Bernie Sanders is pledging big things when it comes to criminal justice reform, vowing that by the end of his first term as president the nation would no longer be the world leader in incarceration:

But, as racial-justice activist Deray McKesson pointed out in response, Sanders' promise raises a serious question: Is that even possible, considering that the vast majority of the nation's inmates are held in state, not federal, prisons?

The Sanders campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an explanation, but the short answer is that the Democratic candidate couldn't realistically fulfill his promise. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 2.2 million Americans were locked up as of the end of 2013. Of those, only 215,000 inmates (9.6 percent) were in federal prisons. The rest were in state and local facilities. So even if President Sanders abolished federal prisons altogether, the United States would still have more prisoners than any other country by a pretty large margin. China, which is No. 2 in the world, has 1.7 million prisoners. To edge below China, Sanders would need to cut the national prison population by about 25 percent, with most of that coming from places that are outside federal jurisdiction.

To slash the prison population, Sanders' racial justice platform prescribes the following fixes:

  • We need to ban prisons for profit, which result in an over-incentive to arrest, jail and detain in order to keep prison beds full.
  • We need to turn back from the failed "War on Drugs" and eliminate mandatory minimums which result in sentencing disparities between black and white people.
  • We need to take marijuana off the federal government's list of outlawed drugs.
  • We need to allow people in states which legalize marijuana to be able to fully participate in the banking system and not be subject to federal prosecution for using pot.
  • We need to invest in drug courts and medical and mental health interventions for people with substance abuse problems, so that they do not end up in prison, they end up in treatment.
  • We need to boost investments for programs that help people who have gone to jail rebuild their lives with education and job training.
  • We must investigate local governments that are using implicit or explicit quotas for arrests or stops.
  • We must stop local governments that are relying on fines, fees or asset forfeitures as a steady source of revenue.
  • Police departments must investigate all allegations of wrongdoing, especially those involving the use of force, and prosecute aggressively, if necessary. If departments are unwilling or unable to conduct such investigations, the Department of Justice must step in and handle it for them.

There are a lot of good ideas there, but again, it's unclear how it adds up to a 25 percent reduction in national incarceration numbers. Just 16 percent of federal inmates are in privately operated facilities, and the percentage of state prisoners in private facilities is less than half that. The mandatory minimums in question are for federal crimes only. And Sanders' proposal to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level would by his own explanation leave states the option of continuing to ban it. The closest he comes to an explanation of how he'd bring the United States' levels below that of China is by a seismic cultural shift at the state and local level to prioritize treatment for drug offenses and to disincentivize "implicit quotas" for low-level crimes. But that a lot's different from having a plan to get there.

Update: The Sanders campaign sent along this response, emphasizing previously announced plans to form a commission to propose more concrete fixes after the inauguration:

Senator Sanders is committed to accomplishing the goal of the United Stares not having more people in jail than any other. During his first hundred days, he will appoint a commission of criminal justice experts, leaders in the African American, Hispanic, and Native American communities, and others who have had success on the local level in reducing the number of young adults going to jail and in transitioning people out of prison to other settings.

The Sanders Administration will rely on both legislative and executive actions to reorient the criminal justice system. What the campaign has done is lay out just some elements of what those actions would be. We envision this commission would propose even more.

Jeez, the conservative media is really sensitive these days when it comes to Sen. Ted Cruz.

On Friday night, New York Times columnist David Brooks, a mild conservative, and I were on the PBS Newshour, and our discussion of Cruz's recent surge in Iowa really ticked off some within the right-wing press. Here are a few headlines:

PBS: Ted Cruz and His Father Are 'Satanic' (National Review)

Watch PBS Panel of Journalists Call Ted Cruz and His Father 'Satanic' (The Blaze)

PBS Panel: Ted Cruz and His Pastor Father 'Satanic' (cnsnews.com)

The Blaze story summed up the big news this way: "During Friday's episode of "PBS NewsHour," New York Times columnist David Brooks and Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn referred to presidential hopeful Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his father as 'satanic.'"

