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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Justice Department to end use of private prisons

08/18/16 12:51PM

Serious problems with the private-prison industry are not new, but they're not widely known to the public. In general, reports, no matter how striking, are limited to more liberal coverage from the likes of Mother Jones, The Nation, and John Oliver's HBO show.
 
But officials in the Obama administration have also noticed, and today, the Washington Post reports that the Department of Justice is moving forward with a plan to "end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government."
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or "substantially reduce" the contracts' scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is "reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons."
 
"They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security," Yates wrote.
Yates told the Post, "The fact of the matter is that private prisons don't compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that."

The change comes on the heels of a critical Inspector General's report (pdf), released last week, which found privately run prisons were generally less safe -- for prisoners and staff -- than the federal Bureau of Prisons' facilities.

It's worth noting that the change will be gradual. The Post's report added that the DOJ "would not terminate existing contracts but instead review those that come up for renewal. She said all the contracts would come up for renewal over the next five years."
 
Of course, between now and then, there will be a change in the White House, though it's worth noting that Hillary Clinton's platform also calls for ending private prisons. From the campaign website: "Hillary believes we should move away from contracting out this core responsibility of the federal government to private corporations. We must not create private industry incentives that may contribute -- or have the appearance of contributing -- to over-incarceration."

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.18.16

08/18/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* While Donald Trump's campaign is currently not running television ads anywhere, the Republican ticket will soon air commercials in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. They'll be Trump's first ads of the general election.
 
* Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), a prominent Trump supporter, yesterday called Hillary Clinton a "lying killer" during a radio interview. She later told BuzzFeed it was "a stumble of the tongue" -- according to Brewer, when she said "lying killer," she was mispronouncing "Hillary Clinton."
 
* Daniel Akerson, the former CEO of General Motors, has a new op-ed in the Washington Post today, explaining that while he's voted Republican in every election throughout his adult life, he's backing Clinton over Trump this year.
 
* The RNC's Sean Spicer, defending his work on behalf of Trump's candidacy, told the Washington Post this week, "There are doctors who help people who have done bad things, there are lawyers who defend bad people." That's quite a ringing endorsement, isn't it?
 
* Bill Clinton was reportedly in Utah recently, meeting with some community leaders and gauging whether the traditional Republican stronghold may be competitive in this year's election.
 
* Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super PAC, is reportedly scaling back its ad investments, at least for now, in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, confident of Clinton's advantage in these battlegrounds.
 
* In Indiana's U.S. Senate race, the latest Monmouth University poll shows former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) leading Rep. Jeff Young (R), 48% to 41%.
An overflow crowd of people wait for Donald Trump at a campaign rally Jan. 27, 2016 in Gilbert, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)

Placing more value in crowds than polls is a recipe for failure

08/18/16 11:00AM

During the race for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders and his supporters would routinely emphasize the amazing crowds that would turn out for the Vermont senator's events. It was easy to understand why: the size of the audiences was often amazing, and for those hoping to see Sanders succeed, this was a more reassuring metric than vote totals and the delegate count.
 
But in the end, crowd size wasn't predictive. A candidate can host a rally with tens of thousands of people, and in the process prove that he or she has a strong following, but to assume that the crowds will deliver a victory is a mistake.
 
For some, however, the error still has appeal. The Huffington Post flagged a notable quote yesterday from a prominent figure in conservative media.
Fox News host Eric Bolling is sick of polls. Not only are they wrong, he said, but it's the size of crowds at Donald Trump's rallies that's much more important. 
 
"We have to stop with these polls, they're insane," Bolling declared on "The Five" on Wednesday (skip to 5:06 in the video above for this part). "You look at a Trump rally and there's 12, 15,000, 10,000 people and then you look at Hillary Clinton and you have, I don't know, 1,500, 2,000."
Donald Trump himself expressed a similar sentiment in late June, telling conservative radio host Mike Gallagher how impressed he is with the "massive" crowds that turn out for his events. "I walked out of one [recent event], and I said, 'I don't see how I'm not leading,'" the Republican candidate said at the time.
 
Trump added, "We have thousands of people standing outside trying to get in, and they're great people and they have such spirit for the country and love for the country, and I'm saying, you know, 'Why am I not doing better in the polls?'"
 
The answer, of course, is that crowd size isn't all that relevant.
In this June 26, 2008 file photo John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.

John Yoo: Courts aren't a good enough reason to elect Trump

08/18/16 10:00AM

Some Republican partisans have probably made an uncomfortable calculus: Donald Trump may not be fit for the presidency, they've conceded to themselves, but given the state of the Supreme Court, GOP voters will have to hold their noses and vote for an unqualified, and potentially dangerous, candidate.
 
UC Berkeley's John Yoo, perhaps best known as the author of the Bush/Cheney "torture memos," co-wrote an L.A. Times op-ed yesterday in which he rejected the thesis. As Yoo and George Mason University's Jeremy Rabkin argued, the damage Trump would do to American foreign policy outweighs potential conservative gains in the judiciary.
As conservative law professors, we share the concern that a Hillary Clinton victory would halt decades of efforts to restore an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.... But the Supreme Court is not enough. [...]
 
