mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“An Uncertain Record In Three Major Policy Areas”: Bernie Sanders Is Not Nearly As Progressive As You Think He Is

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been doing some serious sub-tweeting about Hillary Clinton.

Following her ever-so-narrow win in Iowa, Clinton touted her bona fides as a “progressive who gets things done,” much to Sanders’ distaste. “Most progressives I know were against the war in Iraq,” Sanders tweeted, without specifically naming Clinton. “One of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States.”

Indeed, measured against Clinton, Sanders is right to claim the mantle of progressivism. The former secretary of state is (and should be) dogged by her close and profitable ties to Wall Street and big business, and her foreign policy is consistently hawkish in a style Dick Cheney would admire.

But evaluated on the basis of his own lengthy record, Sanders is not as progressive as he makes himself out to be on at least three big issues: guns, criminal justice reform, and — despite the Iraq vote — foreign policy.

Sanders’ mixed history on guns is a chink in his progressive armor that Clinton aims at whenever she has the chance. “If we’re going to go into labels, I don’t think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times,” she said at the latest debate. “I don’t think it was progressive to vote to give gun makers and sellers immunity.”

Sanders often sounds like a gun control hardliner. “The president is right: Condolences are not enough,” he said after a shooting this past fall. “We’ve got to do something … We need sensible gun control legislation.” But Clinton’s claims are still basically accurate. Per this Politifact tally of Sanders’ significant gun votes in Congress, he backs additional control about half the time, albeit with a trend toward more gun regulation in recent years. Sanders’ staff has tried to explain his comparative conservatism here as part and parcel of representing Vermont, a left-wing but gun-friendly state, but either way, his is hardly a super-progressive record on guns.

Then there’s criminal justice reform, an issue which has netted Sanders the endorsement of several well-known figures in the Black Lives Matter movement. Speaking in New Hampshire the same day as the subtweets, Sanders vowed, “There will be no president who will fight harder to end institutional racism” than he will.

“We have got to reform a very, very broken criminal justice system,” he added. “It breaks my heart, and I know it breaks the hearts of millions of people in this country, to see videos on television of unarmed people, often African-Americans, shot by police. That has got to end.”

The rhetoric is right. But Sanders’ record says otherwise.

For instance, Sanders sounded a similar note back in April 1994, decrying America’s ballooning prison population and its ties to poverty. But just one week later, he voted to pass the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a centerpiece of Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” shtick, which, among other things, mandated a life sentence for anyone convicted of three drug crimes; expanded the list of death penalty crimes; lowered the age at which a juvenile could be tried as an adult to just 13; and appropriated billions to expand the prison system and hire 100,000 new police officers.

That’s the biggest blot on Sanders’ criminal justice record, but it’s not the only one. In 1995, he voted against a measure which would have prohibited police acquisition of tanks and armored vehicles like those he critiqued in Ferguson. Likewise, in 1998, Sanders prioritized gun control over prison reform and voted for mandatory minimum sentences for crimes where the offender carried, brandished, and/or fired a gun. The gun in question doesn’t have to be used for the criminal act, so, for example, a nonviolent crime like smoking pot while carrying a legally owned weapon would trigger the mandatory minimum.

Now that criminal justice reform is en vogue, Sanders has shifted — but it’s an uncomfortable fit. His responses to Ferguson highlighted poverty more than police brutality; and the bill to ban private federal prisons he introduced this past fall had a clearer connection to his socialist economic policies than anything else. Alex Friedmann of the Human Rights Defense Center, whom Sanders consulted in crafting the proposal, says, “It appears to be more for political purposes than to actually address the many problems in our criminal justice system.”

Finally, foreign policy. Sanders regularly touts his vote against invading Iraq in 2003, and that is unquestionably to his credit. But then there’s the rest of his record on matters of war and peace, which figures heavily into the wariness many actual socialists maintain toward Sanders’ campaign.

As Stephen M. Walt writes at Foreign Policy, Sanders is hardly “a reflexive dove.” He intends to retain President Obama’s drone program if elected. He voted in favor of Clinton’s pet intervention in Libya, in favor of the interminable war in Afghanistan, and even in favor of multiple funding measures to maintain the war in Iraq — a repeated “yes” to bankrolling the very conflict he so often boasts of opposing.

