(TMU) — A container ship owned by JP Morgan has been seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Philadelphia weeks after authorities discovered over $1 billion dollars worth of cocaine on the vessel.
On June 17, U.S. Customs and Homeland Security led a multi-agency effort which detected inconsistencies in seven shipping containers and confiscated 39,525 pounds of cocaine. The cocaine has a street value of approximately $1.3 billion.
On July 4, CBP executed a warrant and seized the MSC Gayane—which is the world’s second-largest container ship. The seagoing vessel is owned by JP Morgan Asset Management and operated by Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Company, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“The MSC Gayane is the largest vessel seized in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s 230-year history and follows the record seizure of almost 20-tons of cocaine discovered on the vessel,” said Casey Durst, CBP’s Director of Field Operations in Baltimore.
“A seizure of a vessel this massive is complicated and unprecedented—but it is appropriate because the circumstances here are also unprecedented,” stated U.S. Attorney William McSwain.
Eight crew members have been arrested, according to Homeland Security, and multiple others have been charged. Charges included conspiracy to possess cocaine. The investigation is still ongoing.
The seized vessel sailed under Liberian flag and had previously traveled through Colombia, Chile, Peru, Panama and the Bahamas, according to an online ship tracker.
Ironically, JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon once blasted Bitcoin as being fraudulent, claiming it is only useful “if you were a drug dealer [or] a murderer.”
Trump Accuses His Own FBI and Justice Department of ‘Rigging’ Election
Despite finally agreeing to begin the formal transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden last Monday, President Trump on Sunday continued to deny that he lost the election and repeated claims of fraud in his first interview since his Election Day defeat.
“We won the election easily,” the outgoing president falsely claimed on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
This time, however, Trump added a new twist – claiming that his own Department of Justice and FBI had somehow colluded with the “rigging” of the election in Biden’s favor.
“This is total fraud,” the outgoing president said in the interview with Maria Bartiromo. “And how the FBI and Department of Justice—I don’t know—maybe they’re involved, but how people are getting away with this stuff—it’s unbelievable.”
Just over three weeks ago, major networks including Fox News and the Associated Press called Pennsylvania and Nevada in Biden’s favor, pushing him well over the 270 electoral-vote threshold to make him the winner of the Electoral College.
Since then, Trump has refused to concede, and has instead spouted claims of widespread fraud to sow the seeds of doubt in the election results. However, no evidence has been offered to flesh out the claims while the Trump campaign’s legal challenges have failed in court.
“Missing in action. Missing in action,” Trump continued after being asked if the FBI and DOJ were investigating the fraud claims. “Can’t tell you where they are. I ask, ‘Are you looking at it?’ Everyone says, ‘Yes,’ they’re looking at it.”
The accusation is incredible if only because both agencies’ heads were personally handpicked by President Trump.
The FBI is led by director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee who has headed the bureau since 2017. The Justice Department is headed by Attorney General William Barr, who was nominated by the president in 2018 and has long argued in favor of government agencies deferring to presidential authority.
Barr has faced massive criticism from Democrats for actions they perceive as being overly partisan and biased in the president’s favor, including responding to Trump’s claims that he hadn’t actually lost the election by clearing the DOJ to look into voting irregularities prior to the certification of elections.
The move was widely seen as a reversal of guidance meant to prevent federal authorities from intervening in the election, and prompted the DOJ’s Election Crimes Branch head Richard Pilger to resign in protest.
However, this hasn’t prevented Trump from lashing out at the attorney general for his perceived lack of zeal in following his directives. In October, Trump criticized Barr publicly for failing to indict his political enemies, including former President Barack Obama and former Vice President (now President-elect) Joe Biden for their alleged role in the origins of the Russia probe.
Trump’s campaign has launched dozens of ill-fated lawsuits in key swing states won by Biden, with many of the lawsuits being dismissed by Republican-appointed judges.
On Sunday morning, the president further accused the judges of blocking his ability to overturn the election results.
“We’re trying to put the evidence in and the judges won’t allow us to do it,” Trump said.
Pelosi’s HEROES Act Would See $350M in Bailout “Aid” Given to Wealthiest Communities in US
One of the most devastating effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic has been its debilitating impact on the economy and the vast changes made to the job market and wealth inequality.
