February 6, 2016

Alicia Keys is flirting with Paul Ryan, and no, I'm not being sexist. Watch the video above.

Alicia Keys has taken her passion for criminal justice reform, wrapped it up in a bow, sealed it with a kiss and sent it off to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for Valentine's Day....

The singer has long been outspoken in calling on legislators to help end the mass incarceration of non-violent crime offenders....

In this video Valentine she made for Mic.com, Keys addresses Ryan (by his first name, asking, "Can I call you Paul?") with a little sweet talk, saying, "I recently saw a picture of you working out and I was like, 'Mmm, I never saw the Speaker of the House working out before. He must be cool!'

"Are you cool, Paul?" she asks before daring him to "show me how cool you are. In fact you can even maybe be my Valentine if you help me spread some love."

The love she is referring to is a vote to reform "excessive incarceration" to "keep families together and reunite those that have been unjustly torn apart." She then shows off a Valentine's Day card that says "You have a heart of gold," and instructs viewers to go to WeAreHereMovement.com where they can send their own Valentines to Ryan.

As Mic notes, Keyes is working with Van Jones on this:

In November, Keys' We Are Here movement announced a partnership with #cut50, a movement founded by former White House official Van Jones that seeks to cut the prison population in half. The two groups are collaborating on #JusticeReformNOW, a call to action for the public to apply pressure to members of Congress.

Keys and Jones are trying to do a very good thing, and this is a clever way to do it -- except for one problem: Ryan and other Republicans signed on to criminal justice reform in large part because they saw it as a delivery system for measures that would make it more difficult to prosecute corporate crime. The New York Times reported on this in November:

For more than a year, a rare coalition of liberal groups and libertarian-minded conservatives has joined the Obama administration in pushing for the most significant liberalization of America’s criminal justice laws since the beginning of the drug war. That effort has had perhaps no ally more important than Koch Industries....

Now, as Congress works to turn those goals into legislation, that joint effort is facing its most significant test -- over a House bill that Koch Industries says would make the criminal justice system fairer, but that the Justice Department says would make it significantly harder to prosecute corporate polluters, producers of tainted food and other white-collar criminals.

The tension among the unlikely allies emerged over the last week as the House Judiciary Committee, with bipartisan support, approved a package of bills intended to simplify the criminal code and reduce unnecessarily severe sentences.

One of those bills -- which has been supported by Koch Industries, libertarians and business groups -- would make wholesale changes to certain federal criminal laws, requiring prosecutors to prove that suspects “knew, or had reason to believe, the conduct was unlawful,” and did not simply unknowingly violate the law.

Many laws already carry such a requirement -- known as “mens rea” -- but Congress left it out of many others, and libertarian groups say that has made it too easy to unknowingly violate obscure laws. Some environmentalists argue, however, that the real motive of Charles Koch, the philanthropist and the company chairman, in supporting the legislation is to block federal regulators from pursuing potential criminal actions against his family’s network of industrial and energy companies....

Or as Senator Elizabeth Warren noted in her recent report "Rigged Justice: 2016: How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy":


Ryan and other corporatist Republicans -- but I repeat myself -- are willing to vote for the reforms Keys and Jones want. They just want to ensure that a big, fat gift for their billionaire owners is tucked into the legislation.

I think smart activists would acknowledge the nuances and demand a clean bill. But maybe Keys and Jones don't care. Maybe they think this is a worthwhile trade-off. The We Are here site is making a reasonable point here:

We only have a few months left to pass criminal justice reform under President Obama....

Right, because the bill President Rubio will sign into law will probably contain just the "mens rea" provision. So maybe the trade-off is worth it. But personally, I just can't accept that.

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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