, Salem, MA

March 17, 2014

A look at what others are saying

The Salem News

---- — A short list of what’s wrong with laws requiring mandatory minimum jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would include the following:

They are harshly unfair, sweeping up and incarcerating a disproportionate number of minority offenders; they don’t work, even a bit, in deterring drug use; they cost an astronomical amount of money; and they tie the hands of judges, keeping them from using their discretion, from basing a sentence on the particulars of the case before them.

Thankfully, there’s been a growing awareness, at least in recent years, that the sentencing requirements, while perhaps well-intentioned when adopted, proved in practice to be an absolute nightmare.

Congress made a significant step in 2010 when it voted to reduce the ridiculous disparity in sentences handed out for possession of crack cocaine vs. the drug in its powder form.

Now, Attorney General Eric Holder wants to take the next logical step. He’s moving to see that those sentenced under the old laws can have their jail time reduced.

And he’s found some allies in a most-unlikely place: the Republican Party.

Yes, libertarian-leaning members of the GOP see the wisdom of Holder’s move — and the foolishness of maintaining the status quo.

Those who tend to see the glass as half-full, who prefer to look on the bright side, might hope that this most-unlikely alliance is sign of greater things still to come. If Holder and some in the GOP can see eye-to-eye on this one, might there be additional untilled common ground?

We’d like to think so, would like at least to hope so.

— The Republican of Springfield, Mass.

Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner recently cited her Fifth Amendment protection against incrimination in refusing for the second time to testify before Congress about what role she played in the IRS’s targeting of certain groups, particularly conservative ones, before the 2012 election.

It is hard to know what crime she thinks she committed, since neither the administration nor the Justice Department has indicated any laws were broken. Indeed, President Obama said in a recent interview “there was not even a smidgen of corruption.” He said the scandal simply revolves around “a 501(c)4 law people think is confusing” and that “folks did not know how to implement.”

The Fifth cannot be legitimately used simply to avoid testifying to Congress about one’s actions in a position of public trust, particularly when essential First Amendment protections are at stake.

We hope Lerner will reconsider or — if she has indeed committed a crime — that those entrusted with enforcing the law will prosecute. For 10 months, she has refused to testify.

Both parties should cooperate to get to the bottom of the IRS matter. This should not be reduced to the standard Washington partisan squabble, because Americans have a stake in making sure that powerful agency is not politicized.

— The Providence (R.I.) Journal

There’s a fascinating — and historic — dynamic playing out right now in Washington, where U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has accused the CIA of snooping on Senate staffers who were investigating the spy agency’s interrogation techniques during the Bush era.

What’s stunning is not just that Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, made the allegations public during a remarkable speech on the floor of the Senate. What’s even more alarming is that Feinstein has long been an ardent supporter of the nation’s intelligence community.

At root, Feinstein alleges that the CIA provided documents about interrogation techniques to Senate investigators on a secure computer and then secretly removed some of the documents it had turned over from the computers being used by Senate staffers.

According to an Associated Press timeline of the matter, “the committee complains to the CIA, which first denies that anything was taken from the system and later contends that removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. Officials at the White House deny such order. Feinstein complains to the White House and gets an apology from the CIA and assurances that it won’t happen again.”

We think Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is right. “Heads should roll, people should go to jail, if it’s true,” said Graham, who called it “Nixon stuff.”

And scary stuff, at least for anyone who cares about principles like democracy and privacy and separation of powers.

— The Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph