Archive

December 4th

Mothers in Prison

    The women’s wing of the jail exhales sadness. The inmates, wearing identical orange uniforms, ache as they undergo withdrawal from drugs, as they eye one another suspiciously, and as they while away the days stripped of freedom, dignity, privacy and, most painful of all, their children.

    “She’s disappointed in me,” Janay Manning, 29, a drug offender shackled to a wall for an interview, said of her eldest daughter, a 13-year-old. And then she started crying, and we paused our interview.

    Of all America’s various policy missteps in my lifetime, perhaps the most catastrophic was mass incarceration. It has had devastating consequences for families, and it costs the average U.S. household $600 a year.

    The U.S. has recently come to its senses and begun dialing back on the number of male prisoners. But we have continued to increase the number of women behind bars; two-thirds of women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. The U.S. now incarcerates eight times as many women as in 1980, and only Thailand seems to imprison women at a higher rate.

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Farewell to Cuba's brutal Big Brother

    One of the most brutal dictators in modern history has just died. Oddly enough, some will mourn his passing, and many an obituary will praise him. Millions of Cubans who have been waiting impatiently for this moment for more than half a century will simply ponder his crimes and recall the pain and suffering he caused.

    Why this discrepancy? Because deceit was one of Fidel Castro's greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world's greatest frailties. A genius at myth-making, Castro relied on the human thirst for myths and heroes. His lies were beautiful, and so appealing. According to Castro and to his propagandists, the so-called revolution was not about creating a repressive totalitarian state and securing his rule as an absolute monarch, but rather about eliminating illiteracy, poverty, racism, class differences and every other ill known to humankind. This bold lie became believable, thanks largely to Castro's incessant boasting about free schools and medical care, which made his myth of the benevolent utopian revolution irresistible to many of the world's poor.

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Fake news? That's a very old story.

    Last week, The Post reported that Paul Horner, "the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire," believes he turned the election in favor of Donald Trump. For many, the claim signals an alarming turn into uncharted political territory. But fake news is part of American history. In fact, it goes back to the founding of the republic.

    In 1769, John Adams gleefully wrote in his diary about spending the evening occupied with "a curious employment. Cooking up Paragraphs, Articles, Occurrences etc. - working the political Engine!" Adams, along with his cousin Sam and a handful of other Boston patriots, were planting false and exaggerated stories meant to undermine royal authority in Massachusetts.

    Several other leaders of the American Revolution likewise attempted to manage public opinion by fabricating stories that looked like the real thing. William Livingston, then governor of New Jersey, secretly crafted lengthy pieces that newspaper publishers featured. One, titled "The Impartial Chronicle," was anything but, claiming that the king was sending tens of thousands of foreign soldiers to kill Americans.

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Castro's Venezuela obsession

    On May 8, 1967, two small boats carrying a dozen heavily armed fighters made landfall near Machurucuto, a tiny fishing village 100 miles east of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Their plan was to march inland and recruit Venezuelan peasants to the cause of socialist revolution.

    The eight Venezuelans and four Cubans who took part in this mad adventure were on a mission from Fidel Castro. It was the heyday of Cuban agitation abroad, with Cuban-backed guerrilla cells spreading throughout Latin America.

    The fighters sent to Machurucuto had bad luck, though. A local fisherman spotted their abandoned boats and notified the Venezuelan military. An all-night gun battle followed. Little more than 72 hours after landing, nine of the guerrillas were dead and two others captured. Just one got away.

    The first and only foreign military invasion of Venezuela of the past hundred years was a three-day-long fiasco.

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Castro's death won't reshape Cuba; Trump's presidency might

    At 12:33 a.m. my phone sings a tritone text message alert. "Fidel dead," the first one reads, a minimalist headline.

    I flip on the TV. It's all so predictable: the calls to Miami journalists, camera shots of a celebratory march on Calle Ocho, montaged flashbacks of the revolutionary's finger-wagging speeches. As usual, news on Cuba is focused on the past.

