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When The Majority Doesn't Rule; Biden: Dems Strongest Candidate To Defeat Trump?; Franken: "I Will Continue To Listen And Learn" About #MeToo; Report: Climate Change Will Shrink Economy And Kill Thousands; Why Are We Backing The Saudis?; Social Media Malaise; New Study: Social Media Increases Depression; New Push For Compassionate Prosecutors. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired November 24, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. As the dust settles from the midterms, what explains the diminishing role of the majority in America? I'll discuss.
And Al Franken posts a Thanksgiving message on his Facebook page offering his thoughts in the year since he stepped down from the Senate.
Plus, just as the President doubles down on his controversial support for Saudi Arabia comes a report that since 9/11, the number of Sunni Islamic militants has quadrupled. Given that the Saudis are 85 percent Sunni, what's wrong with this picture?
And it's the rare issue that finds President Trump and George Soros on the same page. Criminal justice reform. Can a new generation of progressive DAs, including these two men, fix a broken system while remaining supportive of victims?
Plus, we've known about the correlation between spending too much time on social media and depression, but now a new study says it causes depression. I'll ask the author of the book "iGen" what can be done to fix this, which leads us to today's survey question at Smerconish.com. Does online engagement with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat increase loneliness and depression? Go cast your ballot. I'll give you the results at the end of the hour.
But first, with all the recent talk of the Blue Wave and recounts, there's a lesson in this year's midterms that is largely going unnoticed: the diminishing power of the majority in our democracy. You, of course, remember that Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes than Donald Trump while losing to him in the 2016 election, but the electoral college is just one visible example of a deeper phenomenon.
State legislatures across the nation have also been skewing away from the majority. Look at the supposed purple swing state of Ohio. The GOP won only 50.3 percent of the total vote in the midterms yet the Republicans won 63 percent of State House races, 73 of the 116 seats. And it was the same in the Buckeye State races for Congress. In Ohio's 16 congressional districts, Republicans won 52 percent of the vote while commanding 75 percent of the seats.
And Ohio's not alone. Gerrymandered maps have been problematic elsewhere. North Carolina, Maryland come to mind. This diminishing influence of the majority was analyzed last July by "The Economist." The magazine pointed out that congressional discrepancies are attributable to Democrats winning their seats with big majorities in fewer districts where Republicans prevail by narrow margins in larger numbers of districts.
Now, "The Wall Street Journal"'s editorial board recently disagreed arguing that gerrymandering played an insignificant role in the midterms due to the national popular vote aligning almost perfectly with the number of seats won by Democrats. I say that argument overlooks that it's not the national landscape which is poorly represented, but the individual districts and states that fail to fairly represent their constituents.
But the problem is more than mapmaking. Consider the Senate where rural states with hardly any population have the same number of senators as densely settled states. So Wyoming with fewer than 600,000 people has the same number of senators as California's almost 40 million. Yes, representation in the Senate is the way the founders intended it to be. They wanted to represent places, not people.
But as Paul Krugman noted in "The New York Times" recently, this divergence will have profound implications because the Senate has a lot of power, especially when the President, who, let us not forget, lost the popular vote, leads the party that controls it. Four of the current nine Supreme Court justices have been appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.
There's no simple solution to the declining influence of the majority. The emergence of additional parties could help. After all, both George Washington and John Adams worried about power being concentrated in just two and there does seem to be great demand. A 2017 analysis from "Pew" points to nine, not two, distinct categories that voters identify with ranging all the way from core Conservatives to disaffected Democrats to solid Liberals.
Of course, if the two majority parties broaden their appeal, that could provide more proportionate representation. Democrats in rural areas. The GOP in cities. In fact, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor argued last week in "The Times" that the GOP's very survival in national politics is contingent upon winning back suburban, college educated voters via a more moderate agenda constant.
[09:05:02] Constitutional amendments could change our presidential elections to a direct system not by the Electoral College and the Senate representation could theoretically be restructured, but both are unlikely in this climate. The option of a constitutional convention exists if called for by two-thirds of the states, but that's a mechanism never implemented.
Shy of these, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact commits states to support the winner of the national popular vote, not their state's victor. And finally, multi-member districts and ranked choice voting are additional out-of-the-box remedies.
