Overcriminalization is not Conservative: Why Republican Senators Should Support S. 2123

 

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S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA), is inherently conservative because it benefits Americans while significantly reducing federal spending. The current changes to SRCA examined in the Senate aim to address the concerns of some legislators while keeping the substantive reforms to the nation’s broken justice system. If nothing is done, the price of maintaining a sufficient justice system will become far too costly.

Senate support originates from the SRCA sponsor, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and it is cosponsored by notable senators such as John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY).

SRCA is not a revolutionary new approach to the justice system but rather a measured application of years of reform experience onto the federal prison system. Thanks to months of education and study, conservative stalwarts like Senators Grassley and Lee lead efforts to push the issue. This is a major development after the demagoguery and falsehoods peddled by actors who neglect to offer their own proposals.

The new changes would remove any possibility that serious violent criminals will see any sentencing relief.

Costs

The criminal justice system in its current state is extremely costly to the United States budget. According to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, the Bureau of Prison’s budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 totaled $6.9 billion and represented 25 percent of the DOJ’s discretionary budget.

Comparatively, the BOP’s FY 2000 budget is only $3.8 billion and 18 percent of the DOJ’s discretionary budget. This doubled monetary increase damages the DOJ by preventing it from participating in other critical law enforcement programs.

Plans like SRCA prove to reduce costs as seen in states like Texas. When Texas spent $240 million up front in 2007, they closed 3 prisons and saved an estimated $3 billion with reforms that lowered the prison population while increasing public safety. With this overhaul, Texas lowered its prison population by more than 20%. Also, Texas crime plummeted to its lowest levels since 1968.

Impacts

By proposing a comprehensive plan, SRCA will have a significant impact on improving the justice community and will benefit all Americans. It provides for common-sense reform to prevent cruel and unusual punishment, decrease recidivism rates, and enhance public safety.

Today’s federal system spends significant amounts to imprison non-violent and low-level offenders rather than leaders of organized crime. According to an October 2011 U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress, only 11 percent of those sentenced for drug offenses were “high-level suppliers or importers.” Only 7.1 percent were “organizers, leaders, or manufacturers.” However, 58.6 percent of those sentenced for drug offences were street-level dealers or below, and 27.8 percent were “couriers” or “mules.” These numbers depict the failure of the current system to target high-profile criminals it intended to incarcerate.

Recidivism rates in the U.S. are also daunting. 95 percent of federal prisoners will eventually  be released into the general public, but most of them lack  the tools to become rehabilitated members of society. SRCA creates a Recidivism Risk Assessment to determine risk levels for prisoners. Those with lower risk would receive credits to reduce their sentences by completing training programs proven to work in states like Texas.

Working to decrease recidivism enhances public safety. Prisoners return to the community with rehabilitation training and skills to help them contribute to society.  These are not “weak provisions;” they are smarter provisions that increase safety and decrease taxpayer costs.If anything, training requirements mean we are getting tougher, not softer on crime.

Consequences of Doing Nothing

As costs continue to increase exponentially in the federal prison system, less funds are available to assist other programs in DOJ. This increases the national debt and demands higher taxes to provide the average $30,000 per prisoner per year (with more than 215,000 people in federal prison during 2014). Prisoners lacking skills continue to be released into the community each year. Without any formal assistance to gain necessary capabilities to contribute to the community, these ex-prisoners return to prison due to lack of employability.

The vicious cycle of mass incarceration must end, and the conservative proposals within SRCA provide the most effective long-term solutions. These resolutions increase domestic security, decrease costs, and prevent crimes that are being unfairly punished-an inherently “conservative” ideal. I urge the Senate, especially conservatives, to support S.B. 2123 to reform the dysfunctional justice system.