    But many on the island are wondering what happens next. Their future economic progress that feels more fickle now that Donald Trump is the U.S. president-elect.

    Since President Barack Obama loosened travel restrictions, flights are taking off from several major U.S. cities, the amount of Americans visiting the island has risen by 50 percent, and an unlimited supply of rum and cigars can fly home with them. In May, for the first time ever, a cruise ship from the United States docked in Havana Harbor, where 118 years earlier the sinking of the USS Maine catapulted Americans into Cuba's fight for independence from Spain. Today, a search for lodging on the Caribbean island through Airbnb yields more than 300 results, private homes opened up to foreigners for cultural and monetary exchange.

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The electors should reflect the people's choice

    Conventional wisdom tells us that the electoral college requires that the person who lost the popular vote this year must nonetheless become our president. That view is an insult to our framers. It is compelled by nothing in our Constitution. It should be rejected by anyone with any understanding of our democratic traditions - most important, the electors themselves.

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Sorry, Trump: iPhones should still be made in China

    Few people took Donald Trump seriously when he said in March that he'd "get Apple to start making their computers and their iPhones on our land, not in China." But his election appears to have caused a change of heart. Apple has reportedly asked the two Asian companies that assemble the bulk of its iPhones to assess whether they can bring the work to the U.S. One of them, Foxconn, has agreed to look into the matter.

    Trump's supporters have embraced this news as a sign of his power to persuade wayward corporations to make America great again. But as Apple and its manufacturing partners know, and as President Trump will soon find out, it'll never happen. The U.S. lacks the workforce and supply chains necessary for Apple to move its iPhone operation back home. And more to the point, Americans shouldn't want it to.

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Only Trump can fix it? We'll see

    In the Book of Proverbs it is written: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Our president-elect's answer to that is his promise to "make American great again." But the proverb goes on to add: "But he that accepts the law, happy is he."

    Donald Trump's history of skirting the law as a master builder, now being revealed in new journalistic reports, includes using Trump Foundation money for personal purposes and stiffing manual laborers in the building of his hotel empire. His recent admissions question his reverence for the law.

    His desire to involve his children in official government affairs while they run his business empire after he assumes the Oval Office already fails to pass the smell test. His continuing refusal to release his income-tax returns also keeps an ethical cloud hovering over his impending administration.

    As for the vision part, it lacks any specifics other than vague assurances of restoring the former prosperity of millions of blue-collar factory workers who deserted the Democratic Party on Election Day, disappointed that their old political home had let them down.

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How Democrats can check Trump (beyond prayer)

    I asked some top Congressional Democrats what they can do to check Donald Trump and the Republican House and Senate majorities. The answer: prayer.

    OK, that was a joke. Sort of. With a 23-seat majority in the House, Republicans can push through most measures without support from any Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans can confirm executive branch and judicial nominees, except for the Supreme Court, with a simple majority; they hold a 52-to-48 advantage. Through a shortcut in the budget process called reconciliation, they can pass important spending and tax measures.

    Still, congressional Democrats, especially in the Senate, have some weapons. They include:

 

- Divide and try to conquer

    There are potential schisms to exploit between congressional leaders and the president. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is a principled ideological conservative with some fringe right-wingers in his caucus. Trump believes in Trump.

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Entrapping the Dreamers; Trump will face limits

    President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to rescind many of President Barack Obama's executive actions, including above all Obama's controversial immigration programs. That will largely be Trump's prerogative, but there are constitutional limits on how much he can undo. In particular, the Fifth Amendment's due process clause prevents the new administration from seeking deportation based on information that immigrants themselves provided in applications for Obama's programs.

    Under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the administration provided work authorization and a promised reprieve from deportation to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the United States without authorization as young children and met certain other criteria.

    There is no question that Trump can cancel this program and even resume enforcement against its intended beneficiaries, however heartless that would be. Yet recent news reports suggest that many fear he could go further and use information from these immigrants' own DACA applications to launch a deportation sweep that targets them.

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