Monday, December 11, 2017

A Dubious Arrest, a Compromised Prosecutor, a Tainted Plea: How One Murder Case Exposes the System


A Dubious Arrest, a Compromised Prosecutor, a Tainted Plea: How One Murder Case Exposes the System

Saturday, December 09, 2017By Megan RoseProPublica | Report

Smith's troubling ordeal, Alford plea included, is a road map of nearly every way the justice system breaks down -- and how easily a cascade of bad outcomes can be triggered by one small miscarriage of justice. Demetrius Smith's troubling ordeal is a road map of nearly every way the justice system breaks down -- and how easily a cascade of bad outcomes can be triggered by one small miscarriage of justice. (Photo: Stefanie Kaufmann)
The case of Demetrius Smith reads like a preposterous legal thriller: dubious arrests, two lying sex workers, prosecutorial fouls and a judge who backpedaled out of a deal.
It also delivers a primer on why defendants often agree to virtually inescapable plea deals for crimes they didn't commit.
ProPublica has spent the past year exploring wrongful convictions and the tools prosecutors use to avoid admitting mistakes, including an arcane deal known as an Alford plea that allows defendants to maintain their innocence while still pleading guilty. Earlier this year, we examined a dozen such cases in Baltimore.
Smith's troubling ordeal, Alford plea included, is a road map of nearly every way the justice system breaks down -- and how easily a cascade of bad outcomes can be triggered by one small miscarriage of justice. For Smith, a young black man in Baltimore, it started with a questionable collar. Nine years later he's still struggling to clear his name.  
The Arrest
Smith's saga began in the summer of 2008 in the low-income, high-crime neighborhood in southwest Baltimore where he lived. A man named Robert Long had been shot twice in the head execution-style that March. Long was a cooperating witness in a police investigation, and the killing had all the makings of a hit.
A man and a female sex worker both claimed to have seen the murder and fingered Smith. At the time, Smith was 25 and had a record of minor drug and assault offenses. When he was arrested about three months after the murder, Smith was adamant that he had nothing to do with it.
At this point, the justice system appeared to work as it should. Smith had a bail hearing before a judge who said the prosecution's evidence was nothing more than "skeletal allegations." In a rare move for a murder case, Baltimore District Judge Nathan Braverman released Smith on $350,000 bond.
"It was probably the thinnest case I'd ever seen," Braverman, now retired, said recently. Smith's alleged crimes were the most heinous of the cases before him that day, he said, but Smith was the only one granted bail -- a sign of how weak the evidence was.
But what should have been the first step in freeing Smith from a misguided murder charge instead further ensnared him. Braverman's bail decision drew sharp public criticism, and Smith was soon back in the sights of the same detective who investigated the murder.
About a month later, Detective Charles Bealefeld arrested Smith again, this time for allegedly shooting a man in the leg during a late-night robbery. Bealefeld, the brother of the then-police commissioner, wrote in his report that "word on the street" was that Smith was the assailant.
Smith lived near the victim and told police he knew the victim's parents well enough to call them by nicknames. But the victim never named Smith or described his assailant as someone he'd seen before. He said only that a black male in his 20s shot him. Later that night at the hospital, the victim identified Smith from a photo array. Bealefeld then found a second witness, another sex worker, who he said also picked Smith out of an array.
At this point, Smith was convinced Bealefeld was targeting him. He told his lawyers that the detective had admitted during the arrest that he knew Smith didn't do it. Bealefeld left the Baltimore police in 2008 amid a federal investigation into a racial incident in the department in which he was named publicly by a city councilman and local media. He declined to comment. Bealefeld is now an officer with the Annapolis Police Department.
After Smith's second arrest, the head of the police union told the local press that it proved Braverman had been reckless in releasing Smith. "It's frustrating to police officers who did the hard work to get this guy charged," the union head said, calling for the judge to be banned from presiding over bail hearings.
The Trial
Smith was jailed until his murder trial 18 months later, and unwaveringly maintained his innocence. The cases against him were remarkably similar: The prosecution relied almost exclusively on eyewitness testimony -- and in each case a key witness was a sex worker.
In January 2010, Smith went on trial for Long's murder. Prosecutor Rich Gibson, a six-year veteran of the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, hung his case on the testimony of the man who'd first identified Smith as the killer. The witness claimed he'd not only seen the murder from a nearby pay phone, but knew why it was done. Long, he said, had stolen drugs from Smith. Gibson ran with that theory, building Smith's history of minor offenses into a story of a neighborhood kingpin slaughtering the victim to send a message about what happens to those who steal from him.
What Gibson didn't tell the jury was that the witness was an informant for the police whose assistance on multiple cases had repeatedly kept him out of trouble. The witness only told police he'd seen the murder after he was arrested on an unrelated charge, according to police files. And, court records show, the witness had a clear understanding that any breaks he got for his testimony would best be hidden from the defense. At one point, he even wrote the judge in his case directly to ask for a sentence modification for his participation in Smith's murder trial, saying "as you already know, the detective nor the state's attorney can contact me about my matter because that would be promising me something for my testimony."