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1NmJoOK 

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The Environment: A Conservative Cause

With the start of the new semester come new classes, some familiar and unfamiliar faces, learning about our new professors and loads of tedious readings. But wait! Let’s not forget the same ugly anti-capitalistic and anti-private property rhetoric thrown around each and every semester at AU. You hear this rhetoric even in classes not directly concerned with politics and policy— in one of my first classes this semester, I witnessed this rhetoric. While conservatives across campus are exceptional at defending our values in the classroom, we stumble with questions regarding the environment. And of course, Liberals use our falter to rail against capitalism. Honesty, I give credit to my liberal classmates for their vigorous environmental passion, an area where the energy lacks for conservatives. To be fair, the environment hasn’t always been a top issue for conservatives, and many often dismiss it altogether. However, that shouldn’t discourage conservatives from having a passion for the environment and demanding sustainable solutions.

Although I agree with my left-leaning peers on the necessity of protecting the environment, I disagree vehemently with them on is the perception that the solutions to environmental issues are restricted to ever increasing big government programs. We can make a conservative case for environmental concerns, and it begins with shrinking—not expanding—government programs.

First and foremost, I believe our country is the most beautiful country in the world. “From sea to shining sea” America has the most bountiful gifts that nature has bestowed. Our forests bustle with sprawling trees, our rivers gush with crystal clear water, our mountains glisten with shining snow, our beaches are full of sand that glows with the likeness of gold, and our hills and valleys are filled with diverse wildlife. I am so fortunate to have seen much of this beautiful country in my lifetime already; everywhere from the Shenandoah Valley, the Badlands, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, to Cape Cod, Yellowstone National Park, and the Redwood Forests of California. I cannot think of the spirit of America without imagining the blissfulness of these lands—and that’s why everyone should care about the future of the environment, for our generation and the generations to come.

To keep our beautiful nation environmentally sound, we must allow the greatest aspect of our government to strengthen: that which promotes prosperity of all kinds; one that governs least and yields to liberty—the protection of our natural rights. To truly facilitate this, the priority must be promoting conservative principles of private property, free markets and self-responsibility in the direction of environmental issues.

To the contrary of much left-wing thought, the protection of private property rights helps the environment. Private property rights are everyone’s individual and exclusive right to own land, resources and the fruits of their labors in the peaceful enjoyment of their possession. This causes an incentive to maintain one’s property and therefore create and retain value in that property. In a system that protects private property rights, environmental problems such as resource management, animal extinction and pollution can and have been greatly reduced.

The environmental problem at the root of resource management and animal extinction is the tragedy of commons, or the unrestricted collective usage of a common resource until its destruction. In tragedy of the commons, individuals attempt to maximize utility from a resource by consuming more, effectively diminishing competitor utility. In other words, no individual has incentive to retain the value, in a collective property or its continual usage, because while they receive a great benefit, they only have to pay for the fraction of the cost for that resource’s exploitation. Ultimately, the community pays for the destruction of a resource when it’s completely gone, not those who destroyed it. Individuals, who own these resources as private property can manage their resources and sell these resources for a market price that produces a valuation, thus profit from resource usage. Individuals seek to retain and create value—or money—they have acquired from that property.

There are numerous examples of this, specifically when it comes to timber companies or livestock such as chickens or cows. If a timber company just cuts down trees in a national forest, they would seek to cut as many down as possible, thus depleting the resource. However, if the company can own some of the land, they seek to cut down trees in a sustainable manner to continue to create value from that land, likely by planting more trees.

Furthermore, the protection of private property reduces or eliminates pollution. Now, you may be thinking, “Alex, companies who have the protection of their property have polluted the environment!” Hold on, that’s not entirely accurate, let’s go back to an important distinction of our definition of private property: “everyone’s right.” A great failure during the industrial revolution was the lack of an attempt to protect everyone’s property. As a great many factories sprung up, businesses polluted rivers and ecosystems in ways that harmed people’s private homes, businesses and water sources. In order to protect everyone’s property, a company cannot just pollute others’ private property!

However, the EPA doesn’t uphold property rights. Instead, they have pollution permits that allow levels of pollutants to enter the environment. These pollution permits essentially prevent property owners from suing these companies in civil litigations. By retaining power back to the people and eliminating inept big government programs like this, individuals can protect their property and the environment via the common law system.

