China Working Hard For The Big Brother Award

Is surveillance and facial recognition technology acceptable if it’s used in the apprehension of criminals? That’s what Chinese lawmakers think, although some in the West worry it’s an example of selling a surveillance state in a pretty package.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese authorities are using facial recognition technology — already deployed by concert organizers to cut down on scalping by verifying the identities of valid ticket holders — to scan crowds at public events like concerts to nab suspected criminals.

On three separate occasions in the past month, Chinese officials have scanned the crowds at mega-pop star Jacky Cheung’s — lauded as Hong Kong’s “God of Songs” — concerts and have apprehended wanted men based on the accuracy of facial recognition technology.

The first arrest at a concert by Mr. Cheung took place on April 7 in the southeastern city of Nanchang, where security personnel identified a suspect in an “economic crime” with facial-recognition gear.

Police then used a surveillance system to pick out the 31-year-old, who was attending the concert with his wife and friends, from a crowd of more than 60,000 people, state media said.

Then on May 5 in Ganzhou city, police said they arrested a man by using “high-tech measures” during preconcert security checks. Ganzhou police didn’t specify what wrongdoing he is accused of.

On Sunday, minutes before Mr. Cheung started performing in the city of Jiaxing, police identified a male concertgoer through surveillance footage as a potato-seller accused of fraud in a 2015 purchase of roughly 110,000 yuan ($17,200) in spuds.

The rub of this story from a country not known to share Western values when it comes to human rights, is that the Chinese people, and even the pop star himself, are vocally supportive of the technology being used to weed out the undesirables among them.

Privacy groups, according to the WSJ report, note that some facial recognition technology is inaccurate up to 90% of the time, and China is not being exactly forthcoming about the accuracy of the technology they’ve been deploying.

Perhaps the strangest part of all is that Chinese police departments are urging, via social media, the pop star to stage more concerts, presumably to help facilitate their work in nabbing people suspected of crimes.

And then, of course, are the stories where the technology is being deployed in other ways in China, like using it to scan student classrooms to monitor behavior.

Surely the apprehension of criminals — assuming they are proven guilty of their crimes — is not a bad thing, but a line from Orwell’s 1984 seems applicable here: “The Party does not like such people. One day he will disappear. It is written in his face.”

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And Now For Some Good News: Businesses Are Optimistically Investing In Themselves

Spying by intelligence agencies got you down? Take heart. There’s good news out there, too.

For example, businesses can now deduct the full cost of large equipment and other non-real estate assets — in the past they could only deduct a portion — thanks to the recent GOP tax reform legislation. And they’re turning around and reinvesting those savings in business.

General Motors, AT&T, Walmart and Verizon are among the top spenders for the first period of the year, and Royal Caribbean and Raytheon are among those posting the biggest increases,according to the report. The largest growth was in the technology industry.

In manufacturing, 86 percent of companies are investing in new equipment and facilities, according to a National Association of Manufacturers survey published last week.

“Manufacturing in America is now rising to new heights, thanks to tax reform, and as a result, manufacturers of all sizes are already investing more, growing more, hiring more and paying more,” association board member David Farr, the chief executive officer of Emerson Electric Co., said in a statement. “They are already improving lives and livelihoods.”

Much of the money being spent comes from another break under the law, which lets companies bring overseas cash back to the U.S. without penalty after paying a one-time levy of 15.5 percent.

Consumer technology giant Apple, for example, is reinvesting $350 billion in the U.S. economy and building a new corporate campus. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company also said it would buy back $100 billion in stock.

Top chemical manufacturer DowDuPont announced earlier this month it would invest $45 million in a new Newark, N.J., plant. A spokesman said it was not prompted by the tax cut, but rather was “about having manufacturing facilities that support business growth.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, reinvestment in businesses — capital spending, or Capex — is on its fastest pace since 2011.

Capex is good for the broader economy, helping boost short-term GDP numbers and laying the foundation for future growth.

