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TBR News August 15, 2020

Aug 15 2020

The Voice of the White House

Comments for August 15, 2020; Weird, dictatorial Trump who encouraged his nutty supporters to consider him “King Donald, Sent by God” (I am not joking about this) is trying to shut down the post office system so mail-in ballots (which cannot be tampered with like the electronic systems he is lining up to falsify election returns) can’t be counted. This pathetic creature deserves to be put in a rubber room in a dirty sheet while his cackling supporters can be dumped into quarries all across the land. Strong words for weak people.

 

 

The Table of Contents

 

  • Canary in the coal mine’: Greenland ice has shrunk beyond return, study finds
  • Strong anti-US feelings in German government over “lunatic” attempts by Trump to stop Nord Stream 2 gas project
  • A significant new book about to be published on German/US relations
  • Why the U.S. Is Right to Move Away from Private Prisons
  • Private prisons face an uncertain future as states turn their backs on the industry
  • The Empire in Collapse
  • Encyclopedia of American Loons

 

Canary in the coal mine’: Greenland ice has shrunk beyond return, study finds

August 14, 2020

by Cassandra Garrison

Reuters

(Reuters) – Greenland’s ice sheet may have shrunk past the point of return, with the ice likely to melt away no matter how quickly the world reduces climate-warming emissions, new research suggests.

Scientists studied data on 234 glaciers across the Arctic territory spanning 34 years through 2018 and found that annual snowfall was no longer enough to replenish glaciers of the snow and ice being lost to summertime melting.

That melting is already causing global seas to rise about a millimeter on average per year. If all of Greenland’s ice goes, the water released would push sea levels up by an average of 6 meters — enough to swamp many coastal cities around the world. This process, however, would take decades.

“Greenland is going to be the canary in the coal mine, and the canary is already pretty much dead at this point,” said glaciologist Ian Howat at Ohio State University. He and his colleagues published the study Thursday in the Nature Communications Earth & Environment journal.

The Arctic has been warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the world for the last 30 years, an observation referred to as Arctic amplification. The polar sea ice hit its lowest extent for July in 40 years.

The Arctic thaw has brought more water to the region, opening up routes for shipping traffic, as well as increased interest in extracting fossil fuels and other natural resources.

Greenland is strategically important for the U.S. military and its ballistic missile early warning system, as the shortest route from Europe to North America goes via the Arctic island.

Last year, President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory. But Denmark, a U.S. ally, rebuffed the offer. Then last month, the U.S. reopened a consulate in the territory’s capital of Nuuk, and Denmark reportedly said last week it was appointing an intermediary between Nuuk and Copenhagen some 3,500 kilometers away.

Scientists, however, have long worried about Greenland’s fate, given the amount of water locked into the ice.

The new study suggests the territory’s ice sheet will now gain mass only once every 100 years — a grim indicator of how difficult it is to re-grow glaciers once they hemorrhage ice.

In studying satellite images of the glaciers, the researchers noted that the glaciers had a 50% chance of regaining mass before 2000, with the odds declining since.

“We are still draining more ice now than what was gained through snow accumulation in ‘good’ years,” said lead author Michalea King, a glaciologist at Ohio State University.

The sobering findings should spur governments to prepare for sea-level rise, King said.

“Things that happen in the polar regions don’t stay in the polar region,” she said.

Still, the world can still bring down emissions to slow climate change, scientists said. Even if Greenland can’t regain the icy bulk that covered its 2 million square kilometers, containing the global temperature rise can slow the rate of ice loss.

“When we think about climate action, we’re not talking about building back the Greenland ice sheet,” said Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center who was not involved in the study. “We’re talking about how quickly rapid sea-level rise comes to our communities, our infrastructure, our homes, our military bases.”

Reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Katy Daigle and Aurora Ellis

 

Strong anti-US feelings in German government over “lunatic” attempts by Trump to stop Nord Stream 2 gas project

Three US senators are threatening the ferry port on the island of Rügen with “crushing” sanctions to prevent the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Fearing financial ruin, the people of Sassnitz are defiant.

August 14, 2020

DW

It smells of fried fish, the sun’s reflection is glittering in the water, a few sailboats lazily amble along. It’s still summer vacation time in some German states.  And here in Sassnitz on the Baltic Sea  island of Rügen even more so. Even the mayor of the little town of 9,000 people is on holiday. Or he would be – if it wasn’t for a threatening letter the town received from the US.

“It doesn’t happen every day that Sassnitz moves from 0 to 100 in the world’s political attention scale,” says Frank Kracht, laughing. Then he immediately turns earnest again. “I must take these threats seriously. Because first and foremost, this is also about workers.”

He is talking about the employees of Fährhafen Sassnitz, the company that operates the local Port Mukran. It is the logistical hub for the completion of the controversial “Nord Stream 2” gas pipeline, which is to transport gas directly from Russia to Germany. A good 150 kilometers (93 miles) of it are still being worked on.

In the letter to Sassnitz, three Republican US senators — Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — threatened Port Mukran with “crushing” economic and legal sanctions if it continued to allow ships to be equipped for the pipeline project.

Criticism not new, but tone is

The US wants to do all it can to prevent the pipeline from happening, and such criticism from across the Atlantic is hardly new. The Americans argue that Germany is making itself dependent on Russian gas. President Donald Trump has accused Germany of wanting US military protection from a Russian threat, while at the same time providing Moscow with high revenues from gas exports.

Ukraine and Poland insist that the Baltic Sea pipeline will mean they lose out on billions in transit fees from the pipelines that run through their countries.

But there may also be economic interests behind the Americans’ tough stance, because they want to sell their own liquid gas in Europe.

There have been threats like this in the past: Senator Cruz sent a similar letter to the Swiss-based Allseas shipping company last December. The company’s special ships are financed by international funds, two of which the shipping company subsequently withdrew from work on the pipeline almost immediately.

The Akademik Cherskiy, a Russian ship, is now to complete the work. She still needs to be technically equipped to bring the finished pipes, which are stored in Port Mukran, to the Baltic Sea. But this work is now at a standstill for the time being, which is where the threatening letter from the Americans comes in.

People of Sassnitz worried

The German Green party’s Jürgen Trittin called the letter an “economic declaration of war,” while Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s State Premier Manuela Schwesig described it as  “outrageous” and an “attempt at blackmail.”

In Sassnitz, few locals have much interest in US politics. Susanne Bender has lived in Sassnitz for 50 years, running the smoked fish stall “Heimat” (“home”). Bender sells fish rolls, which are apparently delicious because the queue is long.

“It’s not all right what Trump is doing. Why’s he interfering with our business?” she says. “Not just me personally, but everyone here is worried. We all depend on the port.” After the tourist trade, the industrial ferry port is the most important employer in the region.

“You build something up and now it’s supposed to be torn down again from under your feet,” says René Beinhoff, who sells ice cream on the Sassnitz promenade. “What nonsense!”

Mayor Frank Kracht also points out that the permits have all been issued, the pipeline is as good as finished – at least 94% of it is – and they want to stick with it. “It’s just a threat. There are no sanctions at the moment,” he said. “We have to take it seriously, but we also have to reassure our people that they will not be drawn into this political banter in any way.”

