Race to Incarcerate

29 02 2008

A new report by the Pew Center on the States on the nation’s prison population has found 1 percent of all adults in the United States is behind bars. And that’s not all. According to Pew the national prison population tripled during the last two decades. Expenditures on correctional facilities went up up from $19.38 billion to $44.06 billion in inflation adjusted dollars.

See graphs below.

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Download the report here.

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McCain Opts for Tolerance

28 02 2008

Senator John McCain’s repudiation of right wing talk show host Bill Cunningham’s comments about Obama is an encouraging sign that the general election would be cleaner than either the GOP or Democratic primary. Cunningham repeated Obama’s middle name which is Hussein presumably to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment. Many have praised the Arizona Senator, and rightfully so, for taking a fairly principled and unpopular position among conservatives in saying, “Whatever suggestion that was made that was any way disparaging to the integrity, character, honesty of either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton was wrong.

But there’s possibly another reason for McCain to advocate for greater tolerance. According to the Politico, focus groups and polling done by Republican officials indicate there could be a huge backlash directed at the Republican nominee for unfairly attacking either a woman or a black man.

GOP officials are certain their words will be scrutinized ever more aggressively. They anticipate a regular media barrage of accusations of intolerance – or much worse.

They seem most concerned about Obama right now.

Of course there are those within the GOP establishment who think being too sensitive will endanger McCains chances. Tony Fabrizio, a Republican strategist told the Politico:

If we approach this campaign from the standpoint that we need to take political sensitivity training because one candidate is a woman or one candidate is black, I think we are approaching it from the wrong standpoint because that already handcuffs us…If McCain is afraid, or shies away from taking on Obama because that’s what they worry about, then they’ve lost the battle to begin with.

We’ll see how long the current consensus will last.

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Linking National Security to the Economy

27 02 2008
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When all voters are asked to look ahead to the general election, Mr. McCain, the likely Republican nominee, is seen as better prepared for the presidency, better able to handle an international crisis and more equipped to serve as commander in chief than either of the Democratic candidates.
NYT
, “Polls show Obama Is Seen as More Likely to Beat McCain,” 2/26/08

In a funny and thoughtful post on Talking Points Memo, a reader-blogger argued that Democrats need to reframe the national security debate to be more about the economy and less about military affairs, particularly if they want to beat the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in November.

John McCain, born on a Naval Base, has often favored military action over diplomacy. Like it’s the only effective instrument handy.

It’s like they say. If all you have is a hammer, every solution looks like a nail.

Missing from the national security conversation is the economy. George Bush was [sic] recently suggested that essentially, the two have nothing to do with each other. He might be the only one who thinks that.

Today, economic power, in the long run anyway, trumps military power. And we’ve overstretched both. Foreign debt has never been greater. We’re living off China’s credit card. In fact, we’re their biggest customer. Saudi Arabia owns more of American interests than this administration would care to admit.

The blogger makes an excellent point in stating that “Today, economic power, in the long run anyway, trumps military power.” With Obama emerging as the Democratic party’s presumptive nominee he may need to adopt such a message. As of late, Obama has sought to court orphan Edwards supporters with his softer brand of populism, but has yet to emphasize the international dimension of economy growth, save his criticism of the off-shoring of American jobs.

But in his Foreign Affairs essay he does seem to hint at how climate change may in fact be the cross cutting issue that will drive much of his foreign and economic policy thinking. In the piece, and on the stump, he refers to how the threat of climate change can become a source of global and regional instability.

Warmer temperatures and declining rainfall will reduce crop yields, increasing conflict, famine, disease, and poverty. By 2050, famine could displace more than 250 million people worldwide. That means increased instability in some of the most volatile parts of the world.

In the same essay he also highlights how climate change may present new economic opportunities too.

I will invest in efficient and clean technologies at home while using our assistance policies and export promotions to help developing countries leapfrog the carbon-energy-intensive stage of development….By 2050, global demand for low-carbon energy could create an annual market worth $500 billion. Meeting that demand would open new frontiers for American entrepreneurs and workers.

Of course, this is nothing new. Al Gore has been a proponent of this approach long before his 2000 presidential campaign, and so was John Kerry in 2004. But the difference now is that both the message and the messenger can get a fair hearing.