There are changes coming that may make that investment drop off — caps on interest deductions, a change is how business income is defined — and will likely be part of mid-term discussions as the GOP tries to hold onto Congress. But for now, the economy is slowing trending up. So go ahead and take that vacation while you can.

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The DOJ/FBI Spying Story Matters Because It’s What Happens In Places Like Venezuela

Did that get your attention?

The traditional, “reputable” news outlets yawn at the prospect of the Obama Administration weaponizing what are supposed to be impartial and independent intelligence agencies to spy on political rivals; or they report on it (because they’re finally forced to thanks to the dogged work of the House Intelligence Committee) but downplay the behavior from spying to investigating for the greater good (or something); or mention it, but only in the context of pointing out how crazy those Republicans are with their conspiracy theories because what’s the big deal, amiright? Politics is a tough game, and toughen up, MAGA heads.

But as Venezuela gears up for its sham election today, it’s worth viewing the “FBI/DOJ was spying on Trump’s campaign” story in relation to that nation’s “democratic” process. With that in mind, here’s why what the Obama administration did (and, let’s face it, the entire Democrat party apparatus) matters: because it’s a pathway to the same thing that Maduro’s doing today.

Here’s a report on Sunday’s election in Venezuela (emphasis mine):

The leaders of the largest of the 20-some parties that make up the opposition coalition claim that electoral conditions are so grossly weighted in Maduro’s favor that voting on Sunday would be pointless.

Most electoral officials are Maduro loyalists who, in past elections, have turned a blind eye to vote tampering and the last-minute relocation of polling places in opposition strongholds.

The government controls most TV and radio stations which transmit a constant stream of of pro-Maduro propaganda. It is also fomenting the notion that the ballot is not secret and that people who vote for the opposition will lose government jobs, public housing, and vital food handouts.

Carlos González, an anti-government activist who heads a Venezuelan business association, says the name on the ballot doesn’t matter: “Jesus Christ could be the candidate and Maduro would still prevail because the system is set up for him to win,” he says.

Does that sound familiar?

If not, here’s Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist deconstructing the New York Times report that came out ahead of the Inspector General’s report (that will ultimately break this thing wide open because presumably speculation will be backed up by documentation) so that a narrative spin could be crafted and sold to the American public.

  • “The story says the FBI was worried that if it came out they were spying on Trump campaign it would “only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.” It is easy to understand how learning that the FBI was spying on one’s presidential campaign might reinforce claims of election-rigging.”
  • “Now we learn that it wasn’t just Page, but that the government was going after four campaign affiliates including the former campaign manager, the top foreign policy advisor, and a low-level advisor whose drunken claim supposedly launched the investigation into the campaign. The bureau says Trump’s top foreign policy advisor and future national security advisor — a published critic of Russia — was surveiled because he spoke at an event in Russia sponsored by Russia Today, a government-sponsored media outlet.”
  • “The surveillance didn’t just include wiretaps, but also national security letters and at least one government informant to spy on the campaign”

Does it sound familiar now?

And, more to the point, as Larry O’Connor notes in a column for the Washington Times: there’s little doubt the Obama White House knew about the scheme:

After going through these details with National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, a former Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, I asked him the question that seems to be ignored in the New York Times’ article: Is there any way this kind of counter-intelligence operation would go on without the White House knowing of it or approving it?

No! No. no. Everybody knew about it. The agents’ texts made that clear. The Susan Rice, the memo she wrote, the “CYA” memo she wrote going out the door makes that clear. The White House had to know about this from the start. And look, Larry, it’s the kind of thing… An important thing about counterintelligence… there’s nothing wrong with the president knowing about it. Because, unlike criminal investigations and prosecutions where we don’t want the political people interfering in the four corners of the case,  counterintelligence is done for the president. the purpose of it is to gather intelligence, to gather information to enable the president to carry out his most important constitutional responsibility which is protecting the country from foreign threats to national security.

Running a counter-intelligence operation (not a criminal investigation because, as has been pointed out, you need evidence of illegal activity for that) to infiltrate the campaign of your political opponent to discredit him or ultimately have him impeached, and using the political machine you have at your fingertips because you happen to be sitting in the most powerful seat available within that machine, is the opposite of a how a democratic representative republic functions.