Even more troubling, there was evidence that the witness wasn't at the scene of the murder at all. Baltimore has cameras panning much of the city 24 hours a day, and the murder was caught on tape. The shooter couldn't be seen, but what was clear is that no one was at the pay phone at the time of the shooting, said Michele Nethercott, the head of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore Law School. The sex worker who also said she witnessed the murder wasn't on the video either, Nethercott said. It's unclear why the video footage wasn't addressed in detail at Smith's trial. Gibson declined to comment about his actions in the case.
The jury found Smith guilty. When he was sentenced to life plus 18 years, Smith told the judge, "They know I didn't do this."
That conviction did more than send Smith to prison. It pushed him into choices he never would have made.
The Plea
A year after his murder trial in February 2011, Gibson offered Smith a plea deal on the still pending charges for the shooting. Smith, proclaiming his innocence, reluctantly agreed. The system had failed him so badly once, he felt like he was "in a no-win situation," Smith told the court.
The deal Smith made is known an as Alford plea. It allows a defendant to say for the record that he's innocent of the crime but believes the state has enough evidence to convict him. Still, Smith railed against a central piece of Gibson's evidence -- that the victim had identified Smith from a photo array. That didn't make any sense, Smith told the judge, since the victim "was my neighbor. He didn't say 'my neighbor did it.' He didn't say, 'Well that guy across the street did it.'"
Under the plea, Smith would serve 10 years concurrently with his life sentence. But Smith was worried about what would happen when he was exonerated, which Smith fervently believed would happen eventually. If he was no longer serving a life sentence, he didn't want to be stuck serving the 10 years for another crime he didn't commit. So, he wanted his plea deal to have an escape hatch: He must be allowed the chance to get out of the 10-year sentence if he was found innocent of the murder.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams called the deal "strange," but agreed that under those circumstances Smith could come back to his courtroom to revisit the plea. Gibson also agreed, according to a transcript, and that unlike most plea deals he would allow Williams full discretion.
The agreement was also laid out the next day by Smith's public defender in a court filing. It said that although Williams made no promises about what his ruling would be, the judge would nevertheless be the one to "determine whether to change the sentence" and "the assistant state's attorney agreed not to oppose the judge's ruling."
"I'm copping out to something I didn't do," Smith said at the hearing. "I just want to get it over with."
The Exoneration
Astonishingly, mere months later in the spring of 2011, Smith's stubborn faith seemed validated.
During a related investigation, the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland had turned up Long's real killer and informed Baltimore prosecutors that they had the wrong man. Federal agents quickly unraveled the case against Smith. It wasn't about drugs, as Gibson had argued. Instead, the victim, Long, had been killed in a murder-for-hire plot to keep him from testifying about crimes committed by his boss. Long had also specifically warned the Baltimore authorities not to include his lawyer in a meeting about cooperating because the lawyer worked for his boss. But they did it anyway. Six days after police searched his boss' home based on Long's information, Long was dead.
At Smith's murder trial, however, Detective Steve Hohman had testified that there was no reason to investigate Long's boss. He left out that police had done several interviews with Long's associates that pointed to the boss as a suspect, Long's family had told them that the boss threatened to kill Long days before his death, and the police had requested the boss' phone records. But that information wasn't turned over to Smith's defense, a violation of Smith's constitutional rights. Gibson told the jury that "no stone was left unturned."
Federal agents also discovered that the sex worker who'd identified Smith had been six miles away receiving methadone treatment around the time of the murder. She recanted her statement, telling federal investigators that Hohman had yelled, banged the table and generally pressured her into her testimony. (By this time, the state's other key witness, who supposedly saw Smith from a pay phone, was dead.)
Hohman has since been promoted, and the Baltimore Police Department said it stands by its investigation.
Gibson and the state's attorney's office continued to insist to Smith's lawyers that Smith had been justly prosecuted, according to Smith's public defender and Nethercott, the innocence lawyer who later took up Smith's case.
A year and a half went by while Smith remained locked up, serving a life sentence for a murder someone else had committed. Under pressure from federal prosecutors, the state finally and quietly dropped the case against Smith in August 2012.
"What was driving this case really was the U.S. attorney," Nethercott said recently. The federal government was about to indict and prosecute another person "while Demetrius was sitting there serving life on a theory that was completely different."
Rod Rosenstein, the top federal prosecutor in Maryland at the time and now the deputy attorney general of the United States, announced that the federal case had "resulted in the exoneration of an innocent man and the conviction of the real killer."
No such declaration came from Baltimore prosecutors.
"What they were not willing to do," Nethercott said, "was to say: 'We clearly made a mistake.'"
Their error didn't just damage Smith. Braverman, the judge who'd scoffed at the prosecution's case, had been shortlisted to move up to the circuit court at the time of the bail hearing, according to The Baltimore Sun, but he wasn't selected. After Smith's case, the local press closely covered Braverman's subsequent bail decisions. There was no follow-up acknowledgement from the police or others that his instincts had been right about Smith.
And even though Smith was cleared of Long's murder, he was still in maximum security prison in Hagerstown, Maryland, serving his 10-year sentence for the robbery shooting.
The Half Measure
In May 2013, as promised, Smith went back before the judge to revisit the terms of that deal. By this time, he'd been in prison for nearly five years.
