Article I, Section 8

If Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on civilians, add it to a long list of atrocities and injustices perpetrated daily on this planet. To this same list we should also add Israel’s Passover massacre of civilians in Gaza, the genocide of the Rohingya, and dictatorships at work in Turkey, Venezuela, Egypt and dozens of other countries. To crimes against humanity we should also add our own “surgical strikes” by drones and missiles which have killed thousands of Syrians in our never-ending “War on Terror.”

But America is focused on Assad — not because we really care about Syrians or any of the other victims of brutality around the world — but because “regime change” is part and parcel of bending the Middle East toward American interests. It’s the height of hubris — playing god by remaking the world in our own image.

I have rarely known a year when the United States was not throwing its weight around, invading another country, murdering its citizens — sometimes by the hundreds of thousands or millions in the case of Viet Nam. If Americans really want to stamp out malign evil I suggest we start by looking in the mirror.

Start with the Boltons who advocate for war, the Hampels who torture in secret prisons and conceal the evidence from even Congress, the Trumps who use American military power for political dog-wagging, the Mattises who manage slaughter like a CEO rolling out a new product, and the many sociopaths in Congress who funnel national wealth away from the care of citizens into a vast war machine. We delude ourselves if we think the United States is the greatest force for good in the world. Quite the opposite. We are the most homicidal nation on the planet.

Which is why no one in their right mind would give one man — especially a volatile racist with dementia — sole power to wage war. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is quite clear that it is the responsibility of Congress to do the dirty work of waging wars:

  • To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
  • To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

Our unhinged president is sufficient example of why Congress must take back this grave responsibility from the Executive Office and must wield it responsibly and only with great reluctance.

A reply from Setti Warren

Yesterday I wrote a piece expressing my disappointment with Setti Warren’s announcement that he would veto the long-awaited criminal justice omnibus bill if he were governor. I provided background information from a number of sources which attempted to contextualize Warren’s positions and evolution on others. I received an email from Warren today asking me to clarify a factual error and explaining his positions in greater detail. Thankfully, the candidate is more progressive than I characterized him, and for that I owe him a prompt apology.

However, I do think Mayor Warren owes — not just voters — but those most at risk from the criminal “justice” system a better explanation than “not abandoning principles” for throwing out a bill with so much good in it. I am firmly in favor of taking firm positions on firm principles — but not when it hurts someone. Would a reasonable person vote for Trump’s Mexican wall to save the “Dreamers?” Or hold the line opposing the wall?

Yes, the omnibus bill throws in new mandatory minimums for fentanyl as a sop to the DA’s who previously opposed reforms. It also gets rid of many others. But I would have liked to hear from Mr. Warren — and thereby get a better sense of his judgment — how precisely these limited minimums would have caused more harm than all the good built into the bill. I don’t think he’s done that yet.

Here is Setti Warren’s reply to my post in its entirety:

Hi David,

I hope all is well. I just read your email entitled “Setti Warren’s bad call.” I respect your thoughtful and well cited reaction to my announcement that I would veto the Criminal Justice Reform bill if I was governor. I feel that I must respond, however, in order to explain the principles which guide my decision.

I have seen the horrible damage that mandatory minimums have done to communities of color. My father Joe fought in the early days of the civil rights movement, sitting at lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina to try and desegregate the city. When he came up north for graduate school, he devoted his life to working with young people in the black community in Boston. These are communities that have been devastated by mass incarceration, and the work my dad did paled in comparison to the damage that was done by our criminal justice laws.

As Mayor of Newton, I worked with twenty-four city councilors. We had to come to positive, productive compromises every single day to take on the challenges facing our city. In my eight years leading the city, we turned around the budget, invested in better roads and new schools, and implemented innovative programs like Solar Share, which invested in solar and reduced Newton’s municipal carbon footprint by 50% while passing along the savings to nine hundred of our lowest income residents. When it comes to governance, I know what good compromise looks like.

I also learned, however, to never abandon my principles. This criminal justice reform bill is a matter of principles. Because of systemic racism, mandatory minimum laws are used like cudgels in some communities while they sit unused in others. I can never support them—and I will never support a bill that includes them. This is how I will govern.

That being said, I support nearly every other reform being offered in this bill. Mandatory minimums were a compromise put in the bill so that Charlie Baker will sign it. As governor, I hope that the legislature will present me with progressive criminal justice reform untainted by new mandatory minimums. That is a bill that I will happily sign.

I hope that you will share my response with your readers. I also hope that you will take a moment to watch this video further detailing my decision.

Best,

Setti

P.S. I wish to correct a factual error at the end of your letter regarding my endorsement of Our Revolution’s “People’s Platform.” In my letter to ORMA seeking their endorsement, I specifically addressed each of these issues. It appears the link you included in your email does not have this language. I hope this information helps you characterize my views correctly moving forward.

Of the eight specific federal legislative proposals listed, I support without reservation the first five (Single Payer Healthcare, Free Public College, $15 Minimum Wage and a Union, Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance and Automatic Voter Registration) and will work to implement each of these in Massachusetts as governor.

