Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Good News Column

Every year at about this time, I hear from a small group of readers who follow my columns on the Web. And every year, their message is the same: “Can’t you find some good news to write about?”

God knows, they’re entitled. Virtually everything I write deals with death, destruction and mayhem. Most of my tales expose the darkest side of the human species.

Nevertheless, I promise my readers that I will give some thought to their suggestion. And I do. But I never seem to come up with enough good-enough news to fill a good news column. For me, good-enough news would be something like a lasting peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The bottom line is I fail. And one way I can think of to avoid that embarrassment is to ask readers what’s happening in the world that’s giving them hope.

So I did. And here’s some of what a few of them told me.

Their responses trended toward the sociopolitical and ran the gamut from democratization in Myanmar to ongoing protest in Egypt, from immigration to the U.S. to what young people are doing in terms of creative expression, from this nation's unmatched proclivity to innovate to embrace of same-sex marriage to “we can learn to love.”

Here are a few of those comments in their author’s own words:

Peter M. Shane, who teaches law at Ohio State, wrote: There is “a lot happening in the political world that gives me cause to feel good -- e.g., democratization in Myanmar, elections in Sierra Leone, ongoing protest in Egypt, blogging in China, the global rise in standards of living.

“We live in a time, of course, where every proclamation of hope can be met with a response of, ‘Yes, but . . .,’ but we shouldn't let our anxieties blind us when good things develop.

“Immigration to the U.S., for example, is good, and what the Obama Administration is doing to take the pressure off young undocumented immigrants is good. The rapid pace of change in social attitudes towards gays and lesbians is good. Getting millions more Americans on health insurance plans is good.

“When I really need a big dose of hopefulness, I focus on what young people are doing in terms of creative expression, journalism, political mobilization -- everything -- with the mind-blowing toolbox of new digital information and communication technologies.

“A lesson I take from the 2012 election is that people are tired of professional politicians' expectations for their passivity, and new technologies are enabling us to engage in the public sphere with a much greater reach -- think about how many more readers you reach than I.F. Stone! Isn't that amazing? For all these reasons, I feel very good, indeed.”

Kevin R. Johnson, who is Dean of the law school at the University of California at Davis, notes that he is “not particularly known for optimism” but is “happy about the chances for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, the time, I believe, is now for such reform, which could have a positive impact on millions of people in the United States.
“The last decade has been rather depressing when it comes to immigration and possible reform. The shadow of September 11 influenced any and all discussion of immigration and the national mantra becomes something like border "enforcement now, enforcement forever", to paraphrase Alabama Governor George Wallace's defense of segregation.

“In an attempt to secure Republican support for meaningful reform, the Obama administration deported more immigrants than any administration in U.S. history, close to 400,000 in fiscal years 2011 and 2011.

“Here is why I am happy about the chances that immigration reform might pass:

1. Reelection of a President committed to reform;

2. Rejection overwhelming by Latinos of a Republican candidate who -- to attract the base -- claimed in the primaries that he endorsed "self-deportation," would promote enforcement, would not sign into law the DREAM Act; and

3. The realization by Republicans that to be relevant in future elections they had to attract Latino/a voters, not alienate Latina/os by demonizing Latina/os and immigrants, and enact some kind of immigration reform.

Then along came Lu (for Ludwig) Rudel, who built a successful business career atop 25 distinguished years in the US Foreign Service. Lu admitted to being “very thankful for a lot of things” but “that does not mean I am optimistic about the future. In fact, I am probably less optimistic than you are.”

Lu goes on: “I share your admiration of the Constitutional protection afforded to us from public authority. I share your recognition and thankfulness for our Rule of Law (notwithstanding all of the "lawyer jokes" that are out there).

“But I also feel gratitude for those gun-slinging enforcers who are protecting me from hostiles both overseas and within our borders. That includes our military, Customs and Immigration and the Border Patrol as well as the local police. They deserve my thanks and support even when a few rotten apples abuse their mandate.

“I am a legal immigrant that was allowed to escape to these shores during the Holocaust. In the words of Mark Rubio, I ‘was given a chance...’ by this country to get a free education, to become a citizen, to serve in the military during the Korean War, to serve in the Foreign Service for 25 years and then to build a business that made a profit. That is a great deal in one lifetime for which I give much thanks.