Threat may be effective

“The people of Sassnitz do not yet seem to have fully understood the abyss they are looking into,” says Sascha Lohmann, a political scientist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) who has been researching US sanctions for years.

According to Lohmann, the threatening backdrop of a mix of sanctions in the letter is enough to unsettle the financial market players, such as the ferry port’s house bank. “The senators understand exactly what psychological effect these threats have,” Lohmann points out.

According to Lohmann, the real problem is secondary sanctions. In other words, the US prohibiting its own companies from doing business with companies affected by sanctions —  in this case Port Mukran would lose all its US business partners.

Out of concern about this, the political scientist explains, many businesses prefer to forgo doing business with Mukran altogether, rather than risk their entire US business. “These financial players would then effectively render the port insolvent,” he says.

Twinned ports

Nobody really wants to talk about what is going to happen next. The Akademik Cherskiy is still in the Mukran port. So far, the Germans are determined to stick to the project, while some politicians are calling on the German government to take a stand, even to issue counter-sanctions.

Mayor Kracht is not convinced. “I think it’s counterproductive to rattle back with the same sabers. I think a peaceful solution and cooperation would suit us well,” he says. But what exactly this cooperation should or will look like is not entirely clear.

The only connection Sassnitz has with the US, says Kracht, is its twinning initiative with Port Washington, Wisconsin, where one of the senators behind the letter happens to be from. In fact, a group of young people was supposed to travel to Sassnitz from Wisconsin this summer. But then the coronavirus intervened and the visit had to be canceled. So instead of a happy group of teenagers on vacation, the only thing that came to Sassnitz was a threatening letter.

Nord Stream 2: US senators threaten German port with ‘crushing’ sanctions

Three Republican senators have ordered Murkan Port on the island of Rugen to stop assisting Russian vessels constructing the final sections of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Three US senators are threatening the operators of a small German port with “crushing legal and economic sanctions” for provisioning Russian vessels assisting with constructing the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline.

The US strongly opposes the pipeline, which is owned by Russian gas company Gazprom and will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany.

In their letter,,Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson accuse port operator Faehrhafen Sassnitz of “knowingly providing significant goods, services, and support” for the project.

‘Completely outrageous’

On Friday, German Minister of State Niels Annen said Germany “firmly rejected” the proposed sanctions, adding the tone and content of the letter were “completely outrageous.”

“Threatening a close friend and ally with sanctions, and using that kind of language, will not work,” Annen told German public broadcaster ZDF.

“European energy policy will be decided in Brussels, and not in Washington DC,” he said.

Don’t ‘dip’ that pipe

Murkan Port, located in the small seaside town Sassnitz on Baltic Sea island of Rugen, now finds itself at the center of a geopolitical showdown between Russia and the US.

Along with storing sections of pipe, the port serves as a logistic and service center for ships constructing the German end of the pipeline.

These include the Russian-flagged vessels “Fortuna” and “Akademik Cherskiy,” which have yet to begin their work, but will become sanctionable, ” the instant that either vessel dips a pipe into the water to construct the Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” according to the letter.

‘Fatal measures’

The US argues that the pipeline will increase Europe’s dependence on Russia, which both Berlin and Moscow dispute. The US proposes selling European’s American natural gas shipped across the Atlantic as an alternative.

The senators said the letter served as “formal legal notice,” and demanded that Faehrhafen Sassnitz, which is owned by the town of Sassnitz and the state of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, “cease activities” supporting the construction of the pipeline, or face “potentially fatal measures” that will cut the port’s commercial and financial ties with the US.

In December 2019, Washington passed the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act, targeting companies working on Nord Stream 2.

Switzerland-based pipeline manufacturer Allseas ceased its work on the pipeline after the act was passed, delaying construction off the German coastline.

However, the Nord Stream 2 is nearly finished. Only around 160 kilometers remains out of the planned 1,220-kilometer-long twin pipeline.

The majority of this is in Danish territorial waters, and a small part in German waters.  The pipe is planned to reach German soil at Lubmin, nearly 40 kilometers by sea from Sassnitz.

 

A significant new book about to be published on German/US relations

This is a book that should be of great interest to every German.

It is a detailed history of American CIA penetration into German economic, political and personal institutions since 1948.

The author details the following information:

  • CIA influence in major German banks. Listed are 20 German banks, their personnel with specific, paid CIA connections
  • CIA penetration of German newspapers, magazines and television stations
  • CIA control of members of the German government, Lists of individuals and departments
  • CIA control of the BND. Listed are hundreds of officials

The author has touched on many other aspects of German life and the publication of his work will no doubt create havoc.

It is now being formatted and will very soon be available to the public as an ebook.

The book is titled  ‘The Rats in the Bedroom’ and is authored  by a Jeremy Harvey

 

Why the U.S. Is Right to Move Away from Private Prisons

August 24, 2016

by Clint Smith

The New Yorker

People who have spent time in prison say that it is difficult to adequately convey what it means to have someone else in full control of your movements—when you eat, when you sleep, where you go, and how you get there. But when control is combined with a profit-making business model, it takes on a different character.

The absurdity of privatizing prisons, institutions whose purpose is to rehabilitate, so that their economic motivations no longer match up with their social missions, has for years been at the forefront of conversations regarding criminal-justice reform. During the Democratic Presidential primaries, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders promised to end the use of private prisons if elected. Then, last week, the Justice Department announced its plans to phase out their use in the federal system. The government had concluded, as Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote in a memo to federal officials, that these prisons, contrary to the private-prison industry’s claims, “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.”

The Justice Department’s decision will directly affect only thirteen federal facilities, which, taken together, house approximately twenty-two thousand of the country’s hundred and ninety-three thousand federal prisoners. But those numbers do not fully reflect the influence that private prisons have had on the broader criminal-justice system. After the private sector first entered the world of incarceration, in 1983, a handful of companies quickly began to exert a disproportionate amount of power in shaping the American prison landscape. Private-prison companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying legislators in state capitals and in Washington, D.C. As Adam Gopnik reported in this magazine, in 2012, Corrections Corporations of America (C.C.A.), the largest for-profit prison company in the United States, has said explicitly that changes to drug laws and sentencing, as well as immigration reform, would hurt its business. A 2005 annual report from C.C.A. states:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

The distorted incentives of the for-profit prison industry have even managed to find bright sides to undisputed social problems like unemployment. In 2008, one industry executive wrote a letter to shareholders saying that he believed the demand for prison beds would increase because people being released at the time would have a more difficult time finding jobs as a result of the recession, thus increasing their likelihood of ending up back in prison. The higher the recidivism rates, the more beds that are filled, and the more beds that are filled, the better for a for-profit prison. That said, not all private prisons have to worry about recidivism rates: some of their contracts at the state level guarantee them a certain number of prisoners. Four years ago, Harley Lappin, the chief corrections officer of C.C.A. and the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, offered states a deal: the company would buy state prisons (the money could help plug state budgets) in exchange for twenty-year contracts and guaranteed ninety-per-cent occupancy. A 2013 analysis by the privatization watchdog In the Public Interest found that two-thirds of private-prison contracts in the country include occupancy guarantees and stipulations that taxpayers cover the cost of any empty beds.