The case was now being handled by Tony Gioia, then head of the state's attorney's conviction integrity unit. Gioia made no mention of Smith's innocence on the murder charge, telling the judge that the prosecution had "moved to vacate the murder conviction for a Brady violation" by the original prosecutor, Gibson. Brady refers to the 1963 Supreme Court ruling that said prosecutors must turn over evidence of innocence to the defense for a trial to be fair.
Gioia said he'd reviewed the police documents about the shooting, and had "some issues about the facts." He agreed to modify Smith's sentence to time served and release him immediately on three years' probation. Smith was free.
But on paper he was still a convicted felon for the shooting, limiting his ability to get a lease and a job -- he had three offers revoked after a background check. Smith wanted a clean record and to be completely free of the system that had now eaten up nearly a decade of his life.
In the four years since his release, damning new evidence had emerged that echoed the murder case. The sex worker recanted her statement implicating Smith and said she'd been coerced into identifying Smith by Bealefeld, the detective who investigated both of Smith's cases.
The night of the shooting, the sex worker had told police she heard gunshots and saw a man she'd been with earlier flee the scene. Bealefeld, she said, showed her an array of photos and repeatedly pointed to a picture of Smith, saying "That's him, isn't it?" When she continually denied that Smith was the man she saw, Bealefeld threatened to arrest her.
"I was afraid I'd be locked up, and so I finally signed the array as he had directed me," she said in an affidavit in June 2013.
But the new evidence had come too late. Maryland gives defendants a special path to challenge their conviction with new evidence of innocence, but those who take plea deals are barred. Smith's Alford plea meant he couldn't get the conviction vacated.
He had one last option: Ask Judge Williams to modify his plea deal again.
The Final Attempt
With the help of new pro bono lawyers, Smith filed a motion to change his sentence for the shooting from "time-served" to "probation before judgment," which means a judge withholds finding a defendant guilty so long as the defendant successfully completes a period of probation. Since Smith had finished his three years of probation, the change would essentially wipe the conviction off his record.
On July 28, Smith walked back into Williams' courtroom in a light blue blazer with hope that the judge would finally end his ordeal.
When Smith's case was called, a familiar face stood up for the prosecution. Gibson, the original prosecutor, was back and he told the judge he opposed any changes.
"What's your basis for saying 'no'?" Williams asked him. "You acknowledge" that on the murder charge "he was exonerated; is that correct?"
"The State acknowledges," Gibson responded, "that -- that after the case was tried, and the defendant was convicted of murder, and after the -- the Court of Appeals affirmed that conviction, my office, after discussions with federal authorities, chose to vacate that conviction to allow the federal prosecution to go forward the way they envisioned it."
Williams looked taken aback. "So, you're stating in open court that your office isn't saying that he wasn't guilty. You just did it for other reasons?"
Gibson offered only a vague reply, and Williams kept pressing him, at one point interjecting with exasperation that "it's a simple question."
In all, Gibson evaded the question five times before Williams abruptly stopped and ruled that Smith's original guilty plea was a binding plea -- meaning that the only way it could be changed was with the support of the prosecutor.
That contradicted how both the judge and the prosecutor had defined the plea six and a half years earlier. At the time in 2011, Gibson said that the terms of the deal meant Smith could "come back and put it before the judge and the judge can do whatever he's going to do with it."
And Williams had specifically noted the plea meant that the prosecution was "giving up the right to say to this court, 'Judge, you cannot change it.' He now has acknowledged that. ... It will be up to me to make a decision."
But now, for reasons he didn't explain, Williams said, "I have not the authority ... despite what I would, what I may or may not want to do it's irrelevant."
"Motion is denied."
Smith's lawyer, Adam Braskich, jumped up to argue that was incorrect, but the judge cut him off with a curt "thank you."
In the hallway outside the court, Smith shook his head, not entirely surprised. His gold teeth flashed through a smile. "It is what it is," he said. "You keep fighting."
Braskich and Smith's other lawyer, Barry Pollack, thought it was clear the judge had the legal authority to change Smith's sentence.
  "After being wrongfully convicted of murder and then convicted for an assault he didn't commit, Demetrius served five years in prison," Pollack said. "He should not also be saddled with a felony conviction. We didn't think a fresh start was too much to ask, and we're disappointed that Demetrius still can't put this behind him."
 Williams declined to comment on his ruling.
 The next possible step is to apply for a rare pardon from the governor.
  Like Gibson -- who's running for state's attorney one jurisdiction over in Howard County, Maryland -- the current Baltimore City state's attorney, Marilyn Mosby, won't say whether her office believes Smith is innocent of the murder, or the shooting. Spokeswoman Melba Sanders provided a short, written statement that said the office couldn't comment on the review process that led the prior administration to vacate Smith's murder conviction, but "we respect their decision."
  If any case should cause prosecutors to concede mistakes, Nethercott said, it's Smith's. "What's so striking about Demetrius' case is there are very few times when you come in with an innocence claim that's supported, endorsed and proven by the United States government," she said. "If that doesn't move people, it's hard to see what would."
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
Megan Rose covers the military for ProPublica. Previously she was the national correspondent at Stars and Stripes. She reported from several conflict and disaster zones, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti, and covered military operations in the Pacific. 
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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs



Anti-Nuclear Coalition Accepts Nobel Peace Prize As Calls for Disarmament Grow/The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN: Saving Humanity from Itself

Anti-Nuclear Coalition Accepts Nobel Peace Prize As Calls for Disarmament Grow


Sunday, December 10, 2017

"The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away."

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Sunday. Her coalition worked to advance an anti-nuclear treaty signed by 122 countries this year. (Photo: Nigel Waldron/Getty Images)

   Pope Francis made a renewed appeal for nuclear disarmament on Sunday, addressing a crowd at the Vatican's St. Peter's Square as the Nobel Committee was awarding one of the world's foremost anti-nuclear groups with the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
The Pope spoke out about "the strong link between human rights and nuclear disarmament," arguing that any group concerned with disadvantaged populations must be "also working with determination to build a world without nuclear arms."

    The pontiff has made clear his strong views on eliminating nuclear arsenals from world governments, speaking several times on the issue this year. Last month, he hosted a symposium at the Vatican entitled "Prospects for a World Free from Nuclear Weapons," which was attended by United Nations representatives, Nobel Peace laureates, and officials from nuclear powers including the United States, Russia, and South Korea.

   As he spoke in Vatican City, the Nobel Committee was holding its annual Nobel Prize awards ceremony, at which the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the year's Nobel Peace Prize.

   Accepting the award, Beatrice Fihn, the head of the global coalition, made her own urgent call for nuclear disarmament.

  "The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away," Fihn said, appearing to allude to recent heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

   Nuclear weapons, she added, "are a madman’s gun held permanently to our temple."
Since February, North Korea has tested 23 missiles, claiming to have gained the ability to fire a nuclear weapon that could reach the U.S. mainland. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have exchanged increasingly aggressive insults as Americans have reported low levels of confidence in Trump's ability to safely manage the situation.
“Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?" said Fihn in her acceptance speech.

   In its efforts to rid the world of the nuclear threat, ICAN worked to advance of a U.N. treaty banning such weapons. The treaty has been signed by 122 countries—but none of the world's nine nuclear powers have supported it.

   Despite the obstacles that still exist for ICAN and other groups that are working to eliminate nuclear arsenals, Fihn noted in her speech that the treaty's support by more than 100 countries signifies that "at long last, we have an unequivocal norm against nuclear weapons."

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN: Saving Humanity from Itself

The Nobel Committee has joined people all over the world in calling on the nuclear armed states to begin the serious negotiations toward the complete elimination of these weapons



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The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), headed by Beatrice Fihn (right), was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Sunday (Photo: ICAN/Flickr/cc)

   Since the beginning of the nuclear age and the dropping of the first atomic bombs, mankind has struggled with the reality of being able to destroy the planet on the one hand and the abolition of these weapons on the other. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear (ICAN) acknowledges these realities and celebrates the efforts to achieve the latter. From the beginning of the nuclear age after the inception of the Nobel Peace Prize with its award criteria specifying: the promotion of fraternity between nations, the advancement of disarmament and arms control and the holding and promotion of peace congresses, to the founding of the United Nations, 71 years ago, with its very first resolution, advocating for the importance of nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapon-free world, nuclear abolition has been the necessary goal for our survival. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) exemplifies these ideals and brings hope to our world.

