Archive

February 27th, 2016

America’s Killer Prisons

    I get a lot of letters from people who’ve been incarcerated, or are now behind bars.

    Legally I can’t respond directly, because I’m an ex-con myself: I was locked up after blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal and immoral torture program. Direct contact with current and former prisoners would be “consorting with known felons” — which is banned under the terms of my probation — so I keep my distance.

    Most of the letters I receive are complaints about prison conditions and requests for help. In most cases, these folks just want somebody to vent to. I wish I could help them. In most cases I can’t.

    But I do have this column. And I can tell you about some of the horrors that land in my mailbox.

    I received a letter recently from a female inmate in a state prison in Arizona. She wrote about some of the same things I complained about when I was incarcerated.

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The Secret Side of Donald Trump

    Sometimes in a particularly awful presidential race you’re forced to take the most bleak and cynical view of the candidates running for the most powerful job in the world. And then you discover you’re overestimating.

    Today we will consider the upside of Donald Trump.

    OK, it was never huge. Possibly not even nugget-size. But people, wasn’t there a moment when you thought that he could think outside the normal conservative box? True, his riff against the power of big political donors was just another way to brag about being rich. And he was awful on ... so very many things.

    But once in a while, as Trump ranted about the Republican insiders, some actual outsider remarks did pop up. Don’t mess with Social Security. Planned Parenthood is a good thing. And everybody ought to have health care.

    Earlier in the campaign, he seemed to support a single-payer health care plan, sort of like Bernie Sanders. Wow.

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The Sanders case for more spending and faster growth

    The standard case for fiscal stimulus goes like this. In a recession, aggregate demand falls -- everyone is afraid to spend and instead just hoards cash. If the government spends it can prompt people to buy more things with the money they get from the government, which raises demand and gets the economy working again. Of course, this costs money, but the government can borrow the money and pay it back the next time the economy is running on all cylinders.

    Stimulus, in other words, is part of a short-term strategy to fill in the gaps in the economy caused by the business cycle. That's the basic idea promoted by the inventor of the concept, John Maynard Keynes. It is also the story embraced by most modern proponents of stimulus, such as Paul Krugman. However, in the recent debate surrounding the economic proposals of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a small number of economists have started suggesting a very different justification for stimulus. Their idea: Stimulus does something more fundamental to the economy by raising long-term productivity.

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The Party of ‘No Way!’

    Perhaps the most important thing Washington will do this year is decide whether to approve President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. But Republicans have already announced their decision: “No way!”

    It’s rich for Republicans to declare pre-emptively that they will not even hold hearings on an Obama nominee, considering that they used to denounce (while their party held the White House) the notion that judges’ nominations shouldn’t proceed in an election year.

    “That’s just plain bunk,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in 2008. “The reality is that the Senate has never stopped confirming judicial nominees during the last few months of a president’s term.” His sense of reality has since changed.

    Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in 2008, “Just because it’s a presidential election year is no excuse for us to take a vacation.”

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The economic dilemma Democrats face in 2016

    Democrats face a dilemma in 2016: How do they deal with the Obama presidency, and particularly the Obama economy? As the early primaries have shown, Americans are in a surly mood, with the economy at the center of their concerns. The Obama administration naturally wants Democrats to brag on its record. Republicans, of course, blame President Obama for everything under the sun. My Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. argues that Democrats will "undercut" their "chances of holding the White House" if they don't defend the progress made under Obama and proclaim that the United States is "in far better shape economically than most other countries in the world." But this morsel of conventional wisdom ignores what is going on in the country.

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The case for making bikers stop at red lights

    Bicyclists who barrel through red lights without even slowing down are the worst, right? As urban cycling has grown in popularity, this reckless behavior has become a major traffic hazard, exasperating drivers and endangering pedestrians and cyclists.

    Bicyclists who slow to a crawl at red lights but then roll on through if there are no pedestrians or cars nearby aren't so bad though, are they? Or I should say "are we?" because I do that on occasion. Not in, you know, midtown Manhattan, but in other, less trafficked parts of town. I did get a ticket for this once in New Jersey, but it if I remember correctly it only cost me $95. It hasn't stopped me from continuing to roll through red lights when I deem it appropriate.

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Mitch McConnell Is a Supreme Hypocrite

    Antonin Scalia is gone. The nastiest and noisiest of right wingers on the Supreme Court is dead.

    But in a blatantly partisan ploy to prevent President Barack Obama from nominating a successor to Scalia, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has cited a brand new historical precedent dictating that presidents in the last year of their term don’t name new justices to the high court.

    “Therefore,” McConnell babbled, “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

    What a silly old squirrel McConnell is. Article II of the U.S. Constitution plainly states that the president, with the “advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, [and] judges of the Supreme Court.”

    Note that the Constitution says the president “shall” do this — as a duty to the nation.

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Jeb Bush, Donald Trump's unwitting enabler

    The humiliating demise of Jeb Bush's presidential candidacy resulted from his willingness to make himself a sacrificial lamb to save the Republican Party from Donald Trump. It remains to be seen whether anyone else will so conspicuously offer himself.

    None of the other GOP candidates seemed quite as personally offended as Jeb Bush was by Trump's effrontery, aimed as it so often was at Bush and his family.

    Trump's mockery of Jeb's "mommy" for campaigning for him in South Carolina, and his suggestion that George W. Bush lied about the existence of weapons of mass destructions to justify his invasion of Iraq, challenged the integrity of the whole Bush family. It finally seemed to arouse Jeb's exclamation point!

    But the second Bush son's own laid-back manner and style, unlike the swagger and cockiness of his brother, made Jeb a perfect target for the loud-mouthed bully-boy from Manhattan. The label Trump slapped on Jeb -- "low energy" -- appeared to leave him figuratively gasping for breath.

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In This Western, The Bundys Are Bumbling Villains

    Looks like that epic cowboy movie Cliven Bundy and his boys dreamed of playing starring roles in will never get made. Thankfully, their own epic stupidity ended the fantasy less in tragedy than in farce -- definitely more "Blazing Saddles" than "The Wild Bunch."

    Or was it "Cliven Bundy and the Sundance Kid" they were going for? No matter. That one ended badly for the romantic outlaws, too.

    Apart from the needless death of one True Believer in a cowboy hat who committed what city folks call "suicide by cop" -- announcing his determination never to be taken alive and then reaching for his pistol -- the rest of Bundy's sagebrush revolutionaries eventually surrendered without incident. Most are headed to federal prison.

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Federal judge: Recording cops isn't necessarily protected by the First Amendment

    In a bizarre ruling issued last week, federal District Court Judge Mark Kearney ruled that the First Amendment rights of two people were not violated when they were apprehended for attempting to photograph or record police officers. As far as I know, this is the first time a federal court has not found that recording cops while on duty and in a public setting is protected by the First Amendment. Two federal appeals courts, at least two state supreme courts and a few other federal circuit court judges have all determined otherwise. Some of those decisions found that the right hasn't been clearly established long enough for those wrongly arrested to overcome the qualified immunity afforded to police officers, but they did find that the right to record exists. Kearney in this decision rules that no such right exists.

    There are two plaintiffs in these cases. One, Richard Fields, is a man arrested for taking a photo of a group of police officers who had gathered outside a private house during a party. The other, Amanda Geraci, is a woman who was apprehended by an officer in retaliation for recording him. This happened while she was attending a protest as a legal observer.

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