“There are many challenges to the continued growth of this society and I am not optimistic that the present political system is suited to allow our society to meet these challenges effectively, in large part because we tend vilify our institutions every time we note that they are not perfect.

“I believe the right to vote needs to be earned. A citizen needs to show that he/she has qualifications (in the sense that the voter has enough knowledge) to make an informed selection. And those who do not vote should be fined (as is done in Australia).
“I have little respect for those who ‘game the systems’ that have been put in place by the citizens of this country, to gain an undeserved benefit.

“Whatever hope there is for our future rests with this nation's unmatched proclivity to innovate. Those who dwell in this country enjoy a wonderful ‘risk to reward ratio’. I hope it remains so. We are an adventurous lot.

“I can think of no other nation on this planet where I would prefer to reside.”

Col. Morris D. ‘Moe’ Davis (Ret.) was a US Air Force officer and lawyer, was appointed to serve as the third Chief Prosecutor in the Guantanamo military commissions. In October 2007 Colonel Davis resigned from his position as Chief Prosecutor and became the Head of the Air Force Judiciary, hours after he was informed that controversial General Counsel William Haynes ll would be his superior. Davis said, , "The guy who said waterboarding is A-okay I was not going to take orders from. I quit.” Since his resignation. Moe has frequently spoken out against the Commissions.

Here’s what keeps him optimistic:

“When I think about what gives me hope, two people and two groups come to mind.

“New York City Police Officer Lawrence DePrimo bought a pair of boots for a man out on the street with bare feet on a cold night. A lot of people will do the right thing when they know others are looking and they’ll get credit for their good deeds.

“I think it says a lot about a person’s character when he does the right thing when he has no idea anyone is paying attention. The world would be a better place if more of us acted like Officer DePrimo.

“Malala Yousufzai refused to let Taliban extremists stop her from advocating for education for girls in Pakistan and all a coward’s bullet could do was to galvanize support for her efforts.

“Too many of us just lay and down and offer up our liberties when the fear-mongers tell us it’s for our safety and security. More of us need to have the courage of a teenage girl to stand up to fear and march on. We say we’re the Home of the Brave; we ought to act like it….

“I see examples of compassion, courage, commitment and enthusiasm – the kinds of positive examples that are often drowned out by all the bad news we face on a daily basis – and I think there is room for hope for the future. As long as there are those kinds of people out there I’m not going to give up.”

Prof. Lawrence Davidson teaches history at West Chester University in West Chester PA. An expert on Middle East history and politics, he is also a prolific writer.

Here’s his take on keeping optimistic:

“The foibles of leaders and their institutions, and the willingness of a vast majority of people to support these, have existed for thousands of years. It is not going to change now. Nonetheless, one must struggle against the violence and injustice that inevitably results. In doing so one achieves personnel victory and a real sense of worth. So the struggle becomes its own good news. Also, I find the debating aspect of this struggle (now mostly done through the weblog) to be fun. It is a bit odd, but it works for me.

“I also happen to have a rather dark sense of humor. Often I find the pronouncements of our leaders to be ahistorical, illogical, pathetic and funny all at once. Of course the funny side doesn't work when considering invasions of Gaza or drone murders, but sometimes it applies to the often ridiculous efforts made to rationalize these actions. Again, this may be a bit crazy, but you need a little bit of zaniness to get by.“

Simultaneously pathetic and funny comes as no surprise to Dr. Jack N. Behrman, one of the world’s most respected economists, a senior official in the J.F. Kennedy Administration (where he was my boss), and Chairman of the MBA Program and Associate Dean of the Faculty at the University of North Carolina.

Jack reminds us that “Good News consists of focusing on those near and dear. A society is built on relationships, and the closer they are the more pleasure and joy is created out of the love of others.

“On a more expanded world scene, while there is the potential for many and varied relationships, it appears that the major thrust is to gain materially from the others -- a sadness.

“But, this orientation is contradicted when disasters occur, as with Sandy and the Japanese Tsunami -- then we see love and sharing pouring out. So, there is a fundamental social cohesion, but not enough love and compassion during ‘normal times’. We can learn to love, though, so some optimism is warranted.”

As the provocateur of all these sentiments, I hope I have earned the right to say that “we can learn to love” is the most optimistic – and hopeful -- statement on this page. If all of us work to that end, next year’s good news column will be easier to write.

