Category Archives: Jeff Sessions

Assange Is A Journalist, Should Not Be Persecuted For Publishing The Truth

Last week, rallies in support of Julian Assange were held around the world. We participated in two #AssangeUnity events seeking to #FreeAssange in Washington, DC.

This is the beginning of a new phase of the campaign to stop the persecution of Julian Assange and allow him to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London without the threat of being arrested in the UK or facing prosecution by the United States.

On April 10 2017 people gathered outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to celebrate the 11th Birthday of WikiLeaks. From Wise-Up Action: A Solidarity Network for Manning and Assange.

The Assange Case is a Linchpin For Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information in the 21st Century

The threat of prosecution against Julian Assange for his work as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks will be a key to defining what Freedom of the Press means in the 21st Century. Should people be allowed to know the truth if their government is corrupt, violating the law or committing war crimes? Democracy cannot exist when people are misled by a concentrated corporate media that puts forth a narrative on behalf of the government and big business.

This is not the first time that prosecution of a journalist will define Freedom of the Press. Indeed, the roots of Freedom of the Press in the United States go back to the prosecution of John Peter Zenger, a publisher who was accused of libel in 1734 for publishing articles critical of the British royal governor, William Cosby. Zenger was held in prison for eight months awaiting trial. In the trial, his defense took its case directly to the jury.

For five hundred years, Britain had made it illegal to publish “any any slanderous News” that may cause “discord” between the king and his people. Zenger’s defense argued that he had published the truth about Cosby and therefore did not commit a crime. His lawyer “argued that telling the truth did not cause governments to fall. Rather, he argued, ‘abuse of power’ caused governments to fall.” The jury heard the argument, recessed and in ten minutes returned with a not guilty verdict.

The same issue is presented by Julian Assange — publishing the truth is not a crime. Wikileaks, with Assange as its editor and publisher, redefined reporting in the 21st Century by giving people the ability to be whistleblowers to reveal the abuses of government and big business. People anonymously send documents to Wikileaks via the Internet and then after reviewing and authenticating them, Wikileaks publishes them.  The documents sometimes reveal serious crimes, which has resulted in Assange being threatened with a secret indictment for espionage that could keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life.

This puts the Assange case at the forefront of 21st Century journalism as he is democratizing the media by giving people the power to know the truth not reported, or falsely reported, by the corporate media. Breaking elite control over the media narrative is a serious threat to their power because information is power. And, with the internet and the ability of every person to act as a media outlet through social and independent media, control of the narrative is moving toward the people.

WikiLeaks is filling a void with trust in the corporate media at record lows. A recent Gallup Poll found only 32% trust the media. There has been a significant drop in newspaper circulation and revenue, an ongoing decline since 1980. Also, fewer people rely on television for news.

In this environment, the internet-based news is becoming more dominant and WikiLeaks is a particular threat to media monopolization by the elites. Research is showing that independent and social media are having an impact on people’s opinions.

The threats to Julian Assange are occurring when dissent is under attack, particularly media dissent; the FBI has a task force to monitor social media. The attack on net neutrality, Google using algorithms to prevent searches for alternative media and Facebook controlling what people see are all part of the attack on the democratized media..

Free Assange: Don’t Shoot the Messenger. (Jack Taylor for Getty Images)

The Astounding Impact of WikiLeaks’ Reporting

The list of WikiLeaks’ revelations has become astounding. The release of emails from Hillary Clinton, her presidential campaign, and the Democratic National Committee had a major impact on the election. People saw the truth of Clinton’s connections to Wall Street, her two-faced politics of having a public view and a private view as well as the DNC’s efforts to undermine the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. People saw the truth and the truth hurt Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

Among the most famous documents published were those provided by Chelsea Manning on Iraq, Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Prison and the US State Department. The Collateral Murder video among the Manning Iraq war documents shows US soldiers in an Apache helicopter gunning down a group of innocent men, including two Reuters employees, a photojournalist, and his driver, killing 16 and wounding two children. Millions have viewed the video showing that when a van pulled up to evacuate the wounded, the soldiers again opened fire. A soldier says, “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.”

Another massive leak came from Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who exposed massive NSA spying in the United States and around the world. This was followed by Vault 7, a series of leaks on the Central Intelligence Agency’s activities, and Vault 8, which included source code on CIA malware activities.

WikiLeaks has also published documents on other countries; e.g., WikiLeaks published a series of documents on Russian spying.  WikiLeaks has been credited by many with helping to spark the Tunisian Revolution which led to the Arab Spring; e.g., showing the widespread corruption of the 23-year rule of the Ben Ali. Foreign Policy reported that “the candor of the cables released by WikiLeaks did more for Arab democracy than decades of backstage U.S. diplomacy.” WikiLeaks’ publications provided democracy activists in Egypt with information needed to spark protests and provided background that explained the Egyptian uprising. Traditional media publications like the New York Times relied on WikiLeaks to analyze the causes of the uprising.