   In a world armed with approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons, everything that we cherish and value is threatened every moment of every day. From a limited nuclear war to all out nuclear war between “superpowers” our future is hanging in the balance. Whether by intent, miscalculation or accident, never before has the world been closer to nuclear war. From the setting of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock in January of this year to 2 ½ minutes till midnight, where midnight represents Armageddon from nuclear war and the relationship to climate change, to the dangerous rhetoric between our president and North Korea, China and Russia resulting in the worst relations between nuclear powers in decades, we face great peril. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize acknowledges the grave humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. A threat for which there is no adequate humanitarian or medical response and whose only solution is prevention through the total abolition of these weapons.

   This is the path chosen by the majority of the nations of the world on July 7 when they voted 122-1 to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Unwilling to remain forever hostage to the arsenals of the nuclear armed states, these nations, with the strong support of civil society, called for the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons.

   ICAN is a coalition of 468 non-governmental organizations from 101 countries around the globe. The coalition has been a driving force in prevailing upon the world's nations to pledge to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. To date, 127 states have made such a commitment, known as the Humanitarian Pledge that ultimately led up to this year’s U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This Treaty will ban nuclear weapons just as every other weapon of mass destruction has previously been banned. The Treaty opened for signature on September 21, the International Day of Peace. As soon as the Treaty has been ratified by 50 Nations, the ban on nuclear weapons will enter into force and will be binding under international law for all the countries that are party to the treaty.

    Paradoxically, five of the states that currently have nuclear weapons – the USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China – have already committed to the objective of abolishing nuclear weapons through their accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970. While the Non-Proliferation Treaty will remain the primary international legal instrument for promoting nuclear disarmament and preventing the further spread of such weapons, it has until this time lacked the legal status of declaring these weapons illegal. And therefore, following the lead of the United States, a new arms race costing in excess of $1.2 trillion dollars to the U.S. is under way.

   This nuclear hypocrisy must stop. These expenditures rob future generations of the necessary resources required to address desperate human needs around the planet resulting in more conflict. We risk realizing Albert Einstein’s prophetic words: “With the unleashed power of the atom, we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe unless we change our mode of thinking”. Ultimately, we will see the end of nuclear weapons. Either through adherence to international law and their abolition or through their use and the end of humanity. The choice is ours.

    The Nobel Committee has joined the peoples and nations of the world in calling on and demanding the nuclear armed states to begin the serious negotiations toward the complete elimination of these weapons. The time is now and this Nobel Peace Prize highlights these efforts and brings new hope and determination to this call. Each of us has a role to play in bringing forth this reality and must demand that our nation sign the Treaty and abolish nuclear weapons.

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Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge is a family physician practicing full time in Ventura, California. He is the president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles serving as a Peace and Security Ambassador and at the national level he is co-chairman of Physicians for Social Responsibility National Security Committee. He also serves on the board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions. He writes for PeaceVoice.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The US Military Is the Biggest "Big Government" Entitlement Program on the Planet

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42829-the-us-military-is-the-biggest-big-government-entitlement-program-on-the-planet


The US Military Is the Biggest "Big Government" Entitlement Program on the Planet

Sunday, December 10, 2017

By JP Sottile, Truthout | News Analysis


The US economy is caught in a trap. That trap is the Department of Defense: an increasingly sticky wicket that relies on an annual, trillion-dollar redistribution of government-collected wealth. In fact, it's the biggest "big government" program on the planet, easily beating out China's People's Liberation Army in both size and cost. It is not only the "nation's largest employer," with 2.867 million people currently on the payroll, but it also provides government benefits to 2 million retirees and their family members. And it actively picks private sector winners by targeting billions of dollars to an elite group of profit-seeking contractors.
This belligerent cash machine has Uncle Sam caught in a strange cycle of taxpayer-funded dependence that may ultimately be the most expensive -- and least productive -- jobs program in human history.