Or maybe, again, we just look to Ohio. Ohio wins in 2015 voted to reform the way statehouse districts will be drawn beginning in 2021. Then, earlier this year, Ohio voters did the same for congressional districts. Both votes got more than 70 percent support. Shy of such reforms, the diminished say of the majority will further erode confidence in our system of government.
Now, joining me, Rich Lowry, Editor of the "National Review" and author of "Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream---And How We Can Do It Again," and David Litt, the former speechwriter for President Barack Obama and author of "Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years."
Gentlemen, beginning with Rich Lowry, a quick reaction to my commentary. Go ahead, Rich.
RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, this is a feature of our system that obviously goes back to the founding. It was part of the reason we have a country and a constitution at all because there's a compromise between the large states and the small states and the states have a significant part of our system. They have an integrity of their own. They have a lot of sovereignty and power on their own. So this is just the way it's set up.
And it's -- yes, California has a heck of a lot of voters just in one state, but that was true at the time of the founding of Virginia which had a larger population than the rest of the states as well. So this is just the way our system works.
SMERCONISH: David Litt, Rich is not too concerned I think. How about you?
DAVID LITT, SPEECHWRITER, AUTHOR: Well, actually, Michael, I'm working on a book right now that is dealing with a lot of these issues. It's not going to be out for another 18 months, but I appreciate you previewing it. I think it's a big problem. I think the biggest issue here is the more our democracy becomes fundamentally anti-democratic, and I say that with a small D, not as the party, but as what the people want is not what the people get, the less faith we have in it.
And we see that happening and the more that happens, the greater the danger that we drift into a system like you see in Hungary or Turkey which is nominally democratic, but really a one-party democracy.
SMERCONISH: Let's run through some of the additional political headlines of the day. Rich Lowry, your piece, "Democrats need someone they don't want in order to win in 2020." You say, "Joe Biden is a gaffe-prone 75-year-old Washington veteran who is exactly what Democrats need." How come?
LOWRY: Well, if you assume, and look, a lot's going to happen in the next two years, but if you assume that Trump wins Ohio and Florida in 2020, Ohio seems pretty good for him. Florida is always very close. Well, let's just say that for the sake of assumption, the Upper Midwest and Pennsylvania will be absolutely central and Democrats need to have more appeal to working-class voters in those states and Joe Biden is just the kind of Democrat to appeal to those voters.
Now, do I think he's likely to win the primary? No, because you -- you know, you don't win primaries on paper and on theory, but I think he probably would have won in 2016 and I think on paper, he'd have a really good chance in 2020, too.
SMERCONISH: David Litt, his argument is that Joe Biden could win the war, maybe not the battle, but eventually could win the war. You agree?
LITT: Well, I'm a big Joe Biden fan. That may not surprise you. I obviously worked for President Obama and I agree that he would have a lot of appeal to the working-class voters, many of whom supported President Trump in 2016. I will say I think there's a little bit of wishful thinking that Joe Biden is the only candidate who could appeal to the working class.
I remember in 2008, and admittedly I was in college so mostly I was occupied with binge drinking, but when I wasn't, I remember seeing headlines that Hillary Clinton was the one who would appeal to the white working-class and if we nominated Barack Obama, we were doomed. Obama, obviously, did well not just in states like Ohio, but Indiana. So we don't know what's going to happen in the future. I think some Democrat will emerge for the primaries and I'm excited to see who it is.
SMERCONISH: David Litt, I'm eager to learn whether your party will allow the reemergence of Al Franken. I made reference at the outset of the program to him posting on his Facebook page yesterday, Thanksgiving. Here's one thing that he said, "I still miss being in the fight every day and while I'm certainly not running for anything, I hope that in the next year, I'll have the chance to help make a difference again." Is there room for him in the Democratic Party or will they want to shun him?
[09:10:02] LITT: I think that's a good question and, Michael, to be honest I'm not sure I'm the most qualified to answer it as a guy because I think one of the things you see from this Facebook post is the increasing influence of a party that is the gender gap not just among voters, but also among party leaders and party influencers.
I mean, you look at the picture of the incoming Democratic class of congresspeople and it looks like a typical class photo. It's about 50/50 women and men. If you look at the Republican members of Congress and it looks roughly like my Dungeons & Dragons Club in 10th grade, only older.