WikiLeaks informed the Bahrain public about their government’s cozy relationship with the US, describing a $5 billion joint-venture with Occidental Petroleum and $300 million in U.S. military sales and how the U.S. Navy is the foundation of Bahrain’s national security.

John Pilger describes WikiLeaks’ documents, writing, “No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account.”

Free Assange rally at the White House, June 19, 2018. From Gateway Pundit.

Assange Character Assassination And Embassy Imprisonment

Julian Assange made powerful enemies in governments around the world, corporate media, and big business because he burst false narratives with the truth. As a result, governments fought back, including the United States,  Great Britain, and Sweden, which has led to Assange being trapped in the embassy of Ecuador in London for six years.

The root of the incarceration were allegations in Sweden. Sweden’s charges against Assange were initially dropped by the chief prosecutor, two weeks later they found a prosecutor to pursue a rape investigation. One of the women had CIA connections and bragged about her relationship with Assange in tweets she tried to erase. She even published a 7-step program for legal revenge against lovers. The actions of the women do not seem to show rape or any kind of abuse. One woman held a party with him after the encounter and another went out to eat with him.  In November 2016, Assange was interviewed by Swedish prosecutors for four hours at the Ecuadorian embassy. In December 2016, Assange published tweets showing his innocence and the sex was consensual. Without making a statement on Assange’s guilt, the Swedish investigators dropped the charges in May 2017. The statute of limitations for Swedish charges will be up in 2020.

As John Pilger pointed out:

Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape summed it up when they wrote, ‘The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder, and destruction… The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will.’

Assange is still trapped in the embassy as he would be arrested for violating his bail six years ago. But, the real threat to Assange is the possibility of a secret indictment against him in the United States for espionage. US and British officials have refused to tell Assange’s lawyers whether there was a sealed indictment or a sealed extradition order against him. Former CIA Director, now Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has described WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence service and described his actions as not protected by the First Amendment. In April 2017, CNN reported, “US authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.” The Obama Justice Department determined it would be difficult to bring charges against Assange because WikiLeaks wasn’t alone in publishing documents stolen by Manning but the Trump DOJ believes he could be charged as an accomplice with Edward Snowden.

When the president campaigned, Trump said he loved WikiLeaks and regularly touted their disclosures. But, in April 2017, Attorney General Jeff Session said that Assange’s arrest is a “priority.”

Time To Stop The Persecution Of Julian Assange

The smearing of Assange sought to discredit him and undermine the important journalism of WikiLeaks. Caitlin Johnstone writes that they smear him because “they can kill all sympathy for him and his outlet, it’s as good for their agendas as actually killing him.”

Even with this character assassination many people still support Assange. This was seen during the #Unity4J online vigil, which saw the participation of activists, journalists, whistleblowers and filmmakers calling for the end of Assange’s solitary confinement and his release. This was followed a week later by 20 protests around the world calling for Assange’s release.

Julian Assange has opened journalism’s democracy door; the power to report is being redistributed, government employees and corporate whistleblowers have been empowered and greater transparency is becoming a reality. The people of the United States should demand that Assange not face prosecution and embrace a 21st Century democratized media that provides greater transparency and accurate information about what government and business interests are doing. Prosecuting a news organization for publishing the truth, should be rejected and Assange should be freed.

You can support Julian Assange by spreading the word in your communities about what is happening to him and why. You can also show support for him on social media. We will continue to let you know when there are actions planned. And you can support the WikiLeaks Legal Defense Fund, run by the Courage Foundation*, at IAmWikiLeaks.org.

* Kevin Zeese is on the advisory board of the Courage Foundation.

Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is urging obedience to the law requiring the separation of families of undocumented immigrants, separating 11,000 children from their parents so far, 2000 in the last month, by citing scripture. Christian scripture, specifically. He cites a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in the New Testament, written probably in Corinth between 52 and 55 CE and addressed to “all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” Let’s look at that text in context, just for fun.

Paul writes of wanting to visit the imperial capital, and to eventually proceed to Spain to preach the gospel there. (There were Jewish synagogues in Spain, and Paul always initially preached in these establishments, where Gentiles were often welcomed and who could be won over to the Christian gospel as Paul understood it. This just shows how ambitious Paul was as a world-traveler, and how important his role was in spreading the emerging cult of Jesus centered in Judea throughout the eastern Mediterranean, establishing a world religion.)

Paul was, of course, originally Saul of Tarsus, a Jew from the port city of Tarsus in Cilicia, which is to say what is now southeastern Turkey. He was a tent maker and initially a fierce opponent of Christianity after its inception around Jerusalem circa 30 CE. He supposedly “persecuted” Christians in Judea and was on the road to Damascus intending to do more harm in Syria when he had his vision of the risen Christ. This was sometime around 36 CE. Thereafter he began to proselytize his understanding of the message of Christ, focusing on the conversion not of Jews but of Gentiles. Peter and James saw him as the “apostle to the Gentiles.”

Part of his message, as any serious Christian knows, is that the “old law “(the Laws of Moses in the Old Testament, including the many dietary laws) no longer applies, even to Jews; the Christian redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice need only have faith to be united with God in Heaven. In that sense the Christian enjoys freedom from the law (Romans 7:1-6).

On the other hand, the nascent Christian movement was under attack by civil authorities as Paul wrote. (Paul himself may have perished in Nero’s persecution in 64.) Some members of the community were inviting unwanted attention by law-breaking or provoking authorities. Paul was writing to believers in the city where Roman law was authored, where the Senate met; the city that (not that he could anticipate it) would within three centuries become the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It made sense for him addressing a Roman congregation to focus on observing the secular law.

His message was: obey the authorities to avoid trouble. It was a practical pastoral message. But for the current U.S. attorney general it has broader application, presumably to all government everywhere. Sessions actually said to critics of the child separation policy: “I would cite you to [sic] the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”

Clear and wise, indeed! A command from God! That’s the attorney general speaking, two thousand years after Paul, after twenty centuries of obedience. Mr. Sessions surely knows as a devout Methodist and student of the Bible that Paul also told wives to obey their husbands, children to obey their parents in everything, and slaves to obey their masters (Colossians 3:18-22). More wise and clear commands that Sessions might cite in a legal opinion.

Trump meanwhile, in his clarity and wisdom, tells Fox and Friends that Kim Jung Un, his new friend, is “the head of a country. And I mean, he is the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” And he wants NFL players to stand up during the national anthem because he says so, or face fines or worse. He wants obedience and abject deference; recall the first Trump cabinet meeting in which each member expressed a personal admiration for Trump and gratitude for the opportunity to serve under him. He wants obedience from the Justice Department and Republicans in Congress and his hand full of media sycophants including Sean Hannity. And, of course, obedience from the moms and dads torn from their children at the border, and from the children who following the ordeal of migration are scattered around the country in detention centers unsure about the future.

People are sitting up at attention, for sure. (Trump wants his people to sit up for him; does he mean his 40%, or the people of the U.S.A.?) The knowledge that kids are being ripped from their moms, some indeed from their breasts, and traumatized makes people with a modicum of moral sense perk up. The idea that reports about the separations will discourage further illegal immigration do not make them seem more humane.

Sessions followed up with more Biblical exegesis, citing the Old Testament book of Nehemiah that describes the Israelites’ conquest of Jerusalem and their building of a wall around the city (because God told Nehemiah to do this). “There’s no scriptural basis for open borders,” he declared.

I would argue that the myth of Yahweh telling his chosen Abraham that his progeny would receive all the land between the Nile River of Egypt and the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia (as God’s gift to his Chosen People) in Genesis 15:18 is a reference to open borders. The myth of Joseph in Egypt includes the arrival of Hebrews welcomed in such numbers that they (supposedly) come to constitute a great nation in Egypt. The Sinai border, in the story, seems to be pretty open.

Biblical mytho-history includes themes of inclusion and exclusion. The Book of Ruth defends and romanticizes intermarriage between a Hebrew woman and a Moabite; Nehemiah in contrast condemns intermarriage. During the mythical conquest of Canaan by Joshua, whole peoples are wiped out, at the Lord’s command, including babies. Gentiles are generally treated negatively but Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor who allowed the Judeans to return from their “Babylonian Captivity” to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, is actually depicted as a “man of God.” And, of course, St. Paul wrote that in Christ there was no Jew nor Gentile, nor male nor female, nor slave nor free. Jesus’s concept of the “kingdom of heaven” is thought by some New Testament scholars to reflect a concept of empire inspired by the Roman state; it was a concept of “God’s heavenly empire” far more powerful than any earthly institution. Rome was a multi-ethnic empire; the nascent Christian church as described in the Book of Acts begins with the Pentecost miracle while people from all of the world are possessed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:9-10). I submit Sessions doesn’t know much about the scriptural basis for border control. That he should even find value in the lack of one reveals a mind muddled by biblical literalism. He’s mentioned before that the Bible says nothing about global warming, condemns gay marriage and prohibits abortion as murder. Its story of Creation is more credible than the theory of evolution, for Sessions.

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders (and preacher’s daughter) follows up Sessions’ remarks: “It is very Biblical to support the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.” Please, evangelicals, stick with us! The Bible’s actually on our side, don’t you see? St. Paul wants you to keep silent as Trump and the Congress work on a DACA compromise bill that would maybe end the family separations that the president (falsely as usual) blames on the Democrats. In this you show obedience, to Trump and God alike. As long as you continue to believe.

Why on Earth a Country of Laws and Borders?

The point of anarchism is to create a better society for everyone. To realize anarchism, many agree, is to do away with power. Why? Because gravitating towards power, hierarchy, and subjugation sullies our politics and makes the aims of anarchism impossible.

Of course, even an egalitarian society might give rise to leaders and dominion. And people can be ambitious; they might influence others in myriad ways and inspire hierarchy. In fact, Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy” expounds precisely on this tendency.

But whereas anarchists are wont to do away with hierarchy and any power that would sustain it, others believe humanity is at its best because of an innate drive for dominance and success, and outcompeting one’s neighbors. Nor is this sentiment just a part of the cultural ether.

Notoriously, sociobiologists of the 1960s employed alpha male chimpanzees to validate claims favorable to social darwinism and other biological approaches devised to explain hierarchy among human societies. The science was supposed to shut the door on anarchism for good, but there were at least two problems.

One, Peter Kropotkin reminds us scientists are merely human; are the descendants of the haves instead of the have-nots; share the prejudices of their class; and/or serve the government. Two, anarcha-feminists altogether smashed the idea of arguing over “human nature.” They indicate such notions conflict with anarchism truly understood.

Given the circumstances that define, say, the US government’s ability to engage in national and international policy that drives migration to, and into, its borders, the question of power again arises, and so does the inclination to reduce state actions to blanket statements involving “human nature.”

One view is that the state is enforcing its borders and raiding businesses and homes not to stem any immigrants from entering the country, but to introduce ever greater precarity into the lives of those who reside among us and work jobs that help make the formal economy run (while contributing 11 billion dollars to the US economy each year). The goal here is to scare people away from their constitutional rights and to drive them underground.

Of course, this is not reflected in the gambit propagated by the powers that be. “We” have a choice, claim Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions: the US can be a country with laws, or one without borders. Also, claims Trump, a nation without borders is not much of nation at all.

Anarchism provides a way forward for the rest of us who still care about creating a better society, not simply a country that demands borders and laws out of fallacious either-or arguments and tautological ruses. But to do away with the power that precludes a better society, we first must recognize that power for what it is.

When Sessions and Trump impose their immigration policies and practices on the rest of us, they seek to dominate us. Herein we find the power we ought to resist and abolish. It is, truly, a power that is prosecutorial against the most vulnerable.

And when Trump blames the Democrats for failing to cooperate, alleging they have forced his hand in separating children from their parents, he is seeking only to operate according to his own wishes, only to cooperate with those in compliance with his wishes.

Power is key here: Sessions and Trump seek dominion by exerting power over us. They get sufficient affirmation to justify their actions. Where? Among other examples, Fox News.

Additionally, the power to separate children from their parents, and to destroy families by way of law and border, instantiates yet another manifestation of the administration’s hierarchical leadership and coercive powers. Errico Malatesta described this coercive power of hierarchical leaders (i.e., “authority”) as the ability of specific individuals (e.g. Sessions and Trump) to “use social forces … the physical, intellectual, and economic powers of all” to make all conform and comply.

One countermeasure is to thwart ambitious leaders, or individuals, who strive to dominate the rest. As opposed to power, then, which we witness in the destruction of families at our border, anarchism gets expressed in the successful, if short-lived, construction of spaces for solidarity, equality, and freedom, and the resistance to domination. Therefore, let us create (or multiply) such spaces and affirm them!

Anarchists understand hierarchy and the exercise of power elicits the worst in people, perhaps especially in the likes of Sessions and Trump, who are in positions of power and outwardly very ambitious men. So why on Earth should we submit to the kinds of laws and borders that further advance the power that Sessions and Trump enjoy and exercise in order to coerce the rest of us into conforming and complying with their ambitions? No actual anarchist will assent to this.

Kropotkin states, “Far from … imagining men better than they are, we see them as they are; and that is why we affirm that the best of men is made essentially bad by the exercise of authority.” Sessions and Trump hardly qualify as “the best of men.” Even so, with their exercise of authority since the 2016 election, we have great proof that rotten apples not only spoil the the bunch, but they also collect flies.

If we are to have political structures that shape our laws, then it is high time we horizontalize them. These structures must furthermore be egalitarian and consensual. Though it may not require an enduring optimism about human nature, our efforts to do away with hierarchy should provoke a wariness about the power detailed above. If not, we will not have to imagine a worst-case scenario too far off in the distance. Sooner rather than later, we will live it.

How Uncle Sam Launders Marijuana Money

In a blatant example of “do as I say, not as I do,” the US government is profiting handsomely by accepting marijuana cash in the payment of taxes while imposing huge penalties on banks for accepting it as deposits. Onerous reporting requirements are driving small local banks to sell out to Wall Street. Congress needs to harmonize federal with state law.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. The herb has been shown to have significant therapeutic value for a wide range of medical conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, lung disease, anxiety, muscle spasms, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, and arthritis pain. The community of Americans who rely on legal medical marijuana was estimated to be 2.6 million people in 2016 and includes a variety of mainstream constituency groups like veterans, senior citizens, cancer survivors, and parents of epileptic children. Unlike patented pharmaceuticals, which are now the leading cause of death from drug overdose, there have been no recorded deaths from marijuana overdose in the US. By comparison, alcohol causes 30,000 deaths annually, and prescription drugs taken as directed are estimated to kill 100,000 Americans per year.

Under federal law, however, marijuana remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance – a “deadly dangerous drug with no medical use and high potential for abuse” – and its possession remains a punishable offense. On the presidential campaign trail, Donald Trump said the issue of marijuana legalization “should be up to the states,” continuing the “hands off” policy established under President Obama. Under the 2013 Cole Memorandum, the Department of Justice said it would not prosecute individuals and companies complying with robust and well-enforced state legalization programs. But on January 4th, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo and gave federal prosecutors the authority to pursue marijuana cases at their own discretion, even in places where the herb is legal under state law. The action has made banks even more afraid to take marijuana cash, which can be prosecuted as illegal “money laundering,” an offense that can incur stiff criminal penalties.

The Government Has “Unclean Hands”

As explained by Dr. Richard Rahn, author of The End of Money and the Struggle for Financial Privacy:

Money laundering is generally understood to be the practice of taking ill-gotten gains and moving them through a sequence of bank accounts so they ultimately look like the profits from legitimate activity. Institutions, individuals, and even governments who are believed to be aiding and abetting the practice of money laundering can be indicted and convicted, even though they may be completely unaware that the money being transferred with their help was of criminal origin.

The law has focused on banks, but all sorts of businesses accept money without asking where it came from or being required to report “suspicious activity.” As Rahm observes, even governments can be indicted and convicted for money laundering. Strictly construed (as Attorney General Sessions insists when interpreting the law), that means the US government itself could be indicted. In fact, the US government is the largest launderer of marijuana cash in the nation. The IRS accepts this tainted money in the payment of taxes, turning it into “clean” money; and it is not an unwitting accomplice to the crime. Estimates are that marijuana business owners across the U.S. will owe $2.8 billion in taxes to the federal government in 2018. The government makes a massive profit off the deal, snatching up to 70 percent of the proceeds of the reporting businesses, as opposed to the more typical rate of 30 percent. It does this by branding marijuana businesses criminal enterprises which are not entitled to deduct their costs when reporting their income. This is not only a clear case of the unequal protection of the laws but is a clear admission by the government that it is knowingly accepting illegal funds. The government is a principal beneficiary of a business the government itself has made illegal.

Under those circumstances, both marijuana businesses and banks should be able to raise the “unclean hands” defense. As summarized in Kendall-Jackson Winery, Ltd. v. Superior Court (1999), 76 Cal.App.4th 970, 978-79:

The defense of unclean hands arises from the maxim, “He who comes into Equity must come with clean hands.” The doctrine demands that a plaintiff act fairly in the matter for which he seeks a remedy. . . . The defense is available in legal as well as equitable actions. . . . The doctrine promotes justice by making a plaintiff answer for his own misconduct in the action. It prevents a wrongdoer from enjoying the fruits of his transgression.

The government is enjoying the fruits of money it considers “dirty.” It has unclean hands, a defense against prosecuting others for the same crime.

Should “Money Laundering” Even Be a Crime?

In an article titled “Why the War on Money Laundering Should Be Aborted,” Dr. Rahn asks whether money laundering should even be a crime. It became a criminal activity in the US only in 1986, and in many countries it still is not a crime. Banks operating in the US must now collect and verify customer-provided information, check names of customers against lists of known or suspected terrorists, determine risk levels posed by customers, and report suspicious persons, organizations and transactions. The reporting requirements are so burdensome and expensive that they have caused many smaller banks to sell out to larger banks or close their doors. According to Dr. Rahn:

[I]t has failed to produce the advertised results and, in fact, has not been cost effective, has resulted in wholesale violations of individual civil liberties (including privacy rights), has violated the rights of sovereign governments and peoples, has created new opportunities for criminal activity, and has actually lessened our ability to reduce crime.

. . . Banks are required to supply the government with not only Currency Transaction Reports but also Suspicious Activity Reports. These reports impose huge regulatory costs on banks and require bank employees to operate as police officers. As a result, the total public and private sector costs greatly exceed $10,000,000 per conviction. This whole effort not only does not make any economic sense, but is clearly incompatible with a free society. The anti-money laundering laws allow almost complete prosecutorial discretion.

One small banker complained that banks have been turned into spies secretly reporting to the federal government. If they fail to comply, they can face stiff enforcement actions, whether or not actual money-laundering crimes are alleged. In 2010, one small New Jersey bank pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Bank Secrecy Act and was fined $5 million for failure to file suspicious-activity and cash-transaction reports. Another small New Jersey bank closed its doors after it was hit with $8 million in fines over its inadequate monitoring policies. The cost of compliance and threat of massive fines for not complying have been major factors in the collapse of the community banking sector. The number of community banks has fallen by 40 percent since 1994 and their share of U.S. banking assets has fallen by more than half, from 41 percent to 18 percent.

“Regulation is killing community banks,” Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said at his confirmation hearing in January 2017. If the process is not reversed, he warned, we could “end up in a world where we have four big banks in this country.” That would be bad for both jobs and the economy. “I think that we all appreciate the engine of growth is with small and medium-sized businesses,” said Mnuchin. “We’re losing the ability for small and medium-sized banks to make good loans to small and medium-sized businesses in the community, where they understand those credit risks better than anybody else.”

If the goal of the anti-money laundering statutes is to identify and deter criminal activity, strictly enforcing the law could actually backfire in the case of state-legalized marijuana businesses. As noted in a January 9 article in The Daily Beast:

Marijuana businesses have to register and incorporate in states and that puts them on the IRS radar. . . . Sky-high federal taxes on top of state taxes can make it almost impossible to operate a legal business. . . . If the government fails to cut businesses a break, legal marijuana could be sold on the black market to dodge taxes.

On the black market, cash proceeds can be dispersed in a way that avoids banks and makes the money hard either to trace or to tax.

Federal Law Needs to Be Changed

With more than half the states legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, Congress needs to acknowledge the will of the people and remove this natural herb from the Schedule I classification that says it is a deadly dangerous drug with no health benefits. The Tenth Amendment gives the federal government only those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution, and regulating medical practice is not one of them. Federal courts have held that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not allow the federal government to usurp states’ exclusive rights (pursuant to their inherent police powers) to regulate the practice of medicine.

H.R. 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, sponsored by Virginia Republican Thomas Garrett and 15 cosponsors, would remove marijuana from Schedule I and eliminate federal penalties for anyone engaged in marijuana activity in a state where it is legal. Congress just needs to pass it.

In its zeal for eliminating burdensome, costly and ineffective regulations, the Trump administration might also consider lightening the heavy reporting burden that is killing community banks and the local businesses that have traditionally relied on them for affordable credit. On Tuesday, January 16th, a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general sent a letter to leaders in Congress requesting advancement of legislation such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to “provide a safe harbor” for banks that provide financial products or services to state-legal marijuana businesses. If the government can accept marijuana money in the payment of taxes, banks should be able to accept it to keep track of it and prevent the crimes associated with storing and transporting large sums of cash.

A Tale of Two Americas: Where the Rich Get Richer and the Poor Go to Jail

It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.

― Nelson Mandela

This is the tale of two Americas, where the rich get richer and the poor go to jail.

Aided and abetted by the likes of Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a man who wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if it smacked him in the face—the American dream has become the American scheme: the rich are getting richer and more powerful, while anyone who doesn’t belong to the power elite gets poorer and more powerless to do anything about the nation’s steady slide towards fascism, authoritarianism and a profit-driven police state.

Not content to merely pander to law enforcement and add to its military largesse with weaponry and equipment designed for war, Sessions has made a concerted effort to expand the police state’s power to search, strip, seize, raid, steal from, arrest and jail Americans for any infraction, no matter how insignificant.

Now Sessions has given state courts the green light to resume their practice of jailing individuals who are unable to pay the hefty fines imposed by the American police state. In doing so, Sessions has once again shown himself to be not only a shill for the Deep State but an enemy of the people.

First, some background on debtors’ prisons, which jail people who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fines imposed on them by courts and other government agencies.

Congress banned debtors’ prisons in 1833.

In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice to be unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.

“Despite prior attempts on the federal level and across the country to prevent the profound injustice of locking people in cages because they are too poor to pay a debt,” concludes The Atlantic, “the practice persists every day.”

Where things began to change, according to The Marshall Project, was with the rise of “mass incarceration.” As attorney Alec Karakatsanis stated:

In the 1970s and 1980s, we started to imprison more people for lesser crimes. In the process, we were lowering our standards for what constituted an offense deserving of imprisonment, and, more broadly, we were losing our sense of how serious, how truly serious, it is to incarcerate. If we can imprison for possession of marijuana, why can’t we imprison for not paying back a loan?

By the late 1980s and early 90s, “there was a dramatic increase in the number of statutes listing a prison term as a possible sentence for failure to repay criminal-justice debt.” During the 2000s, the courts started cashing in big-time “by using the threat of jail time – established in those statutes – to squeeze cash out of small-time debtors.”

Fast-forward to the present day which finds us saddled with not only profit-driven private prisons and a prison-industrial complex but also, as investigative reporter Eli Hager notes:

The birth of a new brand of ‘offender-funded’ justice [which] has created a market for private probation companies. Purporting to save taxpayer dollars, these outfits force the offenders themselves to foot the bill for parole, reentry, drug rehab, electronic monitoring, and other services (some of which are not even assigned by a judge). When the offenders can’t pay for all of this, they may be jailed – even if they have already served their time for the offense.

Follow the money trail. It always points the way.

Whether you’re talking about the government’s war on terrorism, the war on drugs, or some other phantom danger dreamed up by enterprising bureaucrats, there is always a profit-incentive involved.

The same goes for the war on crime.

At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, the flawed yet retributive American “system of justice” is being replaced by an even more flawed and insidious form of mass punishment based upon profit and expediency.

Sessions’ latest gambit plays right into the hands of those who make a profit by jailing Americans.

Sharnalle Mitchell was one such victim of a system for whom the plight of the average American is measured in dollars and cents. As the Harvard Law Review recounts:

On January 26, 2014, Sharnalle Mitchell was with her children in Montgomery, Alabama when police showed up at her home to arrest her. Mitchell was not accused of a crime. Instead, the police came to her home because she had not fully paid a traffic ticket from 2010. The single mother was handcuffed in front of her children (aged one and four) and taken to jail. She was ordered to either pay $2,800 or sit her debt out in jail at a rate of fifty dollars a day for fifty-nine days. Unable to pay, Mitchell wrote out the numbers one to fifty-eight on the back of her court documents and began counting days.

