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TBR News August 26, 2016

Aug 26 2016

The Voice of the White House    

Washington, D.C.  August 26, 2016: “If serious speculations about filched anti-Clinton documents are true, the result will certainly be her defeat in the forthcoming Presidential election.

It does not matter if Wikileaks, or Russian intelligence found these, if what I have been told is accurate, it’s farewell to the Clintons and hello to Mr. Trump.

The media has been attacking Trump without letup and it will be interesting to see if the really ugly Hillary intercepts will get any of their attention.

These Clinton papers will, of course, get onto the Internet so the American, and British, media keeping silence will, in the end, have no effect whatsoever.”

Lots of Smoke Here, Hillary

August 26, 2016

by Patrick J. Buchanan


Prediction: If Hillary Clinton wins, within a year of her inauguration, she will be under investigation by a special prosecutor on charges of political corruption, thereby continuing a family tradition.

For consider what the Associated Press reported this week:

The surest way for a person with private interests to get a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, or a phone call returned by her, it seems, was to dump a bundle of cash into the Clinton Foundation.

Of 154 outsiders whom Clinton phoned or met with in her first two years at State, 85 had made contributions to the Clinton Foundation, and their contributions, taken together, totaled $156 million.

Conclusion: Access to Secretary of State Clinton could be bought, but it was not cheap. Forty of the 85 donors gave $100,000 or more. Twenty of those whom Clinton met with or phoned dumped in $1 million or more.

To get to the seventh floor of the Clinton State Department for a hearing for one’s plea, the cover charge was high.

Among those who got face time with Hillary Clinton were a Ukrainian oligarch and steel magnate who shipped oil pipe to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions and a Bangladeshi economist who was under investigation by his government and was eventually pressured to leave his own bank.

The stench is familiar, and all too Clintonian in character.

Recall. On his last day in office, Jan. 20, 2001, Bill Clinton issued a presidential pardon to financier-crook and fugitive from justice Marc Rich, whose wife, Denise, had contributed $450,000 to the Clinton Library.

The Clintons appear belatedly to have recognized their political peril.

Bill has promised that, if Hillary is elected, he will end his big dog days at the foundation and stop taking checks from foreign regimes and entities, and corporate donors. Cash contributions from wealthy Americans will still be gratefully accepted.

One wonders: Will Bill be writing thank-you notes for the millions that will roll in to the family foundation – on White House stationery?

By his actions, Bill is all but conceding that there is a serious conflict of interest between his foundation raking in millions that enhance the family’s prestige and sustain its travel and lifestyle, while providing its big donors with privileged access to the secretary of state.

Yet if Hillary Clinton becomes president, the scheme is unsustainable. Even the Obama-Clinton media might not be able to stomach this.

And even Clinton seems to be conceding the game is up. “I know there’s a lot of smoke, and there’s no fire,” she said in self-defense this week.

She is certainly right about the smoke.

And if, as Democratic apparatchik Steve McMahon assures us that there is “no smoking gun,” no quid-pro-quo, no open-and-shut case of Secretary Clinton taking official action in gratitude to a donor of the family foundation, how can we predict a special prosecutor?

Answer: We are not at the end of this scandal. We are at what Churchill called the “end of the beginning.”

Missing emails are being unearthed at State, through Freedom of Information Act requests, that are filling out the picture Clinton thought had been blotted out when her 33,000 “private” emails were erased by her lawyers.

Someone out there, Julian Assange, Russia, or the rogue websites doing all this hacking, are believed to have many more explosive emails they are preparing to drop before Election Day.

And why is Clinton is keeping her State Department calendar secret from the AP, if it does not contain meetings or calls she does not want to defend? She has defied requests and the AP had to sue to get the schedule of her first two years at State.

Moreover, the AP story on the State Department-Clinton Foundation links was so stunning it is sure to trigger follow-up by investigative journalists who can smell a Pulitzer.

Then there are the contacts between Huma Abedin, her closest aide at State, and Doug Band at the Clinton Foundation, the go-betweens for the donor-Clinton meetings, which has opened a new avenue for investigators.

These were unearthed by Judicial Watch, which is not going away.

The number of persons of interest involved in this suppurating scandal, which has gone from an illicit server, to a panoply of Clinton lies to the public that disgusted the FBI director, to erased emails, to “pay for play,” and now deep into the Clinton Foundation continues to grow.

All that is needed now, to bring us to an independent counsel, is calls for the FBI to reopen and broaden its investigation in light of all that has been revealed since Director Comey said there was not evidence enough to recommend an indictment.

If Clinton controls the Justice Department, calls for a special prosecutor will be resisted, but only until public demand becomes too great.

For there were independent counsels called in Watergate, Iran-Contra and the scandals that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

Hillary Clinton says there is no fire. But something is causing all that smoke.

Judge orders search of new Clinton emails for release by September 13

August 26, 2016


A U.S. judge ordered the State Department on Thursday to release by Sept. 13 any emails it finds between Hillary Clinton and the White House from the week of the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, among the thousands of additional emails uncovered by federal investigators.

The order came after the Federal Bureau of Investigation gave the department a disc earlier this month containing 14,900 emails to and from Clinton and other documents it said it had recovered that she did not return to the government.

Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, has been criticized for using an unauthorized private email system run from a server in the basement of her home while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, a decision she says was wrong and that she regrets.

The issue has hung over her campaign for the White House and raised questions among voters about her trustworthiness.

Judge William Dimitrouleas of the U.S. District Court in southern Florida made his order in response to a request by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which is suing the State Department for Clinton-era records under freedom of information laws.

Spokesmen for Clinton did not respond to requests for comment.

At least one other judge has said the department will eventually have to release all the newly recovered work emails, and at least some are expected to appear before the Nov. 8 presidential election.

After the system’s existence became more widely known, Clinton returned what she said were all her work emails to the State Department in 2014, and the department released them in batches to the public, some 30,000 in all.

The FBI took her server in 2015 after it was discovered she had sent and received classified government secrets through the system, which the government bans.

Clinton has said she did not know the information was classified at the time.

After a year-long investigation, FBI Director James Comey said last month that Clinton should have recognized the sensitivity of the information and that she had been “extremely careless” with government secrets. But he said there were not enough grounds for a prosecution, a decision criticized by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and other Republicans.

It remained unclear if there were any newly discovered emails that related to the September 2012 attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.

“Using broad search terms, we have identified a number of documents potentially responsive to a Benghazi-related request,” Elizabeth Trudeau, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “At this time, we have not confirmed that the documents are, in fact, responsive. We also have not determined if they involve Secretary Clinton.”

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

 ‘It’s a catastrophe’: low-income workers get priced out of California beach city

Rapidly rising rents, exacerbated by the tech boom and short-term rentals, have made it impossible for many working-class Americans to remain in Santa Cruz

August 24, 2016

by Sam Levin

The Guardian

At first, Jamie Kahn tried ignoring the repeated knocks on her front door. It was September 2015, and the 52-year-old Santa Cruz woman had recently faced an unexpected 40% rent increase that she could not afford.

After missing a rent payment, her new landlords in the northern California beach city quickly moved to evict the single mother and her two children. Kahn thought that if she refused to open the door and accept a summons, she could bide some time to fight the increase from $1,400 to $2,000 a month. She was wrong.

Court records show that a process server repeatedly showed up, and the Kahns ultimately had no choice but to vacate their home of six years. Her 22-year-old daughter subsequently moved into a small back porch room in a neighboring city. Her 19-year-old son crashed on couches. Kahn, meanwhile, moved into her black 1995 Camry station wagon – where she has been sleeping ever since, often stationed in Walmart parking lots.

“California is a monster. If you don’t keep up, you end up on the streets, and nobody cares,” said Kahn, a college graduate who previously worked two jobs in Santa Cruz. “This is a public health issue. It’s a catastrophe.”

While housing shortages and homeless epidemics have afflicted communities up and down the west coast, a major crisis has emerged in Santa Cruz, the liberal seaside city 80 miles south of San Francisco, known internationally for its surfing and laid-back boardwalk attractions.

With a swelling presence of Airbnb short-term rentals and university students, Santa Cruz has increasingly become unaffordable and inhospitable to many longtime low-income workers and middle-class families, and experts say the tech boom and housing crunch in nearby Silicon Valley is exacerbating the displacement.

For newly evicted families such as the Kahns, there’s often nowhere to turn except the streets.

Least affordable’ housing in the US

Santa Cruz, which was originally controlled by Mexico, was incorporated as a California town in 1866. The city is constrained by mountains and the ocean but has steadily grown since the gold rush, attracting agriculture and commercial fishing along with a vibrant resort community and tourism industry.

Housing development has not kept pace with the growth of the population, which is now 62,000 in the city and 270,000 total in Santa Cruz County. The county has added roughly one housing unit for every 10 new residents in recent years, according to county housing manager Julie Conway.

At the same time, the top five occupations in the area are low-wage jobs in retail, food service and cleaning, paying between $9.06 and $11.30 an hour, according to 2015 research. As a result, 63% of renters live in unaffordable housing, meaning their rent is more than 30% of their income.

By some measures, Santa Cruz is considered the “least affordable” small metro area in the US. Santa Cruz – which is about 58% white and 33% Latino – also recently counted nearly 2,000 homeless people, which translates to one of the highest concentrations in the country, according to the federal government.

Such a broad spectrum of the community is being priced out,” said Sibley Verbeck Simon, president of New Way Homes, an affordable housing not-for-profit group in Santa Cruz. He said roughly 70% of the homeless were previously housed in the area, meaning the housing crunch is displacing many locals.

The lack of housing has also led to severe overcrowding, said Steve McKay, associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who has studied regional poverty and recently found that the median hourly wage for low-income workers is $10.

“No one can live on $10 an hour,” he said.

Santa Cruz also lacks rent control laws to preserve affordable housing rates, which means the increasingly intense competition for a limited supply of units has enabled landlords to dramatically jack up rates.

McKay said it’s not uncommon to see two renters pay $1,000 each to share a single bedroom. He said he recently learned of a landlord who put up dividers in a four-bedroom house, illegally converting it to an eight-room property and charging $8,000 a month.

In another case, four senior citizens were sharing one studio apartment.

“People are living in all kinds of alternative housing – converted garages, cars, chicken coops, you name it,” said Gretchen Regenhardt, regional director of California Rural Legal Assistance, which aids low-income renters.

Most of the time when desperate tenants show up at the doors of Regenhardt’s office there’s little she can do. So many evictions and rent hikes are legal, she said, which means her organization can’t assist 90% of the people who seek their help.

‘We didn’t know where to go’

On a recent summer afternoon in downtown Santa Cruz, a mile away from the city’s main beach and waterfront amusement park, homeless residents filed into the public library, carrying piles of personal documents and half-completed housing applications.

John Dietz, a housing specialist with the 180/2020 program, which aims to eliminate chronic homelessness by 2020, sat with clients at a small roundtable, prepping them for high-stakes meetings with prospective landlords.

“It’s gonna be a tough interview,” he told William Henry Brown Jr, a 65-year-old man who lost his Santa Cruz home last year when an owner redeveloped his building.

“I’m very patient,” said Brown, who has been sleeping on the living room floor in his father-in-law’s unit. “But I won’t give up.”

Dietz and Brown discussed how he would explain to a potential landlord why he doesn’t have credit.

Dietz and his colleagues have developed relationships with specific landlords to try to encourage them to accept homeless tenants who have vouchers for housing – but can’t find anyone to take them.

“The hardest part is knowing that there is available housing, but not being accepted,” said Joshua Waltrip, 27.

“When we go to interviews, I get so nervous,” said Rita Chavez, Waltrip’s mother.

Statistics suggest her fears are merited. A recent 88-unit affordable rental project, for example, received 1,371 applications, according to Conway.

Chavez noted that she has seen the dynamics of Santa Cruz change over the years. “It used to be a lot of local people. There used to be more hippies.”

Some worry the expanding presence of short-term rentals is worsening the housing emergency in Santa Cruz county, which is home to Airbnb’s “most popular” rental. Even a local councilman was reprimanded for illegally renting out a secondary residence to make extra cash.

In addition to tourists and an increasing number of UC Santa Cruz students straining the already tight housing market, the relocation of wealthy Silicon Valley tech workers to Santa Cruz has also accelerated anxieties and fears of rising income inequality and a changing population.

Earlier this month, Kate Downing, a planning commissioner in Palo Alto – a city by the headquarters of Apple, Google and Facebook – penned a viral resignation letter outlining why she, a lawyer, and her husband, a software engineer, could no longer afford Silicon Valley.

The lack of housing in the region has made it impossible for the couple to comfortably raise a family and stay in Palo Alto, she said. Instead, Downing wrote, the couple has decided to migrate south and settle in Santa Cruz.

‘Because of Silicon Valley’

Commuting from Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley across the windy, two-lane Highway 17 can be a nightmare during rush hour, but more tech workers may make the move as housing prices continue to climb.

“Unless you work over the hill at Google or Apple and are making a ton of money, you’re basically not going to be able to afford anything here,” said Dale Davis, 65, who was recently priced out of Santa Cruz with her husband. “This is because of Silicon Valley.”

“Santa Cruz is feeling that pressure,” added Downing, who argued in her letter that Palo Alto has fundamentally failed to fix its housing crisis by blocking new developments. “Santa Cruz is at least trying.”

Government officials and housing advocates say they are focused on increasing the pace of development and reforming local laws so that developers are incentivized to construct denser projects.

Simon, the nonprofit director, argued that if the area had 2,500 new units, median rent would drop 20% across the board. “We could absolutely significantly alter the dynamics by building supply.”

The county, however, has a target of producing roughly 1,400 new housing units by 2023, and some worry it’s not enough.

Conway, the county housing official, noted that the crisis has been building for decades and won’t be quickly solved. “We’re losing our middle class, and we’re losing our young families … Does that mean the fundamental character of our community is changing? Of course.”

For Kahn, who is still living out of her car and relocating to New Mexico this month, it seems clear Santa Cruz won’t ever be an option for her again.

She said she feels grateful that she and her children have found ways to get by. “Many people aren’t so lucky … In Santa Cruz, people end up on the streets for the rest of their lives.”


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 72

August 26, 2016


The Department of Defense has assumed a growing role in providing assistance to foreign military and security services over the past decade, often supplanting the Department of State. The evolution of DoD security cooperation activities is traced in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Since military aid became a major component of U.S. foreign assistance to counter the rise of the Soviet Union after World War II, the State Department has historically exercised the lead in security assistance activities,” CRS noted.

Over time, however, “Congress began to expand gradually the scope and character of the statutory framework by authorizing DOD to directly train, equip, and otherwise assist foreign military and other security forces….”

“As DOD’s security cooperation responsibilities and authorities have multiplied, general agreement has emerged that the statutory framework has evolved into a cumbersome system.”

“Congress has provided DOD with, by CRS’s estimate, more than 80 separate authorities to assist and engage with foreign governments, militaries, security forces, and populations, although other organizations have identified a larger number of authorities.”

Those legislative authorities for DoD security cooperation programs are tabulated in the CRS report along with associated funding levels for many of the individual programs. See DOD Security Cooperation: An Overview of Authorities and Issues, August 23, 2016.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has withheld from public release include the following.

Coalition Contributions to Countering the Islamic State, updated August 24, 2016

Heroin Trafficking in the United States, August 23, 2016

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections, updated August 24, 2016

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, updated August 25, 2016

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations, updated August 22, 2016

Federal Support for Reproductive Health Services: Frequently Asked Questions, updated August 24, 2016

History of House and Senate Restaurants: Context for Current Operations and Issues, August 23, 2016

House and Senate Restaurants: Current Operations and Issues for Congress, August 23, 2016

Reforming the U.S. Postal Service: Background and Issues for Congress, August 25, 2016

Turkey’s Foray Into Syria Is a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game

August 25, 2016

by Patrick Cockburn


The record of Turkish involvement in the war in Syria over the last five years has been one of repeated disaster. It wanted to get rid of President Bashar al-Assad and his government and it is still there and in control of at least two thirds of the Syrian population. Instead, the Syrian wing of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting a guerilla war against the Turkish state since 1984, was able to establish its rule, with the military backing of the US, across a great swathe of northern Syria south of the border with Turkey. Isis, which Ankara once tolerated, has launched a vicious bombing campaign in Turkey which killed 54 people at a wedding in Gaziantep last weekend.

Will Turkey’s military incursion, which began at 4am this morning, fare any better than its past initiatives in Syria? Its tanks, special forces and artillery are backing at least 500 Syrian rebels in an attack on the Isis-held town of Jarabulus just west of the Euphrates River. The Turkish media speaks of the operation, known as “Euphrates Shield”, as aiming to create a 55-by-25 mile “safe zone” for refugees just south of the Syrian-Turkish border. But Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numun Kurtulmus says that what we are seeing is “a short and results based operation”. Opposition forces said this evening that they were in control of the town, as US military officials said that American planes were conducting air strikes against Isis targets.

One aim is to respond to the massacre carried out by an Isis suicide bomber in Gaziantep last weekend. Another is to prevent the Syrian Kurds, the shape of its proxy, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), taking Jarabulus and the 30-mile strip to its west, which is Isis’s last exit and entry point to Turkey and the outside world. This would extend the Syrian Kurdish quasi-state, which the Kurds call Rojava, connecting up to the Kurdish enclave of Afrin north-west of Aleppo. Going by the limited number of tanks and other forces so far committed by Turkey, its ambitions in Syria are at present fairly limited.

It would be wise for Turkey to keep it that way. It can act against Isis, but if this is a mask for an assault on Syrian Kurds then it will be opposed by both the US and Russia. The YPG (People’s Protection Units), the 50,000 strong Syrian Kurdish army, is America’s most effective military ally against Isis. It has been cooperating with the Russian air campaign. The Syrian army and air force has been fighting the YPG in the far east of Syria in and around the city of al-Hasakah. Could the struggle for Jarabulus open the door to a diplomatic volte face where by Damascus and Ankara reconcile and turn on the Kurds? It looks very unlikely, but the Syrian crisis is now so complex that participants have great difficulty in telling friends from enemies and where their own best interests lie.

‘A lit fuse’: Ancient carbon slowly seeping from permafrost could ignite climate-change bomb

August 25, 2016


Slowly melting permafrost is seeping ancient carbon into the atmosphere in what researchers describe as a slowly ticking climate change time bomb.

The paper, published in Nature Geoscience on Monday, confirms that the thawing permafrost is releasing gases which have been trapped in ice for thousands of years as climate-warming greenhouse gases.

By subjecting gas captured from lakes in Alaska, Siberia and Canada to radiocarbon dating, researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks found the gas had been generated from carbon stored up to 30,000 years ago.

The team of scientists also used historical aerial photo analysis, soil and methane sampling, to quantify the strength of the “permafrost carbon feedback.”

Although the amount of gases being released from permafrost at the moment is “pretty small,” it’s thought that over the next 90 years, the levels of gas could be from 100 to 900 times greater than present measurements.

It’s a lit fuse, but the length of that fuse is very long,” said lead author Katey Walter Anthony, according to the The Canadian Press.

Walter Anthony explained that model projections show that “we’re getting ready for the part where it starts to explode. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

With an estimated 1,400 petagrams of old carbon stored in permafrost, and with each petagram equalling a billion tonnes, this is about twice the amount that is currently in the atmosphere, according to Walter Anthony.

The main concern for many researchers is that if vast amounts of this old carbon are released, it could create a “feedback loop.” This means the emissions being released contribute to warming, which in turn then cause more permafrost to thaw out and more gases to be released, and so the loop continues.

Italy declares state of emergency in region hit by earthquake

PM authorises preliminary €50m in emergency funding for stricken zone as Amatrice hit by 4.7-magnitude aftershock

August 26, 2016

by Jon Henley

The Guardian

A 4.7-magnitude aftershock has hit the Italian town of Amatrice as rescuers and emergency teams continue their search of three flattened hilltop towns and Italy declares a state of emergency in the region.

With the provisional death toll from Wednesday’s 6.2-magnitude quake standing at 267, including several foreigners, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, authorised a preliminary €50m (£43m) in emergency funding for the stricken zone.

The powerful aftershock, the latest of more than 500 since the initial quake, hit the area shortly after dawn on Friday, sending up plumes of thick grey dust, shaking buildings that were still standing and fuelling fears of fresh collapses which could hamper the rescue operation.

In a first raft of emergency relief measures, Renzi cancelled residents’ taxes in and around the hardest-hit towns of Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto, between 60 and 90 miles (95-145km) north-east of Rome.

Most of the confirmed deaths were in Amatrice, where 193 people had died, includingthree Britons: Marcos Burnett, 14, who was on holiday with his parents and sister, and 55-year-old Will Henniker-Gotley and his wife Maria, 51, from south London. Marco’s parents are being treated for minor injuries in hospital.

The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said on Thursday that extra staff had been sent to the region. Six Romanians, a Canadian, a Spaniard and a Salvadoran were also killed.

The 2,500-strong population of the medieval hilltop town, voted one of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns last year, was swollen with summer visitors, many from Rome, in anticipation of its popular annual food festival this weekend.

But while 215 people had been pulled alive from the rubble since Wednesday and more than 360 were being treated in hospital, questions were mounting as to why there had been so many deaths in an area known for decades to be the most seismically hazardous in Europe.

After a 2009 earthquake in nearby L’Aquila left 300 people dead, authorities released €1bn to upgrade buildings in the region, but takeup has been low. Despite eight devastating earthquakes in 40 years, experts estimate 70% of Italy’s buildings do not meet seismic standards.

“Here, in the middle of a seismic zone, nothing has ever been done,” Dario Nanni, of Italy’s architects’ council, told Agence France-Presse. “It does not cost that much more when renovating a building to make it comply with earthquake standards. But less than 20% of buildings do.”

The culture minister said 293 historical buildings had been damaged or destroyed by the quake and public prosecutors announced an investigation into whether anyone could be held responsible.

Meanwhile, Renzi announced plans to help the country prepare better and address poor building standards, saying Italy should “have a plan that is not just limited to the management of emergency situations”.

But the prime minister said suggestions that the country could easily construct quake-proof buildings were “absurd”. It was difficult to imagine, he said after a cabinet meeting, that the level of destruction from Wednesday’s quake “could have been avoided simply by using different building technology. We’re talking about medieval-era towns.”

In Amatrice and the surrounding small towns and villages hopes of finding more survivors were fading; no one had been recovered alive since Wednesday night. The focus was now on helping the more than 1,200 people left homeless.

About 5,400 emergency workers, firefighters, soldiers and volunteers, helped by 50 sniffer dogs, continued to sift through piles of cement, rock and twisted metal, many pointing out that the last survivor from the L’Aquila quake was found 72 hours after it struck.

“We will work relentlessly until the last person is found, and make sure no one is trapped,” said one rescue team spokesman, Lorenzo Botti.

Some survivors, having slept in their cars or in tent cities set up outside the towns, were allowed to pick up essential items from their homes on Thursday accompanied by rescue workers.

“Last night we slept in the car. Tonight, I don’t know,” said Nello Caffini, carrying his sister-in-law’s belongings on his head through Pescara del Tronto, which was almost completely destroyed.

Italy’s older buildings are not obliged to conform to anti-seismic building codes, and experts estimate it could cost more than €90bn to reinforce all the country’s historic buildings. Targeted improvement work, though, could be effective.

Compounding the problem is the fact that many more modern buildings do not comply with regulations when they are built, and often prove deadlier than older constructions when an earthquake strikes.

News reports in Amatrice said investigators were looking in particular into the town’s Romolo Capranica school, which was restored in 2012 using funds provided after the L’Aquila quake. It all but collapsed on Wednesday, while the town’s 13th-century clock tower remained standing.

“We are able to prevent all these deaths,” Armando Zambrano, of the national council of engineers, told the Associated Press. “The problem is actually doing it. These tragedies keep happening because we don’t intervene. After each tragedy we say we will act but then the weeks go by and nothing happens.”

World Risk Index: The Human Factor in Natural Disasters

How vulnerable is your country to natural disasters? The 2016 World Risk Index is now out and it shows that infrastructure is a key factor in the ability to withstand events like hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

August 25, 2016

by Axel Bojanowski


Over and over again, we are reminded of the horrific rule, with a particularly stark example coming in 2010. That year, large cities in Haiti and in New Zealand were hit by earthquakes just a few months apart. The tremors were of the same magnitude, were both quite shallow, had their epicenters not far from large cities and similar causes.

But there was one decisive difference: In Haiti, well over 100,000 people lost their lives, and possibly more than 200,000. In New Zealand, however, the only damage was to buildings.

The horrific rule is that natural catastrophes most often strike poor countries. Storms, earthquakes, floods or droughts only become disasters when residents are unable to sufficiently protect themselves against the dangers.

A new list now shows the degree to which countries are threatened by natural catastrophes. The World Risk Index, published by scientists from the United Nations University and from development organizations, is strikingly simple: The higher a country is ranked, the greater the chance that its inhabitants will die in a natural disaster.

At the very top of the list are Pacific island nations. Vanuatu and Tonga are at risk of earthquakes, tsunamis and storms while the Philippines must also deal with volcanic eruptions and landslides. Residents of Qatar and Malta are at the least risk of natural disaster while Germany is ranked 147th of the 171 countries evaluated.

Extreme Exposure in Japan

In compiling the 2016 World Risk Report, released on Thursday, scientists gathered data pertaining to a wide variety of factors, including the number of people in each country exposed to natural hazards, the vulnerability of its transportation routes, housing and paths of distribution and its economic output. The report also takes into account a country’s food supply, medical care and political situation in addition to social welfare, education, research and early warning systems. Some countries were not included in the index due to a lack of sufficient data.

Listed in 17th place, Japan is ranked highest of all highly developed nations and is grouped among those countries most at risk of natural catastrophe — despite the fact that Japan was found to be extremely well prepared to withstand natural events. The country, however, is among the most exposed countries on Earth, as tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons and volcanic eruptions in recent years have clearly demonstrated.

The Netherlands is the next rich, industrialized country to be found on the list, in 49th place. Protected by dikes, much of the country is located below sea level and climbing sea levels present a growing threat. Chile, in 22nd place, and Serbia, at 68, are also highly ranked despite their relative prosperity. Greece, in 76th place, is primarily threatened by earthquakes and tsunamis.

Despite the apparently precise rankings, the calculations used by the World Risk Report are not based on exact measurements, but on approximate estimates made by thousands of experts. The list does, however, make clear which countries could experience particular difficulties when it comes to dealing with a natural event.

Where Are the Hospitals?

The report places particular emphasis on infrastructure. How effectively can a country react to a significant natural catastrophe? Are there sufficient roads and airports for aid services? How many hospitals are there? Will the power supply continue to function in an emergency?

Even the United States is lacking in this department, as Hurricane Sandy, which struck New York City in 2012, demonstrated. The complete failure of the power supply significantly complicated rescue efforts.

The report shows that almost all South American countries have serious deficiencies in their ability to respond to disasters. In Africa, only South Africa, Morocco, Ghana and Namibia are even moderately prepared.

Following weather disasters, roads are often flooded or covered by landslides and unpaved roads are often muddied, making them unpassable.

Many places also lack emergency escape routes. In Africa, there are only 65 kilometers (41 miles) of paved roads per 100,000 residents, compared to 832 kilometers in Europe. Those countries that have few alternative routes fared poorly in this category of the World Risk Index.

Flooding in Thailand in 2011, for example, also affected the airport in Bangkok, but there were plenty of other means available for transporting relief aid into the country than just airplanes. But that wasn’t the case in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake. The country’s only international airport was too small to handle the aid deliveries necessary to cope with the devastation. Large parts of the country’s road network had been destroyed, meaning deliveries couldn’t get to where they were needed.

The Dangers in Rapidly Growing Cities

The index only considers risks associated with natural disasters and a country’s ability to cope with natural events like earthquakes and flooding. That is why countries like Saudi Arabia (third best at 169th) and Egypt (158) have a better ranking than Switzerland (155), Austria (135) or Britain (131).

Switzerland, just like the Rhineland in Germany, could be shaken by a strong earthquake. Central Europe, meanwhile, is at risk of powerful storms. Insurance companies presume around 100 billion euros in damage and many dead in forecasting such events.

Residents of rapidly-growing cities are particularly exposed to significant natural disaster risks. Illegal and unplanned housing, for example, reduce the effectiveness of early warning systems and make it more difficult to respond to natural disasters.

Experts propose a number of precautionary measures — especially when it comes to larger buildings such as hospitals, schools, hotels and commercial buildings. The larger rooms on the ground floors of such structures support the floors above and even mild temblors could cause them to collapse.

Large new buildings like schools should also be convertible into emergency shelters when powerful storms strike, such as in Bangladesh. Furthermore, roads should also be able to function as drainage canals after a typhoon, as is the case with some roads in Japan and Malaysia.

In a recent analysis, the World Bank also pointed to another inexpensive means of reducing potential harm during natural disasters: Changing laws to strengthen ownership rights. If people are certain of their ownership, according to the argument, they are likely to do more to maintain it.

Warning systems also need to be improved. The report notes that it’s often in the final kilometers that efforts to protect those in danger fail. Even when countries are able to sound the warning alarm thanks to electronic early warning systems, they often fall flat because the warnings are not passed on at the local level in towns and villages.

Why Did the Saudi Regime and Other Gulf Tyrannies Donate Millions to the Clinton Foundation?

August 25, 2016

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

As the numerous and obvious ethical conflicts surrounding the Clinton Foundation receive more media scrutiny, the tactic of Clinton-loyal journalists is to highlight the charitable work done by the foundation, and then insinuate — or even outright state — that anyone raising these questions is opposed to its charity. James Carville announced that those who criticize the foundation are “going to hell.” Other Clinton loyalists insinuated that Clinton Foundation critics are indifferent to the lives of HIV-positive babies or are anti-gay bigots.

That the Clinton Foundation has done some good work is beyond dispute. But that fact has exactly nothing to do with the profound ethical problems and corruption threats raised by the way its funds have been raised. Hillary Clinton was America’s chief diplomat, and tyrannical regimes such as the Saudis and Qataris jointly donated tens of millions of dollars to an organization run by her family and operated in its name, one whose works has been a prominent feature of her public persona. That extremely valuable opportunity to curry favor with the Clintons, and to secure access to them, continues as she runs for president.

The claim that this is all just about trying to help people in need should not even pass a laugh test, let alone rational scrutiny. To see how true that is, just look at who some of the biggest donors are. Although it did not give while she was secretary of state, the Saudi regime by itself has donated between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation, with donations coming as late as 2014, as she prepared her presidential run. A group called “Friends of Saudi Arabia,” co-founded “by a Saudi Prince,” gave an additional amount between $1 million and $5 million. The Clinton Foundation says that between $1 million and $5 million was also donated by “the State of Qatar,” the United Arab Emirates, and the government of Brunei. “The State of Kuwait” has donated between $5 million and $10 million.

Theoretically, one could say that these regimes — among the most repressive and regressive in the world — are donating because they deeply believe in the charitable work of the Clinton Foundation and want to help those in need. Is there a single person on the planet who actually believes this? Is Clinton loyalty really so strong that people are going to argue with a straight face that the reason the Saudi, Qatari, Kuwaiti and Emirates regimes donated large amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation is because those regimes simply want to help the foundation achieve its magnanimous goals?

Here’s one of the Clinton Foundation’s principal objectives; decide for yourself if its tyrannical donors are acting with the motive of advancing that charitable goal

All those who wish to argue that the Saudis donated millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation out of a magnanimous desire to aid its charitable causes, please raise your hand. Or take the newfound casting of the Clinton Foundation as a champion of LGBTs, and the smearing of its critics as indifferent to AIDS. Are the Saudis also on board with these benevolent missions? And the Qataris and Kuwaitis?

Which is actually more homophobic: questioning the Clinton Foundation’s lucrative relationship to those intensely anti-gay regimes, or cheering and defending that relationship? All the evidence points to the latter. But whatever else is true, it is a blatant insult to everyone’s intelligence to claim that the motive of these regimes in transferring millions to the Clinton Foundation is a selfless desire to help them in their noble work.

Another primary project of the Clinton Foundation is the elimination of wealth inequality, which “leads to significant economic disparities, both within and among countries, and prevents underserved populations from realizing their potential.” Who could possibly maintain that the reason the Qatari and Emirates regimes donated millions to the Clinton Foundation was their desire to eliminate such economic oppression?

It doesn’t exactly take a jaded disposition to doubt that these donations from some of the world’s most repressive regimes are motivated by a desire to aid the Clinton Foundation’s charitable work. To the contrary, it just requires basic rationality. That’s particularly true given that these regimes “have donated vastly more money to the Clinton Foundation than they have to most other large private charities involved in the kinds of global work championed by the Clinton family.” For some mystifying reason, they seem particularly motivated to transfer millions to the Clinton Foundation but not the other charities around the world doing similar work. Why might that be? What could ever explain it?

Some Clinton partisans, unwilling to claim that Gulf tyrants have charity in their hearts when they make these donations to the Clinton Foundation, have settled on a different tactic: grudgingly acknowledging that the motive of these donations is to obtain access and favors, but insisting that no quid pro quo can be proven. In other words, these regimes were tricked: They thought they would get all sorts of favors through these millions in donations, but Hillary Clinton was simply too honest and upstanding of a public servant to fulfill their expectations.

The reality is that there is ample evidence uncovered by journalists suggesting that regimes donating money to the Clinton Foundation received special access to and even highly favorable treatment from the Clinton State Department. But it’s also true that nobody can dispositively prove the quid pro quo. Put another way, one cannot prove what was going on inside Hillary Clinton’s head at the time that she gave access to or otherwise acted in the interests of these donor regimes: Was she doing it as a favor in return for those donations, or simply because she has a proven affinity for Gulf State and Arab dictators, or because she was merely continuing decades of U.S. policy of propping up pro-U.S. tyrants in the region?

While this “no quid pro quo proof” may be true as far as it goes, it’s extremely ironic that Democrats have embraced it as a defense of Hillary Clinton. After all, this has long been the primary argument of Republicans who oppose campaign finance reform, and indeed, it was the primary argument of the Citizens United majority, once depicted by Democrats as the root of all evil. But now, Democrats have to line up behind a politician who, along with her husband, specializes in uniting political power with vast private wealth, in constantly exploiting the latter to gain the former, and vice versa. So Democrats are forced to jettison all the good-government principles they previously claimed to believe and instead are now advocating the crux of the right-wing case against campaign finance reform: that large donations from vested factions are not inherently corrupting of politics or politicians.

Indeed, as I documented in April, Clinton-defending Democrats have now become the most vocal champions of the primary argument used by the Citizens United majority. “We now conclude,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the Citizens United majority, “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” That is now exactly the argument Clinton loyalists are spouting to defend the millions in donations from tyrannical regimes (as well as Wall Street banks and hedge funds): Oh, there’s no proof there’s any corruption going on with all of this money.

The elusive nature of quid pro quo proof — now the primary Democratic defense of Clinton — has also long been the principal argument wielded by the most effective enemy of campaign finance reform, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell. This is how USA Today, in 1999, described the arguments of McConnell and his GOP allies when objecting to accusations from campaign finance reform advocates that large financial donations are corrupting:

Senate opponents of limiting money in politics injected a bitter personal note into the debate as reformers began an uphill quest to change a system they say has corrupted American government. …

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the legislation’s chief opponent, challenged reform advocate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to name Senate colleagues who have been corrupted by high-dollar political contributions.

”How can there be corruption if no one is corrupt?” McConnell asked, zeroing in on McCain’s frequent speeches about the issue in his presidential campaign. ”That’s like saying the gang is corrupt but none of the gangsters are.”

When McCain refused to name names, Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, confronted him. Standing just eight feet from him on the Republican side of the chamber, Bennett charged that McCain had accused him of corruption in seeking pork-barrel spending for his home state.

”I am unaware of any money given that influenced my action here,” Bennett said. ”I have been accused of being corrupt. … I take personal offense.”

The inability to prove that politicians acted as quid pro quo when taking actions that benefited donors has long been the primary weapon of those opposing campaign finance reform. It is now the primary argument of Democratic partisans to defend Hillary Clinton. In Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a scathing dissent on exactly this point, one that Democrats once cheered.

So if you want to defend the millions of dollars that went from tyrannical regimes to the Clinton Foundation as some sort of wily, pragmatic means of doing good work, go right ahead. But stop insulting everyone’s intelligence by pretending that these donations were motivated by noble ends. Beyond that, don’t dare exploit LGBT rights, AIDS, and other causes to smear those who question the propriety of receiving millions of dollars from the world’s most repressive, misogynistic, gay-hating regimes. Most important, accept that your argument in defense of all these tawdry relationships — that big-money donations do not necessarily corrupt the political process or the politicians who are their beneficiaries — has been and continues to be the primary argument used to sabotage campaign finance reform.

Given who their candidate is, Democrats really have no choice but to insist that these sorts of financial relationships are entirely proper (needless to say, Goldman Sachs has also donated millions to the Clinton Foundation, but Democrats proved long ago they don’t mind any of that when they even insisted that it was perfectly fine that Goldman Sachs enriched both Clintons personally with numerous huge speaking fees — though Democrats have no trouble understanding why Trump’s large debts to Chinese banks and Goldman Sachs pose obvious problems). But — just as is true of their resurrecting a Cold War template and its smear tactics against their critics — the benefits derived from this tactic should not obscure how toxic it is and how enduring its consequences will likely be.

Syrian Flashpoint

US and Turkey invade Syria

August 26, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


Even as top Turkish officials excoriate the United States for supposedly backing the failed coup attempt against President Recip Erdogan, Turkish troops and US Special Forces are coordinating with Syrian Islamist rebels to carry out a de facto invasion of Syria. Under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State, Erdogan’s Janissaries, thousands of “Free Syrian Army” jihadis, and 300 US “advisors” are moving to consolidate control over a large swathe of Syrian territory along the Turkish-Syrian border. The government of Bashar al-Assad immediately denounced the move as a “blatant violation” of Syria’s sovereignty.

Syria’s four-sided civil war just got more complicated – and much more dangerous.

The invasion commenced hours before the arrival of Vice President Joe Biden in Turkey, where he is on a mission to appease the cantankerous Turks. As an official traveling with Biden put it:

“The major goal of the trip is to make sure that our alliance remains rock-solid and that relations get back on track. We can’t afford any friction in our relationship right now, because we have a lot of business to do with the Turks.”

The “business” Biden has to take care of involves stabbing the Kurds in the back, reiterating US support for radical Islamist “rebels,” and furthering the US plan to overthrow Assad using the ambitious Erdogan as the spearhead.

Up until this point, the Kurdish YPG has been the recipient of US aid, with our “advisors” embedded in their ranks: enjoying US air support, they have managed to carve out a safe space which they call “Rojava,” protected from the depredations of both ISIS and the Turks. This sudden turn in US policy, however, means that their usefulness has perhaps come to an end – and that the Americans, having used them as cannon fodder, are now ready to dump them. As that official traveling with Biden told the Associated Press:

“In addition to helping the Turks in the Jarabulus offensive, he said, ‘we’re living up to our assurances to the Turks that the Kurds are not going to move north. . . . We’ve made it clear to [the YPG] that we won’t support them going north and, by the way, they can’t move without us providing air support.’”

The poor Kurds never learn their lesson: allying themselves with one or the other regional actor in a bid to gain some measure of independence, they have been continually betrayed just when they’re on the brink of achieving their goal. This most recent treachery, however, is the cruelest blow. For what it portends is the virtual annexation of a big chunk of Syrian territory and the extension of Turkish power into the heart of Syria. While the government in Damascus has, until recently, been relatively lax in enforcing its claims over the Kurdish Syrian enclave, even continuing to provide government services in areas it no longer really controls, the Turks are viscerally hostile to the idea of even limited Kurdish autonomy. Indeed, Ankara has waged a twenty year war against Kurdish “terrorists,” a conflict that is likely to be reignited in the very near future – and Joe Biden has made it very clear which side Washington will take. The Washington Post reports:

“Kurdish-led forces in Syria have partially withdrawn to the east of the Euphrates River, American and Turkish officials said Thursday, after Vice President Biden publicly threatened to pull U.S. support if the fighters remained in areas where Turkey says they pose a threat to its national security.”

With both the US and Russia backing different factions, the prospect of a direct conflict has been looming over the sands of Syria  — and there have been several near misses. US “advisors” have also come into contact with Syrian government forces, most recently last week when US planes scrambled to intercept Syrian warplanes as they bombed YPG positions near the northeastern city of Hasakah.

ISIS is just a pretext: the real goal of the US and Turkey is regime change in Damascus. The US-Turkish offensive now being launched is a portent of a frightening future. How long before US-Turkish forces are engaged in a pitched battle with the Russians and the Syrian military over Syrian skies?

The irony is that, under the rubric of fighting the ISIS “Caliphate,” the US is actively aiding the creation of a far more dangerous Turkish Caliphate. As Sultan Erdogan Islamicizes the remnants of once-secular Turkey, jailing tens of thousands and gets closer to imposing Sharia law, this NATO member is seeking to create a “Greater Turkey” – a goal supported by Turkish secularists as well as the Erdoganites.

Why is the US getting behind Erdogan’s expansionist program?

Two reasons:

1) This is consistent with the Obama-Hillary policy of playing the “Sunni card.” Supporting Islamist rebels in Libya and Syria, backing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and aiding and abetting the Saudis and the Gulf states in the invasion of Yemen and the anti-Shia crackdown in Bahrein, is all part of their “strategy” to “fight terrorism” by ….  co-opting it. It’s the same strategy the Bush regime employed in Iraq, putting Sunni tribal fighters on the CIA payroll to fight al-Qaeda during the “surge.”

2) Syria is another front in NATO’s war on Russia. Instead of confronting the Russian military in Crimea, the NATO-crats are choosing to make Syria the battlefield, where Russian troops will have trouble making an appearance.

With American “liberals” making a big push for direct US military intervention against Assad, and Hillary Clinton raring to be their instrument, the prospect of a US-Russian face off isn’t just speculation. Indeed, it is already happening.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for our readers to support Antiwar.com. We have reached a crucial crossroads: a new cold war with Russia is now the central platform plank of the Democratic party, and the war cries of the Washington Establishment fill the air. We’ve been warning you in this space that an all-out assault on the Russians is fast taking the place of the “war on terrorism” – and now that Washington is allying itself with those terrorists against the Russian “threat,” our prophecy is being fulfilled.

This is the most dangerous development since 9/11. Russia, need I remind you, is a nuclear power. A repeat of the Cuban missile crisis is in the cards – except it may turn out quite differently, and not for the better.

Arrest Warrant Issued For District Attorney Involved In DEA’s California Wiretap Warrant Mill

from the DEA-DOA dept


Former Riverside District Attorney Paul Zellerbach is in trouble, as Brad Heath and Brett Kelman report for The Desert Sun.

A judge issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for former Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach after he failed to appear at a court hearing to answer questions about an eavesdropping operation so vast it once accounted for nearly a fifth of all U.S. wiretaps.


“He should have been there,” said Jan Ronis, the attorney who subpoenaed Zellerbach. “But he just blew us off. We could have had court today.”