To be sure, neutralizing Sen. John McCain’s stature of being the security candidate will require more than a few robust policy speeches on going green. But if done well Obama could change the complexion of the foreign policy debate to shift away from war on terror and Iraq to a more cross cutting issue with a different kind of urgency. According to the economic plan on his website he will:

“… also enact bold new energy efficiency goals for buildings and appliances, which will both reduce middle class American’s monthly electricity bills and help jumpstart the construction and manufacturing industries. Additionally, the Obama plan will provide tax credits for locally-owned biofuel refineries – which have already started to strengthen the economic vitality of rural America.

Senator McCain, of course, is not your average Republican climate change skeptic either. After all, he not only endorsed a cap and trade regime, but even went so far as to characterize it as “capitalistic and free-enterprise oriented.” He also co-sponsored a Senate bill in 2003 calling for reductions in greenhouse emissions.

But politically McCain might be toned deaf to the current concerns of most voters. On January 27th, he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press:

SEN. McCAIN: But also, I believe that most Republicans’ first priority is the threat of radical Islamic extremism. Now, I know the concerns about the economy…

MR. RUSSERT: More than the economy?

SEN. McCAIN: More than the economy at the end of the day. We’ll get through this economy. We’re going to restore our economy, and many of the measures we’re taking right now–although it’s very difficult now. This transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism will be with us for the 21st century.

Obviously, the first priority of the President is to protect the American people from threats both foreign and domestic, but that’s not the only thing he does. Nor should that responsibility be carried out to the exclusion of all others.

Generating economic growth and protecting American jobs should also be considered a top priority because frankly the economy will not rebound by itself in a way that will fairly distribute wealth. Simply saying “we’ll get through this economy” does not exactly inspire a great deal of confidence on those who actually fear losing their health insurance or loss their jobs to overseas competition more than they do a senseless act of terror. This is not to minimize certain national security threats, as much as it is acknowledging that the voting public may be alarmed about staying in Iraq for 100 years, despite the fact that the war costs American taxpayers $2.4 billion a week.

So to the extent that national security concerns become an election issue, Obama should reframe the debate to be more about energy security so he can sell energy independence and going green as a security as well as an economic imperative.

If it is indeed Obama and McCain that face off this fall, it there will be a vivid contrasts on many issues, ranging from taxation to the war in Iraq to health care. But I predict the outcome of the election will largely revolve around who has the better policy imagination and vision, not just experience or mere inspiration.





Compromising Truth in Pictures and Mailers

26 02 2008

Of course, you had to expect it. After Barack Obama’s mailer in Ohio on Hillary Clinton’s position on NAFTA and health care got her riled up and knowing she is fading fast in the polls, a 2006 picture of Obama in traditional Somalia dress suddenly surfaces on the web.

What a coinkydink.

The Clinton campaign denies leaking the photo to the press and curiously accuses the Obama campaign for trying to “distract” the voters from the real issues in pointing the finger at them. That’s an interesting response.

But this is not the first time the Clinton campaign has been associated with fear mongering or race and ethnic baiting against Obama. A Clinton staffer was fired in Iowa after forwarding patently false emails about him growing up in a Madrassa. Another Clinton staffer brought up Obama’s drug use as a young person to persuade New Hampshire voters that he would be more vulnerable to Republican attacks than say the baggage burdened Madame Inevitable.

Andrew Cuomo, who endorsed Clinton, accused Obama of shucking and jiving on the campaign trial. Former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Clinton supporter, tried to revive the already discredited notion that Obama grew up in a secular madrassa in Indonesia. Black Clinton surrogates, such as Ambassador Andrew Young and Robert Johnson have respectively raised questions about Obama’s blackness and again his drug use.

While it is true that because the Clinton campaign have a history of making ad hominem attacks, does not mean that they are responsible for releasing the picture in an effort to imply Obama is Muslim. But patterns are difficult to ignore.

Such mailers appearing just before an election are not new for the Clinton campaign. On the eve of New Hampshire primary the Clinton campaign circulated a mailer suggesting that Obama had a questionable voting record on choice issues despite receiving high ratings from several prominent choice groups.

These are the types of attacks Democrats usually received from Republicans, not Democrats on one another.

But this new pic is another new low in a campaign where so many Democratic voters seem to be so energized about picking a new nominee.

