Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fake news has been around since news has. What’s different now is the assertion that alternate truths exist

By Marc Jampole

For a few months in the early 1980’s my job was to rewrite the long stories form the 11:00 pm news of the night before into 30-second and one-minute versions for the morning news for the San Francisco affiliate of a national news network. Virtually every morning I discovered inaccuracies in the reporting of one particular night beat reporter—her versions always exaggerated the blood and guts, the violence and the horror. She often introduced fake elements into the news. 

Around that time, Ronald Reagan in campaigning for president often invoked the image of the “welfare queen” and was never questioned by the news media. Virtually all mainstream news media allowed Reagan to make his racially tinged claim that welfare fraud was a huge problem without looking at the evidence, which demonstrated that the biggest fraud problem the federal government had in the 1980’s were false claims by physicians. By publishing a smear that could readily be disproven, the news media allowed the fake claim to disseminate across the country and for racism once again to enter a political decision. 

Fast forward to the run-up to the Second Iraq War. All evidence suggests that New York Times reporter Judith Miller knew or at least had deep suspicions that the evidence she was reporting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was completely fabricated. It was fake news and it helped to get us into the most disastrous war in American history. 

In fact, from the Civil War onward, we can find massive evidence in every generation of the news media routinely publishing the lies of government and large corporations without checking the facts, sometimes knowing they were distributing falsehoods and not caring. Sometimes these lies involved the foundational ideology upon which American society operates, such as American exceptionalism, the idea that everyone as an equal shot at success at life and the central importance of the two-parent nuclear family.  

Thus, while I am disturbed and shaken by the damage wrought on the American people by fake news in the latest election cycle, I am not convinced that a Rubicon has been crossed. The quantity of false news has grown and the means by which it can be delivered directly to consumers have multiplied, but the problem of mendacious journalism is as old as town criers and public squares.  

Through the years, both mainstream and tabloid media have disseminated several types of false news:

·        The out-and-out lie: In the mainstream media, only rogue journalists like Brian Williams tell an out-and-out lie or make up a story. When discovered, the profession usually punishes them harshly.

·        Letting an obvious lie pass:  Journalists have always given politicians, business leaders and civic boosters a free pass on their overt lies, for several reasons: 1) Because they agree with what the liar is saying. For example, a basic agreement with the idea of cutting Social Security benefits to fund more tax cuts for the wealthy led to many media to conceal the net effects of the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility & Reform in 2010.  2) To create or extend a story or a controversy, which explains why the news media didn’t call Trump on his incessant lying until very late in the presidential campaign. It also explains why they continue to publish the views of a handful of pariah scientists, many paid by corporations, who deny human-caused global warming. 3) To support the government and also ensure that they continue to be able to use government sources, as we can see in the run-up to the Iraq War, when the mainstream media published the ridiculously low government projections on the cost of the conflict, while ignoring the more accurate predictions of a variety of foreign policy experts and economists.

·        Selective coverage: Is it false news to publish so much about the fact that Hillary Clinton had a private server, while suppressing the fact that her predecessors also used private servers, that the Bush II administration consciously destroyed three million emails and that the contents of the Clinton emails exonerated her from any suspicious of unethical or illegal actions?

·        Spinning the coverage: Is it false news to focus on the part of a report or study that supports the media’s worldview while ignoring more significant parts that disprove what the media wants us to believe? Some examples: Headlines and reporting on a Pew study this past summer focused on the fact that four-fifths of the nation’s fastest-shrinking religious group, white evangelicals, were backing Trump, while ignoring the fact that the fastest growing religious group and one of the same size as white evangelicals—those who are atheists—favored Clinton by similar margins. Six years ago, the mass media reported that a National Center for Health Statistics study found that people who cohabit are a mere 6% less likely to be together 10 years after marriage than people who don’t live together before getting hitched.  The media either ignored or buried the real significance of the study: that more than 61% of all women now cohabit with someone else sometime in their lives. Is it false news to declare an ignoramus of the right an expert, while ignoring a widely published left winger considered the world’s top scholar in the field? In this regard, I agree with Mark Hertsgaard who in the Nation special issue on the Obama years say the mass media “deserve a special circle in hell for sustaining the lie that climate change is more a matter of political opinion than of scientific fact.” 

Determining whether or when providing selective information, purposely misinterpreting the facts or communicating the lies of other people (with proper attribution, of course!) constitutes false news involves questions of ethics and epistemology, which is the study of meaning. In passing, let’s note that the United States government has often used false news reports to control or steer events in other countries.  We have dropped leaflets full of lies and spread rumors of deaths or impending revolts. Now it appears that the Russians have victimized us with 21st century versions of our own Cold War weapons. 

We should also keep in mind that it’s pretty much legal to lie in paid advertising or in an opinion piece that appears under one’s own byline. The mainstream news media while professing to have a firewall between the advertising and editorial departments, have often tended to blur the distinction between news and advertising, and between news and opinion.  The Internet has given advertisers greater opportunity to pass off their shill as real news.  

It used to be that the mainstream news media represented a consensus of what its owners—the ruling elite—believed. That consensus shaped the news we received, because there were few alternative ways to communicate to people on either the left or the right, and those alternatives—other print media and radio, were expensive and reached relatively small numbers. We could assume that most of the time, the mainstream news media didn’t lie, and when they did, we knew what the lies were and why, because except for a brief instant during the late years of the Vietnam War, the mainstream media always supported the government or the collective ideology of the ruling elite. As G. William Domhoff and others have pointed out, that elite was not unified, as not every wealthy family and corporate overlord agreed to the basic compromise with labor made by the wealthy during the Roosevelt years, nor with the later push to give minorities and women equal access to the law and the economy.   

To state the obvious, the growth of the Internet, especially social media, has increased the ways that we can inexpensively get both accurate and false information to others.  The right-wing in particular has had a great deal of success spreading lies, false news and misleading interpretations directly to their constituencies. If it’s the right wing that has specialized in false news today, it’s mostly because the right is the side fighting reality, in such areas as global warming and the impact of lowering taxes on the wealthy, or using lies to shore up their argument as with voter suppression laws, government privatization and abortion.  With the facts firmly in the hands of those who once would have been called Eisenhower Republicans, the right has faced the choice of retreating or lying to hold back history and the truth.   

