The Life of a Flintstone

 

Shawn Dixon
Author
Founder of Fli-Ladies Empowerment
Seniors out of Pittsburgh in front of Flint City Hall

A little about myself, my name is Shawn Dixon, raised in Flint,Mi, known world-wide for its “water crisis”. I founded Fli-Ladies Empowerment in 2015 once I wanted to do more to help out our low-income community, now being poisoned by its government. The non-profit org. will focus on the empowering of youth all over but mainly in Flint,MI.

The last of July 2016, I embarked on a journey through Flint, while chaperoning our out-of-town guests. For those who don’t know, Flint has been in a state of emergency for its water crisis since 2014, 1,167 days to be exact. That’s when state officials switched Flint’s main water source to the toxic Flint River without proper cleansing solutions. Since then our city has lost several lives due to legionnaires disease, we’ve finally had a few officials charged with alleged manslaughter in 2016 http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/health/flint-water-crisis-legionnaires-manslaughter-charges/index.html.  Enough about that, now back to the subject at hand.

Fli-Ladies Empowerment was contacted by Anita Moncrief of Solutions Institute with last-minute plans for me to assist with a group of kids out of Pittsburgh as they took a journey to learn more about the impoverished city of Flint. I had 4 days to set a plan, they already had plans for Friday so I set up Sat..   I began to set up a water distribution or water drop as we call it, for Saturday. Just so happens DeWaun E. Robinson already had an event “Tour de Flint” set up with a guest appearance by Freeway Rick Ross (ex-con and drug lord). Once I connected with a local water distribution center and obtained a donation of 2 pallets of water I then connected with DeWaun to host a water drop alongside him and his event.

Water Distribution during Tour de community.

 

 

Unfortunately, I’m still winding down from the non-stop events plus the holiday. I still have tons of photos, and videos to go through, please stay tuned and keep a lookout for ” the Life of a Flintstone” part 2. Then you will find the finer details of my weekend.

Standing on the Backs of the Poor

Kitia Harris is a single mother raising her eight-year-old daughter in Detroit. Recently, she picked up a minor traffic ticket for “impeding traffic” totaling $276 in court fines and fees. Living off just $1,200 a month in disability payments—not enough to cover rent, utilities, food, clothing, and other basic needs—she was unable to pay her traffic fines.

Because she cannot afford her outstanding court debt, Michigan suspended her license.

Kitia has never committed a crime, and for many years she worked hard in low-wage jobs to support herself and her daughter. In 2014, she was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a painful condition with no cure that prevents her from working.

Without a driver’s license, everything is more expensive. Kitia’s disability requires regular medical treatments. Now, instead of driving herself to her appointments, she must pay others to drive her. And because Detroit has the worst public transportation system of any major city in the country, she must also pay for rides for daily tasks like grocery shopping, or picking up her daughter. By forcing her to pay more just to get around, Michigan has trapped her in a cycle of poverty.

This is not fair, and it’s not justice.

Like Kitia, hundreds of thousands of Michiganders have lost their driver’s licenses simply because they are poor. In 2010 alone, Michigan suspended 397,826 licenses for failure to pay court debt or failure to appear.

These residents have not been judged too dangerous to drive; they are not a threat behind the wheel; they have not caused serious injuries while driving. In the vast majority of cases, their only “crime” is that they are too poor to pay.

Michigan’s model creates two different justice systems based on wealth status. For the rich, a minor infraction (like changing lanes without a turn signal) would result in a fine of maybe $135. For those who are poor and unable to pay, the same infraction could eventually lead to a license suspension. This suspension scheme violates our commonly held standards of justice: States should not dole out punishment simply based on wealth status.

But perhaps more importantly: Michigan’s scheme is terrible public policy.

These suspensions laws are trapping productive residents in a cycle of poverty. It’s crushing for Kitia and her daughter, and it is especially bad for Michigan. As a state famous for its poorly managed fiscal situation, Michigan should help its residents pay back their court debt. Instead, the state is making it much harder for them to do so.

On May 4, Equal Justice Under Law filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Michigan for this wealth-based suspension scheme. Our lawsuit seeks to return licenses to the hundreds of thousands of drivers who have had their licenses suspended solely for the inability to pay court debt, and it asks the state to cease poverty-based suspensions in the future. We are not asking Michigan to change the way it treats drivers who are truly a threat on the road. Nothing we’re asking would allow a driver to commit reckless driving offenses.

We’re only asking that the state stop punishing people for being poor.

We are also asking that Michigan consider alternatives that many other states successfully employ. There should be an ability-to-pay hearing before any license is suspended. If someone is unable to pay due to poverty status, they should be given alternatives, like community service or payment plans. Some states offer payment plans as low as $5 per month.

Some supporters of Michigan’s suspension law claim that those who cannot afford to pay traffic tickets should drive more carefully. But this argument is exactly the kind of unequal justice we must fight against. Our justice system should not be premised on the notion that the rich get to buy their way out of trouble while the poor live under a sword of Damocles for not using a turn signal.

Others say that it’s unfair for poor people to get out of fines just because they’re unable to pay. What I ask of those folks is empathy. For many people—including Kitia Harris—poverty is not a choice. Kitia was raised without a mother or father, spending the majority of her childhood in foster care.

Now 25, she has never had a reliable, supportive adult in her life. She has lived her life in poverty. Calling it “unfair” that Kitia keep her driver’s license even though she cannot pay her court debt misses the fact that Kitia is doing everything in her power to make ends meet.

If she could pay her court debt, she would.

Instead of punishing someone who cannot pay their court debt, Michigan—and every other state—would be better off if people like Kitia were helped to break the cycle of poverty and repay the debt they owe.

Phil Telfeyan

Rather than making life harder and more expensive for Kitia, Michigan could provide her with the tools she needs to get back on her feet. Especially in a place like Detroit, which offers no meaningful public transportation option, Kitia needs a way to get around.

She needs empathy from us, and justice from our justice system.

 

Phil Telfeyan is founding director of Equal Justice Under Law a Washington, DC based nonprofit that challenges “wealth-based discrimination.”  He served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice for five years, where he specialized in employment discrimination and immigrants’ rights. He welcomes comments from readers.

 

ACLU Says Businesses Need to Also Start Hiring Ex-Criminals

A report issued last week by the American Civil Liberties Union implores the business community to help put people with criminal records–that’s one-third of adults in the U.S.– back to work, for the good of the economy.

According to a 2016 study by the Center for Economy and Policy Research, barriers to employment for people with a criminal history is costing the U.S. between $78 and $87 billion in annual GDP. And, as the ACLU points out, unemployment is the most significant factor in recidivism, leading to increased prison costs.

“By expanding the hiring pool to include people with criminal histories, companies can improve their bottom line, reduce recidivism and incarceration costs, avoid discriminatory practices, and increase public safety,” the report reads.

Several recent studies have found that people with a criminal record tend to keep their jobs longer, and can reduce a company’s rate of employee turnover. The latest literature includes a Northwestern University report on Criminal Background and Job Performance (2017), and an ongoing investigation by the Johns Hopkins Health Resource Center.

The ACLU cites Walmart and Koch Industries, both of whom have adopted ‘Ban-the-Box’ practices, as fair chance leaders in the business community. Companies that adhere to these policies do not ask job seekers to disclose criminal history until a conditional offer has been made. In the case of Walmart, a background check is only performed once someone has accepted an offer, and hiring teams and HR personnel are not made aware of any convictions disclosed– “only whether the candidate is eligible for hire or deferred for hire to a later date based on the final results of the report.” Candidates with a criminal history are allowed to participate in a review, providing additional information about education, and efforts at rehabilitation.

In addition to advocating for wider adoption of Ban-the-Box legislation, the ACLU advises companies to consider pair with local workforce development programs, whocan advise them on tax credits, offer case management for employees with criminal histories, and educate companies on state and local laws.

A major concern for employers is liability: in hiring someone with a criminal record, companies fear it will be difficult to get private malfeasance insurance for that individual, or that they will be found negligible if the employee harms someone else on the job. But according to the ACLU, liability risk is actually low for employers who follow the national Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines. On the policy side, the ACLU advocates for the expansion of state laws that restrict employee liability. Several states have already adopted such legislation, including Texas, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Tennessee.

Ultimately, argues the ACLU report, education is the key to reducing unemployment, recidivism, and prison costs: for every $1 spent on education, $5 is saved on correctional costs. The business community can help by partnering with local workforce development programs; offering tuition assistance; lobbying legislators to expand prison education programs, as well as educational institutions to ‘Ban the Box’ themselves.

Federal Agencies Fail to Report Hate Crimes to FBI as Mandated

In violation of a longstanding legal mandate, scores of federal law enforcement agencies are failing to submit statistics to the FBI’s national hate crimes database, ProPublica has learned.

The lack of participation by federal law enforcement represents a significant and largely unknown flaw in the database, which is supposed to be the nation’s most comprehensive source of information on hate crimes. The database is maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which uses it to tabulate the number of alleged hate crimes occurring around the nation each year.

The FBI has identified at least 120 federal agencies that aren’t uploading information to the database, according to Amy Blasher, a unit chief at the CJIS Division, an arm of the bureau that is overseeing the modernization of its information systems.