Faced with mounting international instability, Trump's answer is to promise an unpredictable and unreliable America. He has proposed breaking U.S. commitments to NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, closing our military bases in Japan and South Korea, repudiating security guarantees to NATO allies, pulling out of the Middle East, and ceding Eastern Europe to Russia and East Asia to China. A Trump presidency invites a cascade of global crises. Constitutional order will not thrive at home in a world beset by threats and disorder.
Yoo and Rabkin added that conservatives shouldn't even count on Trump's "vague promises" to nominate conservative jurists to the bench. They noted, for example, that the Republican candidate's credibility on the subject is inherently suspect given the fact that he "mistook the number of articles in the Constitution and erred in thinking that federal judges could investigate Hillary Clinton."
 
In the larger context, there are quite a few former officials from the Bush/Cheney administration who've balked at Trump's candidacy, and some cabinet secretaries have even thrown their support behind Hillary Clinton. But who would've expected John Yoo to become such a prominent critic of the Republican nominee during the election season?
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, smiles before speaking during a campaign event in Warren, Mich., Aug. 11, 2016. (Photo by Sean Proctor/Bloomberg/Getty)

Latest polls reinforce Republicans' sense of dread

08/18/16 08:58AM

Michael Cohen, a leading figure in Donald Trump's operation, was reminded on CNN yesterday that his boss' campaign, at least for now, is trailing in the presidential race. "Says who?" Cohen responded.
 
Host Brianna Keilar, apparently surprised by the comment, replied, "Polls. Most of them. All of them?" Again, Cohen said, "Says who?"
 
"Polls," Keilar answered. "I just told you." Cohen, incredulous, asked, "OK, which polls?"
 
"All of them," the CNN host responded.
 
It's been that kind of summer for the Trump campaign. Consider the latest Quinnipiac polling, as reported by Politico yesterday afternoon:
Hillary Clinton holds double-digit leads among likely voters in Colorado and Virginia and a narrow edge over Donald Trump in Iowa, according to a trio of battleground-state Quinnipiac University polls released Wednesday.
 
In the head-to-head matchups, Clinton leads Trump 49 percent to 39 percent in Colorado. The race is closest in Iowa, where Clinton holds a 3-point lead over the Republican nominee -- 47 percent to 44 percent. But in Virginia, where Trump will campaign Saturday in Fredericksburg, Clinton leads by 12 points -- 50 percent to 38 percent.
The full Quinnipiac report, including crosstabs, is online here.
 
Note, among all of the major pollsters, Quinnipiac has generally published results favorable to Republicans this year, making yesterday's data that much more discouraging for the right.
 
The Quinnipiac poll coincided with a new Fox 2 Detroit/Mitchell Poll out of Michigan, where Clinton leads Trump by double digits, 49% to 39%, even with third-party candidates included in the mix.
 
The news for the Republican nominee wasn't all bad. A Monmouth University poll, for example, showed Trump leading comfortably in Indiana -- the Midwest's reddest state -- while Public Policy Polling found him leading Clinton in Missouri by three points, 45% to 42%.
 
Of course, given that Mitt Romney won Missouri by nine points in 2012, the fact that the Show-Me State is competitive at all is discouraging news for the GOP ticket.
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally, Aug. 16, 2016, at the Ziegler Building at the Washington County Fair Park & Conference Center in West Bend, Wis. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Ahead of briefing, Trump wary of intelligence agencies

08/18/16 08:00AM

Donald Trump received his first briefing yesterday from U.S. intelligence officials, though there's a limit as to how much information he received. As NBC News' report explained, the briefing, which lasted about two hours, described "how U.S. intelligence agencies see a variety of global issues," but did not describe "espionage methods, covert operations or nuclear secrets." Rachel's segment from Tuesday explored this in more detail.
 
What we don't know is how engaged the Republican presidential hopeful was during the meeting. As TPM reported yesterday, Trump said ahead of the briefing that he's wary of the U.S. intelligence community and doesn't necessarily consider the agencies reliable.
During an interview with Fox News, Trump was asked about his upcoming intelligence briefing and whether he does "trust intelligence."
 
"Not so much from the people that have been doing it for our country. Look what's happened over the last ten years. Look what's happened over the years. It's been catastrophic," he said in response. "And in fact, I won't use some of the people that are sort of your standards, you know, just use them, use them, use them. Very easy to use them, but I won't use them because they've made such bad decisions."
At a certain level, some criticisms of the CIA, for example, are understandable. Credible critics of the intelligence community can point to real and important missteps, and no one should suggest the agencies are beyond reproach.
 
But let's not miss the forest for the trees here. Donald J. Trump, if elected president, is inclined to ignore "the people that have been doing it for our country." The "it" in that sentence refers to the collection of sensitive security information provided to American policymakers.
 
The next question is obvious: if the GOP candidate doesn't want to rely on U.S. intelligence agencies, who exactly would Trump listen to when making critical security decisions?
Clinton takes lesson from GOP's Kerry smears

Clinton takes lesson from GOP's Kerry smears

08/17/16 09:10PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the Hillary Clinton campaign rebutting a bizarre and baseless conspiracy theory dragged from the fringe right by Donald Trump and Fox News, perhaps because of how normalized conspiracy theories from the right were seen to damage John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. watch

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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