But false news has turned elections before, most notably the elections of 1824, 1888 and 2000, all of which happen to have ended with the loser in the popular vote installed in the White House. False news has led us into wars and justified horrible acts such as dropping the atom bomb and constructing a global torture gulag.  

It would take a massive research project to measure the percentage of news in any given era that involves lies, so we don’t really know whether there is more false news today than there used to be. We do, however, know that:

·         There are more ways to disseminate both false and true news than there used to be.

·         There is less real news being reported than in any decade since World War II, as the organizations that report shrink and those that merely disseminate—with or without spin—have grown.

·         Many fewer people get their news from the mainstream than used to, to the point that we know longer have a consensus as to what constitutes hard news, the news cycle, news authorities and news ethics.

·         43% of Internet users have passed along false news; 10% have done so knowing what they were forwarding was full of lies. 

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman presents study after study that demonstrate that people will believe an anecdote that supports their beliefs over a factual study that disproves them. The prevalence of false news, like rumors and urban myths, feed into the deep need of people to assert their perceptions as reality. What’s troubling in this context, is the kind of false news that predominates today.  Birtherism, voter fraud, Clinton illegalities, immigrant hordes—the racist, anti-science and misogynist explicitness of most false news is more troubling than the fact that false news exists.    

The real question is whether we have reached a tipping point at which the amount of false new overwhelms truth and leads to a breakdown of the system. If that is what we are seeing, it merely reflects the amount of false information that currently determines government and industrial policy. People thinking that the Chinese invented the idea of global warming to hurt the West is not significant until our government and corporate leaders believe it and act on that false information.  

The most alarming part of the rise of false news to my mind is not the increase in false ideas floating in the public sphere, but the growth in the idea that there are multiple truths, an idea first floated by the Bush II administration. I think it was Dick Cheney, but it may have been another Bush II henchperson who said that the administration made its own reality and by the time the world caught up, it would remake reality again. 

As long as we agree that truth exists, truth will eventually win out, although often after a lot of pain and suffering by innocent people. But once we assert that truth can be constructed and that two or more truths can exist simultaneously when it comes to anything other than emotions, we are sunk as a society. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Donald Trump: Our accidental president is a national embarrassment & a national tragedy

By Marc Jampole

In imagining presidential candidates at the beginning of 2016, if someone had said to me that an erratic and narcissistic sociopath would garner even a million votes, I would have considered it a national embarrassment, regardless of that candidate’s political stances. 

Same feeling if even one million people had voted for a candidate without government experience who failed miserably at his profession of real estate development and casino management, be that candidate of the left or of the right. A national embarrassment that a million people would think such a failure to have presidential timber. 

Same feeling of embarrassment if one million people had voted for someone involved in thousands of lawsuits, most involving other people suing him for nonpayment. Or if one million people had voted for a candidate who routinely slurred women, Hispanics and Muslims. Or if one million people had voted for someone who told bald-faced lies about his past and the state of the country in every speech. Or if one million people had voted for someone who used a charitable foundation to make private purchases and bribe government officials. 

Or if one million people had voted for someone who admitted to sexual assault on camera and in doing so committed a serious violation of law by creating a hostile work environment for women. 

Mainstream news media and Democratic politicians can wring their hands all they want about Russian hacking, FBI manipulation, voter suppression laws, the double standard applied to Hillary, fake news, the Stein effect (which turned Michigan and Wisconsin red), Hillary’s mistakes, the news media’s failure to call Trump on his lies and the unfair skewering of the electoral college in favor of rural states—they can harp about all the many unfortunate happenstances that had to align in some kind of disharmonic convergence for Trump to win the electoral college while losing the popular vote by an unprecedented (not “unpresidented”) 2.8 million votes—moan about it all as much as they like, but it does not change the fact that not one million, not ten million, but almost 63 million people voted for Donald Trump. 

That’s a little more than a quarter of all Americans eligible to vote and 46% of actual voters who cast their ballots for someone documented to be an unethical, law-breaking, sociopathic, racist, erratic, misogynistic liar with no government experience. Law-breaking. Erratic. No Experience. Sociopath. Racist. Misogynistic. Lying. Unethical. Any of these eight traits should have disqualified him in the minds of voters. 

No one knows the real reason we elected Donald Trump. Was it a “perfect storm” of coincidences, which besides the ones listed above also included the lack of any mainstream Republican candidate and the absence of Republican super delegates? Was it a moment of mass hysteria or mass anger at the establishment? Was it a brilliantly executed strategy that bypassed the news media by relying on revivalist meeting events and social media? Was it because the Democratic Party based too much of its program on identity politics, a popular explanation among self-loathing progressives and their mainstream media enablers? These self-flagellators seem to forget that walking away from asserting the rights of ethnic, racial and sexual minorities involves selling out the American dream and that the very term “identity politics” undercuts the legitimacy of the injustices that women and minorities still endure.   

In my view, what elected Donald Trump was the merging of two evils which have poisoned the American body politics since the white rich merchants and slave owners whom we call our founders formed the country more than two centuries ago: racism and greed. Many people voted for Trump out of fear and resentment of blacks, Hispanics and Muslims. Many other people voted for him because they wanted to lower taxes, no matter what. The greedy ones have cynically financed a war against multicultural values and science to pander to the racist (and ultra-religious) ones.  Rich folk supporting the beliefs of racist (and culturally conservative) folk in return for support of economic policies that hurt 99% of all Americans has pretty much described the Republican play book since the rise of Ronald Reagan. If the sleep of reason produces monsters, then the reasoning of the Republican Party has produced the monstrous Donald Trump. Or perhaps it’s the reasoning of consumer capitalism. 

Let’s not forget, though, that both racism and greed run deep and long in Americwan history. In fact the white rich merchants and slave owners who created the Electoral College did so to keep real control of governance in as small a set of hands as possible. Other aspects of the Constitution in its original form show favoritism to both the propertied and slave owners. From its very inception, we can view most American history through the lens of either racism or the battle to divide the economic pie between the wealthy and everyone else.  

No matter the explanation for the election of Donald Trump, we should all feel ashamed and embarrassed. That the ballots of one quarter of the voting population should elect such a dangerously unqualified president reflects poorly on our education system, our political parties, our news media, our system of checks and balances, the motives of the ultra-wealthy and our cultural norms. It is our national shame. And once Trump’s cabinet of crony capitalists, retired generals and ideologues springs into action, it will also be our national tragedy.    

