Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Trump Uses Clemency To Help Drug War Victims, Reward GOP Donors, and Spite James Comey

By Eric Boehm - February 19, 2020 at 09:30AM

President Donald Trump granted clemency to 11 individuals on Tuesday, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was serving a 14-year prison sentence for a variety of political crimes including a scheme to sell an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.

While much of the media coverage focused on Blagojevich and some of the other high-profile names on Trump's clemency list (more on that in a moment), there are others whose names you don't know but probably should.

People like Crystal Munoz, who spent the past 12 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Munoz was convicted in 2007 of assisting a marijuana smuggling operation because she drew a map of a dirt road near Big Bend National Park in Texas. That map was used by drug smugglers, and the Drug Enforcement Administration eventually traced it back to Munoz, who got a 19-year prison sentence despite the fact that she never possessed or sold any of the drugs.

Nothing about Munoz's case suggests that the 40-year-old mother of two girls is a danger to society who needs to be kept in a cage—she's just another person in an endless line of drug war victims. Thankfully, Trump's clemency order will allow her to return to her family.

People like Munoz are "are the forgotten majority of the country's crisis in mass incarceration, a crisis that disproportionately impacts lower-income communities and communities of color, and they are every bit as deserving of a second chance," said Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, a criminal justice reform nonprofit that advocated for Munoz's release. In a statement, Harris said she hopes Trump will "use this executive power to grant more commutations and clemencies in due course for any of the thousands of deserving individuals who are neither rich, nor famous, nor connected."

Being rich and famous does seem to help, though. Blagojevich, a former contestant on Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, seems to have ended up on Trump's radar after Patricia Blagojevich made several appearances on Fox News to plead for her husband's release. Trump also granted a full pardon to Michael Milken, a financier who served two years in prison in the early 1990s after being convicted by then-federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani is now Trump's personal attorney and Milken is a top Republican donor who reportedly watched the 2018 election results at the White House. Another pardon went to Paul Pogue, the owner of a Texas construction company who spent three years in prison for filing a false tax return. Pogue has also donated hefty sums to the Trump campaign.

While some of yesterday's clemency recipients were forgotten people, Trump is clearly using his power to settle some political scores too.


FREE MINDS

China ousted three Wall Street Journal reporters in retribution for what the Chinese government said were racially discriminatory and slanderous opinion pieces. In a column published on February 3, Journal opinion writer Walter Russell Mead referred to China as "the real sick man of Asia"—a phrase with historical connotations unflattering to China.

But the three journalists booted from the country work for the Journal's news-gathering operation, not its opinion section. Recognizing that distinction, however, would first require a healthy respect for a free press—something that China's government seems uninterested in cultivating.


FREE MARKETS

"Rich places are getting richer, but economic activity isn't becoming more concentrated in a few dominant places. In fact, economic activity—as measured by total income—is less concentrated in a handful of top metro areas today than it has been during most of the past half-century," reports The New York Times in a deep dive into population and economic growth.

Despite the perception that economic growth is clustering in a few megacities, the real concentration is taking place in mid-sized-to-large cities, the Times reports. The share of economic activity taking place in America's five largest cities has actually declined in recent decades, but the share of activity taking place in metro areas ranked 11th through 50th has grown.

In general, places are either getting bigger but not richer (like Las Vegas and Phoenix), or richer but not bigger (like the Connecticut suburbs of New York City). The places that are growing their wealth and their population are more like Austin, Texas, rather than San Francisco or New York.


ELECTION 2020

Tonight's Nevada primary debate will be the first to include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has blasted into second place in some polls after an expensive advertising blitz. He's not likely to get a warm welcome from his fellow candidates, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), in particular, is ready to go on the attack.

There will be plenty of fodder for the anti-Bloomberg crowd. Expect his longstanding support for (and explicitly racist defense of) stop-and-frisk policing to be a factor. And his track record of making demeaning comments about women. And the fact that, as recently as last year, he was caught on tape referring to transgender individuals as "a man wearing a dress." Indeed, if there is any political capital left in the so-called "woke primary," Bloomberg can expect to be on the receiving end of all of it.


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