The federal government operates a vast array of law enforcement agencies — ranging from Customs and Border Protection to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Amtrak Police — employing more than 120,000 law enforcement officers with arrest powers. The FBI would not say which agencies have declined to participate in the program, but the bureau’s annual tally of hate crimes statistics does not include any offenses handled by federal law enforcement. Indeed, the problem is so widespread that the FBI itself isn’t submitting the hate crimes it investigates to its own database.

“We truly don’t understand what’s happening with crime in the U.S. without the federal component,” Blasher said in an interview.

At present, the bulk of the information in the database is supplied by state and local police departments. In 2015, the database tracked more than 5,580 alleged hate crime incidents, including 257 targeting Muslims, an upward surge of 67 percent from the previous year. (The Bureau hasn’t released 2016 or 2017 statistics yet.)

But it’s long been clear that hundreds of local police departments don’t send data to the FBI, and so given the added lack of participation by federal law enforcement, the true numbers for 2015 are likely to be significantly higher.

A federal law, the 1988 Uniform Federal Crime Reporting Act, requires all U.S. government law enforcement agencies to send a wide variety of crime data to the FBI. Two years later, after the passage of another law, the bureau began collecting data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” That was later expanded to include gender and gender identity.

The federal agencies that are not submitting data are violating the law, Blasher told us. She said she’s in contact with about 20 agencies and is hopeful that some will start participating, but added that there is no firm timeline for that to happen.

“Honestly, we don’t know how long it will take,”Blasher said of the effort to get federal agencies on board.

The issue goes far beyond hate crimes — federal agencies are failing to report a whole range of crime statistics, Blasher conceded. But hate crimes, and the lack of reliable data concerning them have been of intense interest amid the country’s highly polarized and volatile political environment.

ProPublica contacted several federal agencies seeking an explanation. A spokesperson for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which handles close to 50,000 offenses annually, said the service is adhering to Defense Department rules regarding crime data and is using a digital crime tracking system linked to the FBI’s database. But the Army declined to say whether its statistics are actually being sent to the FBI, referring that question up the chain of command to the Department of Defense.

In 2014, an internal probe conducted by Defense Department investigators found that the “DoD is not reporting criminal incident data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for inclusion in the annual Uniform Crime Reports.”

ProPublica contacted the Defense Department for clarification and shared with a department spokesman a copy of the 2014 reports acknowledging the failure to send data to the FBI.

“We have no additional information at this time,” said Christopher Sherwood, the spokesman.

Federal agencies are hardly the only ones to skip out on reporting hate crimes. An Associated Press investigation last year found at least 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments that repeatedly failed to report hate crimes to the FBI.

In the case of the FBI itself, Blasher said the issue is largely technological: Agents have long collected huge amounts of information about alleged hate crimes, but don’t have a digital system to easily input that information to the database, which is administered by staff at an FBI complex in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Since Blasher began pushing to modernize the FBI’s data systems, the Bureau has made some progress. It began compiling some limited hate crimes statistics for 2014 and 2015, though that information didn’t go into the national hate crimes database.

In Washington, lawmakers were surprised to learn about the failure by federal agencies to abide by the law.

“It’s fascinating and very disturbing,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who said he wanted to speak about the matter with the FBI’s government affairs team. He wants to see federal agencies “reporting hate crimes as soon as possible.”

Beyer and other lawmakers have been working in recent years to improve the numbers of local police agencies participating in voluntary hate crime reporting efforts. Bills pending in Congress would give out grants to police forces to upgrade their computer systems; in exchange, the departments would begin uploading hate crime data to the FBI.

Beyer, who is sponsoring the House bill, titled the National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act, said he would consider drafting new legislation to improve hate crimes reporting by federal agencies or try to build such a provision into the appropriations bill.

“The federal government needs to lead by example. It’s not easy to ask local and state governments to submit their data if these 120 federal agencies aren’t even submitting hate crimes data to the database,” Beyer said.

In the Senate, Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota said the federal agencies need to do better. “I’ve long urged the FBI and the Department of Justice to improve the tracking and reporting of hate crimes by state and local law enforcement agencies,” Franken told ProPublica. “But in order to make sure we understand the full scope of the problem, the federal government must also do its part to ensure that we have accurate and trustworthy data.”

Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, a House Republican who authored a resolution in April urging the “Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies to work to improve the reporting of hate crimes,” did not respond to requests for comment.

By: A.C. Thompson and Ken Schwencke

Racial Imbalance in Louisiana Murder Charges is ‘Systemic’

Black homicide defendants in Louisiana are more likely than whites to face charges making them eligible for the death sentence in cases in which their victims are white, according to a Northeastern University study.

The findings add more evidence of the “stark racial imbalances” researchers have already found in the administration of the death penalty in that state—where the odds that African Americans who kill whites will receive the death sentence are 11 times greater than for a  “black-on-black” homicide—according to study author Tim Lyman.