The Justice is Not For Sale Act includes a range of federal issues which I have not had the time to fully research to be able to endorse the federal elements. I would, however unequivocally oppose the privatization of prisons and would veto any effort to introduce private state prisons by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I also support parole as an appropriate criminal justice tool.

The Inclusive Prosperity Act is a federal proposal which does not have a Massachusetts impact. I do not have enough information to offer support for the federal proposal.

The Keep It In The Ground Act deals with federal offshore drilling, which would not be within the purview of the Governor of Massachusetts. What is related and would be decidedly in my wheelhouse as governor is the unnecessary expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure within Massachusetts. I strongly oppose this.

Setti Warren’s bad call

September 4th seems a long way off, but the Massachusetts Democratic primary will be here before we know it. Voters have a choice between three decent Democratic challengers and a Republican governor whose positions on taxes, criminal justice and immigration are squarely, and terribly, Republican.

From the sound of it the Democratic Governors Association has already conceded the November election to Baker, as an article by Joshua Miller at the Globe suggests. It also appears likely that the DGA will close its purse to whomever wins the Democratic gubernatorial primary. As if that were not bad enough, a recent statement from one of the challengers now threatens the criminal justice omnibus bill just passed by the legislature.

Last week former Newton Mayor Setti Warren wrote a piece in Blue Mass Group spelling out his objections to the omnibus bill now awaiting governor Baker’s signature: “I had to tell my friends in the legislature, many of whom I admire greatly, that I would have vetoed their bill if I were governor. I could not in good conscience sign any bill that creates new mandatory minimum sentences. They are discriminatory, ineffective, and lead to mass incarceration.”

Blogger “Hester Prynne” replied to Warren, “how would you intend that your veto be received by the overwhelming majorities who voted in its favor (including every member of the Democratic party) and who would say your veto throws the baby out with the bathwater?” — to which Warren replied, “I want people to know that there are some lines I just won’t cross in the name of ‘compromise.’ We know that mandatory minimums target black and brown people. Even though we are only 20% of the population of Mass, black and brown people make up 73% of those sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences.”

Other responses to Warren’s posting included:

  • “I have to admire the instinct that says, no. Really no more at all.”
  • “No user is going to be selling 10 grams of fentanyl to other users, given the strength of fentanyl. This undermines Mayor Warren’s position that this mandatory minimum targets communities of color, as the person being targeted for this crime is selling a substance that, when cut, could kill hundreds of people suffering from a substance abuse disorder.”
  • “It really does sound like you are getting the perfect in the way of the good. […] I fear more people will suffer under current mandatory minimum laws than [under] the proposed changes.”

A single dose of pure fentanyl is less than 2 milligrams and costs between $20 and $30. Ten grams represents 5,000 doses or $100,000. Even cut 10-to-1 or more, the number of doses would still be in the hundreds.

My own view of the controversy is that Warren is right about the evils of mandatory minimums — but he’s wrong to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Even with new minimums for a limited subset of fentanyl trafficking, the legislature’s criminal justice reforms address many current problems with sentencing, prisons, probation, young offenders, decriminalize offenses and raise the threshold for others, create diversion programs, and should result in a substantial net reduction in mass incarceration. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater was not just a bad call, but irresponsible, because Warren sent the Republican governor a message of support for a veto of long-awaited and much-needed reforms. And Baker is now signalling that he wants more law-and-order changes.

After meeting Warren last year, I really wanted to like the guy. But his positions, or rather, his “adaptability” in changing and holding conflicting positions, really makes it difficult. Warren has had consistently progressive views on civil rights, abortion, energy, education, immigration, and revenue. But raising revenue shouldn’t involve corporate giveaways — and in 2011 he supported permanent R&D tax credits and reductions in business taxes. Now, in 2017, he’s singing a different tune. In 2011 Warren, who never misses a chance to talk about his family’s relationship to the military, was all for throwing anything and everything at terrorism; in 2017 he’s in favor of drawing down the many U.S. wars of choice.

Warren endorsed 5 of 8 pieces of Our Revolution’s “People’s Platform” — single payer, free college, $15 minimum wage (minus the cost of living increases), abortion, and automatic voter registration — but Keith Ellison’s “Inclusive Prosperity Act,” a revenue tool which taxes Wall Street transactions and would raise $300 billion in revenue — that was a bridge too far. Likewise, Warren refused to support Jeff Merkley’s “Keep it in the Ground Act,” which prohibits coal and oil field giveaways. Most telling, Setti Warren refused to support Bernie Sanders’ “Justice is Not for Sale Act of 2015,” which would have disentangled the U.S. government from the private prison industry.

After all this, it’s only fair to ask — does Warren really support criminal justice reform or not?

For me, this latest kerfuffle is a symptom of the bad judgment that comes of trying to hold inconsistent views simultaneously. You can’t be a centrist and a progressive at the same time. Setti Warren is a case in point.