The American dream has proved to be weaker than the American original sins of racism and greed.   


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Editorial: Carnies vs. Rubes

There are two kinds of people in Donald Trump’s America: carnies and rubes. Trump ran for president as an economic populist who would protect American manufacturing jobs, despite his own history of ducking debts to contractors and outsourcing manufacturing. Now he is filling his Cabinet with plutocratic billionaires who are committed to doing away with public schools, environmental protection and workers’ rights while Republican congressional leaders plan to privatize Medicare, cut Social Security benefits and open up our public lands for more oil and gas drilling.

As of Dec. 9, Trump’s proposed Cabinet had a combined wealth of more than $14.5 billion, plus three generals and at least one nominee who has twice sued the agency he’s now poised to run, Tessa Stuart noted at As we go to press, Trump has settled on Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, which will increase the Cabinet’s net worth by another $287 million.

The working-class Americans who voted for The Donald and other Republican carnies in November had better figure out which side they are on. The education will start Jan. 20 and it’s likely to be a crash course.

More people are coming to realize Trump is dangerously unfit to be president. The volatile real estate wheeler-dealer and reality TV star said he wanted to Make America Great Again, but he has refused to release his tax returns or speak candidly about his complex business dealings, including financial interests in at least 25 foreign countries. It appears that his first priority is to make his bank account great again. Josh Marshall of suggested that Trump might not be able to divest his far-flung business enterprises because he’s too “underwater” to do so, or he’s too dependent on current and expanding cash flow to divest or even turn the reins over to someone else. He apparently is more interested in keeping his title as executive producer of The Apprentice, now starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, than he is in attending intelligence briefings. Instead, Trump has delegated the intel details to the vice president-elect, Mike Pence.

Trump has been evasive about how he came to be the beneficiary of the leak of documents from Democratic officials, which US intelligence agencies believe were stolen by Russian hackers and passed on to Wikileaks to damage Hillary Clinton. Trump also was helped by FBI Director James Comey’s release of a letter 10 days before the election that said the agency was resuming its investigation of Clinton’s emails, which reversed her momentum in polls before Comey followed up with “never mind” a few days before the election.

If the Electoral College really was designed to give electors a chance to disregard the votes in their respective states when that state’s voters fall for a charlatan’s bait-and-switch, this would be a good case to test that proposition. But the electors are chosen from partisans who have pledged to support their party’s nominee and they would face tremendous pressure if they wavered. As we write this, a week before the electors are to cast their ballots, only one of 306 Republican electors has said he would not vote for Trump. Another 36 Republican “faithless electors” are needed to deny Trump the presidency. And that likely would just send the election back to the Big Top, to be decided by House Republicans.

Hold the Line on Court Vacancy

Some on the left believe Senate Democrats should attempt to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in an extraordinary session during the brief period on Jan. 3 when the terms of 34 members of the Senate have expired, but before the new and re-elected senators are sworn in. At that point, David Waldman suggested at (Dec. 6), the terms of the Senate’s Class III come to an end, leaving 66 currently sworn and serving senators, 34 of whom will be Democrats and 30 who are Republicans.

If Vice President Joe Biden recognized the sitting Democrats as the majority, they theoretically could move to confirm Garland. However, Sean Davis argued at (Dec. 7) “it requires one to completely ignore the Constitution, the Standing Rules of the Senate, Senate precedent, and basic common sense.”

For one thing, noted Davis, a Republican former Senate staffer, the 20th Amendment states that “the terms of Senators and Representatives [shall end] at noon on the 3d day of January … and the terms of their successors shall then begin,” no matter what the outgoing vice president thinks.

As much as we hate to see Republicans get away with their refusal to consider Obama’s choice of Garland, the chief judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, it might not be a good idea for Senate Democrats to set the precedent of doing away with all the standing rules and Senate precedents in order to cast one vote, when Republicans will end up in control of the Senate a few minutes later, and they’ll keep that majority at least for the next two years — with the precedent set by the Democrats that the majority, however narrow, can ignore rules whenever they wish.

A better course, if Democrats want to play hardball, would be for President Obama to withdraw the Garland nomination and, during the recess between sessions, name Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe (or some other eminent liberal jurist) as an interim justice.

Republicans have held pro-forma sessions in which no business is conducted at least every three days so the Senate is not technically in recess to prevent such appointments. They would appeal to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which upheld the pro-forma sessions to prevent recess appointments in 2013. But since then, the appeals court has gained four Obama appointees and now, with a 7-4 Democratic majority, the court might revisit the question.

In any case, Senate Democrats should block any Trump appointee to the Supreme Court who does not have moderate bona fides because, as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell explained last year when he ruled out any hearings on the Garland nomination, the Senate should wait for the people to choose a new president before it fills the vacancy on the Supreme Court. And the people chose Hillary Clinton by a margin of more than 2.8 million votes. Trump will technically be president but he does not have the consent of a majority of the governed. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has noted that there are precedents for the Supreme Court to operate with fewer than nine justices. If Trump wishes to negotiate with Democrats over nominations, that might resolve the matter.

Meanwhile, Democrats still have a popular majority on most core issues, such as establishing the minimum wage as a living wage, protecting Social Security and Medicare, moving toward universal access to health care and public education from pre-kindergarten through college, rebuilding infrastructure, protecting air and water and taking action to reverse climate change. The problem is that people either don’t believe the Republicans really are a threat to their interests, or they don’t believe Democrats will stand up for them.

Democrats have two years to convince working people they will fight for them. The odds are stacked against them in the House, which is gerrymandered in enough states to keep Democrats in the minority at least through 2020. In the Senate, Democrats will be defending 23 seats in 2018, Dem-leaning independents defend two seats and only eight Republicans will be up for election. But as Trump reveals himself to be a charlatan whose campaign promises no longer are operative, the opportunities for Democrats should improve.

