Richard H. Pildes | How to Keep Extremists Out of Power – The New York Times

Mr. Pildes has spent his career as a legal scholar analyzing the intersection of politics and law and how that impacts our elections.

Credit…Shay Horse/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

American democracy faces alarming risks from extremist forces that have rapidly gained ground in our politics. The most urgent focus of political reform must be to marginalize, to the extent possible, these destabilizing forces.

Every reform proposal must be judged through this lens: Is it likely to fuel or to weaken the power of extremist politics and candidates?

In healthy democracies, they are rewarded for appealing to the broadest forces in politics, not the narrowest. This is precisely why American elections take place in a “first past the post” system rather than the proportional representation system many other democracies use.

What structural changes would reward politicians whose appeal is broadest? We should start with a focus on four areas.

Until the 1970s, presidential nominees were selected through a convention-based system, which means that a candidate had to obtain a broad consensus among the various interests and factions in the party. “Brokered conventions” — which required several rounds of balloting to choose a nominee — offered a vivid demonstration of how the sausage of consensus was made. In 1952, for example, the Republican Party convention selected the more moderate Dwight D. Eisenhower over Robert A. Taft, the popular leader of the more extreme wing of the party, who opposed the creation of NATO.

Our current primary system shifted control from party insiders to voters. Now, in a primary with several credible contenders, a candidate can “win” with 35 percent of the vote. This allows polarizing candidates to win the nomination even if many party members find them objectionable. (In 2016, Donald Trump won many primaries with less than 40 percent of the vote.)

How can we restore some of the party-wide consensus the convention system required? The parties can use ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. This rewards candidates with broad appeal to a party’s voters, even if they have fewer passionate supporters. In this system, a candidate intensely popular with 35 percent of the party’s voters but intensely disliked by much of the rest would not prevail. A candidate who is the first choice of only 35 percent but the second choice of another 50 percent would do better. Ranked-choice voting reduces the prospects of factional party candidates. Presidents with a broad base of support can institute major reforms, as Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan demonstrated.” . . .

Gene B. Sperling | The New Debt Prisons – The New York Times

Mr. Sperling was the Director of the National Economic Council under President Obama and President Clinton, and is the author of “Economic Dignity.”

“While controversial calls to “defund the police” have grabbed headlines, we urgently need to examine how we fund the police today. The increasing use of excessive fees, fines, and surcharges to fund parts of our criminal justice system is creating punitive debt traps for millions of low-income Americans leaving prison. Many find themselves in an economic prison: prevented from paying down their debts by the debts themselves. Others are so entrapped that they are actually reincarcerated for unpaid debt. Either way, they are denied the dignity of a real second chance — and a fresh start to pursue one’s purpose and to contribute to family, community and country.

Criminal justice debt has garnered growing attention — including today in Florida, where unpaid fees and fines are being used to deny those with a past felony the ability to vote. But what has gotten inadequate attention is the increasing role these fees play in funding our courts and police departments, and how they crush the chances of millions of Black and brown Americans to make a better life for themselves and their families, through what can be seen, figuratively and literally, as new debt prisons.” . . .

David Lindsay: 

My late son Austin Lindsay was caught up in the racket of police charging huge fines or fees for breaking the law.  He was caught trying to smuggle drugs to sell into the Bonnaroo rock and roll festival in Manchester, Tennessee,  and he was offered the choice of going to jail for ten years, or paying $13,000 for a get out of jail free card. It wouldn’t even go on his record. According to his public defender, he was caught up in a major fund raiser for the local police department. Austin spent a large chunk of his gifts from his grandmother for college to get out of jail. The poor people caught doing the same thing went to jail. Defund the Police was a poor choice for a movement slogan. A better slogan would have been, Fund the Police, stop their collecting fines and fees from poor and middle class people.

Nicholas Kristof | Can Biden Save Americans Like My Old Pal Mike? – The New York Times

“. . .  So what went wrong with Mike?

“He didn’t want to work,” Stephanie told me. She is angry at Mike for abandoning his kids and failing to pay $68,000 in child support, but then the anger passes and she wistfully refers to him as “the love of my life.”

Perhaps Mike was lazy, but there’s more to the story. Everyone agrees that Mike had mental illnesses that were never treated, and in any case, this wasn’t one person’s stumble but a crisis for an entire generation of low-education workers. Mike and his cohort weren’t dumber or lazier than their parents or grandparents, but their outcomes worsened.

So, sure, we can have a conversation about personal responsibility. But let’s also talk about our collective responsibility: If the federal minimum wage of 1968 had kept pace with inflation and productivity, it would now be more than $22 an hour, rather than $7.25. We also underinvested in our human capital, so high school graduation rates stagnated beginning in the 1970s along with blue-collar incomes, even as substance abuse soared and family structure for low-education workers collapsed.