Lyman, of the Institute for Security and Public Policy at Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, concluded that the “systemic” inequality actually begins with prosecutors’ initial charging decisions.

He examined 1,356 cases where first-degree murder charges were filed and found that the race of the victim and accused made a critical difference.

“Yes, prosecutors pursue severe punishment more often in all white victim cases,” Lyman concluded. “But no, they do not round up and overcharge white suspects in these cases the way they do black suspects.

“To the contrary, they overcharge fewer (white on white) cases than they do the across-the-board under-represented (black on black) cases.”

An abstract and a downloadable version of Lyman’s study, “Race and the Death Penalty in Louisiana: An Actuarial Analysis,” are available here.

Honoring Paris Accord Governors and Mayors Come Together in a Backlash to Trump’s Announcement

WASHINGTON — President Trump may be quitting the Paris accord on climate change — but forcing the rest of the nation to go along with him is proving more of a challenge.

Led by California, dozens of states and cities across the country responded Friday to Trump’s attack on the worldwide agreement by vowing to fulfill the U.S. commitment without Washington — a goal that is not out of reach.

The defiance is a signal to the world that the political forces behind America’s climate fight aim to outmaneuver this White House and to resume the nation’s leadership role when Trump changes jobs or changes his mind.

The pushback also reflects how far most of the country — including many Republican parts — already have moved in transitioning to cleaner energy, even as Trump works to slow that momentum.

“The American government may have pulled out of the agreement, but the American people remain committed to it — and we will meet our targets,” former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a special envoy for cities and climate change to the United Nations, said Friday after meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

It will be a heavy lift. States and cities would need to meet a pledge to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, America’s self-declared target under the deal.

Even with buy-in from the federal government, there were doubts about hitting that nonbinding target. Trump has made it a lot more complicated by spurning the accord — but not impossible.

California, the nation’s leader in emissions reduction, has already joined with New York and Washington state to build an alliance of states that will guide the nation to Paris compliance in the absence of leadership from the federal government.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is leading cities in a parallel effort that already has enlisted 150 members.

“Cities and states are already where most of the action on climate is,” the Democrat said Friday. “Our message is clear to the world: Americans are with you, even if the White House isn’t.… Trump’s move is going to have unintended consequences of us all doing the opposite of what the president wants. It will in many ways greatly backfire.”

Garcetti estimated that 70% to 80% of the work on reducing emissions is happening at the state and local level, regardless of federal policy. That includes renewable energy mandates set by utility commissions, fuel mileage standards and efficiency rules for appliances.

While mayors and governors can’t sign onto to the Paris agreement — only heads of state can do that — they can prove effective shadow participants. Many of them have forged close relationships with the key climate players in other countries over the years, signing their own climate pacts abroad and participating in various capacities in landmark climate negotiations, such as those that took place in Paris and Kyoto, Japan.

Bloomberg, a billionaire philanthropist, has already pledged to cover the $15 million the U.S. is reneging on by personally paying into the operations fund of the U.N. agency overseeing the Paris accord. He announced Friday that he would officially inform the U.N. that the U.S. will meet its emissions obligations, noting it is already halfway there — thanks to better fuel economy standards, the shale gas revolution and more renewable energy sources — and is positioned to step up its efforts without any help from Washington.

None of this is new for California. It was amid the climate inaction of President George W. Bush’s administration that the state passed AB 32, one of the world’s most aggressive climate change laws at the time. Decades before that, California imposed vehicle emissions standards before the federal government had any. In recent years, many other states have begun to compete with California in the race to reduce emissions.

“We have more rivals, if you will, with other states stepping up to act in this area,” said Mary Nichols, the state’s top climate change regulator.

Now the success of the renegade effort to bring the U.S. in compliance with the Paris accord will probably hinge on how much further California can push the nation. Even there, the Trump White House is angling to insert itself.

It is threatening to block California from implementing aggressive new fuel mileage standards. If the White House successfully follows through, that could jeopardize the ability of states and cities to meet the Paris climate action commitments, according to Michael Wara, a professor of energy law at Stanford University. Vehicles account for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions, and California has unique authority under the law to set mileage standards lower than the federal government’s. Under the Clean Air Act, other states can adopt those standards, and several have.

The other massive source of greenhouse gases is power plants, and in that sector the U.S. continues to cut emissions significantly without the federal government.
Wara said natural gas prices had dropped so low that most states would probably meet the targets the Obama administration set for them through the Clean Power Plan — the signature federal climate action Trump has ordered dismantled.

Prices for solar and wind power are also plunging, leading to their proliferation even in states that are not aggressively mandating their use.
Experts caution that without the backstop of a federal commitment to Paris, the momentum could slow and the goal of defiantly meeting initial pledges in the accord could drift out of reach. An increase in natural gas prices or the price of solar panels, or a further drop in the cost of gasoline at the pump, could throw things off.

“I have no doubt we can achieve a lot,” said Jody Freeman, who advised former President Obama on climate change. “But it is challenging to match what would have been possible staying in Paris.”

Many politicians are trying. Among them is Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh — a city that Trump has said repeatedly he is putting ahead of Paris in his rebuke of the accord.

On the eve of Trump’s planned “Pittsburgh Not Paris March” on Saturday, Peduto announced a pledge to move his city to 100% renewable energy by 2035.
Trump’s “misguided decision to withdraw from the Paris climate [agreement] does not reflect the values of our city,” said Peduto, a Democrat.

Similar sentiments echoed across the nation.

“The City of Atlanta will intensify our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, work to cool the planet by two degrees, ramp up clean energy solutions and seek every opportunity to assert our leadership on this urgent issue,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement.

Even in areas elsewhere in the Deep South where Trump’s move was welcomed by Republican lawmakers, state policies that will spur significant emissions reductions are in place.

“Even the red state governments understand that the economic circumstances have changed and clean energy is at least as cheap as dirty energy,” said Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed resolve to persevere with the Paris commitments by ordering, in Trump’s hometown of New York, One World Trade Center and the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens to be illuminated in green.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, was visiting a Brooklyn neighborhood devastated by Superstorm Sandy when Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the climate pact on Thursday.

“All that occurred in that superstorm was because of climate change,” De Blasio said during the opening of a new ferry service in the low-lying Red Hook neighborhood. “We’ve already borne the brunt here in New York City. It’s only going to get worse if something is not done quickly to reverse the course the Earth is on.”

By Evan Halper
evan.halper@latimes.com

Times staff writers Barbara Demick in New York and Liam Dillon in Sacramento and special correspondent Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta contributed to this report.

If We Step Up the Drug War, You’ll Be a Victim

What word best describes the War on Drugs? Inane? Lunacy? Indecent? Harmful? Thuggery?

The right answer is All of the Above. Politicians have ruined lives and wasted money in a futile campaign to stop people from recreational drug use.

It may be true that people who use drugs are being stupid. Or even immoral. But the key thing to understand is that it’s a victimless crime.

Actually, that’s not true, there are victims. They’re called taxpayers, who have to finance the government’s drug war. And there are secondary victims thanks to bad laws (dealing with asset forfeiture and money laundering) that only exist because of the drug war.

Speaking of which, here’s another horror story from the drug war:

A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA’s gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn’t relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns … the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures.

Here’s the jaw-dropping part of the story:

… $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.

In other words, the government took people’s money even if they weren’t charged with a crime, much less convicted of a crime.

Drug users also can be victims. Heck, sometimes people are victims even if they’re not users, as we see from this great moment in the drug war:

“They thought they had the biggest bust in Harris County,” Ross LeBeau said. “This was the bust of the year for them.” A traffic stop in early December led to the discovery of almost half a pound of what deputies believed to be methamphetamine. The deputies arrested LeBeau and sent out a press release, including a mug shot, describing the bust. According to authorities, the arrest was due to deputies finding a sock filled with what they believed to be methamphetamine … After the arrest, LeBeau was fingerprinted and booked into a jail where he spent three days before being released. The problem came after two field tests, performed by deputies, came back positive for meth. Later a third test was conducted by the county’s forensic lab which revealed that the kitty litter was not a controlled substance. The case was later dismissed.

And more bad things like this are probably going to happen because the Justice Department now wants a more punitive approach to victimless crimes.

C.J. Ciaramella of Reason reports on the grim details:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and maximum possible sentences available, reversing an Obama-era policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level drug crimes … the overall message is clear: Federal prosecutors have the green light to go hard after any and all drug offenses … The shift marks the first significant return by the Trump administration to the drug war policies that the Obama administration tried to moderate. In 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal prosecutors to avoid charging certain low-level offenders with drug charges that triggered long mandatory sentences. The federal prison population dropped for the first time in three decades in 2014, and has continued to fall since.

Some Republicans are unhappy about this return to draconian policies:

“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice … Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), although he did not directly criticize Sessions, wrote in a tweet Friday morning that “to be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”

For what it’s worth, Sessions isn’t the only one who deserves blame:

While it’s easy to point the finger at Sessions … Congress ultimately passed the laws the Justice Department is tasked with enforcing. Lawmakers in Congress had a golden window of opportunity over the past three years to revise federal sentencing laws—with bipartisan winds at their back and a friendly administration in White House—and failed miserably.

And there is a tiny bit of good news:

… the Office of National Drug Control Policy … Trump plans to reduce the agency’s budget by 95 percent … there are plenty of actual harm reduction advocates who would be happy to see the agency close up shop.