Ambitious Dems who are interested in stepping up for a possible White House run in 2020 also have two years to show they are an effective antagonist to the plutocrats and robber barons who run Trump and the Republican Party. Let the games begin! — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2017

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Copyright © 2016 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the January 1-15, 2017 issue

COVER/Dave Johnson
Tea leaves forecast assault on working people

Carnies vs. rubes; Hold the line on court vacancy


Falwell Jr. staying put

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen 
Acceptance doesn’t mean surrender

Hoosier daddy? The man who really delivered jobs in Indiana;
Trump wages war on US unions;
How did Trump win? FBI & Russians;
Republicans unveil plan to cut Social Security;
Trump keeps up lying pace;
Maybe Trump is too indebted to divest ...

Why we still need feminism

The populist and his crew of billionaires

Trump’s puppeteers

Teamster aims to organize communities across Iowa

Ike’s rich vs. Trump’s rich: no contest.

Jive turkey

Will Trump bring the robot apocalypse?

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Filling the swamp: MBAs to the rescue

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Getting back to the garden

Trump and blue-collar jobs

The looming infrastructure scam

Democrats and the white working class

Should Democrats become the party of no?

Flotsam from the Trump thought stream

Need a revolution

‘Hamilton’ vs. Trump: Free-speech duels go on from Broadway to L.A.

and more ...

Saturday, December 3, 2016

EDITORIAL Get Back into the Fight

Democrats were in shock after Hillary Clinton apparently was defeated by voters who would believe anything bad they heard about the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, but those same voters seemed to discount everything bad that was reported about Donald Trump, a real estate developer and reality TV star with no government experience but plenty of unanswered questions about his personal life and his businesses.

Democrats can take some solace in the fact that Clinton actually was the people’s choice by a margin of more than 2.5 million votes over Trump, even if a relative handful of 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin swung the Electoral College tally toward Trump.

Clinton drew some criticism for joining Green presidential candidate Jill Stein in seeking a recount in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but there are reasons to be suspicious of the results in at least those three states won by Trump where exit polls indicated that Clinton should have won.

In Pennsylvania, exit polls showed Trump winning by 4.4 points but the official results showed Trump winning by 1.2 points. In Wisconsin, exit polls showed Clinton winning by 3.9 points but Trump was declared winner by 1.2 points. Michigan exit polls showed a deadlock while Trump was declared winner by 0.3%. Also, Florida exit polls showed Clinton winning by 1.3 points while Trump was declared the winner by 1.2 points. North Carolina exit polls showed Clinton winning by 2.1 points but Trump was declared the winner by 3.8 points.

Those discrepancies might be explained by the emphasis on early voting, which is hard to poll. But there also is evidence that Russian hackers tried to interfere in the election on Trump’s behalf, along with complaints that Republican officials and Trump supporters were working to suppress and harass Democratic voters. And anomalies were spotted in Wisconsin between results in counties that used paper ballots and counties that used computer voting. With all those questions, it is worthwhile to verify the results.

Trump leads in the Electoral College count, 306-232, or 36 more than he needs to win the White House. It’s unlikely that the recount will make up the 10,700 votes in Michigan, 22,200 in Wisconsin and 46,800 in Pennsylvania, which together have 46 Electoral votes. But if the recount finds evidence of ballot tampering, it could be explosive and provide more arguments, along with Trump’s erratic behavior since the election, for Electors to overrule the popular vote in their states, as the Constitution allows.

However, there is not much likelihood that Republican “faithless electors” would vote for Clinton, and if neither candidate gets 270 votes the election will be decided by the Republican House, selecting from the three candidates who received the most electoral votes, with each state delegation receiving one vote.

Regardless of how the Electoral College votes on Dec. 19, Democrats need to face the fact that even a center-left candidate such as Clinton can be successfully slimed by the right-wing echo machine, abetted by the corporate media. Clinton’s use of a private server to handle government emails was never more than a relatively minor transgression, particularly since her Republican predecessor as secretary of state, Colin Powell, also had used private email service, as did key members of the George W. Bush White House staff, who ran their emails through the Republican National Committee with little accountability, and millions of Bush administration emails went missing. But the corporate media went along for the ride with Trump’s outrageous claims that Clinton belonged in prison for using a private email server. From Jan. 1 through Nov. 4 of this year, Media Matters noted, the three broadcast evening news shows spent 125 minutes on Clinton’s emails and only 35 minutes on in-depth policy discussions on issues such as terrorism, immigration and policing. And there were no in-depth policy discussions of climate change, drugs, poverty, guns, infrastructure, social injustice or the deficit.

The Democratic National Committee needs an overhaul, and future party chairs should be prohibited from getting involved in party primary races. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has the support of Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as well as outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). We think the party chair should be a full-time job, but one can make the argument that a congressman in the House minority has plenty of time on his hands.

Some Democrats also are calling for change in the House leadership. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will be 77 next year, her deputy, Steny Hoyer will be 78 and the third-ranking Democrat, Jim Clyburn will be 77. Pelosi has been blamed for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee misplaying the election, and gaining only six seats. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), 43, is challenging Pelosi, but he says he doesn’t really have any policy differences with her. He would like to see more emphasis on populist economics. So do we, but we don’t think Pelosi is the problem. She did a great job as House speaker passing progressive bills in the first two years under Obama, but most of those bills died in the Senate. When Dems failed to get out the vote in 2010, Republicans swept statehouses as well as Congress. Then, in the 2011 redistricting, the GOP engaged in a ruthless series of gerrymanders that locked Democrats out of legislative and congressional majorities at least until the next round of redistricting in 2021. [Update: Pelosi was re-elected House speaker by the Democratic caucus on Nov. 30.]

As David Daley notes on page 12,  gerrymandering can keep Democrats in the minority even when they get a majority of votes. Democratic statehouse candidates earned more votes than Republicans in Michigan this November, but Republicans kept their 63-47 hold on the Michigan House. In Wisconsin, the two parties split the overall vote but Republicans took two-thirds of the assembly seats. And those artificial majorities enact right-wing agendas.

The pattern also holds for congressional districts. Democrats made gains in Florida and Virginia congressional seats largely because federal judges ruled that the GOP gerrymander had gone too far. Congressional incumbents in other states were pretty safe.

Progressives need to get over their post-election depression and recriminations and start organizing for 2017 and 2018, when 38 governors will be up for election. Republicans defend 27 seats, including 14 that will be open. Democratic governors in states such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan could be a major check on gerrymandered legislatures when redistricting comes around again.