The top five overall recipients collectively pulled in $109.5 billion in FY2016, and their cohorts consistently dominate the government's list of top 100 contractors. They reap this yearly largesse through a Rube-Goldberg-like system of influence peddlers, revolving doors and wasteful taxpayer-funded boondoggles. Finally, it is all justified by a deadly feedback loop of perpetual warfare that is predicated on a predictable supply of blowback.
But this belligerent cash machine doesn't just produce haphazard interventions and shady partnerships with a motley assortment of strongmen, proxies and frenemies. It also has Uncle Sam caught in a strange cycle of taxpayer-funded dependence that may ultimately be the most expensive -- and least productive -- jobs program in human history.
That fact came into focus on June 14, 2017. That's when Donald J. Trump enthusiastically participated in one of the presidency's most time-honored traditions: he sold weapons to a foreign power. This time it was a $12 billion deal to sell 36 F-15QA fighter jets to the tiny petro-state of Qatar. And in an unintentional moment of truth, the jubilant Qatari ambassador to the US tweeted a photo of the signing:
View image on Twitter

Qatar signs LOA for the purchase of the F-15QA fighter jets creating 60,000 new jobs in 42 states across the United States

In less than 140 characters, Ambassador Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani exposed the trap that has Uncle Sam pouring $1 trillion each year into an economy of diminishing returns that can only be mitigated with ever more spending on weapons and more military interventions that destabilize more regions which, in turn, stokes more purchases of weapons both at home and abroad.
This direct government infusion of money into a massive, complex defense industry not only benefits corporations and shareholders, but also the employees who make the tanks, planes, bombs, helmets, shoes, epaulets, bandages, pre-packed meals and just about everything else that goes into maintaining the US's military might.
What Keynes did not advocate was the use of military spending to achieve increased economic activity.

That's why President Trump himself crowed about "jobs, jobs, jobs" after signing a $110 billion defense pact with Qatar's neighbor during his sword-dancing sojourn in Saudi Arabia. It's also why the mantra of "jobs, jobs, jobs" is central to Trump's plan to radically expand the US Navy. And it is why "jobs" is a primary selling point of his administration's effort to "unleash" US exports of weapons and military hardware overseas. We might call this phenomenon "military Keynesianism."
Taking the Keynes Out of Keynesianism
British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) developed his eponymous macroeconomic ideas during the height of the Great Depression. Simply put, Keynesianism advocates government spending (often supported by profuse borrowing) to stimulate economic growth, to mitigate unemployment, or to simply stabilize economies and labor markets during the vicissitudes of capitalism's turbulent business cycles. Keynes advocated deficit spending to temper these swings and, most importantly, to stoke latent demand.
That emphasis on government intervention, along with Keynes's influence on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and on the New Deal made Keynesianism a primary post-war target of conservative activists, who believed it was tantamount to socialism.
Actually, many economists agree that Keynes advocated government intervention to save capitalism from socialism. What Keynes did not advocate was the use of military spending to achieve increased economic activity. He said as much in an oft-cited letter to FDR in 1933:
In the past orthodox finance has regarded a war as the only legitimate excuse for creating employment by governmental expenditure. You, Mr. President, having cast off such fetters, are free to engage in the interests of peace and prosperity the technique which hitherto has only been allowed to serve the purposes of war and destruction.
Ironically, that "past orthodoxy" was exactly what the Reagan Revolution reinstated when it "defeated" Keynesianism in 1980.
Reagan replaced traditional Keynesianism with a weaponized version that tacitly embraced the idea of war as the only legitimate excuse for creating employment by governmental expenditure.