Sanders also speaks enthusiastically of coalition-based wars. “I would say that the key doctrine of the Sanders administration would be no, we cannot continue to do it alone; we need to work in coalition,” he said at the last debate. In practice, though, that doesn’t mean no more wars; it means non-Americans fighting and dying in pursuit of American goals.

Writing at the socialist Jacobin Magazine, Paul Heideman contends that though “Sanders is willing to criticize many of the most egregious over-extensions of American empire” — like the invasion of Iraq — “it seems he has no interest in contesting the American suppression of democracy across the globe.” The candidate cheered King Abdullah II of Jordan for his opposition to ISIS, of which Heideman snarks, “It is never a good look for a socialist to praise a monarch.”

More broadly, it is never a good look for a progressive to have such an uncertain record in three major policy areas. Running against Clinton, Sanders can rightfully lay claim to progressive voters’ support. But they could be forgiven for suspecting he is less one of their own than his tweeting suggests.

 

By: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, February 9, 2016

February 10, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Badly Misleading And Dangerous”: About Those Rising Murder Rates: Not So Fast

Are the increases in murders in major cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York City indicative of a broader trend in American cities? That’s the conclusion encouraged by a front-page New York Times article, Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities. It’s a scary story, conjuring images of the high-crime 1990s and fueling speculation about an ostensible “Ferguson Effect” — the unsubstantiated notion that, as The Times put it, “less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals.” This is badly misleading and, at a time when criminal justice reform is making notable bipartisan advances, it’s also dangerous.

Of course, The Times isn’t an academic journal, and its story wasn’t meant to be a rigorous analysis of a big database; it was a glimpse into a current conversation with some new numbers. Still, it’s worth taking a closer look at those numbers.

My own analysis of publically available homicide statistics for a broader selection of cities yields conclusions that are rather different from those stated or implied in the Times article. The differences are related to how cities were selected and the way the data were interpreted.

City Selection

It is not clear how the cities examined by the Times were chosen. The article included ten cities with populations ranging from over 8 million (New York) to just over 317,000 (St. Louis). But there are 60 U.S. cities with estimated 2014 populations in that range. The Times included only four of the 20 most populous U.S. cities. The authors do not explain how those cities were chosen, leaving readers to assume that the findings presented are representative of a broader increase in homicides across U.S. cities. That does not appear to be the case.

In just a few hours, I was able to locate publically available data to support similar analyses for 16 of the 20 most populous cities, and the results, summarized below, suggest a much less pervasive increase than one might infer from the Times analysis.

Interpretation of Statistics

First, not all of the increases cited by the Times are statistically reliable; that is, some of them are small increases, or are based on small numbers of cases, such that the observed increases could have occurred by chance alone. Among the 16 top-20 cities for which I found publically available data, only three experienced statistically reliable increases. Only one of the top-20 cities included in the Times’ sample, Chicago, experienced an increase that was statistically significant. Five of the smaller cities included by the Times did experience statistically reliable increases, but what of the other 35 cities with populations in that range?

Even where a statistically reliable increase has been experienced, a single year-to-year increase does not necessarily imply a meaningful trend. Often, such changes fall within the range of normal year-to-year fluctuations. For example, I was able to obtain historical data on year-to-year changes in homicide counts for Chicago, the only top-20 city in the Times analysis that had a statistically significant increase from 2014 to 2015. From 2009 to 2010, homicides increased 5.1 percent. The next year, however, there was a 13.1 percent decrease. The year after that, a 28.5 percent increase, and then decreases of 16.4 and 3.4 percent in 2013 and 2014, before homicides climbed back up 11.3 percent in 2015. Looked at over a longer time period, the numbers do not demonstrate a stable trend.

Thus, neither the Times analysis nor my own yields compelling evidence that there has been a pervasive increase in homicides that is substantively meaningful. It seems premature to be discussing broad explanations and long-term solutions for what may not be a broad or long-term phenomenon. And yet the spike in a few cities has already prompted speculation that the numbers reflect the increased availability of guns, or the demoralization of police.

Of course, the lack of compelling evidence of a broad-based increase does not prove that no such increase is occurring. Trends in homicide rates (and crime rates generally) are extremely important topics that warrant further investigation. But before we begin to speculate about causes and potential remedies, we need a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and location of increases in homicide rates that actually depart from normal fluctuations. This suggests a need for analyses that span several years, for as many medium- and large-sized jurisdictions as possible. It would also be useful to undertake such analyses for related crimes, such as non-fatal shootings, non-fatal stabbings, and aggravated assaults, since the difference between those and homicides may often be a matter of random luck, the type of weapon readily available, or the distance to the nearest emergency room.

