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TBR News September 30, 2018

Sep 30 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. September 30, 2018:” A literary and insider person we know is putting the final touches on a book entitled “Sabotage” that will be a best seller in certain circles.

Some of the entries are very entertaining and, I assure you, have, and are being, practiced.

For example, we know the knuckle-dragging goonies of the Department of Hopeless Security have the power to get into anyone’s safe deposit box in a bank. How much fun it is to put computer discs with such titles as “List of FBI informants” or ‘Secret CIA Mexican drug dealers ‘into the box.

Of course if the goonies get into the box, find the discs and run around, knuckles banging on the ground with joy, they will sing another tune when they try to put them into a computer.

What will happen is that a deadly virus will obliterate their hard drive and, one hopes, if their system is in touch with another system, flatten that one as well.

And yet another bit of ribald humor is associated with the”secret message” game.

One types out two pages of random letters, numbers and figures and then breaks them up into lots of five items each. And if, by chance, someone passes only the name of a very, very secret operation (like ‘Operation Sphincter'{Galactic}) to the preparer, one inserts this, en clair, into the message in several places.

Since it is known that the NSA intercepts all emails going from the US to foreign countries, one sends this salted message to an Arab site.

I can just hear the bleating of some fatty in the Crystal Palace: “Oh Mr. Slopjar, we have a code here!”

But try as they will, the boobery cannot break it (because it isn’t a code at all…’It’s probably an OTP!’) but then there is consternation amongst the more elevated simians about possible foreign compromise of ‘Operation Sphincter.’

And one side will blame the Russians while another will swear it is the fictional Deep State or the Skull and Bones society at work.

And I note there is some concern about Judge Kavanaugh’s direction of a young girl’s basketball team.

What about some spavined hard-tongued official directing a boy’s basketball team?

Questions beg answers.

Knock and it shall be opened unto you after all!”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 36
  • Yale students condemn Kavanaugh case as ‘symptom of a larger problem’
  • The Kavanaugh episode has left Simon Rabinowitz, another first year, unsettled.
  • Facebook’s New Propaganda Partners
  • Tesla, Musk pay $40 million to settle Tweet charges, Musk to resign as chairman
  • Prophecies
  •  Washington’s Sanctions Machine
  • The Prisoner Dilemma

Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 36

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

 

  • Nov 2, 2017

 

“And one of the things about our taxes — you talk about repatriation. We’re bringing in probably — I think the number is going to be over $4 trillion coming back into our country so it’s going to be put to work.”

 

Source: Interview with Laura Ingraham

in fact: Trump’s “$4 trillion” estimate is unsupported by any experts. The U.S. Joint Committee on Taxation released an estimate of $2.6 trillion in August 2016, and experts said they were not aware of a massive jump in the following 12 months. An October 2017 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) also pegged the number at $2.6 trillion, while Goldman Sachs pegged it at $3.1 trillion the same month. “There’s no world in which it’s $4 trillion,” ITEP senior policy analyst Richard Phillips said in November. “I do not know of anyone who increased the estimate so much recently,” Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, said in August. “Like many things, I assume he made this up on the fly,” said another expert on the subject, who requested anonymity, when Trump made an estimate of $5 trillion in August.

Trump has repeated this claim 32 times

“I mean, every day we’re hitting new highs, very important GDP. You take a look, GDP, 3.2…”

Source: Interview with Laura Ingraham

in fact: Second-quarter GDP growth was 3.1 per cent, not 3.2 per cent; Trump habitually adds the additional 0.1 per cent.

Trump has repeated this claim 7 times

 

Laura Ingraham: “This is a stunning economic revival in 10 months.” Trump: “One of the greatest in the history of our country.”

Source: Interview with Laura Ingraham

in fact: There is no way in which the economy’s performance during the first 10 months of Trump’s tenure constitutes one of the greatest economic “revivals” in American history. Economists say U.S. economic performance in 2017 has been broadly consistent with the post-recession revival that began under Obama. More jobs were created during the same period in 2016, under Obama, than during the first 10 months of Trump’s tenure: 1.78 million under Obama, 1.47 million under Trump, Washington Post economics reporter Heather Long noted. Trump presided over two consecutive quarters of 3 per cent economic growth, which is considered good, but as a Brookings Institution report in 2013 noted, the recessions of 1974-1975 and the early 1980s were followed by “annual GDP growth around 5 per cent in 1976-78 and even higher in 1983-85.” In short: the economy has performed well under Trump, but it is not experienced a historic uptick.

“I’ll tell you this. I don’t think any president in nine months has done the job that we’ve done, and that includes bills being passed by Congress. You look at what’s passed by the Senate, by the House, I think we’re close to 70 bills, maybe over 70 bills. It almost a record.”

Source: Interview with Laura Ingraham

in fact: Trump was not even close to a record for most bills passed. According to the legislation-tracking website GovTrack, Trump had signed 82 bills as of the week he spoke, 280-plus days into his term, including numerous minor ones (such as a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Bob Dole and a bill to name a border patrol checkpoint.) GovTrack founder Josh Tauberer found that several presidents signed more bills in just 200 days — including Dwight D. Eisenhower with 368, John F. Kennedy with 270 and Jimmy Carter with 100, according to an analysis he published on Business Insider.

Trump has repeated this claim 19 times

“Just so you understand, the countries aren’t putting their finest in there. They’re not putting their best and their greatest and their finest in there.”

Source: Interview with Laura Ingraham

in fact: People who enter the U.S. visa-lottery program, which was used by accused New York City terrorist Sayfullo Saipov, are not “put in” this lottery by the government of their home countries. They enter on their own.

“This (Democratic behaviour) is real collusion and dishonesty. Major violation of Campaign Finance Laws and Money Laundering – where is our Justice Department?”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Whatever one thinks of the Clinton campaign’s financial arrangement with the Democratic National Committee, or its other activities, there is nothing that comes even close to meeting the definition of “money laundering” — a financial transaction that attempts to conceal the illegal source of the money. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, had just been indicted for money laundering by special counsel Robert Mueller; Trump frequently tries to accuse his opponents of the things he has been accused of himself.

“And something we’re seeing now is, for the first time in a long time, wages are starting to rise for people.”

Source: Remarks at event with House Republicans

in fact: Wages have been rising since 2014. As PolitiFact reported: “For much of the time between 2012 and 2014, median weekly earnings were lower than they were in 1979 — a frustrating disappearance of any wage growth for 35 years. But that began changing in 2014. After hitting a low of $330 a week in early 2014, wages have risen to $354 a week by early 2017. That’s an increase of 7.3 percent over a roughly three-year period.” FactCheck.org reported: “For all private workers, average weekly earnings (adjusted for inflation) rose 4% during Obama’s last four years in office.”

Trump has repeated this claim 25 times

“You look at China, they’re at 15 per cent (tax rate). You look at some countries, they’re quite a bit lower than that.”

Source: Remarks at event with House Republicans

in fact: China has a business tax rate of 25 per cent. It offers a 15 per cent rate only to certain firms, mostly in the high-tech sector, in about 20 particular cities.

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

“We’re one of the highest-taxed countries in the world.”

Source: Remarks at event with House Republicans

in fact: The U.S. is far from the highest-taxed country in the world. While its corporate tax rate is near the top, it is below the average of developed OECD countries when other taxes are included.

Trump has repeated this claim 28 times

“And we actually hit the 3 (per cent GDP growth) number. The quarter before we hit 3.2.”

Source: Remarks at event with House Republicans

in fact: Second-quarter GDP growth was 3.1 per cent, not 3.2 per cent; Trump habitually adds the additional 0.1 per cent.

Trump has repeated this claim 7 times

“Now, we think it’s probably in the neighborhood of $4 trillion will be brought back into our economy, into our country.”

Sorce: Remarks at event with House Republicans

in fact: Trump’s “$4 trillion” estimate is unsupported by any experts. The U.S. Joint Committee on Taxation released an estimate of $2.6 trillion in August 2016, and experts said they were not aware of a massive jump in the following 12 months. An October 2017 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) also pegged the number at $2.6 trillion, while Goldman Sachs pegged it at $3.1 trillion the same month. “There’s no world in which it’s $4 trillion,” ITEP senior policy analyst Richard Phillips said in November. “I do not know of anyone who increased the estimate so much recently,” Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, said in August. “Like many things, I assume he made this up on the fly,” said another expert on the subject, who requested anonymity, when Trump made an estimate of $5 trillion in August.

Trump has repeated this claim 32 times

“This (Diversity Immigrant Visa) program grants visas not on a basis of merit, but simply because applicants are randomly selected in an annual lottery. And the people put in that lottery are not that country’s finest.”

Source: Remarks at event with House Republicans

in fact: Trump wrongly suggested that people who enter the U.S. visa-lottery program, which was used by accused New York City terrorist Sayfullo Saipov, are bad apples “put in” this lottery by the government of their home countries in order to send them away. Actually, they enter the lottery on their own.

Trump has repeated this claim 21 times

“But now you see it, wages are starting to rise.”

Source: Remarks at Broadcom jobs announcement

in fact: Wages have been rising since 2014. As PolitiFact reported: “For much of the time between 2012 and 2014, median weekly earnings were lower than they were in 1979 — a frustrating disappearance of any wage growth for 35 years. But that began changing in 2014. After hitting a low of $330 a week in early 2014, wages have risen to $354 a week by early 2017. That’s an increase of 7.3 percent over a roughly three-year period.” FactCheck.org reported: “For all private workers, average weekly earnings (adjusted for inflation) rose 4% during Obama’s last four years in office.”

Trump has repeated this claim 25 times

“Donna Brazile just stated the DNC RIGGED the system to illegally steal the Primary from Bernie Sanders.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Brazile specifically said that she did not think the Democratic National Committee’s arrangement with Hillary Clinton was illegal. She wrote: “The funding arrangement with HFA and the victory fund agreement was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical.”

  • Nov 5, 2017

“We’ve actually had a lot of bills passed despite what people think. I think I heard that number 70 and it’s almost a record… But if you listen to a lot of the media you know I didn’t do well with bills passed, meaning Congress meaning Senate and House. Well, the fact is that we’ve almost we’re almost at the top of the pack.”

Source: Interview with Sinclair’s Sharyl Attkisson

in fact: Trump was not even close to a record for most bills passed. According to the legislation-tracking website GovTrack, Trump had signed 82 bills as of the week he spoke, 280-plus days into his term, including numerous minor ones (such as a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Bob Dole and a bill to name a border patrol checkpoint.) GovTrack founder Josh Tauberer found that several presidents signed more bills in just 200 days, including Dwight D. Eisenhower with 368, John F. Kennedy with 270 and Jimmy Carter with 100, according to an analysis he published on Business Insider.

Trump has repeated this claim 19 times

“And I think it will happen because people know we’re one of the highest taxed nations in the world. ”

Source: Interview with Sinclair’s Sharyl Attkisson

in fact: The U.S. is far from the highest-taxed nation in the world. While its corporate tax rate is near the top, it is below the average of developed OECD countries when other taxes are included.

Trump has repeated this claim 28 times

“And I guarantee you these countries they don’t put their finest in the lottery system. They put people probably in many cases that they don’t want. Why is this country doing it?”

Source: Interview with Sinclair’s Sharyl Attkisson

in fact: People who enter the U.S. visa-lottery program, which was used by accused New York City terrorist Sayfullo Saipov, are not “put in” this lottery by the government of their home countries. They sign up on their own.

Trump has repeated this claim 21 times

  • Nov 6, 2017

“The United States has suffered massive trade deficits with Japan for many, many years. Almost $70 billion annually. Seventy billion.”

Source: Speech to business leaders in Tokyo

in fact: The U.S. trade deficit with Japan was $55 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. government’s Trade Representative. Trump would have been correct had he specified he was talking about trade in goods alone and excluding services: the goods trade deficit was $69 billion in 2016.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

“The Dakota is already open and Keystone is starting; it’s actually already started.”

Source: Speech to business leaders in Tokyo

in fact: TransCanada Corp. has not yet decided whether to go ahead with the portion of the Keystone project Trump approved, and it still needs to secure approval to build in Nebraska.

Trump has repeated this claim 9 times

“The Dakota Access Pipeline and, as you know, the Keystone Pipeline, that was rejected by the previous administration. The Keystone Pipeline was dead…And in my first week, I approved both… And that was done in the first week — got it approved.”

Source: Speech to business leaders in Tokyo

in fact: Trump did not approve either pipeline in his first 24 hours in office. He issued executive orders in his first week, not his first day, to advance the two pipelines, but they did not grant final approval then. Trump actually approved Keystone XL two months into his presidency; the government announced the approval of the Dakota Access pipeline three weeks into his presidency.

Trump has repeated this claim 9 times

“I approved a power plant, which has been under consideration for 11 years, and they gave up, and I approved it. And it’s a $7 billion plant. And the state wanted it and the local community wanted it, but they had environmental restrictions. And now it’s being built.”

Source: Speech to business leaders in Tokyo

in fact: Trump did not name the plant, but he seemed to be referring to the long-delayed Plant Vogtle nuclear project in Georgia. He was correct that the project had been considered since 2006, but his other details were wrong. The two new reactors are expected to cost $25 billion, not $7 billion. Trump didn’t “approve a power plant”; rather, in September, it offered the plant an additional $3.7 billion in loan guarantees.

“GDP growth, very importantly, we hit 3.2 last quarter — 3.2.” And: “And so we’re at 3, and now 3.2.”

Source: Speech to business leaders in Tokyo

in fact: Second-quarter GDP growth was 3.1 per cent, not 3.2 per cent; Trump habitually adds the additional 0.1 per cent.

Trump has repeated this claim 7 times

“The problem we have with China is that for decades they’ve been — you know, it’s been a very unfair — let me be very kind to previous administrations — it’s been a very unfair trade situation. Our trade deficit is massive. It’s hundreds of billions of dollars a year, anywhere from $350 billion to $504 billion, and that doesn’t include intellectual property.”

Source: Joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

in fact: Trump is wrong that the trade deficit with China is as high as $504 billion; the “$504 billion” figure is simply inaccurate. The U.S. trade deficit with China was $310 billion last year, according to data from the U.S. Trade Representative. Excluding trade in services, it was $347 billion, so Trump is more or less correct on the low end.

Trump has repeated this claim 51 times

Yale students condemn Kavanaugh case as ‘symptom of a larger problem’

Students at university with long ties to US power unsurprised by allegations in culture that ‘normalises’ sexual misconduct

September 30, 2018

by Josh Wood in New Haven, Connecticut

The Guardian

Across the Yale campus, outdoor bulletin boards are plastered with the same rain-soaked message: “We believe Dr Christine Blasey Ford.”

Sexual assault allegations raised by Ford and other women against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have captivated a breathless and divided America. At Yale, it feels personal.

Kavanaugh, who denies the accusations, walked the halls as both undergraduate and law student. Defending his character before the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday, he proudly cited his attendance – and Yale’s academic rigour – as he tried to deflect questions about how much he drank when young.

Deborah Ramirez – the second woman to make allegations against Kavanaugh – says he exposed his genitals to her at a residence hall party when she was a first-year student.

On Friday, the Senate panel voted along party lines to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full chamber. But it also asked the Trump administration to order a week-long FBI inquiry. The president agreed. At Yale, the episode caused anger and frustration.

On Wednesday, undergraduates gathered to rally against Kavanaugh. One chant was: “We are tired.”

“It’s not the first time an allegation of sexual misconduct has come out about a man in power, or a man who is about to be super-powerful, or a man from Yale,” said Valentina Connell, a junior who helped organise the protest. “I was hurt and not surprised.”

For Yale, the Kavanaugh hearings have brought a sense of déjà vu: nearly 27 years ago, Anita Hill charged in televised testimony that another alumnus nominated for the highest court, Clarence Thomas, had repeatedly sexually harassed her.

Thomas forcefully denied the allegations and characterised the judiciary committee’s work as a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves”. He was confirmed. As today, many Yale students were upset at the voice of a woman being so readily dismissed.

In a front-page photo in the 18 October 1991 issue of the Yale Daily News, a wall in the law school is covered with messages of support and outrage: “Tough luck, women!” reads one. “Thomas wins,” reads another. “Women lose.”

Today, Hill’s name is listed alongside Kavanaugh’s accusers on “we believe” messages affixed to bulletin boards on campus. Student activists cite her as an inspiration.

“Her bravery and courage in coming forward at that time set an important precedent for other folks to know that they can do the same,” said Dianne Lake, a student who organised a sit-in at Yale Law School last week to oppose Kavanaugh. “We saw [on Thursday] that Dr Christine Blasey Ford demonstrated similar courage.”

‘When we come together, we are heard’

Yale isn’t just any university. It is an incubator of American power. It counts five presidents among its graduates, including both Bushes and Bill Clinton. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, three of the nine sitting justices will be products of Yale. For the sons and daughters of America’s elite families, New Haven has long been a pit stop on the road to success and power.

It is also a place where young men from privileged backgrounds have formed long-lasting bonds in all-male fraternities and secret societies.

Kavanaugh was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), one of the country’s oldest fraternities. His doubters have had a hard time squaring his statement of “always treating women with dignity and respect” with his membership in the organisation. When he was in the frat, initiates walked around campus with flags made of women’s undergarments.

In 2011, long after Kavanaugh left Yale, DKE was banned for five years after members were filmed chanting “no means yes, yes means anal” outside the Women’s Center. Earlier this year, Yale launched an investigation after sexual assault allegations were made against more than half a dozen members. Students say sexual misconduct is not a thing of the past.

“Most people on this campus know people who experienced sexual misconduct at some point during their time here,” said Ry Walker, another protest organiser. “This is about the Supreme Court nomination, but it is also about how to hold our community to higher standards.”

Sexual misconduct and assault was “so normalised”, added the second-year undergraduate Abby Leonard, who also organised the protest. “It’s so expected as just part of life. But that’s a problem and something we need to stop expecting and start addressing.”

Lake said: “It still holds true that there are a lot of toxic things about Yale College’s sexual climate to this day and I can’t even imagine how it was back then, considering that a good amount of progress has been made.”

The undergraduate protest organisers see their university as being “complicit” in Kavanaugh’s rise and the abuses of which he stands accused.

“Kavanaugh is a symptom of a much larger problem at Yale where Yale is complicit in giving powerful men power and then being complicit when they abuse their power,” said Connell.

When Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced, Yale put out a press release filled with praise from Yale Law School personalities.

But on Friday morning, the Yale Law School dean, Heather Gerken, joined the tide of Americans asking for an additional investigation. “Proceeding with the confirmation process without further investigation is not in the best interest of the court or our profession,” she said.

While the Kavanaugh episode has been distressing, Connell said, the protests have been empowering.

“When we all come together and we all chant together,” she said, “we are heard. Administrators show up to these rallies, administrators are forced to respond … that is the crazy power we have as students.”

The Kavanaugh hearings have been engrossing for many on campus. Eamon Hauser, a first year, lives in Lawrance Hall, the residence in which Ramirez alleges Kavanaugh drunkenly thrust his penis in her face at a dorm party in the 1983-1984 school year.

“It’s literally across from me,” said Hauser of the room where the assault is alleged to have happened. “It’s really absurd to think that something so huge in our political atmosphere could happen literally feet from where I live.”

Hauser has only been on campus a few weeks, but he says he can already feel the culture of privilege on campus. Along with the college atmosphere, that is “conducive” to sexual misconduct, he said.

 

The Kavanaugh episode has left Simon Rabinowitz, another first year, unsettled.

Of “the people I’m meeting”, he asked: “What if they’re the next Brett Kavanaugh?”

USA Today adds ‘pedophilia’ angle to Kavanaugh saga, sparks outrage

September 29, 2018

RT

With tensions over SCOTUS nomination at a boiling point, a USA Today article discusses if Brett Kavanaugh should continue coaching girls’ basketball team, bringing into the story recent child sex abuse scandals in US sports.

The article by USA Today’s Erik Brandy has triggered a major backlash among conservatives on social media

The FBI is now investigating the accusations of Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh assaulted her 36 years ago, after both gave emotional testimonies at the Senate Judiciary Committee that decided to move the Supreme Court nominee vote to the full Senate.

Kavanaugh denies he is the culprit in the attack on Ford and accuses Democrats of orchestrating the scandal that he says ruined his life. Brandy focuses his vitriolic piece on Kavanugh’s remark during the hearing that he might not be able to coach his daughter’s basketball team again – something that he said he loved more than anything he has done in his life.

The article’s headline “Is Brett Kavanaugh right that he can no longer coach girls basketball?” remains rhetorical throughout and leads to the conclusion that “accused sex offenders should not coach youth basketball, girls or boys, without deeper investigation.”

Brandy brings in references to the case of Larry Nassar, USA Gymnastics team coach who was found guilty of multiple sexual assaults, and after setting this background for the readers expresses his surprise that Kavanaugh can still coach for the Catholic Youth Organization and his daughters’ private school in Washington.

“He has no record and has no criminal background. He’s gone through the (training) process. He can coach,” Edward McFadden, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington is quoted.

Yet Brandy goes on to wonder if he should and brings in the US Center for SafeSport, set up in 2017, to probe sexual misconduct claims while admitting that it has essentially no relation to the issue, as it does not cover youth sports.

The organization’s spokesperson, Dan Hill, says that a credible allegation of sexual misconduct may spark an investigation even with the lack of formal charges. Again, Hill did not refer to Kavanaugh, speaking in general, Brandy concedes, but his remark fits the narrative anyway.

As soon as the US Today article came out, conservative Twitter responded with indignation and outrage.

Some saw the piece as a reflection of partisan brinkmanship, that is getting uglier as the congressional elections inch closer.The conservative commentators did not mince words, calling the op-ed “disgusting,” “horrifying”, “reprehensible” and “stupid”.

Facebook’s New Propaganda Partners

September 25, 2018

by Alan MacLeod

FAIR

Media giant Facebook recently announced (Reuters, 9/19/18) it would combat “fake news” by partnering with two propaganda organizations founded and funded by the US government: the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). The social media platform was already working closely with the NATO-sponsored Atlantic Council think tank (FAIR.org, 5/21/18).

In a previous FAIR article (8/22/18), I noted that the “fake news” issue was being used as a pretext to attack the left and progressive news sites. Changes to Facebook’s algorithm have reduced traffic significantly for progressive outlets like Common Dreams (5/3/18), while the pages of Venezuelan government–backed TeleSur English and the independent Venezuelanalysis were shut down without warning, and only reinstated after a public outcry.

The Washington, DC–based NDI and IRI are staffed with senior Democratic and Republican politicians; the NDI is chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while the late Sen. John McCain was the longtime IRI chair. Both groups were created in 1983 as arms of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a Cold War enterprise backed by then–CIA director William Casey (Jacobin, 3/7/18). That these two US government creations, along with a NATO offshoot like the Atlantic Council, are used by Facebook to distinguish real from fake news is effectively state censorship.

Facebook’s collaboration with the NED organizations is particularly troubling, as both have aggressively pursued regime change against leftist governments overseas. The NDI undermined the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, and continues to do so to this day, while the IRI claimed a key role in the 2002 coup against leftist President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, announcing that it had served as a bridge between the nation’s political parties and all civil society groups to help Venezuelans forge a new democratic future…. We stand ready to continue our partnership with the courageous Venezuelan people.

The Reuters report (9/19/18) mentioned that Facebook was anxious to better curate what Brazilians saw on their feeds in the run-up to their presidential elections, which pits far-right Jair Bolsonaro against leftist Fernando Haddad. The US government has a long history of undermining democracy in Brazil, from supporting a coup in 1964 against the progressive Goulart administration to continually spying on leftist President Dilma Rousseff (BBC, 7/4/15) in the run-up to the parliamentary coup against her in 2016 (CounterSpin, 6/2/17).

Soon after it partnered with the Atlantic Council, Facebook moved to delete accounts and pages connected with Iranian broadcasting channels (CNBC, 8/23/18), while The Intercept (12/30/17) reported that in 2017 the social media platform met with Israeli government officials to discuss which Palestinian voices it should censor. Ninety-five percent of Israeli government requests for deletion were granted. Thus the US government and its allies are effectively using the platform to silence dissenting opinion, both at home and on the world stage, controlling what Facebook‘s 2 billion users see and do not see.

Progressives should be deeply skeptical that these moves have anything to do with their stated objective of promoting democracy. Bloomberg Businessweek (9/29/17) reported that the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party went to Facebook headquarters for discussions with US companies about how it could use the platform for recruitment and micro-targeting in the 2017 elections. AfD tripled its previous vote share, becoming the third-largest party in Germany, the far right’s best showing since World War II.

Public trust in government is at 18 percent—an all-time low (Pew, 12/14/17). There is similar mistrust of Facebook, with only 20 percent of Americans agreeing social media sites do a good job separating fact from fiction. And yet, worldwide, Facebook is a crucial news source. Fifty-two percent of Brazilians, 61 percent of Mexicans, and 51 percent of Italians and Turks use the platform for news; 39 percent of the US gets their news from the site.

This means that, despite the fact that even its own public mistrusts it, the US government has effectively become the arbiter of what the world sees and hears, with the ability to marginalize or simply delete news from organizations or countries that do not share its opinions. This power could be used at sensitive times, like elections. This is not an idle threat. The US created an entire fake social network for Cubans that aimed to stir unrest and overthrow the Cuban government, according to the Guardian (4/3/14).

That a single corporation has such a monopoly over the flow of worldwide news is already problematic, but the increasing meshing of corporate and US government control over the means of communication is particularly worrying. All those who believe in free and open exchange of information should oppose Facebook becoming a tool of US foreign policy.

Tesla, Musk pay $40 million to settle Tweet charges, Musk to resign as chairman

September 29, 2018

by Michelle Price and Pete Schroeder

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Saturday that car-maker Tesla and Chief Executive Elon Musk had agreed to pay $20 million each under a settlement that will also see the billionaire step down as chairman after a tumultuous two months for the company. But Musk, who is synonymous with the Tesla brand, will remain as chief executive under the settlement over tweets he posted on Aug. 7 about taking the company private, the SEC said.

The SEC alleged in a lawsuit on Thursday that the tweets about financing for a go-private plan he abandoned just weeks later had no basis in fact, and said the market chaos that ensued hurt investors.

Musk is now required to step down as chairman of Tesla within 45 days, and he is not permitted to be re-elected to the post for three years. Tesla is required to appoint two new independent directors to its board.

Saturday’s settlement saw the SEC pull back from its demand that Musk be barred from running Tesla, a sanction that many investors said would be disastrous for the loss-making electric carmaker.

The SEC charged Tesla with failing to have required disclosure controls and procedures for Musk’s tweets. The SEC said the company had no way to determine if his tweets contained information that must be disclosed in corporate filings, or if they contained complete and accurate information.

Neither Musk nor Tesla admitted or denied the SEC’s findings as part of the settlement. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Musk could not immediately be reached for comment.

Reporting by Michelle Price and Pete Schroeder; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Alistair Bell

Prophecy from Babylon – The Third Sargon

The Return of the Righteous – written in the book Sajaha (Sumerian Prophecy from Babylon / Iraq).

From the far north becomes

the third Sargon come;

he will unexpectedly break in

about the poisonous earth world,

will shake everything up in one fell swoop

and his power will be invincible.

 

He will not ask anyone

he will know everything.

 

A band of upright people will be around Him,

the third Sargon will give them the light,

and they will shine to the world.

 

When the third Sargon has come

and the battles will have struck

so those will have been his swords –

victorious against multiple superiority.

 

Then he, the avenger, will cross the world circle

be thunderous with fiery chariots,

Lightning flinging against the forces of darkness,

until they are completely destroyed.

 

And the hour of light will return home

about the earth world.

 

Lonely are the brave and the just.

But with them is the deity.

 

5)

               Soon, the followers of the crescent bring the spotted sickness

             And after this, millions die untended

             But the victory lies not with the followers

             But with others who in turn kill them as well.

 

It is not well known,  but an unknown number of vials of live smallpox virus were stolen several years ago from a laboratory in Munich Germany,  by persons unknown, but presumed to be Arab terrorists. The Russian FSB, the CIA, France’s DSG, the German BND, and Britain’s MI6 have all collaborated without success in trying to track the thieves down.

No sane person would release this uncontrollable plague on the modern world in which no vaccine any longer exists.  This quatrain says the virus will be released by Islamists, probably on the territory of Israel or the USA, and many millions worldwide will die without hope of any relief or help. It predicts the terrorists will later die at the hands of “others” who will kill them mercilessly, avenging their countless victims.

 

134)

Soon the world is divided between the black and white.

There is strife between them, at first small and later  

Great. The black are vanquished and the white

Take their lands and drive them into distant lands.

This describes an imminent worldwide conflict between the “black” peoples of the world and the “white” peoples. While plausible, this is short sighted.  The “black” people may also refer to ISIS or the Arabic Islamists of darker skin and displaying their signature black flag while the “white” may mean Christian Europeans and those of European descent.

 

This conflict which we see today is said to be just getting started.  This quatrain predicts the war will become “great” and be won by the “whites.” This is not a surprise given Western technology and education versus Muslim adherence to medieval thinking and doctrines.

 

Washington’s Sanctions Machine

September 27, 2018

by Philip Giraldi

Strategic Culture Foundation

Perhaps it is Donald Trump’s business background that leads him to believe that if you inflict enough economic pain on someone they will ultimately surrender and agree to do whatever you want. Though that approach might well work in New York real estate, it is not a certain path to success in international relations since countries are not as vulnerable to pressure as are individual investors or developers.

Washington’s latest foray into the world of sanctions, directed against China, is astonishing even when considering the low bar that has been set by previous presidents going back to Bill Clinton. Beijing has already been pushing back over US sanctions imposed last week on its government-run Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Central Military Commission and its director Li Shangfu for “engaging in significant transactions” with a Russian weapons manufacturer that is on a list of US sanctioned companies. The transactions included purchases of Russian Su-35 combat aircraft as well as equipment related to the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The sanctions include a ban on the director entering the United States and blocks all of his property or bank accounts within the US as well as freezing all local assets of the Equipment Development Department.

More important, the sanctions also forbid conducting any transactions that go through the US financial system. It is the most powerful weapon Washington has at its disposal, but it is being challenged as numerous countries are working to find ways around it. Currently however, as most international transactions are conducted in dollars and pass through American banks that means that it will be impossible for the Chinese government to make weapons purchases from many foreign sources. If foreign banks attempt to collaborate with China to evade the restrictions, they too will be sanctioned.

So in summary, Beijing bought weapons from Moscow and is being sanctioned by the United States for doing so because Washington does not approve of the Russian government. The sanctions on China are referred to as secondary sanctions in that they are derivative from the primary sanction on the foreign company or individual that is actually being punished. Secondary sanctions can be extended ad infinitum as transgressors linked sequentially to the initial transaction multiply the number of potential targets.

Not surprisingly, the US Ambassador has been summoned and Beijing has canceled several bilateral meetings with American defense department officials. The Chinese government has expressed “outrage” and has demanded the US cancel the measure.

According to media reports, the Chinese Department purchased the weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s principal arms exporter. This violated a 2017 law passed by Congress named, characteristically, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which sought to punish the Russian government and its various agencies for interfering in in the 2016 US election as well as its alleged involvement in Ukraine, Syria and its development of cyberwar capabilities. Iran and North Korea were also targeted in the legislation.

Explaining the new sanctions, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued a statement elaborating that the initial sanctions on Russia were enacted “to further impose costs on the Russian government in response to its malign activities.” She added that the US will “urge all countries to curtail relationships with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors, both of which are linked to malign activities worldwide.”

As engaging in “malign activities” is a charge that should quite plausibly be leveled against Washington and its allies in the Middle East, it is not clear if anyone but the French and British poodles actually believes the rationalizations coming out of Washington to defend the indefensible. An act to “Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions” is, even as the title implies, ridiculous. Washington is on a sanctions spree. Russia has been sanctioned repeatedly since the passage of the fraudulent Magnitsky Act, with no regard for Moscow’s legitimate protests that interfering in other countries’ internal politics is unacceptable. China is currently arguing reasonably enough that arms sales between countries is perfect legal and in line with international law.

Iran has been sanctioned even through it complied with an international agreement on its nuclear program and new sanctions were even piled on top of the old sanctions. And in about five weeks the US will be sanctioning ANYONE who buys oil from Iran, reportedly with no exceptions allowed. Venezuela is under US sanctions to punish its government, NATO member Turkey because it bought weapons from Russia and the Western Hemisphere perennial bad boy Cuba has had various embargoes in place since 1960.

It should be noted that sanctions earn a lot of ill-will and generally accomplish nothing. Cuba would likely be a fairly normal country but for the US restrictions and other pressure that gave its government the excuse to maintain a firm grip on power. The same might even apply to North Korea. And sanctions are even bad for the United States. Someday, when the US begins to lose its grip on the world economy all of those places being sanctioned will line up to get their revenge and it won’t be pretty.

 

The Prisoner Dilemma

Ending America’s Incarceration Epidemic

by Holly Harris

During the past decade, a time of intense political polarization in the United States, criminal justice reform has emerged as an unlikely unifier. Democrats and Republicans have reached across the aisle, compelled by a shared recognition that flawed legal codes and sentencing laws (among other features of the criminal justice system) have destroyed lives, drained billions of taxpayer dollars, and failed to provide Americans with the public safety they deserve. This broad agreement led to the introduction, in 2015 and 2016, of bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress that would have produced comprehensive reform at the federal level—including changes to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which have contributed to the explosion in U.S. incarceration rates by reducing judges’ discretion in sentencing. Supporters of the legislation represented an extraordinarily wide ideological spectrum: from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and the billionaire donor Charles Koch on the right to President Barack Obama, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundations on the left.

But last September, the bill, which had seemed certain to pass in the Senate, died without ever reaching the floor after opposition from a handful of high-profile GOP senators apparently convinced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky not to bring it up for a vote. “I think that Senator McConnell understandably did not want to tee up an issue that split our caucus right before the 2016 election,” remarked Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, one of the bill’s Of course, 2016 was no ordinary election year. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump, the eventual GOP nominee, painted a grim portrait of the United States. “Crime is out of control, and rapidly getting worse,” he tweeted in July. “When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country,” he pledged in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention later that month, to thunderous applause.

It is no wonder that Trump’s message on this issue resonated with many voters: television news reports, newspaper headlines, and social media feeds have left Americans with the distinct impression that crime is on the rise. Media attention tends to focus on a small number of high-profile incidents, leading many pundits and politicians to declare that the country is entering a new period of lawlessness that harks back to the years between the mid-1980s and the early 1990s, the last time that violent crime rates rose nationwide. Public opinion reflects the impact of such rhetoric: a Gallup poll published last April found that 53 percent of Americans worried “a great deal” about crime—a 15-year high.

Such fears are misplaced. Last September, the FBI released its annual crime statistics report. It showed that although violent crime increased nationwide by 3.9 percent in 2015, the broader trend has been in the opposite direction: the violent crime rate in 2014 was 0.7 percent lower than in 2011 and 16.5 percent lower than in 2006. The long-term trend is even more striking. In 1991, authorities reported 758 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans. By 2015, that number had dropped to 373: a decrease of more than 50 percent. And although data for 2016 will not be available for another year, it is likely that crime rates will continue to hover at or near their current historically low levels. Early signs already indicate that many cities in which crime rose during 2015, including Baltimore and New York City, experienced declines in 2016.

The idea of a new crime wave is a myth. What is real, however, is an epidemic of incarceration.

The idea of a new crime wave is a myth. What is real, however, is an epidemic of incarceration. The numbers are staggering. According to a report published last year by the Prison Policy Initiative, U.S. penal authorities “hold more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.” Over the course of a single year, more than 11 million people will be admitted to an American prison or jail.

It wasn’t always like this. In 1972, for every 100,000 U.S. residents, 161 were incarcerated. By 2015, that rate had more than quadrupled, with nearly 670 out of every 100,000 Americans behind bars. That is slightly lower than the peak rate, which was reached in 2007–8, but it is still shockingly high. Among industrialized nations, the United States has by far the highest rate of incarceration. The conviction and imprisonment of so many Americans has resulted primarily from more than three decades of “tough on crime” policies that legislators began to favor in the early 1980s, persuaded by the deceptively simple logic of reducing crime by locking up as many offenders as possible. Defenders of this approach credit it with producing the marked decline in crime rates that began in the early 1990s. But according to research published by the urban policy scholar William Spelman and the economist Steven Levitt, the rise in incarceration has been responsible for only about 25 percent of the decrease in crime rates. The rest of the decline, they argue, has stemmed from a complex combination of economic and social trends, innovative policing tactics, and other factors.

Meanwhile, the explosion in incarceration has had significantly harmful effects on U.S. society: dangerously overcrowded prisons, abysmal recidivism rates, and the creation of profound racial, economic, and gender disparities in the criminal justice system. And the price of industrial-scale incarceration in economic terms is massive. The average annual cost to house, feed, and care for an American inmate now exceeds $30,000. Between 1980 and 2013, federal spending on prisons rose more than sevenfold, from $970 million, adjusted for inflation, to nearly $7 billion, adjusted for inflation. The National Association of State Budget Officers reports that state general-fund spending on corrections grew from an inflation-adjusted $10.6 billion in 1987 to $50.9 billion in 2015, a 380 percent increase. According to the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, combined state and federal corrections expenditures more than quadrupled in the last three decades, from approximately $17 billion (adjusted for inflation) in 1980 to more than $80 billion in 2010.

Although comprehensive federal reform has proved elusive, lawmakers at the state level—in red, blue, and purple states—have managed to achieve significant change. Although their details vary, a raft of state initiatives have demonstrated that smart reforms can save money, lower crime rates, and give offenders the chance to rejoin society as productive, law-abiding citizens. This matters a great deal, since in 2015, out of the roughly 1.5 million people incarcerated in prisons in the United States, 1.35 million were housed in state facilities. Nevertheless, federal reform is still imperative. A study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (a bipartisan, independent federal agency) found that in 2005, nearly half of all the federal offenders who were either released from federal prison after serving a sentence or placed on a term of probation were rearrested within eight years, either on new charges or for some other violation of their probation or terms of release. Additionally, the composition of the federal inmate population makes it fertile ground for the kinds of effective treatment programs that reformers have championed as a way to make prison more rehabilitative. More than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses, compared with just 16 percent of state prisoners.

Now that the 2016 election is over, Democrats and Republicans in Congress should once again take up the cause of commonsense sentencing and recidivism-reduction reforms. If Trump wants to make the country safer, the best way to do so would be to study successful reforms in states from Connecticut to Georgia and advocate transformational changes to the broken federal system.

THE (VERY) BIG HOUSE

The U.S. incarceration system is literally bursting at the seams. One recent analysis from the Government Accountability Office found that the spike in prison populations has led to overcrowding in nearly 40 percent of federal facilities. States are also struggling. In 2015, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 19 states’ systems had exceeded their maximum capacities. Illinois’ correctional facilities, for example, were designed to hold just under 28,000 prisoners but were housing more than 46,000.

Looking at these numbers, one might conclude that U.S. cities and towns were overrun by so many dangerous criminals that the country had run out of places to put them all. But consider who actually fills all those cells. In 2015, around 93 percent of federal prisoners were nonviolent offenders, most of whom were serving time for drug-related offenses. The situation in many state prison systems is similar; between 2009 and 2015, 59 percent of the offenders in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Corrections had been convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Yet there is little evidence that doing time in U.S. prisons makes inmates more responsible citizens. An influential 2011 study published by the criminologists Francis Cullen, Cheryl Jonson, and Daniel Nagin found that regardless of what kind of offense an inmate has committed, prison does not reduce his or her recidivism any more than alternatives such as drug treatment and mental health counseling. Indeed, the researchers found that prison time might even increase recidivism, particularly among low-risk offenders.

Spending time behind bars also makes it much harder for someone convicted of a crime to live a productive life once released, because most ex-convicts struggle to find work. According to a 2010 study conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, on average, men who have been incarcerated work nine fewer weeks per year and take home 40 percent less annual pay than other men. Such struggles contribute to recidivism, as ex-convicts turn to crime to earn money. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, of the 262,000 people who were released from federal prison between 2002 and 2006, half of those who could not secure any employment during the period of their supervised release (usually a period of two to five years) committed a new crime or violated the terms of their release and were sent back to prison. In contrast, only seven percent of those who did find work wound up behind bars again.

The burgeoning U.S. prison population reflects a federal criminal code that has spiraled out of control. No one—not even the government itself—has ever been able to specify with any certainty the precise number of federal crimes defined by the 54 sections contained in the 27,000 or so pages of the U.S. Code. In the 1980s, lawyers at the Department of Justice attempted to tabulate the figure “for the express purpose of exposing the idiocy” of the criminal code, as one of them later put it. The best they were able to come up with was an educated guess of 3,000 crimes. Today, the conservative Heritage Foundation estimates that federal laws currently enumerate nearly 5,000 crimes, a number that grows every year.

Overcriminalization extends beyond the law books, partly because regulations are often backed by criminal penalties. That is the case for rules that govern matters as trivial as the sale of grated cheese, the precise composition of chicken Kiev dishes, and the washing of cars at the headquarters of the National Institutes of Health. State laws add tens of thousands more such crimes. Taken together, they push the total number of criminally punishable offenses in the United States into the hundreds of thousands. The long arm of the law reaches into nearly every aspect of American life. The legal scholar Harvey Silverglate has concluded that the typical American commits at least three federal felonies a day, simply by going through his or her normal routine. If you package and ship certain food in plastic rather than cardboard containers, you might be in violation of the Lacey Act. If you call in sick to work in order to go to a ball game, you might be breaking laws that prohibit schemes to defraud a company. And if you get lost while riding a motorbike in the forest and accidentally wander onto protected land, you might run afoul of the Wilderness Act.

The long arm of the law reaches into nearly every aspect of American life.

Another problem is that in recent years, by writing laws that lack a so-called mens rea requirement (named after the Latin term for “guilty mind”), legislators have made it more likely that people will break the law without intending to. A study conducted by the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers found that 40 percent of the nonviolent federal crimes established between 2005 and 2011 had “weak” intent requirements. This can lead to some appalling injustices, such as the case of Lawrence Lewis. As the chief engineer at a retirement home for U.S. military veterans in Washington, D.C., Lewis dealt with a backed-up sewage system by diverting its flow to a storm drain that he believed linked up to the city’s sewage-treatment system. Instead, the sewage entered a creek that ultimately joined with the Potomac River. Without intending to, Lewis had violated the Clean Water Act. He pleaded guilty in 2007 and received probation, a $2,500 fine, and—perhaps worst of all—a criminal record.

To protect against such outcomes, states such as Michigan and Ohio have recently established default mens rea standards for all state laws that do not already include an intent requirement. But reform advocates and activists disagree about whether to pursue such a step at the federal level. Proponents back the idea as a way to ward off injustices that inevitably occur owing to the expansiveness of the criminal code. Opponents, on the other hand, fear that implementing such a standard would make it more difficult to prosecute environmental and financial crimes. The issue is a complicated one that even splits the Republican leadership in Congress. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, passed a default mens rea bill through his committee and made it clear that any reform package that goes to the floor must include it. But Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposes the policy and omitted it from his own reform package. If any reform legislation is to reach the president’s desk, it will likely require a compromise on mens rea, such as an agreement to apply any new default standard only to future legislation or to limit the offenses to which it would apply.

Finally, perhaps the most pernicious problem is the existence of so many laws requiring mandatory minimum sentences. During the 1980s and 1990s, at the height of the “war on drugs,” federal and state lawmakers created a host of new statutes that required that offenders receive specific prison sentences based on the nature of their crimes. Although these laws were generally intended to help reduce crime by creating stronger deterrents, they have often ended up doing far more harm than good. By restricting judges’ ability to consider all the facts of a case, they force courts to ignore mitigating evidence and have resulted in unduly harsh punishments that frequently do not fit the crimes. By putting more people in prison for more time, they have also contributed to the explosion in prison populations. As of 2010, roughly 40 percent of federal inmates were subject to mandatory minimum sentences. There is no parole in the federal system, and inmates are required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before they become eligible for release. For those reasons and others, the federal prison population has grown from 24,640 in 1980, before Congress enacted the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which established the basic framework for mandatory minimum sentencing, to just under 220,000 in 2013, the year in which the federal prison population peaked.

The case of Weldon Angelos illustrates some of the injustices inherent in system. On two occasions in 2002, the 22-year-old father of three sold half a pound of marijuana worth about $350 to a confidential informant in Utah. The informant alleged that Angelos was carrying a firearm during the second transaction (although that testimony was disputed). In Angelos’ home, police later found guns, drug paraphernalia, and evidence suggesting that he was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. In 2004, Angelos was convicted of 16 charges, several of which carried mandatory minimums. Even though he was a first-time, arguably nonviolent offender, he received a staggering 55-year sentence, with a projected release date of 2051. The shocking unfairness of the sentence was obvious even to Judge Paul Cassell, the federal judge who handed it down. Cassell, a George W. Bush appointee, delivered a 67-page ruling in which he called the sentence “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.” But due to federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws, he had no choice but to apply it. Last May, after Angelos had served 12 years in prison, a federal court granted him an immediate sentence reduction and released him. In a show of compassion, the effort to free him was led by none other than the federal prosecutor who had helped put him away in the first place.

A MOVEMENT FOR CHANGE

Americans of all political and ideological backgrounds have recently taken up the cause of criminal justice reform. Unlikely coalitions have formed to push for change. Conservative and faith-focused groups such as the Louisiana Family Forum are working alongside the progressive ACLU. In Ohio, the conservative think tank the Buckeye Institute is spearheading many reforms also supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Due in large part to this unprecedented cooperation, since 2007, at least 31 states have enacted bipartisan legislation designed to safely reduce prison populations. Between 2008 and 2013, dozens of states reduced both their incarceration rates and their crime rates, proving that smart reforms can make communities safer and also save taxpayers’ money.

In Texas, where in 2007 the legislature adopted alternatives to incarceration for many low-level, nonviolent offenders, the prison population decreased by 14 percent and crime dropped by 29 percent, reaching the lowest rate the Lone Star State has enjoyed in 40 years. Both red and blue states have also reduced their prison populations by decreasing or eliminating mandatory minimums for crimes stemming from addiction. Oklahoma, a red state, has increased its focus on programs that help people with criminal records get the kinds of treatment and services that can make it easier for them to avoid drugs and crime. In 2015, Connecticut, a blue state, passed legislation intended to foster what its proponents called a “Second Chance Society,” allowing judges to divert nonviolent offenders into mandatory rehabilitation or treatment programs. Crime in Connecticut has reached a 50-year low, and the state’s prison population is the smallest it has been in two decades. And in the red state of Georgia, the legislature recently passed its third round of reforms, making the Peach State perhaps the most reform-minded in the country when it comes to incarceration. In recent years, under the leadership of Republican Governor Nathan Deal, Georgia has given judges more discretion in sentencing, instituted innovative programs to help ex-convicts reenter society, reduced its prison population by more than ten percent, and saved taxpayers roughly $264 million.

Such bold leadership has yet to be matched at the federal level, but there have been some positive developments there, too. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Second Chance Act, which expanded job-training and job-placement services for ex-convicts. In 2010, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which eliminated disparities in sentencing between crimes involving crack and those involving powder cocaine—differences that had led to some severe racial inequalities, as black defendants (more often convicted of crack-related offenses) received far harsher punishments than white defendants (more often convicted of crimes relating to powder cocaine). And in 2013, in the absence of comprehensive sentencing reform legislation, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo declaring a major change in Justice Department policy, instructing federal prosecutors to consider charging certain low-level, nonviolent offenders in drug cases in ways that would avoid mandatory minimum sentences. (The memo, however, did not carry the force of law or offer the permanence of reform legislation.)

By 2015, the country seemed poised for a decisive turn, as federal representatives and senators from both parties introduced a number of bills that, among other things, would have limited or reversed the growth of the criminal code, restored judges’ discretion in sentencing for certain offenses, and increased the use of educational and vocational programs to reduce recidivism. Many of these bills built on policies that states had successfully pursued over the past decade.

Sentencing reform enjoys the backing of law enforcement officers and agencies all over the country.

The most comprehensive of these bills was the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. Among its features were reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for some drug and firearm-possession offenses (along with the establishment of new mandatory minimums for providing aid to terrorists and for some crimes of domestic violence), a provision that would make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, and new requirements for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to offer more programs to help inmates successfully reenter society. The act was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in November 2015 and appeared destined for passage. A poll conducted in January 2016 by my organization, the U.S. Justice Action Network, found broad support for the bill’s measures among likely voters in battleground and bellwether states such as Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Large majorities of those we surveyed agreed that federal prisons house too many nonviolent offenders, and nearly 70 percent agreed that the federal government spends too much tax money keeping them behind bars. Nearly 75 percent favored changing the way nonviolent offenders are sentenced, allowing judges to use their discretion to impose a range of sentences instead of relying on one-size-fits-all mandatory minimums.

But over the course of 2016, vocal opposition to the measures emerged from a handful of Republican senators in the midst of a GOP primary season and presidential campaign that featured archaic “tough on crime” posturing and appeals to restore “law and order.” With McConnell’s decision to delay bringing the legislation to the floor, the momentum of recent years appeared to come to a halt.

BETTER LAWS, MORE ORDER

There are still reasons for optimism, however. The presidential campaign is finally over, and the GOP now controls the White House and Congress. Safe in their seats, some of the Republican lawmakers who initially opposed or failed to take a position on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act might now be willing to take a second look; the bill’s supporters may also manage to convince Trump to back it or support similar efforts. One of the president’s greatest challenges will be to unify an American public suffering from the deep social divisions that have surfaced or widened in recent years. In addition to improving an often flawed and unjust system, criminal justice reform would create a badly needed point of unity and help build trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

Further, this legislation would help realize Trump’s desire to be a “law and order” president. After all, sentencing and corrections reforms enjoy the backing of law enforcement officers and agencies all over the country that would prefer for the justice system to focus on the most serious threats to society, such as mass shootings and acts of terrorism, rather than on low-level, nonviolent offenders. Law enforcement support for the legislation has come from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Council of Prison Locals, which represents more than 28,000 federal prison guards.

The Trump administration should support sentencing reforms for low-level offenders that would free up prison beds and focus resources on the most dangerous criminals. The cost savings from sentencing reforms would allow for more vocational training, addiction counseling, and mental health treatment to help ex-convicts returning to society find jobs, support their families, and turn away from crime. The new administration can also work to curb government overreach and put more people to work by supporting legislation that would remove statutory and regulatory obstacles to employing former prisoners and that would seal the records of former prisoners who have stayed crime free for a significant amount of time. Such steps have been backed by business groups in some conservative-leaning states, such as Kentucky and Louisiana, which struggle with a dearth of skilled labor.

Finally, the Trump administration can hold government accountable by backing federal incentives for states that safely decrease their prison populations and reconsider ineffective sentencing regimes. Such an initiative would represent a stark reversal of legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, which did just the opposite, offering federal dollars to states that imposed harsher criminal penalties and built more prisons, which contributed to the explosion of incarceration rates during the past two decades.

Many high-profile Republican leaders in Congress remain committed to passing comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation, including senators such as Cornyn, Grassley, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Mike Lee of Utah and representatives such as Ryan, Goodlatte, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, and Jason Chaffetz of Utah. If Trump chooses to support reform or simply defer to congressional leadership on these issues, these Republicans could enjoy a wide-open field. And with Obama out of the picture, the bill might become more palatable to some Republicans who had found it politically difficult to support reforms backed by a president they opposed on almost every other issue. On the other hand, Trump’s choice for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, might pose an obstacle: in the past, Sessions has resisted changes to mandatory minimum sentencing, although during his confirmation hearing in January, he pledged to “follow any law” that Congress passes. And perhaps the greatest challenge for advocates will be to ensure that criminal justice reform remains a top-tier issue during a time when fights over judicial nominations, the Affordable Care Act, and immigration will likely take center stage on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, large-scale reform packages are now moving forward in states such as Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. At some point, so many states will have enacted policies that safely reduce prison populations, save money, and lower crime and recidivism rates that Congress will have no choice but to act. There’s no reason for Washington to wait.

 

 

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