The problem of mandatory sentencing laws

Here is the part of an 4-1 majority opinion by a New York State appellate court that describes the offense committed in the case that was brought before them.

Defendant, a homeless 53 year-old, entered a pharmacy and attempted to pay for a tube of toothpaste using a counterfeit $20 bill. The bill was rejected by the cashier, and defendant left the store without completing the transaction. Shortly thereafter, defendant was observed by the police, where he was attempting to purchase food with a counterfeit $20 bill. The restaurant cashier refused to accept the bill. Defendant was stopped by the police in front of yet another fast-food restaurant. Five counterfeit $20 bills were recovered from him upon arrest.

So here’s a question. What would have been a reasonable punishment in this case?
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A dangerous mix: ‘First Amendment auditors’ and armed police

As more and more people try to monetize YouTube fame, they are resorting to ever more dangerous acts. We see that in the case of so-called ‘First Amendment Auditors’. These are people who use their First Amendment rights to deliberately provoke police officers in public and actively seeking a hostile response, record the resulting encounter, post the videos on the internet, and make money from the views they generate.
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Get ready for new fraudulent claims that the Earth is cooling

We know that global warming skeptics like to use the fact that it snows in winter as an argument that global warming is a big hoax, a silly argument that is a perennial favorite, But 2018 was the fourth warmest year since accurate records started being kept. The last four years have been the warmest with the very highest in 2016 and the other two in 2015 and 2017, followed by 2018. That looks bad, no? But not for for global warming skeptics who are willing to misrepresent and distort statistics to turn this new information into an argument against global warming.
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The breakdown in political norms in the US and UK

That things are a shambles in both the US and the UK is obvious. But I want to step back a bit from the immediate issues and look at how in both countries, political norms have been breached that may not be recoverable. In the US, we now have a president who shamelessly and repeatedly utters lies that are known to be lies even as he speaks. He is also corrupt and has surrounded himself with corrupt family and government officials and private advisors. And yet his party supports him and is willing to find excuses for his outrageous behavior.
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One area where Trump is clearly the leader

The arrest of Roger Stone adds to the ever-growing list of Donald Trump associates who have been arrested, indicted, and convicted of all manner of crimes. As this tweet says, this is one area where Donald trump indubitably leads Barack Obama.

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Great moments in Brexit solutions

It seems like the UK is heading towards the March 29 deadline without any real progress towards a deal with the European Union. If no deal is reached by then and no extension has been negotiated, then the UK will crash out of the EU and there are fears of massive disruptions as suddenly border controls will have to be imposed at least across the English Channel, one of the main routes for commerce between UK and Europe. There are fears that this will lead to loss jobs due to businesses shifting operations to Europe and all manner of shortages, and people are stocking up on food and medicines in fear.
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There is no crisis on the border that justifies a wall

Kristin Hook is a scientist working for the government who was furloughed. She decided to use her unwanted ‘free time’ to research into the actual claims that are being made to justify the building of a wall, such as that there is a crisis along the southern border that can only be met with a wall. She says that there are three elements to the argument for the wall.
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Michel LeGrand (1932-2019)

The award winning composer and jazz pianist has died in Paris at the age of 86. He has an impressive list of compositions but I want to highlight just one memorable song The Windmils of Your Mind that won an Oscar for the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. Despite so many years having passed since I first heard it, I have never forgotten the beautiful evocative poetry of the lyrics and the haunting melody, which is surely a testament to its power.

The song was covered by many, many artists. Noel Harrison sang the original version in the film and here he is reprising it.

A sensible and long overdue plan to prevent government shutdowns

It is ridiculous for the US government to keep lurching from one shutdown (or the threat of one) to the next and the last one was utterly insane, based as it was on a personal obsession of Donald Trump to get an unworkable solution to a manufactured crisis. In the end, absolutely nothing was achieved but many ordinary people were hurt. The stress that such shutdowns causes extend well beyond the federal employees actually furloughed. I think that fiasco has finally caused members of both parties to realize that something must be done to prevent the government repeatedly being held hostage over increasingly trivial policy disagreements.
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A competition I can fully support

We have seen that new congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to raise the marginal tax rate on incomes over $10 million to 70% has raised alarm bells among the oligarchy that could be heard even as far away as in Davos, Switzerland during their annual get-together. I mean, this is a tax on incomes over $10 million, for crying out loud. Nobody, absolutely nobody, would suffer if the tax were made even higher. But nothing is ever enough for these people.
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