By the same token, however, the Obama campaign’s new mailer in Ohio attacking Clinton for supporting NAFTA and her position on health care doesn’t exactly live up to Obama’s rhetoric of a new politics. The mailer claims that Hillary Clinton said NAFTA was a boon to the American economy when in fact it was New York Newsday who characterized her position that way, not the New York Senator herself. For what its worth, factcheck.org claims that Clinton’s biographer wrote that she was against it. Obviously, Bill Clinton aggressively lobbied Congress to push the trade deal through over the objections of labor, but to my mind there is still no definitive proof that Madame Inevitable was offered full throated support for it. Spouses do disagree.

But that’s small potatoes compared to the Obama campaign mailer that misrepresents the Clinton’s health care plan as forcing the poor to buy into a plan that they could not afford. It is indeed reminiscent of the Republican attacks on so-called Hillarycare back in 1994. As factcheck.org notes the mailer fails to mention that both the Clinton and Obama plan, “would subsidize the cost of insurance for many, making it more affordable.” Some experts have also pointed out that despite the similarity of both plans, neither one are that specific enough to in who gets covered to definitively say who will be left uninsured and why.

Obviously, the pictures of Obama in Somalia, and other forms of implied defamation, are not the same type of attacks as the Ohio mailers, but they both may turn off voters. Ultimately, the politics of slander and demagoguery, and the politics of truth shaving will have lasting affects.

Those emails about Obama growing up in a madrassing are still floating around. Such personal attacks could divide the base and weaken either candidate heading into the general. And these negative attacks on Clinton’s position could very well undermine any real attempt to achieve any thing resembling universal health care. A Republican could just say even Obama does not support mandates and subsides for the poor. Plus, it only reinforces the belief among many skeptics that Obama is not really serious about health care if he is willing to play cheap politics with it.

There is no justice in compromising truth for political gain.

Correction: Its seems as if Clinton clearly said she supported NAFTA. In a 2002 speech before the Democratic Leadership Council she said: “The economic recovery plan stands first and foremost as a testament to both good ideas and political courage. National service. The Brady Bill. Family Leave. NAFTA.

H/T: David Sirota

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On Fearing for Obama’s Safety

25 02 2008

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama is fond of invoking many of America’s greatest heroes and icons. He announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, the birth place of Abraham Lincoln, praising the nation’s 16th president wisdom and courage for understanding that we could not be a country that’s half slave and half free. His admiration for John F. Kennedy can be seen in how Obama has incorporated his famous maxim “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” into his stump speech.

And when asked if his candidacy is in anyway too premature he says he believes in what Dr. King call the fierce urgency of now, or the belief that change for the better should not be delayed indefinitely. That is to say, it is entirely possible that one can be too late when waiting for the right moment.

Of course, each of those key figures in American history share one thing in common — they were all assassinated. Many of Obama’s supporters are acutely aware of this fact and have feared for his safety long before his win in Iowa. I am sure any black barber shop can inform you as to how certain people can carry out such a plan. Other supporters the Illinois Senator have chased those very worries out of their minds as soon as they creep in because they want to believe America is better than that.

One expert on assassinations in American history summarized the persistent worry among so many people in today’s New York Times:

“Barack scares those of us who think of the possibility of an assassination in a different way,” Mr. Posner said. “He represents so much hope and change. That is exactly what was taken away from us in the 1960s.”

This exactly the type of fear and set of anxieties that Michelle Obama has tried to quell several months ago.

Noting that Obama could be killed at the gas station does not offer me much solace, but I do understand Michele Obama’s point in saying that we cannot live our lives in dominated by fear. However, that’s not the same as acknowledging that threats to his personal safety not only exist, but also are much higher for him than other candidates because of how close he is to becoming the first African-American president.

Mississippi Congressman Bernie Thomspon reportedly took it upon himself to write to the Secret Service about wanting to see Obama security detail improved, considering the big crowds the Illinois Senator was attracting early on in the campaign. Rep. Thomspon told Jeff Zeleny of the NYT:

As an African-American who was witness to some of this nation’s most shameful days during the civil rights movement, I know personally that the hatred of some of our fellow citizens can lead to heinous acts of violence. We need only to look to the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 1968 presidential candidate Robert Kennedy as examples.