Monday, December 10, 2012

To Hell with the Intelligence -- an Analysis

By Lawrence Davidson

Part I - Magdulien Abaida and the Real Libya

On 3 December 2012, BBC News reported on the plight of Libyan activist Magdulien Abaida. When the Libyan revolution broke out in Benghazi back in February 2011, she played an important part in developing a positive image of the revolt among European audiences and helped arrange material aid for the rebel forces. She did this against the backdrop of Western governments describing the rebellion as one that sought “democratic rights” for the Libyan people. Upon the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, the U.S. State Department issued a statement (2 November 2012) applauding the rebel victory as a “milestone” in the country’s “democratic transition." This matched Ms Abaida’s expectations. Unfortunately, her subsequent experience belied the optimism.

With the rebel victory in October 2011, Abaida returned to Libya to help with the “democratic transition” and promote her particular cause of women’s rights. However, what she found in her homeland was chaos. The tribalism that underlies social organization in Libya had come to the fore. According to Amnesty International, that tribalism is reflected in the activities of “armed militias...acting completely out of control....There are hundreds of them across the country, arresting people without warrant, detaining them incommunicado, and torturing them....This is all happening while the government is unwilling or unable to rein the militias in.”
Abaida adds that “during the revolution everyone was united, all were working together.” That, of course, was when many of the tribes had a common enemy–the Qaddafi regime. Now the common enemy was gone. As it turned out, Qaddafi’s dictatorship had served for 41 years as a center of gravity–a center that kept the centrifugal tribal forces in check. The National Transitional Council (NTC) that took over after the defeat of the regime and the parliamentary elections that followed, were supposed to fill the void. They proved insufficient to the task. Ms. Abaida and her cause has now become a victim of that failure.
Upon her return she advocated for gender equality to be incorporated into any new Libyan constitution. She never had a chance. The tribes are tied to traditions that are strongly patriarchal. Also, the chaotic nature of post-revolution Libyan politics allowed free play to extremist Islamic forces that saw gender equality as a Western perversion. In October 2011, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, “the internationally-known face of the revolution and head of the rebels’ NTC used his first public speech after the fall of Gaddafi (sic) to propose making it easier for men to have more than one wife.” For Ms Abaida this was a “big shock....We wanted more rights, not to destroy the rights of half of society.”

Worse was yet to come. When Abaida came to Benghazi in the summer of 2012 to attend a conference on the status of women in the new Libya, she was twice abducted by an extremist militia that saw her and the conference as anti-Islamic. During her abduction she was pointedly told that she could be killed and “nobody would know.” But they did not kill her. They just beat her up and turned her loose. She was left with the strong impression that, if she stayed politically active in Libya, she would indeed die and no one would know.
Part II – Rush to Judgment

Was what happened to Ms Abaida’s predictable? Or, to put it more broadly, could those Western leaders who spent billions of taxpayer dollars assisting in the “liberation” of Libya have predicted, with reasonably high probability, that victory for the rebels would result in political breakdown and the empowerment of extremist groups such as the one that kidnaped and assaulted Magdulien Abaida? I think that the answer to this is yes. Indeed, I suspect that the prediction was actually made yet ignored by the powers that be.
U.S. intelligence services such as the CIA, and their equivalents in other countries, have middle level professionals who know a great deal about almost every country in the world. They know the languages, read the local newspapers, listen to the radio and television stations, and have other sources of information that come through diplomatic and private channels. When it comes to Libya, it is beyond doubt that the relevant intelligence workers knew the nature of this society and the divergent tribal forces that had been so long kept in check by the Qaddafi dictatorship. It is also beyond doubt that, at this country-specific level, operatives in these intelligence agencies knew and were reporting about the relative strengths and weaknesses of extremist religious elements held in check by the regime. The normal routine is to pass such intelligence up a hierarchical bureaucratic channel. The information deemed important enough is then packaged into daily updated reports that end up, in the case of the U.S., with the president and his national security staff. Again, in the face of a serious rebellion against Qaddafi, it is more than reasonable to assume such information did get that far.