One consequence is that an American dies a “death of despair” — from drugs, alcohol or suicide — every two and a half minutes. Long after the coronavirus has retreated, we will still be grappling with a pandemic of despair.

Credit…Lynsey Addario

The United States has a mental health crisis that is largely untreated and arises in part from high levels of inequality. Researchers find that poverty causes mental illness, and mental illness in turn exacerbates poverty. It’s a vicious cycle, and 20 million Americans, mostly poorly educated, describe every one of the last 30 days as “bad mental health days,” according to David G. Blanchflower, a Dartmouth economist.

I also know this: Taxpayers spent large sums jailing Mike, whose arrest record runs 14 pages (mostly for drug offenses). That money would have been better spent at the front end, with early childhood programs and mentoring to support Mike and help him finish high school and get a job.

Yet politicians have mostly been AWOL. In the 2020 Democratic primaries, the presidential candidates had healthy discussions about increasing college access but largely ignored the reality that one in seven American children don’t even graduate from high school. The term “working class” is rarely mentioned by politicians, who prefer to appeal to people a notch higher, in the middle class. And many government programs that are nominally for the benefit of the middle class — such as the mortgage interest deduction, 529 college savings plans, state and local tax deductions and “middle-class tax cuts” — actually primarily benefit the rich.

We fret about competitive challenges from China, but the best way to meet them is to elevate our capabilities at home. China built new universities at the rate of one a week, while the number of colleges in the United States is now shrinking — and as many Americans have criminal records as have college degrees. “Holding hands, Americans with arrest records could circle the earth three times,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

America cannot succeed when so many Americans are failing.

Credit…Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times

Joe Biden has a fighting chance to make progress on these issues. Partly that’s because he’s impossible to mock as a wild-eyed socialist, partly because he and his team understand that we have a better chance of making progress if we frame the issue less as one of “inequality” — a liberal word — and more as one of “opportunity” and “dignity.” “

Bravo, and thank you Nicholas Kristof.  Here are two of many fabulous comments”

Rich D
Tucson, AZFeb. 14
Times Pick

Thank you, Mr. Kristof, for telling the story of your old pal, Mike. Rest in peace, Mike. You earned that. And as sad as Mike’s story is, at the end of the day, he perhaps had a more successful life than most of us will by offering up lessons in humility, gratitude and kindness despite his station in life. As an alcoholic and addict approaching 35 years of continuous sobriety, I am Mike’s brother in addiction. My fate was very different than his. I too was once homeless and ate at the free soup kitchen at St. Vincent de Paul. Once sober, my life continued with perilous and almost insurmountable challenges, including crushing poverty that meant living in a skid row tenement while sober, full of alcoholics and drug addicts, because that is all I could afford and riding a bicycle everywhere for transportation for years. Giving up, to live a life like Mike’s, crossed my mind so many times I could not count them. By the grace of God and luck and a ridiculously stubborn perserverance and the help and encouragement of many in A.A., my life got better and then very much better. Eventually I became the CEO of a successful midsize company and have been happily married for a couple of decades now. Without the helping hand of a publicly funded 30 day treatment program for the indigent, I am absolutely certain I would have perished decades ago. On that subject I know, Mr. Kristof, that you are correct. Alcohol and drug treatment saves lives – it did mine.

2 Replies554 Recommended

 
BHW commented February 13

BHW
eastern washingtonFeb. 13

I’m about the same age as Mr. Kristof, worked in the Cascades, and still do. It’s important to note that by the 1970s, 90% of the old growth was gone, and so were 90% of the jobs in logging; environmentalists didn’t cause that. Mill jobs left because of whole-log exports; environmentalists didn’t cause that. And capital in the timber industry moved to the southeast, where trees grow faster and unions don’t exists; environmentalists didn’t cause that. The spotted owl as a scapegoat doesn’t really play.

2 Replies522 Recommended

Thomas Edsall | How Long Can Democracy Survive QAnon and Its Allies? – The New York Times

“. . .  Several political scholars and strategists argue that the fault lies in our political system, that the unique way America has combined its government structure with the mechanics of its elections serves to exacerbate conflict in a deeply polarized country. These scholars have produced a variety of proposals, many involving the creation of multi-member congressional districts and the encouragement of proportional representation to replace the current single district, winner-take-all system.

Lee Drutman, author of “The Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multi-Party Democracy in America” and a senior fellow at New America, is a leading proponent of proportional representation.

In an email, Drutman contended that “a big consequence” of the reforms he and others are calling for

is that the MAGA wing would be cut loose from the rest of the G.O.P. coalition and left to operate on its own. It’s certainly conceivable that there could be even a few more Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Lauren Boeberts elected, but proportional representation (PR) would also mean more Adam Kinzingers (a House Republican who is a critic of Trump) and Romney-type Republicans elected as well.

Drutman wrote that he has “come to realize how much of an existential threat the current Republican Party is to the continuation of America democracy.” A two-party democracy cannot survive “for very long if one of two dominant parties gives up on the foundational institution of democracy: free and fair elections, in which all votes count equally.”

In addition, Drutman wrote,

I’ve also come to appreciate how much democracy depends on a conservative party that believes in democracy, and thus how important it is to create electoral institutions in this moment that will allow the currently-marginalized small “l” liberal Republicans to separate from the MAGA wing of the party and still win some representation in the Congress.

Proportional representation, he argued “is the only way to break up the current Republican coalition and free the pro-democracy forces within the Republican Party to compete on their own.” “

Opinion | Parler and the Far Right’s Ever-Evolving Digital Ecosystem – The New York Times

Candace Rondeaux and 

Ms. Rondeaux is a senior fellow with the Center on the Future of War. Ms. Hurlburt directs New Models of Policy Change at New America.

Credit…Kevin Van Aelst

“Since the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol in Washington, right-wing extremists on social media continue to glorify violence, draw new adherents and forge fresh plans for mayhem. This ominous activity presents an urgent threat to the security and social cohesion of the United States.

But there is another, less obvious takeaway: Experts know — or can know — an enormous amount about the nature and evolution of the threat.

Data sleuths have combed through a 70 terabyte cache of data from Parler, the now-defunct social media platform popular among the far right. Researchers have archived and mapped millions of these ethically hacked posts, wrangled by an anonymous, purportedly Austria-based hacker. The haul — potentially bigger than the WikiLeaks data dump of the Afghan War logs and the Democratic National Committee leak, combined — includes valuable evidence and planning of further attacks, mixed in with the private data of individuals who committed no crimes (along with quite a bit of pornography). The early takeaways are terrifying: According to at least one preliminary analysis, the frequency of hashtags on Parler referencing hanging or killing duly elected members of Congress more than doubled after the November elections.

Until the nation reckons with the self-inflicted wounds stemming from an under-regulated, unreformed social media information architecture, President Biden’s calls for healing and national unity won’t produce substantial, lasting results. The new administration needs a long-term plan to confront the escalating threat, as far-right insurgents migrate from one platform to the next.”

Opinion | We Are the ‘Exonerated 5.’ What Happened to Us Isn’t Past, It’s Present. – The New York Times

Yusef SalaamKevin Richardson and 

Mr. Salaam, Mr. Richardson and Mr. Santana were exonerated after spending 13 years in prison. They are now criminal justice activists.

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“On Dec. 19, 2002, a judge vacated our convictions for the brutal attack of Trisha Meili, who many know as the “Central Park jogger.” On that day, our 13-year fight for justice came to an end. The lies that we were told by detectives to wrongly convict us were finally exposed and ceased to hold power over us. Now, we are fighting to prevent others from facing the same fate.

At the time of our arrests in 1989, we were just boys — Kevin and Raymond, the youngest among us, were only 14 — and we came to be known as the “Central Park Five.” Now we are known as the “Exonerated Five,” and, largely because of Ava DuVernay’s series “When They See Us,” the world knows our stories.

But what people may not realize is that what happened to us isn’t just the past — it’s the present. The methods that the police used to coerce us, five terrified young boys, into falsely confessing are still commonly used today. But in its coming session, New York State legislators have the power to change that.”

By David Brooks | 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by Michael Houtz; photographs by Getty Images

“This is the year that broke the truth. This is the year when millions of Americans — and not just your political opponents — seemed impervious to evidence, willing to believe the most outlandish things if it suited their biases, and eager to develop fervid animosities based on crude stereotypes.

Worse, this was the year that called into question the very processes by which our society supposedly makes progress.

So many of our hopes are based on the idea that the key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions. We can study social injustices and change our behavior to fight them.

But this was the year that showed that our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed.

It turns out that if you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief.

One of the most studied examples of this flawed model is racial diversity training. Over the last few decades, most large corporations and other institutions have begun racial diversity programs to combat the bias and racism pervasive in organizational life. The courses teach people about bias, they combat stereotypes and they encourage people to assume the perspectives of others in disadvantaged groups.

These programs are obviously well intended, and they often describe systemic racism accurately, but the bulk of the evidence, though not all of it, suggests they don’t reduce discrimination. Firms that use such courses see no increase in managerial diversity. Sometimes they see an increase — not a decrease — in minority employee turnover.

Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev offered a clear summary of the research in a 2018 essay in Anthropology Now. One meta-analysis of 985 studies of anti-bias interventions found little evidence that these programs reduced bias. Other studies sometimes do find a short-term change in attitudes, but very few find a widespread change in actual behavior.” . .

Brooks goes on to say that what scientists say works, is integrating neighborhoods, schools, teams and organizations. Social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote decades ago about a contact hypothesis.  Only doing things together changes prejudice and minds.

Opinion | 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This – By David Brooks – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by Michael Houtz; photographs by Getty Images

“This is the year that broke the truth. This is the year when millions of Americans — and not just your political opponents — seemed impervious to evidence, willing to believe the most outlandish things if it suited their biases, and eager to develop fervid animosities based on crude stereotypes.

Worse, this was the year that called into question the very processes by which our society supposedly makes progress.

So many of our hopes are based on the idea that the key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions. We can study social injustices and change our behavior to fight them.

But this was the year that showed that our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed.”

Opinion | An Uplifting Update, on the Terrible World of Pornhub – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

David Lindsay: Hallelujah! Maybe there is a god. Maybe that god resides a little bit inside of all forms of life, including humans. In spite of their incredible propensity for evil, humans can also do good works.

Opinion Columnist

We all need uplift this terrible year, so here’s inspiring news about some young heroes and the good they’ve achieved on a wrenching topic.

Young men and women who had been exploited by Pornhub as children shared their stories, their documentation and their mortification in hopes that this might prevent other children from being abused. And now, guardedly, there’s hope that they’ve brought about change.

Pornhub on Tuesday announced huge moves that could — if thoroughly put into effect — significantly curb future exploitation. I don’t trust Pornhub a bit, so officials will need to monitor this sector in a way they haven’t before.

And perhaps that will happen. Four senators, Josh Hawley, Maggie Hassan, Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis, on Wednesday introduced bipartisan legislation to make it easier for rape victims to sue porn companies that profit from videos of their assaults. Another senator, Jeff Merkley, is separately drafting bipartisan legislation to regulate such companies more rigorously, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada (which is home to Pornhub) said Tuesday that his government was developing new regulations for these platforms as well.

Visa and Mastercard are reviewing their ties with Pornhub; there are calls for criminal prosecutions; activist groups like Traffickinghub are demanding action; and lawyers are circling with civil suits.

All this may explain why Pornhub on Tuesday announced three steps that mirrored suggestions I made in a long investigative column over the weekend that quoted the young people who so bravely told their stories. 1.) It will allow videos to be uploaded only by people who have verified their identities. 2.) It will improve moderation. 3.) It will no longer allow video downloads, which allow illegal material to proliferate.

We should all be suitably skeptical. Fake I.D.’s abound, and in September a Tuscaloosa man was charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in videos that he posted on his verified Pornhub account. And even if there is no download button, it is still possible to download using other methods.

That said, this is a big deal, and it happened only because of young people who spoke up and forced difficult conversations that government leaders had dodged.

One woman I wrote about, Serena K. Fleites, 19, felt her life spiral out of control after naked videos of her were posted on Pornhub when she was 14; after two suicide attempts, she was homeless and living in a car in Bakersfield, Calif., with three dogs, dreaming of becoming a vet tech but having no idea how to get there.

I’m thrilled to report that Fleites has been deluged with offers of housing, jobs, education and counseling, and she and her dogs have moved into a long-stay hotel with help from a GoFundMe backed by readers. One benefactor has volunteered to pay for her education to become a vet tech.”

Opinion | There’s Still a Loaded Weapon Lying Around in Our Election System – The New York Times

Mr. Pildes is an author of the casebook “The Law of Democracy: Legal Structure of the Political Process.”

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“The 2020 election revealed longstanding fractures in the foundation of our system for conducting presidential elections. Before these lead to an earthquake in a subsequent presidential election, we need to shore up that foundation.

The single most dangerous threat the election exposed was the prospect of legislatures directly appointing a state’s electors and overriding the vote of the people in that state. No state legislature has attempted to do this since at least the Civil War. But in the run-up to the 2020 election, this seemed the most likely means that might circumvent the voters and subvert the election. This concern has been proven warranted: After the Trump campaign’s postelection lawsuits failed around the country, its strategy was precisely to get state legislatures in key swing states to appoint the electors themselves.

Indeed, President Trump continues to pursue that strategy even now — he reportedly twice called the Republican speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in recent days — despite these states having legally certified Joe Biden as the winner of their state’s popular vote.

There is no legal basis for what the president is urging, but it calls attention to a previously obscure provision in federal election law. This provision, known as the “failed election” provision, lies around like a loaded weapon. It is the only place in federal law that identifies circumstances in which, even after a popular vote for president has been taken, a state legislature has the power to step in and appoint electors.”