The free market system is optimal for the environment, and it should be noted that the most free-market and affluent nations have the greatest protection of the environment. When economies are allowed to break free from government intervention, the total wealth of the nation increases and creates the conditions to afford luxury goods such as clean environments.

When we cut red tape, lower taxes and allow private enterprises to function in a free market, clean energy companies can compete. In doing so, they may start developing better energy technology that flows from a free market’s goal: efficient usage of resources. This leads to a process of innovation and economic efficiency, producing more value from fewer resources for consumers. By producing efficiently, we lower our carbon footprints. For example, with the amount of information we produce each year, we could not sustain safe environmental standards with inferior technology like fax machines, paper mail and print sources. The inventions of the Internet and the computer have saved millions of trees and have allowed us to expand our information reach.

One of the great features of free markets is the accumulation of capital, which promotes production unintended for direct consumption linking to economic growth. Capital accumulation allows investments in both human capital and social capital. For example, many capitalists such as Rockefeller, Ted Turner, and Bill Gates have donated and preserved many millions of acres of land. In fact, Acadia National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yosemite National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Shenandoah National Park are all lands donated by the Rockefeller foundation. Unlike these capitalists, command economies have national schemes to exploit large amounts of land in “five year plans” and usually overuse resources in inefficient ways leading to fewer innovations and a less beautiful land. After all, when was the last time you visited China for the poor air quality or Russia for their radioactive forest and even both of their natural parks and sightseeing?

Lastly, one must contemplate their ideas, as a typical AU student might say: “Corporations and capitalism are the source of environmental degradation.” While this may sound appealing and logical, it isn’t accurate. We need to realize everyone contributes to the environment’s wellbeing. In a pure economic sense, supply equals demand when in equilibrium; therefore you cannot have the supply for goods without the demand for them. We the consumers, which includes everyone, have the power to help make our environment cleaner. Corporations don’t control what we demand, we do! Self responsibility is the course of action, and if that means we need to look at the trash containers and pick the right ones, buy products which have low carbon foot prints or chose better ways of living-then we must take the initiative. We all have a part to play, even this writer.

Conservatism holds the answer to solving our environmental crises: Smaller government, freer markets and the protection of private property. These conservative ideals have lead to great prosperities in these lands and can help make America clean again!

Wait, Climate Change is Real?

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Our favorite GOP presidential candidate Donald J. Trump is quite the social media mogul. Sometimes he posts short, stoic Instagram videos where he usually ends with, “WHAT ARE THEY DOING/THINKING?” His most recent video caught my eye more than his usual shenanigans. He ‘calls’ out President Obama for being in France to discuss climate change while he apparently should be focused on illegal immigrants and Syrian refugees crossing our borders. Lovely. While I feel it goes without saying, Mr. Trump needs to put his priorities in order. Climate change has not been the fastest process ever, future generations will bear the burden of its effects, but guess what? Temperatures are rising everybody. Our generation has inherited the task of lowering temperatures or future generations will feel climate woes tenfold.

Whether Donald Trump thinks it is important or not, the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or COP 21) seeks to establish new climate treaties and at the very least, promote discussion on this extremely overlooked issue. I am usually very quick to bash the UN system, but the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which hosts the conference, at least has a realistic set of goals in mind. Sure the UNFCCC lacks enforcement mechanisms and has not met said goals, but that does not mean it never will. Many countries (including the entirety of the EU) reduced their carbon footprint while others fell short. The United States, for example, signed the Kyoto Protocol but never ratified it. While all of this sounds incredibly ineffective and useless, it at leasts brings UN powers together to talk about climate change. The UN and its systems have always been effective for promoting conversation, and every so often something tangible sticks.