It’s not uncommon for Zellerbach to go missing when people need him. When Zellerbach ran the DA’s office, he was rarely there. The DEA found his office to be just as accommodating, with or without him, though. Although the DEA was supposed to run its wiretap warrant requests through federal judges and have them signed by the district attorney himself, it often found it easier to obtain a signature from whoever happened to be at the office and run them by Riverside County judge Helios Hernandez, who approved five times as many wiretap applications as any other judge in the US.

The wiretap applications’ reach frequently exceeded their jurisdictional grasp, traveling far outside of Riverside County, California, to be deployed against suspects as far away as North Carolina. But that was only one issue with the warrants applications approved by Zellerbach’s office.

The DOJ’s lawyers didn’t like the DEA’s skirting of federal rules for wiretap applications.

“It was made very clear to the agents that if you’re going to go the state route, then best wishes, good luck and all that, but that case isn’t coming to federal court,” a former Justice Department lawyer said.

“They’d want to bring these cases into the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the feds would tell them no (expletive) way,” a former Justice Department official said.

California’s wiretap laws weren’t being followed either, thanks to Zellerbach holding office in absentia.

Riverside County’s former district attorney, Paul Zellerbach, has acknowledged that he allowed lower-level lawyers to do that job, saying he could not recall ever having reviewed a wiretap application himself. Four of the wiretaps in the Kentucky case were approved by one of Zellerbach’s assistants, and one was approved by an assistant to his successor.

Now, the DEA’s toxic and possibly illegal wiretap warrants are being challenged, now that defense lawyers know exactly how much — and how often — state and federal requirements were being skirted by the drug warriors. That’s what has led to Zellerbach’s arrest warrant.

The first challenge, filed in Kentucky, led a federal judge to say that Riverside had issued so many wiretaps “that constitutional requirements cannot have been met.” The second challenge, filed locally, led to the warrant being issued for Zellerbach.

Zellerbach was subpoenaed to appear in the case of Christian Agraz, 33, an accused drug trafficker who was allegedly caught on a wiretap selling bricks of heroin in 2014.

The former DA did not appear at the hearing in the Agraz case on Tuesday morning, so Judge Michele Levine issued a bench warrant and assigned a bail of $1,500.

The constitutional requirements say Zellerbach was supposed to sign each wiretap application personally. Paul Zellerbach can’t recall approving a single one of the hundreds that flowed through his office over the years.

The DEA’s Riverside County-centric drug war looks like it’s going to result in several cases being tossed out. Fortunately, the DEA still can keep everything it’s claimed via civil asset forfeiture, which makes good busts out of bad ones and makes obtaining convictions entirely optional.

Will states follow DOJ’s private prison move? Some are ahead of the feds.

August 26, 2016

by Joe Davidson

Washington Post

Uncle Sam is an influential guy. When he speaks, states listen.

If history is a guide, the Justice Department’s decision to phase out private prisons could have an impact well beyond federal Bureau of Prison facilities. Already, some states are ahead of the federal government in closing for-profit correctional locations. The move by the Justice Department could encourage more of that.

“The federal prison system is traditionally seen, by other state prison systems, as the gold standard, as embodying best practices, as an example to follow,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project. “The fact that the federal prison system is ending its use of private prisons could encourage other some states to follow suit. … I think it’s likely that some will follow the federal example.”

Nicole D. Porter, advocacy director of the Sentencing Project, which, like the ACLU, opposes private prisons, provided these examples of states moving away from private facilities:

  • Colorado officials announced plans in June to close the private Kit Carson Correctional Center.
  • Mississippi officials said they will close the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility.
  • D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that the District would resume operation of the Correctional Treatment Facility when a contract with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) expires next year.
  • Kentucky announced the closing of its last of three facilities in 2013. In June, however, the state said it was considering reopening two private facilities because of overcrowding.
  • Texas closed two private prisons in 2013.
  • Idaho said in February it would no longer send prisoners to a private facility in Colorado.

Despite opportunities we’ve been exploring in recent years,” said Jonathan Burns, a company spokesman. “We’ve also greatly expanded our residential re-entry offerings, which help inmates prepare to successfully return to their communities. In fact, this spring we won a re-bid of a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) contract for these critical services. It’s important to note that the DOJ announcement relates only to BOP correctional facilities, which make up seven percent of our business.”

While the impact on states of the Justice Department’s private prison decision remains to be seen, the federal government’s strong influence on prison policy was demonstrated with the 1994 crime bill. It contributed to a prolonged period of mass incarceration at the federal and state levels and increased use of for-profit facilities.

“The crime bill was most relevant to the states in the funding incentives it provided for harsh sentencing and prison construction,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. “Out of the $9 billion in funding for prison construction $4 billion was allocated for states that adopted (or already had) ‘truth in sentencing’ policies requiring that violent offenders (and sometimes others) be required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. A subsequent report by the GAO (Government Accountability Office) concluded that the availability of funding was either a ‘partial’ factor or a ‘key’ factor in more than half the states that adopted such policies. Most of these states still maintain these policies today, contributing to higher rates of incarceration, long after the federal prison funding has dried out.”

Whatever influence the Justice Department’s policy might have on the states, so far a sister agency, the Department of Homeland Security, has indicated no plans to change its use of private facilities for detainees held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) urged this week.

ICE spokeswoman Jennifer D. Elzea said the agency uses federal, state and local facilities “to meet the agency’s detention needs while achieving the highest possible cost savings for the taxpayer.”

Although the Justice Department’s announcement did not come with a financial incentive for states to follow its lead on private prisons, state officials face similar issues. That includes falling prison populations. Furthermore, the notion of having a profit motive influence the incarceration of individuals and their care, particularly health care, is an anathema to private prison foes. Private facilities are not “always inferior to publicly-run institutions,” as Mauer noted, but making money off incarceration is not a factor when a government agency is the operator.

Opponents argue that for-profit facilities at the state level also share the same type of problems that Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates outlined in her memo to the Bureau of Prisons last week: “Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of lnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security. The rehabilitative services that the Bureau provides, such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource — and these services are essential to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.”

Yates’s comments “absolutely” apply to state and local private facilities, Fathi said: “They are run by the same private prison companies as the federal private prisons … and the business model is the same: cut costs wherever possible to maximize profits.”
























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