It is important to recognize that while Mr. Obama showed mercy to these eight people, his administration has been the least merciful in modern times. The power to mitigate an overly harsh sentence is squarely in his hands, and yet in nearly five years he has commuted just nine sentences and issued 52 pardons. (A commutation lessens the severity of a punishment, while a pardon forgives the offense itself and restores the rights people lose when they go to prison.)Paul Krugman at The New York Times knocks Bitcoins and gold bugs and anti-Keynesian resistance in Bits and Barbarism:
There is no excuse for this lack of compassion. The risk to public safety is often used to justify denials of clemency, but a preliminary report issued in July by the United States Sentencing Commission found that the recidivism rates for the more than 7,300 prisoners who received sentence reductions under the Fair Sentencing Act were similar to those for inmates who served full sentences.
There is now fairly widespread agreement that federal drug laws are far too harsh and inflexible, and that their burden falls most heavily upon the poor and racial minorities. Given so many cases of injustice, why was Mr. Obama able to identify only a handful of people worthy of clemency? Part of the fault lies with the pardon office, which has been ineffective in doing its job in processing clemency requests. Last week’s commutations were the result of a request Mr. Obama made a year ago to have the Justice Department review pending clemency petitions. Clemency, however, is not the solution to all of the irrationality and harshness of America’s sentencing laws.
Mr. Obama did not create the broken criminal justice system, but he can do much more to lessen its impact on those who have been most unfairly punished by it.
Back in 1936 the economist John Maynard Keynes argued that increased government spending was needed to restore full employment. But then, as now, there was strong political resistance to any such proposal. So Keynes whimsically suggested an alternative: have the government bury bottles full of cash in disused coal mines, and let the private sector spend its own money to dig the cash back up. It would be better, he agreed, to have the government build roads, ports and other useful things — but even perfectly useless spending would give the economy a much-needed boost.Michelle Chen at In These Times offers some Advice for Young Women—Get a Union Job:
Clever stuff—but Keynes wasn’t finished. He went on to point out that the real-life activity of gold mining was a lot like his thought experiment. Gold miners were, after all, going to great lengths to dig cash out of the ground, even though unlimited amounts of cash could be created at essentially no cost with the printing press. And no sooner was gold dug up than much of it was buried again, in places like the gold vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where hundreds of thousands of gold bars sit, doing nothing in particular.
Back in the days before modern feminism, a young woman looking for work might typically be advised, politely, to “learn a trade,” with the implication that she wasn't bound for college or an elite career, but a humbler job as, say, a secretary or seamstress. Such a phrase might sound condescending today. Yet working in a trade might still be sound career goal for a woman, if she gets the right kind of job—in a union.You will find additional excerpts from pundits below the fold.
According to a new paper on women and unionization by progressive think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), "Even after controlling for factors such as age, race, industry, educational attainment and state of residence, the data show a substantial boost in pay and benefits for female workers in unions relative to their non-union counterparts. The effect is particularly strong for women with lower levels of formal education."
In other words, all other things being equal, unions are good for working women, yielding higher wages and better job benefits. Specifically, “unionized women workers on average make 12.9 percent more than their non-union counterparts, are 36.8 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 53.4 percent more likely to have participated in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.”
Rick Perlstein at The Nation asks Why Is ‘The New Republic’ Taking Money From an NSA Contractor to Run Defenses of the NSA?
The National Security Agency has a friend at the Harvard Law School. And at the Brookings Institution. And at The New Republic. And at the Washington Post.Amitabh Pal at The Progressive explained why Bachmann's Middle East Meddling Tour Was Not Funny:
Benjamin Wittes, who is not a lawyer, is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, where he is “Research Director in Public Law, and Co-Director of the Harvard Law School-Brookings Project on Law and Security.” He also has a Web site, Lawfare, where he’s been blogging on the report on the abuses of the National Security Agency just out from the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies, in terms highly favorable to the super-secretive and media-shy agency. He also enjoys extraordinary access to the NSA, for instance in this series of podcasts with its top officials. (“We Brought In a Recoding Device So You Don’t Have To,” the series is titled—cute!)
Why is Lawfare the NSA’s media portal of choice? Well, consider this. Lawfare, in turn, partners with The New Republic, where this post was republished in its entirety. The joint Lawfare/TNR project is titled “Security States,” and it is sponsored, Wittes proudly notes, by the Northrop Grumman Corporation. Grumman, in turn, is a major NSA contractor—see this $220 million deal it scored with the NSA “to develop an advanced information management and data storage system that will support efforts to modernize the nation’s electronic intelligence and broader signals intelligence capabilities,” a fact TNR does not disclose to its readers.
So Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert and Steve King go to the Middle East…. Sounds like the opening line of a joke. Unfortunately, their recent venture to the region is no laughing matter.Will Oremus at Slate writes California Is Giving Tesla Another Huge Tax Break. Good Move:
The three-member congressional delegation (no other colleagues wanted their company?) dropped by Lebanon, Egypt, and Libya, and showed their true colors at each stop.
In Lebanon, they met with Samir Geagea, a militia head who was implicated in some vile stuff during Lebanon’s civil war.
Geagea was “a hard-line Lebanese Christian militia leader back in the nasty old days when those militias were slaughtering one another and assassinating rival leaders,” writes The Washington Post. “Geagea had been linked in the media to a number of civil-war-era killings, including those of a pro-Syrian prime minister and a prominent Christian politician.”
This is going to drive the Tesla-haters crazy. The luxury electric-car maker is getting a huge new tax break from California, SFGate reports. The state will let it off the hook for sales and use taxes on some $415 million in new equipment it’s purchasing in order to expand production of the Model S at its Bay Area factory. That amounts to a $34.7 million tax break to produce more of a vehicle whose sticker price starts above $70,000.From his perspective as lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, Jonathan Turley at the Washington Post argues in The ‘Sister Wives’ lawsuit and the end of morality laws that it's a good thing a Utah law criminalizing polygamy was struck down:
Tax breaks for the rich! Corporate giveaways! The working people forced to pay for tech titans’ fancy rides! [...]
I'd say there are worse ways for a state to spend a few tens of millions. But if you're still convinced that tax breaks to big manufacturers are unfair and wrong, you might want to train your ire on a state a little further north, which just offered an all-time record $8.7 billion in tax breaks to a company that manufactures perhaps the least-green transportation technology of all. The worst part: Boeing might just move out anyway.
The decision this month by a federal court striking down the criminalization of polygamy in Utah was met with a mix of rejoicing and rage. What was an emancipating decision for thousands of plural families was denounced as the final descent into a moral abyss by others. [...]Doyle McManus at the Los Angeles Times labels his 2014 forecast for D.C. Still stormy:
It’s true that the Utah ruling is one of the latest examples of a national trend away from laws that impose a moral code. There is a difference, however, between the demise of morality laws and the demise of morality. This distinction appears to escape social conservatives nostalgic for a time when the government dictated whom you could live with or sleep with. But the rejection of moral codes is no more a rejection of morality than the rejection of speech codes is a rejection of free speech. Our morality laws are falling, and we are a better nation for it.
It would be nice to think that Congress' easy passage of a bipartisan compromise on the federal budget this month was the sign of a new spirit of cooperation on Capitol Hill. But in the hallways of the Senate last week, there was little evidence of bipartisanship, or even Christmas cheer.James S. Henry at The New Republic explains Why I Hate Christmas—The Grinch has it right:
"We need a cooling-off period," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told me. "I've raised two boys. Sometimes you need to go to separate rooms to cool down."
Indeed, next year is unlikely to get better, for one simple reason: It's a congressional election year. And not an ordinary election year. A significant number of Republican incumbents in both the House and Senate will face primary challenges from tea party conservatives.
When I was a kid in Minnesota my family had a huge Scandinavian feast every Christmas Eve, complete with two dozen relatives, three feet of snow, a mountainous evergreen trimmed to the top, a six-course dinner with lutefisk and turkey and eight or ten pies, long-winded after-dinner stories about baseball and World War II, and, of course, lots of brightly wrapped presents. It has taken me three decades of rigorous economics training and life on the East Coast to shake off the warm nostalgia of those holidays. But I am now willing to say out loud what I suspect many Americans are muttering all across the country at this time of year: Christmas has become a net loss as a socioeconomic institution.Chris Hedges at TruthDig says Food Behind Bars Isn’t Fit for Your Dog:
Aramark, whose website says it provides 1 million meals a day to prisoners, does what corporations are doing throughout the society: It lavishes campaign donations on pliable politicians, who in turn hand out state and federal contracts to political contributors, as well as write laws and regulations to benefit their corporate sponsors at the expense of the poor. Aramark fires unionized workers inside prisons and jails and replaces them with underpaid, nonunionized employees. And it makes sure the food is low enough in both quality and portion to produce huge profits.
Aramark, often contracted to provide food to prisoners at about a dollar a meal, is one of numerous corporations, from phone companies to construction firms, that have found our grotesque system of mass incarceration to be very profitable. [...]
Crystal Jordan, who has spent 23 years as a corrections officer in New Jersey and who works at the Burlington County Jail, and another corrections officer at the jail, who did not want to be named, told me that the food doled out to prisoners by Aramark is not only substandard but often spoiled. For nearly a decade Jordan has filed complaints about the conditions in the jail, including persistent mold on walls and elsewhere, with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state and county officials. The results of her complaints have been negligible.