I don't know about Brooks, but I was besieged on Twitter by conservatives who hurled angry how-dare-you tweets at me. Some accused me of committing a hate crime (the victims: Christians). But this was yet another exercise of false right-wing outrage, and a demonstration of rather poor reading comprehension on the right.

This phony brouhaha was triggered when Newshour host Judy Woodruff asked Brooks and me to evaluate recent developments in the GOP presidential primary. Brooks went first:

Ted Cruz is making headway. There's—you begin to see little signs of liftoff. Trump has sort of ceiling-ed out. Carson is collapsing. And Cruz is somehow beginning to get some momentum from Iowa and elsewhere. And so people are either mimicking him, which Rubio is doing a little by adopting some of the dark and satanic tones that Cruz has, and so—

Woodruff interrupted Brooks at this point to ask about his use of the word "satanic," and Brooks explained:

Well, if you go to a Cruz—if you watch a Cruz speech, it's like, we have got this enemy, we have got that enemy, we're going to stomp on this person, we're going to crush that person, we're going to destroy that person. It is an ugly world in Ted Cruz’s world. And it's combative. And it's angry, and it's apocalyptic.

At that point, with this article in mind, I chimed in to point out that Cruz's father, an evangelical pastor who officially campaigns for Cruz, truly does believe and promote satanic conspiracies, claiming in a recent speech that Lucifer was responsible for the Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision:

Well, actually, if you go to a speech from his dad, who is a pastor, evangelical, Rafael Cruz, it actually is satanic. He—I watched a speech in which he said Satan was behind the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage.

Brooks replied, "I withdraw the satanic from Ted Cruz." I noted, "You're thinking that it's political, but, sometimes, it's literal." Brooks went on to compare Cruz's "dark and combative and, frankly, harsh" approach to the sunnier political disposition of Sen. Marco Rubio. And that was it regarding Cruz and the devil.

As you can see, neither one of us called either Cruz "satanic." Brooks did use the word "satanic" to describe Cruz's tone, but he meant that Cruz pitches an apocalyptic message of good versus evil, light versus dark. Which he does. And I then explained that his father, who has been recruiting religious leaders to support his son's campaign, does indeed see political and policy developments he opposes as the handiwork of Satan. That is, the elder Cruz, who routinely resorts to fiery fundamentalist rhetoric, often labels his (and his son's) foes as "satanic," noting that they're being manipulated by the Evil One. Neither Brooks nor I suggested that Ted or Rafael Cruz are serving the Dark Lord.

The points we made were not that hard to understand. Yet conservatives—perhaps driven by their antipathy to the RINO-ish Brooks—quickly tried to manufacture a fake controversy. I wonder if the devil made them do it.

Three weeks removed from the Iowa caucuses, with Bernie Sanders nipping at Hillary Clinton's heels in the polls, the Clinton campaign is reminding Democrats of the Vermont senator's most problematic vote in Congress.

In 2005, Sanders, then in the House of Representatives, voted for a bill—backed by the National Rifle Association—to provide legal immunity to gun manufacturers if their guns were used to commit crimes. Then-Sens. Clinton and Barack Obama, by contrast, voted against the bill.

Over the last few months, as mass shootings from Charleston to Roseburg to San Bernardino have rocked the country, and under increasing criticism by Clinton, Sanders has tried to neutralize the gun issue and even walk back his support for that vote. On a Friday conference call, Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told reporters, "I would say that there's about zero daylight between the president and Sen. Bernie Sanders."

So the Clinton campaign set up a conference call of its own.

"Democrats have a real choice, because standing up to the gun lobby is a real difference between Senator Sanders and Hillary Clinton," John Podesta, a senior Clinton adviser, told reporters on the Friday afternoon call. Podesta highlighted Sanders' vote for immunity for gun manufacturers, calling his record very different from both Obama's and Clinton's. He issued a challenge to Sanders to "commit today to support legislation to overturn the sweeping immunity provision he voted to confer upon the gun industry."