So now let me ask you, Donald Trump, what are YOU thinking? Illegal immigration is on the decline and temperatures are on the rise. Global temperatures are rising in a scientifically quantifiable manner. The other issue, immigration, is immeasurable noise. The “big beautiful wall with a big beautiful door in the middle” is not the answer because illegal immigrants will still attempt to cross the border. It’s inevitable. We currently have phenomenal technology in place to put a halt to border hopping. Sure, it slows down illegal immigration. We will never stop it entirely though. But what about the case of global climate? This is something we could visibly slow down by changing energy and consumption policies. Temperatures are going up and Congress refuses to accept it. Instead, they bring snowballs into congress and say it’s all fine. The rising temperatures are not a significant change over a short time, because it is a long term gradual rise that will eventually become much more of a problem than it is now. It’s still snowing in DC, but the ice caps are melting and seas are rising. So sure, the UNFCCC may not be the answer. However, at some point in the future there will finally be an answer. So don’t listen to Trump. President Obama is not wasting his time in France. Fixing the planet require global coordination. Earth needs the help.

A Conservative Replacement: Fixing the Affordable Care Act

obamacare-cartoon-hellerOne of the most hotly debated issues in the American political landscape today centers around the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, colloquially referred to as both the ACA and Obamacare. The ACA, passed by the 111th Congress and signed into law by President Obama in late-March 2010, is the most gargantuan overhauls of the American health-care system since President Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law in 1965. The arguments for and against Obamacare are very much divided along party and ideological lines, with liberals generally supporting the ACA and conservatives feverishly opposing it. The overtly partisan divide that generally accompanies Obamacare created great waves of disagreement in Congress, with the most recent government shutdown engendered by an attempt by House Republicans to defund the act to undermine several of its crucial provisions. With the advent of the first Republican Senate in eight years, the ACA looks like it will be run through the mill once more.

Financial implications are inherent within any sweeping legislation like universal health care. There are two major funding models that are used to varying degrees around the world to pay for universal health care. The ACA is based on a model called compulsory insurance. Compulsory insurance is the equivalent of a government mandate to buy health insurance. This is enforced by legislation in which people can incur fines and penalties for not purchasing health insurance. In Obamacare, people who failed to purchase insurance by May 1st of this year had to pay a tax penalty. One of the only circumstances that this penalty can be avoided is if the income of the applicant is so low that they are not required by law to file for taxes.     Another model of funding for universal health care is called single payer. Single payer health insurance is a system in which the government settles all costs from health insurance, as opposed to health insurance being paid for directly by the insurers. The government gets the money from a fund that US citizens pay into through taxes. The taxes paid in a single payer health care system effectively replace the premiums that were paid for by private insurers. Proponents of a single payer health care system argue that this is a cheaper alternative to privatized health care in that insurers are free from paying for the overhead costs of health insurance companies, therefore paying less through a tax than they would through an insurance premium.

The ACA has come under fierce opposition from many people, mostly conservatives, who typically value personal responsibility over government intervention. A major result of Obamacare is the introduction of new taxes. In order to compensate for the tens of millions of people who have recently been insured, new taxes on high-earners have been introduced. The Affordable Care Act has also increased patient demand. With an increase in the amount of insured Americans, the usage of health benefits has also increased. With the increased usage of health benefits, a shortage of health care professionals, longer waiting lines, and crowded emergency rooms are inevitable. Another effect of Obamacare is that it is an overly complex law that is rife with red tape, regulations, and confusion. A recent poll by the Kaiser Foundation shows that 47% of people view the law unfavorable, while 35% view it in a favorable light. It can be argued that the initial confusion over the ACA has waned, but a majority of people still view the law unfavorably. Some view it as a complicated and unnecessary addition to an already complicated and inefficient health care system, and resent the fact that the government has mandated that they purchase health insurance. Also, insurance premiums have increased as a result of more people having insurance. This puts considerable stress on small business owners who provide health care for their employees, but fail to qualify for the aforementioned tax credits and government subsidies.

