Archive

December 18th

He got life without parole for pot. And he was just denied clemency.

    Ferrell Scott was sentenced to life in prison for possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, a drug that's now legal in many states and turning a handsome profit for the (primarily white) pot industry. Scott, like many nonviolent drug offenders serving long sentences, is black. Without any chance at parole, despite an exemplary behavior record, he appealed to President Barack Obama for clemency. He found out that his bid had been denied when a friend emailed him about "bad news." Thinking something bad had happened to his 93-year-old mother, he called home. His daughter answered, crying, and told him the news.

    "She cried like a baby and she was telling me that she didn't know what she was supposed to do now. Couldn't understand it," Scott said in a phone interview.

    "Why haven't I been contacted? I hope this is a mistake. My God I'm f----!" he wrote to Amy Povah, who runs CAN-DO, an advocacy group for prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.

    It's not a mistake. His name is on the list of clemency denials published Tuesday on the Justice Department's website.

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If Democrats want to win, they should filibuster Trump early and often

    With Republicans taking over the White House next year and maintaining control over both houses of Congress, observers have warned that if Senate Democrats overuse the one tool at their disposal to block the GOP's agenda -- the filibuster -- it will be taken away from them. "The Democrats will have some limited ability to affect what happens" to the filibuster, writes political scientist Jonathan Bernstein. But "if they blockade the Supreme Court vacancy" left this year by the late Antonin Scalia, "Republicans would rapidly end the filibuster for those nominations." In The Washington Post, the Brookings Institution's Sarah Binder cautions that Democratic obstruction could put the filibuster at risk.

    True. But the filibuster's demise would be a feature, not a bug. After Donald Trump is inaugurated, Senate Democrats should filibuster with abandon. They have nothing to lose but the filibuster itself, and that would be a good thing for American democracy.

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If you can't trust people, try a smart contract

    Trust is extremely valuable for markets and the economy. In its absence, though, technology might prove to be the next best thing.

    Doing business would be really easy if people could all trust each other. In rural parts of Japan, for example, it's common to see unattended produce stands where farmers leave fruits and vegetables for sale. Customers pay by leaving cash in a deposit box, and everything operates on the honor system.

    In a low-trust society, someone would have to sit in the stall and write a bill of sale to transfer ownership of each item, and buyers would sign a bill of lading as proof of receipt. The produce stand would then need a business license, mandatory liability insurance, and regular health and safety inspections to make sure the vegetables aren't covered in E. Coli. All of a sudden, buying a vegetable just got a lot more expensive.

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If you repeal, you must replace

    In the six years since enactment of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have sworn that, given the chance, they would "repeal and replace" it. Now they need to deliver. Repeal should be relatively simple. Enacting a replacement and implementing it won't be. And repeal without having an agreed-on plan for replacement in place is a recipe for calamity, as a new Urban Institute study shows.

    Repeal is easy because Senate rules allow a simple majority, rather than a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, to pass measures called for in a budget resolution that affect only taxes and mandatory spending.

    So a Republican-controlled Congress has undoubted power to end key provisions of the ACA: the expansion of Medicaid; subsidies for most of those purchasing individual coverage in the health-care marketplaces; and tax penalties to enforce the mandate that individuals obtain insurance and the requirement imposed on medium and large employers to offer coverage. Indeed, Congress did this in January only to confront a veto by President Obama.

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December 17th

Ryan’s Dangerous Silence

    Paul Ryan has long been cast as Congress’ Boy Scout: earnest, honest and brimming with the best intentions, whether you agree with his proposals or not.

    Donald Trump is putting an ugly end to that.

    Or, rather, Ryan himself is, with his example of utter submission to Trump. Other Republicans are looking to the speaker of the House for guidance on when to confront the president-elect and when to let his craziness go unchecked. And Ryan is charting the wrong course.

    I’m referring to his recent “60 Minutes” interview, the apotheosis of all of his tongue biting and conscience snuffing to date. In particular I mean the part when he was asked about Trump’s reckless — and wholly unsubstantiated — tweet that millions of Americans had voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.

    “I’m not really focused on these things,” Ryan said, all too blithely. Then: “I have no knowledge of such things. It doesn’t matter to me.”

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Say What, Al, Ivanka And Donald?

    Good for Al Gore for meeting with Donald Trump on Monday. Good for Ivanka Trump for inviting Gore to come in for a talk on climate change, and good for President-elect Trump for embracing the encounter.

    Alas, though, a single meeting does not an environmental policy make; skepticism is in order. The ultimate proof will only come from the appointments Trump makes for his key environmental and energy jobs and the direction he gives them — whether to press ahead with U.S. leadership on mitigating climate change and introducing clean energy and efficiency standards, or abandon that role, as Trump previously indicated he might, and try to revive the U.S. coal industry and unleash more drilling for fossil fuels from sea to shining sea.

    Ivanka clearly has an influence on her father’s thinking, and the fact that she went out of her way to set up a meeting with Gore, who has done more to alert the world to the perils of climate change than anyone else on the planet, and the fact that Gore described the meeting as “a sincere search for areas of common ground … to be continued,” offer a glimmer of hope.

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The President-Elect Of A Post-Fact World

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.

    Welcome to the reality-TV presidency. Nothing president-elect Trump says is to be taken literally, nor evaluated for its truth content. His surrogates have made that clear. Once and future sidekick Corey Lewandowski recently admonished journalists at Harvard University.

    "This is the problem with the media," he scolded. "You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn't. They understood it. They understood that sometimes -- when you have a conversation with people ... you're going to say things, and sometimes you don't have all the facts to back it up."

    So when Trump claimed that he saw Muslims in Jersey City celebrating 9/11 on TV, he was just blowing smoke like some guy in a bar.

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The proliferation of fake news presents real perils

    Fake news leads eventually to real tragedy. It almost got there Sunday when an idiot brought a loaded assault rifle into a Washington pizzeria, firing at least one shot, in an attempt to "self-investigate" a preposterous made-up conspiracy theory.

    No one was hurt -- this time. But the same kind of thing will happen again, thanks to the poison being dispensed by "alt-right" and white-supremacist propagandists. They concocted "news" stories out of whole cloth during the campaign in an attempt to destroy Hillary Clinton and those closest to her. Is anyone surprised that some people take these paranoid fantasies as gospel truth? I'm not.

    President-elect Donald Trump makes matters worse by trumpeting "facts" that are non-factual. To the extent that he shapes the "post-truth" media landscape, he shares responsibility for the consequences.

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Trying to ignore the election

    He promised the swamp would be drained,

    Was elected, said "Rain!" and it rained

    And the old crocodiles

    Wore flesh-eating smiles

    And the turtles were well entertained.

 

    It's a wonderful satire right out of Twain or Thurber, a minority of the electorate goes for the loosest and least knowledgeable candidate, certain that he will lose and their votes will only be harmless protest, a middle finger to Washington, and then -- Whoa. The joke comes true. You put a whoopee cushion on your father's chair and he sits down and it barks and he has a massive coronary. You wanted to get a rise out of him and instead he falls down dead. Very funny.

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What is inspiring homegrown terror in the US? It's not just the Islamic State.

    The details of Abdul Razak Ali Artan's attack last Monday at the Ohio State University campus in Columbus remain scarce, but in social media posts attributed to him, there is praise for both the Islamic State and slain al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who the United States said directed attacks on Americans.

    The Ohio State attack comes just two months after Ahmed Khan Rahimi detonated two bombs in New York and New Jersey. When pages from Rahimi's blood-soaked journal were released to the public, its contents sparked confusion. In his scribblings, he had expressed support for - and clearly drew inspiration from - both al-Qaida and the Islamic State. How, many are asking, could jihadist allegiances be divided in such a way?

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