The Clinton campaign's latest broadside against Sanders on guns comes one day after President Obama raised the issue of immunity for gun manufacturers in a New York Times op-ed and promised not to support any candidate—including Democrats—"who does not support common-sense gun reform."

Sanders has come under repeated fire from Clinton for his 2005 vote and others on guns. In response, he has said he would revisit the legislation but has declined to say that he regrets the vote. "I hope you know that Senator Sanders has said he'd be willing to take another look at that legislation," Sanders' spokesman, Michael Briggs, told Politico. This week, Sanders backed Obama's executive actions on guns, including one to expand background checks to more gun sales.

Still, the senator's gun record is a clear blemish on his near-sterling progressive record. Don't expect the Clinton campaign to let voters forget that.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has a plan to make America great again: Add nine new amendments to the Constitution. On Friday, fed up with Supreme Court rulings that have gone against conservatives as well as the regulatory actions of the Obama administration, the first-term Republican issued a 92-page report outlining his proposed tweaks to the founding document and calling for a national constitutional convention to make it happen.

The "Texas Plan" is as follows:

I. Prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State.

II. Require Congress to balance its budget.

III. Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from creating federal law.

IV. Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from preempting state law.

V. Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

VI. Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.

VII. Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.

VIII. Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.

IX. Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation.

Clearly, Abbott has been listening to way too much of the Hamilton soundtrack.

 

 

"You's don't like me and I don't like you."

That's how Gov. Paul LePage began his press conference on Friday to formally address the racially charged remarks he made this week about drug dealers with names like "D-Money" and "Smoothie" coming to "impregnate" young white girls in Maine.

LePage's opening line, which he cited as a quote from the film "Rocky," was aimed squarely at media and reporters in the room.

"I made one slip-up," he said. "I was going impromptu and my brain didn't catch up to my mouth."

"Instead of saying Maine women, I said white women," he added. "I'm not going to apologize to the Maine women for that because if you go to Maine, you will see we are 95 percent white."

LePage's seven-minute non-apology continued as he portrayed himself as a victim of blogging culture and the media. He specifically attacked MSNBC's Rachel Maddow for "going after" him for years and focusing only on the Republican governor's more unrefined and insensitive moments.

"I'm not perfect," he said. "If I was, I'd be a reporter."

The controversy comes at a particularly inopportune time for the embattled Republican governor. Democrats in the state are moving forward with a plan to try to impeach him over accusations that he threatened to block state funding for a charter school after it hired LePage's political adversary, House Speaker Mark Eves (D), to be its president last summer.

7 Myths About Gun Violence in America, Debunked

On live television Thursday evening, President Barack Obama will hold a town hall meeting about gun violence. He will take questions from participants who support tighter gun laws and from others who want fewer restrictions on guns. It's a prime-time moment for separating fact from fiction—so here's a shortlist, with the data to back it up. Review it, tack it to your wall, and feel free to share it with anyone who thinks the gun debate is just a matter of defending constitutional freedom:

No, keeping a gun in your home does not make your family safer.

No, there were not hundreds of mass shootings last year.

No, mental illness is not the main cause of mass shootings, and no, mass shooters do not "snap."

No, mass shooters do not deliberately target "gun-free zones."

No, ordinary citizens with guns do not stop mass shooters.

No, criminal shootings by black people are not the leading cause of gun deaths—suicides by white people are.

No, there are not "millions of defensive gun uses" by Americans.

Yes, mass shootings are occurring more often.

Yes, gun violence is a public health crisis, with profound costs for the whole country.

Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage told a town hall audience on Wednesday that heroin use is resulting in white women being impregnated by out-of-state drug dealers with names like "D-Money."