And so I think what you're seeing is the permission that Al Franken seeks as he wishes to re-enter public life and in general this kind of gender gap that you're seeing, there are going to be a lot of women leaders in the party and frankly, I think it's their opinion that's going to matter more than someone like me and I think overall, that's a good thing for American politics.
SMERCONISH: Rich Lowry, Americans love a comeback story. Are they ready for Al Franken's? LOWRY: I don't know. You know, I don't think he's making it back in the Senate. I think Democrats like Kristin Gillibrand felt very strongly they needed to kind of clear the decks as much as possible on their own side to take -- to clear the field of fire for Republicans on these kind of #MeToo issues. So it seems unlikely in any high-level position he's going to be back again. Look, he can be a media figure. He can have a radio show again. He can give speeches obviously, but high-level elected politics seem really unlikely to me.
SMERCONISH: Finally, Catherine, put on the screen the President's recent tweet relative to climate change and I want to ask this of Rich. I'm looking at a "New York Times" headline today. It could be any newspaper across the country. U.S. climate study has grim warnings of economic risks. There's the President within the last few days, "Brutal and extended cold blast could shatter all records. Whatever happened to global warming?"
He's conflating weather on a particular day or a series of days with climate change generally, but Rich, how can he continue to square that mindset with the news coming out of 13 different agencies?
LOWRY: Well, clearly we've had a warming trend for decades now. I think we know a little less about the causes than we think we do and the best policy is to continue to have a really robust economy that can innovate and mitigate if the more dire warnings, you know, 80 years from now come true. But hurting -- harming our economy now in a way that will just be a drop and a drop of the bucket in terms of the global temperature in 80 years is a policy that's never made any sense and still doesn't make sense.
SMERCONISH: Right, but 80 years from now is too late and it's not 80 years. By 2040, according to our own government, the Trump administration, 13 different federal agencies, it's here and now or it'll be too late.
LOWRY: Well, every single policy that has realistically been advanced on this makes a really minor difference over the long-term. So I think the only thing that makes sense -- again, let's have a strong, robust economy that is in the best position to innovate and mitigate. And at some point, Michael, alternative energy will actually be cost effective and we'll have a big shift there, but to harm our economy in the meantime before that happens doesn't make any sense.
SMERCONISH: Rich, David, to be continued. thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.
LOWRY: Thank you very much.
LITT: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish, go to my Facebook page as this individual did. What do we have? "Non-white voters stayed home. That's why Clinton lost. They'll stay home for Biden, too." Not sure, Jonathan. I would -- I would say differently. I would say that it's the high school-educated, blue-collar workers in states like mine and in Michigan and in Ohio and in Wisconsin who swayed the outcome of this election and would they come out for Joe Biden? I think they probably would if he could get through the primary and caucus process.
One more time, if I've got the opportunity. What do we have? "Franken was the Dems sacrificial lamb." Nicole, I wonder how many wish they had a mulligan on Franken and would take him back into the fold given the totality of his conduct.
Up ahead, the CIA says the crown prince ordered the death, the execution, of Jamal khashoggi, but President Trump is still standing up for the Saudis. Now, how does this jive with the new report that the number of Sunni Islamic militants has quadrupled since 9/11?
And it may be called "social media," but a new study finds that young people who spend more time on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are more prone to depression and loneliness. How can that be remedied? And remember, I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com. Tell me how you feel on this poll question.
[09:15:01] Does online engagement with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat -- do you think that it increases loneliness and depression?
SMERCONISH: I'm trying to reconcile two conflicting stories about the Saudis this week. In one, we have the President's official statement defending the Saudis despite the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia. And in the other, a new report finds that since 9/11, the number of Sunni Islamic militants operating around the world has quadrupled despite nearly two decades of American led efforts to fight Al-Qaeda and the Islamic state.
A reminder, the Saudis are predominantly Sunnis. Most Iranians are Shia. They're the two sides in the historic Islamic battle over who is the rightful heir to Muhammad that started in the year 632. So it confuses me not just that the President stands with the Saudis, but that he kicked off his official statement by attacking Iran. He cites it's bloody war in Yemen, efforts to destabilize Iraq's democracy, support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad in Syria and calls Iran the world's leading sponsor of terror.
[09:19:56] And yet when it comes to Saudi Arabia, which our own intelligence community says is directly responsible for the killing of U.S. resident Khashoggi, the President hedged saying, quote, "Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't.
The President cites the fact that the U.S. sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi and the disposal of his body. But as I said on Twitter, why is the President willing to rely on the intel pertaining to the 17, but ignore number 18, the crown prince.
Meanwhile, "The Times" reported that 17 years after 9/11, militants have steadily multiplied. It cited a new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "The Evolution of the Salafi- Jihadist Threat." And it includes the lines, quote, "The good news is that there has not been an attack anywhere near the scale of 9/11 in the U.S. since that day, a significant achievement. The bad news is that the ideology that leads someone to fly a plane into a building or drive a car into a crowded sidewalk seems to have metastasized."
That study was co-authored by my next guest, Seth Jones, Director of the Center's Transnational Threats Project and author, most recently, of "A Covert Action: Reagan, the CIA, and the Cold War Struggle in Poland." Seth, why is all of our foreign policy animus being directed against the Shia, Iran, when it seems that the Sunnis, many from Saudi Arabia, are the ones who want to export their terror to us?
SETH JONES, AUTHOR, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, Michael, I think it's a mistake. I mean, I think Iran and the Shia certainly present a threat to the United States, but at this point, Shia groups, even Hezbollah, are not conducting attacks against the U.S. or trying to. They're predominantly Sunni groups like the Islamic state and Al-Qaeda. So I think we've got the wrong enemy here.
SMERCONISH: Who is the enemy?
JONES: Well, I think there are several enemies, but I think when we look at the numbers of jihadists right now and where the attacks are taking place, they are in places like Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and they're predominantly Sunni jihadist organizations with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic state being the predominant ones and that's where U.S. focus should be in targeting these groups overseas.
SMERCONISH: Right, but isn't a large part of what motivates them -- I'm now going to channel Ron Paul or maybe a little Rand Paul as well, but isn't that which motivates them our continued presence on what they regard as the Arabian Peninsula, their footprint?
JONES: No, I don't think that's entirely correct. I think when we look at what happened on 9/11, the U.S. was not in Afghanistan. The U.S. was not in many areas of the Middle East, yet they attacked us. I think if we look at the U.K. last year, five major attacks in the United Kingdom. The U.K. does not have a meaningful presence overseas. So they're willing -- they're really willing to attack any outside country -- the British, the Americans and others -- that are supporting regimes they're fighting overseas.
SMERCONISH: It just seems, Seth, that the blame, in the President's eyes, is miscast. In other words, he issues a statement, 600 or so words, seemingly that he dictated off the cuff, very Trumpian in the word choices and so forth, and the first words out of his mouth are to talk about Iran. You know, to me, lacking your credentials and expertise, it seems like we had the Iranians on ice for the next decade. What would happen after 10 years, you know, I don't know, but he's asked about Khashoggi and the execution and MBS and instead wants to immediately talk about Iran
JONES: Well, I mean, I think that reflects where both the President and his national security adviser are going right now. They're focusing increasingly on Iran. I would also point out that the most recent national security strategy of the United States says that the Islamic state has been crushed. I mean, they clearly have not.
So it's not just the Iran focus. It's also this argument that's just simply not true that jihadist groups like the Islamic state and Al- Qaeda have been defeated or crushed, take whatever word the President has used, that's simply not true. In fact, we see a quadrupling since 9/11 in numbers overseas, quite the opposite.
SMERCONISH: OK. And to what do you attribute that? Final question because you said, look, 9/11 happened when we weren't in Iraq and we weren't in Afghanistan. I would assert that the reason that the Sunni jihadists were able to multiple, quadruple, is because of our presence there. In other words, it might not have been Iraq and Afghanistan that led September 11 to occur, but by our going there, we have aided and abetted their recruitment efforts. You get the final word.
JONES: Well, I think probably the biggest single issue has been the Arab Spring which has weakened regimes across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. These groups now have sanctuaries in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
[09:25:02] It's weak regimes and Saudi support in some of these areas, actually, that are primary issues driving this right now.
SMERCONISH: I appreciate your expertise. Thank you.
JONES: Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Coming up, a new study shows that spending more time on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat actually causes a rise in teenage depression. I'll talk to the author of iGen about this finding and what we can do about it. And remember, I want to know what you think. Please vote at my website right now at Smerconish.com. Tell me if you agree. Does online engagement with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat increase loneliness and depression?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL MAHER, HOST, REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER: We all know the feeling. You post a picture on social media and when the likes pop up, it floods your brain with gratifying dopamine. How come my friends didn't love that picture of my soup? What's wrong with me?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: So does spending too much time on social media like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat actually increase loneliness and depression? That's a new finding of a brand new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania to be published in the Peer Review Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. And it marks the first time there has been a causal connection established between time spent social media and depression and loneliness.
The lead author, Melissa Hunt, told me on my SiriusXM radio program that the undergraduate subjects who limited their time on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to 30 minutes or less daily saw a mark in decline rates of loneliness and depression. I wanted to immediately analyze these results with Dr. Jean Twenge who studied generational differences for 25 years and then wrote this book "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy -- And Completely Unprepared For Adulthood -- And What That Means For The Rest Of Us."
In the book Dr. Twenge know that the teens are not hanging out as much with friends, in no rush to drive, dating less, having less sex, and getting less sleep. Most alarming despite their continued connectivity they're lonely, and rates of teen depressions and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011.
And she observed that it was in 2012 that the proportion of American who own cellphones passed 50 percent for the first time. But Dr. Twenge was careful to say she was noting a correlation not necessarily causation. Well, now there's some proof that's it's the actual cause.
Joining me now Dr. Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University professor in personality psychology.
My hunch is, Dr. Twenge, you are not surprised by these new findings.
DR. JEAN TWENGE, AUTHOR, "iGEN": I was not. I certainly looked from the other data that we had that there certainly might be a causal relationship here because teen loneliness and depression spiked right at the time that smartphones became common. And we knew from other research that teens and adults who spend more time on social media sites are more likely to be lonely and depressed.
So this study is a crucial piece of the puzzle showing that it's not just say that the unhappy kids are spending more time on social media. That social media may actually cause loneliness and depression.
SMERCONISH: And what then specifically do you drives it? Is it the inherent social comparison that they go through when they're participating in Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook? You're being held up to be assessed in comparison to your peers.
TWENGE: There are (INAUDIBLE) number of (INAUDIBLE). So one is exactly that. Everybody else's life looks so much more glamorous on Instagram than yours because you know all the things that happened in your life but your friends are only positing about the positive things.
It's also so easy to see all the things that we're missing out on so we feel left out much more often. It's especially true for teens. You know, past years they've might have heard about the party whispered about in high school hallway and now they see it in living color, in real time online.
SMERCONISH: So to parents who are watching, to teens who are watching, what's your advice?
TWENGE: My advice is pretty simple. It's two things.
First, your phone should not be in your bedroom at night so you get a good night's sleep. And, second, that no you don't have to give up your phone or being online or social media but you should limit your use.
So for social media in particular limited to an hour a day or less and try to keep total screen time below about two hours at day at leisure time or less. That seems to be what is best for mental health and happiness.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Twenge, when I spoke to the lead author of this new data, this new research something that I found very interesting is she said to me that the undergraduate who were part of the examination group, they clamored to be in that group that had a limit put on them of 10 minutes per day for each of the three and she said it occurred to her, you know, you can limit yourself. There's nothing -- there's nothing that says you need to be in my control group in order to be so limited. But I thought that that spoke to the larger issue of how we all seem to know that this is what's best for us and yet we have a difficult time putting those parameters on our own conduct.
TWENGE: It's not all that surprising because these sites are designed to keep us coming back and designed to keep us on for as long as possible.
Some people have gone as far as saying that they're designed to be addictive which makes sense because that's how they make more money. So even though we know what's best for us it is really difficult to put those limits on yourself. But you can do it.
There are controls that parents can put on kids' phones and adults can put on their own phones too to limit your use or at least give you a reminder, hey, you've been on Instagram for 30 minutes you probably want to put the phone down and do something else.