Remember, you can’t rely on Facebook for your news, but the corporate media — particularly the cable infotainment channels — won’t give progressives a break, either. So renew your subscription to The Progressive Populist and help us get the word out.

Fidel’s Last Laugh

Fidel Castro survived the Cold War and 10 Presidents of the United States who were unable to make him budge as Cuba’s communist dictator. He ruled 47 years before failing health finally forced him to step aside as maximum leader in 2006. The 11th US President, Barack Obama, moved to restore relations with the communist island nation in 2016 — over the objections of Castro as well as some of his implacable enemies in Miami. But Castro lived just long enough to see the US apparently elect a wealthy grifter as its next president.

Trump has suggested that he would re-sever relations with Cuba unless Fidel’s younger brother, Raul, 85, the new maximum leader, offers the US a “better deal for the Cuban people.” Ironically, Fidel would be pleased. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2016

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Copyright © 2016 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the December 15, 2016 issue

COVER/Hal Crowther
Accept it, like Hell!

Get back into the fight; Fidel’s last laugh


Self-inflicted wounds of the Democratic Party

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Don’t let fear and hate win

Trump stumbles toward inauguration;
Ethics lawyers: Electoral College should reject Trump unless he sells businesses;
Repubs will push Medicare privatization;
Minimum wage isn’t living wage anywhere;
Judge suspends OT expansion;
Hate incidents up since Trump win;
Minorities buying guns since Trump election;
Fidel wasn't our kind of murderous dictator ...

Dems didn’t ask for rural vote

Building a new populism in the era of Trump

Sorry, I can’t give Trump a chance

We’re all Zapatistas now

Beyond Beltway, Dems even worse off

Treating white males with kindness, respect and inclusion

Un-rigging our democracy

We cannot be discouraged; Let’s keep building our movement

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
A Christmas gift: Trumpkids

Fools, damn fools and democrats

Neoliberalism on the rocks?

Has SNL finally joined the fray?

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Rethinking empires

How the white Catholic vote helped Trump

Netflix offers bingeworthy shows

Abolishing Miscegenation: Virginia is for Lovings

and more ...

Going Where the Denial Is Thickest--in the News Media


As a rape survivor myself*, I believe Juanita Broaddrick. I listened to Ms. Broaddrick when she was interviewed on Dateline NBC back in 1999. I listened carefully to everything she said, and--as a lifelong registered Democrat myself--I believe her with all my heart. Her accusation was that Bill Clinton assaulted her, in Arkansas, years earlier. This was a rape allegation--different in degree from the several sexual harassment allegations also leveled against Clinton, and very different from Clinton's compulsive philandering. Broaddrick accused Clinton of forcible rape, on national television--network, not cable--credibly, with detail, not concealing or denying her own errors or her anger at Clinton. Yet after the Clintons left the White House, Broaddrick's name was scarcely mentioned in what are usually called the “elite” media. As the highly respected late columnist William Blackberry commented, it was mystifying that a credible accusation of such magnitude could be passed over. This while the Washington Post deemed that President Clinton's affair with an intern warranted a special pull-out section titled "Presidency in Crisis," temporarily, and Republicans in the House were voting to impeach Clinton. 

It is an unanswered question, now, how many people even know who Juanita Broaddrick is. Many younger people who voted in 2016 would not have recognized her name in 2015. The fact that she has now become part of the public discourse largely through some rightwing outlets and Donald Trump's presidential campaign is a source of regret for me personally. 

The Democrats who should have acknowledged her story dropped the ball. So did the GOP, of course--neither major party moved constructively to address the issue of rape, in the 1990s or under the George W. Bush administration. President Obama and Vice President Biden have done more than any previous White House, addressing sexual assault on college campuses and problems such as the backlog of unprocessed rape kits in the criminal justice system. But much remains to be done.

Our top media outlets did little to nothing. Millions of words have been written about the 2016 election, hundreds of opinion polls were taken, countless models have predicted the outcome--wrongly, in case you didn't notice--but so far as I know, no major media outlet polled the public on awareness of Juanita Broaddrick's accusation against Clinton, or even on recognition of her name.

A couple of points here. First, rape is a difficult topic, grim and painful, and difficulties by definition are harder to deal with than easy things. Fewer people will deal well with something difficult than with something easy, including people in the news media. Second, few people in the large media outlets tried to deal with the Broaddrick story well. This gap is not consistent with a belief in Clinton's innocence, which would have emphasized accuracy. It sweeps an issue under the rug instead of addressing it.  

Third, the media focus continues to be politics rather than issues. Thus if Broaddrick's name was mentioned at all, it was usually through the prism of possible effect on the campaign of Hillary Clinton for president. Those media personalities are now consumed with the question of 'what went wrong' with the 2016 election, and what went wrong with their predictions.

'What went wrong' is that the wife of a rapist ran for the White House. 

Unthinkable? One would think so. But it wasn't. There was no one to advise the Clintons, effectively, that Clinton should not run.  A deadly simple timeline resulted. The Clinton team decided to try the run and accumulated all the money not going to the GOP. Meanwhile, Republicans salivating at the prospect of running against 'Hillary' lined up, and money or no money, the GOP field was self-destructively large. Trump was the cue ball. Wham. He broke the racked-up set of balls. And while Trump was breaking things open on the Republican side, the Clintons and their media allies were shutting out every better candidate on the Democratic side--Vice President Biden first, before the primary season even began; then Senator Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

So on one hand Trump benefited from the arithmetic of the field, and on the other Clinton, with no essential constituency or platform except narrow self-interest, shut out the field. 

Net result: A small cadre of Democratic insiders decided to paste in a nominee before any votes were cast, and picked the worst possible candidate. The Clintons with their greed problem, their treatment-of-women problem, their ties to Wall Street, etc, were the worst possible choice to run against Donald Trump. Not that they knew enough to take Trump seriously, any more than they knew enough to take Sanders seriously. So much for the high-paid expertise with which they theoretically surrounded themselves. Back to politics, I believe that even the quiet Lincoln Chafee would have done better than Clinton. Joe Biden would have crushed Trump. So would Bernie Sanders.