Perhaps Rep. Thompson’s views are much closer to those of most black folk in the country, but it may be the Obamas are concerned about the consequences of publicly acknowledging such concerns. It may embolden those who already issued threats to his life, or even result in pigeon holing him as a black candidate among certain voters since it would draw attention to say some white nationalist or terrorist group plotting to eliminate him. Either way those concerns stand in tension of his much more appealing message of hope which is responsible for so much of his cross over appeal.

But at the end of the day fear is a poor adviser. And again few have made this point more persuasively than Michelle Obama. In fact, as she pointed out in a speech she made in Western Iowa this summer it is indeed the politics of fear that has had a paralyzing effect in American political life this past few years that has led us to make some rather tragic mistakes.

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Racial Justice, Counterspeech, and Media

24 02 2008
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On February 21st and 22nd of this past week, the United States government defended its human rights record regarding racial justice during the last 7 years before a United Nations expert committee in Geneva, Switzerland. The U.S. government’s periodic report on its spotty record of compliance with the International Convention to End all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was closely scrutinized due to egregiously omitting or minimizing the impact of discriminatory it overlooked or willfully perpetuated.

Much of the racial discrimination in the wake of the 9/11 or during and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina violated international and U.S. law. Human rights advocates, for example, have pointed to how the U.S. devoted a mere single paragraph to Hurricane Katrina in its 124-page periodic report while also claiming the deaths of the victims was not due to “discrimination per se.” Unsurprisingly, the U.S. had nothing substantive to say about its flawed Katrina evacuation plan, or the NOLA housing crisis, or the depleted public defender system, all of which have disproportionately affected black people in New Orleans.

Nor did the U.S. report discuss in any great detail the racial dimension of it post-9/11 immigration policies. In particular, the U.S. government found a way to omit any mention of the Bush administration’s abusive detention polices and harassment by law enforcement of Latin American and Arab or South Asian immigrants, whether documented or not.

Yet few of us, including those in the American media, have given much thought to how in addition to outright violating U.S. domestic law these abuses also amount to human rights violations, such as the right to return, the right to nationality, and the right to challenge your detention. This is precisely why the United States should adopt a system where people are informed about their rights, why human rights should in fact be considered the cornerstone of democracy. Our sense of justice should go beyond the lofty rhetoric about how freedom is on the march that finds its way out of Bush’s mouth primarily when delivering a speech on Iraq.

Public education campaigns on human or civil rights simply don’t exist in the U.S., though the government would have us think otherwise. In a very confused passage of its U.N. report the government on the hand claims on page 15 that its citizens are well informed as to what their rights are by arguing:

Information about human rights is readily available in the United States. As a general matter, persons are well informed about their civil and political rights, including the rights of equal protection, due process, and non-discrimination. The scope and meaning of – and issues concerning enforcement of – individual rights are openly and vigorously discussed in the media, freely debated within the various political parties and representative institutions, and litigated before the courts at all levels.

But yet in another paragraph on page 16 after admitting so much subtle forms of racial discrimination still persist it conceded that not many people know what their rights are.

Subtle, and in some cases overt, forms of discrimination against minority individuals and groups continue to plague American society, reflecting attitudes that persist from a legacy of segregation, ignorant stereotyping, and disparities in opportunity and achievement. Such problems are compounded by factors such as inadequate understanding by the public of the problem of racial discrimination, lack of awareness of the government-funded programs and activities designed to address it, lack of resources for enforcement, and other factors.

So either the debate about what our rights are not terribly informative or American society is so beleaguered by racism that most of its citizenry are too confused to truly make sense out of them. Either way it does not sound as if we are that well informed about our rights.

(More after the jump.)

Read the rest of this entry »





Obama Cult?

21 02 2008

It amazes me what passes for news, especially once the mainstream media gets caught up in the horse race. This piece could have been done by a bunch of Hillary supporters.

The overall sentiment of this piece is not sound all that different from how Hillary Clinton tried to dismiss Obama’s spate of wins on the eve of the Chesapeake primary. According to CNN’s political ticker:

Clinton has publicly dismissed the caucus voting system since before Super Tuesday, seeking to lower expectations heading into a series of contests that played to Obama’s advantage. His campaign features what many consider to be a stronger and more dedicated grassroots organization than Clinton’s.

Noting that “my husband never did well in caucus states either,” Clinton argued that caucuses are “primarily dominated by activists” and that “they don’t represent the electorate, we know that.”

I wonder what the subtext here is all about.