In response to the onslaught of cocaine abuse in the 1980s, the nation crafted a drug policy totally lacking in compassion, and worse, that was totally unfair to the weakest, and most disadvantaged, in society....

The inequality is feeding the population of 2.2 million prisoners, the world's largest.  Blacks, who are most likely to be caught up in drug sweeps, comprise only 15 percent of users but account for over 40 percent of the 500,000 imprisoned drug offenders....

President Bush and presidential wannabes Thompson and Giuliani seem to find it so easy to find compassion when one of their own breaks the law.  But they are silent when the poor and powerless are warehoused in our jails because of an unjust criminal justice system.

November 8, 2007 at 10:32 PM | Permalink


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Thompson was a poor choice for Rangel. Thompson supposedly did not know his buddy had a past. Moreover, Thompson's buddy served his time, got out, and did something with his life.

Rangel, of course, is busy helping his buddies avoid IRS audits.

I think, Doug, you're gushing a little bit.

Does anyone know if Rangel was upset by the Clinton pardons?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 8, 2007 10:44:53 PM

I guess this is a slap in the phase to the "Compassionate Conservatism" of Bush. If he was being compassionate in the last 6 years, I'm terrified of what the other Republicans will do if they get elected.

Posted by: EJ | Nov 9, 2007 2:02:22 AM

How can you say that Professor Berman is "gushing?" And forget the presidential candidates, President Bush said that the guidelines were harsh, unfair, too high (or whatever he said) WHEN APPLIED TO LIBBY'S CASE. He could not give a rat's ass about someone else's perjury conviction or whether the sentencing process may lead to unfair results under certain circumstances. And when did Congress make District Judges the enemy? It would appear as though Congress doesn't trust them to use their discretion wisely.

Personally, I don't care whether Rangel is upset with the Clinton pardons, as they are irrelevant to this discussion. I don't remember any of the Clinton pardons discussing the guidelines. Pardons are about presidential power. Why even discuss the guidelines? President Bush should have just pardoned Libby by saying that Libby was the administration's sacrificial lamb, which is probably the truth, or by saying nothing at all.

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Nov 9, 2007 7:09:34 AM

Selective compassion isn't exclusively a Republican thing. It's more of a politician thing. Marc Rich and Roger Clinton come to mind...

Posted by: | Nov 9, 2007 8:13:21 AM

by the way I meant face, not phase*.

Does this mean that there is a growing movement in Washington about lenient sentences? I mean first you have the sentencing commission listening to arguments on alternatives to incarceration and not a U.S. Representative says this, I know its a political thing, but it's interesting.

Posted by: EJ | Nov 9, 2007 9:04:48 AM

federalist, I am not quite sure that you are talking about regarding “avoiding” IRS audits, but there is nothing dishonorable or punitive about being audited by the IRS. Period.

The IRS can (and should) audit people for a variety of reasons. In fact, with the exception of race or religion they can pretty much choose whatever criteria they want.

The degree of cooperation that one extends to the service is a matter of legal strategy. However, at all times individuals should behave politely, and, if there is a dispute as to the law (or burdens) there are legal ways to resolve them.

I suspect that your IRS audit reference was entitled to be some political dig. At Rangel. Since you have admitted (at least two times on here) that you are not a lawyer (and seem to be proud of it), you might not understand why your comments are nonsensical.

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 9, 2007 3:07:00 PM

Speaking about legal wrongdoings, the US is leading (pushing the world, more like!) in an unenviable direction. When it comes to Death Row, the US loves its uncompromising stance.