But it does look a lot like how despotic and tyrannical forms of government function. It’s a slippery slope toward one-party rule if you start down that path; a path our media has done a great deal of forging by calling it good.

Thank goodness we caught it in time.

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A Culture Of Fame And School Shootings: The Copycats

There’s a biblical proverb that capitalists debate all the time: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

People use the expression to decry wealth and smear people who have amassed it, fairly or not. But the expression isn’t really about money. The important word is “love”. The focus on wealth, the intractable lust for it that causes people to behave reprehensibly, is the problem. Not the object of their desire.

And I think — bear with me — this applies to school shootings in a way. Because while culturally we’ve created a generation of kids who believe every emotion that isn’t approaching happiness and satisfaction is a sign of mental illness (but that’s another post for another time), we’ve also created a culture of fame in this country that can be overwhelming. People become famous on social media for almost literally doing nothing. It’s bizarre.

But, like money, it’s not the fame that’s the problem. It’s the need for it. And it’s a part — not the entirety, because there’s a lot to address in the problem of young men who cannot cope and grab guns to alleviate their confusion — of the larger problem of school shootings.

Buzzfeed had an interesting article just after the Santa Fe High School shooting Friday that addresses the issue of what these young men — and they are usually the outcasts (which, if the shunning is done particularly aggressively, can make one feel like they don’t exist. I remember it well from high school.) — might be after:

Experts told BuzzFeed News the recent uptick is likely due to the amount of attention the attacks get and the fixation on the people behind them, spurring copycats while at the same time desensitizing the public. Inadequate and poorly enforced laws don’t help, they added.

“These shooters get great satisfaction in doing this, and the media attention they get afterwards puts them in a place of history,” said Greg Shaffer, a 20-year FBI veteran and global security expert who studies domestic terrorism and active shooters. “We are also trying to use normal rational thoughts to define an irrational act, which is why we focus on them so much. But we will never understand why people like the Las Vegas gunman do what they do.”

Jaclyn Schildkraut, an expert on mass shootings research and assistant professor of public justice at the State University of New York, warned that the copycat effect is only getting worse.

“With the amount of coverage Parkland received, you probably will see an uptick,” said Schildkraut. “Copycatters are becoming a public safety issue.”

So that’s a cultural issue driven by news coverage, the possibility for insta-fame online, and the age-old truth that will always be with us: growing up is hard.

And maybe there are things we can do. As mentioned above, I’d personally like to stop seeing everything declared a mental illness so these kids stop feeling like they’re crazy and start realizing that the world is a tough place, and running into roadblocks trying to navigate it is normal. But again, another post for another time.

In the immediate, however, maybe there’s a way to start collectively scaling back the idea that superficial, empty stardom is some kind of great achievement in life so the next generation is a little more emotionally prepared to fail sometimes. Maybe we could address our values. And I don’t mean a top-down, mandated seminar on values. I mean individually, with our children and families.

As for guns, I’m a 2nd Amendment supporter and that’s not changing. But I agree with Schildkraut’s assessment in the Buzzfeed report.

“Stable is a reflection of our complacency,” she said. “We are putting a lot of Band-Aids on issues that need tourniquets to make people feel better, but at the end of the day, this will continue to be our reality until we fix and enforce the laws we already have.”

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Eyeroll Alert: Alec Baldwin Says He Could Beat Trump In 2020 If He Wanted To

Perhaps the most hilarious part of listening to the deeply hateful is their tendency to not recognize in themselves the things they say they hate in others.

Take Alec Baldwin, actor and Trump impersonator (although he’s not as good at the latter as he is the former) who really dislikes President Trump to the point it seems almost personal somehow, like maybe Trump was rude to him once or something. It has that ” you dissed me at the fundraiser gala” flavor to it.

And while it’s only an assumption — because I didn’t find a quote where Baldwin actually says he hates Trump for his bombast and arrogance — it’s reasonable to assume he does, since that’s what the average liberal actor seems to dislike about the man.

Which makes it so funny when Baldwin arrogantly and bombastically declares that he could TOTALLY beat Trump in 2020 if he wanted to run against him (which of course he can’t because his wife wouldn’t like it and he has kids and he has a doctor’s appointment that day and he left the coffee pot on and he’s washing his hair that night, etc.)

“It would be the most exciting election we have had in ages — exciting. It’s an exciting idea. But the thing is, you lose your life. I have got little kids. My wife would never go for it,” the 60-year-old actor said during his appearance on “The Daniel Baldwin Show” Tuesday when asked if he thought he could win if he ran against Trump.

“Oh, absolutely, positively, I could beat [Trump] without a doubt in my mind,” Baldwin explained. “You know, I am somebody who … you think I want the United States to lay down and die and not have a strong defense? That’s preposterous. I am not going to come in there and say we have to walk around with our hand tied behind our back. The world is too dangerous for that.”

I could probably have been an Olympic swimmer if I wanted to. But I had parties to go to and boys to crush on and I had to do my nails and there was a good movie coming on TV that night, etc. My point is, it’s supremely easy to say it, rather hard to do it.

And, no matter what Baldwin thinks of Trump, the man didn’t just talk about becoming president. HE DID IT.

Personally I’m looking forward to Trump tweeting his response to this one. Sorry America.

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Twitter Drops Pretense, Begins To Filter ‘Bad Behavior’

Beleaguered Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced in March that his social platform — long rumored to be engaging in “shadowbanning” of certain users (conservative users, say conservatives) — will drop the pretense of free-speech-without-limits and begin to offer filtering options for bad (borderline anti-social, really) users.

And not just in content, but in behavior.

The announcement in March was an attempt by Dorsey to address some of the criticism that Twitter has become a place of hateful propaganda, abuse, and potential manipulation by political actors with agendas.

The unhealthy platform has let its issues fester for years. Its feeds have long been filled with trolls, misinformation, performative outrage, and abuse. And recent Congressional scrutiny has exposed how woefully unprepared it is to mitigate state-sponsored manipulation of its platform.

On Thursday afternoon, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey went live on Periscope to talk about this new focus, explaining that Twitter is trying to work to increase its platform’s “health,” an umbrella term under which it’s currently lumping its plan to fix all these problems. On the broadcast, Dorsey was joined by the company’s legal, policy, and trust and safety lead Vijaya Gadde, its head of Trust & Safety Del Harvey, and its health product manager David Gasca. The quartet did their best to explain what “health” means to Twitter, essentially admitting that the company is starting at square one.

Now, Twitter will begin hiding all tweets from suspect accounts and will start to monitor behavioral signals to decide if accounts are poor actors on the site.

Among the signals Twitter will use: whether you tweet at large numbers of accounts you don’t follow, how often you’re blocked by people you interact with, whether you created many accounts from a single IP address, and whether your account is closely related to others that have violated its terms of service.

“A lot of our past action has been content-based, and we have been shifting more and more toward conduct and behaviors on the system,” Dorsey said in a briefing at the company’s San Francisco headquarters on Monday.

It remains unclear if users will know they’ve been relegated to the bottom of conversations (one of the ways Dorsey plans on downplaying negative content), but the new rules will let all users know they have the option to filter users behaving badly.

Twitter will make the “behavioral filters optional, and they will be on by default. People will be able to turn them on or off with a ‘show everything’ toggle in search,” reports Buzzfeed.

While civility demands standards, “Twitter’s new filtering system is similar to shadowbanning, but it incorporates far more behavioral signals, specifically designed to detect when someone is disrupting the conversation,” reports Wired magazine.

The issue, as usual in cases where unfettered speech is at issue, is who gets to define “disrupt”.

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Bolton On Iran: The Old Sanctions Are New Again

National Security Adviser John Bolton told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday that “the consequence of the United States getting out of [the Iran deal]” is a re-imposition of the sanction regime that was in place before the Obama administration entered the U.S. into the now-failed deal.

“I think what we’ve seen is that Iran’s economic condition is really quite shaky so the effect here could be dramatic,” Bolton said. “We have the support of Israel, we have the support of the Arab oil-producing monarchies and many others and the consequences of American sanctions go well beyond goods shipped by American countries because of our technology licenses to many other countries and businesses around the world.”

Tapper, who asserted that the U.S. was “going it alone” in pulling out of the Iran deal, and referring to statements made by President Donald Trump, asked Bolton if sanctions might be forthcoming for European companies who work with Iran because it might be perceived as an attempt to help Iran in their nuclear ambitions.

“I think the Europeans will see that it’s in their interests ultimately to come along with us,” said Bolton. “Despite the complete consistency of President Trump in his opposition to the deal…I think at the moment there’s some feeling in Europe that they’re really surprised we got out of it…the answer [to if European companies could be sanctioned] is: it’s possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments.”

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Obama Officials To EU: How Are You Going To Counter Trump On The Iran Deal?

It’s such a strange thing that the Obama administration won’t leave the national stage. What with former Attorney General Eric Holder working on gerrymandering; former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton whining about the Iran deal and how American voters hate women, respectively; and the former president himself criticizing the Trump administration’s decision to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the dust, you’d think their opinion on these matters still mattered.

Newsflash guys: your legacy is receding and shifting and it might benefit you to just roll with those changes and promote the positives going forward.

But no, they’re even delegating the continued resistance — particularly to the Iran deal decision — to their underlings, and those people (ever conscious of the Logan Act) are using the media to urge nations to fight against the United States president.

Read that sentence again. Because it is, in fact, what they’re doing. Crazy, right?

The European Union and the rest of the international community, she said, would “preserve this nuclear deal.” The question is how. Notwithstanding an abundance of kvetching, European powers have not yet shown Mr. Trump that he has anything to fear from ignoring their wishes.

But mere words aren’t going to dissuade this White House. Since taking office, Mr. Trump has treated Europe like a doormat, questioning the value of NATO, ridiculing the mission of the European Union and dismissing European exhortations on policy matters.

Acknowledging Iran’s compliance and continuing to do business with Iran without imposing sanctions would mitigate the effect of the White House’s sanctions and make it easier for advocates of the deal in Tehran to make their case.

That sounds a lot like aiding and abetting a foreign enemy to me. This is a country, after all, that just burned a little paper American flag (a great metaphor if there ever was one) upon hearing the U.S. wanted to strike a new deal with them because the old one, created by the former administration, didn’t really benefit the U.S.

But it did benefit the European Union, which is what these two former Obama officials are counting on. They likely won’t be successful in their pleas — European leadership has almost surely accepted that new administrations get to call their own shots and the EU will have new opportunities as a result.

It remains to be seen when Obama and company will finally accept that same reality.

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Carter Center Suspected Of Providing Support To Hamas, Lawsuit Pending

Former President Jimmy Carter has achieved legendary status for his role in the Camp David Accords, the historic peace treaty between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978. It was the first treaty officially declaring a formal end to war between Israel and neighboring Arab state.

Later, his Carter Center in Atlanta was renowned for its work in international disease and control and prevention. Carter himself even won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Center.

Most recently, Carter publicly declared the desire to leave the Iran deal a “serious mistake.” It was apparently a risk President Donald Trump was willing to take as he pulled the country out of the deal this week.

And while Carter’s noble history of waging peace is certainly commendable, there have long been rumors that he — via the Carter Center — may have been enabling terrorist organizations. In April, the Trump administration sought dismissal of a suit brought by the Zionist Advocacy Center against the Carter Center alleging the humanitarian organization had taken $30 million in taxpayer grants and violated “federal statutes barring it from using the cash to provide material support to terror groups.” The administration said it was too expensive to prosecute at the time.

Now however, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), says his organization is filing a suit alleging basically the same thing.