There is a solution to the health care issue that plagues this country. It is imperative that we look after the most vulnerable in our society first, and people that lack any kind of health insurance are definitely the most susceptible to massive debts that they simply cannot afford to accrue. The first step is obviously to repeal some key portions of the Affordable Care Act that put undue stress on the lower class, such as the individual mandate. The second step would be to implement a catastrophic health care coverage for every eligible citizen. Doctor visits don’t kill the family budget; unforeseen and gigantic medical problems are bankrupting the lower class and the uninsured. If a medical problem in the family becomes too costly or expensive, government should be there to incur a substantial portion of the costs, or all of the costs after a deductible. Finally, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines would drive down costs as well, making insurance more affordable for all. These simple changes would drastically improve the Affordable Care Act. It is imperative that we make these changes before it is too late.

Huddled Masses: Fixing Our Broken Immigration System

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America is a nation of immigrants; most Americans are only a few generations removed from being immigrants themselves. However, a pervasive anti-immigration sentiment seems to dominate American political rhetoric lately. On July 1, 2014, a mob of protesters in Murrieta, California stood in the center of a street to block three buses filled with approximately 140 immigrants. The flag-waving protesters, 300 in number and rabidly chanting, “go back home,” were enough to reroute the fleet. Disturbingly, this xenophobia was directed at legal immigrants. In the wake of President Obama’s executive order on immigration, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) has taken up the mantle of being the Senate’s leading anti-immigration crusader. In a recent interview detailing his plans to destroy any semblance of a coherent immigration system, Sessions tipped his hand: “One thing that’s accepted almost without debate is that we need more of those workers, and that’s not accurate.” The basic assumption that Sessions and his ilk operate under is patently false: we do need these immigrants, and it is precisely these immigrants that will solidify America’s leadership in the twenty-first century global marketplace.

The centerpiece of immigration reform should be a clear and obtainable path to legal citizenship, unhampered by long lines or bumbling bureaucracy. A separate federal department that solely handles immigration, perhaps titled the Department of Immigration (DOI), should head these efforts. The DOI would manage all aspects of the immigration process, from visas to family immigration to distribution of green cards and other paths to legal status. Centralizing these efforts would drastically pare down the bureaucracy involved with the current distribution of immigration services across several federal departments. The DOI would then be able to dictate an immigration policy that stimulates economic growth. An economically driven immigration system that appeals to work-driven immigrants is essential. The Department of Immigration would employ policy experts and the like to tackle problems facing our current system. One area that the DOI would certainly curtail is the process of reunification. According to current immigration code, families that immigrate here are allowed to reunite with not only their nuclear family members, but extended family as well. While the reunification of nuclear families is important, the endless immigration of extended and non-nuclear family members is a problem. Extended family members do not provide the kind of economic benefit that work-driven immigrants and their families offer. Moreover, this creates a chain effect, wherein a steady stream of family members come to seek citizenship, and clog up the line for more qualified immigrants. Work-driven immigrants should be at the front of the line in a new immigration system.

States should play a large role in enhancing the effectiveness of these comprehensive immigration reforms. People that place complete border security ahead of comprehensive immigration reform are misguided; there will be no green light indicating when the border is completely secured. With the advent of nascent technology, we can control the borders in new ways that do not rely on crocodiles and moats. Ideally, states would be given block grants to secure their borders in ways that make the most sense. An idea that caught on recently is surveillance via unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with cameras and radar. The best combination would be virtual and physical borders in tandem with increased border patrol staffing. Another area in which states should be given flexibility is allocation of welfare and other government entitlements. Even though immigrants are net contributors to major entitlement programs like Medicare, a central tenet of an economically driven immigration system is the assurance that immigrants are growing our economy, not hampering prosperity. As a result, states should be given the ultimate flexibility as to how they would distribute welfare resources to immigrants. Lastly, states should be given the ultimate authority to enforce immigration policies. With most of the burden of enforcement vested in the Department of Homeland Security, states are at a comparative disadvantage when it comes to enforcing immigration policy. Ultimate harmony between the federal government and state and local governments is essential in securing our borders and restoring the rule of law. Empowering the states to have relative autonomy in securing the borders, welfare distribution, and enforcing the rule of law should be a key facet in comprehensive immigration reform.