LePage was asked by an attendee to explain what he was doing to curb the heroin epidemic in his state. "The traffickers—these aren't people that take drugs," he explained. (You can watch the exchange beginning at the 1:55:00 mark.) "These are guys with the names D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty—these types of guys—that come from Connecticut and New York; they come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue that we've got to deal with down the road."

Watch:

State legislators may attempt to impeach the governor as early as next week, over charges that he threatened to block funding from a charter school if it hired a political rival.

Update: LePage says his comments have nothing to do with race:

Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday that it will endorse Hillary Clinton for president—a choice that, while unsurprising, marks the first time the women's health organization has endorsed a candidate in a presidential primary. The group will make the formal endorsement this Sunday at a campaign event in New Hampshire.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards confirmed the news on Twitter:

Clinton followed up by expressing her support of the embattled women's health organization.

The New York Times reports the endorsement will open up $20 million from the advocacy wing of Planned Parenthood to help Clinton and Senate candidates around the country this election year.

The news comes the day after Congress voted to defund the organization for the eighth time over the past year. After a series of heavily edited videos claiming to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue were released in July, the organization has faced an onslaught of attacks and threats to pull millions of dollars in both federal and state funding.

"This week was a jarring reminder of what’s at stake in 2016," Clinton said in a statement on Thursday. "For the first time ever, the United States House and Senate passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal the Affordable Care Act."

"We need a president who has what it takes to stop Republicans from defunding Planned Parenthood and taking away a woman's right to basic health care," she added. "If I'm elected, I will be that president."

Over the last few days, Republican front-runner Donald Trump has suggested that Sen. Ted Cruz should ask a court for a written declaration that the Canadian-born Texan is eligible to be president. That's to be expected—Trump rose to prominence among conservatives by questioning the eligibility of the sitting president. On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, one of the Republican Party's elder statesmen, told a talk radio host that he wasn't sure if Cruz was eligible to be president. That's less expected but still easily explained—McCain hates Cruz with the fire of a thousand suns.

And now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has joined the fray. "I do think there's a difference between John McCain being born into a family serving our country in Panama than someone being born in another country, but again this is a constitutional issue that will be decided or not," she told reporters on Thursday.

 

This is absurd. Cruz is eligible to be president because his mother was an American citizen. And as National Review explains, it's not even an especially unusual situation:

[T]here is nothing new in this principle that presidential eligibility is derived from parental citizenship. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 candidate, was born in the Panama Canal Zone at a time when there were questions about its sovereign status. Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in 1964, was born in Arizona before it became a state, and George Romney, who unsuccessfully sought the same party's nomination in 1968, was born in Mexico. In each instance, the candidate was a natural born citizen by virtue of parentage, so his eligibility was not open to credible dispute.

It shouldn't be a hard question for Pelosi or McCain to answer unambiguously—we've spent roughly eight years rehashing the constitutional requirements for the office over and over again (in part because of Trump and the kinds of people who support him). The fact that McCain and Pelosi both—for perfectly legitimate reasons—can't stand Cruz is just not an appropriate justification for Trumpian nativism.

House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) departs the chamber on January 6 after voting to defund Planned Parenthood.

On Wednesday afternoon, the House voted to approve a bill that would pull about $450 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood. The bill—passed by the Senate late in 2015—will now head to President Obama's desk. This will mark the first time a bill defunding Planned Parenthood has made it to the president's desk in more than 40 years. This is the eighth time Congress has voted to defund Planned Parenthood in the last year.

Wednesday's vote reflected the deep partisan divide on these issues: All but three Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and all but one Democrat voted against it. Federal law already prohibits using Medicaid or other federal funds for almost all abortions, so this bill would prevent patients from using their Medicaid coverage at Planned Parenthood for other healthcare services—like cervical cancer screenings, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, or contraceptive services.

Obama has already vowed to veto any legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood, but congressional Republicans are encouraged by the symbolism of sending this bill to the White House. They're also already planning a veto override vote for later in January. To successfully override a presidential veto, both the Senate and the House would need a two-thirds majority.