As the ACLJ explains on its website in a post about their suit, they filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the State Department seeking documents related to the Carter Center’s taxpayer funding and whether or not it supplied “material support or resources” to designated terrorist groups. It may not be a hard case to win, if what the ACLJ says is true.

[T]he Carter Center also openly describes its regular contact with Hamas – designated by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) since 1997 – stating that “The Carter Center works both with grassroots activists and with high-level decision makers in its efforts to further conflict resolution, human rights and democratic development in Palestine,” and that the Center maintains “regular contact with leaders of the two largest Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas.” For context, other organizations carrying this same designation – FTO – include ISIS, al Q’aeda, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab.

The Carter Center received $306 million in cash, pledges, and in-kind gifts in 2015-2016 alone. The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are listed as donors, alongside the Open Society Foundations founded by George Soros, the U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative, and a number of Islamic government donors. In 2016 alone, the State Department and USAID fell into the highest category of donors to the Carter Center – donating a minimum of 100,000+, and $1 million or more over the lifetime of the Center’s existence. In fact, the Carter Center has reported over $4 million in accounts receivable from the federal government.

The ACLJ has reason to believe that the Carter Center may actually be using U.S. taxpayer funds to provide “material support or resources” to both Hamas and the PFLP in violation of U.S. law.

While no one likes the thought of persecuting a former president — who is now an old man that has beaten back cancer — the thought of innocent taxpayers footing the bill for terrorist activities is more disturbing. As the ACLJ notes, “now [they] will finally get some answers in court.”

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Carter Center Suspected Of Providing Support To Hamas, Lawsuit Pending

Former President Jimmy Carter has achieved legendary status for his role in the Camp David Accords, the historic peace treaty between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978. It was the first treaty officially declaring a formal end to war between Israel and neighboring Arab state.

Later, his Carter Center in Atlanta was renowned for its work in international disease and control and prevention. Carter himself even won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Center.

Most recently, Carter publicly declared the desire to leave the Iran deal a “serious mistake.” It was apparently a risk President Donald Trump was willing to take as he pulled the country out of the deal this week.

And while Carter’s noble history of waging peace is certainly commendable, there have long been rumors that he — via the Carter Center — may have been enabling terrorist organizations. In April, the Trump administration sought dismissal of a suit brought by the Zionist Advocacy Center against the Carter Center alleging the humanitarian organization had taken $30 million in taxpayer grants and violated “federal statutes barring it from using the cash to provide material support to terror groups.” The administration said it was too expensive to prosecute at the time.

Now however, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), says his organization is filing a suit alleging basically the same thing.

As the ACLJ explains on its website in a post about their suit, they filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the State Department seeking documents related to the Carter Center’s taxpayer funding and whether or not it supplied “material support or resources” to designated terrorist groups. It may not be a hard case to win, if what the ACLJ says is true.

[T]he Carter Center also openly describes its regular contact with Hamas – designated by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) since 1997 – stating that “The Carter Center works both with grassroots activists and with high-level decision makers in its efforts to further conflict resolution, human rights and democratic development in Palestine,” and that the Center maintains “regular contact with leaders of the two largest Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas.” For context, other organizations carrying this same designation – FTO – include ISIS, al Q’aeda, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab.

The Carter Center received $306 million in cash, pledges, and in-kind gifts in 2015-2016 alone. The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are listed as donors, alongside the Open Society Foundations founded by George Soros, the U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative, and a number of Islamic government donors. In 2016 alone, the State Department and USAID fell into the highest category of donors to the Carter Center – donating a minimum of 100,000+, and $1 million or more over the lifetime of the Center’s existence. In fact, the Carter Center has reported over $4 million in accounts receivable from the federal government.

The ACLJ has reason to believe that the Carter Center may actually be using U.S. taxpayer funds to provide “material support or resources” to both Hamas and the PFLP in violation of U.S. law.

While no one likes the thought of persecuting a former president — who is now an old man that has beaten back cancer — the thought of innocent taxpayers footing the bill for terrorist activities is more disturbing. As the ACLJ notes, “now [they] will finally get some answers in court.”

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