The U.S. prison system, over all, disproportionately affects black and brown people, but people of color are overrepresented to a greater degree in private prisons. Chris Petrella, a lecturer at Bates College, has written that this overrepresentation can be directly attributed to contractual provisions that “implicitly exempt private prison companies from housing certain types of individuals whose health care and staffing costs disproportionately attenuate profit margins. Health and therefore age tends to serve as a proxy for race without any explicit reference to it.” For example, black males between the ages of eighteen and nineteen are ten times more likely to be in state or federal prison than white males of the same age, and, because these young people tend to be healthier than their older counterparts, they are more likely to be incarcerated in a for-profit prison. Older prisoners are more expensive for prisons to house because they tend to require more health care over time. According to Petrella, private prisons attempt to keep older and sicker prisoners out, because the more they have to spend on an elderly prisoner’s health care, the more it cuts into their profit margin per inmate.

For-profit institutions also tend to be more violent and to provide fewer opportunities to prisoners for education and rehabilitative treatment. For years, activists have been asking a basic question: If getting an education while incarcerated has been proved to reduce recidivism rates, then what incentive does an institution that makes its money keeping people in prison have to provide any sort of educational programming? The private-prison company’s ultimate responsibility is not to the imprisoned, or even to the non-imprisoned—it is to the shareholder.

Of course, even in government-run prisons, private companies operate in a number of capacities. In California, for example, Corizon Health, a private, for-profit health-care firm that services more than three hundred and twenty thousand inmates in twenty-five states, was sued for failing to provide adequate care to a prisoner who died under the company’s supervision. Corizon was found to have used licensed vocational nurses in a role meant for registered nurses, a decision that saved Corizon thirty-five per cent on the salary of each nurse. Corizon brings in a reported $1.5 billion a year and operates in four hundred and twenty-nine correctional facilities. An earlier, separate lawsuit resulted in a searing 2012 report on Corizon’s work with the Idaho Department of Corrections, which found that the company’s delivery of medical and mental health care either resulted in or risked serious harm to prisoners. The report states that authorities responsible for the administration of health care were “deliberately indifferent to the serious health care needs of their charges.” Both cases ended in settlements.

We should not delude ourselves into thinking that allowing the contracts of thirteen private prisons to expire will change social policy and end mass incarceration. It certainly won’t. But that doesn’t mean we should downplay the importance of the Justice Department’s decision, either. When the power of private prisons is diminished, so, too, is their ability to engage in back-door political lobbying that has an impact on public and private prisons alike. The moral abhorrence of private prisons has been brought to our attention by courageous acts of investigative journalism, illuminating scholarship, and the work of activists who have decried the social stratification brought about by our prison systems. Closing thirteen private prisons is a small step, but it renews the conversation on how to move forward.

 

Private prisons face an uncertain future as states turn their backs on the industry

States are passing laws abolishing private prisons and businesses are cutting ties with the facilities. And private prison companies are planning for a future in which their core service is illegal.

December 1, 2019

by Catherine Kimcatkim

Vox

Alex Friedmann, 50, was transferred to a Tennessee public prison in 1998 after having spent the previous six years incarcerated in a private facility. Everything was different: There were more blankets, the toilet paper wasn’t as cheap, and correctional officers were everywhere.

“First thing I noticed was there’s a heck of a lot more staff or boots on the ground in the public prisons,” he told Vox. “There was not such an emphasis on cutting costs.”

After being released in 1999, Friedmann — now the associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center — began fighting for the abolishment of private prisons, and has spent the past two decades doing so. The arguments against them, according to Friedmann, are clear: Their for-profit model encourages the business to cut corners, affecting inmates’ safety and quality of living.

Increasingly, these criticisms of private, for-profit facilities have been reflected in policy and spending. Fueled in part by opposition from their constituents, lawmakers of states like California and Nevada have banned private prisons from operating. Businesses are also increasingly cutting ties with the industry following pushback from their customers.

The number of inmates in these facilities are also seeing a downward trend: In comparison to its peak in 2012 of about 136,220 people, the private prison population has decreased about 12 percent in the past five years as more facilities are closing. Given private prisons rely on facilities being full to remain economically viable, there is concern among executives that these falling numbers could eventually drive these businesses to their demise.

Some in the industry have begun to accept that private prisons may not exist in the decades to come. CoreCivic, the nation’s largest and oldest private prison firm, said it has begun to plan for a federal private prison ban if a Democratic candidate wins the 2020 presidential election (current frontrunners like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren support its abolishment), according to Nashville Post. Rather than house inmates for the government, the company would simply lease real estate, CEO Damon Hininger said on a conference call last month.

In an attempt to avoid having to rely on these contingency plans, the for-profit prison industry has established an advocacy group called Day 1 Alliance (D1A). The group launched on October 25 and is backed by the largest companies in the industry: CoreCivic will provide initial funding while GEO Group and Management & Training Corporation — the second and third largest companies in the marketplace — will take on leadership roles, according to the Associated Press.

As a public information group, D1A will focus on changing public opinion that has soured on the industry. The group doesn’t plan on lobbying or advocating for issues, the group’s spokeswoman Alexandra Wilkes told Vox; instead it will focus on spreading its message by engaging with the media.

“We launched D1A because of the huge gap that has opened up between the false, distorted rhetoric that activists and some politicians use against this industry and the facts on the ground,” Wilkes said.

But activists argue that the advocacy group does not have the best interests of incarcerated people in mind, and are concerned it will try to downplay the poor living conditions in some facilities while reversing the victories activists have won in states like California and Nevada.

“Don’t be fooled: This is an effort to defend a multi-billion dollar industry that regularly gouges American taxpayers and take attention away from the conditions in these jails,” said Families Belong Together Chairwoman Jess Morales Rocketto, who also wrote in a statement: “The private prison industry has a long and documented history of abusing people in their care.”

Whether D1A is able to successfully rebut this sentiment remains to be seen; it is clear that doing so will be difficult given that state and federal politicians, activists, other corporations, and members of the public are pushing for the complete closure of private prisons. With over 100,000 inmates currently incarcerated in private prisons, the industry is not yet at its deathbed. But there are signs the successful legislation in California and Nevada has inspired lawmakers elsewhere: Minnesota and Colorado are both working on bills that would abolish for-profit prisons.

A brief history of private prisons

Private prisons first emerged in the 1980s in response to mass incarceration created by tough-on-crime policies. As state and federal prisons became overcrowded, private businesses seized the opportunity to build their own facilities and house the incarcerated. The world’s first modern for-profit prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (now known as CoreCivic), was established in 1983 by Thomas Beasley, Doctor R. Crants, and T. Don Hutto.

CoreCivic — and other for-profit prisons that followed — makes money from government contracts that set a cost per inmate that taxpayers pay the company. In return, the facilities agree to provide incarcerated people with a mandatory ration of food, clothing, health care, and other living needs.

It’s an attractive partnership for states because it gives them the opportunity to shift accountability away from themselves, said Louisiana State University political science professor Anna Gunderson, who is writing about the US’s adoption of these facilities.

“What’s driving a lot of the [private prison system] is not so much the need — although that’s certainly part of it — but also the desire to sort of make sure that if something bad happens within private facilities, the company is blamed and not necessarily the state government,” she said.

That’s exactly why they’re a problem, because these businesses — which like any other, are looking to make a profit — work to increase profit margins by cutting corners, activists argue. Friedmann said he found this particularly true in the quality of the staff. Not only were there fewer correctional officers, but they were also trained less than officers at public prisons, he said. Low pay rates led to frequent turnover, and a lack of experienced officers directly impact the inmates’ quality of life, he added.

“I do recall one incident where a prisoner set fire within his cell, smoke was billowing out of his cell, he was locked inside,” Friedmann said. “The guard, instead of letting the guy out or calling from help, just held the door shut so he couldn’t get out. And that might have been because she was the only staff member in the unit. And she was afraid if she’d let the guy out, he might overpower her or something. Basically just left him in there to burn.”

Under the Obama administration, narratives like these became cause for alarm. An 2016 memo ordered the Justice Department to reduce the use of private prisons after a DOJ report revealed they had higher rates of contraband, violence, and use of force than public prisons. This directive, coupled with declining incarceration numbers, led many who are opposed to private prisons to believe that economic realities would lead to the facilities going out of business.

But that optimism faded in 2017, when then Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo “to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” The Trump administration went on to embrace the use of private detention facilities in order to realize its family separation policy. The Homestead center, a private shelter near Miami operated by the for-profit company Caliburn, was criticized in June for detaining migrant children for long periods in poor conditions. It attracted a flock of presidential candidates, who denounced the facility while standing on its grounds; the facility effectively shut down on November 30.

“For a lot of people it is a lot easier to be upset about private prisons when the people that are incarcerated within them are children or families,” Gunderson said. “I think that caught a lot of people’s attention and it made them realize, ‘If the federal government is privatizing immigration what is my state doing?’”

Despite public outcry over private detention facilities — in particular the shelters — the Trump administration shows no sign of reversing its policies. In response to the federal government’s embrace of for-profit incarceration, states and businesses have begun to take their own action against the industry.

States and industries have both taken action against private prisons

In total, 22 states — under both Democratic and Republican control — do not house incarcerated people in for-profit prisons. And in recent months, three states have passed legislation addressing these facilities. Nevada banned private prisons in May, and the following month, Illinois, which banned for-profit correctional centers in the 1990s, expanded that law to include privately-run immigration detention center

California passed a bill in October that effectively bans for-profit prisons. The state will close three private prisons that house 1,400 inmates in the next four years, while four private detention facilities that hold about 4,000 people will also stop operating in the next year, according to Reuters.

“By ending the use of for-profit, private prisons and detention facilities, we are sending a powerful message that we vehemently oppose the practice of profiteering off the backs of Californians in custody, that we will stand up for the health, safety and welfare of our people, and that we are committed to humane treatment for all,” Assemblymember Rob Bonta, chief author of the bill, said in a statement following the passage of the bill.

But significant loopholes still exist in California’s law that are of concern to those who advocate for the total abolition of private prisons: facilities that provide “educational, vocational, medical or other ancillary services” will be exempted, according to Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives for the Sentencing Project.

“I don’t necessarily think that the passage of that legislation will mean the end of the end of private prisons in that state,” she said. “It just seems that there’s a lot of loopholes which means that the private prison industry is going to continue. So I don’t look necessarily at California as a model.”

For Gotsch, states like Nevada — which effectively abolished private prisons with few exemptions in May — should serve as an ideal example of how states should scrap the facilities because that state’s ban is absolute: Nevada cannot have contracts with any private facilities that provide services like housing and custody after July 1, 2022, with no exemptions.

More states are planning to take similar measures to ride this wave of banning private prisons. Last month, Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers proposed a bill that would close most of the state’s for-profit facilities — which hold about 19 percent of Colorado’s incarcerated population — by 2025. Two Minnesota state representatives also plan to introduce a bill during the 2020 session that would ban for-profit immigration detention centers.

And it’s not only states that are taking notice of the public’s scrutiny of these businesses. Banks are also cutting ties with these companies: All of GEO Group’s known bank partners — JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, SunTrust, and Barclays — announced they would no longer provide lines of credit to the company by September, according to Morgan Simon’s reporting in Forbes.

As I explained when Bank of America cut its ties with the detention industry, these financial partnerships are important to the daily operation of the facilities:

Most of these facilities rely on debt financing from these banks to pay for their day-to-day operational fees. The operators pay off the banks when they secure government contracts, which then gives them the ability to continue taking out loans. Other sources of financing exist, but without a steady stream of loans to keep the cycle going, private prison operators wouldn’t be able to keep their facilities open.

While the capital these banks provide is just a portion of these companies’ financial portfolios — which include share ownership, bonds, and private equity investors — GEO Group said losing the backing of its banking partners “could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, and results of operations” if other investors decide to ditch the industry as well.

While the continued existence of private prisons is increasingly being called into question, the reality is that closing private prisons will change little about the criminal justice system as a whole. Only 121,718 inmates, or about 8.2 percent of the US prison population, are incarcerated in private prisons, according to the Sentencing Project. More than a million Americans would remain imprisoned even if those held at private prisons were released, and many state and federal facilities suffer from the same poor conditions for-profit prisons are said to have.

Ultimately, Friedmann said the root of the private prison problem — and the root of many other criminal justice issues — is mass incarceration, “If you didn’t have so many people locked up, we wouldn’t need the extra beds the private prisons provide,” he said. His solution: rolling back tough-on-crime legislation and removing profit incentives from the justice system. Doing both things, he said, would not only hasten the demise of private prisons, but would also begin to address larger issues with incarceration in the US.

 

The Empire in Collapse

Because of the growing, and serious, public discontent that had been manifested during the course of the Vietnamese War from 1950 through 1973, the American governmental establishment resolved to take steps to recognize, infiltrate and neutralize any significant future national anti-government actions.

Once the most powerful nation, the United States is rapidly losing its premier position in the international sphere while at the same time facing a potential serious anti-government political movement developing in that country. The number of unemployed in the United States today is approximately 97,000,000. Official American sources claim that employment is always improving but in fact it is not. Most official governmental releases reflect wishful thinking or are designed to placate the public

This situation is caused by the movement, by management, of manufacturing businesses to foreign labor markets. While these removals can indeed save the companies a great deal of expenditure on domestic labor, by sharply reducing their former worker bodies to a small number, the companies have reduced the number of prospective purchasers of expensive items like automobiles.

The U.S. government’s total revenue is estimated to be $3.654 trillion for fiscal year 2019.

  • Personal income taxes contribute $1.836 trillion, half of the total.
  • Another third ($1.224 trillion) comes from payroll taxes.

This includes $892 billion for Social Security, $270 billion for Medicare and $50 billion for unemployment insurance.

  • Corporate taxes add $355 billion, only 10 percent.
  • Customs excise taxes and tariffs on imports contribute $146 billion, just 4 percent
  • The Federal Reserve’s net income adds $70 billion.
  • The remaining $23 billion of federal income comes from estate taxes and miscellaneous receipts.
  • The use of secret offshore accounts by US citizens to evade U.S. federal taxes costs the U.S. Department of the Treasury well over $100 billion annually.

By moving from a producing to an importing entity, the United States has developed, and is developing, serious sociological and economic problems in a significant number of its citizens, and many suffer from serious health problems that are not treated.

It is estimated that over 500,000 American citizens are without any form of housing. Many of these people either are living on the streets, in public parks, living in cars or in charity shelters. There are at present over 200,000 family groups in America with over 300,000 individuals involved and 25% of the total are minor children.

Over 80,000 individuals are permanently without any residence. Many of these have physical disabilities such as chronic alcoholism or drug addiction. Many are classified as having severe mental disorders.

About 50,000 of these homeless individuals are military veterans, many of whom have serious physical or mental problems. One of the most common mental disorders is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Governmental treatment for these individuals is virtually non-existent.  Approximately half of this number are either black or Latin American (“Hispanics” in official designation.)

Of the total number of the homeless individuals, approximately 10% are female.

Official but private, estimates are that there over 500,000 youths below the age of 24 in current American society that find themselves homeless for periods lasting from one week to a permanent status.

Over 100,000 of this class are young people who are defined as being homosexual. Those in this class find themselves persecuted to a considerable degree by society in general and their peer groups in specific.

Approximately 50% of this homeless population are over the age of 50, many of whom suffer from chronic, debilitating physical illnesses that are not treated.

Drug deaths in the U.S. in 2017 exceeded 60,000.  Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involved prescriptions. Opioids are a class of strong painkillers drugs and include Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin which are synthetic drugs designed to resemble opiates such as opium derived morphine and heroin. The most dangerous opioid is Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. The increasing demand for these drugs is causing them to be manufactured outside the United States.

Suicide is the primary cause of “injury death” in the United States and more U.S. military personnel on active duty have killed themselves than were killed in combat last year.

The growing instability of American families is manifested by the fact that:

  • One out of every three children in America lives in a home without a father.
  • More than half of all babies are being born out of wedlock for women under the age of 30 living in the United States
  • The United States has the highest child abuse death rate in the developed world.
  • The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world although the numbers have declined in recent years due to the use of contraceptives.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate and the largest total prison population in the entire world. The criminal justice system in the United States holds more than 4,166,000 people in 1,719 state prisons, 102,000 in federal prisons, 901,000 in juvenile correctional facilities, and 3,163,000 in local jails. Additionally, 5,203,400 adults are on probation or on parole.

The number of people on probation or parole has increased the population of the American corrections system to more than 9,369,400 in 2017. Corrections costs the American taxpayer $69 billion a year.

There are a huge number of American domestic and business mortgages, (67 million by conservative estimate) which have been sliced up, put into so-called “investment packages” and sold to customers both domestic and foreign. This problem has been covered up by American authorities by cloaking the facts in something called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration System)

This results in the fact that the holders of mortgages, so chopped and packed, are not possible to identify by MERS or anyone else, at any time and by any agency. This means that any property holder, be they a domestic home owner or a business owner, is paying their monthly fees for property they can never own.

Another festering problem consists of the official loans made to students in colleges and universities in the U.S. the predatory nature of the $90 billion student loan industry. These so-called student loans are the most serious economic problem faced today by American university students.

This problem arose due to federal legislation originating in the mid-1990s which effectively removed basic consumer protections from student loans, thus permitting extensive penalties and the methodology for enforced collection.

Because of the highly inflated cost of higher American education, very few students from high school can afford university education. The new college graduate has, on average, a student loan in excess of $20,000 and students attending graduate programs have average debts of over $40,000.

America today has seriously failing public school systems. Upper economic class Americans are able to send their children to expensive private schools and avoid the exceedingly incompetent public systems. The average American lower school graduates are only a step above illiteracy and their lack of knowledge of world affairs is quite unbelievable.

A small number of extremely wealthy men control and operate all of the major American print and television media.

Each of the few very powerful, rich men have their own reasons for deciding what qualifies as news.

But the public in America now gets its news, without cost, from various internet sites and the circulation number of major print news has dropped dramatically. This has forced the internet editions of the print news media to erect what they call “paywalls.” This permits a very limited number of articles to be read or downloaded before the system demands money for the use of additional material.

The major print media in America is faced with imminent bankruptcy and are making frantic efforts at attempts to prevent free news sites from being aired on the internet.

Government surveillance of the American public is very widespread and at the present time, almost every aspect of an American citizen, or resident, is available for official surveillance. This includes mail, television viewing, telephone conversations, computer communications, travel, ownership of property, medical and school records, banking and credit card transactions, inheritances and other aspects of a citizen’s daily life.

This is done to circumvent any possible organization that could contravene official government policy and has its roots in massive civil resistance to governmental policy during the war in Vietnam. The government does not want a reprise of that problem and its growing surveillance is designed to carefully watch any citizen, or groups of citizens, who might, present or future, pose a threat to government policy.

Another factor to be considered is the current American attitudes towards racial issues. There has always been prejudice in the United States against blacks. In 1943 there were bloody riots in Detroit and Los Angeles, the former aimed at blacks and the latter against Mexicans. Since then, there has been chronic racial prejudice but it has been relatively small and very local. Also, there is growing anti-Semitic prejudice in American but this is officially ignored and never is mentioned in the American media. Much of this growing problem is directed at the brutal actions of Israel against Palestinians. Israelis have an undue influence in the American political scene. The very far right so-called neo-cons are almost all Jewish and most are Israeli citizens. Also, the middle-level ranks of American CIA personnel are heavily infiltrated by Israelis and it is said that any secret the CIA has is at once passed to Israel and that countries needs are assuming importance in CIA actions.

The attitudes of the working class Americans were inflamed during the last presidential elections by Mr. Trump who catered to them and encouraged rebellious attitudes. By speaking against Central American illegal immigrants, Mr. Trump has caused a polarization of attitudes and the militant right wing in America, currently small in number but well-organized and potentially very dangerous, has begun to make its views very well known in public demonstrations.

This movement has played into the hands of far-right American political manipulators.

It is their intention to clandestinely arm these groups and use them to cause violent public confrontations with the far left groups.

By causing this potential violence, the manipulators intend to use the American military to move into unstable area to, as they say, ‘establish law and order’ while in reality, they will use martial law to firm up their basic control of a potentially fractious public.

It is then intended, according to information, to incorporate organized, para-military groups into a sort of domestic Federal police force. These people will not be punished for their actions but rewarded and utilized to ensure further right-wing control of the country.

 

Encyclopedia of American Loons

         Lyle Hartford van Dyke

Note: We do not know exactly what the proper place for people like this is in the alphabet, but this seems as good a place as any; Lyle Hartford van Dyke himself has in any case no intentions of following any rules. Now, the name of Lyle Hartford van Dyke may be pretty obscure to most people, but in some circles he’s a legendary practitioner of pseudolaw (this kind). He has even published an instruction book on how to file nuisance liens against government employees and judges who don’t like you (him) and runs the National Association for Commercial Accountability, a one-man organization that mostly sells his leaflets and advice. He also claims to have invented the dialysis machine, sort of randomly by the way.

His liens, styled as “Common Law Lien on the Property and Hand Signature of the Following Persons” (and described by a judge as “meaningless” and “of no legal force or effect”), were nullified and permanently enjoined in US v. Van Dyke (D Ore 1983). Van Dyke also showed up and presented himself as “a self-described lawyer without a license” and an expert on nuisance liens in the Montana Freemen trial but was ordered out of the courthouse by the judge (against whom he had already filed a comprehensive lien). He also announced that he had issued more than $3 billion in his self-invented currency based on his liens (van Dyke is the proud author of How to Create Currencies for Local Communities).

These examples just scratch the surface of van Dyke’s history of weird antics, but his tale of problematic run-ins with the legal system has become rather dark, so we’ll leave it be.

Moreover, van Dyke has appeared on Jeff Rense’s show with his conspiracy theories about Pearl Harbor (original here); his primary source was his father, who apparently claimed to have personally known about the attack in advance. He has also written Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars (excerpt here), which – as always – exposes the deepest secrets of the governments and is van Dyke’s own explanation for why he spends a lot of time in jail. It is not the court’s explanation. (Here is apparently his defense; John Nolan was his accomplice.) The book seems to have achieved some popularity in certain corners of the Internet (don’t go there).

Diagnosis: Colorful village original, sure, but his nuisance liens are actually a real, well, nuisance, and there are apparently people willing to listen to his advice on legal matters, which is worrisome.

 

 Larry Hart & Myron Ebell

 

Larry Hart is the Director of Government Relations for the American Conservative Union, a D.C.-based group that calls itself “the oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization in the nation” (they host the CPAC, for instance). We are sure Hart has plenty of crazy views and positions, but his hatred for science is particularly notable. An example: In 2013 a bill to create up to three U.S. Science Laureates was initially considered so non-controversial that it never even got a committee hearing; it nevertheless got squashed after raging wingnuts of various disinformation organizations, such as Hart and his groupd, got to hear about it. In a letter to other conservative organizations and House members, Hart argued that the bill would give President Barack Obama the opportunity to appoint someone “who will share his view that science should serve political ends, on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases” (a pretty breathtaking example of psychological projection; apparently Hart doesn’t own a mirror – he might be a vampire.) In other words, Hart warned that the science laureate might end up mentioning things like the overwhelming evidence that the earth is warming due to human activity, for instance, and talk about what science actually shows (that would have been sort of the point of the position), and since Hart disagrees with what science shows to be the case, he vehemently opposed giving scientists a platform like thi

Climate change denialist Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute didn’t like the bill either: “There’s no way to make [the bill] work,” said Ebell, since no matter what “[i]t would still give scientists an opportunity to pontificate, and we’re opposed to it.” That’s right, scientists must be prevented from speaking out since their research tend to make them draw other conclusions than the ones Ebell is comfortable with. Rather, Ebell – who has a long history of climate change denialism, conspiracy theory mongering and anti-environmentalism – argued that instead of listening to scientists the government needs to listen to big corporations when evaluating matters of science.

Diagnosis: In many ways, the example illustrates current political dynamics pretty well, where delusional extremists who – often without being entirely aware of it – specialize in misinformation manage to derail even the most obviously beneficial and innocuous (and even bipartisan – the bill in question was cosponsored by Lamar Smith, for crying out loud) political moves.

 

Donald Trump

 

“I have broken more Elton John records, he seems to have a lot of records. And I, by the way, I don’t have a musical instrument. I don’t have a guitar or an organ. No organ. Elton has an organ. And lots of other people helping. No we’ve broken a lot of records. We’ve broken virtually every record. Because you know, look I only need this space. They need much more room. For basketball, for hockey and all of the sports, they need a lot of room. We don’t need it. We have people in that space. So we break all of these records. Really we do it without like, the musical instruments. This is the only musical: the mouth. And hopefully the brain attached to the mouth. Right? The brain, more important than the mouth, is the brain. The brain is much more important.”

–       Actual quote from a July 2018 unofficial campaign rally in Montana at which Donald Trump described things, as usual according to many fans, “as they are”.

Donald Trump is a conspiracy theorist, rich buffoon (inherited wealth), almost remarkably unsuccessful businessman whose main business strategy has been pushing for bankruptcies (“I do play with the bankruptcy laws – they are very good for me”), reality TV celebrity and 45th president of the US, since a large number of people apparently thought that would be a good idea. According to some, including himself, he is also “the chosen one” and the “King of Israel”, something that – apparently this needs to be pointed out – does not make electing him a better idea. Now, we are not going to try to provide anything resembling a comprehensive portrait of Donald Trump here. In particular, we will not cover his incompetence and ignorance (which he is proud of, remember); his moral corruptness; his feeble, rambling, vindictive incoherence; lack of integrity; infantile delusions; strategically problematic (idiotic) political decisions and visions (for an old one, here is his 2015 explanation for how he would fight IS, which reminds one of this); his total disconnection from reality; hypocrisy; striking character flaws (even those that have led to actual deaths) or his pandering to worrisome sentiments in the electorate. Heck, we won’t even comment (much) on his systematic (or, rather, mostly completely random) lying – a quick, outdated tally here – and well-established complete disregard for the truth, his fabrications (anyone still remember his claims about people in New Jersey cheering 9/11 and subsequent claim that a media conspiracy is suppressing footage and citing Infowars as supporting source?), complete lack of a bullshit detector and inability to distinguish reliable sources from InfoWars or random, genuine nazis on Twitter. Donald Trump is, in short, incompetent as a president, as well as generally incompetent as a human being (this description is pretty apt). What we will do instead, though, is to give a few, briefly described examples of Trump’s actual promotion of pseudoscience and (some of many) conspiracy theories. Even these will be kept at a superficial level, however: others write about these issues more comprehensively and eloquently than we do.

“Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

–       Donald Trump making a surprising discovery in 2017.

That said, it should be emphasized that Trump encapsulates, perhaps better than any other politician, the characteristics of a post-truth political rhetoric – the appeal to narratives, emotions and personality, and utter disregard for details, analysis, evidence or accuracy, as well as a tendency to treat facts, evidence and science as inherently political and dismissing those who disagree with him as having ulterior and nefarious motives. His tendency to label facts he doesn’t like “fake news” is an obvious case in point (an early, pre-presidential meltdown example is here), a strategy that not only reflects an attempt to discredit those whose claims he doesn’t like without having to engage with the content of what they say, but also serves to sow confusion about what fake news, and the threats posed by fake news, really are – thereby further enabling propaganda and casual rejection of inconvenient facts as political attacks to be dismissed among his followers. The rage he expressed when he was fact-checked on Twitter is also illustrative in this respect; Donald Trump has his own facts, and if reality doesn’t agree, then favoring reality is a form of bias – Twitter is “silencing” him, he reported (on Twitter).

Nor can we avoid mentioning Donald Trump’s completely uncritical reliance for information on sycophants who tell him exactly what he wants to hear – often by repeating claims Trump himself has made up a bit before. This is, needless to say, not a quality most sane people would be looking for in a president. Trump’s supporters, however, tend to accept any conspiracy theory, no matter how incoherent and wild-eyed, Trump pushes, giving the whole dynamics a cult-like tinge. (Such as when right-wing pastor Curt Landry told his viewers that they should listen to Trump and not medical experts on the COVID-19 outbreak, or Kenneth Copeland telling his fans that the Holy Spirit is guiding “king” (!) Trump through the coronavirus crisis.)

“All I know is what’s on the Internet”

–       Donald Trump offering a fitting campaign slogan after being confronted with the fact that his claim that a demonstrator who attempted to storm the stage at a rally in Dayton, Ohio “has ties to ISIS” was based on a fake video.

The Deep State Conspiracy

Trump is setting out to dismantle every single aspect of the government that isn’t solely dependent on the President’s word, which is perhaps not, in itself, lunacy (just scary). His followers tend to cheer him on, because they tend to confuse division of powers and checks on power with deep state conspiracies. That, of course, puts the lunacy on them rather than on Trump. But Trump also seems to share those lunatic conspiracy theories, and that clearly qualifies him for the “deranged conspiracy kook” title.

Among the worst techniques the deep state employs, according to Trump, is the electoral college, which is used by the establishment to steal the election from the people. In 2012 he even called for “revolution in this country” (while under the misapprehension that Romney won the popular vote). Of course, Trump actually believes that he won the popular vote in 2016, too: “[i]n addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”. Trump’s own incoherent claims, attempted policy decisions and ideas about voter fraud, are a topic we need to set aside here, however.

Not all the deep state conspiracies are particularly deep, though. For instance, as Trump sees it, Obama’s deliberate efforts to import drug lords to the US to help the Democratic party, or his efforts to relocate Syrian refugees to Republican states were rather blatant, if not particularly non-ridiculous – though you should probably keep in mind the quality of the minds to which this sort of nonsense is addressed. (Mostly the same audience who’d put faith in his commitment to fight the War on Christmas – the standard for manufactroversies against which all other manufactroversies must be judged – against, apparently, himself.)

Back in the days, Trump was a major promoter of birtherism, relying for instance on an unnamed “extremely credible source” and the ramblings of criminal Joe Arpaio, whom Trump as a president later pardoned, falsely claiming for instance that president Obama spent millions of dollars “to keep this quiet” and that Obama’s grandmother confessed to witnessing his birth in Kenya. Accordingly, Trump declared himself a “proud” birther, noting that he (Trump) “went to a great college, the best” and “was a very good student” and “a very smart guy.” Trump has even claimed that Obama himself “said he was born in Kenya” and promised to write a “very successful book” laying out his birther theory. In 2012 Trump promised to give $5 million to a charitable cause in exchange for documents that would prove that Obama was not born abroad. He did not follow up on this promise either.

Other birther talking points made by Donald Trump include claiming:

–       That a Hawaii official was murdered in a birth certificate cover-up

–       That Bill Ayers was the real author of Dreams from my father.

–       That Obama’s birth name was Barry Soetoro (a common birther idea, which is so stupid that it beggars belief, even when the contrast class is other conspiracy theorists)

–       That Obama never attended Columbia.

–       That Obama was a “terrible student” when he attended Columbia

–       That Obama is secretly a Muslim or sympathetic to radical Islam, and that his administration is secretly running guns through Bengazi to ISIS – Obama is, in short, not only a Muslim but an ISIS sympathizer. Not that many of his fans would ever think that there was a difference.

In fairness, Trump also pushed birther conspiracy theories about Marco Rubio.

Otherwise, Trump’s disregard for the Constitution probably needs a brief mention. According to his son Eric Trump, conservatives can trust Donald Trump to protect constitutional principles, but insofar as he cited his father’s engagement with the imaginary War on Christmas as his sole piece of evidence, few minimally reasonable people would be much swayed (“This is a guy who jumps up and down every time somebody says, ‘holiday tree.’ No, it’s not a holiday tree guys, it’s a Christmas tree,” said Eric Trump, who seems to have as little conception of what the Consitution actually is as his father.) Donald Trump has otherwise vowed to change libel laws to sue journalists who write “horrible” articles about him, urged the Federal Communications Commission to fine a media commentator who criticized him and urged Bill Gates to begin “closing that Internet up in some way” (no, you wouldn’t suspect him of knowing how the Internet works, would you?), while dismissing concerns about free speech rights: “Somebody will say, ‘oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.” In line with a typical fundie wingnut understanding of religious freedom, Trump has also called for a ban on Muslims from entering the country (not only immigration) and government surveillance of mosques, even suggesting that the government should begin tracking all Muslims in databases.

Denialism and general view of science

“Look, having nuclear – my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, okay, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart – you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, okay, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world – it’s true! – but when you’re a conservative Republican they try – oh, do they do a number – that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune – you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged – but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me – it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right – who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners – now it used to be three, now it’s four – but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years – but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.”

–       Donald Trump apparently establishing his scientific credentials while talking about the Iran nuclear deal (note that the whole thing is a single sentence. Immanuel Kant used long sentences, too.)

Donald Trump vacillates between claiming to know science better than the scientists and rejecting science and dismissing scientists as airheads who promote fake news (which seems to have become the regular conservative platform). He is, however, always ready to take them on (some examples here). So for instance, when he claimed some golf course he owns was also the site of a historic Civil War battle, and real historians told him this was not the case, Trump was ready to dismiss their objections in a manner that … some of us have become rather familiar with: “How would they know that? Were they there?”

“I know much about climate change. I’d be – received environmental awards.”

Trump is, predictably, a global warming denialist, and so much so that he at one point even cut a “life-saving” program that helps children specifically because said program mentioned climate change, a term he has banned from being used in his administration. More importantly, his administration has made great efforts to eliminate environmental protections and prevent government-funded agencies from doing any scientific research on climate-related issues and limiting the extent to which government and governmental agencies can rely on, or even refer to, science in their decision making (we’ve already covered Scott Pruitt, and it was Trump who appointed him, together with industry lobbyists like Robert Phalen, who complained that the the air is “too clean” in America, after he fired all the scientists from the EPA).

As for his own views, Trump says of global warming that “a lot of it’s a hoax, it’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, OK? It’s a hoax, a lot of it” because if you repeat it three times it becomes true.

Apparently, the idea of global warming is merely the result of scientists “having a lot of fun.” On other occasions, the whole “concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”. After all, conspiracy theorists are not deterred by contradictions. What matters is that his opponents worry about global warming, and his opponents include both scientists and the Chinese, in addition to the Democrats. Trump was naturally critical of Obama’s talk about climate change: “he’s talking about climate change. I call it weather. I call it weather. You know, the weather changes [no, of course he doesn’t get the difference – what did you really expect?].” He did admit that “[m]aybe there’s a little bit of change, I don’t happen to believe it’s manmade.” (One might wonder what he thought there might be a little bit of change to insofar as he rejects the distinction between climate and weather, but we are very sure there would be no point in asking.) Then he repeated the oft-repeated utter falsehood that scientists in the 1970s said that the earth was cooling.

He is apparently also an ozone depletion denialist. “If I take hair spray, and if I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer? I say, no way, folks. No way, OK?  No way,” said Trump, apparently unaware that gases sprayed inside will eventually get outside or in general how doors and windows work (unless he was planning on storing said hair spray in his lungs).

Trump is, moreover, an asbestos denialist. In his book The Art of the Comeback (which he is, in fairness, unlikely ever to have read), he denied any association between asbestos exposure and cancer, stating instead that the asbestos scare was a conspiracy by politicians afraid of the asbestos-pushing mob. It is notable that Trump was still pushing asbestos denialism in 2018 via his EPA director Scott Pruitt, who announced that the EPA would cease evaluating asbestos hazards in the environment. Meanwhile, Trump does believe, falsely, that wind turbines cause cancer. (Later rants about wind turbines, including wind turbine “fumes”, have been even less coherent).