Yet, it would seem that such information caused no serious second thoughts about quickly jumping into the fray and backing the rebellion. Even with the historic consequences of our having armed al-Qaeda and similar groups during the Afghan-Soviet war, it does not appear that anyone in authority stopped long enough to ask if the U.S. might risk repeating this mistake in Libya. Instead, Washington and its allies rallied NATO, rammed through a UN resolution that allowed intervention and, in short order, was aiding and abetting the rebellion. One of the ways it did this was in supplying an almost unlimited amount of weapons to rebel forces through a conduit set up by Qatar. No one paid attention to just whom the Qataris were giving the guns to. Sure enough, some of them were given to al-Qaeda like elements.

Thus, the move to get involved in Libya occurred very quickly. The allure of destroying Muammar Qaddafi, who had for so long been the bete noir of the U.S. (though for the past few years he had reversed policy and cooperated with the West), must have been just too strong. Even Italy, which had found the Qaddafi government a dependable economic partner and secure source of affordable oil, dropped its support of the regime without much protest. In the rush to judgment, the question of who might gain power afterwards was, apparently, left to the middle echelon intelligence agents to worry about.
Now Qaddafi is gone, murdered to the acclaim of Hillary Clinton, and the tribal warlords and their militias have largely taken his place. The central government in Libya is weak and, under the present conditions, has little real chance of reigning them in. The aggressive extremists have our guns, as well as Qaddafi's, and some of them are probably migrating to Syria to carry on their battle. As for Magdulien Abaida, she is too afraid to return to the land she tried so diligently to help.

Part III – Conclusion

As intelligence agencies go, the CIA and its like are fairly good at collecting information, analyzing it, and rendering reasoned judgments as to its meaning. (They can be, of course, utterly evil when it comes to killing and torturing, but that is not the “mission” I am presently speaking of). Usually, the advice rendered by the middle level folks who do the analyzing and reporting errs on the side of caution. The problem is the political leaders all too often ignore the intelligence reports when they don’t fit with their political goals. Those goals reflect ideological and electoral concerns as well as the need to appear to be acting in strong and determined ways–more assertive protectors of “freedom” than their competitors in the opposition party. This works to make presidents and prime ministers prone to opportunism and short-sightedness. Thus, the rush to judgment in Iraq, in Libya, and maybe soon in Iran. In the end, Washington has repeatedly proven that Mark Twain was wrong when he asserted “all you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, then success is sure.”

Lawrence Davidson is a professor of History at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa. His work is reproduced here with permission.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

How Does This Federal Judge Sleep at Night?

Today’s subject is “how to waste money and inflict maximum pain by locking up non-violent drug users for painfully long jail sentences.”

So let’s get right to it.

The Nation writes about a representative case in point involving a young woman named Sabrina Giles. Sabrina was 22 years old in 2004 and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute over 50 grams of meth; and possession with intent to distribute over five grams of meth.

The Nation, in its introduction to an article, writes that Sabrina’s parents fought often during her childhood, and frequently their arguments would lead to physical violence. They divorced after Sabrina’s father was incarcerated for trafficking marijuana. Her mother worked hard cleaning motel rooms to provide for Sabrina.

The article is by Federal District Judge Mark W. Bennett, and reading it will make you angry and break your heart. This is not some aberration the Judge trotted out as some kind of an editorial zinger. This description of Sabrina’s tragic journey through our broken criminal justice system was written by the man who reluctantly meted out her sentence. It appeared in the November 12, 2012, edition of The Nation. Judge Bennett was appointed by President Clinton.

There is a second reason Judge Bennett’s article is remarkable. That’s because only a tiny handful of sitting Federal Judges have spoken out publicly on the injustice of mandatory minimum sentences. In doing so, Judge Bennett has shown unusual courage and no doubt earned the enmity of those who think mandatory minimums are solving our drug problem.

Judge Bennett tells us that Sabrina’s battle with substance abuse began at age 12 when she started smoking marijuana. In tenth grade she became pregnant and dropped out of school. The father of Sabrina’s child was extremely abusive and is currently incarcerated.

When Sabrina was 19-years-old, she fell in love with a man 13 years her senior. He was a known methamphetamine dealer in New Mexico and introduced the drug to Sabrina.

On April 30, 2002, police officers went to Sabrina’s home to arrest the man -- he had been living with her since his release from jail three days earlier. Moments before police took him into custody; the man placed 0.79 grams of methamphetamine into Sabrina’s waistband as he hugged her. The police confiscated it, along with 49.95 grams of methamphetamine, 21.1 grams of marijuana, a handgun and her boyfriend’s drug ledger. Sabrina, a single mother, kept the gun for protection. Police arrested Sabrina along with her boyfriend.