Only then will we be in a position to undertake rigorous efforts to explain the problem and explore potential remedies.

 

By: Bruce Frederick, Senior Research Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice, The Marshall Project, Brennan Center for Justice, September 4, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Homocide, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Abandon Your Bipartisan Fantasies: The Baltimore Uprising Won’t Make GOP Get Serious About Urban Reform

Elite pundits like Richard Cohen may expect zombie Richard Nixon to soon sweep the nation with a new campaign of law and order, but for those of us who see something more in America’s future than an endless rehash of the 1960s, the political ramifications of the uprising in Baltimore are still unclear.

Are we destined to live through another round of backlash politics, largely driven by white and affluent voters’ fears? Or might the dysfunction and injustice that was so explosively revealed in Baltimore — and Ferguson before it — kick-off a rare bout of genuinely useful bipartisan cooperation?

Cynics will likely find these questions gratingly naive, but you don’t have to be a pollyanna to see reasons for optimism. After all, ending mass incarceration and reforming the criminal justice system were making their way into the political mainstream before anyone had heard the name Freddie Gray. And even conservative politicians like Sen. Rand Paul, a man some people (wrongly) consider a serious threat to be the next president, have been talking about these issues frequently and at length.

Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but although I think a return of “tough on crime” politics is unlikely, it still appears to me that a serious response to urban poverty and mass incarceration won’t be coming out of Washington any time soon. This useful Tuesday article from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent helps explain why, but the answer can be boiled down to two words: demographics and location.

If you want to understand why Republicans in D.C. will ensure this problem goes unaddressed, you must start, as always, with the House of Representatives, where the GOP’s grip on power is white-knuckle tight. According to Sargent (via David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report) one way to think of the Republicans’ dominant position in Congress is to look at one of the usual explanations — the fact that Democratic voters are inefficiently packed into a smaller number of overwhelmingly Dem-friendly districts — from a new angle.

Viewed through the lens of land mass rather than population, Sargent reports, Republicans control nearly 86 percent of the United States, despite holding “only” 57 percent of the seats in the House. Democrats, on the other hand, lay claim to 43 percent of House seats yet only control around 14 percent of actual American land. As Wasserman explains to Sargent, what that means, in practice, is something you probably intuitively got already — in the House, the coalition that makes up the Democratic Party is very urban; and the Republican one, conversely, is not.

Put simply, the GOPers in the House whose constituents look like (or care about) the folks in Baltimore, Ferguson and so forth are few and far between. Most Republican members of Congress’s “lower” chamber represent people in rural or suburban areas. Except as a place they fear and prefer kept at a distance, these voters are not thinking about the American city. And even if they are, the fact that they’re Republicans will tell you all you need to know about whether they’d be open to a plan that involved increased social investment, as any bipartisan agreement no doubt would.

If you’re someone who believes politics is driven more by big, indifferent forces — like the economy or geography or demographics — rather than personal relationships, that would seem to be the end of the discussion. Politicians want above all else to be reelected, and they respond to incentives accordingly. It’s hard to see why a far-right representative of rural Kansas would be particularly interested in joining up with Nancy Pelosi to try to make it suck a little less to be an African-American kid in Jersey City. Someone so inclined probably wouldn’t even make it through their district’s GOP primary.

Still, as useful as that political science 101 framing can be in most cases, it is not all-seeing. At least that’s what someone trying to make a counter-argument would say, before pointing to the Senate. In the “upper” chamber, of course, Republican politicians have to worry about representing all of their state’s citizens. So you might expect a GOPer from Ohio (home of Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland) or Virginia (which shares a border with Baltimore’s Maryland to its north) to be more interested in reform. And that goes double for the next Republican presidential nominee, who will need to win some of those big, purple states in 2016.

Moreover, while politicians are often astonishingly simple-minded creatures, the same is not always true for voters. There are plenty of suburban moderates, for example, who don’t want to send a Democrat to Washington to represent their district but don’t want to have a Republican “eat-the-poor” ogre as president, either. Such voters shouldn’t be mistaken for true believers in social justice, mind you — but the desire to assuage a nagging sense of guilt by supporting a “compassionate” conservative can be a powerful thing. Pure self-interest, then, would lead a smart GOP presidential contender to support at least some elements of urban investment and reform.

But here’s the reason why I don’t expect that alternative scenario to play out in the real world, and why I suspect we won’t see a response to Baltimore from Washington — certainly not a bipartisan one — any time soon: Most of these elements were present during the 2012 election, but they had basically no influence on the behavior of House Republicans. Then-candidate Mitt Romney sure could have used some leeway to wander a bit from conservative orthodoxy and prove he was no real-life Mr. Potter. He got an Ayn Rand fanboy as his teammate instead.

It doesn’t feel like that was quite so long ago but, in political terms, America was a different place. This was before the lily-white Republican base had to endure two full terms of a relatively liberal African-American president, and before that same base had begun spending much of its time defending cops and describing poor communities of color as mired in a “tailspin of culture” and “government dependence.” This was when Darren Wilson was just another run-of-the-mill, mildly thuggish cop; and before “black lives matter” became a national slogan.

If the chances of congressional Republicans supporting a bipartisan legislative response to inequality were slim a few years ago, the likelihood of their doing so now, in the face of civil unrest, has to be right around zilch.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Riots, Bipartisanship, Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Study In Contrasts”: Take A Moment To Think About How It Is We Chose People To Be Our Political Heroes

I’m about to write something that will likely get me in hot water with a lot of my progressive friends. But in the end, if I make you pause to think, it will be worth it.

What I want to do is contrast the records of two fairly new Democratic Senators: Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Senator Warren has 10 months of seniority on Senator Booker – but they both began their terms in 2013. Other than that, their names are rarely mentioned together.

As we’ve seen, Senator Warren has become the hero of progressives, while Senator Booker became persona non grata when he criticized Democrats and the Obama campaign for going after Romney over his connections to Bain Capital just prior to the 2012 election.

It’s interesting to note what these two have achieved in their short history in the Senate. On Warren’s web site, you can see what bills she has sponsored. There is one of note having to do with student loan refinancing. The other three appear to be symbolic in nature. Looking a bit deeper, we can see who Warren has recruited to be cosponsors on the bill related to student loans. The list is long…all Democrats. On the other issue Senator Warren is known for – going after Wall Street – she sponsored the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013,” which was never voted out of committee and has not been re-inroduced.

Booker has made criminal justice reform his signature issue. On that front, he has cosponsored legislation called the REDEEM Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. The former takes six steps to help those coming out of the criminal justice system be more successful in their attempts to re-intigrate back into society. The latter gives judges more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.

Other than tackling different issues (all of which are important to progressives) the other big difference is that Booker is cosponsoring the REDEEM act with Republican Senator Rand Paul. The list of cosponsors on the Smarter Sentencing Act is nothing short of mind-blowing: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durban (D-IL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

I know that many names in that group are odious to progressives. But the question is this: Who do you think is more likely to get their sponsored legislation passed in this Congress, Senator Warren or Senator Booker?

I point all this out because I’d like progressives to take a moment to think about how it is that we chose people to be our political heroes. Are they more likely to be those who master the bully pulpit to speak out strongly against our opponents? Or are they those who do the dirty job of building coalitions with people on the other side in the hopes of making life better for Americans? Does it need to be either/or?

When it comes to the political icon whose seat Elizabeth Warren now inhabits in the Senate, I think I know what he would say.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Voting Rights Should Not Precede Gun Rights”: Conservatives Would Let Felons Vote And Pack Heat

It’s an idea so incredibly crazy it just might work: Restoring voting rights to non-violent felons—if they get back their right to own guns, too.

For some tough-on-crime conservatives, the right to bear firearms is a right that is as fundamental as the right to vote. Capitalizing on this sentiment, the strategy goes, could lead to a larger compromise on felons’ rights.

“If someone asked me if I would rather vote for mayor or have a gun, I’d rather have a gun,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a signatory to the conservative Right on Crime criminal justice reform coalition.

Criminal-justice reform is a hot topic in Washington, D.C. this Congress, driven by the prospect of bipartisan collaboration in an era of divided government. Leading lawmakers in both Republican and Democratic camps have proposed legislation that would address police militarization, civil asset forfeiture, and mandatory minimum sentences.

Groups such as the Brennan Center and the ACLU have also been working on reenfranchising felons in some way.

Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, proposed a bill last year that would restore voting rights for nonviolent felons, joining the ranks of Democrats such as Sen. Ben Cardin who believe that at least some felons should have their voting rights restored.

However, advocates of criminal justice reform are nervous about Sen. Chuck Grassley, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has not been gung ho about some of these ideas. He’s skeptical about reforms to mandatory minimums, for example, viewing them as a source of “stability in the criminal justice system.”

The thinking goes that Grassley—a senator with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association—might be brought to the negotiating table on voting rights if the right to bear firearms were in the mix (Grassley’s office did not comment for this article).

It’s a long-shot idea, and in its embryonic stage. But tough-on-crime conservatives aren’t likely to budge on the restoration of voting rights to felons—who, they suspect, will not vote for their candidates if re-enfranchised—if they don’t get something in return.

“It is the obvious compromise,” Norquist said. “Many conservatives willing to restore voting rights would not be willing to suggest Second Amendment rights are second-class rights… In talking to conservatives, some are more or less excited about speeding up voting rights restoration. But all, when asked, agree voting rights should not precede gun rights.”

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik should know something about the way the criminal justice treats felons—he’s also an ex-convict.

“[Lawmakers] should give at least equal attention to voting rights, Second Amendment rights… that you are deprived of as a result of the conviction,” Kerik told The Daily Beast.

A former cop, Kerik was appointed by the Bush administration to be an interim Iraqi minister of interior following the U.S. invasion, and was also once nominated to be U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. He withdrew his nomination after he acknowledged failing to pay taxes for a nanny he hired. After pleading guilty to charges relating to this tax issue, he was sentenced to several years in federal prison.

The theft of oysters or harvesting too many fish commercially can make you a felon, Kerik said. And, as he too well knows, so can a federal tax charge.

“I possessed a firearm for this country for 35 years. I’ve used a firearm personally when my partner was shot in a gun battle… I was convicted of false statements on tax charges primarily relating to my children’s nanny, but I can never possess firearms again for the rest of my life. Is it fair? No.” Kerik told The Daily Beast.

Kerik is also planning to launch a nonprofit organization to press for criminal justice reform in the next several weeks.

Among libertarians working on the criminal justice issue, there is some initial support for the idea, even in its early stages.

“Obviously, we’d need to see details of any proposal, but we’d be very likely to support a bill that restored voting and Second Amendment rights to nonviolent offenders who made youthful mistakes,” said David Pasch, spokesman for Generation Opportunity, a Koch-backed youth advocacy group.

Clark Neily, a senior attorney at the libertarian Institute for Justice, said he has heard about the prospect of combining voting and Second Amendment in a broader effort to restore rights to some felons. He approves of rights restoration broadly, but disapproves of the idea of a political trade on the issues.

“If what is going on is trying to limit the extent to which people are dispossessed of political rights, great. But if it’s a political ploy, I find it distasteful,” he said. “If it is in fact a trade-off, I don’t like the idea of horse-trading when it comes to liberties, or constitutional rights.”

Much of the momentum for criminal justice reform on the right has been created due to renewed efforts by libertarians like the Koch brothers.  However, many of the major groups operating in this policy area—such as the Charles Koch Institute, the Institute for Justice nor the Right on Crime coalition—have yet to take a formal stance on the restoration of Second Amendment rights to nonviolent felons.

Under federal law, felons lose their right to bear firearms, unless their rights are individually restored by a federal agency or through litigation. Felons are subject to the laws of their state when it comes to their right to vote after their time is served. In 11 states, felons lose their right to vote forever, while in two states felons continue to have the right to vote even while in prison. The remainder of the states have some sort of limitation on voting rights for felons.

For now, as the idea is being mulled, the legislative prospects for the trade-off are not good. If any compromise is made on the issue, it will likely be first formed off of Capitol Hill by outside criminal justice reform groups, away from the political poison pill of restoring rights to felons, even nonviolent ones.

“Tons of momentum in the public for criminal justice reform, but not nearly as much in the Republican caucus,” said a top Senate aide who works on the issue. “Many of the Republican caucus were elected when tough-on-crime was a driving force.”

Prison reform, civil asset forfeiture reform, and a juvenile justice bill are far more likely to pass in the current political environment, the aide said.

But Norquist argued that if progressive lawmakers are serious about helping felons rejoin society, the restoration of firearms rights should be on the table.

“If someone thinks [ex-felons] should not be trusted with a gun, why would you trust him with voting for the government, which is the legal monopoly on force?” he said.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, February 8, 2015

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Felons, Gun Ownership, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: