Archive

November 6th, 2016

Want to shrink prisons? Stop subsidizing them.

    When our next president enters the Oval Office, she or he will be faced with two questions: First, how to make a mark as president? Second, how to break through gridlock in Congress?

    Prioritizing reducing our prison population is one way to achieve both goals. Most Republicans and Democrats agree: Mass incarceration devastates communities of color and wastes money. Even Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan see eye-to-eye. Committing to such reform in the first 100 days would make a lasting and imperative change.

    But what can the president actually do to help end mass incarceration? With 87 percent of prisoners in state facilities, many argue that the president can do very little. But this is simply untrue. States and cities must act, but there is one thing the president can do to spur nationwide change: End the federal subsidization to states and cities that mass-incarcerate our citizens.

    History proves instructive. The 1994 Crime Bill gave states $9 billion to pass laws lengthening sentences. More than 20 states did just that. Since then, the prison population grew 50 percent. Decisions made in Washington helped fuel this expansion.

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To reform our prisons, follow the states' lead

    The first priority of government is to keep our people safe. Violent, dangerous criminals belong in prison, and the cost of incarcerating them is money well spent. But today the net of criminal law ensnares far more than just violent criminals.

    Roughly half of federal inmates are drug offenders. The vast majority of these are not "kingpins" - only 14 percent are major traffickers. The rest are small fish, who are expensive to imprison and who are quickly replaced on the street by others looking for a way to support their drug habit. Prisons are for people we are afraid of, but we are locking up a lot of people we are just mad at.

    Luckily, the next president already has the tools to lower recidivism, increase public safety and lower the cost to taxpayers. By learning from policies instituted by states and implementing laws already passed by Congress, we can finally reverse our overuse of incarceration.

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The sad decline of presidential campaign coverage

    Civil political discourse has not been the only casualty of the presidential campaign finally approaching its end. The reputation of American journalism has taken a telling hit as well, under the onslaught of partisan advocates of the major party nominees and an army of free-wheeling social-media pontificators.

    As the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan memorably put it, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts." Thus there has emerged a valued journalistic tool in the fact-checker, commissioned to separate fact from fiction, and exaggeration.

    Employed by prominent newspapers and television networks, they are armed with a range of research materials from dictionaries and, authoritative histories to endless printed and electronic records. At their disposal as well are professional historians and librarians trained in separating accuracy from fantasy.

    But along with them has come another army of self-styled experts who as a whole are far from impartial, gathered by the major television networks and cable outlets to analyze the presidential campaigns and elections.

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The moral foundations of the Trump campaign

    After Yale University economist Robert Shiller this week signed a letter supporting Hillary Clinton, he explained that he normally doesn't engage in politics, but that "the destruction that Trump's campaign tactics have done to the institutions of this nation is a great moral issue."

    Morality and politics are complicated, even for Nobel Prize winners from the Ivy League. By many credible accounts, Donald Trump is either an extremely immoral man or an utterly amoral one. He lies habitually. He cheats spouses, partners and contractors. He humiliates women and brags of groping them. He exempts himself from civic duties others follow, bragging about his success in avoiding taxes and reneging on promises made to charities. His sprawling extend far and wide.

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The epic fail of the American electorate

    Hey America, do you like this election?

    No?

    But this is what you created.

    You, America, stopped listening to facts you didn't agree with, stopped reading newspapers or watching broadcasts that didn't entertain you or confirm what you already believed, stopped trying to understand legislation and policy, stopped bothering to engage in civil discussion or master the basics of civic responsibilities.

    You, America, blame Washington for everything that's wrong with this country, but then told pollsters that the federal government isn't doing enough to help you.

    You, America, actually believe that reality television is real. And that politics is a form of reality TV. And thanks to that, we have an election that's more "American Idol" than American Constitution.

    Canvassers this week actually found voters who thought they could vote online.

    What? There's not an app for that?

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The best way to destroy a democracy

    With the 58th presidential election under the U.S. Constitution now less than a week away, it is clear that the 228-year-old document is not achieving one of its central purposes.