Judge Bennett writes that Sabrina pled guilty and was held accountable for between 500 grams and 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine. Though the sentencing guidelines proscribed a term of 70 to 87 months in prison, the charges against Sabrina carry a ten-year mandatory minimum. Sabrina’s probation officer took into account the detrimental impact her incarceration would have on her family and asked the Court for mercy.

Instead, “The government threatened Sabrina with an additional five-year mandatory minimum for the handgun, but agreed to a plea bargain of 12 years in federal prison”, Judge Bennett wrote.

Thus, a minor participant in the offense, with no criminal record, received just three years less than her boyfriend, a drug dealer who had experienced many run-ins with the law, Judge Bennett says.

He comments that, “During her incarceration, Sabrina has dedicated herself to turning her life round. She works hard at her prison job and maintains a positive attitude. Sabrina’s mother currently cares for Sabrina’s young daughter and is very supportive of Sabrina.”

This is a description of what’s actually happening in the country that has more people in jail than any other country in the world. – about 2.26 million at last count, year-end 2010. In addition, there were 70,792 juveniles in juvenile detention in 2010.

In 2008 approximately one in every 31 adults (7.3 million) in the United States was behind bars, or being monitored (probation and parole). In 2008 the breakdown for adults under correctional control was as follows: one out of 18 men, one in 89 women, one in 11 African-Americans (9.2 percent), one in 27 Latinos (3.7 percent), and one in 45 Caucasians (2.2 percent). Crime rates have declined by about 25 percent from 1988-2008. 70% of prisoners in the United States are non-whites. In recent decades the U.S. has experienced a surge in its prison population, quadrupling since 1980, partially as a result of mandatory sentencing that came about during the "war on drugs." Violent crime and property crime have declined since the early 1990s.

In addition, there were 86,927 held in juvenile facilities as of the 2007 Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (CJRP), conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. As of 2009, the three states with the lowest ratios of imprisoned people per 100,000 population are Maine (150 per 100,000), Minnesota (189 per 100,000), and New Hampshire (206 per 100,000). The three states with the highest ratio are Louisiana (881 per 100,000), Mississippi (702 per 100,000) and Oklahoma (657 per 100,000).

In some countries, incarceration is a last step, not a first one. When people are locked up, it’s generally because a number of other initiatives have been tried first – and didn’t work. Not so in the US. Prison sentences are what’s being offered. Because, while there are a few promising pilot programs being run to demonstrate alternatives to prison, there are virtually no nationally available programs that are in sync with mandatory minimum sentencing to help the courts and the convicts to avoid wasting needless years in “the joint.”

Judge Bennett writes that he has sentenced more than 3,000 defendants in four federal district courts and reviewed sentences...Far from being a bucolic area, he writes, he sentences “more drug offenders in a single year than the average federal district court judge in New York City, Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco—combined.”

He says, “While drug cases nationally make up 29 percent of federal judges’ criminal dockets, according to the US Sentencing Commission, they make up more than 56 percent of mine. More startling, while meth cases make up 18 percent of a judge’s drug docket nationally, they account for 78 percent of mine. Add crack cocaine and together they account for 87 percent.”

Judge Bennett writes about crack defendants. He says, “They are almost always poor African-Americans. Meth defendants are generally lower-income whites. More than 80 percent of the 4,546 meth defendants sentenced in federal courts in 2010 received a mandatory minimum sentence. These small-time addicts are apprehended not through high-tech wiretaps or sophisticated undercover stings but by common traffic stops for things like nonfunctioning taillights.”

He adds: “Or they’re caught in a search of the logs at a local Walmart to see who is buying unusually large amounts of nonprescription cold medicine. They are the low-hanging fruit of the drug war. Other than their crippling meth addiction, they are very much like the folks I grew up with. Virtually all are charged with federal drug trafficking conspiracies—which sounds ominous but is based on something as simple as two people agreeing to purchase pseudoephedrine and cook it into meth. They don’t even have to succeed.”

Why do we have federal mandatory minimum sentences? The enabling legislation is the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. The Guidelines are the product of the United States Sentencing Commission, which reports to Congress annually. Their primary goal was to alleviate sentencing disparities that research had indicated was prevalent in the existing sentencing system.