Trump’s education policies would be worth a separate chapter, starting with him tapping Jerry Falwell jr. for his education panel and appointing anti-public education activist Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.

Antivaxx sympathies

Trump has, on several occasions, expressed sympathies with the antivaccine movement and promoted antivaccine conspiracy theories. His long antivaccine history (up until 2015) is recounted here. Trump has, after casually asserting that “I’ve gotten to be pretty familiar with the subject” (false), claimed that vaccinations lead to autism and, in particular, that autism comes from a “monster shot” – “have you ever seen the size of these inoculations? You can’t pump that much fluid into a little baby’s body,” said Trump, who has evidently never seen the size of the inoculations. He has elsewhere pushed the “too many, too soon” myth, which tends to be the favored gambit among antivaxx activists at present (some of Trump’s defenders seem to have missed that dogwhistle). As he put it in 2007: “When I was growing up, autism wasn’t really a factor. And now all of a sudden, it’s an epidemic [it isn’t]. Everybody has their theory. My theory, and I study it [he doesn’t] because I have young children, my theory is the shots. We’ve giving these massive injections at one time, and I really think it does something to the children.” And no: he doesn’t seem to have changed his mind on the issue – indeed, his 2014 update was that his theory was “being proven right about massive vaccinations – the doctors lied. Save our children & their future.” He wasn’t, but then again no one has ever really suspected Trump of really having any clear idea about what’s going on, have they? Meanwhile, Trump campaign spokesperson Elizabeth Emken, a former Executive Director of Autism Speaks, decided to brazenly lie about what Trump was saying to try to make it as palatable as possible both to antivaxxers and to those who rightfully view antivaxxers as dangerous conspiracy theorists.

Like most antivaxxers, Trump doesn’t like being called “anti-vaccine”; according to Trump “I’m all for vaccinations, but I think that when you add all of these vaccinations together and then two months later the baby is so different … I’ve known cases,” which reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how evidence works even if his observational claims were true, which we suspect they aren’t. When Fox host Gretchen Carlson intervened as a voice of reason (!) and informed him to say that most physicians disagree with this position, Trump dismissed the idea in an all too familiar fashion: “Yeah, I know they do. … I couldn’t care less”.

Trump’s foundation, which tends to be stingy with donations, did give $10,000 to Jenny McCarthy’s “charity” Generation Rescue. In 2014, Trump asserted that “If I were President I would push for proper vaccinations but would not allow one time massive shots that a small child cannot take – AUTISM.” Of course, he hasn’t quite acted on that promise (and probably doesn’t remember giving it), but in 2017 leading antivaccine conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy jr. claimed that Trump had asked him to head a “commission on vaccine safety” (a Trump spokesperson confirmed the meeting – Trump has also met Andrew Wakefield – but denied that anything had been decided with regard to the commission).

Trump’s ebola virus reactions in 2015 did not exactly suggest a mind that understands what goes on around him either. His various hunch-based responses to and (often dangerous) takes on Covid-19 are a chapter in itself that we will have to set aside here. (His son Donald jr.’s take on the pandemic is, if possible, even more deranged).

Trump University and the Trump Network

Trump University was a diploma mill at which students could supposedly earn real degrees (on the topic of real estate) from random people Trump himself had never met in exchange for an exorbitant “tuition”. (The institution was basically run independently of him, though he received a cut for allowing them to use his name). The “institution’s” claim to offer degrees was in violation of New York law, and in 2014, the New York Supreme Court held that Trump was personally liable for running an unlicensed school and making false promises through his “university”. In 2016, Judge Curiel ruled that Trump must face a civil trial for fraud and racketeering under RICO. This is the case in which Trump attacked a “Mexican” judge’s ancestry (the judge is from Indiana) because he didn’t like the ruling.

In 2009, Trump “partnered” with the founders of Ideal Health International, a multilevel marketing business, rebranding their pyramid scheme as The Trump Network. Of course, “partnering” really means allowing them to use his name for a steep fee (and appearing in their promotional materials claiming “that was certain to lift thousands of people into prosperity”). The “business” consisted of selling a urine test device with customized vitamins, which is of course pure quackery, properly described as a “naturopathic weight-loss pyramid scheme”). Yes, they do have a quackwatch entry.

A selection of other conspiracy theories promoted by Trump

In 2015 Trump claimed that Muslims in California knew about the San Bernardino shooters and their plans but did nothing to stop them or turn them in, as part of a general campaign against Muslims in America (“they hate us so much,” says Trump, but apparently we still have to figure out why).

In 2016 he at least expressed some sympathy with conspiracy theories over Justice Scalia’s death, and the same year he also promised to reveal the truth about 9/11 if elected president. He has previously promoted Vince Foster murder conspiracies. Now, it’s not that he necessarily places any credence in this kind of nonsense, but his willingness to pander to the ridiculousness of his fans (like Michael Savage) excellently illustrates his penchant for post-truth techniques and rhetoric. He did seem more committed to his claim that Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, was linked with the CIA and with JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald based on an old photograph that some conspiracy theorists think looks like Rafael. After all, Ted Cruz was at that point a competitor, and the more of a threat you seem to be, the more willing people like Trump will be to believe the most unhinged and unfounded bullshit about you. (After Cruz had dropped out, Trump said he never actually believed the Oswald connection, which may or may not be true but in any case wouldn’t make the accusation any more reasonable.)

On multiple occasions, Trump has entertained audiences with a chain-email-like tale of an American general in the Philippines who supposedly solved the country’s “tremendous” terrorism problem by massacring a large group of Muslims with bullets washed in pigs’ blood. Apparently the story brings forth memories of a time when American leaders were “tough” and not politically correct or concerned with rules against committing war crimes – rules Trump has declared that he wants to change. Of course, to many people the major worry with Trump’s claims might not be the fact that the story isn’t true, but it certainly isn’t. When the story was called into question, Trump urged his supporters to trust his historical expertise, falsely claiming that “the press was saying it was a rumor; it’s not a rumor, it’s a true story.”

He also said that the IRS was  auditing him because he is a “strong Christian”. We seriously doubt that Trump believes that he is a strong Christian, but given Trump’s general mindset it is hard to know. (He has at least admitted that his relationship with the evangelical right is based on a deal: he grants them power, and they refrain from criticizing him.)

In 2014 Trump claimed that Net Neutrality was a conspiracy by Obama to attack conservative media. Given our assessment of the extent to which Trump understands net neutrality, we don’t really doubt that he believes this. As a president, one of the first things he did was to ensure that net neutrality was gutted, to the detriment of us all.

There is a 2016 list of (58) conspiracy theories until then pushed by Donald Trump here, though keep in mind that there have been plenty new ones since then. There is an instructive commentary on how Trump’s political persona is founded on conspiracy theories here.

Counterpoints to our assessment

“I’m, like, a smart person”

–       Donald Trump explaining why he doesn’t need the daily intelligence briefings his predecessors have received.

On the other hand, Donald Trump has on several occasions assured the world that he is “a very stable genius”. To prove his point, he has repeatedly challenged people to compare IQ tests. So there is that.

Remember also that he is very humble; indeed, he is “much more humble than you would understand

 

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