The poor in the United States have grown significantly poorer, with tens of millions of Americans being plunged into unemployment, hunger, and an inability to pay rent. Small businesses deemed nonessential have been forced to shut down or trim operations to a bare minimum, and even major corporations have filed for bankruptcy protection and laid off swathes of their workforce. The effect this has had on low-income communities has been nothing short of ruinous.
In the meantime, attempts to alleviate the suffering of poor Americans have stalled, with federal support for unemployed Americans set to end just days after Christmas just as the United States faces a massive and renewed surge of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Amid the crisis, Democrats have rallied behind the updated HEROES Act, a $2.2 trillion bill passed by the House in October, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi championing the bill as an emergency funding measure that would keep community budgets afloat by injecting $700 billion into state, local and tribal governments.
And while the HEROES Act has been touted as allocating much-needed funds toward first responders and crucial community programs such as library services, public schools, and colleges, auditors at OpenTheBooks found that some $350 million in coronavirus “aid” would go toward the nation’s 50 richest communities listed in the Bloomberg 2020 Richest Places with Heroes Act coronavirus bailouts.
The watchdogs found that the average annual income in these areas ranged from $262,988 in Darnestown, MD, to $525,324 in Atherton, CA – rather astronomical sums for many Americans who are struggling to pay their electrical bills and fill their pantries with basic staple foods.
And while $350 million may seem like a paltry sum in the context of a $2.2 trillion bill, the discovery raises an important question – why should some of the poorest communities that have faced disproportionate impacts from the pandemic essentially subsidize the country’s wealthiest ZIP codes?
The discovery reveals that rather than being the progressive party that truly fights for the interests of the working poor and middle class, the Democrats may be just as beholden to their wealthy constituents as their Republican counterparts are.
Forbes published how much the top 10 wealthiest communities in the United States would receive through their HEROES Act bailouts:
#1. Atherton, CA (income: $525,324/ bailout: $3.8 million) – The exclusive Silicon Valley community has median home prices of $7.5 million and Atherton is home to tech billionaires and major professional athletes like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who has a $31 million home in the area. Whatsapp founder Jan Koum also purchased a “mega-compound” in Atherton for $57 million.
#2. Scarsdale, NY (income: $452,041/ bailout: $8.8 million) – Lying just 35 minutes from New York City by train, Scarsdale is the richest town on the East Coast with a median home sales price of $1.2 million. Stars who have bought homes in Scarsdale include Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
#3. Hillsborough, CA (income: $430,681/ bailout: $5.7 million) – Another exclusive Bay Area community, Hillsborough has a median home price of $5.4 million. Local notables include such decidedly un-poor residents like Elon Musk, Jenny Craig and Jimmy Kimmel.
#4. Cherry Hills Village, CO (income: $406,314/ bailout: $3.3 million) – Located 10 miles from Denver, Cherry Hills Village has a median home price of $2 million. Prominent community members include NFL superstars John Elway and Peyton Manning, while diplomatic heavyweights Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice graduated from the town’s private schools.
#5. Los Altos Hills, CA (income: $405,073/ bailout: $4.2 million) – Another Silicon Valley enclave, Los Altos Hills has a median home price of $3 million. Tech oligarchs living in the town include Google founder Sergey Brin and Israeli billionaire and tech capitalist Yuri Milner, who purchased a $100 million here.
#6. Short Hills, NJ (income: $388,760/ bailout: $6.5 million) – Considered a suburb of New York City suburb, the community is home to a number of wealthy CEOs, actors, pro sports players, and authors.
#7. Highland Park, TX (income: $365,025/ bailout: $4.5 million) – The richest town in the Lone Star State lies just five miles north of Dallas and has a median home price of $1.5 million. It’s located five miles north of Dallas. Notables include Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former Texas Gov. Bill Clements.
#8. Glencoe, IL (income: $358,543/ bailout: $4.4 million) – Lying just north of Chicago along Lake Michigan, Glencoe is the richest town in Illinois. Local luminaries include Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky and author Scott Turow.
#9. Winnetka, IL (income: $353,700/ bailout: $6.1 million) – This village neighboring Glencoe was the site where beloved Hollywood comedies of the ‘80s and ‘90s were filmed, including Home Alone, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Uncle Buck, National Lampoon Christmas, Risky Business, and Breakfast Club.
#10. Darien, CT (income: $352,839/ bailout: $10.7 million) – The posh East Coast town is home to a number of actors, politicians, and CEOs, and teems with at least nine country clubs.
Republicans have rightly been criticized for opposing aid for renters, student debtors, and the unemployed in favor of tax cuts for the ultra-rich and handing over taxpayer funds to transnational corporations. However, Democrats should also be held to account for their attempts to hand over taxpayer funds to those who clearly need it the least during the present crisis.
Trump Pushing to Revive Firing Squads and Electrocution as Feds Ramp Up Executions
While the final 50 days of a president’s tenure are typically the quiet phase of their administration, Donald Trump is vigorously pursuing the fast-track authorization of a number of broad policy changes before he exits the White House in January, including the revival of firing squads and electrocutions in federal executions.
According to a report from ProPublica, a proposed rule change from the Department of Justice was registered in August and cleared a White House review this month, allowing the president to authorize the policy just before his time in office ends.
Typically, federal executions are carried out by lethal injection. Such has been the case without exception for the past decades.
Just last week, the Justice Department announced its intention to execute three more inmates on federal death row. If the executions are administered – along with two other previously-scheduled executions – there will have been 13 prisoners put to death since July of this year, marking one of the most deadly periods in the history of federal capital punishment since 1927, notes the New York Times.
“What is clear is that this administration wants these prisoners dead before Joe Biden takes office,” Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center Robert Dunham told CNN. The last time over one execution happened during a presidential transition was during the end of Grover Cleveland’s first transition, from November 1884 to March 1885.
In the proposed rule, which should be published in the Federal Register on Friday, the administration asserts that “death by firing squad and death by electrocution do not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment”
The proposal also claims: “In recent U.S. Supreme Court litigation involving Eighth Amendment challenges to execution by lethal injection, nitrogen hypoxia and firing squad have been identified as potential alternative methods of execution, including by prisoners themselves, that might – or even must– be used instead of lethal injection, in particular because those methods allegedly carry a lesser risk of pain.”
It remains unclear whether the rule would practically have any importance, especially given the fact that President-elect Joe Biden opposes the death penalty and has vowed to seek the elimination of capital punishment for felony convictions and the suspension of federal executions.
Since he was sworn in last year, Attorney General William Barr has aggressively pursued the use of capital punishment to bring “justice to victims of the most horrific crimes,” resuming federal executions after a 17-year hiatus of the practice.
Critics argue that the death penalty is far too frequently used against people who have been wrongfully convicted, with 172 people being sentenced to death since 1973 who were later exonerated from their crimes.
Legal advocates are hopeful that the Biden-Harris administration could finally put an end to the federal death penalty as part of a broader overhaul of the criminal justice system. The Biden campaign has announced that it intends to end the practice on the federal level and incentivize an end to state executions, as well.
“As we find itself in the midst of a national reckoning with racism and our history of racial violence, ending the death penalty must be part of our transformation,” said former federal prosecutor Miriam Krinsky, who now heads the Fair and Just Prosecution advocacy group. “Abolishing the death penalty would be a signal that the Biden-Harris administration is committed to fairness, equity, and evidence-based justice — and the time for this definitive move is long overdue.”
However, the president has been hoping to finalize 36 major rule changes in his final days, similar to the 35 to 40 rule changes made by four previous administrations that were undone by their successors. In 2017, Republicans successfully overturned the outgoing Obama administration’s rule changes using the Congressional Review Act.
However, the lasting impact of the rule changes remain contingent on critical runoff elections in Georgia that could determine whether the Democrats could invoke the act or whether the GOP maintains control of the Senate.
Regardless of the outcome of that race, advocates remain opposed to the largely bipartisan inertia over the continuing practice of capital punishment in the U.S.
“Without question this unprecedented execution spree makes clear that this system is in need of either abandonment of the death penalty or major overhaul. It also shows that a moratorium just kicks the can down the road,” Dunham said. “Prior administrations including the Obama-Biden Administration failed to take action on these cases that created the circumstances in which you could have this thing of unparalleled series of executions.”
“There’s no question that these crimes were horrific, but that’s not the issue,” Dunham said. “You can go down the list of these executions one at a time and illustrate the injustices.”
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