The Sentencing Commission’ s future life is in the hands of Congress, which votes the funds for its work. For a number of years, there have been concerted efforts to persuade the Sentencing Commission to recommend to Congress an end to minimum sentencing. But the Commission – which is said to be good at vote-counting – has elected to nibble around the edges.

Few members of Congress appear to be prepared to question the effectiveness of mandatory minimum/maximum sentences. Many members fear primary challenges from rightwing candidates who are eager to accuse incumbents of being “soft on crime.” That attitude is largely responsible for the overly cautious approaches by Congress.

The Guidelines determine sentences based primarily on two factors: 1.the conduct associated with the offense (the offense conduct, which produces the offense level); and 2.the defendant's criminal history (the criminal history category).

The Sentencing Table in the Guidelines Manual shows the relationship between these two factors; for each pairing of offense level and criminal history category, the Table specifies a sentencing range, in months, within which the court may sentence a defendant. For example, for a defendant convicted on an offense with a total offense level of 22 and a criminal history category of I, the Guidelines recommend a sentence of 41–51 months, considering the year of the offense to be the same as the year of the guidelines. If, however, a person with an extensive criminal history (Category VI) committed the same offense in the same manner in the same modern timeline and not during the older guideline periods, the Guidelines would recommend a sentence of 84–105 months.

The prosecutor's power to extract guilty pleas, previously held in check by judges, is now counterbalanced only by the diligence of the defense attorney."

Judge Bennett quotes William J. Stuntz, who claims that "when necessary, the litigants simply bargain about what facts will (and won't) form the basis for sentencing. It seems to be an iron rule: guidelines sentencing empowers prosecutors, even where the guidelines' authors try to fight that tendency...In short, plea bargains outside the law's shadow depend on prosecutors' ability to make credible threats of severe post-trial sentences. Sentencing guidelines make it easy to issue those threats."

The federal guilty plea rate has risen from 83% in 1983 to 96% in 2009, a rise attributed largely to the Sentencing Guidelines.

“I recently sentenced a group of more than twenty defendants on meth trafficking conspiracy charges. All of them pled guilty. Eighteen were “pill smurfers,” as federal prosecutors put it, meaning their role amounted to regularly buying and delivering cold medicine to meth cookers in exchange for very small, low-grade quantities to feed their severe addictions. Most were unemployed or underemployed. Several were single mothers. They did not sell or directly distribute meth; there were no hoards of cash, guns or counter-surveillance equipment. Yet all of them faced mandatory minimum sentences of sixty or 120 months.”

“One meth-addicted mother faced a 240-month sentence because a prior meth conviction in county court doubled her mandatory minimum. She will likely serve all twenty years; in the federal system, there is no parole, and one serves an entire sentence minus a maximum of a 15 percent reduction rewarded for ‘good time’,” Judge Bennett writes.

He continues: “Several years ago, I started visiting inmates I had sentenced in prison. It is deeply inspiring to see the positive changes most have made. Some definitely needed the wake-up call of a prison cell, but very few need more than two or three years behind bars. These men and women need intensive drug treatment, and most of the inmates I visit are working hard to turn their lives around. They are shocked—and glad—to see me, and it’s important to them that people outside prison care about their progress. For far too many, I am their only visitor.”
He continues: “If lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug addicts actually worked, one might be able to rationalize them. But there is no evidence that they do. I have seen how they leave hundreds of thousands of young children parentless and thousands of aging, infirm and dying parents childless. They destroy families and mightily fuel the cycle of poverty and addiction. In fact, I have been at this so long, I am now sentencing the grown children of people I long ago sent to prison.”

Judge Bennett concludes: “For years I have debriefed jurors after their verdicts. Northwest Iowa is one of the most conservative regions in the country, and these are people who, for the most part, think judges are too soft on crime. Yet, for all the times I’ve asked jurors after a drug conviction what they think a fair sentence would be, never has one given a figure even close to the mandatory minimum. It is always far lower. Like people who dislike Congress but like their Congress member, these jurors think the criminal justice system coddles criminals in the abstract—but when confronted by a real live defendant, even a ‘drug trafficker,’ they never find a mandatory minimum sentence to be a just sentence.”

We should be grateful to The Nation for publishing a scary piece on a subject many readers may find boring. And we should be equally grateful to Judge Bennett, who held the truth in higher esteem than the unexpressed views of many of his colleagues on the Court.