Though don’t get too excited:

… you know what federal agency with drug policy ramifications is not dormant? The Justice Department … In the grand scheme of the drug war, who might occupy the ONDCP’s bully pulpit matters less than the army Sessions is building.

So don’t hold your breath waiting for better policy.

Here’s another reason why the war on pot is so absurd. As reported by the Daily Caller, people without access to marijuana are more likely to get in trouble with opioids:

Opioids continue to claim 91 lives a day across the U.S., but new research shows medical marijuana programs are drastically cutting down on rates of painkiller abuse. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association is adding to a growing body of evidence showing states with medical marijuana programs have lower rates of opioid related overdoses. Patients who are offered pot as an alternative treatment for chronic conditions are increasingly shifting off their prescription opioids entirely, reports WLBZ. The researchers found states with medical marijuana programs in 2014 had an opioid overdose rate roughly 25 percent lower than the national average.

Last but not least, an article in Reason explains how greedy politicians are undermining the otherwise successful pot legalization in Colorado:

Colorado … voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, transforming the popular stuff from a prohibited vice to a substance that could be produced, bought and sold without the hassle of hiding dealings from the authorities and the fear of arrest for voluntary transactions. Yet the marijuana black market is still going strong over four years later, with many sellers and customers willing to take a chance on legal consequences rather than make a risk-free deal … the driving force behind the black market … is taxes so sky high and regulations so burdensome that they make legal pot uncompetitive. “An ounce of pot on the black market can cost as little as 180 dollars,” according to PBS correspondent Rick Karr. “At the store Andy Williams owns, you have to pay around 240 dollars for an ounce. That’s partly because the price includes a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent marijuana tax, the state sales tax, and Denver’s marijuana sales tax.” Colorado also piles on expensive regulatory requirements to get a license.

This is not a surprise.

I wrote back in 2015 that the tax burden was excessive.

Indeed, I even wondered if legalization in Colorado was a good thing if the net result was a big pile of tax revenue that could be used to expand government.

The libertarian part of me says Colorado made the right decision, though the fiscal economist part of me definitely sees a downside.

And that downside may become an even bigger downer:

Governor John Hickenlooper wants to increase the marijuana sales tax from 10 percent to 12 percent. “It seems kind of odd that at the same time they’re trying to do something about the black and gray markets they’re going to ratchet up the taxes and drive more people to the black and gray markets,” state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) commented.

P.S. I wonder if Senator Steadman realizes he just embraced the Laffer Curve?

P.P.S. It’s worth noting that voices as diverse as John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, John McCain, and Richard Branson all agree that it’s time to rethink marijuana prohibition.

Daniel J. Mitchell


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

A Confederate Statue Surrenders after 133 Year

ATLANTA — Gen. Robert E. Lee stood erect, arms crossed over his chest, as workers in masks and protective vests gathered with power tools Friday to oust the statue from its prominent 133-year perch in the heart of New Orleans.

Just after dawn, a removal crew had converged around Lee Circle, a traffic roundabout between the city’s bustling central business district and the wealthy Garden District neighborhood of antebellum mansions.

Slowly, they prepared to dismantle the 16 ½ -foot bronze statue of the icon of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” from its lofty 60-foot tall marble column.

Before long, the event took on the aura of a block party as residents settled in with lawn chairs, parasols, even mimosas. Some strutted and shimmied as a boombox blasted James Brown’s 1968 classic “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Public Enemy’s 1990 anthem “Fight the Power.”

The sculpture of Lee, dedicated with great fanfare in 1884, was one of the first Confederate monuments erected in the South and the last of four contentious Civil War-related structures targeted for removal by the historic Southern city.

“For me, this landmark has always been a symbol of exploitation and oppression and white supremacy,” said Malcolm Suber, an adjunct professor at Southern University at New Orleans and organizer of Take ’Em Down NOLA. “Today is a sign that we are forcing New Orleans to have a conversation about race and economics and politics that has honestly not happened here in the city before.”

Not everyone agrees the monuments should be removed, which opponents say are part of history.

More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War — as fringe white nationalist groups have gained newfound prominence and activists with Black Lives Matter and other groups have stepped up to protest injustice — New Orleans is one of a string of Deep South cities and institutions moving to purge their public squares and streets of Confederate monuments.

About 700 Confederate-inspired monuments and statues remain on public property across the nation, with the majority dedicated or built before 1950, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. While public scrutiny of such memorials has intensified since white supremacist Dylann Roof’s June 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., the act of removing them is fraught with logistical, legal and ideological hurdles.

Relocating massive marble, bronze and granite monuments can cost tens and even hundreds of thousand dollars, money that some communities can ill afford. In many cases, cities and counties also face bitter resistance and lawsuits from historical groups and descendants of soldiers who accuse them of erasing history and disrespecting those who lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy.

