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Trump pardons, commutes sentences of 20 people

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With less than 30 days left in office, President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening pardoned 15 individuals and commuted the sentences of five, including two Republican congressmen, former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad, among others.

This latest slate of pardons comes after the president controversially pardoned former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn toward the end of last month, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents after he was accused of having contacts with Russian officials.

Months ago, Trump also commuted the sentence of longtime ally Roger Stone days before he was scheduled to report to prison.

According to a range of reports, the president is likely to issue more pardons before leaving office on January 20.

This latest wave of pardons include those for former GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Chris Collins (N.Y.), who were some of the earliest Republican lawmakers to rally behind Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Also related to this is Trump commuting the sentences of five other individuals the same day, including former Congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX).

Following Collins pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds in 2019, the congressman was sentenced to 26 months in federal prison.

Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to the FBI in 2019, and was then sentenced to 11 months in federal prison.

Former Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean who shot a suspected drug smuggler fleeing custody were pardoned by Trump. Sara A. Carter wrote of the pair in 2006 and continued to advocate for their pardons.

Click here to read her story for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

The president on Tuesday also pardoned four former Blackwater Worldwide contractors—Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard—who were convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that resulted in more than a dozen Iraqi civilians dead. The news story sparked global outcry over the use of private military contractors in combat zones.

Those campaigning for pardons of the former contractors had claimed the four were excessively punished in an investigation and prosecution they said was undercut by issues and withheld exculpatory evidence. Prior to their pardons, the four were serving out long prison sentences.

Two other pardons for people involved in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe were also announced Tuesday.

One was for George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign. He pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators during the Russia probe, serving 12 days in prison back in 2018.

The second one was for the Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who was sentenced to 30 days in prison for also lying to the FBI during Mueller’s Russia probe.

The president also commuted the rest of three people’s sentences Tuesday. Crystal Munoz, Tynice Nichole Hall, and Judith Negron had been convicted on drug and fraud-related charges, and had been previously granted clemency by Trump.

Moreover, calls to pardon National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden have been mounting astronomically in recent months and weeks as the sun sets on Trump’s time in the Oval Office. During the summer, Trump himself even expressed interest in possibly pardoning the whistleblower, who has been hiding away in Russia since leaking classified NSA information to the public in 2013.

“I’m going to take a look at [Snowden’s case] very strongly,” Trump said during a news conference in August. “It seems to be a split decision,” he said. “Many people think he should be somehow treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Shanghai: China’s Potemkin Village

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Following a recent outbreak of COVID-19, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has imposed a month-long draconian lockdown on the residents of Shanghai. The CCP has used the outbreak to persecute its own citizens, including through forced evictions and quarantines, and placing alarms on doors to prevent COVID-19 people from leaving their homes. The harsh measures have resulted in food and healthcare shortages and separation of families.

But of course, we wouldn’t know that by reading the CCP-run press readily available in the United States. Instead of presenting the facts, the CCP engages in a comprehensive propaganda campaign that props up Shanghai as a Chinese Potemkin village. The CCP media asserts that China’s actions in Shanghai are benevolent and wise, while Western criticism is a product of malice. Chinese state-run media also insists that the Shanghai lockdown promotes economic stability in China and the world.

Claim 1: China Has the Best Policy for Combating COVID-19

The CCP media portray the Shanghai lockdown as the best and ideal policy. As cited by a XinhuaNet editorial, “China’s dynamic zero-COVID approach” is “the best option to save lives,” according to a “Rwandan researcher and publisher,” “…a miracle for us to learn,” according to a Kenyan scholar, and “a very ideal response,” according to Ethiopia’s National COVID-19 Response Task Force Coordinator. According to CCP media, Chinese citizens have greeted the Shanghai lockdown warmly, even with “[a] mixed sense of intensity, unity and hopefulness,” according to China Daily.

Claim 2: The West Hypocritically Defames China

The CCP press also accuses the West of lying about the Shanghai lockdown, and using COVID policies for nefarious ends. According to XinhuaNet, “Shanghai…has never imposed what Western media described as a ‘lockdown.’” Other CCP editorials actually accuse the West of malice. One Global Times editorial claims that the lockdown “has been deliberately exaggerated by the West.” Another Global Times editorial asserts that the Western approach of “coexisting with the virus” amounts to a way “…to drive out a large number of the vulnerable people with low immunity,” and a form of “cruel social Darwinism.”

Claim 3: China’s COVID Policies Result in an Economic Windfall to China and the World

The CCP also portrays the lockdown as necessary to achieve great economic growth in China and beyond. One Global Times editorial, while conceding that the lockdown amounted to a “sealing-off,” it is “a temporary measure to better resume work and production and to make the economy and society function more effectively. Its effectiveness has been proven.” According to another Global Times editorial, China’s policy is “widely considered to be the best strategy…to both contain the epidemic and ensure stable economic development.”

In an Orwellian fashion, Chinese press claims that China is solving, not causing, the world’s economic problems. According to XinhuaNet, “China has played a decisive role in stabilizing the global economy and resuming the supply chain disrupted by COVID-19.” Citing a Bloomberg article, the same XinhuaNet editorial claims that China “has prevented a huge number of deaths at home and ensured that everything from iPhones and Teslas to fertilizer and car parts continues to flow to the rest of the world.” Chinese citizens, of course, are collateral damage: Ji Qiwei, vice-general manager of SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle, stated that “The domestic market may be impacted a little by the COVID-19 outbreak this year, but our export market will continue to see strong growth,” according to China Daily.

While the world continues to suffer economic and human damage as a result of COVID-19, China continues to revise history regarding its role. Through its propaganda in its English publications of Xinhua, China Daily, and Global Times, China seeks to portray itself as a benevolent force in the fight against the virus.

You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic

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