As an acolyte of Milton Friedman's neoliberal economics, Ronald Reagan famously said "government wasn't the solution, it was the problem." He also made radical cuts to "government," a.k.a. "the welfare state." But Reagan's enormous military build-up somehow avoided the dreaded "government" label, and thus, the cuts. In fact, in a Keynesian twist, borrowing skyrocketed to help fund military expansion under Reagan. Jobs were created in the ballooning defense industry, particularly in regional hubs like Southern California.
At the time, economists criticized Reagan's military buildup as an "inefficient" way to stoke employment. And it's still considered inefficient -- by an economist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve, by libertarian thinker Veronique de Rugy and by scholar Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the Costs of War Project. But they are rare apostates against US orthodoxy. And it's been that way since Reagan replaced traditional Keynesianism with a weaponized version that tacitly embraced the idea of "war as the only legitimate excuse for creating employment by governmental expenditure."
And while Keynesianism's harshest critics still deride it as "socialism" and "government intervention," rare is the fiscal fussbudget who attacks Uncle Sam's yearly reallocation of wealth to sustain the world's biggest government program. Equally as rare is the budgetary hawk who doesn't dip his or her beak into the deep, Keynesian pool of public funds when it comes time to fill-up the National Defense Authorization Act with tax dollars. For many members of Congress, a vote for a tank, a fighter jet or a base expansion is also a crucial vote to put money into their constituents' pockets.
The ultimate triumph of this orthodoxy was made clear in 2009 when the "liberal," John Podesta-founded Center for American Progress published a nine-page memo touting the ways "Military Spending Can Grow the Nation's Economy." Well-known defense analyst Lawrence Korb was the lead author of the memo. Writing in the wake of the Great Crash of 2008, Korb and Co. advocated a spike in military spending as a way to "jumpstart the economy" through government investment in three key areas:
1.      Increased recruitment into the military as a safety valve for excess labor capacity;
2.      Construction spending around the massive network of bases and facilities to stoke employment;
3.      Weapons and equipment purchases as a de facto pass-thru to contractors and companies to provide income to US workers.
In other words, these "liberal" analysts proposed laundering public funds through the defense budget and into the economy. Their ideas, of course, were not new; truth be told, that's what the defense budget has done for decades, thanks to a willingness to spread the wealth liberally.
Supply Chains That Bind
The F-35 jet program is the ultimate avatar of military Keynesianism. The jet, produced by the giant military and security corporation Lockheed Martin, is a $406 billion plane that suffocates pilotsstruggles with inclement weatherexperienced engine fires and will cost over $1 trillion just to operate and support.
Yet boondoggles like the F-35 program amble through the budget process like unstoppable zombies that eat the brains of politicians and policymakers. While there's no doubt that millions of dollars in corporate lobbying play a huge part, that's not the only reason why projects like this happen. It's also the jobs, stupid. Just ask the commander-in-chief.
Initially, President Trump "slammed" Lockheed's beleaguered jet as "way, way behind schedule" and "many billions of dollars over budget." In response, Lockheed entered "renegotiations" to bring down the cost per plane. Lockheed's CEO promised that its "new" deal would "create 1,800 new jobs" in Texas. The F-35 already employed 38,900 Texans and, as the LA Times pointed out, its "supply chain touches 45 states." You see, it's all about supply chains. That explains the Qatari ambassador's tweet about the "60,000" jobs in "42" states after his nation purchased 36 F-15QAs. It also explains how a widely dispersed defense budget creates constituencies in congressional districts around the country.
As the Chicago Tribune reported, Georgia, California, Arizona and Florida join Texas in "playing the leading roles in testing and manufacturing" the F-35. And its impressive chain links "more than 1,250 domestic suppliers" who "produce thousands of components." Once Lockheed announced its unofficial deal to shave $728 million off the latest "batch" of 90, Trump again touted his specious role in securing more "jobs" ... thanks to the F-35!
Now Trump is a full-on F-35 enthusiast, stepping up to the role of sales rep for the supposedly "invisible" plane, and Japan is his latest customer. Although Japanese Prime Minister Abe "walked it back," Trump claimed Abe would be "purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should." The shopping list included the F-35 and missiles of "many different kinds," and, of course, this big buy means "a lot of jobs for us (the United States) and a lot of safety for Japan."
So, is this the reason why the F-35 is too big to fail? Is it really just about making planes? It certainly isn't a matter of military might. The US already dominates the skies, and the future of aerial combat is moving with increasing speed toward flying killer robots. At the same time, the need to deploy military power to ensure the steady flow of oil into US factories and automobiles continues to lose its importance. The US has become a net exporter of hydrocarbons, and the looming specter of "peak oil" has been replaced with the sunnier likelihood of "peak demand" -- and that coming peak in the amount of oil the world market demands basically nullifies the leading rationale for 70 years of American empire.
Russia's total military budget is far less than the amount ($80 billion) Congress added onto this year's US military budget.