This is not justice.

This is yet another example of how greed and profit-incentives have not only perverted policing in America but have corrupted the entire criminal justice system.

As the Harvard Law Review concludes:

[A]s policing becomes a way to generate revenue, police start to “see the people they’re supposed to be serving not as citizens with rights, but as potential sources of revenue, as lawbreakers to be caught.” This approach creates a fugitive underclass on the run from police not to hide illicit activity but to avoid arrest for debt or seizure of their purportedly suspicious assets… In turn, communities … begin to see police not as trusted partners but as an occupying army constantly harassing them to raise money to pay their salaries and buy new weapons. This needs to end.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system has been operating as a for-profit enterprise for years now, covertly padding its pockets through penalty-riddled programs aimed at maximizing revenue rather than ensuring public safety.

All of those seemingly hard-working police officers and code-enforcement officers and truancy officers and traffic cops handing out ticket after ticket after ticket: they’re not working to make your communities safer—they’ve got quotas to fill.

Same goes for the courts, which have come to rely on fines, fees and exorbitant late penalties as a means of increased revenue. The power of these courts, magnified in recent years through the introduction of specialty courts beyond your run-of-the-mill traffic court (drug court, homeless court, veterans court, mental health court, criminal court, teen court, gambling court, prostitution court, community court, domestic violence court, truancy court), is “reshaping the American legal system—with little oversight,” concludes the Boston Globe.

And for those who can’t afford to pay the court fines heaped on top of the penalties ($302 for jaywalking, $531 for an overgrown yard, or $120 for arriving a few minutes late to court), there’s probation (managed by profit-run companies that tack on their own fees, which are often more than double the original fine) or jail time (run by profit-run companies that charge inmates for everything from food and housing to phone calls at outrageous markups), which only adds to the financial burdens of those already unable to navigate a costly carceral state.

“When bail is set unreasonably high, people are behind bars only because they are poor,” stated former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “Not because they’re a danger or a flight risk — only because they are poor. They don’t have money to get out of jail, and they certainly don’t have money to flee anywhere. Other people who do have the means can avoid the system, setting inequality in place from the beginning.”

In “Policing and Profit,” the Harvard Law Review documents in chilling detail the criminal justice system’s efforts to turn a profit at the expense of those who can least afford to pay, thereby entrapping them in a cycle of debt that starts with one minor infraction:

In the late 1980s, Missouri became one of the first states to let private companies purchase the probation systems of local governments. In these arrangements, municipalities impose debt on individuals through criminal proceedings and then sell this debt to private businesses, which pad the debt with fees and interest. This debt can stem from fines for offenses as minor as rolling through a stop sign or failing to enroll in the right trash collection service. In Ferguson, residents who fall behind on fines and don’t appear in court after a warrant is issued for their arrest (or arrive in court after the courtroom doors close, which often happens just five minutes after the session is set to start for the day) are charged an additional $120 to $130 fine, along with a $50 fee for a new arrest warrant and 56 cents for each mile that police drive to serve it. Once arrested, everyone who can’t pay their fines or post bail (which is usually set to equal the amount of their total debt) is imprisoned until the next court session (which happens three days a month). Anyone who is imprisoned is charged $30 to $60 a night by the jail. If an arrestee owes fines in more than one of St. Louis County’s eighty-one municipal courts, they are passed from one jail to another to await hearings in each town.

Ask yourself this: at a time when crime rates across the country remain at historic lows (despite Sessions’ inaccurate claims to the contrary), why does the prison population continue to grow?

The prison population continues to grow because of a glut of laws that criminalize activities that should certainly not be outlawed, let alone result in jail time. Over-criminalization continues to plague the country because of legislators who work hand-in-hand with corporations to adopt laws that favor the corporate balance sheet. And when it comes to incarceration, the corporate balance sheet weighs heavily in favor of locking up more individuals in government-run and private prisons.

As Time reports:

The companies that build and run private prisons have a financial interest in the continued growth of mass incarceration. That is why the two major players in this game—the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group—invest heavily in lobbying for punitive criminal justice policies and make hefty contributions to political campaigns that will increase reliance on prisons.

It’s a vicious cycle that grows more vicious by the day.

According to The Atlantic, “America spends $80 billion a year incarcerating 2.4 million people.” But the costs don’t end there. “When someone goes to prison, nearly 65 percent of families are suddenly unable to pay for basic needs such as food and housing… About 70 percent of those families are caring for children under the age of 18.”

Then there are the marked-up costs levied against the inmate by private companies that provide services and products to government prisons. Cereal and soup for five times the market price. $15 for a short phone call.

The Center for Public Integrity found that “prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives… Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase.”

Worse, as human rights attorney Jessica Jackson points out, “the fines and fees system has turned local governments into the equivalent of predatory lenders.” For instance, Jackson cites:

Washington state charges a 12% interest rate on all its criminal debt. Florida adds a 40% fee that goes into the pockets of a private collections agency. In California, penalties can raise a $100 fine to $490, or $815 if the initial deadline is missed. A $500 traffic ticket can actually cost $1,953, even if it is paid on time. And so we are left with countless tales of lives ruined—people living paycheck to paycheck who cannot afford a minor fine, and so face ballooning penalties, increasing amounts owed, a suspended license, jail time, and being fired from their jobs or unable to find work.

This isn’t the American Dream I grew up believing in.

This certainly isn’t the American Dream my parents and grandparents and those before them worked and fought and sacrificed to achieve.

This is a cold, calculated system of profit and losses.

Now you can shrug all of this away as a consequence of committing a crime, but that just doesn’t cut it. Especially not when average Americans are being jailed for such so-called crimes as eating SpaghettiOs (police mistook them for methamphetamine), not wearing a seat belt, littering, jaywalking, having homemade soap (police mistook the soap for cocaine), profanity, spitting on the ground, farting, loitering and twerking.

There is no room in the American police state for self-righteousness. Not when we are all guilty until proven innocent.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is no longer a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

It is fast becoming a government “of the rich, by the elite, for the corporations,” and its rise to power is predicated on shackling the American taxpayer to a debtors’ prison guarded by a phalanx of politicians, bureaucrats and militarized police with no hope of parole and no chance for escape

Convicted for Protesting Jeff Sessions is No Laughing Matter

On May 1st, I stood on trial for having “greeted” Jeff Sessions in Congress before the start of his confirmation hearing in January.  I was convicted along with my fellow activists, Lenny Bianchi and Desiree Fairooz. We each face up to $2,000 in fines,12 months in prison, or both. The sentencing will take place on June 21st.

On the day of the confirmation hearing, my colleague, Lenny, and I were dressed up as Ku Klux Klan members, with our white hoods and robes designed to highlight Sessions’ racist history.  My performance at the hearing was a parody, but the real joke has become the US Justice Department.

To say that I was appalled that Jeff Sessions was about to become the highest legal authority in our country is an understatement.  As an American who loves the constitution and the rule of law, I felt compelled to protest the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions, a man whose history of racist rulings and rhetoric has been well documented and exposed to public scrutiny. His nomination and confirmation as Attorney General make a mockery of our judicial system and our constitution in general. Even though  Sessions was only confirmed on February 8th of this year, he is already setting back the progress this country has made in the areas of civil rights and race relations. In three short months, our concerns have been resoundingly validated.

On April 18, Sessions dismissed the entire State of Hawai’i as “an island in the Pacific” in an effort to discredit a federal judge’s ruling against the administration’s second so-called Muslim travel ban.

On April 21, he sent letters to nine “sanctuary cities” threatening to cut federal funding unless they complied with federal immigration laws.

On April 22, Attorney General Sessions asserted that the U.S. could pay for the egregious and, by most accounts, ineffective border wall by clawing back over $4 billion in refundable tax credits paid to “mostly Mexicans,” without any factual evidence of the recipients’ ethnicity.

First of all, Hawai’i is our 50th state, co-equal with the other 49 states, and flourishes from its cultural diversity and immigrant populations. It is much more than “an island in the Pacific.” Second, a federal judge ruled that the executive order threatening to pull funding from sanctuary jurisdictions is unconstitutional. And the less said about the ridiculous proposed border wall the better.

An independent judiciary exists as a check on the other branches of government. Jeff Sessions does not appear to comprehend the basic processes of the federal government as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.  Rather than paying heed to the protections guaranteed to all citizens, Jeff Sessions is an oligarch of the first order stuck in a colonial and racist mindset in which people of color are less worthy than those of European descent.

These outrageously ignorant statements and actions are just the latest examples of the Attorney General’s disrespect for the racial and cultural diversity of America that he is charged to protect.

My CODEPINK colleague Desiree Fairooz was also on trial. She was accused of disrupting the confirmation hearing by laughing when Senator Richard Shelby asserted that Sessions treats “all Americans equally under the law”. This claim in and of itself is certainly laughable, but the focus should not be on a spontaneous chortle Desiree let out. Instead, it should be on the abominable ways the Trump administration is suffocating our right to dissent.

In the recent past, frivolous charges like these would have been thrown out of court. But, Trump and his cronies in the Justice Department are going out of their way to crackdown on dissent, especially in the form of nonviolent protest. Republican officials are jumping on Trump’s bigoted bandwagon to restrict liberties at the local, state and national level. We see laws being passed in over a dozen states to make protesting a crime, while at the same time, North Dakota has passed a law where running over a protester is not a crime. We see state laws being passed to criminalize campaigns that support Palestinian rights. We see that over 200 people who protested Trump’s inauguration have been prosecuted and charged with ridiculous offenses, such as felony rioting charges. We should see our Justice Department prosecuting real criminals, like those responsible for war, not convicting people for laughing in Congress.

Unless we rise up and demand our first amendment right to dissent, then the joke will be on the American people. And that is no laughing matter.