Primary Obama: Jim Webb? Naahhh

Looking from the left among the electable politicians -- i.e., those with appeal to classes and voters divorced from the typical liberal wonkfest -- who have actual Congressional voting records, it's tough getting hopeful and enthusiastic about any potential populist/leftist Obama challenger.

Consider Jim Webb, for example. He's a guy who has said some great words about economic inequality and military quagmires, and yet in four years as a Senator his actions have largely betrayed his words. Does that description also roughly summarize Obama? Yeah, and that's the problem: gotta say NO to enthusiasm based on bright and shining words that don't come with a track record. Not necessarily a track record of accomplishment, but at least a record of a passionate and smart fight against the corporate/financial DC PTB.

Back to Webb, who said this about class after his election in 2006:

The most important-and unfortunately the least debated-issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. ... The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

... the true challenge is for everyone to understand that the current economic divisions in society are harmful to our future. It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life. Workers already understand this, as they see stagnant wages and disappearing jobs.

But where was/is Webb on three critical 'class votes' of recent years: he voted for the bankers bailout, as best I can tell helped block card check unionization, and he now lobbies to keep the Bush tax breaks for some or all of the rich. And then there's the Obama deficit commission chairmen's recommendation to cut Social Security, which Webb 'needs more time to review'.

 

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A Nation Incarcerated: The American Gaol Crisis

The British game show Quite Interesting hosted by the comedic actor Stephen Fry tackles the subject of the American gaol (the Oxford Dictionary spelling of jail) population. As always, the erudite QI uncovers some statistical gems demonstrating how insane our criminal justice policy is.

  • The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world with nearly one percent of the US population behind bars. One in ninety-nine adults are behind bars. No society in history has imprisoned more of its citizens than the United States.

  • There are more black 17 year olds in prison than in college.

  • As a percentage of the population, we imprison more than twice as much as South Africa. Our rate of incarceration is more than three times higher than Iran's and more than six times higher than China's.

  • As Stephen Fry notes, prisons are a big business going as far as suggesting that we have re-invented the slave trade.  Perhaps, that's a bit much but it's also hard to ignore that prisons are a big business in the United States. While it is illegal to import manufactured goods made by forced prison labor, it's not illegal to produce them domestically. Take the Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a self-sustaining, self-funded corporation established in 1934 by executive order, who employs more than 30,000 inmates in over 100 FPI factories in prisons across the US. UNICOR's "employees" have grown by a third in the last decade. FPI, who manufactures under the trade name UNICOR, manufactures products such as office furniture, clothing, beds and linens, electronics equipment, and eyewear. It also offers services including data entry, bulk mailing, laundry services, recycling, and refurbishing of vehicle components. Twenty-one percent of US manufactured office furniture is produced by prison labor.

  • Minimum estimate of annual value of prison and jail industrial output exceeded $2 billion dollars in 2006 with FPI accounting for over a quarter of that amount. In 2009, FPI reported sales of $885 million. The minimum wage paid at a UNICOR plants is $0.23 an hour. By way of comparison, the minimum wage paid in Haiti is $0.30 an hour while the average hourly earnings of a non-prisoner U.S. worker making office furniture: $13.04.

  • Nevada pays its prison work force $0.13 an hour. Georgia and Texas do not pay a wage at all.

Here are some other disturbing facts:

  • The United States has just over four percent of the world's population, but over twenty-five percent of the world's prison population.

  • The People's Republic of China ranks second with 1.5 million inmates, while having four times the population, thus having only about 18% of the US incarceration rate.

  • On a per capita basis, the United States has the highest prison population rate in the world with 756 per 100,000 of the national population behind bars We are followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St Kitts & Nevis (588), Cuba (c.531), U.S. Virgin Is. (512), British Virgin Is. (488), Palau (478), Belarus (468), Belize (455), Bahamas (422), Georgia (415), American Samoa (410), Grenada (408) and Anguilla (401).

  • According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): "In 2008, over 7.3 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at yearend — 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults.

  • The country's prison population topped 2 million inmates for the first time in history on June 30, 2002 meaning that the US prison population has grown by nearly 50% in just eight years. At year end 2008, the total incarcerated population equaled 2,424,279 inmates.

  • The majority (62.6%) of these inmates were held in state or federal correctional facilities. Another 32.4% of these inmates were held in local jails.

  • Seventy percent of prisoners in the United States are non-whites even though non-whites make up only about a third of the US populations. One out of every 20 black males over the age of 18 is in prison. That compares to one in 180 white males over the age of 18. In five states, between one in 13 and one in 14 black men is in prison. One in nine African-American males will spend at least one year in jail over the course of their lifetimes.

  • Most drug offenders are white - five times as many whites use drugs as blacks -yet blacks comprise the great majority of drug offenders sent to prison. Of the 253,300 state prison inmates serving time for drug offenses at yearend 2005, 113,500 (44.8%) were black, 51,100 (20.2%) were Hispanic, and 72,300 (28.5%) were white.

  • The non-violent prison population, alone, is larger than the combined populations of Wyoming and Alaska.

  • According to the American Corrections Association, the average daily cost per state prison inmate per day in the US is $67.55. State prisons held 253,300 inmates for drug offenses in 2005. That means states spent approximately $17,110,415 per day to imprison drug offenders, or $6,245,301,475 per year.

  • States spent $42.89 billion on prison and corrections in 2005 alone. To compare, states only spent $24.69 billion on public assistance. From 1984 to 1996, California built 21 new prisons, and only one new university.

  • Between 1979 and 2000, the number of additional prisons ranged from 19 prisons in Missouri to 120 prisons in Texas. The growth in Texas equates to an extraordinary average annual increase of 5.7 additional prisons per year over the 21-year period. Over this time frame, Texas has increased its prisons by a stunning 706 percent.

You can learn more at the Prison Policy Initiative and at Drug War Facts.

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The Alexander-Webb Nuclear Initiative

GOP Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia unveiled bipartisan legislation aimed at doubling nuclear power in 20 years and increasing funding for research into low carbon sources of energy. Their bill, introduced on Monday, would provide $100 billion in loan guarantees for carbon-free electricity projects, adding to the existing $47 billion loan guarantee program. Although the additional loan guarantees would not be limited to nuclear power, the nuclear industry would likely be the major recipient of the extra money because it is one of the most established low carbon energy sources.

More from Reuters:

The legislation comes as Senate Democrats work to draw more support for controversial climate legislation by crafting measures that would increase support for nuclear power and offshore drilling.

This bill is separate from the climate legislation currently making its way through the Senate, said Alexander and Webb.

Alexander said senators working to advance the climate bill may try to incorporate some provisions from his legislation, but that was not his intention.

Alexander does not support establishing an economy-wide, cap-and-trade system to lower carbon emissions.

"I do believe that climate change is an issue and we need to deal with carbon in the air," Alexander told reporters at an American Nuclear Society conference.

"I think the most effective way to do it is to double nuclear production and to do heavy (research and development) on alternative energy," he added.

The lawmakers' energy bill would cost up to $20 billion over 10 years.

In addition to the loan guarantees, the bill would provide $750 million annually for 10 years to research and development of: carbon capture and storage, advanced biofuels, batteries for electric cars, solar power and recycling used nuclear fuel.

Comprehensive climate legislation that would limit greenhouse gas emissions has run into opposition in the Senate even from some moderate Democrats including Senator Webb who does not back the Senate bill in its current form.

"I have a lot of reservations about cap and trade as a concept," Webb said. "And I have very strong reservations about the notion that we should apply different standards to ourselves in terms of global warming than other countries such as China."

Nuclear energy has two main benefits: it does not emit greenhouse gases and it can be used to produce a great amount of energy. The drawbacks are plentiful. It is expensive; mining and processing uranium is costly, as is the building and operation of the power plants. The average lead time for building a nuclear power is ten years. Though nuclear fission does not release harmful greenhouse gases, the nuclear cycle does produce radioactive waste byproducts that need to be stored for thousands of years. Nuclear power plants also require immense amounts of water to cool the reactors and the industry suffers from a not in my backyard syndrome. Uranium itself is a non-renewable resource whose production is finite and subject to peak theory. In this sense, nuclear is at best a bridge technology, one that buys us time while we figure out and deploy other technologies. Lastly, nuclear power only generates electricity. Thus, it cannot solve all of our energy needs alone though if we concurrently reorient our transportation system off hydrocarbons and onto the electrical grid, nuclear might have a substantial impact in curbing greenhouse gases.

World-wide, nuclear power accounts for 16 percent of electricity. In the United States, nuclear energy provides 19 percent of our electrical needs though the last US nuclear plant was begun in the 1970s and completed in 1996. In the European Union, about a third of all electricity is from nuclear. The most reliant on nuclear energy is France which derives a whopping 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. China currently has plans to build more than a 100 nuclear plants.

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The Time is Now: Stand Up to Republicans on Iraq

(Originally Posted on Iowa's Bleeding Heartland)

As many in the progressive blogosphere are already  aware, the Senate has been debating the National Defense Authorization Act,  which will set military policy for the coming fiscal year.  My Democratic  colleagues and I - as well as a few but growing number of Republicans - are  determined to take this opportunity to demand fairer treatment of our troops and  force President Bush to listen to the will of the American people and change  course in the war in Iraq.

Yesterday, the first amendment to the defense bill was  authored by Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.  Senator Webb's troop-protection  amendment would have required that active-duty troops receive as much time at  home - recuperating and retraining - as they spend in combat, while giving the  president the authority to waive these requirements if additional troops are  needed in an emergency.

I was proud to co-sponsor Senator Webb's legislation  because I felt that it was time to bring the systematic abuse of our  re-deploying troops to an end. It is simply unacceptable that our troops are  being deprived of the time that they need to recover from combat, complete  additional training, and spend precious time with their families. Senator Webb's  bill would have gone a long way toward restoring our military's readiness by  giving our brave and courageous service men and women an established amount of  time between deployments to protect their mental and physical well-being while  providing some stability and predictability for their families.

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