Just because Republicans relied on Russian interference to win the 2016 Presidential election doesn’t mean they’ve exhausted their means of winning elections. As of March 4, the federal government hadn’t spent a dime of the $120 million allotted to fight foreign election interference, according to The Hill. And according to The Nation, the Republican-majority Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act to provide 868 fewer places to vote, most in areas with strong minority populations. The United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has even stifled voter registration efforts of minorities. But Republicans put all their eggs in winning the Presidency basket because it would allow them to use the 2020 census to their advantage.

Brookings Institution demographer William Frey projects that whites will become the minority in the under-18 age group in 2020 and that the white share of the population will fall under 60 percent for the first time. So if Republicans can’t convince minorities to support them, they have to do what they can to preserve the illusion that their base is not dwindling.

The census is more than just a means of determining America’s population and demographics. It determines the number of Congressional representatives and electoral votes states receive, how $675 billion in federal funding is allocated to states and cities annually for schools, public housing, roads and health care, and how states will redraw local and federal voting districts.

For instance, if the 2020 census is conducted fairly, Election Data Services expects Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Alabama to lose one Congressional seat each. Those nine Congressional seats would most likely be redistributed to Texas, receiving three, Florida, receiving two, and Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina all receiving one.

But minority populations tend to be undercounted and white populations overcounted during the census. According to Mother Jones, the 2010 census overcounted white residents by nearly one percent and failed to count 1.5 million people of color. This leads to minority populations being under-represented in Congress and under-served by federal funding. And the Trump Administration plans to rig the census like never before.

The citizenship question will scare immigrants from completing the census

The census is not a count of Americans, but a count of people residing in America. It is a count of American-born citizens and illegal immigrants alike. And while federal law prohibits the census bureau from sharing data with anyone, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, most illegal immigrants don’t know that and are naturally afraid of completing the census. They are probably more aware that the Secret Service used census data to round up Japanese Americans and send them to internment camps during World War II, or that failure to answer a census question could result in a fine of up to $100. Immigrants should know that skipping the question won’t likely result in a fine, and your census response will be counted whether you answer the citizenship question or not. Instead, some immigrants actually up and move upon being interviewed, and Census Bureau data shows that undocumented immigrants are “hard to count.”

The state of California has the most to lose if a citizenship question is added to the census, which Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross has already announced will be the case for the first time since 1950, citing the aforementioned Voting Rights Act as a reason for the addition. California and 13 other states are suing the federal government over the citizenship question in fear of losing federal funds and representation because of their large, foreign-born populations. According to Mother Jones, “California’s finance office estimates the state will lose $1,900 annually for each uncounted resident in 2020.”

Worst yet for California is that 20 percent of its residents live in hard-to-count areas, “where more than a quarter of all households failed to mail back their 2010 census forms, including a third of Latinos and African Americans.” California has 10 of the 50 counties in the country with the lowest census response rates -- home to 8.4 million people -- a population larger than that of 38 states, so you can see why the state is suing over the census citizenship question.

Republicans have cut funding for the 2020 census

Just like the Environmental Protection Agency, Republicans have cut funding for the Census Bureau to basically make it dysfunctional. Back in 2012, despite objections by the Obama Administration, Congress told the Census Bureau to spend less money on the 2020 census than it had in 2010. This is after the Census Bureau failed to count 1.5 million minority residents of the United States.

With Donald Trump taking office, Congress cut the bureau’s budget another 10 percent and gave it no additional funding for 2018 -- a time the bureau generally receives a major budget boost to prepare for the census. Now the Census Bureau has half as many regional centers and field offices as it did in 2010, and the 2020 census will be conducted with 300,000 enumerators -- 200,000 fewer than in 2010.

At the same time 10 years ago, there were 120 Census Bureau employees; there are currently 40. And the $340 million promotional ad campaign for the 2010 census will likely go towards working out the kinks of the new technology replacing the boots on the ground.

The 2020 census will rely on digital software for the first time

The result of less funding is an investment in technology instead of people. For the first time, the U.S. census survey will be made available online in 2020. Instead of carrying clipboards, census enumerators will carry tablets, and regardless of the vulnerability of the 2020 census data to foreign interference and hacking, people will be missed, even with the increased availability an online survey provides. That is, if the software works. If the online census rollout is anything like the Healthcare.gov rollout, the 2020 census could be a complete disaster.

Planning and testing for the 2020 census has also taken a big hit by budget limitations. Field tests in Puerto Rico and on Native American reservations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington were cancelled last year, and two of three rehearsals planned for this April were also cancelled.

While traditional paper surveys will be mailed to 20 percent of American households that have poor internet access, “36 percent of African Americans and 30 percent of Hispanics have neither a computer nor broadband internet at home, and a Pew Research Center survey published last year found that more than a third of Americans making less than $30,000 a year lack smartphones,” according to Mother Jones. So people will be missed by the Census Bureau, and the people most likely to be missed are minorities.

How you can help make sure the 2020 census is accurate

You can help make sure the 2020 census is accurate by, first, filling out the census form. Whether you’re a legal resident of the United States, a foreign visitor with a temporary work visa, or an illegal immigrant, you should complete the 2020 census survey.

You can also make sure your neighbors complete the census by making them aware of the importance of the census, and that your community’s Congressional representation and federal funding depends on it. You can assure your foreign-born neighbors that census data won’t be shared with ICE or any other agency, and that skipping the citizenship question won’t disqualify your census response. You can also organize a series of census survey days at your local library so those without internet access or a home address can complete the 2020 census.

You don’t have to be a hired enumerator for the Census Bureau to make sure the 2020 census is accurate, but if you’re interested in serving as a census enumerator, follow this link. If you speak a second language, that would make you an ideal candidate in states with high immigrant populations.


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While United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era, federal protections for recreational marijuana businesses and users in states that have adopted legal cannabis legislation, that won’t affect states’ medical marijuana providers and users -- at least until Jan. 19.

Indications are that medical marijuana will be off the table when it comes to the Justice Department’s crackdown on cannabis. President Donald Trump went on the record in support of medical marijuana prior to the election, so it’s unlikely Sessions would act in a manner that could jeopardize his President’s reelection chances any further. But if Congress can’t come to an agreement to fund the government before Jan. 19, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment prohibiting the Justice Department from spending federal funds to interfere with states’ implementation and enforcement of medical cannabis laws will expire.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment must be renewed each fiscal year to remain in effect, and is usually done so through omnibus spending bills. It was most recently renewed in a stopgap spending bill on Dec. 22, which expires Jan. 19. So if Congress fails to pass a budget for the fiscal year or at least another stopgap spending bill to fund the government temporarily, medical marijuana providers and patients will no longer be protected by Rohrabacher-Farr and subject to federal prosecution.

Sessions is making sure the Justice Department is prepared for the opportunity to enforce federal cannabis law. He appointed 17 interim U.S. attorneys general just days prior to rescinding the protections for recreational cannabis providers and users. The 17 temporary appointees can serve for 120 days before Trump must nominate permanent U.S. attorneys and seek to have them confirmed by the Senate. Sessions has empowered all 94 U.S. attorneys to enforce cannabis law as they see fit.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado said he would block Trump's Justice Department judicial nominees until the decision is reversed. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a state where cannabis is legal to use by adults, insists that protecting states with legal cannabis legislation should be part of budget negotiations to avoid a government shutdown. If the government shuts down, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would continue to be funded, so raids of both recreational and medical marijuana providers would be a possibility. Even if Sessions doesn’t crackdown on cannabis, he’s given Republicans some leverage in negotiating a new budget to fund the government. Perhaps in exchange for continued protection for medical and recreational marijuana states, Trump will get his border wall funded.

Regardless, medical and recreational marijuana providers and users haven’t been this vulnerable since before Rohrabacher-Farr went into effect in December of 2014. If the bipartisan condemnation of Sessions’ decision is any indication of what’s to come, protecting cannabis markets, both medical and recreational, will be a top priority over the next week.

As of January 2017, recreational cannabis markets had created 123,000 full-time jobs in America, and a recent report by New Frontier Data forecasts that tax revenues from legal marijuana sales were $559 million in 2017. 


 

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U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that Texas’s new voter I.D. law is invalid and made it sound like any similar voter I.D. law would be ruled the same. It’s the fifth time a voter I.D. law has been ruled invalid, and it’s because the laws were created with “discriminatory intent.” Since this law’s predecessor was created with discriminatory intent, all reincarnations of said law would also be created with the intent of taking voting rights from people without access to photo I.D. services. Judge Ramos has basically said for a third time, “These are not anti-voter fraud laws. These are anti-voter laws.”

You might wonder why someone wouldn’t have a photo I.D, but in a lot of places they’re prohibitively expensive. In Texas, acquiring a photo I.D. can cost between $78 and $390 (“The High Cost of ‘Free’ Photo Voter Identification Cards,” p. 54). How? Even if the photo I.D. is free, the trip to the DMV isn’t. Some people have to take a bus or cab to visit the nearest grocery store, and the closest DMV is likely further from home than food. If they don’t have a birth certificate, that’s another document they have to pay to get. If they can’t find their marriage certificate and took their partner’s name, they’ll need to acquire that document, too.

Judge Ramos went so far as to suggest Texas elections be subjected to Department of Justice oversight, which hasn’t been the case since 2013, when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. So if there are judges with the same sense as Ramos in other states that have adopted voter I.D. laws (there are 32 of them), they could use Ramos’s decision as precedent to bring back DOJ regulation of elections that was specifically part of the Voting Rights Act to make sure this type of discrimination didn’t happen. Instead, states have adopted Jim Crow laws and passed them off as a defense against voter fraud. If you were wondering what the possible voter fraud was in Texas, it was .000038 percent in 2012.

So this is all a big win for voters, right? Well, if you haven’t noticed, Jeff Sessions isn’t exactly fond of brown people voting. When the Voting Rights Act was gutted of sections designed to protect the minority or impoverished voter, Sessions called it “Good news...for the South.” His home state of Alabama tried to close 31 DMVs, mostly in majority-black neighborhoods, right after passing laws that required a photo I.D. to vote.

Even if Texas, or any other Southern state, was again subject to elections with DOJ oversight, what kind of oversight do you think Sessions would provide? By controlling the ballot to elections in the world’s most powerful country, Sessions would become more powerful than the President, because he will have been responsible for electing the President. That makes him the most powerful man in the world.

But will Sessions be the attorney general in power when all this goes down? Given the fracturing of the Republican Party by Donald Trump and his record-low approval rating for a President this far into his first term, it’s highly unlikely Sessions and Trump remain in office after 2020. But if the Texas appeal is heard before the 2018 midterm elections, Sessions could keep minorities and impoverished voters from the polls to preserve a Republican majority in Congress. Saving Trump might be too tall a task for even the most powerful man in the world, though.

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Despite recommendations to resign his post, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing potentially the largest bust in the history of the online, drug trafficking market and has vowed to go after the “criminals and transnational criminal organizations” involved in the billion-dollar drug trade on the darknet.

What’s the Darknet?

The darknet is a version of the internet reserved for people who take special measures to protect their identity online. In fact, admittance requires users to be completely anonymous. Users most commonly gain access to the darknet by shielding their IP addresses with The Onion Router (TOR) and running virtual private networks (VPNs). Even the money is untraceable, as Bitcoin has allowed for anonymous, online transactions. You don’t have to be as tech-savvy as you think to access the darknet, either.

 

But how do TOR and VPNs conceal the online identity of darknet users? Usually when you type a link into your web browser, your computer accesses the server of that website directly. TOR creates an onion network that bounces your signal around a bunch before communicating with the website’s server. Think of how Shrek describes himself: ogres have layers, which makes them hard to read. The same is true of an anonymous online identity. This onion network conceals the users’ IP addresses so no one knows who or where they are. Naturally, businesses selling illegal goods and services flourished on the darknet -- until now.

The AlphaBay Shutdown

The combined efforts of U.S., Canadian and Thai law enforcement resulted in the shutdown of AlphaBay, the largest darknet website known to be a marketplace for illegal drugs. But the shutdown didn’t stop its users from trafficking illegal drugs. The darknet isn’t so unlike the internet. There are plenty of other websites, so sellers and buyers jumped to another known darknet site called Hansa. Unfortunately for all of them, Hansa was now the bait in a Dutch sting operation.

 

Three weeks before the shutdown of AlphaBay, Hansa’s secure servers were acquired by the Dutch law enforcement -- in secret. So if you used Hansa after AlphaBay went down, Sessions is coming for you. “You cannot hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network. And we will prosecute you,” he said.  

 

But all those people were using TOR and VPNs, so how can law enforcement find them? The cops don’t know their identities or their locations, right? Short answer: not necessarily. It takes a lot more than fancy router firmware and a VPN to remain anonymous online. AlphaBay’s alleged founder, who apparently hanged himself in a Thai prison, was in that Thai prison because of an unprotected email sent in 2014, according to Security Gladiators editor-in-chief Ali Qamar.

 

I’ve seen Snowden, so I assume just about anyone who bought or sold illegal drugs using Hansa after the AlphaBay shutdown can be found, prosecuted and convicted. If every AlphaBay user committed a transaction using Hansa while being monitored by the Dutch, that’s potentially 240,000 criminals in the short-sighted eyes of Sessions. That’s more potential prisoners than every country in the world except six, and would be more than a 10-percent increase to the U.S. prison population. So is there room in American prisons to house these drug offenders and how much would it cost?

The Darknet Drug Bust by the Numbers  

According to the Justice Bureau of Prisons, the average cost of incarceration of federal inmates was $31,977.65 in 2015. That’s $7.675 billion, divided by roughly 138.3 million American taxpayers in 2015, equals $55.50 per taxpayer per year.

 

But Donald Trump’s budget has to boost funding for federal prisons, right? Wrong. The U.S. Department of Justice requested $8.5 billion in total funding for fiscal year 2015, and Donald Trump’s budget proposal would cut funding for federal prison construction by a billion dollars in 2018. The cuts would result in a 17.9-percent decrease in funding for the federal prison system and detention trustee program over the next decade, which means fewer and fewer prisons built and fewer and fewer beds to go around.

 

The number of available prison beds in America changes daily with people bonding out or being released on parole or probation. We can, however, use 2015 Bureau of Prisons data to draw a conclusion. There were 196,455 American prisoners under federal jurisdiction in 2015, so it’s safe to say that more than doubling the federal prison population is impossible given the number of prisons operating at or over capacity.

 

In 2015, 18 states and the Bureau of Prisons met or exceeded the maximum capacity of their prisons. Eight more states met or exceeded the minimum number of beds allowed in their prisons. While the U.S. prison population has decreased 14 percent since 2013, the 1,500 to 2,000 more additional beds for which the Bureau of Prisons is requesting $80 million next year won’t be enough room for the nearly quarter-million criminals Sessions is pursuing on his drug-sniffing steed.

Will Sessions Resign as Attorney General?

Sessions might not lead the posse very long. It seems just about everyone agrees Sessions should resign if it’s indeed true he withheld information from Congress regarding his involvement in Russia’s attempt to alter the 2016 Presidential Election. The prior two U.S. Attorneys General forced to resign were in similarly hot water, but neither were linked to an attempt to alter a Presidential Election. And Sessions isn’t on Trump’s good side, either.

 

So the biggest bust of drug offenders in history might not be enough to save Sessions’s job, but that doesn’t mean his potential replacement won’t continue his work. While law enforcement’s initial focus should be on sellers who can lead them to the drug lords, that won’t be where it stops, regardless of who serves as Trump’s attorney general.

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The deepest of Republican values is to respect states’ rights, but attorney general Jeff Sessions isn’t doing so by asking Congress to let him prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries.

Sessions wrote a letter to Congress in May requesting protections of state marijuana laws that have been in effect since 2014 be undone so he can fill America’s already-full jails and prisons, both rural and urban, with non-violent, drug offenders. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment doesn’t allow the Justice Department to spend federal dollars preventing states from enforcing their own marijuana laws. If that’s no longer the case, medical marijuana providers can expect Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) raids.

It’s no surprise to anyone familiar with Sessions that he’d want to lock up potheads. He’s long despised marijuana and went so far as to cite the opioid epidemic as a reason to enforce federal marijuana prohibition, because he’s either un- or misinformed, or just doesn’t care about the facts.

In states where medical marijuana is legal, either medically or recreationally, opioid overdose deaths are down considerably. States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower annual opioid overdose mortality rates compared with states without medical cannabis laws, a 2014 study revealed.

Sessions would be better served focusing his efforts on legalizing medical marijuana federally by rescheduling cannabis so it could be prescribed by doctors throughout America. Emergency department visits involving misuse or abuse of prescription opioids increased 153 percent between 2004 and 2011. So obviously the easiest way to slow this increase is to offer a prescription pain reliever that has never killed a soul and is already linked with fewer opioid overdoses.

These sort of Republicans like Sessions are the worst sort because they’re not even Republicans. They’re fascists. Only fascists would have an interest in governing what people do in the privacy of their own homes, including the bedroom.

If you think tax dollars should be spent to take a proven medicine away from people with debilitating pain or illness, you’re no Republican. And no Republican would advocate for bigger government, which is exactly what you’ll get if the Justice Department is allowed to spend your taxes busting medical marijuana providers.

Medical marijuana is supported by 94 percent of Americans according to this Quinnipiac poll. It has bipartisan support in Congress as well, so hopefully your representatives don’t cave to Sessions request. Contact your Senators and Representatives to express your opinion on the matter.

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