By this past weekend, I was wondering about the much-touted “landslide.” I was not very surprised at the outcome but am disappointed that Russ Feingold lost the Wisconsin senate race. Knowing the Clintons, Feingold's appeal is probably one of the reasons they neglected Wisconsin. Much of their joint public career for forty years has been playing keep-away, and they appeal to media insiders who play keep-away. No wonder they were so surprised: they shut out the very people they should have been listening to.

For now, I hope we don't have to listen to self-serving commentators, for several weeks, mutually confirming their nonexistent moral superiority to the unwashed masses. Largely these are the people who went along with Bush's invasion of Iraq. As with sexual assault, it saddens me to see Iraq swept under the rug. On top of the loss of blood and treasure, in all that (temporary) emphasis on sexual assault during the campaign, no one mentioned that rape follows war. 

*This was a childhood incident. I was in elementary school at the time, an undersized fifth-grader walking alone through a big park in Houston, to a Brownies meeting. The perpetrator was not someone I knew, and the police never caught him.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email See her blog at

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Adult infantilization may be a byproduct of social evolution, but it could lead to demise of humans

By Marc Jampole

Nowadays adults collect My Little Pony dolls and play with Legos. They read Harry Potter and comic books. They go on sleepovers at museums and down Gummi Bear vitamins.

It’s called adult infantilization, adults maintaining hobbies and interests that are created specifically for children and which are relatively uncomplicated and unsophisticated compared to adult experiences.

I’ve written about the negative impact of infantilization a number of times, including most recently on June 30, 2016, October 27, 2014 and May 10, 2014. My concern with infantilization is that I believe it leaves adults not just acting like children, but thinking like them.

Bad for society, but good for advertisers. Advertisers want adults to behave like children because it makes them better consumers. Children are more self-centered and find it harder to think long-term, so they are more likely to make an impulse purchase for themselves. Children have less sophisticated thought processes and are therefore easier to convince to buy or believe something. Children have not had rigorous training in economics, the scientific method and logic and tend to engage in magical thinking. Children tend to believe anything an authority figures says.

We can see the trend of increased adult infantilization in the pandemic of popular movies focused on adults who behave like children over the past 20 years. A partial list: The “Harold & Kumar” movies,  “Old School,”  “Big,”  “Grandma’s Boy,”  the “Ted” flicks,  “The Wedding Crashers,”  “Billy Madison,”  ”Step Brothers,”  “You, Me and Dupree,”  “Dodgeball,”  “The 40-year-old Virgin,”  “Knocked Up,”  all three “Hangovers,”  the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,”  “Hall Pass”  and “Identity Thief.”

It’s easy to see why someone selling products and services—especially unneeded junk—might want to deal with children and not adults, or to be more precise, to deal with adults with the thought processes of children. But children make poor citizens and worse voters, as they are more easily swayed by fallacious thinking and more likely to see things in terms of good and bad, us and them, thereby missing nuances that are particularly important in a pluralistic society.

In reading Beyond Words by science popularizer Carl Safina, I’ve discovered that infantilization may be a byproduct of the evolution that humans have gone through since forming sedentary societies. In discussing the domestication of wolves into dogs and a decades-long experiment to domesticate foxes by letting only the less aggressive ones breed, Safina lists a set of physical traits that seem always to be tied to friendliness or a lack of aggression, the traits that humans prefer in dogs: droopy ears, splotchy or mottled coats, wagging tails, shorter legs, shorter faces with smaller teeth. As it turns out, all these physical characteristics are present in the young of the species, who then grow out of them.  As for behavior, to quote Safina, “As adults, the friendly foxes continue to behave like juvenile wolves, acting submissively, whining and giving higher pitched barks.” He and the research he references postulate that “genes resulting in invisible brain changes for friendly behavior also result in highly visible changes in how foxes look.” Safina points out that these changes are virtually the same ones that occurred in wolves as they became dogs. Safina concludes that researchers and farmers who have thought they were selecting for nonaggressive personalities were also selecting for juvenile versions of adults, “perpetual pups” as he writes.

Later in Beyond Words, Safina points out that the extremely social and peaceful bonobos have many physical traits that the highly aggressive and anti-social chimpanzee have as children but lose as adults, including skull shape, flatness of face, smaller teeth and the existence of the labia majora in females. Surprise, surprise, humans share these bonobo traits that adult chimpanzees lose.

Anthropologist Chris Boehm has postulated that over time, groups of humans may have eliminated many of those most prone to aggressive acts, such as rape, murder, cheat and other anti-social behavior because imprisonment, execution, death in war and banishment all impede procreation. What we’re talking about is not any millennium-long program of eugenics, but the adaptive superiority of civilized behavior once humans formed large groups. While blackguards still exist, the theory goes that there are fewer of them because of conscious selections by human beings.

Could it be that the more domesticated humans that populate advanced societies are also more prone to keeping their juvenile predilections? That the less aggressive a population is, the more likely that many of its members will not only maintain the traits of adolescence or childhood, but the mindset as well?

It’s depressing to think that we may be hardwired as a social species to have an overall decline in our ability to think clearly, which is what a wholesale reversion to juvenile thought process would entail. It could lead to more of the short-sighted selfishness that has led to policies that are boiling the oceans, overstuffing the atmosphere and water with carbon dioxide, destroying massive numbers of species and threatening the continued existence of humanity.

Let’s face it; everything we know about the natural history of the world and the physics behind its playing out over time is that the goal of evolution is the destruction of species. According to current evolutionary science, virtually all species that have existed have gone extinct. As levels of carbon monoxide and oxygen have varied through the ages so have the conditions of life, favoring some creatures for a while and then others. Moments of extreme change have produced five mass extinctions and it looks as if we are in the middle of a sixth one, caused primarily by humans. Thus, human self-domestication, which carries so many advantages for humans in society, may also have disadvantages which over time could lead to our demise. 

The answer, however, is not to become more aggressive as a species again. Our future depends on greater cooperation, not less, on more peaceful resolution of conflicts, not on warfare.

What we need is an education system that trains children to be free-thinking adults and not good consumers. One example: when I was growing up, there was no such thing as young adult fiction, which is now the hottest fiction category. Children went right from the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew to adult fiction, which could sometimes be sloppy romantic novels, but could also be works of great literature such as most of Mark Twain, some Steinbeck, Gulliver’s Travels, Catcher in the Rye, the books of Sinclair Lewis, A Tale of Two Cities. The list of books with adult complications and psychologies that are appropriate for teenagers goes on and on. Young adult fiction such as the Harry Potter series should not be taught in schools, nor qualify as reading assignments. We should analyze all high school curricula for signs of unconscious infantilization, e.g., talking down and simplifying subjects as if teens were still children or using methodologies meant for elementary school students with high school students. We should also flush the system of the accretion of consumerism that has built up through the years, such as classroom material sponsored by corporations that sell to the public. I also believe that there are certain inherently infantilizing experiences which we should limit (not prohibit) to all children, such as video games, comic books and branded toys. A stuffed dog will help a child mature more than a stuffed animal from a movie. A child makes up her-his own fantasies about a generic Ruff or Ralph. A branded toy has already created the narrative for the child. The branded toy also teaches children to accept the authority of a brand as a value in and of itself instead of evaluating things on their own merit.  

I’m also wondering if helicopter parenting is also leading to infantilization. Adults have gotten their fingers into a lot of children’s activities. We should give children of all ages enough free time to play in unorganized settings, free of adult supervision. When all activities are constantly monitored and organized by adults, children are more likely to stay in their role as children. When a child is used to parents’ too active involvement in meeting challenges such as negotiating high school and applying to college, the child may continue to think like a child.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Editorial: Snakes vs. Scorpions

Donald J. Trump parlayed a strong vein of anger and discontent with Washington establishment politics among white voters into a come-from-behind victory. His campaign united such disparate groups as the Ku Klux Klan, “alt-right” white nationalists, Vladimir Putin and the Islamic State, which celebrated the election of the con man who will be a recruiting boon for Islamic jihadists when he enters the White House.

We don’t understand how anybody could have watched the presidential debates and come away with the opinion that the real estate mogul and “reality” TV star had the temperament to be president, but the ongoing slander of former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton over the past two years, abetted by FBI Director James Comey in the closing days, took its toll and Trump conned just enough people to win the election.

The election apparently was decided by Democrats who voted with their butts on Nov. 8 in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Clinton won the popular vote nationwide, but her campaign failed to turn out many of the voters who carried Barack Obama to victory in those key states — though some of those Democrats turned out to vote for Trump, and stayed in the Republican column to elect Republicans to the House and Senate.

Compounding the problem, Democrats failed to regain control of the Senate. They unseated two Republican senators, as Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) easily defeated Sen. Mark Kirk (R) in Illinois and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) narrowly defeated Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire, but Democrats failed to defeat vulnerable incumbents in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Indiana rejected former Sen. Evan Bayh’s comeback bid and Sen. John McCain (R) survived a spirited challenge in Arizona. The GOP maintained a 51-48 advantage, awaiting a Dec. 10 runoff for the Senate in Louisiana in which the Republican is favored.

If Republicans keep the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes for a bill to pass, Democrats might be able to block the worst bills and nominees, but several Democratic senators are up for re-election in red states in 2018 and they might feel pressure to work with Republicans. Also, if Democrats are obstinate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) might move to eliminate the filibuster.

The biggest disappointment was Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s victory in his rematch with former Sen. Russ Feingold, a progressive Democrat, in Wisconsin. Feingold led in polls for much of the last year before pro-Johnson Super PAC ads attacking Feingold tightened the race and the Republican tide in rural areas overcame the Democrats.

The good news is that, if Trump got a mandate, it was to enact populist reforms of Wall Street financial speculators and reverse trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement that have resulted in the loss of American manufacturing jobs. He also promised to protect Social Security and Medicare and suggested he would expand support for family leave.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan is determined to privatize both Social Security and Medicare and expansion of family leave will be a hard push through a conservative Congress. Establishment Republicans don’t trust Trump any more than Democrats do, and Trump’s operatives reportedly are discussing how they can hurt “Never Trump” Republicans who were critical of Trump’s movement. When Trump and his aides meet with congressional Republicans, it could become a battle of snakes vs. scorpions.

Trump might split Republicans as he backs off from repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Conservatives are pushing for the law to be ripped out “root and branch,” which would threaten insurance coverage for 20 million Americans, but Trump said he favors keeping popular provisions such as the prohibition against companies denying insurance for pre-existing conditions and ability of parents to insure their children until age 26.

Clinton had proposed reforms of Obamacare, such as a proposal to give insurance buyers access to a “public option“ — a government-run health plan that would compete with private insurers.

But the public option is not going to happen under Trump. Neither is any action to reduce carbon pollution to fight climate change, which Trump believes is a hoax created by the Chinese. He promises to give the all-clear to oil and coal companies to increase fossil fuel production and he’ll approve all necessary pipelines, regardless of their impact on water supplies.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Trump will get to nominate a new justice on the Supreme Court to take the seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia last February. That probably will shift the high court back to the hard right. If aging liberal justices leave the court, it would give Trump the opportunity to lock in a right-wing majority that could take jurisprudence back to pre-New Deal conditions and clear the way for an all-out assault on organized labor and regulations. Trump also gets to fill 99 seats on lower courts after Republicans refused to confirm most of Obama’s nominees in the last year.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said they are willing to work with President-elect Trump on populist issues that benefit working Americans, but they are ready to fight him on his xenophobic proposals to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to build a wall across the southern border.

Trump named Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and Stephen Bannon, a leader of the “alt-right” movement as chief executive of Breitbart News, as his top presidential strategist. Trump also signaled that he would name Washington lobbyists and Wall Street bankers to his administration and he intends to “dismantle” the Dodd-Frank financial reforms that sought to bring Wall Street back in line after the excesses during the administration of George W. Bush.

Republicans once again have been rewarded for their efforts to sabotage the economic recovery. They resisted the Democratic economic stimulus pushed by President Obama in 2009, which helped turn around the economy after the Great Recession of the George W. Bush administration. Democrats in 2009 also saved General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy, which played a large part in preventing the economy from cratering — particularly in Michigan and Ohio. But Republicans gained control of the House and many state legislatures in 2010. Since then, Republicans have blocked all attempts by President Obama and congressional Democrats to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, which would further stimulate the economy, at a time when the need is great and the cost of borrowing money was near a record low.