SMERCONISH: One other aspect that I think folks should know who are watching dating sites were not a part of this study. This was limited to Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. And I can't help but wonder what we would learn if we were able to study some of the implications of those who are heavy users of dating apps.
TWENGE: Absolutely. So, you know, those apps place so much emphasis on appearance. They're really tough on people's self esteem. And they're yet another thing where you can spend hours and hours looking at that screen when maybe you should be out interacting with your friends face to face or trying to meet potential partners face to face.
It might be a better strategy for happiness.
SMERCONISH: And I'm not convinced it's limited to teens. I read your book. You know, I was really taken with it.
I'm convinced there's a lot we adults can learn from it as well, Dr. Twenge.
TWENGE: I agree completely. These rules about keeping the phone out of the bedroom and limiting their use, absolutely apply to people of all ages.
I think these trends that had a bigger effect on teens and young adults just because this is the only world that they have ever know and they're still building their social world. But it certainly has an effect on older people as well.
SMERCONISH: Thank you for coming back. I appreciate your work.
TWENGE: Thank you very much.
SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have, Catherine (ph) from Tweeter, from Facebook?
"Yes, everyone only posts their positive sides and pics on Facebook and I feel like I'm missing out."
Hey, Judy, as much as I love technology I'm grateful that, you know, it was a Xerox machine that could get me trouble with I was much younger and that the social comparison inherent in so many of these mechanisms was not something that I had to, well, compete with.
I want to know what you think. Go to the Web site Smerconish.com, answer the question, now you've heard the conversation, now you're ready to go.
"Does online engagement with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat increase loneliness and depression?"
I will give the result at the end of this hour. Still to come, traditionally the nation's 2,400 district attorneys have one election promising what to be tough on crime? But a new breed is winning by emphasizing compassion and treatment over punishment.
Can you do that and still be supportive of victims of crime?
SMERCONISH: It's not often you can find a cause backed by both President Trump and George Soros but that seems to be the case with reforming the criminal justice system. On Friday the president tweeted, "Really good Criminal Justice Reform has a true shot at major bipartisan support Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer have a real chance to do something so badly needed in our country. Already passed, with big vote in the House. Would be a major victory for all."
Well, In the 2016 election, while we were all focused on Trump and Clinton, George Soros was directing his wealth into the under the radar campaign to reshape the American justice system by supporting progressive candidates for prosecutor. We're accustomed to people running for district attorney pumping thumping their chest about how tough they'll be on crime. Once in office the promise to throw the book at the accused to please aggrieved victims.
In 2016 Soros spend 3 million in six states in seven local D.A. races supporting candidates who ran on platforms like reducing racial disparities and sentencing and directing some drug offenders to diversion programs instead of going to trial. In a field that's 95 percent white and overwhelmingly male many of these new comers are minorities or women and hale from unlikely backgrounds such as civil rights work or the public defender's office.
One of the new crop was profiled in the "Washington Post" this week Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County, Texas. A Mexican biker who has the tattoo not guilty and keeps and framed copy of his own mug shot in his office from a DWI charge is not a prosecutor.
Well, in the backlash after the infamous shooting in Ferguson, Missouri of Michael Brown by a police officer the D.A. who didn't bring charges was unseated this summer by another outside candidate. Joining me now is Wesley Bell. He was raised by a policeman in himself became a public defender before being elected city council member in Ferguson and is now the prosecutor elect for St. Louis County, the first African-American to hold that position.
Mr. Bell, why do you want to be a prosecutor?
WESLEY BELL, PROSECUTOR-ELECT, ST. LOUIS COUNTY: Well, I think that we have to not just focus on being tough on crime and obviously that's important with respect to violent crimes and things of that nature but we have to be smarter.
And when we look at the fact that we incarcerate more people in this country than any place in the world that shows that what we're doing is not working and we have to implement policies that work better and that serve our communities and keep us safer.
SMERCONISH: Don't victims of crime have a reasonable expectation that you will seek the max when prosecuting their perpetrators?
BELL: Well, I think you're framing the question a little bit differently than I would. What I would suggest is we have to figure out what is fair and if the max -- and if a max recommendation is fair then that's what we should recommend but if it's not, if treatment -- if some alternative to sentencing is appropriate considering the circumstances then that's the direction that we should go.