As a nation, we are a far cry from the days of Ellis Island and an immigration policy that benefits both immigrants and the United States. As mentioned before, America is a nation of immigrants. We are drawn here by the promises of freedom, personal responsibility, individual liberty, and pursuit of the American Dream. Unfortunately, America’s natural gravitation towards compassion is lost in the immigration debate. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) was right when he spoke about immigration in a 2012 speech. Decrying the treatment of illegal immigration as a strictly law and order issue, Rubio definitely tugged at the heartstrings: “These are real people. These are human beings who have children, and hopes, and dreams. These are people that are doing what virtually any of us would do if our children were hungry, if their countries were dangerous, if they had no hope for their future.” Comprehensive immigration reform is one way that we can honor the core principles that make America the greatest nation on earth. Our policies and our citizens need to welcome immigrants to revitalize America, and to take her in a new direction. Making fundamental and sweeping changes to current immigration legislation will be difficult both politically and structurally, but it must be done to secure future prosperity for America and her citizens. It’s time to honor the Statue of Liberty, and honor the promise of the American Dream. It’s time lift our lamp beside the golden door before it is too late.

Malfeasant Messaging: Clinton’s Secret Emails

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At first, it seemed like another overblown scandal. Hillary Clinton was once again the target of conservative bloggers and broadcasters nationwide for using her private email account to conduct State Department business. State Department employees are instructed to use a government email account under the law and thus Clinton’s critics were quick to slam her on the issue. Even though I learned about the law, I assumed that Mrs. Clinton’s email scandal would warrant quotations and would be nothing more than another political stunt to hurt her image going into 2016. However, once I read about Clinton’s private email account, it became clear that this is no hoax.

To be clear, I did not support Clinton before the emails scandal. While I disagree with Clinton on many issues, I never viewed her as an unqualified presidential candidate. Someone that is a former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State has the resume for the job. Yes, she had been through scandals, such as Benghazi, but I often felt they were overemphasized and the longer they went on the thinner the case against her became. After reading CNN, Politico, Geekwire, the Associated Press’s lawsuit, and other sources, I now feel Clinton is unqualified to be President of the United States.

First of all, she blatantly violated both the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under the Federal Records Acts, communications, such as emails, are to be preserved for the public record and through FOIA media outlets and average citizens can gain access to these and other government records. Dan Metcalfe, who was head of the DOJ’s Office of Information and Privacy and now is a Professor of Secrecy Law at American’s Washington College of Law, wrote in Politico that Clinton’s defense was “laughable.” Metcalfe said that Clinton’s use of a private email regarding State Department policy is fine in the 21st Century when she has to rapidly respond to a situation, if those emails are forwarded to a State Department account. Clinton solely used her private email, whether or not an urgent national security threat warranted it, and has since deleted tens of thousands of emails without a single neutral observer checking over them.

Speaking of a national security threat, Clinton’s private email may be the greatest hole in U.S. national security since Obama took office or even since September 11th. Since Clinton’s term as Secretary of State, every foreign government has been trying to read her emails. At the State Department, the United States’s best computer programmers protect classified information contained in bureaucrats’ emails. However, Clinton decided to use a personal email on her own server out of the protected realm of the State Department. Unless Clinton either had the State Department monitoring her server to protect it or hired some of the best programmers in the world to protect her server, it is possible that foreign government spies read all of her emails and the information they contained about our national security. It is possible that Vladimir Putin knows more about her emails than we ever will. Interestingly, renowned Democratic strategist James Carville exemplified Clinton’s corruption on CNN’s Crossfire. While trying to defend Clinton, Carville said that she attempted to avoid Congressman Gohmert from, “rifling through her emails.” In other words, Clinton avoided congressional oversight by using her private email account.

When the president takes the oath of office, he or she swears to uphold and protect the Constitution. In 2007, Clinton claimed, “our Constitution is being shredded [by] … secret White House email accounts,” used by the Bush Administration. By her own standards, Clinton failed to uphold the Constitution. A person that averts federal law, jeopardizes national security, and avoids congressional oversight is not fit to be our president; thus Hillary Clinton lost her qualification.