As expected, Pope Francis implored Congress to protect refugees and other migrants in an address at the Capitol on Thursday. But before he did, he took a step to acknowledge the nation's (and the church's) often horrific treatment of American Indians. America, he argued, should demonstrate a sense of compassion it so rarely showed during the colonization of the continent:
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our "neighbors" and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
This language is particularly significant because of what the Pope was up to yesterday—at a service at Catholic University, he formally canonized Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish missionary who played an important role in the conversion of American Indians to Catholicism in California. Serra wasn't by any stretch the worst European to visit the New World (the bar is very high), but the missions of California were deadly places for American Indians, cursed with high mortality rates (from disease and abuse) and forced labor. The core purpose of Serra's work was to purge the region of its native culture and install the church in its place. For this reason, some American Indian activists were fiercely opposed to the canonization; Francis didn't meet with any of them until yesterday afternoon—after he'd made it official. Consider Thursday's allusion to past transgressions something of an olive branch.
Americans with a family member behind bars have to pay for a lot more than just a lawyer. Although the FCC recently capped the cost of interstate phone calls from correctional facilities at 21 cents a minute, in-state calls, which are not regulated, can cost five times more than that. And as I explained in a piece for the magazine in February, it can cost as much as a dollar a minute for a 20-minute video visit with an inmate at county jails. (By comparison, the in-person visits that video visitation software has replaced are free.)
Now, Bernie Sanders wants to change that. On Thursday, the independent senator from Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, introduced a bill (co-sponsored by three progressive congressmen) designed to crack down on private contractors in public prisons. The bill's biggest-ticket item is a prohibition on federal funding for private prisons altogether. (Currently about 1.6 million federal inmates nationally are at private facilities.)
But the bill—read it here—also takes on video and phone contractors. Specifically, it would put an unspecified cap on the per-minute cost of video and phone conferencing with inmates; it would prohibit or restrict correctional facilities from taking a cut of the revenue from phone and video conferencing fees (which can create an incentive to jack up rates, and cut back on things like in-person visitation); and it would require corrections departments to open up their facilities to multiple phone and video contractors, giving inmates and their families choices over which providers to use.
Sanders has already nudged the Democratic field to the left on economic issues like a $15 minimum wage. Maybe prison justice is next.
When ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Bernie Sanders earlier this year whether a self-proclaimed socialist could be elected president, the candidate brought up Scandinavia. "In those countries, by and large, government works for ordinary people in the middle class rather than...for the billionaire class."
"I can hear the Republican attack ad right now," Stephanopoulos replied. "'He wants America to look more like Scandinavia.'" Sanders didn't hesitate. "That's right. And what's wrong with that?" How would Sanders Scandinavian-ize the US? Here are his big ideas:
Double the minimum wage. Congress can't pass a $10 minimum wage. Sanders thinks it just isn't shooting high enough—he wants $15, or more than double the current rate.
Tax the rich. (And tax them. And tax them.) He endorses a return to Eisenhoweresque tax rates of potentially more than 50 percent for Americans in the highest tax brackets.
Cap and tax. Right now, companies deduct "performance-based" executive compensation, such as bonuses and stock options. But Sanders wants them to pay taxes on these perks if the gap between top and bottom salaries exceeds a certain percentage—or they could spread the wealth to the low-wage workers at the bottom of the scale.
Universal Medicare. Sanders voted for the Affordable Care Act, but he still dreams of a single-payer system—Medicare for everyone.
Make Wall Street pay for college. Tax every Wall Street transaction—the so-called "Robin Hood tax"—and use the money to make tuition free at public colleges and universities.
Seize the means of production. Kinda. Provide loans to workers who want to buy a stake in their companies, in order to spread profits across the workforce—not just the 1 percent.
On Sunday, President Barack Obama announced that the official name for the highest peak in North America, Alaska's Mount McKinley, would formally be changed to its Athabascan name: Denali. This makes a lot of sense. The mountain was known as Denali long before a gold prospector dubbed it McKinley after reading a newspaper headline in 1896, and it has officially been known as "Denali" in Alaska for about a century, according to the state's board for geographic names. The state and its Republican legislature have been asking Washington to call the mountain Denali for decades. And for decades, the major obstacle to getting this done has been Ohio, McKinley's home state.
We need not spend much time discussing Ohio in this space, but suffice it to say that Ohioans are a very proud, if sometimes misinformed, people, and the birthplace of mediocre presidents won't just take the marginalization of those mediocre presidents lying down. It will fight! To wit, the state's congressional delegation has decided to show off that old Ohio fighting spirit by condemning the decision in sternly worded press releases and tweets. Here's GOP Sen. Rob Portman:
This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress (4/5)
No it wasn't! McKinley was assassinated in 1901. The mountain was named McKinley in 1896, by a random gold prospector who had just returned from the Alaskan Range to find that the governor of Ohio had won the Republican presidential nomination. This is like naming the highest point in the continent after Mitt Romney. Is Portman suggesting that the fix was in as early as 1896? Did Czolgosz really act alone? Was Teddy Roosevelt in on it? My God! Congress did pass a law in 1917 formally recognizing McKinley as the mountain's name, but that was really just paperwork.
Let's see what else they've got:
Boehner stmt: naming continent's highest mt 4 McKinley was "testament 2 his great legacy" including Ohio govship, victory in Spanish-Am War
The Spanish-American War hadn't happened yet in 1896—William Randolph Hearst wouldn't start that for another two years! Okay. Here's GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs, all but engraving his sternly worded response on obsidian:
The National Park Service turns 99 years old on Tuesday. To celebrate, the Department of the Interior has waived admission fees for all NPS sites for the day. That's a pretty sweet deal. You should stop reading this right now, call in sick, and enjoy the great outdoors. National parks are great.
But not everyone agrees. Yelp is filled with one- and two-star reviews of America's most pristine and majestic natural wonders. And honestly, they're riveting. What makes a national park a one-star destination varies from one reviewer to the next. Maybe the tacos at the visitor center aren't up to snuff. Maybe it was cloudy. Maybe the park was too cowardly to cut down some trees for spillover parking lots. Maybe it was President Barack Obama's fault.
Whatever the case, you can thank these people for leaving the campgrounds a little bit less crowded for the rest of us:
I looked it up, and it's true—the bees at Joshua Tree National Park are out of control. In 2000, a group of hikers was attacked by a swarm and one man was stung more than 100 times. They tried to get inside their car to escape, but some of the bees followed them inside the car and continued stinging them. Holy crap, bees! If you were stung 100 times by bees at Joshua Tree, you should give it one star. But maybe it shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise that the desert gets hot in the summer. This is like downgrading a restaurant because you went there on a hunger strike.