SMERCONISH: But isn't that -- playing devil's advocate with you, isn't that you surfing (ph) the role of judge and jury. I mean ultimately they determine what's fair. You're going to have a defense lawyer seeking total acquittal exoneration so doesn't it then necessitate that the prosecution go for whatever the max is in terms of charges that they can justify and wherever it comes out that's in the hands of the jury and the judge. BELL: Well, I think we're looking at it this in two different -- in two different -- from two different place -- starting places. At trial obviously if a case gets to trial and we believe in that case we're going to try to win that case.
However, when it comes to recommendations these are often given pretrial in order to try and effectuate a plea agreement. And I think it's important that prosecutors make recommendations that are fair in light of the circumstances. Now having said that there are cases where the maximum sentence is going to be the appropriate sentence. But if it's not and if we need -- and if we need to offer treatment because keep in mind the biggest demographic of offenders are re- offenders.
And so if we start giving these re-offenders that treatment that they need prior to them becoming violent criminals we can create less victims in addition to helping -- you know, giving help to those who need help. And I think that trend we're seeing is catching hold across the country.
SMERCONISH: It would seem to me, final question, that one of the most difficult aspects of your new job will be consoling victims of crime family members. Maybe it's a murder victim's family member that you're now dealing with as you prosecute their perpetrator. And you know they're going to want the book thrown at whomever the guilty party might be in every circumstance.
BELL: Yes. And if someone has committed that -- that crime which is so horrible and rob someone of their loved ones, you know, we should look at sending that person away potentially for the rest of their life depending on the nature of the crime and murder obviously would support that.
But also -- but the majority of the crimes that are clogging up our court systems are non-violent crimes. We're talking drug possessions. Things of that nature where people just need help.
And when we look at across the country we're seeing that trend that people are understanding that these are the things that we need to focus on treatment. And that's why you're seeing people all across the country coming out in support of criminal justice reform and support of reducing mass incarceration. And that's resonating with people.
SMERCONISH: Mr. Bell, good luck in your new position.
BELL: Thank you so much for having me on, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Still to come your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments like this.
"Smerconish, if victims run the criminal justice system, it becomes system of revenge and retribution not justice."
Robert, I think that's one of the criticisms that you would hear from the progressive prosecutors that there has been too much deference that has been afforded to crime victim family members but they've got a right to be heard too. And I was pointing to Mr. Bell and I appreciated his answer where you're going to have a defense lawyer who's constantly going to be seeking out right acquittal. By definition it also -- almost necessitates that a prosecutor is going to the other extreme if they can justify those charges.
But I appreciate your comment.
Coming up, in a moment the results of the survey question of the day. You've got one last chance to vote at Smerconish.com. "Does online" -- what do you think? "Does online engagement with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat increase loneliness and depression?" Go vote.
SMERCONISH: So my hunch is this will be a big margin. Here come the result to the survey question of the day at Smerconish.com.
"Do you think online engagement with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat increase loneliness and depression?" 8,613 votes cast. Yes, I'll say 74 percent of us -- because I'm in that category we see it. We get it.
And that the study at Penn that is now going to be published in a Peer Review Journal is a confirmation of what many of us know has been going on. I found it most telling that when I spoke on radio with the lead author of the study, Professor Melissa Hunt, she said to me that the students wanted to be in the group to be limited to 10 minutes per day on each of those platforms.
And one other thing, they didn't distinguished between the platforms so you can't say based on this data that one is worse than the other on this issue.
Catherine (ph), what do we have? I'm eating up all of your time, aren't I?
"If you're dependent on social media for your company you're already lonely and depressed."
Marc, this study was one that was able to -- it was directional. I'm not going to explain this well but this was able to disabuse the idea that you're there and -- you're there because you're already lonely. By the sample size that was ruled out.
Give me another one maybe I can improve on it.
"Get off the popular vote. The founders did this for the simple reason as not letting New York and California control this country. We will never get rid of the electoral college. You liberal needs to stop with the popular B.S."
I know liberal, George. I'll simply say this I think it's undermining faith in our system when there is decreasing majority rule in the country.
To be continued. Have a great week.