    James Madison intended it to curb "factious spirit" - what we call "partisanship" - which he correctly identified as the bane of popular governments, both those that had existed before 1788 and the ones in the 13 newly independent American states.

    Yet today's Republicans and Democrats are so divided that they no longer seem like citizens of the same nation or acknowledge even the same factual reality.

    Among the many manifestations of out-of-control factious spirit, none is more dismaying than the obeisance Republicans have paid their party's patently unfit presidential candidate, Donald Trump, out of a combination of opportunism, blind factional loyalty and hatred of his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

    None is more dangerous, though, than the potential partisan politicization of federal law enforcement, especially its investigative arm, the FBI.

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Outsiderism's mysterious ways

    Will Missouri be the one state next Tuesday that produces an anti-establishment trifecta? And will we ever get to exploring how Donald Trump, who has trafficked with old-style politicians all his life, has gotten away with casting himself as the year's premier outsider?

    Missouri was, as recently as 2008, a presidential swing state. This year, it's Trump Country. But when it comes to control of the United States Senate, the state is living up to its old reputation as a decider. Thanks to the political advertisement of the year and a relentless focus on the Republican incumbent's reputation as an insider, Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander, a 35-year-old Army National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan, is within a whisker of upsetting Sen. Roy Blunt.

    Blunt, who served 14 years in the House before winning election to the Senate in 2010, is a courtly, old-fashioned politician who is proud of his skills as a vote-counter and touts his abilities as a bipartisan deal-maker.

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Looks like the FBI wants to make America great again

    Maybe it's just me, but I think the FBI is trying to send a message about next week's election.

    It's not just that FBI Director James Comey informed Congress that there may be things on Anthony Weiner's computer pertinent to his investigation of Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server. Nor is it the extraordinary Wall Street Journal coverage this week that revealed frustrations in the bureau over alleged Justice Department pressure to slow-walk an investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

    The cherry on this banana-republic split is published Monday from a long-dormant Twitter account called @FBIRecordsVault. It disclosed that new records of the bureau's probe into Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich had been released because of a Freedom of Information Act request.

    The FBI has since that this was all standard operating procedure. The records were requested. The request was approved. And the Twitter account automatically tweets out new files sent to the bureau's electronic reading room.

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November 5th

No scandal-free choices? Pick the less flawed

    If ever there was a presidential contest that did not need an extra week, this is it.

    In case you haven't heard, an unusual quirk in the calendar and election laws has resulted in America's latest election since 1988.

    The nation votes on the first Tuesday after a Monday in November. Because Nov. 1 falls on a Tuesday this year, we have almost an entire extra week of what has been, according to various reports, one of the angriest and most anxiety-inducing campaigns in history.

    A recent Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association, for example, found 52 percent of Americans adults reported they were stressed out by this contest -- in close to equal measures of both Republicans and Democrats.

    Add to that the events of the past few days that have given many folks electoral whiplash. First there was FBI director James Comey and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's emails, and then there was yet another report of questionable tax loophole usage by Republican nominee Donald Trump.

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I bought the website Trump.org. Then Donald Trump came after me.

    One thousand, two hundred and seventy-two dollars. That's how much money I spent to learn exactly how Donald J. Trump does business.

    In August 2012, I purchased the domain name Trump.org for $1,272 in an online public auction. I had heard rumors that Trump was considering running for president one day. When I came across the auction, I thought it would be a great platform for me to put a message out there. To put it politely, I was not a fan. Many times, he had flipped his position on key topics. What he says today not may be where he stands tomorrow. His questionable business practices had been a subject of news over the years. But most important, I thought Donald Trump was a self-serving man. He had no experience putting others before himself. It is always about him. That wasn't what I wanted in a potential president, and I said so in text I posted on Trump.org.

    Less than a week later, I had a FedEx overnight courier package in my hands. It contained a letter that started out, "I am writing to you on behalf of Donald J. Trump, the well-known businessman, real estate developer, and star of the television show The Apprentice."

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