Democrats need to regain the trust of rural Americans, but not at the cost of embracing harassment of Latinos, Muslims, gays and other “Outsiders.” The Democratic Party should adopt reforms that would reduce the role of monied interests, while it organizes millions of people into an activist army that can peacefully resist the bad things that are about to happen in Washington and also at state capitols.

The Democratic Party needs to regroup for the 2018 elections, when Democrats and their independent allies will be defending 25 Senate seats while Republicans will defend eight.

Democrats need to start recruiting a new generation of progressive candidates to challenge Republicans in 2018 and 2020 and they should stand for progressive populist policies so there is no longer confusion over which party represents working-class interests.

Also, pray that the health of liberal Supreme Court justices holds up. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2016

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Copyright © 2016 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the December 1, 2016 issue

COVER/Robert L. Borosage
Why Trump won

Snakes vs. scorpions


Combatting Trumpenstein

Chrysler is not an American car company any more

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen 
We need better choices

Trump reconsiders ObamaCare repeal;
Comey letter cost Clinton votes;
TPP apparently stymied;
More than 300 hate incidens reported in week afer election;
GOP voter purges fixed elections;
State voters raise minimum wages and require paid sick leave;
US will be pariah when Trump pulls out of climate pact;
Coal jobs aren’t coming back;
Senate race still up for grabs in Louisiana;
Trump conflates documented and undocumented immigrants ...

This deal could save the world

The Trans Pacific Partnership will not help struggling farmers

Trump’s victory is not the last word

Fear of the unknown

Question authority

Corporate threats don’t deter some underdogs

For the Trump era: Fight not flight

Two-party trap snaps shut again

Three massive mergers — millions for one bank and a disaster for food, water, and climate

A night of protest and rust

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Beyond Virginia Woolf, the tyrones and the rest of us: The health mess

Keep trying: Rural access to mental health

The gig economy and job quality

The tragedy of 2016

Waiting for the next Trump?

New Dylan bio balances feeling and intellect

What does Freedom of the Press mean anyway?

Just the beginning

and more ...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

If lame duck Congress doesn’t pass sentencing reform, thousands with minor offenses will stay in jail

By Marc Jampole

People who complain that there is gridlock in Washington should understand that even with Congress and the President on the same page, the enactment of legislation is always an arduous process:
·         It has to go through committee in one chamber of Congress, which often means lengthy hearings.
·         It is then debated by the chamber, House or Senate.
·         It goes for a vote.
·         The other chamber of Congress sends it to committee, which lead to more hearings.
·         It is debated by the full body of the other chamber.
·         It goes for a vote in the other chamber.
·         A joint committee of both chambers reconciles all the differences between the bill that passed the House and the one that passed the Senate.
·         Both chambers vote separately on the reconciled bill.
·         The president signs it or lets it pass unsigned.
·         If the president vetoes the bill, the House and Senate can try to override the veto.

That’s a lot of process.

And what happens when a new Congress begins?

Every piece of legislation has to start from scratch.

Which brings us to a bill in Congress that is sponsored by 19 Democratic and 20 Republican senators, a bill that has the support of both a number of left-leaning and minority organizations and the Koch brothers and others on the right.

It’s Senate Bill 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The House has split the contents of the Sentencing Reform Act into two bills, both of which are sponsored by Republicans and co-sponsored by large numbers of Representatives in both parties.

The Sentencing Reform Act is the first step to reversing the pernicious effect that mass incarceration has on our minority communities and our economy. In the 1990s to fight a 30-year crime wave that was already ending, Congress and state legislatures everywhere passed a number of laws that mandated minimum sentences for many crimes, took discretion away from judges and inflicted much harsher punishment for victimless crimes that African-Americans tended to commit, like smoking cocaine, than for victimless crimes that whites tend to commit, like snorting cocaine.

The result: The United States is now the world’s leader when it comes to people in prison—some 2.2 million, five times as many as there were 40 years ago, even though the total population has grown by only about 1.5 times in the same period.

The inherent bias in these new laws has combined with the unfair and uneven application of existing U.S. laws to create a new “Jim Crow”—a set of laws that institutionalized unfair treatment of minorities and represented an explicit double standard under the law. One in three black Americans will serve time in prison at some time in their life. More to the point, blacks serve about the same amount of time for non-violent drug-related offenses as whites do for violent crimes.

Left-wingers and the minority communities see the unfairness of mass incarceration. Rightwingers are concerned about the rising cost of housing so many prisoners. Economic experts across the spectrum of opinion worry about the impact on our coming labor shortage of having so many people in jail for carrying an ounce of weed or puffing on a crack pipe.

The Sentencing Reform Act would:
·         Reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses
·         Reduce mandatory three-strikes-you’re-out life sentences to 25 years
·         Give judges greater discretion in sentencing low-level drug offenders.
·         Apply the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively to people currently serving long prison sentences for hitting the crack pipe; the law was passed in 2010 to reduce the disparity in sentences for possession of crack versus powdered cocaine. The House version allows those still in prison for crack cocaine to apply for a lesser sentence.

The Sentencing Reform Act is not a perfect bill and only goes part way towards correcting the inequities in the criminal justice sentence. But it’s a start. A start that’s stalled.

Someone affiliated with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (who provided a lot of the information in this article to me) was told on Capitol Hill that the Senate is waiting until the House moves, because individual Senators don’t want to get burned as they did when they supported immigration reform and were left hanging out to dry when the House politicized the issue. No one seems to know why the House is not advancing the bill, although I suspect that it has something to do with Speaker Paul Ryan’s inability to control the misnamed Freedom Caucus right-wingers. I also wonder whether Senators and Representatives of both parties are afraid of losing the votes of the racists who would just as soon see us lock up more minorities.

Here’s a bill that has widespread bipartisan support, and Congress can’t pass it! That’s my definition of gridlock.

Meanwhile, thousands of people remain in prison for non-violent and victimless crimes instead being productive members of society. And if Congress doesn’t act by the time the current session closes in a few weeks, sentencing reform will have to be reintroduced and go through the whole complicated rigmarole from square one.

I urge all readers to email, call, telegram or send a letter to your Congressional representative and Senators to pass the Sentencing Reform Act before they go home for the holidays. It would be an early holiday present for thousands of prisoners, their families, the American sense of fairness and our economy.