WHY SCOTLAND’S Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, was right to release Locherbie bomber and allow him to return to Libya, and why Mr Mueller, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, the Lib Dems in Scotland and Gordan Brown in England are perfectly wrong.
Frankly, I am not concerned as to how Libya or Gadaffi receive the reprieved victim of Scottish commiseration. I believe such matters to be anterior the concern to hand and , to my mind should not concern anyone else unduly either. If there have been financial or commercial inducements involved, then such features would not doubt be unsavory, but in the public domain, I hardly think they can be denied. And in any event future cases -- not unlike the shenanigans and delays of Jack Straw -- may be avoided.
If I had any regrets or misgivings in supporting Mr Kenny MacAskill in his very ordinary response to a dying man, it is because he takes refuge behind what he considers are the concerns of what he regards the support of the Christian churches. This , of course, is not to say that his decision is not inspired by a secular view of history, rather than an appeal to any false notions of Christian propaganda. For far too long the Christian Churches have had no problem burning suspects or having them hanged, drawn and quartered when appropriate, or passing them over to the secular authorities to execute people on their behalf, as well as by supporting the secular state in hanging people for the past fifteen hundred years, but particularly throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. Indeed, if the Catholic Church and the Papacy was half as inclined to campaign against the death penalty as it is against abortion, the US would be rid of it. At which stage, they might well realise that they need not kill people to deter criminals, or to feel secure in their Christianity.
That said, let me say that I support the Justice Secretary’s decision entirely, and on the following grounds.
China and the US are the primary people who still execute people. Year in , year out, their is no recourse to such a concept as compassion. One feels that this is probably due -- especially in America -- to the fact that they have missed out on an entire span of the religious wars, which, when conducted in Europe, invariably led to the hanging , drawing and quartering of Christians by Christians.
Before that the same Christians -- invariably Catholics -- burned Witches, Heretics and Dissidents, including millions of Pagans, Huguenots, and Albigensian,and who have conducted their hateful campaign against socialists, anarchists, communists, freemasons, homosexuals, and other minorities too numerous across the world to mention.
Unfortunately, it was at this stage of the colonial spread of Catholic missionary hate that the US and South America was introduced to European Christianity. And without recourse to the former centuries of butchery, are not, perhaps, quite aware on Death Row that people who have deep beliefs are apt to die with those beliefs, without changing their minds in the slightest. Perhaps they are inurred to such historical insights. In any event, it is part -- not of Christian history, which is invariable -- but of European secular history ; to concede the impossibility and , indeed, the implausibility, and , indeed, the undesirability, of changing another’s religiously held beliefs by a death threat is rather obtuse. Such behavior, though perfectly Christian, is considered by some as barbarous, futile and perfectly redundant. Convince a man without his will, he’s of the same opinion still!
Given that a person is going to die, then the civilized attitude is to allow them to die in a dignity peculiar to themselves. What does it matter how the Prodigal Son is treated by his own? No matter how much you disapprove of it, it is only for a short time and it is, after all, another humans most deeply held belief. What I hope Europe has learned from its endless saints and martyrs is precisely what the US has not learned from its past, including its recent past in Guantanimo Bay. One likes to think that Europe has learned the simple fact, that the most human society can extract from any man by way of punitive retaliation is his life -- which is his liberty entire. That being the case, the purpose of punishment is over when a man is in imminent danger of extinction. Nothing remains for a punitive society but to look to itself and to its own probity; for it is a peculiar truth that every creature’s extinction summons us all to a self-consciousness and a self-judgment. We have to account to ourselves for our own being. Obviously, those who are practice torture and the like have no compunction about the death of others, or of bearing witness to the death of others, however undignified that death may be.
And that is why Scotland of the Tribes. of Scotia, of the Bruces, the Wallaces, the Walter Scots, the Robbie Burns, the McAlpines, the Macbeths and the Campbells, of the Enlightenment thinkers, and of the secular sciences of our own day -- that is why we should support their Justice Secretary and say ‘no’ to American interference, to Libyan triumphalism, Gordon Brown’s Sassanach indifference, and affirm the Scottish principle of compassion and mercy under instant circumstances.
When Kenny MacAskill knew that his captive was dying, he knew what he had to do; for at that moment the entire Criminal Justice System and the values it purports to maintain for and on behalf of every Scot were in his hands. To go the way of the Americans is to personalise the entire process of our civilization, just as Mr Jack Straw has done recently in delaying the release of Ronnie Biggs, the great train robber, under similar conditions, is to toy personally with torture and cruelty. Such a tyranny is --- and should be -- no mans, at least no servant of either the Crown or the people.
That Ronnie Biggs was not repentant has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the decision Jack Straw was empowered to make; by adverting to repentance as a condition precedent for Biggs’ release, Mr Straw went the way of all tyrants and imagined that the power of the English people reposed in his personal preferences. To let Biggs die in prison simply because he would not express some formulaic confessional repentance is to take the penal system back to the middle ages, when Regicides, Judaizers, Witches and Heretics were forced to opt for the ‘one-true-church’ or die on the rack of the Dominican and Franciscan inquisitors. Secular penal history has withstood the awful tide of these religious bigots -- Mr Jack Straw and American Presidents notwithstanding...
Let us therefore ignore the strong persuasive values of all these public Judaea Christians, who merely act out the awful logic of their internalized belief-systems -- and, instead, let us rejoice in the singular secular voice of Scotland.
Perhaps it should be remembered by those of us who claim to teach our children the virtue of mercy, that it is two-edged. When the State kills or executes someone it diminishes itself, and when America and China executes their prisoners they diminish every human on the entire planet.
In reminding us of the grace of mercy , Scotland is at this moment our real criminological Alter Ego. As the bard put it long ago:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
The Merchant Of Venice Act 4, scene 1, 180–187
It is disappointing to realise that these considerations form little or nothing of the penological repertoire of the US, even under the new sway of Black Caesar, whose clement is to date more in seeming than in doing. Perhaps he is being misled by the residual exigencies of war-minded America.
Indeed, if there was less penetration of American society by an outdated notion of the Christian and avaricious churches, by the doctrines of ‘an-eye-for-an-eye’, a bodybag for a body bag, several of theirs for one of ours -- perhaps a little more reflection upon European and Darwinian themes and , indeed, upon American history, they ,too, might see the wisdom of refusing to pursue every person, whether native Indian, Afrio-American or white settler, who receives a capital sentence to death.
Moreover, when one considers those persons released as part of the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement -- as well as the role of those who played a part in having terrorists released, including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and the responsive opposition parties -- how can the present American lobby sustain such a black press against Scotland? How can Minister Gordon Brown remain silent on the current issue?
Scotland’s decision to release men in state of imminent death is to be supported, and one can only hope that it is supported by every sensible and humane person on earth as well as every criminological body in Scotland and the US.
Well done, Scotland! We want more of the same, not less!

Seamus Breathnach

Posted by: seamus breathnach | Aug 25, 2009 2:14:41 PM

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