As renewable energy sources become not only cost competitive but also preferred, one wonders how long it will make sense to station the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain or to patrol the South China Sea to challenge China's claim on the oil-rich area. Yet, with the "Trump Build-Up" officially underway, the US is quintupling down on a model not only rooted in economically flaccid military Keynesianism, but also in a decrepit national security strategy that might itself be a boondoggle.
Too Big to Fail?
The US stands alone as a globe-spanning empire with 787 overseas bases, "lily pad" deployments and host country facilities in 88 nations and territories, according to the most recent accounting by scholar David Vine. At home, a Google Maps search reveals another 603 bases, depots, arsenals and assorted military facilities peppered around the 50 states. The US dominates the land, sea and skies, and is moving to dominate space.
This empire hasn't come cheap. A 2008 study by the Nuclear Threat Initiative put the price tag of "all military spending from 1940 through 1996" at a fulsome $18.7 trillion. Spending dropped by one third throughout the '90s, but according to a meta-study by the Council on Foreign Relations, "the U.S. share of global military spending only fell by six percentage points." So, despite two "low-points" in 1998 ($296.7 billion) and 1999 ($298.4 billion), the US maintained its significant advantage heading into the 21st century.
That advantage became grotesque as budgets ballooned to fight a globe-spanning "war on terror." In 2017, the US spent $611 billion on the defense budget alone, easily outspending the eight-biggest spenders combined. In 2018, spending will hit $700 billion. And, when war funding, nuclear weapons, intelligence operations, homeland security and veteran benefits are included, the real annual total for all "defense-related" spending regularly tops $1 trillion. All told, the US's "post-9/11 wars will total more than $5.6 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2018," according to the Costs of War Project.
On the other hand, Russia spent a mere $69.2 billion on its military in 2016, and that total dropped to $49.2 billion in 2017. So Russia's total military budget is far less than the amount ($80 billion) Congress added onto this year's US military budget. Meanwhile, China spent roughly one-quarter of what the US spent in 2017 with a budget of $151.43 billion. So, while China's government actively invests in supercomputingAIbiotech and, most importantly, in a trillion-dollar "Belt and Road" program that's building infrastructure in other countries, the US pours money into a jobs program that doesn't produce consumer products, isn't rebuilding roads and bridges, isn't building a new electrical grid, nor alleviating crushing student debt.
Instead, taxpayers' only end product is a larger military with more bases and more weapons. However, without a serious shift toward non-defense government priorities, cutting the defense budget would mean, in the immediate term, many Americans losing their jobs. In the absence of non-military jobs programs and other forms of robust social spending, these workers depend on military tax dollars to fund their livelihoods, their health care and their kids' educations. Tax dollars sustain the military-driven local and regional economies within which they live and work. Not coincidentally, this misallocated investment in a "war and weapons-based economy" is, as Major Gen. (Ret.) Dennis Laich and Col. (Ret.) Lawrence Wilkerson write, also reflected in the inherent "unfairness" that feeds off the "all-volunteer force."
They detailed how the US's systemic inequality is reflected in the undeniable fact that the job of fighting now falls disproportionately on Americans from rural communities and "less well-to-do" areas. Amazingly, the Army gets more soldiers from Alabama (population 4.8 million) than "from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles combined" (population 25 million). Similarly, 40 percent of the Army comes from seven states of the Old South." This is a military drawn from those left behind by the emerging "Industry 4.0" economy in urban hubs. This is their one sure thing -- courtesy of Uncle Sam.  
What this means is that the US is straddled with an entitlement program that is as much of a "third rail" as Medicare and Social Security. Like those entitlements, sudden cuts mean direct and immediate pain for a lot of Americans who simply cannot afford it. It also means we have to finally admit that the defense budget is as much about jobs as it is national security.
And if we are truly honest with ourselves, we should admit that the wealth we all still share was built in no small part on the back of the military-industrial complex. There is a reason why 4.4 percent of the world's population so easily consumes a quarter of the world's resources. But now that model is atrophying. Soft power and symmetrical warfare are intersecting with technology to challenge the paradigm. And blowback from empire is draining vital capital.
So, what are the options now that the US finds itself stuck in this paradigmatic trap? There are three possible alternatives.
One is to simply slash the budget. The downside is that it will dislocate millions of people who rely directly and indirectly on defense spending. The upside is that it will force an immediate retreat from both empire and military Keynesianism. This also could stoke some economic growth if the half to three-quarters of a trillion in annual savings was "returned" to taxpayers in the form of a rebate check. Basically, Americans would finally get the "peace dividend" almost 30 years after the Cold War ended. 
The second option is the post-WWII demobilization model. That influx of manpower was met with the GI Billtax breaks for new homeowners and investments in infrastructure. This is a truly Keynesian solution. Infrastructure jobs and educational subsidies would provide relief to Americans currently reliant on military Keynesianism for their livelihoods. The original GI Bill "returned $7 to the American economy for every $1 invested in the GI Bill," notes Jared Lyon of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. And a study by Costs of War Project determined allocating resources to "clean energy and health care spending create 50 percent more jobs than the equivalent amount of spending on the military," and "education spending creates more than twice as many jobs" as defense spending.
Frankly, either of these two solutions is far better than the third option, which is to continue to misallocate hundreds of billions in precious capital away from the productive economy while wreaking havoc at home and abroad. And that's the ultimate no-win situation for a militarized economy that has manufactured its share of bloody, no-win situations since the end of World War II.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, published historian, radio co-host and documentary filmmaker (The Warning, 2008). His credits include a stint on the Newshour news desk, C-SPAN and as newsmagazine producer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington. His weekly show, "Inside the Headlines With The Newsvandal," co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa. He blogs under the pseudonym "the Newsvandal."
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs