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October 3, 2012

Some questions I might ask during the upcoming Presidential debates

As this recent post noted, crime and punishment — and especially federal crime and punishment — does not seem a big concern for the electorate this campaign season.  Nevertheless, there are no shortage of timely and important sentencing law and policy questions that could usefully be posed at the big debate tonight in Denver to the two Harvard Law School graduates seeking to be the US President for the next four years.

I fear there will not be a single question focused on criminal justice issues in tonight's debate, despite the reality that a significant portion of federal government spending and a massive portion of state government spending is devoted to these big government programs.  But, in the spirit of the evening, I must articulate some serious questions on serious federal criminal justice topics that might provide an interesting window into the candidates' views:

Regular readers likely know that I could go on and on with these kinds of wonkish questions — concerning the application of the federal death penalty or the problems of federal prosecutorial misconduct or the importance of federal clemency authority — but at this point I will bring this pre-debate post to a close and welcome comments from readers on this front (which can, of course, be posted before during or after tonight's debate).

A few recent and older related posts: 

October 3, 2012 at 07:35 PM | Permalink


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Just to chime in with suggested answers:

1. Mr. Frank and Mr. Paul are to be congratulated on the strength of their convictions. That said, no one would really disagree that each is at the extreme of his party. The bipartisan consensus in Congress, for at least the last 40 years and now, is that marijuana should remain illegal. I share that view, while understanding that other dangerous drugs are a more pressing priority.

2. The guidance I would issue to Justice Department lawyers would be to read the Constitution and obey it.

3. I do not consider the war on drugs, initiated in legislation passed by a heavily Democratic Congress and signed by a Republican President, to be either a success or a failure. The war on drugs, like the war on crime generally and the war on poverty, is an on-going battle. Drugs are dangerous and cause a great deal of human damage and misery. Suppressing their use is the morally right thing to do, as both parties have understood for decades.

4. Incarceration is costly, for sure. It is also effective in reducing crime and crime victims. But even more importantly, it's time for our country to stop pretending that we can address our borrowing and spending addiction by nibbling at the edges. My first priority will be to stop the runaway growth of entitlement spending, which is, as every mature adult knows, where the problem really is. After, but only after, we implement a majority of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations will I turn to the relatively tiny DOJ budget. As I say, it's time to come to grips with the real problem and stop thinking that we can use band-aids on enormous wounds.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 4, 2012 1:14:42 AM

If Job One and Job Last of government is to protect the public, and many cities are more dangerous and deadlier than Afghanistan and Fallujah war zones, what would you do to make us safe?

Correct Answer: Arrest, try and execute the sole cause of criminal victimization in this nation, the hierarchy of the lawyer profession. Then kill all the violent repeat offenders. To deter.

What is the explanation for the support by Jews and Blacks of their mortal enemy, the racist, anti-Semitic, feminist dominated Democrat Party? Its terror arm, its Al Aqsa Brigade, was the lawyer founded, managed, and immunized KKK. Now that outfit has been replaced by the pro-terrorist, pro-Muslim, DOJ.

Correct Answer: Suicidal stupidity.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 4, 2012 3:42:34 AM

Mr. Otis,

On point 2, if you believe that suppressing the use of drugs is morally right, that's fine, but is a one size fits all federal criminal program the right way to do it? That's really the question.

On point 4, Social Security and Medicare are the two largest entitlement programs there are, accounting for half the federal budget. The department of defense spends the next third of the budget and the other entitlement programs combined take up a portion of whats left. Are you proposing we start with Social Security and Medicare? I do.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Oct 4, 2012 10:14:18 AM

Jardinero1 --

I don't think we have a one-size-fits-all approach to drugs. We do education in addition to criminal justice remedies, and the latter vary widely, depending on the particular drug and the history of the offender.

Because, as you correctly point out, SS and Medicare are by far the biggest federal entitlements, consuming by far the most money, that is where we need to start. The benefits the government hands out vastly exceed the amount taken in, meaning, as we now all know, that bankruptcy is the certain result unless we cut back.

I am an adherent of the view, quite unpopular on this blog, that people take responsibility for their own lives and behavior, and even -- I know this is shocking -- pay their own bills.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 4, 2012 10:34:04 AM

social security as an entitlement, agree...I pay in and so does my employer while gainfully employed for many years so yes, I do agree, I am entitled to that money that I and my employer contributed for so many years by being gainfully employed and paying payroll taxes...the problem is getting Congress to stop using it interest free for government subsidies and corporate welfare

Posted by: voter | Oct 4, 2012 7:00:52 PM

I'm with voter. If the state wants to close down SS. Fine first thing on the agenda then will be the repayment from the federal govt the trillions it borrowed from the fund. Then we can divide it between those still living who have paid in.

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 4, 2012 9:52:24 PM

rodsmith --

I'm all for SS paying back every dime, with interest, that a worker has been compelled to contribute. The problem is that SS benefits now vastly exceed the amount of the contributions, and that excess is what makes it certain that, without significant change, it will go bankrupt.

The problem with the welfare/entitlement state is that it's always popular to increase benefits without raising the taxes needed to fund those benefits. That it the sure way to insolvency, which is what SS (and Medicare) are headed for.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 4, 2012 10:35:04 PM

Might better look again bill. Numbers i've seen say it's still taking in more than it's paying out. SS that is not the little add on SSI. Plus i seem to recall a news story on one of the news channels where they walked into a security office and a SS Officer started opening drawners showing all the load certific where the feds had borrowed trillions during the decades it took in a shit load more than it paid out and was actual running a major surplus.

i will give you this though!

"The problem with the welfare/entitlement state is that it's always popular to increase benefits without raising the taxes needed to fund those benefits. That it the sure way to insolvency, which is what SS (and Medicare) are headed for."

This is what is bringing down cities across the country into bankrupsy court as they try and get out from under the promises they made decades ago.

Of coure we know that trying to pay for it ahead of time won't work either. That is stupdity they are forcing the post office to do. The only govt agency required to prepay any benefits and retirement before they can even hire an individual. Which is why it's now missed two 5 billion dollar payments on the prepayments. Of course when that money does hit the fed wallet. It's not stored but spent immediatly. Which makes the budget look a little bit better!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 5, 2012 1:58:58 AM

...and if you really want to believe you will receive what you put in, think again...

A married couple retiring last year, after both spouses earned average lifetime wages, paid about $598,000 in Social Security taxes during their careers. They can expect to collect about $556,000 in benefits if the man lives to 82 and the woman lives to 85, according to a 2011 study by the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.


Posted by: voter | Oct 5, 2012 5:34:02 PM

Voter and rodsmith,

For the moment, social security revenue exceeds social security payments. Surplus social security revenue is loaned to the federal government which pays for all the other things the federal government does.

Accounting wise, the way it works, is the SSA buy US Treasuries and the federal government makes a ledger entry that the treasuries belong to SSA. This ledger entry is the Social Security Trust Fund which you hear about from time to time. As a practical matter, since the government is merely making a loan to itself, there is no trust fund. It is like your left hand loaning money to your right hand.

In a few short years there will begin the shortfall. This is when the hard choices must be made. Legally, the SSA will dip into its "trust fund" and begin redeeming its US treasuries. Think about that. How is that going to work? Will the federal government borrow more to pay off the bonds it earmarked for the SSA or will it raise taxes to pay off the bonds or will it reduce benefits to recipients?

An oft overlooked fact of history is that Social Security was never intended to be a savings plan. It was model after the Bismarkian pension model where current payors fund current recipients. The problem we face now is that the number of payors is not enough to fund the recipients.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Oct 5, 2012 7:04:37 PM

Hmm i think in the beginning like the first 50 years or so of SS it kept it funds seperate from the general fund. The feds had to actualy change the law to allowe them to start using it in the general fund. Up till that law change they had billions if not 100's of billions in that fund as surplus drawing interest. At that point the ignorant fuckups who run this country realized to keep buying votes they did two things.

1 they uped the entitplents to a point there was no way in hell what was coming in could pay them.
2 they embezzled that surplus for the vote buying.

Yes i said embezlement. If a corporation had looted a pension plan like that the CEO and CFO would be on thier way to jail.

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 6, 2012 1:38:26 AM

rodsmith --

Your last sentence nails it big time.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 6, 2012 8:48:34 AM

With the benefit of hindsight, one can surmise that the Social Security Trust Fund was little more than a ruse to hike payroll taxes(it doubled them between 1977 and 1985) and divert the revenue to the regular budget.

If the revenue had been invested in real estate, or corporate bonds or toll roads or whatever besides treasuries then one could honestly call it a trust fund. But since the only allowable investment for the revenue was a US treasury, the idea of a trust fund is a joke.

It is a great tragedy because it created a generation of taxpayors who believe they have invested in the system and they should get back their just desserts.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Oct 6, 2012 9:21:17 PM

What do they think of CEO's, like Koch brothers, sending out threats to employees to be laid off if their don't candidate win?

Posted by: DTB | Oct 14, 2012 7:16:41 PM

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