Sunday, February 25, 2018

Last Call For Trump's War On Drugs

Donald Trump wants to not only reverse Obama's sentencing reforms on drug dealers, he wants the death penalty for drug traffickers as well.

In Singapore, the death penalty is mandatory for drug trafficking offenses. And President Trump loves it. He’s been telling friends for months that the country’s policy to execute drug traffickers is the reason its drug consumption rates are so low.

"He says that a lot," said a source who's spoken to Trump at length about the subject. "He says, 'When I ask the prime minister of Singapore do they have a drug problem [the prime minister replies,] 'No. Death penalty'." 
But the president doesn't just joke about it. According to five sources who've spoken with Trump about the subject, he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty. 
Trump tells confidants a softer approach to drug reform — the kind where you show sympathy to the offenders and give them more lenient sentences — will never work.
He tells friends and associates the government has got to teach children that they'll die if they take drugs and they've got to make drug dealers fear for their lives. 
Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America, though he's privately admitted it would probably be impossible to get a law this harsh passed under the American system. 
Kellyanne Conway, who leads the White House's anti-drug efforts, argues Trump's position is more nuanced, saying the president is talking about high-volume dealers who are killing thousands of people. The point he's making, she says, is that some states execute criminals for killing one person but a dealer who brings a tiny quantity of fentanyl into a community can cause mass death in just one weekend, often with impunity.

Trump also wants to go after pharmaceutical companies, which will last about as long and go about as far as his previous efforts to "deal with the opioid crisis" last year, which is precisely nowhere, considering Big Pharma gives millions to the GOP.

But Trump will never miss an opportunity to enact a policy that hurts black people.

Trump may back legislation requiring a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for traffickers who deal as little as two grams of fentanyl. Currently, you have to deal forty grams to trigger the mandatory five-year sentence. (The DEA estimates that as little as two milligrams is enough to kill people.) 
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, and much of it is manufactured in Chinese labs. It can be lethal in extremely small doses. Of the 64,000 people who died of drug overdoses in 2016, more than 20,000 overdosed on synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse.

Fnetanyl is definitely dangerous, but locking up street dealers isn't going to fix the problem.  Nailing pharmaceutical companies to the wall for tens of billions in fines would be a good start, but that will never happen.

Fake News Fakery

The digital efforts to discredit and destroy news organizations in the Trump Era are only getting more sophisticated and intense as we get closer to another election.  The tools used to do it aren't hard to find, and they're relatively easy to use, and social media means the old adage about a lie traveling halfway across the globe before the truth can even put on boots exponentially more applicable.  The Miami Herald in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school massacre is just the latest outlet to be hit.

Two incidents hit The Miami Herald in recent days that underscore new tactics by those seeking to discredit mainstream media, and they augur what experts said are dark days in the battle between credible news and misinformation.

Both incidents came in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 when a teenage gunman killed 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In the first incident, a perpetrator used a software tool to create two fake tweets that looked like they came from the account of Alex Harris, a Herald reporter preparing tributes to the slain students. One fake tweet asked for photos of dead bodies at the school and another asked if the shooter was white.

The reporter almost immediately began getting angry messages.

“It was hampering our ability to cover this terrible tragedy in our own backyard because we’re having to deal with the backlash,” said Aminda Marques, executive editor of The Herald.

In a second incident, someone again used a software tool to create a phony Miami Herald story — in the high tension following the Parkland shooting — saying that a Miami-Dade middle school faced threats of “potentially catastrophic events” on upcoming dates, indicating that a new mass shooting was in the offing.

Screenshots of that fake story were passed along on Twitter and Snapchat, two social media platforms, said Monique O. Madan, a Herald reporter whose byline appeared on the fake story.

“It looks super real. They use the same font that we use. It has our masthead. It has my byline. If I weren’t a journalist, I wouldn’t think twice about it,” Madan said.

Worried parents and teachers grew alarmed, thinking it was a real Herald story. Dozens called or messaged Madan. “My phone just would not stop ringing,” she said.

The motive behind the hoaxes was not clear, but someone sought to create alarm.

It seems to be consistent with a pattern of people trying to disparage or discredit the news media,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. Wasserman is a former executive business editor at The Herald and columnist on the media for McClatchy.

Obviously this has broad civic consequence if you have a citizenry that doesn’t know where to turn to get truthful information,” Wasserman said. “Your information flows are being contaminated in ways that are very difficult to discern and very difficult to disentangle.”

Of course, when this effort is coming from the top of the current American regime (and the Russian, no doubt) then it becomes massively difficult to counter.  Controversy sells, and the reason why these efforts are so successful is that social media companies prioritize it.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

After two weeks and with the first iteration blocked by Donald Trump, California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff has released the Democrats' side of the House Intelligence Committee's story on the FISA surveillance of former Trump aide Carter Page. Vox's Zack Beauchamp:

Late on Saturday afternoon, House Democrats surprised the country by releasing their rebuttal to the so-called Nunes memo — the document, prepared by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), that has become a key part of the conservative argument that the FBI is biased against President Donald Trump. The Democrats’ rebuttal memo, written by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), argues that the Nunes memo is full of “distortions and misrepresentations” that don’t stand up to scrutiny based on the underlying classified evidence.

Having now read both memos, I can say with confidence: Schiff makes his case. Schiff quotes key FBI documents that explicitly contradict the Nunes memo’s core arguments. Any fair-minded observer who reads these two documents side-by-side can only conclude one thing: Nunes is either deeply misinformed or straight-up lying.

This is a pretty thorough demolition,” Julian Sanchez, an expert on surveillance at the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote on Twitter after reading Schiff’s memo.

And it is.  But we know Nunes recused himself from the investigation because of his personal involvement in leaking information to the Trump White House, and yet issued the memo anyway.  Nunes is in trouble and has been for a while now.  How he's still chair of the House Intel Committee, well, you'll have to ask the also-compromised House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The Nunes memo’s core allegation is that the FBI and Department of Justice misled at least one federal judge on a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) court during the Trump-Russia investigation.

In October 2016, the FBI requested a FISA warrant to spy on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. FBI and DOJ officials argued that Page had troubling connections to the Kremlin, and wanted to check him out as part of their overall investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

An “essential part” of the application, Nunes argues, came from the so-called Steele dossier — the document containing major allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia that was put together by former British spy Christopher Steele (it’s also the source of the “pee tape” rumors). The problem, Nunes argues, is that Steele’s research was partially funded by Democrats — but the FBI purposely neglected to tell the court about that source of funding.

In essence, Nunes alleges that the FBI used opposition research put together by a Democratic political operative to go after the Trump campaign without disclosing that clear conflict of interest to the court. This was, according to Nunes, “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.”

Schiff quotes a lengthy passage from the actual application the FBI sent to the FISA court asking for permission to snoop on Page. In the key line, the application explicitly notes that “the FBI speculates” that Steele had been hired to find “information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] campaign.”

That’s it. That’s the ballgame. The FBI clearly states right there in the FISA application that they believe Steele was hired to find dirt on Trump. Since the core contention of the Nunes memo is that the FBI didn’t do that, Nunes’s entire argument falls apart.

Nunes's argument was always dumb, predicated on that it was a witch hunt for Trump when the reality was that the FBI had its eyes on Carter Page for over five years, well before Trump's campaign began.  The FISA court judge wasn't "misled" by the FBI...and the judge was appointed by Bush.

But notice Trump's reaction to the Schiff memo blowing his last bit of cover out of the water.

Saying there were "no phone calls, no meetings, no collusion," President Donald Trump on Saturday pushed for an investigation of "the other side" amid the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, while claiming "we need intelligence that brings our country together."

"A lot of bad things happened on the other side, not on this side, but on the other side. And somebody should look into it, because what they did is really fraudulent and somebody should be looking into that and by somebody, I'm talking about you know who," Trump told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a reference widely interpreted to mean Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In a free-ranging phone interview, Trump said the Democratic memo released by the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday afternoon was a "total confirmation" of the GOP memo released three weeks ago by Rep. Devin Nunes (D-Calif.), even though the Democratic response purports to rebutRepublican claims that the FBI and the Justice Department relied on the disputed Steele dossier in an application to spy on a Trump campaign adviser.

Trump has repeatedly said there was no "collusion" between his campaign and Russian officials and has publicly urged Sessions to investigate top officials at the FBI over their handling of the investigation. Sessions' recusal from overseeing what has become special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is reportedly a frequent sore spot in his relationship with the president.

Trump outright lies and again calls for the investigation of his political enemies.  He's done this again and again whenever he's cornered.  Let's not forget that AG Jeff Sessions is doing exactly that.

The president also returned to one of his familiar foils, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who as the top Democrat on the intelligence panel crafted his party's response to the Nunes memo. Trump claimed Schiff leaks information to reporters in actions that were "probably not legal."

"You see this Adam Schiff has a meeting and leaves the meeting and calls up reporters and then all of a sudden they'll have news and you're not supposed to do that -- it's probably illegal to do it. You know he'll have a committee meeting and he'll leak all sorts of information. You know, he's a bad guy."

Trump added that the blame for not stopping "Russian meddling, if you want to call it that" in the 2016 presidential election rests with President Barack Obama, since he was in office when Russian interference occurred. But he added: "We should all be on the same team. We should all come together as a nation."

It's very clear what Trump wants and believes: Democrats need to be rounded up, Obama needs to be blamed, and Trump needs to be hailed as the smartest human being alive.

Reality will differ somewhat.

Sunday Long Read: Wakanda Forever

Author Rahawa Haile takes a hard look at Marvel's latest film, Black Panther, and the movie's multiple messages of Africa's past and the Afrofuturism that the fictional nation of Wakanda represents.  There's definitely spoilers for the movie, so proceed with caution if you haven't seen it yet, but if you haven't, go.

By the time I sat down to watch Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, a film about a thriving, fictional African country that has never been colonized, 12 hours had passed since the prime minister of Ethiopia resigned following years of protest and civil unrest. It would be another 12 hours before the country declared a state of emergency and enforced martial law, as the battle for succession began. Ethiopia has appeared in many conversations about Black Panther since the film’s release, despite an obvious emphasis on Wakanda, the Black Panther’s kingdom, being free of outside influences — and finances.

While interviews with Coogler reveal he based Wakanda on Lesotho, a small country surrounded on all sides by South Africa, it has become clear that most discussions about the film share a similar geography; its borders are dimensional rather than physical, existing in two universes at once. How does one simultaneously argue the joys of recognizing the Pan-African signifiers within Wakanda, as experienced by Africans watching the film, and the limits of Pan-Africanism in practice, as experienced by a diaspora longing for Africa? The beauty and tragedy of Wakanda, as well as our discourse, is that it exists in an intertidal zone: not always submerged in the fictional, as it owes much of its aesthetic to the Africa we know, but not entirely real either, as no such country exists on the African continent. The porosity and width of that border complicates an already complicated task, shedding light on the infinite points of reference possible for this film that go beyond subjective readings.

I live with the profound privilege, as a black woman in America, of knowing where I come from, of having the language of my oldest ancestors be the first one I learned. When it comes to Black Panther, I know what it means for Namibians and fans of Nnedi Okorofor’s Binti series to see Himba otjize slathered on the hair of someone who sits on the king’s council. What it means for me as a person with ties to the Horn of Africa to see numerous meskel, the Ethiopian cross, dangling from another leader’s belt. What it means for the most advanced science laboratory in the world to always be alive with South African song. I am grateful for it because I have spent my life seeing the story of Africa reduced to its most stereotypical common denominator. And I know, with every cell in my body, what it means for Wakanda’s tapestry in this film — woven from numerous African cultures — to be steeped above all else in celebration, in pride, and in the absence of shame.

Coogler’s Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the superhero Black Panther who becomes the king of Wakanda following his father’s death. He is protected by the Dora Milaje, an all-women group of formidable soldiers led by Okoye (Danai Gurira) whose lover is the conservative, refugee-averse W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya). T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), is a science genius who designs his weapons, his Black Panther suit, and all manner of related tech. His ex, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’O), is a spy for the kingdom, committed to helping the most vulnerable in Africa, despite the king’s insistence on keeping Wakanda hidden from the world. M’Baku (Winston Duke) is the leader of the Jabari, a tribe within Wakanda that has rejected the methods of the monarchy and chosen to live up in the mountains. Finally, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), serves as the film’s rage-filled antagonist, driven by revenge and a desire for black liberation by any means necessary.

Black Panther spends the majority of its runtime examining what a hidden nation like Wakanda — wealthy, technologically advanced, and home to the planet’s most powerful natural resource, vibranium — owes black populations spread across the globe. I’ve thought extensively of the burden placed on Coogler, on what an American production of this magnitude owes the continent that cradles its story, keeping in mind what centuries of false narratives about Africa have failed to convey. I believe it is this: A film set in Africa — unable by its very nature to be about Africa — whose cosmology, woven from dozens of countries exploited by empire, consists of its joys. It is a star chart of majesties more than simulacra.

How then does one criticize what is unquestionably the best Marvel movie to date by every conceivable metric known to film criticism? How best to explain that Black Panther can be a celebration of blackness, yes; a silencing of whiteness, yes; a meshing of African cultures and signifiers — all this! — while also feeling like an exercise in sustained forgetting? That the convenience of having a fake country within a real continent is the way we can take inspiration from the latter without dwelling on its losses, or the causes of them. Black Panther is an American film through and through, one heavily invested in white America’s political absence from its African narrative.

And Haile is correct, the movie is easily Marvel's most thought-provoking and layered film to date, Coogler's meticulous craftsmanship shows in every frame.  The questions the movie brings up are challenging and uncomfortable, escapism with a purpose and a destination.

But they are questions that have been asked before, just not with this voice and in this way.
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