Bitter disputes have erupted on New Orleans streets in recent weeks as the city has proceeded with its deeply contested plan to take down an equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and a bronze sculpture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Battle of Liberty Place obelisk, a marble monument that celebrates the 1874 uprising of a white supremacist militia against Louisiana’s Reconstruction state government, came down in April.

“It’s a sad day for Louisiana history,” Republican state Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said in an interview Friday. “People come to Louisiana for our rich culture and our history. Some of it is unpleasant, but it is history. You’re not going to right a wrong by taking down a monument.”

Many Louisianans, Nungesser said, would prefer to put up plaques offering a fuller, more contextualized history of the sculptures, many of which still feature plaques that glorify white supremacist interpretations of history, or erect alternative statues paying tribute to historical black leaders.

“Do we take down the Washington monument because he had slaves? Do we tear down the White House? It was built with slaves!” Nungesser said. “No one believes this will help race relations.”

Many Southern communities that have wanted to take down controversial monuments in recent years have found their efforts stall as they’ve struggled to find final resting places for symbols that many condemn as offensive.

Officials in Gainesville, Fla., and St. Louis have resolved to remove public Confederate monuments only to fail to find museums willing to house them. Officials in St. Louis this week set up a GoFundMe page to raise $25,000 to remove a monument and place it in storage.

New Orleans’ removal of four of its prominent sculptures marks a significant moment in the South’s history, a determination to challenge long-standing white supremacist symbols, said Martin Blatt, director of public history at Northeastern University and a former president of the National Council on Public History.

“All this debate and the controversy points to a history that we still badly need to confront and unearth and interrogate,” Blatt said.

He said he favored the idea of grouping the monuments at a new site, away from highly visible public space, and offering new context and interpretation.

The New Orleans movement to relocate some of the city’s most visible Confederate monuments began in earnest in 2015, shortly after the Charleston massacre, when Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council declared they were “public nuisances” that did not reflect the city’s diversity or full history.

The process was delayed for nearly two years by a succession of lawsuits from historic preservation groups and monument supporters. The original contractor hired by the city backed out after his employees received death threats and his car was set on fire. Workers dismantled the last three monuments in the cover of darkness, protecting themselves with masks and protective vests.

In contrast, the city announced the removal of the fourth statue, of Lee, in advance, with Landrieu planning an afternoon address at a nearby historic building.

Throughout the years, the Lee monument has served as a focal point for Civil War reunions and a host of civic celebrations. In 1891, it was a gathering spot for the mob responsible for the largest mass lynching in American history: the killing of 11 Italian American men for their alleged role in the murder of the city’s police chief, David Hennessy.

The ultimate fate of the Jim Crow-era sculptures is uncertain. The city has stated the monuments will remain in storage until officials find a museum or facility where they can be displayed in proper context.

On Thursday, Landrieu’s office said in a statement that it had received offers from public and private institutions to take individual monuments and would solicit proposals only from governmental entities and nonprofit groups.

“This should guarantee that wherever the statues end up, they are interpreted as they should be: as historical artifacts from a time when white Southerners believed it was acceptable to memorialize a lost-cause interpretation of the Civil War and ignore the historical record,” said Blain Roberts, a professor of history at Fresno State, who is working on a book about the memory of slavery.

Yet questions linger about how far New Orleans and other Southern cities will go to memorialize the Civil War and the historic legacy of slavery.

New Orleans officials have announced that Lee’s statue will be replaced by a water feature and public art, while a U.S. flag will be placed at the site of the Davis statue. The City Park Improvement Assn. will help decide what replaces the Beauregard statue.

“Putting the American flag in the spot where the Davis statue stood is fine, but I would urge the city to do more,” Roberts said. “Whatever replaces the removed statues should acknowledge the historical facts that those statues were designed to suppress: that enslaved labor generated the wealth of white New Orleanians, and that defending slavery was the reason they and other white Southerners seceded from the Union and fought the Civil War.”

By Jenny Jarvie

Chelsea Manning Speaks Out Ahead of Release from Prison

Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier has issued her first statement since former President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year prison sentence for leaking intelligence, saying on Tuesday she wants to help others after she is released from prison next week.

Chelsea Manning has served nearly seven years in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being convicted of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in 2010, the biggest such breach in U.S. history.

Her case became both the focus of debate over government secrecy and a rallying cause for civil liberties advocates, who saw the punishment as too severe and an attempt to chill whistleblowers from speaking up about government misdeeds.

“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world,” Manning said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others,” she added, giving thanks for her upcoming release.

Obama granted Manning clemency in January, saying she had taken responsibility for her crime and her sentence was disproportionate to those received by other leakers. Congressional Republicans criticized the commutation as a dangerous precedent.

Manning’s clemency and appellate lawyers, Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, said in a statement on Tuesday the sentence was “far too long, too severe, too draconian.”

Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman.

Manning has previously said she released the files in the interests of transparency and accountability.

She twice tried to kill herself and has struggled to cope as a transgender woman in the men’s military prison. In her statement, Manning said her time in prison included periods of solitary confinement and struggles with restricted healthcare.

Americans Work Almost 4 Months Just to Pay Taxes

Tax Day 2017 has passed for individual taxpayers, but America’s tax bill is still due, and it’s a big one.

Americans will collectively pay close to $1 trillion more on taxes than will be spent on essentials like food, clothing, and housing combined.Taxpayers won’t pay off this year’s local, state, and federal tax burden totaling $5.1 trillion until April 23, or as the Tax Foundation calls it, Tax Freedom Day. That day, calculated annually, represents how long Americans work to pay local, state, and federal taxes for the year.

In 2017, it will take 113 days for taxpayers to pay the country’s tax burden, which includes $1.5 trillion in local and state taxes and $3.5 trillion in federal taxes, equaling 31 percent of America’s income. But that’s not all. If you include federal borrowing, which represents future taxes the government must collect to pay the bills, Tax Freedom Day would occur 14 days later this year on May 7.

To put this year’s total tax burden into perspective, the latest date for Deficit-Inclusive Tax Freedom Day took place during World War II almost three weeks later than this year’s date, occurring on May 25, 1945.

How Expensive is Government?

Americans will collectively pay close to $1 trillion more in taxes than will be spent on essentials like food, clothing, and housing combined.

The federal deficit is expected to shrink by $45 billion to $612 billion in calendar year 2017, but the track record over the past few decades is not comforting. The cost of the federal government has surpassed its tax revenues since 2002, racking up budget deficits exceeding $1 trillion annually from 2009 to 2012.

According to the Tax Foundation’s data, Tax Freedom Day has changed dramatically over the past century. Notice how the date of Tax Freedom Day correlates with significant expansions of government since 1900, especially when considering the deficit-inclusive figures:

Focusing on Deficit-Inclusive Tax Freedom Day, economic liberty in America shifted abruptly in favor of the government while Woodrow Wilson was president. Wilson ushered in the Revenue Act of 1913 which re-imposed the federal income tax after the ratification of the 16th Amendment, followed soon after by the creation of the Federal Reserve in late 1913, and both led the way for deficit financing that enabled U.S. entry into World War I.

After a subsequent reduction in federal tax burdens in the 1920s, the trend began to worsen considerably and hastened in the 1930s. American taxpayers then saw a substantial spike in government spending, deficits, and state power during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency and World War II.

Taxpayers saw a dramatic improvement in their financial freedom following World War II when overall tax burdens decreased in the 1950s, similar to the trend in the 1920s in the aftermath of World War I. But this new norm in the 1950s meant an additional two months of work to pay the government’s tax burden when compared to just a few decades prior. The overall trend, unfortunately, has been in the direction of Tax Freedom Day occurring later over the past sixty years, and considerably later compared to the trend of the past century, meaning less freedom from onerous taxation for Americans.

Taxes Are Revolting, Why Aren’t You?

Tax burdens vary considerably state by state due to different tax policies and the progressive federal tax system. Each state has its own Tax Freedom Day which factors in local, state, and federal tax burdens for the taxpayers in their respective states.

The federal government claims a right to your earnings and livelihood, offering the ultimatum: your money or your life.States like Connecticut (May 21, #50), New Jersey (May 13, #49), and New York (May 11, #48) have higher taxes and residents earning higher incomes, so they celebrate Tax Freedom Day later than states like Mississippi (April 5, #1), Tennessee (April 7, #2), and South Dakota (April 8, #3), which bear the lowest tax burdens in 2017.

The introduction of the Wilson era federal income tax and the Federal Reserve allowed for expansive government power and deficit financing. This also shifted the primary means of funding the government to income taxes and away from tariffs, as had been the practice.

The federal government claims a right to your earnings and livelihood, essentially offering the ultimatum: your money or your life. Sheldon Richman wrote a book by that very title and argues that the income tax must be abolished altogether.

Reasonable people from various political viewpoints can disagree about how our tax dollars are spent or whether our earnings should be confiscated whatsoever, but Tax Freedom Day helps to put Americans’ overall tax burden into perspective. Furthermore, it highlights the paramount principle regarding the rights of individuals and government power:

If Americans are forced to work nearly one-third of the year just to pay taxes to the government, then how free are we?

Jared Labell


Jared Labell

Jared Labell is the Executive Director of The Libertarian Institute as well as Taxpayers United of America.