Monday, March 18, 2019

2020 Challenger Lineup: Kamala Harris


I've been waiting to profile Kamala Harris. The former California Attorney General has plenty of experience under her belt and is a multi-ethnic woman of color. However, she is weighed down (in the view of myself and people close to as far left as I am) for basically being a cop. She's been labeled a "top cop" by those who like cops. Others have attempted to label her a "progressive prosecutor." Other others have looked at her history and been like "um... not so progressive."

Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent. Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.

Let's look at her record.

Harris announced her campaign in late January on the platform of implementing the "largest middle class tax cut in a generation." I don't even know what the middle class is anymore but it's better than an upper class tax cut I guess.

As attorney general, Harris implemented the California Homeowner's Bill of Rights in response to the mortgage bubble burst that led to the Great Recession. She was able to get "$12 billion of debt reduction for the state's homeowners." She was also a force against predatory lending and created California's "Mortgage Fraud Strike Force," which manages to simultaneously sound boring and exciting. BUT she later declined to prosecute Steve Mnuchin's bank, and in 2016 received a $2000 campaign donation from Mnuchin. Hmmmmmmmm.

At the same time, there was a Supreme Court ruling that found California's prisons to be so overcrowded that they violated the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. The one about cruel and unusual punishment. Harris' handling of this was quite poor. She "fought federal court supervision" and generally resisted reform efforts until California had to be ordered to implement new parole programs. Then comes the worst part.

"Lawyers for Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued in court that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool."

Ouch. OUCH. At the time, California's prisoners were being paid eight to 37 cents per hour for their work - a wage that definitely qualifies for the term "slave wage." In 2011, Harris fought prison reforms because the state of California would have lost a chunk of its slave labor and they didn't want to have to pay people minimum wage to make DMV furniture and fight California's wildfires. She also fought to criminalize truancy in schools. Literally making truancy a crime. This is what we call the school-to-prison pipeline.

In 2012 and 2014, Harris refused to take any position on criminal justice reform legislation.

Also in 2014, Harris fought efforts to secure gender affirmation surgery for a trans inmate until she was released on parole and it wasn't the state's responsibility anymore.

As California Attorney General, Harris also had a history of fighting for prosecutors accused of using false confessions and other shenanigans, by which I mean crimes, like perjury and withholding evidence.

On the positive side, Harris directed her office to investigate oil companies after an oil pipeline spill off the California coast. In 2016, she again went after oil companies for price fixing.

Back to the bad, let's talk about FOSTA/SESTA. Harris co-sponsored these bills and repeatedly went after Backpage, the shutting down of which has forced full service sex workers back onto the streets where they are far more likely to be assaulted and/or killed.

In the wake of the Harris announcement, more sex workers have spoken up in the media about the consequences of the legislation she sponsored. “It’s forcing me to go back the streets, walking up and down trying to find clients,” Melissa, an escort from Phoenix, told the Huffington Post. “Now I not only have to deal with the police, but now I’m forced to deal with tricks that know this bill is in effect, and trust me, they are taking full advantage of it by being more aggressive.” 
Another sex worker interviewed, Dii, said that people they know were “getting contacted by pimps and abusers more because they know we are desperate” due to the elimination of sites like CraigslistPersonals and Backpage that allowed sex workers to self-advertise.

I'm pretty sure all 2020 presidential candidates currently support and voted for FOSTA/SESTA. But as a co-sponsor, Harris seems less likely to ever be convinced that these bills were disasters for some of the most vulnerable people in our country.

As a U.S. Senator, Harris has been a force in fighting Trump's bullshit. No complaints in that respect.

Now let's look at her official positions as a presidential candidate.

Harris is pro-choice, pro-cannabis, pro-gun control, and against the death penalty. She supports the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and sanctuary cities. She is good on queer issues, aside from fighting against giving trans inmates necessary healthcare. She has committed to rejecting most PAC money, and she has fought for net neutrality. She has been critical of ICE but has not declared any desire to abolish it. She was a co-sponsor of the bill to withdraw U.S. troops from Yemen, though it appears she initially voted against this? She recently supported a bill that ends the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners.

She is also very much on the side of the Israeli government in the Israel/Palestine "conflict," opposing BDS and objecting to U.N. condemnation of Israel building settlements on Palestinian land, also known as ongoing genocidal efforts/apartheid. She even claimed that there is "anti-Israel bias" in the U.N.

As always, here is Kamala Harris' full voting record as a U.S. Senator. Most of it is literally her voting against Trump nominees. One thing that stands out to me is that she does not automatically vote in favor of defense authorizations acts like some politicians do. Her record appears consistent with her stated positions. Her official campaign website does not appear to have a section actually stating her positions on things, which seems ridiculous to me but whatever.

Overall, I suppose I give Kamala Harris a B-. She has some serious marks against her in the past which makes me not trust her. I mean, you all know that on principle, I don't trust cops. I really want to support this black woman running for president, but she has such a bad record on criminal justice. Black activists and scholars have argued that she has put far too many of her fellow black people in prison to be trusted. Others have said that she catches more criticism than other candidates because she is a black woman, which is almost certainly true.

My gut feeling is that she is another "tough on crime" Democrat who will pander to progressives and leftists for votes but if she made it into office, things like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal would soon become too complicated and get shelved because Harris is too busy dropping more drone bombs on children with severe PTSD.

What sucks is that it feels like we have to choose between white male progressive or black female centrist/neoliberal, or something in between. Because a black woman as progressive as Bernie Sanders would be attacked, well, about as much as people are attacking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez right now. People already target Harris for being a black and Indian woman. Taking "risky" political positions just piles onto that.

I really hope we can have President AOC one day.

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